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

Day 43: Trimpi Shelter

Day 43. The weather continues to treat me well. During today’s entire hike, the wind was calm, the sun was shining, and the temp was in the high 60s. If it weren’t for the awful boulders layering the majority of today’s trail, I would have enjoyed it much more. But instead of looking out for ponies, snakes or bears … I looked straight down at my feet. And even doing so, I still had half a dozen twisted ankle steps. They weren’t anything serious, but damn it if they don’t hurt temporarily (and immediately reduce my speed).

If I had been looking up, I may have enjoyed much of the terrain. The few landmarks I did get to see were nice though. Immediately after leaving the shelter this morning, we walked into a horse corral called The Scales. This is a big open field with an outhouse that wad used to measure and weight stock in the past for farmers of this land. It acted as a great place to rest and have my 2nd breakfast. Later on was a nice waterfall called Corners Creek Falls where I ate a late snack and rested my exhausted legs.

Other than that, I traversed through 2 wilderness areas, which appear to be sections of the forest that are maintained and regulated similar to a national forest. (If anyone knows more on these, feel free to comment). First was Little Wilson Wilderness Area, then Lewis Fork Wilderness, and finally Raccoon Branch Wilderness. Contrary to its name, I saw no raccoons. The trails in these areas are well marked with blazes and sign posts … but apparently no one had the time to clear the trail of damned rocks. It was a long day.

When I got to Trimpi Shelter (20 mile day, woot!), I met a southbounder named Housekeeping who started last June with his dog Bullet (see pic above). In yesterday’s post, someone asked me in a comment about hiking with dogs, so I thought this would be a good time to explain the expectations, recommendations, and regulations about dogs on the AT.

First things first, know that I am a dog lover. I have a pup back home that I love and miss every day out here. Every time I see a dog hiking, I am excited to say hello and play with them. But truth be told, I would never recommend bringing a dog on a thruhike. Can it be done? Yes. But should it be done? No. I’m no veterinarian, but my wife is, and I think she’d agree with my assessment. Think of it this way…

  1. Your dog has no idea they are signing up to walk 15 miles a day for 6 months. You may think they can take it, but most probably can’t at the same pace as you. Even if you do a couple prep hikes, they can’t fully prepare for it the same way you can. They’ll follow you, because they are a good dog, but they will tire at a different rate than you. This means they could quit for the day before you are ready to. Or more likely, require extra unplanned days off to rest that mess up your ability to finish on time.
  2. In addition, every dog I’ve met has caused their owner to go off trail for long periods of time due to injury. Their paws get ripped up, ticks collect in their fur, wild animals spook them … or do worse. For example, Bullet was bit by a copperhead snake and needed emergency vet services. This cost him dearly in unexpected costs and months of time lost. And don’t forget heat exhaustion in the summer … dogs can’t sweat and cool down the same way we can. Living in LA, I have personally carried an 80 pound dog down a mountain because an owner pushed him too far in the heat.
  3. On top of all that, they are certain areas where dogs are prohibited. Besides hostels and restaurants (which have their own rules), you also have the the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and Baxter State Park in Maine. The former will take you at least a week to get through, so you’ll have to skip it or find someone to board your dog and drop it off to you after. And don’t pretend it’s a service dog to gain access, that isn’t cool and everyone knows you are lying.
  4. Resupply is tougher too. You probably have to do all maildrops for your meals to make sure they eat good/consistent food. You will not always find dog food in towns, so you’ll probably end up sacrificing the dog’s diet for your convenience. That probably isn’t best for your dog nor its digestive system.
  5. Lastly, for other people, your dog can cause a lot of frustration. They can muddy up shelters, poop on the trail, bark at night, cause allergic reactions, or even get aggressively-protective (even if they aren’t yet now). Bullet wasn’t originally aggressive, until a bear tried to enter Housekeeping’s tent in Vermont. Now he growls at every person who comes near the tent at night. Not every dog is the same, but every dog will eventually so something to hinder someone else’s enjoyment of their hike. That should be kept in mind.

I love dogs and can’t tell anyone else what to do on their hike, but I simply would not recommend it. Most hikers would not recommend it. Some hikers who brought a dog with them don’t even recommend it. In Housekeeping’s words, “If you hike with a dog, don’t expect to finish your thruhike in one attempt. You won’t.”

