Hey y’all we are working hard to catch up on our journal. Here are days 56-65 (Daleville, VA to the Southern Shenandoahs) Thanks so much for following along!
Day 56 (Saturday, April 10th, 2021)
AT Miles: 0
710.5 Miles Down, 1482.6 To Go
We let ourselves sleep in a bit this morning and our bodies needed it. Hero microwaved some of our leftover cheese-less pizza and we ate breakfast in bed. We started planning out our day as we ate. We needed to go to Kroger’s and get our resupply and we needed to swing by the outfitter to check if they had some things we were looking for. I also needed to hike down to the post office to pick up my new shoes!
We realized that the Kroger and the Outfitter were in the same strip mall and there was a coffee shop there, too. Unfortunately, the Outfitter doesn’t open until 10am and we are trying to get all of our errands done as early as possible so we can get some Hiking for Hunger things done today, too. We decide to start at the coffee shop! We start walking the 0.6 miles down the road. It is a little nerve wracking since there are no sidewalks and it is 4 lanes of traffic with a median. We walk down the shoulder of the road then dart across two lanes of traffic to the median, walk a little further and see an opportunity- we dash across to the other side. We get to the parking lot for the strip mall and head to the coffee shop. Hero orders a Chai Latte and I ask for a Dirty Chai, both with Oat Milk. They are ready in just a few minutes. We take a few sips – so delicious, such a treat!
With my Chai in hand, I start walking another 0.6 miles up to the post office while Hero heads over to Kroger to get our resupply. I have to dart back across the highway and walk along the road the whole way- still not a sidewalk in sight in this Roanoke suburb. I get to the post office and ask if they have a package for me – they do! A huge thank you to Tasmen for picking up the shoes from Outdoor 76 and shipping them to me so quickly, I am so grateful! They hand me the box and I walk out to the parking lot, open it up and put my new shoes on for the walk back down the road.
As I am lacing them up, a car pulls in and a lady gets out and looks over at me with a big smile on her face, “Are you a hiker?” she asks. “I am!” I say and she walks over and says, “I always love talking with the hikers.” We started chatting and get to know each other a bit. I eventually talk about our fundraiser and how Hero and I used to work for MANNA. When I say that, her face lights up, and she says “my niece’s husband volunteers for MANNA!” A bit shocked and surprised, I ask, “What’s his name?” She tells me and I realize that it is someone I have worked alongside in the MANNA Volunteer Center for the last couple years. It is just crazy and amazing that this person and I happened to meet each other and realized our connection during just a few minutes of chatting. After a wonderful conversation, I asked her to tell her niece’s husband I said “Hi,” and started walking back down the road.
With the new shoes, I felt like I was walking on clouds again. I get back to the strip mall just a few minutes before 10am when the outfitters are supposed to open. I text Hero to see if she is still at Kroger and she is. We meet up and finish shopping then go over to the outfitter. I wait outside with our bags of food while she goes into shop. A little while later she comes out wearing a brand new pair of shoes! She let me know that she tried them on just to see the difference between the new shoes and her old shoes. She realized that the cushion in her old shoes was completely compressed and she also needed new ones. I was stoked that we would both have fresh shoes for the next leg of the trail. Hero waited outside while I went in to look around a bit. I found a few things we needed like bug spray and permethrin now that the ticks, mosquitoes, and other bugs are out.
Afterwards, we headed back to the motel with all of our food. We got back then sorted and packed our resupply. We were feeling pretty drained and really just wanted to chill. We turned on the TV and stumbled upon a Hunger Games marathon while channel surfing and immediately got sucked in. We both realized we weren’t getting any more work done…
A couple of hours later, we were getting hungry and really wanted the Impossible Burgers we heard were at the Tavern in town, but it was almost 2 miles away and we definitely weren’t walking. I tried ordering through Uber Eats and I thought it was working but an hour passed and the app still said they were “making your order.” So, I called the Tavern directly and they said they had never received the order. They also told me Uber Eats dosen’t even work in this town (Sigh). I tried just requesting a ride from Uber to go down and pick up the food. To my surprise, I actually got a ride, but they were coming from the next town over and it would take 20 minutes fir them to get to the hotel.
They pulled up and I got in. I told the driver that I was just picking up food, and if he wanted to get a double fair he could hang out for a minute while I place another request and he could take me right back to the hotel. His response, “I’ll be long gone before you come back out.” I found this odd and kinda rude. I was just trying to make it worth his while to have come over this way by making sure he got at least two fares for his trouble. Oh well, we got there, I grabbed the food (which was ready to go) and was back out in less than a minute. True to his word, the Uber driver was already gone. I placed another request for a ride back but there were no drivers in the area. Frustrated, I started walking back in the direction of the hotel. It had rained and I was in my sandals with socks on m, and my feet were getting wet as I walked along the side of the busy sidewalk-lacking road. I just wanted to be back in the hotel room chilling with Hero- I really didn’t want to walk two miles on the road in my sandals. After walking a little ways, I tried requesting a ride again and to my amazement I got someone. They were over 20 minutes away, but I would rather wait than walk at this point, so I waited.
The second Uber driver showed up and was really nice. We chatted and they were also surprised that the other driver didn’t take me up on the double fare. They dropped me off, I thanked them for the ride, and went back to the room. The burger and fries were luke warm at this point and not the best we’ve had, but we still enjoyed them as we continued watching the Hunger Games.
Before we knew it, six o’clock had rolled around- we had dinner plans with our good friend Einstein, who is getting off the trail to go back to work. He accomplished more than he thought he would – over a third of the trail under his belt. He would stay on if he could, but as he kept saying he’s a word of his man and he was needed back at work. We all wished he could keep hiking with us, too, but since he had to get off we were gonna make sure we sent him off with all the love and support we could muster.
We had such a great night hanging out- having drinks, eating food, and just talking. The community he had built and become a part of in just a couple months on trail was truly amazing- almost everyone was there to say goodbye. He lives near the trail further north, so we all made plans to see him again when we go through his town. It wasn’t goodbye, just see ya later… but it was still hard. When you experience the challenges of the trail together and grow through the early trials, the bonds you create are strong – we’re family! We’ll see you again soon Einstein!
Day 57 (Sunday, April 11th, 2021)
AT Miles: 11.2
Daleville, VA > Wilson Creek Shelter
721.7 Miles Down, 1471.4 To Go
We went to bed very, very, VERY late last night. It was well worth it to have the chance to spend some good quality time with Einstein on his last day, but man were we feeling it this morning. We struggled to get up and moving, dragging our sluggish feet as long as possible.
We ran into Einstein as he was getting coffee in the hotel lobby. We said our last goodbyes for now. I tell myself that it’s just “see ya later” until we see him further up the trail when we get to where he lives in Massachusetts, but this does little to take the edge off of parting ways. Einstein has been my buddy since that fateful day at the very beginning when we all got drenched and then froze overnight. I’ll never forget meeting Einstein as we warmed our hands over one of Fresh Ground’s cook flames that next morning, both of us laughing hysterically at the absurdity of what we’d gotten ourselves into. Even in that moment, the trail had stripped us bare and we found ourselves talking about some of the deeper internal reasons motivating our hike- he’s the first person aside from BAM! that I opened up to in a beyond-surface-level kind of way. There’s going to be a big piece of the trail missing for me with his absence.
We start walking back towards the trail, grateful that we didn’t have to cross that crazy road again. It’s a bluebird day and already quite warm- we stop early on and I take off my light jacket and spread some sunscreen on my shoulders and face. We press on, our tiredness and the emotional struggle of parting ways with Einstein weighing on us heavily. Our pace is significantly slower than it usually is, and we decide early on that today is probably a good day to take it easy. It’s 11 miles to the second shelter, which feels like a good amount for today, as opposed to the 19 we’d originally been wanting to do.
