Day 61: Waynesboro, VA

NOTE: Before I give today’s update – For anyone a few days behind me, there is a forest fire on the AT between Catawba and Daleville, including McAfee Knob. Firefighters are working to contain the fire, but the trail is closed between mile 709.4 and 729.2. All hikers have been safely evacuated from the area, and it looks like it may be a long time before it opens again. Stay safe and keep an eye on updates here for changes in status.

Day 61. Our hiker party from last night ended very early, and everyone was in bed by 6:30pm. It’s an odd feeling going to bed when it’s so early and bright out, but it does mean you get a good 12 hours of sleep.

And that I did. I woke up around 7am feeling extremely rested and ready to roll. I was the late riser as usual, as everyone else was pretty much gone by the time I opened the hammock tarp. I ate breakfast and headed out to enjoy the multiple vista views in today’s hike and the slow decline in to Waynesboro, VA. I have to add that state qualifier at the end because the trail actually goes through another Waynesboro in Pennsylvania a few hundred miles from here. Here’s a panorama of one of the amazing views from today:

This Waynesboro is a pretty big hiker town. You may not think so as first though. When you first exit the trail at Rockfish Gap, you are greeted with a dilapidated truck stop, where only a popcorn food truck remains. The remnants of a gas station and fast food joint haunt the background of the turn off, and look like they haven’t seen business in 20+ years, but the popcorn truck is good. Cold drinks and hot food while you hitchhike or wait for an arranged ride.

The city has dozens of Trail Angels willing to drive hikers to and fro for free, so I called one up and he graciously dropped me off at Stanimals 328 Hostel. For such a big town, it’s odd that this is the only listed hostel in town, but thankfully it’s a nice one. There is also a church which will pull hikers up for any donation, but it is not open until May. And rumor has it, this is their last year offering that service. Lastly, some hikers choose to camp for free in town (which is permitted), then use the complimentary YMCA bathroom and shower facilities nearby.

When I arrived at Stanimals, I was pleased to see more than one familiar face. Spice was here, which I expected as we discussed it last night. But a hiker I haven’t seen since Day 1 was also here … Poncho Villa. Readers of this blog may not recall him, but I do! On my first day on the trail with Gandalf and The Captain, we met Poncho Villa and gave him his name. It was the first trail name I gave out, and I tracked his progress in shelter registries for weeks afterwards. I expected him to be in Pennsylvania by now, given his early speed, but he took on a bad ankle injury a couple weeks ago and has taken it very slow since (10 mile days). I think he was embarrassed, as his registry entries disappeared around the same time. It was a nice homecoming to see him again though, so I snapped the photo below.

After getting situated in the bunk room, I went to collect the resupply box I mailed here. But … it was nowhere to be found. As Stanimal checked his mail room, he asked me if I sent it to this hostel or his other one in Glasgow. A ghostly look of dread swept over my face as I checked the tracking number online. Yep, I sent it to the other location. D’oh!

Stanimal said he couldn’t make the drive down there tonight, but would bounce it forward to me later on the trail. Fortunately, USPS will let you do that for free, so I asked him to send it to my family in DC so I get it in Harper’s Ferry. Then I did my resupply in town at the Dollar General instead.

After shopping, Spice and I went further in to town for some dinner at Five Guys. It hit the spot, and just as we were readying to leave, I noticed a movie theater down the street. A big one too, with lots of new films out that were on my to-see list. So I walked over and caught a showing of “A Quiet Place”, a movie that I’ve been dying to see. The reviews of this film were spot on, excellent thriller / horror movie that is exceptionally well made.

The movie got out late, but I had already coordinated a ride back to Stanimals from a Trail Angel named “Yellow Truck”, who was waiting outside for me. I tell you, the people that help hikers like this are the nicest you’ll ever meet. They rarely want money (he didn’t), and genuinely want to assist you in your quest to complete a thruhike (he did). We are a very fortunate community to have aid like this throughout our 2190 mile walk.

