Possum and Ukelady Continue To Own Virginia
Day 104: July 9th – 1.7 miles
We woke up in the most comfortable bed, showered, and ate a cereal breakfast. Grace’s cousin, Bob, was leaving around 8 AM for work so he drove us back to the James River crossing. During the ride Kallena and I played a card game about bluffing that neither of us was going to win. We took pictures and the crossing and said goodbyes.
It was really hot today. I looked at the weather before we left and like an “All That” cast reunion, it was supposed to get into the mid-90s. We hiked to the first shelter which was only 1.7 miles away and dropped our packs. We hunkered in the shade of the shelter and just relaxed. It wasn’t a long hike but it was exhausting. We thought we’d stay here for a bit and avoid the hottest part of the day.
Initially this was our planned stop when we thought we were going to get dropped off in the evening, but since we got here in the AM we were going to keep hiking. That never actually happened. We stayed too long and got too comfortable. Other hikers arrived who planned to stay and we just decided to stick to our original plan. It turned into a very relaxed night as we descended into sleep mode before the sun disappeared.
Day 105: July 10th – 8.8 miles
Last night, before going to bed in the shelter, I told Ukelady that I thought we should be sleeping in the tent because of all the bugs here. Turns out my instincts were correct. That was the worst night on the trail. The bugs kept us up all night. Our only defense was to immerse ourselves in our sleeping bags, but that was worse because it was so damn hot. We traded back and forth between sweating and being bitten the entire night. At some point close to morning I must have fallen asleep. Why do I know this? Because I was suddenly rocked awake by a rooster alarm clock.
COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO!!! COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO!!! COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO!!! COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO!!! COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO!!! COCK-A-DOODLE-DOOOOOO!!!
The owner awoke, silenced the alarm, and went back to sleep. Let me repeat that. She woke up, silenced her rooster alarm, and went. Back. TO. SLEEP!!!
Back to bug bites and sweating for me. I watched the sun gradually rise and our shelter mates also gradually rise and leave. Ironically, the morning was the only time we clocked serious sleeping hours. We left the shelter around noon.
The hike was not nearly as bad as yesterday since it was overcast and cooler. At one point, just as we were settling down for lunch, rain started out of nowhere. I quickly pulled our tarp over us. Ukelady wasn’t too happy about this development. She would have rather had set up the tent, but I didn’t think we had enough time. Regardless, the tarp only partially kept rain off of us. It leaked onto our backs and heads, soaking them. I sat there dripping onto my open tortilla, seasoning it with rain water, dirt, and sweat. Mmmm, salty. The rain stopped as quickly as it started and we moved on.
We kept hearing distant thunder for the next hour or so that we hiked. Then, all of a sudden, the skies became grayer and all of the air surrounding us instantly became wind. We knew in that moment that a thunderstorm was coming right for us. We dropped our packs and threw on our rain gear just as it hit us. It was the windiest storm I’ve ever been in. The rain hit me in the face even though I had my hood on and was looking straight down. I tried looking around at the trees in case one of them was going to be blown over, but the pelting rain drops made it almost impossible. Ukelady later told me she was frightened the whole time that the wind would turn into a tornado. We screamed over the storm at each other a plan to stop at the first campsite we saw and set up the tent. Thankfully we didn’t see any campsites, and the storm passed over us after only fifteen minutes. Once we saw blue skies we shed our rain gear and hiked on as if nothing had happened.
We got to the shelter and finally set up our tent.
Day 106: July 11th – 7.? miles
We didn’t leave until 2 PM today. The time got away from us in a way neither of us really wanted. It caused some tension that we were able to bounce back from.
We had a chance of getting to the shelter 9.5 miles away before 9 PM as we usually average 1.5 miles an hour. But today we took long stops for getting water and lunch. At around 7:30 PM we resigned ourselves to a random campsite. While trying to throw the bear bag rope over an outstretched branch I got it stuck, but eventually got it back down with much effort. However, I stupidly tried to bear bag the same branch and got it even more stuck. There was no saving this one. I climbed a close by tree and cut the rope as close to the tangled mess as I could.
