Sunday, May 30, 2010

Honoring Our Veterans

A friend sent this in an email to me earlier this week.  I wanted to share it with my readers as we celebrate Memorial Day.  Perhaps it will help us remember the reason for this holiday.

The photos are of Memorials we have visited in our travels this year.

MIA/POW Memorial, Robins AFB, Georgia

It is the VETERAN, not the preacher,
who has given us freedom of religion.

It is the VETERAN, not the reporter,
who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the VETERAN, not the poet,
who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the VETERAN, not the campus organizer,
who has given us freedom to assemble.

It is the VETERAN, not the lawyer,
who has given us the right to a fair trial.

It is the VETERAN, not the politician,
Who has given us the right to vote.

It is the VETERAN who salutes the Flag,

It is the VETERAN who serves under the Flag,

We can be very proud of our young men and women in the service no matter where they serve.

God Bless them all!!!

Andersonville Cemetery

Makes you proud to be an AMERICAN!!!!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Shenandoah National Park

Well, we took a zero today instead of going back to finish the Central section of Shenandoah National Park.  There were several reasons; perhaps the chief of which was still tired from yesterday.  There was also more rain in the afternoon forecast.  Rain always puts a damper on my enthusiasm.  We had originally planned to take a zero today anyway since our friends, Diane and Zvi, were scheduled to reach Rockfish Gap today.  We were planning to pick them up when they came off the trail.  As it turned out, they got ahead of their schedule and reached the gap yesterday afternoon and were on the highway heading for Nashville before we got home ourselves.  It was yesterday evening when we decided we could hike today, but the motivation had evaporated by this morning.

I feel compelled to write a little about Shenandoah National Park.  We have visited this park several times in the past and always enjoy its beauty.  Our focus this time is hiking the AT along the ridge line which essentially parallels Skyline Drive.  We’re not seeing much of anything else the Park has to offer.

This is a hikers park.  In addition to the hundred miles of Appalachian Trail, there are some 500 more miles of trail on either side of Skyline Drive.  These trails, because they are generally accessed from Skyline Drive, can be easily turned into loop hikes by using the AT to connect with two or more trails.  Scattered along the AT about every 10 or 12 miles are shelters (or “huts” as they’re called within the Park) for overnight use by hikers.    There is also camping permitted in the backcountry with a permit.

If you like waterfalls, the Park has 9.  This spring would be a great time to visit the waterfalls since there has been so much rain this year.

Skyline Drive has 75 pull-outs which offers splendid views of the valleys below.  For the more adventuresome, hikes to the rocky summits of Hawksbill, Old Rag, Mary’s Rock, or the Pinnacles will put you on top of the world.  They say, on a very clear day, you can see the Washington Monument.

There are campgrounds at Loft Mountain, Lewis Mountain, and Big Meadows.  Big Meadows will accommodate larger rigs.  Of course, this is a National Park and there are no hook-ups; however, there are dump stations.  There are also lodges and cabins with soft beds and private showers.  Over the years, we’ve stayed in everything Shenandoah has to offer, especially the ground in the backcountry.

This is also a wildlife lovers park.  There is a huge population of deer here.  They are so habituated to humans they almost seem tame.  We can walk up to them on the trail and they seem not to notice.  They present somewhat of a driving hazard, however, and you have to be constantly alert for one to dart out onto the road.  Bears are everywhere, as well.  In the spring and summer, if you don’t see a bear at Shenandoah, you’re not paying attention.  Yesterday, I saw five.  They also have a habit of walking onto the road right in front of you.

One of the more special places to visit while in the park is Rapidan Camp.  Rapidan was  a summer retreat/fishing camp for President and Mrs Hoover.  You can walk down there and explore on your own or take the Ranger led tour which includes a ride down and back in the park van.

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that Shenandoah is a marvelous place to visit, even if your not interested in pounding out the miles on the AT.

That’s it for today.  I’ll get back to my resting, and tomorrow morning we’ll hit the trail again.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Bootens Gap to Skyland

Before I get started with today’s adventure, let me just say that yesterday was nothing special.  We each had a few chores on our lists.  We had planned to work in a lot of resting, but somehow the chores took more time than anticipated which resulted in not much resting.  Oh well.

Trail passes Tanner Cemetery
We hurried out of the house early this morning.  We had a long hike planned as well as a long drive to the trail.  Thunderstorms were in the forecast for the afternoon, so we wanted to get as much hiking done as possible before the rains set in.  In my haste, I forgot to fix the cooler with cold drinks--something we have come to highly anticipate each afternoon.  Besides the cokes, I had bought candy to include in the cooler.  Really sorry I forgot that!

The trail passes the stables at Skyland

Gene dropped me off at the north end of the hike at the horse stables at Skyland.  He went back down to Bootens Gap where we finished on Wednesday.

View of Hawksbill
We had a long day (12.8 miles), but the hike was about the easiest we have had so far.  The terrain was gentle and the trail was in excellent condition. There were a few more rocks than we have been having, but those sections were short.

We had great views this morning.  There were several rock outcroppings which offered unobstructed views of Ida Valley and the surrounding mountains.  I stepped out at a few of these places, but since the view was the same each time, I went on without bothering to look every time.

View of Ida Valley

There were many hikers out today.  I saw more thru-hikers than on previous days and the weekend backpackers were out in full force.  Naturally, the holiday weekend has the vacationers out and I saw several family groups along the trail.  For the first time ever, I saw a young couple with their babies.  The husband was pushing the double stroller and the twins, who looked to be about 2 months old, were sleeping.  The stroller was wider than the trail.  I hope they got back to their car before the rains started.  And I hope they do a thorough tic check when they get home.

