Dedicated to Mara's travel and hiking adventure journals as well as her words of wisdom and suggested resources for hikers and travelers.
May - and into Virginia . . .
Day 46 - Roan High Knob Shelter - 15.1 miles - 396.6 total
One amazingly great day weatherwise for hiking. One amazingly slow day of hiking. Perhaps the second day out of town syndrome struck again.
Woke up early this morning, after not getting up at midnight to attempt a moonlight hike. On the trail by 7:30 but going very slow. Did the 8.7 miles to Clyde Smith in over five hours, and then sat there for two hours thinking I would call it a day. Then about 3:00, I started for Roan Mountain. It took another three hours to do the 6.4 to the shelter. I’m sharing this shelter with both Rockfish and Overpacked.
Today's hike was dominated by a plethora of flowers along the trail - Spring Beauties, Trout Lily, Trillium and more. My nine day hiatus sure allowed spring to gain a strong foothold here. The trees are either leafing or budding. The dogwoods in the lower elevations are in full bloom. There were deer tracks all over and a pair of downy or other small woodpeckers flitting through the trees.
Roan Mountain has a lot of snow left from the storm a couple of days ago. It's May in NC and there's snow. Some hikers have gotten rid of their cold weather gear - too soon, I think. I'm wearing most of mine as I cuddle in my sleeping bag, making dinner and eating it in the loft of the shelter. It's a late night tonight.
Quote of the Day: "Potted meat is pate for the rednecks." - Papa Squat.
Day 47 - Apple House Shelter - 14.2 miles - 393.8 total
Finally - a good day on the trail and into camp at a reasonable hour. The weather once again was marvelous - sunny and 60 degrees. Rockfish, Overpacked and I mostly hiked together, or fairly close together, all day. Threw away trash at Carvers Gap, peeled down to t-shirt and shorts, put on the sunscreen and continued on to the Stan Murray Shelter. Took a short break, just for water, and then to the Overmountain Shelter side trail. There, we stopped for lunch at the base of the bald. The climb over Little Hump and Big Hump went pretty easily. There were a lot of weekend dayhikers out. We found out from one of them that there had been a death on the trail recently. It was the day I left Erwin. A man died of natural causes. We still do not know who it is or if any of us know him. (Ed. note - The hiker was Green Mountain Man, a 53 yr old male who had a heart attack, apparently in his sleep. He was a little south of Erwin at the time.)
We arrived at Apple House Shelter to find Mike, Walking Home, and Small Change sitting here. It was great to see some hikers that I knew from before Erwin. Then Woodpecker and Sy walked in with goodies from town. It did not take us very long to devour the soda, chips, Little Debbie cakes, bananas and more. No Moss walked in just in time to get in on the feast. Walking Home and Woodpecker treated us to a beautiful fire. There is a road crossing just .5 miles away. Tomorrow, I will be going into town for a mail drop.
Day 48 - Campsite before Moreland Gap Shelter (tent) - 2 miles - 395.8 total
Up at a reasonable hour - 7:00am and packed and walked half a mile to the road by 7:40. Got a ride into town "for gas money" ($5) with Overpacked and arrived at the post office at 8:00, just as it opened. There, even before dealing with my mail drop and bounce box, I tore into another box that arrived from my friend Michele. Nothing like pigging out on delicious cookies in the post office. (Thanks, Michele!) Yum!
Then we repacked, assessed the food situation to determine what we needed to buy at the local store, and remailed our bounce boxes and mailed film. Three of us ended up "doing the town" together, and hiking out too. From the post office, No Moss, Overpacked and I went to the Laundromat, used the bathrooms to change into our cleanest clothes, and dumped the rest in the wash. While our clothes were being washed, we walked next door to the supermarket (I've seen bigger convenience stores) and scrounged up some breakfast and lunch foods.
Back at the Laundromat, we dried our clothes, washed our pots in the sink there, and changed back into our hiking clothes once they were dry, and repacked our backpacks. It is always amazing how much space our food takes up - especially when there's an extra surprise (the cookies). It's even more amazing how noticeable the weight difference is when coming into town and leaving. Usually I've spent the rest of the day and a night in the town with my maildrops. Then I can usually share goodies with other hikers in town. Today, I carried the extra goodies, and they were great.
Today's hike took us over a lot of smaller hills. We were constantly going up and then down, up then down. At one point, we were walking through cow pastures. I hope my picture of a cow on the trail at a tree with a double blaze comes out. As we walked by "the herd," it was really strange to watch the cows watch us as we walked by. I felt they were "spectators" to our thruhike - weird!
We then passed Irmo, L'il Dipper, and their dog Sky, who I had not seen since just out of Hot Springs. Then we went through this beautiful area where we would climb a hill, then descend to a beautiful spring - over and over again. We finally ran out of water, stopped at the next spring to get water for the night, and decided to stop at the next campsite without bothering to catch with our friends. Lo and behold, they too were at the next available flat "campable" area. We squeezed in and had a very pleasant evening with Mike, Walking Home and Small Change. (Pep Step and Dryfly, with their dog, Abbie, walked by on their way to the shelter). The cookies, so far from the trailhead, were a big hit, though I will be carrying about half on to the hostel tomorrow. Only after crawling into my tent did I get to read my mail today. It was great hearing from all sorts of friends and family. (Thanks Maggie, Michele, Lori, Mom and Dad). It's 10:00 - everyone else is asleep.
Day 49 - Laurel Creek Lodge - 8.9 miles - 403.7 total
The Chocolate Chip Cookie Convoy (Overpacked, No Moss, and I) continued today. Once again, the weather was beautiful, sunny and in the 70s. For a day with only 10 miles or so to go, we took a lot of breaks. To start with, we took 1.5 hours to get to Moreland Gap Shelter, where we stopped for a short break and left 45 minutes later. Then we walked a couple more miles to a tent site, where we just stopped for water - and left over an hour later. Then, we walked for less than a mile, and stopped once again for a break at a fire tower with a set of broken steps. As we continued, we came across Mike, who had just caught another snake. Finally, we walked down to Dennis Cove Rd, where we were going to walk to Laurel Creek Lodge.
As we approached the road, I joked about thumbing the .5 mile to the lodge, for our packs at least. We were surprised when the proprietor drove by just in time to take our packs for us (no room for the four of us in the car). A .5 mile later, we were drinking sodas, eating Dove Bars and taking showers in a very pleasant lodge area. The creek was a wonderfully cold stream to soak our feet. Surprisingly, I was able to get back online today here at the lodge to check my email. Lasagna for dinner, and popcorn for an evening snack.
Weird nature observance of the day: A moth found Overpacked's inside out, dirty sock to be the perfect place to lay eggs. The moth used its proboscis to arrange the eggs and would then lay a single egg. Then it would rearrange again, etc.
Day 50 - Braemar Castle, Hampton TN - 8.9 miles - 412.6 total
Woke up and enjoyed a great AYCE continental breakfast at Laurel Creek Lodge. Cold cereal, cinnamon buns, bagels and cream cheese, banana bread, juice and more!
As we packed up, light rain started falling on and off. This was the leading edge of the storm which had spawned powerful tornados and killed over 40 people. The forecast was for the storm to hold off until later in the day, but the current radar told otherwise. Thankfully, the rain never amounted to more than an occasional cooling drizzle on this otherwise warm day.
