next morning the deep shade of the forest allowed us to sleep well past
sun-up. My first desire was to check on the food. Still there. Was it really
a bear clambering about in the tree after our grub? Hard to tell. Darkness
distorts reality. Plus, I’m pretty damn good at hanging a bag of
food. I filtered some water from Doyles River and made oatmeal for breakfast.
Andra took down the tent and after a very slow start to the day, we were
off up the trail on a bright and sunny morning. A detour led us over to
the Doyles River ATC Cabin, unoccupied but with a beautiful view of the
valley to the east. The trail then led past a spring that fed into Doyles
River, consisting of a pipe coming out of an old rock wall with clear water
flowing out of it. A sign above proclaimed, “Do not drink untreated water.”
What do you suppose Jackson’s brigade did? Up the trail towards Skyline
Drive we walked, under a constant kaleidoscope of fall color.
We crossed Skyline Drive
and hiked for some time on the Big Run Loop trail, where I found a particularly
form-fitting tree trunk to lean into and admire the Shenandoah Valley to
the west. The key was the full-moss cushion seat. Our path intersected
the AT, and we followed that back to our vehicle parked at the Jones Run
lot. The Appalachian Trail surprised me by being so narrow. Trails that
led to falls and mountains within the park were usually wide enough for
two people to walk abreast, but the AT was never more than a foot wide.
My impression was that thousands of people trekked the AT each year from
Georgia to Maine, but perhaps not. Or perhaps
they walk single file after exhausting all conversation with their hiking
partner within 4 days. Perhaps they begin to hate their hiking partner’s
constant jabber, kill ‘em off, hide ‘em in a ditch and keep going on solo.
I imagined the constant reward of taking the trail south, and not turning
around after a few days but just keep going, all the way to the end. Perhaps
someday. The rest of the day was frittered away with short side trips through
untrailed-woods, admiring the scenic vistas and fall color. We determined
that since no trail led to any destination downhill from the ridge-top
and Skyline Drive that was any more desirable than those areas close to
the road, we might as well camp fairly close to the road, avoid lugging
gear up steep draws, and avoid taking food with us to camp. Flat spots
in the woods were hard to find. The backcountry sign at the park entrance
said that unofficial, unmarked but obvious, backcountry sites existed throughout
the park. I take issue with their definition of “throughout”. We never
saw a single one, and always had to improvise on a spot that had clearly
never been camped on before. That night, we cooked ramen noodles in a parking
lot and packed into the forest only the bare essentials for the night.
Down a fire road five minutes lay a perfect flat spot near the confluence
of two creeks in a basin with straight and tall tulip trees. The evening
sun was gorgeous through the pole-like trunks. We walked down the road
until dark, then slept great all night, nearly 13 hours.