Monday, April 30, 2012

What happens on the AT stays on the AT - almost

YouTube Video

When we looked at the elevation profile for the hike into Marion, Virginia, it looked really easy, but it turned out to be a real roller coast - hill after hill, after hill - well, you get the idea.  I think it's because we were kind of anxious to reach town, and the hills just seemed to be in the way! The day also got REALLY warm, and when I had a chance, I changed into a sleeveless shirt, for the first time in weeks, and put my hair up off of my neck. 
We reached the South Forkl Holston River, and also a road, VA 620, and found Craftsman and Steamroller camped there, and also some trail magic!  The Valley View Baptist Church Youth had left a cooler full of Pepsi and Root Beer, and a big cooler full of snacks!  I would have to think that most thru-hikers, by the time the finish the AT, have a pretty high opinion of Baptists. They had left a nice note and journal for the thru-hikers to sign, and so after we signed it, we looked through to see who was in front of us, and discovered that while we had stopped at a side shelter for water, Biscuits must have passed us.  We would have loved to have seen him.  We have not seen him since he met us for breakfast our last morning in Damascus. 
It just seemed to take forever to reach the Mt. Rogers Visitor Center, but we finally did.  I promise never to take level ground for granted again.  We made a bee line for the bathroom (running water!) and vending machines (darn!  Pepsi products!) once we reached the Visitor Center.   I had to laugh at the sign in the restroom:  "Please do not wash your clothes, dishes or your hair in our sinks.  Please do not throw your pizza boxes in these trash cans."  There was a thru-hiker shelter just a hundred yards away. 
We soon learned that the shuttle did not run this late, but that thru-hikers get picked up easily  on the highway (even the County police will give you a ride).  What we soon discovered, was the cars were all going the other direction, and no one was going our way.  We must have tried to get a ride for 30 minutes.  This is especially difficult when you know you have a hot shower waiting on the other end.  I personally do not like hitchhiking.  If it takes very long to get a ride, I start to feel like the kid in school who never got picked to be on the team.  Talk about rejection!
I nice young man eventually stopped and offered us a ride in the back of his pickup truck.  Actually, this is the best scenario, because we haven't showered in 4 days, and I can't imagine us being inside a car with a non-hiker.  Ewww!  Once we were in the back, I started reaching his back window.  He had both Nascar and the south very well represented.  In fact, the south was so well represented, that I advised Keith not to talk.  Once we told him where we needed to go, he told us he would take us a different way, did a rather quick u-turn, and then headed down a side road off into the woods.  We all three looked at each other, with that "concerned" look on our faces.  We all held on tight, and ended up getting taken on a very fast, curvy ride through the mountains.  Apparently, our driver knew "a shortcut", and we were at the hotel in no time.  Make no mistake -- there are times, we are really glad we are hiking with a retired State Policeman. 
Thankfully, they have a transit system like Fort Smith's here, and when we return to the trail, we can call and request to be picked up.  It will only cost us fifty cents, and they will return us to the trail!

