Tag Archives: clouds

The Pennsylvania Push

Days 86-96: Mason Dixon Line-Blue Mtn Lakes Rd., NJ

Before we dive into this next installment of the blog, a quick note from Hero and BAM!:

Hello wonderful readers! You may have noticed that we have fallen behind on the blog as of late. We wanted to take a moment to let y’all know what’s going on with that and reassure you that we will still be writing entries for the blog- they’ll just be published much later than they have been in the past.

One of the great things about the days lengthening as summer draws nearer is that we’re able to hike for longer hours during the day and cover more mileage. The downside to this is that we have less “tent time” in the evening, which is when we typically write up our notes for the day and do our journaling. We’ve also been hard at work trying to build up our social media presence, especially on Instagram. BAM! is also hard at work launching our YouTube page- stay tuned for deets! Feel free to look up Hiking for Hunger on YouTube and follow us there as we work to get some more timely videos up on our channel. Both of these things, the longer days of hiking and an extra focus on our online presence, have contributed to getting behind on the blog. We have also been taking time to enjoy the community out here on the trail, swapping stories with other hikers and building relationships this has also cut into our writing time but is something we both have been craving especially after this past year we have all experienced. 

Again, while we fully intend to continue to publish these journal entries chronicling our adventure, they will be delayed. We really appreciate y’all’s patience with us on this, and we truly can’t thank y’all enough for following along with us on this journey. Now, without further ado, we present to you “The Pennsylvania Push.”

PA Here we come!

Day 86 (Monday, May 10th, 2021)

AT Miles: 9.6

Mason Dixon Line > Chimney Rocks

1076.5 Miles Down, 1116.6 To Go

We woke up in our not so super hotel room and, remarkably, we both had slept really well. We finished our leftover Indian food for breakfast, packed up, and hit the road. We drove nearly the whole way back to Dulles then found a place to get a car wash. The car was covered in dirt and pollen, so we were worried they might take it out of our deposit if we returned it looking so dirty. After the car was squeaky clean, we got some smoothies and continued on to the car rental place. We pulled in to the parking lot to return the car. Someone came up to the driver’s side window and asked for our information. Then they said, “you’re all set just leave the keys on the dash.” We didn’t realize the process would be so quick. We hurried up and grabbed all of our stuff out of the car, trying to make sure we didn’t forget anything.

As soon as we grabbed our packs, we saw Hero’s dad (Tim) pull in – perfect timing! We threw our packs in the back and we were off. He drove us back to Waynesboro, PA where we decided to have lunch before getting back on the trail. We found a cool little spot resembling an old timey diner called Waynesbuger, and they happened to have Vegan Burgers! We were pretty excited and ordered those with some fries and a soda. We had a wonderful lunch with Tim and were so grateful that he drove us back to the trailhead and we’re just glad we had more time together.

After lunch, we drove back over to Pen-Mar Park and Tim hiked back to the Mason-Dixon line with us. We snapped a few photos together and marveled at the soggy teddy bear next to the sign – its fur looked like melting chocolate, but did not seem anywhere near as appetizing. We all stalled there and talked for a while more, not really wanting to leave each other again. Eventually, we said our “so long for nows” and started hiking down the trail. It was so hard to leave family and friends and come back to the trail after this extended break. We really miss our community of people. That being said, we were also glad to be back on trail and picking up where we left off. We have so much more beautiful trail ahead of us.

We didn’t actually start hiking until 1:30 PM, but that was ok with us- we were only planning to do about 10 miles anyways. We took our time and tried to take in being back on trail – it was beautiful! We pushed past some very well maintained shelters, some of the best we’ve seen, because we heard there were stealth campsites near Chimney Rocks, and we really wanted to catch the sunrise for our first morning back on trail. Right before we got to Chimney Rocks, I spotted a small patch of Pink Lady’s Slipper, the first ones we’d seen this year.

We pushed up to the side trail leading to the view and there are plenty of beautiful tent spots. Hero scouted out the nicest one and we put our packs down. We decided to run up the rocks and see what this view is like before getting set up – it was nice! We came back down and Hero built the tent while I made our signature first meal of the ration: vegan mac ‘n cheese. Another couple of hikers came in while we were cooking. They were so quiet we didn’t notice them at first, but then we waved and said “hi” and exchanged greetings- they seemed really nice, and the guy, we found out, helps maintain this section of trail. We were pretty tired after our long day traveling, so we crashed right after dinner.

View from Chimney Rocks


Sunrise at Chimney Rocks

Day 87 (Tuesday, May 11th, 2021)

AT Miles: 28.1

Chimney Rocks > Pine Grove Furnace State Park

1104.6 Miles Down, 1088.5 To Go

It’s 5:30 am. We have to readjust to waking up early, but today we are motivated by the promise of a beautiful sunrise at Chimney Rocks where we camped out for the night. We get ourselves out of the tent and up the rocks and indeed it is breathtaking! We have our pop tart breakfast up there with us and take it all in. Phase Two and Shebeast (the couple that camped near us last night) have also woken up for sunrise, so we chat with them for a bit as the sun pops up above the horizon line. It turns out that they are both avid section hikers and Phase Two is one of the trail maintainers for this section, so we talk about the trail and BAM! and I thank Phase Two for all he does to look after this section.

Soon after the sun has fully emerged over the horizon, we all head back to our respective camps to finish packing up. Both BAM! and I need to dig some cat holes, so it takes us a bit longer to get out of camp. Phase Two and Shebeast wave goodbye and say good luck to us as they head out and turn left to go southbound on the trail. We do a final sweep of camp, throw our packs on our backs, and take the right turn back out on the trail to head north.

It really is such a beautiful morning as we get going. We’re both still feeling fresh from our recent time off and excited to be back on the trail. It’s a good thing- we’ve got a lofty mileage goal for the day ahead of us. We’re going to try and make it to Pine Grove Furnace State Park if we can. We know it’ll be a push- 28.1 Miles if we can swing it- but we want to take advantage of some of the relatively flat and gradual Pennsylvania terrain while we have it.

We are walking along when we encounter a day hiker coming from the other direction. We all stop and chat for a bit and he lets on that he’s done some moderate section hiking over the years. His tone starts to shift and we notice that he’s beginning to give us some unsolicited advice regarding the Hundred Mile Wilderness up in Maine. He goes on like this, and at one point when he’s taking it upon himself to determine how fast we can make it through the Hundred Mile Wilderness, he looks me up and down. He points his trekking pole at me and says “If she’s up for it, you might be able to do it in four days. Maybe.” If she’s up for it. Not if we’re up for it- if she’s up for it. Me. He is, without a doubt, calling into question my ability based on the fact that I am a woman. He knows nothing else about me other than I look and sound like the mainstream notion of what constitutes a woman. I shake my head and give him a look while BAM! immediately jumps in and starts talking about how I am actually the faster and stronger hiker of the two of us- the guy cuts him off and continues to repeat his refrain. I know it’s kinda useless, but I’m grateful to BAM! for trying to bring some kind of awareness into the picture. Unfortunately, this guy doesn’t seem open to what BAM! is saying- he keeps interrupting him. I’m starting to move away from the guy, my body no longer facing towards him but facing northward on the trail- I’m ready to be out of this space, and I can tell BAM! is, too. I signal to him that it’s just plain time to go, and we start walking away. We get a good bit away before we start talking about what happened. We’re both upset but try to figure out how to respond when someone else further up the trail inevitably says something akin to what that guy said to me. But we’ve talked about this before, because it’s happened before, more times than I can count on both of my hands now. We brainstorm while also holding space for the fact that confrontation is not something that either of us are inclined towards. I’d like to say we figured out a solution, but you can’t know exactly how you’re going to react in the moment when these situations arise. Every time I think I will call out the sexism the next time it happens, I just would prefer to walk away and keep hiking. Time will tell, but for now I’m choosing to be kind to myself and not berate myself for just wanting to get away from the situation. I shift my focus to our goal of getting to Pine Grove Furnace State Park, where we hoped to partake in the Half Gallon Challenge.

We make good time getting to Caledonia State Park, where we fill up on water before moving on. While we are there, we call ahead to Pine Grove Furnace SP General Store to check in about ice cream. We had called them about a week prior during our time off to see if they’d be able to get some non-dairy ice cream in. It seemed at the time like it wouldn’t be a problem. Today, we called and heard a different story. Apparently, the guy we talked to last week had just gotten back from vacation and the freezer was empty- no ice cream whatsoever. When we called, he was in the middle of figuring out if he’d be getting ice cream in at all today. We expressed sympathy for the situation he was in and told him, too, that we were going to try and get to Pine Grove Furnace by 6/6:30 pm before he closed at 7 pm- if he happened to have vegan ice cream, we’d be excited to buy it. Regardless, we were excited to visit the store. He said okay and the call ended. We kept pushing on, still intent on making it all the way to Pine Grove Furnace despite the ice cream uncertainty.

We push the miles, the really nice terrain of Southern Pennsylvania working in our favor. We meet a pair of SOBOs (Bugs and Bambi) and a section hiker (Showtime) at the nicest shelter I’ve ever laid eyes on. Not only was it nice and clean, but it featured skylights, a bench swing, an immaculate spring, a sundial, and even more homey touches- so fancy! As we get close to PGF, we reach the AT Halfway Mark and soon thereafter pass 1100 Miles! We pass by another section hiker named Rambler and push on past the shelter where we initially thought we’d be staying before the call of ice cream had its hold on us.


We are dead on our feet by the time we see the first sign for PGF, but we’re still in good spirits- it’s only 5:45 pm, so we made it there faster than planned! We round the corner and know that the stone building just up ahead of us must be the Pine Grove General Store. My heart sinks and my jet-speed pace starts to falter- they are not open. We’re stunned- we had just talked to the guy who works here earlier that day. How are they not open? I approach the door and a small sign on the door indicates that current hours Mon-Fri are 11 am-5 pm. Crestfallen doesn’t even begin to cover it- we are beyond bummed. We unstrap our packs and throw them down next to a table while we decide what to do. Mercifully, there is a soda machine on the patio, so at least we can have a little something sugary and bad for us after our long day. I plop down in a chair and sip while I simmer and attempt to reel in my disappointment. I let go of my hopes of doing the Half Gallon Challenge here at PGF and focus my attention on the more pressing matter of where to stay the night. We’re trying to save some money, so we pass on the hostel in the creepy yet fascinating old mansion next door (we also missed the cutoff time for check-in, so that helps with the decision making process). The campground is not free, and it’s a fair walk down the road- ugh. We’d rather keep moving on and find camping further up the trail, but we would have to walk quite a ways to get off of the State Park property- no camping allowed anywhere but at the official campground. After some discussion, we decide on the PGF campground and start making our way down the road. The road walk hurts our already sore and achey feet, and as it takes longer than we initially thought it would, we start to wonder if we’ve made the right choice. But we get there, select a tent pad with a picnic table, and get to work on our camp chores.

While eating dinner, we face the next challenge head on: where are we going tomorrow? We look at both the AT guide and Guthooks and realize that there is a stretch of trail coming up where there is no camping allowed for about 18 miles, with the exception of a site around the town of Boiling Springs. Because of where we are tonight, we’d have to push waaaaaaay past a 30 mile day to make it to the other side of that 18 mile stretch- we know already that we are not going to feel up for that, and yet we need to make some bigger miles to keep on track with getting to the Delaware Water Gap in time for our second COVID shot. The only other option to get us the kind of mileage we’re hoping for is to stop in Carlisle. We look at the lodging options there and, having just stayed at the sketchiest Super 8 ever, we’re a bit tentative. We don’t want another experience like that, but we also can’t spend a lot on a room. We remember that one of our friends is from Carlisle- maybe she can tell us where we could stay that would be good but also reasonably priced. BAM! shoots her a text. Minutes later, a response: her parents would be happy to host us for the night. It’s unexpected and completely serendipitous, and we are immediately filled with gratitude and a huge sense of relief! Our friend sends BAM! her mom’s contact info and we start making plans.

Light starts to fade from the sky. I go to the bathroom (flush toilets and sinks, y’all!) a hundred yards from our campsite one last time before bed. I climb in the tent once I get back and start to bundle up- it’s already getting chilly. BAM! joins me after finishing up with getting tomorrow plans ironed out with our friend’s mom. We snuggle up and drift off to sleep, which comes easily now that the stress that once surrounded tomorrow has lifted.


Appalachian Trail Museum- it was closed

Day 88 (Wednesday, May 12th, 2021)

AT Miles: 27.3

Pine Grove Furnace State Park > US 11 (Carlisle, PA)

1131.9 Miles Down, 1061.2 To Go

We left the State Park early, making one last stop at the bathrooms on our way out. We were still feeling a little bummed that we didn’t get to try the Half Gallon Challenge at the iconic spot, but we’re still planning to do it later. We were also a bit sad that we didn’t get a chance to check out the AT Museum- maybe next time.

We decided to make a stop at Green Mountain General Mercantile for an early lunch. We were craving snack foods, especially since we weren’t able to purchase anything from the Pine Grove Furnace store. We ordered some curly fries from the grill and got some chips and Stewart’s Orange Cream Soda. We went out to a picnic table and enjoyed our lunch in the sun. We tried not to linger since we had our friend’s parents picking us up in Carlisle tonight and we didn’t want to get in too late.

Nice little lunch stop!

