After hiking 550 miles on the Appalachian Trail, I am officially 25% of the way to Katahdin. Snow returns to the trail and I’m reunited with an old friend.
Check out the latest video of me trekking past waterfalls and petting the wild ponies of the Grayson Highlands:
Some animals I’ve seen on the trail thus far include:
- Opossum (carcass)
- Wild ponies
I awoke to a chilly morning, something I had not experienced in some time. Nate was the only other hiker in the shelter and I bid him a quick farewell. He wasn’t planning to go far and I was planning just the opposite. The town of Atkins was 21 miles away and I needed to pick up a package from the post office there.
It was a sunny day with easy terrain. I saw no one on the trail. At midday I stopped for lunch at Partnership Shelter adjacent the Mt. Rogers Visitor Center. This shelter had a shower, sink, decent privy, nice view, and amazing craftsmanship. My shelter the precious night was made of stone from 1960 but this one looked like a brand new log cabin. Lunch felt so fancy.
I popped into the visitor center to warm up and got to see a hellbender they had in a small aquarium. The hellbender is the largest salamander in the world, almost two feet long. They live in streams in the area but despite their size, they hide and blend in so well you’d never see one in the wild. Pretty cool to see one in the flesh!
I continued on in solitude. At one point the trail seemed to fork but it wasn’t very apparent. I saw no white blazes on either path so I checked the Big Hike app on my phone that has GPS for the trail (it’s a really great free AT app for iPhone compared to the much more extensive yet expensive Guthook app). It showed the trail going left but I know the Big Hike app is a few years old and doesn’t always have the new trail reroutes. Onward I didn’t notice any white blazes on the trees but I came to a nice overlook. Big Hike said I was on the trail or at least used to be. My paper guidebook didn’t help me much.
Farther on I noticed that white blazes had been scratched off the trees so the trail must have been rerouted. Finally I reached a shelter and four older ladies were there. They exclaimed they lost the trail as well. We had a laugh and I walked on just as the Golden Girls theme song played on my headphones; how apropos. This made me laugh some more.
My knee was holding up well, though I did medicate this morning. Near the end of my hike I stopped at the Lindamood one-room schoolhouse. It was neat to see and a local Methodist Church left an enormous amount of trail magic. They had everything from snacks and beverages to hand sanitizer and ankle braces. The trail magic definitely lifted my spirits. A chocolate, peanut, and caramel cookie was fantastic. I even saw on the log book that Mumbles and Jon the Baptist had passed through that very day. I wasn’t far behind them.
Finally I reached Atkins, VA, or at least the outskirts. It consisted of two gas stations, a run-down motel, and an alpaca farm. Guess where I was staying? No, not the alpaca farm. The motel was not worth what I paid and the The Barn restaurant that boasted a hiker burger (which I had for dinner; all 16oz of beef) was more like a cafeteria. To top it off, I saw a note in the window of the gas station offering a free place to stay for AT hikers at the home of a previous hiker’s widow. Too bad I already paid for the motel from hell. Oh well.
I stayed up way too late since I finally had service on my phone. I spend some time updating this blog and dealing with some technical issues; I’m pretty new to all this website stuff. I planned to hit the post office in the morning. But the best news of the day was that I have now hiked over 550 miles which means I’ve hiked a quarter of the Appalachian Trail!
Day’s Mileage: 21.4
Total Miles Hiked: 553.9
Remaining Miles: 1,645.8
I didn’t sleep as much as I wanted considering what I paid for the room. I could feel the mattress springs and smell the old on the stained blankets. I called the town bus to schedule a pickup at the scheduled time and place. Because this is what you do in rural Virginia—you must call the bus and ask them to pick you up at the time and place that is listed on their schedule, otherwise they skip it.
The bus stop was a highway exit with no sign. I asked two different gas station clerks (separate gas stations) where the bus picked up and neither knew. I felt like Cary Grant in North By Northwest waiting for the bus in the middle of farm fields.
Turns out the bus was very early because I missed it. So I did what I do best and started hiking to town. With my thumb out I was a real drifter. Less than a mile down the road a nice woman pulled over and gave me a ride to the post office. I picked up my “bounce box” that I had prepared at Lindsey’s place back in Asheville.
A bounce box is a way to send yourself supplies on the trail. At each post office you take what you need from the box and then “bounce it” farther along the trail to another trail town post office. My trail runner shoes were in the box but I opted not to take them yet and stick with my boots; snow is in the forecast for the next few days! I took my allergy meds from the box and some other things and sent it on its way. Hopefully spring would come into swing soon.
Across the street was the Dollar General where I went to town buying junk food, candy, and lunch items. I needed at least four more days of food before I’d stop in town again. After stuffing my pack full of Cheez-Its and chocolate, I began the trek back to the trailhead four miles away.
