I was still feeling exhilarated this morning following yesterday’s stop at McAfee Knob. I think Stick was too. We were both thrilled with how the weather cooperated to give us photographs we’ll long treasure.
In fact, everything was going well with this hike, better than I could have expected.
And today reaches another high, another big day, as we pass the official one-third point of the trail.
Of course, when you’re talking about the Appalachian Trail, you cannot have a high without a low.
|Date||Wednesday, June 7, 2017|
|Weather||Sunny and warm, then turning cloudy|
|Trail Conditions||Well-maintained trail, though with a couple rocky sections |
Scooby and Speedy didn’t seem to be in any hurry to leave the motel room this morning.
I’m sure on their budgets they don’t get many opportunities to stay in motels.
Stick and I had decided to give them a little extra trail magic and covered the cost of the room.
After breakfast in the lobby, with raisin bran, yogurt and coffee, Stick and I returned to the room to finish packing. Scooby and Speedy were just waking up as we left at about 8 a.m.
The walk back to the trail was short. Within minutes we left the noise of the highway and were once again in the solitude of the forest.
Actually, the forest was more like a well-manicured garden. The trail took us through a park-like landscape. The grass on both sides of the path was nicely mowed. Trees were trimmed.
The trail then entered a broad, open section that took us parallel with Interstate Highway 81. Our enjoyment of the manicured path was interrupted by a steady rumble of trucks and cars speeding by at 70 mph.
Before long, though, the trail passed under the highway and we left it for good. Or more correctly, we left the interstate until we cross another, I-66, 250 miles from here.
By 8:30 we had reached a trail information kiosk near a trailhead on U.S. Highway 11. Sitting under the kiosk was a box of Cheezit cracker snacks.
We had just eaten breakfast less than an hour ago, but that didn’t stop us from helping ourselves to the trail magic.
Just down the road from here was the small town of Troutville. We were bypassing it because of our stay in Daleville, but it is said to be a hiker-friendly town. Hikers are allowed to camp for free in the city park.
Until recently, the local firefighters allowed hikers to use their showers and laundry for free, but facility needs have forced them to discontinue that.
We followed the trail to a wide-open meadow of rolling hills.
At the top of some of these hills we could get a better sense of how big the meadow was, and looked back to see the range of mountains we had just hiked over the last couple days.
We could also see ahead to our next big climb.
When the trail returned to a wooded forest, a sign reminded us that this section of trail was on private land. Surprisingly, though, there was no sign — not even a hand-made one — nearby to mark where the trail passed the one-third point.
Knowing that point was somewhere near here, I thought about where I was, though less about this point being one-third of the way from Springer Mountain in Georgia and more about being two-thirds away for Mount Katahdin in Maine.
My thinking wasn’t so much a pessimism — a glass two-thirds empty, if you will — as it was just an attempt to remain cognizant of the size of the task that remains. It still felt daunting, and I reminded myself to stay focused, to continue pressing forward with commitment.
Stick walked on, but I stopped here to catch up on social media while I had a wireless connection.
When I began walking again, the trail made a steady and deliberate climb for the next three miles, gaining about 1,200 feet in elevation.
Reaching the top of Fullhardt Knob, I took a short side trail to a shelter with the same name as the mountain, and stopped here for a snack.
Later, the trail followed a nice creek for a short distance, then crossed it and followed it some more.
Near here I tripped and fell hard, scraping and bruising my knee.
When something like that happens, you stop to take stock and make sure nothing is broken or badly damaged. And by that, I mostly mean body parts.
More than the fall I had the day before yesterday, this one shook me up a little.
I’m not worried about getting sick or being attacked by a bear. I’m only afraid of getting hurt. I don’t want to be forced off the trail by an injury. Too many hikers have that happen to them. It’s too easy to happen.
My knee hurt and stiffened up, but didn’t swell. I wiped off the blood trickling down my leg and resumed my walk. I slowed down a bit at first, though, until I was able to walk off the pain.
Continuing on along the creek, there was an interesting spot of some history.
