STANIMAL’S 328 HOSTEL, KING’S GOURMET POPCORN & BABY LEGS

On 12/31/2019 I aka Condor 3 traveled south to Waynesboro, Virginia in order to meet Jamie aka Commander Plodder (and also later my sister Ellyn) for four days of hiking along the Appalachian Trail (AT). Mother nature offered nearly a week of mild January weather which allowed us to hike in the low to mid 50s temperature for parts of this journey. But first, I had to check in to Stanimal’s 328 Hostel in Waynesboro which would serve as our base of operations for the four day hiking plan.

Adam Stanley, who hiked the AT in 2004 and the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in 2010, owns this hostel and another one in Glasgow, VA. When I arrived at the hostel, I parked out back as hikers use the rear door entrance. Notice the tree in the backyard with hiking shoes hanging from the branches.

Before entering the kitchen door, I saw this wooden pallet being used as a hiker boot rack.

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After walking through the kitchen into the living room, I met the caretakers Glen and Cora. Glen showed me my available options and I chose a corner bed in the second floor bunkroom, room #4. It was AT hiker off season but this hostel also is an AirBnB so non hikers frequent this location too. Shuttle drivers from this hostel pick up and drop off hikers often. According to Glen, they have even traveled to Washington, DC to pick up hikers.

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Commander Plodder arrived and selected a sleeping nook just off the main bunk room.

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We had dinner on New Year’s Eve at Applebee’s and discussed our hiking plan as usual. Our overall goals for this four day period were to finish the last part of the AT in Shenandoah National Park (SNP), to break the 700 mile overall AT mark, and to begin the Blue Ridge area of Central Virginia.

Hike Day #1-Happy New Year’s Day-1/1/2020:

After making our breakfast in the hostel’s kitchen, we made the very short trip to Skyline Drive at Rockfish Gap where we turned to head north to position our cars at the Turk Gap parking area first and then at the Jones Run Trail parking area where we had left off in our November hike. While driving north on Skyline Drive, the brilliantly orange sun was intermittently flashing its warmth to the right side of my face like a strobe effect as it was momentarily blocked by trees without leaves, only to flash warm again and off again in quick succession. It was a beautiful morning as we prepared to do our southbound 10.3 miles starting from Jones Run Trail parking lot.

We crossed the Skyline Drive immediately and began our ascent up Blackrock Mountain. In a little over a mile we noticed this huge pile of rocks and boulders on our left. We are used to seeing piles of rock which had tumbled down from cliffs but there was nothing above this gigantic mass of huge rocks. That is Plodder walking next to the pile.

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After passing both the Trayfoot Mountain Trail and the Blackrock Hut, which is a three sided shelter for hikers to use overnight in the SNP, we descended about 700′ before taking a sit down break at Blackrock Gap at 10:30am.

After the short break we continued south up and over a series of small hills as we passed Riprap Trail and the Riprap Parking area before walking along the Wildcat Ridge for a couple of miles. Just before beginning our descent to Turk Gap, Commander Plodder looked ahead, and later photographed, a shadow which looked very much like a hiker with a trekking pole. It was so real looking, it almost appeared to actually be a hiker up ahead of us. I am ducking down with my orange hat just off the trail. Here is the photo.

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We reached Turk Gap a couple minutes before 2pm and, after picking up our other car, we drove to check out the parking area at Rockfish Gap for tomorrow’s hike. There was a small parking area just off the Blue Ridge Parkway which is what the Skyline Drive becomes after exiting the SNP. There was a larger parking area which had a couple of abandoned and very neglected buildings but where there was also the King’s Gourmet Popcorn Truck. Unfortunately, it was closed on New Years Day, but we would be checking this out tomorrow.

Plodders Hiking App said we had completed 10.5 miles and had done 2,315′ of elevation gain and 2,534′ of elevation loss. My Iphone health app said we had covered 10.1 miles, taken 28,184 steps and climbed 72 floors. It was a perfect first day of hiking and we finished 10.3 miles of the AT.

In our Guess the Number of Hikers Seen contest, Plodder chose six and I chose seven. Little did we know when we chose our predictions, that we would set a record today for hikers seen. As we descended toward Blackrock Gap we saw the first group of trail runners heading up the hill toward us. That’s right, they were running uphill! We asked the lead runner how many were in his group behind him and he stated about 25. I guess it was sort of a New Years Day tradition. By the time our hike ended, we had seen more than forty. And I had a sweet contest victory on Day 1.

At Stanimals we met a southbound, solo thru hiker from Alaska whose trail name was Baby Legs. She had been picked up by a Stanimal’s shuttle driver at the same Rockfish Gap parking area and was staying at Stanimal’s for a couple days to resupply and to rest a sore knee. She accepted our invitation to go to dinner and we went to a nearby Ruby Tuesdays.

After finishing her career in the Army, Baby Legs owned a roller derby business and also worked as a bouncer in Anchorage, Alaska. She had thought about hiking the AT for nearly twenty years and had finally decided to do it. She began her southbound thru hike from Mt. Katahdin, the northern terminus of the AT. She had a harrowing twelve hour hike up to and back down from Mt. Katahdin. The hike included 40mph winds and Baby Legs, with the assistance of another hiker, helped a disoriented, elderly hiker turn around and get back down safely in the bad weather. This was the start of her first day of hiking-September 23, 2019. She continued south to the Mahoosic Notch in Maine but, due to weather and lyme disease, had to leave the trail for a few weeks. She resumed hiking near Killington, Vermont and has hiked south from that point to where we met her in Virginia. She intends to continue hiking to the Southern Terminus of the AT at Springer Mountain, Georgia and will then go back to finish the 230 mile stretch in Vermont, New Hampshire and a short piece in Maine so that she will have completed the entire 2,189 mile AT. Quite impressive.

Baby Legs explained that she loves dachshunds and had two dachshunds named Li’l Bit and Rollie Pollie Ollie II. Unfortunately, they both passed away fairly close together in time. Baby Legs proudly showed me a necklace which contained some of the cremains of her beloved pets. She has carried the necklace during her thru hike.

We returned to the hostel, Baby Legs had her own sleeping nook with an actual door just off the main bunk room. Hiker midnight (ie. 9pm) came quickly and we got much needed rest for the next day’s hike.

Hike Day #2-1/2/2020:

Breakfast again at Stanimal’s and then we arranged our cars at the planned parking areas. Plodder took this beautiful photo of the sunrise.

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We were doing the last 12.1 miles southbound from Turk Gap to Rockfish Gap. We would finally be done the entire 105 mile section of the AT inside the Shenandoah NP. We would also pass the 700 mile overall mark of the AT.

After a slight uphill climb passed the Turk Mountain Trail crossing, we began a gradual descent and after a little over an hour of hiking Commander Plodder noticed a different type survey marker on the trail. It was set in concrete and was from the U.S. Dept. of the Interior. It bore some stamped numbers in the center of the metal marker.

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A little over an hour of hiking after that marker we saw this yellow colored, information band on a concrete marker post near a spring. All the informational/directional bands we have seen so far are a grayish colored metal on these type of posts. Here is the warning information on the yellow band.

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Trail maintainers wanted to make sure all hikers using this water source would boil the water before drinking.

Less than a half hour later, here is Plodder standing under a Powerline crossing. It is the largest one we have ever seen. There were three different lines of towers.

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As we walked uphill under the power lines, we noticed a series of light greenish colored tubes in the ground where trail maintainers had planted small plants to restore some trees or shrubs to the area. The tubes were to make it difficult for animals to eat the young plants.

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We continued our uphill climb toward Calf Mountain and passed the side trail for the Calf Mountain Shelter. The intersection is marked by this sign.

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The shelter was .3 miles away and we would have to hike .3 back to rejoin the AT, so we kept climbing Calf Mountain. Along the way we saw a For Sale sign to our left, deep in the woods. This part of the SNP abuts some privately owned land and I guess the owner wants to sell the property. I don’t know how much “walk by” prospective purchasers the owner would get from this advertisement.

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Finally, at 11:08am, we reached the summit of Calf Mountain which is at 2,989′ above sea level. It is marked with a large rock cairn. I found a small flat stone and balanced one on the top.

We had a small descent, came to a small grassy meadow and reached the summit of Little Calf Mountain.

We descended 400′ and reached Beagle Gap where we had reached the 6.6 mile mark of today’s hike. We had noticed some large communication towers in the distance earlier in our hike. We now began an ascent of Bear Den Mountain where these Communication Towers were located. Nearby the towers and the control building, were numerous, old tractor seats mounted in the grassy area for hikers to sit.

After passing another tower, we began a fairly steep descent into McCormick Gap. Having checked our map the night before and from information we received from Baby Legs, we knew the short ascent out of McCormick Gap was very steep, despite being only about a half a mile long. After crossing the Skyline Drive, we followed the trail cross a small grassy area where we noticed a private property sign. Just a short way before the private property sign, we saw to our right an older wooden sign indicating the AT turns to the right. We began the steep climb which did not have the benefit of terraced steps or convenient steeping stones. We had hiked over 8.4 miles already and now had to use a lot of energy to dig our hiking boots into the trail to get a foothold to climb.

The next three miles followed a gradual downhill grade but it was not on the nice trails we had experienced in the prior 100 miles of the SNP. We spent a lot of our time picking through rocks and having to be very careful not to make a misstep. It took over two hours to finally reach the AT’s southern entrance of the Shenandoah NP. There is a self registering kiosk with a small desk lid which houses the registration forms. We had seen a similar one on the northern end of the SNP.

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The good news was that we only had a half mile of steep trail to reach Skyline Drive and then another half mile of road shoulder walking to reach the end of our hike at the parking area just below the intersection of I-64, Rt. 250 and the Skyline Drive/Blue Ridge Parkway in Rockfish Gap. And King’s Gourmet Popcorn truck was open! We both got bags of Caramel Popcorn, even before we went to retrieve my car at Turk Gap.

Plodder and I had both guessed ten on the Hiker Number contest so we both lost as we did not see that number of hikers.

On our way back to Stanimal’s, I learned my sister and prior AT section hiker partner, Ellyn, had arrived safely at the hostel. She would join us for the last two days of hiking.

We had dinner at Applebee’s and had three different servers over the course of the meal. One took and served our beverages; a second took our food order and a third did everything else. The #2 server made a point of telling us the correct way to pronounce the seafood word “Salmon” which was to pronounce the “L”, not to say the word with a silent “L”. Huh?

Hike Day #3-1/3/2020:

I made cheese omelets again for breakfast and we planned to drop off Baby Legs in Rockfish Gap so she could resume her sobo hike. We did so and then arranged our other car further south at the Humpback Gap parking area. We planned to do a 7.7 mile northbound (nobo) hike back to Rockfish Gap.  There is a short .25 side trail from the Humpback Gap parking area east to connect to the AT. Once there, we turned left at this sign to head north. Plodder photographed Ellyn and I as we were ready to turn left to start the hike.

In less than an hour we reached the Glass Hollow Overlook. Here is Ellyn and I.

During the early part of the hike, Commander Plodder wanted to have a sub contest where Plodder and I would each predict what time we would pass Baby Legs this morning. She was heading south and we were heading north. Plodder picked 9:45am and I picked 9:15am. This is tricky to predict when the relative closing speed can be 4.5-5 mph. But we stated our predictions and just kept hiking.

At about 9:20am, the trail lead right to the Paul C. Wolfe shelter which was at the bottom of a 700′ descent from the Glass Hollow Overlook. We decided to take a sit down break and I went to use the privy which had a half door so users of the privy could enjoy the beautiful forest.

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I sat down on the shelter’s sleeping platform and wrote a note in the shelter’s register, photographed the page and finished my morning’s snack.

As I got up to take a couple of photos, I first heard some noise and then looked to see Baby Legs coming down the trail just above the shelter. The time was 9:38am. Since we have a documented history of using a Price is Right type formula, my time guess of 9:15am was the only one before Baby Leg’s arrival. Plodder’s guess of 9:45am was closest time prediction, only 7 minutes past the actual arrival time, but was too “high”. We may have to tweek our game rules for these other type contests during the hiking day. But it is a fun way to pass the time.

Anyway, we chatted briefly and, thanks to Plodder’s selfie skills, we were able to get this photo of all four of us. Plodder is on the left, I am in the back, Ellyn is in the front center and Baby Legs is on the right.

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Baby Legs was considering not going much further today as she was monitoring her sore knee. We said good bye and wished her the best of luck.

In just 1.2 miles, we passed a very old cemetery on our right hand side. A wooden sign on a tree identifies it as the Lowe Family Cemetery. There were very small headstones still visible above ground. One stone appeared to have the year 1927 scratched into it. Here is Plodder looking at some of them.

 

Plodder captured some of the smooth trail as Ellyn and I walked ahead.

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In just another .7 miles, we came upon the ruins of the W.J. Mayo home place with its stone fireplace.

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We passed a spring and then a stream around 11:38am. We now had about 1.9 miles to go with the last half a mile steadily uphill to the rock steps steps leading onto the Blue Ridge Parkway where we had left off the day before. We finished at 12:45pm and started walking the short distance to our car in the parking area.

On the way back to our car, there were a couple of potholes containing standing water in the parking lot. We used the puddles to help clean the stuck-on mud off the bottom tips of our trekking poles.

I still had not eaten my caramel popcorn from yesterday. Plodder and Ellyn bought some popcorn at King’s Gourmet Popcorn. Plodder had the caramel again and Ellyn got the caramel with nuts variety.

Ellyn had mentioned that she brings good weather for various events when she’s around.  She succeeded this day(and the next as well). We finished the hike in the low 50s temps. Plodder’s My Hike app said we had done 1,233′ of ascent and 1,732′ of descent. My Iphone health app said we had hiked 8.0 miles, taken 22,338 steps and climbed 21 floors.

No one won the Guess the Number of Hikers contest as we all guessed too high. We only had seen one hiker-Baby Legs.

We enjoyed our last dinner together at Ruby Tuesday’s as we discussed the next day’s hiking plan. Back at the hostel, Ellyn used her laptop to do some work and to watch a program. Here she is sitting on her bottom bunk in the same bunk room where my bed was located.

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Hike Day #4-1/4/2020:

After our usual breakfast at Stanimal’s, we headed back to the Blue Ridge parkway where we dropped off one car at Humpback Gap parking area before beginning our hike further south at the Dripping Rock parking area. Our plan was to hike 6.6 miles northbound and we discussed the possibility of seeing Baby Legs again if she had rested her knee by doing a low mileage day the day before. Despite having a series of uphill hikes in the morning, we hoped to be done by around Noon. Plodder and Ellyn were planning on heading home this afternoon. I would wait until the next day to drive home.

The AT passes right through the Dripping Rock parking area which is just a small horseshoe loop next to the Blue Ridge Parkway. We had a slight uphill climb, very short, before descending into Laurel Springs Gap where we saw another warning sign near a spring. Again, water should be filtered/treated and boiled before consumption. We began a series of three climbs with small plateaus between on our way to the summit of Humpback Mountain, 3,628′ asl. We would reach the top about 2.8 miles into our hike and just before reaching the top, we looked up to see Baby Legs coming down toward us.

I used this last opportunity to get a photo of the necklace containing the partial cremains of her two dachshunds and we handed off power bars and gorp to Baby Legs to help supply her with food.

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About forty minutes later we passed another one of these massive rock formations on our right.

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The path as we began descending 1,300′ was fairly rocky in the upper part of the descent. As we got further from the summit, the foot path improved such that we could keep a better rhythm. We started a series of switchbacks as we passed a couple of springs, one of which had water flowing out of a pvc pipe from a spring box.

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Ellyn posed by a tree alongside one of the nicer areas of the footpath which can be seen over her shoulder. I believe she was practicing some “forest bathing” during this hike.

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After walking across a wooden log which had the top flattened by a series of chain saw cuts,

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we reached the directional sign to bear left up a drainage ditch to the Humpback Gap parking area.

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Here is our end of hiking trip selfie by the sign next to the parking area. Three happy hikers.

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Plodder’s My Hike app said that we had covered 6.9 miles, had ascended 1,400′ and descended 1,900′. My Iphone health app said we had hiked 7.1 miles, taken 19,673 steps and climbed 24 floors. Plodder won the Guess the Hiker Number contest within the last mile or so when a group of six hikers came walking southbound as we hiked northbound.

The four day total of AT miles covered was 36.7 miles which means that we have now covered 172.4 miles in Virginia and overall have covered 719 miles of the AT. Our next hike will help us pass the one third completed mark.

Thanks very much to Commander Plodder and to Ellyn for being such good hiking companions. As always, we owe special thanks to our respective spouses Sandy, Bernadette and Greg who support us in these hiking adventures.

More hikes to plan.

Condor 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

COUNTRY VIEW MOTEL, BRATWURST AND RECORD BREAKING FRIGID TEMPS

On Sunday 11/10/19 I aka Condor 3 drove 430 miles from my home to the Country View Motel in Elkton, VA where I would be joined by Jamie aka Commander Plodder for a four day Appalachian Trail(AT) hike as we continued our southbound journey through the Central and Southern Districts of the Shenandoah National Park (SNP) in Virginia. Along the way in Pennsylvania, I stopped at a Subway for a sandwich and at a nearby convenience store for mandatory Tastykake  and to fill the car up with gas. My original plan was to leave one of the packages of Tastykake in the glove box but that plan was aborted.

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Sunday traffic was light and soon I arrived in Elkton to check into the motel.

 

The office staff was very nice and gave me two keys to our room.

 

The next day I met June Weaver and her husband, Nick, whose family owns this motel as well as the motel directly across the street. I recommend the Country View Motel to anyone needing a comfortable and convenient place to stay. We were lucky to get Room 6 which is the large room above the main entrance. The room had two queen beds set up at opposite ends of the room and plenty of power strips to meet our electric device needs. There was free WIFI too. Our room had a refrigerator, microwave and a coffee maker. We had an inside stairway to the front lobby where a coffee maker, microwave and toaster oven was located and our own outside stairs to a rear deck. Use of the washing machine and dryer in a separate building is free for guests.

DAY ONE-11/11/19 (Veteran’s Day Federal Holiday)

During breakfast, we met Caboose and Box Turtle who lived in Ohio and were on a multi day section hike. They were doing the same as Plodder and I. They were a younger version of us. They had just covered different parts of the AT, almost all of Virginia. Caboose was a Technology teacher in a high school. They were near the end of their hiking trip and were planning on returning to Ohio the next day. Box turtle is on the left and Caboose is on the right in this photo Caboose sent to me.

