Wednesday, May 17, 2017

I Am Snail, Destroyer of Webs

I broke camp as quietly as possible at 4 am, threading my way around the many NOBO tents. One secret to dealing with this annual invasion: they sleep in late.

Then, on to the Trail, by headlamp. Not a favorite way to hike for me, there's nothing to see but the trail and that demands full concentration to avoid rocks, roots, and any local fauna out looking for their morning meal.

Also, to avoid losing one's way. The white blazes are very comforting.

I did not meet anyone else on the trail until 8 am, a redbearded NOBO hurrying to catch up with his trail family. We traded info on trail conditions, and then he said

"By the way, do you know that you have a spider's web on your hat, hanging down to your pack?"

I brushed it off, and replied that someone had to be the first person on the trail in the morning. He grinned -- "Thanks for doing that for me!"

View from the pasture

The trail crossed two large open pastures, already warming up before 9 but with beautiful views.

Access to the pastures involved climbing fence stiles, of which I am not a fan when wearing a backpack. Must have been a dozen of them ....

Yet another fence stile

Following my revised hiking plan, I looked for a spring where I could go off trail and nap for a couple of hours. I found one, another magical place along the Trail!

Perfect for lunch and a siesta

In other news, I met my second snake for the year today, first on the AT this year! Small olive green skin with yellow lengthwise stripes, booking for the weeds to get out of the way of the huffing and puffing Destroyer.

Many hours afterward up and down mountains in sweltering heat -- and everyone was feeling it, not just me -- some mild dizziness surfaced. Not a good symptom of heat exhaustion onset when hiking ...  I elected to stop short at Davis Path Campsite.  which has a picnic bench, a privy, and two level tent sites.

Natural stairs up a boulder river?

There's a story here somewhere

When I opened up my bag to collect the items needed to claim one site, though, the bag with the tent poles and stakes was missing. My guess is that I did not put it the pack when I left Knot Maul shelter before dawn. Aargh!

Karma for the Destroyer? Definitely not going back to try and find it. I will try to post a note at the next shelter asking northbounders to look for it and email me if found. Unlikely -- but then, so was finding Bushy's kerchief.

In the meantime, it's cowboy camping for me tonight, rolled up in my tarp and hoping it does not rain.  The clouds are pretty ominous ... in any case, this disgusting turn of events will send me back to Round Hill for resupply.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A stone sentinel in the forest

Predawn wakeup got me started early for a long day with fifteen miles ridge climbs and descents. I survived.

My first ascent went well, but as the day warmed my pace slowed. The last climb to 4400 feet took a lot of mental override to push my body up over the summit of Gardner Mountain.

I wanted to stop here and see the stone forester's house that was converted to a hiker's cabin. Pretty impressive! The cabin was filled with thru hikers, so I set up my tent well away from them.

Another section hiker I chatted with proudly announced that he will cross the 1000 mile mark tomorrow. Someday I plan to get there also, I said, though not too soon --like these thru hikers, I am at the 25 percent mark. They have been on the Trail two months, I've been two years -- so by my standards, I'm winning!

Trail art courtesy an unknown thru hiker

After completing all the evening rituals, though, I climbed back up to listen to their banter while we all waited for the sunset. The young NOBOs were actually behaving reasonably well, (possibly due to presence of a half dozen older guys?)

Monday, May 15, 2017

A Red Kerchief

Up at 5:30 again today, trying to beat the heat. Tomorrow, I'll try 4:30.

I was able to cross two wide meadows with great views before mid day temperatures set in, but it was already uncomfortable at 8.  Two ridge climbs later, five hiking hours after I left camp, I was done. 1:30 pm, Knot Maul shelter, full stop.

Knot Maul Stone Shelter
At day's end, we all gathered to watch the sunset.

Along the way to Knob Maul today, I crossed paths with a surprising number of men and women of my age, all hurrying north early both to beat the heat and the increasing number of college age groups moving up the trail. I had hoped that the attraction of Damascus Trail Days would hold back the tide a little longer.

