AT Thru-Hike, Virginia [3] 1997

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(68) Wednesday, May 28, 9:00PM

Today was a long day, but a good one. I was forced to do nineteen miles or settle for only ten, due to the lack of water and campsite locations between those distances. I really didn't want to do the long day as was evident by my late start this morning at 8:40.

I tented alone last night at Marble Spring. I've gotten out of the habit of hanging my food when I tent. When in shelters I only hang them to elude the mice. Last night, however, I awoke in the middle of the night to heavy footsteps outside my tent. The ground in that area was kind of gravelly so the footsteps were quite audible. At first it almost sounded like a person walking around, but what cause would there be for that at 2:30AM? I feared it might be a bear as my mind shook away all semblence of sleep. I lay there alert for a while listening to the occasional footsteps with all my food lying next to me in my pack. The footsteps never seemed to come terribly near; and since I had no intention of getting out of my tent to investigate, I simply turned my good ear to the pillow and forced myself back to sleep. It was later that morning when I reached the first shelter on the trail. There was an entry in the shelter register detailing a hiker's sighting of a bear the day before, not very far from where I camped. I guess its time to get back into the habit of hanging my food, especially when I camp alone. Hanging a food bag out of reach of a bear is not a simple act. Preferably it involves suspending a line between two trees at least twenty feet above the ground, then slinging a line tied to the food bag over the suspended line and tying it off to the trunk of a tree. This method usually involves climbing the trees and is more easily accomplished with more than one person. An easier more common approach is to find a sturdy branch extending pretty far out from a hardwood tree and throwing a line over it to pull up the food bag. It all adds up to a hassle at the end of the day that I usually forgo because I am often camping in the vicinity of other people, which discourages bear contact. It is nights by myself when I must make this self-preserving effort.

I was so comfortable in my sleeping bag this morning that I just didn't want to get up. I awoke in plenty of time to be hiking by 7:00AM, but instead I simply kept rolling over and waiting for the sun to warm up my tent. I even studied my maps and guidebook to make sure I hadn't overlooked any options that might shave four miles off the day. I hadn't, and my guilt began to set in, so I packed up and hit the trail. All day it was perfect hiking weather. It was a cool cloudless day with a steady dry wind blowing.

After stopping for a late breakfast at that first shelter, I met a couple retired day hikers that had thru-hiked in '87. They were out doing trail magic. She had some cookies that she had baked fresh that morning, and he had some cold Pepsi's. What a treat !

I stopped early this afternoon at the next shelter for a lunch break. I was joined by a hiking photographer. He is dayhiking much of the Trail this year taking pictures of birds and other wildlife. He got a special treat talking to me. He was sitting on the edge of the shelter and I was standing as I packed up from having lunch, when a five foot long black snake slithered by right behind him from near my pack. It startled both of us because of how quickly it just showed up, and by how large it was. This snake was on a mission, though. It headed straight for a rear inside corner of the shelter and began exploring. There are many mice around the shelters, so we thought it might know where to find them. After a while it scaled the corner wall and its head disappeared. Dwight, the photographer, looked outside the shelter to find that the snake had found a gap in the truss and was preying on a bird's nest built under the eave. We could see the snake in the nest right at our eye level as it swallowed two baby birds. It was quite fascinating. The rear four feet of the snake were still along the wall inside the shelter. It had a heck of a time getting back into the shelter with the birds widening its neck.

Shortly after that encounter I was on the watch for both snakes and bears. Instead I saw another deer, and unsettled another brood of a grouse hen with chicks. Today was made more difficult by a very long climb so late in the day, but the clear skies provided rewarding views all the way up. I had great sights of the James River which I had crossed earlier today.

Tonight I'm tented out behind a shelter. It is a lovely setting with a grassy area bordering a lively pond. I say lively, because the frogs are making enough noise to rival any party. Most of the frogs are emitting a high chirping call, but there is at least one bull frog that sounds like a bull horn when it goes off. Fortunately it only belts out the call for a short time before taking another long break. I've caught up to a large group of hikers so there are more than a half-dozen tents pitched near me by the pond. I hadn't seen Brian since Damascus, and I caught up with Solophile and Fireball again. Just as I was beginning to tell everyone about my trail magic experience this morning, another older couple walked up from the Blue Ridge Parkway carrying a cooler and basket. They had fresh water and snacks for all of us. Trail magic is fairly rare, but twice in one day is extra special. We were all very grateful. Tomorrow I'll be back in Buena Vista again to resupply. I may share my room with Brian and his cousin.

