I Walk the Line

When I backpacked the Appalachian Trail, I hiked from white blaze to white blaze. At the end of the day, I pitched my tent or stayed in a shelter on the Trail.  Now I try to hike with just a day pack, staying in hotels at night. Beds and showers are lovely! It’s not easier, really. Just a different kind of difficult. Day hiking involves lots of research and driving, finding trailheads, roads or remote forest tracts that cross the AT. Then setting up car shuttles, either with friends and two cars or hiring a shuttle driver. 

Sometimes, there are really long stretches of wilderness between roads. There isn’t a single road crossing the Appalachian Trail north from Pearisburg for 20 miles because the path follows a high mountain ridge.  I can’t hike 20 miles in a day anymore. And I really didn’t want to backpack overnight — although in hindsight….  I found a side trail that I could use to climb the ridge up to the AT called the Groundhog Trail. It would add 2 miles to the AT milage and was a 2000 foot, straight up climb. Aaaarrrgh. 

Settling into the MacArthur Hotel the night before, the owner, Allen, assured me that he could shuttle us. I like to start early when it’s cooler and 10 miles is a long day. What time could we leave? “After breakfast, oh, 8 or 8:30.” Hum, kinda late but the hotel has a cafe and the two Trail heads are not too far. We got a table in the cafe at 7:45 and Allen quickly brought us coffee. We are the only ones here and I can’t smell or see any food. A second cup of coffee and chatting about the location of the Groundhog Trail, Allen says he shuttles hikers there occasionally. Great, but um, where is breakfast? “Oh, I’ve already had my breakfast. I’m taking you two to a buffet on the way.” WHAT? 

So we dropped our car at the first Trailhead, 10 minutes, no problem, and got into Allen’s car.  Interesting drive. I didn’t have to worry about Allen texting at the wheel. He was too busy dipping a pinch of Skoal and opening the door to spit while bumping down country roads. Oh dear lord! My plan was to order something quick, to eat in the car, but that didn’t go well. Allen knows all the old timers in the restaurant and has to shake and back-slap his cronies. And then he proceeded to order eggs, bacon, grits, orange juice and coffee. That was all Gary needed — HE ordered sausage, biscuits and gravy. SERIOUSLY? I thought Allen already ate? Oh, and we paid the tab.

I kept my cool by imagining my hiking friend Laura and thinking about what her reaction would have been. Definitely entertaining. When we finely got on the road again, the “cool” didn’t last long because Allen immediately took a wrong turn. We tried to convince him but he says he’s lived here for 72 years and knows every road. Gary and I know exactly where the Groundhog Trail is. Maximum 15 minute drive. AN HOUR AND A HALF LATER, after I’ve practically had a stroke and used some very, very bad language, Gary has managed to guide Allen to the Trail head. 

I have never been so glad to get out of a car and start hiking. See that ridge in the distance? My iPhone App says I climbed 56 floors. I guess that translates to 2000 feet elevation in two miles. 

The good news was that the Groundhog Trail was steep but nicely switch-backed and well marked with blue blazes and cairns. 

Once we got to the top it was just gorgeous! The views were amazing and a cool breeze dried the sweat from the climb. Ahhh. Now I remember why I do this. 

There were long meadows to ramble across.

Stiles to leave the woods. 

For most of the hike, we literally have one foot in Virginia and the other in West Virginia. I can’t get that Johnny Cash song out of my head — “Because your mine, I walk the line” — state line, that is. It’s almost flat for 6 miles and then a gentle 2 mile decent down to the New River.

Down and out of the woods in Pearisburg it’s reward time! Is there anything better than a Heath Bar Blizzard?

After the breakfast fiasco, I didn’t trust dinner to actually be served at our hotel but I wasn’t disappointed. The local town folk joined hotel guests for pork chops, green beans, potatoes and warm brownies with ice cream for desert. Then everyone stayed for a jam session.

Gary and I (and Allen) sat in rockers on the veranda with a glass of wine and listened to surprisingly wonderful mountain inspired music. I was pretty frustrated earlier but I am reminded that I’m not hiking the Appalachian Trail to count off miles in an endurance test. I want to enjoy the woods and nature that I love but also experience the culture of rural small towns in America. The characters you meet along the way just enrich the journey. 

Groundhog Trail to VA 641   10.7 miles

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  1. What a crazy start to the day, glad it all worked out by the evening. Lovely sights as usual – I love reading about your biking and hiking adventures!

  2. Another laugh out loud report! I’m glad you saw the beauty in the day anyway & had a sense of humor in retrospect!

  3. Very could story of your day! Really enjoyed it. Yep, you are right. I wouldn’t have been too cool with the breakfast/ shuttle adventure! But what a lovely hike. And I don’t remember an inch of it!

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