The profile in the AWOL guide seemed much more daunting than it turned out to be climbing it. I know my trail legs are getting pretty solid, but it’s crazy to think 1,500′ climbs no longer slow my pace, make me sweat, or quicken my breath. Virginia is where the trail starts to hit a lot more privately owned land, and we crossed a few of those portions this morning.
We had to climb ladders over barbed wire fences that contain the cattle the ranchers have in the valleys. I ran into a young man hunting turkeys this morning and chatted a bit with him. I felt like the trail today had a lot of nonsensical switchbacks. Many times I could see the upper trail and was required to walk around a gradual hill instead of just going straight up it. It adds a lot of length to an already long trail.
For lunch I finally joined the rest of my group in eating tortillas. Generally, I eat a pack of ramen and a tuna packet. Now I’ve switched to tortillas with peanut butter spread on them and slices of summer sausage and cheese. Surprisingly the combo doesn’t taste bad.
The climb after lunch was a more difficult 2,200′ ascent, and there was a long stretch without adequate water. Climate change has a real affect on the water sources on all three long-distance trails, which is making it dangerous for hikers due to lack of water. Despite the Appalachian Trail being know for being green and lush, it has large stretches reminiscent of the Badlands in South Dakota.
When I finally did find water, I stopped and cameled a liter while refilling both bottles. I finished the climb and emerged on a long grass strip that ran the ridge line for about 4 miles. At the top I got to Chesnut Knob Shelter, which was an old fire watchman’s cabin. It did come complete with a view.
The next 6 miles I spent rising up and down with ridge line as we circled around the grassy valley pictured above. It’s a stark contrast from the dark brown forest up here to the lush green valley below. Sherlock, Achilles, Chilidog, and I stealth camped near a trail spur. We built a fire and had supper when Achilles broke the news to us that he was leaving the trail and ending his thru-hike. We all kind of responded slack jawed and surprised, as he generally was the one pushing to go farther.
He had struggled with depression during his graduate school work, and it was a big part of him starting the hike in the first place. He said he’s happy with what he’s accomplished and is at peace with himself. We were glad to hear he’s found his answers on trail but are obviously saddened to see him leave. He plans to visit home for a week and then rent a car and drive around the west coast doing some hiking working his way back to his home in the east. Achilles mentioned he wanted to come back in a few weeks to do trail magic for us and that we should call him when we get to Vermont (near his home), so he can join us for another leg of the trail.
Today we walked 24.6 miles, now totaling 584.2/2199.7.
I had a strange but thoughtful walk this morning. With Achilles saying he was leaving the trail, it’s hard not to question it myself leading to a quick downward psychological spiral. I have no plans to leave the trail and am hoping to finish each mile of this journey, but I question what it is I’m doing out here. The Why of the trail as it’s known, is out to the test often in Virginia the most mentally taxing state of all. Can my why carry me all the way through Virginia and on to Katahdin?
Chilidog mentioned he’d have to jump off trail shortly as well to handle a real estate easement issue with his lawyer on one of his rental properties. He and I have discussed it multiple times since Damascus. His wife also just returned from Bulgaria, so they are eager to see each other I’m sure. His wife is Jen Swearington, the clothing designer, for my readers who are up on fashion. Her work can be seen here at Jenny Threads.
With Chilidog leaving, it makes me the only one out of our group to walk the entirety of the trail without skipping a mile or getting off trail. Statistically, that would actually be correct as usually only 1 in 5 people complete the trail–most of which don’t make it this far. Around lunch we hit a roadside restaurant store where I ate some great fried food and enjoyed a final meal with Achilles before he pushed forward to catch his rental car home.
I walked about 5.5 miles more back up to the ridge line where I found a great stealth spot. Sherlock called me and said they weren’t able to push farther and ended up stopping a few miles back. That made this my first night stealth camping completely alone. I’ve wanted to do at least one solo night, so I was okay with the turn of events.
I relaxed after supper and got some much needed rest.
Today I walked 20.3 miles, now totaling 604.5 miles.
My first solo night went well and without bear attack! I did have some creepy crawly issues with centipedes and large and pregnant wolf spiders.
I hiked about 8 miles before crossing a suspension bridge where I laid down next to the river to eat lunch and wait for the others. Franklinstein and Flyballz came by after about an hour and said they were walking the half-mile to Trent’s Grocery. I hopped up and joined them. I can’t eat this tortilla concoction any longer. The taste is fine, but the heat is causing the meat and cheese to sweat badly and it’s hard to stomach. At the grocery store I grabbed a Dr. Pepper and an ice cream cone. At this point, most have resumed calling me Prophet instead of Dr., and I admittedly prefer that.
