Beard Length: Steve Jobs
Showers Taken: 12
Beers Drank: 55
Bears Spotted: 4
Zero Days: 5
The first day after leaving Trail Days was probably the hardest and loneliest day of the hike so far. When I had left my trail fam, I knew that I would be seeing them shortly after during Trail Days. Now that one of the most monumental weekends of the hike has past, I was certainly bumming out a little bit.
We had such an awesome weekend. But the real heroes are Kanye’s parents, Dan and Sharon. After spending Friday night in Tent City in the pouring rain, Red Stripe and I decided to split a hotel room because everything we owned was muddy and disgusting. The only trouble was that every hotel/hostel/basement in Damascus is booked full at least 8 months prior to Trail Days. Kanye’s parents were staying in nearby Abingdon, VA and agreed to drive us if we stayed there. Not only that, but we all went to dinner after getting to the hotel and her dad paid the whole bill just wanting to, “do a little trail magic”. He also agreed to bring Red Stripe back to Damascus the next day and drive me to the obscure gap that I had hitched back from him. This man is a legend.
Anyway, the three of us had one last epic night together and went to a super cool brewery called Wolf Hills where an awesome band was playing. But the next day when I had to say goodbye for real this time, it hit me that I wouldn’t be seeing them at camp, the next town, or some upcoming festival. I really had no idea when I would see them again.
The people you meet along the Appalachian Trail are different. And the ones you become close with are more special than can be put into words. You’d think that these bonds and relationships occur because we are all similar and like minded, which is partially true, but not the absolute factor. In reality, a lot of people on the trail could not be further different than each other. What I actually believe is it is the unity of participating in a common experience; one that is difficult. Being able to empathize with each others hardships and adversities develops a mutual respect and understanding. And when you’re doing it with the same people that you grow to know and love every single day for a month… well, how exactly do you say bye to them?
You just have to turn, start walking, and reflect. That’s what the trail does, it makes you think, because you have a hell of a lot of time in your own head. Especially in Virginia which is nicknamed the Green Tunnel. Almost everyday I walk through the same scenery, an endless canopy of green, blossoming to commence the summer.
A few days later I found myself at a spot that is hands down my favorite place on the AT so far, Woods Hole Hostel. Near Pearisburg, VA, it was a log cabin built in the 1880’s which was rediscovered and converted into one of the oldest hostels on the AT in 1986. The atmosphere here is indescribable in such a way that you just feel at home in the middle of the woods. Positivity radiates from every nook and cranny of the farm, cabin, and bunkhouse.
The perfectly designed bathhouse gave me the best shower I have had on the AT and possibly ever! So much so that I took two showers in two days! I feel almost too clean.
I liked it so much that I ended up getting “vortexed” in the area after a series of strange events that left me stagnant for a few days. They say the highs on the AT are really high; but conversely, the lows are really low. I’m not one to sit still and not moving went against everything I thought I needed to do. But in reality it was the best thing for my body. After two nights at Woods Hole, me and two others I began hiking with moved onto Pearisburg, VA and again had another hiccup resulting in more stagnancy. I was irritated, tired, and stressed. Stressed is the one thing I shouldn’t be out here. Each day I need to be better about going with the ‘flow’ of the trail. The easiest way to end a thru hike is to try and fight your way through it. The only hotel available on a busy Memorial Day weekend was the MacArthur Inn in the nearby town of Narrows. We literally called everywhere else first. All booked.
At first it seemed nice and rustic, but then myself, Scout and Mousetrap began to feel the odd vibes of the spot. The old man who owned the Inn picked us up in Pearisburg and appeared intoxicated. He was also just a creepy old man that made some very rude and inappropriate comments towards Scout, a 23 year-old girl from Baltimore. Unfortunately, with a huge rain storm moving in, this was our only option. The only benefit is we were all together.
Because of the ridiculous room price, on the phone I arranged for us to do a work for stay type of deal for a discount. So when we arrived at the Inn, we literally just moved a heavy pile of rocks from one end of the yard to the other for seemingly no purpose while the man watched us. We checked in, showered, and found a place to eat; or tried to. This sleepy area was a virtual ghost town. Nothing at all was open, and nothing but a Subway a half-mile away on Google Maps appeared anywhere close to where we were.
We began out walk to Subway which was leading us out of town and immediately felt like we were headed to the middle of nowhere. Mousetrap asked a young couple sitting on the porch if the Subway was close to which they replied it was two towns away- not a half-mile. But right away, Jack, the young man on the porch offered to drive us there, wait while we had our sandwiches made, and drive us back. Even after an awful frustrating day with a creepy old man, the trail provided. Each day I spend out here, I am astounded by the kindness of humans.
