(This blog has been published out of order: late by about ten days. We have had poor internet service, and despite my advancing years, I can still lose a data file as well as I ever did on somebody’s payroll. The pictures mostly did not come out because I took them.)
Old Shenandoah’s Big Meadows campground is 3300’ above sea level. It is leafy and with the elevation comes blessedly cooler temperatures. We arrived Monday and set up the Kat’s Cradle in 73 degree weather. One hour before we had been in Charlottesville, VA in 92 degrees of swelter.
Shenandoah has wonderful thunder. We have heard none of the rolling stuff, and time is running out, but regular thunder still hammers and rings better here than nearly anywhere else. Our last chance is tonight. I hope it wakes me.
Nowhere else does a scenic highway run so close alongside the Appalachian Trail. Kat has craved an AT hike for years, but the hardship, deprivation, hungry insects, the rugged rocky footing, and countless climbs and descents make it a daunting trek even with a hiking companion. My knees don’t like descents or uneven surfaces, and yo, I only love thunderstorms when I’m indoors. But a scant mile down Skyline Parkway is a two mile roundtrip from Milam Gap on the AT. The Park Service describes the hike as “Easy”. I should have realized that if they bill it as a 90 minute trek (for better walkers than me) this may be easy by AT standards, but still pretty dang tough by mine.
On the Trail we encountered a college-aged solo hiker who had started out two months ago at the southern end of the AT. She hoped to make it all the way to Mount Katahdin in Maine. She had already covered over 900 miles, nine of them this morning. Her plan for today: “Either stop at Big Meadows, or go another eight miles.” The weather forecast had a 60% chance of afternoon rains. While I wanted to tell her, ignorance of the weather ahead is one of the things that keep hikers going. She pressed on, and so did we.
The climbs and descents were not bad. Two spring crossings were treacherous and nasty, sure to hurt should one slip and fall onto those slimy rocks, but we got through them safely. It was an easy trail for Kat, if taxing for me. I was sorely disappointed upon our arrival at the turnaround point, the fire road: there were no benches or even smooth rocks upon which to perch and rest my tired tootsies! To make matters worse, the clearing alongside the fire road had been used nearly a hundred years as a cemetery. Kat, hiking in the lead, saw the headstones 400 yards away and called back in all seriousness “Looks like a staging area for hikers!” My mood, dampened by fatigue and the certainty that as much trail clomping remained as had passed, led me to mumble “Or a graveyard.”
As we approached one headstone appeared to have my name on it. Upon closer inspection it read ELKINS. No stones read Elder, Bear, Davis, Stoufflet, Currie, or Aulds. Nothing to see here, folks: just move along.