4/15 - Monday - Day 33 - Hiked 14.4 miles - (Mile Marker 332.4) With my hike today, I am now averaging 10 miles a day. I will have to pick it up a bit if I want to finish before they close Baxter Mountain on October 15. However, I feel I am going at a good pace right now and will just play it by ear when or when not to do long mileage. It did rain again during the night and consequently, everything was damp and heavy when I packed up. I got started about 7:15 to a beautiful day and it remained that way all day. I was not anticipating the hike up over Big Bald (alt. 5,516) but knew I would be doing so early in today's hike. Actually, it is best to hit some of the tougher climbs early in the day before you get totally wiped out for the day. As I was close to beginning the steep climb, I came across more trail magic. Someone had placed a cooler with apples, oranges and strawberries along with some dog biscuits for those traveling with dogs. How thoughtful and appreciated was this. The donor left a sign saying "Good Luck 2002 Thru Hikers." I can't begin to tell you how great this makes you feel, and what a great time to do it, just before your big climb. Big Bald was tough as expected. However, the remainder of the hike wasn't all that bad. I stopped at Bald Mountain Shelter for a short rest before continuing on to the next shelter, which was another 10 miles. I arrived at No Business Shelter (3,180) at about 4:20. I doubt there will be anyone else sharing the shelter with me tonight except the miserable mice. It is only another six miles to Erwin and most hikers push on to go there when they are this close. I decided since this was Monday and my drop box wouldn't arrive until Wednesday that I would stop and make it a short day into Erwin the following day. I was tired and could use the rest anyway. The trees are beginning to bud now and more flowers are coming out along with the accompanying smells. We have had some terrific views so far and that is primarily because the trees do not have their leaves yet. Once the trees are fully developed, I suspect our views will be limited. I was happy that Zippy showed up to share the shelter with me tonight.
4/16 - Tuesday - Day 34 - Hiked 6.3 miles - (Mile Marker 338.7) I didn't actually leave this morning until about 7:45 for the short hike into Erwin, Tennessee. On the way down off the mountain, you have some great views of the Nolichucky River. You could see the town for quite some time before you actually got to it. This is quite a challenge as you keep thinking that you are almost there, when you actually have quite a ways still to hike before you come out of the woods. I finally got into Erwin (1,700) and I checked in at Ms. Janet's Hostel. Actually this is a house that she turns into a hostel during hiker season. Unfortunately, there is bad blood between her and Uncle Johnny's, another hostel for hikers in town. He is trying to put her out of business but from the numbers that she already has in her hostel, it isn't working. Her house is very hectic and very unorganized, but she does absolutely anything and everything for the hiker. She shuttles you around anywhere you need to go and only has a box in her car for gas donations. There is talk about doing some slack packing tomorrow from her house. This form of hiking is when someone will drop you off at a point, with a daypack and pick you up at the other end when you have finished for the day. If I elect to do this, I will be hiking 19 miles tomorrow before coming back to Ms. Janet's to spend another night. We shall see if I do this or not. The first thing I did when hitting town after checking in, was to go for a hamburger and milkshake. I can't tell you how good that was. I picked up my mail drop and then Ms. Janet took several of us to Johnson City to an outfitter and to eat again. I finally was able to get a gin and tonic even though it was lunch. It sure tasted good and well worth the wait. Later this evening we went to a place where they serve the largest burritos I have ever seen. So, you can see that this was a day full of mostly eating. I have lost about 15 pounds so far and still have room for more loss of weight. On my hike this morning, I did spot a deer. Surprisingly, there haven't been too many wild animal sightings so far. One thing I have neglected to comment on so far are the cobwebs that you encounter along the trail if you happen to be the first one leaving the campsite. They are quite irritating, but nothing you can do about it but keep your head down and plow through them. The remedy for this is not to be the first one to leave camp. Unfortunately, everyone is wise to this now.
4/17 - Wednesday - Day 35 - Hike 19.1 miles - (Mile Marker 357.8) After a real late start, and the fear of hiking in the dark before the day was ended, I was finally on the trail by 11:45. I would be slack packing today with Zippy. We were let off at Iron Mountain Gap, about 19 miles from Erwin and began making our way back. Two other hikers left from the same location to continue their journey north. Hiking with only a daypack was a real pleasure. I initially wondered to myself if this might not be cheating, but after talking with others about this type of backpacking, found that everyone has their own idea of what a thru hiker is. Basically, you set your own rules as long as you actually hike the full trail. Doing this type of hike when someone drops you off at a distant location and you hike back to the original site is called a freedom hike. It was a long hike today, and I am very tired, but felt good about the hike and the number of miles I was able to put in, in the amount of time I had to do it in. I did hike quite a bit faster because I did not want to get caught hiking in the dark. Many people have done this and like to do it especially when the moon is full. They hike at night and rest during the day. I did see a snake today, but unfortunately, I do not know the difference between the snakes so don't know what kind it was. Tonight, Ms. Janet took several of us back to Johnson City for an all you can eat meal. Of course, as usual, I ate all I could eat. It was nice to be able to go back to the same lodging for another night after a day of hiking and know that I didn't have to take a zero day. It almost feels like a zero day because you don't have to pack and unpack or prepare dinner and all the things required when you are on the trail. My hike today took me from 3,725 feet at Iron Mountain Gap to altitudes of 5,180 feet at Unaka Mountain and then back to Erwin at 1,700 feet. I will be off tomorrow for what I am told will be another tough day. Aren't they all?
