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May 17, 2008, on the Appalachian Trail

Bob and Shelly joined us last night at the Woods Hole Shelter, and spoke about their experiences hiking the Pacific Rim Trail and the Rocky Mountain Trail. They labelled the Appalachian Trail the hardest of all, and Bob’s working on his third completion of it. We took him at his word. Fifteen to twenty years younger than Dave and me, Bob is a musician and a teacher by trade. He published a book of camp songs titled Hiking a Round. The problem with the AT, he said, was the impossibility, most of the time, of seeing the vistas and the horizon, due to the large amount of forest cover, and the moisture in clouds and fogs, unlike the drier and sparsely forested West.

Dave and I hiked from there to the top of Blood Mountain, one of the places and one of the clear days that contradicted Bob’s claims. Blood Mountain has the reputation of being the busiest section of the Georgia AT, and this weekend lived up to that. All the way up and down, we met assorted hikers and groups of all kinds. If there was anything between us and the gorgeous views of the distant landscape, it was more likely to be people than trees or clouds.

We ate our lunch on the mountaintop, broad enough for hundreds of hikers to find secluded spots and limitless views, enjoying the sunshine, lying on the rock shelves, and listening to the music of birds and breezes, punctuated by people sounds, of course.

On the way down the north slope, we met one extended family group of about twenty, with their grandpa bringing up the rear. As we passed, he said to us, “We ought to be old enough to know better, but I love doing this.” Huffing and puffing his way up, he and everyone else in his group appeared to be carrying heavy loads of picnic gear. I asked how heavy, and he said about seventy pounds. That made our thirty-five pound backpacks seem a lot lighter.

On the whole I was glad we had taken the opposite route to theirs, as well as carried half the weight. The ascent of the south slope was gradual, green and flower-covered, and much easier. The descent on the north face was steeper and rockier. After the spectacular scenery of the first several hundred yards, the rest of the descent was tricky, with improvised steps and steep sections, so we were both glad to be going down, not up, with just ourselves, not a group of kids to supervise, with light packs, not heavy ones. Their descent would be back the same way they came, and a lot of what they carried would be inside them, not in their packs. More power to them! We all would have a fine and full day.

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