Week 25- Atkins to Troutdale, VA
I have been rescued from the trail by Chunky, one of the best trail angels I have met, at the Quarter Way Inn Hostel. I will finally kick the poison sumac, Gap and I will be reunited once more, my parents will come to visit, and Gap and I will return to our home in the woods. What else is in store as we continue on our SOBO adventure on the AT? Only a few more states to go as we head for Georgia.
Day 166: Time – Crawling; Temperature – Controlled; Miles – 0
I woke today to see the blotches still there. Maybe it’s just in my head, but does it look a little better today? I woke up and discussed my plans with Chunky. I would take a zero here today and do a little indoor work-for-stay for her. I didn’t want to risk going outside and ripping any more plants from the ground, so she agreed there were things I could do around the home to help her.
She quickly showed me around, asking me to wipe down the beds, clean the bathrooms, and vacuum the home. No problem. I eagerly agreed, knowing that I would be bored just sitting in the home, and got to work quickly after breakfast.
I started my work day by scrubbing and cleaning the bathroom. Scrub, scrub, scrub, itch, scrub. Scrub, scrub, itch, itch, scrub. Wait a minute! As I worked, I started to feel the blotches becoming a little more itchy. I quickly took a look and sure enough, the blotches were getting irritated by my sweat. Originally, I had decided to take a zero today in case I had a reaction to any of the medications. But now, I could see that any sweat would cause the blemishes to become irritated and spread. Ahh! I’m going to have to take another zero tomorrow in order to wait out this problem. The last thing I wanted to do was step back into the woods and have this problem become a nightmare once again.
I quickly stepped outside and shot Gap a quick text, keeping him in the loop and seeing how he was doing and where he was. Sure enough, he had opted to stay at the hostel I passed a few days prior. He wasn’t sure how long he’d be there; he was down and out as well due to pain he was experiencing in his ankles. So we opted to keep in touch and would meet up again when my parents came to town.
I quickly returned to my chores, doing my best to keep my sweat levels down so I would not aggravate the poison sumac that was covering me. Before I knew it, my chores were done. I popped in the kitchen to see if Chunky needed anything else done.
“Sure,” she eagerly answered, seemingly surprised that I was eager to do more.
She gave me a few other simple tasks and I eagerly complied. With those quickly finished, there was nothing left for me to do indoors. The rest of the day was mine to do what I chose. I picked up the phone and gave The Natural at the Angel’s Rest Hostel a quick call.
“Angel’s Rest Hostel,” the familiar voice came through on the other line.
“Natural?” I asked. “This is Dori.”
“Oh, hi Dori.”
Quickly I told him about my previous day’s adventures: going to urgent care, being diagnosed with poison sumac, the entire ordeal. “I just wanted to warn you. I know you have more you wanted to do in that area and I wanted to make sure no one else got covered.”
“Thank you, Dori,” he replied with a somewhat somber voice. “I actually have it all over me as well.”
There’s the confirmation. Apparently, The Natural had been riddled with the same problem. How on earth did Gap avoid this?
The Natural and I chatted a little longer, then said our goodbyes. I didn’t reach him in time to save him from the horrible ordeal of dealing with the poison sumac, but at least I tried.
After my little chat with The Natural, with no access to internet or any reliable cell reception, I spent the remainder of my day watching “Star Wars” and “The Last of the Mohicans” and chatting with some of the other hikers hanging around the house. I chatted with another NOBO thru-hiker, Sunrise, during the day, while watching the movies and petting a few of the local cats.
Sunrise was debating taking another zero, however she finally decided to hit the trail and continue on her journey. I was sad to see her go, but I bid her farewell as she decided to return to the trail later that afternoon.
As dinner time rolled around, I helped myself to a Digiorno pizza and ate the entire thing. Well, it seems hiker hunger has returned. I sat around the dinner table with the other hikers that had made their way to the hostel for the evening, sharing stories and laughing as we enjoyed our meals.
Well fed, happy, and sleepy, a few of us decided to watch just one more movie. We sat down and enjoyed “The Rock” until sleep finally crept into our eyes and it was time to call it a night. I applied another healthy layer of the ointment from the urgent care clinic and crawled into my bed for the evening. Tomorrow, I’ll be taking another zero, trying to remain patient while my blotches become under control. Soon I’ll be meeting up with my parents. I just hope I’m not delaying my finish too long.
The NOBOs we crossed today (the ones I got trail names for at least)
–Uncle Tim (Towler)
Day 167: Time – Still Crawling; Temperature – Controlled; Miles – 0
I woke with my blotches still visible, but at least I slept soundly through the night. I was not awoken by my itching. One step at a time.
