An Accidental Return to Ashby Hollow

The weather was perfect. I haven’t gone for a day hike in months so I grabbed a print out for Ashby Hollow – Mt. Weathers from a backpack I use for hiking and took off.

I had this weird feeling of deja vu. For good reason. This was my first solo hike on the Appalachian Trail a few years ago.

The drive up a dirt road to the start was an adventure. The road was all ruts and washboard. The car’s autotraction was going nuts. My wheels were spinning but I made it in one piece.

I immediately recognized the start. Oh well, no sense in going looking for another trail. Off I went down the rock trail.

I remember this hike as very difficult footing. And it was but not nearly as bad as others I have done since. The low humidity and comfortable temperatures combined with persistent shade to make this just a glorious day to be in the woods.

Once I warmed up, I could just truck along. Unfortunately I had to look mostly at the trail because of all the rocks and tree roots. While doing this it’s really hard to think about anything but the task at hand which ends up being kind of meditative.

This section of the AT is called the roller coaster. On weekends it’s crowded but today I only saw four hikers in three hours, two of them passed me withing 200 yards of the finish. This time of year there aren’t much in the way of flowers so I basked in the green. There were no vistas on this hike at this time of year. The foliage is just too dense. No worries.

Despite having hiked this before, I missed two turns. I haven’t seen a blaze in a while, have I? Nope. When you wander off, just return to the trail and begin again. Sounds like a Joseph Goldstein meditation video.

It took me about 3 hours to do the entire 6 1/2 miles.

The ride back took me past vineyards and horse farms and through tony Virginia towns like Upperville and Middleburg. With windows down and the sun shining through puffy clouds it was a lovely end to another day of slacking.

 

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Hiking Up and Down to Raven Rocks

Today I did another out and back hike on the Appalachian Trail. At my current pace I should have the entire AT hiked by 2047.

I started at just to the west of Snickersville Gap, where VA Route 7 crests the Blue Ridge. I lucked out and got the next to last parking space in the trailside lot.

This area of the AT is known as the roller coaster because it goes up and down and up and down and around. The hike started with up to the ridge. The entire hike is heavily wooded. And rocky. And tree rooty.

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The start is up. And Up. Then down to a run, which in Virginia is a creek. The water level wasn’t too high so I made it across with ease. A family came a hiking behind me. They were a chatty bunch. I resigned myself to the fact that solitude would be elusive.

Next I hiked up to the ridge Then down with rocky switchbacks. Then up. Then down to a creek. Then up then down. Then up until I saw sky.

Ultrarunnergirl told me a few years ago that seeing sky is good. It was. The trail emerged from the woods to a rocky area, the top of a cliff. This is Raven Rocks. Chatty family were sitting across the part of the cliff top that had the best views.

I resisted the urge to push them over the edge and hike a bit further. There was another pretty decent spot to enjoy the view. A sole hiker was just beginning to get underway. She said “It’s a pretty nice spot. You can have it.” And off she went down the trail.

I took in the view for a few minutes. It was very viewy. There was gIMG_0833reen. And a pleasant breeze. I got down on my stomach and looked over the edge. I couldn’t see the bottom. I saw a lot of tree tops. I thought of Flogini who used to climb cliffs even higher than this. I can’t even….

I turned to go down. And the chatty bunch asked me to take their picture at the top of the cliff. Okay folks, step back. Once more. Ayyyyy!

I was nice and took pictures of them from multiple vantage points. The gods will reward me someday.

Not today though. On the hike back to the car, I caught my right toe on a rock and started to fall. I put my arm around a small tree in the middle of the trail. My momentum swung me around the tree so hard that I came out of my left shoe. I swung completely around the tree and landed on my butt between two big sharp chunks of granite. The bark of the tree took some skin off my left arm. And somewhere in the spin I cut two fingers on my right hand. There was blood.

