Dan and Hannah Walk the Slave Trail in Richmond, Virginia

The Robert E. Lee statue, one of many along Richmond's Monument Avenue

The Robert E. Lee statue, one of many along Richmond’s Monument Avenue

As another long cold, snowy winter is predicted for the eastern two-thirds of the United States, Richmond, Virginia comes into focus as a place to be.  It is a blue sweet spot in a state of red.  Once the capital of the Confederate States of America (Lincoln referred to them as the “so-called Confederacy”) during the War of Northern Aggression, Richmond is a modern day city thriving with Virginia Commonwealth University at its hub.

Overlooking the James River

Overlooking the James River

Here in Richmond, the famous words Give me Liberty or give me Death were spoken by Patrick Henry in 1775.  In 1997, the General Assembly voted to cancel the 1940 adoption of Carry Me Back to Old Virginny as the Virginia state song, in response to criticism that the words of the song “glorified” slavery.

ST 2B slave trail signThat segues to our walk along the Slave Trail on the James River in Richmond today.  It has been said that slavery was a stain on America.  Please!  That’s hardly a potent enough noun to characterize this tragedy.  Recorded in the history books that the Civil War was fought over states’ rights, phooey.  That sounds like spin to me.  It was all about enslaving fellow human beings for King Cotton.

Hannah’s College of Wooster classmate Bambi offers us the opportunity to educate ourselves further about this “peculiar institution” (an historical euphemism for slavery meant to defend its use despite the Declaration of Independence proclaiming that “all men are created equal”).

College of Wooster Women, Bambi and Hannah

College of Wooster Women, Bambi and Hannah

Having seen Bambi maybe once in the 40+ years since they graduated from college in Ohio, Hannah reconnects immediately as if they are just down the corridor at Wagner Hall. Just as active as we are, Bambi arranges a walk in Richmond to satisfy our neurotic urge to exercise any day, every day.

Winding our way by car past a recycling and waste treatment center on the James River, in shirt sleeves we pull into the parking for the Slave Trail on this mid-October day.

ST 5 Slave docksThe Slave Trail chronicles the history of the slave trade from Africa to Virginia.

It begins at Manchester Docks, a major port in the massive downriver Slave Trade that made Richmond the largest source of enslaved Africans on the east coast of America from 1830 to 1860.

The trail begins with the James River in the distance

The trail begins with the James River in the distance

Parking for what seems to be for 50 cars leads us to this river front trail. Along the trail are 17 explanation markers about this despicable time in American history.  From my brief exposure to the trail, it seems like these trail signs are not sanitized to absolve the white Southerners of the 18th and 19th centuries or demonize them.

ST map 2

From Explanation Three.

We were handcuffed in pairs, with iron staples and bolts, with a short chain about a foot long uniting the handcuffs and their wearers in pairs.  In this manner we were chained alternately by the right and left hand; and the poor man to whom I was ironed wept like an infant. Charles Bell, 1854.

Hannah and Bambi along the trail

Hannah and Bambi along the trail

Across the river from Richmond, we three spend the time catching up. Bambi was a sociology major in a time when a liberal arts education was held in high esteem (At Wooster, I majored in political science and Hannah in physical education.)  Service was at the center of the lives for many of us Flower Children of the Sixties.

ST 2F D on ST

A VCU Ram in Richmond, the home of the Rams

Winding along the James River, we are in a rural setting in the Richmond metropolitan area where 1.3 million people live and work.  As you would expect, the three mile river trail is level and tree covered; accessible to all ages, shapes, and sizes.  The dirt trail gives way to concrete sidewalks in front of massive flood walls along the James. Here the trail is wide enough for the three of us to walk side by side.

Along the concrete trail in front the flood walls

Along the concrete trail in front the flood walls

Built in the late 18th century, the Mayo Bridge was the access over the James for slaves and slave traders. Today, we cross on a crumbling sidewalk to the side of its four lane highway into the heart of Richmond.  In the past, the James River was an industrial river that no one loved. Why in the mid-20th century, public access to the river was prohibited given its status as an open sewer. Today Richmond area residents are rightfully proud of the area and take full advantage of its multi-use trails and recreation opportunities.