Back at Stanimals, everyone was still up and about. It’s not too crowded here, maybe a half dozen people, but it feels like a full house all the same. Someone was watching TV, another doing dishes, 2 more shmoozing in the dining room … you get the idea. But pretty soon, everyone departed for bed, so I did the same.

Tomorrow I enter Shenandoah National Park, and the weather looks great for days!

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait!)

  • Start Mile: 842.2
  • Start Time: 08:10
  • End Mile: 863.0
  • End Time: 16:30
  • Miles Hiked: 20.8
  • Miles to Go: 1327.9
  • Lodging: Stanimals 328 Hostel

Day 60: Maupin Field Shelter

Day 60. With family in town, and a really fun resort to take advantage of, It was a nice relaxing Nero Day today. After sleeping in late, we went to the resort’s aquatic center to play in the indoor pool and soak in the outdoor hot tub. It was bliss. Especially because it got darn cold last night. The family all agreed, camping in last night’s 30 degree weather would have been absolutely miserable. But a hot tub in cold weather … is there anything better?

After a couple hours we had lunch and then packed up to go our separate ways. They had to get back to Maryland and I have to get back to the mountains. I was very fortunate to have family company all weekend and it was wonderful to be able to share a bit of this experience with them. We discussed the next few weeks and decided to meet up again next weekend in Shenandoah National Park around the Big Meadows Campground area. Depending on my speed, I’m expecting to get there on Thursday night and hopefully we can have a day hike together on Friday or Saturday.

Side note, my sister was able to pick up a couple gear items for me in Lexington, so I finally have new insoles for my boots. The Dr. Scholl’s I bought in Franklin 600 miles ago were long worn out, so this time I went with the more durable/expensive Superfeet. They make a world of difference already and today’s short 10 mile hike was a significant upgrade to my feet.

I also picked up a new water bottle with built in filter called the Katadyn BeFree. It basically does the same thing as a Sawyer Squeeze, but the filter is inside the soft collapsible bottle. They have been popular out here lately so I’ve seen them around, and yesterday broke my spirit on the Aqua Mira drops I normally use. I was very dehydrated, I finally reached a creek after 8 miles without water … and having to wait 20 minutes for the treatment solution to purify my bottle was torture. It was so nice to just scoop up water and start drinking today. I still like Aqua Mira in general for its simplicity and weight … but this is so much easier!

Speaking of upgrades, I have a bunch of gear changes coming when I get to Harpers Ferry. I’ll provide a longer blog post with a mid-hike gear review at that time: what worked, what didn’t, what will go the distance, what was replaced, etc. Stay tuned for that soon.

As for today’s hike, it was a nice Nero Day that started around noon and ended less than 10 miles later. However, it was basically straight up for 6 miles on more of that strenuous and frustrating rocky terrain I hate. During one of my screaming fits of frustration at the trail, I stopped to take a photo as well. You can see above why days like this are less than appealing and slow me down considerably. Can you even tell where the trail starts and stops? Now I fully understand why people say this trail is the hardest of the US long distance triple crown trails (AT, PCT, CDT). It’s not the constant ups and downs, it’s the rocks! And again, this is supposedly nothing compared to what’s coming in Pennsylvania.

Even with the trail doing it’s best to cripple me, I showed up at Maupin Field Shelter pretty early in the evening. When I walked up, I was pleased to see Spice, a friend I briefly saw yesterday, was already setup for the night. You may recall Spice from a couple weeks ago, as she lives in Minnesota and I was ecstatic to meet someone else whom with I could talk about home. She has an awesome attitude and fun personality so I set up camp nearby and we enjoyed a campfire together. An older gentlemen from Australia was also here (and technically, he made the fire), so we all shmoozed while cooking rehydrating our dinners. Before long, Whitewater, the young girl I sheltered with 2 days ago, walked up also. Spice and Whitewater camped together yesterday so we’re also friends by now. Then another hiker showed up, then another … before long it was a full-blown hiker party! I haven’t had this many camp-mates in weeks.

