Sunday, May 31, 2015

Day 59- The Struggle Is Real

May 30, 2015 
Cornelius Creek Shelter(764.7) to Rocky Row Run Stealth Site(784.8) 20.1 Miles

Wow, am I tired. I woke up early this morning and couldn't get back to sleep. I read a little of my book until there was enough light out to get packed up. I retrieved my food bag and had breakfast and coffee in my hammock. I left camp at 6:55, not a record for me, but still one of my earlier starts. The day started off with a well behaved uphill climb. By well behaved I mean it was nicely graded with lots of switchbacks. I even got a nice view from Black Rock Overlook. 

Black Rock was immediately followed by a not so well behaved mountain. Apple Orchard Mountain was very rocky and had several false summits. I was glad to have an early start because it has been very hot and humid lately. Once I finally made it to the top, I had a mediocre view of the valley and a FAA tower. 
FAA Tower
Mediocre View

On the decent from Apple Orchard I walked underneath, The Guillotine, a rock that is stuck in between two huge boulders. 
The Guillotine 

The next few miles were pretty boring. I walked downhill until I arrived at Thunder Ridge Overlook. The overlook is accessible from the BRP, but you have to park your car and walk on the AT for a little while to see it. 
Panoramic of the View from Thunder Ridge

The next hour of my day was an all out struggle against Highcock Knob. It was a very hard and long struggle. I felt like it would never end. Every time I thought I had crested the top, it went uphill again. The worst part was there was no view at the end. 
View from Highcock Knob

Highcock Knob elevation profile

The next two hours of my trek was all rainbows, unicorns, and puppies. I had a lovely, relatively flat ridge walk, that was very enjoyable. I got glimpses of the mountains from in between the trees. 
Views like this every few hundred yards
James River

The remainder of the day was spent going downhill, which is also a struggle. It really takes it's toll on your knees and feet. By the time I had gone 18 miles the soles of my feet felt like they had been cained. I could have stayed at a shelter, but I was pushing on another two miles to get to the trail magic that people were talking about. As I came out of the forest towards the James River I could see the parking lot where the magic was going to happen. To cross the river you use the James River Foot bridge. The longest foot-use-only bridge on the AT, at over 1,000' long. The bridge is named after William Foot, a former thru-hiker, and former president of Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club. It was pretty neat. 
The Foot Bridge

As I neared the magical parking lot I grew concerned. I didn't see any signs of trail magic. I was very disappointed. I did so many miles today because I was positive it would be there. I settled on soaking my feet in the river instead. Later I would find out that public drinking in VA is against the law. The trail magic had been broken up and all the hikers drinking were fined $50 by the US Forest Service. One hiker was even arrested for public intoxication(he was being belligerent to the cops). Once I heard this I wasn't too upset that I missed out. Putt Putt and Tumble caught up to me after the bridge. We stealth camped shortly after the James River together. 

Tomorrow promises to be another high mileage and hot day. I'm trying to set myself up as close to town as possible so I can resupply on Monday. 

"In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt" - Margaret Atwood

Friday, May 29, 2015

Day 58- Virginia Definitely Is Not Flat

May 29, 2015
Bobblets Gap Shelter(746.3) to Cornelius Creek Shelter(764.7) 18.4 Miles

The prevailing statement describing the trail through Virginia is that it's flat. Well, I can tell you, that is a damn lie. Today was one of the toughest days I've had in weeks. I climbed uphill for over four hours at one point today.  

Let me back up and start with the beginning of my day. I was a little worried about getting started early. I have relied on Airlock's morning routine of packing up her tent, which is cueben fiber and noisy, to wake me up in the morning. I'm pleased to report that I managed just fine on my own. I was up at 6:15 and ready to go by 6:45. I hung out at the shelter and ate breakfast and drank my coffee. I started hiking by 7:15. My foul mood from yesterday had evaporated by the morning. I knew it was going to be a tough day, but was looking forward to the challenge. I had a steep quarter mile climb out of the shelter and the day was only uphill from there. As I got back on the trail I saw a huge snake. It slowly slithered off the trail as I approached. It looked like a rat snake, which I'm ok with. They eat all of the mice that like to hang out in the shelters. 

