Monthly Archives: May 2013

Resting in Daleville

Since I have almost completed one-third of the trail, am taking a day off, and, therefore, have no news to report from the trail itself, I thought a day of reflection was in order. When I began this adventure exactly 50 days ago, I set some mini goals. I wanted to first get to Neel Gap, then to the Smokies followed by Hot Springs, Erwin, and Damascus. I kept telling myself, “Get to Virginia, and you’ll be OK.” So now that I’m over 200 miles north of Damascus, I couldn’t feel better mentally. At this moment I’m about as positive as I’ve ever been that I can accomplish my goal and finish this thru hike of the Appalachian Trail.

And after a solid eight hours of sleep, when I don’t think I moved all night, I feel physically fresh again as well. The threatening skies outside my motel room window can’t even deter from how good I feel right now. Plus speaking of weather, the next three days are calling for sunny skies and cool daytime temps. Those are forecast to be followed by two sunny, much warmer days. Whatever the weather, I’m already eager to hike tomorrow.

Earlier today I went to Bojangles for breakfast and also visited the outfitter for a replacement bucket for the shaft that was replaced yesterday. Leki offers a lifetime warranty, so I used their guarantee on a bent pole. After arriving back at the motel, I sat in the lobby for a long time chatting with Navigator and Airborne. An army vet, Airborne had gone through OCS at Ft. Benning during the Vietnam era. He had planned to hike as far as a college reunion in Maryland, but is having foot issues.

While we were conversing, Trucker and a couple of other hikers that I had not met arrived. Pfeiffer also showed up before I left. Bidding them all farewell, at least until I see them on up the trail, I walked across the road to a different motel. I needed an upgrade on accommodations, which I definitely have. The mom and pop type of motel was OK in Bland and Pearisburg; however, in a bigger city like Daleville, I felt like something nicer.

Speaking of towns and rooms, it appears that quite a few other hikers are becoming aware of my strategy. I made it no secret from the start that I would utilize every bed and restaurant I could find. If you were unaware of this tactic, read two of my prep entries entitled, “Where Do We Eat?” and “Where Do I Sleep?” Every thru hiker has a method. For me it’s trying to sleep in the woods as seldom as possible. For some it’s the exact opposite. I am finding many others who are fully utilizing the shuttlers. Some shuttle drivers are virtually busy all day.

Recently in Pearisburg, I told Mr. Gigglefits and Paisley (two of my favorite young folks on the trail….you need to hear him laugh and see her smile) that I had finally spent another night in the woods at the Chestnut Knob Shelter. Paisley said I couldn’t count that because it was a fully enclosed shelter with a door. If that’s the case, I haven’t slept in the woods since the Smokies, but I’ve walked past every white blaze. The phrase “Hike Your Own Hike” is one that is often heard on the AT. I’m definitely hiking mine.

So today, like so many over the past 50 days, is a good day. It’s a good day to rest, a good day to write, a good day to catch up on emails and texts with friends, and a good day to watch baseball. Tomorrow, however, I’ll venture out again as I continue my pursuit of a completed thru hike on the spectacularly beautiful Appalachian Trail.

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Craig Creek Rd. to Newport Rd.

Some hikers say the reason they don’t keep a journal is because they are too tired to write at the end of the day. Today I understand what they are saying. I’m tired! in fact, I’m close to exhaustion after a 15.4 mile day which started with a long climb of almost 1500 feet over two and one-half miles and ended with a technical descent of the trail down from Dragon’s Tooth. Both challenged my hiking skills, but in very different ways.

Like many other days, I used a shuttler to get back to the trail today. Actually Speck arranged for Homer to drive us. A trail and shelter maintainer in the Daleville area, Homer exemplifies all that is good about the Appalachian Trail. Along with his wife and two youngest children, Homer thru hiked the AT a few years back. When I asked him about the difficulty of the section around Dragon’s Tooth, he said he had come down it carrying a chain saw. Now at 71, Homer takes a very active role in maintaining the trail. When he picked me up this afternoon, Homer told me that he had cut grass near the trail and run five miles earlier today. Tonight he was playing bridge.

