Day 45: Meadows in the Woods
But First, Day 44
Day 44 was our unscheduled zero. We took the van to the dealership in Christiansburg, emptied it out, loaded the rental, and found a motel back near the trail. Northstar misses her van. I miss the convenience of camping at trailheads and having everything in one place. But sometimes you have to play the hand you’re dealt, not the one you wish you had.
Our New Routine
Northstar is not an early riser by nature. By marriage, she will. When we camp at trailheads, I leave early, and she sleeps in. Now, since we live in motels, she has to get up with the sun and drive me out to the trail. Also, because she banished Gus from the tick-infested trail until he’s been shaved, she has to entertain him all day. And Gus has needs.
My routine hasn’t changed much. I eat, hike, eat, and sleep.
Northstar’s routine: She drives to trail, drives back from trail, walks the dog, plays fetch, drives to trail, drives back from trail, and sleeps. I think I’m going to owe her big time. More than I already do, that is.
Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains feature long parallel mountain ridges separated by deep linear valleys littered by small farms carved out of the forests that blanket the entire region. Small rivers and creeks flow along the valley bottoms, completing the bucolic scene.
Homesteaders probably cleared the woods hundreds of years ago, creating green hilly meadows draped over the foothills of the bigger, still-forested peaks. Many of the meadows are still farmed, with border fences crossed by tall stiles where the trail leaves the pastures for the woods. In some of the fields, outposts of trees hint that the brooding forests are waiting to take it all back.
Somehow, walking through these pastures gives me more of sense of being on a journey. I’m no longer alone in a vast, uniform, deep woods with a few hikers. Seeing farms, tiny villages, windy country roads, and people makes me feel like I’m going somewhere. I’m walking across America.
I walked and played in fields like this as a child, though mine had no well-worn paths. On mornings like this, I walked through the dew-drenched long grass, soaking my socks and sneakers, and sometimes, the bottoms of my shorts. The grasses tickled my bare legs, making me stop and scratch.
These fields were Saturdays. They were summer vacation. I’d wake up, eat breakfast, and then escape out the back door across the pastures with a lunch packed in a brown paper bag. I’d be gone all day, exploring wherever whim took me. These fields were freedom and adventure. They still are.
My soul lives in the woods, but my spirit soars free in the meadows.
The AT inevitably leaves the meadows for the woods, just as I did as a boy. This morning, as I left the meadow’s wet grasses for the damp woods, my childhood memories came with me. I remember these woods, even though I’ve never been here before. I remember seeing them with a boy’s eyes.
To 10-year-old me, everything in the woods was an adventure. Trees existed to be climbed. Fallen trees were a lodgepole for a new fort, roofed and walled with rotting sticks and leaves, and always better built in my mind than in reality. I built hundreds of them and stocked them all with pinecones and acorns to throw at my enemies. But I never fought a single battle from any of them. And I certainly never spent the night in one of my leaky, bug-filled creations.
Still-standing dead trees were meant to be pushed over. I called them “Ely Trees,” after a friend of my father’s who taught me the art of toppling them over without getting crushed. Today, campers call them “widow-makers.” Ah, the dangers we survived as free-range children.
This morning, the woods were silent except for my leaf-muffled foot falls and a cacophony of bird calls. Does that count as silence? I think so. It’s certainly not noise.
Is this why I wanted to hike the AT? To reconnect with the woods of my childhood?
- I hit a rabbit on the drive out to Old Rich Valley Road. Northstar was appalled. On her drive back, she stopped at the murder scene, took crime scene pictures, and texted them to me along with a few snaps of the victim’s lonely mate. And of the crows waiting for her to leave the scene. I’m not quite sure what to make of all that, but I’m reminded of a scene in “Fatal Attraction.”
- The Forest Service desperately wanted me to know that Lick Creek Bridge was out, posting dozens of warnings about water safety, drowning hazards, and the like. Lick Creek was three inches deep. I survived without incident.
- After a week of small hills, the trail threw 5,200 feet of total elevation gain at me, with the largest single climb at 2,100 feet. But the view from the top at Chestnut Knob Shelter made it worth the effort.
- The last six miles of the trail were rocky, rough, uneven, hard to follow, and overgrown. At the end of the day, I stumbled into VA 623 completely spent. I tripped and stubbed my toes more during those miles than I had in the last week.
- Miraculously, Superman was offering trail magic at the obscure VA 623 crossing. We’d stopped at Superman’s trail magic at Dennis Cove Road a few days before getting to Damascus. Today, he was giving away his leftovers on his way home to New Orleans. Even better, he had ice cold La Croix. Exactly what I craved.
- Start: VA Route 610 (Mile 555.8)
- End: VA Route 635 (Mile 576.0)
- Weather: Blue skies and cool.
- Earworm: Psalm 128 (Old Covenanter Version)
- Meditation: Mt. 5:3-12
- Plant of the Day: Yellow Iris
- Best Thing: Open meadows
- Worst Thing: My feet hurt. Time for new shoes.
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