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Maybe I'm NOT like Officer Murtaugh!

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In the Lethal Weapon movies series, a running gag concerns Murtaugh, a police officer in his fifties. After getting into a highly dangerous situation, he would moan, “I’m getting too old for this stuff,” (the actual line doesn’t use “stuff”), and then Murtaugh would go right back into danger. Many times over the last few years, as I found it harder & harder to achieve even adequate daily mileage on The Trail, this line kept coming back to me – and, just like Murtaugh, I’d go right back to doing the “stuff” for which I’m getting too old. After last year, when my total A.T. miles for an ENTIRE YEAR was a pathetic eight(!), I had to wonder if I would have enough years left in me to complete the 800 miles I still have yet to walk.

Thus, it was with some trepidation when, on the morning of July 3rd (yes, I’m a little behind) I stepped back on The Trail for the first time in months. Specifically, it was my first time in Southwest Virginia in 22 months. Not only did I worry about getting too old for this stuff, but my plan was to (1) park my car at Mount Rogers National Recreational Area Headquarters on State Highway 16, (2) get shuttled (by “Bubba” again) to U.S. Highway 58 between Damascus & Whitetop Mountain, (3) walk up to the Whitetop Mountain area, and then (4) continue back to my car. A pretty wimpy hike, overall, but I didn’t want to risk finding out that I’m so out of shape that even this would be more than I could handle. I was also concerned about the anticipated crowds during this week of July Fourth.

Nevertheless, like Murtaugh, I began to climb up the trail towards Whitetop, having learned how to reduce weight by ditching un-needed items. Among these was my camera, which I’ve found is (pretty much) never needed – most of the A.T. is, indeed, a canopy of trees (visually, pretty boring), and views of bears (I’ve had six while hiking the A.T.) invariably result in them running away before I can even get my camera out of its holder. I have come across some nice overlooks, as well as encounters with other animals in the wild, but these have never been more interesting than those I have found while driving my car through parks like Shenandoah. Thus, I now take only my Droid, which has some limited camera ability.

Thus, I was somewhat flummoxed when I got to Buzzard’s Point near Whitetop, at which you can, indeed, get some pretty good views – like the ones I got later after getting back to my car.
My plan, having gotten north of the road at Whitetop, was to stop for the night at the “piped spring” just beyond the road. However, I had a little difficulty finding it:
Still, in the end, I found a pretty good place to pitch my tent; and was ready to head inside the tent well before it got dark. Three events distracted me in this twilight time:
(1) helicopters flying overhead at dusk. I later found that three teen-age hikers from Damascus were missing that day, and there was an official search for them. When I asked about these hikers at the end of my hike a few days later, the rangers had not heard anything about the search – so I presume there was no major problem.
(2) fireworks started going off just as it was getting dark. Yes, I know it was July 3rd, but I doubt that these were LEGAL usage within the park.
(3) just as I was setting up my rain poncho to cover my pack for the night, the rain arrived. I got into my tent with less than thirty seconds to spare before the rain began to pour – and all I could was just lay there, hoping that my tent, in rain for the first time in QUITE a while, had not developed any leaks over the last two years. Glad to say, everything was okay – I slept much better than I expected.

Day 2 was a hike from Whitetop Mountain to the Wise Shelter – and ANOTHER day when I wish I had my camera. I was completely unaware of the wild horses in and near Grayson Highlands State Park. I did get SOME photos with my Droid,
but the simple fact is that the camera on this device is not very useful for shots beyond a few meters. There were probably a dozen photos I wish I could have gotten.

In particular, I wish I could have gotten pictures of the wild horses right at the Wise Shelter. A mare & a foal – later joined by a stud – were right at the shelter, and were completely nonchalant about the presence of people there. More than nonchalant, actually – the foal grabbed another hiker’s tent (no damage) and walked right up to the picnic table, as if to Yogi some food. It was the first time I saw a wild animal being a real nuisance at a shelter – and it was a HORSE! In a several cases, I simply drove to the place where I wanted that photo and took the shot after a short walk. But there was no way to easily get to the Wise Shelter, and I doubt I would have seen Yogi Horse if I returned.

My fears about crowds this week were beginning to become real as I passed the Thomas Knob Shelter near Mount Rogers – there were people all around, just like at Whitetop Mountain. Bizarre as it may sound, however, I rarely saw anyone after leaving this area. It was as if everyone wanted to be at a mountain top, but nobody cared to do anything else.

My Day 3 hike from Wise Shelter to Hurricane Shelter was pretty uneventful. My shower at Hurricane Campground was quite enjoyable, even if I did screw up the payment protocol
My original plan was to arrive at Partnership Shelter, near the headquarters, on Friday evening – the parking lot closes at 4:30p – pick up the car Saturday morning, and then drive home. However, my hikes on these first three days were going so well that I concluded that I could get to headquarters before closing time if I got a little closer on Thursday night. When I arrived at the Trimpi Shelter during late afternoon, it was an easy choice to hike beyond there for a few more miles. My Guthook{R} app indicated several places with tent sites north of here, so I just proceeded on with the intent of stopping at a reasonable spot. I easily found some near a well-flowing stream, and just put down for the night. Another rain storm was less un-nerving even though I was (again) left to just lay there as the rain came pouring down.

I was about seven miles away from my car when I left this tent site at about 7am. My figuring was that, even at my snail’s pace of one mile an hour, I could easily get to the parking lot before 4:30p and begin my drive home. I felt even more confident as I seemed to be zipping along on this part of The Trail, that seemed to be (pretty much) all downhill. As is my custom, I made five-minute rest stops each hour, occasionally checking my location to ensure I was on schedule. During my noon-time rest stop, I noticed a building on the trail near to where I had taken a break. My only thought had to be, “That CAN’T be Partnership Shelter - I’ve only been hiking for five hours!” And yet, my Guthook{R} confirmed what I had trouble accepting – I had done the seven miles in about five hours, by FAR my fastest hiking rate. Yes, I know this is nothing for real hikers, but it was amazing for ME. I dropped off my gear at my car, took another (cold!) shower, and spent a few hours getting the photos I wish I could gave gotten earlier.
I had so much time on Saturday that I took a short detour into Shenandoah, seeing some great overlooks and a mother bear & two cubs in the process.

As a minor aside, my ongoing efforts to pick up trash at shelters I stop at resulted in a genuine surprise -- there wasn't much. Either people who CLAIM they love the A.T. are showing their love by not leaving their garbage at shelters, or others have done a great job before I got to these shelters. In either case, thanks & congrats to those people who made my task a lot easier.
More specifically, I was quite pleasantly surprised that I didn't find a single cigarette butt at any shelter. Either there are fewer smokers on The Trail (are they dying away?), cigarette users are actually picking up their messes, or others have picked up this trash before I went by.

I’m aware that I skipped some miles north of Damascus, but these will be easily handled on a short trip to the area with Shuttle. For now, I’ll just prepare for my first trip south of Virginia.

Updated 07-28-2017 at 20:43 by GoldenBear



  1. EuroPacker's Avatar
    good stuff. you're never too old if you can stand back up after falling down.