Blacksburg to Lexington Scorecard
I’m going to be honest, I’m writing this while watching game 5 of the NBA finals. My proof-reader and editor (spoiler alert: it’s my dad) is also watching the game. If there was ever a blog bound to have some typos, rambling tangents or “LeBron sucks” subconsciously included, it’s this one. Apologies in advance.
While this blog is titled Blacksburg to Lexington, I’m actually currently past the mile most thru hikers go into Lexington on, and Blacksburg isn’t a trail town. I’m kind of regretting breaking up these blogs by the towns I wrote them in.
Currently at mile 813, meaning I’ve hiked 126 miles since last check in.
I passed both the 700 and 800 mile markers and walked over the James River footbridge.
I saw a plethora of famous trail locations, including Dragon’s Tooth, McAfee Knob, Tinker’s Cliff and the Guillotine. Each one is sort of bizarre to look at, a real and tangible version of something I’d seen in pictures a thousand times.
The Quick Recap
I got back on the trail out of Blacksburg, still feeling the Virginia Blues. I felt bored and unmotivated. The “Virginia is flat” myth, which I knew was a myth, still somehow made me ragingly angry as I worked twice as hard to go half as far as I had in the first half of Virginia. Here’s a text I sent my mom that I think reflects where my head space was:
(Notice that she sends me blogs from people currently struggling with whatever I’m struggling with. This is so I can’t pull any of the “woe is me, my trail experience is harder than everyone else’s” bullhocky I’m sometimes guilty of.)
The theme of the first half of the section was zeros. I took two in Daleville where I ate a lot of cookie dough, watched a lot of Law and Order and waited for some friends to catch up so I could take a break from hiking alone. I can never quite make up my mind whether I prefer to hike by myself or not. 90% of the time I like having total control of all aspects of my hike: how far I walk, where I camp, what towns I stop at, where I eat in them, etc. But I thought I needed some company to break up the monotony I felt like I was stuck in.
Halfway through the week I met my friend Laura, who came back east from home to hike with me. I ended up impatiently getting a ride into Buena Vista the day she got there, feeling it was silly to camp less than 20 miles away just so I could hike more and meet her the next day. It also took away the risk that she would have to hike the Three Ridges with me, which probably would have left us “not friends.” But it did mean I took another zero.
Laura hasn’t spent the last couple of months hiking daily so I went into it knowing my miles would be scaled way back, which I was ok with. I was thinking it would be a bit of a vacation, another way of breaking up some of the monotony I was experiencing. I did not anticipate how much of a vacation it would be.
We averaged 10 miles day, exactly the kind of miles I did when I started. I remember those days being challenging at the time, but now I could have floated up some very not-flat Virginia mountains. With only one climb each day instead of two or three, I bolted up them with enthusiasm and then sprawled out at the top, waiting for Laura to catch up to me. My feet stopped hurting as much. We had time to lounge at every view and swimming hole and still got into shelters by the early afternoon. I kept wondering what I had done with all that extra time in Georgia.
I’ve spent a lot of the last week or so bemoaning the fact I still didn’t have the trail legs I was promised. Turns out I may not have been paying close enough attention.
It has been a beautiful stretch of hiking weather (with only one day of downpours thrown in). I’ve become a bit of a weather snob; when Laura complained about the heat, I had to fight the urge to point out that it was neither raining, snowing or in the 90s and that this was the longest stretch of nice weather I’d ever had on the trail and how dare she complain? I’ve become slightly traumatized by the weather. There wasn’t a rain cloud in sight but I was still utterly convinced it could rain on us at any moment.
The bugs have come out in full force. I’m covered with bug bites and I don’t even try to wave them away anymore, resigned to my fate. I wear sunglasses when I hike as an eye shield, tired of the little ones flying into my eye and killing themselves. I also had one fly into my mouth during the climb up to Dragon’s Tooth. While I understand their biological imperative to bite me and drink my blood, the ones with no survival instincts drive me a little crazy.
Roan Mountain is still my favorite day of hiking on the trail so far, but this stretch contained my favorite mile. Along Brown Mountain Creek there are the remnants of what used to be a village of freed slaves. There are stone walls, chimneys and other signs of the village left over. The creek and surrounding forest already looks like a Thomas Kinkade painting and the whole mile is so blissfully flat I had to resist the urge to sprint it and abandon my friend. At one point I crossed the creek and climbed the rock wall next to it, telling Laura I was looking for a flat camp spot when really I just wanted to climb all over the wall and explore.
