Sunday, September 8, 2013

Back to Reality

My 751.1 miles on the Appalachian Trail were an amazing experience. Hiking the trail was “everything”; it was incredible, it was awful, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, it was the best decision I ever made, it was an emotional roller coaster. It’s amazing how much I learned about myself once the distractions of “every day” life were stripped away. I gained a lot of confidence. I left a lot of fear and hesitation fall by the side of the trail.

I am really thankful I had the opportunity to attempt a thru hike (that is, hiking from Georgia to Maine in one stretch). A long distance hike is an incredibly tough thing to do; I didn’t realize how tough it would be when I started. Most of the time I was between 60-90% miserable, continuing to hike because of sheer stubbornness. But the few golden weeks that I had where everything was perfect (around Damascus, after the infection in my toe was defeated by modern medicine but before my leg started hurting from my hip to my knee with every step) – that was really an incredible experience.

There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the trail. I miss the camaraderie and have been desperately lonely at times during the past couple months (despite being surrounded by friends and family). It’s weird to not be around people united by a singular purpose. I do admit I have a bit of “hiker memory” – I tend to remember the awesome things and not so much the misery. Perfect days of partly cloudy skies and crisp weather. Getting to the shelter just before a big thunderstorm. Discovering AWE had packed me some grape leaves and pistachios for lunch. Being able to take a moment and just chill – whenever I wanted. How strong I felt when hiking up Albert Mountain and other steep terrain. How nice it was to stroll into camp and see who of my trail family I’d be spending the night with. There is an enormous amount of independence that comes from carrying everything I need on my back.

I am so incredibly proud of the people who I hiked with who are now very close to finishing. Rainbow Braid is done. M80 & Trooper (along with Willow) are almost there. Clever Girl and Dumptruck are close, I think. Lots of others that aren't keeping journals I see mentioned online...Pumpkinhead, ChinMusic, and Big Yank are still going. Shutterbug seems to be going strong on her flip flop. And every time someone I know finishes, I’m super proud of them. But there’s also a bit of disappointment there, too. That could have been me….if only…

But, it wasn’t. I’m home, back in the arms of my incredibly supportive (and like holy cow we can ACTUALLY GET MARRIED NOW) wife. I’m back in the throes of work and the conveniences of modern life. I really like the place I’m working at, I like the work I’m doing, and I do love putting money in the bank. I’m trying to keep my weight in check (surprisingly, hiking for 10 hours a day does wonder for muscle tone; and NOT hiking for 10 hours a day does the opposite). It’s hard because my IT band still acts up whenever I do anything weight bearing (even after 3 months of solid rest and stretching and PT). Don’t get me wrong – it is awesome to be home. I love air conditioning and running water and a fast internet connection like you wouldn’t believe. But there’s a piece of me that won’t be complete until I summit Katahdin.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

(a pause)

Hey there.

I have decided not to continue with my thru hike. The decision was practically made for me with the realization that if I went back to the trail immediately after finishing physical therapy* in early July, and continued hiking an average of 12-15 miles per day (probably slower in the beginning as my tendinitis is STILL killing me, after almost a month of rest), I still wouldn't make it to Maine until mid-November (and that doesn't allow for any zero days).

* I ended up having a severely inflamed IT band, along with patellor tendinitis and a ruptured bakers cyst.. Oh, and Lyme Disease (which I'm taking medication for). So the good news is - no knee surgery. The bad news is - still in pain.

I did have several options available to me:

  • I could flip flop (go to Maine and start hiking southbound), which is something I've been resistant to from the very beginning. I have in my mind that Katahdin is my end point, and it just doesn't seem as fulfilling to think about jumping ahead & ending my hike in Virginia. I think it would be really hard to complete a thru hike this way. (No offense to those who are flipflopping, though! Hike your own hike!).
  • I could hike north, knowing I would not be able to finish before Katahdin closed.
Both of those options seemed less than stellar. It seemed obvious that my thru hike has turned into one really long section hike (751.7 miles for the first section), with many shorter sections to come. This was my one shot a thru hike, and it didn't work out. But the goal of wanting to hike the entire Appalachian Trail still remains.

