Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Old Forge Road to Caledonia State Park

We are another hike closer to the mid-point along the Appalachian Trail.  Today’s hike was again through open forest which is a favorite of mine.  The trail, for the most part offered good footing.  There were three or four spots along the ridge in the northern half of the hike which were very rocky--what I call boulder fields.  Gene had a very steep uphill climb at the very beginning of his hike.

The weather was much cooler today and there was a steady breeze which made the hiking more pleasant.  The cooler weather also brought out several day hikers.  Even those section and thru-hikers I saw were much more perky today.  Cooler temps and the breeze were a real blessing.

Again, I passed a twin shelter.  I had to go over and make pictures of the clothesline.  There were even clothespins.  Unbelievable.  Potomac Appalachian Trail Club is responsible for trail maintenance and the shelters in this area.  You’ve gotta love em.

Tomorrow, I get to rest these weary bones and then we only have 2 hikes to reach the mid-point.  Yahoo.

That’s all for today.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Crossing the Mason Dixon Line

Well, I feel quite confident we have crossed over into Pennsylvania.  I started at the north end so had 8 miles to hike to get there, but get there I did.  Like the guidebook says, the sign was gone but the post was there.  I found two posts within 20 feet of each other, both with their signs missing.  Someone had used a marker to write, “Mason-Dixon Line” on one, but who’s to say that was the correct post.  Because of it’s location parallel to the railroad track, I’d guess it is the correct one.  To be on the safe side, I made pictures of both posts.

The Mason-Dixon Line may be best known as the imaginary boundary between the Northern and Southern States.  However, the line has been there for about a hundred years before the Civil War.  This is what the guidebook says about the origin of the Mason-Dixon Line which I found very interesting.  

“Between 1763 and 1767 Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon surveyed the border between Pennsylvania and Maryland to resolve a dispute between the Province of Pennsylvania and the Provence of Maryland.  Both Provinces claimed land between the 39th and 40th parallels according to the charters granted to each colony.  The survey line is marked by stones every mile and by crownstones every five miles.  The Pennsylvania side of each crownstone has the coat of arms of the Penn family and Maryland side has the coat of arms of the Calvert family.”

Gene found an internet site which indicates that several of the Mason-Dixon stones are still out there.

The only other thing of any real interest today was the shelter, or should I say, “Shelters.”  The trail passed by two shelter locations within three miles of each other.  This, in itself, is a little unusual.  Generally, shelters are located about ten miles apart.  The first shelter I came to was Antietam Shelter.  This shelter was close to the Old Forge Picnic area which had covered picnic tables, clean water, and pit toilets.  There was a picnic table at the shelter and a large grassy area for tents.

The second shelter was Deer Lick Shelter.  There were two shelters here.  The shelters were a little smaller than what we usually see, but since there were two there was plenty of room.  There was a picnic table here, as well, and two gravel tent pads.  Nice.  This was the first of the “twin shelters” I had seen, but there are apparently several twins through Pennsylvania.

Because of our short hike today, we took a picnic lunch and ate at the Old Forge Picnic area.  It was raining by the time we were ready for lunch so the sheltered picnic tables were a blessing.

That’s it for today.  We’re looking forward to cooler temperatures tomorrow.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Mason-Dixon Line, Not

Well, now, we ran into the rocks today.  They’re starting to get piled up for Pennsylvania.  The Keystone state is famous for its rocks along the AT.  I guess we had a taste of what’s to come.

I was hiking south again today and this rock pile occurred early in my hike.  I had the privilege of going up.  It really didn’t cover that much distance--maybe a half mile.  It took me 45 minutes to go up, three times as long as I usually need for a half mile.  There was some advantage for me--it was early in my hike when I was still fresh.  Gene got to go down the pile which is harder on the knees and it was at the end of his long day.

We really thought we’d get to the Pennsylvania state line today, but it didn’t happen.  Our parking lot was at Pen Mar County Park which is two-tenths of a mile from the state line.  After I drove back around to Pen Mar Park and met Gene, we walked what we thought was two-tenths mile.  Our guidebook seemed to indicate that the state line was at the railroad track.  There was no sign, but we didn’t expect a sign.  The parking lot directions indicated that both the Mason-Dixon sign and the state sign had been stolen.  We got to the railroad track and took pictures.  When we got home, we got out the new Pennsylvania guidebook and it confirms that the Mason-Dixon sign is no long on the trail.  However, it indicates that the state line is 50 yards beyond the railroad track.  Oh well, we’ll get it on Monday when we hike the next section.

