Last weekend, the meteorologists had been sensationalizing the weather forecast again. And yet, and yet, I got caught up in the hubbub. It’s going to be 65 degrees on Saturday?! As the week wore on, that forecast was lowered first to 60 degrees and then to 55 degrees. Even so, 55 degrees in January is nothing to shake a stick (or trekking pole) at, especially after last weekend’s fiasco, so I was excited to scour the interwebs for a good hike.
As a side note, I’ve recently discovered the wonders of the Hiking Upward website (hikingupward.com). Not only can you find a hike by looking at a map of your area to see what’s close, but also each hike’s profile contains a thorough turn-by-turn description, ratings on various factors (i.e. difficulty, views, solitude…), map, and elevation profile.
When I found the hike at Ashby Hollow on the A.T. and saw the rollercoaster elevation profile (an old Coney Island wooden roller coaster, not a Six Flags hydraulic roller coaster, for the record), I figured I’d get myself a good workout with the 2,000 foot elevation gain. Once a blanket of heavy fog abated on Saturday morning, I left at about 11:30. I drove out I-66 to exit 23 and went about 10 miles beyond Sky Meadows State Park to get to the parking site. The last mile was a fairly treacherous rutted gravel road that tested the will of my little Focus as the route wound steeply around tight corners.
There was no signage indicating the intersection of the Appalachian Trail, and the “parking area” was really only a slight widening of the road where cars had parked on the shoulder. Thankfully, several other cars had assumed the position. Otherwise, I would have completely missed it.
Realizing it was already 1pm, I laced my boots, donned my pack – weighted to 32 pounds, and got on my merry way, turning left from the parking area to walk south. Immediately, the trail began to wind and descend, and I found myself lulled into a pleasant rhythm, enjoying the warm weather and bright sun shining through the trees. Many minutes later, as I continued my descent, it occurred to me that I would eventually have to reverse course and face the ascent. Ah well, I’ve always been a fan of ascents; they’re easier on the knees.
After less than half a mile, the trail came to a stream and a sturdy wooden footbridge. Perhaps not the raging river it may be in the Spring, but the water was flowing steadily, which I’m guessing is uncharacteristic for this time of year. I stood for a few minutes enjoying the rush – tame as it was – of the water over the rocks.
Every so often, I heard gunfire to the (wait, I can do this. I was going south, so to the right of me was) west, making me cautious to keep wearing my blaze orange beanie.
Quickly after the bridge, I began the first ascent, which took me by surprise. I was wearing a bright pink short-sleeved Icebreaker t-shirt under a long-sleeved Smartwool shirt in addition to the beanie. When I reached the top of the first ridge, I peeled off the long-sleeve and took off the hat. I figured that if a hunter mistook me for an animal just because I was wearing bright pink and not blaze orange, then the beanie wouldn’t have done much good anyway.
I continued on, descending into another hollow and came to a second stream, this one more sprawling and strewn with a rocky outcropping, making it passable without a bridge. I will say I felt very Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade-y when I learned the hard way that not all of the rocks were stable. “But in the Latin alphabet, Jehovah begins with an ‘i.’” Anybody? Anybody? I know at least my baby sister Ari will appreciate it (eh, Ar?).
After passing the stream, the trail follows an old fire road for 100 yards. Apparently, I’m a terrible gauge of distance (who, me?) and/or get distracted easily (what was I saying?) because I kept going on the fire road for a good five minutes before I realized I’d lost the white blazes. Let’s chalk it up to focusing on the path, which was muddy with the thawed weather. I retraced my steps and easily found the trail, which was marked with pink plastic ribbon.
As I climbed the next ridge, I was beginning to feel sapped of energy and realized I hadn’t eaten much and also that my body wasn’t used to the relative heat (nearing 60). I whipped out my trusty beef jerky and trod on. Once I made it to the top of the next ridge, I continued for what I would say was a third of a mile.
The hiking guide refers to a small rocky area and views to the west as the turnaround point, but it’s not particularly clear where this is. This is definitely not the hike for you if you’re looking for vistas, but I knew that going in. The warm sun, flowing streams, and chirping birds were enough for me.
Once I hit the rocky area, I turned around and began my return. With my slight diversion, it was already almost 3pm, and the sun was begin to fade. I figured I could make up time on the return. Of course, that was before I took another wrong turn. I realized it when I saw a rock wall that I didn’t recognize and then – once again – noticed that the white blazes had disappeared.
After retracing my steps, I had lost maybe 15 minutes, but at this point the angle of the sun shone a bright light on the landscape, making me more confident.
When I made it back to the car, it was 4:15, and all but one other car had left. Considering that I probably ended up hiking 7 miles, I did it at a pretty fast clip (for me…I’m no speed demon). And it’s not like that was my intention. But there’s something about climbing hills and the intense beating of my heart that make me want to push harder. It’s the feeling that soon it will be over. I’ll get to the top of the hill and have my reward. And, in this case, you know what that reward was? More beef jerky.
This might become a trend.