Then Again: A Grayson Highlands Thanksgiving

I haven’t been writing much! To be honest, there’s only so much to say about my fourth trip around the Standing Indian loop.

But I’ve been doing some neat stuff. First, a Reddit meetup at Standing Indian.

Then later, a trip to Roan Mountain with Foggy and French Dip. (Do you remember French Dip? We met in Pennsylvania in May 2017, and walked all the way to Connecticut together. He’s the best!!)

https://youtu.be/pzvsLfv9aHs

And then a trip to Max Patch with Foggy and French Dip.

https://youtu.be/6C5enFtAF8Y

And this past week, a Thanksgiving to remember in Grayson Highlands!

I had intended to make another video or at least a blog post. But. All the best intentions…. (is that even a saying?).

I met FD in Damascus on Thursday morning. We left my car at the library lot and drove up to some random VA road to start our hike.

There were ponies.

I went to bed Thursday night with a full phone battery and a full backup battery. I woke up Friday with a dead phone and a dead charger. I’m not exactly sure what happened, but I’m blaming the weather. Batteries do not like the cold!

So anyways, I spent the week on like 20% battery, which any millennial can tell you is a living nightmare.

But here’s what I can tell you:

FD forgot his spoon and made chopsticks out of two sticks. I had a Korean MRE and it was maybe the best meal I’ve ever had on trail (thanks Lee!!).

We walked through the Highlands Friday with ponies and sunshine, then camped down at Elk Garden Friday night. We were expecting a lot of wind, so I pitched my tarp low and wide.

It was great for wind! But it was not great for ice, which came around 1am. I knocked what I could off the tarp and tried to go back to sleep.

You know how people say to choose a campsite carefully and be sure to avoid widowmakers? I don’t think those people spend much time in the south east. The whole trail is widowmakers! I lay in my bivy under my tarp, watching the trees above me sway.

The wind was like a train, and it seemed intent on doing some damage. I spent some time praying. Something like, “God, please keep us safe. If I’m about to die, though, can you give me a pit of my stomach warning? I’ll get up and run if you want me to. Is that this feeling? Am I anxious because I don’t have enough faith or is this part the anxiety you give me so I know to get up??? I really can’t tell, God. So maybe just keep us safe??”

My prayers worked well enough, because I slept for a while longer. Until 3am, when the snow and ice had almost collapsed my tarp entirely. I got up to brush it off. My ridge line stake wouldn’t hold in the wet, rich, forest soil, so I grabbed my bivy, abandoned my tarp, and ran down the trail to a bathroom. I slept inside until 7am, when a loud pounding on the door woke me up. I opened it to FD’s face.

We hurried through breakfast, cold and getting colder. The hike up to Buzzard Rock was a Christmas wonderland. All the people out shopping for presents, and here we were strolling through a forest covered in snow and ice, Christmas trees everywhere!

It started raining as we went back down towards the valley. We hit a shelter around 12:30 and, as we munched on our lunches, decided to call it quits for the day. We hadn’t had a single break all morning, and this was supposed to be a sip sip trip! We set up inside the shelter and started on our first cup of tea for the day.

Sunday morning came upon us slowly, and with it the temperature slowly crept up too. When we finally got out and about, we had a lovely sunny day for our hike into Damascus.

We planned to hike to the Virginia Creeper and then just stay on that all the way to town. Neither of us had any food, so we kept up a pretty good pace for the entire 12 miles. It’s always a treat to walk beside someone. And lucky for me, FD had a great long story that lasted pretty much the entire 12 miles. There’s no better way to hike than with a good friend and a great story!

We got into Damascus, grabbed some lunch, and then I drove FD back up to his car.

I missed my family, for sure. But being in the woods and just releasing my hold on everything from back home is the most relaxed and free I’ve felt in a long time.

I’m thankful for FD and our friendship.

I’m thankful for woods and weather and ponies and bathrooms.

And I’m thankful for you!!

Miles: maybe 40 total?

MVP: Korean MRE and jalapeño cornbread

LVP: ridgeline stake, but I really can’t blame it.

I-77 to VA 623

Friday

After a blissful day of working from home and reading what is, perhaps, the world’s dumbest book to two classes of elementary kids, I set off for Virginia in my new-to-me little Prius C. It started snowing somewhere around Charlotte, and my speed slowed to a crawl as everyone on the interstate tried to see the lines painted on the road. Well, not a crawl, but the fact is it took me about an hour or two longer than it should have to get to Virginia.

The plan was to park at I-77, mile 590.5, and do an out and back to VA-623. I didn’t want to bother with a shuttle because 623 is a super scary mountain road, and I knew we’d be getting snow. It just didn’t seem like a great idea to try to drive down that road in snow.

So I arrived at the I-77 trailhead in the dark. I parked at the parking area about a mile and a half away from where I needed to start walking, since it was off a side road and much quieter. I had intended to tent, but in the dark and the small snow flurries, I just didn’t feel like trying to find somewhere flat. I moved my milk crate of PPE for work into the front seat, laid down the back seat, and curled up in the trunk area of my little hatchback.

I was chilling out on my phone, playing a little candy crush before bed, when I heard NOISES. First came the “ca-CLUNK.” I laid still, turning the screen off on my phone, listening for anything else. Nothing. I peeked out the window and saw nothing in the flashing yellow lights of the “BRIDGE OUT” sign next to my car. I laid back down, scrolling through twitter. As I was about to drift off to sleep, eyes heavy after reading through a writer’s 10-step Korean skin care system, I heard another noise. It sounded like a largeish animal skittering on top of, or perhaps under, my car. I stilled, listening for anything else. Nothing. I googled “Prius C makes noises when off.” After scrolling through a few Prius forums (why are there so many?) I was reassured that my car just makes noises. I went to sleep.