Sunday, April 29, 2012


We headed out today hoping to put in around 16  miles, so we would not have too far to hike before reaching our next town, Marion, Virginia. 
After a couple of miles, we came upon some men camping together.  Swamprat got to them first, and began visiting.  There is something that thru-hikers do called "Yogi-ing", named after Yogi Bear - remember how he always got food out of the campers? Some thru-hikers are very good at getting food out of people, and Swamprat recently discovered that he  has a knack for this.  He had walked up,  started visiting with these folks, let it be known that he had been hiking the AT for 6 weeks, and still had 1700 miles to go, and before you know it, these campers are offering him fresh baked apple cobbler that they have just baked in their huge dutch oven!  Luckily, we are included in his group, and so we are all treated to cobbler (bad time for me to be gluten-intolerant), and they continue to offer drinks, coffee, beer, pretty much whatever they have left over, because they are packing up and heading home after a weekend campout.  At first, I thought Swamprat had stumbled across Trail Magic, but then learned that he had sort of finessed his way into this situation.  I ended up with a big ziploc bag of rocky road chocolate bars.  Not too shabby. 
Probably just 2 miles later, we came to a road crossing, and once again, Swamprat started visiting with this young couple before we ever came out of the woods, and by the time we reached him, the young man, named Sean, asked me if I wanted a banana or a drink.  I said yes to both.  He and his girlfriend, Kat, had been camping for the weekend, but were just about to head out, and so ended up giving us cold drinks, apples, and bananas!  Yogi strikes again!
After this second unexpected morning snack, we hiked on.  Before long, we met a thru-hiker named Bamboo Bob, who was thru-hiking for his third time.  He looked to be in his late-sixties.  We also came across two brothers named GQ and Maxus, both in their twenties.  Swamprat had camped with them early on, but we had not.  While we were taking a break with them, we were surprised when Steamroller and Craftsman came stumbling out of the nearby shelter.  They said they had been taking a nap.  (Remember our AT troublemakers?)  We had not seen them since before Roan Mountain, and I would have bed money, that we would not see them again.  But here they were, minus Turtle.  They said Turtle was a day ahead of them.  Craftsman was hiking with a huge hatchet hanging from his belt.  Steamroller was still hiking in a long kilt.  Pretty humorous image, really.  I promise to take a picture next time.  They told us they had been bushwacking again, and this time ended up going through a cave, and cross a railroad tressle 50 feet in the air, and had to dangle from a rope.  Really?  Do we look this gullible?   They hiked on ahead of us, and we told them we'd see them up the trail.
That evening we ended up catching up to  GQ and his brother, and camping with them.  They already  had a nice fire going when we arrived.  When they saw us, they said, 'Did you guys see the bear?"  We told them we had not.  They told us that right after they left us, they crossed the next ridge, and there had been a bear sitting up in the woods about 50 yards off of the trail. The bear had just sat and watched them as they passed. I figure I'm probably passing a lot  of bears and next seeing them, because I'm always watching where I put my feet!  I only manage to trip about 20 times a day, it seems like!  Maxus and GQ had been laid up in Damascus for 5 days while waiting for Maxus to recover from a stomachbug.  They finally went to a doctor and got medication.  He said he had been given an antibiotic, and was feeling better.  
That night, the brothers took turns playing their ukele and singing a bit around the fire.  They both played guitar, and after starting the hike, had asked their dad to order them a ukele, because they  could carry that easily.  They had looked up chords on line, and had been practicing it at night.  It was actually really nice to listen to around camp.
That night, the temperature was the warmest yet at night. The sleeping bags were just too much, and we ended up opening up the rain fly, to get a breeze.  We are going to have to pick up a fleece blanket soon to use at night.
(Camped at Dickey Gap, mile 516.1)

Saturday, April 28, 2012

We Only Came for the Ponies!!!

