Four Pines Hostel is located near Catawba, VA.
Since owner Joe Mitchell and his girlfriend Donna took me to Trail Days in Damascus and back, I’m forever in their debt. I also stayed two nights, May 18-19, in their hostel, a converted 3 car garage with a bath, shower, 2 refrigerators, and a stove. If the 8 beds and 3 couches fill up, there’s two barns to sleep in as well. And it filled up both nights I stayed.
Sunday we drove back from Damascus, unloaded the truck and collapsed for the night.
Monday Miss Donna offered to slack pack me a fairly easy 6 miles from 311 southbound to the hostel. It was a good way to slowly get back into hiking.
While I enjoyed Joe, I really related to Donna. She’s witty (“if that’s true Joe, I’ll kiss your A** and give you a week to gather a crowd,”) and hard working. And I suspect she’s already dug the hole for the body of the first woman who flirts a little too long with Joe.
many thanks to them both. The hostel takes donations, which help keep it open. When I commented that you have to be a little crazy to hike this trail or take in people who do, Miss Donna said, “Ah, don’t fool yourself. Those are the only sane ones out there.”
I’m posting this from my hotel in Daleville, VA, roughly mike marker 724. I’ve been on the trail for over 2.5 months and am a third of the way into the hike. This past weekend I got to go to a Trail Days. I’m still feeling lucky!
Trail Days. May 16-18, 2014
I had given up hope that I could make back to Damascus for Trail Days, but as I walked into the Four Pines Hostel, Joe Mitchell and his girlfriend Donna said they were leaving for Damascus in 20 minutes and “we’ve got one seat.” City Slicka claimed it for me before I could even speak. No time for a shower or laundry. So I grabbed my water and a few snacks from my food bag. I also grabbed my jacket, thinking that “seats in the back” might mean the bed of the pickup. But City and I squeezed into the tiny seats in the back of the cab.
Trail Days is the biggest AT related Celebration. The annual event is held the weekend after Mothers Day, when the bulk of hikers are expected to be passing through. (As someone a couple hundred miles north, I’m considered ahead of the pack.) Other towns have trail events as well, but all time theirs based on Damascus.
It took less than three hours to drive south, past the section I’d spent the better part of a month walking. A bittersweet thought. It was raining as we drove in but stopped briefly for us to unload. I set up in the field portion of Tent City, behind the baseball field on the edge of town. There was no reason to even try to get a bed in the city. They were all probably booked up weeks ago.
I found Red Leg and his wife Peggy and set up next to them and DamnYankee (from New England, but moved permanently to Virginia. He hiked in 2011). Nearby was Zacksquach, Mayonnaise Pockets, Acorn, Zack…lots of people I’d been missing.
I had missed the free laundry for the day (I got it done the next morning and it came back with eight religious tracks, scattered through every pocket) but was able to grab a shower, which felt great, especially washing my hair and using a Q-Tip. It’s unbelievable what grows in your ears in 3-4 weeks! It rained a couple more times, but didn’t last long, fortunately. That night I settled in. Saw people I’d been hiking with, even one young man who I met on my first night on the trail. He was so sweet to remember me, but it smelled like he might not have showered since March 1. Heard updates of other hikers. Cambodia is still on the trail, though yellow blazing a bit. She’s mostly hiking with Dallas. I’d love to catch up with them both.
I helped myself to burgers from Four Pines hostel since Joe and Donna were cooking for everyone. I went to TruBrit’s tent. (He lets hikers camp at his house. I’ve already passed his section.) Ran into Cactus, Aroo, Trip and Blue there. Checked out Bill’s World, a wild photo and light display. And stood around Riff Raff’s bonfire and drumming circle for awhile. It was clear that the heavy partiers would congregate here. I was relieved to know I was as geographically far from them as possible inside Tent City!
I met some AT celebrities like Miss Janet (who was handing out beads and ties “so we don’t look like trashy Hiker Trash”) and Baltimore Jack. I went to the One Way Ministry and listened to their band. But by 10:30p I was yawning. Hiker midnight is still early for me. So I headed for my tent. My various bruises from 2 days of falls (climbing rocks in the pouring rain) required an ibuprofen and an Excedrin PM. Ear plugs were de rigour since the drumming circle was likely to go into the wee hours. Finally I wore a hat with a brim pulled down over my eyes to stop the glare of the headlamps as hikers walked by.
I sent my winter clothes for Sue (thanks Sue!) to store just last week but was glad I had kept my puffy down jacket and winter sleeping bag. It was 38F by morning and a foggy wet cold night. Everyone’s tent was wet from rain and condensation. It was cloudy most of the day and I wore my down jacket under my rain coat to keep warm.