We are sweating in this tent, but at least we reached 800 miles today.
Day 107: July 12th – 5 miles
Last night we made a plan to start hiking by 10 AM. It worked beautifully. We woke on our own and trusted each other to be ready at our own pace. It was about five miles to the road crossing that led to Buena Vista (pronounced: bue•nuh vist•uh) so we had plenty of time.
During our short hike we reached a swimming hole that Ukelady dipped in while making little fish friends that kept nibbling on her legs.
We made it to the road crossing and called the visitor’s center who gave us Mike’s number. They said he coordinates the trail shuttles around here. He came, picked us up, and contested the title of “shuttle coordinator.” He was a great host anyway and took us on a tour of the town before dropping us off at the Family Dollar. We resupplied our food and walked to Original Italian Restaurant which Mike had pointed out to us earlier. We ate and talked about our plans for the day.
Originally we were going to get back to the trail and hike up two-thousand feet in four miles. Sitting in the restaurant at 4 PM, it didn’t seem like a smiles idea. We decided to camp at a park in town and get back to the trail tomorrow morning. Our pasta dishes at this restaurant were so good that we also made plans to come back for a pizza dinner.
We walked to the park/campground and were immediately greeted by an employee of whom I now know every house he’s lived in. He told us that hikers can tent for free, there are hot showers, and that the best spot to set up is under the pavilion that usually hosts large receptions. So now we are basically sleeping in the largest shelter off the AT. It probably has a capacity of 400 hikers. 500 if we really needed to squeeze.
When I came back from taking a shower I found Grace talking to an older gentleman who drives hiker shuttles all around town. He had come to pick someone up but I guess they didn’t show. When Grace went to take a shower we talked for a while and at some point I mentioned our plan to get pizza and he offered to drive me and use his phone to call the order in. I wrote Ukelady a quick note and we were off. He wouldn’t take any money so I just thanked him profusely. It was raining at this point so I was doubly glad for his kindness. I came back fifteen minutes later with an extra large double cheese pizza and two Jarrittos orange sodas. It was a killer night.
Day 108: July 13th – 6.3 miles
We had some trouble this morning that seems too complicated to recount, but suffice it to say that we got over it and left the campground genuinely happy. We called a shuttle, were dropped off back at the AT, and were greeted in the first five minutes of hiking by berry bushes. It was a pleasant hike.
I had a realization today that was hard to admit, but it held on tight without letting go. We like hiking. There I said it. We actually enjoy hiking. We started this thru-hike with the idea that we may get into it, but quickly swore to ourselves that we would never hike again. Not that it wasn’t fun or challenging most times, but it was stressful a lot too. It was like that way for a long time. Recently, however, that all changed. We had decided to slow down and not try to get to Maine. It made all the difference in the world for our moods, but it also let us just hike, however we wanted. And it turns out that we really like it. It hits all of our buttons: being together, traveling, meeting new people, meeting new challenges, and doing all of this at our own pace. When I said this to Ukelady she just laughed. It was not at all what we thought would happen. After we ran the first 5K of our lives we swore off running forever. We thought this might have been a similar experience. We were wrong. This is fun. Hiking is fun. We resolved to go hiking anytime we aren’t getting enough time together or feel like we need a break from life.
We ended up at a campground with a surprise swing! Ukelady couldn’t have been happier. Although we did learn that we are not as young as we once were as we were careful not to swing too much lest our precious stomachs revolt.
Day 109: July 14th – 10.4 miles
It was a good yet uneventful day. We hiked and passed the time easily with good conversation.
We ended up at a nice campsite by Spy Rock. The guide promised that you had to “scramble” to get up it. I hadn’t the foggiest idea what that meant, but it became apparent as I scrambled my way up to a fantastic view. Tonight we’ve got another thunderstorm over our heads complete with bright flashes of lightning.
