Central Virginia – Fun and Cold, Not Cold Fun
Central Virginia (Oct. 4 – Oct. 16)
249 miles, 13 days (Glasgow to Atkins)
Southern Virginia started out promising but made me question my sanity, and, more to the point, the trail and whether I could finish what I’d started.
Duke, Daleville, and Buchanan
The Blue Ridge Mountains were absolutely stunning, and the good weather had me loving the sun’s ability to actually warm up the Earth and allow me to hike in my trademark (and only) T-shirt. The rolling hills had views, and the KitKats I’d received in my package were Canadian ones that I really do think taste better. Dreamer seconded that.
This is where I introduce Duke. Duke is a NOBO that Dreamer and I met way up in New Hampshire. He started in Georgia and finished in Maine (yay!) and told us he wanted to meet us on trail and do some trail magic. He wasn’t the first NOBO to tell us that, and he wasn’t the last, but he was the only one to follow through. When he finished his hike he had a job lined up in Richmond, VA. Coach Carter coached at a high school named Richmond, and that’s all I knew about that. Turns out Richmond is a two hour drive from the trail, and Duke did that drive because that’s how cool he is! I know the NOBOs and the SOBOs have a bit of a friendly(?) rivalry going on but I’m sorry, I can’t bash them after meeting this guy.
Daleville is a town the trail skirts by, so we agreed to meet there. That didn’t happen because the sun was out and I took 100 breaks, as did Dreamer, so we attempted to get off trail and hitchhike there. We got as far as a town called Buchanan, which is a middle of nowhere town with nothing in it. (Our hitch’s description of it, at least.) Duke picked us up in Buchanan and brought us to Three Li’l Pigs barbecue, which was really, really good, but a sort of sad name for a barbecue joint, I must say. I’m absolutely loving the Southern food, in all its fried deliciousness. On top of the food Duke treated us to, he brought pumpkin spiced beer from the brewery he works at. We went to the closest campsite on trail and got to further catch up with him, or more like it, grill him on how post-trail life was treating him before he headed back on his two-hour commute. Biggest of thank yous to Duke, because he’s for sure a favorite person I’ve met on trail.
Waking up after a few too many glasses of high-percentage beer (lightweight status and proud of it), Dreamer walked and I dragged myself to the Cracker Barrel for a breakfast you can always count on to be what you expect it to be. We were in Daleville, but we hadn’t actually hiked there, so, after claiming sobriety from then on, we began the task of hitchhiking back to the trail where we left off. Our ride ended up leaving us in Buchanan, where he told us of what a nothing town it was, and bid us good luck. Instead of looking for another ride to the trail we decided to check out the town. What do you know—it had a festival going on and was very much a happening place! Good ol’ Buchanan had its annual celebration of something or other that day, and we joined in the festivities. I got to try pork rinds for the first time, which I probably won’t indulge in again because it’s literally deep fried fat and hard to stomach once you know that, but those deep-fried Oreos can definitely make a reappearance in my life anytime now.
Before leaving town we picked up 50-cent books at a book sale, because adding weight to our packs is just so much fun. I found $10 in mine later on so that was an added bonus to educating myself on the classic that is Great Expectations. At three in the afternoon we remembered we were hikers and parted ways with Buchanan—great place—and managed 13 miles somehow.
Daleville Again and Canadian Thanksgiving
Sunday, Oct. 7. Upon waking up on this day I was a bit sad to realize everyone back home would be enjoying their Thanksgiving dinner without me, me without them, and me also without home-cooked food. As it often goes, the trail provided. (With a little hitchhike work at least.)
The Homeplace Restaurant is well known among AT hikers, as it should be. They are closed Monday through Thursday, and because it was Sunday we figured we had to get there ASAP. The hitch there was easy, thanks to a former AT thru-hiker, and we arrived in time to wait our turn for 30 minutes. This place is that good, yes. It’s homemade everything: fried chicken, roast beef, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn, biscuits, peas, sweet tea, and it’s no buffet but indeed all-you-can-eat. They bring food refills right to you! Dreamer and I sat there eating and eating, for the length of time it took the table beside us to switch occupants three times. Such a great restaurant with quality food, and such quantity for a set price that could triple and still profit. Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!