4/18 - Thursday - Day 36 - Hiked 12.4 miles - (Mile Marker 370.2) I did a bit of shopping first thing this morning and then packed a box to send ahead. I was taken to the post office and was finally dropped off at Iron Mountain Gap (3,725) at 11:15. My destination today is Roan High Knob Shelter (6,285). This is the highest shelter on the trail. It is a former fire warden's cottage so it is fully enclosed. I had some very steep climbs throughout the day, but especially the final climb up to Roan High Shelter. I didn't arrive at the shelter until 7:30. As I approached the bottom and ready for the ascent, I came upon two fellows who were digging for ramp. I felt as though I was in the middle of nowhere and these were two motley looking fellows with shovels and picks. They were talking with each other just loud enough for me to overhear one of them say, "that old man is going to die." Well, you can imagine the thoughts running through my head. The movie Deliverance immediately came to mind. I decided, I should probably talk to them and since they were quite close to the trail, I went over to them, asking what they were digging. It turns out they were quite nice and proceeded to give me a full explanation of what ramp are, how you eat them, when you can dig for them, etc. Ramps emerge from the forest floor in early spring. The two-leafed greens sprout from an onion-like tuber that can be used to spice up a trail meal. They are identified by their smell and taste, which are likened to onions and garlic. It was quite interesting, as I had never even heard of ramp before. As I was hiking up the mountain, my thoughts went to what those two had said about me. I realized that they were probably thinking that I would die before I reached the top of the mountain. With my pack and long beard, I can see now why they would think this. Upon arriving at the shelter, I found Falcon and Rafter Jack there preparing their evening meal. I knew the Carnival girls (three girls hiking together) were behind me somewhere and expected them to arrive at the shelter. One of the girls finally did show up but the others never made it in. The marker on the trail that identified the shelter trail was difficult to see. Unfortunately it started to rain soon after arriving at the shelter and we think the other two girls must have missed the shelter and continued on. Unfortunately, since the girls were traveling together, they each carried some of the supplies. The girl that made it to the shelter had food, but no stove. No problem as we were able to share ours. Our trail information indicates that this is the last time the trail goes over the 6,000 foot mark until we get to Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. It gets pretty cold up here and it is pretty cold tonight. However, the shelter is fully enclosed so there should be no problem keeping warm.
4/19 - Friday - Day 37 - Hiked 14.2 miles - (Mile Marker 384.4) What a difference today's hike has been. Yesterday it was mostly climbing all day long and today it is back down again. After a nice hike this morning, I arrived at the Overmountain Shelter. This is a renovated barn that is on a hill overlooking the most beautiful valley you could ever want to see. I am so sorry I didn't plan on making this one of my overnight stops. In the morning you could see the sunrise (if there were one). It is by far one of the best shelters I have come upon so far in my travels. There is a large loft as well which could hold several other hikers if necessary. It is located a little off the trail, but well worth the extra hike in to stop for a rest at this beautiful location. I stayed for quite a while, but eventually had to get going as I have another eight miles to go to reach my destination for the day. This afternoon's hike was much more difficult as I hiked over Little Hump Mountain, (5,460) and then Hump Mountain (5,587). Of course in between these two mountains you are descending to Bradley Gap (4,960). After summiting Hump Mountain, it was mostly down hill into Apple House Shelter at 3,000 feet. There were some awesome views today. I caught up to Falcon as he was resting on Round Bald and he offered to take my photo looking back at Roan Mountain. There are so many photo opportunities. I'm afraid I won't take some of the shots that I will wish I had taken when I get home to review my photos. As I was coming down off Round Bald today, there was a herd of Texas Long Horn steers. I was told later that they are friendly beasts and that you can actually take your picture with them. I was by myself at this time, and didn't take my eyes off them until I reached the other side of the fence. They didn't look that friendly to me. Unfortunately, I was so anxious to get out of their domain, I didn't take a photo. There are only three of us in the shelter tonight. The Carnival girls have fallen back a little, but since we have been passing each other regularly, I have no doubt they will catch up soon.
4/20 - Saturday - Day 38 - Hiked 14.3 miles - (Mile Marker 398.7) I was about to head off this morning on my days hike when the rains came down. I decided to wait for a while and in about 15 minutes, I was happy to see it stop raining. Of course now the trail would be wet, but at least I wouldn't be hiking in the rain. Fortunately, the weather held up and was quite nice all day long with a bit of overcast and some sun. I found today to be rather tough with lots of ups and downs. I came across some folks from the Tennessee Hiking club who were out doing a reroute of a portion of the trail. After stopping and talking with them for a while, they asked if I would like to have the honor of being the first thru hiker to hike on the reroute. It wasn't quite finished, and I had to hike over some brush etc. but I was the first hiker to hike this new portion of the trail. I arrived at Moreland Gap Shelter (3,815) at 4 p.m. There are four of us sharing the shelter tonight and all are looking forward to a short day tomorrow as we hike to Kincora Hiker's Hostel.
4/21 - Sunday - Day 39 - Hiked 5.8 miles - (Mile Marker 404.5) It rained during the night again, but the day was perfect for hiking. We were looking forward to our arrival today at Kincora Hiker's Hostel (2,500), which is run by Bob and Pat Peoples. They are both very nice folks and run a very casual house with lodging, showers, laundry and shuttle to and from town and all for $4.00. It can't possibly cover their costs, but I think they just enjoy being around hikers. I arrived at 10:45 and took care of those duties required when arriving at a place where you will be spending the night, i.e. showers, laundry, etc. The shower felt great as usual. There are about 19 hikers already here, some who will leave tomorrow and some who will do some slack packing and remain another night or two. Many of the hikers I had already met previously along the trail and some are new to me. It appears that we will have a full house tonight. Several of us went into town for a late lunch. I picked up a pizza for the nights dinner and I ate the whole thing. I also got some fruit and ice cream. The hostel has a stove and microwave for those wishing to use it. I have decided to do a slack pack tomorrow. I am told it is short, but tough. I am looking ahead and hoping to arrive in Damascus by the middle of next week. I passed my 400 mile marker today. Each time I pass one of these milestones, I wonder if I can possibly make it all the way to Katahdin. I have so many people following my travels that I'm not sure I could stop now even if I wanted to unless I become ill or injured along the way. Several days ago, I met a gentleman (Del Doc) who was 70 plus in age and was hiking the trail for the 4th time. This time he was on a mission. He had purchased this high tech equipment, which used a satellite to give him the exact latitude and longitude along the trail. He would walk a short distance and then record his finding and then continue on. He was only carrying his equipment as his wife would meet him at some location along the trail and she would take him back to wherever his headquarters were set up so he could record his finding on the computer. Since he was traveling north to south, I have run into him several times along the way. There is an article in the March/April issue of ATN.
