Waterfalls and Falling Down

Waterfall day

The sweeping Jones Falls was at the beginning of the day and the thundering Laurel Fork Falls at the end of 20 miles hiking. In between was a thunderstorm, other waterfalls and cascades, and plenty of river crossings. So a day defined by water.

As I was settling down last night as the only camper on site, I heard somebody from the trail ask if I was a thru hiker. It was Chappy, a retired army Chaplin. He did not want to camp by himself and have been waiting for God to provide a solution. That seemed to be me. His trail name should really have been Chatty Chappy as he was keen to talk. In the morning before I set off, he interviewed me for his YouTube channel.

It was a warm and humid day and before the thunderstorm there were plenty of butterflies around. The descent to Laurel Fork Falls was very steep and rocky. My exhaustion, combined with the splendour of the falls and their cooling mist, caused me to sit on a rock in solitude for sometime. It was one of the highlights of my hike so far. I eventually dragged myself away for a final mile or so up to Laurel Forks shelter. It was a stony patch with barely enough room for three tents. There were three of us there that night!

A pizza always helps.

I was tired after yesterday and did not get enough sleep. So, I was yawning for the first half hour or so. It did not help that after an easy mile, there was an uphill of 2000 feet. Near the top I stopped by a spring to get water, and met a German guy called Peanut Butter. 200 miles later, I would still be bumping into him.

I then dropped down to Watauga lake and stopped at the Boots Off hostel where I met Hotdog, Tomcat and Salamander again. I had a long break and plenty of food,  including a pizza.

After that, my energy levels picked up as I headed back uphill again. For many miles, the lake was in view. Some hikers miss out this section of the trail and canoe it instead. I had planned to camp at the Vandeventer shelter, but there were no camping spots left. I headed on until I found it a site by myself about a mile further on.

Falling down

Everyone falls over hiking the AT. Besides the mud, difficult rocks, branches waiting to catch your backpack and throw you over the edge of a steep sided path, there are thousands of roots and stones waiting for you, often hidden by fallen leaves. Early on I met a woman called Lee, who had fallen into a creek and sustained a head wound which took her off trail for a week. She is the second person known to me to have fallen into a creek. It is the little roots and stones that catch you out as the big ones demand your attention. Up to this point I had had many a stumble. The surprising thing is that I had not actually fallen over until about mile 450. Some wet leaves on a rock and down I went. No harm done. But everyone is potentially one fall away from an injury that takes them off trail.

One Ear, who I mentioned in a previous post, is one such person. I mentioned his unhappy injury to a hiker I met later. He was dismayed as he said that One Ear as someone he thought would make it all the way.

Despite the fall, it was my longest day to date at over 25 miles. Although there was 5000 feet of climb, there were some quite easy sections including through a large farm meadow for nearly a mile, which was completely covered with dandelions. This was the longest section of the trail so far without trees.

Into Virginia

I did big miles yesterday, so that I’d only have a few into town today to give me some added recovery time. On the way into Damascus, I passed into Virginia.

I stayed at the Broken Fiddle hostel.  I did all my chores like laundry and resupply. I also caught up with my emails, and was devastated to hear of the death of Nick Woodhead who i used to work with. A man of great integrity and one of the nicest people I’ve known. He only retired two months before me. I did not feel much like socialising with the other hikers in the hostel after that.

Who leaves their hiking poles behind?

There are quite a lot lonely hiking poles left behind in hostels and cars along the length of the trail.  I had wondered how people could do that. It turns out it is quite easy when you are preoccupied. Also at the Broken Fiddle, there is a place to leave your poles by the entrance, so for the first time there were not with my pack when I set off. I had gone half a mile before I realised I had no poles and had to return to the hostel for them.

Not a great start to a day when I had a heavy pack full of resupply. It was a cold wet day and heavy going. I stayed at the wonderfully named, Lost Mountain shelter. More cold and frost forecast ahead.

500 miles and the Grayson Highlands.

With rain and pattering on the tent at around 4 am, I remembered that I had left my coat hooked on a branch outside. Leaping out to retrieve it woke me up too thoroughly to be able to go back to sleep. Despite the bad start and the cold drizzle, it was actually a really good day, during which I felt surprisingly strong.

There was a big climb up to Buzzard Rock to begin the day. At the start I went through a field with a cow. Nothing remarkable about that, except when it is the first cow you have seen in nearly 500 miles.

The climb took me up into the clouds and then above them. So the viewpoint at Buzzard Rock was of breaking cloud below and hills above the clouds in the distance. Wonderful.

Mile 500 passed as I moved into the Grayson Highlands. This is a very distinctive Rocky landscape with a lot of pine trees. But it is particularly well-known for its wild ponies, so I was glad that there were some around for me to see. Some people pass through without doing so.

It was very cold all day with an overnight frost expected.

Follow up to a previous post:

I said there should be an updated term for widowmakers; those trees and branches that fall on tents in the night. There is, they are called killer trees.

In the next post: Why you should not shave your legs. And where do you put those deer carcasses?

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Comments 7

  • Shocktop : Apr 29th

    Re: deer carcasses: I laughed because I remember exactly where it is requested you NOT leave them! Thanks for the memory, and happy trails!

    Reply
    • Michael Beecher : May 11th

      Thanks Shocktop. I should update soon but have been getting the miles in to make a family rendezvous.

      Reply
  • Jen Hamley : Apr 29th

    Really enjoying your blog, Michael, keep it coming. And I’m full of admiration for your endeavours. I hope you’re not too skinny! Good luck.

    Jen x

    Reply
    • Michael Beecher : May 11th

      Thanks Jen. I will update soon but have been doing long hours and big miles to get to my American family. Who are now helping me get some weight back on!

      Reply
  • Richard Harper : Apr 29th

    Hi Michael. Well done on the first 500 miles.
    Reading your exploits along the AP always reminds me of my Austrian cousin. He did the Oregon Trail, 3,700km from Independence Missouri to Oregon City, Oregon. He did it in 19 days! I should point out he did do it by bicycle (using combination of road bike and mountain bike). He wrote a book about it which you are welcome to borrow when you get back, but it is in German.
    He was also the first non-American to win The Race Across America, an ultra long cycling race from the West Coast to the East Coast, a distance of around 4,800 to 5,000 km (the route varies each year). he won this with a time of 9 days, 7 hours and 9 minutes (8 hours ahead of the runner up).

    Reply
    • Michael Beecher : May 11th

      I would love to read his book. I can read German so it would be fascinating. He must be a pretty good athlete.

      Reply
  • Richard Harper : Apr 30th

    Well done Michael on reaching the 500 mile mark. Loving the pictures but not liking the sound of all that cold wet weather. It must be pretty miserable sleeping at night in the cold. We are having building work done on the house now, so no heating for us at the moment either, but at least we have walls and a roof!

    Reply

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