If anyone else has a question you’d like a full detailed response to, feel free to comment below and I’m happy to build it in to future blog post updates.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start to Mile: 503.6
  • Start Time: 08:45
  • End Mile: 523.7
  • End Time: 18:30
  • Miles Hiked: 20.1
  • Miles to Go: 1667.2
  • Lodging: Trimpi Shelter

Day 42: Grayson Highlands

Day 42. Wow today was epic. I’d go so far as to say this has been one of the highlight days of the trip thus far. Today had it all … blue skies, calm winds, high peaks, trail magic, trail legends, and the damn coolest ponies you’ll ever see. I want to talk about those amazing ponies, as they were a clear highlight, but so many other great things happened today that need mention first. So let’s go in order…

Last night was colder than I expected. We had an awesome time with the fire, but when I finally curled into bed around 9:30, a chill was definitely in the air. I normally close the doors on my tarp on a cold night, to keep the cool winds at bay, but didn’t last night so felt every gust. It wasn’t a horrible sleep, but I woke from the cold more than a few times.

So getting up his morning was more difficult that originally planned. Ridge and I had hoped to be on the trail by 8am, but that time came and went and we were still curled up in our beds. So it wasn’t until around 9:15 that we finally got moving.

And the first thing we did? Climb 6 miles straight up Mount Rogers. It was a 2500 ft climb over that time, but seemed to never end. We finally summitted the peak right before, and took some great photos at a landmark called Buzzard Rocks. It was a clear Bald up there so the view was spectacular in the sun. Then we continued our climb up.

But not before passing the US Route 58 road crossing, and being met with some trail magic! Gucci Girl and Grumpy were set up with a truck grilling up pancakes and eggs, accompanied by bananas, chips, snickers, and cocoa. It was a meal fit for kings and a treat we happily accepted. In batting with Grumpy, it turns out he was a thruhiker this year, but injured hims of really bad and had to end his hike permanently. So now he and Gucci Girl drive around doing short day hikes and giving out trail magic to other hikers instead. This truly is one of the best parts of this hike, and I cannot wait to be like them some day, giving back to future thruhikers. Gandalf and The Captain and I already discussed this weeks ago actually, we’ll be doing it next year for sure.

After (slowly) departing, Ridge and I continued the final climb up Mt. Rogers. We met up with Atlas at breakfast so now he a threesome to hike with. Just before the top, we passed a southbound section hiker doing a long section to Hot Springs. In stopping to chat, it turns out he was a well-known AT community member named Odie. Odis completed his hike in 2013 and is famous for doing a Hiker Yearbook ever since. Each year, he collects photos and contact info from that year’s hiker class and publishes a hard copy yearbook of everyone. I’ve seen the previous years’ books at every hostel so far, and thought it a really neat idea. I’ll for sure be sending my photo in and buying one at the end of the year. It was really neat to meet him.

Then. Came. The Ponies.

And oh man, they were awesome. Even before reaching Grayson Highlands State Park, they were out on the trail. They would walk right up to you and happily let you pet them. They clearly are used to hikers feeding them (technically, not permitted) and gravitate towards any they see. We saw 3 early on and took a ton of photos, then continued into the park and saw a dozen more. There were big ones, small ones, baby ones, old ones, even pregnant ones and ones in heat. Yes, you could tell.

We took so many photos and leisurely hiked throughout the day to see and pet more. I’ve never seen a pony outside of a petting zoo, so it was such a marvel to me. The biggest ones were only as high as my chest, and you jut wanted to take them all home with you. Note to self, definitely coming back here with the family in the future.

The final stretch of the day was a bit of a challenge. A rocky trail with multiple scramble sections left my feet beaten and bruised. Right at the 500 mile mark, we went through a rock tunnel called “Fatman’s Squeeze”. This was exactly what it sounded like, as you carefully had to meander between 2 huge boulders (without slipping in the ice below). It was difficult and frustrating, especially since the rocky terrain didn’t give up for at least another mile.

All in all, it was a fantastic day. But because of all the excitement, we took out time. The dream of 24 miles today quickly evaporated as we stopped for our 3rd pony petting session. It was now 4pm and we still had 11 miles to go if we wanted to keep to the plan. Not enough sunlight left though, so we audibled and stopped at Wise Shelter at 17.5 miles instead. This is technically still in the Grayson a Highlands State Park, so there is a definite chance of more pony sightings over night. From other hiker stories written in this shelter’s journal book, it sounds like they do come pester you in the sleep if food is left out. I’ll let you know if that happens, but so far tonight, it’s been quiet.