4/22 - Monday - Day 40 - Hiked 8.9 miles - (Mile Marker 413.4.) I decided to spend an extra day here at Kincora and do a slack pack as several others have done. Bob will drop me off at US 321 (1,980) where I will begin my hike south, back to the hostel. Taking the southbound route seemed a lot easier than continuing north from Kincora. I took some of the fruit I purchased yesterday for my snack along with some of the Gorp that I already had prepared. Although most of the walk was quite easy, my initial climb to Pond Flats (3,690) was a bit difficult. After that, it was quite a pleasant hike. A little over a mile before getting back to the hostel, I stopped at Laurel Fork Gorge. If the rhododendron had been out, and it was a bit warmer, it would have been a perfect setting. The trail down to the gorge was steep, but well worth the effort once you were there (2,200). There was a beautiful falls and just the place you would have loved to stop and take a swim had it been a bit warmer. I'm sure some of the hikers did anyway, but it was too cold for me. Actually there were some locals there who were in the water. I stopped there for quite a while and ate my snacks before heading back to the hostel. Several of the hikers who were here last night have continued on their way today. There are only eight of us here tonight. We took another trip into town and I actually went to a Wal-Mart store. I purchased another summer hiking shirt for $10.00. Thanks to Wal-Mart, it was a good inexpensive buy. I will be leaving in the morning to insure that I reach Damascus by Thursday. To do this, I will have to do a couple 15 mile days along the way. As I continue on, I find myself getting stronger and stronger so a couple long mile days shouldn't be a big problem, depending on the terrain.
4/23 - Tuesday - Day 41 - Hiked 15.4 miles - (Mile Marker 428.8) I was dropped off at US 321 (1,980) at 8 a.m. The trail traveled along the crest of the mountains early on today. However, after going across the Watauga Dam at 2,130 feet, we started going up. We would cross over the Watauga Dam, which is noted as the first largest earth-filled hydroelectric dam in the United States. I took a photo of Vagrant, Muzzle and their dog Alice. Alice looks like an Alaskan Husky but not sure what type of dog she is. I'm not sure if they will make it all the way as their dog was having some foot problems. We were able to see the dam from our vantage point high above. I reached the Vandeventer Shelter at 3,620 feet and after a short rest and snack, continued on. The weather today has been absolutely perfect for hiking. We have actually been quite fortunate in our weather. It has often rained at night but cleared up during the day. We are hearing that there is a drought up north. I hope they have rain before we get there. I arrived at Iron Mountain Shelter (4,125) where I set up camp in the shelter. There are seven of us sharing the six-person shelter with another five hikers tenting. Some of the hikers have indicated that they plan on hiking 27 miles to make it to Damascus tomorrow. Not me. I will hike my 15 and then make it on the next day. I am hearing that it is supposed to be relatively easy hiking from here on in to Damascus. One of the things I am beginning to learn is not to believe anyone when it comes to giving me a distance to somewhere or when someone tells you the trail is easy or hard. I am learning that they are rarely correct. I am convinced that everyone on the trail suffers from short-term memory when it comes to identifying easy and hard. It is supposed to get cold again tonight.
4/24 - Wednesday - Day 42 - Hiked 16.3 miles - (Mile Marker 445.1) Today was a pretty uneventful day. We are on the crest of the mountain where we will remain most of the day today. One of the hikers who camped out was quite sick most of the night. I didn't know this until this morning. It seems he has the runs and threw up most of the night. Once again, my lomitil pills came in handy. I gave him a couple and he remained back at the camp for a couple hours before heading out. There is nothing that I can think of that would be worse than hiking when you have the runs. He advised when he caught up that he was feeling much better and he credits me with saving his life. I doubt that, but was glad that I could help. Fortunately, I haven't had to use these pills for myself……yet. I passed by Grindstone Monument, which is right on the trail. It looks like the chimney of an old cabin and that's exactly what it is. "Uncle Nick" Grindstone was a hermit who lived there for 46 years of his life. It is reported that his only friend was a "pet" rattlesnake that was eventually killed by visiting relatives thinking they were protecting Nick. This story is etched on the monument. We had a few sprinkles just before arriving at Abingdon Shelter (alt. 3,785) where I will be staying tonight. Everyone is excited about going into Damascus tomorrow including myself. I haven't decided if I will take a zero day there or not. I want to see what kind of town it is before making my decision. I am ready for a break, so I hope it is a nice town. This is where they have "Trail Days" every year, which is sort of a hiker's reunion, and a place where hiking equipment suppliers show their wares.
4/25 - Thursday - Day 43 - Hiked 10.0 miles - (Mile Marker 455.1) We had a terrific electrical storm last night for about three hours. It was misty and foggy this morning. I was up and out of shelter and on my way at 7:35. The trail today was one of the easiest I have encountered so far, leading us right into Damascus (1,930). I passed the Tennessee/Virginia border at exactly 10 a.m. Since I didn't have anyone to celebrate with, I ate a snickers bar and had my own celebration. Damascus is a small but very hiker friendly town. Upon arriving into town, I checked in at "The Place". This is an old house owned by the Methodist Church. It has six rooms with bunks for sleeping, common room for lounging, limited kitchen facilities and bathrooms with hot showers (most important). This is also a crossroads for the Transcontinental Bike Trail. These bikers were actually responsible for the hostel. There is a small charge of $3.00 donation for your stay here. After settling in, I went to the local bar and had a few beers before a good dinner and then a few more beers after dinner. It was so good to come to a town that had beer. Many of the towns we have stopped at were dry and not a beer to be found. I had planned on sending most of my winter gear home when I arrived here in Damascus, but upon hearing the weather report for the next few days, I have decided to hang on to them and will send them home from Pearisburg. I have decided that I will take a zero day tomorrow and visit the outfitters and there is a restaurant that has several terminals where I might be able to work on my e-mail report. Thanks to Scott and Amy, I am able to keep those folks who are following my progress somewhat up to date. I send the report to them and they disseminate it to the many folks following my adventure. I am nearly one fourth of the way to my destination and feel great. I feel physically fit and ready to take on the remainder of the trail.
4/26 - Friday - Day 44 - Zero Day - (Mile Marker 455.1) I took today off as my zero day to relax and just hang out with other hikers. It was quite cool today. I had hoped by taking the day off, the weather would start warming up. I stopped by the Mt. Rogers Outfitters to leave my PUR water filter. I had heard, and it was true, that PUR was giving out new filters to thru hikers. It was suggested by the staff that I obtain a water bag. This way I could get my water and filter from the bag instead of directly from the water source. Many times the water is low and you are filtering from the bottom of the source. This often means that you are picking up sediment, etc. from the bottom. Now that I am told this, I have seen many people along the way doing this. I am learning something every day and by the time I reach Maine, I should be well educated in long distance hiking. I was able to sit at a terminal and check my e-mail. It is always such a morale booster when I hear from friends and relatives. I mailed all my packages and am now ready to take off tomorrow.