I did not have the best of luck. I walked almost halfway before a guy stopped his truck. Both my rides today had confederate flag items in their vehicles. In fact I’ve seen a lot of that sort of thing in this town. It feels more like a sense of rebellion to urban society than a symbol of racism. The people here appear to live simple lives and don’t want things to change or have the media tell them how to live. My hitchhiking experiences in general have made me a kinder person. People are inherently good and we should help each other out more. We’re all just trying to get from point A to B, right?
Next to the trailhead was the fabled bus stop from the morning but there was also a Mexican restaurant attached to a gas station. I stopped in for a Dr. Pepper, guacamole, quesadilla, and four enchiladas. It was much better than my dinner at The Barn the night before. Finally I was ready to hit the trail!
I didn’t get very far. I walked maybe half a mile down the paved highway to where the trail reenters the woods. Here a car was parked with the tailgate open. The hiker, Stryder, and his parents were giving out trail magic. I was the first hiker they’d seen. Even after all the Mexican food I still had room for Oreos and an apple. Someone had given them a bottle of bourbon which I also took a swig from; it was delicious. Some other hikers, Durwood and Eagle, showed up. Stryder’s family was really fun to talk with.
Eventually I took to the trail a bit behind schedule. I wanted to make it to a shelter before dark and rain was forecast. The swig of bourbon and a food coma was slowing me down. For once I was actually sticking to my plan of an easy day of 14 miles.
The trail was mostly gradual hills and ridges with lots of meadows and farmland. At one point the trail entered a thicket of rhododendrons and multiple streams. I got turned around and ended up going in circles before crashing through the marsh and bushes into a clearing. All of a sudden I found myself face to face with none other than Sticks! (He’s the Brit who gave me my trail name)
“Crazy Horse!” he yelled. I was shocked to be reunited with him. I thought for certain he was ahead of me. Eagle was also in the clearing but was settling down to camp. Sticks and I set off on the trail together and caught up.
I thought for sure he would have been ahead of me after my days off in Asheville. Turns out he got Giardia or some intestinal bug and had to take two days off in Marion, a town just before Atkins. He had been hiking with Jon the Baptist, Mumbles, and Gandalf, but they were now maybe a day ahead of us. He also saw a black bear a few days ago!
I was trying to take it easy on my knee and he his stomach so we stopped at Knob Maul Shelter just as the rain began. It was Sticks’ first time in a shelter. We had it all to ourselves and spread out. He missed his tent. We went to bed hoping the weather forecast was wrong. Cold days of rain and snow are ahead. Winter is coming.
Day’s Mileage: 14.7
Total Miles Hiked: 568.6
Remaining Miles: 1,631.1
Sticks and I awoke around 7am and were on the trail shortly thereafter. My sleeping pad was half deflated and this worried me; did it have a leak? As we hiked I was prepared for precipitation but it was only cloudy to start. We had some steep climbs ahead and it was tiresome. Fog ruined the great views that were supposed to be had.
Sticks is a fun guy to hike with. He’s 32 and planning on working in New Zealand after this hike. He doesn’t have enough time to finish the trail but is aiming for Boston by end of May. We hike roughly the same pace but he likes to hike longer days than I do. Sometimes we talk, sometimes he sings, sometimes we’re silent.
Every once in a while I find pieces of trash on the ground, mostly plastic wrappers. I try to pick them up when I can but sometimes, especially near campsites, shelters, and roads, there are so many. I can’t be Captain Planet all the time! It saddens me that we are such a wasteful and lazy society with so much packaging.
After a long climb, Sticks and I reached the top of Chestnut Knob or whatever it was called. Actually I lost Sticks in the fog and mist but he caught up at a shelter at the summit. This particular shelter was completely enclosed with a door and windows and everything! The temperature was dropping so we welcomed a reprieve from the wind. We had a lunch of snacks and had a laugh at the drawings on the wall. Someone had drawn a fireplace in black marker on one wall and a light switch next to the door. So homey. We wished the fire was real.
While we ate, the rain began. Ugh. Fortunately it was short-lived and we ventured out to continue on. The day soon became tedious with ups and downs and lots of rocks. We saw no one on the trail as we hiked until we were greeted by an unwelcome visitor…snow.
It started with a dusting but soon was blowing into our faces, no matter what direction we walked. If I’m not getting sunburnt I’m getting windburnt. Sticks was not loving it and I wasn’t thrilled either. The last several miles dragged on. At last we reached the shelter. With the snow and dropping temperature, Sticks was happy to forgo his tent.
We had the shelter to ourselves and spread out. I chowed down on spaghetti with Cheez-Its and olive oil added. Then pizza tortillas, peanut butter and tortillas, chocolate, and candy. Sticks cooked ramen and then stuck the noodles in a tortilla for a ramen burrito…I think it fell apart as he ate it.
