Day 73: Daleville to Wilson Creek Shelter // 11.2 miles. Left town later, as we tend to do, and had a really hot and humid hike through pasture and along the highway out of town. Not too pleasant, and my feet in my new shoes felt wrong, right away. Stopped for lunch at a shelter with a weird cistern water source (=orange water). Met Peep Show there, super nice guy. He is called that because he does lighting for big shows in Vegas, some of the peep variety. Reunited with Animal at Wilson Creek shelter along with Ginga Ninja. Watched a guy talking on his cell phone just stand there and carry on his conversation as a huge thunderstorm rolled in and started pouring on him. He just put a towel over his head instead of joining the rest of us sitting in the shelter. Found Ginko’s wallet and activated the hiker communication chain so we could find him and get it back to him. Once it stopped raining we set up the tent. Not about to sleep in a shelter.
Day 74: Wilson Creek Shelter to Jennings Creek // 17 miles. Soaked in sweat and miserable by 7am. Animal talked us into a ride down the road to Burger King. I ate Burger King for the first-ish time. I can’t remember ever having it before. Saw some hikers picking up huge quantities of beer to take in a car to the swimming hole which was our end destination. We left them to actually hike up and over the mountain in the heat of the day. Cops were there busting them for public drinking when we arrived. If we had gotten there just a few minutes earlier and they had offered me a beer, I probably would have taken one and I’d be in trouble too (whew!). Campground down the road picked us up for free so we could buy cheeseburgers and milkshakes at the camp store run by a family…the 12 year old seemed to be cooking, and he would make himself a milkshake between orders so it took awhile. Went back to the tents stuffed, then someone showed up offering us ice cream in exchange for answering some questions for an article he was writing. Too stuffed to accept ice cream, but I did answer the questions. Hot night.
Day 75: Jennings Creek to Harrison Ground Spring // 17.2 miles. Climbed Bryant Ridge all morning, which looked really difficult in the book but went alright. Bryant Ridge Shelter was really cool, designed by an architecture student, looked like a little wooden cathedral. I was happy about that because Bryant is my maiden name. Feral honeybees. My new shoes were really starting to bug me. Caught up to K-Bar (hadn’t seen him since Woods Hole, where he gave my dad his hiking stick to hike with since they are both super tall) at lunch. Animal and Eric did some sweet engineering at camp to get the water source usable. Bad bugs.
Day 76: Harrison Spring to John’s Hollow Shelter (with side hitch into Glascow, VA) // 13.1 miles. Found my first tick on my thumb during the morning hike. Hot, hot, hot and brushy. I hate grasses rubbing against my legs because it makes my skin freak out and I’m imagining hoards of ticks swarming onto me as I go. Big downhill to the James River. Long tedious downhills are…tedious. Heard you could jump off the bridge. Normally I’m all about that, jumping from heights, but not without having seen a few others do it first! Hitched into Glascow with Animal and found the party crew at the town-provided shelter. Caught up to Bearclaw who was leaving the next day. Got a free shower, resupplied at the Dollar Store, and ate lots of wings at the only restaurant. They waitress asked us, dead seriously, if we’d seen any “spirit animals” out on the trail, and Animal started laughing so hard he had to pretend he had to go to the bathroom, and left Eric and I to try to carry that conversation. I said, quite smoothly I think, “No, but we did see a bear.” Decided not to stay in town since we weren’t looking to drink all night long. Luckily Bart and his friend pulled up just as we were preparing to hitch, and his friend offered to drive us back to the trail. He insisted he didn’t want to get roped into being a shuttle service and needed to get home, but when we saw two hikers emerging at the road he offered them a ride back to town anyway. Clouds were brewing. Did a fast two miles to the first shelter in a thunderstorm. K-Bar, Sass, Paperweight and Peep Show joined us. Slept in the shelter instead of the tent and got eaten alive by bugs–never again.
