Saturday, August 31, 2013

Day 80: Matts Creek Shelter to VA 614

Miles today: 26.4
Miles total: 1434.2

Currently sitting in the hotel room...

Solid day for the Rooster. I woke early to give myself options for where my dad could pick me up. We had 13-, 22-, and 26-mile options (spoiler alert, read the start of this post). The people who had camped at the shelter informed me that I talked in my sleep. "I know, I know, I babble when I'm exhausted," I said.
"No, like full words, clear as day!" FGH said. "In the middle of the night, you said, 'I know, it's crazy! I've just been walking all this way!" I guess it's true. FGH had somehow snapped something on her hammock and ended up hanging really low, basically on the ground. We had some morning laughs and I made a big breakfast with my extra food before heading out for the day. The first half of my hike would work me gradually up from 869 feet to 4225 feet. I had my work cut out for me. Up to High Cock Knob, up to Thunder Ridge, then up to Apple Orchard Mountain. I stopped at Thunder Hill Shelter for a break, spotting two coke cans inside. Upset that someone didn't pack out their trash. Upon closer inspection, I found that they were sealed, and that they were for me. This was all very fortunate because the shelter's water source was dry. I praised the trail gods and continued on to Apple Orchard Mountain, my high point on the day. To get there, I had to pass through the Guillotine, a boulder suspended on two larger boulders, looking like it might fall at any minute. It's one of those AT things you hear about. Apple Orchard's summit was another grassy bald, but this one had an FAA tower on top. It looked like a giant soccer ball.

I headed down what would be roughly ten miles of downhill. Thunder rumbled in the distance although it remained sunny. I stopped at Cornelius Creek Shelter to fill up on water. Nature also demanded that I visit the privy, so my stop took longer than expected. As soon as I took off from the shelter, it got so dark that I almost pulled out my headlamp. I had a slight uphill to Floyd Mountain, and on the way it started to pour. I took it in stride, but still felt like reacting out loud to keep my sprits up. I shouted at myself like a horse, "Hyah, HYAH". I talked to myself, "A half hour ago I was DRY!" Lightning was striking pretty close by, but it was kind of nice to feel a survival instinct kick in. I booked it over the peak, and the rain abruptly stopped. Just enough to really, completely soak me down to my very soul. I rode the ridge down, down, down. I startled two wild turkeys and they took flight, awkwardly whacking limbs with their wings as they flew by, whoom whoom whom. Something about their flying style made me laugh out loud. I stopped to check how many miles I had to the shelter. Only three! My heart started to sing. In fact, it started to burn. A horsefly had landed on my chest and was biting in for all he was worth. He suffered the same fate as many of his brethren.

I pulled up to Bryant Ridge Shelter with time to spare before my dad got there. I decided to make the most of that time, hiking up and over Fork Mountain. It was just a better situation that way. Otherwise I would have hiked a half-mile side trail to a hard-to-find gravel road. Instead, I hiked directly on to VA 614 and caught a ride to Middle Creek Campground, where I knew my dad was headed. Turns out he had actually taken a wrong turn and came from the other direction, but I was luckily sitting on a bench where I could see him. I spotted his truck rolling through, with him looking in all directions. I waved to him emphatically, but he was too busy trying to find his son that he didn't recognize me. Something finally clicked and he stopped. We got food in Buchanan but ultimately decided to stay in a hotel in the relatively populous Daleville. I felt like a phony because we'll actually be hiking through town in a few days, but the hotels here have really good hiker rates, and grocery stores are better for resupplying. So here we sit, ready to embark on our first voyage tomorrow. I drank too much orange juice.

-Rooster

Picture: the Guillotine!

Day 79: Lexington, VA to Matts Creek Shelter

Miles today: 24.0
Miles total: 1407.8

Currently sitting at the picnic table...

