Tag Archives: iHike

Old Hotel Trail off the Appalachian Trail

It’s nestled in the 7500 plus acres of the Mount Pleasant National Scenic Area and the even larger George Washington & Thomas Jefferson National Forest (about 1.8 MILLION square miles.) It is part of the Shenandoah and Blue Ridge Mountains and has miles and miles of trails. So yesterday, I headed to Mount Pleasant trailhead and decided to trod a new trial. Between the Mount Pleasant and AT (Appalachian Trail) is the Little Hotel (aka Old Hotel) Trail. The 3 miles takes you from Hog Gap Parking to Cow Gap right near the open meadows of Cole Mountain. The trail is like a dividing line between Mount Pleasant and the AT part on Cole Mount.

To be clear – I saw no cows and no hogs. I did see dears and bugs and birds – but no farm animals.

The name apparently doesn’t come from any hotel that existed – but from the name of a farmer who many trekkers used his old abandoned house for overnight respites. Even today, the AT has a sleeping hut and privy where the trails connect.

The trail is filled with diversity and beauty. It begins with a mile long, rut-deep, bouncy fire road. This was why I bought the FJ Cruiser in the first place. From the small off the off-road parking spots, you immediately hit the forest filled with acres and acres of ferns that were closing in the wind. This trail seemed to be rarely walked. I guess most enjoy the more picturesque Mt. Pleasant or the shorter route to Cole Mount.

From the dancing ferns, I immediately hit a deep and dark patch of pine trees. I felt like I was in an eerie nightmare. It was more than the pines, it was also the sky. I checked the weather and it was like 4% chance of rain – stupid weather app. For the next mile, it sprinkled ever so lightly … then it gave a solid soaking for about 30 minutes. But 30 minutes was spread out as the now wet trees begin to drip, drip, drip. By the end of the 6 miles, much of me was soaked.

A good point is my new Merrell Moab 3s held up their water resistance and my feet were completely dry. I do love my Merrell’s.

At one point in the trail, I came upon a slew (?), a bushy area filled with swallows. About 20 to 30 swallows took flight and circled me. I knew I was on their turf so I did not linger.

In about half way – I came across a wall – more of a cattle or hog wall – which I know dates back to the days this areas was actually used for cattle and hog drives and containment.

As you get closer to the apex, the trail begins to have a few switchbacks. Now I could’ve gone off trail and cut through but it was the switchbacks that led to the beautiful overlooks – though with the rain and the after rain mist – the view was limited. The lesson here though is we often look for shortcuts but if we do, we might miss some of the best stuff in life.

As you get closer to the apex, the trail begins to have a few switchbacks. Now I could’ve gone off trail and cut through but it was the switchbacks that led to the beautiful overlooks – though with the rain and the after rain mist – the view was limited. The lesson here though is we often look for shortcuts but if we do, we might miss some of the best stuff in life.

The true delight of this hike is Cole Mountain. Cole Mountain has a huge meadow – or heather – and it is the largest mountain top meadow on the east coast that has both an eastern and western side of the mountain. This meadow is astounding and warrants the best and most romantic picnics any outdoors peeps can plan.

After a 1.5 mile trek on the downward slope of the AT, I arrived back at the trusty FJ that was waiting too take me back home.

For the first day of Fall – this was a good day.

Buttermilk Trail – Richmond VA

Last week, I was in Richmond so I took advantage of some of the city’s urban trails. Richmond has some pretty good trails … my personal favorite is Belle Isle. But I headed Southside of the James River and decided to do the Buttermilk Trail/Belle Isle/James River North Bank loop – about a 6+ mile loop categorized as moderate. I took Peg-Leg Pete with me – my trusted sock-monkey who loves adventure.

I’ve done Belle Island several times and have been on Buttermilk – but never done the whole loop. I started early, since I dropped my wife at the airport around 530a. I had a great breakfast at Moore Street Cafe and headed over to the Forest Hills area of Richmond. Very few urban trails in the Richmond area were open so early, so I was glad to find the James River Park having their parking lots available.

The trek started normal – it’s an urban trail, keep that in mind. I was on a well travelled path, it was not very secluded, I could always hear traffic, the railroad tracks ran along the trail and it has a well-graffitied set of rail cars parked on one of the parallel tracks. I pondered if these were there to block the view of the river as well as the city’s building across the river.

The trail was more a trial-bike trail with ups, down, some bridges over a various gully, and more. It has some historical markers to let you know about the area and how it got the name Buttermilk – which was from the Buttermilk Spring where farmers in the 1800’s cooled their milk before market.

