Miles Hiked: 9.1
Miles Left: 1628.7
Ending Location: Chestnut Knob Shelter
Today was the first time on the trail where I had to deal with drenching rain. That’s a bit of an accomplishment for someone at around the two month mark, but I’ve been very lucky with the weather so far. The day started out dry as I left the shelter but the weather reports forecasted storms so I was prepared when it started drizzling. The rain started and stopped throughout the morning which meant I spent a good amount of time putting on and taking off my rain gear. I didn’t want to leave it on since the weather was warm and there was a lot of up. To put it another way, it was a balancing act of deciding if the rain would soak me more than my sweat. Gross, I know. I was in this position when it once again started raining around 10:30. I went from damp to soaked before I could even get my pack off to grab my jacket. Luckily with the heat and the exercise I wasn’t cold but after that I didn’t bother with rain gear at all.
After that point the rain did not let up and more disturbing, thunder started to rumble in the distance. To sum things up, I was climbing a mountain, far from civilization, by myself, soaked to the bone, in the middle of a thunderstorm. My mom would have been very unhappy with me!
Side Note: Hi Mom!
I did run into a couple other hikers in similar circumstances. Happy and I ended up having to shout at each other to make ourselves heard over the storm when she was asking if I had seen her friend Alaska further down the trail, (Alaska had stopped to eat a soggy lunch). Most of the time though I was by myself which was a bit scary and exhilarating at the same time. I didn’t use the strap for my hiking poles so I could throw them away from me at a moment’s notice and spent much of the time counting the seconds between the lightning flashes and thunder booms. It was also a new experience since I couldn’t check the gps on my phone to see where I was at or take pictures since everything was so wet the touch interface would not work. Near the top of the mountain the terrain opened up into pastures and balds. Standing in the treeline, looking out at the fields I would need to cross on top of a mountain in the middle of a thunderstorm, I went “Nope” and just chilled for a while waiting for it to pass.
I hiked the last bit of the mountain with Happy and Alaska who by then had caught up to me. We ended the day at Chestnut Knob shelter which was the best shelter possible to ride out the storm in since it was a converted fire warden’s cabin so it had four walls and a door just like a real house. It was packed with other hikers in similar circumstances as us but became steadily less full throughout the day as the rain would briefly pause and a group of people would venture out. The allure of making more miles was strong, especially since I was still trying to catch up with Owl, but seeing other hikers head out only to have the skies open up on them tempered my enthusiasm. The best decision I made was to take out my sleeping bag, climb into it, and then change out of my wet clothes. At that point since I had stopped moving I had been getting quite chilled so I greatly appreciated the fact that I still hadn’t switched out my winter bag for a summer one and I still had my full winter jacket. Eventually around five I gave up whatever fantasy I had of heading out that day and settled in for the night. It want ideal since that meant Owl was now two days ahead of me but trying to push those miles would not have been a fun experience.
Knot Maul Shelter which is the one I started out the day at
Miles Hiked: 13.9
Miles Left: 1628.7
Ending Location: Knot Maul Branch Shelter
Well since I was already in town I of course had to stop by The Barn for an omelette. Once on the trail I ran into some trail magic two miles in which consisted of a several Gatorade bottles. Basically my morning was awesome. Side note, this was the first non~soda trail magic and it was greatly appreciated.
The last couple of miles of the day winded through private property. There were some great views over farmland which was very relaxing. Things got weird though when I came across a herd of cattle following the trail. It was on a cliff so I couldn’t pass them easily so I had to wait for them to mosey on. For those keeping tally, I’ve now been closer to being gored by a bull then mauled by a bear. During the last hill climb I was joined by Screaming Steven and we passed the time talking about encryption schemes which was a fun reminder of my day job. It surprises me how many computer science and engineering people are on the trail. I guess there’s something in common between working with machines and long distance hiking that attracts the same types of individuals.
Arriving at the shelter there weren’t any good camping spots but I made do since the shelter itself was rapidly filling up. I seem to be in the middle of a group of hikers that are all averaging about 25 miles a day but don’t carry tents. I’m sure they will blow by me shortly and things will get back to normal.
