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Tag Archives: A Walk in the Woods

Hiking in the Great Smokies

The green is the very greenest green

The green is the very greenest green

One of my goals in hiking was to hike the Appalachian Trail – not the entire trail, but at least a portion of it, so that when I read about it, I can visualize its beauty and challenges all the better. So a couple of years ago, I joined Adventures in Good Company for a few days of hiking in one of the greenest areas in the States….

Ro in front of Stairway to Heaven Lodge outside Gatlinburg

In front of Stairway to Heaven Lodge outside Gatlinburg

I met a friend, Lee, at the Knoxville Airport on Sunday, then met up with the rest of the group to bus to our lodge, with a quick stop for lunch and a getting-to-know-you at a side-of-the-road café; we eventually dropped our bags at the Stairway to Heaven Lodge (don’t you love that name!), and began our first day’s hike.  A nice introduction to the area, and a short but sweet walk of around 3 miles up to the Little Greenbrier Community, where early settlers of the region…well…settled! The weather was just what you want it to be on a hike…not too hot, crisp breezes and surrounded by the greenest trees everywhere.

The start of our hikes in the Great Smokies

The start of our hikes in the Great Smokies

Our splendid Lodge is actually a mile or so outside of Gatlinburg (more about that in a minute). Having booked a single room, I was lucky enough to be on the second floor with a spectacular view of the mountains from my balcony outside the bedroom windows (the balcony wrapped around the entire second floor.) Downstairs, a huge common room included the kitchen, where our guides prepared breakfast each morning, and got the coffee going. Is there a better aroma anywhere than coffee brewing early in the morning, and sitting with your cuppa on the balcony when the outside scents of the day are crisp and green? (Rhetorical question, but the answer is: NO!) Here is the balcony view…

View from Ro's balcony at the Lodge

View from my balcony at the Lodge

Before we left for our hike, we were given the first commandment, which was and is: “Leave no footprint.” So no matter where you are, you do not leave the trail, and you certainly don’t leave detritus behind. The trails and surrounding mountains, woodlands and waterfalls are so pristine, you know visitors to the area take this deeply to heart.

Monday

On Monday morning, we were all up bright and early and ready to go. Porter’s Creek Trail passed through a forest wilderness of Eastern Hemlocks and Fraser magnolias, and then into hardwoods. Cultural artifacts we see include an old cabin made up of stone walls with an old cantilevered barn close by, and an old cemetery (Owenby), remnants of a simpler time when a village community lived here.

Iconic bridge crossing a stream

Iconic bridge crossing a stream

Our hike took us to Fern Branch Falls, where we have a light lunch, and then it’s back on the trail to the Lodge.  We walk in a mix of light drizzle and sunshine, and all is quiet and beautiful, or beautifully quiet… The only sound you hear are the birds calling. All in all, this takes about 6 hours, as we stop constantly to view the wildflowers and peer inside crumbling stone walls….a little over 4 miles in all.

Jan and Katie and a bite of lunch by the stream

Jan and Katie and a bite of lunch by a stream

On our way back to the Lodge, we’d stopped off at a grocery cum liquor store and picked up some wine, so dinner at the Lodge, prepared by our guides Jan and Katie, was quite a jolly occasion. After which, I could barely keep my eyes open…so to bed, and no sooner had my head hit the pillow, than I was down and out.

Tuesday

Up at 6:30 (which I consider the crack of dawn) to the aroma of the coffee brewing. Running down the stairs to pick up my cup, I plant myself on the balcony to drink in the view. It really is spectacular…the mountains are just incredible.

The "Refrigerator" Great Smokies National Park

The “Refrigerator” Great Smokies National Park

We hiked off the beaten path today, up to a natural limestone sink, called White Oak Sink. It houses various caves, rare plants and a waterfall, and is surrounded by wildflowers.  The hike has some steep ascents, but the Sink is our stopping point for a light snack and photography. Because of the on and off drizzle, all is green green green (and a wee bit slippery). We spend quite a bit of time here, just wandering around the waterfalls and crossing on the logs across the river.

Wednesday

What a day! We start with a short hike in country close to the Pigeon River.

