Monthly Archives: July 2012

July 29th confession about Wood Peewees and folk dance tunes.

A reader asked what you think about all day when hiking.

everything. and nothing. I will expand on this at some point. To hike awakens mindfulness, an awareness of basic body reaction to the environment explored by Buddhists.

for me, I will reveal a sort of automatic process that took place this time around.

there is a bird known as the Eastern Wood Peewee. click on the link and you can hear the sound it makes, captured on YouTube. this time of year, most birds are silent during the day because mating season is over. you will hear the dawn chorus at 0615, for about thirty minutes, then it dies down.

Spring is the best time to listen to the symphony of birds. they sing songs of love. The dawn chorus. something I have always loved.


as many of you know, I love music and have a lot of tunes on MP3. I don’t listen while hiking though, because it depletes the battery.

One song on my playlist is ” An Dro Retournee” which is a folk song from Brittany, the French province. I like the tune. Part of the YouTube commentary on it reads as follows:

The An Dro is an ancient fertility dance from, some say the Bronze Age’ and it was danced around the fields at festivals, sometimes all night, hence it had to keep the pace even, so the people will be led into a trance, rather than to exhaustion. In this version the footwork is more in and out rather than side and on the spot, and the dance is driven by the large spiral swing of the arms. I tell you from experience, it is very energising!

And there is on particular recording of it used by many International Folk Dance groups in USA, that includes some synthesized sounds. I think the synthed parts were intended to evoke the sound of a Brittany bagpipe, but to me it sounds like a bird call or perhaps a whale recording.

and here is the mystery: sometimes as I was hiking along I would find myself singing this song.  After ten minutes or so , I would make a conscious effort to think of something else, and ask myself why this was in my head?

the answer is, whenever I passed through a spot where there was a Wood Peewee, I would recognize the sound, subconsciously at times. Next thing I knew I was singing this tune. If I were one of Pavlov’s dogs, I would have been salivating.

it’s one of those aspects of free association.  there are many examples of tunes designed to mimic bird calls – including a famous passage from Beethoven’s Pastorale symphony which uses the woodwind quintet.  Wooden bird whistles are a staple of percussion in Brasilian samba music as well.



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July 25th statistics and analysis

Well wishers

was pleasantly surprised that so many people expressed concern about my fall – to those who did – thank you. I am fine. I will explain a little more about my decision to bag it. It was a rational choice, not driven by emotional considerations, and for that reason I am feeling “successful” and happy.  I suppose it would have looked better if i had declared a destination in advance and then walked triumphantly into that place, but this also works……. I learned things this go-round, as always…..


I will try to not make this boring.

miles   to and from – – –

26      test hike at Blue Ridge Parkway  26

35.8  Davenport Gap to Hot Springs, TN  (including Max Patch etc)

68.1  Hot Springs, NC  to Erwin, TN (including Lover’s leap, Firescald Knob, Sam’s Gap, Big Bald)

49      Erwin, TN to route 19E, Roan Mountain, TN (Roan Highlands)

8        additional miles due to Bob Peoples’ trail crew: not on map yet. (due to trail reconstruction – installing switchbacks)

53.8  Roan Mountain to Congdon Gap (route 91) (Kincora, Laurel Falls, Lake Watauga) (Skipped ridgewalk-into-Damascus)

52.9  Damascus to Dickey Gap (Mt Rogers and Grayson Highlands) (skipped Dickey-to-Partnership)

38.7   Partnership Shelter to route 622, incl 3 mile road walk (cross US I-81)

330.6 total

hikerdays (total days away minus zeros and off-trail)

4   May

22 June

22 July

46 total

daily mile average (total miles divided by hikerdays)

7.1 miles per day overall. I think I was averaging higher daily miles by the end, haven’t bothered to cipher this out, but also finding the need for more zeros and rest days.

2010 vs 2012

Contrast that to 2010 when I was able to more clearly get to the next level of daily miles, starting at 7 in MA; then going to 11 in Vermont: then doing 15+ per day by the last week in New Jersey, the Garden State.

It is what it was….

I look on the AT map in my daughter’s office, and 330 miles is a looong way. More than ten percent of the trail.