I went through my morning routine of making myself a cup of coffee and joining the other hikers for breakfast. We chatted and I listened to them discussing their routes to come; which shelter or camping area they planned on staying at, how many days until the next hostel or town, etc. I offered whatever information I could, since I had traversed the sections they had yet to hike, and gave them suggested hostels to visit in the states they would be approaching.
One by one, they all gathered their gear, and I bid everyone farewell. Eventually, Chunky and I were once again alone, and I started my chores for the day. I worked diligently, but kept myself cool, making sure the blotches were improving, not declining. I took the alone time to wash all of my gear as well. When I say all of my gear, I mean it. I washed my pack, my sleeping bag and sleeping pad, my boots and, of course, all of my clothes. I was not going to have the poison sumac return due to the oils being left on anything. I was taking no risks. After my chores were done for the day, I asked Chunky what else she needed assistance with and helped her for a few more hours. She had to take a trip into town, and I had a resupply package I had to pick up, so we took a short drive.
After I had my package, and Chunky was done with her shopping, we headed back to the hostel and I, once again, had the remainder of the day to myself. I spent some time reading a book, went to the one spot that got reception, contacted my parents (who would be arriving tomorrow to come and get me) and texted Gap, making sure he’d be here by tomorrow. Eventually, more hikers started to arrive. Matador and McGiver, a northbound couple, introduced themselves to me and started sharing stories of their travels. What an amazing and fantastic couple! They had met in a different country and knew, magically, they were right for each other! I also learned that Matador had injured his ankle a week or so previously, so I offered to take a quick look at it. After confirming his injury, I offered some advice and they decided to take a zero the following day to allow his ankle time to heal.
We chatted, played games, and watched more movies for the remainder of the day. There were less hikers today, so the night was quiet and we called it an early night after dinner. Tomorrow, my parents will come to the hostel to get me. I may have to miss a few miles from here to Atkins due to logistics with getting dropped back off on the trail. But hopefully, by the time my parents leave, my blotches will be all healed and I’ll be good to hit the trail once more. We shall see.
The NOBOs we crossed today (the ones I got trail names for at least)
Day 168: Time – To Leave; Temperature – Controlled; Miles – 0
I awoke once more in the Quarter Way Inn Hostel. Today is my last day here! I can see how hikers grow attached and comfortable in a hostel. I had come to know the ins and outs of helping Chunky run this hostel and I was sad to say goodbye to her. But sometime this early afternoon, my parents would show up and take me and Gap to a fancy hotel to spend Easter with them.
I had breakfast with the other hikers, asking Matador how his ankle was feeling, and we enjoyed a nice breakfast once more. Chunky has been making fantastic meals for us each morning, and today was certainly no exception. We enjoyed the fabulous buffet of home cooked treats and drank our coffee as we all chatted around the table.
After breakfast, I once again helped Chunky with some chores and gathered my belongings. It felt good to pack up my bag once more, even if I was taking another zero tomorrow. But at least tomorrow would be my last zero. I couldn’t afford another zero, even if the blotches are still there. I will just have to push on and hope for the best!
With all my belongings gathered, and all of my chores complete, I sat and chatted with Matador and McGiver while I waited for Gap and my parents to show up. I just hoped Gap would get here before my parents did.
As time ticked by, the hour of my parents arrival was approaching. Finally, I saw my Dad’s truck pull in front of the home. Still no Gap. But I knew he would be here soon, or at least I hope so. I introduced my parents to the other hikers and Chunky. This hostel has been my sanctuary for the past several days, and Chunky my rescuer! Without her kindness and hospitality, this Poison Sumac could have become a serious problem. I was SO thankful to have met her and gotten the opportunity to spend a few unexpected zeros at this hostel! What a beautiful and welcoming place! I will definitely recommend the Quarter Way Inn hostel to other hikers I meet along my journeys!
After a tour of the building, another car pulled up and Gap hopped out of the vehicle. He had gotten a ride here from the other hostel! I greeted my old friend and introduced him to my parents. We threw our gear in the back of my Dad’s truck, said goodbye to the other hikes and I once again thanked Chunky, giving her a big hug before I left. I will miss this place!
We took a 30 minute drive towards Marion and checked into a beautiful historic hotel. Gap and I had one room and my parents had another. We unloaded some of our gear as Gap and I caught up from our day’s adventures at the hostels. I learned that Gap had also been doing a work-for-stay the past few days!
After catching up for a little bit, my parents took us out to dinner. After another delicious meal, my Dad informed us there was a salt water pool in our hotel! Awesome! Maybe that will help heal all theses itchy blotches! We all decided to go for a swim that evening.
The water was amazing! We enjoyed our swim under the stars, surrounded by glass walls looking out to the trees and scenery around us. As we all chatted and swam, two little eyes glittered at me through a door.