After which, my first experience whitewater rafting. It’s incredible! And to think I almost opted out of this exhilarating adventure. We were about 6 to a raft, including the guide (to whom I was extremely grateful!) who really knew her way around whitewater. While the water was not actually death-defying, it certainly seemed to be doing its job, which was rockin’ and rollin’ to our next stopping point. I was seated to the right rear of the raft, and every time we hit a drop, I’d bounce from the seat onto the bottom of the raft, which meant that the photographs being taken usually just showed the top of my head (if that)!

Ro does the rapids SMILING

Ro does the rapids SMILING – look at that water!

Scheduled to last about 2 hours, because the river was in spate, we were through in a little over an hour – but what an hour! I loved every second of it…screams and all. It was just the best, and I’d do it again in an instant.

The Great Smokies

The Great Smokies

After that, we gathered for an al fresco lunch surrounded by fields and greenery; it doesn’t get much better than that.

Thursday

Getting ready for the hike

Getting ready for the hike

My favorite thing: finally, I get to set toe on the Appalachian Trail! This is so exciting for me, as I’ve wanted to hike on the Trail ever since I read Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods”. This part of the Trail goes right through the Park, and was the first trail used by the public with absolutely fabulous views everywhere you turn.

The AT sign at the start of the hike

The AT sign at the start of the hike

It’s a very challenging trail, as well. Tree roots everywhere – you end up literally climbing up and down them from beginning to end. Why did I think the Trail would be less challenging? You had to keep your eyes on the “road” otherwise you can trip and smash your face into one of the huge tree roots, which I eventually did. I had a lovely dramatic fall – bashing my sunglasses into my nose, and splatting full force onto the ground. I think I was out of it for about five seconds, but no more…and there was no harm done. Not fun, however.

Resting atop Charlie's Bunion

Resting atop Charlie’s Bunion

The hike was above 5,000 feet, and we were able to see much of the flora and fauna of these higher elevations. Our aim was to reach a bundle of boulders called “Charlie’s Bunion” … we got there in the middle of the day, and clambered to the peak, looking down over glorious views of the Porters Creek Valley, as well as the main spine of the Smokies. It was just such a kick.

Clingman's Dome

Clingman’s Dome

After a much needed short break, we hiked back down and beavered on to Clingman’s Dome, which rises more than 6,500 feet above the Smokies. It’s the highest point along the Appalachian Trail, providing a 360 degree view of the mountains.  Oddly enough, getting up to Clingman’s was harder for me than the entire AT hike. At this time of the day, the climb seemed to loom straight up….Hoo baby! my legs definitely felt it, coming and going. Once you made it to the top, the view from the tower was about 22 miles, but sometimes if the air is super-clear, you can see as far as 100 miles into seven states!

Laurel tree in bloom

Laurel tree in bloom

All in all, we hiked about 10 miles this day. We started early, around 9AM, and finished after 5PM…worth every sore muscle!

Because of the length of the hike, we were all treated to dinner at a lovely little restaurant in Gatlinburg. The food was yummy – but Gatlinburg itself – well, the word “touristy” doesn’t begin to describe it. The shops covered the town with all sorts and conditions of souvenirs; Ripley’s Believe it Or Not Shop fascinated Lee no end. And the masses of people – this was an eye opener: I’d heard about Gatlinburg, but it really has to be seen to be believed. I saw it – and once was enough for me.

Friday

The Group

The Group

It’s time to say farewell to everyone, but also to squeeze in one more hike, one more picnic. This took us to Laurel Falls, through laurel trees, pine trees and oaks blowing in the gentle wind. The falls are named for the mountain laurel, the beautiful flowering tree which seems to be iconic to the Smokies. It’s tough to leave all this beauty behind, but deeply satisfying to know that places of deep, unspoiled loveliness still lie abundant in the heart of the good old U.S. of A!

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Hiking New Hampshire, and the beauty of the White Mountains

This was a brief few days of hiking in July…it was challenging and satisfying. Our group consisted of 8 women and two guides; some of the women had not been on a group hike before, some were looking for people to travel with, and some, like me, just wanted to hike! Our little group consisted of our guides Jan and Ruthie; Anni, Australian from Brisbane; Rebecca from Canada; Ann, Cindy (whose room I stole), Deb, Susan, Debbie and me.

