Author Archives: paonthetrail

About paonthetrail

Really enjoy spending time in the outdoors. Soon to be retired and looking for new experiences and meeting like minded people.

50 miles to Harpers ferry

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The decision had been made to return home, recover and take care of some scheduled dental work as well as process what I had experienced. That will be in my next post. Harpers Ferry lay ahead and I was excited to reach this historic town. It also is home to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. I will put a link to their site at the end of this post.

I had up to now left open the possibility of continuing on from Harpers Ferry. The plan was set but I still had 50 miles to go and each day would bring it’s own challenges and surprises including the infamous Roller Coaster 20 miles away. There also would be a stay at the Bear’s Den Hostel which was a wonderful surprise.

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First was a 10 mile hike to the Whisky Hollow Shelter. The trail started downhill and passed under some power lines and across some meadows. It again seemed very overgrown with underbrush. Finally a short climb and then down to the John Marshall Highway at Manassas Gap.

This area is filled with history from the Civil War. General Mosby of the Confederate Calvary roamed these woods over 150 years ago. Several stone walls erected from that time are still standing.

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At US 55 you cross a railroad track and under Interstate 66 following Tuckers Lane before exiting left and back into the forest.

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At this point you are only 800 feet above sea level. Then begins a long climb of 1300 feet. Being so low in elevation everything was mud and mosquitoes. Afterwards it turned into primarily woods with a rocky path. I stopped at Manassas Shelter for lunch three quarters of the way up. This was the third time I had resupplied with summer sausage and cheese. I had been disappointed each time. I’d hoped to benefit from the high fat calories and at home have always relished it. Go figure! It was hot and I gulped down a half liter of water and refilled my bottles. I finished the climb and descended 2.5 miles to the shelter.

There were lots of trees down as I came upon a pretty substantial creek. The side trail to the shelter was suppose to be here but no signage indicated where or what direction. A post which had been in the ground was removed and hanging by a rope but even it had no direction. I checked my phone app and ascertained from some of the comments that a new shelter had been built and the entrance was .3 miles northbound after the creek. I looked around but saw no white blaze indicating a trail or nothing that resembled the trail. After a few minutes of confusion I headed up a hill and found it.

I walked down to the shelter and found several hikers already set up in a pretty large shelter with 2 levels of bunks.

There was quite a few people around and one hiker informed me that a Boy Scout Troop was camped here getting ready for a trip out west. Over the next two days I would pass and be passed by several troops. Most of the camping was taken already and Steak N Shake hadn’t arrived so I set up in the shelter. When he did arrive he investigated an area I hadn’t considered. It was uphill and unknown to me it was an old logging road which had numerous flat sites. I moved all my belongings and set up my tent. Not long after, it started to rain lightly so I went inside to read until the shower passed. It didn’t and each time I thought it might I attempted to cook supper but then it would rain harder. Eventually I cooked from inside my tent with my stove under the vestibule. Afterwards I moved my bear cannister away from my tent 80 feet or so and crawled into my sleeping bag listening to the drops splatter against my tent and the thunder rumbling. It was a nice night of sleep.

Vines everywhere

The next day was a short hike of only 8.4 miles. It was once again very humid and with all the vines and underbrush (including poison Ivy), it replicated a jungle atmosphere. I needed water and at 1 mile there was a spring. I could hear it but didn’t see it. It took a few minutes but I found water spilling from under a rock amidst the undergrowth. I slipped several times on wet rocks and the muddy trail, each time I caught myself with my hand without even a knee touching the ground. Along the way we skirted around the Sky Meadows State Park.

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Looks like a very nice park. Boy Scouts kept coming from both directions. Different troops from different areas of Virginia I wondered how they chose this small area with limited camping for their practice. Turns out Steak N Shake was involved with a Scout troop in the past and he’d been to the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico where these boys were headed. I saw another black snake, happily not a rattler and a deer as well.

Rod Hollow Shelter to Bears Den Hostel 10.5 miles.

This was the start of the Roller Coaster. A 14 mile stretch of up’s and down’s without any views. We decided to break it into 2 days and stay at the Bears Den Hostel, doing the last 4 miles on day 2. I was prepared for the climbs but nobody mentioned how rocky it would be.

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I woke up to light rain that soon stopped. I had coffee but no breakfast and quickly packed. I think the total climbs were around 3250 ft. and close to that going down. I can hike fast but inevitably that leads to a slip or fall but I do enjoy it and think I will get better. The last climb of the day was 500 feet and extremely rocky. When I reached Bears Den I was in for a surprise. It is an old stone mansion on 66 acres built in the 1930’s. It is only 150 yards off the trail. When I got there the place was closed. There were several hikers camped in tents outside, one a French Canadian woman named Mervel. She said no one could pronounce her name in French. So she changed it to reflect what others could pronounce. She showed me a code to get into the hiker accommodations until the caretaker arrived at 5:00. Inside was a refrigerator with cold drinks for 50 cents. I quickly claimed a bunk and then happily took a needed shower. They also had spare sets of clothes to wear while washing your own. Mine were really in need as it had been almost two weeks since the last wash. Afterward I took to a lounge chair in the garden to write in my journal. Once the caretaker arrived we paid 30 dollars and received a pizza, soda, and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. We also had use of the upstairs kitchen, dining room and living area which was loaded with information and pictures of the mansion and it’s history.

