Days 56 – 60
I had a free day before the Trail Days festival in Damascus, so I decided to take a trip to Harrisonburg to visit some friends with Fun Size and Bottle Cap. The next day I took my car up to Pearisburg to pick up Old Boy and Footloose, and we all made the trip down to Damascus once again.
Trail Days was a fun time. I got a new tent (which I love to death), and tent city was a riot. It wasn’t uncommon to have massive bonfires with drum circles, or to be handed a beer and sucked into a party while just wandering through the woods. There seemed to be two major factions in tent city: Riff Raff, who was loud and love to party, and BillVille, who seemed to be a bit more chilled out. There was also the incident on the bridge, where the car hit a bunch of people, but I’m sure you’ve all read about that in the news.
It is once again time for me to return to the trail. In the late afternoon, Mom drove me to the trail head in Pearisburg where I left off. I would see her again in Catawba, but that was a few days away. Along the way I met some of the Tribe, and I end up hiking with Monk and Coachs from the recently dissolved Goat Herd. We trekked about seven or eight miles to Rice Field Shelter, where we were stopped by a nice view. Coach, Monk and I plopped down on some rocks and enjoyed it for a while before deciding to set up at the shelter.
At the shelter, I met Bobsled and Lil Engine, Just Jon, and Blacksquatch. I set up my new tent for the first time on the trail, and then went to eat dinner with everyone. In a little while Roadrunner (also from the group formerly known as “Goat Herd”) showed up and pulled nine beers out of his pack. We all cheered for him and enjoyed some Corona before turning in for the night.
We awoke to an amazing sight. The view we were all enjoying the night before had become even better. Clouds covered the valley like the sea, and the mountains broke them violently as if the waves were crashing on the rocks. I thought to myself, “everyone in the valley thinks today is a cloudy day.” It gave some new perspective to overcast days; they are always brilliant and clear above the clouds. Armed with a good mood and a spectacular view, I pressed on to what would be a great day of hiking.
After a little while, I came to a note someone had left in the middle of the trail. It warned me of a rattlesnake nearby, and was written in the past 30 minutes. I warily removed my headphones and walked more slowly to the next shelter. I didn’t see the snake, but I did see a crap-ton of people at the shelter. Monk, Coach, Backtrack, Roadrunner, and everyone else said they were headed to The Captain’s to go swimming because the day was so hot. I decided to tank up on water and join them.
The Captain’s is a house across Big Stony Creek whose owner is very hiker-friendly. He allows hikers to tent on his property whether he is there or not, and keeps soda stocked in a fridge on his porch. When I arrived, I crossed the creek with my pack on the zip line/pulley system he had rigged up. I was greeted by some members of the Tribe, as well as the same folks I had been hiking around for the previous day and a half. We all took a nice long afternoon break. We swam and laid out in the sun for a couple hours before there was talk of moving on. I very seriously contemplated staying at The Captain’s, but decided to move on with Monk, Roadrunner, and Donny.
We only had a few miles left to make it a 20 mile day, and it was a section I knew very well. In fact, it was the same section I wrote about in my other post, Getting A Taste. At the end of a long day, the climb up to Bailey Gap Shelter was horrendous, and by the time I got to Wind Rock I was exhausted. I was rewarded with a good view of the end of the day from the rock, and then I retired for the night.
I was one of the last to leave the campsite at Wind Rock that morning. As I walked down to War Spur Shelter, I ran into Catnip and P.S., both of whom I hadn’t seen since the Smokies. We walked and talked for a while. Up on Kelly’s Knob, I ran into pieces of the Tribe again and chilled out at another nice view. When I arrived at Laurel Creek Shelter, I ate lunch and waited out a thunderstorm before attempting to press on to Sarver Hollow Shelter for the night, making it another big mile day.
I crossed some pasture, went over stiles, and did that whole Virginia thing for a while before I would come to the Keffer Oak tree, a 300-year-old tree. On my way to it I started to notice more and more people with PBR in their hands. As I descended the hill toward the tree, I was greeted by a man coming up the hill toward me. He had long, straight, blonde hair, wore glasses, had a giant beard, and wore a tie without a shirt; textbook hippie. He held his hand up for a five, and I greeted his hand with a confused slap of my own. He said to me, “you’re camping right down there, man, welcome home!” Well, now I was very intrigued.
