AT – VA Dripping Rock to Rockfish Gap

Backpacking with my gal pals last weekend! How is it to know these women, these outrageous trail bitches who understand this is not a frivolous hobby? We understand each other in a deep way even our life partners don’t get. We see the desire burning in each other’s heart for the outdoors, for the forest, for walking in and not having to walk out right away. Hiking and backpacking is something we do because it is what makes us whole! and it is what makes us reasonable human beings in all the other areas of our lives.

With that in mind, we all piled into Akela’s minivan, WHICH HOLDS ALL SEVEN OF US AND OUR GEAR!! Headed south to Dripping Rock, one of us has forgotten her cell phone…turn around, back to Rockfish Gap…OKAY, now we headed for Dripping Rock … for real! 😀

A sunny, but very chilly morning, at 20 degrees! Thankfully, climbing first thing. It is a lovely stretch of trail up the mountain. Some of us hike a little faster, some a little slower, … all of us hike with optimism, smiles, and support for one another.

The views at the top were amazing, of course! We stopped for lunch at the highest point of our hike. A nice break on the sun splashed rocks until the sun went on hiatus and the wind decided to pick up and play chicken with us. Okay, okay, we are going, seriously! Gloves and hats back on! Ladies, someone has an issue with letting us soak in the sun!

We felt good as we started down towards Paul C. Wolfe Shelter. Golden leaves covered our path in spots as we hiked one way, then the next, zigzagging down the mountain on a kazillion switchbacks. A big nice trail for the most part!

It was a great day filled late Autumn forest magic. A gust of wind showered us with leaves, a beam of sunlight warmed us for a few minutes, a deer silently sneaked a peek at us, and birds called out to each other as we passed. I arrived at the shelter free of all regular life stuff. No place but here, no time but now.

I got my tent up and had dinner as the forest went dark. The moon was almost full giving me all the happy vibes. 🙂

A couple of dads and their sons were camped at the shelter. “NO worries about bears tonight”, I thought, as those boys ran up and down each side of the creek having the time of their lives.

I crawled into my tent, broke open some ‘hothands’ to warm up my tootsies and my sleeping bag, then fell promptly to sleep…at 7:00 pm. Woohoo! Hiker midnight!

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Morning now nigh…Dang, it is always a tough time getting out of the bag on a cold morning!! Deep breath and up I was. Packing up warms you up, so move, move, move! And, oh crap, I have to filter water…oh, but what a nice view I had!!

Hot oatmeal warmed my insides and coffee made me a little more coherent, then it was down the trail we went. It was much warmer on Sunday morning and with temps climbing we were soon plenty warm. The trail had some disaster blow downs which gave us an aerobic edge to our hike. We were shedding layers like crazy! “Lost&Found” had to do an extensive striptease on the trail since she needed to get her long johns off…if that would have been me, I know a fricken entire boy scout group would have appeared! Luckily, she got it done without any such embarrassment!

We spent several minutes at the Lowe cemetery. Akela suggested that it would be a good cleanup project. I have to agree. A tree had fallen over a few graves in the back of the cemetery.

Next stop was Mayo Homestead…a very nice place it must have been with that big fireplace! I can imagine riding a horse up to the cabin and seeing smoke drifting up out of the chimney. A promise of freshly baked bread or other delight waiting for me!

Along the last stretch we met ‘Walking Spirit’, a south bound thru hiker. He was sitting by a nicely flowing spring, enjoying his break. That is what is great about solo hiking. You hike, you break, you eat, you sleep, all without needing to check in with anyone. On the flip side, you get to an amazing view or beautiful tree and you want to share the awe with someone, but all you have is you.

I love solo, but my trail gals…awwwww yeah… that’s my heart!

Hike on!

AT – VA Compton Gap to Rt. 522: My 5 Favorite Things!

My 5 favorite things from yesterday’s day on the Appalachian Trail – not in any particular order! 🙂

1. We, the Maryland Trail Dames, were blessed to see a woman break the record for running the AT through Shenandoah National Park!

2. A deer quietly walked by us, stopping for a moment to take us all in.

3. Creek crossings!

4. Meeting ‘Disco’, a flip-flop through hiker making his way down to Springer Mountain.

5. The pictures and stories by Ms. Harron’s 2nd Graders at Ressie Jeffrey Elementary that are displayed in the kiosk at the Rt 522 Trailhead in Front Royal! Love, love, love…read every story!

I am just so happy to see the trail and love for nature nurtured in children!

This is what trail magic looks like to me 😍 Hike on!

AT-VA Loft Mountain to Turk Gap…completing Shenandoah!

I ended the AT through Shenandoah where I began it long ago. Several years back my sweetie and I backpacked the Moorman River Loop which traversed the AT from Turk Gap to Blackrock Gap…loved that trip!

Anyway, here I was with the Dames at Loft Mountain pulling out my gear for a quick overnight on the AT. It was going to be a hot one!

Shorts? Check!

Prehydrate with Gatorade? Check!

Backpack packed light? OMG OMG OMG OMG 21 POUNDS!!!!! WHAAAAAT?

That has never happened…are you kidding me? 21 pounds?!! I’m so proud of myself 😂

Okay, let me collect myself, whew…

The first day was sweet! Gorgeous trail, interesting rocks, and tremendous views from Blackrock Summit.

Pulling down into Blackrock Hut, we got set up quickly. I decided that I was going to have a lazy weekend and took advantage of a mostly empty shelter! The ridgerunner, Papa Bear, showed up, in addition to a slew of thruhikers and weekend warriors.

