Day 53: Campbell Shelter

Day 53. It was all worth it. Yesterday’s long day and late night setup the most amazing views today for McAfee Knob. The weather forecast updated today, showing rain as early as 9am tomorrow, meaning anything other than seeing this today would have failed. I am very content as I sit here watching the sun set over the Knob.

When we arrived, we met 4 funny day hikers who were up here trying (and succeeding) to build a small fire on the cliff. We had a nice photo shoot while chatting with them, and learned one of them recently finished a section hike from Damascus to Pearisburg (the section I just finished). It was a great fun group to enjoy this milestone with, and it was a perfect afternoon in general.

But McAfee Knob wasn’t the only great view today. It is one of 3 elite views on the AT that day-hikers call the triple crown of Virginia: McAfee Knob, Dragon’s Tooth, and Tinker Cliffs. We did the first 2 today and will get the 3rd tomorrow on our way into Daleville. Here’s a photo from Dragon’s Tooth…

Between the two views, we took a quick side trip into the town of Catawba for a one-day resupply. Remy and I were both out of food and needed one more day before Daleville (where I have a box waiting). After a short shopping trip at the gas station grocery, we were offered a lift to a famous restaurant in town called The Home Place. This restaurant is one of a kind! We had an incredible lunch there of all-you-can-eat family-style southern home cooking. Two monstrous plates each of fried chicken, roast beef, coleslaw, mashed potatoes, green beans, sliced apples, beans and biscuits. YUM! And at only $15 a person, such a treat! Climbing back up the mountain again was rough after that meal, but it was a small price to pay for such great food.

I did feel bad though. This was clearly THE place to go in the area for everyone after church. The place was PACKED with families weating their Sunday best … and we were two dirty smelly hikers in the corner. We looked very out of place, but the staff didn’t mind and were very sweet. It’s a popular stop for thruhikers … perhaps not as much so on a Sunday though. Oh well.

After watching the sunset at McAfee Knob, Remy and I hiked a quick 0.7 miles to Campbell Shelter and setup camp in the dark for the 2nd straight night. I’m getting pretty good at it, though it typically means a late morning. Oh well, tomorrow is only 16 miles, so nothing to worry about.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait!)

  • Start Mile: 695.6
  • Start Time: 09:30
  • End Mile: 713.8
  • End Time: 20:20
  • Miles Hiked: 18.2
  • Miles to Go: 1477.1
  • Lodging: Campbell Shelter

Day 52: Trout Creek Campsite

Day 52. I’m writing this very late, as I only got to camp a half hour ago and am utterly exhausted from today’s (and tonight’s) hike. Since the day was absolutely gorgeous, I took full advantage and hiked a comfortably long 26 miles into the night.

I realized from the comments that I may have sounded a bit gloomy in last night’s post. I’ll admit I was frustrated on that particular day, but the spirits are still ever high and the thruhike is in no danger of ending early! I appreciate all the kind words and motivation nonetheless, it was a nice reminder to turn my attitude around.

Today was fantastic though. Even with my pre-8am start time, I was still the last one out of bed at War Spur shelter. But I quickly caught 3 of the 4 other hikers that shared camp there last night by the time I reached Laurel Creek shelter 7 miles later.

While stopping for a snack at this shelter, I met a young man named Remy. Oddly, Remy and I have never met, even though we both started on March 1st. We exchanged pleasantries and asked about other hikers we may know, then decided to hike together. Our end goal for the day was the same and it’s always nice to hike with someone else.

While we hiked, I got to know more about Remy (named for the character in the movie Ratatouille). He is a recent college grad from Atlanta doing some soul searching before starting grad school in the fall. I’ve heard this story from many other hikers out here, but it’s still unique and interesting each time. It sounds like he has made some good progress already and is feeling good about his future life decisions.

Around midday, we passed a very very very large tree. This was the famous Keffer Oak, the largest oak tree in the southern half of the AT. Dover Oak, in NY, is slightly bigger … but this was no small fry. This tree was monstrous, and made for a great lunch break and photo op (see above).

After lunch, as I was just getting up to leave, I saw the smallest of red dots move on my arm. Looking closely, I was disgusted to learn I just spied my first tick on the trail. Well, no, not on the trail. On me! And what is worse … it was a deer tick. Ack! I’ve never seen a deer tick before, but I’m very familiar with them and was not pleased at all to find him invading my personal space. The good news, however, is that he was moving along my arm, and had not come close to biting me yet. I pulled out my camera for a photo and then my knife for a swift beheading. It was a clean kill, and I left the headless body on the ground as a warning to all his friends. Any other tick that comes near me will suffer the same gruesome fate.

