Blackwater Creek Trail

A few miles from where I live there’s a cancer awareness garden that occupies the area surrounding one of the entrances to the Blackwater Creek Trail. I’ve been to the garden on a handful of occasions but had never checked out the trail, an asphalt path that, from this particular spot, runs a touch over two miles down to the James River and the city proper. So I decided to check it out one afternoon when I happened to be nearby.

After a stop in the Awareness Garden to remember my dear friend Erik who died of brain cancer in March of last year, I set off.

Awareness Sign

It was lightly trafficked as I made my way into the woods. I felt odd taking a brisk walk in jeans, a polo shirt and half-laced running shoes, but spur of the moment activities require sacrifices. I did want to limit my miles to three, so I downloaded the RunKeeper app onto my phone (in lieu of my trusty Garmin) before hitting the trail. I needn’t have worried about tracking it myself; as it turns out, the trail is populated with distance markers:

Mile Marker

It was a stunning fall day, with bright sun, mid-60s temps and a nice breeze. I was glad for that breeze, wearing jeans and all! I was intrigued to see this sign along the route:

Trail Sign

Seriously, anything with a backpacker logo is a magnet to my attention now. I vowed both to research this when I got home, and to come back another time and see where it goes. (Later, I found that it simply follows the actual creek for a short distance before rejoining the asphalt trail. I will hike it soon, as I’m fond of any excuse to leave tar and tread upon dirt!)

I hit the 1.5 mile mark at a point sandwiched between two small cliffs (a perfect choke point for an ambush, my study of military history reminded me) and made the turn for home. It was nice to be alone in the woods on a pleasant walk without the aforementioned Garmin and running shoes, or my backpack and trekking poles:

Nice Trail Day

A technical trail for running or hiking it isn’t, but it is a great place within city limits to get that away-from-it-all feel. I saw both kids and seniors availing themselves of its charm, so it’s very family friendly. In addition, when snow and ice require abandoning the higher elevations in the area, this would be a good spot for weighted practice hikes to keep my hips and shoulders ready for attacking sections of the AT in the spring…

 

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And The Hike That Was

Finally got the car issues straightened out and made the trip over to Thunder Ridge Overlook to hammer out a few quick miles on the AT. This hike featured a perfect morning with bright yellow leaves above and below us, and a temperate sixty degrees at the start. An ideal setting for my son-in-law to break in his new Merrells.

We headed out with light packs, planning on a quick five mile round tripper. The leaves on the trail made for a satisfying fall crunch as we trekked our way north. A mile in we passed a trio doing a SOBO section hike, and stopped for a quick chat. A short while later a solo young lady was coming down the trail towards us with a fully outfitted pack (she would be followed a moment later by her hiking partner, a young man similarly outfitted). Turns out they were SOBO thru-hikers, and after talking to them and getting some details of their hike, we cut them loose to continue on their way. I really dislike holding up thru-hikers with idle chatter, knowing that they’re mission minded with planned daily miles. We passed three other SOBO hikers a few minutes later but left those hardy souls alone to carry on.

I was struck by the stark contrast of this bare tree about 1.5 miles in and stopped to grab a quick shot:

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We marched on, traversing a series of short up-and-downs to the planned turnaround (we actually got to talking and went to 2.75 miles, so wound up with 5.5 total), stopped for a quick hydration break, then did a one-eighty and headed for home.

We passed a couple on our way back who were doing a section from Dragon’s Tooth to the James River Foot Bridge (about 85 miles). Turns out they were brother and sister, he in his early sixties, she close to seventy. They seemed to be having the time of their lives out on the trail. And that’s the point, isn’t it? I’m sure when I do my first multi-day section hike I’ll be thrilled to be out there too!

We pushed up the final hill to the Overlook, and I went for the cheesy hiker shot:

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I actually considered standing on the rim, but didn’t want to risk becoming part of a news story containing the phrase, “and fell several hundred feet to his death.”

It was good to be back out there. We’re planning a trip by month’s end down to Daleville to do a ten mile out-and-back to the Fullhardt Knob Shelter. In the meantime, I’m scouting out my next solo hike…

Over the River and Through the Woods

…to Matts Creek Shelter we go! Doesn’t quite have the same panache as the original, I know. But it was a nice, easy (and short) hike on a beautiful summer morning. I started from the parking lot off US 501 at the foot of the James River Foot Bridge (pun not intended). It was such a surreal experience to be traversing this span, having read about it (and the exploits of those who have illegally *cough cough* jumped from it) in so many journals and post-hike tomes:

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There’s a nice plaque that pays homage to the AT legend after whom it’s named once you land on the other side:

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A hard right took me under the ubiquitous tree canopy that is the hallmark of the Appalachian Trail, and along the James River. It was easy, essentially flat terrain with numerous cover breaks that allowed me to peek at the river and a few folks fishing its length. I even stopped to grab a shot of the bridge about a half mile in:

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I had barely worked up a decent pace when the trail turned left to follow Matts Creek. Same easy terrain, same lack of elevation, same tree cover. It was such a peaceful morning, and I was grateful for the release from the (seemingly) never-ending tyranny of job hunting.

I passed a husband and wife heading back to their car with a very happy black labrador, and a few minutes later was standing at the shelter, a casual two miles from the trailhead:

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I had feared, given its proximity to both US 501 and the Blue Ridge Parkway that this poor site would be the poster child for anti-Leave No Trace. I’m pleased to report that it was in good shape, including the privy:

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After a short break spent sitting on the picnic table, I crossed the creek for a quick jaunt up the rise across from the shelter. That was to be the only real elevation I saw on this short hike, but it was enough to give my cardio system a bit of a workout. I went only halfway up the mountain before making the turn to, uh…return.

Back at the shelter I saw three backpackers approaching, and stopped to chat. One of them looked positively fired up; the other two looked wrung out. The fired-up one was chatty and friendly; the others silent. It only took a minute or two to discover why: the chatty one was a flip-flopping thru-hiker. He started at Shenandoah National Park in the spring and hiked to/crested Katahdin, and was now heading southbound to Springer. His two lifelong friends had opted to join him for a short section, and were paying a heavy price for that decision. I can’t even imagine how those poor guys were feeling, trying to keep up with a guy who had gained his trail legs while hiking just over 1400 miles! I wished him well (and silently wished the other two good luck) and headed back towards the trailhead.

The return trip flew by, and before I knew it I was sitting on the bridge steps eating a snack and enjoying the lazy passing of the river. Next trip out that way I’ll go north and see what’s in the woods on that side of the road…

 

Note: In the past I’ve lamented how newspeople keep telling aspiring/practicing hikers to “Never Hike Alone!” Well, there was a billboard at the trailhead with a section labeled, “Recreation in Bear Country”. Care to guess what the first “tip for safety” was? Yep. Hike in groups and stay close together. Well, I passed two people and a dog on the way out, saw three hikers at the shelter and passed two couples, one with a dog on the way back. So I did hike with a group. We just got spread waaaay out…