Days 46-50: Daleville…It Was the Best of Times, Following the Worst of Times
Day 49 kicked my butt. Day 50 brought me back to life. That’s the AT for ya.
Hiking from: Campsite before Pine Swamp Camp Shelter
To: War Spur Shelter
Total grade: 414.3 ft/mile (-)
Motivation: Minimal (this is just what I do now mentality)
Favorite part of the day: End of day Twizzler
Comments: Day 46 began with a descent that lasted long enough to justified lunch before we began ascending our big climb of the day. Of course, the second we got our food out, it began to rain. There’s nothing worse than a damp tortilla for lunch. Well, maybe no lunch. So we began our climb in the rain.
At first, it was a light sprinkle and then, all of a sudden, it was absolutely pouring. Once again, my Zpacks vertice rain jacket was useless against the weather. Fortunately, the peak of the thunder and lightning storm hit as we got to a shelter near the top of our climb, so we stopped to make some tea and wait out the worst of it. We huddled with some other hikers until we all decided to go on as we heard there were chicken tacos at the next road for trail magic. I don’t even eat chicken but I was motivated by the prospect of trail magic even if it was a plain taco shell.
On the way to the road, the rain started and stopped and started and stopped. I also fell and got mud all up my rear end. Awesome. It’s ok, trail Magic is ahead. Until it wasn’t. The rain had scared them off. They’d promised on FarOut to be there all day, but I guess not. We processed our disappointment and continued on. Fortunately, it cleared up a lot more than we expected it to that day and we were able to dry out our clothes from the earlier showers.
In other news, I stopped to use the “restroom” and I nearly went on a snake. That was a horrifying realization. I noticed early enough to excuse myself to the next tree, but I almost missed him slithering around the fallen tree I was squatting behind. Definitely got some adrenaline spiking.
The rest of the day was downhill to our shelter. The whole forest smelled sweet after the rain had gone and it was doused in sunshine. We reached camp and Long John Silver was there with Twizzlers. That can fix anything.
Hiking from: War Spur Shelter
To: Campsite past VA Route 621
Total grade: 456.6 ft/mile (-)
Motivation: Approaching the VA Triple Crown
Favorite part of the day: Bathing in the stream
Comments: This was a hot day but had some gorgeous views. We walked through fields that reminded me of Switzerland. I hiked there when I was 16 and it was a lot of cow fields and avoiding cow pies. It didn’t matter as much that we were exposed to the sun as we hadn’t had such a beautiful day in a while and had missed the views that are possible on a clear day.
The end of the day included a river crossing right before our tent site. Normally, this isn’t a great idea because it doesn’t give you time to dry off before bed. But as we were sweaty from the day, this was bath time. We stripped down and allowed the stream to clean the sweat off us. It was so, so nice and refreshing.
Hiking from: Campsite past VA Route 621
To: Four Pines Hostel
Total grade: 491.8 ft/mile (+)
Motivation: Dragon Tooth & Gas Station
Favorite part of the day: Top of Dragon Tooth
Comments: The day started with switchbacks. Sickkkk. Then it rained on and off. The whole time I was worried the weather would keep me from having a view off of Dragon Tooth and, even worse, have to rock scramble on wet slippery boulders. Luckily, it stopped raining by the time we started our ascent to Dragons Tooth. It was so surprising how nice it got that we actually ran out of water pretty fast and had to do most of the hike thirsty. This seems to be a trend in Virginia. Much of the trail is either hiking up to or down from a ridge and the ridges have no water.
We hit the 700-mile mark right before Dragon’s Tooth. Something about 700 felt important. I can’t place the feeling, but it definitely felt significant. Like maybe Katahdin is in reach. There’s no reason why that number is where that feeling occurs but it did.
The ascent to Dragon Tooth is tough but definitely not as hard as I thought it would be. We had clear beautiful views of both valleys on either side from the top. We climbed the tooth (don’t tell my mom). Then we descended and saw some beautiful rhododendron blossoms.
