Week 24 – Pearisburg to Atkins, VA
I’m still trying to make my way out of Virginia, however Mother Nature has more in store for me. We’ll continue to walk through challenging weather conditions and I’ll hit my lowest, most difficult, point on the trail yet. Will I make it through theses challenges? . . .
Day 161 (9:15am – 5:45pm, 16.4 miles, 50 degrees)
We woke once more from our comfortable beds and joined everyone for the communal breakfast. After joining hands and sharing what we were thankful for, we sat and enjoyed a delicious meal, joking and sharing stories around the table. Once the breakfast feast was complete and the dishes were cleaned, Gap and I gathered our belongings and got ready to head out for the day.
We thanked Neville again for her wonderful hospitality and were on our way back up the climb to the trail head. Our stay at the Woods Hole Hostel was fantastic! Neville is a wonderful woman and does a fantastic job running the hostel! This will definitely be one of the hostels I return to for a visit!
Gap was still wrapping up a few things at the hostel, so I started up the climb without him. Once at the trail head, patches of snow were still visible here and there, remnants of the cold day prior.
Up and up I climbed. The blue skies above were brilliant, with a select few white puffy clouds lazily floating through the ocean of blue. Eventually, I reached the top of my climb and was finally able to take in the gorgeous views around me.
After my climb, I traversed a short ridge walk and was then bouncing down the descent. As I neared the bottom, I approached the notorious Wapiti Shelter. For those who do not know, the Wapiti Shelter has had a somewhat gruesome history. In 1981, a man named Randall Lee Smith killed two hikers at this shelter. He spent 15 years in prison, and after his release, attempted a similar attack on two fisherman close to that area! After the original murders, the old shelter had been torn down, and a new one, with the same name, built.
(for more information, check these resources: http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/08/14/7-things-you-didnt-know-about-the-appalachian-trail/ , http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/07/08/AR2008070801657_4.html?sid=ST2008070801140)
Despite the history, I had decided to take a lunch break at the shelter, then continue on my journey through the rhododendron forest. Maybe Gap will catch up with me here.
I made my way to the shelter and found Wallstreet (a NOBO) with a couple of his friends joining him for a few days hike. I joined them for lunch and chatted with them for a while. Not too long after I had stopped, Gap emerged with the same idea; a nice lunch break at the shelter.
Gap and I chatted and discussed where we wanted to camp for the night. We decided somewhere after Dismal Falls would be a good resting place. With no problems at the shelter, despite its history, after our lunch break, Gap and I continued our walk together. We typically walk around the same pace, unless we are going up hill. So we chatted, joked, and laughed our way through the rhododendron forest as we head towards Dismal Falls.
The sun was shining through the beautiful blue sky, as the greens emerged around us. After the rhododendrons, we made our way through a beautiful pine forest. These are some of my favorite sections of the trail. The smells are fantastic and I feel at home.
After our nice, leisurely, walk through the excellent terrain and flat trail, we started to climb, slightly, once again. Soon we would arrive at the Dismal Falls. We stopped for a snack break, and a few breathers, along the way, the scorching sun taking its toll on both of us. Eventually, we arrived at the blue blaze trail that would lead us to Dismal Falls. It was quite a distance off the trail, but everyone told us it was a must see. So we walked along the trail for a little while, before dropping our packs at a campsite, and continued the remainder of the trail with just our water and phones. The falls were stunning!
The blue trail led us to the top of the falls. It opened to a roaring river with clean, cold, flowing water, before it took a large dive over the edge, creating the beautiful falls we had heard so much about. We had another small snack break, filling our water bottles as well, before making our way back up the trail to meet the AT once more.
Down the trail we raced as we neared our stopping point for the night. We planned on crossing the Kimberling Creek, hearing that there were a few camp spots directly after the creek. We would set up our tents there and begin another climb up the mountain the following day.
As I made my way down the trail, I slowly started to pull away from Gap. Eventually, I arrived at the road that I would cross to get me to the Kimberling Creek. After crossing the road, I traversed across a strong, long, bridge, spotting the camp sites off to the right. I dropped my pack, knowing Gap was not far behind, and sat on the other side of the creek, waiting for him to arrive.
As I sat, enjoying the view of the water and watching the occasional car pass by, I started to hear the melodic singing of a hiker coming down the trail. Gap emerged on the other side of the road, his ear buds in, clearly enjoying a song, as he danced across the bridge. I laughed as he approached, removing his ear buds so we could chat.
“There’s a few campsites here,” I told him. “Is this the site we wanted to stop at for the night?”
“Sure is!” he jovially replied.
We gathered our belongings and made our way along a small trail that lead us to a few other tenters in the area. We chatted with them briefly, and found a small spot to set up our tents for the night.
After we set up our tents, I began my ever so entertaining process of throwing my bear line. After a long day’s hike, sometimes, throwing the bear line can be quite the challenge. It begins by me finding a decent rock; not too big that I can’t throw it very high, yet not so small that it won’t be heavy enough to drop to the other side of the tree after I throw it. Then, after tying my knots around the rock, I am ready to throw. Simple right? NOPE!
