Week 22 – Daleville to Newport, VA
The journey continues. . .
A lot has happened since I had to take my leave from the trail. In the three months that I was away from my forestry home, I managed to secure a full time position as a physical therapist, and my new position is allowing me to continue this journey! I was also picked up by a new men’s hockey team, and I was able to help my women’s hockey team win States and move onto Nationals! But now it’s time for me to return to my second home; in the woods. In this episode, I am reunited with some old friends, I walk my path solo, and my journey as a thru-hiker of the AT, a 2016 SOBO, continues! But time is short and I must complete this journey with haste. So without delay. . .
Day 148 (time – just getting started, 0 miles, much warmer than before degrees)
My love of my life, and lifeline since I have begun this journey, drove me, yesterday, to my Dad’s home in New Jersey. Before we parted ways today, about to be separated once more for a few months, I walked down the stairs of my fathers home. I stopped to stare at the maps hung on the walls. The maps that I had framed for him before I started this journey, so he could follow along, living vicariously through my every step in the trail, tracking my progression. The maps were divided into four. 3 were almost complete. The tags hung on the maps, indicating dates I arrived in towns and unique events that had taken place along my journey. I have come so far! I have so little to go! The last little bit of the trail will soon be spread before my feet. And I will walk alone.
I embraced my love one last time, this time without tears. I know I will return to him soon. And when I do, it will be as a completed thru-hiker of the AT! My dream will be complete! For me and for my Dad!
I loaded my monster, my pack, into the truck, followed by my trekking poles that had already been trough so much, and we were off. My love, heading back to Rochester, NY. My father and I on our way back to Daleville, VA; the very same hotel I left when I had to drop the curtains in my last act in this play. But the lights are flickering, and act 2 is about to begin!
The drive was long as we made our way south. We took 78 across New Jersey until we finally reached Pennsylvania. From there, the mountains began to emerge. I stared out the window, watching the familiar mountains grow before us as we drove closer to their feet. That’s where I hiked with Centaur, Flicker, Ratatouille, and the Madhatter!
We left Pennsylvania and arrived in Maryland, and then West Virginia, the trail lay off to my right. That’s where we crossed into Harpers Ferry! That’s where I finally met Legolas!
And then Virginia hit! This was where the temperatures started to plummet. This was where I met Skooch and had my last trail family. This was where Flicker and Ratatouille said goodbye. And then Daleville. We had arrived!
The emotions that raced through me were mixed. I was beyond excited to be returning to the trail, ready to make my way to Georgia. I was scared; I would be a solo, female, hiker, and all my SOBO buddies were at least 5 days behind me. What lay ahead was unknown. I was also nervous; when I’m done with this journey, what then? Will I be ok coming back to the real world, knowing their is no AT waiting for me in a few months. Will my other adventures to come be enough to satisfy this love and passion I have for AT life? Will I survive?
We entered the familiar hotel, and I introduced myself as a SOBO thru-hiker completing my journey. There had not been any SOBOs through this way in quite some time! But there soon would be a handful. A few of my old trail friends had also decided to return to complete their journeys; Nicorette and Comitted, Flicker, and I Don’t Know. But they were all several days or so behind me. I’m sure they’ll catch up quick.
We checked into our room and decided to get dinner. This would be my last real meal for a while. It was delicious! After dinner, we returned to the hotel. Wondering where the AT picked up, my Dad looked at some maps and insisted it wrapped just behind the hotel. He was sure he could find a way to it.
So sure enough, we went bush waking through the tall grass and weeds until a white blaze emerged before us. I was back on the trail! And my Dad got to be there too!
Satisfied, we returned to our hotel room and played a few rounds of the AT Game. We shared lots of laughs, and learned a few things as well, as we played out a SOBO thru-hike, then a NOBO thru-hike. With night approaching, and my official first day back on the trail being tomorrow, we retired to or beds, the last bed I will stay in for a while, and slept well. What a better way to kick my journey back off! Sharing laughs, and playing the AT Game with my Dad. But my AT game is about to continue. I must rest up and be ready for it to start tomorrow.
Day 149 (9:14am – 6:45pm, 15.4 miles, 65 degrees)
I woke this morning with a variety of sensations. My stomach churning due to anxiety I was experiencing over stepping off into the wilderness with nothing but unknown ahead of me. Excitement to be stepping back on the trail again with my end goal in site. Sadness to be close to the end of this wonderful, fantastic, and life changing adventure. Insecurity of whether or not I should delay a few days to wait out bad weather and allow a few other SOBOs to catch up.
I gathered myself together and went with my father to have a nice buffet breakfast. I was careful to choose what food I ate, making sure nothing would sit poorly in my stomach as I made my way down the trail. My nervousness was not allowing me to eat absorbent amounts anyways.
