Appalachian Trail Thru Hike: Waynesboro, VA to Front Royal, VA

May 4th, 2017
Waynesboro, VA to Blackrock Hut Shelter
20.7 miles

“I don’t remember life before Waynesboro!” – Darwin

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Finally, we were ready to leave Waynesboro, and I have to give it to Legs, she was ready to go despite just getting over terrible food poisoning. We called Yellow Truck, a local trail angel, and he picked us up in…a yellow truck!

Low and behold, Darwin and Legs were back on the the Appalachian Trail, so rain was in the forecast! It rains in Virginia, I don’t remember if I told you yet.DSC02700.jpgAll day, the rain loomed over us. Tapping us on the top of our heads every now and then, then scampering away like a petulant child. Thankfully, the trail was very gentle, so we maintained a 3+ mph average for all 20 miles. That’s pretty fast, guys. Guys?!

With the final words of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix fading away, it started to rain. Anyone would cry at the end of that book, so for this once, I didn’t blame the sky. With six miles left, it was just a drizzle. With .2 miles left, it started to pour! We ran into the shelter before getting too saturated.

Home for the night was Blackrock Hut Shelter. There were only two other hikers there, already snug and cozy in their bags, eating their dinners. We quickly took a patch of platform and made dinner. DSC02702.jpgLegs was happy that she could keep food down, and I swear I heard her swearing off French Toast forever. For water, there is a small, hidden spring in front of the shelter in a ditch. To see it, you have to be right on top of it, yet when you finally see it, its relatively large and gushing! It rained long, and hard that night, so the hidden spring became one of many, obvious, waterfalls. As always, the shelter protected us and we slept snug and warm.

May 5th, 2017
Blackrock Hut Shelter to Hightop Spring Hut
22 miles

I heard the rain before opening my eyes. My watch read 5am, too early to wake up, but late enough to hint at the day ahead. Instantly depressed, I curled up into my quilt and went back to sleep. I woke again a few hours later, and miraculously the rain had stopped.

The ditch in front of the shelter, where the hidden spring was, now had a dozen gushing falls filling it up. The ditch was now a pond. We made breakfast under the particularly loud morning chorus of the birds of Shenandoah. The sun was warmly buzzing down. I thought back to the cold days of Georgia, and North Carolina, and smiled at the warm morning. DSC02703.jpg

We set out into the damp. Every overhanging branch, sodden and low, brushed a cold swathe of water over us with each pass. The rhododendrons were particularly annoying.

Before long, we were soaked from the ambient moisture, but we didn’t care or stop. Our double zero in Waynesboro had put us behind the tramily, and though we did a 20+ the previous day, we were still 10 miles behind their camp. Strider, Glim-Glom, and Wet Wipes purposefully did a smaller day the previous day, so we could have a chance of catching up. We hiked for 10 miles straight to Loft Mountain Wayside, near where they had reportedly camped the previous night.

We saw them sitting in a booth at the wayside, having hiked -.8 to get there. That’s right, they technically hiked backwards that day, and it was already 11. I’d like to believe they stayed for us, deciding to do two small days in a row for us to catch them. The morning rain had nothing to do with it…

It was such a warming sight to see Strider’s neon pink bandana, Glim-Glom’s red trucker hat, and Wet Wipes’ blue galaxy kitten and taco pizza shirt (wow thats a sentence).  We sat down to eat with them, and heard there stories from when we were apart. 

Apparently, as we were snuggled, warm and protected in Blackrock Shelter, they had made a makeshift camp on a side trail. They took the full force of the night long storm in their tents and hammocks, which made for a flooded, harrowing night. The next morning, as we hiked towards them, they took turns hitting the group snooze button. Basically, someone would yell from a tent,

“Does anyone wanna hike out? “
“NO.”
“NOoO.”
“Nooooo.”

Rinse, and repeat for 4 hours.

As we sat in a plush booth near a wide window, another huge storm rolled over. We couldn’t have planned it more perfectly, and watched the whole thing from inside, eating. I was ready to call it right there, because there was no way I was walking out in a storm like that. If I have any rules out there, one of them is,

“NEVER HIKE OUT INTO A STORM!”DSC02705.jpg

As we debated hiking another 12 miles, the storm stopped on a dime, and the sky turned a robin’s egg blue.

Without the excuse of rain, we left the wayside and continued north through Shenandoah. We had no major climbs, and we had crested the Shenandoah Ridge, so the trail felt extra easy. Despite the occasional flooded trail, the trail was very gentle, and perforated with roadside vistas. You cross Skyline Drive about 147 billion times. but those tend to be the best views.  The road did used to be the Appalachian Trail.

We walked through the wet, green, forest, where every petal, blade, and leaf was dusted with glittering water droplets. They sparkled like the finest gems in the bright sunlight.DSC02724

By the end of another 20+ mile day, Legs’ right shin was beginning to flare up. Typical, as her left shin had began to feel better. Such is life on a thru hike, there is usually something bothering you.

We were happy to reach the side trail to Hightop Hut, but the side trail turned out to be a flooded, muddy, mess. With some creative rock hopping, and prayers to the trail gods, we made it through without getting our shoes wet. At the shelter, a large stone fire pit acted as drier for several pairs of socks, shoes, and pants. Other hikers had not been as lucky as us in the mud pits. Many socks lay speared on sticks like severed heads, dangling over the fire.

There were a ton of section hikers, and weekend hikers, so we assumed we would have no space in the shelter. Ironically, they all wanted to sleep in their tents.

There’s a big difference between the mindset of short term hikers, and long term hikers. Many of these people wanted to sleep in their tents, because they hadn’t in months, and were excited to get in there. For us, I was excited to NOT set my tent up! It smells like an aquarium for fucks sake and the ground was literally a tar pit! 

May 5th, 2017
Hightop Hut to Big Meadow Campground
20.8 miles

Now, I hope you are sitting down, because what I am about to say is going to blow your mind. When we woke up, it was raining. Take your time, I’ll be here.

I squirmed in my 55 degree sleeping bag, I had been sent in Waynesboro. I thought about my down jacket, and rain shell flying through the air back to NYC. What a perfect time to have sent ALL my layers home. Currently, all I had was my hiking shirt and shorts, a 2oz wind shell, and a poncho.DSC02718.jpg

“You’d be surprised how much warmth you can squeeze out of a poncho.” – Darwin 

It was in the low 40’s. All the section hikers, and weekend hikers had left hours ago, but Strider, Wet-Wipes, Glim-Glom, Legs, and myself, were sitting in our sleeping bags, backs against the shelter’s back wall. We would hike out, eventually. We just wanted to see if the rain would stop first!

We left at 11am, after we were certain the rain was finished. Legs’ took the lead as usual, and moved well despite her shin pain. She explained to me,

“I find if I keep moving through the pain, it eventually goes away, and it’s way better throughout the day. But, if we stop for a long break, and then start again, it is exponentially worse. So the best thing to do for my injured leg is to hike this 20 mile day with little to no breaks, right?”

That seemed like hard science, so we didn’t take many breaks that day. Plus, Big Meadow Wayside closed at 7pm, and we had 20.8 miles before we got there. And you best believe we were eating hot food again for dinner. Gotta love the Shennies! DSC02713.jpg

It was the first cold day in weeks, staying in the low 50’s during the day. A chill wind whipped through the trees, so Legs hiked with her rain shell. For me, it was the perfect temperature. I WASN’T SWEATING! We hiked together for the first ten miles, hitting High Top Mountain, and Baldface Mountain in the clouds. It was a dull spot in the trail, so I decided to go my own way, and speed hike the last 10 miles to Big Meadow Wayside.

Everyone made it to the Wayside before it closed, and a feast was held. Chili, fried chicken, blackberry milkshakes, and mash potatoes covered the tables.DSC02706.jpg

All the food put us into a torpor, so we waddled .8 to the Big Meadow Campsite. We set up our hammocks and UL tarp tents among vacationing families with all assortment of nylon mansions. We felt like fish out of water, and we probably smelled like it too. $20 split between 6 people isn’t bad though and no one bothered us freaks. 

May 7th, 2017
Big Meadow Campground to Pass Mountain Shelter

20 miles

Are we still in The Shenandoah? Yes? Then we are eating hot food for breakfast. We hiked the mile back to Big Meadow Wayside for breakfast. I was particularly hungry this morning, so I decided to go big.  I ended up eating somewhere around 4,200 calories that breakfast, and weirdly, I could still have eaten more.DSC02719.jpg

Legs called me a monster. Hurtful. She also paid, so I get it. 

It was another cold morning, and another quick pang of, “Why did I send all my layers home again?” The day was dry though, so I wouldn’t have to worry about getting wet and cold at least.

