Possum and Ukelady Trade Miles for Smiles
Possum here! This update contains important decisions we made about our hike. Please enjoy.
Day 81: June 16th
The funny thing about regret is that you can’t know you’ll have it until it’s too late.
We woke up to a wonderful breakfast at the Wood’s Hole Hostel. Farm fresh eggs, farm fresh sausage, sweet rice topped with peaches, homemade bread with homemade butters and jams, and fresh orange juice. Leaving this place was not something I wanted to do. It’s no wonder why hikers find themselves spending weeks there. Alas, we have a thru-hike to complete and we are fighting to stay on schedule and under budget. So around 11 AM we settle the bill and say our goodbyes.
The hike was not super fun. It was just hiking. We spotted a couple of nice views along the way, but it was hot and we were concerned that we wouldn’t get to Pearisburg in time to resupply that night, leaving us to waste potential miles tomorrow morning while we resupply then.
“Ha,” he thinks to himself, knowing what is about to come.
Before I continue, it is important to know that Ukelady has been very excited about getting a Blizzard at the Pearisburg Dairy Queen and that we hate walking for no results more than anything.
It’s 7:30 PM and we have come to our road crossing one mile from Pearisburg. Our options are:
1) Walk into town, resupply, get Blizzards at Dairy Queen, and call a shuttle back to take us back to the trail. But that means we will have to night hike until we find a spot, then cook our dinner in the dark. Not my favorite activity.
2) Keep hiking until we find a campsite and eat comfortably. But that means we have to resupply tomorrow morning (with no guarantee of an open Dairy Queen) which will shorten our miles planned for that day.
We decide to do the first plan. This was a mistake. 0.1 miles into our walk we realize that we were each trying to do what we thought the other person wanted, while secretly wanting the other plan. As you might imagine, tensions were high.
So we get back on the trail. We come to another road crossing advertising a hotel. Perhaps that would solve our problems. A good night’s rest on someone else’s bed. Unfortunately we spent a not insignificant amount of money on this very thing only yesterday. After some hemming and hawing we spare the expense and hike on hoping to find a campsite quickly. We do not. It seems as if Hope has taken Luck on a long vacation. Instead we find that the trail has been overgrown with sharp thorn bushes/vines/grass. This discovery happens at the exact moment that it starts to rain.
I would like to say it is here that a kindhearted soul saw us, took pity on us, and offered us a room in his house, showers, laundry, money for the road, and hot breakfast in the morning. But what really happened is that we considered tenting in a graveyard because it was flat and clear of brush. Instead we pressed on, over a bridge and past a large factory complex that, I assume, manufactures poison.
Good thing that this is where we finally found a campsite, where we could not only breathe in the poison aroma all night, but also be lulled to sleep by the booming traffic of a four-lane highway. Oh also there is a train nearby to remind us what a train sounds like every other hour.
I regret leaving the hostel.
Day 82: June 17th
Last night, after agreeing on a plan to not resupply in Pearisburg and instead hike on to Four Pines Hostel days away, Ukelady suggested that we should resupply in Pearisburg. I was confused to the sudden change of mind and couldn’t give it any attention, instead saying that we should talk in the morning when we aren’t sleepy. Morning came and we needed to decide what to do. It was a back-and-forth of not wanting to simply be placated, but to actually have an opinion on the matter. It got us nowhere and we stuck to our original plan of moving on. I got my things ready, but Ukelady took a long time. Unfortunately it was because she had been crying for fifteen minutes. There were other signs too, and I knew she was depressed. We talked for a bit and decided that only the healing power of Dairy Queen could make things right. So we looked in AWOL’s guide and called Don for a shuttle into town. Within a half hour we were picked up and taken to DQ. Don offered to hold our packs while we did what we needed. Great guy. We got our Blizzards, finally, and they were outstanding. It was exactly what we needed. Instantly our moods were back to being happy and in love.
We walked over to the Food Lion and bought a few things to fill out our meals. When we exited we happened to see Don dropping someone off. He asked if we were done, but we told him we were going to eat lunch at the local Mexican restaurant. Don then offered to hold onto our groceries while we ate. He was incredibly kind and helpful.
The Mexican restaurant hit all the right spots, and we left Pearisburg happy and full. Back on the trail we only has to hike six miles to a shelter. It was all uphill and pretty rough. We took lots of breaks.
Finally we get to the shelter around 7:45 PM. Just beyond it was an open field with a gorgeous view of West Virginia. We caught it at sunset and Ukelady could not have been in a more perfect place. She even started writing a song. We are back.
Day 83: June 18th
We left the shelter at 8:30 AM and remained tired for the rest of the day. We took four or five sit down breaks, which is a lot, but we still made to to the Captain’s before 7:30 PM. The Captain’s is this guy’s yard where he lets hikers set up their tents. He’s got a picnic table, a fire pit, wifi, and sodas all for free. But the best part is that you have to zip line over a creek to get there.
