I actually made it out onto the AT in Virginia. Finally! Of course, it wasn’t a monster hike or anything. Apart from the Merrells I had on my feet, I was gear-free. But it was a nice easy three mile out-and-back on a 30 degree morning.
As you can tell from the above photos, there’s a pretty striking difference in the terrain from Virginia to Maine. Southbound out of Daleville, VA (left) looks starkly different from northbound out of Monson, ME (right). But the elevation gain out of Daleville is greater than that out of Monson, so each section has its unique challenges. According to a GPS-equipped fellow hiker out doing a weighted practice stroll in approach shoes (ice climbing in the Whites in January, anyone?) we gained over 1600 feet in elevation in a mile and a half. But the smoothness of the terrain underfoot made me start thinking “trail run”. I guess old habits do die hard, huh?
I was pleased with my hour-long saunter on the AT, especially given it was December 23rd. My son-in-law (whom I dragged out there with me) and I are already planning an early spring overnight out to Tinker Cliffs.
Daleville. A small town in Virginia often spoken of in story and song. A town where dreams come to flourish and grow, to become more than the mortal…
Okay, so it’s none of those things. In fact, I’m willing to wager that the majority of Virginians couldn’t point it out to me on a map if I asked. But the Appalachian Trail through-hiker could. And so could most aspiring section hikers like me. The AT bounces out of the woods onto Route 220 in Daleville just yards from a hotel. A hotel brimming with clean sheets and hot showers, the through-hiker’s temporary Mecca.
Today I find myself in Lynchburg, VA visiting family, as I do a couple of times a year. And the Daleville trailhead is less than an hour from where I’m sitting right now. Every time I’m here I pledge to wander over that way and check it out, to step foot on the AT in Virginia. And every time events and schedule conflicts conspire to make sure it doesn’t happen. Well, this trip it just might. My son-in-law, who has caught the hiking bug too, is on board for a quick run over that way tomorrow morning.
The weather won’t be an excuse: Sunny and 51 is a December dream come true for a resident of the frozen north. And my schedule seems like it will fall into place. The only downside is that, due to light packing so I wouldn’t have to pay a bunch of add-on luggage fees to American Airlines, I have none of my typical gear. I wear hiking shoes as daily drivers, so a quick mile or two might be possible. But at this point, just strolling a hundred yards of the approximately 550 miles of Virginia’s AT would feel like a victory to me.
When I was researching footwear for hiking, I noticed that technical trail running shoes were de rigueur among hikers for their lighter weight, great traction and rugged durability. As a non-technical trail runner, that appealed to me, so I grabbed a pair of Merrell All Out Peak’s at a great price. Aside from the stiffer sole and beefed up toe (both important for surviving rocks and roots on the AT, as I quickly found out) they had the light weight and fit of my usual Asics non-technical trail runners.
Surprisingly, I never actually tried them for running until the other day, when a couple inches of snow covered the trail and fields on which I typically run. I opted to take them out for a quick five miler. Here’s what I found:
Their weight and upper feel was comparable to my normal fare. Decent fit and feel. No hot spots, snug to the heel.
The ride felt stiff to the soles of my feet at first. After a half mile or so, that feeling faded as my feet adjusted. I expected that, however; a first run in any new shoe always lends itself to an adjustment period.
The traction wasn’t noticeably different except on snow covered grass. There, they outdid my Asics by a solid margin. Also noticed a slight difference on smooth snow packed/melted to the consistency of ice. That could be the Vibram outsole. Or it could be that I expected the Vibram outsole to perform better, so assumed that it did. Psychology.
A noticeable difference on dry asphalt between these and my Asics. They slapped the pavement, and the firm ride and more limited toe-off was definitely more pronounced. But it should be. They’re TRAIL runners, after all. No points taken away. Having said that, I wouldn’t want to run any distance on asphalt in these shoes. A quarter mile told me all I needed to know.
Overall, I liked the feel of them. They were stable and delivered good traction, though a slightly stiffer ride. But I appreciated them enough to consider using technical trail runners in winter from now on…