The rest of the day was a really scenic and incredible ridge walk along the Eastern Continental Divide. Water on one side supposedly flows to the Mississippi River, while the other eventually leads to the James River/Atlantic Ocean. The view during this 5 mile stretch was just breathtaking. Almost good enough to justify the awful rock stepping. Almost.

When we reached Niday shelter, we found a Girl Scout group had taken the whole area over. Even if I wanted to stop at 18 miles, I would have been forced to go on. A dozen 12 year old girls giggling all night would be hard to sleep through. We chatted with the scout masters a bit and then headed out. By now it was 5pm, and any good stopping place was at least 6 miles away up and over Brush Mountain.

I got to the top of Brush just as the sun was going down. There was a bench at the top that served as a great place to rest my weary feet and watch a beautiful sunset. So I did … in Hello Neiman style. 🙂

The last 4 miles of the day were hiked at night. I am not normally a fan of night hiking, but this was short and all downhill. It was actually quite beautiful. With just a headlamp to light the way, I made my way down to the road in about an hour and a half and setup camp at a makeshift campsite next to the parking lot. I arrived around 9:30 and was surprised to see 3 or 4 tents already setup there. I quietly hung my hammock and ate a cold/dry dinner before crawling into bed.

I’ll probably sleep in a bit late tomorrow, as my feet and legs are beyond exhausted, but it was worth it. Today was one of those days I’ll remember fondly years from now, when I think back on this hike.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait!)

  • Start Mile: 668.5
  • Start Time: 07:50
  • End Mile: 695.6
  • End Time: 21:30
  • Miles Hiked: 27.1
  • Miles to Go: 1495.3
  • Lodging: Trout Creek (VA Road 620)

Day 51: War Spur Shelter

Day 51. As expected, I had a late morning. Last night was bitter cold, probably the coldest I’ve had sleeping outside. When it has been this cold in the past, it was usually accompanied by snow or rain, so I’d end up sleeping in a shelter. But last night was a unique cold-and-windy-but-dry night, so my ability to stay warm in the hammock was vigorously tested.

All in all, I slept fine enough. I went to bed later than normal, and had a few strong gusts of wind wake me, but I was so exhausted from yesterday’s hike, that I eventually fell back asleep. It was bitter cold and blowing hard in the morning too, so I was pretty much awake at 6:00am. Around 8:30, I finally gave in and crawled out of bed. I was not surprised to find a layer of frozen dew covering my tarp. I made a quick breakfast, hoping the sun would melt and dry the tarp. It didn’t. So I wiped down the tarp of its frost using a tiny towel and got work breaking camp. After slowly packing everything up, I was ready to hike around 9:30.

The good news is that the sun was shining throughout the day and it slowly heated up to a temperature in the mid 50’s. Good hiking weather.

The terrain was another story, of course. It was mainly ridge walking, with one significant 1500 ft elevation drop to a road followed by an immediate climb back up. That part wasn’t so bad, but the rocks layering the path all day was. I’m getting very sick off these stupid rocks. There are almost no rocks on either side of the trail, but where I’m supposed to walk is like a damn mine field. One misstep and it’s a twisted ankle or stabbing pain into the bottom of my foot. So I spent all day looking down and missing anything else of significance around me.

There was one great vista though, and the view was spectacular. Wind Rock is its name, and it gives you a taste of the upcoming famous view at McAfee Knob a couple days away. The scenery visible from Wind Rock was stunning so I snapped a pic (above).

McAfee Knob is at mile 713, about 45 miles from here. Every hiker on this trail is guaranteed to have 3 ceremonial photos taken: at the Amicalola Falls arch, at Katahdin’s summit, and at McAfee Knob. Do a quick google image search and you’ll understand why. It is the quintessential trail photo with the most stunning view of the Appalachian Mountains. I am extremely excited to finally get their to see the famous view and have my epic photo shoot.

However, I have a big problem. The weather is calling for 5 days of clouds and rain starting Monday. If I don’t get to McAfee Knob before that weather hits, I won’t have any visibility of the scenery to capture. And with that extended forecast, i won’t be able to wait it out for a better day … I could lose a whole week trying.

So, I’m left with one option. Hike 45 miles in 2 days. And get there for a hopefully awesome sunset shot, or a hopefully awesome sunrise shot the next morning. There are shelters within a couple miles on both sides, so I have close enough accommodations to make that plan work. And the rain is supposedly not coming until 2pm on Monday, so theoretically, all could work out. Theoretically …

I’m kicking myself for not going another 7 miles today to the next shelter, that would have helped significantly. I got hear early enough. But my feet are beat up from those rocks and I need a better night of sleep if I’m going to do double 20+ mile days in a row. I’m going to bed early tonight, so maybe I’ll wake up early enough to have a good long day tomorrow. Terrain looks tough, but we’ll see.

