AT Thru-Hike, Virginia [2] 1997

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(56) Friday, May 16, 8:00PM

I left Pearisburg this morning at 11:00 with considerable reluctance. Thinking back to my mother's concern about whether I would last the first two weeks on the trail, I responded by sharing my concern of whether I would still want to do this after two months. The reality of that concern was sinking into me this morning as I really lacked the desire to put my pack back on. I had no remaining excuses not to, so after some procrastination I headed on down the road back to the trailhead.

My hike began with a total lack of enthusiasm accompanied by a nagging moderate headache (rare for me on the trail, but it originated in town). After completing most of the considerable ascent out of town I broke down and took some Tylenol. In general, I hiked much more casually today trying not to aggravate my apathy. I took more frequent breaks and committed to no distance goal for the day.

Once I reached the elevation of the ridge line the hike required much less effort, and I pleasantly found my mind quickly drifting to less negative thoughts. I guess I'm such a positive thinker that my mind instinctively pursues positive thoughts out of habit when directed elsewhere. Today was a beautiful day with fewer and fewer clouds/wind as the day wore on. I ended up stopping after 12 miles at a perfect mountaintop meadow. I pitched my tent under a big old oak tree and settled into my solitary campsite. Shortly after arriving, I found a Walkman radio in the grass near a tree. A hiker must have accidentally left it because I was able to turn it on and instantly tune into NPR: All Things Considered. It was one of those serendipitous little gifts from God. I've always loved listening to NPR, and haven't been able to since I started the hike. The broadcast was a warm familiar friend that lifted my spirits as I fixed dinner while viewing a gorgeous vista of West Virginia from my meadow. The past two hours have truly been joyous . . . I say as my eyes well up with tears with the acknowledgement. I needed this so badly today. Now show me a person that doesn't believe in God. Thank you God.

I'm comfortably sitting in my tent with the rain fly open to the West so that I may watch this beautiful sunset. I can already feel the temperature dropping. It's supposed to get into the 30's tonight as I use my warm weather sleeping bag for the very first time. It's rated as a 30-40 degree bag. Those ratings reflect the lowest temperatures that bag will keep you safely warm in, not necessarily comfortably warm. I'm not too worried though. I'm wearing my long underwear, and my tent should stay several degrees warmer than outside.

I do feel a bit renewed right now, but some of my fear and skepticism remains. Tomorrow will bring all new personal challenges. I hope I have the strength.

12.2 Miles Today, 626.6 MTD

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Symms Gap Meadow--One of those perfect campsites...alone at a beauty spot.


(57) Saturday, May 17, 8:00PM

I'm pleased to be in my tent again tonight at another fine campsite, though not as good as last night's. I've just finished listening to Prairie Home Companion, which kept me company all through dinner. Having the radio is a nice new change, but I'm not sure I'll keep it. I listened to Car Talk today while walking; and found that the headphones really end up encroaching on the wilderness experience. For now though, it serves as a nice novelty to lift my spirits.

I hiked slowly but well today. I took more frequent and longer breaks, and listened more closely to my body. I had early plans of hiking further today, but the rocky trail this afternoon took its toll on my feet, so I properly stopped at the first good campsite. I feel the need to be much more deliberate in accommodating myself right now. Any competitive spirit of pushing for high mileage days is counter productive right now. My emphasis has to be on overall comfort and enjoyment as I struggle through these mentally challenging days. I'm optimistic that these proactive steps will keep my attitude positive about the hike, and I'll just let the miles take care of themselves.

I put some special new bandages on my feet in Pearisburg, and so far they seem to be doing well. The bandage has a smoother surface than moleskin so that there is less friction. I can wear them for 5-7 days since they breathe. After two days, the heels don't appear to be aggravated by the walking.

I'm experimenting this week with actually eating lunches instead of my occasional grazing. I bought some pita bread, cheese, and canned meat spreads in town. It all makes my lunch meal bag much heavier, but it helps force me to take a longer mid-day break. So far I've enjoyed the lunches, along with some peanut butter and banana chips. I may decide to cut back a little on the size of my dinners if I continue with the lunches.

16.4 Miles Today, 643.0 MTD


(58) Sunday, May 18, 8:00PM

Today was a real tough day. Not so much because of trail conditions, I just didn't feel well. I got a good night's sleep last night and had a good start this morning at 8:30, I just didn't have more than about 60% to give today. It was one of the hottest days so far with temperatures in the 80's, and tomorrow should be hotter when it may even hit 90 degrees.

I had a very stiff upper body all day today with a very tight muscle in the right side of my neck. I tried different stretches and self massage, but it persisted until I finally had a pretty bad headache by this afternoon. I gave in and took some Tylenol, which seemed to help a bit.

