Marion, VA & The Grayson Highlands
Anddddd we’re back. Can you believe it? I bet some of you gave up on my blog. But, as I told you, I will finish my AT story for you!
Day 120This morning I sadly left the gorgeous Woods Hole Hostel behind me. Tentatively, I walked south through the woods, nervous that at any moment, bees, hornets, wasps (you name it) would appear from the trees to chase me down and sting me once more… luckily I remained sting free and, after taking a short detour to Trent’s grocery store for some snackeronies (see below), I ended the day 20.8 miles down the trail.
Waking up the following morning, I took a look at my supplies and decided I would need to go into Bland, VA to get myself a small resupply. To do so, I road walked a few miles off trail and into the town. According to FarOut, the town was not said to have much, other than a grocery store from which I could buy food. What it did not mention, is how friendly the people of the town are! My experience there has forever cemented Bland as a special place in my memories of the AT.
First off, (and this is probably too much information but hey, us trail folk tell it like it is) upon crossing the edge of town, I had to pooooooo!!! And I mean it was badddd. It was crossing-my-legs-as-I-walked bad, it was me-eyeing-every-building-to-see-if-it-may-have-a-public-bathroom-and-even-if it doesn’t-I’m-desperate-enough-to-ask baddd. Cutting to the chase, I made friends with a local auto shop that had a half-functioning toilet (you needed to turn the water on manually to get it to flush).
Moving on to topics that most of you are more comfortable reading, I then made my way towards the grocery store. As I walked, I passed a bunch of tables set up under an overhang and the smell of BBQ wafting through the air.
I stopped to chat (as any fair minded thru hiker would do) and discovered it was a fundraiser for a guy, Eric Faulkner, running for county clerk. I ended up sitting and talking with him and his volunteers for almost 2 hours! They let me drop my pack with them before heading to the grocery store, then when I came back, I got in line to buy some food. After making it through the line, when I got to the end I was informed that “someone had already paid for me”. After sitting and chatting with them, once I was finally ready to go, one of them offered to drive me back to the trail.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The kindness of strangers towards thru hikers on the AT continues to astound me.
Last night I was probably the most scared of any night on trail. I kept hearing noises such as branches breaking, acorns falling and hitting the metal roof (its loud!!!) and the sounds of shuffling along the roof of the shelter (mice!). I was at Jenkin’s Shelter and I was the only person there last night (not atypical). At one point, I even got up and grabbed my hiking poles so that I could have them near me in case I needed to use them to defend myself hahah.
The nights are starting to get really chilly and the combo of my 30deg quilt+shorts+tshirt was no longer cutting it. I have to sleep with my puffy and if I move around too much then the warm air escapes from my quilt. To help, I’ve started using the bungee cords to hold my quilt onto my sleeping pad again, and I’m stuffing the end of my quilt with my extra socks. It’s funny to think that only 10 days ago, when my mom was visiting, it was so warm that I could barely stand having my quilt only on top of me.
I hiked up to Walker’s Gap (only 9.2 miles), and then debated continuing on to the Chestnut Knob shelter, or detouring to a nearby hostel. I took a glance at the weather, and as typical, it was predicted to be pretty terrible. So, I decided to hike down to Burke’s Garden Hostel and spend the night there. Its a tad off the trail but a really nice place. It opened relatively recently in terms of the trail, but I think it will grow to be a well liked/loved place for hikers to stay.
Day 123The weather this day started off rough. The view from Chestnut Knob is supposed to be nice, but I wouldn’t know because all I saw was cloud. My only other notes from this 18.7 mile day: The mountain at 1635 whooped my butt. Maybe it’s because I had a big breakfast, or that I ate a lot of food right before going up the mountain. Maybe its because I’ve been low on energy, or maybe having only taken a half day yesterday is somehow effecting me, but mother forking shirttails that was a STEEP HILL. Also, I found the largest, scariest looking spider.
This is the day I originally planned on going into Marion, VA. However, upon looking closer at my route, I realized that instead, I could walk through some civilization (a gas station) and continue on to the Partnership Shelter, which is famous on the AT for not only being a place that you can order Pizza to, but being EXTREMELY NICE. And let me tell you folks, the shelter did not disappoint. It is 2 stories, and the upper level is FULLY ENCLOSED. Not just that, but there is a SHOWER built into the side of the shelter. Granted, I had heard that the shower would have hot water and it didn’t…. But really I can’t complain.