Shortly after starting out, we came to Laurel Falls, a large and beautiful waterfall. Then we had an interesting time walking along the river on a trail that was just above the water. Some rocks sloped down towards the water and were quite slippery. We were glad they were dry and the rain held off. Wet, they would have been more slippery, and none of us wanted to go for a swim. In this area, we started to pass some beautiful campsites. As great as the hostel was, we were kicking ourselves for not camping along the creek instead of staying at the hostel. If I were ever to hike in this area again, I would stay at the hostel if the weather were in question, but stay along the creek during nice weather.
Then there was a long climb up to Pond Flats, where we passed Mike, Walking Home and Small Change, slackpacking south for the day. Earlier in the day we had seen Cranberry, Siesta and Woodpecker going south as well. Today it seems that everyone is going the "wrong" way and slackpacking. We are going north, but also taking yet another easy day and ending up at another hostel where the camping involves private rooms, beds with linens, a moderately complete kitchen, and a comfortable sitting area. The "private" rooms upstairs were $15 and included all linens. The bunkroom downstairs is very rough, and somewhat disappointing after other recent hostels. The bunks are $10 and include no linens, but towels are available for $2. The sitting area there is also kind of gloomy. Stay upstairs and pay the extra $5 for a much more pleasant stay. It's worth it. The restaurant situation here is somewhat limited. A grill for a burger sufficed for lunch, and a trip to the grocery store for food to supplement what we had in our packs for dinner.
Beverly and Sutton Brown, the owners, paid us a visit with their children and their gray wolf/shepherd mix. The children were loud and out of control, as many 18 month olds and 4 1/2 year olds are. The "dog" was beautiful and quite calm, though distant around the kids. Beverly and Sutton are well aware of the capabilities of their pet, and keep close watch when the kids are around the dog.
Dessert, letter and journal writing rounded out the evening, accompanied by great classical music on the local public radio station.
Wildlife sighting: A box turtle on the trail. We gently moved it off the trail so it would not be trampled by other hikers.
Day 51 - Campsite between TN 91 & Double Spring Shelter (tent) - 22.4 miles - 435.0 total
To many thruhikers, the call of Damascus is strong. Today, under threat of severe weather, we set out (Overpacked, No Moss and myself) from Hampton, TN, having had a great breakfast of eggs with cheese, bagels, cantaloupe and bananas. We soon passed some beautiful campsites right on the lake. In good weather we would prefer the campsites instead of the hostel in town. Given the storm that came through last night, however, we were glad to be in the town.
We bypassed the Watuaga Lake Shelter and soon crossed the large, earthen Watauga Dam. As we crossed Watuaga Dam road, we were only a little surprised to see Small Change, Walking Home, Mike and Woodpecker starting their day. We would leapfrog with them all day. At the Vandeventer Shelter, I needed water so I volunteered to get it for others. Once again, I pick the worst place to need water. The source was far away and down 360 feet. Blech! Continuing on, we made great time to Iron Mountain Shelter, our destination for the day. There, instead of setting up camp, we just ate dinner. During the day, we realized we each wanted to get to Damascus before the post office closed on Saturday. The three of us were feeling great, so we decided to go another three miles or so after dinner.
Once we started, all of us were just so energized we just pushed on to a campsite, thus completing our first 20-miler. The trail here is excellent, so tomorrow we will probably just push the last 19 miles to town.
Day 52 - The Place, Damascus VA - 19.3 miles - 454.3 total
Up early to a beautiful day. On the trail by 7:30, with the usual cast of characters - Overpacked and No Moss. Hoping to make it to Damascus, we started pumping out the miles. We took a quick break at the picnic table at Low Gap (US 421). Continuing on, we startled three deer before arriving at Abingdon Gap Shelter, where we took a long lunch break. We left at 12:30 for the final 10 mile push to Damascus. We celebrated entering our fourth state with a long break on/at the State Line.
We should have taken a shorter break. It was only 3.5 miles to town and we made it two miles before the thunder started and another mile before the rain came. After a quick stop to put on our pack covers, we made it to town just as the rain became heavy. One block into town, we saw an ersatz shelter and took refuge from the rain. It seemed like a real trail shelter, but there was a "No Camping" sign posted. After 30 minutes or so, Archaeopteryx, who got drenched in the downpour, joined us in the shelter. It was not too long after that when the rain let up and we could walk the final few blocks into town and to The Place, a hostel associated with the Methodist Church across the street.
A quick shower in what is essentially a co-ed bathroom, and a few minutes to catch up with Sky, Raven, Candleman and LJ, people I had started with on Springer. Then it was off to Quincy's for salad and pizza. The atmosphere at the restaurant was party time. As people wandered in, we greeted everyone and found room at the table for them. Walking Home, Mike and Small Change joined us as they waited for Walking Home's daughter, who was driving down from Maine for a visit.
After a couple of hours at the restaurant, the drinkers and partiers went to Dots. I got myself a pint of Ben and Jerry's to take back to the hostel. There, I ordered up AAA to unlock M&M's borrowed truck. Then it was great to socialize with Pep Step, Archaeopteryx, Grizzly, Dry Fly, Badger and others in a very comfortable setting where I could spread out and sit on a soft couch. The weather, which was forecasted to be 30% chance of showers, has turned into steady to heavy rain with lots of thunder and lightning. Every time someone else walked through, dripping wet, the subject came up. We also observed that when on the trail, you just accept getting wet. When in town, even when wearing the same clothes, you try to run from place to place to avoid getting wet. Go figure.
A pleasant evening has turned into a late night. 12:46 is way past this hiker’s "normal" bedtime.
Day 53 - The Place, Damascus VA - 0.0 miles - 454.3 total
Up by 8:30 to get to the post office by 9:00. 45 minutes later, it's finally time for a breakfast of biscuits, egg and cheese at Cowboy's Exxon station (not too many choices here). At least they had a dining room in which to enjoy it. Then it was time to do laundry - blah blah blah, then more boring stuff, etc. etc.
Trail Days, a yearly festival, has already started even though most of the festivities will be next week. I got a great pulled pork sandwich from some folks with a canopy in front of their house. Then it was on to the outfitters for some dismaying news. My feet have now spread and lengthened to the point where a men's 12 is too short. Yikes! The men's 13s are still a bit long, and are much too wide on my low volume foot. My current boots are custom-made Limmers and they fit perfectly (once I had them stretched in Erwin!). They give me no blisters. Unfortunately, they are 2.5 pounds EACH! It's getting warmer and I will be sending some clothes home soon, so my pack will weigh less. Perhaps I will even look for a smaller pack to save some weight. If I do that, I was thinking some lighter weight trail shoes might be more comfortable on the trail. While my Limmers fit properly, they have no padding and the bottoms of my feet hurt quite a bit once I've taken the weight off of them for a break or over night. I'm planning on returning to Damascus for Trail Days, and there will be a podiatrist there that I can ask questions of. Perhaps he will have an idea or two.
A bit of shopping at the local supermarket rounded out my food bag for the next segment of the trail, and then we hung out on the comfortable couches at The Place. Dinner followed at Callies. Fried scallops and shrimp were a nice change of pace, but nothing special. Back at The Place, we had some neighbors who were hosting a movie night. They put their TV and VCR on their porch, put chairs out, and invited the thruhikers over. While they were waiting for the thruhikers to get there, they played a video of 1930s and 1940s scenes from around Damascus. Apparently some of the children shown still remember being filmed and still live in town. Then we settled in for the feature presentation, Primary Colors. It ended late so it was time for bed.