My lifetime total is:

Maine 300;

2010    475;

2012    330

total   1105.I have hiked on more than halfe trail.


weather the heat index was high, but nobody really tracks the forecast for mountain weather. I just don’t do so well in southern humidity. I get drenched in sweat and it does not evaporate.

knee I remind myself that i went into this hike with a lower level of physical conditioning than in 2010. I knew I could not change the time it took to get over the knee injury, and this took away from pre-trip hiking in Honolulu as I had done in 2010. (For example, in 2010 I did a number of eight-mile hikes in the mountains behind Manoa which involved the 800′ vertical past Manoa Falls, with a pack of 35 lbs. ). This time I did Koko Head, only a few times.

I know I need to use this as a steppingstone to continue efforts to improve conditioning.

tent the key decision for the second half of the trip was to leave the tent behind because I thought I could go shelter-to-shelter.  I could do up to a twelve or thirteen mile day, but not much beyond that.  I still did some “cowboy camping” but the weather was not favorable.

At the time I got rid of some weight from the pack, which was helpful; but I underestimated how tough Virginia would be. The heat and rain slowed me way down, and Virginia is not anymore flat than TN or NC.

recuperation on those days in which the hike exceeds ten miles I need to take it slow the next day and recuperate. I am still leery of lengthening my stride because it gives my knee a pounding. also, I am “footsore”

Don Quixote

I have been very fortunate that my daughters accept this quest, and when i phoned to say I  was at a motel and taking the bus in the morning, “Snafu” (Julie) came to rescue me. She stayed over night, and we drove back to C’Ville in time for her to start work at her usual 9 am hour.


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deciding to suspend my 2012 hike

All good things must come to an end

Executive summary: I am okay. Vital signs fine; no bandages; no limping or deformity. This extends to my mental disposition – no guilt or regrets. Going beyond the here-and-now, I have had a hoot. My mental attitude is great, I met wonderful people and I am in better shape than I was when I started. But…….

Thirtyone miles in three days including 2 twelves in a row, and very hot weather yesterday while doing 2,000 ft of vertical…… That is about the limit of what I can do. Today I started off with 1,000′ vertical, it was going to be another 11 miles, the humidity was stifling. Then…..

Otters and riverbanks

What happened next was we had an old-fashioned hellfire-and-brimstone lightning storm with torrential rain. I was descending a section where the trail traverses the steep mountain slope, trending downward…. familiar to anybody who has hiked in this region. the footpath hangs halfway up the wall of a sort of steep canyon, about two feet wide, now muddy and wet with leaves. I slipped – bobbled – and took a belly flop forward. My poncho is shiny and slippery so I went about ten feet like I was at a water park. Involuntary self-heimlich. Seeing stars. Dizzy. (Didn’t lose consciousness)


Glad I didn’t roll to my left and go over the edge down into the rhododendron thicket of this “holler”…… down the steep slope. Shoulda just stayed at the shelter until this was over. Oh, I know why I didn’t – tell you why later.

Inventory: I lay there taking inventory. One bent hiking pole. glad I didn’t reinjure my knee.  a bit more muddy and more wet. certainly getting more cautious about where to put the feet, not a good thing when trying to make some time.

Looking ahead. I knew I’d get to a road crossing and then start the final four miles to the next shelter. this involved 2,000′ of more uphill, and it was about 3 PM, meaning that I woudl not arrive until 10 PM – would I have the endurance to do it?

Yes, I had M & Ms on me, but – no amount of chocolate would accomplish that task!

I was wet and sore. I knew for a fact that nobody was going up after me that day. The trail uphill was going to be just as slippery as what I was downclimbing upon….. and I was worried about slipping again.

I had to conclude that the best course of action would be to not go uphill. I was “done” – so when I got to the last road crossing, I left the Trail. I walked along the road for awhile since there was no traffic of any kind. The first vehicle that passed, stopped. It was a couple who were out aimlessly riding around to see wildlife. what they saw was  – me.

To get to a paved road took a long time – if they had not been out there I would have walked seven miles. (I did walk three) They deposited me at a motel near I-77.

And I checked in.

So – the final total miles will be about 335 or so; I have to go over this. More than 15% of the trail.

Lots of fun stuff along the way…..


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Warp Factor Six, Scotty!


