A Stroll Along Thunder Ridge

Six months (seriously!) to the day since my last wander on the AT, I found myself at Thunder Ridge Overlook above the clouds:

Overlook 2Overlook 1
I’ve been a few miles northbound from the Overlook, but Saturday’s mission was to go south to Apple Orchard Mountain. So, with a liter of fluid, a box of Clif Bars (in case of any SOBO thru-hiker sightings) and my son-in-law Jace in tow, I headed out.


As a runner, I prefer crisp, cool mornings. That preference has followed me over to the hiking side, which is one of the reasons I don’t drag myself and a backpack to the woods nearly as often in summer. This was a flawless fall hiking day, with a breezy sun and 60 degree temps for our 9:15AM start.


It was spongy in many places, the trail showing the effects of one of Virginia’s rainiest years on record.


Less than a half-mile into the trip, we approached then crossed the quiet Blue Ridge Parkway. (That’s another advantage to hiking once school is back in session and the majority of vacations are over: less automobile noise in the sections where the AT runs close to the Parkway) We cruised through the silent trees, enjoying the solitude broken only by our own thoughts spoken aloud to each other.


Nearing the 1.5 mile mark, we trotted down a short side trail to the Thunder Hill Shelter:


Thunder Hill Shelter


The shelter had a cistern-type water source nearby but, to be honest, we were more interested in the de facto tent sites set up near the shelter than we were in the building itself. If we’re ever here for an overnight, we’ll definitely skip the shelter and use one of the grassy spots above it off the trail!


I don’t usually stop to smell the mushrooms while hiking, but this one was intriguing, so I grabbed a quick shot with my travel-weary Pixel:




A short distance later we crossed the Parkway again and, turning a corner lost in thought, I came upon something that I didn’t know lived on this particular stretch of the AT, something I’d only seen in pictures up to that point: The Guillotine!


The Guillotine


That weird deja vu feeling you get when you come face-to-face with a person or thing you’ve only seen previously in photos or films left me momentarily dumbfounded. I have read many, many hiker books and journals containing a picture of this landmark. For some reason, I thought it was farther south than it is. For the sake of our short hike, I’m glad it wasn’t, as seeing it was the cherry on top of the morning for me.


2.5 miles brought us to the “official” Thunder Ridge” sign, and also to the open, grassy top of Apple Orchard Mountain:


TR Wilderness SignApple Orchard Mountain Sign


Just behind the elevation sign Jace spied a grouping of boulders that would allow us to grab a few shots off the other side of the ridge, so I did a small bit of climbing and snapped a few like this one:


Thunder Ridge


Beyond the grassy top of the mountain the trail began a muddy-ish descent, with a few switchbacks. We hit the three mile mark at this point, and opted to turn around and head for home. Six was the goal for this morning-only hike, and six we would get with ease.


On the way back, we were just about to cross the Parkway for the second time and cruise through the last four-tenths of a mile to the car when Jace stopped and said, “Deer”. I looked off to our left, and sure enough, a pair of does was standing in shoulder-high brush looking at us! I was too stunned to get a shot of them before they wandered off. If you’ve read this blog in the past, you know how I’ve lamented my complete lack of wildlife sightings while in the woods. Paradoxically, I’ve had dozens of encounters with wildlife in the cities where I’ve lived, ranging from black bears to raccoons to coyotes. And, of course, deer. Lots and LOTS of deer.


I was glad for the distraction, as I had pretty seriously rolled my right ankle just a few hundred yards before. Running did, as it has in the past, save me as a hiker. The tendons, ligaments, whatever is there are so strong from my other favorite form of exercise that I was able to finish the hike and run thirty minutes the next morning, no pain, no problem!


We drove back to the city and tried a new pizza joint for lunch. It was outstanding! The perfect end to an inspiring morning hike. I was so thrilled to be back in the woods. I’ve missed the peacefulness, the crisp morning air, the wandering mind that comes to lock step with my wandering feet…


At the risk of jinxing myself, next month I’m going out to the woods twice.

The Hiker Hikes Again!

In the flurry of activities that make up our days, it’s so easy to get distracted and back-burner things that are meaningful to us.

Hiking, for example. Blogging, for another.

I could not believe when I looked at my hiking trip log and saw that today marks six months since I’ve been out on the AT, and nearly five months since I’ve hiked at all!

Not to mention nearly three months since my last post here.

Well, today’s the day. My default hiking partner/son-in-law and I are taking a quick run out to Thunder Ridge Overlook for a southbound cruise on the AT in the woods alongside the hustle and bustle of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

And I can’t wait.

It felt sadly strange to pull my Deuter Airlite 22 out of my storage cabinet and load it up with the ten essentials, water and a box of Clif Bars (I always carry extra in case I stumble upon a thru-hiker or two. SOBOs are afoot this time of year. Pun intended). But the good news is that we are now entering my favorite hiking time of the year, so there will be many more by-foot excursions between now and year’s end.

My sanity requires it.

My Thoughts: “Karl Meltzer: Made To Be Broken”

During my days as a marathoner, I often toyed with the idea of running an ultra or two, specifically ones of the 50-mile variety. But the time/effort dedication to training required when I was juggling so many other things kept me from doing so. Instead, I’ve enjoyed watching others accomplish things far greater than “mere” 50-milers on the national and world stage.

Enter Karl Meltzer and his quest to set the speed record for completing the Appalachian Trail. After two previous attempts, in 2008 and 2014, he hit the AT atop Katahdin in Maine in August 2016,  pointed himself south, started the clock at 5:00AM, and blew through the 2,188-mile trek in a record 45 days, 22 hours and 38 minutes, eclipsing famed ultrarunner Scott Jurek’s record set the previous year. (In a profound show of true sportsmanship, Jurek actually helped crew Meltzer’s attempt, and celebrated his competitor/friend’s accomplishment on Springer Mountain in Georgia along with Karl and the rest of the crew. Powerful stuff!)

His run at history was captured in the 2016 documentary, “Karl Meltzer: Made To Be Broken.”

The documentary, at 41 minutes, is short enough for the fidgety crowd, but long enough to give a true sense of the ups and downs of both the Trail and the effort required to complete it in such a compressed amount of time. (Note: The typical trip takes 4-6 months)

Speaking of compressed time, that was my sole complaint with the documentary. I wouldn’t have minded leaving a bit more in the film and a bit less on the cutting room floor. An additional ten or fifteen minutes of footage wouldn’t have taken much away from the pacing (no pun intended), in my opinion. But that’s just nitpicking and personal preference, to be honest. Overall, it was very well done.

If you appreciate the majesty and mystery of the AT as I do, and enjoy superhuman feats of endurance as I do, this film is well worth watching. It was funny, and serious; beautiful, and ugly (that big, deep blister!), motivating to this runner/hiker, and downright inspirational. If you hike, run, or just enjoy an intriguing documentary, check it out. If you have a Netflix subscription, it’s free. Indulge!