Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The other side of the freeway

Wake up!
It's foggy out. Going back to sleep.
Not a good plan, you've got ten hours to do today.
What about the coyotes I heard last night?
If that's what they were, they're not singing any more. Let's go.

7:40, packed, first out of the shelter area, following the white paint towards Fullhart Knob. Relatively speaking, it's an easy climb, and it's the last for this trip. Views? Cloud's insides that would have been more welcome if they were cooler.

Six hours later, I walked under Interstate 81 and left the Blue Ridge behind (for now). Seven and a half hours, and the Trail left me at the breakdown lane for US 220, about 200 yards from the motel.

AT trailhead on US 220

Another AT hiker phrase: playing Frogger, after one of the popular arcade games of the last century.  The grade-level AT crossings are rarely marked by more than a yellow diamond sign with two stylized hikers; there is no indication that said hikers may be sprinting across the highway as they follow trail blaze markers, nor that being tired, footsore, and carrying their lives on their back, their sprints may resemble those of small amphibians.


Two-lane Frogger is a frequent game for us, both the rural road and the highway variety; US 220 today was of the four lane variety, with 18 wheelers as a bonus.

The tall tales shared by the thru hikers speak of bears that have learned how to get to the food bags we hang in the trees, snakes that curl up next to hapless victims as they sleep in the shelter, and of six lane Frogger games. With trucks.

As may be; I'm still more concerned about the deer ticks.

Another section of the trail done, 76 miles in 12 days of hiking. Total to date, 243 of 2189 miles.

It's a beginning

Monday, September 19, 2016

The rain, the parkway, and other things

A light rain started just after midnight at Wilsons Gap, and kept going until 7:30 -- which, including the time to wring out and pack the wet stuff, delayed my departure until 10:30. The SOBOs staying at the shelter were bemused -- and long gone before I hit the trail.

Moss is the word for the Blue Ridge Parkway, it seems. Here's some photos.

And old stone embankments.

Conversatio this evening with the two early SOBOs, one reporting 22 and a half miles for the day. Did you see the Peaks of Otter? I asked.

Long hike tomorrow ends at the Super 8 in Dalesville. I plan to pick up my car the next day, decompress, and head north on Thursday.

This water is Crayfish Approved

Still life with rhododendron leaf
It isn't easy being light green

Sunday, September 18, 2016


Yesterday's post about my travels was 700 ft of elevation to cross Cove Mountain, of course. The horizontal distance, a biit longer ... but I was heading downslope by 10 a.m., just ahead of the bright sun heating the ground. Water reserves are low after spending the night at shelter with no water supply.

Views are changing as the Trail dives into the moutain ranges sitting astride the junction between  Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

Peaks of Otter

Morning fog in the valleys
I heard a pickup truck and some hunting dogs barking below as I worked my way down the switchbacks ... hmm, should have packed the hunter orange vest after all?

At the bottom, a stream not  listed in AWOL's Guide, possibly with good reason as it looks more like a swamp. I stopped to check water reserves -- not good, going to have to stop and try to filter something out of this muck. Pack half emptied to get the Platypus® rig -- and a pickup truck pulls up with a cage of baying hounds in the back. Great.

So I move my stuff well off the trail, put on my plastic smile and call out a hello. A lean fellow with a close beard and a baseball cap called back "hey there!" and offered me two bottles of cold water taken from his well. 

Trail angels rock. They must get express check-in at the Pearly Gates.

On to the Blue Ridge Parkway, with some cloud cover from the approaching storm! Here's a photo of two of the three mountains called the "Peaks of  Otter", seen on my way to the next shelter.

Stop tonight is Bobblets Gap, another one usually bypassed by the onrushing tide of SOBOs ("South Bound" AT thru hikers on their way to Georgia). The shelter is a poor water source, the Guide says, and it is. I used a trick learned from Pinterest, curling and placing a leaf on a stone ledge to form an arc of water for a cup.

Chatting with one SOBO who stopped by to eat lunch and try to  replenish her water supply, I learned that she planned to reach Troutville tonight. I plan to be there in two days ... however, I'm planning to visit the Flying Mouse Brewery, while she and her friends plan to meet up at Wendy's before they move on. They have a "fast food fixation", she says.