4/27 - Saturday - Day 45 - Hiked 15.8 miles - (Mile Marker 470.9) This will be my first full day hiking in Virginia as I reluctantly leave the comfortable surroundings of Damascus. The Virginia portion of the Appalachian Trail is the longest at over 500 miles in distance. I have heard that this is some of the easiest hiking and you can hike long distances here. Again, I will believe this when I actually experience it. It is so hard not to believe everything positive you hear, however. I started off at an altitude of 1,930 feet and was soon climbing until I reached Saunders Shelter at 3,310 feet. Fortunately, there were several switchbacks, which made the climb, longer, but easier. After a short rest, I continued on to the Lost Mountain Shelter at 3,360 feet. It was a nice hike today but it seemed a bit tougher after being off and not hiking for a full day. Although tired at the end of today, I still felt good. We are surrounded by boy scouts who are on a one-night outing. So far they appear to be very respectful of the thru hiker and understand that we are on a long venture and need to get our sleep. Hopefully it will remain that way for the rest of tonight.
4/28 - Sunday - Day 46 - Hiked 17.4 miles - (Mile Marker 488.3) Today was difficult. I believe the weather made it even more difficult as it rained off and on until about noon and then the winds began blowing. Along with the bad weather, I had some difficult climbs today also. We climbed from 3,360 feet to approx 5,520 feet. Before heading up Whitetop Mountain, someone had left us some apples, bananas, grapes and homemade brownies on the trail. Trail magic once again. The summit of Whitetop Mountain is not on the trail and I elected not to take the side trail to the summit. I decided not to do it primarily because of the weather and I knew there wouldn't be any good views from the top so elected not to go. At 5,520 feet, this is the second highest peak in Virginia. I had every intention of staying at Thomas Knob Shelter, but it was very windy and cold and the shelter was sort of in the open, so I decided to continue another five miles to Wise Shelter in hopes this would be better suited for a stopover. As I proceeded, I went through Rhododendron Gap, which is supposed to have some of the most beautiful scenery on the southern part of the AT. Unfortunately, the weather prevented me from enjoying this scenery. I am staying at Wise Shelter (5,440) which is in the Grayson Highlands State Park. On my way here I came across a small heard of wild horses. They are supposed to be friendly and will come up to you for a handout. I was anxious to get into camp so didn't linger with them and forgot to take any photos. Darn!! There are horses hanging around, at a distance, at our shelter. I hope they don't give us a problem, although I can't imagine what they could do to hinder us. The rain is coming down very hard and we are all hoping it eases up before morning. There are six of us in the shelter tonight.
4/29 - Monday - Day 47 - Hiked 17.5 miles - (Mile Marker 505.8) What a night last night. We had lots of rain and thunder and lightning. The wind blew most of the night and well into the day as well. Although we had lots of wind, it didn't rain today. It got quite cold but warmed up during the day. So far, I have enjoyed the Virginia portion of the hike. The shelters are much nicer and most, if not all, have privies, which is much appreciated by all the hikers. I believe we are going to begin having water problems the further north we go. It seems that the northeast is having a drought and even now some of the places where they indicate water; we are finding only a dribble. I hiked through a lot of open space this morning. When you are at 5,000 feet and have lots of wind, the going gets very tough. I was hiking with a definite slant into the wind most of this morning and was still being blown sideways. Once I got into the trees, it was good hiking, even when I climbed Iron Mountain at 4,320 feet. In looking ahead at my hikers guide, it appears that we will be hiking at much lower altitudes most of time from now on. Soon after lunch, I saw my first bear. There were two of them on the trail up ahead of me. I didn't get very close so couldn't really see how big they were but I was excited to have seen my first bear. There haven't been many sightings reported so far, so I felt good about seeing them. I reached the Raccoon Branch Shelter (3,570) and found a small shelter, which will be shared by several hikers tonight. I enjoyed the hike today and have a good feeling about the hiking in Virginia. I like it. As you can see, my miles per day have really picked up and I am now hiking an average of almost 11 miles a day.
4/30 - Tuesday - Day 48 - Hiked 20.1 miles - (Mile Marker 525.9) What a beautiful day it was today. There was a cool breeze and the sun was out. I did my first 13 miles in a little over 5 hours. I arrived at the Partnership shelter quite early and decided to push on to the next shelter so I would be closer to Atkins to pick up my bump box in the morning and hopefully have a big breakfast. The Partnership Shelter (3,220) is located right next to the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area Headquarters. It is a nice building that houses several hikers at a time and has a shower. Since it is located right next to the recreation area, there was a telephone and I was told that several of the folks who stay there actually call and have pizza delivery. This trail life sure can be rough sometimes. Unfortunately, my timing was off again and I didn't stay at this shelter. I did call home though and talked with the family. After a good long rest, I pushed on to the Chatfield Shelter (3,150). This left me only five miles to go to reach Atkins in the morning. The trail was relatively easy today except for the first few miles, which took me up and over a couple of mountains. It is nice to end your day with an easy hike into the shelter, especially when you have hiked over 20 miles. YES, this was my first 20 miler and other than being tired, I still feel pretty good.
5/1 - Wednesday - Day 49 - Hiked 11.1 miles - (Mile Marker 537.1) I left the shelter early this morning to hike the 4½ miles to get to Rt. 81 (2,420), where I will hitch a ride into Atkins to pick up my bump box. Shortly after beginning my hike I came upon the "Settlers Museum." They are in the process of building a living farm in the 1880's style. They had an old one room school house fully restored and it reminded me so much of the school house that I attended for the first 5½ years of school in Vermont. Unfortunately, I was anxious to get to the restaurant for some breakfast and didn't really explore that settlement as I should have. There is a restaurant and filling station at the intersection of US 81 and Route 11, which I headed for immediately upon arriving in the area. I got a steak/egg sandwich and coffee. I then hitched a ride to the post office in Atkins to pick up my bump box. I also purchased some bagels and pop tarts at the local store. Once I rested and got my pack organized with the new supply of food, I attempted to get a ride back to the trailhead. After some difficulty, I finally got a ride and headed straight to the restaurant once again to get lunch. I had a big hamburger and French fries and was back on the trail by 1 p.m. Today is quite hot and since the first shelter, Davis Path Shelter (2,840) has no water, I decided to go as far as possible and camp out tonight. This was the first time I crossed US 81 but know there will be several more times as I continue north. They are calling for rain tonight and I'm sure it will since I am camping out. I don't seem to have very good luck with camping. Every time I have to camp out instead of staying in the shelter, it seems to rain.
