Days 32-38: Bedford, VA to VA RT 311

Day 32: Bedford to Cornelius creek shelter
We were sweating in the hotel room, but no one wanted to cut the heat down. Once you’re warm…
The Super8 was great. One employee, Tammy, couldn’t believe we were going back out hiking. We showed her pictures and she gave us a card and asked us to send her a postcard letting us know we made it safely. We talked to her for a good long while, letting her try on our packs and showing her pictures. It’s fun, making these connections. 

Unfortunately, the pictures I have from this morning are all gone. You’ll see later. 
We took more showers (it’s so nice to be clean) and then packed up, ready to walk to Walmart and finish resupplying. It was about 4 miles and no one wanted to give us a ride, despite a break to try hitching. It wasn’t a hard walk, though, and I spent some of the time on the phone. 
We spent quite a bit of time in walmart and the attached subway. We happened to meet the president of the local ATC, which was a nice coincidence and kind of fun. I wasn’t there when he came back for a picture and contact info, but still cool. 
 While there, my phone died (like, dead died), so huge thanks to mom for the new iPhone/Christmas present, the Walmart employee who tried to fix it, and the Bedford Verizon employees (hey Bobby!) who got me setup with a new phone super quick. I have nothing though, so don’t expect emails or messages or anything for a week. 
I did get Snapchat though, because I’ve maintained a 100 day streak with my little sister throughout this section! 
Raingear came and picked us up, killer trail magic again. The drive to the Blue Ridge Parkway was short and easy. He told us that if we road walked 3 miles or so we’d get to a shelter close to where we got off and skip minimal miles, so that’s what we did. 
The night hike was gorgeous- the moon reflected off the snow, the below freezing temperatures were warm enough to be comfortable, we were all in a good mood. We didn’t even need headlamps, the moon was so bright. 
And best of all, this shelter was one Graybush and Raingear had left a ton of firewood neatly stacked and covered at. We broke trail off a fire road and got a fire going for our first communal feast- sausages, potatoes, onions, boneless ribs, and cheese. Expertly cooked by Rabbit and Sar Tec. 

Honestly, y’all, what a perfect night. 
Miles: 3ish? Not AT
MVP: dinneeerrrr

LVP: toe is still definitely broken lol
Day 33: Cornelius creek to Bryant Ridge Shelter
I woke up first. It was daylight outside, and cold, but not so cold that I was lazy about going to pee. I mean, definitely below freezing but I have different standards now. 
Also at Walmart I bought a pack of hot hands for $5 and had stuffed some in my socks, and waking up with warm feet just changes everything. 
Snapchat said it’s 23F. 

We all slept late. 
We looked at the plan for the day. We were supposed to do 14 miles, but that put us at a shelter with no water 4 miles before or 6 miles after. That’s ok in warm temps but terrible in cold temps. So we changed to a short day- 5 miles to a huge 20 person shelter with a good water source! 
We grubbed, and the boys promptly went back to sleep. 
Eventually someone had to leave, and I was getting a little frustrated with the laziness. We get along really well most of the time, but after a week or two of constantly being together, there will be some friction in even the best groups. 
I left to break trail. The guys had decided that I should go first, since I was ostensibly the slowest (more on this later), so I set off. 
I was pissed. And I started off pissed, and I stayed pissed, and I hiked pissed, but eventually the fun of breaking trail got to me. I chose the deepest drifts to step in. “Jerks think you can’t winter hike in trail runners, huh? Well WATCH ME.” 
No matter how ticked off you are, tromping through snow for 5 miles will probably fix you, at least a little. Exercise gives you endorphins, and endorphins make you happy. Right? 

I made it to the shelter first and started collecting firewood. It took Sar Tec and Rabbit 30 minutes to make it to camp. 

“I fee like we owe you an apology. We didn’t think about how hard it would be to break trail, and even coming after you that was rough.” Some of my residual anger disappeared a little more. I deserved that apology. But I admitted to them that I’d actually had a lot of fun doing all that work, so it all worked out. 
Popcorn Hat was way behind, so me being the slowest hiker was complete bull. I broke trail with a broken toe and still hiked faster than him. They need to reevaluate. 
We settled in and cooked dinner– hot dogs and, for me, the baked potatoes I’d been trying to get since waynesboro. It was everything I’d dreamed of. 

The nights are warming up more, and my time on the trail is getting shorter. I know myself, and that means I’m likely to pick fights to make it easier to leave my trail family. I need to keep myself from doing that. 
Miles: 5
MVP: I loved breaking trail but THAT BAKED POTATO (there were 3 small ones)
LVP: spats and little tiffs

Day 34: Bryant Ridge Shelter to Bobblets Gap Shelter
We meant to leave early. 13.5 in the snow wasn’t going to be easy. But we made coffee and I started looking at the log book (look who I found!) and before we knew it it was 10:30. 
I left shortly after that. 

It wasn’t quite the same as the deep, untouched snow of the day before, but the trail was still incredibly beautiful. 

Sar Tec made an incredible Spanish Rice- Pepperoni- Ramen- Cheese tortilla lunch. It was amazing. 

I found a bear print. Black bears don’t actually hibernate. 

And eventually…we ended up at Bobbletts Gap. We were all exhausted and hungry. We didn’t bother with a fire, which is really saying something for us. We just sort of fell into bed and ate there and tried to hydrate. The shelter is an annoying .2 off the trail but it’s so well-set up- the privy is clean and it and the water are close and both on level paths, which is nice. The water has a great flow and it’s nice to listen to. It’s a good shelter, really. It’s no palace like Bryant Ridge but I’d stay here again, for sure. 

ALSO- Rabbit, our Tribal Leader, made us all a dessert tonight. He toasted marshmallows over his canister stove, then put those with Nutella in a tortilla and fried it in butter in his flat pan. HEAVEN. 
I weirdly have service down here. 
Time is getting shorter. I had a dream about work the other day. I’ve been texting school people about responsibilities there. I’m not ready to go back. 
I could live in the forest another few months. 
Miles: 13.5
MVP: Sar Tec’s lunch. No, there was a long stretch without water today, and I ran out super quick. Rabbit found a small stream and pointed it out and that was the best water I have ever had in my life. 
LVP: I ate all of my dessert and it ended. 
Day 35: Bobblets Gap Shelter to Wilson Creek Shelter 
Good morning

We woke up with some morning stretches for the guys. 

