Miles Hiked: 0
Miles Left: 1357.3
Ending Location: Mile 828.0, VA 56 road crossing, Quality Inn, Waynesboro VA
I had talked with Owl the other day about slack packing the next 30 miles of the trail. My problem was I didn’t want to skip any sections of the AT. While aqua blazing officially counts for the section it runs along, I still had to make it to the jump off location if I wanted to keep my through hike honest. Everyone was waiting in town for the water level in the river to go down, the recent rains had made it too dangerous, which gave me about two days to hike those 30 miles. 30 miles in two days while slack packing is totally doable … unless you are getting over being sick. Realizing that it would be nuts to hike today given how I was feeling I opted to take a zero day instead. This left me with a very difficult decision though. I had to choose if I wanted to skip a section or skip aqua blazing with my friends.
In the end I decided to give up on canoeing and hike the Shenandoahs instead. This wasn’t an easy decision and it was made harder when I went to Walmart with everyone and got to see how much fun they were having getting ready for their adventure. Still looking back on it, I totally made the right decision.
Not much more to say about today. I did laundry and grabbed a very salty burger at the Green Leaf, (I probably should have sent it back to the kitchen but I hate doing that). Mostly I just slept a lot which is what I rally needed.
Miles Hiked: 4.8
Miles Left: 1357.3
Ending Location: Mile 828.0, VA 56 road crossing, Quality Inn, Waynesboro VA
That morning my fever had broken and I was able to eat some solid food for the first time in 24 hours. Feeling better, Owl arranged to rent a car from Enterprise and have them pick us up at the trail head. With their free pickup and drop off policy, Enterprise is often jokingly referred to as the Enterprise taxi service by hikers as it often can be cheaper to rent a car for the day than hire a shuttle. After that it was just a matter if hiking the remaining four miles to the road which still wasn’t all that much fun. What I really wanted was a bath, air conditioning and a bed.
It took our driver quite a while to find us. I’m not giving him a hard time. I’m actually still surprised we were able to say “pick us up on some random stretch of country road and here’s a gps location if that’ll help” and actually have someone show up. The driver was a retired cop who had some good stories and I’m pretty sure annoys the daylights out of everyone else at the office. He made several comments such as, “Well that’s what happens when you let 25 year olds run the place…” On the plus side, he told the manager he used the tip Owl gave him to buy gas so we had that taken off our bill.
Checking in to the hotel, even though it was 4:30 our rooms were still not clean and ready for us. I was not amused as I wanted that shower now! The rooms were cleaned though so soon enough so was I. After that it was nap time. Later that night a bunch of people went out to the AYCE Chinese buffet. Backing up a bit, several of our old friends had been waiting in Waynesboro for us so that we all could rent canoes and go aqua blazing along the Shenandoah river together. A lot of them like Youngbeard, Sunshine, and Vegimite I hadn’t seen since we had gotten off the trail for a week when Owl had his intestinal difficulties so I really wanted to hang out with them. At the same time I was ravenously hungry. All I had eaten in the last 48 hours was two energy bars and just because I was sick didn’t mean my metabolism had been put on hold. So that’s a longer way of saying that even though in retrospect it sounds like a really dumb idea, I went out to Chinese along with everyone else. It was actually a very enjoyable evening and I had a great time, but at the end of it I was feeling very tired and declined to go out for drinks afterwards.
Then it was back to my room and back to bed … for at least a couple of hours anyways. I won’t be too graphic but I awoke that night to a demonstration of what happens when you attempt to shove five pounds of Chinese food into twenty feet of empty tubing. It was a very uncomfortable experience but I made it through it without blowing out my gut so I count that a success.
Miles Hiked: 6.6
Miles Left: 1362.1
Ending Location: The Priest Sheltet, Mile 823.2
I woke up this morning with a bad stomach bug. It was really disheartening since I had been feeling so good the night before. My insides were iffy but after taking some medicine it solidified enough for Owl and I to start hiking to the next shelter. The idea was we’d then be closer to the road if I needed to get into town. We made progress but I was very unsteady on my feet and I had to take several breaks. We also bypassed the side trail to Spy Rock. It was a little annoying when all the other hikers walked past us talking about how awesome it was, but I was not in the mindset to appreciate scenic views.