Gap sat back and watched the beginning of the TV show he’d be watching tonight; The Adventures of Dori: episode 500, hanging the bear bag. He even recorded this episode! One throw after the next, I was failing. Bam! I hit the tree. Swoosh. I missed all branches completely and threw the rock into the woods. Swish. I threw the rock over a branch, the wrong branch, and the rock conveniently wrapped itself into a knot around the branch. UGH! Now I have to find a way to untangle it! Will I repeat my episode that my good friend, Centaur, got to witness, when I was forced to climb, hand over hand, up the tree in an attempt to free my line? Nope! Somehow, miraculously, I managed to free my line.
Meanwhile, Gap sat and munched on his snacks, thoroughly enjoying this episode of The Adventures of Dori. He sent a few pics and a small recording to Centaur, just to remind him what he was missing out here in the wilderness. I am just happy to know I provide my fellow hikers with entertainment. This would be a rather boring trip otherwise! They provide me with a fair amount of entertainment as well, I must say!
A few throws later (I may be underestimating that number) I was eventually, mildly, successful. The line was not as high as I would have liked it, but it’ll do. With the line thrown, and my tent up, all that was left to do was make and eat dinner, then into my tent for a good night’s rest.
We had a good day today, and tomorrow, once up the mountain, we’ll be doing a lot of ridge walking. But the temperatures are supposed to get hot! Tomorrow will be a battle to stay cool!
The NOBOs we crossed today (the ones I got trailnames for at least)
Day 162 (8:45am – 5:45pm, 14.6 miles, 30 degrees)
We woke this morning and broke down our tents, going through our individual morning routines. The temperatures are supposed to start climbing today, and the humidity will be high, so I am hoping to get an early start on my day. I’ll have to stop during the lunch hours in order to avoid the hottest part of the day.
I quickly was through my routine as I made my way back to the trail head. As we started our climb out of the valley, I quickly started to pull away from Gap once more. I’m sure I’ll see him later today.
Up and up I went. The sun was blistering hot as the hours of the day progressed. I decided to take a lunch break at the Jenny Knob Shelter, refill my water, and wait for Gap. I made the short walk from the trail head to the shelter, to find tons of NOBOs with the same idea as me! I introduced myself and chatted with them for a while. I had a lot of time to kill as the temperatures had already crept past 70 degrees. The humidity levels were high and the sun was relentless. As I chatted with the NOBOs, two more people came walking around the corner. I glanced at them and noticed the girl was carrying a flamingo. A flamingo! I know that flamingo!
For quite a long time, while on the trail, I have become Facebook friends with a few other hikers that I had yet to meet. Two of these friends, Nicorette and Committed, were always a few weeks behind me. I was hoping they would catch up with me prior to getting off the trail. But our paths never crossed. When I returned to the trail, I learned they were returning the same time, but once again 100 miles or so behind me. Our paths, it would seem, would still not cross. But they were catching up! I knew they were close. Committed carried a pink flamingo with her. This was them!
“Committed?” I asked looking at the girl.
“Dori!” she replied.
We finally got to meet each other! Another happy SOBO reunion! The other NOBOs watched us as we greeted each other with sheer joy and shared our stories from our travels to this point. Eventually the NOBOs left us to our reminiscing as we chatted for a great deal of time.
After roughly 1 hour and a half, and still no sign of Gap, I decided it was time to move on. I bid Nicorette and Committed a momentary farewell as I collected my gear and hit the trail once more.
I was disappointed not to run into Gap, as we had not decided where we planned on staying tonight. I figured I would walk as far as my little legs would carry me for the day, then set up camp somewhere before the next shelter.
I trudged on through the blistering heat, as my legs grew more and more tired. The heat was absolutely having an effect on me. As I walked, I suddenly realized I was scratching at my wrist and my leg; a few itchy blisters had emerged with one larger one on my leg. What on earth is that from!? I’ll have to keep an eye on those!
I continued along the way, without seeing any signs of Gap, and eventually got within a mile of the tent sites I hoped to stop at. I may be alone tonight if he somehow made it ahead of me! If he pushes to the next shelter, I’ll just have to catch him tomorrow.
Just as this thought popped into my head, there he was, in the distance. He did get ahead of me! He must have decided to pass the Jenny Knob Shelter. I quickly caught up to him, my legs weak and my body overheating. As I approached, he must have been dealing with the same problem, because he suddenly stopped and threw his pack to the ground. He plopped down on his pack, and looked up at me.
“Dori!” he exclaimed with an air of exhaustion in his tone.
I threw my pack down next to his and plopped myself down on my pack as well. “What’s up Gap,” I replied with the same air of exhaustion in my voice. “I can’t make it to that next shelter. I’m just going to stay at one of the tent sites coming up.”
“Thank God!” he exclaimed, clearly as tired as I was. “You have no idea how happy I am to hear you say that.”
We both managed to laugh despite our levels of exhaustion and sat for a while on our packs, regaining our strength and cooling down. We chatted as we rested, munching on snacks occasionally. As I sat on my pack, a small moth came and rested on my watch. I watched it as it walked around, poking at my watch with its antennae. It was so peaceful and relaxing to watch the small moth taking a rest on my wrist. I guess we weren’t the only ones being affected by the heat today!
