Last week I shared the truth about the Appalachian Trail: it is not merely a walk in the woods. There are more “secrets” about backpacking the AT: hikers must stay alert and watch their step. There are often obstacles to be crossed along the way.
For a footpath in the forest, it is surprising how often the AT crosses roads. Sometimes there are nice road signs that alert passing motorists to slow down for hikers. Other times hikers have to cautiously watch for passing cars whose drivers have no idea that there is a trail crossing the road. Along the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive, the AT often comes out on one side of a pullout or parking area. It can be hard to figure out where to re-enter the woods on the other side. Sometimes the trail maintainers are kind enough to add arrows to the pavement to point the hiker in the right direction. There is something scarier than road crossings, however. There are times when the hiker walks into a clearing and has to cross a railroad track. Daughter and I practiced listening and feeling through our feet for a rumble around the curve before safely crossing in the silence. (We often wondered what it would have been like to be standing that close to the tracks when a train rushed past!)Sometimes, the hiker feels like a rat in a maze. In jumbled rocky areas, side trails can be confusing, especially if there are no clear blazes. The first time a hiker encounters a fence crossing can be intimidating. How in the world does one climb a steep stile ladder with a pack on the back? And then there are the tight gates that keep cows or horses from escaping a pasture. They can be difficult to navigate with a bulky pack. Even when the trail stays in the wilderness, there are obstacles for hikers to navigate. In the previous post, the various styles of water crossings were discussed. (See post HERE). Sometimes the obstacles in the path are living critters. Other hikers tell of surprising a bear or deer in the trail or having to carefully navigate around a rattlesnake. Happily, we have only seen (harmless) black snakes… Finally, nature herself sometimes puts challenges on the trail. There are giant boulders to conquer, such as this landmark: The Guillotine. (Actually, it is far easier to walk under than its name implies.) Any time there is a big storm, trees may fall across the trail. Eventually, trail maintainers will cut through them to clear the path. Until then, it may be possible to walk around the fallen giant. (This one almost beat me: it was too steep to climb around; it was too tall for me to step up onto and jump down on the other side; it was too wide for me to manage a sit-and-swivel. I finally took off my pack and crawled over. I’m so glad daughter didn’t think to take video of my awkward performance!)Other times it’s the over-under dilemma! (Daughter crawled under with her pack on, getting her knees dirty. I took my pack off, tossed it over the log, then crouched and duck-walked under.) Hikers have to be ready to conquer any obstacle. Don’t forget to WATCH YOUR STEP!