VCU banner at the Irish Pub

VCU banner at the Irish Pub

The climate in Richmond begs New Englanders to head south.  Average highs are in the mid-40s in January and by April highs are in the low 70s.  Snow?  Even a snowy first winter by local standards for our son Will and his fiancee Laurel still meant that Will never shoveled once!  It snows, it melts, and it’s gone.  Sounds like a dream world.

The temperature does rise inside VCU’s Siegel Center where Coach Shaka Smart has led the Rams to the NCAA basketball tournament each of the last four years. Fifty-two straight sell outs are testament to the appeal of VCU’s fast break offense and swarming “HAVOC” defense.

Al fresco

Al fresco

Being close to three in the afternoon, we lunch al fresco at the Sine Irish Pub in the Shackoe Bottom section of bustling downtown Richmond. With no one about, we have a private “room” watching the world go by. Forty years of lives unfold as we share our journeys and Bambi shares hers.

Heading home

Heading home

It’s a delightfully warm three mile walk back to the trailhead as we enjoy the sunshine, the exercise, and especially reconnecting with a new “old friend.”

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Dan and Hannah Hike the Appalachian Trail near Erwin, Tennessee

Appalachian Trail MapAfter days of rain in the forecast, the rain gods finally have their way.  Tuesday le deluge comes to western North Carolina.  After John Denver hiking (i.e., that’s right – sunshine on our shoulders) near Hot Springs, we have rain and more rain on this our zero day (no hiking).  Stepping in and out of drenching downpours, we hit Asheville hot spots: Lunch at O’Charley’s with Hannah’s sister Bettsy, then later dinner at Chorizo (Mexican) with Jeff, my College of Wooster tennis teammate.

map of erwin tnNo matter the weather, there is no doubt we are going to hike in Tennessee this mid-October Wednesday. Only 45 minutes from the AT in Tennessee, we won’t miss this chance as tomorrow we head for home some 1000 miles away.

Parking by the Nolichucky River in Erwin, TN

Parking by the Nolichucky River in Erwin, TN

Waking in the Mars Hill, NC Comfort Inn, we can’t even see across the parking lot. The fog is Great Smoky Mountain thick. After a motel breakfast that includes biscuits and gravy for Hannah, we drive west on I-26 to Erwin, Tennessee, a mere 45 miles away, through fog, then into sunlight. The AT passes through Erwin a mere 340 miles from the AT’s origin at Springer Mountain, Georgia. The hiking gods have smiled upon us as we will be hiking precipitation-free today.

Nolichucky River at flood stage

Nolichucky River at flood stage

Driving along the Nolichucky River, we are winding our way deeper into the rural South. Visions of Deliverance come to mind. Deliverance (1972) scared the bejesus out of me.  All the worst stereotypes of hillbilly mountain folk are shown in terrifying detail.  It’s a disturbing movie along the lines of Fargo (1996) in that it’s all too real and frightening.  Even so, we are fearless today.

ET 1C Unaka Springs FBChurchPassing the Nolichucky Hostel and Outfitters on River Road, we park roadside. After yesterday’s heavy rains, the Nolichucky is at flood stage.  Crossing the bridge, we see another of the many small churches in town. Erwin has 6000 people.  YP.com lists 254 churches in Erwin!  You do the math.

ET 1 hanging elephantOnce home to Cherokee Indians, Erwin earned some notoriety in 1916 by holding a public execution of an elephant. Who knew? Mary, the elephant, had killed her handler, Walter Eldridge, in nearby Kingsport.

Mountainside above the Nolichucky River

Mountainside above the Nolichucky River

Crossing a railroad, we climb mountainside above the Nolichucky River on this 50F degree morning. With the heavy wind and rains of the past 24 hours, the trail is leaf covered; our goal is to hike four miles to the Curley Map Gap Shelter. Starting at 1700 feet here in the valley, we will climb 1400 feet more.