Present location: northeast of Marion, VA
Miles July 22nd: 12
Cumulative miles: 305 ?

Note: the cumulative total takes into account some “yellow-lining” I did. (subtracts it fromthe simple total in the guidebook). I am no longer among the “purists” – if I ever was). I am on my sixth map.

Pizza delivery

Partnership Shelter, where I slept July 21st, is located on the grounds of Mt Rogers National Recreation Area HQ. They lock the gates at night and there is a strict no-alcohol policy. The police patrol it regularly since it’s so close to the road, and yes, we obeyed The Rules since the log book included tales of “they don’t just ticket, they take you straight to jail.”

The nickname is “The Taj Mahal” of shelters. It has a shower stall attached. With the logbook are some menus for restaurants that will deliver (for a fee).

Five of us were there and we ordered Italian food. When it came we all enjoyed the incongruity of the whole situation. We joined hands and said grace.

One hiker there, “The Flying Irishman” is from Dublin, and has been doing 20+ miles per day. He was planning a 26-miler. “The Mad Patter” (word play on Patterson, his last name) was planning a twentymile hike. “Re-run” and “Maddy Bear,” a father-daughter team, were planning 12. I was originally happy with my plan for 7.

Warp Factor Six

I did not leave the M.R. A. Gift shop until 10 AM. – kinda late. I got the Chatfield Shelter, the next one, at 4 PM.  the day was one of those almost-ready-to-burst humid days and sure enough, the clouds opened up just a minute after I got to the shelter. I waited, didn’t want to unpack and stay with so much daylight remaining. The blue sky appeared, so I decided to hike the next 5 and get to the spot where the AT crosses I-81. It was a slight downhill. I got there around 6:30, which means my speed was about 2 mph. Blazing speed, for me. I slipped on the muddy trail three times though – even though it was nearly level. I had to wait a few minutes before crossing the train tracks – to allow the freight train to pass. I could hear the I-81 traffic from three miles away.

caught up, once again, with Maddy Bear and Rerun, a father-daughter duo I enjoyed. Got a cheap room at The Relax Inn, did laundry. Got dinner at the Exxon Food Mart.


Watched the Weather Channel. Forecast: heat and rain. Then CNN: sad news from Aurora Colorado.

I am more acclimated to the heat than I was three weeks ago, but I will never be acclimated to senseless violence.

The Barn

I myself did not get a hikerburger. but it has a fine reputation along the trail

In this town “The Barn” restaurant features a Hiker’s Special breakfast. It’s not far from here. I will be there when the open the doors at 0700. At lunch they are famous for their hikerburger. they have a log book for the hikers, and here is an entry from the logbook.In this region, the geography is ridges and valleys. The immediate task is to cross several ridges sideways before arriving at the one upon which the next ridgewalk is laid out.

I’m generally expecting better phone reception in the next few days.

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July 21st in Marion, VA – thinking of Whoopie Pies and hats

Happy Birthday to my daughter Amy, who tells me she is working at both jobs in Maine today. She used time off to climb Katahdin earlier in the week with her Mexican friend.

46 miles from Damascus

So I took a “nearo” July 20th. I hiked out five miles to the nearest road crossing (Dickey Gap) instead of going the 10 to the next shelter. Stuck out my thumb and waited. Got a ride from from horsey folks- rode in the back of a pickup with loose hay and some broken tack. Only after going a few miles did I realize I’d lost my hat, somewhere. They brought me to Marion, VA. The road descended hundreds of vertical feet from the gap – once again, I got a sense of how remote the A.T. can be, very mountainous terrain around here. Checked into a motel room near I-81 in Marion, VA for the night.

When to Zero

Looking back, I hiked 13 days in a row prior to Hot Springs (that seems so long ago it may as well have been in the 1990s…) Then I have been taking a zero once a week since then.

It was time.

“Nearo” means “nearly a zero” – “Zero” means “zero miles.” I still did 5 miles just to get to the road.

How to decide when to step off the Trail

1) Coffee. The plainest truth: I was out of Starbucks instant coffee. Maybe this is not a crisis for some people.

2) Food. All long distance hikers have to do it now and again if only to get food. I’d gotten to Hurricane Mountain Shelter with just two more days of food in the bag, so I was going to need to resupply at a grocery store anyway. I spent $62 at Food Lion and now I am good for another week.

