V is for Virginia

My friends, we have reached our fourth state…rather, commonwealth, of Virginia. We have 500+ miles to walk in this state and I am hoping for some better terrain in a few hundred miles. The rumors are that around Pearisburg things start to flatten out until somewhere in PA…and by flatten out I mean, not a lot of steep climbs—not Florida flat.

Let’s see, when we left Erwin over a week ago I thought I’d get a chance to write again at the Kincora hiking hostel in Hampton, TN. No computer, so no writing.

The climb out of Erwin wasn’t too bad, mostly pleasant along a nice stream and then up to a shelter and some contour walking around the mountains. We had to climb up to Beauty Spot, a bald, and then to Unaka Mountain. Unaka was semi-difficult but it was beautiful at the top with a bunch of spruce trees that reminded me of what Washington state looks like. The next day we took a .6 each way detour to the Greasy Creek Friendly hostel to get ice cream and discovered that the owner made burgers as well. I highly suggest taking this detour if you have the time in your day or if you are going to be near there in the evening, take a nice stay at her hostel. She has some friendly cats and the owner is super nice herself. I was glad we went and did that even though we had to climb half of Roan Mountain that night.

As for Roan Mountain it was our last climb over 6,000 feet until Mt. Washington in the Whites. And it was a steep climb. No switchbacks and gaining about 2,000 feet of elevation over nearly 3 miles. We stayed at Ash Gap which is about 3/4 of the way up and broke it up that way. The last part wasn’t nearly as difficult as the first section. There was still some ice and snow on the top of the mountain, mostly in the shaded sections of the trail. Not bad—not Clingman’s bad—but still annoying.

That day was for crossing over a bunch of really tall balds, which offered beautiful, but windy views. We also missed our first bear sighting by a few hundred yards when another hiker in front of us spotted two cubs and a mom near Little Hump Mtn. Little Hump wasn’t too bad, Hump Mtn was more difficult and it was super windy, windy enough for it to push you around. Then it was down to the Apple House Shelter which is about half a mile from a road and we’d been told that the locals there sometimes booby trap the shelter and we were cautious when we arrived and found Trail Magic instead! Soda’s, chips and salsa, oatmeal creme pies….oh it was devoured!

We’d been told by a few other hikers that a B&B/hostel was .3 off that same road and for $9 you could have the best breakfast on the trail. So, the group that was at the shelter got up and had the best breakfast on the trail! Oh, man, it was like a Thanksgiving morning type breakfast…so delicious. It rained that morning so we had the delayed start and the first half of the day was pretty good, mellow and enjoyable, but the last six miles to the shelter was a beat down. There is nothing I hate more than a series of PUD’s (pointless ups and downs) and in the book it appears that the trail goes down, but it is really just a series of ups and downs that just left me frustrated and crying. It was a 19 mile day too.

The next morning we breezed down to Kincora where we took the rest of the day off. My friend Amy (AB from the forum for my forum friends) took us to Mexican food and the grocery store in a nearby town where we spent a relaxing afternoon. Thank you so much for doing this Amy! It was good to meet you!

On Monday we left Kincora and had another beat down on Pond Mountain. The switchbacks were good for awhile but there were some more straight up sections that left me crying again. This mental thing is such a difficult thing to master. We did nearly 18 miles that day and the rest of the day was much easier. On Tuesday we planned a shorter day, 14.5 miles and with the threat of rain we ended up doing the last 3 miles in 50 minutes…a record I think for us! We ended up enjoying the afternoon in the shelter, reading and relaxing while it rained. A few other people came too, so it was nice to socialize.

Then, yesterday we got spoiled by easy trail and did 18 miles by 3pm and rolled into Damascus, Virginia. We had planned to come into town today in order to spend less money, but lemme tell you, the scent of town really gets you going! A burger…a soda. mmmmmmm yeah! We thought we’d hoof it out of here in the late afternoon but we decided to do a full zero since we hadn’t  done one since Fontana Dam. We’ve been doing a lot of ‘nearo’s’ into town, but a full day in town hadn’t been had in awhile.

Our hiking friend Missionary has been found again. We caught up to him or he caught up to us, not sure which yet, but he’s in town and we’ve gotten to chat with him, but he took a tumble yesterday and may have torn his rotater cuff and so he’s going to a bigger city for an x-ray. We haven’t seen some of the folks we left back in Hot Springs so I am wondering if we will see them again.

