Monday, May 30, 2016

Day 38 and 39: Zeroing

Miles: 0

Good people, a grocery store across the street and a second story picnic table with the best people watching in ages. Of course I killed two days. Good times.

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Day 37: Pearisburg

5/27: small stream - Pearisburg (Cross Ave)
Mile: 602.5 - 634.2 + 0.9 to town (32.6 miles)

I feel like I'm in some sort of strange riddle, what sounds like rain but leaves the ground dry? The caterpillar detritus continues to shower. But mostly I'm just amused by the weirdness of it all. I slept well, in fact I even slept in. Waking up in a pool of sweat to look at my watch and then crashing right back out.

It's hot and muggy early but I get a little bit of mist and the lightest of breezes on my first climb. I make up super hero alter egos for the squirrels I surprise. One in particular goes bounding up the trail ahead of me for ages before taking a kamikaze leap off the side. I dream of being that bouncy.

A nice and bouncy suspension bridge.
This guy looks suspiciously like a flying squirrel. I hope that's what it is just because how cool is that?

It's a quiet morning. A few section hikers and day hikers, and less caterpillars. The trail along Dismal Creek is all rhododendrons and surprisingly wide open muddy forest. Flatter than expected and buggy at least there are lots of streams. It's getting drier and there are more 8-9 mile dry stretches compared with the 1-5 miles I've been spoiled with.

I don't think I'll ever get sick of these tunnels.

The climb up Sugar Run Mountain, it's uneventful and even has a little drizzle. I walk with a guy named Breakneck for a few minutes, not for long though because as his name suggested his pace is outrageous.

There are some pretty rocky outcroppings that actually give some good views and the rhododendrons just get better.

I decide to push on to town, I'll get there late but I know folks who have a room and sleeping in a bed and a shower sound pretty fantastic. The last 2 miles are super steep switchbacks that bring me back into the green tunnel and then it's a mile walk into town. As I get to Main Street I see familiar faces and I'm so glad I pushed on. I even made it before dark which was unexpected, a long day but a good one.

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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Day 36: big days

5/26 small stream past Jenny Knob Shelter
568.6 - 602.5 (33.9 miles)

You know when people say oh my god thruhiking, that is just so amazing. I think there's this glamorous picture in their heads. But no I'm grubby, sticky, tired and on an emotional roller coaster most days. Last night was one of those glamorous nights. I set my tent up sloppily in the dark and lay down thinking my tired body would have no trouble sleeping. Instead it was a night of horribly broken sleep, very strange noises, rodents literally scampering underneath my tent and an endless bloody nose. Needless to say I as in a rush to go nowhere this morning.

I stumble down less than a mile to Walker gap and a much appreciated spring and then start the 8 miles or so of ridge line walking. While not any huge elevation changes its a constant rolling affair and I'm pouring sweat at 8 am.

I've become used to the constant rustle and squeaks of birds, chipmunks and squirrels in the leaf litter. So imagine my surprise when I see a giant black butt disappearing and 4 of the smallest black bear cubs I have ever seen beating a hasty retreat up a tree. I have no desire to make mama feel threatened and leave with a quickness but what a treat! I can just see her head peeking over the edge of the trail and it's not hard to put some distance between us.

The ridge is hot and I'm not moving quickly. No breeze is making it tougher and everyone I meet talks almost incessantly of all the lovely types of chafe appearing.

After the first ridge the day falls into a pattern, drop down grab some water climb up and follow the ridge. You can feel that there are open areas and big mountains but all I can see are tiny glimpses. Thankfully the breeze starts to pick up around 11 making it much more pleasant out.

There's even a short section of road walking. Ny first time walking over a giant highway on this trail. Plus as I'm walking out in the open a couple pulls over, takes my picture to show their friend who hiked last year and make me a sandwich before driving off, all in under 5 minutes. I'll admit I think I looked more confused than anything but it was a treat.

