Great Blue Ridge Hikefest 2008

Well, we are back!

The trip overall was really great, much-needed and fairly diverse, but the one big disappointment was that it was so foggy no spectacular views, save one on a drive, were experienced.

Anyway, recap:

WHAT: Great Blue Ridge Hikefest 2008
WHO: Preston, Shanky, Davin, Rob
WHERE: The vicinity of Boone, NC; Shenandoah National Park, VA; and Roanoke, VA
WHEN: Tuesday, December 16-Friday, December 19
WHY: What kind of a question is that?

I woke up at 4 AM on Tuesday morning after hitting the bed at 1 AM trying to prepare stuff. Got Shanky and Davin at Davin’s house just a mile from where I live, and then we were off to Loganville, GA to pick up Rob at his house. About 90 degrees out of the way, but definitely not in the opposite direction of where we needed to go. It was well after we got on 85 North – well over two hours after leaving the Duplex in Midtown – that the sun’s first rays began to lighten up the dark cloud cover. We got into the Boone area, via US-221, at around noon. We started out at Linville Falls, which I had hiked around during the App Getaway, but the heavy mist provided a very interesting new perspective on the area. We then went to what I consider a highlight of the trip, a random trail near Boone that went under the Blue Ridge Parkway and went through a hilly bald area that seemed to be someone’s farm – there was barbed wire and plenty of cow chips everywhere. The magnificent thing about it was that the heavy fog produced a sublime aura about the place, as if we had just walked into a dream world. I espoused mythological and pseudo-religious rhetoric, like “We have come to the court of the White King,” upon seeing this scene. I do this all the time now after reading Joseph Campbell. As we came back down from the clouds, the light also ceased, and we made our way to Nate “Nasty Nate” Phillips’ place, he who had so kindly put us up during the App Getaway just a few weekends before. We were dead tired, but Shanky’s trail rice and baked beans made us feel better. Their LCP Laura and another AIESECer named Sarah came by to hang out as well, but we crashed around midnight.

This picture was taken at the foot of Linville Falls:

We woke up a little later than I would have liked the next day, and although the extra sleep was necessary it prevented us from doing any real hiking on Wednesday. We left Boone and continued up US-221 through Roanoke on our way to Shenandoah National Park. I must say that US-221, if taken from its intersection with I-85 in South Carolina all the way up to Roanoke via Boone, is an especially scenic road, and the part of the drive that is in Virginia made my heart skip beats. In that part, there are no subdivisions, no ugly billboards, no haphazard gas stations or bars or pawn shops with muddy gravel parking lots along the entire length. It was totally different from what one would see in North Alabama, or Georgia, or South Carolina. The imagery was almost saturated with bucolic qualities. Also, as I stated earlier the fog prevented great views for most of the trip, but this remarkable scene was witnessed as we came off the plateau of Bent Mountain just south of Roanoke:

We continued on the interstate up to Shenandoah. By the time we reached Skyline Drive there, it was after four o’clock, less than an hour before the park would officially close. Plus, as it’s the off-season, all campsites are closed and so camping is technically illegal there. That didn’t stop us from entering (there was no one at the entry gate), driving up to the first parking area with a trail (Jarmans Gap), and there we hiked up the Appalachian Trail for less than half a mile when we just cut across a river bed and up the ridge out of sight of the trail and the fire road. We pitched a tarp there, cooked dinner, and had a good time. The map below shows where we camped accurate to within about a fifth of a mile, I believe:

View Larger Map

Even though it was cloudy as hell during the day, that night was as clear as they come. I slept under the tarp but Rob and Shanky, the more experienced outdoorsmen, slept under the stars. In the wee hours of the morning however the fog came back, and with it wetness and cold. Breakfast was macaroni with pork sausage. We packed our stuff up, went back to the car, and continued up Skyline Drive.

