My hardest day yet

Who was it who said Virginia was flat with no rocks? A classic AT lie. I am now in Buena Vista at the Blye Fog Art Cafe and Hostel. Back on the trail this morning. But first let me add my last two posts.

The trail follows the Blue a ridge Parkway for about 100 miles.
The trail follows the Blue a ridge Parkway for about 100 miles.

DAILY LOG

Monday May 26 Thunder Hill Shelter, 766.2 to Matts Creek Shelter, 778.6
Had a great conversation with Morning Wood (that’s the kind of name you get around guys) last night. He’s 34 and a cancer survivor. Doctors said he’d be in a wheelchair and would walk. I think he has some significant pain, but after years of sitting on the couch, he decided they were wrong. He’s lost 40+ pounds and seems to be out hiking many. An inspiration.
Still full in morning from the hiker feed but tried to eat the cornbread and breakfast burrito they made for me. Mistake! I had to save the burrito for lunch. I simply get sick if I try to eat too much at one time.
Millipedes all over the trail today and I had to pull a couple off my pack. They are huge out here. I’ve always been surprised that more people don’t keep them as pets. Gentle, quit and as detritus feeders, they are easy to feed. Without them the leaves would just pile up and take forever to decompose.
I stepped just a few feet off the trail for a “call of nature” and was surprised when a doe exploded from the May apples and wild geranium I laughed out loud, it was so surprising. Later, I found that there were also stinging nettles in that patch. Trust me, that’s not something you want to squat on!
At a break for water and to soak my feet I met Digger (a 50-ish, driven man, who has just sold his business) & Snail man (a20-something German). Digger went to great lengths to tell me how many miles a day he was hiking (never less than 20 !) and how I was doing everything wrong. (I later found that he had blown out his knee and is probably off the trail for good.)
Hank caught up with me before I left the water spot so we hiked together for the next few days. He is a very upbeat Texan, in his late 40’s, and he’s a joy to walk with. A bit of an introvert, he goes to his tent early and is up early to hike. I fear I won’t be able to keep up with him, but enjoy his company.
I got to soak my feet three times today and that makes a real difference in the pain at the end of the day. Wow.
The next possible town to resupply is tomorrow in Glasgow, but it’s 5 miles off the trail and looks like a difficult hitch. Also, there’s no hostel or place for laundry. I don’t need any food, but Hank is running low. Offered to,share my food bag with Hank since I have more than I need to get to Buena Vista. I don’t think he will do it though. But we agreed to meet at hostel in Buena Vista.
Staying at the shelter: Silver Stag, The Supervisor, Chance, and 3 others.

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Tuesday May 27 Matts Creek Shelter, 778.6 to dirt road 794.9
What a long day! Today I hiked over four mountain peaks: Little Rocky (2428ft), Big Rocky (2982ft), Bluff Mt (3372ft) and Rice Mt (?2228). This was my toughest day in a long time.
But it started at 7:30a when Hank and I started out hike along the James River, a huge and powerful waterway. It parallels the AT for a mile, then you can cross on the longest footbridge on the AT. Oddly enough it’s dedicated to a man with the last name of Foot! The river is one of the lowest points on the trail at 678 ft, which made the remaining climbs very tough.
But just as we were taking photos of the footbridge, Chance arrived and said he was going to jump from the bridge. Lots of hikers do it and it’s very deep, though it is officially prohibited. I got a photo of his jump.

Thats Chance, just as he jumped from the bridge.
Thats Chance, just as he jumped from the bridge.
And he comes up from the water just fine!
And he comes up from the water just fine!

Hank had decided to skip Glasgow and help me eat the over abundance of food in my bag. He promised to buy me dinner in Buena Vista.
And then we began to climb. The temperature got to the 80’s and I found it tough even with my relatively light pack. It made me feel better that 2twenty-something men found the climbs difficult too.

This was a sign on top of Bluff Mt. It made me cry.
This was a sign on top of Bluff Mt. It made me cry.