After an extended climb I got to the top of the hill and was greeted by a nice view. 
I love the early morning light over the mountains

After climbing up for a few miles the trail went downhill for a few miles. I came out onto the Blue Ridge Parkway(BRP) again. The overlook I came to first was called, The Peaks of Otter Overlook.  
Sharp Top(Center) and Flat Top(Left) Mountains

The next overlook was a short hike through the woods. The Mills Gap Overlook was supposed to have a nice view of the James River. All I got to see was a lot of fog, but it was still pretty neat. 
James River 

From here I had a brutal downhill section that lead to Jennings Creek, which has a swimming hole. I was very excited for the chance to go swimming. It was very hot out already and I smell very bad. I hurried down as fast as I could. When I got to Jennings Creek there was a large group of thru-hikers there already. They were waiting by the creek on the side of the road trying to hitchhike into town. Four of them were playing hackey sack and smoking pot. I quickly decided not to hang out there. I was disappointed I didn't get a chance to go swimming, but they were not my type of crowd. I ate a quick lunch and moved on. Jennings Creek also signified the start of my long, long uphill climb. I was at 951' elevation and needed to go to 3500' of elevation. I think 951' is the lowest I've been at since I started the trail. The climb up was broken into four distinct sections. The first one wasn't too bad. There were a lot of switchbacks and it was well graded. The only problem I had with it was the temperature and humidity. I felt like I was back in Florida. 

After gaining over 1,000' of elevation the trail immediately went back down 800'. From there it was nothing but uphill for over three hours and five miles. By the end I was drenched in sweat and completely exhausted. 

I dragged myself into the shelter before five o'clock. I briefly entertained the thought of eating dinner and then doing a few more miles, but quickly decided against it. My feet were bruised and aching and I'm thinking about doing a twenty mile day tomorrow so I can hit some trail magic that is at the James River tomorrow evening. I settled in at the shelter and set about getting my chores done. I've run across two hikers today that have some kind if a stomach bug. Adios, was at Jennings Creek this afternoon waiting for a shuttle to take him into town. He has been sick for over a day. Fig is at the shelter tonight and has been sick for the same amount of time. I kept my distance from Fig and was extra cautious about hygene this evening. I can't imagine anything worse than being sick with a stomach bug while being stuck in the woods. 
My view for most of the day

"You're off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so... get on your way!" -Dr. Suess Oh, The Places You'll Go

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Day 57- On My Own Again

May 28, 2015
Daleville, VA(727.8) to Bobblets Gap Shelter(746.3) 18.5 Miles

After the awe inspiring sights of the last few days, today was uninspiring. I'm not sure if I was just having an off day, or I just missed Airlock, but today sucked. It was very hot and humid out as well. I didn't get on the trail until after 9. I woke up at my usual time of 6:00, but decided to sleep in a little. I finally got up around 7:30 and repacked all of my belongings. Airlock accompanied me to breakfast at the motel, it was very lackluster. Powdered eggs that were pretty gross, a few bite sized muffins, cereal with room temperature milk, and stale bagels. I didn't eat very much, which is probably the main reason I struggled this morning. 

I started the morning hiking with, Tarp Man, but he is a beast and I quickly fell 
behind. The first part of trail was through a pasture overloaded with cow patties  and then under I-81. It was a huge letdown after McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs. All day long I waited to get a view, heck, I would have settled for a power line view, but all I saw was a narrow corridor as forest. 
14 miles of this

After hiking only five miles I stopped in at a shelter for an early lunch. I have added  bagels into my food rotation instead of tortillas. I was hesitant to go this route because of the weight difference, but I'm glad I did. I got way more calories and I even felt full afterwards. 

After lunch, my mood improved and the day appeared to get easier, but this turn of events would prove to be short lived. The terrain looked easy on paper, but in reality it was constant short, but steep uphills, followed by short and steep downhills. I'm having to carry an extra 2.2 lbs of water now that it's getting hotter out, and with my fresh food resupply my pack felt extra heavy all day long. 

I had only planned on hiking 13.6 miles today, but that didn't work out. When I got to the campsite I discovered that it was right next to a road. Not just any road though, it was 20 yards from the Blue Ridge Parkway(BRP). The trail parallels and cross crosses the Parkway for the next 100 miles. If you have ever driven on it then we are seeing the same views. The only difference is you got to drive in a comfortable car and I hike through the woods until I come to an  overlook area on the road. 
Car pull off overlook area
View of Taylor Mt. 
Your Way
My Way

I was pretty frustrated by this point. I was, for the first time, tempted to yellow blaze. The trail follows the road so closely that I could easily have hitchhiked further down. I, however, did not do it. I could see nasty weather moving in so I didn't linger for long at the overlooks. I put my head down and kept on trucking. I met a nice couple from Alabama at the next overlook. They gave me an ice cold water and offered my some fresh fruit. By this point I was exhausted and really appreciated the kindness. 

