A quick blog update: I’ve added an About tab to the blog to make it easier to find my contact info if needed, and because every blog needs an “about” page to…you know, say what its about, for those that start reading long after the first introductory posts have scrolled away.
I hiked into Waynesboro, VA yesterday afternoon and was met by my next door neighbors from Durham, Sunshine Scoville and David Farrell. Their two children, Lucy and Sumi, were with them as well as their dog Freckles. But the most exciting part was they brought my dog, Millie, with them. Millie is an almost eight year old yellow lab. I did not feel that I could manage looking out for Millie on the Trail so decided to leave her at home when I started hiking. Millie and my neighbors will hopefully join me today on the Trail as I head off into the Shenandoahs. I have completed 850.5 miles of the 2200 mile Appalachian Trail at this point. It is starting to get exciting to be approaching the halfway point. But let me catch you up with what has been happening since I communicated with you last.
I headed out of Daleville, VA on Monday, May 18 and started the longest section of the Trail I have done yet without going into a town or resupplying. This meant my pack was heavy with nine days of supplies to cover 133 miles. Fresh from my time at Trail Days in Damascus and sleeping the last night in a motel, I did 18.5 miles to Bobblets Gap Shelter. It felt good to put in this kind of mileage and still feel good. I’ve got my footwear down to a science with the right kind of boots, socks, and liners for my unique feet. My feet and all the joints up through my hips are holding up well. The next day, I decided to do 18.3 miles to the Cornelius Creek Shelter. The following day, I decided to keep up this high mileage with 17.7 miles to the Matts Creek Shelter. Maybe I was pushing too hard. Maybe it was just the end of the day, I was tired, and I wasn’t paying close attention to the trail, but, as I was making the rocky descent to the shelter, my foot caught on a rock and sent me falling forward. I tried to stop myself with my hiking poles, but the momentum of the weight of my pack on my back was too much. I went face first down into the rocky trail. Luckily my face hit the earthen side of the trail. But I heard a strange tearing noise. My right hand cushioned some of my fall, and my knee hit the rocks. At first, I couldn’t even get up. The weight of my pack had my head pinned to the bank on the side of the trail. I was sure my glasses were busted. I rolled over on my side and maneuvered out of my pack. I was able to stand. My glasses and face were covered with mud, but the glasses were still intact. The ripping noise I heard was from my pants tearing at the knee when my knee hit the rocks. Miraculously, I survived this fall with only a skinned knee and sore hand. I learned a lesson in the progress: I have to stay balanced. I am not just talking balance as on a balance beam. I am also talking about staying balanced mentally, physically, and spiritually. I have to learn to listen to my body. I have to learn to not let my attention lapse when I am so close to my goal. I have to try to tune into the mystical forces out there, and they are out there! And I have to learn to slow down sometimes.
That night I had the shelter to myself. It was a magnificent spot. A beautiful creek flowed right in front of the shelter. Whippoorwills sang me to sleep. The next morning I was up at 6:00 to repair my pants with needle and thread. By 8:00 I was hiking the trail following the creek as it made its way to the James River. I reached the James by 9:00. It was huge, muddy, and flooded. Several years ago, hikers had to cross the James by a dilapidated roadway bridge. In 2000, a new footbridge just for hikers was completed and dedicated to the memory of William Foot, a former thru hiker and a worker on the Trail cialis from india. It was amazing to walk across this 500 foot bridge. Not only was it an engineering masterpiece, the waters of the flooded James brought back memories of a canoe trip a classmate of mine and I did our senior year at Virginia Episcopal School in nearby Lynchburg, VA. No one had ever done a trip like that with the school’s blessing. But, somehow, my buddy John Hettrick and I talked the Headmaster into letting us go. We very likely canoed the section of the James that I was crossing that morning. Life comes around full circle once more.
On the other side of the James, the Trail followed Johns Creek to higher ground. I had heard about a community of freed slaves that settled along this creek during and right after the Civil War. I looked for signs of that time. I found them. There were foundations still remaining from several of the houses and a few crumbling chimneys. I even found a beautifully stone lined spring, but alas I could not replenish my water supply from this historical spring. I had to explore the area to find where the underground water had shifted to refill my water bottle. I am now using a small UV light to sterilize my water. The walk that morning was unusually beautiful. Some of the former residents here it seemed had taken loving care of the creek itself. In several places the banks of the creek were walled with carefully stacked stones.