*****

Saturday

I woke up in the dark to snow falling all around. I convinced myself to get up, make coffee, eat breakfast, etc. It was cold, but not outrageously cold. I had slept pretty well. While I sipped on my coffee (a delightful blend of Starbucks Instant Vanilla Latte and hot chocolate with marshmallows, so….barely coffee), I consulted the map. A 1.5 mile roadwalk that I’d already done, and then 16.2 miles to VA-623. It looked mostly flat, except for a few climbs under 500 ft and one big one, at around 1500 feet over three miles. Nothing tooooooooo terrible. But I knew I didn’t want to do the dumb 1.5 mile roadwalk again. I’d already done that, and I didn’t want to do it in the dark and snow. I drove up to Bushy Mountain Outfitters and asked if I could park there. A woman told me where to leave my car, and I was on trail by the time the sun was barely lightening up the sky.

The first bit of the walk was actually up a gravel access road for a bunch of power lines. That was a very pleasant walk! I was warm, still sipping my “coffee,” and it was nice to just stroll along the road. The trail went into the woods after a bit, though, and it was still a nice, mostly flat walk. The snow kept falling, and I was happy.

I didn’t get any good views, mostly because it was a foggy, snowy morning, but that was ok. I love the snow.

I cruised along, really loving this section of trail. Not a lot of water, but enough.

I stopped for a break at Jenkins Shelter. There was a creek about .1 or so before the shelter, and there was an odd tent there. I didn’t see anyone around, and it’s kind of unusual to set up camp at like 12:30pm, so it was just weird. The shelter itself was musty and had some blankets and stuff left by some weekenders. There was also a lot of evidence of a very active bear – the wooden bridge across the creek was absolutely destroyed with scratching. A poster at the shelter confirmed my suspicions. This shelter was not a great option for a place to stay tonight. But it would do fine for a lunch break.

I took off my shoes and socks to let me feet dry out some. This weekend, I’d opted to switch to a pair of Hoka One One Mids. These boot-ish trail runners have a nice compromise on footbox space (not as roomy as my Altras, but still nice), are still zero drop (which I don’t honestly know how sold I am on this now!), and have good traction. I’d considered switching to an old pair of Salomon Speedcross that I had, but the tread was going on those and I really needed a size up for backpacking. So I went with the Hokas, and I was glad I had. The got a little tight after 10 miles or so, but with some more hiking in them I think they’d be great. They’re also my first pair of waterproof shoes, and in the snow, I was glad I had them. I wished I’d brought my gaiters too, but oh well. It worked out well enough, except for some sweaty, damp socks and feet that needed a break.

While everything dried out, I ate some food and tried to drink some water and took my hair down out of the high bun I’d had it in. Lol, that was a look for sure.

I left the shelter after 30 minutes or so, and set out for my last big climb of the south-bound section. It was…rough. Most of the day I felt great! I didn’t feel as fat and slow as I had on my last trip…but when I got to this climb, I was just kind of done. It was a slog. I made it up to the top, tried to scout out my last possible campsite (Davis Path Campsite, down a very steep, apparently not frequently used or maintained side trail, about .4 miles) with water. I wasn’t too keen on going down that side trail, but I didn’t have any other options for water between there and Jenkins shelter.

The last mile was fairly flat, so I picked up my pace again. There were two hikers a few hours (maybe 6 hours? Judging by the snow in their footprints) ahead of me. I tried to guess what kind of shoes they had on. One I recognized the lug pattern of Salomons. The other remained a mystery.

I made it to VA-623. A bunch of hunters sat in their truck. I chatted with them briefly (no, I hadn’t seen any deer) and had a quick handful of chocolate and some water. I asked where they were headed to. Could I maybe hitch a ride with them back to my car? But it turns out they weren’t going my direction, so I started to walk back.

I pulled up guthooks, remembering that there was a hostel just down the mountain. I called and asked if they could shuttle me to my car. If I could get to my car tonight, I could drive down to the little schoolhouse in Atkins and do an out and back in the morning and be completely done with Virginia.

The hostel said yes, and they came to pick me up. As it turns out, I had to wait a few hours for the right car to get back to the hostel (?? Honestly it was all kind of weird) so I warmed up and played with a bunch of dogs and a kitten while we watched a movie.

I got my ride back to my car, paid my very expensive shuttle, and headed off to Atkins, very well pleased with my plan.

*****

Sunday

Another night sleeping in my car, toasty warm despite the cold night outside. And I woke up to even MORE snow! I got dressed for my hike, only taking a few extra layers, water, and food. This meant no tent, no sleeping bag, no extra weight. My pack felt like a daypack! I left off my hipbelt and chest strap, just carrying the weight like a normal backpack. It felt fantastic.

The walk was beautiful and peaceful and mostly very easy.

Before I knew it, I was at Chatfield. Almost a year ago (sometime in February, I think), I had parked up at Partnership Shelter and night-hiked the 6 or so miles to Chatfield shelter, trying to meet up with Sartec, my boyfriend at the time. I had found him and his friend Butcher at Chatfield, and the next day we’d hiked back to Partnership. And of course, the last time I hiked to the 1800s schoolhouse, I’d ended up leaving at 2am after getting freaked out by a weird truck, so I never did the last 1.5 miles. It was kind of emotional, being back at Chatfield, but also I was just…hungry, and annoyed at the bag of trash someone had left.

I made my “coffee” and had some breakfast, enjoying the moment and the snow and the cold air.

