Climbs, smiles, and ~15 miles (566.5m)

I rolled out of bed at around 6:00am and Specs was still asleep (we’re sharing a double room to save money), so I tended to my morning doings in a quieter fashion than normal.

Teeth brushed I opened the front door and spied the sunrise; and it was stunning. The sun was just above the horizon and was throwing yellows and oranges over the Appalachians in the distance. The hills were still blanketed by rolling mist as the humid forest floor shed its moisture from the downpour the day before.

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It wasn’t long before Red Specs and Tie Dye emerged, and we were also joined by Double Dare — a class of 2003 AT thru hiker — and breakfast was on the cards. There’s not much to do in Bland, VA – a Dairy Queen, Dollar General, a gas station, and a Subway. We hit up DQ and pounded breakfast sandwiches and burritos. Specs, Tie Dye and I saved some of our burrito breakfast to take on the trail for lunch.

We headed back to the motel where Double Dare was being picked up for his shuttle to the trail — a spot farther north than we were heading today — and Bubba rolled in at around 8:30am. Bubba provides a shuttle service for hikers in and around the Bland area.

We had to wait until Bubba returned for our shuttle to Walker Gap. We were on the road by 9:30am, and I hopped in the back of his truck as Tie Dye and Specs shared the cab up front. How often do you get to ride in the back of a pickup truck?!

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It took literally 45 minutes to get to the trail head at Walker Gap, and the ride trough the mountains albeit bumpy and long, was gorgeous. I spotted three deer (one of which stood majestically, and starred at me as we followed the forest road) and the smell of freshly dewed fauna was spellbinding. We arrived and hopped out of Bubba’s truck like three teenage gymnasts – we were ready to take on the day.

We’d decided to slack pack and flip flop today as the elevation map looked a little kinder southbound than going north. Our goal was to reach VA 610 where we had finished yesterday, 14.9 miles away. Given we were staying at the motel again tonight (I’m expecting some packages on Wednesday), it didn’t make sense taking a full pack; slack packing is easier on the body, and bigger mileage can be enjoyed with less stresses on the muscles and joints.

I led our trio up the first climb (remember, there’s always a climb out of a “Gap”), and I was going great guns. The 1.3 miles and 890 feet of elevation gain was easy, making the summit in 20 minutes. It felt great to get so much clean trail air in my lungs. At the top was Chestnut Knob Shelter, a fully enclosed concrete block shelter. The views from the summit were, as always, beautiful. We snapped away before heading out.

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A slowly descending rolling hillside was gorgeous to hike trough, and views to the east were plentiful. We passed many AT hikers going north and most of them looked wiped out; their climb (our pending descent) was a lung busting 4.4 miles over a 2,077′ elevation gain – ridiculous.

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We took our sweet time going downhill, and we spent at least a couple of hours making our way down. We stopped by a small stream to refill our water bottles and grabbed a bite to eat: burritos! They were cold but a couple drops of Texas Pete’s hot sauce turned them into gourmet food.

We came to a gravel road (VA 625) and Soul Sister was here talking to some section hikers. It was nice to see her and she and Tie Dye caught up. Photo op and we continued on.

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The trail was muddy and wet as it wound through the forest alongside creeks and streams and I pretended to be a tightrope walker along many of the notched log crossings. I was having a great day.

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Slight descent for about a mile and we came upon a gorgeous footbridge which crossed the wide and deep Lick Creek. We stopped and took some more photos and enjoyed watching the abundance of small fish swim about.

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From there we had a pretty steep and long climb, and the day had become very warm – it was at least 80°F and humid. For 1.2 miles we climbed 736′ and the heat was brutal – the cork handles of my trekking poles were soaked and slippery with sweat which had rolled down my arms and over my hands.