Also, did I mention we hit mile 500 today? Big milestone reached! There was no number written out in the ground, so we decided to make one with the rocks.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start to Mile: 486.1
  • Start Time: 09:20
  • End Mile: 503.6
  • End Time: 18:40
  • Miles Hiked: 17.5
  • Miles to Go: 1687.3
  • Lodging: Wise Shelter

Day 41: Lost Mountain

Day 41. After another great Crazy Larry breakfast this morning, I was feeling anxious to get back on the trail. The previous Zero days I did always seemed to roll into a Nero day accidentally, but not today. By 9am I was ready to get walking. After a quick stop for a 2nd breakfast (fruit smoothie), I was on the trail.

Side note, damn that smoothie was good. I forgot how great those are in the morning and how well they get me moving. I know some people do them on the trail, and if it weren’t so messy, I would possibly consider it. For example, I’ve heard of people having a “smoothie water bottle” that they shake protein powder and cocoa mix up in each morning, then clean it naturally by drinking water in it throughout the day. Actually, now that I talk through it … I don’t think it would be too bad. I may try it.

One of the other popular tourist activities in Damascus is a 30-mile bike path called The Creeper Trail. This path is a nicely paved road that cuts through town and follows the Laurel River as it winds northward. If you recall, that is the river that feeds the amazing Laurel Falls I enjoyed a few days ago. The Creeper Trail and the AT parallel each other for a few miles (and used to be one and the same), so the scenery was gorgeous all morning. It was also distracting and confusing. I lost the AT 3 times and had to back track to locate white blazes at missed intersections.

The only other hiker interested in getting an early start with me today was Ridge, pictured above. Ridge hiked with me between Hampton and Damascus, so it was nice to have a partner at my current pace today. We decided to do the 16 miles to Lost Mountain Shelter, though got there pretty quickly and almost went on. If the next few miles weren’t basically straight up Mount Rogers (the highest AT mountain in Virginia), we would have. Instead we enjoyed a lazy evening, a cozy fire, and an early bedtime.

A couple other familiar faces are at the shelter too, though, no one I’ve hiked with yet. Atlas, a recently retired man has been leapfrogging me since the Smokies. The other is Quattro, a young man in his 4th thruhike in so many years. There are also a few section hikers here enjoying a week-long trek out of Damascus. Long story short, it was great company around the fire.

Given that the terrain is pretty calm after Mt. Rogers, we are thinking we may do 24 miles tomorrow … which would make tomorrow the day we go through Grayson Highlands. This is the state park in Virginia that has free range ponies. It would be an amazing experience to see and interact with wild animals that are normally domesticated during this 4 mile stretch. I did something similar with wild bison a few years back at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota … it’s an incredible experience to be hiking/camping among animals like this. Also, I haven’t seen any wildlife bigger than a chipmunk yet, so I’m really hoping it is as common a sight as they say. Ridge claims he’s going to ride one … I have my doubts he’ll get within 10 feet of one.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start to Mile: 470.9
  • Start Time: 10:00
  • End Mile: 486.1
  • End Time: 04:55
  • Miles Hiked: 15.2
  • Miles to Go: 1704.8
  • Lodging: Lost Mountain Shelter

Day 40: Damascus Zero Day

Day 40. It’s amazing how much and how little you actually do on a Zero Day. I feel as tired this morning as I did yesterday, but all I did the past 24 hours was eat, drink, shop, and watch TV. It was a great restful day, but I’m still tired.

That may have something to do with Crazy Larry, though. First of all, he wakes everyone up at 7am for homemade breakfast. It’s a darn good breakfast of fancy pancakes, eggs, toast, etc … but so early. And afterwards, he’s cleaning or chatting with countless friends that come and go throughout the day so getting more sleep is unlikely. Its relatively quiet at night, except for the commotion us hikers make, but it you want to really get a restful day, you may want to look elsewhere.

Every bed was full last night, as the whole town filled up with hikers fast. Two in my room, two in the living room, 1 in the private room, and 1 in the den. Besides the kitchen, that’s people sleeping in every room, so it was a packed house. Around 8pm things quiet down so people can get to bed, but with so many people staying here, their was conversation most of the night. I slept well, but still could have enjoyed a later mornings.

