Monthly Archives: May 2013

Skyland to Elkwallow Gap

As another month comes to an end, I celebrate my 70th day on the Appalachian Trail. In many ways it feels like 70 weeks. Sometimes I find myself trying to remember various aspects of my home. Strangely, the longer I’m away the more vague things become. I best be careful for fear of contracting that dreaded disease of all thru hikers…homesickness. It has forced some off the trail already. It always seems to be lurking around the next hard climb or within a casual conversation among other hikers.

Today was a day of firsts. I’ll get back to that later because they occurred near the end of the day. This morning the trail offered up several panoramic views between Skyland and the Pinnacle. Early in the day I came across a group of trail maintainers from the Potomac Appalachian Club. When a worker who identified himself as Sisu asked my trail name and I said Don’s Brother, he said he had been following my journal. Sisu also asked me to tell the others about Don. They all ceased their work as I briefly talked about my brother.

A little later I met a lovely couple from London. John and Ros said they were out for a walk, not a hike. Just a short while later I had my second Blissful sighting in the past week. Having first met the former thru hiker in Georgia, I knew that she had planned to do some work as a ridge runner this summer. On Monday I saw her just north of Waynesboro. Today I saw her again. I wouldn’t see another hiker until very late in the day.

When I reached Thornton’s Gap I walked down to the restroom area to fill my water bottles from an available fountain. Bison and Barking Spider were going through a re-supply box trying to decide what to keep and what to leave for other hikers. They had way too much to carry. As they rummaged through the box, I ate my ham sandwich and peanut butter cups. They were still sorting items when I wished them well and headed back to the trail. Since I feared that the heat would drain my energy, I promised myself that I would drink every 20 minutes.

So as I hiked through the afternoon I had the trail to myself until about two miles before Elkwallow Gap. Hiking at a brisk pace I suddenly came to an abrupt halt when I heard a distinct rattling sound. For the first time ever when hiking anywhere, I came face to face with about a five foot long rattlesnake. After snapping a couple of pictures, I then had to figure out how to continue up the trail. Not really knowing the proper protocol, I first tossed a rock in its direction. Nothing. So I tossed another which hit the snake. Still no movement. My next idea was to try to bushwhack around the snake. When he began to coil and rattle again, I nixed that idea. So there I was in a standoff with a rattlesnake. Fortunately he quickly decided to slither back into the underbrush. When he was at a safe distance, I gingerly walked past and then quickly picked up my pace.

The rattlesnake, however, was not the only “first” today. Within about a half mile of concluding my hike I heard a loud noise just off the trail. When I looked to my right, a large turkey was strutting back and forth, obviously irritated about my proximity to his spot. Realizing that trying to get close enough for a good picture was not a good idea, I moved on as he continued to display his distress. Oddly enough, this was almost the same place I had seen a mama bear and her two cubs when I section hiked the Shenandoah’s in 2006.

When I finally reached the Elkwallow Wayside, a little unnerved I must admit, I ran into the first thru hikers I had seen in the past two days. Pacemaker and Runner-up were resting at a picnic table. We chatted until Mike Evans, the owner of the Terrapin Station Front Royal Hostel, arrived for my shuttle. It was good to get re-acquainted with the Grateful Greenpeace Guy. He told me that only one other hiker, Pilgrim, was staying with him tonight. A thru hiker from California, Pilgrim also has a journal going on trailjournals.

After I had the opportunity to do some laundry for the first time since Buena Vista, Mike drove Pilgrim and me into Front Royal for a meal at a Mexican restaurant and a grocery store stop. He carries out this routine every day during hiker season. My routine is the hike. But as I look back on my day of “firsts,” I’m definitely hoping that there won’t be any seconds tomorrow, or any day for that matter, as the journey continues on the Appalachian Trail.








