Daily Archives: May 11, 2013

Day 68: Perfection

Knot Maul Branch Shelter [mile 556.1; mpd 8.18]

Fourteen miles, thanks to… Pathfinder and Blackhawk Bob!

But I’m ahead of myself. Let’s start with the wonderful: a rainbow last night in front of the dive motel!

After I snapped a picture of it, I was lying there in bed when all of a sudden I heard Australian accents. Could it be? I slipped on my jacket and dashed outside, and yes! It was Oz Jacko and his son, Invisible Man. I knew Jacko from White Blaze, and I’d been anxious to meet the two of them. Great people who traveled a lot farther than Pennsylvania to hike this monster.

Now, the motel. It’s all the rage on the HGN today. Legendarily bad. People are calling it the Bates Motel. Blackhawk, who flew military helicopters for 22 years, said he’s slept in burned out buildings that were cleaner. I was walking around in bare feet this morning, on the carpet, and I noticed my feet were black with filth! From the rug! I didn’t really sleep, but I think that’s because the room reeked of old cigarette smoke. Apparently, Zen Master and Canadian Bacon had heard from a 2012 hiker how disgusting the place was, so they walked 4 miles to the Comfort Inn. Also, there’s a hostel a few miles up the road that’s clean and beautiful and not in the book. The owner picked up a bunch of people at the quote-unquote restaurant, which was really like a VFW clubhouse, with folding chairs. But they made a great burger. So future hikers: Stay at the Relax Inn at your own risk! But eat at the Barn.

The day started cold and cloudy. At the restaurant, I and a bunch of other hikers waited an hour just to get menus. But while we were waiting, 2007 hiker Backyard Boogie stopped in and sat with us and shared a lot of stories about his hike—then picked up the breakfast tab for every hiker in the place. Trail magic! Thanks, BB!

Outside it was finally sunny, and it stayed that way all day long. Sun and puffy white clouds, although the temperature stayed in the forties with a very cold wind. And the terrain! Gorgeous farmlands, grassy fields. I talked with so many hikers today! All of them had pony stories. So far, they’re saying I’m the only hiker who had a day of no ponies. LOL.

So I hiked a while, maybe an hour, and who should I run into but Jacko and the Invisible Man! We chatted a bit, then the miracle of the day happened: Blackhawk and Pathfinder walked up the trail.

I followed them for a while and realized… Ohmygods, I can keep up with them! Pathfinder’s pace is just a hair, a tiny hair, faster than mine! So I shadowed her all day long, even up some mighty hills. I wanted to see how they do it. So when they took a break, I took a break. I just glued myself to them.

It was the first time in two months that I’ve actually hiked with other people. And it’s magic! I can see why people like it. I just watched Pathfinder’s purple socks and pretended I was following in her wake. If she got ten feet ahead of me, I jogged a little. I didn’t stop on the uphills. I didn’t stop to take pictures or read the trail guide or pee. And I learned a lot about how they move. I’m going to try to stick with them again tomorrow, if I can. They’re great people. Who knew that what I needed was a pacecar?

I found out there’s no outfitter in Pearisburg. That’s bad! I’m almost out of Aqua Mira. Hrm. Somebody there must sell that sort of thing; there’s too much of a market for there not to be any camping supplies available.

We’re at the shelter now, hunkering down for a night in the thirties with potential frost. Frozen shoes! And I finally feel like I’m back in a bit of a bubble. Sticks and Gus are here, and Blackhawk and Pathfinder obviously, and Sparky and two hikers whose names I can’t remember. I call them Dr. Who and the Companion. Oh, and Little Sass and her friend Sandy and Bluebird. All people I’ve met, and only one stranger, a section hiker.

Today’s milestone: We hit the mathematical 25% mark! One quarter of the trail, done!

What a great, great, totally rainless day.

And before I forget, happy Mother’s Day to all you moms and aunts and grandmoms! I miss and love my mom so much, even though she’s gone where I can’t follow. She would have thought I was totally out of my mind for doing this. And she’d have been right. 🙂

Thank you, Robert Stutts, for the trail magic! He’s a great writer and a great teacher, and I love reading his Magpie Mondays when I’m home. Hey, Robert, I’ve been having weird dreams about you. Is somehing leaking in your bathroom?