When I arrived at the oak, I noticed people erecting a canopy, and the Riff Raff jolly roger (with trekking pole crossbones) in the background. G-Hippie and Timon (the man described above) were providing trail-magic to any hiker who happened to wander by in the form of a Trail Days party by the Keffer Oak. I saw Windy, Breezy, Catnip, P.S., Monk, and Roadrunner there. Everyone was setting up their tents, so I decided to as well. It wasn’t as far as I wanted to go for the day, but party! It was definitely some of the more interesting trail magic I’ve seen.
I awoke the next day feeling fine. Roadrunner had drunk the most beer and was pretty hungover, but he was the first one up and the first to break camp. He, Monk and I set out for the day together.
We set Pickle Branch Shelter in our sights and went forth. It was a pleasant day, walking with Monk and Roadrunner. We had some great conversations because we all had about the same walking pace. Long climbs went by quickly, and the days seemed shorter and more fun walking with a group. I remembered why it was fun to hike with others. We stopped in at Niday Shelter to let our tents dry out, and to take a long afternoon break.
Later that day, we came to the Audie Murphy monument. Audie Murphy was the most decorated American soldier in WWII, and he died near that spot on the trail in a plane crash. The really interesting thing was the official monument had been turned into a cairn by hikers over many years. The unofficial tradition was that you find a rock and add your own to the pile. There was a nice view from the monument that we sat and looked at for a while before moving on.
As soon as we left the monument, the clouds started darkening, and the wind began to pick up. We threw on our pack covers, and before long we realized we were going to be caught in a storm up on the ridge line. We got the idea in our heads to try an get as close to the next road crossing as possible before it hit, so we started running. Something in the back of my head was telling me that it was probably a bad idea, but it was fun and my adrenaline was pumping so I did it anyway. It seemed we were on the very outskirts of the storm because we didn’t get rained on as hard as I thought we would. It was kind of exhilarating to be in a storm that high up! After I was sure I wasn’t going to avoid the storm I just stopped running and dealt with being wet.
When we got to the road crossing, we saw so many tents set up. Coach, Pig Pen, Backtrack, Tex, Salsa, Twix and Aquaman were camped out in the storm, and dry. Since we were wet and the storm was almost over, we decided to press on to Pickle Branch Shelter. Along the way, we got great views as the clouds rolled off the mountains.
We had to hike three tenths of a mile off trail to arrive at the shelter. Then we had to go another two tenths to get water. I shouted, “there is nothing convenient about this shelter!” But even with all that, and even though we were soaked, we were in good spirits.
We left Pickle Branch Shelter with Dragon’s Tooth in our sights a few miles away. I love Dragon’s Tooth, and hiking it is one of my earliest memories. There was also the added bonus of eating at the Homeplace restaurant later that day! It was a cool, breezy and overcast day, and it was perfect for hiking. When we arrived at Dragon’s Tooth, we climbed onto the rocks and reveled in the view of Catawba. It was cloudy, but we still got a great view of the Roanoke Valley.
After we had our fill of the view, we started our descent down the mountain. I knew it was going to be a more technical climb down, so I strapped my trekking poles to the back of my pack. I was glad I did, because I needed both hands many times on the way down. It was a fun descent, and when we reached the bottom we went to the Four Pines Hostel.
The hostel was really just a garage and a barn, but it was fun to see the Tribe there as they were leaving. I knew I was meeting some work friends at McAfee’s Knob the next day, so I stayed behind as most of the folks I had been hiking with decided to move on after a long break at the shelter, and a dinner at the Homeplace. Mom also drove up to the hostel to meet me, and we went to the restaurant together. As luck would have it, I also saw Fun Size and Bottle Cap there! It was an enjoyable short day.
I took my time leaving Four Pines. I had a while to kill because I was only a few miles away from my meeting place with my work friends. After killing a lot of time, I headed out for McAfee’s Knob. It took me almost exactly an hour to travel three miles to the parking lot at McAfee’s, and I was proud. I was sitting on a guardrail waiting for my work friends when the Ridge Runner for Catawba shows up and introduces himself as Gravy. A few minutes later, my friends Tom, Laken, Michael and Devon from work show up and I spent a while talking to them. I even saw the co-founder of the company, Aaron just out for a hike that day! Whatta coincidence.
