Remembering Pearisburg

I’ve had a lovely couple of days here resting my feet and visiting with my friend. Here are some photos to remember it all.

My dear friend Jean drove all the way from Little Rock just to spend time with me!
My dear friend Jean drove all the way from Little Rock just to spend time with me!
But first I had to walk the 10 mikes from Woods Hole to Pearisburg. And there's always a mountain to climb...
But first I had to walk the 10 mikes from Woods Hole to Pearisburg. And there’s always a mountain to climb…

 

...sometimes two.
…sometimes two.

 

Did I mention the rocks? This is Angel's Rest, a popular overlook.
Did I mention the rocks? This is Angel’s Rest, a popular overlook.

 

The trail finally drops you into someone's back yard!
The trail finally drops you into someone’s back yard!

 

But it is a lovely place to rest.  Jean and I enjoyed the old court house...
But it is a lovely place to rest. Jean and I enjoyed the old court house…
...and downtown.
…and downtown.

but now it’s time to get back to hiking!

Woods Hole Hostel

This special farm and hiker hostel has been in Neville’s family for generations. It’s 10 hiking miles south of Pearrisburg, VA. I spent 2 nights here.

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Forester Gump and our banjo playing hiker.
Forester Gump and our banjo playing hiker.
All their meat is locally grown.
All their meat is locally grown.

 

Dinner around the fire pit
Dinner around the fire pit. Spice, Michael (standing with hat , owner) , Goat (working at hostel through May), Neville (owner, this was her grandparents land), and Trip (from New Zeland).
Fire pit b
Fire pit

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The woods are greening

I am currently in Pearisburg, VA with 630 miles of the trail behind me. I have very slow wifi, so may not be able to add as many photos as I’d like to this post. The woods are really greening up and temperatures were up to 80F this week. Most days I’ve been able to take a bandana bath in a stream and rinse out my hiking shirt. It’s great to be able to get clean and not worry about freezing! But every day is an adventure on the Appalachian Trail.

DAILY LOG

imageSaturday May 2 Atkins, VA 683, 542.7to VA 42 O’Lystery Pavilion 554.4

I started my day at a motel, clean with clean laundry. Generally it’s difficult to get back on the trail on a morning like this. But this wasn’t exactly a top line establishment. The biker gang that came in around midnight was loud and disturbed my sleep, but they were far worse in the morning. I had wanted to post to my blog that morning, but the wifi didn’t work in my room. I sat outside on the bench, but the bikers were up and began harassing me (seriously? Is that how you show how tough you are? It takes four of you to harass a lone female who isn’t bothering you at all?). So I packed up to leave. I stopped first at the gas station convenience store for a few resupply items, then headed back to The Barn restaurant for breakfast. I ate with Apple, but had not realized he was camping behind the restaurant

Star chickweed
Star chickweed

that night. I’d thought he had a room like me. I felt badly because I could have let him take a shower in my room and thrown in some laundry with mine. A missed opportunity to do trail magic. Met a guy with a handmade bark backpack. Though heavy, (later found it was seven pounds. In contrast, my pack is three and I’m looking for a lighter one with less capacity.) it was really interesting. His name is Warld Piece (like world peace). Just as I was ready to leave, Trip (Geologist from New Zealand, formerly hiking with the Whiskey Gang) showed up. He’s been off the trail for a week in California and now has a very attractive female hiking companion named Blue. It was great to see him and thank him for the help he gave with my knee pain. Moving my hips really reduces my pain on the downhills.

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This section of the trail goes right under the I-81 underpass and it’s always tough to find the AT when there’s a road walk. A police officer stopped at the intersection to let a hiker out. The officer was friendly, but couldn’t help me find the trail. He wasn’t entirely sure that the hiker, Jason, he was dropping off (a southbounder) was in the right place. So it ended up that I could help them find the trail south. Jason was hiking to Sugar Grove (VA 16, roughly mm531) to join a trail maintenance group for a few months. I walked under I-81 and found where the trail went off into a wetland then up into the woods. It was conveniently well marked for a change

The trail is often just trees, but I enjoy pasture walking too.
The trail is often just trees, but I enjoy pasture walking too.
From the Davis Cemetery
From the Davis Cemetery

This began a long stretch of roads, campsites and cemeteries named after the Davis Family and about three mountains named Brushy. There are several new flowers in bloom including Field Daisy, Cleavers and Cinquefoil. The woods are suddenly covered in May Apple, popping up like little green umbrellas everywhere. The younger, smaller understory trees have their leaves out, mostly maples and poplar (tulip) but the taller trees are just budding their leaves up above. Even in deep woods there is lots of sun exposure, but it won’t be in about 2 weeks. With the temperature increasing every day, I welcome the coming shade.

