I rose and began hiking near 11 am. I was tired, but feeling much better after some sleep. Only 8 miles I told myself. I thought of the orange juice and broccoli and fruit I planned to eat.
I passed two section hikers, “moms from Florida”, who asked if I was sleeping on a rock on the side of the trail last night. I told them it wasn’t a rock, but yes, I was just to the side of the trail. They said they were glad that I was passing them, as they were worried that I wasn’t alright and wondered if they should have woken me. I smiled and told them that I always slept that way. I told them I was fine, just a bit tired due to lack of sleep.
Soon I was just 2 miles out from Daleville. I could hear the clink-clank of trekking poles behind me. I turned around to see a hiker friend of mine. He said that he was splitting a hotel with two other hikers. The sound of a shower and hotel and laundry for under $15 was tempting. I decided to join them. I resupplied and met the group at the hotel room.
We all took turns showering and sat around and watched The Big Bang Theory and Bones and slept two to a bed.
I slept for about an hour last night. Curled up beneath my ground tarp letting my things charge, I woke to a crook in my neck from using my pack as a pillow. I was directly in front of the store. A surveyance of the surrounding grounds proved no other option…just trash and glass and loose rocks. Besides, I desired the electricity I greedily siphoned in to my phone and power bank in the night. Of outlets, I only spotted one. I did not want to be sleeping when the shop opened, however, so I resigned to making tea and waiting. I burned the roof of my mouth and encouraged a spider to leave my personal bubble.
I purchased hot coffee, and enough food to get me through the day. I planned to make it to Daleville, VA that evening. For breakfast I ate canned black beans and spinach while sitting at the store-front bench and watching the people of Southern Virginia get their morning coffee and pastry and gas. Judging by the logos on their large trucks, there were many landscapers and construction workers, or people that worked with lumber. Orange was a very popular color of attire, often layered by kahki coveralls. I saw one man hop in to the passenger seat of a truck, lifting both feet off the ground at once, as did the calf of yesterday.
I was originally planning to hike out and take a nap shortly after getting back on trail…but there was no time for sleep.
I passed berries and brooks and came to another pasture. How blissful I felt! The sun shone radiantly! The solstice, when the sun seems to stand still, the zenith of day-length, was here…and it was marvelous!
It is potential that I live for. The creation of space that invites all possibilities; the uncertainty of excitement.
I crossed VA 311. There was a popular parking area there, as McAfee Knob was only three miles out. The trail became flooded with day hikers. The ones I spoke with were very friendly. I took my time making my way up to the knob. I stopped in at Johns Spring Shelter to look in the trail register for a note my friend Alex said she left for me when she day hiked the area over a month back. I found it and my heart soared. It truly made my day!
I finally came to the infamous McAfee Knob. It was, in fact, beautiful.
I was still planning to travel 16 additional miles. My energy was dropping. I took a long break at a water source and continued.
The trail began to climb. I desired another break. I finally came to a spot with a clearing. I was feeling weak. I longed for orange juice and sleep. Can exhaustion make one nauseous? I decided that I could take one hour. Half of that hour would be dedicated to hydration and dinner, the other half…to sleep. If I only took an hour I could make it to the shelter and collect water before it was dark. I did just that, and continued.
As much as I tried, I could not shake the feeling of exhaustion. There was no point in fighting it. I had to sleep eventually. I stopped 8 miles shy of Daleville and fell in to a much needed sleep on a relatively flat space just to the left of the trail.
I rose early to the light chirping of birds and the heavy mooing of cows. There was a sharp cawing in the distance. I could sense the vibrations of the cow hooves on the grassy hills. I could hear snuffing of their snouts.
The morning is glorious and clear. Calves jump with jubilance, all four limbs lifting from the earth in unison. Oh, the joy of youth!
One attractive white cow came swiftly across the trail. I startled it and it clumsily ran sideways. I could not help but laugh aloud.
I had high hopes for the day. I planned to cover a lot of ground. I considered staying at the donation based hostel that was 26 miles from the Keffer Oak.
While collecting water from a shelter in the early afternoon, I met many hikers I knew. We all late lunch together. Most of the others were heading to the next shelter, 10 miles out. One group of two, however, also planned on getting to the hostel. This was encouraging. I would not make it there until dark and was not sure if that would be appropriate. It made me feel better to know that other hikers would also be arriving late.