It was also an eventful day for wildlife.  On our drive to the trail, we saw the mom and 3 cubs.  They were crossing the road just south of Lewis Mountain Campground.  Had to have been the same little family we missed on Wednesday.  The bears are fast.  Again, I was not quick enough with my camera.  We both saw deer again today.  Gene says he saw 9 deer.  Gene also saw a turkey, groundhog, a couple chipmunks, a squirrel, and a raven.  As I went past Hawksbill, I watched for falcons, but didn’t see any.  In the late 1980s and early 1990s, peregrine falcons were released at Hawksbill in an effort to reintroduced these magnificent birds to the park.

I met Gene just as I arrived at the edge of Big Meadow campground.  We sat on a rock for our lunch.  Too bad I wasn’t just a couple minutes earlier, we could have had a picnic table for our lunch.

Waist high fern

The thunderstorms came as predicted shortly after one o’clock.  I was on my ascent of Hazeltop Mountain only about a mile and a half from the truck.  I stuffed the phone and camera in the dry bag and didn’t bother with the rain gear.  My chief concern was getting over the top of Hazeltop without being struck by lightning.  I hurried along as quickly as my tired legs would go.

After I picked Gene up at Skyland, we went to the Wayside at Big Meadow.  We got cokes and fries and talked with the thru-hikers who were in for burgers, beer, and blackberry shakes.  We made a quick tour of the campstore and gift shop before heading for home in the pouring down rain.

I think that about covers our hike for today.  We’ll be back at it again tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Hightop Mountain to Bootens Gap

This turned out to be a very nice day--a little hot--but still a nice day.  Today was an exciting day as far as hiking goes.  Gene passed the 900 mile mark from Springer Mountain in Georgia, we are now both caught up with each other, and we saw bears.

As you would expect, each 100 miles hiked is a big deal for the hiker.  That is especially true of the thru-hikers.  They count off the miles and they count off the states.  For us, every 100 miles and every state completed is something we take note of, but not worthy of a celebration.  The 900th mile of AT from Springer occurs about 1.5 miles south of Lewis Mountain Campground.  After our hike this afternoon we stopped in at the Lewis Mountain Camp Store.  There were 5 thru-hikers celebrating.  The guys were putting down massive quantities of beer and the young lady was drinking her wine right out of the bottle.  All sitting on the front porch of the store.

Break at Lewis Mountain Campground

I had hiked to Lewis Mountain in 2008, but today Gene got his turn to roll over that 900 miles.  I think he was too tired to notice.

I dropped him off this morning at Hightop Mountain parking area and he headed into the woods.  I drove north to Bootens Gap, parked the truck, and headed south on the trail.  It was a beautiful morning and there were several hikers out.  The trail was good and, in places, had recently been weed-eated.  The trail also follows Skyline Drive closely and crossed several side trails.  For the first time, I felt very comfortable hiking alone.

As I passed Lewis Mountain Campground, I stopped in for a potty break.  It is very rare to have a flush toilet so close to the trail.  About 11:30 I started looking for Gene.  I was approaching a 500 foot climb that I was not so eager to do.  I sat down and took a break.  I finally decided I better go on in case he was in trouble.  I hadn’t hiked 2 minutes from my comfortable break spot when I heard limbs breaking and a big thud.  I found the source of the noise just in time to see the back side of a black bear running away.  Normally, I would have been petrified, but he seemed to be anxious to put some distance between us so I relaxed.  I ran into Gene about a half mile away.

As we were walking back toward Lewis Mountain, we met a hiker who told us he had seen a mama bear and 3 cubs.  We were watching carefully, but didn’t see the bears.  Later, at the Camp Store the celebrating hikers said they had seen these bears.  We must have walked right by and not noticed, because those hikers were only a short distance in front of us.

On our second pass by Lewis Mountain I again went over to the restroom.  This was great.  On our next hike, I’ll be stopping at Big Meadow Campground.  I just love the Shenandoah.

We got back to the truck about 3:30 just about exhausted.  That beautiful trail I had hiked this morning had lost its appeal this afternoon.  Since we both wanted to check out the Lewis Mountain Camp Store, we drove in there on our way home.  It’s small.  They don’t have much, but a hiker could get a short-term resupply there and a shower.  The question is, why would he want to since the large store at Big Meadow is just 7 miles away.  I guess a south-bounder might resupply here.  They did have a good selection of ice cream (what I chose) and beer and wine for the celebrating hikers.

Tomorrow is a rest day, thank goodness.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Back in Waynesboro, Virginia

We had an uneventful drive from Nashville yesterday.  Traffic was reasonably light except around major cities, and even then we managed to avoid rush hours.  I think the most stressful spot was around Roanoke, Virginia.  I-81 northbound is in desperate need of repair.  The road surface condition coupled with heavier traffic, especially big tractor trailer rigs, made this a most unpleasant half hour.

Break in Simmons Gap
We were all glad to be back in our own bed last night.  I think we all, including Peanut, slept like logs.  Peanut continued with that sound sleep throughout the day today.

This morning we were eager to get back on the trail.  After 5 days without hiking, I found myself struggling to get up the first hill.  By the end of the day, however, I was all limbered up and felt remarkably well.

We picked up where we left off last week at Ivy Creek Overlook.  Again, Gene and I hiked together for about the first half of the total distance.  At the top of the unnamed mountain just north of Simmons Gap, we took another short break before I turned around to head back to the car.

Our day was foggy to start then cloudy.  On my return trip, I got rained on for about 20 minutes.  Gene only got a few sprinkles.  He got to hike over Hightop Mountain this afternoon.  Even with the cloudy weather, he reported having a few views.  Since he didn’t have the camera, I will include a photo from my hike over that mountain from 2008.

View from Hightop Mountain

The trail maintainers were out with their weed-eaters today.  It is so nice not to have an overgrown trail.  They also trimmed the low hanging branches.  Thanks a million.

Tomorrow will be another long hike from Hightop Mountain parking area on Skyline Drive where Gene stopped today to Booten’s Gap. After tomorrow’s hike, we will be halfway through the Shenandoah and past the 900 mile mark.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Busy Weekend

We feel like we have been on the go since the moment we arrived in Nashville.  Maybe that’s because we have been.  A weekend is just not enough time for a visit with family.

