Day 65- Tuesday, 5/15- Jenny Knob Shelter- (11.9 miles) (603.1 total)
Well the double Nero wasn’t too bad. Managed to get everything done, but it did feel a bit rushed. Not too much time to relax- pretty busy getting all the errands done. But the good part of it is that I got 11.9 miles of hiking in today instead of zero. Definitely won’t do these every time, but sometimes it’s good just to make some more miles.
Didn’t get on the trail until 1pm today. The shuttle driver picked us up at about 11:30, but I had to get to the post office before the trail, so he dropped me off there and took the other guy up. I decided to mail my winter clothes that I don’t need anymore to save weight and bulk in my pack. I shipped my fleece, my Smartwool pants, and my gloves to my cousin in South Dakota. She will keep them for me and ship them back to me in 3 months or so when I get back into cooler weather in the White’s. Of course when I walked into the post office they were closed for their lunch break, so I had to wait 20 minutes for them to open. The shuttle driver came back while they were still closed, but he was nice enough to wait. Got to have lunch one more time at that place on the trail to fuel up before the hike today. Those deep fried Oreos are insane. Had to get them again.
The first part of the hike today was along a roadway. I walked down the first mile or 2 and came upon a guy and his wife parked on the side of the road in their Jeep. As I was approaching, he pointed out something in the road and it was a big rattlesnake! It was my first time to ever see one, which was pretty exciting. The snake was very lethargic and not moving very much. It was thick in the middle, so we figured it just ate and was digesting. We watched it for a while, and then we saw Wiki come walking down the road. We pointed out the snake and it was her first time to see a rattler as well, so she was pretty excited. Then along comes this red Ford Ranger down the hill, and so Wiki waves her arm at the guy to get him to slow down and avoid the snake. The guy clearly must have seen the snake lying across the road, but instead of stopping, he keeps driving and runs the snake over. Wiki was really upset and told him he just killed the snake. The guy replies “Snakes are like Indians. The only good ones are the dead ones.” and drives off. I was just in shock at what he said, and Wiki was pissed and called him an asshole as he started to drive off. Racist asshole is more like it. We were all stunned and upset. Just some crazy redneck hillbilly dude I guess. Some people that you meet...
Hiked part of the day with Wiki. There were no water sources listed for after the first shelter, so we had to stop 2 miles in and collect water. The next water source was the one at this shelter, 10 miles away. Long stretch. So we cameled up kept hiking. Nice hiking weather today. There were some light thundershowers, but mostly it was cool and overcast. Not too hot at all. Didn’t get into camp until 6:45pm, and had just enough time to get set up before the rain came in. Cooked dinner in my vestibule- a famous AT dish called a ramen bomb. That’s ramen noodles mixed with instant mashed potatoes and tuna. Pretty filling.
Well, the rain has let up so time for a quick pee and then off to bed. Goodnight everyone.
Day 66- Wednesday, 5/16- Wapiti Shelter- (14.5 miles) (617.6 miles total)
Slept in this morning a bit since I got in to camp later yesterday and went to bed a bit later than usual. Was nice to get up around the same time as everyone else and chit chat a bit while getting ready. I was doing my usual warm up routine before hiking, and I hear Wiki comment “Damn, stretching is one thing, but those are housewife exercises.” Lol! She’s always popping off with some funny smartass stuff that keeps everyone laughing. Yesterday someone commented on how ugly they thought my hat was, and Wiki chimes in, “Well it’s very practical. It protects the head, it protects the neck, and it also works a great form of birth control.” Luckily I have the ability to laugh at myself. She kills me sometimes.
Set off alone for the first little while today, but eventually caught up to Workhorse who I just met last night at the shelter. He’s from the Boston area, a former peace corps volunteer in South Africa, and a retired IT guy. He now does some work with families of those addicted to opioids. Very interesting guy and some great conversation along the trail. 6 miles into today’s hike, we came to a road crossing. 1/2 mile down the road the guidebook said there was a small grocery store that did burgers and other food as well. So several of us hikers convened there for a nice big lunch. 2 fish burgers, an onion rings, some cheese sticks, an apple pie, and some coffee later, I was stuffed. The infamous AT “hiker hunger” seems to be kicking in. The hot coffee was the best part, since it rained almost the whole day today and we were all soaking wet when we got in there. It didn’t help that it was air conditioned, but the coffee really helped to warm me up. It’s warm temperatures now, which makes the rain a lot more bearable. Apparently there is a big weather system just hanging over us and not moving, and the weather report is calling for rain all week.