I know I know, it’s just a photo. No reason to kill yourself to capture it. It will always be there to come back and do another time. I know. But damnit, I’m thruhiking THIS year, so I want my photo NOW. 🙂

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 650.1
  • Start Time: 09:40
  • End Mile: 668.5
  • End Time: 17:45
  • Miles Hiked: 18.4
  • Miles to Go: 1522.4
  • Lodging: War Spur Shelter

Day 50: Unnamed Campsite

Day 50. Well, yesterday was a gorgeous and hot sunny day, so you know what that means … rain and cold today! It would obviously be too much to give us multiple warm days in a row, but can I at least have 2 in a row?! Nope, rain in the morning and a high of 45 degrees. I’ve heard this irregularly long cold season has ended many people’s thruhikes early, a sad reality to the impact weather has on a long-distance hike.

But I’m still here. And hey, today marks my 50th day hiking the Appalachian Trail! That’s pretty neat! I celebrated my milestone by eating an extra snickers bar at lunch. 🙂

I left Woods Hole Hostel around 9:30, after a great communal breakfast and a communal clean up of the bunkhouse. Everyone pitched in again and some even stayed to help out with more odd jobs around the house to decrease their bill total. I liked the idea of helping out Neville, as she was such a great hostess, but need to make up lost miles, so I got a hiking. And on cold days like today, there’s really only one thing to do. Keep hiking as long as possible.

I meant to stop in the town of Pearisburg after 12 miles, but I had no desire to hike the 1 mile down the road and back in this cold. The best thing in that tiny truck stop town anyways is a Dairy Queen … which, oddly, just didn’t motivate me today.

Before I realized it, I hiked 18 miles to the shelter I planned for this evening’s rest, but it was only 5pm, so I kept going. I didn’t really know my destination, but knew a few hikers were still ahead of me and plenty of campsites were coming up on the trail. About 8 miles later, I saw a familiar tent at a random unnamed campsite and joined Dragon for the night. The campsite is in the guidebook, but is nothing more than a clearing for 1 or 2 tents and a fire pit right next to the trail. By now it was after 7pm, and he was in bed, but we both appreciated having company nearby for the night. I know he’s an early riser, so probably won’t see him when I eventually crawl out of this hammock. And if it’s this cold tomorrow, that will be long after 8am I’m sure.

I passed by an interesting area today. For about a mile after Pocahontas Rd (mile 640), there were blue signs lining the trail talking of a protest against a new pipeline being planned along the AT. I eventually saw these “tree-sitting” a few miles later in visible protest against the Mountain Valley Pipeline that is planned a mile west in West Virginia. I didn’t really know much about it, and they were too far off trail to warrant a cold side trip to discuss, but I did some google searching and found this article which helped clarify.

If it were earlier or warmer when I saw them, I probably would have stopped to hear their story and learn more. But I was cold and exhausted, so I’ll leave that for tomorrow’s hikers to do.

I’m going to try to keep up my momentum of 25 mile days while this terrain stays relatively flat. I am about 100 miles behind schedule and think I can catch up by Harpers Ferry if the weather cooperates. Which I somehow doubt it will.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 624.8
  • Start Time: 09:30
  • End Mile: 650.1
  • End Time: 19:15
  • Miles Hiked: 25.3
  • Miles to Go: 1540.8
  • Lodging: Unnamed Campsite

Day 49: Woods Hole Hostel

Day 49. Today was a great, leisurely Nero Day. It was only 7.5 miles to a Hostel in Pearisburg from last night’s shelter, and I contemplated skipping it because of my impromptu stay at one a couple days ago, but breakfast quickly changed my mind.

As I ate my morning pop-tart, I noticed a magazine was placed in the shelter and opened it to read. It was a 2010 edition of AT Journal with a feature article on Woods Hole Hostel, that recently came under new management. I’ll let you read it for yourself at the link above, as it’s a beautiful story and easily convinced me that this historic AT landmark up ahead was too good to pass up.

It was a beautiful day, and I took my sweet time hiking those 7.5 miles to really absorb it. I stopped at every creek, I visited every side trail and vista, I took numerous photos and videos, I walked a slow 2 mph, and I soaked in the sun. If I had the time, patience and finances to hike this trail in 9 months, I’d do every day like this.

When I finally came to the Sugar Run Road intersection, I turned right and hiked the half mile down to the scenic cabin on a farm. I’ve stayed at some great hostels, but this one may top them all. When you walk in, the animals literally come out to greet you and welcome you in … Dogs, cats, goats, and even a goofy looking pig. They all came to say hello.

Then you see an immaculate log cabin home, a large garden, a hiker bunkhouse, platform tents and more. Everything is clean and open and ready to be shared, and everything is decorated with cute and friendly painted information/instruction signs.