First thing I did this morning was hitch a ride into Marion, VA, where I planned to stay at the Hiker Hostel associated with the Marion Outfitters. There I met Coach, the owner of the outfitters+hostel, and Ash who worked at the outfitters. I treated myself by allowing myself to buy whatever food/drink I wanted at the grocery store. This means I got a half gallon of Chocolate milk, CHOCOLATE, and lots of fruit and vegetables. Alllll my cravings.
That night, I went into the outfitters to see what local restaurant they would recommend me eating at. As I spoke with Ash about a nearby place called “The Wooden Pickle”, a lady who was nearby shopping in the store turned to me and said “I’m going there with my husband tonight. You are welcome to join as our guest, we love taking hikers out”. And that is how I met Jamie and Dan (trail name:Speedy Bug).
I also met MR. PICKLES this night. Who is Mr. Pickles you may ask? Well to the best of my understanding, he is a stray who used to hang out outside the restaurant Wooden Pickle, who was then adopted by the town, named Mr. Pickles, and because the town mascot. The Marion Outfitters even sells stickers thet say “Mr. Pickles, Town Mayor”. If you buy the sticker, 50% of proceeds go to local animal shelter
*I recently learned that Mr. Pickles has since PASSED AWAY. I am very sad. Even though Mr. Pickles and I did not always get along, he was a very sweet old grumpy cat.*
I spent in bed the entire time trying to stay off my legs as I iced them in order to try and heal my shin splints.
I finally fulled myself out of Marion and back onto the trail. Ash, the Outfitter employee dropped me off in the morning. Sad to leave the comforts of civilization, but edited for my next destination, I hiked 23.9 miles that day. Pretty early on in my day I ran into a man I had met in Marion, KC, who said he had a bad fall on his back, and he needed off the trail, but he had no cell service. Thus, I finally got to use my Garmin to help someone! I used it to contact Ash and Coach in Marion and get KC a ride off trail.
Today is the day I hiked The Grayson Highlands. The Grayson Highlands was a place I had been looking forward to for MONTHS, as ever since I arrived on the AT other hikers had been telling me about the gorgeous section of trail where you encounter wild Ponies. YES. YOU READ THAT RIGHT. WILD PONIES.
Enjoy all my photos
Another thing about this day, my family was trying to coordinate coming out to visit me as I finished the trail but it made me really stress because as much as I appreciate that they were trying to make my SOBO finish special, trying to coordinate what day I would finish the trail (at that point I was estimating another month-ish of hiking) was really hard, plus because the rest of my family is composed of traditional good hard working citizens with jobs (unlike me hehe), in order for them to see me complete the trail, I would need to finish on a weekend. So half my day was spent enjoying ponies, while the other half was spent stressing over this until I finally just told them all not to come because trying to coordinate it and ensure I finished on a Friday was too hard. In all the stress, I actually got turned around at the top of one of the mountains, and as I hiked down it, I ran into a couple of hikers who I had met at the shelter the night prior. It was at this point that I realized something may be off because I knew that I hiked faster than them, plus I had left the shelter earlier than them, so how was it I was running into them? Yep. You guessed it. I had hiked down THE WRONG SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN. Turns out, I had backtracked almost 3 miles! This is not something you want to learn. But on the bright side, as far as I am aware, this is the first, and only time that I ever backtracked while hiking the AT.
Because of this, I only ended up going 18.7 miles. However, there truly was a silver lining to this. Because I did not get to hike as far as I originally had hoped to, I ended up getting to camp atop Buzzard Rock. The sunset from here was GORGEOUS, and true to the FarOut comments, it was WINDYYYY. But something about me is: I love windy campsites. I have a tart-tent Double Rainbow that was tested in the winds of Patagonia. So I know that it will stay strong and I was never concerned about it collapsing. This meant I just got to enjoy the chaos of the wind ripping across the mountain and through my tent.
Overall, the Grayson Highlands were gorgeous, and I highly recommend that if you live anywhere nearby, you try to make it out there one day. Additionally, to this day, my stealth site at Buzzard Rock is still my favorite campsite on the AT.
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