After breakfast, my Dad looked at the weather as I began packing my gear. I was a little rusty. How did I used to pack this? Where does this go? Wait that doesn’t look for feel right. Oh now I remember. Like I had never stepped a foot on trail before, I clumsily threw my gear together until I could finally feel the routine return and instinctual began packing my pack the correct way; the way I had done it for 5 months of living on the trail.
Once packed, it was determined. The closest SOBOs I knew were Nicorette and Committed and they were at least 5 days behind me. I could not delay that long to wait for them. The weather was actually good enough for me to leave today. If I delayed, I would get caught in much worse weather. Best to push out!
So with that, I donned my pack and hugged my father goodbye. He walked with me until I reached the tall grass. With one last look behind me, watching my Dad wave to me, I waved back and turned to look ahead. An empty trail lay before me. There was no sign of any person. This was it! I’m in my own. One foot in front of the other, I started back on my adventure, not knowing who I’d meet or run into.
My nerves were still running high as tears streamed down my face; the side of me that had once again become used to civilization was protesting as I stepped off into the wild with no other soul near me. With every step I took, every tree and bush I passed, the AT thru-hiker side of me slowly woke from its slumber, and the sense of peace, adventure, wonder, creativity, and harmony began to glisten and glow inside me. I’m home again! I’m back on the trail!
In no time I was making my way through the woods as though I had never left. Of course, I was a bit slower and needed to take more breaks, but that was to be expected! Almost immediately, I was among wildlife as an amazing looking inset was making its way across the trail. Carefully I stepped over it, making sure not to step on it. A hawk flew over head, leading me down the trail; something I have come to associate with a good omen welcoming me back to the AT.
I continued on my journey, as the sun shone overhead, lighting the forest and brightening all the colors around me. The ground was soft, easing my feet back into their routine of walking for hours on end.
As I enjoyed all the views around me, my nerves calmed and, feeling at home once again, two day hikers approached. I had only seen a handful of day hikers today, with no sign of any thru-hikers yet. The two young men chatted with me for a little while. As we were getting ready to part ways, one of the two men informed me of another hiker I would soon come across that was laying down, just off trail.
This doesn’t sound good! “Is he ok?” I asked the two men.
“I don’t know,” the other informed me. “But he said he has friends coming to get him, so he should be ok.”
Not knowing what I was about to encounter, I prepared myself, running through all the medical training and wilderness first aid, that I could remember, in my head. On I walked, through the woods, looking left and right, wondering when I was going to come across the downed man. As I made my way through the forest, I heard an odd sound to my right. Two men were making their way up the mountain in an ATV. They must be the friends coming to the rescue. They pulled up to the AT trail head and dismounted their ATV.
“Hello,” I hollered to the two men as I approached them. “Are you here to help the guy that is down on the trail?”
“We are,” they replied. “Have you seen him?”
“No, but two day hikers told me about him and I haven’t seen him yet.”
We walked together as I gathered more information about this person. We were getting close. These men were two EMTs that had responded to the emergency call. I offered any assistance I could provide and we chatted as we made our way towards the location they had received. Finally, we came upon a young adult that was sprawled out across the trail. Not even thinking, I kicked into professional mode, introduced myself with my government name, and started to ask how he was doing. We learned that he had an 8 hour nose bleed the previous night and felt he was dehydrated today. That’s odd! I gave him a liter of my water and stuck around until the EMTs informed me they had the cavalry coming. I wished the young hiker good luck and was once again on my way. What a welcome back to the trail!
I once again started to climb as I continued along my journey. Boy was I getting tired! We’ll have to see if I go all the way to Cambell shelter (as originally planned) or if I stop at the Lamberts Meadow shelter. As I continued to climb up the trail, I could feel my legs become weaker with fatigue. Just as I was considering stopping for a break, I could see two young boys coming down the trail towards me. Neither of them had a pack. One carried a bottle of water. The other carried a machete. A machete! What the heck is this kid doing with a machete out here! Unsure of what the two boys were up to, I decided to push as hard as I could, not letting on that I was tired, and just hike right past them without stopping.
“How’s it going,” I hollered to them as I approached, attempting to assess the situation.
“We’re good” The boy with the water bottle replied as turned to face me.
“How’s the water at the next shelter?” I asked, assessing where the boys had come from and where they were heading.
“We don’t know,” the boy with they water replied. “We just came from a road.” Slowly the other boy with the machete turned to face me, one hand on the machete.
“Oh well,” I replied as I skirted right past them. “Thanks anyways. Have a good hike.”
I quickly sauntered down the trail, very aware of my surroundings and listening for any sounds that the two boys had turned to follow me. Occasionally I spun around, just to make sure they weren’t following.