Day 77: John’s Hollow Shelter to Brown Mountain Creek Shelter // 18.3 miles. Climbing, climbing, climbing. Nice to hike around K-Bar, warm and generous guy. Noticed a shelter with a swimming hole noted, so decided to go for the bigger day. But when we got there, we found no swimming hole at all. K-Bar, Peep Show, Sass, Paperweight, Eric and I engineered one by moving a lot of rocks. It’s more like a “sit in the water” hole but it works. Bed super early, like seven thirty. Party crew comes rolling into camp at 10pm, obnoxiously talking at full volume, laughing loudly, setting up their tents directly beside ours, making no effort to be respectful at all of the fact that five or six people were already there sleeping. I was deeply irritated and vowed not to try to be quiet at 5:30 in the morning when we packed up. We left early as usual but I couldn’t bring myself to be purposefully loud. K-Bar fussed at them for us once they were awake though. Passed mile 800!
Day 78: Brown Mountain Creek to Porter’s Field // 16.9 miles. Big, big climb straight away but the weather is finally bearable. Found trail magic at a gravel road and spent nearly an hour there with Animal drinking sodas. It is astonishing how many he and Eric can drink in one sitting. Two is pushing it already for me. Had to push on past two campsites that weren’t great and the shelter (we were being strategic since we didn’t want to be with the party crew again). Found a sweet spot eventually, camped with Animal, Peep Show and a crazy kid named Sparky who is trying to average 26 miles a day to finish in August (crazy!!). It started to rain a little, but the tree over our tent site was so thick was were all able to stand under it around a fire and not feel a single drop. Eric and I found out we bought the wrong type of fuel. We can get more fuel at a campground tomorrow, and Animal said he’d donate the fuel for morning coffee. So, we decided to get rid of the useless liquid weight by squirting little bits of it into the fire and letting it burn up. As everyone took turns the squirts and resulting tiny fire bombs got bigger and bigger. I played the voice and reason and suggested perhaps this was unsafe? But Sparky said he’s a pyromaniac but also a firefighter. So I let him assume responsibility. By the way, I don’t think I ever mentioned that Animal has changed Eric’s trail name to Morning Joe. We bribe Animal to stick around in the morning so we don’t lose him by sharing our coffee, so that’s where it came from. He hadn’t been totally satisfied with Learnin’ because people always require an explanation, so he’s embraced the new name 🙂
Day 79: Porter’s Field to Tye River Bridge // 10.3 miles. Slept really well. Had a huge descent called The Priest on docket for the morning. It’s 3,100 feet down in 4 miles. It’s hard to imagine what that grade is like, so I wish I had a picture of the elevation change from the guidebook (you can see it in the video for this section on our facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/theoverlandersat/videos/336416916515198/ ). Animal and Eric thought it wasn’t that bad, but my feet and knees were killing me the whole time. I came down really slow, too far behind Eric and Animal to see or hear them, and was irritated at being passed by lots of hikers. Got a ride with Seabiscuit, the lady Eric rescued from the zip line at the Captain’s, to a campground down the road for sodas and ice cream and a free shower. The owner was a talkative guy, and we had to sit through a lecture on how dumb it is that we all wear tennis shoes on the trail before he gave us a ride back (“What you need to do is get a nice pair of heavy leather boots, rub ’em down with vaseline, fill them with water for two weeks, then go on a fifty mile hike, and by the time your blisters are healed those shoes will fit perfectly!”) It was pretty late in the afternoon so we decided to camp there at the river instead of starting the big climb up the other side. We saw Yukon there who was trying to start a 19 mile slack pack at 2pm. He set his stuff up near ours and was getting a ride to try hiking back. Yikes.
Day 80: Tye River Bridge to Humpback Mountain // 17.5 miles. Climbed Three Ridges in the morning. Really steep (to match The Priest), lots of rocks twisting your ankles, knees, and hips around. Rough hiking all day. We all agree it was the hardest earned 17.5 miles we’ve done so far. Lots of tall rock steps, lots of rocks, lots of uphill. Canyonman met us at our lovely campsite on top of Humpback Mountain. We don’t often camp on the summit of things, so it was nice to have some evening joe (coffee at night?) and watch the sunset. We could see a ski resort across the valley, and it’s funny to imagine it snows here because it’s so hot now. Peep Show was supposed to camp with us too but he is having foot pain and sent a message up with Canyonman that he had to stop early.
