Days 41-45

Day 41: Campsite at Laurel Fork to Vandeventer Shelter

Shade and I got up in the morning and walked about a mile and a half into Hampton, TN to grab some resupply, then retraced our steps to start our day. I would like to go on the record as saying that the first mountain was a real disappointment. Climbed for two and a half miles to discover that the “summit” was really just a saddle between two other mountains, nothing to see, and then just straight down the other side to the same elevation we started from.

It’s so hot, and so muggy, that I’m just bleeding water with every step. We stopped at Shook Branch Recreation Area, very tired, for lunch, but morale was a little low, so we spent some time watching the ducks working the crowd for food and then moved on.

The day did not get better. We didn’t fill up on enough water at the Recreation Area, and the climb out of the valley was excruciating. Finally filled up at a very slow spring 1.7 miles outside of the shelter, and then got caught in a summer shower on the last stretch: at least it cooled me off.

There was a group of backpacking camp staffers bonding at the shelter. They were nice but had the campfire going until very late at night, and the breeze blew smoke into my face all night as I slept.

Day 42: Vandeventer Shelter to about one mile on

I think it was all the smoke I breathed in during the night, but I woke up with the spins, the worst dizziness I have ever experienced. I barely got out of the shelter and got a few deep breaths before I started throwing up from the motion. It wasn’t much just because there was nothing in my stomach but a little bile (hiker life, the stomach is always empty), but I couldn’t really get my thoughts together and I felt so unhappy. The only thing I knew was that I needed some more sleep, so I told Shade not to wait for me and rolled back into my sleeping bag to wait for the world to stop moving.

I slept until noon, and tried to get up again even though the dizziness was still bad. I made it about 20 yards down the hill, and the vomiting started again, and this time was awful. I had drunk a fair amount of water before falling asleep and now my stomach had something to work with. I hope it rains again there very soon because there was nothing I could do to clean up the scene of the crime. At least it was in the trees, away from the camp. I was pretty sure that was a total purge, though, thanks dizziness. I went back to sleep, trembling from the exertion of trying to get back up the slope.

Some hikers came through at 1:00, and woke me up. I thought the dizziness was better, so I packed up and started moving, slowly. I made it about a mile, picked the first flat site I saw, set my tent up and crawled inside to fall back asleep again. At least that time I didn’t throw up. The hikers from the shelter went past, then one hiked back to check on me, asked me my timeline, and told me he was leaving word at Damascus about me so that if I didn’t turn up, someone would know to worry. The hiker community, man. Solid through and through. Thank you, Ed.

And then as it got later, I woke up to¬†familiar voices. “Is that Xena’s tent?” It was Silver and Robyn, caught up at last!! I chatted with them for a bit and they set up their tent just up the trail from me. Reunions are the best.

So during this ordeal I ate nothing for 36 hours, slept for about 24, was generally miserable, and found (or was found by?) our friends. I call that a net gain.

Day 43: Tent site to Double Spring Gap Campsite

So for the record it is hard to hike with no calories in me. I remember very little of the trail, other than that it was pretty flat but I had to stop and rest several times on even the gentlest uphill. I wasn’t dizzy anymore but eating was still posing a real challenge because my stomach remembered. My plan was to do 19 miles, but I had no illusions about doing them fast, and it’s a good thing because I was crawling.

That’s how the thunderstorm caught me. I heard some rumbling behind me but it sounded like it was moving west, so I kept on walking. I was up on a ridge line and then suddenly the storm was directly on top of me. Thunder cracked right overhead, and lightning struck a tree a hundred feet away from me; I was basically standing in a river as the trail filled with two inches of water, I was soaked, holding two metal poles in my hand. I did what seemed like the only thing I could do in that situation: I bolted like a frightened rabbit.

Exhausted or not, barely over my brush with what might have been carbon monoxide poisoning or not, it didn’t matter. I sprinted down that path until I was off the hill. I felt like that storm was Death opening a door and letting me look through for a while. I was still shaken when I joined Silver and Robyn at the campsite, and I set up my tent and went to bed immediately.

