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