June 12, 2016 Smith Roach Gap to Pinefield (Shenandoah National Park)
(7 miles 4 hours)
We’re continuing our hitchhiking exploits. A woman from British Columbia picked us up this morning, after a half hour of waiting and 6 passed vehicles. She left her home in May and had been traveling in the states ever since. She said we didn’t look threatening so she pulled over and picked us up, ferrying us the 7 miles to our starting point.
Just as we pulled into the parking area a bear crossed the road in front of us. Since this was the last of our 3-day hike, we choose a shorter 7-mile section. The trail ascended up a long incline across a steep mountainside. Stands of laurel and budding blueberry bordered the trail. Occasional stands of columbine accented the scene.
As we encounter more thru hikers and learn their stories, I was reminded of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, a book a book I paid little attention to in high school. Perhaps I’ll be inspired to pick up a copy and re-read the classic.
As we trekked down a long stretch, we encountered another interesting traveler, actually another Canadian. The young, bearded man took a moment to chat with us. “Coach,” a thru hiker from Winnipeg started his journey on April 4th. He fell behind a large bubble of hikers due to illness. He got sick in North Carolina and spent a 3 days recovering in a hotel. When he got back on the trail, he still lacked the strength to continue. He spent 3 more days in AT shelters just resting and building back his strength. He certainly looked fit when we saw him, although a bit on the thin side. He said there was another bubble of thru hikers about a week behind him. Perhaps we’ll encounter them on our next hike. His experience as an athletic trainer and career in sport’s medicine, earned him the moniker “Coach,” and the thanks of hikers who benefited from his ministrations. He said the most common ailments he treats are sprained ankles and knee strains.
We stopped for lunch at the Simmons Gap road crossing and enjoyed a short nap in preparation for the second steep climb of the day.
We observed a plant with long iris-like leaves and violet flowers that we later identified as Spiderwort. As detailed in Wildflowers of the Appalachian Trail, this is one of the most interesting plants around. First of all, it’s flowers last only 1 day. Each day new flowers emerge. The plant is also an indicator of nasty stuff. It actually detects lower levels of radiation than electronic equipment. If you see these violet flowers turn pink, it’s best to skedaddle out of there. It also responds to high levels of pesticide and carbon monoxide. So it’s also being used as site monitoring tool to identify environmental hazards.
After 2 hours of climbing we settled at the overlook to enjoy the view at Weaver Mountain. We had a snack then embarked on one of our favorite ancillary activity—napping. But the respite was cut short when Jane was stung by a bee while relaxing in the shade. With the calm mood broken we hitched up our packs and continued down the trail.
We decided to end the day with a picnic dinner up at the Big Meadows. It was much more pleasant, and a lot cooler, than scrounging something at a local restaurant. The panoramic view is one of the highlights of Skyline Drive.
Earlier this summer, we received useful advice from Don DeArmon about hitchhiking that emboldened us to extend our thumbs on the Skyline Drive. Little did we realize that we talking to an expert on the subject. Don recently published a book about his adventures thumbing across the country in those fascinating years in the 70s. Here’s a link to Don’s website to purchase the book.