We pushed through what we dubbed the “mini coaster” since it was a series of short climbs and descents. On the top of some of those climbs, there were large rocks that we had to navigate through like a maze. The white blazes literally took us around, up, and through the large boulders on a seemingly pointless route. In our guide, this section is labeled “The Rock Maze,” and there were two of them in this section. I guess the trail maintainers thought we needed an extra challenge! We met a nice couple at the Old Center Point of the trail. We chatted with them a while and listened to some of their stories from the trail. They were really nice and they told us their trail names: Cigar Lady and Old Tools. We said farewell to them and continued down to the pastures.

The next 15 miles consisted of flat fields and towns in what is known as the Cumberland Valley. We got to the first section of pastures and were super conscious about ticks – we checked nearly everytime we got to a clearing or a road crossing. Several of our friends who passed through this area before us said they found ticks after hiking through these fields. We went through the picturesque town of Boiling Springs, PA. We saw the children’s lake with all the ducks waddling about. We found the ATC Regional Headquarters there, and at the back of the building there was a spigot where we filled our water. It would have been a nice spot to hang out and have a snack or something, but we had to keep pushing because we had a warm bed and wonderful people waiting for us in Carlisle.

We went through lots more fields and crossed over many more roads and did several more tick checks. We finally arrived at the road where we planned to meet Ev and David. We walked over to the Quality Inn and arrived a couple minutes early- David wasn’t there yet. We took off our packs and sat down on a median in the parking lot- our feet were done at this point. Minutes later, David pulled up and greeted us then helped us get our packs in the back of the truck and we hopped in. We were so grateful that they offered to let us stay in their home tonight.

We chatted with David on the ride back, and he is so friendly and makes us feel right at home. When we get to their house, I opened the car door and David says, “you’re about to be attacked”. As soon as I angel myself out the door, an energetic golden retriever is in my lap wiggling excitedly and trying to lick my face. He is so adorable – I love every moment of it. It lasts only a moment because then Hero opens her door and he rushes over to see her. His name is Crosby and he is a two year old bundle of energy and a lover.

Crosby checking out the hiker smells

Ev comes out to greet us and so does her granddaughter. We grab our packs out of the back and Ev shows us to our room. The house is beautiful! She lets us know that dinner will be ready soon but to take our time and get settled in. We both start with much needed showers and get our stuff organized then head downstairs. We can smell dinner as we come down and it smells delicious. Ev has made sweet potato and black bean tacos with a guacamole sauce. We sit down and Ev offers us a glass of wine. Hero and I look at each other and say, “sure! why not”. David pours us a glass and we take a sip, it’s nice. Everyone sits down and we dig in. The tacos are delicious – Hero and I both have at least three each. It was so sweet that they made a completely vegan meal for us. We talked throughout dinner and really enjoyed the conversation and the company. After dinner, Hero and I went upstairs to work on a few Hiking for Hunger things. When we came back down, Ev and David were watching Mrs. Doubtfire in the living room – one of my favorite movies! We sat down and joined them. Ev offered us sodas and we both had a ginger ale. She also tried to find us ice cream or sherbert that we could eat in their freezer, but no luck. We told her we didn’t need anything else, we were already blown away by their generosity and the way they made us feel so welcome. After a little more Mrs. Doubtfire, our eyes were at half mast and we knew we needed to head to bed. We said thanks again and goodnight, then headed up to our room.


A wonderful breakfast with our Amazing hosts!

Day 89 (Thursday, May 13th, 2021)

AT Miles: 22.9

US 11 (Carlisle, PA) > Clark’s Ferry Shelter

1153.8 Miles Down, 1039.3 To Go

The faintest of light is just starting to creep into the world. It’s just visible between the yellow drapes that sway ever so slightly in the wind that gently whispers through the open windows. This is our cue to start waking up and get packed up, as much as we’d love to sleep in and enjoy being snuggly in this cozy bed. We do so and then venture downstairs for breakfast. Ev is down there- she’s laid out a whole assortment of breakfast options! It’s not often that we get to have cereal these days, so we take advantage of the opportunity to have that with some almond milk. There are bagels, too, and homemade jam- so heavenly! We enjoy this delicious treat and chat with Ev as we fill our bellies. David joins at one point, too, and Crosby the dog hovers nearby. It’s a great start to the day, and I think both BAM! and I could easily just stay here if that were possible, but we know we’ve got to get back on the trail and keep moving. We do get out a little later than we were planning because we are so enjoying hanging out with Ev and David- we’re so grateful for them and can’t get over how gracious they have been!

Eventually, it’s time to say goodbye to Ev and Crosby. We thank Ev profusely and climb in the truck with David, waving energetically as we pull out of the driveway and back onto the road. We talk with David during the ride back to the trail- like us, he’s done some hiking in Colorado, so that was a point of connection. In no time, we’re back at US 11- David throws on his four ways and pulls to the side of the road so we can safely get our packs out of the bed of the truck. We thank him again and he wishes us good luck on the rest of our journey. Then we turn and face the trail once more.

We spend the next stretch hiking the rest of the field section that doesn’t allow camping, worrying incessantly about ticks and checking ourselves frequently when we go through super tall grass. Despite the tick worry, it’s a pretty section and we are in great spirits as we plug along. We cross a lot of roads, which apparently is the name of the game here in Pennsylvania. We run into a group of Amish women enjoying a backpacking trip- we exchange big smiles and hellos as we pass each other. After some time, we arrive at Hawk Rock, a spot with a view overlooking the town of Duncannon below. We snap a few pictures but move on pretty quickly- we are eager to get into town for food and a quick resupply.

The descent into Duncannon is rocky and steep in sections, but we’re able to navigate it safely and get down alright. Soon, we’re walking on pavement and entering the town proper. Our first stop once we’re in town is Kind of Outdoorsy, the local outfitter which also now boasts a hiker hostel. We’ll stop in here to see what we can get for our small resupply, and anything we can’t find we’ll look for at the Quick Mart around the block. We’re able to find some Knorr Rice Sides and packets of oatmeal- that’ll cover breakfasts and dinners. We don’t really find any good options for vegan friendly snacks, so we resolve to check out the Quick Mart for those. We take our items to the counter and it turns out the lady who works there has been following us on Instagram! Wow! How cool is that?!?! She’s super nice and praises us for what we’re doing and we thank her so much for following along. We’re giddy as we sign their logbook and make our way out of the store.

We exit the store, but I sit on one of the benches outside with our packs while BAM! runs over to the Quick Mart to finish up our resupply. I start searching for food options for us- we’re in town, so we figure we might as well grab an early dinner, which will save us some time later on when we get to camp by not having to cook. There aren’t a whole lot of options for us, but I find out that we can go to the pizza joint across the way and we should be able to get pasta marinara without any cheese or meat- it’ll do! BAM! returns from the Quick Mart with snacks for the trail as well as some yummy things to eat while we’re still in town. As we are getting our food packed up so we can head over to the pizza place, a familiar voice calls our names. We turn to look back towards the front entrance to Kind of Outdoorsy and there’s Lost Bells! It’s great to see her again and catch up on all that she’s experienced since the last time we saw her. After a few minutes of swapping trail stories, we say farewell to her and move on.

We walk across the street to the pizza place. BAM! isn’t convinced that the pasta alone will be enough, so we order a cheese-less pizza, too. We scarf it all down and savor our last bit of town time before moving on from Duncannon. While walking the town portion of the trail, we discover that the residents are super friendly! Several people smile, wave, and wish us luck on our journey, including a guy who tells us to look out for his house as we walk down the street: “It’s the one with the 8 ft bear in the yard!” Sure enough, we spot it a little ways further, haha! Soon we are crossing over the mighty Susquehanna River. We get to look back at the mountains we came down earlier today and it is both a beautiful and deeply satisfying moment despite our being on a noisy bridge with lots of cars and trucks flying by. After getting across the bridge and crossing a few railroad tracks, we are back in the woods, climbing up Peters Mountain. It’s a steepish climb, but we’re still feeling spry, probably because we took such a nice long break in Duncannon. As we are doing the last few miles to shelter, we start to experience more rockiness- is this the start of how Rocksylvania got its name? Time will tell.

We make it to the shelter and discover that the only other person there is camping, so we spring for the empty shelter. Because we ate an early dinner in Duncannon, we spend the rest of the evening snacking, stretching, and writing. As light fades from the sky and the sounds of evening start to press in, we cozy on up in our double bag and drift off to sleep.


Morning View of the Susquehanna

Day 90 (Friday, May 14th, 2021)

AT Miles: 25.3

Clark’s Ferry Shelter > Tent Site Near Rausch Creek

1179.1 Miles Down, 1014 To Go

We struggle to get ourselves out of bed this morning, hitting snooze several times and wishing we could just go back to sleep in our cozy cocoon. We had stayed up later than we intended, working on our writing and other H4H stuff, and then neither of us really slept all that well. Finally, we manage to pull ourselves together and get out of the sleeping bag. While we are eating breakfast and getting organized, the section hiker who tented a few hundred yards from the shelter last night joins us at the picnic table. He introduces himself as Peaceful Turtle, and we all share pleasant conversation over breakfast. We finish up our food, pack up, say farewell and good luck to Peaceful Turtle, and link back up with the trail.

The day starts with a ridge walk. There are little ups and downs, but for the most part this section is pretty level. Every so often we encounter rockier sections that make us wonder if we’re starting to really truly enter the domain of Rocksylvania, as we’d been told it was the northern section of trail in PA that is notorious for its rockiness. But so far it doesn’t seem too crazy. As we hike the ridge, we enjoy beautiful views of the Susquehanna River, and the weather is really quite mild. Despite the good conditions and pretty views every so often, we’re in a bit of a funk this morning, probably because we didn’t sleep all that well. We keep on, though, as we try our hardest to push miles and make our goal for the day.

Both of us start to realize after an hour or so on the trail that we’re going to need to brown blaze into Peter’s Mountain Shelter in a few miles. We get there and meet a thru hiker named Turtle Hawk. I seem to be more desperate for the bathroom than BAM! at this very moment, so I rush over to the privy. When I get back, Turtle Hawk and BAM! are talking about a game, something that sounds a lot to me like Dungeons and Dragons. It turns out that Turtle Hawk is working on creating a game akin to Dungeons and Dragons, but specifically for thru hikers. He asks us if we’d like to join and be characters in this game and we say yes, absolutely. BAM! is filling out his preferred “powers” and then I do, too. Other thru hikers have also filled in their “powers” in Turtle Hawk’s game. As we get ready to move on from the shelter, Turtle Hawk says that he’ll send us an update on the game and we say thank you and wish him luck on the rest of his thru hike. We really enjoy this stuff, the things that other hikers come up with to engage each other and create spontaneous and fun moments on the trail. Admittedly, this section of the trail can feel a lot like a grind, and we as well as other hikers are trying to find ways to keep our spirits high so we can keep going.

We continue hiking and eventually get to a spring a couple hundred yards off the trail near Clark’s Creek and stop there to fill up on water. We are both feeling tired, and BAM! is having trouble continuing on because of how exhausted he is. He asks me if we can take 20 minutes to power nap before continuing on. I worry about getting into camp late if we take too much more time, but I can also tell BAM! is really tired. Him advocating for a nap over pushing through is an indicator of just how tired he is- he’s usually one to just push through. I nod yes, let’s do it, and he sets an alarm, finds a flat spot, puts his butt pad down, and lays his head and shoulders on it, the rest of his body in the dirt. He slides his hat over his eyes, folds his hands over his stomach, and within 30 seconds I hear him snoring. Wow, he is seriously tired! I decide to lay down for the 20 minutes, too, and although I don’t quite enter a deep sleep like BAM!, I can feel a haziness and restfulness take over. In what feels like no time at all, the alarm is going off, and I’m jolted from that weird half-asleep, half-awake state that I had slipped into. I turn my head to the left and see BAM! stir and start to come to- he tells me that he had dreams during that short 20 minute power nap! He feels a bit better now, and we still have 11 miles to go, so we collect ourselves, make sure our water is all topped off, and get going.

Pretty soon after we’re back on trail, we throw in our earbuds and start listening to music- it helps us push the rest of our way to our goal camping spot for the night. Originally, we were thinking about staying at the Rausch Gap Shelter, but when we see that it’s a little ways off trail, we opt to get a bit further and camp at some tent sites just off the trail near the creek. The spot turns out to be perfect- it’s nice and open near the tenting area, but still has some tree coverage for privacy from the trail. There are remnants of the old stone buildings that were a part of a coal mining community that was located here but had to be abandoned when the operation wasn’t producing enough to be competitive.

After dinner, we crawl into the tent and look ahead to the next day- there’s a beaver dam just a few hundred yards further down the trail that we’ll be crossing first thing in the morning. What fun that will be! For now, we are so tired and just want to crash out and hopefully make up for some of the lost sleep from last night.


Morning Fern Forest

Day 91 (Saturday, May 15th, 2021)

AT Miles: 27.5

Tent Site Near Rausch Creek > Tent Site Near Black Swatara Spring

1206.6 Miles Down, 986.6 To Go

After eating breakfast and packing up, we start the day by crossing the beaver dam a couple hundred yards from our campsite. Knowing that we’d be getting our feet wet for this one, we take off our hiking shoes and put on our camp shoes. We start to walk slowly and carefully across the dam, trying to stay on top of it as much as possible. There are a few spots where we have step into knee high water- it’s super mucky and quite cold! But not terrible, and honestly it’s just so neat to be crossing this incredible feat of beaver engineering. BAM! takes the opportunity to film a BAM! of the Day. I keep moving, slowly lifting my feet with each step so that I don’t lose my camp shoes in the muck. Eventually, I get to the other side of the dam and find a stump to sit on so I can wipe off my feet and put my hiking shoes back on. BAM! joins me shortly thereafter, and after our feet are cleaned off and back in our shoes, we start hiking again.