Day 110: July 15th – 4.3 miles
Ukelady got up early to try to see the sunrise at Spy Rock, but Spy Rock got the better of her. It was also super windy and she was afraid she would get blown away. Also, in her own words, “I was staring at a wall.”
We only hiked four miles today because we spent all of our time in tent playing games, watching Futurama, and talking about our future job of working on a cruise ship. We hiked to the Priest shelter, so named because it is at the top of Priest mountain. It also is notable because people traditionally write their confessions in the shelter log and it is awesome. A lot of them are really funny.
We met three other NOBOs here, a rare occurrence and a welcome one.
Day 111: July 16th – 0.01 miles
If you were wondering if we harbor any secret dreams of reaching Katahdin, please refer to this day. We woke up and talked about our dreams for the future well past our intended departure time. After playing some games and watching some shows Ukelady took a well deserved nap. It was all over after that. Technically it was a nearo since we ended up carrying our tent from one part of the campsite to another.
I was worried that since we got rid of a miles goal that we may end up leaving the trail sooner than planned. I hope this isn’t a precursor to that.
Day 112: July 17th – 10.8 miles
We got up and out by 9:50 AM. Good job team. The first half of our hike had us descending 3000 feet down Priest Mountain. It was a relatively easy descent with lots of switchbacks. At the bottom we hiked 1.7 miles uphill to meet the Mau-Har Trail intersection. This seems to be a popular crossroads. From here the AT continues up another mountain and another 3000 feet. It goes 6.2 miles up and down Three Ridges Mountain to Maupin Fields Shelter. However, the Mau-Har Trail skirts the mountain, follows a series of waterfalls and swimming holes, ends up at Maupin Fields Shelter anyway, and is 3.2 miles shorter. On the advice of 90% of the hikers, we took the Mau-Har Trail.
Unlike the Lambert Trail we tried to take a few weeks ago, this was well blazed and well maintained. We didn’t get lost once. Ukelady and I stopped at the first swimming hole we saw. It didn’t look particularly attractive to me so I declined a dip. Ukelady didn’t like this as she was excited for us to swim together. I’m just not as adventurous as her when it comes to swimming holes and lakes. It takes the right circumstances for me to feel comfortable. At the same time it seems dumb to deprive myself of a good swim when it seems so easy for everyone else. I vowed to be bolder in the future, and Ukelady went in anyway.
A good chunk of the Mau-Har Trail is very rocky and sometimes steep. I heard it was challenging, but suddenly the easy, scenic three mile shortcut felt like a five mile hike. When we finally got to the shelter we found a sign saying that it is as strenuous as the 6.2 miles over Three Ridges. Thanks a lot sign! I don’t know why they insist on just putting those signs at the north end of things. NOBO’s hike this too!
At the shelter we met Feather, a seasoned section hiker, who was great company as we cooked and ate dinner. This was the first shelter that had a bear pole instead of bear cables or nothing. The pole wasn’t as easy as the cables, and I had to hang my bag twice after I hung it upside down the first time. Ukelady couldn’t even reach the hook using the pole. It’s not her fault though because the pole is only as long as the distance between the hook at the top and your fingertips as they are stretched over your head.
Day 113: July 18th – 1.7 miles
This was a rough morning. Last night we forgot to pick a time to start hiking in the morning. We woke up with different expectations. I wasn’t ready to hike when Ukelady wanted, and she wasn’t ready when I wanted. We talked for a while about how I started to feel the pull of miles again. We had calculated an average mileage to get us to Vermont that I didn’t think we were hitting. I was mostly worried we wouldn’t make it to New York to see my family. That indulgent zero we took the other day at the Priest Shelter had been bothering me ever since. I feared it set a precedent that actually hiking was not a real priority. Once I voiced that concern it proved not to be true. I still had the mentality that we needed to hike the whole way, when in actuality we control how we get anywhere. If we want to aqua-blaze we aqua-blaze. If we want to yellow-blaze we yellow-blaze. If we are short some miles we will make them up in a way that keeps us happy and having fun. We felt a little better talking about this.
