Friday, October 30, 2009

King of the Bunion

10-29-09 day 149
start: Cosby Knob Shelter, GSMNP
end: Ice Water Spring Shelter, GSMNP
daily mileage: 20.3
total mileage: 1970.6

Woke up to another gorgeous day in the Smokie's. The elevation change didn't look to bad today. In fact, while the elevation is pretty high the entire trail through the park seems to pretty much stay on a ridge. We did have a bit of a climb up from the shelter first thing. Almost the entire climb was through a "green tunnel" of mountain laurel and rhododendron. For a mile or so we were totally hedged in, right, left, and above. You run through a lot of this stuff in PA and it is depressing. There is nothing to see but redundant green shrubs, and you can't tell how far you've come or where you're heading.

Once a the top the woods opened up to old looking coniferous forest. The treeline would break frequently and offer massive views out over the mountains. As big as the views were you can't help but notice the disease affecting the old hemlock forests, half the trees on the hillside are dead. The immediate surroundings on the ridge were primeval looking gnarled trees and rocks with thick green moss, it was cool. We took lunch at a shelter with 4 day hikers and met the resident Guinea Hen. She has obviously lost all fear of people and came walking in amongst us like she owned the place...I bet she would have tasted good.

After lunch the trees to the west kept opening up to an awesome view of the valley. The deep valley, in stunning contrast to the dying hillsides, was an explosion of amazing fall colors. About a mile before camp we came upon Charlie's Bunion. Its a big rock protrusion from the hillside that hangs out over the valley. Despite the sign warning us that 'Climbing is Dangerous' we scaled the rocks for a better view. Standing out on the rocks 40 feet above the trail and thousands of feet above the valley, makes you feel like the king of nature. It was an incredible view.

We met a bunch of nice people a the shelter. They brought two little girls along with them who really seemed to be enjoying themselves out in the woods, always nice to see. They gave us a bunch of tasty treats, as well as couple of slugs of whiskey. We should sleep well tonight before heading into the tourist Mecca of Gatlinburg, TN!

Finally, the Smokies!

10-28-09 day 148
start: Groundhog Creek Shelter, TN/NC
end: Cosby Knob Shelter, GSMNP
daily mileage: 17.6
total mileage: 1950.3
Today, we enter the Great Smoky Mountain National Park! Awesome!
It rained all night, but by the time we woke up it was sunny and looking like it would be a much better day. We hiked 7 miles in the morning to Standing Bear Hostel, where we had lunch. It's a cool place - composed of at least six or seven separate log-cabin-style buildings for every conceivable purpose. The dining / kitchen building. The bunkroom. The resupply building. The outhouse. The computer building. And so on. It was really pretty charming - everything was decorated very appropriately for the rustic motif he was obviously going for, and there was a neat little stream running through the middle of the property that he'd built a bridge over and everything. The owner, Curtis, was a pretty strange guy. He was cool, but had a very unsettling way of talking (a combination of the way he repeated everything and never broke his gaze, I think). He showed us a neat project he was working on. He's building a wall for his new shower house that is composed of several hundred beer bottles all held in place with some mortar in a perfect grid. The bottles are all facing out, so that the necks stick out of the outside part of the wall about six inches. In this grid, he's used 3 different colors of bottles to create an AT symbol design. A bit hard to accurately describe, but it was a really cool effect, especially in the right lighting.
We met Fiddler back at the trailhead. He's meeting with his dad and his cousin at Davenport Gap (the eastern boundary of the Smokies) to hike a bit with them, so he figured that he'd slow down quite a bit and we might not see him again, though I guess we'll see. We got Davenport Shelter (still 7 miles to go) and dawdled there for quite a while, just reading and relaxing and enjoying our first Smoky Mountain Shelter. It was pretty awesome, actually, as it had a huge chain fence and lockable gate sealing off its unwalled portion, evidently to protect campers from bear attacks! Awesome! By the time we finally left this shelter to get to the shelter we were actually going to spend the night in it was 4:00, and we'd only done 3 miles since lunch at 11:30! But we still managed to pound out the last 7 miles of the day before dark, despite the trail being in pretty bad shape from the horse traffic.
When we got to the shelter, we met a bunch of section hikers who had already started a fire in the in-shelter fireplace (fancy!). We cooked over it to save fuel (and to feel outdoorsy) and enjoyed getting to know the section hikers and regailing them with our adventures. As we went to sleep, I couldn't help but reflect on the fact that we're actually in the smokies now. Just 70 miles or so to the other side of the park, then 80 miles across North Carolina, then a mere 70 miles of Georgia to Springer Mountain. Hard to believe, but we're very close to being done...

Bad Weather Leads to Unique Sights

10-27-09 day 147
start: Walnut Mountain Shelter, TN/NC
end: Groundhog Creek Shelter, TN/NC
daily mileage: 13.1
total mileage: 1932.7

We were hoping for good weather for the next couple of days but it rained all night last night and it looked pretty dreary this morning. We stopped a the first shelter, 5 miles in, and decided to take and early lunch. We met up with Buffalo and Icarus there, and shortly after Root Beer Float came out of nowhere and said he had been camping next to the shelter we were at last night. We had gotten it after dark so who knew? So it looked like we were all hiking together again.

The wind was blowing and the rain dripped off the trees all the way up the next mountain. The top, called Max Patch, it a grassy bald that offered a 360 degree panorama, with views into the Smokie's. Oddly enough, the view was especially good today, in spite of the rain. First of all the hills were bright with the fall colors and the inclement weather caused the valleys to be full of thick white fog. It was awesome. I did my best to shoot all the shots of a panorama without a tripod, so we'll see how that stitches together later.

After Max Patch the weather just got worse and worse. We were originally shooting for a campsite at 18 miles, but with the rain neither of us were keen on tenting. we stopped at the 13 mile shelter and gave up the rest of the day to the sour weather. We spent a lazy afternoon with Icarus reading, in turns, the Miss Pickerel book (which is great by the way).

Farewell, trusty Black N' Red

10-26-09 day 146
start: The Sunnybank Inn @ Hot Springs, NC
end: Walnut Mountain Shelter, TN/NC
daily mileage: 13.1
total mileage: 1919.6

We got our typical slow start from a hostel that we always do, but had big plans of pulling 19 miles. I was all packed up and lacing up my boots when Sea Monster suggested that we cut it down to 13 and update the blog. This seemed reasonable (we don't want to get 25 days behind again) and we went down to the library. After a few hours there getting the blog fully up-to-date, we found a bookshelf with $0.25 books for sale. Despite the fact that I have a Kindle and was already carrying one other book, I picked up Dune (a deal is a deal!). Sea Monster was incredibly excited when he found a copy of a children's book he'd been talking about for a while, "Miss Pickerel and the Geiger Counter." I read it later, and the book is every bit as good as the title.

We stopped by the Post Office afterwards and picked up a care package from Sea Monster's mom (contacts and gloves for him, and delicious Kisses and fudge for both of us!) and Sea Monster finally mailed home his trusty companion, the Black N' Red. This is the journal that he's been writing in every night (more or less) with details about the day that we use as material for this very blog. The Black N' Red served us faithfully for 138 days before getting filled up. Though the green composition notebook he's now using is technically just as good, I know it will never replace the ole BNR in our hearts.

Just before we went off to eat lunch, Sea Monster then found some abandoned trekking poles at the hostel! In fact, they're almost exactly the same as the ones he found in Vermont and lost in D.C., except they're red! We're finally both quadruped again! After lunch at a sandwich shop, we were finally ready to hit the trail at 2:30.

It was a big climbing day - almost the whole day was a steady uphill from the relatively low elevation of Hot Springs. We summited the mighty Bluff Mountain (which we'd basically been climbing the whole day) just before we made it into camp, and slid in just before dark. There was just enough room for us in the relatively dilapidated shelter to squeeze in next to 3 section hikers; Icarus, Buffalo, and Root Beer Float tented outside the shelter with another 2 section hikers.