When we finally made it to camp I was completely spent. There was no way I was going to be able to continue on to the road so I set up my tent and crashed for the day. By that point my main problem wasn’t intestinal distress but a bad fever that pretty much knocked me out. I briefly considered taking ibuprofen to tone the fever down, but I wanted it to do its thing and kill whatever was infecting my gut. So that was pretty much my day, lying in my tent feeling sick. One strange thing though. That night a couple hikers broke out banjos and fiddles and started playing. Owl backs me up on the fact that it really happened and wasn’t me hallucinating, but I’ve now heard banjo music in the south. They were pretty good too!
Miles Hiked: 18.3
Miles Left: 1368.7
Ending Location: Seeley Woodworth Shelter, Mile: 816.6
The river had gone down over the night but there was still no dry path across it. While Owl and I were debating what to do another hiker came by, took off his shoes, and then waded right across it. Oh right, it’s water and not lava! After realizing that fact crossing the river wasn’t a problem.
Right before the big climb of the day we came across some amazing trail magic. It was being given out by Uncle Buc who had attempted to hike the AT this year but dropped out after the Smokies. He had driven nearly two hours to give hikers soda, food, and offer them rides into town. It was kind of funny since everyone’s initial reaction was to just grab fruit, but by the end of it they were like, “Yeah I’ll have a second bag of chips and another Mountain Dew!” Apparently he had driven a couple hikers to the grocery store to resupply and one of them had left their Mentos in the truck so I volunteered to try and catch up and return them. I figured even if I didn’t catch them, free Mentos for me.
So with our bellies full Owl and I headed up Cold Mountain. It was a bit of a climb with about three thousand feet of elevation gained. Despite that I was feeling great and made speedy progress up the mountain. The top of it was a bald which I wasn’t expecting and offered some of the best views since Roan mountain. The downside was there was about a million boy scouts and weekend campers about. Due to the crowds there was no temptation whatsoever to stop early at one of the many campgrounds along the way. When I finally arrived at the shelter I felt like I could do another ten miles. Sky’s friend was there and I found out he was the hiker with the Mentos so I handed them back and he shared them with everyone. I can’t remember his name but he was just hiking a section of the trail. You could tell he wasn’t a through hiker since he managed to start a fire, cooked campfire nachos for dinner, and had brought a seat to sit in. No through hiker would be that competent. We really are the worst at everything ;p
Miles Hiked: 17.5
Miles Left: 1386.0
Ending Location: Mile 798.3, Camping by the stream
Today started with the standard town question, “How do we get back to the trail?!” Some of the other hikers mentioned there was a list of trail angels in the pizza shack so we could grab an early lunch and then call somebody on that list for a ride. Owl and I opted to try our hands, (or thumbs), at hitchhiking though since if we sat down for lunch we might never escape Glasgow. Hiking is all about momentum. It’s always easier to stay where you are and even when you are moving there are a million sources of friction. I think 90% of the challenge of the AT is just getting that starting momentum going.
Our initial attempts at catching a ride from town were laughably unsuccessful. Luckily, following the advice of one of the locals we walked to the highway and someone pulled over not long afterwards. We talked with him for a bit on the way to the trailhead and the comment that stood out in my mind the most was he mentioned, “You know you boys smell something awful, right?!” We said we did, but for those reading at home, this was after we had showered and done laundry. I think it’ll be a bit before I can reintegrate with polite society when I finish the trail….
Any thoughts of jumping off the footbridge were promptly dashed when glancing at the river. It was brown with mud and debris. It certainly had no problems with momentum! Anyone jumping in that would not make it to shore. So Owl and I instead started our hike for the day. The same god that makes it rain after you wash your car must also take delight in making the trail a muddy mess the day after you get your non-waterproof hiking shoes. As we gained elevation the trail dried out though and it turned into a fairly decent day.
We stopped by Punchbowl shelter briefly to check in. Supposedly the shelter is haunted but the only weirdness was a birdnest in the rafters filled with chicks. The downside was that the shelter itself was covered in bird poop but that’s nature. There was a group of adults taking at risk youth into the woods who were camping there too. The chaperones looked like they really needed a drink but the kids were having a blast. After leaving the shelter the following trail was supposed to be flat and scenic but in what I’ve come to expect from the trail maintainers they rerouted it over another mountain with no view. At this point it had gotten dark and Owl and I were hiking by headlamp. We hadn’t been planning on night hiking but the campsite we were expecting was nowhere to be found and in fact there were “No Camping” signs everywhere. Eventually we hit a river crossing but the water had risen high enough that there was no dry path across it. Not wanting to chance it, we instead set up our tents right by the river and called it a night.