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Walking through the woods this morning under an already blistering sun, I found myself singing a variation on an old Lovin’ Spoonful 60’s hit, “Hot now summer on the AT……..” To divert my attention from the heat, I catalogued all hikers that I had hiked with for any length of time. There was Slim Jim from Hiawassee to the NOC, Jolly from Franklin to the Smokies, Piddlin’ Around in the Smokies, Molar Man from north of Erwin to Iron Mountain, and Speck from Pearisburg to Jennings Creek. I also spent considerable time with Kermit and Grinch in the Smokies and Whiskers and Rocket from Deep Gap, NC to Damascus. Today I hiked alone.

Before heading back to the trail, Quicksilver and I walked down to a country store for some breakfast sandwiches and coffee. Then we sat around the gazebo with Peach, enjoying the early morning fellowship over breakfast. Bob, along with Shadow and Cookie (his cat), also visited. At around 7:30 Bob drove me back to the Lewis Mountain Campground where I had concluded my hike yesterday. I bid Bob and Shadow farewell as they drove away. Then I walked down a side trail for about fifty yards to the AT. Even though I had only been around Bob for less than twenty-four hours, I felt like I was saying goodbye to an old friend.

Like other recent days I saw no thru hikers at any time today. I met a few southbound sectioners and was passed by one shirtless northbound hiker who said he had just begun his hike today. Walking at a brisk pace, he disappeared rather quickly. Just wanting to get the miles done, I only stopped to chat once with a day hiker looking for Hawksbill Mountain. Having passed it within the last few minutes, I offered directions to the young lady who introduced herself as Susan from Atlanta.

Earlier in the day, around noon to be exact, I walked up a gravel road to Skyline Drive which led to the Big Meadows Wayside. Before going in for lunch I talked awhile with Paul with Bunions, a 2010 thru hiker who was working on another complete trail in sections. Most of the clientele, however, consisted of old men who resembled Morty Seinfeld with their white haired wives. A few biker types mingled around as well. The Virginia Ham and Swiss sandwich and salad were worth the extra mile of walking.

After lunch I returned to the trail by the same route. Even though I rested regularly, I still hiked more sluggishly in the afternoon. Drinking both water and electrolytes in large amounts, I hoped to prevent the depleted feeling I experienced yesterday. Views were more plentiful which in a small way offset the heat. At one time I heard thunder rumbling in the distance, but it never rained. By the time I reached Skyland I was ready for a room, a shower, and a meal. After a little negotiation I was able to get a hiker rate at the rustic resort, even though this is by far my most expensive bed. But there’s a restaurant a stone throws from my room, which also means a hearty breakfast in the morning.

After checking in I ventured down to the tap room for some supper. Also dining were Blister and his two adult children, Bison and Raging Spider.
The Texas folks are section hiking from Waynesboro to Harper’s Ferry. I had seen them on the trail late this afternoon and shared with them my affinity for indoor accommodations. After finishing my meal I felt obliged to apologize for disrupting their life in the woods with the suggestion of a room. All seemed to actually be a bit appreciative. After all, they can return to the rigors of tents and shelters tomorrow.

So as I sit in the Slyland dining facility working on this journal entry, I’m reminded of the other time I stayed here. When Alton and I section hiked from Harper’s Ferry to Rockfish Gap in 2006, we also took refuge here one night. Tomorrow I’m planning to get to Elkwallow Gap where Mike Evans will pick me up to take me to his Front Royal Hostel. Another hot day is in the forecast. I best get a good night’s rest so that I’ll be ready for another day of adventure on the Appalachian Trail.









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Pinefield Hut to Lewis Mountain Campground

Last night I probably slept as well as I ever have in a shelter. So when I awoke at 6:20, I was ready to get the day underway. After packing up and having breakfast, I followed Quicksilver and Peach out of camp. In less than a mile I passed them, never to see another hiker for the remainder of the morning. Once again, it was just me and the trail. Other than an occasional squirrel and one deer, seldom did I hear or see anything move on a still, very warm morning.

My plan for the day was to get to Swift Run Gap, near Elkton, and try to hitch a ride to town for lunch and trail food. When I reached the intersection where Skyline Drive intersects with US 33, I put out my thumb. Under the noonday heat the task was anything but fun. After about twenty minutes I changed my location; however, very few cars appeared. Eventually I decided to call the Country View Motel, about three miles down the road, and check on a room. Bob, the owner, said he would be right there to get me.