The trail was gorgeous, running along the western edge of the Shenandoah Ridge. Intermittent pockets would open in the foliage, exposing the historic valley below. Spread out were a patchwork of farms, and small towns. Small storms lumbered in isolated chunks over the valley as well, leaving behind a wet trail. It was a sight to behold.

We made it steadily upward to Skyland Resort for 9 miles, and sat down to eat again. Shenandoah hiking is easy, ultralight, and delicious, but damn, can it be expensive! All these hot meals seriously put a dent into a hiker’s ziplock bag wallet. Just be aware.DSC02725.jpg

After Skyland, the trail hits it’s highest point in Shenandoah, and one of the best viewpoints of the Appalachian Trail thus far, The Stoney Man Cliffs.

The trail wraps around a corner, opening to a rocky shelf facing due west. The view hasn’t changed from other vistas in the park, but there’s something special about Stoney Man. Maybe it’s Stoney Man Summit framing the view to the South, or the glasslike puddles in the stone that served as mirrors. Maybe it was the approaching rain storm, and cumulous clouds casting complex shadows on the valley, or the amazing company of a tramily we have hiked with for nearly 700 miles. All I know is, we all shared a collective moment of trail joy as we looked out.

We watched a rolling storm continue toward us, so we decided to bolt. The tramily fell into their paces, and we were cruising again. Legs and I continued with Harry Potter on Audiobook, and fell into a steady rhythm. The rain must had veered off, because it never hit us.DSC02759.jpg

Legs’ shin was bothering her, so she kept walking when Strider, Wet-Wipes, Glim-Glom, and I took the side trail to Mary’s Rocks. From Mary’s Rock’s you could see the usual view west, but also see north along the Shenandoah Ridge making is a unique vista in Shenandoah. You could see exactly where the trail was going along the winding ridge, and could basically touch our future campsite.DSC02769.jpg

A few hours later, we were there. Interesting how that happens when you walk the miles. It’s almost like all these hours will add up eventually and we’ll be at Katahdin. That can’t be right, right? Katahdin is just a myth.DSC02776.jpg

May 8th, 2017
Pass Mountain Shelter to Compton Peak campsite
19.7 miles

On the morning of our final, full day in Shenandoah National Park, we left camp at 11am. It seemed fitting as we didn’t want to change our Shenandoah rhythm up on the last day!DSC02761.jpg

The Tramily was firing on all Hiker Trash cylinders. Wet Wipe’s only had honey buns. Not a lot of honey buns. ONLY honey buns. Strider had transformed into a pink clad beatnik in short shorts, and Glim-Glom was just being regular Glim-Glom. So you know, eclectic. I had no clothing anymore, except the stuff I was wearing, and had maybe a days worth of snacks, so my pack felt about as heavy as a grape. Of course there was another wayside in 7 miles, and of course we were going to eat there.DSC02777

We arrived at Elkwallow wayside in a few hours, went inside, and gorged ourselves again. We only eat like this now, there is no subtlety, just carnage. Chili, chicken tenders, and anything you can throw into a deep frier, it went in my stomach. Full to bursting, we went outside to sit on the cement stoop.

In the warm sun, and full of fatty, fried foods, everyone but me fell asleep. Geriatric park visitors looked down at Legs in confusion as she slept half on the steps, half on the walkway, completely passed out, while Glim-Glom draped his foam pad over himself like a blanket.

Overheard on the AT: At some point during that day, Strider and I had a full conversation about beds. We talked about how comfortable they were, what types of mattresses we preferred. We debated the pros and cons of spring and foam, hardness and softness, and of course, just having a mattress to sleep on. Basically, we had a long conversation about mattresses because sleeping on one sounds like an absolute dream right now. – Legs

We left the wayside, and settled into our northernly rhythm. Shenandoah gave us it’s quintessential self; easy trail with the errant rocky patch, punctuated with view points, and road crossings, usually at the same time. It’s damn near impossible to feel negative on some level when you get to a view you worked hard for, only to find it packed with cars. I don’t mind the other tourists, but I am human. Who doesn’t want pristine vistas to themselves?

Sometimes even Skyline Drive can be beautiful, winding away into the green, and blue in both directions. It’s also not very busy, so you can stand in the middle of the road and take photos!DSC02784.jpg

Thanks to Wet Wipes and his Guthook App, we knew of a flat spot just off the trail, before Compton Peak. On AWOLs, it’s maybe .2 after Compton Springs, to the left of the trail. It was at this campsite, Wet Wipes laughed so hard he could barely breath. There has definitely been an increase in moments of hysterical, fall down, side splitting, laughter since we’ve been hiking.

Pain on the AT: Legs’ hip, and shin were definitely beat up. Pain is an old friend on the AT, but there is a difference between the dull, stiff ache of hiking many days in a row, and the sharp, hard, pain of an injury. Legs’ was feeling the latter, which not only hindered her hiking abilities, but also made for some hard nights. You’d be right to equate most suffering of an injury while you’re hiking, but a good injury will follow you back to your tent. With her hip hurting, Legs’ would constantly rotate from right hip, to back, to left hip, to stomach, like a painful, sleepless, rotisserie. Thankfully, her moms were sending her a pillow in Front Royal, which would nudge her towards a little more comfort.DSC02789.jpg

May 9th, 2017
Compton Peak to Jim and Molly Denton Shelter
11.8 Miles

We all woke to high spirits. There is certainly a boost in moral when you snag a great camping spot for you and the tramily without anyone else rocking up too. It was an easy morning, as we had about 6.5 miles to hike into Front Royal. I checked AWOLs to see what the terrain would be like. Besides a small uphill at the end, the trail looked like it would trend downhill for most of the way. Thus I decided to hike it as fast as I could. Wet Wipes, always up for a challenge, said he would pace with me.DSC02783.jpg

We left camp at a high rate of speed, and did not let up for the entire 6 miles. It was more of a slow run than a hike, but I was determined to out distance Wet Wipes. For his credit, he stuck with me for the most part, and I could only get a few dozen feet ahead of him until he caught up on a down hill. These are the things we do to entertain ourselves. Fake compete on a meaningless stretch of this ridiculous trail. Yet, I was screaming back at him insults and encouragement, enjoying the hell out of it. 

Within the last 50 feet, I broke into a spring, hearing Wipes do the same. I reached a small bench on the side of the Front Royal road crossing and quickly laid down. Looking down at my watch I said,

“Geez Wipes, what took you so long, I’ve been here for hours?!”

The rest showed up not too long after, though they decided to walk like normal people. We all hitched into Front Royal for resupply, of course hitting a Thai Restaurant almost immediately.

We decided to stay later into the evening to catch the movie Guardians of the Galaxy 2, which we were all so desperate to see. Watching a movie is such a luxury on a thru hike. Cool, dark, comfortable, and so much food!

The theater never opened, for no given reason, so all of us hiked the 5 miles out of town to the shelter, in the dark, with I KID YOU NOT, the biggest disappointment of the trail hanging over our heads. We arrived to the shelter in the dark, and were not even able to take advantage of how sick it was.

Appalachian Trail Thru Hike: Glasgow, VA to Waynesboro, VA

Starting Point: Glasgow, VA Mile 784.9
Ending Point: Waynesboro, VA Mile 861.9
77 total Miles

April 27th, 2017
Glasgow, VA to US 60 Highway
22 miles 
 

Glasgow is a very small town, with a pizzeria, post office, and general store, all in close proximity to the FREE shelter. The shelter is relatively large, fitting at least 12 people on bunks, and having a large cooking area with four picnic tables. There is a fire ring in front, and beyond, and lawn for camping. On every surface jutted hooks for food bags and packs, while one bunk was the designated home for a microwave, several lamps, and a hiker box. (WARNING: The bunks are very wobbly, so if you are afraid of heights, then I suggest staying on the lower bunks.) The random assortment of ELECTRIC lamps provided a warmth only felt when indoors. It’s all sun light, or headlamps out here. Give me some softer light! A lone car was pulled up to the shelter (illegally), and belonged to a ‘triple crowner,’ and ‘professional photographer‘ that just wanted to hang out. I got the feeling he wants to be a thru hiker, but when we asked him about the the big trails, he didn’t know anything. At one point that night, a police officer came by the shelter to make sure it was only being used by hikers. This guy’s way of taking care of things involved sarcastically joking about having drugs around. Hilarious.

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Glim-Glom sitting in the back of the Ambulance. Pardon the crotch shot, he only wore short shorts.

The next morning, Glim-Glom’s friend Isaac, pulled up to the shelter in his totally customized Ambulance. He had gutted the inside, and made a living space, complete with folding bed, sink, and storage for all his stuff. It was probably the coolest thing I have ever seen. Legs and I were incredibly jealous. 