Once we got to the top of Lynn Camp Mountain we realized that we’d taken our sweet time all day – not starting until 10:40am didn’t help, either. We’d scheduled a 4:00pm pickup with Bubba from VA 610, 7 miles away, and it was 2:45pm. We were not going to make it, not a chance. Tie Dye called him and we were given a 5:30pm alternative. Chugging what water we had left, we ran — and I mean ran — down to Lynn Camp Creek. I was down in 15 minutes and my ankles, knees, and everything else was holding up nicely. Then came a 2.5 mile climb to Brushy Mountain – we didn’t think to stop at Knot Maul Branch Shelter to say our hellos to two other thru hikers – we were on a mission. The climb was long, humid, and prolonged. It completely kicked my ass and drained whatever was left in the tank. I was spent. I took some video while descending through open meadows and without the tree cover it was awfully hot.

O’Lystery Pavilion was at the bottom and to the side of VA 42, and the trail continued on the other side. The trail was level for the next mile, then it went up, and I had nothing left. Absolutely nothing, my body yearned for the hike to end. I bumped into Nutella as I climbed — I’d met her a few times before, nice girl — and asked how far the road was. She was it was “just up there”. I hate it when people say shit like that. I need to learn to stop asking stupid questions like these, because it’s never just up there or just around the bend.

I had to climb over another two stiles, which at this point of the day felt like climbing over giant wooden ladders. They weren’t, they were only 5-6 rungs at most. The meadow by the side of VA 610 came into view, as did the road shortly thereafter. I let out a WHOOP! and with my head down and body aching, I made my way to the road where Bubba was waiting. One more stile to climb over, I seethed in disgust. It took all I had left to pull myself into the back of the truck, and my knees were completely shot. They throbbed, and I had a headache, too. Tie Dye and I exchanged some conversation in the back as we headed “home”, and I fidgeted the whole trip trying to find comfortable positions for my beat-up legs.

Red Specs raided the hiker box inside the motel office and finagled some shower gel, which is a luxury out here.

Showered, changed, and smelling like “fresh mountain spring”, we took a (painful) walk down to the gas station to pick up a 12-pack of Heineken and I ordered two large pizzas and garlic bread for the three of us. We enjoyed the rest of our evening woolfing pizza and beers outside on a picnic bench in the parking lot and watched the night roll in.

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With full bellies we turned in. My right knee feels swollen, and I intend to zero if I’m in worse shape in the morning.

I was out like a light.

Miles hiked today: 14.9

Hiking in the rain clears the head (551.6m)

Waking up in a bed after two nights in my hammock didn’t feel right; it was like cheating. But, to put it frankly, it beat trying to pitch camp in the pouring rain yesterday. The pizza was bloody amazing, too.

Anyway, up, shower, blah blah – nothing new to tell you.

TD, Specs, and I went across the street to the Barn Restaurant and treated ourselves to a breakfast of eggs, bacon, hash browns, home fries, and a biscuit. Coffee and ice cold water was also enjoyed by all.

It was late when we headed out onto the trail, nearly 10:30am – the latest I’d ever started. It was already raining when we climbed through a very gentle incline through meadows and knee high grass. Passing through a cow pasture we stopped to make “mooing” noises as several of the bulls enjoyed a nice morning shag. Lovely.

Onward and upward we climbed through dense undergrowth, and then the heavens really opened. At one point I said aloud, “are you taking the piss?!” as the downpour turned the trail into a creek. The day went on, and so did the drenching. At one point I thought it was slowing down so I started to sing: “I’m singing in the rain, just singing in the rain! What a glorious feeling, I’m on the trail again!” – then it pissed down so hard, like the man upstairs decided that my singing voice was worth drowning out, literally.

Whatever; I kept singing, and Tie Dye joined me.

We stopped at a couple of places to eat a quick bite – we couldn’t stand still for long because it was just too wet and raining hard, and stopping walking would lead to cold muscles.

The rain did subside at about 2:30pm so we broke for lunch, and I precariously tried to pull apart my stuck-together tortillas – I laid out some cheese singles on one of them, three slices of ham on top of that, and slathered on the Cholula Hot Sauce — utterly delicious — I was about 10 seconds from heaven. My fingers were still wet and puckered, and as I went to put down the bottle, the f*cking thing slipped out of my hand and shattered on the rock I was sitting on. Hot sauce explosion, everywhere. On the rock, all over the forest floor, and all over me and my rain kilt. I looked like a proper tw*t.