When today’s trail angel pulled up in his small pick-up, he was accompanied by Shadow, his dog. As I rode to the motel with Shadow perched between Bob and me, I thought about how much my brother would have enjoyed the ride. It’s beginning to seem like every day I meet a new dog that reminds me of Don. Shadow ranks right up there with the “best” that I’ve encountered on the hike.

Since it was only a little after noon and I had only hiked 11.6 miles, I asked Bob if he would slack pack me a few more miles this afternoon. He agreed. First we drove into Elkton where I bought a bag of burgers. Then when we got back to the trail, I found a shady spot near the trailhead to have lunch before embarking on the afternoon portion of the hike. When I did begin I hiked at a quick pace, covering 8.3 additional miles in a little over thee hours. I saw another small bear at a distance and a second deer practically standing on the trail. Only one lone southbound hiker crossed my path.

At the junction to a trail leading to a falls, I paused to chat with a family from Baltimore who were day hiking to a favorite place of Becky, the daughter who was celebrating her 21st birthday. After moving on my pace slowed as the heat began to bother me. I drank almost continuously to stay hydrated. Even so I felt depleted by the time I reached the Lewis Mountain campground. Staggering through the parking lot, I was directed to the camp store by a lady at one of the RV spots.

Having arrived over thirty minutes before Bob was scheduled to pick me up, I bought a soft drink and sat on a bench outside. A young man who said his name was Clifton sat beside me as his wife shopped. He asked about my hike, so I enlightened him somewhat on the AT. Finally Bob and Shadow arrived for the trip back to the motel. On the drive Bob shared some of his personal story. A Rhode Island native, he moved to Virginia a few years back, bought a farm as well as the Country View Motel.

After a shower, a nap, and a meal, I sat outside chatting with Quicksilver and Peach for a while. Bob, who turned 62 six days after I did, brought us each a piece of his birthday cake. With Bob’s permission, I shared some of mine with Shadow. As fatigue began to set in, I retired to my room to get ready for tomorrow’s hike. Again, I have options so when the day begins, I’m not sure where I’ll be when it ends. One thing is for sure, however, I’ll be a little farther north along the Appalachian Trail.






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Blackrock Gap to Pinefield Hut

“Don’s Brother PALS in Site A17 Love to see you” read the sign tied to a tree on the trail. It’s common for AT thru hikers to leave messages for those that may be hiking behind them. It was the first, however, that had been left for me. With both excitement and nervousness I walked up the short trail leading to the campsite. When a camper came into view, I heard a dog bark. A lady who appeared in the doorway asked, “Are you Don’s Brother?” “Yes, I am,” I replied.

The lady introduced herself as Chris. As Chris calmed Lucky, a gentleman with a broad smile on his face walked out of the camper. I shook Bob Anderson’s hand and then gave him an emotional hug. I don’t remember the ALS patient ever stop smiling during my visit. Even though his speech has diminished radically, Bob still walks and enjoys camping with his wife and dog. We took several pictures and discussed Don a little. Within a minute Lucky was also my friend. I imagined how much my brother would have loved petting the former pound puppy. Wishing I could stay longer, I explained that I needed to move on to reach my destination for the day.

Before seeing my sign and meeting Bob, Chris, and Lucky, I fully expected that the highlight of the day would be two bear sightings. As Jim (Mr. Gizmo) Wilson drove me back up Skyline Drive to Blackrock Gap, twice we stopped to observe bears. The first, a yearling, stood in the middle of the highway. Only after we crept very close did he move to the side of the road. The second was an older bear who paid no attention to us when Jim came to a stop so that I could take a picture. He nonchalantly kept grazing even as we drove away.