There was a birds nest in the shelter. This made it very difficult for hikers to sleep there but … baby birds are so cute!!
It’s cool when you can see where you came from. The bridge in the distance is where we started in the morning.
The water level was a bit high after the storm yesterday
Miles Hiked: 0
Miles Left: 1404.5
Ending Location: Mile 780.8, Town shelter in Glasgow VA
The day started with the fire chief stopping by the shelter and telling us if any tornados developed that we were welcome to take cover in the fire house. The weather report was bad but after that we all decided a zero day was in order. The only problem, what’s there to do in Glasgow?
Well first, let me back up. The night before had been rough. Two of the people staying in the shelter had become violently ill to the point where they were puking off the bunk beds. As someone who had been trying to avoid getting sick, you just had to fatalistically accept the Noro train was coming and had no breaks at that point. That morning we moved our stuff and a local trail runner was dousing everything in bleach but riding out the rainstorm in the shelter had very limited appeal.
So we needed a place which hopefully wouldn’t kick a bunch of smelly hikers out after a couple hours and preferably had bathrooms and power. Public libraries to the rescue! Plus there were books there!
We stayed there from opening to closing and the library staff was very understanding and patient with us. It actually was one of the most enjoyable pure zero days I’ve had as I was able to update my journal, recharge my phone, read, and just relax. Still, I felt guilty being so grubby and more excited about the flush toilets than the recommended reading list.
Dinner was once again at the pizza place where I had an excellent calzone. The field where the shelter was had turned into a swamp which ruled out camping so I crawled into my bunk for the night and used lots of hand sanitizer.
My favorite part is that the cover story was “How to Walk off 10 Pounds”
Miles Hiked: 13.2
Miles Left: 1404.5
Ending Location: Mile 780.8, Town shelter in Glasgow VA
Today was one of the rare days where I was on the trail before 7am. I’ll admit part of it was that I wanted to get packed up before tourists started using the overlook, but watching the sun rise also had it’s motivating effects. That was good since if I was going to avoid hitchhiking I had to be at the parking lot before 3pm since Owl needed to return the rental car.
The weather was overcast and some fog rolled in later which was a welcome relief from the heat. Also with the exception of Highcock knob, (I swear I’m not making these names up), the trail was very well maintained so I made great time. I ended up hiking with Finn for a bit until he finally outpaced me. I hadn’t had many opportunities to hang out with him before and it was fascinating hearing his stories since this was his third through hike attempt. At one point we ran into a ginourmous black snake and Finn decided to play with it. It wasn’t venomous but the snake ended up pooping all over Finn. Lesson learned.
I stopped by Matt’s creek shelter for lunch. It was a good creek so I approve of the name. Then it was on to the James river where the trail was almost perfectly flat. After all the hills I almost didn’t know what to make of level ground. The James River footbridge to the parking lot was the last part of the trail for the day. It also was the largest pedestrian only footbridge on the AT. That really isn’t that impressive but all the guidebooks make a big deal out of it so I thought I should mention that fact. In the parking lot there was trail magic left by friends of Jay Hawk so I was able to rest in style. There were only two Krispy Cream donuts left though so I was very happy when two other hikers showed up to eat the second one. It had been torturing me as I didn’t want to be “that guy” who ate all the donuts. The two hikers were soaked since they had just jumped off the bridge and swum to shore. Apparently that’s an AT challenge. I’ll admit I was pretty lame since I didn’t go back and do that too. It takes a bit to psych myself up for doing something crazy. If they had told me about the challenge in the morning I probably would have jumped off that bridge but sitting in that parking lot with my belly full it just didn’t seem fun. As I said, lame.
While we were sitting there a couple of Hondurans who had been fishing came up and asked us what we were doing. Their English wasn’t that good and neither was our Spanish but we managed to convey the basic idea that we were walking from Georgia to Maine. They thought that was hilarious! They couldn’t imagine anyone doing such a stupid thing. One of the guys even borrowed my hiking poles and pantomimed hiking around the parking lot accompanied by funny facial expressions. I had a good laugh too but it really struck me how ridiculous what we’re doing is.
