Month Three on the AT. Also Known as Virginia

No Virginia Blues for Me

Virginia was a fascinating state for me. A lot of different things happened in the state for lovers, for me. Virginia is the first state where nature started Naturing for me. Virginia is where the hike became my own and something I was doing instead of hoping I could. Virginia is also the place where I had some of my most significant bonehead moves, and if you’ve been keeping up with my trip so far, you know there’s been a bunch of those.

Ooooo Pretty

I started this little walk in the woods on February 20th at that point in time. In any direction you looked, you could see clearly across everything. It was all shades of gray and brown as far as the eye could see until the evergreens of the smokies.

It’s been one of my favorite aspects of the hike to watch the Earth come alive again.

I’ve enjoyed all the beautiful wildflowers that have made me stop and smell the flowers. I cannot begin to tell you how happy my heart is to walk through the beautiful aroma of honeysuckle all day. I feel like a little kid again, discovering all kinds of new flower species, cataloging them with my phone so I can later ask my wife what these are called.

Nature’s even starting to give me snacks. I’ve enjoyed multiple handfuls of wild strawberries the size of grapes. Found mulberries and tried those for the first time. Turns out not a fan. I had some mushroom/ fungus called chicken or lobster of the woods. I don’t know which one it actually was, but it was decent. Still not for me, though.

I know Virginia’s state motto is “It’s for lovers.” But for me, it was for animals. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say every day, I encountered at least one animal or critter.

My first campsite was a mile or two over the Virginia border. I was serenaded all night by donkey hee haws and screech owls screeching. It wasn’t too long after that I got to the Roan Highlands and was mesmerized by families of wild ponies. I don’t remember exactly where it was in Virginia that I ran into my first nope rope. That first one scared the living hell out of me. I haven’t been too fond of all the other multiple encounters, either.

Getting ferociously licked by wild goats on Mount Peters was a delight. I haven’t laughed like that from just genuinely being tickled in forever. It was good for my soul.

I saw a black bear on the way out of the Shenandoah, two bald eagles on the river during my aqua blaze, along with several hundred turtles of every color and size; that was really cool.

The wilderness of Virginia has shown me all of the squirrels and chipmunks that it has to offer, including my first-ever all-black squirrel. There have been several encounters with little bucks that stand 5 ft away from you and then go on about their business.

They could care less that you’re there. It’s an incredibly unique experience.

Which I find highly ironic, considering all of the time I’ve spent in the woods of Wisconsin looking for deer.

I’ve stepped over lizards, salamanders, frogs, snakes, a billion centipedes, and butterflies galore. You can even see fish in all the rivers and streams, not to mention the numerous different bird songs that are going off at all times. It’s like a full-blown Disney movie.

I truly enjoyed Virginia’s nature.

I Do What I Want

Early on in my little walk around the block, I was considering using Virginia as a place to end my hike. Somewhere in the last 544 mi of Virginia, the idea of quitting has disappeared. The idea of my inability to do this has left the building.

I think it happened in Damascus. I was encouraged by the ATC employee to take the Creeper Trail out of town potentially. She showed me on the topographical map how the Creeper Trail mirrored the Appalachian Trail for about 13 mi. She showed me how the AT went up and down and up and down and didn’t go near any water, really. Whereas the Creeper trail was nice and flat for 13 miles right next to the water, not to mention that the scenery would be prettier because it’s a whole bunch of old bridges. I was sold.

Now this is where the purest should look away or at least keep their comments to themselves. I hiked 13 miles that day without even sweating. It was beautiful.

I started paying more attention to the maps on FarOut. I began to take blue blazes. I did road walks. When I got to the Blue Ridge Parkway and I saw the trail went in and out and in and out and kept coming back to the parkway, I decided to walk where the views were. Why go where the views aren’t? Another thing I did was to start reading signs in parking lots. Like for instance, the sign in the McAfee Knob parking lot had a little info about how to get to the Knob. There was a sign that said the fire road that went to the Knob was listed as easy/moderate, and the AT was listed as moderate/ extreme. That was a pretty easy choice to make for me.

