This is my original Appalachian Trail journal from 2001 (Edited for grammar).
It includes additions that were written sixteen years later (in 2017). These are in italics.
Wednesday, June 06, 2001
Pearisburg, VA to Star Haven Shelter
Today’s Miles: 7.1
Trip Miles: 617.5
I checked out of the Rendezvous Motel and began to leave town on a dark, forbidding morning. A local stopped me for a moment in the post office.
“You’d better not even think about going up into them mountains today,” he said, “It’s going to rain.”
His intentions were good, I suppose.
So there I was, on my way out of town down the main street, and the rain starts to come down in buckets. I pass yesterday’s pizza joint on the sidewalk, and inside I see Manchester, Jiff, and Doose waving at me. They’re stuffing their faces and look dry and happy.
It was too much for my discipline to handle, especially while getting soaked, so I went inside the buffet round two.
The weather paused by the time I was done eating, and the trail took me to a place called Pearis Cemetary.
It was old and eerie. A thin fog settled in.
Dark, too… vegetation in cemeteries always seems to be different than the trees and grass you find elsewhere.
It was a small grove enclosed in the woods, and all the grass and weeds were overgrown as if it were some forgotten place. Most of the sparse headstones bore few markings.
In one corner there was a brick wall with four enclosed sides, forming an enclosure that was about ten square feet. A lone tree stood within the wall, among some tall grass and a single headstone. An aged rusty gate let me enter, and I brushed the grass aside to read the headstone.
It read “Captain George Pearis – Revolutionary War.”
Ah, that explains the name Pearis-burg! It was cool how his grave was set apart from the rest in such a subtle but significant way.
The wind gathered as I turned away from the graveyard, and the rain returned.
Stepping out of the ancient history of Pearsiburg, back into the year 2001 on the bridge over the New River… cars and trucks whizzed by in the rain. Most were likely going to and from the modern factory near town.
I wonder what the drivers thought as they saw me out there getting soaked! Probably “Crazy fool!” The factory poured fumes from huge smokestacks that made the air thick and almost unbearable. It’s funny though, nobody in town would likely have a place to work if it didn’t exist. I think they manufacture cigarette filters.
I crossed a creek in the woods where the water basically looked orange. There was a sign that read “Danger – do not drink – naturally occurring bacteria.”
Now who are they trying to kid?
It felt good to get away from the noise of town.
Now this shelter, ooh, it’s in a cow pasture on top of a mountain! It’s a beautiful place. The sunset would have been spectacular if it hadn’t been for the clouds. I caught up with Leatherfeet, Geckobunny, Drizzt, Moe, and Madcow. Life is good.
I remember this as a rainy, humid day – hot and sticky.
The other hikers left the pizza buffet not too long after I arrived. I lingered there for a while, eating way too much food.
There was a jukebox that played CD’s. I think I listed to some Bad Company and Bachman Turner Overdrive – probably You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet as a motivational tune.
I don’t remember all the songs I played, but I’ll never forget the last one.
Don’t Stop Believin’
It was intended as a pick-me-up to get me out of town. Don’t stop believing that I can walk to Maine.
In 2001 I’m fairly certain that music from the 1980’s was still very uncool. I’m also certain that the Journey song was far from the everybody-knows-the-words revival hit that it is today. I think its resurrection was largely due to the Sopranos TV series.
Anyway, something about it called to me that day, a guilty-pleasure 80’s song. Apparently I thought it was potentially so lame that I left it out of my original journal.
It was the last song I played. I was the grungy, stinky young backpacker, sitting alone inside the tiny cookie-cutter pizza buffet in the early afternoon.
I sat and listened to the opening verses, growing impatient. The song wasn’t like I’d remembered it. Where’s the chorus?
Finally the chorus came, late in the song. It was still playing as I stood up, strapped on my backpack, and walked out the door under cloudy skies onto the Appalachian Trail.
Thursday, June 07, 2001
Star Haven Shelter
Today’s Miles: 0
Trip Miles: 617.5
It was fun last night to watch the lightning approach from afar, to feel the air pressure change, and to see the fireflies fade away.
A storm came through overnight, followed by a thick, heavy fog in the morning.
5:30 am – I should get up now. Yeah right. (Roll over)
8:00 am – Some people are packing up. Maybe I will too…
8:05 am – Nah, I’ll sleep a little more.
9:30 am – Cold Pop-Tarts for breakfast – Pop-Tart crumbs, that is. I don’t feel quite like hiking yet. I’ll lie down and think about it.
12:00 pm – Man, this is pathetic. I may as well have some lunch now…
2:00 pm – Gee, the rain seems to be clearing up. If I were to pack up and go now, I could probably still get a solid day of hiking in…
2:01 pm – Nah.