We joked about the season's acorn barrage at this shelter, heavier than any of other places either of us had visited. The EMT's SOAP report would read as less than heroic -- patient experienced concussion by acorn, AO1, dehydrated and showing signs of mental confusion. Evacuated from the Appalachian Trail for rehabilitation.
We're all partly nuts already, not surprising.

Saturday, September 17, 2016


Moonlight woke me up early this morning at the campground, filling the tent with a soft glow. I dozed until the alarm called me at 6:30, though.

Then, pack, breakfast, strike camp, pack, review hiking plan. 9:00, following white blazes again.

A recent blogger offered the opinion that maps are not necessary when you are hiking the Trail, because it is clearly blazed, well traveled, and well known. He was bombarded with posts disagreeing strongly, pointing out that being as little as 50 yards from the Trail can get you lost if you don't know where you are. So, yes, Carry Paper Maps, know how to use them, and do not depend on GPS.

(This is the second reason that the AT is endangered. Even if the developers can be held at bay, well meaning hikers get casual about carrying enough equipment and WATER to stay safe. Rescue squads identify the Trail as a significant cause of injury, legislative bodies add even more constraints ... I am trying to get done before they put in the first McDonalds or Starbucks.)

On  the way up to the ridge, I saw a fast-moving pair of large furry ears about 40 yards ahead racing upslope toward the trail -- a bear, a young one!

I took the encounter as a good reason for a five minute climbing break, make sure there was time for the youth and possibly a maternal guardian to go ahead. Not that I needed any reason to stop climbing for a bit, huff, wheeze .... After a while I started forward again, singing loudly and enthusiastically, while some artistic license for the lyrics I have forgotten. Very effective at repelling black bears, apparently, and fully understood given the size of their ears and my inability to stay on key.

Stopped at Cove Mountain Shelter after the climb. Leonard Adkins, the author of the series of books on the AT's history, was there with his spouse; he asked if I knew PATC's archivist Tom Johnson (I do not, though I hve heard his name mentioned).

 Another 700 feet to cross Cove Mountain tomorrow, then a string off ups and downs to reach Wilson Creek. Life is good.

The bridge in Buchanan

Can't recall if I already posted this.

This wood floored pedestrian bridge goes across the river, ends in a residential neighborhood. Possibly something like the St. Georges bridge in Delaware that was retained after the new bridge went in, to satisfy local concerns.

Damped resonance with a 210 lb test weight, about 0.5 Hz. Bouce, bounce.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Weather wins

Forecast in the high 80's for the Blue Ridge next week; I don't know a way to work around that.

Prowling downtown Buchanan today, which seems to open up about 11. No hiking supplies, no taverns, not even a grocery store ... like Buena Vista, another bitter story of the double whammy of the corporate executive driven  NAFTA-supported abandonment of American manufacturing, and the 2006 recession.

To be positive: evidence that Buchanan is working to recover also shines in the city. The homes and empty storefronts are well kept, the post office is new, there are people in the streets.


I am calling it, will shuttle to Roanoke tomorrow and pick up the car. Next hikes in October, weather permitting, with my zero degree bag.

Quote of the day from Sojourners:

I read in a book that a man called Christ went about doing good. It is very disconcerting to me that I am so easily satisfied with just going about. - Toyohiko Kagawa

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Trying to get back onto the Trail

Gary showed up on time with a couple my peers who were headed out for a section hike. The "are you sure" and "how will we" questions and Gary's replies made it seem like he was planning their hike for them.

Sue runs the Middle Creek campground, very laid back place. Unfortunately the location has minimal Wi Fi and cell connectivity. Which leaves me unable to call for a shuttle and with a three hour hike into Buchanan, and nearly out of cash anyhow. And toilet paper (available at the campsite, but .... )

My bag of workarounds is getting pretty empty.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Reality check

Sitting on the ridge overlooking the James River Valley. Word is that there's no signal down there. No one else on the Trail today.