One of the best things about this hostel is how it is an instant community of helping hands. I saw 3 thruhikers setting up the platform tents, another folding laundry, and 2 more preparing lunch. You just feel at home here and want to be a part of it. No one was doing a “work for free stay” … they were just helping out. An optional “job jar” is in the bunkhouse with suggested chores to take on if you feel willing.

The owner, Neville, is a wonderful and spiritual person as well, which feeds the peaceful culture here. She leads yoga in the afternoons, meditation at night, and gives licensed massages in between. A neighbor will drive you into town for resupply, the staff welcome you with fruit smoothies, homemade cookies and cold sodas, and there are countless games and activities to do while you unwind. I mean, doesn’t this sound amazing?? Am I thruhiking or at a spa retreat?

I grabbed my resupply box that was mailed here, then picked up a guitar and played music by the fire pit in the sun. It was the rest for body and soul I needed. After a while, I offered to help cook dinner and assisted in the kitchen to prepare our communal meal. Stir fry with beef and vegetables, salad, bread, egg salad, and more. All homemade and fresh, with most ingredients grown right here. Talk about farm to table!

When dinner was ready, Neville led everyone in a quick round of thanks and sat with us to talk about her life, her family, the world, and more. She is an amazing woman who runs this place all on her own (with some temporary support staff), continuing the great tradition her grandparents started 30+ years ago.

There are a lot of people here. My current hiking mates of Ridge, Autopilot and Dragon are all here, and a dozen more I mostly know. RTK is also here, so he and I had a chance to chat a bit more. Our passing on the trail a couple days ago was brief, so this time we got a better chance to get to know each other. I am not sure if we’ll meet again, but it’s been great connecting with him after so many email exchanges pre-trip.

I got in a few calls to family back home when the phone service cooperated and then called it a night. I’m headed out first thing after breakfast tomorrow, but feel completely revamped for another week on the trail.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 617.6
  • Start Time: 09:00
  • End Mile: 624.8
  • End Time: 12:10
  • Miles Hiked: 7.2
  • Miles to Go: 1566.1
  • Lodging: Woods Hole Hostel

Day 48: Wapiti Shelter

Day 48. Today was a pretty standard day, so I’m going to write about something a little different that seems relevant now that I am in my groove and hiking on my own terms everyday. Since today felt pretty average, putting in 20+ miles and a couple side adventures, I thought I would describe my daily routine. A Hello Neiman / Sharkbait “day in the life” if you will …

6:00am – Wake up from the sounds of other hikers packing up. These are the “early bird hikers”, but I’m not one of them, so go back to sleep.

7:30am – After a few more bouts of sleeping / waking, I give in to morning and get out of bed. Most nights are spent in the hammock, so the first thing I do is break down camp. I like to have my quilts, tarp, and hammock all packed up so everything is in its stuff sack before breakfast. This makes it easier to pack and go right after eating.

8:00am – Breakfast time. I untie my bear bag from the nearby tree and pull out the gallon ziplock bag of one day’s neatly organized rations. I setup my stove and boil 2 cups of water for coffee, then nosh on my pop-tarts, cereal bars, or other cold breakfast foods while sipping coffee to wake me up.

8:30am – Typically the coffee has worked its other magic by this time, allowing me to do the day’s business at the shelter’s privy (better than a hole in the woods later).

9:00am – After reviewing the day’s itinerary, end-goal, and side adventures for the day in my Guthooks App and AWOL Guidebook, I set out on the AT. I like to have a general idea of where I’ll stop for water, lunch, etc. so I’m not pulling my phone out every mile on the trail.

9:30am – Hopefully I have phone service, as I try to call my wife on her way to work each morning. Being on the west coast and working late hours, it’s pretty much the only time that works for both of us. I try to check in everyday if I can, and like to hear what is going on back home.

10:00am – About an hour into the day’s hike, I start snacking. I pack 3 snacks in my backpack’s side pocket so I can grab and eat without stopping. Candy bars, trail mix, and dried fruit typically make up the morning snacks. I have about one per hour, until lunch. After each snack, I can physically feel the momentary rush of energy in my feet. That’s pretty neat.

11:00pm – By now I’ve probably drank all my water (I only carry 2 small 700ml bottles now), and fill up at the next stream I see. I like to have full bottles going into lunch, and get a bit anxious when they are both empty. This is silly though, as I pass creeks and streams about a dozen times a day. There is never a shortage of available water to fill, but your mind doesn’t always believe it. Since my water purification is treating with Aqua Mira drops (chlorine solution), I need to wait 5 minutes between mixing the solution and pouring it in my bottle. I use this excuse to take off my pack and have a mini break while eating a snack.

