Dan and Hannah Hike the Appalachian Trail at Elkwallow in the Shenandoah National Park

Days Inn, Luray, Virginia with the Shenandoah Mountains in the background

Days Inn, Luray, Virginia with the Shenandoah Mountains in the background

We, or let’s be honest, I have chosen poorly for tonight’s motel stay in Luray, Virginia.  I choked.  Having just hiked three hours in the Shenandoah National Park in late April, Hannah and I arrive just before 7P in this town famous for its caverns.  Pulling into the first motel that we see, a Days Inn, we inquire about a room.

It’s two double beds for $62 and with a minimalist continental breakfast: Raisin Bran or Fruit Loops, mini store-bought bagels, oatmeal in a pouch, OJ, and coffee. That’s not good.  It’s a classic deal breaker!  But I’m soft. Having driven from Richmond this morning, hiked, and then driven 90 minutes more, I am just ready to kick back with an evening glass of wine with Hannah rather check out more in-town motels.  I convince myself that the breakfast can’t actually be as bad as what the motel clerk said it was.

EW  Luray

Downtown Luray, Virginia (population 4860)

As expected, the breakfast is dismal.   Neither fueled for our hike on the Appalachian Trail in the Shenandoah National Park or energized for the 600+ miles of driving home after we hike, the breakfast does prove to be the source of another good life lesson.  Take the time to get three bids for our business. That said, this hardly qualifies as even a first world problem.

The Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park

The Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park

With temps in the low 40s, it’s pants, long sleeve tee-shirt, and sweatshirt weather for our morning hike.  Leaving Luray via Route 211, we immediately climb the switchbacks of the three lane highway to the mountain top Skyline Drive as the temperature continues to drop. We select Elkwallow as our point to access the AT. (By the way, the verb “wallow” means to roll about or lie in water, snow, mud, or dust. The noun “wallow” is an area where animals wallow.)

Appalachian Trail HIker

Appalachian Trail Hiker

Pulling into the parking lot at the Elkwallow Camp Store, we jump onto the AT ready to begin a hike with 900 feet of elevation gain towards Rattlesnake Point. We’ll hike parallel to Skyline Drive, though we often can’t see the road from the trail.

EW 1B  H on trailApproaching from the north, we meet a young woman hiking a section of the AT for the past three weeks.   As soon as she sees us, she asks if we know what the weather will be. Though it’s sunny and 43F now, she has been hiking in rain and cold temps, colder than what she has expected. Whether it’s the cold or her caution or us, she is not into much conversation.

EW 3A  H on trailWe do learn she is from New England but shares few details of her life. Though one detail she does is telling – her dad didn’t want her to hike the AT alone.   She reminds me that females can feel and be more vulnerable hiking alone on the AT.  I think to myself, what would my advice be if our daughters Robyn or Molly wanted to hike the AT on their own.  My first reaction is that I’d be all in, supporting their goal to complete this daunting challenge.

There have been few hiking related deaths on the AT among thousands, millions(?) who have hiked this trail.  A notorious one in 1996 when two young women were murdered spooks people who are inclined to be spooked.  If Robyn or Molly are so inclined to hike the Appalachian Trail, I am on board and will be  cheer lead from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine.  I’d love to meet up and hike with them from time to time, buy them a meal, and treat them to an overnight in a motel.

Shenandoah Valley to the west

Shenandoah Valley to the west

Once past Matthew Arms Campground, the trail levels out to ridgeline hiking; our core body temperatures warm with our steady pace. With no leaves on the trees, we see vistas to the valley below. The downside is that we have mostly brown trunks and brown branches as company in our hiking day.

As 10A approaches, we look for a turnaround point 90 minutes into our hike. We’ll straddle the Skyline Drive on our way back, though we are rarely close enough to hear the few cars that pass on this cool pre-season spring day.

