3 States Left (Almost)

Hi everyone, A-Town here.  This time I’m checking in from Damascus, VA.  That means I’ve finally finished my Virginia section hike, as I like to think of it, and am less than 5 miles from starting my Tennessee section hike.  I started thinking of the trail like this back in Massachusetts, when it set in how long I was going to be out for and I needed boosts of encouragement every week or so when we got another state done.  I remember meeting a hiker from St. Simons named Romeo just north of Harper’s Ferry, and he was describing how long and drawn out Virginia would be.  Luckily I had a lot of things getting me through it, like people coming up to visit, some famous trail sections, a zero partway through, and trips to buffets in 3 different towns.  The state was really long, and I’m glad to be finished, but it had a lot of good stuff along the way.  Honestly, Shenandoah NP is renowned for its hiking trails, but I think my favorite part of the state has been the last 70 miles or so.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, because there is other important news, the first piece of which many of you already know.  Two days after my last post from Daleville, Vanilla Thunder, retired from the trail for the rest of the season. Our first day out from Daleville was no less painful for him than the days before his rest and doctor’s visit.  Before taking a few days off, he was upset about the possibility of leaving the trail.  However, after having tried all he could to remedy his feet without significant improvement, he was much more at peace with his decision to leave the trail.  Before he left I remember him saying that he has a lot of other things in life that he still wants to do that involve his feet, and that though he enjoys backpacking, it isn’t his passion as is cycling.  Although it is unfortunate that we didn’t get to complete what we set out to do together, I could tell that it was harder for him to enjoy the trail for the last few hundred miles and it wasn’t fun seeing him in pain like that.  In the end, hiking nearly 1400 miles straight is still a huge accomplishment.  And the trail will be there in the future if he ever wants to return and complete it in sections.

V.T. was joined in his departure by our other hiking partner at the time, the Hiking Dude.  So for the past two weeks I’ve been hiking somewhat alone.  It has been a whole new experience being my own sole motivator and being wholly responsible for every aspect of the hike.  Although I don’t mind hiking by myself, sometimes it is nice to have someone to talk to or just be around at camp.  Other times, I really hope no one else is at a shelter and that I’ll have the whole thing to myself.  I guess it just depends on the day.  Luckily, I had Margaret to hike with for 3 days – she arrived the day after Dad left.  We had a pretty good time, despite getting only one decent view for three days.  Thursday was spent mostly inside a cloud, with the rain soaking us off and on from lunch until we finally trudged shivering into a shelter on the VA/WV border.  Friday was sunnier, although the fog and mist kept our clothes from drying out overnight, but we at least made it to Pearisburg where we caught a shuttle to Woods Hole Hostel.  The hostel, which is only 0.5 off the trail, was where we had planned to end our hike before the rain slowed us down.  The 1880’s log cabin is unbelievably cozy inside, which was augmented by the home-cooked, organic, family style meals that the owner fixed using stuff straight from her own garden. It was an amazing place and one of my top 3 favorite hostels on the trail so far.  Anyway, it was a nice place to end a soggy hike so that Margaret could get cleaned up and get a good meal before hopping on a flight back to Texas.  I wish the weather had been better and that she could’ve seen some prettier trail, but she got to experience the gritty side of backpacking and had a good attitude the entire time – one of the most important things you can have on the trail.

Since then I’ve been trying to finish Virginia as fast as I can, because it has been long.  Near Marion I met a former thru-hiker named Duke who told me that his favorite parts of the trail were the first 500 miles and the last 500 miles, saying that “everything in between is just work.”  Well so far he has been right.  The last few days have been beautiful, partly due to the nice weather (high 60’s and very sunny all day) but largely due to the most beautiful stretch of trail I’ve seen since leaving the Whites: the Mt. Rogers high country.  Yep, this is the place that is home to Grayson Highlands State Park and the legendary wild ponies of the trail.  I’ve never been a huge fan of ponies, but I always welcome the sight of wildlife (I also caught sight of a skunk, a coyote, a couple of bear cubs, and a few cattle that graze with the ponies).  The grassy meadows atop the mountains in this area were once used to graze cattle and now afford huge views of the surrounding area.  I mean HUGE views.  It was refreshing to hike through there, and it reminded me of why I love being out here on the trail.  I don’t have a lot of time left out here either, with only 470 miles left to Springer.  That means less than 400 miles until I’m back home in Georgia.