A little while later another hiker showed up who called himself Small Furry Animal or something along those lines. He said it was from a Pink Floyd song. Sticks and I never could remember his name and later we referred to him amongst ourselves as Furry Little Weasel or Weasel for short. I did my best to make room for him but I liked my wide open space.
The weather called for up to an inch of snow and temperatures as low as 19ºF. I thought I’d left this shit back in the Smokies! I doubled up on socks and did my best to inflate my sleeping pad. It was still leaking somewhere. Besides comfort, the pad provides a layer of air between myself and the cold ground/floor. I hope I stay warm!
Day’s Mileage: 20.1
Total Miles Hiked: 588.7
Remaining Miles: 1,611.0
My sleeping pad was completely deflated within 30 minutes of me laying down to bed. I spent the entire night on the hard floor boards of the shelter. For a low of 19 degrees, the night hadn’t seemed so cold. I managed to stay warm without my sleeping pad. Maybe I’ve adjusted to life in the woods and am truly becoming a mountain man.
Weasel got up rather early and made quite the ruckus. After he left and the dawn had passed, Sticks and I packed up in the daylight. We planned to push 23 miles but I was a bit wary. I keep pushing myself so much I’m bound to hit a wall and crash eventually. One day at a time.
The weather was quite nice. Sunny with a high of around 40ºF. The terrain took us up on a ridge where we stayed most of the day. It was extremely pleasant: gentle ups and downs in a white pine forest with farmlands below in the valleys on either side of the ridge. This was one of my favorite days.
Halfway through the day the trail merged with a road that we followed. As we came up over a hill there was a sign displaying “Yes We’re Open.” We weren’t expecting a shop and got so excited at the thought of food. When we walked closer we saw another sign advertising ice cream, hot drinks, and other refreshments. Finally we walked up to the store to discover that it was closed on Sundays. I understand it’s the Bible Belt but don’t put a giant sign up saying “Yes We’re Open” if you’re not open everyday!
The road continued down into the valley where we crossed I-77 and eventually reached a parking area where the trail reentered the woods. It was here we met up with an older gentleman who helped maintain the trail. He talked our ear off about how the trail had changed and they rerouted it twenty years ago when new roads were built. He said that some hikers want to “retro hike” and purposely try and find the old trail sections that aren’t maintained anymore and hike them instead of the reroute. People are very interesting.
Even more interesting, we witnessed a guy come barreling out of the woods and rush across the road onto an unmarked trail. The older gentleman remarked how that trail doesn’t go anywhere. Sure enough the hiker returned and we told him the trail followed the road; he thanked us and then left the road and started walking back the way he came. So very strange.
Sticks and I continued on and eventually reached our destination: Jenny Knob Shelter. We encountered four middle-aged hikers all spread out in the small shelter. I recall one of their names was Starbucks. Sticks does not like shelters and wanted to carry on. I knew there was a chance of rain and snow that night and with my deflated sleeping pad I didn’t really want to carry on and tent. But I agreed we could push on since the weather was still very nice. It would make our next day shorter and bring us closer to the grocery store near the trail we planned to lunch at the following day.
Before we left one of the hikers told us that the grocery store also had rooms available. This caught my attention; I take every chance I get that prevents me from tenting in the snow! If we pushed on to the grocery store we could sleep in a real bed! It was 5:30pm when we left the shelter and as we left I noticed all of the hikers were already in their sleeping bags. People are interesting.
Our 23-mile day was now getting longer. We hiked along the ridge as I called the grocer. He did have a room for us but we’d arrive after the store closed. He told me to call when I arrived. I had renewed energy at the thought of a bed, a shower, and breakfast in the morning instead of our planned lunch.
However, when we were almost to the grocer, my phone no longer had reception; we were in a valley. I spotted a campfire in the woods and walked closer. A previous thru-hiker introduced himself and even invited us for hot dogs. We declined but he let us use his phone to call the grocer. He was a nice fellow and we bid him farewell as he invited us for breakfast the next day!
Across a suspension bridge over a river we reached the road. We had barely started walking when a pickup truck pulled up and asked if I was Danny. It ended up being the grocer and we hitched a ride in the back of his truck. Sticks and I relaxed, showered, and had dinner after a whopping 29.7 mile day! This was both of our records for most miles hiked in one day. We were that much closer to Pearisburg, VA, that we could make it tomorrow if we pushed 26 miles. Exhausted, I told Sticks we’ll have to see; I’m still recovering from our 29+ day! I always hike farther than intended with him.
Day’s Mileage: 29.7
Total Miles Hiked: 618.4
Remaining Miles: 1,581.3
Daily Average: 15.5
Hiking with Sticks is a blast. He’s always singing songs as he hikes and I’ll never forget when he sang this ABBA tune and I joined in. We were both equally surprised that the other knew the words.