One last bit of gossip from the HGN: More news on that Mt. Rogers rescue. Remember the day I spent in the tent? Well, right around that time, apparently a couple of groups of hikers hit freezing temps and winds gusting to 80 mph (some people say 70) on Mt. Rogers and Whitetop. They were actually on their hands and knees for a while because the wind was so fierce. And they eventually got far enough down the mountain that they could call for a ride to Damascus. True story. I’m glad I stayed in my tent.

A cold night tonight, and more sunshine tomorrow. Perfect!








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Day 67: Mud like pudding

Dive motel near Atkins, Virginia [mile 542.2; mpd 8.09]

Let me just say, as a warning to anybody who orders pizza at Partnership Shelter: Last night was like an outtake from Blazing Saddles. The amount of farting rising from the tents was phenomenal. People don’t even try to hide it! Dude, that tent’s made of nylon and you don’t have nearly as much privacy as you think! After the party was over, one guy paced the gravel path (loudly) for at least an hour, and every time somebody farted (or maybe it was him), he said, “Oh, yeah!” I kid you not. Sometimes the trail is a circus, and sometime’s it’s a zoo.

Anyway. I hit the trail at 7:30. I had a lake between the footprint and the tent, so of course everything was wet. But I made one huge change today. I was thinking about yesterday’s bout of despair, and I realized that it wasn’t the actual hill that made me feel that way; it was the elevation profile. So today, I decided not to even look at the profile. I don’t really need to until New York. It’s the Appalachian Trail. Sometimes it goes up. Sometimes it goes down. It doesn’t change a thing.

And don’t you know, I did 2 miles per hour until noon, including some bad terrain and a couple of steep uphills.

Now, part of the terrain was easy. And having a belly full of pizza didn’t hurt matters. But I think looking at the elevation profile just psychs me out. So I’m going to try to be done with that for a while.

Also, shelters. Last night was insane. Now that summer’s coming, the shelters are full of all kinds of hikers. Some of them are on vacation or out for a weekend party, and for a working stiff it’s a little much. I’ll probably be doing more stealth camping when and where I can.

So back to today. At about 10 AM, the rain started. Surprise! This was the Mad-rain-wept-by-a-milk-eyed-sky. The sky didn’t know whether it wanted to pour or drizzle, or blow a gusty wind. But overall, aside from the relentless moisture, was fog. Another pea souper. There may have been some views, but all that was visible was a wall of white.

The trail got lovely, though. Rhododendrons, of course (which are starting to burst with fat buds), but also a beautiful stream. The trail followed it for a long way.

I had lunch (pizza!) at a shelter. Sparky was there and Wooden Spoon (with her doggie Gaia), and Rodeo. I asked Rodeo if he was keeping dry, and he said he gave up on that about 5 days ago.

They mentioned this little dump motel that was right on the trail, and a plan was born! It was supposed to rain again tonight, the tent was sopping, and I’d have done 12 miles. I thought, What the heck. If they have a room, I’m taking it.

The trail really changed after that. The rain slowed, then finally stopped. We moved through little farm fields and meadows, with the trail a squelching path through knee-high grass. The last couple of miles were pure mud. It was like walking on pudding: thick, slick, and gripping. Under the sun, my raingear was hot, but there was so much poison ivy that I didn’t want to put my pack down. (See? Learning!)

And here I am! The seediest, diviest dump I’ve ever stayed in, and it’s bliss! The proprieter used to work up the street from me, in King of Prussia. He advised me not to move to a small town in the south. So, another plan thwarted.

I did laundry and ate dinner with Bluebird, Sass, and Sass’s visitor in a little restaurant that was more like a VFW hall. Good burger, though! My plan is to hit them for breakfast at 7 AM, then get back on the trail from there. Belly full of town food and feet rarin’ to go.

Also, it’s raining. With worse to come tonight, according to the cashier at the truck stop next door. It’s raining, and I’m warm and dry and inside. My tent is dry, and my socks no longer stink like Satan’s privy.

Life is good.







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Day 66: Dead buses, but pizza

The famous and amazing Partnership Shelter [mile 530.6; mpd 8.04]

Holy pony poop, what a day.

Let me start with the weather report. It’s raining. I’ve decided to start naming the rains. This is Angry-rain-born-of-mighty-vengeance. With a side order of lightning. And overtones of black clouds.

It’s pouring again. The good news: I’m in my tent with a belly full of pizza. The bad news: There’s a little lake between my footprint and the tent floor. The worse news: Torrential rain in the forecast for the next two days. And at some point, temperatures in the 30s. And that’s in town.