Sunday

Deb drove Susan (who’d never been on a group hike) and me to the starting point, which we needed to reach by noon. We got to the White Mountains Visitor Center in Lincoln, NH off the Kancamagus Highway (try saying that very quickly) where we had a quick picnic lunch.

The Zealand Falls, Susan in background

After picking up the condo keys from Loon Reservations (love that name), we all drive to drop off various and sundry cars at the condos/lodges – then beaver on to the first hike of the trip – to Upper Greely Pond, where we experience the variability of the trail… rocky granite paths and leaf-lined walks…of the mountains.

The weather is glorious…warm, dry, cool breeze, vivid blue skies…perfect for hiking (around 3.5 miles round trip). We hiked over rocks, streams, tree roots, marshy ground – seeing all kinds of flora and fauna. The trail was beautiful: between the trees are moss-covered boulders that make me think of Wales, where I lived when I was a child (at the base of a mountain).  Ferns lined the trail, and lichen covered trees and rocks. The air smelled of pine as we climbed upward to Greely’s Pond, where Susan was the only one to take a dip in the chilly waters.

Our merry band!

Our merry band!

The sun was intense and very soporific. After Susan’s swim and various snacks all round, we hiked back down the trail…I have to say my feet were feeling it by the time we got to the car and back to the condos. The condos are set back in the woods…pretty (although they don’t match up to the lodge we stayed at in the Smokies last year.) But Jan is great…it’s super having her as our guide again. She and Ruthie prepared a wonderful meal in the condo, and after a long discussion about upcoming hikes, I was pooped – and so to bed to be ready to get on the trail by 9AM tomorrow.

Monday: Leave no footprint

On the AT

On the AT

A really long day – up at 7 – breakfast at 8 – leave at 9. We all drive to the beginning of the hike 45 minutes away – only to find we’ve left Cindy behind at the condos!! Once it’s decided that she is NOT in the bathroom, or hiking on her own, Ruthie pops back in the van to go get her, and we all commence on our hike on the Zealand Falls trail. A glorious hike through forests and past marshes, alongside the Zealand River.  We see beaver dams, waterfalls, beautiful ponds, serene woods, blue sky, fluffy white clouds…manna for the soul.

Everywhere you look...great beauty

Everywhere you look…great beauty

During this hike, we actually get onto the Appalachian Trail, and are hiking to one of the AMC huts which has an amazing view from the rocky crags surrounding the waterfall. The vistas all around us are breathtaking…so much green and blue, you want to kiss the ground for the pleasure of knowing these places still exist in the world.

The last stretch of this hike is boulders, boulders, boulders…huge and challenging. Here we take a break for lunch, scattering ourselves over the boulders and enjoying the breeze.

A trail of boulders

A trail of boulders

At this point, Cindy and Ruthie arrive…Cindy barely has time to sit down before it’s time to leave, back down from whence we came. The overall round trip hike came to about 6 miles (although going uphill, a mile seems like much more than…a mile!)

After this hike, we piled in the vans and drove to the beautiful and historic Mount Washington Lodge – historic because in 1944 it hosted 44 nations at the Bretton Woods International Monetary Conference, where the World Bank and International Monetary Fund were established, with the US dollar designated the basis of international exchange.

Walking up to Mt Washington Lodge for lemonade

Walking up to Mt Washington Lodge for lemonade

This lodge is absolutely gorgeous…the hotel, the grounds and the views…perfection. We sat on the veranda or in Adirondack chairs on the lawn overlooking the mountains beyond, drank our lemonade and thought ourselves some of the luckiest people on earth.

View from back of Mt Washington Lodge

View from back of Mt Washington Lodge

Then it was back to our condos for a home-cooked dinner (barbecued pork chops, salad, chocolate)…and I had my usual one beer. Tomorrow we leave earlier than usual…and so , to bed.

