where we’ve been // days 53-72

Day 53: Thomas Knob Shelter to Fox Creek campsite // 13.4 miles. Pony day! I’d been excited about this for more than a year. We saw a momma and baby early on who kept their distance, then found 20 or so grazing all together just inside Grayson Highlands State Park. A few were pretty aggressive and clearly interested in snacks. We spent a long time with the herd, then hiked on all afternoon and ended up in a crappy little campsite near a road. It was crappy literally, like lazy camper bathroom habits crappy. Bad mood. We were so tired and had such a bad vibe in our camp that night we couldn’t even eat dinner. Virginia blues starting to hit?

Day 54: Fox Creek to Marion, VA // 23 miles. After the lackluster evening the day before we wanted to get out of this section of trail and were motivated to do a big day. The morning went quickly with lots of short-ish climbs to mark our progress by. The afternoon was long, long, long. The last two miles to Partnership Shelter felt endless. It’s never a good idea to hike looking for something around every curve, you just end up feeling frustrated and drained. We’d planned to stay at the shelter and then hitch into Marion the next day. But when we got there, we found a huge party, with fireworks, just getting started. Pigpen was there with a dog he’d adopted, but the dog had gotten in a fight and was hurt, so he was getting off the trail. In case you were wondering, while thru-hiking is not the best time to adopt an animal. We were hoping he would offer us a ride into town since there was no cell signal and the visitor’s center with a phone inside was closed. But he didn’t. We were standing there hitching when his stepfather drove up and started to load him in. He still didn’t offer a ride. Finally, we yelled across the road, “Hey Pigpen! Are you going into town?” and he looked at us and realization hit and he was, “Oh yeah! Oh yeah! Yeah! Come with us!”The Indian motel owner handed us the package with our new umbrellas (new rain strategy we’re trying) and was so tickled to tell his joke: “Here! More stuff for you to carry!” I get the feeling he tells that one often.

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Day 55: Zero in Marion. Finally got a margarita! I love, South, but I hate your liquor laws. After resupply and lunch, we hunkered down in the room to watch bad TV and do sink laundry. I think we’ll probably never use a coin-op laundry machine again. They don’t work much better than the sink, and since you’ll get totally dirty immediately anyway it’s not really worth the coins.

Day 56: Marion to Davis Hollow // 13.5 miles. A sweet 83 year old man named Sage who was waiting for his wife to be done with her haircut gave us a ride back to the trail. He remembered when the road up to the gap wasn’t there, then when you went up it with horses. His questions were hilarious– “Do you have something to communicate with, like a radio?” Lots of ups and downs all morning, forest, not especially scenic. In the afternoon we came to the Lindamood School, an old one-room schoolhouse. Inside was empty trail magic (boo!) and a framed list of rules for the teachers (“Any teacher who gets shaved in a barbershop shall give good reason to suspect his character, intention, integrity, and honesty.” What?) We stopped at The Barn restaurant a little later for an early dinner. As we were leaving there and walking under I-85 a man pulled over who was supporting his wife, gave us a coke, and wanted to give us the lowdown on all the towns from here up the trail a few days to where his wife was. He turned out to also be from Baton Rouge, so that was cool. Mad Max came into camp late that night with a kitten, so that was exciting, until it started to put its little claws into our tent. I love kittens but I can’t really be forgiving about the waterproofness of our home, so we got Mad Max to put the kitten in his hammock with him.

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Lindamood School
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Mad Max’s kitten, Ginny (for Virginia). And Mad Max, inspecting the guidebook.

Day 57: Davis Hollow to Lynn Camp Creek // 13.5 miles. In the morning we frightened a mother grouse and her one million cute babies. She fluffed her feathers at us and made lots of noise but didn’t fly into our faces as I was afraid she would. A little later we saw some deer. And then later a bear. Eventful wildlife morning, with lots of ruthless up and down. Loved our campsite–good water and someone made excellent log/rock benches around our fire.

