Possum and Ukelady: Goodbye Damascus, Hello Ponies
This post is brought to you by Possum and the letter ‘M.’
Day 67: June 2nd – 10.3 miles
We left our campsite at 12:30 due to being surprisingly tired from yesterday. We had a little over 10 miles to do today so there was some concern we wouldn’t get it done. Our plan had been to get to a campsite that was 2.5 miles past a shelter which itself was 8 miles from where we would start, but the shelter looked like it might be our new destination. We did this during the last resupply too. We over estimated our mileage and ended up playing catch up to ourselves.
During our hike we saw a sign that was going to reroute us past part of the AT. Apparently, in 2013 a bridge was completely washed away. So we were sent to the Virginia Creeper Trail which is a 34 miles trail that used to be an old railroad line. That means it’s flat, has no switchbacks or sharp inclines, and is wide enough for people, horses, and cyclists to pass each other. In other words, a first class luxury trail compared to the economy class, no meal, pay for your first checked bag trail that is the AT. Ukelady briefly campaigned to take the Creeper for a few more miles until the last spot where it connects back to the AT. We didn’t do that and only walked the Creeper for about half a mile until it took us back to the AT at the end of the detour.
It was a hard hike, especially with the weight of our packs, but somehow we made it to the shelter at 6:10. Everyone says you pick up miles in Virginia, but maybe it’s because Virginia miles are measured differently. It was now 2.5 miles to our intended campsite, and we decided to go for it. It was the right call as we got there early enough to set up camp and cook before sundown. We really are getting better at the hiking part of this trail.
The campsite was right next to a pond which was filled with random intervals of croaking frogs.
Day 68: June 3rd – 10+ miles
We hiked out by 10 AM. It was pretty uneventful until we crossed paths with the Creeper Trail again. This time we crossed a trestle which gave Ukelady a much needed spirit boost. Today the Trail was determine to brighten her day. Her favorite flowers were out in full bloom and great numbers.
We hiked past our intended campsite in favor of doing over ten miles, which we achieved. The great cap on my day was the quesadillas I made. They were damn impressive for the trail and delicious.
A few days ago a hiker told us he had to walk 13.5 miles a day to make it to Katahdin by October 15th. This sort of freaked us out. We trucked it today and made resolutions to get all the miles in Virginia that people keep telling us we will.
Day 69: June 4th – 11 miles
Today the trail became a zoo and a botanical garden. It started with a scary encounter. We were walking along the trail like we normally do. Ukelady was listening to me describe Thanksgiving proceedings at my cousin’s house on Long Island. Then four things happened very quickly. First, about twenty-five feet in front and slightly to the left of where we were, six or seven little birds jumped and scattered away from us. Second, an large open mouth hissed terrifyingly at us. Third, that mouth darted towards us. Lastly, I thought that what was clearly a rattlesnake would bite both of us and we were going to die. Not a bad way to go out, fondly reminiscing about pumpkin pies and board games. Fortunately for us it was not a snake of any sort, but rather a grouse protecting its young from some ignorant hikers. But that didn’t stop the shivers coursing through my body from head to toe and back again. That hiss will live on in my nightmares for a while.
We hiked on, more aware of our surroundings now. Eventually we came to a blockade on the trail in the form of a bunch of cows. They were not nearly as terrifying as the grouse, but they were blocking our way. We slowly approached, and they moo-ved aside for us.
We then came upon the most rhododendrons I’ve ever seen in my life. I didn’t even know what they were before coming out here. Now I’ve seen enough to last a lifetime. We found an awesome cliff from which you could see all the rhododendrons on the mountain.
And then finally we saw wild ponies. Ukelady had been dreaming about this moment since before we left Springer. She spotted a child and parent first. Then we walked into an open field full of grazing ponies. One of the little ones licked all of the hikers that came through as if that is how they kept a headcount.