1:00pm – Lunch time. I try to time it so I can eat lunch at a major landmark. Either a shelter with a picnic table, a mountain summit with logs to sit on, or a waterfall if I’m lucky. Most days, one of these is readily available. Lunch is typically tortillas with filling. Either meat, cheese, tuna, or peanut butter. I also have something salty/savory, and fruity. Goldfish crackers and fruit snacks seem to be common these days. I typically see another hiker to have lunch with, but not always.

3:00pm – Its about now that the energy from lunch wears off. I’ve hiked between 10 and 15 miles and fatigue is starting to set in for the day as well. I typically turn to upbeat music or my book on tape to get me through the last few hours.

5:00pm – There is always some major landmark I’m looking forward to each day. Part of the morning’s planning is to pick it out. Let’s just assume this is the time I see it, even though we know that’s not always the case. It can be a lake, river, summit, unique view … or the past two days, a roadside market/grill. It’s easy to pass these things up, as they are usually a side trail and cut into your official mileage for the day, but they are worth the stop. I’ll take a break and eat my afternoon snack (energy bar), while taking in the views around me.

6:30pm – About the time I have a mile left to the shelter. This is the LONGEST mile of the day. It never fails, like a watched pot trying to boil, every minute ticks by slowly and the end never seems to come. I’ll also fill up water too, as I like to go into dinner with full bottles.

7:00pm – My destination is finally reached! I stroll into the shelter or campsite area and immediately setup my hammock. They say you should eat first, but I don’t want to lose a good camp spot to whoever arrives next. If the weather is rain or snow, I’ll opt to sleep in the shelter, but I never like that decision as I sleep very poorly (if at all).

7:30pm – Dinner time. Most of the hikers are done with dinner and laying in bed by now, so I quietly boil my water. Earlier on, people stayed up late chatting, but it seems less and less so as the days pass by. Dinner is a big meal for me, comprised of noodles, rice, or beans. The dinners I send in my resupply boxes are quite gourmet, compared to the instant potatoes or ramen you typically see. I’m super thankful to the people at MRE Depot for sponsoring my mealplan with their freeze dried meats, as eating dinner is the highlight of my day. I’ll admit, I like the jealous stares I sometimes get from others, and will often share or trade a dinner with anyone who inquires about it.

8:00pm – After cleaning up dinner, I repack my food bag and hang it in a tree. There used to be bear cables at shelters, but I haven’t really seen many since the Smokies. This is probably why most other hikers stop hanging their food around this point in their thruhike. On really rainy/snowy days, I’ve been lazy, but 9 times out of 10, I hang it.

8:15pm – After dinner, I brush my teeth, change in to sleep clothes, and crawl into bed. Hopefully in my hammock, but on rainy/snowy days … you get the idea. Have I mentioned lately that there have been WAY too many snowy days?!

8:30pm – On some nights, we build a fire. About once a week these days, which is typically when the inhabitants of the shelter are friends or it’s an especially cold night. I like the campfire days, but it can be tiresome too, as I’m exhausted from the day. With or without a fire, it’s considered “hiker midnight” as soon as it gets dark, so anything done now is done quietly.

8:45pm – Whether around the campfire, or in my bed, I write my day’s blog. It doesn’t take long, about 30 minutes or so. Most of us write in a journal, read a book, or do other things on our phones to unwind around the same time. On warmer nights, if the trees allow visibility, I like to stargaze a bit too. I’ve loved that part of camping all my life and rarely miss a good chance to stare at the night’s sky in awe. All in all, this is a collective personal quiet time for everyone.

9:30pm – By now I am in bed and hopefully asleep. Before passing out, I’ll do some foot and toe stretches, then message with friends and family if there is service. After passing out, I’ll wake up once or twice during the night, but less so if in my hammock. It’s usually a pretty restful sleep, and then I’m ready to go again in the morning!

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 593.4
  • Start Time: 09:30
  • End Mile: 617.6
  • End Time: 19:15
  • Miles Hiked: 24.2
  • Miles to Go: 1573.3
  • Lodging: Wapita Shelter

Day 47: Helveys Mill Shelter

Day 47. Got WiFi last night, so week 6 video is up! As for today’s update, it was a bit of an odd day because it breezed by so quickly. Probably because I didn’t start until 11:30 and most of the hiking was along ridge lines at a brisk 3mph. I rolled into camp just after 7pm and that was after taking an hour break at a roadside convenience store/deli.

Spending last night at that hostel was nice, but it was a really odd place. I learned they used to have a hiker bunkhouse separate from the house, but it was closed down by the Fire Marshall for breaking just about every code known to man. No bathroom, no emergency exit, too many beds … just your typical thrown together POS meant to milk hikers dry.