The Virginia Triple Crown
Tinker Cliffs, McAfee Knob, and Dragon’s Tooth compose Virginia’s Triple Crown. These features are in the Roanoke Valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains and are such fun. Again, looking forward to individual things like these really break up the 2,190 miles that make up the trail. If you don’t thru-hike, I would totally recommend this section on some good-weather days.
After rolling ourselves out of the Homeplace Restaurant, we rolled up and down 11 more miles to camp up at Tinker Cliffs.
After hiking pretty late to get there, we woke up at 4 a.m. to hit McAfee Knob for sunrise. I woke up but would have been perfectly fine missing out, if only Dreamer thought the same. He didn’t, so I groggily stumbled about and ended up making coffee a few miles later, waiting for the sun to rise, which didn’t really. The fog was super thick, but it made for a differently neat effect.
I will remember Oct. 8 as the last day I wore my T-shirt. Until then I’d been wondering when the warm weather was going to come back, but then as I looked around at the changing leaves I realized I was living in a fantasy world, and cold is reality, like, it’s October for goodness sake.
Anyway, I lost Dreamer shortly after McAfee Knob, but on I went to complete the Virginia Triple Crown. Dragon’s Tooth was a giant, super fun rock scramble, to the top of a collection of high, jagged rocks where my company was only strong wind, and open air.
Going Solo For a Bit
The next few days I hiked and camped alone, which brought back memories of starting my hike alone when I had no clue what I was doing. How did my mom even let me leave her vehicle, ha, actually though I basically knew nothing when I look back. I may have picked up a lot at this point, but you can never know it all.
There was a lot of up and not much down in these days. “Went through some fields. Cows sound like dinosaurs. Ridge was super cool. The wind, being alone, the raw beauty mixed with feeling like you’re the only one on the planet and turning wild until you run into someone and have to become normal again in a split second.”- My notes from Oct. 9.
Then it started raining for basically 50 hours straight. I did a couple of mid-20-mile days but the nights were where it got challenging. The first night it didn’t rain but the wind was mighty strong and I was afraid a tree was going to fall on my tent. A legit fear. The second night I cooked in my tent, because I was mad at the continuous rain and figured the bears were all hiding from the rain too. Regardless, I woke up a few times imagining bears everywhere. The third night I thought my tent might wash away, and I struggled to sleep because there were drops of rain falling on my head. I’m not sure how that happened because I refused to check it out on account of how cold it was so I tossed and turned hoping the problem would go away. No lie, zero water was present in my tent in the morning, but yes, it was still raining outside. Maybe it was all a dream I brought on with my paranoia of washing away?
Having survived—and proud of it—I hiked 15 miles in cat and dog rain to Angels Rest Hiker’s Haven in Pearisburg. I was cold, wet, and miserable when Field Trip saw me walking by and called me into the pizza joint they were eating at. Crispy and Field Trip (two SOBOs I’d been crossing paths with) proceeded to fill my hands with pizza slices and I went all the more merrily in search of the hostel. It’s the little things!
Angels Rest Hiker’s Haven
I walked in resembling a wet dog/drowned rat, and there sat Dreamer on a couch, all dry with Baby (the dude’s trail name, not my pet name) and Pulitzer. They’re two new faces, both flip-floppers headed south now. Once I showered and took care of laundry I joined them on the couch and sat there happily through three movies. We started with Looper, followed by Hancock, and finished with The Notebook. Weird variety but it worked!
