Punchbowl Mountain Dreamin’

I have been trying to get back to the Appalachian Trail for years.  The last time I camped overnight on the trail was in August 2000, when I did a five-day trail maintenance trip in Massachusetts, near Mt. Everett.  Four years after that I moved to Texas and although I planned a thru-hike of the AT in 2018 it didn’t pan out.  I hadn’t thought about much of anything except politics that year, so when 2019 came around I was not prepared for a long-distance hike. Then it was 2020. Enough said.

Last year I traveled a great deal, including two long road trips, one to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for a conference, and another to the ALDHA Gathering, held last year in Williamstown, Massachusetts.  After the Gathering, I was supposed to spend a couple of days on the AT but I hurt my back and was forced to painfully drive home instead.

I made sure, however, that I at least planted my feet on the AT before I went home.  On the trip to Pennsylvania, I discovered the Blue Ridge Parkway and its overlooks, where you can pull off the road, park, and gasp at the view. The mountains seemed to never end.  I even saw clouds climbing mountains. 

On my trip back from Massachusetts, I stopped at the Punchbowl Mountain overlook, not realizing until I saw a white blaze that this was one of several places where the Blue Ridge and the AT intersect. 

My back was aching but I decided to hike as far as I could.  It didn’t make it far, but I made it to this point and was reminded of how beautiful the world is from the Appalachian Trail.

I was enchanted. Bewitched. Entranced.  I took photos of white lichen on the rocks and white blazes on the trees.

The iconic white blaze near the Punchbowl Mountain overlook.

There is something unique about the Appalachian Trail, whether its length or its generous vistas or the culture that has been forged on its path. I confess that I think a lot about that day on the Blue Ridge Parkway and fantasize about being back there. I’m sure my desire to be there is heightened by the restrictions of the COVID-19 epidemic.  I long for many things that are out of reach right now.

Although I had some hope that I could, I won’t be thru-hiking next year. 

I hope to do a long section in August or September, depending on what route I decide on. And of course, it all depends on the virus. I attended a presentation via Zoom last week that was organized by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and covered alternative routes to hike the trail.  I learned during that session that the ATC will continue to discourage distance hikes until there is a universally available vaccine.  They have even suspended their 2000 miler program until they deem it safe to hike. 

That’s fine with me. In my opinion, it’s my responsibility – as someone who has the luxury of working from home – to keep myself from getting infected and thus being infectious. Too many people believe in what’s essentially a magical idea – that we have passed a threshold in which the virus is no longer such a big deal and they can move ahead with life as it was. 

That is false, and dangerously so.  It is worse now, and made worse by people who traveled for Thanksgiving.  Look at the stats. The numbers are absolutely staggering. I won’t be a part of increasing my own risk of catching it and transmitting it. That’s just good citizenship, and I care about that.

Hopefully, by fall of 2021, there will be a vaccine, the risk will be lower, and it will be easy to hike on the AT, or anywhere for that matter.  Hopefully, by then I will have walked or hiked off my pandemic weight, and I will be able to spend a month or so in a section of trail near my family’s home. 

Will my Punchbowl dream come true?

Arguably, that depends on people like you – if you wear a mask, avoid crowds, limit the number of people you meet with at one time, get tested, and quarantine after travel or exposure to infected or possibly infected people.  Do all of those and we should see it end sooner than if we don’t follow this guidance.  As of this writing, nearly 300,000 people have died of COVID in the U.S. How many more will die before we all get the chance to do the things we love without fear and with confidence?

Remember what that felt like?

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Comments 6

  • pearwood : Dec 16th

    Beautiful words, Ruth, thank you.
    Steve / pearwood

    • Ruth Nasrullah : Dec 17th

      Thanks so much, Pearwood. I’ll be following your blog and wish you the best. You mentioned hiking on your 71st birthday – I was hoping to hike next year on my 60th birthday, but that’s in April and predict I won’t feel comfortable at that time.

  • Shannon : Dec 17th

    Excellent article, Ruth, I really enjoyed this! The Blue Ridge Parkway is absolutely beautiful and hiking the AT through it is a very enjoyable experience. I recently hiked through Shenandoah National Park and was spoiled with its beauty and views. Additionally, the terrain is a little less intense than other parts of the AT which makes it even more pleasant. I hope you are able to make it back out there soon when the time feels right for you. Fortunately, the trail will always be there so once the dust finally settles you can get back out there and enjoy it with peace of mind.

    Your statement “Too many people believe in what’s essentially a magical idea – that we have passed a threshold in which the virus is no longer such a big deal and they can move ahead with life as it was.” REALLY resonated with me! This was eloquently said and I could not agree more. Unfortunately, I think some people have convinced themselves that the virus does not need to be taken seriously anymore and that we can go back to living life as normal when that is simply not reality. I don’t think we should live in fear, but we do need to be realistic, listen to science and the experts, be cautious, wear a mask, and not put themselves or others in compromising situations. Unfortunately, many people chose to ignore reality and travel for Thanksgiving. I can only hope people wise up and don’t make the same mistakes for Christmas and the upcoming holidays. I also listened to the ATC’s Zoom session and made the decision to postpone my thru-hike until 2022 and I think it is the right decision. I do wish 2021 thru-hikers all the best and do genuinely think the majority of them will be cautious and considerate of those around them. I just personally would rather thru-hike without having doubt and fear in the back of my mind but fortunately, we have a vaccine so there is finally some light at the end of the tunnel! Thank you for the wonderful and thoughtful post, I look forward to hearing about your section hike next year!

    • Ruth Nasrullah : Dec 18th

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments, Shannon. I applaud you for postponing your hike until we’re back to whatever the post-pandemic world turns out to be. And I agree that it’s better to hike when your mind is more at ease. Good luck and let’s hope we end up with an effective, safe and easily available vaccine for everyone who wants one. In the meantime, let’s all be safe. Have a great holiday season!

  • Katie Houston : Dec 18th

    Hi Ruth, I really admire your approach to your hike. Your caution is very valid and I appreciate how much you are taking into account the ATC guidelines. Happy hiking!

    • Ruth Nasrullah : Dec 18th

      Thanks and happy hiking to you as well!


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