Said goodbye to a few of the hikers at the lunch stop, as they are all heading back down to Demascus for the annual AT Trail Days festival. Every year for the past 50 years or so, they have this big 3 day festival where AT hikers past and present gather. There is a big parade where each year of hikers is represented. Tons of outdoor gear companies have booths, there is a giant tent city set up for people to stay in, bands play, etc. Demascus is pretty tiny, so I’m not quite sure how they accommodate all the people coming in for it, but somehow they do. I hear it’s a pretty big zoo and gets pretty wild at nighttime, especially in tent city. I would actually like to go see this festival once just to experience it, but I have decided to skip it for this year. Few different reasons. First, I have taken a fair number of zero days previously, and could use the days to push further north. I can easily see this festival taking hikers off the trail for 5 or more days by the time they get shuttled down there and back. Also, I have friends in northern Virginia, DC, and NYC coming up and I would rather take some days with them if I’m going to get off the trail for a bit. Another reason is that my friend Ira is coming to hike with me at the end of this month and we have already made our plans for where to meet and which section we are going to hike and when, and those dates don’t leave time for Trail Days. I’m really looking forward to seeing Ira on the trail and hiking with him, and that also takes precedence over Trail Days for me. And finally, it just sounds like a complete zoo with the hundreds or even thousands of people that descend on that town, the crowds, all the crazy partying, it just sounds like a bit much, especially while I’m hiking. Hopefully another year I can attend and be in the parade with the rest of the 2018ers. The only thing that would be nice about going is the gear outfitters. Would be neat to see what kind of gear they have, but another time. That and meeting up with hikers I have known on the trek but gotten separated from. Trail Days is a big reunion for a lot of people.
I hiked a bit faster than Workhorse, so got ahead of him and hiked the rest of the day alone. Got into camp before 5, so plenty of time to set up and eat dinner before bed. The rain also let up during this time which I am always grateful for. Workhorse is here, a guy named Sparky who is doing a 2 week section hike, a girl named Rebecca from Canada who is doing a 10 day section by herself, and Early Bird who hiked over 30 miles to get here today. They are all sleeping in the shelter and I am in my tent. The rain has started in earnest again, but thankfully it waited until I was done with everything and am nice and dry in my tent.
Day 67- Thursday 5/17- Angel’s Rest Hiker Haven (17.9 miles) (635.5 total)
Well the rain continues. It rained last night and on and off all day today. The weather is nice and cool and comfortable for hiking. The problem is the wet feet. My wet socks really started rubbing on my feet, giving me a lot of hot spots. Since it has been raining for 3 straight days, I had to put on wet socks first thing in the morning. Couldn’t get a pair dry. I’m gonna have to tape my feet pretty well before hiking tomorrow.
The other drawback to all the rain is the slippery rocks. There were quite a few rock sections we had to walk over today, and we really had to be careful. I slipped and fell twice. The first time was the worst. My foot slipped out and the first thing to hit the ground was my back. Luckily I had my pack on the cushion the fall. I always thank my lucky stars every time I survive a fall without injury. Live to fight another day.
Sparky and Workhorse both said they were planning to come into Pearisburg to zero today, but I said I was hiking on and not gonna stop anywhere for a few more days. Towards the end of the day tho, I caught up with Workhorse and he told me about a hiker hostel that is only 1.5 miles off the trail. That suddenly sounded good, as I could get in here and just get a shower, meal, and bed for a night out of the rain, but still get back on the trail early tomorrow morning. Pretty much the same as if I would have camped, but more comfortable. So here I am. Angel’s Rest Hiker Haven. The nicest hostel I’ve seen so far. The shower rooms were like home. First rate. 2 of the people working here decided to sell everything and buy a full on school bus and convert it to a mini house and drive across the country. They got here in January and liked it so much that they stayed. They have a 10 year old son who they home school. What a life. I talked to them a bit when I arrived and they talked me into doing my first slack pack tomorrow. They will drive me 20 miles north up the trail and drop me off. The I will hike the 20 miles south back here to the hostel. I’ll have another night here tomorrow night, and then the next day they will drive me the 20 miles back up the trail and I’ll start northbound again from there. And the best part is that I won’t have to carry my pack. Just a small day pack with lunch and water. I’ve never slack packed before so this will be an interesting experience. Everyone I’ve met on the trail doing it absolutely raves about it. They say it’s so nice not to have to carry your big pack for a day. We will see how it goes. I’ll let you know tomorrow.
Day 68- Friday, 5/18- Angel’s Rest Hiker Haven- (20.5 miles- slack pack) (656.1 total)
Well, the slack pack was a success. I was worried about doing that many miles with my feet in the shape they were in last night, but I taped up the spots that were rubbed raw or irritated, and they were fine. We left at 7am this morning by van and they drove us 20 miles up the road. When we first started, it was amazing! I felt like I had been shot out of a cannon. With out the 25-35 pounds on my back, it just felt weird. I could hike so fast. It reminded me of how athletes will train by running with weighted vests or resistance bands and then take them off and feel so much faster. It was a real pleasure. Tortoise and Sparky were also slack packing, and we all made good time. We had a 1500 foot climb to start the day, but then it flattened out on the top of the ridge and we got some fairly easy terrain. Of course it rained on and off all day long for the 4th day in a row. But I made the 20.5 miles- my longest day yet. Finished up at 4:20pm and they came and picked me up and brought me back here to the hostel. My feet are like prunes, but overall in way better shaped than yesterday. Just good to get a hot shower, laundry, and a hot meal after the long wet day. Also nice not to have to tent camp in the rain.
