Tent Pitch, Foiled

A couple weeks ago I posted regarding my son-in-law’s purchase of a backpacking tent. Yesterday, we decided to make a quick run north on the AT out of Big Island to Johns Hollow Shelter to pitch it. His personal hibernation cave comes with something like 14 stakes, so he was anxious to see how it set up in a wilderness that didn’t resemble his living room.

Rain showers were expected around noon, so we set off at 9:30AM for the short, pleasant 1.75 mile jaunt.

As we cruised down the side trail to the shelter a short time later, a few random raindrops plopped on my hat. We laughed them off and, setting our packs on the picnic table, checked out the best pitching spots (there are several, as I noted in yet another earlier post).

As he opened his pack to pull out the tent, I jokingly commented to him that it would probably start raining once he got it spread out on the ground. He laughed, and strolled over to the selected spot.

And, naturally, it started to rain.

Well, he had no desire to learn a new tent pitch in the rain, so he returned it to his pack and we headed back towards the car, disappointed.

There was, however, one good thing to come out of this unexpected shower: I FINALLY got to try out the raincover for my trusty Deuter Airlite 22! Not being the masochistic sort, I always day hike on decent weather days. So, no raincover required. Needless to say, this shower provided me the opportunity for which I had been waiting. Short version: It worked as advertised. +1 for my friends in Germany.

It was a gentle rain, and we were oddly enjoying it in spite of our dry packs (he got to try out his pack cover too) and soggy bodies, so we crossed the Foot Bridge (Yep. That’s the correct spelling and capitalization) and added two miles to our hike on the other side of the James River.

James in Fog

As is ALWAYS the case, the sun broke through the clouds as we returned to the car, but we didn’t even grumble. It was, rain included, a good morning for a hike, and we made the most of it.

Next time, that tent is going up if we have to set it up in the shelter and drill stake holes in the floor.

(Just kidding, U.S. Forest Service. Juuuust kidding!)


For Running, Or For Hiking?

This morning I decided to FINALLY explore the dirt side trails that dart off the Blackwater Creek bike trail. I’ve been meaning to run them in hopes that they might provide a close-to-home day hike or two when I feel travel-weary. So I slipped on my Merrell All Out Peak trail runners and started down the post-rain wet asphalt to the first bounce-off point.

A few hundred feet down that first side trail I caught a deja vu Maine Appalachian Trail feeling (translation: rocks and roots. And more rocks). My run quickly became a brisk hike on the 50-degree angle of descent over the mixed, slippery terrain. I trust the sticky Vibram outsoles on my Merrells implicitly. I just don’t trust myself. Well, this version of me, anyway. Younger me would have charged down the hill and taken the bruises as they came, if they came.

Fortunately, older me is smarter (not to mention less agile) than younger me.

So I tiptoed until I hit the bottom of the hill, where it smoothed/leveled out for an easy cruise the rest of the three or four tenths of a mile. I determined to try that tricky spot on the way back to see if ascending might feel safer, and forged ahead, regaining the main bike path after a steep uphill featuring a quick switchback.

I ran just off the edge of the bike path; my All Out Peaks click and rumble like studded snow tires on anything other than dirt. Mercifully, the majority of the right-of-way beside the trail is mowed/maintained, so staying on grass is almost always possible.

A brief distance away another side trail beckoned, and I veered to the right to join it. This one was pure gold. Crossing two small bridges and running along the ridge above and eventually along the creek, it was smooth, fast and quiet. I did pass two women running with a dog, and a solo guy out for a morning cruise, but they didn’t take away from the experience. This section made the “keeper” list.

I bounded back up to the main trail and headed towards home. I broke off on the way and ran the first trail again, in reverse this time. The section I walked down on the way out I was able to run up on the way back. Of course, when ascending such a steep grade littered with rocks and roots, running becomes a relative term, at least for me. I was breathing pretty heavily when I regained the pancake flat asphalt of the bike trail, but I was well pleased with my effort.

An easy final quarter mile brought me to the trailhead and the end of my short four-plus mile run. It was misty and cool, my feet were muddy, and I was happy. Even better, there are miles of dirt side trails left for me to explore. Sadly, it’s a bit too pedestrian (if you’ll pardon the pun) to fit my definition of day hike material, but I do enjoy a good trail run, and definitely look forward to more of the same here.

Especially since this miles-long maze of dirt and asphalt is only a dozen minutes from home…


First Hike Of 2018!

I could spend this entire post lauding Virginia for its hiking-friendly winter weather, but that wouldn’t leave room for photos. Instead, I’ll say this: Getting out on the AT at the end of January in shorts, with no snow in sight, is this transplanted Mainer’s dream come true…

Having said that, I opted for a short day hike to the Johns Hollow Shelter from the James River Foot Bridge trailhead to celebrate my winter freedom, and to launch my hiking year. It was sunny and 53 degrees with a touch of breeze when I left the car and crossed state route 501 into the trees.

I had barely gotten my pack adjusted when I hit the first bridge spanning Rocky Row Run, a bubbling, peaceful little waterway that I would follow for the first mile:


I met four ladies from the Natural Bridge Trail Club heading back from their own 8-mile out-and-back, and chatted with them about the club, as I’d seen the NBTC mentioned online in various places. They were glad to share, and excited about the club and its group hikes. I guess I need to join up!

It was so peaceful on that stretch of trail. Even crossing a dirt secondary road just beyond the one mile mark didn’t interrupt the flow of silence, as I buzzed across and back into the woods.¬†3/4 of a mile later, the AT marched left along the ridge and a sign pointed me down into the hollow to the shelter:


My experience with shelters on the AT is limited; I’ve only seen four, to be honest. But it seems to me that the pair that exist two miles from the James River, Matts Creek to the south and Johns Hollow to the north, are pretty luxurious. Like Matts Creek, this shelter is in good shape, with a picnic table, fire ring and privy.


And, most importantly, both shelters have a water supply running next to them, ready for filtering. Assuming non-drought conditions, which was an issue at times last year. The advantage that Johns Hollow has over Matts Creek, however, is that the area around the shelter is a tent-pitcher’s nirvana. The space is wide open, with an impressive number of camping sites. This might be a good spot for my first overnight¬†shakeout at the end of March…

The shelter is a scant 1.8 miles from the trailhead, and as I was looking for a five mile day, I left it and hustled up the side trail, rejoining the AT.

When I hit the 2.5 mile mark and made the turn to head back to the James, two trail runners and their dog blew past on their way up the mountain. I greeted them but stood aside; as a less-ambitious trail runner myself, I know enough to avoid interrupting their rhythm. One of the guys, head down and arms pumping, looked like a member of the staff at my favorite local outfitter. I need to stop by soon and ask if it was indeed him!

The return trip went too quickly, as always. I slowed to take several photos on the way to try and lengthen my afternoon, but couldn’t stop the inevitable springing from the woods onto 501. After dropping my gear at the car, I did go out onto the bridge; it would be a shame to ever make the trip to Big Island and NOT tread the Foot Bridge!

I’m still excited over the condition of the trail in January, and how accessible and easily hiked it was. At my favorite AT launching point in Maine, the trailhead parking lot gets plowed under until spring, and the trail is covered with literal feet of snow.

I much prefer the Virginia version in winter…


Note: In case you’re wondering about my powers of observation, or lack thereof, this was my third run out to Big Island, but the first time I saw this sign:


If I don’t find a job soon, I might have to take that 775-mile trip to Springer…