As we packed up this morning, it kept misting lightly, and we couldn't decide if we should pack up or hang out in the tent for a while.  We finally decided to go for it, and immediately began climbing.  We climbed for quite a while, and soon had to put on long sleeves, as the wind start blowing really hard.  The wind could really chill you fast, especially if the top of the mountain was a bald, which this one was. When we reached the top, it was blowing SO hard, I was glad I had my trekking poles to brace myself with, and after a couple of photos (If I climbed this far, I'm going to take a picture, dang it!), we hurried down off of the summit back into the trees, to warm up.
Before too long, we reached a small parking lot, it was warming up, the sun was finally coming out, and we saw dayhikers and a Boy Scout Troop gathering.  This was always a good sign for us, if campers were out for the weekend, because that meant the weather report was good.  We inquired about the wild ponies that we knew would be in the area, and were told we would most likely see them at the Thomas Knob Shelter, which we were hiking by in about 4 miles.  We also chatted with a nice lady named Jen, who was dayhiking by herself.  She ended up hiking with us for quite a while, and we enjoyed her company.  She had some friends who were supposed to come, but they did not make it.  She enjoys hiking on the weekend, and today her target was Mt. Rogers, which was the highest peak in Virginia.  She lives up the trail about 200 miles, so we got some good information from her about some things to expect in a few weeks, and hope to connect with her then, and possibly go out to eat together. 
Before Jen split off from our trail, we all spied a pony on the trail, and soon saw more. They were obviously used to hikers, and were expecting a handout.  We were not prepared to give them anything, and so they would try to lick the sweat off of our legs and backpacks (ewwww!).  The baby ponies were so tiny!  We hiked on to Thomas Knob Shelter to find more ponies, and would see them all along the trail that day.  One of the momma ponies at the shelter had firmly planted herself alongside the picnic table and was not budging.  I think she knew exactly where to get food each day, and had claimed her spot. Her foal was the tiniest we had seen. Too cute!
The views in this area were really beautiful, but the trail was extremely rocky, and in parts, water was draining right down the trail, and so many  times during the day we were hiking through creeks.  It made it very slow going, and at the the end of the day, our feet and ankles were really tired of picking out way through the maze. 
We reach a rock tunnel called Fatman Squeeze, and luckily, we all fit through.  We soon (not soon enough) arrived at Wise Shelter, and hit 500.5 miles on the Appalachian Trail!  Another milestone.  There were a lot of campers there.  We were too exhausted to celebrate, but that night some Scout Leaders came over looking for "those AT hikers," and brought us all of their left-overs - 2 big bags full of Ramen, granolas bars, Crystal Light mix, Peanut Butter crackers, and oranges!  We were thrilled - especially about the oranges.  Most folks do not have produce.  We let them know they were the first Trail Magic that had actually hiked to us!
We had to pass through a lot of livestock gates and up and over stiles that crossed barbed wire fences in this area of the trail - all constructed to keep the ponies corralled.  At one point, I saw the chance to go through a cattle gate, instead of up and over another steep stile, and chose the gate.  After a while, climbing up and down the stiles with a pack really gets to my shin and knee (oh yeah, forgot to mention - when my left shin hurts, I tend to favor my right leg, which is making my right knee hurt - it never ends!)
I forgot to mention - there were many campers in this park (Grayson Higihlands State Park), the most we've seen since we started our trip.  It was weird to see so many hikers and campers everywhere.  And they are so clean!  And the women have makeup and jewelry!  The thru-hikers joke about the dayhikers - about how  they smell so good!  lol. 
(Camped at Wise Shelter near a large creek at mile 500.5)

YouTube Video

Friday, April 27, 2012

All Along the Virginia Creeper Trail

We got up, packed, stripped Tony's beds and threw all of the linens in his washing machine, so he wouldn't have too much to do to get ready for the next hikers.  We had told numerous people about this place the night before, so we figured he'd be renting it out again tonight.  We also told him what a hiker box was, and had left quite a few provisions for the next lucky tenants to spend the night.
Tony had grown up in his house his whole life, used it for a while as a rent house, but did not like how it was being lived in, so he was experimenting with the idea of renting it for the night to the thru-hikers as they came through Damascus.  We hoped that we made a good impression on him, and that he would continue this, because it was kind of perfect for us, and knew it would be for others.
This morning we met Biscuits for breakfast before leaving town.  We had spent the evening with him quite a bit, and let him know our breakfast plans, so were not surprised to find him at the restaurant as we hiked out of town.  He was the same age as our kids, had just graduated from college, and you could tell, he felt comfortable around us.  He was not leaving town til later in the day.
The trail out of Damascus starts out by following the Virginia Creeper Trail, and keeps meeting up with it all day.  This was one of my favorite days on the trail.  If I stopped to take a picture of every beautiful mountain stream we passed that day, I'd still be there!  There was beautiful bridges also.  I have not taken time to google the Virginia Creeper Trail, but you should do that and visit here some day to bicycle it.  Damascus had numerous bicycle rental services in town, and from what I could see, the trail is paved, wide, and fairly flat, and it followed a beautiful  river the entire way.  It used to be a railroad bed, but has been converted into this bicycle trail.  It went on for miles and miles and miles!  There were also kayakers going down the river, and that was fun to watch.
Today we were taking off our boots to ford a stream, and we met a couple named Heading Out and Tags Along.  They had hiked the AT when he retired 5 years ago, and now they were hiking it again. That would put them at about 65 years old.  He had gone to the doctor in Damascus, and found out he has a hernia.  I joked to her that we would all have hernias before this was done.  lol.  She said he had the option to either have the surgery now and recover, or keep hiking and wear a truss.  The doctor had been a thru-hiker and had offered his guest cottage for Heading Out to stay in for free - for a month! He opted to keep hiking - with a 50-pound pack!  Yikes!  I think I would have left a few things behind in Damascus, if I were him.  I don't think Tags Along was too thrilled about his decision to keep hiking.
I was so very worn out at the end of this day. My left shin is starting to really hurt at the end of the day, and unfortunately I think I have a (minor) shin splint.  Haven't had that since track in high school, I don't think!  The good news is - I don't seem to be getting blisters anymore.  Yay!  I think it's kind of weird that after hiking this long, new injuries would flare up.  I thought we'd kind of get used to the hiking, and then "poof" no more aches, pains, injures.  WRONG!  Joke's on me!  I have been experimenting though, and of all things, Extra Strength Bayer Aspirin helps the most.  Most hikers swear by Vitamin I - Ibuprofen.  A lot of them also like Aleve.  The thing that seems to bring the most relief though, is taking off my boots and pack, and lying down.
We  camped at mile 484.1, near a stream just north of US 58.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Reaching Virginia

