April 23 – I slept in for a change this morning at the place and then went out for a big breakfast of french toast, eggs, sausage, and hash-browns. As I was leaving town a local was asking my questions about me gear and we got on the subject of my tent. As I looked in my bag to show him it, I realized I didn’t have the poles to set it up and that I must have left them on the mountain right before the Virginia state line. Looks like I’m shelter hopping the next few nights, hopefully I’ll be getting a replacement pair in Atkins.
Despite yet another setback I was excited for my first full day in Virginia. For almost the whole day, we paralleled the Creeper trail, which used to be a railroad running through the mountains but was converted into a biking trail. The forest was completely different as it always is when crossing a state line and it instantly reminded me of home. They say VA is flat but there were some big climbs throughout the day, although nothing like the mountains already behind me. I took a break at the Saunders Shelter where I surprisingly caught up to Turtle and Genesie, and after two more mile I caught up to Peck, 45, and Thunder Goddess. Within the next few days I’ll be catching up to plenty more! It feels great to be back around some of the people who I’ve hiked so much of the trail with, and I’m glad I did because apparently everyone thinks I quit! Can’t wait to show up behind them in the near future.
The rest of the day was full of rhododendron and beautiful mountain cascades. Everything is really green so far in VA and the forest seems very alive compared to where I started at. I’m set up here at Lost Mountain Shelter with everyone else. We had a good fire going tonight and I even figured out how to ghetto rig my rainfly as as shelter. Tomorrow we hit 500 miles, such an immense milestone. I think back on all the different environments I’ve walked through and I truly can’t believe what I’ve done. Never in my life did I think I would be capable of something like this but everyday I grow more and more confident in my myself. Still having the time of my life out here, about to get a good nights sleep and get up early tomorrow to go see the wild ponies that live in Grayson Highland State Park.
April 24 – It was unexpectedly cold last night considering the weather we’ve been getting recently. I woke up with all the clothes I have on and was still freezing so I quickly ate breakfast and got on my way. The trail was mostly wooded until I reached the VA-600 where the Virginia Highlands began. Suddenly I was in a landscape similar to the Roan Highlands except giant boulders created cliffs on the top of the mountains. I’ve lived in Virginia for near my whole life and I never knew there was anything like this in the state. The sunny day allowed me to have views for miles in every directions, tall grass and the occasional pine tree surrounding me on the mountaintop. This area is truly magnificent, if you live back home and are reading this it is definitely worth the drive down here to experience it for yourselves.
I went through the highlands in no rush, there won’t be another place like this on the trail and there was so much to look at it was impossible to pass by without appreciating it. The trail became more and more rocky and at one point there was a tunnel in the rock that you had to squeeze through, listed as the “Fatman squeeze” in my guidebook. Sections like this are always fun to me, it’s like a huge jungle gym to play on. Unfortunately after a few miles the rocks really begin to take a tole on your feet and slow you down considerably. It was all worth it when I looked up and there was a pony right in front of me! They weren’t your average farm horse, more like Shetland Ponies, although definitely more wild looking. After I turned the corner there was another and then about half a mile down the trail two more. Throughout the day I saw at least twenty grazing alongside the trail.
After another few miles I entered the Grayson Highland State Park, and shortly after reached the 500 mile mark. It’s exciting but even more exciting that I’ll be hitting the quarter way point in the next day or so. I walked on with even more moral than I already had today. Once I reached the Wise Shelter I heard a bark and then saw Charlie, my friend Q-Tips dog come running around the corner. Q-Tip and his gang came shortly after and I added another four to the list of people I was waiting to catch up to.
After making some dinner I pushed on another six miles to the Old Orchard Shelter, making for a 23 mile day. I’m past the highlands now and for a while the mountains will be getting much lower in elevation. Planning for another long one tomorrow, there’s a German guy next to me talking in his sleep so I’m gonna try to get as much rest as possible. Approximately 1500 miles to go.
