Damascus-Pearisburg, VA: I got bitten by a poisonous spider (and VA isn’t flat)

Total miles: 634

Average daily miles: 15-20

Reporting from a cinderblock hotel room at the Motor Inn, in Pearisburg, VA. I feel like we’ve been in town every three days for the last 150 miles– we have had packages everywhere and had to drop in to pick them up. We did a fast 11 miles in, and we’ll be back out tomorrow and heading towards Daleville… Where we have another package.

hopefully the awkwardness of me taking a selfie is mitigated by the fact that it involves ponies

pony smelled the weekend-hiker’s hashbrowns. I did too, pony. I did too.

The most exciting part of the past two weeks was getting bitten by a poisonous spider the day before yesterday. (Out here, “exciting” is synonymous with “guess how much this hurt?”)

We were about 15 miles into a pretty easy 20-mile day when I felt a weird ache and radiating numbness behind my left knee. I told Hare I had to cut our snack break short because my leg was cramping, and I kept hiking towards a road crossing a few miles south of our destination.

Grayson Highlands (and the AT) in a nutshell

The pain got increasingly worse, until every time I bent my leg or flexed the muscle to take a step, it felt like my veins were being electrocuted. Hare caught up to me as I slowed to a limping crawl, and I hobbled behind him to the bridge before the road. By then, we were two miles out from the campsite, but I was having difficulty breathing, which was probably from the pain but who knows. I kept yawning uncontrollably, because my lungs wanted more air than I was giving them, and it was impossible to get a full breath.

The ten steps up to the suspension bridge were agonizing and by the time we crossed the road, I was straight-up sobbing from the pain, positive a tendon had been severed or my muscle was being torn from whatever muscles connect to.

Tough guyz of the AT repping clothes from thr Dollar General, JPark, and ice cream. No wonder i can never get a hitch into town

I told Hare I’d either blown something or been bitten by something poisonous, but he looked and didn’t see a bite mark, and reasoned that I hadn’t done anything to tear a muscle. He tried to tell me I was having a bad muscle cramp, but I wanted to believe it would take more than a cramp to make me shriek in pain with every other step.

I told him to go ahead so he wouldn’t have to watch the disaster of the next two miles, but he refused, and stuck with me for the entire hour it took me to drag my seizing leg to the campsite. Retrospectively, that much pain out of nowhere should have had us hitching a ride to a doctor, but I’m pretty bullheaded, and I was doggedly determined to make it to camp.

even in my haze of pain I can appreciate a good campsite

testing the stability of my leg the next day

We got to our (beautiful) campsite at Dismal Falls and my leg actually buckled, like a cartoon. I assumed I would be lurching my way back to the road the next day and hitching into an ER.

However, the next morning I just had residual muscle spasms, soreness, and numbness in my left butt cheek, but the feeling of something sawing through my muscles and tendons was gone. I was ecstatic and relieved beyond belief, but really confused as to what had happened. Early afternoon, Hare was hiking behind me up a steep hill and saw a red patch behind my left knee, with two raised bumps and pinprick holes. Something HAD bitten me. I’m really grateful it wasn’t worse, and I’ll be really careful where I sit from now on.

this felt like we were in Virginia 🙂

That was the exciting part, now some trail updates.

The first week out of Damascus seemed really easy, then Virginia got hard! The Grayson Highlands was the most freezing, windy, pouring rain day in weeks, which makes sense considering it gave us a four-for-four shutout on the highlights of the southern AT.

the novelty of climbing these stiles wore thin very quickly

For reference:

Clingman’s Dome: Cold rain and fog, zero visibility.

Roan Highlands: Terrifying lightning storm of death, zero visibility.

Max Patch Bald: Zero degrees with windchill, snowfield. There might have been a view, but your eyes would freeze shut before you could take it in.

Grayson Highlands: Freezing rain and wind, zero visibility.

BUT! Ponies!!!!

Grayson Highlands had ponies, so that totally made up for the atrocious weather. They were so cute and funny and acted like dogs, hanging out at the campsite. I was quiet because I didn’t want to scare them, but they came right up to me and chewed on my rain coat!


We had some truly torrential rain on the way out of Atkins (had to pick up a package! Imagine that!) and were slipping off the fence stiles bordering cattle grazing areas. On the few times I did look up and squint through the driving rain, I saw rolling hills and tree-covered slopes. I’m sure those 16 miles would be amazing on a sunny day, but even with the pouring rain it was cool to see the scenery changing as we got further into Virginia.

That sign in the window was telling us that our packs were a health hazard and had to stay outside. fair statement

We practically race-walked the last few miles to the shelter, chilled and soaking wet and eager to put camp clothes on. But even though it was barely 2:30pm, the entire shelter was taken up by four people’s spread-out clothing, and the one nearest to us laughed in our faces and said “Shoulda got here at 10am. We been sittin’ here all day.” I was furious, feeling like a drowned rat, and not in the mood to hear some old guy gloat that he had squatted in the shelter all day to avoid the rain we’d just hauled through.

We slipped and slid another mile down the trail and threw the Taj Mahal up on the first flat spot we saw. Shadow came down an hour later after being shut out of the shelter, and his tent got so wet as he set it up that he had to cut a hole in the bottom to drain it. I’m not sure what the shelter etiquette in that situation would have been, but there was easily room for more people, plus they’d been sitting there all day.

I drew this moose in the hostel log and I was proud

We had a few days of wonderful sunshine and VERY hard hiking following the Day of the Drowned Rat. Whoever said “Virginia is flat” had A) never hiked in Virginia and B) never even looked at a trail profile. Hare was having some serious Achilles pain, and my muscles were cramping so bad after a four-mile climb up Chestnut Knob that I couldn’t wait for him, so I hiked ahead on a ridgeline that looked so deceivingly smooth it should run for office.

probably because most of my shelter log drawings look like this

Apparently Hare had a total fit and threw his hiking poles, while I was a mile ahead staring up at another rocky climb and tearfully whispering “but…but I don’t want to climb this. *sniffle*” When we got to camp it was good to hear that Hare does in fact have bad days, and he’s not infallible. But yeah…. the Virginia-being-flat-thing is totally fiction. That was our hardest terrain day yet. And it was in Virginia.

we were joking that every overlook was Macafee Knob and it seemed funny at the time

We stopped in Bland (to pick up a package!!) and the next few days were pretty mundane until the Day of the Spider Bite of Doom.

The day after the spider bite, I was looking forward to stay at Woods Hole Hostel. I’d heard really good things, but it was the most disappointing experience on this trip so far.

Myself, Hare, Shadow, Spartacus, Silent Bob, and The Swede got there around 3:30 after a pretty easy 15 miles, and were immediately informed that the owners and some guests were going to a concert in a nearby town, and we could go (for an extra $32 plus gas). No one in our group could afford to, or felt like going, but most of the other hikers staying there did. Hare and I wanted to save money (for once) so we opted for a $10 tent site as opposed to the bunkroom, and we were bummed to see the “camping area” was at the edge of a gravel parking lot on a slope, next to a pile of old tires and pallet board. We set up next to Silent Bob, and went down for dinner.

pony licking spartacus’s knee. you can never have too many pony pics

But when the owners left, all of the staff did too, so there wasn’t the famed hostel dinner, plus they’d left Spartacus “in charge” because he was staying in an indoor room. They shut off access to the house, so when the temperature dropped into the windy 30s, we put on all our layers and cooked our freeze-dried emergency meal on the porch, with the other people who didn’t go to the show.

Breakfast was good in the morning, but when I went to pay, I was appalled to hear they charged us $20 for the tent space… $10 for each person in the tent, because of amenities that we were shut out of, like heat and hot water. I shelled out $55 and wished we’d followed the people who decided it wasn’t worth it and hiked a mile further up trail to camp for free. Maybe we hit them on a bad night, but all of us felt completely ripped off, and Spartacus was not happy to have to play manager to incoming hikers and take people’s money when he was a paying guest. One of the owners also snapped at Spartacus in the morning because he hadn’t collected the right amount of money for something. Here’s an idea: leave a staff member at the hostel.

four days of hiking, two pairs of socks each. hikers are a biohazard

Overall the miles are going so fast, and each hundred just seems to happen quicker and quicker! Our feet feel pretty banged up, but it’s just normal now. Should get to McAfee Knob in less than a week! I’m predicting… Rain! 😉 I’m really happy with our progress, and grateful we’ve had to deal with such minor injuries and grievances over the last 600+ miles.

this was a hundred miles ago, but it’s still cool!

Ok time for three questions:

Q) Do you listen to music? 

A) Yes, in moderation. I treat music like painkillers… listening to tunes helps me power up hills, ignore the rain, and forget that something hurts. So if it’s a long climb, a rainy day, or something hurts (or all three!) I’ll listen to music. But if I played music all the time it would lose the magic effect.

TL; DR: Sometimes if I’m in a bad mood.

Q) How do you choose daily mileage?

A) At each resupply, I look at the profile and see how many miles we have to the next resupply, and how many days we can reasonably hike it in. That determines how much food we pack. Terrain difficulty, camping availability, weather, and random injuries alter the plans every week, but I usually outline a few long days (20-24 miles) with a few moderate days (15-18) and a low day into town (10-14 miles).

TL; DR: Depends on terrain and energy level, but we outline based on breakdown of miles between resupply.


Q) How much water do you carry? 

A) Depending on water sources, I try to drink a whole liter before I leave camp, filter another one into my water bottle to drink at lunch, and carry one liter in my Camelbak. We refill once or twice per day at sources, by that’ll change once it gets hot out. Water is heavy (2lbs per liter) so it’s unpleasant to carry too much. We tried to save weight and carry one liter at a time, and said we’d just stop more often to filter. It took one instance of running out on a bone-dry 10-mile ridgeline to make us rethink that strategy.

TL;DR: 1.5 or 2 liters.

Ok that’s all. Stay hydrated and don’t sit on any spiders! Tortoise and Hare out.

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Comments 7

  • Backfire : Apr 25th

    Anytime it’s bad weather everybody should crowd together and let as many hikers as possible into the shelter. Those guys were rude beyond belief. Sorry to hear about your experience at Woods Hole.

  • Flying Dutchman '55 : Apr 27th

    Can’t wait for more! Trying to figure out what bit you.

  • Every Hiker : Apr 28th

    Fuck Woods Hole. Fuck Neville.

  • Irena : Apr 30th

    Funniest Gracen Highlands experience I had was when I was backpacking with a group. Felt something brush against my tent at about 4am. Turns out a herd of cows decided to weave their way through our tents. The ponies are extremely friendly, and if you put your pack down, they will encircle you thinking you’ll feed them.

  • Teresa Watts : Apr 30th

    The pony with the white mane in your pic looks like the one I nick-named “mooch”. He seemed to be the ring leader in selecting bipeds to beg from….. and yes… apparently horses can beg.. and stalk you as you try to move away. He tried to eat my backpack in 2013. He tried to eat my hand in 2015. No harm no foul Mooch. ( probably not the same pony. .. but definitely some genetic behavior noted!) LOVED IT. Adventure onward!

  • Woods Hole Hostel : Jun 25th

    Hi, It’s Woods Hole. We’re really bummed that you guys had such a bad visit at the Hostel. We wish that you could have had a better experience.. but hope that the Trail all together has been an awesome experience.. 🙂 Keep smiling.

    • Neville Harris : Jun 25th

      P.s There is no worst feeling than loving what you do.. and knowing that you were not able to provide the service you love.. many regrets on your visit. love, neville


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