The Maryland Trail Dames were headed south to see Jeff Alt speak at Big Meadows Lodge in Shenandoah National Park. I waited to RSVP to see if Little Caesar was going to work on the day when this event was to occur. Usually, if Little Caesar is not working then we like to take the dogs and go out hiking together as we have so little time to really be together during the work week. However, it turned out she was indeed working, so I planned on joining the Dames in SNP. But I wanted to hike! I was not interested in driving two hours south just to listen to Jeff Alt (author of “A Walk for Sunshine”)…even though he is VERY entertaining! So I messaged Dirigo to see if she would shuttle me back to my car after the event…she agreed, so I RSVP’d and started planning my hike!
I am trying to increase my mileage on day hikes to an average of 12-13 miles an outing. This looked like a good opportunity to see what I am capable of in about 8 hours of hiking.
I started at Pinnacle Picnic Grounds at about 8:40 AM. The weather was cooler in the mountains, for which I was grateful! I packed 3 liters of water… just in case. This would not only be a longer hike for me, but it was the first time I was totally alone without my dog, Sidekick Pauli. I was not worried at all about hiking alone…usually I see several hikers a day on the AT…and there are several places to walk up to the road in SNP from the trail. I had worked out the timing and felt I would be able to get to Big Meadows Lodge by 4 PM to see Jeff Alt.
First, Pinnacles is great! There is a bathroom and water! I parked the car, got my gear together, made a conscious decision to leave my rain poncho in the car and just take my windbreaker, then headed south on the AT. The morning was quiet with only a few birds singing to each other. The sun was breaking out of the clouds and it looked to be a glorious day.
The trail approached Stony Man and traversed over Stony Man cliffs (or Little Stony Man) along the way. Excellent views along the whole trail. So much so that at times I felt my head was spinning like Linda Blair’s in “The Exorcist” trying to take it all in!!
First stop, Skyland Lodge. I took a PB&J break and enjoyed sitting on the terrace with my feet up. So relaxing to hike on my own, following my own schedule, breaking when I want and continuing on as I fancy. 🙂
Headed further south I came upon the Skyland stables. There were some trail riders headed back into the barn at that moment. The riders told me they had just passed a big bear about 50 yards back up the trail! Oh, this excited me! I haven’t seen a bear all summer. I hiked the AT through Georgia in June and NOT ONE BEAR!! I wanted to see the bear in SNP. I saw my trail headed the direction they had mentioned and my hopes grew…and my stomach fluttered! Then I saw my trail, the AT, veered to the right and the horse trail veered left. Argh! If only I had had more time…it was about 11:30 AM and I still had quite a few miles to go to Big Meadows. Off to the right I went following the white blaze.
I never did see a bear that day!
The coolest thing for me about hiking the AT in SNP is walking out of the woods just underneath an overlook built for automobiles. The tourists just look at you, some in confusion…like how did that person get down there? I remember my first few trips to SNP and being at one of the overlooks and seeing a hiker come out below the overlook and I thought, “holy cow, there is a trail down there? How do I get to it?” It was almost magical. Who knows, maybe one of those tourists who saw me will be inspired to get out on the trail as well! I hope so!
Fisher’s Gap was filled with cars when I approached. I checked the trail post for mileage…YES! only 1 more mile to Big Meadows! I stretched a bit, refilled my water bladder and began the last climb to Big Meadows. Arriving at the campground, I saw another trail post, 1.5 miles to Big Meadows Lodge??? WHAT? Seriously? I felt I had been lied to! The trail was nice and flat now and I said to myself, “Now, this is what I like to see!” , then not even 5 minutes later I fell flat on this “nice” trail. I sat there for a moment, brushed myself off, and wondered what the heck I had tripped over. Okay…just to be totally clear…there does not need to be anything on the trail for me to fall. I fall all the flippen time. Me & the ground …we are like tight, you know! Anyway, I looked back at where I had started falling assuming I would just see nice, flat dirt. But hey! There was a tiny rock right in the middle of the trail. Good grief! Got a bragging bruise on my left calf now…
So I made it! Without counting breaks it took me about 6.5 hours…not too shabby! 😀