Johns Creek led me to a 2000 foot climb in altitude up to Fuller Rocks, Big Rocky Row, Bluff Mountain, and finally Punchbowl Mountain. That night, May 21, I stayed in Punchbowl Shelter by a beautiful little pond. The frogs sang all night long. They didn’t bother me a bit.
All this was leading me to a section of the Appalachian Trail I had been dreading. The major mountain was The Priest and it was followed by the Three Ridges. I had been sneaking fearful peeks at the profiles of these mountains on my maps for weeks. I had been warned that extreme weather was possible up there without much notice.
I learned a valuable lesson in climbing these mountains. It was that, sometimes, I was losing energy in the process of fearing the unknown. When I just put one foot in front of the other and actually ascended these mountains, I found that the reality of doing was not as bad as the process of fearing. I resolve to adopt this attitude to other aspects of my life besides hiking.
The night of May 23 I had a wonderful time at the Priest Shelter and learned of a tradition that hikers were expected to confess a past wrong or sin in the shelter journal. At first, I was going to take a lighthearted approach to this confession, but then I decided to get something off my chest. I confessed to something I did in the third grade that has bothered me all these years. We were rehearsing a class play at the front of the classroom, and I peed in my pants. Well, I had worn a brand new pair of blue jeans to school that day. They had never been washed. The jeans were so stiff I could hardly bend my knees. These pants legs acted just like a funnel and led the pee to the floor, not even staining my pants. I calmly stepped to the side and blamed the accident on the girl next to me. I got away with it. But I embarrassed the girl. Annette, please forgive me. I really am sorry. I hope to never do this again.
The Three Ridges after the Priest gave me some of the most demanding hiking I have had on the Trail. But with one foot in front of the other, I managed to get it done. Not only was this challenging hiking, but I hiked some long hours that day. But I hiked safely. I paid attention to my body. I kept my mind focused. And I said a few prayers. I put in my first official 20 mile day! At 7:30 PM I stopped hiking after 12 1/2 hours at the Dripping Rocks section of the Blue Ridge Parkway. As the light was failing, I climbed into the woods up from the Parkway and noticed a styrofoam cooler beside the Trail with a note attached: “Reserved for Thru Hikers, Enjoy!” I lifted the rock from the lid of the cooler and looked inside. There was fresh ice, Dr. Peppers, Snickers bars, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. I thought I had died and gone to heaven! I sat on a rock and let that cold Dr. Pepper slide down my throat. Life had never been this good. I found a campsite nearby, pitched my tent, fixed my supper, hung my bear bag, and had another cold Dr. Pepper with my meal. I left a thank-you note in the cooler.
All this brings me to yesterday. I hiked 14.5 miles to Rockfish Gap where Interstate 64 and US 250 intersect outside Waynesboro. My neighbors from Durham and I arrived at almost the same time! Last night, we found a laundromat where I could wash the clothes I had not changed in eight days. Yes, I cut one day off my estimated time for this leg of the trip. We went grocery shopping and all shared a big pizza. Then it started raining cats and dogs.
This morning, the rain appears to have subsided. The plan is for Sunshine, David, Lucy, Sumi, Freckles, and Millie to join me on the Trail heading north out of Rockfish Gap. We will hike for a while. Lucy and Sumi are very excited about being “hikers” and even have a song they sing in cadence to walking.
My plan is to put one foot in front of the other.
