Learning to Drive Stick on the AT and Other Adventures
It’s incredibly hard to believe that the last time I blogged, I was laying in a tent in Damascus, Virginia. I had just gotten into this massive state and was at mile 469. At this point, I am sitting in the lobby of the Quality Inn (easily one of the finer establishments we have stayed at during our hike) here in Waynesboro, Virginia at mile 861. Time certainly flies when you are on the trail. So how did I get here? Well, let’s go back in time…
From Damascus to Marion
BB and I left Damascus on a gray and uninspiring morning. I was feeling better (if you’ll recall, I was suffering from a UTI) so I didn’t make a stop to the doctor in town. Instead, we pushed ourselves through some pretty strenuous days of hiking. All along we have been hearing “Oh, Virginia is so flat and easy, you’ll breeze through it” or “Virginia is when you will start pushing those 25 mile days for sure!” To those people, BB claims that she has several words for you (although I don’t recommend asking what those are). I, on the other hand, only have two words: YOU’RE WRONG. Virginia is NOT easy and it is NOT flat. And if it is flat for some fleeting moment, the trail is strewn with rocks and roots. So don’t go telling me it’s an easy state. The trail has been, and still is, the most physically challenging endeavor I have ever participated in.
But our daily struggles were rewarded. During this section, we had excellent company to take our minds off of the challenges we faced. We met the interesting crew that consists of our fellow thru-hikers Cap, Spice, Goose, and Starcrunch. Their fun personalities and antics made both BB and I enjoy ourselves way too much at times. We were also continually running into Ranger who is always a welcome friend to us.
And if we didn’t have excellent company, we just had excellent adventures, like hiking through Grayson Highlands State Park. This park is famous for the wild ponies, so I was pretty pumped. But there were two slight drawbacks from our time in GHSP. First, nobody told BB or I how dadgum rocky the area was. Everyone only talks about the ponies, so I envisioned a Disney-like pasture where I would be
singing and petting ponies left and right. But no, it’s a bunch of rocks that you have to climb over or squeeze between, which are really energy-draining. Second, I don’t know where all the ponies went, but BB and I only saw 3 ponies in the whole stretch. At one point, we saw a couple heading south and we eagerly told them “We saw two ponies! There are two ahead of you!” and they just scoffed and said, “You got hundreds more ahead.” But we never saw them. And the 3 we saw were the most apathetic ponies in the world. Other hikers talk about how they pet, fed, and took selfies with the ponies. Meanwhile, I was barely able to pet a pony via my trekking pole. It just kept edging away from me. My theory is that there was a pony party somewhere and those were the three losers that didn’t get invited because they are clearly the worst. But regardless, BB and I had fun and made it an adventure. But I’m sure you won’t blame me if I hike that section again someday in search for those cool ponies.
Through all the fun, we made it to the Mt. Rogers Visitor Center where we had planned to hitch into Marion. We stood by the road and looked as nice and friendly as we could, but nobody would pick us up. After what felt like 15 minutes (which is a long time when you are eager to get into town) a little white pick up pulled over, and who should step out of it, but Ranger! We had gotten about a day ahead of him and he was headed into town, saw us, and got the friendly driver to stop for us as well! So the three of us got to go into town, get some Sonic drinks, and check into our hotel before getting some Mexican food together. It was Ranger’s last day before rejoining civilization. As I was getting slightly homesick in ways, it was good to see and hear Ranger’s perspective about getting off the trail. He was genuinely going to miss this life, and would love to stay out here on the trail. I really think I needed that reminder of how special this time is. I may miss certain creature comforts and certain people, but, Lord willing, I have the rest of my life to be in those places and with those people. I have now (and only now) to be on the trail. I’d better enjoy it.
Getting by With Help From Mr. Bill
Okay, I’m going to say Mr. Bill about 45 more times in the next few paragraphs so go ahead and get it out of your system now. As you sit at your desk, or look on your phone, just go ahead and say it: Ohhhh noooooo Mr. Bill!!!
Got it out of your system? Good. Now let’s proceed.
Getting out of Marion was tough.What I mean is that neither BB or I really wanted to leave. I was just being a baby and wanting to stay in a bed all day long, but BB had a legitimate reason to want to stick around. As we woke up and prepared to hit the trail, BB got up and simply threw up her breakfast. She wasn’t sick with a bug or virus, but for some reason, she got sick. But we had a plan and we needed to stick to it, so we got back on the trail with the help of Ranger and got to work. It wasn’t an awesome morning and we were trudging along slowly. Six miles into our day back on the trail, we got to the Chatfield Shelter, where an older man was sitting at the picnic table alone. We sat near him and struck
up a conversation. He was extremely friendly and very knowledgeable about theology and religion. We got to talking and before long, he was offering to take us to his home for a shower and bed that evening.