Once I made the decision that I would complete this goal as a series of section hikes, I thought about whether I wanted to go back out on the trail and continue to hike north this summer. The answer was a pretty definitive NO - it is getting miserably hot out there, and it seems that one of the biggest advantages to a section hike is that you don't have to hike when it's blazing hot outside.

So we'll see how it goes. I'll keep posting updates here (hopefully blogging will still be a 'thing' by the time I make it to Maine).

Thanks to everyone for your support. I am incredibly grateful to have had this experience, and I'm proud of what I've accomplished so far. (I mean really, I don't even like to DRIVE 750 miles!). I wish nothing but the best to my trail family - the friends I've made while hiking, the trail angels, as well as everyone who read my blog and sent me notes of encouragement. If you want to follow my 'real' account on twitter, please do so @tinydream. Also, OWL is still out there (well, right now she's on vacation but she'll return soon enough) - so check out her blog as she continues on her journey

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Day 76: Wilson Creek Shelter to Jennings Creek campsite

17 miles
Hard day today. My knee is really bothering me. Last night it locked as I was rolling over in my sleeping bag, which was pretty freaky.

I've been trying to fill up on water at every opportunity, so I was planning to go off trail 0.2 miles to get to the first shelter. When I got to the turnoff, I saw Owl had left me a note that there was water 0.1 mile north on the AT. Cool! Walked was only a trickle but it was enough. I stopped for a snack and then went on.

Today I crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway for the first time on foot. It was pretty foggy so the views weren't that great. The best thing about the BRP is that there are trash cans at the road crossings! I sat down for a moment by one to call AWE and whine about my knee. I don't really know what to do about it. It is pretty slow going today as my knee hurts and ibuprofen wears off.

Caught up to Owl, M80 & Trooper at Bearwallow Gap - they had stopped to soak their feet in the creek. I talked with Owl a bit, about maybe taking a break to rest my knee. She asked if I'd be willing to shuttle around a section to give my knee time to rest, I told her I'd think about it. As you may have figured out, I'm not exactly a purist but I don't want to just blatantly skip sections of the trail, either.

I had just 6 miles to go to Jennings Creek, a swimming hole near a road, with a guy who shuttles just a few miles away. Put on some tunes to help pass the time and hiked on. Saw two more huge black snakes (they are very long!) - even though I don't think they are poisonous I like to give them a wide berth. Got to the creek about 6:30 - enough time to do laundry and have a bath in the river. Talked with M80 for a bit - turns out Trooper is hiking with a partial meniscus tear, and M80 said her doctor said if her knee starts locking up she needs to get off the trail and get it checked out. If the meniscus tears fully, you aren't able to walk (and crawling to a road isn't my idea of a good time). Told Owl I was going to shuttle around and maybe slackpack her until I could go home on the 6th and get it checked out. She was like - don't make things complicated...just go home and get it checked out now. Captain Obvious, that one.

So, I had just enough service to text AWE to see if she could book an award ticket home from Roanoke. Sure enough, one was available. And a guy was available in Roanoke to shuttle me, too. (Side note: I have tons of frequent flyer miles, and AWE's insurance only pays 65% of cost 'out of network'. So it made sense to go home to get it checked out by someone 'in network'...MRIs are expensive...)

I had a nice evening by the creek...gave away as much food as I could...went to sleep with the sound of the creek as white noise. Woke up early to see Owl & M80 & Trooper off...and waited for the shuttle guy. While waiting I discovered that, while I had clean socks & underwear & a mostly clean shirt I'd used only for sleeping in, my pants stunk super bad. They didn't stink too bad for hiking...but definitely too bad for a 'real world' airport situation. Luckily Homer the Shuttle Driver was a super nice guy, and had time to take me by a Goodwill so I could get a pair of jeans. Homer, his wife, and their two kids (at ages 8 & 10) hiked the entire AT a few years ago. They even wrote a children's book about their experience. Pretty neat guy.

And that is the story of how I ended up in the Roanoke airport, with only a nalgene bottle for a carry on.

