Monthly Archives: May 2013

Day 79: Many good things

Hotdogging at Bruisers Knob [mile 674.8; mpd 8.54]

I’m not really hotdogging, since I’ve pitched my tent on a lovely flat spot left by somebody else. But this campsite isn’t listed in the book.

But man, there’s a fierce thunderstorm going on overhead. One minute I was pitching my tent under a bright blue sky; I no sooner got tucked inside and my shoes off when the sky turned black and the wrath of Zeus started! So funny… as I was pitching I was quoting one of my AT rules: Whatever it’s doing at night, set up camp for the opposite. If it’s dry at night, prepare as though it’s going to rain. If it’s calm at night, prepare as though a big wind is coming. The weather changes regularly overnight. So I’m pitched for rain and wind, even though it was sunny and calm a half-hour ago.

The lightning’s a little scary, though.

Anyway, lots of good things today, and no real bad ones. Here’s the Cliff Notes version:

1. For a little while at lunchtime, I had internet! The first thing I did was order a new P-style!
2. Nefarious offered to send me a P-style! And I would have been on that in a New York minute if I hadn’t been so quick on the draw. Thanks, Nefarious!
3. I met some old friends! I mean way old… like week 1 or 2. Planet and Rig! It was great to see them. They think we’re fine, by the way, even with a max of 15 miles (and not a ton of those).
4. I saw an owl flying, but I couldn’t see its face.
5. I did 14 miles. And part of that was a massive climb and also a rocky section, so I feel good about that.
6. I saw a 300-year-old oak tree!

I packed up wet this morning. One thing I decided to try was taping my foot. I suspect there are a few different issues going on. We’ll see how that goes! I don’t have the right kind of tape, but I made do.

The first part of the trail was a long downhill right to the shelter I’d been trying to make last night. It was empty, although on the way out I spotted an MSR tent in a grassy field. (I found out later it was Planet and Rig.) The day wasn’t rainy, and the temperature was a little lower, so the walking was good. Later—most of the day, in fact—the sky was overcast. That helped the hiking, let me tell you. And sweat was still pouring off the end of my nose.

After the shelter, the trail visited Florida again: soft ground, shadowed paths, and the rush of water. There were a lot of springs and streams. So pretty! But then the ascent: 1700 feet of elevation gain over the course of about 2-1/2 miles. Nothing there wasn’t plenty of in North Carolina and Tennessee and Georgia, but those types of climbs have been a little sparser here. Some of it was brutal! But my feet held up.

One of the things I wanted to try was taking a full hour for lunch. Virginia hasn’t had as many big logs to sit on, so breaking has been difficult. Then this morning I thought, You idiot; you have a tent. It wouldn’t be worth pitching for ten minutes, but for an hour? I decided to experiment.

The trail turned shrubby at the crest of that climb. There was a lookout point called Kelly Knob. One thing about lookout points: there’s usually a campsite there! I was pitching the tent when Rig and Planet showed up. How great to see some winter people! They looked fit and strong. We chatted about how hard March was.

Did the hour help the feet? Not sure. I was stiff when I got up, and bumbling around like Frankenstein. But it did seem to pass, and the afternoon’s march was manageable. At least until this last steep climb. They don’t call it Bruiser Knob for nothing!

The sun came out for the afternoon and the trail turned pastoral. I love walking through grass and meadows for a change. The sun did beat down, though, with nothing to block it.

But then, some actual trail magic. The trail passed the famous Keefer Oak, the biggest oak tree on the southern trail. It’s 18-feet around. Magnificent! It felt like a wise old Amazon, with arms outstretched to the sun.

After the meadow, the trail went back into the woods and climbed. That was not an easy ascent. But right at the top was this site, and I practically threw my pack down in my haste to get horizontal.

And here I am! Safe from the rain!

In the next two days the trail moves through a reclamation area. Camping is allowed only in certain spots. Planet said a friend of his told him they tag a certain number of rattlesnakes there. There’s supposed to be a ton of them! I hope they’re mellow and not at all pissed off. 🙂







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Day 78: Lightning and thunder

Hotdogging at mile 660.8; mpd 8.47

Another short day, alas, but not as short as yesterday. But that’s to be expected, I suppose, coming back from town. Coming back from town is always like starting over. Backtrack took something like 10 zeroes, and he said being back was like Day 2 all over again.

Am I feeling better today? Yes and no. I wanted 17 miles, or at least 12.4. Most people at the Captain’s last night were chatting about whether they should do 25 today or stick to the usual 20. That gets under my skin, even though I try not to let it.

The best thing about the people who are obsessed with their big miles is that I rarely see them again. 😉

On the flip side, there was also one hiker there who’s routinely been doing ‘an easy 20,’ or 25 miles, or even 30. And now he’s frustrated and sidelined with bad shin splints.

