"I go to the woods to be soothed and healed
and have my senses put in order."
Copyright © 2015
by Ralph F. Couey
My heart is still heavy after the death of our beloved dog. Everywhere I look, I see reminders of his life, and his presence in our lives. I had to get away for a time. As I do often when life becomes too much, I went to the woods.
The day was forecasted to be warm -- meaning above freezing -- so having a free day, I packed up my gear and headed out. I chose a piece of the AT I had yet to trek, the section between Virginia Route 7 and US 50 called "The Roller Coaster." In this 13-mile stretch, there lie 8 hills, ranging from 400 to 1,100 feet in height and the whole section you're either going up a new hill or going down an old one. I only had a few hours, so I planned a 3-mile out-and-back.
I parked in the dirt lot thoughtfully provided by VDOT, and after gearing up I hit the trail. The first section was a subtrail that led from the lot to the AT. It was only 0.2 miles, but it felt longer. The trail was at first very boggy from the melting snow and the rain from the previous day, but soon became slick. The snow, still on the ground, had been pounded into slush that had frozen into ice. It was slow going through this section.
At one point, I encountered a wide track running perpendicular. Naturally assuming this to be the AT, I turned left and headed uphill. I had gone only about 50 meters or so when I suddenly realized there weren't any blaizes on the trees. Also, there aren't many sections of the trail that are wide enough to be a road, complete with wheel ruts. I pulled out my map and perused it carefully. There was no indication of a road in this section. I grabbed my phone, running my trusty Map My Run App and looked at the display. Sure enough, the trail was behind me. I turned around and headed back down the hill looking carefully until I saw a couple of Blaizes on a tree to my left. I hadn't gone far enough on the connecter trail. Heading now on the correct way, I found the intersection with the AT, firmly announced by this sign...
Heading south, the trail began a steep climb punctuated by a lot of rocks.
I was puffing like a locomotive in this section, which I expected since this was the first hike of the year, at least here in Virginia. Towards the top of that particular incline, the path leveled out somewhat and led to a spectacular overlook.
Where I took the obligatory selfie...
Once on the main trail, the snow and ice largely vanished, except for a few dicey places, never a good thing on a steep incline.
The trail took a steep downhill turn to a wooden bridge over Spout Run, and it was running, full of water from melting snow up the mountain.
The sound of the rushing water filled the air, and it was pretty much the only thing audible in this silent forest.
There were a few places where the going was easy, and the path dry enough for good traction. I had planned to go 3 miles before turning around, but when I got to the two mile point, I had already chewed up almost two hours, and I had to be back home by mid-afternoon. So I turned around and headed back. The route back took less time, knowing now where and how to detour around the icy parts. At one point, climbing a steep hill I looked up to see a couple of serious-looking dudes coming downtrail, each one hauling an axe. I was taken aback for a moment until we spoke and they identified themselves as trail maintainers, going to cut a couple of trees that had fallen across the trail. In all the hiking I've done, I have gained a deep appreciation for these selfless folks who work so hard to keep the trail in good condition. Nature is dynamic, and if the trail is not maintained, it will deteriorate to the point of being impassable. So, here's to ya, folks!
I got back to the parking lot in good shape, finishing a 3.6 mile hike in about 3 hours. Slow going for sure, but a good way to start this year's hiking.
"Of all the paths you take in life,
make sure a few of them are dirt."