Thursday, November 3, 2011

Virginia is for Lovers

October 28

Punchbowl Shelter to Thunder Hill Shelter

Bogart "It's supposed to snow tomorrow," says the ThruHiker from Miami. Downwards to John's Hollow Shelter, a familiar place with a story....... stayed here during a 2 night backpacking trip with some friends from Blacksburg..... Johnny Fight the Pants Kilroy and Jeff Mr Intense Curtis in spring 2008. Here I watched Jeff eat Ramen noodles dry like a cracker, then he mixed flour and water with ramen spice packet 'O MSG. The previous night we had torrential downpours while camped atop the Devil's Marbleyard. JKilroy walked naked for a better part of the day. Buck wild in the BigW. This was a great shakedown trip and reality check for my obese pack weight.

Continuing downwards along a nice little stream with the  Bastards3 in single file up ahead with Coach leading the charge. We break out across road to the William T. Foot bridge. This is quite a coincidence....the foot bridge across the James river is named after Mr Foot himself. William Foot was a member of the Natural Bridge ATC and the first one to ThruHike the American Discovery trail from coast to coast in '98. Mr Foot worked tirelessly to acquire funding and permission to construct this bridge. Soon after, he died and never did get to see the finished product, but we remember him as we walk across. More memories here....Konnarock trail crew summer 2008....watched Big Daddy Duck Tape jump 30 vertical feet from the top of this bridge; a naked plunge into the James. Big Daddy Duck Tape sure brought the party.... hailing from Dundalk <a section of east Baltimore> he wears a NattyBoh tattoo rimed with the words "Charm City." A diehard Baltimoron through and through.

The next mile stretch takes us upstream along the James for about a mile before we follow Matt's Creek drainage to begin the big climb from the bottom. We reach the shelter for lunch where we meet section hiker Nuge from Pittsburg. Matt's Creek is a cool shelter because it has a wooden shingled roof. More Konnarock memories here.... yoga led by Blacksburg friend Elijah Morrison after our crew bailed off the high and dry ridge above during a mid-July heat wave. It was so hot we had to share the tiny swim hole with watersnakes and frogs....... lunch break over, onwards and upwards towards the Konnarock trail project site. This was great to see how our trail installations had held up to several seasons of tramping. Long, graded straightaway ascent ..... poor water drainage on this section of trail, so here our crew had attempted installing a few undulations to promote some off-trail watershed. This was a different strategy than the typical quick fix waterbar, you know those annoying slippery logs running diagonal across the trail? I reach the undulations.... it appears that foot traffic is confused at this location. Sorry to say that our efforts are not really benefiting the trail's drainage or aesthetic quality. Ahhh forget about it. Onwards to our durable Chestnut Oak steps. Large boulders placed across stream for stepping stones. It appears here that our work has served well to protect sensitive riparian areas from human feet.

 PawPaw tree tunnel along the James
I still haven't found a fruit!
The native tree produces a fruit with a Banana/Mango flavor

Next eleven switchbacks up to the ridge where Konnarock set up camp for several weeks. Here is where we learned the hard way that it's really tough to set up a backcountry camp for a large group of 15 where there is no running water. No room for crew to camp at worksite/watersource. There is no flat, previously denuded forest floor to be found near the water for two miles. This meant we had the pleasure of carrying ten gallons of water up eleven switchbacks at the end of each work day. On the brighter side of things, scenic vistas abounded 360 style. Starry domes and rainbows between sunset and sunrise made for an ongoing light show......Such are the trade-offs one has when camping dry. This ridge-top campsite we used had been created in 2001 when two wildfire-fighters got stranded high on a flaming ridge....they used chainsaws to cut trees and create an emergency helicopter landing.

The Heli-pad wore a different dress on this day the 28th of October 2011. Sleet and snow above 4000' elevation. Nothing to do but continue....keep the blood flowing and lean into the cold wind until the next shelter is reached. At this point I'm still 5 away and the hill climbing makes me huff and puff. The climb up High Cock Knob and down to Petite Gap was a thing of misery. Trail of slush makes my feet wet...I'm thinking about new gore-tex footwear and neoprene socks. I stayed relatively warm most of the day until camp was reached, but the 20 minute period of settling into shelter, dry clothing, and warm sleeping bag was a bit cold. Water was attained immediately following the walking excercise since I sure as hell wasn't going to fetch it after I curled up in that bag 'O goose feathers. Familiar voices coming from Thunder Hill Shelter....I hear the laughter of a Quail. Bobwhite, Vallerie, and Daks and Spoons are here already. Bobwhite on cell phone with Powder River... she turns to me "can I interest you in a warm hotel room for the night?" Mello "That sounds pretty good right about now."