I crossed the river portion between the Buttermilk and Belle by hop scotching across the rocks. There was a bridge a little further down – but I choose the rocks. To get there, the city has provided a short pedestrian bridge to cross over the railroad tracks without harm. I say pedestrian, for you had to walk up 3 flights of stairs to get above the rails.

Belle Island was great. You get more of the escapism there (no pun intended since it used to be a prison-of-war camp location during the civil war.)

If you want to know more about Bell Isle, check out Trip Advisor’s page here. Here are some of their pictures …

Now – here’s where my trek took a weird turn. I got to the Belle Isle parking lot. I had dropped some my water along the way (probably during rock jumping) and it was still early morning. BUT the heat index had already hit over 100F. I was drenched, tired and figured I ate too big of a breakfast. SO I checked AllTrails and it said I was less than 2 miles in and over 4 miles to go. Normally six is pretty easy, but I made excuses … food, heat, too long meandering on the rocks and the island itself, new Merrel Moab 3s (I pretended I hadn’t broke them in.) The remainder of the trial was new to me – trees? shade? asphalt? I did something I normally would never do. But since I was on an urban trail, and I could never do this in the Blue Ridge – I called a cab. Yep, was gonna hitch a ride back to my car. Oh the adventurer in me – I told myself I would try a new restaurant to make up for it.

I waited – 10 min … 15 min … 25 min. I surrendered to not having a cab. I decided to walk back over the shorter distance I had already traversed – so I called to cancel the cab. Hey, I had a 25 minute rest period.

I went back – took the bridge and made it back to my car. But it seemed a LOT longer than 2 miles. A LOT LONGER!

Here is why. When using AllTrails as the guide, I didn’t take into account that Buttermilk Trail has about 4 parking areas spread out along Riverside Rd. You can jump into the trail at various points. And I jumped in on the far north point (not the main starting point according to the app.) This walking some on the trail before even getting to the official start of the trail. Thus, on this hike, I HAD walked the majority of the trail – and therefore the shorter conclusion to the hike would’ve been to continue on the loop. But no, I had to go back as an in-and-back, thus making my hike even longer.What a noob move.

At least I didn’t pay for a cab – I did get to walk in shade – and I got to cross the bridge I had missed the first time through.

All in all – I was outside, I was in nature, I hiked. That is a good day.

Spy Rock Hike

This time little hike , a .17 mile in-n-back trail, is nestled in the Washington and Jefferson National Forest. But to get there, it’s quite a trek.

The Rocky outcropping, gives a 360 degree view and allows the hiker a view of crests from the Religious Range: the Priest, the Fryer, Little Fryer … and Mount Pleasant. It is a spectacular view.

The name is given by Civil War Soldiers who camped there and used the rocky apex for a watching post of enemy movements.

Don’t let.17 miles make you think this is nothing. First you need to do Meadow Road … a Rocky, 4-wheel drive suggested, climb up the mountain. Mud splatter from crossing small creeks, and deeply rutted roads is the norm. It will close in bad weather. This entry way does keep traffic on the trail low. It also gave me a great chance to put the new 2008 FJ Cruiser to the test – use it for what it was built for!

Then, to get to the .17 mile spur, you hike a 3 mile section of the Appalachian Trail. Even in winter settings of barren trees and chill in the air … this was a beautiful hike of easy to moderate difficulty. The barrenness gave way to seeing further.

At the top, the rock has done great updates from the park service (or volunteers, who knows?) There was better markings, simple access to the crest, and signage that gave a little insight and history.

One interesting caveat was no trail spur to the top of Main Mountain … the adjacent peak just next to and a bit higher than Spy Rock. With approaching Spy Rock from this way (since the northern approach from the fish hatchery was now closed) … you already skirted Main Mountain, so if you want to go a bit higher, you’ll have to get off trail.

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Lessons … sometimes you just have to get outside

Lessons … sometimes your objective may be small (.17 miles) but it’ll take work just to get ready to do the small objective (6 miles total trek) … never overlook the preparation

Lessons … this hike was good, but it was better for I was with a friend … Life is better with friends

DAY SIX – Road Trip ‘21

DAY SIX – the end of myself …

It was deceptive – getting me hooked and then pulling all sense of hope out from under me.

It was dangerous – 30 inch cliff trails, loose rock, and not a small fall to my doom.

It was death – pushing me beyond what I thought I was able to do. Taking me to the end of myself. A slow, painful trek that killed my muscles, my ego, and my sanity.