While we were sharing the same rivulet of water to feed our purifiers, one of them told me he would be "aquablazing" around Shenandoah National Park by paddling down the Shenandoah River. His plan is to go to Walmart, buy a kayak, paddle north, and sell it in Harpers Ferry. Hmmm -- but, hike your own hike (HYOH in trailspeak).

There's considerable debate, actually, about the lassiez-faire HYOH attitude. When is it appropriate (if ever) to get in another hiker's face and counsel the person about actions or attitudes that are either (a) highly likely to create unnecessary and often unsuccessful work for emergency rescue teams or (b) interfering with other hikers' ability to enjoy their hike? One of those recurrent debates like the merits of tent, hammock, or cowboy camping, certain to generate a lot of talk without reaching consensus.

All still agree that most people are at their best here on the trail. One northbounder paused as we passed each other today to cheerfully exclaim that everyone who was out on the trail today should be having a good day! Since we were under tree cover and streamside at the time, I replied in the same vein, saying that anyone who was not out on the trail today, should be!

Well ... mileage and mileages may vary.

A couple of NOBO thru hikers of my age took several minutes to chat about their northbound plans and why they chose to spend this year adventuring with one or two thousand unfettered collegians. The husband asked me to keep an eye out for a prized red kerchief, which she protested vigorously -- hardly something to ask someone they just met to do!

I said that I would keep an eye out and would contact them through their blog site if I was able to retrieve it. His trail name is Sparks and hers is Bushy. No, I did not ask, but they looked at each other and smiled one of those secret smiles that some longtime married folks do....

The bright red and black cotton kerchief was sitting trailside just a few miles further on, so I picked it up,  and I will contact them for instructions on its return. It takes a 2189 mile long village.

The village was somewhat crowded this evening, so I quietly let my neighbors know that I would be striking camp at 4.

The advance wave of NOBOs racing to stay ahead of the bubble retired at 9, leaving only the soft cooing of my neighbors as they arranged themselves for sleep.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Batgirl on the Trail!

I woke up early this morning, and decided to finish packing. After looking at travel time to meet my shuttle driver at the Mt. Rogers Visitors Center, though, there still was not time enough to accept  Ms. Montgomery's invitation to church services. Ion filled with fuel, food, water, and air -- away

Bubba was late for our rendezvous at the visitor center, as it turned out, but not excessively so. As we headed north, he told me that his schedule for the day had filled up as the NOBO party bubble swept in to town; when he repeated the comment again, I got the message and thanked him profusely for fitting me into his schedule at the last minute.  He nodded, said he was always glad to help, and had I heard about the swindler who eluded capture by staying on the AT for six months? Seems the gent hired Bubba for a dozen rides or so, always paid with a crisp $100 bill or two. Feds caught up with him eventually.

He also said that the number of women on the Trail seemed much higher this year, and recounted a couple of stories of male stalkers he had helped to thwart. We solemnly agreed that the Trail is not a good place for meeting up. Fellows who try risk being marked stalkers or worse. Better they should do a mirror check and figure out what the problem is off the trail first. Less pressure all around.

I waved goodbye to Bubba and stepped back on to the Trail at a footbridge spanning a rushing creek. More than enough water everywhere, much stronger flow than up north at this time last year.

Several NOBO hikers passed by, some pausing for conversation. One said he was doing a longer version of the Trail thru hike that starts in Key West at one minute past New Years Eve, and finishes in Canada. Really cool ... uh. No.

Three hours later on a near-perfect hiking afternoon, I arrived at Jenkins Shelter. It was already filling up ... no problem, I pitched my tent, checked the water supply (good), found a perfect tree and hung my bear bag.

Here's a picture of a NOBO couple who agreed to let me photograph them for my daughter.  The young lady in the photo says she is actually not a Batman fan, but he (grin, squeeze, giggle) is big on Batgirl. Aww .... Oog.