Trail of rhododendrons

Trail of rhododendrons

Along the mountainside through a thick forest above the river, we have the beauty of lush rhododendrons each step of the way. The trail is foot-pleasing dirt with enough rocks to keep our attention. We are walking in a forest treasureland far beyond the routines and “to-dos” of daily life.  Again, we are blessed.

Lush rhododendrons along the Appalachian Trail

Lush rhododendrons along the Appalachian Trail

After two miles of hiking we have a steady climb with switchbacks through the deciduous forest. As our sweatshirts come off, shorts and tee shirts feel just right. October is just a fantastic, invigorating month to hike in the South. (Two weeks later on November first, this area gets seven inches of snow!)

Another VCU Ram sighting

Another VCU Ram sighting

Once done with the steady climb, we return to our ridge line conversation.  Is it a red flag to feel sorry for anotherOn the surface, feeling sorry for another might make it seem like one cares.  Not so fast my friend.  Could something else be going on?  Say a little self-righteous judgment?  When we feel sorry for another, are we really saying that “we have decided that you have not made the right choice or, more likely, the choice we would have made?”  Projecting that their life is something less because it is not the life we would choose seems a tad arrogant. Well, a ton arrogant.

“Judgments prevent us from seeing the good that lies beyond appearances.” – Wayne Dyer

Curley Maple Gap Shelter log entries of thru-hikers

Curley Maple Gap Shelter log entries of thru-hikers

And then the Curley Maple Gap Shelter appears suddenly. What a blessing these shelters are for thru-hikers, especially in storms like last night. They are free and foster togetherness, whether one wants it or not. (Click on log entries image to read them more easily.)

Let me show you the Curley Maple Gap Shelter.

ET 5B mountain stream

Heading back down the mountain, we soon meet Loaf who is section hiking the AT. (A section hiker is one planning to hike the entire AT, but in sections of say, two weeks here, four weeks there, over the course of a number of years).

ET 3C H on trailHe did find a shelter last night from the rain, but said Monday’s 50 mph winds on Big Bald (a mountain top without trees) were the toughest.  Funny 50 miles south of Big Bald that same day, we were hiking in the 70F degree sunshine of the AT near Hot Springs. His trail name Loaf was given to him years ago, when starting off on the AT at Springer Mountain, he carried a loaf of French bread for days for a fellow female hiker.

ET 6A welcome to DamascusBack at the Nolichucky, we pack up a little after noon, set to take a 20 mile detour to see Damascus, VA, just over the Tennessee border.  Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Damascus is known as the #1 “Trail Town” along the A.T.

ET 6 trail town signIt holds Trail Days, a multi-day festival attracting thousands of hikers during mid-May each year (Mid-May is about the time that many thru-hikers who began hiking the AT at Springer Mountain, Georgia arrive in southern Virginia).

With Tennessee in the books as our 13th of 14 states of the AT, we set our sights on #14 Georgia next fall.  What an opportunity we have to combine it with some hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Dan and Hannah Hike the Appalachian Trail near Hot Springs, North Carolina

HS Map of North CarolinaToday is like a big par five.  We have one long drive from Richmond (RVA) before we hike.  Given that Virginia and North Carolina abut and given that RVA is in the center of Virginia, we still have more than 400 miles of driving to Asheville in far western North Carolina. Knowing what lies ahead, I sleep restlessly and wake Hannah early this mid-October Monday; soon we are on the road heading west on I-64 to I-81 south.

HS 1 Chick sign

Shortly after 9A, three hundred miles into the drive, we stop in the little border town of Abingdon, VA looking for a breakfast diner.  Though Denny’s or Cracker Barrel might provide a fine breakfast, we want an experience that we can’t find just anywhere and at a good price.  As we fill up for $2.92 per gallon (it’s $2.63 now), a delightful country woman explains in sweet detail how to get to Chick-N-Little at the other end of town.

Quite a breakfast for a VCU woman

Quite the breakfast for a VCU woman

Picture this: a diner with pictures from the 1960s (e.g., Dean Martin) on the wall with frames that you get at the Dollar Store.   Just men, maybe fifteen of them, are at tables and the counter in work jeans and old man khakis.  For $5.99 Hannah gets a veggie omelet, home fries, and biscuits and gravy!  Clearly the sky is not falling at Chick-N-Little.

Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine

Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine

As we drive on to Asheville, I think I am just so clever killing two hiking birds with one trail stone. Let me explain. For a good 150 miles, the Appalachian Trail (AT) straddles the North Carolina/ Tennessee border. Ergo, we have an opportunity to hike a trail that borders both states so we can bag states #12 (NC) and #13 (TN) in our quest to day-hike all 14 AT states.  Clearly, I am overly impressed with my delusional brilliance.

HS 5 HS town signFalling immediately in love with small town Hot Springs, NC, we learn that it’s named for a natural spring with 100+ degree mineral waters. The town itself is becoming a popular tourist destination for rafting and kayaking on the French Broad River as well as hiking, mountain biking, and backpacking.

HS 4 AT diamondThe AT itself goes right through the center of town on Bridge Street marked with AT diamonds in the sidewalk. To find a twofer trail (NC/TN), we enter the small library where Winnie tells us of a trailhead just north of town. But she says, The Welcome Center knows more about hiking in both states.  Babs at the Welcome Center lets us know that she doesn’t think the NC/TN border is close, but the folks down the street at the Bluff Mountain Outfitters will know more.  Whipping out a map, they tell us we are ten miles from the nearest NC/TN border.

French Broad River

French Broad River

Not having done the necessary research of the AT in NC and TN, I nod and smile and think, que sera sera.  It is what it is.  Tennessee is still in our sights and we will somehow hang that pelt on our wall in the coming days.

Hannah on the AT in North Carolina on a sun-dappled day

Hannah on the AT in North Carolina on a sun-dappled day

Now close to 130P, we choose to hike north crossing the French Broad River out of town. Our trail begins as a dirt road along the river by cabins for thru-hikers.  The weather is amazing, sunny near 70F degrees. (Two weeks later heavy snow falls.)

High above Hot Springs, NC on the French Broad River

High above Hot Springs, NC on the French Broad River

Once in the mountains of North Carolina, we are using the switchbacks to climb above the French Broad River.  With our sweatshirts tied around our waists, we are down to our tee shirts and shorts; we talk very little in such steep assents.

Hiking among the thick North Carolina rhododendrons, we are in leafy heaven.

A double white blaze means a turn in the trail.  One of the last we see.

A double white blaze means a turn in the trail. One of the last white blazes we see.

With Hannah in the lead, the trail seems obvious and well-traveled; though we no longer notice white blazes to guide us.  Just days ago on the AT in Pennsylvania, we had white blazes every 100 to 200 yards for guidance and reassurance.  But here after 15 minutes, Hannah turns to me with a “this is odd” expression and says, I haven’t seen a white blaze in quite a while.

Hannah on the trail of rhododendrons

Hannah on the trail of rhododendrons

Backtracking to the last white blaze we saw, we see no evidence that we have missed the correct trail, and now we are just pissed.  Really? You can’t mark the trail this close to town?  Bummed, our annoyance rising, we think, If you can’t mark the trail well enough, we are just not going to hike you anymoreSo there.  We know this is childish and petulant; so be it.  We are what we are.

Determined to carry a grudge and show the trail how really p.o.-ed we are, we turn to town and disparage the trail so it can hear us; we just don’t look at it as we harrumph our way out of the woods. We want no part of its empty apologies.

At the base of the 51 steps to south on the AT

At the base of the 51 steps to south on the AT in Hot Springs

Through town and to the south, the AT climbs 51 stone steps into the forest. As with the north side of town trail, this is a relentless climb on this warm day.  It is Carolina at its finest.  Down to our tee shirts, which are soon soaked with sweat, we are getting the work out we wanted when we awoke twelve hours ago in Richmond.

Fall coming to the mountains of North Carolina

Fall coming to the mountains of North Carolina

The trail is rocky as we have come to expect from the AT. Though the forecast has gone back and forth between rain and no rain, today is picture perfect.  We do see more white blazes, and are coming down off our high horses.

