Day 51 (Monday, April 5th, 2021)
AT Miles: 19
Wapiti Shelter > Narrows Rd Parking Area (Angels Rest Hiker Haven)
637.2 Miles Down, 1555.9 To Go
Motivated by the promise of getting to Pearisburg today, we were up and at it by 6 am, getting ourselves together efficiently so that we were leaving camp by 7:35 am.
We had a rough uphill push to kickstart our day, and we thanked ourselves for not pushing further than we did last night when we were dead on our feet. We got up onto the ridgeline and encountered some rocky outcroppings. The views were pretty, but hazy for some reason. While we walked the ridgeline, we talked and dreamed together. It’s funny to think that this is exactly how Hiking for Hunger came into being- over the course of so many of our hikes and adventures, countless hours of being each other’s soundboards and creative collaborators. Something about being in the wild really gets the gears turning for us.
About seven or so miles into the day, we encountered a private firefighting team felling trees, possibly for a prescribed burn that the Forest Service would be conducting. We wound up waiting for a while as they were getting ready to take down a tree, jumping on the opportunity to grab some snacks and water and chat with the firefighter nearest to us to pass the time. Soon enough, the tree was down and we were given the all clear and proceeded.
A few miles further along, we arrived at the Doc Knob Shelter where we decided to sit down and enjoy some lunch. It turned out to be a really nice shelter, complete with a whole deck area in front of the shelter and lots of bench seating. We didn’t draw lunch out terribly long, setting ourselves a firm 30 minute limit. We were still determined to get to Pearisburg between 3:30 and 4:00 pm so that we’d have time to get a resupply, shower and do laundry, work on the blog, etc…
There were lots of fallen trees through this second half of the day. When we’d crane our necks and look up at the trees, it literally just looked like all of their small to medium sized branches had been wiped clean off. And the evidence was all on the trail we walked. As we stepped over, under, and around countless blow downs of varying sizes, we accepted that this was what it was going to be. We were also simultaneously grateful that we hadn’t been coming through this section when the storm had ripped through and caused all of this mess. We imagined branches hurdling through the air and violently crashing down to earth- quite the opposite of ideal hiking conditions.
A couple of people we had met heading southbound recommended that we stay at Angels Rest Hostel while in Pearisburg. We gave them a call to check their availability while we had service up on the ridge and secured a shuttle. We started hiking again, but then had to stop because BAM!’s shoes starting to go out and he needed to tape them up. Before he threw tape on them, we took pictures of the holes starting to form and the ones that were expanding. With that done, we kept pushing knowing that beautiful views were up ahead.
Angels Rest (a spot on the trail which the hostel is named after) offered great views of the surrounding mountains, the river, and Pearisburg in the valley below. After taking a few photos there, we began the treacherous downhill into Pearisburg. Our knees really felt it on that one! We made it down though, got picked up by Pan at the Narrows Rd parking area, and rode the short distance to Angels Rest Hiker Haven. On our way there, we asked Pan, who helps run the hostel, about the closure we’d heard about north of Pearisburg. He gave us some more details about why it was closed- the power lines that had been affected by an ice storm that had come through and all of the work being done to get that section of trail opened up again. He said that not only were there a lot of downed trees, but they were doing blast work to be able to pour new concrete for the power towers, and there were live wires on the ground near the trail in sections. A hiker who decided to disregard the closure apparently had to take a trip to the ICU because of electrocution via ground current- that’s what we were told, at least. Hearing all of this, we felt pretty certain that we’d be saving this section for later on when we could come back to it.
We got to Angels Rest and found Tenacious, Wicked, Viking Man, Not Yet, and Tall Son already there, and heard that Einstein, Honeybadger, and Batman were all making their way there, too. We were so excited that so many of our trail friends were going to be in one spot! After getting some showers, getting some laundry started, and feeling so fresh and so clean clean in our funny loaner clothes, we were ready to put down some food. We went to the Mexican restaurant for dinner with Wicked, Viking Man, Tall Son, Not Yet, and Tenacious and ate so much food. Between the mismatched loaner clothes we were all wearing and our ravenous appetites, I’m sure our waiter had us pegged as thru hikers.
Immediately after dinner, I headed to Food Lion to grab a few things we still needed for our resupply while BAM! headed back to the hostel to get to work on the blog. I got some funny looks from people while I loaded my little basket with an absurd number of Larabars, unfrosted pop tarts (the frosted ones contain gelatin, unfortunately), a bag of flour tortillas, salt and pepper, propel packets, peanut butter. I’m sure my whacky outfit and knee high socks/Birkenstock’s look was causing the double takes. Before heading to the register, I grabbed two bottles of Kombucha- gotta get those probiotics while in town!
Back at Angels Rest, I sorted through all of our food and divvied it up between our food bags. I checked on the laundry, which was becoming quite the ordeal (the machines were overly thorough), and got our tent all set up. There had been no private rooms left, only tenting options, but with how beautiful it was weather wise we were actually quite alright with setting up our tent and doing that for the night.
BAM! was still hard at work on getting the blog composed. He said he didn’t have a whole lot left to do, so I decided I’d call it a night- I was pretty wiped out at this point. I got myself situated with my layers and everything I needed for the night. Snuggling up in our sleeping bag, I stared up at the sky above me. We had left the fly off of our tent, so I laid there and enjoyed falling asleep to stars overhead.
Day 52 (Tuesday, April 6th, 2021)
AT Miles: 12.4
Stony Creek Valley (VA 635) > War Spur Shelter
649.6 Miles Down, 1543.5 To Go
Beep Beep Beep Beep! A truck backing up is what woke us from our comatose state this morning 30 minutes before our alarm was set to go off. I tried to go back to sleep, but the truck kept backing up over and over again. After laying there awake for a bit, we decide to get up and get going for the day. We have a shuttle at 8:30 and we need to get packed up and have breakfast before we leave.
I sit up and realize that our sleeping bag is soaked on top. Because yesterday was so beautiful, I had insisted on leaving the rain fly off for the fresh air and the stars. It was nice initially, but it got colder than we thought it would and Hero was cold and didn’t sleep that well. Not to mention the heavy dew had settled on our sleeping bag. Thankfully it was going to be another beautiful sunny day. I laid the bag out while we packed up other things and ate breakfast hoping it would dry a little before we left.
While eating, we talked with Einstein and Tenacious C trying to figure out how far they wanted to hike today. Einstein has to get off the trail once we reach Daleville and go back home for his job. We decided we would hike the rest of the way to Daleville with him and see him off. They settled on doing a shorter day than we have been doing recently, just 12 to 13 miles. That sounded good to us, we didn’t mind slowing down a bit. Also, there was that trail closure just north of Pearisburg, so we would be skipping ahead nearly 20 miles. (We hope to come back and hike these miles once they reopen that section of trail.) This meant we were ahead of schedule to get to Daleville.
We finished packing up our stuff and ran to the shuttle just in time. Two other hikers that we had just met at Angels Rest were shuttling with us, Monarch and Trail Mix. We chatted with them as we took the 25 minute drive to the north end of the closed trail. Once there, we say thanks and wave goodbye to our host and shuttle driver, Pan.
I was in such a rush leaving the hostel that I hadn’t put my gaiters on or tied my shoes yet. So, I took a little time to do that in the parking lot. Trail Mix was ready to go right away. Hopping out of the shuttle he said “I gotta get moving” and started hiking down the road. I thought this was odd because I was pretty sure Pan had told us to go up the blue blaze trail to get back to the AT. But I hadn’t looked at our guide yet and wasn’t sure, so I kept quiet. A minute or two later Monarch says, “Where is he going!” Hero and I both look at her puzzled and say we don’t know. “Well, I guess he’ll figure it out,” she says and starts walking up the blue blaze trail.
I finally get myself ready to go and am about to put my pack on when Trail Mix comes walking back saying he just had tunnel vision and thought Pan had said 0.1 down the road. “At least I’m warmed up now!” he said, and we all had a good chuckle. He kept walking by us and up the blue blaze trail.
We started hiking shortly after and caught up with Trail Mix just a little ways down the trail. We would leapfrog back and forth a few times today. We saw Monarch for a brief moment again as she was taking off some of her morning layers. We passed her and then stopped to do the same and she passed us again.
Only two miles into our day, we came across some trail magic. Biscuits and Roo Dog were set up near a river crossing with everything from candy to sodas to hotdogs and beer. He even had wine and s’mores available complete with a fire ready for roasting. Trail Mix and another hiker named Traveller were there and they all invited us over. We helped ourselves to some snacks and soda then started talking with Biscuits and Traveller. It was so nice! We put our packs down and just took in the moment. We enjoyed their company and had good conversations. We played with Roo Dog and just hung out for a while.
We were there for over an hour before we finally pried ourselves out of conversations and slipped away over the bridge. It was after 11am now and we still had over 10 miles to go. It was totally worth it though! Hero and I both felt like it was the trail’s way of telling us to slow down and take it in, enjoy all of the little moments out here- after all, the community of the trail is what it’s really all about.
Now we had to push up some steep terrain to get back onto a ridge. We get up there and I am just dripping sweat from the climb. My body isn’t used to the heat with temperatures nearing 70 today. We passed Trail Mix again then stopped a while later to replenish our water. Hero took her pack off to get the water filter and exclaimed, “Where’s my stuff!” I looked at her quizzically. “What stuff?” I ask. “My melanzana, jacket, and butt pad… it’s all gone!” It had all been strapped to the top of her pack, but nothing was there now. We both looked with disbelief as we realized it must have fallen off at some point and we had no idea how far back it was. Trail Mix showed up at the water source and said that he hadn’t seen anything, so everything must have fallen off since the most recent time that we leapfrogged. Hero just looked at me and said “Well, I guess I’m hiking back to find it.” “I’ll stay here and watch the packs and filter water… I hope it’s not too far back.” She started jogging down the trail. I started to filter the water and I’m quickly joined by a small cloud of gnats. I finished the water and sat down to write a bit while I waited for Hero to return. The gnats joined me even though I tried (to no avail) to shoo them away.