I continued on. I stopped at the next shelter to gather water. The water was over .5 miles off trail, however; this was discouraging. I joined the group I had seen for lunch. They were fixing dinner. They offered me water so that I would not have to venture so far out of my way. I thanked them and ate dinner with them. I then set off once more. It was after 9 pm.
I had 7 miles to go. At this point I decided that I would stealth camp by the gas station instead of stumbling in to the hostel well after midnight.
There was a bit of climbing, but I was energized and motivated. As I continued to make my way towards Dragon’s Tooth, however, the trail seemed to climb up and then down and then up again, and move in a never-ending spiral. I felt like a mouse on a wheel; as if I was getting no where at all. The terrain all looked the same in the beam of my headlamp. I often asked myself if I had gotten turned around some how and was retracing my steps. I finally passed the Dragon’s Tooth spur trail and began the decent. Oh my, what a descent! I was not quite prepared for this. My trekking poles became useless appendages atop the sleek, slanted stone. I moved painstakingly slowly. I longed to be off the mountain! I longed for smooth dirt-laden terrain again!
Finally, well after 2 am, I came to the road. I triumphantly walked the .4 miles to the Catawba gas station to catch something resembling rest before they opened at 5:30 am.
I opened my eyes at 5, and again at 6. I rose to a 90 degree angle at 7 am. The rain is still visiting from above. Little droplets shyly say hello to the earth and the plants and my face. The nice tree I slept beneath in tandem with my tent-blanket served their purpose nicely.
Not long in to my hike I stopped at a viewpoint. The clouds looked heavy in the distance. A section hiker from Atlanta and his adorable dog joined me on the rocks. I was fussing with my charging bank. He offered me a new cord which proved a miraculous solution. I greatly dislike negative distractions of the technological sort.
We hiked on together for a spell. We spoke of psychedelics and elves and azaleas. We came to a shelter and gathered water and took a break. He headed on. I stayed a bit longer and sewed up a hole in my pack that threatened growth. The rain came. It was heavy. I took cover in the shelter. The minutes grouped in to hours. The sky lightened and I left at 4 pm.
My socks soaked in moisture from the damp foliage that lined the trail. I passed the next shelter and took a quick break at a campsite just under 2 miles further.
I continued on as the sun was setting. I came to a sudden stop as I realized that I was just short of entanglement with a large spider web. I stared at the architect. I was fascinated. It was positively gigantic and fantastically green. A giant radiant jewel. Sensing my attention, it hurried up its web. It’s body so heavy, that every now and again it heaved backward under its own weight.
The woods are so foreign and dream-like at night.
I stepped over a railing to cross a road and continue on the trail which led through pastures. I noticed a miniature apple on the ground. I glanced up at what was a crab apple tree. I used a trekking pole to prod the limbs above, beckoning for the tiny fruit to fall within my reach. I sat and sipped water and ate three of the little apples. They were not quite ripe, but sweet enough and delightfully crisp.
As I continued, little hopping rodents fleeted about frantically on the trail. One of them hopped right in to my shin with a surprising amount of force. I laughed.
This morning feels like it was so long ago; as if it were a memory from yesterday, or the day before.
I made camp beneath the 300 year old Keffer Oak — the largest oak tree in the southern portion of the trail. Maybe some of its enduring wisdom will seep in to my night dreams.
I did not wake in the woods, but in a little cave. A musty cave at that. Because I only set up my tent when it rains, it seems to have become a bit moldy. I should start pulling it out dry in the sun. Oh, bother. I did not begin hiking until past 11 pm.
The trail was mellow and crossed many roads with homes nearby.
I came to a very steep climb. The sun had begun it’s descent. I passed a shelter and continued on. For a satisfactory day I had many miles to go.
The climb continued, the woods were thick and rocky and uneven. There was no place to camp in sight. I told myself that I just wanted to rest a moment. I would regroup, and then cover another 5 miles in the night.
