Day 71- Monday, 5/21- Niday Shelter, VA- (9.9 miles) (686.7 total)
Spent the morning in the motel doing all my online stuff for the charity. A few of the girls from FTD in Thailand have been sending me videos recently that I can post on Facebook. These videos have been amazing! I felt that I needed to balance my AT photos and videos with more of the FTD stuff in order to better connect the two and show the purpose of my hike. At first, I got videos of all the girls in a group saying a message to me in English in chorus. One or two of those were really touching, but then I asked the girls to send me more natural ones. Just videos of the girls cooking, doing their homework, outings, etc. And they have responded with some fantastic ones. Have a look on Facebook if you haven’t already. I posted a bunch this morning.
Next, I walked over to the outfitter across the street from my motel. I have been wanting to get a summer sleeping bag and offload my heavier winter sleeping bag. Luckily, they had a down camping quilt in stock that weighs only 1 pound, as compared to the 2 pounds 10 ounces of my winter bag. Quilts are becoming more and more popular these days. They can be used as a blanket and just laid over you, but they also have a side zipper and the bottom cinches up by your feet, so they can also work as a sleeping bag. They are the lightest thing on the market and are very popular with the people who use hammocks to sleep in. Perfect for summer weather. This one was not cheap, but the weight savings is huge. Plus I ditched my silk sleeping bag liner, so I probably eliminated around 2 pounds today.
After checking out of the motel, I Ubered to the post office and mailed my winter bag to my cousin’s house. They will send it back along with all my winter clothes in 3 months or so. New Hampshire has the White Mountains that can get pretty cold apparently, and that range continues into Maine. It will be around September by then, so could start to get a little chilly fall weather by then, up that far north.
The Uber took me all the way back to the trail after the post office. I got back on the trail at 1:30pm- double nero this time. Put in 9.9 miles today to this shelter. It was supposed to rain all afternoon, but we got lucky. Heard thunder in the distance a lot, but it never reached us. There were a lot of large rock sections today, and the rain would have made them quite slippery, so I was grateful to the rain gods. Had dinner here at the shelter with a few other people. 2 brothers are doing a 9 or so day trip out here together. They are doing a section at a time and hoping to maybe complete the whole thing one day. Very nice guys and we had some good laughs over dinner. When I retired to my tent, one of the brothers comes over and says goodnight, and gives me a $100 handshake for the charity. I was so impressed and blown away. That’s only the 3rd or so time I’ve gotten cash from someone on the trail like that. I often give people my (digital) card with my website on it, and a couple have donated, but it’s rare to get cash out here. Just a couple of big-hearted guys. Made my evening.
Day 72- Tuesday, 5/22- 4 Pines Hostel, VA- (16.7 miles) (703.4 total)
What a brutal day. Actually not all day. Most of the day was fine, but the last 3 miles or so were the hardest I’ve done so far. I’d already hiked 14 miles or so, so my legs were shot. We hiked up a mountain to a spot called Dragon’s Tooth, which was a really cool rock formation at the top. Got some great photos from the top and there was a rainbow across the valley. But then we had to descend the mountain and it was just super rocky and steep. At one point we had to get down a rock cliff and to make it I had to remove my pack and just drop it down the cliff a ways. There was no way I could maneuver with it on. Other places had metal rungs set into the rock to help us get down. And to add to all the fun, the rain decided to make its first appearance of the day. The further down I got, the harder it started to rain. I was just miserable.
The good news of the day was that we passed the 700 mile mark. Always feels good to pass another 100 miles. It’s always a nice moment to reflect on how far we’ve come. Inching closer to that 1000 mile mark that I’m dying to get to. Bit by bit.
The other fortunate thing was that after all that crap at the end of the day, we popped out onto a road and a 1/2 mile down the road was 4 Pines Hostel. It’s on a huge beautiful piece of property with big lawns. The hostel itself is different. The owner pretty much lets the hikers run the show here. It’s a huge garage with dirty bunks in it and a lounge and kitchen area. The price is by donation- there is a donation box and we just leave whatever we feel like. I was able to get a hot shower in a pretty grungy bathroom, but no complaints here. The hot water felt awesome after coming in drenched from the rain. I had read about a restaurant down the road that I was hoping to get to, but turns out it is only open 4 days a week and today is not one of them. But there is a gas station convenience store that does pizza and burgers. The owner leaves the keys in an old mini van outside and lets hikers use it to make food runs. The speedometer, RPMs, and gas gauge all broken. Lol! So I ran in and got a pizza and ice cream for dinner. It was a long and trying day and I’m glad it’s behind me. Exhausted now. Time for bed.