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Our plan was to hike northbound the 10.9 miles from Smith Roach Gap, which is in the Southern District of the SNP, to the cross trail for the Pocosin Cabin which is operated by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC), in the Central District. After arranging our cars, we started hiking north and immediately began a more than 900′ ascent toward Hightop Mountain at about 3,521′ above sea level(asl). The views were nice and the sun was out in this cold, crisp morning.

We noticed the change just from our October hike in the SNP. The leaf color had mostly faded to brown shades and many leaves had fallen onto the trail. In places, it felt like we were walking through leaf “drifts”.

 

 

We passed the side trail for the Hightop Hut and a half mile later we passed a spring box to our right. It had a decent flow of water.

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Just .2 miles later, Plodder photographed me standing on a rock outcropping with a view west from the shoulder of High Top Mountain.

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We began a fairly constant 1,200′ descent over the next two and a half miles as we crossed the Skyline Drive Bridge over Rt. 33 in Swift Run Gap. We chose a convenient rock wall for a sit down break. As we were preparing to continue north, a northbound thru hiker named Chris came up behind us and called to us from Skyline Drive. He asked about nearby hostel/resupply options in Elkton. We provided some info and I left my cell number in case we could help him with a car ride later in the day.

We then began the next climb which was fairly steady up and over Saddleback Mountain, just a little over 3,000′ asl. We then benefitted by a downhill past the South River Falls trail crossing before we began another climb to the top of Bald Face Mountain, which, at 3,621′ asl, was even higher than Saddleback.

There are times, particularly when the leaves are off the trees and you are not walking through the “Green Tunnel” of the AT, that you can see ahead toward the next mountain to be climbed. There is a sense of uncertainty when you keep seeing this higher mountain ahead while you keep going lower and lower, knowing that you will have to make up for all this descent.

But we made it over Bald Face, and began our descent toward the Pocosin Fire Road crossing. Just before reaching the crossing, we saw the side trail for the Pocosin Cabin and Spring on our right. This cabin is run by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC). Members can pay to reserve the cabin. We were fortunate to have stopped to see this PATC cabin as we met two fellow hikers from Boston. They were resting from their first hiking day and said they were heading north to tent camp at the Lewis Mountain Campground which was about two miles farther north. We said goodbye and wished them luck. We had about .2 miles left to return to our car and then a short ride to the Country View Motel. The weather prediction was rain starting overnight so I was glad to be under a roof. Plodder and I discussed that we might see these same hikers tomorrow.

The Iphone health app said that we had hiked 10.8 miles, climbed 36 floors (it felt like more) and taken 31,082 steps. I had another rare win in the Guess the Number of Hikers contest. Plodder guessed 6 and I guessed 13. The actual number was 17.

DAY TWO-11/12/19

After breakfast, we saw Caboose and Box Turtle again, just before they left to return to Ohio. The temperature was noticeably colder but at least the rain, which had begun around 1am,  had stopped just before we began our 8.1 mile southbound hike from Milam Gap where the Mill Prong Trail crosses the Skyline Drive down to the same Pocosin Fire Road.

Once again, our morning hike began with an immediate uphill hike to reach Hazeltop Mountain which is 3,812′ asl. This has been the pattern of all our hikes in the SNP where we tend to stay within the 3,000′-4,000′ asl range. Despite wind gusts of 20 mph, and little protection from the wind, we were treated to occasional sections of very easy footing for our hiking boots such as this part which had lush, green grass beside the trail.

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Mostly, our bodies just wanted to keep moving in order to keep warm.

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I noticed that I could taste small, ice chips in the mouthpiece as I sucked water from my hydration pack. This did not last long as the water in the exposed tube froze solid. [Note: Plodder would solve this problem the next day by taking a sip of water from the mouthpiece and then blowing air back down toward the hydration bladder to purge the water out of the exposed line. Repeating this with each sip of water prevented the line from freezing.]

We descended from Hazeltop Mountain, walked through Bootens Gap and were treated to periodic light snowflakes falling around us. I took this photo of a leaf which had collected some of the snow.

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Before climbing toward Bearfence Mountain, which is not as high as Hazeltop, we passed a side loop trail for the Bearfence Rock Scramble which was situated in a massive rock structure to our left and slightly above us as we headed southbound.

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Here is Plodder standing among some bushes along the trail with leaves covered by a light frosting of snow. But it was not as bad as November of 2018 when we hiked more than 12 miles through the Cumberland Valley farm fields in Pennsylvania where eight inches of snow fell on us during the hike.

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We soon turned at the side trail for the Bearfence Hut, which looks just like a typical three sided shelter along the AT, but is different in that hikers can stay overnight in a Hut in the SNP but shelters are only for day use (except in times of emergency). I took some photos of the Hut and signed the trail register.

 

Southbound and climbing again. Fortunately, it was a gradual climb past several spur trails on our right which lead to the Lewis Mountain Campground cabin and tent sites. Plodder and I had not seen our Boston hikers on the trail yet this morning  so we thought we might see them at their campsite. Then I noticed a wonderful aroma of food being cooked over an open fire. As I looked up to our right, I saw a yellow tent and thought I recognized one of the same two hikers from Boston. I called out to them. Chris was tending the fire and Mark asked if I wanted some Bratwurst. Once I determined he was serious on the offer, I said yes and we quickly walked up a side trail to their tent site. I did not have a fork with me so I found a nearby stick which had a pointy end and stabbed the bratwurst pieces in the camp pot. They were delicious, absolutely the best. Better even than the Bratwurst I had at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Chris is on the left and Mark is on the right.

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We chatted for a while and asked how they made out during the cold and rainy night. These guys showed some toughness to have made it through the night. Here is a photo of their tent. I almost felt guilty having slept in a warm bed at the motel. Almost.

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We asked their plans and they seemed to want to hitchhike back on Skyline Drive for a ride back to where they had parked their car the prior day or hike back south with us to our car. Plodder offered them the option of just staying where they were while we finished our hike. We only had about 1.9 more miles to go and we would do that in an hour. We would then come back and pick them up for a shuttle ride to their car. They liked that option so Plodder and I headed south. The warm bratwurst felt like I had nitromethane fuel in me and the end of the day’s hike was easy. Here is a selfie taken by Plodder of two happy AT section hikers.

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The Iphone health app said we hiked 8.4 miles, taken 22,931 steps and climbed 49 floors. Plodder won the Guess the Number of Hikers contest by guessing five which was exactly correct. I guessed six and was just out of the running.

Chris and Mark rode in Plodder’s car and I followed behind as we headed to the South River Falls Picnic Area where Chris and Mark had left their vehicle. Plodder told me that Chris was a surgical resident at a Boston Hospital and Mark had a Doctorate in Biomedical Engineering. Mark was starting Medical school soon. We sure meet some friendly, and really smart people on the AT! We wish them the best of luck in their careers and hope they can fit in some AT hikes together in their busy schedule.

Before returning to the motel, we stopped at a Super WalMart in order to pick up some additional cold weather gear as the weather report forecast frigid temperatures. We did not know at the time how much we would need some of the extra clothing we purchased.

DAY THREE-11/13/19

The Washington Post  weather correspondent Jason Samenow reported that the temperatures on this day were the coldest in a century. The cold was “comparable to the Blue Norther of 1911”. Much of the eastern U.S. was colder than parts of Alaska. In the Appalachian Mountains, temperatures plummeted into the single digits even as far south as the Mid-Atlantic.

So, in the spirit of hiking in November on the AT, we chose to commune with nature again. The temperature in the motel parking lot was around 13 – 15 degrees and we knew it would be colder up in the mountain trails of the AT. But we had thermals on and wore our newly purchased fleece balaclava hoods.

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Today’s plan, despite the cold,  was to hike 11.7 miles southbound from the Pinefield Gap crossing to the Jones Run Trail crossing. It would be the longest hike of our trip. Mercifully, the wind was very subdued today. We joked that we might be the only hikers crazy enough to be out here in this weather so Plodder picked a conservative 4 hikers for the Guess the Number of Hikers contest and I picked 3. I would not have been surprised if we had seen zero.

After arranging our cars at each end of the hike, we began a very short downhill before beginning a 500′ plus climb towards the Ivy Creek Overlook. The AT walks right across the overlook parking area and at the far end was this informational sign. In the text of the sign, the writer explains that a hiker, who walks the entire AT, does the equivalent climbing up Mt. Everest sixteen times.

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We climbed a little more, enjoyed some scenic views to the west and walked through a Mountain Laurel tunnel of bushes without flowers this time of year.

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We then descended 500′ to Ivy Creek.

 

We could hear the cascading water flowing down large boulders even before we could see where the AT crossed the creek. We had not seen this much flowing water in either this trip or our previous trip in October. We had to balance with our trekking poles as we hopped across about four rocks before reaching the other side. You could almost feel the cold coming off the rushing water.

We began an 800′ climb up Loft Mountain and passed some scenic views along the way. There were also marked side trails to get to the Loft Mountain Wayside which was probably closed as of Veterans Day.

Here is the largest pile of bear scat I have ever seen. I warned Plodder behind me not to step in this pile. He took the photo and I put my boot next to the scat to give it some scale. I am very glad we did not run into this bear. The berries seen in the scat were on bushes we passed.

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We passed about three or four different side trails to our right for the Loft Mountain Campground before we descended steadily for three miles past the Doyles River Trail and the Doyles River Overlook before reaching the AT crossing of Skyline Drive at Browns Gap.  We had seen one hiker who was heading northbound as we descended. We wished him luck but he was probably too tired heading uphill to respond. Plodder crossed the Skyline Drive first to sit on a log for a break and as I was checking my notes, a passing motorist stopped and asked if we needed any help. I said no but thanked him. We only had about 1.9 miles left. It seemed at this point that we both guessed too high on the Hiker Contest.

We consumed some Gatorade and GORP(Good Old Raisins and Peanuts) at our break before beginning a slight uphill before the trail leveled off. There were two side trail signs for the Dunde Campground. One sign was just a small metal sign with Dunde and an arrow scratched on it with a sharp object and the other sign was the official sign typically seen elsewhere in the SNP.

As we were within a couple hundred yards of the finish, we spoke to two hikers heading in the opposite direction as us. They were going toward a waterfall site nearby. More importantly, with the addition of these two hikers, the actual hiker seen count was three which matched my guess perfectly. I headed toward the end, hoping that I did not see another hiker as Plodder’s prediction was four hikers. This is the first time I ever won two Guess the Hiker Contests during one of our hiking adventures.

Plodder’s Iphone Health App said that we had hiked 11.9 miles, taken 31,700 steps and climbed 86 floors. It seemed that we had very little flat trail, we were always either going up or down.

After getting into Plodder’s car to head north to pick up my car, Plodder noticed two women hikers, probably thru hikers judging by the size of their packs, walking along the shoulder of Skyline Drive. We pulled over to ask if they needed help. They said they did as they needed a shuttle ride to a specific location to rejoin the AT. The hikers were a mother aka Peaches from Ohio (originally from Georgia) and her daughter aka Woodstock. We turned around and drove them to the location so they could hike a little farther to the Calf Mountain Shelter. They explained that on the next day they would be meeting a “Trail Angel” who was going to provide them a ride to a place to stay for a night before they resumed their southbound hike toward Pearisburg, Virginia. Peaches explained they were “flip-flop” thru hikers. In their case, they first hiked from Springer Mountain, Georgia north to Pearisburg, VA before leaving the trail to go to Mt. Katahdin, Maine. They started in Maine around July 10th and began their southbound hike to reach Pearisburg, VA. They came off the trail for a few weeks for a wedding but otherwise kept hiking south. When we dropped them off at the Sawmill Run Overlook, I figure they still had about 237.2 miles left to reach Pearisburg. But they would have hiked the entire AT. Impressive. Plodder took my photo with Peaches(left) and Woodstock(right) and we wished them luck on the rest of their trip. They post videos of their travels on you tube under the name trailhuggintramps.

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DAY FOUR-11/14/19

Since Plodder was returning home this afternoon, we planned a short 6.8 mile southbound hike from Smith Roach Gap to Pinefield Gap. My goal was to finish before Noon. Plodder guessed we would see zero other hikers today and I guessed one.

The weather was not as cold as Wednesday, but we still used our Balaclava hoods which kept us warm in the starting temperature of about 29 degrees. The hike was a slow, gentle downhill into Powell Gap where the AT crossed over Skyline Drive. We then began a 600′ climb up an unknown mountain and stopped a little before 9am for a sit down break at a rock outcropping with a nice view to the east. There was a nearby notched branch which was perfect to hold our trekking poles and gloves.

 

After finishing the climb and an equal 600′ descent from that same mountain, we arrived at Simmons Gap. Plodder noticed off to our left that there was a Ranger Station with a yellow colored bucket truck parked nearby.

After crossing Skyline Drive again, we began a 500′ climb to the top of Weaver Mountain, our last mountain for this trip. The descent was fairly steady for about .8 miles. I noticed blueberries on tiny branches laying on the ground and later saw different berry bushes which matched what we saw in the bear scat yesterday.

 

We reached our hike’s end at 11:53am, just ahead of the Noon goal. We saw no other hikers. Plodder won the contest as we had that part of the national park all to ourselves. It was the perfect end of our hiking trip.

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The Iphone Health App said we had hiked 7.7 miles, taken 21,469 steps and climbed 16 floors. On the way out of the SNP I stopped to talk to a ranger who was trying to stay warm while standing near the sentry booth. I learned that there is a faucet nearby for use to fill water bottles. I also took this photo showing the closure of many of the campgrounds and lodges.

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Plodder headed home and I was staying at the motel one more night before heading home. I went to Terri’s Country Cafe in Elkton as I wanted a ham & cheese omelet with a side of pancakes. I asked my server, Nicki, how many pancakes came with the omelet. She said two but they are very big. I added some bacon and a cup of tea.

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Nicki was right. I could not even finish the pancakes. Delicious.

During this three and a half hiking day trip, Plodder and I had completed another 37.5 AT miles so our Virginia total is now 135.7 miles and our overall AT total is now 682.9 miles. Hopefully, in a couple of more trips, we will pass the one third milestone which is 730 miles of the 2,190 mile length of the AT. Thanks to Plodder for another wonderful and safe hiking trip. I look forward to hiking many more miles with Plodder.

Special thanks to our wonderfully supportive wives, Sandy and Bernadette, who make it possible for both of us to share in so much enjoyment each trip.

More hikes to plan. See you down the trail.

Condor 3

 

 

 

FALL COLOR TOUR & THE OPEN ARMS AT THE EDGE OF TOWN HOSTEL

On Wednesday October 23, 2019 Jamie aka Commander Plodder and I aka Condor 3 began another four day hike along the Appalachian Trail (AT) as we continued our southbound journey through Shenandoah National Park(SNP) in northern Virginia. Without intentionally attempting to do so, our hiking plans coincided with the amazing and beautiful leaf color change in the mountains of the SNP. Although we took some digital photos, I think the most beautiful images are locked away in our brains. I had no idea how majestic this area is at this time of year. Over the course of the four days, we would see many tourists and professional photographers who came to witness or document the amazing color and breathtaking sunrises.

DAY ONE

After leaving one car at the Thornton River Trailhead parking area off the Skyline Drive, we drove north and parked at the Gravel Spring Gap parking area where we had last hiked in June. The weather was perfect as we began our eight mile southbound hike. We passed the side trail for the Gravel Spring Hut and continued a steady climb past the Little Hogback Overlook on our way to the top of Hogback Mountain. Our AT map had noted a hang glider site just before the summit but we did not see any manmade hang glider ramp for take off. But the views were scenic and, as long as one did not crash on take off, we could see the hang glider pilot enjoying a flight from this nearly 3,500′ high perch to the valley fields below.

As soon as we passed this directional post for the Tuscarora Trail,

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we began more than a 1,000′ descent over the next two and a half miles. Part way down the mountain, we crossed the Skyline Drive at the Rattlesnake Point Overlook. Fortunately, we did not encounter any rattlesnakes.

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Soon we reached the side trail and heard the noise of workers at the Range View Cabin which is operated by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC). Workers were installing a new cedar shingle roof for the cabin. Copper flashing was being installed as well.

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We took a sit down lunch break and enjoyed the view to the east. This site also had a spring box just a short way down from the cabin. The spring had a steady stream of water spewing out of a pipe. It would have been perfect if we had needed water.

Back onto the AT, continuing our descent, we passed the Elkwallow Trail before reaching the side trail for the Elkwallow Picnic Area and Elkwallow Wayside. A Wayside is typically a small store/restaurant and rest area with restroom facilities. There are several of these located along the Skyline Drive through the SNP. Some even have gas stations. Waysides are usually open until the first week of November each year.

As we continued south toward the Jeremys Run Trail crossing, we met a northbound solo hiker named Daniel. I did not get his trail name. He asked if we had seen a pair of glasses sitting on a rock during our hike today. Daniel explained that he was hiking southbound and last night, during the rain, he lost his glasses somewhere along the trail between the Elkwallow Wayside and the Pass Mountain Hut where he slept last night. This is a 7.4 mile stretch of the AT. Daniel was retracing his hike northbound trying to find his glasses which had been hooked over his backpack’s chest strap before falling off. I exchanged phone numbers with Daniel and said we would keep an eye out for his glasses. He continued northbound and we continued south. Even with Plodder and I looking carefully along side the trail, finding these glasses was a long shot. But we kept at it.

Here is Plodder standing along the trail as we began a 500′ climb toward the Thornton River Trail crossing.

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At 1:36pm we reached the Thornton River trail crossing which was marked by the typical concrete post with the stamped metal straps.

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We turned left and hiked an additional .4 miles to Skyline Drive where we had parked our first car. My I-phone health app registered that we had walked 8.6 miles, taken 24,862 steps and climbed 55 floors. It was a great start to our adventure. I had a rare victory in the Guess The Number of Hikers We’ll See Today contest.

On our way back to pick up our other car, we stopped at the Elkwallow Wayside. We saw Daniel there as he was waiting for his food order to be cooked. He had not found his glasses. We offered to drive him back near to the side trail for the Pass Mountain Hut so he could resume his southbound hike but he said no thanks. He appreciated the offer but said he was going to hike south over the same section of trail again in efforts to find his glasses. That means, in less than a day, he had hiked the same 7.4 mile stretch, three times! Ouch. We said good bye and promised that we would check another part of the trail during tomorrow’s hike in case we either saw his glasses or another hiker reported seeing them. While writing this story, I received a text from Daniel. He never found his glasses and he filed a lost property report with SNP authorities. He did, however, finish the AT section in the SNP and now has completed the entire 2,189 miles of the AT.

After picking up our car at Gravel Spring Gap, we drove to Luray, VA where we checked in at the Open Arms at the Edge of Town Hostel. Alison owns and runs the hostel. She also drives a shuttle van to pick up and drop off hikers. She was very accommodating, and, after a brief tour of our sleeping options, we settled on two beds in an upstairs bedroom. Each bed was $30 per night and we each paid for all three nights we planned to stay at the hostel.

