Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bunnies, Deer and (finally) a Bear!!

We had to hike 3 miles to reach the Wayside for a hot breakfast, and so we hit the trail by 7:30. We began by following a bunny up the trail, and then a deer. The deer didn't seem too concerned and would slowly go up the trail just ahead of us.

We reached the Wayside, and the same man who cooked for us the evening before was still there. He took good care of us, giving us generous portions and free coffee. Everyone seems to want to feed you when they hear you are thru hiking.

We hit the trail again, and it wasn't long before we spotted a bear right on the trail, looking at us. We just kept looking at each other. He was really beautiful with shiny, thick fur - just like a stuffed animal. I swear I think you could have cuddled with it! After a while it ran into the woods, and we watched it for a while as it dug near a log.

The remainder of the day was continuous roller coasters - one hill after another. We knew if we did at least 17 miles, we'd hit the 900 mile mark. We hit a really nice overlook, and I spent probably 25 minutes on the phone with Regions Bank still trying to get some money back from when Keith's debit card was compromised. Several hikers came by and visited. One of them, named Pepper Boy, informed Keith that there was a hiker named F250 on the trail. We were tickled to hear that the name had stuck!

We hiked on and came upon Lone Star, who was camped at one of the prettiest overlooks we'd seen. We hiked on, and grabbed water at Hightop Hut. There were quite a few folks there who were camping for the night. We pushed on, with that 900 mile mark in our sight.

We found a possible camping site right at the 900 mile mark, but the forest was really dark, with lots of dead wood on the ground, and I convinced the boys to go further for something better. We ended up finding a really nice site and felt great to have hit the 900 mark!

- Steady and F100

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Our First (and hopefully last) Timber Rattler

We all agreed to get an early start. It had rained all night, and it had cooled off things nicely. It was breezy and cool, and a welcomed change! Our goal for the day was Loft Mt. Campground,16 miles away. It had a wayside open til 5:30 where we could have burgers and fries (and of course, a cold Coke!). We were very low on water, and the first spring was 10 miles away. Swamprat and I tend to drink a lot. We divided up our water and tried to pace ourselves on using it. That was the first time we've had to do that, and I was wishing I had stashed an extra bottle. This was the longest stretch we'd gone without springs. Luckily, it was much cooler today. We reached the Blackrock Shelter and found a wonderful piped spring with the best water we've had so far. I finished off a whole liter and got some more before we left.

While there satin Lin h, wemet an Australian thruhiker named Big Orange and a section hiker who did not have a trail name. He and Keith really hit it off because they were both Ford men. Keith ended up naming him F250. We weren't sure if he'd use it or not.

After we left the spring, we ran into two Park Rangers on the trail. One of them was in training. He was huge. He reminded me of the Rock. Keith kidded around with them, examining their badges, and asking if they were Rangers or Junior Rangers. The big one, who was probably 6 foot 6 smiled big and said that he was. Junior Ranger. We all laughed.

We kept on hiking, crossing the Skyline several more times before reaching the trail to the Loft Mt. Campground, with only about an hour to spare before the Wayside closed. We quickly found a site, got registered, and Keith yogi'd a ride from a lady hiker who was doing laundry. We ended up having the best burger and fries before the place closed!

We had to walk back to the tent site, and so tried to hitch. The very first vehicle stopped, and it was the nicest family from Germany who were on a 2 week road trip in an RV. They took us to our site, and we enjoyed swapping stories with them along the way. They had not heard of the AT, so it was fun explaining it to them.

After supper, we grabbed a shower (5 minutes for a dollar!) and did laundry. On the way to the bathhouse, Keith was excited because we saw a Timber Rattler. Of course, the boys had to mess with it with their poles until it rattled at them. I personally could have avoided all of this and been happier.

We also de barged batteries and grabbed ice cream at the camp store.

- Steady and F100

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Swamprat Returns and we Enter Shenandoah

