18 miles, 607.2 overall (Dismal Falls campsite)
Another whippoorwill is at it again during the night. This time though he stays by the shelter while I am in a tent. He is just far enough away that he doesn’t keep me up for long. I sleep well until about 6am when I wake up to the sound of rain on my tent. Half asleep I still think to turn my phone on and check the radar. It looks like it will pass soon enough. I go back to sleep knowing that I can sleep in to wait it out if I want and not lose too much daylight. By the time I do wake up around 7am and check the radar again we are just getting the last of it. When it stops I have everything packed inside the tent. I briefly consider whether checking radar on my phone is “cheating” but decide that I don’t care, especially of it helps get me up and going.
I am packed and eating breakfast by 8am when the shelter is just starting to stir. EMT is rummaging around in his tent and DW is boiling some water for some sort of breakfast goodness. For breakfast I am having 2 packages each of maple sugar oatmeal and chocolate pop tarts courtesy of EMT who packed too much food and wanted to get rid of it. By the time I finish eating them I am buzzing on the sugar and I chide EMT for eating so much junk food.
I finally leave around 8:30 and as usual take a while to get warmed up. The first 6 miles takes me to a gravel road crossing where I stop for snack #1. Nobody catches up to me. I continue another 3 miles to the shelter where I plan to take a long (for me at least) lunch.
While I hike today I have several interesting thoughts. First I consider which action movie star would win in a fight: Bruce Willis or Liam Neeson. Liam is pretty awesome in the movie Taken, but Bruce Willis is pretty awesome in Die Hard. I decide that I can’t answer the question without knowing which Bruce Willis is going to show up: the one from Die Hard, the one from the Whole Nine Yards, from The Jackal, etc. Each has a special set of talents and flaws so the question goes unanswered, as so many of them seem to do out here.
Second, I consider how hiking the trail is like a crew (rowing) race. The standard race in crew is 2000 meters which aligns well with the 2185 or so miles we plan to hike. The first 500 meters of any race are the easiest. Your body is fresh, the adrenaline is pumping. This is quite similar to the first 500 miles of the trail (approx up to Damascus) where everyone is getting their trail legs, learning their routines, etc. But after that first 500 meters the race begins to get harder. Your body begins to yell at you. You might question why you ever got into rowing in the first place. In the back of your mind you may even consider quitting. The same happens on the trail. Injuries start to set in or become worse. You are hungry all the time. You question why you’re hiking when you could be enjoying the A/C at home and in the back of your mind you might even think about quitting.
There is a name for this part of the race in the trail analogy: the Virginia Blues. Virginia contains over a quarter of the AT. After Damascus the next state border is over 600 miles away. Virginia doesn’t have big trail towns after Damascus and there aren’t famous hostels every 25 miles. In fact the almost 200 mile long section from Damascus to Pearisburg only has one true hostel that I know of and it is just outside Pearisburg. This is by far the most remote stretch of trail so far. Combine this with the wearing off of the novelty of being on the trail and the oncoming heat of summer and it’s no wonder why Damascus is a dropping off point for lots of hikers.
Back to the rowing analogy, the next milestone in a race is when you “hit the wall” with around 700 meters left. You feel like you have nothing left and the finish line is still so far away. If you’re able to push through the wall the last 400 or so meters are a breeze as the adrenaline returns and the finish line is in sight. On the trail hitting the wall will occur around PA and NJ. That’s when we’ve passed halfway but there is still so far to go and the heat of summer will be most intense. I we can get through it, New England awaits with cooler weather, more trail towns, and the finish line in sight.
My point in all of this is two things: first, that part of my mental funk the last few days could be attributed to the Virginia Blues and secondly, that I’m going to have to think of ways to push through that wall in PA and NJ when I hit it.