After our snack we climbed into the mountains in search of Dismal Falls for a swim. The falls were in no way dismal, but they were incredibly cold! I was only able to keep my feet in for a few seconds before the cold would start to hurt.
I spent about 2 hours hanging around chatting with everyone. The others claimed tenting places, and I announced I was going to push forward to the next shelter 7 miles ahead to allow me to make it to Pearisburg Thursday evening. I left the falls around 6 p.m. An hour or so later I nearly ran into a deer. This was the first one I’d seen since starting the trail. It was not worried about me and continued to graze as I snapped a picture and walked on.
I decided I was going to kill two birds with one stone today and accomplish two more goals on my list for this hike–night hiking and a 30+ mile day. I passed the shelter and hiked 5 more miles up to a viewpoint overlooking Narrows and Pearisburg. I made my supper here while the sun set.
I noticed the smell of smoke and then realized just how much I could see in the air. I assumed this was the effects of the wildfire at McAfee Knob, which is currently closed due to wildfires. This section is only about 100 miles from this point and is the most photographed point on the AT for hikers.
I pulled out my headlamp and started my walk in the dark. The moon was bright, but it wouldn’t come up for a few more hours, so I was limited to my headlamp for now. I walked about 3 more miles before I noticed the forest was starting to have an ominous orange glow to it. I then put it together that it was probably a prescribed burn up ahead and wondered if I’d have any issues as I got closer. I crossed the next ridge, and in the distance I saw taillights drive off. I noticed it was the park service doing the burns, probably calling it a night as nobody was out hiking anymore. I walked a few more feet and ran into a ribbon across the trail reading: “closed for burn please use road to sugar gap.”
The problem was there was a three-way intersection at this point, and they didn’t specify a direction. I could clearly see flames at this point, so I decided to follow the road the same way the taillights went. I walked about a mile before my phone got service and realized it was the wrong direction. I walked back and took the correct path. I walked without a headlamp passed the fire, as it gave just enough glow to differentiate the road from the surrounding ground.
There was no wind, and the forest was incredibly quiet save for the crackling of the fire. The burns are interesting as they burn across the ground and up the dead trees leaving everything that’s alive unscathed. Walking passed it at night I could see the fire line all the way up the mountain, a view no other hiker would see during the day. I’m frustrated no camera is able to capture what I was able to see.
I finally made it back to the trail and decided I would camp at the first place I found. I sadly walked the remaining 3 miles to the shelter without finding a place because it was too dark to see them. Walking into a shelter at night is always tough because everyone is sound asleep and you don’t want to wake them. I couldn’t see any tent spots around the building, so decided I’d have to keep walking. I hit the trail again but thankfully only walked about 30 yards before finding a spot big enough for my tent. I plopped down and hastily setup everything exhausted as it was now midnight. I climbed into bed and quickly went to sleep.
Today I trudged 30.4 miles for my new high! My new total is 634.9/2199.7.
I woke around 6 to the sound of hikers walking past. I literally setup my tent a foot off trail. I was deeply saddened to discover I didn’t have a hot chocolate packet for this morning’s breakfast. Hot chocolate or not, I packed up and pressed toward town anxious for a shower and laundry. It’s now been nine days! My feet were in no way excited to start walking again after the long day and a short rest.
The walk down into Pearisburg was quick, and I arrived at the hostel around 10:15. I rejoined with Rocket Man and Minnesota, and we realized we stayed at the same site last night and the weird guy who setup his tent by the trail was me. We were staying at Angel’s Rest Hiker Haven, a hostel run by prior thru-hikers. It’s a hiker hippie haven for sure. The owners, a married couple with their 10-year-old son, live in a converted school bus. I ask her a ton of questions about it, as a tiny house is huge on my list for when I return home. For the record, the three of them have lived there for almost a year now and have loved every minute of it.
I quickly made use of the shower and changed into some loaner clothes. Loaner clothes are a weird thing. They are clothes that other hikers wear while doing laundry, but when you think about it hikers do ALL their clothes at the same time. That means you’re commando in these clothes others have worn, and as a hiker this doesn’t even make you bat an eye, but I know some of my readers are cringing at the thought. What’s more is we walk around town this way and don’t even think about it. I generally stay in the loaner clothes from the moment I shower until I change back an hour before I hike out. I was happy to see Napoleon here as well. The guy is endlessly entertaining.