I am especially disappointed by the fog in Shenandoah, as it is very famous for its views, but we seriously could not see ten meters in any direction. We almost hit a deer because of it. The only remarkable point for us, therefore, on Skyline Drive was coming to an overlook where we could make out a few mountains and we discovered by accident that the echo properties of that particular spot are almost divine. A shout or tongue click amplified as if it were at a rock concert.

We continued north until we reached a trail which Rob recommended, the White Oak Canyon trail. It is considered one of the best trails in the country on which to see many spectacular waterfalls. We hiked a good bit of it down to the first waterfall, but time was pressing as we were due in Roanoke and we had to turn away before getting too deep. It was still a difficult hike for me, proving how out of shape I am. Besides, the fog was such that the waterfalls were visible but not in all of their (intended?) glory.

We made it down to Roanoke at about six, where we were graciously taken in by the family of Kelsey Greenawalt, former LCP of AIESEC LC Chapel Hill. They made us a wonderful dinner, let us shower, and then they introduced to us a drinking game called “Indian,” very much like “Bitches bitches” except with Native American-related names with hand motions. It was a riot! Then we just hung out and talked about various things, notably about hiking and nature with Kelsey’s step-dad Brawdus. The hospitality we experienced was so warm and remarkable that even though it did not involve hiking it was a highlight of the trip. As one of our number said in the car the next day: “plus twenty cool points to Kelsey’s family.”

On our final day of hiking, Friday, we tackled McAfee’s Knob, a solid 3.5 mile hike up the Appalachian Trail from Catawba, VA, just outside of Roanoke in the ridge. The fog cleared up a bit at the top of the mountain, but at the knob itself there was still too much fog to appreciate anything. That was also unfortunate as the pictures I’ve seen of McAfee’s knob show a real treat for the viewer. However we did see a deer cross our path on the way back down.

We were going to hit up the Dragon’s Tooth after that, but it was too late in the day. We just went on back to Atlanta, the overwhelming smell of our humanity riding shotgun on the eight hour ride home.

A particular thing which I pondered during the trip, and even on my drive home to Gadsden today from Atlanta, was how even though I was hundreds of miles away from Gadsden and / or Atlanta, I was exploring a geographic formation that is the same one I grew up around in Gadsden. Gadsden is situated in what is considered the “Great Appalachian Valley” slice of the Appalachians, nestled in between opposing edges of the “Ridge and Valley” province. In my hikes around Camp Sumatanga, on Mount Cheaha, and in North Georgia, I saw the same kinds of scenery and especially the same rock formations as I witnessed this week as far north as Shenandoah and in Roanoke as well as around Boone. It was fascinating to witness how I was plugged in to something that extended so far away from where it began and is overwhelmingly recognizably homogenized, if not uniform, in its makeup – at least to an observer like me. Culturally as well the similarities were apparent. Roanoke is like a larger, more successful, cleaner version of Gadsden (albeit with no river and with higher mountains). Even in the Shenandoah Valley, “Southern” culture was apparent. I had noticed the strength of Southern culture in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia and even in the peninsula north of it when I visited family there as a freshman in high school. The dividing line must be stark, then, as it’s not evident at all in the DC metropolitan area.

Another point of note is that even though I printed out all the mountain music radio stations I could find in the area before leaving, only one quality “bluegrass” song was heard on them despite plenty of dial-switching – an ode to spending Christmas in Virginia on a radio station airing from Mt. Airy, North Carolina. This was disappointing as much of 221 follows “The Crooked Road,” which is Virginia’s music heritage trail, celebrating bluegrass and old-time music. I was hoping for a heavy dose, but all I got was the one song and then a bunch of religious polemic AM stations.

The trip, again despite the poor views, was a much-needed experience. I feel like I’ve come over a high ridge and out into the valley. But there are bigger mountains looming to the West, and I’ve got to prepare well to get the best view from the top.

By Preston

Agent of Change, Former of Entropy, Seeker of a Stateless World.

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