OFF TRAIL (for now)
OK, I promise I will get some tech help and get some pics out there for my next post but I still can’t figure out on my own how to post my pics here. So Sorry!!! As the header says, I’m Off Trail for now. I noted in my last post from Daleville that my back was weary. That was the start. I’ll update the back problem as I progress somewhat chronologically from leaving Daleville. Felt good leaving Daleville and did 11.2 miles to Wilson Creek Shelter by 1:45. We stopped and had lunch and pushed on another 7 miles to Bobblet Shelter for a total of 18.5 miles today. This is the transition from the Allegheny Mountains to the Blue Ridge Mountains and we sheltered just about a mile from the Peaks of Otter Overlook off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Staying at the shelter tonight is “Mantis” a UVA Grad Student from CT. He does big miles (25-30) each day, Patch and Seam stop by for water and then head to the Ridge hoping to get some breezes as it is a hot day and supposed to be in the 60’s tonight.
Sharkey has informed me he will go off trail the 25th or 26th depending on where we are to fly to OK for a nephew’s college graduation from Cameron University. At that point I will only have a week to 10 days to Waynesboro where I will take a break of a few days. As of the end of the 19th it looks like I’ll only have 115 miles to home. Had good cell service here and got some texts out to family members to let everyone know I was ok. Get in bed around 9:30 and my 15 degree bag is making me sweat in the 60 degree temps. I unzipped it and kept a leg out all night to keep me cooler. It’s getting closer to the time
to change out to my 40 degree bag but I imagine we’ll have a few more cool nights where I’ll appreciate the warmer bag. Rather be hot than cold.
On the 20th we hiked 13.5 miles to Bryant Ridge Shelter. Ups and downs on this hike. The first 4-5 miles gently up, then a couple of gentle downs for 2 more miles and a steep 3 mile down to Jennings Creek . At the bottom of this descent my feet were on fire from applying the brakes all the way down. Off came the shoes and socks and I soaked my feet in the Creek which was super cold, I could feel my swollen feet shrinking as the minnows nibbled at my toes. The socks and shoes go back on and we had a solid hour climb with no switchbacks up Fork Mountain for an 1100′ elevation gain. It was really hot, had to be in the 80’s and I was sweating everything out as fast as I could drink it. Probably have leg cramps tonight. We finished the 13.5 mile day at 4:30. My back and shoulder are beginning to really aggravate me but I figure with good hydration, naproxen and rest tonight I’ll be good for tomorrow. This is the nicest shelter we have been to since Damascus, it sleeps 20, has multiple levels and has areas for hammocks to be hung out of the rain. The water source is a creek 20 yards away, the privy is newly constructed and Sharkey and I are the only ones here for now. “Nascar” stops by and fills up on water but wants to get the climb ahead of us out of the way and he pushes on. Two tenters, “Old Woman” and her female hiking partner are tenting about a 1/4 mile down trail but come to shelter to use privy and get water. Oh yeah, nearly forgot, met a bunch of Natural Bridge trail volunteers today doing trail maintenance. What a great bunch of people and this section of trail was excellent due to their labor. Their club maintains 80 miles of trail through this section. They come out every Wednesday all year long maintaining the trail and it shows. A big thanx to the Natural Bridge volunteers. One asked where I had hiked from and I told her Damascus and she asked if I wanted a banana? I told her I couldn’t turn down free food and she gladly gave me a banana which I ate immediately. Before we turned in for the night “Woody” a SOBO flip-flopper who started in Harper’s Ferry arrived and we had real good conversation before calling it a night.
The next morning was the 21st and Sharkey was feeling poorly, probably some dehydrated food he had been given by Slo-Mo when he left the trail. We climb 2400′ to the summit of Floyd Mt. and Sharkey says he’s done and is stopping at Corneilus Shelter which is just 5 miles into the day’s hike. I agree to stop and take a long lunch and see how he feels in an hour or so. After lunch and rest Sharkey feels like he can do another 5-6 miles to Thunder Hill Shelter despite the last 3-4 miles being a gradual ascent. It was a long day of stops and starts but I didn’t want to hike ahead with Sharkey feeling so badly. We climbed the last 1100′ to the Parkway and go .3 mile to the shelter. The water source wasn’t great but we filtered as always and should be fine. Some great sights today as we passed the FAA tower at the summit of Black Rock. Then we walked through and unusual rock formation called the “guillotine”.
The trail passes between two huge rocks that have a third rock suspended between them. Hikers walk directly beneath the round suspended rock. Again, sorry about no pics but here is a stock photo from Appalachian Trials library of photos. The Guillotine was at 4405′ and shelter at 3917′ and with showers predicted this evening glad to be in a shelter and not tenting. Four more NOBO’s arrive at 7:00. Brothers from Knoxville “Goose & ?) along with an 18 year old German kid “Das Machine” and a 20 yr old named “Magic”. Gooses uncle had been meeting them the last few days since Daleville and preparing end of day meals for them and meeting them at road crossings. Despite him meeting them daily they did not slack pack. They continued to carry their full pack These kids fly doing over 3 mph on average and knocking out 20-25 miles per day. Oh to have young legs again. They leave shelter early, 7;15 and we probably will only follow them in trail logs and not see them again.
