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February 8, 2013

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Long long ago--as early as the 1930s when he was a young man--the great-grandfather/grandfather/father of the five men on this overnight hike began a hiking life that spanned parts of eight decades and pieces of the Appalachian Trail in most of its 14 states. He took me along to Maine when I was nine, for example, where we spent most of a summer on the Appalachian Trail. Now 96, he has been retired from hiking for 11 years, to his ongoing dismay and longing.

In that context, and the resulting reality that he was with us in some manner on this walk . . .

Dear Walter,

Wanted to let you know that a bunch of your progeny – both biological and spiritual – were out in the woods in the snow the weekend of February 9-10. This was (I know you don't do birthdays all that well, so I'm going to remind you of ages for all of us), Eric (32) and his son Aden (10), Carl (30) and his son Matthew (10), and me (old enough to know better than to try to sleep on a shelter floor, even with a mat, aka 66).

We started out at the base of the Apple Orchard and Cornelius Creek trails, in the Jefferson National Forest in Botetourt County, Va. As we got out of the car, it was sunny and 41 degrees – nearly perfect for hiking once you get going, but certainly a little chilly to start. A nice crisp fall day in February, you could say.

As we made our way up the two miles of trail along North Creek to the 200-foot falls that is a prime attraction for this walk, the snow cover, at first a little patch here and there in the shade, became increasingly present. By the time we reached the falls, we had walked out of fall and into winter, as the forest was covered with about two inches, and big icicles hung here and there on the outer edges of the falls. We'd thought about lunch at the falls, but the first observation deck had falls water running across it, and the upper one had a thorough layer of icy snow all over it. We settled on a sunny spot out of the wind not far above the falls, and busted out the good stuff: pepperoni and cheese on bagels, peanut-butter on bread, Cheezits and some dark chocolate, as we three older men are pretty good at looking out for the food aspect of a hike.

From there, we made our way through increasingly deep snow to the intersection with the Appalachian Trail, where we turned north toward Apple Orchard Mountain – at 4,225 feet, the highest mountain on the AT headed north till you get to Vermont.

It was true winter on top of the mountain: four inches of crusted snow, a cold breeze from the west, as blue a sky as you'll see, views into West Virginia in that direction and equally distant spots in the other directions. The two younger men talked about wanting to climb up to the "giant soccer ball" that sits atop the mountain.

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February 8, 2013

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