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.
Thursday, June 21, 2001
The Priest Shelter to Rusty’s Hard Time Hollow
Today’s Miles: 13.6
Trip Miles: 813.8
The descent from The Priest sucked.
It took forever.
Something insane like twenty-some switchbacks. At least.
The climb up Three Ridges sucked even more.
It was oppressively humid, and I brilliantly decided that I didn’t want to carry the weight of water up the climb. Stupid move.
There was a blue blazed trail that bypassed the climb too, but I brilliantly chose to do only the whites.
The place I’m staying tonight does not suck. In fact, it’s amazing. It’s the home of a very unique person that takes in hikers, a few miles away from the trail. One of those great little gems of the trail – it’s very cool.
Coming down off The Priest Mountain this morning basically broke my knees as I lost over 3,000 feet in elevation. I couldn’t help but think about how this would have been a long climb going southbound.
After the descent came the climb up what’s called Three Ridges, an arid stretch of trail on this hot and humid day with more views of the same old green, forested slopes.
Three Ridges was best-known for its potential shortcut – there’s a blue blazed cutoff called the Mau-Har Trail. It’s a shorter route and boasts of waterfalls and swimming holes. B-Man took the shortcut, and when I caught up with him later he was sure to brag about how much he enjoyed basking in the running water.
Together B-Man and I decided to go check out Rusty’s Hard Time Hollow. Rusty had been taking in taking in hikers for years at a backwoods location on a small farm that’s completely off the grid. Better yet, there was an air of intrigue surrounding the place as it wasn’t listed in any of the guidebooks – you could only find it through word of mouth from other hikers.
Baltimore Jack penned an entry in one of the registers about how he’d be pushing on for the town of Waynesborough. There was rumor and controversy surrounding Rusty’s, that he could be opinionated and flat-out weird (Both basically true), but their were scores of hikers that loved the place and ended up staying there for weeks at a time.
Rusty seemed to be a “love him or hate him” sort of guy, and it all had an intriguing allure to me. I was in.
B-Man and I had acquired the directions.
We turned off of the AT, onto a fire road that led to the Blue Ridge Parkway. I remember walking with B-Man along this double track, keeping up with his fast pace as the tall grasses of the overgrown road tickled my knees. I remember being worried about ticks in the brush.
Then we walked the Blue Ridge Parkway until we passed a particular mile-marker. We kept our eyes open for a gated driveway and stepped onto Rusty’s property.
The gravel driveway led downhill off the ridge – the loose rock was hard on my knees and feet. The trees were adorned with well-made signs that stated all kinds of silly phrases and “rules,” basically of the redneck bumpersticker variety.
We turned the corner and saw the main building, constructed of wood. The lot in front of it was covered in aluminum cans that were flattened by Rusty’s truck – hundreds of them.
Rusty wasn’t around, but there were several hikers that had been staying there for some time. One of them showed us around the property – to the fire hydrant, for example, the outdoor urination station. To the privy, to the outdoor bunkhouse, and the so-called hot-tub (Basically a kettle with a fire ring underneath it), to the donation box (There was no nightly fee or minimum donation), and to the springhouse – a genuine cold, dark room of stone with a pool of chilly water. Cheese, hot dogs, and generic-brand sodas floated in the water.
Watch out for the rattlesnake near the the springhouse.
Friday, June 22, 2001
Rusty’s Hard Time Hollow
Today’s Miles: 0
Trip Miles: 813.8
Spent another night at Rusty’s. Relaxing and having fun.
Saturday, June 23, 2001
Rusty’s Hard Time Hollow
Today’s Miles: 0
Trip Miles: 813.8
Still at Rusty’s. Good times.
The Hard Time Hollow was certainly a fun and unique place to hang out for a few days. There was a core group of hikers that had seemingly taken up residence at the place for several weeks (Ghost and Drifter are the two main trail names I remember), and it felt as though a single night’s stay would almost have been offensive.
One of the many signs at Rusty’s stated that he didn’t want any pictures or anything about his place showing up on the internet, and I intended to honor that. Unfortunately I never wrote anything about my stay here, even for my own posterity. I didn’t take any pictures, either. In my original journal, these days weren’t even labelled as Rusty’s, they said “secret hostel” or something to that effect.
