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 Gorham, NH to Rangeley, ME

7/13-24 including 4 zeroes, 77.9 miles

Wow, I’m never going to get there. Shit keeps happening. I got a ride out of Gorham with Ziggy. It was not a hard day but took me some time anyway. I camped on my own platform at the shelter near Slingshot and B. Good to catch up with them. I gave them each a Covid test kit since I’d been given 4. They kind of kept mum at Paul’s hostel about knowing Crossword and me because there definitely is a stigma attached to catching Covid. B needs to do bigger miles so I didn’t expect to see him today, glad I got to!

Made it to Full Goose Shelter the next day, shared a tent platform with Slingshot. We’re both dreading “the Notch” tomorrow, it’s apparently a ravine with giant rocks that you have to leap across, tunnel under and otherwise boulder your way through followed by a steep uphill on slab rock.

Yup, it was exhausting! Fun through the Notch mostly though, but the uphill was awful. We both took a short day.

I need to pick up a prescription refill mailed to me a couple towns ahead and now I’m behind schedule. As is my norm I concocted several solutions to the problem. Plan A came off without a hitch! The Bethel Village Inn had a room. Ziggy could get me from the trailhead in 5 miles, take me to Andover to get my package, then back to Bethel. It was 3 hours of his life, since he had to drive to snd from Gorham, but only 1 hour of mine, great driver and only cost $50 to simplify everything for me. I’m wearing a mask whenever I’m not on trail now in case I’m carrying Covid, and actually, so I don’t possibly get it from someone else. After all the time I’ve been on the AT, this is the first time Covid has become real. Very few wear masks in towns, but nobody remarks on me wearing one, no stigma I guess. Good.

When I got back on trail, I had a pretty good day, there were some stretches of cruiser tread, amazingly, and I camped by a stream as it was sprinkling just enough to help all us hikers cool off—no rain gear in the heat. I pitched my tent where water would drain and it started pouring.

The next day I was drying out my tent at a shelter while eating lunch and Tyvek and a couple others caught up. I’m enjoying being solo, especially since I’m not fit to be around, still angry over the Covid situation, misplaced anger. It’ll fade, I’m going to avoid hostel bunkhouses or sharing a room as much as possible from now on. Lots of ups and downs but a lovely campsite at the end of the day where most other hikers were planning on going into the Human Nature hostel in Andover. My last day before Rangeley was lovely and the water sources were running better since the rain. The trail still sucks, creek beds and roots, so slow of course. I arranged a ride to town with a plan to slackpack the following day 13 miles between 2 highways with the shuttle support.

Trail
Also trail

Not only did the slackpack day make me happy thinking about it, but when I checked in to a motel by the lake just before noon, my next door neighbors struck up a conversation on the back deck while we were watching ducks and floatplanes, and whisked me off to lunch at Saddleback Ski Resort. Mainers are friendly!

The slackpack day felt great and there were 2 groups working on the trail so I got to thank them for their work on the hot, hot day. I checked out of the motel in the morning but 2 miles in I rolled my ankle, it’s happened many times before. After yelling bad words and waiting for the pain to ease up, I hobbled back to the road and got back to town, because I could. It will probably not hurt in the morning but will just be all kinds of ugly and swollen, but stable. I’m never going to get there.

Trail cankles
Had to order one

AT Duncannon to Palmerton, PA

5/4 18.3 miles

Porcupine hustling away

I got a ride 18.3 miles north of Duncannon, and slack packed back to the Doyle Hotel. Slack packing is day hiking. It was quite weird hiking against traffic. I counted 23 hikers and a dog in the first wave, then after an hour 3 guys I knew, including Silva and Splash, yay! I did see wildlife, including my first tortoise, ever, on a trail. It was so nice to carry no weight through the stinking rocks. I made it back to the Doyle in time for another delicious meal, breakfast was great this morning too. The renovations are going great, but I like the creaky wooden floors and transoms over the room doors.

5/5 14.9 miles

A beautiful day, I got another shuttle ride from Marlene back out the 18 trail miles I’d slack packed the day before and headed NOBO. I only saw 2 hikers, including the guy with the dog I’d seen yesterday who was camped early near the Raush Shelter. There were 2 ear splitting hours of flight training overhead, separated by an hour of no flying. Around and around and around, intensely loud, while I’m walking through green forest. I found a lovely tent site about 5 pm and nobody passed me. I could hear the usual target shooting practice within a mile and the hum of not so distant highway noise. Ah, the AT. It’s going to starting raining in early morning and continue for 2 solid days, at least it’s warm.

5/6 11.8 miles

Started out in my rain gear over shorts, not cold. Then I climbed up to the ridge after a bunch of road crossings, an historic bridge and non-stop road noise where a breeze, cool, chilled me. My rain gear soaked through and I could feel imminent hypothermia. Finally made it to the William Penn Shelter, about 10 miles in, at noon. It was empty so I crawled upstairs out of the rain, stripped down, blew up my Thermarest and crawled into my sleeping bag to get warm. 2 hours later I could think. I checked my Far Out app (formerly GutHook App), found a shuttle driver, Dave. I texted and asked if he could get me from the next road access in 2 miles, either in the morning or this afternoon. Yup. So I reserved a motel room in Pine Grove for 2 nights, which is how long the relentless rain is supposed to last. I quickly walked the 2 miles to the road where Dave got me! It feels so good to be out of the rain, warm. I ate my Packit Gourmet Texas State Fair Chili dinner in my room!