Day 54 - Lost Mountain Shelter - 15.8 miles - 470.1 total
Up early for one breakfast at Javalena's of fresh baked cinnamon rolls and a bagel, followed by another biscuit sandwich at Cowboys Exxon. Then Overpacked and I finally hit the trail after 10:00am. No Moss was held up in town, so we hoped to see him on the trail later in the day.
Today's trail followed or paralleled the Virginia Creeper trail for a few miles. The Virginia Creeper trail is an unpaved rail trail which follows a beautiful and raging creek/river. Being a rail trail, it is very flat and evenly graded. The AT, which paralleled it, went up and down over the shoulders of the mountain, but basically kept the trail in sight for awhile. Then we diverged to go over Straight Mountain and bypassed the shelter there. We stopped to talk to a random family and continued on.
Descending Straight Mountain, once again I almost stepped on a snake. This time it was a King (or Black) snake about 5.5 feet long. The longest I've seen to date. The trail eventually dumped out onto the Virginia Creeper trail, which we walked along for about a mile. On the way up to Lost Mountain we saw a five inch long millipede - yuck! We've seen many smaller ones, but this huge one really had our skin crawling.
A pleasant evening at the shelter followed with some interesting discussion of the Lewis and Clark expedition. It took a trip to the privy (first one we've seen in awhile) for me to see my first rabbit of the season.
Day 55 - Wise Shelter - 17.4 miles - 487.5 total
Woke up to another beautiful day in Virginia. Being a "shelter rat," I was ready to go long before Overpacked, so I left around 8:00 on my own, knowing he would catch up to me on the way up to White Mountain. As expected, he caught up to me around 10:00 and by 10:30 we were ready for our first break. We sat on wild strawberry plants near patches of beautiful columbine. We were joined by Pots and Curtis, who also enjoyed the view we found.
We should have continued. Just a short distance up the trail, we came to Buzzard Rock, an open grassy area punctuated by rocks, which would have made a great break point. (October 2001 note: We met a couple of hikers there, one of whom was Topsy Turvy, a hiker I keep meeting at hiker Gatherings. I had forgotten her name at the time but she remembered me and reminded me of the meeting.) Continuing on, we met Quercus and his girlfriend headed south. They tempted us by mentioning the available pizza just a short hitch from the next road. We decided to skip it, knowing that we wanted extra time at the upcoming Grayson Highlands State Park.
After passing Quercus, we passed a deserted campsite with a fire still smoldering. Overpacked and I put most of it out - and then he put the rest out by pissing on it. Such resourcefulness. After passing the road to the pizza, we sat in Elk Garden and had lunch. Pots joined us there.
Our next stop was the Thomas Knob Shelter, where we finally encountered the famous Grayson Highland ponies. There was just one mare with foal there, but they enjoyed some of the baby carrots I had carried for just such a purpose. Then we went on to Rhododendron Gap. A young woman approached us and told us she was lost. She was with a group of 18, camped somewhere nearby. We had just seen an encampment near the shelter just one mile back, so we pointed her in that direction, gave her some food and water, and continued on our way. Finally, we came across the main herd. The AT went right through a field with lots of mares and foals. Out came the cameras and the carrots. For feral ponies, they were obviously used to humans, and when approached with food, ate it out of our hands. The foals were shy and skittish, but very, very cute. One mare even had two. At one point, while trying to give each pony its fair share, I guess I started a little horse fight - teeth were bared, hooves flying and connecting with the other horse. I backed away for safety, but it was over quickly and then each got a carrot.
Overpacked, meanwhile, had my camera and was taking pictures. Cannot wait to see them. All good things must come to an end, and we had to get to our shelter. We slowly became aware of some yelling in the distance, and turned to see a camp on the hill we had just come from. The camp had been hidden from above, but we finally put two and two together and realized we had sent the woman to the wrong camp. There was not much we could do, as going back would put us in danger of not reaching our shelter area in time. We decided to just make sure anyone we passed was informed of the situation so they would know where to look if necessary. We told Chad, a thruhiker tenting along the way, and then we met up with a young man. It turned out he was part of the same "Vision Quest" group. We wrote down what we knew and sent him on his way. We then felt much better about the whole thing knowing the searchers would know where to look if necessary.
Shortly before reaching the shelter, we came across Baltimore Jack leading two other young women, who had gotten lost, back to their camp. We could not believe that a group leader could leave their charges so unprepared that three out of 18 people we knew of got lost. Yikes!
Once at the shelter, there was a strange mix of hikers going north, south and just sections. Some northbounders had hitched north and were walking their way to Trail Days in Damascus. Others, like me, were just going to see how far they could get and then hitch south. For once, my couscous dinner did not fill me up.
Day 56 - Raccoon Branch Shelter - 17.5 miles - 505.0 total
Another day of fast hiking. 16 miles in seven hours, including breaks. The terrain was fairly easy and the mountains here are much lower. We took a quick break at Old Orchard Shelter and then went over Iron Mountain at breakneck pace. We arrived at the trailhead to Troutdale just as some day hikers were getting back into their SUV. We engaged them in conversation and asked if they were headed in our direction. They gave us a ride into town and dropped us off at the post office. There, I combined my maildrop and some yummy goodies sent from my friend Maggie (Thanks, Maggie!) and just sent the whole thing back to Damascus. Then I sent some clothes I was no longer using back home. My pack feels quite a bit lighter. I'm not going to look forward to getting them back again.
A quick walk to the Trading Post for some great fried chicken and other "town" food. Then we hung out with Husky and Cyrus for awhile. They are about 10 miles back and hoping to catch us tomorrow. Cyrus, however, is limping on a front paw, so who knows? We decided to give it 15 minutes of just standing while hitching before walking. The man who owned the store eventually came out and offered us a ride "to the top of the mountain." Well, it was back to the trailhead but we still had to hike up to get to the shelter.
Cassiopeia, Walkabout and Freak Dog (?) are camping on the way in. Sky and Raven and a couple of southbound section hikers are in the shelter, and Meter and Flash are camped nearby. The chocolate covered hazelnuts were a welcome treat. Yum!
Day 57 - Partnership Shelter, Sugar Grove - 13.1 miles - 518.1 total
An easy day with no major climbs. I have to wonder if this is going to be typical of Virginia and the central states. Much of the trail was lined with poison ivy and poison oak. Overpacked (soon to be Sparta?) pointed out both to me, so at least I can now identify them on my own.
We arrived at the shelter at 2:30 with plenty of time to settle in, and then go to the post office to get my bounce box. A day hiker came out to the shelter, and after answering some typical questions, he offered to drive us into town and back. Turns out he had an hour to kill so it kept him occupied. These road accessible shelters have their advantages. Here, there are three restaurants that deliver, there's a pay phone, a clean latrine with toilet paper, a shower with warm water, and a visitor's center that, when open, has flush toilets and a soda machine.
Tonight, instead of typical hiker fare, we had ice cream (for a mid-afternoon snack), pizza and salad, watermelon, beer and soda, cookies and more. After dinner, a number of us got in line to use the phone. When one person took a while, we observed how quickly we could get back into that "impatient mode," when normally it would not matter on the trail.