We take a snack break at the first shelter five miles into our hike and after the biggest climb for the day. We stay there for a while, not really wanting to leave but knowing that we really should make it to the next shelter. After our break, we each put on an audiobook for the last 6 miles, which helps out a lot with the rest of the hike.
We make it to camp before 4 pm and get to work setting up right away. Tinman and Longshot were already here, along with some other folks we don’t know. BAM! meets a thru hiker named Grinder while getting water. I get the tent set up, making battle with the wind as it tries to turn the fly into a sail- I don’t really feel like going parasailing today. We have an early dinner. It’s the first night of a new ration so y’all know what that means- Mac n’ Torts, my favorite! Just the comfort food needed for an emotionally challenging day.
Still tired from not getting much sleep, I retreat to the tent well before hiker midnight. I’m not feeling very social, and I really just want to take a few minutes and close my eyes. After a while, I feel a little refreshed and decide that now is as good a time as any to work on some writing. While I do this, I take little breaks to take my phone off of airplane mode and text my dad. My excitement for seeing him and Janis and Tyler next Saturday is an antidote for my sadness. I can’t wait to see them- less than a week!
Day 58 (Monday, April 12th, 2021)
AT Miles: 17
Wilson Creek Shelter > Jennings Creek (random campsite)
738.7 Miles Down, 1454.4 To Go
We woke up early this morning planning to hike into the sunrise as we had a few days ago. That day had been so pleasant, and as the days start to warm up, the cool mornings seem to be the best time to push miles. There were several people camped around us, so we did our best to be quiet as most of them were still sleeping. As we were still packing up in our tent, another hiker woke up and started talking to someone else at full volume- you could hear them loud and clear throughout the camp. We were already awake, so it wasn’t a big deal for us, but we felt bad for those still trying to sleep. We continued packing up in silence.
As we were just about ready to start hiking, Wicked and Viking Man passed by and told us that Fresh Ground was just 3 miles down trail with breakfast. We just ate, but for Fresh Ground, we could definitely have second breakfast! We were pretty excited and hiked very quickly to Taylor Gap where we found Fresh Ground and enjoyed a stir fry breakfast and fried potatoes. He then told everyone that he would meet us for a late lunch down trail at Jennings Creek. That sounded wonderful! We thanked him, even though he told us to stop saying thank you, and told him we looked forward to seeing him later.
The hike along the parkway was beautiful. The trees were leafing out and the valleys were turning green. It seemed as if the bright light green of the new leaves were slowly creeping up the sides of the mountains. It was such a pleasant day- we crossed the parkway several times the terrain was fairly gradual. That along with full bellies and good company from that morning had us in such a cheerful mood.
We got to Jennings Creek just a little after two, and Fresh Ground made us vegan mac and cheese with fake bac’n bits. It was so delicious! We were planning to hike on and get futher down the trail, but then he then told us that if we stayed the night, he would make us dinner and have a movie for us to watch. He would also have breakfast for us in the morning. Well, we couldn’t say no. Fresh Ground smiled at us, knowing we weren’t going anywhere, and told us where we could set up our tent. Other people were rolling in, and since we had already eaten, we surrendered our chairs to other hikers and went to find a tent spot.
After getting set up, we came back out to the Leapfrog Cafe to hang out and mingle with friends. Fresh Ground had been trying to convince everyone to go swimming in Jennings Creek which was right next to the cafe setup. It was a nice day, but not hot, and when the clouds covered the sun it was a bit cool. Still, we weren’t opposed- it sounded brisk but refreshing. Eventually, Fresh Ground brought out a bucket of towels and led the way. He jumped in first and rallied several others to jump in after him. Hero went down with him and jumped in. I was on my way down to the river when it hit me – I had to go dig a cat hole, NOW! I ran over to my pack, grabbed the trowel, and hiked up the ridgeline behind the tent sites, through briars, in my sandals to find a spot where people couldn’t see me. By the time I got back down, everyone was out of the river and drying off near the propane burner.
Fresh Ground looked at me, “where’d you go?” “I had to dig an emergency hole”, I said. Hero looked at me with a smile and said, “I figured that’s what happened.” Then Fresh Ground asked, “you still going in?!” “Yes, of course!” I grabbed a towel and walked down to the river, took off my sandals, and jumped in. I swam into the current a little bit and then came back to shore and stood up. It was very cold, but refreshing- I decided to go again. I jumped back in, swam and dunked under water for a bit, then came back to shore – so refreshing! I put my sandals back on and hiked up to the burner to warm up and dry off.
After drying off, I decided I wanted to play my ukelele, so I went back to the tent and played a bit. Hero came and got me a while later because Fresh Ground had cooked our dinner first and it was ready. He made us Vegan Morning Star burgers, double patties for both of us – so yummy! Even though we had eaten so much food that day, we still scarfed them down with ease. The hiker hunger is real y’all. Then Fresh Ground brought out his laptop and a choice of two movies- we all picked a movie called something like “I Kill Giants,” I think. We sat down with the Cuatro Locos (Wicked, Viking Man, Tall Son, and Not Yet), Long Shot, Batman, Tenacious, and No Plan and watched the movie. It was hard to hear and a little challenging to see, but we just enjoyed sitting with friends and feeling like we were all just hanging out at home having a movie night. It was great!
A hiker and supporter of the Leapfrog Cafe named Rat Pack came by and brought Fresh Ground more eggs and ice. He also brought beer for everyone! This was such a wonderful surprise. We hung out and enjoyed chatting and having a couple of beers. The Strawbridge Family, whom we’d heard a bit about from Fresh Ground, showed up a little later. It was cool meeting them as they are finishing up the Triple Crown as a family. They just finished the CDT in November and hopped on the AT early March and were averaging 25 miles a day. Quite incredible- we enjoyed meeting them, although we didn’t get to talk too much that night as it was getting dark and we were all starting to head to bed as they came in. We hoped to run into them again down trail.
Day 59 (Tuesday, April 13th, 2021)
AT Miles: 21.1
Jennings Creek (random campsite) > Marble Spring Campsite
759.8 Miles Down, 1433.3 To Go
We were up before it started getting light, breaking down our home in the little “tent city” we’d been a part of at Jennings Creek. The promise of a Fresh Ground breakfast had us extra motivated to make good time this morning. We tried to be quiet and stealthy because the occupants of the tents around us weren’t awake yet.
The tent taken down and our packs mostly packed up, we left the little camping area and went out to the gravel parking lot where Fresh Ground was set up. As we walked the narrow path, we could make out the unmistakable bobbing of headlamps in the dark- the Strawbridges must be up and getting ready to dive into some FG breakfast. We walked out into the parking lot and sure enough, the family was up and hanging about. I looked over and saw that Fresh Ground was in a state of deep concentration as he worked quickly to prepare all the food involved in a classic FG breakfast. I’d seen him in this state before, and recognized it as his “leave me alone and just let me cook” mode. Fresh Ground likes to be ahead of the game, which I can completely relate to- whenever I feel like I’m even just a little bit behind on things, I tend to get anxious. I can imagine with how many people he had lined up to be fed this morning that Fresh Ground must be feeling like he really just needed to be able to hone in and get things done. For that reason, BAM! and I stood back and waited for the edge in his expression to slacken a bit before saying good morning. Eventually, I saw a window of opportunity and took my banana peel to the trash bag hanging off the side of the van. “Good Morning, Fresh Ground!” I said cheerfully. His eyes lit up a bit, and the corners of his mouth turned up ever so slightly. “Good Morning!” He said, not taking his eyes off of the eggs he was scrambling, but his face nonetheless softening a bit. I smiled, asked him if he slept well, and he nodded and said “Oh yes, very well.” I beamed at him and went back to where BAM! was waiting on the periphery.
