I have been thinking about trying bicycle shuttles between the start and end points of my AT hikes. I decided to try for the first time this past Sunday. My plan was to bicycle from the trail crossing at VA311 on Catawba Mountain and ride to the trail crossing at VA624 below Dragon’s Tooth – a distance of about 3 3/4 miles. The hike would then proceed northbound along the AT back to the car at VA311.
The start of the ride felt like it was straight downhill. I was on the brakes the entire time to prevent from going too fast. I reached the bridge over the Catawba Creek and pedaled toward Catawba, VA. I reached the Catawba Store and met a thru hiker who was trying to get to Troutville. I told him that he could follow VA 779 around McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs to reach the town. He was all wet and seemed like he had been through a tough couple of days. He told me about a bridge being out over a creek and he did not want to risk crossing it and get even more wet. We parted ways and I continued toward my start point.
The remainder of the ride passed over Sandstone Ridge and was steeper than I expected. I knocked it out eventually and rode down the back side and to the start of the hike. I locked up the bike to a tree and prepared to start on the hike.
The first portion of the hike was back up the ridge I just passed over the trail was well graded with some large stones but nothing to bad. There were many switchbacks and the going wasn’t too bad. I crested the ridge and descended into the creek valley below. I reached the creek and the bridge was washed out just as the thru-hiker had said. The water had been several feet above the normal level of the creek and there was debris and bent grass all thru the valley. Luckily some hikers had passed by earlier in the day and laid out some stepping stones across. I met them later on in the day.
The trail followed the creek for a bit and some portions would have been flooded out by the looks of the debris on the trail. I am glad that the water level had receded to a safe level by the time I passed through. The trail left the creek and over a small rise where there was an a-frame stile to pass over. On the other side was a curious herd of cattle, several of which had decided to camp out on the trail. I passed by nicely as I could and managed to get by them without any incident. The trail passed through some nice pastures and finally reached the road crossing at VA785. I met a guy who was scoping out the trail and crossings for a hike later on in the season. I told him about the bridge being out and passed and he warned me about the mud in the next section of the hike. I passed over the next stile and into the pasture beyond.
The path crossed another creek and luckily this one was still intact. The trail followed around the base of a small hill and toward the gap in Catawba Mountain. It started to rain and there was a large field to cross, so I decided to stop and eat my lunch under the shelter of the trees. It was still raining when I finished so I put my wallet and phone into a plastic bag and proceeded along the trail.
The field was pretty steep and muddy. It took some careful effort to make it up without slipping, but I finally made it. At the top I met some hikers passing southbound. I warned them about the treacherous footing. The trail went through a series of switchbacks to make it to the crest of the Sawtooth Ridge of Catawba Mountain. The first part of the ridge had several small rocky knobs to pass over but none as bad as the ones on Cove Mountain or Dragon’s Tooth. The middle part of the ridge was fairly level and I made good time. I caught up to and met the folks who had placed the stepping stones I had passed over at the creek earlier. They were very nice and were enjoying their lunch among the large boulders that were prominently featured on this portion of the trail.
I headed on and the trail passed a large rock wall and descended into a small gap. The trail was rock free, but a bit slippery from the mud and fallen leaves. I still made good time and headed up to the next knob. The trail avoided a direct assault and actually passed up through a saddle between the 2 rocky knobs. There were another set of large sandstone boulders here. The trail headed down and generally avoided the remainder of the knobs on the ridge. I made good time on the final portion of the hike. I reached the parking lot right around 1 PM. Some folks had left some trail magic of sodas and snacks right before the lot.
This was a good test of my bike shuttle idea and I will look for more places that I can take advantage to extend my new AT mileage.
Miles Biked – 3.75, Miles Hiked – 5.9, New AT Miles – 5.9