Eventually, Gap and I managed the strength and energy to walk a little farther until we were able to find a tent site (roughly at mile marker 1595.5) that we could both set our tents up on. As we were getting ready for the night, Nicorette and Committed came by. They were planning on heading straight into the town, Bland, tonight. Good luck! That would give them, roughly, a 20 mile day! They looked just as tired as us, but had a friend they would be meeting in town, so they were motivated to keep going.
After chatting with them for a little while, they picked up their packs and continued along their way. We continued readying ourselves for the evening. I was barely able to cook myself dinner, and Gap decided against making himself dinner. After I ate, I crawled into my sleeping bag and called it an early night. As we lay in our tents, Gap continued to chat with me. After a while, I think he realized I had fallen asleep and was no longer responding. I slept like a rock that night!
The NOBOs we crossed today (the ones I got trailnames for at least)
Day 163 (8:25 am – 5:45pm, 16.2 miles, 50 degrees)
As the sun rose, poking at my eyes, drawing them slowly open, I once again started my routine of gathering my belongings. No matter how quiet I try to be, somehow, I manage to wake Gap each morning. He slowly crept from his tent and began his morning routine as well.
In no time, we were both ready to start our day’s adventure. I quickly took off and at some point, managed to lose Gap along the way. I made my way towards Bland, climbing down a steep drop in the mountain side. The trail met, and followed, a road, winding around the side of the mountain, until it entered Bland. As I walked along the somewhat busy road, a minivan passed me. Wait a minute! That looked like Nicorette! I stopped and turned to look behind me, but the minivan had sped off around the corner.
For whatever reason, I was struggling today. I was tired. I was itchy. I needed a good pick me up. I plodded along the road until I came to a cross in the street. Where was the next white blaze? I swear I have the most difficult time following the trail once you hit civilization! I pulled out my handy Guthook’s app and searched for the direction I was supposed to head. As I stood at my confusing intersection, the minivan returned. It was Nicorette and Committed! I chatted with them briefly as they pointed me in the right direction. They were heading into town to pick up supplies. I may see them later again today.
I once again bid them farewell and went along my way, a tiny pep in my step once again. Just as I rounded the corner, there was trail magic! Wait, I know who that is! It was Pigeon Toe! I had met Pigeon Toe at Angel’s Rest hostel just a few days prior! My spirits completely lifted now, I quickly made my way toward Pigeon Toe.
“Well what do you know!” He hollered as I neared, obviously recognizing me. He turned to the other thru hikers that where there. “Everyone, I’d like you to meet Dori!”
As I approached the group they all waved and introduced themselves. I dropped my 2 ton pack on the ground with an enormous thud, and joined everyone for snacks and soda. It’s really amazing how much a can of Mountain Dew can pick up a hiker’s spirits! This was exactly what I needed! I hope Gap gets here in time!
As I caught up with Pigeon Toe, he told me he would be grilling burgers and hot dogs in a few hours and I should stick around.
“I wish I could!” I replied. But I had to keep pushing. I had only done a few miles and it was only 10am! I couldn’t take such a short day. I thanked him for everything and said farewell, letting him know my good friend, Gap, should be showing up soon. I collected my belongings once again and was one my way, heading up another small mountain. This was not a steep climb though. The next few miles would consist of small ups and downs, traversing the sides of the mountains. That’s not too bad.
Around the first bend I went, climbing slightly. Something was hiding amongst the trees. Something, white, and puffy, across the valley. As I found a clearing, the puffy smoke showed itself. I realized there was a fire on the other ridge! Oh no! I hope this is not another wildfire!
I watched for a few minutes, wondering if I should turn around. Was this a controlled fire? Will the fire spread to this ridge? I watched the smoke blow away into the distance. The wind was gently blowing the opposite direction. After a few minutes, I decided to push on. Hopefully I could push past where the fire would be and the winds wouldn’t change. I decided I would ask everyone I passed if they knew anything about the fire. If I saw no one, I would turn around and get off trail.
As I wound around the mountains, following the clear path, keeping an eye on the fire on the other side of the valley, I came across a northbounder. I asked him what he knew. Apparently, it was a controlled fire that got out of control, and firefighters were working hard to regain control of it. He did not seem concerned about the fire, so on I pushed after thanking him for his information.
On and on I went, collecting what information I could. Each story matched the next; it was a fire that got out of control, burned down a hunting cabin, but seemed to not be a danger to us. Eventually, I rounded another corner as the trail took a turn away from the fire. I should be safe this far way. I still had several more miles to go.
The trail straightened out, and the trees and brush hugged the path. The smoke became farther and farther behind me, slowly turning into a misty memory. Straight as an arrow, the trail laid out before me, as I picked up the pace. As the sun rose, I was able to take shelter under some more rhododendrons, staying cool from the blistering sun, as I sat on my pack and ate my lunch. I waited out the hottest hours of the day, with no signs of Gap on the trail, chatting with a few other hikers that passed me by. Eventually, I started up again, and made my way towards the Jenkins Shelter, where I planned to stay for the night.
I crossed another beautiful wooden bridge as I neared the base of my last climb for the day. A sign hung close to a garbage can, telling me to take some wood chips in a bag with me to the Jenkins Shelter. I collected my bag, threw it on my pack, and was on my way up the small mountain. I was supposed to carry this bag of wood chips, deposit them at the Jenkins Shelter privy, and carry the bag to the next road crossing where there would be a place for me to deposit it. No problem!