5/2 - Thursday - Day 50 - Hiked 7.6 miles - (Mile Marker 544.7) It did rain last night as expected. It is very muggy today and this is the first time I really didn't enjoy the hike even though it was nice terrain through cow pastures and fields of apples trees. I have decided my body needs a rest and am going to make this a short day today before I attempt the big climb tomorrow. I stopped early at Knot Maul Branch Shelter (2,880) even though it was only 2:30 p.m. It probably means that I will be hiking with some new people, as most hikers will continue on. At 2:30 I was alone in the shelter, but by 5 p.m. the shelter was full of people who I had hiked with before. It started raining at 3 p.m. but didn't last long. We are hoping the weather will be good for the next couple days. Pan and Twinkle Toes, John, Blueberry and Starburst with their new puppy are here. They picked up this puppy at the Settlers Museum yesterday. It was a stray puppy that was dropped off at the museum and the people were looking for a home for the puppy. This is a puppy and not sure how they will handle this on the trail. I suppose I will run into them along the way at some point. The weather is turning bad and it is only 6 p.m. and we are all in our sleeping bags already. It may be a long night.
5/3 - Friday - Day 51 - Hiked 18.8 miles - (Mile marker 563.5) After a real hectic night, with heavy rains, thunder and lightening and even some hail, everyone was up and ready to go this morning. After about 12 hours in our sleeping bags, everyone was ready to move. Blueberry and Starburst were in their tent and was up in the middle of the night in all the rain, trying to reinforce their tent, which had leaked severely where the dog was sleeping. We invited them to join us in the shelter, but they declined. We started off the day at 2,880 feet and went up to 4,410 feet before heading back down to Jenkins Shelter at 2,500 feet. This is where I will spend tonight, arriving at 5:45. I had my first fording of a river today. Although the river wasn't really that wide, the rains had swollen it to a point where you had to take your boots off to get across. Believe me, I looked high and low for a place where I could cross without taking my boots off, but no place was to be found and I ended up taking them off anyway. Upon arriving at the shelter, there were two doe and a buck wandering around in the front. There are three people tenting and four of us in the shelter tonight. It is a bit cool tonight and chance of more rain later. I am looking forward to going into Bland tomorrow to re-supply. I passed two men and their two sons along the trail earlier today. I thought they might be here at the shelter or tenting with us, but they must have gone on further. With all this rain, I still hear how much of a draught they are having further north. It is hard to visualize this when you are having so much of it almost daily.
5/4 - Saturday - Day 52 - Hiked 14.3 miles - (Mile Marker 577.8) The chance of rain passed last night and it ended up being a quiet night. It has rained off and on most of the day. Fortunately, the hike was not real difficult. I was up early and caught up with the weekend hikers that I had met yesterday who were just breaking camp a couple miles up the trail. I talked a while with them and found out that there is a blue-blaze trail, which takes you away from Little Wolf Creek which is often high from the heavy rains. I wasn't sure if they were overflowing or not, but decided at their recommendation that I would take the high trail instead of the trail that follows the river. I am so glad I did, because one of the hikers who didn't, said the water on some river crossings was over his knees. I wasn't anxious to take my boots off every time I had to cross some water so was real glad I elected the high trail. I continued on and hitched a ride into Bland for food and fuel. I had a difficult time hitching a ride in, but finally a truck came along and dropped me off by the store. I rode in the back in the rain, but a ride is a ride and I was grateful for it. I bought a few things at the store and then found a hardware store so I could get my fuel. Then I found the restaurant where I had two big hamburgers with French fries and onion rings. I ate here so I wouldn't have to fix dinner at Helvey's Mill Shelter (3,090) where I would be spending the night. As I was eating my meal, a lady came in who started telling me her problems with two flat tires and her husband was at the garage getting them fixed. Once she found out I was a hiker, she said her husband also had done several portions of the trail and would love to talk with me when he came in. My immediate thought was, "this is my way back to the trail." He came in quickly, got his wife and didn't talk to me at first. Then he came back alone and we talked for a little while until I finally asked if he were going my way and if so, could he drop me off at the trailhead. He wasn't, but said he would take me to the trailhead, which he did, and advised when I got out of the vehicle, that '"God loved me." I knew he did, or I wouldn't have gotten this far on the trail. I arrived at the shelter around 4 p.m. and it is still raining. I was alone initially until later when two hikers and their dog showed up. They pretty well kept to themselves on the other end of the shelter and finally they asked me if I minded if they smoked their pot in the shelter. I said it was a free world and they could do whatever they wanted and then they proceeded to ask if I would like to join them. Of course I didn't but may as well have with the smell going well through the shelter.
5/5 - Sunday - Day 53 - Hiked 17.6 miles - (Mile Marker 595.4) It rained most of the night once again last night but I woke up to a beautiful morning for hiking. Since I intended doing a light day today, I didn't get started until about 8:45. Although I had intended doing a light day, it turned out to be a much longer day because of the nice weather and the easy terrain. I enjoyed the hike today very much. Not a lot of scenery but the smells of the woods are beginning to come and the trees and flowers are beginning to come alive with each new day. I stopped for a rest at Jenny Knob Shelter (2,800) and then continued on to Dismal Creek Falls (2,100) where I would camp out for the night. I had one climb up Brushy Mountain (3,101) and after that it was pretty clear sailing. I arrived at the falls at 7 p.m. but since it stays light so late now, I was able to get set up, get water and cook dinner before darkness set in. I had thought there were others that might join me at the falls, but only Junker was there. He was waiting for some folks as well. They never showed up. He slept in his sleeping bag on the ground. Fortunately, it looks like it is going to be a beautiful night for a change, the kind you want for camping out. I am so looking forward to the next couple of days when I can take a shower, wash some cloths and get a good meal.