I’ll tell you I’m one of the poor fools who fell for “Virginia is flat and easy” lies that are out there. I can tell you from experience now that Virginia is the land of PUDS: pointless ups and downs. I think the state was the most challenging so far. I also believe that Virginia is bogus for sending you out of the state on the roller coaster. That was the worst roller coaster of my life; 9 out of 10 would not do it again.

Send the Coast Guard

I needed a rescue in Virginia. I already told you guys about me going man overboard in the bathroom. My shoulder still hurts, by the way.

Well, now it’s time to tell you about my aqua blaze.

I joined Drive-thru and Frosty for a little 3-day float down the Shenandoah River. “It should be a breeze.” At least, that’s what I thought.

The trip started with our shuttle driver stressing Drive-thru out completely with quotes like, “I’ve been shot and blown up and all kinds of other shit. I really don’t want to die, so you can just slow down.” These quotes were followed by quotes from the driver that went like this. “My record for passing cars on the left is seven at once.” We’re also reasonably sure that he fell asleep once or twice during the drive.

Once we arrived at the river, we were greeted by a charming man who was an excellent representation of the Appalachian hill people’s stereotypes. He told us, with his teeth missing, that he wasn’t the guy who usually did this. Meaning he wasn’t the guy who usually dropped off the kayaks and explained the routes. So the directions were kind of, “yeah, you should be good.”

After he gave us a bunch of ratchet straps from the back of his truck’s toolbox to help us secure our packs to the kayak, we were on our way. Only to find shortly after that the water was kind of low, and this might be a little bit of a bumpy, kind of rocky endeavor.

Our little voyage was rocky enough that on the second day of our 3-day journey, I was going through rapids, and I got a nice splash on the side of me. I started to think, “there is a lot of water in the kayak for the splash I just took.” I didn’t think it was that bad. Then I noticed that all the stuff in the bottom of the kayak was kind of floating. I got myself to the side of the river so I could dump some water out of my kayak. That’s about the time I discovered a hole punched in the front of my kayak.

I called the kayak company and told him what happened, and I was told that they couldn’t really help me where I was because I was on the rich people’s waterfront, and they wouldn’t let people on their property to help.

I was told that from my location, there was a parking lot about a half mile down the way that they could help me if I could get to it. So being in the adventurous mood I was in, I said sure, I can get there.

Well, I got about a quarter mile before I flipped my kayak, thoroughly soaking myself and putting my Hyperlite bag to the test. Which, shout out to Hyperlite: all of my stuff was dry even after being completely submerged. At this point, I had had enough.

I was able to get the kayak to the side of the riverbank again. I threw all of my stuff up on the riverbank and used the ratchet strap to pull the kayak out of the river onto private property. I then dragged all of my stuff and the kayak through somebody’s very lovely property to the front road, where I could be assisted.

The adventure company was super helpful and got me a new kayak and to my campsite for the night. The next day I was ready to start again in a new kayak.

I made it through the day without flipping or poking a hole in the new kayak, which was great. The part that wasn’t great was the part that was supposed to be sealed on the kayak and keep your stuff dry, and it didn’t work at all.

Which was no big deal because I wanted all of my food rehydrated anyways. So that was really cool!

That was Virginia for me: some ups, some downs. West Virginia and Maryland were way easier. I’m in Pennsylvania now!!!


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Comments 6

  • Maryellen Kelley : Jun 5th

    Really unexpected but very valuable information

  • Patricai : Jun 5th

    I enjoy reading your posts! Along with you telling it as it is, I find myself giggling because “that would be be.” The slipping and falling… anywhere… is so me. You sound like you are doing so good because you have continued move forward. I appreciate your honest yet humorous writings. With sincerity, you might consider writing. I love your way of telling your story. You put us in your moment of truth. Thank you!

  • ecirpanes : Jun 6th

    Thoroughly enjoying your posts so far. You sense of humor about everything and your willingness to share your bone-head mistakes give me hope I can do this in a year or so. Keep it up!

  • Charlotte : Jun 12th

    Great job describing your experiences! I’m encouraged there are some scenic alternatives to some parts of the AT. Sorry about the kayaking troubles. What does nope rope mean? I’m trying to figure that out, and can’t come up with anything. Thanks for sharing your thru hike!!!

    • PCS : Jun 13th



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