I walked back, sipping my hot drink and listening to Justin Beiber’s Christmas album. I used only one pole, and mostly to give that hand something to do. My light pack, the easy trail, it was all just a pleasant stroll.

It’s been a long time working on getting these miles covered. It’s taken me almost exactly two years to hike from Springer Mountain, GA to Hanover, NH. That’s 1,747.7 miles. In that time, I’ve hiked some sections three or four times (Roan Highlands and Grayson Highlands, especially). I’ve hated some of it (Pennsylvania), I’ve loved most of it. I’ve made best friends and broken up with boyfriends, I’ve broken toes and made memories. I think almost every day about Christmas on the trial. My birthdays on the trail. New Years Eve on the Priest. Fourth of July in Pearisburg. Weekends spent studying for Dynamics of Machinery or Machine Design while eating dinner in my sleeping bag. Mice and porcupines and bears, moss and balsam firs and meteor showers.

And if you’re worried I won’t be doing much now that I’ve finally finished everything I can possibly drive to…Don’t worry. French Dip and I are already looking forward to our New Year’s Eve hike. 56.1 miles in North Carolina and Georgia.

Trip total: 16.2 + 1.5 up +1.5 down = 19.2 miles

MVP: sweet little hatchback!

LVP: lack of water

Until the next time, my friends!

Va 42 to VA 623

Honeybuns and I met in Hanover. I walked into the city alone, planning on finding Wokman and the Count at the pizza place with free slices for hikers. The only problem was, I had no idea where that was in the busy college town.

So I wandered around, hair already dry from the quick bath I’d taken in a stream (one of the few deep enough to soak a bandana in, in the relentless summer drought).

Just past the gelato place, I saw (and smelled) a hiker. Ridiculously bright, way too short shorts. A T-shirt stained with sweat and dirt. A really huge beard.

“NOBO or SOBO?” My brilliant opening line.

“NOBO,” he replied. We walked off together to find the crew I’d met earlier that day at a trail angel’s house.

And we did. That weekend was blueberries and swimming in the river. Crashing Dartmouth fraternity parties and looking at art. Eating fresh maple syrup and drinking local apple cider. We watched a meteor shower from the baseball field. And then two days later, I took a bus and a train and a bus down to Vermont to continue on my hike (and shortly ran into Brew, Danger, and Red Dragon, and then met Bent, without whom I would not be the person I am today!

Honeybuns, he of the pink shorts and the huge beard, finished his NOBO hike. He went back to Florida, but we kept in touch. We decided that we’d go to Virginia for a section together.

He got to my apartment at 9pm on Friday. We loaded up my car and left for VA 42, almost immediately bashing the front of my car on a terrible bump in a bridge (not even in South Carolina yet, which is literally less than a mile from my home).

We arrived at the trailhead at 3am. We scouted out a likely area in the far back corner of the shelter — a small gravel clearing still under the shelter but free of picnic tables. We fluffed out sleeping bags and puffed up sleeping pads and went to sleep.

At 4am, a man drove up in a truck. The truck sat there for 20 minutes or so, then drove off. Judging by the baby wipes he left behind, there was some sort of emergency situation going on. I will not speculate further.

At 5am, we heard voices and saw headlamps flashing. 3 or 4 men came through the parking area to the shelter. I caught snippets of their conversation while dozing off. “Bob! You want some of this oatmeal!” Etc.

One of them nearly stepped on my face. I pretended to be asleep.

Another started pulling down his pants not 3 feet from us. “Honeybuns! He’s going to pee on us!!” Honeybuns turned over and said, “good morning!”

The man turned off his headlamp and then changed his pants. I guess he never intended to pee on us, but he DID intend to change clothes next to our heads. I’m still not sure if he just didn’t see the two bodies in sleeping bags stretched out right in front of him ??

Anyways, we played dead until they left at sunup. Which also meant I didn’t sleep much.

We got up once the shelter was empty and made breakfast. Well, I gathered twigs and got started on coffee, using my wood stove.

Here is my opinion on the wood stove: it is great fun, if you’re not in a rush. Starting a fire on the AT is rarely easy (it generally rains or is damp most of the time, except when it’s all literally on fire) but it IS one of the most time-honored forms of hiker entertainment. So if you’ve got a good 30 minutes to cool around with a tiny fire, by all means, carry a wood stove! But be prepared for everything to be stained with soot.

Anyways, we headed off around 10. It is important to note that, for reasons I will not get into here, Honeybuns took off in front of me and I hiked alone.

I was slow and out of breath and my foot hurt, so when I came to Knot Maul Shelter after 2 miles, I sat down for a snack and a break.

And then I stood up and started walking. An hour later, I figured I’d gone about 2 more miles but didn’t stop to check the map. I kept walking. I noticed a parking lot with several cars. Hmmm, lots of people out this weekend.

I noticed a picnic shelter. Funny! Just like the trailhead where we parked. I looked back at the cars. That one looked like mine….

And then I checked the map. Yes. I had walked another 2 miles. In the wrong direction.

I screamed in frustration, though about just driving to the end, but my conscience (my older sister) told me I’d be sad if I did. So I started walking again.

I met up with Honeybuns again at a stream. I’d passed a few SOBOs, who were very nice and reported that he was just ahead. And also that I was very close to the top of the mountain.

I stopped and had a snack and some water once I found him, and then we set off again.

The four miles before the shelter were 100% uphill. And boy, did I feel it.

We eventually got to the top of the bald, emerging from the woods into a cloud. We stopped for water and then hefted our heavy packs onto our backs and trudged up further.

The shelter was an old fire warden’s cabin. It was a great size and fully enclosed, a real boon on such a damp, misty afternoon.

