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Remembering Shari and The Appalachian Trail

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My friend, Shari (in white), just below the summit of Mt. Washington. Clearly, she’s having a blast.

My friend, Shari, died in December. Our friendship spanned close to 40 years. She battled brain cancer for many years and was always a fighter. The day I saw the news that Shari was in Hospice I couldn’t help but remember the trip we had taken to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT) back in high school. Our church’s youth group, organized by our pastor at the time, decided to hike the AT in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. None of us knew anything about the trail but knew we had better get training.

We all gathered used equipment for the trip. None of us had ever been hiking before and owned nothing. None of our families could afford much so we begged and borrowed almost everything but hiking boots. I remember stuffing books into a backpack and walking around town a bit. As an athlete I didn’t think I needed to prepare too much.

The trip finally arrived and we drove from Michigan to New Hampshire to begin our three-day hike. That first day was brutal. Up, up, up we climbed. We would take breaks near these beautiful, small streams and took a moment to taste the water. Refreshing! Remembering the details can be difficult at times. It has been almost thirty years after all. I do remember what it felt like to reach the top and look down and be blown away at how beautiful it all was.

Our group stayed in hostels for two nights before making our way to Mt. Washington. We were unable to reach the summit of Mt. Washington due to the weather that day but we had a blast putting on all the clothes we brought with us just to pass through one portion. Of course, by the time we reached the bottom it was too hot and we had to take them all off again. It was a wonderful introduction to the AT.

It would be many years later before I would hike any portion of the AT again. Thankfully I live just fifteen-twenty minutes from the trail and have hiked a few different portions here in Virginia. I’ll never forget the day I was driving my daughter to softball practice and there it was… a sign for the AT. I was so happy and my first thought was back to this trip.  I made plans that day to drive back to Keys Gap and hike whatever I could of the trail. The memory of hiking in the 80s fueled my current passion for hiking. And now, as I take steps across the rocks, see the vistas, and experience the love of hiking I am reminded of how much Shari loved the mountains. A few months ago I shared these photos with her and we had a wonderful time remembering the trip and how much fun we had. She never had the opportunity to hike the trail again. She would comment on my Facebook photos and remark about how she would love to be with me. I wish Shari would have had the opportunity for one more chance to see the mountains and the AT before passing on. But I know that with each step I take she is with me in spirit.

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Here I am standing at a summit after our first day of hiking. Apparently a Canadian beat me there.

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Raven Rocks Overlook Hike on Appalachian Trail

After experiencing a very difficult Spartan Super I decided I needed to incorporate far more elevation hiking and running into my workouts. I hadn’t done enough to get through the Super with sort of confidence. I had read that Raven Rocks had a good amount of elevation gain so I set out this past weekend to hike to the overlook.

The start of this particular hike is just 25 mins from my house which was great. I feel very blessed to live so close to the Appalachian Trail. The portion that runs near my house is very rocky. I highly recommend sturdy hiking shoes or boots for this trail (and any portion between this point and Harper’s Ferry). The trail is rarely smooth and even and you will step on, over, around, rock after rock. And in some cases you’ll scurry over trees as well.  A group of boys and their leader passed me on the trail and I noticed a couple were wearing tennis shoes and I wondered if their feet hurt. Mine were tired and I was in wearing sturdy hiking shoes (although perhaps a bit too small because my toes hurt bad afterwards).

 

The hike begins by taking you up some steps. It doesn’t last too long before you start heading down quite a ways. I opened my phone and reviewed the trail because I had thought I’d be going up almost the whole time. Nope! The trail is very up and down although there is more going up than down on the way to the Overlook. The GPS reviews I’ve read has the mileage at 2.5 to the Overlook. My phone read 3 miles so just be prepared for something around that length.

After you hike about 5-10 mins you’ll finally leave the buzzing of the cars on Route 7 behind you. I spent the next hour with the singing of the cicadas. Sometimes a plane would fly overhead but otherwise it is just you and nature. Although the path is well-hiked, it wasn’t overly busy. I encountered a couple of groups, some through-hikers, and quite a few other solo female hikers. Many have questioned whether women should hike alone. I find that to be a ridiculous query. Yes. Yes we should and do. I have never felt as if I was in danger and have never happened upon any sketchy individuals.  Some people aren’t friendly and that is ok but I find that the majority of hikers are happy to say hello or talk about the hike. I met two gentlemen at the Overlook who were preparing to hike the Inca Trail. They shared. I wished them well and off they continued leaving me alone.

There aren’t many “views” to behold on this hike. You get one, small glimpse of the valley at about .5 miles in (there is a rock to stand on). And then just trees and rocks for the next 2-2.5 miles. If you aren’t pressed for time you may find a rock or two to climb on or use for a lunch break. There are many.