I’m going to stop now and clarify something: this is the moment where the moms I know are biting their nails and screaming, “No! Don’t do it!” But if you have ever hiked, or are even remotely familiar with this community, you will be thinking, “Oh! That is so nice!” At this point in the trail, I had heard of extremely kind people doing wonderful things for thru-hikers, but I hadn’t actually seen it first-hand. I mean, who would offer their home to 2 smelly and potentially dangerous girls? And who would willingly spend the night in a strange person’s home? So much of what I am about to share with you goes against “normal” standards, but I’ll give away the ending right now: it was the most wonderful and beautiful act of kindness and I will always be thankful that Mr. Bill was placed in our path.
BB and I hiked 3 miles with Mr. Bill and then gave him our packs. He planned to meet us 2 miles later at the next road crossing while we hiked sans packs (a beautiful feeling) and would then take us out to eat (a fabulous Bob Evans meal). All of this was very nice and was made even better when we got to his house, showered, and met Miss Linda, his wife. “We’re huggers here,” she said as she walked in and met us – two strangers that she didn’t know would be stinking up her house when she left it earlier in the day. They were both so kind and eager to make us feel at home.
The next 6 days were, in my opinion, a hiker’s paradise. We woke up in a soft and comfy bed and packed a very light day pack. Mr. Bill would take us to get breakfast and then drop us off at the trail head. We would take off and hike and he would pick us up later that day, take us to dinner, and we would shower and get back in that cozy bed for the night.We did that for six days with Mr. Bill. He insisted that it was fun for him and didn’t mind it a bit. Sometimes it took 20 minutes to drive to the trail and other days it would take an hour. Mr. Bill explained to us that the trail goes around his hometown and so it wasn’t too much trouble to take us out each day. With the help of Mr. Bill, we were able to do our first 20 mile days. In fact, we were able to do over 80 miles in 4 days. It was during one of those days that Mr. Bill and Miss Linda were going out of town to see their granddaughter’s preschool graduation. Since they would be out of town, Mr. Bill wouldn’t be able to pick us up that afternoon. “But that’s no problem,” he said. “I’ll just park the car where you will end, give you the keys, and you can drive back to the house.” There was just one catch: his car was a stick, and neither one of us knew how to drive stick. Now, if you know me, you’ll know that I have always wanted to learn how. So one night after taking us to eat at a Chinese buffet (Mr. Bill and Miss Linda know how to treat hikers) I went out to a parking lot and got driving lessons from Mr. Bill in his ’97 Honda Civic. It was tougher than I thought, but I’d like to think I got the hang of it after a while. The next day, I can proudly report that I successfully got the car back in tact. However, when we got back and BB wanted to go to the Sonic only a minute away by car, I told her we had to walk. I didn’t need to push my luck.
By staying with Mr. Bill and Miss Linda and carrying much lighter packs, we were able to push some really big days, but 80 miles in 4 days is still tough on your body no matter how you look at it. So after hiking into Pearisburg, we took a half day off to recover with our new friends.
Pushing it to Daleville
After Pearisburg, it was back to “roughing it.” We no longer had Mr. Bill and Miss Linda at the end of each day. Our packs felt MUCH heavier after almost a week of hiking without them and our days felt much longer without a shower and bed at the end. But it didn’t take too long to adapt and we were grateful for the time we had when our lives were made much better by their kindness.
Once again, the company is what made the tough days better. We had finally caught up to some of our friends from the beginning of the trail. Rock Steady and Paradox, two fabulous ladies we hadn’t seen since the Smokies, the Hambrick family, and Dr. Pickles and Mockingbird. It was awesome to see them again and catch up. We had finally gotten into a bubble of hikers that we really enjoyed and loved seeing everyday.
During this section of the trail, BB and I felt physically challenged. Our average hiking day became around 16 or 17 miles and most of those miles were filled with rocks or continual uphills. Hiking through Dragon’s Tooth, Tinker Cliffs, and the famous McAfee Knob was pretty tough in my opinion and those days seemed particularly grueling. And of course, as June rolled in, the days got hotter and muggier. My sweat game is already strong to begin with, but with the heat rising, sweat was cascading off my face. I tried to hike in my glasses a few days, but it was in vain – sweat would drip off my eyelashes or forehead and land on my glasses lenses.
By the time we closed in on Daleville, BB and I came to a startling conclusion: we hadn’t taken a zero day in almost 350 miles and in those 350 miles, our shortest hiking day was 11 miles. The reason for this was because we knew that we would soon be taking a break at home and taking 6 days off and we didn’t want to take too many zeros. But we failed to realize that our bodies would soon be crying for rest. For some people, this distance without rest may be acceptable, but BB and I realized that we were wearing our bodies out. So, after dragging ourselves into Daleville after hiking 17.8 miles, we hit those hotel beds hard and were pretty much immobile for the next 24 hours. It was bliss.