Elmer's sweet victorian hostel

10-25-09 day 145
start: Little Laurel Shelter, TN/NC
end: The Sunnybank Inn @ Hot Springs, NC
daily mileage: 19.6
total mileage: 1906.5
We're headed into Hot Springs today (woot!) and got up pretty early and made good time in the morning. It was a gorgeous morning, which was really nice after a few days of crummy weather. We had a quick lunch and got done with all 19 miles by 4:00 or so, which was really nice. It was a really nice hiking day, and we had a few great views: Lover's Leap Rock in particular provided a gorgeous view off the side of the mountain over the French Broad River and into town.
Hot Springs is so named for its natural hot springs (which you can bathe in for the low low price of $19.99!), but is basically a tiny trail town. The AT goes straight through "downtown" and the sidewalk that it officially follows is denoted by stone AT symbols embedded in the pavement. Little trail towns like that are always nice... but this one had the very odd feature of TONS of traffic! The reason for this oddity came in the form of a scruffy looking fellow sitting on the bridge drinking some unidentified liquid out of a paper bag, who told us that there had been a huge rockslide on the nearby I-40 just that morning! All the enormous amounts of traffic that I-40 normally accomadates have had to find other routes around the closed highway, and much of it filtered through otherwise quiet Hot Springs. We're told by the residents that it will take as long as 3 months to totally clear this massive slide, as engineers have to start at the top of the nearby mountains and blast layer after layer with dynamite to make sure this won't happen again too soon.

Anyway, we met up with Fiddler and Star Trek in the local outfitter and ended up heading over to Elmer's hostel, the Sunnybank Inn. It's an old victorian house that he converted into a bed and breakfast, but with thru-hiker rates. I stayed in the old servant's quarters for a little less. The house was gorgeous and pretty cool, and we met up with Icarus and Buffalo there as well. We showered and wandered off to the Dollar General to do our grocery shopping (there's not really a real grocery in town) and ended up buying massive numbers of frozen gas station burritos with salsa for dinner. When we got back we met two vacationing couples that were also staying at Elmer's, and we had a good time playing Apples to Apples with them. Finally, we sat back and watched the South Park Movie and the Graduate. A good night, and a wonderfully comfortable, warm bed at the end of it...

Monday, October 26, 2009

Awwwww, Big Booty Big Booty Big Booty, Aw Yeah, Big Booty!

10-24-09 day 144
start: Hogback Ridge Shelter, TN/NC
end: Little Laurel Shelter, TN/NC
daily mileage: 21.5
total mileage: 1886.9

We woke up several times during the night to howling wind and pouring rain, but by the time the morning came it promised to be a nice, sunny day. We hiked in the warm sun for a few miles, but the weather soon turned morbidly overcast again and a dense fog descended for the rest of the day, making it kind of cold and damp.

We met some young guys sitting in the middle of the trail. We asked them what they were doing and apparently, they were out bear hunting. Nice! They had 4 dogs between them, and when I passed, were in the process of buiding a fire in the middle of the trail (not the best place).

We summitted a mighty mountain called "Big Butt" today, which was not only very funny but also marked our official 300-miles-from-Springer-Mountain point! Woo hoo! Getting insanely close... in fact, it's kind of weird. I'm really starting to feel like our time on the trail is limited (before it always seemed like it was OK to miss a view or something if I was feeling lazy, since it felt like we were going to be on the trail forever... now it really seems like we need to savour everything for these last few weeks!). A bizarre feeling. It's exciting, but I'm also feeling more nostalgic than I thought I would at this point... I kind of figured that would come after we got home!

We got to the top of a super misty ridge and it was almost dark (despite being the middle of the afternoon), and the wind and dark puddles of water everywhere made it seem awesomely spooky. Definitely monsters there. Then we met up with some of those bear-hunting dogs with huge tracking collars around their necks, which was reassuring because they seemed super lost. They followed us for about a mile down the trail, but left just as we were starting to worry that we'd aquired pets. We finally got into the shelter earlier than we figured we would... we are actually pretty quick hikers when we don't spend all day dawdling! A quick 19 tomorrow into Hot Springs, where we'll encounter the latest in our series of hostels in our recent hostel-to-hostel hike.

Thank You Momma Nexus!

10-23-09 day 143
start: Bald Mountain Shelter, TN/NC
end: Hogback Ridge Shelter, TN/NC
daily mileage: 10.1
total mileage: 1865.4

We woke up to crazy wind howling past the shelter. We had 'till 2 to go 8 miles and we were nice and snug in our bags, so no hurry. 2 o'clock of course was the time Momma Nexus was meeting us at Sam's Gap with the bounty of Chick-fil-A! We eventually set off into the wind and soon climbed out of the shelter of the trees and onto an open ridge. The wind up there was outrageous! The kind that could blow you over if you weren't careful. Disney had just acquired an big floppy purple hat back in Erwin so he had fun wrangling that out in the gale. We made awesome time to Sam's Gap, around 12:30, so we made lunch number one and then sat around reading until it was Chick-fil-A time.

We sat in the wind and Momma Nexus showed up just in the nick of time to save us from sitting in the rain. We all piled into the van and ate delicious, delicious, Chick-fil-A. After stuffing ourselves and not super eager to step out into the weather we sat and chatted until around 4. Our plan to tackle another 10 miles was scrapped in favor of a nice easy 2, to the shelter. Once we got there we found some trail magic of soda had been left at the spring. We had eaten so much we don't even feel like dinner so we are just hanging out and reading before bed.

The reason we use Denatured...

10-22-09 day 142
start: Uncle Johnny's Nolichucky Hostel, TN/NC
end: Bald Mountain Shelter, TN/NC
daily mileage: 16.9
total mileage: 1855.3

We woke up at the hostel and decided that we could fit in a movie while we were packing up, so we put in Edward Scissorhands and enjoyed a lazy morning. Fiddler passed through and we hit the trail around 11:30, and hiked up and down rolling hills all day long. At lunch, we found a bottle of 92% isopropyl alcohol in the shelter, and decided to save some of our fuel by cooking with it. We've never used isopropyl before, but 92% seemed good enough to use and it was freely available, so we tried it. It burned great, and the food was soon ready... but it blackened the bottom of the pot with TONS of soot, which Sea Monster did not notice before he put it in his lap to eat out of. He got black soot all over his shorts and shirt... he was pretty frustrated, but I found it pretty amusing. In any case, we've learned why we always use denatured!
We got to a beautiful overlook called High Rock (pretty descriptive, a huge rock that juts over the tops of the trees on top of a mountain to provide a gorgeous view of the scenery around us) and considered cowboy camping on it, but decided against it due to impending rain that night and a lack of drinking water in the area. So we hiked the rest of the way into the shelter. We got in after dark because we'd screwed around during the day, and met up with Fiddler, Nexus, and two section hikers. They come out a week a year and are trying to get the whole AT done that way... wow! They had a nice fire going, and as we swapped stories and got to know each other Nexus mentioned that his mom was going to meet him tomorrow at Sam's Gap with Chik-Fil-A and had enough for all of us! AWESOME!!!!

Blogging Marathon in Erwin

10-21-09 day 142
start: Curley Maple Gap Shelter
end: Uncle Johnny's Nolichucky Hostel @ Erwin, TN
daily mileage: 4.2
total mileage: 1838.4

Something got us motivated and moving early this morning and we tore up the 4 miles into town. We had heard a few reports of the Erwin police harassing hikers in the past so we were curious about that prospect as we entered town. Uncle Johnny's Hostel is across the bridge over the Nolichucky River. We stopped in a borrowed some bikes to ride into the town proper. After inflating some tires and minor repair we were off and moving. I had a sweet orange girls beach cruiser, and Disney was sitting astride a barley functional old mountain bike. Sure enough within a quarter of a mile his back tire blew out, and left with not other option he proceeded on the rim while the bike rattled and complained loudly.