There was a warning on the stairs as we headed up to our room. The two beds in the photo below were our beds. Each bed had a small night table and had a power strip for plugging in our devices needing recharging. There was a third bed to the right just out of view.

We met Richard aka “Chief” who was from Knoxville, Tennessee as he was resting on that third bed. He was a long distance section hiker who was trying to finish an approximate 100 mile section in Virginia he had not done previously. Once he finished this part in the SNP, he had finished twelve of the fourteen states. He would only need to hike the AT in New Hampshire and in Maine. Quite impressive. “Chief” was getting off the trail to rest and was going home tomorrow. He accompanied us to dinner at a local restaurant called Uncle Bucks. Brandon, our server, took the photo.

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We enjoyed sharing stories about our careers and family and then it was back to the hostel. On the way back, we stopped at a supermarket to pick up some eggs, cheese and skim milk for breakfast. The hostel had a large screen tv in the living room and Alison set the channel for the World Series. I wanted to see the first half hour of the Astros versus Nationals game before going to sleep at hiker midnight (ie. 9pm).

DAY TWO

I cooked a four egg & cheddar cheese omelet which Plodder and I split at breakfast. It is always very convenient to be able to access a hostel’s kitchen at breakfast. We briefly met two other hikers (one from Boston and one from Texas) who were hiking various different trails in the area. When I researched how many local trails are in the SNP, I learned that the AT was one of only about 500 different trails. A hiker could spend a lifetime hiking in this beautiful area.

We confirmed our hiking plan for today and headed out to arrange our cars for the northbound 8.0 mile hike between the Meadow Spring Trail and Thornton River trail crossings. En route to staging our cars, we stopped at the Panorama Rest Area where there were heated restrooms. It was low 40s early this morning.

After parking at the Meadow Spring Trail parking area on the Skyline Drive, we crossed the road and set off hiking the steep .6 mile side trail where we ascended about 400′ before reaching the intersection with the AT. These approaches are considered “sideways miles” and don’t count toward the AT mileage.

We reached the AT, turned right to head north, and within a few minutes passed this stone fireplace standing nakedly without a house around it.

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We hiked the .6 mile hike along the AT toward the popular cross trail for Marys Rock. Along the way we passed a sign prohibiting camping above 3,400′ on the Marys Rock Summit.

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Marys Rock, which is a scenic viewpoint looking north and west, was already being enjoyed by an early morning young couple. Plodder had already hiked to this rock outcropping earlier this summer. Here are some photos at Marys Rock. The small part of the Skyline Drive in the lower right photo is near the Ranger Entry Booths for the Northern District of the SNP. We would be hiking down and walking past them later in today’s hike.

It was already 9:22am and we had actually been hiking a strenuous 1.4 miles so far but only .6 of the miles counted as “AT” miles. But the views were fantastic. We descended the side trail from Marys Rock and began a 1,200′ descent over the next two miles into Thornton Gap which is where Rt. 211 crosses the Skyline Drive just south of the Park Ranger entry station. The AT circles around the western side of the Panorama Rest Area, crosses Rt. 211, and then begins an 800′ climb over two miles to the top of Pass Mountain.

During this climb, I photographed this active yellow jacket nest sign which was probably left by a trail maintainer to warn hikers.

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I never saw another sign like this and we spoke with two hikers going the opposite direction who had not seen any other sign. Fortunately, no yellow jackets attacked us.

About ten minutes before noon, we passed the side trail sign post for the Pass Mountain Hut which was located .2 miles east of the AT. We stayed heading north, went over Pass Mountain, and, in a little over a mile we crossed the Skyline Drive near the Beahms Gap Overlook parking area.

We began a small climb up and over Neighbor Mountain followed by a short descent and another climb before reaching the intersection of the Thornton River Trail. We turned right off the AT and as we hiked down the side trail Plodder saw a large black bear to our right. I banged my trekking poles together and made some noise as the bear bounded farther away from us. We then reached the Skyline Drive parking area.

Plodder took this photo of an especially colorful tree.

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Plodder won the Guess The Number of Hikers contest by a landslide today. Between day hikers, long term section hikers and some thru hikers, we saw around 34 hikers on the AT. It was the most we had ever seen on one day in all our hikes together.

My Iphone health app said we had hiked 9.5 miles, taken 27,538 steps and climbed 34 floors. It was another beautiful day and the 8.0 AT miles covered meant that we had finished the northern district map of the SNP and we had begun the Central District of the SNP. I always feel a sense of accomplishment as I write “Done” on a map section and retire it from use.

DAY THREE

After the usual breakfast, we went to stage our cars along Skyline Drive before the sun had risen yet. In the darkness, we passed several overlooks which faced east. Many early risers were already waiting for the sunrise which was scheduled for 7:31am. Photographers had tripods and expensive looking digital cameras set up to capture the sunrise. After initially passing the Hazel Mountain Overlook, we left one car at Meadow Spring parking area, Plodder hopped into my car and we drove back to Hazel Mountain Overlook. We had about fifteen minutes until sunrise but beautiful colors began leaking through some intermittent clouds. Absolutely stunning.

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We returned to our car and headed south to park at the Hawksbill Gap parking area to begin our northbound 10.3 mile hike to the Meadow Spring trailhead parking area. We picked a great parking area to access the AT. The directional sign at the parking area said that the AT was 50 yards ahead. And it was flat!

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We began a fairly easy, but steady climb to the Skyland Resort & Restaurant where we took a sit down break on chairs next to the horse stables which are located on the southern end of the resort. We had covered 2.5 miles in an hour and a half despite the uphill hike. After the short break, we continued our ascent toward Stony Man Mountain which at 3,837′, according to our AT map, is the highest elevation for the AT in the SNP.

For a short distance the Stony Man Mountain summit trail and the AT run together and so a blue blaze for the summit trail and a white blaze for the AT appear together on trees marking the trail. That is, until the summit trail veered off to the left on its own.

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We passed the junction where the .2 mile summit trail splits off for Stony Man Mountain as we needed to continue hiking on our extended third day hike. Twenty minutes later we passed Little Stony Man Mountain as we descended toward Hughes River Gap. Here is Plodder and I at the Little Stony Man cliffs.

 

Next, we began a series of small ups and downs, but generally up as we walked along the leaf covered trail.

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Soon we arrived at the Pinnacles Picnic Area where we took another break. There was a large picnic area with tables, restrooms and a water hydrant. I topped off my hydration pack and mixed up some more gatorade in my bottle. A Baptist church group arrived with a large group of picnickers.

We hoisted our packs and continued north for another climb of about 500′ where we reached the rocky outcropping of The Pinnacle (Mountain), 3,730′ above sea level. It was 2pm and we had slightly less than two miles to go in order to reach the Meadow Spring Trail which we reached at 3:15pm. We navigated the steeply descending .6 mile back to our car in the Skyline Drive parking area.

Once again, Plodder won the Guess the Number of Hikers contest. I raised my prediction to 13, Plodder picked 22 but the actual number was a staggering 48 hikers. Two of the hikers we passed, we had seen the day before. One hiker we called Fisherman as we saw a small fishing rod on the side of his pack and the other hiker, who was in his late teens or early twenties, had the trail name “Kid”. He just seemed so happy on his solo southbound journey to get to Springer Mountain in Georgia.

During this hike, we noticed in several different places steel piping which was partially buried along the AT. It was not sticking vertically out of the ground but was actually horizontal. The top half of the pipe could be seen in places where the soil on the trail had eroded. But the purpose of the pipe eluded us. I later learned from a National Park maintenance worker that the steel pipes use to hold the phone lines from fire towers to various park buildings. However, lightning strikes kept damaging the lines so years ago the phone lines in the pipes were abandoned.

My Iphone health app recorded that we had hiked 11.7 miles, taken 34,835 steps and climbed 14 floors. It sure seemed like we did more climbing than that. Our actual AT miles were 10.3.

When we returned to the hostel, we met Gary who lives about an hour away in Virginia. He would be sleeping in the third bed in our same room. Plodder apologized ahead of time to warn Gary that we might make some extra morning noise while packing up before checking out tomorrow morning on our last hiking day.

DAY FOUR

After packing our cars, we had our last breakfast at the hostel. Gary came down to join us. We chatted for a while before Plodder and I arranged our cars for the day’s hike. Along the trip to the parking areas, we witnessed a beautiful sunrise again.

Since we would be driving back to Springfield, VA in the afternoon, we wanted to get our southbound 7.4 mile hike done by Noon if possible. We started at the same Lower Hawksbill parking area and followed the 50 yard side trail to the AT. We saw four or five deer very nearby. They just kept eating as we passed. We reached the AT crossing and turned left to head south toward Milam Gap parking area. Milam Gap is the only place in the Central District of the SNP where the AT crosses the Skyline Drive.. By comparison, the AT crosses the Skyline Drive eight times in the northern section.

The AT starts ascending right away as it heads up toward Hawksbill Mountain. The summit of Hawksbill Mountain is a very popular destination for hikers. There is even a separate trail out of the parking area for other non-AT hikers to use. Hawksbill Mountain’s summit at 4,050′, is the highest elevation in the entire SNP.

The AT skirts around to the west of the Hawksbill Mountain’s, perhaps 500′ in elevation below the actual summit. We had three straight days of dry weather but today a persistent rain began which required us to put on a rain jacket.

As we began descending, we passed a side trail for the Rock Spring Hut and Cabin on our way to the Franklin Cliffs Overlook. The views to the west were beautiful, even with the rain. Most of the trail itself was covered in fallen leaves such as depicted in the photo below.

We began our last climb up to the Big Meadows Campground and Picnic Area. We passed a couple of side trails to Big Meadows which has a lodge and a separate Wayside/Restaurant/Gas Station along the Skyline Drive. We crossed a gravel road named Tanners Ridge Road where a cemetery was located just off the AT. We only had 1.1 miles to go and we reached Milam Gap at 12:24pm, just a little past my Noon time estimate.

In the Guess the Number of Hikers Contest I had actually won for a second time. I had guessed 15 hikers and we saw 18 in this abbreviated hiking day. If we had stayed a while longer on the trail, Plodder would have won the contest with his prediction of 25 hikers. Several groups of hikers were arriving after we had just finished our hike.

My Iphone health app recorded 7.4 miles, 21,645 steps and 10 floors climbed. As we got into my car, we noticed that the Saturday activity on the Skyline Drive was entirely different than weekday activity. Plodder had predicted this dynamic change in activity. There were parked cars overflowing out of completely full parking areas such that cars were parked on shoulders of the Skyline Drive. Drivers left cars with the driver’s side tires across the white line into the northbound lane of traffic. We saw many bicyclists who were straining to climb the hilly Skyline Drive while pedaling in the same lane used for cars. We traveled slowly north and decided to stop at the Big Meadows Wayside. I had a hot dog but, alas, could not have a cup of hot chocolate as the Wayside’s dispensing machine had run out of hot chocolate.

We left and retrieved Plodder’s car and traveled through this tunnel along Skyline Drive on our way back to Rt. 211.

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We then drove back to Springfield, VA where we reunited with our wonderfully supportive wives who spent the past four days working on various, creative art projects. We cannot be thankful enough for our wives support.

This four day hike of 34.7 miles brings our Virginia total to 98.2 miles and the overall AT mile total to 645.4 miles. Commander Plodder and I were already planning our next hike in November and will hopefully finish most of the AT in the Shenandoah National Park at that time. Thanks Plodder for another fun trip.

More hikes to plan.

Condor 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

ANOTHER STAY AT MARIA’S HOUSE, SURFBUM1 JOINS US IN MASSACHUSETTS AND EATING BLUEBERRIES ON THE TRAIL

On Friday, July 26, 2019 I drove back to Salisbury, CT to stay over at Maria McCabe’s home in preparation for a five day hike of the Appalachian Trail (AT) in Massachusetts to pick up where I had last hiked with my sons, Mike and Joel in April. Maria as well as Barbara, her helper, were as friendly as before when my sons Michael, Joel and I stayed. My wife, Bernadette, had painted some watercolors for Maria and Barbara as thank you gifts. Maria and Barbara both enjoyed the artwork and were very appreciative. I spent the rest of Friday afternoon driving north into Massachusetts to spot check some of the parking areas I would be using when I hiked with Jamie aka Commander Plodder and his brother Bill aka Surfbum1 who I would meet the next day.

While traveling down Main Road in Tyringham, Massachusetts I saw this sign for Santarella which is Tyringham’s Gingerbread House. I had to turn around and check this out.

As the sign indicates, sculptor Sir Henry Hudson Kitson, who had lived and worked at this home until his passing in 1947, had spent over twenty years transforming the carriage house of a colonial homestead into his sculpting studio. He also maintained  a beautiful exotic garden with the help of his full-time gardener, Awoki. Santarella is a private residence now.

After returning to Maria’s house, I checked my equipment and left a bag of extra Pay Day candy bars in the hiker box located on Maria’s dining room table.

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Hiking Day One-Saturday, 7/27/19:

I went downstairs for breakfast and, of course, my place setting awaited me.

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As I had breakfast, I noticed this photo on Maria’s kitchen wall.

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It captures Maria outside in her backyard standing among sheets and hiking gear drying on the clothesline. The photo was a thank you dated May 19, 2015 when hikers named Alabama, Meadowlark, SheBeast, Better Than Expected and Phase II stayed at the house.

I then drove to the Washington Mountain Road crossing for the AT to await the arrival of my hiking buddy Commander Plodder and his brother Surfbum1 who would be joining us for the first two days of hiking.

This crossing is well marked by this sign.

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Plodder and Surfbum1 parked one car further north at the Grange Hall Road parking area and drove south to meet me so we could begin our 6.9 mile northbound hike which was most of the 9.6 mile Massachusetts Section #4. The northern most part of this section would be hiked when we return to finish the rest of Massachusetts north to the Vermont border. Plodder and Surfbum1 arrived as I was talking with Wolfman who was a northbound thru hiker who had just come from the Cookie Lady’s house nearby. More info on the Cookie Lady in the Day Two summary. Wolfman’s full trail name has a three digit number after Wolfman but I forgot to write it down on my notepad so I will just refer to him as Wolfman. He had started from Springer Mountain, Georgia in January of this year and had to leave the trail for weeks due to hernia surgery. But he returned and kept heading north, hoping to reach the northern terminus of the AT on Mt. Katahdin in Maine. Wolfman headed off north while Plodder, Surfbum1 and I discussed today’s hike. After checking my AT map, we then set off northbound. The trail is well marked and the left turn “kickover” white blaze directed us where to enter the woods.

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The early part of the trail involved walking across puncheon which is installed by trail maintenance volunteers to help protect the area from the many hikers passing by. Here is Plodder and Surfbum1 walking along the puncheon.

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Some of the puncheon we encountered was more elaborate such as this “boardwalk” type puncheon.

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Before reaching our first road crossing at Blotz Road, I photographed an AT survey marker. This one had “MA 38 1977” stamped into it.

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We reached Blotz Road, crossed the parking area, and noticed this blue and white Coleman cooler which had been left by a Trail Angel. We gave Surfbum1 first dibbs on any trail magic left inside by the trail angel.

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There was also a gallon jug of water and a bag to hold recyclable bottles and cans. I drank a cold can of Cola and had a KitKat candy bar. We met a southbound thru hiker named Happy as she approached the same trail magic cooler. She filled her water bottle and then drank a blue colored Gatorade bottle in about ten seconds. Before she headed south, she took our photo.

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This directional sign told us we would pass the Kay Wood Shelter side trail on our way to the Grange Hall Road parking area.

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After a short uphill hike, we reached the summit of Warner Hill which is 2,050′ above sea level (asl).

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The nice thing about this spot is that a very short side trail takes hikers to a rock outcropping with a great view of mountains further north and to blueberry bushes where hikers can eat fresh blueberries.

Notice I had my bug net on over my hat. There were some pesky bugs bothering me and I wore it at times so I could focus on my navigation duties. While atop Warner Hill, three other hikers arrived and Plodder chatted with them. They seemed to be friends who were on a long section hiking adventure together.

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As we had about three miles left in today’s hike, we returned to the trail, turned right and headed north again. Once we passed a power line clearing, the Kay Wood Shelter side trail appeared.

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Only .3 miles later, we reached the Grange Hall Road parking area which is just a little more than two miles south of Dalton, Massachusetts. We all hopped into Surfbum1’s car for the ride back to the Washington Mountain road crossing where we had started. We retrieved our other two cars, drove to Maria’s house so Plodder and Surfbum1 could check into the two bed room upstairs.

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After getting cleaned up, we met downstairs in the kitchen to decide on dinner plans. In the kitchen we met Lady Di who is a northbound thru hiker or simply a nobo. She had begun her hike at Springer Mountain around 2/20/19 and intended to finish the entire AT this Fall. Lady Di was from Minnesota and had canoed the “Boundary Waters” areas which were familiar to both Plodder and Surfbum1 so they shared some stories of their adventures there. Since Lady Di was staying over at Maria’s house too, we invited Lady Di to accompany us to dinner at Mizza’s which is a nearby Italian restaurant.

Hiking Day Two-Sunday, 7/28/19

Today’s plan was to do the 9.5 mile mostly flat Massachusetts AT Section #5 which is between Washington Mountain Road and the Jacobs Ladder Parking Area off Rt. 20 in Lee, MA. We would do this hike southbound. Surfbum1 had to return home at the end of today’s hike as he had work tomorrow. So Plodder and I stowed some additional gear in Plodder’s car in case, after saying goodbye to Surfbum1, we could hike another 1.5 miles south (and .5 on a side trail) to stay overnight at the Upper Goose Pond Cabin.

We started our hike at 7:43am as it took a while to arrange our cars at three different parking areas. Southbound hikers at Washington Mountain Road start down a grass and stone access road before making a hard left turn into the woods. After turning left, I noticed a hiker had left a sign inside a plastic bag for northbound hikers to read.

 

The note concerned the Cookie Lady. Marilyn Wiley is the Cookie Lady. Roy, her husband, and Marilyn own a Blueberry Farm on Washington Mountain Road about .1 miles from where the AT crosses the road. Hikers can pick their own blueberries and pay a very reasonable fee for them. For years Marilyn has provided free cookies to hikers who visit. This is the origin of her Cookie Lady nickname. Some hikers even pitch tents in her yard. Roy and Marilyn do some shuttle driving as well.

Now back to the sign in the plastic bag which was pinned to a tree next to the trail.

