May 9 – My zero day yesterday in Daleville turned out to be more than necessary due to catching another stomach bug. Luckily this one only lasted the day, but I vow to never stay in a shelter or use a privy (that’s the outhouse) for the rest of my hike. Feeling a whole lot better today but I’ve been a bit out of it all day and my appetite is nowhere near as large as it should be, hopefully will be back to normal by tomorrow.
My day started with a mile road walk to get back to the trail from my hotel. During the span of this mile, I decided that if a town calls itself an official trail town of the AT then its citizens should be required to pick up any hiker with their thumb out. Once back on route, I had a three mile ascent that ended up being very easy and well graded. At the top I pulled into a shelter for some water and thought that the source was really cool and innovative. The shelter had gutters installed that led down into a cistern. All the rainwater was collected here and then downhill there was a lever that you pushed up to let the water flow from a pipe. Really cool idea that I could see working well in an off grid house!
After cameling up, I headed on my way and eventually came to a large stream where I ran into Karaoke, who I haven’t seen since I was sick in Erwin. As we were catching up I went to stand on a rock and promptly fell in the water, completely soaking myself. Just a sign from the trail gods that it was time for me to take my lunch break.
Once I had dried off I hiked on towards the blue ridge parkway. On the way there, I got a sight that I’ve been waiting to see for two months. The rhododendron has finally bloomed and it is absolutely gorgeous. At first it was only one or two flowers here and there but after a while I was walking through thick bunches of them. I even saw a few blooming patches of Mountain Laurel. I’m amazed at how some people can be bored by Virginia because so far every day has held something different, the amount of diversity this state has is unreal. The only common characteristic is that it is all green all the time. By now even the trees at the higher elevation have grown their leaves and the trail has truly lived up to its nickname as “the green tunnel”.
Once in the Blue Ridge Parkway, I paralleled the road for a while, popping up every now and then to intersect it or include one of the overlooks. Due to still feeling a little sick I was pretty beat by this point so it was slow going to get to the next shelter where I am tenting rather than sleeping in the germ filled shack next to me. Time to catch some Z’s and do it all over again tomorrow.
May 10 – There are some days on the trail where you wake up and wonder what the hell you’ve gotten yourself into, and this was one of those days. Still feeling less and a hundred percent, I clumsily stumbled along feeling pretty drained even after a night sleep. Getting sick again has really put a damper on my mood. I’ve already been bad twice now and I’m not even halfway, not sure how much more of that I can deal with. When I feel good everything is as amazing as day one, so I guess it’s just another challenge I’ll have to endure on this insane venture of mine.
It was only eight o clock when I started off but the air was already humid making things only more difficult. I walked along more of the blue ridge parkway, popping up to a few overlooks before veering away from the road until tomorrow. After about four miles I started to get back in my groove as I climbed alongside thickets of blooming rhododendron up Cove Mountain. It was a pretty barren mountain, at the top it looked like some kind of fire had happened, killing many of the trees and leaving it partially exposed. This allowed for great views of the town of Buchanan as I made my way back down towards Jennings Creek. Once I arrived the sun came out and all my worries went away as I jumped into the swimming hole that exists here. Hung out here for almost two hours with another guy named Walker who is hiking the whole Virginia Section. It was exactly the kind of refresher I needed to make it the next nine miles to my intended destination for the night.
I faced a long and steep climb up to the top of Fork Mountain before reaching the shelter but after my break I was more than up for it. It was brutal but eventually came to an end as all up’s do and I made it to camp just in time to beat the rain. Headed to Glasgow tomorrow for a resupply, and it looks like it’s going to be a day of mainly downhill for once. My eyes are getting heavy and the familiar peeping of the frogs is once again lulling me to sleep. Nowhere to go but north.
May 11 – I was feeling good as new this morning and optimistic about my day based on the elevation profile my guidebook showed. After a four mile climb to the top of Apple Orchard Mountain it was downhill the rest of the way to the James River Footbridge, where I planned to stop for the night.