We approached the door and heard a dog barking. Wouldn’t you know it, F-Stop and Leif (the dog) were inside. I’d met F-stop and Leif in New Jersey this past summer. She was finishing up the last few hundred miles of her thru hike. We caught up, then Honeybuns and I set up for the night. Snacks and an early bedtime.

I slept pretty well. F-stop left early, and I got up to see if there was a good sunrise. There was.

A long 30 minutes later, I had my wood stove going for coffee. A leisurely breakfast, and then back into the woods for the last few miles before our shuttle.

It was still a challenge. My legs were sore. I was out of breath. It made me appreciate the athleticism that I’d lost.

But then we hit the trailhead and our shuttle showed up as soon as I’d changed my shoes. A long drive down the mountain road, and we were off again, back home.

Some key takeaways:

1. WOW I am out of shape

2. Wood stoves are fun unless it’s wet

3. The trail community is very small

4. Always check your direction.

Trip total: 17.7

MVP: New insoles

LVP: the muscles that disappeared!

1-2ish: VA 42 to Settlers’ Museum 

It feels like a year since I’ve been in the woods. I moved to my job, started my job, got diagnosed with a stress fracture, tried to heal it, and eventually fixed my dumb foot. All since June! 
It’s been a busy week for me, new engineer. There are days when my job is exciting, and days when all I want is to run away to the forest. Today was maybe a little of both. 
I didn’t think I’d ever leave today. None of my gear was where it should be. I couldn’t decide what to pack. I couldn’t find what I’d already decided to pack. I needed to go to the store. My apartment is just a huge mess of clothes. 
And yet…here I am, laying on the floor of a picnic shelter. The sky is clear and there are so many stars. I can hear cars and it’s brightly lit by a vending machine, but soon I’ll sleep. 


*****
Saturday 
I woke up early on the picnic shelter floor. I wasn’t technically supposed to sleep there, so I wanted to be out before anyone showed up. As it turns out, I had pleeennntttyyyy of time. 


My shuttle driver came just before 10. He had a fantastic North Carolina accent, and the drive to VA 42 was beautiful. 
He dropped me off, we said goodbye, and I started walking. 


It felt good to get back in the rhythm of the trail. I mean, it was utterly graceless, me sweating and huffing and pulling myself up tiny hills, but it still felt good. Mentally, not physically. Physically it felt like I was a new baby deer, wobbly on unused ankles and knees. 


But fall was here, and if there’s anything to make you forget about how slow and dumb you are, it’s tromping through crisp leaves on a clear, sunny day. 

As for dumb, well…I’d decided not to fill up my water bottle all the way. I dumped in some water that I’d found in my car, then figured I’d fill up my other spare bag when I hit a water source. 


I didn’t hit a water source. The sun was bright and my water was gone when I still had another 2 miles to the next reliable source. 
I sat for a break and drank my last swallow here, in the cow pasture. 


I love cows. A LOT. I love to watch them run, I love when the all face the same way, I just think they’re really neat. So I sat and waited for them to trust me. 

They approached slowly. Mostly the younger ones. It was funny, but I could pick out siblings (a young boy cow and a young girl cow, similarly marked, scratching their heads on each other), I could see which babies belonged to which mom…I loved it. 


I would put my head down, and the cows would each take a step or two closer. I’d look up and we’d watch each other. Head down, another step. Rinse and repeat. It was a very slow process. Eventually the white cow got too close and her mum came trotting over to stand next to her. Typical helicopter parent! 


Then the white cow pooped right next to me. I decided it was time to move on. 
This section had a lot of lovely pastures. I got lost here. 


I ran into another section hiker who told me that he’s heard of like 4 other people getting lost there. So, that was comforting. 
I started another climb. I’d started out with a good, easy climb before the cow pastures. Very well-switchbacked. This one was…more of a challenge for me. 


I was…idk, licking the straw and hoping for condensation here. 


Up and up, then down and down and down and down. 


I FINALLY got water here. And I also got 3 mosquito bites. It was literally in the 30s last night, and yet those blood suckers are STILL alive. Ugh. 

These signs mean nothing to me (I’ve clearly done over 1/4 of the trail) but you still have to take a picture, right? 


The warm day has confused some plants. Second spring, I guess. Why not? Not much else makes sense right now. 


Davis Path Campsite used to be a Shelter, but now it’s just a tent site with a privy, a table, and stairs. I would have stayed here if I’d had more water. As it turns out, I could only carry 1 liter because my dumb spare bag was split. I should have checked. Ugh. 


Wind in the fall is a wave. You hear the rustling as the cool air hits the trees far away, and then it rolls on towards you, leaves cascading down like confetti. The mass of each leaf quietly thuds to the ground, and quiet comes over the forest. And then the next wave comes, with leaves clinking off branches until they rattle, tumble, and finally still to become the new carpeting. I’ve crunched through them, kicked them, brushed them off my shoulder. Chipmunks and squirrels dig through them, hunting for acorns. Those little rodents sound so big in the fresh new leaves. Each movement sounds like a deer or bear, but it’s just a tiny little vole. 
There is something, to me, about the new season that makes every small thing seem so much bigger. I can’t quite tell if it’s nostalgia or hope or anticipation or anxiety, but something is coming. I’m sure of it. 
And of course, just over this next hill will be my campsite. So…yes, something is coming. 

You can be as pensive as you want, but there’s always a privy behind you. The AT — ruining all my cool pictures with poop. 
I got up and moved on. 


I passed a few more tent sites. One even had water, but I wanted a view of the sky. I kept walking. 


And then I was too close to the interstate and didn’t want to hear cars all night. I kept walking. 


And then I figured…well, let’s just keep going. 


