CDT Pie Town to Grants

5/6 21.3 miles

More gravel road walking out of Pie Town. It went fine but I’m hurting. The water sources are different than before. This used to be cattle country with wind mills or solar wells to water them. I see very little evidence of cows, other than fences—-neither hoof prints nor fresh cow patties. What’s going on? Ranchers out of business? Meat market crash? Water supply dry up? The water tank where I camped with the Ravens, Endless and Queen Bee in ‘17–derelict. The solar well where I camped with Tinman, Earl Gray Goose, OT and the other OGs in ‘21–not functioning for awhile it looks like. And both are no longer listed as a water source on the FarOut app.

On the other hand, about 16-17 miles from Toaster House, a wonderful family has the TLC Ranch and puts out water and snacks for hikers. You could camp there but it was too early in the day when I caught up to Gonzo and we sat on chairs in the shade and chatted.

I plodded on a bit after picking up 2 1/2 liters of water from TLC to get me through dinner, breakfast and to the next water tomorrow.

Right now, I’m back on “the red line,” out of Pie Town, the official CDT, but coming up are a variety of alternates. With the Ravens, I took “the brown line,” the Cebolla Alternate, but I’ll do what I did the last time, just stay on the red line, join the paved 117, link back to the red line after skipping a 20 mile chunk of red line El Malpais (which I’ve never done) and either turn west to link with “the blue line,” the Bonita-Zuni Alternate, which I’ve done twice or stay north on the red line, the pavement, which I did with the Ravens, memorably camping with 2 friendly, curious horses. Follow that? Doesn’t matter.

5/7/23 19.5 miles

Martini and Catwater

Today was more gravel road, with a bit of wind starting around noon, so really comfortable temperature, although the dust sticks to my sunscreen and drips out my nose. At a new to me water source a bit off the road, I met Martini, a hiker from Slovakia, how cool is that? I got water, hiked on to the junction of red line/brown line and rested a bit. Alpaca, from Germany, stopped too, nice. She’s heading on the brown line, I’m not. After another 5-ish miles I got to pavement and walked on another 5 till I rejoined the brown line (short cutting essentially). A fair amount of traffic was going by both directions. I knew if I was running low on water, all I had to do was pause and hold up my water bottle pathetically and a car would stop. But I was fine. Within a few hundred yards of the dirt cattle pond I was going to intimidate cows to get to, a truck pulled over and asked if I needed water. It was Patricia (but with the Spanish pronunciation that I can’t channel on this blog: Pah-TREECE-e-ah), an unadvertised Trail Angel who had just given water and conversation to 3 hikers ahead of me, including the old French guy from Toaster House, whose room I got after he left. We had a lovely chat while she poured a liter into my Smart Water bottle to make 2 L I was carrying. She said she’d be driving back on the road later if I needed more. Dopamine rush, thank you!

Are you kidding me? Yes, I’m watching for water. Please.

I knew I’d need an additional 1L to camp if I stuck to the red line road walk to Grants, because the next water was at the Ranger Station tomorrow.

The water caches that have been maintained by Trail Angels since at least 2017, are no longer, I know from hiker comments in the Far Out app. That changes everything for me, hauling water at 2.2 lbs a liter is tough even when my modest consumption is 4L a day. The more weight I carry, the slower I go.

I finally stopped to rest, maybe 10 miles since the last rest. There’s no shade or place to pee when you’re on a highway with barbed wire fence on both sides and no trees to hide behind in the right-of-way. I stopped where the brown line joins the 117. There was a 5 gallon cache, empty, when suddenly, to this weary hiker, Hamish, drove off the highway, over the cattleguard and onto the dirt road where I rested against a road marker. He saw me, stopped and asked if I needed water. “Yes, can you spare 1 liter?” “As much as you want!” I grabbed my 2L platypus (not the 1L I also have) and he kept filling it—past the 2 L mark, so then I had 4L! Heavy. Great conversation even though I was not resting but standing up the whole time. He has volunteered in the area with the Albuquerque Wildlife Society for 30 years, working to restore water availability for wildlife. When I told him my observations and questions about cattle and well water for them, he appeared stunned. I quit babbling about them asking the indigenous people for their knowledge of water and wildlife pre-ranchers and why there’s so few cows the last few years and the impact on water that roads, drainage ditches and culverts have. Shut up Catwater. But I made both of us think about these water issues, I’m sure. He invited me to volunteer with his organization.

I scooted under barbed wire to make camp where the Ravens and I did. I miss you guys!

5/8 16.1 miles

View from my campsite

I got water at the Ranger Station after ducking the closed gate. I saw 3 people including 2 rangers and a guy working on concrete. The assistant ranger saw my Alaska flag hat and told me he’d spent 3 seasons in Chicken, AK, cool! The rangers introduced me to Walter, Acoma Pueblo, artist, who was sculpting an installation. The rangers said goodbye and hopped in their truck. Then one on one Walter described how he saw a request for proposal (RFP) for a sculpture at the Ranger Station. He is so stoked to be selected. He told me about Acoma energy, his sculpture will have a lightening bolt. He’d love to see Mt Taylor erupt. I know Mt Taylor is sacred to indigenous people—let’s revert to its proper name! But I didn’t say it, because I was listening to this beautiful Acoma man with Spina Bifida, “I can only carve 3-4 hours a day.” I have to come back when the sculpture is finished.