When I did begin hiking I thought that another bear would certainly appear since fresh scat littered the trail. No bear, however, came forward to claim the deposits. With what was supposed to be another big mileage day, I started the hike at a quick pace. With continued gentle terrain, all went well early. The views also returned. Atop Loft Mountain I dropped my pack to sit on a rock and just relax for awhile. Then after the visit with the Anderson’s, I walked down the Frazier Discovery Trail to the Loft Mountain Wayside, one of several that offer short order foods in the Shenandoah’s.

Even though the blue blazed trail required an additional .6 mile hilly hike each way, the burger was well worth it. Also at the wayside were Quicksilver and Peach, Pacemaker and Runner-up, and Tugboat and Life-raft. I hadn’t seen Tugboat since we shared the bunkhouse at the Troutdale Baptist Church Hostel. I ate a long leisurely lunch which I think may have been my downfall. I hiked sluggishly for the remainder of the afternoon. Because of my lack of energy, I decided to stop short at the Pinefield Hut with a 13.9 mile day.

When I arrived at the shelter several others were already there. I had met Christian and Annalena, a brother and sister from Germany, earlier on the afternoon. Christian is an exchange student at Virginia Tech. Two section hikers from France, Maz and Chef, were brewing up some tea. Tugboat and Life-raft stopped for a short nap before moving on up the trail. A little later Quicksilver and Peach also arrived. Pinefield Hut looks like a pretty nice shelter. There should be room for everyone.
Rain is also in the forecast for tonight, so others may arrive before dark.

As I’ve said before, every morning when I awake I have no idea what will unexpectedly occur on the trail. Today I had the honor and privilege to meet Bob and Chris Anderson and Lucky. Bob’s smile will remain with me throughout my hike. As I walked away from Bob, I thought about my brother. Don had a beautiful smile too. And today I think he was also smiling as his brother continued walking north on the Appalachian Trail.









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Rockfish Gap to Black Rock Gap

Welcome to the Shenandoah National Park. Today marked the beginning of an approximately 100 mile stroll through one of the least challenging sections of the entire Appalachian Trail. From Rockfish Gap the trail crosses a bridge over I-64 before re-entering the woods. After being dropped off by free shuttlers Jim and Cindy, Caboose and I briefly started the day together. After the self sign-in station near the trailhead, I wouldn’t see him again. This time, however, it was because I hiked at a faster clip throughout the day.

With a gentle trail and a Cracker Barrel breakfast under my belt, there was no holding me back. Throughout the park the trail crosses Skyline Drive several times every day. On today’s hike there were eight such crossings. Some had overlooks; some didn’t. Some had parking lots; others didn’t. Oftentimes cars of day hikers filled the parking spots. Before some of the crossings the trail ran parallel to the road so closely that cars were clearly visible.

At one crossing I took a break to have some lunch with fellow thru hiker Steady. We had met about a week ago at the James River but had not hiked together before today. Steady is Spirit’s husband and has quite the hiking resume. Unlike most AT thru hikers, Steady began his quest in Key West. After kayaking 700 miles, he road walked most of the rest of the way to Springer. When he gets to Katahdin he plans to continue on to Halifax, which will make his entire adventure over 4000 miles. Already having completed the PCT and the CDT, the AT will complete his triple crown.

Late in the afternoon I passed two section hikers from Newnan, GA. Silver Streak and Peach plan to conclude this section at Harper’s Ferry. After a brief chat, I moved on up the trail to Riprap parking area off Skyline Drive, where I had originally planned to end today’s hike. When I got there, however, I decided to hike an additional 2.8 to Black Rock Gap. It was there that Jim picked me up for a shuttle back to Waynesboro and a final night at the Super 8.

Tomorrow I’ll head back there to continue the Shenandoah’s. Although the park is beautiful, views have thus far been limited. Other than from a power line area, there really wasn’t anything of significance. All in all, the time passed quickly. I managed to hike a comfortable 19.1 miles with good company and fresh legs. The Achilles feels fine, so tomorrow I have more miles planned as I make my way toward Harper’s Ferry, the next major town on the Appalachian Trail.