As I made my way across the rocky terrain, now safely out of the boys sight, I stopped for some quick pictures, still watching my back for the boys.
Finally I approached the Lamberts Meadow Shelter. By this point, my feet were killing me and I had somehow managed to pull my hip flexor. I hobbled towards the shelter and dropped my back with an enormous thud onto the shelter floor. Now I had to decide; stay here and potentially encounter the two, creepy, boys again, or push another 6 miles to the Cambel Shelter, pushing through the pain as I went.
I sat and ate my lunch, looked at my feet, and stretched my hip flexor as I pondered my decision. Eventually, I determined that my feet and hip were feeling better, and I did not want to risk encountering any other risky and odd scenarios, so I decided to push on. What’s another 6 miles!
So off I went again. I had a small climb, then that was it. The rest would be level ground and down hill. I can do this! As I reached the top of the cliff, I had arrived at Tinker Cliffs! They were beautiful! The trail wound along, the cliff side on one side, flowers blooming on the other.
I was temporarily distracted from my pain by the gorgeous views and scenery as I continued on my way. But the last mile, or so, was brutal! The pain under my heels and in my right hip flexor was enormous. I had to limp on. Finally, I hobbled into my destination. Several other hikers were already at the shelter; a young couple and Mac and his Golden Retriever/Labrador mix, Molly. Mac and Molly’s trailname was M&M, and they were southbound flipfloppers that had just started their adventure a few weeks ago! I chatted with my sheltermates, sharing bits and pieces of my adventures thus far with them. M&M looked at me with awe and shock when I told him how far I had traveled that day. They were all shocked when I told them I was a southbounder!
As night started to fall, Stamps, the second NOBO I have seen since getting back on the trail, rolled into the shelter. We chatted with him for a while, went through our nightly routines, then turned in for the evening.
It’s been a crazy day for my first day back on the trail! I helped rescue one hiker, avoided two other creepy kids, and made it 15.4 miles on my first day! I’m hurting, but I survived. And now I have another SOBO to hike with, for now at least.
The NOBOs we crossed today (the ones I got trailnames for at least)
- Tenacious D
Day 150 (8:30am – 3:40pm, 10.6 miles, 55 degrees)
I woke this morning with the pain in my hip even worse than it was yesterday. What on earth did I do? I looked at the bottom of my feet to find two humongous blisters on the bottom of both heels. Today is starting off great!
I had determined the reason for the blisters was due to large plastic oval discs that rested directly under the heels of my insoles. It was there, by design, to lock the insole in place. However, it also created increased pressure at that sight with every step I took. And therefore; blisters!
I did my best to drain the blisters, keeping them as clean as possible, and quickly applied the Leuko tape, hoping that would make walking a little easier. The pulled hip flexor, I believe, was due to walking differently, due to the pain from the blisters! What a mess! In order to walk, I had to throw my right leg around, leaning backwards occasionally, to try to raise my leg onto the next higher surface; weather it was a rock, an inclined trail, of whatever.
So once I broke camp, today was VERY slow going! M&M broke camp with me and we hiked together today. We started, per usual, with a significant climb up to MacAfee Knob; the most photographed location on the AT, and another epic landmark! I couldn’t wait to get there!
As we neared the top, the rocky outcroppings began to appear. It was just stunning! Every wind and turn of the trail held a new surprise.
As we started to make our way down the mountain, I saw a little blue blaze painted on a rock. I wonder. I followed the blue blaze to another rocky outcropping.
At first, I didn’t recognize it, and I almost passed it by. But this was MacAfee’s Knob! We had finally made it! The clouds hung low around the mountain, but every once in a while, a gust of wind would push one aside and a mountain peak would emerge across the valley.
Randy, a local we had met at MacAfee’s Knob, offered to take our pictures on the knob. We thanked him profusely after our individual poses. After all these months and miles, I had finally made it! It felt amazing, like standing on top of the world! And my critters got to enjoy the view as well!
After our photo shoot, we made our way down the mountain. Down and down we went. With every step away from MacAfee’s Knob, the weather began to improve. By the time we reached the bottom, the temperatures had spiked to the 70s.
The air hung still and there was not a cloud in the sky. We plodded along on the trail, removing one layer of clothes after the next to try to stay cool. Like droids, we marched down the trail through the thick, sweltering heat. It was even hot enough for the snakes to come out and sun themselves on the trail.
When we reached the Johns Spring Shelter, we looked at our map. There was a hostel we would be crossing soon; one that came highly recommended to me by my good friend, Centaur. With some quick discussion, we decided we’d spend a night there. After a lunch break and cool down from this ridiculous heat, we donned our packs once more. Molly refused to carry hers, so M&M opted to carry her food bags for her.