Me, I don’t know. I’m trying for my 12 to 15. Any and all decisions won’t be made until Pennsylvania, which is home for me. At that point if I don’t have a prayer of finishing the regular way, I might look at a flip-flop. But the fat lady hasn’t sung yet. I just wish my feet didn’t hurt so badly! By the way, I’m going to stop saying that. Since the limiting factor on my daily mileage is foot and heel pain, the assumption is always that I hiked until my feet were killing me, then as many miles beyond that as I could force myself to manage. Otherwise I’d still be walking.

So. Last night at the Captain’s was a lightning and thunder show! One of the thunder blasts came only a second behind the lightning; the rest, though, were more reasonably distant. I was very worried about two things: One, were my trekking poles OK? They were on the other side of the creek with almost everybody else’s, and it sounded as though the water level had risen with the rain. And two, how the hell was I going to get back across that zipline?

Well, Coach helped me with the second, and when I was across, the poles were fine. Needless worry! Wish I could stop doing that. (Although I’m going to try to not be separated from my poles again. They’ve become like extra legs.)

I was hiking by 7:38. The morning was muggy and half sun, half cloud without enough of a breeze to keep the bazillion bugs at bay. We crossed a river early (a creek, technically), then it was up, up, up a steep incline through a tropical jungle. Water was plentiful in that area, and I drank a lot of it.

Whoever said the trail gets easier after Damascus was either teasing the newbies or misremembering. (Maybe they meant the trail was easier in Damascus!) Today was another rocky nightmare. The only good thing was that it wasn’t really a ridgeline—just a steep walk over tumbled rocks that were hell-bent on destroying ankles and feet.

At one point the trail passed a parking area. A wide tourist path led up toward Windy Rock, a lookout with a view. The trail itself split off to the right, went about a hundred yards, then turned left and rejoined the wide path. I laughed. What the heck was that about?

For the next three miles the terrain was better: basically a dirtwalk with an occasional rocky patch. But the sky gradually turned black. Thunder growled in the distance, getting louder and closer with each passing minute. The rain was coming. The question was whether I’d get the tent pitched beforehand. I couldn’t speed up because the trail was now sloping hard downhill.

When I got a mile from the shelter, the rain started. I spotted this passable clearing and jumped to get pitched.

Then, don’t you know, it only rained a little? But I still hear thunder in the distance, and I remember the lightshow at the Captain’s. I’m happy enough here. People are only a mile away. Worse comes to worse, I start fresh tomorrow but with a dry tent instead of a wet one.

No snakes today. Are the snake days finished?

Also, my FrankenPee made it through one day, but this is a problem. I can’t do a thing until I have internet. Then I’ll order a new Pstyle and have it shipped to my brother, overnight if possible. Then he can maildrop it to my next town location. I don’t think this can work out before Daleville (I haven’t had even enough of a signal to check my email, let alone have full online service), but maybe by Waynesboro. I’ll probably be doing a non-laundry stay in Daleville anyway, because I have to visit the outfitter. I’ve got a list of things I need. Presumably I’ll have internet there and can place the order.

I haven’t patched the pack yet.

It’s raining again!

And that, as they say, is that!

Tomorrow: Big ups and big downs.

Edited to add: I’m lying here thinking, and something’s niggling at me. It’s the math. Something about the math is wrong, something about the old 9-12-15 mpd. And sure enough, it is wrong! Those must have been generalities. Big problem! I need to get the mpd up to 10.5 in order to have a mathematical chance of finishing. Yikes. That sounds fairly impossible. Well… I’ll try new insoles or something, and maybe an Ace bandage. I have to figure out a way to squeeze a couple more low-pain (or pain-free) miles out of every day. I have to be able to do 15, or that’s that. Well… I’ll figure it out in Pennsylvania.








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Day 77: Pissed-off rattlesnake

The Captain’s place [mile 651.3; mpd 8.46]

So you know how you have those days when everything, everything, everything goes wrong and you eventually get afraid to even touch anything because you know it’s going to slap you in the face? Yeah, those days still happen on the trail.

Got up late. It was a little chilly in my hotdog spot—chilly enough that I’d worn my Thermasilks to bed. That always makes for a slow morning, that reluctance to get out of the warm and into the cold. Plus when I woke up there was a freaking snail crawling up my tent, six inches from my face. That’s why I hate bushwack camping.

Needless to say, the tent fly was wet. The leaves were wet. Everything was wet. Dew point. And the bugs were already up and gnawing pieces out of me. (Picaridin does nothing against flies, apparently. And fly bites—piranha flies, I call them—fly bites make me swell up. It currently looks like I have a half a grapefruit stuck to my shin, and a half a lime to my knee. When the swelling goes down, they’ll itch so bad for two days that I’ll want to gouge my leg with a tent stake. I’ll resist, of course! Mostly because unpacking a tent stake would be way too much work.)

I was up and climbing my hotdog hill by about 8. When I got back up to the trail, I was standing on a rock. I turned my head, ever so sightly, to look for the white blaze. And that most miniscule of motions was enough to alter my balance (given that I’m carrying the weight of a toddler in an unnatural spot). The rock was wet, of course! My feet slid down and boom! I was in the air. I came down hard on my hip and arm. No permanent damage that I noticed (yet), but I was scraped up. I hadn’t even taken one step on the trail yet.