We hiked the .2 up from the shelter and the boys needed a snack break. 

It was a nice day- the sun was out and most of the snow was gone. It was so warm that I hiked in short sleeves. 

We stopped for snack at a trash can with a nice view. The guys stayed longer and…well, I guess they fell asleep. 
I popped out of the woods to a road crossing and met a guy taking my picture. He’s with the Roanoke ATC and we chatted for quite a while. Then I hiked on and found a woman out for a day hike. We stopped and talked for a few minutes, and that was nice too. She was friendly and bright and there was something…maybe cheerful? About her. It put me in a good mood. 

The shelter we were supposed to meet at for lunch didn’t have good water (.2 down a steep blue blazed side trail), so I sat at the spring before the shelter for 20 minutes or so, snap chatting my little sister and waiting for the guys to make sure they knew to get water for lunch. They didn’t come. 

I walked on to the shelter, another .5, and decided to put some tape on a hotspot where I could feel a blister forming. 15 minutes later, no guys. I started to get a little angry. It was creeping up on 4pm, and we still had 6 more miles to do. I decided I would wait another 15 minutes, until 4pm, and then I would hike on. I was a little slower than Rabbit and Sar Tec, and I didn’t want to night hike that much. 
They came in at 3:52. I was angry. “Yeah, we decided to just stay here.” 

They’d evidently made that decision and then not told me, or made it after I’d left…poor communication. I tried to let it go. I’d wanted to be at the next shelter so I could get to Daleville sooner and pick up my package as soon as possible. The rest of the group wasn’t on my timeline and they didn’t care. There was some friction, and I began to wonder if I needed to finish my hike without the guys. I decided to wait and see. Oregon Trail choices. 

Sar Tec made us an incredible dinner- sausages and chicken and rice with cheese on tortillas. We enjoyed the fire Rabbit made and actually sat around the picnic table to eat, since we weren’t freezing for once. It was nice. 

Miles: 7.4

LVP: waiting for the boys
Day 36: Wilson Creek Shelter to Troutville City Shelter
None of us slept well. It was too hot. We didn’t have enough water. The warm weather had kicked up our allergies. The moon was full and shining and it reflected on the ground to look like snow. 
At 8 am I headed out, for one because I wanted to get to town to pick up my package that my incredible roommate mailed me and two because I needed water. I was still a little ticked off at the guys, and they didn’t seem to be in any rush to leave, despite the lack of water (all we had was about 12 oz between the 4 of us), so I just got up and left. 

It had been the plan Sar tec and I had sort of discussed the day before, when they’d decided (without telling me) to stay at this shelter instead of the next one, so I just went ahead and did it. 
Evidently they were ticked that I left without really saying anything. I can see that. Frankly, it’s a lot of togetherness. 
It was .5 to the next water source. Once there I downed a liter in a matter of minutes. And I brushed my teeth. 

And I ate. 
The walk to town was ok…except for this one hill up a pasture. It was so steep and at the top I was just standing in a bunch of cow poop. I was on the phone with my little sister at the time, and stopped the conversation to complain about what a terrible hill it was. And then the poop! So much poop. Ugh. 

The best part of the walk was talking on the phone to so many people. Thanks Bent, Kelsey, and Macy for answering your phones!! Those conversations gave me some perspective on my trail family situation, and kept me from stewing too much in my own anger. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in passive-aggressive revenge schemes when you’re hiking. Especially for me. 

I got my package at the post office. I actually hitched down there. I decided to time it to see how long it took me to get a ride. 6 minutes. It felt like forever. 
The woman at the post office offered to let me take her car if I needed to get to a laundromat. How’s that for faith in humanity? 
I walked the 1.4 back to Troutville from Daleville and then another 1.2 to the fire station. On the walk, ANOTHER sobo caught up to me. Happy Pants has been mostly alone his entire thru-hike, and now he’s part of the winter Sobo bubble. 

Sar tec caught up to us too, and we all three walked in to Troutville together, where Rabbit and Popcorn Hat were waiting on us. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I felt like I got a little bit of a frosty reception from Rabbit and Popcorn Hat, but I knew why. Sometimes these things happen in families. 
A quick stop in to the grocery for a snack, and then we walked across the street to the fire station. Here we could shower and do laundry, and yet again it paid off to be the only girl– the guys have always let me shower first in hotels (they are so hairy and nasty), but this time I had the women’s shower all to myself. 
We started laundry and then settled in for phone time, cards, and snacking. Once clean and dry, it was dark, but we grabbed dinner (hot dogs) and then went to the park to set up in the free shelter. 

Our group had a nice time together, and we got over the coldness of earlier. Although there was the train that came through town right behind us, a random guy catching Pokémon and listening to hardcore rap at 1am, and what I was convinced were monkeys. We slept. 

Miles: no idea. 11? Plus a lot of town walking. 
MVP: quick hitch and a shower 

LVP: bad cough and not great sleep. I may have black lung. 