As we inched our way down the trail, Molly danced to and fro, chasing one dear, leaping across the trail, and scaling the hills around us. I wish I had her energy right now. Finally we came to an intersection in the trail. I had to stop and drop to my base layers; my sports bra and spandex shorts. It was just too hot and I was going to overheat and have a repeated episode of heat exhaustion if I wasn’t careful.
Shortly after I dropped my pack and lost my last layer, M&M rounded the corner. His face was red and his shirt was soaked with sweat. He dropped his pack and flopped to the ground. “This is just too hot!”
I thoroughly agreed.
“I think I’m going to head to Catawba and get a ride to the Four Pines Hostel from there,” M&M informed me. “I can’t do this in this heart!”
“Ok. I’m going to push on,” I replied. “But I’m heading to the hostel too. So I’ll see you there tonight.”
On I went, trudging through this heat. The trail even looked hot under the scorching sun.
I forced my way, through the pain and the heat, making sure to drink enough water as I went. The sun was slowly beating me down. I passed a few section hikers, chatting with them briefly, but otherwise I was completely solo. Finally, the trail made a descent. It was only a few more miles to the hostel, but I was slowly being roasted in this sun. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it!
I arrived at a brief oasis in this scorching heat; a small patch covered by a few pines. I threw my monstrous pack to the ground and flopped down on the step, arms and legs speed, trying to cool down. My feet throbbed, my hip ached. How am I going to do this!
I looked at the maps. Should I catch a ride at the next road? But it’s only a mile or so after. I argued with myself as my thoughts started to clear, the sweat cooling on my brain, allowing me to think. I started to enjoy the view. I ate a little snack and just sat in the cool shade for a while.
With my spirits lifted, I made the decision. I would just push on. I had plenty of daylight. There was no reason I couldn’t make those miles. I trudged on. Through one field, then the next. My feet were killing me, but I kept going. My hip protested. But I kept going. The flower sprouted around me and a river opened to my right, singing a peaceful song, helping me make my way through the woods, closer and closer to the Four Pines Hostel. As I wound along, the trail following the river, and an old water wheel could barely be seen through the trees. The trail was doing its best to remind me why I was out there in the first place; to enjoy the trail, see new things, explore and be in nature.
Distracted from my pain, I actually started to enjoy myself, a bit. After a long day, I finally reached the road. I turned and followed the pine trees painted on the street until I finally arrived at the Four Pines Hostel.
Several dogs greeted me as I neared the bunkhouse. Tons of chickens and guinea hens ran around outside. M&M sat outside with Molly as I finally arrived.
The bunk house was a large garage filled with couches and beds. I said hello to M&M, then found myself a comfy couch to claim as my own for the evening, and threw my pack to the ground, unloading my gear so I could just crawl into bed when I was ready.
After I was done, I came back out to chat with M&M. “So I’ve been thinking,” I said to him. “I’m going to zero here tomorrow to get these blister and my hip under control.”
“That sounds great!” He was obviously thrilled with this idea and had considered it himself. “I’ll join you!”
With that, we spent the remainder of our day licking our wounds and hanging out with the other hikers, Hoot and Echo. Hoot, who had decided to change her name to ProcrastiNature, was a flipflopper from last year! She had stayed out the entire time, braving the cold and the snow, and had flipped all over, trying to keep hiking with the best weather she could. I looked at her with awe. She was one tough hiker to endure the temperatures and weather that she had! She even told me she had woken at a shelter one morning to find feet of snow outside! No thank you!
We shared lots of stories with our new friends and hung out with Joe for the night. He shared some very interesting stories with us, including one where he knocked out a bear! But you’ll have to ask him that story yourself. Go visit Joe sometime! He’s one of the coolest guys I know!
We all settled in for the evening, and one of the local cats, came inside to say hello. I couldn’t be happier! After I got in my snuggles, it was time for bed. I snuggled into my sleeping bag, making sure to place myself in a position where my hip could be stretched through the night, and allowed sleep to take me. Tomorrow, I rest up, stretch, and get ready to hit the trail the following day.
Day 151 (time – just enough, 0 miles, temperature warm enough)
I woke this morning and joined Echo outside, watching the chickens and guinea hens. As we enjoyed the sun, watching Joe’s livestock run around we chatted about shared interests. I learned he was a musician and enjoyed listening to metal as well. Another metal head on the trail!? No way! I was completely excited and we spent the rest of the morning raffling off metal bands and talking about music. It was epic!
After thoroughly enjoying our chat, I joined everyone else inside. The remainder of my day was filled with stretching, rehabbing my feet, and chatting with everyone. As I was chatting with ProctrastiNature, I heard someone enter through the door. I looked up and saw a tall, younger adult; someone that looked familiar. It was Gap! I had hiked with him prior to getting off trail, back in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, but had not seen him since.
