We also made an adjustment in our hiking logic, when we inadvertently misread one of the trail blazes and intersected Skyline Drive just North of the South River Picnic Grounds. Twelve miles of Appalachian Trail going up and down steep embankments without any scenery or the Skyline Drive with magnificent vistas. It was unanimous. We’ll “white line” it. Hiking jargon for walking the road. We were making some incredible time on the road. Clocking in at over 3 miles per hour. But the hard surface started taking its toll on the others in the form of blisters. I was lucky, somehow my $25 work boots with Dr. Schole inserts were better than the expensive hiking boots of my friends.
I hiked several miles with Bob along the road and we conversed at length. I realized that this man was ten years older than me but was in excellent shape in spite of a near death illness less than two years ago. He had just completed a thousand mile bike ride along the eastern seaboard. He biked about 75 miles daily on this trip. He gave of his time in numerous community programs since his early retirement from Bussman. Plus he built his own home of 6,000 sq. ft. in Seton since his retirement. He and his wife had lived in a tent during the winter since they sold their home in St. Louis. An amazing individual.The miles really started to click off, the traffic on the road was light and the views were incredible. The overlooks were all facing to the West and your vision was unimpeded for 50 miles. The haze had lifted and the temperatures were in the low 70’s. Just perfect. We made brief stops at several of the overlooks. Mike and Bill stopped at one overlook to adjust their backpacks but I kept on walking, simply remarking, “I’ve got the pace, can’t stop now”.
Bob was about 100 yards in front of me and I was determined to maintain his pace the rest of the trek. My resolve was impossible to keep, Bob kept getting further and further ahead plus Mike and Bill were nowhere to be seen. The miles kept racking up, Big Meadows was definitely achievable. Except for one small problem, I was completely out of water and felt terrible dehydrated, no problemo!
The Appalachian Trail crosses at Miriam Gap and Bill (who had my maps) previously stated that the AT would be a short cut to Big Meadows, less than 2 miles. Off Skyline Drive and back on the Appalachian Trail, once again a true AT hiker. The area was heavily wooded with abundant undergrowth. I surmise that this valley was once an early homestead fields since there was few mature trees. Grooves of apple trees were plentiful but the deer had harvested all the apples within their extended grasps. The backpack kept getting heavier and my mouth was dryer than cotton. Two elderly women approached from the opposite direction and I inquired about the distance to Big Meadows and they said it was less than a mile (liars). Puddles of water were everywhere, but not a drop in my water bottles. Imagine spotting a lunatic heaving a water bottle at an apple tree in the middle of nowhere. Well that lunatic was me and I needed some moisture relief desperately. Finally after countless attempts, two worm infested apples lost their grip and fell by my feet. Adam would not have been tempted in the Garden of Eden if these apples had fallen at his feet but I was desperate.
A well maintained gravel road intersected the trail and the trail immediately traversed through an old cemetery but several recent burials were evident. Another mile brought me to Lewis Spring where I immediately quenched my thirst with fresh (unfiltered) water.Another trail bisected the AT and for a brief moment I became disoriented and walked the wrong trail for several hundred yards before I realized there were blue blazes marking the trail instead of the AT white blazes. Double back to the AT and started a strenuous uphill section of the trail. Traffic and voices could be heard in the distance but I started doubting myself when the noises ceased and I was going deeper into the woods. Then to my right, I barely glimpsed site of a building. It had to be the Lodge, so I trailblazed a new path towards the building which turns out to be the Waste Water Treatment Plant for Big Meadows. The building was locked and no one was around, but a paved road was a welcome site. Unknown to me at the time, if I would have kept on the Appalachian Trail another 400 yards, I would have been at the Lodge.
The paved roadway intersected with a main roadway and I decided to go to my right and within 800 yards or approximately 2400 little steps, I was at the Big Meadows Wayside which conveniently closed 15 minutes earlier. I removed my backpack for the first time in six hours and almost fell flat on my face. The unexpected weight off my back threw me off balance. I realized, if I would have gone to the left I would have been at Big Meadows Lodge, now it was one mile in the opposite direction. Seriously thought about just dropping my backpack behind the Wayside and crawl to the Lodge. After several attempts, I finally was able to procure a ride with a lady who was returning to the campground. She was kind enough to take me to the Lodge. Total mileage for the day was twenty something miles. Its hard to being certain with all the backtracking.