I had a real creepy experience during the night. I had to get up and use the bathroom, and when I stood up, I shown my headlamp around to check for animals. Reflecting back from the darkness of the forest was 2 yellow eyes. Very slowly, the eyes would totally disappear and then appear again. Whatever it was was sitting there blinking at me. We looked at each other for a long time before the eyes disappeared completely. It had walked away (I hoped). My light was too weak to ever tell what it was. I'm pretty sure that was the closest I've ever used the bathroom near the tent!
We walked out of the woods and on to Skyline Drive, and walked up the highway to the Visitors Center. While waiting for Dania and Swamprat, we laid out clothes on the parking lot to dry. The woods have been so very humid that everything is staying really moist. Matter of fact, today I smelled a mildew smell and realized it was my pack. We started laying hints out in the sun whenever we could. On the trail, the sun is hard to come by. You are almost always under the forest canopy.
When they showed up, they had brought us McDonalds, which was very exciting! We ate, and also charged up batteries and used the computer at the Visitor Center.
It was very sad to tell Dania goodbye. We will miss her, and can't wait until we see her again. Maybe in New York? We hiked about a mile before entering Shenandoah Nat'l Park. We are excited about this milestone, because it means we are getting through Virginia! It was another hot humid day.
We only hiked 10 miles the rest of the day, and camped just before a storm hit. We ate in the tents and went to bed early. It was nice having Swamprat back. He had a new pack, new trekking poles and some new clothes. We all got caught up on stories of what we had missed. We camped just off Skyline at mile 866.3

- Steady and F100

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

We were on the trail by 7:30. I was feeling better, but it was still really warm, and the uphills are harder for me in the heat. We hit a really nice uphill, wih views of the valley floor to the west and sat there a while and chatted with Fatherman, DK and Medicine Man.

There had been very little water on the trail, so whe we hit a spring near Skyline Drive, we filtered and filled the bottles. It was Memorial Day , and a long line of motorcycles went by with flags on the back of their bikes. We enjoyed our own little parade!

We reached a shelter that afternoon, called Paul C. Wolfe Shelter, that's had a small waterfall that fell into a pool. Hikers had dammed up the creek so that the water was about 2 feet deep, just deep enough to totally lie down in. We decided to cool off there a while, then cook supper, then hike a few more miles before camping. We ate on a marble bench placed in memory of a hiker who had died while trying to hike the PCT. We ended up hiking to a point that would only be 1.5miles from where we were to meet Swamprat in the morning.

- Steady and F100

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Eating with Moses

We went out to a great breakfast with Swamprat and Dania at Ms. Martha's in Staunton, a place that had been voted as best breakfast in Southern Living - always a good thing. We were not disappointed! They then took us back to the trail, and they made a plan to new us again Tuesday. It was so awesome to finally meet Dania. She is a sweetheart, and we can't wait until we get to spend more time with her.
We knew we had a really hard day ahead of us - two really long climbs - and in the heat. First was Priest Mountain. Luckily, as we climbed it, we met Lone Star, from San Antonio, who had the gift of gab. He made Talks a Lot look like an amateur! We enjoyed his stories. He had ridden his bike from his home to Ground Zero several years ago. He made the Priest go by fast. Soon there were trail runners heading south who passed by us, telling us there was trail magic at the bottom. Always good news!
We reached the bottom, to find Moses (2011) with a grill in the back of his truck, cooking burgers, brats and dogs for the thru-hikers. His wife was helping to serve. They had chips, drinks, and coolers of candy, fruit cups and home made fudge. There was also a swimming area right there under a suspension bridge over the Tye River, so after we ate, we took a dip to cool off before climbing Three Ridges.
At an overlook on Three Ridges, we met a Ridgerunner named Regina, and enjoyed talking with her. We hiked on to Hanging Rock overlook, and really enjoyed sitting there for a long time, and having that tough climb behind us. We stayed that night with Lone Star at a really nice campsite near the Mauldin Field Shelter.

- Steady and F100

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Meeting up with Swamprat and Dania

Early on this day, we finally got some cell service on top of a mountain, and Keith got a text from Swamprat asking if we wanted to get picked up for dinner. His wife Dania was in town, and had a rental car. We arranged a meeting place for 3:00 that day, and we just needed to cover 13 miles before then. We were excited to see them, and so hiked with a vengeance. I have to admit I took very few pictures today, and still did not feel well. All I was focused on was getting to the meeting place on time.

Along the way, we ran into a couple on horses with riders on the trail. We were surprised, because horses are not allowed on the AT, and one of the horses was a huge Belgian, and was tearing up the trail, and leaving crap in our way to hike through. Not too nice. We nicely informed them that they were on the AT, and they claimed to be lost, and claimed to be getting off the trail.

We hiked a lot of the day with Medicine Man and tried to encourage him to finish the trail.
He was really missing his parents and friends, and was hiking a lot by himself. We told him bye, and walked down a road to a parking lot to meet our friends.

There we found Swamprat and Dania, and they had brought a cooler of cold drinks! Our own personal trail magic! They were also giving Hitchcock a ride. He was staying at the Lutheran Hostel in town and they were giving him a ride. He ended up going out to eat with us at the Outback, where we really enjoyed the food and company. We took Hitchcock to the hostel, then ran by the grocery store to buy some resupply. At the store we ran into Dances with Flies, Snagglefoot and Qtip with his dog, Charlie. They were all in town for food resupply.