“Gap!” I hollered.
He looked at me with a confused expression, then the recognition lite up in his eyes. “Dori?”
I jumped up and gave him a big hug. I was so excited to see another SOBO! We caught up, chatting about the various places we had traversed to this point. The others looked at us in awe as we reminisced. I learned that he had gotten off trail sometime in November and had section hiked from Luray to Daleville. He had only gotten back on trail recently, just like me!
After our reunion, we continued to enjoy the company of our fellow zeromates. What a fantastic group! We all sat outside, enjoying the sun, as another hiker was shuttled to the hostel. It was the hiker I had helped a few days prior! He was looking much better! He recognized me and thanked me again for helping him.
As the day wore on, my feet and my hip started to heal. Joe had painted chalk board pain on inside of the hostel, and all the other hikers had signed the wall. I took a moment to leave my mark as well.
When night approached, we decided to play a round of Uno. M&M cooked and grilled dinner for everyone and we enjoyed the remainder of the night together. We shared lots of stories and lots of laughs. Joe even joined us and shared some of his own stories!
I crept into my sleeping bag as the late hours of the night approached, and quickly drifted off to sleep. Tomorrow I will hit the trail again. M&M and Gap are planning on joining me. It’s nice to have a little group to hike with. And I thought I was going to be completely alone! I’m glad I’m not!
Day 152 (10:30am – 4:10pm, 7.2 miles, 62 degrees)
We all woke this morning and started getting our gear together, readying ourselves for our hikes. ProcrastiNature, Echo, and their friend, Unbreakable Kelly, that had arrived the day previously, are leaving to head north to Harpers Ferry today. M&M and I will be heading south. We have a short day planned today so we have plenty of time to get rolling. Gap is slackpacking north to MacAfee Knob and then heading south to the Pickle Branch Shelter, where we are all planning on staying for the night.
As we were getting ready to leave, we spent our last few minutes, as a group, hanging out, watching the livestock and chatting with Joe. Unbreakable Kelly had given me some gel inserts, which I promptly cut holes in the heels, allowing them to fit perfectly around the hard, plastic, disc that had caused the enormous blisters to form on the bottom of both heels. With the gel inserts, the pressure was not as intense on my feet, and I determined that would solve that problem! Thank you Unbreakable Kelly! Finally, it was time to get rolling. We all snapped one last group photo before having to part ways.
I’ve really had a great time with this group and will miss our new friends, but we can delay no longer. We donned our packs and hit the trail. The skies were clear and blue as we made our way back towards the trail head. Before long, we started to climb. The trail started off nicely groomed but quickly changed to a rocky scramble.
I slowly pulled away from M&M, once again in my element, as I climbed, hand over hand, up the mountain. It’s ok, I’ll see him at the top. As I continued to climb, the pine trees surrounded me with enormous pines cones, like ornaments, spread throughout the trees.
As I neared the top of the first peak, I could just see the surrounding mountain tops through the tips of the trees. I was definitely getting closer to Dragons Tooth as the bear rocks started to become bigger and greater in number. The scrambles were getting steeper and more challenging as well. It has been a while since I have been challenged by the trail. It’s nice to be climbing hand over hand again.
My climb halted, temporarily, as I started to wind back and forth through the woods. Finally, I approached the beginning of Dragons Tooth, a warning sign reminding me of the challenging terrain to come. On I hiked until a wall blocked my progression. Does the trail really go straight up this rock slab? A single white blaze, painted half way up the 30 foot rock slab, indicated that my path continued, somehow, above that wall! I dropped my pack and inspected the section that lay before me. My only way up was through several small ledges along the rock slab. Well here we go!
I collapsed my trekking poles, tucking them carefully into my pack, and scrambled my way up the rock slab. Safely atop the rock slab, the trail continued to challenge me with more rock scrambles and boulders. I made my way through the bouldery trail and, huffing and puffing, finally reached the top. I dropped my monstrous pack with a thud, droplets of sweat dropping off my chin. This heat is unbearable! I found a cool, shady, place to sit and sent M&M and quick text.
Just a heads up, there is a section coming up for you, you may have difficulty getting Molly up. If you need help, let me know. I’m sitting at the top waiting for you.
I really have no idea how he is going to get Molly through that section! I decided to have lunch, enjoying the view and the cool air, as I waited for my fellow SOBO friends to join me.
After my brief lunch, I made my way down the blue blazed trail to check out the infamous Dragons Tooth. It was stunning! The rocks stood at least 30 feet tall and reached for the sky, like jagged pillars reaching trying to scratch the clouds. There were a fair amount of weekend hikers up here with me, and I did not want to leave my pack unattended for too long, so I took some quick pictures, allowing my critters to enjoy the view as well, then made my way back to my shady spot once more.