And once again, I was on the ridge. I loathe ridgewalks, loathe them. The rocks just chew up your feet and ankles. And when they’re wet, it’s worse. But whatcha gonna do? You walk, that’s what. So I walked. And walked.

A mile down the trail was an outstanding campsite. Somebody had left flowers there.

At some point I remembered that I have a bug head-net with me. I pulled that out, and at least it kept the bugs out of my ears and my nose and my eyes and my mouth.

Some hikers passed me, including Iced Tea, the German from Wapiti Shelter who’d been trying to get a ride to Trail Days. He succeeded! But obviously it wasn’t the party he’d hoped for, not this year. The only other hiker I recognized was Spoon. He and I have been in the same bubble for the last couple of weeks. I think I met him on Mt. Rogers with Blacksquatch—who, by the way, is here tonight.

But the trail. Yeah. Either the signage in Virginia has a problem or the AT Guide has some errors for this section or I’ve gone crazy. And not only me. The next shelter was supposed to be 5 miles away. I’d walked 3 hours and passed a sign that said it was 2.5 miles away now. I was going slowly, but not that slowly. A German passed me (not Iced Tea) and said, “I thought the shelter was closer!”

The trail itself was pretty enough, after it came down off the accursed ridgeline. It was sparsely wooded for a while, then it turned into my favorite: deep-shadowed rhododendron forest next to a rushing creek.

And my feet were killing me again. Just my Achilles tendons, particularly the right one, which I’m starting to think is an actual injury. Not only were my feet killing me, but I just didn’t feel good. I wondered if I was getting sick. I was hot, miserable, headachy, nose-runny… and I decided I would have to do a short day. I’d just pack it in and tent at the next shelter, whenever it was going to magically appear.

But I didn’t get there, not right away, because first I had to deal with an enormous and highly pissed off rattlesnake.

I was limping down the trail, with the creek down a ten-foot, rhododendron-choked ravine on the left and a steep rhododendron-covered wall on the right. And up on the wall, somehow, by some miracle, were two hikers. “Dude!” they said. “There’s a huge rattlesnake ten feet down the trail! You’ll hear it!”

And sure enough, I crept a little closer, close enough to see the coils of it in the weeds (the thing was easily as fat around as my 24-ounce water bottle), and when I got about five feet away, it erupted. Loud as maraccas, that rattle. Shit. I jumped back and tried to figure out what to do.

Note: No good picture. I might make some bad decisions, but I haven’t lost all sense of reason. The bad picture is below; you can see some scales in the weeds.

I couldn’t climb up the way the others did. The hill was too steep for me, and without handholds. I tried a couple of times regardless and succeeded only in disrupting some mega-hive of big black ants and startling some little fast lizard thing. I think it was a salamander—black flecked with tiny yellow spots.

So back to the trail. That snake owned the trail. It was within 6 inches of the path, in the weeds, and any movement in its direction made it rattle and hiss.

What a day, right?

I felt a movement on the periphery and my hand snapped out to block the trail (I was happy to see that there’s at least a remnant of my old martial arts reflexes in there). It was another hiker, Goatman. “Rattlesnake,” I told him.

We chatted about the situation. I’d been standing there for 20 minutes by that point. Goatman eventually decided to try going across down closer to the creek on the left. There really wasn’t enough room there, though, and he slipped hard—and over on the right that snake started rattling and hissing and snapping. Then Goatman was up and past, and the snake slthered a foot or so farther off the trail, giving me some room to maneuver. Its face was toward Goatman… and I ran as fast as I could down the far left side of the trail. That snake was PISSED.

I’ll never forget that sound. Or what a rattlesnake looks like when it’s snapping (at Goatman, who was down the trail). Talk about Crankypants!

I got down to the shelter, which, it turned out, was only a few hundred feet from the rattler. It was full of people I didn’t know, although eventually Backtrack showed up! Remember him from… I think it was Cody Gap? There was snow on the ground then. He’d stayed up by the snake for a while to warn hikers.

There were no tent sites at the shelter. (I found three on the way out.) But besides that, the rattlesnake had kind of put me off sleeping there. So I decided to move on to the Captain’s place.

And here I am. A short day, but that’s just how it played out. (And I saw another snake on the way here, a little one.)

You get to the Captain’s by sitting on a porch-swing zipline and pulling yourself across a creek. The Captain is a trail angel who lets hikers camp on his land, even when he’s not home. And he has a refrigerator full of sodas, and if it’s raining you can sleep on his porch. Here’s a house where the owner is out at work, and there ars 25 strangers sitting at his picnic table and laying on his lawn. It’s fabulous to see that kind of trust. The Captain said people ask him why he does it, and he thinks the better question is why wouldn’t he do it? 🙂

A lot of the afternoon hikers pressed on, but there are about eight or ten hikers here now, including Coach and Blacksquatch. I imagine a couple more will show up.

