[i decided to write this up in a Then Again style because this wasn’t my trip; it was Gambit’s. I’ll be hiking this section myself later on, when I finish Virginia.]
Gambit had asked if I wanted to do a section of Virginia with him for the 4th of July. He’s trying to finish Virginia before the end of the year, and he doesn’t lack much, just 226 miles. I usually spend the 4th in Tennessee with my family, but as I’ve gotten older, I’m craving more adventure in my life.
So when Gambit asked if I wanted to go, I said yes. This would give me a chance to get in some miles before my New Hampshire trip and I could also scope out Virginia a little before I finished it up in December and January.
I left work Friday and drove up to Bristol, TN, where I met Gambit. I grabbed my stuff and hopped in his car and we headed east to Pearisburg, VA. On the way, I finally managed to snap a picture of this mural that I’ve been staring at every single trip.
The drive gets old, but it was nice to share the trip this time.
We arrived in Pearisburg and parked at the Farm Bureau, where Gambits shuttle driver had recommended he park.
Our trip started with a road walk, but then we headed up into the woods.
Well, that was easy enough: there were no campsites. We walked in the dark for miles (literally miles, in this case). The trail was rocks and snaked around a mountain, with the lights of the town peeking through the trees. We stopped at any promising bit of land, but nothing was even close to flat or clear enough for one tent. We did see a nice huge green lawn, but there were Posted signs all around, so we back off, assuming a private landowner was not fond of hikers.
One dirt road crossing was flat, but was next to a stream that was dangerously non-potable water (from a landfill) and Gambit didn’t have a good feeling about it, so we hiked on.
The night was hot and muggy, and we quickly drained liters of water. Fireworks shot off in the distance, and spider eyes quivered in the reflection of our headlamps.
At 1:30am, we were pretty much committed to simply walking all the way to the first shelter and just hoping we could sneak in to a tent site there. It would be a 5 mile night hike. There was nothing marked on the map, and the trail didn’t look like it was going to offer anything for us.
The next road crossing, however, did have an established stealth campsite. We set up our tents, and before Gambit could even get his sleeping pad blown up, I was in my tent and snoring. He informed me that I soon stopped, and settled in to a quieter sleep.
LVP: private landowners
I woke up refreshed and hungry. I ate powdered donuts in bed, then had a bag of Doritos while I watched Gambit pack up, and then we hit the trail. Since we’d hiked so much farther than we’d intended to last night, our trip today was shorter. The trail was mostly sweet and flat. We stopped at Rice Field shelter for a break, and that’s when we met Lead Dog. She was out for a training hike before a trip to New Hampshire to finish up some miles. She was a local, and she filled us in on the Posted signs, the Captain, the recent re-route of the trail, and all manner of other things. She was full of energy and information and I liked her immediately.
We chatted for a bit and then she continued on her way for her out-and-back. We would see her again.
We headed out again soon after, stopping to see the view at the field where we would have tented if we’d kept going to the shelter. Well.
He was standing on his four legs, just looking at me, butt to the trail. I stopped and looked at him, mouth open. A small gasp escaped. We both just stood there for a moment, and then the next thing I knew, he was gone.
But I had seen my first bear. I danced down the trail for another minute, then stopped to tell gambit.
LVP: virginia, where’s all your water??
I slept with earplugs, so I slept well. I did, however, wake up to a nice summer storm. I read in my tent and enjoyed the rain beating down on my tent. And I ate a bag of goldfish. And some chocolate.
On the way to the shelter we met Goat Gas, foraging for mushrooms. He was headed to the shelter as well, and we didn’t know what that would end up meaning for us.
We found two section hikers at the shelter. They had their stuff all spread out and were nice but clueless. They soon left for more hiking. It was pretty early; maybe 2 or 3 PM.
Goat gas eventually made it, and we learned he was a thru-hiker who had left Springer in February. Early February. He was averaging 8 miles a day. He was meeting two other thru-hikers, one of whom was the 2004 (?) wake boarding champion, but they try to keep that on the down low.
He’d been foraging for Chicken of the woods, a bright orange mushroom that tastes like chicken. He set up his tent on a huge slope and wandered off.
Gambit and I ate and bickered and laughed and read and eventually the other hikers, Over Easy and Whirly Bird, showed up. They had a huge bag of mushrooms and I supposed it made sense how it had taken them sense March (when they’d started at Springer) to get to mile 666. (To be fair, Over Easy told us they’d also taken time off for family things and spent time in towns, as well, but I suspect mushroom foraging and blog posting slowed them down as well.)
They cooked it up and offered us some and I ate it. It did taste like chicken. Goat Gas also gave me some plantains, a weed that grows everywhere, so I threw it in my ramen like spinach. Tasted good.
Goat Gas was talking about having lost his bear bag rope.. and earlier that day I had found a small bag with rope in it on the trail. I’d picked it up. I told him, and indeed, I had found his lost rope. He gave me chocolate in thanks. And just when is been wanting chocolate but was too lazy to get up and get it out of my food bag!
We listened to some interesting conversations from them, and eventually another section hiker came in and also tented. Funny group and entertaining for sure. They’re flipping up to Katahdin and then hiking back down to Virginia, so there’s actually a chance I’ll see them again on the trail.
We went to sleep as the rain started.
MVP: amazing leg muscles
LVP: lack of Doritos
I woke up to rain. Gambit reported that *he* woke up to a bear sniffing around and then went back to sleep.
We packed up and headed out for our last climb and the final 8 miles. I was ready for the climb. I was not ready for the bushwhacking. Someone needs to get on that trail maintenance. I need to join a trail maintenance crew to make up for all the complaining I do.
Hiking again, I was intent on the trail, navigating downhill and around smaller rocks. I looked up and saw two small bears. Startled, I screamed. The Bears jumped, eyes round, and froze for a second, before trying to decide which way to run. Their fat little bottoms jiggled along, glossy and round, as they disappeared across the trail. Gambit called me to move back and we waited to see if a mama bear would come too, but these were tween bears out for some snacks and were evidently alone.
We hiked on, enjoying the trail and the last few hours of the woods.
The trail opened onto farmland and meadow and a swamp, with raised boards. I heard what I thought was a lamb, but it turned out to be a fawn and a mama deer. The dawn scampered off as we came into the swamp, but the mama deer stared at us for a good long while before finally walking off.
The road came upon us. We were wet and I was cold and muddy. There was nowhere to shelter from the rain, so we walked down the road to a church and took shelter under a pavilion there while we waited for our shuttle.
LVP: no Kelly knob view
I miss it already