After returning to the trail at Craig Creek Rd., I hiked on ahead of Speck and Jodi since they were planning a shorter day. Because we didn’t shuttle out until 11:30, I hoped to hike quickly so that I could get to Dragon’s Tooth before the predicted afternoon thunderstorms arrived. After that already mentioned initial ascent up Brush Mountain, the trail very slightly descended for four miles to Trout Creek. During the descent, a short blue blazed trail led to the Audie Murphy Monument. The monument was erected near the site where Murphy died in a plane crash.
Since two wooden benches were available, I relaxed on one to eat a sandwich. Scarecrow, who I hadn’t seen in over a week, occupied the other.

For much of the day the trail was friendly. Then came Cove Mountain and a variety of rock structures to climb over. Just before the blue-blazed trail to Dragon’s Tooth came into sight, I met for the first time Howdy Man, a recent college graduate with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Howdy started from Springer on April 1 and uses some rather unorthodox hiking strategies. For one, he’s carrying a very light tarp which he only uses if it’s raining. On most nights Howdy said he cowboy camps. That is a hiking term for sleeping under the stars.

As we approached Dragon’s Tooth, a swarm of some kind of black fly decided to harass me. Swatting flies while going over the rocky trail was not what I had expected. But neither was the trail. I had become so concerned with the difficulty of the rock ledge section that I had failed to appreciate a couple of beautiful views. This portion of trail provides hikers with the opportunity to do a little rock scrambling. Even though I handled the segment well, I was still glad Howdy Man was around. Although I didn’t really need his help, he stood beneath me on some of the more difficult parts.

Just as we began our final mile toward the road, the rain, accompanies by thunder, began to fall. Howdy Man found a suitable spot and stopped to pitch his tarp. I hiked on at a faster pace, hoping that Homer would be there early. As I got within a few minutes of the road I spotted his car with the lights on. Harder rain began to fall just as I entered the car. Homer drove me back to Daleville before his bridge game tonight.

Tomorrow I’ve scheduled a rest day. I thought about waiting a few more days; however, my body is telling me it needs a break. With showers again in the forecast, it seems like a perfect day to take a day off. The first of next week is showing sunshine, so I hope I’ll have great hiking weather as I make my way toward Waynesboro, the next major town on the Appalachian Trail.

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Rocky Gap to Craig Creek Rd.

Thursday, May 9: Blue skies and bright sunshine prevailed on a perfect hiking day in every respect. Even with a couple of precarious stream crossings on slanted wet rocks, nothing could spoil the picture-like views or detract from the pleasant company. From pasture crossings to rock hopping, the trail offered great variety throughout the morning and the afternoon alike. The 16.8 mile day raced by, leaving me happily tired with my feet in a stream at its end.

Like the last two mornings, my day began at the Pearisburg Hardee’s. Speck and I walked over for breakfast at 6:20. For the third time I had the pleasure of chatting with Fred Austin and his son Steve. Since the post office had already closed when I needed to buy stamps yesterday, I asked Fred if he would do me a favor by putting something in the mail for me. He graciously agreed. I feel honored to have made the acquaintance of these two gentlemen while in Pearisburg.

Right on schedule, shuttler Don arrived at 7:00 to drive Speck and me back to the trail. We were immediately greeted with a straight up climb from Rocky Gap. Then the trail leveled to Kelly Knob which afforded us our first view in what seems like a week. After passing the Laurel Creek Shelter, we encountered the first of two challenging stream crossings over wet rocks. The still swollen creeks were not as high as yesterday; however, rocks were still submerged. After watching Speck cross the first stream with relative ease, I chose a different approach which led to a wet shoe.

We then made our way over a pasture which provided us with beautiful views in all directions. Puffy while clouds dotted one of the bluest skies I have ever seen. A footbridge at Sinking Creek was a welcome sight. Then a little over a mile later we arrived at the Keiffer Oak, the largest oak tree on the AT in the south, estimated to be over 300 years old. Carpenter and Little Seed, two northbound hikers that we had seen yesterday, were stopped for photos. We alternated taking others’ pictures. After they had moved on, Speck and I took off our packs for a rest.

When we headed on up the trail, a section of rocky, slanted slabs awaited us. We both were thankful that the sun was out and that the slabs were dry. Skipping, hopping, and climbing from one slab to the next made for a somewhat unnerving, yet fun segment of trail. Breathtaking views to the east enhanced the hike. At one time Speck commented that the rocks were exhilarating. I agreed. Beginning to feel more like a seasoned hiker, it was all fun.