I came to a beautiful tree. It’s limbs extended proudly, skirting down nearly to its base; layer upon layer of overlappimg branches extended like fans of emerald pine. There was no way one could set up a tent — or even stand — without crouching beneath its cover. But, it’s many layers could provide protection from a gentle rain. I made myself comfortable beneath it. It began to rain. I pulled out my tent and draped it’s limp body over my own. I left my sleeping bag in its drysack in my pack. I am warm enough without it, under the non breathable material of my tent in the southern heat of June.
I left the church at around 9 am. As I was motioning to leave, pack on back, I heard some noises by the back entrance. I came around the corner to greet the sounds, and the person responsible. A very kind elderly gentleman introduced himself and told me that he was the church janitor. He told me not to hurry out on his behalf. He took me upstairs and unlocked the door to the little church so I may glance inside. It was beautiful. His wife was the organist for the church, he told me proudly. He asked where I was from and wished me a safe journey. The encounter left me feeling so very happy.
I continued on…back to the library. There were just a few things left unfinished. The library closed early on Saturdays, so I positioned myself on the front steps, under cover from the potential rain, with an outlet to my left.
A lady came to drop of some books in the book return bin to my right. She smiled at me and went on her way. Later she returned just to ask me if I needed a ride any where. I told her that I was heading to the cemetary parking area…but that I was not quite ready to leave, as I would not have internet again for some time. She asked how long I needed. She was heading over to her mom’s house to drop off a sandwich and could come get me and take me to the parking lot after that, at a time of my choosing. “How about 4 o’clock? Would that be alright?” She agreed happily and went on her way.
As I continued working, another kind person came by to drop of a book and inquired of my situation and offered assistance. I thanked them, and told them of the kindness I had already been shown.
It began raining heavily. I was protected by the overhang. Sprinkles of wetness decorated the cement inches from my crossed legs. Right at 4 pm the lady returned, and the rain stopped. I finished the process of packing up my things and went to meet her across the street. She was prepared for me. She had her back seat covered in plastic for my pack. She was all smiles.
As she drove me to my destination we spoke of Pearisburg and California and mileage and the trail. She expressed interest in hiking the trail one day. I enthusiastically encouraged her to do so. She gave me a slip of paper with her contact information on it. She asked if she could follow this blog. I was touched. I gave her my information and wished her all the best. Thank you so much for your kindness, Pamela! I hope you find your way to the trail soon!
I re-entered the woods, satisfied with my decision to return to town, and happy to be back on trail.
I made it 9 miles before the day faded in to night and I began searching for a place to camp. I was contented to find a site beneath a grouping of trees, before reaching a stretch of trail that followed a ridgeline. There was room for two tents there. I debated whether to set up my tent or not. I stretched out my ground cover, unfolded my mat, and proceeded to set up my stove for dinner. The light of my headlamp caught a sideways dusting of tiny droplets of rain. So faint were they, they would have streamed unnoticed without the beam of light. Was this a sign of heavier rain to come? Either way, my down sleeping bag would not fair well in these conditions. I resolved to make a compromise. I would set up my tent, but then sleep outside of it. Should the rain become forceful, I could simply slip inside without having to set it up. I was pleased with this solution. It was not long after setting it up and returning to the process of making dinner, however, that the sprinkles persisted and I decided that I might as well just go inside.
I passed by the cemetary trail junction and began to cross a bridge over New River along US Route 46. I hesitated. I had rushed in to and back out of town in a hurry. I enjoyed Pearisburg, and it housed many resources that I would not have access to for over 150 miles (namely, a libray). I decided to do one of my least favorite things in existence: back-track. Thankfully, I had not travelled far…less than a mile.
I walked down VA Route 100 with plans of spending time in the library. I was not sure precisely where the library was, but I was not concerned. After waliking a short distance I began sticking out my thumb. It was not long before a sweet elderly couple picked me up and dropped me off at the library steps.
I spent much time there writing and reviewing photos and planning upcoming stretches of trail. As I was leaving, a lady in a pick-up truck offered me a ride and told me of a community picnic held by the Christ Episcopal Church. She mentioned that they even let hikers stay the night in the church basement. She dropped me off at the Pizza Hut where I ate unlimited salad and utilized even more wifi. I considered her invitation. Any opportunity to integrate in to the community is valuable.
