Sky Meadows State Park
to GR Thompson Wildlife Management Area
Hike and Bike 9 April, 2006
A couple months ago or so I went to Sky Meadows State Park. I think it might have been after my first carpal tunnel surgery, but before the second. I chatted with the very friendly Park Ranger lady, then went off on my hike. Since it was in the dead of winter, the park closed at dusk, and I a "rusty" regarding hiking, I misjudged the time required. I also didn't take note that "dusk" translated into an official "5 pm" closing time. So I didn't come down the mountain until 5:45. I felt very bad for keeping the friendly lady late on a Friday evening. I'd been planning a bigger hike ever since, and planned to say I was sorry by bringing goodies. So on Sunday morning I baked a poppyseed almond Bundt cake and a rhubarb pie. I wanted to make sure there was enough for all the rangers and that if someone were picky, that maybe they'd find something to enjoy.
It took all morning to bake and I was running late. When I delivered the goodies, the ranger lady was there, and she remembered me, not unkindly. There was a different very friendly ranger, too. He would be closing that day. I showed him my map of the adjacent GR Thompson WMA, and asked, my bike is here, can I make it, as you are now closing at 7 pm? It was 7 miles of driving, I figured about the same, maybe a touch farther on the trail. He said, no problem. I approximated distances and speed, and calculated I had a 2 hour buffer. I half joked, that if I screwed up again, then I'd have to come back with more goodies for him! The rangers seemed very touched to have gotten goodies. The lady thought I must be a professional baker because they were appealing to look at. Nope, I just enjoy baking.
I left my truck at 1 pm on the dot. I raced up to the top of the Blue Ridge. I felt relatively strong, not like a good hiker, but for me I felt good. I huffed and puffed, panting the whole way, enjoying myself. At the top, I flew along the ridge crest trail quite quickly. I felt like jogging now that the trail was flat. My knees would have mutinied (no pun intended), so I didn't. After a while, I reached a part of GRT where I'd been before. I knew I faced a 400' uphill directly ahead. I did OK, but was noticeably losing the spring in my step. At the top, around 3 pm, I ate a piece of cheese, the rest of the cashews I hadn't already eaten on the drive over, and one of my 3 clementines. Off I went following the Appalachian Trail, just below the crest of the ridge. Someone had been riding a mountain bike on the trail earlier in the day. I saw the tire marks, but perhaps only because I am attuned. It's a good hunk of singletrack in that stretch. Even though it rained the day before, it was in very good shape, underlain by rocks.
The farther south I continued, I wound up past anywhere I'd hiked or biked before. The map I had was from the GRT website, and it shows trails that aren't quite representative of the ground. My knees were starting to hurt. I calculated when I'd be at my bike: 4:30. As I continued to hike, I recalculated: 5:30. My knees were really starting to hurt. My quads were hurting, too, but at least they were a "good" hurt. I kept hiking, getting vaguely nervous that the map was not very good. It wasn't a topo, just a line plot, and prominent features such as AT shelters weren't on the map. The trees have AT blazes, but the sign posts with trail names are severely lacking. At one intersection, I think I knww where I was and chose the "shorter" trail. As I hiked, I began to get nervous. The time now approached 5 pm. I came to a place that looked like what could be the "spring" noted on the map, with its additional greenery. There was another AT shelter that wasn't on the map. I heard people, so I went over and announced, "I'm lost." They were both AT hikers, and didn't know the local trails. But the woman from Pennsylvania who was doing stretches of the AT on weekends had a topographic map. JOY! My trail turnoff was just ahead 1-200'. It wasn't labeled with a sign, but having seen her map, I had no doubt. I wanted to chat with the nice people, but knew I had to get back to the park before it closed.
One reason I planned the route I did was because it appeared to have a gradual descent off the Blue Ridge. However, it was steep in many sections. I hobbled down. My knees hurt so much. I must have hobbled down at half the rate I went up at the beginning. Finally I got back to my bike, locked to the cable that blocks the fire road. From this direction, my pile of helmet, and stuff, was NOT hidden, but quite visible a few tens of feet off the trail. But it looked like trash, and no one had bothered it. While I was stuffing my boots and all into my camelbak, a man with two dogs pulled up. He was a geeky, older guy with a new digital camera, just out to take pictures. There was a herd of black cattle across the fence, so I suggested he take pictures of the cows. As he went over to do it, I noticed a male trying to mount a female. I made some vague comment of what kind of picture he was liable to get, and it appeared he wasn't too keen on getting one of *those* pictures. He went back and got his dogs from his SUV. Then he seemed to stop and wait for me, explaining twice that I didn't have to worry and his dogs were friendly. Well, duh, one was a corgi and the other was a tiny beagle puppy. No man eaters, there. But by now, the only thing I had to do was put my tights on, so I blatantly had to explain that I was waiting for him to get out of my way. Then he understood and skidaddled. Earlier, in our conversation, he said he liked to travel and take pictures of things that aren't the usual tourist things. It crossed my mind to ask him where the most unusual place he'd ever been was, knowing it would be nothing compared to my most unusual place. But I didn't really want to engage him in conversation, plus, I was in a REAL hurry now. I didn't leave the parking lot with my bike until 6:22. I'd calculated it would take 45 minutes to ride to Sky Meadows. I was in a hyper state of hurry-hurry-hurry.
Off I went, knowing there were hills between me and the flat area out by the park entrance. I was shocked to find my knees didn't hurt to pedal. I struggled up the first hill in granny gear and had a very brief reprieve. Then a BIG, steep hill. I couldn't do it. I could not pedal up the damn thing. I pushed the bike up, trying to walk on the shoulder, so my cleats didn't grind away on the pavement. Time was marching away on my watch. FINALLY I got to the top. Amazingly, it was almost downhill or flat the whole way back to the park entrance. The rest of the hills were small enough that while I may have had to drop to granny gear in my worn out condition, I didn't have to walk. Pedal, pedal, pedal--'don't let me keep the ranger late!' I turned into the park. My watch said two minutes to go. I figured I was probably safe at this point, but I was READY to be done. At 7:01, the ranger came driving out. He was friendly. Oh, so friendly. We loved your pie. Did you have a nice hike? We sure had a lot of visitors today. Have you thought of buying an annual pass? 'Oh, please leave me alone. I'm dying. Let me collapse in my truck,' I thought. "No problem. I only locked the gate going in. There's another car still to leave the parking lot. You're fine." 'No, I'm not, I'm dead.'
There is ONE problem. There's a BIG hill just beyond the entrance gate, and before the parking area. Once again, I was pushing my bike. Die, die, die. I finally reached my truck at something like 7:18 or so.
Pretty daffodils planted at the State Park.
This area has veins of asbestos in the greenstone bedrock.
As I was hiking along, I saw a squirrel tale laying in the middle of the trail.
This tree is "flowering"
and has interesting pistoles and anthers.