It’s Deja Vu All Over Again: Quickly Settling Back in After My 12 Month Pause
Within minutes, I felt at home on the trail again. It was if I had been away just a month or two, not 12.
So much had transpired during that time off, but here I was again. A few more physical concerns are now a part of what I pack with me, but isn’t that true for many folks?
I have been greatly inspired by others who have defied the odds and naysayers by thru-hiking the AT, despite their own physical challenges.
- Niki Rellon began her ultimately successful thru-hike just 14 months after losing part of one leg in a climbing accident. She struggled with finding the correct prosthesis while on the trail, but simply wouldn’t give up. Her book, “Push On: My Walk to Recovery on the Appalachian Trail,” kept me amazed and inspired. When I try to crawl out of my tent at 2:00 AM, I wonder how she handled that with one leg laying on the ground beside her.
- Bill Irwin had a valuable companion on his thru-hike: his seeing-eye guide dog, Orient. Whenever I trying to find a good camping spot or tackle some boulders, I wonder, “HOW DID HE DO IT???” Read his book, “Blind Courage.” (Sorry, I don’t know how to underline the titles or link them up to Amazon. You’ll find them.)
After leaving home, bound for tiny and aptly named Bland, VA, we left our car at the Big Walker Motel. We were driven by friendly shuttle driver, Bubba, to our starting point 40 miles north at the darling Woods Hole Hostel.
This 1880 Log cabin and its equally rustic outbuildings are nestled in a verdent little valley. This refuge is among the most popular hostels on the entire AT.
Its owners serve up delicious organic dinners and breakfasts, and hikers have a choice of tenting, or the charming bunkhouse, safari tents, or private rooms. We went private this time.
I had finished my hiking right at this point last year but was unable to spend the night. I was so happy to have this second chance, and with Bill.
Our first day back on the trail was your typical: most of the time in the “Green Tunnel.” Nice on warm days!
Summer was still evident with lush ferns, wildflowers, mushrooms, and profuse mountain laurel bushes.
Streams were flowing well during our first days, thanks to recent and occasional rains during the first day and night. This was great for finding and filtering drinking water.
However, the second two days, drier, found us carefully checking for reliable water sources on my Guthook AT Hiker app. How lucky modern hikers are to have such up-to-date, reliable resources.
Being Labor Day weekend, we saw folks out enjoying nature. It’s always fun to meet and compare notes with other hikers.
Our first night out on the trail was spent in our own tents on the grounds of one of the many unmanned shelters up and down the AT.
I personally prefer my own tarp and net tent because of the shelters’ mice, accustomed to hiker food. They scamper about during the night, chewing into any zipped pocket. Also a factor: more comfortable forest floor beneath my air mattress, rather than the wood of the shelter.
Sleeping in the shelter were two friendly backpackers, finishing up the last 600 miles of their 2200 mile flip-flip thru-hike. When they left in the morning, Bill and I “got a leg up on the day,” with our daily yoga stretches on the convenient wooden floor.
When we’re camping away from a shelter, we use our tents’ groundcloths at the softest, cleanest (?) spot we can find.
Day Two took us past lovely Dismal Falls, near Bland, VA. Given their names, it must have been an overcast day when they named these two.
Keeping our daily mileage in the modest 8-9 mile range, our next campsite was provided by Trent’s Grocery, .5 miles down a road off the trail. Ruth went inside to pay our $12 fee while Bill sat out front to watch our backpacks and chat with the locals.
Oh, what a slippery slope it is with all the snack temptations out on the trail:
“Hey,” says Ms. Organic-Gluten-Dairy-Sugar-Free, just 36 hours on the trail. “Spam is mostly pork, OK, sugar too, and just a few nitrates which won’t kill me overnight.” It was delicious.
This “campground” turned out to be very private, since it appeared to be the land where travel trailers go to rust and die.
Happily there was space beside a river and we were able to pitch our tents there.
Day Three continued dry, including the springs and streams. We had to carry enough water with us for the whole day (2 liters for each of us = 4.4 lbs). We ended up going off trail .8 mile down a paved road to the Lickskillet Hostel.
Mongo, the friendly owner and operator, does this on a strictly donation basis, just wanting to serve others. He bought the former church building on Craig’s List, after having hiked a good portion of the AT himself.
We bought a couple of Gatorades, filled our water bottles and accepted a lift back to the trail. These hostels are so important to the hikers.
Campsite Number Three was at an unofficial space for tents. It was obvious many backpackers had used it. Acting as a “trail angel,” Mongo had previously left a 5 gallon thermos of water for hikers, set back from a nearby dirt road. We gratefully made use of this. It was a peaceful place to camp.
Our last day on the trail together was a warm one, reaching 90 degrees. Thanks to Mongo’s thermos, we had enough water. Happily, nearly all of the day was spent under tree cover, except the last mile to our pickup point with Bubba. Something that seldom happens, the AT had us going about a mile on a paved road. Which happened to be uphill, in full sun, and over a four-lane highway. I was ready to meet Bubba.
Now back at the Big Walker Motel in Bland, I got busy washing my clothes by hand and line drying them. Now I won’t stink on the trail till maybe my second hour of uphill hiking.
We collected my 4 food boxes we had left here in the lobby.
As he takes an indirect route home, Bill will leave one box with me and deliver the others to a hostel, a motel and a post office.
Unfortunately, this means Bill had to leave. The saddest thing I’ve seen on this trip were our taillights disappear into the fog. But we plan on seeing each other further south in 5 weeks. We’ve done this before so we will survive. Hurray for Verizon service up on the ridges.
Unfortunately, dinner last night at a Cracker Barrel in a nearby town upset my stomach after Bill left in the car. The closest source of medicine is Dollar General, down a steep hill that I’d rather not do today. Very kindly, one of the motel employees offered to drive me there. Folks are so often very kind to passing backpackers.
Without this, there’d be no trail for me:
Thanks for reading this far, folks! I’m so grateful for having four more days on the AT and your support.
See you in about 5 days!
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