The Audie Murphy Memorial
Every time we visit the Audie Murphy Memorial, the rock kairns are bigger and taller.
The Greatest Day Hiker Of Them All often sits in the passenger seat on the way to a hike, figuring out not only where we'll walk, but also going over the terrain and elevation gain, plotting the lunch spot, etc – just getting a good strong overview of what we're going to do.
This procedure is followed, as likely as not if we are walking on the Appalachian Trail during thru-hiker season, by the early-in-the-hike question, "which direction are we headed now?"
I guess the planning of the hike is a completely separate undertaking from the subsequent on-trail wonder about if we'll be crossing thru-hikers or not.
On this day, we began northward – the hiking direction of 99 percent of the thru-hikers in these Virginia woods at this time of year – and so, walking in the same direction, we'd be unlikely to see any over the first part of our hike, the 1,500-foot climb of Brush Mountain. But just toward its end, after the trail turns onto a old forest road, we found ourselves coming up behind a hiker with a full pack and two walking poles – the pretty-sure sign of a thru-hiker.
We caught up to him at the junction of the AT and the short side trail to the monument, a man about my advanced age, also from near Baltimore, who said he'd been thinking about a thru hike for 10 or 12 years, had just retired and decided he'd do it. We exchanged brief notes on the Virginia AT and also photos of one another at the monument du jour, before Gail and I went on out to the overlook for lunch and he continued on, with five more miles to go today, so he'd have "only" 13 on Sunday to be sure he got to The Home Place in time for the meal that is a major destination for thru-hikers.
The monument is more decorated every time we're there; it's the first time we've seen the Texas flag back there behind it.
We ate on, of all places, a wooden bench (complete with back rest!), as two or three new ones have been constructed on the trail near the monument since our last visit. The view – out over the valley and onto Sinking Creek Mountain and complete with gentle breeze and pretty white cumulus clouds – was so pretty as to make it hard to believe the planet is as troubled as it is.
The way back down the mountain was a bonanza for Gail, as for the first half of it we crossed thru-hikers every 10 or 15 minutes . . . mostly energetic young guys, one of whom started in Georgia in mid-April! but also a nearly middle-aged couple accompanied by an older woman from Idaho. Our joke to her about "these easy little Eastern mountains" got only a mid-huff-puff semi-grin, as the threesome still had half the mountain to climb.
Appalachian Trail from Va. 621 northward to Audie Murphy Memorial and back. 7.8 miles
How to get there: Va. 311 west from Salem to left on Va. 621 to small parking lot on the right where the AT crosses.