The Strawbridges ate quickly and were hitting the trail before most everyone else had even gotten up. As they cleared out, the rest of us who were already awake filled in the empty chairs that were circled around the cooking area. We drank coffee, ate fruit, and bantered while we waited for breakfast. Everyone was bracing themselves for a big climb up to the tops of Floyd Mountain and then Apple Orchard Mountain. We all knew it was going to be a slog of a day involving many miles of ascending. At least it was looking like the weather would be cooperative, and Fresh Ground told us he’d even be at the top with lunch!
When breakfast was ready, we ate quickly and then promptly got going, waving to Fresh Ground and saying “see you later!” The uphill started immediately, but the first bit just involved getting up and back down over Fork Mountain, small potatoes compared to the continuous climb which would begin thereafter. Still, we had only gotten a few hundred yards up the trail before we had to pull over and both dig catholes. Once that was taken care of, we made quick work of the bump up and over Fork Mountain. Before starting the “big one,” we stopped at Bryant Shelter for a snack break. We saw Wicked and Sprink there, and met a thru hiker by the name of Skelator. Eventually, we dragged ourselves away from the shelter and started the ascent.
I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of my pack being way too heavy, a sensation that felt exacerbated by the tough climb we were experiencing. How in the world did I make it this far? I recall thinking to myself. How did I make it through Georgia with all of my winter gear and way too much food? I had way more weight back then compared to now, and yet here I am feeling like my pack has never felt heavier. While I know that my pack is indeed heavy, I also sense that part of what I’m experiencing has more to do with the mental and emotional challenge of the trail. Back in Daleville, Fresh Ground had mentioned that we are now in the midst of what is considered “The Grind,” the middle third section of the trail where most people tend to feel wry strongly the mental and emotional game of the trail. I wonder to myself if my pack is really as heavy as I think it is or if my mind is just playing tricks on me…
No Plan was standing at the Apple Orchard Falls turn off when we walked up. He was determining whether or not he wanted to go down there, ultimately deciding to do the out and back in order to see the waterfall. While here, BAM! and I realized that we had indeed gone down to these particular falls before while on a mini Blue Ridge Parkway trip several years ago. For as much as today was taking a lot out of us, remembering that trip and having that deja vu moment got us reminiscing and put a little pep in our step- it helped motivate us up to the top of Apple Orchard Mountain!
We finally got to the top of Apple Orchard Mountain where a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) tower that looks like a giant soccer ball is perched. We look around a bit, take in the views, marvel at the giant soccer ball, and then finally start descending for what feels like the first time today. We’re hungry and super motivated to get to Thunder Ridge Overlook where Fresh Ground said he’d be set up with lunch, so we fly.
We arrive at Thunder Ridge just as the Strawbridges are getting ready to push on- we say a quick hello before they take off. Then we are welcomed in and Fresh Ground is hustlin’ and bustlin’ and insisting that we eat a crazy amount of food (surprise, surprise). We grab plates and load up our gigantic, fried tortillas with lots of delicious burrito fixins. We drop into two of the camp chairs FG has set up, crack open a few sodas (tsssssss, ahhhhh!) and dive in. After what we’ve been through today, this moment is pure bliss- we are awash with a sense of complete and utter euphoria as we munch on our burritos and slurp down carbonated goodness.
It took some effort, but eventually we managed to pull ourselves away from the allure of good company and good food and continued on to Marble Spring Campsite. On the way there, we saw lots of Trillium in bloom for the first time on this trip! We both love trillium so much and can’t get enough of them as we walk down the trail. Perhaps we take a few too many photos along the way.
We get to Marble Spring Campsite and find Skelator hanging out in his tent. Up until this point, we’re not 100% sure if we’re going to stay at Marble Spring or if we’re going to try and push on a little further to be closer to the road where we’ll have to figure out a way to get into Glasgow to pick up our resupply box tomorrow. We’re both exhausted, so we decide to throw in the towel and stay at Marble rather than push to the shelter 2 miles from the road- it would be another 5.5 miles that neither of us want to do right now. We’ll just have to get up early and push some miles in the morning so we can get in and out of Glasgow and still have time to hike a full day.
With the daylight we have left, we get set up and make dinner. We chat with Skelator and then No Plan when he shows up. Batman and Tenacious roll up as it’s starting to get dark. I’m off in the woods digging a cathole when they show up, but I know it’s them because I hear a wolf cry that can only have come from Tenacious. I have to admit, he scared me for a second there!
The tiredness takes hold of us, and soon we’re saying goodnight and retreating to our tent. As we’re trying to fall asleep, a whippoorwill bird perched in a tree just above our tent starts to “serenade” us… sleep does not come easily.
Day 60 (Wednesday, April 14th, 2021)
AT Miles: 22.7
Marble Spring Campsite > US 501, then Reservoir Rd > US 501 (SOBO Slackpack)
782.5 Miles Down, 1410.6 To Go
We hiked out with the sunrise again this morning – so beautiful! After getting just a little ways down the trail, we called Stanimals, the hostel where we had shipped our next food box. We called at 7:05 am and they told us they were dropping someone off at the trailhead around 9:15 am and would bring our box if we could make it to the trailhead in time. We were 7 miles away and we had 2 hours to get there. I looked at Hero to see what she thought, she nodded her head and I told them we would be there.
Thankfully, it was mostly downhill to the road, we basically ran down the mountain, only stopping momentarily to take a couple of pictures of the flowers along the way. We always try to make time to appreciate the beauty around us. And we still made it by 9:00 AM! Strings, one of the guys who works for Stanimals, pulled up at 9:15 AM with our food box and a thru hiker named Yooper, the person they were dropping off. I talked a little bit with Yooper about my connection to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and then he was on his way. We dumped our box of food out in the parking lot… we had way too much food again and this time we had no way to get rid of anything. We sorted it out and packed it all in our packs. We were reluctant to get started with our now very heavy packs. We still had 15 miles ahead of us today with a giant uphill right out of the gate. The Strawbridge family got dropped off as we were finishing packing up. We chatted with them a bit before they took off down the trail. The dad had just dropped some of his winter gear and was pretty excited about how light his pack was. We were definitely feeling a bit jealous at this point, as we tested the weight of our own packs again – still way heavier than we wanted.
The Strawbridge family left and Stanimals pulled in to pick up Tenacious, who had just wandered into the parking lot. The two cars were full of our friends who were slack packing to the same place we were planning to go tonight. Hiking without our full, heavy packs sounded great. Zoomie asked if we wanted to join them- we didn’t need much coaxing. We asked if there was room for us. Charlie, the Hostel Manager, moved some gear around and pulled up another row of seats in the Durango and we hopped in.
Riding with the windows down and talking with friends, we felt a deep sense of relief that we didn’t have to hike with our heavy packs today. Definitely feeling grateful and pleased with our decision. They drove us to Reservoir Road so we could hike south bound back to the James River footbridge where we had hopped in the car. We would get picked up by Stanimals there and head back to the hostel for the night. We got to the trailhead, emptied my pack of what we didn’t need and threw in only what we needed for the day. Charlie said he would take the rest of our things back to the hostel. We thanked him, took a quick picture with the crew, and started hiking.