Well it turns out NO DICE. Powder River <NOBO 2008> is on his way, but the nearest road crossing .5 downhill is closed due to ice. Oh... well maybe we are in a Wilderness afterall. It turns out that we shared a cold night in the shelter with the best possible SOBO's on the trail this year. Daks from Ontario and Spoons from New Brunswick are used to the cold weather. Having spent time in the Northwest Territories, this wild couple KNEW THE COLD. They began their SOBO hike at the northern terminus of the International A.T. where the Appalachian mountain chains drops off into the Atlantic ocean. "Make sure to pee before bed. You'll sleep warmer," says Spoons. Coach and Tag used their tarps to block out the cold wind. Nuge pops his head in, "Can I come in?" Vallerie tells him to check out the privy: "The pit toilet actually has four walls." We make it work with a cozy 9 hikers inside of a 6-person shelter. The space was cramped, but the body warmth was appreciated.

October 29

Thunder Hill to Bryant Ridge Shelter

This one turns out to be the most spectacular day of the hike. Today is the most visually stimulating light since Katahdin. Icy Maple red and yellow forest. Cloud windows spotlight frosted ridges; below sepia slopes of copper forest lead my eyes still lower to warmer hayfields still vibrating verdant green. Large trees freshly uprooted and grounded under weight of ice. <I thought I heard some big ones crashing down last night, but this didn't top the large snag I watched tumble in the Shennie's.>

 Frosty Oak leaves

 Sassafrass and White Pine

 Frosty Maple

 Here is Bogart from Miami, Florida popping his snow cherry

Many trees large and small just could not bear the icy weight

Downwards through the sugar-coated multi-color forest that would inspire Willy Wonka to set up shop. Curving undulating trail freely forms a gentle downhill grade. Powder River, Happy Camper <Margot completed the 100 mile woods with Quail> and the Baltimore gang are coming up to meet us for Halloween. Today, Powder River is General Sherman of the Union Army. He comes charging up the hill at me with plastic sword in hand. Happy Camper: "Say 'trick or treat'!" Me: "Trick or treat?" Halloween has begun....Reese's and Little Debbie  OH BOY! Powder: "Tag is already warming up in my car at the end of the blue blaze with Yuengling and Doritos." I run the remaining 1.5 downhill all giddy and sugared up like a pink power ranger at the start of her annual sugar binge. Tag, Bogart, and T-Mello ravin out to techno music in the Jetta blasting full heat.

Group trip to town for Cracker Barrel, Kroger resupply, and gear shop...Party back at Bryant Ridge Shelter later that night. Happy Camper gets her wish... I tell the Mafia Motel story 'round the campfire.

October 30

Bryant Ridge to Bobblet Gap Shelter

Happy Camper sweet talked our waiter for some free Maple syrup at Cracker Barrel yesterday. Goes great on campfire-cooked pancakes to start the day. But really I should be on my way if I want to catch the Kickoff. Eleven miles to go to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Hitch a ride around 2pm. My driver "I hunt them mountains you come out of... plant ginseng too. That dark dirt on the north slope what we lookin for." Buchanan, VA at the Good Times Cafe where the local patrons walk behind the bar and serve themselves. NASCAR on the tube. Ravens/Cardinals NFL football not on the local network. Have to watch the ticker at the bottom of the screen: 27-27 with two minutes left. Boring Redskins game finally over....Ok here's my chance to at least watch the important part.... maybe the network will switch over to my game. NO DICE. Instead they change to a fresh game with 11 minutes left in the first quarter. Well maybe I'm just OK with NASCAR for now. I watch the bottom-screen-ticker change: Arizona 27 Baltimore 30 FINAL. "Wear your Orange on Saturday!" yells Darren as I head out the door. Virginia Muzzleloader Deer season is coming.

 Bobblet Gap sunset

October 31

Bobblet Gap to HOJOHalloween

Twenty one miles mostly downhill to Daleville, VA. Howard Johnson where General Sherman has reserved us a room. We are all slack-packing today. I run a large portion of this trail. At the bottom, the trail breaks out of the woods and across a private-land-easement. I meet a Roanoke ATC trail maintainer fighting back the weeds. Mello "Did you know Charles Perry?" Bill: "Oh yea you know we had our difference of opinion, but we were good friends. He always kidded me that he was older, yea only six months older." Mello: "How old are you?" Bill: 69 Me "How long have you been active with the trail club?" Bill: "Since 1987. I think about Charles a lot.We'll never have another Charles Perry."

Dogwood delight, state tree of Virginia


Red Maple

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