All my best,
Braid, AKA Joe Liles
PS. I wanted to share with you something I learned the night before I stayed on top of the Priest. I was at the Cow Camp Gap Shelter the night of May 22. This was the start of Memorial Day Weekend, and I had noticed a lot of day hikers on the Trail that day. When I came into Cow Camp Gap, I found three “section hikers” eating supper around the shelter picnic table. They were listening to Johnny Cash on their portable, battery powered MP3 player. I was offended. These yo-yo’s were intruding into my personal space with their music. Not only that, they were intruding on MY trail. After all, I was the thru hiker. I had put much more of my life into the Trail than they had! But I kept my mouth shut. I unpacked my pack, got out my supper provisions, and joined the rowdy crowd at the picnic table. To this point, not one of these guys had even acknowledged my existence. I casually asked: “Where are you guys from?” They answered, “The Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina.” Whoa, that’s where I’m from! We started sharing stories about Durham. Two of the guys worked at Duke, the third in the Research Triangle Park. By the time it got dark, we were all friends. And they cut off their music. The next morning, all of these guys came by to see me from where they had been tenting. They came to wish me well on the rest of my thru hike. Lessons learned: give people a break, don’t jump to conclusions, don’t be so judgemental, and don’t feel like you OWN the Trail just because you are a thru hiker.
So you don’t think I have been having all these adventures by myself, I have been hiking with various individuals: Leif E, McBride, The Professor, Clawhammer, a group of three young women from Maryland called the MD/3, another group of four young women called The Four Divas, Crow, Snuggie, Blister, and Lonely Road. It’s a community out here!
I told you while I was staying in Pearisburg, VA, that I would try to find out something about the town to tell you. My first stop on this learning mission was the Dairy Queen where I asked the lady behind the counter, “What is Pearisburg known for?” She looked at me with puzzled eyes and responded, “Absolutely Nothing!” I did not let this discourage me. Locals often put down their locale. At the library, I learned that the town was originally founded as Giles Courthouse, the county seat for Giles County. In 1811, the name was changed to Pearisburg to honor the man who had given the land for the county seat, Captain George Pearis. Captain Pearis, of Civil War Fame, ran a ferry service down on the New River on the edge of town. The river became the life blood of this area. A tannery was established as one of the first businesses. It specialized in make the soles for shoes. Then came a blacksmith shop, taverns, a doctor, churches, private schools, and in 1871, the first public school. A railroad yard was established down by the river with four different train companies using it. A famous “high speed” rail service, The Powhatan Arrow, was established with service from Norfolk to Cincinnati.
I ran into one oldtimer who told me that back in the 1950′s a group of boys playing baseball in a field down by the river discovered an injured Golden Eagle. This magnificent bird had a body that was four feet long from head to tail, a wingspan of close to 8 feet, and his clawed feet when spread measured 8 inches across. Unfortunately the eagle died. A local taxidermist stepped up, and the eagle was displayed in the uptown drug store for years.
I moved my accommodations from the Holiday Motel to the Rendezvous. Two things led me to do this. First, the Rendezvous was right by the Appalachian Trail, making getting back on for my northward journey an easy affair. Second, the owner, Brenda, told me she would give me her car! I had heard of Trail Magic, but this offer was amazing. I used Brenda’s car to go to the library, the grocery store, and the pizza place. I also gave rides to thru hikers I ran into.
Brenda had a helper at the Rendezvous named Skeeter. Skeeter is an accomplished guitar player. I played a little bit for him on my harmonica. He invited me to come back to Pearisburg anytime and he would get me together with some of the local musicians. He said there were some really great fiddle, mandolin, banjo, dobro, and guitar players in the surrounding mountains and valleys. He promised me a great time.
But I also found Skeeter to be a fountain of local history. He told me that the highway right in front of the motel, Highway 100, was built on top of the old road used by General Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson as they traveled south battling the army of Ulysses Grant the whole way. It was a running battle that went through Pearisburg, Dublin, Radford, Christiansburg, Salem, Roanoke, Lexington, and ended at Appomattox where Lee surrendered and signaled the end of the Civil War. Skeeter told me that escaped soldiers from both the Union and Confederacy fled to the surrounding mountains and hid out in caves in the rock outcroppings. He said these troops used the same trail as the Appalachian Trail to move around. He showed me one of these caves near the motel and told me about another one in the center of Pearisburg near the historic county court house.
Skeeter told me something about Stonewall Jackson that I had never heard. Stonewall vowed that, if he was killed in battle, he wanted to be buried right where he fell. He was with his men as they moved from Pearisburg to nearby Dublin. In Dublin, he drew his sword in battle, was shot right at that moment. He fell from his horse. His men buried him on that spot.