Bears Den Hostel

In the morning the operators had laid out pancake mix and coffee for anyone who would like to make their own. I had a great stay and felt ready to finish this Roller Coaster! This was not a bad hike because this section of the roller coaster was only 3.5 miles. At first it started to rain and I put on my raincoat but within 30 minutes I was so wet from sweating I just took it off. After that the rain stopped. I completed the 11.2 miles to David Lesser Shelter pretty fast. lt continued to be rocky but we are decreasing in elevation the closer we get to Harpers Ferry. There was also a boardwalk to get us through some muddy areas. The shelter itself was very nice with a nice deck in front and separate cooking area. When I arrived There were 3 people none of which were spending the night. one was a thru hiker named Roo. I believe it is based on the Winnie the Pooh character. She was from the Netherlands and was having a great hike. She had badly sprained her ankle but recovered back in Daleville. She had met the other two day hikers some time back and somehow they ended up on the same overlook earlier this day. It was their third chance meeting. There would be a fourth as I saw them in Harper’s Ferry as well. Roo was headed to a campsite 5 miles ahead though there wasn’t any water to be had at the site. The water at this shelter was a crazy quarter mile down a steep hill. It also had blown down trees forcing you to climb over or go around. I actually got off trail and had to backup to relocate the correct path. She did not want to go back down there and decided she would just make her liter and a half work. I admire her willingness to go on by herself under those conditions. The next day I saw Unicef at the ATC headquarters and he had ended up there as well with 3 other hikers. They had a very good time. I decided to stay in the shelter as this was my last night on trail. Four other people tented and 2 others hammocked on the side trail leading to the shelter. Two others, a married couple from Blairsville Ga. (Spruce Lee and Shitake) stayed in the shelter with us. They were a great couple and had a good approach to the trail. They allotted each of themselves a dollar per mile. They kept track of who had how much and if one wanted to splurge it was ok but then they might have to walk extra miles in order to build their account back up. It seemed like their teamwork was paying off.

David Lesser Shelter to Harpers Ferry 9.3 miles. Today was a bittersweet hike. I knew I’d be leaving the trail for awhile. The hike itself was fairly easy with few climbs. I felt excited though to see Harpers Ferry, go to the ATC for pictures, with enough time to explore the town and it’s history. We had a room reserved at the Quality Inn and the next morning a car to shuttle us back to the 4H camp where Steak N Shakes car was parked. We hustled down the trail to hoping to arrive by lunch. The hike itself was fairly easy with few climbs. It would however have one more rocky section which verified how much my feet needed the rest. I stopped often to look around and take it all in. Although I may have heard it first I was surprised when I first saw the Shenandoah River through the leaves. I waited for Steak N Shake so we could enter the town together. The river was 900 feet below so we carefully negotiated the steep descent. Crossing the bridge over the Shenandoah River was magnificent. It is wide and beautiful. From there you could see the town up on the hill. We stopped at the hotel and inquired and received an early check in. There was time to shower, have lunch and explore the town. First stop was the ATC, have our pictures made for the year book. I would now be classified as a section hiker because my finish date would be After April 13th next year. They have a scale here and I weighed 160 lbs. I started at 187. My waist was 31 inches. They have cold drinks here and we cooled off while reading about the history of the ATC and the Trail itself. Several hikers we had met were here and the place had a great atmosphere. Next we went to get lunch. The town itself is on a big hill and it was very hot outside. The houses along the way were all historic. It seemed every building and house was at least 150 years old. Restoration of other structures was taking place as well. After another high calorie lunch we explored some more. The town was filled with hikers! Finally we walked back to the hotel via the Appalachian Trail which passes through the town. It was a nice ending to a somewhat sad day and even up to the next morning I considered going on, after all Maryland was only .3 miles away!

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Railroad to Washington DC

The journey will continue later this summer. The path or direction not yet decided but I am going to do all I can to experience more of the trail, see more towns and visit all 14 states.

http://www.appalachiantrail.org/

Shenandoah finish plus a fork in the road

Big Meadows to Skyland Resort and then Luray Va. 8 miles.  This was another disappointing change of plans that in the end made sense. I ha d been told to take only 2 or3 days food into Shenandoah. The idea being that there were restaurants along the way to supplement and resupply opportunities at the campgrounds. The reality was the resupplies were limited and geared to car campers and not hikers. Also they were spaced approximately 20 miles apart.  The restaurants usually weren’t in close proximity to the camp stores. Most of the hikers had 8 or 900 miles at this point. They were hiking 20-25 miles a day. It worked for them but not me. On top of that Big Meadows was closed except for the Lodge restaurant.

This put us in a quandary because after the Loft Mtn. store it was 60 miles before the next chance for a resupply and not a good one to say the least. After that you exit the Park and Front Royal Va. is 20 miles away. I was taking advantage of any cooked food I could get but had lost 3 maybe 4 inches off my waist. I hadn’t been able to weigh but could tell I was significantly thinner. My legs felt strong and I had high energy in the mornings but by late afternoon I bottomed out. I just wasn’t getting enough calories.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_1012-2.jpg Today’s anticipated 14 mile hike would provide more views than any other day on the trip. Lunch was only 8 miles away at Skyland Resort. After an initial 500 ft. down and 600 ft. up we ridge walked up and down for 2.5 miles. Along the way there were views at Franklin Cliffs and  Crescent Rock. Skyland Resort had an excellent if not cheap dining room. I loaded up with over 2000 calories. while eating,  Jed had come up with a plan to shuttle into Luray and get a new pack. His shoulder strap broke a week ago and was causing back issues. Steak N Shake and I looked at the plan he had prepared for the last week of his section hike.  I noted he planned for long miles on a couple of days. At least one day was 18 miles. He had only been on trail 3 weeks and I convinced him of an easier option. If we all went to Luray we could restructure his timeline more reasonably and still arrive in  Harpers Ferry on schedule. We could get a needed resupply and a shower at the Luray Caverns Motel. In reality the resupply turned out not to be that good. Stopping for the night did help me though because I was beginning to wear down. Though I was hiking better, my foot injury had begun to involve my arch and the trail was getting much rockier the last few days. I wasn’t able to increase miles because of lack of energy throughout the afternoon even though my pace had picked up. I needed a rest and started to think of when that might be. Steak N Shake had made a proposal and I debated it in my mind. More on that later. The next day we shuttled back to Skyland Resort and started for Front Royal Virginia at 10:30. Front Royal is the northern boundary of Shenandoah Park. 37 miles away. Pass Mountain Hut was our first stop 11 miles away. This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_1159.jpgThere were at least 4 views along the way of the Shenandoah Valley. The weather was comparatively cool to what it had been. I had lunch at the Pinnacles picnic area. Tuna fish on a tortilla with cheese and mayo, chips and some energy bars plus a mix of nuts and raisins. Later I stopped at the Byrd’s Nest Hut for a break and snack. I’m trying to eat something every few hours. Afterwards 3 miles from Pass Mountain Hut I negotiated a really rocky section up to Mary’s Rock overlook.This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_1035.jpg  An impressive rock formation. Then it is steeply down 1200 feet to US 211 and Thornton Gap. Followed by a 500 foot climb to the Hut. What I have found is anytime you climb to the top of a mountain or ridge there is a reason why those areas are higher than the surrounding areas. They are made of rock! Inevitably the last up or down is going to be littered with rocks upon rocks. Not complaining just a fact. I have learned to not expect anything else. I keep moving forward, often dividing the climbs into shorter sections which helps my attitude because I can measure my progress. It helps to know that I’m half way there or just 200 feet more to climb. Once at the Hut I set up my tent and had dinner. I rested well though bears were seen and heard around camp that night. I slept through it. Must of been tired. A deer wandered into camp during breakfast.