Rain and clouds in the (not so) distance

From here I only had three miles to the next shelter, but it seemed like ten miles. I hurried as fast as I could to beat the storm and it never did rain. I was glad for the motivation though, otherwise I might still be walking to the shelter. 

Once I got here I immediately got to work on my camp chores. I hung my hammock and tarp, filtered water, cooked, and ate dinner. 

I'm sure tomorrow will be a better day. My food bag is lighter after a big lunch and dinner, that is always nice. The further I walk away from town the lighter my pack gets. 

""no distance of place or lapse of time can lessen the friendship of those who are thoroughly persuaded of each other's worth." - Robert Southly

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Day 56- Challenging Myself

May 27, 2015
Stealth Campsite on Tinker Cliffs(716.9) to Daleville, VA(727.8) 10.9 Miles

Today was the end of another section. We finished off Southern Virginia, which was Damascus to Daleville. Tomorrow I will begin Northern Virginia, Daleville to Harpers Ferry, WV. Unfortunately, I will start this section alone. Airlock has decided to take a zero day in Daleville. She has been fighting a cold and is taking this chance to rest up. Hopefully we will meet back up next week when I meet up with my mom and dad for a day. 
It will definitely be strange hiking alone again, but you're never truely alone out here. 

I had a great start this morning. I was up late last night because I stayed up to watch the sunset over Tinker Cliffs. I slept in until 6:15. I only got up because I heard Airlock shout, "Yoda, you have to see this view." I groggily got out of my hammock and was blown away again by the beauty of the mountains. The early morning light was beginning to light up the surrounding mountains. 
Early morning light from Tinker Cliffs

I had my morning coffee with my legs dangling over the edge and pondered the things that I have seen lately. It was hard to make myself hike away, but my end goal is several hundred miles north, so I hiked on. The viewpoints today were mainly power lines and I've decided I don't want pictures with ugly power lines in them. The terrain also looked pretty easy and we had a special guest waiting for us in town. I wanted to challenge myself so I came up with the difficult goal of hiking 11 miles in under four hours. Usually, I would allow myself five hours to cover that distance, but I thought I wouldn't be stopping to take pictures so it would be doable. 

The first part of the day looked like an easy downhill on my trail guide, but in reality it was full of rocks and boulders I had to maneuver around. After crossing through that hurdle I came upon an overlook sign. I didn't want to slow down to look, but I couldn't resist. I'm glad I stopped. Once again I was gifted an incredible sight.
The sun hadn't quite reached this area yet

I took the time to appreciate the magnificance and hurried back to the trail. Shortly after I caught up to Airlock. I briefly explained about my race against myself and took off. I was doing 3 mph at this point and was feeling great. I haven't pushed myself this hard since my early days in Georgia. 

The only problem I had was there were way more viewpoints than I expected. It was a delicate balance between speed and stopping to take everything in. After two hours I had covered 6.2 miles and was really starting to fade. I stopped and took a brief snack break and appreciate the view into the valley. 
I think this is called Carvin Cove Reservoir 

In the end, I hiked 11 miles in 3 hours and 50 minutes. I made it into Daleville much earlier than expected. Our special guest visitor, Cherokee, wasn't supposed to meet us until 12. I went into the gas station right next to the trail for a celebratory Vitamin Water. I thought about getting a beer, but decided against it. I just wasn't in the mood. Cherokee was early and met me at the gas station shortly after. After catching up on what he's been up to; golf, bridge, poker, and a honey-do list, he drove us to the local outfitter. We bought a few items and then went to the coffee shop next door. We saw a lot of our hiking bubble there. Rusty, Clover, M&M, Flick, Zen, Gunner, Spice, Cap, Goose, and Star Crunch. I love that about coming into town. I get to catch up with everyone. After sitting outside and chatting everyone spread out for lunch. Cherokee, Airlock, and I went to the local BBQ joint. It was delicious. They even have us free banana pudding since we are thru-hiking. The food was so good Airlock and I went back for dinner. After lunch, Cherokee drove us to a Howard Johnson motel to check in. He drove from over an hour away to have lunch with us. He even brought Dr. Pepper, chocolate milk, a some of Sharon's brownies. It was great to catch up and I can't wait for our next reunion. Thanks, Cherokee, it was great to see you. 

