AT- Days 49-54

May 4, 2018

Day 49- Sunday, 4/29- Unnamed campsite- (16 miles) (410.8 total)

Got up early this morning and Dave the hostel owner ran me back to the trail. Got started around 7:50am, which isn’t too bad for leaving town.

Today’s milestone was passing the 400 mile mark on the trail. I hit that mark just about 4 or 5 miles outside of Roan Mountain. Always feels good to get another 100 in. The spot on the trail where we hit 400 was right next to a blue blaze to a waterfall. People had written on the sign to the waterfall “Go! Totally worth it!” It was only 0.1 miles off the trail, so after having a guy take my picture for the occasion, I walked to the falls. Very impressive indeed and definitely worth the short walk. Check my Facebook for the picture soon.

I saw my first snake on the trail today. Just a small one, about a foot and a half long and quite thin. Nothing crazy or dangerous. When it heard me coming, it quickly slithered off the trail and under a rock, so I had no chance to get a good look at it or take a picture. Still cool to see my first one tho. Other people have seen them and taken pictures, so I figured it was just a matter of time. Probably will start seeing them more often as the weather warms up. Hopefully no encounters that are too close.

I made up a new term today (although someone else has probably already thought of this). You know how we follow these white blazes painted on the trees and rocks to know that we are on the right trail? Well that’s called white blazing. Just hiking along the AT. Blue blazing is taking the side trails that have blue blazes painted on the trees. These lead to nice views, water sources, shelters, etc. Yellow blazing is getting in a car and driving further up the trail, skipping a section. And aqua blazing is where you have a chance to raft along a section of the trail, available only in a couples areas along the trail (and a mortal sin to the purists). Pink blazing is chasing someone of the opposite sex up the trail, hoping for some romance. Today I coined the term brown blazing. This is when you are hiking along and suddenly nature calls and you have to find a private spot off the trail somewhere to do your business and hopefully not get seen by other hikers passing by. I usually take care of my business in the very early morning before hiking, under the cover of darkness while everyone else is asleep. This is a much safer time. But today for some reason I had to do some brown blazing half way through the day. Maybe that awesome Mexican food I had last night in town. It’s not as easy as you think, as we are often hiking along the side of a mountain. Reasonably level spots where you’re not at a 45 degree angle, and spots that provide some cover and privacy this time of year before the green and leaves come out is quite a challenge. Luckily I found a spot after a while where I could brown blaze to privacy, out of sight of any passerby’s.

And while we are down here, let me mention another discovery that I have made. Underwear has been a problematic issue for me on the trail. I already talked about ditching the boxer briefs because they rode up too much. I bought the regular brief kind and those seemed like the solution for a while. But the store only had size XXL, which seemed to fit well in the store but later became a bit too loose. I am losing weight as well (down 25 pounds now), so that may be part of it, but also the rain making them wet didn’t help. They just sag and rub and give me rash and chaffing, especially when wet. The night just before the last town when we had had 2 or 3 straight days of rain things were getting worse, so on the final day into town I decided just to try going without underwear. Free-balling if you will. Today was the second day of hiking this way, and it has been awesome! No riding up, no chafing, nothing. Very comfortable and issue free. I already ditched my 2 pairs of liner socks in town (a thin sock under your regular sock that is supposed to help prevent blisters) after hiking a few days without them with zero issues. Now it looks like I may be able to ditch one pair of underwear to save even more weight. I still have one pair of underwear for camp which are very comfortable and great. It’s just the hiking with them that is the issue. Sing with me everybody... “Cause I’m free...”

I hiked 16 miles today to this campsite that the app mentioned. No one here, so this looks to be my 3rd ever night camping alone. The next shelter is 2.5 miles away where I’m sure there are other hikers, but I didn’t want to put in an 18.5 today. There is no water here so I had to collect it at a stream 0.7 miles before I got here. The app showed me where the stream was, but when I got there I was disappointed to find that it was such a small stream. It’s just harder and slower to collect the water when it’s a low small stream. I need to use my scooper and collect it little by little. Oh well, I just did what I had to do and filled up my water bottles. When I was done I started down the trail again and just around the corner was a big fast flowing stream. Damn it! Didn’t expect that there would be another stream so close by. That was the one the app was trying to take me to. I had heard something, but thought it was the wind blowing up high in the trees and didn’t realize it was more water so close by. Well, that would have been a much faster fill up, but either way I got my water so it’s all good.

