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.

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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.

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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.

All Is Quiet (nearly) on New Years Day

New Years Eve was a mellow affair. My wife, daughter and I went out to dinner then our daughter went to a party and we went to see Unbroken. As my wife put it, “It’s a mediocre movie about a great story.” I agree. The book was intense.

Nothing says ringing out the old year like watching a man dessicate in a life raft on the pen sea for weeks followed by getting beaten to a pulp over and over again by a sadist in a prison camp.

We walked out of the theater at 11:58 and drove home as fireworks filled the midnight sky over Old Town Alexandria.

The New Year dawned with me sleeping in (sort of, 7:15 is as good as it gets these days). I did about 45 minutes of yoga. Okay, probably closer to 35 because I just don’t have the patience for doing it properly.

After breakfast and some chores I took off for Great Falls Park in Maryland. I had hiked the Billy Goat B and C trails last summer in my old hiking boots. I ached afterwards. I was really looking forward to how my back and legs held up with my new hiking shoes and orthotics. It was clear right away that this was going to be a much better experience. 20150101_121529

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I started on the C trail in a counterclockwise direction. This took me to the C&O Canal towpath. I could not believe how much faster I was walking than last summer. A great blue heron stalked something in the water. Some kids played along the edge of the canal. The sun beamed down on me and the canal glistened with just the thinnest layer of ice possible. I kept hearing an exotic birds sound, almost like the sounds of a ray gun in a science fiction movie. Where was it coming from? I couldn’t figure it out for the life of me.

I walked about three miles on the canal and picked up the B trail. It was a bit muddy. I slipped and thought that my back would seize up. But it didn’t. It felt incredibly, wonderfully normal.

The trail had plenty of people on it. We wished each other a happy new year as we passed. I was lost in thought for most of the hike. Turning over events of the past year. Trying to figure out the unfathonable. The B trail took me back to the towpath. I figured out what that exotic sound was. People were skipping stones on the ice and it was vibrating in an eerie pitch. I tossed a couple of stones. Tweek. Tweek. Bizarre.

Back on the C trail, I encountered more people. Some were obnoxiously loud. Once I got past them, I went into a meditative trance. It was so relaxing. Just the sound of the river and my breathing. It’s a wonder I found the path back to the parking lot.

So the year begins. Not a bad start.

Three Outings

I worked on Christmas Eve. Well, I intended to work. I rode Little Nellie to the office in the rain. It was not entirely unpleasant. I figured I’d have 5 or 6 hours for my stuff to dry out before the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come scared Mr. Scrooge into an early release.

About 2 hours into the work day all three of my phones range in succession. I figured it was all my fans calling to wish me a happy holiday. I figured wrong. It was my daughter calling from the eye doctor. After they gave her eye drops she became nauseous. Too nauseous to drive herself home. Mom was incommunicado. Son was dead to the world. So I had to go get her. I put on all the still wet clothing and headed out into the rain.

The eye doctor is on my commute route so it was no big deal getting there. I ran a bunch of stop signs in Old Town, including one in front of a police car. The police officer probably didn’t want to get wet so he let me ride on in peace. A Christmas miracle.

By the time I got to the doctor’s office, my daughter was over her crisis. Well, at least Igot an early start on Christmas Eve out of the ordeal.

Christmas morning began with 45 minutes of yoga while my peeps slept in. After about 2 hours of gift opening and a Wizards game on TV, Mrs. Rootchopper announced that we should go to Great Falls Park for an easy hike. Best gift of the day. I picked the Berma Road and the towpath, about a 2 1/2 or 3 mile flat loop.

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Today I waited until it warmed up and rode Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent, to  Old Town where I went to the Comfort Shoe store. My acupuncturist recommended a particular brand of shoe insert/soft orthotic. Since my doctor told me that one possible solution for my numb foot would be orthotics I deciced to try give my acupuncturists inserts a try. They were pretty expensive (over $70) but that’s much cheaper than an orthotic from a podiatrist. I put them in my hiking shoes and my feet went “Ahhhh!.”

After the shoe store I rode to Mount Vernon on the Mount Vernon Trail. Along the way I stopped to check out a house on West Boulevard Drive that is being demolished. The house must have cost north of $800,000 so I am interested in seeing what gets built in its place,

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I continued past Mount Vernon to US 1. I crossed US 1 and headed back home on back streets. After the ride my kids took me to buy a smartphone. We stood around for about an hour while the sales clerk did his thing. Normally my back and knees would be barking at me but they felt fine. Score another for the orthotics.

My numb foot seems to be getting better. At least it’s not numb all the time.

Tomorrow the weather is supposed to be wonderful. Hike, bike, nap?

Sugarloaf with Ninja Lady and Dog

The day dawned crisp with a blustery wind. The leaves had begun to turn. And I was itching to go for a day hike. Lucky for me, my friend Florencia and I had planned exactly that. Florencia is always full of surprises so today would be no different: we were bringing a dog.

I picked up Flor and Sundance, a golden retriever guide dog, at Flor’s place in McLean and headed out to Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland. We took our time to allow for conversation and maximum leaf peeping. Once we were off the interstate, we drove down country roads through farmer’s fields stripped of their summer bounty.

We parked on the uphill on the road up Sugarloaf. I didn’t realize how far from the top we were but it barely mattered. Walking up the road was a good warm up. After listening to a family bitching and kvetching at an overlook near the road, we headed for the nearest trail to escape. We chose the blue trail in what we later learned was a counter clockwise direction. Flor, dressed in ninja black, and Sundance led the way. Sundance was a pretty methodical  hiker dog. Since he is a guide dog, he tended to stay very close to Flor and got tangled up in his leash quite a bit. Other than that quibble, he was a mighty fine companion making friends with people and other dogs throughout the day.

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The trail goes up and down the sides of the mountain, with occassional overlooks of the surrounding countryside. The clear air made for great views of the valley below and the foliage all around. At one overlook we were treated to the aerial acrobatics of two hawks riding the updrafts. Top of the food chain, Ma!

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The hiking trail itself was a bit rocky. I had to keep my eyes on the ground so as not to turn an ankle, trip, or slide down and land on my posterior assets. (I seriously need to get some proper footwear for these hikes.) Whenever I looked up it seemed that the woods around us seem to go on forever. Just as she does in cycling and rock climbing, Flor moved uphill without the slightest regard for gravity. I, being somewhat more Newtonian, had to put my butt in gear to keep up.

The blue trail ended with a steep section straight up to where we started. I have to say the length of the hike was just right for me. I was plenty tired but not really wanting more. We hoofed it downhill to the car which seemed suspiciously farther down than where I recalled parking it.

We drove home, stopping for some munchies and a pumpkin at a country store. Once back on the road, Sundance fell sound alseep. It was a good thing Flor and I had each other to talk to because I am pretty sure that the both of us could have used a good snooze as well.

Many thanks to Flor’s American mom Tracie for lending us Sundance and the use of her car, a little Subaru station wagon that I really enjoyed driving.

And, of course, thanks to the ninja lady, Florencia, for another excellent day moving through the outdoors. Who knows what surprise our next adventure will hold.

To see some pix from our outing today, check out this set on my Flickr page.