Category: Appalachian Trail 2020

Day 39 mile 659.2 A full day of glorious sunshine

The weather couldn’t have been better today. It started out a brisk 43° in town and ended up probably close to 70 in the afternoon. The sun was shining all day and hardly a cloud was in the sky. It’s such a stark contrast to the last few days.

I got up at about 6:30 and began packing and eating breakfast. It was about 7:10 by the time I got out the door and it was already light enough to walk. It was much brighter than 7:10 in the woods.

The ground and grass is very dewy just early in the morning. And there were several grassy fields I had to cross but luckily I was able to find wide enough cow paths that I kept in my shoes dry.

The trail skirts around the edge of town making its way towards the river. There is a separate pedestrian bridge across the river adjacent to the highway. You walk across New River heading directly to the Celanese gypsum plant. The plant makes a lot of noise and I realized now that’s what I was hearing yesterday when I thought I was hearing the highway 3 miles away. I was really hearing the plant whole time. Another interesting thing is that it appears as if most of the fog is really just steam coming from the plant. And halfway across the bridge I could see vapor from my breath which I couldn’t see on either bank. The other really odd thing is the air smelled like chicken wings. It had an acidic vinegary smell to it. Either that or maybe I’m still hungry for chicken wings.

Once you cross the river you go down a flight of stairs to get to an underpass to cross under the highway. This underpass is actually the entrance to the plant. The trail moves away from the entrance road up a gentle hill and then starts climbing onto one of the small nulls that overlooks the plant.

I don’t know why but factories like this intrigue me. There must be a million miles of pipe and dozens and dozens of liquid containing silos and tanks. It’s a mix of shiny stainless and dingy rusty iron. And steam spewing from at least 100 different places. And someone knows what all 100 sources of steam are for.

After this first small ridge the trail descends again to the road that leads to the landfill. The trail stays pretty close to the road and eventually by chain link fence with barb wire on top of it is just 10 to 20 ft to the left of the trail. While on the right side of the trail anywhere from 10 to 50 feet are posted no trespassing signs. I could see structures to the right but other than a trailer couldn’t really make out what most things were. I thought at one point I saw a treehouse but I’m betting that it was a complicated tree stand because less than a half a mile later I did see a guy sitting in a tree stand waiting for deer. I waved to him but he didn’t wave back.

When I was almost to the top of the main ridge, I spotted a trail maintainer spreading rocks on the trail. He actually carried a bag of rocks at least four miles up the trail just to dump them on the ground. I sat and talked with him for 5 or 10 minutes. I asked him about the trail reroute done a few years ago to move the trail further away from the gypsum plant. He indicated that there was probably a lot more politics than publicly known for the reasons for the relocation. He said the new trail was graded a lot better and an easier hike than the old trail. I would probably agree because the new trail was very well constructed and a very even grade. But it didn’t need another bag of rocks. After he asked me where I was from he mentioned that Florida’s football program was halted for a COVID-19 outbreak. Since the cell service was really good up here I looked it up and read about it after I moved on.

Not far from where I left him the trail turned to a meadow and then the shelter was visible from the top. I sat at the picnic table to make a tuna fish wrap and ate quickly and moved on. This was an early 11:00 lunch.  On the other side of the meadow I saw another hiker sitting on a rock doing the same thing.

The maintainer had mentioned that this ridge was 12 miles long. On this side of the ridge there were meadows and otherwise fairly level ground. But around the middle some of the sections turned rocky and were slower to traverse. It seems like that 12 miles would never end. Most of the ridge looked identical to the rest and it actually got a bit boring.

I saw maybe six or seven hikers all day. Only two looked like thru-hikers. None of them seemed to want to stop and talk. That was okay by me as I needed to keep moving anyway. I knew there were two shelters coming up towards the end of the day, one of them would be too soon to stop and the other one would probably be just out of reach.

The trail turned into a lot of dense rhododendron. I got to the first shelter at 5:30 and that was way too early to stop. It looked like it was already full of hikers so I just waved to them and kept hiking. The next shelter was only four and a half miles away but there was a lot of climbing to get up to it. I estimated that I would get there about 7:30. That would be after dark but perhaps I could find some good camping before then.