Day 75: Daleville to Wilson Creek Shelter

11.2 miles

Left at 9am after breakfast. 18 miles to go today. Caught up with Shutterbug & Smiles, they have been hiking together for a few days. Saw Jeremiah, too...pretty impressive since he was partying pretty hard at the mexican restaurant yesterday. We ate a snack at the first shelter, where a group of college kids had spent the night on the first night of their section hike. They had a huge tent that must have weighed 30 pounds, gallon jugs of water, and one kid even had a trumpet.

Soon after morning break we came to a fast moving creek with no footbridge and no big rocks to hop across. This marks the first time I've had to take off my shoes to cross a stream! It is a real pain to take  shoes off/cross creek/dry feet/put shoes back on, so I'm glad I don't have to do it very often. The water was really cold but I managed not to fall in. There were a couple other creek crossings later that day, but one had rocks strategically placed across it, and the other I was able to go upstream and walk across a fallen branch. The streams are full of water because of all the rain we've had recently - there are even streams where nothing is marked in the AT Guide - nice to have water so readily available.

Saw a huge black snake slithering across the trail. It was long - probably 5 feet or so - and I gave a little yelp when I saw it. It's so surprising to see movement on the trail just a few feet from where my feet are. But I'm glad it wasn't a rattlesnake - I've been paranoid about seeing one ever since Greyhound saw a very large rattlesnake on the trail.

Started to feel like rain about 2pm, and I heard thunder about 2:30. I knew I was pretty close to the 2nd shelter so picked up my pace to get there. Literally seconds before the bottom dropped out of the sky, I reached the shelter. Jeremiah, Shutterbug, Smiles, Owl, and Phoenix are all here, waiting for the storm to pass. The storm lasted about 90 minutes, and when it was over we decided to just spend the night here. It was too late after the storm to hike another 7.4 miles to the next shelter (and we'd get there too late to have a spot in the shelter). Plus my knee has been hurting all day and locked up a few times today.

People poured into the shelter, everyone is getting back on the trail after Trail Days. M80 & Trooper are here, so is Big Yankee, Roughneck, Tahlal, lots of others. Jeremiah decided to move on, so did Rainbow Braid, Finder, and a couple others.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Day 74: Zero in Daleville

It is amazing what a bath, delicious non-hiker food, and sleeping on a mattress with extra pillows does to restore a bit of sanity. Combine that with not having to worry about running out of water, or food, or storms, or bugs, and this zero is pretty much a slice of heaven.

I heard about the car crashing into the Trail Days parade in Damascus - so scary. I hope that everyone who was injured is ok. I am thankful that the people we have been hiking with recently are all ok. I'm also glad that we didn't go to Trail Days this year - what a bummer.

I am feeling better. OWL & I decided to change the plan slightly, to slow down a little (yet again) and try to get to Front Royal by June 5, instead of Harper's Ferry. That will send us home for break after completing the portion of the AT that runs through Shenandoah National Park, which is supposed to be easier (graded) terrain, with beautiful views and good access to campgrounds with burgers and milkshakes.

My body is so tired. Without my pack (and my sticks), I hobble instead of walk. My right knee is still sticking & popping, but it's not exactly *painful* like I can't bear weight on it, it's just stiff and sore. My toes tingle all the time, even at night. I have been getting shin splints frequently. But - this sounds weird - in some ways I feel stronger than I have in years.

My game plan is this: I am going to make it to Front Royal, and go home for two weeks to relax and recover as planned. If my body 'bounces back' and seems to recover after some time off, AND if I miss hiking the AT, I'll come back and finish. If either one of those things turns out not to be true, I'll stop this adventure for now.

That sounds fair, right?

Tomorrow we're doing a big day out of Daleville on fresh legs. Tuesday the high is supposed to be in the high 80s, so we're planning a short 10 mile day to a campsite near a swimming hole. Then we'll go from there. 

Day 72: Four Pines Hostel to Lambert's Meadow Shelter

16.3 miles
Woke up to a rooster crowing - really! - and sunshine. OWL already had her stuff packed but she waited for me...almost patiently. Once again she wanted to get dropped off a few miles up (where the trail met the road) - I said - I don't care what you do but I'm walking back on the trail where we left. So she walked with me.