I waited, and waited, but there was no sign of M&M. I hope they are ok! A few more weekend groups made their way up Dragons Tooth, and I asked each one of them if they had seen a young man with a dog. They all assured me he was just behind them. More groups passed by with the same answer; he’s just coming up the trail now. I checked my phone again and again. No messages. Finally, I could see M&M’s blue shirt in the distance. They had made it up the rock slab without help! Excellent! He slowly made his way to me, Molly leading the way.
“I’m glad to see you made it up that cliff!” I greeted them as they approached. “I stuck around because I thought you may need help with Molly. How did you get her up that section?”
“I had to carry her,” he replied as he threw his back on the ground, sweat pouring off his red face. He flopped onto the ground as Molly dug herself a small hole and lay down on the recently uncovered cool earth. “She fell, and I caught her, but I landed on my hip, and now I can’t get my phone to work.”
“Are you guys ok?”
“I think so, but my phone’s broken,” M&M stated upset and exhausted from the climb.
We sat in the cool shade for a while, chatting about his options for his phone. He decided he would be trying to make it to Newport as soon as he could, so he could get a replacement phone.
“Molly is exhausted,” he told me. “I’m not sure if we can make it to the shelter tonight.”
I informed him the shelter was only 5 more miles away, and it was all down hill. With this spot of good news, his spirits lifted.
“Well, we’re going to stay here and cool down for a while,” he informed me after I told him I was ready to head out.
“No problem,” I replied. “I’ll see you at the shelter.
Well rested and cooled down, I trotted down the trail and made my way through the woods, enjoying the descent. Within a few hours, I had arrived at the intersection that would take me to the Pickle Branch Shelter. I turned and made my way down the 0.3 mile, blue blazed, trail, heading for the shelter. No one was at the shelter yet, so I dropped my pack and made my way down the mountain, another 0.2 miles away, to the water source. I filled my water bottles, soaked my aching feet, and cooled my face with the refreshing running stream. After a little while, I made my way back up the steep climb and started to unpack my gear, setting up my sleeping arrangement for the evening.
Shortly after, a NOBO arrived. Her name was BoBo and she was hiking with her dog Yogi. We chatted for a little while before M&M and Molly made their way to the shelter. M&M set up his sleeping arrangement for the night, but was too tired to cook dinner. BoBo and I cooked our dinners as Yogi attempted to play with Molly. Molly was clearly too tired to play as the young Yogi pounced around her.
A little while later, another NOBO, Tigger, arrived. As we chatted and continued to go through our evening routines, night started to fall. I quickly threw a bear hang and stowed away M&M’s food with mine. There was still no sign of Gap.
“There’s no way he’s hiking that many miles to get here,” M&M stated with disbelief in his voice.
“I’m sure he will,” I stated. “He’s a strong hiker.”
M&M could not believe that anyone could do 19 miles. He had only been on the AT for a few weeks, so I could understand how this sounded unfathomable, but I knew Gap. He’d be here.
We all snuggled into our sleeping bags for the evening as the sun dropped below the horizon. Suddenly, I could see a headlamp in the distance. Someone was making their way towards the shelter! As the person approached, I hollered, “Gap?”
“Dori!” Gap came pounding down the trail. “I’m so glad to see you!”
He was clearly a little frazzled as he began to tell us his recent adventure.
“So I almost just died!” He began as he flopped onto the picnic bench. “I was almost at the trail head for the shelter, and just before I turned, I saw these two eyes glowing in the dark. So I thought it was Molly. I called her name; nothing! Then I shown my headlamp at the eyes, and it was a bear! So I started hitting my trekking poles together and yelling at it, hoping it would run away from the shelter. Nope! It ran right down the blue trail towards the shelter. I haven’t seen it since, but as I was making my way towards the shelter, following the bear, my headlamp started to flicker. It was like I was in a horror film! Luckily, I didn’t get eaten by the bear!”
We laughed as he continued to decompress from his harrowing experience. After he had a moment to relax and he started to go through his nightly routine, I discussed my game plan for tomorrow.
“So I’m thinking of doing a 15 mile day tomorrow,” I informed him.
“Well, Dori,” Gap replied rather plainly. “That’s where we part ways.”
We laughed again, and I realized he was right. I needed to give my body more time to acclimate before starting to hit the bigger miles, less I repeat my error from my first day back on the trail.
“Ok,” I replied. “I guess you’re right. But I have to start hitting bigger miles soon.”
We continued to chat for a little while until sleep began to grab hold of each of us. Slowly, one by one, we became silent, as we drifted off to sleep.
