Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Tripping along the Appalachian Trail

I had planned to hike on Saturday but after a trip to the grocery store and recycling center I decided against it. It was too cold with wind gusts of 25mph, so after checking that the weather would be great for a Sunday hike, I instead spent Saturday hanging out with cats with not a single twinge of guilt. They stayed close to me all day so I knew they were enjoying my company too. We whiled the day away looking up each time the wind howled around the cottage, throwing leaves against the french doors.
On Sunday I left when the temperatures were already in the upper 50's. I packed a light jacket but knew that I wouldn't really need it.
 I got to the trail head and was pleased to see only 2 cars parked in the small lot, the trail would be people free today. I started climbing upwards, noticing the difference along the trail as I marched along. Last time it had been lush with vegetation but now it was carpeted with crunchy brown leaves and persistent brambles fighting to cross the path. I nearly missed the tiny wooden 'view' sign on a tree, but spotting it, took the small path to the outlook. A tree had fallen across the path yet determined folks had forged a way through the undergrowth and I finally found a good use for my new hiking poles as I pushed aside the thorny branches.
 The view has never been that impressive from here and last time I couldn't see anything because of the heavily leafed trees in front of me. Even today with most of the leaves on the ground I still wasn't treated to a vista, but it was lovely feeling the warm sun as I sat on the bench.
But I didn't stop for long. After a few minutes I set off again, up the hill.
 The first couple of miles are mainly an incline with a few short level stretches. The rocky trail was harder to walk along than last time due to the thick layer of leaves,so I never knew where I was putting my feet. The shiny dry leaves were also very slippery and a few times I tripped on hidden rocks or slid on the back of my heel. I was grateful again for my hiking poles that saved me from taking a few tumbles.
 There was very little color left in the woods now, few splashes of red or yellow, but the sunlight dappled the trees and the wind fluttered among the leaves on branches or on the ground, turning them copper and gold as they flitted past. Rock monoliths pushed out of the ground, coated with lichens and moss, yet even with this late autumn beauty I was very much aware that there was no wildlife to be seen or heard. I didn't hear any birdsong and only saw a woodpecker twice, likely the same one in different trees. It made me miss the English woodlands, so dense with huge trees that people could hide behind and birds constantly trilling and flying past.
But it was wonderful to be out hiking in the middle of November in a t-shirt and sunshine. Poor old England, I knew, was getting hit with rain and here I was enjoying summer-like weather in late autumn.
 After a couple of hours, I came across a shelter for those intrepid long distance hikers. I was anxious to see one of these as I'd love to back pack along this trail in the spring and stay out overnight. I was a little concerned about how clean and safe these shelters were but I soon discovered I had nothing to worry about.
 A fire had been burning last night and 2 backpacks left on the trail by their owners whose voices I could hear calling for another friend.
The shelter was in excellent condition and had a good view over the valley. A BBQ and benches had been built and someone had even left some firewood for the next visitor, which would likely be that evening. A broom was leaning against the wall inside and had evidently been used very recently, the floor was spotless. There were a few knickknacks on a shelf recessed into the wall along with a visitors' journal. I pulled this out and sat at the bench to read some of the entries, hoping to get some feedback.
 There were serious as well as comical entries, and even a few artistic drawings. I had fully expected to read some complaints but every entry I read told of a wonderful time spent at the shelter. I also noted that it was quite heavily frequented, there were a lot of entries for each day, and was impressed how everyone had considered other hikers and left useful hints.
Somewhere to hang food supplies out of reach of black bears.
I carried along the trail and then turned back when I'd been hiking for 2 hours. And then amazingly another hiker came up behind me, the first person I'd seen that day. We exchanged hello's and I stepped to one side to let him continue marching past. And then about 10 minutes later a strapping young lad in his 20's came bouncing jauntily along the trail behind me. "Where've you hiked from today?' I asked him. " I've come from Maine, I'm walking the whole trail." he responded. "Bloody hell!" I spluttered, not expecting that response from someone who looked like he'd only left his car 5 minutes ago. He passed, grinning, and over his shoulder asked me how many miles I'd done today. "An in and out hike of about 6 miles" I responded, feeling a little inadequate, but he called back, "That's about what I've done today too!" and then he was gone from sight. I wondered if he just said that to make me feel better, but regardless, I was very impressed with him and his energy and wondered if he'd be at the parking lot when I got back to the car so I could chat with him some more. But he'd long gone when I got back to Stuart, and was likely striding along another 6 miles before he called it a night. I wish I'd got his name so I could track his progress on line, as many of these AT hikers keep a record. What a wonderful journey he was taking and I wished him safe passage and more beautiful weather on the remainder of his trek.

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