OK, so I’m way ahead of myself. When I woke up, the sun was coming out! I’d set an alarm for 5. I had the happy realization that it’s now light enough to hike at 6, so I may continue the 5 AM wakeup, if I’m in an area where an alarm won’t bother people.

Not only was the sun coming out, but for only the second time so far, the chill was manageable enough that I could start the day in shorts! Usually I have to start in pants and waste 20 minutes up-trail changing, after it warms up a bit.

I was determined to get to Partnership Shelter today, because you can order pizza there! So I was serious and pushing. I got to a gorgeous meadow full of flowers…honeysuckles, daisies, buttercups. And bumblebees! Big fat ones, chasing me down. They were everywhere! I don’t see many of those at home.

But get this! The derelict schoolbus is no more! There was an old pile of metal, but no paint, nothing. Just rust. So if you want to see the iconic schoolbus on the AT, you’ll have to watch the movie Trek. So sad! No ponies, and now no schoolbus.

A mile later back in the woods, a church group had left a box full of trail magic! Sadly, it had already been pretty well pillaged. I found a bag of pork rinds, a couple of envelopes of hot chocolate, and two baby wipes. Blood Orange and I commiserated about the missing schoolbus.

I met another Southbounder! Stonewall. He started at Katahdin last July.

After that, the trail went up. And up. And up. Then down. The terrain wasn’t terrible, but the ups kill me. Eventually the trail crossed a river. I sat on the other side, on a wall. I used Gatorade to mix my cocoa, and I ate it with a spoon that smelled like salmon. And I checked the elevation profile and almost cried. A 3-mile climb. I just couldn’t do it. I was sitting by the bank of a beautiful river on a bright sunny day, and I was pretty close to despair.

Also, I added my water drops to the wrong bottle, then realized I’d put my pack down on a pile of ants.

So what do you do when you’re full of despair about a big climb? You shut up and put on the headphones, and you just climb. One step at a time. And a few hours later it was done. Not easily and not happily, but done was sufficient. (For the first time I wondered whether I actually might not be able to climb Katahdin, should I make it that far.)

Near the top, I was ready to cry. I was like, Trail, I need a little magic right now. I can’t do this. And don’t you know, through a break in the trees was a beautiful mountain. I pulled out the phone for a picture and happened to check my internet… and wonder of wonders, I had LTE service! I uploaded my blog entries and realized that I can eat disgusting things and wear the same underwear for two weeks without a shower and still be happy as long as I have internet.

That little burst of connectedness was enough to get me over the top. It was still 4 miles to Partnership, and I already had hamburger feet and icepick shoulder. I just put my head down and clenched my teeth and walked. It was a lot of up and down until the last 2 miles. One mile was flat and easy, then the climb started. A gentle climb, though. I though about pizza.

A mile from the shelter, the sky opened. The rain was sudden and came down in sheets. And it continued until I got to the shelter. I picked a flat place and got the tent up at light speed, then it started again. Hard, vicious, and loud. After an hour, my tent was sitting in a lake. The down’s dry, at least.

There are at least 20 people here. I met one woman briefly at Aquone before she started her hike. Sass, her name is. Her daughter was the other Socks. And I met Blacksquatch on top of Mt. Rogers. Very funny guy. He said he’s technically a section hiker; he took 270 zeroes.

Guess what! All these freaking people have pony stories! “Here’s a picture of me and a pony!” “A mother pony brought her newborn right to the shelter! It didn’t even have teeth yet, and it suckled my finger!” I only saw two ponies!” “I saw a whole herd of ponies!”

You know what, pony people? Bite me!

I’ll go back someday when the ponies aren’t hiding from the miserable rain and fog.

Partnership Shelter. You can’t even call it a shelter. It’s a log cabin. With a shower. And a privy with toilet paper. Some people say some of the shelters are overbuilt, but if you think of this as a visitor center, it’s fine by me. And the pizza was delicious.

No pictures of the shelter, though. It was raining too hard. I’ll try to get some tomorrow.

And now, the bourbon is flowing up at the shelter. (A lot of them made a trip into Marion today for provisions; provisions usually include booze.) Sounds like a frat party up there. Time for me to put in my earplugs and hit the hay! This slow hiker needs her beauty sleep. 🙂

Oh, one highlight! I saw two tiny little frogs! Wildlife report so far: four squirrels, ten chipmunks, some birds, a bear from a great distance, and now two little frogs.







Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 16 Comments

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