Seven, seven, seven, seven …. SEVEN!
To those “Friends” sitcom aficionados out there, yes I’m quoting Monica but it also happens to be my current fall count. I had been so careful, nursing my knee back to some semblance of health, but torrential rains turned the AT into a slippery muddy mess. Down I went, again, slightly tweaking an already sore knee but I don’t think it ultimately was all that bad. More just mad at myself for the misstep. Oh well, no serious harm done. I’m sure eight is just around the corner.
So I’ve been told I need to write more frequently to keep family and friends abreast of what’s happening and what I’m experiencing out here on trail. The truth is, by the time I’m finished hiking for the day and get my camp chores completed (setting up sleep area, getting water, cooking dinner, etc.) I’m beat. Interesting side note, in the beginning, my favorite part of backpacking was the actual hiking. I did not look forward to the night hours – that’s when all those weird noises in the woods would keep me from sleeping, or at least sleeping well. I’d lie in my bag counting the number of times I’d have to pee before I could wake up and start hiking again – one, two, three, …
Now, however, my favorite part of the day is when I get to crawl into my sleeping bag and pass out. Perhaps when it warms up a bit I won’t be so eager to get snuggled in for the night and I’ll spend more time writing. But then again, probably not. So, I will continue to force myself to provide regular updates. Thank you to the 9 people out there who take the time to read my rambling missives. I really do appreciate your comments and questions – so keep them coming.
Everyone comes to the trail with their own idea as to what camping looks like. When I previously section hiked the AT, I wanted to “live in my tent”. My hiking partners wanted to hit the towns or stay in a hostel every second or third night. I’ve encountered others who would stay in a hostel (or hotel) every night if they could. Now that I am a “grizzled veteran” I see the error in my previous thinking. I have loved staying at the hostels along the way. They are all very different. Ranging from extremely comfortable to spartan to say the least. They are all apart of the trail experience. Below are the last three hostels I visited.
Bear Garden (mile 558) – this hostel is run by a wonderful couple (although we only had the privilege of meeting the husband as his wife was section hiking PA). Only a short walk up the road from the trail crossing, you will find a comfortable bunkhouse that has an assortment of food and resupply items. It is very basic, but comfortable, clean and very affordable. There is a challenge to those big mileage hikers, that if you do a 25+ mile section ending back at the hostel a second night, a chocolate cake will be baked especially for you. Needless to say, I didn’t get one.
Burke’s Garden (mile 571) – idyllic setting in a “crater” surrounded by mountains, this is a must stop hostel. It’s a bit of a hike from trail crossing but entirely worth it. The proprietors have renovated an Amish barn and brought it into the 21st century. They have thought of everything a hiker might want and then some. Great resupply and waffles and coffee breakfast are pretty good. Another benefit of my stay, was I got to experience the healing nature of a home grown hemp based salve. The swelling in my knee was considerably diminished the next morning. Thanks!
Angel’s Rest (mile 637)- this is another standard stop when thru hikers reach Pearisburg. This hostel offers a both private rooms or bunk house, nice shower facilities, laundry and most importantly- chiropractic care! While I personally didn’t need chiropractic manipulation, the Doc Peppa is also skilled in acupuncture techniques. Having never had acupuncture done to me AND having a knee that was hurting, I said “why not?”. Let me tell you, I’m a believer. The pain was dramatically reduced after procedure and I felt better hiking in the days that followed. What really got me though, was the Doc knew I forgot to pick up KT tape and after she dropped me off at trail, she went and got some tape, drove it up the trail to a road crossing I would come to in an hour or so, and left it there for me!
With spring, finally having some success at displacing winter, there has been a marked increase in the variety and frequency of wildlife encounters. Until recently, I typically would only see a few birds, the random deer or squirrel and, of course, my favorite nocturnal visitor- the coyote. Since passing through Grayson, however, I’ve encountered wild ponies, marauding goats, mice, pesky ticks, spiders, gnats and flys and even my first snake!
I suppose this should be expected being out in the woods and all, but I spent the first month mostly as the only obvious creature in the woods. Now the woods is teeming with life. The leaves are just starting to appear. It won’t be long before the AT once again becomes the “green tunnel” after its long winter’s rest. Can’t wait.
Jason – as with all trail magic, this encounter was unexpected but greatly appreciated. After a long days hike and with one more small hill to climb, Dash and I came to a road crossing where we met Jason. Jason is a retired Air Force Vet who lives near the trail and loves handing our beer to weary hikers. He has a plan to open an establishment to provide a greater assortment of goodies in the near future but for now – the beer was greatly appreciated (as was your service to our country – Thank You!)
Fresh Ground – it’s every hikers dream to encounter Fresh Ground and his traveling cafe while on their thru hike. My first encounter, back in NC, I was late to the party and missed out on (what I hear) was a great breakfast. Seeing the sorry look in my eyes, he made me a fresh salad for lunch with all the fixings. This time, however, I arrived at the appointed time and place and was treated to a wonderful Mexican dinner. Of course I over ate, which normally wouldn’t be bad thing for a thru hiker, but I still had a mountain to climb. Fortunately, I was able to keep it down while I climbed up!
I have been at this long enough where I have settled into a routine. I’m not implying it’s becoming mundane, quite the contrary. Each day brings new vistas, people, and opportunity to experience God’s creation up close and personal. I do seem to spend more time thinking about the next milestone – 800 mile mark, entering Shenandoah National Park, leaving Virginia!! They say that because Virginia contains more than 25% of AT, people often get discouraged – so called Virginia Blues. Well let me state unequivocally, the Virginia Blues are real. Other than a few aches and pains, I feel strong and have my hiker’s legs. I do look forward to the day when I can bid adieu to VA.
Perhaps the biggest driver is I miss my family. I recently had a visit from my wife and she asked “Have you found what you were looking for yet when you set off on this adventure?” I’m not really sure what I was/am looking for but I do know one thing. This hike has shown me how blessed I am to have the family that I do. I look forward to the time when we will be reunited. Until then, know that I think of you each daily and it is because of you that I can keep on moving forward.
- Passed the 700 mile mark
- Completed Virginia’s triple crown (Dragon’s Tooth, McAfee Knob, Tinker Cliffs)
- Fixed my tent – Thank you Big Agnes!
- Completed southern half of Virginia
- Still heading north
Never Been Closer!
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