Dropping 20’s Like They’re Nothing (Days 49-53, Atkins to Pearisburg)

We had a pretty good night in Atkins! There was a new episode of Ancient Aliens on the History channel later in the night, so we watched about 5 hours of Ancient Aliens reruns over the course of the evening. DJ Space Gator stopped by with a bottle of wine and we chilled while drinking Malbec. Good times had by all!

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Day 49

Start: Atkins, VA
Finish: Knot Maul Branch Shelter
AT Miles Hiked Today: 14.6
Overall AT Miles Hiked: 558.5
Miles To Go Until Katahdin: 1,630.6

Very wet day of hiking today! The rain that was promised came on strong in the afternoon and made for a miserable day of hiking.

We slept in and woke up at 8. Bit of a strange morning, the lights came on in the room, and we said good morning to Crusher, who proceeded to leave the room without saying a word. Reindeer and I realized 15 minutes later that he hadn’t come back yet and we wanted to go to the Barn for breakfast, so we figured we could text him or something. Turns out he was up at the gas station eating breakfast alone. Crusher does that, just peaces out and doesn’t tell us. Oh well.

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Late start to hiking today, we started walking around 10:30. It wasn’t raining yet but the sky looked ominous.

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The three of us did the first few hills together, but then Crusher fell behind, so it was just me and Reindeer for most of the day. We also hiked part of the day with DJ Space Gator, who is almost certainly in the running for coolest trail name of 2016.

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Our one water stop of the day, just as it started to rain

The rain held off until close to 1. It came and went for an hour, but the heavy downpours started around 2. I hiked in front of Reindeer, who slowed down due to the slippery conditions and his sore ankles.

The trail was just treacherous for the rest of the day. The rain created mud, which led to really unstable footing. My Achilles tendons are killing me right now, from sliding all over the trail for a solid 4 hours. My feet were puddles by this point, completely drenched, I was squishing with every step.

We had some cool pasture walking in the afternoon interspersed with mountains. I hope we get more pastures in Virginia. Relatively easy walking and very open and scenic!

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I walked alone until I hit the shelter around 5:30. We had planned on doing a longer day, but I was in some serious pain, and I caught a break in the rain, so I quickly set up my tent and got my gear inside.

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About 20 yards further down the trail was the shelter, with a great group of guys we have been hiking with on and off for the last week or so. Windwalker, DJ Space Cat, and Ivan were all there. And they had a fire! We sat on the edge of the shelter and ate dinner, protected from the rain. Good times!

Reindeer rolled in shortly after me, and set up his hammock. Crusher didn’t arrive until after we had eaten and hung out bear bags, and Reindeer was already in bed. Crusher had a bad day with the rain, it sounded like he fell a lot due to the slippery trail.

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Now I’m off to bed! Hope my ankles and Achilles tendons feel better in the morning. I’m hoping to do closer to 20 tomorrow. The weather looks to be warm and sunny, so we want to make the most of it! Seems like so much rain over the last week. Very demoralizing, but hey, this is what we signed up for!

Day 50

Start: Knot Maul Branch Shelter
Finish: Jenkins Shelter
AT Miles Hiked Today: 20.1
Overall AT Miles Hiked: 578.6
Miles To Go Until Katahdin: 1,610.5

It poured out all night, but my tent held up admirably to the deluge. I was awoken a few times by the crazy downpours, but overall I got a good night of sleep.

I felt much better than last night when I awoke. My Achilles tendons were much less sore, probably helped by the lower-mileage day. We got moving around 8:30, later than we would have liked, but it was a slow morning.

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Our first water source of the day, Lick Creek

Lots of mud to start the day, so it was slow going. Fortunately there was no rain! But, my shoes were still pretty wet from yesterday, so my dry socks quickly became soggy. Not ideal. The sun broke through the clouds, and the day started to heat up just as we came upon a 2,000 foot climb up to Chestnut Knob. I changed into my sleeveless shirt for the first time in over a week, and took off my extremely muddy rain pants. I actually went back down the trail to a river to wash off my rain pants. So much mud everywhere.

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Head down, I just cranked up the mountain, and the three of us separated for most of the climb. About 1,500 feet up the climb, the trees gave way to meadows for the remainder of the way to the summit.

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Close to 1:30 we made it to the summit, where a converted ranger station is now a shelter. Really nice views and we finally got to relax in the sun for the first time since before Damascus!