Yesterday, we spent a wonderful afternoon with Jack, Ansley, and Kayley.  Gene and I got to babysit while Jack and Ansley ran a quick errand.  That was fun.  Kayley was a little fussy for some reason, but finally got over it, took a nap, and was a sweet little angel for the rest of the afternoon and evening.

We went to dinner at a new place for Gene and I--the Black-eyed Pea in Hendersonville.  They offer a variety of good ole American cooking including burgers, steak, and chicken.  We all ordered from the traditional home cooking section of the menu.  Ansley recommended the chicken pot pie which was very good.  Gene had roast turkey and dressing and Jack chose pot roast.  All was yummy as were the fried pickles which we started with.

Today, we divided forces to conquer what seemed to be more than we could handle.  Gene went back to spend the afternoon with Jack, Ansley, and Kayley while I stayed at my parents primarily to tend to the Peanut.  Of course, I had the added benefit of a few extra hours to visit with my mom.

Peanut is a special needs cat and requires a little extra effort.  He’s deaf and gets nervous when in unfamiliar surroundings.  He has done exceptionally well this weekend after spending 11 hours in his travel crate Friday.  We’ve tried to keep him confined to the bedroom and bath, but he gets lonely, then nervous, when he can’t find Gene or I.  Since he is prone to biting and scratching, I’m uncomfortable leaving him alone with my mother who has paper thin skin.  He also has a very bad habit of pushing stuff in the floor when he thinks it’s his meal time.  There is just too much delicate, breakable stuff in this house for a pet of any sort, much less one who enjoys watching it fall.  I decided it might be best to spare myself the worry, save my mother’s skin, and protect the family heirlooms by staying with my cat.

Now, we are looking forward to dinner out with my folks before packing up the suitcase for our return trip to Virginia tomorrow.

It has been a good weekend and we have enjoyed seeing our immediate family.  It was the best we could do at this particular time, but it is just not enough time to see all those we would have liked.

Tomorrow, bright and early, we’ll head northeast.  I can tell you, we are not looking forward to that long drive.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Weekend Trip to Nashville

We had a long drive to Nashville yesterday.  We had gotten everything ready to go the night before, so were able to make a pretty quick get away.  After a stop at McDonald’s drive-thru for a BIG coffee and breakfast, we were on our way.

Traffic was very light that early and picked up only slightly until we got past Bristol, Tennessee.  We were lucky to miss rush hour traffic in Roanoke, Knoxville, and Nashville (although it was just starting in Nashville).  Every time we come here, we are reminded of why we like being away so much.  Traffic here is just horrible.

Peanut came with us.  He’s a good traveler, but, like Gene and I, he was very tired of being in the truck all day.  Now, he has a whole house to explore.  That, of course, makes me a nervous wreck.  I know how he loves to push stuff off onto the floor.

This afternoon and evening we’ll spend with Jack, Ansley, and Kayley.  We’re certainly looking forward to that.

We also hope to get a look around at some of the flood damage.  Fortunately, none of our family sustained any major damage with the exception of my cousin, whose lower level in her townhouse was completely destroyed.

That’s it for now; will try to post again this evening.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Shuttle Run to Buchanan, VA

This morning, our friends from Nashville arrived.  Zvi and Diane (Diane, or D-Tour, was my hiking partner on the AT in 2008) are doing a section on the AT from Jennings Creek to Rockfish Gap.  This is the same section Gene and I just finished.  We offered to give them a shuttle down to their starting point.

We were so glad to see these friends and catch up on what’s happening with them as well as mutual friends.  As you can imagine, we could hardly catch our breath for the talking going on.

They wanted to drop off a box of food for the second half of their hike at the Dutch Haus B & B in Montebello.  I was glad to get to see this place.  We have heard several hikers talk about the free food at Dutch Haus.  It is located about 2 miles from the trail, but many hikers walk that distance for the free lunch which is served to thru-hikers every day during the months of May and June.  What a generous host.  Many hikers stay overnight (the hiker rate is very reasonable), but most head back up to the trail after lunch (2 more miles).

Montebello is located just 2 miles east of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I’m sure that’s where the Dutch Haus gets most of its business--folks traveling the Parkway.  But in spring, it is all the talk on the Appalachian Trail for miles around.

We stopped for a sandwich in Buchanan before dropping Diane and Zvi at the trail.  When they got out of the truck and put on their packs, I had a fleeting urge to dig out my backpack.  It passed quickly, however, when I remembered there’s no shower at the shelter.

We wish them a fun and safe trip.

Back home, we still had lots to do.  Tomorrow morning, at the crack of dawn, we’re heading for Nashville.  Gotta get a granddaughter fix.  We’re not taking the RV, so had to pack a suitcase again.  Of course, I had to do laundry before I could pack.  We’re only going to be gone for the weekend, but I can’t believe how much stuff I have piled up to go in the truck.  It is so much easier to just hitch up and go.

That’s all for today.  Tomorrow--a road trip.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Blackrock Gap to Ivy Creek Overlook

Today was another foggy, cool day, but we managed to get in a nice hike before the rain set in this afternoon.  Actually, I kinda like the overcast days because its a little cooler.  I don’t get so hot and the bugs are not as bad.

Gene at Black Mountain

This morning on our drive to Blackrock Gap, just as we entered the Park, we saw something small scamper across the road about 75 yards in front of us.  When we got close enough to see, it turned out to be a bear cub.  There were 2 cubs and the mom on the side of the road.  Of course, our diesel engine sent the little family scurrying up the hill before I could get my camera out of the case.

We both got out of the truck and started hiking north at Blackrock Gap.  I hiked about 4 miles to Brown Gap with Gene, then I turned around and came back to the truck.  He went on to Ivy Creek Overlook where I picked him up this afternoon.