Up I went, recognizing how fatigued I was with the heat, until I reached the top. The path flattened out before me and I started to walk through rhododendron tunnels once more. I knew I was getting close. As I neared a stream, thinking the shelter had to be close, I saw people camped off in the distance. Yup, I must be close.
I continued to follow the trail, but there was no sign of the shelter. Not wanting to go too far, since I had decided to tent for the night, and recognizing that the trail bent away from water, I decided to turn around to ask the campers how far to the shelter. They informed me it was just up the hill, however this was the water source for the shelter.
I decided there was plenty of room to camp with them, so I asked to join them, and they welcomed me graciously into the tentsite. I found a nice spot, tucked away under some rhododendrons, and started to set up camp. After I was mostly set up, I went to hang my bear bag. There were not many tree options, so I made my way across the trail into a swampy area. I managed to hang my bear bag with only a few quick attempts, a record for me I think. After everything was set, I returned to the campsite. There was Gap, propped up against his pack, slumped against a tree!
“Gap!” I shouted, happy to see my good friend once again.
“Dori!” He replied, exhaustion hanging on his voice once again. The heat was a little better today, however it still took a toll on both of us.
We caught up, chatting about our days; the wildfire, the trail magic, and our individual adventures. We shared stories with our new neighbors, B10 and Wonder Woman, laughing and enjoying each others company. B10 got a roaring fire going, helping to keep the bugs at bay, as we all huddled around the fire, cooking our dinners and chatting.
After dinner, we continued to enjoy the fire as we shared stories of our travels. As I sat, listening to their stories, I realized I had inadvertently been scratching my legs and arms; the itchy blisters had spread! They were now covering bigger patches on my legs and arms, and were starting to show up along my waist, directly under where my waistband sits! I asked Wonder Woman what she thought this itchy annoying rash could be.
“I think it may be poison sumac!” She said. She quickly went into her pack and pulled out a small package that contained what looked like mustard and honey combined. “Here, I got this from town. It’s supposed to help with itching.”
I gratefully accepted her gift and quickly applied it to the rash on my waist. It helped a little, but the rash was still itchy beyond reason. Hopefully this will help me sleep soundly through the night!
As darkness fell, we all retired to our tents for the night. I applied more of the magical yellow goo to all the rashes that were slowly starting to cover my body. After finding a comfortable position, where I would hopefully not accidentally scratch any of my itchy spots, I slowly drifted off to sleep.
Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch. What hour is it? My eyes slowly opened to the pitch black that surrounded me. Itch, itch, itch. Now that I’m awake, I might as well apply another layer. Crunch, crunch, crunch. Something was walking through the woods, only feet from my tent. It didn’t bound. It didn’t trot. What was it?
Here and there the crunching would continue. I was frozen. It didn’t seem heavy enough to be a bear, but it wasn’t a small critter either. Slowly it inched past my tent and continued into the black. My guess, it was a deer passing by. Once lathered up again, I drifted back off to sleep, not to be disturbed until the morning light bid me good morning, once more.
The NOBOs we crossed today (the ones I got trailnames for at least)
- Crop Duster
- Wil da Beast
- Wonder Woman
Day 164 (9:15am – 3:45pm, 10.7 miles, 50 degrees)
Once again, mother nature woke me from slumber, with a bright, visible alarm clock shining in my eyes. I crawled from my tent, finding B10 and Wonder Woman already breaking down their tents. B10 had gotten another roaring fire going for the morning. Gap was still sound asleep in his tent.
I started to collect my belongings and ready myself for the day. I waltzed through the swamp to retrieve my bear bag, once again safe from any critters nibbling or gnawing. As I started to pack my gear, and go through my morning routine, Gap emerged from his tent and started his morning routine as well. I told Gap I planned on heading to the Chestnut Knob Shelter today. He agreed this seemed like a good place to aim for, as we were both fairly tired from the heat the past few days. And the boiling sun was once again out early this morning!
We cooked our breakfasts and continued to enjoy the company of B10 and Wonder Woman. But alas, we must split ways with our new friends! Once breakfast was complete, it was time to move on our way once more. Packed and ready to go, all I needed to do was deposit my wood chips and make my way up another mountain. Today would also consist of some ridge walking.
Beating Gap out of camp, I bid him a temporary farewell and was on my way. I dropped my pack by the trail head that lead to the shelter, and carried my woodchips, heading for the privy. Several other hikers were at the shelter and I bid them a good morning. We chatted for a little after I deposited the chips, then I left to return to the trail. Chips deposited and pack donned once more, I was off. Again, I climbed up the mountain. It’s not too far. Soon the climb will be over. At least it’s cool for now!
I climbed and climbed until, at last, the trail incline decreased and I was ridge walking once more. The hike today is not bad. Small little ups and downs as I make my way through the sticks around me. I say sticks because it is still a little too early for real tree cover. The views can be stunning looking through the story high sticks, however they leave little cover fromage the now broiling sunshine!