Day 44: Double Spring Gap campsite to Damascus, VA

It rained all night and my tent was a sodden, muddy mess in the morning. I didn’t care. I rolled it up and headed out because I was walking toward a shower and laundry.

I stopped at the first water source to fill my Platypus and there was a crash as a large branch fell off of a tree by the trail. At least, I thought it was a branch until it got up and ran away and I realized it was a bear. “Okay, later bear,” I said to it, not too concerned.

Then her cub ambled very nonchalantly toward me across the trail and suddenly I was definitely concerned. It stopped, sniffed the air, and I was sure it was smelling the tuna wrap I ate for breakfast. It started toward me again. “Shoo,” I told it in my very best Bad Dog Voice. Honestly, I didn’t think that was going to work, but it did the trick, thank goodness, because I really didn’t want to meet its mom again.

Uphills were still hard, but doable, and I made good time. I crossed the VA border (goodbye TN and NC!!) and got down to Damascus around three. I made my way to Woodchuck Hostel, run by Woodchuck, who is well known for the breakfasts he serves hikers, and settled up with him for the first night. One shower later, I checked in at the outfitters to let them know that “that sick hiker, Xena” was totally okay and that they didn’t need to call the rangers to find me (Ed had also, I might add, asked every southbound hiker he met to look out for me, which meant that the whole two days into Damascus I was checked in on and offered assistance, which was so kind).

Damascus! The woods threw illness, lightning, and bear-moms at me this week, but I made it and I’m in VA now, ready to tackle those Virginia blues and knock out another 500 miles. There are a lot of people I know here at the hostel, too. Tao and Baloo have been here for a day or two, always so good to run into them again, and Shade got in earlier the same day I did with Robyn and Silver. Billy is apparently back as well and is planning on hiking with us for a little more. A few people I met on the trail over the last few days are also here, although I don’t know them as well: Black Sheep, Nice as FUQ, Lonesome Joe, Boss (and her mom, although I didn’t catch her name this time around), Joe and Keely, Klondike, and Jefe. I can’t say this enough: the trail is populated by pretty amazing people. I also was introduced to Pippin, who Silver and Robyn met when they were playing catchup to Shade and me and who seems likely to win some awards for chillest dude around.

The latest word from Recon is that he’s almost ready to get back on the trail. The five members of the tramily are almost back together! I’m so pumped.

Day 45: Zero in Damascus

Today was a good one. Had a breakfast at Woodchuck’s and his reputation is well-earned. Spent a long time lounging around, planning to get a ride to the Verizon store in Abingdon to try and resuscitate my phone, which was still dead after three days in rice, when it suddenly started working again on its own (a different kind of trail magic!). We got smoothies at Mojo’s, which is an amazing place, picked up mail (thank you for the letters!) and my package with new shoes, and played a game of chess with Pippin which I sort of suspect he let me win. I cleaned my tent, did laundry, and aired out my sleeping bag. Then I made a big pot of stew for my friends and we pigged out for dinner. It was nice to cook again, and so nice to have a day where I was clean, and my stuff was clean, and my feet felt fine, and the trail wasn’t trying to kill me. Damascus, you are all right by me.

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Comments 2

  • Eric Linder : Jun 9th

    Dear Erin, your wonderful father (still “the Boss” to me) keeps forwarding your blogs to me, and I am in awe of what you are accomplishing–and with such humor (OK, sarcasm at times!). I have TAUGHT Walden and outdoors-y literature, but you are DOING it! I missed dropping you a piece of real mail (I think the address Bill sent is now out of date), but this will have to do until I find out from him the next poste restante, as they used to say to travelers in Europe.

    All awe and admiration from your former (and OLD!) English teacher, Eric Linder

    • Erin Briggeman : Jun 14th

      It’s so great to hear from you! I am having an amazing time out here, learning so much about myself, the amazing community to be found on the trail, and all the magnificent (and often tough) lessons the natural world has to teach. Even when I’m trapped in the gravitational pull of a town like this I’m meeting new people and having fun. Do you still have plans to hike El Camino?


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