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Monthly Archives: August 2013

Overall Run/Beecher Ridge – Shenandoah NP

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Hike Summary

This really has been the best summer since I’ve moved to Virginia. It’s been nice and cool, almost like where I grew up, in California.

The hike of Overall Run starts out at the end of a road, which turns into a private drive for about 3/4 of a mile. Along the road I saw mounds and mounds of spotted touch-me-nots. I had thought that they were just solitary flowers, from the ones I’d seen before, but here they were everywhere along the road.

Everything seemed like a jungle that day as I got to the trail itself and made my way in. As the trees closed around me, the world went quiet. There was a lot of dampness from previous rains, and the sun filtered in in little rays. The forest seemed to give me that same feeling that you get when you go into a cathedral or large building of worship – that feeling of silence. I imagine the feeling of the stillness of nature is possibly one of the things that influenced architects in the first place; we want to go back to where we came from, in the trees.

There was a fruity perfume in the air again, I am not sure which plant or wildflower causes it, it might be the blackberries that are nearing the end of their run perhaps, and fermenting on the vine.

The trail starts to climb, gently at first, meandering alongside Overall Run, which was a little dry at this time of the year, despite the rains. I came upon a brilliant purple flower out of nowhere as I was going along. I still haven’t gotten an ID from it, but its color was startling to behold out of nowhere.

The trail continues up on switchbacks, and I took some time to stop at a nice campsite to eat a snack. Continuing on my way, I got to the top of the ridge, and the view was clear out across the valley towards Massanutten mountain. As I stopped to take some pictures, I was joined by a pair of hikers making their way down. From this point on, for a good while, it was a rather busy hike as the trail comes very close to Matthews Arm campground, and there were a lot of campers getting in a last summer vacation in Shenandoah.

A little bit further on, the Overall Run falls were in view, but they were a tiny bit disappointing. As I said, even though it had rained, it was still a mere trickle due to it being late in the summer. I’ll definitely have to repeat this hike next spring.

Continuing with my hike, I made my way along towards Matthews Arm, and then the trail split off to go downhill. From this point on it was again pretty quiet, with fewer hikers. The character of the forest was a little different as well. Gone were the tulip poplars and oaks, and there was a drier, more piney forest.

I made my way around a bend and I heard a sudden crashing. I stopped, and I saw retreating from me two black bear cubs. Not wanting to have any encounters with their mother, I started to hike along much more swiftly, singing in a loud voice about how I was not very edible to bears, and that my dog and I were both rather stringy and not appetizing. This seemed to have done the trick.

I continued on, down the gentle decline of Beecher Hollow trail. About halfway down the descent, I encountered the two hikers again. Seems that we were both taking the same route, but in opposite directions. I gave them some assurances about the route back, and then blurted out some food recommendations, in case they were not familiar with the area.

I felt kind of silly about it afterwards, I often feel like I have a tendency to blurt out things at the wrong moment, or at an inappropriate time. I worry that I’m inserting myself into conversations in the wrong way, and worry that people thing I am making things all about myself. I’ve never had many friends, and I often wonder if this is why.

The trail made a right turn at the bottom of the hill and started to ascend again. It felt almost like the hike was already over, even though there was a way to go before I turned back off of the loop. The trail follows the river here, and eventually there’s a big swimming hole, which I didn’t partake of, there were people there and also some dogs. I had to set a pretty swift pace to keep ahead of the ones that had left the swimming hole the same time as I.

Retracing my path, I arrived at my car and set off for home, with a stop at Spelunkers and some Red Velvet Cheesecake frozen custard.

2013-08-21 Overall Run Beecher Ridge

Piney Branch Trail – Shenandoah National Park

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Hike Summary

Piney Branch Trail is a trail that is close by to Little Devil’s Stairs, a hike that I did sometime last year. The route I took starts out in the same parking area, down near Gidbrown Hollow.

It was a pretty chilly day, I actually brought a sweater with me, although I ended up not wearing it. I tend to be a little overcautious sometimes and want to pack everything, just in case something should arise. I’m sure if I had the means, my backpack would end up being stuffed with all sorts of things I don’t actually need, and my Amazon wishlist is full of things like titanium sporks and so on.

A titanium spork could come in handy if I were to ever go on an overnight hike, so I don’t think it would be all that useless.

So, I set off up Keyser Run Fire road, which is a pretty steep ascent, or so it felt to me that day. It winds through pretty unremarkable territory and then makes its way up to Bolen Cemetery.

I’ve been past here before, but this time I decided to open the gate and take a look inside. I saw a little monument that was separate from the gravestones, a little memorial to those who lost their land to the park. It always makes me feel sad to know that those people had their land taken away, and still people often picture them as being ignorant hillbillies, which I think is unfair. They were people, just like the rest of us.

The Piney Branch Trail itself goes off from Keyser Run and winds up alongside Piney River. There are quite a few nice campsites along the way, in shady groves. Piney River is a pleasant little river, with lots of little cascades and waterfalls.