As the hours passed by, the temperature climbed. And climbed. And climbed. My legs grew heavy with heat and exhaustion as I could feel the sun beating on my bare shoulders. My face was hot with sweat and blood flow. With no shade anywhere to be found, I decided to stop by a road crossing for a lunch break. I threw my pack down by a log and made myself a quick lunch. I wonder if I will see Gap at all today?
I had yet to see my good friend, and with a road crossing so close, leading to another hostel, I wondered if he would make his stop here today. I bet you he’ll find a ride, somehow, and he’ll end up at that hostel tonight. I wonder if I should do the same? Maybe I can get this rash looked at!
With the heat, the rash seemed to be spreading farther. It was raising higher off my skin, and the blotches were becoming thicker. I was having a hard time spotting skin between the red spots. Where previously, there had been only spots of red, with mostly skin showing, there was now the reverse. And I was getting itchier!
After debating in my head, I decided I only had a few more days before I would be in Atkins with my family. I should be ok. Maybe the yellow goo just needs more time to work. I decided to move on and I threw my belongings back in my pack and made my way down the trail. I only had a small climb until I would reach the Chestnut Knob Shelter, a shelter that was completely closed in and atop a clearing on a mountain top. It sounded stunning!
I started to climb the last hill before the shelter. Every step I took, my legs trembled below me. The heat was intense and I could feel myself once again overheating. Off came the shirt once more, hiking in my spandex and sports bra to try to get some air flow to my ever rising skin temperature. The son pounded down on my now exposed shoulders and face. Every 5 steps I had to stop for a break. I better not be getting heat exhaustion again! I dodged the sun, resting behind trees in the line of shade they provided, like a vampire avoiding the sun, until I finally reached the shelter. I dropped my pack inside and cooled down for a few minutes. I’m staying here tonight! I’ll have to keep a look out for Gap. But something told me I wouldn’t see him tonight.
I started to unload my gear. I had my sleeping pad out, my sleeping bag, my food bags, and cooking supplies. As I got ready to make myself a snack, I went to pull out my knife. Where’s my knife! It wasn’t in my hip belt where I usually kept it. I frantically searched my entire pack, then the floors, the bunk platforms, and the terrain around the outside of the shelter. No knife was found! I pulled out my phone and turned off the airplane mode. At least I have reception! I quickly sent Nicorrette, Committed, and Gap a text, asking them to keep an eye out for the knife since they were somewhere behind me. I must have dropped it when I stopped for lunch! I could only wait and hope now.
Luckily, there was a small knife on the table in the shelter that would do the trick for now. If that knife doesn’t get found, I’ll just have to buy another one in town. But there was something warning me. Some deep feeling in my gut, telling me to keep up my guard.
Several weeks ago, another hiker had warned me of a northbounder that Gap and I would be crossing ways with sometime within the month. This northbounder had been in quite a few altercations with hikers, and had stalked and threatened to kill her! With a picture provided of this individual, I knew we would be crossing paths with him soon. Any day now, in fact! He was known to change directions to follow female hikers, and now I found myself alone, and without my knife. My spirits were starting to plummet!
With tears in my eyes, I sat at the table, listening to everything around me, and trying to keep myself from feeling the despair that was now hanging around my head. I was overheated, alone, tired, knifeless, and this relentless itching was throwing me over the edge. I didn’t know what this rash was. Nothing I was doing was making it better and with each day, it spread and became worse. UGH!
Just as I had about had it, a familiar buzz shook the table. Forgetting my phone was on airplane mode, and remembering I had just texted my friends about my knife, hope emerged! A text message popped up. I lunged at the phone, hoping it was good news! Maybe someone found my knife! I had a somewhat emotional attachment to that knife. I had it for over 10 years! It was my go to! I looked at my phone. It was my old friend Centaur, checking in to see how I was doing. Happy to see my old friend, but the hope slowly fading in my heart, with tears in my eyes, I replied. Not great. Before I could elaborate regarding why I was feeling so blue, my phone rang.
“Hey Dori!” Centaur’s voice rang through on the other end.
Tears now streaming down my cheeks, but my spirits lifting a little at the sound of a familiar voice, I greeted my old friend and explained what had transpired the past few days. He consoled me and encouraged me to keep my head high. He had faith that I could push through this. He knew I could make it to Georgia. As we chatted, the tears drying on my cheeks now, and the cloud lifting from around my head, he continued to give me words of encouragement and we chatted about our days. Feeling much better, it was time to say goodbye. I told him I’d stay in touch and let him know when I was safe, past the creepy individual. I only hopped today would not be the day we met!
After thanking Centaur for helping to lift my spirits, we said goodbye and I left the shelter to take in the views around me. With the cloud around my head gone, for the most part, I was now able to take in the beauty that surrounded me. Everything was so peaceful. But there was still no sign of Gap.
After taking in the views, I decided to head back into the shelter to make dinner. As I was finishing cooking, I saw a few other hikers heading my way. None were the creepy northbounder! Relieved to see other hikers, and learn they were spending the night at this shelter as well, we chatted and went through our nightly routines. As darkness started to fall around us, I returned to the outside to take in the sunset. This was a perfect spot to see the sun drop below the trees!