Getting back on the trail from Daleville wasn’t too hard, even with fellow thru-hiker Right Click trying to convince us to zero once more. We had rested and were pushing on until BB’s mom and my sister would pick us up a little after Buena Vista. We were in the presence of many awesome hiker friends, and the excitement of being home pushed us through the miles. Overall, things were going our way. So naturally that’s when something goes horribly wrong.
It was a Tuesday morning and BB and I were only 2 days away from getting home. Thursday morning we would be whisked away and nothing could stop us. Sure, it had been a little rainy and our clothes
were damp and nasty, but we could do it. We could and would hike on. But then the rain came. And with rain and wet clothes, one will often get rashes and chafing. Oh and not only that, but I had lost a camp shoe. Oh and not only that, but one of our tent poles was cracked and being held together by duct tape. After hobbling through the rain and searing pain of chafing on that fateful Tuesday night, BB and I rushed to set up our tent in the pouring rain, which of course only fell harder once we started to put it up. Naturally the duct tape tent pole busted once more and as we rushed to fix it, our tent got soaked. By the time the tent was actually up and ready to get in, it was a lake. BB and I sat in our empty and soaked tent in our soaked and uncomfortable clothes. “Did you expect this when you agreed to hike the AT with me?” BB asked with a laugh. We did eventually get the tent semi dry through a disheartening process of soaking up the water with bandanas and wringing them out repeatedly. After setting up our things, BB and I couldn’t even lay on our backs because we both had rashes from where our wet packs had been resting and rubbing against our skin. There are times when a hiker simply has to admit that the trail has beaten them. This doesn’t mean walk away forever, but sometimes it is best to just walk away. So BB and I decided that we would hitch into Buena Vista, clean ourselves up, and lay in a bed for a day. And let me tell you, it was marvelous. Yes the room was disgusting and we paid way too much for it, but it was a wonderful day of rest and television.
On Thursday morning we were both picked up and whisked away to our homelands. Our times at home were wonderful, but sadly not as restful as we would have wanted. I spent my time at graduation parties and ceremonies and BB also spent the majority of her time with family. But I wouldn’t have it any other way, because I got to see all of the people that I loved and hadn’t seen in so long. It was a really nice break to see family and friends, hear how skinny I was, and how proud people were of me. Seriously, if you said any of those things to me, I thank you. Your support is what pushes me through the tough times.
Back At It
But as nice as time off was, we still had unfinished business with the trail. So on Tuesday morning, Josh drove BB and I back out to the trail. Getting back into the swing of things wasn’t too challenging, but certain gear changes had given me some setbacks. Remember how I lost a camp shoe? Well, I am too cheap to buy new Tevas, so I decided to go for a very bold move: begin hiking in my Chacos. I feel that my feet have now come full circle. I started in hefty hiking boots, transitioned to trail runners, and now hike in sandals. It was a definite change at first, but I am glad to report that I have rolled my ankle only a few times and have overall really enjoyed just having one pair of shoes.
Taking 6 days off certainly changes the hiker bubble you are in, so BB and I have been enjoying the company of new hikers like Mantis and Chance. We are hopeful to catch up with Rock Steady and Paradox again, especially as we begin to hike through the Shenandoah National Park tomorrow.
Bears: No, I still haven’t seen any! BB however got to see 2 of them one morning as she went to get the bear bag. They were small and they ran away from her. I’m pretty sure that I am a bear repellent, but we will just have to wait and see.
Alternate Trail Names: While Blister Babe and Queen Bee work for us, BB and I have admitted that there are other trail names that would suit us very well. For me, Grandpa would probably be a top pick, since apparently I often make “grandpa sounds” according to BB. I guess even one time in my frustration at a zipper I blamed China for making faulty zippers. So yeah…Grandpa would be my alternate trail name. BB could choose from any one of the names that I have put in what I call “the McGee series.” She could be Sneeze McGee, Coughs McGee, Trips McGee, or even Farts McGee (but to be fair, that name could work for both of us). BB could also be named Spruce, due to her tendency to have fits of joy and nostalgia whenever we approach a good Spruce forest.
Trail Games: Some of our favorite trail games are completely involuntary, such as “Root or Snake?” This is a pretty easy game to figure out: if it is a root, we walk past it and don’t even notice it. If it is a snake, BB jumps up and we have to chase it off the trail before we can pass. Another trail game is “Dirt or Tan?” which involves us looking at our hands and shoulders and trying to determine if we are really tan, or just really dirty. Just a few fun things to get us through the day…
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