Angels and Magic in Virginia
Virginia makes up one-quarter of the entire Appalachian Trail with 544 miles.
I admit that I was hoping for an overwhelming amount of trail magic while I hiked through Old Dominion, seeing as the state contains so much of the trail. I also admit that I (sadly) missed out on quite a few opportunities because I was a day behind or a day early and only heard about quite a few instances of trail magic. C’est la vie!
The state was not without angels and magic! I was blessed beyond measure in a section of trail known for giving hikers “the Virginia blues.” The blues are a result of not crossing state lines as often as in the first month of hiking NOBO. The average hiker (not me, I’m slower than average) gets through Virginia in four weeks. Contrast that to the seven to ten days the average hiker takes just getting to the first milestone: the GA/NC border. That trek took me ten days.
Back to the magic
My first Virginia trail magic came courtesy of a fellow thru-hiker named Kid Rock. A kind-hearted young man, Kid Rock walked to the grocery store and brought back fresh fruit which he cut up and shared with all of the hikers at The Place, a church hostel where we all landed that evening. Kid Rock also kept me company by hiking with me one day. I enjoyed our conversation as we talked about family connections in the US Air Force. He’s about 300 miles ahead of me now, so I appreciated his goodness by slowing his pace to keep me company that day. A true hiking trail angel.
Kid Rock (far right) treated everyone at the hostel to fresh watermelon, cantaloupe, and bananas. I wish I could recall the trail name of the hiker on the left. Next to him is a cyclist we named “Wheels.” Seated are Legs and Seeker.
My first time hitchhiking
Having no cell signal at a trailhead, I couldn’t call for a shuttle. As I left the trail and headed for a hostel, I hung my “Hiker to Town” bandana from the back of my pack in hopes of catching a ride. Elaine and her daughter Taylor saw the sign, stopped just ahead of me on the road, and asked where I needed to go.
Between the three of us, we figured out where the hostel was and how to get there. My first attempt at hitching a ride was a success, and I’m grateful for these two women who took pity on this smelly hiker. I just wish I had remembered to take a photo of them!
Just outside of Marion, I arrived at Partnership Shelter to find that a group of thru-hikers had ordered a pizza delivery. Yep, there are a few shelters on trail where local restaurants actually deliver… Shelter 501 in PA comes to mind.
I popped my tent, crawled inside, and contemplated what I would make for dinner. As I walked with my food bag to the picnic table, the scent of pizza washed over me. These nine hikers must have underestimated how many slices were in the party-sized pizzas they ordered. Pizzas. Plural. There were two pizzas whose boxes measured 30″x30″. They also ordered wings and a salad.
These nine hikers made a big dent in those two enormous pizzas but still couldn’t finish. I happily accepted their offer to indulge. Truffle is standing at left, waving.
I opted to wait on preparing my dinner. About ten minutes later, Truffle (one of the nine) asked if I’d like some pizza. Everyone else chimed in, “YES! We can’t eat it all. TAKE SOME PIZZA!”
I told them they were my trail angels and the pizza was magic. So, thank you, Truffle and friends, for the dinner of fresh pizza with everything.
My husband, two daughters, and one son-in-law drove all the way to southern Virginia to hike with me for a weekend. To put that into perspective, they drove over seven hours down and seven hours back to spend a day-and-a-half with me.
I’ve never been so happy to see family.
When they dropped me off at the trailhead to leave, thru-hiker Levi popped out of the woods. My husband and I met Levi on Springer Mountain, day one of my hike. After a brief reunion, my family provided Levi with some trail magic in the way of cookies and a ride into town.
My family joined me for about 12 miles of hiking over two days and got a tiny glimpse into my life for the previous two months.
Clean water is truly magic
Bill lost 13 acres of his land to the Appalachian Trail through eminent domain. Instead of being bitter, Bill takes care of hikers who stay at the shelter adjacent to his land by carting in clean water daily during the bubble.
Bill sits between Phoenix and Fuji 4 (because he has climbed Mt. Fuji four times) and chats with hikers.
Bill saved us from having to hike a quarter-mile down a steep hill to the nearest water source by carting in huge jugs of clean water daily.
Bill sat by the fire and chatted with us for almost an hour, answering questions and telling us about the native plants and species of trees in the area. We enjoyed his company and were appreciative of his efforts to bring us water.
Rollie gave my pack–and my spirits–a lift
In a previous blog I mentioned having to go home for my dad’s burial. My husband (trail name: Rollie) picked me up and returned me to the trail. Not wanting to leave, he popped my pack on his back and hiked with me for three miles. I have to admit I liked not carrying my pack.
Rollie carried my pack for three miles before we parted.
We said our goodbyes and I returned to the trail as usual. Over the next few days, hikers crossed my path, each with a message from Rollie. You see, as he headed back over those three miles to the trail head, he asked each hiker he encountered to pass a message on to me.
That kind of love is truly magical.