My stomach had been a little uneasy on the car ride, so I told Hero that I needed to find a spot to dig a hole soon. We were also out of water and there was a small creek just a half a mile in. We stopped and Hero said she would fill up while I went to dig a hole. I thanked her and ran off- I was getting a bit desperate at this point. I hiked up and away from the water and quickly dug a hole. As I was finishing up, I saw three ticks crawling up my shoe. Crap! I must have stepped in a nest of them. I pulled them all off then ran back down to Hero and asked her to double check my back to make sure I got them all. “All good”, she said. Relieved, we finish filtering water and got hiking again.
As we hiked, my stomach was feeling uneasy again. I wasn’t sure why, but less than 15 minutes later I had to go dig another hole and this time it felt like an emergency- I was really worried I wasn’t going to make it. In my haste to dig a hole, I cracked our plastic shovel. Thankfully, it didn’t break completely… I would end up digging 4 holes in less than 5 miles. Something was not agreeing with my stomach. We were now well into the afternoon and we still had over 10 miles to go. I was feeling a bit weak and my stomach was still uneasy. I was even more grateful that I didn’t have full pack weight than I was earlier, but now we were locked into finishing this section. We had to make it back to the pick up location because we didn’t have any of our camping gear. I put my headphones in and played some music, trying to distract myself from how I was feeling. We pressed on.
We saw the Family and Toodles coming north on the trail as we were headed south. They were surprised to see us going south. We explained how we had ended up slack packing SoBo (South Bound). It was good to see them all, we chatted for a minute then continued on. I was starting to feel a bit better and now just focused on crushing miles. We went over Bluff Mountain and Big Rocky Row and had some beautiful views. We took them in quickly and kept moving- both of us were ready to wrap up this day of hiking.
We called Charlie at Stanimals and told him we would be back at the James River bridge soon. As we neared the parking lot it started to rain lightly and it actually felt nice. We didn’t put on rain gear, just let the brief, light rain cool our skin. It didn’t last long- we actually would have welcomed a bit more rain. We sat down in the parking lot at the same exact spot where we had dumped out our food box earlier that day. We were exhausted and glad the day was over. My stomach was feeling better but my body just felt depleted. I still wasn’t sure what had made me sick.
Charlie showed up and told us that unfortunately he was not our ride- Strings would be along in a half an hour or so to pick both us and Tenacious us. Not long after Charlie pulled out of the parking lot, Tenacious strolled up. Strings should up a few minutes later and we piled into the car and made our way to the hostel. Once there, we took advantage of the shower, then Hero and I went back through our resupply. We sorted out everything we didn’t need and put it in the hiker box. Most hostels have a hiker box where people can leave unopened food or lightly used gear for other hikers to look through and take if they want. We got rid of a few pounds and were glad to be able to lighten our packs for tomorrow. We then ordered an extra large cheese-less veggie pizza from the local pizza place, each ate half of the pie, then crashed for the night. We were taking the early shuttle back to Reservoir Road in the morning and we needed as much rest as we could get.
Day 61 (Thursday, April 15th, 2021)
AT Miles: 23.5
Reservoir Rd > Spy Rock
806 Miles Down, 1387.1 To Go
It’s another restless night that goes by faster than I can believe. Before I know it, the alarm is sounding and it’s time for us to get packed up so we can leave Stanimals. The ride back to the trailhead is more eventful than we would like-
the car keeps overheating, which means we have to frequently stop, throw a wet rag on the radiator, and use water from our bottles to fill the radiator because it’s so low on coolant. It takes longer than expected, but eventually we get to the trailhead. We say goodbye to Charlie, the Hostel Manager at Stanimals Glasgow, and start hiking. We hope that he’s able to get the car back to town and to a mechanic before it completely gives out.
The first few miles features nice terrain in a beautiful forested area. At this lower elevation there’s so much lush green foliage, and signs of spring surround us. For a stretch, we are in an area that was once home to the Brown Mountain Creek Community. Informational signage posted near the beginning of the abandoned site lets us know that the remains of the buildings alongside the creek once belonged to a farming community of freedmen who lived there in the early 1900s. As we walk and listen to the gentle murmuring of the creek, we take in the stone walls being reclaimed by nature- moss and lichen stick out through the layers of stacked stone and ivy creeps up and along the length of the wall. We take it in and reflect on the small, paragraph-long snapshot of history we’ve encountered through this mile and a half long section of trail, our minds imagining and constructing scenes from over a hundred years ago.
We reach the point in the hike where we know we’re going to start pushing up Bald Mountain and brace ourselves for the climb. Soon the comforting sounds of the creek fall away and we leave behind the lush greens of the valley floor. For several miles we just keep gaining elevation, and the warm feeling of spring slips away. We find ourselves once again climbing back into winter, with trees bare and the surrounding area covered in crunchy, fallen leaves. Occasionally, a harsh wind cuts through us as we ascend higher up onto the ridge. I can’t decide if I want to throw on another layer or not. Whenever that wind whips through, it raises up goosebumps on my arms and sends a chill through my body, and yet for the most part while pushing up this crazy hill I’m dripping sweat and can’t stand the thought of more fabric against my skin. I clench my teeth and bear it, digging my trekking poles into the earth and willing myself forward.
I let out a sigh of relief when we reach the top of Bald, which turns out to not be an open bald at all. But Cole Mountain just ahead is a true bald, apparently, so we continue on in search of gorgeous views. And it is most certainly beautiful, a perfect place to have some lunch we decide, so long as we can find a spot with at least a little bit of wind block. We’re walking along the open ridge looking for a spot to sit and chill out for a minute when we come upon a group of people. They look like they all must be extended family having a little outing. They hone in on us as we draw nearer and greet us excitedly- they assume correctly that we are thru hikers. We chat for a bit and soon they are offering us clementines and Virginia grown peanuts- we gratefully accept the trail magic. They start to head down the trail, and we realize where we had run into them was a perfect spot for our lunch break. We settle in, throwing on some layers to help shield us from at least some of the cold, and start munching. While we eat, BAM! talks to his dad on the phone and I take a look at the mileage we’ve done so far and what we have left if we still want to make it to Spy Rock. I’m really determined to make it there- supposedly Spy Rock has incredible 360 views, perfect for sunset and sunrise. We’ve still got more than 11 and a half miles to go, though, and I’m worried we’re not going to make it. When BAM! gets off of the phone, I update him on the mileage. He still seems determined to get there, too, so we finish up with our snacking, get organized, and keep going.
The second half of the day consists largely of pushing miles so that we can get to Spy Rock in time for sunset. There aren’t a whole lot of views after Cole, so we’re able to power through some forest walking and put down some miles. We both agree that music is needed for this, so we throw on some tunes and motor. Three or so miles short of Spy Rock is the Seeley-Woodworth Shelter, and since we expect that’s where the Family and Toodles are staying we decide to pop in and say hi. As we thought, they are there and we spend some time catching up and seeing how everyone’s doing. We mention that we’re headed to Spy Rock, and they let us know that they heard from another hiker that a hunter ran into a bear up there earlier today. Apparently the bear was not the least bit intimidated by the hunter’s German Shepherd. Hearing this causes us to pause a moment. We look at one another and silently ask each other the “should we stay or should we go?” question through our facial expressions. We ultimately decided to continue on to Spy Rock, but as we start to walk away from the shelter, we come up with a plan of action in case we do run into the bear while we are up there.