“Mom, Dad, Gap! We have a visitor.”
We all quickly looked and a raccoon peaked through the door at us, questioning whether or not he should join us. Unsure of what was going to happen next, we all watched the little critter with curiosity. Eventually, he decided it would be a better idea to let us be, so he crawled back through the door and meandered around the building. Maybe he’ll come back for a swim later.
After a nice easy day, we returned to our rooms and called it a night. Tomorrow, we will spend the day with my parents, have a nice Easter dinner meal, and take a drive to the Grayson Highlands so my parents can see the ponies! Gap and I will be hiking through the Grayson Highlands in, roughly, one week. Tonight, we sleep soundly in soft, warm beds once more.
Day 169: Time – Coming to an End; Temperature – Comfortable; Miles – 0
Well rested and in no hurry for the morning, I woke around 8am and made my way down to breakfast. My Dad sat quietly, alone, at a table. I joined him, chatting with him, as we enjoyed a nice breakfast together. I shared some of my hiking stories with him and my ordeal of dealing with the poison sumac. Eventually, Gap emerged and joined us as well, as we all shared hiking stories. My mother was the last one to join us as we were nearing an end to our meal and we discussed our plans for the day.
“Dad, I thought you and Mom would like to see the ponies at the Grayson Highlands,” I suggested. “There are wild ponies there and you should be able to just drive up and see them.”
This sounded like a good idea to my parents and the plan was set. We had a buffet lunch scheduled for the day, but we would have enough time to drive to the Grayson Highlands first. With the plans set, we all went back to our rooms and got ready for the day.
Quickly, we were on the road and heading for the Grayson Highlands. It was surreal driving a distance that Gap and I would be hiking in a few days. It is amazing how far you can walk in only a week’s time! As we wound our way through the roads, it became apparent to me that this kind of driving was something my body was not used to. I could feel the unease of car sickness setting in. But I survived the drive as we pulled into the popular tourist spot, the clouds hovering around us once more and mother nature threatening to unleash the skies on us.
But where were the ponies? My mother could not walk too far, and as we made our way across the green open field, I hoped a pony would emerge so she could see them. With no life in sign, my Dad, Gap and I decided to hike up the trail a little ways to see what we would find. Besides, this way, my Dad could step on the AT in Virginia! My mother decided to stay behind, so we scurried up the trail, not wanting to keep her waiting for too long.
Up the small mountain we went, not too steep, but certainly not flat. Signs of ponies surrounded us, piles of their presence appeared on the trail here and there, as we neared the plateau. Finally attop the plateau, where the AT crossed the trail we were on, there were no ponies in site! But wait, what was that across the ridge? On the next mountain top, small dots could be seen moving slowly back and forth, grazing on whatever foliage was on that ridge.
We discussed making the trip over to see them, but my Dad was content at least seeing them from this distance and being able to step onto the AT. We took a few moments to enjoy our surroundings before we decided to head back down and return to town.
The drive back to town was rough for me. My stomach was doing flips and we wound this way and that. My body felt like I was standing on a small dingy in the middle of a ferocious ocean with a hurricane close by! Ugh, I hope I make it back! The minutes felt like hours, but after 30 minutes of surviving this paved ocean, we finally made it to straight roads and were back at the hotel.
After regaining my land legs, we were off again for a Easter buffet dinner. ‘Buffet’ is a dangerous word for a thru-hiker, not for the thru-hiker, mind you, but for whoever is hosting that buffet! I just hope they have enough food! We arrived at the Heartwood Artisan Gateway, where we would be enjoying our buffet, which was held in an art gallery! How fantastic! We were seated and immediately started to enjoy the delicious meal. And it did not disappoint! After our bellies were full, we took the time to walk around and enjoy the art. Sometimes, it is nice to be able to take these moments to remember what society is like, before heading back into the serenity of the woods.
With our minds and tummies now satisfied, we were heading back towards the hotel. We would have many hours left to enjoy for the day, before we have to pack up our belongings once more and hit the trail tomorrow, so I took the time to work on my story while Gap went and enjoyed some mini-golf that was at the hotel! Later that night, we all returned to the salt water pool and we played several rounds of a card game called the AT Game. We laughed as Gap and I reminisced about our adventures we had as the game pieces made their way from Maine to Georgia. Laughing and enjoying our evening, someone nearby heard our strange lingo (SOBO, NOBO, and the like) and came over to inquire.
“Are you guys AT thru-hikes?” The gentleman asked us.
“Yes, we are,” Gap and I replied. “We’re heading back out tomorrow.”
“Oh great! I’m a AT section hiker! I didn’t expect to see any other hikers here. Are you NOBOs?”