PS: There is a sign on the bathroom door here that says “If occupied and you need to pee, you can use the grass outside.” So I did. And outside, the sky was clearing up, a few stars were out, and there were fireflies dancing around. A very serene and peaceful end to a challenging day.
Day 73- Wednesday, 5/23- Campsite near Lambert’s Meadow Shelter (16.5 miles) (720 total)
People were up making noise and playing darts in the hostel until 10pm last night. That was the official quiet time, but quite late for hikers. Usually we are in bed by 8 or 9 pm. The owner encouraged people staying up to head outside around the fire pit to talk and drink. Fortunately, I was tired enough to just put my earplugs in and fall asleep right away.
I went out to pee this morning (in the grass again) and the owner’s cat came up to say hi. Super friendly orange cat that I had pet for a while last night. Great cat. So I was petting her again this morning, and after a long pet she turned around and scratched the shit out of my hand. One other guy later told me that she scratched him as well. Damn cat.
Last night at the shelter, some guy asked me if I’d met the other Hawaii guy outside. I went out there and met this guy from Maui. He moved to Maui 30 some years ago to surf and windsurf. Nice to meet someone else from Hawaii, but he is flip-flopping and heading south at the moment so I won’t see him again unless it’s up north somewhere.
The hostel was 0.5 miles from the trail, and we never want to hike any extra distances that we don’t have to. Luckily, when I set out this morning one of the owners was driving out and gave me a ride back to the trail. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but when you are already facing a 16.5 mile day, you don’t want to add any extra.
The big highlight of the day was arriving at the famous McAfee’s Knob. I saw tons of pictures of this place when I was researching the trail. In fact, it’s the most photographed site on the AT. It is this rock outcropping that extends over a big cliff, and the view is incredible. People go stand or sit on the edge of the rock and get their pictures taken. I was hiking with On Step today on and off, so we took pictures for each other. It was an amazing spot, but further up the trail today we also passed Tinker Cliffs. I actually thought the view from Tinker Cliffs was more spectacular than McAfee’s Knob. McAfee’s Knob has the really unique rock formation where we can take nice photos, but the valleys and mountains I saw from Tinker Cliffs were really mind blowing.
This guy On Step I hiked with has a funny story for how he got his name. He was originally planning to be One Step (like one step at a time) and he was engraving some kind of pendant with his trail name. But he was a bit drunk when he was doing it, and he forgot the ‘e’. His Mom saw it and promptly named him On Step for the trail. Lol! Great guy tho. Good sense of humor. He’s ex-Air Force from Florida, and was stationed in Okinawa for quite a while in the military. I still haven’t seen a bear in the trail, but he had one walk within 15 feet of him today as he was eating a snack on the trail. He shot video of it and it was amazing. Big black bear who wanted the cookie he as eating and just wouldn’t budge. Most of the bears around here just run when they see humans. Not this one. Apparently it hung around for 5 minutes before departing. That was a crazy close encounter! I’m guessing with all the tons of hikers in this area all the time for McAfee’s Knob, some people probably feed the bears, so they start to associate humans with food.
As we were sitting here at our campsite eating dinner, we saw a deer in the distance, walking towards the river we are camping on. It hopped across the river and came right up close to us. Maybe 20 feet away and just stood there. Again it seemed like the deer was accustomed to getting food from people. It didn’t leave for several minutes. I guess my Himalayan Curry smelled good.
Day 74- Thursday, 5/24- Fullhardt Knob Shelter- (14.3 miles) (734.2 total)
Warning: Eating freeze dried Kathmandu Curry for dinner the previous night may cause an emergency sprint for the nearest privy the following morning. Try to avoid camping a tenth of a mile down the trail from said privy on those nights. It’s a long sprint in the pre-dawn hours. And those eyes reflecting off your headlamp are deer, not bears.
