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:


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…


Two Sides. Same Coin?

In the span of less than a week, I discovered two thru-hiker news stories online. The first told the tale of 75 year-old Tom Young from North Myrtle Beach, SC who conquered the stretch from Springer to Katahdin in a week shy of six months. A few days later I came across the story of 26 year-old Joe McConaughy, who did the same deed, but in the course of his trip shattered both the supported and unsupported (he carried a 25-pound pack the entire way) speed record by landing at the “Northern Terminus” sign in 45 days, 12 hours and 15 minutes.

Most people fall heavily on one side of the following argument or the other: Is it more fulfilling to hike for enjoyment, like Tom “Grey Eagle” Young, or hike with a mission, like Joe “Stringbean” McConaughy?

I land somewhere in the middle. Back in my halcyon days of 26.2 milers, I was totally mission minded. A marathon was something to be conquered, not enjoyed. The enjoyment came after the race. And when I tackle my first week-long section hike on the AT, there will definitely be a mission mindset at play. Given X number of days to complete X number of miles, one can’t help but assign goals to the thing. However, I’m hoping to schedule myself enough hiking days so that, while staying focused on time/distance markers, I’m not hammering my body to achieve them and allowing myself some rose-sniffing opportunities along the way.

Of course, age and ability play a part for me, too. I was never an elite marathoner; my PR was 3:28, so I never expected to run with the human tornadoes when the gun went off. Likewise, even if I was in my twenties I couldn’t maintain the pace of a world-class ultra athlete like Stringbean. I’m thinking shooting for 100 days would have been an aggressive enough goal for me.

Today, being north of fifty and all? Let’s just say that this blog isn’t called “Slowing Down to Enjoy the View” for nothing…

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:


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


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:


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:


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:


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…