That’s all I have for today.

Friday, June 25, 2010

I-70 to Wolfsville Road

Oh, what a nice hike.  The treadway was good; there was only one short section of really bad rocks and that was over in about 30 minutes.  We each had a steep uphill at the beginning of our hikes, but that too was over quickly.  Hiking south, I had the benefit of rock steps for most of my climb.  The forest was mostly oaks and open.  There wasn’t a lot of underbrush so we could see for a far distance all around.

The trial maintainer had been there recently with his weed-eater.  I always love the weed-eated sections.  They make me feel like I can see the snake before he sees me.  That’s just one of my little fantasies that keeps me out there by myself.

There was only one good view point along the way--Annapolis Rocks.  The guidebook indicated that it was two-tenths of a mile off the trail down a steep side trail.  Two-tenths round trip makes almost a half mile and I generally don’t go that distance unless it is something special.  I strongly debated with myself whether to go.  When I met Gene, he said he didn’t think it was as far as the guidebook indicated and he didn’t think it was very steep.  When I got to the side trail, I just turned and went, not even thinking about it.  I am so glad I did.

The view from the rocks was awesome, but I also discovered a backcountry campground down there.  Apparently, it has been added since my guidebook was revised.  There are about a dozen campsites plus 3 or 4 more group sites.  There is no running water, just a spring nearby.  There is also a caretaker.  I guess us RVers would call him a camp host.  He had a large tent, food storage locker, and picnic table just off the trail.

We saw several day hikers and a few weekenders along the trail today, but not so many thru-hikers.  I did see one thru-hiker who warrants mentioning.  I saw this really old guy coming down the trail just as I got started.  When he got close enough, we greeted each other then went our separate ways.  I noticed he didn’t have any teeth.  Gene had mentioned a few days ago that he had seen several older gentlemen without teeth.  We discussed this at our break along the trail and decided we probably wouldn’t take our teeth either if we had the option.  Each plate probably weighs 4 oz and the Polident  tablets, little overnight cup, toothpaste and brush probably weigh another 4 oz.  That’s 12 oz.  Too heavy.  Leave the teeth at home.

That’s it for today.  Tomorrow, we’re doing the last 10 miles of trail in Maryland.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Just Call Me Hiker Trash

Today has been a rest day.  Of course, we had a few chores to do, but not many and they were out of the way by mid-morning.

For a special treat, Gene took me to the Amherst Diner for breakfast.  Not the best food we’ve had, but not the worst, although the sausage gravy was pretty good.  Still, it was nice not to fix breakfast and especially nice not to have to clean up the mess.

I spent the better part of my day trying to get my photos organized and copied and my computer backed up.  It’s been a while.  One of these days I’m going to be sorry I don’t do that more regularly.

Gene spent his time trying to work out campground reservations for the couple weeks after we leave here.  We are scheduled to leave on July 6 and will be heading northeast in the general direction of Maine.

The hiking community on the Appalachian Trail is made up of various groups.  We have found it somewhat difficult to accurately identify ourselves when others ask what we are doing.  We are section hikers--hiking an extended distance between two points along the trail.  The term “section hiking” generally implies backpacking.  We are still doing a 300 mile section even though we’re not backpacking that distance.  However, we are day-hiking.  We carry light pack (about 8 lbs) and we go home at the end of every day.  Some thru-hikers will arrange for a shuttle and hike one day without carrying all of their backpacking gear.  They call this slack packing because their large backpacks are “slack” since they’re nearly empty.   If the shuttle service is available, they may do this several days in a row--exactly what we’re doing.  The only difference is we’re running our own shuttle and we’re carrying day packs instead of backpacks.  This still seems to be the most appropriate group with which to identify ourselves.  So when people ask, we say we’re slack packing.