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Feeling like a complete spaz, I put my shoe back on and dusted off my pride and hiked onward. A group of 20 somethings came by with music playing. Bad country music. I resisted the urge to hoedown.

Along the way coming and going I encountered plenty of backpackers and some other families. This is apparently a pretty popular place for a day hike.

For good reason.

It lasted only about 4 hours, quite a bit less than I expected. On the way home, I bought a cherry pie at a place in Round Hill. It’s a bit of a cheat. People thought that the pies were made on site, but the Washington Post did an article about the place and exposed the pies as factory made by Sara Lee. They’re still damned good and a suitable replacement for a shower beer.

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There are a few more pictures in an album on my Flickr page.

Keys Gap to Buzzard Rocks Overlook on the Appalachian Trail

Last night I pondered my Sunday choices: bike ride, bike ride to a Nationals baseball game, or hike. I decided on a hike guessing that there might be some rain during the game.

Last weekend I hiked from Keys Gap to Loudon Heights, heading north on the Appalachian Trail. This weekend I headed south toward Buzzard Rocks overloook. which held the hope of a view of the Shenandoah Valley.

The weather report was for temperatures in the 60Fs. And no rain. Well, there was rain but it mostly happened before I started making for a muddy track. There was a bit of rain in the middle of the hike but the tree canopy protected me.

I tried to avoid the mud but it was pointless. So I let the little boy in me out and I made my peace with the slop.

The trail here is much less rocky than the trail just to the north. Without the mud you could cover this trail lickety split.

There was quite a lot of traffic during my first 2 1/2 miles. Boy scouts. Groups of adults. They all looked like they had camped overnight. They didn’t seem strained by their packs so I assumed (correctly) that the terrain would be forgiving.

The only steep section had rock steps, easy to negotiate. And it was rather striking to look at.

Along the way I was treated to my favorite: ferns. I tried to plant ferns in my side yard. They all died within weeks. Ferns are best left to the woods.

As the trail rose to the ridge, I walked into the clouds. This was great for atmospherics but the ruined the view from the overlook.  I did get one picture where you can vaguely make out the Shenandoah Valley.

The hike was 7.7 miles and that’s a comfortable distance for me. I didn’t feel all banged up like last weekend.

I was surprised to learn that it was raining heavily in DC. Sometimes you guess right. The Nats game started 90 minutes late.  Works for me.

There are some more pix on my Flickr page.

 

Finishing What I Started

The Potomac Heritage Trail is the closest hiking trail of any decent length near my house. It’s about a 20-30 minute drive. I lucked out. The parking area at Chain Bridge was full but a pickup pulled out and I pulled in.

The goal of the day was to hike the trail upriver to the point where I turned around last weekend. The good news is that this section of the trail involves very little rocky stuff. The bad news is the turn around point was about 1 mile less distant that I thought.

The first half mile or so follows Pimmit Run. In Virginia creeks and streams are called runs. (There are no hits or errors.) Perhaps the most well known run in Virginia is Bull Run.

At a half mile I needed to cross the run and, after studying the rocks in the stream, I made it across without getting wet.

The next section climbs up to Fort Marcy. It wasn’t a particularly difficult climb.

After crossing the parking lot, the trail winds through some more woods within sight of the GW Parkway.  The cars wizzing by really messed with the vibe. Near the end of the hike, I crossed the Chain Bridge Road exit ramps. Not exactly a zen experience.

To my surprise the turnaround point was only a couple hundred yards beyond the exit.

On the way back the hills seemed easier. I tuned out the cars and made it a point to focus my attention on the smooth track, a little beetle and the blue sky above.

It seemed liked someone had moved the rocks around in Pimmit Run. I could not figure out how I made it across. So I worked my way downstream looking for a better option. I stopped three times and found myself in mid-stream with no chance of leaping to a far rock to finish the crossing.  The banks of the creek were piled high with flood debris. I put my foot on top of it and my foot went in like it was a snow drift. A few minutes later I started to sink in again and reached out with my left hand making contact with the debris. I ended up with several splinters and cuts. There was blood. Just enough to make a mess of my pants when I wiped my hand on them.

