Tuesday, June 21, 2011
The past few hiking days have been a recoup period for us: temps a little cooler, regaining our pre-beach stamina, etc. We managed to average around 19 miles a day for this outing thanks to a strategy of early rising and getting our big climbs over with in the morning. Overall, we're feeling good and are very much looking forward to hitting the Shenandoahs and (dare I say it) the end of Virginia within the next two weeks. 814.8 miles down!
Here's the day-by-day:
Daleville to Bobblets Gap Shelter (18.5 miles)
Fairly normal day--cool and dry--but abnormal for the same reasons. Our hike was easy enough, following the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) for a large section, traversing it several times. Had a struggle getting our bear hang up, but it's all comical in retrospect. Met a new friend today named Bruce from Honolulu who told us all about shrimp farming, working for JPMorgan's International Division and lobbying for Common Cause. Everyone's got their story out here.
Bobblet's Gap Shelter to Cornelius Creek Shelter (18.6 miles)
We were lucky enough to encounter not one but two instances of Trail Magic today. The first, a cooler left for us on the trail, contained sodas, candy and delicious, home-made zucchini bread. Happily munching our new-found snacks, we decided to postpone our usual morning snack until later in the day. Little did we know, just around the corner from our delayed food break sat Johnny Cash and Flatbread, two past thru-hikers who had brought a veritable cornucopia for all passing hikers into the woods near Jennings Creek. "We'd received so much trail magic during our hikes," said Johnny, "we just had to repay it." And repay it they did. These folks went above and beyond our expectations, making us pancakes on the spot, loading us up with fresh fruit, chocolate, and sodas, and even offering to replace our headlamp batteries. Admittedly, we walked away with upset stomachs. Still worth it.
Cornelius Creek Shelter to Johns Hollow Shelter (21.6 miles)
Began the day with a scaling of Apple Orchard Mountain. The summit, at 4,225 ft. is the highest point we'll reach until New Hampshire. The bald-top is home to an airforce radar facility that gives off a serious Dharma Initiative vibe (and, I guess, the views are worth noting too). On the back side of the mountain near Thunder Ridge we braved the Guillotine, a large boulder suspended directly above the trail and, later, crossed the James River via footbridge (the longest foot-traffic only bridge on the AT).
Johns Hollow Shelter to Brown Mountain Creek Shelter (18.3)
Steep climb this morning up Bluff Mountain and the Punchbowl, but we tackled it no sweat. It seems the heat wave might be making a comeback, so we're sticking to our early-rise mantra for the next few days. Got into camp around 2:30, so we enjoyed a lazy afternoon dipping in a nearby swimming hole and reading aloud. Evening rain doused the area, but we managed to stay dry thanks to the rain fly.
Brown Mountain Creek Shelter to Spy Rock Rd./Charlottesville, VA (19.3)
A foggy morning, the likes of which we haven't seen since Tennessee. Started out the day with a 3,000 foot climb up to a few balds (Cold Mountain, Tar Jacket Ridge) but, alas, they were viewless. It's a strange feeling looking out into the void and knowing that, on a sunny day, you could see for miles and miles. On top of one of the balds, Lara gained cell phone reception for long enough to coordinate our pick-up with Caroline. Excited by the prospect of a family dinner that evening, we bounded over the ridge, making great time. Met cousin Caroline in Montebello, VA around 3:30 and made it to C'ville by 5:00.
Missing you all as we creep closer to the half-way point. Pray for good weather, and drop us a line sometime!
Zack (and Lara)
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Here's what's happened since we left the beach!
US-52 to Helvey's Mill Shelter (2.3 miles)
The morning after Caroline and Andrew's wedding was a gray and rainy one. We all decided it made it easier to leave such a wonderful place and time with family after such a beautiful wedding. After a long drive to Bland, VA, we said a tearful goodbye to my parents and hiked a short two miles back into the woods. It was the first night since we started hiking that we were the only people at a shelter. This worried us a little bit - have all of our friends gotten so far ahead? Has the trail become a ghost-town? Where is everybody? A strange feeling, but we didn't have it for long.
Helvey's Mill Shelter to Dismal Falls (18 miles)
My blister-free days are behind me. After not having developed a single one in 55 days, I took off my shoe tonight to find a doozie. The reason? I got a pedicure at the beach in preparation for the wedding, and it took off all my hard-earned callouses! The price of luxury! The blister didn't slow me down though, and our first day back we did a long, 18-miler to Dismal Falls, which were actual anything but dismal. The waterfalls were not listed as anything spectacular in our guidebook, but we were so glad we checked them out. We also ran into some old and some new trail friends - so happy to see familiar faces, and the peaceful sounds of the nearby waterfalls also helped to soothe us back into trail life.