That mentality continues on still, as they charged me for everything. A ride to the trail? $3. Breakfast? $5. A beer (that he offered me)? $3. Apparently the $35 a night for a bed simply wasn’t enough. I’d advise any hikers to avoid Garden Mountain Hostel unless you are desperate.

We wanted to get to the trail at 9, but the owner didn’t even wake up until 9:30. Then he and his farmhand took their time with breakfast and chores and finally stopped us off at 11:30. I realize this man opened his house to us, and I’m trying not to be ungrateful, but their is also some decency expected in hostel stays on this trail. I was frustrated to say the least, and eager to move on.

When we got to the trail head it was snowing hard and below freezing. But after about 30 minutes of hiking, I was plenty warm. The sun even came out and melted the snow. It’s amazing how different it quickly was. Take a look at these photos, taken 30 minutes apart:

The snow and cold returned fast after that, but I hardly noticed. It was 16 miles to a road crossing where the Brushy Mountain Outpost was located, and I was on a mission. I barely stopped for more than a few minutes and breezed to the outpost 16 miles away in just 5 and 1/2 hours. That’s crazy fast! I don’t feel like I rushed it, but the hiking was very easy. And the reward was a great dinner. The outpost is basically a very small market with just 2 shelves of hiker-oriented food and gear items, but it also has a grill that cooks up hot food and makes a killer ice cream milkshake. I downed a burger and fries in record time and even enjoyed the cold shake, not caring that it was still freezing outside.

At this point, Ridge, Autopilot, and Dragon (new friend met at the hostel last night) were also at then outpost. We all decided to slowly and begrudgingly hike the next 2 miles to the shelter after an hour of warming up and chowing down. I bought a few more snacks than headed out.

The final 2 miles to the shelter were an easy walk down the road and back up a single mountain. Unfortunately, there was also a river crossing that the past 2 days of snow and rain eagerly fed. I tried my best to hopscotch rocks and logs across but miscalculated the last step … falling calf deep into the river with both legs. Damn! Nothing to do but curse loudly and hike on, but I’m frustrated at my stupidity because now those socks and boots will be frozen stiff tomorrow morning (sigh).

Have I mentioned yet that I am REALLY sick of this cold weather???

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 575.4
  • Start Time: 11:30
  • End Mile: 593.4
  • End Time: 19:15
  • Miles Hiked: 18.0
  • Miles to Go: 1597.5
  • Lodging: Helveys Mill Shelter

Day 46: Mountain Garden Hostel (VA Road 623)

Day 46. Well, once again this awful cold weather has foiled my well laid out plans. I knew rain was coming around 11 or 12, and hoped to get to the Chestnut Knob Shelter at the top of today’s big mountain climb before it hit. This shelter is great for escaping the rain, as it is an old ranger cabin converted to a hiker shelter. There are 6 beds and a picnic table all within the fully enclosed building

My timing was pretty good, getting caught in only a light drizzle before reaching the cabin’s dry safety. I actually would have made it before the rain hit, if not for a wonderful surprise. About a mile short, a lone hiker was making his way southbound towards me. As he got closer, I recognized the face and realized who it was.

You may recall, long before I started hiking, I posted about another hiker I met over email, Bruce “RTK” Matson, that has a weekly podcast for his adventure. Well, it was RTK! It’s been fun to listen to his adventure while I have mine. Since he started a week before me, I’ve had nice weekly previews of what to expect, while also slowly shortening the gap between us. I knew I was getting close to catching him one of these days, so it was a pleasant surprise to finally meet him in person. We took a photo together to celebrate the occasion (see above). RTK chose to slackpack today’s hike backwards, while staying at a hostel, and will pick up tomorrow from where he started today.

Which is also where I will start tomorrow, because of this darned crummy weather.

Right after I entered Chestnut Knob Shelter, the rain picked up. Hard. You could hear it thrashing against the thin cabin roof from inside. Ridge and Shelter Dog were there, as was Autopilot (the guy from Ohio I met yesterday). We were all hoping to go another 10 miles today to Jenkins Shelter, but knew the weather was only going to get worse: freezing rain by night, and snow all day tomorrow. While we ate lunch together, we contemplated the options.

  1. Sleep here for the night, lose half a day but stay dry, then hike down in snow tomorrow.
  2. Hike down to the road (6 miles), then call a hostel a few miles away to pick us up.
  3. Hike all the way to the shelter (10 miles) in the rain, hike with wet/frozen gear tomorrow.

Shelter dog opted for #1, Ridge for #3 … I intended to also do #3, but quickly decided on the hostel after 2 awful hours of cold wet hiking down the mountain. I cannot imagine how miserable Ridge is tonight, but I hope he’s warm!