I ended today with a pretty good 1.3 mile climb that took me a solid hour to complete. I just kept overheating while dripping with sweat. I made sure I had plenty to drink today so I'm not sure what exactly was wrong. I drank two quarts during lunch alone as well as another gallon throughout the day. I'm going to make a point of drinking even more fluids tomorrow.

We're all entitled to some slow days, so I'm going to try not to let this get me down too much. It took me all day to do 15 miles. And the trail wasn't really all that tough today. Something just wasn't right. I hope whatever it was passes through the night and leaves me fresh in the morning.

I'm tenting again by myself for the third night in a row. I think that's some kind of record. I'm just on a pace that staggers me between the shelters. The shelters have mostly been located down low in the valleys, and I'd rather camp up on the breezy ridgeline. I just can't find water up here, so again I had to haul my water from about three miles before reaching camp. It's really not so bad as long as I plan ahead a little.

15.2 miles Today, 658.2 MTD


(59) Monday, May 19, 7:30PM

Today was hotter than yesterday, though I don't think it ever reached 90 degrees. I did much better today than yesterday. I made a point of drinking unbelievable quantities of liquids, and not pushing too hard. The neck pains and headache that I had yesterday did not carry over into today. I just had to be careful during the uphills not to overheat. There was an occasional cooling breeze blowing that I would frequently pause to take advantage of during my ascents. I was also aided by a much better trail condition this afternoon.

I'm staying in a shelter tonight with Solophile and her dog Micah, and Fireball. This is day four out of Pearisburg, and I'm getting pretty dirty with all the hot weather. About a mile before quitting today I stopped to soak my feet in a nicely cold Trout Creek. I took the opportunity to wash my filthy legs. The cold water was heaven on my overheated feet. The preceding descent had really generated some heat in my feet, so the cold water brought the swelling down a bit.

The following is an interesting fact from "The Thru-hiker's Handbook."

"You are no doubt getting used to the ups and downs of Trail life by now. Each mile of the AT has an average elevation gain of 217 feet, which means that a thru-hiker will climb and descend a total of 88.79 miles between Springer and Katahdin. That is the equivalent of going from sea level to the summit of Mt. Everest and back more than sixteen times!"

My boots seem ever smaller on my feet. I've gotten five hundred miles out of these Sundowners since Fontana Dam. It's hard to believe that was five hundred miles ago. I'm really interested in seeing how my old boots fit when Christine brings them to me in Buena Vista. I hope they have more room than my current ones. My feet seem to be my biggest concern of late. I hope these problems eventually diminish. I guess I'm paying for having my feet be the least of my problems at the start of the hike.

15.9 Miles Today, 674.1 MTD


(60) Tuesday, May 20, 9:00PM

Today was a good day. It is important for me to say that with the conviction that I feel right now. I spent a good rainy night in a shelter last night and hiked well today. All of this in spite of the fact that several other hikers agree with me in saying that this morning's hike was the toughest we've encountered to date. The six-mile climb up to and down from Dragons Tooth was the trickiest footing I have seen. There were many sections where the trail dropped three, four, five, and even six feet down shear rock faces. Some hikers even removed their packs in those sections to minimize the risk. I lost my balance once through that stretch and nearly fell off of the mountain. I must emphasize how difficult it was, but still today was a good day.

Today was a good day. Oops, I'm repeating myself. Last night's rain had cooled things off a bit and left a breezy overcast sky for the morning. Even though the humidity had me soaked immediately, the energy-sapping heat was absent, and I had fresh legs for the effort. By the time I finally reached the road to end that tough section, the sun was shining through with clearing skies. I was met at the road by two familiar hikers, Cookin' and Fireball, and by a trail angel named Southpaw who was performing some trail magic. He had a cooler full of soft drinks and he was offering rides to and from the store down the street. I was a day short on food (due to a long story about doing this section in six days v. five, and misreading my Handbook about the Home Restaurant in Catawba) so I needed to make a run to the store. When we returned Solophile and her dog Micah showed up, so we sat around eating lunch and reflecting on the tough section just completed.

After lunch the trail became much less difficult even though it included several considerable ascents. The sun was out with a dry breeze and the day just seemed to turn beautiful. The rhododendrons are starting to bloom as well as many other plants, creating scrumptious aromas as I walk through some sections. It seems with all the recent rain that everything woke up in the past week or so. Now the leaves are out on all the trees, and the trail is lined with weeds and briars, and the insects are everywhere. I haven't had much trouble with mosquitoes yet. They're around, but seemingly uninterested in me. I had heard about some people's bodies emitting chemicals that discourage mosquitoes. Maybe my ripened sweat fits that category. Well whatever it did to repel mosquitoes, it seems to attract the flies. I frequently pass through clouds of black flies that quickly land on my moving body and grab onto my hair for a hold. I feel the grab before they bite me, so I can give them a whack before any damage is done. The heat also seems to bring more snakes out into the sun. While I haven't seen any more, there are several recent sightings by other hikers.

