12.2 miles, 619.4 overall (Wood’s Hole Hostel)
It rains again during the night. It had been threatening all evening and it just starts as I am falling asleep. Other hikers really dislike the rain when they are tenting. I don’t mind it so much as long as it isn’t raining when I get up. Today it is not. In fact my rain fly is almost dry, indicating the rain must have stopped hours ago. I pack up and eat breakfast without seeing anyone else leave. I assume I am the first out of camp at 8.
Today is a hostel day. I am beyond excited. My clothes reek. When I smelled them last night they smelled like ammonia. I’m sure my body doesn’t smell much better. Today I will get a shower and laundry. I’ll also get to sleep in a bunkhouse. The thoughts fuel my hiking.
The trail isn’t hard today. It is only 12 miles to the hostel so even if I stop for lunch I should be there by 2. The terrain is mostly flat except for a 1500ft climb over 2 miles. This morning I hike along Dismal Creek, the source that feeds the waterfall I camped near last night. The trail weaves across it several times and follows it up into the mountain. I don’t have a lot on my mind today and with new Aqua Mira I feel much better. I can simply hike without worrying about my water supply. The weather seems to have noticed that I no longer need to conserve water and has this cooled off. Through the trees I can see that the day starts off foggy and becomes hazy but the Virginia ridges don’t offer many views so this isn’t especially relevant to me as I hike.
Just past 11 I reach the shelter between where I camped last night and the hostel. Nobody is there and from the register entries it appears nobody stayed the night either. It is a shame such a pretty little shelter wasn’t used, but I make good use of it for a snack break. It lies just at the base of the day’s climb so I power up with the iced honey bun I procured at the glorified gas station yesterday (note: iced honey buns are far superior to glazed).
The climb turns out to be deceptively hard. It saves most of the uphill for a brief portion. It is during that portion, when I am zoned out into the climb, that 2 slack packers arrive going southbound. Sarge and Weaver are an older couple although not elderly by any means. They are staying at Woods Hole tonight as well so I will see them there.
At the top of the climb there is supposed to be a view. I notice somewhat of a view to my right and stop to check it out. There are lots of trees in the way and I decide this can’t be what the data book was talking about. I get back on the trail and not 100 ft later find the real view. It overlooks the valley below and the next ridge over. In the distance to my right back the way I came I can see some birds of prey riding the air currents looking for their next meal. I wish I had binoculars but then realize what they would weigh in my pack and no longer wish for them. I do stop for a while though to enjoy the last of my trail mix before moving on.
The trail turns into a ridge walk from here. Two more miles and there is supposed to be a lookout tower with views. I plan to check it out since I haven’t seen one in a few hundred miles. However when I find a side trail I don’t find a lookout tower. What I do find are several antennae, cell towers, etc. I venture just past the first tower looking for the lookout tower when I see what looks to be a cliff. When I walk over I am rewarded with another stunning view of the valley and the next ridge, this time from a new angle further along the ridge I am on. Since I have already enjoyed this view today I don’t spend long before I return to the trail. The shower and laundry are calling!
The last 2 miles are quick. I reach the gravel road and find a sign with directions to the hostel around the corner. It is a half mile road walk on the gravel road and along the way is a roaring stream with lots of rhododendron. After a few minutes the rhododendron part and I see the hostel. Woods Hole Hostel is run by Michael and Neville. Neville’s grandmother was the previous owner and when she passed they took over. It consists of a large log cabin dating back to 1880 and made of chestnut logs. It has been added to over the years and now has a bunkhouse that has the feel of an older log cabin. I opt to stay in the bunkhouse and check in with Neville inside. When I read Portrait’s trail journal he described Neville as reminding him of Keri Russell and I can see the resemblance. She runs through the instructions for me – location of the shower and towels, sign-in sheet, how to sign up for dinner and breakfast, etc – and although I can tell she has done it a thousand times before and she is mostly reciting it, I still feel a sense of welcoming unlike I have at other hostels when I got this spiel. I sign in and return to the bunkhouse to get clean.
The first order of business is a shower. It is an outdoor shower and I’m warned that people can see into the shower from the bunkhouse window above. I don’t care. I am insanely dirty and it is time for that to change. The water takes a minute to warm up but once it does it is perfect. A sign urges me to take only a 5 minute shower so it looks like I’ll only be able to wash once this time. I don’t notice any problems with people snatching a peek at me while I wash.
Second is laundry. Hand washing laundry is free. Machine wash/dry is $5. I opt for machines without a second thought. I load up my clothes and about 2 hours later they no longer smell like ammonia. Magic.
While I’m waiting for my clothes to finish I read a bit of Earl Schaffer’s A Walk With Spring. He was the first person to thru-hike the AT and the book is his tale of that trip. I haven’t read it yet even though I probably should have, and the first few pages make me want to. About that time EMT strolls in. Apparently those who stayed on the other side of the creek didn’t get going until 10 today. That explains most of the 2.5 hours between when I arrived and when he did. He is still trying to decide whether or not to stay so I start walking through the options with him. As it turns out he only needs to do 50 miles in 2.5 days to be able to meet his girlfriend on time. Once we figure this out he is sold and goes to check in. Shortly after he arrives the slack packers return and a few more thru-hikers arrive, making for a full bunkhouse tonight.
Woods Hole is a slightly different hostel. It is a farm and is committed to sustainable living. It is also advertised as a communal sort of place. What this means is they ask the guests to help prepare meals, set the table, clean up afterward, etc. EMT helps cook dinner and afterward he is thoroughly excited about it. Apparently he missed cooking. I am in charge of setting the table (not proper settings, more grab your own plate style) and getting a fire going in the fire pit. I recruit a couple helpers to carry the plates and glasses to the outside table and then to help me gather firewood. In short order we have a fire going.
Dinner tonight is brick oven pizza with homemade bread and salad. Before we eat Neville has everyone gather in a circle and we go around introducing ourselves, where we’re from, and something we’re thankful for. I like this as it informs me of names of hikers I haven’t met yet and also pulls everyone together so they start talking to each other. When it is my turn I am incredibly thankful that I am wearing clean clothes.
I eat a lot at dinner. The thru-hiker hunger seems to have finally set in. After 4 slices of bread, a helping of salad, and several pieces of pizza I am still not full but I stop eating because it seems like enough. Cleanup commences and everyone helps take dishes inside. Neville directs the chaos and in short order the kitchen is spotless. With Neville’s permission I take pictures of the house to show to Christy later. Meanwhile Neville is scooping us each a cone of strawberry ice cream. Hikers mill around for the rest of the evening in and out of the house until around 9:30 some of us start wandering to bed.
This is probably my favorite hostel yet. I enjoy the communal aspect that forces the hikers to interact mich like the confined space and Pirate’s antics did at Neels Gap. While I miss being able to have a cold beer, the no alcohol policy at least should prevent any bunkhouse urinary episodes from occurring. The accomodations, while basic, are comfortable and clean. I don’t find myself missing anything that isn’t there. I do find myself wishing others were here – UV, Naked Ninja, Button, Bunny – basically everyone who was at Neel’s Gap when I stayed there. However being with a new group of hikers is an opportunity to meet new people and perhaps find a new group to walk northward with for a while.
I already know leaving the hostel tomorrow will be hard, but in the words of John Muir the mountains call and I must go. Tomorrow I reach Pearisburg on the Appalachian Trail.