I ducked under barbed wire again to camp but just before the Boundary sign, whatever that means. It’s all fenced. I love them, but I don’t want to wake up again to horse snouts nosing under my tent fly like it happened when I was camping with the Ravens.

5/9 13.1 miles

I’m hobbling from walking for days on pavement.

Think I saw a javelina today, my first. I’ve heard they can be aggressive, so like when I’ve seen bear, I yelled something stupid. In this case, “Hey, you all alone?” and it ran back to my side of the road and then along the fence line away from me out of sight. I tracked the little footprints till there was a big enough hole under the fence and they vanished. Sure made the New Mexico Highway 117 road walk (the official route for the CDT National Scenic Trail) a little more interesting since previously I’d been counting the number of single gloves along the side of the pavement.

Stopped at Subway about halfway to Grants and Motel 6. Yum, sandwich and lemonade, seriously. I made it to the motel by 1:30. Had a reservation but the wonderful front desk told me to cancel it and gave me the hiker discount, $20 cheaper. Which I spent on beer at Walgreens.

Might be related to 2017 horses

CDT 2023 Reserve to Pie Town

At the Pie-O-Neer in Pie Town, upper right by the fireplace around the table clockwise: Container, Eager Beaver, Brittany, ?, Falcon, El Chapo, ?

I forgot to talk about the elevation in New Mexico. When I flew into Silver City , I was at 6000’. The day I hiked out towards Gila Hot Springs I topped out at 7200’. This last stretch I slept in Reserve at 5800’ after climbing to 9000’ the day before. The shuttle from Reserve dropped me at the trailhead at 7300’ and that day I climbed over Mangas Mountain at 9600’ before pitching my tent on the downside at 8300’. It doesn’t look like I’m at elevation, it looks like flat to hilly desert.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail north last year, I went up and down stunning mountain ranges, some of the oldest mountains I’ve ever been in, but their elevation is comparatively low. The Whites in New Hampshire have a calling to peak baggers—summit all 48 4000footers (4000’). That’s in contrast to Colorado’s challenge—bag all 58 14ers (14,000’). And I’ve spent quite a bit of time in California’s Sierra, including hiking Mt Whitney a few times, the highest peak in the Lower 48 at 14,505’.

5/1/23 zero

I’m still exhausted, even after a night in a quiet, comfy room—dammit!

Twigs and Foghorn took a zero yesterday and were going to hike out today but Twigs has a swollen, sore Achilles so she and Foghorn are going to rest up another day—the only hikers here until suddenly in the afternoon, they were swarming like flies. Or, you know, maybe flies were swarming stinky hiker trash.

Thor is camping behind the laundry room, then Auzzie and pup Waydoe (yes!). Falcon and his just trail named companion, Roadside Poopah (or just Roadside because the diarrhea next to the trail doesn’t need to be thought about every time you hear his name). Roadside has 2 sore Achilles and is going to get a ride ahead to Toaster House in Pie Town. Falcon will take a zero in Reserve.

We all went to the only place open for food, Bill’s Bar. I shot pool for the first time since Crystal Palace and Saloon in Juneau in the 70’s I think. I even made a few shots—me and Falcon vs Twigs and Foghorn. More hikers rolled in for food and beer—Tucker and Ian, Dr Doolittle and Sherpa (met at Doc’s). Fun!

Cats in Reserve

5/2/23 16.3 miles

So I got the shuttle (thanks again Darryl!), hiked a shortish day and am now drinking the Sante Fe 7K IPA I carried out of Reserve. I’m purposely doing 2 nights so I can hike into Toaster House on morning 3 in the hopes that hikers have cleared out and I can get a bunk inside. I’ve done it before and the plan has worked. The latest info is that new caretaker Dana is cleaning things up, and sticking to quiet hour and good behavior rules. If it’s overrun like in 2021, I can grab my resupply box and hitch to Quemado where there is a motel. Why do I stress about this?

1st snow I’ve seen, Mangas Mountain
Water source for the day

5/3/23 15.4 miles

An uneventful day of gravel road walking. I stopped at Davila Ranch at about noon and owner John was there. I met him way back when and I’d heard he’d had some health issues since. But he looked good and it was fun talking to him. Since I told him I’d been there before, he asked if I knew DogMa. Of course! She’d been at Davila just a week or so before, for the second time (the 1st was in 2019 when she and I met on the porch of Toaster House with her dog with the sprained tail from swimming the Gila River). John said he didn’t recognize DogMa but described her, not present this year, dog to perfection. Kinda like me, I’ll get the dog’s name and forget the hiker’s name. John dug a 500’ well so he could provide this hiker oasis. There’s a covered area with a refrigerator stocked with eggs and potatoes, 2 washers and dryers, a kitchen area, a wash station, flush toilet and shower complete with towels and loaner clothes. All for donation. What kindness!

I hung out an hour and a half, first with Forest Jill, and older hiker couple Home and Eric, and then with Twigs and Foghorn. I carried enough water to camp and went another 6 miles, ducking under a barbed wire fence and stealth camping in wind and clouds, hidden from the road, leaving no trace and perfectly comfortable.

Good morning sun!

5/4/23 8 miles

Cats in Pie Town

Made it to Toaster House by 10 am. Got my bunk on the ledge upstairs. No problems. Not wall to wall mattresses like in 2021, whew. The washer works again in the single bathroom with shower. Towels and sheets are clean. I did another load and hung them to dry outside in the wind—bone dry towels within an hour. Dana, the caretaker, is trying, stressing to make it a great hiker stop again, and we got along great. She’s only been here a week and is trying to get things straightened up as the hiker bubble keeps rolling in. Most want to zero, staying is by donation. Twigs and Foghorn went to eat at the cafe with me and then moved on, either hiking a ways or hitching to Grants I think. I’ll miss them.