I walked down to the little church. I received a very warm greeting. The picnic was just wrapping up, and they apologized for not having food left. I told them that I was mainly there to socialize, and to inquire about a place to sleep for the night. They told me I was very welcome. I was shown inside, dropped my pack, then came back out to sit on the benches and chat. I was told of how the church does its best to be involved with the community. They hold the picnics annually, and maintain a community garden where people of the town are able to come pick whatever they would like, free of charge. It was not long before everyone headed home. I was told to help myself to whatever I would like in the refrigerator, and to make myself comfortable. With that, I was left to my own devices.
I took a moment to walk the surrounding area of town. I took note of the murals and their themes.
One side of the church basement had shelves of toys and books and mats and a short wooden table. It was a place for Sunday School for children. The other half had a full kitchen and a bathroom and a small office and what appeared to be space for meetings.
I could not believe I had all this space and comfort for the night. I was touched by their kindness and hospitality. I unfolded a cushion and flipped through a book on Christian symbolism before drifting in to sleep.
I rose early and made it in to town by the afternoon. It was just under a mile walk from where the trail meets Cross Avenue to get in to Pearisburg, VA. As I walked down the hill and watched the town come into view, I was charmed.
There is something very special about this mountain town.
I resupplied at Food Lion, and found my way to Angel’s Rest Hostel. I was able to pay for a day pass that included laundry and shower and kitchen and internet use for $5. The pass was good until 10 pm. The staff was extremely kind, as well as the other hikers that had posted up there.
It rained heavily in the early evening and then cleared up again. As it neared the 10 o’clock hour, hikers and staff alike began to jest. They said that I was not really going to hike out, offering me beverages of inebriation. I kindly declined.
At around 11 pm, I hiked out. I trusted my instincts to lead me back to the trail head. I had taken a wrong turn when originally arriving in town, so I did not have a clear-cut route back in mind. Also, the unfamiliar becomes even less familiar under the cover of night.
I was very pleased with myself. I made it back smoothly, confidence growing with each landmark I was able to recall.
The trail was wet and smooth and steep leading to the Pearis Cemetary. I fell twice.
When I came to the parking area, I decided that I did not care to move further; at least I had made it back on trail. I positioned my mat on the gravel just off of VA Route 100, and slept.
Drops of water fall from the sky. I am not sure if it is residual rain from the trees, or if it is actively raining. It is nearly 11 pm. I don’t want to set up my tent. I think it may be raining. Darn it. I’ll set it up.
…there was rain this morning. Loud snaps and whirls of thunder, and sharp yet faint flashes of lightning. I thought of Bland, VA. A land so near and full of beds and showers. I hurried on. I passed the tent of someone who chose to take cover. I passed a dead snake on the trail.
I then passed some men standing by some pick-up trucks. They told me to be cautious, as construction was under way in the area. They also told me that there was a brand new little shop that opened up right alongside the trail. How lovely!
I sat inside the little shop and took cover from the rain and ate a sandwich while charging my things and chatting with another hiker.
It was mid-afternoon when I continued on. The trail followed the road and along a freeway overpass. I followed the blazes and arrows made of stones to find my way. Where the trail reentered the woods there were many tents and hammocks and the surrounding area was littered with wrappers and empty soda cans. I wondered if the occupants were hikers, or people that lived there.
I had to collect water from a side trail near a shelter. It was the only drinkable water for about 10 miles. It was a mile round trip for collection, and was very steep in parts. Shortly after getting back on the trail I was passed by a hiker carrying nothing but trekking poles and a large fanny-pack. He said he was thru-hiking and that he was going about 30 miles a day. He had a friend with a van assisting him. His friend met him at road crossings, and inside the van were two beds–one of which he slept in each night. He mentioned that if I saw him at the crossing in five miles, that he had some trail magic. This was motivating. I came to the road crossing not long before sun down. Two hikers whose company I very much enjoy were there, sitting in foldable chairs drinking soda and snacking on chocolates. I joined the group and we all sat and chatted for a bit.
It was nearing 9 pm when I began hiking again. I wanted to at least make it passed the next shelter. I made it about one mile passed the shelter and chose to call it a night.
As I packed up this morning I noticed that I was sharing my tent with many spiders. I guided out to safety the one that I could. The others, unfortunately got rolled up in my tent. I was late to rise already, I did not have the time to fuss with them. At least that is what I told myself. I think in reality I am still conditioned to be slightly fearful of arachnids that exceeded a certain size threshold; at least to the point of not wanting to grab them with my hands.