On one day he made us some absolutely amazing blueberry pancakes, but it felt as though he did it almost begrudgingly. I got the impression that his hospitality and generosity were steadily waning as more and more hikers began to take advantage of it. The number of entitled folks has surely increased each year – freeloaders and those expecting more facilities and services from a so-called hostel.
Rusty clearly loved having hikers around, but unfortunately the hikers were changing and expenses were growing year by year, and he could only keep things up for so long. Throughout the following decade he’d annually announce that the Hard Time Hollow was officially “closed” to new visitors, but partway through each season folks would begin to turn up anyway.
It seems that things shut down for good sometime around 2010, and I’m unaware of the status of The Hollow. I wonder if Rusty himself is still even above ground, as they say.
I enjoyed my time here. It was completely off the grid, but he did have a gas generator for sparse electricity. The electric lights kept us awake well into the evenings, and there was even a cassette tape player with a good selection of tapes.
The others played a lot of Bob Marley and Grateful Dead while I leaned more for Led Zeppelin and Metallica. B-Man and another hiker were quite the Bob Marley connoisseurs. I remember a conversation they had where B-Man made a blanket ridicule of anyone who says they like Bob Marley but don’t know any songs beyond the Legend album.
“That record is like Bob Marley for white people,” he said.
B-Man, of course, was white. That’s the brand of hippy we had around here, but it was all good.
There was a decent book collection too, and I spent a lot of time reading The Two Towers, as I’d finished The Fellowship of the Ring. I picked it up and started reading random parts that I liked, but before I knew it I was reading the whole book.
Rusty avoided driving folks to town, so I ended up cooking and eating a lot of hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches. I remember being very, very hungry most of the time regardless, but that was okay.
The procedure for disposing of empty soda cans was to place them on a post outside the front door of the hollow. It was a tee, if you will (Like children play tee-ball before pitched baseball). There was a wiffel-ball bat provided to hit the can as hard as you could out into the driveway.
The cans gradually got flattened as Rusty ran over them with his truck. One day Rusty went to town to buy a new generator, and B-Man decided to make himself useful by doing some chores when he was gone. He raked up and collected all the cans from the driveway. When Rusty returned, he looked crestfallen. “What happened to all the cans?” he asked, “I liked them out there.” So B-Man undid all his work and re-spread the cans over the gravel.
One thing I liked most about the place was its sense of hidden history. He’d take a polaroid headshot of nearly every hiker that stayed. The trail name would be written in black marker on the white strip at the bottom of the print, and all the faces of the hikers were hung on the ceiling of the hostel, arranged by year. This system went back only a handful of years, but it was an impressive collection nonetheless.
More impressive were the photo albums that stretched to the 1980s, and maybe beyond. Hikers in tight blue jeans, big aviator sunglasses, and other fashions of the time. Thick mustaches. Naked people doing silly things – apparently football games where the “skins” team was indeed buck-naked were fairly common. Skins vs. Pants, anyone? Pictures of the wood-fired hot tub in action, where clothes were also frowned upon – a skinnier Rusty with a big brown beard, a younger man than the one before us.
There were hundreds of postcards from previous visitors. And unlike the other, “normal” hostels, these were not summit photos. They were photos of hikers in amazing places that were not the Appalachian Trail, places they’d moved on to after their AT hike. There were images from around the world, the desert southwest, glaciers and snowy peaks of the West, even the Great Pyramid of Egypt. These Appalachian Trail alumni sure seemed to get around…
It was an idyllic setting on Virginia’s Blue Ridge. Green and lush in the summer, a sense of being hidden away… going back in time even, to rustic colonial days. Roosters caused a racket before dawn each day, waking every soul in the house.
It was great to relax there for a few days. Remote for detachment but with just enough comfort not to be craving the luxury of town, Rusty’s was a gem of the Appalachian Trail.
Sunday, June 24, 2001
Rusty’s Hard Time Hollow to Paul Wolfe Shelter
Today’s Miles: 16.1
Trip Miles: 829.9
Pulled myself away from Rusty’s today and resumed hiking. I didn’t see too much out of the ordinary in this Virginia greenery that I’ve become accustomed to.