Day 58: Lynn Camp Creek to Jenkins Shelter // 17.9 miles. Rough day. Hard climb up to Chesnut Knob, which wasn’t very cool at the top, or maybe it was just my attitude. We descended, then after lunch I had a terrible attack of cramps. Mad Max came by and expressed concern but we told him I just had to wait it out. I knew there was no way out of the woods, but I kept begging Eric to get me out of there. We spent a long time recovering from that and had to start the afternoon push really late. Couldn’t stop early to camp anywhere because there was no water. Got to the shelter late. Commiserated over how much we hate this section.

Day 59: Jenkins Shelter to campsite before VA608 // 24.8 miles. Woke up late, feeling drained from the day before, but once again we wanted to get the hell out and thought we might do a big day. I enjoyed having that motivation and kept my spirits and energy up all day through more water-less ridges. We had good cell signal so we spent some battery calling my mom to chat while we hiked. It’s too bad phones don’t have endless battery, because that is the best way to pass time while hiking. Later, we were playing music from my phone out loud when we suddenly heard a loud crashing sound coming down the steep hillside above us. Once I saw what it was I managed to say “It’s a bear” as I moved off the trail onto the very steep hillside to get behind Eric, who waved his hiking pole and shouted something. The bear came close enough that I could see his wet little nose and the lighter brown of the fur on his muzzle, then veered off at the last second and disappeared downhill. We just stood there for a second and then couldn’t stop shaking and laughing. The adrenaline from that kept me going for awhile after that even though it was hot and the trail was just endless, featureless ridge. Hard to find water except foul smelling stuff running alongside a highway. We stopped to cook dinner and make some coffee before our last push. Within the last mile before camp my leg started to hurt. We made it to camp at 11pm and made a little fire to celebrate before crashing hard.

Day 60: VA608 to Dismal Falls // 7.3 miles with side hitch to Amish grocery. In the morning it was cloudy and rain came in fits and starts. We used our umbrellas for the first time and were very happy with them. I’ve rigged mine so I can attach it to my shoulder strap instead of holding it, so I can still use both trekking poles. My leg was hurting all morning and I worried I’d pushed it too hard the day before. Had a hard time hitching to the Amish grocery store, maybe because we were right near a prison. The store was awesome. From documentaries we watched while planning the trip, Eric recognized Neville (of Woods Hole Hostel) shopping there. We asked if she happened to have a private room available for the next evening. We hadn’t been holding our breath for one, but she said if she had one she’d save it for us. Had pork sandwiches and milkshakes for lunch. Cheerful local who gave us a ride back said, “Looks like you’ll need those umbrellas!” as he ushered us out of his car and into a downpour. We stood under a bridge until it was over. It was not a refreshing rain, still muggy and hot after. Got to swim in chilly water at Dismal Falls (not dismal, quite nice) to get some relief from the awful humidity. Felt so gross and sticky in the tent. Thunderstorms all night.

Day 61: Dismal Falls to Woods Hole Hostel // 13.9 miles. More rain all morning. Ran into Penguin and Mr. Toad and their dog Squeaker whom we hadn’t seen since Hiawassee, GA and spent a long time chatting with them on our morning break. Ran out of water 3 miles before Woods Hole, so arrived thirsty and hungry because we hadn’t wanted to stop and eat lunch without anything to drink. Arrived at the paradise of Woods Hole with time to drink delicious smoothies, admire the farm animals and hang out a bit before an amazing community dinner. Eric ate way too much food and felt sick, so he went upstairs to lie down. Neville told me, completely off hand, I could read her journals, which were stored in our loft room. They were from years ago, full of drawings and records of what she ate each day. I couldn’t believe she was just letting me read them, so I stayed up way too late doing that, listening to people around the fire outside play music and occasionally peeking out to see Dandelion hula hooping.