About 40 minutes went by when I hear someone hiking up the trail. I look over expecting to see Hero and there’s Hawk. He just says, “I saved her about 2 miles.” “Oh nice, thanks!” I say. Everything had fallen off over 2 miles back. Hero had gotten over a mile back before she saw Hawk, and he had picked the stuff up at least a mile before that. Hero walked up just a bit after Hawk and expressed her gratitude to Hawk again. We all chatted for a bit then Hawk continued on. Hero took a moment to get a snack and some water since she had just run an extra 2 and a half miles. We both put all of our extra layers on the inside of our packs just to be safe, and then we continued on.
Some time later, we arrived at Wind Rock and met some picnickers. We chatted for a bit, took some pictures and then continued on- we were ready to get to camp. We got to War Spur Shelter and Hawk was there. We chatted as we made dinner and talked about his experience on the trail – this is his seventh AT thru hike. He gave us some insight into what was ahead of us and shared with us some good views to check out and told us where to stay in Daleville once we got there.
Uphill showed up and we talked and shared stories. After dinner, we still had some daylight so I decided to play the ukulele since it had been a while. As I played, Batman arrived and a little later Tenacious rolled in. We were all wondering if Einstein was going to make it or if he had gotten too caught up in the trail magic earlier in the day. Finally, he walks in just as we are losing daylight. We were all excited to see that he had made it to camp safely. After hearing about his day and chatting a bit, we headed to bed.
Day 53 (Wednesday, April 7th, 2021)
AT Miles: 18.4
War Spur Shelter > Niday Shelter
668 Miles Down, 1525.1 To Go
The quiet sounds of packing up camp woke me this morning. Zippers on tent doors zippering, poles clacking together as they are being folded up and stakes clinking as they are thrown into their bag. The snapping of buckles as packs are closed up tight, then footsteps pounding earth, loud at first and then dissipating as the humans they belonged to started down the trail. Hawk and Uphill, I assumed, were getting up and out of here so they could knock out a 30+ mile day. Our crew, on the other hand, had a much more leisurely start to the day, most of us not leaving camp until about 8:20 am. We decided on where we wanted to meet up for the night, settling on a shelter a little over 18 miles away. One by one, we began to leave camp.
The day started with a push up to a spot called Kelly Knob. It was a bit more intense than we were expecting, but altogether not a bad way to kickstart the days hiking. We got up there and decided to take advantage of the view and the little bit of cell reception we were getting. We snacked, checked in with family, and worked on a few of the more pressing Hiking for Hunger tasks that needed to be taken care of. At one point, Batman showed up and we all got a photo together on the rocky outcropping. Batman leaves, and not long thereafter Tenacious and another thru hiker named Just Brad (JB) show up and take in the views. After about an hour of taking care of business and getting our snack on, we started to make our way down off of Kelly Knob.
We filled up on water at the bottom of Kelly knowing that we wouldn’t run into another water source for about 8 miles. From there we pushed on, first through thick rhododendron tunnels, then forest with spaced out pine trees that led into wide open farmland, then up onto a rocky ridgeline. As we were transitioning into the rolling fields of farmland, we took some time to admire the largest living oak tree found along the southern half of the AT. At 18 feet in diameter at its base, the Keffer Oak is massive and awe inspiring, with long limbs that stretch for what feels like miles in either direction. Craning my neck to take it all in, I couldn’t help but imagine those limbs coming to life, gently motioning and waving like a hula dancer. I wanted to throw off my pack and curl up in a little nook at the base of this majestic being. But we had to keep pushing- we were starting to run out of water and still had a climb and a ridge to walk to get to the next water source.
We’d no sooner said goodbye to the tree than we found the trail ahead blocked by about six calves and a full grown mama cow. Batman was just ahead of us, trying to shoo the mooing blockade away. We lined up behind him, and together the three of us slowly started to walk through the field of cows. The calves had scampered off, their initial bravery dissipating after their mom walked away. They had joined with more cows out in the field, which we were now unintentionally herding up the trail as we cautiously maneuvered around the more courageous cows who were stubbornly staying put and mooing their disdain for our presence as we passed by.
Getting to the other side of the field and through the turnstiles without incident, we faced off with our next big uphill push. Where we had felt strong going up Kelly Knob this morning, this ascent was taking a lot out of us. We’d already covered about 10 miles and our bodies were starting to feel it. Plus, we were conserving water on a day when the sun was beating down on us with unrelenting force. We were sweating profusely, salt droplets dripping from the tips of our noses, perspiration collecting above our upper lips. Our pace was steady and we didn’t stop to take a break until we were up on that ridgeline we had worked so hard for. After taking a few conservative sips of our water, we started down the rock strewn path ahead of us.
The ridgeline was rocky but beautiful. We were absolutely dead on our feet and verging on dehydration, yet we were grateful for the views as we pounded down the trail, that next water source front and center in both of our minds. We got to the Eastern Continental Divide and the trail began to veer to the right and downhill. As we descended, we could feel ourselves nearing the water source and, just beyond that, the Niday Shelter where we’d be staying the night. We passed by Sunrise, a flip-flop thru hiker who started in Harpers Ferry and was heading south to Springer. Once she completes the southern half of the trail, she’ll flip back to Harper’s Ferry and start heading north. She let us know that the spring we’d been longing for for so long was just a few hundred yards away. We thanked her, wished her luck, and pressed on, a new pep in our step. Sure enough, the spring appeared and we hooted with joy! We each filtered a half liter and immediately downed it before continuing to filter. Once we were back up to capacity on water, we threw our packs back on and knocked out the last mile to camp.
We made it to the shelter and found thru hiker Trail Mix! Commiserating together, we shared stories about the challenging day. Then BAM! and I got to work on our routine. I found a lovely tenting site nestled amongst a grove of pine trees and settled on a relatively flat spot. The smell of pine is nostalgic for me, taking me back to my grandparents house when they lived just a few blocks from the beach in South Carolina. I can, with vividness, conjure up memories of stepping out onto the screened-in porch and filling my lungs with the comforting scent of pine, the smell of my granny’s blueberry buckle wafting out from the open kitchen window and joining it. Home for the night amongst these pine trees filled me with a warmth that felt so needed.
One by one, people start rolling into the shelter: JB, then Batman, then Tenacious, then Einstein. We all share in our misery- turns out everyone found the day challenging. We eat food and hang out, and then we do what we always do as hiker midnight sets in- we crash out and try to get as much sleep as possible before doing it all over again the next day.
Day 54 (Thursday, April 8th, 2021)
AT Miles: 22.7
Niday Shelter > VA 311 (Four Pines Hostel)
690.7 Miles Down, 1502.4 To Go
We decided last night to get out early this morning to try and miss the rain that was expected to start late afternoon. Our alarm went off at 5am. I hit snooze then wrapped my arm around Hero and closed my eyes again knowing that it would go off again in 5 minutes. It has become our routine to set our alarm at least 15 minutes earlier than we plan to get up and hit snooze at least twice. We cuddle and try to enjoy our last few minutes of semi-sleep before we start packing up for another day of hiking.
This morning, we do better than most and only hit snooze twice before sitting up, turning on our tent light, and starting to pack up. Part of this can be attributed to the pleasant temperature this morning – we weren’t freezing! We only take an hour to pack up, eat breakfast, and get ready to go. We start hiking out of camp before sunrise. Batman left a little before us and Tenacious was awake and packing up and we passed his tent, but Einstein seemed to still be asleep. As we hike, the dusky grays of early morning are giving way and color starts to return to the forest with the morning light. Through the trees we watch as the sky brightens to a fiery orange and yellow glow. Meanwhile, the birds whistle a cheerful chorus. We both feel a sense of awe at the beauty and serenity of this moment.
We try to take it all in as we continue hiking and we both agree that we should try to do more early sunrise hikes because this morning was just so pleasant. Only about 2 miles in, we come to Craig Creek, one of our last water sources for nearly 7 miles, so we stop to filter and top off all of our water bottles. While we are stopped Hero realizes that she needs to go dig a cat hole. I start filtering water while she hikes away from the creek and into the woods to find a place to dig. When she gets back, it hits me and I have to go, too. So, I hike back into the woods and try to find a good place to dig. I hit rocks on the first 6 or more tries before finally finding a soft enough spot that would allow me to dig the needed 6 to 8 inches deep.
When I get back to Hero, Tenacious is coming over the bridge and heading our way. We had spent way more time there than we had planned and felt like we had lost some of the advantages of our early morning start, but we tried not to get discouraged. We had filled our water and emptied our bowels, so we were ready to crush out some miles. We followed Tenacious down the trail for a while. He too planned to fill up his water before the seven-ish mile section without a source, but he had Gut Hooks which was much more specific about where the last available water source was. After crossing over a handful of small streams, he finally stops and takes his pack off. As we pass I ask, so is this the last water source? It is, he says. Alright, we will see you down trail, we say as we continue the climb up towards the Audie Murphy Monument.
We get to the top and check out the memorial for the most decorated World War II veteran. Hawk had told us about a view to the right of the monument, so we went down a little trail and found a bench overlooking the valley. We sat down and enjoyed the view while we had a snack and a drink (but not for terribly long, because the bugs started to descend). Then we hiked back to our packs, which we had left at the intersection for the blue blaze trail up to the monument. We don’t carry our packs any further than we have to these days. We put the packs back on and headed down the gradually descending path. We now had to go back down the 1500+ feet we had just climbed up and then go back up over 1500 feet to Dragons Tooth.
We got down to Trout Creek and as we began our ascent up to Dragons Tooth, we saw a sign that said “Dragons Tooth 4 miles.” We both looked at each other and were thinking Nice! We’re making good time- that’s not too far. Then we checked out the trail guide to confirm and it said it was actually 5.4 miles to Dragons Tooth. We were disappointed, but this made more sense with our pace. We expressed our frustration with the sign and continued on. It wasn’t the first sign on the trail to short change the mileage, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. The ridgeline leading up was very rocky with large boulders covered in moss, ferns, and sometimes trees strewn about. We would hike by them and between them and over them. It was a cool scene, but not easy hiking and my feet were aching. I had gone nearly 600 miles in this pair of shoes and all the cushion that used to exist was compressed and I felt every rock and stick I stepped on. We hike by a group of baseball sized rocks arranged into “700” – Wow! That’s pretty incredible! We’ve hiked 700 miles on the AT! We took a few pictures and continued on. If those rocks were placed accurately, then we should have just over 2 miles to the top of Dragons Tooth.