Gravel Springs Shelter was 13.1 miles away.  More picture opportunities and not so many rocks today. I had a good hike because I was able to eat a cheeseburger and chili fries for lunch and a blackberry shake at the Elkwallow Wayside  I also had a mountain dew and candy bar. Those calories make the difference for me. I also got a few resupplies for the next day. After lunch I climbed a 1000 feet with relative ease. At the shelter there were reports of bear activity around the shelter. I decided to stay in the shelter.

Gravel Spring Shelter to Tom Floyd Shelter 10.5 miles. Had several steep climbs 750,550,600 but these climbs seem routine now. A storm was brewing so I double timed it to Tom Floyd Shelter. The skies grew darker and the winds picked up. When the temperature dropped I knew it wouldn’t be long. I arrived at the Shelter only to find a crew of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club replacing the roof and some rotten boards. They were mostly finished and said they would be out of there by 5:30.This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_1183.jpg They too sensed the storm and were in hurry up mode. I pitched in and handed tools or held ladders. These volunteers bring in the materials by hand as well as carry out any boards, metal roofing, trash etc. My thanks to them for all they do. Finally the crew chief told everyone to get into the shelter as the storm was upon us for real. We gathered all the tools and moved to the back of the shelter. My hiking companions arrived just in time. This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_1186-2-1.jpgThe rain and wind was pretty bad. Trees were bending toward the ground and then snapping back to bend the other direction. Within 10 minutes a nearby tree top snapped and came crashing down almost hitting the new picnic table the guys had built the day before.This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_1187.jpg Within 45 minutes it was over and worked proceeded for another hour. They left and we settled in for the night. several more hikers showed up and though I wanted to be one of the first to try out the newly remodeled Tom Floyd Shelter I decided to set up my tent before the good spaces were reserved. I sleep better in my tent and the chance of a storm seemed small so I vacated the shelter.

The next day would be a transition day. Steak N Shake’s car was at the 4H campground only 1.2 miles away. Jed was going into Front Royal to get a mail drop. He decided to spend a couple of zero days in town. Steak N Shake and myself needed food so we hiked to his car and he drove us to town where we had a good breakfast of eggs, pancakes, bacon and sausage with real coffee and orange juice. we then went to resupply before dropping Jed off at the Quality Inn. Steak N Shake and I then went back to the trail parked his car and headed out. I should mention something that happened earlier on the way to get the car. I was hiking light leaving camp that morning having no food except one pack of cocoa. I motored from the shelter ahead of everyone else. Soon I checked the APP on my phone which listed the 4H Center. It showed me near the Center but I saw no side trail. I thought maybe I had passed it so I backed up a little. In a minute a man and his niece Determined (Her trail name) was coming down the trail. They said my hiking companions had taken a side trail about .5 miles back. Sure enough about then I received a text from Jed wondering if I missed the turnoff. It was not marked and not on my APP. I had to hustle back uphill 300 ft. on a muggy morning. I was out of breath and hot but made it back in 15 minutes. Good thing I didn’t have any food in my pack.

I had been hiking with Jed for almost 200 miles. I will miss him and wish him good luck on the rest of his hike. Steak N Shake had grabbed a sandwich for lunch at the resupply store. I needed more than him and in the rush I forgot to get mine. Later Trail Magic would come to the rescue. After bringing the car back I had to repackage my food in the 4H parking lot. There was a camp for young students going on a hike and the Counselors asked if we would answer their questions about thru hiking. We gladly agreed and then they went on a short hike of their own. I finished packing my food while Shake ate his lunch. I wasn’t at all sure what I would eat but felt the need to get hiking first. We only had 5 miles to the next shelter and it started out down hill. The terrain was not very pretty and it was miserably hot. Thick vines were crowding  close to the trail. You could tell we were passing through private lands. I could se a tall fence on both sides through the thick underbrush. Mosquitos swarmed around whenever you stopped.  I hadn’t eaten yet when I came to a wide path of grass and at the end of it appeared to be a road with a parking lot. I saw what I thought was a picnic area and decided that’s where I would stop for lunch. When I got closer I realized someone was giving out Trail Magic. Another hiker from last year had set up a grill and had cold drinks in a cooler. His house was actually on the other side of the brush I had been walking through and he had cut a path out so he could give hikers lunch as they passed by. I had two hot dogs, two Mountain Dew’s and a bag of chips.This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_1200.jpg Thanks to Flip for the kindness! It changed my attitude and restored my energy for the day. I crossed US 522 and climbed 850 rocky ft. before another rocky steep downhill. On the way down my knee locked up and I almost hyper extended it as I stumbled forward to the Jim and Molly Denton Shelter.This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_1208.jpg This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_1212.jpgThis was a special shelter. It had a solar shelter, horse shoes, Adirondack 3 person bench/chair, a covered deck and a pavilion over a large picnic table. Later General Lee arrived as would Galileo, Unicef, and Hercules(2014 thru hiker) bringing more Trail Magic! I immediately took a shower and set up my tent. It had ben a good day but the rocks had once again destroyed my feet. Now both seem to have the same issue. At times they seem ok but never better and slowly they seem to get worse. Sadly I have to weigh all my options. I thought about my goals for this journey, my health, what I missed back at home. I knew I needed time off but wasn’t sure how long. I have to figure out how to carry enough calories. I was hiking better but for how long? I also had been scheduled for dental surgery before I left. I had planned to go back 200 miles ago but put it off. That wouldn’t wait much longer. I’ve decided to suspend the hike for the summer months and during the time off answer these questions and come up with a plan for the rest of this year and then finish next year. More on that in the next post. I will go on to Harpers Ferry and Steak N Shake will drop me off in Roanoke on his way home to Savannah. My friend Paul lives there. At that point I will rent a car to Chattanooga and regroup, rest, rehab, take care of the dental issue, but most of all reflect on what I learned and hopefully a strategy to make this work. I still want to see each of the states. I’ll be a section hiker but I don’t have much time so they will have to be long sections. Hopefully I can complete this next year. It’s 50 miles to Harpers Ferry West Virginia. That is the home of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. I’ll stop by there and tell them of my plans. Maybe they will have some ideas. I’m disappointed but not quitting or giving up. The journey will continue… Stay tuned for the finish of this part and news of my plan!

