Appalachian Trail: Start of my “Journey of a Thousand Miles”

A walk on the serene Appalachian Trail
A walk on the serene Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah National Park, VA

One of the earliest features of the USA that I came to know about was the Appalachian Trail. But it would take 45 years before something came off that knowledge!

When my friend, Doug Greene, reported recently on his travels on the Pacific Crest Trail with gorgeous photos, it had an immediate effect: I wanted to experience that myself first-hand.

But the challenges of such a hike brought me down to earth.

Then I discovered that our trip to the Sundial Bridge actually put us across the PCT! Sadly, we had crossed it while we were on the highway and didn’t even know that we did.

So, a new possibility dawned on me. I wanted to be on the lookout for sampling the trail in segments. I can drive to various points where day trips along the trail would be feasible.

Long before knowing about the existence of the PCT, I had heard about the Appalachian Trail. Only, walking along that trail was just a distant dream; I had always considered it to be too remote and beyond my reach. But the curiosity always simmered in my mind about what that would be like.

Last weekend, quite unexpectedly, I had the chance. We went on a family excursion to the Shenandoah National Park along the Skyline Drive atop the Blue Ridge Mountains west of DC. Our main target was the Dark Hollow Falls, a pretty, multi-level falls in the park.

Dark Hollow Falls
Dark Hollow Falls, Shenandoah NP

Having enjoyed the descent to the falls and back, we were primed for more hiking in the park. We discovered that a segment of the Appalachian Trail was right there, within a mile!

Naturally, we went for it.

Access was super easy, with a quick connection from the Milam Gap parking lot. The segment we walked was level, well maintained, and was picturesque with trees all around.

We met a number of hikers along the trail in the hour or so we spent there. A solo hiker was going from Harper’s Ferry, WV, all the way south to the trail’s end in Georgia. He was impressed by how well the trail was maintained where we were. I guess we lucked out.

We also met members of a group of hikers, pacing themselves into smaller clusters. One pair was just like us; on the trail for a quick day trip.

It was bear country and we were nervously surveying our surroundings for bear sightings as we walked along. Armed with the knowledge that bears may leave us alone if we talk to them or sing to them, my wife asked me to keep singing just as a preventative! I was voicing my doubt about the wisdom of that approach; we may be inviting bears to visit us with our captivating music, but I don’t think that reasoning went far!

Our round trip that day on the trail was just a little over 2 miles; a far cry from the 2200-mile stretch of the entirety of it. But, I can claim now that I have walked on the famed Appalachian Trail!

Moreover, we were treated to a little frolicking by a couple of fawns grazing in the meadow with their mother. I caught the tail end of it in the video below.

Deer and fawn near the Appalachian Trail
Deer and fawn near the Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah National Park

It was a fitting end to our quick trip to the park. With a little push from serendipity (or synchronicity as Julia Cameron calls it), I was able to get on the board with a walk on one of the famed Triple-Crown trails of the USA: the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Appalachian Trail.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step

— A Chinese proverb

Now, my “journey of a thousand miles” has started; I just need to take my next steps by learning more about how to sample segments of these grand trails in small increments.