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|