Shenandoah National Park

Part 1

First of all I’d like to say Waynesboro is a great town. Food, history, and friendly to hikers. Had a great time! Ming’s Chinese Buffet did not disappoint.

Leaving Waynesboro you enter the Shenandoah National Park. We got a late start but only had 7.5 miles to Calf Mountain Shelter. The weather was windy but most of the rain was left back in Waynesboro. Elevations weren’t crazy either but after 2 days in town I felt clumsy. To be honest I was disappointed. The surrounding trees on Calf Mountain were smallish and scrubby looking. I learned later that the acidic soil may contribute to some of the stunted size of the trees. The underlaying rock is rich in quartzite which breaks down over time into highly acidic soil. Which in turn effects what plants and trees can thrive in that location. Azalea, blueberry, mountain laurel can be found here.IMG_0735

When you leave town to get back on the trail and a shuttle drops you off, the transformation back to a hiker is rather quick. You get out, throw the pack on and start walking in a matter of minutes. I have a hard time getting right into the swing of things and this cold and blustery day was no different. I came out of the woods at Beagle Gap and the 25-35 mph winds literally blew me off the trail twice. Temperature was around 45 and I had sent my gloves home figuring all the cold weather was passed. Anyways it wasn’t a bad hike but I struggled worse than I should have. That night the wind continued to blow with severe gusts and temps lowered to 40 degrees. IMG_0742 I awoke to find a bear had tried to access my food canister leaving scratches and a possible bite mark. He also had move the canister about 25 feet. Doc and Solo were there as were 3 other college age thru hikers.

At 8:15 we started north for Black Rock Hut 13 miles away. Today I felt different. This was a turning point in my hike.  My legs felt stronger. I seemed to be in sync with the multitude of rocks in my path. I was able to maintain a smooth stride and adjust to the trail changes with less wasted effort. Finally a little speed! The terrain helped too. There were no 1000 ft. climbs but a 500 ft. down and then 800 ft. up followed by  a series of ups and downs. At the end of the day I was tired but probably my best day hiking. Saw a buck and three does.

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The path forward.

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We both were surprised!

BlackRock Hut to Pinefield Hut 13.2 miles. Another good start. I’m starting to hike real fast. Arrived at Loft Mountain by 12:00 and resupplied with a couple of meals. Also had a coke, chips, ice cream, candy bar, anything for calories as I’m still losing weight. These  last 2 days weren’t killer climbs but all  have at least one 500 footer. I can climb these quickly now but my sprinting style of hiking up hill is taxing my lungs. I’ve tried to slow it down but for whatever reason it doesn’t work for me. This day would take us past many rocks including Black Rock Mountain. The rock is volcanic thus the black color.

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Black Rock overlook

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This would also be a hard day on both my feet. I have been hiking with a third person, Steak”N”Shake since the start of the Shenandoah Nat.Park. He is section hiking with the goal of Harpers Ferry this year. Along with Jed Morgensen, and myself (we tend to hike the same number of miles each day) we have become a team of three.

Next day was off to Hightop Hut only 8 miles away. Before we started, Larry in his 70’s from the Potomac AT Trail Maintenance Club stopped by to service the shelter. He filled us with stories about bears, Shenandoah, Trail Maintenance etc. while we packed up. He lives 10 miles away, routinely checking on this shelter. Today I would see my first bear!  There was evidence of bears all along the trail ever since entering the park.  I was coming down into Powell Gap and heard a loud branch crack. I knew it wasn’t a small animal so I scanned the hillside. Nothing.  I took 10 more steps around a bend in the trail and there he was looking straight at me. Probably 30 yards away. At first I just wanted to get my phone out but would have to abandon my trekking poles. I was told to raise them up and make myself look bigger so I thought it best just to observe and see if he was concerned about my being in his playground. He sat up on his hind end and just stared at me. Not seeming aggressive I decided to back up a little and shed my poles, got my phone ready to take a picture but he started to leave just as my two hiking companions arrived. We all tried to get his picture and I finally grabbed one before he disappeared.

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The bear that got away!

This would be a harder hike than expected. We started with a 350 ft. up, down 500 than up 700, down 750 and finally up 400 feet, which would have been 900 except the shelter was 400 feet below the top. Despite the low miles it took 5.5 hours to get there.  Along the way I saw Mighty Blue who is an author of two book describing his trail experience and has a well known  podcast about hiking the AT. He is hiking the trail for the second time. I told them of our plans to camp at Lewis Mtn. Campground the next night and they advised calling as soon as we got a cell tower signal. We did and all property in Shenandoah was booked for the weekend. That put a big kink in our plans.

