Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Into the Woods: Day-Hiking the AT in Virginia

Fourth in a series

May 28, 2014

4:35 a.m.: Not again.

After a trip to the toilet I decided to lie down, turn out the light, and try to fall back to sleep. It was simply too early to be awake. There in my single bed, covered by blankets and NOT climbing a mountain, I thought to myself over and over, like a mantra: I’m here, not there.

Life at the conference center was fun. I was glad I had signed up with this group. Everyone was friendly, and four other women had come alone. By midweek I was getting to know all of my companions, enjoying the meals, and trying like heck to appreciate the evening programs. Last night’s subject had been edible plants. I made it to the end, but don’t ask me what to eat or avoid in the forest.

5:15: As it had the previous morning, my mind drifted to livelier thoughts, for instance, the red marks on the insides of my legs around the sock line. They were back after yesterday’s hike, and the left one looked to be forming a circular pattern. Was this the bulls-eye that signals...I couldn’t remember what; was it Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever? No. The shape was a sign of Lyme Disease, though I had seen no ticks. If I had, I would have used my Tick Key to remove them.

When it rains, you hike. Today was that day; we had expected thunderstorms on our Maryland hike, but they had come later in the day. According to last night’s posting of the weather, the chance of precipitation during our Virginia hike would be 70 percent.

Today’s little jaunt in the woods was described on our information sheet as a “Strenuous Hike.” If they thought Monday’s was easy and Tuesday’s was moderate, we were in for a workout. I didn’t want to psych myself out sitting there on the edge of my bed in my fleece pajamas, but that ship had sailed.

The section of the AT chosen for our Virginia hike was a portion of the “roller coaster,” so named for its undulating elevations. We would cross four mountains for a distance of 7.3 miles. The terrain was described on the sheet as “Very Rocky.”

Try “merciless.” We were still in the van when one hiker read that description aloud from a book. He was referring to one of the mountains we would climb. How can you reconcile “merciless” with “Snicker’s Gap”? That was our starting point. We would end the hike in the afternoon at a road, VA 605.

A few members of our group left the rest behind every day. I would never be in that elite cluster. I was good at walking, but I tuckered out going up the mountains and had to rest. I decided to hang back with a slower group for the day. The hike became grueling, but my companion of the moment and I were feeling proud of ourselves because we were doing all right at age 68. When a guide caught up to us on a mountainside, he told us he was 73. Need I specify that both of them then passed me? That must have been the merciless mountain; at least, it proved so for me.

It did rain. At times all we could hear were the raindrops and the points of our trekking poles hitting the surface. We encountered rocks and more rocks, no surprise, and forded a few creeks. At the deepest one, a group that had gone far ahead of us waited to help us over. I didn’t fall all day, but I slipped a couple times and landed funny on my feet. Still no blisters from my trusty boots.

For the last hour and half, I hiked with a different companion through the rain. The temperature was in the 80s, and once I put on my rain shell my sweat output was worse than usual. The insides of my sleeves were slick with it. When I got back, I would have to turn the jacket inside out to dry it.

My friend and I reconciled our hiking styles—she had trouble on the downhill slopes--by staying within sight of one another, but at times it was like hiking alone. The sky was overcast and the forest, soaking wet. I thought every black shape I saw ahead was a bear, but I kept my thoughts to myself after telling her I thought I saw one of our white vans up ahead and it turned out to be a boulder.

Wildlife spotted: a black caterpillar on a stone; a butterfly

Tip: If you carry a water bladder, consider also carrying a bottle of water to drink at lunch. Drinking from the bladder is difficult once you remove your pack to eat.

Toward the end of the day, I peed just off the Trail. My friend said, “Go ahead. I’ll walk just a little ways ahead.” No one came along and nothing bit me from behind.

“Vanity is the first to go,” I said.

I heard her answer from down the trail: “Modesty is the second.”

By the end of the day, my hiking outfit was so sweaty and the pants so muddy that there was no hope of washing them in the sink as I had done with my previous outfits. Those clothes would require lots of Spray & Wash at home.

I was glad to emerge from the Trail and see our vans parked beside VA 605. Everyone else cheered as we made our way to the road. To top it off, treats were laid out, and guess what they were: Snickers!

Next: Hiking in West Virginia


  1. Another great blog in this series. I look forward to each installment in the series as they are all so different depending on your day's/night's experiences. I am titillated as I look forward to your next day's adventure w/perils awaiting more difficult than the day previous. With your tenacity, I know you will prevail. Excellent writing puts me there w/you (without the rain, sore legs or itchies).

    1. Thanks, Betty. I like sharing these experiences and seeing what comes in the way of feedback. I appreciate that you left a comment. Yours are always positive, too, and who wouldn't like that?