Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Every Hike is Special

... but this one was more special-er than others!

We were met Sunday morning by trail angel superb Bill Gallagher, who was good enough not to complain that we were 20 minutes late at our meeting point. (Okay, okay - we overslept by a whole hour, and I drove like a madman at 80 mph from Annapolis to Swift Run Gap, VA, to try to get there somewhere close to on time.

Seeing Bill again was the first special thing.

Then there was this:

Aren't these beautiful people?

This was the first time Lisa and I have gotten to hike the AT with *both* of our incredible boys, Adam & Mitch. Adam has hiked with us before. This was Mitch's initiation. We did a quick and relatively flat 11.6 miles from Bootens Gap to Swift Run Gap in the Shenandoahs. What a beautiful October day! This was my birthday present from the boys!!

Poor Lisa. With three Strobel guys, of course there was a lot of testosterone flowing around:

And there were fun and games:

The next special (and kinda sad) thing, is that this was our last real hike in Shenandoah National Park, where the adventure all began. We've done all but about 3 miles of its 110-mile length of the AT. How many beautiful things have we seen there?

Lastly, this hike was special because it may have been our last of the 2007 season. But we met, and surpassed, our goal of 100 trail miles this year. Come on spring! Here's to all the SOBOs (southbounders) still on the trail, on their way to Georgia...

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Labor Day Weekend in the Woods

Bill was our trail angel shuttling us from the Riprap Trail Parking Area in Shenandoah National Park to Humpback Rocks Parking Area, outside the park on the Blue Ridge Parkway. ...

Bill is lucky enough to live right outside the park at the foot of the mountains. He dedicates many miles on his vehicle to shuttle thru-hikers to town and section hikers to the next point.

Bill is also a birder! He gave us the low-down on what migrants we might come across and told us about a Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch that was occurring right up the hill from a portion of the trail we planned to hike. !!!! Yes!!!!

Sigh. Cute Husband and I were a little torn.

One the one hand, this hike would only leave one more day hike in Shenandoah National Park and we couldn't believe we had hiked most of the park. On the other hand, SND was going to be past history.

Could this be Boletus pseudosensibilis?

Bill told us that the area around Humpback Mountain was its own little climate. Rockfish Gap had actually gotten quite a bit of rain during the summer. We found some beautiful mushrooms thriving in the damp woods and plenty of water for the first 7 or so miles of our hike.

So, I thought I would take a few pics of these lovely fungi and bring them home to ID. After some research, I discovered that to properly call a mushroom by its name, it helps to have a good look under his little umbrella.

You might also need some ammonia to determine what chemical reaction occurs. Or you need to slice it up and check out the mushroom's hues.

Now I know.

I refuse to give up my new dream of becoming a mycologist, but it may take me the same time as hiking the whole AT to get to know my 'shrooms.

Our plan was to hike about 12 miles on day one. That would be a fairly leisurely pace for some birding and enjoying whatever crossed our path.

Warren spotted a Magnolia Warbler and we worked fairly hard for a flycatcher which was trying to be a Olive-Sided, but he didn't quite convince us. Other than a group of migrating Grackles in the middle of the woods, the forest was pretty still.
As we re-entered the park, water sources dried up.

Cute Husband prays for a running stream.

We marched into Calf Mountain Shelter at dusk dehydrated. We praised the wood elves for the small trickle that was running from the pipe that dumps into the stream.

At the Shelter we met a guy from Michigan who was hiking through the park and then back to his car at the North end. He decided against sleeping in the Shelter because the one he slept in the night before was haunted by a couple of huge wood rats.

We slept on the softest piece of ground that Warren has ever laid the tent. The last sound before sleep was a Barred Owl calling in the tree above us.

Bill told us that the farmer who used to own the land on Bear Den Mountain had placed all his old tractor seats in a semi-circle for use during family reunions.

The view was spectacular and I noted that a tractor seat is designed perfectly to hold the immense weight of my backpack as I checked out the scenery.

Day 2. We passed a couple who started section hiking in 2004 and had put in more than 1,300 miles. They also spoke of the wood rats at the Black Rock Hut. Apparently, one wood rat was almost skewered by a hiking pole before escaping to lick his wounds under the Shelter all night.

I love going through the green tunnels on the trail.

Cute Husband! Run for your life!
The deer in the park are beyond tame. This poor guy was being eaten by so many insects an entomologist would have had a field day.

We finished the hike at Rip Rap Trail and headed to the Hawk Watch!
We met Brenda Tekin, who was one of the coordinators.
She is amazing at picking out the speck in the horizon.
I'm not kidding, she is so good she could even tell you that the speck was an immature male Northern Harrier.
Thank you for the lesson and generosity, Brenda!
So... it looks like we are off the PA for a portion of rocks next weekend.
My toes say no, the rest of me can't wait!

Monday, July 23, 2007


Good Medicine.

That's how our shuttle driver, Rodney describes hiking.

Cute Husband and I were off for some good medicine and our first overnight of the season.

28 miles in the Shenandoah Valley.

I don't think we could have picked a better weekend for a hike in July in VA. Our longest day of hiking with 17 miles. Camp at the Pinefield Shelter with 11 miles to follow on Sunday.

This meant pedal to the metal. Boot to the mountain.

The only problem is that there are birds. And, always so much to see, to hear, to inspect.... No way could you just cruise right by this guy. Turk's-cap Lily (Lilium superbum).

Or this beauty. Jewelweed.

