Now in our overnight trip mode, we planned a 2-day hike centered around the Skyland resort on Skyline Drive. We thought about hiring a shuttle-driver but our friend, Don, suggested another possibility. He said it was easy to stick out your thumb and hitch-hike. We decided to give it a try.
Departing in one car at 6:45 we arrived at Skyland at 9:30. Dense fog shrouded our side down Skyline Drive. The forecast was for light rain all day. Undaunted we donned our waterproof jackets and hit the trail. Our goal was Thorton Gap nearly 10-miles distant.
The temperature was brisk mid-forties, but chilliness subsided once we started walking. The woods took an ethereal look as the fog swirled in our path. Though a blanket of white obscured the overlooks, they still had a magical charm about them.
The hazy trail was like walking in another world. Even in the gloom the forest scene was rich and glistened with rain. A number of wildflowers were evident as soon as we started. We took time to examine the tiny bell-like flowers on the underside of Smooth Solomon’s Seal. Pink Lady’s slippers and trillium dotted the landscape.
The most unusual find was a mysterious yellow growth on azaleas. Jane noticed them on both leaves and stems. She later determined that they were azalea galls.
We were on the alert for bears all day long. We passed several plods of very fresh bear scat and one nice paw print in the mud. Signs indicated that a big fella was just ahead of us, but we never got sight of him (or her).
Part of the fun of our jaunts is the encounters with people we meet. We arrived at the Pinnacles Overlook picnic shelter just in time for lunch. As we approached the smell of smoke was in the air. In the pavilion, a woman was sitting on a bench in front of a blazing fire. She said she drives up to Shenandoah from time to time. Occasionally she hikes, but this day she was spending at the pavilion. She came with her own purchased firewood, certified to be free of ash borers. After we munched our lunch we warmed ourselves in front of the fire, then continued our journey. Later in the day, wile stopping for a break at the AT shelter, several hikers there had a roaring fire going. This group was hiking the 105 mile section in Shenandoah National Park. They mentioned the lady at the picnic pavilion and lauded her as a “trail angle.”
The last mile and a half was a long rocky descent to Thornton Gap. We were wet and tired and anxious at the thought of having to hitch-hike back to Skyland. In the dense lingering fog, traffic was low and the prospect of walking another 10 miles back to our hotel was not appealing. At the bottom of the hill, the trail passes the Panorama comfort station and the thought of comfortable restrooms was very enticing. Jane bolted toward the women’s room but stopped in her tracks when she saw a man standing in the lobby. “Are you heading southbound,” she blurted? He responded yes in accented English, and before he could say USA, Jane had wrangled a ride down to Skyland. We’ll save our thumbs for another day.
It turned out this couple from Denmark were combining a vacation with a business trip. After a few days in Washington, they were making their way down to Knoxville. We had a pleasant chat. It turns out their son is living in San Francisco and we talked about places to visit in California.
We checked in to Skyland and received our key to a room in the “Laural” building. It required driving along the resort road to the lodging area. In the dense fog we literally could not find our building. It required several circumnavigations of the one-way road system to finally reach our destination. As soon as we entered the pleasantly rustic room, the heat was cranked up to 75 degrees followed by steamy hot showers. It’s times like these when we feel for the thru hikers huddled in the outdoor shelters.
After a hearty meal, the resort featured entertainment. Every Tuesday for the past 32 years the Shenandoah Valley Cloggers perform at the lodge. Ranging in age from 13 to 83, they donate their earnings to support community projects in Luray, Virginia. Their music spans a range from traditional Appalachian and blue grass tunes to more modern dance numbers like this video clip… https://youtu.be/nxpdBIuWpX0
Back to our room, we hit the sack by 8:30 and slept soundly until dawn. While at breakfast we pondered the weather. The forecast was for more rain, and the temperature dropped a few degrees from yesterday and the wind picked up. Here’s where our inner wimp took hold and we decided to bag this day’s hike and head home. We calculate that we’ve logged a little over 300 miles on the Appalachian Trail. Only 1,900 more to go.
On our drive home we spotted a bear crossing Skyline drive and took a photo from a good safe distance. A little further down the road a gobbler nestled in the grass. We saw more wildlife from our car than we did on our hike.