The hike up to Apple Orchard was pretty nice. Less than a mile in I was given a great view of the morning clouds from the Black Rock Overlook. It got a bit steeper after this and tall grass covered the sides of the trail making my path extremely narrow and sure to be covered in ticks. Still it was an interesting change of scenery and before I knew it I was standing atop the mountain on a grassy meadow speckled with pine trees and surrounded by views. There was even an FAA tower up there. As I was taking it all in I was surprised to hear the roar of a motorcycle getting closer and closer to me. It was none other than a gentleman who introduced himself as Bo Brady, and didn’t hesitate to tell me that he had cut the lock on a gate in order to get up the road to the summit. He was beside himself when he found out I was thru hiking, and after offering me near every possession he had on him told me he would never forget about me as I started my descent. Oh the people you meet on the Appalachian Trail.
As I made my way down I passed under the guillotine, a giant boulder barely being held in place above the trail by two other giant boulders. I cruised down, thinking that the hard part of my day was over. I was in for a not so sweet surprise when I got to the base of Highcock Knob. The trail went straight up with near to no tree cover, and after a grueling stretch I arrived to what I thought was the top, but turned out to not even be halfway. From here the steepness only increased with the added bonus of rocks. There was no view at the top, and the trail easily could have gone around it, but I think the people who build the trail like to throw in these pointless climbs just to mess with us.
After a steep descent the trail turned to the easy terrain I had been waiting for. A flat stretch with great views to my left made for a more than enjoyable walk leading up to a long downhill to the James River. Views of it started to pop up long before I arrived and eventually I was strolling right alongside it. The footbridge that crossed it is the longest along the whole trail and once across it was such a satisfying feeling to jump in after thinking about it all day. Really cool to have made it here for me because the river eventually flows through my hometown of Richmond. Once I had cooled down, I was offered a ride into Glasgow VA by a local and decided to take it seeing as I didn’t have much food left. They have a shelter right here in the middle of town complete with hot showers, power outlets, and a big grassy field to camp in. Next town will be Waynesboro!
May 12 – Twice today I was asked what the best part of my thru hike has been which led me to think about it all day. It’s hard to figure out what exactly it is that makes walking 2200 miles so appealing, but I think the freedom of living in the woods is really what makes it. No schedule, no commitments, just the basic goal of walking north. It’s all up to you out here, there’s no one watching you or holding you to a schedule, you literally do whatever it is you want to do. I’ve especially liked the choice of solitude whenever I seek it but also companionship of the many others sharing my dream. There’s no judgement out here in any sense, everyone is just enjoying their own hikes.
Got a shuttle from an awesome guy named ken back to the trail this morning with Rabbit, another hiker I met back in Franklin but hadn’t seen again until last night. It was a steep climb up to three separate peaks: Little Rocky Row, Big Rocky Row, and Bluff Mountain. Little Rocky Row rewarded me with a great view of the James River and gave me hope that the rest of my climb wouldn’t be too bad due to the easy hike up to this point. Not so much. Big Rocky Row required a pretty steep climb but only lasted for about a mile. As I was climbing up it looked like the view from the top would be phenomenal, but as I neared the summit the AT quickly changed its mind as it often does and plummeted back down the other side of the mountain. Bluff Mountain redeemed this PUD giving me great views to the east and west. Took a snickers break at the top with Rabbit and Obi-Wan and then was back on my way, enjoying the beautiful day.
At this point the hard stuff was behind me and I cruised my way to Brown Mountain Shelter. On the way I crossed my second suspension bridge over the Pedlar River and took a nice break to jump in. This is exactly the freedom I’m talking about. It was the perfect way to escape the midday heat and once it had cooled down a bit I headed on the two more miles to the shelter. The mountain laurel has started to bloom now and the rhododendron is flourishing. There’s so many more wildflowers out here than I expected, and everyday new ones start to pop up. I’ve got a great campsite right next to Brown Mountain Creek, and am excited to hike tomorrow because I’ll be hitting another area that I’m super familiar with. Right now I’m only about two hours away from my house! It’s crazy to think that I walked nearly all the way home from Georgia. Today I hit the 800 mile mark and from here it’s only a matter of time before I’m halfway. It still seems like just yesterday I was at the Hawk Mountain Shelter with 50 other anxious hikers just getting started on their thru hikes. Thinking back is like watching a movie in my head, I remember all the people I’ve met, all the landscapes I’ve walked through, all the hard times I’ve dealt with as well as all the completely beautiful and amazing times. This truly has been an adventure of the most epic sorts, this is the kind of stuff they make movies about. Can’t wait to add another scene tomorrow, and every day after that for the next four months.