Today was a beautiful day! The mileage was short, but the climbs were fantastic. We made it through another epic landmark on the AT, and we crossed our 700 mile mark, meaning we only have 700 miles left of our adventures! Tomorrow may not be the day for a 15 mile day, but sometime soon, it will be; 15, 18, maybe even 20 miles! We shall see. But for now, we sleep.
The NOBOs we crossed today (the ones I got trailnames for at least)
- BoBo and Yogi
Day 152 (9am – 3pm, 10.4 miles, 50 degrees)
As the sun rose, it poked at my eyes, slowly rousing me like it once had many months ago. I blinked awake and quietly emerged from my warm and toasty sleeping bag. The two NOBOs had already collected most of their gear and were eating breakfast, almost ready to start their day’s hike. Gap and I slowly went through our morning routine as M&M and Molly continued to sleep, snuggled warm in his sleeping bag.
As we were getting ready to leave for the day, I asked M&M if he was ok. He informed me he was cold and tired, and would stay at the shelter a little longer. He would try to make it to the shelter we were aiming for, the Niday Shelter.
I was ready to get moving, so I bid a temporary farewell to Gap and M&M and made my way back up the blue blaze trail to the AT trailhead. This morning was very overcast, and the fog hung around the mountain tops. My day started, as it seems to always start, with a long climb up a 1,500 foot incline. I plodded along, through the fog, the wind, and the mist. The temperatures slowly dropped as I crept closer to the mountain tops. At least the incline was gradual, but my body, still, did not have the endurance needed to get me up this mountain. Good thing Gap convinced me not to do a 15 miles day!
I crested one false peak after the next, never seeing any signs of Gap or M&M. Bouncing back and forth between too hot and sweating, to too cold, I was constantly stopping to don and doff layers. Eventually, I neared the mountain top, as it started to sprinkle. Only a few more steps! I reached the peak and dropped my back with a thud. I was exhausted! There was a monument nearby, and after debating whether or not it was too far to go see it, I finally decided it was worth the extra 170 yards. I was not incorrect!
The monument was dedicated to one of the highest decorated veterans that had died near this monument in a plane crash. A few park benches were near by, so I took a moment of silence for the veteran, out of respect, and then used the park bench to stretch my aching hip flexor. After my short break, I had to continue my journey. I was starting to get cold again, even with my layers on, since the temperatures had now plummeted to the low 40s and the mist was still falling, and my core temperature had dropped with my lowered heart rate. I donned my pack once more, and continued down the mountain.
I opted to take a short lunch break a little further down the trail, before I really started my descent. I would have a relatively long descent before I would need to ascend, a little, once more, prior to reaching my destination for the night.
After my short lunch break, I continued along my way. I passed by a few NOBOs and finally reached the Niday Shelter. I still had not seen Gap or M&M. I’m sure they’ll be along soon. I unloaded my gear, picking a spot in the shelter, cleaned myself up, and changed into my night clothes. Now warm and dry, I snacked at the picnic table close to the shelter.
I was staring off into the woods when I noticed I had been staring at a bird that had not really flown far in the past several minutes. It had been flapping around, but was not making any ground. Recognizing that the bird was stuck, I decided to investigate. I placed on my winter gloves, using them to protect myself from the bird, and any germs it may have, and went over to take a closer look. The bird was stuck, indeed. It had some kind of a string around its ankle and was stuck, hanging upside down, on a bush. I carefully, and gently, grabbed the terrified bird, and attempted to free it from the string. It had been spinning around too much and I was not able to simply untie the poor creature. Finally, very carefully, I opened my knife and cut the string. Suddenly, the bird was free, and with a flutter of its wings, it flew away to a nearby branch. It stood on the branch, recovering from its terrifying event, until eventually it flew away. I was not able to asses whether or not the bird’s foot was badly injured, but at least it could fly. I imagine it should be ok.
With everything set for the night, and plenty of time before night fell, I decided a nap was in order. Eventually, Gap arrived, as I was slowly waking from my nap. He informed me that M&M was not going to make it to this shelter. He had opted to try to get to a road and make his way to Newport. He needed to get a new phone. I was not sure if I would see him again, but hoped I would hear from him soon, knowing he made it to Newport, VA, safely. But until then, I’ll just have to wait.
Gap and I made our dinners, then snuggled into our sleeping bags. As the sun began to drop, a few section hikers arrived. They had opted to set up their tents for the evening, even though it threatened to rain that night. We chatted with them for a little while before everyone retired for the evening.
After I had fallen asleep for a few hours, I was awaken by a sound that I could only imagine was the mountain tumbling down upon itself. I envisioned giant boulders tumbling from the mountain top, bouncing one after another down past the shelter. It was apparently thundering, along with the buckets of rain that pounded upon the shelter roof. I hope the two section hikers are dry in their tent! I drifted back off to sleep. We’ll have to wait and see how they are in the morning!
