The One with the Virginia Triple Crown [Mile 636.1-859.5]
Day 56: 8.1 miles from Cross Ave, Pearisburg, VA to Rice Field Shelter
Day 57: 16.4 miles to Bailey Gap Shelter
Day 58: 21.2 miles to Sarver Hollow Shelter
Day 59: 16.1 miles to Pickle Branch Shelter
Day 60: 16.3 miles to McAfee Knob
Day 61: 16.1 miles to US 220, Daleville, VA
Day 62: 11.2 miles to Wilson Creek Shelter
Day 63: 20.1 miles to stealth site by a stream
Day 64: 18 miles to Marble Spring Campsite
Day 65: 9.4 miles to Johns Hollow Shelter
Day 66: 18.3 miles to Brown Mountain Creek Shelter
Day 67: 22.4 miles to The Priest Shelter
Day 68: 15.5 miles to Reids Gap
Day 69: 14.3 miles to Paul C. Wolfe Shelter
Total miles on the Appalachian Trail: 859.5
A Night of Music Bears
After zeroing in Pearisburg, I took a short day to Rice Field Shelter because I’d heard it made for a beautiful sunset. While the sunset wasn’t spectacular (definitely pretty, just not jaw-droppingly amazing), the night was one of my favorites on trail so far. All because of some awesome weekenders.
Four hikers strolled into the field as Hoagie and I were cooking supper, with many surprises in tow. The first one appeared when we realized the dark stumps on the next hilltop over kept changing locations. Turns out, they weren’t stumps, they were a mama bear and two cubs! To make it even better, the weekenders had binoculars which they graciously shared with us. It was so cool watching them forage, especially when the mama bear noticed us. She stood sentinel on a rock and stared us down from many football fields away, daring us to bother her cubs. The cubs, meanwhile, kept their faces buried in the tall grass, mind on their stomachs and not the two-legged things avidly watching them.
The next surprise came as we gathered around the fire. As the sun began creating colors on the far horizon, the weekenders pulled out a banjo and a guitar, setting the perfect atmosphere for sunset watching. They played and we chatted long into the night. It was absolutely lovely. I’ve missed live music, and though the weekenders claimed to be no good, I thought the music very sweet to the soul.
The third and final surprise came near the end of the evening when the red coals highlighting the faces around the circle gave off the only light. The weekenders, who had cooked a very delicious-smelling meal, shared their roasted chocolate banana dessert (which was every bit as delicious as it sounds). It was the perfect ending to a truly magical night, and all thanks to the awesome weekenders.
The Virginia Triple Crown
The VA Triple Crown is comprised of 3 iconic landmarks along the AT, all very much deserving of the title.
The first one you come to when hiking the AT northbound is Dragon’s Tooth. This magnificent rock formation rises from the earth into a tall point that offers the most beautiful view. It’s 0.1 miles off of the AT, but that’s nothing when you see the view.
McAfee Knob is next on the trail, and it deserves all the hype it gets. I could easily spend all day up there, staring at the layers upon layers of mountains. The sunrise was absolutely incredible. I’ve always been a sunset person if given the choice, but I think this may have converted me. It was the most magical beginning to my day.
Tinker Cliffs is the third and final member of the VA Triple Crown and is highly underrated. It is the least discussed among the trio, and I have no idea why. The view from the cliffs is spectacular—two walls of mountains and the valley between—and the forest at the edge is magical. So lush and green, with fine tall grasses rising from the ground, filling all the space left empty between the trees and dappled by rays of sunlight. Absolutely enchanting.
After absorbing all the Triple Crown had to offer, I cruised down into Daleville for resupply and to do some much-needed laundry.
Frog in my throat?
Sooo Virginia is SUPER dry, and currently SUPER hot (we definitely skipped straight from winter to summer), which means I’m having to pay close attention to where the next water source is located. Until now, I’ve been fine to filter 2L of water in the morning, and then again at night when I get to camp. But with this heatwave, I need water more frequently, and there often isn’t a good source when I need it.