Well… except for one thing.
I heard a rustle to my left about ten yards away, no louder than a squirrel.
I stopped to look.
It was only a cub, but…
My first bear sighting. Ever.
It’s head popped up out of the brush, seeing me. Before I could react it bolted away – a ball of fur thumping its paws away through the brush.
I stood for a moment, amazed and glad to have finally seen a bear, then heard another rustle off to my right.
That would put me between her and the cub. Not good.
I didn’t stick around to find out, and heard nothing more.
I met two hikers named Mike and Zebadiah late in the day, and we made good time the rest of the way to the shelter.
I’m looking forward to getting into Waynesborough tomorrow, a hikers’ landmark in this endless state.
Zebadiah was a super-fast-ultralight hiker, and even younger than me. It was a good workout to try to keep up with him, and I even saw him running at times.
Monday, June 25, 2001
Paul Wolfe Shelter to Waynesborough, VA
Today’s Miles: 5
Trip Miles: 834.9
It was an easy five miles this morning to the road crossing, and I churned it out in zero time. I saw Mike returning south on his short section hike, and we exchanged contact information and goodbyes.
I got a hitch into town without even asking! A past thru hiker pulled over to inquire about the whereabouts of his friend that’s on the trail this year, and naturally inquired if I was looking to get down to Waynesborough.
Things are a little spread out here, but it’s a fairly large town and has everything I need.
I was surprised to see B-man today at a pay phone – I thought he’d still be stuck at that place I spent the past few days.
He continued on up the trail today. As for me? I’m livin’ it up here and totally sucked in. Yes, another round of all you can eat pancakes and Coke please…
Tuesday, June 26, 2001
Today’s Miles: 0
Trip Miles: 834.9
Took the day off. Got sucked into a television. That’s about it.
Oh, and I cooked a number of Lipton Noodle meals in a coffeemaker.
And there’s air conditioning.
Wednesday, June 27, 2001
Today’s Miles: 0
Trip Miles: 834.9
Got trapped in the vortex of town for one last day, even though it seems every town feels uglier and busier as I get farther north.
I ate at a McDonald’s. It was strangely comforting yet disgusting at the same time.
I also met a cool group of people who caught me, as I’ve taken a number of days off recently, and we stayed up late into the night. Some old friends caught up too.
I’m looking forward to hitting the trail tomorrow, and possibly making a mad dash through the Shenandoahs to get to Harper’s Ferry in time for Fourth of July celebrations.
Virginia had been tough on me, and it was throughout these previous days in Waynesborough that I took the time to recover from it.
Rusty’s was a great experience, but I left there feeling famished and craving town more than ever. I holed up in a hotel in Waynesborough and rarely left the room, completely checking out from the thru-hiker culture for about 48 hours. I watched movie after movie on HBO and sat in bed with pizza delivery on my lap and a 2-liter of bottle of Coke within reach.
One morning I went to Weasie’s Kitchen, where there was a famed all-you-can-eat pancake special for thru-hikers. The record was 22 pancakes in one sitting and I didn’t even come close, though I think I managed eight or nine of them.
There were moments where I was so tired of it all, where even the mention of the word “trail” or “shelter” or other common thoughts of the hiker-world struck a stress trigger in my brain.
I knew I’d stalled and was using up too many zero-days, but I didn’t care. It seemed necessary and impossible to go forward without doing so. In retrospect I think I was largely just starving and malnourished – my silly refusal to carry a stove truly limited the amount of calories I could take in on the trail.
On the last night of my stay in Waynesborough I went to camp at the local YMCA. They had free campsites for thru-hikers so it was where folks tended to congregate. I was rejuvenated to see so many hikers still in the neighborhood, so to speak.
My next town stop would be in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, and from there it was an easy ride on public transportation to Washington DC.
A hiker named Fossil was a solo guy from the Netherlands, and part of the “Walking Wounded” crew I’d mentioned earlier in the journal. Being from overseas, Fossil was especially interested in doing the tourist-thing in DC, and Baltimore Jack said that the fireworks there were quite a sight.
To get there in time I’d have to average 23 miles a day, every day including the 4th.