5/5/23 zero

Hikers in the piano room at the Pie-O-Neer. Playing is Lamb, behind Container and El Chapo

Falcon arrived. There are lots of Germans here too. El Chapo and wife Brittany, physios from Toronto, awesome people! More food at the Pie-O-Neer with hikers including Lamb (Liam sounds like Lamb with his Aussie accent), Canister (German from Hamburg), sweet Eager Beaver, Falcon, El Chapo and Brittany. And more!

Somehow, the single bedroom I stayed in years ago was vacated by an old French guy and I got it. I saw it was empty and asked Dana if she was saving it for someone. She said I could have it because she knew I wouldn’t mess with the stuff stored there (paper towels, cleaning products, nothing a hiker would take, I was kinda confused). Bliss! Privacy (with my earplugs in). I found out AFTER, the next day when I was on trail and talked with Gonzo, that she’d told others to get out of the room. I feel kind of bad because as I was hiking out, an innocent hiker guy asked if I had a bunk and I told him about the single room. I wonder if Dana kicked him out?

Gonzo and Catwater hiking out from Toaster House

CDT New Mexico 2023 Silver City to Reserve

I flew to Albuquerque on Alaska Air, overnighted, then got a little 8 seat Advanced Air flight on a King Air 350 to Silver City. I spent 2 nights in the lovely old Murray Hotel downtown so I could listen in on some CDTC Trail Days talks on Friday, April 21 before heading northbound (NOBO).

4/22/23 16-ish miles

What a hella painful day, I’m in terrible shape and everything hurt. How can my pack weigh so much with just 3 days of food? It got hot and it was so much going up—at least 10 miles! But, I’m so glad to be here. The Gila River Alternate that I’ve hiked 3 times I think starting in 2017 has too much water for safety supposedly. I walked out of Silver City up Little Walnut Road and joined the red line, the official CDT, heading on trail to where it crosses the highway. I guess I’ll try something new. Since I was planning on 2 nights to Doc Campbell’s, I’m going to have to road walk 30 miles of Hwy 15 starting tomorrow. I’m going to stress over water sources, although there’s more water than I’ve ever seen. I guess if all else fails, or just an ankle or knee, I can hitch the highway.

4/23 19 miles

Beautiful day. I met Braveheart on the road. She was leaning against the ditch on the side of the two-lane, bundled in her puffy, napping. She left Silver City at 4 am, walking up Hwy 15, no messing around. She said the Trail Days chatter yesterday (while I was already hiking) confirmed “Don’t do the Gila River Alt” and “everybody” was going to do the 15 to Doc’s—39 miles Silver City to Doc’s.

Anyway the ups were slow and the downs hurt my feet, the usual little toes blackened, left instep activating the callous. At least I didn’t feel like a freak on the road walk and even got trail angel-ed, twice, with water bottle refills. I found a place to camp away from the low traffic highway that dead ends at my destination, Gila Hot Springs.

Pretty little dead bird

4/24 12 miles

Maybe because I’d reserved 2 nights at Gila Hot Springs RV Park and was going to zero, I let the pain rule me. My feet killed me, on the 7 mile steep downhill on pavement, I could barely slap my feet down. It got hot but with sparse vegetation, there was no place to change out of my tights and into shorts without risking a public indecency situation. When did I get so PC? (As it turned out, a driver who went by in my direction and camped at the RV Park, apparently mentioned to the camp host all the hikers on the road, including the lady with the long gray braids. I have to get some kind of disguise. Good thing I wasn’t also pantsless.)

I had a lovely encounter at a viewpoint with 2 camouflaged turkey hunters and hiker Serena. It always makes me smile when some random car camper is impressed by us long distance hikers.

Doc’s is wonderful, got my box, bought $72 of food, finally got to sit around and talk hiker talk with other hiker trash.

4/25 Zero miles

Mostly hung around in the back of Doc’s with Fire, Falcon, Snazzy Cat, Aussie and his new pup Waydoe (not spelled right, but it’s another word for gringo), Shit Storm and Ungerwear and going in to buy more snacks off and on. Many did the river (hey Braveheart, “everybody” did not do the road walk). I think I’ll take the High Route to the top of a junction that goes to the bottom (river) where I’ve camped 3 times. I’ve never done the High Route, but my buddies the Ravens took it in 2017 with no reported problems. Then maybe I’ll go down the connecting trail and walk to the river to where it pops out at Snow Lake.

Waydoe snoozing on Aussie’s pack straps
Doc’s trail register, 2021, just below me are Jibz and Crocs who I hung out with on the AT south of Harper’s Ferry

4/26 17 miles

Well just a trail, the High Route. Horseshit, yay! Which meant the blowdowns were cleared. There was one view down into the Gila River canyon to where I camped the last 2 times here. Weird. I don’t miss the water walking but I miss the beauty of the rock walls rising above me.

4/27 15.6 miles

Froze last night! Ice crusted on my tent, a frozen water bottle. I kept waking up cold and adding layers.