After 15 minutes I found a spot with a downed tree sticking across the creek at a height of four feet. I jumped from one rock to another grabbing the tree. Thankfully it took the weight of my left side without breaking (which would have caused me to fall into the creek.)

I made it across and found myself back at the car in short order.

My next hike will likely take me out to Shenandoah National Park.

Top Ten of 2016

As is so often the case, my top ten list goes to 11. Hey, it’s my blog and I make the rules.

Yooper for a Week
After 11 years I finally did another solo bike tour. I drove 13+ hours to Ludington Michigan. After a ferry ride across Lake Michigan, I rode The Mule fully loaded with gear into the north woods of Wisconsin. On July 4, I had breakfast in Freedom. After a few days I turned east and crossed the UP, the upper peninsula of Michigan. After the UP, I visited car-free Mackinac Island on a quiet Sunday morning. Other than a two-hour scary thunderstorm and three hilly days of headwinds near the end of the tour, the weather could not have been better. And I managed three ferry rides without getting sick. I rode 832 miles in 11 days. It was a wonderful combination of hard work and rolling meditation. I proved to myself that even at 60 years old I still got it. Okay, maybe not all of it but enough of it to get the job done. I can’t wait to do another.

An Eventful Spring
Prior to my tour I warmed up my legs by riding some bike events. I kicked the year off with the Vasa Ride, co-sponsored by the Washington Area Bicyclists Association and the Swedish embassy. It was a bit of a disappointment because this is normally a social ride but I rode it alone and didn’t do much socializing at the embassy reception afterwards. Next came the Five Boro ride in New York City. The Five Boro Ride has always been on my to do list but conflicted with work, parenting responsibilities, and personal lethargy. I convinced Paul to join me (with Amy along for moral support). Paul and I rode the 40+ mile ride in a cold rain at the start of May. It wasn’t all that much fun, but touring Manhattan the day before in splendid weather with the wonderful guidance of my BU friend Susan made up for riding the Brooklyn Queens Expressway in a driving rain.

At the end of May, I rode the new DC Bike Ride. Not to be outdone by NYC, we had cold rain for that one too.

Scary Night
In May, I woke up in the middle of the night with severe chest pains. After a few hours of increasing pain, Mrs. RC called for an ambulance. The ride to the hospital ½ mile away took 20 minutes but I was well taken care of. What I feared was a heart attack turned out to be a respiratory infection. Fortunately, a nebulizer treatment in the ER and antibiotics fixed me up over the next week. An earworm of the Neil Finn song Anytime played for days. “I could go at anytime. There’s nothing safe about this life.” Words to live by.

At the end of the week, I dragged myself out of bed and rode my bike on Bike to Work Day. I was still under the weather but I now know I can ride to work with one lung tied behind my back.

Pulling Beers Like a Boss
I have been lax in volunteering at local bike events, basically forever. This year, with my respiratory problems more or less behind me, I volunteered at the Tour de Fat in DC. This is a fundraiser for bike advocacy groups (WABA being one of many) and I was determined to help out. It rained. It was cold-ish. I pulled beers nonstop for two hours. Instead of hanging around for the rest of the day, I went home and went to bed. (Every party has a pooper that’s why we invited you.) Next year I hope to be around to volunteer again. And to socialize afterward.

Call Me Lars
Our daughter finished up her year abroad with a semester in Sweden. A few days after Tour de Fat, Mrs. Rootchopper and I flew over and toured parts of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland. It was an exhausting two weeks and fun to re-visit Copenhagen after over 15 years. Although I was in bicycle heaven for most of the trip, I didn’t ride at all. If you ask me what my favorite place was my answer would be “Yes.”