Papa Bear was a great conversationalist and I soon found out we knew some of the same trail folk. This type of encounter is what I truly love about the AT. The trail connects us in ways we cannot possibly understand or anticipate; it is almost magical. 😊

A few of the guys tenting down the hill spotted a mama bear and cub on the opposite side of the ravine! We all ran down to watch them until they ambled off. Then it was to bed for me! Next morning I heard that the bears came back…the guys down the hill had to come out of their tent, yell a bit, made a bunch of noise until the bears again left. 😲

I heard nothing from the bears, but oh! The whipporwills! A lovely serenade long into the night.

The following day I treated the dames to slackpacking the last 8.5 miles. I would say it was a treat for me too, but recall my pack was ONLY 21 POUNDS!! 😄😄😄

It was a great decision. Four good climbs, temps climbing into mid-80s, and a delightful mugginess moved in. Yummy.

It was one of those days. Climb up 100 yards, stop to rest, up, rest, up, rest…

The wildflowers along the way made it bearable!

Turk Gap was a welcome sight! A few of us capped off the weekend at Loft Wayside before dragging ourselves back to the real world. Here’s to good friends, the trail community, and whipperwills…hike on!

AT – VA Rt.725 to Jim&Molly Denton Shelter (and back!)

Here I am at my desk preparing for the semester, but thinking of the trail!  It is a needed diversion to calm my nerves as I head into a semester fill with many unknowns.

My mind is wandering back to last weekend when I completed a big, three new miles on the AT in Virginia.  This is the crux of the solo hiker…no shuttle means an out and back hike.  But…Excitement of stepping on a new section of trail overrode any misgivings I might have had about retracing my steps! I turned my car towards the Virginia state line, Sidekick Pauli riding shotgun.  🙂

The parking area off of Rt. 725 is quite pleasant and shady.   Hmmm…2:30 in the afternoon.  Starting mid-afternoon is not usual for us and created its own challenges in terms of the heat and our energy levels.  After crossing Rt. 55, up the hill we went, headed south to the Jim & Molly Denton shelter.

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The lull of the afternoon had me drifting off into trail daze soon after starting down the soft dirt path.

So I don’t remember if the Bee Lady’s dog rushed us before or after the train tracks, but it was shocking none the less. I yelled up the hill, “I have a dog!!!”  I heard a young woman call to the dog, but of course, the dog was too excited to stop.  Sidekick Pauli, always on a leash, gave a snarl as this young, energetic, white dog came crashing down the hill and right into, then onto her.

The woman, who was calling out louder now (in a way that told me she had NO control), rounded the corner and I could see she was carrying a child.  Luckily, the dog was not aggressive in a “I am going to kick your butt” kind of way so Sidekick Pauli got over her initial annoyance and tolerated the dog until we passed.  After passing, the young woman and I talked a bit.  Her son had been stung by a bunch of ground bees…ouch.  She described where the bees had been and was quite worried that we would get stung if we continued.

Okay, I forgive the Bee Lady and her dog (and hope her son is okay).  On with it!

Soon after stepped across Railroad Tracks

Soon after stepped across Railroad Tracks

On up the hill we went, enjoying any breeze that managed to reach us on this muggy afternoon!  Then an older gentleman came towards us with a full pack.  He asked if I had run into the Bee Lady.  I replied that indeed I had and wondered whether the bees were going to be a problem.  Turns out he had checked it out and apparently the bees had gone back to the ground and were not on the trail.  “You have a trail name?”  “They call me Chicken Farmer.”

Well, Chicken Farmer’s story hollowed out my soul.  My eyes watered as he told me his wife had died on June 17 (my anniversary).  His son came to watch the chicken farm so he could retreat to the woods along the Appalachian Trail.  Starting his hike in Port Clinton, he had come south to Harper’s Ferry to visit with friends.  That morning he had again set his feet in motion starting at Chester Gap near Front Royal, then headed north.  I bid him safe travels and again headed up, with a heavier heart and a desire to drop everything and head back to Hoosierland to see my Mom & Dad.

Are there ANY trails without rocks??? Sidekick Pauli is happy regardless!

Are there ANY trails without rocks??? Sidekick Pauli is happy regardless!

Ahhh, we were nearing the top of the hill, I could feel it and I welcomed it. Finding a nice rock to sit on, Sidekick Pauli and I stopped for a long water break.  Tops of mountains are so peaceful.  There is always a breeze that pushes the treetops aside and finds its way down to the weary hiker. 🙂 A chill went down my back as the wind met with my sweat soaked shirt. I enjoyed it…I can definitely tell you I enjoyed that moment!

Once over the ridge, we were excited to see a large field.  We ran a few steps, channeling Maria from “The Sound of Music”, until the reality of a 92 degree day brought us back to our steady plod, plod, plod.  There were several lovely butterflies, even a monarch, that joined us in our trek across the field. 🙂

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A little road walk between the hills.

Then it was down to a road crossing, then up again to the Jim & Molly Denton Shelter.  I was just plain, old hot at that point, so arriving at the shelter was a happy moment!  Two college guys were hanging on the porch as we walked up.  Pauli was happy to make their acquaintance and I think they were happy to meet her too!  I hung out for a while at the shelter, drinking even more water, and talking with the guys.  Envious, I was! Oh, to be young and on the trail for however long you want to stay out…no responsibility, no timeline other than the beginning of the semester…

Well, the afternoon was quickly heading into early evening and we had to get back to the car.  The crickets sang to us and the cicadas chirped.  Shadows grew longer as we walked slowly back.  No need to rush.

Hike on.