This is a tale of two hikes. The first hike was on a Thursday, and it was a nice, chilly morning when I set out. Autumn is definitely in the air. I took my dog and started to hike up the Pond Run Trail, which winds its way alongside Pond Run, crisscrossing it several times.
I was only about a mile into the hike when my dog started limping after a crossing. Concerned, I mad him sit, and he still favored his paw. I decided to head back to a campsite I’d seen a little bit of the way in, and see if he would get any better.
He didn’t seem to. I kinda hemmed and hawed, and was filled with indecision. Should I keep going and run the risk of him being unable to walk, midway through a 12 mile hike? Or should I just go home?
I decided on the going home. Of course, by the time I got back to my car, he seemed perfectly fine, so I was a little annoyed at myself and him. I decided that it was definitely better to be safe than sorry, however. GWNF is wilderness, and the phone reception is pretty bad all the way out in WV, so I didn’t want to push it.
So, I went back the next day!
One of the nicest things about getting up early to hike, besides avoiding the heat, is the way the sun breaks through the forest. Morning light is some of the best light, it paints everything in a way that makes it look ethereal and otherworldly. It’s soft, and gentle. It caresses the plants and the trees. It’s easy on the eyes as well. Afternoon sun is always so harsh by comparison, until sunset. Afternoon sun is unforgiving and relentless, and paints everything in long shadows, that seem ominous.
I’m trying to spend as much time as possible in GWNF this month, come October I won’t be able to hike around here at all, due to hunting season. I could hike if I wanted to, I have the orange blaze stuff, but the forest will also be pretty crowded, and I like the solitude of the forest for the most part.
So again, Pond Run Trail (full name is Tuscarora Pond Run Trail) winds up and around and over Pond Run, up to the ridge. The water was traveling merrily down and along the run, with lots of little cascades and eddies. It was a pleasant feeling to be around the water the whole time. My dogs paws seem much recovered from the previous day, and he didn’t seem to mind the easy water crossings. I would imagine things are quite a bit more difficult in the springtime when the water is high.
Eventually, near the top of the ridge, we came across a boardwalk that spanned a boggy area. I read in my guide that it was the work of some Forestry Service rangers and volunteer hikers that build the plank walkway, and I was very thankful for it. I can only imagine the muddy, sticky mess that it was before the boardwalk was there. It was around here that I saw the only other person that day, another hiker who was off towards Mill Mountain, and it looked like he was going to be doing some fishing. After our friendly greeting. I decided to take a break and eat a snack, so as to give him some space ahead of me.
There are a lot of good campsites in the area, and I found a very comfortable place to sit. There was supposed to be a viewpoint near this junction and campsite, but there didn’t seem to be a clear way to get to it, so I didn’t put too much effort into it.
The Tuscarora Trail in this section was mostly fire road/4WD trail, and it was a pretty easy hike up along the ridge, passing by several intersections. At one point the trail veered off to the north from the fire road part, and I took the branching.
I was hiking along, keeping my eyes open but pretty relaxed, when I hear a sudden, thunderous CRASH from ahead of me on the trail. This large crash was followed by smaller crashes as a pretty large Black Bear shambled away from me. Luckily, my dog didn’t give chase. GWNF is an area where it’s ok to have your dog off leash, and I usually let him have his freedom.
Anyhow, the smell of pine sap was thick in the air from the crushed vegetation, and I didn’t really want to linger in the area, so I hitched my dog up to his lead so I’d have better control of him and we set a quick pace to get out of there. I am still getting used to the idea of sharing the forest with bears, and I prefer to give them a wide berth when I encounter them. I also sing loudly and off key, in the hope that my terrible singing will make them go away.
Eventually, we reached the important intersection where I turned down Racer Camp Hollow Trail. There were also nice campsites here, and I stopped and ate some lunch. I started off in what I thought was the right direction, but realized quickly wasn’t. It’s an example on how, even at a 4 way intersection, it’s easy to go the wrong way. The woods can be very disorienting.
Luckily, it was a mistake soon corrected, and caught because I saw on my GPS that I was veering in the wrong direction from the route I’d put in.
Racer Camp Hollow Trail is a pretty awful trail for the first half. I need to look up and see if it has a PATC maintenance crew, because they need to give it a visit, as there are a lot of blowdowns. It’s more than the blowdowns though. It is eroded and rocky, and made me a little bit cranky, but I think that’s because I was a little fatigued. I need new hiking boots, or new liners for my boots, I get sore big toes about halfway through my hikes nowadays, and I know I’ve complained about the lack of grip. The grip wasn’t much of an issue this time despite all the river crossings.
This late in the summer, there aren’t as many wildflowers as there have been in the past, it’s mostly wood asters, which aren’t all that showy of flowers. I did come across a nice meadow of spotted touch-me-nots, which are always a nice sight. I saw a few wild basil as well.
Eventually, Racer Camp Hollow Trail evened out into more of a fire road, and I was out of the chilly woods. The sun shone and warmed me up, and there were some nice views over the trees and the meadows. Eventually, the trail intersected with the Old Mailpath trail, which descended downhill and started to signal to me the almost end of my hike.
There was still plenty more trail though. Old Mailpath was exactly that at one point, linking West Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley. It wound down through evergreen forests, and then eventually also started to follow some water. It was much muddier down here, and squishy and slow going. It was also pretty rank.
I was taken by surprise when out of the foliage appeared a set of benches. I was at the trailhead for Old Mailpath, and there was a nice helpful map and some more pretty touch-me-nots growing around. There were also blackflies though, so I didn’t linger, but I did pick up a paper map, as I really like their version of the trail system compared to the National Geographic map that I have. One can never have too many maps on hand is my opinion!
The rest of the way back to my car was gravel roads, but I saw some nice wildflowers. There were some Oxeye daisies lining the path, some poisonous but pretty Pokeberry, and some interesting caterpillars that I liked, they looked like little bundles of ribbons, sitting in the shelter of some leaves.
One the way back home, instead of my usual stop at Spelunker’s, I decided to stop at the Woodbine Farm Market. This is one of those typical farm markets that one sees all over the place in the rural parts of VA and WVA. It had a pretty typical selection of fruit, with some nice peaches, but what caught my eye were the cookies.
Sadly, no pictoral evidence of these cookies exists from me, because I was so hungry that I ate them all. They have a lot of different flavors though, and the next time I stop there (and there will definitely be a next time) I will correct my lack of pictures. The Heath Crunch cookies were the best.