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.