I'm in a shelter again tonight as the weather prepares to turn cold again. It may drop to 40 degrees tonight with highs in the 60's tomorrow. This is my kind of hiking weather now. I've got 15 more miles to do tomorrow before reaching my mail drop in Cloverdale and the end of a tough six-day section. Christine's Friday visit is getting closer and closer.

16.1 Miles Today, 690.2 MTD

Click on thumbprint photos to see them enlarged.

Dragon's Tooth--Another hiker and I arrived here at the same time. We traded cameras to get pictures of each other on this great rock formation.
McAfee Knob--Another great vista. I was alone here and had to use the camera timer to get this shot. I had to move very quickly.


(61) Wednesday, May 21, 10:00PM

I'm in Troutville now trying to digest the AYCE (All You Can Eat) buffet that hurt me from Western Sizzlin'. I certainly got my money's worth. I'm relaxing in the Best Western here with another day and a half of hiking ahead before Christine's visit.

I had a rough night's sleep last night, discovering the hard way that my Thermarest mattress had a hole in it. I would barely doze off before being woken up by pains in my hips from the hard shelter floor as my mattress slowly deflated. I would roll off of the mattress half-asleep and inflate it again before having to repeat the whole affair an hour later. I found the leak this evening in the motel bathtub and used my repair kit to patch the hole. I'll know tonight how successful I was.

I really enjoyed the company of Papa Smurf & Flower as our discussions last night and today were very honest and open about the pains and struggles of continuing out here. I also ran into Skydiver at the restaurant tonight, and we had a similar exchange of confessions and concerns. He is 65 and a very pleasant man from Asheville.

I was able to split the cost of a room with Papa Smurf & Flower since they had intended to get a room just for a couple hours to shower and do laundry before taking a cab up to meet some friends at The Peaks of Otter resort on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The friends they were going to meet are Telephone Man and his wife. I haven't seen Telephone Man since prior to the Smokies. I'd sure like to see him again, but he does so much slack-packing that I can't seem to catch up with him. Anyway, I sent along my regards with Papa Smurf & Flower. Maybe I'll see them all again somewhere else up the trail.

Today was an absolutely splendid day with cool temperatures in the 60's and a nice dry breeze. The view along the ridgeline and Tinker Cliffs was fantastic. Due to my defective mattress, I got an early start and was walking at 7:00, getting me to the motel just after 2:00 today. I saw more rhododendron and mountain laurel in bloom today, along with lots of fragrances that sweetened the air. I saw two deer, a turtle, a snake, and several lizards. The woods are very alive. The black flies were particularly pesky today. Tomorrow should be pretty too, and I'm only planning about 12 miles.

I almost forgot the two milestones today. I passed 700 miles and ended my second complete month on the trail. I am pretty much almost exactly at the one-third complete mark, both in mileage and time. One day at a time.

15.4 Miles Today, 704.6 MTD

Click on thumbprint photos to see them enlarged.

Troutville--I met Flower and Papa Smurf the night before arriving here for a town stop.


(62) Thursday, May 22, 10:00PM

What a pleasant day! I awoke early and patched the leak in my mattress before packing up and heading back over to Western Sizzlin' for a long lazy breakfast. How could I eat again so soon after last night’s feast? Somehow I managed. I relaxed over breakfast with the paper and behaved in a most unhurried manner.

I finally hit the trail at noon with perfect hiking weather, a clear dry day in the sixties. I only planned to cover about eleven miles today, so I was in no hurry. I reached the first shelter after five miles and took a little break with Popcorn, a Southbound section hiker in his eighth year from Portland, ME. A little while later we were joined by Marmot, a young local hiker that thru-hiked last year. She just came up on a day hike with a cold six-pack of beer to leave at the shelter for the hikers. Popcorn and I each enjoyed a beer right there, and then I took another one to accompany my dinner later. I'm glad I didn't have any climbs immediately after that beer. After all, beer isn't exactly a physical stimulant.

The trail was very good today with graded climbs and a friendly treadway. I should have more of the same for my ten miles tomorrow, and then I'm off for a long weekend with Christine. Oooo! I just had a cockroach crawl across my sleeping bag in this shelter. I've never seen a roach before now in the shelters. I hate roaches.