That being said, I’ll be heading out of Damascus tomorrow and hoping to get to Erwin, TN, in about a week.  I expect to be getting to Great Smoky Mountains NP in the first few days of October (ordered my backcountry permit today), and finishing up in less that 4 weeks.  See you guys soon.  Another post to follow with a few pictures.  Thanks for reading.

P.S. – Just weighed my pack on a seemingly-accurate scale here at the hostel, for the first time since Boiling Springs.  20 lbs, without fuel, food, or water (the last of which I usually don’t carry anyway).  I think when we started it was at least 28 or 29.  Of course, I’ll be gaining a pound or two in a few days when I pick up my cold weather gear from the Hampton P.O.

Photographs and memories, from Boiling Springs to Daleville

Makin' my way downhill, hiking fast, blazes passing, I'm southbound.

Makin’ my way downhill, hiking fast, blazes passing, I’m southbound.

It's like Shenandoah NP trained their bears to stop right in the trail so I could get pictures

It’s like Shenandoah NP trained their bears to stop right in the trail so I could get pictures.

And their deer too. This 8 point better stay in the park.

And their deer too. This 8 point better stay in the park.

Kool Breeze on top of Blackrock Mountain.

Kool Breeze on top of Blackrock Mountain.

Obligatory apple tree pic.

Obligatory apple tree pic.

Hog Camp Gap. Nice spot for camping, or lunch, or really anything. Just a nice place to be.

Hog Camp Gap. Nice spot for camping, or lunch, or really anything. Just a nice place to be.

Climbing Cole Mountain.

Climbing Cole Mountain.

I forgot to mention one thing in the main post. The first thing I did when I got to Daleville today was go to Bojangles and order a chicken biscuit, sweet tea, and sweet potato pie. Man it is good to be back in the South.

A town

Thank you, Johnny Appleseed

Hi everyone! It has been an atrociously long time since I posted anything, I know, and for that I’m sorry.  A lot has happened since Boiling Springs, and not a lot of time to write about it, so let me just run through the story since then and hopefully explain everything.

At some point in Pennsylvania, Dad mentioned taking a break once we got out of the state to rest our feet, but we never really got around to it.  Pennsylvania ended, and Maryland went by in 2 days that I hardly remember, but when we got to the Potomac we limped (literally) along the C&O Canal Towpath into the HI Harper’s Ferry Hostel overlooking the river.  It was a fantastic hostel – mostly because the keeper opened the pantry and told us to help ourselves to all the food people had left, as well as all the ice cream we could eat. Dad could barely put any weight on his left heel that day because it was hurting so bad, so I figured that would be the break we were dreaming of, especially with a 90% of T-storms and 2 in. of rain the next day.  But the next day found us limping (still, literally) into Harper’s Ferry and the ATC headquarters, where we checked in as the 13th and 14th SOBO thru hikers. So I missed that chance for a little blog post.

That night we met the Hiking Dude at the shelter where we were hiding from the rain.  The Dude is a pretty experienced hiker, having hiked the entire Arizona Trail and Ice Age Trail.  He also made his own pack, shelter, and quilt, which is way cool. He plans to hike down to Springer, and for the time being has been hiking with us.  It’s nice to have someone to camp with and talk to, since Dad and I get into a quiet routine every day and it starts to feel like a grind.  He blogs a lot more regularly than I do and has a GPS device that tracks where exactly he is on the trail, so if you want another perspective on the AT, check out his website, HikingDude.com.

Anyway, so at this point we’d hiked about 350 miles without a day off, and Dad’s feet weren’t getting any better, so he finally said we’d take some time off and he’d go see a podiatrist.  But we were 2.5 days from Front Royal, so we kept going at our usual pace. When we got there, he was feeling slightly better, so we grabbed some groceries, hit the KFC (wayyyy better in Virginia than in Vermont), and kept going.  I still didn’t get to post!