Around four Owl came screeching into the parking lot and yelled for me to get in. Besides me and him, Wiki and Lorax were in the car and then the two other hikers joined us so it was *packed*. We then drove to Glasgow and Owl kicked us out of the car in front of the Post Office before he raced back to the car rental place. I had gotten a care package from home with my old hiking shoes in it. My current boots were falling apart so that was a most welcome change. I’m going with a used pair of shoes for now since they are already worn in, and more importantly I figure anything I wear on the rocks in Pennsylvania are going to get trashed so I’ll save new shoes for after that.
Then it was time for a shower, laundry, and food, in that order. The town of Glasgow had built a free hiker shelter in the park which was really neat and helps since the town didn’t have a hotel. Unfortunately they were still in the process of running electricity to it so there was no hot water. Despite that after a couple of days of sweating constantly that cold shower felt good. Dinner was at Scotto’s Pizza. The food was excellent which was fortunate since it was the only restaurant in town. They sat all the hikers in a back room which worked out really well as we were all able to swap stories without grossing out the other customers with our lack of personal hygiene and freakish appetites. After that it was a short walk back to the shelter where bunk beds had been set up for us to sleep in.
Miles Hiked: 15.4
Miles Left: 1417.7
Ending Location: Mile 767.6, Thunder Mountain Overlook
This morning we learned the downside of camping by a river in a valley as a fog had rolled down the mountain. Our tents were no defense against it and we awoke to a general dampness that soaked through all our clothing. Despite that things were warming up, (it was supposed to hit the mid 90’s in the afternoon), so we quickly dried off. Any thoughts of swimming in the river were short lived though when we saw a snake swimming in it. I’m getting better with snakes but still they freak me out enough that I wanted no part of that.
Wiki was having serious shoe issues, as in his new shoes were turning his feet into hamburger, so Owl volunteered to go into town and rent a car so that they could stop by an outfitter. Wiki couldn’t do that on his own as A) He didn’t have an American driver’s license, and B) Was only 19 so no car rental place would serve him. I on the other hand would continue hiking and then meet them in Glassgow in two days.
Today was all up with a quick hop over Fork mountain followed by a 3k elevation climb up Apple Orchard Mountain. Well I guess that means there was some down, but I don’t remember it 🙂 Around noon I took refuge in Bryant Ridge shelter, which was a good shelter to do so in as it had three levels and was fairly new. More to the point it was well ventilated which helped make the heat bearable. I stayed there for about three hours as the last thing I wanted to do was climb a mountain in 90+ degree heat. As I was laying there I thought I saw a mouse tail wriggling in the rafters until I realized it was another snake. It didn’t drop on me so we were cool with each other.
Unable to put it off any longer I started to climb Apple Orchard around 3pm. Any other day it wouldn’t have been so rough but it that heat it was miserable. Part way up I stopped to text with Owl and he said he knew it was bad since he had never seen me use so much profanity before. That being said I made progress and stopped by Cornellius Creek Shelter around six to read the shelter log and refill my water. It was filled with hikers who had originally planned on making it to the next shelter but had been battered by the heat and the climb so were calling it a day. I was *very* tempted to join them but I was on a timeline if I was going to meet Owl so I continued on.
As dusk was setting I switched on my headlamp and was making good time on the trail until some ancient threat avoidance section of my brain flickered on and I found myself jumping back. It took me a second to realize that a big snake was laying across the trail. It took me a bit longer to see the rattle on the end of its tail and identify it as a timber rattler. Very glad I did not step on that dude. I backed further up and proceeded to thump the ground to get it to move. No way I was tossing anything at it or poking it with my poles! Eventually it lazily slithered off the trail and after it had gone a safe distance I passed it by. At that point I had more than enough snake encounters for the day.