By the time Hank and I arrived at Bluff Mountain with its spectacular view, we were feeling pretty proud of ourselves. I was the last climb of the day (or so we thought) and we were close to the pick up point for Buena Vista. I had cell service and called the Blue Dog Art Cafe for a pick up at 10:30a at highway US50 and reserved beds in the hostel. Then all we had to do was hike about 2 miles downhill for the night.

The view from Big Rocky top, one of a series of mountains we climbed today.
The view from Big Rocky top, one of a series of mountains we climbed today.

Except we weren’t as close as we thought. Fortunately Hank double checked the map before we got our tents set up. We’d gotten water and soaked our feet (only time that day) so we’d killed a bit of time. When we realized we were still ten miles away from the pick up point, we had 2 hours of daylight left. We found a spot about four miles away and got very close to it before setting up tents and collapsing into them. But not before promising to be up at 5a and hiking before 6. Eeek! That last, relatively small mountain, just about slowed me to a crawl. It was a hour before the painkillers kicked it and my feet stopped hurting enough that I could sleep.
Others nice things today: I saw 6 Ladies Slipper Orchids, but they were well past their prime. These may be the last. Saw 3 snakes, a black snake, garter and vine (green) snake.

Wednesday May 28 dirt road 794.9 to US60 Buena Vista 802.6
We were up by 5a and hiking by 5:30. The tiny biting flies were a problem until I had everything packed and was moving. We started with our headlamps on. By the time we hit the Reservoir Rd the sun was up and we had to cross another footbridge. On the rail was some trail magic! Cold beer for breakfast. I’m not much of a beer drinker, but Hank thought one might just power him forward.
It was a hard 7+ miles, mostly because we were tired from the day before but we kept a steady 2+ miles per hour. As it happened we were at the pick up point an hour early and got to rest. On the way I found a tiny red salamander, but there was not much time for photos.
The humidity was so high and I sweat so much over two days that I’d not been dry for two days. Though I’d cleaned up my body daily in a stream and rinsed out socks and shirt, I’ve not had a real shower in days and I’ve not washed my hair.at all. It was filthy! I swear the last time my hair was this dirty I was 12 and in an egg toss contest!
Hank was hungry. All we had left between up was a packet of tuna! All I really cared about was a shower. While I’ve lost some weight, he’s probably gotten too thin.

At the hostel. On the far left is Morning Wood. At the far right is Hank.
At the hostel. On the far left is Morning Wood. At the far right is Hank.

 

Daleville to Buena Vista, VA

I’m in Buena Vista at the Blue Dog Art Cafe! It’s beginning to get hot out and I’ve probably doubled my liquid intake. I have NEVER sweat so much in my life! That whole thing about ‘women don’t sweat, they glow’ is just nonsense.

DAILY LOG

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Thursday May 22 Daleville, 724 to Fullhardt Knob Shelter, 729