It was pretty neat to see, but I will say that I got tired of the ponies pretty quickly. They were just grazing. Once you took a picture and pet one, there wasn’t much left to do. They weren’t doing any tricks, they were all just eating. Except for one. One of them could not rub his butt on this rock enough. He was going to town on that rock like it owed him money.
We got to Wise shelter and found some friends from the last couple of nights. I made quesadillas with shredded cheese, mac ‘n’ cheese, and mashed potatoes. They were great. And finally, just before we went to bed, we saw a deer near our shelter.
Day 70: June 5th – 15.3 miles!
We woke up early in the shelter with Turtle, EB, and Peevy McG. They are three older women who are killing it here on the trail. We had been keeping pace with them for the last few days, which was relieving because we don’t keep pace with anyone. We hiked on after they left and only managed to catch them just as they were returning to the trail from each break they took. We call them the Three Amigas.
A little further on we ran into a section hiker named Low Gear who provided us with much appreciated Coca-Cola and Doritos.
We reached the shelter that the Three Amigas were stopping at for the night and decided to hiked on another few miles. There was a road crossing with a by-donation hostel nearby we’d have to hitchhike to. We got to the crossing but had no luck hitching so we hiked just a bit further and found a campsite. It was our longest hike ever. We are very proud.
Day 71: June 6th – 13.8 miles
I had a dream last night where I was hiking. This happens sometimes when you repeat an activity over and over again. When I worked in the backroom of Target I once had a dream where I was scanning items for inventory. It was a nightmare. I woke up so mad that Target had managed to steal my dream time from me. It was as if I was supposed to be flying around the world on a plane made of wishes sitting next to Julie Andrews as we discussed our honeymoon options, but instead I was working unpaid hours at a part time retail job I didn’t care for. But my hiking dream was different. I didn’t wake up mad that I hiked miles that didn’t count. That spoke to me. I know in the beginning we were pretty sure we would hate hiking by the end, but I think I am starting to really like it.
We got out around 10 AM and still managed to do 13 miles before 7:30 PM. It was a great feeling. The shelter we stopped at was supposed to be the only one on the AT in a Pizza Hut delivery zone, but we ended up calling too late. They said it would be too dark too soon. So us and four other disappointed hikers made dinner instead. This shelter also had a shower and a sink, which I was excited to wash our pots in. It’s the little things. We are staying with a bunch of hikers we met days ago. We all sat around the campfire talking. That was something I didn’t realize I missed. We hadn’t had that opportunity in a while since we are now at the end of the bubble. We are meeting less and less hikers these days. It was nice to have a lot of company again.
Day 72: June 7th – 0 miles!
Today was our zero day in Marion. There is convenient fifty cent shuttle that will take you from the shelter straight into town, but not on weekends. We had to hitchhike. Our expectations were lowered since we had no luck two days ago, but the first car we flagged down stopped to pick us up. He was a nicely dressed young man on his way to church, doing his good deed for the day. After being dropped off and canvassing all three hotels (one of which didn’t answer the door), we settled on the cheapest one which also happened to have a hot breakfast and a cold pool. Mind you, we checked in before 10 AM, and with check out not until 11 AM the next day, that meant we paid for a hotel room we would stay at for over 24 hours. Ukelady was very proud of this.
We crushed this day. We resupplied before noon and set up last week’s blog without any problems. There was a drive-in movie theater nearby showing Pitch Perfect 2 at 10:45 PM so we made tentative plans to do that for the novelty. We enjoyed a private swim in the pool complete with watermelon afterwards. I felt like a kid on a family vacation.
Dinner was at the local Mexican restaurant where we ordered all of the foods our bodies were missing: actual vegetables, chicken, steak, and shrimp. It was a glorious feast.
While in town we saw a bunch of hikers we had been travelling with over the past few weeks. The Trail is like a constant mobile family reunion. It always feels great to see familiar faces.
Back at the hotel we realized we had no energy to leave again, so we nixed the drive-in in favor of washing our clothes in the bathtub and catching up on our favorite shows before retiring for the evening.
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