We get to Spy Rock Road and the trail becomes a mess of small rocks that hurt our already sore and achey feet. The grade on this section is steep, adding even more insult to injury as we just plain fight to make it up to the flat camping area above. Around us, the sky is already starting to glow with vibrant pinks and oranges as the sun starts to bow off its daytime stage. We level out and the rocky steep grade is finally behind us. To our right, the campsites and the side trail up to the top of Spy Rock beckon. Our heads swivel about as we walk around the open camping area, picking out a spot for the night. It’s crazy windy and hard to hear anything over all of the gusting, but it doesn’t stop us from jumping a little at every little sound we do manage to hear. We’re both just waiting to see a black, furry, four-legged friend strolling up to us fearlessly. We get the tent set up, but realize that we’ve really gotta get up to Sky Rock quickly if we want to catch what’s left of sunset, so I don’t worry about getting the inside of the tent all put together. We take all of our food and “smellables” up to the top with us just in case the bear is in fact close by. It’s even windier up on top of Spy Rock, miserably so- I can feel my hands start to stiffen with cold even through my thick winter gloves (which I am so glad I held onto), and my puffy jacket is no match for the razor sharp, biting wind that threatens to knock me over. But we’re able to catch the last bits of the sun setting and it is beautiful- Charlie was right when he’d told us in the car earlier that this was not a spot to miss.
The sun has set and we are getting quite cold and hungry, so we go back down the side trail to our campsite. BAM! looks at me and says “Okay, so, the code for ‘There’s a bear here’ is: AHHHHHHHH!’” He smirks at me in his silly way and then scampers off to find a spot with some wind protection so that he can cook while I work on blowing up the air mattress and get everything else in the tent nice and cozy. When I’m done, I wobble my jelly legs over to the spot where BAM! is cooking. It’s definitely a lot more wind protected than the open camp spots where we’ve got our tent set up, but it’s still super cold. It’s dark, too, with just the bobbing of our headlamps for light. The darkness has heightened both of our jumpiness, and we’re both at the point where we just want to hurry up and scarf down food so that we can retreat to the tent. We do just that, though our bear induced anxiety and frigidness makes it feel like it takes us forever to eat and pack everything up.
We get the bear bags hung and race over to the tent and duck in for cover. We get settled in as the wind whips furiously and threatens to rip the fly clean off of the body of the tent. As I lie wide awake while sleep evades me, I wonder if the reason the tent hasn’t blown over the side of the mountain by now is because our combined body weight is keeping it grounded- that’s how hard the wind is blowing. I really don’t think we’ve experienced stronger winds while in our tent before this moment. It makes for a restless night, but at least the wind with all of its ferocity means that I can’t focus on anything that might possibly sound like a bear outside of our tent.
Day 62 (Friday, April 16th, 2021)
AT Miles: 17.7
Spy Rock > Maupin Field Shelter
823.7 Miles Down, 1369.4 To Go
The wind had been whipping through our tent all night and there were several times I looked up expecting our rain fly to be gone – ripped off by a gust of wind – yet somehow it remained intact and attached to the frame of the tent. We didn’t sleep very well, concerned about bears in the area and the effects of wind on our tent- our minds were racing most of the night. The whole reason we pushed to Spy Rock last night was to see the sunrise. Now with the cold wind still whipping around our tent and our bodies feeling lethargic and unrested, we were struggling to get ourselves up and out of bed on time.
We finally talked ourselves into leaving the tent, deciding to take our sleeping bag with us to the top of Spy Rock for the sunrise. Unzipping the fly, I could already see streaks of orange, deep purple, and pink pushing through the gray clouds around us. I went over to check on the bear bags and was glad to see they were still hanging on the tree where we left them and seemingly untouched – no signs of bear activity! That was a relief. With our food and sleeping bag, we climbed the 0.1 up to the summit of Spy Rock. The wind was cold and intense, bringing back memories of our sunrise experience at Clingman’s Dome in the Smokies. We layed out our sleeping bag and crawled back in, pulling it up around our shoulders as we sat up to see the sunrise. I grabbed our pop tarts and we tried to eat while still holding the sleeping bag up to protect us from the wind.
The sunrise was beautiful, although it took more effort than we had hoped to try and keep ourselves warm while we sat trying to enjoy it. This morning was a bit of a shock to our system, as it was the coldest morning we’d experienced in weeks- our bodies had gotten used to not freezing every morning. Even after the sunrise, we were a bit slow packing up and didn’t get out of camp until after 8:30 AM.
We got to Priest Shelter and decided to hike down to write in the log. We had told the Family last night that we would write in it and tell them if we encountered a bear. As we started to hike the side trail to the shelter, Bad Santa, Toodles, Narrator, and Destin came over the hill towards us. They asked us right away if we had seen a bear. We thought about leading them on with an elaborate bear tale, but then simply said “no bears, just lots of wind”. We could tell they were kind of bummed that we didn’t have a good story, but they also seemed glad we didn’t have any bear trouble. We all continued to the shelter to check out the log. Here at the Priest, it is a hiker tradition to write a confession in the log book. We read through to see if any of our friends had made a confession and found a few good stories. We then each wrote a confession of our own. Sorry, you’ll have to hike to the top of The Priest if you want to hear those stories.
We then started hiking down over 3,000 feet on our way to the Tye River. We got to the cascading Cripple Creek about two-thirds of the way down and the mountain side was covered with beautiful pink and white trillium. We took a moment to enjoy the beauty of this space then continued down the mountain.
A trail runner with banana print running shorts passed us on his way up and then again on his way down- he was cruising. We got down to the bottom and saw him catching his breath in the parking lot. We complimented his shorts and struck up a conversation. He had just run the FKT (Fastest Known Time) going up to Three Ridges down to the Tye River, then up to the top of the Priest and back down to the Tye River. That is over 3,000 feet of elevation gain each! We congratulated him on his record and he asked about Hiking for Hunger. He lived further north near the trail and offered support when we get to his neck of the woods, so we exchanged info. We then crossed the bridge over the Tye River and found the Family having lunch. We decided it was a good spot and sat down to join them.
We finished lunch, now we had to hike back up over 3,000 feet to the top of Three Ridges. The climb up was definitely a struggle, and there were several downed trees to step over to add to the challenge. About a third of the way up, we passed the Mau-Har Trail which bypasses Three Ridges and gets you to Maupin Shelter in half the distance with less than half the elevation gain. We looked at it for a moment, wishing we could take that route. But alas, the purist in us wouldn’t allow ourselves to skip a section of the AT. We pressed on up the mountain passing many weekend hikers who were doing the popular loop trail combining the Mau-Har trail with the Three Ridges trail.
We finally made it to the top of Three Ridges and were a bit disappointed because there weren’t very good views from the very top. However, after starting down the other side you come to Hanging Rock overlook which has excellent views! We hiked out on the rocks and took in our reward for a long hard climb. There was another hiker out on the rocks and we chatted with him a bit. He expressed how he wished that he had the time and resources to do a thru-hike like we were doing. We took that in and it reminded us of how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this. We were filled with gratitude in that moment and let our petty complaints of too much elevation gain, too many downed trees, and too many day hikers on the trail all melt away and just absorbed the beauty of the moment.
We then made our way down to the Maupin Field Shelter and found Toodles and the Family there getting started on dinner. There are several small groups of hikers spread throughout the campsite. We find a free tent pad and Hero starts setting up camp while I grab the food bags and head over to the picnic table in front of the shelter to start cooking. As I cook, a weekend hiker comes over and strikes up a conversation. The Family is nearby and we all chat about the challenges and the beauty of the day. I think back to that view at Hanging Rock and the hiker we met. I look around at all the people who are just out here for a weekend. Likely many are just trying to get a short break from their busy lives. Gratitude washes over me again, gratitude that I am able to be out here for several months, that I am able to immerse myself in this experience and be surrounded by the beauty of nature every day.
Hero comes over and we eat our dinner and hang out for a bit. Then we hang our food bags and head to the tent. As we lay down to go to sleep, I can hear people around us laughing and carrying on. I am glad they are enjoying their weekend out here.