Tuesday: Make sure to have super-high spf sunblock

On the Saco River

On the Saco River

Good breakfast at 7:30 and we are out the door by 8:30, on the way to the Saco River for a day of canoe-ing and kayaking.  Four canoes are booked, two kayaks. Deb and I hope to partner in one of the canoes – NOT the greatest idea in the world, as we keep driving the canoe into sandbanks. So Deb and Jan exchange places, and we’re finally on our merry way.

Just before I got overturned!

Just before I got overturned!

We paddled down the peaceful river for about an hour…all was quiet except for birdsong and the trees as the breeze rustled through.  The river is clear as a bell…the bottom lined with boulders and flat rocks…just purely beautiful. We come to a sandy shore for snacks, and for some, swimming. I’m very covered up as the sun is really intense, although not unpleasantly so…I’m slathered with 50 spf suncream, and it seems to work well. (I remember in Utah not being so smart, and as I was wearing shorts, my lower legs burned to a crisp.)

A peaceful moment on the Saco

Time to return to the canoes – Jan and I crawl in, and then, somehow, we locked our canoe with another – and the next thing, we’re both in the water…soaked. My camera was encased in a waterproof pack – the only thing not soaked through.

Onward we paddled for another hour…another break…then we arrived at the dock, at 3:15. Unloaded everything, and then we all piled on the bus, back to town, where we stopped at an ice cream shop for a cone and a rest. The ice cream was yum-o (me? I had traditional chocolate chip…) Then it was back to the condos, quick clean up, nice meal cooked by Jan and Ruthie…and so to bed. Heavy duty hike tomorrow!

Wednesday: Duct tape and poles

This was the most difficult hike of all for me. We left the condos around 9AM – usual hearty breakfast, pack our lunches…and drive an hour to the start of the Welch-Dickey hike in the Waterville Valley (Welch and Dickey are actually two mountains), where we will achieve two summits. Jan wrapped my and Ann’s toes in duct tape – worked super-well to prevent blistering or cutting. I came without poles – will never do that again on a hike of this nature!

The start of the Welch-Dickey hike

The start of the Welch-Dickey hike

The hike was uphill all the way to Welch’s peak (no little flat places to take a breather) – not high, but strenuous…with much of it “scrambling” or climbing over humongous granite boulders to the very top. Who knew I could do this!

Movin' on up

Movin’ on up

I take it easy up this trail so as not to wear myself out (recommendation from Jan – sounded good to me), but Jan and Rebecca hang in with me, which I much appreciated. At the summit, I gracefully tripped on a tree root, went down on my knees on soft trail with a splat. But nothing to really write home about (although I hate falling).

Scrambling!

Scrambling!

The trail from base to peak was a mixture, actually, beginning with fir-lined paths with a few rocks and boulders…then climbing steadily upward to the huge monoliths halfway up Welch. We took a few breaks for lunch, snacks, water and photography.

I was sweating hard by the time I reached the peak…but the views, absolutely incredible!

O happy day calloo callay she chortled in her joy

Looking down from our viewpoint atop granite, across the valleys filled with firs, maples, birches and other trees, to mountains ranged along our field of vision…and the vast sky overhead…all is so still and peaceful. Of course, if you happened to fall off the granite, it was a loooong way down. Must try not to do that!Looking across the mountains and valley

Looking across the valley to Welch Mountain from Dickey

After stopping a few minutes on Welch, we headed down and onward to Dickey’s summit, about 1800 feet, all in all.

The White Mountains

The White Mountains

Then it was back onto the trail, heading downwards…lovely, even with gigantic boulders, I loved it, partly because I enjoy hiking down which is definitely easier for me to negotiate, and it’s also very pleasant for my toes. It must have been in the mid-80s today, and the weather all week long has been so perfect, you couldn’t order anything better. In the 50s/60s at night, and high 70s/low 80s during the day…ruffly white clouds, deep blue sky…

Heading homeward

Heading homeward

Our hike round trip: around 4 miles. We made it in just about 6 hours. (As I think Bill Bryson said, and I concur: A mile in the mountains is not just a mile!)

Now we’re back in the condos, and most of the group has gone to the Bathtub for a quick swim. Then it’s on to the Gypsy Café for our farewell dinner…the food there is fabulous!