I just needed a safe place to sleep tonight, where I don’t have to worry about snails and snakes and bear bags. I don’t know how the hell I’m going to get back across that creek tomorrow; I had help earlier. I hope my pack stays dry. I hope I don’t end up in the drink.

But all that aside…DISASTER. Two disasters, actually. First. I found a rip in the fabric of my pack. I might have gotten it when I ran from the snake. Looks like tree damage. I taped it for now, but I’m going to have to patch it somehow.

But worse… when I fell this morning I destroyed my Pstyle! (For those not in the know, that’s a device women use to pee standing up. A lot of outdoor women use them.) That was my most critical piece of gear! And I’m not kidding.

It’s in four pieces. Shattered. I used vinyl tape and fabric glue to seal it for now, but I’ll have to figure out a way to get a new Pstyle maildropped to the closest possible town. This is terrible, terrible news!

I need an emergency Pstyle! And I don’t have internet!

A bad, bad day. 😦 Awful.







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Day 76: Reptilian-amphibian trifecta! Sort of.

Hotdog camping at Dickenson Gap [mile 645.3; mpd 8.49]

The night before I head out again is always slightly terrifying. Back into the rough unknown. And I never sleep very well… but that could be the coffee, which has become a hardcore town treat, now that I’m stoveless. I drink a lot of coffee in town. Including this morning, on the way out.

Yesterday I finally met a pair of German hikers I’ve been hearing about in passing. I recognized them because I had an on-trail chat about packs with one of them, the sister, a couple of days ago. There are a lot of Germans on the trail, but this pair, brother and sister, have great trail names. Hers is Mufasa something (which, having never seen anything related to The Lion King, I’ll never remember—but she translated it as ‘Take It Easy’). And his is… Stinky Feet! LOL! But he said he got new boots, so maybe a change is in order.

Take It Easy and Stinky Feet were at Trail Days, but they weren’t at the parade. Glad they’re OK! (Rainbow Bright from Day 46 was trapped under the car; but she’s been released with nothing worse than a broken toe. I’ve seen a picture of her and she looks great—happy and healthy. I heard from another hiker today that she’s sidelined for 4 to 6 weeks while the bone heals. Then she’ll rejoin her friends and hike to Katahdin, then flip-flop back down to take care of the bits she missed. Good luck, Rainbow Bright!)

Wonder of wonders, yesterday I also managed to eat until I felt utterly full. That’s kind of a miracle. I’m never really hungry, but when I’m eating, the shut-off valve seems to have been disabled.

Got my resupply done, and once again I have too much food! Damnit! I’m still resupplying as though I were going shelter to shelter—8-mile days—like at the beginning. In other words, I’m buying about twice as much food as I need. And I have to carry it uphill out of town, and I’m miserable for two to three days. I wonder if I can go all the way to Waynesboro with only a couple of top-offs? That would be outstanding.

I heard the next leg is tough. Uphill and very rocky. I’m hoping that’s an exaggeration.


I got up early and got hopping. The first part of the morning was interesting. The trail was a narrow band between two banks of crazy weeds—and I mean narrow. Last night it rained so hard that there was a flood warning; all that weedy foliage was heavy and saturated and hung right into the trail. But the real problem was the poison ivy. Dear gods, it was everywhere. With the trail being only a few inches wide in spots,walking required a lot of concentration. There was even one spot where a grandmother mean-green was hanging down like a curtain, while both sides of the trail were choked with the ground-cover type. If you avoided one, you’d walk right into the other. I used a stick to nudge the vine out of the way.

Then came a roadwalk over a long bridge, and I ran into Son Driven. Haven’t seen him since the first week! He posted a bit on WhiteBlaze. We started hiking the same day.

A ton of hikers passed me today. Had to be twenty or so. Most were strangers. That puzzled me a little. If they were Trail Days hikers, they would have passed me before. Then I realized they’re probably the last big bubble, catching up to me.

Early in the day, Pathfinder, Blackhawk, a hiker named Violet, and Sparky and Orange Peel went flying by. They were doing a slackpack and had to get 20 miles in. Later in the day I saw the other Sparky; he took two days off trail because of shin splints.

So. The morning was hot, humid, and overcast—not a bad combination, actually. There was water for the first mile of forest, then boom! No more water for miles. That was bad. But it would have been worse if it had been sunny.

The morning forest was just that: forest. The ground was rocky but green with ferns uncurling. Boston ferns. Asparagus-looking ferns. They made the place feel primordial—which was perfect, because I almost stepped on snake number two!

That forest was a long, long climb. With the food weight, my feet were actually killing me after only five miles.

When I hit the ridgeline, a fog blew in. That was interesting, because yesterday I was watching The Mist on TV, and I kept waiting for giant monsters to fly at me.

Speaking of flying monsters, Virginia isn’t for lovers. It’s for freaking bugs! Especially flies! I’m sure that’ll get worse as the summer wears on.

The fog didn’t linger and the day cleared up. The trail eventually came out of the forest and onto a series of green hills. I saw a frog! Er… toad! It jumped into the brush before I could snap it. Later, after the trail slipped back into the forest, I spotted a 4-inch millipede. I hear they keep getting longer. That was the longest one yet, though.

