Night Hiking for Mexican Food (4/12, 4/13, 4/14)

Day 46, 4/12: Wise shelter-> Trimpi shelter (20.1 miles)

I woke up several times in the middle of the night. The shelter has a metal roof and it started raining around midnight, making loud dings as the rain drops fell. I fell back asleep, then woke again at 3 AM to a loud, rhythmic, clomping noise. The white pony was back, and grazing 10 feet from the shelter entrance. I didn’t need a headlamp to see him because the moon was so bright. I wish I could have stayed up all night and watched him graze in the moonlight. Our crew of 4 (Captain, Rash, and Pinata) and the Vermont hiker named Van Grizzle woke up and started packing up but it was cold so it made moving slower. Rash, Pinata, and I didn’t really have a solid plan for where to resupply. Captain was planning a 20 and a 21 mile day to get into Atkins for resupply, and we decided to join him.

We started out our hike with the same previous day’s order of Captain, me, Rash, and Pinata. It was relatively flat in the morning, and we soon crossed The Scales, a large fenced field. There was a truck parked in it with a man sitting in it. As we passed, he offered us a cold beer and pulls out a few PBRs from a cooler. Captain and I drank one as we all took a break and talked about The Office, Bob’s Burgers, and Arrested Development (all shows we watch).

We stopped for lunch at Old Orchard shelter which was built in the 1960’s according to the sign. We stopped for a snack at Hurricane Mountain shelter which was a double decker and much newer. While we were snacking, a section hiker with an adorable pug mix came up to say hello. It started to get cold in the shade so I stayed in the sun.

We hiked onto Trimpi shelter, which I kept on calling Trimpani shelter, which morphed into Shrimpani shelter. By the time we arrived, we were calling it Shrimp Cocktail shelter. It was down a short but steep blue blaze trail, and we were already dreading coming back up it in the morning.

We found a German hiker already at the shelter setting up his tent. He was an aerospace engineer but didn’t have a trail name yet. As we set up our stuff in the shelter, he moved the rest of his things down to his tent and we didn’t see him for the rest of the night. We made dinner, and Rash and Piñata found chives growing nearby which they called onion grass. I used some in my dinner to fancy it up.

Chives or onion grass, and Rash and Piñata called it

It was a split shelter, and the 4 of us decided to cram into one side so we could watch The Office on Pinata’s phone. While we were settling in, there were loud scratching sounds coming from the roof and the rafters. It sounded way louder than mice, and was probably squirrels or chipmunks. This was the shelter the SOBO hiker said they chewed through his pack. The loud rodents didn’t seem interested in our things, thankfully, and stayed on the roof.

Day 47, 4/13: Trimpi shelter -> Atkins, VA (21.4 miles)

We woke earlier than usual and packed up. Town days are always exciting with the prospect of showers and real beds. I thought I had a packet of oatmeal left the SOBO hiker gave me, but I miscounted, so instead of the delicious oatmeal I had honey buns for breakfast.

The short but steep blue blaze was a nightmare to climb first thing in the morning. The terrain wasn’t bad after that, with occasional small climbs. I started with a lot of layers on, so on our first break I took off all the extra clothes. We took a few more breaks along the way before arriving at Partnership shelter by lunchtime. Partnership shelter is special because it has hot showers, but also because it’s near a road, so the pizza places will deliver food to it! We walked 0.1 miles to the visitor’s center and relaxed while our pizza was on its way. I ordered a calzone and I was a little skeptical I’d be able to eat the whole thing in one sitting, but I continually underestimate hiker hunger. We all downed our food in record time and were hungry again 15 minutes later. I actually found myself reaching for my snacks and had to stop myself.

Pizza delivery

We had a 5 mile climb and a 6 mile descent. The climb had short, steep bursts but we managed. The descent had parts that were covered in baseball sized rocks that made our feet feel like they were on fire. It wasn’t as bad as yesterday but it wasn’t fun.

We came to the shelter before ours and socialized and used the privy. We saw Uncle Heather, the couple from Belgium, and some other hikers I didn’t recognize. It was already after 6 and they were amazed we were pushing the 4 miles to town. I realized our little group of 4 was becoming the people that I used to gawk at, doing crazy miles as the sun was setting.

We came to the one room schoolhouse which a church group uses to stash amazing trail magic. They have a huge Rubbermaid container full of everything a hiker needs, tons of snacks, and a cooler full of ice and sodas. An older man who lives across the street came in with us and asked us questions about where we were from.

One roomed schoolhouse

We ate some snacks and talked to the man, when Sitting Bull came in. He was over the moon to see us, and tried convincing us to stay at the campground instead of staying in town. He said he was with Bri, Calves, Mufasa, and Toothless. With the prospect of a shower and food 2.7 miles up the trail, we declined. We were inside the schoolhouse for a half hour talking, and when we walked outside and found the sun was setting fast.

We said our goodbyes and sped down the trail. We had a short walk across a meadow to a river, and found that the temperature plummeted the closer we got to the water. I started shivering and considered stopping to put on more layers, but stopping would make me colder than I already was, plus I didn’t want to hold up the others. I’m glad I waited it out, because as soon as we started ascending the mountain, the temperature warmed up.