Isaac offered to help our group, by SLACK PACKING us for the day. This would allow us to hike a faster/easier 22 mile day, and do a full resupply in Buena Vista. We left most of our stuff in garbage bags heaped in the back of the ambulance, and set off in one big group. Darwin, Strider, Wet Wipes, Glim-Glom, Oz, Lumber Jill, Stache, Winter and I, all light and happy, during a beautiful, warm day. Who could ask for more? 

Thru Hiker Tip:
The Glasgow resupply is pretty terrible. Instead, get a days worth of food, and do a 22 to Buena Vista. There is a real grocery store there, and many more restaurants!

With super light packs, Legs and I powered up Little Rocky Row. We may have started as a group, but a good climb will quickly organize hikers into their normal places. Legs and I took the lead, and started hauling! As we climbed, I felt something prickling the back of my neck. I turned around, then turned back to legs. I whispered,

“Stache is gaining on us.”

She picked up the pace. At this point, we were probably hiking 3.3 mph up the 3.7 mile, 1700 foot climb. Legs came so close to giving up. It was so hot, and we weren’t fully warmed up. We had just taken off, and started hauling. Our legs burned, and our chests heaved. Sweat accumulated on brows, and dripped into eyes, a ringing started, but we did not stop. Eventually, we did slow, and Stache got closer. Legs almost quit again. I. was. not. having. it! We would not give up!

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The view from Big Rocky Row.

 

We made it to the top first, and even though this is not a competition, it was nice to let it rip, and basically run up a mountain. Mini competitions like this, between Stache and us, are not uncommon on the AT. You find people who match your pace, and you start hiking together. Throw in a little testosterone (thank you Darwin), a physical challenge, and competition will soon follow. 

After Little Rocky Row, we hiked well, cruising along the highlands to Bluff Mountain, but mentally, Legs was struggling. Listening to a book (Harry Potter) on our little, electronic speaker, has become a significant tool when dealing with the the darker moments of hiking. Sometimes it’s the ONLY thing that can get your mind out of the abyss.  Thank you Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

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Classic Virginia trail, in the highlands. heading towards Bluff Mountain. (Photo: Joey Leen, Machine)

We finished hiking, myself in good spirits, and Legs, lightheaded. There is no greater feeling than getting to road, knowing you are going into town for food and comfort.

                                                           A note on slack packing:
Some of you may think slack packing is easy, and to an extent you’re right. It takes relatively less energy to move only your body 22 miles over a mountain range, than it is with an extra 30 pounds on your back. But, to say hiking 22 miles is ever easy, is just laughable. Strangely, in the Thru Hiker community, there are some people who get mad at you for even mentioning the idea, as if you are doing something filthy. If you ever meet someone like this, slowly explain to them that we’ve all decided to walk in to the woods, and should all probably calm down. It’s a strange thing, meeting someone who has made it a job to hike a trail, rather than just experience it. At some point, a person can lose sight of the knowledge that we are simply WALKING! Slack packing this day helped us all out, because we could get a better resupply in Buena Vista, and cover 22 miles ‘faster‘. In the end though, slacking may not always mean going faster. We hiked faster uphill, but we took longer breaks because of our prolonged speed. Still, not having a pack on. Ah-mazing!

We got to Rt. 60 with some daylight to spare, and saw Glim-Glom and Issaac sitting on a patch of grass along the highway. There was a small parking area off the road, separated from the road, by this patch of grass. We all piled in the ambulance, and went into Buena Vista. 

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Buena Vista, Virginia. (Photo: Machine)

Buena Vista (pronounced B-yuna Vista) is small, but has a full grocery store, and several restaurants. After a quick resupply, we hit a Mexican restaurant for dinner. By the end of the meal, Winter and Oz had moved to a booth to sleep, and the rest of us were not doing much better. We went back to the parking area in the dark, and set up our stuff right there

It was a ridiculous spectacle. A horde of dirty hikers, splayed out on the shoulder of a highway, the bright colors of sleeping bags, and pads contrasting spectacularly with the grass. We had semi-flat ground, and did not have to walk anywhere to reach it. This was more than ok, and a tangible moment of the transformative aspect of Thru Hiking. We would never have done this earlier in the hike, yet now, it was the greatest idea we’d ever heard.  

Our stealth camp could not have been more obvious, and we could not have cared less. This was life for us now. We could rip through 22 miles, resupply, overdose on Mexican, sleep on the side of the highway, and flourish. Sure, the sound of 18 wheelers engine-breaking only 20 feet away was a little jarring, but I got to see Wet Wipes curled up in the dark, on the side of a road, eating a left over quesadilla.

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The Tramily sets up camp on the shoulder of Rt. 60.

(Eventually, Legs and I would move ourselves behind a tree to block us from any cars that decided to jump the shoulder. You know, common sense stuff when sleeping on a highway shoulder.) 

April 28th, 2017
US 60 to Rock Spring campsite
15.1 miles

[UNSET]
Glim-Glom, Oz, Machine, and Stache hanging out in the morning. (Photo: Strider, Corey Lander)

The next morning we woke to the roar of commuter traffic. As we packed up, a stranger approached with McDonald’s breakfast biscuits. Some gladly accepted the trail magic, while others, like Legs and myself, organized our resupply from the previous night. We sat there in a pile of calories, surrounded by Pop-Tarts, honey buns, mac and cheese, cookies, gummy snacks, cheese bricks, chocolate, etc. 

The day started out with a quick 2000 foot climb to Bald Knob, which is surprisingly overgrown. Legs was definitely drained, and our paced showed it, but the mileage was low for us. Funny, how a 15 mile day is considered short now. 

Another scorching day. Another cycle of; Uphill, sweat through shirt, downhill, shirt dries off. Repeat. Sometimes we would dip our shirts into a stream to shake things up a bit. 

We were definitely in the Virginia Highlands again, as the trail wouldn’t dip below 3200 feet until the Tye River to the North. 

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Heading Towards Bald Knob. Photo: Strider

After Bald Knob, the trail stayed high on a ridge, hitting a view summits like Cole Mountain, and Tar Jacket Ridge. Eventually, I took off on my own to hit my own pace. The trail was really gentle, and made for quick hiking. 

The trail to Rock Spring is at a very nondescript junction west of the AT. It leads down to a small spring and some camp spots. The spring was not moving very fast, but tasted delicious. Before night fell, an elderly couple in their 80s walked up the mountain just to see the spring. They didn’t take a trail, following the stream from the base of the mountain. Badasses

It was so nice getting to camp at 3:30pm, as it allowed us time to just sit, and relax, before having to set up, and cook. Normally, we get to camp around 6, and if you don’t get the ball rolling fast, you’ll be setting up in the dark this early in Spring. It’s either wake up early, and do big miles, or, wake up normal, and do small miles. How about wake up whenever, and do any miles?! I like that best

We all sat around a small fire provided by Stache, and ate dinner. Legs was dining on an elegant mac and cheese with fried pepperoni, topped with a garlic and chili powder rub. I had a delightful pasta dish, with fresh basil paste, olive oil, fried pepperoni, and of course, a garlic and chili powder rub. Just delightful

April 30th, 2017
Rock Spring to Maupin Field Shelter
19.3 miles 

Even though having sweat drip down your face is distracting, and annoying, I still prefer that over rain, and cold any day. – Legs

I have to fervently disagree with Legs. When it’s cold out, you are always the temperature you want to be (provided you have the right gear). When it’s hot, and you are in your last layer, the next step is being naked. 

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Looking back at The Priest (Right). Photo: Wet Wipes, Kevin O’Malley

 

We left the spring, and continued on highland ridge, smashing through the miles before The Priest. There were limited views, but it was still a very cool part of the trail. After Priest Shelter, where it’s custom to confess something in the register, the trail descends a thin, steep, ridge to the Tye River. Its a 3,093 ft descent, and my knees felt every foot.  

We stopped at the Tye River, crossing the large footbridge, and scrambling down to the banks. The day vibrated with a wet heat, so the cool waters of the river felt amazing. We had the last big climb of Virginia ahead, so we stayed long at the river. Legs stood in the current, prepping herself for the climb. In this heat, it would be a doozy, but the last doozy until Mt. Greylock in Massachusetts

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Footbridge over the Tye River. Image is damaged for some reason. 

 

We set off, Strider ahead, Legs in the middle, and myself trailing. The initial climb is gentle, and leads to a trail junction. If you want to be lame, and skip Three Ridges, you can take the Mau-Har Trail and miss the summit. Why you would skip it, is beyond me, because it is a great climb. 