I crossed the interstate. I met two kitties at the gas station. I sat and talked with them for a while. 


I met a rabbit. 


At this point, my feet and knees were hurting pretty bad. I was getting blisters on my big toes from the downhill. I’d turned both ankles countless times. It was….kind of nice, to be able to push through that. There’s something really empowering about walking through pain and still enjoying it. I’ve written about this a lot, the feeling of being able to ignore what your stupid body is telling you, or at least to overrule it. I still enjoy walking, even when it hurts. Most of the time. So I kept going. 


So, here’s where the night got weird. I crossed a gravel road and went up into the woods. The trail was parallel to the road, but up higher. I heard something, so I stopped. Two vehicles stopped in the road talking. I kept walking, not thinking any of it. It was fully dark by now, so I had my headlamp on (on the brightest setting, because my night vision is terrible). They finished talking, and the truck drove off like a normal person would on a road where there would never be cops. The car stayed put for a second, then slowly, slowly crept down the gravel road. I turned off my light and waited, following the brake lights. The car stopped at the end of the road, where I’d seen the truck turn off to the left. I heard a car door, then nothing. Tires moved finally, after a minute or two. But instead of turning off on to the asphalt road, the car came down the gravel road again, just as slowly. I crouched down behind a tree. I texted some friends my location. I didn’t know what was going on, and chanced are it was nothing, but I don’t get spooked in the woods all that frequently. 
The car stopped right about where the trail crossed the road; I didn’t move, waiting for a sound to indicate what would happen next. Nothing. It just sat there. No one got out, the car didn’t move. I decided to move on, towards the school house and my car. I figured I only had a half a mile or so, but hiking quickly in the dark is difficult. I called a friend and talked to her while I walked as fast as I could. I stopped periodically to listen for people or look for other lights. Nothing. 
I came up in the Settlers’ Museum where I was parked. No one was in the 1890s schoolhouse, where hikers can stay, so I set up my stuff and sort of…kept an ear out. Eventually, I heard a car drive by very, very slowly. 
Y’all, I was thoroughly creeped out. I was right next to a road where someone had been looking for something. I’m sure there’s an innocent explanation, but if I get a “somethings not right here” feeling, I tend to listen to it. 
I slept for a few hours, but was woken up at midnight by what I’m pretty sure was a bunch of foxes. I tried to go back to sleep, but I kept listening for cars or foxes or who-knows-what. I was just done. I couldn’t sleep, I was sore, my toes had blistered, my knees hurt…I decided to leave. 


So, now I have 1.6 miles from Settler’s Musem to Chatfield Shelter that I’ll have to go back and get sometime. I can’t believe I just got up and left but i don’t know. I just needed to. 
I packed up, jogged to my car, and left. I ended up sleeping in my car for an hour at a McDonald’s just north of Columbia. I got home by 8:30am, showered, and started laundry. 
I’m glad I got back into the woods. I feel stronger and accomplished and happy with what I did. I think…next trip, I may take a half day or full day of vacation. This was easier when I had 3 day weekends all the time. It gives you a little more peace about it. Not so rushed. 
But make no mistake— I’ll be back in the woods soon. 


Miles: 15.6

MVP: New insoles

LVP: creepers. Knees? Busted water bag. 

3: Sarver Hollow Shelter to Catawba (VA 411)

You may be surprised to read this, but I slept exceptionally well. 
Barry was up and saying goodbye while I was still getting my crap together inside the tent. Which is code for “not doing much of anything.”


It was breakfast to go and then back on the trail. The rocky trail. Remember how the rocks were supposed to be a Pennsylvania thing? Ha. 


Eventually I made it to Dragon’s Tooth. I know SarTec and Gonzo have both climbed to the top of that rock but 1. I am afraid of heights and 2. Those dudes both were former marines and could do like…a billion pull-ups and 3. I did not want to die and 4. There was no one to take my picture if I did make it, so it just really did not seem worth the risk. 


As it turns out, the trail going down was risky enough. 


Hello yes I am now evidently a mountain goat. 


At some point, after I battled tourists for trail domination, I found a rock I would climb. This picture is intentionally staged to be much more impressive than it actually was. 


Look! I’m an incredible rock climber!! 


Jk I just sat and drank a boatload of water. 


So, the downhill didn’t stop. This section was just…ugh. I’d have preferred sobo. 


Eventually I made it to sweeter trails. And!! Here’s something neat- I took a picture of this water wheel, and then in my turbomachinery class on Monday, learned that it’s a Pelton Wheel! Look- my notes prove that I’ve learned this!



There’s nothing quite like walking through a pasture. I love it. The grass, the sky, the cow poop…it’s like that Microsoft desktop background from ages ago. So relaxing. 


Unfortunately, that’s another long stretch of direct sunlight, and friends, I was a pink little lobster at this point! 


It was back into the woods for some more climbing (and complaining, if you’re me), and then down to the parking lot. 


Another section done, and only 60 miles left in VA. 


I’ve started a post on some favorite (surprising) gear, so I’ll get that up soon. And in just a few weeks I will hopefully be on trail again– to finish up the northern bit of trail! Port Clinton to the Connecticut state line. The only thing holding me back is, uhhh, applied machine design 🙂


In the meantime, happy trails, my friends. Don’t forget to pick up your litter, drink plenty of water, and wear a hat. 


Miles: 12?

Trip total: 32.6
MVP: Benadryl. For sleeping 🙂

LVP: sunburn. Sock tan lines 😦

2: Sarver Hollow to Pickle Branch Shelter

I was the last one to leave the shelter in the morning. Sleep was elusive, and when I finally DID fall asleep, my body evidently decided that the usual 5 hours was quite good enough thanks. So I woke up at 2am, and didn’t sleep again until 5am. I felt ok about my decision to snooze until 7:30 or so, then finally leave the shelter after breakfast in bed. 