You have to squeeze a lot into a town stay, particularly when you don’t zero. I did laundry, showered, planned out the next section, resupplied at a grocery in addition to posting to my blog, sorting photos and sending texts, emails and the occasional phone call. I also went to the outfitters, always an expensive stop for me. I found a summer sleeping bag (down, weighs 1 pound 7 ounces, $200). I replaced one of my SmartWool shirts. I’d gotten a women’s shirt which has cap sleeves. Not only have I gotten too much sun (and an odd tan) on my upper arms, just as soon as the hot weather hit I had serious chaffing under my arms. I’ll keep the shirt as my town/keep dry shirt, but my new men’s SmartWool (Denim color, $55) will be my hiking shirt. (I also have a long sleeve, button down shirt that I can cover up with.) I also found a tiny container of body glide just in case. Then I sent my winter sleeping bag (Western Mountaineering, 10F, $550, just over 2 pounds) along with a SmartWool long sleeve shirt back to Sue for storage. (Thanks Sue). I’ll get them both back before I climb the White Mountains.
Hank went to a clinic today. His left ankle is swollen to twice its size. He says he had no pain. The doc felt it was a soft tissue infection and gave him antibiotics and told him to reduce his miles. He is staying another night in the Howard Johnson’s. BTW, we are considering buddying up to canoe the Shanendoha River. It parallels the AT and might be a nice break from hiking. He’s going to investigate it more since he’ll have Internet access tonight. On the trail it’s called Aqua Blazing.
It was 2p before I got everything done and finally hiked out of town. I am feeling a bit beaten up with the rocks in the last 200 miles and have decided to go slow and recover. City Slicka assures me that the rest of Virginia is easier and my feet could use some easy hiking for awhile. Basically I neroed (near zero mileage) today with five miles to a shelter, but it was the heat of the day, about 82F, and a 1,300ft climb, so it wasn’t nothin’. My left heal feels bruised, and the tendon is tight. I’ll need more stretching. And this morning the bottom of my feet hurt so much when I stood up I had to sit back down. I considered crawling to the bathroom.
I’ve been very concerned about my speed, but today I noticed that almost all the men in their mid forties to late fifties where at about the same place I am. They hike faster. They do more miles. But they hurt themselves and have to lay up for a couple days or even a week. I’m better off hiking a slower more consistent pace and not getting injured. Three I talked to during this stop have had Cortisone shots at least once. All of my bruises and extra foot pain is related to rocks, and I’m getting a break from most of those for the rest of Virginia. I’ll take it easy for a few days and get better.
On the way to the shelter I met Hot Soup. He’s been section hiking since 1992, predominately going Southbound. I commented that he was going against traffic and he said he’d passed 36 Nobos today, though not all are thru hikers.
Many of the ephemeral (woodland flowers) are in their last stages or long gone. But there are blooms to take their place. The hillsides are suddenly alive with Flame Azaleas, though this variety is pink rather than orange-zeroed. One mountain side was covered in white and pastel pink Mountain Laurel. It’s a beautiful time in the woods.
City Slicka happened to tent here at the same shelter.
The shelter has a cistern system that I think more should adopt. Water from the roof goes through a rough filter and into a storage tank buried behind the shelter. The water is gravity fed from a pipe 20 yards further and a few feet lower. Brilliant!

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Friday May 23 Fulhardt Knob shelter, 729 to Wilson Creek Shelter, 735.2
My news keeping bag did great overnight. If anything I was too warm. I love how small it stuffs down to. I got up around 7a and my feet hurt with every step to the privy. I’m simply not recovering overnight at this point. I took an ibuprofen and went back to sleep for an hour to let it kick in.
This is the first morning that I’ve had to brush off Daddy Long Legs and jumping spiders from the tent. Yesterday there were nine and today over a dozen. It’s like they just appear one morning fully formed.
I made it out of camp about 9a with a promise to myself to tak it easy hiking for a few days. The trail was mostly soft and bound to be easier on my feet. My left heel feels bruised and both calves are tight. More stretching, fewer miles until I feel better.

The rhododendrons are in bloom and the mountain Laurel
The rhododendrons are in bloom and the mountain Laurel

The rhododendrons have bloomed in the last two days, purple balls of color between the white and oink mountain Laurel. I scared a tiad from the oath, his belly so full it was dragging the ground. Iridescent green Tiger Beetles use the cleared space of the trail to fight or is it to mate? It looks violent to me, but I know little if the ways of live for a beetle! I stopped to watch a woodpecker high in a tree. A Mourning Dove called. The temperatures were mild and there was a breeze most of the time. A lovely walk and inky 6.2 mikes to the next shelter.
At Curry Creek I stopped for a bandana bath and to rinse out my shirt. I know it seems like you should clean up at night, but you take what the trail offers you when it offers. My camp shoes double as water shoes (and shoer shoes) so it’s a great way to cool down my feet and keep swelling low. While wading the minnows seemed interested and swam between my feet. There were also tiny crawfish and a few frogs. I also saw what I first though to be a freshwater eel, but then noticed tiny feet and gills. I believe it’s the early stage of a salamander.
I had lunch and meet everyone who passed by, including Fairy Queen, a straight man from Australia with the best sense of humor. I probably spent an hour and a half there.
I still had a bit short of three miles to hike to the shelter. I passed a historical marker explaining this are was a Collier Put for making charcoal, used until coal was discovered. The other “wildlife” that’s suddenly appeared on the trail is horn worms, a bright green caterpillar. I’ve only seen the tomato worm variety and know there are tobacco worms as well in this family. No idea what they are eating but there were dozens of them on a 2 mile section of the trail just before the shelter. Some were huge, almost 5 inches.
When I got to the shelter at 2p, I set up my tent and immediately took a nap. It was partly because I was tired, but partly to avoid Honey Bear. Will I never be rid of him? We mostly just ignore each other. Rafiki, Morning Wood, and City Slicka are here. Hank walked in from Daleville. His ankle is much improved so it seems the diagnosis of soft tissue infection was correct. He’s to take them for 10 days and reduce his miles for a few days.