Ivy Creek
In 2008 when I hiked that section between Loft Mountain Campground and Ivy Creek Overlook, I was very nervous about bears.  There seemed to be an abundance of bear scat on the trail.  I wasn’t much in the mood to hike through there alone again.  Seeing the bear by the road this morning didn’t do anything to bolster my confidence.  I had originally planned to hike as far as Doyle River parking area, but by the time we got to Brown Gap, the fog was really moving in.  I wanted to get back to the truck before it started to rain.  What a wimp I am.

We hiked around Blackrock Mountain almost first thing this morning.  When we were there, the fog was thick and there were no views.  Later, on my return trip, the sky was still overcast, but there was a bit of a view off the mountain.  Blackrock is a pile of large boulders.  It is quite interesting sitting out in the middle of all the green trees.

View from Loft Mountain Campground
Between Blackrock and Brown Gap, there used to be a large group campground.  Today, we were surprised to see it has been changed to a picnic area.  Camping is no longer allowed, but there are restrooms and water for the weary hiker up the short connector trail.

After our short rest break in Brown Gap, Gene had the opportunity to climb Loft Mountain.  The Loft Mountain campground is closed, either because it is still too early in the season or because of renovation.  I’m not sure which.  There is quite a lot of “fixing up” being done around the park.  The camp store is also closed to the dismay of a few hikers, I bet, gut the Wayside is open and serving those fabulous blackberry milkshakes.  We stopped there on the way home and, yes, we got a blackberry shake.  Loft Mountain was fogged in today, so I have included a photo from 2008.

Gene reported that there is again what seems to be an abundance of bear scat along the trail in the Ivy Creek area.  I’m sure glad I didn’t go down there by myself.  This section of trail veers away from Skyline Drive and feels very remote.  Gene didn’t have a camera with him so I have included a photo of Ivy Creek taken on my hike through there.

Tomorrow, hiking friends from Nashville will be stopping by.  We’ll give them a shuttle down to Jennings Creek as they start their section north to Rockfish Gap.

That’s it for today.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Beagle Gap to Blackrock Gap

We were back on the trial today.  I dropped Gene off at Beagle Gap this morning and drove north along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park to Blackrock Gap.  I hiked south from there until I finally ran into him about 6 miles south of the truck.

Got a couple of good views today.

Mountain laurel in bloom
It was raining when we left the campground this morning and rained pretty hard before we got to Beagle Gap, but stopped before we started hiking.  There were a few drops which fell off the leaves overhead, but no rain.

In 2008, I hiked all the trail south of Lewis Mountain campground.  Gene was working at that time so he didn’t get to hike much with me then.  He did hike from Rockfish Gap to Beagle Gap, however, so we skipped that 5 mile section this time.  I will include a couple of photos from Bear Den Mountain which were taken in 2008.  Bear Den Mountain is pretty much covered up with cell towers--not very picturesque.  Nestled on the mountain top with the cell towers are tractor seats.  There are about 8 seats and they are arranged in a semicircle.  If they ever had a purpose, I don’t have a clue what it may have been.  It’s a great place to take a break before heading down the other side of the mountain.

The hike was nice--lots of gentle ups and downs all day.  The trail pretty much parallels Skyline Drive through the park so we crossed the road several times today.  After having not hiked for a week, I can certainly feel the miles in my feet and legs this evening.

That’s it for today.  We’ll be back out there tomorrow.

Monday, May 17, 2010

An Unplanned Day

Well, well, well.  This day didn’t turn out anything like what we had planned.  Those silly weather people changed the forecast to 100% rain.  Now you know how I feel about hiking in the rain.  I can tolerate a little bit, but I’ve had plenty recently to last a while.  Even Gene, who will usually go no matter what, chose not to hike today.

So what to do on a rainy day?  Go shopping, of course.  All this hiking and fingering the merchandise at the vendor’s booths got me to wanting a new day pack.  The Kelty pack I normally carry is just a little large for summer hiking.  It’s great for winter--it’ll hold all kinds of jackets and fleece pants and extra shirts.  But in warm weather, I don’t need all that space.  Besides, that pack is old and all the waterproofing is worn off the inside fabric.

View from Humpback Rocks

I like Kelty packs (I have 3 of them) and I was dismayed to see that the small day packs don’t have a waist belt at all.  Gotta have a waist belt.  The next size larger has a real weight-bearing waist belt, but it is a Redwing--the same thing I have.

View from Cedar Cliffs

This morning, we went down to Rockfish Gap Outfitters to look at packs.  I pushed and pulled, zipped and unzipped just about every day pack they had on display.  I found a Vaude that felt good, had several pockets for organization, was half the size of my Redwing, and even had that new air flow through back webbing that is so popular now.  We bought the Vaude and came home.  I immediately unloaded my Redwing and packed my new pack.  The minute I put it on fully loaded, I knew I didn’t like how it felt.  I put all my stuff back in the Redwing and tried it on.  Ahhh, what a good feeling.  I switched back and forth between those packs 3 times to be sure I really didn’t like the Vaude.

Back to the Outfitter.  This time I took my Redwing with all my stuff.  I tried on several packs.  Found an Osprey that felt good fully loaded with my stuff, however, it was just too large for me.  In the end, I settled on a new Redwing.  I’m a Kelty girl, I guess.  Just love all those pockets.  It’s the same size as the old one, but at least it isn’t peeling off the waterproofing inside. It has a few new “features” which my old one doesn’t have--mesh side pockets, a water bladder pouch inside, and a map pocket.  And it’s a pretty mauve and gray.

That’s what we did today.  It was almost as good as hiking.  By the way, it has rained all day long.

