Friday, February 21, 2014

AT Project in VA: Government Shutdown

Appalachian Trail Project in VA – 10/6/13 – VA 611 Southbound to VA 615 – 15.9 Miles

Early October, the best month of the year to visit an American national park for the comfortable temperatures, changing leaves and to give thanks for another season.  Shenandoah National Park awaits!

Unless the great American Congress decides to throw a hissy fit and shut down all government functions.  What?  You say that may have unintended consequences?  All actions have consequences, fellas. 

Our plans to spend Jim’s long birthday weekend at Shenandoah NP were scuttled.  We had reservations for a private cabin outside the park and the owner very graciously let us change our dates to the last weekend of October.  Surely by then the government would work out its issues.  The leaf color would be gone but the hiking and biking weather would still be favorable.

For now the national parks and all national public lands were closed.  The Appalachian Trail is a national park but impossible to “close” because of its multiple access points. So where else in Virginia can I get onto the trail?  Well, there’s an obscure section south of Pearisburg where state roads criss-cross the mountain ridges that the AT runs along.   

(By the way, National Forest campgrounds were also closed and day use areas were gated.)

Jim drove me to the area where the AT crosses VA Highway 611 (a gravel road), familiar to me from my first hike of this project when Don the shuttle driver dropped me off and asked me if I had read a book entitled “Murder On The Appalachian Trail.”  This time I intended to hike southbound along Brushy Mountain, cross over I-77 and finish at another gravel road crossing, VA 615.

As I got out of the car at the pull-out I narrowly avoided stepping on a deer carcass, neatly skinned just hours ago.  (I took a photo but have chosen not to include it here.)  The hunters didn’t trouble themselves to throw the remains into the woods.  A bit of a disconcerting start to the day.  For the first mile or so I kept thinking about hunters, swiveling my head around continually to see if I could spot any of them.   Then I convinced myself they don’t walk that far in and relaxed into the hike.  But…why did Jim let me go?  Later he said he was anxious also but reasoned, as I did, that hunters don’t go too far off into the woods.

Hhmmm…a nice warm day in the woods and no spiderwebs.  Are there hunters ahead of me?

The trees enveloped me and I soon was entranced by the familiar but ever- changing trail.  There was lots more color in the depths of the forest than appeared from the road, walking underneath the canopy of reds, yellows, oranges and browns.  I enjoyed nearly 7 miles of gentle undulating ridge walking, no intersections, no points of interest marked on my trail map.  I watched leaves fall and wondered if I was the only human who would take note of them before they turned brown and decomposed and became part of the earth that would generate a new cycle of growth. 

As I passed this lovely yellow tree in the previous picture, I turned around and saw a magnificent spiderweb a couple of feet above my head with a big fat fellow working diligently at his craft.  His movements shook the web but after many attempts I got a decent picture of him.

About 5 miles in, as I sat for a short rest break, a southbound thru-hiker passed by.  I asked if he saw the deer carcass at VA 611 and he said no, but he saw one at the road crossing before that one and he had seen some cross bow hunters earlier in the week.  He continued on past me, but at VA 612 I leapfrogged him and two other southbounders as they ate lunch.  Those two must be the ones who were ahead of me knocking down the spiderwebs.

At VA 612 the AT follows the paved road.  

The overpass for I-77

Target practice

More paved road leads up to cross US 52, then the AT follows a gravel road for a mile or so before dipping back into the woods for the last 6.5 miles of today’s route.  I texted Jim that I was moving fast and would finish early.  He replied that he might not reach our arranged end point before me because he had discovered the valley called Burke’s Garden, a cyclist’s paradise (more on that tomorrow).  

Trail Boss Trail is an old section of the AT named for a former member of the Virginia Tech Outdoor Club and leader of the ATC’s Konnarock trail crew.  You’ve got to do a lot of work to get a trail named after you.

My last couple of miles was a gentle downhill as I strolled to VA 615.  I noted some very nice campsites on the north side of the gravel road.  We were in the market for a campsite for the night since Stoney Fork Campground (part of Washington-Jefferson National Forest) was closed.  Did I mention that there was a government shutdown?

On the south side of VA 615 is Laurel Creek and a huge stone and wood bridge crosses it to continue the AT south- bound.  Jim was there to meet me after all and we relaxed by the creek, evaluating our options for the night.  Jim didn’t want to camp right there, didn’t trust leaving the car by the road.  We went in search of a commercial campground I had found online – Deer Trail Park Campground near Bland, VA, a nice little mom-and-pop operation.  Since it was a Sunday night, we were the only campers.  We set up our tent, took hot showers, and went into the town of Wytheville for supper.

We didn’t prepare as thoroughly for camping as we should.  Jim had no headlamp, no towel, and I forgot flip-flops, a long-sleeved hiking shirt.  I guess we never fully committed before the last-minute change of plans because we kept hoping the shutdown insanity would lift and we could get to our cabin in Shenandoah.  Oh well…

Rain forecast for tomorrow – what to do?

“I am rich today with autumn’s gold.” ~Gladys Harp

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