Today started laaaaate. I didn't get out of bed until 8, and breakfast wasn't until 9. I sat at the table and talked to the other guests: a couple from Pittsburgh and a couple from Russia. I explained to them how much I eat, but they didn't know I was hiking yet. They just thought I was a growing boy. I must still look 16. After some delicious granola, yogurt, and blueberry-banana pancakes, I got my stuff together in my room. Meantime, Pink Leprechaun gave me a call. He was planning to get off the trail for a while in Buena Vista to go home to Greensboro, NC for a while. He'll make some money and hit the trail again, skipping ahead once he gets to the point he reached during his winter hiking. I selfishly hoped he would choose my whereabouts as his jumping-to location. Sad to see him go for now. Once I was dropped off at the trailhead, it was 11:15, one of my latest starts in recent memory. My goal was to hit 20 miles, which was doable. I kept descending from the road, and the grade was agreeable. I found myself cruising, especially as the trail bottomed out and followed a stream for a long while. I found myself thinking of making it the extra four miles at the end of the day to the next shelter. It would set up my next few days a lot better. If the walking would be anywhere near this quick, I could do it. I decided that I would do it either way, hiking at night if necessary.

With my new goal in mind, I ascended Rice Mountain, then Punchbowl Mountain, then Bluff Mountain. It was all manageable, and I like a good climb. Sweating so much was a foreign sensation as of late. I even liked feeling thirsty, enjoying the taste of water gurgling from the bottle. I quick-stepped off the ridge, passing Johns Hollow Shelter at only 5:40 or so. I could comfortably make the next 4 miles, but I wanted to call my dad and update him on my plans for tomorrow. I got no service at the road I crossed, and the rest of my day was similarly low-elevation, leaving little chance for cell reception. I decided I would hitch in to Glasgow to make the call, and even better, the town had a hiker pavilion with hot showers and a roof under which to sleep. Only problem was that none of the Labor Day traffic on US 501 felt like picking up a hiker. The traffic did feel like buzzing close to me and honking, or doing that cheeky thumbs-up thing again. Oh well, must have been a sign. I crossed the longest footbridge on the AT to the other side of the James River and walked a couple flat miles to Matts Creek Shelter. There I met a couple section hikers, Brand New and FGH (Fat Girl Hiking). I got a good laugh out of that name. It's a late one, though, and light is waning. They've already climbed into their hammocks, meaning it must be time for me to retire as well.

-Rooster

Picture: longest footbridge on the AT.

Day 78: Seeley-Woodworth Shelter to Lexington, VA

Miles today: 14.0
Miles total: 1383.8

Currently sitting in my room at 502 South Main B&B...

Well today would go in the "not as I planned" category. My plan was to hike 14 miles, hitch in to Buena Vista for a light resupply, get back on the trail by 1:30, and hike the remaining 11. I guess you can keep that in mind as I relate the actual events. I got up early to allow time for my town visit, hiking over some ups and downs that bounced up to 4000 feet. I crossed Cold Mountain which is kept bald with controlled burns and mowing. The treeless look made for some great views. I went over Bald Knob, which was of course not bald, then descended to US 60 and stuck out my thumb. It was mostly pickups and semi trucks passing by, and even those were few and far between. I gave up after about 45 minutes. As soon as I spread my stuff out on the picnic table for lunch, an old man in an even older pickup pulled over and pointed towards Buena Vista. I hastily repacked my pack and hopped in. As the pickup rolled down the winding ten miles into town, I wondered if I had made a mistake. How would I hitch back? Once again, the prospect of food had won its battle with hard logic.

I enjoyed my Subway sandwich while weighing my options. None of the shuttle providers in town could help me out, and a taxi would cost 35 dollars. I flipped through my AT Guide for inspiration, looking to Lexington, the next town over. Two bed and breakfasts offered thru-hiker discounts PLUS rides to and from the trail. I waffled a little but finally bit the bullet and called 502 South Main. Mary Stuart was so nice that I knew I was making a good call. I hopped on the Maury Express, the bus that connects Buena Vista and Lexington, and left the town in my dust. As we drove a loop around Lexington before going downtown, the driver gave me a tour. He pointed out VMI, Washington and Lee University, and a good ice cream shop. I thanked him as I hopped off and walked a couple blocks to the B&B. I don't really know how to behave at these kinds of places, so I walked right in the front door. I heard no one and felt like I was in someone's house, which technically true. I decided I would try again. I went back outside and rang the doorbell. Mary-Stuart answered the door, looking as warm as she had sounded on the phone. She showed me around to the sided, where I deposited my stinky pack and put all my clothes in a bucket for laundry. I insisted that she not physically touch them.