Thursday

Peace and love...courtesy of Ringo Starr

Peace and love…courtesy of Ringo Starr

Up and out of the condos, packed and ready to go by 9. One more short hike, at the Flume Gorge, about 800 feet long from the base of Mount Liberty. The granite walls rise to 70/90 feet and are studded with ferns and tiny vines and flowers, while the water drips everywhere…we take a 2-mile walk over boardwalks and gravel. Lots of people visiting, whereas on previous trails, very few.

Cindy kissing a moose goodbye

Cindy kissing a moose goodbye

A quick lunch, and it’s time to say goodbye. After great conversations, good food and drink, the incredible beauty of the wilderness…I am ready to go home and mull over all the experiences. Back to civilization, back to real life.

Just want to add a couple of books that I highly recommend: Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods” – so funny and a terrific source of information about the AT. And “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed – I loved this book about her hiking the PCT, the reasons why she did it, and what she found out about herself at the end of it all. Couldn’t put it down.

Hiking the AT in Shenandoah’s National Park

Hiking on the AT

Hiking on the AT

After returning from our long-awaited hike on the Appalachian Trail (AT) in the Shenandoah National Park, I picked up “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson, for another viewpoint on hiking the AT. It was pretty wonderful to come across sections in the book that I too had hiked, and with a viewpoint amazingly similar to Bryson’s. There were times on this hike when I did wonder about the appeal of leaning forward and putting one foot in front of another while staring at the ground to be sure you didn’t trip – for miles. And often sitting down for a break felt incredibly good….until you got back up to start all over again. However, that being said, it was really a kick to know you’d hiked sections of the Trail in Tennessee (Smokies), New Hampshire (all that granite!), and Virginia….around 100 miles total. No big deal, but I like it! (Can I now be called a Section Hiker?)

So onward…up up and away!

The woods are lovely

The woods are lovely

Sunday
Arrived on time @ Dulles A/P in DC, and met those of the group not driving to the Lodge. We piled in the van and drove to Luray to the Lodge, where I reconnected with Cindy and Deb, friends from past AT hikes. We got settled, went out to eat (then back to Lodge, by which time it was around 7PM.) Altogether, there were 14 in the group, including our two guides. We sat outside our rooms in the “back 40” as it got steadily darker and colder while Jan told us all about the hike and what it entailed for two hours. It was pretty icy by the time we finished and were able to go to bed. I was so cold, I wore long johns and hiking socks for pajamas to try to warm up.

Incredibly rocky, breathtaking views

Incredibly rocky, breathtaking views

Monday
Up at 6AM – picked up lunch items from our guides Jan and Kim’s room/packed the luggage and ourselves into the van, after which we drove to Walmart for wine and Gatorade!

Getting started

Getting started

Onward to the start of our Appalachian Trail hike, at the South River Falls Picnic area. All told, we hiked for a total of about five hours – all was extremely green, and extremely damp. Houston has nothing on this humidity/mugginess. It makes the foliage go neon bright.

At first, the trees were seen through a gentle white mist, until after noon, when the sun came out, helping dry out the air a bit. Flowers were blooming like crazy – pink and white trilliums, yellow mustard flower, the lovely little wood violets starring the grasses and undergrowth everywhere, pale pink wild azaleas. Logs and boulders scattered everywhere were covered with that particularly appealing velvet-like moss.

A fern forest

A fern forest

We hiked for a couple of hours and then ate our lunch, then another three hours of hiking, and then we piled back into the van and so on to the next Lodge. (About 5.5 miles)

Cindy and Deb strolling

Cindy and Deb strolling the Trail

No air conditioning in any of the Lodges, but it was so cold at night, we didn’t need it. Shared my room with a number of flying insects – a few of which I managed to capture and evict, but I finally gave up on the rest. I figured they were there first anyway.

The day and evening were hot hot hot, but after twilight set in – it became really cold again. We ate a pizza supper outside around the fire pit, and I finalized the evening by washing my hair and clambering into bed where I was out like a light.

Tuesday
Up at 6AM – ready to leave at 7. Having eaten breakfast, and made lunch, we began the trek directly from the Lodge, leaving the luggage behind in the vans.

