Hiking Hogback

I haven’t done a hike since forever, so it was time to get my butt out to Shenandoah National Park. Thankfully, the weatherman delivered a picture perfect day.

I left at 7 am on a Saturday and the traffic gods were kind. I drove US 211 through Sperryville Va to the Thornton Gap entrance to Skyline Drive. US 211 is a beautiful drive. It reminds me of drives in West Virginia. The road climbs gradually until it gets to the Park then it twists and turns as it climbs over the Blue Ridge.

I have to make a confession at this point. I’ve lived in DC since 1984 and, until today, I’ve never driven on Skyline Drive. It’s a work of art. Easily one of the best roads I’ve ever driven on. Every couple of miles is a pull off where you can take in a breathtaking view of mountains and valleys.

I parked the car and headed into the woods, eager to take on the Hogback Mountain hike from HikingUpward.com. The undergrowth was lusher (more lush?) than I am used to which added a bit of mystery to the location of the start. I guessed right and was soon working my way to the Piney Branch Trail. The trail headed gradually downhill. After all the walking I did in Scandinavia, my legs were having no troubles negotiating the path. Piney Branch lead to a small stream which I managed to cross without immersing myself.  I turned onto the Pole Bridge trail which led to a fire road that took me back up to Skyline Drive. The warm, dry air, the gentle breeze and the green everywhere was floating my boat.

After crossing Skyline Drive I picked up the Appalachian Trail and started going up. The climb to Little Hogback overlook raised my heart rate but was not overly strenuous. The views were just fabulous. Somebody take a picture! Oh, yeah. I did.


I ate an apple and drank some water and thank the gods for coming up with the colors green and blue.

Then I hiked over to Hogback Mountain. Over is a term of art. I hiked down a bit then started hauling my ass up. And up. And up. Switchbacks and stone steps and up. My breathing became labored but, after a few minutes, my lungs caught up and I cruised (slowly) my way to the top. The view was pretty much the same. Green, blue, rocks, farms, puffy white clouds. Ahhhh.


After overdosing on scenery, I made my way through a stand of mountain laurel and another stand of ferns. When I die, cremate me and spread my ashes among these ferns. It was so peaceful walking through them.

The trail made its way down. Who am I to argue. I walked down with it. Soon I was back at the car with 7 1/2 miles of hiking in heaven behind me.

My pictures from today are on my Flickr page.

My only complaint about this hike is the fact that the second half of the hike takes place very close to Skyline Drive. It’s hard to lose yourself in the moment when your contemplation is interrupted by a motorcycle engine. This is a quibble though. .

Also, my co-worker Kelly asked me how difficult this hike was. Except for the climb up Hogback this one is a breeze. Most of the other hikes I’ve done in this area start low and climb to Skyline Drive. This one mostly just winds back and forth Skyline Drive so you really don’t have to work all that hard.

Some Ride/Hike Ideas for 2016

About a year ago I was admonished by a friend for sounding wishy washy regarding my 2015 vacation plans. “Stop planning. All we have is today” was her way of saying don’t plan, DO!  Irony alert: in January 2014 she told me of her plans to obtain certification to teach in DC schools and to open a business. She followed through on none of it, eventually leaving town. Even so, she had a point.

I suck at advance planning. Somehow I managed to do a bike tour, a non-bike trip around the world, nearly a dozen day hikes, half a dozen bicycling events, and take in a bunch of Nationals games. So with that in mind I began thinking about things to do in 2016.

I anticipate one non-biking vacation (to Sweden and thereabouts) to visit my daughter.  (A return to Thailand in the dry season would be nice but I can’t face the 18 hours of flying right now. Maybe 2017.) That will leave plenty of vacation time. So here are some ideas I am tossing around in my head.

Hiking: there are still many, many hikes to do in the Shenandoah National Park. Also, I have barely scratched the surface of hiking in nearby Maryland and Pennsylvania along the Appalachian Trail. One possibility is to gear up and do some overnights. I have never done this and it would be an interesting extension of my day hikes (not to mention save on driving home after a day’s worth of hiking).

Biking Events: WABA swears that it’s going to offer a century ride this year.  If it works into my schedule, I’ll definitely do it. Then there are the usual events: Vasa, Cider, 50 States, Backroads, and Great Pumpkin. I’ve done all of these several times, but the Backroads course was moved to West Virginia this year. I was in Australia and missed it. I can’t wait to do the new version. Two more that I keep threatening to do are RAGBRAI and the Five Boro Ride in New York City. Both of them are cattle drives. Both offer logistical challenges. Some of what follows are a lot easier to do.

