Before I delve into today’s analogy, I want to mention two things.
First, for my friends in New Jersey, a few days ago I saw my first deer on the trail. A day later I saw another one. Hundreds of miles and two deer. Incredulous right? I see more deer than that every time I pull out of my driveway! As I’m fond of telling people here on the trail, New Jersey is nature gone wild. Bears, snakes, deer we’ve got it all!
Today I completed back to back 20 mile days (20 yesterday and 23 today to be exact). It’s something I wanted to attempt and today the weather, trail profile and footing (read no rocks) were all ideal so I made the push. Yeah!
Today’s analogy is rush hour traffic (work with me here). When the traffic slows done, you start assessing which lane is moving the fastest. You switch lanes only to determine that the lane you just exited is now zooming along. Maybe you switch back over, maybe you stay put. Most of the time the trail is single lane as you can see in this photo
Not too much to concern yourself with when this is the situation. However, sometimes the trail is a little wider as you can see in this picture
In situations when the trail is wider, especially if there is mud or rocks involved, you’re always searching for the best line or the fastest lane. Uh, over there looks pretty good, let me give it try. Hmmm, actually the other side looks better after all, let me go back over there!
I don’t know about rush hour, but I have learned up or down, left or right the trail always wins! Sent From my iPhone
As you know, in educational parlance the three R’s stand for reading, writing and arithmetic. From the hiking perspective its roots, rocks and rain.
Taken individually or even two out of three, the three R’s are not so bad. However, put all three together and it makes for a miserable day.
Such was the case the other day, all three conspiring to suck the joy out of the daily trek. Normally there’s a certain vigilance associated with every step you take, which is only heightened when you add moisture to rocks and roots. Each step can be its own adventure. A twist here, a slip there with a yikes thrown in for good measure.
Here’s what hiking in the rain looks like. Trust me it’s not as mystical as it appears.
Together with the elements and the terrain, myself and a few other hikers began to wonder who had propagated the myth that the trail gets easier in Virginia. The day was well on its way to being the most unpleasant day thus far. Then the rain cleared and the ponies appeared.
For those of you that play golf, imagine you’re having a horrible round, one of your worst ever. On the 18th hole you hit a decent tee shot, but your second shot is brilliant, leaving you three feet for a birdie putt that you make. You leave the course thinking, not a bad day after all!
That’s what the ponies did for my day. I heard about them, I read about them and here they were, the ponies of the Virginia Highlands. Not a bad day after all! Sent from my iPhone
Each year Damascus, VA hosts Trail Days. It’s a three day event (www.traildays.us). It’s a big deal. The “normal” population swells from the thousand or so who call this home regularly to estimates as high as 20,000 over the three days. It’s obviously not just thru hikers attending, but past hikers, aspiring hikers and obviously lots and lots of other folks.
Many of the major equipment vendors are present as are many smaller vendors and a whole bunch of boutique vendors and arts and crafts folks. A significant number of people camp out in Tent City where $5 gets you admission, a shower (yeah man) and the potential for laundry. Oh, and partying based on what I was hearing that seemed to last all night long. Clearly not every one was a thru hiker!
On the plus side, I had a problem that had developed with my pack repaired by Osprey, although the fix did take a little longer than anticipated, forcing me to take a zero day (you can figure out what a zero day is versus a nero day which I’m sure you can also figure out) here in Damascus.
However the extra time in town allowed me to have lunch with my brother Lou and his son Mark who were on the way home from Mark’s graduation. It was good to see them and I appreciate the detour they took to join me for lunch!
Talking with some Damascus residents, Trail Days is a big deal for them as well. The revenue infusion pays real dividends in terms of tax easement. Interesting, who woulda thought! And, the people are so nice, for me it turned out to be a great event and I’m glad I made the 23 mile push the day before to arrive here on Saturday.
To get to Damascus I crossed the Tennessee to Virginia state line. As the trail criscrosses Tennessee and North Carolina multiple times ( the joke being you’re hiking with your left foot in Tennessee and your right foot in North Carolina) here’s a shot of Ivan showing his clear satisfaction with being able to tick what amounts to two states off the list.
The euphoria was short lived when I informed Ivan that VA contains the most mileage of any state on the trail. It will be about 550 miles before we cross another state line. But, the profiles look better in VA and there’s the ponies that should provide good breaks during the days to come! Sent from my iPhone
Many years ago my brother and I raced in the General Clinton Canoe Regatta. It’s a 70 mile race from Cooperstown to Bainbridge, NY. The event commemorates General Clinton, who in the Revolutionary War, when surrounded by the British, dammed up Otsego Lake, put his troops on rafts, and under the cover of darkness broke the dam and floated through enemy lines. Brilliant!
The race is on the Susquehanna River which from its source at Otsego Lake is quite narrow and twisty, not unlike the AT. Another similarity, due specifically to that twisty aspect, is how activity appears at times to be in slow motion.
On the trail (or in the canoe) you’ll see another hiker and then there will be a switch back, or a twist in the trail and they’re gone. You might see them again in a minute or you might not see them again the rest of the day. Or, you’ll pass them when they stop for a snack or lunch and they’ll do the same when you stop. At times you can feel completely alone, when in the reality there’s likely to be a handful of hikers within a mike or two of each other.
Oh, and after 70 miles, at times the time difference in the regatta between the first and second place boats has been just a few seconds. Unbelievable.
Wednesday started at 5am, not per any plan but due to the claps of thunder that woke me up. Deciding the bear threat was minimal, I retrieved the bear bags (food bags) before the rains came and hoped to grab another hour or two of sleep.
The thunder as it echoes through the valleys is incredible. It’s certainly unlike anything I’ve heard before. Breathtaking really.