The next 2 mi after getting down to the creek you would think would just follow along the creek. But for some reason they took the trail pretty far from the creek and several hundred feet up away from it. I’m assuming it’s because of property boundary issues because I would hate to think that the trail designers were actually insane. The two miles along the creek were very rough going. By the time I got to the road again to cross the river it was just about 6:30 and there would not be much light left. 

Shortly after crossing the river and the road I found a good campsite amongst a grove of white pines. Normally white pines have too many branches to be useful to hammocks but these look like they have been stripped up pretty high and they were spaced perfectly apart to string the hammocks. I am just over a mile short of the shelter which is fine. I was able to hike a full day without the headlamp so that is a good day. 

Tomorrow has more ups and downs so I will try to get out early. I think tomorrow is supposed to be a sunny day but Friday it is supposed to rain again so I am not looking forward to that. I’ll just concentrate on tomorrow for now and I’ll deal with Friday on Friday.

Day 38 mile 636.1 Sun at last

Words cannot express how fantastic it is to see the sun after you haven’t seen it for several days in a row. It continued to rain last night and was foggy and misty most of the morning but about 11:00 everything changed. Mr. Sun is out in full force and Mr. Clouds are gone.

I slept great at Woods Hole Hostel in the bunkhouse. I was the only one in the bunkhouse so I had my choice of beds. Since the bunks are upstairs near the roof they are all very short bunks almost to the ground. And the mattresses are incredibly soft and fluffy.

Since I had reserved a spot for breakfast and I knew that it was raining and I knew that I only had 11 mi to get to town I was in no hurry to get up. Breakfast was at 8:00 and so I didn’t even bother to get out of bed until after 7:30. I checked on my shoes next to the fireplace and they were about 90% dry which is better than they’ve been in the last half a week.

I got into my hiking clothes and did some partial packing just to make things quicker after breakfast. At first light just around 7:00 a.m. I could see through the window that it was very windy and was actually quite clear. I could see two different depths of mountain ranges off in the distance. But by 7:30 the fog and mist had returned again. So much for the forecast of no more rain today.

Breakfast is just as amazing as dinner. There was an egg scramble, a casserole made from French toast, and little grits patties that were really good. Some fresh orange juice and homemade bread with homemade jams topped off breakfast. The coffee was great too. I think it’s been about 2 weeks since I’ve had real coffee.

One of the other guests had a car and offered to drive me back up to the trailhead which was nice because it was an uphill walk about a half a mile. I think it was nearly 9:30 before I got on trail. Again I was in no hurry because I was waiting for the rain to stop. The latest forecast now said that the sun was supposed to come out about noon. But right now it’s nothing but fog and mist.

The trail climbed up a knob and then went to a shelter that I don’t remember seeing before. It looks fairly new and fairly fancy because it had a large expansive deck built onto the front of it. It looked more like something you’d see at someone’s house.

For the first hour and a half of hiking I managed to keep my shoes dry and I hit pink flowered weeds that I called super soakers. In no time flat my shoes were soaking wet. I met some trail maintainers and asked them if they knew what the weeds were. One of them said he wasn’t sure but he thought it was Japanese Spurge. I had great cell service so I looked it up on Google and it was definitely not Japanese Spurge. I decided to put a description of the flower in Google to see if I could get an image hit. So now I know that it’s called Pennsylvania Smartweed. I think I’ll start calling it Pennsylvania Soakerweed.

By the time I had gotten to the first rocky outcropping it was about 1:00 and the sun was in full force. There was hardly a cloud in the sky. I wasted no time pulling my shoes off to let my shoes and socks dry while I sat and ate my lunch. Tuna fish, cheese, potato chips, and Sweet Tarts.

About 30 minutes later I came to Angels Rock which had a really good view of Pearisburg itself whereas the other cliff was just looking on an adjacent valley. There were all sorts of neat rock formations on this side of Pearis Mountain.

It was a long way down the mountain into the city but there were lots of switchbacks to make it fairly easy and it wasn’t very rocky. I was in a great mood and having a great time. I strolled into town about 3:00 and headed straight for the first motel that didn’t have terrifying reviews. I just happened to get the last room available. I showered quickly and gathered my laundry because the motel would do laundry for me. Perfect. I wasn’t in dire need of laundry since I just did it yesterday but I wanted to make sure I had every pair of socks available clean and dry.