Historic bridge
Not going in that tunnel
More lovely trail scenery

5/7 Zero

I ventured out in full rain gear to go to the Dollar Store and later to the Diner. That’s it. Rain.

5/8 Mother’s Day 16.9 miles

Got a shuttle back out to the trail. It was a hard day, rocks, but gloriously sunny.

You guessed it—the Trail

5/9 13.2 miles

More trail

F*ing rocks. But because of the unscheduled zero, I had to make a new plan. I have a box in Hamburg at the motel and they couldn’t change my reservation to Monday from Sunday so I can’t get there till Tuesday. So why did it take me 8 hours to go just 13.2 miles? Steep, slippery downs, brutal piles of rocks, constant pointy rocks killing my feet, is why. I camped just a mile from the road to Hamburg.

5/10 1.2 miles Hamburg, PA

World’s largest Cabela’s

I got my ride, thanks Barb! I dropped my pack at the motel, too early for check in with the surly crew. Then Barb took me to Cabelas —wow! Dead animals from all over the world—lions, elephants, polar bears—as well as the local dead animals. And live fish in fake streams and an aquarium. I wandered for quite awhile, picking up some dehydrated dinners to add to the boxes I’m going to ship ahead. I walked to Walmart, bought more resupply, then back to the Microtel, and checked in. I Ubered to the post office a couple miles away and packed a couple large flat rate boxes and sent them up the trail. Then walked back to the motel for a delicious burger and local brew, 1787, APA. So I guess I actually walked quite a few more miles than noted, but they don’t count because they’re not trail miles.

5/11

High school group—great kids!
But I camped here, lovely, quiet

Back to the trail and not a terrible day. Many more rock challenges but along the way I met a truly nice high school group from Philly out for an overnight. I talked with the teacher a bit, he’s been taking a group of students out this same stretch for 11 years. of course that made me think back to Anne, teacher at my kids amazing Polaris K-12 public school in Anchorage, AK and the backpack trips I got to help chaperone with her middle and high school students. Thanks Anne!

Nonetheless, after I got water at the shelter they were going to camp at, I pushed on less than a mile and found a quiet, long unused but established campsite all to myself.

5/12 20+miles to Palmerton, PA

Well I wasn’t planning on even going into Palmerton, but when I got to my destination water source at the last shelter before a road, it kinda sucked. Yes I found a tent site by myself after picking up water, but it was extremely road noisy and only 2.4 easy miles from a hostel. I called, they had several bunks available so I got there by 6:30. I talked 3 hikers there into going to dinner with me. Fun! With Ness (aka Necessary Evil), 64, Dead Eye, 18, and Anubis, 32. Then we walked back, I showered and shared a garage with beds in it and fellow hikers Palladin, retired orthopedic surgeon (and who Hot Rod and I camped next to Day 1) and Pozzi (solar energy guy).

Appalachian Trail 2022: Flip Flop

Team Big Alaska at USASA Nationals 2022
Me working on the Boardercross Course with Olympic Gold Medallist and volunteer Nick Baumgartner

Had a great time at the 2022 USASA National Championships! Team Big Alaska killed it. And I was so glad to be back working with the best team in the business on the Boardercross/Ski Cross venue. The last Nationals we held was in 2019 so this was the first big get together for the 30+ separate USASA Series from across the US. Fantastic reunion.

I’m flying to Washington DC in a few days, then taking Amtrak to Harper’s Ferry, WV to start the Appalachian Trail (AT). I plan to hike northbound (NOBO) 1000 miles to Mt Katahdin in Maine, then get myself back to Harper’s Ferry and hike southbound (SOBO) to Springer Mountain in Georgia, another 1000 miles.

Why a Flip Flop hike rather than start at one end and go to the other? Maybe I’m being silly, but the bottom line is I don’t want to be hiking with crowds, worrying about finding a tent site or a bed in a hostel. I do want to have other hikers around me though. I like people. I had the same fear of being crowded out when I started the PCT NOBO in 2015, but it didn’t take all that long for me to find myself in a spread out pack of copacetic hikers going more or less my pace. Over the course of 5 months, people I knew kept turning up after vanishing for a few days or weeks. Even if I hadn’t seen someone I knew in days on the trail, I’d get to a town and just by hanging out in one place for a day or so, people would appear. It was great!

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) is putting on a Flip Flop Festival in Harper’s Ferry with speakers and helpful hints and pack shake downs. I’m hoping to meet other hikers heading out after the hiker breakfast, not to formally join forces with immediately but to get to know. I had a good experience last spring on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), rehiking the first few hundred miles with the Warrior Expedition guys, Kids Out Wild, and other hikers doing our approximate miles and pace.

The AT is going to be challenging for me on many levels. I’m going to have to face my fears. Yes, I have a ton of experience hiking. Things I’m not afraid of include camping solo, bears, hitching to towns, and going hungry. I’ve been warned by friends who’ve hiked the AT, friends I’ve spent the most time on trail with, and who know me well, Puff Puff and the Ravens, that I’m going to hate the rain and the pointless up and downs (PUDs) amongst other challenges. Forewarned, right? Stay tuned….