Sunday, April 26, 2015

50 Shades of Green

After six weeks of being very sedentary to rest my sore ankle - I gave up wearing the boot because it made my back hurt - I finally lost patience and decided that it was time to take a hike.

I love hiking in the spring - all of the new green, the wildflowers, the birds migrating and   defending their territories with their singing.  I love the Italian word for spring, primavera - "first green."  There have to be at least 50 shades of green in the woods and fields - all fresh and new.

My friend Hawkeye suggested we do an overnight out and back along the Appalachian Trail to the Paul Wolfe shelter, 5.5 miles south of Rockfish Gap.  He didn't have to twist my arm, and we planned on going Saturday and Sunday.  The weather forecast got worse and worse, and then Hawkeye called me about 2PM Friday and suggested we go now!  A quick check with my better half and I was ready to go.  Hawkeye picked me up about 3:15 and we hit the trail by about 5PM.  Immediately, we were greeted by beautiful violets, which we saw over and over.

This stretch of the Trail is beautifully maintained by the Old Dominion Appalachian Trail Club.  I loved seeing all of the fresh green, and much of the trail is smooth and level, with some uphill and downhill.  My ankle definitely felt sore, though, and hurt a fair bit after a couple of hours of hiking.

We crossed at least 3-4 beautiful streams on the hike.  I only carried one bottle of water because I knew I could replenish it when needed.

No one lives in the thick woods now, but that was not always the case. At some time in the past, a family likely lived at this spot in a cabin.  It must have been an extremely hard life.  I wonder what happened to them?

A mile or so from the remains of the chimney, we saw an open and level area off the trail and checked it out.  It was an old cemetery. 

Writing on the headstones was barely legible.  It was pretty there but kind of sad to think that people there are likely forgotten.

Now and then, there were gorgeous redbud in bloom in the woods as we hiked along.

About 7:30, with 40 minutes of daylight remaining, we reached the shelter.  You can see it here, behind the memorial bench to ODATC member John Donovan, who died 10 years ago in a storm while attempting to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in California.  I know I carry too much stuff while hiking but John was the other extreme.  If he carried the things I did, he likely would have survived and still be out there hiking, and there would not be a bench here.  It's sad.

The shelter is open on one side, but is comfortable and actually pretty deluxe for a trail shelter.  For one thing, it has a porch and a covered picnic table.  Here is what the sleeping area looks like.  No one was at the shelter when we got there.  There was a couple and a dog camping nearby.

I blew up my air mattress and laid down my sleeping bag on the floor as I heated up a cup of Constant Comment tea.  Hawkeye set up his tent down by the stream.  A little while later, just before dark, another hiker - Josh - arrived and put his bag down in the shelter.

Hawkeye and I ate our dinners (mine was a vegan curry freeze dry that was good but too soupy), chatted with Josh, and then about 9:30 made a fire down by Hawkeye's tent.  Josh started the fire with a spark from his flint and knife - no match needed!  It is always fun to meet other hikers on the trail, and we enjoyed Josh's company.  Eventually, I walked back to the shelter in the dark and went to bed, falling asleep quickly.  But two through-hikers, Turtle Bear and Bird Man, came in past 11 and woke me up, despite being quiet and considerate.  I learned the next day that they had left Springer Mountain March 1 and had hiked 36 miles - the last three hours in the dark - the day they came in to our shelter!  Amazing!

In the morning, it was cloudy at first, and then it sleeted for a time!  I'd had a cold night and actually slept in my jacket for most of the night.  I wish I had packed my heavier bag!  I had not slept well once the others arrived and was tired.  But we were in no rush to leave so I lay in bed for an hour, enjoying the sounds of the stream and the birds, especially the wood thrushes.  Here is the morning view from the shelter down to the stream:

The stream is called Mill Creek and is really beautiful.

Hawkeye and I enjoyed spending some time Saturday morning down by the stream before starting the hike out.  The sleet had stopped for a little while.  I also enjoyed mugs of Irish Breakfast and Earl Grey tea from the porch of the shelter.

Breakfast for me was my last piece of chocolate, some trail mix, and a power bar (that said best eaten by last January - but it was still decent).  And as a treat, Hawkeye and I shared a tiny bottle of Dalwhinnie Scotch that I bought last May in Scotland.  I'd planned on us drinking it on our to-be nine day hike last October, but Hawkeye hurt his knee on the second day.

The wee dram of Scotch hit the spot, and soon enough, we hit the trail for the hike up.  The first two miles was a steady uphill of switchbacks, but not steep, and resting my ankle all night had it feeling less sore.  The rain began steadily about 45 minutes from getting back, and when we were nearly back to the car, two young hikers caught up to us.  They were Little Goat and Yellow Beard, had gotten married last September, and now here they are, nearly 1,000 miles into hiking the AT together!  How cool is that?  And how many marriages would survive the discomfort and close quarters of hiking 2,200 miles together over 5 months?  I have a feeling these two are going to be all right, though.  We gave them a ride to a YMCA in nearby Waynesboro so they could take showers, do laundry, and hit the fast food circuit.

I really enjoyed the hike.  Being sedentary for weeks is not a good way to prepare for a hike, even one like this which is pretty easy.  And my ankle still hurts, and I know I have to see the doctor again about it.  But just for the 20 hours we were on the trail and in the woods, part of it in gorgeous spring weather, it sure felt amazing to be alive.

By the way, in March 2014, I did this hike as a day hike and highly recommend it.  You can see photos from that trip here.