Well, duh, I thought he was giving me his real name!
I've read about the ridge runners who hike the Appalachian Trail to assist
and educate other hikers about Leave No Trace principles, make sure they're
doing OK, and help with directions and other information. "Web Breaker" was the
first one I've met, however.
He was hiking south and had already talked to ten other thru-hikers before
he came upon me. I don't think he's ever heard of anyone running the AT before
but he asked good questions, didn't seem judgmental about how I'm covering the
distance, and was interested in reading this web journal.
Web Breaker thru-hiked the Trail in 2000. I failed to ask how he got involved
as a ridge runner. His job sounds ideal for someone who loves the outdoors,
hiking, and helping others. He's employed by Shenandoah National Park and the
Potomac AT Club.
GREAT TRAIL DAY
It was wonderful to go out the camper door, walk down a little hill about
thirty feet, turn right, and I was on the AT! No hour-plus drive to the start,
although Jim did have to drive about three miles to pick me up at Elkwallow
Wayside. Otherwise, I'd have had some unnecessary "bonus miles" to get to our
new campsite at Mathews Arm, another Shenandoah NP campground (also high enough
up to have cool temps and nice breezes).
I started at 7:30 AM and guessed I'd be done with my "marathon" around 5 PM.
I got done at 4:30, to my delight. Nine hours is a long "marathon," but I was
pleased because of all the rocks and views. This was one of those days where I
spent a lot of time gawking at picturesque views and taking photos - 92 of 'em!!
- of everything that interested me.
The first 63 miles of the AT in the southern Shenandoahs are quite runnable
by my standards. The section from Big Meadows to Thornton Gap (Hwy. 211) is less
so - numerous rocks and rock "jumbles" - but oh, the views are worth it! The
last six or seven miles to Elkwallow Wayside were more smooth and I could run
more comfortably there.
As proof that I'm over my griping about rocks, I confess that I really enjoyed
them today. There were huge rock boulders, rocks with crusty lichens and other
things growing on them, fluted rocks, hollow rocks, rock ledges, rockwork done
by the CCC in the 1930s, rock crevices, rock jumbles, rocks flowing down the
hillsides like lava, stacked rocks, rocks with laurels blooming on them, and
The outcrops were the best, especially the 200-foot long ledge on Stony Man
Mountain, formed by the erosion of layer upon layer of ancient lava flows. The
views into the Shenandoah Valley and the northern part of Shenandoah National
Park were breathtaking even though it was so hazy I could hardly detect the
outline of Massanutten Mountain to the west.
You have to see this panorama, even if it's only during a short hike from
Skyline Drive. It'll be on my top-ten list of "best views on the AT" when I'm
done with this adventure run!
The views were great from all the mountains that I traversed (or "slabbed,"
as the AT guide calls it) on the west side of Skyline Drive today:
Hawksbill, Stony Man, The Pinnacle, and Mary's Rock. On the longest descent,
1,300 feet from Mary's Rock to Thornton Gap/US 211, the continual views to the
mountains and valleys helped take my mind off traffic noise below.
My "ex" used to get "mountained out" after a few days in Colorado or Montana
or the Smokies, but I never tire of seeing beautiful mountains. Never.
It's a good thing - I hear there are a few more between here and Katahdin!!
I was impressed with all the rock work that was evident today. When the AT
had to be re-routed in the late 1930s because Skyline Drive took over the old
route, the CCC and PATC did a tremendous job of building this Trail. Most of it
is original to that time. Before I hit the Shenendoahs,I could see relocations
every day. Not here. These are very old trails.
There are many places in this section where rock walls were built at the
cliff edge to keep the Trail from eroding away. In some places the walls are
six or eight feet tall (all below the trail surface, not sticking up). They look
very ancient with all the moss and lichens growing on them. Very cool, very
impressive, very effective all these years.
This section is also full of mountain laurels at their peak right now. Most
were the white-with-pink variety I've seen for several weeks but some today
were a beautiful pink color. It's amazing to see them growing seemingly right
out of huge rocks.
There were also some beautiful purple-flowering shrubs on The Pinnacle and
Mary's Rock. They are pictured below.
Other flowers in profusion in this section right now are red columbines,
white fly poison, pink wood roses, and tiny yellow daisy-like flowers. Ferns are
lush in several areas, as are gnarled old oaks with leaves as twisted as their
The only thing I didn't like about this section was being too close to
Skyline Drive several times. There was more traffic today (close to the weekend) and
I could hear people talking above me at some of the overlooks. ("Oh, look,
there's a hiker down there!") Overall, though, the trail designers did a good
job locating the AT farther back so the feeling is still "wilderness" most of
I saw more hiker-friendly deer (and rabbits!) today, but no bears. Took a
photo of one HUGE pile of bear scat (at least eight inches in diameter) and
hoped I didn't run into the one who left it because it was on a narrow treadway
with no escape except forward or backward.
There were two large groups of men and boys (probably Boy Scouts) going
southbound today, as well as several couples and an older lady, but I
didn't see any northbound hikers today. None. Where did the NOBO
thru-hikers go? Sucked into a vortex like Big Meadows, where it's nice to spend
an extra day or two?? Hope I catch up to some of them tomorrow or the next day.
Hey, I'm almost done with Virginia!!!