Day 63 (Saturday, April 17th, 2021)
AT Miles: 6.5
Maupin Field Shelter > Dripping Rock, BRP 9.6
830.2 Miles Down, 1362.9 To Go
It’s cold when we wake up in the morning, but at least it’s not as unbearable as it was the morning before up at Spy Rock. We let ourselves sleep in a little later than usual, but try not to hit snooze too many times. We’re meeting my dad, my stepmom, and my brother today, and we’ve got about 6.5 miles to knock out before 10 am. I’m so excited to see them I can hardly wait. And yet the cold is definitely infringing on my ability to move as efficiently as I’d like.
We break down the tent, pack it up, and head over to the picnic table next to the shelter where we chat with Toodles and the Family while we eat breakfast. It’s somewhat of a relief to us that everyone else is feeling cold and sluggish this morning, too. I don’t really feel like eating, but I shove a couple of pop tarts down anyways so that I can take my daily vitamin without getting nauseous. I get focused on conversing with French Fry/Starfish and before I know it we’re just a few minutes away from the time we wanted to be “packs on backs” and moving out. Ahhhhhhh! I jump up and frantically start packing up, though my movements still feel painfully slow because of the cold- I can see my breath as I exhale, and my fingers don’t want to bend all the way. It takes longer than we’d like, and we’re definitely not leaving camp by our goal time, but soon enough we’re waving goodbye to Toodles and the Family and are on our way up the trail.
We’re cruisin’, making good time on this relatively gradual section of trail. We cross over the Blue Ridge Parkway a few times, snapping a picture at one of the pull-offs that has a view of Three Ridges in the distance. We love these moments where we get a chance to really look back and marvel at where we just came from. Three Ridges was no joke, so we take a minute to bask in the accomplishment of knowing that climb is behind us. Every step we take is a step closer to Maine… I don’t always think in this big picture kind of way because it can feel overwhelming, but in this moment looking back at a particularly challenging climb, it feels really good to remind myself of all that we’ve accomplished so far on our journey to Katahdin.
The 6.5 miles fly by and before we know it we’re rolling up to Dripping Rock. Like a train, we’re neither early or late- just on time. And there waiting for us are Dad, Janis, and Tyler! They climb out of the car, and we know despite the fact that they’re masked up that they’re all smiling real big- the eye crinkles tell all! We smile real big, too, then put our masks on and walk toward them, bumping elbows and exchanging enthusiastic hellos. Before climbing in the car, we apologize for our stink, which they wave off and say “Oh we know, that’s what febreeze is for!”
The plan is to go to Blue Mountain Brewery for drinks and lunch (recommended by Viking Man and Tall Son), but before we do that we decide to swing by Stanimals Waynesboro to drop off our packs. We get lucky and our private room has already been cleaned and is ready for us- the Hostel Manager, Pilgrim, tells BAM! that we can go ahead and throw our stuff, including the wonderful food Dad and Janis and Tyler brought us for our next ration, in the room. We want to maximize our time with our family- they only have a couple of hours before they need to start driving back to the DC area, so we don’t shower or start our laundry. Instead we just put on some “less stinky” clothes and head back out to the car so we can all go get some lunch.
We get to the brewery and there are lots of options for outside seating, which is a huge plus. We also get there right as they are opening, so there isn’t a huge crowd of people there yet. The temperature is slightly coolish, so we all throw on jackets, but otherwise it’s quite pleasant out and we feel neither too cold nor too hot. We’re chatting and catching up when the waitress comes up to see if we’re ready to order drinks- we haven’t even looked at the menu yet we’ve been so absorbed in catching up! We stop talking for a few minutes and get our orders in and then we’re back to conversational flow. It feels so good to be with them- the pandemic has made seeing each other difficult over the past year plus. It’s a brief amount of time together, but we’re beyond grateful for it and for the fact that they drove over two and a half hours just to see us for a few hours.
By the time we finish up with our drinks and food, the brewery is starting to get packed- time to make moves. We head out and start making our way back to Stanimals. On the way there, we stop at Rockfish Gap Outfitters. We notice as we pull up that the sign facing the road in the direction heading into town reads “Hi Hawk! Have a Good Time in Waynesboro!” On the other side of the sign facing the direction heading out of town it reads “Bye Hawk! Hope You Had a Good Time in Waynesboro!” We chuckle and tell Dad and Janis and Tyler a little about who Hawk is and note that he must have just gotten into town, too. Then we go into the store, and we’re greeted by some of the nicest people! The guy behind the register pegs us as thru hikers because of our distinct fashion sense. No way- my Melanzana dress, galaxy tights, calf high darn tough socks, and bright blue Birkenstock’s make me look like a thru hiker? Get outta here! (Haha!) I guess we do stand out a bit- we own it, though! He notices that our masks read “Hiking for Hunger” and he asks us if we’re doing a fundraiser as part of our hike. We nod enthusiastically and say “Yes! We are!” “Right on! That’s so awesome! Well let us know if there’s anything we can help you find.” We thank him and then look around the store. The most urgent thing we need is fuel, so we grab some of that. We can’t find some of the other things we’d like to have, like a lighter weight fannypack for me and some Exofficio underwear for BAM!, but those are things that can wait. We head to the register with our little can of fuel and set it on the counter. The guy picks it up briefly, then sets it back down on the counter and slides it towards us. “Y’all are doing a great thing by hiking for hunger- thank you for what you’re doing. The fuel is yours.” Our eyes get wide and we look at him in disbelief. “Really? Omigoodness are you sure?!” “Absolutely. Have so much fun on your hike, guys!” We’re stunned in the best of ways. We thank him profusely as we say goodbye and head out of the store. “Wow!” we just keep saying. My Dad and Janis and Tyler are blown away, too- they’re getting a taste of the trail magic and are loving it. I really enjoy watching other people experience AT culture for the first time- it’s a truly special thing to bear witness to, and it reaffirms for me how much I love the incredibly loving community that the AT nurtures. It’s amazing to me how something so seemingly small such as a little canister of fuel can restore your faith in humanity.
From Rockfish Gap Outfitters we head back to Stanimals where we come face-to-face with the heartbreaking challenge of saying goodbye to Dad and Janis and Tyler. It feels like our time with them has flown by faster than imaginable, and I’m reluctant to let them go. Because of how hard this past year has been and because of the fact that BAM! and I are in the middle of “the Grind,” it’s harder than ever to part ways with our loved ones. I remember how hard it was to say goodbye to Breece and Ben and Magnolia, and I’m once again overcome with emotion. I try not to let it show too much as we stand out by the car and say goodbye because I know that this isn’t just hard for me. I want to be open and honest and vulnerable, but I also don’t want them to worry. I need to keep on with this hike- no matter how homesick I feel for the people I love and miss, I’ve gotta keep going.
We wave goodbye as they get back in the car and then I retreat to our room in the hostel. I feel a few hot tears roll down my cheeks as I plop down on the edge of the bed, my shoulders slumping forward. BAM! walks in and he sits down next to me, wrapping his arms around me and pulling me in. We sit there for a few minutes in silence. I pull away after a while and look at him, “It’s just so hard sometimes. I know this is where I need to be right now, and yet, it’s so damn hard sometimes…” He looks at me, smiling weakly. He brushes a stray strand of hair away from my face, tucking it back behind my ear. “I know,” he says gently, “it’s hard for me, too. I’m grateful for the time we just got to have with them, but man it went by so quickly.” I nodded in agreement. “Way too fast,” I said. We take a few more moments to just be with how we’re feeling, reminding ourselves that we might be able to see them again soon after we push a little further north. We take a few deep breaths and shift out focus to all that we need to accomplish with what’s left of the day.