Around lunch time, Leap Frog, Jackelope, and Ripple wandered into town. The latter was my roommate last night, while the others found housing elsewhere. We all grabbed a late lunch at Mojo’s (the only place in town that serves beer), then went shopping and chit chatted until dinner at the Pizza Plus buffet. It was damn good pizza, that may be the highlight of my day.

I sent yet another package of stuff home that I don’t need today as well. It’s amazing how quickly stuff accumulates in my small pack. I found a great deal on a Nemo sleeping pad at one of the outfitters ($50 new), which is 1/4 the size and 4 is lighter than my thermarest, so I upgraded. I’ll sell the other one when I get home to cover that cost. Between that, my new shoes, and the hostel fees though … it was an expensive town stop.

The longer you stay in a town, the more you spend. With almost everyone hiking this trail doing so on a strict budget, it’s easy to see why most hikers have to quit in New England due to finance issues. I’m definitely over my budget as well, but like everyone else, I’ll start tightening the belt now that I’m (hopefully) past the majority of the cold. #knockonwood

Sounds like everyone I’ve spoken to is planning to Zero or Nero tomorrow. There are shelters in 9 miles or 15, but also countless campsites in-between. I’m going to get an early start (not an issue, thanks to Larry’s) and go to the further shelter if I can … but it sounds like I’ll be alone.

It was a good restful day. The legs feel better, the feet are reshod, and the mind is recharged. The forecast calls for clear skies all week, so here’s hoping for a great start tomorrow.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start to Mile: 470.9
  • Start Time: 00:00
  • End Mile: 470.9
  • End Time: 00:00
  • Miles Hiked: 0.0
  • Miles to Go: 1720.0
  • Lodging: Crazy Larry’s Hostel

Day 39: Damascus

Day 39: Goooooooooooooood morning Virginia! Hey, this is not a test this is a walking goal. Time to walk it from Damascus to Harper’s Ferry!

Ok, in all honesty that sounded way better in my head with Robin Williams’ voice when I thought of it this morning. Oh well, what can I say, I’m excited to finally be in Virginia. However, I realized today that many friends and family have no idea what Damascus is and why it’s a big deal.

So, let me explain.

First, and most obviously, entering Virginia marks my 4th state along the Appalachian Trail. It’s the state with the most AT miles in it (500ish), and includes some of the best landmarks of the whole trail: Grayson Highlands, Keffer Oak, McAffee Knob, Jennings Creek, The Guillotine, Shenandoah, Big Meadows Lodge, and The Roller Coaster. These are all things you may not know about yet but will see me talk about in the weeks to come.

Damascus also marks a big milestone, as it signifies you are one of the 50% of hikers that did not drop out. Yep, historically, half of the thruhikers each year quit before reaching Damascus. So it’s a great feeling to be on the right side of that average.

Lastly, Damascus is a very symbolic trail town to the Appalachian Trail community. It hosts the annual AT festival called “Trail Days” each year, where more than 20,000 hikers, vendors, locals and other patrons gather to celebrate this 2190 mile scenic walking path. That festival isn’t until mid-May, but many hikers come back to town for it, even if they are hundreds of miles away.

So for all those reasons, I am ecstatic to finally be here. In addition, it means I get a rest day. In planning my thruhike, this was meant to be my first Zero Day of the trip. In reality, this will now be my 4th, but I am happy for it nonetheless. I was overzealous in thinking I wouldn’t need one until now. Even still, the last few days had long miles and my feet could use a break.

They also need new shoes. I’ve worn through my first pair of trail runners, signified by the painful feel of every stone and root I stepped on the past few days. The tread is almost gone and the soles are worn thin. Luckily, for such a small town (814 people according to the 2010 census), there are 3 outfitters to sell boots to hikers. It’s a very common place to replace trail runner shoes like mine, as most only last 400-500 miles. I researched a bit today and picked out a new pair of Salomons very similar to my current pair. These, though, have a slightly stiffer sole, which I wish I had against this rocky/rooty trail earlier.

I started today’s 18 mile hike at 8am, arriving shortly after 3pm. It was a very flat and easy trail, as expected, so I took my time to enjoy it. Last night’s snow put a blanket of white over the world that was silent and untouched, and hiking through it in the sun today was refreshing and exhilarating. With each mile walked, the sun melted more and more of the snow, until it eventually was gone near the Virginia border. Such a great thing to experience.

