Day 60: The Virginia Blues?

Ugh, What a Night

Northstar had a rough night. The motel I picked for her turned out to be a bit of a dive, but it was the only one that allowed dogs, was close enough to the trail that we could get there before her insides exploded, and was a place I could get a shuttle back up to the trail in the morning.

The cheesy motel didn’t cause her rough night. And it was way better for both of us than trying to sleep in the van while sick. Based on her symptoms, she thinks she either had food poisoning or Norovirus. Northstar is blaming the undercooked burger she bought at Middle Creek Campground. Another hiker told me that Daleville just had a significant Noro outbreak which has followed the bubble up the trail. But Northstar has almost no contact with hikers except me, and she’s extremely fastidious.

Her symptoms were different enough from mine, so I don’t think she had whatever took me down after my long hike out of Daleville.

Sparkles & Circuit, Future Hiking Legends

Regardless of the cause, Northstar was in no condition to drive me back up to Petite’s Gap, so the good folks at Stanimal’s hostel filled in for her. I shared the shuttle with Sparkles and Circuit, who started their hike in the Florida Keys in January. They flew past Springer Mountain on April 27 and have been logging 20’s and 30’s since then. They plan to hike past Katahdin on the Eastern Continental Trail into Canada, assuming Canada hasn’t burned to crisp by then.

Last year, they yo-yo’d* the Arizona and Colorado Trails, finishing all four legs of the yo-yo just in time to head to the Keys. They looked great, but said they’re both bone tired, sick of trail food, the rain, camping, their smell, and hiking. They’d just taken five days off to get their heads in a better place. If five days at the Glasgow Relax Inn gets you to a better place, you know you needed an upgrade.

We had a 40-minute drive to their drop off point, so we had plenty of time to swap Arizona stories and compare desert hiking with AT trail conditions. I almost started to miss Phoenix until I remembered that they’re hitting 100F daily with air pollution alerts. I think I’ll stay in the mountains for a few more months.

Passive-Aggressive Bears

I didn’t get dropped off until 10:00 am, an unusually late start for me. I stopped to take a picture of the “Aggressive Bear Warning” signs at Petite’s Gap, looked up, and noticed a bear sitting by the side of the trail, less than 100 feet from the road. We looked at each other for a solid minute until I raised my hands and gave him a “Hey, Bear!” I didn’t even yell it, but he bounded off into the brush.

I heard him crunching around just out of sight as I hiked away…right into a second bear. This one took off running as soon as he saw me. Good thing we didn’t camp at the Gap last night. Running outside to barf is bad enough without running into bears, even “aggressive” ones that run away when spoken to. For those who are counting, those were bears #6 and #7 for me.


Remember Squirrel, a fellow “elderly” hiker from my first night in the Smokies (according to 18-year-old Mousefeathers)? I bumped into him today along the James River path. He’s not the speediest hiker, so I never expected to see him again, but there he was. I guess we all just accordion along, and you never know who will show up on the trail.

The friendliness factor on the trail increased significantly since the Smokies. With the exception of some of the more insular tramilies,** and the occasional scary hiker (there were two today), most of us will at least exchange pleasantries as we pass on the trail. About half will stop and chat for a few minutes. Maybe there are fewer faces to remember in Virginia than there were in North Carolina, so it’s easier to recognize each other.

The Virginia Blues

The high dropout rate in Virginia is often blamed on the length of the trail compared to other states, as if crossing state lines is the only thing that keeps hikers motivated. As for me, I’m loving Virginia, except possibly its tick population. And I’ve been hiking Virginia for 320 miles so far and nothing about it has made me blue.

Virginia has so many iconic locations – Damascus, the Creeper Trail, Mount Rodgers, Grayson Highlands, Azaleas & Rhododendron tunnels, Keffer Oak, Bruiser Knob Cairns, Audie Murphy Monument, Dragon’s Tooth, McAfee Knob, Tinker Cliffs, Blue Ridge Parkway, Guillotine, James River Footbridge – and I’m only about half-way through the state – how could anyone get the blues?

The Virginia Blues is about cumulative fatigue after two months and 700 miles of hiking, camping, and eating trail food. It has nothing to do with Virginia.


Today’s haze had me puzzled at first. It wasn’t hot or humid enough for summer haze, but visibility from the ridges was limited. I could barely see the valley bottoms.

Then I read online about the wildfires in Canada which are closing parts of the trail up north. It’s hard to believe but Canada’s smoke is here in western Virginia. Northstar said she smells it, but my sniffer hasn’t worked well for years (to my benefit lately), so I’ll have to take her word for it. Pray for rain in Canada.

Every Day on the AT is a Good Day

I passed a young thru-hiker in the early afternoon. He was all smiles and enthusiasm, had the skipped-a-generation-wannabe-hippy vibe going strong, and had one of those “Look! I can grow a beard!” chin things some young men in their late teens cultivate. We had a nice chat about trail stuff. As I left, I asked how his day was going and he answered, “Every day on the AT is a good day.”

I’m a cynical old curmudgeon, so I almost stopped and poked at that. Six decades of life experience and a naturally pessimistic outlook has taught me that not every day is good. So far this week, I’ve had an unexpected road closure, a sudden illness, two venomous snake encounters, another sudden illness, a van accident, rain, and wildfire smoke. Other hikers have experienced much worse.

Fortunately, six decades has also given me a small measure of tact, so I just smiled at him and said, “You’re absolutely right. There’s no place I’d rather be today.”

Life will kick some of the enthusiasm, optimism, and idealism out of him soon enough. It will need no help from me.

Also, he is right.

Daily Stats:

  • Start: Petite’s Gap (Mile 777.4)
  • End: James River Footbridge (Mile 787.3)
  • Weather: Hazy, warm
  • Earworm: None. Two days in a row?
  • Meditation: Mt. 7:7
  • Plant of the Day: Ferns
  • Best Thing: Bear #6 & 7
  • Worst Thing: Northstar not better yet

*A yo-yo hike goes from the start to the finish and then back to the start.
**A group of hikers who stick together is a trail family, or tramily.

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Comments 5

  • thetentman : Jun 10th

    Every day on the AT is good. I agree. Even the wet cold ones are better than working.

    I hope you are doting on Northstar. Get her better.

    • Jon : Jun 11th

      I am. “Sure beats workin'” might have been my trail name. I say it all the time. Except at work.

      • thetentman : Jun 11th

        People ask me if I get bored in Retirement. I tell them I do get bored in Retirement. However, being bored while Retired is way, way better than being bored while working in an office.

        Hike on.


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