I did walk down to the river from the High Route, thinking maybe I’d just cross and walk up to Aeroplane Mesa on the High Route, but I’m tired and coughing and didn’t want to go straight up carrying 2 L of water, so I turned left at the junction. As usual, I hoped to camp before I actually found a flat place. I made it to the campground at Snow Lake where a bunch of us were in ‘21, but nobody else was here. Water taps still off due to freezing temperatures, but TP in the outhouses and garbage bins were available.

I had a peaceful night, no ice either.

4/28 15.3 miles

Turkey vulture?

The headwind today was relentless and cold till 2 pm. I walked up and up, then across a mesa with no trees to break the wind. I needed to eat but couldn’t stop, too cold. I camped early in a nice spot near the dirt road that had only old cow poop. One lonesome cow mooed off and on in the distance as I lay in my tent, trying to find her herd I think.

4/29 16.4 miles

More gravel road walking for 12 miles. Then a cell signal and rocky trail till I camped near a tiny trickle. A few cars, a ranch for sale, and later, a single hiker passed me. Eager Beaver. Warmest day yet, I like it.

4/30 16.9 miles

I took another route I haven’t done before, the Govina Canyon Alternate. I liked it, I saw 3 cow calves, twins and a single, 2 mama cows, and a mellow little bull. I got a cell signal at about 11:30, got a reservation at the Frisco Inn in Reserve, and scheduled a shuttle pickup from Hwy 12 to Reserve—wow, that’s different than before! You’ve always had the very uncertain hitch—took me a really long time in 2017 in a rain storm. Getting this set up made my anxiety over trying to hitch into a town with no idea if there’d be a room, vanish. The next 5 hours of hiking were so much more positive, I need a rest badly. There’s a couple stops ahead that have been there in the past with a shower and laundry but they’re very uncertain this season so far—Davila Ranch and Toaster House. I just want to do laundry in a washing machine for the first time since getting on a plane April 19. Isn’t that weird?

Umm, anybody?

AT Pearisburg to Damascus, VA

9/17-29 166.4 miles

Sometime as I was walking around the Angel’s Rest hostel yard petting dogs, long Arctic Blonde hair clean and not in braids, a camper cheerfully greeted me with “Hey, Groovy!” which cracked me up. Guess I do present as a hippie, kids.

Five of us threw in money to have our backpacks driven to the next hostel and slacked there—Coach (70 and the fastest), Orchid, Duckie, Crossword and me. Woods Hole Hostel is about a half mile down a good gravel road with the original structure built in the 1880’s. The granddaughter of the original hostel owner now runs it with fresh food out of the garden, sweet dogs, a bunkhouse, shower house and main house and kitchen. Wonderful food too.

Woods Hole Hostel
Wood’s Hole Hostel

Even better, the day after that, Woods Hole delivered our packs to Weary Feet hostel 15.6 miles south. Woo!

I spent 3 nights at the Weary Feet run by Julie and ably assisted by Robert. A wonderful old house with high ceilings and creaky wood floors. Julie made dinner and breakfast for how ever many hikers there were, which ranged from 2 to 8 during my stay. I slackpacked 2 days and headed out for good after my third night.

Something old

The first day slack, Crossword decided to hike out for real so I saw him as we were hiking opposite directions. Early Bird had asked me to check on him since he wasn’t feeling well. He texted later that he camped at the first shelter and then his wife came the next morning and took him home. Although he tested negative for Covid several times, he was at home for about a week before feeling well enough to get back on trail.

I learned a lot from Robert about farming and local fauna and flora. He spent his days cutting and bailing hay and taught me about dry hay, wet hay (rolls have to be less than 30% wet with no holes allowed in the white plastic covering or mold will get in), what horses could eat (dry hay in “square” bales) and what cows could eat (wet or dry hay in round bales). There’s 3 kinds of bear hunting dogs in the area: strike, jump and pack dogs, each with a special role. And other interesting, local knowledge.

Another Rhododendron tunnel

I finally hiked out for good with less than 18 miles to another hostel: Burke’s Garden hostel where I was the only guest and watched cows and horses in the surrounding fields from my clean but cold indoor haven. I got a text from Tyvek Shaman, checking in, he’s 300 miles south of me, heading for the finish, so cool. When I got dropped back at the trail in the morning, the cold wind barreling up the ridge kept me cold till 2 pm. I camped by a stream by myself out of the wind and not too cold. I did say “Morning” to a hiker who came by early in the dark with a head lamp, no idea which direction he was headed though.

A rare enclosed hiker Shelter

It was slightly less cold than yesterday, I climbed out of the creek drainage protected from the wind but not the cloud and rhododendron cover. The trail crossed through open pastures, which I love. The feeling of space and sky and territorial views makes me happy.

I got to the highway at Rural Retreat in the early afternoon and walked up the road to the Long Neck Lair Alpaca Farm and Hiker Hostel. My private room was a little odd, just a wood barn door separating it from the house—I could hear the TV and conversations next door like I was in the same room, sigh. I could have gone to the nearby motel though but the owners here are super kind. The bunkhouse wasn’t an option, even if I wanted, as poor Duckie is there, sick with fever and other Covid symptoms, taking a zero with Orchid and Coach.

Nonetheless, the next morning Orchid, Duckie and I slackpacked, asking for the shuttle to take us out the trail a little late, 11:30 am, to make sure Duckie was up for it. They got ahead of me and when I walked back into town I ate at the Mexican restaurant before heading back to the hostel, yum! Coach had opted to hike out SOBO in the morning with his pack.

Alpaca Farm and hostel
I got to feed the alpacas!