It was so cold upon waking up in the bunkhouse that motivation was extraordinarily low. We all stalled until 2 p.m., then were dropped off at the trailhead, left to do what we do. Pulitzer was somewhere behind, but Dreamer, Baby, and I did a mere nine miles to a shelter where we found Crispy had made a fire. The three of us crammed into the shelter with Field Trip and Penny, Crispy and Tank. I may butcher the spelling here but Takaya showed up later to hike with the guys as he’d been doing for the last three weekends. A true weekend warrior and a hilarious guy. I was hoping Pulitzer may show up because she’s a girl and there was a lot of testosterone company on trail whereas the females seem to be few and far between.
The night dropped below freezing and I was thankful there were so many of us in the shelter to keep warmish in the night. I was super grateful to be gifted a NeoAir Xlite and I left my Therm-a-Rest Z-lite behind. I think I might have frozen to death (only slightly exaggerating) had I been sleeping on the Z-lite still, because the NeoAir mattress sleeps significantly warmer and I’d previously been cold in warmer temperatures. On top of that, the improved comfort level was extremely welcome. Enough about that for now, and back to the cold.
It rained the next day, but I made myself pack up and tackle 25 miles. In this stretch I met a whole new group of SOBOs; Trash Panda, Rebound, Jester, Ice Man, Oolong, and Scout. I also came upon Loon, whom I hadn’t seen for a few hundred miles. Loon, Baby, and Dreamer slept in the shelter (Jenny Knob Shelter) and I tented beside it, to try out my totally awesome new NeoAir inside my tent. My feet were still cold at night, as were my hands and my head and my whole body, plus mornings and the daytime.
The cold walking routine is tiresome. I sleep in my pants, a long-sleeve, fleece, vest, hat, two buffs, and sleep socks in my 30 degree Fahrenheit sleeping bag. When I wake up I shed the vest and don my rain jacket. When I get warm, eventually, I put on my shorts because my pants don’t stay up anymore and I get annoyed fast at pulling them up every 30 seconds. When I get warmer, the fleece comes off. Rarely am I found without my rain jacket, so basically I smell more than I thought possible.
I did 24 slow miles to find Dreamer at the shelter, and just like that, we ended up at least ten miles ahead of the million SOBOs we’d run into the day before. Dreamer saw four bears that day so I imagined them outside the shelter all night.
I was really struggling with uphills and when Dreamer took off at practically a run, I morphed into a slug, sitting on anything and everything that looked sittable and wondering how I was going to make it through to the end. I got to a shelter late where I had no company and spent time reading my book and eating all my food rations, which is what I do when I’m in need of comfort apparently.
I came up with a story in my head in which I had long-term Lyme disease I’d hypothetically had since New England, so that’s where I threw blame on my sluggish ways. I thought some cows were going to attack me at one point, and the vultures circling me were about to dive bomb my carcass, so I sped up a little and made it to a road leading into Atkins.
Let me tell you, I was done with walking and feeling like I was getting nowhere. My legs just weren’t working like I wanted them to. Everything was going so well, until it wasn’t. The weather was my tipping point, and once the cold rolled in I just didn’t know how to deal. Until this point I’d been able to handle whatever the trail threw at me. Apparently weather is my Kryptonite, and if I were a superhero I think I would base myself somewhere sunny in Arizona. If you’re located in a warm place this winter and want to hire me, holla at me! (95 percent serious.)
Knowing for sure that I wasn’t up to continue walking in freezing temperatures with gear unequipped for just that, I was at a loss. I did what my budget didn’t allow me to do and I checked into the Comfort Inn—hiker’s special helped me out a bit. I ate as much food as I could until I was a bit afraid my stomach lining was going to burst, if that’s even possible, and I contemplated life as I know it. What’s the point of being out here if I’m having fun in a miserably cold way? The competitor inside of me knew it wasn’t over yet, but my word count is nearing a dangerously high number that may not hold many attention spans, so that’s it for now.
Stay warm, SOBOs!
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Love the picture of the headlamps at night with a starry sky backdrop…very cool
I agree, the pic at night is cool. Hang in there , think warm thoughts.
Keep your spirits up, Spirit! Enjoy your posts, but they make my heart long for the trail!