We are camping for two weeks at Raccoon Branch Campground in the Jefferson National Forest in southwest Virginia. The campground is near the Appalachian Trail (the A.T. to those in the know) and we spent some time both hiking and biking on the A.T. We also learned a few things about hiking the A.T.–here’s a summary:
- Thru-hikers plan to hike the entire trail in one trip. The two hikers Ed picked up in Vermont last month (see our 8/3/13 blog) were thru-hikers, having hiked from Georgia to Vermont on their way to the end of the trail in Maine. We have read that about one in four thru-hikers actually complete the entire trip.
- Section-hikers hike one section of the A.T. at a time. For example, they may hike a section of the trail each summer, with the goal of eventually hiking the entire trail over many years.
- Double-backers can fall into either of the first two categories–a double-backer stayed in our campground during our visit. As the name implies, double-backers hike a portion of the trail and then they hike back to where they started, typically to where they camped and where their car is located. They then drive to the next section of the trail and repeat the process. The benefits of this approach are that you don’t have to carry as much on the trail, and you continually return to the relative luxury of your car and whatever supplies it carries. The negative is that you hike twice the length of the trail.
A couple stayed in our campground that did a variation on the double-backer approach that seems very unique. One hiker would drop the other off at the start of the section and then would drive to the other end of the section. They would then hike the section in opposite directions, passing each other along the way. The one hiker would then pick up the car and drive back to the beginning of the section to pick up the other hiker. They would then drive to the start of the next section and begin the process. Got it? This approach has the benefits of double-backing without having to hike the trail twice. The negative is that they never hike together.
We actually hiked about one mile on the A.T. while we were here so we fall in the section-hiker category. Based on our calculations, we only need to hike 2,183 more one-mile sections to complete the A.T. (Patty says: “That ain’t gonna happen.”)
Comer’s Creek Falls along the A.T.
There is a great variety of wildflowers throughout the National Forest.
At our campground, we are also near Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, the tallest mountain in Virginia, and the Virginia Creeper Trail. Virginia Creeper is a native vine but it was also the name given to a railroad that was built in the early 1900’s that primarily hauled logs from the mountains. The train moved so slow that locals gave it the name the “Virginia Creeper “. The last train ran in 1977 and it was converted into a hiking/biking/riding trail in the 1980’s. One of the nice things about the trail is that there are shuttles that will take you to the top and then you can bike most of the trail downhill–we definitely recommend it.
At the start of the Virginia Creeper Trail (for going downhill)
Patty on one of the 46 bridges that the Creeper Trail crosses
A farm along the Creeper trail
One of the original train stations that is now a visitor’s center–a couple in our campground are volunteers there.
A small falls on Laurel Creek along the trail
Ed on the Creeper Trail
Last night we went to a fund-raising dinner in Flat Ridge, Virginia (Don’t look for it on Google Maps, it doesn’t show up). We had a great meal followed by music by the Flat Ridge Boys. Patty met “Smilin’ Jack” in the audience who appeared to be about 100-years old. He later got up and performed with the band, imitated Elvis, and dedicated a gospel song to Patty. Needless to say, Patty gave him a standing ovation.
We have one more week here in rural western Virginia–we may be clogging by the end of our stay.