What I came to regret, however, was my decision to hike on with just under a liter of water and some reheated tea from the day before. The water source at the shelter was .1 or so away, and it needed a dipper which I didn’t have, and it was just too much effort. I thought it would be fine. 


It was not. I was out of water and drinking cold tea after 2 miles. I had 4 more miles before the next water source. 


I did get some lovely views, however. 


And I found the Eastern Continental Divide (I really have no idea what that means). 


And finally, FINALLY, I found a water source. I threw down my pack and grabbed my bottle and filled it up. I drank half a liter right there, then refilled it and settled in for an early lunch. 


Today’s lunch was a tortilla with crunchy peanut butter and goldfish. It was delicious. I also ate random scavenged bits, including granola cups and chocolate. I was very hungry. 
I drank another liter before I left. 
There were signs of spring all along the trail…


And signs of thru-hikers! Trail magic appeared. 


The day warmed up, and the AT officially welcomed my bright white, pale legs for the first time this year. Hello, shorts!! 


I did some contemplating on a bridge (ok, I was looking for fish. I don’t know why, I just was. Also I was taking pictures, obviously). 


I hiked myself up another hill to a bench and ate some more. 


The next bench was actually .1 N. I’m not sure what it is S, but I know there’s one in TN and that’s probably 300 miles or so, so that’s not an accurate bit of graffiti. 
I walked and ate. 


I walked up to the Audie Murphy memorial. 


And then I walked some more. 


Green and purple and white things were popping out all over the trail. It was lovely! 

I dragged myself up the last mountain before the shelter. Friends, I was hurting. I’ve been trying a different lacing pattern on my shoes to see if that will help some lingering foot pain but it didn’t AND it gave me blisters. My legs hurt, my back hurt, my arms hurt. It was a rough day. 
I made it to the shelter though, and started the .5 down. As I got closer, I noticed a lot of litter on the trail- Walmart stuff. Odd. I picked it up and kept going. And then, at the shelter, were two guys. They sort of nudged each other and pointed at me when they saw me. Odd. There seemed to be more stuff, so I said hello and asked if the shelter was full. A guy in a cutoff button down and jeans stepped forward. 
“Oh, we can move our stuff out of you need to stay there.” I looked around again. A Patagonia black hole bag, gallon jugs of water, a duffel bag…these weren’t hikers. 
“…that’s ok. I’ll tent. Do you know where the water is?”
“The spring? It’s down there. I’ll warn them you’re coming.”
“I mean…I don’t think you need to warn anyone…I’m just going to get water.”
Friends…he should have warned them. I took the steep .1 down to the creek (not a spring) and found 30 dudebros partying it up. I sighed. 
As I filled up all of my water carriers (no way was I coming down here again), some of the dudebros caught sight of me. 
“OOOOOOH hey grade a steak, lets throw it on the grill!

“PRIME RIB!” 
I tried to ignore whatever they were talking about, but there was no grill and no fire, if you get my drift. 
The original dude from the shelter came down. 
I went up to him. “Look, there’s a limit of 10 or fewer for groups on the AT. This is really crappy. Like, REALLY crappy. Also, I think this is yall’s trash. I found it on the trail.”
“Oh, we were going to pick that up on our way out.” 
“No, you pick it up as soon as you drop it. No one wants to look at your trash. That’s how this works.”
I stormed up the hill and went to find a tent site away from them. A nice looking man about my dad’s age had room at his site, so I asked if he’s mine if I joined him. I didn’t quite feel comfortable tenting alone after I confronted the dude. 
Barry, the nice man, was nice, and we had a good time chatting (a nice time chatting, you might say). 


We fell asleep to the sweet sound of the gross dudebros yelling by the creek. 
Miles: 16?
MVP: that sweet water at lunch 

LVP: dudebros 

1: VA 42 to Sarver Hollow Shelter

“And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow.” (Innisfree)
Flying to Las Vegas (see my last post), we flew over giant ranges of mountains. I imagined myself walking up the ridges, standing on a ledge, writing a blog post in the morning sun, while an airplane full of people passed overhead, unaware of me down below. What an idea, isn’t it? That hundreds of people are looking down at me while I’m walking up a mountain…and they have no idea I’m there. 


Of course, I really have no idea where those mountains were, so I doubt I’ll ever hike those *exact* mountains, but what bit of eastern airspace isn’t crossed by some Delta flight going in to Atlanta? 
So here I find myself in Virginia once again, trying to finish these last few miles that I have left. The last few weeks of school have been a whirlwind- trying to gather up the details that are constantly slipping away from us as we grow closer to the date of our (now giant!!) student conference, studying for and taking my last few tests as an engineer (uhhh…hopefully), working on my design projects, spending time with my friends…

(Giovanni and Trey with our unfinished Senior Design project)

As always, I find solace in the woods. The change coming is terrifying, but the path before me in the forest is a constant. 


So I go. 


In this case, I’m connecting a July 4th section with Gambit to the end of my Winter Section– Sinking Creek to Catawba. 


So I left Cookeville Friday morning to meet Don, my shuttle driver. He’s nice and helpful and I like to use him when I can (he lives in Pearisburg). 
We drive to Sinking Creek and I start my hike. The wind is blowing, the temperature dropping, and snow is spitting at me. 


I’m stubborn, though, and I don’t layer up until an hour or so after I should have. In that time, I see Keffer Oak (the second largest tree on the AT I believe), cross a stream, and climb a mountain. 