About a mile later, we see a pack down at the base of a large boulder near the side of the trail. We look up and see Batman taking pictures. We say hi and ask what he’s doing. He says, “This must be it, right? The tooth!” We tell him that we think it is another mile down the ridge and we’re pretty sure these are just some random boulders… although they are pretty neat. He seems bummed and comes down and hikes on with us. The ridge seems to continue on for what feels like another 2 miles, and now we are beginning to think the guide is wrong, too… the Tooth must have been at least 7 miles from Trout Creek- it sure felt like it at least. We finally get to an incredible view along the trail that Hero recognizes as the view just 0.3 miles from the Dragons Tooth. Batman takes a picture of us and we take a picture of him then take in the view for a moment. We continue on, eager to finally get to the top of this mountain and see what all the fuss is about. We come to a sign telling us that it is just 0.1 mile further. We walk down to see these large angled slabs of rock sticking straight up into the air. They are pretty neat!
Hero and I were hoping to have a nice relaxing lunch here, but the gnats were out in force so we had to keep walking around as we ate to try and keep them off of us. Batman didn’t stick around too long- he needed to go to the store for a resupply and wanted to get down to the road. We stuck around a little longer, ate lunch, and took a few more pictures. We started hiking down and there were several day hikers coming up- we noticed they all seemed very winded. On our way down we realized why- it was a rock scramble! Our poles didn’t help much- several times we had to try and hold both poles in one hand as we used the other to help climb down the rocks. At one point, Hero looks down at an 8 to 10 foot scramble, throws her poles to the bottom then climbs down using both hands.
We finally get to the bottom and cross the road where you would go in to the hostel and the store, but we are hoping to get another 6 miles in today before we head back to the hostel. So, we push on to the VA 311 pick up location. It was a challenging rocky ridgeline, especially after doing Dragons Tooth, but worth it to set ourselves up to get into Daleville tomorrow and have a full zero day.
Ryan, the shuttle driver, picked us up and took us to 4 pines. Einstein was already there hanging out. It was bittersweet knowing that this would be our second to last night hanging out with him before he got off trail. We went to the store, grabbed some beers, and just sat and talked for a while- reminiscing about the journey we had experienced and how it had changed us and brought us all so close together. We made plans to see him when we get further north since he lives in a town near the trail. And we told him we looked forward to hanging out in Daleville in a couple of days to send him off and celebrate his hike. I was only able to have a couple beers before the day caught up with me and I needed to crash.
Day 55 (Friday, April 9th, 2021)
AT Miles: 19.8
VA 311 (Four Pines Hostel) > US 220 (Daleville, VA)
710.5 Miles Down, 1482.6 To Go
After a fitful nights sleep, we were beyond ready to move on from Four Pines Hostel and get back on trail. It had been nice to have some extra time with Einstein by staying there, but the hostel as a whole had a vibe that made us feel a bit uneasy. We’re glad we stayed for the experience, but were also grateful to be back at the McAfee Knob parking area on 220, especially after what was a real abdominal tightener of a car ride, if you catch my drift.
It was a foggy and overcast morning. BAM! and I jumped out of the car along with Zoomie and Halo and we all bid Ryan the driver goodbye. He peeled out of the parking lot, wheels kicking up chunks of gravel as he whipped back onto the highway. Gotta love it. Zoomie and Halo took off immediately, so we hung back a little bit to give them time to cover some ground. We bided our time by calling ahead to the Super 8 in Daleville to reserve a room for two nights. We knew a lot of thru hikers were planning on making it to Daleville to say goodbye to Einstein, plus it was a weekend- didn’t want to risk not being able to get a room.
After taking care of the hotel reservation, we got moving and started heading up the trail. We had thought based on the AT Guide that the terrain was going to be more challenging, but it proved to be not terribly difficult leading up to McAfee, certainly not compared to what we’d been through going up and down Dragons Tooth the day before. We went up about 1,400 feet in elevation, but the trail had lots of nice switchbacks and the grade was totally reasonable. Plus, the overcast morning was really working in our favor in terms of temperature- it was actually perfect hiking weather.
Unfortunately, the overcast, foggy weather which was so nice to hike in meant that we got no views up at the iconic McAfee Knob. We would have loved to see for ourselves that view which we’ve seen in countless photos, but we still enjoyed the cool, eerie feel created by being completely socked in. We got a few photos courtesy of a really nice couple we met while up there. We stuck our arms up and twisted our torsos in funny positions, playing up the goofiness- in the photos, you can only really make out our silhouettes through all the fog, so might as well do it up, right?
We had lots more miles between us and Daleville, so we bid McAfee goodbye, promising to come back again someday for the view. The terrain continued to be kind to us until we started heading up to Tinker Cliffs. By the time we get to the cliffs, the fog has somewhat lifted and we’re able to get some little bits of view. We stop and take a snack and water break, but the bugs are absolutely terrible. I have to walk around as I snack in an attempt to evade them for a few seconds at a time. They don’t seem to be bothering BAM!, which I find very perplexing. On the plus side, by getting to Tinker Cliffs we have just successfully completed the Virginia Triple Crown! (Dragon’s Tooth > McAfee > Tinker Cliffs)
At this point, we’re about halfway through our hike to Daleville and we can hear the shower and cushy king sized bed calling our names. We continue on to the next shelter to get water, enjoying about a half mile of walking along the cliffs before the trail turns to the right and starts winding downhill. We get to the shelter and Batman and Tenacious are there, along with a thru hiking couple named Mike and Kathy. Batman and Tenacious stay a few minutes longer to catch up and ask how our hostel adventure went. Then they start back up, and we all say see ya at the hotel. As we finish filtering water, we chat with Mike and Kathy who share that they had started thru hiking last year and got about 400 miles in before jumping off trail due to COVID. They figured they’d just hop back on where they left off and were maybe considering redoing those first 400 miles after reaching Katahdin. “Mayyyyybe,” they emphasized with a chuckle. It was nice talking to them, and our water filtering took a little longer than usual because we enjoyed their company. But alas, we felt again the call of town just nine miles away, so we said goodbye and got back into a rhythm with the last few miles that stood between us and our much needed zero.
We crank out those last nine miles, and we’re even treated to some beautiful views of a reservoir as the cloud cover and fog starts to lift. It turns out to be one of those unexpected wow moments, not at all what we were expecting as we neared the hustle and bustle of the Roanoke suburbs. Eventually, we start descending off of the ridgeline and the views of the reservoir and surrounding mountains are out of sight. They are soon replaced by the sounds of traffic and chaos- Daleville is near!
We emerge from the woods out onto a busy highway. Despite the sounds of traffic that get steadily louder as we near, in theory preparing us for what was on the other side of the woods, it’s still incredibly jarring to suddenly have dozens and dozens of vehicles frantically speeding past us in both directions. Not only that, but we’ve got to cross the highway to get to the Super 8, and there are no crosswalks in sight. There’s a blind curve to our left, and just when we think we can cross to the median, cars come whipping around the corner at ungodly speeds. We finally get an opportunity and make a break for the median, where we have to stop and wait for traffic coming in the opposite direction before making a second mad dash. We make it, but we’re both very acutely aware of how overwhelming all of this new and intense stimulation is after the relative calm of being in the woods for days on end.
We get checked in, running into Batman in the hotel lobby- we’re all so grateful to be in town and can’t wait to shower and do laundry. And this shower truly is one of the best by far- the temperature gets real nice and hot and the pressure is absolutely on point! BAM! jokes that were there a seat in the shower, he’d stay all day, but as it was, he was pretty much done being on his feet. I couldn’t have agreed more.
The rest of the evening involved lots of pizza while watching one of our favorite shows, Schitt’s Creek. We’d been channel surfing and it happened to be on- there was no question that we were done with our search. It took us back to the Asheville house, watching endless hours of Schitt’s with Heather, all of us cozied up and snacking and laughing. It made me feel warm and fuzzy and homesick all at once. I snuggled up to BAM!, grateful that we have each other to lean on during the tough emotional moments that inevitably come with hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Day 46 (Wednesday, March 31st, 2021)
AT Miles Hiked: 0
Layover in Marion, VA – Hiking for Hunger work day
534.3 Miles Down, 1658.8 To Go
It was nice to be in a hotel and wake up warm and dry this morning. We didn’t sleep in much as we had lots to accomplish today. After a lengthy internet search, I concluded that there were no restaurants nearby that had anything we could eat for breakfast. I then went down to see if the complimentary breakfast had anything we could eat, hoping at least for some fruit. No fruit, but I did make some toast and grabbed some jelly. That along with some weak coffee and some orange juice from concentrate was our breakfast… we also ate a bar or two from our rations.
Then we got to work writing, organizing photos, and checking emails. Several hours went by when a text from Tenacious C interrupted us. He wanted to know if we wanted to get lunch at the Mexican place down the street. This was a welcome invitation- we were getting pretty hungry and were ready to get out of our hotel room. He also let us know that Einstein had rolled in and would be joining us for lunch. We were stoked – it had been a while since we had seen him and we knew he had to get off trail soon for work so we were grateful to have more time with him.
We all met out in front of the hotel and walked the 0.2 miles up the road together. At the restaurant they sat us and immediately set chips and salsa on the table – great service! Thru hiker approved! We ordered lots of food and it came out quickly. We also enjoyed having margaritas and good conversation. We were almost finished eating when Hawk came in (we had met him back at Uncle Johnny’s in Erwin, TN). We waved and he came over and sat with us.
After lunch, I walked to Walmart to get our resupply while Hero took a cab to the outfitter with Einstein. We needed fuel and a small resupply and she needed another pair of socks and was hoping to find some camp shoes. The Walmart was small and the options were limited but I was able to make it work. As I was heading out, Hero texts me saying the outfitter doesn’t have fuel. I go back inside to see if there is fuel in the outdoor sports section. Once there I ask an employee. They seem slightly baffled by my inquiry, but finally say, “Oh, do you mean Coleman fuel? It’s all in that aisle over there (as they point non-discriptly two to three aisles down). I say thanks and start to walk in that direction. I start to walk past the aisle he had meant and he yells out “you passed it, that one right there!” I nod my head and wave as I mouth thanks and walk down the aisle.