The next day’s plan was to catch a ride by 7. When Duckie and Orchid didn’t show up, I figured one or both wasn’t feeling well. Later in the day I learned Duckie had tested positive so they were going to isolate a bit longer. I was at the trailhead waiting for Crossword and let Coach (he camped at the shelter just off the road to wait for Duckie and Orchid) know about Duckie. He got out his home test kit and got a negative result.

Crossword is getting back on trail after 3 negative tests. His wife, Diana, drove him back from Maryland so I finally got to meet her before she headed back. She thanked me for watching out for him. Yup, it takes a village to raise an old guy on the trail—his wife, Diana, 2 real sisters, Jean and Patty, and me, the sister-by-another-mother.

It was a cold 4 days and 3 nights into Damascus. The first night, Crossword, Decadent and I camped next to a tiny trickle out of the wind. Decadent is tired and cold but younger and doing bigger miles, although admittedly he needs to switch to his cold weather gear at Damascus.

We saw a “blue blaze” or short cut on the Far Out App once you hiked up to the Grayson Highlands. It cut 6 miles so we took it and made it to the Hurricane Mountain shelter. I pitched my tent nearby, trying to find a break from the wind. Horse With No Name was nearby while others stayed in the shelter—Living Proof, Coach, Crossword and Decadent. It was the coldest it’s been that night, near freezing. Although it’s comfortable and fairly well insulated, my Big Agnes sleeping pad let some ground cold in. Too bad my Thermarest NeoAir XTherm gave up in Rangeley, ME. I’d tried to talk a couple of backpackers into loaning me their dog, Rosie, for the night, but no luck. Go figure!

First thing I saw hiking out the next morning was a feral pony, then more ponies, yay! And the trail went through a cow pasture, so I got to see calves too.

Feral pony in the Grayson Highlands
The white blazed AT goes through this cow pasture

Crossword and I decided to camp at a junction of the AT and the Virginia Creeper Trail. The Creeper is a rail-to-trail quite popular with cyclists. We walked it into Damascus the next morning where it rejoined the AT. It was flat, wide, and graveled, so finally some quick hiking for me.

Hurricane Ian warnings rattled all of us hikers a bit. The nights have been nearly freezing anyway and rain and wind are predicted as the hurricane moves up through South Carolina, then North Carolina and possibly west into the part of Virginia I’m in. I had hoped to be indoors in Damascus before it hits, if it does. And I made it too.

I’ve got other things I want to do—a volunteer week in Yosemite NP with people I haven’t seen in awhile in my favorite park. A trip to NYC for theatre and the marathon, I ran the 50th in November 2021. I’d hoped to thru the AT but it’s taken longer than I hoped. And I learned on the CDT in 2017 that it’s wise to have some balance and take breaks from the trail for the people you care about.

Broken Fiddle Hostel was a calm, clean place to stay. Once I confirmed that I could get a shuttle to the Asheville airport and that I could change my flight to an earlier date, I relaxed, decision made. I will return for the final 470.7 miles from Damascus, VA to Springer Mountain, Georgia. When? To Be Determined (TBD). So long for now, Appalachian Trail, it’s been a trip.

Float and Coach at the Damascus Diner
Coach and Duckie

AT Daleville to Pearisburg

9/9-16 93.2 miles

Since flipping from Katahdin to Harper’s Ferry and hiking south (SOBO), there’s been almost no hikers familiar to me. Or really very many hikers at all. For someone who claims to hike solo, and has, I really miss having comrades to share plans and concerns about the miles ahead. I bogged down in Daleville, just not able to walk across the highway and get back on trail. On trail depression is another new experience for me, unique to the AT. So I stuck around till Crossword caught up and we hiked out together, it’s been awhile.

After a night in my tent, we got to a weird ass hostel, 4 Pines, that had some interesting comments in the FarOut hiking app. I would have skipped it except all my gear is rain soaked and I wanted to dry it out. The hostel is an unheated converted truck garage with bunk beds, couches that our 2 human (Sprocket and Ed) staff slept on and a bathroom. No sheets or pillows, just the fluorescent overhead lights and the usual cloud of cigarette smoke right outside the door. And I did accidentally drop my toothbrush in the toilet.

It worked out though, with a 15 mile slackpack day and lots of animals—dogs Bailey and Izzy and “white cat” Ellie who I managed to track down out back and hug for a minute.

Crossword and I camped 3 more nights along good trail, now definitely cooler but clear and sunny before going into Angel’s Rest Hostel in Pearisburg where I got another private room while assorted hikers piled into the bunkhouse with Crossword.

The hostels and camaraderie at them, no matter what direction or style you’re doing, is one of the wonderful things about the AT. The fact that I’ve been able to get my own room and afford to pay for it most places, has reduced the Covid anxiety I got way back in July in New Hampshire.

Why do I feel so uneasy? I’ve been doing this long distance hiking thing for a few years now. Thru hiking the PCT in 2015, I experienced for the first time what I later learned was pretty common amongst hikers: post trail depression, a realization that the people you love are what’s important, exhaustion, just wanting to get to the end and call it done.

So for the past few years, I’ve tried to find balance and have got off the trail to connect with the people in my life—volunteer work, visits, a wedding, a trip overseas—in the middle of a long distance hike.

Because this hike is on the opposite coast from where I live, the West and Far North, I’ve been isolated. Not alone, but alone. I worry about people. I worry I’ll never get to say goodbye like I did with my dad in 2015 a month before his death when I took a few days to visit before getting back on the PCT.

