March 16, 2016 (7 miles, 5.5 hours)
It was nice to be back on the trail after a more than 3-month absence. We decided to tackle another section of Virginia’s roller coaster. We thought a 7-mile jaunt, even with its notorious ups and downs, wouldn’t be too difficult if only we took our time. After all, with daylight savings time in effect, we didn’t have to worry about dwindling light like we did on other occasions.
We encountered a dense fog on our drive and visibility was poor. Haze drifted over the next ridge and blanketed it with mist. But on our side of the mountain at the trailhead, it was a beautiful warm morning, with clear blue skies. We were off to an auspicious start.
As we gathered our packs and hiking sticks, we encountered a British couple preparing to hike in the opposite direction. After comparing trail info, we learned that they were training for the 190-mile England Coast to Coast trail. That sounds like something we might want to try, so we chatted about it. We also mentioned the International Appalachian Trail to them. Believe it or not, the IAT includes a section in Scotland.
It turns out that 250 million years ago as the supercontinent of Pangaea broke up, sections of what is now the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern U. S. drifted to present day Canada, Greenland, Ireland. England, Norway, Spain, Portugal and Morocco. Who knew? You can learn more about the IAT at this link… http://www.iat-sia.org/index.php?page=mission
Right off the bat, the trail set off on a steep ascent.
Because of the many hills and our apparent poor condition after a slothful winter, we took frequent breaks to catch our breath. Speaking of sloths, I can’t resist including a photo of the 3-fingered kind we saw in Costa Rica. Perhaps with climate change some of these tropical species will migrate northward from Central America.
During our breath-catching respites we did observe that all of the leaves are gone from the deciduous trees except for the stubborn beech that tenaciously cling to last year’s leaves. The naked trees provide unobstructed views of the terrain and afforded vistas that would be obscured in the summer.
Telltale signs of spring’s emergence were everywhere. The Witch Hazel boasted tiny yellow-green flowers, while teeny red flowers dotted the maple branches and are scattered on the ground below. The showoff of the day was Bloodroot, with its crisp white petals and yellow stamens.
Water gurgled down the 6 streams we encountered. Crossing them at various times comprised hopping over stepping-stones, balancing across logs, and ambling along more substantial timbers. The spring-swollen brooks added a delightful sound as the water coursed around rocks. The vegetation beside the creeks glimmered with vivid green foliage. On this day before St. Patrick’s feast you could imagine leprechauns lurking behind the emerging leafy shoots.
We paused for lunch at the Sam Moore Shelter then continued on our trek. As we huffed our way up another hill, we encountered one of the fantastic AT volunteers who maintain the footpath. Can you imagine not only hiking the trail, lugging your sturdy tools, and then actually performing some back-breaking trail work? It tires me just thinking about it, but he was all smiles. We chatted a bit and passed our heartfelt thanks for his efforts.
Continuing along the gently sloping terrain we passed freshly chiseled woodpecker nests, another harbinger of spring. As the afternoon wore on we could hear the rumble of traffic on Route 7 and through the leafless forest we caught glimpses of traffic. Our weary hearts and legs soared at the thought of trail’s end.
Those good vibes were dashed as the trail took an unwelcomed jog to the right up a steep hill to the Bears Den hostel. We groaned at the thought of trudging up one more hill. It turned out to be more rigorous than we anticipated, but we managed to transit what we dubbed, heartbreak hill. One incentive was the prospect of ice cream at the hostel. Our trail guide indicated that the store at Bears Den sold treats, but alas, it was too early in the season and the shop was closed.
It was all downhill from there, and at the bottom, a blue blaze trail linked us back to our car at the parking lot. On our way home, we were lured by the Hershey’s ice cream sign hanging outside the market in the cute hamlet of Round Hill, Virginia. We were disappointed that they didn’t offer hand-dipped cones, but we savored a newfound delight. We both dug deep in the freezer case and pulled out mint chip ice cream sandwiches that we devoured on the way home.