We explained that we were SOBOs from the previous year and his eyes grew wide. He, like many others, did not expect to see any SOBOs for quite some time. We chatted with the man, who’s trailname was Dragon, for a while before bidding him good luck on the rest of his journey and retiring, ourselves, for the evening. Tomorrow, we will once again return to the trail and make our way to Georgia.
Day 170: 11:10 a.m. – 2 p.m., 4.6 miles, 60 degrees
Today, we say farewell to my parents once more. We woke in our nice, warm, fluffy beds, and met them downstairs for our last good breakfast. We chatted around the table, eating what we could, before we gathered our gear, and were once more ready to hit the trail. Gap and I planned on hiking 11.6 miles to the Partnership Shelter, a double decker shelter that had pizza delivery! We had heard about this shelter from some passing NOBOs and were eager to get there.
My parents dropped us off as we said goodbye once more. This would be the last time I saw them until Georgia! I thanked them for everything and watched as they drove off once more. We sat outside The Barn Restaurant, readying ourselves for the hike to come. As we were putting on our boots, I noticed a mark on Gap’s leg.
“What is that from?” I inquired.
He informed me he had a few blotches on him that had started to emerge in the past few days and he could not help from scratching them. It seems he, too, was starting to be covered in red, blistery splotches from the Poison Sumac. Apparently it just took longer to affect him. I took a closer look at what was now a wound.
“Gap! I think that’s infected!” I informed him. “You really should get a ride to an urgent care and get that taken care of!”
“Nah,” he replied. “It’ll be fine.”
Like a worried mother, I did my best to convince him to get it looked at, however he refused. I’ll have to keep a close eye on that for a few days!
After a while, I was ready to go, but Gap still had a few more things to do. It had started to lightly rain and I did not want to delay any further, so off I went. I’d see him later tonight at the Partnership shelter anyways. I made my way down the road a little ways until I could see the trail peel off to the side.
Quickly off the road, the trail wound next to a small stream for a little while before it started up again. The brush reached overhead, forming a nice tunnel, welcoming me home.
The rain gently fell, a soft pitter-patter on the leaves around me. A small section of boardwalk meandered through some wetlands, with green life ankle high all around me. I took a moment, as the rain softly landed on my head, to enjoy nature around me.
As I enjoyed nature, it occurred to me, today I crossed my quarter way left to go mark! I was excited, but a nagging feeling was in my stomach as well. I only had ¼ of the trail left. I would soon have to return to society. I would soon have to leave the woods I called home. But I still had a ¼ way to go. I’ll enjoy every step!
The trail left the boardwalk and started up a small hill. Normally, just after leaving town, the pack weighs me down and my legs fatigue when going up a mountain, but today, I felt like every step was like winning a small battle. What is going on!? Why am I so tired? My stomach felt unsettled and I had to stop and take a break on my pack. This is not good! I was not climbing a mountain, I was walking up a small hill! My legs could barely handle it and I felt weak! I continued along, slowly, watching every step I took. The rain started to beat down on me a little harder and I found myself getting a little chilly. After a few miles, I arrived at the Settlers Museum, a place that, some other hikers told me, I must see. I peered into what used to be an old school house and saw that it was open. Needing to take a seat and a small break from the weather, not sure if I was coming down with some kind of stomach bug or something, I entered the building and dropped pack.
It was a little warmer inside and I decided to take a small lunch break here and change into some warmer clothing for a little. I needed to see if this exhaustion would subside. I looked around the building, reading about the history of this little school, and noticed there was trail magic here! A local church had collected all sorts of supplies (food, first aid, drinks, and some gear) for the thru-hikers! It was wonderful! My spirits lifted a little as I searched through the supplies. Just taking a little of what was offered, I sat and enjoyed my nice warm lunch.
I sat at one of the old school desks and relaxed, allowing my stomach the time to digest and waiting for Gap to appear. He couldn’t be too far behind me! How much more did he really need to do? But after a while, no Gap, and I couldn’t wait much longer. My stomach felt a little better, so off I went. The rain was still falling, but it was a little lighter once again, and I was able to enjoy the flowers around me. Lilacs hung in a nearby bush just before I returned to the trail.
I slowly made my way up a small mountain, as the elevation started to climb once more. It was VERY slow going for me and I was once again not feeling well. One step after the next I made my way closer, but time was running out for me. At this pace, I would not make it to the Partnership Shelter before nightfall! Along the way, I saw something glittering in the woods. What is that? Upon further inspection, some local had decided to decorate a live pine tree with Christmas ornaments! I was warmed by this site, lightening my spirits a little once more, and I continued along my way.After a little while, I arrived at the Chatfield Shelter. I needed to stop again. I threw my pack down and collapsed into the shelter. I’ll wait for Gap here and see what he wants to do. Not convinced I could make it to the Partnership Shelter today, but disappointed at only making it 4.6 miles today, I wanted his opinion about staying at this shelter, or continuing along my way. But there was another thought spinning in my mind. Some concerning twinge in the pit of my stomach.