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Hightop Mountain

    High Top Hut to Lewis Campground. 11.6 miles It was a very hot day with huge elevation totals. A few more than 500 feet.We went to the camp store and resupplied. I ate all the extra chips and snacks I could find. I had been shedding pounds fast and could not get enough calories. I also took a shower for 2 dollars. There was no camping space available so we had to move on. Just before we left an afternoon shower popped up and we delayed our departure. The rain turned into trail magic! A retired veteran (Jim), and his wife (the Crazy One) had a campsite and made an offer to Steak and Shake letting us pitch our tents at their site. We said yes and spent a pleasant evening talking to them and relaxing. The Crazy One is section hiking parts of the trail and her husband Jim assists if she needs to be picked up etc. Then things got even better. Steak N Shake had a friend with an RV at another campground ahead. We had planned on resupplying there and spending the night. He called Kent and arranged to have him meet us in his RV the next morning.

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Jed and Steak N Shake waiting to slackpack


IMG_0962He would take all our heavy gear and allow us to just carry water and snacks the 9.5 miles to Kent’s campsite. It is called slackpacking and I was eager to find out just how fast I could hike. I think I averaged almost 4 mph. I also learned another thing. My left foot pain is caused primarily from the weight of my pack. I had no issues over the rocks except once when I got careless and out of control. Later I found out Steak N Shake had taken a pretty good fall. Bruising his arm and some ribs. He toughed it out and maintained the pace the next few days. IMG_0949

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 At Big Meadows there is a lodge with a restaurant overlooking the valley. We ate there and my meal was well over 2500 calories. The dessert was blackberry ice cream with graham cracker crust and a blackberry sauce drizzled over the top. The resupply store was closed for renovation and that along with some other things changed ourIMG_0961 plans for the day tomorrow.

Trail Magic or coincidence?

I need to explain a few things first. I had a lot of wet gear including my sleeping pad and bag from last nights rain. I was anxious to get to the next shelter and hoped the sun would shine to help dry things out. When wet a down bag has no insulation value and is very hard to get dry. The Harpers Creek Shelter was only 7.6 miles away. But it did have a 500 ft. climb, followed by a steep 3000 ft. drop and then another 800 feet up before a mile walk to the shelter. We had just done the first 500 up and halfway down the Priest when two young female hikers approached me headed up the hill. They stopped and talked for a second obviously full of energy. The first one (later I learned her name was Spoons) went by me and engaged Jed while I talked some more with Sunshine. You could just sense they both had been thru hikers and their friendship was equivalent to that of twin sisters. I said stay safe and headed down the hill. At the bottom was a parking lot and Hwy 56. I waited on Jed and watched the skies hoping the sun would come out. When Jed arrived he had a proposal if I was willing. He was inclined to change plans for the day. While talking to the female hikers he realized that he had hiked with Spoons in Maine last years thru hike attempt. She also remembered him so they offered to give us a ride to the Devils Backbone Brewery and Pub about 10 miles away. They had a free campground for thru hikers with hot showers/ bathrooms and a restaurant. On top of that they also had a hiker breakfast for 5 dollars. Sounded good but at first I was inclined to keep pushing on because I needed to dry things. After looking at the guide I realized the diversion wouldn’t delay our scheduled stop in Waynesboro. Besides that I could start drying things out in the parking lot while we waited for their return. The sun came out just enough and that with the wind I did get everything dry.

I knew it would take awhile because that’s a big hill. Eventually they returned and away we went. Many of the same hikers we camped with the night before were also there and Mighty Blue on the Appalachian Trail was as well. He has a podcast that I listened to for several years. Turns out he had interviewed Sunshine and when I learned of that fact I could remember the episode. She had the same spirit on the podcast. A true ray of Sunshine. Thanks to both of them for all they did and the delightful friendship they showed myself and Jed!

The breakfast put us behind but a big day Kay ahead of us. The one negative as a result of our diversion was we had a 500 ft climb right off the bat that we would have done the day before. We started by crossing the Tye River on a suspension bridge and then immediately going up. It would only be 9 miles but considering my legs had been feeling stronger, the veracity of that thought would be tested to the limit. The Three Ridges Mountain is just that, three ridges.On top of that, three quarters of that is rock climbing. 3 places for several hundred yards you just knew an earthquake had taken place. It was tough on the feet, ankles, and knees. I used all kinds of mental techniques to keep pushing upward. There were several views which were convenient rest stops. I’ll let the picture tell the story of the steep nature of the climb. The terrain was another thing all together. Once on top a rocky downhill for 1300 ft. to Maupin Shelter. There wasn’t much daylight left so I immediately began chores and got ready for bed. I slept in the shelter because rain was expected by morning and needed a quick departure because Paul Wolfe Shelter was 16 miles away.

The climbs seemed easier this morning and the rain mostly held off until the last 8 miles. We saw many day hikers who had come out and seemed surprised by the rain. Very few had any protection and little water. It got cold and wet fast. I left my rain jacket on to keep warm even though all my clothes were soaked through from sweat as well as rain. I made the 16 miles sire but healthy. I was wet for the third time in a week and my body was ready for a zero. Waynesboro was 5 miles away. Jed arrived and we took measures to set up as the rain was not going away. Another hiker from Colorado arrived and we all had a good conversation before laying down in the shelter for the night.

It rained heavily all night. Each of us was ready to get to town soon. I made a reservation at the Quality Inn Waynesboro from the shelter. We started a muddy climb up for a good while and then had to avoid the many trees which had been blown down in previous storms. Someone said they counted over 39 on one hillside. We emerged onto the Blue Ridge Parkway and Interstate 64. A free shuttle took us to the hotel. We checked in and immediately went to the laundry mat. Everything I owned had to be washed so I just wore my raincoat and rain pants. It’s tough at times to be a hiker. After lunch there were more chores. However I found time to catch up on this blog. That’s a good thing! Shenandoah here I come. It is the most probable time to cross paths with a bear. Hope I know how to act.