After checking my net food inventory -- packed out of BV plus resupply -- and comparing it with my reduced estimates of how many miles I can do in this terrain and weather, I am planning to drop off trail again on Saturday. The climbs south of the James River look like more than I can enjoy until the afternoons cool off or I can improve my stamina, so I will be thinking about shuttling south to Daleville and moving on from there toward Tinker Cliffs and McAfee Knob.  Either that, or overnight in Glasgow, resupply and reset.

Of ten days out now, I have zeroed four. Hmmpf.  

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A Bowl full of woodland creatures and one guest

As we parted at the traihead the day before yesterday, Gary Serra said I would have an easy, smooth climb to the Punch Bowl. After yesterday's march, I agree with one of his words, and then only in the plural form.

Around Lynchburg Reservoir ... flat on the topo, but actually weaving up, down, and along the stream cut side of the ridge.

A suspension bridge! Structural integrity not verified, one never knows, but I made it across. Bouncy

The first climb, Rice Mountain, just 500' to 2166'; but, numbers, well, are just scratches on paper. Píkachu caught up with me just before noon and took a few minutes to share his map -- yup, almost to the top of Rice Mountain, then only three miles and 300' to the shelter.

An indelible memory -- the straggle-haired barbarian hero striding off with his "never give up" banner held high, a minimum amount of clothing to preserve modesty, and a little stufffed doll clinging to his cyclist's pack.  

It seemed that most of the second climb was after the sign claiming the shelter was only tenth of a mile ahead, but it was there it was, another welcome shaded dell and spring.

 After resting overnight and rehydrating at the shelter, I planned a 500 foot climb in a half mile to the Punchbowl peak and another 500' in one mile to the top of Bluff Mountain will finish off the mountains before the Trail turns back to a southwesterly direction. 

I have a contingency spring picked out on the south side of Bluff Mountain if the climb and the heat are too exhausting, but my goal is the last spring and campsite before crossing the James River. When? Doesn't matter that much.

Late last night, I thought I heard the noises of people moving around quietly setting up camp, and was grateful that they were not talking to avoid disturbing their fellow traveler who had already retired to his tent.  When I rose to answer nature's call, however, I did not see any tents, and the Punchbowl still has only one human occupant.

Glad I did a careful job of cleaning up and hanging my bear bag.

Persistent headache this morning. I am taking a zero day in the woods.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

True believers

Gary Serra, 2 1/5 full trail section hiker and pro AT shuttle driver, left me at the trailhead with directions to say hello to Alma -- or was it Mary? -- when she delivered my resupply package.
Alma fortunately has a good sense of humor, saying that Gary was a cute little boy ... culturally, the Trail  may not have fulfilled its originator's vision of a rural paradise, but it is a unique ribbon of devoted protectors struggling against the advancing armies of yellow bulldozers, cell phone towers, and disposable water bottles. Good people, friendly as long as you give them room and play by the rules.

You know, son, the ones your papa taught you.

A correction also to my tale of going in circles in the forest. "Mount Horeb" is a local affectation of a church nestled up against Mount F, which in turn rests on the shoulders of Bald Knob. Which is not bald. Which explains everything.

Short hike to Brown Mountain Creek yesterday -- location of a freed slave farming community until they sold the land to the Forest Service in the 1920's. 

Late arrivals -- Píkachu and Mouse, a "slackpacking" couple. He walks the trail carrying water and a lunch, dressed minimally (we're talking poly briefs here, and trail running shoes ... and Píkachu strapped onto the cycling pack he uses). She packs up drives to a parking lot near his next stopping point, and hikes in supplies, tent ans so forth.

Doesn't scan for me, but as the Conservancy says, "everyone hikes their own hike." If a person walks over 2000 miles "with the intent of completing the entire Appalachian Trail", they get a certificate.

Píkachu carries a staff worthy of a Native American shaman -- "my never give up flag", he say -- seven foot debarked  and polished, knots and all, topped by a collection of streamers, bird feathers, and other artifacts, including a leg from a pair of convertible pants.

Tomorrow, I want to do ten miles and a thousand feet in five hours before noon to beat the heat. Right, revellie at 0430.

Fare thee well

Not that my stay in Buena Vista has been especially negative in any way, but it's no particular drag against getting back on the trail this afternoon and heading for the James River.