When I first ventured back onto the trail as a solo SOBO, within the first few days, I had learned of a NOBO that had been known to cause trouble on the trail, and change directions to follow a female. I was provided a picture of this individual and had heard updates about his presumed location along my journey. Gap and I had decided it would be a good idea to try to stick together, at least until we crossed paths with him. My most recent intel had told me that any day now, I would be crossing his path! I hope Gap shows up soon! With Gap around me, I felt a little more safe.
So I waited at the shelter, my new knife in my pocket and accessible if needed, my whits about me, as sleep started to take me. I could not keep my eyes open. I felt as if I hadn’t slept in a week. Something was wrong. I bundled myself up and leaned up against my pack with my feet up in the shelter. My eyes fought and fought, as I found my breath easing as I slipped into a light sleep. As I napped, I listened to my surroundings, waking when a hiker was approaching. No Gap. One NOBO after another was coming to the shelter, chatting a little, and then moving on. As one hiker approached, I chatted with him for a little while, asking about this unsavory character that I would be meeting soon.
“Actually, I think he was at the shelter with me last night!” One NOBO informed me.
What! Great! Gap is no where to be found and I may cross paths with this individual today! Of course!
Now worried, I decided that no matter how bad I felt, I would not stay at this shelter if I was going to be alone. Shortly afterwards, a few more NOBOs rolled in and introduced themselves. They planned on staying at this shelter for the night. I chatted with them for a while and, feeling safe with them, decided I would stay here for the night. I was too weak and would not be able to push on. With that, I set up my spot in the shetler and spent the rest of the day waiting for Gap to come by and chatting with my new friends.
As night crept closer, another NOBO arrived and informed me he had left Gap at the Partnership Shelter only a few hours ago. WHAT! He never crossed this way! He yellow blazed around me! My new companions laughed as I muttered about the future comings of my good friend Gap, considering what I was going to do to get back at him for this, as we all went through our nightly routines. As night fell, I had finally started to feel a little better. I laughed and shared stories with the other hikers, never encountering the unwanted hiker I would soon meet, and finally slept soundly for the evening. Tomorrow, I would break camp as fast as I could and run to the Partnership Shelter, in hopes of catching up with Gap before he left to continue his hike.
The NOBOs we crossed today (the ones I got trail names for at least)
Day 171: 8:03 a.m. – 4 p.m., 16.9 miles, 55 degrees
I did not waste any time breaking camp this morning. Feeling like my good old self again, I quickly packed up my gear and hit the trail as fast as I could. I was on a mission! I had to reach Gap before he took off for the day! Knowing he usually woke later in the day and took a while to get rolling, I was hopeful that I would be able to traverse the 7 miles I would need to before he would leave the shelter.
I was on high alert as I made my way up the remainder of this small mountain. The fog loomed around me, helping to set the eerie mood and slowly took over every inch of my being. When would I cross paths with this person. My luck, I’ll cross him today with no one around! What am I going to do? My thoughts raced as my ears peaked to every snap of a twig around me and I surveillanced the trail both in front and behind me.
Eventually, I reached the top of the small mountain. I would have a few more peaks to cross, small peaks, before I would reach the Partnership Shelter, where I hoped Gap still slept soundly. For the most part, I would be racing down hill.
When I could, I broke into a jog, trying to make up as much time as possible, racing to catch Gap. I really hope he didn’t leave yet. Today would be the day he managed to get up early and leave camp! More thoughts poured through my head, doing their best to discourage me and squash the hope that glimmered inside me. I pushed these thoughts away, focusing on the task at hand.
Mile after mile, I flew through the woods. One NOBO after the next, my worries were confirmed; this individual was close! Many had seen him. Some had problems with him, others did not. Maybe he isn’t as bad as they’ve made him up to be! I continued to encourage myself as I was within a half a mile, then a quarter mile of Partnership Shelter. Finally, I reached the Mt Rogers Visitor Center, the location that was within 0.2 miles of the shelter. I ran the final distance and there was Gap, packing up his pack!
“Gap!” I hollered as I approached.
“Dori!” he welcomed me as he dropped pack.
“You punk! You yellow blazed around me!” He attempted to provide a reason for his little adventure along the road, but I was not accepting any of it. We joked and jeered back and forth as I unloaded my gear. I was hungry after running through the woods to catch him! It was lunch time! I was just happy to see my good friend again. Regardless of what happened now, at least there were two of us!