The NOBOs we crossed today (the ones I got trailnames for at least)
- Four Seasons
- Billy Goat
Day 153 (11am – 2:30pm, 6.4 miles, 55 degrees)
As I woke from my somewhat disturbed sleep, I could see that the section hikers had left a few belongings hanging on some trees, nearby, to dry. Well, that didn’t work. It had poured and thundered all the way through the night, and was still raining heavily as Gap and I rose to start our day.
As we went through our morning routines, the section hikers emerged from their tents. Luckily, they had stayed dry through the night. None of us were in a massive rush to start our day, as we waited for the weather to break. Sure enough, the rain started to slow. I began to gather my gear, getting ready to hit the trail. Today would be an even shorter day, so I was not concerned with getting a late start.
Finally, I was ready to break camp. Gap still had a lot of packing up to do, so I told him I would see him soon. I was not sure whether or not I would try to push past the Sarver Hollow Shelter, the shelter we were planning on heading to, but I told Gap I would at least meet him there.
Off I went, the rain temporarily halted, up the first climb of my day. It promised to be another long climb, but my body did not protest as much this time. I must be slowly getting my trail legs back!
Finally, I neared the top of my climb, where I decided to take a short lunch break. I had reached the Continental Divide! I decided to take a quick picture with the critters. After all, we had worked hard to get to this point!
The weather was still threatening to rain, so I decided not to stay too long. I quickly packed up my gear, once more, and took off down the trail. I had been hoping to see Gap before taking off once more, but he never showed. No big deal, I’ll see him at the shelter. I made my way along the ridgeline. The rest of my hike, today, would not be too difficult, cresting one peak after another, but running the ridgeline for most of the day. It rained, on and off, through the day, with occasional gusts of wind. Some sections of the ridgeline were somewhat difficult, with slanted, exposed, wet, sections of rock that needed to be traversed occasionally through my day. But, at least, these exposed sections provided some wonderful views.
On I continued, until, in no time, I arrived at the trailhead that would take me to the shelter. The shelter was 0.4 miles down a steep descent. I had decided that the shelter would be a great place to stay for the night, since we were not sure if it would continue to rain, and it allowed for a 7 mile day into town, instead of a much bigger day into town. So I opted to wait for Gap at this intersection, to see if he liked the idea of staying at the shelter for the night.
I placed a few more layers on, since my core temperature had once again dropped with my lowered heart rate, and rested myself on my pack. I tried to read my book on my phone, but my eyes began to grow heavy. Soon enough, I felt a nap coming on, so I slept, comfortably in the now shining sun, as I waited for my SOBO trailmate to arrive.
As I drifted of in my light slumber, I heard the familiar clacking of trekking poles. I woke from my nap, and rose to find Gap making his approach. I asked him if he wanted to spend the night this shelter, allowing us to take a shorter day into town then originally planned.
“You mean we don’t have to take a Dori nero into town?” he asked with a hint of excitement in his voice.
He had developed the term “Dori nero” to describe my version of a “near zero”, also known as a “nero”, into town. A normal “nero” into town would be a smaller than 10 mile trek into a town, to spend the night in town, then leave the next day. So you’re not doing zero miles while in town, your just doing a smaller amount of miles into town.
Somewhere along my adventure, prior to getting off trail, my understanding of a “nero” had changed without me recognizing it. Free Bird, my previous trailmate for the majority of my adventure, and I had started our adventure with actual “neros”, however, at some point, we decided, why stop a few miles outside of town, when you can just press straight into town. So we would do 15, 18, sometimes 20 miles straight into town, but would still call them “neros”.
Gap had kindly informed me that those were not, in fact, “neros”. Those were full days! So he dubbed my version of a “nero” (greater than 10 miles into town) a “Dori nero”. Ha!
So, we decided staying at the Sarver Hollow Shelter was a good idea, even though it was a 0.4 mile trek down a steep descent. We made the climb down to the shelter, set up our spots in the shelter, and went through our nightly routines. As we climbed into our sleeping bags for the evening, I could hear the gobble of a turkey nearby, something I had heard throughout my hike that day. Gap had not heard it all today, listening to his music as he hiked, and we laughed with every gobble. Apparently, the turkey was getting closer to our location! After a while, the turkey stopped, and we both drifted off to sleep, dry and warm for another evening alone.
The NOBOs we crossed today (the ones I got trailnames for at least)
I am once again back on trail, and continuing my adventure. It has not started off smoothly, but I am slowly getting my trail legs back, and am no longer alone! What adventures lay ahead? Continue to follow as I make my way to Georgia! Thanks for following, and as always. . .
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