After awhile Warld Piece caught up with me and we hiked together for a few days. He had just gotten back on the trail after an attempt over a decade ago. He started hiking near where he stopped north of Damascus, had some knee issues, got off for a week, and was now back to try again. His family lives in this area so it’s easy to get on and off the trail for him. He had an auto accident 5 years ago and was not sure of his ability to hike, so asked if he could follow me for a few days (a sure way to slow anyone’s pace!) to test out his ability. He’s an interesting guy. Bright, capable and handy building items and crafts. He dropped out of college after 3 days, but went to a school to learn to build log cabins. He seems to be angry with the duplicity of religion and politics and dislikes money and capitalism. He’s got several tattoos, all that he designed himself. He also branded his skin in high school. He’s got a goatee and long hair. Probably seems a bit scary looking, but we’ve a high tolerance for strange here on the AT. If I understand it, as a young man Warld Piece (aka Micah) was heavy into a variety of drugs and suicidally depressed. He certainly doesn’t blame him family, in fact he speaks highly of them all, especially his parents. No longer depressed and waiting to kill himself, he seems to not quite have found a life to fill his days. I’d guess he’s in his late 30s. It’s an interesting dilemma that I’ve never considered before.

Most of the stiles in this section are made like this one.
Most of the stiles in this section are made like this one.

We had a long time to talk as we slowly climbed Walker Mountain, 2 miles up and a climb of 1,000 ft. This section has many cow fields and there are several wooden stiles to climb over the fences. I’m pretty bad at climbing them, particularly with a pack.

At the restaurant in the morning, two southbounders had told us about some trail magic ahead. “It’s just about five miles.” Three miles later at Davis campsite (with a privy but no water?) another SOBO told us it was “just five miles away.” Then at Crawfish Trail campsite (6 miles from the restaurant) another hiker told us about it again and naturally it was “just about 5 mikes from here.” The last guy turned out to be giving accurate information. The trail magic was a couple of coolers stocked with soda and ice. Never, ever has an orange soda tasted so good!

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Larkspur
Larkspur

Oddly enough, Honey Bear (who I think we’ve renamed Boo Boo Bear on this blog) was there with both of his buddies from the church hostel. They couldn’t even look at me. Bear was wearing red paint on his face, but the design was smeared. Oddly enough he’d lost his skirt and was wearing black underwear. Not shorts; underwear. He also had on a very tight black, long sleeved shirt that did not fit him. His companions were joking it was a girls shirt, left behind in a shelter, and they were a little appalled that he didn’t wash it first. No idea what’s going on with the boy, but looks like his companions are turning on him. He seemed very unhappy, even cowed. He passed us by and I hope never to see him again. One of his companions was very sick with diarrhea. The boy is already very thin, so this couldn’t be an easy thing. However, having seen how careless they are with clothing, food and fire, I hesitate to believe he’s washing his hands after each bout with diarrhea. Way to spread the germs!

imageWe stopped for the night at VA 42, at a campsite behind the O’Lystery Pavilion, leaving a serious uphill climb of Brushy mountain for the morning. The pavilion is marked private (based on the signage they have a strong dislike for AT hikers) but there is an AT parking lot beside it. As we were setting up, a retired man pulled up in a truck, pulling a camper and a scooter. He is section hiking, driving the scooter to the next section, then hiking back to his truck. He believes he can slack pack most (though not all) of the AT this way. He’s done Georgia, skipping North Carolina and Tennessee for now. We met the man several more times over the next few days and he was always very kind and informative since he was typically going in the other direction and knew the section we were approaching. Nice guy and he even let me drop my trash off with his so I didn’t have to carry it.

imageSunday May 3 VA 42 O’Lystery Pavilion 554.4 to campsite at spring fed pond 563.9

We started the day a bit later than expected, mostly avoiding the uphill climb to the next shelter, Knot Maul Branch. When we arrived, Flat was there. He’d been one of the 2 hiking with Boo Boo Bear the last week and confided to me that he was ditching the guy and felt really badly about the fire at the church hostel in Troutdale.