As I continued I kept wondering, “How much longer?” I’m embarrassed to say I was getting tired. The elevation was great for my legs and I attempted to keep pushing along even when breathing hard. I knew I was capable of it. I finally did stop and take a small break to get some water. Alas, I had forgotten the tip to my hydration bladder. I opened it and held it up to force the water out and a bunch spilled on the ground. Ugh! I held the bladder down, placed the tip in my mouth, and then raised it up again. Success!  That water tasted amazing because it was hot!

I kept checking my phone for mileage. I was at 2.5 and felt like I had a long ways to go. Finally, I saw some sunlight ahead. I always have this memory in my head of driving to a beach in Michigan. It had been a long trip and we were cresting over a hill. I was riding in the top part of our mini-Motorhome and looking out of the window hoping for a view of the water. Eventually the trees parted and we hit the top of the hill and there was the water. In my head, it was a beautiful sight. The view I had reminded me of that. It was beautiful.

 

That light at the end of the trail is the Overlook. And it is a beautiful Overlook. I was so happy to set my backpack down and just take in the beauty of the valley. The two men preparing for the Inca Trail were there but left shortly after I arrived. I had the whole Overlook to myself. I sat there and bathed in the peace and quiet. I looked down and wondered what was below me. I didn’t have to wonder long as I heard a bear cry out a few times. The sun was beating down on me so I didn’t stay too long.

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Rock Climbing Rocks

 

You can see the large rocks that are visible from the Overlook. Apparently this is a very popular rock climbing area in the spring and fall. No one was climbing that day. I would imagine the rocks would have been very hot (plus that bear below). I grabbed my pack, drank a little more water and took off for the return trip to my car. I made good time going back. There were moments of hiking upwards on the way back and I welcomed it. I felt as if I was getting in a good grove and remembered it had just been a week since I had climbed much higher while doing obstacles. I was, however, very happy to get back to my car. I was very thirsty (from wasting so much water) and craved watermelon.

My hike took me about three hours. I had no one to chit chat with and didn’t stop for many photos. My goal was to climb the elevation as quickly as I could for a workout. If you decide to do this hike, it may take you up to four hours.

Hiking Keys Gap – Appalachian Trail

Hiking / Trail Running Keys Gap on Appalachian Trail.//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

I was happy to have some time on Mother’s Day to go for a quick-ish hike / trail run. I had remembered that I wanted to check out the portion of the Appalachian Trail that is pretty close to my house so I abandoned my kids and took off for the trail. Keys Gap is about a 25 minute drive from my house – depending on how many slow people are driving on Rt 9. I was worried the trail might be busy with people out hiking with their moms but the parking lot was almost empty.

I took off running on the trail but quickly encountered pretty deep mud. I am not scared of running or hiking through mud but I still took my time to go around the deepest parts. When I could, I would run but soon I was slowed by the number of rocks on the trail. I wasn’t interested in falling or twisting an ankle so I took my time and just hiked.

Hiking / Trail Running Keys Gap on Appalachian Trail.//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

This trail leads to Harper’s Ferry. Since I got a late start there was no way I was going to make it all the way there. I also thought that there might be more views on this trail but in the distance I went (2.5 or so miles one way) there was only one look-out area thanks to some big power lines. On my way back I passed a family who was out for a hike and the mom asked me if there were views. I was sad to tell her there was just that one. It’s a decent one but made ugly by the power lines.

Hiking / Trail Running Keys Gap on Appalachian Trail.//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

The week’s worth of rain we received really made everything very green. I’m very much a scenery hiker. I like to look at things and see views and pretty nature. This trail isn’t the greatest for that. I did pass a large rock wall (no indication if it was original, new, or private property). And the rocks along the trail were kind of cool but I missed seeing “things”. If I had gone south I think I would have had more views so I will definitely consider that next time. I’m also anxious to hike out to Harper’s Ferry and back at some point.

I had the trail to myself for 90% of the time. On my way back I passed that family hiking and I encountered a woman hiking with 6 dogs. They were all very cute and friendly but I can’t imagine that task of getting them clean once arriving home. I played music without headphones for the first half of the hike. I turned it off for the second half so I could just enjoy the solitude. Also – why do squirrels sound like the largest animals in the forest. Can’t they run with a little more delicacy?

I can’t wait to go back and experience more of the Appalachian Trail when I have more time. I definitely will be taking it south to Buzzard Rocks and then going all the way to Harper’s Ferry.

Check out all my photos from the hike.
Keys Gap Hiking//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js