Miles Hiked: 11.6
Miles Left: 542.7
Ending Location: US 81, Atkins VA, Rest Inn
Another plus about staying at Partnership shelter was that it was right next to the Mount Rodgers recreation center so in the morning there were heated bathrooms and outlets to plug your phone in, almost like real civilization! The sky had cleared up so it was great hiking weather and while there weren’t many views it was an interesting day. Back in college I had driven along I-81 looking up at those mountains more times than I could count so it was fun to be on the other side of that looking down.
I came across some crazy trail magic at a old schoolhouse museum where I met a couple restocking a hiker box with soda and fruit. They also had another box full of all the miscellaneous knick knacks hikers need like toothpaste and baby wipes. It turns out the husband’s great grandfather was the teacher there and their son had through hiked the AT last year. I congratulated him on continuing his family tradition of making delinquents like us AT hikers enjoy going to school.
Near the end of the day it was slow going. I ended up stopping at a railroad crossing while a train very slowly made its way along it, (hobo opportunity), and then took several stops afterwards to just enjoy the scenery. Also walking through Atkins I of course had to stop by “The Barn” restaurant for a burger. It was filling but considering all the good food I’ve been eating lately I have to say it wasn’t anything special. It’s kind of funny but I’ve actually managed to put a couple of pounds back on over the last week which was good.
I was still chasing Owl so after eating I headed back to the trail to put on a couple more miles but it was getting dark. Hiking through the forest at night hasn’t been a problem in the past since the trail really stands out, (it’s the part without any trees), but this section went through pastures which was problematic. Also I wanted to call my girlfriend and AT&T’s cell signal only extends about three feet from I-81 so after realizing continuing on was stupid I turned around and backtracked for about a mile and stayed at the Rest Inn. Normally I’d make a joke now about how I was roughing it but there were more bugs in that hotel than my tent. Also when I turned on the shower the toilet bubbled… All in all, I’d have to give that hotel a poor Yelp rating. But I was dry and full so I can’t complain too much.
Miles Hiked: 10.6
Miles Left: 1654.2
Ending Location: Partnership shelter
Today was a slow day. I slept in later than normal since, hey I didn’t make it in to camp till around midnight so I deserved it! Thunderstorms were predicted for later in the afternoon but I decided to hit the trail anyways and to stay aware of my surroundings in case the weather did turn nasty. The worst I had to deal with though was a constant misting of rain that would periodically turn into a light drizzle for a couple of minutes at a time. Still it was damp and hot so I was dragging. About three miles out I ran into a big contingent of hikers from the night before who were fed up with the rain and had made camp. They had a big bonfire going and it was tempting to join them but Partnership shelter was renowned for the fact that you can have pizza delivered and it had a shower. Those are great incentives to keep hiking!
Partnership shelter turned out to be pretty nice with a huge top section where several hikers had set up overlapping hammocks. Let me tell you, it was hilarious when in the middle of the night one of the guys on top tried to get out and ended up accidentally flipping his friend. Oh and the pizza…. Everyone ordered their own pie so we gorged ourselves on pepperoni slices all night long. The only downside was that the shower wasn’t open yet and you were not allowed to tent. All in all it was a good day which goes to show that pizza and a warm place to sleep can make just about any day good.
I was much more happy in this picture compared to a couple minutes later when I realized that all the food was gone
Miles Hiked: 12.5
Miles Left: 1664.8
Ending Location: Trimpi Shelter
First things first: Owl is feeling much better! After his symptoms persisted he stopped by an urgent care center where he was diagnosed with Giardia. They started him on a cocktail of drugs so now he just has to eat more and is banned from drinking alcohol for a while since that apparently reacts poorly with his medication. Both of us are perplexed how he got it considering with the two week incubation period we were double treating all our water when he was infected. I guess that’s just a hazard of living in the woods. Owl is now using an UV water purifier to make sure he kills all the nastiness. I considered it as well, but in the end I just bought a new filter for my pump.