Because of the easy terrain leading here, many people do a hiker challenge into town called the “Damascus Dash”. This constitutes them hiking 42 miles from the road crossing at Hampton to Damascus in one day. Which typically requires you to wake up long before dawn and hike until dusk. Even at 3 mph, that would take 14 hours to do. In my younger more vulnerable years … I may have considered it for the excitement of the challenge. But now? No thanks. I enjoyed my two day stretch instead. 🙂

Upon getting to town, I checked in at Crazy Larry’s Hostel. Larry is an older gentlemen that runs a great hostel in town and is well-adored by the AT community. He provides a bed, dinner and breakfast for $45, does your laundry, and has many hiker friendly amenities … including (as he calls it) a Smartass TV. I like Larry.

Legs and Ridge are also in town, but at different hostels. I saw one other couple wandering around that I know, but no one else. It is odd for there to be so few hikers here, but I’m currently in a weird void where few other hikers are on my same schedule. I know others will roll in tomorrow, like Jackelope, Ripple, and Leap Frog, but tonight it feels as quiet as the past few days on the trail.

I’m not sure what I’ll do tomorrow on my day off, but it will definitely include rest, relaxation, and lots of food.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start to Mile: 451.6
  • Start Time: 08:00
  • End Mile: 470.9
  • End Time: 15:05
  • Miles Hiked: 19.3
  • Miles to Go: 1720.0
  • Lodging: Crazy Larry’s Hostel

Day 38: Double Springs

Day 38. Just about the same time I posted last night’s blog, I began to regret my decision of passing up the hostel. The rain that started last night didn’t stop until midday … when it turned to snow. It would have been nice to have a dry bed so I didn’t have to carry wet and frozen gear all day, but oh well. That money saved will go towards tomorrow’s celebration in Damascus.

I honestly thought I left the snow in the Smokies but I was foolish to expect such a change in season so fast. Heck, back home in Minnesota they got something like 8 inches this week. It is actually quite beautiful to look out at though, now that I’m safe and warm in the shelter. And it honestly wasn’t too horrible to hike through either … but it comes with cold, and cold is tough to camp through.

I did best done personal bests today though. I recorded my earliest start (7:55) and my longest distance (23.9 miles), which are both due to the bad weather. I simply want to get to Damascus as fast as possible.

Legs and I started off together and hiked through the bear-frequented area quickly. It was only 5 hours of flat hiking around the lake so went quickly. I secretly hoped to see a bear of course, but didn’t spot even a sign. No scat, no scratched trees, no fur remnants. Nada. I also did not get to see much of the lake, as rain and fog covered much of it. Truly unfortunate, as it looked beautiful last night and would have had countless views from today’s hike.

Ridge eventually showed up at the shelter as well, and none of us were keen to set up a tent/hammock in this winter wonderland. So I am once again huddled in my bag on the shelter floor. It will make it easier to get up and go tomorrow I suppose, so that’s also good. Too cold to say more tonight though, peace out!

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait!)

  • Start to Mile: 427.7
  • Start Time: 07:55
  • End Mile: 451.6
  • End Time: 18:15
  • Miles Hiked: 23.9
  • Miles to Go: 1739.3
  • Lodging: Double Springs Shelter

Day 37: US 321 (Hampton)

Day 37. I thought yesterday’s waterfalls were impressive, but today’s put them both to shame. This morning provided a relatively flat hike along the river again, ending in grandiose fashion at the Laurel Fork Falls.

Describing the falls is difficult, as they were simply breathtaking to take in and rival any I’ve seen throughout the country. These falls, within the Pond Mountain Wilderness I traversed today, are an unrelenting rage of water, flowing incredulously fast down a gauntlet of rocky cliffs and chutes. A steep climb down about 1 mile of boulder scramble brought us to the falls that span 50 feet high by 50 wide. After a long break of lunch, and some rock climbing to get an epic view from the top as well, we reluctantly walked on. If it were warmer, there would have been some fantastic cliff jumping and swimming.

I hiked with Legs today, as well as a new friend met at the shelter named Ridge. My other hiking partner yesterday, Ripple, was slow getting out of bed and may have ended up taking a zero back at the shelter, as we never saw him today. So, it was just us 3 today instead.

The second half of the day was a long arduous 3 mile hike up and 3 mile hike down of an unnamed mountain. It steadily gained, then lost, 1500 feet of elevation so wasn’t too bad. We finished around 5pm which proved we very leisurely took our time throughout the day.

