Miles 500-700: Massie Gap to Lost Spectacle Gap
After Massie Gap, we remained in the Grayson Highlands for a few more miles. Wild ponies abound! We visited the historic life stock corrals called the “Scales” and went up and down in hills and valleys. Partnership Shelter at Mt Rogers Visitor Center was a highlight because they deliver pizza to the shelter! From there, we hiked to the Settler’s Museum and had trail magic in an old 1886 school house. The trail took us to I-81 and we passed under after eating at a popular truck stop restaurant called The Barn. This section has countless fence stiles to keep the cattle in. It feels like a boot camp style workout at times going up and down the stiles at the start and end of each pasture. (Thanks, Farmers for letting us pass through your land!) Chestnut Ridge was a bit of a climb with clear views and a pond near the top. Overall, Virginia has been a lot of rolling hills and seas of green. Pasture, ridge line, pasture, ridge line. (I’m not complaining!) At Brushy Mountain, we crossed 600 miles in just 1 week!
Dismal Falls was a fabulous spot for a picnic at mile 610. Woods Hole Hostel at Sugar Run Gap was a highlight, with pictures and stories below. Unfortunately, most of our overlooks for this 100 miles were blocked by fog and/or rain. We were relieved that the clouds cooperated at Wind Rock and Kelly Knob. This section of the AT is rocky and muddy. On Sinking Creek Mountain we trundled across large boulders. We visited the Audie Murphy Monument on top of Brush Mountain (most decorated American soldier of WWII who died close to this spot in a plane crash). Lastly, the stone monolith Dragon’s Tooth capped off the 699th mile. Thunderstorms greeted us as we did a mile rock scramble down to Lost Spectacles Gap.
It should also be noted that everything is in bloom! The mountain laurels and rhododendron line our paths. We are constantly seeing new wildflowers depending on the day, elevation, and location.
Highlights and Surprises
I think we officially have our “trail legs.” We are averaging over 15 miles per day when we’re moving, and feel ok! Long days are still hard and tiring, but also fun. We recover quickly and are able to do more consecutive long days than ever before.
The Settler’s museum shares the history of German and Scotch-Irish settlers who came to the area in the mid-1700’s. We have Scotch-Irish and German lineage in our families, so it was interesting to read about their journeys to this area. Their first step when arriving? Plant an apple orchard! You can read about the museum at https://www.settlersmuseum.com/
Wood’s Hole Hostel has been described as a “slice of heaven” and I have to agree! The home is an 1800’s chestnut log cabin and has been in business for 30 years. It is run by the original owner’s granddaughter, Neville and her husband, Michael. Wood’s Hole emphasizes sustainable living and offers family style organic meals to its guests (all you can eat!). The farm includes several areas for vegetables, as well as animals such as goats, chickens, ducks, pigs, cows, yaks, etc. The private rooms in the house book up quickly so most thru-hikers stay in the bunkhouse. We had a short day and arrived just in time to beat most of the rain. The afternoon was spent playing board games (Claudia) and napping (Andrew). Dinner was a site to behold! Before the meal, Neville gathered all 30 diners in a circle, and had everyone share something they were thankful for. Wood’s Hole has a way of creating a community among the guests in a short time. Everything was homemade or home grown: heaping bowls of green salads with dressings, yeast bread with jams, casseroles and fresh made ice cream for dessert. We ate outside on the patio and enjoyed a campfire afterwards. Thru-hikers enjoyed coffee with cream on the porch and breakfast was served in the cabin. Breakfast included more yeast bread with jams, sweet potato casserole, sweet cardamom rice, sausage, and juice.
The Fullers of Roanoke, VA greeted us with open arms! Lisa Fuller (trail name: Sure Footed Billy Goat) is a fried of ours from graduate school. She found us on the roadside after a slight miscommunication and lack of cell service! Her parents, Little Mother and Magic Man, made us an extensive home cooked breakfast to prepare us for the trail! Magic Man thru-hiked the state of VA in the 80’s. It was fun to look at his maps and hear his stories. He shuttled us to the trail and hiked with us to Keffer Oak, a 300+ year old tree with an 18 foot circumference. This was our first slack packing experience on the trail. Slack packing is hiking with just a day pack, rather than a full backpack. Little Mother had a ton of gourmet candy left over from her 60th birthday party (Happy Birthday!) so we became the Lollypop Guild and delivered lollypops, jellybeans, gum balls, etc to unsuspecting hikers. Everyone was thrilled! It was incredible and we enjoyed a mostly clear day with lots of VA views. For dinner, we met the Fullers at The Home Place. It is a Virginia Tech tradition and seems to be a part of many family traditions in this area. Home cooked Southern style food is served family style in a 1907 house out in the country. Yum, yum, yum! Delicious weekend.