Day 58 - Atkins/Damascus (tent) - 11.5 miles - 529.6 total
Slept late, knowing the visitor center would open at 8:00. Had my typical hiker breakfast (Poptarts) embellished with part of a watermelon brought in from town last night. It was great having fresh fruit in the morning. I also had a date at the visitor center with one of those porcelain seats with water in the bottom and a little metal handle on it. Flush toilets! Even though this shelter had the sweetest smelling outhouse on the trail, it was nice to get to a real toilet with a sink nearby.
Today's hike crossed so many roads (five) that it was easy to judge pace. After the first couple of very low mountains, the trail became very quick and started going around mountains and hills. We walked past the Settler's Museum, wondering if they carried "hiker" food. If they did not, we thought they should. After crossing a few bog bridges, we crossed a larger bridge, from which we saw an interesting snake. It was coiled up on some branches of a low bush over the water. It was about a foot long, brown, and had white, uneven stripes about an inch apart running across the body. (Turns out it was a Common Water Snake. Ref. June 8)
We crossed some railroad tracks just a few minutes before a long train came through. We were glad to have gotten across before the train came by. A short while later, we walked into Atkins and made our way to the Dairy Queen for ice cream before figuring out what to do next. We got there just in time. It started raining. Hard. Overpacked was getting a motel room for the night and continuing north the next day. He's skipping Trail Days in anticipation of a week off the trail later this month. So we said goodbye for now as he went off to the motel and I started to look for a ride. It was still raining on and off, so rather than head for the highway entrance, I just started asking people if they were heading south. The third person I asked looked at me and came right back, asking "Trail Days?" He ended up giving me a ride all the way into Damascus.
Once here, I quickly determined that there was no room at The Place, and set up my tent by the river in what was quickly turning into "Tent City." A cold shower in some convenient facilities and dinner rounded out most of the evening. The weather started turning rather quickly, so I turned my tent to handle the wind better. Then a lightning storm moved in so I dove into the tent to do some "housekeeping." I must have been tired, as I fell asleep around 9:30 and did not wake up until 1:00am.
Day 59 - Tent City, Trail Days, Damascus (tent) - 0.0 miles - 529.6 total
Trail Days was in full swing, and after the Rescue Squad's egg & sausage breakfast, I started my town visit with all of those typical town visit errands: post office, laundry, etc. While doing laundry, I ran into Rock Dancer '97, and a friend (Snoop?) at Cowboys. Once my laundry was done, we toured part of Damascus together, seeing where the parade staging ground was, and the island, dubbed tent suburbia by some staying there. It was only then that I realized how close the pool was to the place. It was noon when I heard that appointments were necessary for the Fit System Clinic, so I quickly signed up for a 1:30 appointment, and went back to my tent to finally drop off the laundry I had carried around town all morning. Back at my tent, I met up with Tom McGinness and Ram Bunny, people I know from the AT-L mailing list, and immediately started catching up on news since January's Ruck. I dragged Tom to Javalina's so I could get something in my stomach before getting my feet analyzed.
Then, it was off to the Fit System Clinic. There, they determined that my feet without weight on them were more than two sized smaller than my feet with weight. After other measurements, they recommended custom insoles. I could already tell that this would be an interesting experience. Josiah, the guy analyzing my feet, had to consult with Phil Oren, the apparent foot guru, a number of times. I made an appointment for the following morning to get the insoles made, have my boots adjusted as necessary, and possibly find a new, lighter pair of boots.
Lynn Wheldon's workshop on "Lightweight Backpacking" was disappointing. He showed too many videos that did not really help to get the point across, and only to some interesting options when his time was up and he started eating into Earl Shaffer's time. Then Earl Shaffer came on, mostly to show the video of the media coverage he had on his '98 hike. He also covered his usual complaints about the current condition of the trail.
Dinner followed ??? and then a gathering of email list members at 9:00 for the showing of Mike Henderson's AT slideshow. Hung out until 1:30am before finally getting sleep.
Day 60 - Tent City, Trail Days, Damascus (tent) - 0.0 miles - 529.6 total
Up early for AYCE pancakes for $2.50. Husky, Felix, PokeyHontas and other net folks had the same idea. Then I made my way back to the Fit System Clinic to have my custom insoles made. Having the insoles made was the quick part. That only took 30 minutes. I was at the Clinic for 2 1/2 hours, though. They measured my foot volume and then I had my Limmers checked to see if they would work with my new insoles. With one slight alteration the fit was tight but manageable. Then I talked with Bob Love, the Asolo guy, to see if he could recommend a boot for my feet that would be significantly lighter than my five lb. pair of Limmers. He ended up suggesting a pair of Pathfinders, one of last year’s boots with lower volume than this year's similar model. He made a call for me and found a pair at an outfitter in Blacksburg, a long hitch from the upcoming town of Pearisburg. He gave me all of the relevant information I would need to have them reserve the boots for me - his name, the managers name at the store, the phone number, model name and even a restaurant recommendation.
Then I had to send off my bounce boxes and extra gear to go home and get lunch before the Hikers Parade. By 2:30, we had all amassed, signed our Class of 1999 Banner (each year had their own) and were following police cars, bagpipes, etc. through town. As tradition would have it, the townspeople bombarded us with water balloons, and we, of course, retaliated. The parade ended in the town park. There, I saw Tom, and together we toured the vendors, and then picked a vendor to buy lunch from. I got a plate of rice, veggies and alligator, he a wrap with chicken. Walking back towards tent city, we noticed, but did not give much thought to, a water fight happening at the river. Moving on, we stopped to talk with Pep Step. Imagine my surprise when I all of a sudden found myself, not to mention my dinner and camera, drenched. Angry (or perhaps livid would be more appropriate) I turned to see Grizzly grinning ear to ear. I just threw my now ruined dinner at him and walked away, hoping my camera was not ruined.
Tom and I had been heading for a 4:00 meeting of the list folks and now I had to go take a shower, change, and dry my clothes in just about 10 minutes. Argh! I finally met up with the listers and we got a friendly vendor to take about ten pictures of us, each with a different camera. I spent the rest of the day at the Hiker's Talent Show, where a thruhiker with a borrowed mountain bike stole the show (and won the contest) with his tricks. Then it was off to the overcrowded auditorium for Earl Shaffer's slide show of his '48 hike. Dinner with The Redhead, Ram Bunny, Datto, Give Me Chocolate, Snail No More '96, and Solar Bear at the very crowded Quincy’s followed.
Finally, after this very full day, we made our way to the bonfire. A man tenting near the fire kindly allowed us to use a couple of chairs. Solar Bear gave foot rubs (Thanks, Solar Bear!) and we generally just kept each other company for hours. The Redhead, Solar Bear, Tom McGinnis and others were all up late. Some of us never went to sleep. Between 4:00am and 5:00am, there was some sort of fight between two guys. The police happened to be there and arrested one. The other ran, but not too far, and taunted the officer, who then called for help. Within an hour, still resisting, the second man was arrested.