The hotel manager smiles and shakes his head. "You know I could drive you there in thirty minutes. How long will it take you, three days?" Well, yes, but he's been grousing about being trapped in a dying town that his kids won't visit for lack of anything to do, &c. He looks up at these hills and sees walls that hold him in, I look at them and feel good about hiking in there.  Wonder if Granny Gatewood's trek led this way?  

Reasonably good ice cream at the Amish Connection, very welcome water ice at the shack next to the motel when it was open. Gary Serra, a veteran AT section hiker, will have to endure my questions while he shuttles me back to the trailhead.

 I should meet the hostel steward there and receive my resupply package. Then, back into the woods, chasing those white blazes.

No so different from Pokémon Go, is it? Next post could be as late as the 20th, maybe later if I am chasing a Xerneas.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Hart's Bottom

As Buena Vista was originally known, and still seems to be most accurate description these days. Here's a 1971 banner that has been kept fresh over the decades.

Haven't learned the tale behind this sign, but the building is for sale

Based on subjective observation, 1971's happy citizens have moved on ... to Lexington, likely. That thriving city is just far enough down the road to make attending Saturday's wine and beer festival this weekend inconvenient for me.


Also, already closed to general admission ... good thing, I suppose, I might have regretted it on Sunday after trying to hitchhike back to the motel late Saturday night.

They do have a fair number of good bands lined up ....

Comparing notes with the motel manger on life as a grandfather ... he says that the family doesn't come and visit him any more, the kids say there's nothing to do -- and since the 2006 recessìon, he acknowledges, they're right. Anything that was left when the banks shut their doors got swallowed up by the Walmart and the Lowes in Lexington. He is hanging on for two more years and then dropping out onto Social Security, heading overseas somewhere. According to him, there's no room left for grandparents in this country.

I looked out at the beauty of the surrounding hills (especially Mount Horeb), thinking -- not saying -- what, at least a dozen grandfathers must have crossed paths in these mountains this week, there's festivals in Lexington, and there's rock climbers and other extreme sports communities at Natural Bridge.

Surely ther must be a way to reenergize this town and thousands of others like it, bring them back from the edge of ruin? Maybe by sharing our bounty with them, not gutting their lives to feed higher profit margins somewhere else?

Walking the streets, past the abandoned stores ... looks like one real estate developer is sweeping up a lot of commercial property here. Perhaps he has a plan to bring in something fresh and new? Shopping malls and McMansions, probably, but there's always the possibility of change for the better.

No surprise that T/P signs dominate here, not a single H in sight -- and why should there be? No one really has answers that people want to hear, but he speaks to their rage and we do not.

There's a converted yard storage shed next to the motel offering shaved ice, which should have been doing big business today. When I went over to buy a second round of the largest size they had and remarked on the lack of a line of customers ahead of me, the server said I had likely already bought half of the sales he expected to make that day.

I'll try to keep them in business a little longer.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Out of the woods

Enough is enough. The rule for today is an early start and a march straight through to US 60, followed by a hitch into Buena Vista, 9 miles away. Then, three days' down time to wait out the heat.

I had to double back once when the white blazes of the AT suddenly became blue, the color of the dreaded Hotel Trail. The miles went by, up, down, up, down ... point 5 miles my *. It's obviously an insider joke, like the Icelanders' assurances to tourists that something will take only 45 minutes. Either that, or my climbing pace is nowhere near ready for those mountains shadowing the western and southern horizons.

The clock ticked down, and I started into the long descent off Mount Horeb (etymology: glowing heat, that Ten Commandments place) a little after 12 o'clock. Yes, stifling. Deo gratias.

At the end, though, US 60! And a day hiker who offered me a chilled flask of spring water. Another angel! So I went over to the side of the road, put on my best nice-guy appearance (given my four days on the trail) and watched the Jaguars and Buicks accelerate by as soon as they saw me holding up my thumb.

A North Carolina family with a converted van stopped, though, and delivered me to the Buena Vista Budget Inn. My first step after I dropped my bag in the room, I assured the registrar, would be a quick walk to the submarine sandwich shop, and then an equally quick return to take a nap. And so, I did.