In the morning, I grabbed a cup of matte from a group who may or may not be a cult, The Twelve Tribes. They have “communities” all over the world where they live and work jointly. There are a few near the trail where you can work for stay. They seem to have farms and bakeries and live “with a joint purse.” I hope it works for them. Had pancakes at the One Way Ministry, $5 all you can eat, with coffee and orange drink. At Mt Rogers Outfitters I bought another pair of the hiking shoes I like, Oboz. I’m sending them ahead to Harpers Ferry since the pair I’m wearing will be worn out by then. I also got the smaller volume size of the same pack I’ve been wearing. With all the reductions I’ve made in gear weight and all the things I’ve decided not to carry, my ULA Catalyst was just too large. The new one, a ULA Circuit, will ride better and weighs a pound less. I love new gear, but I love reducing pack weight even more. I also did a mini food resupply at the a Dollar General.
I checked out the booths in the park–every outfitters, gear manufacturer and outdoor company, plus some crafts and local foods. Watched the parade of hikers at 2pm that quickly digressed into a water fight. Even the Local Fire Department got into the act with a truck rigged to spray the crowd. When I realized I was standing next to Baltimore Jack, a sure target, I quickly stepped aside and avoided getting drown. I met Gene Espy, the second man to thru hike the AT. He was at the head of the parade but I saw him earlier signing books. I’d arrived too late to see him speak on Friday. I met him 15 years ago (not that he would remember) and was glad for the opportunity to thank him for inspiring me to hike.
I grabbed a cheesesteak and onion rings at The Blue Blaze Cafe. Got to talk to Lone Wolf, 16 time AT thru hiker. I was explaining to him that he’s mentioned in the opening pages of Just Passin’ Thru, the book by Winton Porter, owner of Mountain Crossings for a decade, the outfitters and hostel on AT mile marker 30 in Georgia. (I replaced my backpack there and waited out the first ice storm). Wolf claimed not to know. “I just walk,” he said modestly. I helped him judge the Blue Blaze Beard Bash. Lumpy (from Kinkora Hostel and formerly of Mountain Crossings) was working security with Wolf and it was great to catch up with him. He told me about the upcoming Hard Core Trail Maintenance starting the next day. This is organized by Bob Peoples and focuses on difficult but important trail improvements. But this night Lumpy and Lone Wolf might have been more intent on drinking than security. I’d been told they closed the place at 6a the night (morning?) before and had spent a few hours at Doc’s Bar before arrival at the Blue Blaze Cafe. Well, Trail Days is for celebrating and I’m sure everyone knows them both and wants to talk and buy them a beer. Let’s hope their liver is super human.
I walked back toward Tent City at 9p and stopped into The Way Ministry to hear their band for a few minutes before heading to my tent. Riff Raff’s bonfire and drum circle sounded like it was going strong, but I’m pleased my tent was set on the opposite side, out of the woods and in the relatively quiet section. I’m sure there are all kinds of substances being shared in the woods and around the fire pit, but I practice a “don’t ask, pretend not to notice, refuse politely” attitude that’s worked marvelously on the trail so far. There are clearly drugs on the trail, mostly pot, but with rare exception people are very nonintrusive about it. And I’m fairly clueless about anything stronger than chocolate and Jim Beam anyway. I don’t need to know.
I fell asleep to the sounds of a nearby group of 4 hikers who had brought guitars and were taking turns strumming and singing old tunes. Other than some idiot with a trumpet, it was a pleasant night, though I woke several times as people walked by in the night with headlamps or talking loudly.
Sunday May 18.
No rain, but the air was moisture laden again this morning. I was up before 7am and grateful DamnYankee shared coffee with me. I loaded my new, smaller pack and everything fit perfectly. Let’s hope it fits as well in use as the last one.
Joe and Donna of Four Pines had celebrated thoroughly the night before and got up late. I helped them load their truck with 2 coolers, a huge tent, canopy, grill and large plastic containers. There was more in the truck bed than I even own! City Slicka had clearly celebrated even harder and slept most of the way home. Supremely hung over, I was proud that he never once moaned or complained. Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time!
Back at Four Pines hostel we unloaded, rehydrated and went to bed early.