8:30 pm – Good company, good sunset, good fire, good life.
I took a zero day in this shelter.
There wasn’t much rhyme or reason to it, just laziness.
In retrospect, days like this were the downfall of my thru-hike. It’s great to have a “smelling the roses” attitude, but I took it a little too far for a so-called thru-hiker.
There was some procrastination too. Sometimes I’d crunch the numbers concerning mileage, and eventually the back of my journal notebook was filled with digits – long division by hand.
I always thought I could make up the mileage later.
Virginia also has a numbing effect on northbound thru-hikers. It’s the longest state on the Appalachian Trail, at more than 500 miles. The novelty of the trip wears off, a ravenous hunger and desire for creature comforts sets in, the heat and humidity are stifling, and all the scenery starts to look the same.
The phenomenon is so common that hikers coined it as “The Virgina Blues.” Later the feeling would deepen, but I think this zero-day was the first hint of it in me.
I spent the day reading through the shelter register and The Fellowship of the Ring.
Batman and Pastor John passed through.
The evening put on a heartwarming sunset.
Friday, June 08, 2001
Star Haven Shelter to Bailey Gap Shelter
Today’s Miles: 16.2
Trip Miles: 633.7
Ha ha ha ha.
Ha ha ha ha.
Ha ha ha ha.
Ha ha ha ha.
One, two, three, FOUR snakes!
I love to count!
Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha.
Yep, that’s right, I saw four snakes today! All separately, in different locations – two garter snakes and two blacksnakes. One was the biggest blacksnake I’ve ever seen! It was right in the middle of the trail and was reluctant to let me pass.
I’d nudge him with my stick, and he’d turn to strike at it. He eventually slithered a few feet off the trail and up a tree, sticking out a pointed tongue at me.
Alas, the word of the day is chafing. Oh, yes, chafing – in a most horrible and unspeakable form. Every step brings terrible pain and agony.
Each and every individual step. I’d rather have ten blisters on each foot than this. It’s like… ah, well, never mind. I’ll spare you. It’s bad.
Still, the trail was nice today. When is it not? Wincing on the verge of tears makes sixteen miles a long way, but hey, nobody said it would be easy.
I miraculously have the shelter all to myself tonight. Big Bird and Ladyhawk are tented out nearby. It feels great to relax at the end of the day and go to bed a bit early. Life is good, even with nasty terrible unspeakable chafing.
I don’t remember if it was my man-parts or poop-parts.
I think it was the poop parts.
Saturday, June 09, 2001
Bailey Gap Shelter to Niday Shelter
Today’s Miles: 27
Trip Miles: 660.7
Whoa! My biggest day yet! Twenty-seven miles!
I woke up feeling great – rested and cured.
I was moving north early.
It was a good, cool morning with some deer sightings and a fine view from Wind Rock. The view had few marks of civilization, just green all around – an odd occurrence.
A break at War Spur Shelter revealed something interesting. A hiker a few days ahead of me wrote in the register that he saw a mountain lion a few miles back, in the area I had just walked through. A mountain lion! He saw a rattlesnake too, but that’s somewhat common…
A mountain lion!
I believe it. There have been other isolated, somewhat reliable reports of them in New England and Virginia.
The next section was a nice stretch of trail. I’m not quite sure what it was – the weather, the arrangement of the forest maybe, I don’t know. It was just nice.
Then it opened up into more scenic farm fields in the Sinking Creek Valley. Spectacular! The grasses waved in the breeze and lone trees stood proud against a green mountainside backdrop under blue skies.
I saw perhaps the largest tree of my life after some amateur cattle herding. Actually, I’m not much of an amateur herder anymore, but anyway… it was a white oak. Huge!
It’s apparently estimated to be more than three hundred years old – a grand sight to behold. And this one, unlike the Wasilik Poplar in North Carolina, looked to be growing and getting even stronger. It must be eating its Flintstone Vitamins!
The steep climb afterward was slow and tedious – and hot! The humidity struck. I was getting weary toward the end of the day too. All I had left after Sarver’s Cabin was a long ridge-walk and descent to the shelter.
Oh, but it seemed to take forever. Night was falling, and this ridge… no, it couldn’t be a nicely graded trail. It had to be huge boulders slanted at a forty-five degree angle! They were very difficult to walk on, as my ankles were constantly slanted and I was tired to begin with.
Suddenly, I came upon three goats lounging on the rocks!
They looked up at me, lazily and sort of indifferently. One had two little knobby horns. I set down my pack and walking stick to get out my camera.
One of the goats rose to its feet, and I feared it would run away before I could get a picture. Oh, if I only knew then what I was in for…
It stepped toward me. The others got up and came toward me, too.