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It seems from the note that the Cookie Lady fell and injured herself around 7/21/19 while picking up supplies for hikers. The note’s writer wanted to advise hikers how to still purchase blueberries or soda/ice cream while The Cookie Lady is hurt. A northbound hiker upon reading this sign would simply turn right onto the access road, walk up to Washington Mountain Road, cross the road, turn right and walk the .1 mile to the Blueberry Farm.

We headed south across some puncheon boards again this morning before crossing West Branch which is a gravel road 1.6 miles into our hike. As we were approaching the side trail for the October Mountain Shelter, we saw this warning sign concerning Winter Use of the October Mountain Shelter.

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We took a short sit down break at the October Mountain Shelter and I signed the trail register.

We left the shelter and after a small climb we reached Bald Top which is 2,040′ asl. After crossing County Road at 10:32am, marked by this sign,

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we passed Washington Mountain Brook, Finerty Pond and Walling Mountain before summiting Becket Mountain.

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It was 1:55pm and we had done 8.2 miles. As we approached the summit I saw two male hikers sitting on the ground passing a marijuana pipe back and forth. One hiker was a recent high school graduate and the other hiker, who was holding the glass pipe, seemed in his early 20s and wore a kilt. He was the one who said they were having a “safety briefing” which is AT code for persons gathering to smoke marijuana. He offered the pipe in our direction. We declined to participate in their “briefing”. They were hiking southbound having already stood atop Mt. Katahdin in Maine. It seemed the high school graduate may have just recently met the kilt wearer and begun hiking together. We continued hiking south as we only had about 1.3 miles left to finish and figured they would be passing us at some point as the younger hikers are way faster than us.

The heat and humidity was getting pretty tough as we descended nearly 800′ in that last 1.3 miles. We had to carefully place our feet on or around some rocky areas during the hike down. My knees were feeling some soreness due to the steepness. But, we made it safely to Rt. 20, crossed the road, and turned right to walk about a quarter of a mile to Plodder’s pick up car at the Jacobs Ladder parking area.

Our first priority was to get some cold fluids before driving Surfbum1 back to his car at Washington Mountain Road. As we prepared to turn left to head west on Rt. 20, we see the two hikers from Becket Mountain. They had just come off the trail as well and wanted to resupply at the nearest package store.  Plodder suggested we give them a lift. Both hikers and their backpacks squeezed into the rear seat next to Surfbum1 and we headed toward the package store. We stopped at this one yesterday but it was closed at this time on Sunday. Plodder continued west and we entered the Big Y Supermarket which had great air conditioning. While I spoke to Barbara at Maria’s house to confirm that we could return tonight instead of sleeping at the Upper Goose Pond Cabin, Plodder purchased two cans of ice tea for me. They were delicious. We then took Surfbum1 back to his car and said our goodbyes. He was a wonderful addition to our hiking team. Here is our parting selfie which was taken, of course, by Commander Plodder. Oh, before I forget, Surfbum1 won the Guess The Number of Hikers Contest on both days. He even picked a huge number on Sunday, I believe it was 21 hikers, and won the contest in a landslide as I think we stopped counting at around 26 hikers.

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Since we were going to just add the 1.5 miles to Upper Goose Pond to the next day’s hike, we left my car in Tyringham. So as we began to head south back to Maria’s house, we saw the two hikers we had driven to the Big Y Supermarket as they were trying to hitch a ride back to the AT crossing off Rt. 20. Plodder pulled over and both young men hopped in. They were very thankful. They intended on staying at Upper Goose Pond Cabin tonight and we said we would probably see them in the morning.

It was great to get a warm shower and dry clothes on before dinner. Lady Di had taken a zero day (AT code for no hiking miles- ie. a rest day). We went to a different restaurant and shared some more stories.

Hiking Day Three-Monday, 7/29/19

Our plan was to do the 8.5 mile section hike southbound from the Rt. 20 road crossing down to Main Road in Tyringham, Massachusetts where my car was waiting for us. The parking area is small and has a lot of exposed tree roots poking through the dirt. Here is the dirt path on the safe side of the guardrail along Rt. 20. The Jacobs Ladder parking area is at the end of this path.

We then descended the wooden stairs and entered the woods at 7:18am. It felt good to get started early and I hoped we could make it to the Upper Goose Pond Cabin in time to have some of the famous blueberry pancakes which are made by the caretakers.

It was obvious right away that it had rained overnight in this area. Everything was soaked and it was slippery walking which necessitated careful foot placement. Just two minutes into our hike we crossed this combination of wood and stacked stone footbridge. That is Commander Plodder just clearing the other side.

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Next we crossed two different pedestrian bridges, the first crossing the two westbound lanes of I-90 (also known as the Mass Turnpike) and the second bridge over the two eastbound lanes.

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We entered the Upper Goose Pond Natural Area and saw this sign at 7:46am

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but we still had to hike another half mile to reach the cabin. We finally reached the side trail at 8:09am marked by these signs and passed another U.S. Government property sign too.

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We arrived at the cabin about 8:23am but, unfortunately, the caretakers had just cleaned up after breakfast ended at 8am. The cabin had been filled to capacity last night-all twelve bunk beds on the second floor were occupied and there were other hikers using tents nearby. We did see the same two hikers that Plodder gave rides to yesterday.

Before the caretaker locked up the cabin as she had to do a resupply run for water (which involved a canoe ride across the pond to a spring), I went inside and make a small donation which I put in the slot of this piggy bank on the dining room table.

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I walked outside and photographed Plodder looking at the cabin and speaking with some of the hikers who were already heading out for their hiking day. One hiker walked out with her backpack and came back a while later when she realized she had left her trekking poles leaning against the cabin. This is an unusual place along the AT as hikers can borrow canoes and paddles to use on the pond and there is a small dock where hikers can use to swim in the pond.

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We finished our morning sit down break at a picnic table and then headed out the .5 mile side trail before turning right to continue south on the AT. Hikers heading south like us find that the trail hugs near the edge of the pond and makes a large turn around the pond. There are many trees right at the edge of the pond. Here is a photo of one of them.

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In just a few minutes we came upon the remains of an “old chimney” as described in David “AWOL” Miller’s AT Guide.

Nearby is a commemorative plaque informing hikers that this site on the shores of the Upper Goose Pond was where the Mohhekennuck Club, incorporated in 1909, stood for 72 years. In 1981 the Club conveyed the lands to the National Park Service and provided the Appalachian Mountain Club with a gift to assure that the lands would remain a wilderness preserve. I felt very lucky to be benefiting today from the generosity of that club formed so long ago.

We passed Higley Brook and a sign designating the Upper Goose Pond area for northbound hikers at 10:19am. We had already hiked more than four miles and that included about a half hour break at the cabin.

We next crossed a footbridge and climbed up to Cooper Brook and after crossing its footbridge, I filtered some water to top of our supply and to mix some additional Gatorade with the powder I brought.

We crossed Goose Pond Road before arriving at Knee Deep Pond. We had now hiked 7.1 miles and it was around 12:30pm.

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The hiking today featured some ups and downs while the mosquitoes played games with me. When I wore the bug net, they would not come near. Within a minute of me taking the net off, the call must have gone out because these pests began to dive bomb my eyes and into my ear canal. So I had to put it back on.

After a climb across Webster Road and a short up and over Baldy Mountain, we had almost a continual downhill for 1.6 miles during which we descended nearly 1,000′ in elevation. We reached Main Road in Tyringham at 2:10pm and turned right to head west for only 50 yards to reach the parking area.

Before driving back to pick up Plodder’s car, we wanted to scout out possible parking areas off Beartown Mountain Road which was the approximate half way crossing for the last 12.1 miles planned for this five day hike. We decided to break Day 4 and Day 5 into nearly similar distance hikes (6.4 miles and 5.7 miles respectively). Although there is no parking area noted in AWOL’s AT guide, we found two areas off Beartown Mountain Road which could accommodate section hikers needing a place to park. One parking area was near the Iron Gate used to close the road during winter and the more convenient area, which could fit three or four cars, was located west of the gate on the seasonal road section of Beartown Mountain Road. The AT crossed the road very near this parking area.

We returned to Maria’s house and were told two other hikers were guests tonight. One was named SloMo who was from Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He started hiking near the New Jersey/New York border and was hiking north hoping to get into New Hampshire before he had to leave the trail later this Fall. I was told the other hiker was from Japan but I never actually saw this hiker as we left early the next morning.

Hiking Day Four-Tuesday, 7/30/19

Our plan was to hike the northern 6.4 miles of Massachusetts Section #7 between Beartown Mountain Road and the Main Road crossing in Tyringham. As soon as we parked Plodders car on Beartown Mountain Road in the seasonal section of the road past the winter gate, many flies of unknown species descended upon the car windows, both side view mirrors and us when we got out of the car to put on our backpacks. The one day I had not sprayed the bug spray before we got out of the car. We did not waste any time and headed north at 7:37am. For some unknown reason, those flies did not follow us.

In less than half a mile, we crossed East Brook and some footbridges. We reached the 3.0 mile mark at the Fernside Road/Jerusalem Road(gravel) crossing at 9:30am. Here is a photo of the conveniently placed rocks where we sat and took our break.

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We passed the directional signs by the side trail for the Shaker Campsite about fifteen minutes later.

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There was a short downhill followed by an approximate one mile long flat section where we crossed some fields and went through this type of opening in the fence bordering the field.

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We began a fairly steep ascent during which we gained 500′ in elevation in about a half a mile to reach the top of Cobble Hill. The AT nears the summit and there is a sign pointing toward the summit.

The last part of the climb up Cobble Hill was surprisingly steep. My legs were definitely feeling it. Fortunately, after going over the top, we had a short descent to the Jerusalem Road (paved) crossing. Here I sat on another convenient slab rock step to rest while Plodder turned left to walk about fifty yards to the famous AT Hiker Snack Shack. Plodder said he could see the shack from the road crossing. Here are photos taken by Plodder.

There are numerous types of snacks and a refrigerator for cold beverages. It is an honor system. Hikers leave money based upon the price list posted inside the shack. Plodder returned with a cold can of Coca Cola for each of us. The soda cost $1.50 per can. I finished the delicious soda and had some more Gatorade. We crossed Jerusalem Road and turned left to climb over a wooden stile placed there so hikers do not damage the farmer’s fence nor get shocked from the electric wire used to keep the cows inside the fence. A southbound hiker approached as Plodder and I climbed over the stile. Plodder told this tired looking hiker about the nearby snack shack but I think the hiker did not want to walk any side ways distance off the trail, even a short one.

Fortunately, the last part of today’s hike was on flat fields or under the cover of shade next to the fields. Volunteers had built long sections of boardwalk to protect the swampy, marshlands we were walking above. Plodder noted that trying to hike through this swamp without the boardwalk or puncheon would be so difficult. There were places it looked like our feet would sink a foot into the muck.

As we were hiking this last 1.1 miles, we were passed by a fast northbounder. As the hiker passed, he turned and instantly recognized Plodder and I from the Molly Denton Shelter in Virginia. This hiker spoke with a British accent mixed with a Scottish accent. I could not figure out where he was from. He said he was from Cambridge, England but had lived the past five years in Scotland. His trail name is Honeybun. We chatted briefly about the Pit Bull brought into the Molly Denton Shelter area by a man and woman. I checked my notes and figured that we had last seen Honeybun on June 20th in northern Virginia and now it was July 30th, basically forty days later but Honeybun had hiked 566.3 miles in those forty days. We wished him well on his goal to reach Mt. Katahdin. We got passed by another northbound hiker who has hiked with Honeybun since Virginia and had been at the Molly Denton Shelter as well. Small world.

Plodder took this photo of me crossing a field. The house seen in the distance is actually located on Main Road so we were getting close to the end.

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We emerged onto Main Road in Tyringham and turned left for a short walk to the small parking area which we reached at approximately 12:22pm. I was glad to be getting off the trail early and felt sorry for some of the southbound hikers we saw who had many miles to hike during the afternoon heat.

We returned to Maria’s house where we met Tim from North Carolina. Tim has section hiked the entire AT and has done some sections more than once. His trail name is “What’s The Rush”. A photo of him posing by the Mt. Katahdin summit sign in Maine is on the front of Maria’s refrigerator. He always visits Maria around this time each year because it is Maria’s birthday in early August. Tim shared some fun stories of his AT adventures and he has stayed at the Bears Den Hostel in Virginia where Plodder and I had stayed for four days. Tim took this photo of Maria, Plodder, Barbara and I in Maria’s kitchen.

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Hiking Day Five-Wednesday 7/31/19

We checked out of Maria’s house and got an early start to finish the last 5.9 miles of Massachusetts Section #7 which we did southbound from Beartown Mountain Road to MA Rt. 23, just east of Great Barrington. Since this was going to be a travel home day after our hike, we left early and were on the trail at 6:35am.

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We passed a motorcycle path in just .1 miles and after a short climb, we reached the directional sign and the side trail for the Mt. Wilcox North Shelter which was .3 miles down a side trail. At the 1.6 mile mark we reached a pond near the Swann Brook outlet.

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We crossed several streams on our way to the marked side trail for the two Mt. Wilcox South shelters. There were several ups and downs during this morning but most of them were short and not too difficult.

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We turned left onto the side trail toward the shelters and passed a group of about four or five tents with some hikers milling about. The first shelter is an older one. The next shelter, which was further down the side trail, was in better shape with a metal roof. This is where we took  a sit down morning break. We had covered 2.6 miles in and hour and a half. I signed the trail register which Plodder had handed to me and we began the .2 mile hike back out the side trail. Just before we reached the AT intersection, Plodder spoke with the hikers at the tent site. It turns out these were trail maintenance volunteers on a work detail to fix nearby parts of the trail. We admired some of their handiwork which improved the safety of hikers by positioning large flat boulders on some tight turns.

We turned left to continue south and descended steeply by a large rock formation. We crossed a stream and then climbed back up to “The Ledges” which is a rock formation on the edge of the trail. Since we were southbound, there was a very steep drop off to our left. But the views of the surrounding forests were beautiful and we reached a series of terraced rocks which had an amphitheater feel. So, we sat there and had a snack while we enjoyed the view.

It was 9:11am and we had hiked a little more than half our planned distance. We descended steeply toward Benedict Pond where a local trail loop intersects with the AT. We had to be careful of our footing as there were many exposed roots and tips of roots which were tripping hazards.

As we approached the road crossing for Blue Hill Road/Stony Brook Road, I photographed this sign.

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I guess there were no shoulder of the road hiker warning signs in place in this area. We took another short break here knowing we only had 1.2 miles to go.

As we descended, we briefly said hello and gave the right of way to the northbound hikers who were climbing uphill in the opposite direction from us. There was apparently a family of four with the teenage son in the lead, followed by the teenage daughter, followed by the mom and anchored by the father. A solo northbound hiker stopped to chat briefly. I asked if he had enough water or snacks and he said he did. He had started at Springer Mountain in Georgia and looked determined to complete his through hike to Maine. We wished him well. We reached the Rt. 23 parking area where someone left about six gallon jugs of water for passing hikers to refill their bottles. We have seen this in different locations in different states but it is always wonderful to see the kindness represented in these actions.

We hopped into my car to drive back to Beartown Mountain Road, for the last time. Plodder’s car was there where we had started. He figured we could change into some dry clothes before beginning our trips back home. It was such a remote spot and there was almost no chance of anyone driving by and seeing us changing attire.

However, in the course of the wardrobe change, a female in a uniform who was driving an officially marked Massachusetts DCR (Division of Conservation and Recreation) truck drove by. I could see her turning her head toward us, laughing and waving. I waved back. After all, I was just changing my hiking boots and socks for sandals. What were the odds.

Plodder and I said our goodbyes and began our return trips. It was my fault that I forgot to get an end of hike selfie.

Plodder won the Day 3 Guess the Number of Hikers contest but no one won it on Day 4. I think I won on Day 5 but I am not sure. We did not see as many hikers on Wednesday.

Although during this five day hike my Iphone health app said that we had walked about 41.6 miles and taken 116,686 steps, only 37.0 miles counted toward our official AT miles. The other miles were various side trips to shelters or parking areas. But we were lucky to have safely completed our goal for this hike and these miles now increased the Massachusetts miles completed to 60.2 (only 30.5 left to the border of Vermont) and our overall AT total is now up to 610.7 miles. We have no missing sections needing to be hiked between the northern part of the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia up to about two miles south of Dalton, Massachusetts.

Thanks to Plodder for being such a good hiking friend and thanks to his brother, Surfbum1, who got us off to a wonderful start during the first two days. I hope he can join us in future hikes as we head north in New England.

But the biggest thanks go to our respective wives, Sandy and Bernadette, who support us so lovingly. We are very fortunate husbands.

More hikes to plan.

Condor 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK, A MARINE VET GOOD SAMARITAN & SPELUNKER’S BURGERS

Between Sunday 6/16-Thursday 6/20/19 Jamie aka Commander Plodder and I, aka Condor 3 resumed our southbound hike along the Appalachian Trail (AT) where we had left off in October 2018 just south of the Sky Meadows State Park in the Blue Ridge Mountain area of northern Virginia. We met at the Super 8 by Wyndham in Front Royal, VA where we stayed overnight before beginning our first day of hiking. We parked Plodder’s car at the Compton Gap parking area along the Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park (SNP) so that it would already be positioned for us at the end of our first two days of hiking.

DAY ONE

After enjoying our complimentary 6am breakfast at the Super 8, we checked out as our plan was to do a southbound nine mile hike from the trailhead parking area of VA Rt. 638 (which uses an address of 5858 Freezeland Road, Linden, VA 22642) to the Jim and Molly Denton Shelter where we would stay the night.

This parking area is just a gravel type, small parking area which has big boulders to protect it and a mailbox kiosk for use by the USPS to deliver mail to area residents. This parking area is not listed in David “AWOL” Miller’s AT Guide but the decimal navigational points are 38.9633, -78.0197 should any section hikers want to utilize this parking location.

Although it is not well marked, the photo above the mailbox photo is the entrance to the side trail to get to the AT. Hikers need to go around a yellow painted metal gate before hiking about two-three tenths of a mile through overgrown brush in order to reach the intersection with the AT. Hikers know they reached the AT as there is this sign which says “No Horses”.

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We turned right as we were heading southbound this morning. In a little more than a half hour we passed the side trail for the TRICO Tower Trail marked by this sign.

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The tree canopy was so thick we could not see the gigantic radio towers which were very close by.  After hiking another hour we decided to take a sit down break at the Manassas Gap Shelter.

