Wednesday, June 13, 2001
Troutville, VA to Wilson Creek Shelter
Today’s Miles: 11.2
Trip Miles: 712.8
I spent most of the morning doing my town errands – resupplying with food and such. I sent home my rain pants, the lid of my pack (Or “brain” as some folks like to call it, and most importantly, my sleeping bag. It was difficult to part with it, but it has simply grown too hot to justify a 20-degree bag.
I’d hoped that one of the motels in town would have a simple sheet they could give me, or even sell me. It wasn’t meant to be – they only had “stained” ones available. No thank you! I’ll just have to get by without one.
I wasn’t far out of town when I began to hear thunder in the distance. It gradually became louder, and the the treetops began to sway in the wind.
After a long climb I stopped for a break at the Fullhardt Knob Shelter, and briefly debated whether or not to continue for six more miles, with a high likelihood of getting rained on.
I decided to go for it.
“Wow, you’re very brave,” a female hiker there said.
Ahem. Why, thank you, thank you very much.
I “bravely” dashed north up the trail.
The rain held off for a while longer, but then the thunder suddenly grew louder.
I was very happy when the trail descended from the exposed ridge, which wasn’t soon enough. I came upon Baltimore Jack and Emma at Curry Creek, scrambling to set up their tents in anticipation of a downpour.
I stopped too, put on my pack cover, and continued.
“Battening down the hatches?” Jack asked, probably inquiring if I intended to camp with them.
The storm had passed by the time I got to the shelter for the night, anticlimactically leaving me quite dry.
Thursday, June 14, 2001
Wilson Creek Shelter
Today’s Miles: 0
Trip Miles: 712.8
Didn’t feel like hiking today at all. No way. Not quite sure why … maybe the heat. It was maybe the hottest and most humid day so far.
I lounged inside the shelter all day, and still managed to sweat buckets. I even thought briefly about maybe hiking back to Troutville.
Another zero-day in a shelter after hiking out of town – this was a psychological low point on the trail.
The luxuries of town were so tempting – air conditioned rooms and bottomless supplies of food. They called to me and I wanted to go get away from this unbearable heat and destitution.
I was so cold overnight without my sleeping bag. It kept me awake for a long time, and is largely what left me feeling so drained on this day.
I came up with a system of wrapping myself in my tent and rain fly when I slept in the shelters. This actually worked fairly well. I kept a crinkly emergency blanket on hand for nights that I needed to sleep inside the tent.
Later a few folks said they’d been concerned about me, seeing me all wrapped up in my tent, alone in the shelter.
Friday, June 15, 2001
Wilson Creek Shelter to Cove Mountain Shelter
Today’s Miles: 13.7
Trip Miles: 726.5
I had a good, motivated, early start today.
The trail is beginning to criss-cross the Blue Ridge Parkway, a scenic byway that starts in the Smokies and goes clear to Shenandoah. It continues through the National Park, where it become “Skyline Drive.”
After an afternoon of drying out at Bobblet’s Gap, I accompanied Drizzt and Moe here to Cove Mountain, where I’m going to call it a day at fourteen miles. I’m spending most of the evening reading. Life is good.
Drizzt and Moe were great company, as they seemed to have sensed that I’d lost my mojo.
Saturday, June 16, 2001
Cove Mountain Shelter to Bryant Ridge Shelter
Today’s Miles: 6.9
Trip Miles: 733.4
Miserable day today. Hot, starved, thirsty, stinky, dirty, tired, and homesick.
I even thought about getting off the trail.
Maybe I would have done it – if only for a revitalizing Coke – but the trail was fortunately rerouted away from a road crossing that would have been my demise.
My spirits were lifted a bit when I stopped at this shelter. I vowed to at least make it home on foot to Pennsylvania.
It’s a nice night, and this is a beautiful spot, but the bugs are annoying.
A 1970’s attempted thru-hiker named Charlie is good company.
These were my lowest days on the trail.