In the meantime, I had heard from Red Stripe that she was actually going to be at Woods Hole the next night. Then I had somewhat of an internal conflict. Do I continue on hiking especially because I had felt so lazy, having barely gained any ground the past two days? Or do I wait for Red Stripe to catch up the only 10 miles she had? This is when Mousetrap said something very simple, but profound, “What’s the rush?”
It’s a long way to Maine. Waiting one extra day to allow one of my best friends on the trail who was now hiking solo and the same pace as me to catch up would only be beneficial for my mentality in the long run. And with the long stretches of incessant rain continuing along with a sore body, it just made sense. It’s cliché, but this isn’t just a walk, it is a journey, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. If all you did was hike everyday, this would be a very monotonous and regimented five months. The off trail and social experiences are just as important as the thousands of miles you hike. And I need to constantly remind myself of that. So I waited in Pearisburg and Neville, the owner of Wood’s Hole, picked me up in the back of her pickup truck on the way to dinner with Red Stripe already there.
In the following days I saw three more bear cubs and had my first large snake encounter of the trail. Rushing along as the sun was setting, I almost stepped on the black tail laying across the path. Startled, I paused and then realized I could not for the life of me find the snakes head. And then, I spotted it, my first big snake of the trail…
Another ‘first’ of the trail happened to me last week when I ran out of toilet paper. This led to an innovative strategic pattern of dry leaves and wet wipes, but I’ll spare the details.
After a brutal hike up Cove Mountain crossing over the 700 mile mark and to an outcropping called ‘Dragon’s Tooth’, arguably the hardest ascent and descent of the trail so far, I was about done for the day. Waiting for Red Stripe, I hiked .4 miles off trail at the next road crossing to Catawba Grocery for a pizza and cream soda. While I sat there, a man approached and asked me about the trail and what my plans were for the rest of the day. I told him I wasn’t sure if we were going to hike on or turn in. So he told me he had recently started hosting hikers and would be happy to give us a place to stay for the night. My new friend, Ned, wrote his phone number down on my pizza box and told me to just call if I needed anything. Red Stripe arrived about an hour later, disheveled from the precipitous descent, a rattlesnake encounter, and a period of lost trail. We were definitely done for the day.
Flipping over the lid to my pizza box, I dialed Ned’s number and he said his girlfriend would be down to get us. I asked him the cost- no cost he said. But if you like to drink beer, you can bring some of that. In an incredibly random series of events, the subpar day transformed into a wonderful night on the porch of an old log cabin in the middle of nowhere Virginia with a home-cooked meal, good beer, and new friends. I fell asleep to the sound of a stream running through the backyard and fireflies blinking away through the window.
The next day started with a great bit of trail magic by Austin and Warpzilla of Raleigh, NC. Warpzilla had thru-hiked in 2007 and was back smoking pork and ribs, fruit, snacks, sodas, and beer. Things were on the upswing, the trail truly does provide.
This day also brought forward the most photographed spot of the entire Appalachian Trail, McAfee’s Knob. The rock ledge with a 270* view sits just under 3200 feet. And as is the way my thru-hike has been going, it was windswept rain on my journey up the rocky prominence. The benefit, however, was I virtually had what is normally a crowded spot for day hikers, virtually all to myself. Even better, my good friend from Mike Ryan (who I sadly missed hiking the knob by 2 days) had stashed some PBR for me near the top with a complex set of clues. Thanks Mike! You’re a hero!
Last two shoutouts I need to give are to Chris Kelleher, the tech genius for reviving my waterlogged phone from the first week of the hike allowing me to retrieve all my photos from the start of this adventure. And finally, thank you to Sue at the Halifax Post Office who has become a good friend of my mom! Sue sent me a wonderful care package last week with a nice note. Thanks Sue, can’t wait to meet you when I get back.
The trail is everything I had hoped it would be and more. Every day is a new adventure and each step brings me closer to New England. I am so excited to be nearer to my friends next month but in the meantime, I am beyond grateful for the new friends I have made now and all of the kindness I have been shown. Human kind truly is mostly good.
Oh and by the way, I highly doubt the band The Proclaimers who penned the hit song ‘I’m Gonna Be’, have ever actually walked 500 miles. Aside from my mom, grandmother, or Tom Brady, I wouldn’t walk 500 miles for anyone.
June 3, 2018