Day 61 - Tent City, Trail Days, Damascus (tent) - 0.0 miles - 529.6 total
Baltimore Jack, Tom, The Redhead and myself talked until dawn, and finally Tom and I went to Cowboys in search of food. With others, we waited for the place to open, and then rushed in for the warm breakfast. Back at Tent City, the Indiana crowd was getting ready to leave, so I saw them off and then tried to get some sleep. After 45 minutes, I was boiling in my tent, so I gave up and made my way back to the Town Park. There I mailed some postcards with a special cancellation, and found the chiropractor for a free, if incomplete, adjustment. Crack! Crack!
In town, on the way to Cowboys, I met Ram Bunny, who joined me as I devoured a pint of Ben and Jerry’s (go buy stock now - I will be eating a lot more of it this summer). We went into Quincy's so she could get a beer, and lo and behold, KC and Amazon are there. We spent the next couple of hours catching up, and then Leapfrog and friends joined us for a few more hours. We ended up being there from 5:00 to 10:00pm!!!
Leapfrog and I made arrangements for the following morning as far as a ride to Atkins. What a saviour. I know the hitch might have been easy, but it's so much nicer riding with friends.
Day 62 - Knot Maul Branch Shelter - 14.3 miles - 543.9 total
Javalina's was closed this morning, so Cowboys Exxon was it for breakfast again. Then on to The Place for a phone call to my parents, and back to Tent City (now Tent Ghost Town) to pack up. Met Leapfrog and daughter for a ride back to Atkins (Thank you both!!) for one last Blizzard before hitting the trail.
Today I started with my new insoles in the boots. They make my boots fit funny, but they are not uncomfortable. After a couple of hours the insoles came out and I was surprised how much my feet hurt almost immediately upon starting back on the trail. The pain stopped soon enough, except when going down hill. The trail went over a couple of good sized hills, but I can no longer really call them mountains. We went through rolling pastures with cows. The far ridge was tree covered, but the pastures went most of the way to the top. It reminded me a bit of Switzerland. Saw a small snake - just a garter snake. There are also a multitude of butterflies. The flowers today were also amazing.
I walked alone for most of the day for the first time in a couple of weeks. I enjoyed most of the day and did not feel at all like I had to struggle to make the miles. Easier terrain and perhaps some of the consistency from hiking with others played a part there. It will be interesting to see who I meet along the trail now. With Trail Days, all of the people have gotten jumbled up and there are all new people out there. Small Change sang Amazing Grace.
Day 63 - Jenkins Shelter (tent) - 18.8 miles - 562.7 total
Long hot day with one four mile climb, but only 2,000' elevation gain. Big ridge walk today with lots of rocks - memories of New Hampshire. Saw a six foot black snake and a tiny snake about a foot long, brown, with an orange ring around the neck. It was actually Cyrus, Husky's dog, who found the snake. Late into the shelter, which was full, and surprisingly, caught up with Raven, Sky, Candleman, and LJ once again. Finished dinner and clean up just before the rain. Thunder had been threatening since 5:00pm.
Day 64 - Helveys Mill Shelter - 14.3 miles - 577.0 total
Started the day packing a wet tent, but at least it had stopped raining. The first climb of the day was up the first of three Brushy Mountains in the next 21 miles. Then it was down Little Wolf Creek with 12 stream crossings. Watching Mike and Small Change cross the stream made me glad to have hiking poles. The stream crossing barely slowed me down. Thankfully last night's rain was not heavy enough to affect the water level.
A quick break at Laurel Creek (VA 615) and then a longer, but fast and easy, walk over the second Brushy Mountain to Bland. A typical haphazard day there bouncing two boxes ahead and mailing film. Dinner at the gas station/diner in town, and a hitch out with a local fire fighter. Then a steep climb up to the shelter, which was 1/4 mile off the trail, with water yet another long haul down the hill.
Day 65 - Trent's at VA 606 (tent) - 16.3 miles - 593.3 total
Up early to a spectacular sunrise shining right in my tent. Standing up for the first time each morning has gotten very painful. It takes me a minute or two just to put all of my weight on my feet, and then it takes a couple more minutes of just teetering there until I can take a step or two. This hiker’s hobble or thruhiker's shuffle is pretty typical of many of us. By the time I've walked 15 minutes or so, my feet are usually feeling much better and are no longer taking all of my concentration.
I took a long break at Jenny's Knob Shelter for lunch where some baby phoebes were chirping under the eaves. Then a quick six miles, much of it with Bipolar Disorder and the end with Mayo as well. Just before the road, we went through some very tall grass and then came to a beautiful suspension bridge. At the road, we got off trail to go to Trent's .3 miles away. There we had pizza and sodas and spent $2.00 each to tent there and, more importantly, get a shower. We were eventually joined by PepStep, Dryfly, Redneck and Husky. We were in the campground, which was dominated by RV's that loaded mostly deserted. One was occupied, but for most part, all were empty.
We were "bothered" by two little loud beagle puppies. The two thruhiking dogs could not be bothered much. We could see cows in a pasture nearby, horses in the paddock and at sunset, a deer came out of the woods to feed.
Day 66 - Woodshole Hostel - 13.3 miles - 606.6 total
Up early in an attempt to hike 20 miles today. Started with Poptarts for breakfast and then hit the store for an egg and cheese biscuit. Walked over a PUD (Ed. note - Pointless up and down) that brought us very close to Trent's once again, and then turned in the direction of Dismal Falls. I was just as surprised as the three cows I then startled off the trail. They trotted off the trail and then turned to give me a baleful gaze.
Walking up the hill, I could hear the falls getting closer then receding. I concluded that I had missed the turnoff and decided it was just as well, as I did not really have time for the detour. Then I came to the turnoff. I did not turn, having already decided to skip it. Pep Step caught up with me and we ended up walking together for the better part of the day. Pep Step usually walks much faster than me, but we have hit some very flat and easy terrain, where I can pick up the pace. At one point, we were startled by the buzz of a rattlesnake. Pep Step grabbed Abby, her dog, to keep Abby from getting too curious, and I quickly realized that it was just a Black snake bluffing by rattling its tail in the leaves. Cool!
We stopped periodically to wait for Dry Fly, Pep Step's husband, to catch up. At the Wapiti Shelter, we ran into a volunteer crew digging a new privy, and offering trail magic in the form of apples and bananas.
At the top of the hill after Wapiti, we stopped for lunch and lamented the fact that we could not stay at Woodshole and experience Tilley's breakfast. We decided to try and see if we could get a ride from Tilley to the post office before it closes either today or tomorrow. When we got here, we heard that the post office will hand out mail drops after hours if you just knock on the door. So we stayed. Woodshole has honor system sodas and candy for 50 cents each, a table and light, a big porch with chairs to hang out, and a lawn for spreading out wet gear to dry in the sun. There is a solar heated shower, an outhouse decorated with country kitsch, and running water from the hose out back. Rent here is finding a rock and adding it to the stone wall, or cutting down two briar bushes.
Dinner was prepared at a table on the back lawn and consumed while standing, talking with Tilley and others. Journal writing and socializing rounded out the rest of the evening.
Day 67 - Church of the Holy Family Hostel, Pearisburg - 10.0 miles - 616.6 total
Marvelous breakfast of eggs, sausage, grits and biscuits at Woodshole. Then it was off to Pearisburg. The walk started quickly, and we did not even pause much when we walked past Doc's Knob Shelter. Then it started raining on and off, but as long as I kept moving, I stayed warm. Even when it was not raining, I stayed wet, as the bushes along the trail were soaked. The last two miles into town were a steep descent of 2000'. With wet mud and wet rocks, it was slow going. Along the way, there was a large tower (transformer, maybe?) in the middle of the forest. It seemed unusual because most other towers are in strips of land, kept clear of trees and other large brush.
