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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.