We work on Hiking for Hunger stuff the rest of the night, focusing on catching up on writing for the blog. We’re both a bit behind on our writing, and tonight we’re both feeling tired and drained, which is less than ideal for getting work done. We do what we can while also planning out what kind of daily mileage we want to do while in Shenandoah National Park. Our goal is to get to Front Royal, VA by next Friday or early Saturday so that we can hopefully see Dad and Janis and maybe even Tyler again. Front Royal is a much closer drive for them than Waynesboro, so we’re hoping it will work out if we can crush out the mileage. We’ll have to average twenty mile days to pull it off- we feel optimistic that we can do it, especially after seeing how mellow the terrain looks compared to other sections of the trail we’ve already been through. This might even prove to be a good opportunity to push some higher mileage days in preparation for the Four State Challenge, which we’re planning to do as a fundraising push for MANNA on May 1st.
I get to the point where I’m just plain feeling done for the day- I’m tired and ready to curl up and relax. The private room we’re in at Stanimals has a TV and Roku, so we throw on our go-to show (You guessed it: Schitt’s Creek) and relax before our exhaustion takes the wheel and drives us to sleep.
Day 64 (Sunday, April 18th, 2021)
AT Miles: 19.7
Dripping Rock, BRP 9.6 > Beagle Gap
849.9 Miles Down, 1343.2 To Go
Waking up in a bed this morning was so nice! That combined with knowing we didn’t have to carry full pack weight and that we would be coming back to this bed put us in a cheery mood. We grabbed the few things we would need for our slack pack day: snacks, an extra layer, our trowel, and water filter. We heated up our leftover cheese-less pizza and ate it for breakfast. Another hiker named Task Master had offered to take us back to Dripping Rock this morning. He showed up and we headed out to the trail.
We had good conversations on the way over and learned that a series of unfortunate events had kept Task Master in the area longer than anticipated. So he just started helping out at the hostel until he could get back on trail and keep moving on. We got to Dripping Rock, thanked him for the ride, wished him luck on getting back to the trail and started hiking. Hero and I were determined to knock out these nearly 20 miles quickly so we could get back to the hostel and get a few more things done tonight.
We started with some uphill to Humpback Mountain where we got some nice views. We took a few moments to take it in and get some pictures then scurried on down the trail. We were moving quick with almost no weight on our backs. This also meant less impact on our feet and even though we were hiking it felt like a break for our bodies. We caught up to Monarch a little ways into our hike. She was slack packing, too, and had a friend with her who had hiked the trail a couple years ago. They were taking their time and trying to identify some plants along the trail. After chatting for a moment, they stepped aside and let us pass since we were pushing a faster pace today.
We came to the Paul C. Wolfe Shelter and pushed right past it. We got about 0.4 up the hill beyond the shelter when it hit me – I should have stopped to use the privy. There were lots of hikers on the trail today and the woods along the trail were full of thorns and briers and didn’t offer much coverage. I decided it would be best to run back to the privy at the shelter. I grabbed the soap and water then took off back down the trail while Hero waited with the packs. It felt so much farther going back, but I finally made it. I walked past the front of the shelter where three hikers were eating lunch. I said “howdy!” but kept walking quickly towards the privy. I made it! Afterwards, I gave myself a good handwash and walked back in front of the shelter and said “have a good day” to the hikers finishing their lunch. I hiked back up the hill to Hero feeling much better.
We came across the Lowe family cemetery. They had been settlers in the area, and most of the headstones were just stones from the forest around us. While some stones may have had names scratched into them at one point, the rain and wind had worn them smooth again. A little later, we came to the remains of an old cabin, just an outline of a rock foundation and a crumbling chimney. Sites like these often get me thinking about the history of the land that the trail traverses. If I was in this spot 50, 100, or 1,000 years ago what would it look like? Who would be here? What would life be like in this spot at that time? The history of some of the spaces we have gone through and will go through holds such gravity. I would like to learn more about the diverse history of these spaces.
We stop for water at a beautiful little stream that is flowing through mossy rocks. Monarch and her friend catch up to us and we talk about the beauty of the day. Flowers are blooming and trees are leafing out! We are surrounded by the fresh bright green of spring with a smattering of purple, blue, and white flowers here and there. Color is coming back to the forest and it feels more alive than ever.
We push on through Rock Fish Gap to the entrance of Shenandoah National Park. We fill out our backcountry permit at the self-service entrance station and attach a copy to our pack. We only have about four miles to Beagle Gap where we plan to get picked up. We call Stanimals and let them know our ETA is about 3:30 PM, then we press on. We get to McCormick Gap and I notice a white can and a granola bar sitting in the grass next to the trail. The can is a trail magic PBR! I take the beer, but decide to wait to drink it until we finish our hike at Beagle Gap. I leave the granola bar for the next hiker because it wasn’t vegan friendly.
We get to Beagle Gap early and take a seat in the grass to wait for our ride. I crack open the PBR and ask Hero if she wants some, “no thanks”, she says. She isn’t a fan of PBR, l but it’s kind of nostalgic for me since its pretty much all I drank in college at NMU. A mini van pulls into the parking lot – it’s our ride. A man named Rumble is driving and lets us know that he is picking up a couple of other hikers as well. So, I take my time finishing my beer and we chat with Rumble as we wait. The other two hikers show up a bit later and we all head back to the hostel.
We quickly do our “chores,” a term hikers use meaning laundry, shower, resupply, repacking packs, and whatever else you need to do while in town before you can fully relax. Then we head over to Scotto’s, the Italian Restaurant across the street because Hero was really craving some spaghetti. As we near the restaurant, we’re overcome with that same sensation of deja vu we had at the Apple Orchard Falls trail intersection a few days earlier. We realized we had eaten at this restaurant before during that same mini Blue Ridge Parkway trip. Wow! We were back at this same spot, completely unintentionally, only this time we had walked here from Georgia… what a crazy feeling!
At the restaurant, we get a table and start looking at the menu when Fresh Ground, Tenacious, Pippin, and Aspinock show up. “Can we join ya?!” Fresh Ground says more than asks with a big grin on his face. “Of Course!” we say, always grateful for good company. We enjoy a hearty spaghetti dinner and good conversation with friends. Fresh Ground snuck off for a moment, and then as we were leaving we realized he had picked up the tab for all of our meals. We thanked him and let him know we really enjoyed hanging out and appreciated all he does to support us hikers.
He then offered us a ride over to the grocery store. We had planned on walking over to get a few thing but admitted a ride would be nice. He dropped us off and we told him we could walk back, but he insisted on waiting and giving us a ride back and wouldn’t take no for an answer, so we agreed and told him we would be quick. We had been craving vegan ice cream, so we grabbed some for dessert tonight. We then found something we could eat for breakfast in the morning along with some kombucha. We checked out and found the Leapfrog Cafe van in the parking lot and hopped in. FG drove us back to the hostel and we expressed our gratitude then said goodnight.
We went up to our room, hopped in bed, turned on the tv, and opened up our ice cream – time to chill. We finished our ice cream and watched a couple episodes of Schitt’s Creek before crashing out for the night. We were planning on taking the early shuttle back to Beagle Gap in the morning.