It’s just funny how things work out. It feels like those books when you were a kid where you would be faced with a choice. If you choose A, turn to page 53. If you choose B, turn to page 64. Then you find out your fate. I was on top of a mountain yesterday afternoon after 15.5 miles of hiking. There was a great grassy tent site right on the edge of this amazing view. There was a water source just 0.2 miles away. It was perfect. And I was really tempted to just stop there and set up. But when I looked at the milage I needed to do in the next couple of days, there were some long days ahead. And I thought if I just hike 2-3 more miles today, it will make those days a bit more reasonable. So I half-heartedly pushed on. I was going to try to find a stealth camping spot down by the road. Only to meet up with Workhorse. Only to get the info on this hostel only being 1.5 off the trail. Only to end up doing my first ever slack pack and making some extra miles. And to get to enjoy 2 dry nights with all the perks of town, yet no time off. Just funny how little choices you make along the way can change so much. Fate? Free will?
Day 69- Saturday, 5/19- War Spur Shelter, VA- (12.4 miles) (668.5 total)
Papa Smurf, the guy with the school bus who works at the hostel, drove myself and Sparky back up the 20 miles north that we slackpacked yesterday. We were initially supposed to go with him at 7am when he took the next round of slackpackers out there, but we arranged to have him take us at 9am instead. Being able to do the 20 miles yesterday lowered today’s milage a bit for us, so we could get a later start. Despite not carrying our packs yesterday, 20 miles was still 20 miles, and our bodies were sore and exhausted. It was nice to be able to move a bit slower this morning.
Today started out with a 1500 foot climb which was a challenge, but the harder part was all the water. It’s been raining so much lately that the trail itself was a small stream sometimes, and the small streams that we usually cross easily were all swollen and much more of a challenge to cross. There were a couple of sketchy crossings, but nothing too bad. The trekking poles help a ton for those. Much better balance with 4 legs rather than 2. Then after I got up on top of the ridge, the rocks started again. The rocky sections just take so much concentration and caution so that you don’t slip and fall, especially when they are wet, so they just really slow me down a ton.
It actually stayed dry most of the day today and we even had a bit of sun. That was great, but of course about 45 minutes before I got to the shelter, it had to start raining again. I got into the shelter and right after that it really opened up and started dumping rain. It was short lived tho, and it has been clear since. We got to sit outside at the picnic table and cook and eat our dinner, which was nice. Because of the rain when I first arrived, I decided to stay in the shelter tonight instead of setting up my tent. Only my second time to shelter. There are only 3 of us here tonight, so plenty of space for all of us.
Last night at the Mexican restaurant after the slackpack, we ran into Tortoise. He is 68 years old or something like that and had come out to try to hike 400 miles of the trail. I think he has made it 250 or so by now, and he told us last night that he was done. He said the physical part was ok for him, but mentally he was getting bored. That was interesting to hear him say that, because the repetition out here of breaking down camp, hiking 15 or so miles, setting up camp, repeat, repeat, repeat, does get old and boring sometimes in certain ways. Of course there are great people, beautiful views, peaceful moments, etc. sprinkled in there to make it fun sometimes, but hearing him say that just made me think again about what a mental challenge and a perseverance game this really is. We will all be sad to see Tortoise go. He was a strong hiker despite his age, and a very nice guy.
Well, the rain is returning and my warm sleeping bag is calling. Time for some rejuvenating sleep.
Day 70- Sunday, 5/20- Blacksburg, VA- (8.2 miles) (676.8 total)
Got up early and did a 8.2 miles to highway 42 to get into Blacksburg for a resupply. Went straight up 2000 feet to start the day, then down 2000 feet to the highway. Had to cross 2 swollen streams along the way and each one was a challenge to get across. The first one, I had to straddle a fallen tree that was across the river and scoot across on my butt, then hop off onto some rocks, and finally loop up the side of the hill to get over some debris to get back down to the trail. Kind of fun figuring out the puzzle of each crossing and making it to the other side, but I hope it doesn’t keep raining so much and these crossings get easier.
Blacksburg is the home of Virginia Tech. It’s a college town, but the semester just ended so there are a lot less students around right now. Blacksburg is a good 30 minutes or so from the trail, so I had to hitchhike in. A guy picked me up pretty quickly on the small country road I got off on and drove me out to the larger highway. I was thinking about calling at Uber from there, but when I checked, it was $25, so I decided to try hitching first. After about 15 minutes this guy Brian picked me up and drove me all the way to my motel. Really nice guy- a single father raising a 3 year old daughter. When he dropped me off, he gave me some money towards my charity which was very generous of him. Gotta rely on the kindness of strangers sometimes when I’m out here, so it’s great that people like Brian exist.
Doing another nero/nero here so I can keep on pace to meet Ira in the next town. So did my usual running around to grocery shop, eat, do laundry, etc. These double neros are busy. The weather of course has been beautiful while I’m in town. Lol! But the rain is supposed to return tomorrow at mid-day- just when I plan to get back on the trail. I was watching the news, and the entire south is getting hammered with rain and it’s supposed to last all week. Really hoping it ends soon.