The view from our campsite that night.
The view from our campsite that night.

We ended the day with one of the worse climbs yet. It was not only steep, but each time you thought you were at the top of a section of stairs (have I mentioned how much I hate stairs?) you’d look up and there would be more. In total it was 4.5 miles and 2100ft up, but we weren’t planning to go all the way to the top of the mountain, fortunately. The shelter at the top, Chestnut Knob, had no close water. We stopped 2 miles from the top at a spring fed pond. Behind it was a campsite not listed in the guide. Warld Piece cleaned out the overly full fire pit and we collected wood for a fire, but the wind kept increasing. Eventually, we decided it wasn’t safe to start a fire. While rebuilding the fire pit, he turned over a large rock and there were a dozen baby crawfish, about a half inch long. That night the frogs were croaking, the first I’ve heard this year. The wind was high all night, but we were reasonably protected in our campsite, located a few feet below the pond dam. This probably would have been a muddy site in the rain, though.

The view from Knots Maul shelter b
The view from Chestnut Knob shelter
Chestnut Knob Shelter
Chestnut Knob Shelter

Monday May 4 campsite at spring fed pond 563.9 to Jenkins shelter 575.7 I

n the morning we hiked the two miles to the shelter in a field quickly becoming a mess of stickers. Chestnut Knob shelter is a cinderblock structure, recently re supported and attractively faced with stone. It was one of the few completely enclosed shelters, which was necessary with the high winds on top of the mountain. It had an excellent privy, so the only thing it was missing was a good water source.

Rocks everywhere! Small, pointy ones underfoot, large wobbly one to step on and huge rocks to climb.
Rocks everywhere! Small, pointy ones underfoot, large wobbly one to step on and huge rocks to climb.

Hiking the AT, for me, is partly about giving up on expectations and taking the trail (or life) as it comes. This was not one of the days that I did well with this concept! I had looked at the guidebook and saw a fairly flat ridge walk. I expected an easy day. Not! This was a ROCKY ridge walk, up and down the same 100 yards. And I was constantly boulder hoping and climbing rock outcroppings for almost 5 miles. I did not think it would ever end and I was moving at a snails pace by the time I hit the road, VA 623 (mm 571.7). But there was a reward for all that boulder hopping: Major Trail Magic! A man who had hiked the trail last year and his Thai wife were set up at the road crossing feeding anyone who came by with cheeseburgers, hotdogs, grilled asparagus and the best grilled corn I’ve ever eaten. It was phenomenal! I drank two cold sodas, the first of them in about 2 minutes. Sugar rush! I got one of the last burgers, as I was one of the last to arrive.

Trail Magic! Cheeseburgers, corn and cold soda.
Trail Magic! Cheeseburgers, corn and cold soda.
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The two hikers on the left are bluegrass musicians and the carried a banjo and fiddle. In the middle is Warld Piece.

imageI stayed a bit too long at the trail magic since I still had 4 miles to hike to the shelter. It was a bit rocky, but not as bad as earlier in the day. There were no reliable water sources listed in those four miles, so when I finally came across a stream I thought I was at the shelter’s water source. I’d remembered that the guidebook listed the water as on the a AT and only 100 yards from the shelter. The weather has gone from early Spring to summer temperatures in a week, so the idea of a bandana bath sounded really good. With an hour of daylight I took my time to wash my body, rinsed out my shirt and socks, change into a clean shirt. Then I gathered and filtered water. But after walking 100 yards I realized there was no shelter. I was on a steep mountain and there was nowhere nearby flat enough for a structure. I checked my guidebook and knew from the elevation map I’d have to go farther down to the bottom of the gap, but in thick forest, it was impossible to tell how much further I needed to go. I had less than 20 minutes of daylight. Clean, hydrated and rested, I moved quickly down the trail. I got out my headlamp and prepared for my first night hike. I was not really in any danger, of course and didn’t need the shelter.