The retiring wood violet

The retiring wood violet

After an hour’s hike, up up and up again, through greenery, flowering trees such as the service berry (what a name – it should be called White Lace, the trees were so beautifully bridally white), flowering apple and what looked like miniature wisteria. Flowers such as jack in the pulpit, wood violets, all color trilliums, phlox, geranium…nature is so bountiful, I’m sometimes overcome by the fact that these woods, these mountains and trails are still here, and relatively undisturbed by civilization.

Ro atop the Scramble

Ro atop the Scramble

Then we came to the Bearfence Scramble. This was a real challenge – and oddly enough, my favorite part of the trip. The rocks and boulders led us straight up to the top of the mountain. Boulders were all sizes – many narrowly cut, so it was extremely difficult to determine a foot rest. We couldn’t use the hiking poles, just our hands and knees to pull us straight up (we jammed our poles in our backpacks.) Some boulders were a little slippery…  At one point, we were flattened against and clinging to the granite slab as we made our way across and down a narrow ledge – peering straight down into the valley many miles below. One step at a time…

Looking down into the valley from the Scramble

Looking down into the valley from the Scramble

Once we reached the top of the Scramble, the views down into the valley were incredible. Anyone who has seen and loved the movie “Last of the Mohicans” will relate to the awe-inspiring grandeur of these views. The trees were spread across the Blue Ridge Mountains, clouds leaving dark green shadows across the lighter green of the firs lit by the sun…

And by 11AM, the sun was out full force – talk about hot. Sun block’s a necessity (always).

Hiking through the green

Hiking through the green

We stayed atop the Scramble for half an hour, then clambered back down to the Appalachian Trail where we were once again able to use our poles. After another’s hour’s hike (up) we stopped for lunch. Through hikers (hiking the entire Trail) and day hikers passed us by, all friendly, all smelly!

Masters of the Universe

Masters of the Universe

After lunch, we hiked to our van; some went another three miles, some decided to quit at this point (me included). Afterwards, we vanned back to our previous Lodge to pick up our luggage, then drove to Big Meadows Lodge, where we had the next night’s lodging. Rooms were very nice, and a lovely veranda too – just about perfect.

Martha and Lo stop for lunch

Martha and Lo booked this log for lunch

Cindy, Deb and I were able to have a really nice little hour’s respite together and a beer before dinner at the Lodge’s restaurant. The views here are glorious, they really are. This was my favorite day. But after dinner, too tired to do anything further, we all walked back to our cabins, where we packed again for leaving early the next day. And so to bed. (Weather was gorgeous all day long – but damp! My god, my hair has NEVER looked so bad. Rode hard and put up wet, is the kindest way to say it….and I have never been so stiff, although that wore off. Managed to get huge blister on big toe, and little toe hurt like the dickens.)

Wednesday
Up at 6 as usual – pick up lunch at 7, breakfast at 8 – off to Visitors’ Center where I bought a sweatshirt, as I stupidly did not pack my down jacket and the nights were really frigid.

Beauty is all around

Beauty is all around

This morning was warm but comfy under the canopy of trees; we walked to the trail directly across the road in front of the Lodge. Today, the hike was over 6 miles, up ever up up up – hot by the afternoon, but cooling when we experienced brief drizzles.

A carpet of boulders

A carpet of boulders

We crossed boulders and rocks in huge rocky carpets…just when you thought that stretch was done, lo and behold, just round the bend, another carpet! We made it to the van around 3PM, and waited for the rest of the group who’d gone over the mountain on a different hike. Jolly good for them!

Another incredible view

Where’s Daniel Day-Lewis when you need him?

After a good day’s hike, we made it back to Skyland Lodge by 4PM, where Cindy, Deb, Lo and I convened in the bar for drinks and a good talk. I learned here about Blue Moon beer from Cindy – loved that orange under-taste, and the slice of orange that comes with the beer.

Then back to rooms, (which kept getting better and better) and each of which had a gorgeous balcony overlooking the valley below. I cannot go on enough about these spectacular views. Cleaned up and convened at the dining room at 7PM, and waited – waited – waited to be able to get a table, by which time I was practically under it.

