Woods Hole Hostel and Pearisburg

It rained all night, and the sounds of raindrops pelting the nylon walls of my tent soothed me to sleep. I awoke to find mist permeating the forest all around me, and my friends heading north across the suspension bridge one final time.

“See you at Woods Hole, Romeo,” Tarzan said as he buckled the hip and chest straps of his pack, picking up his trekking poles and following behind the rest of the group.

The ground was moist and the dew that formed the night before lingered on the deciduous leaves of the oaks. The fog gave the forest a mysterious new quality that obscured views that would otherwise present themselves with clarity. Birds still sung all morning and throughout the afternoon, familiar sounds that characterize the mountains. I hiked in solitude most of the day, passing fellow hikers and exchanging formalities between long bouts of silence along the dirt path. I came to the gravel of Sugar Run Road, and I knew this marked the end of the day’s hike. A half mile to the east I would find the hostel. Walking down the steady gradient of the gravel road, I saw a hiker through the mist roughly a quarter mile ahead. While his features weren’t discernible from my distance, I wondered if he was one of the goons. I thought about calling out to him, but my uncertainty as to who he was quieted that notion. I continued briskly through the dew of the late afternoon until I arrived at what could only have been the hostel. Good thing I didn’t yell out something weird to that guy. I’ve never seen him before in my life.

A garden blossoming with cabbage and tomatoes caught my eyes first. Then I began to scan the area in search of my friends to find them on the porch of a wooded house conversing with who I presumed to be the caretaker. I ambled over to the house, stepping onto the porch and nodding at Tarzan and Muffin Man when we traded glances. It turned out they were not speaking to the caretaker, but rather a hiker who was partaking in work for stay at the farm. She was a younger girl, probably in her early twenties like us, reading off the rules of the hostel, as well as the prices of various homemade snacks and beverages. Five dollars for a blueberry smoothie in a mason jar. I’m not gonna live forever. She also told us that they’d be serving Mexican Lasagna with fresh greens and homemade ice cream for dinner for thirteen dollars more. Though we were frugal enough to pass up the breakfast for eight dollars more, none of us were willing to pass up on such a delectable sounding dinner.

We set our packs down in the bunkhouse and took turns taking a shower after piling our foul garments into a laundry basket, splitting the burden of paying for laundry. Exploring the bunkhouse I found a bookshelf stacked with board games and a long map on the wall of the Appalachian Trail with a pin marking our location. 623 miles in. More than a quarter of the way there. It was exhilarating to see how far we’ve come.

“Look how much further we have to go dude,” Muffin Man said pointing at the pin on the map then following the line all the way up to Maine.

“And we’ve come so far,” I said, running my finger from Springer Mountain up to Woods Hole Hostel, recognizing landmarks and names of towns that we’ve walked through over the past two months. Reading off the names of towns that we’ve passed rekindled the memories of being there, and I felt proud for having traveled this far on foot.

One of the three hikers on the farm doing work for stay asked if anyone in our group was idle and available to help prepare dinner. I looked at her as I thought for a moment, unable to find any reasons to not help out. I had been reading tiredly, considering buying a pot of organic coffee for my friends and I.

“Yeah I’m available,” I said, offering my assistance as I closed the book. I followed her up to the porch of the cabin where she asked me to remove my shoes. The inside of the cabin had a welcoming character. A large rug greeted my bare feet as my wandering eyes absorbed the living room. The dark brown wooden walls were littered with paintings and and other homely embellishments.

“We have some extra help!” the hiker called as she guided me into the kitchen. I was greeted by the caretakers, a husband and wife who live in the cabin, and they thanked me graciously for helping out. I met another hiker doing work for stay, a guy about my age who had been working on the farm for over a week, who directed me around the kitchen showing me where to put the dishes and pans once they were washed and dried. After we cleaned all the dishes I stood there twiddling my thumbs for a moment, observing the homemade bread and smelling the aroma of freshly brewed coffee, until one of the caretakers thanked me again and told me I was welcome to hangout in the bunkhouse until they called us over for lasagna and salad. I requested a pot of coffee for myself and the goons, and back in the bunkhouse we played board games and lounged around drinking blueberry smoothies and coffee until the caretakers called us into the yard for dinner.