Eight days of walking ahead, which could be the last long stretch of new Appalachian Trail for me in Virginia.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Trail Town USA

Okay, done a few of the restaurants, stopped in at the outfitters, watched the "families" cruising up and down the streets looking for something to do. Not seeing the appeal of this town as a layover. Better than Buena Vista, at least.

Susie (her preferred name) manages the magnificent 1910 era house with a light hand. Judging from the real estate sign on the front yard, she is looking for a buyer. Here's an interior photo of the living room.

She also invited me to services at the First Baptist church on Sunday morning. Those dratted whispers ... certainly, I said, thank you for inviting me.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Road to Damascus

Amazing how much less a pack weighs with dry clothes -- well, damp clothes -- and a dry tent.

No great blinding lights on the eight miles to Damascus like Saul of Tarsus, but I did get my fill of ups and downs today. Striding down twenty-plus switchbacks leading down from the ridgeline, it struck me that -- since they would be going uphill where I am going down -- NOBOs expecting a "flat" trail experience in Virginia must be a little upset by climbs like this one.

A little later, a solidly muscled fellow in full AT thru hiker rig voiced that exact frustration as he dragged up another incline.  I did not mention Apple Orchard Mountain, Hog Mountain, or The Priest. Not good karma to scare them off.

Mom's Ice Cream

I stumped into Damascus, and found an ice cream store waiting at the edge of town!

Eventually, I pulled my pack back on, promised my feet early relief, and walking into town. Many other hikers, of course, some like me with the desperate look of one who needs to drop pack qnd pull off boots. Other livelier one had already found a hostel with space for them in the crowded hostels.

About halfway down the main road, I was approached on the street by a woman of my age who introduced herself as Susie Montgomery and offered me a room in her hostel. I gratefully agreed, price unsaid, and no objection to her house rules prohibiting smoking, alcohol, and overnight company.

Pack down, damp and somewhat smelly clothes delivered to Ms. Montgomery for a courtesy laundry. Nap, shower, neck shave, nail trimming.

MoJo's Coffee
Dinner at MoJo's, a trail benchmark.

Blog updates, email, weather forecasts, news (good grief, somebody pull that guy's security clearance now).

Plans for next week ... back to Woods Hole, possibly.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017


The high school crew roused before daylight and was on its way to Damascus before I had made up my oatmeal. Happy trails, kids, glad you didn't turn back on the bad days.

Wet clothes and a wet tent add a lot of weight to a backpack, so today's ups  and downs were even more difficult than yesterday. (Possibly also cumulative stress and fatigue.)

On the way along one ridge, though, there were flowers!

Rhodedendrons all, it seems -- based on a quick skim of photos online. Even this small one with the swallowtail petals?

And this one, that I would call an azalea? Flowers by other names, still sweeten a day.

 I stopped at mid day, turning aside at Saunders shelter for a long rest break.  However, common sense, tiring muscles, and a beautiful forest grove far away from the shelter itself talked me into putting off the fifteen mile descent into Damascus until tomorrow.

Tent set up, everything out to dry, two hour nap with the sun filtering  through the green leaves. Almost as good as ice cream.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017


Tuesday morning , a gentle predawn patter of raindrops on the tent roof woke me.

First thought -- aargh, scratch the Mount Rogers climb. Second, since southwestern Virginia was once again ignoring weathercasters who had predicted that this storm would arrive on Thursday, this would be a good "zero day" to hang out at the shelter, wait for the storm to pass, read a few e-books, catch up on naptimes I've missed recently. I started to drift back to sleep

Then I remembered the rest of the forecast, which talked about lightning storms in the evening. Not the best kind of weather to deal with sitting on the shoulder of Virginia's tallest mountain. Right, up. Leaving now.

Mud, heavy gray-white mist, frequent string winds blew over the open meadows as I descended. Many of the winds threw in some cold rain squalls, doubtless to encourage my quick departure -- but why wasn't the wind ever at my back?

After noon, the rain tapered off, but I kept up a fast pace along the trail and aimed to reach the next shelter by late afternoon. Many of my joint strain problems reappeared as well as the older problem of keeping a reasonable pace on uphill grades, but I made the Lost Mountain Shelter by 4 pm.