The photos posted today are of views we didn’t get last week.  Last Tuesday, Gene hiked past Cedar Cliffs overlook and also over Humpback Rocks in the rain.  There were no views from either place on that day so I dug out my photos from 2008--a bright, sunny day--so you could see the views from these too fine overlooks. The AT doesn’t actually pass over Humpback Rocks.  There is a short side trail over there, but it is definitely worth the extra effort--on a sunny day.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Trail Days, Damascus, Virginia

I want to make some censuring comment like TV and movie ratings--for around the bend audiences only--or something like that.  The story I am about to tell and the pictures posted will seem like something from another planet to most of my readers.  Let me just say that the RV lifestyle is not anything like the long-distance hiker lifestyle.  Viewer discretion may be advised.

As a point of reference, like RVers and their rallies, hikers have their special events, as well.  There are several, of course, and the different long trails have their own events.  Trail Days in Damascus, Virginia is one of the primary events along the Appalachian Trail.  It is scheduled each year in the middle of May to coincide with the time that most thru-hikers starting at Springer Mountain in Georgia would reach Damascus on the Virginia state line.

Three of the hikers we gave a ride a couple weeks ago
Just like at the RV rallies, the hiking gear vendors are here--Leki (trekking poles), Gregory (packs), Granite Gear (tents, packs), Etowah (stoves)--set up to sell you something new or fix what is broken.  There is free food and door prizes, a parade, talent show, and free showers behind the Baptist church.

Warren Doyle telling his stories

Many of the people in attendance have walked here from north Georgia, but there are also many, many thru-hikers from former years, as well as any Joe Blow with an excessive compulsive interest in the AT.  And we’re here.  What can I say.  Most people, including those hiking or who have hiked the Trail think you have to be just a little (or maybe a lot) crazy to be out here.  That would explain a whole lot of what you see in the photos.

The latest and greatest in light weight tents
We arrived about mid-morning Saturday and finally found a parking place.  Unfortunately, we were far too late for a free space.  High on Gene’s list of attractions was the vendor area.  At the very first booth, he answered the trivia question correctly and won a Crazy Creek chair.  We fingered all the merchandise in all the booths and looked at all the tents.  We saw Skywalker at a table selling his book.  He was on the trail in 2005 when we did our section from Hot Springs, NC to Catawba, VA and we saw him several times in the vicinity of Erwin. It was nice to see him again.  We made our way down the vendor area, through the “food court”, then up the main street in town.  We slipped into Mt Rogers Outfitters, one of our favorites, and looked around a bit.  There was a crowd of people in there so we didn’t stay too long.  We found lunch at the Fire Hall.

T-shirts for sale

The vendors "tent city".

At 2 PM the Hiker Parade started.  That was the highlight for me.  This event had your basic parade elements--police cars, fire trucks, color guard, and horses.  The main body of the parade, however, consisted of the hikers.  There were hikers who are on the trail currently, as well as hikers from previous years. Most just had on their hiking clothes, but there were a few who took the opportunity to dress up.  Sometimes their costumes reflect their trail names; sometimes not.  You never can tell with these folks.

The parade is more than a parade--it is a major water fight.  The spectators came armed with water guns and balloons.  A few hikers were armed, as well, but mostly they just got soaked.  Thankfully, the weather was good--sunny and hot--for such and event.  We just happened to pick a spot along the parade route that was 2 storefronts from the gang that was on the roof.  Somewhat of an unfair advantage, I’d say.  About the time the parade marchers got in front of my camera lens, they could see the rooftop gang which included a water hose.

Ready for the parade to start
Following the parade, was the talent show down at the food court.  We went from there up to hear trail stories told by Warren Doyle. This guy is making a legend of himself.  He is currently hiking the trial for the 16th time (more than anyone else).  It is my understanding that he runs the Appalachian Trail Folk School where he teaches classes on hiking and every 5 years he leads a group on a thru-hike.  For a real job, he is on the faculty at Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, North Carolina.  Speaking of legends, we also saw Gene Epsey--the second person to ever thru-hike the trail.  He was signing his book out in front of Mt Rogers Outfitters.  Also running around in the crowd were a few Tennessee Trails members.  We saw Model-T from the Clarksville chapter.  It was good to see him looking completely recovered after recent surgery.

This guy is a little more serious
We got tired and hungry, so we moseyed on over to our hotel room in Abington and didn’t stay for the evening entertainment.  This morning, neither of us were enthusiastic about going back to Damascus.  No other events were going on today that we hadn’t seen yesterday.

Except for the long drive there and back, it was a fabulous weekend.  Tomorrow, we’ll be back on the trail again, ourselves.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Thru-Hikers

We have spent today preparing for a weekend trip.  We aren’t taking the Everest this time, but instead will be staying in a motel.  We don’t often travel without our home, so we had to really concentrate on what we needed to take for a couple days away from home.

Our trip will take us to the southern Virginia town of Damascus for the annual event of Trail Days.  Actually, the festivities started on Wednesday, but I think Saturday and Sunday will be about plenty for us.

Trail Days is all about the AT thru-hiker so just let me offer a brief description of what that beast is.  In any given year, there are about 1500 folks who start the AT with a goal of hiking to the other end.  Most start at the southern terminus, Springer Mountain in Georgia, but there are a few who start at Mt Katahdin in Maine.  Of that number that start, a hundred or so leave the trail at or before Neels Gap in Georgia, 30 miles from Springer.  Another couple hundred have left the trail by the Smokies. Only about half who start reach Harper’s Ferry at 1,000 miles.  About 27% who start will finish the 2,174 mile trail.

By the time they reach Damascus, they have hiked through three of the fourteen states along the trail--Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina, and have completed 460 miles.    Most have taken about 2 months to make the journey, stopping about every 4 or 5 days in small towns along the way to resupply their food, get a shower, and do laundry.

The hikers generally fall into three age categories.  The young ones are typically just out of college and are the largest of the three groups.  It is a time in their lives when they can spend 5 or 6 months on the trail before being immersed in career and family responsibilities.  Some have a clear idea of what they want after the trail; others seem to be drifting with no clear purpose.  We’ve met young nurses, engineers, environmentalists, and accountants on the trail.  When in town, they stay at the hiker hostels and they eat pizza, burgers, and beer.  As you might expect, the young ones like to party.  There are a few clusters out there that seem to want to make this 2174 mile journey one big party.  I would venture to guess that these hearty partiers would be among the 50% who drop out by Harper’s Ferry.  Either they give out or their money gives out.