The others felt it necessary to point and laugh, then take pictures.

Shit, just goddam shit.

I cleaned myself up and slung my pack over my shoulders and off I went – with my long face.

Tie Dye had called Bubba’s shuttles from the guide book — after her fair share of laughing and pointing — and we had our ride into Bland, VA.

It was about 3:20pm when we got to VA610, and Bubba rolled up at around 4:00pm. We all hopped in the back of his truck and laughed and took pictures the whole way.

I have a cheeseburger with my name on it. My stache is also coming along nicely again. And I realized tonight looking in the motel room mirror that I’ve put back on some of the lbs I’d lost before I left at Hemlock Hollow. I’ll work on that over the next few days/weeks I’m sure.

My ankle feels strong. These shoes are awesome. I ordered some new ones, a half size bigger, and they should arrive at the motel day after tomorrow.

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First day back, hello Virginia (542.2m)

I woke in my hammock at around 6:00am and realized I needed to be at Crazy Larry’s in half an hour.

Shit!

Breaking down my shelter in record time and pack fully packed (15 minutes flat), I said my farewells to Stink Bug and also to Honey Bun as she poked her head out of her hammock.

Walking through Damascus’ high street felt eerie, a silence had fallen on the town between last night’s festivities and today’s mass hiker exodus (Trail Days was now over).

I’d almost reached Larry’s when Tie Die pulled up next to me in Co Pilot’s car which was a nice surprise. We got to Larry’s and hoisted our packs into the back of SG’s (Snake Girl: a name she picked up during her 2012 AT thru-hike after stepping on a rattler), and off we went.

Co Pilot — who looks uncannily like Bill Murray and Tom Hanks — dropped Tie Die, myself, and a new hiker friend, Red Specs (a German photographer over to hike the trail) at Partnership Shelter. Saying our goodbyes we headed north and up – something I hadn’t both written, or hiked, in three weeks.

I’d felt extremely anxious about getting back on the AT, and I just didn’t feel ready; to be frank, I wasn’t quite sure I belonged anymore.

We came across a box of goodies right off the bat which contained Oreos, apple sauce pouches, candy, and other awesome stuff – I love trail magic, and it helped my much cultivated doubts about returning to the AT.

The first 3-4 hours were very, very hard emotionally. All I could think about was being back home in New York; home, the place I’d just enjoyed three weeks of being with loved ones and friends. The trail hadn’t felt like home for so long, and I wasn’t feeling it here. Not one bit.

I spent most of the morning catching up with Tie Dye and also acquainting with my new friend Red Specs. We’d started very early — 7:20am — and I realized about six miles in that I was becoming winded up the smallest of climbs. My knees started to hurt, too. Good grief, the time away had softened my body. This was the first time I’d used my new pack, too, so everything felt strange to me. Home didn’t feel strange: I didn’t want to be here at all.

This went on for another mile or so until we reached the top of Glade Mountain and I was smacked in the face with a view that almost floored me. I can’t explain it but my body and soul felt as if they were finally drawn back into what made me fall in love with the AT during my early days in March: the sheer beauty. I let out a scream of happiness and we took pictures and threw our voices through the hills and valleys below.

I was back.

For another few hours we hiked down until we hit Lindamood School and Settlers Museum. Many pictures later, we continued through a meadow and downward again. We reached I-81 at around 2:30pm and I decided to stay at the motel close to the trail – my hamstring had started to hurt and I got a blister – my first, I was pissed. These new Sportivas are a half size too small, I need new ones and stat.

Tie Dye and Red Specs decided to join me and we enjoyed a hot shower and laundry. We ordered two large pizzas and enjoyed a few Heinekens, also.

We talked, planned a little, and we were out before the sun went down. I was planning on staying at the motel and have some new gear shipped to me and allow the pain to dissipate, but I felt great the next day and decided to head out.

Miles hiked today: 12

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