My original plan was to try for 15 miles (16 if you include the town walk up to the trail), but I knew by lunchtime that I wasn’t going to be able to make more than 12. My feet were just too sore. The Guide listed a couple of campsites at around 12 miles, so I decided to settle for one of those.

Don’t you know, they never came. That or I missed them. I was doing a rocky ridgewalk along a dragon’s back, and there was literally no place to camp. I was ready to cry. Where the hell were those sites? Then I came across a sign and realized I’d gone farther than I’d intended, by 2 or 3 full miles.

Down a steep hill were some flattish-looking spots, so I bushwacked myself down there and hunted for a place to pitch my tent. And I found a turtle shell! No turtle in it. I took it as the other kind of sign, and pitched my tent right there.

This is my least favorite way to camp. The area seems ivy-free, which is good. But I’m no Grizzly Adams. I like it when people are around. At the campsites listed in the book, at least there’s a chance somebody else will come. When you just go into the woods, you’re alone. It’s scary and creepy. Glad I have earplugs.

I decided to call this ‘hotdog camping.’ It’s not really cowboy camping, which would be tentless under he stars. Not that I’m anticipating many stars tonight. It’s thundering in the distance!

But my feet are so happy to be horizontal!








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Disaster at Trail Days

Holy crap! A car ran into the parade at Trail Days! Sixty people are injured!

I hope you’re all OK, my friends!

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Day 75: The Virginia blues


The Hiker Gossip Network is crazy now with stories and rumors about Trail Days. I don’t know which of it to trust, so I won’t repeat it. Suffice it to say that I hope everybody who was affected, including the driver, has the best possible outcome. WhiteBlaze has a thread with the latest rumors and news coverage, and I’ve heard Facebook is buzzing, so those are probably good places for information.

I saw Blood Orange this morning. He’s headed out in the rain! I also ran into Pathfinder and Blackhawk. And guess what? It turns out they were in that group of nine hikers trapped in the privy on Mt. Rogers and got a shuttle back to Damascus! So now I’ve heard that story from the horse’s mouth. That was an excellent day for me to spend in my tent. 🙂

On the agenda today: food resupply and packing up.

If you’ve been on the trail, you know this, but it might be news to some: a ton of hikers quit the trail in Virginia.

They call it “the Virginia blues.” Being in the early Virginia days, I can’t testify regarding the experience of it, but I know what I’ve heard.

The scenery doesn’t change much, so people who use views as their reward or their carrot have nothing to motivate them. And they quit.

The initial adrenaline of the hike is all but used up, and the trail finally assumes the characteristics of a daily slog—work, not fun. Dull, uncomfortable, and relentless. So they quit.

And for those who use each new state as a motivator, well. They have it worst of all. A full 25% of the trail is through Virginia. Virginia is a monster; there won’t be any new states for a long, long time. And they quit.

Acute injuries can happen any time, but by Virginia, the chronic injuries are starting to set in—the bad tendons, the repetitive strains, the stress fractures. The aches that don’t get better. The effects of the pack on the shoulders; the swollen feet and bony bumps and calluses.

I read something interesting recently. Somebody posited that the Virginia blues happens because that’s where the food shortage finally catches up with hikers. They have no body fat stores left, they’re not eating enough by a long shot, and they have chronic low blood sugar and insufficient calories for the work. (Long-distance backpackers burn something like 4000 to 6000 calories daily; there’s no way they can carry that much, short of having a pack animal or a Sherpa. Which is why they all end up looking like starvation victims.) So they get the low–blood sugar blues.

There are the various other discomforts, all cumulative. Lack of sleep. Being wet. Bug bites, poison ivy, scratches and scrapes. Viruses and colds and allergies and stomach bugs. And homesickness. Hikers have been away from their friends and family, in this weirdy-weird vacuum, for two or three months now. The urge to go home, just for a little bit, can rise up and bite you before you see it coming.

I don’t have the Virginia blues. Heck, I love Virginia so far! But that’s probably true for most of us; at the beginning it’s a happy marriage. I’ve got some advantages, though. First of all, for a winter starter this year, Virgina is lke a whole new hike! The leaves aren’t even giving full shade. I’ll be figuring out fresh new issues for weeks, then BAM! I’ll be in West Virginia. 🙂 I’m in touch with folks at home via Facebook and this journal and email, so I haven’t been more than passingly homesick. I’m getting a visit from friends near Luray, if everything works out, which will be great. And also possibly Pennsylvania, which is home. (I’m a little nervous about that, but that’s for another post.)