We woke up earlier than usual this morning, and while it wasn't raining, the wind had begun absolutely howling across this ridgeline at 2 in the morning.  It was blowing so hard, I had woken up a lot. Swamprat was using a hammock tent, and said he had been swinging too hard to sleep once the wind picked up. 
We were starting to fix breakfast, when all of a sudden, you could hear a hunting dog heading up the hill towards us, in hot pursuit of something.  We all hoped it was not an angry bear.  Soon, he got closer to camp, and you could hear sticks breaking in the woods as  they  got closer and closer.  All of a sudden, as we were trying to decide what action to take, they turned, and you could tell they were heading in another direction, getting farther away from us.  I have to wonder if whatever was being chased had smelled us and changed direction. 
As we packed up, several younger hikers passed us by on the trail who were getting an early start.  Everyone was excited to reach Damascus.  It has the reputation for being the friendliest trail town.  It is the home of Trail Days, a major festival for hikers that occurs in May.  From what we could tell, it is a major party event, and didn't really sound like something we wanted to be at.  We would have enjoyed the vendors (camping equipment), entertainment, and could even be in 2012 Thru-Hiker Parade, but apparently it was also known for the rowdy atmosphere in Tent City, with the town pulling in as much as $17,000 in fines (last year's numbers) over that single weekend.  Apparently they have many undercover policemen that pose as hikers among the thru-hikers.  I got the feeling that even though it was not Trail Days yet, that many of the hikers were thinking Damascus was equivalent to Party Town.
About 3 miles before we hiked out of the woods and into Damascus, we hit our third state border - Virginia!  Unforunately, it was POURING DOWN RAIN. We took a very quick photo, and hiked on into Damascus as fast as we could.  When we arrived, we were drenched.  It was warm enough to hike in just a rain jacket and shorts.  Unfortunately, this means everything from the waist down gets drenched.  I don't know who gets to determined if hiking boots are waterproof, but trust me, if they have that little tag on them that says, "Waterproof," it just means that if you happen to get splashed by a passing car, that water will most likely roll off of your boot.  But if you are hiking in the rain, your feet will be sloshing in your socks in no time. 
We sloshed into Damascus, made a few phone calls, and found out that any hikers that were in town, were definitely in town to stay, and were not hiking today.  There were no vacancies to be found.  We headed down to Quincy's (recommended by Ms.Viki as good pizza) and decided to regroup and decide what to do after we had hot pizza in our stomachs.  Luckily, Quincy's was very hiker-friendly, and she insisted we use their bathrooms to dry off and change clothes.  We were all too happy to.  Instead of pizza, we opted for half-pound burgers (huge!) and fries.  We saw some of the pizza pass by, and decided we would come back here for supper.  The waitress also informed us it was karaoke night.  This could be really entertaining.  We sat and greeting the steady stream of hikers that arrived into town - Nokey, Snagglefoot, Secrets, Shenanigans, Wild Turkey, Feathers, Biscuits, to name a few.  Keith went over to the bulletin board in the restaurant and found an index car that said "2-bedroom home for rent," and called the number.  He ended up renting it to us for $25 each.  It was a cute, clean, older home with hot water and heat, and plenty of space to spread out our wet gear and dry out.  And only a few blocks out of town.  Perfect.  He even came and picked us up at Quincy's.
We ended up going to the local outfitter that afternoon and running into Taylor (now Dances with Flies), and when he saw us, he greeted us with a big hug.  It was good to see him again.  We knew his dad had gone home back in Hot Springs, and he was hiking on his own now.  He had hooked up with a good group of hikers though, and you could tell he has doing just fine. 
We also needed to hitch a ride to the grocery store, and resupply, and tried our hand again at hitchiking.  It wasn't long before we had a ride to and from the store.  The ride home delivered us right at our house. She was sweet, and liked giving rides to thru-hikers.  The house we rented had a washer and dryer, so that was convenient. 
That evening, we returned to Quincy's and ate well again, with karaoke blasting in the background.  It was truly entertaining.  I wish I had taken my camera.  Nokey and Snagglefoot had visited the local thrift store and shown up in sports jackets and ties with their hiking sorts.  They had not bought shirts though.  Very funny.  Keith ended up playing darts with a group of the guys.  Wild Turkey and Feathers showed up, and we didn't recognize him at first, because he had shaved all of his hair off!  Before, he had had shoulder-length red hair  that matched Feathers' hair.  They both have large purple gauges in their ear lobes, though, so that helped us figure out who he was.