Long distance hikers often have to replace boots during a hike.  If they plan ahead, they get an extra pair of boots broken in and will have someone mail these new boots to them when needed.  Pennsylvania is about the point where boots wear out.  A pair of boots are typically good for about a thousand miles.  My boots have worn out.  I’m trying to make them last through this section because I want to get new boots at LL Bean when we are in Maine.  The inside lining on the back has holes in it and is starting to rub blisters on my upper heel.  The common solution or short-term fix of choice for hikers is duct tape.  Gene put a piece on each boot and it seems to be doing the trick for now.  I think I have arrived in the long-distance hiking community now that I have duct tape holding my boots together.

Just call me slack packing hiker trash.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Crampton Gap to I-70

I feel like I have been in history class after today’s hike.  The monuments and memorials that started yesterday continued today.

Footbridge over I-70

I started from the north end at the footbridge over I-70.  Getting hikers across major traffic areas safely is a challenge for the ATC.  Every crossing is different.   Often there is a road which passes under or over interstates which is usually a good option for routing the trail, but that was not the case today.  There is a very nice footbridge, completely enclosed, over I-70.  Although I felt perfectly safe, it still was a bit eerie walking across such heavy traffic traveling so fast.  Once across the bridge, I was soon back in the woods where a hiker should be.

The first, and perhaps the most impressive, of today’s monuments was the Washington Monument.  No, not the one in DC, but the first completed monument to George Washington.  This stone structure was built in 1827 and restored by the CCC.  During the Civil War, it was used by the Union Army as a signal station.

The monument is located in Washington Monument State Park.  As I made my way down the hill from the Monument and through the Park, I had an eye toward hiker comforts.  The park has bathrooms and water fountains, both high on hiker comfort lists.  There were also picnic tables under shade trees.  This would be a great place for a rest or lunch break.

Old South Mountain Inn
On down the trail in Turner Gap stood the Old South Mtn Inn.  This fine old building is at least 200 years old and one of the oldest public houses on the AT.  The sign said, “several” presidents have used their services.

Dahlgren Chapel

Across the street from the Inn was a marvelous little Gothic stone church--The Dahlgren Chapel.  I’m not sure if it is used for regular Sunday services, but there was a notice on a side door saying it is available for weddings.

On the trail, but very near the corner with Old South Mtn Inn and The Dahlgren Chapel is the Dahlgren Back Pack Campground.  This small tent campground is maintained by the South Mountain State Park and has all the hiker creature comforts--flush toilets, hot showers, picnic tables, and a flat, grassy place to pitch a tent. Oh, and it’s free.

The last monument on the history tour today was Reno Monument.  This small patch of land saw heavy fighting during the Civil War at the Battle of South Mountain.  During that battle in Sept, 1862, both the Union and Confederate Generals were killed.  Today, on this plot of land is a small granite marker in honor of Gen. Samuel Garland (Confederate) and a huge monument for Gen. Reno (Union).

It seems like I spent more time taking photos and reading plaques today than hiking.  However, the trail was in good condition with only a short 2 mile stretch that was really rocky.  When I was hiking, at least I could move right on along.

That’s it for today.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Weverton Cliffs to Crompton Gap

Oh boy, we had a short hike today--just 7 miles.  We were finished by noon.  My feet didn’t have time to start hurting.

I walked north from the C & O Canal with the first stop being at Weverton Cliffs.  The Cliffs were a short walk off the trail, but the view was well worth the extra walk.

After this initial climb from the river to the cliffs, the trail leveled out and was a nice walk all the way to Crampton Gap.  About halfway I took another very short detour off the trail to the Ed Garvey Shelter.  This is a very nice and relatively new shelter.  Ed Garvey was a boy scout along about 1918.  He did a thru-hike sometime around the late 1980s.  After his retirement, he worked tirelessly, essentially full-time, as a volunteer on the trail with Potomac Appalachian Trail Club as well as with ATC.  He wrote a book on how to hike the Appalachian Trail.  This shelter was constructed in his honor about 9 years ago.

The trail today seemed to be a series of memorials.  Just a few feet off the trail was a red granite memorial stone placed by the family of Glenn R. Caveney.  Glenn had volunteered many hours helping his father maintain a section of trial in Shenandoah National Park.  Glenn was killed in an auto accident.

