Burn, Baby Burn

June 11, 2016 Pinefield Gap to Doyle’s River (Shenandoah National Park)

(9.5 miles 5 hours)

We reached our end point shortly after nine and took our hitchhiking posts. No sooner than I flicked a tick off my leg, we were picked up by the first passing car by an Ohio couple, Tom and Melinda. They were section hiking also, and took pity on us. On our short ride we learned that they were working their way through Shenandoah National Park. They were hitchhiking for the first time as well.

We started thinking this hike would be somewhat the same as our recent days. The trees were leafed out, and many of the stunning wildflowers had faded. But rather than being monotonous, the day turned out to be one of the most varied we experienced.

Jane wraps arms around base of huge tree
Appreciating a huge tulip tree that escaped deforestation.

Along the way we encountered a few very large tulip trees. The girth of these champions are in marked contrast to the rest of the forest. Jane couldn’t help but give the giants a hug. For some reason they escaped harvest.

Today’s special plant of interest was a plant with a conical cluster of white flowers on a long stem. Know as Fly Poison, it contains a toxic alkaloid. Settlers ground the roots and mixed it with sugar to create a concoction that would attract and kill flies.

We’ve been encountering a lot of thru hikers. Most are very focused on their trek and determined to pile on the miles. Often they pass us by with little interaction. Consequently we rarely see thru hikers at the overlooks, especially if they are not immediately adjacent to the trail. But today there were a couple of exceptions. We met “Tenacious,“ a determined young woman from Tennessee who started her trek on April 4th. She said her trail name motivates her on the journey and I like how she combined her state name into her nickname.

Skyline Drive threads through forested landscape
A panoramic vista with a view of Skyline Drive threading through the forest.

But some thru hikers are more social and pause to catch a breath and chat a bit. We usually ask where they’re from, when they started and inquire about their trail name. We stopped at one of the beautiful overlooks for a 180-degree view of the valley and mountains beyond. It was a perfect spot for our lunch. Naturally, the scenic spot attracted a small crowd. A mother and her 2 teenaged kids were there and we chatted and posed for photographs. “Quasibird,” a thru hiker from Indiana, joined us. He began his journey on March 20th. His is a much easier pace than many of the thru hikers who log about 20 miles a day.

This 39 year-old musician spent years in a drum and bugle corps where he earned the nickname “Bird.” He added the prefix “quasi” to his moniker in reference to Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre Dame. He said years of leaning forward with his drums bent his back. Now his hefty backpack added to the effect. I think he was joking for his posture looked pretty good.

There’s a long tradition of thru hikers adopting a trail name. The practice caused us to wonder whether it’s appropriate for us mere section hikers to adopt the custom. At first I felt it was improper since we weren’t in it for the long haul. But this summer as we logged over 300 miles the thought was more appealing. For the past several weeks Jane in particular has been drafting different names for trial.

Now that we’ve been traveling through bear country, Jane’s been sporting the bear bells she purchased while hiking in the Great Smokies several years ago. Their gentle clanging in cadence with your step provides good notice that a two-footed hiker is bounding about and minimizes a chance encounter with a bear. They’re also apparent to nearby hikers.

As we reached the bottom of a hill, a group of young trekkers were resting in a clearing. The tinkling of Jane’s bells prompted a rousing chorus of “Jingle Bells” from the group as we approached. Then a young woman lightheartedly shouted out—“there goes Tinkerbell.” That nailed the decision for Jane. She had been contemplating the moniker, Tinkerbell, for some time.

night view of orange glow of mountain on fire
Dramatic night view of raging fire in Shenandoah NP (form the web).

We passed through a portion of the burned out area. Shenandoah experienced a major forest fire in the Loft Mountain area in April. Over 8,000 acres were burned and portions of the park and the Appalachian Trail were closed for several days.

The white AT blaze stands out against the burned bark.
The white AT blaze stands out against the burned bark.

Along the AT, the acrid odor of smoke still was evident and vast areas of forest were charred and trees dead. It’s fascinating how quickly the forest is regenerating. A lot of invasive species are off to a quick start in the botanical race for supremacy. We were happy to see some trees emerging from the blackened soil.

Grren shoots sprout in burned soil
Vegetation sprouts in the fire-blackened soil.

For dinner we ate sandwiches on a picnic table at Big Meadows. We sat in the lounger and listened to a musician in the lodge. As we were relaxing, 2 women who attended last night’s ranger program with us struck up a conversation. Wendy and Renee. They have been hiking portions of the AT in Shenandoah as well as some of the other wonderful trails in the park. As our conversation turned to trail names, they revealed theirs—Mountain Laurel and Pepsi Hiker.

A lone tree against the green landscape of Big Meadows
The view looking across Big Meadows.
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