Time really flew by in Blacksburg. That was doubly true once my girlfriend and Owl’s wife arrived. We reluctantly said goodby to them on Monday and headed back to the trail. Owl volunteered to drop me off at the trailhead where we originally hitched a ride and then return the rental car. The plan then was to meet up at Partnership shelter in two days time.
The weather couldn’t have been better and it was interesting hiking up Hurricane Mountain for the second time since it was fun trying to spot some of the half remembered landmarks such as the tree covered in Christmas ornaments. I stopped by the shelter to check the logbook and ended up stopping to chat with a couple new hikers I haven’t met before. Well I guess I’m the new hiker since after a week off the trail I’m in a completely different bubble.
Wanting to do more than four miles I pushed on to the next shelter. I briefly considered camping since there was no way I was going to make it before it turned dark but I decided to try night hiking again. Like last time it turned out to be a lot of fun. My favorite moment was stopping for dinner and reading my kindle under the stars. I also ended up chasing a rabbit down the trail for quite a ways as it would keep pace hopping ahead of me. Maybe it thought the coyotes would eat me first…
Arriving at the shelter I found it absolutely packed. Not only was the shelter full but there were tents everywhere. I later discovered that a bunch of people stayed in town for Easter weekend so several bubbles had merged. I ended setting up my tent a short ways away from the shelter, (luckily there were tons of good camping spots), and promptly fell asleep.
Miles Hiked: 0
Miles Left: 1677.2
Ending Location: VA 603 Road Crossing, Comfort Inn in Atkins VA
Just a quick update. As I said in the previous post Owl is feeling much better and I’m still healthy. We’ve now been officially hiking for two months so I felt that was worth a journal entry! As for today, the most exciting thing was I hiked a half mile to the dollar general ;p Tomorrow we’re picking up a rental car and are relocating to Blacksburg so that’ll be fun. Mostly though I’m just excited I’ll be seeing my girlfriend in a couple of days. We have a lot to catch up on, especially since she just got a new job, (since she’s awesome)!
So that’s a longer way of saying, two months down, four to go, and I’ll start blogging again next week. In the meantime, I uploaded a bunch of pictures so enjoy!
Miles Hiked: -3.3
Miles Left: 1677.2
Ending Location: VA 603 Road Crossing, Comfort Inn in Atkins VA
Owl got very sick in the middle of the night. I won’t go into graphic detail but it involved both “ends” and he had a fever. I didn’t realize what was going on until that morning when he told me, so our priority then became how to get him off that mountain and into a hotel.
Owl popped a bunch of Imodium to stop everything up and we hiked back the way we came to the road crossing. While it was slow going, I’d like to point out that we still hiked faster than we did back in Georgia. Luckily Owl’s stomach held out for that and the shuttle ride into town. It must have been absolutely awful for him but we made it.
The Comfort Inn was nice and it was right by a truck stop so I could pick up a few things for Owl. We stayed in separate rooms since we have no idea how contagious what he has is. For hikers reading this blog, I’d recommend skipping Hurricane shelter just to be safe. Moving ahead to a day later, Owl is feeling much better and can eat real food again so it probably isn’t Norovirus but it isn’t good. He’s in high spirits but please send warm thoughts his way. His blog, brianhikeshome.com does have comments. Also I haven’t been pushing this but he’s participating in Hike for Mental Health which is a really good charity and if you donate you can leave comments as well….
Our plan right now is to take a week off the trail. In a weird way the timing was fortunate as we were already planning on taking Thursday- Monday off as my girlfriend and Owl’s wife are going to be meeting us in Blacksburg. This means Owl should be healthy for that but also has a long time to recuperate before hitting the trail.
So in conclusion we’re both doing as well as can be expected, and we’re both going to be finishing this hike, but we’ll be taking a break for a week. I’m not sure if I’ll update this journal or not since “Watched Netflix all day” doesn’t make for riveting reading but we should be on the trail again starting next Tuesday.
Side note, found this hat abandoned in a shelter. Thought it was Grease Spot’s so I’ve been carrying it and washed it in town. It’s not his so I might end up using it. #Styling #CoolStoryBro
Miles Hiked: 16.0
Miles Left: 1673.9
Ending Location: Hurricane Mountain Shelter
Well I started the morning out by hugging a wild pony so my day was basically awesome.
