Thursday, September 13, 2012

More Than Just a Hike

Yesterday I finally went hiking on the Appalachian Trail.  I'd had plans to hike about eight miles from Jarman's Gap to Rockfish Gap but things didn't quite work out that way.

For multiple reasons I got a very late start on Tuesday.  I decided to wait and head out early on Wednesday.  Wednesday morning came and went, I started having second thoughts about the whole idea, but luckily my friend "Speedy" convinced me to drag my ass to to the trail head and have a look-see.  ( He earned his trail name because he hikes fast, like Speedy Gonzalez!) Backpack, fanny pack and hiking stick were grudgingly tossed in the car and as soon as we got on the road I knew I'd made the right decision in getting out of the house and meeting the trail today.

I decided to take my large, long-distance pack, fully loaded and equipped and my fanny pack (which was at maximum capacity).  I have a Mountainsmith Falcon 55 which has 3660 ci of storage.  See my pack! It's made out of recycled plastics!

I'd never been on this section of the AT before.  I was beginning to get "trail fever" just riding up the mountain.  The hard top turned into gravel and the canopy of trees above us blocked out the late afternoon sun.  We slowed our approach as the mountain climbed higher.  I rolled down my window and smelled the rich pungent forest.

 If you could smell the color green, THIS is what it would smell like.

We parked the car and started walking towards the trail.  I can't describe just how beautiful it was on the mountain, but I'll try.  It was about 3:30 in the afternoon, mid-September in central Virginia.  The temperature was around 75 degrees in the foothills so I'm guessing it was a few degrees cooler up near the top.  There was a gentle breeze blowing.  Birds were singing and the treetops were rustling.  Standing on the fire road with my eyes closed, I could feel the sunlight peeking through the trees on to my face.  We finally reached the park entrance.

Just beyond this sign was another:

Ahh, the Backcountry!

And finally, I saw THIS:

A white blaze!

A white "blaze" or stripe, usually on a tree, indicates the Appalachian Trail.  All trails are marked, or "blazed" in different ways, but the AT is a single white blaze for over 2000 miles, from Georgia to Maine.

I'll add some links to Appalachian Trail information at the end of the post.  If anyone is interested in hiking it, there are many excellent resources.  I'll share what I can.

We got on the AT and hiked NOBO (hiker slang for "northbound").  There is a water source listed as a spring about .09 of a mile down the trail.  When I say "down the trail" that's exactly what I mean.  DOWN.  *laughing*  We get down to the water source with ease.  I sat on the giant rock to tie my boot. (you know, the giant rock that's always next to the water source, like Nature's easy chair!)  Sadly, the spring was nothing more than a mere puddle.  I wish I'd taken a photo of it but I was preoccupied with tying my boot and drinking my own water. 

Getting back up the mountain was a long, difficult, and humiliating affair for me.  I've know I was out of shape for a long time but when I say that .09 mile hike back UP to the trail head KICKED MY ASS, I am NOT exaggerating.  To add insult to injury, the car was parked uphill from the trail head on the fire road.  Speedy was patient and never once left me in the dust for which I'm thankful but I don't think he ever broke a sweat the entire time we hiked.  (Then again, he is about half my total body weight and works out of doors on a regular basis.) I finally reached the car and folded myself inside.

I'm really glad I got out and met the trail yesterday.  She's a lovely trail and I can't wait to go back and spend more time in her presence. I have incredible friends and housemates who have each told me they would give me a ride to or from the trail.  I am very fortunate to be surrounded by an incredible group of people.  Perhaps one day I will write about this incredible house and the wonderful people in it but for now -- and the near future-- I feel like that would be a violation of privacy across the board.  That's not my style.  

Walking back to the car we heard the call of a turkey and startled a deer. 

Driving down towards home, we passed this dilapidated old church.  

Nearing the bottom, I was greeting with this spectacular view:

Love this majestic tree:

Late summer fields:

Finally, I took a few shots near the house just as the sun was setting behind Afton mountain.

So, this concludes my outdoor adventure of yesterday.  It's about the entire experience, not just the hike.  I originally planned on blogging about the hike by itself but I can't separate one from the other.

Parting words of wisdom:

1.  Find beauty in nature.

2.  Get outside!

3.  Push your limits.  You'll build confidence and health.  Even if you fail, you still DID something!  Go out and try again tomorrow.  You'll get there!

4.  Make every day count.

5.  Appreciate your friends, your home, your surroundings, whomever and wherever they may be.

For more information on the Appalachian Trail and hiking in general, here are the aforementioned links I promised.   Namaste!

Appalachian Trail Conservancy - Always a great place to start for more information.

Brief History of the AT - Just what it says, on the Appalachian Mountain Club site, another great resource.

Backpacking and Hiking for Beginners - A lot of great advice for the novice outdoorsperson.

Whiteblaze Forum - My personal favorite.  A complete resource for hikers of all abilities.  A gold mine of information about the AT.  Free to join.  I consider this one a "must-have" if you're serious about hiking and the Appalachian Trail.

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Go ahead, make my day. Just don't be an asshole. This is a whine-free zone. Wine is always smiled upon though.