Ain’t Baseball Great
I went to 19 Nats games this year. The last time I went to this many games was when I lived in Boston. I rode my bike to about 15 games. How convenient of them to locate the ballpark 16 miles from home. As a bonus, it was great seeing so many friends at the bike valet before and after the games. The rest of the games involved driving the kids, including my niece Irene for one game. One exhausting game lasted 16 innings and the good guys won on a walk-off home run. I even managed to see two playoff games. Despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that the Nats lost their last game of the season, I can’t wait until April!

Fall Bike Frenzy
In the fall I did the Indian Head, Backroads, and Seagull Centuries (100 miles each), the 44-mile Great Pumpkin Ride (with Paul, Amy, and Jody), the 53-mile Cider Ride and, for the eighth time, the 62-mile 50 States Ride. I was already on fumes near the end of this madness, when an old friend asked me to ride with her to Harpers Ferry and back over two days. Given the fact that I had a colonoscopy (with the associated fasting and anesthesia) two days before we would have left, I declined. One ambulance ride a year is plenty.

Deets Provides a Surly Surge
A year ago I bought a new bike, a Surly Cross Check. Mostly, it hung on a hook in my shed, used only for the occasional weekend ride. This summer I started commuting on it. What a great commuter bike it is. I also did all my fall events on it. I named it Deets after the scout in the miniseries Lonesome Dove. Deets was said to be “cheerful in all weathers, never shirked a task, splendid behavior.” My Deets served me well until his back tire exploded on the way to work. Aye god, Woodrow.

Hiking Light
Unlike last year, I didn’t get much hiking done this year. I did the Billy Goat B and C trails on New Years Day which is becoming something of a tradition. Realizing that I-66 cuts right across the Appalachian Trail, I hiked it north (Manassas Gap) and south (Trumbo Hollow) of the highway. I also headed out to Shenandoah National Park to hike the Hogback Mountain trail. In late November I hiked the Potomac Highlands Trail from Turkey Run Park to the American Legion Bridge and back. A surprisingly nice hike so close to DC. Just before the year ended I did a meandering hike in Great Falls Park in Maryland.

Living Small
We had our wood floors redone in the spring. We hired a couple of amazing movers to relocate all our belongings from the top two floors down to the family room and basement where we lived among the piles of stuff for two weeks. It was quite a project. The floors turned out great. I came to realize that most of the crap that I have accumulated over the course of 25+ years in a house, I can live without.

Going Long
Coincident with my 61st birthday, my four bikes gave me a big present. I’ve been keeping track of the mileage on my bikes for 25 years and with an empty nest surge in recent years I finally made it to 100,000 miles. I also set my one-year personal mileage record of 8,167 miles.

That’s it for 2016. No mas. Thanks for reading. I am taking 2017 one day at a time. Love this life. It’s the only one you get.

Great Falls Saves My Day

After running errands and reading this morning, I had nothing to do. My to do list for my staycation was done. I decided to drive up to Great Falls Park in Maryland for a quick hike. It seemed appropriate since I started the year with a hike there.

My hike took me on a four mile (give or take) loop. I started on the Berma Road which is a bit muddy. Next I took a right onto the leaf covered Valley Trail. I love the sound of leaves swishing under my feet.

The Valley Trail intersected with the Gold Mine Loop. (Yes, there was a gold mine here long ago.) More leaves. More swishing. Very few people. The sun angled through the barren trees to add a bit of visual novelty to the proceedings.

After about a half a loop I took a spur trail that lead me to the Overlook Trail. This trail runs along a ridge above the C&O Canal and the Potomac River as it cuts through Mather Gorge. I climbed to a view point and it seemed that the flurries were casting a haze over the gorge. Or maybe it was just the angle of the sun and the thousands of grey tree trunks and rock faces.

I dropped back down to the Berma Road and took a bridge across the canal. It was then a half mile walk to the Great Falls overlook trail. I was a little disappointed that there was no ice, but if there had been I’d have been seriously underdressed and freezing my ass off. Be careful what you wish for. Still the sound of rushing water, the mist, the churn of foam in the rapids made for a soothing break from walking.