Bike Trails: There are all kinds of cool trails around here that I haven’t ridden. Here’s a list of Virginia trails:

  • The Virginia Capital Trail goes between Williamsburg and Richmond. This could be a fun 2-day deal or a long single day ride.
  • High Bridge State Park down near Farmville and Appomattox looks really cool with a long, high bridge.
  • The Virginia Creeper Trail is a bit of a drive from DC. It’s only 34 miles but could be a beast of an out and back ride.
  • The New River Trail is a 57-mile trail that looks really promising with 30 trestles and bridges and two tunnels. This is a two-day ride with camping I think.

In Pennsylvania the Pine Creek Rail Trail runs 63 miles through the Grand Canyon of the East. Looks like a good overnight camping round trip to me.

Bike Tours: Right now I have eight possibilities on my list. All in the Eastern U.S.

  • Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway: This is a monster tour, 578 miles from Front Royal, Virginia to Cherokee, North Carolina. How the hell I’d get back is anybody’s guess. It’s also super hilly so I figure I’d be lucky to average 45 miles per day, 13  days of riding. This could be beyond my physical abilities. (Never stopped me before.)
  • The Natchez Trace: This 444 mile road is truck free. Tack on another 90 miles or so and the route would go from Nashville to New Orleans. Logistics on this one is a bit pricey (two bike flights). Bike Friday to the rescue?
  • Figure 8 in Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York: Adventure Cycling has two routes that form a figure 8. One loops around Lake Champlain, the other does a lap of the Adirondack Park. This one would be logistically pretty easy as I have family in the Albany area where the Adirondack route begins. The total distance exceeds 700 miles. The riding in Vermont and upstate New York is incredibly nice. Also weather up yonder is pretty much perfect for cycling in June – August.
  • La Route Verte: There are over 5,000 kilometers of marked bike routes in Quebec. The possibilities are endless. Then there is the interesting prospect of conversing in my horrid, mostly forgotten high school French. The idea of cycling to Quebec City, which I have never seen, or around Montreal is pretty intriguing. Getting there is a bit of a haul, but c’est la vie.
  • A New Kind of Rail Trail – North: Amtrak now has roll on bike service on the East Coast. Theoretically (relying on Amtrak is always an iffy proposition) I could take my bike on a trail and ride to Brunswick Maine, then ride up to Acadia National Park and ride all or part way home.
  • A New Kind of Rail Trail – South: Alternatively, I could take the train to Florida, ride to Key West, ferry to Tampa and ride across the state to Amtrak in Miami. Or just ride home.
  • Around Lake Michigan: This one starts in Monroeville, Indiana, one of the most bike touring friendly small towns in the US. It heads north through lower Michigan into the Upper Peninsula. Then across to Wisconsin and returns by crossing Lake Michigan on a ferry.  It’s 1,100 miles. Logistics would be simplified by using my in-laws house in north central IN as an alternative starting point.

In the increasingly likely (yet still somewhat improbable) possibility that I retire there is this:

  • The Trans Am/Western Express/Northern Tier Cross Country Ride: There remains a faint possibility that I might retire this year. If so, adios, amigos! I don’t know which route I’d take but the possibilities are numerous. The Trans Am is the classic route from Yorktown to the Oregon coast through Yellowstone. The Western Express shortens the Trans Am by taking a b-line across Utah and Nevada for California. The Northern Tier goes close to the US-Canada border.

Once I find out when the WABA Century and the Sweden trip will happen, I’ll pick two of the tours and as many events and hikes as my aging bones can handle.




Pictures of the Year 2015

Pool Noodles for the Win: Sam got us organized. We were going to occupy the Pennsylvania bike lanes to get barriers installed between 13th and 15th Street to keep cars from making illegal u-turns. Somebody got the idea of using pool noodles as props, to indicate where the barriers would go. Afterward, Dave carried them off. I think they took him to the nervous hospital later.


We all had a blast. Human bollards come in many shapes and sizes. Here’s the Katie Lee model. It’s generally impervious to u-turning cars, but can be moved aside with tickets to Packers games and Phish concerts.