Alfred Townsend mausoleum

Memorial to Civil War Correspondents

The hike ended today at Crampton Gap which is located in Gathland State Park.  The Gap saw heavy fighting during September, 1862 with the Union Army eventually taking over.  The first thing I saw when I came into the gap was an old stone wall surrounding a stone building.  The stone building is the empty mausoleum of George Alfred Townsend, a Civil War journalist.  In the gap, and the most predominant feature of Gathland State Park, is the 50-foot tall stone memorial to Civil War newspaper correspondents.  This memorial was constructed by Townsend.

View of Potomac River from Weverton Cliffs

Since the hike was so short, we packed a picnic in the cooler and had our lunch at the picnic pavilion at the park.

That’s it for today.

Monday, June 21, 2010

More from Yesterday

Have I mentioned that our weather has been pretty doggone hot?  I’m sure it’s not as bad here as farther south, but hot nevertheless.  Hiking in the heat and humidity is hard on the old body and drinking enough water is a challenge.  Gene has been very dizzy today, probably a result of being too dehydrated.  He has stayed inside, trying to stay cool and rehydrate himself.  He’s feeling better this afternoon.

One of the things we enjoy about hiking is meeting other hikers.  Several days ago I met a lady backpacking with her two teenage daughters.  It’s unusual to see teenage girls on any trail, but especially out for several days backpacking without benefit of running water, indoor plumbing, internet, and cell signal.  The young girls seemed to be struggling under the weight of their packs as they made their way up yet another hill.  I stopped and spoke with the mom.  She seemed like a nice lady; she introduced herself by her trail name, Miss Ann.  I was happy to meet someone new and it added a little pleasure to my day.

Since we were planning to be on the AT for several weeks this spring, I randomly picked out a few trail journals to read and have been following along with about seven thru-hikers since they started in Georgia.  Trail journals (I read from trailjournals.com) are not usually posted every day because the hikers don’t have internet access.  About once a week, when they go into town to resupply, they’ll catch up their journals, so what is posted is several days old.

The next day after I met Miss Ann, I was reading Trashmans trail journal.  He related a story about a lady and her two teenage daughters.  He didn’t give any names, but I wondered if it was the same group I had met the day before.

The next day after reading Trashman’s journal, I ran into Miss Ann and the girls again.  I related the story from the trail journal and she confirmed it was her.  That was pretty cool.  While sitting on a log chatting with her, I learned she was from the center of the RV universe--Elkhart, Indiana.  Not only that, but her husband works for Thor--the parent company of many RVs including Keystone, who makes Everest.  I was happy to also learn that Keystone is doing well--according to Miss Ann.  I went on my way after our short break not expecting to see them again.

Yesterday afternoon, when I was at Keys Gap to pick up Gene, Miss Ann and the girls came into the parking lot.  They were really dragging and Miss Ann was limping.  They asked for a ride into Harpers Ferry to the motel.  We were more than happy to give them a lift.  She is planning to rest her feet for a couple days then get back out there.  I expect I’ll see her again before we leave here.

As I pulled into the parking lot at Keys Gap (before Gene and Miss Ann came along) there was another thru-hiker just putting on his pack.  He looked like he had been taking a break at the picnic table.  We like to have a cold coke after our hike and I have been putting in a few extra cokes for other hikers who might look like they need something cold.  It just so happened that yesterday I didn’t take extra cokes, but this guy looked like he really needed something cold.  I reached back in the cooler to give him Gene’s coke.  When I turned around, he was walking toward the truck.  I stuck the coke through the open window and he got the biggest smile on his face.  It feels so good to do something nice for someone.  He was coming to the truck to ask if I knew if there was a grocery down the road. I offered to drive him down, but he said that all he needed was water and since I had given him the coke, he figured that would do him until he got to Harpers Ferry (6 miles away).  I didn’t have much water left from my hike, but what I had I poured into his water bottle and then he was on his way.  His trail name was Bigfoot.  Another brief encounter that has enriched my life.

It’s the hikers you meet that make the AT such a rewarding experience, just like it’s the travelers you meet that make the RV lifestyle so pleasurable and exciting.