The business of the day was primarily to update the blog, which as many of our reader will be aware was in dire need of posts. After an early lunch at Sonic it was to the library for a 4 hour marathon blogging session. We finished most of the blog by around 3, and decide to forego our planned 6 more miles and stay in town to finish our work. Two Sonic trips, and 5+ hours and we had caught up. We took the bikes up to the Family Dollar to re-supply, buy some gloves, and Halloween costumes! I also picked up a couple pairs of ladies pantyhose to keep my legs warm at night. Also I think they make me look sexy.

After shopping we realized we had way too much stuff to ride back with and Disney was afraid his bike would explode so we gave Claire a call over at the hostel and got picked up. We snagged some beer on the way back and stayed up watching Ren and Stimpy, CB$ w/ Chris Rock, and Rainman.

Crazy Bill: Senior Psychopath

10-20-09 day 140
start: Greasy Creek Friendly Hostel, TN/NC
end: Curly Maple Gap Shelter, TN/NC
daily mileage: 20.1
total mileage: 1834.2

To be fair, Connie (the owner of the Greasy Creek Friendly) had warned us that she has a psycho neighbor named Bill. Bill once lived all alone way out here, and apparently hates the fact that Connie has moved onto "his" mountain. He especially hates the fact that she then opened up a hostel, and invites dozens of hikers to spend the night near his once-so-solitary abode. So he's taken upon himself an unhealthy mission - to drive Connie out of business by scaring away all the hikers.

To this end, he acts like a total psychopath. We were awoken this morning to the sound of Bill driving his riding lawnmower all around the perimeter of her property with the muffler off and the hood up (to maximize the amount of noise the engine makes) at the hour of 5:30 AM - apparently a daily occurance. Sea Monster may have noted yesterday that he was playing loud music out of giant speakers on his lawn as we hiked in last evening - sure enough, that remained on and blairing all night long. Connie says that he's almost deaf himself, and so isn't bothered by it. He (illegally) takes down her signs advertising the hostel, and even has the gall to put up his own signs about her hostel - she showed us one that read "Greasy Creek Hostel Closed due to Disease." (!!!) Evidently, there are no noise ordinances way out here so the music and lawnmower are perfectly legal, and as she's never taped him in the act of removing her signs or posting his own, she cannot prosecute. Indeed, when we left she gave us a new sign to post at the gap where the AT crosses in the event that he had removed her old one (she replaces them constantly). Though he hadn't removed it that past night, we left with the firm impression that he was a complete nutcase.

Sea Monster shaved off his mohawk with her clippers in the morning before we left (it was getting "out of control," in his words) and we hiked out. We met up with Icarus, Buffalo, and Root Beer Float in a field throwing rocks at an apple tree trying to get apples out of it. We joined them for 45 minutes or so and had a veritable feast of tasty wild apples. We were all headed to the same place, so we hiked with them until we finally broke up after lunch. We all met up again that afternoon at a place called the "Beauty Spot." It was absolutely gorgeous... a ridge that overlooks a huge valley and is bordered by mountains in all directions. They're all turning beautiful autumn colors, and it was truly beautiful. We met some people who had just come up for the day, and they shared some beer with us (woo hoo!) though Sea Monster lagged behind and missed out. We then hiked the 7 miles to the shelter and built a nice fire to round out the day. Only 4 miles to Erwin!

Competition for the Best View on the Trail

10-19-09 day 139
start: Overmountain Shelter, TN/NC
end: Greasy Creek Freindly, TN/NC
daily mileage: 14.8
total mileage: 1814.1

It was so cold last night even enclosed in the loft. We bundled up in all our clothes and pulled the tarp over our sleeping bags so we managed to stay reasonably comfortable. As I came out of the barn Icarus had already started a fire and you could see the sun just starting to peak out over the hills. Within a few minutes the sun was up and I'm not exaggerating when I say it was nothing short of glorious. It gave the whole valley a glow and warmth that made you want to strech and worship it. Shortly after the sun was up the snow and ice on the roof started to melt and the water started running down, as if to say, "It's alright, the earth hasn't frozen over, there is still life here". We set off on this amazing morning with the intention of doing 22 miles.

Just to clarify for our readers the next 150 miles or so of the AT run along the TN-NC border. The trail dips in and out so much, and indeed, follows exactly, it is impossible to tell what state we are in at any given moment.

The rest of the morning was spent up on Grassy Ridge. I thought this morning was good down in the valley, but that was nothing compared to what we got up on the ridge. The series of balds were frosted with snow and offered 360 degree veiws all the way along. Looking out you could see winter in the snowy peaks but the colorful leaves of autumn still held in the valleys. The sun was bright and clear and there was not a cloud in the sky. Absolutley incredible and easily one of our best veiws on the trail. While it was still cold out, the sun was efficiently melting the snow from the trees and grass. You could hear it constantly slumping off along the trail and somtimes straight onto your head. A neat effect but it made for a muddy trail...After the ridge we climbed down into Carvers Gap where there is a parking lot and stuff for the day hikers on the ridge. The climb out of the gap varied between slick mud and even slicker sheets of ice, it was slow going up the mountain. Once at the top we ate lunch at Roan Mountain Shelter, the highest shelter on the AT. The elevation here is nealry as high as that of Mnt. Washington back on NH. If you will remember back to that post, since Mt. Washington was a tourist nightmare and there was as line for the summit we didn't actually go to the peak. What that means is, that standing here on Roan Mountian is our highest point so far on the AT, by 3 feet.

Looking at the muddy sloppy terrain, and the time after lunch, our original 22 mile plan seemed a bit ambitious. We cut the day short and instead set our sights on the Greast Creek Hostel. Coming into Greasy Creek Gap there is a sign posted on a tree and a hand drawn map in a Zip-Lock bag tack to a tree. After scrutinizing the map for a good ten minutes we set of in the direction we hoped would lead us to a bed. We followed a winding unmarked forest road about a half mile and were relieved to find we had gone the right way. Our enterance was greeted by the crazy neighbor, Bill, blasting music from outdoor speakers. We met Buffalo there, ate dinner, and watched Sky Captian the World of Tomorrow. I have the tarp set up in the bunkhouse around the my bunk to keep in some extra heat. Its gonna be another cold one tonight.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Coldest Day On The Trail. I feel confident of this, even having a month left.

10-18-09 day 138
start: Mountaineer Shelter, TN
end: Overmountain Shelter, TN/NC
daily mileage: 18.0
total mileage: 1799.3

It was a super cold night again... we seriously need to get some gloves, and Sea Monster really wants some tights. Sea Monster used the tarp over his sleeping bag to keep him warm. We're putting in 18 miles today (on the 18th) to get to Overmountain shelter, which is at 1,800 miles! It was cold hiking, but we could see beautiful snowy peaks all day. We had several moments where it seemed like autumn ended and winter began, which was really incredible. Looking around, the leaves were all the beautiful autumn colors but the trees were now totally coated in ice and frost. It was very beautiful.
Sea Monster and I had taken longer than the rest of the group to cook lunch (as before, they're eating only cold lunches) so they waited for us and we all regrouped just below treeline for the epic climb over Hump Mountain. It was freaking cool... windchill must have been 10 degrees or so, it was FREEZING and we were in blizzard-like conditions with the high winds and snowfall. We sang christmas carols as we crossed it and got some really magnificient views. When we got to the top of the mountain, we met a wizard there... seriously, he must have been a kindly wizard. He was just standing up there waiting for us as we climbed, and then chatted with us for a while, told us the state of the shelter a mile further on, and accepted our thanks as we left him atop his icy mountain fortress.
When we got to the shelter we met about a dozen college kids who had (thankfully) already started a fire, and so we thawed out. Fortunately for us, the shelter is one of the best on the AT (it's on the cover of one of the guidebooks). A converted barn, it has an upper loft area that is totally enclosed and kept us out of the wind. We chilled with the college students for a while, and they gave us hot dogs (woot!). They say it will warm up a bit tomorrow, though tonight should be our coldest night yet.