Is that Buena Vista in the distance?
Is that Buena Vista in the distance?

Saturday May 24 Wilson Creek Shelter, 735.2 to Bobblets Gap Shelter, 742.5
My feet felt much better this morning. Two short days and extra sleep (I’ve taken a nap each day) has really helped. And my knee is less tender. The left heel is still bruised and a muscle in my right thigh still seems tight. Two more days of this treatment and I think I can go back to 12-14 miles a day. I just need some recovery time.
I saw Morning Wood packing up at 7a, but stayed snuggled in my bag. It was a cool night. In was out by 8am. Rafiki and Honey Bear never left yesterday, so they were asleep in the shelter when I was eating breakfast. City Slika was up early, but only needed to go a couple miles. An old hiking buddy was picking him up for 2 days of R&R to celebrate his 41 birthday. He was meeting him at Black Horse Gap (mm737.6, BRP 97.7), the first place the AT crosses the BlueRidge Parkway. It will parallel it for about 100 miles.
The AT crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway every few miles, criss crossing from side to side. Today, every crossing point was at a viewing stop. Hank had slept in, but caught up with me at Harvey’s Knob Overlook ( mm740.1, BRP 95.3). He seemed to be feeling low, but I tried to encourage him. He’s been doing big miles, 20 a day, for quite some time. Now he’s got the early signs of shin splints, a soft tissue infection and low energy. I just reminded him that your body has to break down to build up, but the pounding he’s been giving it probably means that the build up process can’t keep up. I suggested he simply do a couple low mileage days, under 10. Take a nap, drink extra water, soak his feet in a stream, elevate his ankle and get extra sleep at night. I gave him some vitamin C packets and reminded him to take his antibiotics. He’s lightened his pack, gotten better shoes and insoles. Most of the swelling has gone down. He just needs time. I’m not sure of his age, but somewhere in his 40’s. We hiked together to the next shelter and he’s taking a nap.

Sunday May 25 Bobblets Gap Shelter, 742.5 to Thunder Hill Shelter, 766.2
I love stories that start off with lines like, “Well, there was this hiker feed and I was more than 20 mikes away, but I really wanted to make it, so….”
This is my story like that.
But first: it wasn’t my best night ever. I’m glad I took a nap in the afternoon because it was difficult. First, my tent was on rocky ground and not level. I actually shifted 8 inches. The entire tent. The snoring in the shelter was so bad that I had to wear earplugs. Then around midnight a hiker came in. He took forever getting settled, all the time flashing his headlamp around. He woke everyone up. Sleeping in the shelter was The Supervisor and a section hiker. 42, Hank and I all tented. It was a short night for everyone.
Up early and Hank and I hiked out together at 7a. In a couple miles we crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway again. I’d already figured out that the hiker feed, scheduled from 2-7, was 20 more miles by trail, but only about 15 if I hiked the road. What’s a hiker feed? It’s where a group, often if former thru hikers, decides to feed all the hikers who come by. This particular one had been “advertised” in shelters since before Pearisburg. I never thought I could make it. But suddenly, it was just 15 miles if fairly flat road walking away. And if I was lucky, I might get a ride part of the way. It was a sunny but cool day and I decided to go for it. But Hank is a purer hiker than I am and said he’d stick to the trail.
I took off hiking. I walked just a half mile when City Slicka and his friend picked me up! My first ride took me just half a mile, but it was an intersection that proved to be a good place to catch a second ride with a Vietnamese man from New Jersey. He was only going 5 miles to the Peaks of Otter Visitors Center. Perfect! I cleaned up a bit in the Ladies room, plugged in my electronics to charge. I got some snacks from the gift shop, some to eat right away and some for later. A mini resupply! I looked through the exhibits at the visitors center and learned a bit about the area.
I spent over a hour there, mostly to charge my phone and iPad. At this point I was just under 10 miles to the feed point but it was 10:30a. I needed to get moving. I started walking at a 20 minute mile pace–as fast as I can possibly go with a pack and it’s only possible on flat ground. I walked 4 miles when I woman in a blue car pulled over to ask if I was trying to get to the hiker feed. She turned out to be Anne, one of the cooks! We moved bags of groceries, a couple watermelon and cases of soda to make room for me and my pack.
Ann had helped with the Feed for 8 years but it had been going on for 10. Thru hikers Miss Wiggy, (actually very calm), Pokie-honis (she says she’s slow and wears her hair in braids), Scarlet (“I’ll think about that tomorrow”) and Lizard (she and her dad used to capture lizards) had all hiked the trail in different years. They had an amazing amount of food. I may never eat again! Turns out I’d met Miss Wiggy when she did Warren Doyle’s hike in 95. And we both have the same opinion of him!