Now, this last hike on my trip was not the hardest I’ve done, but it ranked up there. But this Road Trip has taken a physical toll. Lots of road time (and more to come) and three National Parks in six days so far. Not sleeping all too well. And well, I’m not 30 anymore, by a long shot.

The Guadalupe Mountain Peak hike …

– 8.4 miles in and out (I did over nine with the off trail overlooks, extra exploring, etc.

– 3000+ feet elevation change … all up hill, constantly up hill, forever and ever uphill.

– High wind alert conditions

– I averaged 1 mile an hour up hill. 4 hours up hill!

Now here’s the rub – you start off and head up the trek. As a newbie, I didn’t realize the mountain you are climbing isn’t the right mountain. You go just under a mile – seeing your car/base camp getting smaller and smaller. You think you are doing okay, then near the top, you circle around to the other side of mountain and realize it was a false cliff – there was a bigger, higher, meaner one behind it. Ive got this.

Half way up – panting, sweating, (crying) you begin to ponder if its worth it. You can see the top … it’s so far off … so you slowly continue. Two thirds in – hard but surviving. Almost 3/4ths of the way. Pace slowing down. Then BAM – you circle around to the other side of that mountain and realize the summit is not on that ridge line either. Another circle around. The Guadalupe has got to be running out of summits.

Thoughts of claiming victory now – no one will ever know. But I slowly plod on. Maybe it’s the constant new views, new beauties of nature, or just plain stubbornness … I don’t know. But I plod on.

Now, the couple that started about 20 minutes before me (the only people I’ve seen in three hours) pass me coming down. That may be good, or they may have given up. I stay positive and keep on.

Switchbacks, steps, suffering. Then another couple is on their return journey. They encourage me, tell me it’s close. Two more switchbacks and then you’re there.

20 minutes more – the summit. The agony, the pushing myself, the prayers – I had arrived.

A few minutes to rest, take obligatory photos, grab a rock for my rock collection, eat lunch (I always eat some Beanie Weenies on new summits!) I begin the descent – descents are my jam!

I encourage those I pass on their way up. Share my insight on remaining distance. Tell them I’m proud and excited for them. But there was one hiker I did something that even makes me quander what was I thinking. She was going slow – steady, but very slow. Her boyfriend (?) was a quarter mile up just waiting on her, impatient. He would hike ahead and wait. Kind of brutal really. (They need couple’s therapy in my opinion.) She was discouraged, and thinking of turning around.

I turned around from my descent and walked with her for a bit. (Yes, I walked back up hill – again.) Encouraging her, tell her I believed in her. And then without thinking, prompted by something from within – I gave her my trekking poles. Poles were essential for this hike. Saved my legs, gave stability, and stopped from slipping multiple times – maybe just maybe I could encourage her with this gesture. I explained L for left and R for right (lol) – told her they were a gift and not worry about returning them. Maybe they would get her to the top – maybe my acts of service would encourage her just enough.

Those poles were special to me – a gift from some dear friends. I didn’t think about that – well, not at first – all I thought was I needed to do this. I will get more trekking poles. I but I just did it – a prompting I can’t explain.

Not true – I can explain.

This whole hike was an allegory of one’s Christian journey, or at least my spiritual journey. It’s tough. Almost always uphill. It will take you to the end of oneself and help you find a strength you didn’t realize was there – a strength from above. When you think you’re getting close to the end, you circle the top of the hill before you – you realize God has more, better, higher, and yes, harder, for you. You find that those who went before you (those descending as I continue to ascend) can either just pass by or they can encourage you. It’s the latter that keeps you going. It’s also a reminder that we need to encourage others.

And upon reaching the top – fulfillment and a sense of gratitude.

Last word about the lone hiker who hopefully used the trekking poles to the summit – thank you.

James 1.27 says Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. To visit means to oversee, to care for, to help.

In a way – you were the orphan on the trail. You needed care, encouragement, help. You helped me truly realize there are times I need that and there are times I need to show that. You helped me – thank you.

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Readers – Whom are you ‘visiting’? Who is God bring into your life that you need to act to help? Who is the widow or orphan that God is telling you – “HELP THEM”? This is not about you and feeling good in what you do. It is about being the person God wants you to be to help others.

History, Nature, Pleasant Trails … and Spiders

Appomattox Court House National Park. 1700 acres. 8 trails. Lots of history. Lots of nature. And lots of spider webs.