My last morning in Pearisburg, Sunday, May 10, I hiked up Highway 100 at 6:15 for breakfast and was soon on the Trail heading out of town. As I approached the New River, I was surprised to find a graveyard. I took a look around and found the grave of Captain George Pearis overlooking the spot on the river where he ran his ferry.
I hiked past the Rice Field Shelter and stopped for the day at Pine Swamp Branch Shelter after 19 miles. I stayed there with two section hikers from Pennsylvania, a thru hiker from Scotland named David, and another thru hiker Work/Stay who was working his way up the trail at many of the hostels. The next morning, I was discouraged when it started raining just as I started cooking breakfast. I cooked in the rain, ate in the shelter, put on all my rain gear, and hoofed it up the Trail. I breezed by two shelters and stopped after 18 miles at Laurel Creek Shelter.
That night, a grand reunion of my old thru hiker friends happened. O. G. (for Old Gear), Hellbender, and Leon with his dog Halifax all showed up generic levitra. I had not seen these guys in about a month. We had a great time catching up on our latest adventures.
The next day was meaningful to me for several reasons. First, early in the day, Hellbender pointed out to me a really amazing wildflower, a Lady’s Slipper. This orchid-like flower is an amazing creation. I must have taken a dozen pictures of it.
The day turned into a beautiful one. I hiked 19.5 miles to the top of Audie Murphy Mountain. Audie Murphy was know as “The Singing Cowboy” in old western movies. Audie Murphy was also one of the most decorated fighter pilots for the United States during World War II. After the war he was killed in a plane crash on the mountain near where I was hiking. There was a memorial stone for him at the top. A faded US flag was hanging from a tree. I hiked on for a couple more miles and decided to camp solo. It turned out to be a beautiful experience. I watched the sunset from the ridge as I ate my supper. I have gotten pretty good at hanging my bearbag and doing all the things necessary for camping away from shelters. It was one of the most peaceful nights I have ever had. I have lost my fear of being alone in the wilderness.
The next day, Wednesday, May 13, a peak experience for me was hiking up to Dragon’s Tooth. This is a high rock thrust up from the end of a ridge overlooking the community of Catawba, VA. Descending from Dragon’s Tooth was very tricky. I had to scrambled down cliffs and boulders in the most dangerous climbing I have done yet on the Trail. As I descended I was amazed by blooming rhododendron and mountain laurel. I sense that I am going to see much of this in the near future, but these first blooms really impressed me.
I stopped that night at a deserted Catawba Creek Shelter. I was all set for having the place for myself when my friends O. G., Hellbender, and Leon showed up. We were later joined by Sam Wise and Colonel Mustard. I knew a classic photo taking place was coming up, McAfee Knob. This high rock is often chosen by hikers for a classic Appalachian Trail photo because it juts out over the valley, a thousand feet below. I suggested that we all get there together in the morning and take turns photographing each other. The other guys added to my plan. Why not get up at 4:30 AM, pack up, hit the trail by 5:00, hike the 1 1/2 miles to the top, and be there by sunrise. This sounded extreme to me, but I decided to go along with the enthusiasm of the crowd.
The next morning came soon enough. I wolfed down a power bar while I stuffed my sleeping bag in its bag and packed my pack. Colonel Mustard had the reputation of being a fast hiker, and he took the lead. It was pitch dark, so we all had on our headlamps. I knew I would likely be the slowest because I was the age of these guy’s fathers. I took the rear. It was a sprint to the top. I have never hiked faster. I was amazed that I never stumbled on rocks or roots. We reached the top at 5:45 before the sunrise, but we could now tell it was going to be cloudy. We waited around thirty minutes listening to a thousand birds wake up in the valley below. Their songs to greet the new morning came together to make a confused, yet beautiful, symphony of different melodies. With increasing light, we decided to start taking pictures. I served as the photographer lining up each hiker wearing their backpack on the rock outcropping and guiding them in how to turn, which direction to took. Sam Wise took my picture. These pictures turned out to be silhouettes because of the lighting conditions, but they were still classic.