The other strangest thing today was the noise. It started this morning when I thought I heard rain, only it was clearly not raining because everything was dry, and the webs across the trail were way more out of hand than usual. It took me a surprisingly long time to realize it wasn't spiderwebs but caterpillars and they were everywhere. Constantly dodging lengths of silk and floating caterpillars while pulling them off my clothes. It became useless trying not to step on them although I still did my best. After talking with some hikers the consensus was the noise was caterpillar poop because it was constant but not visible among the falling chewed up leaves and rogue caterpillars.

Everywhere the leaves are munched and I started listening to an audiobook just for a break from the noise. Not a bad experience just strange and unexpected.

As the day cooled I finally hit my stride and was having a great time. Plus I knew I wanted water having skipped a source about a half mile off trail so it was going to have to be a longer evening. Pie had been praising night hiking and with the temperature and my feet in favor I was happily trucking along.

Around 9:15 I thought I had found my spot, scoping out a flat area by headlamp. My light hit glowing eyes and we both froze, I was hoping deer, not a deer. Why see just 5 bears in one day 6 is a much better number? I think there were cubs nearby too because the next twenty minutes were plagued by bears calling to each other. If you don't know this noise Google lost bear cubs, it's unsettling and pretty human sounding. All in all I found water and a flat spot and was all tucked in by ten. Night hiking was fun, bear startling not so much. I'm still undecided on night hiking for now.

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Day 35: Chestnut Knob

5/25: Atkins - old dirt road past Chestnut Knob
Mile: 543.9 - 568.6 (24.7 miles)

It's nice to wake up in a real bed and eat bagels for breakfast. No effort required. I call and find out that Funsize and Pie can get a bus back to Mt Rogers where they got off at 0830 and I can get one at 0930 for 50 cents. Done and done. They head out and I get a few minutes to myself. It's already heating up and I have 4 days of food, this is the heaviest my pack has been in ages. How did I ever carry 6 days of food and 5 liters of water on the other trails?

The glamorous view heading out of Atkins, yes the trail is the road under the overpass.

At the top of a climb I glimpsed a range of mountains to my west. I had an immediate flashback to the CDT and being in a pasture looking at a range of mountains, thinking how beautiful but then a sinking sensation knowing the snow and elevation and general difficulty that was for sure to come. This trail has been such a treat, it can be hard and it's a ton of climbing but I never get that sinking oh god what next feeling. The bugs and the heat are coming and there are always hard times but it's been such a treat to be on the AT.

The trail is well graded and the rhododendrons are starting to bloom.

Climbing up and down through dense tunnels and under the green canopy.

This happened, although apparently it's not the technical quarter way mark its close enough, at some point I passed the mile marker today. Since the trail changes just a little all the time I'm not too picky on exact miles and signs.

There are pastures on either side of me and a cool breeze and the small of freshly cut grass. Farms are in the distance and I found a corner to find trail magic. How fantastic. A couple from Indiana who drive down every year since there son hiked in 2014.

At the next road there's more trail magic from a church group but they've stopped got the day. But some hikers from Damascus were also there and had sodas so it was still pretty exciting. What a day.

I got some good advice from Rest Stop on the trail early on, if you're feeling lonely or in a funk slow down a bit and chat with other hikers. I was actually feeling great but I was chatting with such a nice group during a snack break that I spent the next mile plus with them. I had no desire to camp at 5 but it was a great way to pass some time, learn about some awesome people and I'll definitely be making it more of a habit. I love hiking all day but I think especially on a crowded trail like this one it's a great practice.

In the evening I'm on a trail magic and people induced high, feeling great and flying up the trail. The trail is mostly rock free, sweat is pouring into my eyes as I'm practically skipping up the trail in love with rhododendrons and hiking. Yup today is great.
I make it up to the open ridge line of Chestnut Knob after a solid 2000 ft plus climb and enjoy dinner at the shelter.

It's a good crowd but I hike on just a little for solitude and haphazardly set up my tent on an old rocky road bed.