5/6 - Monday - Day 54 - Hiked 12.0 miles - (Mile Marker 607.4) I actually hiked more miles than the 12 indicted because I misread the directions and thought I had gone too far. The folks at Woods Hole Hostel had a sign with directions placed on a tree. I must say, and others agreed, that these directions were not very clear. After going for quite a ways, and thinking I had gone too far, I turned around and headed back in the other direction. I met another northbound hiker who told me that I had been going in the right direction in the first place. It is so discouraging when you make a stupid mistake which causes you to hike farther than you really have to. In any case, once I got turned around and hiked over the same territory I had already hiked, I eventually came to the road which would lead me to Woods Hole Hostel at Sugar Run Gap (3,380). It was .5 miles off the trail but seemed much longer. When I got close, I could hear gun-shots. I wondered if I was coming to the right location. Actually, the two people who help Ms. Tillie take care of the place, along with Ms. Tillie, were target shooting. Once I found this out, I felt much better. Ms. Tillie is from Atlanta and is well into her 80's. She comes to this log farm house every summer and opens it up from May 1-July 1 for the hikers. There is a bunkhouse with solar showers (coooold) and a privy, all free to the hiker. However, donations are welcome and appreciated. Tillie's husband, who passed away in 1987, found the old homestead while studying a herd of elk in the area during the 1940s. He served during the Carter administration as assistant to the Secretary of the Interior. Ms. Tillie is a proud, very friendly lady and makes a great hostess. The bunkhouse has cooking facilities and great mattresses upstairs in the loft. They provide an authentic southern breakfast, if desired at a cost of $3.75. This is only available to the first eight hikers to sign up. A table is set for the eight hikers and everyone sits around this one table. There is a shelter in Georgia at mile marker 26.6 called Woods Hole and is a memorial to Tillie and her husband. There is a full house tonight with 11 hikers here. I have my bed, but not sure where everyone else is sleeping. There were some considerable ups and downs today, but knowing I only had about 10 miles to hike made it much easier to take. The first part of the hike today was quite nice, walking along the river where the trail was quite flat. Then, the ups and downs began before arriving at my final destination. I passed the 600 mile mark today.
5/7 - Tuesday - Day 55 - Hiked 10 miles - (Mile Marker 617.4) What a nice evening I spent with the other hikers who were staying at Woods Hole last night. I had a good chance to talk with them about their experiences to date. Up this morning and got packed and then those that signed up for breakfast, went to the cabin and sat around a table with Ms. Tillie and had a great time. We asked her about her life, which she gladly told us and just talked in general with all the hikers around the table. Papa Giza, Stringbean, Sam I Am, Hoosier and Junker were at breakfast. Tillie is a great hostess and loves sharing her 1880's home with the hikers. The hike today was great as I only had 10 miles to go and since Ms. Tillie was making a visit into Pearisburg, she offered to take the packs of those who wanted and drop them off at the end of the trail. There is a motel there and this is where she dropped the bags off. So, slacking the 10 miles was enjoyable. It was an easy hike except for the descent leading into town. I had heard that there was a car and driver that waited at the bottom of the trail to take hikers to their destinations for a small fee. When I got to the motel, I had to wait about one hour, but sure enough he did come by. I would be staying at the Holy Family Hostel and that is where he took me. On the way, he picked up a friend and in their talking, I found out that Earl Shaffer died at the age of 83. He was the first person to hike the Appalachian Trail in one journey which he did in 1948. He ended up hiking the trail several times. This was the big news of the day. The hostel is run by the Holy Family parish (1,680). There is a lounge area, kitchen, showers and upstairs is the sleeping area with mattresses and you use your sleeping bag. I was disappointed to learn that Grace would not be picking me up as planned due to the possibly early arrival of little Cameron. We decided that I would hike another week or so and then when the baby arrives I would be picked up and could see the baby and family at the same time. It gives me something to look forward to. I will be taking a zero day tomorrow when I can do my laundry, go to the library, do some shopping and just relax. This hostel sits at the end of town upon a hill overlooking the valley and has a great view of the mountains that I will be going up over when I leave Pearisburg. After the brief shower that passed over, it looks like it will be a nice night tonight. One of the hikers (can't remember name) was at the hostel and had been for a couple days already awaiting for a huge sore to clear up on her foot. She said it looked as though it would take a few more days before she would be on the trail so her hiking partner took off with the idea that they would meet up later on the trail. She was very depressed and finally just broke out in tears as we were talking. I'm not very good at this but did try to console her as best I could. She had been in the Peace Corps so I thought she was stronger than that. Anyway, she was missing her mother and was going to hike down the hill to get to a phone to call her. I convinced her to use my cell phone and take it where she could talk to her mom in private. She was very grateful and I do believe she felt much better after that.
5/8 - Wednesday - Day 56 - Zero Day - (Mile Marker 617.4) Today I did all the things that you expect to do on a zero day. I went to Pizza Hut and had an all you can eat lunch. Went to the large super Wal-Mart and did my shopping. Going to Wal-Mart, the library, the post office required a lot of town walking. Fortunately, it is a good day so walking wasn't a problem. The Wal-Mart store is within sight of the hostel. However, you must go through a field of hay which we found out was full of ticks. I had several upon my return to the hostel and ended up checking myself very thoroughly. I had no intention of getting Lymes disease. I hope to be able to get a ride to the trailhead tomorrow morning early and be on my way toward Daleville or Troutville.
5/9 - Thursday - Day 57 - Hiked 19.6 miles - (Mile Marker 637) As expected, it was a tough climb out of Pearisburg as I hiked over Shumate Bridge on the New River. I didn't get on my way until 8:15, a bit later than I had planned, but when you are depending on a ride, you are at the driver's mercy, and grateful for it, I might add. In crossing the New River, I am now in Central Virginia. Once crossing the bridge, it was up, up, up to an altitude of 3,300 feet. I really hadn't intended having a long day today, but since there was no water between the first and second shelters I couldn't really camp out along the way. I stopped for a bit at Rice Field Shelter and then moved on, knowing that the next shelter was 12.3 miles further. Once reaching the 3,300 feet, I was hiking along the ridges for most of the day. However, the views are not all that great except when you get to an overlook. Many of the overlooks are marked so you can often just get off the trail a few feet for a view. I took advantage of some of them, but after you have seen the many great views that I have already seen, you tend to run out of oohs and aahs. It was quite warm today and then around 3 p.m. it rained just enough to get you wet and then it was a soft rain the remainder of the hike. I arrived at the Pine Swamp Shelter (2,530) at 6 p.m. There are three other hikers here tonight. I had seen the name "Santiago" in the shelter journals several times and tonight I finally caught up to her and met her. The other two were quite the pair. There is Lloyd "The Pessimist" and John "Oscar, the Grouch". I'm so glad that most of the people on the trail are not like these two. Later on tonight, two other people showed up after we had gotten into our sleeping bags.
