Friends Old and New

Day 38

I slept well and got an early start, eager to do a 20 mile day. Nearly five miles in I encountered Wendy slack-packing the opposite way. I hadn’t seen her since Winding Stair Gap, mile 109, but we’ve kept in touch via text. It was fun to chat in person. She might catch up to me and we could hike together again. I also encountered a trail volunteer using a stencil to spray paint white blazes. It made me think about how much work goes into maintaining the trail.

Shortly after 1 pm I completed the biggest climb of the day, to Buzzard Rock on Whitetop Mountain. The view was incredible and it seemed an ideal spot for lunch. As I finished my lunch, I was joined by three other hikers and a dog, all new to me. I hung out a bit longer to chat, enjoying the company.

In the afternoon, I met a hiker named Intel. She got her trail name from being an intelligence officer in the army. I spotted my first wild ponies, a group of five in a range of colors. Then I was filtering water from a stream and spotted a deer who was very curious about me. When I got to the Mt. Rogers turn-off I took the half mile spur trail to the peak. It doesn’t have a view, but it is the highest peak in Virginia at 5,729 ft.

A couple minutes walking brought me to Thomas Knob shelter. It was a two-level shelter with ladder access to the second story. Since rain was in the forecast I claimed a space in the loft along with three other women. I ate dinner at the picnic table out front, chatting with Intel and a guy named Anvil who is also from Colorado. It was a long day and windy evening; it felt good to eat a warm edamame ramen dinner. I stored my food in the bear box and hung my pack over my sleeping bag in case there were shelter mice.

Day 39

I was the first one up and out of the shelter, carefully stepping around the hiker sleeping at the ladder’s base. The bear box was on the trail a little way north so I fetched my bag and cooked my breakfast on a large rock amidst pine trees. It got me out of the wind somewhat. A mile up the trail I reached the 500 mile mark!! Especially exciting as now every step I take is further than I have thru-hiked before!

There was a swirl of fog in the air and soon I came across a group of ponies with an adorable foal. Anvil caught up to me and we walked together for about an hour, chatting about our lives. His wife is walking the CDT right now. We entered Grayson Highlands State Park and encountered a bunch more wild ponies. One foal was so new its legs were still wobbly.

At a fenced-in grassy field I ran into a ridge-runner who told me there was a trash can in the pit toilet. Oooh, any opportunity to dump trash! Anvil was there with his trail family. He invited me to shuttle into Marion with them the next night to stay at a motel. I declined with thanks. I know, I’ve been wanting company, but I was just in town and don’t feel like going back in so soon. At the next shelter I ran into them again. Then at a creek we all dipped our feet in the frigid water. I see the allure of a group, but I didn’t connect with anyone in this one.

My intention was to camp near a shelter, but there were no adjacent flat spots. I considered hiking four more miles to the next official campsite, but the sky rumbled. The GPS showed flat spots near a creek that crossed the trail ahead. I found a spot with an old fire ring and solo camped.

Day 40

Morning walking is my favorite… the birds calls, the crisp light. I strode through forest, hopped across rocks at Comers Creek Falls, and emerged onto a road. Going uphill from the gap I saw a sign on a tree “Hiker Feed, Friday & Saturday at Valley View Baptist Church, shuttle just past Trimpi shelter at road crossing”. It happened to be Friday. I did some quick math, only a nine mile day, but it could be fun and it’s not all about miles.

At a rocky outcropping I came across two hikers. The woman said there was cell service so I stopped. Their names were Hobbit and Gromit. When I introduced myself they got the Lord of the Rings reference right away. Then we chatted about books, my kind of people! They planned to go to the hiker feed so that swayed me.

I stopped at Trimpi shelter for water. At the road crossing one of the church members, Jerry, was already waiting with a few snacks. Hobbit and Gromit were there, we hung out and chatted while Gromit strummed on his ukulele. Hobbit lives in Seattle and Gromit in Phoenix; they are siblings. Other hikers rolled in, Intel and Cricket.  We shuttled to the church. Once there we were offered a plethora of snacks and directed to a table with resupply food and personal items. Such generosity! We set our tents up in a flat, grassy field.

The church ordered boxes of pizza. I had chips, fruit, vegetables, and Rice Krispy treats. Mainly I was excited for the excellent company. I met High Route who is from Australia and is the only man who has walked east to west across his country. It took him eight months and he traveled with three camels. Cricket and High Route are both members of Hobbit and Gromit’s trail family. Cricket is vegetarian and GF like me; she’s from Ohio.

After dinner, we were offered popcorn and a couple church members started a movie on a big outdoor screen. I’m not sure what movie because it got late and most of us hikers went to bed. What a fun day full of amazing people, kindness, and hospitality.

Day 41

It was a treat to start the day with freshly brewed coffee and a banana in addition to my oats. Afterwards I quickly packed my gear and Jerry shuttled a group of us back to the trail on the church bus. I leap-frogged with Gummy Bear throughout the morning, the shade of the forest helping to lessen the day’s heat. At Partnership shelter, I ate a snack with him, Yohio, and High Route.

The Mt. Rogers Nat’l Recreation Area HQ is slightly north of the shelter. It had a spigot with potable water so I filled both my bottles. High Route had citrus Dr. Bronner’s that we used to wash our hair. He called it a hobo shower, leaning forward and pouring pot fulls of the cold spigot water over our heads. It felt refreshing as the day was sunny and muggy. We were about to set off when Gromit and Cricket walked up. Hobbit went into Marion to get new footwear.

In the afternoon plentiful ferns began to coat the forest floor. At 3 pm it started to rain, Cricket passed me while I was putting on my pack cover. At one point it began pouring even heavier and I saw a blue awning ahead. I ducked under to find trail magic. Two guys who hiked the trail in past years. Cricket was there too and we each ate a Kind bar. Then we set out together. Lightning flashed and thunder rumbled overhead. She asked if we should be worried about the lightning, but I felt safe with all the tall trees around. For a bit the rain turned to hail and my rain jacket gave up on protecting my shirt. The trail turned into a stream which I happily splashed through in my entirely soaked feet.

Our destination was Chatfield Shelter, but we found it full of hikers, with a locked privy and only one good tent site. It was still raining and I knew I’d get chilled if I sat around too long. Cricket and I decided to push on 4.5 more miles to I-81 to share a motel room. On the way we ran into a one room school house with trail magic inside. Yay, more Rice Krispy treats! The rain stopped for the last couple miles. We saw three toads.

At I-81/ Groseclose we went to the Burrito Loco restaurant. Our waitress gave us chips and salsa. Before we ordered I saw Wendy walk in with another hiker. I said hi and it turned out Cricket knew her too, as Serendipity. She had a motel room with two queen beds and invited us to stay. (Which was lucky, the motel had no vacancy.) The day turned luxurious! Sautéd zucchini, mushrooms, and onions in my veggie fajita dinner. The hot shower felt amazing after getting wet then damp. We did laundry and had a fun slumber party.

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