After leaving the shelter, we had a short uphill before beginning a steep 1,000′ elevation descent into Manassas Gap. Commander Plodder won the first day’s “Guess the Number of Hikers We’ll See Today Contest” by a mile. I picked a low, conservative number. I did not realize that there are still a large number of northbound through hikers still in the northern Virginia area. Along the way we hiked through the opening of a large stone wall used to mark some property line many years ago and then crossed this bridge over a stream

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before reaching the trailhead parking area off Tuckers Lane where there was a convenient picnic table in the shade. We had done six miles already and it was not yet noon. We sat and talked with other hikers including a solo northbound thru hiker named Forest who was from Rochester, NY. We wished him well on his hike and we followed the kickover blazes as we turned south on Tuckers Lane to hike beneath the I-66 overpass before crossing US Rt. 55. The weather had increasingly become hotter and more humid since we began more than four hours ago. Plodder was handling the increasing temperature fine but I was bonking and needed to rest several times while heading up this 600′ ascent. Most of this elevation gain is achieved in about four tenths of a mile. When we reached the top of this hill we began a fairly steep descent toward the VA Rt. 638 road crossing.

Plodder and I had planned to use our hammocks and enjoy the shelter experience for a night on the trail at the Molly Denton shelter. The shelter was located another 1.1 miles further south after climbing another few hundred feet in elevation. That was the original plan. But plans can change on the AT.

When we reached the Rt. 638 crossing, despite me taking a 15-20 minute lay down rest, my legs were without energy. I had hiked the past hour trying to keep my left hamstring from cramping. We had covered 7.9 miles of the AT (and more counting sideways miles which made our hike to that point at about 9.6 miles according to my Iphone health app). Commander Plodder suggested, and I agreed, that we should modify our Day One hiking plan and he tried to hale a good Samaritan for a ride back to our starting point that morning. That was how we met Myles Boston Payne who was driving the second car to pass us. Myles stopped right away and we hopped into his car which was heading north on Rt. 638 which was the same direction we needed to go.

Myles was a U.S. Marine veteran who lived in the area. He was from Boston and was a Patriots, Celtics, Red Sox and Bruins fan. We told him how much we appreciated his kindness and explained that he was helping a retired Navy Commander and a retired FBI Special Agent. Myles could not have been friendlier or more accommodating as he returned us to our starting point for the day. Here we are together. Myles is wearing the Mickey Mouse shirt. Semper Fi!

We drove back to the same Super 8 by Wyndham in Front Royal in my car and registered for the next three nights. They credited us with the AT hiker and Wyndham Rewards member discounts, and we took a shower and a nap before planning a different Day Two hike at dinner.

DAY TWO-6/18/19

We decided to delay our visit to the Denton Shelter to Day Four of our hike schedule so today we drove to the US Rt. 522 trailhead parking area at the AT crossing. This is just a short drive east of Front Royal. Our plan was to do a 5.6 mile southbound hike which would involve a 1,500′ elevation gain before we reached Plodder’s car at the Compton Gap parking area which is at Skyline Milepost 10.4 in the Shenandoah NP. We had obtained backcountry permits in case we wanted to stay at a hut inside the SNP.

After parking, we saw two trail angel boxes which I hoped would contain some Trail Magic.

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One box contained empty plastic bottle for recycling. The other had a sign on the lid to advertise for Hiker Shuttles provided by “Flipthetrailman”. I opened the lid but there were no snacks or cold beverages inside. At 7:10am we began our southbound hike by walking across a well made Trex boardwalk.

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We climbed 400′ in elevation over the first two miles and passed this side trail marker for the local Northern Virginia 4H Center.

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We kept on climbing and passed the side trail for the Harmony Hollow Trailhead Parking area which was located .7 miles to VA Rt. 601.

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We continued climbing up some switchbacks as we approached the Tom Floyd Shelter and Tent Site map.

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The schematic was helpful to differentiate the different tent sites and showed us that we still had a little further to climb in order to reach the shelter. Nearly 3 miles into our hike, and after having climbed almost 1,000′, we arrived at the side trail sign for the shelter.

This was a perfect time for a sit down break so we both took off our packs and began to check the area out and get something to eat. I went to use the privy which had a split door such that someone using the privy could close the bottom half and still see the woods through the open top half of the door.

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I returned to sit at the shelter and noticed Plodder returning from having checked some of the nearby tent sites. Plodder had just seen a mother bear and cub who both bounded away when they saw Plodder. We packed up and continued climbing and finally reached the northern boundary for the Shenandoah National Park.

We continued for about five more minutes and we arrived at the self-reporting kiosk for hikers. The small box next to the sign contained blank backcountry permit applications on the left side and on the right contained the two carbon copies of completed permits of the various hikers passing through. Plodder inspected the box which had an angled lid which could be used as a desk top for writing. I put my two carbon copies in the box and had already tied the original to my backpack with the supplied thin wire.

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In about fifteen minutes as we were completing the last of our uphill hiking, we saw a masonry post with raised letter stamped metal bands. The bands contain a variety of valuable information about direction of travel, distances to certain landmarks nearby, etc. I realize that this is better than some wooden signs used elsewhere. The wooden signs break more easily or the painting fades whereas these sign posts could last a very long time.

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We passed the Springhouse side trail and then the Dickey Ridge side trail. At one of them, I don’t remember which, there was a “No Horses Beyond This Point” sign. Notice the lushness of the vegetation which was on each side of the dirt AT path.

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We finished our hike before noon when we arrived at the Compton Gap parking area where Plodder’s car had patiently been waiting for two days for our return.

There is an informational board in the parking area. One of the photos described Prismatic Features in nearby rock formations. See the photo below.

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We drove in Plodder’s car, stopped to look at the Gooney Manor Overlook, and made a brief stop at the Visitor’s Center. We saw a Momma bear and two cubs within about thirty or forty yards off the Skyline Drive. It could have been the same bears Plodder saw near the Tom Floyd shelter earlier. After exiting the northern end of the park, we went to retrieve my car on Rt. 522. As we pulled in, I noticed that the Trail Angel boxes were re-positioned from the configuration just this morning when we started our hike. I checked the box with the Shuttle Driver sign and bingo.

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I grabbed a can of Busch Beer to have back at the Super 8 along with a delicious, made to order burger from Spelunkers. It takes a while for the cooks to prepare each order, but the wait is worth it.

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We discussed the the Day Three hike plan and noticed at least six thru hiker backpacks sitting against the wall of the dining area. Kiersten, who was the desk clerk at the Super 8, explained the hikers could not check in yet as their rooms were not ready so they left their packs at the Super 8 while they walked to nearby stores or restaurants to resupply. We met a solo hiker named Barking Dogs. She is an MIT graduate who is living in California. She is thru hiking northbound and we chatted for a while as we finished our lunch.

DAY THREE-6/19/2019

I forgot to mention that Plodder won the Guess the Hiker Number contest by a landslide again on Day Two. So, with that in mind, I picked a higher number than he did for the Day Three contest. I think he picked nine and I picked eleven. I just hoped we would continue to see so many northbound hikers.

Today’s hiking plan was to hike 7.6 miles northbound from the Gravel Springs parking area to the same Compton Gap parking area from Day Two. While positioning our cars before the hike, we stopped to take photos at one of the scenic overlooks. The early morning fog was settled in the valley and it made for a wonderful view. The small amount of wind made for spooky movement by the fog.

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That is, until the sun came out to burn off the morning mist. Today I would hike at a higher elevation than I had ever hiked anywhere along the AT previously. We would cross three different peaks.

We reached a scenic view to the west in the first mile of our climb to reach South Marshall Mountain which is 3,212′ above sea level (asl). Notice most of the fog is all gone.

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The AT in this area frequently crosses the Skyline Drive or parallels it very closely. Hikers need to pay attention to the blazes to make sure they are heading in the correct direction. Although we did not see any families in minivans at the overlooks, I have read in AT books where hikers have described families who provided food and beverages to the hikers as the AT hikers cross Skyline Drive near these same scenic overlooks.

We continued a little further climbing and reached North Marshall Mountain, which is 3,368′ asl. After this second summit, we began a gradual descent into Hogwallow Flat. I took a photo of this distinctive flower which hangs upside down. I just don’t know what it is called.

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The trail was mostly soft dirt which was closely surrounded by lush vegetation. Many of the miles of the trail on this trip featured very soft footing for our hiking boots. We had to step carefully over and through some rocky areas at times but it was mostly smooth trail footing.

Along the way we passed a Boy Scout group of adults and two boys as they rested by a road crossing. The biting insects were becoming a little more apparent. Plodder offered our bug spray to some of the hikers in this group. We continued our descent to the Jenkins Gap Trail intersection whose parking area was just .1 miles away. Once again the concrete posts with the stamped metal bands provided information as to our exact location.

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We began our last climb of the day to the top of Compton Peak at 2,940′ asl. When we reached the summit there were two scenic side trails, one to the west and one to the east. While Plodder went to explore the view to the west, I drank some Gatorade and reviewed my notes for the last part of the hike. I then began hearing multiple voices of hikers approaching, not from the AT but from a side trail, the one to the East view.

The group was a combination of a family from the states and visiting relatives from South Africa. This combined group was large enough to secure my victory in the “Guess the Number of Hikers” contest. This group had hiked up from the Compton Gap parking area, wanted to check out both scenic views and then were planning to hike south to the Jenkins Gap parking area. Plodder returned from the scenic view and saw the large group of hikers. Even with stopping a couple of times to talk with other hikers, we had already completed seven miles before noon.

After saying good bye to the extended family of hikers, Plodder and I descended another 500′ as we hiked the last .7 miles to the Compton Gap parking area. We drove back to the Gravel Springs parking area to retrieve our other car. As the Gravel Springs Hut is located .2 miles south from this parking area, we wanted to investigate the condition of the Hut, tent sites and facilities to prepare for a future hike in the SNP. The northern section of the SNP only has two huts which can be used for overnight sleeping. Shelters in the SNP are only for day use and can only be used overnight in emergency situations. This means that in the 37 mile long northern section of the SNP, there are only two huts. We met a bunch of hikers who “stealth” camp meaning that they set up their tent not in a designated tent site. They are always careful to leave no trace.

The Gravel Springs Hut was reached after hiking down a fairly steep hill. We let other hikers, who were coming back up from the Hut, pass on the narrow trail. They were all huffing and puffing as they conquered the uphill. One of the hikers said that despite the effort needed to get back onto the AT, the stop for lunch at the Hut was worth the effort. I could understand that since having a table to sit comfortably and eat is appreciated. Most times, hikers sit on cut up logs or uneven boulders to take breaks.

Having finished our survey of potential hammock slinging sites near this Hut, we did the uphill journey back to our cars. Plodder and I agreed that a return to Spelunker’s Burgers was in the forecast for lunch.

Between our actual AT miles and some sideways miles throughout the hike and after we checked out the Gravel Springs Hut, our Iphone Health app said we had hiked 8.9 miles, taken 25,279 steps and climbed 22 floors.

DAY FOUR

After having our final complimentary 6am breakfast, we checked out of the Super 8. We arranged our cars for a shorter hike as we were driving home this afternoon. Today’s plan was to hike the 6.3 miles between VA Rt. 638, where good Samaritan Myles Payne had picked us up on Day One and US Rt. 522 in Chester Gap. We started our southbound hike around 6:50am and I looked forward to seeing the Jim and Molly Denton Shelter.

As we climbed a few hundred feet in elevation during the 1.1 miles to the shelter, we passed some northbound through hikers, one of whom complained about some hikers having a dog at the shelter. Soon we came to the side trail which was well marked with signage.

This shelter is unusual in that it has a solar shower, a horseshoe pit and a separate pavilion which protects the picnic table for meals. There did not seem to be very good hammock sites so I guess it all worked out for the best when we did not end up staying overnight at this shelter.

As Plodder was chatting with some hikers who had stayed at the shelter last night, I walked along a short path toward the privy which had a stainless steel seat and lid! However, as I was walking, a very angry, barking pit bull came charging up to me and looked ready to bite my leg. There was a very long leash fastened to his neck but it appeared to be so long that the dog could reach me. I called out and the woman owner of the dog called out to her husband to grab the other end of the leash. I don’t know if the dog was stopped by the length of the leash ending or by the pulling of the man, but the dog’s advance upon me was suddenly stopped about one foot from my leg. I did not even have my trekking poles in my hands as I had set them down by my pack. It was a close call and I let the owners know that they had to control their dog as I could not afford to be bitten by their dog for just walking to a privy. Most dogs I have met along the AT and their owners are generally responsible. This pair of owners was not and they brought an aggressive, and very protective breed of dog onto a trail where the dog confronts many strangers on narrow trails each day. It is a formula for disaster.

After I signed the shelter register, we resumed our southbound hike by ascending another 500′ over about two miles. During this stretch, we passed underneath high voltage powerlines which had a noticeable hum. Plodder heard this hum while still in the forest before we even reached the powerline clearing.

One hour after leaving the shelter, we arrived at the cross trail sign for the Sealock Spring & the Mosby Campground.

Having no need to go to either location, we continued climbing a short distance. We passed the CCC Road and began a fairly steep descent which would total about 1,000′ over the next few miles.

During one break, I decided to try out my bug net which can be worn over a hat or just over your head to ward off the mosquitoes. I had just purchased it from REI and I wanted to see if my vision would be impaired. It was light, it worked fine and I would feel comfortable using it later this summer on any hikes where mosquitoes are swarming. Plodder took my photo as requested.

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After crossing a Woods Road which appeared to be used as a fire break access,

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we continued our descent toward Bear Hollow Creek. The AT parallels the creek for a while and at one point before actually crossing the creek, there was a bench alongside the trail. It was too convenient to pass up and Plodder caught the moment.

After crossing the creek, hikers walk the last .8 miles alongside the chain link fence guarding the property lines of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. Just before reaching the  Rt. 522 crossing, the AT makes a hard right turn to head west. I took these photos of the warning signs at this turn.

Anyone wishing to stay at the Mountain Home Cabbin would just turn left and walk a very short distance to the Cabbin which hosts hikers in a bunkroom located in a detached building on the property.

We had done six miles already and it was not 11am yet so we continued the last .3 miles across this puncheon before a final turn left to cross Rt. 522.

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We reached our car at the parking lot and then drove back to retrieve Plodder’s car. Along the way we stopped at The Apple House located on Rt. 55 (John Marshall Highway) to sample their cinnamon sugar doughnuts. I mixed two Arnold Palmer tea/lemonade drinks for the ride.

Plodder captured our end of hike selfie. One of his finest photos I think.

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We had another interesting hike together. We achieved some firsts such as beginning our hike in the northern section of the 105 mile long Shenandoah National Park. We enjoyed some amazing views and met some interesting people.

We hiked 27.8 miles along the AT which brings our Virginia total to 63.5 miles. My overall total for the AT is now 573.9 miles. I feel certain that our next hike will get me past the 600 mile mark.

Thanks to Commander Plodder for making this AT hiking so much fun and thanks to our respective wives, Sandy and Bernadette, who support us so much.

More hikes to plan.

Condor 3

 

 

 

 

MOUNT EVERETT, RACEBROOK FALLS AND MARIA MCCABE’S HOME

On April 24-26, 2019 my youngest son, Joel aka Moon Chaser, my oldest son Mike aka Just Mike and I aka Condor 3 met for a three day hike along the Appalachian Trail (AT) in Massachusetts to pick up where Just Mike and I had left off on April 14, 2018. By way of background in April 2018, Just Mike and I hiked northbound over Bear Mountain and Race Mountain, completed the State of Connecticut and entered Massachusetts. The south facing sides of the mountains had no snow but the north facing sides of the mountains had between 8-10 inches of snow and ice. When we got to the RaceBrook Falls side trail crossing, less than a mile from the summit of Mt. Everett,  we turned right off the AT and negotiated a steep descent of two miles with lots of snow and ice to get back to our car in the parking area off MA Rt. 41 (Undermountain Road). Returning in April 2019 with Just Mike, and now with the added support of Moon Chaser, I believed it was possible to complete some unfinished business in Section #10 of Massachusetts.

DAY ONE-4/24/2019

After picking up Moon Chaser, who took the red eye in from Seattle, at JFK International Airport, we drove directly to meet Just Mike at the above mentioned trail head parking area. Just Mike was waiting for us and he hopped into our car for the ride to the Jug End Road parking area where we would start our 5.3 mile southbound hike over Mt. Everett whose elevation is 2,602′ above sea level (asl). I prepared both my hiking companions that this was not going to be an easy hike and to make matters even more uncomfortable, when we finished the 5.3 miles, we had an additional two miles of very steep descent back to the parking area. Fortunately, the weather was perfect. Moon Chaser offered to carry a back pack containing items for both of us so I could travel lighter today. Here is a photo of my AT map showing the elevation profile of this day’s hike. To follow our southbound direction, read the map from right to left.

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Along the first 1.8 miles before reaching Mt. Bushnell, we lost the trail briefly twice. The white blazes on the bark must have faded or fallen onto the ground. We noticed a hiker coming up below us and we watched to see where he turned left (and we had turned right).

Here is a photo of that hiker whose name we never got.

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Fortunately, Just Mike got us back onto the trail and for a while we hiked with this other lone southbound hiker. He explained that he was back hiking after having had artificial knee surgery on both his knees. So far, his knees were doing well. He wanted to keep going south while the three of us took a break. About an hour later, as we were getting close to summiting Mt. Everett, we heard the voice of this same hiker, calling to us from somewhere behind us. We never passed him so we could not figure out how he could end up behind us. He must have made a wrong turn as well. When he called up to us, he asked “Were you trying to forget me?” or words to that effect. He caught back up to us and continued his hike while we took a break.

At the 3.4 mile mark we reached the side trail for the Glen Brook Shelter. We rested for a while, I took some photos and signed the shelter register.

We continued south and within .1 of a mile, saw a sign for the Hemlocks Shelter but we did not stop to visit.

In less than a half mile, we passed the Guilder Pond Picnic Area and were now over 2000′ asl. Mount Everett was ahead.

We had to ascend about 600′ in just .7 of a mile to reach Mt. Everett.

There were several concrete anchors for the Mt. Everett Fire Tower which was located here between 1915-2002. The anchors were just at the right height as a seat to rest.

We had now covered 4.6 of the 5.3 AT miles planned. But the next .7 of a mile on the southern side of Mt. Everett seemed steeper than coming up on the northern side. We descended almost 700′ and the trail was along smooth, steeply angled huge slabs of rock which could be treacherous for hikers in either direction. Fortunately, the trail maintainers had drilled and installed masonry anchor bolts through wooden steps in many areas so that hikers could have safe footing. Just Mike and Moon Chaser are much stronger and more flexible than I am and their knees could handle the steep descent more easily. I relied on those wooden steps often. My alternative, without the steps, would have been to slowly slide on the seat of my pants in as controlled a manner as possible. Here are some photos of those steps.