Its Snowing!

10-17-09 day 137
start: Kincora Hostel, TN
end: Mountaineer Shelter, TN
daily mileage: 15.6
total mileage: 1781.3

We still had a bunch of food so we made another big breakfast before heading out. It was still cold out but the rain had stopped and I think we all had the same itch to get moving. Bob told us about a program called Hardcore. Its a trail maintenance trip that takes place the weekend after Trail Days. So after you hiked and got to use the trail and then indulged in all the debauchery of Trail Days you can make penance buy helping to fix trail, sounds like a good program. It uses hikes under the theory that they are the ones with the legs to get back into places other people can't work.

We all left except No Money and Fiddler who were only headed 6 miles, we gotta keep moving so I don't know if we'll see No Money again. It was an awesome brisk day and we moved fast. I think all of us felt great to be back out. When I say brisk, that only lasted down in the valley, by the time we got back up in the mountains it was down right cold, then it started actually snowing! Again we did the quick lunch of snacks and stuff before pressing onto the next shelter. Mountaineer Shelter is nice and big, and better yet way down off the ridge so we could escape some of the cold. It was still freezing down there so with frozen hands we fixed dinner and then bundled up with all we had and jumped in our sleeping bags. We even got the tarp out to lay over top of ourselves a trap in more heat. Its gonna be a cold night...

Unexpected zero at Kincora

10-16-09 day 136
start: Kincora Hostel in Dennis Cove, TN
end: Kincora Hostel in Dennis Cove, TN
daily mileage: 0
total mileage: 1765.7

We woke up to more horrible weather, and cooked up the delicious breakfast that we'd bought yesterday at the grocery in the hostel's kitchen. Supplemented, of course, by all the fantastic foods that the U.T. students had left for us the night before! We ate our delicious breakfast, and spent a good, long time looking out the windows at the cold, nasty rain out there. Neither of us wanted to hike in it... but we had to get to Springer at some point, and we'd just zeroed (several times) recently. I was for hiking on, but it became increasingly clear that Sea Monster didn't want to. But I really do think we would have hiked on except for the fact that the girls (and boys, I guess) of UT were supposedly coming back for a little bit that night. Having had such a good time hanging out with them the night before, we decided not to let hiking get in the way of our trail experience and stay for the day.

We found this zero to be somewhat like our other recent one in Damascus. We had no internet (so no blog updating) and no cell service, so we just hung out and read and chatted, staying out of the bad weather. It was nice. The other guys went into town to get more spaghetti supplies for dinner, and Fiddler showed up as well. So it was now Sea Monster, Buffalo, No Money, Root Beer Float, Icarus, and me. We got some bad news when we found out that the UT students weren't coming back, but made the best of it by launching into a post-dinner game of Risk between me, Sea Monster, Fiddler, and Root Beer Float. It ran pretty late, and we ended up calling it a draw. This happened around 11 pm.

I then launched into one of my admittedly nerdier endeavors. I decided it was high time someone figured out the probability of a victory, given X men on an attacking country and Y on a defending. This turns out to be really hard. You have to account for the 3 dice rolled by the attacker (with the lowest one not counting), then comparing the rolls with the tie going to the defender... anyway, I was up until 3:45 figuring it out, but I'll be damned if I didn't! So I am now a formidable Risk foe, with the power of math at my side! While I was figuring this out, some section hikers called around midnight to get directions into the hostel... Sea Monster guided them in. They were really lucky we were up that late.

And There Were Girls There!

10-15-09 day 135
start: Vandeventer Shelter, TN
end: Kincora Hostel, TN
daily mileage: 17.5
total mileage: 1765.7

We woke up to more cold this morning. I've said before getting up and out when its cold is hard but when the wind is blowing and its wet its even worse. The six of us: Me, Disney, No Money, Buffalo, Icarus, and Root Beer, moved along together pretty much all day on our way into the hostel. Sometime before lunch we crossed the Watauga Dam, it was built in the 30's by the TVA. While the gorge it spanned was nice, being out of the tree cover even for the 5 minutes it took to cross the dam was brutal. We got to the lunch shelter and didn't even cook, we just dug out some snacks and pounded 'em down quickly so we could keep moving. We moved pretty fast so by the time we hit Kincora we were only half-frozen. Kincora is the name of the hostel run by Bob Peoples, a big time organizer of trail maintenance round these parts. In fact he was the lead guy on most of the shelter builds in the area; he's pretty sweet.

When we got there we found Gooch, Bacon and Star Trek at the tail end of a 9 1/2 hour RISK game. Gooch and Bacon left while Star Trek stayed behind. Getting our laundry done and having a hot shower was amaaaazing after being out in the weather. Bob drove us to town where we re-supplied and each got a $5 large pizza from Little Caesars to take back. We also got a bunch of stuff to use for breakfast in the morning. Back at the hostel Bob told that a group of 25 University of Tennessee students would be staying here tonight, because they were on a Fall Break service type trip, with trail maintenance and what not. What that meant for us was new faces to talk to an moreover, female faces to talk to.

Their advisor came early and decided that the place was going to be too small and rustic for the group to be comfortable sleeping but they came anyway to cook their dinner. It was great, we had a huge fresh audience to impress with tales of the trail. Plus, there were girls and we got some mucho beard respect. While they didn't stay the night, we had an awesome evening chatting and embellishing stories, I almost forgot what it was like to be around real people!

Cold Rainy Day 1/3

10-14-09 day 134
start: Double Spring Shelter, TN
end: Vandeventer Shelter, TN
daily mileage: 14.4
total mileage: 1748.2

It was a cold night, and we woke up to some cold, cold rain. We're hiking in a biggish group, and No Money had decided to sleep in his hammock last night - the poor guy really seemed trapped in the elements out there as we were packing up in our shelter. We started hiking in just our T-shirts (as usual), but only made it about 5 minutes down the trail before we stopped and realized that wasn't going to work. We put on our warm layer and our rain gear overtop, and continued hiking in our toasty warm clothes. It's the first time we've ever hiked in warm layers - up to this point the body heat we've generated while hiking has always been enough.

When we got to the lunch shelter, we froze our butts off while we waited for our food to cook. None of the other thru-hikers we're with have warm lunches, so they were all able to scarf down a cold lunch and leave before they got too cold. I'm telling you, sitting still in that freezing cold rainy weather is not a good idea!

We got to Vandeventer and couldn't decide whether or not to hike on and only do 10 miles tomorrow, or to stay and do 17 tomorrow. It was pretty clear that the day couldn't be worse tomorrow, so we decided to stay the night and jump into our sleeping bags. Everyone was tightly packed and cozy in the shelter, and the wind and rain were really howling all around... we were really looking forward to the hostel tomorrow!

Peace Out VA, Its Been Fun...

10-13-09 day 133
start: The Place @ Damascus, VA
end: Double Spring Shelter, TN
daily mileage: 18.5
total mileage: 1733.8

After our sweet 0 we had, in fact, accomplished nothing, so we had to go grocery shopping this morning. After buying what we could from the Dollar General, we went over to the outfitter to see if they could fix the tips on Disney's poles. They ended replacing the whole bottom sections of his Black Diamond poles with Lekis so that's cool. After fixing the poles the guy at the shop evidently decided he and Disney were friends and offered him a Mountain Hardwear hiking kilt (man-skirt) with a broken clip for free. Those things probably go for $50 or 60 retail so he got a pretty good deal. Around 10 the post office finally got the weekend shipment of packages and we went and picked up some nice care packages, thanks guys!