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The remaining 10 miles were difficult, rocky ridge walking with no water for 8 miles. Not a lot of views unfortunately. Again the three of us separated, with me leading the way. 

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Some huge thunderstorms rolled in from the west, but fortunately swung just barely south of me. Reindeer and Crusher got wet, but I stayed dry. Loud thunder convinced me to pick up my pace, and soon I was heading down off the ridge.

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I arrived at the shelter later than I would have preferred, so I was rushing to do camp chores,  stretch, and eat before it grew dark. As I was brushing my teeth it started to rain, and I barely got my bear bag hung and got back to my tent before the rain began. So much rain in Virginia so far! But I suppose that’s the way it goes. Everything in my tent smells of wet socks.

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Only 11 miles into Bland tomorrow. Sounds like Reindeer may continue on without going to town, while Crusher and I will spend the night. Reindeer is racing ahead to meet a friend, then take a few days off trail. He and I have walked together since day 2 on the trail, so it will be strange to be without him. But hopefully we will meet again up the trail!

Day 51

Start: Jenkins Shelter
Finish: US Route 52 / Bland, VA
AT Miles Hiked Today: 11.3
Overall AT Miles Hiked: 589.9
Miles To Go Until Katahdin: 1,599.2

Really cold night, but I slept great. Something about 20 mile days just leads to a deep, restful sleep.

4 miles into our day, we came across a road crossing in a gap, where a church group was shuttling thru hikers to their church one mile away for a home-cooked breakfast! We ate breakfast casserole, pancakes, French toast, bananas, oranges, and more!

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We cruised through the rest of the day after leaving the gap. Really flat terrain, mostly ridge walking, and we covered 7 miles in a little under 3 hours.

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We got to Route 52, where Crusher and I were gonna hitch into town, and Reindeer decided to keep on hiking. It was a tearful goodbye, but we will see Reindeer up the trail. We took one last selfie, then got a hitch into town.

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I had a mail drop waiting at the Big Walker Motel, so Crusher went to the dollar general while I organized my food. Lots of food for a 2.5 day section! I ate down my food to a reasonable level instead of eating lunch at a restaurant. We went to a local subway for dinner and got dinner (a spicy Italian footlong) and breakfast (another spicy Italian footlong). Our room has a fridge, so no pop tarts for me tomorrow morning!

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Not a bad view from our motel!

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Organizing my mail drop. Way too much food for an easy 3 day section.

Short entry today, because we are lying in bed and watching South Park. Looking forward to a full night of sleep under a roof. Crusher is sick and coughing everywhere unfortunately. I hope all this walking is strengthening my immune system so I can fight off whatever he has.

Day 52

Start: US Route 52 / Bland, VA
Finish: Bushcamp just past Dismal Falls
AT Miles Hiked Today: 20.6
Overall AT Miles Hiked: 610.5
Miles To Go Until Katahdin: 1,578.6

Crusher was coughing all night, but I managed to sleep ok, thanks to some foam earplugs. We woke up around 7, and I walked over to the fridge to grab my spicy Italian footlong for breakfast. That was when I realized our fridge wasn’t on. Sigh.

Rather than risk a Subway sub that had been room temperature for 12 hours, I went down to the gas station and cobbled together a breakfast.

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We called a shuttle last night, deciding that paying a bit was preferable to trying to hitch our way back to the trail. Our shuttle driver Bubba was supposed to come at 9, but was 20 minutes late. We didn’t get hiking until after 9:30. To start the day we hiked over interstate 77.

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After a very steep ascent back into the mountains, the day was pure ridgewalking. We won’t get days much easier than today. Crusher stopped to change into shorts and I hiked ahead, and I didn’t see him for the rest of the day.

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The one tough part of today was the 11 mile stretch we did without water. Plus, it was HOT today! Felt like summer arrived in a flash. Not a cloud in the sky and temps pushing 80. It only gets hotter from here!

Local wildlife decided to come out on the trail to enjoy the sun as well! I saw two snakes of similar size. Fortunately these snakes were harmless. There are rattlesnakes and copperheads out here as well.

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My one water stop for the day was at Jenny Knob Shelter, which had a great stream nearby. I chugged a few liters and ate lunch while enjoying the sunshine in front of the shelter. Water in Virginia is extremely undependable, as there are fewer water sources, and the water often includes farm runoff. I may pick up some Aquamira to use along with my Sawyer filter.