A dramatically intense thunderstorm blew through about this time. The restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling picture windows magnified and movie-ized the lightning and rain as it passed over the valley. The crack of the thunder, the orange of the sun breaking through a black cloud, and the lightning storm were definitely like something from movie FX. Glorious to watch, glad you were inside!

Then a cold front blew in – and it was freezing. We waited for the rain to stop, then tracked back to our cabins about half a mile down a very steep tarmacked slope, no lights except tiny key lights to light our way…. Never so glad I had both my sweatshirt on, and was able to get back to my room in one piece!

The wild azalea

The wild azalea

NOTE: Everyone agreed how great to get away from cell phones, computers et al – but they were either on their cells or trying to get reception everywhere – all the time – breakfast, lunch, dinner, on the trail – just unbelievable, but that’s our world today. (I, however, am a Luddite and I admit it freely!)

Thursday
The final “hike day” was a long day – getting up around 6AM for breakfast, packing the lunch and luggage, etc. (somehow even though this was the long day, the other days seemed equally long!) We hiked to Stony Man Mountain with beautiful views along the way (surprise!), and then to the Pinnacles Picnic area for lunch. We hiked over 10 miles and it was hard – beautiful, but tough.

Somewhere...a rattlesnake waits

Somewhere…a rattlesnake waits

Mid-hike, we were informed by a through-hiker that a rattlesnake had been spotted in the grass beside the trail ahead. After determining that it was just off the trail, and we had the werewithal to go up the bank and around the snake, we each tiptoed by in various states of nerves. No-one made a sound, no one took a photograph. The snake made enough noise for a hive of bees…the buzzing of its tail was definitely disconcerting, and angry to boot.

Lo and Ro take a breather

Ro and Lo take a breather

After this short adventure, we had the option of two different hikes, each to end at Mary’s Rock. Four of us as well as Jan, our guide, opted for the more difficult uphill hike, which was shorter by a mile. Everyone else hiked around the mountain which was about three miles in length. I was either so used to the uphill treks by now that it didn’t bother me much, or it wasn’t that difficult. We made it to Mary’s Rock, and waited for the rest of the gang to turn up – which after an hour, seemed to be a long shot. So, picking up Lo on the way, we hiked on back down the trail to the van and waited for the rest of the group to show.

Atop Mary's Rock

Atop Mary’s Rock

Being on the tired side, Lo and I started complaining about our feet, among other things… So we thought we might develop a website, SmallandPetty.com/and I don’t care…and complain to our hearts’ content!

One of my favorite views

One of my favorite views

By this time it was after 7PM, and we were whupped…we had come full circle back to Luray, so a quick stop at the Lodge, and then we went on to dinner, where we all came up with our trail names. Suffice it to say, some were great, mine, not so great. I’ll have to give it another think. It was another night of rain…we were very blessed to have dry days for hiking, with the heavens waiting to open up once we were safely indoors.

On the trail we’d met two great kids, whose trail names were Cisco and Bozie – they were about 19 or 20, young men going to college in Utah…whether it was because they were so young, or because they actually were – they seemed very sweet and innocent, hiking the trail with nothing but a couple of tree branches and holey boots. They had the room next to mine, and came out just as I was walking to the door…both apparently having the time of their lives.

So … dinner, and to bed.

Yes, Virginia, there really are park rangers

Yes, Virginia, there really are park rangers

Friday
Managed to yank myself out of bed by 6:30 the next morning, ran to pick up some yogurt in Jan’s room, washed hair, and then we all piled in vans and cars and drove to the Luray Caves, a fascinating underground maze of stalagmites and stalagtites, which could almost have been the Dwarves’ Caves in Lord of the Rings. Just an amazing place. No pictures – but here’s a link:
http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=Luray+Caverns&qpvt=Luray+Caverns&FORM=IGRE

Then Jan drove us to the airport, and I sat and read for four hours waiting for the plane back to Houston. The guy at airport security asked me where I’d been, and for the life of me, I couldn’t think! Brain dead!

The green of the Trail

The green of the Trail

Stiff joints, blistered toes, fuzzy hair and all – challenging, intense, dangerous and beautiful…. it was definitely an AT hike to remember!