5/10 - Friday - Day 58 - Hiked 18.5 miles - (Mile Marker 655.5) Wow, two long days in a row. I was so glad to leave the shelter at 7:15 this morning just to get away from the two men hikers. It was so depressing and they didn't think much of the two hikers arriving late last night, indicating that it was disrespectful to other hikers. This is not what hikers do. We accept anyone in the shelter no matter what time it is or how much room there might be. Anyway, they are going in the opposite direction I was happy to hear. Along the trail today, I ran into Santiago again and mentioned to her that I would probably not be on the trail today if I had had to hike with these guys very long. She was so happy to hear me say that and I believe that gave us the bond we needed. She said she was feeling a bit down and those guys didn't help one bit. There were lots of ups and downs today reaching an altitude of 4,100 feet at Wind Rock. I hiked/crawled over lots of rocks. (Note in my guide book: each mile of the AT has an average elevation gain of 224 feet, which means that a thru-hiker will climb and descend 91 miles between Springer and Katahdin. That's the equivalent of going from sea level to the summit of Mt. Everest and back more than sixteen times!) I passed by Bailey Gap Shelter and War Spur Shelter to get to Laurel Creek Shelter (2,720) where I would set up camp for the night. I was over 11 hours on the trail today which is much too much for me. I may take a short day tomorrow. The trail must be thinning out as there are only two of us in the shelter tonight.
5/11 - Saturday - Day 59 - Hiked 12.4 miles - (Mile Marker 667.9) Great news today as I heard that baby Cameron was born with mother and father doing fine. Other than that, the day was a difficult one. It wasn't too bad until I hit the rocks on top of Sinking Creek Mountain at 3,450 feet. That really did me in and made me decide to do a shortened day. Get this; I am now calling 12.4 miles a shortened day. Am I becoming a hiker or what? It is Saturday now and I am trying to figure how I can get to Daleville by Tuesday. With 41.4 miles remaining to Daleville, maybe a long day tomorrow will do it. Along the way today I passed Keffer Oak, a large white oak more than 18 feet 3 inches around (fattest tree on the trail?) in Sinking Creek Valley. It is estimated to be more than 300 years old. What a grand old tree, like no other. Actually, our manual says there is another tree, the Dover Oak that we will see in New York and it is supposed to be slightly larger. Who gets the bragging rights is anybodies guess. They are fast becoming extinct I am afraid. I am staying at Niday Shelter (1,800) tonight with Santiago, Greyhound, Penguin and T-time. What a beautiful day for hiking it was today. No hot sun, no rain and it was cool and overcast most of the day. It looks like it could be a tough day tomorrow. I am hoping to be able to make it to the hostel tomorrow. If so, then Tuesday arrival in Daleville will be a reality. The reason I am so anxious to reach Daleville is my son, Paul is coming to pick me up and bring me home for a few days of R&R and to see baby Cameron.
5/12 - Sunday - Day 60 - Hiked 15.9 miles - (Mile Marker 683.8) Mother's Day - The hike I had expected today became a reality. It was one of the hardest hikes of the whole trip so far. The first part of the day was quite nice. We leisurely hiked up Brushy Mountain (2,920) where we visited the monument to Audie Murphy, the most decorated war hero of WWII. He died near this spot in a plane crash in 1971. Back down off the mountain, we passed the trail to Pickle Branch Shelter. Since it was half mile off the trail, we decided to pass it by. Santiago and I had decided early on to hang together today as we knew we had to traverse the Dragons Tooth which would be no easy task. We only had another six miles to the hostel, but little did we know how difficult it was going to be. We went from an altitude of 1,845 feet at the Pickle Branch Shelter to Dragons Tooth at 3,030 feet. It was a difficult climb and then we walked for quite a long distance along the top. The climb was not nearly as bad up as what we would experience on the way down from Dragons Tooth. The Dragons Tooth is a spectacular rock outcropping which is on a side trail just before you start your sometimes hand over foot descent. The descent was so dramatic that at times they put steel hand/foot grips into the rock to assist the hiker. Just climbing down the rocks would have been difficult, but having a 40 pound pack on your back at the same time was merciless. I did wonder, at this point, what I was doing out here. I was really suffering but was so grateful that the weather was good with no rain. After what seemed like an endless day, we managed to make it to our next hostel which was a converted 3-car garage, which we named "Garage Mahal" (1,750). There were 12 other hikers here and I began to wonder if I would be sleeping on the cement floor in my sleeping bag. They had had a party the night before. Several of the folks that had been here last night, remained an extra day. I believe they may have done so to recuperate from the drinking that took place. There were several bales of hay in the garage and I laid some of these out and set up my sleeping quarters for the night. Once this was done, I had my shower and was happy to hear that they were sending out for pizza so I wouldn't have to prepare another meal. By the way, this is Mother's Day and I was able to get through to Grace on the cell phone to wish her a happy day and tell her how much I was looking forward to coming home for a couple days. I saw my first black snake today. I had seen black snakes before and knew they were harmless. However, regardless of how harmless they are, they still can scare the crap out of you when you see them.
5/13 - Monday - Day 61 - Hiked 16.1 miles - (Mile Marker 699.9) After yesterday, this was a rather uneventful day. It was a pretty restless night at the Garage Mahal. I got started about 7:30. There were a couple of difficult climbs until I finally reached Tinker Cliffs at 3,005 feet. I passed by Boy Scout Shelter and really don't know how anyone could stay there. It was very dismal and not in very good shape. Good enough for the scouts who might be out on a weekend I suppose. After a very short break, I headed on to Catawba Mountain Shelter. If I hadn't stopped at the Boy Scout shelter, I would have stopped here, but it was only a little over a mile further so just continued on. I then came to McAfee Knob which is a large anvil-shaped slab of rock jutting out over the valley. You follow this beautiful trail for a while in the hopes of seeing the beautiful scenery you have read about. Unfortunately, it was quite foggy and around 11 o'clock it started raining and rained for an hour before stopping and then started once again just before reaching the shelter. Once I reached Campbell Shelter, I would have six miles remaining before arriving at Lamberts Meadow Shelter (3,005), where I would be stopping for the day. But, before that I would be on Tinker Cliffs. You walk along the ridge for quite a while before heading down to the shelter. I was looking for the wild goats that are noted to be in the area. According to my guidebook, these wild goats will quite often wander up to the hiker and lick the sweat off the hiker's legs. I didn't see them. I was so happy to get to the shelter as by now I was doing a countdown of days and miles when I would be picked up to travel home for a couple days off the trail.