We stayed that night at the same hotel as Swamprat and Dania, and did a quick load of laundry before going to bed. Swamprat will bring our food to us Tuesday when he returns to the trail.

- Steady and F100

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Refreshing Plunge and 800 Miles Done!

This is the view we woke up to. The birds started singing really loudly this morning, and the sun streamed through the trees, and it was really a beautiful spot, but I woke up feeling really not well, and knew I was going to have a tough day.

I pretty much was in survival mode, and tried to stay hydrated and fueled up as best I could. We came across several day hikers who kept making comments about the upcoming trail, especially about how lovely it was. Finally one of them mentioned that there was water you could get into. It was so warm hiking, we began to get excited about this idea. At one point we came upon 13 girls from an all girls schools who were backpacking. They looked to be carrying really heavy packs, and one girl had a huge cooking pot strapped to the top of hers. They all let us pass.

We passed through a virgin forest that had a sign that explained that it was being studied. It had in its midst a 300 year old chestnut tree.

It just kept getting warmer and warmer, and at one point we hiked about 25 yards above a large reservoir with cool, green water in it. We wanted so badly to be in that water, but the slope down to it was so steep, neither one of us was willing to haul packs back up to the trail.

We finally came to a really nice bridge over a nice creek. It had a waterfall that fell into a pool that was about waist-high - just deep enough to get totally under water! It was torture and sweet relief at the same time, because the water was icy cold! This was the best break ever. It was what I really needed to continue hiking that day, especially with the heat. I felt better the rest of the day.

After this point, the trail followed a really beautiful mountain stream called Brown Creek, and there were signs along the way explaining that there was a settlement along this creek in the early 1900's that consisted of freed slaves. It was one of my favorite parts of the trail so far.

We reached US 60 and found a cooler of soda left as trail magic, and sat in the shade by the road and drank them. There was a strong breeze here, and we really enjoyed it. At this point, we had also reached the 800 mile mark on the trail!

Whe we sat there, 4 hikers got out of a van who were just returning to the trail from Trail Days. It was Fatherman, Crush, Medicine Man and Big E, all knew to us. They had been off the trail for a week.

We all began a really long climb that I thought I would never reach the top of. It went on forever!

I hiked and visited with Medicine Man for a while and enjoyed our visit. He hikes in a kilt, is 25, from Pennsylvania, and is homesick.

That evening we created Bald Knob, had beautiful views, and watched 2 deer cross the hillside. We hiked on and camped in a meadow with the four from the van, and another hiker, DK, a young girl who was also returning from Trail Days. We camped at mile 807.4, at Hog Camp Gap.

- Steady and F100

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Fond Farewell

We all were treated to another round of Keith's delish orange juice pancakes this morning, and then had to (sadly) pack up and head back to the trail. Sean was going to continue his visit with Elise and Daniel, back in North Carolina, and they were planning on taking him to the beach tomorrow.

By the time we all packed everything, including our rather large packs into the trunk of Elise's car, it became apparent that the box of clothes and sleeping bags that we had shipped to the cabin would not fit anywhere except someone lap. Luckily, Sean was able to hold this enormous box on his lap until we hit a town and shipped it on to Keith's parents for later use. We made a quick stop for Chick-Fil-A, and then headed back to the trail.

We hated to see them go, but knew we needed to keep heading north if we were going to reach Mt. Katahdin before winter hits. The first thing we noticed though, is it had gotten hot and humid! They drove off, and we waved til they were out of sight. Since we were leaving the James River, we immediately began this big climb out of the valley.

I had been hoarse, and fighting off a sore throat and cough for several days, so felt very sluggish and my legs and hips felt sore. I really had not felt this way before, and attributed it to not feeling very well. We did get treated to really nice views of the valley as we climbed, but I was sure ready to camp by the time we reached Salt Log Gap at mile 786.7. I was in bed by 7:45. The campsite was really pretty. Even though we were in the forest we were surrounded by some plants there were waist high. They were thick! It was almost like it was a crop of something and we were in the middle of it.