Wait a second…
The tongues came out, and they feverishly started licking the sweat off of me!
Everywhere! Ah! They’re obscene, perverted beasts with no shame or fear!
I stepped away but they kept coming, licking and licking! They got between me and my pack – one had stayed back and was going to town on the handle of my walking stick! Yuck!
Ahhh!!! Run away! Run away!
I bopped one on the nose, to no avail! Relentless! It just looked up at me with that dumb, glazed “I want to lick you” stare! No fear, no shame.
They chased me in circles for quite a while, until I finally managed to get my backpack on and get the hell out of there.
I caught my friends at nearly nine o’clock at the shelter. “How was the day?” somebody asked.
“I’ve been violated by goats!” I said.
They laughed. So were they. Life is good.
Sunday, June 10, 2001
Niday Shelter to Dragon’s Tooth
Today’s Miles: 13.4
Trip Miles: 674.1
“The Niday Massacre”
…a night that will live in infamy.
I did my longest day yesterday. I was spent and needed sleep, passing out in a matter of minutes. It must have been about three hours later when I awoke, itching.
Itching and itching.
I tossed and turned, and couldn’t get back to sleep.
It was hot, too, making matters worse. Ugh, what torment.
Gradually, I realized the others in the shelter were rolling around too. It seemed that everybody was still awake, long after sunset. I got frustrated, sat straight up and tried to decide what the heck to do. I was wide awake now. Then I realized it – there were bugs, tons of them. Biting.
No-see-ums! I heard Drizzt and Moe speaking in irritated whispers. Drizzt got up and started chain smoking cigarettes, one after the other. It was about three am now. It was hell. All we could do was toss and turn and scratch ourselves.
All of a sudden Leatherfeet thrashed in his sleeping bag, jerked straight up, stood, and screamed,
“I can’t take it anymore! FUCKING BUGS!!!”
He scratched and swatted himself furiously. Haha, he lost it!
So did we, and the three of us others joined. Profanity flew into the dark night, skin was scratched frantically until it was bleeding, and nobody slept.
Somebody shined a light in the air. There was a thick swarm. Drizzt and Moe packed up and hiked started hiking at 4:30 am. The rest of us rode it out, and I managed to get an hour or two of light sleep.
So naturally I got a late, late start today, on another hot and humid one. I always tend to wait until the hottest part of the day to begin my hiking!
I got what little rest that I could in the morning, as the no-see-ums were still around.
The day went by slowly, with two significant climbs and an extended midday reading break.
The place that I’m camping tonight is called The Dragon’s Tooth. That’s exactly what it looks like too – a large, thin, pointed triangular rock outcropping in the shape of a tooth. The views are awesome when you climb it.
The sunset was spectacular. I stayed up there until dusk, when the first stars came out. I saw a few sparse headlights drift along a country road in the green Virginia valley, far below.
I’ll sleep well in my tent tonight, bug free. Life is good.
It was a long, steady climb up to the Dragon’s Tooth. I filled my water at a large stream (Maybe even a river) near a road at the base of the climb.
I didn’t see any other hikers along this stretch of trail in the evening, but in the distance I saw a small, fast animal, like a quick blur. I think it may have been a bobcat.
The Dragon’s Tooth is a neat set of vertical granite outcrops. I tried climbing some of the rocks for a cleaner and better view, but an unnerving fear of heights and vertigo struck me all of a sudden.
It was an embarrassing sensation and I tried to hide if from the other hikers (Leatherfeet and Geckobunny, I believe). I’d remembered seeing a cool picture of “Tha Wookie” on trail journals.com where he was straddling the rocks, further adding to my embarrassment.
Regardless, it was a very cool spot to hang out and camp.
Monday, June 11, 2001
Dragon’s Tooth to Campbell Shelter
Today’s Miles: 12.1
Trip Miles: 686.2
I woke up early to check out the sunrise. It wasn’t really all that spectacular, so I went back to sleep and got some much needed rest.
I didn’t start hiking then until about noon, a few moments after Leatherfeet had gone. Easy Day, Songbird, Lucky, and Chickpea left well before us.
The descent from Dragon’s Tooth was steep, but actually sort of fun. I was soon feeling dehydrated on this hot day though, clambering along a few winding, low, open ridges.
Suddenly I came upon a cooler by a road filled with soda! Nice! I’m always amazed at the people that leave these things for hikers.
I had to make a pit stop at a store down the road, as I was just about out of food anyway. I love these places that still exist in America called the “General Store.” I don’t know, they all just have a certain charm about them. It was interesting to sit out on the curb in front and eat some of my goodies, watching the people come and go – reminding me of doing the same thing around my hometown on summer days before I or any of my friends could drive. It was nice to see that summer is in full swing in the outside world now too.
