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, May 30, 2001
Partnership Shelter to campsite
Today’s Miles: 21.4
Trip Miles: 532.8
I was awake before five in the morning, quietly tiptoeing around slumbering hikers. I silently ate my breakfast in the inky darkness behind the shelter. A a whip-poor-will let out its distinct call.
Leaving the remainder of my cinnamon rolls for others, I was packed and moving before the sunrise.
I felt queasy, sick, and tired for a while. Then I sweated up a long, steady hill. I instantly felt better, as if my body was like “Oh yeah, I burn a gazillion calories every day! How foolish of me to dare to launch all of this grease and butter (Last night’s Pan Pizza) back up!”
Rhododendrons lined the ridge. I descended and sloshed through countless streams with inadequate stepping stones or logs to cross them. Thinking I was like Hercules, I lifted a blown-down tree over my head and ducked beneath it.
The trail then wound through wide, expansive fields with rustling grass up to my hips. I came to a road crossing near I-81 with a Dairy Queen and a highway rest stop. When I was there, a guy on a road trip asked me for directions! He wasn’t looking for the nearest water source or campsite, so unfortunately I couldn’t be of any help.
Ah… pizza for dinner, cinnamon buns for breakfast, and a chicken sandwich and fries for lunch! Yep yep, this is the rough life. I more than made up for last night’s tragic loss of Coca-cola.
The walk after the road crossing brought me through more breezy, grassy pastures, and back up into the mountains. I saw a tree with shining yellow flowers blooming from it that I had never seen before, and no less than ten monarch butterflies were fluttering on and around it, touching upon the petals. I gazed in awe for awhile, then continued through a tunnel of trees lined on both sides by fields, and out into another beautiful farm.
There I came upon Stryder, relaxing in the shade of the bows of perhaps the grandest most stately oak tree I have ever laid eyes upon, centered in this open valley along a country lane. We took a long break together there, imagining various possibilities of camping along private property in the vicinity, or of farmers taking us in for the night.
A local resident came down the lane on a riding mower, and we had a friendly chat with him about the nature of the property around us. It turned out that we were actually permitted to camp along the trail there. Sweet!
The trouble was that the next water source was three miles away, and neither of us had enough water to last us through the night and into the morning. After a moment’s debate, we decided to stroll down the lane and ask the guy if we could get water from his garden hose or something. The local guy had ridden away on his mower, so we walked down the lane toward his house.
A vicious, snarling Rottweiler aggressively guarded the property.
It bounded toward us in a full trot.
I swear it had to have been a hundred and fifty pounds.
We backed off to the far end of the lane, but the dog kept coming!
I nearly wet my pants.
The classic line “Sick balls, Chopper!” flashed through my mind.
“Come here, Rock!” the owner said, finally calling the dog off.
Rock… how fitting a name. the guy’s name was Steve, and he kindly let us fill up our water.
So Stryder and I shooed cattle off the footpath and climbed up to this beautiful hillside spot. It was a great, idyllic evening, watching the farmer bring in the herd down below.
The single adjacent ridge to us looks endless.
The cattle let out an amusing, echoing, “moo” after “moo” until nightfall. Now the crickets are singing and fireflies twinkle everywhere. Life is good.
This was one of my favorite nights on the entire Appalachian Trail… a moment of actualization, if you will. I was so happy that my life unfolded in such a way to have me spending the night in this picturesque pasture, somewhere in Virginia. It was just random enough to be unpredictably-perfect. This was why I was doing the trail.
Not only that, but it was a full day at over 20 miles. Summer was here, and I was starting to do bigger miles in Virginia, as a thru-hiker should.
The evening’s unique setting continued into the next morning…
Thursday, May 31, 2001
Campsite to Chestnut Knob Shelter
Today’s Miles: 13.9
Trip Miles: 546.7
“Duct Tape, wake up!”
It was Stryder. I rolled over in my sleeping bag.
“I’m telling you man, get up!”
Then I heard it.
I poked my head out of the tent to the discover that about five cattle had taken a particular interest in our campsite! They blankly stared right at me, apparently wondering what the hell this riff-raff was doing in their field.
“There goes the neighborhood,” they were probably thinking. “First it’s hikers… next thing you know, there’ll be sheep on this farm! Moo!”
Maybe one of these cows could carry my pack twenty miles for me today. I suppose that would be “heffer-blazing?”
Stryder tried to pet one, but it wouldn’t stand for that. After having our fun and laughs, I shooed them off, fearing that one would “do its business” on my tent.
I packed up and left, after soaking up some of the morning atmosphere.