The hike ended with a 1 1/2 mile walk down the towpath past Widewater, my favorite section of the canal near DC.

Normally, this park is filled with people, often noisy kids. Today my solitude was interrupted only a handful of times, and briefly at that.

Not a bad way to salvage an afternoon.

 

 

Pictures of the Year 2016

 

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Sunrise on the Mount Vernon Trail

When the sun and my work day cooperate, I stop and take in the sunset over the Potomac River. It rarely disappoints.

The Big Reveal
100,000 Miles

It took me 25 years but I managed to ride 100,000 miles since acquiring The Mule (bottom left) in 1991. In 2002 I bought Big Nellie, a Tour Easy recumbent (top left), and rode it exclusively for several years. In 2009 (or thereabouts) I bought my Bike Friday New World Tourist, a folding travel bike that I call Little Nellie (upper right). Last year I picked up Deets, a Surly Cross Check, that turns out to be a fantastic bike for commuting.

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Drink Up Cowboy (Colonoscopy Prep)

In October, amid a frenzy of bike event riding, I had a colonoscopy. It was my third. I am happy to report that there was no cancer detected. I’ll be back in 2019 for another. Drink up!

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Me in Front of Copenhagen Central Station Bike Racks

I went to Scandinavia with my wife and daughter. I didn’t ride a bike but I saw a few here and there. The cycling infrastructure is so much better than in the U.S. And the road users are all so well behaved. As my friend Finn Quinn once said: “The future is a foreign country.” We can only hope.

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Beer Tent Volunteers at Tour de Fat

I volunteered at the Tour de Fat this year. I had fun despite not being completely recovered from my not so fun trip to the ER a week earlier. We were a well behaved bunch. The only beer we imbibed were the ones the organizers comped us for our efforts on their behalf.

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Friday Coffee Club

You may never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. You certainly won’t find it here because the building where this picture was taken is being renovated. Friday Coffee Club moved across town and, but for one appearance after Thanksgiving, I had to stop going. I miss these scoundrels.

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Michelle Smiles Even When She’s Freezing (Vasa Ride)

Speaking of scoundrels, for the last several years Michelle has been running bike events at the Washington Area Bicyclists Association (WABA). I am convinced that she is trying to kill me. It is widely rumored that she even controls the weather. I am so grateful for all the hard work Michelle (and the other folks at WABA and the volunteers) put in to make #bikedc better every year. (Michelle also has a serious interest in the Beats and Kerouac. Check out her blog.)

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Amy at Great Pumpkin Ride

It was windy and coolish, but Amy was determined to do her first long event ride. This hill during the Great Pumpkin Ride near Warreton Virginia was mighty steep but Amy (with Jody behind her) managed it without apparent difficulty. The leaves on the road were produced by powerful winds that made the day quite a work out. The rest stop after this photo was at a Old Bust Head brewery.

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Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan

This picture doesn’t do justice to how steep these dunes are. And this is only about 1/2 of the height. The remaining elevation is obscured by the angle of my shot. Later that day the road I was on went up the dunes just to the south of this one. It made for some tough climbing into a persistent headwind. It was perhaps the physically hardest day of my 11-day solo bike tour. As hard as it was on my body, the tour was a feast of rolling meditation for my mind and soul.

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What Yoopers Eat (Bike Tour)

The people who live on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the UP, are called Yoopers. They eat white fish and pasties (a kind of meat pie) and have their own candy bar. They (mostly) also talk like all the hockey players from Ontario that I roomed with during my freshman year at college. Eh?

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My Deck Buddy

I was hanging out on my deck one sunny day when I went to open my deck umbrella and found this critter. Cute.

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My Perch in Left Field

The left field grandstand was my perch for about 10 games at Nats Park this year. I became personal friends with Jason Werth. (That’s him in left field.) Okay, that’a s lie.Somewhere up there under the third light stanchion is Klarence keeping score. Hurry spring!