Minnesota and I went to Dairy Queen for lunch and then hit the post office to pickup a supply box I’d bounced forward. I caught up with the other hikers and relaxed the rest of the day. It was a glorious end to a long stent. We watch a few movies on the TV, but the cord was broken so the DVDs only played in black and white. Apocalypse Now and Anchorman are very different films this way.
For supper, Minnesota, 19, and I hit Pizza Hut for large quantities of pizza and wings. I love ordering as a hiker because a waiter will take the order of one person and then ask if it’s all split on separate tickets. We then have to reply, “No, that’s just for me.” Afterward, I walked to the grocery store parking lot for a Dr. Pepper float and then we headed back to the hostel. Hikers are great at chatting into the night and then all abruptly stopping for bed around 10.
With my short day of 8.3 miles, I’m now at 643.2/2199.7.
I opted for a tent spot at the hostel instead of a bunk, as I typically sleep better in it, and it’s about half the price. I walked into the common area where everyone was cooking their own breakfasts. I hung around like a vulture picking up the leftovers they no longer wanted. It’s a great way to get food! Shortly after, my group came up the road now with Snicker Bear in tow. She had been around us for a few days prior and has seemed to latch on to us. Her old group was stressing her out and admittedly, our group is a lot of fun and really relaxed.
We hit the post office where I sent home 3 pounds more gear to unload my winter gear and some other odds and ends. Sherlock had some shoes delivered here, but there was a mix up. The package was delivered to the post office, but for some reason UPS took it with them. Frustrated, we headed back to the grocery store to do our resupply of five days to get into Daleville.
When I returned, Napoleon ran up to me apologizing, and I wasn’t sure what was up. He’d accidentally set my tent on fire while burning branches for his work for stay. The wind carried a few embers and they melted through my rain fly a bit. He’d already repaired the holes with Kevlar tape with Franklinstein, so there was honestly nothing to worry about. I told him it was totally fine and thanked him for already fixing it. It’s just a tent to me, and I find my possessions, albeit important for my hike, are not that important to me. If they function, it’s fine with me.
Sherlock, Snicker Bear, and I spent most of the afternoon calling local outfitters and connections for possible rides to get Sherlock some shoes since we can’t get the ones from UPS. We finally went to the hardware store to get shoe glue to fix his current ones again (now the 4th time) to get him to Daleville. We walked back to a small store that had hiker supplies in search of a sewing needle. She mentioned the UPS box behind the store that gets picked up at 5, which was only about 15 minutes away. We waited next to it to talk to the UPS guy for about an hour, but he never came.
After giving up, we bought ingredients to cook authentic Mexican (Snicker Bear is part Mexican). Snicker Bear sang while we cooked, and her voice is unbelievable. She has a real talent and actually sings in a band in Roanoke where she lives. I helped her cook, as I hadn’t gotten to be in a kitchen since I left and miss cooking. After supper Sherlock got notified by the UPS driver that he has his package and can meet him at the grocery store after work around 11:30 p.m. Delighted, he went. He not only got his shoes but pizza, cookies, and bread sticks leftover from the UPS office party. Shoes and Trail Magic!!
We opted for another 0 today, as the trail was calling for thunderstorms, and we honestly just weren’t all that motivated to leave such an awesome place. I walked 2 miles across town with Minnesota, Deluxe, 19, and Rocket Man to the local family diner for breakfast. Following, we went to Goodwill and Walmart. I was hoping to find butter buds (powdered butter) for my hike, but they’re only available online and not in the store. I grabbed some ghee instead, which is denatured butter but weighs much more. I stopped by the liquor store to get the requested “ingredients” by the group for their Cinco de Mayo festivities.
When I returned, I retreated to the kitchen area to do all of my blog posts since Damascus. The rain kept us pretty confined to the porch and kitchen areas, so others were cooking to pass time. I obviously offered my eating services.
The best part of the rain is that nature really bursts to life. The hostel had some beautiful flowering trees on site, but I was taken aback by this tree that has purple flowers that look like grape bunches but smell like lilac.
I’ve relaxed to my heart’s content and feel ready to tackle the next hundred-mile stretch to Daleville, VA, and see McAfee Knob. I’m hopeful we’ll have a nice day to view it but at this point am just thankful they have reopened that section of the trail after the wildfire! Thunderstorms are forecast for the next few days, so I hope the temperature stays at a tolerable level since I’ll be in wet clothes most of the next few days. The area needed rain, so I’m thankful for the blessing and look forward to the trail ahead.