That’s it for today.  We have a short hike planned for tomorrow if Gene is feeling better.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia is not the actual mid-point of the Appalachian Trail, but it is the psychological mid-point for many hikers, probably because it’s close to the actual halfway mark and because it’s where the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters is located.  I hiked north again today because I wanted to hike, like the majority of thru-hikers do, down the mountain into Harpers Ferry.  As it turned out, the trees were so thick and covered in leaves that I couldn’t even see the Shenandoah River until I was at the bridge.

Ramp to the bridge

Hiker lane to cross the bridge

Harpers Ferry is the site of the convergence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers.  With the construction of the C & O Canal and the B & O Railroad, Harpers Ferry became an industrial and transportation center in the early 1830s.  However, it may best be known for John Brown’s raid in 1859.  Following the Civil War, Harpers Ferry never fully recovered and was basically in ruins when the National Park Service designated Harpers Ferry National Monument in 1944.  It gained National Historical Park status in 1963 and the downtown area has been restored to the Civil War era.

The Appalachian Trail enters the National Historical Park on the mountain on the south side of the Shenandoah River.  It makes a steep 700 food descent to cross the river along a pedestrian lane on US 340.  This is a busy 4-lane highway and I was a bit nervous about walking along the bridge.  I was greatly relieved to see a concrete barrier between myself and the traffic.

Thomas Jefferson stood on this rock

After crossing the river, the trail re-enters the woods and follows along the cliff above the river until it reaches the historical district of town.  It then meanders between the old buildings until it makes a zig and a zag over to the footbridge across the Potomac.

trail passes through Storer College Campus

On my journey through town, I wanted to stop at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters to have our picture made.  As a tradition, thru-hikers stop to register as thru-hikers and have their pictures made.  Copies of these photos are placed in an album for all to view.  We looked up the photos of those hikers whose journals we read.  When a hiker registers, they are numbered for statistical purposes.  The first of June saw the numbers in the mid 100s.  Today, they were registering numbers in the low 400s.  Section hikers can have an “official” photo made if they fully intend to finish the trail.  Those pictures also go in the album.  We didn’t want to promise to finish the trail sometime in the future so we didn’t have an official photo made.  However, Dave, was happy to use my camera and make our photo for us.

The ATC building is two-tenths of a mile off the trail (generally uphill, of course).  Gene met me there and purchased the guidebook and maps for Pennsylvania.  If we have time, we may hike as far as Pine Grove Furnace State Park which is the official half-way point.

C and O Canal towpath

With our business taken care of, we went back to the trail, I continued north across the Potomac and down the flat as a pancake C & O Canal towpath for 3 miles to the parking lot and the truck.  This was a fine Sunday afternoon and just about all God’s children were on or near the footbridge over the Potomac.  In the confusion I failed to get a picture of the Welcome to Maryland sign.

There is more to today’s story, but it will have to wait until tomorrow.  No hiking tomorrow--just rest and laundry.  Oh yea, 9 miles is a whole lot better than 14.

That’s it for today.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Welcome to West Virginia

This was a big milestone day.    The first big deal for today was walking into West Virginia.  Finally, out of Virginia.  I feel like I’ve been hiking in Virginia for 10 years.  Virginia boast of having the most trail miles of any other state--536 miles (25% of the entire trail).  That’s plenty.  Second, we are now over the 1000 mile mark along the trail.  Of course, this certainly isn’t the huge deal that the thru-hikers experience as they cross the 1000 mile mark having done that within the past 2, 3 or 4 months.  But we are still excited about that milestone.

We were also happy to finish the roller coaster.  I was walking north again today so my first four miles was over this beast.  I think I was as happy to be done with that as anything else.  While at Crescent Rocks, I got a couple shots of the view from there.  With the zoom lens through the haze, I got a close up of the mansion on the opposite hillside.  I guess that’s the million dollar view from their front windows.

Mansion on the next ridge over

Crescent Rocks is a pretty popular rock climbing spot.  There was no one there when I passed by, but Gene saw several climbers this afternoon as he passed by.

View from Crescent Rocks

After the roller coaster, the trail improved greatly.  It leveled out considerably; plus, there were fewer rocks.  Don’t get me wrong, there were still plenty of rocks, but there was much more dirt.  I ran into a trail maintainer near Blackburn Trail Center.  He had paint brush and paint in hand.  I guess he was repainting blazes.  I spoke to him for a few minutes and suggested he remove a few of the rocks.  He just laughed.