The famous McAfee Knob

AT Waynesboro to Daleville, VA

8/30-9/7 114.9 miles

Tick and I got a shuttle ride back south to where we had started the 19 mile slackpack yesterday and started north. It was a bit of a late start after a fitful night. There was a steep rocky up and steeper down with thunderstorms predicted for the afternoon. I just wasn’t feeling it so camped after a shortish day, a lovely spot next to the river. In the morning a local dog trotted down the little side path I was on, seemed like he had a regular patrol he did. I told him he was a good dog and he wagged his tail as I packed up and followed him across the suspension bridge. He turned to his house but I crossed the road and continued up the trail. He followed and I had to tell him to go home. Which he did. Good dog.

I was glad I waited to do the climb up Priest. Sometime in the morning I heard a buzz then a zap on my forearm. Bee? Horsefly? My arm started swelling and itching but no anaphylactic shock. Haven’t had a bee sting since I was a kid playing in the grass and stepped on one. Same reaction now. My arm is swollen from hand to elbow. Dr. Google says it will be fine in 5-10 days. Wish I had some steroids to take the swelling down. I camped near a road, cooler at last.

The trail tread in Virginia is actually quite good. The lush vegetation kind of overlaps a bit so I sashay to avoid berry bush stickers, poison ivy and stinging nettles as much as possible. Probably should buy some pants instead of shorts but it’s too hot! A 19 mile day put me in good shape for tomorrow’s hostel shuttle into the Glasgow, VA Stanimals. I camped in a little mossy tent site before a road and water source. No hikers came by, we’re kind of sparse out here now.

Charlie got me promptly the next day and I got an outstandingly comfy and affordable bed upstairs in the hostel. And Tick and Paisley are here along with a few other hikers. Shower, laundry and dinner at Scotto’s (the only restaurant) after getting what I could from the general store and Dollar General for resupply. No freeze dried dinners but I’ll make do.

Tower Hill
Fire tower remnants at Tower Hill

Charlie knows what he’s doing so the 3 of us did 2 back to back days of slackpacking, just 14.9 and 13.7 miles each, with dinner in Glasgow so I really don’t need freeze dried dinners, I’ve got one for dinner between Glasgow and Daleville, my next resupply town. I decided to zero, and said goodbye to Tick and Paisley when Charlie met us and delivered our big packs. I haven’t taken a day off since Harper’s Ferry, just near-o’s (short mile days). I’m tired. I’m not the only one. I got back to the hostel with Charlie and told another hiker that I hoped it would rain so I wouldn’t feel guilty. And so it rained most of the night, sorry Tick and Paisley for wishing that on you!

Catwater, Paisley, Charlie, Tick
Paisley and his Batman slackpack
Catwater and Paisley under the Guillotine

Crossword turned up the next morning with Charlie. I knew he would, we stay in touch. He saw me in the hostel, much to his surprise. I told Charlie to keep it a secret! It was good to catch up again although he will start 30 miles behind as I hike just one night out and get to Daleville.

A 17.5 mile day and comfy tent site with 10.7 to Daleville the next day. Shower, grocery store, and outfitters for freeze dried dinners for the next 100 miles. That’s going to weigh me down! I had dinner at a Mexican restaurant next to the motel. I feel like I could eat forever. But I’m really sick of walking every day. Think I’ll take another zero and catch up the blog. Yup. Why not?

The littlest box turtle yet

AT Front Royal to Waynesboro, VA

8/22-29 116.8 miles

Good trail into Shenandoah National Park. I got rained on a couple times but since I made a reservation at Big Meadow Lodge in the park in a couple more nights, I know I can dry out. And I’m doing stints on Skyline Drive, where the original AT ran before they turned it into a National Park road in the 1930’s. The trail criss crosses the road frequently. The road walking is brisk, the grade gentle, the views clear and I’m out of the green tunnel for a bit. The mileage is about the same. I’m no AT purist. Lessons learned on the CDT.

Night 3 I was in Big Meadows Lodge. Strange to be with regular tourists who don’t really talk to strangers (me, am I so weird?), but I enjoyed a late lunch, dinner and breakfast, and took a shower and what a beautiful old building.

I didn’t start walking till after breakfast, 9 am, and went up to the store to get some resupply, then back on trail. The next water source was Lewis Mountain Campground. I saw they had cabins too. I said to myself, “If…then yes” and they did, so I got myself a beautiful little room, way nicer than Big Meadow Lodge and spent a very happy afternoon reading and eating after a mere 9 mile hike. Bad Catwater.

First buck I’ve seen
900 more miles

I met Tick in the morning on the way out of the campground. He was getting water and chatting with the campground hosts. Also a Flip Flopper. I confessed all—staying in a cabin, road walking, everything. Because he is more a purist and a quick walker, we wound up at the same shelters (me in my tent though) the next 2 nights before getting the Stanimals Hostel shuttle into Waynesboro for 2 nights. There’s a Walmart and outfitter here. And some chain restaurants nearby. Now out of the Park, Tick and I slack packed about 19 miles rather than take a day off before spending the second night here. That worked.

Kind of a weird hostel setup. The manager has long term renters in private rooms upstairs and several guests who are doing I don’t know what. Right outside the entrance is the smokers area and the manager and her long term renters spend a lot of time there in chairs with overflowing ashtrays. This is not a busy time for hikers coming through but I wonder if this is the same when the NOBOs are in full force. But otherwise a quietish, clean, comfortable place to stay near all the town amenities a hiker wants.