After eating breakfast and watching the rain lessen I eventually started to hike at about 9am. It would rain for the next few hours. As you might imagine the trail can get quite muddy and slippery and the walk turns into more of a slog. I adopted the saying, move fast when you can, slow when you have to! Eventually the sun came out and the balance of the day was quite nice.
I needed to resupply and spent the night at Black Bear “Resort”. They had full resupply available in addition to real food. In a matter of minutes ( literally) I consumed about 2000+ calories. A pizza, a cheeseburger, a huge honey bun and a Klondike bar. Boom, boom, boom and boom. Ahhh…. The highlight of Thursday was Laurel Falls.
Although very picturesque, sadly a father and son died here a few years earlier. Apparently the pull near the falls is quite strong and they were pulled under.
The trail also passed very close to the river and I imagine if it was raining it would have been a bit nerve racking. But thankfully no drama!
The trail also passed along Watauga Lake. Very nice. The Watauga Lake Shelter was closed due to bear activity. No bears sighted.
Made it to a shelter just as the rains came. It rained during the night so very happy I was in a shelter.
Friday started overcast. Cool was good as the agenda called for a big day, 23 miles. The goal was to get close to Damascus for Trail Days. The weather and terrain cooperated. Although I have some blister issues, I completed today’s hike. Tomorrow is hopefully a mostly downhill run into Damascus! Sent from my iPhone
I’d like to do a shout out to my nephew Mark Lipnickey who graduated from Vanderbilt today, Friday May 13 ( I’m assuming this happened as planned)!
Mark I wish you all the best as you begin this next chapter of your life. Success, good health and memories to last a lifetime. I hope you positively impact as many people as your parents have.
Given I missed all the 6000 foot mountains in the Smokies, I was pleased to see the profile for today, Roan Mountain at 6190. Given I had hiked 22 yesterday, I was a bit apprehensive but would cap today’s mileage at 15.
Fortunately the climb was gradual and in the end enjoyable. Just off the summit was the highest shelter on the trail. It resembled a small cabin versus the typical open ended shelter.
The descent from Roan led to Carver Gap, and then a climb to Jane Bald. The series of balds that Jane Bald is a part of is allegedly the most expansive series of balds in the world. True or not, the views were spectacular!
I also meet my first southbounder today. He started last July and after watching the snow melt is now a few hundred miles from completing his hike. Kudos to him.
Spending the night at Over Mountain Shelter (named after the Over Mountain men from the revolutionary war). The shelter is a converted barn that looks out over a valley. The setting is great, supposedly the sunrises are better. In a few hours a will find out.
On Friday morning I cruised the 7 miles from No Business Shelter into Uncle Johnnys hostel just outside of Erwin, TN. For me it was a good week back. Five 15 mile days, the one 20 over Bald Mountain and the 7 into Erwin (102). I think your confidence grows a bit with every hurdle you overcome. I can hike in snow. I can do a 20. All which will hopefully help me when things get tough at some point in the future.
Uncle Johnnys was great. Got there in time to catch the lunch shuttle, all you can eat pizza and salad bar for $7. With all the hikers I can’t understand how that place stays in business.
The dinner shuttle presented the choice of Italian or Mexican, after lunch I picked Mexican. Got laundry done and a shower in. It’s amazing how good a shower can make you feel!
Next significant points of interest are Roan Mountain at over 6000′ and then after that (still a week away) Damascus, VA and the promise of straighter less strenuous trails! Think more miles.
Happy Mothers Day tomorrow to all who fit that profile. And Happy Birthday to my grandchildren Amy and Nate. Sorry I could not attend your party today. I hope you understand.
The weather report called for a mix of rain and snow, temps in the mid 30s, with wind gusts 40 to 50mph. The day’s journey would take us over Bald Mountain at just over 5000′. I was hoping to cap a good week with a 20 mile day.
The talk in the shelter that morning centered not only on what to wear, but as importantly, what you had that was dry and what your bailout plan was as conditions definitely presented the threat of hypothermia.
Odd as it may sound, the weather cooperated. No rain to begin, snow and freezing rain, which effectively bounced off raincoat and pants.
From afar you could catch glimpses of a snow covered peak, Bald. Once on top it was incredible. Mostly bare (thus bald) the few sparse trees were frosted with a combination of ice and snow. Although overcast and gray they had a brilliance to them that is tough to describe and not revealed in this picture. It was incredible.
As predicted the wind was howling and I was blown off course once or twice. Having left my gloves home over my short hiatus, I thankfully found a pair in a hiker box at a hostel prior to the climb. Whew!
At about 15 miles there was Trail Magic. Sugary, junky fruit pies never tasted so good! The sun that shown briefly was replaced with rain but the remainder of the hike in to No Business Shelter was uneventful. A good day for sure. Here’s another cool picture, compliments of the snow.
One of the things that always amazes me about hiking, not just here on the AT but anytime I’m out in the woods are the “relics” you encounter, be it stone walls, over grown roads or old foundations. What were they used for why were they built and by whom? I passed two such relics in the middle of the week.
The first, in the middle of nowhere was a 12 to 15 foot cement dam behind which was a beautiful pond. Salamanders, check. Fish, check (wish I had a pole). Frogs, check. There was no sign of a spillway which would indicate the use of water power. Someone’s private fishing hole? Part of a long gone country estate? If nothing else it thankfully gives me something to think about over the next few miles.
Another point of interest was a grave from the civil war. A 13 year old Union soldier killed by Confederate forces. Yes, 1850 – 1863. It’s almost unimaginable. An unfortunate but important part of our history. Again, things to ponder to help the miles pass.
To contrast the last paragraph here’s a newt a saw that helped to brighten the day!