Blackburn Trail Center is a Potomac Appalachian Trail Club facility.  It’s kinda like a gathering place for work crews.  They also have a bunkhouse for thru-hikers and a camping area.  Word on the trail is that they’re serving hikers spaghetti dinner each night.  It is three-tenths of a mile, almost straight down, off the tail.  That’s three-tenths of a mile straight up to get back to the trail.  Neither of us went down there today.

As you can see, I made a picture of the “Welcome to West Virginia” sign.  I was so excited I didn’t even think about looking at the back side.  Since Gene was walking south, that was the side he saw first.  Naturally, it said, “Welcome to Virginia”, and it also included the next border crossing--Tennessee Border, 536 miles.  Wish I’d made a picture of that.

Tomorrow’s hike will take us through Harpers Ferry and into Maryland.  Now there are a couple other milestones.

That’s all I have the energy for today.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Highly Classified

You can probably guess--we didn’t hike today.  It has been a good day of rest which we both needed, especially me.  Our hands have not been idle, however.  A few things got done.

We both have new glasses.  That was probably the greatest accomplishment.  We had gone to Walmart for eye exams about a week ago.  Yesterday we had a message that our glasses were ready.  It’s good to have that chore out of the way for a while.

This was also hair cut day for Gene.  It’s good to have that chore out of the way for a few weeks.  It’s not a hard task and now that I have a few years practice I don’t have to think about it much, but I always dread doing it.

There were a couple details associated with yesterday’s hike that I was too tired to include in the post.  One was the mystery of the heavy traffic on Virginia’s rural route 601.  We each got to drive that special road between VA 7 and US 50.  There appears to be two reasons why this road is so heavily traveled.  One is the large VA DOT Park and Ride commuter lot at the corner of VA and VA 601.  The other reason is Mt Weather.

Mt Weather is a FEMA facility which, apparently, employees a large number of folks.  The guide we use to find our parking lots describes Mt Weather as a “gated, guarded, highly classified” facility.  We really didn’t expect to be able to see it, but, low and behold, there it was on both sides of VA 601.  It’s definitely gated--the entire property surrounded by very high chain-link fence topped with barbed wire.  It is definitely guarded--a check point entry like you encounter at a military base.  I wouldn’t say the location is highly classified since it’s right out there in the open and half the population of Northern Virginia drives by every day, but what’s inside must be because a good portion of the fencing is shrouded in a heavy material to prevent the casual observer from seeing what’s in there.  I was quite impressed when I drove by.  If I hadn’t been driving, I would have taken a picture.  But then again, it’s probably best I couldn’t.  I probably would have been arrested and sent off to a highly classified federal prison.

I think we have rested sufficiently to continue our hiking tomorrow.  Yesterday was a 14 mile day.  We don’t like to hike that far, but have to hike between the parking lots.  We won’t have another 14 mile day among the hikes we have scheduled for this area.  However, tomorrow’s hike is 13.5 which is very near 14 which includes the rest of the roller coaster.  After that, we’ll get back to a more reasonable range of 10-12.

So, that’s it for today.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Roller Coaster

We hiked today between Ashby Gap and Snickers Gap.  I hiked north starting just after 7 AM at Ashby Gap.  Gene started from Snickers Gap.  The distance between the two gaps is 14.1 miles.

The first four miles was very pleasant.  The trail was in good condition.  It was a little overgrown, but not bad.  It was also a little muddy from all the rain we had yesterday.  Apparently, this section of trail doesn’t drain well because there were short sections of boardwalk, especially toward the end of the 4 miles.

Bears Den Rocks

This 4 miles was the only good trail we got today.  For Gene, it was at the end of his hike. The rest of our hike was over the “roller coaster”.  The roller coaster is a series of ups and downs.  You hike up and over the top, then down to the next creek crossing, then repeat over and over for 10 miles.  We had eight ups today for a total elevation gain of somewhere near 3600 feet.  These “bumps”, as I call them, would not have been so bad if it hadn’t been for the rocks.  The entire 10 miles was incredibly rocky.  We didn’t finish with the roller coaster today; we have 4 more bumps in the next section.