Back through town before 5P so Hannah can buy post cards at the Bluff Mountain Outfitters, we have notched AT State #12 in North Carolina.

Now Tennessee!  Nearly 1000 miles from our home in Maine, we are not going to miss this opportunity to hike in the Volunteer State when we are this close!  Come hell or high water or the rain that is predicted we will hike in Tennessee.

HS 9P AT trail sign

 

Dan and Hannah Hike the Appalachian Trail near Boiling Springs, PA

 

My second cousin Katie, a fulltime weather genius

My second cousin Katie rocking the weather in FLA

Off to Richmond, VA (RVA) to see our son Will and his fiancée Laurel, I have had rain on the brain for days.  I have two weather apps on my iPhone.  On our laptop, the weather channel icon has the position of honor on the tool bar.  I’m all over the weather.  Reasonably, one might suggest counseling.  For the last ten days, rain has been in and out of the forecast for our hiking adventure to Pennsylvania, Virginia, and points south.

Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine

Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine

After a day of hiking on the Appalachian Trail (AT) near Delaware Water Gap, PA (see blog for November 1, 2014), Hannah and I sack out at the Comfort Inn in Allentown, PA; the morning forecast is for a 70% chance of rain.  Make it 100%, it doesn’t matter!  We are hiking manana.  Be it with ponchos and/or umbrellas.  I’m serious; I’ll bring umbrellas on the trail even if I look like Mr. Mary Poppins.  Let me tell you, we haven’t driven the long way to RVA by way of I-81 to just drive the long way to RVA.  Fortunately, Hannah is game for hiking among the raindrops.

In the morning, thankfully the percentage chance of rain is down to 20%.  Rain has been pushed back to the afternoon.  Sweet.

Boiling Springs, PA

Boiling Springs, PA

It’s nearly a two hour drive on I-78 and I-81 from Allentown, PA to the AT town of Boiling Springs, PA.  A town of 3000+, Boiling Springs gets its name from its natural artesian wells.  Going right through town, the AT in Boiling Springs is just about the halfway point of the AT’s 2180 miles.

The trail begins across

The trail begins across Yellow Beeches Creek

Once in town, we are directed to the far end of the Children’s Lake, home to ducks, swans, and geese, for trailhead parking.  As we ready for the hike, a few drops fall; the Universe wants our attention.   Dan and Hannah don’t be fools. Pack your ponchos. I’m only going to say this once.  All ears, we pack our ponchos with our water bottles and Nature Valley crunchy Oats ‘n Honey granola bars (a personal favorite).

The trail to the soybean and corn fields

The trail to the soybean and corn fields

Starting at a modest elevation of 500 feet, we have four miles of trail to the Alex Kennedy Shelter.  At our highest point we will climb to the 1060 foot Center Point Knob.  Crossing the bridge over the Yellow Beeches Creek, we cross a railroad and hike for the next two miles through soy bean and corn fields.  How great is it that Old MacDonald lets us e-i-e-i-o through his fields.

Bisecting the Indian corn fields and soy bean fields

Bisecting the Indian corn and soy bean fields

And then light rain starts to fall. Not enough to take our ponchos out but enough to get our attention.  In the lead, Hannah turns and says, Did we pack both ponchos?  A quick check shows that we did not.  Bummer.  What to do?

The AT crosses the Pennsylvania country side

The AT crosses the Pennsylvania country side (Double white blazes mean a turn in the trail)

Hike on and hope it doesn’t rain?  Blame? (always a “go to” strategy in times of stress).  We choose door number three.  Just turn the hell around and go back the half mile we’ve come, get the other poncho, and start again. It is what it is.  Perhaps something new and cool will happen because of this development.  On the plus side, we will get in an extra mile of hiking today.

BS 5A h crossing field

Going back the half mile to get the poncho is like having a generator in New England.  Hear me out.  Today it may not rain and thus we have no need for the ponchos; likewise we may never lose power and ever need a generator.  But not having to think of the possibilities of rain or losing power settles the soul and allows us to be in the moment.

