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)