Knots Maul shelter
Knots Maul shelter

Personally, all I needed was a flat spot for my tent, but I’d told several hikers I’d be at the shelter and I was afraid they’d worry. Just as I gave up hope, I saw a post with a sign missing. Then I noticed a tent. I had arrived at Jenkins Shelter! The sun was setting but I had just enough light to set up my tent. (No room in the shelter) With my headlamp I made my way to the privy. I have joked about them being “open air” toilets before, but this one was a toilet seat on a raised platform with no walls! One raise of the lid showed it was almost filled to capacity, a surprisingly disgusting situation. If I’d been tempted to use it, the sound of buzzing coming from deep inside dissuaded me. Worst privy so far! A few minutes later when I crawled into my tent 10 yards in front of the shelter, I was glad I’d set up my tent. The snoring was so loud I had to put in earplugs. I wonder if anyone inside could sleep!

Notice the cute pack, but also the solar panel on top. This works well until the leave come in. Then it's the long green tunnel.
Notice the cute pack, but also the solar panel on top. This works well until the leave come in. Then it’s the long green tunnel.

Monday May 5 Jenkins shelter 575.7 to Helveys Mill Shelter 589.7

I was out of the shelter by 7:30a, spurred on by the promise of more trail magic. A sign inside the shelter indicated that a local church would pick us up at the next road crossing and take us to the church for breakfast if we were there on Mondays between 9:30a and 11am. AND it just happened to be Monday! But the road crossing at Laurel Creek, VA 615 was 5 miles away. I mostly walked with a father and son pair from Atlanta who were section hiking. The son worked as a waiter, and was about to move to Phoenix. The son had spent a month there with friends once and loved it, plus he thought his allergies would be improved. (Atlanta is the allergy capital of the SE) The father thought it was irresponsible to quit a job and drive off to a new place without another to go to. He wanted his son to have more of a plan. It looked like it was a tense relationship between the two. Also they had very different hiking styles, which didn’t improve the situation.

The floor of the woods was covered with Dutchman's Breeches.
The floor of the woods was covered with Dutchman’s Breeches.

The son had an upper leg injury and kept moving slower (I think his dad thought he was making it up). The father and I hiked on, making the road in just over 2 hours. After 30 minutes of waiting for the son to catch up, I took a church shuttle in while his dad continued to wait. They came into the church as I was finishing my meal.

Breakfast at the Appalachian Trail Outreach Ministry in Bastion, VA was fabulous. Scrambled eggs with ramps (they grow everywhere here), egg casserole, pancakes, coffee cake, fruit, juice, stuffing…. I ate it all! And they sent me back to the trail with a banana and a package of homemade cookies. Lovely people. Two of the thru hikers are bluegrass musicians and serenaded us as well, partly as a way to thank the church folks. It was a very special morning and I doubt they knew how much it raised a hiker’s spirit.

Church ladies make the best breakfast!
Church ladies make the best breakfast!

 

The church building
The church building

The big topic around the table, though, was water. A sign on the bridge over Laurel Creek said the water at the next road (US52/North Scenic Highway) was contaminated and the next shelter, Helvys Mill, was dry. This was already a dry-ish section, but if this information was true it would mean over 20 miles with no water. I only have the capacity to carry about 2 liters of water and up to this point had never done over a 14 mile day with pack. It was sunny and going to be over 80F. I needed water and so did everyone else. Doubtless, many hikers would not have seen the tiny sign (I had not) so they would not know. One of the ladies agreed to take Warld Piece and I to Bland, VA to resupply. I had enough food but he needed some, plus band aids other items. She asked if we’d help her place water on the trail at Bland at mm587.6 to help with the dry situation.

The handsome men I hiked with: Forester Gump, Lunch, Spice and Captain Philips. I also hiked with Warld apiece, but he's not pictured here.
The handsome men I hiked with: Forester Gump, Lunch, Spice and Captain Philips. I also hiked with Warld apiece, but he’s not pictured here.
A rare Pink Ladies Slipper
A rare Pink Ladies Slipper