April 25 – Today was probably one of my best day on the trail so far. The views and scenery were nothing more than average but the events of the day are what made it so great. I woke up to gray skies but no rain so I packed up and headed out of Old Orchard Shelter. After not even two miles I came to a gap and was welcomed by a loud voice yelling “WELCOME HIKER!”. Once I turned the corner I saw the face behind the voice and also a large campsite completely covered in canopies and multiple stations where a variety of food and beverages were being served. About thirty other thru hikers were there, it looks live I’ve gotten into yet another bubble of people o haven’t met before. After a delicious breakfast burrito I headed on to try and beat the rain. I planned to go 23 miles today to get to the partnership shelter, where there was a visitor center that pizza could be delivered to. I walked through a very brown and dead looking forest, it looks like spring hasn’t kicked in everywhere yet. After two more miles, I got some more trail magic, snacks and a yoohoo from a guy just driving down the road I was crossing. After so much food I was fueled up and ready to go so I continued on through much of the same terrain that I had been walking through. Other than a few small ups and downs, the grade of the trail has been pretty flat since coming out of the highlands. I stopped at the Trimpi Shelter for lunch met some cool guys named Flip and Yo. They were headed to Partnership as well and told me that just about everyone from the trail magic this morning was headed there as well. I wasn’t looking forward to such a crowded shelter but once I got here it turned out to be a really good night. As soon as I walked up there was a true trail angel there who brought me, yo, flip, and a girl from Austria to his house to take showers and do our laundry, and then took us into town to pick up McDonald’s and pizza. Outside of Little Caesars I was talking to some of the employees and they hooked me up with a free pizza and order of cheesy bread. Back at the shelter there was a fire going and it was a full house but there’s a lot of really cool people in this little bubble. Will be in Atkins tomorrow to check out “The Barn”, a highly recommended restaurant that has a buffet on the weekends. It’s supposed to storm pretty bad tonight and it’s already starting to thunder but it’s nice and cozy in the loft of this shelter. Feeling good after a long day, I think I’ll sleep in a bit tomorrow morning.
April 26 – I slept in a little today knowing that it was supposed to rain in the morning. Last night we had a crazy storm consisting of thunder, lightning, and even hail. Glad I was in a shelter for that one. Eventually I headed on with the town of Atkins as my destination.
By the time I was hiking, the rain had stopped but a thick fog surrounded me as I climbed as I went about my four mile ascent to the top of Glade Mtn. The forest was looking very brown and dead as if has been often since entering Virginia, but as I got lower and lower in elevation it sprung to life. Trees were in full bloom and the brown floor of the woods wasn’t even visible under all the greenery popping out of the ground. After I while I came to an old schoolhouse dating back to the 1800’s. It was a good place for a break and a nice change to see a historical site for once. With two miles to go to Atkins I headed on through rolling pastures and orchards with nothing but farmland in the distance. It was a beautiful little section that was worth taking my time on, I always love when my surroundings open up after being under tree cover all day.
Once I got to Atkins I went to The Barn Restaurant where I ordered the famous hiker burger, 16 oz of beef with cheese and bacon. When the waitress brought out my food I was surprised to hear that another guy who had just left paid for my food and bought me peach cobbler on the side. The generosity of people has really been amazing the past few days, you don’t find anything like this off the trail. I finally had my first real burger since springer and the cobbler was to die for as well. After getting my packages which included new poles for my tent, I pressed on to get a few more miles in before dark. Coming out of Atkins I walked among cows in the farmland I had seen before. I can’t get enough of this kind of this kind of terrain. Eventually I was back in the woods though and faced with a long, steep, and waterless climb before I reached a campsite and stream. I’m camped out in a thicket of rhododendron and there’s a few others here as well. It got dark before I was finished eating and I didn’t feel like messing with a bear bag, so I’m sleeping with my food next to me for the first time. Keeping my fingers crossed for no surprise visitors.
April 27 – A cold morning led to another late start but honestly it’s good to sleep in after the big miles I’ve been doing recently. The sky was blue and as I climbed the first mountain out of camp I said to myself that it was going to be a good day. My guidebook made this ascent seem long and steep but it turned out to gently switchback up to the top of Tilson Mountain. There was no view to be had but something even better, the 1/4 way mark. There’s been a lot of smaller milestones lately leading up to this enormous one, and it still seems unreal that I’ve actually made it this far. I remember when this idea first started formulating in my head and now here I am, 550+ miles in. It’s been muddy, wet, cold, and at times downright painful, but everyday when I reach camp for the night the feeling of accomplishment I get while eating my instant mashed potatoes makes it all worth it. I may not have reached the end goal yet, but I’ve reached plenty of small goals I’ve set for myself and being a quarter of the way done was like achieving all those goals all over again. Now I’ve just gotta do it three more times!