Tomorrow will be a hopefully breezy 21 miles into Waybesboro. The elevation change is minimal, but I’m sure there are more rocks to cuss out. I have a box waiting for me at Stanimals 328 Hostel so will get a warm bed again tomorrow. For those keeping track, that makes 3 out of the past 4 nights on a real mattress. After Waynesboro, I enter Shenandoah National Park. Since most of my Smoky Mountain section was ruined by snow and cold, I am excited for the amazing weather forecast expected during the net week in SNP. It’s supposedly going to get in the high 80s by midweek, and this is another highly anticipated section of the AT to hike. Woot!

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait!)

  • Start Mile: 833.2
  • Start Time: 12:15
  • End Mile: 842.2
  • End Time: 16:10
  • Miles Hiked: 9
  • Miles to Go: 1348.7
  • Lodging: Maupin Field Shelter

Day 59: Wintergreen Resort (VA Road 56)

Day 59. Between last night’s late movie, hangout time with the family, and being pretty far away from the trail, today got off to a slow start and late finish. Not a bad day, not in the least, but I did learn some very valuable lessons during today’s slackpack hike.

First of all, I am not at all faster hiking without a backpack. All I carried today was a tiny kids daypack with food and water, and my hiking sticks. I was ready to run up and down mountains and assured my family it would take me no more than 6 hours to cover today’s 25 mile plan without my typical gear, and that I’d meet them at the rendezvous point at 4pm.

Wrong.

Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong.

Today’s hike was difficult, with a steep 3 mile climb up Cole Mountain to start it off, than 15 miles of up and downs with rock laden trails, before climbing back down 5 miles to the parking lot. I made good timing at first, getting up the steep mountain in an hour … but I never got above 2.5 miles an hour after that. I was slow going with the rocks, stopped fo my usual breaks, and didn’t get to the start of the climb down until 6pm. It took me 8 hours to hike 20 miles, which is pretty much the same speed as any other day with a full pack. I felt horrible for keeping everyone waiting and waisting much of the night.

But second, my family is awesome. Ok fine, I knew that already, but they proved it today again. Not only did they stay in touch with updates throughout the day, but after hiking uphill 3 miles to meet me … they waited happily for almost 2 hours until I showed up. They played games, went exploring, whittled sticks, and enjoyed the trail and views. It was definitely not time wasted after all and we had a great time climbing back down together slowly as well.

My nephews were eager to show off their stream crossing skills, made up rules for peeing in the woods (“Rule #3, always pee on a tree”), and general trail know-how. We also talked about Star Wars and Spaceballs for about an hour … because they are awesome boys.

We finally got down to the VA Road 56 parking lot around 8pm and headed out to dinner. At Reeds Gap, the AWOL guide talks about a brewery called Devil’s Backbone Brewpub. We happened to drive by it on the way to our lodging for the night, so stopped in to to check it out.

This was not a brew pub, this was a brew city! When you pull in, you are met with huge buildings, patios, fields, houses and more that make up this gigantic complex. A brewery, a distillery, an indoor bar, an outdoor bar, a restaurant, a fire pit, a cigar lounge, a wash room, a merch store, a pavilion and stage, a picnic area, a camping area … it went on and on and on. And it was packed. Hundreds of people milled around the different venues on this Saturday evening late in to the night. And the food and drink was as good as the atmosphere … needless to say, dinner was amazing.

Side note, Devil’s Backbone will pick up hikers on the trail at Reeds Gap (mile 843.9) and let you camp on site for free, so pretty much EVERY hiker should visit here.

We then checked in at the Wintergreen Green ski resort where we had a condo for the night. It’s not a very convenient place for typical hikers, but was perfect for a family’s weekend stay. It’s about 30 minutes back to the trail in the morning and not really accessible without your own car.

The kids were pretty tired at this point, but we stayed up for a bit while I did laundry and organized my gear. I decided I am in no rush to overdo it tomorrow, as today’s hike was a lot tougher than expected. It’s 35 miles to Waynesboro, so I’ll do somewhere between 15 and 20 miles tomorrow. Plus, I’d like to soak up another morning with everyone before they head back home!

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait!)

