Monday, March 28, 2016

Southbound on the Appalachian Trail 2015: Virginia (part 2)

James River
Halfway through Virginia, autumn began to kick into high gear. Nights were chilly, days cool and sunny. It was a memorable time to be on the trail. Crickets still chirped at night, but not as loud, a sign that the forest would soon be transitioning into the silence of winter. As Camo and I slowly made our way south, other southbound thru hikers would continue to catch up and pass us, several I had not seen since Maine including Muffin Man, Smiles Davis, Pabst, and a trio of 18 year old guys who were doing 8 mile days when I last saw them in the 100 mile wilderness two and a half months ago. I guess they had found their hiking legs.
Sunset from Dragon's Tooth

The Guillotine
Camo and I would enjoy the hiking company of a solo hiker named Rocky, a big dude who wore a cut off American flag shirt from Wal Mart and other colorful clothes, and Georgia, a young guy with a thick Georgian accent who had to hike 20 miles a day, (we didn't see him too long.) We would cross paths with Rocky from time to time all the way into North Carolina.
Wall below the Blue Ridge Parkway

Highlights were hiking along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Tinker Cliffs and McAfee Knob, and camping under the Dragon's Tooth. Southerly hawk migration was taking place as we hiked the trail alongside the Blue ridge Parkway. Is was a neat realization to be migrating south underneath the hawks as they too traveled towards warmer climates.
Tinker Cliffs

Camo inspecting a rock wall

One of the AT's most iconic spots: McAfee Knob
The day Camo and hiked over Tinker Cliffs and McAffee Knob was a cold one, a foreshadowing of weather to come. The views that day were fantastic. The trail was busy and congested in places from day hikers as McAffee knob is a popular hiking destination. The day would be capped off with one of my favorite campsites of the hike. Camo and I camped under the Dragon's Tooth as we arrived at the summit right at sunset. The spot is popular with Virginia college students but thankfully there was just three other campers who arrived later that night. I remember waking up in the middle of the night and looking up at the huge jagged rocks surrounded by a night sky filled with stars. There definitely was a spiritual feel to the spot. Camo and I woke up to giddy students reaching the summit before the sun came up to witness the sunrise from the top of the Dragon's Tooth. Not the best way to wake up, but the sunrise was worth it.
Dragon's Tooth

Keffer Oak

Leaves really began to change colors

Apple Tree
Leaves were turning colors quickly as the temperatures dropped. Throughout the day, we would often travel through forest where it seemed leaves had reached peak color, and then travel out of those zones into other places where peak leaf season was still several days away. As I mentioned before, it was a great time to be on trail!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Southbound on the Appalachian Trail 2015: Virginia (part 1)

A soaked and contemplative H2Camo

Ripe apples along the trail. The AT passed through several abandoned apple orchards where fresh fruit made for a very unexpected, but welcome addition to a day's diet.

Walking through fall.

Old stone wall and fall colors

Rock cairn on the Priest

Lone maple

Camo at the Punchbowl Shelter

First day of sun after 9 straight days of fog and rain in the Shenandoah
1000 miles to go

Buck and fog

Camo inspecting mileage information on post in Shenandoah NP

Camo walking through Elkton, VA

Chicken of the woods

Best hiking shoes I've ever used: Over a thousand miles per pair

Old friend Doug picked up Camo and I and treated us to lunch in town outside of Harper's Ferry
Camo had mentioned to me that he once read of a condition called the "Virginia Blues" that tends to afflict thru hikers on the AT. The state is the longest on the AT, over 500 miles. Perhaps hikers grow tired of the green tunnel, and the initial excitement of the thru hike has worn off. For Camo and I, we experienced the "Virginia  Blues" the very last day we were in Virginia, on a cold dreary day in Damascus. Otherwise, we both commented how much we enjoyed Virginia. It was one of my favorite states. Perhaps the experience is different for south bounders like us. I was so happy to be hiking on good trail again after the annoying, rocky, state of the trail in Pennsylvania and Maryland. We also were treated to a bug free forest, cooler weather, and the changing color of the leaves was a visual feast at times. Due to our slower hiking pace, I would say this was the first time I really, really began to enjoy the hiking lifestyle. We were in no hurry to finish. We decided we were not going to rush to finish before Thanksgiving, and a mid December finish was more likely. This decision took tremendous pressure off ourselves.