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It was a very scenic and sunny afternoon. Enjoy these shots!

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Hello, mile 600

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I made camp just past Dismal Falls. Despite not starting hiking until past 9:30, I cleared 20 miles and arrived in camp before 6pm. I’ve set myself up really well for two easy days into Pearisburg. I could reach it tomorrow if I wanted to, the town is 24 miles away.

I made a sign with sticks pointing Crusher to my camp site near a stream, but he never showed up, so I assume he is camped somewhere a few miles back. I’m sure he will catch up tomorrow.

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I love camping near running water. So peaceful, plus I get to soak my feet before bed!

Oh, one more funny thing happened. I often throw my bear line before eating dinner so that dinner can be the last thing I do before climbing into my tent. I tossed my line near the trail, then hung my blue rock sack from my caribeaner to weigh it down until my bear bag could be hung. Upon returning to my line after dinner, I found my blue sack gone! Some hiker had cruised by and stolen it while I ate! I could do nothing other than laugh. I only saw one guy pass while I was eating. He was a young guy wearing a bright red hiking shirt and dark shorts. I walked up trail to where Jewels and a few other hikers were camped to ask them if they had seen anyone, but they hadn’t. Oh well, these things happen. If that’s the worst thing I lose on this hike, I’ll count myself lucky.

My best chance of recovering it is to leave early tomorrow and ask people a few miles up the trail before they leave for the day. If I can’t do that, I’ll probably have to order a new one and have it shipped in a mail drop up the trail.

Day 53

Start: Bushcamp just past Dismal Falls
Finish: Spring near Pearis Ledges
AT Miles Hiked Today: 21.3
Overall AT Miles Hiked: 631.8
Miles To Go Until Katahdin: 1,557.3

Another big day today, and my first back to back 20+ mile days. I was on cruise control for most of today. The hiking this section has been so much easier than I expected.

I woke up early, around 6:15, and was hiking by 7:15. Before today I had always had Crusher or Reindeer to hike with, but since it was just me, I got to choose my own departure time without having to wait for others. I much prefer hiking in the early morning! I have so much more energy. Plus I got to watch the sun fully rise from through the trees as I walked.

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Before I knew it, I was already 7 miles into my day, at the last water source before an 8 mile dry stretch.

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Not too fancy, but it gets the job done

It was a gorgeous day, bordering on hot, without a cloud in the sky for most of the morning. I was in shorts and a t shirt the entire day.

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By 2pm I had hit 15 miles on the day, and stopped to get water at Doc’s Knob Shelter. Another hiker was there smoking cigarettes and talking too much, so I quickly left and found solitude once again on the trail. Sometimes you just want to be alone with your own thoughts.

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Lots of color coming to the trail these days!

I purposely slowed down at this point. If I wanted to, I could push a 25 mile day into Pearisburg, but what would be the point? I would just exhaust myself. Plus I already had food for the night and morning. Much better to set myself up for an early arrival into town tomorrow! So, I slowly made my way down the trail, enjoying the warm weather while several hikers ran past me trying to make it into town for the night.

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I made camp next to a spring, about 4 miles shy of town. I was in camp by 4:30, so I took my time stretching, eating and doing camp chores. I much prefer being in camp early, it really takes the rush out of the back end of my day. Nothing worse than having to set up camp in the full dark.

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This is my first night camping completely alone! There is nobody at the site and I haven’t seen anyone since 4pm. It’s peaceful here in camp. It’s given me lots of time to think back on the last 600+ miles. I’m feeling strong and finally admitting to myself that I might be able to do this whole damn trail. 600 miles is no joke. I will probably do a post on my lessons learned as I’m bumming around tomorrow in Pearisburg.

I think I’ll wrap this post here. It’s Wednesday 5/25 as I write this. Looking forward, I’ll Nero into Pearisburg tomorrow, then do two days of around 18 miles, before meeting my parents on Sunday at VA Route 630, mile 676 for NOBOs. They are doing trail magic in the morning then taking me to a hotel room that night! They might even be able to take me to a Chipotle! What a lucky hiker I am.

Until next time, happy trails!

-Slice

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Comments 1

  • Mandy : May 27th

    Love reading about your adventures & so happy that you are getting to experience this incredible journey! Congrats on passing the 600 mile mark & for getting a brimmed hat! Hope the Merrells are treating you well! 😉

    Reply

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