The white blazes guide us on the AT

The white blazes guide us on the AT

As you can imagine, the fields are reasonably level and take us through the country side similar to what we might have seen 150 years ago during the Civil War.  Just 25 miles, as the soldiers march, north of Gettysburg, Boiling Springs was a stop along the Underground Railroad in the 1800s.

You can't keep a good VCU Ram down

You can’t keep a good VCU Ram down

We think back to our chance meeting with T-Bone (her trail name), the thru-hiker we met yesterday. By a fairly direct route, we drove the 145 miles from Delaware Water Gap, PA to Boiling Springs in about three hours; on the other hand she has 173 miles of trails to Boiling Springs that might take her 10 to 12 days. God bless you, Henry Ford!

Atop Center Point Knob

Atop Center Point Knob

With the fields behind us, our early afternoon hike during mid-October takes us into the forest. Climbing 500 feet to the top of Center Point Knob, I take smaller steps as my breathing increases. Under overcast skies, but no longer even any sprinkles, I go from Maine sweatshirt to VCU basketball tee shirt.

Once at the top, we descend the mountain heading north on the AT.  As with most of the AT that we know and love, we have rocks and roots aplenty.  Even so, we do not have the sharp, angular, jagged rocks of eastern Pennsylvania attacking our hiking boots as they did yesterday at the Delaware Water Gap.

Arriving at the Alex Kennedy Shelter after four miles of hiking, we know the rain is acoming.  Of that there is no doubt.

Enjoy the shelter video.

A quick bite of apples and granola bars and we are heading back to Boiling Springs to beat the rain.  Over nine miles of hiking (including the bonus mile of backtracking), we complete our outdoor adventure in three hours.  We now face a choice of how to get to Richmond on this Friday of Columbus Day Weekend.

BS 9D H on trail

We can be idiots and drive directly from Boiling Springs to the Beltway around Washington, DC, and then on through the hell that is I-95 from DC to Richmond during the evening commute.

Or we can add 100 miles to our drive by heading southwest on I-81 and then come in to Richmond from the west on route 64.

We like to think we aren’t stupid; we take option two.  With five hours of driving ahead of us, we stow our packs quickly as, wouldn’t you know it at this very moment (cue B.J. Thomas) the rain drops keep falling on our heads.

By the way, check out this shelter outhouse on the Appalachian Trail

 

 

Dan and Hannah Hike the Appalachian Trail near Delaware Water Gap, PA

US Map of states

As a youthful parent, I had the goal for our family to visit all 50 states.  To that end, we once drove from Maine to Florida to nick a little slice of northeastern Louisiana to pick up the Cajun State as well as Mississippi and Alabama. To nab our 49th state, over six days we drove 4500 miles in a GMC Van on the very rough and rocky Alaska Highway (two flat tires!).  You might say we were driven.  Hawaii awaits.

Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine

Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine

Of late Hannah and I are on another mission of numbers. Though we have no interest in being thru-hikers of the Appalachian Trail (AT) from Georgia to Maine, we do want to day-hike in each of the fourteen states of the AT.  Ten down, four to go: Keystone (PA), Tarheel (NC), Volunteer (TN), and Peach (GA).

AT near the Delaware Water Gap

AT near the Delaware Water Gap

Today we are bagging #11 – Pennsylvania – the childhood homes of my mother Jean (Ben Avon) and father Dan (Sunbury).

Heading south to spend the 31st birthday weekend with our son Will and his fiancée Laurel in Richmond, VA, Hannah and I leave York, ME in the early morning dark of mid-October for the New Jersey/Pennsylvania border some 350 miles away.

DWG 1 town sign

Delaware Water Gap, PA is a little AT town of 700 people. This gap in the Kittatinny Mountains is part of the Appalachian Mountain Range.

Just over the Jersey border, we drive into the State of Pennsylvania Welcome Center for directions to the AT trailhead.  A mere mile away, the AT to Mount Minsi begins with convenient trailhead parking.

Pennsylvania rocks, in many ways

Pennsylvania rocks, in many ways

In Pennsylvania, the AT is known for its boot-shredding rocks.  Sharp, angular, and omnipresent.  After thru-hikers on the AT from Georgia have traveled 1055 miles, the rocky terrain of the Land of Brotherly Love is their overland prize.  Undeterred and strong of boot, we head south on the AT today.

