Hiking the Appalachian Trail #4

Springer Mountain to Harpers Ferry

AT Section Hiking

49 days, 1,022 miles, Mar-May 2013

Ray Jardine


BatWing AT-2013

Tarp pitched crosswise to a stiff wind, and leaves piled up along the windward edge to block the wind.

2013-04-17 Jenny writes: Appalachian Trail Revisited

I was ready to hike. I had my backpack with water, snacks, extra clothes, rain jacket. I had marked our rendezvous on my map. I had flown across the country, and arranged for a shuttle to the rendezvous. I explained to the shuttle driver that I was meeting my husband, who was hiking the AT, and that he and I were going to hike together for the day, 20 miles to the next town.

It had been 20 years since Ray and I had thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail together and I couldn't wait to get back on the trail.

Ray was waiting for me at the roadside parking lot where the AT crossed this road. His home-made pack was slung over one shoulder, as usual. He had quit hiking the day previously and made a late afternoon stealth-camp out of sight above the parking lot. He still uses his same shelter set-up: tarp and spitfire, quilt and small foam pad.

He looked great: fit, trail-hardened, a bit grubby, hair longer and beard grown back out since I had last seen him six weeks earlier. From Springer Mountain all the way into mid Virginia he had been through one late winter storm after the next, with frigid wind, snow and sub-freezing temperatures. I, on the other hand, had just come from Arizona with its dry heat.

Together we crossed the road and ambled up the steep trail slowly. This was Ray's technique: take the climbs slow and steady so that when you get to the top you don't need to stop and catch your breath.

The forest floor and quite often the trail itself - was a thick carpet of brown, decomposing leaves and pine needles, with dropped tree branches and twigs thrown in for good measure. Every so often I could hear the leaf litter rustling as a gray squirrel rummaged for a meal.

It was still too early in the season for the hardwoods to be in leaf, although some smaller trees had showy, white blossoms. We saw some purple violets and in the lower regions, beautiful bright yellow forsythia. Along the way, nearby to some of the shelters, someone had planted daffodil bulbs and they were blooming too.

The day grew warm, and with the heat came the first black flies of the season. Rather than fight the buggers we put on protective pants, jacket, and repellent. Every puff of breeze provided relief because it blew the bugs away and cooled the sweat.

In twenty years the AT has been through many re-routings, shelter renovations, footbridge building, etc. For the most part I did not recognize the trail except for the general trend along the ridgelines and up to the well-known high points. But it is still a wonderful trail through beautiful country and I enjoyed it immensely.

After many hours of climbing and contouring and climbing some more, we began a most-welcome descent into a unique, high-country meadow with a good-flowing creek. The only activity here was a threesome of deer browsing by the creek. We stopped at a secondary feeder creek to collect drinking water (me filtering and Ray drinking straight from the creek).

Near the far end of the meadow we came to an unexpected windfall - a picnic table. Ray immediately set his pack on the table, laid down on one of the benches, closed his eyes and took a genuine long-distance-hiker-style rest. But soon the blazing sun prompted us to move on.

As we arrived in town late afternoon, a bank sign showed the temperature was 91 degrees F. Ray reminded me that he had been hiking in snow four days ago. What a contrast!

I had a wonderful day on the trail. And I had gained a renewed appreciation for what it takes to hike the AT. One might start out at the trailhead clean, fresh, energetic, and full of ambition, but within a few hours reality sets in and despite the rain or the heat, the sweat and the bugs and the tired feet and the thirst, you have to rely on your resolve to keep going.

I was so glad I had traveled to Virginia to spend time Ray on this small section of AT. What a great day of hiking!

I am using two pairs of shoes this winter. This is one of them. (These shoes are not old, but have a lot of miles on them.)

2013-02-19 Not for the faint of heart   Modifying a $300 store-bought rain jacket to make it work better.

AT map

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