Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Walking the Appalachian Trail: 5 to 10 Kilometers in 14 States

When I was younger, I dreamed of hiking the Appalachian Trail from start to finish.  During that time, I never found myself in the position to pause my life for the 6to 7 months that it takes to walk the 2300 miles.  I know people who have hiked it later in life, but I have found out that the hike, a significant accomplishment, is a mundane task.  It is almost the same thing day after day, week after week.  Now that I’m older, I am less patient with these things. 

So when America’s Walking Club - AVA.ORG  started a special program to walk at least 4 K’s in all 14 states that the A.P. trail passes through, I was immediately on board.  Once we signed up for the Special Program, we completed the states of Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia all in one week a couple of summers ago.  Those trails were a good taste of what was to come. 

Spring of 2018

Georgia:  We walked part of the trail near Helena, Georgia, a destination in its own right.  Helena is a German theme town in the Georgia Appalachian Mountains.  We did the town walk also, which I highly recommend.  We walked this with a group of walkers from Georgia and the AVA Legend Bob Gambert. 

Tennessee: The highest point on the A.P. special program is in the Smoky Mountains National Park is New Found Gap 5046-feet.  This was a leisurely walk along the mountain ridge.  2.5 K’s out northbound and 2.5k’s back southbound.  Too bad, it was in a driving rainstorm that was in the process of turning into a snowstorm.  It was still a fun walk.

North Carolina:   This walk started in Hot Springs, NC, a through-hikers rest station and fun little town.  We hiked along the French Broad River and then the Lovers Leap Lookout.  Afterward, we had lunch in the Artisun Gallery and Cafe

Virginia:  Damascus was a walk through a small laid back resort town.  The trail runs through the middle of town.  This was one of the only walks that had a physical walk box.  It was located at the Damascus Old Mill Inn.  Its also home to the Virginia Creeper Bike Trail.   

We originally wanted to finish this special program in the summer of 2020.  But unfortunately, the pandemic had other plans.  So we had to skip a year.  Our first stop was Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, where both the walks in West Virginia and Maryland originated from the same town.

Summer of 2021 

Maryland:  One of the highlights of our walk yesterday into Maryland was hiking on the C & O Canal Towpath. This is now a significant biking and hiking destination in the D.C. area. We hope to stop and ride some of it back from Maine.

“The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, abbreviated as the C&O Canal and occasionally called the “Grand Old Ditch,” operated from 1831 until 1924 along the Potomac River between Washington, D.C., and Cumberland, Maryland. The canal’s principal cargo was coal from the Allegheny Mountains. Construction on the 184.5-mile (296.9 km) canal began in 1828 and ended in 1850 with completing a 50-mile (80 km) stretch to Cumberland, although the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad had already reached Cumberland in 1842. Rising and falling over an elevation change of 605 feet (184 meters) required the construction of 74 canal locks and 11 aqueducts to cross major rivers.”

West Virginia: Today’s walk was not only walking the A.P. trial in West Virginia is also about seeing the town of Harper’s Ferry and the heights above the city. Walking through the city, you can feel the history bleed into your bones. You have become part of something else here. There is a lot here, the Niagara Movement. The Armory. There is incredible history here; it’s an honor to see it.

We are in Harper’s Ferry for 4 days. Some Historians actually say this is the actual start of the civil war. Where John Brown attempted to start a slave rebellion by seizing a federal armory to hand out weapons to enslaved people at plantations in the area. If you paid attention in your High School History class, you already know what happened, it failed, and he was hung for it.
We are at the KOA right outside the National Park; it has cleared out. We came in as everyone else was leaving. We ate lunch and road the E-bikes down to the town. Where the mass of humanity had gathered. We took a couple pictures at the overlook where the Potomac River and Shenandoah River meet. Here you can see Maryland and Virginia while standing in West Virginia. It’s a heck of a view. Finally, we decided to avoid the crowds and headed back to the campground. We can come back here when the crowds have cleared out during the week.

We saw a National Park sign for Murphy’s Farm on the way back, so we turned down that road to check it out. This turned out to be the site of the actual Civil War battle fought for the possession of Harper’s Ferry. And best of all no crowds, sometimes the best experiences happen by accident.

Pennsylvania: Well got Pennsylvania done with a quick 9k hike from Boiling Springs up to Center Point Knob on the A.P. Trail. Center Point Knob is the sentimental center of the A.P. Trail. The actual center moves almost every year due to changes in the trail. I did this same hike with a good friend who passed away. It was good to remember Bob Gambert. He would be very happy that we are getting this done. As he would say its now off to New Jersey.

New Jersey: The 5K across the I80 Bridge to the 10K start point, then up the trail about 1K, walked back. All through the Delaware Water Gap. Then the next day drove through the Deleware Water Gap Recreational Area.

New York: Well, we decided to stay at the MWR campground at West Point for a few more days. We are going to be here for 5 days. This was a late change of plans. So we decided to rent a car to just drive to the walks in New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. This will give us some extra time to sightsee. So we got here yesterday and set up after picking up the rental car. Then, later in the afternoon, we decided to knock out the New York walk since we are close to the A.P. Trail here. So we drive down to Harriman State Park, and we get a 5k done in a couple of hours.

West Point: Today was about getting laundry done, and other housekeeping chores are done in the morning. We then went over to West Point to check it out. The Nation’s oldest Military Academy has a lot of history. We first went to the graveyard to say hi the George A. Custer of Little Big Horn fame. Then we went over to The Plain, the famous drill field. Eisenhower and Patton were watching over, and then there was the magnificent West Point Architecture. It’s a unique place tucked along a mountainside along the Hudson River. It seems to be only 46 miles from New York City in its own orderly world.