I find the fuel, but they are all out of small and medium canisters, all they have left are large. The large canisters are a full pound, and we don’t need or want that much fuel. I debate it for a second and then text Hero. She is back at the hotel now, so I ask her to check how much fuel is left in the canister we have. She shakes it and listens but its hard to tell. I ask her to fill the sink and see how low it sits in the water. I recieve a picture of the canister in murky water in the sink along with a text that says “Sorry, I was soaking our socks in the sink so I just used that water.” No worries, that works, I reply, smiling to myself. We decided we could probably get two dinners out of that canister and would try to find fuel later down the trail.
I grabbed our reration and set off back to the hotel. Once there, we divided it up and packed it away into our Ursacks. Then it was back to writing and uploading pictures. As it got late, we got hungry again. I had hoped to find some vegan microwaveable meals at Walmart, but no luck. And I already knew the Mexican place was pretty much the only place with vegan options in town… that is except Burger King. With so few options and with our hunger increasing, we went for it and got Impossible Whoppers. They were ok, but still not our first choice if we have other options.
We stayed up later than we wanted working on things. When we finally went to sleep, I was out like a light. We were both ready to get back on trail in the morning, grateful that we were inside for the rainy day.
Day 47 (Thursday, April 1st, 2021)
AT Miles Hiked: 23.9
Pat Jennings Visitor Center > Bear Garden Hostel
558.2 Miles Down, 1634.9 To Go
Groggy from a less than restful nights sleep, we extracted ourselves from the comfort of the cushy mattress and got to work getting organized and packed up. The motel room looked a bit like a bomb had gone off, with gear hanging up to dry and our sink-washed socks drying out by the heater. For as much as it all felt like a cluster (to me), we were able to get things packed up fairly quickly, and before we knew it, we were bidding our home for the past few nights adieu.
We got to see Fresh Ground ever so briefly in the parking lot before boarding the Marion Transit bus that would take us back to the Pat Jennings Visitor Center. He’d just returned from shuttling another hiker back to the trail, so there was really only time to say a quick hello and grab a clementine for the road. Wish we’d had more time to really hang out with him- we hadn’t seen him since we left the Smokies what feels like forever ago.
The drive back to the visitors center was short- within about 15 minutes, we were back at the spot where we’d been picked up just a day and shall prior. As soon as his feet hit the pavement, Hawk was flying- we waved goodbye and wished him well. Then BAM!, Einstein, Tenacious, and I set off as well.
It was cold, and the wind up on the ridgeline as we got started made my eyes water. We had intermittent snow throughout the day, but it wasn’t anything that gave us concern. It was just enough to be pretty and also not really stick where we were. Throughout the day, we traversed ridges and passed through rolling hills and open fields of farmland. We crossed lots of little roads and at one point even walked beneath an I-81 underpass. At one point, the trail took us right through the parking lot of a gas station, so naturally we stopped in to use the restrooms and grabbed ourselves a soda- Cherry Coke for BAM!, Cherry Vanilla Coke for hours truly. It’s the little things, y’all!
Something about walking under I-81 filled me with a sense of longing for home. Not necessarily any physical home, per se, so much as people who feel like home. I guess this was spurred on by the fact that I’ve taken I-81 numerous times when traveling from Asheville to Northern Virginia to visit my dad and my stepmom. As soon as we crossed into Virginia, I had this intense feeling of walking towards my loved ones, just like I felt as we hiked towards Asheville and saw our framily there when we were just getting started with this journey. Just like I felt as we hiked from there to Abingdon, where we had that wonderful visit with Breece and Ben and Magnolia. Now we’re walking towards my dad, my stepmom, my brother, and I’m finding myself, at times, overwhelmed with emotion as I think about seeing them. I love being on the trail, but I also miss the people in my life who feel like home.
We got to the spot where we thought me might camp for the night, right around the 18 mile mark. We got there around 3:30/4 with plenty of daylight left, so we decided to push. It was pretty cold, too, which was extra motivation to keep moving. Einstein and Tenacious had been talking about getting to Bear Garden Hostel in anticipation of a cold and possibly snowy night, so this became our new goal. The hostel was still about 6 miles away, so we “hit cruise control” and started motoring down the trail.
When we got to the hostel, we thought it might be deserted- not a soul in sight as we approached the property. We were debating what to do when Oak and Toddles popped out of the Bunkhouse building. It was a brief exchange- they were both heading a ways down the road to the small house they were staying in with the Family. It was nice to see okay again- it was the first time since we all left Damascus.
The woman who runs the hostel showed us around and gave us a rundown of rules and whatnot. We let her know that two other hikers would possibly be showing up in the next hour. She asked us to relay what she had told us to Einstein and Tenacious when they arrived. After that, we started getting settled in the small bunkhouse and got going on some dinner- Mac n’ Torts!
About an hour after we arrived at the hostel, Einstein and Tenacious stroll up and get set up in the bunkhouse with us. We all stayed up way past Hiker midnight talking about most everything and reminiscing on the hiking we’ve all done so far. Einstein is approaching the time when he’s going to have to come off trail to go back home, so we’re trying to enjoy every little bit of time we have left to hang with him.
Finally, it was time for bed. Because BAM! and I have a double sleeping bag and this particular hostel doesn’t provide sheets, we had to squeeze in together on a bottom bunk. It was definitely snug, but not as cramped as it could have been. Honestly, after the big day we had, I think I could have slept just about anywhere.
Day 48 (Friday, April 2nd, 2021)
AT Miles Hiked: 22.3
Bear Garden Hostel > Jenkins Shelter
580.5 Miles Down, 1612.6 To Go
We left the hostel later than we wanted. It was super cold outside, about 18 degrees when we woke up, so none of us were in a big hurry to get going. We also had to wait for the owner to come down so we could settle up before we left. While we waited, Hero and I had a quick breakfast – Pop Tarts again – but they had a toaster at the hostel so we treated ourselves to warm Pop Tarts! It’s the little things.
We paid for our night’s stay, some sodas, and a small can of fuel. We were so grateful that they had fuel, otherwise we would have been in a tough spot. Eventually, we started hiking, around about 9:30am. As we got to the trail, the Family was hopping out of their shuttle along with Toodles and Oak. They had all stayed just up the road. Not wanting to get delayed any further this morning, we said a quick hello as we kept hiking and told them we would see them further up the trail.
We had heard that about four miles down trail we would have to wade across a river because the bridge had been wiped out during a flood last year. Needless to say, with the temperature barely over 20 degrees, this was not the day we would have picked to go wading through a mountain stream. We got there and were glad to see that the water level was lower than we had expected. It looked like we would only get wet up to our knees and not mid-thigh unlike some people we knew who had crossed earlier in the week. We took off our packs and began to prepare for the short trek across the water. We pulled off our shoes and socks then rolled up our leggings above our knees. As we sat there, we could see what was left of the bridge laying on the far side of the river.
Ok, let’s do this quickly! Our feet were already getting cold just being out of our socks. We stuffed our socks in our packs, tied our shoes on top, then threw our packs back on. There was ice along the shoreline, I walked through it and into the river letting out a loud “OOOHHH! WOOOOO!” I kept moving steadily, my gaze fixed on the far shoreline. After a few more loud cries, I made it to the other side my feet numb from the cold. Hero came after me, letting out a few hoots and howls of her own. We sat down and started putting our socks back on, grateful for the bit of sun shining on that side of the river which added a hint of warmth to the air.
As we were putting our shoes on, Toodles, Bad Santa, and Stumbles appeared on the other side. After asking us how it went, Bad Santa and Toodles started taking their shoes off too. We watched and encouraged them across as more of the family showed up along with Oak and Einstein. Bad Santa went back and forth a few times, shuttling some of the other members of the family who weren’t as keen on crossing by foot. We decided that rather than watch everyone cross, which could prove entertaining now that our feet were dry and warm again, we should probably keep moving.
We had a pretty significant climb ahead of us – over 2,000 feet up to Chestnut Knob. As we neared the top, we entered a high field and had views of nearby ridgelines and valley farms in the distance. At the top was an old stone shelter and beautiful views into this crater-shaped valley called Burkes Garden. Several farms dotted the valley surrounded by the stoney ridgeline. We would follow along the southeastern ridge for the next several miles, navigating over and around beautiful white rock outcroppings the whole way, every once in a while getting another view of a crater-like valley.
The trail was rocky and challenging at times, with lots of trees down from previous storms. So, it took us a little longer than we had hoped, but we were enjoying the views. There was no water on the ridge and we were running low. There was an unreliable source listed on the guide in a couple miles, but it was at least .3 miles down a side trail and down in elevation. This would mean at least an extra .6 to hike, which on a day when we were planning on doing over 22 miles didn’t sound enticing.
About a mile before we would have to decide to go down to get water or not, we crossed a gravel road and someone had left a case of bottled water near the trail. We were so grateful fir this trail magic! We each took one bottle and poured it into our smart water bottle then left the rest for others who might need it. Sitting near the water was a hiker named Second Step. We introduced ourselves and started talking with him as we got the water. We were trying to figure out where to shove the empty plastic water bottles in our packs when he offered to take them and any other trash we had on us. We asked if he was sure and he said that he was getting picked up from that spot so a friend could hike with him a bit and he didn’t mind taking it off our hands. We expressed our gratitude and chatted a while longer, learning that he had started in Harper’s Ferry and was flip-flopping. We told him we hoped to see him up north after he finished the southern half, then continued on our way.
We pressed on to Jenkins Shelter, still debating if we wanted to go further tonight or wake up super early to get to Bland, VA before the post office closed at 11am. We sent ourselves a resupply there thinking we would arrive on a weekday and that the sparse weekend hours wouldn’t be a problem. However, we took an extra zero for bad weather, and another for a Hiking for Hunger workday. So, now we found ourselves having to race to the post office again.