My original journal entries are so terse because they weren’t written on these days. I don’t think I wrote them until I reached Waynesborough, Virginia.
What I remember most of this section is the criss-crossing of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and hiking what we call the “long green tunnel,” a featureless track through the green, humid forest.
The road was often built directly over the original Appalachian trail, so all the best overlooks were given up to it. The AT was forced to take other tracks through the forest, parallel to the road but out sight and earshot.
The Bryant Ridge Shelter was the most elaborate structure I’d encountered thus far. My mood was so low that I chose to throw in the towel and stay there, even though it was still early in the day.
It was a poor choice, as the bugs there were horrible.
I spent a good deal of time deciding how to handle my urge to quit, even considering bail-out options from there where I sat at the shelter. Fortunately it was far enough from significant road access that the temptation wasn’t too high.
I felt better once I decided I could make at least as far as Pennsylvnia.
Small goals, they say.
I felt significantly better the next day when the weather cooled, so I’m sure there was a heat wave that played a role too.
Sunday, June 17, 2001
Bryant Ridge Shelter to Matt’s Creek Shelter
Today’s Miles: 22.7
Trip Miles: 756.1
Awesome day! Perfect weather!
There were clear blue skies and a solid, steady breeze.
I climbed up Floyd Mountain from Bryant Shelter, and moved swiftly along the ridge, loving life. I caught a good view from Blackrock, passed over Apple Orchard Mountain, and crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway again just as two Harley dudes sped by.
I walked through and under a rock formation called “the guillotine.” Many of the trees along the last stretch of trail were dead because of a gypsy moth devastation, but it made for beautiful, continuous views in the late afternoon and sunset. It sort of had the feel of autumn.
I made it here after nine pm in essentially full darkness – my latest hiking yet. I caught up with a lot of friends here too.
Again you can tell this entry was written later, as it reads like a simple list of the places I encountered. The weather broke and I remember a steady wind that lasted all day as white clouds sailed across the blue sky.
I encountered few hikers and simply kept moving with good energy.
The evening through the so-called “gypsy moth devastation” was one of the more memorable moments of the trip. It was high summer, June 17th – one of the longest days of the year. Late in the evening and through dusk I hiked through an extensive track of dead forest as the shadows grew long.
What makes it so memorable is the nondescript quality of the moment. In my mind the trail had been so featureless, and finding myself alone on a late summer’s night in a random nowhere-land at the end of a long day had a weight of satisfaction and perfection – yet another occasion where I marveled at how I ended up at this place in this time.
It felt as though I was supposed to be there, and everything was still okay.
I was hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Monday, June 18, 2001
Matt’s Creek Shelter to John’s Hollow Shelter
Today’s Miles: 3.8
Trip Miles: 759.9
I crossed a magnificent footbridge over the James River in the morning, and tried to hitchhike into Glasgow to resupply with food.
I finally got a ride after a long three hours next to the road, and ate a whole pizza in the small food-mart.
The hitch back to the trail was a breeze.
I spent the evening gathering wood, and got an awesome fire going tonight. I packed out hot dogs to cook over it, and Leatherfeet packed up Sloppy Joes! What a feast!
The footbridge over the James River was an impressive piece of work. At 600 feet long, I’m still impressed that such a structure was built exclusively for foot traffic on a hiking trail.
The town of Glasgow was the primary goal of the day, I ate a whole pizza and then a whole pack of eight hot dogs for dinner.
Leatherfeet was good company as always. He was so excited about his Sloppy Joe feast at the shelter.
“MANWICH!!!” he said, “MANWICH!!!”
Tuesday, June 19, 2001
John’s Hollow Shelter to Brown Mountain Creek Shelter
Today’s Miles: 17.6
Trip Miles: 777.5
I had a late start, but still got some decent mileage in by the end of the day.
I took my first break at a place called Salt Log Gap, where there was actually a big log! I sat down on it and had snack before climbing Bluff Mountain, which went by without too much sweat. The memorial to Little Ottie was just shy of the summit.