My dad is set to be here in two weeks in Pearisburg. I am really looking forward to seeing him and maybe he can ease some of the homesickness. While waiting for the computere here at the library I picked up Nimblewill Nomad’s book, Ten Million Steps, and started reading the preface. It made me start to cry because it talked about all of the steps, the Three Wise Men he calls them, out on the trail…the physical, mental and spiritual. The physical, is the easiest, the mental if you can conquer it will get you to the spiritual. The mental is by far the toughest.

The trail is thinning out already. Though there are a lot of people behind us, the mass of people who started the trail later than us, we’ve all definitely noticed that things are not as crowded as they were.

Slowly I need to change my thinking on the tough sections. Take it easier on myself, be nicer to myself, not to frustrated. It’s a way of life—and it is sometimes day in and day out the same thing over and over again. We have been enjoying the spring wildflowers coming in, trying to learn some of them in town.

I did get to talk to my niece Zoe on the phone. She’s becoming much more of a jabberer and asked to ‘talk’ and then said “T” (for Misti) and “what doin’?” and “hi” and apparently waved at the phone afterwards. That is what breaks my heart. It is so much the people I miss, the interaction with my family and friends, even though I do call my family every couple of days, used to be daily when we had signal all the time, I miss people the most. Sure, using unlimited amount of toilet paper in a restroom is nice, and hot showers, and a bed, but it is people that I miss most.

We will get to Katahdin.

Spring in Erwin

Yesterday we pulled 20 miles to get into Temple Hill Gap so we could do 4 miles into Erwin this morning. We woke at 6:30 and rolled into Uncle Johnny’s hostel at almost 9am. Ahhh, we relaxed for a few hours, showering and doing laundry and then caught the lunch shuttle into Erwin. The trail doesn’t go through Erwin, it’s a few miles off and Erwin is also spread out, but we ate at a pizza joint on the outside of town and then walked through town, quaint cute houses that I imagined myself living in, and then into the old-tyme downtown and other areas. We had some Sonic for drinks and Mexican for dinner.

Since leaving Hot Springs we have been doing bigger miles and longer days. We’re pretty much getting up between 7 and 7:30 in order to get more miles in before lunch and to avoid some of the heat. It isn’t too bad on the days when there is a nice breeze, but often it can be pretty hot in the open areas (which is a lot since not a lot of leafing out yet) between 1 and 3 or so.

Some of the cooler places we’ve been too were Blackstack Cliffs and there is a knob/ledge about a mile past that which is really cool, but kinda a pain after awhile because it involves lots of climbing over rocks and up and down rocks for quite awhile.

We climbed up Big Bald yesterday and also Big Butt the day before…and we kept joking that Big Butt was Baloo and then there was a smaller bald that we called Little Butt after Leo.

Big Bald offered a 360* view of the surrounding area, very cool!

We are slowly being able to pull longer miles, you just hike all day. Which isn’t bad, I like feeling like I’ve accomplished something big. We have some big climbs coming up in the next few days, Unaka Mtn tomorrow and then Roan Mtn probably the day after. I’ve heard Roan Mtn is pretty difficult, a very hands on climb apparently. We had Albert Mtn back in southern NC and it was short, steep and very hands on. Also, Roan Mtn is the last time we’ll go over 6K feet until we get into the Whites in New England. I’m very much looking forward to a more flattened state of Virginia. I want to put in several 20 mile days in a row, some breaks between them to ease the back, but I really want to start flying some while I am able.

I am also looking forward to my dad coming to visit and hike a 5 day section with us after Pearisburg. I am hoping he will be a small cure for my homesickness.

I told my friend Rosemarie that I was so emotional out here and she said that perhaps I am just more available to my emotions out here than in city life. Probably true since I am just in my head thinking all day. It’s amazing how fast I can go from one thought to another and what triggers it. There were geese over the river this morning and at first I was thinking they were seagulls and then next moment I was back in Galveston and at the beach. And songs…wow, songs I haven’t heard in ages or days or months and they just pop into my head. Rilo Kiley pops up a lot and “We Didn’t Start the Fire”, and “I like Big Butts” after we went to Big Butt.

We have another 4.5 day stretch and then probably 2-3 days and then we’re in Virginia! We’ll have over 500 miles to go there and then probably hit Harpers Ferry sometime at the end of May, maybe mid-May? So, plan on that Christine!

Anyway, we have more photos up on Flickr if you want to check it out. I am going to try journaling better on paper in order to sort out all of my thoughts…I have so many ideas for life after the Trail. I wish it didn’t involve an 8-5 job, but you know, I gotta make money somehow…but maybe at least getting photography off the ground a lot.

Until later….;)

Trail Magic

Trail Magic!

The best thing is coming up on Trail Magic. A hot dog or a hamburger, or even a coke. Ahhhh, it is so nice.