As we pack up it starts to rain. Everything is dry when we start and I put on my rain jacket and cover my pack with its internal rain cover. A mile in and I decide I’m getting wet from sweat or rain and I choose rain and ditch the rain jacket. We did 12.4 miles to Matt Creek Shelter as the rain subsides. Actually it was a really nice hike in the rain and walking in and out of the clouds. We get out of wet clothes and into dry and I stretch out my back once again which is really starting to get annoying. It is starting to affect me earlier in my hike each day. More naproxen and more rest. I only have one day of food left and we need to resupply so we’ll do 2.4 miles to the road and hitch into Glasgow for a resupply and a NERO. I’m filthy and my clothes are all dirty and damp and my sleeping bag is damp. Need to dry out and eat a good meal and a BEER. Fiber arrives shortly after we get settled and two female SOBO week-end hikers set up hammocks just above the shelter. It rains throughout the night.
Wake up and its the 23rd, one month on the trail. About 315 trail miles to date. We do the 2.5 miles to 501 crossing the James River on the longest foot use only bridge on the AT. This section is beautiful, walking along the cliffs that line the James with views of the wide river for nearly 2 miles before crossing. Took us an hour to get a ride into town despite Glasgow being very hospitable to hikers, Apparently everyone else traveling this road doesn’t share the same affection for hikers. When we did get a ride with a man and his wife in a pick-up truck, he took us right to the only restaurant in town where there was great food and BEER. Directly behind the restaurant the town has created a “hikers park” with a 6 person shelter, electricity to re-charge devices, a microwave oven and an outdoor hot shower that worked great. They even supplied firewood. The town seems to appreciate the financial impact of hikers coming through and the town has just been designated an official Appalachian Trail Town. We got our laundry done at a coin laundry and resupplied at the local grocery store and Dollar store. We tented in the hiker’s park and took a zero to allow my aching back some time to recover.
I’m convinced the back and shoulder pain aren’t due to the weight of the pack as it is the lightest it has been the entire trip. I’m sure with no food I’m under 30 lbs. The more I investigate causation the more I’m lead to believe my pack is too big for my torso and all the adjustment in the world isn’t going to make it better. I thought it could be from elevating my head to sleep to mitigate my snoring and sleep apnea but have quit sleeping that way and the back and shoulder pain continue. My knees are great, I haven’t had a problem with them for days to a week or better but will keep the supports on as I don’t want to risk further problems. My initial hip pain was gone in the first 3 days and it seems I have worked thru most of the minor aches and pains, which is what I have been hoping would happen with this back and shoulder pain. (Not yet anyway).
Loads of hikers are here coming and going. 15 to 20 stayed here last night. Really enjoyed the hiker companionship, stories and laughter. Like this little Oasis so much and my back and shoulder need more rest so we take a zero and enjoy a relaxing day in town.
Just a few of the hikers around that I know are Blues Brother, Sooner r later, Large, Seaweed, Hootie, Babbit, Palindrome, White Rabbit, Rabbit, Spencer and his dog Lemming, Auto Bahn, Quixote, Polar Bear and Wallet shows up Sunday evening.
On 4-25 we arranged a shuttle out of town back to the trail head. $15 for 4 of us. We each pay $4 leaving a $1 tip because we can’t do math or make change. We immediately began climbing from the James River and after 6 hours of accents and over 3200′ of elevation gain that included great views from the top of Buff Mt we spent 30 minutes eating lunch and enjoying those great views. We descend to Punch Bowl Shelter which is the first water source we have had all day. Glad to see there is good water at the shelter. Two SOBO’s arrive “Five-Weeks” and “Bushwhack”, both are section hikers. At dusk a NOBO “Ghost” arrives and tents at the shelter sight.
You know, the problem with river crossings is that you go down a very long way to a very low elevation and when that happens you have a very big up on the other side. While I can appreciate the downs and actually pick up speed, I always dread the up that follows.
James River footbridge. Down one side, up the other.
Many hikers would rather do the ascents than the descents as the ascent does not hurt their knees as badly as the descent but even with my earlier knee problem I still like the downs better and they don’t hurt me as bad as the descents. I guess if we polled the hikers out here it would be a pretty even split on their preferences. The 20 somethings seem to not care as they fly up and down.