EW 3 Trail north of Matthew ArmsThen another backpack toting hiker approaches. We learn his trail name is Early Light; we share with him that we, too, are early risers.  As another three week section hiker, he is hiking north from Roanoke, VA. He’s so happy to be within a day of getting off the trail at Harper’s Ferry, WV where he will get a bus to head back home to Massachusetts.  After weeks on the trail, he openly laments that he finds the hiking quite monotonous.  Rarely has he seen vistas and lakes to punctuate the sameness.  I’ve heard that thru-hikers call the AT the “green tunnel” once the leaves come out. When you hike, you could really be anywhere; it all looks the same. It’s no surprise that a beer and pizza are what he looks forward to.

EW 3E  white blaze of trailAs for me, sleeping in shelters with others, hiking in bad weather, and my balky knees after all day hiking are three of many reasons why I wouldn’t hike the entire AT.  Another reason is that hiking for 8 t0 10 hours a day would be tedious.  Early Light says he understands why kids have their iPods and their books on tape; he has not come around to those diversions.  Given his doubts, I wonder whether he’ll finish all 2180 miles of the AT in sections after finishing these 250 miles.

EW 3D  more of trailAfter three hours on the AT, we arrive back at the Elkwallow parking lot knowing we are staring at 600+ miles of driving home through the traffic-clogged Northeast. But I wouldn’t have missed the chance of three hours on the AT in Virginia just to get a jump on the long drive. These are golden moments.

Dan and Hannah Hike the Jones Run Falls Trail in Shenandoah National Park

With the Vintager B&B in the background where we stayed

The Vintager B&B in the background where we stayed

Heading west on I-64 from Richmond, Virginia, Hannah and I have just had one of the Top Ten weekends of our lives this late April day.  Our son Will married Laurel Ann Crane yesterday under rainy skies; rain that was a blessing – a blessing because that kept the twenty- and thirty-something energy in the modern day barn all night long rocking to the music.

Laurel Ann minutes before the ceremony

Laurel Ann minutes before the ceremony

Because of the rain and mid-40s, 30 degrees below normal, everyone stayed in the barn. These young’uns never stopped dancing.   Given their father’s reluctance to dance, you might never have guessed that the York Rothermel kids can boogie.  Can they ever!  Robyn didn’t miss a beat.  For her rocking style at the wedding, Molly earned a bronze medal for her moves.   Will and his cousin Abby rocked on the dance floor all night long for dancing supremacy. The judges could not decide and awarded each the gold medal.

Proud Mama Bear with her cub

Proud Mama Bear with her cub

And, yes, I got my groove on and danced, and then danced some more. Since there were so many people dancing (thanks to the rain) I could hide in the crowd and catch my dancing groove. My secret? I’d watch the kids dancing and mirror their moves. It was all very cool, even if I wasn’t quite as cool as I thought I was.

Will and Laurel kiss with all attendantsHave you classmates in the Fair Lawn High School class of 1966 or others of that era got to this point in your lives? There was no traditional “couples” dance where the dj asks all married couples to come to the dance floor. She then asks those married, say five years, to leave the dance floor. More music is played and then those married ten years or less are asked to leave.   As it turns out, our nearly 43 years married would have won!  Tonight, we needed no such attention.  We’ll take our notoriety in being the parents of the groom.

Ready for a wedding in the Modern Barn

Ready for Will and Laurel in the modern barn

Driving from the site of Will and Laurel’s wedding at the Vintager B&B in Quinton, Virginia, we leave behind our new family, Will and Laurel, her parents Sandy and Ken, and her sister Courtney and husband Josh.   The forecast for the Shenandoahs this morning is for clearing as we drive past Charlottesville to the Skyline Drive heading north. (By the way, heading south at this point is the Blue Ridge Highway.)  The ranger directs us to the Jones Run Falls Trail which has three waterfalls for our hiking pleasure.