First tour of the day was hitting the post office to get my resupply box. The box safe and sound in the hotel. Tour number two was walking to Walmart to get a new memory card and some Shoe Goo. It was at least 2 miles of walking and there is no Uber or Lyft service in town. It was after 5:00 by the time I got back from Walmart. The next door was dinner at the Mexican restaurant across the street. And the last chore was to go to Food Lion and get some tortillas cheese and pepperoni.

Now my food bag is packed, breakfast is laid out on the counter, and now it’s time for sleep. Tomorrow is a full day so I’ll try and get up early and hit the trail sometime between 7:00 and 7:15. The weather is supposed to be nice for the next 3 days so I won’t worry about having to hit shelters. I’ll just keep hiking until I find a place to camp.

Day 37 mile 625.5 My feet surrender

While it barely rained all day, the fog and mist kept all the vegetation at full moisture content so it was as good as raining.  Or I should say it was as bad as raining.

I woke up at 6:45 again and was off at 7:20 because it was still raining a slight bit.  No one else showed up to the shelter so I had it to myself all night and no detectable rodent visitors.

The morning was mostly just fog and mist.  The trail was graded well and not too rocky.  Water was plentiful as there were streams all around.

The highlight of the morning was getting to the road with Trent’s Grocery just a half mile down the road.  I decided to hit them up since I had eaten all my good food already.  It took only ten minutes to get there.  I had a hamburger and potato wedges with a lemonade, pepperoni and a mud pie for later, and ice cream for the road.  It started misting again as I got back on trail about 11:00.

My feet were starting to hurt a little on the tops of my toes around noon. Everything was still wet so there was no point in stopping to check.  But after my foot sunk a foot into mud, it was time for action.  I stopped at a stream and dunked both feet.  I sat on the bank and actually washed both my shoes and socks of all the mud.  I wrang my socks out best I could and put them back on.  If I could walk in dry conditions for an hour, I would have enough heat in them to change to some dry socks.

After an hour, they were not really dry enough, but the pain on the tops of my toes was getting bad.  I stopped and put on dry socks.  The tops of my toes seem to be irritating the hair follicles. It’s a bit of a cross between a blister and a rash.  Within ten minutes those socks were wet too but they were cleaner wet socks.  The vegetation was still wet so there was no point in breaking out a third pair.  I would have to make it on this pair.  I only had four or five miles to go.

With about two miles to go, the vegetation got super wet again because I was back in the fog again, so the shoes are soaked once more.  To add insult to injury, the last mile got really rocky.

I was planning on staying at the Woods Hole Hostel.  This place has been open to hikers since 1986 but I didn’t know about it back in 1989.  I tried to call to see if they were open and if they had bunk space but got no answer.  The closer I got, the worse the signal, so I would have to just show up and hope they had room.

I got there just before 5 and luckily they had plenty of space.  I got a bunk, shower, laundry, and a seat for both dinner and breakfast.  Since I only have ten plus miles to Pearisburg tomorrow I can afford to leave a little later.  Breakfast is at 8.

I showered and got my laundry to them and relaxed a little before dinner.  My feet are a wreck.  I’ve lost dead skin on about fifty percent of the sole of my feet, but almost none off the heels, which is good.  The weird sores on the tops of my toes are the part giving me the most pain.  I’m not sure what to do about those, buy we’ll see how they feel tomorrow.  Right now I have my shoes drying in front of the fireplace.

Dinner was amazing.  There was a Thai-like rice noodle dish with mushrooms, and a Mexican style rice and something dish.  Fresh salad with pears and a choice of several home made dressings.  There was also home made bread with egg salad, pimento cheese, and pesto aioli to go with it.  Then afterwards, amazing cookies.  This was definitely a good stop.  I can’t wait until breakfast.

Day 36 mile 603.7 another day of rain

Just as the weatherman predicted it rained pretty much all day today except for maybe an hour in the morning. While rain isn’t good for the spirits it is good for the miles and I was able to get to the shelter earlier than I expected. Due in part to not wanting to stop while it is raining but also due to relatively easy terrain.

I woke up 15 minutes later than normal because it was still raining and I didn’t want to have to carry both an umbrella and a headlamp while heading out from the shelter. The other hiker woke up to chit-chat a little bit and ate breakfast. He was planning on hanging out a little while but I was ready to head out promptly at 7:20.