As I was hiking along, I started noticing some interesting plants, that gave me a little bit of a shiver. They were bright red stalks, poking up out of the greenery. On the end of these stalks were … eyeballs. It was a little bit disconcerting to me to see these plants, seemingly looking at me as I hiked along. Also known as White Baneberry, they are extremely poisonous to humans.

I made my way up to the highest point, where the trail rejoins Keyser Run at Fourway. From this point, one can go up to Skyline, or down via Little Devils Stairs. I gave some other hikers some directions and made my own way down Keyser Run.

I started to notice an abundance of blackberries along the way as I hiked. It seemed to be almost at the peak season, so I got a container out of my pack and started to pick berries as I hiked, remembering how I had been kicking myself for not doing this at Kennedy Peak. I also noticed several butterflies along the way, some of which I hadn’t seen before. I added Pearl Crescent and Silver-Spotted Skipper to my list of new butterfly sightings, along with the ubiquitous Tiger Swallowtail.

Once home I set out to bake. I used the recipe I tried before from Baking Bites for Blackberry Blondies, and had excellent and delicious results.

2013-08-15 Piney Branch

Appalachian Trail – VA 605 to Rod Hollow Shelter

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Hike Summary

The Appalachian Trail, or the AT, as most people who are familiar with it, winds 2000 miles from Georgia to Maine. Most of it lies within driving distance of much of the population of the east coast.

Sometimes I’m a little surprised that more people don’t know about it, but then again, most people don’t hike as much as I do, or aren’t into hiking as much as I am. I was recently listening to the Nerdist Podcast where they were interviewing Michael C. Hall (of Dexter and Six Feet Under) and I was a little surprised when the host seemed unaware of what kind of hike the AT was.

Unfortunately, because of Mark Sanford and his infamous “I was hiking the Appalachian Trail” remark during his scandal, the AT trickled into the consciousness of pop culture as the butt of a joke. I cannot tell you how many times¬† I’ve mentioned to people that I’m hiking on the AT, only to get references to Sanford or other giggly responses.

The AT is so much more than that. It’s a trail, yes, but sometimes I think it’s much more than that. It’s a link that crosses all those states and although it often goes over terrain that really just wasn’t wanted, it goes through some remarkable places, and affords wonderful views.

Although on this particular day, I didn’t really hike anywhere that was all that remarkable, view wise. I hiked a section of the AT that is famous (or infamous) amongst hikers: The Roller Coaster.

The Roller Coaster section (or, the part I hiked of it, about half,) winds up and down hollows, in an area that’s more or less unremarkable. There aren’t really any views at this time of the year because of the leaf cover, and it’s mainly just a hike of endurance, knowing that beyond one hill is another hill, over and over until the other side. It’s sort of numbing, even with a day pack, I can imagine it is probably pretty unpleasant for thru hikers.

Still, let not my description fool you, there’s still plenty of things of interest along the way. It’s getting on in the summer, but there are still wildflowers about, particularly in the wetter areas. Berries are starting to ripen, but not along this area, I’m sure there are more to the south in Sky Meadows and GRT.¬† There are some solid rock formations, and I found a nice one and a shaft of sunlight to sit in for a time while I was out. I didn’t actually want to leave the spot, it was so pleasant. Those big jutting rocks must have been awful for farmers, but I find them now to be like little islands amongst the sea of foliage. They bring to mind gongshi, Chinese scholar rocks.

Hiking overall is a bit of meditation for me. I leave the modern world behind. I (for the most part) put the trappings of civilization away, or at least stow them in my pockets or pack, unused except to take photographs or find my way. I generally try to avoid using my phone except to keep loved ones updated with my status.

I leave my mind open, quiescent. Whatever trickles into my thoughts does so, and I try to look at it and then let it go. This way it helps my mind to decompress from my stresses and frustrations. Sometimes I wish I could spend all of my time on the trail, because of that sense of tranquility I get. I am often envious of the thru-hikers I encounter, although I suppose they’re just as envious of the ability I have to go home and take a shower and sleep on a mattress.

After the Roller Coaster section of the trail, I went a little further to Rod Hollow Shelter, one of the many shelters along the AT. I’d been here before back in March, and it was for the most part unchanged. A little dryer, a little stinkier, but still a pleasant place to stop and eat a snack. I saw some gorgeous Cardinal Flowers. They’re fairly ephemeral, but when seen they really are quite a show.

The return trip was much the same. The same up and down undulation of hill and hollow, with just myself and my dog. The other hikers I’d encountered were long gone, on their way to Bear’s Den or other points north on the trail. I wish them well on their journey to Katahdin.

For me, it was a trip back home, although I found a new ice cream stand to stop at. It’s called Bears, and it’s in the middle of downtown Marshall. It wasn’t stupendous, but it wasn’t bad. Ice cream, in my opinion, is like sex or pizza: Even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good. They did have some pretty awesome street art for their place, although it didn’t … quite match the name.