Day 81: Humpback Mountain to Waynesboro // 11.6 miles. Not a bad hike into town objectively but I was beat from the past section and it felt pretty rought to me. I was so glad to come out of the trees into Rockfish Gap. They have a list of trail angels posted there who will give you a ride into town when you call. We got dropped off at the Chinese buffet for an all you can eat lunch. They had a note on the door trying to convince hikers to walk down the road to the YMCA (“…just 2 block!”) and shower before coming in. Felt bad about our stench level, but food could not wait. It’s a huge place and not very crowded, and they sat us in a special side room that we joked was reserved for the stinky people. Plus, giant plates of food. So I didn’t feel bad for long. After lunch we split with Animal, who went to a hostel while we went to the Quality Inn. We stopped off at the post office to pick up…our new tent!!! We had finally decided we’d had enough with the Big Agnes we were carrying. One sign of the times was that we’d started referring to the tent as “Fucking Agnes”. Eric did some on-trail phone research and we’ve chosen to continue on in a Tarp Tent Double Rainbow. It’s the first non-freestanding single wall tent we’ve owned, so there will be a slight learning curve. But it has two doors with two vestibules! It will be so nice to reclaim some personal space 🙂
Day 82: Zero in Waynesboro. Arranged a transportation miracle today. I haven’t been doing well with the new pair of shoes I picked up in Daleville. I’m used to wearing a completely flat shoe, so the 2mm heel on these makes me feel like I’m hiking in platform wedges. Animal is hiking in some shoes called Altras that are flat and have a wide toe box to allow your toes to spread naturally. I wanted to check these out, and found a pair in a running store in Crozet, 10 miles away. We also needed to get to the outfitter which is not centrally located to town. We called a trail angel who said he’d drive us to Crozet and back for ten bucks (a deal!). He took us to the shoe store, I grabbed my shoes, he dropped us off at the outfitter, then we got offered another ride back into town from there. All in under two hours, absolutely amazing. Spent the rest of the day relaxing and eating tacos from the taco truck. We got a light fleece sleeping bag for Eric. Finally got bug spray.
Day 83: Waynesboro to stealth camp around Sawmill Run Overlook // 10 miles. Took it easy out of town. Met Animal at the first shelter, then hiked into Shenandoah and made our way along looking for campsites. Curious lack of these in Shenandoah. Excited for our first night in the bigger tent, we brag and brag about how palatial it is. I’m trying to think of a new nickname since we don’t have “Fucking Agnes” anymore, and my suggestion are like “Versailles” or “the Taj Mahal”. We found a passable site and set up. It rained that night and we discovered that TarpTent and not actually done the seam sealing we had paid them to do. We flooded all night long. The new tent is dubbed “The Titanic”.
Day 84: Sawmill Run Overlook to Doyles River Overlook parking lot // 15 miles. Really late start since we spent the morning dealing with the fact that everything was soaked. I’d heard about this phenomenon–everything being soaked–but it was something that happened to other people, I assumed. I might be wet, my bag might be wet, but everything inside my bag was never wet. Silly me. We spent the morning looking for Eric’s mom as we hiked. She was meeting us somewhere but we didn’t have cell reception and weren’t sure where. Found her just before lunch time and she had brought an amazing spread of sub sandwiches and toppings. We set it up on a fallen log like a buffet and sat right there to eat. We agree we should have lunch delivered every day. Hiked a little more after lunch, then met her again to be taken to Big Meadows Lodge for the night. Animal came too. Huge dinner, dessert, shower, beds, heaven. Dried everything out overnight by the fireplace in our little room.
Day 85: Doyles River to Hightop Hut // 17 miles. Huge breakfast in the lodge. Hiked only five miles by lunchtime and took another break with Eric’s mom at a wayside (these are little snack shops located throughout the park, mostly for tourists but we take advantage too). After she left we pushed on late in the afternoon through the heat. Saw a sadly tame bear along the road, everyone stopping their cars to stare at it while it ignored everything. On the last climb of the day I was feeling bored and unmotivated, so I decided to set myself the challenge of keeping up with Eric and Animal the whole way (normally they get a few minutes ahead of me on climbs). It was hard as hell to keep their pace but the challenge provided something to do. We camped that night with many others at a shelter.