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Darth Paul on the Five Boro Ride

That’s Paul on the left on FDR Drive on the east side of Manhattan. It is cold. It is raining. Paul is not smiling. He had so much fun. We stopped in Astoria, Queens, to stand around and freeze our asses off. Who knew that the Brooklyn Queens Expressway would be even more fun. I have now ridden my bike across the Verrazano Narrows and the Golden Gate. Woot!

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A Section of the AT

The Appalachian Trail is nice enough to come down to I-66 which made for a couple of convenient solo day hikes.

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Veronica Help Us Save a Duckling on the MVT

I found a duckling on the Mount Vernon Trail on the way to work one morning. Mr friend Linel stopped to help and we tried to figure out what do with it. Then Veronica showed up. She took the duckling to her office then to an animal rescue place. This is a decidedly better outcome that the two animal skeletons I saw last year. Just sayin’. Thanks, Veronica.

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Night in the ER

This is me getting a nebulizer treatment in the ER. A few hours earlier I couldn’t move without experiencing a knife-like pain in my upper right chest. (I blame yoga.) The doctors were pretty confident that it wasn’t a heart attack. I had a resting pulse of 46 and my blood pressure was normal. They did some tests and took some x-rays. Then they put this on me. I was recovered enough to do Bike to Work Day, volunteer at Tour de Fat, ride DC Bike Ride, and fly to Stockholm over the next nine days. Do not try this at home. Or anywhere else, for that matter.

Dumbo in Trumbo Hollow

Reading on the deck just wasn’t happening this morning. It was beautiful out. You know, puffy white clouds, gentle breezes, low humidity. So I decided to go for a hike.

I chose Trumbo Hollow because I was getting started late and wanted to make sure I could find a place to park my car.

The highways were all but deserted and there was ample parking. So an hour after I left home I was on the Appalachian Trail heading south.

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Think you can find the AT?

After a half mile of gently flat trail, I started up. And up. Switchback after switchback. Rocky footing. Eventually the hill and rocks  gave way to a grassy meadow. This was a first for me. Mostly woods lead to more woods. After the meadow came a downhill to a street. Then across the street and uphill again. You’d think they’d designed these trails so that they don’t go up and down and up and down. Just for me because I am the only important person in the universe.

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Rocks
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Meadow

There were quite a few other people hiking today. This included a group of about 14 hikers who were getting their social fix where introverts like me go to get away from people like them. I am grateful that they were heading in the opposite direction.

There were some couples here and there out on a date hike. It’s apparently like a bike date except you leave the bikes at home. You know you’re getting somewhere with your date when she tells you to bring a tent. Hike dates are not at all subtle that way.

The hike took me a little over 3 miles to a shelter that served as a landmark for the turnaround. One of the date couples I saw earlier had passed me and were hanging out there. She was on the phone. In my book she is not tentworthy.

I turned around and headed back. About a mile later, on a mostly smooth part of the trail and a rock reached up and tripped me. I swear it moved. I went down HARD on my forearm. Thankfully I landed on a rock-free part of the trail. My forearm just missed landing across a basketball size rock. This would have been ugly. Snap. Scream. Blood. Pain.

But it wasn’t. A stabbing pain went up my arm into my shoulder nonetheless. Ow. F-word. This HURTS. I stayed down for a minute as the pain subsided and came to realize that I didn’t break or dislocate anything. In all the arm fun, I missed the part about my left knee whacking the ground. It was bloody and aching. Both my palms hurt too. Suffice it to say a bruised knee and two bruised palms is a less than idea condition to ride 100 miles with. So tomorrow’s century ride will be interesting indeed.