- Steady and F100

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Just chillin' at the cabin

Today the weather didn't really cooperate with any hiking or canoeing plans.  It rained hard last night, and rained today also.  So, instead, we opted to do a lot of resting, and watching movies.  I have been missing cooking, so when I got up, I cooked a big pot of italian sausage spaghetti, and baked a gluten-free chocolate cake to celebrate Elise's and Sean's birthdays, and also Elise and Daniel's first wedding anniversary. 
We all watched one movie at the cabin, and then headed to Waynesboro to watch The Avengers in 3D.  Keith and I have been wanting to see that one. 
We were surprised to run into Flash when we left the theatre. He was off the trail for a few days visiting his wife and dad. They were also coming to see The Avengers.
We returned to enjoy spaghetti and cake.  We are already sad to be leaving tomorrow.  It will be hard to see everyone leave! Below is a picture of Toby, the resident dog at the cabins. He kept coming by to visit us, and really liked Daniel.
We ended our day with a campfire at the fire pit behind the cabin, making s'mores. Keith taught Elise how to make owl sounds by blowing through your hands (it's a guy thing).

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Shenandoah Nat'l Park

Today we all got into Elise's car and headed north up the BRP to Shenandoah National Park.  We passed beautiful overlooks, and looked for wildlife along the way.  We never did spot any bear, but did find a few very tame deer.  Keith was convinced the bear would be in the picnic areas, so we swung into a lot of those, but had no luck. 
We ended the day in Charlottesville on the UVA campus, at the Mellow Mushroom, because luckily, Keith discovered they had one there, and Sean and I got to enjoy gluten-free pizza!  An awesome end to the day!

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Kids Are Here!!!

When we woke up, we discovered that Sean did not get in until 4 in the morning, so instead of hiking 5 miles, and meeting them at noon, we decided to hike 15, and meet them at 5, in order to let them get more sleep before they drove to meet us.  Needless to say, we were VERY excited to see them!
The hike that day ended up being a much more pleasant hike, as we were rewarded with all of the downhill that we had earned the day before.  We also hiked through a lot more mountain laurels and rhododendrons in full bloom.  The start of the day was foggy, and when we arrived at one overlook, I had to laugh, because the sign there said, "Seeing is Believing," but you could not see anything but clouds.  The fog eventually lifted though, and it turned out to be a beautiful day, and before long we arrived at a shelter, Matts Creek Shelter, which sat on a beautiful creek.  We met a young hiker there named Flop, who was taking a day's rest there, because his back was hurting him.  He had been injured four years before when he was hit by a drunk driver, and sometimes had back pain that would flare up.  He was also getting eaten alive by these tiny biting gnats at that shelter, so we gave him our extra DEET before we left.  I think he was pretty happy to get that.  Those gnats were relentless.
We followed that creek for about a mile, and then arrived at the James River, and followed that another mile, before crossing the river on the longest pedestrian-only bridge on the AT.  At the other end, we would meet the kids, but we were about an hour too early.  We met a couple that was fishing on the other side, and after visiting with them, we were convinced that we had given Elise the wrong information for where to meet us, and we could not get a phone signal, so we decided to head 5 miles up the road to the town of Glasgow and try to call them from there.  We tried hitchhiking, and probably hiked about a mile (on a hot road) before a couple stopped in the tiniest car.  I didn't think there was any way we would fit in the car.  The back of their car and their entire backseat was full of luggage!  The man was insistent that he could move everything from the backseat into the very back of the car, however, so he pulled over, and repacked the whole car just so he could fit us in!  He told us that they were returning from a hiking trip in New Hampshire, and they had tried hitchhiking, and ended up having to walk 6 miles because no one would pick them up!  I was so thankful they had stopped!
We arrived at a grocery store in Glasgow, and quickly figured out that the kids, wherever they were, didn't have a phone signal either, and so we could not contact them.  Most frustrating.  We also figured out that we had told Elise the correct location after all.  Keith decided he would get a ride back to the bridge, to see if the kids were there waiting for us, while I stayed at the grocery store with our gear.   He drove off with a nice man who had offered to take him, and not five minutes later, Elise, Daniel, and Sean pull up with Houdini in the backseat!  I was so confused.  What were they doing with Houdini in the car?
As it turns out, the kids had arrived at the bridge, and when they didn't see us, they hiked across the bridge, and after a while spotted Houdini hiking up the trail.  Elise and Sean hated to ask him if he knew Steady and F100, so they were trying to figure out how to inquire if he knew us.  He asked them who they were looking for, and pretty soon, he put two and two together, and he said, "Oh, you guys are Steady and F100's kids!"  He knew that we were meeting them today.  They all hiked on across the bridge, and ran across the couple that was fishing, and that lady told them that that couple from Arkansas had headed on into Glasglow.  Houdini needed to resupply anyway, so the kids gave him a ride into town, as they went to find us.  That's how they ended up at the grocery store, and right after that, Keith showed up too, as he had seen Elise drive by in the opposite direction.  We were all finally together!!!  Yay! 
We headed to the nearest town, Lynchburg, and ate really well at the Outback, and then headed on to the Cabin Creekwood, which is just off the BRP, where we would stay for three nights.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Apple Orchard Falls and the Guillotine