Stryder was in no hurry and intended to hang around at this beautiful spot all morning long.
I ended up feeling lazy too, so it wasn’t long before I took a break near a creek for awhile, reading.
The laborious ascent up Chestnut Ridge seemed to take forever. Sweat poured from me and fogged my glasses, despite the light drizzle that fell. My energy was low, and motivation was even worse.
Eventually I got near the summit, and behold! The mountaintop was a peaceful, open clearing! The change in scenery was unexpected, and lifted my spirits enough to get me here to the shelter. I’m sure there’d be a great view if it wasn’t for the clouds and fog.
Somebody in the shelter has a newspaper, and is announcing little tidbits of news that are sort of neat to hear. It’s funny not to be able to name a single movie that’s playing in the theaters right now!
It’s still really chilly here, considering that it’s practically June!
Well, lazy Duct Tape isn’t going to write anymore today. Life is good.
Friday, June 01, 2001
Chestnut Knob Shelter
Today’s Miles: 0
Trip Miles: 546.7
A thick cloud rolled in overnight. Dense fog enveloped the area. Wind thundered and crested over the mountain. Rain pelted sideways against the wall of the shelter.
The conditions continued into the morning and all day long, pausing only briefly at times. I decided to take my first zero day at a shelter, spending most of it reading, talking, and eating.
The Walking Wounded group and Deano all continued northbound at various times to brave the weather.
Doose arrived, soaked and fearing hypothermia, but he quickly warmed himself up.
Stryder, Baltimore Jack, and a few others passed through.
Easy Day, Songbird, Pastor John, Emma, Sunflower, Turtle, and a few others came in for the night. Doose and I ventured out at separate intervals to fill up water bags for other hikers in the shelter. The short adventure left me soaked as though I’d been hiking for hours.
A group of five high school seniors out doing a hike for a graduation project are crammed in here too. They handed out their extra Powerbars for us! It’s been altogether a very relaxing and cozy day. Life is good.
It was my first zero-day in a shelter. A lot of folks throughout my trip commented on how pleasant and seemingly unique it must be to take a day off in a shelter, as most hikers “wasted” their zero days in town. I wish I could say my “zeroes” in shelters were intended to savor the experience and my surroundings (Maybe subconsciously that’s what it was all about), but days like this seemed to unfold simply out of laziness.
The Chestnut Knob Shelter was an old, stone, fully enclosed structure that was perfect for waiting out the inclement weather. It was interesting to see so many thru-hikers pass through as I stayed put for 24 hours.
This is the first time I mentioned the “Walking Wounded.” They were a handful of hikers who made fast friends and stayed together to the extent that they had a group-trail-name. Its core in my opinion consisted of Sugardaddy, Eggman, Ladyhawk, and Pee Wee (To name a few, and there plenty of others).
Some of them I met here for the first time. I also met Fossil, whose name I’d been seeing in the registers for a long time, a solo hiker from Belgium. Some were at the shelter when I arrived on the previous night and stayed late into the morning before summoning the motivation to brave the rain.
Stryder passed through – he started doing big miles and it was the last time I would see him. When we camped in the cow-field he was musing about the possibility of randomly encountering friends from this hike in the years and decades to come. Today it makes me a little sad to know that I unfortunately wouldn’t recognize Stryder today if I passed him on the street (Or on the trail, more fittingly).
I mentioned that Baltimore Jack passed through. The weather conditions seemed quite horrid, so I was impressed – Jack’s true colors as a gritty repeat-thru-hiker were evident.
There was a communal feeling as the rest of us waited out the weather, despite the fact that I read my book and didn’t interact very much with the others, as usual. It was a full house, as there’s always room for one more.
Saturday, June 02, 2001
Chestnut Knob Shelter to Helveys Mill Shelter
Today’s Miles: 24.1
Trip Miles: 570.8
I got on the trail in the early morning, while it was still overcast and windy. The terrain brought me along a lengthy, rocky ridgewalk with plentiful views, reminding me of the trail back home in Pennsylvania.
The sun gradually showed its face, and it turned out to be a beautiful day. I came upon Seiko parked at a gravel road. He was dropping off Jiff, Manchester, and Baltimore Jack at the trailhead after a motel stay last night. They gave me peanut butter, gorp, donuts, and an egg and ham biscuit! Trail magic!
My shoes, socks, and feet got soaked from fording Little Wolf Creek about a million times, and from sloshing through mud.