After passing the Niday Shelter and walking across one final stream for the day, Speck and I arrived at Craig Creek Rd. at 4:03. Speck’s daughter-in-law, Jodi, had not gotten there yet. So while we waited, Speck and I took off our shoes and soaked our feet in the ice cold water. When Jodi was over an hour late, I decided to walk up the road in hopes of finding a home with a phone since there was no cell service in the area. Because a ferocious sounding dog guarded the first home I saw, I kept walking. A few minutes later, a friendly man in a pick-up stopped to ask if I needed help. He owned the home with the dog and had seen me walk by. Again a trail angel came to the rescue. Jeff Bacon not only let me use his phone to call Jodi, but he also drove me back to where Speck was waiting. Shortly thereafter Jodi drove up and we were on our way to Daleville. The ladies dropped me by my motel before heading to theirs.

After getting cleaned up, I joined Speck and Jodi for dinner at a Cracker Barrel. When the subject of trail names came up, I suggested Lost Girl for Jodi. We all laughed. She plans to join Speck for a four day section hike, her first on the AT, beginning tomorrow. For me, it will be back to the woods alone to deal with Dragon’s Tooth and perhaps a thunder shower as I keep heading north on the Appalachian Trail.

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Categories: AT Hike | 1 Comment

VA 635 to Rocky Gap

For the third consecutive day, I got wet. Really wet! I was again soaked at the end of a modest 13.1 mile day. My pack is wet, my rain gear is wet, all my clothes are wet…..I suppose it’s clear by now that I’m not a happy hiker. Well, actually I couldn’t be more content. I’ve covered 45.2 miles over those last three days, and somehow I’ve managed to stay afoot while doing it. Plus, the forecast for tomorrow is sunny with a high of 75, which hopefully will help dry out the, saturated beyond recognition in places, trail.

Another reason that I’m feeling so good is that for the first time since I moved on up the trail from Molar Man, I had a steady hiking partner all day. Speck, a cardiology RN from Atlanta, shared the shuttle back to the trail head with me this morning. A strong hiker of about my pace, we seemed to compliment each other well over the sloppy terrain. Also a runner and mountain biker, Speck has section hiked the AT from Springer up to where we concluded our hike today. Her plans are to hike four days with her daughter-in-law beginning on Friday and then to finish up this section in Waynesboro in a couple of weeks.

Today’s hike began with a climb of about 1000 feet to Bailey Gap Shelter. Several rocky areas necessitated that we hike with diligence for a couple of miles. Just like the past two days, no views were visible. At times the trail transformed into a stream of moving water. Keeping shoes and socks dry proved impossible. I’ve just come to accept the inevitability of uncomfortable conditions when they occur.

Unlike yesterday, only one water crossing presented a bit of an unnerving situation. Speck handled the walk across a log bridge easily. I, however, inched my way across, trying not to look at the raging waters underneath. Every time I heard rushing waters in the distance, I feared a raging stream without a bridge. It’s doubtful that the water will subside over the next twenty-four hours, so I could have more such obstacles to deal with tomorrow. There’s no point in worrying about the inevitable.

After passing Lone Pine Peak, the trail descended almost 2000 feet. With a quagmire to deal with, the downward hike required some slow, tedious maneuvering. We met two brother section hikers, Electric from Boston and Yoda from Columbus, Ohio. Yoda requested our permission to film a 30 second video which he plans to post on YouTube when he finishes his hike. He has been videoing hikers for about 100 miles. I told both about my hike in memory of Don. Electric said he looked forward to checking out my website. We also met another southbound section hiker whose name I failed to get.

When Speck and I reached the War Spur Shelter, we took a short break. Two hikers were sitting out the rain. Then just past the footbridge over Johns Creek, the trail again began to ascend. With more wet rock slabs to handle, we slowed slightly on our way to Rocky Gap where Don the shuttler was waiting to transport us back to Pearisburg. An extremely affable gentleman, Don insisted on stopping at Wendy’s so that we could get a late lunch before dropping us at the motel.