Lots of fence stiles early, as we crossed several pastures. Not sure if I have explained these before, but fence stiles are set up to help backpackers cross barbed wire fences. They are essentially 2x4's leaned across the fence and fastened together, with boards set up as steps of varying heights. You climb up the steps on one side, turn around on the top, and climb down the steps on the other side. Some people throw their hiking poles over, but I like to keep mine dangling on my wrists so I can use them to ease myself down the last 'step' to the ground.

I am still feeling weird - like I want to go home and am not sure if this is what I really want to be doing for the next three months of my life because it's not really fun anymore - I guess this is the Virginia Blues. This phenomenon is so named because Virginia has 550+ miles of trail - more than any other state - and by the time hikers reach this area the novelty of being on the AT has worn off. Plus, the terrain is still difficult at times, except that you can't really see any views from the ridgeline because the tree leaves create a 'long green tunnel'.

Well, just because I'm able to give something a name doesn't make it any easier to get through. My very favorite part of being out here is being in my tent and waking up to complete silence in the middle of the night. The next favorite is being in town and hanging out with other hikers. Then the wonderful views. But the actual *hiking* - well that is painful. I am so tired. My ankles and knees and feet hurt, all the time, even after 800mg of ibuprofen that I'm taking twice daily (which upsets my stomach). We have been pushing for miles and it feels so hectic and rushed, and I am always worried I won't make it because I feel so tired. I am drinking lots of water - between 4-6L per day - but sweating more and have run out of water several times in the past week. 

So I guess what I'm saying is that I'm having some growing pains.

We went over McAfee Knob today. OWL sent me a text - said thunderstorms are coming in the afternoon so don't take a lunch break until you get here! I stopped to get water at the shelter just before the climb up, but kept hiking otherwise. Beautiful view there. Wish I could have stayed longer but we needed to get to Lambert Meadow Shelter to make the next day into Daleville easier. I would have much preferred to stay at McAfee Knob until sunset, and camped at the shelter less than a mile from there, and had a longer day into Daleville.

We went over Tinker Cliffs later on in the day - more beauty. As Modest Mouse sings, so much beauty it could make you cry.

But even with the great views of today, I'm still feeling frustrated and exhausted. Guess I'll take a zero in Daleville to recover. Maybe OWL will take a zero, maybe she won't. We are both getting frustrated with our differences in hiking pace. I know sometimes (like today) I feel like I am hiking HER hike, instead of my own. But I know she feels the same way about me.

Staying in the shelter tonight with Jeremiah & OWL - would prefer to tent but it is going to rain, and a wet tent fly sucks.


Day 73: Lambert's Meadow Shelter to Daleville

Jeremiah & OWL decided to get up at 6:15 to be on the trail by 7...I decided to get up a little earlier to take my time. Got up around 5:50 and puttered around. I like waking up slowly. Ate a Little Debbie cherry pie - thanks to Wildcat back in Maryville for that tip. They have about 450 calories - perfect for breakfast when combined with my protein powder drink. 

Jeremiah & OWL took off - I stayed in the shelter & talked on the phone with AWE for a few minutes while she was on her way to work. (Normally I would NEVER EVER talk on the phone in a shelter...especially at 7am...but I was the only one there!)

The walk into Daleville was pretty easy - a little rainy, a little foggy, not many views. Saw some pre-teen kids out scrambling around on the rocks. They told me about a trail they'd found that shows you a great view of the whole valley - "for if you come back...good luck!". Cute.

Listened to last week's This American Life podcast - had a story about a guy who walked across the US on a whim. His last words in the story...keep walking...seemed significant. Not much to look at on the walk today so I had lots of time to think. I have to be careful - I can make lots of justifiable excuses for coming home that no one would argue with - probably not even myself. But I need to give myself a chance to rest before I really think about it much further.

Just before I got to Daleville, I came across a honeysuckle 'forest' with honeysuckle bushes in bloom on both sides of the trail. I LOVE honeysuckles and hadn't seen any yet this year. I just stood there in the midst of one of my favorite smells...and took deep breaths. (Even had a few drops of honey). Then it started to rain, so I hurried the last half mile into town.

The hotel is about 100 yards from the trail - really convenient. OWL & I got separate rooms - I need some alone time to relax completely. Took a shower, started laundry, went across the street to Pizza Hut for lunch, came back to the room and soaked in an Epsom salt bath while watching episodes of the Office on my phone. I am so tired. Am definitely taking a zero tomorrow to rest.