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Rockfish Gap, Waynesboro, VA

One aspect of the AT which continues to both fascinate and strengthen me is the uncertainty of what may occur on the trail on any given day. When Earl dropped Banzai and me back at the Three Ridges Overlook, a lone hiker was crossing the road headed north. He and Banzai exchanged greetings. It would be later in the morning before I introduced myself to Brass Rat. It would be even later in the afternoon before I realized how significant my meeting the MIT grad would be. He helped make the last eight miles of my 18.8 mile day pleasantly endurable, when I had little left in the tank.

The morning had begun with a bit of a downer when Cyclops confirmed what he had said last night. He is leaving the trail to return to Orlando. Better Man tried his best to get him to change his mind, but Cyclops had already booked a flight out of Lynchburg. The two who had hiked many miles together said their goodbyes after breakfast at the Dutch Haus B & B. So as Better Man and Smothers returned to the trail, Cyclops was getting a lift to the airport from Ranger and Julie. I too wished him well on his return to the “regular world.”

Before returning Banzai and me to our AT point on the Blue Ridge Parkway, he dropped our other passenger, ridge runner Regina, at Reeds Gap. When I started today’s hike, I used precaution by hiking slowly. I’m still pampering the Achilles for a few more days. With my slower pace pre-planned, I told Banzai and the hiker I would later learn was Brass Rat to go ahead. The strong, young man quickly disappeared into the distance. I never saw Banzai again throughout the day.

About seven miles into the hike, I heard the sound of poles on rocks behind me. A short while later I was overtaken by a day hiker, Brad, who was on his way to an overlook with his wife Libby and friend Tracy. Tracy’s black lab Dobie had also made the trek. Brad asked about my hike, so I told him about Don. He said that Libby’s father had also died from ALS. When we reached the overlook, which afforded beautiful views of ski slopes, I paused for a long break to visit with the three and enjoy the view. I also took Dobie’s pic as I let them know how much Don loved dogs.

As I hiked on up the trail, I met a few southbound weekenders and section hikers. Pony Stride and Preacher Man were the only two I engaged in conversation. Feeling somewhat undernourished and dehydrated, I rested often. During one such break I was caught by Brass Rat, who I had leapfrogged with all day but never really talked with much. That changed when I took a break in the mid-afternoon. After we both stated that we were feeling somewhat depleted, we hiked in tandem for the remainder of the day. I know that I hiked faster and with more enthusiasm than I otherwise would have. My new friend also happened to be my brother’s age. We shared a lot over the course of a few hours. I was especially interested in his trail name. He explained that it was based on the MIT class ring.

So all the way to Rockfish Gap we maintained a steady comfortable pace and conversation. Other than a rest stop at Paul C. Wolfe Shelter, we just walked and talked. Since Brass Rat had pre-arranged for a shuttle back to his car near Buena Vista, he offered me a ride to a motel in Waynesboro. When we arrived at Rockfish Gap, we only had to wait about ten minutes before the shuttler drove up. I was most appreciative for the lift.

Even though I only met the section hiker Brass Rat today, I felt like I had known him longer. Time tends too move slowly on the AT. As I said goodbye, he promised to read my web page and follow me the rest of the way. Section hiking requires a great commitment. I sincerely believe that my friend Brass Rat will one day get it all done. Thus a day that could have left me feeling a little down was transformed into another positive experience. Thank you my friend for making today another memorable one on my journey north along the Appalachian Trail.









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Spy Rock Rd. to Three Ridges Overlook

Apparently everyone who owns a backpack in central Virginia decided to go for a hike on the AT today. If I had counted the south bound weekenders and day hikers beginning early this morning, the number would have easily exceeded one hundred. From Boy Scout troop 1893 out of Richmond, to Carter and his dad on Carter’s first hike to celebrate his 13th birthday, to “the Shack,” a group of five from DC, I had the opportunity to introduce my brother to many. My spirits were lifted by all the smiling faces.

