The Return of Squiggly Sticks

When I announced to friends and family that I was moving to Virginia and looking forward to hiking the hundreds of miles of trails in this state, many of them had the same initial reaction: venomous snakes! Having lived eleven years in Missouri and run on various trails, I’m no stranger to the occasional copperhead. I may even have encountered a timber rattler or two; I blasted past several diamond-patterned slithery serpents without stopping to identify their type.

But during the decades I lived in Maine, I only recall seeing three snakes. And there are no venomous ones native to the frozen tundra there. So I’ve grown complacent over the last six years, knowing that any “squiggly stick” I encounter is overwhelmingly likely to be just that.

The other morning I was out for a run in my new home state and, in the early morning light, approached a squiggly stick in the middle of a quiet street. At first I wasn’t concerned, then I remembered where I was and slowed. As I grew nearer, I was able to identify the critter stretched out on the asphalt in front of me: It was a squiggly stick. Relieved, I booted it to the grass and kept on running.

It was an important reminder that I’m back in the land of venom-totin’ pit vipers. And not every squiggly stick I encounter will be one, especially when I strap on a pack and head to the lush greenery of the Virginia woods…


My First Hundred Mile Hike…

…on the Appalachian Trail was supposed to be, well, what else? The Hundred Mile Wilderness. I mean, I live 75 minutes from Monson, I’ve day-hiked the short section from the trailhead to Leeman Brook, so it seemed only natural to launch my first serious section hike from there.

Here comes the wrench in the works: I’m moving to Virginia at the end of next month.

So it looks like my first hundred miler might end up being Shenandoah National Park. To that end, I’m already reading up on the area and checking out the permit points, with thanks to the National Park Service for the map:

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To be honest, given my lack of significant AT hiking experience, that might be an easier go out of the gate than tackling the HMW for my first weeklong section hike. But it does seem strange to think that I’ll have to search for flights and beg a ride from the airport to Monson when I’m ready to tread the Wilderness.

At least I’ll have friends with whom I can stay when I do come here. And, more importantly, who can pick me up at Abol Bridge when I come staggering out of the woods…

What a Difference a Week Makes

Last week I wandered into the woods on my favorite local running trail for a practice hike. While it was passable, it was still snow stacked on ice. A week later, it was a completely different trail, thanks to warming temperatures and a couple of short rain events.

The pictures aren’t nearly as dramatic in portraying the differences as actual foot-on-terrain time was.

In just seven days time, a tiptoe trek atop the snow and ice transitioned to a slog through slush, soft snowpack, mud and mini lakes. Several times I postholed in snow nearly to my knees, only to go ankle deep in mud and water just a few feet later. It was a good and enjoyable workout, thanks in part to my usual load in the Kestrel.

Even the weather was markedly different. The previous week’s tramp through the trees featured temps in the mid-30s with wind chills ten degrees colder. Seven days later? 60 degrees. And both hikes started at 10:00AM and peppered me with similar 10-20MPH winds, so the compare/contrast is pretty accurate. Last week I was buried under my typical multi-layer cold weather wear. This week I hiked in shorts. I always enjoy hiking in shorts while walking on/through snow. It’s such a surreal and fun experience, especially after a long winter.

The AT out of Monson gets more snow than we do, and has more substantial tree cover than this trail. Translation? It will be a few more weeks before I can launch a day hike on that significantly more difficult terrain. But I am so looking forward to it. I think it’s safe to say that, after a seemingly endless five months, my spring hiking season has nearly arrived!