Bears & Pipelines
After spending two nights at Woods Hole Hostel, it is time to hit the trail again. Our next stop isn't far. It's just 10 miles into Pearisburg, VA where we have a package full of food waiting for us. We hike quickly, refreshed by our zero. Without breaking, we basically run the 10 miles and find ourselves at the Dairy Queen. This is the moment where I order one of everything on the menu; however, something is very wrong. I have no appetite. My stomach churns and my head pounds. Oh, boy. What now!?
We hadn't planned to zero in Pearisburg, but sometimes shit happens. Fortunately, the Angel's Rest Hostel provides a place for me to overcome what we have labeled heat exhaustion. Essentially, I slept for an eternity until nausea abated and my head stopped pounding. Angel's Rest has clean showers and a bunkhouse for affordable prices. We decided to try hiking out after our zero. The heat is oppressive, and we take it slow, drinking plenty of water. Along the way, we see signs of the pipeline protest. A woman has taken up residence in a tree along the A.T. to make a stand against the construction of the Mountain Valley Gas Pipeline.
I haven't eaten much over the past two days because of nausea, making me feel weak. Even a small hill challenges me today. This is coupled with limited water on the ridge and extreme humidity. Things improve when we catch sight of our first black bear on the A.T. He is foraging about 50 feet ahead and stops to examine us before running away through the brush. He moves quickly and quietly. We hike with Pegasus for most of the day. He is out of the water, so we hook him up. Sweat is dripping off his face. It is a hot one.
We're gathered at camp when a local named Hazel stops to chat. She has a necklace made of rifle casings, which is not intimidating at all. She shows us the hiking guidebooks she's authored before leaving just as suddenly as she arrived. Her two cairn terriers trailing behind her. There is a sizable group tonight. As we're readying for bed, a middle-aged man arrives and bunks above us in the shelter.
At about 4:30 a.m., I'm awakened by a bright, white light shining down on me. I see a dirty sneaker directly above me, hanging over the top bunk. The middle-aged hiker above us is putting his shoes on and packing up. Dirt and mouse droppings are raining down upon my sleeping quilt. I groan inwardly and cover my head. This guy. I cuss him and try to go back to sleep. He'll leave soon, or so I thought. A half hour later he is still imitating elephants. I sigh and start to pack up. It's 5:00 a.m. Groan. After the guy finally leaves, Rambo whispers to me "hurry up, so we can chase him down and murder him." I giggle.
It's a sweaty day on the A.T. We climb up mountains and then back down. Stopping at the War Spur Shelter for an afternoon nap, we soak in the nearby creek before powering up to Kelly Knob. This puts us within striking distance of the much-discussed hiker feed, taking place on the afternoon of May 12th. In the morning, we stop to gawk at the Keffer Oak. The 300-foot tall White Oak is an impressive sight, measuring 20 feet in circumference.
At the blue blaze to Sarver Hollow Shelter, we see fellow hikers Sohum, D-Class, Fluff, and Neptune. They tell us our pals Willow, G.Wheezy, and Magicpants are down at the shelter. Oh, goody! We'll catch up with them at the feed for sure. We walk with the guys until Neptune steps off the trail looking as white as a ghost. He tells us there is a huge Timber Rattlesnake on the path. We approach, and he is beautiful. His skin is a deep greenish-brown. He rattles loudly, and Sohum gently prods him to move off into the woods. We move on, hiking and chatting all the way to the hiker feed.
The Hiker Feed
A circle of 20 or so chairs is arranged among a spread that is incredibly delectable. Dutch ovens are filled with pasta and cheesy bread. Tables are covered in snacks, desserts, and salads. This group has been doing this feed for many years. Some are former thru-hikers, others just enjoy helping A.T. hikers along their difficult and rewarding journey. We keep eating and eating as if we don't know how or when to stop. Laughing into the afternoon, we are reunited with Magic Pants, G.Wheezy, and Willow. It is the best day!
We press on another 8 miles after the feed. Climbing a mountain after eating like a crocodile is sort-of terrible, but we are in great company anyhow. The camp is by a road nearby a strong-flowing creek. We bathe to knock all the salt off. I think I have chiggers and ass chafe. Scratching myself raw all night long, it is nearly impossible to sleep in this heat. My sleeping bag sticks to my skin. Oh, boy! I sure do have strange ideas of fun.
