Appalachian Trail in VA Project – 5/26/13 – Spy Rock Road Access Southbound to U.S. 60 - 17+ Miles
Will the knees hold out? The first two days of this trip were a bit hard on them, some soreness on the outer edges of my kneecaps and the usual fatigued muscles. I was apprehensive about today, going for longer mileage with significant downhill at the end. Rather than continuing northbound, I opted to reverse and go southbound so Jim wouldn’t have to find the side trail to the AT to meet me at the end of the day. Having ended at U.S. 60 yesterday, that was now a familiar spot. Jim planned to bike to Lynchburg, VA to visit an old friend and the U.S. 60 meeting place made it much easier on him.
Ah, the approach to the AT starting up on Spy Rock Road. Have I mentioned that this is about .8 miles of extremely steep yuckiness? And have I mentioned that I had a bad cold going on since the moment we left home, stuffiness, aching sinuses? (I’ve concluded that hiking is the best thing for a cold, being outside with your mouth hanging open and breathing hard anyway.) And after our hiking and biking we faced a long drive home, more than 4 hours. Yes, apprehensive is the right word.
Turned out to be the best hike day of the trip.
Going up the Spy Rock side trail was tough for sure, labored breathing and very slow steps (just like last time, no escalator had been installed). I made the right turn onto the AT southbound and took a deep breath. Almost immediately I began passing hikers. After all, it was a spectacularly gorgeous day, Memorial Day, and everyone was outside.
There are three types of people on hiking trails: hikers who smile or say hello and keep moving, hikers who say, “Hi, great weather, have a nice day,” and then keep moving, and hikers who stop and spend a few minutes, “Hi, where are you from, where are you hiking to today?” I soon met an engaging retired couple from California who were doing a 450-mile section from Roan Mountain, TN to Waynesboro, VA on what they called a “five-year AT section plan.” We chatted about Mount Whitney (they have summitted three times) and how fortunate I am to live so close to much of the AT. Somehow this pleasant conversation gave me a change in attitude that helped me enjoy the day.
A lovely fern-lined path
Jack-in-the-pulpits! Dozens of them! Once I spotted one, the rest magically appeared everywhere.
Yellow lady slippers! A rare find anywhere, yet here they were in several clumps very close to the trail.
Yellow lady slipper
Yellow lady slipper
Next I met a group of back- packers, two men and three teenage boys from Lynchburg, who stopped for a nice chat. I told them to look for the rare lady slippers and to shout when they found them – they did.
Much of the day’s trail was pretty level walking and I made up time from the occasional slow uphills. I seemed to breathe easier (maybe my cold was finally easing off) and the mileages clicked off. Maybe it was encountering so many people out, embracing rather than chafing at the lack of solitude. Along with the people came lots of dogs, something I do not usually enjoy. Most dogs were unleashed but well-behaved. Note: accept what you cannot change.
I crossed a large stream, the North Fork of the Piney River, and stopped for a break. Campsites were nestled among car-sized boulders. This large tree seemed to grow out of a boulder.
A look around on other side revealed an extensive root system stretching down to the ground.
From the corner of my eye I glimpsed a flash of red, a brilliant red bird with black wings, but I could not get a photo. Soon after, I encountered three hikers with binoculars – birders – who explained that I had seen a scarlet tanager. Hhmmm…do I need to keep a birder list now?
A flower I didn't recognize
As I have mentioned before, the AT crosses many forest service roads along this Virginia section. Although the signage is usually quite good, at one multiple trail/road intersection I lost track of the white blazes and walked for nearly half a mile without seeing one. Did I take a wrong turn? No, eventually the blazes reappeared.
Another people encounter: I saw a man approaching with a teenage girl, both wearing loaded backpacks, and the girl’s face looked familiar. They were of the hello-nice-day-keep-it-moving variety and I noted the girl’s big round glasses (not sunglasses) and her equally big smile. Back at home later I confirmed that this was Sassafrass and her dad, Kaboose, whom I read about online recently. Sassafrass is 13 years old and had begun a thru-hike on the AT to raise awareness for hunger in her community of New Gloucester, Maine and beyond, asking people to donate money and food to local food banks. Update: Sassafrass had to get off the trail due to foot problems but you should read the trail journal written by her and her dad here. Very inspiring story.)
Time for another break on Tar Jacket Ridge
On Tar Jacket Ridge
A little squeeze-through
Virginia’s version of Cold Mountain – a bald – is quite different from North Carolina’s version and a whole lot easier to get to. I didn't know there were balds in Virginia!
The view from the top of Cold Mountain
The first two days of this trip, nursing a cold and worrying about my knees, made me feel like I was slowing down, old age, but today I felt like I had mastered the uphills and made reasonable time. Maybe it’s just a matter of conditioning, having first days be shorter and then the last one longer. Standing on top of Cold Mountain, I felt much more confident of my stamina and endurance and overall physical abilities.
And then…downhill at the end was as bad as I anticipated, 1,400 feet in 1.5 miles, which doesn’t sound so terrible but it seemed so after 15 miles. My right knee began to ache with each step and I tried many tricks to ease the bending and weight-bearing stepping down. I walked like a peg-leg pirate, keeping my right leg stiff and swinging it around, which helped minimally. Sticking my tongue out helped some. But it was a tortuous ending to an otherwise very happy day.
Jim met me about a mile in from the parking area and distracted me with conversation for the last push. As always, I was very happy to see the end. Looks like I need to do something about the knees.
I dream of hiking into my old age. I want to be able even then to pack my load and take off slowly but steadily along the trail. ~Marlyn Dolan