We’re both feeling sluggish this morning, and we try not to overwhelm ourselves by thinking about the 27.5 miles ahead of us. Instead, we enjoy the early morning hours in which the temperature is perfect and the sun isn’t bearing down on us ruthlessly. BAM! cracks me up at one point when he practically yells a cheerful “hello” to a couple of hunters who are trying to be stealthy. Not long after passing the hunters, we come to a road where a gentleman is offering some trail magic. He gives us each a vitamin water and some Larabars. We talk to him for a bit and find out the his name is BooRay. Really nice guy, and we so appreciate the trail magic he provides as well as information about the trail ahead!

We continue to meet nice people along the trail as we work our way through Swatara State Park. When folks hear that we’ve walked all the way from Georgia and are heading up to Maine, they express excitement and wish us good luck- it feels good and reaffirming every time we hear such positive feedback! We keep plugging along, passing under I-81 and working our way up some switchbacks up onto a ridge. The ridge walk feels endless. For as much as the flat terrain is kinder to our bodies, longer stretches can feel interminable. At some point while up on the ridge, we come to the William Penn Shelter and each take advantage of a much needed privy stop. From there, we press on, and when we finally come to the next road crossing we find TurtleHawk (the thru hiker we met the other day) and his friend set up with some trail magic. They have coolers full of treats and chairs set up so that thru hikers can sit down and relax while they take a break. It’s fun to see TurtleHawk out here, and we think it’s super awesome that he’s using his zero day to pay it forward and show other thru hikers some love. While we’re there, we meet another thru hiker named Teacher. He leaves the trail magic spot around the same time we do, so the three of us hike together for a couple of miles. Eventually, he branches off to check out a shelter a ways off the trail that supposedly has a shower. We continue on, but tell him that we’ll likely see him further up trail.

After a while, we reach the tree that marks the 1200th mile of our journey- woohoo! We snap a few quick photos and keep walking- we’ve still got a ways to go to make it to our campsite for the night. Not long after, a hiker ahead of us starts to come into view- he’s hiking fast, but we’re gaining on him. I catch glimpses of him from around BAM!, who is walking in front- there’s something familiar about the hiker just ahead of us. We catch up to him and it turns out to be Goldie! This is the first time we are seeing him since we crossed paths at the Nantahala Outdoor Center back in North Carolina! It’s awesome to see him again- we weren’t initially sure if our paths were going to cross again before reaching Maine, but here we all are! We all hike together to the next water source near the Hertline campsite. It’s fun chatting with Goldie, and it really helps pass the time. Before we know it, we’ve arrived at Hertline and we all get to work on water. Not long after we start filtering, Teacher shows up. He’s planning on staying here at Hertline for the night, but BAM! and I and Goldie are all trying to get a little further so that we’re set up to get into Port Clinton on the earlier side tomorrow. Goldie finishes filtering first and heads out- he might be heading to the campsite we’re looking at, but he might try to push further. At some point, the person staying in the tent that was already set up when we got here emerges- she goes by S8parks and we talk with her for the rest of the time that we are filtering. Once we’re all topped off, we say goodbye to Sparks and Teacher and press on.

1200 Miles!!!

It’s another 5 miles to our goal campsite and boy is it a trudge. We both throw on music to help us make it these last miles as our bodies start to tell us that they’re running low on gas. It’s a push, but we make it- we are not going any further, though. Goldie isn’t here- he must have decided to push on- but we meet a flip flop thru hiker named Arizona who is set up for the night in his hammock. He’s getting ready for bed when we show up, so it’s a quick “Hi, how are ya” before he’s crashing out. We try to be as quick and as quiet as possible while we get set up and make dinner. Soon enough, we’re heading to bed with the hopes of catching as many Z’s as possible before our early start in the morning- my mom is resupply us in Port Clinton and I can’t wait to see her!


The train yard at Port Clinton

Day 92 (Sunday, May 16th, 2021)

AT Miles: 26.4

Tent Site Near Black Swatara Spring > Tent Site Near Panther Creek Spring

1233 Miles Down, 960.1 To Go

I woke up several times before the alarm went off, worrying for some reason I wouldn’t hear it or it wouldn’t go off. I would wake up, check the time on my phone, and then try to go back to sleep. The other thing waking me up was my aching feet. No matter what way I slept and what angle my feet were laying, they hurt. When 5am finally came, I was already awake and knew I wasn’t getting back to sleep. I still hit snooze for 5 minutes, and Hero and I cuddled a bit longer. Then the alarm went off again and I sat up and started getting packed.

I got out of the tent and took the first few steps of the day. It hurts to walk and I am limping around like I’m literally walking on eggshells. The more I walk, though, the more my feet seem to loosen up and hurt a little bit less. We were trying to be very quiet while packing up because Arizona was still sleeping. By the time we finished packing and ate breakfast he was awake. We said goodbye to Arizona and got on the trail.

Within the first few miles, we saw Goldie at the next campsite up trail. He had pushed a few more miles last night. We said good morning and had a quick chat, then said we hoped to see him again soon. We needed to make miles this morning because we were meeting Momma Grant in Port Clinton. As we were hiking, we met a group of four guys hiking and struck up a conversation. They asked some questions about our Thru-hike and the Fundraiser. One of the guys, trail name PIMA which stands for something I can’t say on the blog (Pain In My… you get the picture!), had section hiked nearly the whole trail. He gave us some advice and encouraged us to take our time and eat some berries in Maine. They were a nice crew. We said goodbye and pressed on.

We were running a little late at this point and the descent into Port Clinton was very steep with nothing even resembling a switchback. We tried to keep up the pace but our knees were screaming at us and my feet were starting to ache again. They seem to get a little better in the mornings as we start hiking, but as the day progresses the pain gets worse again. We walk down to the train tracks as Momma Grant pulls up. She parks and we run over to greet her. It was so good to see her and we were very grateful that she brought us a food resupply.

She tells us there is a Burger King down the street so she can just drive us there to get Impossible Whoppers for lunch. That sounds great to us so we throw our packs in the back and hop in. Cushioned seats feel so nice we could easily take a nap in the back seat. We went to a gas station first to use the bathroom and find sour patch kids, then to BK and we got Impossible Whoppers. We each got two whoppers and a side of fries. After scarfing those down, we swung by Walmart to grab a few things.

Momma Grant drove us back to the trail station and parked in the exact same parking spot that we had left from to make sure we didn’t miss any of the trail – HaHa! We packed up the resupply she brought us and said thanks, then came the challenging goodbye. We all hugged and cried a bit. We knew we would see her again soon, though which made it a bit easier. Goldie came by right before she left, and Momma Grant offered some stuff we weren’t taking. We also told him that it looked like someone was set up with trail magic right down the trail a bit.

We started hiking a couple minutes later. We walked past the van offering trail magic and saw Goldie and Arizona there enjoying some food. The trail angels offered us some and we said thanks but we’re full. We had just downed a lot of BK and what they were offering definitely wasn’t vegan friendly. We said thanks and told them we appreciate what they’re doing for hikers, then pushed through Port Clinton.

The rest of the day was a slog. We did another 13.2 miles after picking up the resupply. The day seemed to drag on and my feet were very sore. It felt like my arches were on fire and I had pain with every foot strike. I knew my shoes were near the end of their life, but this seemed like something more. Still, I thought that maybe my feet are just really bruised and beat up from all the pointy rocks. Either way, I was slowing down and we didn’t get into camp until much later than we had hoped. We still made it before sunset, but barely.

Hero started setting up the tent and I went to get water. As painful as my feet had been hiking, it was so much worse just standing still as I waited for our water bucket to fill up. Now my arches were screaming with pain and I had to lift one foot at a time and walk in place to try and relieve some of the pain. I sat down to cook and this helped relieve the sharpest pains and reduced it to a steady ache. I tried to get up as little as possible for the rest of the evening. After dinner, I took some Tylenol and hoped it would dull the pain enough for me to sleep a little better tonight.

– BAM!

Pennsylvania Farmlands

Day 93 (Monday, May 17th, 2021)

AT Miles: 26

Tent Site Near Panther Creek Spring > Tent Site North of George Outerbridge Shelter

1259.1 Miles Down, 934 To Go

It’s about 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning when noises outside of the tent wake me. For a few seconds that feel more like excruciatingly long minutes, I lay there just listening, still only half awake. My heart rate starts to tick up as my deliriousness lessens and I begin to register the sounds. My hand instinctively gravitates towards BAM!’s. I squeeze his hand and he squeezes back- the noise beyond our nylon walls have woken him up, too. We both lay still as the sounds of several somethings walking around draws closer to our tent. At some point, I can hear, very clearly, something sniffing just outside of my side of the tent. Hearing this stirs something in me, and I immediately yell “Hey!” very loudly. The sniffing stops and we hear the somethings that were surrounding the tent retreat- their movements fade away as they run further from our tent. When it has been quiet for a few moments, I let out a sigh of relief: “That got me, I was scared for a minute there,” I say to BAM!, turning to face him. He returns the sentiment, and we both begin to speculate as to what the somethings could have been. “Hunting dogs, possibly,” he says, “We’re on State Game Lands, and it sounded like those animals were wandering around a lot like domestic animals. Wild animals are more efficient with their movements- they don’t wander all about like that because they need to conserve energy.” It makes sense, but we’re still not 100% sure what exactly it was outside of the tent. That is until BAM! gets up to go pee about a half an hour later. He has his red light on and it catches a pair of glinting eyes no more than 20 feet away. It catches him by surprise, so he turns on his bright light so he can see exactly what it is he is having a staring contest with- it’s a doe, who apparently could care less about our presence as she continues to snack in our campsite. So, perhaps it was actually a herd of deer outside of our tent earlier? It seems unlikely now that it would have been hunting dogs, what with the doe that has stubbornly remained at our campsite. BAM! comes back to the tent and we try to get a little more rest before we have to wake up.

We wind up sleeping later than we should given the miles we are trying to do today, but our bodies need the rest badly. We’re still tired after being woken up by what we now think were a bunch of curious deer earlier this morning. It takes some effort, but we get ourselves to start packing up around 6 or 6:30. We eat breakfast, filter water, finishing packing up our packs, and roll out.

Not long after we get going, it hits me: I’ve gotta GOOOO! I hope that I can make it to Eckville Shelter a couple of miles away where there is supposed to be a flush toilet. I’ve gotta make it there, I tell myself. It gets to the point where I have to run ahead of BAM! I get to the road and am confused- is it down the road? I yell back to BAM! and he replies that “yes, you’ve gotta go down the road.” I start going that way (waddling that way, really), and after a while a house appears with a sign in front indicating that this is where the Eckville Shelter is located- interesting. BAM! and I look around in search of the bathroom- there are few different structures onsite that could be it. I find it and jump inside- I’m so glad I made it. BAM! has to go, too, so we trade places once I am done. There’s a spigot, so I fill up our water bottles while I wait. There’s a place to charge electronics, so we take advantage of that, too, though we don’t stay much longer. We see the caretaker, but only briefly. A man looking for the trailhead has parked his car in the caretakers driveway, so the caretaker is asking him to move his vehicle.

We leave Eckville, a little sad that we didn’t stay there last night (free access to a flush toilet, shower, and electrical outlets are a big deal to thru hikers, y’all), and start pushing miles. We’re pushing, the rocks are wreaking havoc on us, and we are hurting. This section of trail is literally taking us up over massive rock piles for no apparent good reason- the trail could have easily been routed around the piles of sharp, shoe destroying rocks. Around the point that we reach Allentown Gap Shelter, we’ve started discussing alternatives for how to proceed. These big mile days in the thick of Rocksylvania are really taking a toll, and we are running out of steam. We’re worried that if we keep doing what we’re doing that we might wind up getting injured. At the same time, we’re feeling like we need to get the miles done so that we can give ourselves time to recover from our second dose of Pfizer, which we plan on getting in a few days once we reach my moms house near Delaware Water Gap. As we brainstorm, we think of a way that we could do this that won’t run us completely into the ground. Once we have our game plan figured out, we call up my mom and see if she can help us pull off this adjusted plan (it includes picking us up a day early and helping us slackpack a few days). She’s totally down, and we are so relieved! We just need to get through the rest of today and tomorrow- she’ll pick us up in Wind Gap tomorrow afternoon. I get off of the phone, and though we still have a lot of ground to cover today, BAM! and I rejoice. We finish up with our snack break and press on.

We hit a lot of rocks. Rocks on rocks on rocks. To my surprise (and his), BAM! has to go dig a cathole in the middle of all of this- he encourages me to press on to the next marked water source and get a jumpstart on filtering. I do this, traversing over some of the super rocky spots along this section. Some spots are cool, like the Knife’s Edge, which makes me feel like I am climbing along the spine of a massive dinosaur. But for the most part, it’s a lot of that same Rocksylvania sharp, pointy rock stuff that’s been killing our feet. I’m excited when I hit a patch of less rocky trail and can walk with relative ease. I’m getting close to the road and parking lot area near Bake Oven Knob. Before I get to the road, I stumble upon a water cache! Woohoo! I don’t have to worry about filtering water- that’s a huge win in my book! Thank you trail angels! With this wonderful new development, I am able to take off my pack and chill for a second while I wait for BAM! to catch up. I chug some water and fill up my bottles and BAM!’s little bottle. About ten minutes go by and I see BAM! rounding the corner. “Take a look at this!” I say to him as he walks up. He sees the gallon jugs of water and is stoked! He takes off his pack and joins me for a short break while he chugs and then tops off his water bottles. We can’t stay too long, though- we’ve still got a ways to go to get to home for the night.