The journey continues….

Better Week,Beautiful Views, and Rain

Part 1

This may have been a turning point or it may be a combination of a better fitting pack, trail legs, and sections of trail which I didn’t have to worry as much about my foot. There still were climbs but they seemed more manageable. In between were sections I just picked up my poles and walked naturally. I seem to have a better pace in those conditions. I left Glasgow and had a comparatively gentle start climbing 2700 ft. Up Bluff Mtn. It was foggy and damp but the rain held off for the most part. Here are some of the views.

Here are a few views along the way to the top of Bluff Mountain.After this I arrived at the top just before the rain started. I came upon a monument that marked where a 4 year old boy had wandered away from school and was found the next spring. The monument marks the exact spot.

https://lexingtonvirginia.com/outdoors/blog/bluff-mountain-and-the-tragedy-of-little-ottie-cline-powell

So sad, I said a prayer for him before leaving. He remained in my thoughts for several days.

The rain picked up so I put on my rain jacket and headed 700 ft. down to Punchbowl Shelter. The sun came out at 5 or 6. Ate and filtered water before going to bed. Shoes did good but got pretty wet. Also even though the climb was 2700 ft. the trail seemed easier. Stronger legs? I needed that! I did apply a couple of bandages at lunch to my left foot. For whatever reason the next day I experienced no issues.

The next morning we set our sites on Cow Camp Gap Shelter. I was now hiking with Jed Morgansen. That’s his trail name. We got there at 3:00 in the afternoon. After discussing with Jed he suggested going only 2.2 miles further. The trail crosses Hwy. 60 at that point which leads to Buena Vista. I could use a little drying out so I agreed and we split a hotel room. By doing so we put off the next 700 ft. Climb until the morning. It worked out well and unknown to me now, even more so later in the week. The negative is that in town is where you spend money. If your not careful your budget goes south pretty fast. In the morning we headed back to where we left off and off to Hog Camp Gap. Only six miles away but we didn’t start till 10 in the morning. The climb was another surprise. It was difficult but I handled it fairly well. We passed the shelter we intended to stay at and went on to Hog Camp Gap Shelter. This day included the most beautiful view I had seen up to this point. Cole Mountain. Here are some pictures and maybe a video.

I played Wonder by Hillsong United here.

I had made some more pack adjustments and everything seems to be working. Even the shoes😎. However that night I had a big scare. My right side between the shoulder and the neck had become swollen at some point. I woke up in the middle of the night and could not raise my head without severe pain. Even moving my arms caused severe pain. If not for the pain I would have thought I was paralyzed. The only way I could sit up was to turn my head to the left and get my hand under my face lifting my head as I raised up. Once up it seemed ok except when turning my head to the right. I took some ibuprofen and lay back down eventually switching my sleeping bag 180 degrees. This elevated my head some and I was able to sleep. In the morning it was sore but once upright seemed ok. There were many hikers at Hog Camp Gap including Goodun from Germany,Cherry from Denmark, a group of 4 guys from Alabama,

The night was warm and everyone started stirring around at 5:30 making breakfast and packing up. I was on the trail by 7:30the next morning toward The Priest Shelter 14.3 miles away. Starting out on a pretty decent trail which turned ugly real fast. A series of low climbs (290-300 ft.). At the 8 mile mark it started to rain. I hurried to the Seeley-Woolworth Shelter to assess the situation and wait for Jed. I didn’t get too wet. We had a snack and the rain quit. But the trail turned rocky. I wasted time trying to climb Spy Rock on a side trail and never made it to the top. Got back on trail if you can call it that, a series of hard, steep rocky climbs for 4 miles. Then the Priest Mtn. Thankfully the shelter was 200 ft. short of the peak which was 800 feet. Everything on me hurt! Even my knees and achilles. Arrived with barely enough daylight to get set up and eat. I set my tent up 50 yards from the shelter and went to cook at the shelter. In the middle of dinner a rain came on quickly. I was with out my raincoat and in my only set of dry clothes. Eventually I had to run back to the tent to retrieve it. What I found was another issue. I had put my gear in the tent and it pushed the mesh doorway past the awning on the tent. Water had pooled in one corner. I spent some time mopping up the water put on my raincoat. Happy everything was buttoned up I went back to finish dinner and hide my bear canister. The rain turned into a deluge. Eventually the fog was so thick I would have a hard time finding my tent. Especially as the campground was a lake. Every one of the 6 tents had 3 to 5 inches of water under and around it. I had to make a big arc just to get mine. I would say mine had 3 inches of water but none inside. That ZPacks bathtub floor did its job. During the night my sleeping pad slid up against the door and my foot box on the bag was wet. Very wet. Others were worse, all their gear was soaked. Nothing to do but move on and maybe dry things out a little at lunch.

Gains and Pains

The trail has a learning curve that is even steeper than its hills. This was a hard week in many ways. My pack wasn’t wasn’t fitting correctly. Others noticed it and I felt it. I spent another zero in Daleville with No Collar adjusted the whole pack and improved it immensely. The next day I left No Collar behind to rest his injured knee. I’ve known him since my first day on the trail. I hope he heals soon! I mention that because that’s another part of this life. People get hurt and have to stay behind. Up to now he’d been my closest friend and now a week later he is still off the trail. I got a late start but covered the 11.2 miles to Wilson Creek Shelter. It was mostly an uneventful hike which is what I wanted. I was alone but as I’ve learned eventually 7 more arrived. Two of those moved on to a campsite a few miles down the trail. Most people doing 20 plus miles walk all day and even past dark. I get there early but am still limiting my miles according to how my legs feel. At this point I prefer to end my day going downhill. Though that means starting each morning going uphill.

The next morning I met Kip, a man that is hiking with a prosthetic arm. He writes inspiring stories for amputee’s in a magazine called Amplitude. He is my age and has a great story to tell. I also saw a deer stroll into camp while eating breakfast.