  • Start Mile: 807.8
  • Start Time: 10:15
  • End Mile: 833.2
  • End Time: 20:00
  • Miles Hiked: 25.4
  • Miles to Go: 1368.7
  • Lodging: Wintergreen Resort

Day 58: Lexington, VA (US Road 60)

Day 58. Just as I hit publish on yesterday’s blog, another hiker walked up. So I’ve still yet to have a night alone in the woods, as she set up for the night in the shelter too. I had gotten used to the idea of it, but it’s still always nice to have company. We briefly chatted, as it was a woman my age named Whitewater I met the day before, then called it a night.

As expected, it rained last night. And through the morning. I had a steep climb up Bluff Mountain all morning, which was covered in clouds and mist, as is par for this week. But I powered through, and stopped for a long snack at Punchbowl Shelter after 10 miles. It slowly cleared up after this and warmed quickly. By the time I climbed up the smaller Rice Mountain, it was beautiful blue skies the rest of the way.

Unfortunately, the morning’s damp hike did not aide in my blister recovery. My treatment overnight seemed to work well, but they started hurting again early in the day. I stopped at one of the many stream crossings for lunch and aired out my little piggies. It felt great to rest and give those hot spots some air. Before heading out, heeding the advice from others yesterday, I changed in to dry socks for the rest of the day. Besides being dry, these were also Injinji Toe Socks … great for blister prevention. The rest of the day felt like walking on new feet! These socks are normally my sleep socks, but since tonight is a town night, no need to worry about keeping them clean.

I arrived at the predetermined meeting spot (US Road 60) just after 4pm and had a wonderful hour to rest in the sun while waiting for my sister, brother-in-law, and nephews to arrive. I chit-chatted with a few weekend hikers starting their mini adventures, but was quickly alone. It was a nice alone though, basking and resting in the sun after 20 miles hiked.

Then the fun started!

My sister and her family rolled in a half hour later and many hugs and photos were had immediately. I showed my nephews where the bathroom was (tree), and where the trail was (tree adjacent). The cover photo above may or may not include both. This was the first time I’d seen anyone from my pre-thruhike life, since seeing off Gandalf and The Captain at Neels Gap, so we caught up on all the happenings at home on the drive back to Lexington.

Lexington is a really cool town about 15 miles from the trail. Buena Vista is the first town you see, and probably the more likely stop for hikers to resupply/rest, but do not rule Lexington out. First of all, Buena Vista is pretty bad. Not much to look at as we drove through, just a motel, gas station and Family Dollar that I recalled. Maybe a Hardee’s too. But keep going and you have everything your heart desires. Every fast food chain, actual (and really nice) sit down restaurants, an outfitter, grocery, movie theater and much much more. There are 2 colleges in this city, so it has a great college town feel and atmosphere.

We went to dinner at Rocca Bar Restaurante, which was exceptionally nice. You know how every college town has that one fancy place you go to for fraternity formals and graduation dinners? This was it. This restaurant was everything hiker trash like me did not belong in. But I donned my least smelly / most clean clothes and we went out to celebrate the family reunion in style. And that I did! One look at the menu and I knew I was in heaven … I downed an appetizer, salad, steak, veggies, bread and a beer all on my own in minutes.

During dinner, I caught them all up on the day, and filled in holes from stories they read about over the past 2 months. It’s funny how they already new mostly everything I’ve done from reading this blog, and made the story telling more like story expanding and clarification. I realized again how happy I am to share my daily story here with so many people, and think it will make discussing the experience with family and friends when it’s over so much more tangible and enjoyable. I encourage any future hiker to blog their journal!

After dinner, we strategized the weekend game plan. Tomorrow, they will drop me back off at mile 807.8 on US Road 60, and I’ll slack pack 25 miles to where they’ll meet me later. They will even day hike southbound a couple mile to meet me and hike back to the road together. This will be my first slackpack day, but 25 miles without a full backpack sounds pretty easy.

After that, I called it a night … almost. This family rendezvous was timed perfectly for one more reason. Today was the release of the new Avengers movie, and Lexington has a theater showing it. I dropped everyone back at at the hotel and then went to a late night screening to get in my highly anticipated viewing. Two thumbs up, worth all the hype! Quite a lot packed in that film, but done extremely well.