Trail Magic - hotdogs

These ladies were our first Trail Magic…hot dogs right after breakfast. Don’t pass up any Trail Magic!

*originally scheduled for a few days ago, didn’t seem to post.*

Clean Clothes—the illusion of cleanliness.

We’re sitting in the library in Hot Springs, NC for the afternoon. Yesterday we did about 17 miles from Max Patch Bald summit, where we’d camped the night before (amazing, awesome, you should do it) and stayed about a mile or so before Hot Springs at a random campsite which was nice. This morning we rolled into the town by 8am for some breakfast at the Smoky Mountain Diner. Ahhhh, coffee (a rare treat for me) and a huge breakfast that we couldn’t finish. Yes, I know, we’re calorie starved and I couldn’t finish my meal.

Since we’d stayed past the shelter we were some of the first to come into town and most everyone else came in later that morning. We hit the laundry first thing and now our clothes are clean but we still haven’t had a shower yet since we can’t check into the B&B until later today. That’s ok, at least I don’t smell so bad. It’s been so hot these past few days and there aren’t leaves on the trees yet so it makes everything so much worse.

The very cool trend on hikers is what I like to call, the pole strap tan. We have strips of white across our hands where the straps to our poles stay all day long. Part of it was dirt, but most of it is now a very bad tan line.

Well, photos are taking forever to upload here so I don’t have a lot to show you. If you want to look at everything so far you can go to our flickr photostream and check it out.

This was on top of Rocky Top, the second day in the Smokies. It was a pretty steep climb up, but had a nice view. You could see Fontana Lake back to the south and the fire tower on Shuckstack.

Chris has been looking in all of the small streams and water sources for salamanders. In the Smokies there is one called the hellbender that I think gets 2′ long. Oh, the day we came down Clingman’s and ran into the trail maintainers we heard a low grumbling/creaking sound and they told us it was a male spruce grouse (a bird). Ever since we hear them on occasion and they are really cool sounding. There’s also a bird that is very common that we hear daily and I wish I had Marc to tell us what it was.

At the lower elevations we are starting to run into a lot more wildflowers. Chris decided he was going to take a photo of every new one we see…which can get old fast if we stop every 10 minutes.

As for hiking and such, I’m slowly getting better. I still have a hard time when there is a big hill to do and I get down sometimes. Mostly I think it is because I miss ‘life’. It is such a completely different thing out here. Walking is work. It is fun, yes, but it can be work. It’s all day, every day and when you get to town or place to stop and see life happening…it makes you miss it a bit. We ran into two, well, how do I put it…old hillbilly guys…who were doing little bits of sections, low miles maybe 5-8 a day, just enjoying the day outside and doing crosswords in the shelter. They’d hiked the AT before and they said they bounce around and do little sections, shelter to shelter (or campsite) and hang out. I miss that. Lingering. I also like when we do bigger miles, too, because I know that I went a long distance that day.

We weighed ourselves at the outfitter here (Bluff Mtn Outfitters…pretty nice store, has some health food/organic kind of stuff, too. Made me want to go into Whole Foods) and they had a scale. It seems that the scale at Standing Bear was pretty accurate. probably about 12lbs or so for me and 18lbs for Chris. We’re going to have to start eating a little more soon, splitting the Mountain House meals isn’t quite going to cut it very soon. Either that or eat more bars during the day.

Since it has started getting warmer during the nights now I am finally able to sleep without layers of clothes. We also decided to buy summer bags. We weren’t originally going to, just keep our 15* bags and deal with it, but we found a Marmot Pounder for around $100 on Campmor and it is 40* and will drop some weight in the summer and not be so hot.

This is the shelter we had to ourselves at Silers Bald. Ahhhh…peaceful!

Well, I think that’s it. Our next stop is Erwin, Tn. Not sure if we are staying there overnight or just an in and out kind of thing. It’s about a five day hike from here. Then, Virginia isn’t too far away! We’ll have about 500 miles to walk in Virginia.

Until then, I’m going to try to start being more upbeat and not so down about things and keep on truckin’.

5 Days in the Smokies

Whew…five days in the Smokies. We decided to hit a hostel just outside the park today instead of staying at a campsite. Although, we are still camping anyway—we got here too late. But a shower is nice and we ran into a lot of people we’d been hiking with earlier last week.

First, thank you for all your comments and thank you to my old work colleagues who have commented! I appreciate it and I hope you are all having fun with the upcoming Everglades Study! 😉

What can I say about the Smokies??? They weren’t as bad as I thought but there was a lot more snow than was told to us.