It was raining pretty steadily but in the woods the leaves and the trees kind of mellow out the rain. It kept raining pretty steadily till about 10:30 and then it let up. I was trying to make a covered picnic pavilion by around noon so that I could have lunch in a relatively dry place. With the rain stopped maybe I could also dry my shoes and socks out.

I got to the pavilion just a little bit after 12:00 and it started to rain again. It was a light misty rain but it was pretty windy so it was getting me wet even under the pavilion. I put my rain jacket on and just went ahead and ate lunch. With the rain it was a quick lunch but it was a good lunch of a gas station Italian sub from Atkins a day and a half ago.

I was almost out of water and the next stretch is pretty dry, but it looks like the parking lot at the other end of the road walk on the other side of the interstate said there was a brook there that had water. Halfway through the road walk as I was heading downhill I saw a rock face with water streaming off the side of it. Since the terrain was going downhill and I knew the parking lot was at the bottom of the hill I thought that water coming off the side of a mountain would probably better than water that was in a brook that probably contained a lot of runoff from the road. So I literally just held my bottle to the side of the rock and collected 2 liters of water. When I got to the brook at the parking lot my suspicions were correct and the runoff from the road did lead into that stream. I had chosen wisely.

While on the road walk and crossing the interstate the light rain got a little bit heavier but more importantly the wind got a lot stronger. The rain was coming at me sideways to the point where it was better to hold the umbrella straight in front of me and just peek over the top every once in awhile to make sure a car wasn’t coming. It felt weird basically hiking without being able to see more than a foot in front of you. But at least I was staying dry.

The trail climbed up away from the parking lot as the trail usually does from a road. It didn’t climb very high until it got to the top of the ridge. Most of the day today was hiking the top of ridges that we’re not very rocky and not very hilly so the hiking was easier than it’s been in a long time. I was expecting to get to the shelter about 6:45 but I got there just shortly after 6:00. There was another hostel just one mile ahead on trail and almost a mile of a road walk down the hill but there was no one at the shelter and it looked dry and clean so this is where I sleep.

The shelters in this area are made from regular boards and not logs so there’s very few hiding places for mice. They’re big enough to sleep six or eight but it looks like I’ll have this one all to myself tonight.

The first thing I did when I got to the shelter was take my shoes and socks off. My socks were so wet that I could wring water out of them. And they smell atrociously bad too. There’s a lot of skin coming off my feet but right now it’s only the areas that are pretty calloused and dead already. I just hope that once it dries again the skin that’s underneath is tough enough to take the beating that’s certainly coming.

The second thing I did after getting to the shelter was to cook dinner. The dehydrated meals are better when you let them sit a while so it’s convenient to go ahead and cook early and then get busy setting up your sleep area. By the time you’ve got everything set for dinner it has been sitting at least 20 minutes and should be fully hydrated and cool enough to start eating.

I also have great cell signal here so the earlier arrival allows me to get some electronic chores done. I’m planning on making another hostel tomorrow, the famous Woods Hole Hostel. This one has been around for a long time but I’ve never been there. You can also have breakfast and dinner there and since I’m running a little low on food I probably will do that as long as I can get there early enough.

Another day and a half and I should be in Pearisburg which is my last resupply by post office. The last eight or nine days of the trip will be resupply by grocery store or gas station so that means more mashed potatoes and ramen noodles. But let’s not think about that. Let’s think about dinner at the Woods Hole Hostel. Pleasant dreams.

Day 35 mile 580.5 Tropical storm day one

Had a good dry night at the hostel but all good things must come to an end.  The rain started about 4am and hasn’t stopped yet.

I got up at 6:30 and got packed up and ate three bowls of cereal.  I also made toast and tried the last two jams, peach and apple butter.  I think the peach was my favorite.  I checked out and was on my way by 7:45.  I would have preferred to leave a little earlier since I had a long day ahead and need to make the actual shelter so I don’t have to camp in the rain.

First goal was Chestnut Ridge Shelter for lunch.  It was 12 miles away, so it would be a little later for lunch.  Time to make tracks.