The high school class that had camped near Mount Rogers was already there, drying out their tents.  We had swapped the lead several times during the day, since they were faster but more prone to gather and debate plans.

At one point, some of the girls declined to pass me and chose to follow along like a string of imprinted ducks. After a while, I pulled off and declared that I was getting too warm and was going to remove some layers. They moved on.

While they were following and by way of friendly conversation, I suggested to the one behind me that they should collaborate to prepare a poem or a rap chant about all the things that are fun about hiking in the rain -- that earned a snort -- they should end it, I said, with a line about their teachers buying them pizza and ice cream. That got a giggle that turned into a snort -- "As if that would ever happen," she retorted. 

Well, I tried.

Other spirits were dampened, too. A thru hiker and I were chatting and watching the ridge winds hurl shreds of cloud and rain across the trail while he waited for one of his hiking partners.  When "Peter Pan" emerged from the windblown mist, he brought the sad news that their other companion, chilled and confronted by wet boots, wet clothes, a wet sleeping bag, and drenched spirits, had given up the quest and headed home.

PP sighed and quoted a bit of thru-hiker wisdom, that one should never quit on a bad day. Bad habit -- I played devil's advocate and asked, since the thru hiking success rate is about one in five, how many chose to quit on a good day, then? I was ignored; a heretic, obviously.

Lost Mountain Shelter is located in a large stand of tall trees, a questionable blessing given the forecast. At least, the lightning storm held off until I had finished a rushed evening meal of quinoa, tunafish, and tea, had changed into dry clothes, had hung the bear bag, and had otherwise prepared everything for sleep.

Socked in

It was a big one! Two of the lightning bolts hit close enough that there was no delay between the bright flash and the sharp crack and roll of a close strike. Safe in my tent, thinking of all the effort the high school group had put into drying their tents earlier, I nevertheless pushed my wet clothes out into the vestibule in vain hopes that they would dry.

After the storm passed, the high school crew engaged in some organizational chanting and singing, and a herd of noisy NOBO hikers arguing about whose turn it was to provide beer descended into the campground. Earplug time.

Monday, May 8, 2017


I made a clean start from the campground today, and outpaced four others of my age and pack weight up the first slope, toward Third Mountain. (What a sad name, not even second place ... but the fourth highest gets named after the pines on it! No justice.)

Pine Mountain is actually reputed to have the best views in the area, but that is not what interests me. Nor am I greatly motivated by the idea of "bagging" the highest mountain in the state, particularly since there are taller mountains on the horizon that happen to be in Tennessee. What I am looking forward to is walking around the boreal forest that tops Mount Rogers, one of the remnants of the Great Forest that covered the continent before the glaciers came south.

As the climb around Third Mountain continued and I slowed, one of the gray spirits that I had passed caught up and passed me by. "Don't worry,"he said," youll get some level walking at 5000 feet."

Coming up on Grayson Highland (aka Pony Country) I saw that the Stiles, once cattle weighing station, has now become a fenced campsite with animal proof gate latches. Wait, when they told us to stay away from these wild animals, I just assumed that the ponies would stay away if I didn't try to feed them

On Highlands Ridge, the ponies were out as advertised. Very photogenic, everybody had their cameras out.

Just don't get behind it, or you might get hoofed

Are you ready to have a root brain response stimulated? Just say "Awwww ..."

Irregular clutches of NOBOs are rushing past, barely stopping to look at the horses.

But, the heights are calling, little ones, I'm off to Massie Ridge. Another giant's rock playground, it seems, reasonably level, buffeted by strong gusts of wind.

Massie Ridge

Another piece of squished seabed

The Fat Man Filter

While I was climbing around Pine Mountain (4400 feet & upward), my knees, ankles, and back joined forces to call for a cease and desist order, which I tried to ignore. Two long rest breaks did little to address their demands.