We got back on the trail here, skipping a short section, then did a .2 road walk and another 1.5 straight up to the Helveys Shelter. On the way I met two hikers (who I believe to be ATC employees) coming southbound, measuring the trail with a roller. They were climbing over a huge tree that had fallen across a narrow section of path that just barely hugged the side of the steep mountain. It was obvious that the tree has been there for a long time, certainly a couple years. (City Slicka told me it fell over 3 years ago) The older woman was having real difficulty getting over. She had to remove her pack and push it over before climbing over herself. I commented that this was dangerous and that tree really needed to be removed. The man snapped at me, “You day hikers don’t know anything! There are a lot worse section on the trail! It’s maintained by volunteers, you know!” I ignored the “day hiker” reference, which he pronounced as though it were an insult, and agreed there were worse sections. (As an aside, if his tone had been different I might have been flattered at being called a day hiker. It would imply I looked clean, did not smell and had a small pack.) The trail was narrow so I stepped aside as best I could to let them pass. “You’re gonna have to back up. You day hikers don’t leave enough room for the REAL hikers to pass,” he spat. I backed up and found the widest spot I could to let them cross, but said, as evenly as I could, “I started at Springer. I’m not a day hiker.” Now he was really angry. “You all have those AWOL guides! The mileage isn’t right you know, you’ve only gone about 550 miles! I write him every year and he won’t get it right.” (According to my AWOL guide, I’d gone about 589 miles. Personally, I’ve found the guide to be very accurate. And I’m pretty sure it uses the ATC official mileage. Most hikers carry it because it is both accurate and concise.) Since some people are just going to be miserable, I chose to climb over the tree and walk on. The man continued to talk, but a nice breeze came up and I couldn’t hear it. Score!

Turned out the Helveys Mill shelter had water, though it is .3 miles, straight downhill. And the shelter is .3 miles off the trail. These extra miles don’t count, so I especially dislike them and think all shelters should be close to the AT and have easy access to water. And turns out I was wrong. THIS is the most disgusting privy I’ve ever seen–so full, I couldn’t even sit down. Kinda mounded on top. Ick! This shelter and the entire trail section from highway 52 (587) to VA611 (596) is the most poorly maintained section of the trail since GA. Poorly marked (particularly the road walk), lots of trees over the path and little water. It’s been a hot, sunny day, with temperatures near 80F. Though the trees are finally leafing out, it’s not yet much shade. Rain was threatening, so I decided to stay here, inside the shelter. At the shelter: Mayonnaise Pockets (one of The Three Amigos, all engineers), Forester Gump (we had a great conversation about hiking The Camino, the only other long distance trail I’m interested in hiking) Warld Piece (who stopped hiking behind me, but often waited for me once or twice a day). Also, someone reminded me it’s Cinco de Mayo. Time is flying by.

Late in the day a woman named Doctor Gadget arrived with a large overheated dog. It was a Swiss Mountain breed (like a St Bernard) and looked miserable in the heat, so we all felt sorry for it. Until it rested up and started charging, growling and barking at anyone within 15 yards of it. I was set up in the shelter corner, inside my bag, watching the situation. I’m careful around other peoples dogs and have found that few dogs work well on the trail. This one was obviously a bad choice. Which is why I was surprised when Gadget asked me to move over so she could have the shelter corner. Shelters are first come first served, so it’s actually rude to ask someone to move. And since I was here first, was a thru hiker (she’s section hiking, SOBO) I didn’t have to. It became clear that she wanted to bring her dog in the shelter, a clear no-no. So I told her I thought it was inappropriate, that the dog was clearly aggressive and that no one would be able to stay in the shelter if she did this. She agreed to set up a tent, but the dog was a problem all night. Someone had to insist she tie the dog up, but I still came close to getting bit, as did others, since she had it on a long rope. When I hiked out in the morning, I had my pepper spray ready, but it went for someone else rather than me. I simply don’t understand some people.

I've hiked 600 miles!
I’ve hiked 600 miles!

Tuesday May 6 Helveys Mill Shelter 589.7 to VA 606, mm606.0 (overnight at Trent’s Grocery) Because it was going to be another hot day (and because I wanted to spend as little time as possible near the mean dog) the three of us in the shelter were up early and out of camp by 7a. They (Forester Gump & Warld Piece) passed me quickly. It was a beautiful day, though still full sun and I was grateful for the breeze. The land was fairly flat and my plan was only to go to the next shelter, Jenny Knob, 10 miles away. It was an entirely dry section, so I was glad to arrive.