The Mountain Garden Hostel picked me up at the VA623 road crossing and brought me down the valley. It is a farmhouse that doubles as a hiker hostel in peak season to make some extra cash. When I arrived, I was happy to see Autopilot came to the same decision I did, as he was already here. The hostel is a bit pricey at $40, but given the weather outside, it seems well worth it. The extra $10 for dinner did too. I ate 2 huge platefuls of homemade chicken stew with rice. That hit the spot. And so did the hot shower!

Side note, I’m apparently not eating nearly enough. My meal plan is around 4,000 calories a day, which feels like a lot … but I’ve lost 15 pounds since the start of this trip! My pants are barely staying up at this point, and my backpack hip belt is cinched as tight as it will go. I am going to either need to start dipping everything I eat in peanut butter, or buy new pants. I am eating constantly, but it clearly is not enough.

With the cold and snow tomorrow, I’m going to adjust my plans for the next few days. My next resupply box is waiting for me 50 miles away at Woods Hole Hostel, which I originally planned to get to on Tuesday. However, two 25 mile days in this weather feels crazy, so I’ll plan to make it by Wednesday instead. I should have just enough food to get there.

In the meantime, can someone please turn this cold weather off? Enough already!

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start to Mile: 559.8
  • Start Time: 08:50
  • End Mile: 575.4
  • End Time: 17:50
  • Miles Hiked: 15.6
  • Miles to Go: 1615.5
  • Lodging: Mountain Garden Hostel (formerly St. Luke’s Hostel)

Day 45: Knot Maul Branch

Day 45. I did something today I haven’t done out here yet. In the 45 days since I started this trail, I didn’t listen to anything on my phone to pass the time. No music, no podcasts, no books on tape … nada. I did this for two reasons, 1) to conserve battery juice, and 2) to stop treating the day’s hike like a chore. It was magical, to say the least.

Expanding on #1 … it’s been 5 days since leaving Damascus, and still 3 more until my next hostel stay at Woods Hole. That’s 8 days, which is twice as long as I’ve ever gone between battery pack charges. I think I’ll make it, but it’s going to be close.

Expanding on #2 … part of the joy to this adventure is everything you get to see, and everything you get to think about and process internally throughout the day. If you distract your mind, you distract your eyes and your thoughts. Although I like the sound of music, radio, etc., the sound of nature is clearly much more entertaining. You hear more, you see more, and you realize more when your senses are all in use. I saw a snake today, countless squirrels, a hawk circling above me, bullfrogs jumping into a pond, and lots of additional scurryings in the woods. I also thought a lot about what makes me happy, what doesn’t, and the things I can change in my life to get more of the latter.

I’m not going to get too philosophical here, and I know I won’t do it everyday, but it was really a treat to simply let myself be in the woods. On all my other backpacking trips, I never listen to my phone, so why do it now? Just because a thruhike makes you walk 20 miles a day, over and over again, doesn’t mean you have to trick yourself to manage the mental fatigue with manufactured noise everyday. It’s good to take a break from time to time.

There were also 3 spectacular moments during today’s hike. It was hot today, real hot. Sunny and high 70’s. I was drenched in sweat all day with the sun beating down on me all day. But twice, I stepped out of it. The first time was when I walked through Atkins. I ordered a Piña Colada icee at the gas station restaurant and sat in the shade sipping it. Words cannot express how great that drink tasted. It was an existential level of bliss. I am drooling again just remembering it.

Then a few hours later, I came to a campsite with access to Reed Creek. It was around 2pm now and my feet were hurting me too. So I slipped off my socks and shoes and took a short nap in the shade, my feet dangling in the cool water. The ice cold water washed away the pain (and 5 days of dirt) almost instantly. After 20 minutes I felt fully refreshed and ready to hike on. I could have stayed all day, but still had 10 miles to go before dark. Nevertheless, I felt much more willing now.

Lastly, I took a shower today. We’ll sort of. I took a “cowboy shower” at the shelter. Meaning, I mixed up some soapy water in my pot, then gave myself a sponge bath to wipe off all the yuck. There are few things I hate out here more than crawling in my sleeping bag when covered in a layer of sticky, salty, grimy, sweat. Now I’m “clean” and resting comfortably. It’s a small victory.

Other than that, today was a fun hike through some pastures, farms, and private grassy lands. The trail literally cut right though hilly farmlands, making for some really nice breezy moments and views of Southern Virginia.

I also hit a big milestone today (woot!). Someone put up a sign signifying the official 1/4 mark of the AT … 25% done! Since the trail ebbs and flows a few miles each year, they even marked it as the 2018 marker. So I took a very Hello Neiman-ish photo (above) to celebrate quickly, then hiked on.