Once my work buddies left, I started up the trail in front of Blacksquatch. I walked ahead for a while and got stopped by some day hikers, who asked me about my thru-hike. About two seconds after I talked to them, I took a wrong turn off the trail with Blacksquatch right behind me. Once I realized I hadn’t seen any blazes for a while, I felt pretty embarrassed. The good thing was that the trail intersected with the AT again further up, so I just kept the same route until the junction. Along the way I got to know Blacksquatch a bit more, and I realized how hilarious of a guy he really is.
When I got to the top of McAfee’s, I was astounded by the view. I had finally made it there, despite having lived right beside it my entire life! The view of the Roanoke Valley was amazing; I can see why it’s so often photographed. To my right I could see the city of Roanoke, and directly ahead I could see the Tinker Cliffs. I got my obligatory photo, took in the view for a while longer, and pressed on.
I hiked the rest of the afternoon toward Tinker Cliffs, and I enjoyed the trail during that time. It wasn’t too hard, and I was moving quickly over rolling ascents and descents. When I got to the Tinker Cliffs, I encountered a problem. I knew to watch out there, because people usually go off trail. The problem was that the trail was blazed in a very confusing manner. There was a crucial double-blaze that I missed, and the path led me down under the cliffs. However, when I turned around, the blazes were marked from the direction I came from on “southbound” side of the tree… It seemed as if the trail just stopped right there. I went back and forth on a little “trail” that I presumed only had been made because of other confused people before me. After a few trips up and down that trail I was sufficiently frustrated, but I found the double-blaze I had missed and finally got up onto the Tinker Cliffs. I immediately found a perfectly sized spot for my tent, but I passed it up due to not having a whole lot of water and the windy conditions. I then passed a couple tenting, and I was tempted to camp there with them. I continued on until I came to another couple camping, and I finally gave in and camped on top of the cliffs.
The man, Ron, loved thru hikers, and he offered me cliff bars and gimmicks bears. We watched the sunset from tinker, and I settled down for a peaceful night on the cliffs.
I woke and broke camp after Ron and his wife that morning. I had ten miles to go before reaching Daleville, VA, where I would meet my friend Laura and go into Roanoke. I was pretty excited, and the day was clear and beautiful.
It was an enjoyable hike to Daleville. I had a healthy mix of good views and moderately difficult terrain. It ended up being a lot more rocky than I anticipated, but that was okay with me. Along the way I ran into Ron and his wife again, and they were taking pictures of a copperhead snake! I had never actually seen one, though I knew they were indigenous. I got a good look at its red skin, with desaturated yellow, diamond pattern and moved on.
I started to notice something wrong. My right knee was hurting on the right side for some reason. I had never had knee pain before, and it concerned me. I told myself that the last few days had been difficult on my joints, and that once I got to Roanoke I could take the rest of the day off to help it feel better. It shouldn’t take more than that, surely.
I finally descended the mountain and onto the road at Daleville. I walked up the road to cross to the Pizza Hut for my rendezvous. I could see Laura’s red PT Cruiser, and I strode across the four lane highway to meet her. It was awesome to see Laura again, and she took me to a new restaurant in the city. I spent the rest of the day just hanging out, eating and relaxing. Excellent.
The next day was Memorial Day. Of course that didn’t matter much to me, but to people who work it might! Suckers! Anyway, I took my time going back out to the trail and continued hanging out.
When I finally got back out there, it didn’t take long for my knee to start bothering me again. I was really starting to get worried now. Regardless, I started climbing up mountains again after a brief walk through pasture. I ended up stopping after 13 miles, and sooner than I wanted.
The next day began a long stretch of trail that intersects the Blue Ridge Parkway for miles and miles. I welcomed the views, but after a while it began to be annoying. Through that section of the state, you’re never very far from the road. Ever.
It was good though, because my knee was still hurting. After plopping down on a rock and doing a little research, I called mom to meet me at the Peaks Of Otter overlook on the road. When I got to the overlook, I sat there for a little while reading and talking to passersby. A fellow hiker named Joyride hopped out of a car and handed me a soda. He was taking some time off. I saw another hiker who was finishing his hike just a few miles away.