We leave the wonderful, amazing water cache, crossing the road and parking lot and rejoining the trail as it heads up to Bake Oven Knob. Immediately, we start to see lots of graffiti and realize that this must be another spot like High Knob back at the end of Maryland. It doesn’t take long to get to the top of Bake Oven Knob, but it’s a complete boulder field and, true to its name, we feel like we’re getting baked in an oven the sun is beating down on us so intensely- we just want to be on the other side of this and back under some tree cover, so we keep moving. Our energy is starting to flag, but we’ve still got another 7.5 or so miles to go.

Finally, after what feels like forever, we get to the shelter. It’s completely full, so we need to push past it and look for a stealth camping spot. We’ve got to grab water beforehand, though- otherwise, we’d have to backtrack up a rocky mess of a trail to the spring at the top of the hill. I hang back to try and fill up all of our water vessels while BAM! continues in search of a spot for us to set up camp. Tiredness is really starting to set in now, and I am clumsy as I work on filling the CNOC bag and our Sea to Summit collapsible bucket. Twice, I manage to knock the bucket over and have to start over with filling it up. Finally, I have our vessels filled and can start making my way down this rocky trail. I walk for a while and don’t see BAM! I thought he said the stealth site marked on guthooks should be right around here? I keep going and still don’t see him- I yell his name. He doesn’t answer the first time, but he does the second time when I yell and I’m a little further down the trail. He yells back and I spot him a few hundred feet off trail- he’s found a spot that is tucked back a ways, apparently the first level spot he could find. It turns out to be a great little tenting site- it’s getting dark, so we work on setting up and cooking food. We try to be as efficient as possible so that we can go to bed ASAP- we’ve got an early day ahead of us. We climb into the tent, both of us feeling so sore and achey and tired. I don’t even try to write notes for the day- I get settled in and just try to get some sleep while the sounds of the nearby highway sing their nighttime lullaby.


View of the Lehigh River

Day 94 (Tuesday, May 18th, 2021)

AT Miles: 21.5

Tent Site North of George Outerbridge Shelter > PA 33 (Wind Gap, PA)

1280.6 Miles Down, 912.5 To Go

We hardly get any sleep because of getting into camp so late last night, but we still have to wake up early to crush out the miles ahead of us by 4 pm. We are both resistant to the sounds of our alarm, and yet the promise of meeting my mom at Wind Gap later today motivates us to get moving.

It is just starting to get light out when our packs are on our backs and our feet hit the trail. We reach the road, whose sounds we listened to last night, fairly quickly. Right ahead of us as we cross the bridge, we can see the mountain we must be going up first thing this morning: Blue Mountain Ridge. We stare at it as we get closer and closer, cross the street when we get there, and start to climb. In no time, we’re walking across (you guessed it) rocks. And yet, the rocks along this section of the trail aren’t too bad, not so pointy. As we really start to climb, it becomes a bit of a scramble to the top, but this early in the morning while we’re still somewhat fresh it’s actually kind of fun and invigorating. It also helps that it’s nice and cool and the sun isn’t high enough in the sky yet to be quite so brutal. The payoff view when we get to the top is also pretty nice- BAM! even does a BAM video on top!

We get to the top and I’ve gotta dig a hole, so I go take care of that before we continue hiking. As we start to walk the ridge, we see a lot of new growth, including some aspen trees which we are curious about- you don’t typically see aspens in this area. Then we realize we must be going through the section of trail that used to be a Superfund, where they are now trying to regrow trees and plants. We take it in now with even more curiosity, speculating on the trees and plants chosen for this rehabilitation effort and why.

We get to the bottom of the Superfund mountain and from there it is a steep and rocky but short push up from Little Gap Rd. We make quick work of it and are up on the flat ridge before we can break too much of a sweat. Shortly after flattening out on the ridge, we run into a thru hiker not already known to us at a trail intersection. He introduces himself to us as Slug-o, and within a few seconds he is offering us his extra water, which winds up saving us a trip down and back up a steep 0.6 trail to a water source. Because of this incredible time-saving magic, we are able to stop for a second and chat with him for a little while. He’s a really nice guy, and after we part ways with him we immediately hope we can return the favor and help him out further up the trail.

A few miles after our encounter with Slug-o, we come across a water cache at Smith Gap Rd. It’s a total life saver and makes us feel confident that we’ll make it to Wind Gap without having to filter more water, a good thing because there is no water on this ridgeline. The other cool thing is that we are now getting back into familiar territory- we have hiked this section before during one of our training hikes! We’re excited and we know that we now only have 8 miles left, so we really start to push! We throw on some tunes to help us focus, syncing up so that we are both listening to Hamilton. We sing along together for the parts that we know and walk as quickly as we safely can to Wind Gap.

A few hours later, we start descending into Wind Gap and we couldn’t be more stoked and ready to be done. After getting down the hill and walking under the bridge, we cross the road and plop down in the dusty, gravel parking lot and breathe a sigh of relief. We wait for a few minutes, thoroughly enjoying the fact that we are no longer walking. My mom shows up- we are so grateful and give her big hugs, which she accepts even though we smell terrible. We’ve arrived earlier than we anticipated by about an hour and a half, and so we have some time to pick up food before my mom has to start her evening class. The three of us order Indian food and pick it up on the way home.

We get home and it’s such a strange and wonderful feeling to be back after 3+ months of hiking our way back north from Georgia. It’s great to see Aunt Jo and be back at our home base for a little bit. We’re hungry, but showers are calling, so we get cleaned up before digging into food. After dinner, my mom has class, so BAM! and I, wiped out after pushing as hard as we have lately, veg out and watch Gilmore Girls for the rest of the night.


Back at Kirkridge Shelter!

Day 95 (Wednesday, May 19th, 2021)

AT Miles: 16.8

PA 33 (Wind Gap, PA) > Kittatinny Visitor Center (Slack Pack)

1297.4 Miles Down, 895.7 To Go

We wake up feeling so refreshed after a good nights sleep in our cozy bed. We’ve got some miles to make today, but man do we feel like brand new people! Not doing quite as many miles yesterday and ending before 3 pm (as opposed to hiking until 8 pm) meant that our feet got some extra much needed rest. Plus, we get to slackpack today, and we get to wear our new shoes, and we are hiking less than 20 miles for the first time in at least a week- life is good!

We get up and get going, dressing in fresh clothes (aka not the Thru hiking clothes we wear everyday)- it feels good to change it up! We even get to use one of our daypacks today rather than using one of our backpacks as a makeshift daypack- what a luxury! BAM! goes to the kitchen and cooks up a yummy breakfast. He is the king of breakfast bagel sandwiches, I swear- so so so tasty and such a treat!

Eventually, we are ready to get going. We’re setting up a self shuttle today, so the first order of business is to drop off our car at the Kittatinny Visitors Center, which is where we’ll be ending our hiking today. Mom follows us there in her car, and once we have parked and locked the car we hop in with her and she drives us back to the trailhead parking lot where she picked us up yesterday in Wind Gap. Once there, we jump out of the car and get ready to hike, saying thank you and see you later today to my momma and we start heading up the hill.

We’ve got a short, steepish climb to kick things off, but we’re rocking our new shoes and hiking without full pack weight today, so this hill is not stopping us. Once it’s past us, we’re cruising along the trail, feeling light as a feather- even the rocks can’t get us down!

We plug along, focused on knocking out miles so we can get home and do the Half Gallon Challenge. We’d walked this section before back in late January when we were doing our training hikes- it’s so different now in the springtime! We get to the Kirkridge Shelter and are excited to find gallon bottles of water on site- at least 30, if not more! We decide this is a good spot for a break and enjoy some snacking. Before we leave, we camel up and top off our water bottles- it sure is a great day when you don’t have to filter water!

We get up to a section where the trail joins a fire road and we spot a grouse walking along the trail! I’ve never seen one in person, have just heard the crazy pounding sound they make to try and deter predators. It’s nice to finally actually see one! I’m able to take a short video of it before it flies away.

The fire road section ends after a while and we start the descent into Delaware Water Gap. There are some gorgeous views of Mt. Tammany across the way, the Delaware River down below. As we get closer to the bottom, we run into Slug-o! We wind up offering him a ride to the store once we all get done. He takes us up on it and we tell him we’ll shoot him a text once we get to the Kittatinny Visitor Center, which is a bit further that where he is stopping in the town of DWG. He lets us pass by him, but soon he’s passing us again because we have come to a magical pond with lots of tadpoles and frogs. BAM! shoots one of his Beauty Appreciation Moment of the Day videos while I try to count up as many frogs as possible- there are so many! After moving on from the pond (which is hard for us), we’re come to the familiar little town of Delaware Water Gap, and then we come to the infamous I-80 bridge crossing. We crossed over this monstrosity during one of our training hikes- it’s our least favorite bridge crossing on the AT because there is so much traffic and just a sad concrete barrier separating it from us. Time to get it over with, and cross into New Jersey! The PA/NJ sign is painted into the sidewalk in the middle most part of the bridge. We take a few pictures, the intense afternoon sun casting some intense shadows, and keep walking so we can get off of this crazy bridge. We are so excited to be off of this bridge and we are so thrilled to have Pennsylvania in the rearview!

Hello New Jersey!

We get back to the Kittatinny Vistor Center and pick up the car. BAM! texts Slug-o, and after getting the thumbs up that he’s ready to go to the store, we go pick him up. It’s fun talking with Slug-o during the car ride to the store. He’s a really nice guy, and he asks us lots of questions about Hiking for Hunger. We drop him off at the Wal-Mart when we get there, and we drive across the street to the Giant- we’re planning on doing the Half Gallon Challenge when we get home tonight and we know Giant has a good selection of vegan ice cream. We’re able to get stuff quickly, and Slug-o is efficient, too, so we pick him up from Wal-Mart and take him back to the Deer Head Inn. He expresses his gratitude and we thank him again for saving us by giving us his extra water the other day. Then we all part ways, telling each other that we hope to run into each other further up the trail.

We get back home and start preparing for the Half Gallon Challenge. We haven’t eaten anything recently and are plenty hungry going into this. We get everything set up and then begin… and it is AWFUL. I don’t know that I have ever felt more physically uncomfortable in my life. By the second (of four pints) I was ready for it to be over. My tongue and lips were numb and my stomach could not understand what I was doing to it. I’d look across the table at BAM! every so often and could tell that he was just as miserable, but he was definitely getting that ice cream down faster than I was. It got to a point where my competitiveness kicked the curb and I couldn’t care less if BAM! won- I just wanted this to be over with. BAM! does win, but he’s in rough shape. I finish about 3 or 4 minutes after him- I feel terrible. Neither of us feels great for the rest of the night



Day 96 (Thursday, May 20th, 2021)

AT Miles: 16.6

Blue Mtn. Lakes Rd. > Kittatinny Visitor Center (Southbound Slack Pack)

1314 Miles Down, 879.1 To Go

We’re both still not feeling super great when we wake up this morning- doing the Half Gallon Challenge was clearly a mistake. But we’ve still got a day of hiking ahead of us, so we pull ourselves together and start getting ready. As we are making breakfast in my moms kitchen, I’m thinking about how many miles we have ahead of us- 27+ miles planned for the day. I know with this “sugar hangover” that I’m not feeling like doing that many miles, and I can’t imagine BAM! is either. I propose to him that we cut our day short and he’s on board. Rather than doing 27, we’ll do 16.6- much more reasonable. We update mom on the new plan, and after we’ve all eaten and have gotten organized, we hop in the cars and get going.

We once again drop off our car at the Kittatinny Visitor Center (the exact same parking spot, too! Ha!) and then jump into moms car. But today we head north instead of south- we’ll be slack packing SOBO back to our car. We drive along steep, windy roads that my mom says are probably closed during the winter, at least that’s what she has heard. When we get to our drop location, we are up on a ridge in one of the northernmost sections of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. We bid my mom farewell and get moving.

Overall, this section is pretty gradual with just a few little ups and downs (“boops” as we like to call them). We’re both still feeling pretty blah and are mostly focused on just getting the day done. Most of what we are hiking today, save a few miles at the beginning, are sections of trail that we hiked during our training a few months ago. It’s cool to see how it has changed now that it is spring, but we’re still feeling ready to have these miles knocked out so that we can go home and veg out. We do really love seeing the view from Kittatinny again, and Sunfish Pond is absolutely gorgeous, but we rejoice when we start descending into the gap and find our car waiting for us at the visitor center.

We hop in the car and drive home so that we can shower and get organized before we head out again to see our trail friend, Goldie. He’s just gotten into DWG and is in need of a trip to the store for a resupply. We offer him a ride to the store and ask him if he’d like to grab dinner- to our excitement, he says yes to both! We pick him up at the hotel where he’s staying and drive to the Giant. After we have all grabbed the things we need, we go back to the hotel so Goldie can drop off his food. Now to decide on what we’ll eat. It turns out that Goldie is a big fan of Thai food, too, so we all get jazzed about finding some good Thai. Sure enough, there’s a place not far from the hotel, so we cruise that way.

We get to the Thai restaurant and find a nice table on the patio overlooking a grassy field with a dark green forest beyond it. It got pretty hot out during the day today, but it’s starting to cool down now, making for a pleasant evening temperature. Our waitress is super nice and takes our order after we’ve had some time to think on it. While we wait for the food to come out, BAM! and Goldie and I enjoy some great conversation. Though we’d met briefly at the Nantahala Outdoor Center back in North Carolina, this is the first time we’re getting a chance to spend time with him. It’s really fun getting to know Goldie, and we learn more about what has driven him to pursue an AT thru hike.