I was getting nervous as we climbed, because Van Grizzle said he hiked around this time and came face to face with a bear. I was tired, hungry, scared, and just wanted to be in town already. I asked Captain to pick up the pace a little, but I was scared of losing Rash since he was in back taking pictures of the sunset. The twilight makes me the most uncomfortable because my eyes are trying to adjust and it’s hard to see. Once it gets dark, either the moon or headlamp will illuminate my surroundings. Once twilight was over and we used headlamps, the hike was more enjoyable. There were craggily and bent apple trees blooming all around us, and sweet smelling flowers that reminded me of honeysuckle but I couldn’t find the vines.

We heard cars off in the distance that sounded like the cars at Langley Speedway back home. Rash pointed out it was interstate 81. We also heard a train off in the distance, and came to train tracks where we watched the train whoosh by in the dark. Once the train passed, we crossed the tracks and walked across a bridge over a swamp. The swamp was packed with huge plants that Rash identified as stink cabbage.

Train rushing by in the dark

We came to the road and could see the sign for the Relax Inn where we were staying, but it was 8:30 and the Mexican restaurant attached to the gas station closed in 30 minutes. We walked up the short hill to the restaurant and ordered our food to go. While they were preparing it, Captain and I browsed the food selection in the gas station. We both came away with ice cream and chocolate milk.

We took our food and went back to the motel. We didn’t want anything fancy, just a shower and bed, and it provided the basics. Situated right next to a gas station, its main attractions were hikers and truckers. The room was tiny for 4 people. We started laundry, ravenously ate our Mexican food, and were preoccupied with our phones and the wifi for the rest of the evening. I took a long, hot shower which was well overdue. When it was below freezing outside I didn’t sweat as much, so 4 days without a shower wasn’t a big deal. Now that it’s hotter and I’m putting on sunscreen everyday, I start feeling gross around day 2. Pinata and I shared a bed while Captain and Rash took the other bed. I called Louis and talked with him while he was driving home from the rescue squad. It was amazing to hear his voice.
Day 48, 4/14: Atkins, VA -> O’Lystery campsite (12.5 miles)

We slept in, enjoying real beds. I woke up and showered, then coming out of the shower I passed last night’s food bag with tortilla chips and salsa that I didn’t eat. I quietly took the bag to the bed and munched on them for first breakfast. Everyone was awake and on their phones, and after hearing me eating, everyone got their chips and salsa to eat in bed. It was a hilarious sight: all the hikers eating day old chips in bed like it was luxury food.

We took a while to pack up, so we checked out barely at the 11:00 cutoff. We still had to go resupply, so we took a shuttle into town to go to the Dollar General. Pinata went to the post office across the street to mail home some winter gear. After getting our food, and the very important chocolate milk, we went back to the motel to sort the food. We decided to eat lunch at The Barn restaurant across the street before hitting the trail.

The Barn is obviously geared towards hikers and has cheap, delicious burgers. We stuffed ourselves with food before begrudgingly going back outside to our packs. No one was really in the mood to hike and we had trouble finding our motivation. It was a beautiful day so we finally started hiking around 2:30. We were going to have trouble meeting our mileage goal for the day, but collectively we were glad for the burgers.

The hike was awful. I was so full from the food that I felt sick hiking up the hills. Thankfully the group was going slow. After coming over a hill we ran right into Sitting Bull and Bri! We were excited to see them. We talked for a while, realized we just passed the 1/4 way point, and took a picture. We hiked together down the hill.

1/4 of the trail done

The quarter way sign a little further down the trail

We came to a campsite where we took a break and ate snacks. There was a nice couple in their 70’s we talked with for a while. They said if they finish, they’ll be the oldest couple to hike the AT. We continued on hiking even though it was getting darker. I led for a while up the last climb we did for the day. I had some residual energy thanks to my caffeine pills and I powered up and then down the mountain. We crossed over a few pastures, and waited for the whole group to catch up. It was getting darker and I was nervous about us splitting up too much in case someone got hurt. When we regrouped, we night hiked the rest of the way. My headlamp is great for around camp but sucks for night hiking. Thankfully the people’s headlamps behind me lit up the trail enough to see.

We crossed a ton of the wooden structures to climb over barbed wire fences. They slowed us down and were annoying to cross. We were thinking of trying for Knot Maul Branch shelter, but the last 2.2 miles to the shelter had a steep uphill, so we camped at the Possum Creek campground (near O’Lystery Pavillon). We are dinner and set up camp, which was nice because the weather was beautiful. I ate 3 English muffins toasted on my small skillet and cream cheese I packed out from the Dollar General. I’ll have to eat the rest of the cream cheese tomorrow so it doesn’t go bad.

Talking and hanging out with the big crew (Sitting Bull, Bri, Captain, Rash, and Pinata) is awesome. It’s strange how we just met but we act like we’ve known each other for ages. Tomorrow is going to be a big day with a lot of climbing. Hopefully the weather cooperates and we don’t get rained on.

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