Buena Vista

I passed the 800 mile mark this morning as I hurried to my shuttle to Buena Vista! It’s a small town, but I’ve already showered, elated a burger and smoothie and will soon have clean laundry!  I’m still alive, still walking, and have not been eaten by bears yet! Though the bugs are hungry! More posts soon.

The rhododendrons are in bloom and the mountain Laurel
The rhododendrons are in bloom and the mountain Laurel

Catawba to Daleville, VA

I didn’t take notes during this section, but have a few photos to share.

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DAILY LOG

May 20. 311 in Catawba,VA to Lambert Meadows Shelter 714.6
The hostel was so loud until 2p last night that I didn’t sleep well. Hard hiking day.

Spiderwort
Spiderwort

Got a ride to 311 from a a Trail Angel who stayed in a tent last night. It was 9a before I started hiking, a late start for me. It was almost 5 miles up to McAfee Knob, the most photographed spot on the AT.

Walking down from McAfee Knob I ran into Shepard, a 2013 thru hiker I met in November last year as he was finishing. I was doing a shake down hike on the first 30 miles of the AT. Fresh Ground had his Leap Frog Cafe set up at Woody Gap. When I arrived there was a reunion of sorts–Roosta, Pancake, Rainbow Braid & Shepard were there. They all encouraged me and gave me tips on hiking the trail. We took a photo that Shepard will send to Fresh Ground. I hope it cheers him up. It’s been a tough year for Fresh Ground. His dog Dottie died when he was feeding hikers at Fontana Dam. Then he moved north and was in a car accident. He wasn’t hurt, but it took several days to sort through the insurance and get repairs.

I saw 3 deer today and none of them were frightened of me. They let me get very close to them before throwing up that white tail and running off. I’m always impressed with how graceful they are and such strength! I wish I could leap like that. Most of the time I just plod along on the trail, one foot in front of the other. It’s not graceful, but it gets me there.
Late in the day was my favorite hike of all time: Tinker Cliffs. A quarter mile cliff walk. Breathtaking! Below in the valley was a lovely farm community with a river. Vultures were riding the thermals high above the valley, but eye level with me. Never seen anything like that before.
Met Hank from Texas on a break and we talked for awhile. Later we both set up camp near City Slicka for the night at the last spot with water before Daleville.

Lots of us got lost at this point.
Lots of us got lost at this point.

saw 14 orchids today.

The view from Tinker Cliffs
The view from Tinker Cliffs
Tinker Cliffs
Tinker Cliffs
Going into Daleville.
Going into Daleville.

May 21 Lambert Meadows Shelter 714.6 to Daleville, VA 724.0
Out of the camp by 7a on what ‘should’ have been an easy 10 mile walk. But the rocks were awful. Great views, but my feet were so sore by the time I hit the Howard Johnson’s that I could barely stand at the counter long enough to get a room. Got there at 1pm. I showered and lay in bed 2 hours before going to the outfitters for a summer weight bag. Had pizza with Hank and worked on the blog.

Passed under several power lines going to Daleville.
Passed under several power lines going to Daleville.