Guess what? The forecast today is hot and humid. We climb mountains up to the tooth. Groaning and dripping, we toil. The view is wide and fantastic. Playing on the rocks in nooks and crannies, we giggle and take pictures of each other. We're like children at recess. The descent is on the verge of perilous, including wonky ladders and steep ledges. In the distance, there is a voice crying out "hello?" We answer. Trivia has gone down the wrong path and has been roaming the woods trying to locate the A.T. for the last 45 minutes.
The trail dumps us out near Catawba, VA. Willow and G.Wheezy have a package here. They call Joe at the Four Pines Hostel to inquire about a paid shuttle to the post. He is being extremely rude, so Magic Pants hangs up, and we walk to the local convenience store for lunch. The food is delicious.
We're enjoying our meal when a pick-up truck pulls into the lot. A grumpy-looking fellow emerges and inquires about the hikers asking for a shuttle. Suddenly, he is vehemently cussing our friends out, calling them nasty names. He storms away and begins to drive off, yelling out the window the whole time. Magic Pants doesn't take any crap, so she lets him have it. Apparently, this dude, Joe, has anger issues. After he is long gone, we talk with the locals. They say he's mean-spirited. Anyway, G.Wheezy gets a ride from the friendlies in the parking lot and soon we're back on the trail still baffled by this wacky encounter.
Sheltering at Catawba Mountain, we decide to get up at 4:30 a.m. to see the sunrise from McAfee Knob. We don't sleep well in the humidity and are crabby as we pack up in the wee hours. I don't know what exactly happened, but I've spilled my pee bottle in the tent. MERDE!!! This calls for cussing in French. Needless to say, this does nothing to improve the mood. We hike in the dark at a furious pace, trying desperately to make the sunrise, which we do. It is a pink, shimmering ball rising within seconds. The view is... Well, you just have to be there. It's one of those moments in life that feels like the perfect culmination of actions, leading you to this one feeling of joy and peace. And then someone has a drone, it sounds like a giant hornet. Groan.
After the sunrise, things began to heat up quickly. The day was humid from the recent rains, but there was not much water to drink on the ridgeline hike into Daleville. There are lots of small climbs the whole day. We are pouring sweat and running low on our water. The group is moving slowly because of the heat and humidity and keeps stopping for breaks. I can smell the barn, only five miles to town. Stretch and I turn on the afterburners and start racing to our salvation at the Super 8.
As we are crossing under some huge power lines on the ridgeline, we can hear thunder getting closer fast. We are moving as rapidly as we can down the ridge to the valley as the rain begins. Then it really starts to dump on us; we are only a mile away. Small trees and branches are falling in the trail before us as if something is set against us getting to town. The hail begins to fall shortly thereafter. Luckily it is only pea-sized hail.
We both look up to the ridge and as if reading each other's mind say, "hope the ladies are alright." We make it to the road and offer each other a crisp high five as we spot the hotel. Like most neros, we begin the frenzy of getting all our chores done: showers, food planning, laundry, and resupply. We order a massive amount of pizza for delivery and finally relax a bit. The rest of the group has made it out of the storm and to the hotel as well. We also find out that we have caught up with our friends, Tiny Bytes and Baygull.
Rain, Rain, & more Rain
We leave late out of Daleville after a breakfast buffet and are hiking in the rain again. We hike to the first shelter. It's about eleven miles. The rest of the crew trickles in for the next hour or so. We find out that Stretch's bag liner has a hole in it. Her sleeping bag and clothes are wet. We spend the next hour in the tent repairing holes in the bag with tenacious tape. It rains most of the night again.
Guess what? It's raining in the morning as we hike out. We start to see tons of Red Spotted Newts on the trail. The newts are small and slow moving. We decide to help them get off the trail, so they don't get crushed by hikers. By the end of the day, we have counted into the high 90's of saved Newts.
We hike with Baygull and Tiny Bytes until we arrive at the road leading into Miller Creek Campground. We call for the shuttle, and they press onward. It's still raining at the campground where we order double, bacon cheeseburgers and milkshakes. We watch movies in the lounge with Just Annie, Woobie, Bondo, Tangerine, Sprinkles, Eddie, and Elaine. The showers are hot, but the campground has no towels. The cabin is dirty and without linens. We put our sleeping bags over the stained mattress and enjoy being dry.