I am currently in Daleville, VA at a hotel. I’m a bit behind listing to the blog, so many of you won’t realize that I’ve been struggling both physically and mentally since my last posts. I’m fine and I’m not quitting. But the trail is simply harder than I had guessed. It is hard every single day and I’ve had to accept that this will not change. Though I’m stringer, my mileage hasn’t increased much in a month because this section has been so rocky and the elevation changes are constant. While physically demanding, the trail is more than half mental. It’s taken me awhile to get my mine back toward Maine. Though I don’t mention it directly, part of the issue was hiking with a person who is in a negative space at this time. I can’t afford to do that even for a single day.
Monday May 12 to Bailey Gap shelter 654.5
My friend Jean dropped me off on the trail after 2 zero days in Pearisburg. The weather was suddenly hot and I was glad to quickly arrive at The Captains. I did a separate post about my afternoon stop there, which included a dip in the river to cool off and some Black Cherry soda. Ran into City Slicka and One A Day who told me they’d seen an albino deer. Also saw a young bear.
Highlights for today: 7 pink ladies slipper orchids. These are endangered somim thrilled to see any. Also there are lots of blueberry bushes along this section of the trail (and for the next 50+miles). They are in the early blooming stage. Hope to taste some berries farther north.
Set up my tent at Baily Gap shelter. City Slicka & Flying Panther stayed inside. It was a short day of hiking since the sudden heat really sucked my strength. Many decided to night hike but City told me how rocky the next few miles were and I didn’t think it would be safe to hike it at night.
Tuesday May 13 Bailey Gap shelter 654.5 to Spring and stealth campsite 665.2
Just last week I really thought I was getting into my stride, but it doesn’t seem like that this week.
At Woods Hole I was given a massage. It was wonderful while it was happening, but as soon as I tried to get off the table I felt like a lead weight. I must have drank a gallon of water after and was so lethargic I took a two hour nap. That evening I was in bed by 9:30 and when I lay down I though my back must be completely bruised. It was tender to the touch for three days. The next morning I didn’t feel much better. I had mild diarrhea that lasted until early afternoon. We had a lovely breakfast, but i threw up some of it. My knees and feet were swollen before I even started hiking. While it’s difficult for me to believe the massage caused this, it’s the only unusual thing I did and was was feeling fine before, even strong.
I only had 10 miles to hike to Pearisburg that day and it nearly killed me. My feet hurt with every step. I fear I frightened my friend Jean when she saw me because I probably looked pale and was certainly walking like an old arthritic woman. It didn’t help that I’d also been rained on and looked like a drown rat.
I so enjoyed my time with Jean, but probably wasn’t very lively. My feet and knees were tender the next 2 days. I hope I didn’t put a damper on her trip. You can’t imagine how it raised my spirits to spend time with her and I’m still in awe that she drove from Little Rock to see me.
The combination of rocky hiking and temperatures in the 80’s is zapping my strength. I’m back to hiking 10-12 mile days and then falling exhausted into my tent. I get up early to hike in the cool and take the time to cool off my feet once or twice a day in a stream to reduce swelling. I even napped in the heat of the day today, but I don’t have enough energy for evening/night hiking.
I am finding the situation discouraging. If I can’t hike more miles a day I can’t finish. It’s true that most of the folks I started hiking with seem to be off the trail. At least I can find no trace of them in trail registers. I’d particularly like to see Dallas and Cambodia. The few that remain, like Blue Bird or Mayonnaise Pockets, are 1-3 weeks ahead if me. It’s lonely. And I’m not really having any fun. (I later got word that Dallas and Cambodia are hiking together, north of me).
Up early. Going to be hot day so hiking before 7am. As predicted, it was a very rocky section for 3+miles. No idea how hikers did this in the dark last night.
I’ve seen surprisingly little wildlife lately, but this morning was an exception. At least a dozen chipmunks scurried across the path in front of me and dozens more darted to each side. Squirrels were scolding me from treetops.
At four miles into my day I was at Wind Rock campsite. It’s dry, but has a nice vista. It was already getting warm and my feet were sore from boulder hopping, so I took off my shoes and socks and lay down for 20 minutes.
All day it was hot and I felt like my energy had drained away.
7 ladies slipper orchids.
I took a nap Nap at a shelter midday, but didn’t feel refreshed. From there I didn’t have much energy, but hiked 2 more miles to a rocky spring. I found a rock free depression under a tree and set up my tent. It was a noisy night, lots of small animals moving about nearby. I’m not afraid of them, but the noise wakes me up.
Probably should have stayed at a shelter last night since I needed the company.
Wednesday May 14 Spring and stealth campsite 665.2 to Sarver Hollow Shelter. 675.5
Frustrated that I won’t be able to go to Trail Days in Damascus. I simply can’t hike fast enough to make it to any reasonable pick up spot or place to hitch from.