Day 71: Trout Creek to Four Pines Hostel (VA 624)

8 miles
Took our time getting ready today. We have decided to go to a hostel tonight since it is supposed to storm this afternoon & tonight. 

Saw a bunch of pink ladyslipper orchards, which are pretty rare. 

We went over Dragon's Tooth today! This is a really neat stone monolith that is 0.1 miles off the AT. There were lots of dayhikers out today. This area is really close to Virginia Tech, so lots of students are out and about since their finals are over. One girl was out with her boyfriend and noticed our packs - she asked me if we were going camping. I said we were staying at a hostel tonight, but we had been camping last night. She asked where we started hiking, and when I said "Georgia" she looked at me as if I were an ALIEN. I couldn't resist - said "yeah, we've hiked almost 700 miles so far" - and then she REALLY looked at me like I had tentacles growing out of my face. It was really funny.

Saw our first rhododendron bloom today!

We stayed at the Four Pines Hostel which is really a 3 bay garage with cots & lawn chairs & couches for sleeping. Pretty chill place, Joe is a really cool guy, he runs the place with his two sons. It is "donation only" - has a shower, fridge, electricity, a radio. The best part (besides the shower/fridge/electricity/radio/being indoors/cell service) is that he shuttles to the grocery store and the HomePlace Restaurant - a ridiculous family style all you can eat place.

There was an hour long wait, and we hung out on the grass like the hiker trash we are. Once our table was ready, we went back and rolled up our sleeves. The waitress brought out fried chicken, pulled pork, mashed potatoes, green beans, pinto beans, biscuits, baked was amazing. The food kept coming until we were stuffed...and then we had peach cobbler with ice cream! The *only* bad thing was we had in our group one of the most obnoxious people I have ever met. He talked a lot but made very little sense, and whistled at the waitress to get her attention. The second time he did this I said something to him about it. The third time he whistled at her the whole table started griping at him about being rude. He said - "dude that's what we do in Costa Rica, it's not degrading it's just a habit"...then "i fought for this country"...then "i hate this f***ing country". But he stopped whistling at the waitress.

Greyhound is here tonight (super nice guy), so are Magnolio (SOBO), Derelict, DayPack (from AL!), Samba and his buddy (forgot his name), along with a couple other people whose names I unfortunately don't remember.



Day 70: Sarver Hollow Shelter to Trout Creek

14.8 miles
Very hard day today. I miss AWE a lot, and the terrain today is harder than it's been in a while. Two big climbs, one late in the day, and some tough rock slicks that weren't well-marked. I almost got lost twice: once I went downhill for a few yards before seeing sticks laid across the trail in the universal sign for "you're hiking the wrong way". The second time the trail disappeared - big drops all around me - until Stumbles came by and climbed up 5 feet to a rock ahead. New rule of hiking: when in doubt, climb up!

Went over the eastern continental divide. Neat.

The climb up Brush Mountain was steep and long. I was worried I was going to run out of water - it is getting hotter, and I sweat a LOT. (Even when it is 40 degrees outside, I am covered in sweat within minutes of hiking uphill). After 70 days (!) on the trail you'd think I'd be acclimated to hiking uphill...but I am not. (Or - I just sweat a lot). So I am drinking a ton of water and taking electrolyte tablets in hopes of staying hydrated. Today I drank 5.5 liters of water, and was still thirsty afterwards.

I met Greyhound on the climb down - he has a twisted ankle and was taking it a step at a time going down. Asked him where he was headed for the night and he said - headed to water first, then I'll decide if I'm going the extra mile to the shelter. I thought - man it would be nice to camp by the creek - but knew that OWL wouldn't stop there because she had set her destination as the shelter. Got down to the creek and saw a bunch of folks from last night. Thought - I hope OWL is still here but she is probably at the shelter. Then I looked over to the other side of the creek and saw her sitting there, with her tentpad laid out. I was so happy I cried - literally - and said "I am so glad to see you!". She said - "well the shelter was 0.3 miles off the trail, and the water was 0.2 down steep switchbacks from there, so I was glad to save those steps and camp near the creek."