The next day is a monsoon. It starts with a drizzle, then a steady rain, followed by pouring rain. We hike to Marble Spring just 8 miles outside of Glasgow, VA. It rains cats and dogs all night. Sleeping is difficult because water splashes on our faces all night. Everything is wet: clothes, tent, sleeping bag, everything. Thankfully, it is not cold.
Morning arrives and the grump factor is high. We fly to Glasgow. The James River is swollen and muddy. The excessive rain has caused some serious thigh chafe. When we finally arrive at the road, hitching proves difficult, but eventually, a mother and her three children pull over. We crowd into the back of her minivan. The free shelter in Glasgow resembles a bum hovel. Stanimal's Hostel is closed for trail days, and there is nowhere else to stay. I appreciate the town-sponsored shelter. There is an outdoor shower with hot water. If we were staying longer, we would go to the city hall and ask for supplies to clean the shelter up. Trash is belching from the many cans, and the whole place needs cleaning up. It's a shame some hikers don't clean up after themselves.
We have lunch and dinner at the only restaurant in town. Our friends begin to arrive later in the day, and the depressing shelter begins to become cheerful and fun. Tiny Bytes, Baygull, Fluff, Sohum, Just Annie, Woobie, Eddie, Elaine, Crazy Diamond, and Comfortably Numb are all here. Gary, the shuttle guy, picks us up at 7:30 a.m. the next morning. The rain has abated. The trail is a creek though.
Humidity hangs on us. Sweat is pouring from us. An Eastern Box Turtle sits on the trail, its orange face peering out at us from his armored home. My legs are all taped up to help with chafe. It's so humid. I want to sit in a river and eat ice cream.
At Brown Mountain shelter, we all camp together next to the creek and soak in the water. This area is a historical site where a community of freed slaves lived as sharecroppers. You can still see the remnants of stone structures along the trail. A hiker called No Name arrives and cooks with us. He tells us a crazy story. His hiking partner No Service had to get off the trail. No Service started feeling ill, having a loss of appetite, fatigue, nausea, and leg pain. He went to the hospital, and they ascertained that without realizing it No Service had been bitten by a Copperhead. What!? Whoa!
Epic Uber Trail Wizardry
We hike another 20-plus day with Baygull and Tiny Bytes to the Priest Shelter. The heat is oppressive, and it seems like we climb all day. The group is within striking distance of the Devil's Backbone Brewery. We haul to the road. The terrain is seriously tough...up, up, up, and up. One of the sales reps from the brewery gives us a ride from Reeds Gap. He tells us the restaurant is closed today because of an all-staff meeting. Initially, we're disappointed; however, we learn that the meeting is being catered, and we're invited!!
The whole smelly, thru-hiker group converges on the staff meeting where we receive a shout out and the royal treatment. We receive appetizers and BBQ. Our friends enjoy an open bar. We tour the distillery. RamboJuice plays in the bouncy house with Sohum, Baygull, and Tiny Bytes. It is awesome!! In the morning, we get a hiker breakfast and a shuttle back to the trail. The Devil's Backbone Brewing Company is a wonderful place that treats hikers like valued customers. This place is four-star with beautiful grounds and amazing amenities for thru-hikers. DON'T MISS IT!
We hike with Tiny Bytes and Baygull to the Wolfe Shelter, playing 20 questions, top 5, and stinky pinky all day. Side note, we saw a naked guy named Naturist Dave. He wore a hat and Chacos. It was surprising, of course, even for the A.T. Waking early, we run into Waynesboro for a much needed zero day. It's been an incredible couple of weeks. What will happen next?
- The weather becomes incredibly humid in Virginia this time of year. Be prepared with appropriate clothing.
- If chafe is a problem, try to keep the area clean and dry. Products like Body Glide and Gold Bond really help. Don't let it go. Address it immediately before it gets worse.
- Rain is difficult to deal with and can be a bummer. Just remember, it won't last forever. Besides, it helps keep things cooler. If thru-hiking was easy, everyone could do it.
- Remember when things look bleak, there is something really awesome just around the corner.
In the Spring of 2018, we set out to thru-hike the A.T. To hear our full story, click here.
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