For the first time in several days I’ve gotten in a good hike, showered, had a meal, and written this journal entry, and it’s not even 5:00. I’m about to go do a little shopping and then have dinner at a Mexican restaurant across the street. And as I look outside I notice that it has stopped raining. Despite the rain and messy trail conditions, good company and thoughts of my brother made for another joyous day on the Appalachian Trail.

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Pearisburg, VA to VA 635

My good buddy Kevin and I have a phrase that we apply to days like today when we go for a run in a park near my home. Just me and the ducks. I can’t think of many creatures more suited for a day like today. For hiking it was dismal. In fact, I thought about using the same opening paragraph that I began with yesterday. Again, the rain never ceased until the final two miles of a 21.7 mile day. At times it was downright annoying.

Despite the rain, however, my day got off to a great start over breakfast at Hardee’s. Just as I was finishing my meal, I heard a voice from a booth behind me say, “not very good hiking weather lately.” That brief comment led to a fifteen minute conversation with Fred Austin and his son, Steve. After sharing with the gentlemen about my hike in memory of my brother and his faith, Fred asked about our church. When I told him that our family was Methodists, he revealed that he had been a Methodist minister 38 years. The final portion of that tenure had been as a superintendent. Before our chat ended he had shown me a picture of his red-headed great-granddaughter. The retired minister exuded a sense of pride and kindness. His generosity became even more evident when he drove me to the trailhead about a mile up the road. My good fortune to keep meeting fine local folks continues. Before the reverend drove away, I let him know that he was now an official trail angel.

Walking into the woods, I felt a little irritated that I had to re-walk about three quarters of a mile that Snailmale and I had hiked yesterday. Still within half an hour I had crossed the New River Bridge and was headed back up a mountain. Shortly after beginning the climb, I saw my first turtle of my journey. Right after I passed the tortoise, the rain began. And I mean rain. For the next eight hours I would hike in a steady drizzle. A dense fog added to the discomfort since the trail was only visible a few feet ahead of me.

When I reached a rocky section, I noticed a safari type hat lying in the center of one of the flat slabs. Recognizing it as belonging to Jungle Juice, I picked it up and placed it in the mesh pocket on the back of my pack. I had met the young hiker last night in Food Lion. He was re-supplying to return to the trail even though it was almost dark and getting to the first shelter would require a 6.8 mile hike. I was a little concerned for him as he headed back to the trail.

So when I retrieved the hat I was counting on him still being at the shelter. I was right. When I walked up Jungle Juice was in his sleeping bag alone in the shelter. Very grateful for the return of his hat, which he said he lost in the dark trying to prevent a fall, JJ said he planned to stay at the shelter and take a zero today. I told him I would see him up the trail as I hiked back into the thick fog.

For about the next four miles I hiked on relentlessly, trying to maintain a fast pace just to keep warm. Like yesterday, I lamented not having the opportunity to enjoy the views. Suddenly in the distance I noticed an approaching hiker wearing a green poncho. I said something like, “I don’t believe it….another hiker!” The lady paused to ask if I were Mike. Don, the shuttler, had dropped her off where he was scheduled to pick me up in the afternoon. Speck, who said she was on day two of a section hike to Waynesboro, was slack packing south today. Before walking away I told her I was Don’s Brother. “No way!” She replied. Speck had been reading my journal regularly before beginning her hike. So we talked about sharing a shuttle for tomorrow briefly before both of us realized we better get moving before a chill set in.

And so I slogged away, only seeing three other hikers all day. Two thru hikers, also slack packing south today, only paused long enough to
tell me that plan. Then toward the end of my hike I met southbound thru hiker Crazy Horse, a young man wearing a Washington Nationals baseball cap. He had begun his hike in August, taken the winter off, and was now continuing to Springer. As long as a hike is completed within one 12 month year, it is considered a thru hike.

With about five miles to go, I called Don to tell him I was about an hour and a half ahead of schedule. He said he could be at VA 635 shortly after 4:30. At the time I was getting colder as the incessant rain continued. I also didn’t know at the time that a couple of flooded stream crossings would pose significant challenges. Stepping stone rocks were now under water when I arrived at the first stream. Since my shoes and socks had been wet all day, I simply stepped on the submerged rocks and crossed. At the next crossing, however, things would be different. Had it not been for an overhanging limb to use for balance, I’m not sure I could have made it. As I stepped on the first underwater rock, I felt the rushing water pulling on my shoe. Fortunately I maintained my balance as I carefully made my way across.