3) Aspirin. I was out of both aspirin and motrin. Yes, I have been cutting down on motrin. But when I get the usual muscle soreness, I take aspirin; the motrin is to suppress the deep ache my knee gives me when it acts up. And this ache has returned. Oh, it’s slight and nowhere near as bad as before the injection; but I can tell, and it’s qualitatively different than ‘soreness.’ My knee hurts worse when I walk on level ground, than when I go uphill. I have to be careful how I plant it. If I stride by jamming the heel down first, it jolts the knee. I keep the knee unlocked.

4) Footsore. And I wanted to soak in a tub. I have noticed on previous long distance hikes that my feet swell, and I get a bit footsore. I know all my nurse-friends are saying “OMG it’s a sign of CHF!”

Let me clarify. It’s NOT edema, there is no pitting etc and elevating the tootsies does not fix it. It’s the soles of my feet that have a sensation of being thicker and – *growing* somehow. I think the intrinsic muscles of my feet get dramatically stronger while hiking, and I can sense them becoming musclebound…. I need to rest these and attend to them.

I guess I am developing “Hobbit feet.” This is not helped by having damp socks and boots.

5) And laundry. 46 miles of hiking over the tallest clump of peaks in Virginia, makes a fellow sweat. I used DEET; I also applied desitin to chafed areas and neomycin to cuts and scrapes. People have smoky campfires at the shelters. All these odors get congealed in to the clothes and give off “hikersmell.”

6) Online banking, and checking email. I can’t simply withdraw from conducting the business aspect of my life. My check from UH gets direct-deposited and so many of my bills are on autopay, but not everything.

So – the trip is not composed of 100% bucolic daydreaming here – I suspect even Tarzan had to do laundry now and again.

Back to the Trail

Dickey Gap is not easy to access, so I am going to skip another 15 mile section, and reconnect to the Trail at Partnership Shelter. It’s only 300 meters from the road. In the guidebook it says the law enforcement people check it to make sure that vagrants or partiers are not simply hanging out there. I have no problem with that, even though my beard would mark me as a possible homeless person if I were to be sitting on a park bench in Hawaii.

Chapeau chic?

I bought new headgear at the Army Surplus in downtown Marion. USMC-style boonie hat, camo.

Lonely Planet Guide to Marion VA

I am composing this as I enjoy tomato bruschetta at “Handsome Molly’s” – the only hip bistro on Main Street here. Pressed tin ceiling. K.D. Lang and Sting wail plaintive emo through the stereo. Espresso bar, but most patrons are sipping white wine. Why are these patrons wearing a necktie on a Saturday afternoon? Nobody here is under forty. Make that fifty. Not even me.

The backpack is at my feet like an obedient dog, weighed down now by a full food bag. Attracting the attention of other patrons who approach me with various questions.

Future days? Exit strategery?

I am considering whether to extend the hike by five or six additional days. This part of the Trail is nice. Yes, it’s still hot these days (85 here in town) but despite the litany of complaints above, I am still having “fun” – the original plan was to end July 28th but maybe I will go until Aug 5th or so.
I can do this and still squeeze in time to see my folks…..

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July 20 – Damascus? that was then, this is now

July 19th

Today’s miles: 10.

Cumulative miles? Who knows. ( who cares?)

Once more, I managed to get to a shelter, at the end of the day, with ten minutes to spare before a thunderstorm with pelting rain. Here I am @ Hurricane Shelter, the first hour I was by myself; this one was built in 2004 and the first thing I noticed was the remarkable acoustics like a being inside a guitar soundbox.

Symphony Hall has nothing on this place!

As you might expect I sang songs with sustained notes, just to enjoy the reverb while setting up for the night. “Shenandoah” is apropos of Virginia, so I belted it out. The chorus of Jackson Browne’s “In the Shape of a Heart” was enjoyable, here. I am not a country western fan, but “The Dance” as sung by Garth Brooks, should have been recorded right here, that’s how good it sounded. Finally “The Heart of Life” – now there is a tune with a wonderful message!