I went to the creek and drank a bunch of water, took a bath, and rinsed out my clothes. Set up my tent, ate as much food as I could stand for dinner (AWE sends me grape leaves sometimes which are heavy but an AMAZING treat), and went to bed happy and tired and full.


Day 69: War Spur Shelter to Sarver Hollow Shelter

12.7 miles
Slept badly, again. Either this bag is NOT a 45 degree bag, or it is getting really cold at night. Last night I put on my puffy jacket, my rain pants, and used the hot water bottle trick. Even with my silk liner I was still cold. But I wasn't as cold as the night before...there is hope.

Not sure if it is the lack of sleep but today was hard. Left camp about 8:30 - immediately had a creek crossing. Saw a note that said "successful crossing of a swollen creek: advance two spaces" - pretty funny. On the second creek crossing I totally slipped on a rock and fell face-first into the creek. Both feet were submerged, my face was just inches from the rushing water, my waist was bent over a pointed rock...NOT how I wanted to start my hike! Laid there for just a second to catch my breath and then pushed myself upright onto a big rock before stepping onto the bank. My left side is pretty banged up; my arm hurts when I use my trekking pole and my ribs hurt, but nothing is broken. And, as a special bonus, the pocket my phone was in didn't even get wet! (Lots of people have otterboxes for their phone; I just have a regular case and put it in a ziploc bag when it's raining. This is a fine plan except when you fall into a creek!)

There was one big climb early on, with lots of rocks. Met Tribe, a SOBO hiker, who was very encouraging..."just keep trudging, there's trail magic ahead!". Found a rubbermaid container with lots of empties and four COLD sodas. (One good thing about it being so cold the night before: the sodas were cold!). Took my pack off and sat down for a minute while I had a delicious orange soda. I'm feeling very defeated today - probably because of the creek crossing - or maybe I'm just really missing AWE again.

When I got to the top of the climb, I almost passed by the Kelly Knob view, but then thought...I have walked up this mountain, I'm going to see the view even if I have to walk a bit further off the trail! It was really gorgeous - I could see for miles - and I also had cell service! Called AWE and talked to her for the first time since Pearisburg. 

Got to the designated lunch spot just as OWL was getting ready to leave. "You need to learn how to walk faster!", she said. Yeah...thanks.

While eating my lunch I made a list of everyone I can think of who is rooting for me. Then I listened to Toots & the Maytals while walking...sang loudly...felt better. Kept trudging. Saw a huge 300 year old tree (the Keffer Oak) - pretty neat - but also sad that there aren't very many "old" trees along the AT. Another steep climb...then walking on the ridge...then half a mile of steep switchbacks down to the shelter. This shelter is probably the nicest one I've seen so far - I'm guessing it gets very little use because it is so far off the trail. But I am glad to be here for the night. I am tenting again - mostly for warmth but I am also enjoying having my own personal space in the tent...I sleep better in the tent for sure.

Here with owl, team onyx, stumbles, her bf, and a couple others tenting.

The water source for this shelter is by some old abandoned buildings - can't find any information about them but one appears to be a cabin and all that remains of the other is two chimneys.



Day 68: Pine Swamp Shelter to War Spur Shelter

12.5 miles

Well, it did get below freezing last night and I slept like crap. II was a little better once I put on my puffy jacket, but I still had the whole body shivers a few times during the night. OWL & I both slept in late and left camp about 10:30. 

Harder day today than yesterday, even though yesterday was a higher mileage day. Lots of rocks on the trail today; the unevenness makes for very slow walking, and their hardness hurts my feet. We also saw snow flurries - TWICE - so I am second guessing the decision to send home my warm bag. The seams on my new liner socks hurt my pinky toes (even turned inside out). But - I made it to the shelter fine. Phoenix is here again tonight - said she was planning to go to the next shelter but it is at a higher elevation (ie, colder) so she decided to stay here for the night. And Etch-A-Sketch showed up at the shelter with her dad (who lives nearby) and her dog, SamWise, with homemade chocolate chip cookies! They went very well with my beef stroganoff (which was part of a care package put together by some awesome coworkers). They sent me lots of goodies which AWE is sending a bit at a time - I'm very thankful for their thoughts and support!

