Angels and The Priest (4/30, 5/1, 5/2)

Day 64, 4/30: Punchbowl shelter -> Seeley-Woodworth shelter (25.3 miles)

Pinata set her alarm for 6, but Rash and I stayed in our hammocks for as long as possible while she took down her hammock. Without a tarp, I had an awesome view of the sunrise through the tree branches.

Sunrise through tree branches

We finally got up and took our hammocks down, then we made breakfast with Shoelace, Happy, and a SOBO that came in late last night, Birddog. There were honey bees buzzing everywhere which made cooking difficult. Rash and Pinata packed up and left, and I wasn’t far behind them. We came to a clearing where Pinata threw out her leaking peanut butter jar, and I continued on past them.

I passed a ton of day and section hikers today. The weather was beautiful: sunny, warm, and just enough wind to be comfortable. The flowers were blooming and I saw lizards, countless birds, squirrels, and my first frog. I came to a cool suspension bridge which officially marked my 800 mile mark! It’s unbelievable how quickly the past few hundred miles have flown by.

800 miles!

Flowers blooming everywhere

Camouflaged frog hanging out

I walked by a quickly flowing creek for a few miles, then stopped for lunch at Brown Mountain Creek shelter which is around 9 miles from Punchbowl. I had delicious multigrain bread and butter for lunch. A dad and son joined me who are doing a section before the son starts his flip flop hike. Rash and Pinata hiked in, followed by Shoelace, Happy, and 4 section hikers that are hiking a small section a year (one of their names was Beacon, because he is the beacon of light to encourage the group). Rash and Pinata seemed to have a harder time with the morning than I did, but then again they were much more dehydrated than me yesterday and were still probably feeling the effects.

My lunch

Rash, Pinata, and I had a long debate over how many miles we should do. The whole hiker group chimed in, and it was fun to hear everyone’s opinions. I felt good enough to push for Seeley shelter which was 15.7 from where we were currently, which would mean the entire day would be over 25 miles. Rash and Pinata wanted to camp 8 or so miles up the trail. I told them I’d leave them a note letting them know if I was going to stop and camp or push on.

I started the 2,600 ft climb with a brimming full 2 L of water and 1 L in my stomach. The water sources, like yesterday, were sparse, and the ones listed were 0.3 and 0.6 miles off trail. Climbing the mountain, I was feeling good. The mountain was a little exposed but not as bad as yesterday.

I came to a clearing at a road which had a map of the AT with a sign saying, “you’re here”. I was surprised to see how much I’ve already done. I’m keeping track in percentages and numbers, so seeing it mapped out was much bolder. I remembered back to Franklin while sitting on the couch at Gooder Grove waiting for my packages, I leafed through the hiker yearbook and found a map of the AT with Franklin listed. The amount I had hiked was barely a blip at the beginning of the trail, and the trail to that point had been so incredibly tough. Seeing that map show such a tiny accomplishment, when in reality it took a huge amount of mental and physical effort, made me feel alone, helpless, and wonder what the hell I was doing this for. Today, seeing over a third of the trail behind me, made me feel like a real hiker.

My accomplishments so far!

I finished the climb and came to a bald. I met some day hikers from Hampton, where I live, so we talked for a few minutes about home. The views from Bald Knob were amazing.

View from Bald Knob

Trail winding through grass

I came to a sign a little before the campsite, but I decided to write Rash and Pinata a note there anyways:
Roses are red / Violets are blue / I’m pushing on to Seeley / I’ll miss you two

I also picked a dark pink and violet colored flower to put with the note. I continued the many ups and downs to Seeley. I was disappointed they were stopping earlier and I wondered who, if anyone, would be at the shelter. The last few miles were rough. 20+ mile days have gotten a little easier, but are still hard. I felt exhausted and zoned out the last few miles. Just when I was wondering if I should just hammock on the side of the trail, I saw the shelter appear. I met Nemo, Hodgepodge, and Spiderman. Nemo was starting a fire to cook his dinner because he was out of fuel. I hung my hammock and tarp, then second guessed myself because it was windy with strong gusts of wind threatening to blow my tarp over. I fetched water down an easy side trail and tried to wash mud off my legs but just ended up making a mess. Back at the shelter I cleaned my legs with a cloth. I’m not sure how they got covered in dirt since it wasn’t raining.

As I was taking my tarp and hammock down to sleep begrudgingly in the shelter, I hear a familiar voice behind me that said, “I guess that’s a pretty good hang.” I couldn’t believe it. It was Rash and Pinata!! I was over the moon. We made dinner, mine Walmart brand boxed mac and cheese which is definitely not as tasty as Annie’s, but I jazzed it up with tuna and sugar snap peas. Hodgepodge told us his life story and we all turned in, listening to the wind howl through the trees.