We finally left town around 11:30 but were able to move quickly over the easy terrain. Soon after leaving Damascus we crossed the long sought after VA-TN state line and were able to say goodbye forever VA! We got to the shelter around 6 and met up with Buffalo, Icarus, and Root Beer Float. No Money showed up later. We also met Nexus for the first time who was out with his girlfriend, who would be accompanying him for a few days. Unfortunately it is supposed to rain tonight and stay wet for the next couple of days, lame.

The Abingdon movie theater is nice, but run by the gestapo!

10-12-09 day 132
start: The Place @ Damascus, VA
end: The Place @ Damascus, VA
daily mileage: 0
total mileage: 1715.3
We took the opportunity to sleep in nice and late, and then, when we woke up, to do pretty much nothing at all. Sea Monster went to MoeJoe's for coffee and internet (I slept in past that, even) and then we got back to the hostel and just lazed about reading all day. The library was closed (Sunday) and would be tomorrow as well (Columbus Day), so we couldn't update the blog... there was no cell signal, so we couldn't call home. Frankly, these things were kind of nice... it's nice to take a zero day and not feel like you need to do a bunch of things during it. Anyway, a bit before noon Star Trek (a fellow flip-flopper we'd just met) had by some crazy random happenstance run into a friend of his, Magic, while wandering around town. Magic was a northbounder who finished the trail two weeks ago and lives in Damascus. Star Trek summited Katahdin with the guy, and just happened to run into him wandering around his home town! It was crazy. In any case, Magic came over and offered to slackpack people 15 miles down the trail. Despite this being a great offer, we refused (we were in lazy zero-mode at this point) but got him to drive us 10 miles into a nearby town with a movie theater instead! Awesome!
After he kindly shared some snack food with us on the drive over, he dropped us off in the movie theater in Abingdon just a few minutes after the movie we wanted to watch (Zombieland) had started. We decided we wanted the full experience, so we wandered over to the nearby grocery store and bought copious amounts of snackfood. It was around 3:00 by now and neither of us had eaten breakfast or lunch, so I ate a large box of cookies, a bag of cheesy party mix, and a bunch of Nutty Bars. Sea Monster ate a whole large can of spam, a bunch of candy, and a bag of salt and vinegar chips. Delicous and nutritious.
We went back to the theater at 4:30 for the next showing, and found that the theater was run by the Gestapo! I tried to sneak some Nutty Bars in (admittedly I wasn't very sneaky about it) and was caught. They threatened to throw me out, and only after some negotiation was I able to put them outside and proceed in. It was about 4:15 at this point. They let us in, but the theater was still showing the previous showing. So we waited outside the theater door for a while, and someone came up and accused us of trying to sneak into a second showing! The readers of our blog will certainly share our offense at this injudicious attack on our moral character!
After clarifying that situation, the man escorted us into the now emptying theater and reminded us not to eat any snuck-in candy that had gotten past their hellaciously keen candy-detecting faculties, as they employed someone other than the projectionist to watch the audience and radio in any suspicious candy-eating behavior. I'm serious here. To prove the point, he was called away from our conversation by one of these candy-nazis who informed him that someone was clearly eating snuck-in candy in the neighboring showing of Couples Retreat. As he left to deal with this law-breaker, we thought we heard the sound of a pistol being cocked as his footsteps faded into the distance.
The movie was awesome, though! Really funny. Needless to say, Sea Monster did not enjoy any of his candy during the film.
When the movie ended around 6:00, we spent about 2 hours trying vainly to get a ride back to Damascus. We asked people leaving the grocery, we thumbed by the road all to no avail. It grew dark, and we grew more certain that we would die there. In desperation, Sea Monster went up to a catholic church in which a discussion group was clearly being held. When someone came out to ask what he wanted, he informed them of our situation and they told us that one of them lived near Damascus... but the discussion group wouldn't end for another 45 minutes or so, would we like to join them? So we went in and contributed to their discussion group for a while! It was mostly a meet-and-greet thing where they were just ironing out the syllabus for future meetings, so we mostly just chatted and had a good time with them. By the time one of them drove us home it was 9:00, and we'd spent about 7 hours in Abingdon for an 80 minute movie. Awesome!
We grabbed some pizza at Quincey's again (our first real meal of the day) and spent the evening hanging out with our southbound friends. All in all, a good zero.

I feel that I should add a note about Trail Days. Every spring, the tiny town of Damascus hosts the biggest trail event of the year, Trail Days. During this event, this town of 800 people explodes to 22,000 current hikers, former hikers, section hikers, and probably a few people who are just there for the party. There's a huge parade through the center of town, and generally it's supposed to be an amazing time. We're both planning on coming back for Trail Days next year, that's for sure!

The Emerald City

10-11-09 day 131
start: Lost Mountain Shelter, VA
end: The Place @ Damascus, VA
daily mileage: 15.8
total mileage: 1715.3

We got up bright and early, with a very real sense of Christmas morning, we were going to Damascus today! While still in VA, Damascus basically marks the end of a month and a half long Virginian odyssey. Plus, its know as the friendliest town on the trial. About two miles south of the shelter the AT intersects the Virginia Creeper Trail. The VCT is a rails to trails conversion and serves primarily as a bike trail. We saw it as a super flat shorter alternative to the AT that also runs straight into Damascus. So we hopped on the Creeper Trail and cruised along over awesome old rail bridged and through a canopy of technicolor trees. Autumn in Dixie is great.

The section of the AT between Lost Mountain Shelter and Damascus is ~16 miles but by hopping on the Creeper Trail we did the "16 trail miles" in under 4 hours! Hitting town was like Dorothy getting to the Emerald City, here we were, Damascus, finally! We stopped into "The Place" a hostel run by the Methodidt Church. We found out Gooch, Bacon, and Icarus, as well as a bunch of others were all here, great! There's not much in Damascus, but it is a great little town and it does have laundry and Quincey's pizza. We we went and got pizza and beer, it was great celebrating with boys!

Sweet weekender friends

10-10-09 day 130
start: Thomas Knob Shelter, VA
end: Lost Mountain Shelter, VA
daily mileage: 12.2
total mileage: 1699.5

After our shortcut of the day before we were able to do just 12 miles today, so we took it easy. It was a cold, rainy morning in the highlands (which is too bad, because they are otherwise so cool!) with nasty stinging rain, but we got out of it shortly after we descended back into the forest. We met up with a weekend group headed to the same shelter as we are. They seemed cool as we passed them, so we figured it would be fun to hang out with them that night in the shelter. Then we passed a college group also going to that shelter! It's going to be a party (/ a nightmare trying to fit!). We got to the shelter in time for lunch, and staked out our spots and made some food. When the weekend group arrived it was revealed that most of them wanted to tent out anyway, so only 2 joined us in the shelter. No Money and Fiddler arrived and informed us that they'd passed the college group, which had decided to find a quieter spot to camp. So there was plenty of room after all!

The weekenders (about 10 or 12 of them) were apparently a group from, a website where people can find others with similar interests and so make friends. They had all just met that morning. It was really cool how well they seemed to gel with one another though, and made me want to check it out. They invited us to join them on an excursion a mile and a half down the trail to a river crossing to go for a swim, which all four of us thru-hikers naturally refused. When you've hiked 1,700 miles over the last few months, non-trail miles seem like a bad idea. So we slept and read instead. When the got back, we built a fire and Fiddler seranaded us with bluegrass music while we swapped stories and hung out with the hikers. One older lady in particular had led a sweet life... she told us all about how she frequently hopped trains across country in her youth, and how she was leaving next weekend with another group to climb the redwoods out west! It's always fun to hear about people who continue to do fun and exciting things even into their old age.

