A Peek at Life on the Appalachian Trail

Our six miles on the Appalachian Trail during our tour of Virginia stirred affection and respect for one of the world’s great long-distance paths. In Shenandoah National Park, we entered the AT at the Thornton Gap trailhead parking lot.

The trail led us over a mostly rocky surface with more than 1,700 feet of climbing. We took a quick detour to Mary’s Rock, where Sue took in the view, then we continued southbound to the Bird’s Nest #3 Shelter, one of more than 250 shelters spread over the AT’s 2,190 miles. In order to sleep in the huts, campers must be traveling at least three consecutive days on the AT. The Bird’s Nest featured a rock fireplace, wooden sleeping platform, a nearby privy as well as a bear box and hanger poles to keep food safe. Thru hikers must use the shelter unless it is full, when they may use designated campsites nearby. I ate my lunch while sitting on the platform and imagined the hut filled with sleeping bags and trekkers. I could almost hear the snoring and smell the trail grime.

The higher we went, the less spring we witnessed as the season had delayed its arrival. We passed six or seven northbound thru hikers, who all traveled solo and appeared to be in their 20s. I resisted asking where they started and where their destination was. They all were in a hurry since a storm was moving in, but they took the time for a brief friendly greeting. I wished I had brought along some trail magic (beers?) to hand off as they passed.

Tackling the Appalachian Trail (sort of)

While in the eastern U.S., Sue and I just had to walk the Appalachian Trail. Not all 2,135 miles of it and not even the 544 miles of the AT that runs through Virginia.

The Massie Gap Trail in Grayson Highlands State Park took us up to the AT, where we witnessed some of the best views of the entire iconic trail, according to our state parks guide. And a rhododendron forest that hadn’t bloomed despite it being late April. There was not a wild pony in sight either, despite warnings not to feed them.

We saw a couple of northbound thru hikers with medium-sized backpacks, but they sped by too quickly for us to ask how far they were going. Then we came to a group of 15 or so adults and teen-agers laden with huge backpacks.

“You must be going a long way,” Sue asked them. ”Yep,” said a woman leading the group. “We’re out for three days!”

We are proud to say we walked the Appalachian Trail, at least a couple miles of it in southwestern Virginia.