Day 65 (Monday, April 19th, 2021)
AT Miles: 28.4
Beagle Gap > Pinefield Hut
878.3 Miles Down, 1314.8 To Go
It’s early when we get going this morning- the shuttle to Beagle Gap is set to leave at 7 am sharp. This works for us since we’re trying to hike over 28 miles today and we need as early of a start as possible. Last night, we picked up some vegan-friendly microwaveable breakfast meals from the Neighborhood Walmart a couple of blocks away from the hostel (thank you again to Fresh Ground for driving us there and back to the hostel). We each get two of these meals, plus we add some rice into the mix and it makes for a very filling breakfast. Good, we need all the extra fuel we can get for the day ahead of us.
We grab our packs, strap on our shoes and head to the red jeep. Outside it is raining, though the forecast has promised that it’s supposed to subside by 9 or 10 in the morning. We’ll see… Once we’re all in the car, Prilgrim backs out of the driveway and heads down the alley towards the road. We take one last look at Stanimals before the old brick house disappears from view.
The wipers click back and forth steadily, the rubber blades squeaking against the glass as they clear away beads of rain. We start winding our way up the road towards the Parkway junction. At one point, we pass by the “Bye Hawk!” sign outside of Rockfish Gap Outfitters and I smile remembering when we stopped by there the other day with Dad and Janis and Tyler.
We arrive at Beagle Gap where we encounter a man waving frantically as we pull into the parking lot. It turns out his car battery is dead and he’s in desperate need of a jump. Pilgrim tells him that he’ll be right over to help him out in just a few minutes. He then turns his attention to all of us being dropped off and thanks each of us individually for staying at Stanimals, telling us all how much he appreciates us. There’s such a genuine warmth in his voice, and I can really feel that he means what he’s saying. For however stressful his job may be, Pilgrim is so good at making sure that thru hikers feel cared for, that the stress of Hostel Manager logistics never translates into strained interactions with the hikers. He’s so steady and so good with people- I wish we’d had more time to get to know him during our stay. I hope that our paths cross again someday.
The pouring rain from earlier this morning has transformed into a much lighter and gentler pattering that hits the tops of our rain jacket hoods with a softness that feels soothing rather than threatening. Perhaps the forecast was accurate and this rain will dissipate shortly. We wave at Pilgrim one last time as he is getting ready to help the stranger with the dead car battery, and then we’re putting one foot in front of the other and starting up the trail again.
There’s a feeling of serenity about the forest this morning, no doubt in part because of the gentle pattering of rain as drops hit the earth. We must get pulled into the peacefulness of the moment, because after sometime we look up and are startled to see a deer standing in the middle of the trail. We stop in our tracks and for a few moments we all three just stare at each other, transfixed. It’s the kind of moment that makes you feel that connection to the natural world that all too often can be taken for granted in day to day life. We allow ourselves to just be in this moment, allow ourselves to be with this pure being in the middle of this wild and beautiful place. We know we need to keep going, though, so eventually we start walking again, but slowly so as not to startle the deer too terribly. The deer stiffens a bit, but doesn’t budge, so we start talking and gently try to coax them off the trail. We get near enough and the deer finally runs off trail and joins a few other deer 50 or so yards away in the woods- they all stare at us as we pass by.
We keep trekking, and as we do the rain starts to fizzle out. Around the time that the rain is starting to let up, we come upon a tent set up a few yards from the trail and a short distance from the creek that runs through this section of the trail. As we near the tent, there is a sense of familiarity I can’t shake. I furrow my brow and the realization hits me. “Micah, I think that’s Batman’s tent,” I say just above a whisper (Often, when it’s just Micah and I, we refer to each other by our off trail names). BAM! looks at the tent and scrutinizes it. Then he stops in his tracks just shy of the tent. He draws a deep breath, then: “Nuhnuhnuhnuhnuhnuhnuhnuuuuuh… Batmaaaaaaaaaaan!” A beat or two of silence, then a familiar voice from the tent exclaims “What are you two doing?” It’s Batman alright. We laugh and then talk to him for a few minutes. He’s not feeling like pushing the big miles we’re trying to do today, so we make plans to try and meet up in Elkton tomorrow. BAM! and I have to go into town to pick up a box from the outfitters and it sounds like Batman will need to pick up some more food for the second half of the Shenandoahs. There’s a brewery in town that all three of us are interested in trying out. We say “see you later” to Batman, who is going to watch a little more Netflix on his phone before packing up, and continue on.
In no time the rain is completely gone, the clouds have rolled out and the sun is beaming down on us. We have stripped down to our short sleeves and tank top and sweat is starting to bead on our foreheads. We’re making great time, no doubt in part because the terrain is so gradual and kind in nature. Just beyond Turk Gap, we run into Happy the thru hiker- he’d just been dropped off by Stanimals. I’m glad we ran into him- back at the hostel he’d said in his very Happy way “now don’t you two go passing through Turk Gap before I get there!” We said hello briefly, exchanged Instagram info, and wished him good luck on his hike knowing that this might be the last time we’d see him. We pressed on.
We stop for a quick lunch break at Blackrocks Hut- at 15.2 miles, we’re a little over halfway through the days hiking. We try not to spend too long at the hut since we still have quite a few miles ahead of us. We snack and fill up on water and keep moving. Soon we are at the top of Blackrocks, one of the highlights of Shenandoah National Park. It’s a bizarre sight- you’re walking through forest and then suddenly there’s a giant pile of boulders reaching 50-100 feet tall right in front of you. The trail actually cuts through this massive boulder pile- sloping downward to our left are another 100 or so feet of giant rocks and scree. We crane our necks and look at the Boulder pile overhead as we walk the trail, which loops us around the topmost portion of the pile and back into the forest. At one point BAM! exclaims with his signature silliness “these rocks aren’t black- they’re light grey!” I shake my head and chuckle.
We keep pushing, determined to get to Pinefield Hut before dark. During these later-on-in-the-day miles, we are pretty much in a zombie like state as we walk along. Every so often we are shaken out of the state by a beautiful view or a wildflower that we haven’t seen yet on trail, but for the most part we are focused on putting one foot in front of the other.
28.4 miles later, we are at the Pinefield Hut. We have just completed our highest mileage day of hiking on the trail and we’ve done it in less than 12 hours including breaks. We’re tired, but not completely dead on our feet, which we consider a win. We walk up to the hut, which is a little ways off the trail. Two men are sitting in the shelter, their legs dangling over the edge of the platform. We introduce ourselves and learn that their trail names are Leaky Boots and Dahdi. We exchange pleasantries, find out that Dahdi just started his thru hike a few days ago and that Leaky Boots is joining him for his first few days through Shenandoah National Park. After a little bit of small talk, I excuse myself so that I can start setting up the tent with what little light we have left in the day. BAM! grabs what he needs to start making dinner and we both get going on our in-camp duties. I have a bit of a challenge to work with: the tent pads in Shenandoah don’t appear to be quite wide enough to fully accommodate our three-person tent. The body of the tent fits fine, but when I start to fit the fly on and stake it out, I run out of room- the tent pad ends abruptly and there’s a foot or so drop down to the ground below the pad. I scratch my head, trying to figure out how to work with the space I’ve got. I look around and spot some two foot long branches on the ground- a few look pretty sturdy. I take the side of the fly and stretch it out, measuring approximately where it needs to be staked out. I dig a hole in the dirt at the spot I measured out and stick the sturdiest looking of the branches in the hole- I pile rocks around it to reinforce it a bit. The branch acts as a makeshift extended stake. I loop the end of the fly door over the branch- it’ll do! Pleased with my creative problem solving, I finish setting up the inside of the tent. Then I head back down to the picnic table outside of the hut where BAM! is cooking dinner.
We eat our signature first night of the ration meal- Mac n Torts. We try to be as quiet as possible because Dahdi and Leaky Boots have already gone to bed. Then we are off to bed ourselves, fully ready to crash out after a big miles kind of day out on the trail.
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.