Sweaty, I took the opportunity to take a bandana bath, soak my feet and rinse out my shirt. It was only a half hour later, while I was filtering water that I looked at my watch. It was only noon! I’d just hiked 10 miles with a pack before lunch! So I decided to keep hiking. I made it another 7 miles (where I planned to go the next day) to the road. The first car that came by was a section hiker that took me to Trent’s Grocery, a half miles down the road. For a mere $6, you get a shower, laundry and tent space. The grocery has a grill and I got a cheeseburger and an orange soda before going to set up camp. Because I’d moved faster than expected and gotten some trail magic, I didn’t need a thing for my food bag.

Forrester Gump and Warld Piece were already there and surprised to see me. Captain Phillips (UK, British Service, stops pirates), Lunch (hikes with Captain Phillips, from New York), and Spice came and also set up camp. But do not think that these were fancy accommodations. The shower had a constantly leaking toilet and the floor had leaves, mud and some indistinguishable items. Have I mentioned that your camp shoes must double as shower shoes? No toilet paper. And the laundry room had rats. Not mice, rats. There was nowhere to hang a food bag, so we put our bags in the washer overnight.

The clouds cleared and it was a lovely night. There were a few bugs, despite the light breeze, so I set up my tent, but completely pulled back the rainflys to enjoy the warm night. I could see the stars and a bit of the Milky Way. The crickets were chirping for the first time, and loudly. Also frogs, probably spring peepers. It’s suddenly summer. I’m so grateful that it is finally warm. In a Pearisburg I plan to send my winter clothes home, which will lighten my load.

Wednesday May 7 VA 606, mm606.0 (overnight at Trent’s Grocery)

The grocery opened at 7 and the other four beat me up and to the grill for breakfast. I was there 20 minutes later and ordered eggs and bacon with coffee. It was great coffee, too. Our plan was to take a shortcut to Dismal Falls and because Warld Piece was from the area we were pretty sure the shortcut was ok. And it was. That’s the problem with shortcuts: when they work out, it’s really amazing. But they don’t always work out. (As an aside, this area needs to rethink some of its names. Bland is actually a very nice town. Dismal Falls is lovely.)

There were still several hikers at the falls including City Slicka, who has hiked the trail three times before. He assured us that the trail crossed the road two miles down and was an easier walk than fording the river to get to the trail. The rest of the group hiked on while I stayed a few minutes to talk with Cactus and Trip and their two girlfriends Aroo and Blue. They were catching crawfish to eat.

My guidebook “confirmed” (it really didn’t, I just read it that way) that the trail crossed the road, but in about four miles, so I took off walking. Warld Piece caught up with me, but he was only going a couple miles to a friend’s house. We weren’t sure if he was getting off the trail now or hiking to Pearisburg. And I walked. But it seemed like I’d gone more than 4 miles, when I ran into two campers, so stopped to talk with them. Jason (from WI, a young retired military) and Baby Girl (20 something, from the area) were…interesting. They were kind, offered me some juice. But I couldn’t quite figure out their story. She’d asked him 2 weeks ago to drive down for a “talk.” He’d expected to stay 3 days. They started in a motel for a few nights, but eventually bought some cheap camping gear at Walmart and were staying in the woods. They had a shady spot with a good stream and seemed set. But there was something about a “missing persons report” on one of them and a charge of “kidnapping.” You never know if people are serious or just kidding. They knew nothing about the AT, but knew there were hiking trails ahead. They said if I wanted go down the road to check it out, I could. But if it didn’t work out I should walk back and they’d take me back to Dismal Falls or even Pearisburg if I wanted. Nice folks.

So I walked some more until I saw Captain Philips and Lunch coming back towards me. They had given up and were coming back. But Forrester Gump had taken off on a blue blaze trail. So the three of us hiked back to see the couple. We really wanted to go to (or near) Woods a Hole hostel, but the couple didn’t know how to get there. We had an address, but no map. They had a GPS, but we didn’t have coordinates. They’d agreed to take us, though, and we were working out the details when Warld Piece and his friend Donna came to the rescue. Donna says the trail has been re-routed here and no longer passes over this gravel road. We thanked the couple and piled into Donna’s old blue pick up with our packs. Our concern was first for Forester Gump so we went up the road looking for him. No dice. Donna said she could take us to the top of the mountain where she thought the a AT now crossed. She drove fast on the narrow, bumpy gravel and it was tough riding in the back. Also we’d been warned that the tailgate didn’t stay latched, so not to lean on it. At the top we found Big Horse Gap, mm619.3, and she let us off. From there it was 1.5 miles north to Sugar Run Road, then a half mile road walk to Woods Hole hostel. And guess who beat us there? Forester Gump! I stayed at Woods Hole two nights, then hiked 10 miles to Pearisburg. More on my hostel stay later!