Now it’s off to sleep in a warm bed with nothing but blue sky and easy hiking ahead of me.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait!)

  • Start Mile: 787.7
  • Start Time: 08:30
  • End Mile: 807.8
  • End Time: 16:10
  • Miles Hiked: 20.1
  • Miles to Go: 1383.1
  • Lodging: Holiday Inn (Lexington, VA)

Day 57: Johns Hollow Shelter

Day 57. Hiking is weird sometimes. I’m nearly 2 months into this trip and have not had a single blister. Then today, I wake up, start hiking, and instantly realize I have 3 at once. Arg! I know it is likely due to the continuous rain and wet feet since Daleville, but it’s extremely annoying nonetheless. All 3 are on little toes, spread between both feet, so it was pretty uncomfortable hiking throughout the day.

Time wise, I could have made the 25 mile option for today, but when I reached the shelter at 16 miles, my little piggies told me they were done. I tried treating the toes at lunch, to cover the hot spot before it turned blister, but it was already too late for that, so they just continued to pain me all afternoon.

I got to Johns Hollow Shelter around 2pm, and instantly soaked my feet in the nearby stream. That felt fantastic! Then after some careful cleaning, I did my best to treat the blisters fully (pop, drain, bandage, etc.) and pray it will heal up by morning. I have 20 miles to do by 5pm, so I can’t be limping on sore toes the whole way!

Besides that though, It was a gorgeous day. A full day of blue skies and sun while hiking in the James River Face Wilderness. Many stream crossings and just a couple big elevation changes meant it was a fairly simple day of hiking. One nice view came at Thunder Ridge Overlook, where I snapped the photo above. Even with foot pain, today’s hike was a good one. And it finally emptied out on the massive James River. Not the prettiest of waterways, with its murky brown water, but a big river and big landmark. After crossing the HUGE foot bridge, I was nearly done for the day.

Oddly, I didn’t see too many others today. I only shared last night’s shelter with one other person, and he left before me in the morning. I had a short chat with one of the local Ridge Runners (trail maintenance volunteers), and another with a day hiker sitting by a stream, but that was it. Looking at the registries in all 3 shelters I passed today, I realized I don’t have many people within a day or 2 of me … and of those that are ahead, I have no idea who they are. Up until now, I’ve always recognized names in the registries from earlier days on the trail together, but I seem to have passed just about every name I know, and am now chasing the hikers who started weeks before me or after. It’s an odd feeling for some reason, makes me feel just a bit more alone. But that’s alright of course, it just means there are new people to meet.

I saw a lot of cold blooded wild life today, which was pretty neat. There are these tiny orange salamanders, about 2-3 inches long, that have been out the past couple days. They are incredibly beautiful but strange out here against the constant green/brown backdrop. I also saw countless lizards, each about 6 inches long and more of a prototypical looking mini reptile. I saw a giant bullfrog hop along the trail in front of me … and I saw my first real snake. Not the tiny garter snakes that scurry into the brush as you approach, this one was the real deal. It was about 4-5 feet long, and all black. It hissed peacefully at me while slithering around Matt’s Creek Shelter, clearly letting me know this home was his … and I was welcome to visit it, as long as I kept my distance. I don’t know much about snakes, but in doing some research on the snakes of this region, it appears to have been a Black Kingsnake. Harmless to humans, but big compared to others, and it has an awesome name. If I wasn’t already Sharkbait, I’d like to be called Kingsnake.

After crossing the James River Bridge, it was a brief 1.5 mile hike uphill to the shelter. I laid out my pad and quilt in the shelter one more time because rain is coming tonight. I’m getting more comfortable sleeping in these things, especially if it means my gear stays dry. It appears I’ll be alone here for the night … a first for me on the trail. Tomorrow I’ll tackle the 2,000 ft climb of Bluff Mountain before heading back down to meet my family. It should clear up by late morning, and if the toes have heeled a bit, should be a great hike with epic views.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait!)