As I walked onto the first road into town, a car pulled up and let off another hiker, and asked if I needed a ride. What timing! He let me off at the post office, where I collected four boxes and a postcard. Two boxes were ones I had bounced, and two were for my mail drop. I combined them into two boxes, changed into sandals, and headed for the hostel. I soon realized that I passed the Laundromat on the way, so I stopped to do laundry. Then, as I was slowly walking towards the hostel, someone in a pick up passed me, and then stopped, backed up, and asked if I was headed for the hostel. I was not even hitching! I'm glad I got that ride, as it was kind of far and up a big hill.
Once there, I ran into Goody, Bucksnort and M&M. I quickly picked a bunk, showered, changed and organized my footgear for the trip to the outfitters, 25 miles away in Blacksburg. Walking back down the hill was not too bad, but I wondered if I would get a ride without my backpack. Once back at the main drag, business route 460, I put my bag down, held up my "Blacksburg" sign, and stuck my thumb out. Not five minutes later, I was picked up by a couple on their way to visit their daughter. This couple, more than any other people I've met so far, reminded me of my parents in a way. They seemed more like the type to avoid hitch hikers, and to warn their children not to hitchhike or pick up hitchhikers, but then they like thruhikers, and know the "look," so they pick us up whenever possible. Most hitches are local and short, and I rarely have time to talk with the people picking me up. To all those whose names I have not gotten, thank you. To Burt and Nancy Noble, with whom I passed an enjoyable half hour ride, Thank you, too. All of the kindness you've shown to hikers is appreciated so much. The value of a ride, whether .25 miles, 2.5 or 25 miles, while perhaps an easy gesture on your part, is immeasurable to a hiker with no car and tired feet or limited time.
At the outfitters, I decided the 11.5 was too small and tried the 12. They seemed to fit, so I shopped for some other stuff while wearing the boots. I found a pair of Ultimax/Coolmax socks to replace my last pair of threadbare Thorlos, and a nylon Sierra Designs rain jacket that packs small and light to replace my heavy and bulky Gore-Tex jacket. I then decided to buy the boots. They are probably about two pounds lighter for the pair than my Limmers. I just hope they hold my feet while going down hills.
Hitching back to Pearisburg took somewhat longer, and two rides. The first was just someone willing to take me to a better intersection with less "local" traffic. It took another 15 minutes or so before I got picked up by someone who would take me most of the way. By the time we got to where he had intended to drop me off, he decided to just take me back to town. Once again, a very nice gesture that was much appreciated. He dropped me off at Walmart, where I could do some food shopping on the way back to the hostel. The walk back from the hostel was either 1.5 miles on roads or .5 mile on a dirt road. I tried the latter, and had a very pleasant walk with a beautiful sunset in front of me.
I then passed the rest of the evening talking with Goody and Bucksnort.
Day 68 - Springs (tent) - 4.5 miles - 621.1 total
Spent (wasted?) the morning figuring out mail drops and bounce boxes. This requires thought which my mind now seems somewhat incapable of handling. What should only take .5 hour of concentrated thought now usually takes hours. Only then can I call my sister, who is supporting me, to give her updates on maildrop contents.
I then caught a ride with the hostel caretaker to where I had gotten off the trail yesterday, and slacked the .5 mile to the next trailhead, where there was some preannounced trail magic in progress. Some friends of Hyper's from the Improv world had goodies for the hikers. Yum! and Thanks!
Lunch at Dairy Queen left me too stuffed to eat ice-cream (can you believe it?) and then a slow walk with no ride back to the hostel. There, I arranged to have my boxes mailed tomorrow, and caught a ride back to the trailhead. I started walking today at 5:50, but had to stop at the store for bagels, so I got back on the trail at 6:30 with four miles yet to hike.
My entire evening's hike was dominated by the whine of the local Celanese Plant. Every now and then, train whistles would blow and I realized I would be camping within earshot of the plant. As I walked, I scared a number of deer, but only caught sight of one. I also passed an interesting toad or frog. The shape of the body was very arrow like, it was tan and had some black on it. I was in too much of a rush to be sure to beat sunset to really study it.
I arrived at the campsite, set up my tent and found the spring, which was slow and unappealing. I will try to make it to the next source in the morning. A number of people have asked if I had camped alone yet. Well, tonight is the first time while on the thruhike, but not my first time alone while backpacking. I find that with fewer people around, I am more in tune with the forest. With no conversation offering a distraction, I listen more to the June bug buzzing against my tent, or the movement of what is likely a deer in the not so distant woods. I wonder if I will have the opportunity to see it close up. Maybe it will visit the camp overnight.
There is a threat of rain tonight, so I weighed the pros and cons and decided to keep my food in my tent with me. Bears are not an issue here, and if the Barred Owl that just started hooting nearby has any say, mice will not be an issue here either. Of course, that Barred Owl may be the reason I get no sleep at night. Hooo Hooo Hoo Hooooo! It must be close, as it's very loud.
Day 69 - Bailey Gap Shelter - 19.0 miles - 640.1 total
Up early, trying to keep from having my sleeping bag touch the condensation on the inside walls of my tent. It had rained overnight, and there was still a lot of water blowing off trees. Had some gorp for breakfast in the tent, packed up, and started hiking by 7:30. With my new boots, I seem to be flying. I covered the 2.8 miles to the Rice Field Shelter in less than an hour. Moving on, I came to a campsite and stopped to wake up Husky in his tent, but then a woman replied. Oops! Who could THAT be? I just moved on. I got some water at the nearby spring and then saw another Peak One tent Cyrus's leash and bowl, so I knew it was the right one this time. I talked to Husky a bit and moved on.
Walked over some grassy areas and stopped to dry the tent and eat some food. I had been walking 3.5 hours on just some gorp. Today's walk was mostly level, but the drop to the shelter was well switchbacked and easy on the toes. Once again, I made it to the shelter in great time. A look at my feet showed no hotspots, but there are pressure points that feel bruised. I hope those amount to nothing. I ate dinner at 3:00 and then moved on four more miles to Bailey's Gap, where I am spending the evening.
Here, I caught up with Walking Home, whom I had not seen in ages, and inquired about Whittler and Trail Trotter, who had been leaving me messages in the registers. That's when I found out I had passed them this morning. Putting two and two together, we had a good laugh when we realized that Trail Trotter was the woman who’s voice answered from the first tent I had disturbed while looking for Husky. I hadn’t known it but Whittler and Trail Trotter had switched tents to a lighter tent, the same Peak 1 tent Husky uses. Then Husky walks up and lets us know that Whittler and Trail Trotter are right behind him. Tonight's shelter experience has been one of very pleasant reunions.
Wildlife seen today - lots of toads on the trail after the rain. A newt. A rabbit.
Day 70 - Laurel Creek Shelter - 14.3 miles - 654.4 total
Rocks were the order of the morning. For the first three miles or so, it was slow going with lots of rocks out to twist the ankles of the unwary hiker. Passed Husky about two miles out and gave him my usual "Good Morning" as I walked by. Moving along, I passed Salt Sulphur Turnpike (VA 613) where Blue and friend were getting out of a truck to start their hike. Then it was a long 4.8 miles to War Spur Shelter, as trail relocations made it longer than five miles.