Hiker hunger strikes….finally

Trailing Arbutus was in bloom this week.
Trailing Arbutus was in bloom this week.

Everyone else has been starving on the trail. The talk in shelters stopped being gear and pack weights three weeks ago. Now all anyone talks about is food–how heavy the food bag is, when’s the next resupply and what to eat to satisfy the overwhelming hunger. Until the last day of April, I couldn’t even enter into the conversation. I wasn’t hungry. In Damascus the only thing that sounded half good to me was olives, avocados and tangerines–total non hiker food. I’ve been eating, but it’s been a job, something I had to do. At night the only cooked meal that sounds good is mashed potatoes with cheese.
But that all changed. I blame it on Stacy’s home cooking in Marion the day before. She woke up my taste buds! Now I’m hungry. I can eat breakfast now and not be nauseous. I feel like everything has been delayed for me since I was sick for most of March. The first month I was hiking on shear willpower. The second month was the beginning of training. I am only now getting my hiking legs and into the grove of this trail. Who knew it would take so long just to START? And I’m only now getting into shape for the miles. It still isn’t easy. The bottom of my feet hurt every night and I’m tired. But my muscles are just now–at 2 months into this walk–molding into a hiking machine.

Mt Rogers Visitors center
Mt Rogers Visitors center

Wednesday April 30 overnight in Marion from Mt Rogers Visitors Center 531.2 to Chatfield shelter 538.2
The sky was still dark and looked like rain when I woke in the Marion motel and I had a hard time getting myself out of my nice warm bed. Though a shuttle was coming at 8a, I couldn’t get myself together for it and dithered back and forth whether I should stay another day. But it seemed wimpy to sit out because of rain now that it was warm. So I arranged to be on the next shuttle at 11a and took the extra time to write some post cards, update my blog and social media, and to treat my gear with permethrin. It’s an insecticide and while I’m not fond of it, it’s effective and long lasting. The bottle indicates clothing treated with it will last 6 weeks or 6 washings. But it seems to last even longer than that. This is used on gear and clothing, not directly on you skin. While everyone back home seems to worry about bear and snakes, my fear is Mosquitos and deer ticks. Though it’s worse farther south, the mosquitos are infected with West Nile virus. Deer ticks carry Lyme disease. Both can drain your energy at best, and incapacitate you at worse. I also have DEET bug spray, though have not had to use it yet.

The town of Marion has a great bus service. You can get a pick up on the trail to town for 50 cents!
The town of Marion has a great bus service. You can get a pick up on the trail to town for 50 cents!

On the shuttle at 11a, I road out with City Slicker who is on his fourth thru hike. He had a mohawk earlier in the season, but it’s about grown out now. We were marveling how the leaves had come out on the trees in the last few days. This area has been dry, but two solid days of rain have changed that. Leaves are still just budding out in the higher elevations, but in two weeks we can put away the sunscreen and shades and live in the ‘long green tunnel.’
The shuttle dropped up off at the Mt Rogers Visitors Center, located just in front of Partnership shelter. This is a popular shelter and often overcrowded because you can order pizza and have it delivered! Almost everyone who stays there gets pizza and several folks said the orders were really backed up. I had gotten way too much food at Walmart, so except for my home cooked meal at Stacy’s I was eating out of my food bag just to lighten my load.