19.2 Miles Today, 771.6 MTD

Click on thumbprint photos to see them enlarged.

James River--One of many many river crossings.
Johns Hollow Shelter--Most of the many snakes along the trail were non-poisonous like this 5-foot black snake. It snuck up on me very quickly during my lunch break. It slithered right past me into the corner of the shelter and scaled the shelter wall to squeeze through a gap in the roof to raid the bird's nest built in the eave of the shelter. The snake ate two birds from this nest then went to the opposite eave and ate three more baby birds. It then climbed up into the rafters to sleep.


(69) Thursday, May 29, 10:00PM

Today went pretty well. I hiked through beautiful sections of rhododendron and mountain laurel, both in bloom. It was a lovely section. I covered the distance to route 60 by 12:30 and immediately got a ride the nine miles into Buena Vista where I checked into the B.V. Motel. Last night I met up with Brian again from Lancaster, PA. I hadn't seen him since Damascus. He was wrapping up the seventh and last day of hiking with his cousin Phil, today. I let the two of them share my room tonight. They were good company, and we all enjoyed a massive meal at Pizza Hut together.

10.6 Miles Today, 782.2 MTD

Click on thumbprint photos to see them enlarged.

Rice Mtn.--Rhododendron and mountain laurel were abundant along the southern Appalachians. It was great to finally see them bloom. The subtle pinks and purples were much more vivd on overcast and rainy days.


(70) Friday, May 30, 9:30PM

I always have so much trouble getting an early start out of town. Brian's cousin Phil made an early departure this morning back to his life, while Brian and I exercised no urgency in getting under way. We finally got shuttled back up to the trail and didn't begin hiking until almost 1:00. Part of the delay was from knowing that our first three miles accounted for over 2000 feet in elevation gain. It didn't rain at all today, though the air was heavy enough that it might as well have been raining. Our freshly clean bodies from town were soaked through with sweat by the time we reached that first summit, only to have the thick haze deny us from any views.

Brian made a mistake this morning before we hit the trail. He drank a quart of apple juice straight down. When he reached the summit ahead of me, he had to throw off his pack for an emergency cleansing of the system. He didn't even have time to dig a cat-hole. When I finally caught up with him, he was still crouched over beside the trail with his drawers down. He was quite miserable and a bit embarassed. I did my best to soothe his ego and lift his spirits. He was very grateful that I had a package of wet-wipes. I passed him up and assured him that I would wait for him a couple miles down the trail. He was pleased to see me later as planned, since his body hadn't quite recovered from the eruption. He smartly adjusted his goal for the day as he rested there with new plans of only two additional miles. I moved on down the trail certain that he would catch up with me in the coming days.

I went into the above description as a note of how life can be extra harsh on the trail sometime. Sitting on a comfortable toilet with diarhea, knowing that a soft sofa or bed is nearby, is entirely different than having to deal with it in the wild. Trips to town are hard on a lot of people because of how they over-indulge, myself included. I learned from a similar experience earlier on. My lesson came from quickly drinking a quart of chocolate milk. Our bodies get so accustomed to the starchy trail diet that when we attmept to fulfill some craving we have it overwhelms our system. I still accommodate my cravings, just in much smaller doses.

I felt pretty good about my hike today. Still no heel blisters from these boots, but they sure make my feet sore. Today I began wearing the boots tied very loosely. I don't get any ankle support this way, but the trail condition was good enough not to require it. I may start shopping for size 16 boots in Waynesboro.

I did some thinking in town last night and this morning along with some writing, that is helping me come to terms with the evolving struggle on the trail. I think I'm coming to know this new mental challenge as the real adventure that I sought. These are the opportunities of discovery and enlightenment that are important to me. I just wasn't willing to look at it in such a welcoming way before. I think I may be able to embrace my hardships now as vehicles for traveling through this mental journey. It may almost seem like a separate journey that is made possible by this unique hike that I'm doing.

I hope these feelings aren't fleeting. I so want to find a balance that enables me to complete this trip. Time will tell.

11.7 Miles Today, 793.9 MTD


(71) Saturday, May 31, 8:30PM

I'm staying in a shelter tonight after camping out alone last night. Again, we received no rain today, but it might have been welcome just to cool things off a bit. The humidity today made it feel like a very warm day. I wasted a lot of time talking to day hikers today. They seem so fascinated by us Thru-Hikers. I humored them willingly until the end of the day when I just wanted to get to camp. So the day definitely went longer than it needed to. I spent a lot of time thinking about matters that were even too personal to record here, but they were good subjects for occupying my mind.