Monday, I finished hiking every trail at the ACH Park. Not a huge deal, but pretty cool to say I’ve done it. There are 8 trails and probably about 14 or more miles. I had recently traversed the trails north of the Appomattox River. So for Monday, I stopped at the most southern trail head (at the North Carolina Monument parking lot) and walked the rest.

I walked through the last battle field before the surrender, the field where Lee sat under an Apple tree awaiting response from Grant, the historic trail, the surrender fields, the artillery stations, and amongst the buildings of the court house as well. I saw Lee’s last spot where he met with the generals, the trail that Grant rode going to McLean House (location of surrender), farm houses/log cabins, the oldest standing prizery in Virginia, cemeteries (confederate, church, family, and slave ones), crossed the Appomattox River – twice, and more.

There was nature galore … hard wood trees filtering the sunlight, birds and crickets making music, a turtle on the trail, bugs crawling on the ground below me, fields of grass waving from the breeze, and lots of spider webs.

Yes, spider webs. Some of these trails do not get hiked very often. As I pressed forth, there was the occasional bold arachnid that had spread a web across the trail path. Did they think they were getting a big prey? Most of what they did was just catch me off guard and make me squirm from the sticky substance in my face and in my hair. I would get a stick and start to wave it in front of me … like a Don Quixote charging unseen dragons or a wild crazy man dancing to unheard music.

Life is like this. We go through our journey observing the beauty and the wonder of life. We are enjoying pleasantries. We seem to be in a pretty good rhythm in life … and then splat … something of great annoyance or discomfort comes along our path. I’m not talking of the big things … like dead ends, disasters, storms, or wilderness … I am talking the little annoyances.

We squirm, we get distracted, we start our “get it off me” gyrations.

Besides the immediate dance routine, we can respond in several ways (to the spiders and to life’s annoyances).

  • We could have turned around as to not face anymore annoyances. Running back for safer and more comfortable settings. Be the quitter.
  • We can stop, whine, complain, and demand others to clear the trails of life from such annoyances. Acting like entitled little snots … or just pretend to be Millennials (just kidding, don’t be such a snowflake).
    We can march on and hit the webs head on. Ignoring them but also not doing anything about them.
    Or we can work towards a solution. Get a branch, wave it in front of you. In my case, I stuck the branch through a front strap loop (trek pole loop) on my Osprey backpack, tucked the end into my belt, and let it just hang out in front of me like a carrot on a stick in front of my face. This allowed me to walk hands free and less work. I was reading as I walked, so this enabled me to read and enjoy the walk without the constant fear of stickiness.

I looked pretty funny, but it worked.

How do you respond to life’s little annoyances?

Have a blessed day.

What’s First: Good News or Bad News

Short hike, very peaceful, only one other person seen … a trail biker

The views were spectacular. The weather was perfect. The waterfall was full and flowing. But there was a twist. This hike was not normal when comparing to most my hikes in the Blue Ridge/Skyline. This one started at the top and worked down, and then the ascent was on the back half of the hike. And since Apple Orchard Mountain is the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway, it was pretty steep down, and then up.

Here’s the kicker, it seemed the hardest part of the hike was the return portion. What started smoothly and down hill (tough on knees, but not too much exertion, was quite a hike on the backside.

Looking west from Apple Orchard Mountain

In a way, this is a lesson for life. Think marriage … starts happy, love sick puppies that get lost staring into each other’s eyes. Have that honeymoon that will create memories for a lifetime. Then, bam. Honeymoon. Is. Over. And the work begins.

New job (like mine) … everybody gets along, great time getting to build relationships … and, bam. Honeymoon. Is. Over. Now the heavy lifting and work begins.

It was called Apple Orchard Falls, do you see the apple at the foot of the Falls? Weird.

This may be an oversimplification, but you get what I mean.

So look at some lessons to learn …

  • During the easy part, pay attention so you can be best prepared during the hard part
  • Take time to stop and take it all in … and realize hard parts can be navigated when you realize the beauty and great points (scenic views, wonderful waterfall, nature)
  • Share the journey … now Lisa wouldn’t do the hike, but she demands the photos
  • During the hard part, realize it’s doable … many have before you. So maybe even glean from their experience … and then you in turn can help others who will pass that way after you (older couples mentor younger couples, seasoned pastors walk together with younger pastors)
  • Take time to relax along the way. God created a sabbath … because we need it.

Here’s the good news … easy part at start. Here’s the bad news … you’ve got to hike the hard part at the end. Which do you want to hear first?