The conversation above was pretty comical to me, since it came after eighteen
miles of almost 30-minute pace walking today. I spent almost nine hours going
only 19.1 miles, folks. That's gotta be the slowest I've yet done out here.
Why? Because of the unrelenting, unforgiving, unending ROCKS. Big rocks.
Boulders. Slabs. Pointy rocks. Rocks at all angles, like the merciless gods
hurled them down upon the Appalachian Trail in a fit of anger.
I tried, I really tried hard, to make peace with the rocks today.
I'm an optimist by nature, and try to "find the silver lining in the clouds."
I've been fighting the rocks on the AT since I began this adventure run almost
two months ago. I decided today that I have to stop focusing so much on the
$#%&*@ rocks and focus on forward motion (no matter how slow) and the incredible
beauty all around me on the Trail.
I just can't run in, on, or around rocks very well. I'm too clumsy. I don't
want to sprain an ankle or fall down hard again and get some other injury like
And running in, on, and around rocks is tiring. It's even tiring walking
in, on, and around rocks, but less so than running.
So as I made my slow way up the Three Ridges this morning, I tried to embrace
the rocks mentally: accept that they are there and coexist peacefully
with them, even as I used both hands to pull myself up and over some of the
The Appalachian Trail was designed and built for hikers, not runners. People
who walk at a leisurely place, not those who want to go a little faster. I'm an
interloper in traditional hiker territory.
I've also learned that the AT guides assume there are rocks on the
Trail. That's why they seldom mention them. When they do, as today's section
noted, I now know they mean really, really rough trail ahead. I won't
know ahead of time when I'm getting nice, smooth treadway, so when I do, I will
be grateful and cherish it like a gift.
It's my own fault for choosing this trail for my journey run. In hindsight, I
should have chosen a smoother long trail like the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) if I
wanted to run more than walk. But I didn't, and I'm determined to finish this
one, even if it takes me longer than planned. I'm committed.
(Or should be!)
I guess I had an "epiphany" of sorts today. Appropriate, eh, considering I just
emerged from the Religious Range yesterday??
I have to admit that I was feeling less kindly toward the rocks by the end of
the day. I'd wanted to cover thirty miles today, but my pace was too slow to
accomplish that goal. I called Jim a couple times to let him know how I was
doing. There were limited options re: where the AT crosses the Blue Ridge
Parkway, and I didn't want to stop too soon.
We found a place Jim could park the camper off the Parkway (he was moving it
to a new location today) near Humpback Rocks, 19+ miles into my hike. I had to
walk out 1.3 miles on a side trail to get to the parking lot and do the reverse
in the morning. I'll count the "bonus miles" in my running log, but not in the
The side trail was full of rocks, too! I was glad Jim could see what I'd been
up against all day (he came in to the AT to be sure I got the right trail out,
bless his heart).
Oh, and I found some mean old trail volunteers from the Old Dominion, Natural
Bridge, and Roanoke AT Clubs, plus the Konnarock crew, adding even MORE rocks on
a section of the Trail on Humpback Mountain! About twenty men and women were
hard at work building steps and water dams to reduce erosion near Laurel Springs
Gap. I chatted with each small group and thanked them for their efforts.
There were a lot of steel-blue colored shale rocks in the area, so I chose a
small one to keep to remind me of my pledge to "embrace the rocks" and quit
moaning and groaning about them.
REWARDS UP HIGH
Even though I can't recommend this section for running, it makes a beautiful
hike any time of the year. There are many rock outcroppings that afford great
views of the mountains and valleys in every direction, similar to those at
McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs near Roanoke.
Another reward was seeing all the mountain laurels and rhododendrons still in
bloom above 3,000 feet. The rhododendrons just plain make me smile, no matter
how tough a day I'm having. I know I'm nearing the northern edge of their range
and soon won't see any more. Each time I see them, I realize it may be the last
There are also a lot of pink wood roses blooming in this area right now.
The first eight miles were in the Three Ridges Wilderness Area, including the
South Ridge, Middle Ridge, North Ridge, Hanging Rock, and Chimney Rock. The
highest point is about 4,000 feet, an elevation gain of about 3,000 feet from my
start at the Tye River.
I crossed the Tye on the third beautiful suspension bridge I've seen on the
AT. The first half mile up was on a smooth, gently-graded "relo" but soon got
steeper and more gnarly. Although I was energetic and full of positive mental
attitude when I started this morning, I was pretty well tuckered out both
physically and mentally by the time I reached the third and highest ridge.
On the way up, I tried to divert my thoughts from the rocks to thoughts about
the names of these peaks: South, Middle, and North Ridge. Now that's
about as imaginative as naming nine mountains in Virginia "Brushy" and five
What about some more creative names like yesterday's "Bald Friar?" Now
there's a name I like! I'm not likely to ever forget that one.
The only shelter I visited was at Harpers Creek, a beautiful, peaceful
setting with the creek only a few feet from the front of the shelter. No one was
there. I met a group of about eighteen Boy Scouts and adult chaperones that was
leaving the area and heading south to their vehicles at the Tye River. Although
I saw numerous day and weekend hikers in the Three Ridges and Humpback Rocks
areas, I saw no thru-hikers today.
But Jim did! When he was leaving Buena Vista with the camper around noon, he
saw Rain/Dance and their dog walking downtown. We met them in Damascus. Jim
stopped to talk to them and offered them a ride, but they were in town for lunch
at an Italian restaurant. They're having problems finding enough water for their
dog, which is smaller than Cody. I know what they mean. It's the main reason I
haven't had him running with me much the last month.
Near the trail to the second shelter (Maupin Field) I found several bags of
food left for thru-hikers - great Trail Magic! I've taken only one thing so far,
a soft drink left at a shelter. I always have enough provisions for myself for
one day, and feel guilty taking anything that a back-packer might need more.
But when I saw ripe, fresh peaches, I just had to have one! I slurped it down
happily and left a thank-you note to the kind Trail Angel who left the goodies.
Oh - I also took a Snickers bar for Jim. It's his favorite candy.
One more treat today was provided by a mama grouse. I got to enjoy the
"grouse deception," where mama bird lures predators or other threatening beings
away from her nest by feigning a broken wing or other injury. She hobbled down
the trail in front of me for a least a full minute before determining her babies
were safe - and then just flew off.
I didn't even see the nest.
Yes, there are many things to enjoy on the Trail if I just forget about all