Darwin and Legs try their hand at slack packing, and ponder the question, “How many times can you sweat through your shirt in a day?” The last of the Virginia Highlands are coming to an end, and so are the big climbs. Only the Priest, and Three Ridges remain. There’s rain, there’s heat, there are 20 mile days. It’s the Appalachian Trail!
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
(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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
April 31st, 2017
Maupin Field Shelter to Waynesboro, VA
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.
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!