Massachusetts: today, it’s Massachusetts, and the Cobbles with a challenging 5K hike with a 700ft elevation Gain. What we walk up, we must also walk down. Cheshire Cobbles MA

Connecticut: Nice excellent 10k walk in Connecticut on the A.P. Trail. It’s was a great walk, a mostly flat stretch along the Housatonic River. We are down to 3 states. We have done 7 on this trip and had 4 done almost 2 years ago before the little bump in the road or what I like to refer to as a reality check for the world. This thing called a pandemic.

Vermont and New Hampshire: Vermont and New Hampshire walks are done. What a day, we got 2 states out of the way and crashed the Dartmouth University graduation. We really didn’t crash it, but we walked through the aftermath. Kids and families looking at the campus for one last time. We are getting pressed for time and decided to get both 5k walks in the books since the start points are about an hour’s drive apart. It was great seeing the graduates and their parents. It was like seeing the future. Although we felt a little out of place, it was fun and definitely an experience of a lifetime.

Maine: This was a tough rocky hike that started on the trail above Andover, Maine. We followed the trail south above Dunn Falls then circled back at a connector trail to view the falls. We were still tired from walking 10ks yesterday and hadn’t planned to hike until tomorrow, but looking at the weather, we saw that it was supposed to rain most of the day tomorrow. At the falls, which were rather dry, we met a through hiker camped for the night, which goes by the trail name “5 am” he is walking by 5 Am every morning and is a designated silk (cobwebs) collecter. He left Springer, Georgia, on 21 February and hiked in the snow for the first few weeks. It is currently the middle of June and will one of the first to finish this year.

It felt good to get this special program done. We have been planning this for a while. We now sit in the R.V. listening to the rainfall. We have now finished the AVA particular program. We have walked 5 to 10k’s on the trail in every state that the Appalachian Trail Runs through. Great respect for those that walk the whole course. We got to experience a small part of that journey and meet some of the people that did it. Taking about 3 weeks to get this done is something we will always remember.

Monday, March 21, 2022

New Orleans Lake Pontchartrain: The North Shore

There are some hidden gems across from New Orleans on Lake Pontchartrain.  The towns of Mandeville, Hammond, Covington, and Bogue Chitto State Park.  All four have great year-round American Volkssport Association (AVA) walking events.  We are headed south to walk and eat some of the world's best food.  French-influenced Lousiana Cajun is a uniquely American experience found nowhere else. 

Our base of operations is Fontainebleau State Park, a former sugar plantation on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain located near Mandeville, LA, near the Causeway Bridge.  Which is at 24 miles the world's longest continuous overwater highway.  It cuts Lake Ponchartrain in half and ends in New Orleans on the Southshore.  The first few days, we walked the north shore towns of Mandeville, Hammond, and Covington.  All three towns have an eclectic feel with their own vibe.  

Mandeville is a resort town with a large lakefront park with some great restaurants.  It has laid back feel.  It's a great place to get a bite to eat and enjoy the sunset.  Daily steamboat traffic started in the 1850s; with its lakeshore breezes, Mandeville has always been a place to escape the oppressive heat of New Orleans. 

Hammond, the home of Southeastern Lousiana University, is an exciting downtown to include the founder's gravesite and the Hammond Tree, a large Live Oak.  Under the tree are several graves of him and his family.  His story is an interesting one, a genuinely American one.  

 "Peter Hammond (1798–1870),  a Swedish immigrant who first settled the area around 1818.  Peter, a sailor, had been briefly imprisoned by the British at Dartmoor Prison in Briton during the Napoleonic Wars.  He escaped during a prison riot, made his way back to sea, and arrived in New Orleans.  Hammond used his savings to buy then-inexpensive land northwest of Lake Pontchartrain.  There, he started a plantation to cultivate trees, which he made into masts, charcoal, and other products for the maritime industry in New Orleans.  The goods were transported by oxcart to the head of navigation on the Natalbany River at Springfield.  He owned at least 30 enslaved people before the Civil War.  As Union soldiers raided his property, Peter Hammond lost his wealth during the war."

The Covington walk had an equaling attractive downtown with a 10-foot statue of President Ronald Reagan.  It is also the start of the Tammany Trace, a 31-mile rails to trails project bike trail that runs through Mandeville to Sidel along the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. 

Our final walk was at Bogue Chitto State Park is, located on the Bogue Chitto River.  This is a new addition to the Lousiana State Park system opening in 2010.   The walk takes you along the river and gives you a good taste of the Lousiana Mississippi River delta biodiversity.  It includes small streams, cypress-tupelo swamps, and upland and bottomland hardwood forests. 

We took a break from walking to drive the Causeway Bridge over to New Orleans one day.  We visited the National Parks sites.  The Chalmette Battlefield from the War of 1812 and the Jon Lafitte Center in downtown New Orleans.  Afterward, we found a local restaurant with boiled Crawfish and Crawfish Etouffee. Today's Ketch Seafood and Restaurant was the place of my Cajun dreams in Chalmette, LA.   A trip to this area is about Cajun food, oysters, shrimp, softshell crab, and Vietnamese food.  

People might ask why Vietnamese food?  It is Cajun country, after all.  After the Vietnam War, a large population of Vietnamese was resettled in southern Lousiana.  The area mirrored where they came from fishermen from a hot delta climate in the Mekong Delta.  It was replaced with the Mississippi River Delta.  A great addition to the American diaspora.  In Covington, LA, we found a great place, Phở Công Noodle & Grill

 Well, it's another excellent trip, walking 25K in 4 days.  The Lake Pontchartrain North shore is something that must be experienced.