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The distinct Points of the Three Ridges Climb. (Photo: Wet Wipes) 

Three Ridges is well named, having three distinct points to mark your progress. It’s classic Virginia trail, very steep in spots, but sporadically cut with a few switchbacks. No rock! (Disclaimer: There will be rocks.) We cranked up the climb, hitting Chimney Rock quickly. The trail is spectacular, falling away on both sides at points, and always throwing you a switchback when you need it. All together, we averaged 3 mph up the climb, and felt great doing it (see note from Legs). We are pros, or at least it feels like it. We’ve got enough miles under our feet to make us great hikers, but not enough to have wiped us out yet. 

We stopped at Hanging Rock, which is definitely recommended. You can see The Priest, Tye River, and Three Ridges in one long panorama. It’s a great feeling to be able to see what you just conquered. 

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An amazing panorama from Hanging Rock. The Priest & 3 Ridges pictured. (Photo: Strider)

 

Legs on the Three Ridges Climb: 
I complained the whole time, while Darwin cheered me on. It’s interesting experiencing the dual emotions of never wanting to hike again, and enjoying the burning sensation in my leg muscles. I listened to an ‘old school throwbacks’ playlist to help keep my mind off the darkness, and did my best to look up at the view, rather than at my gaiters.

At Maupin Field Shelter, we decided to set up our tent to avoid shelter snorers. There are plenty of flat spots, and a lovely creek right behind the shelter. That night, we ate around another Stache made fire, and talked trail and life. We laughed at the dominative Oz, who couldn’t hang her food bag on the bear pole because she was too short (We have it on video, don’t worry). Eventually, the sun set, and we went to sleep in our tent we have fondly named, The Aquarium. The inspiration? Smell a dirty aquarium.

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Oz struggling to hang her food at Maupin Field Shelter.

 

April 31st, 2017
Maupin Field Shelter to Waynesboro, VA
20.8 Miles

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The tramily at Maupin. Legs and Oz in front!

This day sucked. Rain, road crossings, and no views. Who doesn’t love dodging traffic on the Blue Ridge Parkway in a rain storm. The trail was wet, cold, and covered in Reds Efts (little lizards),  of which we would have to pick up, and remove from the trail. We didn’t want them to get stepped on! Thankfully, we got into Waynesboro, and went to eat. 

Then the problems really started. Legs, Strider, and Glim-Glom, all got food poisoning. They all ate at Weezy’s Kitchen in Waynesboro, and all seemed to have eggs in their dishes. Legs got so sick, we had to get a motel room and take two zeros. 

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Misty, wet, and cold, on the way into Waynesboro. (Photo: Strider)

For those who don’t want to take the risk of eating there, do what I did, and go around the corner to Alex’s Taco Truck. It’s amazing, and the hot sauce is liquid fire. Also, you won’t throw up all night. Poor Glim-Glom, the YMCA bathroom in Waynesboro was probably a terrible place to be sick. 

Stick around, Waynesboro is the gateway to Shenandoah National Park!

 

Appalachian Trail Thru Hike: Daleville, VA to Glasgow, VA

Start Point: Daleville, VA — Mile — 728.1
End Point: Glasgow,   VA — Mile — 784.9

April 25th, 2017
Daleville, VA to Bobblets Gap Shelter
18.5 miles

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The average Wildlife! (Photo: Nicole Frias)

We left Ron and Kim’s house early, stomachs filled with bacon, pesto, roasted veggies, chicken, and strawberries. The sky was iron grey , but the worst of the rain had passed. We walked, north on a bland stretch of trail, crossing many roads, and having no real climbs. After some wet, hard days, and new shoes for Legs, we welcomed the boring trail. Though the rain had stopped, everything was still dripping wet. The trail was often quite narrow and overgrown, forcing us to walk through a gauntlet of vines and branches that would paint moisture onto our bodies and packs. Legs made the horrifying discovery about how permanently wet hands are basically torture. After she said that, all I could think about was having dry hands. Then I would rub my hands on my shirt, which was wet, and suffer more.

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Wildflowers beginning to bloom after rain, and now heat.

The rain from the previous days caused several creeks to feel rather full of themselves. Instead of small rock hops, or jumpable creeklets, we had full fledged, shoes off, fords. We caught up with with Strider, and Wet Wipes at the first ford. They took a look at it, and thought it would be a better idea to eat.

Legs slipped on her Crocs, and easily walked across the mirky, rushing water. For those without camp shoes, like Strider, Wet Wipes, and myself, this would be the first time on the AT where we were hiking barefoot. Glim-Glom, of course, just walked through in his socks and Chacos.

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Can we talk about that calf though?

The fords weren’t crazy, nor were they dangerous, but I did feel giddy stepping across the flood waters. This is what real adventures are made from, barefoot in murky water, with a pack on your back. Pinch me. Meanwhile, we can hear the traffic of a major highway buzzing in the distance. I wonder how many people in those cars know there is a small group of people in the woods, talking about the merits of Crocs.

The day would finish sunny, which made the Blue Ridge Parkway Vistas rather beautiful. Until we reach Waynesboro, and Shenandoah NP, we will be criss crossing with the BRP for almost 100 miles.

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Legs posing on the Blue Ridge Parkway. There are a bunch of these views until you reach Shenandoah.
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Amazing how a day can start wet and end like this!

We camped at Bobblets Gap Shelter, a common looking shelter, undistinguished and not worthy of extra note.

April 26th, 2017
Bobblets Gap Shelter to Cornelius Creek Shelter
18.5 miles

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Our little setup. Tight for two bigger people, but light and protective.

You can always tell how uncomfortable the day is going to be, by how comfortable you are in the morning. For example, if you wake up warm and comfortable, then you can be assured the day is going to be miserable. Today, was no different, as I woke up warm and content. It was terrifying; 7am and already t-shirt weather already.

I have a love/hate relationship with pine needles. On one hand, they remind me of some of the best parts of the PCT. On the other hand, they remind me of the PCT. Sometimes, my heart skips a beat when the smell of hot, baked, pine needles enters my nose. I’m brought back to the Battle of Northern Cali, when days hovered around 95. Today, I smelled those needles, and was transported back to 30 mile waterless stretches, and isolation. Then, I would look up and see Legs, and all would be well.

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I could walk forever if this was the setup!

We stopped at Jennings Creek, where there is a noted swimming hole in AWOLs guide. We soaked our weary legs, and ate. Maybe it was the heat, our full stomachs, or the accumulated miles, but we were spent, and it took a long time, and a lot of motivation to leave the creek. Eventually we left, but our pace would be slow for the rest of the day.

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Talking to Strider about something stupid most likely.

We climbed Fork Mountain, a small peak with no view, and came down the northern side. There we stopped at the brand new, and incredible, Bryant Ridge Shelter. Multi-tiered, with great ‘living space’, and light, it was nicer than my apartment in Brooklyn. If you can plan it out, stay there, and hit the 5 mile climb first thing the next day. We did those 5 miles, and it wasn’t ideal at the end of the day.

April 27th, 2017
Cornelius Creek Shelter to Glasgow, VA
19.9 miles

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Apple Orchard Mountain Summit

We were hiking by 7am to get in as many miles as possible before the midday heat. The day started with Apple Orchard Mountain. It was clear, and the climb was basic. Apple Orchard has a mediocre view, and was crowded with day hikers. There is also one of those FAA towers up there, so it’s not one of the nicest summits.

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We stopped at the famous Guillotine, not far after the summit of Apple Orchard Mountain. Here the trail narrows between two rock walls. Wedged at the far end of these walls is a large, pointed boulder. It hangs perfectly over the trail, and will fall one day. As humans, we stand underneath it and take photographs. I’ll never understand it.

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Legs waiting for the blade to fall.

All day, fickle weather. Moments from a typhoon, to sunny skies. Still, I’d take a storm over oblivious day hikers. One old lady didn’t let us pass for at least .1! POINT ONE!

 

We began the descent to the James River, and had plenty of time left in the day. Waking up early has it’s merits. We will likely continue to wake up early for the rest of this hike. (EDIT: We didn’t!!!) The river, a brown serpent winding through the now all green mountains, is home to a trail tradition; Jumping off the footbridge into the river. We didn’t do it, but we did enjoy walking across the longest footbridge of the AT. (Boom, a little knowledge for ya.)

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Not sure what happened to the Image, but here is the James River!

Hikers, you’ve been warned. The hitch into Glasgow is a certified cluster f**k. Lack of traffic, a good shoulder, and a sharp bend in the road make for a tough hitch. We got lucky and caught some day hikers leaving at the same time as us.

We feasted at the Italian place, Scotto’s, which is very hiker friendly, and right next to the FREE TOWN SHELTER!