I’ve lost my body fat, but I’m eating well and I feel healthy. Doing 12 to 15 helps a lot with that; I’m a smaller older woman doing low to medium miles, so my caloric requirements are much lower than those of, say, a big 22-year-old guy who’s churning out the 20s. I probably don’t hit the minimum on most hiking days, but believe me, I make up for it in town. And I eat a LOT of calories some hiking days; depends on whether there’s a grill near the trail. I think I ate 5000 calories that day I hit Trent’s. I know I had a 1500-calorie lunch the next day. At Partnership Shelter, I ate half a 16-inch Deluxe pizza with everything (including beef, pepperoni, ham, bacon, and a boatload of veggies). And I ate the leftovers the next day. I think I ate 6000 calories yesterday, and that’s not hyperbole. So I’m skinny at the moment, but I’m not starving, not by a long shot. My mother and her mother were built like pipe cleaners, and during athletic periods in my life those genetics have tended to come to the forefront.

Which is all to say, I hope I don’t get the Virginia blues! But I’m feeling pretty unblue about the possibility, all things considered. And I’m watching myself, you know. At the first sign of despondence, I’ll hole up in a town with two gallons of ice cream. Training for the half-gallon challenge!

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Day 74: Taking it easy

Pearisburg. I see why there’s no outfitter; there’s hardly a town! Pearisburg seeems to be mostly a cluster of houses and small businesses dotting the hills around a couple of highways. Two traffic lights, I think. There’s no diner or anyplace to get coffee. Oooh, there’s a Hardees. Fast food coffee!

I hear there’s a Rite Aid. I’ll look for that in a bit. Also, there’s a Mexican Grill across the street. Fajitas tonight! I swear, if my body saw a vegetable right now, it’d have no idea what to do with it.

Hey, if anybody’s following other hikers’ journals and sees a report about bedbugs or other lodging issues, I’d be greatly appreciative if you could drop a comment about it. I get email notifications of those, whereas I haven’t been able to follow TJ or even WhiteBlaze while I’m actually hiking. I’d hate to be in bed catching up on a zero and find out that the bed I’m cozying up in happens to be in a place where other hikers have found nasties. Yuck!

Also, owing to my recent happy spate of internet connectivity on the trail, I’m in town but have no surfing to take care of. Joy! Speaking of which, there’s a hiker carrying a full laptop and a 2-pound solar panel on his back. Trail name: Tech. How cool is that? I saw him once, when he passed me. He’s probably in New York by now.

My feet are happy with the healing time I’m forcing them to take. Doing 12 to 15 (19!) miles over rough terrain for relentless days on end causes all sorts of little injuries, and I’m finding it all adds up. All the hundred daily stubbed toes and rolled ankles and twisted knees and jerked hips and rock-chewed soles. No pain, no Maine!

I spotted two other hikers on their way out of town. We’ve been leapfrogging over the past few days. I didn’t catch their trail names because the first time I met them, I was walking down the trail as usual and stumbled onto them skinny-dipping in a creek. Well… she was skinny-dipping, from the waist up. Which doesn’t bother me at all, but I thought it might have been a little awkward for her, being unexpectedly seen, which made me fumblish. If you look up the word smooth in the dictionary, my picture is nowhere near it. Anyway, we’ve passed one another enough that the awkwardness was pretty much worn off. And now they’re two days ahead, and it’ll be time to develop all sorts of new socially awkward encounters with strangers! 🙂







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Day 73: Record breaking

Pearisburg [mile 630.4; mpd 8.64]

Here’s my new dilemma: I hate sleeping on plastic when it’s sweaty-hot out. Before now I always had on my thermasilks. It’s too hot for those now, and my skin is touching the air mattress. Yuck. I also don’t like the feel of the sleeping bag on my skin, nor the silk sleeping bag liner. It all makes me feel like I’m wrapped up in a shower curtain. I’ll have to play around. It’s going to be a long summer, thankfully; might as well get it right!

I was up and out by 7:05. Somebody told me the terrain was easy all the way to Pearisburg. They lied! But more on that later. First, let me say, today was one of those days in which I made a bad mistake. I was concentrating so hard on miles to Pearisburg and where to camp and when to camp that I was halfway up the morning’s mountain, having sucked down half my water as I panted in the heat, when I checked and realized there was no more water for 8 miles. I had 24 ounces of water and I had to stretch it for 8 miles.

That was tough.

The first stage of the morning was through a great swathe of forest where the trees are apparently late-leafers. I could see the tiny leaves just sprouting, but they were babies. Not enough to provide any shade. Thank gods I had plenty of water. Oh, right. I didn’t.

After that, the trail got creepy. It passed through a 2- or 3-mile stretch of burned-out forest near Big Horse Gap and Sugar Run Gap. It felt like Mordor. I thought I smelled a hint of old fire, but that could have been my imagination. The only thing poking up from that blight were little fernlings, and they were only in a couple of areas. I want to know who started that fire. I want to know how the firefighters were able to contain it. I want to know how long ago it happened. This winter? Last year? I hope it was an intentional burn rather than a campfire accident. The forest was so scarred. Will it come back? I imagine it will… but what devastation.

Beyond that came a rocky stretch then a road crossing with trail magic! A box of candy bars left on the stairs up to the next section. Only on the AT do you find food by the side of the road and dig in gratefully and without reservation. 🙂 But you can tell it’s Trail Days weekend. The last three days have had trail magic, and in every case the treats were hardly touched; most hikers are down in Damascus.