Day 86: Hightop Hut to Lewis Mountain Campground // 11.7 miles. Woke up with cramps that worsened all morning. Couldn’t eat breakfast. Eventually decided to push and get packed up, but before the tent was put away I had to lie down again on top of it. Threw up. Tried to leave camp again and couldn’t walk, didn’t even make it back the .2 to the AT proper. Went back to the shelter and lay there until I felt like I could walk. Animal was long gone at this point and I was sad because we would have to push hard to catch him that night. I certainly didn’t feel like pushing. My pace was terrible–and hour and a half to do two miles (we’re usually 2mph minimum). Stopped at Lewish Mtn campground to get a soda and decide what to do. Really nice manager, Randy, asked us how far back we’d started that day, and when we told him he said, “What’s wrong?”. Eric told him I was sick, and he let us stay in the hiker “cabin” for free and started calling around to see if anyone was leaving the park to go into town and could give us a ride. The cabin is just some bunk beds and four walls but nice to be somewhere with a nearby bathroom and ice cream at the store. I even got to take a $4 shower so I feel a lot better. I don’t think we want to ride into town with anyone, but we might change up our Delaware break plans. We’ve planned to take a two day break at my in-law’s house when we get to Harper’s Ferry, but we’re thinking now we might get picked up sooner. That way we can recover sooner, and Eric’s parents can avoid driving in Fourth of July traffic.
Day 87: Lewis Mountain Campground to Byrd’s Nest #3 Hut // 23.1 miles. We arranged everything with Eric’s parents on the phone last night. Today we needed to make a big day so we could meet them at a road crossing tomorrow. Terrain was easy in the morning and we made really good time, three miles an hour. That felt great after my glacial pace. We had text updates on the trail ahead from Animal, so it was nice to know there was some good hiking ahead of us. Scored a free soda from Joseph at the ice and firewood station. Got another after lunch at the horse stables where a worker told us about a taproom just a mile up the road…so we stopped there too to eat burgers and drink margaritas and watch the World Cup during the heat of the day. Not exactly the behavior of people trying to do big miles, but it was a great decision. We left there with full bellies about 4:30 for the last seven miles. I kept hoping Animal would be at the shelter but it would have been a shorter day for him if he did stay there, and I wasn’t sure he’d take that. But when we got there around 7:30 there he was! Very happy, had missed his jokes during the hike that day. There was an interesting character staying in the shelter, practicing for a future thru-hike, who entertained us with his theories on Aborigines having one less chromosome pair than the rest of us, and how somehow that meant they descended from heaven or something, and how important it is to eat lots of coconut oil and Omega 3 fatty acids. We trail named him CocoNut.
Day 88: Byrd’s Nest #3 Hut to US 211 // 3.1 miles. Left early and hiked over some rocks down to the parking lot where we planned to meet Eric’s parents. Animal waited with us for a few minutes so we could give him a sode before he hiked on and we hopped in the car. Went into Luray to get breakfast and pick up our resupply box. Glad we didn’t have to hitch into there, seemed complicated. Drove in the car back to Delaware through crazy city traffic. I’m never going to live in such a crowded area, just can’t take it. Walked to our friend Mark’s house (Eric grew up with him, he was best man in our wedding) in the evening and stayed there way, way, too late (2am!!). But we couldn’t leave any earlier, it was too good to see him and doesn’t happen often.
Days 89&90: Double zero in Delaware. It’s awesome having a car at our disposal. It’s the first time we’ve zeroed without major chores to take care of. It’s a little weird being so far away from the trail right now and taking so much time off at once (a nero and two zero! Yikes).
But it will be good to get a solid break like this. I’m taking the opportunity to eat lots and lots of real food (avocados and coconut water galore!) and sleep as much as possible. And when we go back we have big project to keep us interested: catch Animal. We’ll do a pretty good push into Harper’s Ferry and try to catch him before the halfway point. My brother is coming out to hike with us too, so we’ll see how he likes jumping straight into 18 mile days in the July heat. We can’t wait to be done with Virginia, cross the Mason-Dixon and be out of the South!