Before long, a big white van pulled up and a man got out and asked me, “hey! How’s your knee?” I was very confused and a little creeped out that he knew about my knee problem, but he had talked to one of the hikers going by just up the road, who had told him of my troubles. He made me a sandwich for lunch and kept me company as I waited for mom.
When mom finally showed up, I got my knee brace, and headed out after sitting in the air conditioned car for a while. I continued on for a long time that day, despite my troubles. I finally came to Bryant Ridge Shelter, and I was exhausted. My knee was throbbing from a 20 mile day, and it was just about dark. The shelter was nice though; very well built. I was setting my stuff inside, and I noticed Joyride having a conversation with some section hikers. I didn’t say much because I was tired and I hurt, but I scrounged up a few things to say anyway as I cooked my ramen for the night.
As nice as the shelter was, it was too close to a stream. There were mosquitos everywhere. It was also too hot to sleep in my sleeping bag. Butts. I didn’t get any sleep that night between laying out of my bag and being a bug buffet, or sweating buckets in my sleeping bag.
The first thing I did was a five mile climb. Bleh.
It wasn’t that hard after I got going, but it was so hot even for the morning. When I reached the shelter at the top, I decided to give my knee a break. I met Joyride at the shelter and just sat there for an hour.
After a while, a group of senior citizens came up the hill to the shelter and took it over. I was packing up to leave just as they walked up. They said they had come up the north side of the mountain and that their car was parked a few hundred yards behind the shelter. Really? Apparently I was still so close to a road. I packed up and left.
I kept walking and my knee kept hurting. The pain became so great that I was limping for a few miles before I popped a couple pain pills. They seemed to work and I was able to walk for the rest of the day.
I walked across the road, through the woods, and sometimes I came out of cover to be hit by the blazing sun. I finally arrived at a campsite for the evening. I would have gone further, but I just couldn’t that day. I only had another 12 miles to go the following day to go to my friend’s wedding, so I decided some rest would do me some good over the weekend.
I awoke an started my 12 miles to Glasgow, VA. My knee pain wasn’t as intense, but I also had preemptively take some Aleve to keep it from hurting. It was a beautiful day, and without much pain it would be even better.
I enjoyed my walk in the woods that day. Up and down I went, like normal. I got some great views and it was a clear day. I started to notice the cicadas, and I listened to the swelling scream of the insects that day. The trail was green and lush, an intermittently broken up by bits of rocky terrain.
I arrived at Matt’s Creek shelter, which was located right next to its water source. I plunged my bottle into the raging creek to fill up for the final miles before the road crossing to Glasgow. As I was reading the register, another hiker named Weasel stepped into the clearing. We exchanged pleasantries as he ate lunch, and then I moved on.
The next stop was the James River. The trail levels out as you walk along it for a couple miles to the longest footbridge on the AT. The tradition here is to jump off the bridge into the James, but I decided not to do that as I walked across. I enjoyed it enough from a distance. It was early afternoon when I crossed the bridge into the parking area, and all I had to do now was wait an hope for a ride into town. I stepped to the side of the road and tossed out my thumb.
Unfortunately, I am terrible at hitching. Car after car went right by me. Sometimes they would even tease me by pulling in to the parking lot to turn around. Joyride came and went, and Weasel showed up wanting to get into town as well. A jeep passed and a girl shouted, “I love you!” Okay. Can I have a ride?
Finally a slack packer crossed the bridge and offered Weasel and me a ride into Glasgow. He gave us some Gatorade and we chatted for the five miles into town. He dropped us off at the Dollar General and went on his way. I felt relieved to finally be in town, and to know that I had some time off coming up. My buddy Bryan’s wedding was the next day, and I was excited to see a lot of my friends again.
Weasel and I checked out the little town of Glasgow. We stopped in at the library first, and I read while I charged my phone. I then stopped at the only restaurant in town for pizza before going to the free hiker pavilion to spend the night. I saw Just Jon there, and met MGD, Pippin, Sparky and Orange Peel. I set my tent up on the nicely mowed lawn, and drifted off to sleep under a clear sky.