The rest of the afternoon went along wonderfully, as I bounced ahead fully caffeinated.
Dehydrated again upon reaching the Catawba Mountain Shelter, I drank water at its cold, sacred spring like I never drank before! Then I attacked the climb up to McAfee knob like a runner. And the view from the knob itself… oh!
The place is incredible!
I spent some time and explored up there for quite a while with Leatherfeet, Geckobunny and Madcow, and suggested we have our dinners there and stick around for the sunset, and then night hike down to the Campbell Shelter. All obliged. The sunset was indeed magnificent, and wow, it just felt so good being up there!
I had my Campbell’s soup that I bought at the store, specifically because I’m staying at Campbell Shelter tonight! Ha!
McAfee Knob is probably the most iconic viewpoint on the entire Appalachian Trail. It features a sort of diving board rock (Actually a couple of them). It juts out into space over open air and a tranquil Virginia valley near Blacksburg. It’s popular for hikers to sit out on the end of it with their feet dangling over the edge.
You may notice that my pictures of the place aren’t from the same perspective as most. It’s not because we were trying to be original, but simply because we couldn’t find the exact spot there that everyone uses to get the shot.
Leatherfeet, Madcow, and Geckobunny and I had hiked off-and-on together over the last few days. Leatherfeet was a young man from Georgia (Even younger than me at the time – 17, 18, or 19). He had a thick southern accent and I enjoyed his enthusiasm and company.
Geckobunny and Madcow were older, maybe in their late twenties or early thirties. I think she was from Canada and I don’t remember where Madcow was from, but he’d spent some significant time in Japan. There was an anecdote he shared that in Japan they don’t use toilet paper – rather, the toilets have little squirt guns that shoot up and wash your butt.
Our little troop had a nice dinner and exquisite sunset there at the overlook, basking in the glory of how lucky we were to be there, in that moment. Headlights down below hinted at everyday folks going about their everyday lives, and we felt like kings in the mountains, feasting out on the rocks.
It was great to have dinner in a different spot than where we were camping – sort of breaking the backpacking rules, per se.
I’d found the confidence to deliberately stay on the move after sunset.
It was my first genuine night-hike.
Tuesday, June 12, 2001
Campbell Shelter to Troutville, VA
Today’s Miles: 15.4
Trip Miles: 701.6
Today’s hike was pretty uneventful – essentially just a run to town.
Fifteen miles into town, though, was more than what I bargained for.
Getting an early start helped out a lot, but the heat is really setting in. Madcow and I were extremely dehydrated by the time we stumbled in to Troutville. It was bad. I was totally zoned out and having visions of heat exhaustion as I plodded along for those last miles.
Tinker Cliffs was an awesome spot with a great view, but strangely didn’t strike me, as I had just been at McAfee Knob the night before. Leatherfeet and I had fun zig-zagging down the loose gravel on descents, picking up the pace and swerving back and forth looking for the best footing. We likened our movements to skiing, and soon were making “kshh, kshh” sound effects as we banked off the sides of the trail.
I got to the first road in town at 4:30 and the post office was scheduled to close at 5:00. I knew the PO was supposed to be a long way out of town, so I dropped my pack in the room I’m splitting with Madcow tonight and headed out in a hurry.
It was starting to look like I wouldn’t make it in time, so I actually started running down the road. Finally I stuck out my thumb in desperation. Miraculously, a guy in an old classy station wagon stopped for me and drove me all the way up to the front door of the Post Office. I picked up my mail drop at 4:55 pm.
From there I walked directly to the Cracker Barrel for dinner (Still unbathed). I advised the kid at the podium to seat me in a corner. (Man, I just referred to the host as “kid.” He’s was only really high school age…).
The other “kid” that was waiting on me must have brought me at least six Cokes by the time I was through, without any encouragement from me except an empty glass. I was still quite dehydrated. They tasted great.
I was thrilled this evening when Madcow informed me that the motel here has its own laundry facilities for guests. Life is good.
Troutville seemed basically like a big ol’ interstate rest stop. The trail dumps you off almost at the front door of a Best Western hotel, where Madcow and I split a room. It was a popular place for hikers – the hotel accepted mail drops, and I felt like a dummy for having mine all the way at the post office.
My young-Yankee-self had never eaten at a Cracker Barrel or Waffle House, and this town had them both. Leatherfeet had been talking about Waffle House for days, with rapturous anticipation.
To this day it still floors me how the waiter at Cracker Barrel brought me Coke after Coke after Coke. It must have been so obnoxious the way I kept sucking them down, but he kept up with the refills without batting an eye. For that singular reason, the pot roast meal there in the air-conditioned restaurant is my most distinct memory of Troutville.