We strolled into Jenkins Shelter at a quarter to 7pm and Wicked, Viking Man, Tall Son, and Not Yet were all there. We decided we would at least make dinner and hangout for a bit. Shortly after that decision, we both agreed that we would rather get up early than hike in the dark tonight. Hero started setting up the tent as I finished making dinner. We both enjoyed chatting with our friends over dinner. Then we headed to bed knowing we needed to try and get as much sleep as possible – 4am was gonna come quick. As we were heading to the tent Einstein hiked in followed closely by Tenacious C. We said hi and were glad they made it, then we crawled into our sleeping bag and crashed out.
Day 49 (Saturday, April 3rd, 2021)
AT Miles Hiked: 17.5
Jenkins Shelter > Random Stealth Camp
598 Miles Down, 1595.1 To Go
We were up by 4:15 am this morning and leaving camp just an hour later. A resupply box was waiting for us at the post office in Bland, VA, where Saturday hours are a mere 9-11 am. We had a two hour window to get in and get our box, and 11.3 miles to cover to get to the road where we’d be picked up and shuttled in- hence the early start.
This morning happened to be one of the coldest we’ve experienced while on trail, very reminiscent of some of the frigid days we had while hiking through the Smokies. It was a struggle to get packed up and going, and a struggle to stay warm while hiking pre-dawn. And after doing two big back-to-back days before this particular morning, we were both feeling pretty depleted as we started up the trail. Nevertheless, we marched on, crunching the frozen leaves with our heavy footfalls, the rounded white light of our headlamps bobbing up and down ahead of us in tune with our footsteps.
While a lot of this morning’s hike truly felt like a head down slog to get to post office in time, there were some moments that lifted that feeling, even if only briefly. I’ll never forget, for example, how absolutely uplifting it felt when, as we were winding along the side of a mountain, we rounded a corner and were suddenly awash with sunlight. It caught us off guard in the most beautiful of ways, those dazzling rays seeming to give our faces sweet little kisses. It lasted only a few seconds, and then we walked back into a section of trail that was still cloaked in shadow this early on in the day. I remember immediately craving the sensation again, so much so that my pace quickened, eager to get to the next sunny spot, where ever it may be. Though the sunny spots proved to be few, the power that they held in helping us move forward this morning was pretty remarkable. I felt so grateful for the sun’s warmth today, so grateful for the way that it energized me to keep going when it felt extra challenging to do so.
With our brisk pace to match the brisk morning air, it only took us four hours to hike the 11.3 miles from Jenkins Shelter to US 52. As we were approaching the highway, BAM! called the shuttle driver to let him know we were arriving a little earlier than expected. Bubba didn’t answer, so BAM! left a message. We got to the picnic tables outside of Brushy Mountain Outpost, which as it turned out was not open today- contrary to what our guidebooks indicated, the outpost wasn’t open over the weekend. I shot Tenacious a text to let him know the outpost was closed today- he’d been planning on doing a small resupply there so he could make it the rest of the way to Pearisburg. After waiting about ten or so minutes and not getting a call back from Bubba, we were starting to contemplate calling again or trying to hitch into town. Just as we were debating what to do, Bubba drove up!
Bubba agreed that he would not only shuttle us into town, but since we were really just picking up a box from the post office, he’d also bring us back to the trail. This was a relief, knowing that we wouldn’t have to figure out a way ride back to the trailhead. The drive into Bland was only 3 miles, so I was able to very quickly grab the box from the post office. As we were leaving, BAM! remembered that we might need some more fuel- Bubba was kind enough to take us to a gas station where he was pretty sure he’d seen fuel on the shelves before. While BAM! went inside to grab fuel and some snacks (of course!), Bubba and I talked. I got a glimpse into some of what he’d been through recently, and I was left in awe of the resilience of this man. We didn’t get to talk for very long, as BAM! and I were pretty efficient getting everything we needed from Bland, but I felt enriched by the conversation and inspired by his unshakeable demeanor.
Bubba drove us back up to the trailhead. We thanked him profusely and bade him farewell, waving as he drove away. To our fellow thru hikers who may be reading this: if you’re near Bland, or anywhere between Damascus and Pearisburg and you need a lift, we can’t recommend Bubba enough.
The sun (that glorious, wonderful SUN!) was now fully casting its warmth across the picnic tables at Brushy Mountain Outpost. We sat down and basked for a few minutes before getting to work on our resupply box and some much needed snacking. With this resupply plus the leftover food we still had in our bags, we were more than set for the couple of days it’ll take us to get to Pearisburg. In fact, we know we’ll have extra food, which will mean not having to do as big of a store buy. Despite having extra weight, we’re grateful knowing we have plenty to eat. After thoroughly enjoying our downtime while munching on snacks and organizing and packing up our resupply in the sun, we rally- we’ve got to at least make it up to the first shelter before calling it quits for the day.
We get to the first shelter (which is 0.3 miles off trail), not sure yet if we’d be staying the night but certainly that we would need to fill up on water while we decided on next steps. There wasn’t a lot of water marked between the first shelter and the one nine miles further up the trail, so we wanted to make sure we had enough to get by if we decided to push on but not all the way to the next shelter.
I wind up doing the water run, which turns out to be a doozy. To get to the water source, it’s a 0.3 mi steep, switchback route complete with downed tree hurdles in the middle of the trail. Once you get to the water source, there’s no really good pour over spot to fill up the bucket, at least not a spot that doesn’t involve teetering on a precarious ledge or standing in the streambed. I opt for filling the bucket in the deepest spot I can find, trying hard not to fall in as I do so. From there, it’s back up that 0.3 mile steep, switchback trail, only now I’m carrying 7 liters of water- you know, for that extra fun challenge… ha! As I finally reach the top, I pass by the two guys who were sitting at the picnic table by the shelter when I started down the trail. “Boy, that must have been a ways down there,” the older of the two says. “Yep,” I say, “try to avoid that one if at all possible!”
I get back to BAM! and we start filtering water and decide on whether to stay or go. We both feel like pushing on a bit longer, but we’re not committed to the nine miles it would take to get to the next shelter. We really want to find a spot about four miles up the trail and call it quits while we still have some daylight. We figure we can rest up a bit, have an early dinner, and catch up on some writing before we crash out. At this point, we’ve already hiked 14 miles, so it’s not like we’re slackin’, right?
As we’re getting packed up, the two guys who’d been by the shelter area come by and we all chatted for a bit. We believe the older of the two might be a section hiker, most definitely an avid hiker/backpacker, because he had some stories about the trail that he shared with us. One included a night in the Smokies with a severe thunderstorm that sounded a lot like the one we’d just had up in the Grayson Highlands. Only he and his trail friends were in the shelter, and it happened to be the shelter that has a chain link fence across the front, the idea being that you have all of your food and stuff in the shelter with you and lock yourself in. On the night of this severe storm, the lightning was flashing so bright that it would light up the entire forest beyond the shelter. Well, on one such occasion when the lightning flashed, he and his buddies saw a bear on its hind legs outlined by the flash of light- and they realized that the bear was pushing against the chain link fencing trying to get into the shelter… YIKES! Fortunately, the bear did not get in, although apparently a skunk did at one point! We talk so more with the guys and then they head out. Soon after, we do the same and keep truckin’ north.
We only hike for another hour and a half. We’re both feeling sluggish and thoroughly ready to just be done for the day. We settle on a spot somewhat off trail, a flat-ish section that looks like it may have been a roadbed long ago. We start settling into our home for the night by pulling our shoes off, taking our sweaty stinky socks off and letting our feet see daylight- I relish the feeling of wiggling my toes and letting them breathe! It’s amazing how warm it is now compared to this morning- it’s nearly 40 degrees warmer, almost 60 degrees outside! After taking some time to give ourselves a break, I dig out the different parts of the tent and let them air dry for a while before setting it up. BAM! gets rolling on an early dinner. We’re both so happy we’re not hiking anymore today. Even when we see Not Yet, Wicked, and Viking Man (Tall Son must have lapped us when we were at the shelter that was 0.3 off trail) pass and kinda wish we were going to the shelter they’re headed for, we still are ultimately glad we’re stopping here for the night.
“Do you have a permit to camp there?” BAM! and I both sat up a bit in the tent and looked at each other a little wide eyed. “What….?” We couldn’t see who was talking to us because they were concealed by the tent. It was still light out, and we were working on some writing after our early dinner. “Do you have a permit to camp there?” The voice repeated. I wasn’t sure whether to try and pretend whoever was talking to us was imaginary and hopefully they’d go away or to start freaking out. The rule follower in me was silently thinking “Oh no! Permits for this area? How did I miss that? Oh no oh no oh no what if we have to move camp? Oh please no.” My more rebellious, not about to get walked all over side was thinking “Nuh uh, I am not movin’- good luck buddy! Also, you don’t need permits for this section of the AT- who do you think you are trying to tell me to move?!” While all of this was happening in my head, a look of humored recognition crossed BAM!’s face. He yelled out to the disembodied voice, “Tenacious!” But of course it was him, that stinker! I poked my head out of my side of the tent and sure enough, there he was, trouncing down the trail with just his trekking poles and a bottle of Gatorade in hand. “You had me going there for a second, Tenacious!” I yelled out to him. We spent the next few minutes updating each other on trail things. He was doing a SOBO slack pack from roughly 3 miles north of where we were camped back down to US 52 and would be staying in town with Einstein and Honeybadger. Neither of them slackpacked with him, so they’ll be behind us all tomorrow. He also had been reunited with his missing trekking poles and was soon to be reunited with his Croc that fell off of his pack while he was hiking yesterday. We let him know that we successfully got our box in Bland. We bade him farewell and told him we’d see him out on the trail tomorrow. He went on his merry way.
We’re settled in for the night now, BAM! looking ahead at mileage options for the next few days and me catching up on writing. Think we’ll probably call it a night soon- it’s been a long day. A good day, in the end, but a long day. Tomorrow we are looking forward to warmer temperatures and our dear old friend the sun.
Day 50 (Sunday, April 4th, 2021)
AT Miles Hiked: 20.2
Random Stealth Camp > Wapiti Shelter
618.2 Miles Down, 1574.9 To Go
Gosh, 50 days on trail and over 600 miles of the AT hiked. Feeling pretty accomplished! We are finding our groove and feeling good hiking about 18 to 20 miles a day.
