Sunday, November 20, 2016
I had seven miles to walk to Compton Overlook to meet Martha. I was sore and tired, but it felt good to be finishing the hike. It was still blowing very hard when we got up, and it was cold. The water bottles weren’t frozen, but they had ice in them. Nick was nice enough to boil me some water for coffee. We didn’t know if Kelly got the messages through the InReach, so we didn’t know if Nick’s girlfriend or Martha would be on the way to pick us up. I figured at worst I would walk or hitch to Front Royal and get a room.
I set out at 7:30 not knowing what kind of hike I had, but I knew by now that 7 miles is a 5-hour morning for me on this trail. I had a lot of layers on as I started up the steep hill form Gravel Springs Hut figuring I would take some off when I got to the top, but I didn’t. It was cold and that wind was really blowing. The first part was pretty level and the whole day was relatively easy with a couple of mountains to go over. I flushed a couple of grouse at the top of one. That was nice to see. I haven’t seen grouse in Virginia in a long time. Trying to take pictures at the top of the first mountain, the howling wind about knocked me over. It was dangerous, so I moved on, trying to stick to the business at hand – getting to the pick-up spot in reasonable time. I stopped for a breather at one point and a tree limb fell right in front of me. All it would take is for one of these trees to give up in this fierce wind and fall on you. Thank God that didn’t happen.
The last mountain, Compton, wasn’t so big, but by the ninth day, everything was difficult. I knew it was the last one, so that helped a lot. I was surprised to see hikers at the top. It as Sunday, so I knew people would be out, but it was also cold and nasty with that wind. More hikers passed me on the way down the other side. Someone was bringing a group of community kids up the mountain for a hike, one having a Superman backpack. I shook his hand, congratulating him for hiking up this mountain. Cute kid!
It was difficult to control my pace as I got closer. I wanted to go faster, but you always know that one bad step and there goes a knee or an ankle of a pulled muscle. Every day I felt something sore. Of course the feet are always sore, one way or another, and I had plenty of blisters. Today I felt like I could pull a muscle behind my left knee, the top of the calf muscle.
I got to the parking lot just after 12:00, but Martha wasn’t there. I had 3 bars on my phone, but couldn’t make a phone call. I could see that she got my message to pick me up, and she replied at 10:15 that she would soon be on the way. I knew that would take about three hours to get here. It was cold standing there in that wind. I drank more icy water in wind that kept wanting to blow my hat into Never Never Land. I took out my rain jacket and put it on for another layer. I didn’t want to take out my long john pants and put them on in the parking lot. People were coming and going, and there were probably 10 cars in the parking lot. I was impressed there were so many out on a tough day like this. It was 29 degrees and blowing gale-force winds. I didn’t see Nick anywhere, and hoped he had gotten through to his girlfriend.
I walked down the side of the road a couple of hundred yards to keep moving and try to stay warm and also see if I could get cell reception, but that was no use. Even if I got through on mine, what were the odds that hers would have reception? I figured 1:30 was a good target, so I kept walking, once considering getting the sleeping bag out. It might look foolish, but it would be warm! Sure enough at 1:30 I saw that beautiful truck round the bend! It was so good to see Martha! She had a big thermos of hot tea that really hit the spot!
I requested lunch at Skyland for lunch, although I wasn’t really hungry. I had eaten an energy bar while I waited, but I wanted to drink a lot of something and I wanted that split pea soup! I drank half of the tea on the way. Never having seen this part of the parkway, we enjoyed spectacular views. It was interesting to drive back past all the places I had walked. It seemed like a long time ago as we went back. Nine days. It’s pretty amazing how far you can walk in nine days!
When we got to Skyland, it was 28 degrees with a fierce wind. Martha scurried across the parking lot into the building. I didn’t have any scurry in me. No split pea soup so we ordered chicken and rice, which was the best ever, with big chunks of chicken. It was almost like a chicken pot pie without the shell, a meal all in itself. Martha ordered a wedge salad, which was great, and I had the fish and chips, stuffing myself. It’s worth the trip up here just for the soups!
Driving back along the parkway, I wound back the clock, seeing all the places I had crossed days before. It was a lot of mountains to slog over. I think Mary’s Rock was the most difficult, both going up and coming back down. It’s steep with a lot of rocks. On the other hand, I had met a couple from Culpeper who love this hike and come regularly.
I’m glad I did it. I was sure tired and worn out. No doubt it would be a lot easier for a young person. 10 miles a day is an all-day job for me. I learned a lot, and saw places I have never seen. I feel more comfortable in the woods alone. I know more about how to get water and appreciate it a lot more. There are places I want to come back to with Martha, and I’d like to camp at the campgrounds. I have huge respect for through hikers who spend months on the trail. I can’t even comprehend spending four months hiking the whole thing! Then again, if I were 25 years old, I’d be very tempted. We have a great national park in our back yard. It needs our help. They are understaffed and underfunded, and it is tremendously porous. You can fish any stream with a fishing license on hundreds of miles of trout streams. You can hike hundreds of trails from the bottom and not pay a dime. The only way they get a fee is if you drive the parkway, and you can get a lifetime senior pass to ALL the national parks for $10. You can stay in these shelters for free! Canada would not let you get away with this, and therefore their parks are in much better shape.