Ear Hungry Feral Ponies

10-9-09 day 129
start: Troutdale Baptist Church Hostel @ Troudale, VA
end: Thomas Knob Shelter, VA
daily mileage: 21.2
total mileage: 1687.3

We got going pretty slowly today. We packed up from the hostel and walked down the road to Jerry's General Store to see if we could get a ride back to the trail. Jerry was stocking stuff so while we waited we got an Internet fix and finally hit the trail around 11. We are having awesome luck and we had another fantastic day for hiking and ran into severl groups of people out for a day or two.

About 6 miles in we got to a road crossing through one of the gaps and took a look at the sheltered Forrest Service sign erected there. A quick look at the map posted revealed some fantastic short cut opportunities. The next section of the AT shoots way east then doubles back and heads west, resulting in a big 8 mile lobe. We discovered we could jump off the AT and cut straight across the ridge slashing 8 miles into 2 and actually end up further south on the trail than we were planning to be today. Just for fun we pretended to think about it for a minute before deciding on the plan.

The trial took us up on to the Greyson Highlands which was a stunning change of pace from the rest of VA. The woods opened up to a rolling treeless meadow, reminiscent of the Alpine areas way up in Maine. Not to mention the feral pony population! Seriously there's wild ponies up here, we saw 'em. Thomas Knob Shelter is up here on the highlands and its nice and big. We spent a lot of time discussing the likelihood of feral pony attacks and decided it would be a lot better if they were vicious and hungry for human ears. Also its supposed to storm like crazy tonight, sweet.

Section Hiker Lady to the rescue!

10-8-09 day 128
start: Partnership Shelter, VA
end: Troutdale Baptist Church Hostel, in Troutdale VA
daily mileage: 14.5
total mileage: 1666.1
No Money got out early and hitched into Marion for a resupply, but we'll meet up with him tonight at the hostel. We got started and found the hiking to be pretty easy today, and with our relatively early start we knew we'd get in to the hostel pretty early. We stopped for lunch at a stream and had fun filling up our water: Sea Monster stayed on the bridge about 15 feet over the water while I filled up the bottles and threw them up for him to catch. We took a nice long post-lunch break, with me reading (and eating copious amounts of super-discounted yogurt bars) and Sea Monster napping. Sea Monster was rudely awoken by a bee stinging his finger, just as No Money wandered by.
We also met up with the section hiker lady from the night before. She told us about her system of getting around, which is kind of interesting... she doesn't like carrying everything with her and she likes biking as well as hiking, so she drives to the point she'll end the day at, then rides her bike to where she'd like to begin hiking, hides the bike, and hikes to her car. Then the next morning she picks up the bike and starts all over! With all the driving and biking in the morning she gets a pretty late start hiking, but she seems to enjoy it, so more power to her!
We got to the road. Lo and behold, it was one of those friggen complicated intersections that I mentioned a few posts ago, where the companion forces a complicated situation to conform to it's very simple intersection format, and in so doing destroys all useful information. As a consequence, we stood there trying to get a hitch in the wrong direction for at least half an hour. Finally someone going the other way stopped, asked where we were going, and told us that Troutdale was the opposite way we were hitching... but by incredibly good luck, the way he was going! So we got into town.
After checking out the quaint general store, we wandered over to the church hostel. It's nothing fancy, but does provide showers and is free, so we're happy! No Money finally got in a few hours later (weird, since he was ahead of us) and we found out that he had been walking for miles the wrong way down the road (the same place we got mixed up), and was rescued by none other than the section hiker lady, who was also going to the hostel that night and just happened to see him as she drove past! Good job, section hiker lady!

Partnership and Pizza

10-7-09 day 125
start: Rural Retreat Historical Society Hostel, VA
end: Partnership Shelter, VA
daily mileage: 11.6
total mileage: 1651.6

We both slept in and woke up to find Icarus downstairs watching Gladiator. Disney and I prepared breakfast and ate while fast forwarding to all the good parts. We only had 11 miles to got today so after the Gladiator highlight reel we also watched Spiderman. We cleaned the place up and got a ride from Karen, the lady who lives next door. She was great to go out of her way to help us out. The trail picked up across the street from an Exxon station, and the lady inside told us Quidam had been through earlier. She said they fed him well, and got him hooked up with a sleeping bag, so that's good.

We got started around 2:30 and it was a fantastic day. At the trial head we met Star Trek and his mom Star Dust. She'll be hiking with him for a couple days but they are staying in town tonight. Just down the trial a piece from the Exxon is the settlers museum, and while we were in a bit of a hurry because it was late we did make time to check out the 1890's school house. On the wall were posted rules for teachers and students that supposedly abided by at the time. "One lash for every foot climbed into a tree above 3 feet" and "3 lashes for drinking spirituous liquor at school". Awesome.

We got into the Partnership Shelter around six. It is right next to the road and run by the wilderness lodge next door. Our guidebook promised hot showers but we were disappointed to discover the hot part was turned off for the season. We did however order pizza. The pizza place had a two for one deal and we were ordering for three people. It boiled down to paying $12 for 2, $24 for 3, or $24 for 4. So we got 4 pizzas, naturally. Icarus, No Money, and a new guy 'Root Beer Float' showed up late and we sold them our extra pizza before they went ahead and ordered their own. We stayed up in the loft for a while chatting before we went to bed. We're happy to see No money caught back up with us.


10-6-09 day 126
start: Knot Maul Branch Shelter, VA
end: Rural Retreat Historical Society Hostel @ Rural Retreat, VA
daily mileage: 14.0
total mileage: 1640.0

We met Quiddam in the morning when we awoke. He was an odd fellow, no doubt, but perhaps not deserving of the vast infamy he's accrued on the trail. He just sat and stared at us as we packed up, and answered questions when we asked them though he didn't talk otherwise. Odd, but certainly not frightening or anything like that.

We got out quickly and hiked with Icarus all day through cow pastures. We stopped in a beautiful little Rhodadendron grove for lunch, and met some bow hunters looking for deer. Icarus showed us his neat homemade wood burning stove that he cooks with, something of a novelty on the trail. We decided to stay at a free hostel in the town of Rural Retreat, a 6 mile hitch east from the trailhead. Unfortunately, this town was so tiny that there is no grocery store, so we had to start by hitching 10 miles west into the grocery store. We got picked up by some VERY weird ol' country boys who were barely comprehensible - some combination of the intense southern accent, the 50 years of tobacco / marijuanna damage their throats had each sustained, and probably generations of intensely un-biblical inbreeding. After politely refusing their offer to drive us to "the local whore-house" we were dropped off at the grocery. We grabbed some (lots of) spaghetti for dinner and biscuits and gravy for breakfast at the hostel.

We got our ride to the hostel from a super nice man who went way out of his way to take us there. The hostel was the coolest place ever... first of all, as the historical society of a tiny town like Rural Retreat, they needn't worry about capturing the vast range of important history the town embodies. No, Rural Retreat is known for one thing only - the Dr. Pepper was apparently born there (or lived there, or drove through there, or something). So the whole historical society building was decked out in Dr. Pepper stuff and the fridge was loaded with free Dr. Peppers. Secondly, they apparently put up student groups during the school year sometimes, so they had a full kitchen for our use, a huge bunkroom upstairs with heat, linens, and a shower! Third of all (and most importantly), there was a VCR and a ton of movies. So we went movie-crazy. In retrospect, we should have paced ourselves. But we sat down with our spaghetti and watched The Patriot, then An American Tale (yes, the cartoon about Fivel the mouse... Icarus went to bed in the middle of this one), and Dirty Dancing all in a row. Then Sea Monster went to bed and I stayed up to watch Garden State. At 3:00 I went to bed... but fear not, dear reader, we'll get some more movies in before we leave in the morning!