Day 37: Troutville to lamberts meadow shelter

We walked to daleville (for the second time, for me) and all met up at the gas station. 
All of us except for Popcorn Hat. We waited and waited, then got worried. Happy pants left his pack with us and ran back to look for him. 
Happy Pants didn’t come back. Sar Tec went to look for them both, because what if Popcorn Hat was hurt and Happy Pants was trying to help him and had Popcorn Hat’s huge 70lb pack, too. 
Rabbit and I stood and worried. An ambulance came and we panicked. It turned away, and we let out a collective sigh of relief, but where were they all?
I decided to call Popcorn Hat. “Hello?” 
“Uh, yeah, I’m at Kroger…” 
I texted Sar Tec. We didn’t have Happy Pants’s number. We worried. Sar Tec came back, but no Happy Pants. 
Finally, a cop car drove up, with Happy Pants in the back. He didn’t jump out. We worried again. Did he have pot on him? Did he get picked up for hitching?  
The cop let him out with his hands behind his back, and we all surged forward. His face broke into a grin, and the cop couldn’t stop smiling either. We rushed forward, laughing and hugging. We thanked the cop for giving him a ride, told him well played, and set off for Kroger to find Popcorn Hat and give him a talking to for not coming over to the gas station, all the while filling each other in on the details of our panicked time. 
We resupplied and then sat at Bojangles, eating and giving each other riddles. Yes, I am very smart and solved them. We were also minor celebrities in the town, since no one had seen hikers in months. We’re pretty hardcore. 

It was finally time to hit the trail. Happy Pants was staying behind to meet up with his Lady for the night, so I said goodbye to him. He’ll catch up with the guys in a few days. 
I hiked quite a bit with Rabbit. It was good, and I needed it. We talked about a lot of things- religion and the trail and also the other morning, when I’d left the shelter early. It was a good talk, and an important one to have before I left the trail. Not just to clear the air, but to think through some things that I’d been pondering the last few days. We learn things about ourselves when we hike. 

The shelter was full, so we had to tent. It rained, but tribal leader and the guys got a fire going anyways, and cooked a feast: sausage and steak and catfish, veggies and spices. I had wine and bread and cheese to eat while it cooked. We passed back extras to the weekenders in the shelter, and impressed them with our culinary skills. Well, the boys did. I just stood around and broke up kindling and passed around the wine. Not a bad gig if you can find men who like to cook and build fires. 

It was a perfect last night. Not what I expected, but what I needed. The trail provides. 
Miles: 10.6
MVP: a good last dinner 

LVP: last dinner 
Day 38: lamberts meadow shelter to VA 311
I had to say goodbye this morning. I was ready to leave by 8, but I didn’t get out of camp until 8:50. I just couldn’t tear myself away. 

Rabbit and I had talked a lot about what I’d learned on this section. I’d set out with an ambitious but doable goal. Food poisoning, weather, a broken toe…things conspired against me to get me to slow down. I should have listened to my body at the beginning when those 20 mile days were so tough, but I pushed anyways. It was good, though, because that’s how I found my trail family. 

Without them, I would have pushed through a lot more. I probably wouldn’t have broken my toe. I probably wouldn’t have learned how to slow down and enjoy the trail and throw my schedule out the window. 

But today I had a deadline, and I also had trail legs (sort of) and I was getting close to averaging 3mph again, even with my toe. It felt good. 

I guess I could have done it, made it to Marion. But why? 
I’ve had this schedule of finishing the trail by July 1 for a few months now. 

I’m…reevaluating. I won’t stop hiking by any means, but I’d rather spend time on trail with some of my friends, and their sections may not line up with mine. And that’s ok. I can wait. I don’t have to finish the AT before I start working. I don’t have to finish the AT before I thru-hike the PCT, even. 

It doesn’t make me any less of a badass. I hiked with a broken toe! In crocs! 
So, I came to this realization slowly. It’s how the trail works on you, I guess. 

I made it up to McAfees Knob, then flew down the next few miles. My pack felt so light, and my Altra Lone Peaks were so comfy, and the trail so well switch-backed, I actually ran most of the trail until I found my dad. I immediately regretted it. 

We walked the next 2 miles together, chatting. A good way to end a year of hiking. I started with him hiking the first 3 miles of my very first section with me. I ended this section with him hiking with me. I’m so lucky to have parents who are so supportive of my need to find myself in the forest. 

So now I’m back, and missing my trail family, and missing the forest. But don’t worry, my dear friends. I’ll be back out soon. The mountains aren’t done teaching me all the things I need to learn. 
Miles: 10.4

Trip total: 413.3 miles 

MVP: everything 

LVP: saying goodbye
Final Injury List:

– Bad cold 

– Pinched muscle on ribs

– Turned ankle

– One numb toe

– One broken toe

days 23-31: the priest to thunderhill shelter

Day 23: Roanoke to The Priest Shelter
The toe is definitely broken. 

It’s been a slow recovery from the food poisoning, and having Sar Tec take care of me and my poor bruised toe has been…well, probably more than I deserve. 
But on Day 22, New Years Eve, Lil Popcorn Hat told us that he wasn’t getting back on trail until Monday; two more days off trail. Ok, I thought. I can write that off as time I need to ice my toe and finish recovering from food poisoning. 
But then Sar Tec had a family emergency and had to fly home, and I was left with the prospect of being alone in a hotel room for two days or getting myself back on trail somehow. 
I talked it over with Sar Tec. Y’all know what I decided on. 
I called Homer, a trail angel and shuttle driver, and in 20 minutes I was saying goodbye to Sar Tec. 
The climb up the priest was steep but well-switchbacked. It’s a definite 4 miles to the top, and my full resupply and broken toe slowed me down. I just don’t recommend hiking it at night or in crocs. 

Or with a broken toe. 

But I got to the shelter and was greeted by a friendly crowd of hikers- Rain Gear and Beth and their dog Winnie, and Just Will and his friend who’s name I’ve forgotten. We had a great time, and I went to bed missing my trail family, but happy I was on trail, 4000 feet above sea level, with strangers who were quickly becoming friends. 
Miles: 4.7
MVP: Sar Tec’s crocs

LVP: broken toe 
Day 24: the Priest Shelter to Seely Woodworth Shelter
I watched the sunrise on the first day of 2017. My toe throbbed and my nose ran and the cold wind snapped at my face, but I felt at home. 

I stayed at the shelter talking and packing until noon. Lazy. 

And then a quick 6.6 miles later (it was not quick, and it was not easy), I arrived at the shelter. 