On the second stop, though, the humbling sight of younger spirits flying past quieted their objections.  A squad of high school boys came  swinging up the trail -- hello, grunt, nod -- followed by a larger group of girls -- hi, great day! No, we're from Ohio, on a school trip. Several minutes later, their teacher staggered up the path, and confirmed my fears. The shelter where they are is also my goal this evening.

More ponies ahead, the oncoming NOBO's said as we quickly traded trail info. They had clearly reached full pony saturation.

A herd of ponies and admirers

On arrival, I found the two story shelter (the third I have encountered on the Trail!) was already filling up. When another NOBO party "family" arrived, I decided I would sleep better alone, regardless of the cold, so I pitched my tent in the forest.

Some ponies shuffled in to the campground about dinnertime with three young colts in tow.  Everyone refused to feed the moochers, but one of them got away with the sippy mouthpiece for my unattended pack's water bladder. Grrr.

Cold tonight, rain forecast late tomorrow, lightning storms on Wednesday -- but the sky is clear. I plan to slack-pack the last mile up to the highest summit in Virginia first thing tomorrow morning, pay my respects to the boreal forest, then return to strike camp and begin the two day descent into Damascus.

Mount Rogers, possibly

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The climb begins!

Intentional slow start day; I am aiming to summit Mt Rogers during a forecast weather window on Monday. Tonight I plan to be at Old Orchard, just a mile south and 800 feet higher than the trailhead where the shuttle will let me off.

Laundry was first, then finding a hardware  store to buy a replacement set of sunglasses. Then, a bit of serendipity turned the day for the better. Google pulled up a farm fresh market that served lunch -- and wow, did they! The place is inspired by Barbara Kingsolver's book on eating locally.

Harvest Table Restaurant

The Mount Rogers Outfitters accepted the Ion for their free off street parking in Damascus, and their driver shuttled me out to the trailhead.  Turned out he was (is) a Marine, albeit a severely disabled  and irritatingly non-combat one. Nothing "in the sand" or even "in the field" but a car crash near Camp Lejeune that shattered one leg and put him out on disability. His life since then, he said, has been a series of employers who sometimes let him go before he gets tired of them and leaves without giving notice. Yah, life ....

I made Old Orchard easily, had time to set up and reorganize my pack a bit. Made a perfect bear bag cast just as a trio of NOBOs were coming in to the shelter this evening, ha ha. They said last night up on the summit was ice cold, they were wishing the ponies would come around and huddle with them.

Less cold forecast for tonight, but the winds are high. Also lacking anyone to huddle with, I plan to curl up inside my tent before sunset.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Dancing with thunderstorms

A quick drive looping around Mount Rogers and into Damascus this morning cleared up some questions and led me to revise my plan for climbing Virginia's highest mountain -- only 5728 feet but, hey, it's higher than anything in Delaware!

Mount Rogers. Somewhere up there.

The Ion will stay parked at the Mount Rogers Outfitters in Damascus, and the good people there will shuttle me to the Fox Creek trailhead on the northside slope. By Friday, I plan to be back in Damascus.

Accommodations for Trail Days? Not this year.  Grabbing a patch of ground in Tent City with norovirus-plagued hikers doesn't appeal to me, somehow, and almost all of the other tent sites have been ordered closed by the city council.  Not very hiker friendly, perhaps, but many of the new wave hikers in the NOBO party bubble do not have the best behavioral or hygiene habits.

Preemptive throttling is likely best ... of informal lodging to limit the numbers attending the event, I mean, of course! Next likely development will be timeshare developments lining the hills, with widespread use of room and house  sharing social media to keep roofs over all of the participants' heads.

This is happening all along the AT, actually, another good reason to get out and hike before it turns into a series of bus tours, complete with souvenir stand stops.

On the advice of the gurus at MRO, I will make a separate trip to see the ponies on the following week. Apparently, they are sociable some days and other days not -- we can all relate to that, I suppose.

Next post could be as late as May 13. Don't worry, I won't be alone -- the NOBO's are here!