Badger Game

10-5-09 day 125
start: Island Camsite (Near Jenkins Shelter), VA
end: Knot Maul Branch Shelter, VA
daily mileage: 19.0
total mileage: 1626.0

The cold weather at night makes for nice sleeping, but it is hard to get out of your nice warm bag in the morning. We got a late start today. It turned out to be one of those long slow days, not helped by the fact that we took a 2 hour lunch after only 8 miles. Our laziness and bad planning left us fairly late in the afternoon with 11 miles to go...ugg.

Up on top of what I suppose is called Chestnut Knob, is the Chestnut Knob Shelter. It's a really nice spot. The woods opens up to a gorgeous sunny field and the shelter is a totally enclosed stone cabin. As with nearly every shelter there is graffiti craved and written on the walks, and this is where I will digress momentarily. Our first day back on trail after our flip we got off the train in Harper's Ferry and met Queen Becky. She said she was a hiker but she was wearing blue jeans and just generally seemed strange. At the time we didn't think anything of it, but in the time since then we have come to loathe this woman. We get constant reminders of her idiocy in the form of giant scrawled graffiti at what seems like every shelter and even on signs along the trail. She likes to make bad drawings of flowers and salamanders and stuff, Queen Becky you are an idiot.

As we hiked late into the afternoon we seriously stared reconsidering the need to get up early. We slid into the shelter just before dark and met up with Icarus and a guy we met yesterday 'Rabbit'.

Also for the first time we ran into 'Quidam'. We have heard so much about this guy we were wondering if we would ever actually meet him. He is generally believed to be insane and always writes crazy, nonsensical things in the trail journal. His entries always beginning, "I enjoyed the shelter and the AT. I am a wacrour-noun-French Law- a vagrant" and are always signed "Quidam identity-theft badger game". He was asleep when we got here but is said to hike always with big construction safety goggles and have conversations with himself including several distinctly different voices. Here he was in the shelter with his school book bag, and duffel filled with god knows what and curled up in all his clothes without a sleeping bag. You have to feel kinda sorry for the guy, but anyway we both look forward to meeting him tomorrow.

As an adult, breakfast is whatever you say it is!

10-4-09 day 124
start: Helvey's Mill Shelter, VA
end: Island Campsite (near) Jenkins Shelter, VA
daily mileage: 14.0
total mileage: 1607.0
We headed into Bland, VA (seriously?) for a resupply in the morning. Fiddler and No Money also did, so we're hoping that we'll run into them later. Now, for this to make sense you need to know something about our guidebook, The Companion. It lays out most information in a table format, with each line giving a mileage and information about the waypoint. So when we go into town, it tells us where the trail crosses that road, and how many miles down is a town in which direction. Sometimes, however, the trail crosses a complicated interchange, or crosses a small road that leads to a bigger road which leads into town. In these cases, the companion invariably just condenses everything into one waypoint, "simplifying" things and making it seem like the trail just crosses the bigger road. They have a system that works for simple intersections, so why give additional information when it's not actually that simple? Just force it! One is supposed to know, magically, how these complicated intersections work.

Rant notwithstanding, we got a bit lost and had to backtrack about a mile. But we eventually got directions and a hitch from a really nice family on its way back from church who dropped us off at the town grocery. They didn't have our normal bagel-and-cream-cheese breakfast foods, so Sea Monster got a 1-lb pound cake and 1-lb can of frosting for breakfast, and I got a giant 2lb tub of cheesecake filling for my most important meal of the day (which I ended up sprinkling cookie crumbs in). Being a grown up is awesome!

We had some subway for lunch, and enventually got back on the trail. We met a guy who was hiking a section northbound with some friends, but had apparently gone past the shelter (he was aiming for the same shelter we were aiming for) and needed help. It was strange meeting this man, a 40-something, who seemed so incredibly helpless and frightened... I mean, he had just gone a bit too far, but he really latched on to us and practically begged us to help him. In any case, he followed us back south and we got him to the shelter. We decided to camp a bit north of the shelter on a really idyllic, beautiful penninsula looking patch of land formed by a river. We built a fire, cooked our dinner over it, had some hot chocolate, and had a really nice, quiet night.

The Mighty Brushy Mountain

10-3-09 day 123
start: Dismal Falls, VA
end: Helvy's Mill Shelter, VA
daily mileage: 18.2
total mileage: 1593.0

I left this morning without filling my water bottle from the millions of gallons that were pouring over the falls. I didn't think much about it at the time but regretted my decision later. We spent the day on a ridge and climbed to the top of a bump on the ridge called, "Brushy Mountain". This would be totally inconsequential except for the fact that we climbed another point today also called Brushy Mountain, and looking ahead in the book we have 3 more Brushy Mountains as well as a Little Brushy Mountain. I mean really, that's not even a great name to use once let alone 6 times. Tell you what VA, if you are running out of ideas for names of peaks name one "Sea Monster Mountain"

We met up with Gootch, Bacon, and Fiddler at lunch. We had enough water to cook our food but I was defiantly regretting not filling up. No Money showed up just as we were leaving. Just before the shelter we met a family out for a couple of days. It was two brothers, their boys, and grandpa. They were nice people,and they have us marshmallows.

Finally back on the trail, but more good times at Dismal Falls

10-2-09 day 122
start: Woods Hole Hostel at Sugar Run Gap, VA
end: Dismal Creek Falls, VA
daily mileage: 12.0
total mileage: 1574.8
We woke up for a tasty breakfast of French Toast, and sat around chatting for a while. We joked about zeroing again to build a treehouse or something fun like that, but knew that we had to get to Springer eventually, so we slowly began packing. For the first time, I engaged in what would become one of many friendly arguments between myself and Icarus (I forget if this one was about the existence of perpetual motion machines, if singing to water changes its chemical properties, whether 9/11 and the moon landing were government hoaxes, if Wal-Mart purposely distracts the public's attention from politics in order to exploit them, if there exists a universal consciousness between all human beings... sigh). But soon we were all ready to leave, and after engaging in one last rousing chorus of "Country Roads" with No Money leading the way on guitar, were off for our 12 mile day.
Sea Monster, Gooch, Bacon, Fiddler and I ate lunch on a beautiful rock overlook and hiked (on and off) together the rest of the way into Dismal Falls. They were beautiful falls, and after we set up our shelter near them No Money arrived and we all built a fire on a rock outcropping by the falls. Just like back in scouts, we then proceeded to stay up late into the night trading stories and having a good time. Excellent...

The Halcyon Days of Autumn

10-1-09 day 121
start: Woods Hole Hostel, VA
end: Woods Hole Hostel, VA
daily mileage: 0.0
total mileage: 1562.8

We woke up at at 7:30 to the call of pre-breakfast coffee. We sat around drinking coffee and Neville prepared some fantastic biscuits. After breakfast, we sat around feeling lazy and jammed out a couple more choruses of 'Country Roads'. Folks, this is the way bad decisions happen. Neville came over and suggested that she would give us half-price meals if we all decided to 0 again and help build the fire pit, oh man. Gootch responded with, "Can we ruminate for a minute?...", then to us very candidly, "I'm in". So after a 0 and a ten mile slack pack we 0'd again, not our finest hour.

We got to work on the fire pit and honestly it was great. I was the kind of work where the weather is fantastic and you're together with a what are quickly becoming good friends. We were joking and laughing, and just having a great time. That's not to say the work progressed very efficiently. Without any clear directive it became a 2 steps forward 1 step back kind of affair, not to mention the never ending game of fetch that went on with the dog, Amakooah. Because we are all SOBOs we inlaid stone AT symbol pointing south.

When we finished, we stood around admiring our work, and Michael came around the side of the house with a cat carrier filled with Yueingling. Nice, a day of work capped with a couple of beers. Neville took us down the road to a neighboring field, just because it was a nice place to frolic. And frolic we did, everyone was so cheerful and happy, was truly amazing.