A pregnant mare had somehow figured out how to make it into the shelter area and was being very sweet with everyone. She did love licking the salt off people’s legs though so I was glad I had long pants on. She wasn’t the only pony I saw but she was the only one I petted as we passed through a herd of them later on. As for the hiking, we spent most of the day walking along the Grayson Highlands which had a very Colorado feel with exposed rock boulders and lots of plains. There was also a cool “cave” we passed through called Fatman’s Squeeze which was interesting to navigate with my pack on. Reading the history of the place, apparently it used to be a major cattle farming area before the forest service bought it up. Realizing that they couldn’t keep the balds tree free without grazing animals they decided to introduce ponies in the 1960s figuring that would keep vegetation down and attract tourists. They were right. I mean, who doesn’t like ponies?!
The other accomplishment today was Owl and I have now officially hiked over 500 miles of the AT! The milestone occurred just before Wise shelter so a bunch of other hikers and us stopped there for a bit to celebrate. The trail maintainers really need to put up a sign to mark mile 500 as that would make a great photo. Also, if you are doing the math, don’t worry that we’ve used 33% of our time to hike 25% of the trail. Our plan was always to start slow. Heck, we used to consider a 9 mile day a stretch. With 16 miles being the new “normal” for us we’re still on schedule to finish up in six months.
We ended the day at Hurricane shelter. There was no tent sites around it but Owl set his up right by the picnic table while I just crashed in the shelter itself. It was a brand new shelter built last year so it was nice but the mice haven’t wasted any time moving in. I had to chase a couple away from my food bag while I was having dinner and they were scurrying all over throughout the night.
Miles Hiked: 12.2
Miles Left: 1689.9
Ending Location: Thomas Knob Shelter
Today marked two accomplishments. We summated Mount Rodgers which was the highest point in Virginia. We also entered the Grayson Highlands which have wild ponies running through them. I won’t lie in the fact that the second part was the one that interested me the most. Every pasture we hiked through I was looking for a pony to hug. Little did I know that the ponies don’t show up till past Thomas Knob Shelter.
Despite that it was still a good day. We all had lunch at buzzard rock which was appropriately named as all sorts of hawks and vultures were using the updraft to soar into the sky. Nearby there was an amazing water source which we used to rinse some of the salt and grime off ourselves. I split off from Owl at the end of the day to take the side trail to the top of Mt Rodgers. There’s no view at the top, just a cool stump surrounded by pines, but I wanted to check that peak off my bucket list. I later arrived at the shelter to find it filled by Boy Scouts. They offered to make space but I decided to camp instead. Camping was interesting since there was the possibility that we might be woken up by horses. Despite that the only horse I saw was way off in the distance and with the exception if the rain and a fairly strong wind it was an uneventful night
Highest point in Virginia!
Miles Hiked: 6.4
Miles Left: 1702.1
Ending Location: Lost Mountain Shelter
Today was a lazy day. There’s no other way to put it. With me only having to hike six miles I slept in without guilt. Upon waking I found Batman who also had the same plan as me and had hiked out of town late to break away from the pull Damascus imparts on you. It’s really easy to get sucked into a town and waste a lot of time there.
The hike itself was fairly easy. The only annoying part was that the AT and the Creeper trail diverge a lot even though they both end up in the same place. While the Creeper trail is all one big gentle slope winding along a scenic river, the AT instead decides to make its way up and down every tree covered mountain instead. It’s tough to know that you’re walking more miles, harder miles, and less scenic miles than another trail that you just rode down the day before.
I arrived at camp early so after pitching my tent, filtering water, and getting settled in I took a rare afternoon nap. I was briefly woken up around four as Owl arrived and tried to pretend to be a bear, but then fell back asleep. Even after waking up for good I still lounged around till around seven updating my journal. Basically it was a very pleasant day. If I only could get away with hiking six miles every day! About the only other thing of note is the fact that grasshoppers look like giant spiders when you find them in your tent at night. That was not a fun fact to learn.
Not a spider, but it sure looked like one!