Once this emergency had passed, I got on the trail and headed for Daleville. Daleville is one of those awesome towns right on the trail. I arrived around 12:30pm, just in time for lunch. Right across the street was a Mexican place, so I got a nice fill up on food. Then I was able to walk half a mile down to the local outfitter to pick up a couple of camping items. One of the things I needed was a new set of tips for my trekking poles (just the tip). One of the tips on my pole had broken off and I was hoping I could just buy a replacement. They did have the replacements, but when I called Black Diamond to ask about how to put them on, they said I had to order a larger piece than I had just bought, put the poles in boiling water to melt the epoxy, then re-epoxy the new ones on. They do not include the epoxy- you gotta find that yourself. Jesus. Another popular brand, Leki, just allows you to snap their tips on and off. Poor and pain in the ass design by Black Diamond. Well, turns out you need to replace these tips every so many miles, just like our boots, and the 650 miles I had put on them already was excessive. So rather than figure out another address down the trail to get the new parts mailed to, and then mess around with finding and applying epoxy, I just said screw Black Diamond and bought a new pair of Lekis. The Black Diamonds had a shock absorber system that I thought would be cool, but it turned out to be gimmicky and would jam a bit sometimes. These new poles are awesome- lighter and better designed. I’m converted.
As I was about to get back on trail, I noticed someone doing trail magic in the nearby parking lot. Too bad they weren’t there when I arrived, although the Mexican was probably way better. Turns out it was a hiker girl’s Mom who was doing the trail magic with her daughter. I was full but I got a Gatorade to hydrate up before pushing the last 5 miles of the day. While I was sitting there, I started chatting with these 2 girls who were hiking together. They said they were actually part of a larger tramly (trail family) of 6 or so people. I told them I was hiking alone and asked them what it was like trying to make decisions and negotiate with that many people, like how many miles to hike, where to stop, when to zero, etc. I said that seems like it would be hard. One girl said that she thinks it is the personalities of the people that make the larger group work. She said people who can’t compromise or prefer to do their own thing have branched off on their own, and it is only people who have a greater ability to compromise who form these tramlies. She said if they are hiking and one person says they are tired or sick or injured a bit and says they want to zero, then everyone just agrees to zero. That was really interesting to me. Definitely some interesting human psychology. I am certainly one of the people who can’t handle making group decisions like that. I know what I want to do, the number of miles I’m comfortable with, when I want to zero, etc, and it drives me nuts to have to negotiate that with others or have to change my plans all the time to accommodate the group. That’s why I hike alone and just do my thing. Meet who I meet at the campsites and get my socialization there. Maybe I’m just unable to compromise and do things in a different way. Or maybe I’m more comfortable doing what I do and don’t need the the pack to lean on as much. A mix of both? These people clearly prioritize the social and group aspect much more than I do. This trail could be quite a good psychological personality test. Pros and cons to each. I’ve heard about many people getting injured and getting off the trail because they hiked more miles than they were ready for just to keep up with their group. There is often a big element of fear of being alone out here. Then again, it is sometimes lonely doing it my way. I do sometimes look at close knit tramlies and envy their comradery. But my style works best for me. Just fascinating to observe the different types of human beings and personality types in this world. That girl made an interesting observation and it got me thinking.
Day 75- Friday, 5/25- Bobblets Gap Shelter- (13.5 miles) (747.7 total)
Today was pretty much the last full day of a 6 day hike. Tomorrow I will only hike 3 miles into Buchanan, VA where I will meet Ira on Monday. He will be with me for 5 days. Will be awesome to have some company out here and get to hang with Ira out here. Of course I will need to cut my miles while he is with me. He doesn’t have 2.5 months of backpacking under his belt to jump straight into 15+ mile days. He has been training however, doing boot camps and backpacking trips into the valley behind his house, so we will still be able to do 10-12 mile days. Totally worth it to me to slow it down and lose a few miles in order to hike with a buddy. I’m looking at it like some good and perhaps needed rest after so much hiking. It reminds me of a weight training course I took in college. I was 18 years old and probably weighed 170 pounds. My goal was to bench press the 45 pound plates for 3 sets of 10, but the best I could do was 10/10/9. Then spring break came and I had to take 9 days off and go home. I thought for sure I would lose all my progress with that long of a break, but the first day back in the gym I ripped out the 3 sets of 10 like nothing. I was so surprised! Rest. It helped so much and let the muscles grow and strengthen. I’m looking at this the same way. I’m gonna nero tomorrow, zero on Sunday, and then do 10-12 mile days for the next 5. I’m hoping this refreshes my legs a bit to push on stronger afterwards.
Another thing that will help my feet and legs is the new pair of shoes waiting for me tomorrow at the campground. We are supposed to change our shoes about every 500 miles. My shoes actually look fine on the outside, but it’s the inside of the soles that break down and mess with your feet. I wanted to change out these shoes sooner, but I couldn’t find a good town stop to get them shipped to, so now my shoes actually have 650 miles on them and are probably contributing to my sore feet. I also ordered a new pair of Superfeet insoles that everyone raves about. Looking forward to see how they feel in comparison.