Friday, May 5, 2017

Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

Chewy was at the farmhouse door this morning, making dismayed noises and trying to get in. Maple, however, was working with Neville and others on another amazing breakfast.

As we were reaching the "Wow, there's more! But ... well, maybe another small bit" stage,  Neville took a few minutes to advise the party kids on Trail Manners.  All of us listened.

* The hiking community is evolving as it has grown in the past few years, and those who support it are glad to welcome many of the newcomers.  The hikers who arrive early in the year still seem to share our communal values, and we enjoy their company. As the numbers increase, though,  we have to deal with some who are just looking for the next high, the next hit, the next great hostel, the next trail magic -- but they are missing the personal growth that comes from solitude in the woods and disturbing the purpose of the community that this hostel exists to support.

* Where we all should be learning to embrace care for common spaces like the shelters we share with others, some choose to light up tokes or drink to loosen our inhibitions and to dull our awareness of our companions under the roofs we share. The child who has never smelled weed or whiskey, the person who has come to the trail to escape those burdens ... their needs are ignored as we feed ourselves and rush on to collect all the imperfect highs that we can in the shortest time. 

* Providing the best hostels, the best shelters, the best trail towns, should not be the purpose of the support that we provide. What we are all looking for in all these months on the trail should be out there in the woods for you, not in a race to eat the best meals, have the best party nights, do the most brew-thrus.

* Instead of searching for the best hostel, the best cup of coffee -- no offense meant, 12 Mile, glad you have enjoyed so many cups of ours  -- but we should seek instead for perfect solitude and for a respectful and supportive attitude toward our community.


By promising myself to return next month when the rhodendrons are blooming on the trail from Woods Hole to Pearisburg, I managed to drag myself away and head down the road toward the Mount Rogers area.

Shenandoah storm forecasts are still confounding my plans, though! Today was supposed to be wet -- nope, clear and cool. Tomorrow, forecast wet with a half marathon event filling up all the parking in the area. Sunday to Tuesday, chilly and windy but reasonably clear ... late Tuesday through Sunday, another storm system.

Total new AT miles to date for this trip: 11. Nevertheless, it has been the most enjoyable one so far!

A note regarding the date for those who may not hve been taught -- while widely and boisterously celebrated, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico's Indepence Day. Mexico's ten year struggle against Spain is celebrated on September 16, the day of the Cry of Dolores ( It's both a tragic and a stirring tale, and the Cry is still reenacted every year.

¡Viva Hidalgo!

Slack time

Magnificent breakfast! Then, off on the trail to Pearisburg, 4 1/2 hours for 11 miles? I can do it without my pack.

So, I did -- a personal best, no matter that the other three slackpackers outpaced me. Still early for the rendezvous at the Food Lion, even after I took a few minutes to detour through another giant maze of ocean floor chunks to check out Angels Rest!

Angels Rest

More flowers!

A tunnel of soon-to-flower bushes

May have stripped a few gears, though, a few thigh muscles that have not complained for a while filed grievances in the evening.

Sitting around before dinner with the thru hikers, hearing their stories ... Maple has a dog who adopted her on the trail. She says he followed a number of hikers in the area, but seems to have latched on to her -- "Chewy" certainly loves his new mistress.

Maple and Chewy

There are some details ahead that could trouble their relationship, though. After a week with Maple "in the Hole", Chewy's footpads are still not recovered from her frantic search for a new master on the trail. Maple is taking one more week of zeroes -- effectively saying good-bye to the "family" of northbound hikers she has traveled with over the past three months, in hopes that Chewy will recover quickly. After that, a relative will be joining her for a week of short days on the trail, and they will conspire to gain her father's agreement to let Chewy stay in at the family home in New Jersey until she clarifies an offer from a friend to come join him in California. Ah -- Life, Love, Complications.

Our hostess suggested to me this evening that I might help her deal with a "party bubble" of hikers that rolled by exchanging my place there for one in the main house, at a slightly higher rate -- leaving them all sequestered in the bunkhouse where they could enjoy chattering into the late hours. I thanked her and eagerly accepted.