2013-08-09 Ashby Hollow

Kennedy Peak – George Washington National Forest

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Hike Summary

There was a narrow window of good weather this week when I checked, only a Tuesday would be good for hiking. I dithered quite a bit making a decision on where to go.

I seem to have this problem lately, I have a terrible time choosing between options. It’s called analysis paralysis, and it’s something that comes and goes in waves with me. It just is a simple struggle to make a decision, and I often find myself asking others to make that decision for me. It makes me feel childish and childlike. I suspect it has some deeper roots in my overall life situation, and is something I hesitate to go into deeper at the moment.

Eventually, I just declared as I was walking upstairs that I would go to Kennedy Peak, partially because I wanted a hike that took me through Front Royal on the way home, because I wanted to test my hypothesis on whether the burgers at Spelunkers are really as good as my starving self said they were the last time I was there. More on that later.

Kennedy Peak is in the Southeastern section of the ridges and folds that make up Massanutten Mountain. The ridge runs along the boundary between Shenandoah and Page counties.

Once I got to the trailhead, I set out on the Stephens Trail, which leaves from one end of the parking lot. The trail winds gradually through Redbud and Maple and other broadleaf trees that I’m still learning to identify. I do now know what Sassafras looks like, and saw quite a few of those as I made my way along the trail. The trail was fairly rocky and definitely seems to be a favorite of horseback riders, as I saw quite a few piles of horse droppings along the way.

Then, I started encountering the blackberry bushes. It’s starting to become the season where berries are ripe, but the canes are everywhere, and they were growing closely along the trail. By the time the hike was over, my left leg was scored all over (my right being more shielded because of my walking stick) and I still have scratches all over, a week later.

As I said, the blackberries were starting to ripen, and I picked a few as I went along. I wished that I had a basket or bag or something to carry them with me, as I have a very nice recipe for Blackberry Blondies that I made a couple of weeks ago, and I’d like to try with some wild berries this time.

Stephens trail makes a turn up the ridge and eventually intersects with the everpresent Massanutten Trail, which of course goes along the ridge. As I was hiking along, I encountered a rider with the most gorgeous horse. She said it was a Tennessee Walker, which is one of my favorite breeds of horse. It was a fantastic color, with a black and silver mane and tail. I only later realized I never took a picture, and I wished I had. I often still have problems asking strangers for things like pictures when I’m out, it’s that social anxiety kicking in. I’ve gotten better but still have miles and miles to go in that department.

So, the trail went on up to the top of the peak, where there’s a wooden observation tower that is need of some serious repairs up top. The bench section of the tower has split apart somewhat and is hard to get a comfortable seat on, and the railings were starting to crumble. There also seemed to be a hornet’s nest somewhere around, but I managed to luck out, and the hornets weren’t being particularly aggressive. (It was actually only later, when I was home, that I realized that they were hornets that were occasionally buzzing around me.)

I stopped to have a snack and to look out at the views. There really is a great view of the valley to the East, with the south fork of the Shenandoah River, and pasturelands out towards Luray. Birds wheeled in the sky, gliding on the thermals. The sky was blue and streaked with clouds, so that the day passed from bright to dark, heralding the storm that would pass through later that week.

I sat and jotted notes in my journal, and then we headed back. At the junction to go more downhill, I saw wild grapes growing, which are always an enjoyable sight.

As the trail started to descend, it became wider, and probable was following an old road. I saw a lot of what I believe are woodland sunflowers, but I have discovered that there’s quite a bit of fiddly identification associated with these flowers. When I later posted some of my pictures on iNaturalist, one of the botanists there shared the difficulty in their identification, something she’s written a helpful blog post about. I love learning about this sort of thing, so the next time I’m out, I’m definitely going to have to do some work!

I noticed along this part of the Massanutten trail, there are a lot of excellent campsites, and it seems like it would be a great place overall to camp. Hopefully one of these days I’ll actually be able to do that.

The trail eventually runs out to Fort Valley Road, and there’s a great viewpoint right at the border of Page county, looking out towards Luray. It took me a moment of looking around before I figured out where the trail went, in the opposite direction, downhill. It wanders down switchbacks, going back and forth across a power line clearing, before winding up back at the opposite end of the parking area.

I was pretty glad to be back, my hip had actually started to get sore going downhill, so my steps were starting to become painful.

After, it was a little drive up some back roads to get to US 340. As I was going along one of the back roads, I looked up to the west and saw Kennedy peak poking up out of the landscape. It was a nice framing moment for the day.

Once back in Front Royal, I did indeed stop at Spelunkers again, and it was no fluke. Their burgers really are that good. If I hadn’t been so hungry, I’d actually be a more responsible blogger and post a picture of these delicious items, but they are just so good that I don’t want to stop to snap a photo.

Next time, I promise I will!

2013-07-30 Kennedy Peak