My socks were wet. At one point there was an odd assortment of rocks across the trail. “I bet this is a creek crossing the rest of the year,” I thought, just as my foot sank deep into wet leaves, soaking my double layers of socks with cold water. 
I was only a mile from the shelter by then. 
Usually, the AT delights in taking you over and then back down every tiny hill in sight. Today, for whatever reason, bless it, I went AROUND this hill. And then over the next one of course. 

Once I made it here, I went down an unnecessarily long blue blaze for water. It was piped but the pipe wasn’t running. I civil engineered that thing into a gushing flow though. So talented. Just go ahead and give me that civil degree too, TTU. 

I was feeling pretty low and lonely as dinner was cooking when Rabbit, a sobo we met in the Shenandoahs, came in to the shelter. I thought he was ahead but he’d had food poisoning too! It was nice to chat with him tonight. 
Miles: 6.6
MVP: piped springs skills

LVP: I miss my trail family 
Day 25: seely woodworth to brown mountain shelter
Rabbit and I woke up together. “Is it morning?” We couldn’t tell. In the heavy fog it could be 3 am or 7am. 
It was 7am. 
We had breakfast and discussed plans for the day (heading to Brown Mountain Shelter). And soon I headed out. 

I was slow and a little sad. I stopped frequently. My toe hurt. My knees hurt. My back hurt. The random side of my left leg hurt. 
That’s not to say that the trail wasn’t pretty. It was. 

I just wasn’t feeling it today. 

Lil popcorn hat texted that he was back on trail and would catch up as soon as possible. And then sar tec texted that he’d be back on trail Wednesday and would shuttle to wherever we were. That helped some- I needed my community. 
But the day still seemed long. 
I did eventually get to a section I hadn’t been sure I’d get to hike. Until a few days before I left for the trail, several miles of this section had been closed due to a forest fire. It had been burning for weeks, and I’d been watching it carefully. 
I was happy to walk through it. I’ve walked through a lot of burned areas. It’s sad when fires are caused by arson or carelessness, but fires are a natural way of renewing the forest and making way for new plants. New growth will pop up faster than you can imagine. 

Then I had 6 miles to go, and 4 of those were a steep downhill that nearly had me in tears. And nearly had me calling my parents to come get me. Hiking in crocs is no joke, kids. And hiking with a broken toe is fine for about 10 miles, and then it’s sheer misery. 
The trail flattened out after that, and I met up with Rabbit again. We walked along Browns Creek, where a community of freed slaves once lived. We looked at the stone walls and some ruins of a home, and wondered if the community got a fair price when they sold their land to the Forest Service. And also wondered how anyone farmed on these steep slopes. 

The shelter was waiting for us, and I changed into dry clothes, as is my habit now, and retaped my toe. Rabbit and I sat and ate together, then had those conversations you tend to have at night- how’d you end up here, what makes you who you are, etc. It was a good night. An exceptionally good night. 
Despite my throbbing feet, I look forward to tomorrow. And that, my friends, is why you never leave the trail on a bad day. 
Miles: 15.8
MVP: me! I hiked 16 miles in the rain in freaking crocs!
LVP: that downhill
Day 26: brown mountain shelter to punchbowl shelter
We woke up to rain. I wasn’t about to jump on the trail in crocs in pouring rain, especially not for a short 10 mile day (or whatever it was supposed to be), so I made coffee (Starbucks white chocolate mocha and a packet of hot chocolate…does that even count as coffee?) and read while rabbit wrote. 

I said something about what a nice, lazy morning it was. “It’s not lazy. You’re resting. The work will be done by the end of the day, won’t it? What does it matter if you rest now or later?” Rabbit had a point, I guessed, but I told him I still felt like I should get the work done before I took rest. “You’re awfully hard on yourself, aren’t you? You were beating yourself up for not doing 20 mile days with a broken toe in crocs, but you’re still out here hiking, doing 15 mile days. That’s amazing! And it’s almost like you don’t really see that.” I thought maybe he had a point. It felt so much like failure, to know that I wouldn’t hike all 588.8 miles that I’d intended to, that I couldn’t see that just hiking at all right now was good enough. 
Maybe it’s time to slow down and forget about 588.8 miles, just for this section. Maybe I just do the miles that make sense for the day, and feel good about that. 
Anyways. Enough of Birthday Girl’s feelings journal. This isn’t Tumblr, after all. 
I hiked, and I was glad that I’d come up with a sock-grocery bag-sock system; my feet were warm when I came into the shelter. 

The day had been full of moss- ok, that sounds stupid, but hear me out. There were so many different kinds of moss– brain looking moss, starburst moss, carpet moss, tiny baby fern moss…I kept stopping to look at it and touch it and it was just so nice to see it again. I don’t know why it seemed so different from what I’d been hiking through recently, but it was beautiful. 

Miles: 9.5
MVP: bread

LVP: out of bread
Day 27: Punchbowl shelter to Glasgow Free Shelter
It was cold again. And there was another incredible sunrise. 

I walked alone most of the day, and it was nice. Nice for a lot of reasons- but mainly because I’d hiked this before, a few months ago, with Bent. And despite the broken toe and the crocs, it was all easier now. It’s good to have trail legs. 

Rabbit and I walked the last few miles together, then met our shuttle into town. I intended to just do a quick fuel and lunch resupply then pop out of town to Matts Creek Shelter with Sar Tec to meet up with Popcorn Hat, so I didn’t want to spend an hour trying to hitch. Plus the shuttle driver sold fuel. 

We got into town and found Sar Tec stacking wood at the free shelter, conveniently located just behind the only restaurant in town. We ate a delicious lunch, then headed to the laundromat. I washed my feet and evaluated the toe to show Sar Tec. Still broken. 

Dinner and a fire and a quick resupply later, we were charging electronics in the shelter and deciding not to go back on trail. Well, that decision had been made earlier, and we’d texted Popcorn Hat, but evidently he didn’t get the message in time. 
It was a cold night, but I was glad to have Sar Tec back on trail. 
Miles: 10.7
MVP: awesome honey mustard at Scottos

LVP: Not a great laundromat bathroom situation
Day 28: Glasgow to thunder hill shelter

We ran out of town and straight to Matts Creek to find Popcorn Hat. He was there, still unpacked, claiming he’d almost died of hypothermia last night. 
We snacked and chatted and waited approximately 20 hours for him to pack his bag. In that time, 100 (or 19) women known as the Happy Hikers descended on the shelter. Sar Tec was in his element. 

