The allure of the Blue Ridge and its mother mountains, the Appalachians, is undeniable; the undulating line where Earth meets sky with its ever-changing wardrobe of the trees – demure in spring with flowers, sultry with the richness of summer green, the entrancing play of autumn’s leaves from yellow to orange to red and the pensiveness of sleeping beauty during winter.
Greene resident Gary Forrest has seen the many faces of the mountains as he hiked its many trails. On Oct. 28, he received a special patch for completion of the Shenandoah 500. The Shen500 goes to those who have hiked all the trails that feed in and out of the Shenandoah National Park.
“The Shen500 includes all the walking/hiking trails, all the horse trails and fire trails in the park,” Forrest said. “I walked the last part with my brother Dwayne. My brother Ricky and sister Kim were waiting at the finish of the hike to greet us. I may be the first male hiker in Greene County to officially finish the 500
Lauralee Bliss, Central Virginia author and hiker extraordinaire, is one of the founders of the Shen500 and the first female from Greene County to finish the Shen500.
Now that Forrest has finished the 500 and other parts of the Appalachian Trail, he is working to finish the complete trail.
“I have logged 700 miles along the trail and including the trails from the Shen500,” Forrest said. “I have 21 miles in New Hampshire and another section in Maine to complete the Appalachian Trail. My hope it to finish it this next summer.”
Forrest, who is in his late 60s, has followed his passion for hiking from a childhood, following cow paths on his family’s dairy farm to the Great Wall of China and beyond.
“I hiked volcanoes in Central America when I was in the Peace Corps in the early 1970s,” said Forrest, who still has a bit of proud awe. “I have hiked across Hong Kong Island, the Golden Gate Bridge and Patagonia in Chile.”
When pressed, Forrest rates trails in nearby Shenandoah National Park.
“The hardest trail is Leading Ridge with an average incline of 31% near the Pinnacles picnic area,” Forrest said. “The easiest is Pass Mountain. It is a little paved road with an incline of about 0.2%. It is pretty flat and is near the Pass Mountain Overlook.”
While he can rate them, he can’t choose his favorite so easily.
“Choosing my favorite trail in the Shenandoah is like choosing my favorite child” Forrest joked. “My favorite trail is the one I am on. I am most proud of my last one with my brother. It was 14 miles down Jeremy’s Run and up Neighbor Mountain.”
Forrest has a special love for High Top Mountain in Greene, though.
“For the novice hiker, I would encourage them to take High Top Trail. It is the closest to Greene County,” Forrest said. “It is an excellent walking trail with a view to the west of Rockingham County. Bacon Hollow Trail is also good.”
When asked why he is so passionate about hiking, Forrest said “I like being out in nature.” He then smiled and said, “And I like a challenge.”
For those who’d like to follow in Forrest’s footsteps (literally), visit the Faceboook group Shenandoah500miler and get walking.