With the sunset complete, it was time to retire for the evening. Gap never did show up. I bet you he’s at that hostel. As I lay in my sleeping bag, doing everything I could to avoid scratching all the itchy blotches slowly taking over my body, I came up with a plan. Tomorrow, I would try to get to civilization. I wasn’t sure what I would do, but there were several road crossings. Maybe I’ll try to catch a ride to town and get these rashes looked at. With a small game plan set, I applied the yellow goo that Wonder Woman had given me once more, and snuggled into my sleeping bag for another itchy night. I sent Gap a quick message, letting him know what my plans were, then slowly drifted off to sleep.
The NOBOs we crossed today (the ones I got trailnames for at least)
- Ted Ranger
Day 165 (8:15am – 1:45pm, 11.6 miles, 50 degrees)
I heard the shuffling of gear as the sun slowly peaked in the windows of the shelter. The other hikers had started to gather their belongings and were getting ready for their days traverse. I inspected the blotches, hoping to see the redness subsiding; it shown back at me as bright as ever. Ugh, this still isn’t getting any better!
I slowly made my way through my routine, trying hard to wipe away the slowly forming dark cloud around my head. With still no sign or word from Gap, I considered myself a solo hiker once more, gathered my belongings, and hit the trail.
There was no water source at the shelter last night, so I had decided to hit the trail early, and make myself breakfast at the first water crossing in approximately 1 mile. It was a pond, however there was a spring close to the pond that I could use to filter my water. I would fill up there, make my breakfast and brush my teeth, then start my day.
The air was cool this morning, a reprieve from the boiling days prior, and mist hung low along the mountain side. At least I get to start heading down today! There were a few small peaks I would traverse today, but they would be steep. Just another day or so and I would be in Atkins, VA. My family was planning on meeting me there to spend Easter with me and Gap. I just hope Gap catches back up! Something tells me he will find a way!
I took one last picture before off I went down the trail. I reached the pond and found the spring. As I finished my breakfast, filled my water bottles, and brushed my teeth, I was once again on my way down the mountain. Two men came sauntering up to me; two very jovial NOBOs.
“How’s it going?” The one man greeted me. “Are you a SOBO?!”
“I am,” I replied.
His eyes widened with a look of awe and shock. “When did you start!?”
I explained my entire journey as briefly as I could, telling him about the freezing temperatures we all had to endure in the winter months, and the wild fires that threatened to stop us, and the ultimate decision to delay my finish of the AT by a few months.
“You’re almost done! How exciting!” he exclaimed with a bright smile across his face and wonder in his eyes. “You’ll cross the quarter left mark today!”
With all the challenges I had been facing recently, I had forgotten that I would be crossing my 3/4 way mark today! My heart lifted slightly and the cloud around my head turned from a dark gray to a light gray. I chatted with the men a little while longer, learning their names were KJ and Rooster. The two men joked and we shared many laughs, as I found myself wishing I could spend more time with my new companions. Somehow, in conversation, my rashes came up. The men took a quick look with concern spread across their faces.
“You know, we just came from the Quarter Way Inn Hostel last night,” Rooster explained. “Chunky, the woman that runs the hostel, is a real sweetheart and it was one of the best hostels we’ve stayed in yet! You should give her a call. I bet she would take you into town to have that looked at!”
The cloud was obliterated around my head as a light bulb popped on. What a fantastic idea! “Thank you so much! I will call her immediately!”
I bid the men farewell and thanked them again for their fantastic idea and suggestions and was quickly on my way. I grabbed my phone. I have signal! I quickly looked at my maps. There was a road crossing coming up in just 2.7 miles! I could be in to see a doctor before noon! But I have to reach Chunky ASAP! I quickly dialed the number I found in my AWOL Quidebook.
It rang, and rang, and rang. With each ring of the phone, my heart sunk a little more. The voicemail kicked on. Ok, what am I going to say? I will run out of signal shortly, and will most likely only have signal at the mountain tops. I did some quick math and figured I would be down by the road crossing in one hour. If I didn’t see anyone there, I would move on and try to call on the next mountain top. There were a few road crossings today, so I would just keep going and trying to reach the Quarter Way Inn hostel as I went. I left a quick message, explaining my scenario and hoping they would be able to take me in to see a doctor today. I explained I would be at the road in approximately 1 hour and would wait for 20 minutes, then head for the next road crossing. All I could do now was move, and hope.
I flew down the mountain, a woman on a mission, as the itching became worse and worse. The temperatures climbed once again as I stopped quickly to remove my layers. The red splotches were raised even more today and had, once again, spread. I am so glad I have a plan to get this looked at! I have to have some kind of treatment today before this becomes systemic! I quickly threw my pack back on my back and was running down the mountain once more.
Just in time, I reached the road crossing. I waited, and waited, and waited. Minutes ticked by. Nothing. I don’t even know if they got the message! What if they didn’t’ have enough time to get here! What if I move on and then they pull up and I miss them! These thoughts, and more, raced through my head. I wished I could have spoken with someone, but sitting in this valley, with no reception, left me with no options. Ok, I rationalized with myself, worst case scenario, you don’t ever reach them, but you can still hike into town. With that, off I ran once more. I only had 2.5 miles to reach the next mountain top. Hopefully, I would be able to get signal there.