We hiked up bluff mountain and it started snowing. And kept snowing. It was beautiful but…cold. 

Rabbit caught up with us after waiting for a package to be delivered this morning. 

I climbed a mountain in crocs. 
And when we finally got to the shelter, we were frozen, cold, and all smiling. 
We cooked dinner and laughed and made hot chocolate…it was perfect. 

Miles: 14.4
MVP: snow

LVP: snow
Day 29: thunderhill shelter zero
You know what? We woke up and it was cold and there was more snow and we all had enough food to just stay here for a day, so we did. We made lots of tea and grilled cheese on the fire and the boys made a bow and arrow and it was one of the best days of my life. 

Miles: 0
MVP: grilled cheese

LVP: no s’mores 😦
Day 30: double zero at thunderhill shelter
I woke up to wet things on my face. “Something wet is falling on my face.” 
“It’s probably just your frozen breath falling off your sleeping bag.” 
I sat up. “No. it’s snowing inside the shelter and there’s like 5 inches of snow outside.” 

We all sat up in our sleeping bags and stared. That was a lot of snow. It was really cold, and still snowing– a lot. We made coffee. We sat and evaluated the food situation. “One more zero, then we hike 14 to those cabins or Buchanan so we can be off trail for the coldest day.” 

One more zero it was. 
Mid-afternoon, Raingear and his dad, Graybush, showed up. They brought with them trail magic: double stuff oreos, pastries, sour jelly beans, and a summer sausage. We ate it all, quickly. The sausage we saved for dinner. 
Raingear and Graybush had been camping a shelter or two over, then came to see if we were at Thunderhill. They were going to tent that night, then offered to drive us down to town if we needed to resupply or whatever. Incredible trail magic. 
We enjoyed the rest of the day, me with my toe propped up and reading on Sar Tec’s book, the boys building a giant snowman and trying to shoot it with their bow and arrows… and then cooking a giant communal meal with the leftovers of our food bags. It was delicious. 

We snuggled up together after another perfect zero spent in the woods together. Our trail family- Cult of the Hot Rocks. 
Miles: ZERO
MVP: summer sausage 

LVP: sleeping with fuel canisters is the WORST
Day 31: thunderhill shelter to Bedford, VA
The thing about winter hiking is this: cold weather is fun down to freezing, and maybe even the teens. It’s cold, it’s rough, but you can still do things and have fun and not feel miserable. 
At zero and below zero, fuel canisters barely work, so you have to sleep with them. As soon as you use it, you can literally get frostbite from touching it, because they get colder when you use it. 
Your water freezes constantly. Even if you sleep with it, when you take it out to drink it, the water in the lid will freeze, so you never et the kid on back again. 
You have to sleep with batteries and phones and medicines and wet socks and fuel canisters and, in our trail family, a hot rock from the fire, and there’s so much stuff in your sleeping bag that turning over feels like flipping an overstuffed-omelette and you’re the omelette. 
The entire top part of your sleeping bag freezes from your breath into hard pieces of ice. 
You’ll wake up and dig through your food bag for coffee and hot chocolate, then warm your fingers in your bag for 10 minutes before you can pour it in the water. 3 sips before your hands go back in the bag. 
Packing up means constantly moving your feet to keep feeling in your toes. 
It’s rough, is what I mean. 
And that’s what we slept in last night. A beautiful clear, cold, windy night. 

We packed up, and I took 15 minutes to shove my broken toe into a frozen trail runner (Sar tec had been playing in my shoes the past two days, since his boots were hopelessly frozen and our entire family wears the same size shoe). 
I left the shelter to hike in the deep snow to the blue ridge parkway, then road walk there (this section was plowed due to a huge comm tower) to Graybush’s truck. It was a soft dry powder, and with two good feet and maybe just a touch warmer air it would have been glorious. 

It was a few miles on the blue ridge. We’d heard a coyote last night and saw the tracks of several all down the road. Turkeys too. The woods had seemed so dead recently that it was nice to see the tracks. 
We made it to the truck and brushed it off, then piled in. Raingear took the bed with our packs, and I took the front with the heater and Graybush at the wheel. 

The forest service road they’d taken up was slick and steep in places. Some four wheelers had been up having fun. Most of the drive was fine, but there was one hill with two sharp turns where…well, Raingear bailed out of the back of the truck (while it was moving) and none of us could believe the insane rally skills Graybush had. 
We made it down though, all happy to be alive and together and laughing. 

Graybush and Raingear dropped us off at a Super8, and we did hiker things- food and resupply and showers. I took my first shower of 2017! It was a good one. 

Hopefully we’ll be back on trail soon, and by Wednesday we should be back up in the 50s. Winter in the south, huh?
I can’t tell you how much I’ve loved every day of this hike. 

9 days no shower! (The front desk gave us lots of extra towels lol)

Miles: .2 on the AT (3 or 4 total I guess)

MVP: Tostitos and jalapeño cheddar dip

LVP: shoving my foot in that frozen trail runner 

Days 19-22: sick

Who takes care of you when you’re sick?
I woke up the morning of day 19 feeling ok. I had some bubble guts- a generic term a friend from study abroad in France had for everything that just didn’t sit well- but otherwise felt ok. 
The night before, I’d been upset to see a headlight making its way to the shelter. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be Handmade, a thruhiker Bent and I had loved trying to find in the shelter logs! Bent had finally met him at the NC/GA border (and sent me a very excited text and picture, so I knew what he looked like). 
He remembered Bent, and we talked some about Handmade’s unusual handmade pack and hiking style, and in the morning we took a picture together before saying goodbye. 

