Let’s go hiking

A few folks have asked me to continue hiking adventure stories.  There are a few real adventures in the work, but in the meantime, here’s what a friend and I were up to this weekend as posted on “Life at two miles per hour.”

Winter Test Drive


Shenandoah National Park, Appalachian Trail NOBO miles 917.2 to 937.2 (20 miles), January 19, 2015 —  Just like a new car, it’s best to test drive hiking and camping in the winter before buying in completely.  So it was with my friend and trail crew colleague.  She knows her trail craft and is quite comfortable in the woods, but she wanted winter experience.  She’s hoping to thru hike the AT in the future and knows that partying in the cold and snow is almost an automatic on an AT thru hike.  Unlike most guys who would not admit it, she embraces her desire to learn with gusto.



So, off we went this weekend on a 20-mile, three day/two overnight, trip along Shenandoah’s most scenic vistas and popular places including Hawksbill (the highest peak in the park), Big Meadows, Rock Springs, Skyland, Stony Man, the Pinacles and Mary’s Rock.

Though the sun smiled upon us most of the time, the temps averaged in the 20s with a biting wind entering stage right and left at cheek chapping intervals. The objective was not to cover ground.  It was to live in the winter weather for the better part of three days and two nights and see what we could learn.


So off we went… Enjoying the winter wonderland.


The first day’s walk terminated at Rock Springs Hut.  I stayed there on my thru hike last year.  It’s setting features a gorgeous view through the trees in front of a nearby cabin owned by the Potomac Appalachian Trail club.


Rock Springs Cabin

Four adult Scout leaders were using it – getting away from the boys for a weekend.

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After camp chores at the shelter, we went down to the cabin to snap some pics.

On the Appalachian Trail, shelters are called “huts” in Shenandoah and “lean-toos” in Maine.

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Would you believe it was cold outside?

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The view from the cabin.


Sunset behind the privy.

Overnight the wind snarled with gusto, but the dawn air was so still you could hear yourself change your mind!  We popped up, packed up, and after a quick meal of coffee and oatmeal, made a quick giddy up.  No sense wasting time when it’s temperature is singing bass notes toward the low end of the register.  Movement = warmth!

The scenery during the second day was worthy of being memorialized by the likes of Winslow Homer.

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Same scene.  Different vantage points.

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Winter is nature stripped down to its birthday suit.  Not much to hide.


Birds Nest 3, our final shelter is a party spot and not the most hospitable place.  The fireplace doesn’t do much good in a three sided enclosure.  The wind howled all night and occasionally spit enough granular snow to remind us who was boss.


The morning made for a quick get-away back to our cars.

All in all, a weekend marked by challenge and success.

Stolen Sign Epiphany


I lunched today with two fantastic southbound thru hikers, a couple of folks from the great state of Tennessee.  Their blog on www.trailjournals.com is so creative, I just had to meet them.

Since Maine, they’ve been living for the day when they’d slide south of the Mason-Dixon line and return to the land of sweet tea, mac and cheese, biscuits and gravy, and almighty grits. 

We met at my usual spot in Harpers Ferry.  The Appalachian Trail Conservancy headquarters is like a temple where thru hikers memorialize their hike with an official photo that is filed in the official data base forever.  They can bring their kids back decades later, open the book, and there they are in full glory.  There’s even a copy to be found on line, so you don’t actually have to visit.

As I drove in, I couldn’t miss them.  There they were marching up the hill distinguished by their bright orange pack covers.  The international orange pack jackets are supposed to protect hikers from deer hunters figuring no one would ever confuse a deer with a traffic cone – would they?

After the obligatory introductions and photo ceremony, we headed out for lunch in the historic district where John Brown’s raid on the arsenal and some anecdotal civil war history happened.

We found a eclectic eatery nestled in a house erected in the early 1800s.  We settled into a cozy patio carved from the rocky cliff behind the house.  Shaded on a hot day, it was nice.

The conversation superseded pouring over the menu, so we ordered on the fly. 

I need to digress a bit.  I have lived enough in the south to be an honorary southerner with certain southern culinary habits.  I like all of the aforementioned southern delicacies, and often substitute them for haute cuisine. 

Back to the story.  It wasn’t until I ordered sweet tea that my guests fully realized they were back on Confederate territory.  You see, someone has stolen the sign demarking the Mason – Dixon Line.  Without that reminder, who knew!