The day began with one of the top five breakfasts I’ve enjoyed over the past two months. Lois served pancakes with strawberries, an omelet, sausage, juice and coffee to Ranger, Julie, Chrome Dome and me. After breakfast Earl drove me back up a portion of Spy Rock Rd. where he had to drop me off short of the trail. The remaining approximately one mile uphill walk over rocks of various sizes equaled anything I experienced on the AT today in the way of difficulty. It was a relief to finally make the left turn onto the trail.

The first challenge today was a climb up the Priest, with an elevation gain of 700 feet followed by a descent of over 3000 feet to the Tye River. From there the trail again elevated 2500 feet to Three Ridges Mountain. That climb was by far the most taxing of the day. Several beautiful views, however, helped to minimize the toughness of the uphill. Along the way I met another scout troop, 1932 from Williamsburg. For a while I thought I had inherited a dog when the troop’s collie mix followed me up the trail. Bhanzai, a thru hiker I had met earlier in the day, and I both tried to discourage the dog from trailing us to no avail. Finally Bhanzai asked a southbound hiker if he would leash the dog and hike with him back toward the scouts. Bryan was happy to so so.

A little later in the afternoon, the most spectacular view of the day occurred at the Hanging Rock Overlook. At the top I took several pics and chatted with .2, a former thru hiker who was camping there tonight. Bhanzai had also stopped at the overlook. Needing a night out of the woods, he decided to shuttle with me back to the Dutch Haus. We hiked briefly together before he pulled away on a downhill section, telling me that he would wait at the road.

Over the final three miles of my 20.3 mile day, I met Patty-cakes and Puddin’ who were slack packing a 30 mile day south bound. I also met two gentlemen from Alexandria who were out for an overnight trip with their young sons. Several other day hikers were climbing up to the overlook as I made my way toward the Blue Ridge Crossing at the Three Ridges Overlook. Bhanzai and I hiked the final .5 mile together. When we reached the road Earl was waiting. Before heading back to the B & B he drove back to the Tye River to pick up Regina, a ridge runner in the area.

When I arrived back at the Dutch Haus, I discovered that I was sharing a room with Cyclops, a hiker from Orlando that I had met last weekend in Troutville. Also at the B & B, much to my surprise, are Better Man and Smothers. Better Man (my friend Brandon who currently resides in Phenix City) and his wife started from Springer three days ahead of me. Today was the first time that I have seen them. Ranger and Julie are also back for another night.

So tomorrow I will hopefully hike to Rockfish Gap (Waynesboro, VA). It’s from there to Hanover, NH that I have already section hiked over the past decade. I’m actually looking forward to hiking a familiar area again. I already know where all the good restaurants are located near the trail. So if all goes according to plan I’ll begin the Shenandoah’s on Monday which will begin the last stretch of Virginia on the Appalachian Trail.










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US 60 to Spy Rock Rd.

Solitude dominated the better part of an unseasonably cold, windy day. I never shed my rain jacket, the only warm article of clothing I still have since I mailed my fleece home two weeks ago. The wind chill hovered in the 40’s in the morning. In fact, the wind continued strong throughout the day. At times I had to use my poles to maintain my balance for fear that the wind would blow me over. Still the views atop Cold Mountain and Tar Jacket Ridge more than made up for the uncomfortable weather conditions.

The day began with one final ride back to the trail with Deidra. After dropping me off at US 60, she was headed for a day hike with a friend on Bluff Mountain. I can’t thank my former student athlete enough for her hospitality and the transportation to the trail each day. Visiting with Deidra and her family made my stay in Buena Vista very special.

The hike today began with a fairly steep climb up to Bald Knob. Even the switchbacks were steep. On the ascent I passed Etch-a-Sketch and shortly afterwards saw Boo Boo taking a rest. Not having seen him since last weekend, I paused to briefly chat. Hiking a little faster, however, I didn’t see him again all day. Within a few minutes I was passed by Puddin’ and Patty-cakes. For the remainder of the day I saw no other north bounders. I did encounter a few southbound section and day hikers including Freed Bird and his dog Colby. Having completed a thru hike in ’06, he now is out on a section hike of about 300 miles. Colby, decked out with blue saddlebags, cooperated for a pic. Don would have really liked Colby.