  • Start Mile: 771.4
  • Start Time: 08:30
  • End Mile: 787.7
  • End Time: 14:10
  • Miles Hiked: 16.3
  • Miles to Go: 1403.2
  • Lodging: Johns Hollow Shelter

Day 56: Thunder Hill Shelter

Day 56. As expected, it rained all morning. But, as hoped, it stopped in the early afternoon. I rolled into Cornelius Creek Shelter at the 18 mile mark around 4:30pm, and at that exact moment … the sun finally broke through the clouds. I took it as a sign to go on, and hiked the last 5 miles uphill to Thunder Hill Shelter with plenty of daylight to spare.

There were some interesting sights today, though it was mostly the same as yesterday with fog and cloud cover everywhere. A few tough stream crossings too, but nothing as bad as the one I wrote about last night. I stayed pretty dry most of the day, all things considered.

All of us in the shelter slept in late, as the pitter-patter sound of rain on the tin roof was soothing, and the view if you poked your head out of your sleeping bag was not. I eventually rolled out of bed around 8am, had a quick and cold breakfast, then hit the trail. I told Happy Feet and Tarzan of my tentative 24-mile plan, thinking maybe they’d be up for the challenge too … but they were less optimistic. It’s after 8pm now, so I’m guessing they stayed back at Cornelius Creek. Oh well, they will catch me again after the weekend I’m sure. It was fun catching up, so I hope to have the chance to hike with them again.

Around midday, I stopped for lunch at the most extravagantly built shelter I’ve seen to date. It didn’t have running water like the Fontana Hilton, or a shower and pizza delivery like Partnership … but it was built for kings. It looked brand new, feature by a double decker platform with an L-shaped porch, built in benches, ladders, and more. And the whole structure covered by a gigantic roof. It could probably hold 20 people comfortably, with 10 more squeezed in if needed. And the river is only 10 feet away for fresh water. The only thing missing was a gas grill. 🙂 I really wanted to stay there, but I had more sunlight and miles to go today, so I sadly moved on. Here’s a bad photo to try and capture it, next week’s video will have a full walkthrough.

There were 3 high climbs today, but I didn’t mind them that much. The ascents were not too steep (maybe 1500 feet over 4 miles), and the forest got steadily greener as I went. By the end, when the sun poked out, I was darn near skipping for joy. Blue skies and green forests? This is the trail I’ve been waiting for!

Of course it didn’t last long, as the sun quickly got covered up again and a light drizzle followed me for my last 2 miles of the day. It was right around this time, about a mile from my Thunder Hill Shelter destination, that I crossed under a prominent landmark of the Appalachian Trail. It’s nothing special, but has a great name and scary look: The Guillotine.

The Guillotine is a 15 foot rock tunnel you walk through, where a giant boulder lies tightly wedged between too other giant slabs of stone. You walk right under this monstrous rock, realizing at any point, it could probably come crashing down and flatten any poor soul unfortunate enough to be standing beneath. So I did what any normal, mature, 36 year old man would do … I ran like hell to the other side. Hey, I’ll admit the chances were slim of it falling, but it still COULD happen. The main photo above doesn’t do it justice, but you can see the geologic marvel in action.

I made good distance today, so I’m only 36 miles from my destination on Friday. I spoke to my sister and it sounds like she and the family will meet me at the US Route 60 road crossing in the late afternoon. If I stay at shelters, I’ve got 2 options:

  • If I do 16 miles tomorrow and 20 on Friday, I would arrive around 6pm.
  • If I do 25 miles tomorrow and 11 on Friday, I’d get there more like 2pm.

I’ll need to chat with them one more time to get an idea on their ETA before I decide. But if I get there early, they arrive late, and I’m forced to take a mid-afternoon nap in the sun … I could live with that too.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait!)

  • Start Mile: 747.7
  • Start Time: 09:05
  • End Mile: 771.4
  • End Time: 18:20
  • Miles Hiked: 23.7
  • Miles to Go: 1419.5
  • Lodging: Thunder Hill Shelter

Day 55: Bobblets Gap Shelter

DAY 55. As promised, my week 8 video is live and I am officially caught up! It was a long stretch without WiFi for a while there, but now all is good in the world.