A quick check of the menu revealed mac and cheese and most of the other great southern dishes.  So, there they were.  Hike only half way done, but almost all the way home.

Trooper and Number 2, thanks for letting me have a tiny share of your most excellent adventure.  Godspeed.

Hiker Superhighway

Hiker Superhighway

Sometimes dark clouds do have a silver lining.

Yesterday fog smothered Shenandoah National Park. Mist and light rain took our trail maintenance project of moving ginormous rocks off the docket. That might have meant a long climb for a short slide given the wasted driving time.

But instead, Eureka! It turned into a gift of time to hike. Knowing a number of thru-hikers I’ve been following were in the park, I took a three-and-a-half hour southbound stroll on the hiker superhighway in hopes I might make a connection. No luck, but it was a great 14-mile hike. It also reinforced the need to keep upping my level of fitness.

I did stumble upon a ghost hiker though. You couldn’t have made this guy up – except Coleridge already did. His gaunt, frightening looks actually startled me as he materialized silently out of the fog. When I finally realized he was there, my first thought was that he was a lost crew member from the Flying Dutchman.

He looked more than spooky, featuring beady, burned-out eyes that peered out from the dark depths of his edgy anorexic cheek bones.

He was definitely a thru-hiker sporting the traditional grubby, sun-faded uniform. His standout fashion item was a badly distressed Nantucket red pair of hiking pants that were richly accented by crusty salt stains. Drying socks and shirts decorated his pack.

This tall and thin, cleanly shaven, gray-haired apparition really did look like death warmed over.

As a purely defensive move, I said, “Hi! How’s it going? Silence. “You okay?” In return he frowned, “Yes, thank you.” End of conversation.

We each kept walking in opposite directions. I didn’t see him on the return leg.


I’ve been doing a lot of homework over the past couple of months.

It all started with reading Lost by Cheryl Stayed.  That excellent read reminded me of what I’ve been missing by being away from hiking for so long.  I followed that with David Miller‘s AWOL on the Appalachian Trail.  It seemed like a very straight forward account of just how mentally and physically challenging a 2,000+ mile hike is.  My only criticism is that I thought it may have glossed over the far north end of the trail.

Following “AWOL,” I motored over the the ATC HQ in Harper’s Ferry.  I spent more than an hour in conversation with a very helpful gentleman who patiently answered my zillion questions.  I joined up, bought some books and maps.  Among the books were the two Barefoot Sister books.  They are marvelous adventure stories that pictured the trail from the viewpoint of a couple of precocious 20-somethings. I think I have a reasonable idea of what the experience will be like.

I’m now focusing on gear since almost all of mine is worn out or obsolete.  Trail Tested by professional hiker Justin Lichter was very insightful.  They only thing he really didn’t cover is personal hygiene and doing the dishes.  It was very good for boning up on modern gear.  The fabrics are magic!

How to Hike the A.T. by Michelle Ray also was a very good refresher that is AT-specific.  She left nothing out and I sent her a note of thanks.  Of all things, my greatest challenge is going to be weather.  The wild temperature swings and rain will be challenging.  It seems, according to the journals, that they really wear some people down quickly.

I’ve made four trips to REI to check out gear and to talk to helpful folks.  I also bought my first pair of boots for this hike.  It’s never too early to break them in.  They’re Salomons – the same as my last pair.  After trying on about a dozen pairs, they’re the only ones that fit.  I’ve walked about 20 miles in them near where I live.  So far, so good.

I’ve also been reading the trail journals and watching the vest array of YouTube videos.  I’m paying careful attention to the journals and how people are managing or not the various challenges and issues that come their way.  Some of the writers are very authentic.  I especially loved one story from a guy who found some bear spray in a shelter then candidly related the story of how he managed to douse himself with it by accident.  Not everyone would be that honest with himself or his readers.

Now starting to plan the shakedown hikes.  I joined the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club to both learn more and to invest in the AT itself.  I’m hoping to make this a life-long relationship.

Also joined “White Blaze” and have begun to read the class of ’14 forum.  Will engage with them soon.  I noted one sixty-year-old woman who’s starting in Feb.  That’s also my tentative plan.  Once I get the Medicare application done and the taxes filed, I’ll be ready to go.  If there’s extra snow, I’ll just buy snow shoes.  We’ll see how it goes.