I raced back up the mountain, the sun broiling once more, and my blotches spreading faster and faster. As I neared the mountain top, 12 o’clock quickly approached. Who knows if the doctors office is even open today. What if you can’t get in to see anyone today? What if you get to town, and the doctor’s office closes at 2. You’re running out of time! My mind was playing an evil game with me. Every possible nasty solution was presenting itself as I raced through the woods alone in my own thoughts.
Finally, I crested the mountain top. I quickly looked at my phone. I had signal once again. I quickly dialed the Quarter Way Inn. Ring, Ring Ring. . . voicmail. My heart sunk to my stomach as desperation set in. I needed to get off this mountain today! I left a somewhat more desperate message explaining I would just keep trying them and keep crossing roads. I had 4 miles before the next road crossing. Hopefully I could reach Chunky before then. I dropped my pack on the ground, completely deflated, as my options thinned before my eyes. I pulled out my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, tears in my eyes, and sat on my pack in the scorching sun, itchy, and scared that this rash would somehow work its way into my wind pipes in the next two days and become a real serious problem. The dark cloud moved in around my head. My phone sat silently on my lap. Soon lunch would be over and I would have to move once more, not knowing if I would have a way to a doctor. Time was ticking by. The hours were racing past. My time was running out. As my thoughts raced, my heart broke as tears raced down my cheeks. I couldn’t take this anymore!
I sobbed in my hands on my pack, alone, in the middle of the woods. What was I going to do! Suddenly, my phone vibrated. It was Chunky! She had gotten my message and was texting me back! She would meet me at VA 42 at 2pm and take me to urgent care! I had a way out! Overjoyed and thankful beyond words, the emotions I had been trying to hold back burst through, and I bawled on my pack. A few minutes later, feeling relieved and ready to get to the road crossing, with a solid game plan in mind and plenty of time to get there, I gathered myself and was once again on my way.
My heart was a little lighter and I ran down the mountain side. Quickly, and just in time, I reached the road crossing and made my way to the location she had suggested our meeting. I removed my boots, and dropped my back, making myself as comfortable as possible in the shade of a gazebo. Now it’s time to really assess these things.
I pulled out my phone and snapped several pictures of all the rashes. They were all over my legs, all over my arms, and the spot under my hip belt was out of control. I had a few patches on my neck working their way to my face! It was even working its way to my bikini line! This was not looking good! But it was ok. Soon I would be in a car and on my way to seek treatment!
Eventually, Chunky showed up with another hiker in the car. I thanked her profusely for rescuing me. She took a look at my rashes and, with the same air of concern as the two NOBOs I met earlier, stated she was more than happy to get me the help I needed. She would take me to the hostel, let me shower, then drive me to urgent care. The closest urgent care was 30 minutes away, but there was plenty of time. With my mind a little at ease, we were on our way. I sat in the air conditioned car, chatting with Chunky, and the other hiker, Sunshine, another NOBO.
Once at the Quarter Way Inn, I made sure to isolate my gear and make sure I did not spread this rash to anyone else. Chunky gave me the grand tour, I found a bed for my belongings, and I took a quick shower. I was ready to go. Chunky and I made the drive to the urgent care facility in Bland (a town I had passed only a day ago). Once I was checked in, Chunky informed me she would wait for me outside. Hopefully this wouldn’t take too long.
I sat in the cool waiting room, showered, but still standing out from the locals that surrounded me. 30 minutes passed. Then 1 hour. I felt bad that chunky was still waiting outside! Finally, my name was called and I made my way through the hallways leading to my treatment room. Shortly after, the doctor came in and I explained what had transpired over the previous days. The doctor was impressed that I was a thru-hiker and was close to my finish and with a quick inspection, determined that I had a rather significant case of poison sumac! I knew it! They decided a simple course of ointment would not be enough. Not even a steroid pack would be enough. They decided the best course of treatment would be a steroid shot, steroid pack, and ointment together! WOW! I had never had a steroid shot before. I was concerned, this far from home, what if I had an allergic reaction! I didn’t want to be alone in the woods and find that out. So I decided I would spend a day at the hostel, hopefully allow Gap to catch up, and make sure there was no side affects from the shot.
They quickly administered the shot, which hurt significantly worse than I expected, and gave me a prescription for a steroid pack and special ointment. Great, I’ll have to ask another favor of Chunky and go to a pharmacy as well. And of course, the pharmacy next door closed only minutes ago! I thanked the doctor and was one my way out the door. I paid and walked into the waiting room, then out the front doors into the scorching hot sun once again. I walked around the parking lot, looking for the car. No Chunky. I shot her a quick text, telling her I was all set. She replied she went to run some quick errands and would be there in a minute. I went back inside to wait.
Suddenly, I felt flush. I started to sweat. The black spots emerged before my eyes. Oh no! I’m about to pass out! Am I having a reaction to the shot!? I quickly sat down, recognizing the symptoms, hoping that I could regain control. As I sat, with beads of sweat forming on my brow, Chunky emerged through the door. She saw me and her face dropped. Her eyes grew big and she quickly sat down next to me.
“Are you ok?” She asked with concern in her voice.
“I think I’m having a reaction to the shot. I just feel faint. I think I just have to sit here for a minute. I should be ok.”