Speaking of … I don’t want to jinx anything, but I think that, maybe, perhaps, possibly, it may be, one could argue, that Spring has arrived! I know I know, it’s probably going to snow again now that I’ve said it, but I feel somewhat confident today for some reason. The temperature has been in the 50s to 60s pretty consistently lately, and the rain showers are here. I’ll take these as good signs that winter may finally be behind me and sub-zero nights need no longer be a worry.

I’m still not going to send home any winter gear though (hat, gloves, long underwear, etc.) … not yet. But, I hope I won’t need them again for some time. If this seasonal conversion holds true, I’ll trade these items and my winter quilts out for summer clothes/quilts in Harpers Ferry in a couple weeks. Then I’ll plan to pick them up again before the White Mountains.

For being completely in rain, today’s hike was actually pretty great. It was cold at times, and all views were nonexistent (see below), but the terrain was easy and the trail well maintained. Most of today’s hike paralleled the Blue Ridge Parkway (road), with parking lots and view points to take in. I took none in, as you can see in the photo, but it meant the trail was manageable to walk along without any extreme climbs.

There was one problem though. With all the rain, the multiple stream crossings here were trouble. And one was even extremely dangerous. The typical rocks/logs for crossing were completely overflown with water, making it very hard to cross and keep feet dry. With all the rain, they weren’t going to be dry anyways, but it’s still nice not to water-log them unnecessarily walking through ankle deep streams. That makes for an even more uncomfortable sloshing around for a good mile afterwards.

The dangerous one was legitimately a huge risk. The only crossable area must have had a bridge at one point, because this was far too deep with water moving far too fast for anyone to sanely consider. You could see the trail on the other side … but no way to get there. I stood on one giant boulder, with water rushing over my toes, while I strategized a possibly route. Getting my feet wet was not the main issue … keeping from falling in and being rushed downstream was. It was a good 4 foot step to the next giant boulder, also under flowing water, and it was bound to be slippery. And, once I committed to the place for a lunge, there was no going back. I stood there for 15 minutes contemplating the step. I walked up and down the stream looking for any other option, but none existed. I took the photo below while cursing my frustrations out loud.

So, against all common sense in my head, I took a leap of faith and reached across as gingerly as I could. And … much to my surprise, my boot landed safe on the expected rock. It was drenched, but it was firmly planted! I took two more careful steps and finally reached the other side. It was quite the emotional moment, I promise you. Once I stopped kissing the ground and praising the lord, I noticed that my feet weren’t nearly as wet as I thought they’d be. The waterproof socks held up well! Every hiker should own a pair for this exact location.

I arrived at Bobblets Gap Shelter shortly after 6pm. I hiked alone all day today, even though Remy and I departed from Daleville together. But he was not feeling the rain and stopped at the first shelter just 5 miles out. I enjoy hiking with him but also enjoyed the day of solitude today. It was a good rainy day for once, so I made the best of it. If anyone else were near me, they could even have heard me happily singing along while I hiked …

When I got to the shelter, I was surprised to see Tarzan and Happy Feet again! They left town yesterday afternoon, so I assumed they’d be far ahead, but also chose to take it easy in the rain. I’m starting to wonder if something is wrong with me today, why did I alone have such a good time?? Oh yeah, my hopeful celebration of Spring!

I enjoyed chatting with them all night as we huddled in the shelter eating dinner and discussing gear. Since my backpack no longer cinches tight at the waist, I’m researching new options. Happy Feet is looking to upgrade too, so we compared notes and ideas. Talking gear is a fun part of most nightly conversations out on the trail, and it’s fun to discuss opinions and options with others.

I am hoping to get big miles in tomorrow, as it is supposed to stop raining tomorrow afternoon. But there are also 3 huge climbs at the end of the day, leading to a shelter option at 18 miles or another at 24. A betting man would probably take the under on my lofty goal, but I’ll see what the day looks like. A well cleared trail and some clear skies by the afternoon could be big motivation to hike on.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait!)