There were still signs of spring


And signs of snow
I passed cairns left by (probably) long ago farmers. They were giant rock piles, mostly around trees, all through the woods. Made no sense. 


And then the shelter. It was a steep .4 down, but that meant .4 lower elevation and in a holler protected from the wind. 


I got water, made a delicious dinner (Spanish rice, Colby jack cheese, on a tortilla), then settled in to bed. I don’t think I ever got warm. By the time I got in bed my hands were so cold I lost the use of my thumbs- I couldn’t get the muscles to cooperate at all!  


I’ve been using a woobie, a military poncho liner, that my brother in law Lee gave me for Christmas. Once I figured out the best set up for use with a sleeping bag, that thing really is magic. Adds a good 20* on to my sleeping bag for sure. 


And tonight, I need it for sure. 
Miles: 4 (+.4)
MVP: dinner

LVP: COLD. 

3: Wapiti shelter to Pearisburg 

Slow Man and I were up with the sun, but thanks to daylight savings, that was a luxurious 7:30am. A quick breakfast, goodbyes to Slow Man, and I was on the trail for 19 miles. 
The first thing I had to face was an ascent. 2000ft over a mile and a half. That’s a little more steep than I’d generally prefer to see, but let’s be honest: in my condition, everything is steep and I don’t like any of it. 


I had to stop and eat. And drink some water. And whine to myself about how I just didn’t like it. I convinced myself to keep going by thinking about how good my legs would look. It’s like really terrible squats that never end, for like…9 hours. 
There’s a bit of a lack of pictures from today too. My hands were cold, ok? The kind of cold where the skin on your fingers burns and your lips won’t quite move when you try to talk. 
But I finally earned some views. 


And got some more rocks. For anyone hiking SOBO, you might think that the Pennsylvania rocks end in PA. WELL, obviously that’s not true. 


I was upset. 


Just kidding. I had a light pack, I was on a flat stretch, and I had enough battery to listen to a podcast. I flew over those rocks like a barefoot babysitter walking on Lego. 


I sat on the ledge at Pearis Ledges. 


I stood at Angels Rest. 

And then I cursed my way downhill for the next 4 miles, wondering how much longer it could POSSIBLY be until I got to my car. 


It was longer than I would have preferred. 


My legs were tired, my feet felt beat up, I was thirsty and hungry and severely dehydrated. I had a migraine threatening behind my eye. My hip bones were bruised from two pairs of thermals and a pair of shorts and the hip belt of my pack tightened as much as I could get it. My triceps ached from pulling myself up mountains and tiny little inconsequential hills that felt like mountains to me. 


But I finally saw my car, just across the bridge. And do you know? I almost didn’t walk over to it. I hesitated. I thought, “well, I could just walk through town and back real quick.” 


I didn’t. I still had a 5 hour drive back home, and I was sweating in the 50F day. But that hesitation, that longing to keep going even if just for a second…well, it helped me find myself again, I guess. I wasn’t missing some crappy guy. I was missing the trail and the version of me that I’d always been. 
Up on Pearis Ledges there had been a slack packer and two day hikers. We’d all chatted pleasantly, and as I’d hiked down, I’d surprised myself by thinking how glad I was to be alone again when meeting people. I wasn’t anyone’s girlfriend, just tagging along. I wasn’t an afterthought in introductions or taking a backseat in the conversation or cringing at whatever someone might say. 
It was nice, to hold my own presentation in my hands again, I guess. I don’t really know how to word that correctly. But I hope you know what I mean. 


This weekend I’m off to Las Vegas for a mechanical engineering conference. I’m not sure when my next trip will be, but I’m looking forward to it. And I’m glad of that. 
Miles: 19.3

Trip Total: 45.3
MVP: the first 2 miles of running down to pearisburg. Then it got old 🙂

LVP: right foot

2: Jenny Knob to Wapiti Shelter

Late last night, probably around 9 or so, two NOBOs came in to the shelter. They were courteous about it, though, so I can’t fault them for it. Eventually we’ll all be the person coming in after dark. 
In the morning we introduced ourselves. They were Rock Bottom and Fruity Pants or Fruit Pants or something, from Boston and New Hampshire. They were nice. We chatted for a bit, and on the subject of Woods Hole hostel, I discovered that they’d run into SarTec and Butcher at some point. 


“He said he was the last SOBO, but there was another one like 100 yards behind him, so…” (that was Butcher behind SarTec, who wasn’t a sobo. Still, I took a perverse delight in SarTec being so discredited. Of course I told them the truth.)
I headed out around 8, unsure of my destination for the day. I passed Slow Man a few miles in. He mentioned that he was going to stop off at Trent’s for a hamburger. I said I didn’t think I’d stop there, but maybe I’d see him at Wapiti if I couldn’t make it to Doc’s Knob. 


Mostly the trail was fine. Mostly. I mean, I felt the uphills. I was tired and bored. I forgot my battery charger so I couldn’t listen to music or podcasts. 


Still bridges. 


When I got to the turnoff for Trent’s, I was hungry. So of course I went. 


I sat and waited for Slow Man. He was an hour or so behind me, so that made up my destination for me. That and I was tired. 