With new motivation I walked forth with the view of more farmland in the distance. As I came out of the forest and into the pastures, I was shocked to see a herd of cows sleeping on the trail. I made my way by without worry until I got next to one that stood up abruptly making it clear he was a bull. I know it’s just a cow but this thing was huge and he didn’t look happy about being woken from his nap. I quickly got out of there and came out into some of the most beautiful farmland so far. Views were great in every direction and it was a perfect spot for a new snack I found at the store called a peanut butter pie made my none other than Little Debbie. Two peanut butter cookies plus peanut butter filling makes for a happy hiker.
I continued on my day which turned out to be full of pointless ups and downs. There were a few nice river crossings and I took my time, it was a nice to relax and enjoy the sunny weather without having to worry about making it to my destination before sundown. Eventually I got to my last climb of the day up to chestnut ridge. This proved to be one of the toughest mountains we’ve hit in a while but the views from the grassy ridge up top were phenomenal, Virginia is absolutely breathtaking and I’ve fallen in love with the countryside of the state. I laid back for a while in the grass enjoying the vista but the cold wind soon drove me on to the chestnut knob shelter. This one is made of concrete, full enclosed with a door, and sits on the top of the ridge with near 360 degree views. Full house here tonight and it’s about ten degrees warmer in the shelter than it is outside so I’ll be sleeping good and ready to go tomorrow.
April 28 – It was way warmer inside the shelter last night but still pretty cold considering we were at 4400 feet. I didn’t get out of my bag until around nine, and probably didn’t leave until ten. I’ve got friends coming to visit me in Pearisburg this Saturday and I’m only about 50 miles away so I’ve got plenty of time to kill. For this reason I only planned to do 16 today, and slowly made my way down the trail. At one point about three miles in there was a perfect rock just asking to be sat on so I took about another thirty minutes waiting for the sun to warm everything up. Once it did I experienced a new annoyance of life on the trail: bugs. I’m using some strong bug spray but it doesn’t even phase them when your standing still. I’m sure the worst is yet to even come.
Looking on the bright side, there were nice bugs as well. Butterflies were flying all around me as I walked along an extremely Rocky ridge line. Every now and then rock outcroppings would jut out of the mountain giving me views of a very rural landscape. I followed the ridge all the way to the next shelter where I stopped for lunch, which nearly finished off the rest of what’s in my food bag. Will be going into a town called Bland tomorrow to resupply for the next few days.
It was an easy hike through stands of rhododendron and mountain laurel down to Laurel Creek. I’m set up here right by the river and had an ice cold foot bath while eating my dinner. Not sure what flavor pasta side I had tonight but I do know it was absolutely delicious. Another great day to add to the records.
April 29 – Yet another cold morning but it heated up quick as I started the short hike into Bland. As I walked just below the ridgeline I got great views of the town in the distance and it was nice to see my progress as it got closer and closer. At one point the forest opened up giving me views back in the direction I came. I couldn’t help but think of all the mountains lining the way back to Georgia.
It’s insane to think of all the changes I’ve seen in the mountains up to this point. My experiences in Georgia were of a very brown and dead forest with steep but short climbs leading up to the rugged terrain of North Carolina, where I walked through the wet and jungle-like Nantahala Forest. Once I hit the TN/NC border the balds began giving me some of my first views from above 5000 feet. After the diverse ecosystem of pine trees in the smokies the trail went through many more balds and into thick patches of rhododendron and mountain laurel. The grassy balds of the Roan Highlands led me to Tennessee where wild flowers began popping up along the trail. After the majestic Virginia Highlands I’ve come way down in elevation for the most part. Trees are just starting to get leaves up in the mountains and the climbs are getting much longer but more gradual. Towns are getting closer together and I’m getting views of the valley instead of seeing only a vast range of mountains in the distance. It’s truly mind blowing to think I’ve walked through all these places but the past few days it’s really starting to set in that I’m going to do this and I’m feeling 100% comfortable in my surroundings. Virginia has been such a great change of pace and I’m really enjoying my hike to the fullest.