I let the others take off on their descent of the knob. I had had a must too fast start to this day, and I wanted to take my time from here on out. I hiked alone and stopped in about a mile for a proper breakfast of oatmeal and coffee. I stopped again at 11:00 and had a hot lunch of Chicken a la King. I stocked up on water and headed toward the town of Daleville, VA. It was a long afternoon of hiking with threatening thunderstorms forcing me to pick up my pace on a high ridge overlooking the town. I lost the trail temporarily at a power line crossing, but finally made it into town at 4:15.
I had been pushing my mileage recently, putting in several 19 plus mile days. I had a motive that I barely admitted to myself. A huge festival, Appalachian Trail Days, was going to take place this weekend in Damascus, VA. Now, I had already been through Damascus back in late April, but deep down inside I wanted to go back and experience a celebration I had heard others rave about. There would be bands, food, outdoor gear vendors, tent cities, socializing, a parade of thru hikers, and educational presentations about the Trail. There would also be a talent show, and I had been fantasizing about playing my harmonica and singing my Thru Hikers National Anthem.
It was now the afternoon of Thursday, May 15. The big days of the Trail Days would be Friday and Saturday. But how would I get there? When I crossed the highway into Daleville, the Super 8 Motel came immediately into view. I had a re-supply package waiting for me there. There, spread out all over the grass lawn in front of the motel, was a large group of thru hikers. I recognized most of them. When I joined them, they told me they were waiting on Long Haul, an injured hiker who had gotten off the trail. Long Haul was doing some Trail Magic. He was using his SUV to transport hikers to Trail Days. There was only one problem, the vehicle was going to be jam packed full. There was no room for me.
I waited with the others. Long Haul finally showed up at 8:00. When he found out that I wanted to go to Trail Days, he generously volunteered to come back the next morning and pick me up. This was a generous offer because, in the past two weeks since I had left Damascus, I had covered 255.6 miles. This required a substantial road trip on Interstate 81. Two other hikers were excited to be included in Long Haul’s offer, Mississippi from Tupelo, and Recess from Durham. Durham! Yep, Recess was a senior at Carolina Friends School and had arranged to start his Appalachian Trail hike as a special senior project at the school. Small world once more. Yes, Recess will return to Carolina Friends School for his graduation in a few weeks. I asked him how he got his name. They still have recess at Carolina Friends School!
The three of us were picked up by Long Haul at 8:00 the next morning. The ride down the interstate highway seemed surreal with the landscape flying by. When we arrived in Damascus there were hikers everywhere. Long Haul dropped us off at The Place, a hostel run by the Methodist Church. There were still tenting spots left in back of the church. I set up my tent under the shade of a big tree. Once I knew I had my place set for the weekend, I decided to walk over to the Hiker’s Inn to say hello to Suzanne. I had stayed at Suzanne’s bunk house when I had previously come through. Suzanne recognized me and informed me of an opportunity. She had a hiker upstairs in a room with two twin beds. This hiker was interested in finding someone to take the other twin bed and share the costs of the room. Would I be interested? Heck yeah. This arrangement would come with an all you can eat breakfast, an uncrowded bathroom situation, the famous front porch of the house, and a lot more creature comforts. Then she told me the hiker’s name: Floater, from New Orleans. Floater! I had hiked with him back on the Georgia, North Carolina line. I hadn’t seen him in a month and a half. I wasn’t even sure he was still on the Trail.
We found Floater next door at the Baptist Church at a health screen clinic set up for hikers. Floater was ecstatic to see me and happy to have me share his room. Trail Days was getting better and better for me. I retrieved my tent from The Place.
The next two days were fabulous. I ate much food, saw many hiker friends, listened to lots of music, and yes, participated in the Talent Show. There were about twenty hikers with various acts in the show: juggling, singing, keyboards, unicycle riding, guitar playing, rapping, poetry, and more. I worked up my nerve and performed “Wildwood Flower” on harmonica and sang my Thru Hikers’ National Anthem. There were several hundred spectators and a panel of judges. My act was received well. Quite a few people stood as I sang the anthem. I added a final verse from the time I performed it down at the open mike night in Hot Springs (Trail Report – April 8):
The way to find ourselves
Is from Georgia to Maine.