Having wasted enough time at this point I was hiking fully in the dark. It was fun though and I stopped on top of Apple Orchard mountain for about 30 minutes to look at the stars and watch a thunderstorm way off in the distance. By the time I reached Thunder Hill Shelter it was quite late but everyone was still awake as they were celebrating Oh Canada’s birthday. I stayed around a bit and cooked my dinner but there wasn’t good tenting and the weather was cooling off so I decided to continue on hiking. About a mile and a half later I came upon Thunder Hill overlook and figured that would be an amazing camping spot. Of course here I was camping in my orange tent, on a popular overlook right off the Blue Ridge parkway, where the legality of my camp site selection might be questioned, so that was a bit of a stealth camping fail. But it was right off the trail and there weren’t any no camping signs so I figured I could claim ignorance with a straight face if a ranger questioned me. Plus the view was awesome so I had a great rest of the night.
Miles Hiked: 17
Miles Left: 1433.1
Ending Location: Mile 752.2, Swimming hole and campsites along Jennings creek
I was excited this morning. The section of the trail we would be hiking crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway, (BRP), multiple times and it was the weekend. I expected it to be like Christmas with all the trail magic we’d receive. I guess then that was the trail’s way of teaching me that what makes something magic is it’s surprise and unexpectedness as no trail magic was had today. We did see tons of tourists driving the parkway though. It was kind of funny since most of them were busy snapping pictures of the AT signs adorning the overlook when there were real life AT hikers lounging only twenty feet away. One couple did notice us and as they were driving away shouted out the window, “We will tell your stories back in Germany”, so I guess there’s that… Actually the way they phrased it makes me smile. They aren’t telling stories of us, they are telling *our* stories. I guess I did get trail magic after all.
For the next two hundred miles or so the AT roughly follows the Blue Ridge Parkway which turns into Skyline Drive in the Shenandoahs. This isn’t a coincidence as the trail used to run where those roads went and was rerouted after they were built. There’s still a lot of hikers mad about that as the new path the trail takes isn’t nearly as scenic. In fact, all the views today occurred on parts of the parkway that we briefly crossed. To that end, I’d say a good 2/3rds of the hikers opted to walk along the road vs the actual AT. They called it keeping it old school, and it was hard to argue with them since the road was flat and had spectacular scenery while the AT dipped into valleys and climbed back up tree covered mountains for seemingly no reason at all. I knew I’d regret it later if I took a short cut so I can tell you all about those pointless ups and downs made worse by all the fun everyone else was having going the other route. If I ever find myself back in this area later I’m going to leave trail magic on the AT sections that most people skipped.
Despite my complaining it was actually a good day hiking today. The weather was sunny and not super hot. Owl and I still took a siesta at Bobblets Gap Shelter which was much appreciated. Near the end of the day we stopped by Cove Mountain shelter, but with no water source there we were not temped to stay. Instead we made excellent time down the mountain and camped with a bunch of other hikers by a river. It was a really neat camping spot and the ability to wash the sweat and grime off myself before bed was wonderful.
Miles Hiked: 12.2
Miles Left: 1450.1
Ending Location: Wilson Creek Shelter, Mile 735.2
I had been pleasantly surprised at how good of a trail town Daleville turned out to be. It was time to say goodbye though and Owl and I started making our way north early that morning, (ok around 10). The first section of the trail looped around I-81 and was kind of interesting as it was a mowed path through an impenetrable thicket of bushes and brambles. By interesting I mean it kept the heat in while providing no shade from the sun. Luckily we soon reentered the forest proper and things cooled off a bit.
While walking through the forest we almost stepped on a green snake. It took a bit for both of us to recognize it for what it was since it looked like some sort of sapling tree limb. After thumping the ground a bit it took off but not by slithering through the underbrush like we expected but instead by gliding up a bush as if to get a better vantage point to spring on us. It’s a new threat vector every day….
We stopped for an afternoon siesta at Fulhardt Knob shelter. The name of this shelter led itself to all sorts of immature jokes due to our association with the Australians. You see, unless it’s preceded by the word “door”, “knob” really only has one meaning for them. I’m sure you can figure it out and why the shelter’s name was hilarious. All joking aside, I’ve been finding these siestas vital as the hours between noon and three can be brutal to hike in. It’s much more enjoyable to take a nap and hike later into the evening instead.
The rest of the day passed without much of note. The camping locations at Wilson Creek shelter were superb even if the water source was not, (weird given the name, right?). I meant to update my journal but after laying down in my tent I promptly fell asleep instead. And so went another day on the AT.