Jewelweed is also called Touch-me-not because its seed pods explode when touched. Jewelweed is used as home remedy to treat poison ivy rashes.

There is a saying that goes "Wherever poison ivy is found, Jewelweed grows close by". I don't know. We've seen a ton of poison ivy, but not enough Jewelweed.
The yellow species of Jewelweed (Impatiens pallida) is common at higher elevations.

Higher elevations.
That makes sense. It felt like we hiked up most of the time. Queen Anne's Lace or Wild Carrot. Tiger Swallowtail on the last blooms of Milkweed.

Monarch on Milkweed leaves. A beautiful Bald Faced hornet nest. The Bald Faced Hornet is actually a larger yellow jacket, and not a true hornet.
Ok, enough with the flowers.....

We also saw lots of scat!

If poop pictures gross you out, please stop here.

I happen to find it quite fascinating and we found several varieties right in the middle of the trail.

Bear scat. Scat from a pretty large bear.

According to this website, it may be important "to identify scat of bears that have been feeding on meat so that you can use this as a sign to leave the area, or at least to be very vigilant. When bears are feeding on meat, the scat is usually black and runny and there may be some hair visible."

We didn't see any hair.

A raccoon most likely left this berry filled scat on the side of the trail. Droppings are often left in raccoon restrooms which the raccoon will repeatedly visit and may be a way of staking out a territory.

I thought this was some sort of owl pellet. Owls swallow their prey whole and then regurgitate the indigestible parts such as fur or bones. I'm not quite sure, though... so any help would be appreciated.

And then we had lunch.

Trader Joe Wraps. The lunch of hiking champions. TJ Wraps eaten while digesting this view.

Cute Husband uses an AT map to verify that Highttop Mountain is appropriately named. I preferred to call it $%%^$%# mountain. Look! No urban sprawl in sight!

Hiking in the Shenandoah affords many beautiful overlooks. This view was also accessible by a short hike up a "blue" blaze and was crowded with day hikers and families.

As we trudged by a family, a girl yelled at the top of her lungs--- BACKPACKERS!!!! Talk about making us feel like superstars!

Yes, that's us... BACKPACKERS... sleeping on the ground...carrying all our needs on our back....making water potable.... living off the land..... for days and days.... (ok, for two days).

We met a section hiker with the trail name Rain Man from Tennessee. Rain Man was hiking the park with his daughter who had thru-hiked several years before, but chose to water blaze around the park. Meaning she canoed, rather than hiked through it.

We slept by the stream at the Pine Hut Shelter. A herd of deer were our alarm clock.

Honestly, Cute Husband had to chase them away so we could get out of the tent without being trampled.

I fought off 10 bears to provide a wholesome breakfast for Warren.

Well, I would have fought off 10 (teddy) bears if they had showed up.

We did see a beer later on Hightop Mountain (AKA $$%^%^ Mountain). He was traveling above us as the trail circled the mountain. It was our best look at a beer to date. He was traveling North as we traveled South and he wasn't the least bit frightened.

He stopped to stare at us. We stopped to stare at him.
We moved on before he could whip out his camera and take a picture of us.

Get off me backpack.

Look! Not a Walmart in sight.

Warren, King of the Mountain.

The view from Hightop was amazing and worth the aerobic workout. It was our last big climb of the hike. As sore, tired and smelly as we were, we found ourselves slowing down just to eck out the last bit of hiking goodness before we got to the car.

It will probably be weeks before we can get back on the trail.....

Oh, why must we work?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Have boots. Will travel.

Warren treated me to the best anniversary gift this year.

Cute Husband gave me Georgia!

We shacked up with the most fab Mom in the South, her cute husband and their creation (and my new best buddy) in Atlanta for a few days of Hotlanta sights.

And, if too much fun with Avery Lane was not enough to keep me floating, Warren also hooked us up for our first AT hike in the great state of Georgia.

We were unsure of what to expect from the trail, terrain and boiling weather in GA, so we (ok, Warren) planned a short 9 mile day hike.

Our plan was to drop our rental car at the Springer Mountain Parking Lot and find a ride to our hike start and travel backwards to the very beginning of the Appalachian Trail.

We found that ride through the AT Shuttle List. Leigh and her husband thru-hiked in 2000 and now run a hostel for hikers and mountain bikers.

It was perfect hiking weather and the trail was breathtaking. Ravines full of ferns. Valleys of blooming rhododendrons. The sound of a mountain stream and a lovely waterfall dropped right in the middle of it all.


The lush habitat also supported a healthy population of nesting warblers. Black and White Warbler, Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green......

It was a treat to see these guys outside of migration and we were challenged by remembering songs and calls we hadn't heard since May.

Yup. I could live here.

Cute husband in the middle of the woods in the middle of Georgia.
Ok, this wasn't exactly taken on the AT. The Aquarium was also a super cool GA attraction. Seriously.
This is it.
This is the very first white blaze that marks the Appalachian Trail.
It was super weird not seeing another blaze further in the distance. The plaque reads "A footpath for those who seek fellowship with the wilderness"

That's us!

Our next walk in the woods is back up North. Warren is planning something fun for Virginia.

As a footnote: Despite what you read here, hikers do not like to "tie one on before hiking", but rather they like to properly hydrate before hiking.

Thanks to the Queen of Fun (oh, I am missing you Paige) for putting us up, making us insanely tasty jambalaya and introducing us to the love that is Avery.

We're going to make that child a nerdy birder yet....