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.

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