That afternoon we made it to Shenandoah National Park, which we were excited about because we’d heard the beer was cheaper than water, which turned out to be sort of true.  About once a day for the next week we were passing camp stores and snack bars where we could pick up some snacks and hiker food, but more importantly, cheeseburgers and ice cream.  And a 16 oz. Bud Light was 95 cents, while a 20 oz. water was 99 cents.  Plus, we were all carrying water filters, so we weren’t about to pay for water.

I had one of my best days of hiking there in Shenandoah – beautiful views from the summit of Stony Man, 70 degrees and sunny all day, a cheeseburger for lunch, saw 3 bears, a bunch of deer, and a couple of turkeys, cooked some hot dogs that we bought at a camp store, and picked a bunch of wild apples.

That’s why I had to give Johnny Appleseed his due; I’ve been seeing apple trees ever since NH but they weren’t ripe enough until now.  We’ve been picking them from Front Royal all the way down to Buena Vista.  They spruce up any trail meal, especially chopped up in oatmeal or on a sandwich with PB.

Also, on our last day in Shenandoah, my mom – aka Kool Breeze – came up to hike with me for a day, and that was a lot of fun.  It was good to catch up for hours on what has been going on at home, and those miles really flew by.  we ended up doing about 15 together, and I have to say I was impressed at how well she did for someone with multiple knee surgeries and a pack so full of food that weighed nearly as much as mine.

After getting out of the park we were driven by a trail angel named DuBose Egleston, Jr., or “Yellow Truck,” to a hostel in Waynesboro, where we finally took a day off.  We hit the Chinese buffet, of course, watched some James Bond, and Dad got new shoes and insoles at an outfitter there.  Sounds like a good time for me to write a blog post, right? Sorry guys, but the last thing I wanted to do after hiking 500 miles straight was sit at a computer and rehash the whole thing.  Turns out, all I wanted to do was lay on the couch with a cold drink.

Of course it went by too quickly, and it was bittersweet.  I hate taking zeroes because it reminds me of evrything I’m missing on the trail, but I crave those things so much too.  But a couple of days later I had forgotten about it, because we were back on top of 4000 footers again for the first time since Vermont.  We met a bunch of college groups from Washington & Lee University who were on week long pre-orientation trips, which is way cool and I wish I’d gotten to do something like that.  But on Tuesday Dad’s feet were really killing him, and he made the decision to get off the trail that afternoon in Buena Vista.

I felt awful for him, because I know it was a hard call to make.  He never gives up at anything, always sees things through, but he just wasn’t enjoying himself at all.  And life is too short to torture yourself for months on end just to say you did.  But of course that’s not the end of the story.  He didn’t actually give up.  Instead he got a ride down to Roanoke, got a couple of shots of cortisone in his heels (which the doctor said have heel spurs and all that other painful junk that happens to feet), and has been laying in a Howard Johnson in Daleville watching Dumb and Dumber for the past 3 days.  The Dude and I hiked on without him and just met him here today. And that’s the story up until now. I could be also lying in the room watching movies and eating cookies, but I have to blog at some point or you guys might think we both quit for good.

Highlights of the last few weeks:  Lots of wildlife in Shenandoah; hiking with Kool Breeze; free apples; Chinese Buffet; tall mountains; more apples; Reeds Gap to Bald Knob; and my longest day of hiking, 27 miles. I finally completed a marathon and it took 11 hours 30 minutes, so I think that’s a good place to start.  Plenty of room for improvement.

Looking ahead, I hae no clue really where we’ll be, but I can tell you that at 1461 miles down, we’re 2/3 of the way done with this trail.  McAfee Knob is coming up this week, and if you don’t know what that is, just look up pictures of the Appalachian Trail and it will probably be 90% of them.  I’ll try to get some pics up from my phone, since this hotel computer is weird.  See you all soon, and thanks for reading.