Peeling Pounds on a Hiking Trail

This large, beautiful butterfly was feasting on a thistle flower.
Thistles are my native plant.

I awoke this morning weighing two pounds more than I ought to, so I determined to take that off by early afternoon. Today, that meant a hike up Hay Rock on the Appalachian Trail. Mission accomplished: down two pounds when I got home.

Hay Rock is a climb up Tinker Mountain from Daleville (just outside Roanoke) and it is about a 3.7 mile walk one way and a lot more if you want to continue on the Appalachian Trail.

Apparently, the old trail has come under some disrepair and a new one has been forged–though I didn’t know it on the way up. I fought through a lot of spider webs and high weeds in stretches that should have been beaten trail. I was getting nervous about ticks.

I’ve seen mushrooms in a lot of places, but halfway up the trunk of a tree?

About 3/4 of the way up to the view of the Roanoke Valley, I got light-headed and because I was by myself, I opted for the better part of valor and turned around without reaching the top. Still, I got a brisk two hours of hiking and dropped the pounds.

And, of course, I saw–and photographed–some pretty nature. Here is what it looked like.

More winged creatures feeding.
I thought I might smoke one of these.
Black-eyed Susans: cool, bright flowers.
Sometimes there is color even when there isn’t.
Off to Hay Rock.
Appalachian Power likes this view of our mountains. I don’t.
I forgot my hiking pole, but it was still on my car when I returned.
Railroad dude in his blue cap.
Railroad dude showing his belly that needs to go away.
An interesting walkway on a low–flood-prone–part of the trail.

Exploring Explore for a Planned Camp

This is a panorama Susan shot at the Niagra Dam station with the Roanoke River’s best rapids flowing below.
Explore has yerts, tents and cabins for rent.
The cabins form a small village.

Over the weekend, my friend Susan and I visited the Explore Park in Roanoke County in order for her to make a reservation for a campsite she wants to visit for her birthday. During her stay, she plans to enjoy the amenities (kayaking the river, hiking the trails, getting in the middle of the zip lines and canopy hikes and even eating dinner at the Brugh Tavern). I’ve been invited to visit her during this time and I suspect I will.

Children of all ages challenge the tree-top courses.

We didn’t expect to spend the day at Explore, but we wound up hiking and touring for several hours, including taking a side tour to the Niagra Dam on the Blue Ridge Park, which is nearby.

Here is a look at some of what we found.

The climbing obstacles are creative.
The kids climb and dodge at the same time.
Susan photographing the smaller kids’ climbing venue.
This abandoned cabin gives a view of a different age.
A small snake left his skin behind at the cabin
The roof has its own ecosystem.
Wind recently damaged the flu at the old grist mill.
Kayakers and tubers enjoy the Roanoke River.
I don’t know if this guy is edible, but mushrooms sure are pretty.
Susan poses at Niagra Dam.
This looks like a time in the distant past at the dam.
Niagra Dam in all its fullness.
The Roanoke River below the dam has some nice rapids.

Highlighting a Warm Visit

Meg (front) and Rachel climbing the rocks at Stiles Falls in Montgomery County.
Margie and “the girls,” as she calls them (Meghann, right; Rachel left).

My Margie’s daughter, Meghann Garmany, and her partner, Rachel Pitkin have been visiting for a couple weeks from New York and I’ve been given the chance to spend time with these delightful women, really for the first time.

We’ve done some hiking and paddling and the young women are a very real joy, enthusiastic and eager for adventures. They absorb their experiences like a good meal (some of the experiences¬†are a good meal) and remember them.

Both are interesting conversationalists, at least partly because of their careers: Rachel a historian, Meg a New York actor (and bartender). Here are a few photos of them enjoying our mountains and Meghann’s mom.

The age-old question: If you don’t photograph it, does it exist?
The pause that refreshes: Looking at and listening to the stream.
A walk in the water is a special treat.
Half the fun of a hike is being with someone special.
This is a nude of my forest girlfriend, found about halfway up the trail to Stiles Falls. She’s always there for me.
Cozying up on the rocks in mid-stream.
Some of the hike is more of a climb.
Just the three of us (shot by a Navy dude from Norfolk, who was visiting with his family).
This is one of those photos “the girls” can look back upon and feel great.
Thank ya, Jesus!
And thank ya again.
A completely natural Meghann.
Water, water everywhere …
More climbing on the way back.
Another reward, as if the hike weren’t enough. These two eat like linebackers.

Summer Hike: What a Difference a Day Makes

Saturday’s rain created Monday’s mushrooms.

I have joined the official Complain About the Weather Hiking and Cooking Club and today’s topic is summer hiking, when you can go from arctic sailboat gear to nudist beach attire in a single bound.

The sun plays in (on) the weeds.
The creek meanders through Hanging Rock Park.