This is the cute house we rented for the night -

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Hiking through the livestock

This morning we woke up to a light rain, which I rather like the sound of on the tent, and actually ate inside the tent.  We waited for the rain to lighten up more before packing up everything.  We got a late start, almost 10:00, and found the trail to be pretty gradual ups and downs, nothing too steep, and mostly dirt - a huge relief to our feet.  When you are picking your way through a rock maze for hours on end, your feet and ankles really get angry at you and take their revenge eventually!
It wasn't long before we found some trail magic in the woods!  A Baptist Church had left a really neat, handcrafted metal box in the woods full of a cooler of iced drinks and tupperware containers of snacks.  Whoever built it, made it bear-proof, and actually had anchored it to the ground.  Besides the awesome snacks and drinks, there was a ziploc full of some beaded keychains, and I put one on my backpack as a keepsake. 
We only hiked about another quarter-mile, and we found a cardboard sign leaned against a tree that said, 'Trail magic provided by Sipsy and Crew."  Just around the bend was a gravel road with a van next to 3 coolers, and Sipsy, his wife and grandson.  We had seen Sipsy's name on the shelter logs, but had not met him yet on this trip.  He told us that his wife and grandson had come to visit him in Damascus, and that he wanted to provide trail magic to his fellow hikers.  He had brought iced drinks, a big box of chips, and candy bars!  Sweet! We enjoyed visiting with him.  He had actually been on the trail about 3 weeks before us, but had been taking his time.  He had already seen 3 bears (we were jealous).  And that's not all in the same day - he had seen 3 bears on 3 different days!  (Even more jealous!)  I know our time will come, but we are talking to more and more hikers who are seeing bears.  We said our thanks and goodbyes, and headed on down the trail.
In a few miles, we started crossing a big pasture with beautiful views to the east of the misty mountains.  We actually had to cross a pasture full of cows.  This was rather surprising.  Keith and I tried to avoid eye contact with the cows, and certainly didn't want to upset them.  There were a lot of calves in the pasture, and if calves and their mommas were anything like bear cubs and their mommas, well, I knew how to act.  Swamprat, on the other hand, apparently had much more cattle experience than we did, and was going through the pasture mooing and videotaping with his iphone as he pretended to sneak up on the LARGEST cows and play tag with them!  We hurried to put distance between us and Swamprat.  Thankfully, no bulls charged, and I am guessing these cows were pretty used to seeing hikers everyday.
The rest of the day was really a pretty easy hike day, and the sun finally came out again, warming it up until we were all in t-shirts and shorts again.  We stopped at a shelter for lunch, and met a new hiker, Miles (does 20-30 miles per day).  He had thru-hiked it before.  This time, he was carrying next to nothing with him.  He snacked each day on Poptarts and Snickers (no real food), and then when he hit town, he pigs out.  He just sleep under a tarp each night, and wasn't treating his water at all (carrying no filters, etc.)  I interrogated him on what all he had in his 12 POUND PACK!  After I found out how he was getting by, I realized that there was just no way I could travel that way for six months, no matter how light the pack was.  And I figured on these cold rainy nights, he had to be sleeping pretty cold.  That day we also met a hiker named Trophy Wife (best name ever!), TP (for toilet paper - he was also bringing up the rear in his group), and Sugar Plumb (named by Sipsy - never did find out why she was named that, but she thought Sipsy looked like Santa Clause).  We also met Nitrous Oxide (he accelerates going up the hills). 
Today we also came across the tiniest shelter we had ever seen.  It could not have held more than 2 or 3 hikers very comfortably.  It looked like it had been there a very long time.
We were being caught by a lot of the younger hikers (remember, they do not hike in the rain), and figured out that they had all gotten bottlenecked back near Hampton when the weather turned ugly (snow).  They were all out hiking again, and that meant Damascus was going to get full fast!
That evening, we stealth camped at about mile 460.7 and had a beautiful campfire.  I had gone up to a ridge to call my mom (there was some cell service) when all of a sudden, rain came out of nowhere.  I had to run for the tent, and luckily, Keith grabbed the few things we had airing out as he also ran for the tent.  We ended up in bed early that evening.  I think my legs and feet were very happy about that.  The campfire ended up burning for a very long time, even though it rained for a long time.   We hiked 17.7 miles for the day.  Tomorrow morning we reach Damascus.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Leaving Ms. Vikki

