Yesterday’s hike was a nice 17-mile stretch from the Sunset Field Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway to the James River at Route 501. Once again, trail conditions were excellent and the weather was beautiful. The hike included terrific panoramas of the mountains and valleys, lots of blooming mountain laurel and wildflowers, and a nice walk along a creek beginning at Matts Creek Shelter. It ended with a crossing of the James River Foot Bridge. I had always thought that it was “Footbridge” but actually the bridge was named for someone with the last name “Foot”. I need to remember that the ten mile stretch from Petite’s Gap at mile 71 on the Blue Ridge Parkway to the James River Foot Bridge would be a nice day hike to do with friends someday.
When I arrived at the parking lot at Route 501 two rangers asked me if I had seen a certain hiker along the way. In fact I had seen that hiker the day before so I gave them my best estimate for where he might be. As it turns out, the hiker is wanted for damaging a hotel room in Buchanan, VA and there is a warrant for his arrest. It is unfortunate that there are some bad apples among AT hikers who get into trouble in the trail towns and hurt the reputation of thru-hikers in general. The same thing happened back in April when a rowdy group of hikers trashed some hotel rooms in Franklin, NC and word spread quickly about that.
As it says in the title to this post, it was my last day of slackpacking and this morning the Princess will drop me off and I will be off on my own again, headed to Maine. It’s been great to spend so much time close to home, to be with her as much as possible, and to see so many family members and friends. It has been tough for the Princess, though. She’s had to get up early to drive me to the starting point of my hikes, which could be as much as three hour of driving round trip, and many days I returned late and too tired to be much company for her. After she drops me off today we won’t have much, if any, opportunity to see each other until she drives up to Maine to meet me at Mount Katahdin. So I’m glad we were able to maximize our time together.
The Princess thought I should explain the legitimacy of slackpacking in a post, so here goes… Slackpacking is considered legitimate by AT thru-hikers and I would guess that most hikers do it at one point or another along the trail. I know that early on, in North Carolina and Tennessee, there were many hikers slackpacking using commercial shuttles or the services of trail angels who provide free shuttle services. I remember a group of four hikers who based out of Uncle Johnny’s Nolichucky Hostel in Erwin, TN and slackpacked for at least four days. I would see them at different points along the trail moving very quickly with their day packs. I was envious at the time! And then there are hikers like Molar Man, whose wife is following him in their car for the entire hike, and Don’s Brother who manages to find a way to sleep in a bed almost every night by arranging for a shuttle to pick him up or by hitchhiking each day to a nearby town.
So slackpacking is not ‘cheating’ – no one cares how much weight you carry, just that you walk the entire length of the trail which is 2185.9 miles according to the guidebook.
There are some forms of cheating, though. ‘Blue blazing’ is taking shortcuts on side trails to avoid particularly hard or long sections of the AT. Some hikers do this, but most prefer to stay on the white-blazed AT so that they can say they walked every step of the way on the Appalachian Trail. ‘Yellow blazing’ is getting a ride in a car and skipping sections of the trail – this is definitely considered cheating by all self-respecting AT thru-hikers, but you do hear of some hikers who do it. Finally, there is ‘aqua blazing’, which is traveling by water in a canoe or kayak and missing part of the trail. This is sometimes done in the Shenandoah National Park area of the AT. Some hikers will use commercial river outfitters and float the Shenandoah River rather than walk the AT in Shenandoah National Park. This sounds like fun but I will not do it, being somewhat of an AT purist.
There is a certificate that the Appalachian Trail Conservancy will provide to all hikers who walk the entire length of the trail and become ‘2000 Milers’. The ATC operates on the honor system and recognizes thru-hikers and section hikers who complete the hike over a period of years, regardless of how long it takes them, which direction they travel on the trail, and whether or not they carry a pack.
Today I plan to hike a 25-mile section from the Tye River to the Paul C. Wolfe Shelter. It’s a long section to start back hiking with my pack, which weighs in at 22 pounds, but I want to be near the beginning of Shenandoah National Park on Sunday morning and the hike today will put me five miles south of the entry to the park. On Sunday afternoon I will visit the Princess’ brother and his wife, Buzzy and Charlene, who live near the Rip Rap Trail at about milepost 88 on Skyline Drive in the park.
The weather forecast for the next couple of days calls for a 70% chance of rain, so I’m prepared for that, and the temperatures will be a comfortable 60-70 degrees.
So it’s goodbye for now to beautiful Lexington and Rockbridge County, Virginia – I’m headed to Maine!