At the southern entrance to the Skyline Drive

At the southern entrance to the Skyline Drive

Throughout the park, the Skyline Drive is a winding ribbon of highway along the ridge of the Shenandoahs.  Just after the ranger station, we see a mother bear and three cubs crossing the Skyline Drive directly in front of us; the cubs no bigger than a foot long (they looked like black lab puppies). Once safely across, mama bear raises high on her back legs to make sure that we are moving on. Mother bears of all species would do the same.

Jumping on to the Appalachian Trail to begin the Jones Run Falls Loop Trail

Jumping on to the Appalachian Trail to begin the Jones Run Falls Loop Trail

Twenty miles after the ranger station we pull into the trailhead at Jones Run Trail with room for twenty cars. Our car thermometer shows the temperature has dropped to 43F.  With overcast skies, we take no chances and pull on pants, long sleeve shirts, and sweatshirts for this 6.5 mile loop trail with a 1700’ of elevation gain which is rated “moderate.”

JF AT map

For the first mile we are hiking north on the Appalachian Trail as this ridge hike descends gently into the Virginia forest. Within minutes, we meet up with two AT hikers, the younger of which is a flip-flopper.

Slapshot

Slapshot

As a flip flopper, he started hiking in the middle of the AT at Harper’s Ferry, WV and is heading to Georgia during the better spring weather in the American South. Hiking 1120 miles to Springer Mountain, he will then be driven back to Harper’s Ferry and hike the 1160 miles to the trail terminus at Mount Katahdin in Maine.   He is using a hockey stick as his trekking pole. Hence the trail name – Slapshot.

Crossing the Doyles River

Crossing the Doyles River

Within minutes we pass a young couple out for three days of backpacking. Guys have hit gold when they find an adventurous female willing to sleep on the ground in a tent, eat pork and beans from a can, and think that hiking in the pouring rain is a hoot. My gold is Hannah who likes to hike for three or four hours, return to the motel for showers, a glass of wine, and then sweet slumber.

Doyles River approaching the Upper Falls

Doyles River approaching the Upper Falls

As we hike the Browns Gap Fire Road, we see more day hikers coming back from the waterfalls this Sunday. Once two miles in, we turn east to hike along the Doyles River itself. We are in luck as the leaves are within a week or two of leafing out so we can clearly see the torrent of river; all from the same storm that doused Will and Laurel’s wedding last night near Richmond.

Rams in front of the Upper Doyles River Falls

Rams in front of the Upper Doyles River Falls

Still descending, we come upon the 28’ Upper Doyles River Falls. With melting snows and heavy rains feeding it, we are transfixed by nature’s exuberance – waterfalls. See the video below.

 

Soon we are descending the serpentine trail to the 63’ Lower Doyles River

Lower Doyles River Falls

Lower Doyles River Falls

Falls. We love us some falls. I hope you do too for here is our second falls video.

We continue descending on our trail with rocks that are manageable and nothing like the boot shredding rocks of the AT in Pennsylvania. Two hours into our hike we turn at the Jones Run Falls Trail and make our climb towards Skyline Drive. The temperature has gone to the high 5os now as we are down to tee shirts with our long sleeve shirts wrapped around our waists.

Poles needed for crossing the Jones Run

Poles needed for crossing the Jones Run

River crossings are few, but we come across one where we fortunately find two 5 to 6 foot river-crossing-branches that we use to steady ourselves. Though we must balance on slightly submerged rocks, we successful ford the stream and are on our way.

Soon we come to the third of three waterfalls, the Jones Run Falls.

Jones Run Falls

Jones Run Falls

Into our third hour of hiking, it’s all up hill. But the trail is not one that has us mountain climbing at all.  In fact, it’s gentle rise over two or three miles is pleasant and easy going. The Jones Run Falls Trail Loop with its three falls is a “don’t miss” hike in western Virginia.

Laurel Ann and Will Rothermel

Laurel Ann and Will Rothermel

It’s a good 75 minutes to our overnight stay in Luray, VA. Still aglow this day after our Second Wedding of the Century, we are just so damn happy for them and for ourselves.

Bon voyage Will and Laurel.