As we sat staring at our warm waffles and bacon this morning, we all felt a bit sad to be leaving Vikki and the Iron Mountain Inn. As much as we needed to get back on the trail, we all knew how lucky we were to find Vikki and the Inn right when we needed to get off the trail with the bad


She offered to slack pack us again over the next section of trail, but I think we were all afraid that the longer we stayed, the harder it would be to leave.

We packed up one last time, and she took us to the trail. We will miss her, and we promised to return soon.

We hiked a big circle over the ridge tops encircling Lake Watauga, the lake near Vikki, and enjoyed great views of it from the trail. The day was cold and very windy. It started snowing again! Brrr! The wind was gusting up to 40 mph today.

We were all kind of dragging today, but still managed about 14 miles before setting up camp. It was so cold, I cooked and ate in my sleeping bag, leaning out of the tent. Don't try that at home, kids!

I saw the saddest tombstone ever on the trail today. It's a grave, and the inscription said "Lived alone, suffered alone, died alone.". There was a tent site right next to the grave, but we decided to hike on down the trail a ways before camping. Spooky spot.

We were in the sleeping bags by 7:00, and I don't plan on coming out til it warms up some!!

- Steady and F100

Slack packing in the Snow!

We woke up to another wonderful breakfast prepared by Vicky - home fries and sausage and fried eggs on baked onions, with fresh strawberries and yogurt. There was also bagels and jams. Yum!
We watched the weather and the high today would be 51 but with 40 mph winds, and a chance of snow at the higher elevations - and we had a mountain to cross. We looked outside as we were packing up and these was slowly being covered in snow and it was blowing hard.
We were trying to decide if we should hike at all, but Vicky said if the weather turned too bad she could pick us up at a road crossing, and she also made the offer of letting us rent her chalet down the road for a night if we needed it, because she had guests arriving at the inn today.
We decided to slack pack for the day. We had run into other hikers who were doing this, but we had not had the chance yet. Slack packing was just hiking without your full pack.
We also noticed that Vicky's bird feeder on her deck had been totally bent over the deck during the night. She said she had a bit of a bear problem!
We took a small daypack, took the bare essentials, and headed out. Vicky would just wait to hear from us to know where to pick us up.
We did not need the rain gear for long, as the snow stopped. The scenery was gorgeous, an area called Laurel Fork Gorge. There was a beautiful stream, beautiful bridges, and awesome Laurel Falls. At the top of the mountain it began snowing again. We found a small snowman built. Y a previous hiker, and a message written in the snow that said - "Happy hiking - Peeper". We hadn't met Peeper yet, but had seen the tra name in the shelter logs. Must be a pretty nice person to leave us a snowman and message!
We also saw blooming rhododendrons finally, and flame azaleas in bloom. Even though it was snowing, spring was making itself known.
We decided that we were not that much Easter without the full packs, but that our feet and backs were really getting a break.
We hiked around a beautiful mountain lake, Lake Watauga, and it's dam, and soon it was time for Vicky to pick us up again. She let us know that the Lone Star Steakhouse was just 5 minutes away, and that's how we ended our day - almost.
The chalet has a hot tub under the stars!!!

- Steady and F100

Location:Butler, TN