This day we slept in a bit, because we were feeling the effects of the long hike the day before, but were still on the trail before 8.  When we got up, most of the slackpackers had already left to be shuttled by Polaris' folks.  We were told by several others that we were going to have a really tough hike today, as most of them had slackpacked it the day before - in the opposite direction.  We checked out the elevation profile, and sure enough, we had at least a good 4 mile uphill climb with no breaks at one point.  We would start out at 1000 feet, but would top out at 4200 by the time we hit the top.  We needed water, so the first shelter we got to, we filtered some.  This shelter, the Bryant Ridge Shelter, turned out to be the nicest one we had seen so far.  Whoever had designed it, had been really creative.  Houdini was there, and a section hiker named Boone.  After visiting with them, we moved on.  Just about everyone we visited with, we let them know how excited we were to be seeing the kids on Monday.
We stopped at a campsite or lunch, and set our rocks and boots out to dry a bit.  We usually would set our boots in the sun, and hang our socks on tree branches.  Today, there was a great, cool breeze, and low humidity, so they actually dried out nicely during lunch. 
After lunch, the forest changed dramatically, as we came across a really lush area with a stream that ran right through these braided roots of large trees.  The roots were also covered in green moss.  The area around this was covered with lush ferns.  It was just one of those really magical places.  As we crossed the stream and climbed up the other side, the trail went right through a rhododendron thicket, and it was blooming in all directions with the large purple blooms.  It was almost like the forest was decorated for a wedding.  At least, that's what it reminded me of, and it seemed like we were walking down the aisle.  We passed a few dayhikers for the next several miles, and everyone had hiked in to see the rhododendrons.  They were spectacular. 
We soon arrived at Black Rock Overlook, and climbed to the top to take in that view - really phenomenal.
About a mile later, we passed a side trail that had a sign pointing to Apple Orchard Falls.  This trail was downhill all the way, about a mile to the falls.  I had been told that it was worth the hike - about a 200' waterfall, but Keith wanted to continue on to camp.  We decided that he would go on to camp and set up the tent, and I'd go check out the falls.  I'd still be able to get to camp in plenty of daylight. 
The hike down to the falls was really beautiful, following along a beautiful, rocky stream with smalls falls and cascades along it.  About a half a mile further down, another creek joined this one from the right, and then another creek joined those.  The volume of water running down the hill was building as it went downhill towards the falls.  I came to a bridge, and there was a beautiful "double" waterfall that I would end up returning to later on.  It had a great shall pool that would be perfect for cleaning up in.  I hiked on down, and as the trail got steeper, I found stairs.  Now, normally this would have been great, but stairs had become especially hard for us, with all of the climbing of hills that we had been doing.  I eventually made it down the stairs (ugh!), happy that there were no witnesses to my hobbling.  There was a really cool, curved observation platform in front of the falls, and the falls were so full of water, that part of it was flooded.  Of course, all of this was surrounded by purple flowers, so it was really a beautiful scene. 
After a few pictures, I made the painful climb back up the stairs and stopped at the upper falls to clean up.  The water was freezing!  I couldn't even keep my feet in for too long.  I ended up getting my cook pot out and using that to rinse with. 
I then began the long uphill climb up Apple Orchard Mountain, another 1.5 miles uphill.  At the top was an FAA long range radar facility, and I had told Keith I would get a picture of it.  It sat right on top of the mountain, so the view in all directions was really beautiful. 
It was getting late, and so I hurried on, and before arriving at camp, passed through a famous landmark on the trail called "The Guillotine."  There are huge stone steps leading down to it.  It's a place where a large boulder has fallen and gotten caught between two vertical rock walls. The trail passes directly beneath it.  I took a few pics, and headed on to the shelter, finding Keith visiting with a hiker our age named BLT.  BLT hikes in a kilt.  He is about the third guy I have seen hiking in kilts.  Houdini was camped there also, as well as another hiker named Byline.  Byline is a journalist at a now defunct newspaper in Illinois.   
Tonight we went to sleep texting Elise and getting updates from her about Sean's travels.  Unfortunately, his flight out of Memphis was delayed, and he ended up arriving at 4 in the morning instead of 10 that night.  Yikes!