After a delicious meal, we wrap up with dinner and drive back to Goldie’s hotel. We part ways with him, all of us saying how much we hope to run into each other again further up the trail. Then he shuts the car door and walks into the lobby of the hotel. BAM! backs up out of the parking space and we head back home. We get there and spend the rest of the evening relaxing before we crash out. We don’t stay up too late- we’re getting our second COVID vaccine first thing in the morning, so we want to get a good nights sleep!


Feeling Accomplished (for finally finishing this blog post)

Moo-ving through Virginia

Angel’s Rest

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.


Wind Rock

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.

Us with Biscuits and Traveller

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.

The mossy mountain side bathed in sunlight

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.

Playing some music at War Spur Shelter


The Biggest tree on the southern half of the AT

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.

View from the Ridge

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.

What a beautiful little spring!

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.

Food for the Sole is Really good in a Tortilla!


Dragons Tooth

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.

700 Miles!

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.

  • BAM!
What the Eft!

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.


Up for Winter – Down for Spring

Fajitas and Margaritas for dinner!

Day 46 (Wednesday, March 31st, 2021)
AT Miles Hiked: 0
Layover in Marion, VA – Hiking for Hunger work day
534.3 Miles Down, 1658.8 To Go

It was nice to be in a hotel and wake up warm and dry this morning. We didn’t sleep in much as we had lots to accomplish today. After a lengthy internet search, I concluded that there were no restaurants nearby that had anything we could eat for breakfast. I then went down to see if the complimentary breakfast had anything we could eat, hoping at least for some fruit. No fruit, but I did make some toast and grabbed some jelly. That along with some weak coffee and some orange juice from concentrate was our breakfast… we also ate a bar or two from our rations.

Then we got to work writing, organizing photos, and checking emails. Several hours went by when a text from Tenacious C interrupted us. He wanted to know if we wanted to get lunch at the Mexican place down the street. This was a welcome invitation- we were getting pretty hungry and were ready to get out of our hotel room. He also let us know that Einstein had rolled in and would be joining us for lunch. We were stoked – it had been a while since we had seen him and we knew he had to get off trail soon for work so we were grateful to have more time with him.

We all met out in front of the hotel and walked the 0.2 miles up the road together. At the restaurant they sat us and immediately set chips and salsa on the table – great service! Thru hiker approved! We ordered lots of food and it came out quickly. We also enjoyed having margaritas and good conversation. We were almost finished eating when Hawk came in (we had met him back at Uncle Johnny’s in Erwin, TN). We waved and he came over and sat with us.

After lunch, I walked to Walmart to get our resupply while Hero took a cab to the outfitter with Einstein. We needed fuel and a small resupply and she needed another pair of socks and was hoping to find some camp shoes. The Walmart was small and the options were limited but I was able to make it work. As I was heading out, Hero texts me saying the outfitter doesn’t have fuel. I go back inside to see if there is fuel in the outdoor sports section. Once there I ask an employee. They seem slightly baffled by my inquiry, but finally say, “Oh, do you mean Coleman fuel? It’s all in that aisle over there (as they point non-discriptly two to three aisles down). I say thanks and start to walk in that direction. I start to walk past the aisle he had meant and he yells out “you passed it, that one right there!” I nod my head and wave as I mouth thanks and walk down the aisle.

I find the fuel, but they are all out of small and medium canisters, all they have left are large. The large canisters are a full pound, and we don’t need or want that much fuel. I debate it for a second and then text Hero. She is back at the hotel now, so I ask her to check how much fuel is left in the canister we have. She shakes it and listens but its hard to tell. I ask her to fill the sink and see how low it sits in the water. I recieve a picture of the canister in murky water in the sink along with a text that says “Sorry, I was soaking our socks in the sink so I just used that water.” No worries, that works, I reply, smiling to myself. We decided we could probably get two dinners out of that canister and would try to find fuel later down the trail.

I grabbed our reration and set off back to the hotel. Once there, we divided it up and packed it away into our Ursacks. Then it was back to writing and uploading pictures. As it got late, we got hungry again. I had hoped to find some vegan microwaveable meals at Walmart, but no luck. And I already knew the Mexican place was pretty much the only place with vegan options in town… that is except Burger King. With so few options and with our hunger increasing, we went for it and got Impossible Whoppers. They were ok, but still not our first choice if we have other options.

We stayed up later than we wanted working on things. When we finally went to sleep, I was out like a light. We were both ready to get back on trail in the morning, grateful that we were inside for the rainy day.


Winter is Back!

Day 47 (Thursday, April 1st, 2021)
AT Miles Hiked: 23.9
Pat Jennings Visitor Center > Bear Garden Hostel
558.2 Miles Down, 1634.9 To Go

Groggy from a less than restful nights sleep, we extracted ourselves from the comfort of the cushy mattress and got to work getting organized and packed up. The motel room looked a bit like a bomb had gone off, with gear hanging up to dry and our sink-washed socks drying out by the heater. For as much as it all felt like a cluster (to me), we were able to get things packed up fairly quickly, and before we knew it, we were bidding our home for the past few nights adieu.

We got to see Fresh Ground ever so briefly in the parking lot before boarding the Marion Transit bus that would take us back to the Pat Jennings Visitor Center. He’d just returned from shuttling another hiker back to the trail, so there was really only time to say a quick hello and grab a clementine for the road. Wish we’d had more time to really hang out with him- we hadn’t seen him since we left the Smokies what feels like forever ago.

The drive back to the visitors center was short- within about 15 minutes, we were back at the spot where we’d been picked up just a day and shall prior. As soon as his feet hit the pavement, Hawk was flying- we waved goodbye and wished him well. Then BAM!, Einstein, Tenacious, and I set off as well.

It was cold, and the wind up on the ridgeline as we got started made my eyes water. We had intermittent snow throughout the day, but it wasn’t anything that gave us concern. It was just enough to be pretty and also not really stick where we were. Throughout the day, we traversed ridges and passed through rolling hills and open fields of farmland. We crossed lots of little roads and at one point even walked beneath an I-81 underpass. At one point, the trail took us right through the parking lot of a gas station, so naturally we stopped in to use the restrooms and grabbed ourselves a soda- Cherry Coke for BAM!, Cherry Vanilla Coke for hours truly. It’s the little things, y’all!

Something about walking under I-81 filled me with a sense of longing for home. Not necessarily any physical home, per se, so much as people who feel like home. I guess this was spurred on by the fact that I’ve taken I-81 numerous times when traveling from Asheville to Northern Virginia to visit my dad and my stepmom. As soon as we crossed into Virginia, I had this intense feeling of walking towards my loved ones, just like I felt as we hiked towards Asheville and saw our framily there when we were just getting started with this journey. Just like I felt as we hiked from there to Abingdon, where we had that wonderful visit with Breece and Ben and Magnolia. Now we’re walking towards my dad, my stepmom, my brother, and I’m finding myself, at times, overwhelmed with emotion as I think about seeing them. I love being on the trail, but I also miss the people in my life who feel like home.

We got to the spot where we thought me might camp for the night, right around the 18 mile mark. We got there around 3:30/4 with plenty of daylight left, so we decided to push. It was pretty cold, too, which was extra motivation to keep moving. Einstein and Tenacious had been talking about getting to Bear Garden Hostel in anticipation of a cold and possibly snowy night, so this became our new goal. The hostel was still about 6 miles away, so we “hit cruise control” and started motoring down the trail.

When we got to the hostel, we thought it might be deserted- not a soul in sight as we approached the property. We were debating what to do when Oak and Toddles popped out of the Bunkhouse building. It was a brief exchange- they were both heading a ways down the road to the small house they were staying in with the Family. It was nice to see okay again- it was the first time since we all left Damascus.

The woman who runs the hostel showed us around and gave us a rundown of rules and whatnot. We let her know that two other hikers would possibly be showing up in the next hour. She asked us to relay what she had told us to Einstein and Tenacious when they arrived. After that, we started getting settled in the small bunkhouse and got going on some dinner- Mac n’ Torts!

About an hour after we arrived at the hostel, Einstein and Tenacious stroll up and get set up in the bunkhouse with us. We all stayed up way past Hiker midnight talking about most everything and reminiscing on the hiking we’ve all done so far. Einstein is approaching the time when he’s going to have to come off trail to go back home, so we’re trying to enjoy every little bit of time we have left to hang with him.

Finally, it was time for bed. Because BAM! and I have a double sleeping bag and this particular hostel doesn’t provide sheets, we had to squeeze in together on a bottom bunk. It was definitely snug, but not as cramped as it could have been. Honestly, after the big day we had, I think I could have slept just about anywhere.


Cool Crater-Shaped Valley

Day 48 (Friday, April 2nd, 2021)
AT Miles Hiked: 22.3
Bear Garden Hostel > Jenkins Shelter
580.5 Miles Down, 1612.6 To Go

We left the hostel later than we wanted. It was super cold outside, about 18 degrees when we woke up, so none of us were in a big hurry to get going. We also had to wait for the owner to come down so we could settle up before we left. While we waited, Hero and I had a quick breakfast – Pop Tarts again – but they had a toaster at the hostel so we treated ourselves to warm Pop Tarts! It’s the little things.

We paid for our night’s stay, some sodas, and a small can of fuel. We were so grateful that they had fuel, otherwise we would have been in a tough spot. Eventually, we started hiking, around about 9:30am. As we got to the trail, the Family was hopping out of their shuttle along with Toodles and Oak. They had all stayed just up the road. Not wanting to get delayed any further this morning, we said a quick hello as we kept hiking and told them we would see them further up the trail.

We had heard that about four miles down trail we would have to wade across a river because the bridge had been wiped out during a flood last year. Needless to say, with the temperature barely over 20 degrees, this was not the day we would have picked to go wading through a mountain stream. We got there and were glad to see that the water level was lower than we had expected. It looked like we would only get wet up to our knees and not mid-thigh unlike some people we knew who had crossed earlier in the week. We took off our packs and began to prepare for the short trek across the water. We pulled off our shoes and socks then rolled up our leggings above our knees. As we sat there, we could see what was left of the bridge laying on the far side of the river.

Bridge washed out

Ok, let’s do this quickly! Our feet were already getting cold just being out of our socks. We stuffed our socks in our packs, tied our shoes on top, then threw our packs back on. There was ice along the shoreline, I walked through it and into the river letting out a loud “OOOHHH! WOOOOO!” I kept moving steadily, my gaze fixed on the far shoreline. After a few more loud cries, I made it to the other side my feet numb from the cold. Hero came after me, letting out a few hoots and howls of her own. We sat down and started putting our socks back on, grateful for the bit of sun shining on that side of the river which added a hint of warmth to the air.

As we were putting our shoes on, Toodles, Bad Santa, and Stumbles appeared on the other side. After asking us how it went, Bad Santa and Toodles started taking their shoes off too. We watched and encouraged them across as more of the family showed up along with Oak and Einstein. Bad Santa went back and forth a few times, shuttling some of the other members of the family who weren’t as keen on crossing by foot. We decided that rather than watch everyone cross, which could prove entertaining now that our feet were dry and warm again, we should probably keep moving.

We had a pretty significant climb ahead of us – over 2,000 feet up to Chestnut Knob. As we neared the top, we entered a high field and had views of nearby ridgelines and valley farms in the distance. At the top was an old stone shelter and beautiful views into this crater-shaped valley called Burkes Garden. Several farms dotted the valley surrounded by the stoney ridgeline. We would follow along the southeastern ridge for the next several miles, navigating over and around beautiful white rock outcroppings the whole way, every once in a while getting another view of a crater-like valley.

The trail was rocky and challenging at times, with lots of trees down from previous storms. So, it took us a little longer than we had hoped, but we were enjoying the views. There was no water on the ridge and we were running low. There was an unreliable source listed on the guide in a couple miles, but it was at least .3 miles down a side trail and down in elevation. This would mean at least an extra .6 to hike, which on a day when we were planning on doing over 22 miles didn’t sound enticing.

About a mile before we would have to decide to go down to get water or not, we crossed a gravel road and someone had left a case of bottled water near the trail. We were so grateful fir this trail magic! We each took one bottle and poured it into our smart water bottle then left the rest for others who might need it. Sitting near the water was a hiker named Second Step. We introduced ourselves and started talking with him as we got the water. We were trying to figure out where to shove the empty plastic water bottles in our packs when he offered to take them and any other trash we had on us. We asked if he was sure and he said that he was getting picked up from that spot so a friend could hike with him a bit and he didn’t mind taking it off our hands. We expressed our gratitude and chatted a while longer, learning that he had started in Harper’s Ferry and was flip-flopping. We told him we hoped to see him up north after he finished the southern half, then continued on our way.

We pressed on to Jenkins Shelter, still debating if we wanted to go further tonight or wake up super early to get to Bland, VA before the post office closed at 11am. We sent ourselves a resupply there thinking we would arrive on a weekday and that the sparse weekend hours wouldn’t be a problem. However, we took an extra zero for bad weather, and another for a Hiking for Hunger workday. So, now we found ourselves having to race to the post office again.

We strolled into Jenkins Shelter at a quarter to 7pm and Wicked, Viking Man, Tall Son, and Not Yet were all there. We decided we would at least make dinner and hangout for a bit. Shortly after that decision, we both agreed that we would rather get up early than hike in the dark tonight. Hero started setting up the tent as I finished making dinner. We both enjoyed chatting with our friends over dinner. Then we headed to bed knowing we needed to try and get as much sleep as possible – 4am was gonna come quick. As we were heading to the tent Einstein hiked in followed closely by Tenacious C. We said hi and were glad they made it, then we crawled into our sleeping bag and crashed out.


