Friday, October 4, 2013

AT Project In VA - A River Runs Through It

Appalachian Trail Project in VA – 7/14/13 - Wilson Creek Shelter to VA 614 Jennings Creek – 17 Miles

The night was as pitch black as I have ever seen.  Usually my eyes adjust, but there was not a smidge of light from moon or stars.  Rain fell all night, sometimes hard, sometimes soft, nonstop pitter-pattering on the shelter roof.  Towards morning it was hard to distinguish whether I heard rain or just water dripping from the trees.  No matter what, we were gonna get a little bit wet out on the trail.

Morning light came a little after 6:00 a.m.  I discovered my food bag had been invaded by a small creature, but at least it wasn’t soaking wet from hanging out in a tree all night.  As we stirred around in our sleeping bags, Mike checked the radar on his phone and saw that the jury had brought in an innocent verdict in the Zimmerman trial.  Is having internet access on the trail a good thing?  I think it’s better to walk in ignorant bliss.  Later in the day I would wish for that a lot more.

We were packed up and moving out at 6:50 a.m.  Sounded like a light drizzle, may as well get it over with…but it turned out to be just dripping from wet leaves, so no need for rain gear.  

You know how I feel about burls on trees

Today I tried Becky’s suggestions, walking downhill concentrating on the balls of my feet, lowering my center of gravity a tiny bit, pushing my hip bones exaggeratedly forward.  It may have looked a little silly, but my right knee did not hurt nearly as much.  My butt and thighs got tired, but muscle fatigue is preferable to excruciating knee pain.  The key seemed to be lowering my center of gravity a few inches, making me keep my thighs tensed and taking the pounding rather than my knees.  Becky practically runs down hills in this manner.  Did I mention that she is 70?

Our group was quickly spread out as usual.  We passed a group of summer camp kids carrying backpacks, middle schoolers.  They all looked terribly young.  If anyone was in charge, they were no more than college age.  Near the end of the line I asked a girl about their trip and she told me they were out for 2 weeks and it had rained 12 days.  That lesson should serve them well in their later years:  what seems like a hardship now will be a great story later.

The first overlooks we passed were fogged in, nothing to see, and the sky remained overcast until late morning when the sun finally broke through.  Very few flowers, but fungi were worth noting.

Yellow mushrooms disguised as yellow flowers

We all caught up together as the AT crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway at the Peaks of Otter overlook.  I turned on my phone to send a photo to Jim.  He and I camped at the Peaks once when we were in college – it rained then also, as I recall. 

As I said earlier, I prefer to stay unaware of the goings-on in the world when I’m on the trail.  But when I turned on my phone for the camera, I had a text message from my daughter Megan telling about the death of an actor whom I greatly admired, Cory Monteith of “Glee.”  He had died at the age of 31 of a drug overdose.  Not someone I knew at all, but I felt a knot in my stomach and such a sadness at the loss of such a young, talented person from a terrible, baffling disease.  And here I was on a mountaintop.  Nothing to do but walk on. 

Becky and I leapfrogged each other most of the day, me a little faster on the uphills, she trotting on the downhills.  At Bearwallow Gap she stopped to filter water and soak her feet in the creek, and I continued on to climb Cove Mountain.  I knew from the elevation profile that it was the biggest push of the day.  It was high noon, a steep climb, mountain laurel and scrub brush, not many trees, and my heart pounded as sweat ran in rivers down my clothes.  I felt really overheated but did not stop until the summit.

What goes up must come down.  Next I descended the other side of Cove Mountain.  The openness and lack of mature trees is the result of a forest fire in the 1930's that burned for nearly a month.  While the openness meant hot sun on the back of my neck, it also meant beautiful wildflowers.

Cathy and Mike were waiting at Cove Mountain Shelter to regroup and we rested for a short while.  Becky didn’t appear, but a few minutes after we resumed, I heard her fast approaching on the downhill and she passed me for the final time near the end of our section. 

My car was waiting where Homer put it in a small parking area beside Jennings Creek – ahhh, heaven!  After the hot, hot, hot day, the creek was flowing wide, cold and shallow enough to lie down in.  A great swimming hole!

A perfect way to end the day – we will be back here again!

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.”  ~Norman Mclean

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