As I hiked the trail of rocks, roots, leaves, and mud in the cold afternoon wind, I thought of my long deceased granddaddy Harry Andrews. At about the age of ten, I received a Monopoly game for Christmas. After playing the game with me for some time, he declared the game should have been called Monotonous. I could say the same thing for the trail this afternoon. When I finally reached Spy Rock Rd., I had to walk down a rocky blue blazed road for about a mile before being picked up by Earl for the remainder of the ride to the Dutch Haus B &B, a hiker friendly establishment near Montebello. Other hikers here are Chrome Dome and Ranger.

The evening consisted of a delicious dinner prepared by Lois, followed by coffee and conversation. Chrome Dome just competed a section hike yesterday. Ranger, who resides in the DC area, is working on a section hike. Recently retired from the Forestry Service, Ranger talked of trips he and his family had taken in National Parks. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about his travels. Along with his wife Julie, he has hiked in many scenic locations. Again, it was great to talk with a truly interesting fellow AT hiker.

Tomorrow the plan is a 20.3 slack pack that includes the Priest and Three Ridges Mountain. Unlike today, many challenges await. The heel feels good, so I hope I’m up for what the trail has in store. Above all else, I know that tomorrow will provide yet another aspect of adventure as the journey continues on the Appalachian Trail.









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Buena Vista, VA

Zambian Squirrel, Weasel, and Skunk Foot departed from Springer together in early March. Today I met the trio from Vermont for the first time. They were doing a southbound slack pack when our paths crossed on the south side of Rice Mountain. Since the three were carrying little, I thought at first that they were day hikers. But after I introduced myself as a thru hiker, they in turn stated that they were as well. So again, after my four days of rest last week, I continue to meet new folks along the trail. They would not be the last hikers I would meet for the first time during the course of my short 11.0 mile day.

The day had begun at the Blue Ridge Parkway mile marker 51.7, a short drive from Buena Vista. Like yesterday, Deidra played trail angel by driving me back to the AT. Today’s hike actually started out pretty level until a brief climb of only about one hundred feet. For the remainder of the day the trail alternated from nearly level to slightly downhill. I easily covered the short distance in 4 hours and 15 minutes. Other than several stream crossings, nothing really stood out.

One of those crossings, however, proved to be my undoing for the day. Not paying attention to where the trail continued on the other side of the stream, I attempted to cross at the wrong place. When I placed my right foot on a small slippery rock, I fell directly on my backside. Fortunately I did not hurt myself other than a slight bruise on the palm of my left hand. Ironically I had just been thinking that I had not fallen for around two weeks. Well, I suppose I can begin a new streak tomorrow.

In addition to the Vermonters, I also met thru hikers Patty-cakes, from Michigan and Puddin’, from Mississippi, who hiked right behind me for about a mile until they stopped for a break at Brown Mountain Creek Shelter. Once again I’ve had the good fortune to meet a personable young couple who seem to be thoroughly enjoying the thru hiking experience. Other than the two, I also passed a lady about my age, K-Fox. She was hiking more slowly, so we merely introduced ourselves before I moved on up the trail.

When I arrived at US 60, Spider and ET were waiting for a shuttle. Without cell service, Spider used my phone to make contact with the shuttler. About twenty minutes later Ken arrived to drive the three of us to Buena Vista. Before we drove away, Patty-cakes and Puddin’ crossed the road to where we had been waiting. They were able to secure a ride from a lady who was dropping two other hikers off at the trailhead. Within fifteen minutes I was back at the good old Budget Inn. Several other hikers are here tonight as well.

After a hot shower, I walked downtown for lunch at the Bluedogart Cafe, an establishment that is known for its hospitality to hikers. My waiter offered a sharpie so that I could sign the “hiker door.” While waiting for my meal, Howard, a motorcyclist from Ontario, asked about my hike. I answered his questions and also asked him some about his trip. He and a friend, after having biked on the Blue Ridge Parkway, were on their way to DC. I continue to enjoy all the non-hiking people I’m meeting.