 

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We finally came to the Race Brook Falls side trail crossing

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and knew that we had just two miles to return to Just Mike’s car on Rt. 41. We passed many streams and the side trail’s namesake the Race Brook Falls which had thunderous water cascading down. We needed to descend 1,000-1,100′ over those two miles so my legs were incredibly grateful to see the parking area. Despite only being credited for doing 5.3 new miles of the AT, my Iphone health app recorded that I had taken 25,418 steps, traveled 8.8 miles and climbed 103 floors.

I had made arrangements to stay for two nights with Maria McCabe who welcomes hikers to her house which is conveniently located in Salisbury, CT, just a short distance west of where the AT crosses CT Route 41 (Undermountain Road). Undermountain Road parallels the AT in northern CT and in southern MA. I chatted with Maria, and her assistant, Barbara, and learned that Maria, who is over 80 years old, has opened her house for eighteen years to help hikers. The entrance for hikers is around back in a covered patio area. Note Maria’s welcome to hikers.

The cost was $35 per person, per night. I got a single room with a bed and Just Mike and Moon Chaser got the other bedroom that had two beds. The rooms were comfortable and after a shower, we ate in one of the nearby restaurants. Here are some photos of Maria’s house, the kitchen and my room.

 

Maria and Barbara made a point to tell us that they had purchased eggs and juice which were in the refrigerator. Maria and Barbara set out plates and silverware so that we could cook our own breakfast at whatever time we wanted. Barbara had left out some boxes of Oatmeal packets as well. Barbara even left this note to tell us not to wash the dishes. She said they would do them with their dishes during the day.

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Maria and Barbara were very kind and I highly recommend Maria’s house as a wonderful respite from sleeping along the trail. She is listed in David “AWOL” Miller’s AT Guide on the page with the information concerning Salisbury, CT.

Sleep came quickly after we had discussed plans for the next day’s hike.

DAY TWO-4/25/2019

Our plan, which I modified during the night, was to hike the 7.1 miles from MA Rt. 23 road crossing, just east of Great Barrington, MA southbound to where the AT crosses Boardman Street, a little east of the Kellogg Road Bridge over the Housatonic River.

We left Mike’s car by this large tree as we were not sure of the space capability of the small unpaved driveway leading to a farm field where AT parking is listed near the Kellogg Road bridge.

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Next, we drove my car to the fairly large, stone/gravel parking area off Rt. 23. This parking area is accessed by a narrow driveway entrance on the north side of Rt. 23. It was so narrow, I passed it twice before turning into it to park.

We began a gentle but continual ascent past Lake Buel Road for 2 miles. The footing for the trail  was at times very easy with leaves providing a soft bed for our feet. Here is Moon Chaser on that portion of easy trail.

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We crossed a small stream whose bridge was made of large flat rocks which had been placed by volunteers.

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We reached Ice Gulch in an hour and saw the signs for the Tom Leonard Shelter side trail. It was well marked. The shelter, which was built in 1988, is about .2 miles off the AT. The shelter was small but well organized and had bunk beds on each side of the sleeping platform and a small sleeping area loft in the overhang.

I used the privy which was equipped with toilet paper secured in a small plastic container to keep it dry. The privy door had the AT symbol routed into the wood and then screening was placed over the opening for ventilation. A nice little touch I had not seen previously.

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We continued our southbound journey for another 2.5 miles as we crossed over East Mountain which was only 1,737′ asl. This signified the beginning of our 3.0 mile descent which featured this small footbridge.

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We crossed Homes Road, June Mountain and then emerged from the woods to cross Boardman Street where Just Mike’s car was waiting for us.

After retrieving our car off Rt. 23, we returned to Maria McCabe’s house. Maria and Barbara were both enjoying the sun while sitting in the back yard. I noticed this pair of hiking shoes whose inside was filled with soil and a small plant. Maria explained that the shoes belonged to a hiker from Germany who bought a plant for Maria to place in the shoes.

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Just Mike and Moon Chaser went to a Mexican restaurant while I stayed at the house and heated up my leftover meatballs and pasta from the night before.

We had been lucky to have two perfect weather days so far but the forecast called for rain the next morning. In fact, as I would later realize, we had 19 days of rain in a 21 day span. Our first two days of hiking were the only non rain days. I reworked our hiking schedule so that we could get 5.8 miles done before 10am. When Just Mike and Moon Chaser returned from dinner, we discussed the revised schedule.

DAY THREE-4/26/2019

The day’s plan was to hike the 5.8 miles southbound from Boardman Street to the Jug End Parking area. This part of the trail was mostly in and out of farm fields, road crossings with fairly level elevations. As I wanted us to be done hiking in time to drive back to Newburgh, New York so that Moon Chaser could see Just Mike’s new house and could visit with Just Mike’s wife, Emily, and my wife(his mother), Bernadette, I told Mike and Joel to push the pace and I would do my best to keep up. I normally hike at about 1.7 miles per hour. Despite the light rain, the hiking was pleasant and fast.

We enjoyed easy footing across farm fields where we had to side step a few muddy areas. We crossed the Kellogg Road Bridge over the Housatonic River, a footbridge over a stream, US Rt. 7 and a set of active railroad tracks. Here is the warning sign placed for the safety of hikers.

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We enjoyed the benefits of the hard labor of trail volunteers who had constructed a raised Trex boardwalk through some very wet and marshy areas.

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When we reached the Shays’ Rebellion Monument, we had covered 3.1 miles in just one hour. As is noted in the AT Companion Guide for this area, Revolutionary War veteran Daniel Shays led a revolt over high taxes and economic woes in late 1786 and early 1787. Their protests helped close some courts which prevented foreclosures to take place against some of the area farmers. The uprising was finally put down and Shays was sentenced to death for his part. However, Shays escaped to Vermont and later to New York before he was pardoned and received a veterans pension. Shays died in 1825.

 

A trail angel had left a gallon jug of water behind the monument. We did not need to top off our water supply but I could imagine how helpful this could be to a hiker in need.

We continued across many different types of wooden boardwalks, footbridges and puncheons to keep the hikers from damaging the ecosystems in this marshy area.

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After having hiked a little under two hours, we passed a flock of sheep grazing on a beautiful, green pasture to our left. It was protected by a fence which seemed not to be electrified. The fencing appeared to be made of blue and white plasticized type twine.

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After crossing MA Rt. 41, I knew we were getting close to the end of our morning hike. I took this photo of an opening in a stacked rock wall whose rocks were covered in green moss. Moon Chaser had just passed through the opening.

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We reached the Jug End Road parking area having covered the 5.8 miles in 2 hours and 10 minutes. This was a record pace for me. Just Mike and Moon Chaser could have gone even faster. Amazing.

Thanks to Just Mike and Moon Chaser for helping me to keep on our schedule which now included a Newburgh visit with family and yet still gave me time to drive Moon Chaser to Newark International Airport for his flight home.

We met for lunch at the Hudson Taco and had fun catching up on the adventures of the last three days. Thanks to Emily and Bernadette for helping us fit in the hiking days and for arranging the lunch at Hudson Taco.

 

Thanks to the efforts of Just Mike and Moon Chaser, we completed another 18.2 miles of the AT in Massachusetts. This finished MA Sections #8, 9 & 10 entirely.  This brings my overall AT mileage total to 546.1 miles which means I am about one mile shy of having completed one quarter of the 2,189 mile AT. I only have about 1,643 miles left to go.

More hikes to plan.

Condor 3

 

 

TRAIL OF HOPE HOSTEL, “JUNKER” SHUTTLE RIDES AND PENNSYLVANIA IS FINALLY COMPLETED

On Sunday, April 7, 2019 Jamie aka Commander Plodder and I aka Condor 3 traveled to Fayetteville, PA to finish the last 42.8 miles of the Appalachian Trail in PA that we had not hiked. We made prior arrangements to stay at the Trail of Hope Hostel located at 7798 Lincoln Highway East (Rt. 30) which is just a few tenths of a mile west of where the AT crosses Rt. 30.

We met Barry, the hostel’s caretaker, who gave us a tour of the second floor where the bunk rooms, a bathroom and a very large living room were located.

We were pleasantly surprised at the accommodations which included access to the full kitchen on the first floor and the opportunity to do a load of laundry for just three dollars.

There are even loaner bicycles available for hikers who want to ride to the nearest stores for resupply. Since there was only one other hiker staying the first couple of nights, we had many options. I chose a bunk in a back room for $22 a night. Here is my room. My bed has my pack on it. The photo on the right is the other bed in my room. It was lower to the floor so I used that to sit on and put on my boots each morning.

Throughout my five night stay, which only cost a total of $110, I never had a roommate in the other bunk nor a roommate in the adjacent four bunk room.

Plodder selected a single room for $25 per night and we began getting our gear ready for the next five days of hiking. It was at this time that we met Robert Freeman aka Junker. Robert and his wife, Sandy, own the hostel and the nearby church. Robert was a wealth of information about the area and about the AT as well. Robert offered to help shuttle us the first four days of our hikes to make it easier for us to just drive back in one car when each day’s hike was finished. This was an excellent suggestion and we arranged four early morning shuttles for a very reasonable price. Basically, after discussing with Robert our hiking plan for each day, we would meet Robert who would lead us to where we would park one car at the end of our hike, and then, hop into Robert’s Toyota coupe with over 300,000 miles on it, for the ride to that day’s starting point. It was  easy and we enjoyed Robert’s stories along the way. Robert has the Trail of Hope shirt on.

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I would be remiss if I forgot to also mention the years of volunteer work Robert provided as a volunteer to help maintain the AT trail in this area. He is a very community minded person and we realize how similarly minded volunteers work hundreds of hours to make the AT a wonderful place for hikers to experience nature. Thank you Robert.

Hiking Day One- 4/8/19

We hiked the 8.5 mile portion of PA Section #13 from the Shippensburg Road parking area northbound to the southern end of the Pine Grove Furnace State Park where we had left off in our March hikes. It had rained overnight but the rain had stopped about one am so we had nice, clear weather to begin the hike. Although we did not know it then, as we started our hike at just over 2,000′ above sea level along pine needle cushioned paths toward Dead Woman Hollow Road, we actually would have five consecutive days without a drop of rain. A true first for Plodder and I.

Some parts of the path had wooden logs placed parallel to each other with larger stones and fill material placed between the logs to make an elevated walking path so that water could run alongside. Here is a sample of this design which was quite effective.

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After just 1.3 miles we passed what was the AT’s midpoint based upon the 2016 trail layout meaning that this point was 1094.5 miles from Springer Mountain, Georgia to the south and the same distance to Mt. Katahdin, Maine to the north. Each year there are minor changes to the AT’s length which then results in a slightly different midpoint location. We had already seen on a prior hike the Center Point Knob stone marker from the original AT layout.

We crossed some gravel roads and a stream before reaching the 4.8 mile mark at the Sunset Rocks Trail crossing. It was clearly marked with a sign and blue blazes. This is the southern most crossing for this trail as it makes a loop back to intersect with the AT further north.

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Just another one tenth of a mile and we reached the Toms Run Shelter. It was simple but the shelter area was very neat. There was a small section of mirror fastened to the end of one of the logs making up an outer wall.

The location had a unique area which had a sign labeling it as the “Hammock Hangout”. That is the photo on the right above.

As I was getting ready to sign the shelter register, I walked past a nice fire ring with stones that had been mortared into place. Down along the ground I saw this plaque which commemorated that this fire pit was completed as the Eagle Scout project of Mason Banner in 2016. He was part of the BSA Troop 793 from Glenelg, Maryland. See the photo below and the last words of advice on the bottom of the marker.

I signed the register

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and we continued northbound as we crossed another stream. At 11 am we arrived at the 2011 halfway point marker erected to commemorate this halfway point from eight years ago.

In another mile we crossed Micheaux Road. As Junker pointed at during one of our shuttle rides, nearby was the former Camp Michaeux which was the POW site during WWII for captured German submariners. Junker added that on a certain night of the week when there was a dance being held at a local hall, some of the prisoners were brought to the dance. Some of the Germans stayed in the U.S. following the war. None of the POW camp buildings are left any longer.

Today we met Man Scout who was from PA and who was hiking northbound on his way hopefully to Mt. Katahdin later this year. He has hiked many different sections of the AT already and as a Boy Scout Leader had supervised many boy scout hikes. Interestingly, as we were chatting a while, he said he had a brother who was a police officer in Lower Moreland Township Police Department. This is the same department where I had worked from 1974-1983. We exchanged phone numbers in case he needs a ride for a resupply run when he gets into New York State. I forgot to take his photo.

The trail in our direction began a steady descent through Tom’s Run and down along PA Rt. 233 which lead into the southern entrance of the Pine Grove Furnace State Park. Plodder needed to see one more hiker to win our daily “Guess the number of hikers contest” and just as we entered the park a southbound hiker appeared which gave Plodder the contest victory.

We drove back to the hostel, took a shower and a nap before eating at Ruby Tuesday’s restaurant. We were joined by Happy who was the other hiker staying at the hostel. He had taken Monday off to resupply. In AT jargon, a Zero day for rest. Happy, who was from Detroit, was heading northbound having already spent prior years doing all the miles from Georgia up to PA. When asked where he was hiking to, he told Plodder “November”.

Hiking Day Two-4/9/19

Today’s plan was to hike 11.0 miles southbound from the same Shippensburg Road parking area down to the Caledonia State Park just above Rt. 30 where the hostel is located. We figured we would see Happy sometime as he was planning to start northbound from Rt. 30. This was the southern half of PA Section #13.

The footing was beautiful again and here is Plodder as he crosses a small footbridge near Birch Run Shelter which we came to just 1.3 miles into our hike.

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The Birch Run Shelter had a small front opening but was very well organized and very clean. It featured multiple bunk beds to increase hiker capacity. Many small shelters just have a sleeping platform inside so this was a nice additional bit of volunteer work.

I opened the shelter register and noticed a one dollar bill was folded around the page marker. No explanation why the money was there. Saw comments by Man Scout and other hikers including some AT overseers who came to check on the condition of the shelter and grounds. They noted everything looked great.

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At 8:47am we stopped to talk with a northbounder named Gaitkeeper. He was doing a 45 mile training hike in preparation of his going to Mt. Katahdin on July 1st of this year to hike a southbound thru hike. He explained he was an ultramarathoner and he looked to be in good shape so I’m sure he will make it. We exchanged some contact information before wishing him well on his training hike.

Here is the selfie taken by Plodder of the three of us. Gaitkeeper is in the back. He explained the derivation of his name is a combination of  “keeping up his pace”  in his various races and his wife keeps horses at their home.

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Many sections of our hiking so far had featured pine needles on the trail and pine scent from the nearby trees. Plodder captured this photo of me hiking through one of these sections. The pine scent was wonderful.

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We passed this directional sign which was typical of these well maintained sections of the AT.

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Next the trail began a steep descent into a hollow where the PATC maintained Milesburn Cabin is located. As the nearby bench notes, the cabin is available for rent.

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After a short break, we began the steep climb out of the hollow and hiked across several gravel or unimproved roads until reaching around the 6.2 mile mark when we saw Happy, the hiker who had stayed at the hostel with us, heading northbound toward us.

Happy took our photo and the here is a selfie he took around 10:47am. Happy is in the front with the sun glasses.

We wished him well toward his destination of “November”. We crossed under a powerline, and Plodder noticed another of the AT surveying markers.

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We reached 7.2 miles at the intersection of five different gravel roads. Soon we passed the Hosack Run Trail, crossed a footbridge over a stream and began a descent to the beautifully appointed Quarry Gap Shelters.

The trail leads directly in front of the two shelters which share a common covered picnic area between. The shelter area has the feel of a Japanese garden featuring a small, melodic babbling brook nearby in this lush rhododendron landscape. There was a nearby two person swing for hikers to enjoy. There were potted plants hung to spruce up the experience.

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The leader of the trail maintainers for this shelter is a person named Jim Stauch who is described as the “Innkeeper” on a sign below the Quarry Gap Shelter sign. It was so beautiful. Plodder took a panoramic photo.

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As we headed south down some steps formed by volunteer placed slabs of rock, we passed a northbound hiker from Germany. He has hiked various parts of the AT in different years and hopes to get to New York State before ending this year’s hike.

As we continued with our descent we came upon Stripes who was thru hiking northbound. He looked very tired and was definitely red faced from exertion. We offered some water but he said he was okay. We chatted for a while and encouraged him to get to the Quarry Gap shelters for sleeping tonight.

Just a couple minutes after 2pm we passed the 10.1 mile mark as we crossed Locust Gap Road near where the Valley Trail intersected. It is well marked with this sign.

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We crossed the Conocochegue Creek (regular pronunciation rules apply) before entering the Caledonia State Park where we had left our car parked early this morning.

We returned to the hostel, followed our usual post hike schedule and I wrote some favorable comments in the shelter’s notebook for hikers on a table in the dining room.

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We decided to return to Ruby Tuesday’s Restaurant for dinner as they had free WIFI. I was able to download another book onto my Kindle.

Hiking Day Three-4/10/19

We were excited to begin today’s hike at the Mason Dixon Line marker where we had left off in a prior hike when we finished Maryland. Our plan was to hike 8.1 miles from the Mason Dixon Line north to the parking area off Old Forge Road which is about one mile north of the Old Forge Picnic Area. Junker helped us drop off our car and then let us out off Pen Mar Road near the railroad crossing so we had a tiny walk to reach the Mason Dixon Line marker. Here we are.

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We began a small descent to Falls Creek, crossed a footbridge over the same creek, and then began a climb over 500′.

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After summiting a hill, we crossed Buena Vista Road, Old PA Rt. 16, PA Rt. 16, Mentzer Gap Road and Rattlesnake Run Road before reaching the 4.6 mile mark at the Deer Lick Shelters. It was just a few minutes after 11am and we had the pleasure to meet Crawldaddy and Tagalong who were a father and son duo from Toledo, Ohio.

Tagalong took a photo of the three of us and then a selfie with everyone included. I am the only person who cannot take a decent selfie.

Crawldaddy had hiked on other parts of the AT with his daughter previously and was now going to cover as many of the remaining northbound miles as they could in 100 days. I exchanged some contact information with them in case they needed help with a resupply run in New York.

We headed north and were later passed by Crawldaddy and Tagalong. At 6.8 miles we came to the Chickadee Snowmobile Trail crossing. There were all kinds of trail markings on a nearby tree so I took this photo.

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In just .2 miles we stopped briefly at the Antietam Shelter located nearby the AT. Hikers can reach it by crossing a couple of small footbridges. There were copper etched labels on all the logs such that it looked like the shelter was built elsewhere and then reassembled here.