My shelter for the night
My shelter for the night

So I hoisted my pack, crossed the road and began hiking. Since the forecast was a100% chance of rain, I moved pretty quickly. I only had 7 miles of mostly ridge walking to the first shelter. The dogwood and flowering pear bloomed recently. With the rain the petals are strewn over the path, like the aisle in a wedding. There see new, fresh scents too as buds burst open. In a few places the forest floor was a carpet of spring beauties, wood anemone and rue anemone.
imageAt one point I realized I was hungry. Really hungry. I had to stop, drop my pack and stuff snacks into my pocket to eat while I hiked. That’s a first.
I was at the shelter in record time, even with a short break and a stop for water. Seven mountain miles in about 3.5 hours is probably a new record for me with a newly resupplied pack. I was the first at the shelter and though the rain still had not started, I decided to sleep in the shelter so I didn’t have to deal with a wet tent in the morning.
imageJust as I finished dinner, a hiker arrived. He had a very full beard and it looked like it had been a bit since his last shower or laundry stop. He also looked tired, so I offered him some candy to pep him up. It took me awhile to get him talking, but what a story once I did. He goes by the name of a Problem Bear, but not because he causes problems. He solves them. Three years ago he was laid off from work on a Wednesday and by Sunday was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Last year he did part of the Continental Divide Trail, but had trouble with altitude sickness. So naturally, I assumed he was earning his triple crown by hiking the AT. But he’s hiking this his own unique way.
imageProblem Bear started this hike in Key West, Florida. After road walking up the highway that links the keys together, he hiked the 1,100 miles Florida Trail, much of which is through swamp land like the Everglades. Then he hiked the state of Alabama partly road walking and partly on a trail that spanned both Alabama and Georgia. That trail took him to the Benton Makey Trail which goes to the Appalachian Trail! I’m not sure when he started, but he has probably already hiked more that the length of the AT this year. Wow. He also shared a slice of pizza with me that he was carrying for dinner.
I had thought he would stay for the night, but as we talked the skies completely cleared. It didn’t look like it would rain at all. He decided to hike on, but two other hikers arrived, Tail Hook (a strong hiker with some amazing lightweight gear, mostly of cuban fiber) and Running Bare (he’s a marathon runner and never wears a shirt when he runs, even in cold weather). They had met Problem Bear at Partnership shelter and had clearly been as impressed with him as I was.
Tail Hook and Running Bare have been on a section hike for a few days. They set up their tents and said they had three friends coming southbound with a resupply to join them to hike few a few more days. Raffiki also came in. They were a great group to camp with–funny, interesting and generous. They barely got their tents up when the rain came in. So we mostly sat in the shelter making instant hot cider and hot chocolate and swapping stories. The men also did their best to get Raffiki to take some of their food. He’s a string hiker, only 20 and can eat a lot, but before we crawled into out sleeping bag, his food bag was half the weight of my entire pack! A perfect hiker evening.

Lindamood schoolhouse
Lindamood schoolhouse

Thursday May 1 Chatfield shelter 538.2 to Atkins, VA 542.7
It dawned a perfect morning and I woke up hungry for a change. I actually ate breakfast on the trail for the first time in almost 2 months. The forecast says 4-5 days of sunshine.
I was the first one out of camp, but only had plans to hike 2 miles for my first break. The path was a bit muddy after 4 days of rain. The woods are beautiful, springing to life, suddenly green and flowering. It is a true joy to be in nature just as she wakes up.

Settlers Museum Visitors Center
Settlers Museum Visitors Center

At the old schoolhouse, part of the Settlers Museum, was some unexpected trail manic. There were snacks, sodas, a chance to empty out trash and some very thoughtful items. There were shoelaces, Q-tips (you can’t believe how much I needed these), Chapstick, batteries, and sample sizes of lotion, Purell and toothpaste. I got a fresh orange and mini malted milk balls. First Rafiki then the rest of the hikers from our camp showed up. Rafiki and I decided to wait an hour for the Settlers Museum to open. In the meantime, I topped off my cell phone charge and showed Rafiki how to sew with needles and thread found in the trail manic box.
The Settlers Museum was lovely and for just $5 we got an audio tour of a farm settled in the late 1700’s. It was fascinating and great to know that so many old tools, buildings and homespun clothing are being conserved.

Inside the schoolhouse.
Inside the schoolhouse.
Loom
Loom

We finally hiked on, but I was only going to Atkins, VA to the Barn Restaurant, home of the 16ounce Hiker Burger! Rafiki and his huge food bag hiked on. There was no way I was going for a sandwich that large, but it did order an 8 ounce burger and onion rings, followed by peach cobbler a la mode. While dining I met Möbius, Right Here and Apple.
Then I got a room just down the road at the Relax Inn.