Part of that reason for our short day is because of what lies ahead. We stopped at the road intersection to Hampton, TN at the mouth of Watauga Lake. This marks the start of a 7 mile stretch where camping is forbidden since 2016. The black bear activity around this lake got so heavy in past years, they shut down the shelter and campsites on the lake perimeter to all hikers. The next legal camping spot is 5 miles beyond and the next shelter is 5 more after that. So instead of trekking through bear territory at night, we stopped.

There was another reward for the decision, besides patting ourselves on the back for good common sense. Boots Off Hostel is a few hundred feet from the trail here, and for $5 will take you into Hampton for fast food. So we did. We went straight to Subway and bought 2 footling subs each … one for now, one for lunch tomorrow.

You can obviously stay there too, but since we just stayed at a hostel 2 days ago, Legs and I agreed to camp at the campsite we passed just before the road intersection instead. This campsite was created due to the shelter closing, and required us to begrudgingly double back a couple hundred feet back up the trail.

I would have been very ok with this decision if it didn’t start raining as soon as we got here. I’d much rather a dry bed for the night, but I wasn’t about to run back down that hill again. Instead, I set up the tarp in the rain and hopped into my hammock for an early bedtime. The last 42 miles into Virginia are very easy, so I’m going to try to wake up early enough to go 24 miles tomorrow. Then it’s just an easy 18 more and a nice long Zero Day in Damascus to dry everything off and ease these weary feet.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait!)

  • Start to Mile: 413.2
  • Start Time: 09:10
  • End Mile: 427.7
  • End Time: 17:05
  • Miles Hiked: 14.5
  • Miles to Go: 1763.2
  • Lodging: Campsite above US 321

Day 36: Moreland Gap

Week 5 video recap is up! Lots of great photos in this section between Hot Springs and Roan Mountain, which I hiked primarily alone or with new friends.

Speaking of, I feel like this past week started a new chapter in my thruhike experience. I feel I have moved past the “wanting to hike with a big group” stage to “enjoying the solitude of hiking alone” stage. I’m not purposely leaving hiking buddies behind, but I’m really enjoying the stamina I’ve now built and the excitement I have to see as much of this trail as possible each day. I welcome others that want to join, but am ok moving forward alone as well.

I still like camping/lodging with others though, especially as we get into the more heavily populated bear area. It’s one thing to hike alone, another to sleep alone. There is comfort in numbers when sleeping in the woods and I still push to get to shelters in hopes of finding it.

But first … that breakfast! If any future hikers are reading this, make SURE Mountain Harbour is on your hostel list. And make SURE you get their optional breakfast. It is widely known as the “best breakfast in the AT” and they aren’t lying! Homemade biscuits and gravy, fresh fruit, pancakes, honey cake, and scrambled eggs WITH pierogis inside! If I sound excited, it’s because I’m still dreaming of that meal 18 miles later.

However, I also witnessed a first at the Mountain Harbour B&B. They overslept. Breakfast was supposed to be 8am, but the whole family overslept and didn’t get up until they heard us making noise in the living room. Oops. Not a big deal of course, just a slight delay to today’s hike. After 2 amazing helpings, I finally packed up to leave at 11am, dragging my feet as much as possible. And just as I was about to take off, a hiker strolled in … Leap Frog!

Since Erwin, she’s apparently only been a few miles behind me and decided to stay at the last campsite I almost camped at yesterday. She did the 3 miles down to the road this morning and decided to randomly check out the hostel down the road. We caught up quickly while she made lunch (ramen, per her usual) and then I headed out. I didn’t know exactly how far I’d go today but it was too nice out to sit around longer and plan it.

With the late start and all that food weighing down my gut, I thought maybe I’d stop at Mountaineer Shelter 9 miles away, or perhaps the random campsite at 14 miles. As usual I was wrong and hiked 18 before dark. It helped that most of the day was super flat, though, as the trail followed a river through the hillside. At one point we realized we were averaging 3 mph, which is crazy fast compared to my usual 2 or 2.5!

I spent the day trading places with Legs and Ripple, two hikers I haven’t really walked with but have camped with a few times. They are usually much faster than me but today we kept stride well along the flat meandering road.