It was only a short hike down to Bland from the road. This town is known to be one of the worst places to resupply on the trail but it was actually one of my favorite stops so far. Beautiful views surrounding the town, a brand new grocery store with everything I needed, good food at the local diner, and friendly locals all deserve my vote to stop in if you’re doing a thru hike.
After Bland it was a short but steep climb up to Helveys Mill Shelter. When I got here I was extremely surprised to see my friend Mongoose who I last saw the morning I went home in Erwin. A couple other people came by with hot dogs and we had a good cookout over the fire. Didn’t even do ten miles but it was a great day and I’ve still got plenty of time to kill until my friends visit in Pearisburg. Stomach is full and I’m feeling like I’ll sleep good tonight.
April 30 – Woke up today to temperatures of 50, definitely the warmest morning so far. As expected it made packing up and getting out of camp a much faster and more pleasant process. I hit the trail at just the right time, the morning light was hitting the mountain in the most beautiful of ways. Birds were chirping and for the fourth day in a row the sky was blue. I had planned to do 18 to camp at dismal falls, after hitting an on trail gas station with a diner called Trents Grocery. I found my hike to go by pretty fast, I’m up to about three miles an hour now. I was mostly walking on the ridge as I have been the past few days but there were a few times when I came all the way down the mountain only to go all the way back up another, although the climbs were gradual as much as Virginia has been.
I find myself thinking a lot about what I’ll do after I finish the AT and the only answer I can come to is hike another trail. Nothing has ever made life so enjoyable as this long distance hike. I know I’m only a quarter of the way in, but I really don’t want this to ever end. It’s going to be really hard to go back home when this is all said and done, the trail has become my home and I honestly feel more comfortable out here than I do when I’m in town.
My only complaint is the amount of people I’ve been running into. It’s cool to meet other hikers but man they’ve really bubbled up lately, and I’m really starting to enjoy the solo lifestyle on the trail. Once I take off out of Pearisburg I’ll be doing the best I can to get ahead of some of them.
When I made it to Trents grocery I crossed a nice river on the first suspension bridge so far. There was a really nice campsite here so I decided to nix the falls and set up here. Had a good fire and good food, ready to get some rest tonight for a twenty to Pearisburg tomorrow.
May 1 – I got off to a rough start this month with one of my toughest mornings yet. It rained all through the night and the area I was camped in had become one huge mud hole, covering not only the ground but also my tent, rainfly, backpack, and water bottles. Not very fun to pack up wet and dirty gear! I did the best I could just so I could get going and try to walk it off but all morning the trail was nothing but mud and slippery rocks. I fell for the first time and twisted my leg pretty bad, nothing serious but it hurt. It was one of those days where you just push on hoping for better luck tomorrow.
Eventually I got to a big climb after the Wapiti shelter which I totally missed the sign for. As I went up, the fog got thicker and thicker and the day became more and more miserable. At the top, I walked in and eventually came to an intersection in the trail. I figured one way led to a view that I wouldn’t be able to see and one was the AT, so I turned right thinking I was heading down the trail. As soon as I turned the sky completely opened up revealing that I was actually headed towards the view. For 15 minutes the sky was blue, giving me ample time to take in the magnificent view that I had from this spot. For the first time in a while there was no civilization in sight, just a long chain of mountains leading off into the distance. It was one of the most beautiful and memorable moments of my hike so far, and as I packed up and walked away, the clouds rolled in again, hiding the view away from anyone else who might walk by as if it were only mine to see.
I had planned to get to a campsite two miles before Pearisburg but ended up crashing at Docs Knob Shelter, about 8 miles from town. There’s a popular hostel about three miles back and everyone must have decided to stay there because I’ve got the shelter to myself. Spending the day in Pearisburg tomorrow with some of my friends from home, will be ready to start cranking out some miles again come Sunday. Next stop: Daleville, VA!