We started hiking our small 8.5 mile day and got to Reed’s Gap only 1.7 miles into it. I remembered there was a place called Devil’s Backbone Brewpub 5 miles west that a bunch of people were excited to go to or gave favorable reviews after coming back to the trail. We decide to splurge and get lunch there. After sticking our thumbs out for fifteen minutes we got picked up by Grace and Sarah. Sarah actually lives in the same New York county I’m from. Small world. They were not sure where the brewery was but take us anyway. They were on their way to a place that makes apple cider. An apple cidery I suppose. After trying to Google Map it to make sure we didn’t pass it, we see signs for “DB’ in front of a large group of buildings. As we drive through the parking lots we see fliers for a music festival on July 18th. I presume we are too early or too late as has usually been the case, but Ukelady excitedly informed me that it was today’s date.
Grace and Sarah drop us off while making plans of their own to come back later. The restaurant/brewery was great. Exactly the kind of place you might find in Asheville, NC. They even had AT themed beers, both of which I would have gotten anyway: a hefeweissen and a porter.
Once we finish we walk outside and decide to stay for the festival with plans to hitch back to the trail at some point that night. However, you can’t wear a pack long before someone recognizes you as a “hiker.” This someone was Tony, the Director of Hospitality of Devil’s Backbone. He showed us the grounds where they were setting up for the festival, let us know we could tent on their land for the night for free, and that they have a $5 hiker breakfast in the morning. So much for hitching back to the trail tonight. We set up our tent in their forest next to a group with a pickup truck.
The festival was awesome and actually a fundraiser to stop a gas pipeline from being built in Virginia. There were a couple of bluegrass bands who wrote and played a few protest songs about it. There was music, food vendors, beer, and corn hole. What more could a southern festival need?
The first vendor we visited was called Capre Donuts. They had a doughnut ice cream sandwich they called a “Frodo.” I thought it was great because I have been carrying the One Ring with me the whole time. Ukelady had to explain to me that it was a “FROzen DOughnut.” The guy still made a Lord of the Rings reference when we ordered it.
I also got once of the best pizzas I’ve ever eaten. A white pizza with corn and local sausage. Incredible. Someone there recognized us as hikers because of our lack of stuff and after talking for a bit he bought me a beer. It still amazes me how generous people are to hikers. Again, we are not doing anything special. I hope they are that generous to those who actually need help.
After the event, at 9:30 PM, we walked back to the tent by camera light as both of us forgot our headlamps. The light only turned on when it tried to focus so I had to keep half pressing the shutter button. Basically we made our back with a strobe light. Back at the tent we saw the pickup truck was joined by another car. As we were getting ready for bed, we heard them start their engines and play music. I was midway through the night’s blog entry, and I turned on my headlamp hoping they’d see it and not back into us as they left. But it turned out that it was a group of recent college grads having a forest campfire party before they all split up. They invited us to share in their revelry and I took them up on it while Ukelady got some much needed rest. They shared a beer and a s’more with me while I helped them maintain their fire. They were a good group who made sure I ate and drank all I wanted. Two hours later I had to get some sleep. I took back a vegetarian s’more for Ukelady, which she ate and then went promptly back to bed, and went to bed myself after finally finishing the day’s blog.