Since I got into Punchbowl pretty early this day, I did my water chores, found a spot to hang my food bag out of bear and varmint reach, put notes in my daily journal and started gathering firewood. Had a nice fire this evening and we all sat around and enjoyed it for an hour or so. Bushwhack is on the trail for his section hike the first day and offers me a cigar and a drink of cognac, both much appreciated. I shared hard candy with everyone and we got really good weather reports from Bushwhack who had memorized the next few days weather forecasts. As I head to bed for the night about 9:30 (late for me and for most) my back and shoulder are aching and I’m just starting to notice they cramp up on me at various times during the day. My sleeping pad, a neo-air x-lite feels good and I sleep pretty good on it so I hope I feel better in the morning.
I leave camp just before 9:00 on the 25th with a short 10 mile hike on the agenda. We covered 6 miles in 2 1/2 hours and break for lunch by the Pedlar River which we crossed on a really neat suspension foot bridge (this is where I would insert a picture). We got into Brown Creek Shelter by 2;00. I feel lazy and guilty for not going on and covering the next 5 miles of elevation to over 4000′ and then another 2700′ but my neck, back and shoulder reject the idea in favor of some more rest. I’m starting to think I’m not going to work through this pain.
Sharkey will go off trail tomorrow as this is the last good spot with access to the road and he will go into Buena Vista and get shuttled to Charlottesville to catch a plane. I plan a 15 mile hike tomorrow to get to Selley-Woodworth Shelter, then 3 more days to Waynesboro. I’ll leave Sharkey at Rt. 60 where he will hitch into Buena-Vista and I will continue on. So I relax by putting my feet in the creek, wiping my salt stained body off and laying on the picnic table in the sun. I put muscle rub on, take naproxen and take a nap. I only have 57 miles to Waynesboro where I can come off and rest a few days and make a pack change at the local outfitter.
A few NOBO’s pass the shelter on the way into Buena Vista where they intend to zero, “Santa and Wonder” a married couple and another NOBO who just hiked by.
A night of thunderstorms, glad we’re in the shelter, and everything is damp anyway. We pack up and have 2.5 miles to Rt 60 and as soon as I put my pack on I feel the strain in my back and shoulder and am having some spasms. It’s a pretty gentle 2.5 miles of ascent to the road and I decide to come off trail and go home. I called Nancy, my wife, and asked her to come to Buena Vista and get us. Nancy said she could be there in an hour. We hitched the 10 miles into Buena Vista and caught a ride in the back of a small pick-up. The gentleman let us off at the Burger King where we immediately got a Big Mac, fries and milk shake. Nancy arrived within the hour she estimated and took us back to Waynesboro where Sharkey had a motel room. Sharkey says the ride saved hi $75 in shuttle fees and I tell him I will take him to Charlottesville on Friday and save him those shuttle fees as well. Nancy & I go home and it is good seeing Nancy who I hadn’t seen for almost 5 weeks. She is still put out with me for this trip and we will have to talk through our differences. I love her and will have to reassess her needs and try to be more considerate.
Three different spots on my back had knots from the muscles being all tied up, two near my shoulders and one mid back. Hoping rest, a real bed and no pack for a couple of days will resolve the issue. It’s good being home and dry and clean and well fed. I clean up my equipment and break it all down and get it ready for when I go back out again.
I take Sharkey to Charlottesville on Saturday and see him off. My back is no longer having spasms but the knotted up muscles remain and I will go to the Doc on Monday if things aren’t better. I enjoy being home and dry as the weather has turned wet with daily showers and thunderstorms. I guess its a good time to be off trail as I’m avoiding a lot of rain while I attend to my muscle issues.
Well Monday comes along and my back still has knots in it and I call the Doc who can see me this afternoon. He tells me I was wise to come off trail as it was only going to get worse. He agrees that the pack I am wearing is the likely culprit and prescribes some muscle relaxers and gives me a prescription for physical therapy if I choose to go that route. He also gave me some stretching exercises and prescribed about two weeks of rest before considering a return to the trail.
While I rest at home I receive a text from Wallet who has made it to Waynesboro after skipping the Three Ridges section of the trail. Wallet explains that he found my buff beside a sign post before crossing Rt 60 where I got off the trail. He said he saw it laying on the ground and realized it was my buff, picked it up and brought it to Waynesboro for me. Wallet and I had lunch while he was in town and I shuttled him back to the trail head at Rockfish Gap on Tuesday morning. He will complete this section of hiking at Harper’s Ferry and come back next year for another section. Maybe I’ll run into him again.
So, I’m off trail for at least two weeks and Nancy & I will talk over my plans to continue the trail. My next posts will be about my plans to return to the trail as well as some of my other thoughts while on the trail and I will try to get the photo issues worked out during this time. A request for a pic of my Squish stamp has been sent and I will make that one of the first pics I post.
Thanks to all of you who follow my ramblings on this blog and know that I appreciate your comments and support. Look for another blog in a week or so. Until then, Squish is resting and relaxing at home.
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