I placed eighth in the competition and was rewarded with a Big Agnes, 2 1/2 thick, inflatable air mattress.
That night, at a bluegrass music jam session I was approached by a man from the Appalachian Trail Museum. He wanted to know if I would come to the annual gathering of the Museum next summer in Gettysburg, PA and sing my Thru Hikers’ Anthem. I immediately agreed. Wow.
Later that night, I went with Floater to Tent City. We wanted to experience what the other hikers were experiencing, the hikers who didn’t have the money to stay in places as nice as ours. The Tent City was a mile outside of town. There was a strong police presence at the entrance. The police were there to keep any troublemakers out and to supervise behavior in the camp to make sure nothing got out of hand. As soon as Floater and I made our way past the police, we were enthusiastically greeted by several hikers. I found that Floater was somewhat of a celebrity there. At 66 years old, he is one of the older hikers on the Trail. Plus, Floater has such an accepting way about him, he had obviously made a lot of friends. There was a drum circle, a bonfire, dancing around the bonfire, and fire breathing. Yes, you heard me right. Fire breathing. Guys with torches would blow huge fire balls from their mouths.
Now, I am not advocating debauchery. I am not encouraging you to take up fire breathing yourself. I am only telling you what I experienced. And I will add that I saw nothing out of control. I witnessed a celebration unlike any I had ever seen. I saw people treating each other with respect, love, and generosity. No one got hurt. Floater and I walked back to a very quiet Damascus at midnight.
Today, Sunday, May 17, yet another miracle happened for me. Staying at the Hiker’s Inn along with Floater and me were a couple from Maine. Paul and Jaime (Old Man and Navigator, respectively) run the Appalachian Lodge Inn in Millinocket, Maine. This is at the very end of the Appalachian Trail. I am intending to stay at this Inn when I complete my summit of Mount Katahdin. I had enjoyed getting to know Old Man and Navigator over the last two days. I took it as a sign that I was meeting the people who would take care of me at the end of my hoped for six month journey up the Trail, a sign that I was actually going to make it. Old Man and Navigator were leaving in their king cab, modified truck this morning for Maine. They were heading up Interstate 81. They offered to give me a ride back to Daleville, VA, so I could continue on my hike.
Trail Magic from Long Haul got me down to Trail Days. Trail Magic from Old Man and Navigator would get me back! We had a great time visiting on the three hour ride. I treated them to lunch at the Cracker Barrel in Daleville. I had a meal I had been dreaming about on the Trail: meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans, fried apples, corn bread, and sweet tea. Yes, life is good!
I am back at the Super 8, same one as last Thursday night, sending you this email. I will head out first thing tomorrow morning for the longest yet segment of my hike without major resupplying. I’ll be hiking 133.3 miles in eight or nine days to Rockfish Gap in Waynesboro, VA. I will be approaching the Shenandoa Mountains, another milestone for me on the Trail. Right now, I am roughly at the one third mark of the Appalachian Trail. I am still having a good time. I hope that is obvious.
All my best,
Braid, AKA Joe Liles
Joe has sent in a few more CDs filled with images, and there are 9 new image galleries here on the blog to check out.
• Gallery 04: Hot Springs, Sunnybank Inn
• Gallery 05: Big Bald Mountain
• Gallery 06: Erwin, TN
• Gallery 07: Beauty Spot
• Gallery 08: Roan Mountain, Hump Mountain
• Gallery 09: Dennis Cove
• Gallery 10: Laurel Fork River
• Gallery 11: Watauga Lake
• Gallery 12: Abingdon Gap, Damascus
NEWSPAPER HEADLINE: “AT Hiker, Braid, Cures Southeastern United States from Drought!” Yes folks, you heard it here first: It seems that I am personally responsible for putting to rest one of the most severe droughts to hit the right coast in many years. How? By hiking the Appalachian Trail, of course. When I started hiking in Georgia, back in March, I only had about four days of good weather before the rains hit. And the rain has followed me north. No joke. For every one day I have had of clear weather, I have had four days of rain. I have learned to hike in the rain, cook in the rain, set my tent up in the rain, sleep in the rain, take my tent down in the rain, and even sing in the rain! The creeks and rivers where I am now in Virginia are swollen to the tops of their banks. The New River which flows through my present location of Pearisburg, has not been this full in years.