Anyway, once I get to the shelter I take the time to eat a good lunch. While I’m finishing up DW catches up. He also stops for lunch as I head out. It looks as if I’ll be the first to reach Trent’s Grocery today. I have 6 miles left and it is just after noon. The rest of the hike is mostly ridge walking. It doesn’t seem to go by especially quickly but t isn’t bad either. This is another problem with Virginia: lots of ridge walks with no views. By he time I get to the road I am quite hungry. I hang a left and walk the half mile to the store.
I am expecting an actual grocery store. Apparently I am too optimistic. It is a gas station. The “deli” inside is more of a grill, serving hamburgers and the like. I am able to get a honey bun but still no luck with the cheese. I also grab a Sobe, a coke, and a Klondike bar and order a cheeseburger with french fries. While looking around I also notice that the trail has provided for me again – they sell Aqua Mira! Unfortunately I never said the trail provided with reasonable prices. The drops are priced at $15. I normally get them for under $6.
I eat my cheeseburger, fries, ice cream, and Sobe while I ponder what to do. The big question is whether Woods Hole, the hostel I plan to be at tomorrow, has it for a more reasonable price. Lucky me, I have a phone! I give them a call (Christy would be so proud). No answer, so I leave a message (Christy would be doubly proud). I lounge around and sip my coke while I wait for a return call. In the meantime DW arrives and orders himself a pizza. When Woods Hole does call back about 20 minutes later the owner informs me that although they plan to stock Aqua Mira, they don’t yet. I also check to see if there is an outfitter or some other place in Pearisburg that might have it. There is not. This place appears to be the only place between Damascus and Daleville (approx 250 miles) that carries Aqua Mira, and they appear to know it. I end up paying the $15 for my mistake. However I feel it is money well-spent because I immediately feel better knowing I am free to camp whenever and wherever I want again without worrying about having potable water.
Before I leave EMT and the others from the shelter last night arrive. I stay until they get their food but then I get going. I like to be in camp before 7 and it is already 5:00. We plan to do 2 more miles to Dismal Falls where there is camping next to a waterfall a short distance from the AT.
I reach the waterfall around 6. It isn’t an incredible waterfall but the stream is definitely beautiful. I look around for camping spots. There are some on the other side, but the stream is flowing strong and the way across is a pine log. I don’t like the idea of risking getting all my stuff soaked. I take off my pack and loiter a while, washing my shirt, feet, and legs in the stream while I wait to see if anyone else will show up. DW does and decides to take a spot near the falls. However I am leaning toward a spot I saw on the side trail we took to the falls. I pack up and head back to start making camp.
I have my tent up, everything in it, and am starting dinner when the others arrive. They ask about the sites near the falls and then walk on to look for themselves. They don’t return. When I finish cooking my dinner I decide to take it down to the stream to eat. This will let me enjoy the site while I eat and also inform me where the others decided to camp. When I get there they are on the other side, apparently having risked the log crossing. I will be tenting alone tonight. This is not necessarily bad though due to my tendency to go to sleep and get up earlier than most. I sit, eating dinner and taking in the surroundings while I watch them set up. When I am just finishing up EMT comes back across to join me. I’m not sure if he felt bad for me or just wanted to talk to me and I don’t ask. Either way I appreciate the gesture. We talk for a good 30 minutes and the more I get to know him the more I like the kid. He reminds me of a friend from college named Glenn. There are certain people who odd things just tend to happen to more often than to others. Glenn was one of those people and I get the impression EMT is the same. At Trent’s Grocery a guy randomly walked up to him and asked if he was thru-hiking. When he said yes the man asked if he would be camping by the falls tonight. When he said he probably would be the man offered to bring some firewood to the campsite tonight. It was a completely out-of-the-blue suggestion made by a frankly kind of creepy guy. The man never does show up with the firewood (at least while I am there) and we joke about why he didn’t show up.
Eventually I excuse myself to go write. EMT isn’t sure if he will stop at Woods Hole tomorrow. He has a girlfriend at VT who he plans to meet at a certain place on a certain day, so he needs to make some miles to get there. If he passes it up I’m sure I’ll get to see him again on our way up the Appalachian Trail.