Saturday, it was flood gear up at Happy Hollow Gardens near Valhala Vinyards and today, it was the sweat-soaked Confederate hills of Hanging Rock where it wasn’t the temperature, it was the humidity to quote Mark Twain (or Shakespeare or the Bible).

This was proper gear Saturday.

My hiking buddy Susan and I braved the torrents of rain and mud to traipse across the normally pristine hills of Happy Hollow Saturday and I did a solo, listening for Rebel yells, at Hanging Rock, where a Civil War battle was fought about 150 years ago and where a bronze Confederate General greets you at the entrance (if the mountain bikes haven’t run over you yet).

I will note for prosperity–or posterior–that Hanging Rock Trail is the most consistently noisy hike in the entire Roanoke Valley, owing to its proximity to I-81, where considerable construction is magnifying the noise.

More mushrooms along the trail.
That’s Susan all covered up behind me on the bridge.
We set up our picnic here.
All set, even with a mask.
Read the shirt.
I’m always on the lookout for a good potty and this is one.
A pair of bridges over the creek at Hanging Rock.
Hanging Rock is named for … well … a hanging rock.
Pampa in dappled light with conflicting color all around, still looks the same.

An Endorsement, but No Wolfman Jack

WFTX, Fox Radio, a setting out of “American Graffiti.”
My buddy Trish White-Boyd and me. Trish is running for Roanoke City Council as an incumbent.

Yesterday, I found myself in something of a quandary, having to visit a place I didn’t want to visit (Fox Radio in Roanoke) in order to record an endorsement of a Roanoke City Council candidate that I support enthusiastically. I got through it.

The station is right out of American Graffiti, a low-power AM outfit sitting deep inside Southeast Roanoke, so hard to find that I was 20 minutes late–and I am rarely late. WFTX, Fox Radio, is a talk station that features Trump supporters (I won’t call it “conservative” because the Trumpers aren’t conservative) yelling at you.

The GM and engineer (a relative of my buddy Bootie Chewning) were welcoming and more than courteous, but I had that taste of Trump in my mouth throughout. It’s like eating a persimmon.

That’s the engineer, the GM (in the window), and me (with the “mask ears”) recording.

I had written what timed out at my house to be a 30-second endorsement, but when I recorded at the station, it came out to a full minute. I had to quickly edit on the spot. I used to record essays regularly for Public Radio, so I had something of a feel for winging it and we got through the season with no blood spilled.

As I was leaving, the GM gave a friendly, “Don’t be a stranger.” I nodded, trying not to think about the damage talk radio has done to my country since Reagan’s judiciary gave it the green light (erasing the Fairness Doctrine) in the 1980s.

Would have been great to have heard Wolfman Jack’s voice at that point.


Connecting Trails for a Good Hike

My hiking bud, Susan, has been on a real “explore” tear lately, finding and sharing new trails, especially in the Roanoke Valley. A couple of her finds have been quite pleasing, including the Virginia Pine Loop in Garden City, which leads to Mill Mountain. We did that yesterday.

The trail connects with the Woodthrush trail and eventually gives about 2.5 miles of meandering through deep woods and ravines, up and down, a sweaty hike on a hot day. The Pine Loop, by itself, isn’t much of a walk: just .8 miles, but combined with the Woodthrush, you get a good walk. There are a couple of other options once you get onto the Woodthrush, as well, connecting with a couple of Mill Mountain’s nine trails.

Here’s a little bit of what it looked like yesterday.


Living Happily Off the Grid on Mill Mountain

Here’s Doug Cole and his two companions. He gathers water in the two plastic containers he’s holding.

Among the rich rewards of hiking our region’s hundreds of trails is running into interesting people and stopping for a–socially distanced–chat. My buddy Susan and I were combing over Mill Mountain yesterday and stopped to talk to a man of about 45 and his two unleashed dogs, both well behaved.

As it turns out, Doug Cole lives on the mountain and has for 10 years. He lives in a tee-pee. No electricity, gas, driveway, lawn, TV, laptop, commode, stove, shower, air conditioner, or even a fan. He’s off the grid. His drinking and bathing water come from a cool, nearby stream.

Doug, a native of Massachusetts who likes to quote Thoreau, found business success in Florida before the financial disaster of 2008 took its toll on his business and his marriage. He escaped to Salem, then Roanoke where he had no luck finding work. He wound up houseless.¬† But, being a resourceful sort, he was not homeless. And for the past 10 years, he’s lived the life of “total freedom,” as he describes it.

He’s a smart, talky, pleasant man, full of stories (“the mountain bikers are taking over the Mill Mountain trails, roaring through, creating dangers for walkers” he complains). He works irregularly just over the mountain from where we ran into him, gardening for well-to-do people in South Roanoke. “I have plenty of money,” he says, leaving the impression that “plenty” for him and “plenty” for me have different meanings.

He looks healthy and his two dogs appear to be well-fed and happy. He seems to be living his dream and I hope to god that the constabulary in Roanoke will just leave him the hell alone. He’s hurting nobody, living the way he wants.