This morning we slept in a bit, just feeling cozy in our sleeping bag and having a hard time convincing ourselves that we needed to get up and hike another 20 miles. We did finally get moving just a little before 7am and started getting packed up – we were hiking by 8:30am. About 200 yards down the trail we see this nice grassy spot with a view. We both look at it and think the same thing – that would have been a nice spot to camp last night! We had stayed on an old grown over logging road covered with leaves. We shrugged and said oh well where, we were last night worked just fine.
We were both feeling a little sluggish today and seemed to be moving a bit slower. Part of this may have been slight dehydration. Since we stealth camped on the ridge last night, we didn’t have a water source near our campsite. We carried some extra water with us from the last known source but were doing our best to conserve what we had, which meant drinking less. There was a stream just about 3 miles down trail, but it was marked “unreliable” on our guide so we weren’t sure if it would be running. We got there and the water was low but still running. We were able to use our trusty PVC pipe to help create a spout to fill our bag then filtered the water.
We then pushed to Jenny Knob Shelter and stopped in for a brown blaze (going to the bathroom), then had some snacks. We were both feeling a bit emotional today and talked out some things that were on our minds and ended up staying there longer than expected. Then Ninja Feet showed up followed by Narrator, Destin, Stumbles, and Blade. We talked with them for a while, then realized we needed to put some miles behind us and said goodbye. When we hiked back to the entrance to the shelter, the rest of the family was there with Toodles. We stopped and talked with them for a while, too. Then we realized it was after 12pm and we still had about 15 miles to hike. We said goodbye and pushed on.
As we got a little further down the trail, we picked up some of the conversations we had started before the family joined us at Jenny Knob. I am so glad that I have Hero out here and that we are able to talk about the things that come up for us. Now that we have our “hiker legs” the physical challenges of hiking the trail aren’t the hardest we face. Now we are experiencing greater emotional challenges. The trail is revealing more about ourselves, maybe more than we would like to know at times. It isn’t comfortable and can be very emotionally exhausting, but it is ultimately good and it provides opportunities for us to grow, which is one of the main reasons we love the outdoors and wanted so badly to do this thru hike.
Further down the trail, we crossed paths with a flip-flop hiker named Blue Ray. He was really nice and gave us some info about the trail ahead of us, encouraging us to take a moment by the river to soak our feet. We thought that sounded nice on this day where we had temperatures near 60 degrees. So, we decided to forgo hiking the 0.6 miles to see Dismal Falls and instead found a nice spot along the riverbank to soak our feet and eat our Food for the Sole cold soak lunch. The foot soak was more like a quick rinse though. Even with the weather warming up the mountain stream still felt ice cold.
It was getting late and we both just wanted to be at the shelter now, but we still had 6 miles to go. We were grateful that the terrain was pretty flat- hopefully it would go by quickly. We crossed the river several times over little foot bridges. We had been on ridgelines a lot lately, so hiking through this river valley was a refreshing change of scenery. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a large bird flying low in the trees. I turn my head to see an owl land on a dead tree limb about 50 yards from us. I point it out to Hero and we both watch as the owl turns its head searching its surroundings, occasionally pausing while looking in our direction. After a few minutes, the owl opens its wings and glides through the forest and out of sight. We both look at each other and express our awe at the beauty of what we just witnessed. We love owls and it was quite a treat to see one of these elusive nocturnal creatures during the day.
With the owl gone, we pushed on with a little more vigor – only about 2.5 miles to go. It felt like a long couple miles, but we made it to Wapiti Shelter. We thought maybe some of our friends would be there but the shelter was empty. We read the log and learned that they had all pressed on down the trail. We debated staying in the shelter, but noticed crusty food from people eating in the shelter and plenty of signs of mice. We decided tenting sounded better than sleeping with the mice.
As we were getting set up and making dinner, a section hiker named Victory Girl hiked in. She was tired and took a moment to catch her breath and settle her thoughts, then we chatted for a while. She was really nice and we enjoyed talking with her. We wished her well, said goodnight, and crawled into our tent.
We have raised $8,508.30 for MANNA FoodBank and only have $263.70 or 66.1 “miles” left to meet our original goal and for the Donors to complete the Fund-Racer to Katahdin! Keep it going – you all are Amazing!
You all, as donors, are way ahead of us as we are just now coming up on the one quarter mark of the trail with 534.3 miles hiked!
Day 40 (Thursday, March 25th, 2021)
AT Miles Hiked: 0
Layover in Abingdon, VA
Our bodies let us sleep in ‘til 7:30am, but that was it even though we had stayed up way past hiker midnight the night before. So, Hero and I got ourselves out of bed and started trying to catch up on some of our journal entries. Not long after, Breece and Magnolia got up. Noli had slept in until 8am which was not usually the case, so Breece was grateful for the additional rest today.
Once Magnolia was awake, Hero and I had no chance to work on our blog or anything else for that matter (not that we were at all upset about this). Every couple of minutes, Noli would come up to one of us and say something like “Come here, wook! Come over here!” And just like that, we would be pulled away to check out one of her toys or to color or paint with her. We were such push overs and we didn’t hate it. We really enjoyed playing and hanging out with this adorable little human.
While we played, Breece made us waffles complete with fresh strawberries and vegan whipped cream! They were so good and it was nice to sit and enjoy breakfast with Breece while Magnolia watched Daniel Tiger and ate her waffle. The rest of the morning we were at Noli’s behest, going from the play room to the living room looking at toys and playing with dolls or stuffed animals. All the while, Breece is in the background saying “you can tell her no thank you if you just want to sit and relax.” But we were enjoying being led around the house by this sweet, spirited toddler.
We were ready for a break, however, when it was time for Magnolia’s nap. While Noli slept, Breece treated us to an in home Spa Day. First, we had a foot soak with eucalyptus bath salts complete with a pumice stone to rub the dead skin off of our calloused feet. We then washed our faces, spritzed rose water on our cheeks, and put on red clay facemasks. While we let the facemasks dry, Breece made us delicious matcha lattes. We were feeling so pampered and refreshed! We finished our lattes and rinsed our faces then Breece set out a wonderful veggie and nut platter for lunch, which we devoured.
Then nap time was over for Noli and we were back at it, ushered around the house by a 2 and a half year old. She is so dang cute we just couldn’t say no, and we enjoyed playing and just being goofy with her.
Ben got home from work and we grilled vegan Beyond Brats and Burgers. Noli went to bed, and we watched Adventureland while we all ate, Hero and I both crushing a pint of ice cream each for dessert. The hiker hunger is something fierce right now, and we’re taking every opportunity during our zeroes to eat as much as our bodies can stand.
Feeling sleepy and full of yummy food, we bade Breece and Ben goodnight and very quickly fell asleep.
Day 41 (Friday, March 26th, 2021)
AT Miles Hiked: 14.9
Damascus > Lost Mountain Shelter
486.7 Miles Down, 1706.4 To Go
It was really hard to say goodbye to Breece and Ben and Magnolia today. I could feel myself dragging this morning, and I know that had a lot to do with the inevitability of parting ways. I know BAM! was feeling that way, too, and I think if we weren’t in a rush to get out the door so that Ben could get to work on time (he was kind enough to drop us back off at the trail on his way to work- thank you, Ben!), we might have taken Breece up on staying another day. “I can stop deflating this air mattress right now if you want!” she said a bit hopefully. We were mighty tempted, but we both got in our heads about “needing” to get back on trail. So, after a gut wrenching goodbye with Breece and Magnolia (who does not like goodbyes, not the least bit), we jumped in the car with Ben and were off.
We had a nice drive back into town with Ben. He took the backroads, winding through valleys and farmlands dotted with cows and goats and leash-less dogs. Eventually, we rolled into town, and Ben pulled up to the Damascus Diner where we hoped there might be some WiFi we could use to work on and publish a new blog post. We thanked Ben, exchanging hugs. He wished us luck and then we were on our own…
…until we walked into the diner, where we found Oak having breakfast! Seeing one of our favorite trail people was just what we needed in that moment- it took some of the edge off of how much we were already missing the friends we’d just parted ways with. He waved us over and we joined him at his table. Though we’d already had breakfast back at Breece’s that morning, we decided to look over the menu. It didn’t look like anything on the menu was vegan-friendly, an intuition which was confirmed by the waitress when we asked. We settled for coffee, which worked out just fine anyways because we’d need to find someplace else for WiFi access.
We sat with Oak while he finished his breakfast, half working on some of our blog writing while we did so, but mostly catching up on everything since the last time we’d seen him. Around 9:30 am, Batman strolled in- we were so excited to see him as it had been a few days since we’d last crossed paths. He let us know that Tenacious Hot Cakes and Einstein were going to be joining him around 10 am, so we decided to hang out a while longer so we could see them, too. They showed up, Tenacious Hot Cakes with a quart of Oreo ice cream that he intended to use as a topping for his pancakes. This is his signature “last breakfast before leaving town” move, and how he got the “Hot Cakes” part of his trail name. We said hey, briefly caught up, and told them we’d see ‘em out on the trail. From there, we’d be going to the Broken Fiddle Hiker Hostel where Oak had stayed the night before. He said we could hang out there and use their WiFi to finish up our blog post. Awesome, we thought! We’ll get it done real quickly and get back on trail before by noon latest.
Well, noon came and went, and we were still sitting on the porch at the Broken Fiddle trying to get that post up- it was taking forever! We had gotten behind on the blog and were trying to get all caught up before we headed back out on the trail. Because of that, we had a pileup of days. Not only did we need to flesh out and tweak our writing, but we also had to go through the process of getting photos downloaded off of the GoPro and uploaded onto the blog. Sounds like it should take no time at all to do such a thing, but believe me- it took an excruciating amount of time to do so and synthesize it all. While we were working on this, Oak had gone back into the hostel to shower and get ready to go back on trail. It had been a few hours since he’d gone to do this and we were still right where he left us on the porch. As he rounded the corner, we heard him say “please tell me y’all still aren’t here working on that blog!” We both gave him sheepish grins.