This day I had a decision to make. Water was not going to be readily available for quite a few miles. There was a shelter (Bobbletts Gap) 7.7 miles away which had water. The next water would be 12.5 miles away. That meant if I kept going I would have to do a 19 mile day. It was 85 degrees that day! The shelter was .2 miles downhill which meant a steep climb back to the trail. I decided it best to call it a day. I hiked down to the shelter because the 19 miles was just too far at this point with or without water. Another hiker, Reader stopped by for lunch and we had a good conversation. Better Together is behind me and may catch me tomorrow. Other hikers that night were Cayenne, a doctor from Stone Mountain and Griffendore and his wife from Griffin Ga. I would see these hikers for the next few days. Especially Cayenne.

The next day was the hardest hike I have had yet. Or so I thought until the day after. On the first there were 3 climbs of 400, 500, and 1000. It was 80 degrees! And there still was 2.3 miles down to the shelter. There were good moments like meeting back up with Better Together. Having lunch with Hugs and his dog. But that last climb of the day did me in. The shelter itself was special. It held 20 people. We only had six. A really nice shelter but for some reason I didn’t take a picture.

The next day would be worse. It started with a 2000 foot climb. Followed by a rocky up and down and then 1000 ft. climb over rocks that hurt my already injured foot. At the top of Apple Orchard Mtn. a thunderstorm hit and I was exposed, having to hustle across a field while lightning cracked overhead. It was an unusual spot because an FAA tower was atop the ridge. It had kind of a weird spaceship look. The Guillotine, a rock formation was just ahead in the trees so I snapped a quick picture and headed for cover. The Guillotine is two large rocks with a third rock sitting squeezed between the two. I took cover underneath and took my pack off to retrieve my rain coat. In the process I hit my head on a rock and felt for blood. I found it. Needless to say I didn’t take a picture but hurried on to the shelter a mile away. The trail was now just a river almost as high as my shoes. The rain slacked off just as I arrived. Jed Morgansen and Tank we’re headed out. Tank a retired policeman from Louisiana and I had lunch at a small stream earlier that day. I asked Tank to inspect the cut on my head. He said it wasn’t too bad so I ignored it. Found Cayenne taking a nap waiting out the storm. Eventually he would decide to spend the night. Later we were joined by Jumanji and Dory, a couple day hiking for a few days. Enjoyed there company and conversation. As bad as the day had been I felt good having covered 31 miles in 3 days despite having to stop early the first day. I planned to go to the next shelter tomorrow for another 12.5 miles.

That is what I planned. At first the trail was gentle with no big climbs and plenty of flowers. I met 5 ladies from the Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Maintenance Club.They pointed out different flowers as we leapfrogged each other for a few miles. Down at the parking lot where their cars were we talked and they gave me an apple. I climbed up another 700 ft. to Highcock Knob. I found Cayenne here eating lunch and after discussing plans I decided to call for a shuttle to Stanimals hostel in Glasgow Va. instead of stopping the night at Matt’s Creek Shelter. The pickup time was 4:00 pm. It was 12:30 when I made the call. That meant covering almost 9 miles in 3 and half hours. It would be the fastest I travelled to this point. Fortunately it was mostly downhill. I told Cayenne goodbye and sprinted down the hill. After maybe 10 minutes I realized there were no white blazes. I checked my phone and verified I was off the trail. In a minute I came to a junction with a sign. Two of the trails went to places I did not want to go. The third directed me back where I came from. I had to go a quarter of a mile uphill and start over. Now I was in a hurry. I almost ran, down the steep rocky slopes, hurting once again my foot. I stopped at the shelter I intended to spend the night and cooled off by pouring cold stream water over my head. Then I began racing again another two miles until I saw the James River. The trail followed beside it for a mile and a half. When I finally reached the bridge it was 3:50. I had gone almost 10 miles in 3 hours. Not the way I want to do it.

I was really needing the new shoes which I had shipped, to Stanimals Hostel in Glasgow Virginia. When the shuttle driver dropped me off I learned my package had not arrived. I called Amazon and found it had been shipped to the wrong place. They couldn’t guarantee I would receive it in an acceptable time. I cancelled the order and arranged to be shuttled to an outfitter in Lexington Va. I ended up getting a regular trail shoe which I had worn in my gear test hikes. Fingers crossed.

I spent most of the day with the shuttle driver who took me to a great breakfast buffet in Buena Vista. Fresh fruit, pan a cakes, eggs, biscuits and gravy. But the best part was they made their own sausage. Best I have ever eaten!

We also went to Walmart. He had to buy some things for the hostel. I sat on a bench by the cashier. Wouldn’t you know it but the gentleman I sat next to had opened the first General store in Monson Maine. He told me many trail stories as all the hikers north used his store for resupply. Amazing how these things keep happening. Glad about my shoes and glad I did the extra miles to get Glasglow (15.8). Scotto’s had great pizza and subs. Had a great time away from the trail. It was a tough week physically and mentally as well. I need to get my trail legs soon!

Sorry for the delay on posting but so many things need to be done when off trail and I’m composing this on my phone. I’m not to good at that and the pictures aren’t placed where I’d like them. Also the descriptions may seem repetitive but that is my day. Keep moving forward as far as I can whether it’s up or down no matter how high or hard you have no choice but get to a place with water and at least some flat ground for a tent. Thanks for following!

Daily Ups and Downs

So many things happen each day and lots to do when I get to these towns. Including rest, resupply, communication with family, new gear, and yes I still have to conduct some business 😳. In week two I’m starting to get into the routine of life on the trail.

After 2 days off the trail I was ready to get moving north. 3 days is really too long but I plan to use my zero mileage days more often early in the hike. The joints and bones need more time then muscles to get use to the constant stress from difficult hiking along with the weight of the pack. Two days off is also a way to step backward for an unseasoned hiker. Getting started again is a shock to the system.