Caught up with the early gang there during lunch. Watched them go and was there when the latecomers came in. Had a quick climb out of the shelter, and then a slow descent with boots tied too tight in an effort to keep my heels back and my toes from getting crushed. The descent looked hard on the elevation profile, but ended up being shorter and more manageable than I had expected. My feet were thankful. It was great getting to the shelter at 4:00. A nice early dinner and plenty of time to write with natural light. Peaceful Warrior is heading to town tomorrow, so has volunteered to take out our garbage. It will be nice to get rid of the smelly kippers can.
There is a whole new crowd of people around now: Peaceful Warrior, Dogbone, Walking Home, Bucksnort, Tahoe, Grace's Son, Too Hot to Handle, Husky and ?. The "long green tunnel" has begun. For days now, there have been no views except at "view points." The Azaleas have been blooming in five colors. The Mountain Laurels are starting to bloom, too.
Day 71 - Audie Murphy Monument (tent)- 17.4 miles - 671.8 total
After a short descent from the shelter, I arrived at the pastureland of the farms along Sinking Creek Valley. There I had to cross the valley, walking through cow pastures, over electric fences (enough to deter the cows but only a mild annoyance to us humans), and over many stiles. I saw a beautiful deer bound across my field of vision. I slowed to try to see if there were more where it came from, or if I could see where it stopped. Unfortunately, it was gone.
Too Hot To Handle joined me at the top of the next mountain, where we ran into many rock piles. They looked too well-meticulously built to just be piles, but they seemed too solid for anything else. They slightly resembled beehive ovens, but I am sure they were not.
We came to some long rocky ledges at a slant that made me very glad we had a dry day to cross them. At one point, Walking Home and Bucksnort got a bit ahead. I rounded a corner and looked up on some rocks and thought I saw a deer just a few feet away. Then I saw Walking Home reaching for the animal and realized it was a goat. There were four adult goats (one billy) and a tiny little baby goat. A couple of the adult goats came right up to us to lick the salt off of our skin. I'm hoping the pictures come out. Then a quick descent to Niday Shelter. Had my hot meal there and took a break for 1.5 hours, then continued for five miles to the Audie Murphy monument, located near where his plane crashed on May 28th, 1971. We noticed the date and how close we were to being here on the anniversary of his death. Audie Murphy was the most decorated World War II veteran and starred in many movies, mostly westerns.
Tenting here are Bucksnort, Trail Trotter, Too Hot To Handle, Whittler, Husky, Walking Home, Dogbone and Tahoe. Other interesting things of note today. Patches of Mountain Laurel are in full bloom. There was a fast moving lizard on the trail to the Niday Shelter. A number of brooks with large footbridges were completely dry.
Day 72 - General Store, Catawba (tent) - 16.7 miles - 688.5 total
After a 3:30am wakeup when a couple of night hikers (Angus and Squeak) blew through our camp, I tossed and turned until I heard others stirring, and finally started breaking camp at 5:55. For me, when I'm tenting, that means breakfast in bed (pop tarts) while I'm pulling all of my other gear together. By the time I get out of my tent, most of my gear is in my backpack and I'm dressed and ready to go. I just have to pull my hiking poles out of the tent, pull up my tent stakes and stuff my tent in it's bag. This morning, I was hiking by 6:40 in anticipation of a 17 mile day and either a visit with a friend from home or a delicious dinner at the Homeplace - or both.
A whole group of us arrived at Trout Creek (VA 620) at the same time, and were very pleasantly surprised to see some trail magic in the form of sodas cooling in the stream. (Fanny Pack, perhaps? Thank you, whoever.) The climb up to Dragon's Tooth was amazingly rough, lots of big rocks and steep climbs with few switchbacks. The ridgeline was a series of rocky caps with lots of small descents. Mostly, though, you could just hike along and figure out where to go fairly easily. It took a long time to get to the Dragon's Tooth, but once there it was worth it. The Dragon's Tooth is a large rocky outcropping 200 feet high. The top from one side is quite dramatic, as it leans over empty air. From the other side, though, it is a rock scramble that does require hands and climbing skills, but is not technical.
I climbed through the hole leading up to the tooth and was followed by about eight women dressed like Mennonites. It turns out they were German Baptists (I think that is what they said) but obviously they dress similarly. They climbed beyond me on to the top of the pinnacle I was too scared to climb, and it looked liked a great picture. When I asked if could take their picture, they enthusiastically agreed and handed me their cameras too. I ended up taking about six different pictures.
I ate lunch with Whittler and Trail Trotter, but did not wait until they finished their warm lunch. I soon wished that I had waited. The trail down was steep, rocky, full of boulders, and very ledgy. It required a lot of scrambling and butt sliding to get down. I can’t believe that some of the German Baptists had climbed in Keds. I was joined by Bucksnort just as we finished the worst of it, and we continued together.
Just before we got to the next road crossing, we came across yet more trail magic. This time Southpaw (Jeff Williams?) left a cooler with soda, PB&J, Hostess Cakes, candy, etc. The treats were just what we needed to change our mood after a much longer than expected descent off the mountain. After crossing the road, we climbed another hill and got lost on the way down. The trail took a turn to the right and we went straight. We realized we were off the trail so just went to the road, and with some help from the woman at the Crosstrails B&B, we refound the trail and made our way over the last four miles to the trailhead, just one mile from Catawba. There, we found a couple of police trying to get into a car. They were looking for a supposed suicide note and were wondering if we had ever seen the man who had hiked into the mountains.
We said goodbye to Walking Home and Dogbone, who were taking a break at the trailhead before continuing on to the next shelter. I turned to walk into town and realized that hitching on this fast, twisting road without turnoffs would not be a good idea. I hoped someone would offer a ride, but I ended up walking all the way to town. There I found a crowd returning from the Homeplace restaurant, with nothing but rave reviews and Buddha Bellies (they were all stuffed and rubbing their stomachs). I made some phone calls to see if my friend had left any messages for me - found none - so made my way to dinner. I joined Bucksnort and had great fried chicken, pulled pork, coleslaw, apples, red beans, green beans, gravy, biscuits and more. To top it off, they had cherry cobbler with ice cream, but not liking anything other than fresh cherries, I asked for just ice cream and got a huge bowl of vanilla ice cream. Hung out at the store after dinner, wrote in my journal, finally got in touch with Betsy, who was in Blacksburg (not far away) and made plans for the morning.
Day 73 - Campbell Shelter - 4.2 miles - 692.7 total
Woke up early, but killed time, knowing that my friend Betsy would be by around 10:00. Had a breakfast sandwich at the General Store to start the day, then went to the post office across the street with Husky, knowing that I would need help getting everything back to the camping area at the store. Sure enough, I had five boxes, one packet, one letter and one postcard. Three of the boxes were bounce boxes, one some yummy brownies from Mom (thanks, Mom!) and one regular maildrop. Then there was also some Ghirardelli chocolate from a friend who hates chocolate (go figure, but thanks, David). It's so much fun to receive mail on the trail. Letters from friends with just general information about what's going on in town, and their lives, are particularly special.