The rain was mostly a drizzle most of the morning and actually stopped at about 11.  That was good because one of the streams had the bridge washed out and I heard there was a tree across the stream and I didn’t want to cross in the rain.  When I got there I spotted the tree and saw that it went to an island in the stream that got you half way then stone hopping for the other half.  I made it with only one shoe getting a tiny bit wet.  I was fortunate to have been hiking several hours in the rain with only slightly damp shoes.

About two miles before the shelter, the trail turned to meadow but was freshly mowed so my feet stayed fairly dry.  I stopped for water at a spring fed lake then motored on to the shelter.  As soon as I arrived it started raining harder.

I still had 11 miles to the next shelter and was having lunch and hour later than usual, so I ate my cheese steak quickly and moved on.  By this time it was raining pretty heavily but the trail moved from meadow to woods so I had some protection from the rain, but the wind had picked up so I needed to use the umbrella a bit sideways.

The ridgeline was pretty challenging most of the day.  It was steep and rocky for most of it.  But I was making good time and had my hipbelt pockets stuffed with snacks I could eat without stopping.  I think I took my pack off only once all afternoon to drink my Coke.  

I arrived at the shelter at 6:40 and saw a pack but no person.  They must be getting water.  He arrived in a few minutes with water bottles filled.  We talked and chatted for a few hours about all sorts of things.  He is headed south on the second half of a flip flop.  He started in PA and went north, then went back to PA and is headed south.

I have an even longer day tomorrow so I am hoping to get an early start before sunrise.  Also hoping the terrain is a little more forgiving and maybe the rain a little lighter, too.  There is a lot of dead skin that came off my feet tonight so I want to be sure they can survive tomorrow.

Day 34 mile 558.5 Last dry day for a while

I made it to the Bear Garden Hostel for a shower, laundry, and some food.  Some time tonight or in the morning the rain should start and probably won’t stop for three days.  I have planned out the next three nights to be in shelters and a hostel again to avoid having to either pitch or pack up camp in the rain.

My food bag was safe from bears last night and I awoke at 6 am again and after changing into my hiking clothes, I had a chicken wing and French fry breakfast.  Yum.  That took more time than my usual breakfast, so I was not off until 6:50.

The morning was a little chilly and a little breezy like most mornings but most of last night it was pretty warm and I stayed out of my sleeping bag for a good part of it. The morning began with a climb so I was happy to see it a little cool.

I had about 11 miles to get to Atkins where I needed to resupply and try and find a place to eat lunch. Most of the terrain was pretty moderate but there were several climbs that had a lot of rocks up high so those slowed me down and beat up my feet. But I was able to make it into town before noon so I switched to my town shirt and headed straight for the Mexican restaurant. Lunch special number one is the same at every Mexican restaurant in the United States: a chile relleno, refried beans, a taco, and guacamole salad. Wash it down with two Pepsis and now you’ve got a meal.

The resupply options were pretty slim. I had my choice of the Exxon or the Sunoco. I tried the Exxon first since it was in the same building as the Mexican restaurant. I was able to get morning food and walking snacks but they had no selections for dinner and no tortillas to go with my tuna fish. So I walked back to the Sunoco and tried them. They had a little more to offer in the luncheon dinner department but nothing that would hit the spot. No cheese or tortillas but they did have small quantity packaged meats so I got a few things at that store too including the obligatory ice cream sandwich to walk out of town with.

As soon as I was far enough away from the interstate to be able to make a phone call I tried calling the hostel I plan to go to. The hostel was still 12 miles away so I had a lot of hiking to do before I got there. Rough calculations showed that I should be able to get there by 6:30 but I would tell them seven just to be safe and allow me some extra time for extra rest in case the climbs between here and there were steeper than I thought.

I tried calling the hostel and the call went through but they couldn’t hear me. So they immediately called me back but I couldn’t hear them. I hiked on another 30 minutes to try to get to a higher spot and did finally get two bars and was able to make the call and find out that, yes, they were open and yes, they had plenty of room. I was surprised on this side of town the cell service was so horrible when on the other side of town it was great for six or eight miles before even getting there.

I had several big climbs to go over so I wanted to make sure I kept my momentum up. I had the two Pepsis at lunch on purpose to make sure I had enough caffeine, sugar, and energy to last me at least 3 hours. I had packed out another Coca-Cola to last the second three hours.