I had lunch at Doc’s Knob Shelter. There was a hiker named Slacks there; he wears a pair of dress slacks that look like wool. LOL. Slacks tented near Wapiti last night and came face to face with a bear; it nosed around his tent for two hours. Scary.

Slacks was pretty much the only hiker I saw all day. The trail feels so deserted!

After lunch came decision time. I already had hamburger feet. To get all the way into Pearisburg would have meant a total of 18.2 miles, plus a mile to get to a motel—19.2 miles. I decided I’d just go 13, maybe 15, then camp and do the rest in the morning. But you know, once I got within 4 miles, the thought of a shower and bed and clean laundry were just too much. I booked it for town!

And I made it!

My feet are screaming, but here I am. Emperor and another hiker are here (shin splints). The Holiday Lodge is great. Sure, people live here; but it’s clean and well maintained and has a laundry room. And it’s home for the next two days while my feet heal up! (And thank gods they had a room; the proprietor said they’re usually always booked, and if it weren’t Trail Days, I’d have been out of luck. Have to keep that in mind going forward.)

Plus there’s a Food Lion across the street. That’s a great market. And there’s a microwave; I wonder if I can make a sort-of-baked potato in it?

I’m so happy to be out of the buggy, thundery, rainy woods at the moment! My hundred-mile reward. 🙂 Whatever gets the miles done!







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Day 72: Snakes on a plane

Wapiti Shelter [mile 613.2; mpd 8.52]

Aside: The first time I heard the word wapiti was in the eighties. I’d recently gotten a job in publishing, and one of the editors had a book on his shelf: Farming Red Deer and Wapiti. I laughed! Wapiti! Wapiti? And here I am at Wapiti Shelter, and the word still makes me giggle. Woppity.

Anyhoo. It was another dry overnight—not even a drop of condensation on the footprint. That’s what I like to see! Got packed up early and said goodbye to Jenny Knob. There was only Mouse there. It feels so odd to see a shelter with one inhabitant. The other night at Partnership there must have been twenty. And back on the day… you remember. Thirty people, easy (including the tents)!

I hit the trail at 7:05. It was a weedy morning, and overcast. The floor was dirt for the most part, with patches of rocky areas, and, of course, the day started with a climb.

Poison ivy was everywhere. Great granny plants with fangs and bony fingers, little baby plants lying in wait and pretending to be harmless, whole jungles of it flanking the summer-narrow trail to brush your legs or poles.

The plan was to get to Trent’s by 11 and have lunch there. But guess what? On the way to Trent’s, on a long weedy section of trail with not enough white blazes, I almost stepped on a snake. A snake!

I know the AT is classified as rain forest or somesuch, and I know I see turtles in Pennsylvania (which also always makes me laugh, for some reason; I just don’t think of Pennsylvania as the wild turtle capital of the world); and I know there are snakes all over the AT. I just figured they were like ponies—mythical and invisible.


It was four feet long and nearly as thick as my wrist. A big black snake meandering across the trail.

How cool is that?

I don’t think there are any poisonous black snakes in the US, or this part of it, anyway. (Edited to add: Another hiker told me it could have been a water moccasin, which makes perfect sense given that we were within a mile of a river. Oops.) It wasn’t molting or angry-looking. Still, I couldn’t walk around it—voluminous poison ivy on both sides. So I stuck my pole near the middle of the trail and sproinged, pole vault style, over it. Tada!

Trent’s was a tiny hole in the wall with a grill—kind of like a 7-11 with two little tables on one side. The store had three aisles: hardware, camping stuff, and fishing supplies. I stocked up on two days’ worth of candy and chips (my food bag is almost empty, so for once I can afford to carry some snack weight) and ate a cheeseburger, fries, and an excellent vanilla milkshake. There might even have been some milk in it. 🙂

For the afternoon, the trail was like a trip to Florida: creeks, waterfalls, and rhododendrons. Well… I don’t think they have rhododendrons on Florida, do they? But the whole atmosphere was warm and succulent and tropical and shadowed. Alligator country! (And very little poison ivy in that section.)

Today’s theme might have been bridges. There were foot bridges everywhere! Yesterday’s water issues weren’t a problem today. I even had to cross a suspension bridge over a river. It wobbled and rolled and twitched with every step. Actually, that bridge made me much more nervous than the poor snake.

At the end of the day, I had another dilemma. If I’d had phone service, I might have called somebody, lol. The dilemma was this: Pearisburg is at mile 631. Do I stop at Wapiti? Or do I try to go on past and make it to Pearisburg tomorrow night? In the end, I decided I’m just not familiar enough yet with stealth camping in Virginia. If I was sure I could find a site, I’d have pushed on. But a big hill is coming, which means I might be on a shelf again, if I were lucky. I decided to get up ridiculously early tomorrow. I’ll plan to stealth camp within 5 miles of Pearisburg, and if I can’t find a poison ivy–free site, well, at least the end of the road at that point is town, rather than an emergency shelf. Although it would be an 18-mile day, and I’d be near death (or feeling like it!)