Day 114: July 19th – 10.? miles
We woke up sweaty. It was hot all night. Charlie, on of the college grads from last night, came over to our tent as we were packing up and gave us an enormous Hershey’s bar. We ate that while waiting the be let in for breakfast. After a little while Keith, the operations manager, invited us in and took care of us. The only thing he asked us for were any dietary restrictions, so we out in a order for one vegetarian and one anything goes. The breakfast was stunning. For five dollars we each got a plate that easily could have gone for sixteen dollars. There was a lot and it was all high quality and delicious. It was hands down the best meal we’ve had on the trail. Grace’s tomatoes tasted like tomatoes we ate right of the vine from our friend’s garden. They brought out a separate plate of grilled asparagus that changed my life. If you are hiking, make sure to take the detour and stay for breakfast.
We got a ride back to the trail from Olivia who didn’t have a table yet. The hike was, surprise, hot and sweaty, but with the added bonus of not providing a lot of water. While filling up at the only decent source my pack fell down a mountain for about fifty feet. All I heard was Ukelady say, “Your pack!” followed by tumble tumble tumble. Not only was it downhill but also down stream. I has to carefully navigate slippery declined rocks, pools of water, mud, and stinging nettles. After arduously getting my pack back to the trail I realized my nalgene was missing. I went back down to discover it flew further down. When I came back successful again I saw that my trail mix was also gone. I went back a third time and found it. After that I said the forest could keep whatever else it took. Fortunately nothing else was missing.
The end of this day was unfortunately marked by many miscommunications between us. It got bad. For us. We weren’t screaming at each other or anything that dramatic, but we profoundly misunderstood each other. That causes most of the frustrations we have. To put it as accurately as I can, we went to sleep feeling sad and mad for and at each other. It was super shitty. On top of all that I cut myself as I spent the better part of an hour trying to hang the bear bag.
Day 115: July 20 – 10.? miles
We woke up still upset about last night. Neither of us was ready to move on. So we did the only thing we could: hiked. After some silent hiking we each made attempts to be happy. After a couple of miles we were back to being ourselves. We finally felt connected.
It was a big day of making up miles since we spent so much time at Devil’s Backbone and so we left before 9:30 AM. The hike was fine except for some rocky sections, and we made it to Rockfish Gap before 4:30 PM. The only business there is a food truck called King’s Gourmet Popcorn. We got a large bag of cinnamon kettle and white cheddar. (Christie, if you are reading this, it was delicious.)
We called Stanimal’s Hostel to pick us up. We were excited about this stay because it was more than we usually spend on a room, but Grace’s family was kind enough to give us some cash for a nice hostel night. And this one was well deserved. We stunk, were tired, and badly needed a roof and a comfy bed. Also, my replacement sleeping pad (a baffle popped and it sprung a terrible leak over a weak ago) had been delivered there.
I don’t know what kind of a rep Waynesboro gets, but it should be that it is one of the friendliest hiker towns. While waiting for our arranged ride three people pulled into the parking lot to offer us rides. One of them even gave us two peaches as he left.
We were a little worried about the food options we would have near his place because AWOL’s guide says he is over a mile out of town, but there was a Kroger, and bar/deli, a movie theater, and more all within walking distance. The popcorn we bought to eat while watching a movie at his place then became our planned movie theater popcorn. We unloaded our gear in the bunk room and started our walk towards food and films.
Our first stop was the bar where it was wings night and happy hour. I got a wonderful chocolate peanut butter stout and twenty four delicious wings. I ate half there and got half to go since we were under a bit of a time crunch.
We got milkshakes at the ice cream stand right across the lot and walked with them towards the theater. There was a covert operation going on. I stuffed the popcorn in my day pack with Ukelady’s sweater on top, hoping the theater police wouldn’t check underneath. But now with my leftovers we could own up to them and ask the theater to hold them for us. That way they’d never think about checking the bag. If you present yourself as honest, you can lie all you want. As a bonus, they also didn’t notice the milkshake in Ukelady’s hand.
We watched Trainwreck and were crying with laughter. After the movie we went to Kroger to resupply. It was night at this point and we neglected to bring our headlamps. We got a little lost in the residential neighborhood but eventually found our way back. It was one of the most successful and fun-filled nights we’ve had on the AT.
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