We experienced our worst weather in Shenandoah National Park. 9 straight days of rain, fog, and cold weather. This was a result of the hurricane dubbed the "thousand year storm" that dumped over 20 inches of rain on parts of South Carolina. By day 7, I was feeling delirious, like I was in a foggy dream. As I mentioned before, Camo and I made the decision not to rush, which made this time period much more tolerable. Most days during this rainy chapter, we hiked no more than ten miles a day, twice we decided just to stay put in the shelter and sleep. There was a trail side store near one particular shelter. There were about 15 of us crammed into the shelter. Thankfully the store sold 99 cent beers, hot dogs, and snacks. A couple of us had instruments. An intolerable situation turned itself into an enjoyable trail memory. The rain probably kept hundreds of day hikers off the trails as well, as the park surely would have been packed with the peak leaf season so close.

We met several new hiking companions including Blue Eagle an army veteran, Dos Equis and his son, a couple from New Zealand called Kiwi Brucy and Molly Woppy, the trail sage One Step, and a couple of solo hikers named Rocky, and Cake, funny, funny dudes.

When the rain finally stopped, I experienced a sense of trail euphoria that I hadn't experienced in a long, long, time. Camo and I had just left the town of Waynesboro, clean and well fed. The sun and warm weather was so intense, we felt like a major life trial had just been completed. If nothing else, we knew that we would dry out at least for a few days, and we were free to camp wherever we wanted and enjoy an evening fire once again away from the soggy, crowded shelters in Shenandoah NP.

During this time, we continued to experience trail magic in towns, everything working itself out in due time. Hitches into town were easy to come by. We had hiked over the Roller Coaster, completed Shenandoah NP and hiked over the 4000 ft. Priest mountain. My hiking friend Moosie was still a couple days ahead, we would later meet up with her about halfway through Virginia...

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Southbound on the Appalachian Trail 2015: Maryland/ Harpers Ferry West Virginia

 The Appalachian Trail quickly passed through my home state of Maryland, covering about 40 miles or so. Some hikers attempt what is called the 4 State Challenge, which is starting the 40 mile section at the PA/MD border, hiking the 40 mile section of Maryland, crossing through West Virginia in Harpers Ferry, and finishing the day in the state of Virginia all in a 24 hour time period. Again, about 40 miles total. That's not my cup of tea, but as they say, "Hike your own hike."

High Point Rock
 We had perfect weather hiking through Maryland. Mosquitoes were pretty much gone at this point. Nights were still filled with the sounds of crickets. The trail passed several Civil War memorials and battle grounds. Maryland was where I grew up, and it was a treat to be home and to see places I had never been before.
Hornets nest

AT crosses the I -70
 One place I had seen many, many times was the small, fenced in footbridge, where the AT crossed over the I-70. Every time I drove under that bridge over the years, I dreamed of one day being able to actually hike on the footbridge on the AT. I always wondered what it would feel like to look down on the cars, and be in the midst of a thru-hike. Well, now I can tell you it felt as incredible as I always imagined. I felt very grateful to turn a dream into reality.
Washington Monument. 2 AT hikers were struck by lightning here earlier in the summer. As a result, monument was closed.

One of several Civil War monuments along the AT in Maryland. This one was dedicated to Civil War journalists.
 Another special moment of the trail was meeting my mom and dad outside of Harpers Ferry. My dad joined me for about three miles of the trail along the C&O towpath. We met my mom in town, had ice cream. They were good sports putting up with my rugged, filthy condition. I also went home for a couple of days to rest, resupply, and get new shoes. My first pair had lasted over a thousand miles, and were the best hiking shoes I'd ever worn. They were a Nike running shoe. I bought the same shoe again, and they also lasted another thousand miles to Springer Georgia.
Beautiful Potomac River outside of Harpers Ferry

Turtles along the C&O Canal

My dad joined me for three miles along the AT to Harpers Ferry

Foot bridge into Harpers Ferry

My parents and I outside the ATC building in Harpers Ferry.
Camo and I resupply outside a Maryland Wal-Mart.
Camo and I split up just before I met my parents, as he had to head into a town to do laundry. I was pretty certain I wasn't going to hike with him again as he was going to be at least two days ahead since I decided to go home for a couple of days. As it turned out, he spent a couple of days to rest in Harpers Ferry, and we were able to meet up again after I returned to the trail. The trail would really become a lot of fun from here to the finish. I received word from Moosie, who I had met on the PCT and CDT, that she was now on the AT as well, just a couple days ahead. She had hiked the northern section of the AT 10 years ago, and was now finishing the trail. Camo and I would later meet up with her in Virginia...