Day 50- Monday, April 30- (14.5 miles) (425.3 total)

Last night when I was purifying my water, I suddenly realized that my purification drops were running out. I hadn’t thought to replace them in Roan Mountain, and couldn’t have anyway since they have no outfitter. Luckily I have some backup tablets that should keep me going until I get to Demascus- 3 more days. But I thought just in case I should try to buy more if I found anywhere along the way here. Turns out there was a place called Black Bear Resort just
.04 miles off the trail today, and they had a small outfitter. It was about lunch time by the time I got there, so I figured that I could kill 2 birds with one stone. Beautiful resort right on the river. Unfortunately, they didn’t carry any purification drops there, but like I said I have the backup tablets, so I should be fine. Lunch was a big pizza, a banana, and orange, a soda, and 2 ice cream bars (hey, I couldn’t decide between the Klondike and the Fat Boy, so I just took both. Don’t judge.). Met a lady there who is 69 years old and has been section hiking the AT for 14 years, doing it piece by piece. She walks 8-10 miles a day for 2 weeks, a couple times a year, and is getting close now. She has to finish up this section she is doing now, then a bit more in New Hampshire, and finally Maine. She plans to be finished in 2 more years. Amazing!

The final climb up to the campsite was brutal today. 1800 feet in 2.5 miles. It was tough. Thought I was going to be alone again tonight, but a guy just showed up at nearly 9pm. He hiked 30 miles today! An older guy too. Started talking to him and he said he has already hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide trail, and now he is doing the AT to become a triple crowner. Wow. No wonder this guy can do such big miles. What made me feel good tho is that he thinks that the AT is by far the toughest trail physically. So many ups and downs. He said the other trails are difficult in other ways, like deserts, water, high mountain ranges with heavy snow, long distances to resupply, etc. But physically with the difficult terrain, he said the AT is by far much harder that the others. He said he could do 30 mile days with not much problem on the other trails, but here he is struggling. Well, at least I know that it’s not just me. This terrain is a challenge.

The worst thing that happened to me today just happened a minute ago. The zipper on my rainfly for my tent just failed. This is a problem. Luckily the weather is supposed to be clear for several days, but if it did somehow rain, I’d be screwed. I have it kind of rigged shut now, but this is not so good. I just emailed the company and hopefully they can rush me an new fly. Big Agnus is pretty good that way. In fact they are already sending me a new control box for the Mountain Glo LED light feature of this tent. For free. That frayed and fell off recently. You know a guy with the same tent recommended 2 or 3 weeks ago that I stuff my tent into its sack to save time packing up in the mornings, rather than rolling it up. It has helped me get faster and has been a lot easier, but now I’m thinking it is not such a good idea. Perhaps that has been what has caused the wire to fray and break on the control box and the zipper to fail. Not positive, but that seems possible.

Day 51- Tuesday, May 1- Unnamed campsite- (14.9 miles) (441.1 total)

The start of a new month always feels good. A new beginning. I’ve made it all the way to May and am still out here. Put in a tough 15.9 miles today. I did stop and call Big Agnes, my tent company, when I had some signal. Fortunately, they will be sending me a new one 2nd day air to Demascus, where I’ll be in 2 days. I have to pay for it upfront and send them back the damaged one. Once they inspect the current one and see the damage, they will refund the money. That’s a relief tho. I definitely don’t want to get caught in a big rainstorm with a damaged rainfly out here!

Stopped at another hostel along the trail today, looking for water treatment stuff. Still no luck. Some girl at a water source let me use her filter to refill which was very nice of her. I have just enough tablets to make it to Demascus where I can buy more of the drops that I use, but it’s tight. I’m actually thinking of checking out the SteriPen to purify my water. It’s an ultraviolet pen that you stick in your bottle for 90 seconds and it kills everything. The guy I camped next to last night used it on the PCT and CDT and swears by it.