Day1: We left Fontana Dam to hike 15 miles to Russell Field Shelter. Not too bad getting out of the Dam area, we hiked up to Shuckstack and then down for lunch and met a few other hikers on the way. It was a ‘usual’ day, ups and downs, some nice flats. A lot of the trails in the Smokies are graded for horse use so the AT is used for horses in the Smokies on most parts except a few top spots. We stayed at the Russell Field Shelter for our first night in a shelter. There was one other couple who had hiked up from a different trail for an overnighter and then four people who came in late and left early. You have to stay inside a shelter in the Smokies unless it is full and then you can tent. It’s ridiculous. I only saw one mouse the next morning and it ran across the side of the shelter.

Day 2: Oh, this day was kinda crappy. It was effing hot and I was guzzling water and there were so many pointless ups and downs. The group of hikers was one shelter in front of us so we didn’t really see many people that day. Rocky Top and oh, another one right after, were two steep climbs, both with great views, though. We made it into Derrick’s Knob Shelter for a late afternoon rinse in the stream and to see a few hikers we knew. Everyone was staying there but we were hoofing another six miles to Silers Bald. We showed up at SIlers Bald shelter to an empty shelter and we had it to ourselves the entire night!

Day 3: Clingman’s Dome was looming that morning. Every ridgerunner we had run into (they are kinda trail maintainers and helpers on the AT) had said there was 1′ or more of snow on the trail and some post-holing on the back of the dome. Which was true. Only they left stuff out. We left Double Spring shelter and the terrain changed and there were more fir trees. Smelled wonderful. The climb up Clingman’s wasn’t too bad, we deferred going to the top of the tower and instead headed down. It was tough going and we post-holed and tried to stay dry, ended up wet and like dummies we didn’t wear our gaiters and rain pants. We thought we were going to Mt. Collins Shelter for lunch but learned it was .5 off the trail so that was a no-go and oh, though we had a brief time of no snow on the trail, it was pretty much six miles of snow or ice on the trail all the way down to Indian Gap. Chris ended up hurting his ankle/heel so we went even slower but near Indian Gap we ran into two trail maintainers, Miss Scarlett and Newt who hiked the trail last year. They gave us root beers, cookie dough and apples. Mmmmm! Then, it was finally to Newfound Gap where US 441 runs though. We thought we’d get water at the bathrooms there but the NPS seems to think running water at a vital point for hikers is bad idea. Ok, so maybe they don’t think that, but they don’t have sinks in the bathroom, apparently alcohol hand sanitizer is the cool thing these days. We thought we were home free of snow until we had the last 3 miles to Icewater Spring Shelter and ran into day hikers who said there was snow all the way to Icewater and then past. Ugh. We rolled into camp after 7pm that night.

Day 4: Starting off much better and went to Charlie’s Bunion. Very cool scenic overlook. Actually, this day was pretty cool. Very good trail, some snow, most on Mt. Sequoyah and Mt. Chapman, but it was a very nice hike. We had lunch somewhere near Bradley’s View and saw two peregrine falcons swooping and diving into the valley below. Very, very awesome. Ended the day at Tri-corner Knob shelter.

Day 5 (today): After some up over Mt. Guyot this morning and snow we started hitting some ‘hiking nirvana’ which is what a section hiker coming from that direction called it. And it was. We ripped through the trail…flat/downhill with not a lot of rocks or debris. Had lunch at Cosby Knob Shelter and then had some more ups after lunch and then finally a long downhill into Davenport Gap. We walked along a nice creek/stream that I debated camping at, but earlier in the day we’d decided we might try to make it an 18 mile day and come to the Standing Bear Farm hostel. Oh, those last three miles were hard. Really, it was the last mile because it was blazing hot once we came out of the Smokies, that at one point we were on a ridge that I told Chris I felt like I was in the scrub somewhere in Florida. Yeah, the last mile after we passed I-40 was brutal because it was hot and up—steep up—and finally we came to the road to walk up to the hostel. Which we found out was out of bunks but we could tent. Oh well, we had a pizza and soda’s and talked to people we hadn’t seen in a week.

I’ve got a few blisters from the wet boots the other day so we’ll take it easy on the next three days to Hot Springs where we have reservations at a bed and breakfast with a jacuzzi. mmmmmm, my muscles need that!

So, the Smokies—the first half—kinda ‘meh’ because it was so similar to everything else, the second half, especially north of Newfound Gap—beautiful and awesome.

Oh, there is a scale here…it says I’ve lost 15 lbs already. I don’t know how accurate that, but I would definitely say 10.