Though I did not need to, I walked the .5 mile west of the trail on VA 606 to Trent’s Grocery. I was curious. It was your run of the mill gas station and deli near a lumber yard. I got a hot coffee and chatted with a hiker and the employees. They were very friendly. They talked of the large crowds of hikers that came through. They were not a fan of the party crowd that would buy large packs of beer and drink not far from the store. They asked if I had heard of the “24 Challenge”. This is when a hiker attempts to drink 24 beers and hike 24 miles within 24 hours; unfortunately, I had. They said there was a fairly large group a couple of days ahead. A fellow hiker mentioned that there was a well hydrated group stumbling behind us as well.
I made it back to the trail and stopped by a stream 5 miles out. With an 11 am start, I would most certainly be night hiking.
As I passed the Wapiti Shelter, a lady called out to me. She wanted to know if I had water. She suggested I collected water there, as it was a dry and rocky climb that I was approaching. She said she had just come from that direction. I heeded her warning and filled up. As I continued, I did pass a stream that was flowing well, but further up, despite the recent rains, all the springs were dry.
I reached a view point at the top of the climb just as the sun was setting. It was stunning. The clouds in the distance suggested rain.
Oh boy, did it rain. Just after 9 pm it came down in torrents. I hesitated to remove my pack and put on my rain gear. In that brief moments hesitation, it became too late–I was drenched. It started raining harder. My pants were plastered to my legs and the beam of my headlamp was fractured in the heavy rain. My visibility was greatly impaired. Removing my glasses helped, but not enough to see the listed campsite just two miles out that I must have passed. After about 20 minutes the rain stopped. I was already soaking wet, I decided that I may as well keep going to make it worth it. At least it was warm.
I stopped at a forest service road crossing to change out if my wet clothes, drink some coffee, and rally up some self-motivation. The clouds dissapated and revealed the shining starlight. The fireflies danced. I heard an animal in the distance. Its yells were loud and painful, like it was in a fight or suffering attack. It sounded large and unfamiliar. I glanced at my trekking poles; they give me a sense of security.
Sugar Run Road was only two miles away. There would surely be a flat place to sleep, and it was only 11 miles or so to Pearisburg from there. It was a steep and rocky descent. I moved slowly to ensure solid footing; at times opting for roots and rocks rather than trekking poles to stable myself. When I arrived I could see a campsite just after the road. There were two tents and a hammock there. I did not wish to start another climb so late. I trusted that the rain would not come, and I liked the idea of sleeping beneath the stars free of tree cover. I positioned myself as far from the center of the road as possible, and propped my trekking poles up forming a large “x” behind my head. I did this to deter any running over of my body by an unsuspecting vehicle. The chances were slim, but it made me feel better none the less. I gazed at the stars peacefully, and drifted in to sleep.
I am sleeping atop a bed of dead leaves tonight. Many things live in these leaves. I can hear tiny bits of movement all around me.
My goal was to make it to Laurel Creek. It is a large creek with a foot bridge and many places to camp. Enroute, my headlamp grew dim and I allowed myself to scan the area for potential sites; there were not many. I decided that I could stop at the next relatively flat space. A bed of leaves is not favorable, but it was flat and clear of plant life.
I had my lunch at a pond this afternoon. I gathered water from the spring that feeds it. The pond creatures are different and intriguing. One was quite vocal. I am not sure what it was. It sounded as I imagine the singing offspring of a frog and a duck might sound. Many of them sang together. The song grew louder and more peculiar with time. I enjoyed listening the pond life. The climb to get there was a challenge.
This region is relatively dry. I did not leave the pond with much water. I was looking to collect from three different sources over a span of just over 8 miles–all dry. I have been somewhat selective. If I don’t feel like it is greatest source, I might decide to delay collection until I came to the next. I am learning that there may not always be a “next”. I eventually collected water at Hunting Camp Creek. The creek was pleasant, and there was a nice place to sit. It was dusk. I watched the many fireflies, and a little worm that looked so impressively like a stick.
I crose paths with multiple deer today. One was a lone fawn. I startled it and it went running off alongside the trail, tripping over its own inexperienced limbs as he hurried. It was quite charming. The other deer was older. It was apprehensive, but not afraid.