Hard to face day. Feeling low. Out by 7:30a to avoid heat. Immediately hit rocky section so I’m glad I didn’t try to push on farther last night. 2 miles up hill but the last half mile worst, rocky and steep. But I did see a record 12 pink ladies slipper orchids during the half mile climb.
Trying to focus on the positive. The rocky sections, though tough, are short. Most of my lack of energy is the sudden heat. It jumped 20 degrees in 2 days. My body will adjust. I just need to give it time. I sent home winter gear in Pearisburg and my pack is lighter. City Slicka suggested a couple more changes for summer that could reduce that even more. There are lots of streams to cool off and clean up in. I can wash my body, cool my feet and rinse out my shirt 1-2 times a day. I can nap in the heat of the day if needed. In just a few more days the canopy above will fill in with leaves and I wind be walking in the sun. One rain would cool the air and help the trees fill out.
Stopped to talk to a young woman, Happy Flats, who is hiking with her husband and a male friend, Muskrat and Mikey Mike. She is always behind them she says. They’ve gotten up at 4a the last two days to hike while it’s cooler. When I got to the pasture at 671.1, stopped for a photo. (Above). A man in his 70s came up on a 4 wheeler to talk to me. He suggested I stay at the B&B down the road when I crossed VA42, but I already knew it was out of my price range. He said he’d lived here all his life on land his great grandparents had settled. He loved the trail, but wasn’t fond of the ATC people since they “took” 120 acres of his property. I had to admit that the broom sage and stickers growing up on the AT land didn’t look as nice as the grazed pastures nearby. But he didn’t stay long. Rain was suddenly threatening and he went back home to avoid it. Funny, getting wet, now that it’s warm, doesn’t concern me much. It’s too hot to wear a rain jacket, so I covered my pack, put my phone in a waterproof cover and in just a few minutes it was over. Now that it’s effectively “summer” there’s a chance for thunderstorms every afternoon. The woods are very dry and rain is needed. I just hope I can be in a shelter or at least my tent when it decides to really pour down. At the very least I hope not to be on top of a mountain if there is lightening.
Briefly today, on top of Kelly Knob (668), I had phone service. I received numerous emails, texts and phone messages, many a week old. One phone message was from “Donna and David” who wished me a Happy Mothers Day and hoped that “Allah would continue to bless me.” Pretty sure they have the wrong number.
Highlights: 16 orchids today One deer. She wasn’t even afraid of me.
Last uphill of the day almost killed me then a lovely flat section before the shelter. But the shelter was .4 straight down. I had to stay because I was out of both water and energy. There was a very funny section hiker there who clearly didn’t want to hike in, but had thru hiking friends who had decided to go to the next shelter, 6 miles further north. I felt for him. There was no way he’d arrive before dark, but we tried to cheer him up by pointing out that it was fairly flat (once he got out of the shelter) then down.
Only two others stayed at the shelter, both thru hikers. Just Walkin’ is a man in his 50’s who says his wife worries if he doesn’t call every day–a completely impossible thing. Vagabond looks about 20 and he indicated that his hike was a lot less fun and he was considering stopping. Not what I needed to hear in my current state of mind.
Highlights for today: 16 pink ladies slipper orchids. (Just Walkin’ found 2 yellow orchids a couple days before and the photo was stunning.)
I frightened a deer bedded down for the afternoon in a shady edge of a field. He was so graceful as he walked away along a fence row. Then took a standing leap and cleared the fence. I wish I could jump like that!
Mountain Laurel are almost in bloom. I saw some just ready to pop open today. The Lilly of the valley started blooming today! Surprised at how much of it there is.
Thursday May 15 Sarver Hollow Shelter. 675.5 to Brush Mountain, north end of summit, near Audie Murphy Monument
Tough night followed by a tough day. Vagabond and Just Walking decided to stay in the shelter last night because I’d gotten an updated weather forecast mid afternoon that said rain coming in over night. Just at dusk as we were nodding off, two hikers with a dog came in. The dog was the best behaved of the three. They got water. Then put on their headlamps and made dinner. The light was blinding added to their loud conversation. They were there about an hour and a half, keeping us awake. Then they put on their packs and hiked on. It seemed like we could get some sleep.
Then the whippoorwill started. I though it odd that there were cryptic messages about an evil whippoorwill in the area. I’ve heard them most evenings for the last couple weeks and have enjoyed them. But this one had learned a new trick. It was using the shelter as a sounding board. He’d stand in front of it and sing, and the sound would bounce through the shelter. It was deafening! We each took a turn getting up and scaring him away, but it didn’t last long. He’d come back in just a few minutes. My earplugs barely took the edge off. I was grateful when it began to rain and chased him off for good.
