Week 6: Days 39-43; Damascus to Pearisburg, VA

Day 39

I grabbed a hot morning shower in anticipation of it being awhile before I got another. I split a bunch of bacon, eggs, and toast to make breakfast sandwiches with my group. As I was eating it, I realized I don’t even cook this nicely for breakfast when at home. After breakfast, we packed up and marched back through town towards the trail.

I got my iPod in the mail so I decided to try it out while hiking (I got it to listen to at night). When I’m not paying attention to the woods or the signals of my body, I fly down trail. I ended up passing over a dozen people especially on the uphill portions. Justin Timberlake’s got a feeling, and it’s not conducive to a slow pace.

Today I had my first fall. With the rain soaking the trail, I slipped on one of the billion tree roots I cross daily. I did the splits and crashed down on my knee. It stung for the remainder of the day, but I was otherwise fortunate and emerged unscathed. I’m surprised I’ve made it 500 miles without going down.

After arriving at the shelter, I found it to be overcrowded, so I decided to push the extra 1.5 miles down trail to join Minnesota at the campsite. The campsite was eerie at best. I walked out of a think Rhododendron grove to a large and open stand of black pines.

The push helped, as we needed to do a slightly longer day tomorrow since tenting isn’t allowed in the Grayson Highlands Park. Rampage and I leapfrogged a bit today, but she ended up leaving me in the dust. Franklinstein and Flyballz joined us at the campsite. It’s great to be back on trail, but it sounds like we may be in for a cold and wet night.

Today we walked 17.6 miles, now totaling 495.3 miles.

Day 40

I cannot express how much easier and more restful it is to sleep in the woods. It’s almost as if our bodies were designed to be in sync with nature. A lot of rain is forecast for today starting shortly after noon, so I packed and took off as quickly as possible. The morning fog cleared, and it started to warm a bit making great hiking weather. After climbing out of the woods, I walked up the bald. I often hike with my head down, focused on the trail in front of me so I don’t trip–but I happened to look up and realized the view was amazing. I walked to the top of the bald to Buzzard Rock and snapped a few pictures during my morning snack break.

Around lunch I could hear a fighter jet fly over. The sound reminded me of being back in Sioux Falls listening to the air guard train as they often do a few times a week. Following lunch I started to see pony tracks on trail and began to get excited. I came across one and took its picture, hoping it wouldn’t be the only one I came across. I ended up seeing dozens more!

The ponies are very used to being around people and are incredibly indifferent to approaching hikers. They actually approached me and started to like us in an attempt to score some extra salt in their diets.

The rain started shortly after I entered the Highlands and didn’t ever stop. I finished the remaining 7 miles getting progressively more soaked as I went. I made it to Old Orchard Shelter at 6:15 p.m. and began my attempt to setup my tent in the rain. It’s difficult because my tent is all mesh on top, so I need to setup the tent with the fly over the top. It’s designed to work this way with my footprint but is time consuming and requires a lot of adjustment to poles and stake points to make it tight.

Once I’d gotten setup, I walked to the shelter to get water when Sherlock walked in. The rain had clearly broken him today, and he was exhausted. He said Red Coat had given up and setup camp a few miles back. We went to bed early in hopes tomorrow would bring better weather.

Sleep was broken around 11 when I heard a huge amount of crashing in the woods near my tent. There was no wind, and it was quiet except the noise. I assumed this would be my first bear experience. The noise grew closer and 10 times louder, and I quickly realized it wasn’t a bear but multiple trees falling down. I found them the next day as about five trees feel like dominoes across the trail.

Today we hiked 22.8 miles, now totaling 518.1/2199.7.

Day 41

My attempt to dry clothes out last night was entirely futile. I didn’t feel I should put on warm, dry socks and boxers when they would get soaked in seconds when I put on pants and shoes, so I put on my wet clothes from yesterday. There is another level of mental fortitude required to accomplish dressing in wet cold clothes when it’s freezing outside. Thankfully, hiking generates a ton of body heat, and I didn’t notice it after a mile or so.

We were trying to make it to Partnership Shelter today for a 23. Partnership is a shelter right near the visitor center of the state park service, and it has a landline phone available to hikers where many order in pizza from Marion, a few miles away. Red Coat caught us at lunch and said he wanted in on pizza and that he’d push farther today to make it.

The hike today was pretty bland in comparison to most of my other days, as it lacked excitement and any real views. The terrain was relatively mild, so we were able to keep a higher pace than usual. I made it to Partnership Shelter and grabbed a place upstairs. I noticed some well-done hiker graffiti carved into the floor here.