Hikers are warned not to use the water from the nearby Antietam Creek. After signing the register, we headed past the Old Forge Picnic Area and saw the filtered water spigot which is safe for hikers to use all year long.

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We reached Old Forge Road just before 1pm and before leaving in our car we saw Crawldaddy and Tagalong heading north again.

Dinner tonight was the Bonanza Steakhouse but it had a new twist on customer service. Before you are seated, you order from a digital menu behind the hostess who also serves as the cashier. After paying, you are then seated and a server provides the beverages and food you ordered at the register. It seems most people selected the All You Can Eat Buffets option. The were five or six buffet stations. We figured we would go back to Ruby Tuesday’s for Thursday night.

Hiking Day Four-4/11/19

After leaving our pick up vehicle at Caledonia State Park, we hopped in with Junker who took us back to the Old Forge Road parking area. Our plan was to hike the 9.8 miles back to Rt. 30 and then the additional .3 miles into the Caledonia SP  for a total of 11.1 miles back to our car which was parked just off where the AT passes through the park. The weather was a little overcast but no rain. We walked a little east on Old Forge Road before turning left to continue our northbound hike.

In just two tenths of a mile we came to the directional sign for the two Tumbling Run Shelters. We turned right off the AT, and arrived at the shelters which are famous in AT lore as one shelter has a sign for Snoring hikers and the other shelter has a sign for Non-Snoring hikers. Pretty funny.

There were a woman and man at the shelter. It turns out they were sister and brother and had hiked their first section on the AT yesterday and stayed at Tumbling Run last night. We chatted a while and returned to hiking the 1,000′ ascent which occurs over the next couple of miles. At 8:35am we came to the side trail sign for the Chimney Rocks overlook.

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We hiked the short side trail, scrambled over some boulders and reached the outlook. Plodder took a photo of the view. We saw a solitary Turkey Vulture perched in a tree very close to where we looked out over the rocks.

We returned to our hike and passed a wooden register box alongside the trail. I had already made an entry into one register already, so I kept on going after taking  a photo.

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Just before reaching Snowy Mountain Road, I took a photo of this rock cairn which was built precariously near the end of a log which had been cut to clear the hiking path.

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We later crossed Swamp Road and then saw the signs for the Raccoon Run cross trail. We had now hiked about five miles and it was still before 11am.

After crossing PA Rt. 233, we hiked another 1.6 miles until we saw the side trail sign for the Rocky Mountain Shelters. The shelters can be reached by walking a steep .3 miles down a switch backed trail.

There were two shelters, both of which were clean. I signed the register, took a few photos and we had a snack break. Once done, we had the steep .3 miles back up to rejoin the AT. This .6 miles are not counted as part of the 10.1 miles for today since it was not actually on the AT.

There was also a sign with the mileage of 1078.9 indicated which noted the distance from Springer Mountain to that spot in 2016. Northbound thru hikers from Georgia would certainly have their trail legs by this point.

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Our northbound hike followed a series of larger boulder rock scrambles close to the ridge back of Rocky Mountain. It was difficult at times to pick the route through these huge boulders as white blazes were in the distance and did not seem to be marked on the boulders were had to traverse. In between these rock scrambles, were mostly nice footing along the trail. We began a fairly consistent descent with about two miles to go and we chatted briefly with two young U.S Army soldiers who were hiking south in hopes of reaching Harpers Ferry, West Virginia during the days they had off. I only remember they said they were trying to do 23 miles on this day so their pace was a lot faster than ours. They were very nice young men but they had no trail names as yet. They mentioned about getting more water to drink and I showed them a photo of the filtered spigot in the Old Forge Picnic Area. They headed south and we kept going north.

At 2:20pm we finished the descent to the PA Rt. 30 road crossing. There was a lot of traffic in this area which is just about .3 miles east of the hostel where we stayed. Plodder sometimes counted the very short intervals between cars at trucks on this main highway. Following Plodder’s signal to sprint, I followed him across the road and we entered woods again.

However, we saw orange work site cones and a sign indicating that this part of the AT had suffered storm damage and a map showed the detour which was essentially just a parallel route until we got far enough east to get beyond the storm damaged area. We then connected right back onto the AT northbound trail, walked the .3 miles back to where our car was parked.

By the way, Plodder won our “How Many Hikers Today” contest again when two persons walking dogs happen to walk along the AT detour while we were there. Once again, Plodder snatched victory in the last couple minutes of hiking.

The Caledonia SP had many signs to show where all the local trails and shelters intersected with the AT.

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This park also had a large pool which I am sure is crowded during the prime summer vacation months.

We returned to Ruby Tuesday’s and both enjoyed steaks to celebrate. We only had 5.1 miles to go on the next day’s hike and we would be done PA entirely. After going over the logistics of tomorrow’s hike and planning which cars would be parked at which trail head parking area, I went to bed.

Plodder stayed up for a while and met two northbound thru hikers who were staying at the hostel for one night. I don’t know their trail names but the one hiker had thru hiked before but was now trying to do a thru hike northbound and then immediately follow that with a southbound thru hike. I think this is called a YoYo. He was trying to get to Mt. Katahdin in Maine by around June 15th which is usually the earliest that it is opened for hikers. He, along with his Canadian hiker friend, were averaging 25-30 miles per day.

Hiking Day Five-4/12/19

We awoke extra early to place our linens and towels into designated baskets in the laundry room before getting breakfast. We loaded everything into our cars and drove about 40 miles north on I-81 to get to the area where we had to complete a 5.1 mile stretch of the trail. We parked one car at the Sherwood Drive parking area and then drove together up to the PA Rt. 850 parking area. Once we returned after the hike, we would be heading back to our loving wives.

We began our southbound hike across a couple of beautiful farm fields and came upon a northbound hiker named Achin’. He said he was going to keep hiking until one of three things happened: he reached Mt. Katahdin, or his body gave out or his mind gave out.  He had hiked all of the rest of the southern portion of the AT previously. After having major surgery on his aorta, he began the slow process of rehabilitation. He continued to get stronger and then went back onto the trail.  I told him that I had seen his name in some of the shelter register entries from earlier in the week. We said good bye to Achin’ and continued across the farm fields. The footing changes when a series of rocks were laid in a curving direction leading us into some trees.

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We hiked across some wooden puncheon and small bridges before we began the climb toward the Darlington Shelter. Along the way, we met Danny who was originally from the York, PA area, now living in South Carolina. He was taking some time off from work to hike northbound to Mt. Katahdin. Here is a selfie taken by Plodder of the three of us. Danny is the young guy.

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Danny explained that he was trying to hike to Cove Mountain Shelter which is about four miles south of Duncannon, PA by this afternoon. He would leave his stuff at the shelter and then would run the four miles into town and four miles back in order to resupply with more food. I had several extra power bars and several bags of  GORP (Good ‘ol Raisins and Peanuts with some added M&Ms) in my extra snack bag so I gave him everything. He was so appreciative and said this would help him during the next two days. We offered water as well but he said he had enough. I exchanged some contact information with him in case he needed a resupply shuttle run when he got to New York.

Plodder and I continued our climb up to the side trail for the Darlington Shelter. We had done 2.2 miles in a little over an hour so we decided to take a sit down break.

Interestingly, the privy at this shelter had a sign above the door naming this the Taj Mahal. It was a very clean moldering type privy.

This shelter as most of the shelters we saw during the past week was in very good condition and was very close to the trail so it was easy to get to from the AT.

After rejoining the AT, we passed the crossing of two side trails named Tuscarora and Darlington. These were well marked and signs were very clear showing distances to various landmarks.

At 9:46am we passed a sign which welcomed us southbound hikers to the Cumberland Valley and explained that the next 17 miles of the trail were maintained by the volunteers of the Cumberland Valley Appalachian Trail Club.

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As we descended Blue Mountain through some switch backed trails, I saw a man made rock wall with a large rock bench positioned so hikers could enjoy a beautiful view. Here is me sitting on the bench and our view.

We had hiked 2.6 miles so far and were just over half of the distance for today. As we continued descending, we passed a warning sign at a blue blazed side trail which recommended hikers get water at this location as the water source at the Darlington Shelter was sporadic.

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Just opposite this sign was the rusted skeleton of a car body. I don’t know how it got here unless there was some type of road before all the trees filled in the woods.

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In another half hour we reached the sign for PA Route 944 which use to be a place where AT hikers had to run across a very dangerous highway to continue along the trail. Now there is a tunnel which is used by hikers to hike in safety.

 

I recall a story that Junker told us concerning this tunnel. After all the engineering and planning were done and the tunnel itself was fabricated, Rt. 944 above was opened up on a weekend. The tunnel was dropped in and all the landscaping and road repair was finished on the same weekend. Quite an achievement.

After emerging from the tunnel, I knew we only had about .9 miles left. This stretch of trail has many footbridges over creeks, some simple wooden plank mini bridges over other smaller streams as we wound our way through the woods. All of a sudden, we started hearing hundreds of birds to our right. They were just our of view. It struck us as we had hardly seen any birds this week except for a couple of woodpeckers and two cardinals at the Quarry Gap Shelters. I don’t know bird sounds and these birds were far enough away we could not get a good look at them. Plodder saw a couple flying in and out of the trees.

Then, we saw Plodder’s car at the Sherwood Drive parking area as we climbed down these stairs onto Sherwood Drive.

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We had just been wondering what type of birds we heard and as we walked along Sherwood Drive we met a husband and wife team of Audubon Society type bird watchers with binoculars. We had a nice talk and the wife identified the birds as the red winged black bird. What lucky timing. The bird watching wife took our PA finish photo.

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With this last 42.8 miles done in Pennsylvania, the entire 229.7 miles of PA is done. Having the wonderful assistance of Commander Plodder and others, I have been fortunate to have been able to finish all of West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. I have completed 527.9 miles of the AT.

Future hikes will either resume the southern direction from where I left off with Commander Plodder in Virginia or in a northern direction from where I left off with Just Mike in Massachusetts. After all, I still have 1,661.2 miles left to go.

I want to extend much appreciation to Commander Plodder for another fine hiking adventure and also to our respective wives, Sandy and Bernadette, whose support is heart warming.

Condor 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CENTER POINT KNOB, MORE FARM FIELDS AND HAWK ROCK VIEW

Between 3/18-3/20/2019 my hiking buddy, Jamie, aka Commander Plodder and I, aka Condor 3, returned to Duncannon and Cumberland Valley, Pennsylvania to resume our Appalachian Trail (AT) section hiking where we left off in November 2018 since our last hiking day together was in a major winter snowstorm. Once again, we stayed at the Super 8 by Wyndham Carlisle North located on Rt. 11 in Carlisle, PA where we enjoyed the convenience of a complimentary continental breakfast which was available at 6am each day. Some of our hikes were planned above Carlisle, PA and some were below so this worked out logistically.

DAY ONE

Our plan was to hike PA Section#11 southbound from the Bucher Hill Road long term parking lot in Boiling Springs to the Sheet Iron Roof Road shoulder parking area which was an 8.3 mile distance.

The AT passes right through the Bucher Hill Road parking area and within .2 mile we passed the directional sign for the Backpacker’s Campsite near the railroad tracks. Commander Plodder is seen behind the sign. Thru hikers who have set up their tents at this campsite get to experience the sound and vibrations of the nearby trains several times a night.

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We walked through about a mile and a half of farm fields again before beginning the 500′ climb up to the Center Point Knob which is the original half way mark for the AT. Rocks are arranged in a seating pattern around the central stone with the inset marker.

Due to changes in the routing of the AT, the mid way point is now a little further south in PA. We continued hiking another ten minutes and passed the White Rocks Trail crossing.

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We covered about 3.7 miles in the first two hours of hiking before arriving at the side trail for the Alec Kennedy Shelter.

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This shelter, which was built and maintained by volunteers from the Mountain Club of Maryland, is named in honor of Alexander “Alec” D. Kennedy. As the memorial sign on the back wall of the shelter indicates, Kennedy helped create the club in 1934 and served as President until his death at the age of 88 in 1989. This was a very clean shelter with a nice moldering privy nearby.

 

After signing the trail register, we hiked back out the .2 plus miles back to the trail and turned to continue south.

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In two hours we came to the sign for the Western Terminus of the Mason Dixon Trail, which according to a Google search, is a 195 mile, blue blazed trail which connects the AT at this point with the Brandywine Trail. The trail passes through Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania before ending at the Brandywine Creek in Chadds Ford, PA.

A little before 1pm we saw this directional arrow painted on a rock formation which signaled the beginning of two different rock mazes we would negotiate along the ridge back of this mountain.

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Sometime during our hike, the tip of one of Commander Plodder’s trekking poles stuck in the trail and did not come up with the pole. He managed without it as we finished our hike at the Sheet Iron Roof Road crossing. We drove back to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Office of the AT in Boiling Springs to see if they had a set of replacement tips. We spoke to Sarah and learned that the nearest outfitter is literally next door to the Regional Office. How convenient.

As we left the Regional Office, I noticed on the left was a “Hiker Swap Box” which is something I don’t pass up. You never know what goodies are inside. I scored a brand new, in the box, bar of Irish Spring soap which was an upgrade from the tiny bath bar at the Super 8. Jamie got some candy but I forgot to note what type. The box was full of goodies such as Ramon noodles, a pair of woman’s hiker shoes and lots of candy including chewing gum. There were even some AT maps and guides but I already had those.

Here is the photo of the outside of TCO Outfitters which had the correct set of replacement tips for Plodder’s LEKI poles. This shop is loaded with gear so hikers should be able to find most anything they need. There is also a large section for fishing gear too.

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Although we finished 8.3 AT miles not including some sideways miles to/from the shelter, my Iphone health app said we had climbed 27 floors and taken 27,607 steps. Not bad for our first day back on the trail.

DAY TWO

Our goal was to hike the 10.8 miles from Pine Grove Furnace State Park northbound to the same Sheet Iron Roof Road parking area. This is basically PA Section #12.

Before starting, I enjoyed the use of a heated restroom at Pine Grove Furnace. The morning temperature was in the 20s. The hike was leisurely as we walked along a beautiful path around Fuller Lake, which was on our right, past a seasonal snack bar which was closed, before beginning a very gradual climb toward the Pole Steeple Trail crossing. We had already done 2.6 miles in barely more than one hour.

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After another mile of hiking we noticed on our left there were two tents set up and two hikers were just waking up. One mentioned how cold it had been last night. These two hikers would later pass us as they continued northbound as well.

We kept on logging the miles and now began a descent. Although I did not see any actual directional or informational type signs, we passed an old roadbed and what appeared to be a side trail to Mountain Creek campground.

There was a log perched upon some boulders right along the trail so we took a sit down break. Here is the log “bench” we used on Piney Mountain. I took my winter gloves off and laid them on the log as a cushion.

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We went back hiking and just as I was trying to determine exactly how far along we were on today’s journey, I looked up and saw the sign for the James Fry Shelter. We had already hiked 7.3 miles in a little under four hours. It was not noon yet.

 

As a sign on the back wall of the shelter notes, the shelter is named for James H. Fry who was a longtime resident of Lochearn, Maryland and an avid outdoorsman. He hiked much of the AT and after his death in 1994,  the Mountain Club of Maryland received many donations in memory of James Fry. Those donations were used to build this shelter and to replace two older shelters at this site.

This was a typical three sided shelter with a main sleeping platform but two bunk beds were constructed on each end which increased the capacity. There are plexiglass panels above the overhang roof to permit for sunlight into the shelter. I signed the trail register in this shelter as well.

On the way back to the AT, we passed a small flow of water that Commander Plodder thought looked like it could be an inspiration for an art project. This photo shows the yellow and green pattern of the water. It was nice to see, but I would not trust this water source.

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We only had about 3.5 miles left as we passed a series of road crossings such as Pine Grove Road, Rt. 34, Rt. 94 and finally back to Sheet Iron Roof Road which we reached after a short climb up Trent’s Hill.

We completed 10.8 AT miles. My Iphone health app said we had climbed another 19 floors and taken 33,353 steps. This was a very enjoyable hike.

DAY THREE

Today’s plan was to hike southbound from Duncannon, PA to the PA Route 850 Trailhead parking area, a distance of 9.1 miles. This is most of PA Section #9 and the weather was cold again at the start, being in the 20s, but we had a short, flat walk in town to warm us up. As we turned the corner near the Doyle Hotel, we noticed the Kind of Outdoorsy outfitter store.

 

It was closed and would not reopen until March 30th at 6:30am. The store has a centered front door between two large windows. The southern window points toward Springer Mountain, Georgia and has a distance of 1043.4 miles and the northern window indicates that Katahdin, Maine is 1142.5 miles away. At least it will reopen soon so hikers have a convenient place to purchase items right on the trail. It is great not to have to get a ride to or walk sideways miles to reach an outfitter once a hiker leaves the trail.

We resumed southbound hiking, walked past the last signs of a commercial area, crossed the bridge over Shermans Creek where engineers appeared to be inspecting or surveying the bridge, and then made a sharp right hand turn off Inn Road to begin a steep climb up Cove Mountain. I was talking to Plodder and sort of walked just past the turn but Plodder kept us on the right heading. Hikers warm up very quickly on this vigorous climb. Trail maintainers must have expended a great amount of energy to move large stones in place to form a series of steps to deal with the elevation gain. Part way up I saw a rock cairn on the left side so I photographed it. It is almost hidden in the middle of the photo.

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We then met a young photographer who was carrying a tripod as he descended past us. He explained he had photographed the sunrise from Hawk Rock. He did not have a headlamp so he ascended in the diminished light before the sunrise. We continued up and I found some good siting rocks to take a break. The upper part of the climb is much steeper than the beginning. After a short break, we hiked for just a couple of minutes and arrived at Hawk Rock which was 2.0 miles into our hike. The skies were pretty clear and I took this photo of the view down into the valley below.

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Back on the trail for two more miles and a short climb of another 200′, we arrived at the side trail for the Cove Mountain Shelter. The AT guide said that the shelter is just .2 mile off the AT but as in each of the prior two days, the .2 seemed like .3, and we had to climb back up to rejoin the AT so we expended energy in order to visit the shelter. This shelter was clean and in good shape as has been the pattern on this trip. The Mountain Club of Maryland is obviously very well organized with volunteers to maintain these shelters and sections of trail so well. There was a written warning recommending hikers use the provided bear boxes to store food items as there had been increased bear sightings in this area.

 

Notice the mouse traps perched on one of the wooden framing pieces around the inside part of the shelter.

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Plodder noticed an intricate carving on the exposed end of a timber near the front overhang. I took this photo.