Back at the house we lit a fire in the new pit while a lovely dinner of pizza and pasta was prepared. We sat around the fire all night jamming and singing. Put a guitar in his hands and turns out No Money can really play and sing. All and all it was an idyllic autumn day filled with whimsy and mirth.

10 Mile Slackpack Between Two Hostels. or: Are We Even Hikers Anymore?

9-30-09 day 120
start: Holy Family Catholic Church Hostel in Pearisburg, VA
end: Woods Hole Hostel at Sugar Run Gap, VA
daily mileage: 10.4
total mileage: 1562.8

Father Pernelli had offered to pay for breakfast if we'd all come over and eat with him this morning, so we went over to the church for breakfast at 8. No Money was on pancake duty, LB took the bacon and sausages, and Sea Monster tended to various things like the biscuits and gravy. Together, they created what was truly a breakfeast. There was enough pancakes, eggs, bacon, buiscuits, gravy, sausage, and orange juice for 8 perpetually hungry hikers to eat to our fill... it was incredible. It was a slow morning, as we all decided that we were just going to do 10 miles to the next hostel just south. Icarus called to let them know there would be 8 hikers arriving that night, and the hostel owner told us that she was heading into Pearisburg anyway and offered to slack pack us the 10 miles to her hostel! AWESOME! So she drove over and picked up our packs, and we had a very relaxed saunter over to Woods Hole!

Woods Hole is really awesome. The owners (Neville and Michael) are newliweds, and just took over running the hostel from Neville's grandmother, who recently passed away. It's been an AT landmark for years, so it's really great that it's still open. It's a really old, rustic looking farmhouse, and is absolutely beautiful. She suckered us into dinner for a few extra bucks, and had an awesome meal with a salad course and tasty, tasty burgers. All 12 of us (the 8 thru-hikers, Neville and Michael, and two elderly section hikers) all sat down family style after each naming something we were thankful for, which was really cool. Fiddler got out his fiddle and played some awesome bluegrass for us all, and No Money found a guitar and started demonstrating his rather formidable talents, and Sea Monster and I found some bongos and played along. It was sweet.

Afterwards, we watched Adventureland on their projector (which I really enjoyed) and stayed up late chilling in the bunkhouse. An awesome night... we're definitely with some really cool people, and it's been fun spending so much time with them.


9-29-09 day 119
start: Holy Family Catholic Church Hostel, @ Pearisburg VA
end: Holy Family Catholic Church Hostel, @ Pearisburg VA
daily mileage: 0.0
total mileage: 1552.4

Up at 8 and over to the church to meet Father Pernelli on his invitation for coffee. When I say the man could talk, that's putting it mildly. The Father kept us going for 3 hours, regaling us with hilarious stories from a lifetime of adventures in the service of the Church, and filled with more than a few colorful words. After four pots of coffee and nothing to eat we when back and Disney and I whipped up a great breakfast of pancakes and eggs.

Disney went back over to the church to give Father P a hand with his computer. In the meantime I spent the lazy cold fall day, loafing around the rustic, cozy, old, hostel and kept the wood fire burning. News came back that Father P offered to pay for breakfast supplies if we wanted to run and get then for the morning. Another trip to Wal-Mart was in order anyway to re-supply, so we picked up some breakfast stuff as well as brats for tonight. We met a new face at the store, 'Icarus' is from Italy and was on his way to the hostel too.

At dinner time it became apparent that everyone had the same idea with the brats. The night became know as "Bratzapalooza". Disney and I fixed ours with an egg on the bun and put down 5 each...epic. We all sat around shootin' the breeze and having a good time until late that night, feeling great after a nice easy 0.

There should NOT be a barbed-wire fence here

9-28-09 day 118
start: Bailey Gap Shelter, VA
end: Holy Family Catholic Church Hostel in Pearisburg, VA
daily mileage: 23.2
total mileage: 1552.4

We found ourselves in a delicate situation this morning - hike 23 miles to Pearisburg, or find ourselves totally without food tomorrow and starve to death. Actually, we always try to buy food such that this happens before a town, because it's a great motivator to make big miles. So, we woke up nice and early (5:30) and started our hike in the dark.

We made it 4 miles to the next shelter where several of our friends were staying the night and hadn't yet left, and pushed on. It was windy and cloudy, and we were all on tinderhooks to see if the rain would hold out. We enjoyed a lunch on top of a beautiful ridge with No Money, Fiddler, Gooch, and Bacon (all of whom are also headed to Pearisburg) and made awesome time... we ended up getting into Pearisburg around 3. The town is SUPER spread out though, with the trail about 3 miles south of downtown and the hostel about 2 miles north of it. We got a hitch downtown, but had to walk all the way up to the hostel and didn't get there for another hour or so.

We decided that this was the perfect place to celebrate Sea Monster's birthday, so we decided to wander down a crazy side trail from the hostel to a Mexican restaurant. This "side trail" mostly consisted of us bushwhacking across an overgrown field with no discernable markings, and eventually climbing 15 feet down a moat-like ditch and then back out to reach the shopping center. When we finally got there, I bought Sea Monster a margarita and we had some delicious mexican... though we did make the mistake of assuming that the hot sauce they gave us could be slathered onto everything as we've been doing with Tobasco for the last several months, and nearly burned our tongues off.

We then wandered over to Wal-mart (just next to the restaurant) and got some food to cook in the hostel the next day (as we were planning on zeroing in Pearisburg). As we foolishly frittered our time away in Wally World, however, the sun very inconspicuously began to set. We left the store in the pitch black, and quickly realized that bushwhacking through this crazy field would be impossible... there were ditches everywhere, we had no headlamps, and death was assured. So we stood outside Walmart for a while, looking like hobos, asking random people to drive us to the hostel. After about half an hour of rejections, we grew desperate. It was time to brave the bushwhack back.

My memory of the return journey is dominated by images of us crawling through hedges and climbing over barbed-wire fences. We discovered an entire pond that we'd never seen before. And yet, somehow, we made it back alive, another adventure completed.

Impart on us Poor Mortals Your Wisdom 'Oh Great Oak!

9-27-09 day 117
start: Sarver Hollow Shelter, VA
end: Bailey Gap Shelter, VA
daily mileage: 21.0
total mileage: 1529.2

Weather looked much better this morning. That did not however change the fact that we had to face the prospect of putting on soaking wet, cold clothes before we could get going. Once we braced ourselves through that hurdle the day went off great. After a quick 3 miles we got to see the huge Keffer Oak. Its the oldest oak tree on the southern stretch of the AT, and at 300 years old and about 6ft in diameter, it is awesome. As we took a short break underneath its venerable canopy we could feel a palpable sense of emanating wisdom, just like Rafiki's tree from The Lion King.

After the monsoon yesterday it was a welcome relief when the weather broke into a fantastic cool crisp autumn day. We hiked through a lot of nice southern farmland, complete with cows and donkeys. Fields can be nice but the wet grass soaks your feet, so we found a nice sunny spot for lunch and we able to dry out. The day seemed to drag kinda long but we have to make the miles to Pearsiburg tomorrow otherwise we will run out of food, so how's that for motivation.

When I did eventually make it to the shelter I met a couple of guys out for a few days. The one had thru-hiked last year. I sat around for awhile chatting and waiting for Disney, assuming he'd taken a wrong turn down a Forest service road or something. When he arrived he explained that he'd made the mistake of quickly asking an old man which direction the trail went, and grossly misinterpreting the request the gentleman launched into a 10 minute description of the ATs meandering from Maine to Georgia, thanks buddy...

We have to make 23 miles to Pearisburg tomorrow so we plan to get up a 5:30 tomorrow and get a jump on the day.