Apple trees gone rogue everywhere
Photo credit: Tick, a mile or 2 ahead of me
Box turtle

AT Harper’s Ferry, WV to Front Royal, Virginia

8/17-21 53.3 miles

But first a little catching up. After scrambling and hiking back to the ranger station in Baxter State Park where the 2 hostels an hour away in Millinocket pickup hikers around 4pm, Survivor and I waited an hour. The Appalachian Trail Inn shuttle had been on time but we were going to stay at the other one. No cell service but the rangers have radio contact and told us that our shuttle was on the other side of the park. So Survivor hitched us a ride to Millinocket, yay, arriving at 6 pm. I eventually found out our scheduled shuttle had to wait on the other guests and wouldn’t have got us until 6 pm anyway. Unacceptable. The AT Inn was comfy, plenty of bunks.

Slingshot, his wife Julie and the other twin daughter, had breakfast with me! I’m going to miss him on the trail—when he summited Katahdin 2 days ahead of me, he completed the AT, congrats!!

After breakfast, a group of us got the AT Inn shuttle to the Medway bus stop. From there I bused to Bangor, walked a mile to the airport, waited around till the evening and caught a Delta flight back to DC via JFK. They didn’t bother to transfer my luggage (backpack) so the next day I had to get back to the airport to pluck my pack off the luggage carousel from the morning flight before taking an Uber to Union Station and getting on Amtrak back to Harper’s Ferry. But there was a Whole Foods within walking distance of my hotel so I got my resupply for the first stretch southbound (SOBO)! Really nice folks at the DC motel, my second stay there at Hampton Inn Arlington Crystal City.

It took some mental refocusing to deal with the change in latitude, loss of daylight hours, loss of hikers and trying to calculate miles going south not north. I hung around Harper’s Ferry for a couple days since I’d been too stressed the last time I was here to explore the history.

My first day was a short one. I headed the 12 miles to the Blackburn Trail Center. I’ve been planning on it since Crocs called out to me at the Flip Flop Festival in April. Colleen invited me to dinner, I was the only hiker there, and it was absolutely wonderful to talk with them. So grateful.

Colleen and Crocs, caretakers
Hiker cabin at Blackburn Trail Center

I did an even shorter hike the next day. On impulse I decided to check out the Bears Den Hostel. Lovely but again no other thru hikers. Just a short walk away I got dinner and a beer at Bear Chase Brewery.

Bear Chase Brewery

I “stealth camped” the next night, actually it was a true stealth site—hidden from the trail, leave no trace. People on the AT call any tent site or campsite “stealth” sites even if they are established and right next to the trail. Annoying.

My hiking buddy, Crossword, is taking some time off trail, and started his Flip Flop further south than I did anyway. He drove out to the trail with some special Berry Sour, took me to the grocery store and outfitter (new shoes!) in Front Royal and then to the Stumble Inn hostel where I’ll spend the night. It was good to catch up, he summited Katahdin a couple days after me and I think maybe Stratton, ME was the last time we saw each other?

I got dropped off at the trailhead and hiked to the other road that goes to Front Royal. It started to rain so I stuck out my thumb and after half an hour got a ride back to town with “Mongo.” Happy to give this guy gas money, thank you! 972 miles to go and tomorrow I’m heading into Shenandoah National Park.

AT Monson to Katahdin, ME

8/4-12 118.3 miles

Into the Badlands

Shaw’s Hostel in Monson is a great place. I picked up my box but didn’t really need to have sent one. The gear shop had everything—dehydrated dinners, Stinger energy gels, even Starbucks Via instant coffee which I haven’t seen in hundreds of miles. Plus I brought my Black Diamond hiking sticks in and before I could get the words out of my mouth, Poet grabbed a hex head screw driver and tightened up the flick locks for me! I got some more Picardin bug dope out of the hiker box. Best of all—you know what’s coming—a cat in the shop, purring in the sunshine while I got to pet her.

I took a zero and mostly sat around talking with all kinds of hikers—SOBOs just starting out, NOBOs I hadn’t met yet, section hikers and even some of my buddies who were ahead, like Tyvek, and behind who caught up the second day, like Crossword. There’s an honesty and trust amongst hikers (or travelers) that makes for deeply emotional and raw conversations sometimes, confessions. Connection. Like I’ve said before, I like people, and their stories. I tell some of my own.

Crappy pictures of Thing 1 and 2, brothers who hiked the PCT with parents resupplying and supporting them because of the pandemic. I put them here because while talking with these guys it turns out they know exactly where I camped with my high school friends on the North Fork of the North Fork of the American River in the Sierra east of Sacramento, CA. Minds blown.

Thing 1 (19) at Shaw’s
Thing 2 (17) at Shaw’s
At Shaw’s

This was quite an interesting stretch! Poet from Shaw’s dropped a bunch of us off. It continued to be quite hot and humid for 4 more nights. I camped the first night solo on an abandoned logging road, I love these old roads, the next night I had a campsite near Chairback Mountain shelter all to myself followed by a marginal solo spot off trail about 11 miles before my arranged Shaw’s food drop 51 miles from where Poet dropped us off.

I got my food, and the bonus PBR, and continued on, kinda drunk walking, but on perfect tread to the Falls shelter. Wonderful swimming hole! I camped away from the shelter after cleaning up with a bunch of others swimming in the pool and continuing my talk with NOBO Trotter and his dog Blaze. It rained that night and continued all the next day. At every shelter were people who hadn’t moved since the day before. I slipped off a “bog board,” kind of like what we call a boardwalk laid through muskeg, right on my back so my pack went under. But for the second day in a row, all I said when I fell was “Whoa.” Am I losing my mind? Where’s the automatic 4 letter word?