Here’s Sam, the mad genius behind #biketivismdc. It’s funny what getting run over by a car does for your determination to make streets safer.


Kelly Biked to Work!: Kelly sits across from me at work. She had hip surgery which meant she couldn’t run for weeks. So she took up bike commuting. The smile means it was a success.


To her credit she really got into the bike commuting thing. Here she poses at an underpass on the Four Mile Run Trail. A few days before rising water during a downpour caused her to abandon shelter and head into the maelstrom. She survived and added a snorkel to her bike commuting gear.


Like Father Like Daughter: I went to a bunch of baseball games this year. Katie Lee and I attended a couple of games together. She is a meticulous genius at scorekeeping, an art she learned from her late father. At one game, there were two little boys in the row in front of us attending their first baseball game. They were trying to figure out how to keep score. Katie moved down and gave them a game long tutorial. It was an act of kindness that just knocked me out. Somewhere her dad is smiling.


Posh Bike Parking: For some inexplicable reason, our office building started getting all environmentally conscious this fall. Without telling anyone, they replaced their absolutely crappy bike racks with a pretty awesome, secure bike room. Combined with the gym and showers one floor above, it’s a pretty darn bike friendly place to work.

Here’s the before shot.

Bike parking

Here’s the after.

Bike Room

No Wrong Plan: Ryan, Kevin, and I rode from Pittsburgh to DC. It was my first bike tour in a decade. Here we pose in Georgetown’s Waterfront Park at the end of our trek. Any resemblance of me to Hoss Cartwright is entirely coincidental.


In Williamsport, Maryland, we stopped at the Desert Rose Cafe for breakfast. They made us sandwiches for lunch. Inside the bags they included napkins. Each one had a personal message. Such nice people. Such good food. Eat there. (They speak veggie and vegan too!).


Going Up: I did quite a lot of day hiking this year branching out to Shenandoah National Park for several exceptional hikes. All my hikes were solo except for this one with Ultrarunnergirl. She kicked my ass all the way up to Little Hawksbill, the highest point in the park. Then the mountain kicked my ass all the way back down.


On my 60th birthday, I hiked Old Rag. It was a tough hike and convinced me that rock scrambles are for the young and frisky. Also, the thin.


Glory Days: Mrs. RC is a very talented quilter. When I had to quit running about 25 years ago we talked about using my race t-shirts to make a quilt. Nothing came of it until she made the quilt as a surprise for my 60th birthday. What an amazing gift. Oh how I wish I could run like that again.


Around the World in 19 Days: My kids were living in Sydney, Australia and Phuket, Thailand. We decided to go visit them. While in Australia, Mrs. RC and our daughter Lily went to Uluru for dinner under the stars. Here we enjoy a drink just before sunset.


After trips to Melbourne and the north island of New Zealand, we headed for Phuket. The island is very hilly so everyone rides a motorbike like this one my son Eamonn uses.


We paid a visit to Big Buddha. He was aptly named.


Lily made friends with a baby elephant.


Cookies and Cider: I did a bunch of event rides this year. The Cookie Ride had a good hook. Cookies at every rest stop. Here I pose with a human cookie along with Paris and Lisa.


I missed my two favorite rides of the year, the Backroads Century and the 50 States Ride, which both occurred while I was traveling. I swore off the Cider Ride last year but decided to give it a go after they moved it into November. Finishers got this cool mug. Thanks to Michelle for her event magic on behalf of WABA.


Sunrise: The year is nearly over but I am pretty sure that the new one will start something like this. Thanks for reading.



What Goes Up – Hiking in Shenandoah National Park

Hiking may be my new thing. If I recover from yesterday’s excursion in Shenandoah National Park.

Usually Kirstin and I ride bikes together. when we ride, I’m usually riding much slower than usual. Her name online is Ultrarunnergirl for a reason: she does long runs usually offroad. I think of this as high speed, long distance hiking. So yesterday, the hiking shoe was on the other foot as she took me to White Oak Canyon in Shenandoah National Park for a day of hiking.

We left her place at 6:30 and drove 2 hours to the trail head. The last few miles were some of the most scenic rural roadways I’ve ever driven. (One house we drove by was named Chateau Debris by its owner. It was actually quite nice.)