We made it most of the way over 3 ridges before I started getting hot. 
Sar Tec felt my head. “You’re a furnace!” I started feeling sicker, and slowed the pace some. We decided on a longer break at a shelter just over 3 ridges. 
We finally got there, in rain and drizzle, and I had moments of feeling fine and moments of absolute misery during the hike. 
But once I started trying to eat, things went south. I settled for drinking some water instead, then laid down. 
And, as it turns out, I wouldn’t get up for a day and a half. 
The boys brought me water and covered me in sleeping bags as I shivered on the shelter floor. They collected wood for hours and built a roaring fire and tried to get me to sit in front of it in Sar Tec’s gortex bag, but I couldn’t. 

I slept. 
I woke up sweating and thought it was over, but in a few hours I was hot and cold and fevered again, sick to my stomach and still not eating. 
Who takes care of you when you’re sick? 
The boys made plans and alternate plans and I slept. 
Other hikers came that afternoon, lots of them. The boys built another fire and made friends. They brought me water and tucked me in, and made more plans. They snuggled close when I was cold, made me tea when I asked, put their cold hands on my hot head, and then made the decision after one zero that we needed to get out of the woods. 
We waited for the rain to stop, then hiked 3 miles to a road. Sar Tec had set up a shuttle for us to get to Buena Vista. I felt ok, or really pretty good, but every tiny 2 foot climb had me gasping for breath after 3 days of not eating. My shorts hung off me like they were 2 sizes too big (a feat for lululemon!!). Even the downhill gave me jello legs. 
By the time we got to the motel, I was exhausted. 
I’d been upset that Popcorn Hat’s parents pushed back their schedule and were coming up a day later than planned, but I think I need the time off trail. I’m still having a hard time eating after my bout of food poisoning or giardia or whatever it was (Dr Anna Foust wasn’t sure but did tell me how best to proceed, and yes, I’ll be more careful about purifying water). 
Will I finish on time? I don’t know. I cried in the motel room this morning worrying about it. It’ll take at least 18 miles a day to do it. Sar Tec says we can just do a few big pushes at the end when it’s flat; don’t worry. If I don’t, I don’t. 

But it’s hard to let go. 
On top of that I may have broken a toe this morning while packing up. It’s fine, I can tape it up and hike on it, but I won’t be doing 30s off the bat, that’s for sure. 
Who takes care of you when you’re sick? When I was single and living in Nashville, there were times when I had no one to call. Even when I was in Rock Island, sometimes I would be stuck with a migraine and no way to get to a doctor. 
I’m so lucky I have this trail family to care for me. And for me to care for. Community is so important to feeling like you belong and are safe and secure when things fall apart. 
But being able to ask for help, well, that’s hard. So if you know someone on their own, or someone who needs a few more people in their life,tell them you’ll take care of them when they’re sick, if you can. Tell them they can call you at 3am and you’ll go to CVS for NyQuil and popsicles or whatever they need. 
But only do those things if you mean it. Being able to count on your family to stay with you when you’re sick is the most important thing of all. 

Miles: barely any

MVP: trail fam

LVP: obvs being sick with no sprite 

Day 16-18: calf mountain shelter to maupin field shelter (Christmas)

Day 16: calf mountain shelter to Stanimal’s hostel
Also: Christmas Eve and the end of the Shenandoahs!! 
What’s it like to spend Christmas Eve on the trail? Well, I woke up, and the boys immediately made fun of my hair. 

They were right to do so. 
We had breakfast. Sar Tec gave me some weird oatmeal/ vanilla carnation instant breakfast combo drizzled with honey that was pretty good, and I had that with my tea. I made Popcorn Hat some hot chocolate, and then once the rain tapered off for the most part, we three hikers set off. 
Doc was going to get a hotel and leave a little later, so we said goodbye to him. 
We had some good walking and some not so good walking. Considering the 26 miles we’d done the day before, we were all feeling great. The trail was ok. 

We summited Little Calf Mountain (lol ok sure it’s a mountain). Off in front of us was a bigger mountain with all of these comm towers. “Hope we don’t have to climb that!” I said, stupidly. “We do,” replied Popcorn Hat. 

Well. Climb it we did. 

And then suddenly we were 105 miles away from Front Royal and that theater where we’d watched Star Wars. 
We stopped at a popcorn and hotdog stand to tide us over while we waited for our ride to the hostel (have you ever seen someone make kettle corn? It’s amazing! And also warm!!) and then we were off!
Before the shower

And after, with curls restored, and decked out in hiker box t-shirt

Feasting on Chinese AYCE buffet

Popcorn Hat doing laundry (he could not BELIEVE that I just tossed my pee rag in with all of the other clothes, as if I would do an entire load just for that. And then he touched it to move it to the dryer, lol)

And then we ran to Kroger for some snacks and sat and ate and watched movies. And looked at our feet. And that, my friends, is how you wait for Santa when you’re on the trail. 
Miles: 7.6
MVP: Chinese buffet

LVP: Not a great movie selection. We really struggled after Zoolander. 
Day 17: Stanimals to Paul c Wolfe shelter
Sar tec woke popcorn hat up with a quiet “coochie coochie coo, good morning buddy.” 

I should say, popcorn hat (Ethan) is 18 and hates being reminded that he’s younger than us. He’s also incredibly capable and looks like a mountain man, and hikes with a giant knife strapped to his leg, so that makes it even more fun. He also hates the trail name Lil Popcorn Hat, so I’ve been writing it everywhere. 
It was too freaking hot last night. I woke up sweating. I never thought I’d wish for a nice 30*F night with a cool breeze, and yet here I am. 
I’d been threatening the guys with the Justin Bieber Christmas album, so I bought that in anticipation of the 5 mile hike to the shelter. We walked 2 miles to Waffle House (a. Just a quick 2 miles and b. The things we’ll do for food!). 