We ended up camping at its end and ate dinner watching a doe and her two fawns peruse the forest on the other side of the creek.
I came out of Blacksburg fresh off one of my worst weeks on the trail. But I was optimistic, about to start the stretch with some of the best Virginia had to offer view-wise starting with Dragon’s Tooth. There was almost no water in the miles I had planned to hike, so I filled up early on for what would be 17 miles. I wouldn’t reach water again until where I planned to camp.
I reached Dragon’s Tooth around 5 pm and spent an hour and a half climbing, eating dinner and chatting with other thru-hikers. I only had two more miles to go, so when I buckled my pack back on at 6:30, I figured I’d get into camp around 7:30 with tons of light left. I was almost out of water, but wasn’t that concerned.
By 7:30, I had covered 0.4 miles. I had seen a lot of people slackpacking this stretch and this was the moment I realized why. The climb down from Dragon’s Tooth wasn’t so much a hike as it was a rock climb. Here’s a 20 foot rock wall I had to use toe and hand holes to climb down:
Trail maintainers are the best and I appreciate everything they do, but I sometimes think they assume most hikers are a foot taller than I am. There was one metal ladder built into the wall, but I needed another two or three.
At one point I had to hop down from a rock that was as tall as me. On a regular day hike, I would’ve just sat and slid down it on my butt, but that’s virtually impossible with a pack on. I gave it a shot and got my pack wedged between two other rocks. When all strapped in, the pack is essentially a part of me and as I tried to slide, my feet stopped short of the ground and I dangled awkwardly before having to unbuckle myself and drop the rest of the way down.
I had to make it to water, but I also knew there was no way I could do this rock scramble by the light of my headlamp. I was panicky and frustrated, eyeing the waning sunlight and trying to ignore my thirst. I yanked my pack free and threw it to the ground in anger, and watched one of my two water bottles fall out of my pack and roll off a cliff.
I didn’t really have time to react. I strapped my pack on and kept going, finally finding dirt and stomping into camp at twilight.
Even Lower Point
My last morning in Daleville, I trotted out to get the smoothie/iced coffee that I crave on hot days. I checked out of the motel on the way, but when I got to the coffee shop I realized my debit card wasn’t in the Ziploc bag I use as a wallet. I gave the motel a call and they let me search my room, but it was no use. It was gone.
I called my bank, canceled the card, and spent about a half an hour on the phone with them trying to explain I didn’t actually have an address and I wasn’t actually positive where I would be and when. They wouldn’t ship it to a post office and I scrolled frantically through Guthooks looking for anywhere else in the next hundred miles that would accept mail. Eventually I decided to send it to my parents, who would somehow find a way to get it to me as fast as possible.
After I got off the phone, I contemplated my situation. I had four days worth of food and a twenty. I couldn’t think of any way to improve either situation.
And then I got a call from the motel. They had found my card on the lawn, where it had apparently fallen out of my pocket. I was flooded with relief and started walking back while I called up my bank. I had a nagging concern they wouldn’t uncancel a card that had been canceled and that nagging concern proved to be very well founded.
I wanted to break into hysterics and tell the man on the phone that I was hiking the AT and they couldn’t even mail me the stupid new card and how would he feel if I ran out of food and starved in the woods? But I knew it wasn’t his fault so I thanked him exhaustedly and started on my hike for the day, way later than I had intended.
A couple of miles in I ran across a couple of day hikers who ran me through some of the FAQs I usually get. And then we got to:
“You’re hiking by yourself?”
“And you feel safe?”
Normally I brush off this question because I do feel safe, but I was highly aware of my precarious situation this time around. Without money, I couldn’t get a shuttle into town if I got hurt. If something happened to my food, I couldn’t get more. I had to make what I had last for an undetermined period of time. I didn’t exactly feel my most secure. But I did still brush off the question, because day hikers don’t want to hear my problems.
Fortunately I didn’t get hurt, didn’t run out of food, and Laura got my new card from my parents and brought it with her when she flew out.
MVP of the Week
I’d say the first half was a little lousy and the second half was nice, so I’d tie it all up at 5 out of 10 fudge stripe cookies.
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