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…

 

 

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Along the Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a monster of a scenic route that stretches 469 miles, connecting Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina with Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Along the way, there are scads of scenic turnouts and opportunities for day hikes. Sharp Top, spot of a previous day hike, is off the Parkway. I decided to jump on in Big Island, VA to check out a couple of places.

First, Otter Creek falls. No hiking involved, and pretty much no falls, either. We’ve enjoyed a beautiful, essentially rain-free summer here, which means that typically rushing water sources are now trickling ones. And when those trickles hit spots that are meant to be falls, well…Otter Creek was pretty dry, a theme that would repeat itself later on.

(Note: When I see low water sources, I immediately think of the difficulty of procuring sufficient drinking water by distance hikers. Yikes)

Next, heading south I stumbled upon the Thunder Ridge Overlook. Stunning view.

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Standing on the point with outstretched arms, it was easy to feel a “I’m the king of the world!” moment as the valley spread out beneath me. There was no real hiking here either, but this particular turnoff had one key advantage: the path from the parking lot to the overlook bisected the AT. My wife, a good sport who doesn’t quite share my enthusiasm for spending days lost in the wilderness (especially in snake country) can now lay claim to something her friends cannot: She has hiked a small section of the Appalachian Trail:

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From there we moseyed down the Parkway to Fallingwater Cascades. Now, this one features a .75 mile out-and back with some elevation gain on the return trip. Remember how I mentioned a lack of water previously? Well, the same held true at the “falls” we trekked in to visit. Easy/interesting terrain:

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But walking the distance without the reward of a crashing water fall at the end was a bit of a letdown. It was so much of a letdown, I’m not even going to post a photo of the waterfall, just one of me crossing the bridge that spans the top of it:

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Note the brackish puddle center-left in the above. I should have known that a lack of rushing water at the top would lead to a lack of a waterfall on the trek down to the base.

Regardless, a perfect day for being out-and-about, and a couple of places to revisit after it rains for a bit. Like late spring, maybe? In the meantime, planning my first short solo hike on the AT out of the Big Island area.

But that’s for next week’s post. Happy hiking!

 

 

Daleville, Revisited

Last week I remarked how a quick hike up Sharp Top had ignited the fire in me to get out into more of the Virginia woods. Well, true to my word, I found myself on Tuesday revisiting the Appalachian Trial by way of Daleville in a longer repeat of the quick out-and-back I did a few days before Christmas last year. It looked a bit different this time around:

And this quick six mile out-and-back (my hiking partner had an important meeting later in the day, so we kept it short) also served as the shakeout cruise for my new Deuter Airlite 22 daypack. More on that in next week’s post.

I was impressed during my last trip southbound out of Daleville with the comparative ease of the terrain in relation to that of my home state, Maine. And doubling the mileage this trip didn’t change my impressions. I’m sure that not all of Virginia will treat me as kindly, but the first three miles out featured a handful of switchbacks and very hiker-friendly terrain during the roughly thirteen hundred feet of elevation gained. Once we peaked a little less than three miles out, we stopped to take a few money shots:

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And spoiled the landscape with a few self-involved shots too:

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It was a truly nice morning, a bit humid with temps in the mid-70s at the start. We took it easy, enjoying the surprising amount of solitude on a stretch of the AT that, during peak thru-hiking times and on the weekends, is a heavily traveled section of the trail in Virginia. We ran into a father/daughter duo from Michigan on our way back that was hiking from Daleville to Dragon’s Tooth, a 57 mile out-and-back hike they hoped to conquer by the weekend. Other than that, we had the trees and track to ourselves.

Passing the sign announcing the distance to Tinker Cliffs got us chatting about our plan to do an overnight there and back over Thanksgiving weekend:

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But there are a lot of trails and weeks between now and then, so here’s to spending more (hopefully longer!) days like this one in the woods…