Joe and Hannah

Joe and Hannah

And not a minute later, we hear a little professor-type ask us if we’d like our picture taken.  He introduces himself as Joe Ciaccio who walks this trail every day and welcomes hikers to the AT.  He offers us a tutorial on the white blazes of the trail (white indicating the main trail).  He recommends the two outlooks overlooking the Delaware Water Gap.

DWG 2 H and D at start of trail

He points out a harmless looking white snakeroot. (Click on these links for more information and images.)  That’s the same plant that killed Abraham Lincoln’s mother (She drank the milk of a cow that had eaten the white snakeroot.)  We agree not to mess with it.  Ready to hit the trail, I reach for his hand.  He in turn gives me knuckles, the hiker handshake.

Fire Trail begins our hike on the AT

Fire Trail begins our hike on the AT

On this 64F degree afternoon, the AT starts out on as a fire road.  With Hannah in the lead, our pace is purposeful and upbeat since we have been in the car for six hours; the forecasted rain is holding off until manana.  Soon the trail weaves back into the forest with a promise of high perch outlooks above the Delaware River, which separates New Jersey from Pennsylvania.

VCU Ram out for some exercise

VCU Ram out for some exercise

From the trailhead at an elevation of 400 feet we are climbing two miles towards 1460 foot Mount Minsi.  On the trail, some people like to check out the flora (trees, plants, and the like) while others seek out the fauna (bugs and animals of all sizes). Hannah and I look for upright fauna with opposable thumbs (other hikers).

White blaze of the Appalachian Trail

White blaze of the Appalachian Trail

To make those connections I wear my Maine sweatshirt; beneath is my ever present VCU (Virginia Commonwealth University) basketball tee shirt.  Today we first meet a couple married for the second time who just seem so damn happy to have met each other and got it right this time.

Unscripted

Unscripted

A young couple offers to take our picture and candid is what we get.  Later a woman who actually went to VCU warns us of white caterpillars that burn the skin when touched.  I learn later that the White Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar is a nasty little fellow.  It’s all a moot point.  Who picks up caterpillars anyway?  I guess kids would be the answer to that question.

At the Lookout Rock we offer to take the picture of a young couple in love.  They decline for they, and the cliche holds, only have eyes for each other.  The October leaves here in the Mid-Atlantic are beginning to turn.  The AT takes us through a forest of rhododendrons; lush, they give the trail a Garden of Eden feel.

A video from high above the Delaware River.

Atop Mount Minsi

Atop Mount Minsi

At Council Rock, we meet a local, who climbs the trail for peace and quiet.  Our 1000 foot ascent on this narrow rocky trail through the Pennsylvania forest never seems perilous as we are rarely cliffside.  Once atop Mount Minsi we return to the easy going fire road with its side trails that overlook the Delaware River Valley.

Up on the ridge fire road

Up on the ridge fire road

We amble down this ridge trail fire road knowing how fortunate we are to have our health and the wherewithal to enjoy the outdoors.  The Minsi Mountain part of the AT is a wonderful combination of a steady climb and mellow ridge hiking.

Liberal weenie tree hugger

Liberal weenie tree hugger

On our return, we meet a young woman with the trail name T-Bone.  Irony all the way as she is a vegan. Having left Katahdin in mid-July with her boyfriend, she was slowed by his injury; eventually he had to leave the trail.  With a pack weighing a mere 15 pounds when most packs are 30-40 pounds and some over 50, she’s taken three months to go 800 miles; it’s not likely she’ll make it to Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the AT, before the snow flies.

We say good-bye to the Delaware River

We say good-bye to the Delaware River

Our descent is satisfying and, as you would expect of descents, all downhill.

After three plus hours of hiking, we drive to the Comfort Inn in Allentown, PA, some 70 miles away.  Showered, we toast the hiking day with a glass of Shiraz to celebrate our 11th Appalachian Trail state.

North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia – we are coming after you.