A marker with hand-written lettering described how this gap near the creek was used in the late 1700s to the early 1800s to make charcoal.
Workers gathered lumber from the forest and burned it here, then hauled the charcoal to nearby iron furnaces.
The furnaces would operate until all of the timber was stripped from the nearby forest and made into charcoal, then they would be moved to another spot where trees and ore were plentiful. Tens of thousands of acres of forest land were stripped bare during this time.
The production of charcoal ended around 1837 when anthracite coal became plentiful and available for the smelting of ore into iron.
With the availability of coal and railroads to haul it, iron furnaces could be moved away from forests and closer to population centers where labor was more plentiful.
Just before 3 p.m. I reached a spring trickling from the rocky side of the trail. A leaf made a handy spout to refill my water container.
By now the sky was becoming cloudy, but the temperature remained warm and it didn’t rain.
At 4 p.m. I reached for the first time the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The road is 469 miles long, stretching from Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee, N.C., to the southern end of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.
About 217 miles of the parkway are in Virginia. The trail will follow the parkway now for most of the rest of the way to Rockfish Gap, on the southern end of Shenandoah. From there the roadway becomes Skyline Drive, which traverses the length of the park.
The trail will criss-cross both roadways several times.
The parkway’s speed limit is 45 mph or less and traffic is generally light, so crossing the road isn’t usually difficult for hikers.
Construction on the parkway was begun in 1935, and a lot of the work was done by several of the New Deal public works agencies. Some of the work was done during World War II by conscientious objectors.
The next spot where the trail crossed was an overlook for motorists to stop and view distant ridge lines. There are several of these places to pull off along the parkway.
At the last road crossing for today there was another pull off for cars. At each of these, trees had been cut back to open up the view for the motorists. This was definitely not part of Benton Mackaye’s vision of the Appalachian Trail.
Just as his plan for the trail was beginning to take hold, with construction underway in several states, a plan was hatched to put a roadway for tourists that followed the same route as the trail over these mountains.
At this time, automobile owners and the industry were beginning to assert their power by pushing for more roads and services, whereas Mackaye’s trail was intended to provide an escape from the mechanized world. The two ideals collided here at what would be called the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Mackaye fought the plan to build the parkway and worked on an alternate idea for keeping it separate from the trail.
Though Mackaye had the original vision of the trail, Myron H. Avery had become more instrumental in organizing the trail’s construction.
Avery was named chairman of the Appalachian Trail Conference (now called the Appalachian Trail Conservancy) in 1931. He was less a visionary and more a pragmatist.
Avery thought the trail and road could co-exist, and by compromising with the government on the placement of the road, the trail could benefit with more government assistance.
His opinion won out, even though that meant the road would wipe out work already completed. It also created a bitter split between Mackaye and Avery, which was never healed.
At one point the trail dropped down below the road, but right next to it, with the trail following alongside a tall support wall of hand-cut stone blocks.
The fall I had earlier today knocked some of the energy out of me. But what mostly got to me today were the long climbs and descents. When I saw the side trail to Bobblets Gap Shelter I was relieved and ready to stop.
Stick was already there. As I got near the shelter, descending the long access trail with switchbacks, I hollered at him, “Is dinner ready?”
There were only three other hikers at the shelter, and one of them, Yung Gandalf, I had met soon after I returned to the trail following Memorial Day weekend. He was now hiking with a young woman named Summer.
The other hiker was a section hiker named Cheesesteak, and as you might guess from his name, he was from Philadelphia.
There weren’t many spots here to pitch a tent. Yung Gandalf had his hammock, and Stick and Summer had already taken a couple tent spots, but Stick pointed out a spot next to the shelter that gave me just enough room.
That night a low, repetitive rumble emanated from the shelter. It was snoring so loud it made the shelter rattle and shudder.
This was the kind of snoring that is measured not in decibels, but on the Richter scale.
Cheesesteak was the only person to sleep in the shelter. I’m certain no one else would have slept if they had shared that space.
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot spot
Don't it always seem to go
From "Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot