Day 59: Feeling Better…Feeling Worse

Feeling Better

I woke up feeling much better. Not 100%, but well enough for a full day on the trail. I mapped out a 17-mile day, identified some bailout points along the Blue Ridge Parkway if needed, and happily blue-blazed back to the AT.

Blue Blazin’ With BullDogs and No Blazes

A mile up the gravel road, I encountered two unchained bulldogs actively patrolling the front yard of an unfenced home. Fortunately, Gus had stayed with Northstar due to a light rain when I left and today’s long climbs. The latter was for my sake, not his. Managing a dog on long days is an unnecessary hassle. The bulldogs barked and growled at me but stayed on their grass, keeping pace with me as I walked quickly past.

The “official” blue blaze was supposed to begin where the gravel road ended. Instead, the road split into three directions, none of which were blazed, and all of which generally headed toward the AT. Without the FarOut app, I would have had to guess and hike a half-mile or more before finding out if I got it right. Instead, I just watched my little location icon to make sure I stayed on the mapped trail. Easy peasy.

FarOut might be the most useful thing I carry with me, although the comment section content for their marker points can be hit or miss. Just like the comment section of anything on the web, I suppose. A few users had commented that this morning’s blue blaze trail was as “sketchy as .” Hardly. Aside from lacking blazes, the trail was as obvious and easy to follow as the AT.

Freakin’ Van

Somewhere along the blue blaze section, Northstar texted that the van wouldn’t start, but followed up a few minutes later that it had started. I think this is our new life in the van – intermittent starting.

Northstar spent the rest of the morning on the phone and internet with dealership service departments trying to schedule the repair. The short story: the needed part does not exist.

Don’t Buy a RAM ProMaster!

The long story: I’ll spare you the details, but numerous internet sites report the starting defect in the RAM ProMaster, including RAM’s own site. But RAM has not issued a recall. Nor are they manufacturing a replacement part. Why? Because they do not want to sell more vans, obviously. On the upside, if I drop one of my kids on their head, I can take comfort in that they’ll fit right in as an executive at the RAM corporation.

The RAM service departments who are authorized to do the repair absolutely will not tell you that they cannot do the repair or that the needed part is on backorder with no announced delivery date. But they insist that you schedule an appointment for the diagnosis. Watch the movie “Brazil” and you’ll get the gist of it. If you think I’m bitter, Northstar tells this story with even more venom and sarcasm, and she’s the nice one of us.


After yesterday’s rattlesnake encounter, I had a mild case of the snake willies all morning. I come from rattlesnake country and have met my share of venomous snakes. I’ve even had one strike at me (I jumped just in time, totally by instinct). Consequently, this morning I saw a dozen rattlesticks on the trail, stopping abruptly for each one and even jumping back once. For any non-Arizonan’s reading along, a rattlestick is a stick that pretends to be a snake.

Speaking of yesterday’s encounters, I met the witch again, though she turned out to be quite nice. And wart-less. So, probably not a real witch. Then again, she did appear just after I almost stepped on a copperhead (seriously). And she asked to borrow my phone, which is a sure sign of evil. Maybe the jury’s still out on that one.

Is the AT the Hardest of Them All?

I also met an Arizonan named Boomerang, who is on the third leg of his triple crown. I caught up to him on the long climb out of the Middle Creek Valley and chatted briefly, but then leapfrogged him all day long, chatting each time we passed. American thru-hikers call hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the AT the “Triple Crown.”

I asked Boomerang whether he agreed with Pay It Forward’s opinion that the AT was the hardest of the three and he scoffed. He thought the CDT was the hardest by far, followed by the PCT, due to their high elevations (> 10,000 ft), snowy passes, lack of water and trail support, long carries between resupplies, and extreme weather.

He said the AT is not easy by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s also not the hardest. But then he said he’s only done a third of the AT so far and that I should ask him again in September.

Great Stuff on the Trail Today

  • The Guillotine. A well-known rock formation with a huge boulder suspended between two cliff faces over the trail.
  • Black Rocks Overlook. Nice views and a cool breeze made for nice break spot and a sketchy climb to the perch.
  • The Appalachians in Virginia are just so green. I’ve lived in Arizona for so long, I just can’t get over all the rich shades of green. And when all that green moves in the breeze, it’s magic.

Weird Stuff on the Trail Today

  • Why do people carry their trekking poles? I followed and passed one guy all day long and never once saw him put his pole tips on the ground. He carried them 17+ miles.
  • I saw a day hiker with the giant AT beard who was wearing a kilt and I really wanted to ask, but grown-up me said I couldn’t.
  • The shelters along this stretch of the AT are closed due to “aggressive bear activity.” I stopped at one for water and watched a guy setting up his tent right next to the shelter under the closure sign. I hope I won’t be reading about him in the news tomorrow.
  • I tried to use my nature ID app to identify the copperhead, but it couldn’t get beyond Genus: Copperheads, Cottonmouths, and Cantils. It recommended that I move closer for a better shot. Uh, no. It had no rattle, but once the app said “Viper” I knew all I needed to know.
  • A minute after I saw the viper, I tried to be a white-haired guardian angel for a shorts- and sandals-wearing approaching hiker, but he couldn’t have cared less.

Feeling Worse

Northstar arrived right on time at Petite’s Gap, moments after I hiked in. But when I leaned in for a hello kiss, she warned me off with two hands up. Her stomach was exploding, she said, best not to get too close. We’d planned to camp right at the trailhead, but I decided she’d be better off in her own bed near a clean bathroom.

Instead, I found her a lumpy bed and dirty bathroom at the Relax Inn near Glascow. But it’s the thought that counts, right?

More on her condition tomorrow.

Daily Stats:

  • Start: Middle Creek Campground (Mile 760.2)
  • End: Petite’s Gap (Mile 777.4)
  • Weather: Drizzle, partly sunny, cool.
  • Earworm: None. Spotify to the rescue
  • Meditation: Mt. 6:34
  • Plant of the Day: Virginia Spiderwort, Red Columbine, Golden Alexander, Stalked Scarlet Cup
  • Best Thing: Flowers! I’d thought Spring was done.
  • Worst Thing: Northstar has the crud

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Comments 2

  • thetentman : Jun 9th

    Take care of the wife. Skip hiking for a day and nurture her until she makes you hike.

    I moved a rattlesnake off the trail once with a big stick. I got under it and carried it about 50 yards away. It really pissed the snake off, big time. After I placed it down it went into a hyper-pissed rattling. It continued for quite some time. Even though I placed it quite a ways away you could hear it from the trail. In fact, the next Thru could hear it but not see it and was really spooked. The girl I was with wanted my car keys before I moved it. When I asked “Why?’ She replied that she did not want to fish around my dead body for the keys. I did not get bit and got the last laugh.

    Love the post. Good luck.

    Any smoke? It was orange here.

    • Jon : Jun 10th

      She’s been making me hike. Doesn’t want me hovering, I guess.
      Hilarious. I really hate rattlers. Saw seven one day in AZ. And a scorpion, porcupine, velvet ant, centipede, and skunk. The river was out to get me that day.
      Hazy, but not obnoxious. Yet. I can’t smell it, but the wife can.


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