Tomorrow I may go to Rusty's Hard Time Hollow. I've heard a lot of differing views on this primitive hiker hangout. I'll write more about it if I go.

Today brought the passing of my 800th mile; the end of May, and the beginning of my 11th week. So many milestones to keep in mind.

16.3 Miles Today, 810.2 MTD


(72) Sunday, June 1, 6:00PM

Well June arrived on the trail wet. Very Wet ! I'm glad I spent last night in a shelter, otherwise I would have been packing up in the rain this morning. There were intermittent downpours all day. My body was soaked through and through. This only aggravated the blister I developed on my left heel yesterday. And to top it off, I have a bad case of chaffing between my legs from the wet climb. So right now I'm sitting completely naked in my tent trying to dry this pruny body of mine while the heavens continue the deluge of rain.

I didn't make it to Rusty's today, so I have nothing to add on that subject. I reached the Blue Ridge Parkway where I needed to hitch a ride south 7 miles to get to Rusty's. I waited for 45 minutes in the rain only to see four vehicles going south; none that was interested in picking up a wet hiker. So I proceeded with plan B, which didn't really exist. I was pretty tired, so finding a spring after only half a mile was to my good fortune. I filtered whatever I would need for tonight and then promised myself that I would stop at the first spot where I could pitch my tent. As the terrain became more and more severe, I became much less picky.

I finally settled on a location to pitch my tent, far from ideal though. As I began to clear the area of weeds and sticks, the skies let loose again. I'm not good enough to get my tent up in a downpour without getting everything wet. So I just stood there in the rain, looking silly, waiting for a break in the downpour. Fortunately I got my break within 20 minutes, and was given just barely enough time to do my business before another downpour.

It is times like these where a good sense of humor is imperative. It could even effect your chances of survival in worse conditions. I managed to keep my sense of humor for the most part. The bright side is that I'm that much closer to reaching Waynesboro tomorrow where I have reservations at a Comfort Inn. Whatever is wet will get ample opportunity to dry out there. If I went to Rusty's, I'd have to get an early Monday morning ride back to the trail. Granted, it would be more difficult to maintain a positive attitude with the prospect of camping a second night in the rain.

I may take a zero-mile day in Waynesboro to benefit my heel and chaffing. Hiking the eleven miles to town tomorrow in wet boots and clothes will just make matters worse. Anyway, for now it's just me and the rain.

I almost forgot to mention that I saw my first wild turkey today. I had been hearing them for months, but never actually saw one. Their hearing is accute so they have always had ample time to elude this noisy hiker. Today was different because the rain was louder than me, and I was hiking along a quiet grassy section when I spottted it. The bird was pecking away right on the trail, facing away from me as I approached. When it finally took notice of me it immediately took flight as it sounded off.

13.3 miles, 823.5 MTD


(73) Monday, June 2, 10:00PM

I slept quite well last night with the rain waking me only few times. It rained extremely hard well into the night. I awoke this morning to the welcome sound of silence. I was up early and began breaking down camp when my skin began to crawl. All my exposed skin began to itch as if I was breaking out in hives. I saw no appearance of hives so I couldn't understand what was happening. Finally after tolerating this significant irritation for a while, I looked more closely at my skin to see tiny biting no-see-ums. These gnats were all over me waging war on my skin. I began a frequent brisk movement of my hands over the exposed skin on my arms and legs as I packed up my very wet tent. Their bites left welts on me that didn't subside until late in the day.

It was still a very overcast day with an occasional light drizzle, but I pressed my pace a bit to cover the eleven miles into Rockfish Gap by 12:30. I quickly got a ride and was checked into my room in Waynesboro by 1:00. It felt good to be in a dry place.

The Comfort Inn seemed to be hiker central with a lot of familiar hikers showing up. Some had gotten off the trail farther back and hitched up here to dry out. This practice of skipping a section is referred to as yellow-blazing, thus named by the reference to the yellow stripes on a roadway instead of the white blazes on the trail.This is strongly frowned on by most other hikers, because there are sections that these people don't even walk. But who am I to judge. The hikers at the motel included: Bones, Smiles, Minstrel & Mallow, Lewis & Clark, Green Man, GoGo, and several others.

11 Miles Today, 834.5 MTD

Corrected 835.5 MTD


(74) Tuesday, June 3

Zero-mile day.

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