Its late now and haven’t seen Shelter Dog or Ridge at all today, so I’m guessing they won’t make it to the shelter. I’m sure they’ll catch up, but if not … I met some new friends when I arrived here. Spice is a nice young lady from Minnesota who averages 25+ miles a day. I doubt I’ll see her share j, but we had a good long talk about home, which I enjoyed. Another woman named Donut is here, who is originally from White Plains near my wife’s hometown, so I had a fun chat with her too. It was nice to have some familiarity out here to talk about! Another guy, Auto-Pilot is here, but he’s from Ohio. No connection there so I ignored him. Just kidding, he was also a really nice guy, but also hikes long miles per day. Probably won’t see him again either.

We all said goodnight around 7pm and retreated to tents/hammocks for a restful night. Supposedly the rain isn’t coming until around 11am tomorrow (knock on wood), so I should be able to pack up dry and hike dry for some of tomorrow’s planned 20 miles.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start to Mile: 540.5
  • Start Time: 09:10
  • End Mile: 559.8
  • End Time: 17:50
  • Miles Hiked: 19.3
  • Miles to Go: 1631.1
  • Lodging: Knot Maul Branch Shelter

Day 44: Chatfield Shelter

Day 44. Last night I met my favorite hiker on the trail this year. After finishing the day’s blog, I remembered a promise I made earlier that day to the woman I met at a road crossing 4 miles earlier. “If you don’t make it to the shelter by dark, I’ll come back to find you.” That woman was a 74 year old warrior of a hiker that finally walked into camp just after dark. I was just about to head out with Ridge to find her when I heard…

“Sharkbait? Shelter Dog? Are you here? Is this the shelter?! I can’t see the trail!”

I laughed and called back that yes it was, and we were happy to help guide her in. It was already past hiker bedtime, but we were all relieved to see her and hear a bit of her story while helping her get settled.

Meet Grambo, short for Grandma Rambo. Because she is (in her own words), a “bad ass grandma”. She is the grandmother or great grandmother of 18 children, and always wanted to hike the AT. Because she is always caring for one member of her family or another, she can’t ever get away for the whole thing, so instead does 3-4 week sections each year. After a few years, she’s now in Virginia.

It’s hard to describe what an amazing sight it is to see a great grandmother carrying a 40 pound backpack in the woods. My dad is in his 70’s and still backpacks every summer with us or his friends … but for some reason that feels different (he’s done it his whole life, why stop now??). Seeing this woman, however, traversing this trail alone each year just made me so proud of her. For one night, she felt like my grandma too.

In the morning we all chatted more over breakfast and shared stories and pictures (see above). I wished her well and said goodbye. I sincerely hope I somehow see her again. But at her pace of 5-10 miles a day, I don’t expect to. At least not this year. Maybe while doing trail magic next year!

After that, I hiked! Ridge, Shelter Dog, and I decided to go 17 miles today, while also having a lazy lunch. You see, only 10 miles in is Partnership Shelter, right next to the Mt. Rogers Visitor Center. Since both are right off the highway, it’s a popular place to have pizza delivered from the nearby town of Marion (6 miles away).

We arrived at the shelter around 2pm, but decided last minute to instead go into town for pizza and resupply as well. I had planned to do it tomorrow morning in Atkins anyway, so not a big difference. My food bag was nearly empty either way.

After checking the Guthooks guide, we called a local Trail Angel named Jim Sparks who is known for shuttling hikers to and from town for a donation. He is an older man that has supported the community here for years and likes to keep track of all the hikers he helps. We were numbers 101-103 in his logbook already this year. Last year, he only helped 500 total, so we all agreed it would be a record year for him by the time it’s done.

After an epically delicious Chicken Parmesan sandwich at Pizza Perfect, I resupplied at Dollar General for the next 4 days and we headed back. Again, by the help of Jim. Thank you Jim!

It was already 5pm at this point and we still had 7 miles to go if we wanted to make the next shelter. So, I quickly packed up my now much heavier backpack and trekked on. The terrain was a bit rocky, but easy overall. I’m still not eager to hike at night, so I hiked a brisk 3 mph and arrived at 7:30pm.

Ridge strolled in a few minutes later, but Shelter Dog must have set up camp at a campsite a few miles back, as he never showed. There were a few sites I saw that had tents setup, so I doubt he camped alone. Tomorrow is a long day, but now there is no need to stop in Atkins at least, so hopefully I get in a bit earlier. I had about 20 minutes to setup camp, eat, and get ready for bed before it started getting dark today. The weather is supposed to be ok, with rain possibly coming by tomorrow night. Ugh. Could be worse though … could be snowing.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start to Mile: 523.7
  • Start Time: 08:40
  • End Mile: 540.5
  • End Time: 17:30
  • Miles Hiked: 16.8
  • Miles to Go: 1650.4
  • Lodging: Chatfield Shelter