A long, uneventful ridge-walk took up most of the afternoon, until I came to the road crossing that goes into Bastian and Bland. There, the trail crosses a highway overpass! It was so peculiar to see the cars and trucks whizzing by underneath me… people going home from work, perhaps? On vacation? I wondered what they were thinking too, seeing a guy with a huge backpack up on this bridge… maybe “Don’t jump!”
I could see a runaway truck ramp from where I stood. I’d never see one before the road trip down to Georgia (Or even conceived of their existence). Could my brother and I have driven on this same road? I resisted the temptation to give everybody the good ol’ full moon and continued.
A good group of people are at the shelter tonight – Chewbacca, Jack, and Panama Red. Jiff and Manchester showed up long after dark. Jack said I misquoted some Springsteen lyrics in the shelter registers. Impossible! Life is good.
This may have been the first time I met Seiko. He was one of Baltimore Jack’s friends that I’d see hanging around the trail here and there throughout Virginia. Jack seemed to hold a lot of respect for him, claiming that he’d hiked the trail countless times and had covered thousands and thousands of miles.
The trail followed Little Wolf Creek for what felt like a long way. It was slow and frustrating terrain at the bottom of a sort of hollow, as I as was forced to repeatedly ford the creek and get my feet wet. The Appalachian Trail generally has a lot of bridges, so it was my first experience with this sort of hiking.
I think it was one of the features about the Appalachian Trail in National Geographic Magazine from the 1980’s or 90’s that had a memorable photo of a place called “God’s Thumbprint” that had burned into my memory. It was one of those instances where you see a photo and suddenly have an overwhelmingly, fateful desire to go there.
Today I passed a side trail to the “Davis Farm Campsite,” from which the view of the God’s Thumbprint can be seen. It’s a geological feature – a sort of large, bowl-shaped depression in the landscape.
The campsite and view were half a mile (one way) off the trail, and I passed it by. I was told by other hikers (Probably Baltimore Jack) that the campsite was a long way downhill from the trail, covered in cow droppings, and not an altogether pleasant place to go check out after all.
After taking a full day off it was gratifying to put in 24 miles today.
Sunday, June 03, 2001
Helveys Mill Shelter to Dismal Creek Falls
Today’s Miles: 17.6
Trip Miles: 588.4
Most of the day consisted of another ridgewalk with a number of good views. The first ten miles went by fairly quickly. Gotta love Virginia!
I stopped often to check out the way the shadows from the clouds fell on the landscape, and thought I could hear a lawnmower away in the distance.
A couple headed southbound caught me chanting “We have the helmet!” to myself, daydreaming about something that happened in high school.
A nearly two hour break for lunch was relaxing, at Jenny Knob Shelter. A woman day hiking there gave us cookies! Sweet!
I crossed a cable suspension bridge late in the day. It swayed and rocked as my footsteps came down on the planks – very cool, a la Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
I saw an old oak tree before the bridge. Its boughs were wider than most of the tree trunks around it! And unlike most trees of its sort, it surprisingly seemed to be healthy and wasn’t dying.
Panama Red, Chewie, and I walked a road to Trent’s Grocery near the end of the day. I was primarily motivated by the prospect of a cold bottle of Coke. We stuffed our faces at the store and then headed up to this small waterfall to camp.
A number of other hikers that we know were camped here when we arrived, including the Walking Wounded in full force. All the goodies brought up from the store are making for a virtual party atmosphere here tonight. The campfire is burning hot, and the moon is shining brightly. The falls roar. Life is good.
The night at Dismal Creek Falls was basically another post-Trail-Days party, due in no small part to Baltimore Jack’s presence and recommendation for folks to go there. Besides, the campsite was only 1.3 miles away from a convenience store, so the ease of hauling in supplies was too good to be true.
Having grown up in Pennsylvania where you can only get beer at the “beer distributor” store (Called “package stores” in other states), and only get liquor at the “liquor store,” it was novel to me that convenience stores in Virginia sold beer.
Chewbacca got a whole 12-pack of beer at the store, and I’ll never forget how he walked the 0.7 mile road-walk back to the trail with the 12-pack hanging in one hand and the open beer in another – simply walking down the road, a classic moment.
At Dismal Falls I think I simply stayed up long enough to cook some hot dogs over the fire before going to bed. Tempers starting flaring between those who wanted to party after dark and those that expected a good night’s sleep in the outdoors, so I kept to myself (As usual) and steered clear of the drama.
Monday, June 04, 2001
Dismal Creek Falls to Woodshole Hostel
Today’s Miles: 12
Trip Miles: 600.4
It rained overnight. There’s been a good deal of rain lately.