I grabbed a few other hikers together, and we placed an order for pizza. Town food tastes even better when eating it in the woods. There were about 20 hikers there currently, and everyone ordered, so there was a large stack of pizza boxes we had to deal with.

I’ve caught up to a relatively new bubble of hikers, so I met a lot of new people. Tomorrow is Sherlock’s birthday, so we are planning to 0 here and resupply tomorrow in Marion. Chilidog ended up camping a few miles short of our shelter, so he didn’t join us tonight. Red Coat made it around 8 or so and was happy to order his long awaited cheesy reward.

We made our goal of 23.2 miles, now totaling 541.3/2199.7.

Day 42

We got a shuttle into town around 9:30 this morning and did our resupply at Walmart. I took advantage of the WiFi to do a video call with my friend Maura, as she is getting married today and I was unable to attend. This town is setup as a hiker Mecca as the Walmart, grocery story, liquor store, and multiple fast food chains are all in the same strip mall. I did my resupply, grabbed Subway, and then headed to McDonald’s for lunch. I arrived prior to 11, so I had to wait to order real food. The all-day breakfast but not all-day real food angers me to no end. I ate my sub in protest while I waited to order my hamburgers. Right after I finished eating, our shuttle returned and brought us back to the shelter.

As we arrived, Franklinstein and Flyballz walked up on their way to the trail. They were just about to head back out when we told them of our 0 plans to celebrate Sherlock’s birthday. They decided to join and then said that Chilidog was just there and had moved on up the trail. His phone is never able to get a signal, so he hasn’t seen our texts to inform him of our plans. They said he left about 15 minutes ago and is probably only a mile or so up the trail. I immediately tossed my grocery bags into my group members’ hands and took off up the trail after him. It was not unlike the scene from Forrest Gump when he breaks out of his leg braces and begins running at full speed.

Hiking legs are NOT running legs. Despite what you may think, it feels like a whole different group of muscles. The terrain was challenging enough, but without a pack I was able to run up and down the mountains ahead. I regretted my choice after about 5 minutes when I hit the mile mark. I’ve never been slow growing up, but I definitely shouldn’t have run at my old full speed. McDonald’s made a real attempt at a second appearance but thankfully stayed out.

I caught Chilidog about a half-mile later. He was excited to see me and thankful I got to him. We walked back, thank God, for the next 20 minutes. Chilidog and I talked a lot of real estate and business, as we often do on the way back.

Despite there being a blatant “No Alcohol” sign as the shelter is on federal land, there was plenty of typical hiker refreshments. There were about 15 new hikers here tonight, and the pizza orders began again to start rolling in. Tonight someone went for the monster pizza that is 28″ across. It took approximately 15 minutes to disappear.

Chilidog, Franklinstein, and Flyballz bought Sherlock a cake for his birthday, which we happily all accepted. We spent the night talking with the new group of hikers. Sherlock’s birthday ended up being a great success. I was sad to 0 again, especially so close to our Damascus double-0, but it was worth it.

Day 43

The temps overnight dropped below freezing again, but today felt like the first true spring day on trail. Birds were chirping, animals were especially active, and buds were FINALLY starting to open!

Our group spread out quickly with the opening climbs. We planned to regroup for lunch at a Mexican restaurant the trail walks past. I walked under a large set of power lines that were humming the loudest I’ve ever heard. It was like a swarm of locusts overhead.

Shortly after I came across an old one-room school that had a sign inviting hikers inside for trail magic provided by the local Methodist Church. The magic was mostly gone, as it hadn’t been recently restocked but generally had lots of food/snacks, drinks, and various medical type supplies. Chapsticks, meds, bandaids and the like were still available. I grabbed a few allergy meds in anticipation of not being able to handle the now-opening local bounty of flora.

Burrito Loco came into view shortly after, and we enjoyed a quick lunch. We only walked 7 more miles and stopped at a campsite next to a stream on the 1/4-way mark. Our typical crew was here (Sherlock, Achilles, Red Coat, Chilidog, and me) as well as our good friends Franklinstein and Flyballs. Shortly after, Delux, Rocket Man, and 19 joined us as well. It’s strange to think I’m a quarter of the way done. Hitting each milestone blows me away, and I can’t believe I’m here to see it.

We walked 18.3 miles today, with a new total of 559.6/2199.7.

 

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