He sat back down and nibbled on some food, telling me of his adventures from the night previous, as I shared my stories of why I only traversed 4.6 miles the day prior. He admitted he did not feel great the previous day either. I wondered if neither of us got enough sleep adventuring around with my parents the day before. As we talked and laughed, Gap confirmed that we would be crossing paths with this individual sometime today.
“I’m glad you had a late start today,” I told Gap. “I was so worried I would get here and you would have already moved on!”
“I’m glad you did too, Dori.”
We were finishing our lunch and getting ready to hit the trail when my eyes lifted. There he was! He plodded down the trail, unaware that I had spotted him.
“Gap!” I whispered with urgency. “He’s here!”
Without making any quick movements, I grasped my knife in my pocket, my finger on the switchblade, just in case. I continued to make small conversation with Gap, trying not to let on that we knew who he was; pretending he was just another hiker. Just please don’t stop here. Maybe if I don’t make eye contact, he’ll pass us by.
I pretended to busy myself with packing up my gear as I watched him slither by. His eyes glared at us, with dark shadows beneath them, from under his cap. No smile shown in them. No glisten, like so many other hikers I had met. He made his way past us, with not a word to be said, and quickly disappeared around the corner. As soon as he was gone, I released the trigger on my blade and heaved a heavy sigh of relief. Despite what I had heard of this individual, he had chosen to pass us by. But there was a VERY haunting and dangerous air around him.
I quickly raced up to the second story of the shelter, looking out the loft window, trying to spot him, making sure he simply moved along his way. I could not find any sign of him anywhere. I still did not feel comfortable. I climbed back down to Gap.
“Let’s get out of here and put some miles behind us!”
We quickly finished packing up and raced off down the trail. I watched our backs for a while, before, finally, I felt secure enough to relax and enjoy the remainder of my day. I was just grateful that nothing had happened and this was now behind us!
We had decided to make our way to the Trimpi Shelter tonight. It was supposed to rain for most of today and into the night, so sheltering sounded like a much better idea to us both. Walking through the woods, nature was starting to wake all around us. Birds sang as we walked through the softly falling rain. Gap, once again, fell behind, as we neared the shelter, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something move. There, on a log, was a small lizard! I snapped a quick picture of the hidden critter.
The shelter was small, with only enough room for 6 in the small bunks. As I approached, I could see a small group of hikers already cooking on the table. There was a group of NOBOs that had already arrived.
“Any room for two more?” I asked them as I approached. Gap had once again fallen behind me, but I figured I would do my best to save him a spot if I could.
“Sure!” They said eagerly.
A few more hikers arrived, and one by one, the spots in the shelter were taken up. I could not save a spot for someone that was not there. That went against the unwritten rules of being a thru-hiker. The shelter now full, Gap finally emerged around the corner. He decided the floor of the shelter would be big enough for him. Phew! At least he’s got a spot!
With a few hammockers and the shelter full, this spot was starting to pack up. This is just the beginning. We are starting to hit the NOBO bubble and we may have to stealth camp if all the campsite and shelters become full over the next few weeks! The rain started to fall outside the shelter and the group of NOBOs started to build a fire in the small fireplace. As we all worked to gather downed wood to burn, Gap started to unload his pack.
“Let me see that wound Gap,” I said as he sat on the side of the shelter. After a quick look, I could see it was clearly infected. It would now be several days before we would reach town again. I would have to take care of this now.
“Gap, that is ABSOLUTELY infected,” I informed him. A few of the other hikers overheard us and took a look, agreeing with what I had said.
“Here’s what I’m going to do.” I discussed my plan with him, suggesting he try to make a small opening in the wound so we could drain it. I warned him that cleaning this out may sting, but it was something we had to do. We were going to have to keep a close eye on this for several days to make sure it healed and he did not end up with a staph infection or blood poisoning. I grabbed the hand sanitizer I had, some bandages, tape, and the Neosporin and a pin. I sterilized the pin with an open flame for a minute or so and handed it to Gap. A small group of hikers gathered around us to watch the small surgery. He made a few openings, and the wound drained immediately. “Oooohhh!” the other hikers said in chorus around us, a few opting to finish watching the surgery while the others had enough. After draining what we could, I cleaned the wound with the hand sanitizer, with another small chorus of Oooooohs emerging, empathizing with the stinging pain that Gap was experiencing, and then covered it with the Neosporin and a bandaid. Due to the location of the wound, I would have to tape the bandaid to him so it would not come off. We would have to go through this routine for a few days to make sure it was healing properly. For now, the task was done and the small crowd dispersed around us as we all returned to our duties for the evening.
“You’re such a good friend, mother,” Gap said jokingly to me. That was his way of saying thank you.
“You’re welcome Gap.” I smiled back at him and jokingly scolded him for not listening to his trail mother a few days prior.