 

Appalachian Trail Thru Hike: Pearisburg to Daleville

Starting Point: Pearisburg, VA Mile 634.3
End Point: Catawba, VA Mile 708.3
April 19th, 2017
Pearisburg, VA – Pine Swamp Branch Shelter
20.4 miles 

7.8 miles north of Pearisburg, we stopped to eat at Rice Field Shelter. The more we climbed out of Pearisburg, the cloudier, and mistier it became. Soon, we were fully socked in, and again, we waited for the rain. In the simple, three walled, confines of the shelter, we gorged ourselves on gummy snacks and honey buns. Suddenly, it started pouring. Giant raindrops smashed on the shelter’s metal roof. It was intensely loud, and because of a small ditch in front of the shelter, a large pool formed quickly, adding to the drama of the storm. I turned to Legs, looked her dead in the eye, and said,

“I’m not going out there!”

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Rice Field Shelter. I was ready to stay there FOREVER!

Legs burst into laughter at the sincerity, and intensity of my statement. I was 100% prepared to stop our 20 mile day at 7.8. No one should ever willfully hike into a ferocious storm when they’re dry in a shelter, and have 1500 miles left. We all laughed hard at the shelter graffiti, where Seabiscuit and Baron Von Schinitzelnazi fought for space on the walls.

Thankfully, the rain slowly faded, but walking through the clouds was wet enough. Now and then, the sun tried it’s darnedest to come out, causing a bright fog. It even poked through sometimes! The trail was gentle after the initial climb, so we cruised while listening to Harry Potter on audiobook.DSC02623

We plan and execute 20 mile days with relative ease now, which is more than enough to finish the trail. Legs’ leg felt better, and we hit the shelter with plenty of light. The crew was there already, including a new face, Bridgette. She was Oz’s friend who was on the trail,

“To hike as far as I can. Maybe Gotham, Maybe Katahdin.”

Most of the crew was already in their sleeping bags as they had a head start on us from Pearisburg, but only hiked 10 miles that day.

The shelter was technically closed because of dangerous deadfall. We tried to find a spot to camp away from the area, but to no avail. The shelter seemed safe enough, but was full, except for the dirt floor in front of the fireplace. We grabbed those gross spots and set up our pads. When laying down, we could see under the bunks. Years of litter, and mouse damage, and dark, inky corners, where the light didn’t penetrate. I saw at least three mice before putting my head down. To those future hikers out there, mice will crawl on you at least once if you sleep in shelters.

April 20th, 2017
Pine Swamp Branch Shelter – Laurel Creek Shelter
18.5 miles 

We made our way north the next morning with a classic 9am start. The day was warm, and sunny, so we felt ok in our laziness. After several flat miles, a spur trail led to the right, where a river could be heard. We walked to it, and came to a makeshift zip-line. It led to The Captain’s, a trail angel and purveyor of free porch sodas to any hikers who come across the river. Legs and I used the line, simply because it would be the only one on the trail. The Captain wasn’t home, but his dog was, and the aforementioned sodas were on the porch. We left via the zip-line, this time having Stache pull us back across.

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Legs and Oz getting water at camp.

The trail took a downward turn as the day progressed, becoming an uneven pile of rocks and roots. With every step, my foot would come down at a different angle, putting just a little bit more strain and pressure on my knees and ankles. Legs began to succumb to the pain, and tedium of the trail obstacles. To make matters worse, the weather began to deteriorate. It would rain on us for brief, but intense moments. Just before being able to dry, it would hit us again.

The day was very formulaic; A steep climb to a flat, rocky ridge, followed by a steep descent. Rinse, and repeat. After War Branch Shelter, we hit our last steep climb of the day. With so many things working at our armor, we didn’t even stop to look at the Kelly Knob vista.

Oz’s friend Bridgette, after several large days, bailed. It would be hard for anyone to hop on 700 miles in.

April 21st, 2017
Laurel Creek Shelter – Pickle Branch Shelter
22.5 miles
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Looking across a classic Virginia Ridge.

The terrain was strikingly similar to yesterday’s, even sporting a similar elevation profile in AWOL’s guide. Rocks, roots, and steep climbs to flat ridges, punctuated by a telephone line every few miles. Water rationing is a concern, because when on a ridge, any source is going to be at least .4 down a steep descent. 

Many stopped at Sarver Hollow Shelter and made the .6 descent to the water, but Legs and I pushed on, passing Niday Shelter as well. We stopped at the banks of Craig Creek, after crossing a wooden foot bridge. We wrapped around underneath the bridge, and reclined on a small, sandy beach.

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Under the footbridge at Craig Creek

We stripped down and entered the cool, clear water, letting our tight legs numb up. It was glorious. Our ancestors would be proud of us. We were doing something humans have been doing for thousands of years. We took our time, thinking the tramily would catch up to us, and likely join us in the water. We waited, and waited. The rain showed up first. We huddled under the wooden footbridge, which was just wide enough to accommodate us, but also porous enough to get slightly sprayed. I loved it. To me, there is nothing better than huddling under a small structure in the rain. Weather a tent, or a thick tree, it makes me so giddy. Have you ever seen a 6’6”, bearded man, being giddy under a bridge in the woods? Yea, it isn’t good.

We continued north, climbing to the crest of Brush mountain, where a wooden bench sat along an old woods road. In my opinion, this is the best bench on the AT. Just after the bench, a side trail took us to the Audie Murphy Monument, placed there to honor the most decorated soldier of WWII.

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Cresting Brush Mountain.

We arrived at Pickle Branch Shelter to find it filled with a few yellow blazers and section hikers. Oz, Stache, and Machine were already enjoying camp, but the rest were nowhere to be found. Strider, Wet Wipes, and Glim-Glom eventually showed up at midnight, having night hiked 10 miles from Niday Shelter. They thought it was a good idea, spearheaded by Wet Wipes, to take a 6 hour break earlier in the day.

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You pass over the Eastern Continental Divide today!
April 22nd, 2017
Pickle Branch Shelter – Catawba Mountain Shelter
14.6 miles
Resupply Day 

We woke to rain, packed up to rain, and hiked out to rain. The terrain was likely interesting, but we couldn’t see much through the clouds. We started with a climb to Cove Mountain, where a side trail led to the Dragon’s Tooth. Normally, views would be incredible from this wall of rock, shaped like a giant fang. Today, it was grey and cold. Still, the dark stone of the fang did look eery in the bright mist.

From the Dragon’s Tooth, the trail begins a steep descent. This is not your normal Virginia downhill. 1300 feet of steep, stone slabs, and down climbs. It was wet and slippery, and Legs took a big fall on her butt. It would blossom into a proper bruise. We hitched into Catawba at the second road, and got dropped off at The Home Place. It’s a family style, all you can eat, southern comfort restaurant. Basically, they bring you never ending servings of fried chicken, country ham, roast beef, mashed potatoes, string beans, biscuits, Mac and cheese, pinto beans, etc. We helped ourselves to at least 3 of everything and regretted nothing. 

Unfortunately, the only resupply option was a gas station with limited options. There is a post office, but check the hours. We stopped at the hostel in the area to see what it was like. There was a lot of chickens and floor space.

(It was so wet today, no cameras came out.)

April 23rd, 2017
Catawba Mountain Shelter – Daleville, VA
17.8 miles
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I bet the view is amazing normally! McAfee Knob.

Rain, again. All night, and morning. We began hiking in a lull, but made our way up to McAfee Knob with somber hearts. McAfee Knob is one of the most famous places on the AT. A dramatic, stone cliff looking down on a verdant valley. Hikers usually stand on the edge and look out to the sweeping views. We stood on the edge, and stared out… into a milky void. Some piece of shit day hiker said some comment like,

“Oh, ten minutes ago, it was clear.”

I wanted to throw the guy off the cliff. Don’t say that to someone. I was very bummed the view was so poor. Just like Dragon’s Tooth, we had missed another vista.

After McAfee, the trail thankfully found it’s way into a boulder field, and became delightfully difficult. It took my mind off the missed opportunity, as it was actually a little tricky. At one point, the trail seems to take a natural path through the boulders and under the cliffs. Enough people had made the same mistake, and a trail has been formed. The AT actually cuts back, away from the ‘obvious’ trail. Machine took this bypass, but luckily it looped back to the AT. He missed a sweet spot though, the Tinker Cliffs.

I’ll never forget the Tinker Cliffs, and the time I spent there. Running half a mile along the literal edge of a 60 foot cliff, the Tinker Cliffs are a little gem overshadowed by nearby big brother, McAfee. The view was still obscured by clouds, but every now and then, a window would open in the void. Through the gap lay a rippling, green valley, and across, an adjacent ridge line mirroring our own. We sat on a long, flat rock on the edge of the cliffs. We stayed a long time, and conversed. The whole tramily was there, Strider, Wet Wipes, Glim-Glom, and Oz. Winter and Stache kept hiking, and Machine was nowhere to be seen. A new face, Jumanji, joined in on our epic conversation.