We rushed our descent because we saw on our map that there was a gas station with a decent resupply a 7-minute walk from the trail at the road intersection at the bottom of the mountain. We reached the road, dropped our packs in a slightly hidden spot, and walked to the gas station. We then gorged ourselves on pizza, chips, soda, and other snacks. The problem with stops like this is that you lose all motivation to go on. We still had planned to go 7 miles, but instead decided to go to a nearby hostel and tent in their yard. Some days you sacrifice your body tomorrow for the pleasure and rest of today. And we definitely sacrificed our bodies the next day…
Hiking from: Four Pines Hostel
To: US Route 220
Total grade: 429.4 ft/mile (=)
Motivation: Super 8 (aka bed, shower, toilet, food)
Favorite part of the day: Showering
Comments: We planned to wake up at 4 am to start our 25.8-mile trek to Daleville, but when the alarm went off I thought I’d rather show up to Daleville at 10 pm than wake up. So I snoozed and we slept until 6 am. At this point I started to panic that I wouldn’t get to enjoy the Super 8 in Daleville if I didn’t get up sooner so the cortisol pump got my engines going and we were on our way by 6:15.
We reached the trailhead at 6:30 and off we went on our ascent to McAfee Knob. I’d seen lots of pictures of thru-hikers at McAfee knob. One of my friends even hung off the edge of it climbing-style last year. It was exciting to check this off my list as each of these achievements (Clingman’s Dome, Max Patch, Dragons Tooth, McAfee Knob, etc) make me feel like the thru-hiker I am/can’t believe I am.
We made it to McAfee Knob just in time for the fog to clear and I got some very decent views and pictures. Then it was off to Tinker Cliffs which included another ascent and some more pictures. Daleville was finally on the horizon, or so it seemed! Actually, after Tinker Cliffs, I was about to embark on one of the hardest sections of trail mentally so far.
It seemed the laws of physics subsided and allowed every spider web to envelop my body with each and every step for 6 miles despite there being people in front of you that should have knocked them down. No, Charlotte works fast and has a new one up for you within seconds.
Then came the endless ridgeline which looked flat on the map but was indeed, not flat. It was covered in jagged rocks and boulders you swore you climbed 20 yards back. Over and over, tripping and slipping, clawing at the tickles of spiderwebs on your face, arms, and legs. It was my own hell. And it felt like it. I repeated over and over in my head “Get me off this f**king ridgeline or I swear I’m gonna throw myself off.” Sometimes out loud. This all happened while Daleville, home of Mexican margaritas and burritos, Super 8’s shower and beds, and my new shoes sat below in the valley taunting me.
Don’t get me started on my feet. I used a tactic from a book I read to train for my marathon in 2019 that says to pretend all pain is just a funny sensation. Then, you imagine your feet are separate from the rest of your body. None of this worked but I tried anyway while chanting “Margaritas, burritos, shower, margaritas, burritos, shower.” When I reached near the end of the trail before the intersection or Route 220 and saw the artificial red of a passing car through the trees and smelled gasoline I lept with joy. The artificial colors at the end of the green tunnel are my signs of salvation.
Hiking from: US Route 220
To: Fullhardt Knob Shelter
Total grade: 434.6 ft/mile (+)
Motivation: Feel refreshed
Favorite part of the day: New outfit 🙂
Comments: Oh, lovely day 50. We woke up at 8 which is sleeping in for us. Then we proceeded to lay in bed and eat Little Debbie’s until check out at 11 am.
We walked to a strip mall that contained the Outdoor Trials store that had our packages (containing a new tent and new shoes), a UPS store to send things home, a Kroger for resupply, and a Chinese place for lunch. Daleville was heaven. We didn’t leave until 4 pm. Who would? You have everything you could dream of in such short walking distance.
I also bought a completely new outfit. This was a little unjustified but it was a real confidence boost as my old outfit felt grimy and gross. I’m sure this one will be too after some time, but that’s a problem for the northern states. For now, I’m officially entering northern Virginia territory feeling fresh.
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