The remainder of the evening was shared with laughter and stories from our companions for the evening, until one by one, sleep took us all. I rested much easier, knowing I would not have to be on such high alert. I’m glad to have Gap back with me.
The NOBOs we crossed today (the ones I got trail names for at least)
Day 172: 8:20 a.m. – 3:15 p.m., 13.5 miles, 50 degrees
As mother nature slowly turned on the lights, each of us in the shelter slowly woke, our internal alarm clocks telling us it was time to get started for the day. I went through my morning routine, getting dressed inside my sleeping bag, and brushing my hair so I could braid it for the day. As I untangled the greasy mess upon my head, the group of NOBOs we had chatted with last night were joking and harassing each other.
“Nice hair,” I heard one of the young men say. Thinking they were still picking on one another, I made no response, until I felt as though someone was staring at me. I turned to find one of the young men looking directly at me.
“Are you talking to me?” I replied stunned. I had been out in the woods for several days, without a shower, sweating, and the last thing I expected to hear from anyone was ‘Nice hair’.
“Yea, you have really nice hair,” the young man replied.
A little embarrassed and shy about the unexpected compliment I thanked him and we chatted a little as we continued through our morning routines.
We all joked and chatted around breakfast as one hiker at a time broke camp and head out on their way. Gap was slow to get ready and I took a quick look at his wound, redressing it for him before I left along my way. Gap and I planned on heading to the Old Orchard shelter for the night. Within the next day or two, we will make it to the famous Grayson Highlands, where the wild ponies are! Last night, one of the NOBOs had told us that they had stayed at the Thomas Knob Shelter and advised us if we stayed there, we should try to keep all of our gear on the second story of the shelter. Apparently, the wild ponies frequent this shelter and are known to eat hikers equipment! His trekking poles were chewed on, along with his pack and boots! Taking his advice, we decided we would stay at this shetler only if we could stay on the top level, but we were hopeful for some kind of wild pony experience.
After our morning routines, I waited for Gap, and we bid the other hikers farewell, and we started our hiking adventure for the day. It was misty this morning, and a little cool as we made our way through more rhododendron tunnels. The big green leaves provided us some protection from the small raindrops that danced off our hoods.
There were only a few small mountains to cross today, however, as usual, we began our morning’s climb going up hill. I slowly left Gap behind me as we climbed up our first peak. Before I knew it, I was heading down once again. I crossed a road that would take me to Troutdale, VA, if I so chose. I stopped for a brief break from the rain, sitting on my pack and hiding under a small overhang at the trailhead marker. Prior to getting off trail for a few months, Skooch had provided me with a little secret. “Whenever you get to one of these trailhead markers,” she advised me in December, “make sure you look up in the roof. You’ll often find some trail magic!”
Remembering her words, I quickly looked above. She was right! There, lined perfectly on one of the rafters, was a row of sodas someone had left for the thru hikers! I selected one can, sat back down, and enjoyed a snack and my treat. I waited for a while before Gap surfaced once more. We chatted briefly, before we decided to hit the trail once more. I crushed my can, packed it into my pack and headed across the road to a beautiful footbridge with a little trickling stream below. AWOLS Guidebook had warned me not to drink from this stream, and I could see why. Little pockets of trash were on either bank of the stream. Luckily, experience has taught me to avoid refilling at water sources close to roads. My heart lamented at seeing the trash, a quick reminder of what society takes for granted, as I returned to my peaceful home in the woods, leaving the road and sign of urban life behind me.I wound around some smaller mountains, chatting with Gap as we made our way, as the sky threatening to unload buckets of water above us. As we neared our last mountain peak for the day, we started to climb once more and I pulled away from my hiking companion once again. Up and up I went, for miles, the rain softly falling on my hood. As I passed one hiker after the next, I started to hear the same statement, “If you hurry, you can catch Chuckles!” Chuckles was apparently a NOBO that had gotten injured and was now doing some trailmagic at the next road crossing. He was off trail for a little while until his injuries healed, and in the mean time, was cooking hot dogs and hamburgers for hikers! I raced up the mountain, eager for a hot dog, hopeful that I could arrive there before he left. Each hiker I passed confirmed he was still there, but he was planning on leaving before 4! I had to get there in time! I stopped only briefly for a quick picture here and there, not forgetting my purpose out here on the AT just because of the promise of civilized food, as I made it to the top. All I had left was to race down this mountain! With only a few miles to go, I flew down the mountain side and reached the road. There, on the other side, was a blue pop up tent, with Chuckles, I presumed, cooking underneath! I had made it. I sauntered across the road as Chuckles greeted me.
“Are you a thru hiker?” He asked me.
“I am. I’m Dori. Are you Chuckles?”
“I sure am! Welcome!”
“Dori!” another hiker chimed in. “I’m Nemo!”