I sat for a few minutes, the symptoms being persistent, however I maintained my consciousness. I tried to keep my heart rate steady and my anxiety low. I wish the receptionist would get off the phone. If I could just lay down, I’m sure I’d be fine. I carefully stood and moved closer to the receptionist’s window as she chatted away with her window closed. Finally, she put down the phone and I took my opportunity. I stood up and walked to the window.
“I’m sorry to bother you, but I think I’m about to pass out. Can I come back and lay down?”
She quickly stood, asking me to take a seat, and rushed to grab a nurse, a look of horror in her eyes. I plopped back into the chair, the black spots still spinning around my eyes.
Chunky looked at me with more concern in her eyes. “Are you sure you’re ok?”
“I’m going to lie down in the back and let this pass,” I replied. “I’m sorry this is taking so long.”
“It’s ok! I hope you’re ok! But I do have to get back to the hostel.” Worry spread over her entire face as she looked at me with wide eyes. “I really hate to do this to you, but I know a really good shuttle driver that said he can come and get you and take you anywhere you need to go. But it will cost you some money. Can I leave you his number?”
Understanding the position she was in, and already extremely grateful for all she had done, I agreed. “I’ll see you later tonight,” I thanked her. “Don’t worry, I”ll be ok.”
She wished me good luck and was on her way as the nurses rushed out with a wheelchair. The nurses coached me into the chair, much like I do with my patients. “Wait, don’t stand up to quick!” They exclaimed.
“Don’t worry,” I giggled. “I am a PT and coach my patients the same way. I’ll be ok.”
“Reach back for the chair,” they continued to coach, as if not hearing me. I allowed them to do their jobs and complied with their orders, laughing to myself as I took on the role of the patient. They quickly rolled me back to the room I had been in previously. The doctor looked at me with concern, knowing that she had assured me only 5 minutes ago that I should not have any side effects. I informed her that I suspected I was only having a sympathetic reaction to the stress of the shot and the scenario. Recognizing that I was also a health care provider, she agreed and got me a soda and some crackers, informing me I could stay where I was as long as I needed. Slowly the black spots dissolved and I could feel the cold sweats leaving. I was starting to feel stronger. I waited a few more minutes, borrowed their bathroom, and finally felt strong enough to leave. I hope I’m done for real this time!
I once again said goodbye to the billing department and was back in the waiting room. Phew that was close! At least I didn’t lose consciousness! I waited a few more minutes before I called Bubba, the driver that Chunky had told me about. He was expecting a call from me and told me he could pick me up in 15 minutes and take me to Walmart to fill my prescription. I thanked him and waited in a more private area and called my mom. I told her what had transpired and that I was now feeling much better and had treatment. Hopefully, I would be ok tomorrow. I would take a zero tomorrow to allow this all time to heal and my body to recover from the shock of my adventures from today.
As I got off the phone with my mother, Bubba pulled up. My adventures with him would cost me $40 today. I didn’t mind. He would be driving me all over the place to get my prescription filled, my resupply done, and then drive me back to the Quarter Way Inn Hostel. We chatted along the drive and he was more than happy to wait for me to get my prescriptions filled, then drove me back to Chunky. I thanked him for his wonderful hospitality and assistance and wished him a happy day.
As I entered the Quarter Way Inn hostel, Chunky greeted me asking how I was feeling. I was fine now and she explained her look of horror from earlier that day. Apparently, when she had entered the waiting room to see me sitting in the chair, my face was ghost white and I had perfect beads of sweat all around my face. She informed me when I had stood to transfer to the wheelchair, my shirt back was also soaked in sweat! I had no idea! We laughed at the ordeal, since I was now back to normal and looked like I belonged in the land of the living! As the evening drew on, she shared my story with the other hikes that had arrived to spend the night, as they all looked at me with eyes filled with awe and wonder. They peppered me with questions and we all chatted the night away.
Finally relaxed and at ease, I applied my first layer of ointment, took my first steroid pill, and sent Gap a quick text, from the one spot outside that allowed me to have cell service. I shot Nicorette and Committed, and Centaur a quick update, then Frankie, telling him I would try to touch base with him in the next few days, but I was ok. What a day! I crawled into my bed and stared up at the ceiling. Where did I get this rash from? There was only one answer that popped into my mind. Almost one week ago, I had done a few work for stay at the Angel’s Rest hostel, removing a lot of overgrown brush and weeds for them. Gap and I had worked hard and gotten dirty, having a lot of fun at the same time. At one point, carrying the debris to a pile, someone pointed out that I was holding a stem of poison sumac in my gloved hand. It was a thorny, hairy, dead looking stick in my hand. Well, it’s too late now. And I had thought nothing else of it. That must have been where I got it from. It was the only option. Tomorrow, I’ll call the Natural at the Angels Rest hostel to warn him to stay away from there. I just hope it’s not too late! I closed my eyes, the itching subsiding a little, and I finally drifted off to sleep. Chunky has been my savior today! I must make sure to thank her again tomorrow!
The NOBOs we crossed today (the ones I got trailnames for at least)
- Peter Pan
- Captain Jack
- Tree Ninja
I survived through quite an ordeal in this episode of The Adventures with Dori. I have lost my trail companion for now, but we’ll meet up again, I just know it! Continue to follow me as I make my way to Georgia. In my next episode, I will be reunited with friends and family and finally conquer this rash! Until then. . .
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