Another group consists of the “mature” hiker--those that are retired.  Again, the group is made up of people from all walks of life.  Being older, they don’t have the responsibilities of jobs and young families, so have the time for a thru-hike.  This group has the financial means to support the hike a little better than the young ones.  Although there is no fee to hike, the hiker still has to eat and when in town they have lodging and restaurant bills.  Good boots, sleeping bags, packs, and tents are not cheap.  When in town, they opt for the B & B or a motel.  Although they like pizza, burgers, and beer, they also have an eye out for salad.

The last group, perhaps the smallest, consists of folks at some juncture in their lives--perhaps laid off from a job, a divorce, mid-life crisis.  These men and women, again, come from every area of society.  We met a man three years ago, who was walking the trail to find some relief from the grief associated with losing his daughter.  That same year, we met a college president who was hiking to raise money for his school.

There are some hikers who come back year after year.  They are kind of in a group of their own, I guess.  Some come to raise money for one cause or another.  One of the young men we took into town yesterday is raising money for a children’s charity.  Some just like to be on the trail.  They worked seasonal jobs and spend the summers hiking. Some are authors and are hiking for their research.

The AT thru-hikers, regardless of age, are traveling by foot on a 2174 mile journey, living in the wilderness with just what they can carry on their backs.  Their hair is long, their beards are unshaven (usually), and even if their clothes were new when they started, they are beginning to show some serious wear and tear, and the smell does not easily wash out.  Many of these people are gathered in Damascus to celebrate Trail Days.  We’re going to join them.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Hiker Community

The day dawned overcast, but at least there was no rain falling.  We got our packs ready, had our breakfast, and headed out.  When we got up the mountain almost within sight of the Blue Ridge Parkway, we drove right into the cloud--visibility about 20 feet.  Incredible.

We continued on down the Parkway to the parking lot where Gene was to start his hike.  He got out of the truck and headed north.  I drove back to Rockfish Gap where he would come out of the woods with the thought that when the fog lifted, I’d head south.  The fog never lifted and it’s probably still there, shrouding the mountain top.

I parked the truck and got out my sudoku book.  I gave some thought to going home to wait the 3-4 hours it would take Gene to do the hike.  In the end I decided just to wait and I am so glad I did.

It wasn’t long before a plain gray van pulled up.  It was one of those that can seat 8, 10, 12 people--a big van.  As the driver was backing into his parking space, I noticed his license plate said something about PCT.  To me, that could only mean Pacific Crest Trail.  He parked, but never got out of the van.  Convinced he was a hiker shuttle, I got out of the truck and went over to speak with him.  Sure enough, Walter, who was in his late 60s or early 70s, didn’t have anything better to do this morning, so he drove up to Rockfish Gap where the trail crosses the road to Waynesboro for the express purpose of shuttling hikers into town.  What an angel.

We talked for several minutes.  He had thru-hiked the PCT several years ago and his wife had used the van to shuttle him (and anyone else needing a ride) back and forth to the trail all along its route from Mexico to Canada.  She’s an angel, too.

While I waited for Gene, Walter made three trips into town and back.

Gene finally appeared out of the fog just after noon.  He and 5 other hikers.  We loaded them all into the truck and dropped them off downtown.

The hiking community is just like all other communities within our society.  Everybody looks out for everybody else.  The hikers share common experiences and make friends.  As the hikers came out of the fog, Walter and I greeted each one and asked if they needed a ride.  We also asked if there were other hikers coming into town.  Without exception, every hiker knew if there were more hikers on the way.  Although we had never seen any of these people before, they were not strangers; we were all part of the same community.

In the RV community, we experienced a similar situation while driving along the Alaska Highway.  Anyone on that highway in an RV was a member of our community.  Often we saw the same travelers over and over, creating bonds that have enriched our lives.

With today’s hike, we have completed the Blue Ridge section--a distance of 105 miles.  Next week we will start on the 105 miles of trail through Shenandoah National Park.

That’s all for today.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Preparing for Wet Weather

Well, it looks like rain is in our forecast for the next several days.  Today was one of those non-hike days which was just as well since there were thunderstorms in the forecast.  However, it didn’t start raining until about 3 PM; we had a beautiful morning to hike if we hadn’t planned our day around the forecast.

We finally got all our rain gear dried out.  While I washed our filthy clothes this morning, Gene cleaned boots and applied a fresh coat of water repellant.  He also sprayed my poncho and cap with some silicone stuff to help repel the water.

Since we are going to sweat when we hike and the condensation will make us wet anyway, why bother?  That’s a valid question which has no answer.  I think it’s a game we hikers play to see if we can actually stay dry.  It gives us something to think about as we hike down the trail.

Another good question is why do we spend tons of money on Gore-Tex lined boots to keep our feet dry when rain runs down your leg right into the boot.  I came up with this combination of clothing to keep my feet dry during wet weather.  The goal is to keep the water off your legs otherwise what doesn’t just roll on into your boot will be wicked down by your sock.  In a downpour, I put on my Gore-Tex gators.  These legging type things have a strap that fits under your boot and a clip which hooks to the boot lace to holds them in place.  Hikers use gators for a number of purposes--they are great to keep dirt, leaf, and other debris off your socks and out of your boots, they keep your legs warm, they protect your legs from stinging nettle, poison ivy and plants with thorns, and if they’re Gore-Tex, they’re waterproof.  Although the gators come up to me knee, they won’t keep the rain from running down my leg and on into my boot.  On top of the gators, I wear my rain pants.  This combination works pretty good for me and if it isn’t too hot, I can keep from having a heat stroke.  Gene and I always challenge each other to see who has dry feet the longest.  Are we starved for entertainment, or what?