At about the same time I navigated the final stream, the sun peeked out for the first time in three days. After a quick stop at the Pine Swamp Branch Shelter, I steadily hiked to the road, crossing by wooden bridge over the raging Stoney Creek. Within ten minutes Don drove up to shuttle me back to Pearisburg. After a very wet, occasionally challenging, and a bit lonely day, it definitely felt good to be in a town tonight. With more rain in the forecast, tomorrow could pose difficult as well. Still, when tomorrow’s hike concludes, I’ll be just that much farther north on my way to Maine along the Appalachian Trail.

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Categories: AT Hike | 4 Comments

Sugar Run Rd. to Pearisburg, VA

Rain, rain, rain, rain! For the better part of the day I slogged through a steady drizzle of varying degrees. A continuous, somewhat cold wind added to my discomfort. With only a short 10.4 mile hike scheduled, and a motel room waiting at its conclusion, I persevered and managed to “remain vertical” throughout the day. Considering the extremely muddy downhill section descending into Pearisburg, that in itself was quite an accomplishment.

The day began nicely around the breakfast table at the Woods Hole Hostel. Like last night, Neville requested that we join hands and state that for which we are thankful. I said that I was thankful for my brother Don’s life. The same group of hikers, plus Owl and Zag, were served scrambled eggs with sausage and kale, cantaloupe, peach crisp with homemade yogurt, and fresh baked bread. A special coffee blend was also available. So much for trail food. I’ll take this kind of breakfast on any day.

Several hikers were choosing to forgo hiking today due to the poor weather conditions. In fact, when I walked away from the hostel, in a light sprinkle, no one else had left the building. The half mile walk up the gravel road leading to the trail set the mood for the entire day. I was wet before I stepped foot on the AT. Still the ascent from Sugar Run Rd. didn’t pose any serious obstacles despite numerous slippery rock slabs. Nevertheless I made good time even in the rain. And like yesterday, I saw two white tail deer in the first mile. It was disappointing, however, that all the views listed in my AT Guide were fogged in. I missed the view to the west at Angel’s Rest. For consolation I reminded myself of the spectacular vistas I had already been fortunate to have good weather days to enjoy.

With about four miles left in the hike I came across Snailmale, a section hiker from north Georgia who had stopped for a break. A little while later he caught me, so we hiked together into Pearisburg. Snailmale had been out for a 100 mile section hike which ended today. A postman in Chattanooga for thirty years, he has been using vacation time to hike the AT for a while, getting all the way from Springer to Pearisburg. A seminary graduate as well, Snailmale shared his faith with me as we hiked. I, in turn, talked about Don’s. Finishing the day in such fashion minimized the discomfort from the relentless rain.

When we reached the outskirts of town, we made a tactical error by not conferring with our guides. Not realizing that he had parked his truck just down Lane St., we continued the hike over the New River. Only then did we realize that we were walking away for Pearisburg. Backtracking across the river, we located Snailmale’s truck in a grassy lot just up the road from the trail. My new friend then drove me to my motel before beginning his homeward journey.

So tonight I’m in the Plaza Motel, not to be confused with a hotel by the same name at Central Park South and 5th Ave. in Manhattan. The amenities may not be the same, but hey, it’s an Appalachian Trail town. And considering the six hour walk in the rain, I couldn’t be more comfortable. I’m dry, I’ve had a meal, I’ll probably have another a little later, and the Braves are on TV tonight. Even on a wet day, all is good along the Appalachian Trail.

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VA 606 to Sugar Run Rd.

Sunday, May 5: Woods Hole, an 1880’s chestnut-log cabin, located half a mile off the trail down Sugar Run Rd., has welcomed hikers since 1986. Originally opened by Roy and Tillie Wood, their granddaughter Neville and her husband Michael are now the hostel’s proprietors. As I made my way toward the cabin, a light mist dampened my jacket. I was thankful that the threatening skies had not opened up earlier. Neville greeted me with a smile on the front porch. From there I was taken upstairs to select a room. After a little deliberation, I chose to splurge somewhat on the only single room available. When the hard rain arrived later in the afternoon, I was even more grateful for my cozy accommodations.