So, thank you to Rollie, and thank you to Black Dog, Captain Fantastic, and Storm Crow for passing along Rollie’s messages.
If you’ve stayed at Holy Family Hostel in Pearisburg, you’ve met Twig, caretaker of HFH. Twig is an exceptional human being who truly puts the needs of others first.
When I arrived at HFH, there were a handful of other hikers basking in the cool breezes of the porch. By mid-afternoon, it was apparent that the amount of hikers who had arrived would not fit in the hostel. Hikers filled every bunk and the overflow rolled out their sleeping bags on the covered porch. Twig grabbed his sleeping bag and headed for the bed of his truck, giving up his space inside to a hiker.
Twig was treated to a lasagna dinner which he offered to share with me. I accepted and he reacted with genuine joy that I was partaking of a meal with him.
Me and Twig, back at the trail head.
Nothing warms the heart of a hiker more than seeing a sign that reads, “Trail Magic Ahead.”
Hands2Share provided a hot breakfast on the trail.
As I crossed a suspension bridge, the scent of breakfast and the voices of happy hikers drew me in. The folks from Hands2Share had two tables full of goodies (granola bars, chips, candy bars, ibuprofen, etc.) and they were busily preparing a hot breakfast.
Having eaten only a granola bar up on the ridge an hour earlier, I was thrilled to have chicken and biscuits for breakfast along with a Pepsi and a bag of chips. It’s the breakfast of champions!
My original plan was to walk a mile to a convenience store, but Hands2Share had all the resupply I needed and they wouldn’t take a penny for any of it saving me time, money and energy.
The magic of slack-packing and a bed
A friend from my college years just happens to live a few miles from the trail near the James River crossing. When I announced my plans to thru-hike, she reached out and told me to let her know when I’d be passing through.
Talk about trail magic! Amy and her family welcomed me into their home, fed me (Amy is an amazing cook) and drove me to and from trail heads for days allowing me to slack-pack. In case I didn’t mention it before, slack-packing is when a hiker takes only water and snacks in a small pack, thus reducing the carried weight as well as the wear and tear on their body.
Amy (right) took me on a tour of her town and surrounding areas on my zero day. This is the sign outside of her church.
In our conversations about the trail and trail culture, Amy was inspired to do trail magic at the Punchbowl Overlook where the AT crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway. Just a few days following my departure from her home, she provided trail magic to grateful hikers who told her they hadn’t received much trail magic as they are at the end of the hiker bubble.
Amy said she had a great time providing food and meeting hikers. Watch for this Trail Angel in 2024 and beyond. I think she’s been bitten by the trail magic bug.
As I enjoyed slack-packing around the James River section, I ran into Pete, Bob and Doug who were grilling up burgers and handing out cold drinks just below Punchbowl. I eagerly downed a root beer before heading up to meet Amy on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Just three dudes grillin’ up burgers in the woods!
Sometimes ya just need a lift
I managed to make it into Waynesboro for the last night of Grace Lutheran Church’s free hostel and trail angel, Yellow Truck, kindly gave me, Espresso and Dung Beetle a lift back to the trail the following morning.
Yellow Truck provides a lift for hikers for free.
More slack-packing? Yes, please!
As I made my way through the infamous roller coaster section, I emerged at a road crossing to find three former hikers–Trail Mama, Runner, and SOS–cooking up hot dogs and bratwurst for hikers. They also had fruit, homemade cookies, and other goodies. They set up their trail magic in a small dirt parking lot on an even smaller dirt road in the middle of nowhere. This strategy pretty much guaranteed they would only be seeing thru-hikers.
As I sat (in a real camp chair!) indulging in gingersnaps, SOS offered to take our packs ahead to a hostel, allowing us to slack-pack for the rest of the day. Of course I accepted!
Trail Mama, Runner and SOS prove that you can set up trail magic pretty much anywhere.
My final trail angels and magic in Virginia originated all the way back at Amicalola Falls in Georgia. Let me explain.
As Rollie and I began the ascent of Amicalola Falls, we met a couple–Ken and Tammara–who had questions about the AT and hiking. We chatted for a while, took their photo for them, they took our photo for us. Then, much to my surprise. Ken handed me his business card and said, “When you get to norther Virginia, give us a call. We’d be happy to feed you, let you do laundry, stay for a night, whatever you need.”
I stored the number in my phone. About a week before hitting their area (and three months after meeting them), I texted the number. Sure enough, these kind souls welcomed and fed this stranger, did my laundry, let me stay, and allowed me to slack-pack. They told me they had spoken to a few hikers at Amicalola Falls but I was the only one to contact them.
Fresh eats, courtesy of trail angels Ken and Tammara.
Trail angels Ken and Tammara.
Back on trail, I made it to Harper’s Ferry, WV, the next day. I’m happy to say that I never encountered the “Virginia Blues” because of the wonderful magic provided by the many angels in Virginia.
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