Of course, the day hiker just stays home on rainy days. That’s what we’re doing this afternoon.  However, our thoughts are with all those thru-hikers who are out in this storm.  Their cloths are wet, their boots are wet, and their rain gear is wet, if they had it on.  They’ll come into a shelter for the night and take all that wet stuff and throw it in a corner or hang it from a string and pretend it will be dry by morning.  It won’t, so in the morning they’ll put on those same wet clothes they’ve been hiking in for 3 days, stuff their feet into cold, wet boots, and head on out, probably in the rain.  As they hike, they’ll be trying to figure out a way to stay dry in wet weather.

Tomorrow, we’re going to try to get the last 7 miles into Rockfish Gap hiked.  That will be the end of the Blue Ridge section and we’ll be ready to start through Shenandoah National Park.  The weather forecast is better--only a 20% chance of rain.  Gene will hike no matter what.  I will decide when I look at the sky.

That’s it for today.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Reed's Gap to Humpback Rocks

This turned out not to be one of our most pleasant hikes.  The rain forecast was for 30-40% chance of scattered showers and temperatures about 50.  Since the rain chance was relatively low, we decided to go on.  We only had this hike and one more to have completed the Blue Ridge Parkway section and we were eager to get that done this week.

The plan was to drive Gene to Reed’s Gap where he would start walking north and I would go back to Humpback Rock parking area and hike south.  There are two trails, neither of which are the AT, but both connect to the AT, at this parking area.  In order to get me on the correct trail, we stopped there on our way to Reed’s Gap so Gene could point me in the right direction.  There were no cars in the parking lot, but there was a man cooking breakfast at the picnic table.  He had a backpack, but he just didn’t have the look of a long distance hiker.  I was nervous about him and so was Gene.  We did the cautious thing and both of us went to Reed’s Gap.  Since I have already hiked this section, I was only going about halfway anyway.  Might as well do it from the other end and avoid this person.

We were only about a mile into the hike when the sprinkles started and within a few minutes it was raining hard enough to warrant rain gear.  After putting on our ponchos, we continued on.  The farther we went the rockier it got and the wetter the rocks got.  After about 4 miles, I decided it was time for me to turn around and head back to the car.  Gene, of course, had to go on over Humpback Rocks and down to the parking lot--another 6 miles.  It was a hard, wet day for both of us.  Mine, thankfully, was shorter than his.  Needless to say, there were no views.

By the time I got back to the truck, I was pretty much soaked.  When Gene got to the truck 3 hours after I did, he could only find one dry spot on himself.

Rain gear is always a point of conversation among hikers.  There is nothing that will keep you dry.  Hikers use rain gear to stay warm.  If you put on something that is supposed to be waterproof (even the new waterproof/breathable fabrics) and then take off down the trail, condensation builds up on the inside and you get wet.  I’ve used a poncho for years.  I think it is better ventilated than most rain jackets which helps reduce condensation.  Most people I’ve talked to don’t like a poncho because it is cumbersome to hike in, especially if using trekking poles.  Today was a bad day for a poncho, because the trail was so rocky.  I had trouble seeing my feet and any time I had to step up onto a rock I had to be careful not to step on the end of the poncho.

Still, even with the rain and wind, there was a highlight of our hike.  I got to meet Hobbit.  He started at Springer in Georgia and is planning to finish the trail on his 59th birthday.  I didn’t ask him when that would be, but I’m sure it’s sometime this summer.  This is his anniversary hike.  He thru-hiked the AT 25 years ago and is doing it again to celebrate that anniversary.  Personally, I think I would have just opened a bottle of champagne and looked at the old photos.  But, he was having a good time and that’s what matters.  He, by the way, was not wearing any rain gear.  He only had a cover over his pack.

That’s all I know today.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Tye River to Reeds Gap

We enjoyed a quiet and restful Sunday.  A load of hiker clothes in the laundry and a quick run to the grocery were the only things that got us out of our chairs.

Chimney Rocks
Today was like a repeat of our last hike--big climb up from the river, over the mountain (in this case Three Ridges) and down the other side.  This time, Gene got to do the big up hill while I got the easier side of the mountain and the big descent to the Tye River.

There were some great views today.  The rock outcroppings provide fantastic vistas.  The weather was great again today, as well.  We started out a little cool with temps in the high 30s, but I soon shed my jacket and we ended up the day with temps in the low 60s and a light wind--just about perfect for hiking.  Above 3500 feet the leaves are small still and don’t provide much protection from the sun.  Have to be careful of sunburn.

We passed two shelters today; one at either end of the hike.  They weren’t located well for a good meeting place for lunch so we just stopped where we met along the trail.

The Three Ridges

The Priest
With this hike, I have closed the gap on this section of the trail.  I have now hiked all the Trail from Springer Mountain in north Georgia to Lewis Mountain Campground in Shenandoah National Park--900 miles of the AT.  I’ll be doing some of that over again as I hike with Gene the next couple of weeks.

Hanging Rocks Overlook
On today’s hike, we crossed the Three Ridges--a series of three ridges we climbed as we made our way to the summit of the mountain.  I don’t know if the mountain has another name.  Rock ledges along the way offered outstanding views.  A half mile below the summit on the south side is Hanging Rock Overlook.  There were great views from here, also.  The 100-foot suspension bridge over Tye River (named for an early explorer) was built by the US Forest Service.

We have an event coming up this weekend which I feel most of my readership may need some preparation.  As a means of preparation, let me introduce the term “hiker trash”.  Gene and I throw this term around at each other often when we do something that would seem a bit bohemian in a more civilized society.  I had to use that term last night at dinner when Gene, Mr Hiker Trash, proceeded to butter and eat hotdog buns with his herb crusted fish, creamed spinach and wine.  He informed me that true hiker trash would drink his wine out of the bottle (or box) not a glass.