Long time no hear from

I have been – out of touch. (Maybe you thought I was dead….) Yes, the reception in the Mt Rogers area was nonexistent. But who cares, really- you probably were relieved not to be getting the daily message.

There’s only so many ways to say

“Today I hiked (6/8/10/12 miles)

in the (rain/heat/wind/humidity)

and I saw a (mountain/stream/bird/insect/dragon/bear)

while I (thought of a lost love/thought of you/thought of nothing)

and my (feet/legs/right knee/skin/lips/) was sore.

At dinner I ate (mountain house/ramen/red beans & rice)”

What can I add to this serial?

Summary: outta Damascus I crossed the Mount Rogers range, tallest in this state. Grayson Highlands lived up to it’s billing, it was nice to also have the adjacent balds so as to build the anticipation….. At Grayson highlands they allow a herd of wild ponies to graze so as to maintain the “bald” condition – a beautidful high mountain meadow as in the Rockies or Sierras.

The wild ponies were cute enough. Watch your step 🙂

My long day the 17th was – tiring. I did 13 miles including about 3,000 feet of vertical. Somewhere along the way, I had a couple slightly longer days mileage-wise but this was the Big One for the summer when you add the vertical. It thundered on and off that day, with showers and I kept the poncho handy. I rested when I was tired. I met a group of eight young guys from a church group at one point, they were getting some sun on the rocks of the first Bald. I leapfrogged with them for the next nine miles. They made camp at Elk Park at 5 P.M., a civilized hour. I saw them but kept moving – with no tent, I needed the darned shelter.

And so, with eleven miles in the bag, I found myself at Deep Gap at 7 P.M., knowing there was two miles remaining along with 500′, and of course, darkness approaching. Ask any other hiker about this and they will tell you it’s time to open a can of “Whup-Ass” and get it in gear.

By this time the sky was clear; but the trail passed through spruce thickets that made it very dark, seeming to be later than the actual clock would tell. I resisted getting out my headlamp since I did not want to stop and take off my pack to rummage through it.

Hiking in the dark

Memories of other hikes during which this or that companion had joined me for a grim forced march; flashbacks to each of the times Gummy Bear and I did this, and what we talked about (listing Great Forced Marches of history was the theme; I recall Gummi Bear describing “Night” by Elie Weisel. I don’t wish to cheapen the holocaust by any means – it’s more about what a great writer Elie is).

Got to the Thomas Knob Shelter at 9 P.M. – after dark – it’s the latest in the day I have hiked, this trip. Tried to be upbeat as I got within ten yards but my butt was dragging.

The scene was set with the a better-than-average cast of characters; four other guys. Two were playing rummy by the lights of their headlamps. I got organized and made dinner for myself. We were all up til 10:30 – I enjoy the chemfree conviviality of a good old fashioned college Bull Session, and this was a great one.

I think I was too tired to turn over in bed, once I got there. Slept quite soundly. Thompson Knob Shelter is situated at the edge of a “bald” – I took a short video in the morning. Spectacular.

Fact is, I was in a post-marathon sort of stupor, didn’t leave the shelter til 11 A.M. – I’d known that the morning-after a Big Day would be tough on this old carcass and it was. The guys from the church group passed me as I was packing my stuff. They stopped to talk, they were a bit surprised to see me ahead of them.

Grayson and the Wild Ponies

Yes, I did see the wild ponies. Lovely. I knew that if I got one for Amy I’d have to also get one for Julie. Also, I would be separating it from it’s mother – something I could not bear to do. So? Maybe next time.

Let them eat cake?

So then last night, to Wise shelter, where I met Mega Mind and Left Field. Also, PeeJay and I shared our last dinner table, along with Cabin Boy. Today? then 10 miles to here, Hurricane Mountain Shelter.

Today’s 784′ vertical? Piece of cake! “Mad Patter” just arrived – happy to have a shelter companion. Bringing Oreos! Chow Down!

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Q & A about privies on the Trail

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Q: how can a person tell they are now hiking in Virginia and not TN or NC?

A: Here, there is a privy near each shelter. Virginia is the home state of six presidents.

Q: what!?!?!

A: it’s true. In TN/NC they encourage the “moldering system” and there is a shovel at each overnight location. The guiding theory in TN/NC is, it decomposes faster, fewer flies, etc. Also, every American can enjoy our public lands in their own way, it is our birthright.