Next hiking day Sunday, weather permitting.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Lost and Found

Striking camp about 10 after burning harder than planned yesterday, daring the Mistress to try and keep me on the trail ater noon ... I said farewell once again to Roxanne and her support team, and then went back to the rituals of striking camp.

As I was taking the tent down, the first SOBO thru hiker I've met this trip greeted me as he strolled by -- on his way to Georgia, he said.

I offered my self-chosen trail name -- windlion, of course, my CB handle for the cross country trip the family took in 1985.-- he looked a little bashful, and replied, "Mine's Wrong Way."

"Yeah. Been there. Where are you stopping tonight?"

"Going off trail for a zero day at Buena Vista, actually."

"Ha ... you might run into a couple of section hikers bound for Georgia. They've got a German Shepard, well behaved once she knows you."   We parted ways, and I finished packing up for an easy day walking up to Three Springs Hostel.

Except. "Hotel Trail" was not where AWOL's Guide and (I thought) the map I had for this section showed. Did I miss a turn? I followed the AT toward Cow Camp Gap, my next destination, over Cold Mountain, a mere 400 ft climb that felt almost as hard as The Priest. Time for a day off, I thought.

Several miles later, there was a trail marked as the "Old Hotel Trail". Sounds good, even if it isn't on the map! I took it, and it led me up and down through some beautiful scenery and past sevveral overlooks -- and back to the AT about noontime. Oh, well, Cow Camp Gap in 3.5 miles. I'll just skip the hostel resupply and catch a cab into a grocery store in Buena Vista, 6 miles off trail , maybe share a beer and give Roxanne another scratch.

Three things an AT hiker is overjoyed to see

Ha, the sign says this is the Hotel Trail? Does not match up with map at all, but maybe that resupply will happen after all. And if not, it still says "Cow Camp Gap 3.5 miles"

I never saw the hostel or Cow Camp Gap. What I reached the end of the Hotel Trail over more rough terrain late in the afternoon was a trailhead for the Mount Pleasant National Scenic Area. I had no idea where I was and that my water was running low.

Tired, also. So I set up tent just off the trail for the second time in my wandering with no known water source nearby for my evening and morning meals.

I took an hour's nap inside the tent to avoid the gnats, then went out to explore, carefully mapping the road I followed -- and saw the AT logo ahead, I'm saved!

Wait, that post looks familiar. There, on the right, the meadow I slept in last night.

At least I knew where to get water.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Back, forward, up, down

AT North looks a lot like AT South before dawn. I walked  little more than half a mile in the wrong direction

Regretfully recalling every time I politely sneered at others who have made this mistake.

Another casualty of my predawn departure: Brigadoon claimed my hiking poles. A diligent search failed, so I left them; perhaps I will have the chance to come back and search for them another day? Could be.

We walked through rank after rank of hills, Roxanne and her support team swapping the lead with me until my legs started to ache. Tar Jacket Ridge, only a 400' climb to 3847', why so hard? There are some things that numbers can't measure.

My water ran out on the final descent.

Which opened into a wide meadow at Hog Camp Gap.

The couple who carry Roxanne's magic cornucopia had claimed the space next to the tree with a swing, and were enjoying themselves while R patiently stood guard. I may be a recognized Friend and Giver of Good Scratch, but she barked at me anyway and disturbed the Magicians Who Provide Food and Water who interrupted their playtime to makes sure that Roxanne and I were being friendly.

Another perfect place. I chose a site under one of the apple trees, dumped my pack, and  headed downhill to the spring with my water purifier and bladders. The resupply can wait for tomorrow, I thought.

Somewhat recovered after drinking about half a liter of delicious fresh spring water straight from the purifier, I returned to the camp and wandered around to explore the place. Why only a few apple trees in such a large field?

I misinterpreted an AT sign pointing to Wiggins Springs (0.5 mi) -- good, a hiker friendly town! and offered to go in search of beer to celebrate our day.  After a half hour of thumping down a dirt road and finding only "NO TRESPASSING" signs and locked driveway gates, though, I turned back uphill.