That’s it for today.  Enjoy the photos, but remember they can’t convey the wind whistling through the trees, the birds singing, the sweat in your eyes, or your throbbing feet.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Fish Hatchery Road to Tye River

We had another beautiful day for hiking.  The temperatures were in the mid 60s with the humidity much lower than earlier in the week.  We also had a brisk breeze.  The breeze was strong enough to keep the gnats and flies at bay and to also keep us cool.  I was so cool at lunch that I moved into the sun to keep warm.  Gene put on his jacket at one point in his hike.

We covered the 9.5 miles from Fish Hatchery Road to highway 56 at the Tye River today.  Gene walked north and I walked south again.  This time, I had the pleasure of the uphill climb.  The 4 miles from Tye River south to the summit of Priest Mountain gains about 3,000 feet.  The trail profile looked steep and the guidebook used the word steep several times in its description.  I decided my knees would thank me if I did that portion up instead of down.

Just below the summit of Priest Mountain

After a 3-hour struggle to the top, I met Gene at The Priest Shelter for lunch. Slow-mosey was there.  Gene and I had both seen him on the trail yesterday at different times.  It was fun to have lunch and talk with him.  He is heading north, of course, and Gene accompanied him down the mountain then gave him a ride into Montebello.

Lunch break at Priest Shelter

After lunch, we each headed in our separate directions.  One of the “big view” places on the hike today was Spy Rock.  Rumor has it that Spy Rock, with its 360 degree view, was used as a Confederate lookout during the Civil War.  Gene came to it first since it is located near his starting point at Fish Hatchery Road.  Since Spy Rock is a feature off the trail, it was not blazed with an appropriate route to the top.  The route he chose turned out to be more dangerous than he wanted to subject himself to.  Much later in the day, at the end of my hike, I came to the trail leading to Spy Rock.  By that time of the day, and with another 1.5 miles left to hike, I was far too tired to include any extra distance.  Besides, it was Saturday afternoon and the place was crawling with people.  I wasn’t much in the mood for crowds, so I went on by.

I did have a couple of nice view points today.  Perhaps my favorite was the view of Silver Creek Valley from a rocky outcrop nearly 3000 feet up the mountain.  I had another great view of the surrounding mountains from Cash Hollow Rocks.

It was a beautiful day and a nice hike, but we are both very tired this evening.  I think I’ll sit in the recliner tomorrow.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Salt Log Gap to Fish Hatchery Road

Yesterday was pretty much a day of chores interspersed with periods of rest.  Nothing special to report there.

Today we were back on the trail.  Gene dropped me off at Fish Hatchery Road this morning, then he drove around to Salt Log Gap.  He hiked north while I hiked south.

With today’s hike, Gene is at his northern-most point from his last hike along the AT.  He has spent the past several years “re-hiking” the first 800 miles of this trail with me.  Today, he walked through between Salt Log and Fish Hatchery instead of turning around and hiking back to the car with me.

Salt Log Gap, by the way, gets its name from the practice of cutting a notch in a fallen log and filling it with salt for the cattle--a forerunner of the salt lick.  Fish Hatchery Road, as you might guess, is the road where the state fish hatchery is located.

Fish Hatchery Road, now renamed Spy Rock Road, is a dirt road closed to motorized vehicles except for the homeowners living along the road.  The trail, unfortunately is a mile up the road.  Foot travel is permitted, so I walked around the gate and headed uphill.  Once I reached the trail, I had a pretty easy go of it today.  The trail was mostly level or downhill for my hike.  Of course, Gene felt like he had hiked uphill all day.

Easy hiking was the highlight for today.  There were still some trillium blooming and a few azaleas, but otherwise it was just an ordinary woods walk.  There were no great views and even the forest didn’t seem very exciting.

Even though our hike was relatively short, it was still 5 o’clock when we got home.  Both ends of the section were several miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Salt Log is several miles from the parkway and then 4 miles down a gravel road.  After I picked up Gene at Fish Hatchery, we then drove another 9 miles down route 56 to where the trail crosses the Tye River.  This will be where I park the car tomorrow and I wanted to know where the parking lot was located.  All that driving around made a very long day.

That’s it for today. Time to get the kitchen cleaned up and get my pack ready for tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Salt Log Gap to Long Mountain Wayside

Today, I walked south and Gene walked north.  I got the better deal there.  Not only did I   have less total uphill, my climbs were broken up into 500 foot segments. Gene had his 2000 foot climb right at the beginning.  Additionally, I had outstanding views and he had almost none.  We met for lunch before he had hiked far enough to get my splendid views.

Stone Walls on Tar Jacket Ridge

There were great place names today.  I started out from Salt Log Gap with the climb up Tar Jacket Ridge.  Tar Jacket was sparsely wooded--there were more boulders than trees.  Descending down the other side brought me to an open meadow at Hog Camp Gap.  Because there is a spring nearby, this large open area is a popular camping spot.

The hike up Cole Mountain was along an old road

Next came Cole Mountain.  This mountain actually goes by two names--Cole and Cold.  I found the geo-marker on the summit, but it didn’t give a name at all.  Cole Mountain is a bald which apparently got that way from cattle grazing.  The guidebook also indicates that a resort was planned for this expansive open mountain top, but the project was never started.  Much of the climb was along an old road that is now covered in grass.  The views were fantastic.

Down the other side of Cole Mountain brought me to Cow Camp Gap.  Cow Camp Gap Shelter was six-tenths of a mile down a blue-blazed trail.  I didn’t want to add that much distance to my day, so I pressed on up the side of Bald Knob.

About half way up Bald Knob was when I ran into Gene.  He had spent his entire morning trudging up the other side.  We stopped for a lunch break.  Bald Knob is not a bald at all.  Seems like they got the names mixed up.  It had enough trees to prevent much of a view.  We noticed at this elevation (about 4000 feet) the trees were just starting to leaf.

We finished our hike with that looong descent to Long Mountain Wayside.

Tomorrow, we’ll stay home with the Peanut and do a few chores.