Earlier this morning I had been shuttled back to the trail by my now friend, Bubba. He had been kind enough to drop me by Subway first so that I could have breakfast while he drove two other hikers, Not Yet and Sunshine, back to the trailhead at US 52. By the time he returned I was ready for a planned short 13.9 mile day to the hostel. On this overcast, cool morning, I said my final thank you to my shuttler of the last three days before he drove away.

Within a few minutes of beginning the hike, I heard rustling leaves to my left. Two white tail deer peered in my direction. Pausing to take a picture, I thought of Don and the many deer that had walked onto his property. He often set a motion activated camera to catch their actions. For a minute or so, the deer and I stared at each other until I finally turned my attention to the trail.

Like so many other days, today’s hike started with a climb that led to a side trail to Dismal Falls. Since I wanted to arrive at the hostel as early as possible, I chose to forgo the falls. From there the trail leveled off over the next six miles. For a while it paralleled a stream, necessitating several water crossings. Some required rock skipping while others had footbridges. There were no less than six stream crossings during a one-mile stretch. Still I managed to stay dry and vertical.

When I reached the Wapiti Shelter, I stopped for lunch and signed the register. From there the trail ascended over the next three miles, culminating with a beautiful view to the east. During the climb I felt a little sluggish; however, overall I made good time throughout the day. Just after Big Horse Gap signs of a recent controlled burn altered the landscape. For about a one mile segment, charred remains of foliage and trees were visible. The burning smell still filled the air.

Up until late afternoon I had seen only two female southbound hikers. Then about a half mile before my turn, Torch passed by at a brisk pace. Reaching Sugar Run Rd. at 3:00, I took the turn toward the hostel. At the bottom of the gravel road I met three hikers who were waiting for a ride to Pearisburg. Cinnamon is the fourth hiker that I have met who is hiking in Brooks Cascadias.

Tonight was another special one. I enjoyed a communal meal of homemade pizza, bread, grilled cheese, and tomato soup, all prepared by Neville. Other hikers dining with me were Rainbow Braid, Sugar Bomb, Finder, and Novi. Before we ate, Neville asked that we join hands, tell our trail names, and share something for which we are thankful. I said I was grateful for the ability to walk and for my family. Each day I give thanks for both as I walk solitarily toward Maine. All continues to be good on the Appalachian trail.

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Bland, VA to VA 606

Remembering Animal’s advice from yesterday, I listened to my body. It told me what I needed today was a slack pack and a bed. So with that in mind I made arrangements with Bubba to pick me up at VA 606 at the end of today’s hike. It proved to be a smart decision. With a cool, partly sunny day and gently level to downhill hiking for most of the trail, I cruised. In seven hours, which included two breaks of thirty minutes total, I covered the 18.6 miles feeling great!

The key to the day was a pancake, bacon, and coffee breakfast. A footlong sub also made its way up the trail with me. Food by far played a significantly positive role in today’s hike. With plenty of calories, unlike yesterday, nutrition was not an issue.

The hike today commenced with a 0.9 mile road walk, including an overpass of I-77. Just as I reached the woods, I encountered a southbound section hiker wearing a kilt, a popular piece of hiker attire for a few. Stinkbug asked me to take his picture and also took mine, saying that he would post it at whiteblaze.net. Within the next five minutes I met another German hiker who appeared rather distraught over what he said was a knee injury. Unable to continue, he was headed back to Bland. I didn’t get his trail name.

With a fairly easy trail, at least by AT standards, I hiked steadily from 9:15 until 11:30, when I stopped to eat my first lunch. I again hiked without a break until I reached VA 608, or Lickskillet Hollow, where I took a break by a small footbridge to have my second lunch. Just before taking out my sandwich, I noticed a group of northbound hikers walking toward me. I finally got to meet Hammer, a hiker whose name I had seen in several of the trail registries. With him were Torch, Rango, and Half and Half. Later in the afternoon I would pass Rango and Half and Half, both who were carrying what looked like very heavy packs.

After the second break I continued at a quick pace. I did pause to speak to three southbound section hikers from Tennessee; however, I failed to get their names because my phone rang. The highlight of my day was not a view; it was a call from my daughter, Rachel. We chatted for a few minutes as I walked on up the trail. I’m not sure if it was the call or the terrain, or maybe a combination of both, but I made great time for the last five miles of the day.