Falling into the Hole

We broke camp late in the day and climbed back over Knob. Many more people there than yesterday; we headed down the slope. Following the whiteblazed trail instead of the fire road took considerably longer.

At my request, Barbara drove to Woods Hole Hostel with me and delivered my supplies to my patiently waiting Ion.  Dogs welcomed our arrival enthusiastically, hikers curiously, smoothie. No Internet, sorry. We joined the thru hikers who zeroed here, ate one of Neville's meals, and decided to stay "in the Hole" -- a little work in exchange for a longer stay, the hikers say, a little more time with trail buddies. Too nice to go on, weather too fearsome ... co-proprietor Michael says the record has been six months.

Woods Hole Hostel

Woods Hole has a good family story. Neville's grandparents opened the farm to hikers in 1986, offering free lodging in the barn and meals for $3.  Her grandfather passed away during peak hiking season a few years later, but Grandmother Tillie and the two granddaughters kept the place going. Neville recalls the embarrassment of her grandmother coming out to the bunkhouse and telling her it was bedtime in front of all the hiker boys.

In later years, Tillie did not keep the hostel open on a regular schedule. A family talk one evening about donating the farm to the ATC dissolved in hard words and tears, and was resolved with the agreement that either of the daughters could claim the farm when the time came.  So Neville went out in the world to find Michael, and they have been living busily for the past eight years earning the admiration, praise, and love of our oddlot 2200 mile-long community.

Bunk house beds, actual mattresses, no snoring. I slept deep, if only for my usual four hours.

Tomorrow, I slack pack from Pearisburg, then take another day's stay in the Hole Friday while the storm passes (also, to enjoy dinner there). Then, a drive to relocate the car and my base camp to the Grayson Highlands at the crest of Mount Rogers before Neville's cooking puts too much weight back on my bones,

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

High winds

Limits imposed by rain gusts and staying at a motel without a car provided a much-needed idle day to think about the road I'm on, the crossroads  ahead, and why eating a meal at the Waffle House is such a reaffirming experience. Y'all want those grits smothered, hon?

Barbara arrived after a somewhat more harrowing trip down I-81. Restaurant therapy was applied, con Negro Modelo. We retired to our rooms early, anxiously eyeing the wind whipping the trees around . 

Other than clearing skies,Tuesday morning was much the same. We pulled in to a nearly empty parking lot at the McAfee Knob trailhead, settled our backpacks on our hips, and headed up the fire road.  Two and a half hours, four miles, and 1300 feet later, I turned to Barbara and invited her to walk through the last line of scrub ... carefully.

When she stopped smiling long enough to take off her pack, she took her turn standing out on the ledge for her "license plate" photo.

Barbara Cook on McAfee Knob

When we were photographically satiated,  we headed down to Campbell shelter to set up tents and spend the night.  Extra time! So we left our bags behind and continued north hoping for a view of Tinker Cliffs, the second highlight of the area's "Triple Crown".  Fading energies and buffeting winds turned us back, though. (The third highlight is a rock spike called Dragon's Tooth that can be climbed, it is said, by anyone who lacks a rational fear of heights. Of course I'm going to try -- but not this trip!)

On the way back, we waded north against a stream of NOBO --northbound thru hikers-- intent on reaching Mount Katahdin before the hiking trails are closed up north.  Few had time for more than a "happy trails" greeting-farewell, but one stopped to show us a snapshot of a large timber rattler. He said he saw it about a thousand yards south on the trail ... so, we kept a sharp eye on the piles of leaves.


Second time I've been late to see a viper on the AT.  Someday ... but I can wait.  What worries me are the ones I haven't seen, and should have.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Storm weather zero day

One of those rare occasions today, the reports of havoc spread by the oncoming storm indicate, when the Mistress of the Game has let me get away with making plans that turn out ot be just right.  Today is not a good day to climb the ridge to McAfee Knob; tomorrow after the storm has passed should be an enjoyable ramble.

Storm clouds gathering over Roanoke