A (Quiet) Celebration To Remember

That’s my 3o-pounds-plus less of me pose for my b’day.

Some birthdays are difficult (those ending in “0,” for example) and some are simply glorious. Mine, yesterday, was the latter, in spite of the limitations placed on celebrating by COVID and its enabler in the White House. Isolation is generally not a good fit for celebration.

It was a day that brimmed with internet good wishes, cell phone congratulations and even an evening visit from my good and great friend, Susan, who bore gifts and blamed me for their excess. I tend to over-give and she said she was “just being Dan Smith” for a bit. I was touched and honored, especially with the glorious summer tomato the size of a small canteloupe.

My Margie opened my day as I looked at a sweet greeting through bleary eyes as the sun came up and from there, it was a constant thread from people I know well and those I don’t. I got messages from two sisters, Becky and Judy, and my brother, Sandy, as well as my son’s entire family (his wife, Kara, is making me a couple of facemasks). My daughter was typically elusive, focusing on her own stuff.

It was a day of exceeding goals: my weight dropped below my birthday goal of 200 pounds (to 199.6) and my Facebook Birthday Fundraiser for the Southern Poverty Law Center, whose goal was $500, is sitting today at $720.

The Roanoker published a lovely little story I wrote about Venus Williams visiting Dina Inbriani’s Mountain Shepherd Adventure GEMS1 group of young teen girls (here) and my piece on Roanoke writer Dwayne Yancey appeared in FRONT magazine.

Oh, and I got the lawn mowed, despite the Texas-like temperatures.

Good day. Really good day.



A Difficult, but Beautiful Hike to the Falls

North Creek flows down the mountain, often spectacularly.
This is Susan’s panoramic shot of me at a “shower.”
Susan and me at Apple Orchard Falls.

My hiking compadre, Susan, and I challenged Apple Orchard Falls yesterday, a day when the humidity was so high, the walk felt like wading. The temperature was no New England fall, either.

This was a test of our endurance and for me, it came a week before my 74th birthday, so I was not as confident as a bullet-proof kid.

Susan’s watercolor interpretation of the falls.

But, because the hike is one of the best in these mountains–where great hikes are the norm–we stayed focused on nature’s beauty, rather than her challenges and we soared up to the falls. This is probably a high-moderate hike (4 miles, 800 feet of elevation) on a cool day, but yesterday, I’d say it ventured into “difficult” range. The last 400 yards of the hike is more of a climb/scramble over large rocks before emerging into the open with the high, gorgeous waterfall–the one I consider the prettiest–all things considered–that I’ve seen in Western Virginia.

The odd aspect of this hike for me is that I thought I had walked it before, but as my steps mounted up, I saw nothing that was familiar to me and finally determined that I’d never climbed Apple Orchard Falls.

That’s me dipping my shirt into the cool water of North Creek.

So, I took full advantage, climbing into the rocks beneath the falls and getting a wondrous soaking, a kind of initiation. On the way up, both Susan and I took advantage of the mini-falls–about four of them–to cool off. I even took off my shirt and soaked it in the cold water, then slid it back on at one point.

This is a good hike, especially if you’re either younger than me or in better shape than me, but I loved every step. Susan said she did, too. Here are some photos from the walk.

That’s me under the falls. It was wet up there.
The bridges along the way are well constructed.
We had linen napkins for our picnic lunch.
That’s me creeping up toward the falls.
Spiderweb in the light
These colorful mushrooms were all over the place along the trail.
Here I’m soaking my shirt in cold water, so I could cool off.
Susan celebrates the falls.


My Mistake: Dad Did Well, but …

That’s Dad on the bottom. That is not Dad on the top, as I thought it was.

For a number of years, I have been telling anybody who was interested that my dad is a member of the Virginia Tech Athletic Hall of Fame. Today, I discovered–through a good friend’s research–that is not true.

Dad had quite an accomplished four years at Tech, but he was not a varsity football player.

Seems there was a guy named George Smith who was a star player at Tech while Dad was there and Outland Award Winner George Smith looked a whole lot like my dad from the photos I’ve seen. Both were large (dad was 6-feet tall, 185 pounds), blond, square-faced, square-jawed and handsome dudes. I guess I could have done the same research my friend Susan did, but I suspect I wanted to believe what I believed and felt threatened to look into it. So “journalism” of me.

In any case, there is nothing less to be proud of about Dad’s time at Tech. He was an excellent student in business administration, a leader in the corps (Tech was all-military at the time), a busy intermural athlete (and a baseball and football freshman team player), sports editor of the student newspaper, a popular student and an accomplished young man from Johnson City, where he was the first in his family to graduate college.

Dad actually wanted to go to the University of Tennessee, but his father, George Washington Smith, who had a second-grade education but was a wildly successful building contractor, had a friend with a son at Tech and told Dad, “It’s VPI or nowhere, son.” So VPI it was.