As I got to Kimberling Creek, just before VA 606 and the end of today’s hike, I paused to talk with Hammer and Torch, who were going to camp by the creek. When I commented that there had to be fish in the slow moving stream, Hammer got out fishing line to attach to his hiking pole. As I walked over the suspension bridge thinking about my brother, Hammer was preparing to try to catch some supper.

When I reached the road I walked the half mile to Trent’s Grocery, where Bubba was scheduled to pick me up. Shrek was there doing some re-supply, so we dropped him off at the trailhead before driving back to Bland. I really enjoyed the conversation with Bubba over the winding roads. Originally from Virginia Beach, he had settled in the area about five years ago. Once again, listening to a local resident talk about his community enriched my day and hike.

Hiking, like life, comes with its good days and bad days. Oftentimes, however, it’s not what occurs that matters as much as what we learn from our circumstances. With the ability and opportunity to get up each day and simply walk, there should never be any reason for complaint. I hiked well today and I am grateful. But more importantly I am thankful for all those who send up a prayer each day to help me along my way. The folks who are praying for me now are the same ones who prayed for Don during those final difficult fifteen months of his life. For them I am thankful just as I am thankful for each day I can continue my journey on the Appalachian Trail.

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Categories: AT Hike | 6 Comments

Chestnut Knob Shelter to US 52, Bland, VA

Emotional and physical ups and downs superseded the ups and downs of the trail today. From the outset my nutritional imbalance was evident. Without the good “town food” breakfast, I quickly noticed a diminished energy level. Even though I stopped and ate three times before noon, my pace was very slow. I attributed the slow hiking to both the long, hard day yesterday and to the lack of nutrients. Still I plodded along, early in the company of 20 something Nick (Shrek) and 66 year young All the Way. We hiked off and on together until just past the first road crossing. After that they pulled away.

Maybe it simply was due to my nutrition, but emotionally I just wasn’t in to hiking today. Even with some nice nearly level stretches, the hike was more drudgery than it was enjoyable. There was no gittyup in my stride. I merely plodded all day. Since views were minimal, I watched my feet to ensure I didn’t trip on a rock or root. I drank often to at least stay hydrated. I rested more than on other days as well.

After about 11 miles, when I was approaching my low point of the day emotionally, I spotted a southbound hiker walking toward me carrying a bucket. “I’ve never seen a hiker carrying a bucket,” I commented. “Well, you have now,” replied Animal, a 2012 thru hiker whose journal I had read. Animal had carried the same bucket every step of his hike last year. He said it contained hiking supplies. When I told him I was dragging today, he gave me some advice based on his experience. “Listen to your body,” Animal advised. “It will tell you what to do.” After a 23.0 mile day yesterday and a 21.7 today, both with full packs, I think it’s trying to tell me something.

Within five minutes of meeting Animal, another southbound hiker came into view. Pulling out a small spiral notebook and pen, seemingly before he even stopped, the older gentleman immediately asked my trail name. He wore a T-shirt with a large letter “B” over the word “Wrestling.” Identifying himself as the Coach of Pennsylvania, Randy quickly gave me a brief history of his collegiate wrestling background as well as his coaching accomplishments. He hikes a portion of the AT every year just to, in his words, “offer motivation” to the would be thru hikers. Was his timing ever accurate for my day! Before I finally broke away to hike on up the trail, the coach drew a symbol in the dirt, explaining how the hike and life revolve around joy and hope. I almost choked up as I told Randy about my Hike of Hope. The coach was certainly at the right place, at the right time today. It was a pleasure meeting and talking to Randy.

After our chat I seemed to have more enthusiasm even though my pace still lagged. At one point during the final two miles, I walked into a large, overhanging tree limb which about knocked me down. Stunned from the unsuspecting collision, I just stood and stared in the opposite direction for a couple of minutes. It wasn’t the first, and probably won’t be the last time I walk into a limb. Then within the next few minutes I heard rustling just to the left of me. As I looked down the side of the mountain a young bear was scampering away. When he paused to look back in my direction, I tried to zoom in for a picture, but he blended in too well with the trees. It took me almost 600 miles to see my first bear of the thru hike. I sure hope there’s another bear in my vicinity real soon.

