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!