On day 64 I had to drink from a particularly memorable water source. I stopped at Thunder Hill Shelter because I only had about a sip of water left, and 3.2 hot miles before the next source. Following the trail marked ‘water,’ I quickly came upon a small circle of rocks lining what was essentially a tiny pond—complete with frogs. There were two decent-sized frogs (very beautiful ones, I might add, with bright light green stripes along their dark green bodies) swimming around in the oversized puddle, stirring up the mud and getting their frogginess wherever they pleased. I really didn’t want to drink essence of frog, but I had no choice. Careful not to scoop up any amphibians, I dipped my CNOC bladder into the water. It looked relatively fine, but I did fish out a few small sticks and something that looked suspiciously like a frog egg before filtering. I only filtered a liter and drank only enough to keep from being too dehydrated until the next water source, where I replaced it with water from the spring there because I could really taste the frog mucous. I think I’ll stick to Propel packets for my water flavoring.
Magic of the best sort
I received some wonderful trail magic along this stretch. At Jennings Creek, I got some Doritos and an almost-completely-melted-but-still-totally-delicious popsicle from a group of locals hanging out there. The next day, a lady who works for the National Parks Service had some wonderful vanilla ice cream to share (and root beer for floats, but I’m not a fan). Then, three days later, I ran into Pluto and some of her family who were dropping her off to slackpack SOBO for the day. Her mom graciously offered me TONS of food, including a slice of pizza and fruit (two of my biggest cravings out here). Thank you so much to all of these kind people for feeding me, I’m finding that my hiker hunger knows no limits.
More Cute Critters
I’ve seen a lot of black and green snakes since the weather turned warm, but none of the rattlers other hikers have seen. Until I started hiking with a new trail friend, Yeti.
When we met, he’d already seen many rattlesnakes, but he’s used to them as he encountered many (and larger ones) on the PCT. I had seen none on trail so far, but after 2 days of hiking with him, I’ve seen 3. They are such cool creatures, I hate they get such a bad rap just for being venomous. I’m glad I encountered my first few with Yeti because now I have the confidence to get around them safely on my own.
I also saw my 5th bear on trail while hiking with Yeti, but sadly we mainly only saw its butt. It was a cute fuzzy lil bear butt though. And lots of cute lil deer who were surprisingly chill with my presence.
Devil’s Backbone is a brewery 5ish miles from where the AT crosses Reid’s Gap. It has free camping for thru-hikers (tent pads and RV/van spots for non-thru-hikers), a bathhouse with HOT WATER and TOILETS and SHOWERS, and of course, the brewery with great food and drinks (but this hiker girl stuck with water because hydration). It’s a really great place, I highly recommend.
Huge thanks to Melody, a local of the area, for giving us a ride and insider tips on what to order. The nachos were as amazing as promised.
Just a few updates on the gear I’m carrying before we end this post. First off, back in Hot Springs I traded my Sawyer bag that I use to squeeze water through my filter for a CNOC bladder. The long end on the CNOC opens, allowing for easier filling than through the narrow end with the cap. I had no issue with my Sawyer bag busting—which is a common complaint—it just was difficult to fill at water sources without a PVC pipe directing the flow.
Also, I have finally shipped my winter gear home! This includes my fleece pants, fleece midlayer jacket, gloves, stocking hat, camp socks, and hiking leggings. I was so grateful to have these when it was cold (and wouldn’t have survived without them), but now that it’s warm, it’s frustrating to carry so much unused weight. So home they go!
My final gear note is that I’m getting new shoes! My best friend Savannah is coming to visit soon after I hit the Shenandoahs, and she will be bringing my new and much-needed Altras with her. I’ve had my current shoes since Springer, so they’ve outlasted their typical expiration date (usually they only last 500 miles, and mine are at 860), and I’m definitely feeling increased pain in my feet, ankles, calves, and knees. Relief is coming soon!
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