The last one-half mile of today’s hike travelled a gravel road down to US 52 near Bland, VA. As I reached the highway I phoned a local shuttler, Bubba, for a ride to the only motel in town. It’s actually just off an I-77 exit. After checking in and showering, I walked across the road to a Dairy Queen for some much needed food. It’s amazing how much better the body and soul will feel after some hot food, even if it is fast food.

Today was a difficult one on the trail. At times I asked myself if I would rather be working in the real world. Remembering that restaurants are plentiful in that other world, I almost said yes. While contemplating the differences, I began singing the Rolling Stones’ “You can’t always get what you want.” I didn’t have the best of hiking days today, but “sometimes we get what we need.” I walked on and I learned. And through it all I thought about my brother. He walked with me today in a profound spiritual sense. I needed Don today. But more importantly I needed to remember that above all, in good times and not so good, that I was in the place that my brother loved. Yes, without a doubt, …….Don loved the woods.

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Categories: AT Hike | 2 Comments

Atkins, VA to Chestnut Knob Shelter

I’m a little tired. As I write this journal entry I’m in my sleeping bag at Chestnut Knob Shelter after a personal best 23.0 mile day. This shelter is made of cinder blocks, and has four sides and a door. Officially I’ve passed the 25% mark of the trail. The section hiker to my right is already snoring and it’s still light outside. I’m comfortable despite the howling wind. Fortunately, my 10 degree bag will keep me warm. I hope to stay awake at least until dark which will give me a better chance of sleeping through the night.

Today’s hike began with a short walk under Interstate 81 near Atkins, VA. After leaving the road, the trail followed a grassy path before moving back into the woods. Like other recent days, I saw no other hikers throughout the morning. Two local ladies, out for a day hike, asked about my thru hike. I also met Dustin who had walked up the trail during his lunch break from a crew he was supervising that was re-marking part of a nearby road.

The trail today again crossed a few cow pastures. Stiles were plentiful. I even sat on one as a I ate my lunch. Several water crossings also dotted the trail. I crossed numerous foot bridges and walked by a couple of creeks. Each time I paused to look for fish, thinking about my brother. Don would definitely have liked all the potential fishing holes. I saw no fish, but I’m sure they were there.

After crossing one stream I discovered some trail magic provided by former thru hikers, Lumbermack and Lab Rat. When I reached the Knot Maul Branch Shelter I stopped for another break. Smiles, a young man from England, who hikes with the Union Jack on his pack, was taking a break. Not feeling great, he had decided to stay the night even though it was only 1:45. I thought about it myself since I had already hiked 13.9; however, I hate to stop that early, so I moved on after about thirty minutes. Even though I knew the last 9.1 would pose a challenge, I liked the idea of putting myself in position to hit Bland and another room tomorrow.

During the next portion of trail, I met a few section hikers including Pat and the Virginia Creepers. They stopped to camp at Lick Creek right before the final five mile climb up Chestnut Knob. Also tenting by the creek was Tonto. I paused for about fifteen minutes to talk with the former Chicago resident who had also coached cross-country and track in the past. Tonto is section hiking southbound from Waynesboro to Damascus. Before moving on I shared some of my jelly beans with him. He said he would check out my web site and wished me well.

After beginning the final climb (and most challenging) of the day, I realized that my energy level was slightly diminishing. So I ate jelly beans and kept drinking as I hiked. The most beautiful views of the day awaited me as I reached the open, grassy field of Chestnut Knob. Had I not needed to get to the shelter before it got too late, I think I would have just sat and enjoyed the view awhile. When I did reach the shelter, I got the last bunk space. Already here were Grand Bob, All The Way, Zag, Owl, and two section hikers. A little later Nick arrived. I hadn’t seen him in about a week.

Now it’s almost dark and I’m the only hiker in the shelter with headlamp on and not settled in to sleep. For me, even though I’m tired, a little music awaits. It’s been another very satisfying day. I hiked big miles, have eaten well, met some more good folks, and like every other day, was treated to some of the most beautiful scenery that the world has to offer. I suppose I best get this edited and posted because, like my fellow sojourners, rest is needed so that more good hiking may be accomplished tomorrow on the northward journey up the Appalachian Trail.

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Categories: AT Hike | 4 Comments

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