Sun shining everywhere but on us… so cold!

Day 49 (Saturday, April 3rd, 2021)
AT Miles Hiked: 17.5
Jenkins Shelter > Random Stealth Camp
598 Miles Down, 1595.1 To Go

We were up by 4:15 am this morning and leaving camp just an hour later. A resupply box was waiting for us at the post office in Bland, VA, where Saturday hours are a mere 9-11 am. We had a two hour window to get in and get our box, and 11.3 miles to cover to get to the road where we’d be picked up and shuttled in- hence the early start.

This morning happened to be one of the coldest we’ve experienced while on trail, very reminiscent of some of the frigid days we had while hiking through the Smokies. It was a struggle to get packed up and going, and a struggle to stay warm while hiking pre-dawn. And after doing two big back-to-back days before this particular morning, we were both feeling pretty depleted as we started up the trail. Nevertheless, we marched on, crunching the frozen leaves with our heavy footfalls, the rounded white light of our headlamps bobbing up and down ahead of us in tune with our footsteps.

Laurel Fork in the early morning

While a lot of this morning’s hike truly felt like a head down slog to get to post office in time, there were some moments that lifted that feeling, even if only briefly. I’ll never forget, for example, how absolutely uplifting it felt when, as we were winding along the side of a mountain, we rounded a corner and were suddenly awash with sunlight. It caught us off guard in the most beautiful of ways, those dazzling rays seeming to give our faces sweet little kisses. It lasted only a few seconds, and then we walked back into a section of trail that was still cloaked in shadow this early on in the day. I remember immediately craving the sensation again, so much so that my pace quickened, eager to get to the next sunny spot, where ever it may be. Though the sunny spots proved to be few, the power that they held in helping us move forward this morning was pretty remarkable. I felt so grateful for the sun’s warmth today, so grateful for the way that it energized me to keep going when it felt extra challenging to do so.

Thank you Sun!

With our brisk pace to match the brisk morning air, it only took us four hours to hike the 11.3 miles from Jenkins Shelter to US 52. As we were approaching the highway, BAM! called the shuttle driver to let him know we were arriving a little earlier than expected. Bubba didn’t answer, so BAM! left a message. We got to the picnic tables outside of Brushy Mountain Outpost, which as it turned out was not open today- contrary to what our guidebooks indicated, the outpost wasn’t open over the weekend. I shot Tenacious a text to let him know the outpost was closed today- he’d been planning on doing a small resupply there so he could make it the rest of the way to Pearisburg. After waiting about ten or so minutes and not getting a call back from Bubba, we were starting to contemplate calling again or trying to hitch into town. Just as we were debating what to do, Bubba drove up!

Bubba agreed that he would not only shuttle us into town, but since we were really just picking up a box from the post office, he’d also bring us back to the trail. This was a relief, knowing that we wouldn’t have to figure out a way ride back to the trailhead. The drive into Bland was only 3 miles, so I was able to very quickly grab the box from the post office. As we were leaving, BAM! remembered that we might need some more fuel- Bubba was kind enough to take us to a gas station where he was pretty sure he’d seen fuel on the shelves before. While BAM! went inside to grab fuel and some snacks (of course!), Bubba and I talked. I got a glimpse into some of what he’d been through recently, and I was left in awe of the resilience of this man. We didn’t get to talk for very long, as BAM! and I were pretty efficient getting everything we needed from Bland, but I felt enriched by the conversation and inspired by his unshakeable demeanor.

Bubba drove us back up to the trailhead. We thanked him profusely and bade him farewell, waving as he drove away. To our fellow thru hikers who may be reading this: if you’re near Bland, or anywhere between Damascus and Pearisburg and you need a lift, we can’t recommend Bubba enough.

The sun (that glorious, wonderful SUN!) was now fully casting its warmth across the picnic tables at Brushy Mountain Outpost. We sat down and basked for a few minutes before getting to work on our resupply box and some much needed snacking. With this resupply plus the leftover food we still had in our bags, we were more than set for the couple of days it’ll take us to get to Pearisburg. In fact, we know we’ll have extra food, which will mean not having to do as big of a store buy. Despite having extra weight, we’re grateful knowing we have plenty to eat. After thoroughly enjoying our downtime while munching on snacks and organizing and packing up our resupply in the sun, we rally- we’ve got to at least make it up to the first shelter before calling it quits for the day.

We get to the first shelter (which is 0.3 miles off trail), not sure yet if we’d be staying the night but certainly that we would need to fill up on water while we decided on next steps. There wasn’t a lot of water marked between the first shelter and the one nine miles further up the trail, so we wanted to make sure we had enough to get by if we decided to push on but not all the way to the next shelter.

I wind up doing the water run, which turns out to be a doozy. To get to the water source, it’s a 0.3 mi steep, switchback route complete with downed tree hurdles in the middle of the trail. Once you get to the water source, there’s no really good pour over spot to fill up the bucket, at least not a spot that doesn’t involve teetering on a precarious ledge or standing in the streambed. I opt for filling the bucket in the deepest spot I can find, trying hard not to fall in as I do so. From there, it’s back up that 0.3 mile steep, switchback trail, only now I’m carrying 7 liters of water- you know, for that extra fun challenge… ha! As I finally reach the top, I pass by the two guys who were sitting at the picnic table by the shelter when I started down the trail. “Boy, that must have been a ways down there,” the older of the two says. “Yep,” I say, “try to avoid that one if at all possible!”

I get back to BAM! and we start filtering water and decide on whether to stay or go. We both feel like pushing on a bit longer, but we’re not committed to the nine miles it would take to get to the next shelter. We really want to find a spot about four miles up the trail and call it quits while we still have some daylight. We figure we can rest up a bit, have an early dinner, and catch up on some writing before we crash out. At this point, we’ve already hiked 14 miles, so it’s not like we’re slackin’, right?

As we’re getting packed up, the two guys who’d been by the shelter area come by and we all chatted for a bit. We believe the older of the two might be a section hiker, most definitely an avid hiker/backpacker, because he had some stories about the trail that he shared with us. One included a night in the Smokies with a severe thunderstorm that sounded a lot like the one we’d just had up in the Grayson Highlands. Only he and his trail friends were in the shelter, and it happened to be the shelter that has a chain link fence across the front, the idea being that you have all of your food and stuff in the shelter with you and lock yourself in. On the night of this severe storm, the lightning was flashing so bright that it would light up the entire forest beyond the shelter. Well, on one such occasion when the lightning flashed, he and his buddies saw a bear on its hind legs outlined by the flash of light- and they realized that the bear was pushing against the chain link fencing trying to get into the shelter… YIKES! Fortunately, the bear did not get in, although apparently a skunk did at one point! We talk so more with the guys and then they head out. Soon after, we do the same and keep truckin’ north.

We only hike for another hour and a half. We’re both feeling sluggish and thoroughly ready to just be done for the day. We settle on a spot somewhat off trail, a flat-ish section that looks like it may have been a roadbed long ago. We start settling into our home for the night by pulling our shoes off, taking our sweaty stinky socks off and letting our feet see daylight- I relish the feeling of wiggling my toes and letting them breathe! It’s amazing how warm it is now compared to this morning- it’s nearly 40 degrees warmer, almost 60 degrees outside! After taking some time to give ourselves a break, I dig out the different parts of the tent and let them air dry for a while before setting it up. BAM! gets rolling on an early dinner. We’re both so happy we’re not hiking anymore today. Even when we see Not Yet, Wicked, and Viking Man (Tall Son must have lapped us when we were at the shelter that was 0.3 off trail) pass and kinda wish we were going to the shelter they’re headed for, we still are ultimately glad we’re stopping here for the night.

“Do you have a permit to camp there?” BAM! and I both sat up a bit in the tent and looked at each other a little wide eyed. “What….?” We couldn’t see who was talking to us because they were concealed by the tent. It was still light out, and we were working on some writing after our early dinner. “Do you have a permit to camp there?” The voice repeated. I wasn’t sure whether to try and pretend whoever was talking to us was imaginary and hopefully they’d go away or to start freaking out. The rule follower in me was silently thinking “Oh no! Permits for this area? How did I miss that? Oh no oh no oh no what if we have to move camp? Oh please no.” My more rebellious, not about to get walked all over side was thinking “Nuh uh, I am not movin’- good luck buddy! Also, you don’t need permits for this section of the AT- who do you think you are trying to tell me to move?!” While all of this was happening in my head, a look of humored recognition crossed BAM!’s face. He yelled out to the disembodied voice, “Tenacious!” But of course it was him, that stinker! I poked my head out of my side of the tent and sure enough, there he was, trouncing down the trail with just his trekking poles and a bottle of Gatorade in hand. “You had me going there for a second, Tenacious!” I yelled out to him. We spent the next few minutes updating each other on trail things. He was doing a SOBO slack pack from roughly 3 miles north of where we were camped back down to US 52 and would be staying in town with Einstein and Honeybadger. Neither of them slackpacked with him, so they’ll be behind us all tomorrow. He also had been reunited with his missing trekking poles and was soon to be reunited with his Croc that fell off of his pack while he was hiking yesterday. We let him know that we successfully got our box in Bland. We bade him farewell and told him we’d see him out on the trail tomorrow. He went on his merry way.

Sunset at the stealth site

We’re settled in for the night now, BAM! looking ahead at mileage options for the next few days and me catching up on writing. Think we’ll probably call it a night soon- it’s been a long day. A good day, in the end, but a long day. Tomorrow we are looking forward to warmer temperatures and our dear old friend the sun.


600 MILES!

Day 50 (Sunday, April 4th, 2021)
AT Miles Hiked: 20.2
Random Stealth Camp > Wapiti Shelter
618.2 Miles Down, 1574.9 To Go

Gosh, 50 days on trail and over 600 miles of the AT hiked. Feeling pretty accomplished! We are finding our groove and feeling good hiking about 18 to 20 miles a day.

This morning we slept in a bit, just feeling cozy in our sleeping bag and having a hard time convincing ourselves that we needed to get up and hike another 20 miles. We did finally get moving just a little before 7am and started getting packed up – we were hiking by 8:30am. About 200 yards down the trail we see this nice grassy spot with a view. We both look at it and think the same thing – that would have been a nice spot to camp last night! We had stayed on an old grown over logging road covered with leaves. We shrugged and said oh well where, we were last night worked just fine.

We were both feeling a little sluggish today and seemed to be moving a bit slower. Part of this may have been slight dehydration. Since we stealth camped on the ridge last night, we didn’t have a water source near our campsite. We carried some extra water with us from the last known source but were doing our best to conserve what we had, which meant drinking less. There was a stream just about 3 miles down trail, but it was marked “unreliable” on our guide so we weren’t sure if it would be running. We got there and the water was low but still running. We were able to use our trusty PVC pipe to help create a spout to fill our bag then filtered the water.

Happy Easter from Bam & Hero

We then pushed to Jenny Knob Shelter and stopped in for a brown blaze (going to the bathroom), then had some snacks. We were both feeling a bit emotional today and talked out some things that were on our minds and ended up staying there longer than expected. Then Ninja Feet showed up followed by Narrator, Destin, Stumbles, and Blade. We talked with them for a while, then realized we needed to put some miles behind us and said goodbye. When we hiked back to the entrance to the shelter, the rest of the family was there with Toodles. We stopped and talked with them for a while, too. Then we realized it was after 12pm and we still had about 15 miles to hike. We said goodbye and pushed on.

As we got a little further down the trail, we picked up some of the conversations we had started before the family joined us at Jenny Knob. I am so glad that I have Hero out here and that we are able to talk about the things that come up for us. Now that we have our “hiker legs” the physical challenges of hiking the trail aren’t the hardest we face. Now we are experiencing greater emotional challenges. The trail is revealing more about ourselves, maybe more than we would like to know at times. It isn’t comfortable and can be very emotionally exhausting, but it is ultimately good and it provides opportunities for us to grow, which is one of the main reasons we love the outdoors and wanted so badly to do this thru hike.

Further down the trail, we crossed paths with a flip-flop hiker named Blue Ray. He was really nice and gave us some info about the trail ahead of us, encouraging us to take a moment by the river to soak our feet. We thought that sounded nice on this day where we had temperatures near 60 degrees. So, we decided to forgo hiking the 0.6 miles to see Dismal Falls and instead found a nice spot along the riverbank to soak our feet and eat our Food for the Sole cold soak lunch. The foot soak was more like a quick rinse though. Even with the weather warming up the mountain stream still felt ice cold.

It was getting late and we both just wanted to be at the shelter now, but we still had 6 miles to go. We were grateful that the terrain was pretty flat- hopefully it would go by quickly. We crossed the river several times over little foot bridges. We had been on ridgelines a lot lately, so hiking through this river valley was a refreshing change of scenery. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a large bird flying low in the trees. I turn my head to see an owl land on a dead tree limb about 50 yards from us. I point it out to Hero and we both watch as the owl turns its head searching its surroundings, occasionally pausing while looking in our direction. After a few minutes, the owl opens its wings and glides through the forest and out of sight. We both look at each other and express our awe at the beauty of what we just witnessed. We love owls and it was quite a treat to see one of these elusive nocturnal creatures during the day.

Do you see the owl?