Rain. Lots and lots of rain. The temperature was too warm to wear rain gear (in fact I only have a jacket now. Sent the rain pants for Sue to store with my winter gear.) though I put it off as long as I could, I finally put on my pack and proceeded to go get wet. I had not even climbed out of the shelter (.4 miles, straight up) before I fell. So, it’s going to be one of those days, huh? But the map made the first 6 miles look easy. A ridge walk (when will I learn ridge walks are terrible?) then down to the first shelter.
Fortunately, just as I got out of the shelter, I ran into Three Thumbs (he shaved off the top of the first 2 fingers of one hand and they do look a bit like thumbs) He’s retired, walking at about my pace, and since it was raining and likely to thunder, he suggested we team up on this next section. Seemed like a nice safe suggestion. I had no idea how great an idea it would be for me. The next three + miles were one rocky bolder hop after rock outcropping. We climbed more rocks than I knew possible. And since it was wet, raining and muddy I fell. Five times. I’d hit a slick section of rock and my feet would just slide out from under me. Most of the falls were slow, thanks to hiking poles, but they all hurt. I’ll have bruises on both hips. But there was nowhere to stop and rest until we finally began to descend, because we kept hearing thunder and were afraid to be on top of the ridge during a lightening storm.
At the NiDay shelter we got something to eat, refilled water and visited with other hikers who stopped by. I’d hoped the rain would stop, but it continued the rest of the day. As I type this I’m in my tent, listening to it pour. I’d had a bit of a break which allowed me to set up my tent and I’m fairly dry inside. Mt hiking clothes are hanging on limbs outside and I hoped they would dry.
But the rain did offer me some consolations. I saw 5 Fire Newts, 3 Pink Lafies Slipper Orchids and one deer. The deer was just running along, sure footed, on the side of the mountain, leaping and bounding obstacles. I wish I had half the energy! I really enjoyed talking with Three Thumbs. He is interesting and also let me point out flowers along the way.
I hope it stops raining. Soon.
Friday, May 16 Brush Mountain, north end of summit, near Audie Murphy Monument to Four Pines Hostel.
It didn’t stop raining. It got much worse with heavy downpours, high winds and falling temperatures. About 3a the rain stopped and I got up, wrung out my wet hiking clothes (they were too wet to bring into the tent last night, so I changed into dry camp clothes and hung them outside). The wind was bitterly cold and I was glad I had not sent home my warm sleeping bag. I hoped the clothes would dry enough not to be too miserable to put in in the morning.
But it was cold and damp in the morning. I compromised with myself and put on the wet shirt, but kept on the dry shorts I had slept I n. The socks were sopping wet. Darn Tough socks do hold up better than any I’ve ever seen, but it takes days for them to dry.
I packed up my wet tent and started hiking, mostly to warm up. It was four miles down to the road, a fairly easy downhill grade. My bruises from the day before really hurt though, so when I got an offer of a ride to the hostel, I took it.
I walked up to the hostel and met Joe Mitchell, the owner of Four Pines. He said he was leaving in a few minutes for Damascus. City Slicka saw me and said he and I had seats in the back of the truck for a Trail Days! Two others had changed their mind at the last minute and I got the open seat!
I’ve just arrived in Daleville, VA. That’s the 724 mile mark and about a third of the trail is behind me. This is day 81. It feels like I’ve never done anything but hike. It’s still hard every day. My knees are strong and except for when I fall, the only thing that hurts is the bottom of my feet. And they hurt every night. But I’m still moving north.
I’m taking a (much needed) shower and laundry, plus a trip to the outfitters to see about changing to a lighter weight, summer sleeping bag. When I checked into the hotel the desk attendant asked for my drivers licience. She commented that I’d lost some weight since that photo was taken. The AT workout will help you reduce fat and increase muscle, but there has to be an easier way. I just looked at the bug bites, bruises and scratches (not to mention my hilarious hiker tan). I look beaten up. I feel it too.
but as soon as my feet stop hurting, I’ll feel victorious!
About 20 miles north on the AT out of Pearisburg, VA is The Captain’s. It’s not a hostel, but it is a hiker friendly camping spot. I came by for lunch and unfortunately did not get to meet Captain. He was off fishing. He offers his yard for camping, has a fridge with free sodas and you can come into the back porch if it’s raining. I was here May 12.