Has all this rain got me down? Nope, I’m still going strong!
I left you last at the Happy Hiker Hollow in Atkins, VA. I forgot to tell you that the farm where this hostel is located was once owned by the AT famous personality Warren Doyle. Warren has thru hiked the Trail 14 times, and he’s still going strong. I’ll be ecstatic if I succeed just once.
When I departed the Happy Hiker on May 4, I had to hike under Interstate 81 and then headed into the woods. I crossed over the North Fork of the flooded Holston River on a small concrete bridge that was barely above the water. I made it 14 miles to the Knot Maul Shelter. At this point I turned up my throttle, got up at first light the next morning, stopped in at the Chesnut Knob Shelter after nine miles in the pouring rain for my favorite lunch of a peanut butter and cheese burrito. I continued another ten miles in the rain to the Jenkins Shelter. At my 7:00 arrival time, this shelter was jam packed with soaked thru hikers, so I set up my tent in the rain, and actually had a comfortable night. Comfortable, that is, until 5:00 the next morning. It was then when I heard a large animal walk up beside my tent. There were some sniffing noises and some rummaging around in the leaves. I decided I had to do something. So, first of all, I breathed. Then, I turned on my headlamp thinking that, surely, the light would scare this animal away. No such luck. Then I carefully and forcefully and with much courage brought my hand down on my sleeping pad with all the force I could muster. It made a loud THWACK! The animal ran away. These were not the delicate footsteps of a raccoon. These were big, lumbering footsteps, with weight behind them. I was tempted to go outside with my headlamp and get a glimpse of this creature and also ascertain the security of my food bag which was suspended from a high tree limb. But I decded the best thing to do was to wait until the light of dawn to boldly step outside. When I did, I found that the leaves around my tent had been pawed through and my bear bag was still hanging. No tracks. We will never know for sure, but my imagination tells me this animal was a 600 pound black bear, looking for grub worms and other such delicacies.I am glad that this formidable beast did not think my tent was a burrito with the meat inside being me!
I leftthe Jenkins Shelter before any other hiker, breaking my past tradition of being last to leave. I made it in the rain 11.7 miles to Bland, VA, where I did not go into town but found out two things about Bland from a local guy in a church parking lot: Bland is proud of the fact that it has a large pharmaceutical plant and not so proud that the town of Bland, in fact the entire County of Bland, has not one stoplight, a distinction held by no other county in Virginia.
I used a bridge to hike over a busy Interstate 77, and again, headed into the woods. By 3:00 that afternoon I was at the Helveys Mill Shelter, but I felt it was too early to stop for the day. I knew I was not capable of making it to the next shelter, Jenny Knob, because that would make today’s hike 24 miles. I decided to do something bold. For the second time on my hike, I decided to camp solo in the wilderness. I loaded up on water from a stream that added another mile to my day and headed out. A hiker in the shelter called out to me as I was leaving, “Be careful out there, I heard in Bland today, that there was a Severe Weather Alert for tonight.” I wish I he hadn’t told me this. The sky was clear for a change. I knew this would not be the only time I would face the possibility ofdangerous weather on the Trail. I hiked on with a quickness to my step and looked frequently right and left along the ridgeline for approaching storms. Two hours later, I saw it coming, dark clouds in the east. the wind started picking up. At 5:30, I found a flat place in a cove, sheltered from the wind and away from any streams or terrain that might flash flood. I pitched my tent in a hurry, using all the guy lines I had, hammering down the pegs tight. I strung my line for a bear bag. I cooked a supper of dehydrated Jamaican BBQ chicken and retreated to my tent as the first rain arrived. It poured! But I was dry inside and enjoyed my supper. Oh, I forgot to mention that my favorite mealtime beverage is hot cocoa made with cold spring water. It is basically chocolate milk, and the powder does dissolve, and it gives me another 110 calories. In a break in the rain, I got all traces of food out of my tent, hung my bear bag, and made a journal entry by the light of my headlamp in my tent.