So here I am. Woppity!

I think it’s going to rain tonight or tomorrow, maybe even thunder—the kind of thunderstorm that breaks the back of a heat wave. We’ll see.






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Day 71: Bleached bones

Jenny Knob Shelter [mile 599.0; mpd 8.44]

Five hundred and ninety-nine miles! 599! Dear freaking gods, that astonishes me! Tomorrow I’ll hit the big 6-0-0, and celebrate with either a sammich or something refrigerated from Trent’s Grocery, which is near the trail at mile 605. And they have a grill. 🙂 But that’s tomorrow.

Today was like this. You know how in the heat of the summer, you do something outside all day, and suddenly around dinnertime you realize you’re so exhausted you could just spread out where you’re standing and sleep for a week? That part-sunburn, part-dehydration feeling?

Yeah, baby!

Two nights ago I was up to my chin in two layers of down, and Blackhawk and I were reminiscing about that horrible night at Lance Gap when we tented on snow and our shoes froze solid. And here I am now, lying in my (blissfully hot) tent in my sleepshirt and shorts, listening to the wind and watching the setting sun paint leaf shadows on the outside of the fly, like a scrim.

Life is good.

When I woke up at 6 AM on my shelf, a cold wind was blowing. I packed up and wore pants and gloves for the first hour, but the day warmed up by 8, and I stopped in the middle of the trail and changed into shorts, a tee shirt, and bug spray. Note: Within the first mile or two there were four little ready-to-wear campsites that were better than the shelf. But that’s usually how it goes.

The trees are about halfway there. I’d say we have about 50% shade now—enough to tantalize, but not really enough to keep an 85-degree sun off the back of your neck. Luckily the wind persisted most of the day because there was one chunk of trail that had no reliable water for 10 miles.

March was cold management. Now we’re getting into serious water management. I can’t just traipse along and know another spring is coming. Especially not when it’s sweltering and a lot of the trail is uphill.

(Speaking of uphill, here’s the plan I’m working with. I can fidget all I want on the flats and downhills, but for uphills I have to move with Pathfinder-like focus. It worked pretty well today, until late afternoon when I was just too tired to push that hard.)

The terrain was great today. Up and down, sure, but no climb longer than a mile or higher than a few hundred feet. And mostly a dirtwalk: a cushion of dirt and pine needles, without many rocks or roofs to chew up the feet. When I’d gone about three miles, I came across trail magic! Orange sodas and a whole case of water, along with a weather report in a plastic bag (which I thought was brilliant). I took one of the little waters and saved it, because I knew hard times were coming.

After that first long forested stretch, the trail was a roadwalk. We walked on the shoulder of a major highway for a couple of miles. I lost the trail once (I do that every couple of days); the blazing was infrequent, and they started to get creative, using rock cairns and such to mark the way.

Near the roadwalk I found the most unusual memorial yet—a homemade cross and what looked like a dog skull. I hope it wasn’t real. Maybe it was a dog’s memorial. Who knows? Wacky stuff is the rule out here.

Then came the long, brutal stretch without water. This was in scrub forest with few landmarks: just walk, walk, walk all day through the weeds, with basically invarying scenery. I leapfrogged all day with Canadian Bacon, Zen Master, and Rodeo, but they were more or less the only thrus I saw all day.

I stopped here at this shelter; they’re pushing on to Trent’s and a mile past that, bless them. I couldn’t manage another 6 miles today. Feet aside, I feel like I’ve been slapped with the sun stick. I’m pounding the water.

There’s only one other person at the shelter, a stranger named Mouse. This is a really weird week on the trail. This weekend in Damascus is Trail Days, a massive party. Hikers from all up and down the trail are hitching, renting cars, and persuading friends and family members to drive them down for the weekend then take them back to the trail afterward. It’s an enormous event. Not everybody goes; a lot of hikers skip the year they hike, then go the next year when the pressure’s off. Canadian Bacon, Zen Master, and Rodeo are skipping. Last I heard, 50/50 was thinking about going for a day. Jacko and Invisible Man and a WhiteBlaze contingent (Hi, Milkman!) are renting a house. I’m skipping it. I’ll be in Pearisburg, though, so I’ll be in the bubble with anybody who gets dropped off there. Probably a lot, given how empty the trail is at the moment. They’re all busting it out, trying to get to Pearisburg today or tomorrow.

Speaking of which, I’ll probably be rolling into town early Saturday morning and staying Saturday and Sunday to resupply and heal. It will have been 14 days since my last zero and 16 since my last major resupply. (Edited to add: I forgot about that day in the tent!) The only thing I’m nervous about is the lack of an outfitter. I’ll be out of Aqua Mira drops (and the backup tablets), so I’ll probably be using bleach for the next hundred miles or so to purify my water. (That’s common; I just haven’t gone that direction myself. And I hate new things!)

Can’t wait for Pearisburg! I’m still looking for my steak and baked potato! 🙂








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