Appalachian Trail Project in VA – 4/11/14 – Craig Creek Road Northbound to VA 620 - 7.3 Miles
On April 11, 2013 I embarked on a new hiking challenge, to complete the Appalachian Trail section in my home state of Virginia, about 550 miles, for my 55th birthday. One year later, after an exceptionally tough winter, I am short of my goal but still plugging away. Today I got on the trail for my 56th birthday, and what could possibly go wrong?
Clue #1: Why do a simple section when finding a remote trailhead is more fun? Jim and I drove up from North Carolina, taking 3+ hours to find and drop my car at the hike’s ending point, and I had aspirations of completing the 7.3 miles quickly and driving to a second short section for an out-and-back while Jim enjoyed a long bike ride. Setting up the route was more involved than it looked on paper, but by late morning I was headed northbound.
Anticipating today’s unique feature on the trail
After a half-mile crossing multiple footbridges over small creeks that fed into Craig Creek, I began the big climb up Brush Mountain (yes, another one). Little yellow trout lilies were my first signs of spring on the trail. I was feeling fine and fresh, switchbacking smoothly, looking for more spring flowers.
Clue #2: What I saw was smoke in the valley. I was not compass oriented. Is this due northeast, the direction I’m heading? Is it south? Is it a controlled burn? A rampant campfire? Do I need to think about this some more? With each switchback the smoky cloud expanded. Eventually the trail wound around to the other side of the mountain and the suspicious smoke was gone from view. [Postscript: a controlled burn that I didn't get close to.]
Dog hobble, a shrub, was blooming profusely
At the crest of Brush Mountain the trail turned left and widened to a broad, dull road bed. After more than a half-mile the reason for the broad access track appeared: the Audi Murphy Monument. Murphy was the most decorated American combat soldier of World War II and went on to become an accomplished film actor. He died in a plane crash on this mountain in 1971. His body is interred at Arlington Cemetery and is the second most visited site there – the first is the grave of John F. Kennedy.
The memorial stone
Visitors leave stones, patches and other mementos
From the monument, the AT continues north on a gentle slope and then descends more deliberately toward VA 620, the gravel road where my car was waiting for me. The day was warm and slightly breezy and I was still feeling light on my feet. The downhill was steep enough to jog/trot and I finished the entire 7.3-mile section in about 2 hours 40 minutes. Plenty of time to do another short section!
At VA 620 I saw a thru-hiker sitting on a big rock, chatting with a retired-looking couple out walking their dog. After a few minutes of shared conversation the man and woman continued on their way while the hiker and I exchanged a bit more information. He was German, used the trail name Farmer, wanted to know what I could share about the trail coming up, places to camp and where to resupply. I told him to be sure and stop to eat at the Homeplace Restaurant in Catawba if possible. (That’s where Jim and I are headed for supper tonight – all you can eat!)
As Farmer walked on up the trail, I went to my car, unlocked it, loaded up my backpack and…
Clue #3: my car battery was dead. Well, I guess that means I’m not doing any more hiking on the trail today, although I’m going to be doing some fast moving.
I started trotting after the retired couple, obviously local. When I caught them I explained my dilemma and asked for help. Sure! Introductions all around, Curtis and Diane and their dog Buttercup. I walked with them the rest of the way to their home. They lived at the intersection of VA 620 and Craig Creek Road, a very unique property, lovely landscaping, multiple outdoor seating arrangements to focus on Craig Creek flowing past their back yard. There was a life-size stone gorilla protruding from as though breaking through the stone façade. Curtis is a Vietnam veteran, now retired from a 40+-year career in San Francisco, returned back to his roots. Diane is his second wife, a feisty woman with short cropped hair dyed purplish blue and an incredibly detailed tattoo on her leg of her African grey parrot. What great good fortune for me to be rescued by such kind people!
Curtis and Diane with Buttercup and Oliver (Butter- cup’s brother)
After a short visit and a tall glass of water, Curtis drove me back to my car and we jump started her back up. [Learned later that the sensor for detecting an open door was broken, so it did not sound its normal alarm when I opened the door and still had lights turned on or keys in ignition, etc.] Curtis followed me back to the paved road and waved goodbye. I was not at all stressed at missing the rest of my hike plan. Meeting my trail angels was the true highlight of my day.
From there I headed to our pre-arranged meeting point, the hiker parking area for McAfee Knob on VA 311, jam packed with cars and casual “hikers” wearing flip-flops and less than half carrying water bottles. I was very glad I wasn’t hiking to the Knob today. Do I sound like a hiking snob? So be it. Be prepared, people.
Jim arrived soon after, looking very hot and tired (yet exhilarated) from his 48-mile bike ride with a very strenuous climb at the end. We changed clothes at the car (when you are that hot and sweaty and dirty, you don’t care who sees what). Then the real reason for hiking and biking these sections: The Homeplace. We had both missed lunch so were ravenous for supper. Not much conversation as we plowed into fried chicken, country ham, butterbeans, corn, mashed potatoes, cole slaw and cobbler. Don’t forget the sweet iced tea.
Tomorrow morning Jim and our daughter Laura and I will run in the Virginia Tech "Run In Remembrance" Memorial 5K. Life is good.
“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” ~Satchel Paige
“Because time itself is like a spiral, something special happens on your birthday each year: The same energy that God invested in you at birth is present once again.” ~Menachem Mendel Schneerson
“The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.” ~Madeleine L’Engle
“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made.” ~Robert Browning