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The trail itself between Hawk Rock and a buried pipeline crossing is about 4.6 miles in length and features more rocky pathways than experienced further south in the Cumberland Valley farm fields. I imagine that northbound hikers, who had enjoyed about 15 miles of relatively easy footing, begin to get a taste of the rockier footing to come. Having already had the “pleasure” of completing all the sections north of Duncannon to the Delaware Water Gap (PA Sections #8,7,6,5,4,3,2 & 1), I know the pain that awaits the northbound hikers.

The descent off Cove Mountain is steep and the deep piles of leaves in some areas hid potential trip hazards but we took our time in order to be safe. We crossed some marshy areas using puncheon walkways, a footbridge and then finally, we emerged from the woods onto another farm field. We had an easy walk to the Rt. 850 parking area which we could see in the distance.

We finished the 9.1 mile hike and took photos of a mosaic art piece displayed at the parking area. Plodder then took our selfie to signify the end of our hike.

 

My Iphone health app said that we had climbed 35 floors and taken 29,563 steps on our third hiking day. The three day total was 81 floors climbed and 90,563 steps taken.

Our actual AT miles, not counting sideways miles to shelters or privies, was 28.2 miles.

We had originally planned on hiking a short 5.1 mile piece on the southern end of Section #9 on Day Four but heavy rains and heavy wind cancelled this planned short hike. It will be added to our next PA hike. We can see the end of PA finally. Just two sections left.

With the help of Commander Plodder and with the wonderful support of our wives, Sandy and Bernadette, we have now done 186.9 of the 229 miles in PA. This recent hiking trip puts my overall total for AT miles at 485.1 miles. I only have 1704 miles to go.

Thanks Commander Plodder. Looking forward to our next hike in a couple of weeks.

Condor 3

 

 

 

ICONIC WESTERN MEDITERRANEAN OCEAN CRUISE

In December 2018 Bernadette and I experienced our first Viking Ocean Cruise which took place aboard our ship named the Viking Sky. There were more than 900 passengers and about 450 staff to tend to all our needs. During this eight day/seven night trip we met some wonderful new friends, both staff and passengers.

Day One

Arrival at the Fiumincino-Leonardo Da Vinci International Airport in Civitavecchia, Italy which is just a short distance from Rome. Customs processing at the airport took a little over an hour and then we had about a one hour Viking coach bus ride to the ship. We were use to the small river cruise Viking long ships which have just 160 passengers on board. The sight of this ocean cruise ship in port was amazing. It is so gigantic. I could not imagine how much larger some of the 5,000-6,000 passenger cruise ships must be. We did the mandatory emergency drill and got oriented to the layout of the ship.

Sunday night dinner we met Fritz & Ankie from Burlington, Vermont at the hostess desk as we entered the restaurant. We agreed to sit together for dinner and we loved hearing the wonderful life journey that Fritz and Ankie followed after they left Holland and came to the United States many years ago.

We cast off around 10pm to sail to Livorno which would be our port for two days. The ship experienced a lot of wind and waves during the night and the motion was felt by many passengers. We arrived safely and the weather forecast was much improved.

Day Two/Three

We began this morning, as we did the rest of the mornings other than our last day, by having our breakfast delivered to us by room service. There is no extra charge for this service on the Viking Sky and it was a wonderful way to start each day. We arrived in the Port of Livorno, Italy where passengers could avail themselves of tours or to Pisa, Florence or other cultural areas nearby.

We chose Pisa and after a short coach bus trip narrated by our guide Sarah who has lived in Pisa for more than twenty years, we walked through the small city and then entered through a stone arch portal into the Square of Miracles where we saw these beautiful, old stone buildings on lush green lawns. I have seen many photos of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in books, magazines or on tv. But it is so incredible to see it in person. I took the below photo just after entering this monument site where you see the Baptistery, the Pisa Cathedral and the Leaning Bell Tower in succession on the left side of the walkway.

The Tower had its groundbreaking in 1173 and was completed in 1372 according to Wikipedia. It is 183.27 feet tall on the low side and 185.93 feet tall on the high side. There are 296 steps or 294 steps depending upon where you count. The seventh floor has two fewer steps on the north facing staircase which I climbed to reach the eighth floor where the bells are located. The bells are not rung any longer due to concerns that the vibration of these swinging brass bells could cause further damage to the tower. But when the bells were used, there were different bells used for different purposes such as for mass, for lunch, and for other occasions. The citizens of Pisa recognized the different bells for the daily events.

With Bernadette’s encouragement, I decided to purchase an access pass for $17 Euros to allow me to climb the circular stairs inside the tower with the 10:00am group, only 40 people are allowed in the tower at a time. Notice the carrara marble steps have been worn down due to the many persons who have walked upon these steps. The depressions were so deep in places that water pooled in the depressions on the step. There were no railings on either side of the stairs so all the visitors had to be careful up and down the stairs. The upper right photo is a view down toward the nearby statue. Here is what it looked like close up.

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Meanwhile, Bernadette went to a local cafe and had some a cappuccino while she people watched.

She then took my photo as I tried to straighten the leaning tower.

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We met Ron & Bobbye  from Dallas, Texas and Gunther & Susan from Orlando, Florida for dinner on Monday night. Meeting new people and sharing stories about our families and careers is always one of the most fun parts of these Viking trips.

We enjoyed Ron and Bobbye’s company so much we had dinner three times and lunch once with them. We loved hearing how Bobbye picked the names of her five daughters. Here we are on the last night we had dinner together. We wish them well.

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Tuesday night we ate at  the Italian cuisine Manfredi’s Restaurant as we sailed to Monte Carlo, Monaco.

Day Four

We awoke to a beautiful sunrise with a platinum sun in the port of Monaco. I took these photos from our veranda.

We had a brilliant blue sky for our tour which was guided by Dorothy.

Here we are on the deck of the Viking Sky with the apartments of wealthy Monacan citizens in the background.

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Monaco is the second smallest country in the world, just a couple of square kilometers. Dorothy quizzed us to tell her what is the smallest country. None of us knew. It is the Vatican City. There are more than three thousand millionaires in Monaco and there is no unemployment. Our walking tour took us past the Oceanographic Museum whose director at one time was the famous ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau. I took a photo of this yellow submarine which is located in front of the museum.

We next walked through the beautifully kept gardens

and then visited the St. Nicholas Cathedral where Princess Grace married Prince Rainer of Monaco in the 1960s. There was a phone booth looking structure across the street from the church. Dorothy explained that these booths are located all over Monaco and are used by anyone needing a cab ride. The phone call is free and the cab company knows the caller’s exact location of each phone booth.

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We ended our tour at the Prince’s Palace of Monaco and had the good timing to be able to see the changing of the guard which occurs about twelve noon each day.

After returning to the ship and having lunch with Bernadette, I wanted to take the water taxi back across the marina so I could visit the world famous Monte Carlo Casino. The water taxi was just $2 Euros each way and saved a  lot of walking time. The Monte Carlo Casino in Monaco and/or the areas around the casino have appeared in about six movies including three James Bond movies (Thunderball, Never Say Never Again, & Golden Eye) and Iron Man 2 according to a Google search.

I walked from the water taxi dock up the steep sidewalks and stairs to reach the casino’s main entrance. I entered the lobby which is free to the public. Since I wanted to enter the actual gambling areas of the casino, I paid a $17 Euro fee but, in return, was given a $10 Euro voucher which I cashed inside the casino. After walking past the gaming tables, I went to try the electronic slot machines for about twenty minutes. I then “cashed out” with the grand total of .10 Euros left on my balance. Here is the cash out ticket to prove it.

Photos cannot be taken on the casino floor so here is a photo of the Men’s Bathroom at the Monte Carlo Casino.

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Hopefully I will not be banned from future gambling trips to this casino. If a “whale” is a rich person who is courted by casino owners to entice the whale to patronize their casino, I would say that I am a krill which is a favorite small crustacean eaten by whales in the thousands.

Once back on the ship, I stopped at the Wintergarden area where the tea sandwiches and small pastries are served for the late afternoon “Tea”. The server staff offered me one of the samplers which I took up to the room for Bernadette who was reading a book.

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We had dinner again and then set sail for Marseille, France. Fortunately, the wind was calm and the trip was pleasant.

Day Five

After our usual breakfast, we took a shuttle bus out of the port area and began our tour of Marseille which is the oldest city in France according to our guide Benoit. Bernadette likes all our Viking river cruises in France the best. As she says, these are my people.

We stopped at a local cafe and Bernadette enjoyed a  cappuccino while I had my tea.

We enjoyed people watching and Bernadette chatted with the owner who let us photograph her colorful shoes. I posed next to a nearby palm tree. It was interesting to note that we saw palm trees in several different cities during this trip.

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We still had some time before meeting the tour bus for our ride back to the ship. We wandered down a nearby side street and came to a small shop where we met Sylvain Dijon who is a professional soap maker. He has taught classes in soap making at the nearby MuSaMa Museum. Bernadette purchased some of the soaps he made.

For lunch we ate outside at a table near the stern of the ship where an infinity pool is located. It was nice trying out different things to eat every day. The weather continued to be beautiful so it was great to be having lunch in mid 60s temperatures in Europe instead of dealing with temperatures in the 20s in New York.

Instead of eating dinner at the Chef’s Table Restaurant, Bernadette arranged to have dinner with Christine and Chris from Devon, England. Bernadette met them during the day and wanted to get to know them more at dinner. It was nice meeting Christine and Chris, who is a retired police officer from England. We enjoyed hearing the story of how they met each other. I wish I had tape recorded the British expressions used during our chat. If I had taped them, I could replay them and learn their pronunciations and meanings. If we ever get to London, we will have to figure a way to meet them again.

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Day Six

We docked at Sete, France around 8am. We enjoyed another beautiful sunrise. After breakfast, we had some time to read for a while as our local tour, guided by Christina, did not begin until 11:15am. After crossing several bridges over canal type waterways, our guide mentioned that in addition to being considered a fishing village, Sete has the reputation of being called the “Small Venice”.

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Our walking tour included navigating through an indoor fish and vegetable market which bore an amazing resemblance to the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia. One of the vendors was posing for tourist photos.

I saw some pies the size of small pot pies but they were actually octopus pies. Yummy! I passed on sampling this delicacy. Bernadette and I visited some other shops and finally made it to a shop which sold mortar and pestles. We had been looking for the right size ones and finally were successful.

Bernadette posed in front of some of the doors in the town.

We returned to the ship for lunch and sat at a table next to Carol and Laura who were a mother and daughter from Minnesota, near Twin Cities. They mentioned that both of their luggage had been wandering around Europe since they flew to Rome on the first day. The ship staff wash their only set of clothes each night for them. They were advised by the airline the reunion with their baggage should occur in Barcelona which is our last stop on the cruise. These ladies were very friendly and Bernadette put together a small bag with some scarves, necklaces and other items for them. They were still eating lunch when I delivered it and they were very happy to receive the gifts.

I was able to attend the 3pm bridge tour on our ship. What an array of technology is used to safely operate this ship. The photo on the right is the actual “wheel” to steer the ship.

We returned to our cabin as the ship began to sail to Barcelona, Spain.

Day Seven/Eight

We arrived in Barcelona at 8am and looked forward to our Panoramic Barcelona tour which began at 9am. Our tour guide, Leo, lived in Barcelona and was a fountain of information. He provided historical background while we rode on the bus and continued his information while walking through the various shopping areas.

We passed the Arc de Triomf which was not built to commemorate soldiers or a world war as in Paris. Instead, it was built to celebrate the 1st World’s Fair in Spain.

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We circled around the Christopher Columbus statue. Leo reminded us that if we got lost walking, look at the statue. Christopher Columbus was pointing his outstretched arm where the Viking Sky was docked!

Leo explained that the La Sagrada Familia Cathedral has been under construction for 136 years. It is 70% completed and the 15,000 visitors each day help fund the construction costs. The construction is scheduled to be completed June 10, 2026. When completed, it will be the tallest cathedral in Europe.

We passed many of the famous buildings designed by the famous architect Antoni Gaudi. Here are some photos of the ones we passed. There were many. Most were built for the very rich and prominent families of Barcelona.

It seemed like everywhere we turned, there were more fascinating things to see. Here are some sketches done by Pablo Picasso on two sides of a building.

Leo regaled us with the story of St. George (Sant Jordi, the patron saint of Catalonia, Barcelona), the Dragon Slayer. He explained that a fire breathing dragon outside the city was eating all their animals and food. The King decided to offer a human as a sacrifice to appease the dragon in hopes it would leave the city alone. The King asked for a volunteer but, surprisingly, no citizen volunteered. So a lottery was held to choose one person. Unfortunately, the King’s daughter, Princess Eleanor, was selected. She was kicked out of the gate of the city and was put in jeopardy of being eaten by the dragon. However, St. George arrived in the nick of time, slayed the dragon and saved the Princess. The blood shed by the dragon was the origination of a long standing tradition in Barcelona.

On April 23rd each year, in honor of St. George, it is customary for couples to exchange gifts. Men give red roses to women who, in return, give a book to the man. This date is celebrated as International Book Day.

We left the tour group during free time and went to a famous candy shop- Planelles Donat- which sells special Christmas holiday candy. We bought a couple of different types. Our tour guide explained that the line of customers as this store will be blocks long as the afternoon progressed. It was only a little after Noon when we visited the store.

We, of course, had to stop at a cafe in Barcelona. We enjoyed some white wine before rejoining our tour group.

We saw another interesting door for a photo and I joined Bernadette in this photo.

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We returned to the ship and had planned to enjoy Paella cooked by Paella Champion Chef Abundi Monterde, who along with other chefs, came onto the Viking Sky to cook three types of Paella in huge metal pots.

The flavors were seafood, vegetarian and chicken/pork. The lines were so long in the Wintergarden restaurant around the pool, we ate dinner elsewhere and came back to try some of the Paella. I had the chicken and pork version. It tasted like Spanish rice to me.

We had to return to our cabin in order to pack our luggage which was picked up at 10pm on Saturday night before our departure on Sunday afternoon. When we checked our mini fridge in our cabin, it was stocked with an abundance of extra chocolate and treats. Our cabin stewards were very accommodating.

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We had to exit our cabin by 8am so we had breakfast and then waited in the lobby before our airport shuttle departed.we looked at the various places we had visited on this cruise.

Viking did their usual efficient job at making sure we made it to the correct terminal at the Barcelona International Airport where our security checks were done in ten-fifteen minutes. Very quick. We had a multi hour wait at our gate until our flight back to Newark took off.

An interesting feature of the plane’s windows involved a small dial which could be adjusted to change the tinting of the window glass. There was no window shade to pull down to block out the light.

This trip afforded us the opportunity to add three new countries (Italy, Monaco and Spain) to our travel portfolio. We met some wonderful passengers and crew members. The logistics of going on tours or excursions is more involved on the ocean cruises but we did have some enjoyable times walking in the villages or cities. Barcelona and Pisa were our favorite places on this trip. But I think our next Viking cruise will be a river cruise. Now, where should we go next?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DUNCANNON, CUMBERLAND VALLEY FARMS AND THE FIRST SNOWSTORM

On Tuesday, November 13, 2018 Jamie aka Commander Plodder and I aka Condor 3 met up at the Super 8 by Wyndham Carlisle North, Rt. 11, Carlisle, PA to continue section hiking in Pennsylvania. As one of our planned hikes would end in Boiling Springs, we made a short trip to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Office of the Appalachian Trail Conference to pick up a free parking permit for the nearby long term trail head parking area. The staff were friendly and I purchased another patch to add to my hiking hat. I have now hiked miles in seven of the fourteen states.

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We returned to the Super 8 which is located just a half mile west of where the AT crosses Rt. 11 via a pedestrian bridge. Hikers wanting to go onto Rt. 11 can walk down a short hill to divert from the pedestrian overpass.

DAY ONE

The primary goal of the first day of this planned four day hike, beginning on Wednesday November 14th, was to finish PA Section #8 where two previous southbound attempts had been interrupted by falls needing professional medical care (I fell on 8/20/18 and Plodder fell on 9/18/18). We decided to hike the flat 1.8 miles from N. High Street and Broadway in Duncannon which is part of Section #9 before finishing the 6.3 miles of Section #8 between the Clarks Ferry Bridge and the PA Rt. 225 trailhead parking area. The weather was very cool but mostly clear and we looked forward to a safe 8.1 mile northbound hike.

I did not want to park behind the Doyle Hotel as we would not be staying there on this trip so I found a legal, marked parking space on Market Street, just across the street from the Post Office. There were no signs or other type of restrictions on these spaces so I felt okay parking here until we returned around 2pm. As soon as we were getting our backpacks out of the car, a woman came out of her house and said we couldn’t park there. She said she lived there. I was not going to argue with her. I told her we were not parking there overnight and would return at two o’clock to pick up our car. She relented and walked away. I guess she has had some bad interactions with hikers.

We walked the short two blocks up Broadway and turned right onto N. High Street where the AT follows along the sidewalk until the bridge which crosses the Juniata River before then crossing the Clarks Ferry Bridge over the much larger Susquehanna River.

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The sign explained the bridge was named in honor of pioneer Robert Clark who operated a ferry at this site. In 1828-1829 the Commonwealth of PA constructed a tow path and toll system for boats to cross the Susquehanna. This system was later replaced by a bridge in 1924-1925 in deference to the increasing use of automobiles.

Hikers just follow the white blaze painted on the concrete divider for the walkway.

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After crossing the river, hikers bear right down a ramp past a park ‘n’ ride lot, before crossing a set of railroad tracks which were partially hidden by huge piles of railroad ties. But the AT directional signs for northbounders or southbounders were very clear. Hikers need to use caution as this is apparently an active railway.

After crossing the tracks, northbound hikers immediately start gaining elevation with the aid of switchbacks up Peters Mountain. We climbed about 900 feet in a little more than two miles.

Along the way we passed the first of two different intersections where the Susquehanna Trail crosses the AT. There were some huge rock formations and we did some scrambling to safely continue along the trail. Here is one rock formation I moved slightly over to to the right to make it easier for hikers. Jamie caught the moment.

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You can see the white blaze on the tree just above my orange colored pack cover. Even though I normally only use the pack cover when it is raining, I decided to use it as more of a hunter safety best practice. Many of the AT sections in PA straddle Game Commission Hunting Grounds.

We reached the side trail signs for the Clarks Ferry Shelter and while I photographed the signs, Plodder turned right to head toward the shelter.

The shelter was a pretty standard three sided structure with a couple of interesting notes. Commander Plodder noticed that it appeared the front steps and part of the front of the shelter showed signs of having been burned from a fire in the nearby fire pit. The other feature of note was that there were two single elevated sleeping bunks located on each end of the main sleeping platform. It was not a full second story as we had seen in some designs, but it was a nice way to add two other sleeping spots for hikers.