18814924729_ea8ceb1647_zWe decided to hike based on how we were feeling. We headed up White Oak Canyon trail. which begins around 1,000 feet above sea level. Basically, the trail follows a stream up hill past one waterfall after the next. It’s a moderately difficult hike (for me anyway) so it took about 20 minutes for me to get into a rhythm. Kirstin took mercy on me and went at my speed. She had hiked this trail before so she knew the best places to stop and check out the scenery. And there was a lot of scenery. It’s impossible to capture this using a camera. The sounds of the water, the sun streaming through the canopy, the quiet of the woods.


We made it to the top of the trail and made the decision to hike the fire road up to Skyline Drive. Somehow the trail maps we had made everything look shorter and easier than it was. The fire road was long but, unlike sections of the trail, was not at all technical.

And it went up. And up.

When we reached the road we stopped to consider our options. Just the first of what would turn out to be several ultrarunning friends and acquaintences of Kirstin came bounding by. She described where she had been running/hiking and where she was about to go. Clearly she was not human.

After she left, we decided to hike the Lower Hawksbill Trail to Hawksbill overlook, the highest point in the park at nearly 4,051 feet. (As a point of reference, Old Rag is 3,268 feet.)

It went up. It was relentlessly steep. We were soaked in sweat from the muggy air. And we made it. The overlook provided spectacular views to the north and northwest. Farmland. trees, mountains and towns for miles and miles. A cloud bank was drifting in from the northeast adding dramatic contrast to the view.

View from #lowerhawksbill #hiking #shenandoahnationalpark

We stayed at the summit for twenty minutes or so then started down.

Did I say down?

And down.

My legs had grown accustomed to the uphill which allowed me to use my bicycle quads and butt. Going down was all about beating the crap out of my legs to essentially stop me from careening and tumbling to a rocky face plant. Speaking of rocky, except for the fire road, these trails can make for difficult footing so you have to be mindul of not turning an ankle.

Once we made it to Skyline Drive we quickly decided to use the Cedar Run trial to hike back to the car. Kirstin remembered this as a relatively boring, non-technical trail. As it turned out, after about 1/2 mile of easy going it tuned into quite a difficult trail, mostly because it was really rocky.

As the humidity climbed, the rocks became slippery, much more slippery than they appeared to be. My feet slipped from time to time. Once requirng and awkward twisting of my torse to recover my footing. This is not good for someone with a history of back problems. Fortunately my back didn’t seem to mind.

Later I stepped on some slippery rocks than made both my feet slide out. I caught my backwards fall with one hand before my butt hit the ground. Graceful am I.

The rest of the hike down took much longer than either of us expected. As our legs tired, the constant pounding and carefull foot placement made for rough going. We stopped to admire an owl in a tree. I couldn’t get a decent picture of it. Kirstin might have but at our next stop her iPhone fell into a swiming hole. After retrieving it she went in for a soak. I took my shoes off and walked in a foot or two. The water was so cold my feet went numb.

We trucked on, somewhat surprised that in order to go down weDSCN4011_1128 occassionally had to climb some pretty steep short bits.

We came to the waterslide. Some of Kirstin’s untrapeeps were having a blast sliding down the big rock face in the creek into a pool of frigid water. I had done this on the Ausable River in the Adirondacks and hurt my tail bone so I took a pass. Kirstin gave it a go. She tried to wave and her body twisted awkwardly. No worries she splashed down without a problem.

As we hiked the last 1/2 mile or so, visions of ice cold beer danced in our heads. Kirstin kept laughing because the distances seemed so much farther than the map indicated. When it was all said and done, we had hike 12 1/2 miles and done the equivalent of 322 flights of stairs (so said her Fitbit).

On the way home we stopped at the Griffin Tavern in Flint Hill. It’s a cool old house with a wrap around porch. We chose to sit in the barroom because that’s where the beer was. The beer was ice cold. The burgers were yummy. We were chuffed.

Some more pix of the hike are on my Flickr page.

Many thanks to Kirstin for taking me on my first bigtime day hike in the Shenandoah National Forest. What a beautiful place.

Aftermath: I was pretty sore after the hike, mostly because of all the downhills. I woke up this morning feeling as if I had run a marathon. Walking downstairs was very difficult. My quads and calf muscles are super tight. Lucky for me, Mrs. Rootchopper got me a sports massage for Father’s Day. I am going to wait a while before using it. My recovery will be an easy bike ride to the bike shop and to Old Town, followed by RICE: Rest, Ice (cold beer), Couch and Espinosa.