Hiking up Brush Mountain, we finally had some sunshine. Throughout our journey, we often discuss what we will do later on. Once we aren’t hiking full time, what do we want our lives to look like? On Brush Mountain I had an epiphany: I should do the things that I would do if I had all the time in the world. Build my lifestyle around that because let’s face it, we don’t have all the time in the world. It is similar to “love what you do, do what you love” except we have given ourselves the unique opportunity to rebuild and the trail has provided us with the mindset that we can live extraordinary lives.
The Trail Provides
There is a saying that “The trail provides” and it does in so many ways! One way this happens is through hiker boxes, where hikers can leave an item they no longer need, so it can be picked up by another hiker instead of thrown away. We have lucked out with finding just what we need in hiker boxes in moments of need. Some of what we’ve used from hiker boxes includes:
- A small outdoor research dry bag
- Safety pins
- 3 carabiners (Lollygag is starting a collection)
- Hot Hands
- Tiger Balm patches
- An “I love Hellbenders” button. Perfect while we’re in salamander country!
- Brand new wool long johns (women’s, lilac)
We have left a few things in boxes as well, mostly excess food that we mailed to ourselves and clothes. We have even saved a few individuals from re-supplying by giving them excess from our food box before they went to the store.
Favorite Recipes of 6th & 7th 100 Miles
Mexican Ramen Bomb
1pkg Ramen, 1.5 cups pinto beans, 1 pinch jalapeño, 2 pinches celery & leeks
6 oz chicken TVP, 10 oz rice, 10 oz beans, 4 Tbsp carrots, 1/2 tsp ginger, 1 tsp jalapeño, 1 tsp salt, 2 Tbsp celery
Where We Stayed/Mileage
On Day 47, we crossed 500 miles and stayed at Hurricane Mt (13.2 past 500), Partnership (19), Davis Path (15), stealth camped at stream before Chestnut Ridge (17.4), Laurel Creek (18.4), The Place in Damascus at Trail Days (6.9, 0), Jenny Knob (11.9), Wapiti aka “Murder Shelter” (14.5), Wood’s Hole Hostel (7.2), Rice Field (18), Bailey Gap (16.5), Fullers in Roanoke (17.1, 11.3), crossed 700 on Day 61
Wild ponies(!!), chipmunks, squirrels, birds (including large pileated woodpeckers and scarlet tangers), bunnies, deer, snakes, frogs, salamanders
What We’re Reading
Telling God’s Story by Preben Vang and Terry G. Carter (both+Restore!)
“The whole point of the story is the character arc. You didn’t think joy could change a person, did you? Joy is what you feel when the conflict is over. But it’s conflict that changes a person.”- Donald Miller
Trail Beta for Future Hikers
- Trail Days is really fun! Make an effort to be there, even if that means hitching back into Damascus. We’ll do a special edition just about the event. Definitely check it out!
- Partnership Shelter is a must— the Mt. Roger’s Visitor Center has a free local phone and numbers to all of the delivery places in Atkins. It’s a huge, nice, new shelter and has running water and cold showers.
- The Barn in Atkins is really delicious and affordable. (You’ll walk right by it on the trail so you might as well fill up!) We also heard that the owner’s of the Mexican restaurant (also on the trail) were extremely accommodating and went above and beyond to help out thru-hikers.
- You can pack bread. We re-supplied at a SUNOCO and they didn’t have any tortillas. Everyone was skeptical of the loaf hanging from Little Rhino’s pack. Despite a good smooshing, we could smooth out and make sandwiches. . a nice change from tortilllas.
- MSW Whisperlite International Users: As you are aware, this stove rocks, and it runs on unleaded! At the same Sunoco we needed fuel but couldn’t find white gas, so we went with their “OFFICIAL FUEL OF NASCAR” unleaded, 97 octane. It cost a whopping 28 cents to fill our fuel bottle, which lasted 5 days with more to spare. It has a stronger odor than white gas when burning and when you take out the fuel pump to cap your bottle. We’ll still get white gas when we can, but it’s nice to have such a cheap and widely available ‘alternative’ fuel option.
- Lollygag was warned not to state at Wapiti shelter before our hike, but didn’t remember that bit of info until we had the tent set up and read ‘MURDER SHELTER’ in the shelter log. There were only 3 of us staying in the area that night, and although we survived, none of us slept well and we both had nightmares. There is a pond about 0.3M South of the shelter with bluegill and bass if you are a fisherman.
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