It is supposed to be cold again tonight, so I am tenting in hopes that it will keep me a little warmer.


Day 67: Pearisburg to Pine Swamp Shelter

19.7 miles
So sad to leave AWE but told her - this is a joyful thing - I am so glad I got to see you and I'll be home in less than a month for our break. (OWL & AT had a 10 day vacation with family planned before we started planning our hike, so I'm taking that time to go home and relax).

OWL wanted to get dropped off at the road furthest away from Pearisburg, but I wanted to get dropped off where we got off the trail. I told her - look, I'm not exactly a purist...but if I'm going to skip sections of the AT I want to be doing something fun. (For instance, riding bikes on the Virginia Creeper trail instead of hiking that section on the AT). I don't want to take shortcuts just because we can, and I especially don't want to yellowblaze (get a ride by car); nicknamed because of the yellow lines in the middle of the road)  just so it makes our day a little easier. I think she was a little annoyed, but she got out of the car with me at Cross Ave (630.4), exactly where we left the trail.

My purist efforts had us:
  a) get lost for a block or two in Pearisburg (much to the chagrin of the neighborhood dogs)
  b) walk by some sort of weird chemical plant that smelled like hydrochloric acid and made it hard to breathe for miles

We also got to the "unnamed paved road" just as Nova's slackpack ride was driving away! So we missed the opportunity to slackpack 20+ miles. But, nothing to do about it now.

Big climb out of Pearisburg (this is usually the case when going out of a town) but it wasn't too bad. We had planned to stop for lunch at Rice Field Shelter, and just before we got to the shelter we heard a whistle through the trees above us. Sounded weird - we both heard it - but there wasn't anything around. As we were leaving the shelter we saw a glider fly overhead! It was really neat. We saw at least two different gliders, and they passed overhead about 12-15 times throughout the day.

We made consistently good time (2 mph) and got to the shelter about 6:15. I really like hiking with OWL - it keeps me consistently moving since I am trying to either keep up with her or stay ahead of her.

We are behind the group we have been hiking with because of our mini vacation. So we are here with new people tonight. Phoenix (with dyed red hair) is a colonel's wife and a cancer survivor who had a fire built and set mouse traps set around the shelter. Really nice lady. Shaman is a fellow nerd who was fun to talk to. And Professor, who liked to ask questions (much to OWL's annoyance). OWL has decided to not tell people she is a physical therapist (because they start asking her questions about their ailments). But she's not very good at being vague about it, either. Professor asked her what she did, she said "I'm currently unemployed". Then he said, well what did you do before hiking? "I worked", she replied. It was pretty funny to watch them both get frustrated with each other. (Eventually she gave in and told him).

It is supposed to get below freezing tonight. I hope I am warm enough.


Day 64, 65, 66: A Zero, A Nero, and Another Zero in Pearisburg

It was really amazing to see AWE for the first time in two months. I have missed her so much. 

But still, there was work to do. I needed to work out my shoe issues (the Salomon's have continued to bruise underneath my ankles, and they don't have hardly any grip on the sole), so we went to the outfitter in Blacksburg. The outfitter in Johnson City told OWL that all Salomon shoes have a 30 day no questions asked return policy...unfortunately we found out that is only true if you purchase the shoes online through Bummer. The local outfitter was nice, but they didn't have any non-waterproof boots or trail runners. So we decided to go to the nearest REI, a 2.5 hr drive to Charlotte, NC.

It was weird to ride in a car for a long period of time, covering a third of the distance we have travelled so far in a matter of hours. The shoe guy at REI was pretty nice and lI think OWL & I both tried on every pair of non-waterproof mid-boots and trail runners in the store! Finally I settled on a pair of mid length (above the ankle) Keen boots that felt pretty good. OWL bought a new pair of the Salomon trail runners she was originally using. I also got a pair of thin "travel" pants - I don't want to wear shorts during the summer (ticks!) but my current pants are thick (read: heavy) and are literally falling off because I have lost so much weight. (AWE also brought a pair of 'too small' thin rollup pants I had at home, but they also fell off me). Not sure how the thin pants will hold up over rock scrambles, but not too worried about it either. I have needle and floss and bandana...I can make it work.

