…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…