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Albino caterpillars have been known to trip hikers

I dusted myself off. Poured water over the bleeding bits and continued on. But for the limp and the icky blood I was having a pretty good time. About a mile from my car a through-hiker came barreling toward me, aided by his adept use of two hiking poles. These hikers are in phenomenal shape. He had earbuds in. This kind of ruined my mental picture of through-hikers, but maybe he could hook up with phone girl at the shelter.

I made it back to the car in one piece but my knee was stiffening up. After stopping for some nutritious food (an M&M cookie ice cream sandwich counts, doesn’t it?…Oh, shut up. Don’t judge. I had a boo boo.),  I drove home. After a shower and some real food (involving a bagel, cheese, and a tomato) I came out on the deck and made good use of some frozen veggies. And a beer.

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Hiking Hogback

I haven’t done a hike since forever, so it was time to get my butt out to Shenandoah National Park. Thankfully, the weatherman delivered a picture perfect day.

I left at 7 am on a Saturday and the traffic gods were kind. I drove US 211 through Sperryville Va to the Thornton Gap entrance to Skyline Drive. US 211 is a beautiful drive. It reminds me of drives in West Virginia. The road climbs gradually until it gets to the Park then it twists and turns as it climbs over the Blue Ridge.

I have to make a confession at this point. I’ve lived in DC since 1984 and, until today, I’ve never driven on Skyline Drive. It’s a work of art. Easily one of the best roads I’ve ever driven on. Every couple of miles is a pull off where you can take in a breathtaking view of mountains and valleys.

I parked the car and headed into the woods, eager to take on the Hogback Mountain hike from HikingUpward.com. The undergrowth was lusher (more lush?) than I am used to which added a bit of mystery to the location of the start. I guessed right and was soon working my way to the Piney Branch Trail. The trail headed gradually downhill. After all the walking I did in Scandinavia, my legs were having no troubles negotiating the path. Piney Branch lead to a small stream which I managed to cross without immersing myself.  I turned onto the Pole Bridge trail which led to a fire road that took me back up to Skyline Drive. The warm, dry air, the gentle breeze and the green everywhere was floating my boat.

After crossing Skyline Drive I picked up the Appalachian Trail and started going up. The climb to Little Hogback overlook raised my heart rate but was not overly strenuous. The views were just fabulous. Somebody take a picture! Oh, yeah. I did.

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I ate an apple and drank some water and thank the gods for coming up with the colors green and blue.

Then I hiked over to Hogback Mountain. Over is a term of art. I hiked down a bit then started hauling my ass up. And up. And up. Switchbacks and stone steps and up. My breathing became labored but, after a few minutes, my lungs caught up and I cruised (slowly) my way to the top. The view was pretty much the same. Green, blue, rocks, farms, puffy white clouds. Ahhhh.

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After overdosing on scenery, I made my way through a stand of mountain laurel and another stand of ferns. When I die, cremate me and spread my ashes among these ferns. It was so peaceful walking through them.

The trail made its way down. Who am I to argue. I walked down with it. Soon I was back at the car with 7 1/2 miles of hiking in heaven behind me.

My pictures from today are on my Flickr page.

My only complaint about this hike is the fact that the second half of the hike takes place very close to Skyline Drive. It’s hard to lose yourself in the moment when your contemplation is interrupted by a motorcycle engine. This is a quibble though. .

Also, my co-worker Kelly asked me how difficult this hike was. Except for the climb up Hogback this one is a breeze. Most of the other hikes I’ve done in this area start low and climb to Skyline Drive. This one mostly just winds back and forth Skyline Drive so you really don’t have to work all that hard.

Manassas Gap: A Short Hike on the AT

The floor refinishing job in our house is done. All that is left is the move back into the rooms which will happen on Thursday. In the meantime we are staying off the floors as much as possible. They look great but the air in the house is a tad stinky. (Not nearly as bad as I expected.) So getting out of the house was the plan.

I decided to use the perfect spring weather for a hike. I drove to Linden Virginia to do a solo 2 1/2 mile out-and-back hike on the Appalachian Trail. Last year I did a similar hike a few miles to the north at Ashby’s Hollow. It was pretty tough. That section of the AT is called the roller coaster for good reason.