After spending far too much time in REI, we went to Mellow Mushroom to eat dinner. What a nice treat! Then drove back to Blacksburg for the night.

The next day, we hiked the 5 miles from Trent's Grocery to Lickskillet Hollow (the section we missed during our slackpack from Woods Hole). It was so much fun to hike with Emily! Even in the rain! OWL & AT dropped us off at Trent's Grocery, and AWE and I started hiking SOBO. Then OWL & AT then drove to Lickskillet, parked the car, and hiked NOBO. When we met, they handed us the keys. (How smart are we?) OWL & I both had on our full packs (to test out our new shoes), and AWE & AT had daypacks loaded with fruit & snacks for other hikers. But we didn't see  a single hiker on the trail! I have been trying to figure out how AWE uses an acorn for a whistle - finally got her to show me exactly. And although I didn't find any wintergreen berries, I did get her to try pine tips (tastes like Christmas!). The new boots feel fine - I'm wondering if maybe I should have got a half size larger - but too late for that now. As AWE's father says, "it will either work or it won't, guaranteed!"

We also went by the post office, where I had a care package waiting from Post! (Post is the SUPER NICE section hiker I met in the Smokies, hiking with her father). It was so nice to get her goodies, a letter, and a photo of her & her father on top of Rocky Top! Thanks, Post! I really appreciate it!
The last day of our mini vacation was bittersweet. It was still amazing to be in the same place with AWE, but I still had to do all the "regular" in-town hiking things - sort through the food box, go to the post office to mail the bounce box, update the blog - as well as sort through the things AWE brought from home. (We did manage to eat at a delicious Indian buffet for lunch - my taste buds were dancing!)

It was a tough decision trying to figure out what to send home, and what to keep. A lot of thru hikers send home their winter gear in Pearisburg (or even before), but I am nervous about sending *all* of it home because it is still early May, and it can still get cold (especially at the higher elevations). 

So, I swapped out my 15 degree bag for a 45 degree bag (the stuff size difference between those two bags is amazing - my pack is not stuffed to the gills now). Other things I got from home: two synthetic tshirts; one a 'smartcool' fabric and the other a zippered synthetic. a pair of compression socks, a pair of (smaller) compression shorts, and a lighter sleeping pad. I sent home my extra long sleeve fleece, my worn out sock liners, my wool tshirt, and some extra socks. I am keeping my patagonia capilene baselayer and smartwool longjohns for sleeping, as well as my hat, gloves, & balaclava. I'm keeping my puffy jacket too, because it doubles as my pillow at night. My pack isn't much lighter because I'm still keeping the cold weather clothing, but fitting everything into my pack is much easier now that my gargantuan 15 degree bag isn't taking up half the space in my pack.

I'm a little nervous about tomorrow - we have a 19+ mile day planned (with new boots and 5 days resupply!) - but all I have to do is walk.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Day 63: Woods Hole Hostel to Pearisburg

10 miles

It is pretty easy to walk in the cold miserable rain when you have a prize waiting for you. AWE will be here today! You have no idea how excited I am (and how excited OWL is to see her partner, AT).

We left the hostel at the last possible moment - around noon - to put us in Pearisburg a little before AWE & AT. M80 & Trooper were planning on spending the night in Pearisburg, and said we were welcome to stop by their hotel room to take a shower before we left to go to civilization...Blacksburg. Honestly I don't remember that much about the walk - I was a focused walking machine! Everything was super foggy - until the last 3 miles when the fog and rain started to clear. We saw some great views from Angel's View, and as we descended into Pearisburg the light in the forest was amazing. A sign of good things to come, I am certain!

We stopped by M80 & Trooper's room - it was really psychedelic! The hotel didn't have any rooms left, but they had a former game room they were planning on setting up as another room...they brought a bed/dresser/tv/chair in to this very colorful room, and M80 & Trooper were glad to have it!

After I showered, we went across the street to the Mexican restaurant for margaritas. I texted AWE & AT to let her know we had a change of location, but neither of them texted me back. About 10 minutes later, they walked into the restaurant! It was amazing to see AWE. I missed her so much.

We had drinks (Trooper had the LARGEST DRINK OF ALL) and ate dinner. And then we drove to Blacksburg for 3 days of R&R.