A very rocky trail

The guidebook tries to offer an explanation for the many ups and downs.  Apparently, the original trail went along the ridge top over a lot of private land.  At some point in the past, the landowners decided to close the area to hikers.  The trail has been relocated off the ridge and over these bumps.  It doesn’t surprise me that it is land no one else would want.  The guidebook goes on to say that this is the most difficult section of trail within the 95 miles from the North end of Shenandoah National Park to the Pennsylvania State line.  Needless to say, we were both exhausted by the end of the day.  I got off the trail about 4 PM and Gene reached Ashby Gap about 4:45.

Walking through an old stone wall

For our after hike treat we had ice cold cokes and snickers to celebrate having hiked to Snickers Gap.

We haven’t decided whether we’ll hike tomorrow or not.  It depends on how I feel in the morning.  Gene is ready to go and has even packed his pack.  The mighty hiker is he.

That’s it for today.  I’m off to bed.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Manassas Gap to Ashby Gap

With the regular occurrence of late afternoon thunderstorms, we thought we’d get an early start on our hike in the hopes of avoiding the rain.  We rolled out of bed, got ready, and were in the truck before 7.  We were pretty impressed with ourselves.  Fifty minutes later we pulled into the parking lot at Manassas Gap.  Gene was hiking north so this was his starting point.  Normally, he would have dropped me off first at the north end, but I wanted to park the truck at the north end in case I discovered my back wasn’t well enough to hike the entire section. He got out of the truck and reached for his pack which was nowhere to be found.  It never got put in the truck.

In disaster control mode, we tried to regroup and make an alternate plan.  We decided I should still walk south as the uphills were a little more gentle in that direction.  Didn’t want to put too much stress on my back the first day.  We came up with the plan to drop me off at the north end to start my hike south and he would go back to the house get his pack and park the truck at the south end--Manassas Gap.  The downside of this plan was that I would loose the option of turning around if my back started giving me trouble.

We drove the 15 or so miles to Ashby Gap on the back, back roads of Virginia.  VA 688 turned out to be a showplace of rolling pastures, gleaming white fences, and mansions on the hills.  Just gorgeous.

Our parking lot was located two tenths of a mile north of US 50 on VA 601.  On the map, VA 601 looks like a narrow, curving lane that eventually intersects with VA 7. We pulled onto 601 and so did everybody else traveling this morning.  What’s up with that--this road doesn’t go anywhere.  Traffic was so heavy we had to make two passes to find the drive into the parking lot.  Of course, there was nowhere to turn around without driving miles out of the way.  On the second pass by the drive, we were heading in the wrong direction to be able to make the acute angle turn into the lot.  We also noted that the drive was very steep and some of the gravel had washed off during the recent heavy rains.  We decided not to use this lot because we were concerned that we might not be able to get out of the lot.  The trail crosses US 50 only about a 100 yards from the junction with VA 601.  We just pulled off onto the shoulder and I got myself ready and headed south.  Gene headed back to Winchester to get his pack.

A footbridge built to last

It was a rough start, but ultimately a blessing.  I would have been really stressed out by the ordeal over the parking lot not to mention the disaster if I had parked there then not been able to get out this afternoon.  After Gene was reunited with his pack, he went back to Manassas Gap to start his hike.

After we finally got on the trail, the hike was very pleasant.  We were in deep woods all day except for a short walk across an open field.  Hiking south, I saw and spoke with several thru-hikers all excited to be only a few miles from Harpers Ferry.  The trail was muddy for the entire section from all those afternoon thunderstorms.  Our boots were a mess at the end of the day.  My socks and legs were a mess, as well.  It would have been a good time to wear my gators, but I had left them at home in an effort to lighten up my pack weight.  My bad.

My back did fine today with this 11.8 miles.  Our next hike is 14 miles so we’re going to take tomorrow off to rest rather than pushing the limit.

That’s it for today.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Walk About Winchester

We have been fascinated by the history associated with Winchester.  It has been so long since we have visited an area that was established in the early days of colonial America that we don’t often think about life in American during the 1700s.  Our vacation to Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg a decade ago may be the last time we were immersed in early American history.  So Winchester has been a delight for us and we have been so surprised.  We had no idea any of this stuff was here.