It ceased briefly in the morning, just long enough for me to break down my tent. Once I was packed up the rain started again, but with thunder this time.
I caught up behind Panama Red and Chewbacca after a period of getting wet and sloshing through mud. “Hey,” one of them said, “Do you by any chance know the words to ‘Livin’ on a Prayer?’”
“Of course!” I said, and a footstomping rendition of Bon Jovi ensued.
WHOOOOAAA WHOOOOOAAA WE’RE HALFWAY THERE WHOOAA WHOOAA LIVIN ON A PRAYER TAKE MY AND AND WE’LL MAKE I SWEAR…..
Only in the woods, after a rainstorm.
I took a long break for lunch, and there was magically not a cloud in the sky by the time I started moving again. Climbing up to a ridge, I came upon a couple hikers relaxing at a wide, spectacular overlook. I took a seat among the rocks, and spent much of the afternoon there, talking of things with others.
It was a perfect scene, as turkey vultures glided and swooped in the air. We’d step out to the edge of the rocks, imagining that we could fly and dive off and soar effortlessly over the landscape. The wind was at my back. I pictured the direction I’d go. Stepping back toward the trail, it felt as if indeed I had flown around the countryside in reality, but maybe perhaps in another dimension.
The rest of the hike to this hostel was uneventful, save for the feeling of existing at a higher level of being. I also startled a nearby deer that I had not even seen until it rushed away through the underbrush.
The hostel here is run by Tillie Wood, yet another “angel” of the trail, in an old renovated barn. There are cold Cokes here! Ah. I’m sleeping in the lower common area rather than the loft, because I’m sure it’s too stuffy up there. I can hear the crickets and the wind rustle in the trees from down here too. Life is good.
That’s right – three grown men, soaked and dirty, were singing Bon Jovi in unison along the Appalachian Trail after a thunderstorm. Sorry you missed it.
The Woodshole Hostel was another iconic trail stop, only a half mile off the trail. I stayed in their free overnight shelter but feel as though I missed out on the full experience, namely the following day’s breakfast that was first-come first-served where hikers could spend time with Tillie Wood.
Tuesday, June 05, 2001
Woodshole Hostel to Pearisburg, VA
Today’s Miles: 10
Trip Miles: 610.4
Ah, it’s about time I treated myself to a motel room, and I have it all to myself! You should see the mess – hiking gear everywhere! It’s amazing how all my gear can be conveniently packed one moment, and then exploded everywhere the next.
I thought I’d tune in here to this electric box called the television and see what I’ve been missing in the world. It didn’t take long for me to realize something – I’ve missed absolutely nothing! Nothing! TV is crap! I did, however, catch the music video of a song which seems to be all the rage – on VH1, at least. Some of the words made me think about my trip from an omniscient perspective (Drops of Jupiter – by Train).
I really boogied those ten miles into town this morning, fueled by the thought of an all you can eat buffet of pizza and soda restaurant that closes at one-thirty. I didn’t know their closing-time for sure until I got there, naturally.
The day’s hike was a cool, breezy way along the ridge through a tunnel of rhododendrons above my hair, and petals at my feet. I passed Baltimore Jack and Emma in one such tunnel, as well as Songbird and Easy Day. I think my tongue may have been hanging out from the thought of that pizza.
I stopped briefly to marvel at the views from Angel’s Rest and other points, admiring the turkey vultures soaring. I began to hear the sounds of town and civilization – a steady drone.
Literally running down the mountainside once it began to descend, I found the trail to be a thick, muddy mess. I slipped on a rock and took a fall – only my second since Springer – unscathed.
Getting closer, wow, I could literally smell the pollution and smog in the air, mostly from the Celanese plant. This is what being out in the woods does to one’s senses.
I finally made it in plenty of time for the buffet, and gorged myself until I was satisfied. The rest of the day was spent visiting the post office, laundromat, library, and grocery store – fun fun fun. This TV also tells me that they’re calling for rain for something obscene like five straight days. The remnants of a hurricane – oh happy happy joy joy. Life is good.
Pearisburg had a hostel but it was at the far end of town, so I stayed at the “Rendezvous Motel,” which was a whole lot closer to the trail. Some hikers had shipped their mail drop packages directly there, and I remember thinking that was a clever move as I walked across town to the post office.
The place where I went for lunch was a chain called “Pizza Plus.” It was basically an imitation of Pizza Hut’s buffet but with food that was more similar to Domino’s.
This was my first motel stay of the trip – I actually had a room and a bathroom and a TV all to myself!
I loved it, and a lifelong affinity for hotel rooms was born.