With the owl gone, we pushed on with a little more vigor – only about 2.5 miles to go. It felt like a long couple miles, but we made it to Wapiti Shelter. We thought maybe some of our friends would be there but the shelter was empty. We read the log and learned that they had all pressed on down the trail. We debated staying in the shelter, but noticed crusty food from people eating in the shelter and plenty of signs of mice. We decided tenting sounded better than sleeping with the mice.

As we were getting set up and making dinner, a section hiker named Victory Girl hiked in. She was tired and took a moment to catch her breath and settle her thoughts, then we chatted for a while. She was really nice and we enjoyed talking with her. We wished her well, said goodnight, and crawled into our tent.

  • BAM!

Weather or not to Zero

We have raised $8,508.30 for MANNA FoodBank and only have $263.70 or 66.1 “miles” left to meet our original goal and for the Donors to complete the Fund-Racer to Katahdin! Keep it going – you all are Amazing!

You all, as donors, are way ahead of us as we are just now coming up on the one quarter mark of the trail with 534.3 miles hiked!

Facemasks and Matcha Lattes

Day 40 (Thursday, March 25th, 2021)
AT Miles Hiked: 0
Layover in Abingdon, VA

Our bodies let us sleep in ‘til 7:30am, but that was it even though we had stayed up way past hiker midnight the night before. So, Hero and I got ourselves out of bed and started trying to catch up on some of our journal entries. Not long after, Breece and Magnolia got up. Noli had slept in until 8am which was not usually the case, so Breece was grateful for the additional rest today.

Once Magnolia was awake, Hero and I had no chance to work on our blog or anything else for that matter (not that we were at all upset about this). Every couple of minutes, Noli would come up to one of us and say something like “Come here, wook! Come over here!” And just like that, we would be pulled away to check out one of her toys or to color or paint with her. We were such push overs and we didn’t hate it. We really enjoyed playing and hanging out with this adorable little human.

While we played, Breece made us waffles complete with fresh strawberries and vegan whipped cream! They were so good and it was nice to sit and enjoy breakfast with Breece while Magnolia watched Daniel Tiger and ate her waffle. The rest of the morning we were at Noli’s behest, going from the play room to the living room looking at toys and playing with dolls or stuffed animals. All the while, Breece is in the background saying “you can tell her no thank you if you just want to sit and relax.” But we were enjoying being led around the house by this sweet, spirited toddler.

We were ready for a break, however, when it was time for Magnolia’s nap. While Noli slept, Breece treated us to an in home Spa Day. First, we had a foot soak with eucalyptus bath salts complete with a pumice stone to rub the dead skin off of our calloused feet. We then washed our faces, spritzed rose water on our cheeks, and put on red clay facemasks. While we let the facemasks dry, Breece made us delicious matcha lattes. We were feeling so pampered and refreshed! We finished our lattes and rinsed our faces then Breece set out a wonderful veggie and nut platter for lunch, which we devoured.

Then nap time was over for Noli and we were back at it, ushered around the house by a 2 and a half year old. She is so dang cute we just couldn’t say no, and we enjoyed playing and just being goofy with her. 

Ben got home from work and we grilled vegan Beyond Brats and Burgers. Noli went to bed, and we watched Adventureland while we all ate, Hero and I both crushing a pint of ice cream each for dessert. The hiker hunger is something fierce right now, and we’re taking every opportunity during our zeroes to eat as much as our bodies can stand.

Feeling sleepy and full of yummy food, we bade Breece and Ben goodnight and very quickly fell asleep.


Hanging with Wicked and Oak in Damascus

Day 41 (Friday, March 26th, 2021)
AT Miles Hiked: 14.9
Damascus > Lost Mountain Shelter
486.7 Miles Down, 1706.4 To Go

It was really hard to say goodbye to Breece and Ben and Magnolia today. I could feel myself dragging this morning, and I know that had a lot to do with the inevitability of parting ways. I know BAM! was feeling that way, too, and I think if we weren’t in a rush to get out the door so that Ben could get to work on time (he was kind enough to drop us back off at the trail on his way to work- thank you, Ben!), we might have taken Breece up on staying another day. “I can stop deflating this air mattress right now if you want!” she said a bit hopefully. We were mighty tempted, but we both got in our heads about “needing” to get back on trail. So, after a gut wrenching goodbye with Breece and Magnolia (who does not like goodbyes, not the least bit), we jumped in the car with Ben and were off.

We had a nice drive back into town with Ben. He took the backroads, winding through valleys and farmlands dotted with cows and goats and leash-less dogs. Eventually, we rolled into town, and Ben pulled up to the Damascus Diner where we hoped there might be some WiFi we could use to work on and publish a new blog post. We thanked Ben, exchanging hugs. He wished us luck and then we were on our own…

…until we walked into the diner, where we found Oak having breakfast! Seeing one of our favorite trail people was just what we needed in that moment- it took some of the edge off of how much we were already missing the friends we’d just parted ways with. He waved us over and we joined him at his table. Though we’d already had breakfast back at Breece’s that morning, we decided to look over the menu. It didn’t look like anything on the menu was vegan-friendly, an intuition which was confirmed by the waitress when we asked. We settled for coffee, which worked out just fine anyways because we’d need to find someplace else for WiFi access.

We sat with Oak while he finished his breakfast, half working on some of our blog writing while we did so, but mostly catching up on everything since the last time we’d seen him. Around 9:30 am, Batman strolled in- we were so excited to see him as it had been a few days since we’d last crossed paths. He let us know that Tenacious Hot Cakes and Einstein were going to be joining him around 10 am, so we decided to hang out a while longer so we could see them, too. They showed up, Tenacious Hot Cakes with a quart of Oreo ice cream that he intended to use as a topping for his pancakes. This is his signature “last breakfast before leaving town” move, and how he got the “Hot Cakes” part of his trail name. We said hey, briefly caught up, and told them we’d see ‘em out on the trail. From there, we’d be going to the Broken Fiddle Hiker Hostel where Oak had stayed the night before. He said we could hang out there and use their WiFi to finish up our blog post. Awesome, we thought! We’ll get it done real quickly and get back on trail before by noon latest.

Well, noon came and went, and we were still sitting on the porch at the Broken Fiddle trying to get that post up- it was taking forever! We had gotten behind on the blog and were trying to get all caught up before we headed back out on the trail. Because of that, we had a pileup of days. Not only did we need to flesh out and tweak our writing, but we also had to go through the process of getting photos downloaded off of the GoPro and uploaded onto the blog. Sounds like it should take no time at all to do such a thing, but believe me- it took an excruciating amount of time to do so and synthesize it all. While we were working on this, Oak had gone back into the hostel to shower and get ready to go back on trail. It had been a few hours since he’d gone to do this and we were still right where he left us on the porch. As he rounded the corner, we heard him say “please tell me y’all still aren’t here working on that blog!” We both gave him sheepish grins.

In the end, we didn’t roll out of Damascus until about 3:30 pm. We published the blog, grabbed a few things we needed from Sundog Outfitters, and were finally back on trail. It took about an hour for my body to readjust to having a pack back on, but then I started feeling strong and BAM! and I cruised along the section of trail leading out of Damascus. The sun was out and beating down on us- it was so warm I was wearing the tank top I’d just acquired at the outfitters.

Because we didn’t get on trail until much later than expected, we planned on going to the first shelter 9ish miles in rather than the second shelter about 15 miles in. However, by the time we got to the intersection and realized we’d have to hike 1/4 mile off trail to get to the first shelter, we were feeling good and decided to press on. By then, the sun was no longer beating down on us, and we were hiking in what may have been some of the nicest temperatures we’d experienced on trail thus far.

The light started to fade quickly, and eventually we had to pull out our headlamps for a bit of night hiking. The moon was stunning and nearly full, but we still needed our headlamps in order to see and avoid the roots and rocks protruding from the trail. I was a little nervous about night hiking, but we talked and kept each other company and that helped to curb the fear. It helped, too, that the sounds of the river and streams we walked alongside during this stretch made me feel more tranquil, less anxious.

After roughly 5 and a half hours of hiking, we rolled into camp a little after 9 pm. We tried to be as quiet as possible, knowing that the Family and Toodles must be sleeping in the shelter. We walked behind the shelter to see if we could find a good camping spot. “I see your true, colors…” someone started to sing from the woods we were headed for. We paused for a second. “Are you an alien, or a thru hiker?” the disembodied voice now said. We chuckled, now knowing exactly who we were hearing. BAM! responded in a semi-whisper, “Actually, we’re hikers from another planet!” “Oh! Alien Thru Hikers!” Laughing, we approached the spot where we’d heard the voice coming from. Two tents were set up in a nice, flat, forested area just beyond the shelter. “Hi Tenacious, Hi Batman,” We said, “It’s BAM! and Hero.”

There were plenty of nice spots for us to get set up, so we got right to work with our camp routine. Within an hour and fifteen minutes, our bellies were full of delicious food and our heads were hitting our lightweight inflatable pillows.


Buzzard Rock and Burned Bald

Day 42 (Saturday, March 27th, 2021)
AT Miles Hiked: 12.3
Lost Mountain Shelter > Thomas Knob Shelter
499 Miles Down, 1694.1 To Go

The alarm went off at 6am, but my mind woke me up several minutes earlier. After getting in late last night, we had only gotten 7 hours of sleep and our bodies were telling us that they wanted more. But the weather forecast had thunderstorms rolling in around 2pm, and we wanted to get over the highest peaks before the storms came through.

So, after taking 5 to 10 minutes to convince our bodies that we needed to get up and going, we turned on our light and started packing. The morning was pleasant, not too cool and clear skies. We could hear the Family and Toodles packing up in the shelter nearby and went over to say good morning. They let us know they had a similar plan for today and would be trying to push to the next shelter before the storm hit.

We finished packing up and got on the trail just a little bit after the Family left. We were having a hard time pushing ourselves to hike quickly, though. Our bodies were feeling a bit sluggish and both of us were thinking about how we would rather be back in Abingdon with our friends instead of dodging thunderstorms in the highlands. But we pressed on, and it really was a beautiful morning. The clouds started to fill in the sky, a warning of the coming storm, yet it was a pleasant temperature and calm in the forest. The birds were chirping and we passed several trickling springs. I was trying hard to focus on the natural beauty around me and remind myself of all the reasons why I love being out here. Mentally, today was harder than most.

It didn’t help that we had a long climb up nealy 2,000 feet of elevation gain. It wasn’t steep or even that strenuous, but it was long and seemed to drag on for hours. We finally got to the top and were treated to amazing views at Buzzard Rock. The Forest Service had recently done a prescribed burn and we could see the storm clouds building in the distance. All of this made for an eerie but captivating scene. We didn’t linger for long, though, because we were trying to stay ahead of those thunder heads building behind us.

We got to Whitetop Mtn. Rd. and saw the Family in the parking lot. For a moment, we thought there was trail magic and we got excited. Then we realized they were just getting resupplied. So, we said a quick hello and told them we would seem them down trail.

It had already started to sprinkle a bit when we got to the Elk Garden parking lot, somewhere around noon. Hero noticed the bathroom and decided to take advantage. She walked over, but the door was locked. We took our packs off and hung out under the tiny awning next to the info sign and had a snack. The shelter was only 4 miles away so figured we should be able to make it before 2pm when the storms were really supposed to hit- surely this little bit of rain right now was just a precursor. We threw our packs back on, crossed the street, went through a gate, and started towards a large open bald – FLASH! Lightning lit up the sky followed by booming thunder only a couple of seconds later. We looked at each other then at the open hills ahead of us and back at each other. “That doesn’t feel safe- let’s head back to the parking lot.” We went back through the gate, crossed the street, and back under the info awning. The rain started coming down harder. Then Hero said, “we could go to the awning by the bathroom, there is more space.” We ran over there, set our packs down and turned on our phones to check the weather.

This wasn’t supposed to start until 2pm! When I checked the radar, we could see the small cell that was moving over us. Behind it was a much larger cell, and we determined that we would have a small window of time, but probably not enough to get 4 miles to the shelter. Lightning flashed again, two seconds later – Crack! The storm was right on top of us. For now we were staying put…

Our Bunker for the first round of T-Storms

…10 minutes later the Family and Toodles hiked down into the parking lot. They came over to the bathroom hoping they could squeeze under the awning, but there wasn’t enough room for all of us. The rain was dying down at this point, so we all started talking about our plan. We were all trying to figure out how to get over the open fields ahead of us and to the next shelter safely. Bad Santa asked if anyone had a satellite image of the trail to the shelter. I did and I pulled it up. We looked at it and noticed that the open field was only a half mile long and then we would be in tree cover nearly the whole way to the shelter.

Being under a uniform canopy of trees was a lot better than being in a high open field during a thunderstorm. This gave us some comfort and the confidence we needed to press on. The first smaller cell had passed, so this was our window. We all took off up the rolling hills as thunder boomed in the distance, it seemed further away at this point. Hero and I were moving at our faster pace again- it’s amazing how a little extra adrenaline can motivate our tired muscles.

We made it to the treeline and we all felt a little relieved. Now we had to try and push the next 3.5 miles before the bigger storm hit. It was muddy and rocky, but we were cruising. We were in the front of the pack with Toodles, Stumbles, and Ninja Feet. We had been hiking for about an hour and Ninja Feet turns around and says “Quiet, Toodles this is the moment you’ve been waiting for… the first ponies of the trail!” Sure enough through the trees we can see two little ponies. We all get pretty excited, and for a moment we forget we are trying to outrun a giant storm. The trail takes us closer to the ponies and we realize there are 5 or 6 in this field. Oh of course we have to get pictures! They come right up to us and start licking our legs – they love the salt on us sweaty thru hikers. As I was taking a picture, one of the ponies went over to my trekking poles and started chewing on the straps – I quickly pull it out of its mouth.