All that's left of Fort Loudoun

Today, we did a portion of the 6 mile volksmarch through Historic Winchester.  Several of the places along the route we had visited with Tony and Diana--Stonewall Jackson’s headquarters, the small cabin that served as George Washington’s headquarters while Fort Loudoun was being built, and the Old Court House and other buildings along the pedestrian mall.  Also along the route is Abram’s Delight.  We walked by these places, but didn’t take the time to revisit.

The whole region which is now Winchester was part of a 5 million acre tract of land granted by King Charles II to the ancestors of Thomas Lord Fairfax.  Lord Fairfax is buried in the heart of historic downtown.  He died here in 1781 at the age of 89.

It was George William Fairfax who brought George Washington to the area to survey the lands granted to Lord Fairfax.    In the 1750s, Washington was in command of the Virginia militia and charged with protecting the “western frontier”.  It was during this time that he supervised the construction of Fort Loudoun, as well as other forts along the Shenandoah Valley.  Our walk took us past the site of Fort Loudoun.  Private homes occupy the site today.

As you know, I have this thing about cemeteries, so high on my list to see were the National and Confederate Cemeteries.  The National Cemetery contains the graves of over 4,000 Union soldiers, half of whom are unknown.  The Stonewall Confederate Cemetery, which is part of the Mt Hebron Cemetery, contains the graves of 3,000 Confederate soldiers, over 800 of whom are unknown.  Two of General George Patton’s ancestors are buried here.

Lord Fairfax donated the land which the Mt Hebron Cemetery occupies to the Lutheran Church.  A small remnant of that church still stands in the cemetery today along with the original church cemetery.  Revolutionary War General Daniel Morgan is buried here.

Tomb of Lord Fairfax

Winchester and Frederick County boast of being the “apple capitol” of Virginia.  As lots of land were granted to the first settlers, the leases required that 100 apple trees be planted.  George Washington had two such lots and I suppose it can be assumed that he, along with others, planted these orchards which led to this being Virginia’s apple capitol.  Whether or not George ever planted an apple tree, this is still the apple capitol and Winchester residents are proud of that fact.  Like the guitars of Nashville, the salmon of Anchorage, and the numerous other objects decorated and on display around the country, Winchester has large apples scattered about town.

We did over half of the 6-mile volksmarch and afterwards I felt fine.  I think it’s time to hit the trail again.  Tomorrow we plan to start where we left off last week and continue our hike toward the Mason-Dixon line.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

State Arboretum of Virginia

I think I have forgotten how hot it gets in the south during the summer months.  Weren’t we still hiking in snow this time last year?  There is a reason why we go north every summer.

We braved the heat and humidity this afternoon and drove over to the State Arboretum of Virginia.  The Arboretum is located within the 700-acre research center (Blandy Experimental Farm) of the University of Virginia.  Even though the spring wildflowers are long gone and the flowering trees are fully leafed, we enjoyed strolling along the paths of native plants, boxwoods and conifers.  There were plenty of things in bloom, including cactus.

The property was donated to the University by Graham Blandy when he died in 1926.  The Blandy mansion, Tuleyries, is still occupied by his descendants and not part of the Arboretum.  However, the Quarters building, built about 1825, was the slaves’ quarters for the Tuleyries estate.  It now houses offices and laboratories for the arboretum staff and volunteers.

The Quarters Building

After a couple hours in the heat, we came home, got cleaned up, and went out to dinner in celebration of our anniversary.  Gene enjoys wearing hats and, for the first time this summer, he got out his white summer dress hat. Yes, it has a feather in the band.  Rest assured, I was not nearly so dressed up.  Anyway, when we got to the restaurant, were seated, and placed our order we started noticing that different wait staff were bringing our food.  One brought our drinks, another our bread, still another our entrees.  Gene had his hat sitting on the back of the table and each person commented on his hat.  Could it be that they were taking turns just to get a good look at the hat?

Weeping Norway Spruce
Tomorrow we’ll probably go back for a closer look at historic downtown Winchester.  Yesterday, while we were at the Visitors Center, we picked up the map and walking directions for the Volksmarch.  That should give me a good idea whether or not my back is ready for hiking.

That’s all for today.