The Appalachian Trail in the central region is a lot quieter now. The northbound (NOBO) bubbles are long gone. Students are returning to school. And the southbounders (SOBO) are still many miles to the north. The trekking poles are quiet.
I took a long walk along the AT Friday NOBO from the Compton Gap parking lot in Shenandoah National Park. It was a chance to test some gear and carry a full winter weight pack as a prelude to the Hoodlum’s monthly trail maintenance Saturday.
Wouldn’t you know it. I started breaking spider webs right from the get go. There aren’t too many things in this world that I actually hate, but spider webs are on the list.
Walk through a spider web and it sticks to your hair, glasses, face or arms in the most inconvenient and annoying way possible. You almost never see ‘em comin’ either.
Then I thought about it. If the trail was heavily draped in spider webs, that meant nobody had passed by in quite awhile. Me and the critters had the woods to ourselves. That’s pure joy.
The day was especially perfect. Just warm enough and sunny with low humidity. Then bingo!
I hadn’t yet schlepped a mile when a bear cub trundled across the trail not more than 50 feet ahead of me. I think it may have been the tail end Charlie because I never did see the momma or a sibling, but I sure was lookin’ for all the obvious reasons.
Later I saw a huge doe that was big enough to remind me of an elk. At first I thought she was a buck, but they’re sprouting horns now, so she was just big.
Within a short time I cruised by the Tom Floyd shelter to read the register and snack. I was greeted by a friendly toad, and best of all, lucky enough to find amusing entries from thru hikers whose blogs I’ve been following. Some of the handwriting didn’t seem to match their personalities. That was enough to make the day by itself.
Near the end of the return trip, a couple of bard owls serenaded me with their hooting – the decibel level can drown out a heavy metal rock band. I camped at the Indian Run maintenance hut with a few of my Hoodlum crewmates. The owls played their rowdy concert all night long. We loved it.
One gear item I was testing was my new (and first ever) set of trekking poles.
Poles first began to appear back in the days when getting home to hike in the Colorado Rockies was regular fare. They were seen most often in the hands of clueless tenderfeet. These dude ranch types always appeared to have been outfitted by Abercrombie and Fitch. This was back in the days when the store equipped great white hunter wanna bees headed out on city park safaris.
We (then) studly types thought they were pretty dorky. Not for us. Moreover they were a European invention where the trails are very unlike most of ours here in the U S of A. So, in spite of solid recommendations that I try them, I never seriously considered acquiring poles.
Jump ahead to now, and trekking poles have almost become prosthetic aids for hikers. Everybody’s leanin’ on ‘em.
Honestly, I was surprised. The test didn’t go well. As a cross country skier, I expected far better results.
The good news is that poles do provide thrust and tend to slow me down. I desperately need slowing down. Their use may be worth that much alone.
The bad news is that on ugly rocks and rough terrain, I kept much better balance without them – a key point when remembering how damaging and frequent falls tend to be.
The AT is mostly down hill from Compton Gap to Virginia highway 522. The opposite is true for the return trip. Just after Tom Floyd, the trail gets steep and rocky for a good stretch.
From my point of view, the poles were useless in either direction in rough terrain. I actually tripped on one pole trying to negotiate some large rocks, but enjoyed a fortunate outcome.
I didn’t like the tick, click, tick noise they make either. The racket makes sneaking up on wildlife especially challenging.
Not going to toss ‘em. Not gonna do it – yet.
On September 24th my first long shakedown hike will be the 160 miles from Waynesboro, VA to Harpers Ferry, WV. The trail is well maintained over that course by my PATC compadres.
If the sticks haven’t won me over by the time I reach the Appalachian Trail Conservancy GHQ, they get aced off the gear list. If that’s the case, I’ll have to find a new handy spot to stash my bright yellow duct tape. Damn!
The trekking poles may click the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, but probably not for me. Like my mom used to say, “Just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean you have to. “ Could be that I’m just incorrigible. Time will tell.
A Hoodlum trail crew on the march.