Day 65, 5/1: Seeley-Woodworth shelter -> VA 56 (11.4 miles)

It started raining sometime in the middle of the night. I was thankful I didn’t sleep in my hammock tonight. Today we woke up early but I was slow to pack up. Rash and Pinata left and I wasn’t far behind them, getting out at 7:30. Nemo, Hodgepodge, and Spiderman were up but still in their sleeping bags. It was drizzling so I started hiking with my rain jacket.

Even though we only had 11 miles to do, the first part was climb after climb after climb. It was tiring, especially after the ridiculous 25 mile day yesterday. I soon got hot and took off my rain jacket. A few minutes later the rain started picking up, which seems like it should be a rule of hiking. If you want it to start raining, just take off your rain gear.

It was foggy and I didn’t have any views. I came to the Priest shelter and found Rash and Piñata eating lunch. We went through the log book, which hikers use as a confessional. We added our own confessions to the book.

Our confessions

As we ate and read, the rain started coming down harder. We procrastinated for a while, then begrudgingly put on a rain jackets and headed out. We had a small climb left, then over 4 miles of straight downhill before we reached the parking area. The rain made it impossible to use our touchscreens, so we couldn’t check how many miles we had left during the hike. We knew about how fast we were hiking, and went off the time. When we felt like we had been going downhill forever, we saw a lady in the distance with a green rain jacket and a camera. It was Rash and Piñata’s aunt, Donna. She snapped a few pictures of us looking like wet rats, and we headed out to the parking area together. Their uncle, Wilson, was there with the car, and we loaded in our wet gear and piled in.

Donna and Wilson were so excited about our adventures, it made up for a really crappy morning of hiking being drenched. We got to the hotel, showered, and went out to eat at Cracker Barrel.

The 5 of us at Cracker Barrel

The hotel was right next door so we walked, but after our meal it was pouring down rain. I put my puffy in my multipack and we made a run for it. What a perfect day to spend in a hotel! We went to our rooms and relaxed the rest of the day.

For a late dinner we went to Panera and talked about the days ahead. We went back to the hotel, and I was incredibly grateful for the kindness of others. I stayed up packing my bag and was on my phone until after midnight.

Day 66, 5/2: VA 56 -> Paul Wolfe shelter (24.8 miles)

I woke up in the middle of the night too hot, and had to turn the heat down. I had it cranked up to dry my wet gear. I woke up early and got dressed for 7:00 breakfast, but then realized it was 6:00 not 7:00, so I lounged in bed until it was time to go downstairs. Wilson and Donna were already eating. I ate a few bowls of cereal, a breakfast sandwich, a yogurt, and had some juice. I was full but not stuffed, but I restrained myself from eating too much. Every town day I eat way too much and it makes the morning hiking miserable. Rash and Piñata joined us and I went upstairs to shower. I got everything together and we headed the 30 minute drive from Waynesboro to the trailhead.

When Wilson and Donna dropped us off, they hiked 0.4 miles up the trail with us. We crossed a really cool suspension bridge before we started the climb. After the 0.4 miles, they said goodbye, and I thanked them for adopting me as their trail daughter.

Suspension bridge

Wilson and Donna

Rash, Piñata, and I continued the very long 5-6 mile climb. It wasn’t as bad as it looked on the map except for parts that we had to rock hop. We got to the summit and ate a snack. It was sunny but very windy and a little chilly. Piñata tried hiking behind big rocks to block the wind. We continued the hike, excited that the hardest part was behind us.
We stopped at Maupin shelter for lunch. I got there first and found Calves and JD napping in the shelter. I ate some trailmix but I was anxious to get to the shelter before dark. This morning we decided instead of going ~17 to the campsite, we should try and push ~25 to the shelter. Normally I’m the one pushing for bigger miles, but this time it was Rash and Piñata, so I readily agreed. I hiked the few short steep climbs to the campsite on top of the mountain and found it to be really windy. Not ideal hammocking conditions. I left Rash and Piñata a note and moved on.

I was doing the math, and if I hurried, I could get to the shelter around 8:30. I passed some hikers with 3 dogs, and a little into the forest I heard something crash through the trees up ahead. I was terrified. The sun was setting and I was alone. I got out my bear alarm and tried yelling out, “hello!” to see if it was another hiker, but I didn’t get a response. I swallowed my fear and pressed forward. A little while later I ran into JD. We hiked together for the last 3 miles and chatted the whole way, and the company was nice. Right before the shelter we crossed a large stream. The shelter is huge with part of an upper level, so I set up my hammock in a corner. We all started dinner when we saw 2 headlamps coming down the mountain. Rash and Piñata joined us, but Rash wasn’t feeling great. We all had dinner and laughed together before turning in.

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