May 13 – Cooler temperatures cause me to sleep in a little later than usual today, but I only planned to do 18 miles today so I had the time to spare. I started off walking along the Brown Mountain Creek as I was yesterday afternoon. A sign told me that there used to be a farming community up here in the mountains along the creek, which explains the ancient rock walls that have been paralleling it. The AT is so much more than just nature, there is so much history in these mountains it’s unreal. Many wars have been waged on the land that I’m walking across, and years ago American Indians were running through these forests shooting bows and arrows. This is truly a mountain range worthy of such a trek.
After a few miles, I came to the U.S. 60, which is the closest point the trail ever gets to my house. From here on out I’ll be walking away, after Virginia into completely unknown territory. The rest of my day was through a section that I’ve hiked countless times, and included Cole Mountain, the northernmost bald on the trail. It was awesome to see this place during spring, the last time I was here everything was covered in ice. I’ll miss these balds, they’ve been some of my favorite areas so far. Soon enough I’ll be above tree line though, and I’m sure that will be every bit as magnificent if not more.
I ate lunch at cow camp gap, the place where I first stepped foot on the Appalachian Trail during a weekend hike months ago. The first white blaze I had ever seen was right there, and of the thousands I’ve passed this one will always hold the most significance to me. I was also lucky enough to find two packets of ramen here, a sign from the heavens considering the thought of another peanut butter tortilla has been making me gag the last few days. After I ate I walked through the familiar terrain and the day was full of reminiscing. There was a time that I would have never believed I would be doing what I’m doing, but I guess you just never know where life is going to take you, whether it be good or bad. Soon enough I made to to Spy Rock, where I had planned to stop for the day due to the awesome campsite that is here and also the 360 degree views from the top of the rock. Had an awesome sunset to end an awesome day and hopefully an awesome sunrise tomorrow to begin another, you guessed it, awesome day.
May 14 – Well no sunrise for me, it was way to cold this morning to even think about getting out of my sleeping bag that early. Not sure where these chilly mornings came from, I guess it just goes to show that you have to be prepared for anything when you’re camping at higher elevations. I postponed my breakfast until I had worked up some body heat, quickly packed up my tent and got out of there. In four miles I made it to The Priest Shelter where I happily showed down on my honey bun, the one thing that never seems to get old out here. Had a good laugh at some of the shelter log entries, since this shelter is called the priest everyone uses the logbook as a confessional for the trail sins they’ve committed. Mine was that in my two months on the trail I’ve never dug a cathole like you’re supposed to. Animals don’t bury their poo so I figure why should I?
Reaching the top of The Priest was no problem but the 3000 foot descent to get to the bottom is known as one of the worst on the trail. Not so bad in my opinion but maybe I just have young legs. Once at the bottom the trail shot right back up 3000 feet to get to the top of Three Ridges mountain. Not as fun going up, but the past few days have all involved a big climb like this so I’m getting used to it by now. The good news is that Three Ridges looks like it was the last big one for a while. The Shenandoahs where I’m about to be is known to be well graded and maintained and after that the states of the mid Atlantic really don’t have mountains compared to what we’ve been dealing with. I suspect there will be plenty of other challenges to take their place though, I’ve learned that no matter what the elevation profile looks like it won’t be easy.
After the climb I ate lunch at the Maupin Field Shelter where I met some guys doing trail maintenance and watched them cut down a tree, almost taking out the bear pole. I had planned to stop here for the night but I pushed on a little further to a rock outcropping and set up camp here so I could get another good sunset as well as make it to Waynesboro by lunch tomorrow. Less than 15 miles from what everyone says is the best chinese buffet on the trail. I shall dream of general tso’s and Orange chicken tonight.