In the end, we didn’t roll out of Damascus until about 3:30 pm. We published the blog, grabbed a few things we needed from Sundog Outfitters, and were finally back on trail. It took about an hour for my body to readjust to having a pack back on, but then I started feeling strong and BAM! and I cruised along the section of trail leading out of Damascus. The sun was out and beating down on us- it was so warm I was wearing the tank top I’d just acquired at the outfitters.
Because we didn’t get on trail until much later than expected, we planned on going to the first shelter 9ish miles in rather than the second shelter about 15 miles in. However, by the time we got to the intersection and realized we’d have to hike 1/4 mile off trail to get to the first shelter, we were feeling good and decided to press on. By then, the sun was no longer beating down on us, and we were hiking in what may have been some of the nicest temperatures we’d experienced on trail thus far.
The light started to fade quickly, and eventually we had to pull out our headlamps for a bit of night hiking. The moon was stunning and nearly full, but we still needed our headlamps in order to see and avoid the roots and rocks protruding from the trail. I was a little nervous about night hiking, but we talked and kept each other company and that helped to curb the fear. It helped, too, that the sounds of the river and streams we walked alongside during this stretch made me feel more tranquil, less anxious.
After roughly 5 and a half hours of hiking, we rolled into camp a little after 9 pm. We tried to be as quiet as possible, knowing that the Family and Toodles must be sleeping in the shelter. We walked behind the shelter to see if we could find a good camping spot. “I see your true, colors…” someone started to sing from the woods we were headed for. We paused for a second. “Are you an alien, or a thru hiker?” the disembodied voice now said. We chuckled, now knowing exactly who we were hearing. BAM! responded in a semi-whisper, “Actually, we’re hikers from another planet!” “Oh! Alien Thru Hikers!” Laughing, we approached the spot where we’d heard the voice coming from. Two tents were set up in a nice, flat, forested area just beyond the shelter. “Hi Tenacious, Hi Batman,” We said, “It’s BAM! and Hero.”
There were plenty of nice spots for us to get set up, so we got right to work with our camp routine. Within an hour and fifteen minutes, our bellies were full of delicious food and our heads were hitting our lightweight inflatable pillows.
Day 42 (Saturday, March 27th, 2021)
AT Miles Hiked: 12.3
Lost Mountain Shelter > Thomas Knob Shelter
499 Miles Down, 1694.1 To Go
The alarm went off at 6am, but my mind woke me up several minutes earlier. After getting in late last night, we had only gotten 7 hours of sleep and our bodies were telling us that they wanted more. But the weather forecast had thunderstorms rolling in around 2pm, and we wanted to get over the highest peaks before the storms came through.
So, after taking 5 to 10 minutes to convince our bodies that we needed to get up and going, we turned on our light and started packing. The morning was pleasant, not too cool and clear skies. We could hear the Family and Toodles packing up in the shelter nearby and went over to say good morning. They let us know they had a similar plan for today and would be trying to push to the next shelter before the storm hit.
We finished packing up and got on the trail just a little bit after the Family left. We were having a hard time pushing ourselves to hike quickly, though. Our bodies were feeling a bit sluggish and both of us were thinking about how we would rather be back in Abingdon with our friends instead of dodging thunderstorms in the highlands. But we pressed on, and it really was a beautiful morning. The clouds started to fill in the sky, a warning of the coming storm, yet it was a pleasant temperature and calm in the forest. The birds were chirping and we passed several trickling springs. I was trying hard to focus on the natural beauty around me and remind myself of all the reasons why I love being out here. Mentally, today was harder than most.
It didn’t help that we had a long climb up nealy 2,000 feet of elevation gain. It wasn’t steep or even that strenuous, but it was long and seemed to drag on for hours. We finally got to the top and were treated to amazing views at Buzzard Rock. The Forest Service had recently done a prescribed burn and we could see the storm clouds building in the distance. All of this made for an eerie but captivating scene. We didn’t linger for long, though, because we were trying to stay ahead of those thunder heads building behind us.
We got to Whitetop Mtn. Rd. and saw the Family in the parking lot. For a moment, we thought there was trail magic and we got excited. Then we realized they were just getting resupplied. So, we said a quick hello and told them we would seem them down trail.
It had already started to sprinkle a bit when we got to the Elk Garden parking lot, somewhere around noon. Hero noticed the bathroom and decided to take advantage. She walked over, but the door was locked. We took our packs off and hung out under the tiny awning next to the info sign and had a snack. The shelter was only 4 miles away so figured we should be able to make it before 2pm when the storms were really supposed to hit- surely this little bit of rain right now was just a precursor. We threw our packs back on, crossed the street, went through a gate, and started towards a large open bald – FLASH! Lightning lit up the sky followed by booming thunder only a couple of seconds later. We looked at each other then at the open hills ahead of us and back at each other. “That doesn’t feel safe- let’s head back to the parking lot.” We went back through the gate, crossed the street, and back under the info awning. The rain started coming down harder. Then Hero said, “we could go to the awning by the bathroom, there is more space.” We ran over there, set our packs down and turned on our phones to check the weather.
This wasn’t supposed to start until 2pm! When I checked the radar, we could see the small cell that was moving over us. Behind it was a much larger cell, and we determined that we would have a small window of time, but probably not enough to get 4 miles to the shelter. Lightning flashed again, two seconds later – Crack! The storm was right on top of us. For now we were staying put…
…10 minutes later the Family and Toodles hiked down into the parking lot. They came over to the bathroom hoping they could squeeze under the awning, but there wasn’t enough room for all of us. The rain was dying down at this point, so we all started talking about our plan. We were all trying to figure out how to get over the open fields ahead of us and to the next shelter safely. Bad Santa asked if anyone had a satellite image of the trail to the shelter. I did and I pulled it up. We looked at it and noticed that the open field was only a half mile long and then we would be in tree cover nearly the whole way to the shelter.
Being under a uniform canopy of trees was a lot better than being in a high open field during a thunderstorm. This gave us some comfort and the confidence we needed to press on. The first smaller cell had passed, so this was our window. We all took off up the rolling hills as thunder boomed in the distance, it seemed further away at this point. Hero and I were moving at our faster pace again- it’s amazing how a little extra adrenaline can motivate our tired muscles.
We made it to the treeline and we all felt a little relieved. Now we had to try and push the next 3.5 miles before the bigger storm hit. It was muddy and rocky, but we were cruising. We were in the front of the pack with Toodles, Stumbles, and Ninja Feet. We had been hiking for about an hour and Ninja Feet turns around and says “Quiet, Toodles this is the moment you’ve been waiting for… the first ponies of the trail!” Sure enough through the trees we can see two little ponies. We all get pretty excited, and for a moment we forget we are trying to outrun a giant storm. The trail takes us closer to the ponies and we realize there are 5 or 6 in this field. Oh of course we have to get pictures! They come right up to us and start licking our legs – they love the salt on us sweaty thru hikers. As I was taking a picture, one of the ponies went over to my trekking poles and started chewing on the straps – I quickly pull it out of its mouth.
We hear thunder and remember the coming storm. We rush out knowing the shelter shouldn’t be too far away. We get a view out over the mountains and can see the menacing storm heading our way. It looks so cool – I have to take a picture. The wind picks up and we watch as dark clouds literally engulf us. Moments later the rain starts. Now we are almost running, and it starts to pour! We see the shelter, but it is packed with boy scouts! We squeeze under the awning and out of the rain, but still feel the cold wind. There we wait with our packs on for the storm to pass.
We were glad to hear that the 30+ scouts were moving on after the storm. This meant there would be more options for us to find camping, maybe even consider the shelter if it was just tramily members.
After what felt like hours of waiting, the Boy Scouts cleared out and the shelter still seemed pretty cramped. We thought hard about cramming ourselves in there with Toodles and the Family, but then determined that our double sleeping pad was going to take up too much room. We opted for a tenting spot nearby in the spruce forest. It wound up being a good option as it afforded us more space and privacy. We just hoped that the tent would hold up okay during the storms headed our way. We were experiencing what felt like the cliched “calm before the storm,” which made setting up the tent a lot less stressful.
We ate dinner, and afterwards I played a little ukulele. With all the people around, I was a bit nervous and it didn’t so much feel like I was just practicing for fun- it felt like more of a performance. But I guess people liked what I played. I didn’t realize it at the time, but apparently French Fry (who might be Starfish again?) was recording me while I played!
After a while, we could feel the winds start to shift and we knew by the intermittent rain drops hitting the ground that the storm was approaching. Hero and I said goodnight to everyone, quickly packed up our things, and headed to our tent. Settling in, we spent the rest of the evening thinking through a plan of action if we needed to jump ship because of the weather. We made sure anything we really didn’t want to get wet was up off the ground (in case the bottom of our tent filled up like a bathtub) and hunkered down.
We waited with bated breath as round two of the storm started to close in…
Day 43 (Sunday, March 28th, 2021)
AT Miles Hiked: 4.1 (backtrack miles)
Thomas Knob Shelter > VA 600, Elk Garden
499 Miles Down, 1694.1 To Go
We were woken up throughout the night by one of the most intense storms I’ve ever encountered in my life. Without a doubt it was the most nerve-wracking storm-related night in the outdoors I’ve experienced thus far. The rain battered our tent from dusk til dawn while thunder shook us and lightning cracked across the sky- our closed eyes were no match for the intensity of its too-close-for-comfort flash. More than once, lightning would brighten the inside of our tent and only a second later we would hear the accompanying thunder, meaning it likely struck less than a mile away from us. Though sleep was hard to come by, I silently gave thanks anytime I was jarred awake to the spruce forest we were nestled in, for our tent that held up and kept us dry, for the inflatable sleeping pad between us and the earth, giving us at least some protection from potential ground current.
Rain still pattering on the tent fly, we checked the radar as soon as we awoke this morning. Although the storm that rocked us throughout the night had all but dissipated, another severe one was on its way. Rain was guaranteed throughout the day, with a likely chance of thunderstorms starting in the afternoon. The next section of trail we had ahead of us would traverse through the Grayson Highlands, which included several stretches of wide open fields and balds with little to no tree coverage. Not only were we not very keen on walking along high elevation balds in the middle of thunder and lightning, but Grayson Highlands was also one of the sections of trail we had been most looking forward to. We didn’t want to pass through the area in a hurry with our heads bent and spirits low.