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Underneath the Tinker Cliffs. Photo Cred: The Machine.

At some point we heard a sound from below, a faint call. It was Glim-Glom, who had fallen into the same trail trap as Machine. He exclaimed,

“Are you guys up there?!”

I peered over the edge and saw him standing, 60 feet down, wearing his yellow rain poncho. Glim-Glom is a little ray of sunshine during a grey day. He backed up and eventually found his way to us, joining the conversation.

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One of the only good photos of the Tinker Cliffs. Photo Cred: Strider. Pictured: Glim-Glom & Legs

We all left at different times, following the rest of the cliffs, and looking for new ‘nature challenges’, like jumping between gaps in the rocks. The trail was a good showing of classic Virginia. Not too hard, not too easy. Power line, view, power line, view. You know, Virginia.

On Hay Rock, we saw the storm. It was a big one, and the thickest part of the clouds would pass right over us. Legs and I booked it, but of course, there’s no out running nature. Right at the opening for another power line, it started. Within moments, we were drenched to the bone, like we just got out of a lake. Going the opposite direction of us, a trail runner zoomed by.

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When the clouds open up, the views can be incredible!

We had no plan for our campsite, as we needed to be near the road for the outfitter. It would open the next day at 10am. We never expected to get to the road crossing soaking wet and thoroughly put off.

TRAIL TERM
— Trail Magic —
A spontaneous act of generosity, kindness, or serendipity from the goodness of a stranger’s heart, to make your life better.

In the incalculable way the Trail works, we finished at the same time as the trail runner we had saw earlier. We approached him, bedraggled, and asked for a quick ride to Kroger’s. His name was Ronnie, and he had no problem giving Legs and I, and then Oz, a ride. In the parking lot of Kroger’s, he asked us where we were staying that night. We mumbled some nonsense about stealth camping near the road. Without hesitating, he turned his car around, and drove us to his house.

Ronnie and Kimberly live in a lovely house north of Daleville. Originally, Ronnie brought the three of us home, but as soon as Kimberly heard there were more hikers, they picked up Strider, Wet Wipes, and Glim-Glom too! Their generosity was incredible, even convincing us to stay another day, and giving us their red convertible for us to all squeeze in and see a movie! I can’t believe how amazing they are!

(WE FINISHED RONNIE & KIM!!! AND GOT ENGAGED!!!) 

 

Appalachian Trail Thru Hike: Marion, VA to Pearisburg, VA

April 12th, 2017
Partnership Shelter to Reed Creek Campsite
17 Miles
 

Hiking is hard enough. Throw in that time of month, and the day was emotionally exhausting. I can usually deal with physical pain, but when my uterus is trying to claw it’s way out of my body, it makes the uphills just slightly torture. Darwin was my rock the whole day, stopping often for water, talking to me, and hiking with me at a very slow pace. We listened to Harry Potter the whole time. The day was quite hot, and the trail cut through some green, exposed, fields. We periodically dipped our hats in the cool streams for hiker air conditioning. The forest was alive with chipmunks, squirrels, and rat snakes. 

We stopped at the US 11 road crossing and ate gas station pizza and snacks in the first five miles. We said goodbye to Honey Badger, a dear friend at this point, as he was getting off trail to see his family. He said he would catch up even if he had to hike 25-30 mile days. If there’s anyone who could pull it off, it’s him. (We eventually saw him again in NY)

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Honey Badger in the Grayson Highlands, VA

We hiked another 12 miles, through relatively gentle terrain. We stopped at Reed Creek, right off the trail, and nestled amongst some rhododendron trees. Darwin and I took a hiker bath in the creek. The water was freezing, but felt wonderful on our feet and aching bodies. I rinsed my body by splashing myself as best as I could, while Darwin decided to sit down in the creek. By the look on his face, the water was very cold. It takes your breath away! Wet Wipes, Glim-Glom and Strider soon joined us for the night. We cooked dinner and gave a shout out to Honey Badger, the first to leave what he named, the Ruff Necks. Darwin, Strider and I cowboy camped under the rhododendrons, while Glim-Glom and Wet Wipes climbed into their hammocks. It was a clear, brisk night. A night perfect for star gazing, and listening to the creek bubbling near us. Every so often, we could hear the bizarre chirping of coyotes.

Around 10:00pm, a red light walked into the campsite. It was Winter, who had walked an extra 7 miles because she, “Left her favorite underwear back at Partnership Shelter.” She was relieved to find us so easily. I guess hiking alone at night with coyotes howling around you is a little scary, who knew?

April 13th, 2017
Reed Creek to Jenkins Shelter
28 Miles

Another slow start, with sluggish legs and tired eyes. My mind wasn’t in the game, which is the worst thing on a thru hike. When your mind isn’t there that day, finding motivation to hike for hours is almost impossible. Luckily, I have someone like Darwin to push me to my limits and challenge my potential. The tramily has my back too. We all have mutual aches and pains, and we all know what everyone is going through. 

We got our rhythm again and hiked a solid 12 miles. We took a break at Lick Creek, where the trail crosses at a large footbridge. The banks are flat and great for camping. Darwin and I took a dip in the freezing, refreshing currents. The day was dry and warm, so within minutes we were dry again. We started hiking, our clothes damp and cooling us for the upcoming climb. The climb to Chestnut Knob Shelter is tough, but not impossible. With about 1.5 miles left into the 5 mile climb, there is a pond and spring where you can get water for the shelter. The final approach to Chestnut Knob Shelter is exposed, giving us gorgeous views of distant mountain ridges.

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Darwin standing in front of Chestnut Knob Shelter before hiking another 10 miles

The original plan was to hike 18 miles to Chestnut Knob Shelter, a stone hut at the top of a vista. Instead, we watched the sunset and ate dinner. After the sunset, and for no good reason, the group decided to hike 10.7 more miles. At 8:07pm we left, and hiked until we reached Jenkins Shelter. I was in front. I guess the group thought that since it was my idea to night hike, I should be the one to face plant all the spider webs. Fair enough.  

We started strong. We talked. We listened to music. But by the end of those 10 miles we were all starting to lose our minds. We arrived just before midnight, quickly found a good spot next to a creek, set up our pads and sleeping bags, then passed out. Early the next morning Oz, Machine, Lumber Jill and Stache stopped to say good morning on our way into Bland, VA.

April 14th, 2017
Jenkins Shelter to Helvey’s Mill Shelter
12 Miles 

We walked the 12 miles into town through beautiful sunshine on the way to Bland, VA. We were slow leaving camp, and we ate almost all of the remaining food in our bags to make up for the amount of calories lost the previous night. 

Darwin and I felt great, listening to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets as we pushed it to the road crossing where we could hitch a ride to town. Bland is an appropriate name for the town in which we resupplied. Subway and Dairy Queen are your only fine dining food options, except for a small market where you can get a decent resupply. We went to all three places, and packed out sandwiches for that night’s dinner.

We were all feeling pretty nasty, due to going showerless for many days. After chilling on the grass in front of the courtyard for an hour or so waiting for everyone to finish resupplying, I called Zero Days Inn, a small, recently established hostel about 20 minutes outside of town. The caretaker offered to pick us up and take us to his place to do laundry and have a shower before continuing our hike later that evening. It was wonderful to sit around on comfy chairs and couches, waiting for our laundry to finish and throwing out our trash. Once finished, we got a ride back to the trailhead after stopping at Subway one more time and packing out some foot-longs for dinner. 

We got to camp around 9pm since we got a call from Darwin’s family from Hawaii. His two sisters and mother were vacationing on the beach and we stopped in the middle of the trail to catch up with them as the sun set. When we got to camp I stuffed the whole foot-long in my mouth and we went to bed. 

April 15th, 2017
Helvey’s Mill Shelter to Dismal Falls Campsite
18 Miles

I had aching pain on the bottom of my shin to start the day out so I had to wrap it in an ACE bandage. I know it’s nothing to be afraid of, however when every step you take comes with a shooting pain then it adds a level or spice I can’t handle. I stopped multiple times to re-wrap it or try and massage some of the lactic acid out but I still said out loud at one point, “I am not having a good day.” 

The sun was hot as ever but the mileage was easy. For the first time on this trip the trail maintained a heavenly flatness I cherished with each step. It didn’t stop the pain but having soft ground helped my mood. Honestly, even on days when it’s too hot, too cold, too steep or if I was on my period there were so many things to appreciate like the sound of the wind through the leaves or conversations with Darwin as he hiked behind me. If there’s one thing I learned from this experience it’s to never quit on a bad day. But that doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to complain here and there.