As I sat with my trail family and ate a chocolate chip waffle, large order of hash browns, and a side of bacon (with a Coke), I looked around. This was the only place open on Christmas Day. It was us, some single older men, and a few families. Some older couples, some younger families without children. The staff were overwhelmed by the number of people, but they said Merry Christmas to everyone who walked in, greeted the regulars with the same banter they always do, had the same patience for the man with Alzheimer’s… it was hospitality for people with no where else to go on Christmas morning. There were people who held hands and prayed over their meals before eating; a guy with tattoos who took his food to go; a couple all dressed up in a velvet blazer and a silk dress. And us, showered, but in borrowed, mismatched clothes. 
We walked back and stopped at CVS and a 7-11 to resupply. It wasn’t ideal. 
We packed up and stopped at a Sheetz for food to pack out for our Christmas dinner. Back on the trail, I carried a Big Gulp with one hand and balanced a ridiculously heavy pack for 5 miles to Paul C Wolfe shelter. We laughed and joked the whole way. 

We got to the shelter and gathered firewood. Sar Tec spent time trying to get it to light, and eventually did. I warmed up my cheese sticks and fries (I’d eaten a giant pretzel and popcorn chicken cold) and sipped Coke from my hydroflask. We made s’mores over the fire, then tucked ourselves into our little pile of sleeping bags, giggling and laughing about things together. 

It wasn’t like any Christmas I’ve ever had. There were no presents to open, there was no hurry or stress (except a little about where to buy food when everything was closed, but we could have just zeroed and made up the time the next day). I called my older sister and talked to her for a few minutes, and I texted my family, but I was present with my friends, and spent time being grateful that, once again, the trail provided me a wonderful group of men to spend Christmas with. 
Having spent so much time growing up in the church and then working at a church myself, this is the only Christmas I’ve ever skipped Christmas Eve services (that I know of). But I’ll say this much- there was grace at waffle house. And joy around our campfire. And compassion from the employees at CVS and 7-11 who helped me resupply. And hope and love and everything we’re meant to find in the Advent season. 

Miles: 5
MVP: falling asleep to a waterfall, cozy between my trail family, smelling like a campfire 
LVP: bad resupply 
Day 18: Paul C Wolfe Shelter to Maupin Field Shelter
I told popcorn hat once that I would never become acclimated to the cold. It just wouldn’t happen- I was a cold natured person and I was always going to be cold. And it’s true- I’m usually more cold than the guys. But waking up in 30- something degree weather just felt…right. It felt good, sleeping on the shelter floor with just my foam pad again (if it’s not low 20s or teens I don’t bother with the inflatable pad). I didn’t need gloves while we sat around wasting time today (until 11!!) eating. I didn’t even zip up my down jacket. I just sat and ate an entire bag of powdered donuts like that’s what you always do in 35*F weather. 

We were supposed to go 22 miles today, but we didn’t leave until 11am, and then Popcorn Hat fell and bruised his knee pretty bad, and then Sar Tec opened up the skin on the back of his heel again, and the weather was just so wet and gray that we decided to go 16 and get up at a decent hour tomorrow. 

The day wasn’t terrible or anything, and there weren’t really any bad climbs, just some really slick rocks made trickier during our brief night hike- most of the day, and into the night, we were hiking in a cloud or mist or fog or Devils vapor or whatever. And all of the rocks were coated with water and slick, and the light from our headlamps barely reached the ground. It was treacherous. 
But we did get sun for an hour or so, and it was so nice and lovely. 

And I had an amazing lunch of some salami wrapped around mozzarella that I had the genius idea to stick in a tortilla. Tasted like cold pizza. 
Of course, after all of this food (over 1000 calories of powdered donuts, salami and cheese and chips and I don’t remember what else for lunch) I got to the shelter and ate an entire box of velveeta shells and cheese for dinner. Plus a tortilla to clean the pot. Plus a granola bar while it cooked. Plus I finished off Sar Tec’s sweet and sour pork. 
I guess you could say Hiker Hunger has hit. 
Miles: 16?

Trip total: 280.5
MVP: sun

LVP: rocks

Days 10- 15: manassas gap shelter to calf mountain shelter 

Day 10: manassas gap shelter to my mountain cabbin 
We woke up and watched the sky change from purple to orange and back to purple again. As the rain started to come down, Ethan and Sartec ran to the bear pole to grab all of our food. I munched on a pop tart in my sleeping bag as the cold rain landed on the tin roof of the shelter. It sounded like rain on the dock in Rock Island…only colder. 
We caught a break in the rain, so we set off for the 9 miles to My Mountain Cabbin. I hadn’t intended on another hostel, but this was my only chance of getting another canister of fuel before the shenandoahs. I made the sacrifice. 

The walk was fairly easy, except for the heat. The day warmed up to at least the high 50s, and we weren’t prepared for that. 

We soon passed what used to be part of a Smithsonian zoo. Northern Virginia is full of weird things like this, and the rumors fly among the hikers. “This is where they took Dick Cheney after 9/11.” “There are listening devices in the woods.” “Homeland security is right nearby.” It certainly looked odd to see what appeared to be a brand new roof on an otherwise abandoned building. 

But the end of this road was My Mountain Cabbin, a small outbuilding of a larger B&B. Both houses are historic, and the cabbin was likely once the slave quarters for the larger house (it’s on the historic registry). We were served lemonade and cookies, then started the shower line. 

After we were clean, we headed to Front Royal for lunch (a soul food place) and a movie (Rogue One) and then resupply. 

I’ve had carmex with me, but those two super cold days absolutely ruined my lips beyond hope of carmex. I immediately searched out Vaseline– every time I smiled, my lips cracked and bled. Happy to report good repair in just a few hours. 

Back to the cabbin for a bit of downtime before bed. 

Miles: 9
MVP: French fries

LVP: cold theater
Day 11: my mountain cabbin to Gravel Springs Hut
It’s a lot easier to get out of bed and get moving when you’re warm, I’ll say that much. 

Some of us had a bit of a time getting the entire food bag stuffed into the pack, but no fear, little Ethan succeeded eventually. 

Lisa cooked a huge breakfast for us…so huge we all needed to sit for a minute and digest before we started the climb into the Shennies. 