The goons and myself all walked out into the yard separating the bunkhouse from the cabin to be pleasantly surprised by the sight of chairs and tables set up with several large pans of Mexican Lasagna, as well as two large salads with fresh vegetables from the garden. When everyone was gathered to salivate over the feast about to be had, things got a little weird. The caretakers told us all to make a large circle in the yard, and to hold hands. With everyone awkwardly standing in a circle holding hands, the caretaker woman said a prayer with her eyes closed, and I looked around at my friends with a half grin, hoping one of them would make eye contact with me. Aside from Tarzan, they were all looking down. He was looking around at everyone too, and for some reason I found it difficult to hold back a giggle. If you laugh now, you’ll look like the biggest asshole in the world. To my knowledge, I know none of the goons to be religious, and I’ve known Muffin Man to be one to fervently speak out against the brainwashing abiltiy religion can have over people’s lives. I wondered what everyone was thinking in the midst of prayer. Then she asked us all to introduce ourselves by our trail name and say something we were thankful for. God damn it. I immediately began thinking of something to say, nervously wondering if I would stutter through my piece. As it came closer to my turn for introductions, I listened less to what the person speaking was saying, and thought more about what I would say. Does anyone really listen to each other during these things? Or is everyone thinking about what they’ll say when it’s their turn to speak? This reminds me of introducing myself to the class in second grade. I hope the person next to me doesn’t notice my palms getting sweaty.

I smiled, giving my best effort to portray calm confidence, “I’m Romeo. I’m from Maryland. And, I’m thankful for dinner.”

Fuck. Glad that’s over with.

Then it was time to feast, and feast I did. The home cooked meal I enjoyed at Woods Hole Hostel was one the best dishes I’ve had on the trail. I returned to the pans of lasagna to load my plate up three times. I was breathing heavily and sweating bullets when I finally decided to stop gorging myself. This is why I haven’t lost much weight on the trail.

The next morning we set off for Pearisburg. It was still foggy outside, and clouds hung overhead to block the Sun’s rays from touching Earth. It had rained again the night before, and this day’s hike was marred by a mud ridden path. We reached a lookout view called Angels Rest, and all we saw was a stark white abyss when we stopped to check it out.

“We’re walking through a golf ball boys,” Q tip observed.

“We’re in the middle of a cloud,” I added. Slipping and sliding down the mountain towards the road leading to Pearisburg, we passed by some southbound day hikers who asked us if they’d see a pretty view at the top.

“Not at all,” we informed them, watching the enthusiasm run away from their faces as quickly as we passed them by. At this point in the hike I was feeling pretty confident in my ability to catch myself mid fall if I did slip, since I had lost my footing countless times only to regain my balance each and every time it happened. Not today. I slipped in a puddle of mud and my legs were swept up from under me as I landed on my haunches. I took a moment to sit there in shame as my shorts soaked up the mud. Then I nearly came tumbling to the ground again as I stood up. Only took 635 miles to finally land on my ass.

Having had the opportunity to eat at several fast food establishments along the trail, I can lend an informed opinion in saying that Hardee’s makes the best burgers. Sundance and I sat in there charging our phones eating chargrilled beef and crispy french fries until we had our fill, then we walked over to Dairy Queen to find the rest of the goons enjoying their fast food over conversation.

“I think I’m gonna zero here for a couple days,” Scarecrow told us as we came to sit down at a booth with him and Tarzan.

“Why?” I asked, surprised by his decision.

“My shin splits have been really bothering me lately,” he said touching his leg. Damn. I didn’t even know you had shin splints. I suck at listening.

“Ah dude that sucks, I didn’t know it was getting worse for you,” I said offering sympathy.

“I think I’m gonna be fine. I just need to take a few days off. Let my legs rest.”

“I’m gonna zero too, actually” Tarzan added, “I’m just due for it.”

“When’s the last time you took a day off?” Sundance asked him.

“It’s been over two weeks,” he caressed his beard, “I’ve been doing steady fifteens to catch you guys.”

“That’s a long time to go without a break dude, it’s probably a good idea you take a day,” I said, internalizing the prospect of hiking without Scarecrow and Tarzan for awhile. We all hiked back up the road to camp out in a field near the trailhead, and in the morning we said our goodbyes.

“Keep in touch guys,” I said as they began walking up the street back into town, where they’d stay for the night. Meanwhile, Q tip, Muffin Man, Sundance, and I would spend the day continuing our northbound journey. And then there were four. Wonder how long it’ll be till I run into them again. I felt a little melancholy to see them go, but I knew our paths would cross again, and I turned to make my way up the trail with the rest of the goons on the misty, mud ridden path.

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