 

Day 62: Woods Hole Hostel to Pearisburg, VA // 10 miles. Amazing breakfast of sausage/potato/egg scramble with homemade bread and apple butter and coffee and juice. Mom and Dad arrived later in the morning and hiked about a mile with us before turning back to drive our packs to Pearisburg while we hiked the rest of the way. We couldn’t get our heads into hiking that day since we just wanted to hang out with them. We fairly ran the trail trying to get it over with. They picked us up and took us out to an awesome cabin on the New River where we drank shandies and chatted and showered. We are taking a glorious two day vacation from the trail and it feels great to have that ahead of us!

Day 63: Zero at the cabin. We went into town to get our package from the post office and had fun picking up hitching hikers. SOG ended up riding with us all day–he was trying to get to Front Royal to meet his daughter. We took him as far as Blacksburg (we went to the outfitter there to get a lighter weight summer bag for me). Driving around running errands is just as exhausting as walking around to do them. Went back to the cabin for an afternoon swim in the river and more shandies 🙂

Day 64: Real zero at the cabin. Ate delicious food, swam in the river, napped, did yoga, read. Heaven.

Day 65: Pearisburg to campsite at mile 639.7 // 6.4 miles. Left late in the morning and stopped by Wal Mart for last minute things. I picked up a watch with a cloth band because the rubber one was irritating my skin always being wet with sweat. It was really sad saying goodbye again to my parents and leaving the vacation behind. I had no motivation to hike at all and had to drag myself up to the ridge. We did find some wild strawberries growing beneath a power line. They were so delicious, the best I’ve had. A little rain that night.

Day 66: Campsite to The Captain’s // 12.1 miles. We were feeling the Virginia blues all morning. Just tired and bored. I wanted to lay down and read all day. We had cell phone signal and took a break looking at pictures of puppies for adoption to cheer us up. Sometimes when people ask why I’m hiking and joke and say it’s because Eric promised me a puppy. He true he promised me a puppy, but that’s not really the reason I’m hiking. The trail was very brushy and buggy and made me feel claustrophobic. When we got to the Captain’s it was early but we decided to stop there anyway because we felt so ragged. He keeps a fridge full of sodas on his back porch, so we drank soda and swam in the creek all afternoon. You have to cross a zipline across the creek to get to his place, and Eric had to rescue a lady named Seabiscuit who almost fell in trying to cross. We had thunderstorms in the evening but stayed dry in the tent. We are sort of wishing for a bigger one. With two doors. This one has a tiny vestibule space too, and it’s getting annoying having to climb over each other’s faces to get in and out.

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Camping at The Captain’s (he stocks an outdoor fridge full of free soda)

Day 67: The Captain’s to Laurel Creek Shelter // 17.3 miles. Felt a lot better in the morning. Lots of rocks on the ridge so we went slowly, but I still had a pretty big fall and skinned up my knees and shins on rocks. Saw almost no one all day. We had lunch by a trout-filled creek and Eric really wanted to fish. His bag tumbled off the bank and into the water, but luckily the trash compactor bag liner kept everything inside dry. Long, brutal climb in the afternoon, part of it through endless stinging nettle. Got the tent up in the evening just before more thunderstorms.

Day 68: Laurel Creek Shelter to Trout Creek // 21.1 miles. Once again saw no hikers all day. We went through claustrophobic forest for a little bit, then broke out and went through a farmland valley. So beautiful and nice to be able to see and breathe. We passed the Keffer Oak, second largest tree on the trail, and decided we had to come back and climb it some day. Caught in a downpour just after morning break, but umbrellas saved the day again. Love them. Lots of slippery rocks and boulders–could tell there would have been great views were it not for the clouds. Wet feet all day, getting really sick of the rain and the care it takes to get over the slick rocks. We passed the Eastern Continental Divide, which I hadn’t even known existed until we saw the sign. From that point, on one side the water drains to the Gulf of Mexico and on the other it drains to the Atlantic. Did a long, long push up Brush Mountain to the Audie Murphey Monument. I put a good Groundation album on and just wanted to crank it out. Eric kept asking me if I wanted a break but I felt like if I stopped I’d never start again. At the top my quads were cramping, and we sat on a bench and ate the gummy bears I’d held out as our reward. On the way down saw serious thunder clouds gathering. We raced them to camp and got the tent set up just before the storm. Unfortunately we chose our site poorly and it started to turn into a lake. We had to get out in the downpour and move the tent to a new spot. Everything wet. Really grumpy. Really tired of the rain.