That night, the rain came in waves. Torrents would come and then die down. I actually slept through most of it until 4:00 AM when I had to go outside to answer the call of nature. I saw flashes of light on the horizon. Uh oh, lightning. With my luck it would be coming my way. the first storm hit at 4:30 with thunder, lightning, and more bucketsfull of rain. The storm passed and I breathed easier. I was going to make it through the night afterall! No such luck. Two more separate electrical storms hit before 6:00 AM. In one of the lulls between storms, I retrieved my bear bag and brought it into the tent with me. At 6:15, with rain still pelting my tent’s fly, I ate a breakfast of granola and milk (powdered milk with water added) and my new thru hiker discovery: Pop Tarts. Two Pop Tarts give you 400 calories, imagine that! The rain stopped, and I crawled timidly outside. I was astounded. I could see blue in the sky. The sun was actually rising in the east. I had made it!
I hurriedly packed my pack and hit the northbound trail at 8:30. In five milesI had lunch at the Jenny Knob Shelter. But here was the intimidating thing, I had 14 miles to go before my intended stop of the night, the infamous Wapiti Shelter. I figured that if I kept up a good pace, I could make it there by 7:00. And hike I did. It started raining at 3:00 and kept it up until 5:00. I hiked by a raging creek, Dismal Creek. I hiked and hiked. I got into breathing patterns. I made hiking cadences with my breath, my steps, and my hiking poles. But by 7:00, no shelter. My guide book said the shelter was one tenth of a mile past a footbridge crossing of Dismal Creek. Problem was, I had crossed a dozen footbridges over Dismal Creek. I was starting to give up and planned on finding a flat piece of high ground to pitch my tent. Then I saw it. A shelter never looked so good. I was disappointed to find it crammed with hikers and found a place to pitch my tent once more. Just as I unfurled my tent, a little damp from the night before, it started to rain. Luckily, one of the guys in the shelter, a thru hiker by the name of Goggle, came out to help me. I got the fly on top of the tent just in time. I did use the cover of the shelter to cook my supper, Chicken a la King with Noodles, but retreated to my tent after ravishing it. No one was in the mood for socializing. but we did talk about why the Wapiti Shelter has a bad reputation. Tragically, two hikers were murdered there some time back. I don’t have the time to research this to give you the particulars, but I do know the murderer went by the name of Bad Bob. It was a weird feeling to know that something so horrible had happened right there. I shuddered as I bedded down for the night.
The next morning, yesterday, May 8, I was up at 6:00 and had a breakfast of oatmeal, Pop Tarts, and coffee. A thru hiker speciality is adding boiling water to the paper/plastic package of instant oatmeal, stirring it with breaking the bag, and enjoying the warmth of the bag in your cold hands as you scoop out the delicious concoction. A thru hiker goal is to have no dishes to wash. I hit the Trail at 8:30 with one thing on my mind. 16 miles to Pearisburg, VA.Motel room, something other than dehydrated food, laundry, and a drying out my wet things.
I made it to town at 4:30. My motel of choice, The Rendezvous (don’t laugh), was full. I picked up my supply box there and a special delivery package from REI containing new hiking boots. Yes, after 624 miles, I have turned my first pair of boots into shreds of rubber, fabric, and leather. I found lodging in a disreputable looking place called the Holiday Motel with “Welcome Hikers” on the sign out front.
Next time, I’ll tell you how my sojourn in Pearisburg worked out.
All my best,
Braid, AKA Joe Liles
PS. If you are wondering how I am able to end you such a long email from the Pearisburg Public Library on a Saturday morning, it is because I was able to compose it in advance while soaking my feet in the tub of my room at the Holiday in a bath of Epsom Salts. What are Epsom Salts, you ask, and what do they do to your feet? I do not know the answer to either of these questions. I just found a box of these salts at the Food Lion across the street. All I know is, my grandmother said you should soak your tired feet in Epsom Salts. She said this assured good foot health. And I need a lot of that!