Together, we enjoyed a few great moments and landmarks. For starters, two beautiful waterfalls highlighted the walk today, which are the first I’ve seen out here (remember, I skipped the stairs to amicalola falls on the approach trail). The larger of the two, Jones Falls, was at least 50ft high and very scenic as the water continued its course downward on a long rocky slope. Just beautiful, check out the photo below.

There was also a creepy cemetery we hiked by, that big gorgeous river, and a giant tree that Legs felt just had to be climbed. And he did, 30 ft up in the air. See if you can spot him below.

Today feels like a primer of what’s to come in Virginia, where everyone is talking up 25-30 mile days. I normally wouldn’t think that possible … but if I started at 8 today, that easily could have happened. This trail is just crazy like that sometimes!

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait!)

  • Start to Mile: 394.8
  • Start Time: 11:10
  • End Mile: 413.2
  • End Time: 19:20
  • Miles Hiked: 18.4
  • Miles to Go: 1777.7
  • Lodging: Moreland Gap Shelter

Day 36: Moreland Gap

Week 5 video recap is up! Lots of great photos in this section between Hot Springs and Roan Mountain, which I hiked primarily alone or with new friends.

Speaking of, I feel like this past week started a new chapter in my thruhike experience. I feel I have moved past the “wanting to hike with a big group” stage to “enjoying the solitude of hiking alone” stage. I’m not purposely leaving hiking buddies behind, but I’m really enjoying the stamina I’ve now built and the excitement I have to see as much of this trail as possible each day. I welcome others that want to join, but am ok moving forward alone as well.

I still like camping/lodging with others though, especially as we get into the more heavily populated bear area. It’s one thing to hike alone, another to sleep alone. There is comfort in numbers when sleeping in the woods and I still push to get to shelters in hopes of finding it.

But first … that breakfast! If any future hikers are reading this, make SURE Mountain Harbour is on your hostel list. And make SURE you get their optional breakfast. It is widely known as the “best breakfast in the AT” and they aren’t lying! Homemade biscuits and gravy, fresh fruit, pancakes, honey cake, and scrambled eggs WITH pierogis inside! If I sound excited, it’s because I’m still dreaming of that meal 18 miles later.

However, I also witnessed a first at the Mountain Harbour B&B. They overslept. Breakfast was supposed to be 8am, but the whole family overslept and didn’t get up until they heard us making noise in the living room. Oops. Not a big deal of course, just a slight delay to today’s hike. After 2 amazing helpings, I finally packed up to leave at 11am, dragging my feet as much as possible. And just as I was about to take off a hiker strolled in … Leap Frog!

Since Erwin, she’s apparently only been a few miles behind me and decided to stay at the last campsite I almost camped at yesterday. She did the 3 miles down to the road this morning and decided to randomly check out the hostel down the road. We caught up quickly while she made lunch (ramen, per her usual) and then I headed out. I didn’t know exactly how far I’d go today but it was too nice out to sit around longer and plan it out.

With the late start and all that food weighing down my gut, I though maybe I’d stop at Mountaineer Shelter 9 miles away, or perhaps the random campsite at 14 miles. As usual I was wrong and hiked 18 before dark. It helped that most of the day was super flat, though, as the trail followed a river through the hillside. At one point we realized we were averaging 3 mph, which is crazy fast compared to my usual 2 or 2.5!

I spent the day trading places with Legs and Ripple, two hikers I haven’t really walked with but have camped with a few times. They are usually much faster than me but today we kept stride well along the flat meandering trail.

Together we enjoyed a few great moments and landmarks together. For starters, two beautiful waterfalls highlighted the walk today, which are the first I’ve seen out here (remember, I skipped the stairs to amicalola falls on the approach trail). The larger of the two, Jones Falls, was at least 50ft high and very scenic as the water continued its course downward on a long rocky slope. Just beautiful, check out the photo below.

There was also creepy cemetery we hiked by, that big gorgeous river, and a giant tree that Legs felt just had to be climbed. And he did, at least 30!ft up in the air. See if you can spot him below.

Today feels like a primer of what’s to come in Virginia, where everyone is talking up 25-30 mile days. I normally wouldn’t think that possible … but if started at 8 today, that easily could have happened. This trail is just crazy like that sometimes!

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait!)

  • Start to Mile: 394.8
  • Start Time: 11:10
  • End Mile: 413.2
  • End Time: 19:20
  • Miles Hiked: 18.4
  • Miles to Go: 1777.7
  • Lodging: Moreland Gap Shelter