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Day 69: Trout Creek to Four Pines Hostel // 8 miles. Slow, rainy start again. My knees and the muscles alongside them were aching badly. Eric took a lot of weight from me, but I was still struggling. I tried to keep it a physical struggle, and not start worrying I was injured or we’d have to quit. We climbed up to the Dragon’s Tooth, a big rock pinnacle with awesome views. The sun was brilliant up there so we took the opportunity to lay stuff out to dry. I had some signal, so I called my mom. While I was talking some day hikers came and sat right behind us, then started to complain about people who used their phones in the woods. I bit my tongue back from telling them I’d just been through three days of daily thunderstorms and my knees hurt and I wanted to call my mom and they didn’t have to come over and sit right next to us damn it! The climb down was nearly technical, so we were glad the rocks had had time to dry and we weren’t there in one of the storms. Got to Four Pines hostel early in the afternoon. What a crazy place! They keep alpacas, and they’ve been recently shaved, so as we came up the driveway we saw these weird Dr. Seuss like creatures grazing in the front yard. We also found a good crowd of new-to-us people: Animal, Kat and McGyver, another Kat, Six Slash, many more. The sun was finally out definitively, so we found a spot near the chicken coop to pitch our tent and laid everything out to dry (finally!!). Animal gave us some of his pizza, which tided us over until we got a ride to The Homeplace, an all you can eat restaurant, with everyone and gorged on fried chicken, coleslaw, mashed potatoes and gravy. Waiting for our ride back to the hostel we saw another thunderstorm blowing in. I was nearly frantic because all our stuff was laid out “drying” and about to get soaked again. When we got back, we found out some other hikers had put everything in the tent for us and all was dry. Nearly cried with gratitude, and bought them beer. Slept in the tent by the chickens.

Day 70: Four Pines Hostel to Lambert’s Meadow // 16.6 miles. We packed up sodas to go and hiked out with part of the gang from the hostel. All of Virginia was out to climb to McAfee’s Knob it seemed. Haven’t seen that many day hikers in a long time. The Knob was beautiful but very crowded, and it took awhile before we could get our iconic picture of looking out from the Knob. A few miles later we got to Tinker Cliffs, which had similar views and we enjoyed a lot more because of the peace. We camped with Animal, Kat and McGyver, Kat, and Six Slash and stayed up late chatting. It’s nice to be around people again. No rain!

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MacAfee’s Knob: Kat, Six Slash, McGyver, Kat and Animal (me and Morning Joe sitting in front).

Day 71: Lambert’s Meadow to Daleville, VA // 10 miles. Beautiful ridge walk into town. We left super early and got into our motel room early enough to shower before stuffing our faces with barbecue. Animal met us there to eat. He’d decided to stay in the motel across the street from us. Hung out at the motel swimming pool with our group from the day before plus others. I was trying to stay out of the burning sun so I mostly huddled under a towl. Got some epsom salts when we resupplied and soaked as long as possible before early bed.

Day 72: Zero in Daleville. Eric’s birthday! Woke up when we wanted and did all the town chores. We’d been carrying this USB drive that we thought belonged to Mad Max (my parents had given him a ride at Woods Hole Hostel and thought he left it in their car), but we used the hotel computer to plug it in and it turned out to belong to my brother! We mailed it back to him along with some playful guilt at making us carry the extra weight. Lunch with Animal, who had originally started to hike out, but then decided to zero (more BBQ). My friend from college Chris Michael drove up from Roanoke to drink some beer and hear our stories. It turns out he’s moving to Baton Rouge (my hometown). I asked him, “So when are you moving?” and he said, “Tomorrow!” I can’t believe he came out to see us right before a big move like that! Feeling really worn out from this last section, though it’s been beautiful. A most needed zero for sure.

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