We weighed our options and decided to text Breece and see if she’d be able to help us out. As it turned out, she’d been worried about us last night as the storm raged violently at their house down in the valley- if it was bad where they were, she was certain we must be having a real time of it up on the ridge. Absolutely she would come and get us! We were so relieved and full of gratitude- now we just had to get to a spot where she could pick us up. We wanted it to be as easy as possible for her to scoop us, which meant we would need to backtrack about 4 miles to VA 600, Elk Garden parking area, the spot where we’d huddled under the bathroom awning less than 24 hours prior. It would mean doing that stretch along the trail three times- yesterday afternoon when we were being chased by the storm, today as we backtracked to Elk Garden to meet Breece, and tomorrow when we would be coming back through to push on. It was hard to feel like we were moving backwards mileage-wise, but ultimately we knew that it would be well worth it so that we could dry out and not freeze overnight, spend more time with Breece and Ben and Magnolia, and save Grayson Highlands for a sunnier day.
We packed up quickly, thoroughly motivated by the promise of a warm, dry car just a few miles back down the trail. We had a window of time in which the rain stopped ever so briefly, granting us the opportunity to get the tent taken down without getting the inside of the body completely soaked. After doing this, we rushed under the awning of the Thomas Knob Shelter and scarfed down some breakfast, chatting with the Family and Toodles and updating them on our plans. They were planning on zeroing at the shelter, possibly considering a night hike once the storms passed by. The forecast was indicating that the temperature would drop into the low 20s after the storm had passed- no one seemed keen on getting soaking wet and transforming into popsicles overnight.
Waving goodbye to everyone, we set off on the trail. Only, it didn’t resemble a trail anymore so much as a river. We tried to rock hop for about the first minute or two before we realized our efforts were going to be fruitless- our feet were going to get wet, and that was that. And so we trudged, making our way back down to the parking area. We got there early and immediately ran for cover under the awning in front of the locked bathroom, causing us to feel a sense of deja vu. We huddled there, dancing to keep warm while we waited for the blue Subaru. At one point while we waited, Tall Man showed up, and we all commiserated about the weather and updated each other on our plans. He was planning on moving on to Thomas Knob where we’d just come from. We wished him luck and hoped that he had some warm and dry layers for the night ahead.
After some time, we heard that familiar “beep beep beep beep beeeeeeeeeeeep!” and there was Breece! We hopped in the car and sped down that mountain back towards civilization.
After that, the rest of the day was all about eating delicious hot food and chillin’, two things we were beyond stoked for. I took what was one of the best showers of my life and felt like a queen as I slipped into fresh, clean clothes. When Magnolia woke up from her nap, we half watched Moana while we played. Once again, she was chock-full of little kidisms and hilarious one-liners. At one point while she was watching Daniel Tiger, Breece remarked that the show was somewhat of a modern take on Mr. Rogers. Without skipping a beat, Magnolia exclaimed, “Yeah, it’s modern!” We all cracked up hearing the word “modern” coming from a precocious two and a half year old. After Magnolia went to bed, we ate some of the best chili while watching one of the dumbest rom-coms. All in all, it was a day well spent in the company of some of our most favorite humans. We’re so grateful for the way it all turned out, so appreciative of the caring people we are so lucky to call our friends.
Day 44 (Monday, March 29th, 2021)
AT Miles Hiked: 20.2 (4.1 repeat, 16.1 new miles)
VA 600, Elk Garden > Hurricane Mtn Shelter
515.1 Miles Down, 1678 To Go
We were so grateful to have been inside and warm last night, and 6am felt like it came way too quickly. We gave ourselves 5 more minutes, but then we had to get up and get ready to head back to the trail. Ben would be dropping us off in Damascus to catch a shuttle before heading in to work.
We quietly packed up our stuff, careful not to wake the sleeping toddler in the next room. We had a big breakfast and some coffee, which we transformed into mochas with our hot cocoa packets (Swiss Miss makes a non-dairy cocoa mix these days at it is deeeeelish! -Hero). Breece gave us big hugs before we left. It was hard saying goodbye again, and this time Magnolia was still asleep so we didn’t get to give her one last hug- it broke our hearts not being able to say goodbye to her. That little girl brings so much joy into our hearts!
It was nice talking with Ben on the drive into Damascus, and we were so grateful for the ride. We got to the shuttle and Batman and Tenacious Hot Cakes showed up a couple minutes later and we all went out to Elk Garden parking area. From there, we started hiking those 4 plus miles to Thomas Knob for the 3rd time. But today it was sunny and pleasant – we weren’t dodging thunderstorms or walking through a river on the trail. We were pretty excited that we would be going through the Grayson Highlands on such a beautiful day!
We got back to Thomas Knob and took it in with fresh eyes. On Saturday and Sunday, the place had been bursting at the seams with everyone who stayed there. Now, we were the only people there. We checked the log for a tramily update and Hero wrote in it. After a quick snack, we continued on to the Highlands.
We weren’t into our hike very long before we hit the 500 mile mark. Elated, we took a few photos and enjoyed the sense of accomplishment that came with reminding ourselves that we’d walked here from Georgia.
It wasn’t long before we emerged from the spruce forest out onto the rocky balds. We technically weren’t within the park boundary yet, but the other worldly feel that we’d been told about was already starting to take shape. Indeed, the rock formations had the look and feel of something you might expect to see on another planet.
We crossed into the park and there they were: ponies! A few were congregating near the informational signage, probably hoping for snacks or a salty leg or two to lick. We read some of the informational signage before carrying on, certain that we’d see more of the funny creatures.
Sure enough, we hadn’t gone half a mile before we were enthusiastically greeted by what appeared to be a younger pony. It trotted right up to us, whinnying and tossing its mane with gusto. After it had stood there for a few moments and we clearly didn’t have any treats, it whinnied again, let out a disgruntled snort, turned right around and trotted away. The trot turned into a full on gallop with several sassy whinnies thrown in- such a dramatic pony! Hero was overwhelmed with pony-induced joy.
We kept going, enjoying the Highlands and saying “Hello, we love you!” to all of the ponies we passed. Eventually, we crossed over the state park boundary and though we had a few more miles of seeing ponies, we soon were beyond the Highlands altogether, a.k.a beyond the “pony zone.” We focused then on making miles to Hurricane Mtn Shelter where we planned to stay for the night.
We arrived at the shelter and it was completely empty- not what we were expecting based on word that had traveled down trail indicating a whole bunch of the tramily intended to stay there. I guess plans changed and they decided to push on to Dickey Gap where they could get a ride into town.
Though we’d hoped to see some folks, we also were kinda stoked to have room in the shelter for the night. Plus, Tenacious and Batman were planning on staying here for the night, so we figured we’d probably get to see them.
As we were getting dinner ready, someone we hadn’t met yet strolled into camp- he introduced himself as No Plan. Fond of hammocking, he went about getting set up while there was still some light in the sky. Soon Tenacious arrived, and Batman not long thereafter, although he ultimately decided to camp a little further away down the hill. We talked with No Plan and Tenacious until hiker midnight. Then, we got settled into our sleeping bag and crashed out.
Day 45 (Tuesday, March 30th, 2021)
AT Miles Hiked: 19.2
Hurricane Mtn Shelter > VA 16, Pat Jennings Visitor Center
534.3 Miles Down, 1658.8 To Go
Slept right through the alarm this morning, but our bodies woke up on their own only about 30 minutes later. Sunrise colors were starting to fill the sky, and we had a great view as pinks and oranges highlighted the ridgelines in the distance. Even though we had some miles to make today, we were sluggish in getting going. We took our time, in part because it was quite cold and we had to shake out our hands every so often to warm them up.
The terrain and our surroundings today were a lot less “wow!” than yesterday when we were hiking through the Grayson Highlands. No more ponies either, which was a bummer (I really loved those ponies). We had to do some road walking because of a re-route, which was less than ideal. But the weather was on our side, especially as the sun climbed higher into the sky and the cold air of the early morning slipped away. It wasn’t a day filled with the “oooos” and “ahhhs” that tend to accompany gorgeous mountaintop views or magical moss covered spruce forests. But we found moments here and there as we crossed through grassy fields and got little glimpses at farmland in the valleys below, as we walked through tunnels of rhododendron and listened to the burbling of streams we crossed.
It was a little after 4 pm when we reached the Partnership Shelter right before the Pat Jennings Visitor Center. We were delighted to see that Wicked, Tall Man, Viking Man, and Not Yet were all there! We spent a little bit of time catching up with them, asking them how they had faired through the storms. After a bit, we said goodbye and moved onto the visitor center where we called for a cab. While we waited, we let our new thru hiker friend No Plan charge his phone with our power bank so he wouldn’t have to go into town just to juice it up. The cab took a while to show up, but we were okay with that because it gave Tenacious some time to catch up. He made it just in time, and we all jumped in the car and wound our down the windy mountain road into the town of Marion.
The cab dropped us off at the EconoLodge. We went ahead and booked a room for two nights knowing that we’d be taking a zero tomorrow to have a Hiking for Hunger work day. The bright lemon walls and lime green accent wall smacked our eyeballs as we walked into the room. Home for the next two nights- gotta love it.
We were wiped out from the day and desperately in need of sustenance, preferably the kind that could be delivered right to our peeled-paint motel door. There wasn’t much in the way of vegan-friendly food, let alone vegan-friendly food that could be delivered. We settled on a cheese-less veggie lovers pizza from Pizza Hut with a side of breadsticks sans butter (we think we may have detected a hint of Parmesan cheese, though our stomachs didn’t protest so we’re holding out hope that it was just our overzealous imaginations at work). Despite being unsure, we ate every last bit of it- hiker hunger is for real, y’all!
Too tired to put any real effort into working tonight, we flipped through the channels and landed on the tail end of the original Jurassic Park. Our eyelids grew heavy as animatronic dinosaurs galavanted around and frightened humans haphazardly escaped the doomed island. I remember thinking at one point “wow, this movie felt way scarier two decades ago.” Then sleep got it’s way, and I was out like a light.