It was definitely animal day yesterday and today. I saw my first tick yesterday, crawling on the outside of my tent door. Those guys are hard to squish! Hard backs. But I finally got it. Then today, I saw my first big snake. Long pure black one. No idea what kind, but it was stretched out across the trail with no easy way around it. The mountain went up and down steeply on either side of the trail. I tried tossing a rock nearby to scare it away, but it didn’t budge at all. Finally I had to kind of climb the side of the trail to get around. After I got passed it, the snake finally decided to move off the trail. I probably could have just stepped over it as it seemed to just be chillin’, but I couldn’t bring myself to be that brave. Then a bit later I rounded a corner and saw my first deer on the trail- a beautiful doe. She ran off the trail and down the slope a bit when she saw me, but then stayed there and we curiously stared at each other for a while until she took off. Neat experience.

Day 52- Wednesday, 5/2- (Abingdon Gap Shelter) (18.8 miles) (459.9 total)

Longest day yet on the trail. 18.8 miles today. While it still had plenty of ups and downs, today’s section was less steep than most days, which allowed me to make pretty good time and do some extra miles. I was originally just going to do 15 or 16 miles today, but tomorrow is a town day in Demascus and it’s always best to do a Nero into town to maximize your time there. The way the math worked out, I would have had to do a 13 into town. Not exactly much of a Nero. So I added 3 miles on to today, and now it will just be a 10 tomorrow. Still a bit longer than idea for a Nero, but better.

I’m camping next to a shelter for the first time in a while. I sometimes plan more for miles than for where the shelters are, so I often end up at random tent sites. This works well, except that there are often very few other people who camp at those, and sometimes no one besides me. I do enjoy the solitude and quiet, but it can feel a little eerie being out there all alone. Even if I’m not hanging out a whole lot with others around me, their mere presence is reassuring. Sometimes it’s just nice to have dinner and talk story with some folks after a long day of hiking alone.

I was taking to a guy named Jukebox while having lunch on the trail today. He told me that he doesn’t use his phone ever out here, except as a camera. So no music, no podcasts, nothing to listen to throughout the day. He said he is out here for a lot of personal reasons and wants the time to think about himself and to try to grow while he’s out here. I thought he made a valid point. I balance between headphones and silence myself, but he’s right. The silence is important out here and this time should not be wasted. It can be kind of a meditation, or just a time to see what bubbles up as we walk. Sometimes they are happy thoughts, other times negative or darker thoughts start rolling in. Past hurts and grievances, insecurities and the like. And it’s easy to drown those away with noise. But maybe the more difficult stuff is what we need to process, what needs attention to find it’s root or move past it. 8-10 hours a day by yourself to think can be a long time. Personally, I’ve noticed that I have a tendency to compare myself with others out here too much. His pack is lighter than mine, she’s hiking more miles a day than me, he’s hiking faster, they are taking less zero days than me. It’s always negative and thinking like that for too long can really drag me down. I’m definitely going through a personal process of striving for greater self acceptance. I’m out here doing the best I can, hiking my own hike in the way that works best for me. As they say, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” The mind can be dangerous given too much time to think and dwell, but I agree with Jukebox that this time can also be very useful if approached in the right way.

Day 53- Thursday 5/3- Demascus, VA- (10.2 miles) (469.9 total)

Got up super early this morning to get my miles in and make the most of my town day today. Had just over 10 miles to go. 7 miles in was a big landmark- we crossed the state line into Virginia! I’ve been waiting for this landmark for some time now. Starts to feel like we are getting somewhere now that we are in Virginia. Virginia is the longest state on the trail- we walk about 500 miles in the state, so about a quarter of the trail. “The Virginia Blues” is something that apparently a lot of hikers get in this state. There are different reasons given for why. Some say that Virginia is boring and the same old, same old. Others say that not crossing a state line for 500 miles gets people down. But I think the most plausible explanation is that the honeymoon phase has worn off. We are close to a quarter of the way done, and the new has worn off. It starts to become more of a grind now. Well, we will see how much that affects me. At this point, I don’t think it will too much. In a video I watched before I started the trail, one veteran hiker who had done the trail many times was asked what advice he would give hikers planning to do the trail. His reply was, “It’s not fun.” What he meant by that was, it’s a grind. It’s not a walk in the park. And if you come out here expecting an easy stroll, you’re gonna end up quitting the trail. So based on that and other stuff I watched or read, I came into this hike with very low expectations. I expected it to be a grind and it has been. So I don’t feel like I’ve really had much of a honeymoon phase, and therefore I see Virginia being pretty much similar to the states I’ve already gone through. Hard work with moments of enjoyment or wonder sprinkled in here and there. But we will see.