“NEMO!” We celebrated finding eachother, simply because of the movie, Finding Nemo, as we all sat and chatted, enjoying the nice meal Chuckles had prepared. Nemo was a NOBO thru hiker that had actually graduated from my alma mater, RIT! What a small world. After chatting with him for a while, he moved along his way. He informed me that there were several more NOBOs behind him, and I would be crossing the NOBO bubbled soon. That meant that if I wanted a spot in a shelter, or a spot to set up my tent, I would have to get to camp early to secure a spot. The NOBO bubble was rather large, somewhere between 60-80 people I had heard. So after I finished my meal, I thanked Chuckles and wished him luck, and was on my way once again.
I only had a few miles to go, so I was confident I would find a spot in the shelter tonight. Knowing it was supposed to continue raining, I did not want to sleep in the rain tonight, so I planned on setting up my sleep system in the shelter tonight. I rounded the corner and saw a group of people camped off to one side and several other people at the shelter already. Oh no! I hope I’m not too late already! It’s way to early for people to be set up for the night! As I approached the shelter, I saw there was enough space for both me and Gap, for now at least, so I took a seat at the shelter and started to unpack. I chatted with the other hikers, learning that they had only stopped to try to dry out their gear from the previous night, taking advantage of the little bit of sun we were currently getting. We chatted as they packed their gear to continue along their way and I unpacked my gear for the night. I informed them of how many hikers I had passed, unsure if they would have a spot in the next shelter they planned on aiming for for the night. I also informed them of the trail magic that was ahead, however he would be packing up soon, so they quickened their pace and took off down the trail, eager to get a good cooked meal. I hope they make it there in time!
As I readied myself for the night, Gap emerged on the trail. He dropped pack next to me and we caught up for the day. Apparently, he had missed the trail magic, and he was bummed! As we unloaded his gear for the night, a small bird hopped around the fire pit in front of us. He didn’t seem to be alarmed by our presence and was clearly accustomed to hand outs. He hopped a little closer and eagerly awaited a small morsel of what we were eating. Maybe they’ll drop a little crumb. We watched him hop around, avoiding the urge to provide him any food, and eventually, slightly dejected, he flew away. We turned our attention to the campers that had their tent set up nearby. We watched as they struggled to get ready fro the evening. They clearly were not thru hikers. One of them wore blue jeans and they seemed as though they were still learning how to set up camp. As a thru hiker, whenever you encounter a camper like this, it is like turning on your favorite TV show. You tend to sit back and enjoy the show. But after a while, you tire of watching the same old re-run, and change the channel to the Discovery channel! Yup, another nature show, wonderful!
As night approached, the two campers head our way. They introduced themselves, informing us they were section hiking. They asked which section we were doing, assuming we, too, were section hikers since, clearly, we were heading the wrong direction.
We informed them we were SOBOs and had started in Maine. After the look of shock wore off their faces, they inundated us with questions. Like many others, they did not expect to see SOBOs at this time of year this far south. We had gotten used to this conversation, explaining, once again, that the conditions in the previous year had been incredibly challenging; the cold, the drought, the extreme heat, etc. We shared some bits of advice for them about the trail to come, and hiking and camping in general I might add, and they shared some treats they had brought with them with us. After a while, it was time for all of us to sleep. They thanked us for the advice and we thanked them for the treats. We had enjoyed chatting with them and offered them the opportunity to stay in the shelter to keep dry. They thanked us but decided to tent anyways, needing the practice. We laughed and bid them a good night. I hope they stay dry and warm tonight!
I took a quick look at Gaps wound once again. It was starting to look a little better. I cleaned it and redressed it before we called it a night. Gap and I snuggled into our sleeping bags for the night, chatting a little as we started to feel sleep taking us. We were, shockingly, alone in the shelter tonight. I guess the other hikers decided to stay at other shelters tonight. As the black of night crept in, we started to hear howling off in the distance.
“Are those wolves?” Gap asked.
“I’m not sure.”
We lay silently in the shelter, listening. After a while, the howls started to become more frequent, and closer and then turned into more of a yip. These were not wolves!
“I think they’re coyotes,” I informed Gap.
“I think you’re right.”
We were both a little weary, unsure of whether or not they would come up to us, the commotion coming closer to us with each yip. Listening to them chatter back and forth, clearly communicating as a group, eventually, they quieted and the chatter slowly disappeared, as we faded off to sleep. We would sleep soundly tonight, uninterrupted by our neighbors.
The NOBOs we crossed today (the ones I got trail names for at least)
We have survived another week on the trail and will be encountering more landmarks and wild life soon. Our known dangers are now behind us and soon, I will be alone once again on the trail. Thanks for staying with me. Until next time . . .
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