He sat down and we chatted for a bit, and then the man who was cooking sat down too. 
He opened by telling us that he didn’t believe in these transgendered folks. That was a choice. He stuck with that topic for a while, then meandered on to Black Lives Matter and Hillary Clinton, with a brief detour at Putin taking out a hit on somebody. 
Then we got into “this nation needs to go back to being Christian.” Well, I was a little tired of it all by then. 
“Which Christian?” I asked. “Catholics aren’t so good at it. Episcopalians seem ok, but then again, they’re good with the gays. Methodists are pretty different from Southern Baptist, so how do you pick? Maybe we go with Jehovahs Witness so that we don’t waste any more time on federal holidays and we just work every day. Puritans didn’t celebrate Christmas.”
He looked at me. “Well I’ve never heard of puritans. Are they still around?” 
The conversation veered into the Bible. Did you know that unicorns are mentioned 13 times in the Bible? “Maybe they meant rhinoceros,” I said. 
“Can’t be. It says a one horned animal.” 
“So…a rhino. Or maybe one of those Komodo dragons.” 
Another local had sat down and agreed vehemently with me. The cook was adamant that it was a unicorn. 
Slow Man and I thanked him for the food and left. Unicorns. 


The rest of the hike was pretty easy. Lots of rhododendrons and little bridges and streams. I couldn’t get that conversation out of my head though. Sometimes I think there is a translation error in society. He reads “one horned animal” and thinks UNICORN and sees no other possibility. Good if you’re a fantasy novelist. Bad if you’re a preservationist in Africa. 


Every sentence he said he looked at me with raised eyebrows, as if to say, “you see? There’s no other possible way to look at this. Logic and facts!” A sort of “aha!” With the eyes. But of course I didn’t see. I like separating church and government. And I don’t think the Bible meant unicorns, strictly speaking. 


I made it to the shelter just after 4. I set up my bed and did chores, and then waited for Slow Man. He came in an hour or two later. Some snacks and tea later, and now I’m snug in my bag and ready for sleep. 


My muscles are tired. My head is tired. My feet are tired. This feels good. 


I hope you can tell from this picture (and maybe I shouldn’t say anything) but this shelter was disassembled and moved from its original location. When it was put back together, some of the logs were put in upside down, so the graffiti is upside down. If you want to know WHY it was moved…google it. 

Miles: 14.5
MVP: cheeseburger 

LVP: unicorns 

1: VA 77 to Jenny’s Knob Shelter

I think there are ghosts that follow us. We have these relationships with people, and then, for whatever reason (perhaps they decide one night to just not answer your call, or contact you at all for the next 2 days), we cut them out of our lives. 
But it’s not a clean break. There are ghosts that follow us, memories and wisps of conversations that come to us at the worst times. We can avoid those places where the ghosts haunt us, but what if those places were ours first? 
The only thing to do is to reclaim it, slowly and painfully. And for me, I’ve found the best way to do that is to hike hard and fast and long miles. 
Most of my spring break was spent stuffing my face and being sunburnt. We took a cruise to Mexico and I read over 1000 pages of fiction (The Lilac Girls and Americanah, both very very highly recommended). I saw Mayan ruins and swam with a dolphin named Diego, who was 4 years old and behaved about as well as you would expect a 4 year old dolphin to behave. He asked for applause when it wasn’t time to ask for applause. 


The mayans in this area created large flats where they harvested salt and fish and snails. They had different marketplaces and several temples, though the last one was left unfinished. Drought came in 1050 CE, and the city population dispersed into the jungle, though they would still visit the temples from time to time. 


If you have never read the book 1491, I really enjoyed it. It’s a good look at the American populations prior to western invasion– the simple native was not at all simple. There was advanced math, engineering, and land management in most cultures. I read it several years ago, and it’s stuck with me. 
Anyways, the cruise was nice to be disconnected, but I still felt a need to be in the woods. And, frankly, I felt lazy and fat after all of that eating and sitting. I wanted to be in the forest, even if just for a few days. 


I looked at what I had left in Virginia. 32 miles from Catawba to Sinking Creek. 102.9 from Pearisburg to Partnership (although minus 8 to Stupid Chatfield Shelter, I guess, but it’s not really near a road so I don’t know how I’ll get there). 
So, it makes the most sense, since I’ll have more time on Friday than I usually will, to do a long section. Something in to Pearisburg, I suppose. (If you’ve ever wondered how I plan a section, this is it). I can probably do 10 on Friday, if I factor in driving and getting a shuttle, then 20 Saturday and 20 Sunday. Double check the elevation profile and see if there’s anything too crazy in there. I’m pretty out of shape, so I don’t want to push past 20. So I need to look for a decent road about 50 miles from Pearisburg. 
So, Bland is about 42 miles from Pearisburg, on a major road with parking (for my next section). This means it should be a cheaper shuttle (small, back roads are usually more expensive). There’s a shelter 10 miles in for Friday night. I’m all set. My next step is to call and set up a shuttle. To do that, there’s a list of ATC shuttles (just google ATC shuttle and it’s the PDF). It’s organized geographically. I try to avoid gear stores or anyone that requires advance notice. I’m a spur of the moment person. 
And just like that, I’m off at 5am to meet Don in Pearisburg by 11am. I’ve met him before, when I did Pearisburg to Sinking Creek with Gambit. He’s a good conversationalist and very helpful. 
Seconds after he drops me off, tiny hard drops of ice start hitting me. They swirl around in the air, suspended in currents between mountains. 


The woods offer some protection, but most of the hike is on the windward side of the ridge. 


I check my timing- still holding to 3mph. That’s better than I’d hoped! It’s hard, but not impossible. Thankfully the trail is a gentle ridge walk (only small climbs and descents, less than 500 ft usually). 


I got to the shelter just at 4:30, right when I projected I’d arrive. Slow Man was already bundled up inside. I did my chores and ate dinner, enjoying the sun. 


A cup of sleepy time tea, a few minutes to write, and I’m done for the day. Tomorrow, either 10.5 to Wapiti or 24 to Docs Knob. We’ll see how it goes. 


Miles: 11.5
MVP: water

LVP: wind