Day 84: June 19th
We didn’t leave the Captain’s until around 2 PM. We just hung around charging stuff, using wifi, and enjoying not hiking. Was it irresponsible of us? Maybe. But we had a very interesting conversation about why we are hiking and how that’s changed.
Before we started this hike, Ukelady and I were enjoying living in Asheville, North Carolina with each other. Towards the end, we discovered that our future priorities were not compatible. She wanted to keep traveling and I wanted to start a family. It seemed as if our relationship as we knew it was over. Ukelady wanted to thru-hike the AT after our lease was up and I said I would join her, making the hike our last hurrah. But after the second month out here, out priorities shifted again. This time they fell in line with each other. What we liked most about hiking was not the walking, but being with each other. We inspire each other to be our best. We help each other realize our dreams. But most of all, we love the hell out of each other. Splitting seemed like such a dumb decision. We are so happy out here, and it’s not because of the Trail, it’s because of us. So after this hike we will not be leaving each other, which begs the question, why are we out here? Initially it was because we thought this was it for us. Now that it’s not, thru-hiking doesn’t seem like it matters anymore. We decided to put smiles first always. We are no longer worried about miles. Obviously it would be great to thru-hike, but we have a deadline which we will not be able to meet unless we skip all of things people dream of when they come out here.
We made it to a shelter only a couple miles from the Captain’s and we stopped to take a break. It started to rain and we waited it out by playing card games and eating jelly beans.
We left when it stopped and made it to Wind Rock just before 8 PM. We met a family on a day hike and two former thru-hikers, Princess North Star and Voodoo, who brought some trail magic including sparklers! It was another great night around a campfire as we all traded stories about the Trail. This is why we are here. To share moments like this.
Day 85: June 20th
We didn’t get up until nine this morning, but since we resolved not to cook breakfast we were out by around ten. The first five miles were pretty easy. We stopped at a shelter for lunch feeling good. It started to rain while we were there so we stayed a bit longer. Another hiker named Bear Bag came to the shelter and decided to wait out the rain as well. Once it dried up we went to get water at the nearby stream. However, just after we finished filtering it started to rain again. We went back to the shelter to wait it out again. This time we played Carcassonne with Bear Bag. I’ve wanted to play board games with the other hikers since we started but hadn’t yet. I was secretly very excited. The rain died again and we deemed it over. It had been like this for the past few days. You would hike and then in the middle of the day you’d get a bit of rain, but it would pass and not rain again. This day was different. We were too far out from any shelter when it started to pour buckets of water. I put on my rain gear which I hadn’t done in weeks. Ukelady had an incredibly tough time. Rain, rocks, and climbing uphill are her sour buttons and they were all happening at the same time. It went on like this for at least thirty minutes.
We got to the shelter wet, cold, and tired. Bear Bag was already there and we played Fitz and the Tantrums through his portable speaker to feel better. Ukelady is already pricing them. It was a mixed bag of a day saved by good company.
Day 86: June 21st
Despite being too hot and too wet, today ended up being a good day for us. It started out hot and we had to walk through a long meadow which meant no tree cover. I got stung by a caterpillar that was crawling on my shirt. It left a welt that stung like the Dickens for a long time.
Our planned lunch stop was overrun by cows, one of which was licking my trekking poles. So we quickly acknowledged a nearby tree that was older than America and moved on.
We found a large rock nearby to set up a little picnic. It was here that we talked about our plans.
We calculated the miles we’d have to do to make it Katahdin by October 5th and it was 15 miles a day. We then calculated the miles we’d have to do to get to Massachusetts and it was 8.5 miles a day. So that became our new goal. Thru-hiking is no longer what we are doing. We are just going to hike until our deadline and stop wherever we are. For the smiles.
As soon as we left the rock it started to rain a lot. I suited up and Ukelady put her hat on. We hiked 3.? miles to the shelter and stopped for the day. It wasn’t a big day but we had smiles on our faces. That is what we are hiking for now.
Day 87: June 22nd
When making big decisions, it’s always good to wait a day before committing. Today we committed to a leisurely hike to somewhere around Vermont. It’s important to have a goal. I was worried that since Katahdin disappeared from our horizon, so would our motivation. But we reset where we wanted to end up and when we needed to be done. The first week of October is now our goal. Making it a time goal rather than a location goal makes so many decisions much easier. How long can we stay at this waterfall? As long as we want. Can we take this 0.5 mile side trail to this amazing payoff? Yes. Can we stop at this view? Always, yes. Can I play and jump around on these rocks? Do you promise to be careful, Possum? I’ll be careful I promise! Alright then.
The shelter we woke up in was gorgeous. We fell asleep last night as Ukelady remarked that she could legitimately live in this shelter. It had high ceilings, skylights, and a big front overhang with a picnic table and plenty of room around it. It was 0.4 off the trail but it was worth it.
