I was all set to go out and slog through an easy 5 mile run last Friday morning when I discovered it was Take A Hike Day. Well, any excuse to hike will do, of course, so I gathered up my Airlite 22 and trekking poles and headed to the Appalachian Trail. I usually plan my hikes before I take them, but given that this was a spur-of-the-moment thing I decided to revisit an earlier hike southbound across the James River Foot Bridge to (and beyond) Matts Creek Shelter.
‘Twas a beautiful morning along the James River, with bright sunny skies and a rich carpet of leaves that measured six inches deep in some places. Kicking leaves like a joyful five year-old made my day!
Once I turned away from the river to follow the creek to the shelter, I was pleased to discover that, unlike on my previous visit during the summer drought, Matts Creek had blossomed from a pitiful trickle into an actual creek:
The giggling, bubbling water chortled off to my right for the mile trip to the shelter, and really added a level of ambience that I didn’t realize had been missing from my late August trip along the same path.
As I approached the shelter I discovered, much to my surprise given the time of year, gear piled on the picnic table and a fire burning in the pit. I passed a hiker in the lean-to putting on some outer layers to battle the 35 degree morning, threw a “Good morning!” his way and jumped over the creek to begin the climb that awaited me across the water.
Now, I’ve often lamented how I’ve seen more wildlife in town than out in the wilderness, and that’s still true, as you’re about to see. Because while I did see an animal in the woods on this trip, it was far from wild.
A half-mile after crossing the creek I was daydreaming when I heard a bell. Not the church variety, mind you. The jingle variety. I thought I was imagining things until I rounded a slight curve and saw a goat, horns, bell and all, chomping on grass in the center of the trail. In the middle of nowhere! When I recovered from my shock and gathered my wits, I grabbed my phone to try and take a shot (Seriously. Who would believe I saw a flippin’ GOAT out there?), but he bolted when he saw me. I continued on a bit further, fully expecting to encounter his human owner, but saw no one. Bizarre!
Laughing like a crazy person, I turned and headed back to the shelter. By this time, the hiker was out and about, so I stopped to chat with Tyler, trail name “Chicken Hawk” (named for the excitable little hawk in the old Foghorn Leghorn cartoons) who was yo-yoing to finish up his thru hike at Daleville, 54 miles to the south. He was energetic and enthused but seemed relieved to be on the home stretch of his journey. A family emergency had taken him off-trail earlier in his quest, resulting in his late-season unorthodox completion of the AT. After a nice fifteen minute conversation, he gratefully accepted my gifts of a Gatorade and Clif bar, which pleased me as much as it did him. My first presentation of trail magic to a thru hiker! See, I always carry extra supplies for the purpose of giving them away, but have never had the opportunity to do so. I was thrilled! During the course of our conversation The Hawk did ask me the name of my blog, so if you’re reading this Tyler, thanks for accepting. It made my day, brother. And congratulations on finishing your hike!
He was a guy on a mission, so I left him to finish breaking camp and headed back towards the trailhead. I stopped to grab a shot of the Foot Bridge between the bare trees:
And a photo of two fallen trail sentinels that were just high enough off the ground for my diminutive 5’7″ (okay, 5′ 6.5″) frame to pass under without crouching:
As I approached the bridge from the south I noticed something that made me smile and practically REQUIRED a photo. In all the journals and books I’ve read, I had heard lots about thru hiker mail. The electronic age (translation: ability to text, etc.) has done away with some of the creativity of leaving it, so I was excited to come upon this gem:
I hope Swamp Donkey saw the note…
A successful, completely enjoyable Take A Hike Day trip came to its conclusion with one more trek across the bridge. By the time I got unlimbered and settled into the car for the ride home, I was already wanting to be back in the woods. I need to settle on and purchase a multi-day pack so I can do an overnight!
Next up? A northbound out-and-back on the AT to the Fullhardt Knob shelter from Daleville the day after tomorrow. My son-in-law/hiking partner has a new Gregory Zulu 40 pack to break in…