This hike started 100 yards from I-66 and went up. And up. And up. Most of the climbing was done through as series of switchbacks. For the first half mile, I could hear the traffic on the interstate. Once I put the mountain between me and the highway I was good to go.

I stopped to take pictures as I went. Not because I was seeing anything particularly spectacular but to put space between me and two women who were hiking together. I followed a spur to check out an overlook. It was pretty but I’ve seen the view 100 times before from the highway below.

The trees are just starting to leaf. This allowed me to see a long way through the dense forest down the side of the mountain I was climbing. When I was little, I broke a rule about staying near home and went for a hike in the woods that began a mile away.  It seemed like I was walking forever. It was really only about a mile. There was a thick carpet of pine needles and the pine trees muffled sounds of the nearby roads and suburbs. For some reason, this hike called to mind that one.

The AT is very easy to follow. This section of the trail is well maintained (by volunteers, I might add). I had passed the two hikers before the spur. When I came back to the AT, they were a few hundred yards ahead. I fiddled with picture taking allowing them to get out of sight.

I wanted some space from people and things. My wife and I have been confined to two rooms that are crammed with furniture for the rest of the house. This and a week in the office including attending a retirement reception for our old boss, made my introverted self feel very much trapped.

I was alone. And Asian man, perhaps 50 years old, came bounding down the trail in my direction. He had a big smile on his face. Then I was alone again. Slogging up the hill. I’d smile too if I were coming down.

Then I head footsteps behind me. Within minutes a bearded hiker with a backpack came past. He was moving at a steady clip, much faster than me. We said our hellos and he was gone.

At times the trail flattened out and my pace picked up. This was not a race. I spent most of my attention on the rocky path in front of me. If you look away while walking you’ll trip for sure. So you have to focus on the task at hand. If that isn’t meditative I don’t know what is.

Eventually I came to a shelter built for AT hikers. A middle aged man, his teenaged soon, and the hiker who blew by me were talking. The hiker had begun his trek at the start in Georgia. He was nearly halfway to Maine. The boy aspired to hike the AT with his father. They were doing their first recon of the trail on the date that the boy had set back in December. (This is one determined kid.)  The hiker told us some tales. He wasn’t hiking for some great spiritual experience. He just like to hike and had the time and the money. Why not. He seemed like a totally normal bloke out for a 2,200 mile stroll in the woods.

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After about 30 minutes I headed back down to the car. The going was much easier. No wonder the Asian man was smiling. I passed another northbound through hiker. I told him about the shelter and the through hiker I had met. “He’s my partner.”  No wonder he wasn’t lonely.

We went our separate ways. Two more Asian hikers came through. Maybe this was a coincidence. I had read that in Japan walking in the woods is held in high regard. Perhaps it was a cultural thing. Japanese researchers find hiking to be good medicine for the stress of urban life.

Another half mile and I came upon what looked like a husband and wife. They smiled but didn’t say anything. They were wearing ear buds. I cannot for the life of me understand why you’d wear earbuds in the woods.

After about two miles of downhill trudging, my lower back (which I had pulled a few days ago) was starting to rebel. To ease the strain, I broke into a trot. Of course, this made my knees angry. To take my mind off the discomfort, I looked through the trees down the mountain, trying to pick out the trail as it switched back and forth.

Back at the car, I ran into a man who was about to head up the trail for an overnight hike. He had no information so I told him about the shelter at 2 1/2 miles. Maybe someday he’ll just keep on going all the way to Maine.

The pix I took are over on my Flickr page.

I was thinking of driving to Philadelphia tomorrow to watch the Nationals play. I’ve never seen a game there. I tweeted the idea and none of my tweeps seemed he least bit interested in joining me. So I guess I’ll do a long ride somewhere. The Cross Check is itchin’ to get out.