I’m staying at a nice Bed and Breakfast place here in town. Nice owners and a nice room. A little pricy, but so much nice than a bunkhouse full of hikers. Demascus is the home of “Trail Days,” the famous AT festival that happens here every year. It starts in about 2 weeks. Tons of people apparently pour into the town, with shuttles running people in here from all points of the trail that they are on. There is a big tent city that pops up in the baseball field, there are bands playing, talks about the trail, tons of booths of gear brands that will fix your gear or sell you new stuff, a parade in which every year of AT thru hiker alumni is recognized, and of course tons of alcohol and drugs. A total zoo from what I hear. It’s a good place to re-meet up with people you have hiked with earlier on the trail but gotten separated from, and a good time to take a few days off the trail. It lasts 3 days. I’m undecided about whether or not I will come back here for this. It sounds fun in a lot of ways and just something to experience once as part of the whole AT experience. But it also sounds crazy and crowded, and something that could easily get you off the trail for 5 days or more by the time you find a town get off the trail in, get transportation down here, do the festival, and then get back on the trail. I take a fairly liberal amount of zero days anyways, and these 5 or so days could be a good chance to keep heading north and making up some time. Who knows. I have a couple of weeks to think about it.

Just did the usual today. Ate a couple of big meals, did laundry, made some phone calls, etc. Just enjoyed a day of not hiking long miles. Everyone was heading to the local brewery in the evening to meet up. I started to head that way just to see some of the people I haven’t seen for a bit, but it was about a 1 mile walk each way and I ended up deciding that I wasn’t up for it. I try to walk as little as possible on these days off. There will be enough walking around town tomorrow to run my errands.

Day 54- Friday, May 4th- Demascus, VA- (0) (469.9 total)

Wow, I slept like the dead last night. Didn’t wake up until 8am, which is late for me. That felt great! The breakfast here was 2 big waffles, 2 eggs, bacon, a fruit plate, OJ, and coffee. I was stuffed. Spent the day doing the usual zero day stuff: planning out my next section to Marion, VA, shower, shave, outfitter for resupply, grocery store, lunch, etc. I did also pick up my new rainfly that Big Agnes sent to the outfitter here. I talked to another guy here who has my same tent and he has the same problem with the zipper. I think they tried to make the zipper too small and light weight, and it’s sometimes failing. But at least I have a new one now and am good to go. Bought some more of the tick spray for my pack, clothes and tent door area and finished spraying the stuff I didn’t spray the last time. So hopefully should be good now for the next 6 weeks.

I went down to a nice coffee shop/lunch spot here in town and ended up running into Bryan, the guy I hiked with for a while a few weeks back and shared a room with in Gatlinburg. Haven’t seen him for a while, so was good to catch up. That’s the cool thing about this trail. You separate, then you meet up again. You never know when or where. Sadly, he told me that Savage was on life support after his heart attack, and his family were on their way up to pull the plug. Sounds like he has passed away. Seems like the brightest lights always burn very intensely, but for a shorter period of time. Rest In Peace, Savage. Glad I got to make your acquaintance while you were still with us.

Thunderstorms are predicted for tomorrow, but I’m planning to hike. The owner here said there aren’t really any exposed open areas- mostly all forested. A lot of people are sayin they will stay an extra day in town, but I don’t want to waste another day here. If we hide indoors every time there is some weather, we will never get there. I take a fair number of zeros already, so don’t want too many extra unplanned ones. It’s different if there is a full on weather warning like in Erwin a couple towns back, but not for this. We will see what it looks like in the morning tho.  

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