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Some exposed trail walking

We stopped at Jenny Knob Shelter to stretch, get water and snack with some other hikers. We tended to stop more often and for longer periods of time when we knew there were less than 20 miles to hike in a day – such is the luxury of Virginia. We continued on towards a road crossing where we planned to walk 0.5 miles out of our way to eat at Trent’s Grocery. Before the road there is a large bridge over a river where we saw Maps, Winter, Stache, Machine and Lumber Jill having a swim. Darwin and I joined the fun, relishing the cold water on our aching muscles before walking down the road.

We walked to Trent’s where I ate two corn dogs, ice cream, and cheesy popcorn for lunch. The whole group was there – Oz, Machine, Stache, Winter, Lumber Jill, Wet Wipes, Glim-Glom, Strider and Maps. Needless to say I didn’t need to eat again only 2.5 miles later at Dismal Falls. Because it was late in the afternoon I didn’t swim but I did let my feet and shins soak trying to ease the swelling. Dismal Falls is anything but dismal. There are swimming holes and places to jump in with a bunch of locals having a good time.  

April 16th, 2017
Dismal Falls Campsite to a spring 2 miles before Pearisburg, VA
21 Miles

Maps invited his parents to hike with him from Bland, VA. That morning they made us chocolate chip pancakes using a hot plate and we all ate like royalty. We had 21 miles to look forward to that day so the extra calories were greatly appreciated.

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A break spot during scattered rains

At this point I definitely had shin splints near the top of my ankle up to just beneath the middle of my shin. It did not feel good. That being said, I took the day slow as we listened to more Harry Potter to take my mind off the pain. It was a partly cloudy day with scattered rain that made hiking more bearable instead of the blazing sun. All day we hiked along a ridge, giving us multiple views and places where I could rest my leg. After many breaks and a relatively easy trail we finally made it to the side trail leading to our campsite. We set up our tent for the first time in weeks because of the questionably dark clouds overhead and the dozens of moths flying around. We ate and I slept like a rock, eager to wake up and hike only 2 more miles into Pearisburg, VA where we would take a nero and a zero to treat ourselves for all the big mileage days we did.

Appalachian Trail Thru Hike: Damascus, VA to Marion, VA

We stopped at Mojo’s coffee shop to have breakfast (the 2+2+2 is amazing consisting of two eggs, two strips of bacon and two plain, blueberry or chocolate chip pancakes). Ashley was our cashier, barista and servers Mojo’s for the two days we stayed in Damascus and was so patient handing out plates of food to dozens of hikers at once.
We only had 15 miles to hike to Lost Mountain Shelter when we left Damascus, VA. Not a bad day especially after a zero. With our packs full of our resupply and our bellies full of town breakfast, we set off.


From right: Strider, Honey Badger, Glim-Glom, Wet Wipes, Darwin

Continue reading “Appalachian Trail Thru Hike: Damascus, VA to Marion, VA”

Appalachian Trail Thru Hike: Hampton, TN to Damascus, VA

A quick note on a hiker named Trek:
Trek is a dominative man, but has a hardened, tough look to him. Perhaps it was his military service. He walks when he feels good, and stops when he wants. He takes zeros as many or as few times as he wants, and generally doesn’t care about any trail drama whatsoever.

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Trek Sitting on the couch at Kincora talking to Bob Peoples

Trek can do this because he is on his TENTH thru hike of the AT. Nine times he has done the AT. NINE TIMES. Sometimes he does it in 3 months, sometimes 6. Anyway, he’s awesome, and we found out later from another hiker that he liked our group! Such an honor from a bonafide AT expert.

“Good luck to all.” – Trek (In every trail register. The last time we would see him was Harpers Ferry.)Continue reading “Appalachian Trail Thru Hike: Hampton, TN to Damascus, VA”

Appalachian Trail Thru Hike: Erwin, TN to Hampton, TN

After leaving Erwin, we hiked out another five miles to Curley Maple Shelter. Leaving town with small mileage age means carrying out luxury food for that first dinner. I gorged myself on fire-roasted brats and Cabot Seriously Sharp cheese, wrapped in tortillas. Glim-Glom passed around a three liter bag of wine. Honey Badger and Wet Wipes sipped on a 6 pack each. A good time was had at that shelter, despite a weird and unsettling ‘hiker’ (see Junky) who snored ridiculously loud all night. A new face, Sherlock, and I alternated punches every time his snoring got too much to handle. Throw in a massive rain storm that night, and no one really got a good nights sleep.

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Hiking over the Nolichucky River out of Erwin, TN (Pictured: Honey Badger, Strider)

The following day started cold and wet. A small but powerful storm rolled in just as we left the shelter. Huge, heavy drops pelted us as we quickly threw on our rain gear. Those types of storms are so disheartening. Thankfully it only lasted an hour. We were all set to hike 15 miles, but at the first shelter the rain cleared, and we decided to add another 7 miles to the day. The terrain was gentle, and we made good progress. Cold and wet hikers are usually fast hikers. A definite highlight was Unaka Mountain. In AWOLs it’s specifically marked as a, “dense spruce forest.” In the misty, wet day, it felt like walking through a fairy tale. The ground was vibrant green with moss, and the spruce trees were spaced as if by design. I would love to have camped there, but we needed to make tracks! Just one of those places to go back to when we are done with this hike.

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Climbing up Unaka Mountain

As we approached Clyde Smith Shelter, we were hailed from the distance. It was Fish and Radio, two hikers we had met at Cold Spring Shelter before the NOC. It was great to see them, as they were hiking on a strict budget and thus were moving much faster than we were. (Eventually, Radio would finish the AT several hundred miles ahead of us with Sherlock. Fish would get off trail for good with 370ish miles left due to Lymes Disease.) Also there was ___. (If you say his name, he appears.)

____ is a 20 year trail rat. He’s not evil, but he is viscerally unappealing to be around, both mentally and physically. Besides inundating us with the worst stories of all time, like how his friend did drugs once, his teeth were rotting out of his mouth, and he had a sleazy, weasely type of laughter used only by henchmen in Bond movies. He loved to smoke weed, loved talking about smoking weed, yet never seemed to have his own. He lurked around hikers who did, trying to yogi them for a hit. He could be heard asking a hiker if he could scrape the resin from his bowl. Gross. I also saw a hiker sanitize his piece with a lighter after begrudgingly giving him a hit. He mouthed to me, “I don’t want scurvy.”

That night, rain pinged away on the tin room of the shelter, making it seem like we were sleeping in a snare drum. Every gust of wind was a particularly jazzy solo. I never liked jazz.

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Cold, Misty Mornings Before Roan Mountain.

We woke and left, trying to distance ourselves from _____ (I heard saying his name makes him appear) and made for Over Mountain Shelter. The morning was wet, with silvery mist obscuring everything. We were not keen on climbing up Roan Mountain in this weather, but you really don’t have a choice, you just gotta keep walking.

Just before Roan, at Hughes Gap, a family had set up some trail magic. Suddenly, the rain and wind were bearable. I ate several hot dogs and honey buns. They made us wear medical gloves to stop the spread of Norovirus, which can be a problem on trail. Basically, dont touch your shit then touch your face or food. You know, wash your hands. While we were chowing down, a small woman got dropped off at Hughes Gap. This woman, who I will not name because only those who actually hike get a trail name, is a yellow blazer. A yellow blazer gets rides and skips huge portions of the trail, sometimes not hiking at all, using the yellow lines of the road as her markers. It had become a running joke in our tramily. We all thought we would see this person to Maine, but never actually see her hike. After getting out of the car, she ate some trail magic, chain smoked a few cigarettes, then mumbled something about being cold. She flagged down the next car and left without taking a single step. Wouldn’t you believe it, she was in the next town, and had been there for two days! Who would have thought!? A word of advice to yellow blazers; Those who are hiking know who else is on the trail with them. The trail is not wide.

I feel like this post is getting negative, maybe its a sign of hiking in the rain for days. But I digress. After the trail magic, we were properly full, and started up Roan Mountain. Roan Mountain used to be formidable, some even calling it the Roan Groan. You can still see the old trail, rocketing vertically upward, but in 2016, the trail was nicely graded with 32 switchbacks. (Thanks Bob Peeples!) The only “bad” part of the trail was that it was a river. Or sometimes a lake if it was flat enough. So there was that.

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Honey Badger’s wet face from the mist, on the summit of Roan Mountain.

As we made our way up, Spruce trees began popping up with regularity. Towards the summit, we were in a dense forest, and the wet was slackening off. Sunbeams began burning through the mist, casting bright spotlights on the coniferous trees. The trail gurgled with water. It was stunning. Another fairy tale moment.