In Virginia they have read Ecclesiastes.

Q: and toilet paper?

A: I carry a personal supply. I augment this with selected deciduous leaves. Lately those of the American Chestnut have been my go-to favorite.

Q: isn’t the American Chestnut an endangered species?

A: yes and no. Chestnut Blight has eliminated the majestic mature “redwoods of the east,” but there are thousands of juvenile trees right by the Trail. In New England I found that leaves of the Sugar Maple would also serve. Leaves are biodegradable!

Q: don’t they clog the sewer system?

A: I have never, not even one time, flushed any leaves down a toilet.

Q: what if there is no privy along the way during the day?

A: Do what bears do. Actually – don’t. Bears will relieve themselves in the middle of the trail. Bears are very unselfconscious. People should step *off* the trail, then emulate the happy-go-lucky bears.

Bear scat is distinctive, by the way.

Q. Are you making this up?

A. No. Why would I lie to you? A number of years ago, a wise hiker wrote a backcountry masterpiece titled “How to Shit in the Woods.” It is now a canon of backcountry lore, and I would be hard pressed to add anything to that oevre. The book ends up in many a hiker’s Christmas stocking, to this day, and has been translated into French. Kathleen Meyer, the author, deserves an honorary PhD from Warren Wilson College or perhaps UVM. To say nothing of the Nobel Prize for medicine.

Q: do you own a copy?

A: No. Buy it on Amazon.

Q: what if you…..just…. Can’t?

A: in that case, backpacking may not be a good fit for you. I met a girl scout troop on a thirty mile A.T. Hike. One of the leaders told me they’d done a “test hike” for a weekend back home in Ohio a few weeks prior, during which they found that two girls tried to “hold it” for the entire three days. One more reason to do a test hike before setting out on the real thing. Those two needed to work on “letting go.” They did not make the final roster.

Q. Is this problem caused by civilization taking us away from our roots?

A. My own daughters grew up in rural Maine and our old farmhouse had a two-holer; we had a flush toilet but sometimes the two-holer was a handy backup when a blizzard took out the electricity or some such. I’m just sayin’.

Q. About squatting. Weren’t you having knee problems?

A. Thank you for asking. My right knee has improved and I am able to squat with more flexibility than before. Maybe that’s TMI. Difficulty in hyperflexing my right knee prevents me from surfing because I can’t “pop up.” When I had my knee X-rayed, the orthopedic surgeon told me I have previously fractured my patella. Who knew? All this time I thought it was a meniscus tear.

As an aside, In Hawaii I learned that children in Asian cultures spend more time squatting than kids on the mainland. This maneuver enhances lifetime knee joint flexibility. I once had a student who decided to squat in the hospital corridor, while jotting down her nurse’s notes. I had to tell her it’s simply not done that way, use a chair. Later we joked about it on the elevator, and all ten students in the group squatted as if on cue. I said “don’t hold your breath waiting for me to squat down there with you.”

Q: what about Nepal?”

A: the main fixture in Nepal is a squat toilet. These are common in rural Asia. It’s not as if I haven’t had practice 🙂

Q: what else about privies?

A: In NH and VT, Dartmouth College Outing Club (DOC) maintains a hundred miles of trail, and the D.O.C. designs each privy as a standalone work of architecture. There is one location where the privy roof is supported by four columns reminiscent of Bernini’s famous Baldachino at  Saint Peter’s Basilica. To sit on that throne in the forest cathedral is a majestic experience. Architecture is a means of social commentary, of course.

Trail progress

PS got to Saunders Shelter prior to the lightning storm Sunday. Alone there overnight. Nine miles and 2,000′ vertical, despite lingering in Damascus until 11 A.M. An enjoyable hike paralleling the Virginia Creeper bike path and a rollicking mountain stream. Found myself humming the second movement of Beethoven’s “Pastorale symphony” – which he composed after a hiking trip in Bavaria. At one point I stopped for a swim.

The 16th was a relatively short day, but Tuesday I will climb the ridge that includes Mt Rogers, tallest peak in VA. – thirteen miles and 3,000′ vertical. Wednesday is reserved for the Grayson Highlands. Feral ponies etc…..

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