I had lunch at the Punchbowl Shelter, situated at a picturesque pond, and there met Daddy Long Legs and some southbound section hikers.
From there the trail brought me across the Blue Ridge Parkway again to Pedlar Dam. In the early evening I caught Trilia and Moose, just beginning their hiking for the night. They’ve been hiking from about five pm to five am every night since the weather got so hot.
Leatherfeet and Geckobunny were surprised to see me arrive at this shelter at dusk. “We didn’t think you’d make it!” they said. Never fear, Duct Tape is here.
And hey, the register here is just about full, and was originally placed by Sweeper! I think I’ll leave my own blank one here, and pack this out and send it to him. I sort of get the feeling that I’m the person who’s “supposed” to, if you know what I mean. Life is good.
Trilia and Moose said they’d been doing some blue-blazing by walking the actual blacktop on the Blue Ridge Parkway at night, rather than the trail. They said it was nice and cool at night with zero traffic on the road, and the stars were exquisite.
That all sure sounded very nice, doesn’t it?
Sweeper was another 2001 hiker who had a page on trailjournals.com. He’d started his hike in February, so I followed the early stages of his journal and we shared some correspondence. Sweeper’s real name is Matt Kirk – he went on to temporarily hold an Applalachian Trail speed record from Springer to Katahdin.
Tradition held that if the shelter register was full, generally you could place a new one in it (If you possessed an appropriate replacement). You would leave your name and mailing address inside it, and theoretically when it filled up, someone would pack it out and return it to you.
If you placed a new one, it was your responsibility to pack out the old one and send it to the person that had placed it, and so on.
So I mailed this one to Sweeper, and it was maybe a year later (At a time that I was really missing the trail) when I received an interesting package in the mail that contained a battered, musty, Brown Mountain Creek Shelter Register.
What hit me first when I opened the package was THE SMELL. It smelled like a shelter, like THE TRAIL. Inside it there were notes to me from friends behind, written in their ever-so familiar handwriting (There were plenty of folks whose faces I barely recalled, but could recognize their handwriting in a millisecond).
The tattered pages were literally filled with blood, sweat, and tears. It was a dag-gone APPALACHIAN TRAIL TRAIL SHELTER REGISTER from 2001, and it was MINE.
I sealed it in a Ziploc bag to preserve the scent, and kept it in a shoebox with letters I’d received on the trail and other tokens.
Unfortunately I lost that box one day, presumably when I was moving out of one of my old apartments.
Wednesday, June 20, 2001
Brown Mountain Creek Shelter to The Priest Shelter
Today’s Miles: 22.7
Trip Miles: 800.2
I must have seen at least twenty deer today, no exaggeration.
It was a long day, but still… so many deer! They must spread down here from the not so far-off Shenandoahs, to the north.
I went over a bald section of the trail this afternoon, with a lot of nice wildflowers in the meadows. The rest of the hiking was mostly green tunnel, but some cool ferns lined the trail in places.
I met a hiker named B-man at the Seeley-Woodworth Shelter. He walks with a hockey stick! It must be awfully hard to try and hitchhike with that thing.
The view from Spy Rock was nice, apparently an old Civil War watch-post.
“General Lee! The Yankees are coming!”
I got to this shelter at dusk, and I’m the only thru-hiker here. There’s a group of eighth graders here with two of their teachers, taking them out on a summer trip. It’s weird that I relate more easily with the teachers than with the students – I feel so old!
Early in the day I passed Cow Camp Gap Shelter, 0.6 miles off the trail. I didn’t stop there, but the guidebook (Wingfoot) says archaeologists found evidence of Native Americans living at the site 7,000 years ago!
The bald section of the trail is called Cold Mountain, which unfolds into Tar Jacket Ridge. I crossed a stone wall there that was built by slaves in the 18th century.
I was the only thru-hiker at the Priest Shelter, drowned in 8th graders. It was actually refreshing to have so much company from the outside world.
It was a true revelation to fully realize that I was now out of school, relating better with the teachers and part of the “adult world.”