But climb we did! Pretty much all day. And it was nice to have views again. I did manage to find what was, I believe, the only patch of ice on the entire trail in the park. I carefully pointed it out to the crew (I lead), and then stepped forward, the promptly slipped and ended up on my butt. So graceful. 

Everything about the day looked intimidating on the map, but it really wasn’t that bad. Which is how we ended up in camp so early. Unfortunately, the next shelter was 13 miles farther, which is a little too far, so we stayed put and froze. 

And watched another gorgeous sunset, and told stories, and laughed together. 

Miles: 13.7

MVP: hydroflask

LVP: cold 🙂
Day 12: gravel springs hut to Byrd’s nest #3
We were all awake for the sunrise, but no one said anything until it was over. It was stunning. 

We sat and ate until around 9:30, then headed out. We’d discussed skipping some of the AT in favor of road walking. You don’t really skip miles; it’s the same distance, but the views are way better. So we did it. 

It was worth it. 
We all met up for lunch, then got back on trail for the rest of the day (except Sartech who didn’t and beat us to the shelter by about 30 minutes). 

We were rewarded with a nice spring, close to the trail. It’s weird, walking on the trail in winter. A lot of the soil is frozen, and it crunches very satisfactorily under foot. It sinks down, sometimes unpredictably, sort of like crusted snow. 

Good conversation, as usual. And then a long, long climb up Mary’s Mountain to Mary’s Rock. We made it right as the sun was setting. 

It was the perfect time. 
1.3 miles left to the shelter, where we met up with Rabbit, another SOBO, and another guy who’s evidently been living (and peeing) in the shelter for a month. 
I quickly ate an entire Knorr’s side (the cheesy pasta with broccoli, if you’re curious) and cleaned my bowl with kings Hawaii bread, and the we all piled in to our bags to snuggle close together for another cold night. Last night was around 20.4F when we got up, according to Doc’s fancy gadget. Tomorrow should be warmer. 
It’s always a little unsettling to find drifters who live in the AT shelters. You’re never quite sure if they’re stable (don’t worry, this guys seems fine)…but a lot of places lack the sort of resources people need for mental care, or maybe shelters are too dangerous (I met a lot of people at the church who really didn’t want to go to a large shelter). 
I suppose, all things considered, some of these AT shelters aren’t bad options, although the wind can be brutal. 
I don’t have a point. It’s just something to consider. 
Miles: 18.8
MVP: sunset

LVP: turned my ankle 

 Day 13: byrds nest #3 to bear fence hut
I got up first and was rewarded with a spectacular sunrise on my way to the privy. 

Yesterday was, no joke, a hard day. My ankle/foot was still bothering me. I managed to sort of French braid my hair while hiking. Skills. 

We passed a graveyard and then started on to what should have been the easiest hiking of the day…

But the ground rises up with the frost (expands) and now, since its warmer, collapses under our steps. It’s like walking in sand, with a pack, only you never know how your foot will land. It’s exhausting. 
We got to the shelter eventually, and I made another Knorrs side (I’m living large with my jetboil stove!) then settled in for another night. 

Miles: 22.4
MVP: dinner

LVP: ankle
Day 14: bear fence hut to pinefield hut
We didn’t have a sunrise today, and the day was still hard. 
Today just hurt. I asked the guys what there was to say about today and they said, “It hurt,” and “It sucked.”

I have to agree. The woods aren’t that pretty. The views are ok. Controversial opinion: the smokies are way better than the shennies. If the waysides were open and I could buy hamburgers and milkshakes every day, perhaps I would have a different opinion. Instead, my big treat is just icicles. 

Winter is hard. It’s dark so much of the time; everything is closed. It’s cold and it’s hard to do anything when it’s cold. 

I was short tempered today. I miss hiking alone sometimes but I know I’ll be alone forever if I leave this group, and I’m not sure I’m ready for that. 
But dinner was excellent. Sartec gave me a package of Spanish rice. As I was eating it I mentioned that it would be delicious on a tortilla with cheese. He said he had a whole extra package of tortillas, so I took one and cut some of my spicy cheese to put on there. Oooooooh wow was that good. 

I wish I had some cookies though. 
Waynesboro and a Chinese buffet for Christmas Eve. 5 miles to get back on the trail Christmas Day. I think we’re packing out hot dogs. 

Look at this though: here you can see the edge of the shelter and waayyyyy up on the hill is the privy. Ugh. 

Miles: 20.6
MVP: dinner

LVP: ankle/foot

Day 15: pinefield hut to calf mountain shelter
We woke up late, mostly because we were only going to go 13 miles today. We had two options: 13 miles or 26 miles. There’s always a third option: tent somewhere, but I hate tenting, and there weren’t any tent sites marked on the guidebook, so it seemed a little risky. 

The boys had some rough looking feet after the last day, so we’d all decided on the 13 mile shelter, then the next day we’d get up early and do 20 into waynesboro. For Chinese food. And resupply. 
So, morning came, and we sat around and slept super late. Doc decided, I suppose, not to wait, and headed out while we were sleeping. 
Around 9 we slowly started waking up. We made coffee and hot chocolate and ate breakfast, then eventually left the shelter. “It’s only 13 miles! What’s the rush?” I think we were on trail by 10:30. 
So, we’re walking and hiking and having a grand time, the three of us, when we stop and I check the weather. 

Rain in the morning for our 20 miles into waynesboro. No one wants that. 
We made an executive decision to turn our 13 mile day into a freaking 26 mile day at 2:30 in the afternoon. Yes, we are morons. 

So we started booking it (mostly). 

“Chinese food! Come to me!!”

And we made it to camp in the dark just before 8, which is pretty good time for some tired hikers. Doc was there. We made dinner (I traded sartec a Reese’s cup for a tortilla full of chicken fried rice, so I didn’t have to cook), snuggled up closed, and slept like the dead. With occasional moans of pain for our poor feet and legs. 

Next: just 7 miles to waynesboro for Christmas Eve 🙂
Miles: 26.2
MVP: dancing to Justin Bieber with the guys while hiking
LVP: seeing the town so far away 😦