The departure from Atkins was slow-going. By 4pm, however, I was on my way.
There were many pastures and many cows. The sky was so clear and the lightning bugs many. I could see the moon and stars; brilliantly back-lit cut-outs from the night sky. At one point, following the trail through tall golden grasses, I glanced up to see at least 40 glowing eyes. No more than ten feet from the trail, 20 pairs of cow eyes–widened in obvious fear–had their gaze fixed to my headlamp. Their stocky bodies appeared especially large in the moonlight. I could sense their fear. I was a bit nervous, as well. I did not know what a frightened cow might be capable of. As I slowly followed the trail, which led to an arms reach from the nearest cow, they backed away quickly. They began to run, all of them as a group. Their hooves beat the ground in loud thuds. I could feel the vibrations as they moved, eyes aglow. It was a terrifically entertaining spectacle.
I night hiked for a bit longer. I did not really have a choice in the matter. There were not many places to camp, and there were signs requesting that hikers stick to the trail as it wound through the privately owned pastures. The cows had done their businesses all up and down the trail, and all of the water sources in the area were not very suitable for drinking. I came to a site at the end of a pasture on the other side of a foot bridge. The site was very full, and the stream unappealing. It was just before a climb. I continued on. Just over 2 miles later, I reached the top . It was flat, and about 50 ft into the woods was the perfect place to lay my head for the night. I was happy.
I rose and left the viewpoint by 8 am. I was certainly occupying the space by camping there, and didn’t want to deter any other hikers from enjoying it due to my presence. Shrouded in sleepiness, I stopped at the shelter just under 2 miles out and made myself some coffee.
I was just packing up when a hiker I had met in Damascus stopped in. We decided to get (yes, more) coffee at the gas station that was coming up in 5 miles, in the small town of Atkins, VA. We spoke of identification of wild foods, hiking paces, and pack weight as we hiked.
Soon we came to an old school house built in the 1800s. Other hikers, and trail magic provided by the local church were inside. There were clear plastic boxes of sodas and fruit and crackers and on the wall were odd lists if 19th century school ground punishments that could be purchased for $1.
Now there where four of us that pressed on to Atkins as a group. We ate together at a Mexican food restaurant attached to an Exxon gas station. It was my first dining experience of the trail. It was very good. Then there was the sitting in front of the neighboring gas station. The sitting led to a more extended sitting…and chatting, and repackaging of overly packaged goods. The hiker company was lovely, yet very present and very distracting. Soon it was 10 pm and I had done nothing but sit and chat. The rest of the hiker crowd had cleared out. I stayed the night. I got caught in the “vortex” as hikers often refer to it, in the most unlikey of places. A truck stop in Atkins, VA.
Today I passed pastures and cows and large streams.
I learned that streams are often classified as being freestone or limestone. Freestone streams have a bottom composed of round stones that move during floods, while limestone streams have bottoms of solid rock ledges. Most of Virginia’s streams are a combination of the two.
I came to the Mount Rogers National Recrational Area headquarters and visitor center. They had closed hours ago. The bathrooms were locked, vending machines were not accessible, there were no electrical outlets. There was a phone mounted to a wall, however, along with a lists of numbers for lodging and pizza delivery. I tried calling out to California. No luck. Must be for local numbers only.
I crossed the road and started to climb the next mountain in line. The sun was setting. I stopped at a campsite and made some coffee. I could still see the road clearly. The moon was clearer, still. I hiked until nearly 3 am before squeezing myself in to the flat spot of a viewpoint free of the dense brush of the surrounding ridgeline.
The clouds looked heavy today. I passed a clearing with views on the side of White Top Mountain. In the distance I could clearly see each ray of light that was not absorbed in the grey of the horizon. It was beautiful.
My feet are not satisfyingly sore. I did not travel far. Word on the trail is that ponies graze the Grayson Highlands. I hope to see them tomorrow.
I am now .10 of a mile shy of a parking lot and meadow and pasture. I can hear the cows. Their mooimg is loud, almost angry. There are people below, near the parking lot. They are chatting. They are nearly as loud as the cows. I am cowboy camping, but have selected a spot where I can easily set up my tent, should the rain come in the night.