The Pizza, the Burger and the Sub
Both the weather and Nate’s legs were improving. Things were looking up. Before we got moving this morning, Nate chatted with two trail runners who were headed up the mountain. They discussed gear, trail conditions and, finally, shin splints. One of them had experienced shin splints a time or two before. It was so reassuring for Nate to have a diagnosis. Now all he had to do was treat it.
The trail runners advised Nate to take ibuprofen morning and night for up to two weeks. They said he should be stretching constantly, not only the front of his lower legs, but more importantly, his calves. They also handed him disposable ice packs so that he could ice his legs even if we couldn’t find a deep enough stream. We were truly grateful for their tips!
Nate’s legs almost did not bother him all day, but when he slipped within a half mile of our campsite, he started limping. His condition was a huge improvement from the previous days, but we knew he wasn’t in the clear. The trail runners thought he might have pain the rest of the way to Maine. We were optimistic that one more rest day might do the trick.
“Do you think we can do six miles in three hours?” I knew that on a beautiful day, with pleasant terrain and uninjured limbs we would certainly make it. But we had none of those conditions on this morning. In order for Nate to have one last rest day we had decided that we would hike the six miles to the Mount Rogers’ Visitor Center and catch the fifty-cent trolley into the town of Marion, Virginia. We made it to the visitor center with forty minutes to spare.
While Nate chatted with the kind lady behind the desk, I explored the visitor center. I read about the story of Smokey the Bear, studied examples of animal scat, learned the markings of national forest boundaries and found postcards for only a dime a piece! I pulled talkative Nate away from the worker bee and forced him to pick out postcards to send home.
When we got to the Econolodge in Marion we were ready to eat. Having devoured everything in our food bags, we were famished. We showered as quickly as we could and hopped down to the shopping center where we purchased goodies for the next few days and ice cream for that night. Then we went for pizza.
I had eaten a Little Ceaser’s Hot & Ready before, but I had never eaten a whole pie myself. Until today. Nate and I bought two pizzas and a three liter of grape pop. We got back to the hotel and took the rest of the night to each gobble down a pizza while slurping the sugary soda. Then we got out our spoons and ate ice cream. When the ice cream was half gone we needed a break. We could not eat another bite. But twenty minutes later, our stomachs were rumbling (due to hunger) and we scooped out every last bite of ice cream. Then we wanted more.
I spent the rest of the evening writing postcards and talking to my mother on the phone while Nate iced his legs. It was just the rest day we needed.
“Eddy just left fifteen minutes ago,” we were told as we jumped off of the trolley at the visitor center. We had received a late-night text the previous night informing us that she had made it to the shelter just tenths of a mile south from where we had left the trail. We would be reunited today! To hasten the chase, we hurried away from the visitor center in search for Eddy. Within minutes we got a text from her, suggesting we all meet at The Barn Restaurant. “See you there!” Nate replied. “We’re right behind you!!”
We were halfway to The Barn when Nate noticed a group of hikers gaining on us. It was Nemo, Attrition and Sasquatch (formerly Rescue) along with a guy we hadn’t met before. “You’ll never catch us!” Nate called back to them but when we reached the top of the next climb, they started running at us. We ran, too, but not for long.
It had been months since we had last seen Nemo, Attrition and Sasquatch, and we stood on the trail for ten minutes catching up. Their fourth was a hiker named Ironman. Not wanting to prolong our visit to The Barn any longer, we continued our conversations as we moved along the trail.
By the time we had reached The Barn and discovered that Eddy was not waiting for us, we wondered where she could be. We had expected to catch up with her along the eleven mile trek to the restaurant. Acknowledging our curiosity, one of the guys informed us that she really hadn’t left the visitor before us. She had been behind us all day long.
Eddy showed up at The Barn just in time to order with the group. We all got at least one of their Hiker Burgers, a full pound of beef for under ten dollars! Attrition got two.
While we had been hiking swiftly all day with hopes of catching Eddy, she had been dilly-dallying, with hopes that we would catch up. Halfway through her day she passed a group of kids on a high school trip who told her that we were ten minutes ahead. With that news, Eddy started running down the trail.
Our burgers all appeared at our table at different times, but in the end every last morsel had been eaten. Some of the guys even ordered dessert. With plans of eating a hearty breakfast the next morning, most of the group stayed behind to tent behind the restaurant. Nate, Eddy and I said our goodbyes and headed a few more miles down the trail, where we couldn’t hear the traffic and we could have a fire.
When the weather was cold we claimed that we would never complain about the heat or the bugs. Even though we still wouldn’t trade the scalding sun for the winter wind, this day felt long. It felt like today lasted two days. We didn’t hike an excessive amount of miles and we didn’t climb massive mountains, but it was just hot enough to make hiking a little more uncomfortable. We still had fun.