Most of the climbs weren’t too bad. The one in the middle was really steep for about 500 ft of climb and really wore me out. I had to stop at the top and eat a granola bar and drink half the Coke. At this point I was still five and a half miles away from the hostel.

The trail crossed several roads and went through several different pastures. When I got to the last road that I knew was only about two miles from the hostel. I took another break to eat the rest of my chicken wings and the rest of my Coke. I was getting thirsty and I could tell I needed more energy. It was just enough to last the last hour of hiking.

I got to the road the hostel was on at 6:15, a lot earlier than I expected. I was also expecting the road walk to be about a quarter mile to get there but was happy to find out it was only a few hundred yards. I got to the bunkhouse and they had a ring doorbell that connected to their telephone. I checked in with him and then immediately set about to get a shower and start laundry.

About an hour later the owner came down and I had a nice chat. The bunk includes cold cereal and toast and jam in the morning. The owner makes the jams herself. They also have a lot of frozen sandwiches and pizzas that you can cook for a reasonable fee. I had a chicken sandwich and put some of the bread and butter pickles that the owner made on the sandwich to make it taste like a Chick-fil-A. The pickles were amazing. That made me want to try the jellies too so I cooked up two pieces of toast and tried blueberry and strawberry jam and they were both outstanding. I can’t wait to try apple butter and peach in the morning. The only weird thing about this hostel is that they have an outhouse instead of a bathroom. Beggars can’t be choosers as everything else about this place is top-notch.

I’ve been charging all of my electronics and checking the weather forecast for various cities between now and my destination three or four days from now. Well, the forecast shows continuous chance of rain above 80% for the next 3 days. By looking at the radar it looks like it will be on and off rain and not 100% continuous. I guess I will find out tomorrow.

Day 33 mile 535.4 Special delivery

All I’ve had on my mind all day is getting to the visitor center and being able to order delivery from Marion right on the trail. I made it there on time, I was able to get my delivery, but again my eyes were too big for my stomach. Never order food or go grocery shopping while you’re hungry.

The morning started well enough. I woke up at 6:00 and started hiking shortly after 6:30. But my campsite was so far from the trail and I spent so much time looking for the perfect spot last night that I wasn’t able to return to the trail the way I got there. I checked the GPS and I was heading out of the campsite in a slightly different direction but still towards the trail. I’m so accustomed to just going downhill out of the campsite to get to the trail, but this campsite had two different down hills.

I only had to go about 150 yards to get back to the trail but after about 60 or 70 yards it turned to thick rhododendron, so thick you can’t walk through it and this was close to being unwalkable. It took me over 20 minutes just to go 150 yards in the pitch black dark fearing that I would drop my light and have a difficult time retrieving it. If I had been able to make it out back to the trail the same way I got in then I would have arrived at the same spot in about 5 minutes. Oh well, I need to pay better attention when I wander so far from the trail.

There were not a lot of tall climbs but there was a lot of up and down. The trail was not steep but it was very rocky and many sections and was hard to maneuver. I made good time most of the day and after lunch I figured that I should be hitting the visitor center before 6:00. That would be perfect because there is a shelter right here the visitor center.

Some of the trail leveled out even more and I was able to make better time after lunch. I ended up getting to the shelter right at 5:00 and immediately started looking for the flyers of the restaurants in town that would deliver. I only found one but it looked like a good one so I scribbled down what I wanted and then headed to the visitor center to see if their vending machines were open. To my horror the visitor center was closed permanently due to COVID and had no vending machines.

Cell signal was horrible and I had to go across the street and up a hill a little bit just to be able to call the restaurant. I ordered 20 wings, a cheese steak sub, and a Caesar salad. The guy taking the order also talked me into fries. They didn’t have any bottle drinks so I didn’t bother to get any but I had been looking forward to toting out a Coke for tomorrow.

The delivery was supposed to arrive at 6:00 which would give me enough time to eat it and also hike out 2 miles to the next campsite instead of going back to the shelter. When the food arrived I was shocked to find out that it weighed almost 15 lb or at least what seemed like 15 lb. I ate the salad first then some of the fries then half of the cheese steak. By the time I was done with that I was already full and I was staring at a plate of 20 wings. I could only eat four.