Then my friend Betsy showed up a bit early, so I packed up, changed into COTTON clothing that she had brought for me from my sister's place, and then jumped in the truck to head to Blacksburg. On the way out of town, we gave Husky a ride to the trailhead, then continued on our way. As it turns out, Betsy had grown up in Blacksburg. She was visiting old friends in town who had kindly offered to let me shower there. We toured the town so I could see where Betsy lived, went to school, etc. and then made our way to a Laundromat, conveniently located next to a Chinese restaurant. Lunch and laundry completed at the same time, I then sorted food for the next leg and started to put together some things for Betsy to bring back to Boston. Then we made a trip to get ice cream and a couple of unsuccessful stops to see if I could find some appropriate bike shorts for hiking. (Bike shorts prevent chafing.)
Finally it was time to go back to Betsy's friends, the Michelsons (sp?), where I had the most spectacular shower of my entire thruhike to date. After six days without a shower, I really needed it. (Thank you Barb and Don!!) Oh yeah, on the way to the Michelson's, we went down one road to see a view and were stopped by the construction of a house. It was being delivered in pieces on large flatbed trucks, and though only the foundation had been in place the day before, the entire house was nearly completed when we were there. Even the doors and windows were in place during assembly.
After my shower and some quick thanks, we were off to the post office to mail my bounce boxes and journal pages, and then Betsy drove me back to Catawba. I had a few too many things to do to go directly to the trailhead, so she left me at the store and went on her way. I did some shopping and spent a couple of hours, it seemed, making phone calls before finally repacking my bag. At 7:00, I was ready to leave, and caught a ride to the trailhead with a woman who stopped at the store for pizza. I hiked the two miles to Catawba Mountain Shelter by 8:00. I had planned to meet Husky here but he had already moved on. Then Angus planted the idea to catch sunset at McAfee's Knob. 1.4 miles and just 30 minutes later, we just missed the sunset, but took the requisite pictures, hoping there was enough light. Also caught up with Husky who had the same idea. This knob has an amazing overhang, and it looks like it would be so easy to fall in the pictures we were taking. Finally a quick .6 mile to the next shelter to spend the night.
Day 74 - Power Lines after Angel's Gap (no tent) - 10.5 miles - 703.0 total
Awoke to a beautiful sunrise and thought about going back up to McAfee Knob, but decided to sleep in instead. Had a slow morning and got to the next shelter by 11:30 or so, where I took a six hour break. I had lunch, talked with some hikers going through, took a nap, ate dinner, and then walked another five miles or so with Husky. We are camping under some high voltage power lines. I've decided to forgo my tent and just sleep under the full moon, that is, if the noisy whippoorwill that just started calling ever decides to be quiet. Even though the long green tunnel has started, and we no longer have views along the way, there are many viewpoints along the ridges. Today, we walked past Tinker Cliffs, which gave us great views of the valley below and a huge cement or concrete plant.
Day 75 - Fullhart Knob Shelter - 10.0 miles - 713.1 total
Awoke to the morning sun warming my sleeping bag. Had a lazy morning while waiting for Husky to finish his morning routine (he's usually a very late starter). Today we compromised and got going around 8:30. We got to town by 11:00 or so and Husky was dismayed to find his maildrop had not been forwarded to the Best Western as directed. This normally would have meant that he would have to stay in town until he could go to the post office on Tuesday (Monday is a holiday) but luckily he thought to check the EconoLodge across the street, and sure enough, it had been delivered there by mistake.
We ran into a bunch of hikers there who were mostly headed out, but Trail Trotter and Whittler were staying another day. We ended up using their room as a base and did laundry, took showers and stored our stuff there while we went to lunch. Husky, having craved pizza for days, went to the Pizza Hut. I, having craved a salad, went to the Western Sizzlin' restaurant. It would have been nice to have company over lunch, but I guess a craving is a craving. We hung out with Trail Trotter and Whittler for the rest of the afternoon, and finally decided to hike the five miles to the next shelter. Trail Trotter and Whittler’s offer to stay on their floor had been very tempting, though. The temperature was in the 80s today, which made it difficult to hike. It makes me wonder how we're going to deal with the heat and humidity of the summer. We finally got on our way at 5:20, and quickly ran into a stile that required Husky to take his pack off to lift Cyrus over the fence. Later on, when we came to the next stile, there was barbed wire on the fence, which made lifting Cyrus over impossible. Thankfully, we had noticed an open gate, so Husky and Cyrus made a detour through that after I checked to make sure the trail dumped onto the same road.
The next section of trail was very exposed, so we took a break in a hay field for a few minutes, and cut it short when my allergies really started to kick in. Thankfully, the symptoms dissipated as soon as we entered the woods. Then it was a hot climb up to the shelter with just one small break. Approaching the shelter, we walked through some of the thickest vegetation we've seen yet. It is easy to see how the trail can get overgrown very quickly around here. We had been warned that this section of trail was dry, and sure enough, there was no water at the shelter. Hopefully we brought enough to get us to the next source.
Met a WATL member on the trail today (Hi Ruth). Did not see Peggy at the shelter.
Day 76 - Bobblets Gap Shelter - 13.5 miles - 726.6 total
Up and out by 7:30 today, in an effort to put in some miles before the full heat of the day hits. Got the three miles to the road in one hour and got delayed there talking with a southbounder and a section hiker. There's a shortage of water in the area, so I got enough information to plan the next couple of days. There was water nearby, so I camelled up on the water I had brought from town and got enough to get past the next shelter. At Wilson Creek Shelter, I took a two hour break for lunch. While I was there, Brother Eagle and Sister Hawk came by to cut a tree away from the trail to the creek. The first time I had seen them, they were digging a new latrine at the Wapiti Shelter. They also provided trail magic in the form of oranges, bananas, corn and more.
I finally moved on at 12:45 and was sort of surprised when I came to the road one hour later. This was my first glimpse of the Blue Ridge Parkway. We did not cross the road, but rather continued on the trail as it paralleled the road. One mile later, we crossed the road for the first time. During the second road crossing, I lucked into some trail magic. On man, who was about to get in the car with his family, saw me cross the road and called out to me. "Was I a thruhiker? When did I start? Was I going to Maine?" Etc. Then the key questions started - "Was I thirsty? Would I like something to eat? I've got nice cold Gatorade…"
I was happy to have the Gatorade and talked with the family for awhile. Then after they left, while I was finishing the Gatorade, some other people started asking me questions. One woman, who overheard me talking, came up to me as I was about to continue. She asked me when the last time I had a shower and slept in a bed was. I had a shower yesterday, but I could not remember the last time I had slept in a bed. Erwin, perhaps? She was offering to bring me to her place for the night and then back in the morning. It was tempting, but with the short days I had been doing, I did not want to lose any more time. Reluctantly I declined, and continued on the way to Bobblets Gap Shelter.
During the day, I had managed to get a number of pictures that had eluded me so far. The Rhododendron tunnel while in full bloom, Mountain Laurel and Rhododendron together, a butterfly, and a skink with a red head. The shelter was pretty buggy, but the last place to get water for nine miles. Here, I met Uno, Vertigo, Yellow Blaze and ?, as well as Squeak and Husky. It's not yet 9pm, and most have turned in, so maybe I will be able to get an even earlier start tomorrow.
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