At midday we were trudging up a mountainside, Nate leading the way, when he came to a sudden stop. I peaked out from behind him to get a look at what made him halt and I saw a deer no more than fifteen feet ahead of us. It was a young one, more confused as to why we were there than frightened. Reaching for his camera, Nate accidentally dropped his trekking pole, startling the deer, and it pranced off the trail.
Eddy didn’t feel well from the get-go. Her pound burger from the previous night wasn’t sitting well with her and she thought she needed a rest day. We knew she needed to listen to her body and assured her that we would all meet up again. Last we knew, she had camped a few miles south of our tent site.
As Nate and I approached the last mountain of the day, we discussed whether or not we would tackle it. Nate’s legs had been feeling almost normal since taking the trail runners’ advice and we had time left in the day. However, we didn’t want to press our luck and not be able to find flat ground on the opposite side of the mountain. After much consideration, we decided to go for it.
The climb was another steep one, and it seemed to be the longest of the day. As we reached the top, we shared our last bottle of water, hoping we could find a campsite at the bottom of the mountain next to one of the water sources marked in our guidebook.
We hiked for another hour or so before we reached the level land at the foot of the mountain. The first few water sources we passed had dried up but we could hear one in the distance. To our right we spotted an area of level ground tucked in amongst the trees that was big enough to house our tent. We pulled off of the trail, built our house and gathered water. Falling asleep under the stars with full bellies amidst a neighborhood of nature just felt right.
“This is my favorite shelter ever!” Nate was acting like a giddy school girl at a boy band concert. We had arrived at Chestnut Knob Shelter, both of us more than ready for lunch. Not only was the shelter’s architecture something to like, a fully-enclosed stone building with built-in bunks and an indoor picnic table, but the guys who had stayed there the night before had left a PBR. Nate now had his favorite meal: meat, cheese, bread and beer.
We did not see any other hikers all day until we reached the night’s shelter where there was a weekend hiker already set up. Knowing that we had nearly fourteen miles to hike before meeting Nate’s uncle in Bland, Virginia the next day, we considered walking a few more miles and setting up our tent but the forecast called for heavy rain, so we stopped for the day.
Soon after we had set up our sleeping pads and sleeping bags, a thru-hiker we had never met showed up. His name is Bird. Then, two more NOBOs, Merry and Pippin, piled in. Just as we were getting ready to make dinner, Eddy appeared! Astounded that she had caught us so soon after she had been under the weather, we demanded an explanation. She told us she felt 100% better–her stomach pains lasted only one day. It must have been something she ate.
We cooked our dinner and climbed into bed. Soon, everyone but Merry and Pippin were laying down. The two of them were still eating. They ate a dinner, then a second dinner, then a third dinner. They didn’t even stop when the rain started pouring on them; they just scooted from the picnic table to the shelter. We were all amazed at how much the two skinny, short kids could eat!
We were on the trail at six o’clock in the morning in order to hike fourteen miles to meet Nate’s Uncle Bud at two o’clock. We made it before 12:30. The day was rainy and chilly–the kind of weather we were fine hiking through, but once we stopped, we got cold. To keep from getting ourselves and our clothing any more wet, we perched ourselves on a log, balanced our packs on our feet and stretched our ponchos over ourselves and our packs. Then we tucked our arms in. It worked quite well.
When Nate’s uncle pulled into the parking area next to the trail we could not have been more ready for a bite to eat. He had us covered, having brought us two foot-long subs, forty or fifty bite-size candy bars and a few beers for Nate. Before we bit into the subs, he drove us to the grocery store in town where we picked up a few more food items to carry us over to our next maildrop. Then we ate.
Bud seemed impressed when we both inhaled our subs. He seemed very impressed when we ate all of the candy and handed him an empty bag. “If I had known you would eat so much, I would have brought more!” he exclaimed.
The amount of food he brought was perfect. When Bud dropped us back off on the trail an hour later, we weren’t sure we would be satisfied ending our day at 3:30, just one more mile down the trail than where we had met him. So we walked ten more to the next shelter. In three hours. The food Bud brought us was the perfect fuel and we felt our bodies fly over the bumpy terrain.
With two miles left, we crossed a road and re-entered the forest. Walking faster than I should have, my body flung itself to the ground when I stumbled over a rock. Nathan spun around to see me sprawled out over the trail. He helped me up, telling me that we should just slow down, and that’s when we saw them: Easter eggs hanging in the trees! It was holiday trail magic! I could not contain my excitement as I love Easter egg hunts and I love trail magic. We each plucked one from a branch and shook it. They were full of candy! Eggs continued to appear in the trees for another mile toward the shelter. I was ecstatic and we left them for the hikers behind us, so that they could be ecstatic, too. When we arrived at the shelter, Bird and Eddy were already there, surprised to see us come so far. They, too, loved the Easter eggs. We hiked 25 miles, our longest day yet, with a three hour break in the middle. And we felt great.
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