5/14 - Tuesday - Day 62 - Hiked 8.4 miles - (Mile Marker 709.3) I was up early and raring to go, as this would be the day Paul would be picking me up in Dalesville and bringing me home. It was quite an easy hike as well as being short. Several hikers were heading back from Daleville to Damascus for Trail Days to take a few days off. The good thing about this is that with these hikers taking a few days off along with the couple days I am taking means that we will be somewhat on the same schedule. When I start back on the trail, there should be other hikers that I have hiked with before. I arrived in Daleville about noon and see Paul there waiting for me. I should note that I passed the 700 mile marker today.
5/15-5/16 - Wednesday/Thursday - Days 63/64 - Zero days - (Mile Marker 709.3) It was great being home and meeting my new grandson, Cameron and seeing all the family. While at home, I picked up a new pair of boots as my first used pair had worn out. I was really reluctant in getting a new pair, as my original boots were so good. I didn't have a blister during the whole time I wore them. I also got a smaller pack which I would be using once I got rid of my winter gear. I have swapped out some of my winter clothes for summer hiking gear as well as picking up my summer sleeping bag. Hope this isn't a mistake.
5/17 - Friday - Day 65 - Hiked 11.2 miles - (Mile Marker 720.5) After two great days off the trail, Grace and Donald drove me down and dropped me off in Daleville (1,410) where I would pick up the trail where I had left off two days ago. Of course, on the way down, I was remembering things that I had forgotten, and one of those things was my sweatshirt. Although I thought I could get along without one, I was convinced that it would be needed so, off to a sports store to buy another one. At the store I met Road Runner, one of the thru hikers I had met previously. I was getting a late start and didn't know how far I would get today. The first few miles of the hike were a bit rough, and especially after a couple days of no hiking. Once I reached Fullhardt Knob Shelter at 2,670 feet the path became much easier. I ended up hiking more miles than I thought I would and was at the Wilson Creek Shelter (1,830) in good time. I was happy that my boots really felt good and so did the smaller pack. Hopefully, these boots will work as well as my last ones did and give me no problems. Backwoods, Road Runner and I are the only ones in the shelter tonight. We will begin our trek along the Blue Ridge Parkway tomorrow.
5/18 - Saturday - Day 66 - Hiked 13.7 miles - (Mile Marker 734.2) It started raining this morning about 4 a.m. and was getting colder by the minute with the wind blowing in on us. I stayed in the bag until about 7:30, dreading the thought of getting up in the damp, cold morning. Finally, I was on my way by 8:30. Although it remained cold for most of the day, the views were great as I hiked along the Blue Ridge Mountains. I entered the park today at Black Horse Gap, mile marker 97.7 (2,402) and felt the trail was fairly easy having many ups and downs but not strenuous ones. This is the southernmost encounter with the Blue Ridge Parkway. The AT parallels the parkway, and later Skyline Drive for approximately 200 miles. I have heard that it is supposed to only get up in the high 30's tonight. I am now wondering if I got rid of my winter gear too soon. I am seeing signs of spring as the rhododendron are beginning to blossom along with many other flowers. The smells are great. I crossed the Blue Ridge several times before arriving at Cove Mountain Shelter (1,925) where I would spend the night. There were four other section hikers in the shelter and myself. Two of the section hikers were school boys from Ohio who were on a school project. It was interesting chatting with them before hitting the sack.
5/19 - Sunday - Day 67 - Hiked 17.2 miles - (Mile Marker 751.4) It was another cold night in the shelter. I ended up getting on the trail at 7:45 and was happy to get on the trail so I could warm up. My summer sleeping bag is not good enough for this weather, so I use my tent to pull up over me as well and wear all the cloths I could get on and was still not quite warm enough. I started the day at 1,925 feet. I stayed at the lower altitude for the first several miles. I passed Bryant Ridge Shelter (one of the largest shelters on the trail, holding 20 hikers) and then a few miles further I began climbing Floyd Mountain (3,560) to reach Cornelius Creek Shelter. I stopped here for a rest and decided to continue on for another 5.3 miles to the next shelter. This could have been a mistake as I began suffering with my shins. They started hurting and I have a bruise there as well. I am so worried that something like this will take me off the trail. Hopefully tomorrow I will be able to walk the problem away. As I left Cornelius Shelter, I would continue climbing until I reached the summit of Apple Orchard Mountain (4,225). This is now the highest point I will reach until I get into New Hampshire. The summit was at one time home to an Air Force radar base housing some 250 people. It is now barren. On the northern side of the mountain as I began my descent to Thunder Hill Shelter (3,960), the trail leads you under a huge boulder stuck over the trail between rock formations. This is only one of three places that you will walk under rocks along the trail. There are two section hikers and one other thru hiker sharing the shelter tonight. I'm afraid we are in for another cold night tonight.
5/20 - Monday - Day 68 - Hiked 12.4 miles - (Mile Marker 763.8) It was another cold night last night. Don't know how cold it got, but it froze the water in my water bag. Once again I had to use my tent for extra covering and still not warm enough. I decided I would depart camp without having my breakfast so I could get warm hiking on the trail. I figured I could stop along the way once I warmed up. Overall, the hike was quite easy today. Once I reached Marble Spring (2,325), it was down, down, down until I reached Matts Creek Shelter at 835 feet. I am still having shin problems and am hoping that it is my boots and not my shin that is causing the problem. I met Moonman from Ashburn along the trail today who was out just section hiking. He asked me to look him up when I returned, but I neglected to get his telephone number or address so guess I won't be getting in touch. It may not be as cold tonight. I suppose this is wishful thinking, but don't know how many more nights of cold weather I can stand. I am looking forward to seeing Don and Sue tomorrow and spending a few hours with them. They are bringing a few things that I had forgotten when I was home which includes a few pieces of warm clothing. While I was home, I was looking for things that I could take out of my pack to make it lighter. As it was, I just took too many things out as I had expected it to warm up before now. So, not only am I anxious to see Don and Sue, I am anxious for what they are bringing me. I can suffer and carry the extra weight from now until I go home early in June. At the shelter tonight are Captain and 10 Thumbs, a father and son who are section hiking as well as Gonch and Yatzee.