At the summit, the skies opened. It’s not that it was such a great view. By itself, the summit of Roan is nothing special. But having the clouds clear, and feeling the warm sun on us after being wet for 2 days was simply blissful. We lounged in the open clearing where a hotel once stood, and soaked up the sun. The hotel was perfect for debutants and fine gentlemen to escape hay fever, and drink alcohol, but only in the Tennessee side! Now it’s nothing but foundations, but we took our time up there and enjoyed the energy of a summit. These are the magical moments that keep you hiking. I felt so accepted, seeing the dew in others beards, and knowing it was also in mine.

We passed the highest shelter on the AT, Roan High Knob Shelter. The trail down Roan was very nice. Wide, green, and beautiful. We are really starting to see more and more green in the terrain.

After Roan, the trail became even more magical. The day was perfect now, even hot, without a cloud in the sky. We felt good. Better than good, we were churning ground, and pushing the earth behind us good. The trail rewarded our good spirits with an incredible display for its devotees.

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Jane Bald looming ahead.

First, we had Round Bald, then Jane Bald, then Grassy Ridge Bald. The land was open and airy, golden in the forefront, then blue to the horizon. We stopped at each summit and took a break because we felt like it, and the miles ahead didn’t seem so far. We need this moments of ignorance, so as not to let the thousands of miles ahead become too heavy a weight to bear.

Overmountain Shelter is one of the more famous shelters on the trail. It was a barn, now converted into a sweet space with a great view. There is a top floor, ‘enclosed’ from the elements, that can sleep at least 20 people comfortably. Downstairs, looking directly down a valley, are conventional platforms that resemble a usual shelter. These are the best spots of the shelter, unless you need the protection of the attic. Unfortunately, two weekenders decided to pitch their two 4 person tents on the deck, taking 16 places up for only 4 people. Advice for future hikers: DON’T SET UP YOUR TENT IN A SHELTER! There is never any justification.

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Oh look! 16 places taken by 2 tents and 4 people!

It was two fathers and their daughters so we let them have their magical time, and slept in the attic. Dinner was lovely despite failing to get a fire going, as the view and company could not be beat. Honey Badger, Strider, Oz, Wet Wipes, Glim-Glom, Machine, Stache, and Winter, all eating some form of carbohydrate, and all quite happy with the 20 something miles they hiked that day. The sun set, we retired to the barn attic. I fell asleep beneath a dozen hanging food bags. They looked like cocoons. What the fuck is my life?

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Sunset from Over Mountain Shelter.

The following day was less climactic, but still very fast. We had some incredible climbs and views in the beginning part of the day, but a morning spat between Legs and I made for grumpy hiking. I hiked alone for the first half of the day, summiting the bald peaks of Little Hump and Hump Mountain. I find it funny how ‘off’ an elevation profile can be, and it always ends up being my own hopes and biases. For example, some climbs south of the Humps look much more daunting, but are in fact much easier. The Humps are grassy, bald, climbs, which means the trail just goes straight up an eroded rut. They tend to be pretty steep.DSC02418

Grumpy, and tired after hiking as fast as I could, I walked over to a hiker hostel .3 to the left if the road crossing. The original idea was to go there and eat at a food truck. Instead we went to Bob’s Dairy Land and tried to suffocate ourselves in food. It’s a great spot and an easy hitch. Stache, Machine, and Honey Badger ate “The Holy Cow Burger” and a shake, and were all promptly disgusted with themselves. Maybe not Badger.

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The last view before leaving North Carolina and entering Tennessee for good.

Like true hiker professionals, WE LEFT! After getting stupid full, we hitched back to the trail and started hiking. It was somewhere around 90 degrees. Somewhere about halfway up the first, shadeless, climb, we saw Stache throw his trekking poles down to the left and tear his pack off with a huff. The Holy Cow was fighting back. Still, I loved it. We were getting in and out of town and making good miles. We hiked another 9 miles that day. We also had one of the best moments of the entire hike.

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Stache and Wet Wipes on the climb out of Roan Mountain, TN. (Post Bob’s Dairy Land)

Jones Falls will be one of those places I never forget, because I will never stop retelling this story. I don’t remember what led us to take the .1 side trail, but I am so glad we did. As we strode up to the lower falls, having a hiker conversation (yelling up and down a line of people) about absolute nonsense, we spotted a group of young day hikers. I can’t imagine what we all looked like to them. We ignored the NO CLIMBING sign and started up to the upper falls. We took turns sitting in the freezing water. Winter laid face first into the torrent. We laughed loudly and sometimes maniacally. It was glorious, wholesome, fun, which can only be found in such special places.

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Strider and Legs looking up at Jones Falls.

A few miles before our final camp, I was approached by a shoeless man walking North with a huge dog. Apparently, the dog had run back several miles of the trail and instead of putting shoes on like a human person, this man started to run after. He had an ill favored look, and smelled strongly of booze. Just another character you meet on the trail. 

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A rat snake on the AT. A common sight on a thru hike.

DSC02435We got to Mountaineer Shelter after Fish, Radio, and two section hikers, Copernicus and Glass Legs. The shelter was well placed next to Mountaineer Falls, where one can draw drinking water. It has two stories for regular sleeping, and a third story loft for two close hikers. Fish and Radio took the loft and I was super jealous. Who doesn’t love the high point in a fort? The shelter was pretty full, and a long conversation broke out until after sundown. Strider had a small debacle with a melted chocolate bar, while Oz chuckled from the second floor. Glim Glom absentmindedly hung his food bag directly in front of Striders face while he was talking. At 3am, Machine would get so uncomfortable sleeping between Legs and Lumber Jill (it was either the kicking, heat, or both), he would pack up his things and leave. He made it to Kincora Hostel much earlier than us, and missed the storm. 

We woke to a sky looming with impending violence. It was going to rain, we just didn’t know when. We told Wet Wipes to keep his rain skirt on so it wouldn’t rain and set out. The trail was gentle to us, with minor ups and downs, so we made good time in the 16.3 miles to Dennis Cove Road (AKA Kincora Hostel). We ALMOST made it before it rained. We were so close. Yet, with about 2 miles left in the hike, the skies finally let loose. In moments we were saturated, waiting to see the road. It was like every other step dropped us into a lake where we would have to get out and take another step into another lake. When we finally saw the road, it was such a relief. We walked the final .3 to Kincora Hostel in a downpour.

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Pictured from right to left: Trek (9 time AT thru hiker on his 10th AT thru), Legs, Bob Peoples, Glim-Glom, Wet Wipes. In the living area of Kincora Hostel.

Kincora Hostel is trail famous, but not nearly as famous as it’s proprietor, Bob Peoples. Remember the Groan Moan? Neither do I. It was Peoples who put the switchbacks on Roan, and who is responsible for most of the trail work in that area. He’s a true trail lover, with a distorted New England accent mixed with flecks of a southern drawl. He’s small and still in good shape, with a big, bushy mustache.

When we arrived, sodden and cold, Peoples was putting in a new shower in the hiker bathroom. A few cats lay sleeping in various perches. The hostel was a welcome sight, and we scooped up the one private room. We put on some loaner clothes, through our wet, gross, hiking clothes in the wash and took showers. It was after getting all our chores done, when we finally got a good look around.

There are probably around 13 cats living at Kincora Hostel. Some don’t get along, so opening doors become a fun challenge. The floor of the hiker area is sloping toward one wall, as if the very foundations of the building are crumbling. No fear, as vines and weeds have begun shoring up the weaker areas, entering every (and there are many) holes in the walls of the hostel. In our private room, vines had grown several meters along the top ‘molding’ of the ceiling. The furniture is old, beaten up, and covered in cat debris. In the gaps between cushions, everything from knives to shoes can turn up. All the walls and most of the ceiling are covered in photos of AT hikers, most of them photos of them on Katahdin. Off the common area is a small kitchen with a smattering of plates and cutlery. Usually, several things need to be moved first before a plate can be taken out of a cabinet, a hiker trash version of the Tower of Hanoi. Past the kitchen on the same floor, is a bunk room. A huge, and brutal looking spider took that room, so I can’t give you a good description. Upstairs, another bunk room. The smell of cat urine lay heavy on everything, and in Wet Wipes case, cat shit lay on his bunk, literally. One of the most hiker trash moments I think I’ll ever see, is Wet Wipes using a Wet Wipe to pick up cat shit, throw it out, then lay down. Hey, it’s still a bed.

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Glim-Glom in the only place you can eat in Hampton, MacDonald’s. He is wearing ‘loaner clothes’ while his are washed.

It sounds gross, and it kinda is. I didn’t even mention the fact that two raccoons and possum climb into the kitchen through a hole under the sink to eat the ‘compost.’ I also didn’t describe the hammered nail and spider nightmare that is the shower room. But it doesn’t matter. It’s still perfectly suited for hikers because over the years, the very building seems to have molded around them. That leaves Bob, who is the best part of Kincora Hostel. I won’t say more on him though, just meet him on your hike.

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