After lunch we set about doing our town chores; shower, laundry, phone calls, and planning the next leg. I've grown too accustomed to Airlock doing all of the planning. It took me forever to plan out my next leg. When all of our mundane tasks were accomplished we headed back to the shopping center. I was able to exchange my Darn Tough socks at the outfitters. They had gotten a small hole, but Darn Tough is an amazing company with a lifetime warranty on their socks. The outfitter took the old, but newly laundered socks, and gave me a brand new pair. I highly recommend Darn Tough, they really impressed me with their customer service. After the outfitter, as I mentioned earlier, we went back to the BBQ restaurant. It was a really good dinner. Next I resupplied for four days at Kroger. We even had a nice guy give us a ride back to the motel. When we got back to our room we discovered that our air conditioner was not working. We knew it was a problem earlier in the day, but I guess we were optimistic that it would magically cool the room down while we went to dinner. We went down to the front desk and they put us in another room. The a/c in this room appeared to work just fine, but every 20 seconds it made a horrible noise. I went back down to the front desk and the nice lady assigned us another room. This one had a newer unit and it worked great. We set about packing up the first room and moving in. 

It is really really late now and I have an early morning planned. I'm excited to see my mom and dad next week, but sad to be hiking out alone. 

"May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds." -Edward Abbey

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Day 55- Sunrise To Sunset And All The Wow In Between

May 26, 2015
Lost Spectacles Gap(700.4) to Tinker Cliffs Stealth Camp(716.9) 16.5 Miles

Today was fantastic!!! It was one of my favorite days on the trail so far. I woke up around 6:00 after a great nights sleep. I don't sleep through the night very often out here, but I did last night. I packed up quickly, forgoing my usual morning coffee and pop tart. We only had to hike two miles until we got to a convenience store/gas station. On the hike down to the store I was able to snap a picture of an early morning view to the north. 
View from Rawlies Rest(almost a sunrise)

Swinging by the convenience store was a necessity for us. We needed to do a small resupply to hold us over until lunchtime tomorrow, when we will get to Daleville to do a full resupply. I only needed to buy a dinner and a few snacks. I also got a Starbucks Frappicino, a candy bar, and a BBQ sandwich for breakfast. After wolfing everything down and repacking our food bags, we headed out. The early part of the hike had one tough climb and it was already hot and humid out. Finally, something living in Florida is good for out here. I'm not as bothered by the heat as other hikers seem to be. As we came down from a mountain to a road crossing I saw a parking lot with a tailgate tent set up. I couldn't believe my eyes, trail magic!!! 

When we stayed at Wood's Hole Hostel last week, we met section hikers, Skittles and Soda Pop. They told us of their plans to do trail magic, but I never dreamed we would see it. 
Skittles, Me, and Soda Pop

Fantastic Trail Magic

They cooked us chili cheese dogs with chips, soda, Gatorade, and beer. It was great to see them again. They are such fun-loving people with a great sense of humor. Congrats on finishing your section hike. They had already done the section we were preparing to do and were a wealth of knowledge. I could have stayed there all day long, but the mountains were calling my name. 

I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. I've looked forward to McAfees Knob since I learned about the AT. When I was thinking about hiking the AT, pictures of McAfees Knob helped me make up my mind to do it. 

I raced up the mountain. It was probably the fastest I've ever gone uphill. The weather forcast called for rain from 2-4 and it looked like I'd get there around 3. I was hoping the weather would hold off long enough to get my pictures, but I was prepared to wait all day if I had to. I didn't plan on the clouds and rain adding to the pictures. They turned out fantastic due to the weather. 
I've had 700 miles to plan my poses
Had to include 1 with my pack on
Super scary dangling off a cliff face
I love this shot
Sweet Cairns somebody built

I have tons more pictures, but I'll have to put them into a slideshow or my blog will never post. 

By now it had gotten really late in the afternoon and we hadn't really gone that far, only 11 miles. We had planned to hike 18, so it was time to put the pedal to the metal. We stopped at the next shelter for a snack to fuel us up for the final push. The hike to Tinker Cliffs looked like a hard uphill and it did not disappoint. I made really good time and had only planned on taking a couple of pictures and then pushing on. I didn't think anything could top McAfees Knob. I was wrong, Tinker Cliffs was equally as stunning. I quickly decided to camp right there, even though it is a no camping zone. 
Tinker Cliffs

I had such great cell phone reception I face timed with my parents and my best friends, Alie and Kyle. I wanted to share the view with them and it worked perfectly. I watched the sunset and had dinner hanging over the ledge. It was a perfect end to a perfect day! 
Beginning of sunset
Almost set
After sunset

It is now ridiculously late and tomorrow will be a very early morning. I hope to make it in to Daleville before the rain starts. 

