No Virginia Blues Here
It may come as no surprise to most people reading this that Virginia is long– really long. 550 miles long. And while I’m sure there are a select few blood relatives that may enjoy reading a day by day breakdown of the last 350 miles, I have little interest in writing one, not to mention that each passing day becomes part of the trail blur. So, I’ve decided that perhaps it is best to give a rundown of the highlights/lowlights of trail sections as arbitrarily grouped together in my memory.
So far, Virginia has been really good to us. We actually really looked forward to crossing over the state line because we were that much closer to home– DC– and knew we had visitors lined up along the way. Even on the bad days, of which there have been plenty, we have reminded ourselves we’re getting closer and closer to seeing friends and family.
Grayson Highlands to Pearisburg (miles 502-632)
We were feeling pretty ready to get back on the trail after the mishmash of zero days and back and forth to and from Damascus, so the first couple days back on the trail after Trail Days were great.
After an awesome lunch in Atkins, we fully planned on staying out in the woods for the rest of the week. Unfortunately, after going 22 miles without seeing any viable camping options, we saw a flyer for a new hostel about .8 miles off the trail. We looked at each other and decided to go for it. Three words: best decision ever. Quarter Way Inn, at mile 552.5, is a gem, and I hope it does well its first season as a hostel. Run by a 2009 SOBO thru hiker, who just so happens to be a Minnesota Alum, it hasn’t been ruined by hikers… yet. It’s a gorgeous house, on a gorgeous piece of property, and its warmth and coziness was a great way to relax after a couple super hot and sweaty days.
Leaving Quarter Way Inn, we were again committed to staying out in the woods until Pearisburg…and then the rain came when we were at Chestnut Knob Shelter, a day after hiking out from the hostel. Determined to stay dry, we laid in our tents in the morning, listening to the rain, hoping for a lull so we could run out, get packed up and get going. We happened to have cell service, so we were texting back and forth with Paddington, who was in his tent literally five feet away from us. We had decided that it was too much trouble to try to shout over the rain–yes, it was coming down that hard. We finally mustered the courage to get out of our tents, no lull in sight, and started trudging up the trail. We knew that the town of Bland was 24 miles away, so if the day progressed at the miserable rate at which it started, we could dry off there, if we could make it that far. At lunch, we decided to make a run for it and hauled ass to the road crossing for Bland. We made great time, 24 miles in 10 hours, thanks to easy terrain and cotton sheets as motivation. A trip to Dairy Queen and some quality TV hours made for an excellent night.
Two days later, we hit Pearisburg where we were met by Rico’s parents for Memorial Day weekend. It was was simply luxurious. Rico’s parents put us up at a Holiday Inn Express about an hour from the trail, and thanks to Papa Bear’s status, we got upgraded to a mini-suite. I’m still amazed that we forced ourselves out of the king bed during our stay there, but I’m sure glad we did. We were wined and dined at a winery with an amazing restaurant and more libations than needed. Somehow, we prodded ourselves back on the trail.
Pearisburg to Daleville (miles 632-727)
Our first night out of Pearisburg, we had our first bear encounter. Read all about it in Rico’s first (and hopefully not last, but don’t hold your breath) post here.
The weather of late has been a mix of rain and hot sun, which seems to sum up our time in Virginia so far. We were sans Paddington for this stretch. He did a bigger day out of Pearisburg than we did, so we weren’t sure if we could catch up with him, but certainly hoped it were possible.
Highlights of this section include an awesome stay at The Captain’s, a former thru-hiker who lets people tent on his lawn and offers free soda. The coolest thing about The Captain’s is that you have to zip line across a creek to get to it. Who would’ve thought we’d be zip lining on this hike? Certainly not me, but it was a fun adventure.
As we approached Daleville, there were a few memorable moments lying in wait for us over a couple day span.
We hit Dragon’s Tooth in the morning–one of the biggest monoliths on the AT, a daunting rock jutting into the sky. Rico took the dive–or rather, climb–and scaled it part of the way up. I, having developed a fear of heights in my old age, stayed on the ground and admired from below. Once we hit Dragon’s Tooth, we decided to change up the plan, a theme of late. We hiked to Four Pines Hostel, about half the planned distance for the day, and shuttled into Daleville to get a room at the Howard Johnson and do some much needed laundry. The plan was then to slack pack from where we got off the trail, back into Daleville the following day, about a 25.7 jaunt. We were thrilled to hear that Paddington, a full day ahead of us, was slacking into Daleville that evening, so we knew we’d be able to catch up on the latest happenings since we last saw him. Daleville also happens to have a brewery about 1.5 miles away from where we were staying, a mile stroll northbound on the AT. Now, we are not usually ones to do extra walking once we’re done hiking for the day, but cold beer was beckoning, so off we went. Wild Mouse Brewery was a great decision. With good beer and a great atmosphere, it felt like the kind of outing we’d do in our off-trail life. A nasty storm came through while we were there, confirming our decision to not attempt to walk back to the Howard Johnson. How did we get back, you might ask? Well, that’s where our hitchhiking thumbs came in handy. Having avoided the necessity of hitchhiking up to this point, it felt a little silly to waste our first such adventure on such a short distance. Plus, we were showered and in our fancy (read, less smelly) hiker clothes, so we weren’t totally confident we were drawing the sympathy we might have elicited had we come straight off trail. Luckily, someone did indeed sniff us out, and we were delighted that it was a pickup truck driver. After all, riding in the back of a pickup is truly the only proper mode of transportation for one’s first hitch-hiking experience. Another AT must: check!
We spent the rest of the night catching up with Paddington and successfully persuaded him to take a zero the next day while we slack-packed so that we could all be on the same pace. And by persuade, I mean we enthusiastically supported the idea which he himself broached. Our slack-pack day was great. It’s amazing what a difference carrying no weight and the promise of another night in cotton sheets does to one’s pace! We had lunch at McAfee’s Knob, the most photographed placed on the AT. Much to our dismay, we hit it on a weekend, so there were literally at least 60 people up there with us, trying to enjoy a view that I believe was made to be most fully enjoyed in solitude. Nevertheless, it was gorgeous, and we’re lucky to have been there on such a beautiful–and sunny–day. The next morning, Paddington, Boomberang, and we packed up and headed to Pizza Hut before embarking on a shorter 12 mile day. Our feet were killing us from traversing the rocky terrain on the previous day, but we were ready to suck it up and head out…. and then something happened. As I’ve written previously, I’m not sure exactly what occurred, but a decision was made. Once decided amongst the boys, there was no going back—or in this case forward. A zero day was decreed, and in fact, back we went to the hotel from whence we had just come. I begrudgingly agreed; the merry hikers three, we re-crossed the street, re-checked in, and spent the rest of the day napping. In hindsight, it was absolutely glorious, affording us a much needed time to recoup and regroup.
With the challenges that lay ahead over the next several days, it was a decision we would not regret.
Rain-soaked we may be, but eight hundred plus miles and counting, that looming half-way point is looking mighty fine!
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