  • Start Mile: 729.2
  • Start Time: 09:30
  • End Mile: 747.7
  • End Time: 17:50
  • Miles Hiked: 18.5
  • Miles to Go: 1443.2
  • Lodging: Bobblets Gap Shelter

Day 54: Daleville, VA

Day 54. First things first, last week’s video (7) is live above! And this week’s video (8) will be up with tomorrow’s post. Gotta love WiFi.

As for today, it started off with a single mission – get to Daleville before it rains. Daleville is a pretty big trail town, and that means another warm/dry bed for the night was waiting for me at the finish line. Small goals like that can be darn good motivation, as I was up at 6:45 and on the trail less than an hour later. And spoiler alert, it worked.

I left Remy at McAfee Knob last night and didn’t see his tent in the morning, so wasn’t sure where he camped. Knowing we’d catch up to each other eventually though, I got walking. There were quite a few views and landmarks to see walking the ridge today, so I was constantly distracted. First up was Tinker Cliffs, a rock ledge jutting out from the mountain ledge that completes the Triple-Crown of views I mentioned yesterday. It showed the same landscape as McAfee Knob and Dragon’s Tooth, but from another amazing angle. I shot a photo (below) and moved on down the trail.

Next was a gorgeous view of the Carbon Core Resevoir on the other side of the ridge, which reminded me of a view in Glacier National Park that looks down the valley from Swiftcurrent Pass. Compare the picture below to the one rotating in my blog header to see what I mean. It’s not a 1-for-1, but it brought back fond memories.

Soon after, Remy caught up (turned out he was camping one tenth of a mile behind me), and we scurried along the continuing spine of the Appalachian Mountains. You can quickly understand how popular this stretch of trail is in Southern Virginia, by the amount of camping spots established. There are 4 shelters and dozens of makeshift campsites within 10 miles of McAfee Knob. That’s a lot, compared to the rest of the trail. And at each major view, a crowd of people were always waiting. The fact Virginia Tech University is in nearby Blacksburg probably helps too.

Eventually, the trail turns west and dives down the mountain to Daleville. This is a fairly large trail town, with countless motels, fast food restaurants, and grocery options to choose from. It is also officially the 1/3 completion mark for the trail, though no sign post tells you like I saw for 1/4.

Remy’s grandmother met us for lunch at the Three L’il Pigs BBQ in town, and as I walked in, I saw 2 familiar faces eating dessert. Tarzan and Happy Feet, who I haven’t seen since the first half of the Smokies were just finishing lunch! We caught up on the usual trail chat (who are you with, how many miles are you averaging, where are you headed next, etc.) and parted ways just as fast. They were on their way back up the trail today, but I’m sure I’ll see them again soon.

Over lunch, Remy made a sarcastic observation. His grandmother drove up from Atlanta today … covering the distance in 7 hours that it took us 55 days to walk. After that settled in … I laughed a bit, I cried a bit, and then I just shook my head in disbelief. That is simply the reality of this temporary nomad life we chose. Still, it’s pretty funny to realize.

I picked up some items at the Outfitter in town, a couple grocery needs at Kroger’s, then headed to the Howard Johnson’s Inn for the night. The next several hours consisted of shower, laundry, relaxing and eating. I also used this time to organize … meaning, I took everything out of my backpack, creating an explosion of gear in my tiny room. Everything was then cleaned, dried, repaired, and repacked for tomorrow.

There is a 100% chance of rain tomorrow, but that won’t stop me because I have a new mission – get to Buena Vista by Friday. My sister, brother-in-law, and 3 nephews are driving down from DC to see my this weekend, and if I get there in time, I’ll have the reward of a nice Zero Day with family. At 78.6 miles away, that feels comfortably easy to accomplish. I may try to get them to day hike with me too, if they are up for it … and can keep up. 🙂

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait!)

  • Start Mile: 713.8
  • Start Time: 07:45
  • End Mile: 729.2
  • End Time: 14:15
  • Miles Hiked: 15.4
  • Miles to Go: 1461.7
  • Lodging: Howard Johnson’s in Daleville

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)