Looking forward to my nero/zero days coming up. I haven’t taken a zero in 15 or so days, so it’s time. They only problem is that the hostel/campsite I am going to is fully booked for the Labor Day holiday, so I will have to camp in the yard in my tent. Not ideal, but they do have hot showers, laundry, resupply, and a restaurant, so it should be fine.
Day 76- Saturday, 5/26- Middle Creek Campground- (3 miles) (750.8 total)
Wow, I slept like the dead last night. I stayed in the shelter for a change. One thing about sleeping in the shelter is that you definitely get to sleep on perfectly flat ground. The tent sites are usually slightly sloped which makes you slide a bit in the night. I knew I had an easy day coming up, so I didn’t set my alarm. Ended up sleeping 9.5 hours. Guess my body was tired after 750 miles. Can’t imagine why. Lol!
Easy short hiking day today. This was the best place to stop to make the milage and towns set up nicely for hiking with Ira when he arrives tomorrow. I had called ahead to make a reservation at this campground and they said just to call when I got to the road. They said there was cell phone service there. They have a shuttle and said they could pick me up for a fee. Well, when I got to the road, there was no cell service to make the call. I had 1 bar and it just wouldn’t go through. Ok well, plan B. Try to hitchhike in to town and then maybe their shuttle could pick me up from there. I tried hitching for a while, but no luck. Then I decided to leave my pack there and walk up the hill a ways to see if I could get better cell service. Sure enough I got 2 bars not too far ahead and called them. When I got a hold of someone, she said that she wasn’t sure if she had a driver available and it would cost $30 1 way. She suggested I call some of the other shuttle drivers listed in our guidebook. I started to call one of them, although those guys are usually as expensive or more, so I wasn’t optimistic. But just then, an older guy drives by and asked me if I was going to Buchanan and offered me a ride. Turns out he had hiked the entire AT in sections himself over several years and had received plenty of trail magic himself along the way. Now he was just trying to pay it forward. He was probably in his late 70s or so, but was still doing section hikes when he could. To save himself some time and energy, he was out making food drops for himself along his route that he could pick up as he walked. He initially was just going to drop me in town, but later decided to take me all the way to this campsite, which is fairly remote. I had to sit a bit over in my seat when I got in, as he had fallen while hiking and had bled on the seats a bit. But a super kind man and so very helpful. The kindness of strangers.
This is a full speed RV type campground and it’s packed for the Memorial Day long weekend. Tons of people out here enjoying the holiday. Such a different style of camping than we are doing on the trail. They have so many more of the creature comforts. But just good to see everyone relaxing and enjoying. I talked a bit to a big family group who was camping near me when I first walked in. They were super friendly and invited me to come hang out with them. So after getting set up, I spent most of the day sitting around their camp and visiting. It’s fun to meet people like them, because they don’t live along the trail and don’t know much about what we do. They trip out when I tell them how long the hike is and have tons of questions. They had all kinds of food and were nice enough to offer me to join them to eat. I had a hamburger, a hotdog, roasted corn, and got to try river turtle for my first time, which I have to say was quite tasty. The kindness of strangers.
The only drama we had was another group of campers across from us. They wandered over and were hanging out with us. Nice enough guys. They were definitely some super country redneck dudes who were drinking quite a bit and had some kind of an edge to them, like things could get crazy if you pissed them off. Not the sharpest tools in the shed either. One of them told one of the guys I was hanging with that he was packing a 9mm. But everyone was getting along fine and they were being cool. They went back to their camp after a while, and I guess some kids went by on their bikes and said something like “Those are the stupid people.” One of the guys got really offended and told the parents that they needed to take out the whipping stick on their kids. Then the parents got upset and called the camp manager who came up and got into it with the guy. In the end, the people with the kids decided they didn’t feel safe around this guy and packed up and left. It probably didn’t need to go that far, but the guy does feel like a loose cannon- just not sure how he might react. As I was falling asleep in my tent last night, I suddenly heard this loud roaring noise that sounded like it was right outside my tent. I looked out and he was out there with a huge flamethrower, lighting up some logs on his campfire. It was so loud. That’s just how at these campgrounds I think. You get a lot of nice cool people, and a couple of crazies here and there. I don’t envy the campground managers who have to deal with them.