I saw another ruffed grouse today. That makes two this week. I surely wouldn't see them if they didn't make such a commotion. I had the commotion explained to me. Sometimes these birds foolishly nest too close to the trail, so whenever a hiker comes near they instinctively respond defensively. This usually means running away from their nest, usually down the trail, pretending to be lame. They don't fly, but run quickly acting like a wing is damaged and create sounds of a suffering animal. This is supposed to make them appear like easy prey so that the intruder pursues them, away from their nest. Once the threat is sufficiently drawn away from the nest area, the bird may suddenly fly away, suspending the sick-act. The funny thing is that they are so well camouflaged they could nest almost right on the trail without detection if they sat quiet as we walked by, but instead they draw attention to themselves.

11.2 miles Today, 715.8 MTD


(63) Friday, May 23, 11:30AM

I'm waiting along the BRP for a ride up to Buena Vista. It looks like it may be harder to get a ride here than I had hoped. There just isn't that much traffic on this road, especially on a weekday. It only takes one friendly driver, though.

I did real well this morning, covering the ten miles to Bearwallow Gap in just four hours. It is a beautiful day for walking and the trail was very well maintained. It's official . . . today I completed the first third of my trip, passing the 720.1 mile point. Now for some real R&R.

9.8 miles Today, 725.6 MTD


(64) Saturday, May 24

Zero-mile day


(65) Sunday, May 25

Zero-mile day


(66) Monday, May 26

9.8 Miles Today, 735.4 MTD


(67) Tuesday, May 27, 7:00AM

I got in too late last night to make an entry in my log, so this is for yesterday. Christine and I had a very nice weekend in the Lexington area. We got down to Roanoke and were able to eat dinner at the Home Place in Catawba on Saturday. We squeezed in a pleasant winery visit on Sunday. And we had lunch at the Peaks of Otter lodge on the Blue Ridge Parkway on Monday before she dropped me along the trail where I had gotten off on Friday.

It was after two o'clock yesterday before I began hiking, which was okay since I only had ten miles planned for the day. The late start also benefited me by having the rain cease by then. The trail was great hiking, but I was obsessed with finding the comfort zone in my newly re-soled Vasque Vagabonds that Christine had brought me. They definitely afford more room for the front half of my feet, but I had to put new in-soles in these boots, resulting in the familiar heel-rubbing problem that I had with my last boots. I'm going to tape my heels up today as a precautionary measure, because the first half of the day is all climbing which stresses the heels the most.


Today's hike went pretty well. There is still no verdict yet on the return of my boots. I didn't blister today, but the way they grab my heel really aggravates my tendons while climbing. And while the boots are wider, they don't seem long enough. My big toes are banging steadily into the front of the boot on descents. Today is the first time I've considered getting a new pair of boots. They would be size 16W instead of my current 15M. My only grief about that would be having to break them in, much less finding them.

Today I was giving more thought to a subject I've contemplated before. That being the idea of delayed gratification. I think my opinion on the subject may have changed in some manner. It is strongly considered by many that a major key to success is the ability to postpone rewards. In other words, playing after your work gets done. I had considered this hike a good lesson on that subject. Today, however; I added some new elements to the topic.

I think that delaying gratification ties right into goal-setting. There is a lot of stress in our lives to set goals in order to accomplish anything. I strongly agree with the need to set goals, but the emphasis is misplaced on achieving the goal. More important than actually attaining the goal defined is the simple pursuit. After all, the pursuit is the journey toward the goal. The goal provides two key ingredients, motion and direction. Without an identified goal there might be neither motion or direction in one's life.

The gratification that we all desire should not, however be tied to achieving the goal. The pursuit of a goal should be it's own reward. As I'm hiking I often set goals. Such as reaching the next shelter before taking a break, or getting to the top of a climb before resting. I can get so focused on reaching the goal that the pursuit is lost to me. There is nothing wrong with setting goals like these, but I need to keep their pursuit from being a sacrifice. Lately I've been more cautious with such goals. Instead of watching my watch or constantly checking the map for progress toward a goal, now I've been trying to use the time of pursuit for more rewarding thoughts. That way reaching the goal becomes nothing more than an opportunity to set a new goal. I hope I can remember this distinction in the rest of my life.

Today I also thought again about how I take a moment to thank God for this day and my good fortune to enjoy it. It has been an easy thing to remember to do out here. Why then, is it so difficult to remember to thank God when I'm not on the trail. Yes I do it, but with far less frequency.

17 miles Today, 752.4 MTD

Click on thumbprint photos to see them enlarged.

Bryant Ridge Shelter--One of the larger more interesting shelters along the trail. This one had a sizable loft. Many of the newer shelters are breaking away from the long-standing simple lean-to design that was common among the early CCC shelters built during The Depression.

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