I packed up the rest of the food in zip locks and took my garbage back to the dumpster that was halfway back to the shelter. It was after 6:30 by the time I got moving. And I was not moving as fast as I had hoped. It would probably be 10 minutes after dark by the time I got to the official campsite so just before 7:00 I started looking for a stealth campsite. I found a good one but there were no trees to hang a bear bag so I kept going. I eventually found one. It was okay; it was on a bit of a slope but had a good tree for a bear bag. Since I was now towing chicken wings and a cheese steak I want to make sure that my food is hung properly. I also made sure that everything was secure in the outer proof bag inside of the bear sack.

I am only 10 miles from Atkins where I need to do a resupply for my next section to Pearisburg. There is also a Mexican restaurant there. I’ll have to see how many of the wings I can eat for breakfast and probably save the cheese steak to hike out from Atkins.

There is a hostel 23 miles away that I would like to make tomorrow so that I can sleep under a roof and not have to camp out. Tomorrow night it is supposed to start raining for 3 days without any break. It would be nice to start from a hostel and be able to have clean laundry. I will also have to plan out to try to stay at two shelters so I don’t have to pitch the hammock in the rain. I may not be able to do as many miles or may have to do more just to be able to make the distance from shelter to shelter. At least I won’t be hot and sweaty in the rain. But I hope my feet can take it. The next stretch after the hostel is pretty remote so there’s no bailing out. Once I start I have to go all the way to Pearisburg.

Day 32 mile 511.3 Ponies!

Today was the day I have been looking forward to for a long time. Today was a lot of above treeline hiking through Grayson Highlands and their feral ponies. In 1989 I took a short cut across a road at Engine Gap because they were in full bloom and didn’t realize how much of the ponies I was actually missing back then. I didn’t miss them this time.

I woke up extra early to try to get out well before sunrise to try to make it up to Buzzard Rock to view the sunrise. I started hiking at about 6:15 hoping to get to the top at about 7:15 just as the sunrise should be happening. But the climb up to Hurricane Rock was deeper than I thought and I was about 20 minutes late. It didn’t matter anyway because halfway up I was in thick fog and by the time I got to Buzzard Rock I couldn’t see 30 ft in front of me.

About 9:00 a.m. as I approached Elk Meadow the clouds started to break. It was perfect timing too because this is where the above treeline hiking begins. This is all part of the Mount Rogers recreation area with several different wildernesses and also includes the Grayson Highlands State Park.

You can also take a side trail to the top of Mount Rogers, but it’s a wooded summit and I didn’t want to bother with another side trail without a view. Mount Rogers is the highest point in Virginia and that’s why people like to go there.

I stopped at the shelter near the trail junction to Mount Rogers to have lunch and coffee. I made a kimchi ramen that I had never had before and it was fair but not great. I added some tomato powder to give it a little more flavor. I also met two other hikers also trying to make it to Harpers Ferry but they had just started from Damascus. They are using this as a test trip to see if they want to thru-hike next year.

I entered Grayson Highlands proper at about 2:00 and not 100 yards from the gate were two ponies. The sign says they will bite and kick and not to pet or feed them, but they were pretty friendly and let me pet them quite a bit. They are pretty friendly for feral ponies. Throughout the rest of the afternoon I probably saw eight or nine ponies in all. The one in Grayson Highlands proper were definitely friendlier than the ones in the back areas probably because all of the extra traffic of tourists near Grayson Highlands.

I came across the shelter with nice camping at about 6:00. The camping areas looked great and they had bear boxes but I wanted to go a little bit further. I kept going intending to stay at a campsite that was about a mile and a half further near a road. But as I got closer to the campsite I started reading register entries about bears taking food bags out of the trees in those campsites, so I decided to stop about a half a mile before then and just camp in the woods hoping that bears don’t associate this area with easy food since my food is hung in a tree. I will play Russian roulette tonight and see if I have food for the morning.

Day 31 mile 489.3 Resupply box arrived so I’m out of Damascus

Great weather and a great day to leave Damascus. Gorgeous scenery, relatively easy terrain, and nice temperatures made for a good hiking day. I’m glad to be out of town and hiking again.

Since I knew I had to wait on the post office I didn’t bother to get up before 7:00. I literally got up and then headed out about 8:00 to go grab breakfast. It was a pretty chilly morning so I was wearing my fleece.