Dismal Falls to Woods Hole Hostel (13 miles)
Woods Hole Hostel to Campsite (15 miles)
Breakfast at Woods Hole continued to reinforce the idea that we were experiencing "a little slice of heaven." With our tummies full, we headed into the hot day and hiked into the town of Pearisburg, VA. There we got our fill again, this time on Mexican food at La Barranca restaurant, and resupplied at the grocery. Being in town made us so thankful that we hike in the woods and not on pavement; as hot as it is under the trees, it is truly unbearable in towns. So hot! The only remedy (obviously) was a dip cone and a Blizzard at the local DQ before heading back out into the woods. We got a little lost trying to get out of town, but - thanks to our college degrees - we were able to figure it out. We had a very steep, long uphill climb to our campsite, but we made it there before dark. Just after we arrived, a group of 16 from Tallahassee - mostly boy scouts and a church group - showed up too! It was great to see some young people and families on the trail amid the scruffy thru-hikers.
Campsite to Bailey's Gap Shelter (19 miles)
We arrived at Bailey's Gap Shelter after slowly making our way up a very steep hill in our last mile of a long, hot day (the longest mile of my life!). Exhausted, we set up camp and heard big thunder rolling in. Sure enough, a huge thunderstorm raged right overhead for over an hour. It was a pretty scary experience. We've had relatively few storms out here, but the ones we have had have been intense. We held up well and were able to sleep through the night in spite of it.
Bailey's Gap Shelter to Laurel Creek Shelter (14.5 miles)
A bit shaken by the previous night's storm, we were a bit slow-going this morning. Another enormous climb in the afternoon zapped us of our energy, and we decided to cut our day short at 14.5 miles, rather than pushing on to 21 miles. Thunder threatened all afternoon, but unlike the night before, nothing became of it. Still, we were able to have a much-needed leisurely afternoon at the shelter with some of our friends - Mr. Tree, Jugs, John Stamos, Danish and Gravy.
Laurel Creek Shelter to VA 620, Trout Creek (21.3 miles)
Let me tell you, the heat did not let up! We tried to get an earlier start this morning, but even still, by 1:00, the heat was unbearable. We stopped with some of our fellow hikers at Niday Shelter at lunchtime and took a hikers' siesta. I fell asleep on the shelter floor in the shade and couldn't have been happier. By 3:00 we were able to head out again; the clouds had moved in, so the sun's rage had diminished its hold over us. We put in a solid 8 miles after lunch and were able to make up the mileage that we had cut short the day before, arriving in time for an evening around the campfire with friends and their dogs (Luna and Kiwi - these thru-hiking dogs are very hardcore, but we still love Milo and Casey most of all).
VA 620, Trout Creek to Catawba Mountain Shelter (15.8 miles)
Great things in store for us today! Within the first 6 miles of hiking, we reached Dragon's Tooth, a huge rock that juts upward out of the top of a mountain. We each scaled the steep monolith and got to the top for our photo-ops, of which we were very proud (don't worry moms, we were very, very careful!). It was a very rocky day of hiking, more boulder-climbing than I like (my short legs, try as they do, have a hard time in these sections). Mid-way through the day, many of our hiker friends were spreading their excitement about the legendary Home Place restaurant in Catawba, VA, a one-mile hitch from an upcoming road crossing. We hadn't planned on going to eat there that day, but we couldn't resist. After hiking 13 miles, we arrived at The Home Place, a beautiful old home restored as an all-you-can-eat soul food restaurant, which attracts people from all around. Even with the vegetarian version (very confusing to our waitress), we had our fill...far more than our fill, actually. The two-mile hike back out was an experiment in stomach-stamina. (Zack's wins; mine loses.) Still, worth it.
Catawba Mountain Shelter to US-220, Daleville, VA (17.8 miles)
We woke up before 6:00am today! This is a big deal for us, but as it gets hotter, it will have to become a habit. By 7:00 we got to McAfee Knob, one of the most famous spots on the A.T. A rock juts out over the side of a mountain with "the best view in Virginia," and another amazing photo session. Waking up early also made it possible for us to hike the 18 miles into town before 3:00. Thankfully, there was a great breeze today, which made hiking not only bearable, but quite pleasant! Dinner at the Daleville Pizza Hut, and splitting a pint of ice cream from the BP was the perfect way to chill after a hot week on the trail.
Daleville, VA (0 miles)
We decided to relax and take the day off in Daleville. It's not a fancy place, but it's got what we need. Of course, the heat wave has continued to give us a break now that we are no longer hiking (the high today is a perfect 75). It's a gorgeous day, and while we've got a few errands to run, we're mostly planning on cashing in our free-doughnut coupons and sitting by the Howard Johnson Express swimming pool (believe it or not, it's a very happening place).
Love to all!
Lara (and Zack)