Wiggins Springs doesn't seem to be the sort of rural place where one can wander in to a store, chat with the locals, and hitch a ride back uphill with a six of Yuengling.  Fences and walls keep people out, but they also lock people in.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Second Day Trail Blues

What exactly convinced me that this would be fun?

Even with twelve hours, my favorite hiking breakfast, and a dose of vitamin I, the second day is always toughest for me.

The upslopes seemed longer (they weren't -- The Priest climb from the north is one of the tougher ones in Virginia). The late morning heat was soaking my shirt and socks with sweat. I misplaced the top quality headlamp my trail angel loaned me. (I found it later.) Day hikers on their way to Spy Rock and trail runners buzzed by me, and my calves and thighs ignored the water and saline gel tabs I was gulping down for their aid.

With the distance to my target shelter (water supply) uncertain and the noontime heat wearing me down, I saw a trail sign pointing downhill to "Porter Hill/Rock Spring". The spring part sounded especially good, so I promised the white blazes that I would return and followed the trail down ---

Into a quiet paradise. Trees filling an otherwise unforested bowl with green glowing shades, light breezes, a small creek running out from a giant granite boulder.  No one else.

So much down and dry wood that I had to start a fire, something I rarely do while hiking alone. Fires do draw on that magic of our distant ancestors' huddling around the flames that pushed back the dark -- something calls.

And just at hikers' midnight, a fellow trekker of my age shouted a hello as he came down the trail into this Brigadoon. He grew as excited as I was as he looked around, andnwent back up to get his pack and the younger couple hiking with him. I kept the fire going, collected my scattered bags of stuff and hung the edibles in my bear bag.

They arrived with a German Shepherd, who made a beeline for the spring. Roxanne then came over and quickly approved of my butt scratching skills, much too her support team's relief. Introductions were made, and we all started into their rituals at day's end. 

The elder confessed to me that he was trying a hammock on this trip, but found it uncomfortable for sleeping. They are heading from Pennsylvania to Georgia, expecting to arrive in November, he said ... hiking with their dog requires them to avoid National Parks with bears, a small blessing this time as it gives them a reason to skip the weather in the Smokies.

We'll leave the light on for you

Tomorrow, first resupply. Good thing, I am down to my last homemade meal.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

First day -- Climb The Priest!

5:15 Alarm. Breakfast, pack up

7:40 Trailhead. Ritual photos, up the trail at 7:45.

Steep climb: 15 minutes, 30, 45, 45, 45. Overtaking hiker comments about unusual floral scent on the trail this morning -- hey, it's your -- insect repellant!? Um, right,  Mo's Skeeter Beater® ....

Woman hiker from Richmond coming downhill assures us that the spring at the Priest is running -- so I didn't need to carry the extra two liters of water? Of course you did, she says, you need the practice.

Grudgingly accepting neurotic concerns, Barbara decides to turn around at 10:30.

10:10 How much farther? About as far as we've gone. B wants to summit, says maybe 10:45 turnaround. I tell her that I will be worried if she starts back too late.

10:40 Barbara turns around and heads back to the Tye River trailhead.

12:00 Lunch. Moderately traveled trail, but no thru hikers. Pair of hikers overtaking me assures that Barbara was heading down in good order.

1:30. The Priest.  6 hours, 4 miles, 4000 feet, first day, 46# pack including double water rations. Pretty good, eh?

A congratulatory flower

Hikers already at the Priest point me to where a rattlesnake had been sunning on a rock,  but it had just slipped away. Maybe it was the smell of my Skeeter Beater® ?

Guardian of the trail to The Priest

My "confession" for the log at The Priest shelter (an AT hiker tradition) Forgive me for MISS leading two young women who were worried about the snake that had disappeared into the brush (so, two misses, actually). Knowing that the thought would disturb their sleep, I told them that they should not be concerned, and assured them that although they do seek heat I had never heard of a snake actually slipping under a tent to get warm ... heh heh.

Saturday, September 3, 2016


Headed south today; the Ion will wait for me at the Airport Plaza Hotel Parking facility in Roanoke while I hike the 147 miles from Tye River to McAfee Knob ... roughly a third of the distance I will drive today to get ready for 18 days on the trail.