""In 1948, I returned to France at the invitation of French Government. It was still a war-ravaged country ... but this time there was something different. It wasn't the absence of fighting, nor the silence of the big guns, nor the disappearance of uniforms and chow lines ... I didn't know what it was until one morning when I was taken to the grounds of a small French school. The children had been assembled in the play yard. They were grouped close together and arranged in wobbly little rows, their dark heads bobbing around like flower buds on long stems. One of the teachers rapped for silence. The kids quieted immediately and turned their eyes towards her. Their Faces were scrubbed and bright in the sunshine. The teacher raised her arms, and for a moment, there was no sound ... Then the teacher brought her arms down and the kids began to sing ... I Knew why I felt at home. The spirit of freedom was hovering over that play yard as it did all over France at that time. A country was free again. A people had recovered their independence and their children were grateful. They were singing in French, but the melody was freedom and any American could understand that. America, at that moment, never meant more to me ... The true meaning of America, you ask? It's in a Texas rodeo, in a policeman's badge, in the sound of laughing children, in a political rally, in a newspaper... In all these things, and many more, you'll find America. In all these things, you'll find freedom. And freedom is what America means to the world. And to me." - Audie Murphy

"The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness." -John Muir

Monday, May 25, 2015

Day 54- Memorial Day Trail Magic, Audie Murphy Memorial, Dragon's Tooth, And 700 Miles

May 25, 2015
Niday Shelter(685.3) to Lost Spectacles Gap Campsite(700.4) 15.1 Miles

Today was action packed and I'll try to fit it all in. The weather was much warmer last night and I got a great nights sleep. I was up around 6:00 and out of camp by 7:30. It took a little longer than usual because I had to fetch water and filter it. Today was another dry stretch of trail. I miss the easy water of GA and NC. The first few miles of trail flew by. I hiked with Dr. Pickles and he keeps a pretty good pace going. The next few miles were brutal. It was a very extended climb with very steep sections. The rumor on the trail was there would be trail magic at the top of the climb, but I did not want to get my hopes up. As Airlock and I finally got to the top we were excited to see a nice bench to sit on. There were also miniature American flags in the ground. We started to take our packs off to sit down, when two guys approached from a forest service road. They quickly explained that they were doing trail magic down the road and were carrying ice cold sodas. We thanked them profusely, grabbed a soda, and headed towards the magic. They told us they were only keeping it open until 10:00, but heard there were still a lot of people at the last shelter. They went back to a store and bought extra food for us all. They had ice chests full of soda and beer, hotdogs, hamburgers, chips, donuts, cookies, rice crispy treats, and a whole bunch of other goodies. It was the best hiker feed that I've hit so far. Thanks, John and Briarpatch. I felt like I was at a BBQ with my friends back home. 
All kinds of treats
Hiker Trash
Beer at 9:30 am

I ate a ton of food. I had a Dr. Pepper, beer, hotdog, chips, four donuts, cookies, a rice crispy treat, and a slice of watermelon. Unfortunately, we couldn't stay all day we had miles to make. 

Right down the trail was the Audie Murphy memorial. Murphy was the most decorated veteran of WWII. You should  google him for more info. A true American hero. We paid our respects and checked out the overlook next to his memorial and then hit the trail. I was thankful that we were able to see it on Memorial Day. Thank you to all of the Men and Women of the armed forces who paid the ultimate price, to provide us all with the liberties we enjoy so much today
Murphy Memorial

Overlook from the memorial

The next several miles were very technical, but very fun. I like climbing and scrambling over rocks to get to an amazing location. If it was easy, everyone would do it. 
Rock Scramble

After the rock scramble I came to a cliff overhang with more views.
It just never gets old

The we finally came to Dragon's Tooth, a stone monolith that sticks out over the forest. I climbed up as high as I dared, which was just short of the top point. 
Dragon's Tooth
I don't particularly care for heights so this was a big deal for me

View from Dragon's Tooth

After this we had a treacherous downhill climb. I had to put my hiking sticks away and crawl, jump, and slide down. It took over an hour to go .7 miles, but overall it was fun. We also crossed mile 700 at the end of the day, just under one third of the trail completed!!!! I am still having a blast and getting the experience of a lifetime. 
700 Miles!!!

Tomorrow is the day I've been really looking forward to, McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs. I can't believe how far I've come already. Sometimes it seems so surreal. 

"The battle of life is, in most cases, fought uphill; and to win it without a struggle were perhaps to win it without honor. If there were no difficulties there would be no success; if there were nothing to struggle for, there would be nothing to be achieved." -Samuel Smiles