I went to the diner again to have breakfast and had a huge meal of fried chicken biscuits and gravy, eggs, hash browns, and grits. Halfway through the meal I got the text notification that my package had arrived at the post office. I got there right at 9:00 and got the package and headed back to the hostel to get packing.

It didn’t take too long to get ready. I was packed and out of the hostel by 9:45. The trail leaving Damascus follows the Virginia Creeper Trail for about a half a mile and then turns abruptly up a mountain. In ’89 I had taken the Creeper Trail for several miles because the AT and Creeper is exact back and forth for about 12 mi. This time I decided to take the official route.

The trail did do quite a bit of climbing but after two or three miles when it rejoined the Virginia Creeper Trail again there was hardly any descent. So even though the trail may have been steeper I guess it had more flat sections because it was all about the same in the end. At this point the AT just crosses the Virginia Creeper; it doesn’t follow it again.

Further up the trail there is a side trail that leads down to the Virginia Creeper Trail that some people take as an alternate to bypass the two mountains that the trail is just about to cross over. It’s over 4 miles worth of climbing and I know it’s well over a thousand feet but I didn’t bother to look it up. I did however count that there were 16 switchbacks on the first mountain. 4 hours later the AT joins the Virginia Creeper for about a half a mile before it turns off again. I am betting that this 4 hours of AT trail would take only about 2 hours on the Virginia Creeper Trail. If I do this section again I might take the Virginia Creeper again because it is definitely more scenic but also more crowded with bikes. I wouldn’t do it on a weekend.

The rest of the trail afterwards was pretty tame. There was still more climbing but nothing ridiculous; it was just normal AT trail.

Just after 6:00 I came across a shelter where two guys were cooking an entire pork tenderloin over the fire. They invited me to stay and have some but I wanted to hike some more since I got a late start today. I just ate a quick snack and chatted with them for about 10 or 15 minutes and then headed on. I passed two other hikers heading south after leaving the shelter so maybe they got to have some of the tenderloin.

Not too far after the shelter the trail crossed more pastures. These pastures were pretty active; I could see and smell fresh cow patties. It was pretty but it was a small pasture probably less than a quarter mile across.

The trail turned into the woods again and is the beginning of a two and a half mile climb up to Buzzard Rock. I kind of wanted to make it there before sunset so that I could cowboy camp on top while the sun was setting. The terrain is just a little too steep to be able to make it before sunset though, so I opted to stop at a campsite only about a quarter mile from the pasture.

 I found a great tree to hang the bear bag. There have been signs ever since leaving Damascus about bear problems in the Mount Rogers and Grayson Highlands area and that all the shelters have bear boxes that you’re supposed to put your food in. Apparently the bears in this area have learned how to retrieve bags from trees so let’s hope mine is secure enough to last the night.

Day 30 mile 471.0 Damascus at last

With only 10 easy miles into Damascus, I was able to arrive in town by 11:00 and hit the post office only to discover that my resupply box had not arrived yet.  Also, many of the shops in town are vacant.  Damascus is not the booming town it once was.

I slept mouse free in the shelter pretty well until about 5am when something was scurrying about.  I never did figure out what or where it was, but sleeping was over.  I got up at 6:30 and was on trail by 7:00 and needed the headlamp for 20 minutes.

The terrain was easy and the hiking went quickly and was mostly downhill.  I passed five or six southbounders coming from town but only stopped to talk to one of them for a few minutes.

I strolled into town and went straight to the post office.  My heart sank when I found out my resupply box had not arrived. Oh well, so let’s eat.  I stopped by the diner and had a taco salad.

I went to the hostel and checked in, then grabbed a loaner daypack and headed to the bike rental to go ride the Virginia Creeper Trail.  I got on the 1pm bus for the long ride up to Whitetop Station.

The ride down was fun but very cold.  Even after putting on my jacket I was still freezing cold.  There were plenty of people on the trail but not like a weekend.  

Before turning the bike in, I ran by the post office again and it was still not there.  Karen had sent me the tracking number and they looked it up and it was still in Johnson City.  The postmaster said the truck should arrive by 7:30 and I could knock on the door to get it.  I guess that’s the plan then.

After showering and laundry it was time for dinner so I walked down to the grill and had a burger. Back at the hostel it was a little chit chat then off to bed.  I want to be ready to get out of town as soon as I can.