When I finished my lunch I headed toward a barber shop, figuring it was time for a haircut and shave. It was closed. So I stopped by the Family Dollar for scissors, shaving cream, and razors. Even though I cut much of the beard with scissors before shaving, it still took seven razors to become a clean shaven man again. Sorry Mac! It was just getting too hot and uncomfortable. After the shave I also gave myself a haircut, something I can’t remember doing in a long time. I’ll get a professional one when I get to Waynesboro or Front Royal.

The day again culminated with supper at Deidra’s home. It was good to get the “with beard” and “without beard” pics. There are so many special moments on the trail. During my hike there have been just as many special moments off the trail. Being able to share two meals with Deidra and her family ranks right up there at the top. So tomorrow I have to say goodbye to Deidra and her town. Like Helen, Hiawassee, Hot Springs,
Erwin, Troutdale, Pearisburg, and all the other small towns along the AT, Buena Vista has been special. I’ll miss the faces of those I only met a couple of days ago. But the trail awaits. Tomorrow I’m back to a full pack and a longer day, but I’m ready to see what lies in store next on the hike north, up the Appalachian Trail.








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US 501, James River to BRP Mile 51.7

Deidra Johnson Dryden excelled as a student and as an athlete at Shaw High School in Columbus, GA in the mid 1980’s. From the first time I saw Deidra run, her competitive nature was evident. Now three decades later, she serves as an administrator, mathematics instructor, and coach at Southern Virginia University. She also still competes at various distances including the marathon. Deidra and her dentist husband Brent are raising five children in a beautiful home in small town, America. This morning I had the privilege of being driven back to the trail by Deidra. The conversation quickly turned to running as she wound her way back up the mountain.

Before hitting the trail I took a few minutes to meet and talk with Spirit, a lady who is driving a small RV up the roads along the trail to support hikers. Taking a break inside were Shaman (the girl) and Steady, an older fellow that I had not met before. I departed, telling both that they would probably pass me in a few minutes since I planned to hike slowly today. Neither did, but Shaman caught me just as I was about to leave Big Rocky Row after a short break. She sat atop a rock taking in the view as I headed back up the trail.

With an already hot day developing at 8:30, the climb from the James River up to Little Rocky Row followed by Big Rocky Row presented a challenge. I stopped often for water and Gatorade. After the two Rocky Rows the trail leveled comfortably for a little over two miles. During the level stretch I came up on Sleeping Beauty with whom I hiked until the Punchbowl Shelter. Sleeping Beauty, with his fiery red beard and bandana to match, set a pace that seemed just right for me today. I continue to find it interesting how trail names are often not gender specific. SB had been hiking sporadically with Etch-a-Sketch, a twenty-something young lady. As the three of us hiked together I discovered that SB had left Springer one day after me and that E-a-S had begun her hike one day after Sleeping Beauty. Today, however, was the first that I had seen either of them.

The final climb of my hiking day had me going up Bluff Mountain. From the beginning of today’s hike I had ascended over 2700 feet. Thankfully, much of the climb involved switchbacks. At the summit of Bluff a monument has been erected to Ottie Cline Powell. According to the inscription, little Ottie’s body had been found at the spot in 1891, after he had wandered away from his school some seven miles away. The poor little guy was not quite five. I continue to be fascinated by the various types of monuments along the trail.

Sleeping Beauty continued to lead me up the trail from Bluff Mountain toward the road where I would end today’s walk. Both he and Etch-a-Sketch took the side trail to the Punchbowl Shelter to have lunch and re-fill their water supply. I said goodbye and headed on toward the Blue Ridge Parkway mile marker 51.7, only .3 of a mile away. When I arrived at the road, Ken was already waiting for my ride back to Buena Vista. Since it was only 1:00 I had ample time to ice my Achilles, do laundry, and rest. So as I thought about the 10.8 mile day, I reminded myself that once again all is good on the Appalachian Trail.









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