I camped at a lake after 19 miles, that’s how good the tread is, even in the rain. But it never stopped raining and it was kind of cold. So I stayed in my tent, myself contemplating an on-trail zero, till 9:30 am when it finally let up.

Youth group leader, finally got his photo on his way up Katahdin

Just a couple miles in, I ran into a youth group I’d seen the day before. They all spoke French although most spoke unaccented English too. Maine is just below the Canadian border after all. The guy in the photo was at the front of the group. His co-leader was bringing up the rear somewhere. Leader says to me,”The stream ahead is uncrossable, we’re going down where it feeds into the lake and cross there. But check out the stream for yourself.” Which I did, and it was horrendous. I followed them down about a hundred yards to the same lake I’d camped by and saw how shallow and sandy the bottom was. We all crossed, then bushwhacked back to the AT, a short distance. Later in the day I was taking a break and they passed me. I said thank you again and made sure the boys heard me tell the leader that that was a brilliant plan. Seriously, I’ve got a lot of experience with sketchy crossings but don’t know how long I would have taken to come up with the same idea. To repay him a bit, I quietly mentioned about undoing your waist and chest straps when walking through hazardous fords. So if you fall, you can slip out of your pack easily and get your head above water without the pack holding you down. I camped near a shelter, listening to the boys laugh and joke and play. Joy in the outdoors.

Sometimes my weird brainstorms work. I noticed on the FarOut app that one of the two campgrounds listed for Abol Bridge, just outside Baxter State Park, had indoor space. So I called from the top of something and reserved a dry cabin, no electricity or plumbing, but who cares? A shower (after 7 days, 6 nights), breakfast, and most of all, a place to dry out my tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, rain jacket, and shoes. And I charged my battery charger in the shower house while the generator was on during the day.

Plane crash

I woke up in my little cabin, stress about the Katahdin logistics gone. I had the guest breakfast that started at 7:35, then walked to the park entrance to sign up for the Birches thru hiker campsite just below the hike up Katahdin. Park Ranger trail name Bear, a recent AT thru hiker, gave me spot #3 of the 12 allowed at 8:45 am. It wasn’t a far hike to Katahdin Stream Ranger Station where you check in and get some instructions and paperwork from the Ranger. I waited awhile, congratulating hikers on their descent as they rolled in to catch shuttles out of the park and off trail, and greeting others who would head up the next day like me.

It rained that night on the 12 of us in Birches campsite, but we had a good day to climb up Katahdin, and back down. There was scrambling. And it was amazing. Not the mountain, especially, but the accomplishment.

1168 miles hiked. Part 1 done. Now back to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, where the journey began. 1026 miles to Springer Mountain, Georgia. Part 2. To Be Continued.

Smile taking the photo
Almost to the top of Katahdin
Stealth from Quebec
Smile from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tyvek Shaman

AT Rangeley to Monson, ME

7/26-8/2/22 105.9 miles

From my Flip north from Harper’s Ferry, I’ve gone 1000 miles

The zero helped my ankle so I hiked out, walking very carefully past the little root that took me out two days ago. The trail got worse from there until it climbed into the alpine and the lovely, sticky rock slabs. I managed a hard fall later on anyway, I have a new bump and hematoma on my right knee cap. I camped with 4 guys near the first lean-to/shelter: Shaggy (31), Tech Support (73), and Crossword (62) laid out their pads and bags in the open front shelter, Agony (62) was in his hammock and I pitched my tent—a good crew.

It was better tread the next day, but who knows what tomorrow will bring? Tech Support and I wound up camping together at an established campsite. Why do hikers call any camp or tent site a “stealth” site on the AT? Nothing stealthy about camping next to the trail in an already impacted site. Stealth implies you’re hidden from view. Sigh.

Real trail with dirt, am I dreaming?

There was a wonderful place in Stratton, ME, the Maine Roadhouse, owned and operated by two women named Jen. As I got to the trailhead, one Jen was already picking up hikers. Me and Reece opted to get dropped off at the White Wolf Inn for food and beverages before going on to the hostel. The “pandemic” cat roaming the bar area let me pick her up and pet her for a few minutes. That was even better than the IPA!

I arranged a slackpack shuttle 17 trail miles out. It was expensive since no other hiker at the hostel wanted to do it. It took 11 hours to day hike 16.6 miles SOBO over “the Bigelows,” but the other hikers only made 10 miles that day and had to carry all their regular gear. I felt great all day, still clambering over rocks and tripping over roots, but with just a daypack, I was reminded that I actually do know how to hike. I got back to the trailhead outside Stratton and Jen took me back to the super comfy hostel. Memory foam mattresses in the bunk house with curtains, reading lights and outlets for each bunk!

Got a shuttle the next morning back out to where I’d been dropped the day before for the SOBO slack, and started NOBO. Because of that good slackpack day, the next three days went well, I met my mileage goals, averaging 16 mile days. The weather has been so hot and muggy. I got into Monson, a day and a half ahead of the people who didn’t choose the slackpack. Going to zero while I figure out the 100 Mile Wilderness food haul and Katahdin permit situation.

Poor little guy next to a lean-to (shelter)
More real trail
Cairn to cairn with a view
Slab rock trail works too