During our hike to the next shelter we encountered terrible 70° incline rocks that faced the down slope of a mountain, which meant that if you slipped and fell you’d have a long time to think about all of the life choices that led to that moment. We made it out alive, picked some blackberries along the way, and even snagged a few photos of some chill lizards.
Eventually we happened upon a sign marking the Continental Divide. I have no idea what that meant.
We got to the night’s shelter at the reasonable time of 5:45 PM, kicked back, and relaxed. I built a small fire to keep bugs away and we ate beans and rice in tortillas. Soon after we finished a pair of hikers came who looked like they were exhausted. They had just done twenty-something miles and they were not happy about it. They hated the terrain and the heat and just about everything else. Not to say that they made the wrong decision, but I felt good knowing that that was no longer us.
Day 88: June 23rd
I went to get water before starting the day’s hike. When I came back I saw Ukelady talking to Blue! We hadn’t seen her since Trail Days. Her, Bullet, and Marley were so far ahead of us I thought we’d never see them again. But apparently they are doing this section because they skipped it for an emergency. We talked for a while and told her our plans to just hike until October. She understood completely. It was nice to tell someone who knew us back in the beginning and have them understand the change of priorities. I got her e-mail to stay in touch and we hiked on.
The first half was horrible. It was uphill and hot. The terrain was like a desert which accentuated the heat. We came upon a few benches and an overlook and took our time. The flies eventually drove us away every time. We crossed the first water source in nine miles and stopped to fill up. Fortunately for us someone had left trail magic there in the form of bottles of water and cans of Coke.
We only had a mile and a half to Pickle Branch Shelter so we played games to make the time go faster. We didn’t stay in the shelter for fear of bugs and set up our tent instead.
We are now sweating profusely in this tent. It’s so freaking hot, and it’s just going to get hotter. This isn’t the longest we’ve gone without a shower, but it’s the hottest stretch so far. We stink. Not just normal hiker stink. We stink as if we rolled around in pond mud and then took a sauna. We’d come out without mud on, but only because it’s been washed away by our sweat. I hope Four Pines Hostel has a shower, because my dad is picking us up tomorrow.
Day 89: June 24th
Today was Dragon’s Tooth Day! Ukelady knew this was coming and had been building up my excitement and anticipation for days. Dragon’s Tooth is only 0.1 miles off trail and totally worth it. There are two enormous stone monoliths that are skinny and scary to climb. If you do climb them, you are rewarded with a gorgeous 360° view. I made it to the tops of each of them. Ukelady got more than halfway up one before an overwhelming sense of fear stopped her. It was impressive given that she refused to climb them at all when we first got there.
After spending an hour there we heading back to AT for what we thought was our gentle descent towards Four Pines hostel. What we got was the first time we had to climb down ladders that were built into the rock faces that called themselves the AT. It was the most difficult section since the one marked “strenuous” in AWOL’s Guide a while back. Why he neglects to mention the difficulty of this one is beyond me. We had to abandon trekking poles and take off our packs at points that would be harrowing otherwise.
When we finally got to end of this rocky descent we happened upon a sign that told those going south on the AT that the section ahead is rocky and steep and that they should use caution. Well thanks for nothing, sign!
We made the rest of the way to Four Pines without incident. Four Pines was a great place. Joe was super friendly and amenable to the needs of hikers. He drove a bunch of us to get pizza and drinks for the night.
While we waited for my dad to meet us there we hung out with new and old friends including Blue and Forrest Gump. At 10:30 PM Papa Possum shows up and whisks us to the Howard Johnson in Daleville where we now have a big mattress and blankets surrounding us.
Days 90-92: June 25th-27th – 0 miles!
Despite living just outside of Manhattan where we will eventually meet up, my dad wanted to meet us on the trail in Virginia too. That was just fine with me, as long as I could make some food requests. I asked for bagels, cream cheese, and lox, obviously, and for a cheesecake from Junior’s. Any New Yorker knows these are the things that you miss when traveling. Other places can claim to have bagels and “New York style” cheesecake, but to someone who grew up around Manhattan, there is no comparison.
This was an awesome visit. I really wanted to see my dad as he had just come from a trip to Israel. We spent a long time just exchanging stories. We did a lot and very little in those three days. We ate at Three Little Pigs where Ukelady got to sit in the same chair as George H. W. Bush. We checked e-mail and social media. We saw InsideOut and Jurassic World. We napped at the hotel. We went bowling and played arcade games. We sat around the hotel room eating. Ukelady went to a modern dance performance and an orchestral performance at Hollins University. We discovered horse vaulting and watched YouTube videos from the comfort of our hotel bed. It was a glorious break from hiking. However, at the end of the third day I was glad to be getting back to the trail the next day. It was like that feeling of being satisfied with a vacation and being ready for home.
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