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Day 34: Atkins/Marion

5/24: Atkins
Mile 528.9 - 543.9 (15 miles)

I catch the pink sunrise through the trees, the birds are going nuts, deer are everywhere and it's the first morning in ages I can pack up in short sleeves. I realize this means I'm probably back to the ridiculously hot/muggy summer I'm going to hate soon enough but right now I love it.

It's a short walk past a ton of tents and the Mt Rogers shelter and visitor center. There's a bus to the town of Marion or a pretty easy hitch from the road but it's not even 7:30 and while I need to go town for food I make a last minute decision to head an extra 11 miles to the town of Atkins which is right on trail. Once there I can hitch back to Marion (bigger town with more stores) or stay and gas station resupply.

It's mellow miles of rhododendron tunnels and more open prairie country.

This was part of the Settlers Museum, a crazy cool museum and old school right on trail complete with a ton of trail magic inside. Mix history and fresh fruit and I'm one happy camper.

Pioneer history is one of my favorites, what a cool stop.

Some railroad tie art by some train tracks. The last bit to Atkins is beautiful hills, opening up to more farm country. Atkins is hot and exposed. An interstate and a highway, gas station restaurant and funky hotels. I decide Marion sounds better and after a while standing looking confused trying to figure out how to even get there.

I give it 20 minutes and at 15 a local takes me straight to the grocery store in Marion. Hot and overwhelmed I stumble into the grocery store finding Pie sitting right inside. We chat forever and finally resupply finding Funsize who has been traumatized by the local bus outside and somehow kill a few hours outside Walmart. Apparently the local bus does a 2 plus hour loop and a different bus takes you back to the trail, Funsize spent 2 hours driving in a circle never finding a laundromat or making it back to trail. Enough time on a bus to make anyone cranky.

Cucumbers make everything better, fresh veggies are a rarity out here.

Pie learns the art of ordering from Sonic.

The day is over before I know it and after some creative microwave cooking and cleaning up I'm exhausted. There are hikers everywhere I look and I'm looking forward to being out of this crowded town even if the AC and bed are amazing.

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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Day 33: goodbye ponies

5/23: 0.1 before GHSP - a ridge line campsite
Mile: 499.5 - 528.9 (29.4 miles)

It rains a little more but not with the same ferocity and by 2 am I can see stars. Its cold, but 42 degrees thankfully means no frost. It was definitely a slow start.

My feet are wet almost instantly and getting going is slow today. I'm constantly stopping to adjust shoes, layers and find snacks. But I also feel no rush and am enjoying all my little breaks.

Whoops, guess approaching the ponies was a no, no. But at least I why they're here.

There are no morning ponies now that I'm officially in Grayson Highlands State Park where I figured they would be. Leaving state park lines I pass a shelter, throngs of tents and my last pony. I'm cold and grinning, completely loving this trail.

Have I mentioned recently how much I love the millions of bridges? Muddy puddle wet feet are a given, but no stream crossings is pretty great.

Back in Damascus I'd had a long talk with Furiosa (one of the nurses) about her feeling like the trail was a highway and never being able to hike alone. Maybe it's speed or just luck but I feel like I pass people camped and snacking but rarely end up hiking with anyone. The people can be overwhelming but so far I've had pretty good luck at creating space when I need it. I'm starting to enter the so called bigger bubble of hikers that started earlier in March and the crowds are coming out of the woodwork.

Looking back as I climb it looks beautiful but it's still really cold. The sun wasn't quite cutting it and it was cold enough for a jacket for hours.

A surprising herd of Longhorns who also apparently like the trail.

Then it was back into the green off the ridge.

It's so gloriously green I'm loving it. It's long descents and the feel of easy soft trail.

Comer Falls is pretty and I'm really enjoying the afternoon.

The mountain laurels are everywhere and the trail winds up and through more ridges and across more roads. I see Funsize but pretty much no one else and it's a nice peaceful evening.

Drier forest interspersed with jungle all day, it's crazy how much it can change mile to mile.

There are even some pretty meadows to help round out the day.

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