The Keffer Oak

I was headed to Niday shelter from where I left off at Hwy 42. Starting on private lands, which were cow pastures on rolling hills. My legs were feeling much stronger today! I passed by the Kiefer Oak which is the second largest on the Appalachian Trail. 18 feet around and 300 years old. It was 10 miles to the shelter including a 3 mile ridge walk. Ridge walks are not as pleasant as they sound. They include a series of peaks which are connected by a sag in the trail, requiring you to walk back down in elevation then reclimb that much and more. This can go on for 6,7, even 8 peaks until finally reaching the top. This one wasn’t as bad as the ones to come. On the way I crossed the Eastern Continental Divide. I tented on a pleasant night looking forward to the Audie Murphy Monument the next day.

Niday Shelter to Pickle Branch shelter. 10 miles

The morning started hot and soon was 80 degrees. The trail itself was what I have become to call a proper trail. Meaning fewer rocks, more leaves and pine needles. At 3100 ft and a 1000 ft. On what looked like an old road I walked up to the Audie Murphy Monument. Audie Murphy was the most decorated WW2 Veteran. He died in a plane crash here in 1974. It was my most anticipated moment to this point on the trail. I took some pictures, sat on a bench in silence for awhile then prayed and left in silence.

Audie Murphy Monument

The leaves on the trees still were not out and the sun was taking a toll on my energy not to mention my arms were getting red. I couldn’t apply sunscreen often enough so I’m forced to wear a long sleeve shirt and hat. From here it was down to Trout Creek where I sat for a long lunch with my feet in the water. Mule, Dave livin’itup and three others were here as well. Not sure if I mentioned it but I tweaked an old foot injury and though manageable it means being very mindful of my foot placement. Fortunately the trail has been forgiving the last couple of days. I use the cold water of the streams like ice to reduce any swelling whenever possible.

    Going down to water always means going up afterwards. I climbed 400 ft. To Pickle Branch Shelter to end the day. An unexpected rain started the next morning followed by rolling thunder. I planned to go 13.5 miles today my longest yet. Little did I know it would be my worst day. Dragons Tooth had its own plan. The rain was limited to the early morning. The climb was tough but these now are becoming just an accepted fact of life.
The easy part of Dragons Tooth!
    As I got higher and the rocks more prevalent I took a tumble. Not serious once again but then another in the next 5 minutes shook my confidence. Was I getting tired already? I rested started again and then a bad foot placement and I injured my foot again. I could still walk but a little more gingerly. I would have to be really careful from here on out. Unfortunately the terrain was going to get much worse! Dragons Tooth was no joke. At times I questioned whether this was the trail because it was that dangerous. I had to go real slow because of my foot and at times I could feel my feet sliding off the steep angles of the rocks. Twice I had to back up because I left the trail thinking I was supposed to go around a rock only to realize I’d followed the mistakes of others before me. Eventually The trail became a trail and not a rock scramble. In my focus to navigate this section I failed to see the sign which led via a side trail to the actual Dragons Tooth. Not sure with my injury I would have climbed it but I will go back one day without all the weight of my pack. I still had 9.4 miles to go and that was not looking good to me. I opted to stop at 4 Pines hostel believe it or not 4 miles away. Turned a bad day into a good day.
FourPines Hostel
    I rested my foot, met new hikers, had pizza and cheese burgers, did my laundry and regrouped for an exciting next day to McAfee Knob. The goal today was 10 miles to Johns Spring Shelter. This would get me to Daleville in Saturday a day later than I planned. As tough as they are I’m getting used to the climbs specially in the cooler mornings. Starting out over a ridge than down to some cow pastures I saw many flowers long the way to Hwy. 311 in Catawba Va. Climbing to McAfee’s Knob a 1200 ft. climb in the heat of a very warm day. At the top was an amazing view of the valley below. I was a little leg weary so I didn’t have my picture made sitting on the ledge.
Pa on the trail. McAfee Knob
Looking toward Roanoke
    Now I wish I had! I met Papa Smurf who took my picture and after talking to him I had the idea of attempting to go another 6.5 miles to another shelter which would put me in reach of Daleville on Friday. Papa Smurf didn’t know how unwise his suggestion might have been. My longest day up to now was 12.7 miles. This would be 16.3. Not only that but it would be 3 climbs in a day. Weather was threatening soon and there was no camping allowed after passing the next shelter a mile away. Plus I didn’t know how rough Tinker Cliffs would be. Another Dragons tooth and I’d never make it. I only had 4 hours till dark so I got to the first shelter thought about the pros and cons, prayed and decided to risk it. I’m drank a half liter of water and almost ran down to the se of Tinker Mountain. It started to sprinkle and struggled with the climb but I was committed and kept pushing upward. I was glad to see the top! Next was negotiating the cliffs which turned out to be not so bad though I lost the trail a few times which delayed my progress a few minutes. Thunder rumbled so I didn’t waste time up there and headed down to the shelter 900 feet down and a mile away. Got there and was glad to see No Collar who has been struggling with a knee issue and Papa Smurf . I just had time to filter water, eat and get into my bag before darkness settled in. Tired but happy. What a day!
    Morning brought rain and a 9 mile tough climb over seemingly unending peaks but eventually Daleville where I intend to to take Saturday off the trail and recover. I’ve traveled 119 miles thus far. Next stop Glasgow Va. The journey continues…

This was long again but I’ve had fun recalling all that happened and I use it to refine what I’m doing and learn from my mistakes. I have noticed a few themes that keep recurring in my thoughts as I travel. The first is trust and faith. The trust that God is with me and the faith that he will see to it that all is well.

The second is wherever I end up is where I’m supposed to be.The plan may change due to circumstances but wherever I end up that day, I can go forward the next.

The third is to make time I have to forget time. That is to say stay mindful of what is immediately in front of me. Not think or worry to much about the next climb or the next day. When climbing hills I found if I look down at the trail instead of how far I have to go uphill I make quicker progress with less stress.

Thanks for all your support!