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.

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.