After a night at a motel and two more hours of driving up into the mountains we arrived at the Lewis Mountain Cabins. The cabins were basic, two bedrooms with a shared bath in the middle. Lee and I took one cabin and Ron and Phil the other. “Put the snorers in a cabin together”, Ron directed. We got an orientation in the camp store by Randy, who claimed to be a world class runner about 20 years ago. Once you got Randy started you couldn’t turn him off, he wore me out with his stories and antidotes. Our escape was a two mile hike to a south ridge overlooking the eastern valley below the Shenandoah Mountains. This was our first introduction to the nats, they don’t bite, they don’t land on you, except to go in your ear or up your nostril. They just form a cloud around your head, about an inch from your face.
The cabins about 15 of them were full, some hikers, others just spending several nights in the wilderness. I had volunteered to bring our first nights dinner in that there were no restaurants, the nearest lodge was ten miles up the road and we needed our energy for our following days hike to the Big Meadows Lodge. I had purchased four Rib-Eye steaks, marinated and froze them and also brought four potatoes with all the timings. I also brought two bottles of a California Cabernet Sauvignon, Lee and I finished the first one in the pre-meal conversation and preparation. Our cookout went well and all was eaten and drank thus nothing had to be carried in the coming days.
We were all up and ready for the 9 mile hike through the mountains at 7:30 AM. Ron and Phil had been visited by a hungry mouse thus Ron had one less grain bar and one less bag of Fiber-One for snacks on the trail. None the less spirits were high and we were on the trail.
Within the first
mile we were into a steady climb, traversing the side of the hill in a series of switch backs, this was no walk in the woods. We were rewarded for our efforts with a beautiful valley overlook where we stopped to rest, take in the view and have our first snack. As we made our way back onto the trail we crossed paths with two through-hikers. We’d seen several through-hikers earlier but these two were different.
Haleigh and Clayton Smith, brother and sister were at mile 927 having started their hike in Georgia at Springer Mountain on April 2, 2011. What made them so different was that Haleigh is fifteen and Clayton is thirteen and their hiking on their own. They assured us that the Appalachian through-hikers are a close knit family all looking out for each other, they hooked up with their parents every 10 to 14 days, and their cousin was two days ahead of them. We would cross paths with Haleigh and Clayton several more times over the coming days and each of our admiration grew for these two kids. Phil asked them what they were going to do after college, “become a doctor or lawyer?” Their response was,”Why would we want to tie ourselves down to such a profession when there are so many opportunities available in this world. No we’ll be entrepreneurs, we’ll start our own businesses and remain flexible in this changing world.”
Our hike continued and we attempted to gauge our speed by making calculations based on the various trail intersections. At first we determined that we were walking one mile per hour which would mean that we would not arrive at the lodge until 4:30 or 5:00 PM, so we picked up the pace, putting more strain on our legs and other muscles that had not been accustomed to such a workout. The scenery was magnificent and regularly changing, we all wanted to see deer and bear, but the path was in some spots rocky and in other had protruding roots so to be safe as we hiked we had to keep our eyes on the ground, placing our foot with each new step.
At 11:45 we reached a gravel road at which Haleigh had instructed us to turn right and climb to the black-top turn left and it will lead us to the lodge. We had been hiking for over four hours, we were all exhausted, we had brought our pace up to 2.5 miles per hour, counting breaks. The gravel road was a 40 degree climb for a quarter of a mile, I could see the black-top off in the distance. A shirtless, heavily tattooed 22 year old through-hiker turned onto the gravel road with me. “I’m going to keep up with him,” I said t myself, “I want to get this over.” I put my head down and swung my arms with each stride, the 22 year old and I reached the top together and we continued up to the driveway leading into the lodge and the Way Side store. He headed for the Way Side Store I headed for the lodge. He probably slept comfortably in a trail side hut or in his tent that night while I tossed and turned in a queen-sized bed trying to find a comfortable spot to lay my left leg having ruptured a tendon in my knee.
I was unable to make the second leg of the Lodge to Lodge hike; first I could barely walk and second I was scheduled to run in the Senior Olympics in 13 days, my walk in the wood would have to stop here. The Big Meadow Lodge was a true lodge having been built in 1939 by the CCC, with a mountain top view of the Virginia valley below. The food for dinner and breakfast were both above my expectations and the help were obviously happy to have us as guests.
Ron, Lee and Phil set off on the second leg of our hike to the Skyline Lodge, an 7.7 mile hike through even rougher terrain. “It was like we were were walking down a rock avalanche at times, you had to carefully pick your every step. Even though it was shorter it was a tougher trail,” was the consensus. “We have another problem”, Phil informed me. “One of Ron’s bug bites has produced a lightning bolt path across his leg, we think it may be blood poisoning, we need to get him to an emergency room.”
The balance of the afternoon was consumed with getting a ride to where we had left the car and getting Ron down the mountain to an emergency room. The staff at the Skyline Lodge were gracious to give us a ride up to our car and when we arrived at the hospital we found that ours was not an unusual visit. However the doctor did commit that Ron didn’t smell as bad as most of the through-hikers that showed up in the emergency room.
At dinner it was decided that our Lodge to Lodge hike would not include the scheduled Lodge to Parking Lot hike that would finish our adventure. We had already retrieved the car and we all agreed that we would call an end to our adventure one walk in the woods early.
In hind site it was a great “guy trip” and I’ll remember the laughs and pranks that reminded me of when I was a boy, I’ll remember the beauty of the mountains and the peacefulness of the woods, I’ll also remember the strength that three guys 62 to 69 years old displayed and the daring just to have tried. But I regret that we didn’t complete the task that we had set out to complete and I feel it wasn’t that we weren’t able it was because we expect to much from ourselves, and for that reason I will go back.