We hear thunder and remember the coming storm. We rush out knowing the shelter shouldn’t be too far away. We get a view out over the mountains and can see the menacing storm heading our way. It looks so cool – I have to take a picture. The wind picks up and we watch as dark clouds literally engulf us. Moments later the rain starts. Now we are almost running, and it starts to pour! We see the shelter, but it is packed with boy scouts! We squeeze under the awning and out of the rain, but still feel the cold wind. There we wait with our packs on for the storm to pass.

We were glad to hear that the 30+ scouts were moving on after the storm. This meant there would be more options for us to find camping, maybe even consider the shelter if it was just tramily members.

After what felt like hours of waiting, the Boy Scouts cleared out and the shelter still seemed pretty cramped. We thought hard about cramming ourselves in there with Toodles and the Family, but then determined that our double sleeping pad was going to take up too much room. We opted for a tenting spot nearby in the spruce forest. It wound up being a good option as it afforded us more space and privacy. We just hoped that the tent would hold up okay during the storms headed our way. We were experiencing what felt like the cliched “calm before the storm,” which made setting up the tent a lot less stressful.

In between storms at Thomas Knob

We ate dinner, and afterwards I played a little ukulele. With all the people around, I was a bit nervous and it didn’t so much feel like I was just practicing for fun- it felt like more of a performance. But I guess people liked what I played. I didn’t realize it at the time, but apparently French Fry (who might be Starfish again?) was recording me while I played!

After a while, we could feel the winds start to shift and we knew by the intermittent rain drops hitting the ground that the storm was approaching. Hero and I said goodnight to everyone, quickly packed up our things, and headed to our tent. Settling in, we spent the rest of the evening thinking through a plan of action if we needed to jump ship because of the weather. We made sure anything we really didn’t want to get wet was up off the ground (in case the bottom of our tent filled up like a bathtub) and hunkered down.

We waited with bated breath as round two of the storm started to close in…


Hanging on the couch and watching Moana

Day 43 (Sunday, March 28th, 2021)
AT Miles Hiked: 4.1 (backtrack miles)
Thomas Knob Shelter > VA 600, Elk Garden
499 Miles Down, 1694.1 To Go

We were woken up throughout the night by one of the most intense storms I’ve ever encountered in my life. Without a doubt it was the most nerve-wracking storm-related night in the outdoors I’ve experienced thus far. The rain battered our tent from dusk til dawn while thunder shook us and lightning cracked across the sky- our closed eyes were no match for the intensity of its too-close-for-comfort flash. More than once, lightning would brighten the inside of our tent and only a second later we would hear the accompanying thunder, meaning it likely struck less than a mile away from us. Though sleep was hard to come by, I silently gave thanks anytime I was jarred awake to the spruce forest we were nestled in, for our tent that held up and kept us dry, for the inflatable sleeping pad between us and the earth, giving us at least some protection from potential ground current.

Rain still pattering on the tent fly, we checked the radar as soon as we awoke this morning. Although the storm that rocked us throughout the night had all but dissipated, another severe one was on its way. Rain was guaranteed throughout the day, with a likely chance of thunderstorms starting in the afternoon. The next section of trail we had ahead of us would traverse through the Grayson Highlands, which included several stretches of wide open fields and balds with little to no tree coverage. Not only were we not very keen on walking along high elevation balds in the middle of thunder and lightning, but Grayson Highlands was also one of the sections of trail we had been most looking forward to. We didn’t want to pass through the area in a hurry with our heads bent and spirits low.

We weighed our options and decided to text Breece and see if she’d be able to help us out. As it turned out, she’d been worried about us last night as the storm raged violently at their house down in the valley- if it was bad where they were, she was certain we must be having a real time of it up on the ridge. Absolutely she would come and get us! We were so relieved and full of gratitude- now we just had to get to a spot where she could pick us up. We wanted it to be as easy as possible for her to scoop us, which meant we would need to backtrack about 4 miles to VA 600, Elk Garden parking area, the spot where we’d huddled under the bathroom awning less than 24 hours prior. It would mean doing that stretch along the trail three times- yesterday afternoon when we were being chased by the storm, today as we backtracked to Elk Garden to meet Breece, and tomorrow when we would be coming back through to push on. It was hard to feel like we were moving backwards mileage-wise, but ultimately we knew that it would be well worth it so that we could dry out and not freeze overnight, spend more time with Breece and Ben and Magnolia, and save Grayson Highlands for a sunnier day.

We packed up quickly, thoroughly motivated by the promise of a warm, dry car just a few miles back down the trail. We had a window of time in which the rain stopped ever so briefly, granting us the opportunity to get the tent taken down without getting the inside of the body completely soaked. After doing this, we rushed under the awning of the Thomas Knob Shelter and scarfed down some breakfast, chatting with the Family and Toodles and updating them on our plans. They were planning on zeroing at the shelter, possibly considering a night hike once the storms passed by. The forecast was indicating that the temperature would drop into the low 20s after the storm had passed- no one seemed keen on getting soaking wet and transforming into popsicles overnight.

Waving goodbye to everyone, we set off on the trail. Only, it didn’t resemble a trail anymore so much as a river. We tried to rock hop for about the first minute or two before we realized our efforts were going to be fruitless- our feet were going to get wet, and that was that. And so we trudged, making our way back down to the parking area. We got there early and immediately ran for cover under the awning in front of the locked bathroom, causing us to feel a sense of deja vu. We huddled there, dancing to keep warm while we waited for the blue Subaru. At one point while we waited, Tall Man showed up, and we all commiserated about the weather and updated each other on our plans. He was planning on moving on to Thomas Knob where we’d just come from. We wished him luck and hoped that he had some warm and dry layers for the night ahead.

After some time, we heard that familiar “beep beep beep beep beeeeeeeeeeeep!” and there was Breece! We hopped in the car and sped down that mountain back towards civilization.

After that, the rest of the day was all about eating delicious hot food and chillin’, two things we were beyond stoked for. I took what was one of the best showers of my life and felt like a queen as I slipped into fresh, clean clothes. When Magnolia woke up from her nap, we half watched Moana while we played. Once again, she was chock-full of little kidisms and hilarious one-liners. At one point while she was watching Daniel Tiger, Breece remarked that the show was somewhat of a modern take on Mr. Rogers. Without skipping a beat, Magnolia exclaimed, “Yeah, it’s modern!” We all cracked up hearing the word “modern” coming from a precocious two and a half year old. After Magnolia went to bed, we ate some of the best chili while watching one of the dumbest rom-coms. All in all, it was a day well spent in the company of some of our most favorite humans. We’re so grateful for the way it all turned out, so appreciative of the caring people we are so lucky to call our friends.

Delicious Vegan Chili!


Grayson Highlands in the Sun!

Day 44 (Monday, March 29th, 2021)
AT Miles Hiked: 20.2 (4.1 repeat, 16.1 new miles)
VA 600, Elk Garden > Hurricane Mtn Shelter
515.1 Miles Down, 1678 To Go

We were so grateful to have been inside and warm last night, and 6am felt like it came way too quickly. We gave ourselves 5 more minutes, but then we had to get up and get ready to head back to the trail. Ben would be dropping us off in Damascus to catch a shuttle before heading in to work.

We quietly packed up our stuff, careful not to wake the sleeping toddler in the next room. We had a big breakfast and some coffee, which we transformed into mochas with our hot cocoa packets (Swiss Miss makes a non-dairy cocoa mix these days at it is deeeeelish! -Hero). Breece gave us big hugs before we left. It was hard saying goodbye again, and this time Magnolia was still asleep so we didn’t get to give her one last hug- it broke our hearts not being able to say goodbye to her. That little girl brings so much joy into our hearts!

It was nice talking with Ben on the drive into Damascus, and we were so grateful for the ride. We got to the shuttle and Batman and Tenacious Hot Cakes showed up a couple minutes later and we all went out to Elk Garden parking area. From there, we started hiking those 4 plus miles to Thomas Knob for the 3rd time. But today it was sunny and pleasant – we weren’t dodging thunderstorms or walking through a river on the trail. We were pretty excited that we would be going through the Grayson Highlands on such a beautiful day!

We got back to Thomas Knob and took it in with fresh eyes. On Saturday and Sunday, the place had been bursting at the seams with everyone who stayed there. Now, we were the only people there. We checked the log for a tramily update and Hero wrote in it. After a quick snack, we continued on to the Highlands.

We weren’t into our hike very long before we hit the 500 mile mark. Elated, we took a few photos and enjoyed the sense of accomplishment that came with reminding ourselves that we’d walked here from Georgia.

It wasn’t long before we emerged from the spruce forest out onto the rocky balds. We technically weren’t within the park boundary yet, but the other worldly feel that we’d been told about was already starting to take shape. Indeed, the rock formations had the look and feel of something you might expect to see on another planet.

We crossed into the park and there they were: ponies! A few were congregating near the informational signage, probably hoping for snacks or a salty leg or two to lick. We read some of the informational signage before carrying on, certain that we’d see more of the funny creatures.

Sure enough, we hadn’t gone half a mile before we were enthusiastically greeted by what appeared to be a younger pony. It trotted right up to us, whinnying and tossing its mane with gusto. After it had stood there for a few moments and we clearly didn’t have any treats, it whinnied again, let out a disgruntled snort, turned right around and trotted away. The trot turned into a full on gallop with several sassy whinnies thrown in- such a dramatic pony! Hero was overwhelmed with pony-induced joy.

We kept going, enjoying the Highlands and saying “Hello, we love you!” to all of the ponies we passed. Eventually, we crossed over the state park boundary and though we had a few more miles of seeing ponies, we soon were beyond the Highlands altogether, a.k.a beyond the “pony zone.” We focused then on making miles to Hurricane Mtn Shelter where we planned to stay for the night.

Just another pony!

We arrived at the shelter and it was completely empty- not what we were expecting based on word that had traveled down trail indicating a whole bunch of the tramily intended to stay there. I guess plans changed and they decided to push on to Dickey Gap where they could get a ride into town.

Though we’d hoped to see some folks, we also were kinda stoked to have room in the shelter for the night. Plus, Tenacious and Batman were planning on staying here for the night, so we figured we’d probably get to see them.

As we were getting dinner ready, someone we hadn’t met yet strolled into camp- he introduced himself as No Plan. Fond of hammocking, he went about getting set up while there was still some light in the sky. Soon Tenacious arrived, and Batman not long thereafter, although he ultimately decided to camp a little further away down the hill. We talked with No Plan and Tenacious until hiker midnight. Then, we got settled into our sleeping bag and crashed out.


Day 45 (Tuesday, March 30th, 2021)
AT Miles Hiked: 19.2
Hurricane Mtn Shelter > VA 16, Pat Jennings Visitor Center
534.3 Miles Down, 1658.8 To Go

Slept right through the alarm this morning, but our bodies woke up on their own only about 30 minutes later. Sunrise colors were starting to fill the sky, and we had a great view as pinks and oranges highlighted the ridgelines in the distance. Even though we had some miles to make today, we were sluggish in getting going. We took our time, in part because it was quite cold and we had to shake out our hands every so often to warm them up.

The terrain and our surroundings today were a lot less “wow!” than yesterday when we were hiking through the Grayson Highlands. No more ponies either, which was a bummer (I really loved those ponies). We had to do some road walking because of a re-route, which was less than ideal. But the weather was on our side, especially as the sun climbed higher into the sky and the cold air of the early morning slipped away. It wasn’t a day filled with the “oooos” and “ahhhs” that tend to accompany gorgeous mountaintop views or magical moss covered spruce forests. But we found moments here and there as we crossed through grassy fields and got little glimpses at farmland in the valleys below, as we walked through tunnels of rhododendron and listened to the burbling of streams we crossed.

It was a little after 4 pm when we reached the Partnership Shelter right before the Pat Jennings Visitor Center. We were delighted to see that Wicked, Tall Man, Viking Man, and Not Yet were all there! We spent a little bit of time catching up with them, asking them how they had faired through the storms. After a bit, we said goodbye and moved onto the visitor center where we called for a cab. While we waited, we let our new thru hiker friend No Plan charge his phone with our power bank so he wouldn’t have to go into town just to juice it up. The cab took a while to show up, but we were okay with that because it gave Tenacious some time to catch up. He made it just in time, and we all jumped in the car and wound our down the windy mountain road into the town of Marion.

The cab dropped us off at the EconoLodge. We went ahead and booked a room for two nights knowing that we’d be taking a zero tomorrow to have a Hiking for Hunger work day. The bright lemon walls and lime green accent wall smacked our eyeballs as we walked into the room. Home for the next two nights- gotta love it.

We were wiped out from the day and desperately in need of sustenance, preferably the kind that could be delivered right to our peeled-paint motel door. There wasn’t much in the way of vegan-friendly food, let alone vegan-friendly food that could be delivered. We settled on a cheese-less veggie lovers pizza from Pizza Hut with a side of breadsticks sans butter (we think we may have detected a hint of Parmesan cheese, though our stomachs didn’t protest so we’re holding out hope that it was just our overzealous imaginations at work). Despite being unsure, we ate every last bit of it- hiker hunger is for real, y’all!

Too tired to put any real effort into working tonight, we flipped through the channels and landed on the tail end of the original Jurassic Park. Our eyelids grew heavy as animatronic dinosaurs galavanted around and frightened humans haphazardly escaped the doomed island. I remember thinking at one point “wow, this movie felt way scarier two decades ago.” Then sleep got it’s way, and I was out like a light.