I took a shower and once my clothes were clean, I was off to the most college-y restaurant I could find: Macado's. I made it in time for happy hour, but I won't bore you with those details. The people-watching was good, and I watched the South Carolina-North Carolina football game until it was delayed for lightning. I was joined by a local who had come out to watch the game. I found him to be good company, so we chatted on and off as we watched sports. He also watched me drink a Schooner, which is what Macado's calls one of their big beers. After 9, there was a special on 2-for-1 quesadillas. I had eaten dinner there about an hour and a half before, but I was ready for more, especially after a couple brewskis. I got my two quesadillas along with a to-go box. I gave the bartender an insulted look and quickly polished off both plates, grinning slyly. I momentarily thought it would be a good idea to break the Styrofoam container over my head in a show of dominance but opted out. I said goodbye to my townie friend and walked back up the street, thinking how Lexington is a nice town and that I was glad to visit. I crawled in to my soft bed and watched a special on Benjamin Franklin, then drifted off to sleep.

-Rooster

Pictures: this is what a bald looks like; this is what a quaint B&B coffee setup looks like.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Day 77: Maupin Field Shelter to Seeley-Woodworth Shelter

Miles today: 20.4
Miles total: 1369.8

Currently sitting in the shelter...

Like I said, RAIN. But not as much of it as I expected. My day started with a few pitter-patters on my tent as I was taking it down, and those steadily grew as I climbed up and over Three Ridges Mountain. Afterwards, I dropped steadily into a gap until I came upon Harper's Creek Shelter. I stopped for a break, consuming more food than I had planned and drying off a bit in the process. Perhaps I've forgotten how to budget the right amount of food when I'm not stopping in a town or at a wayside every day. I'll have to resupply before I get to Buchanan, my next planned stop. I dropped even further into the gap, until I was only 900 feet above sea level. I believe this was done to emphasize the immensity of the mountain before me. I began my biggest climb of the day. Ascending The Priest was probably the longest sustained climb I have ever done. It was done in true Virginia fashion, with bountiful switchbacks and an even grade. This made the 3000-foot climb into a drawn-out affair. After 4.5 miles and multiple breaks for physical and mental reasons, the ground leveled out and I was standing on top of my first 4000-footer since New Hampshire. I let out a weird whooping sound and trekked the rest of the way to the shelter. There I met three flip-floppers. That means they started going one direction on the trail, reached a destination, then traveled back to their starting location to finish the rest of the trail. We all had plans to stay at the next shelter, so I told them I'd see them later as they debarked in turn. I stayed to use the available cell phone coverage and to write in the shelter log. Being in The Priest Shelter, many had written their entries like a confessional. I wrote something that had to do with a double entendre involving my trail name, so I won't repeat it here.

I headed out into the last drips of water from the leaves, happy to have the hard part of the day over with. I easily cruised the last 6.5 miles, passing my shelter-mates on the way and claiming my beloved side spot in the shelter. If you ain't first, you're last! Just kidding. After consulting with my bunkmates, it was determined that I should go in to Buena Vista (pronounced Byoona Vista) to get some more food. I have to adjust to eating only what I have in my pack. In other words, I need to bring more food to satisfy my gargantuan appetite. Knowing that I had a town visit tomorrow meant that I could eat whatever I wanted instead of rationing, so I went to town on some Little Debbie brownies. I think my friends in the shelter were a little disturbed by the joy these foods brought me. But we all understand the happiness from the little things out here. Like when you get in to the shelter juuuuust before a massive downpour. Eric, the last of the group to arrive, should have walked a little faster, unfortunately. Oh well. Until tomorrow!

-Rooster

Pictures: my face looking at a view; the view my face was looking at.


Day 76: Waynesboro, VA to Maupin Field Shelter

Miles today: 21.0
Miles total: 1349.4

Currently sitting in my tent...

Very weird to wake up in the valley. There was dew on the grass in the field. Without trees to obscure it, the orange glow of the rising sun illuminated the sky and made life totally visible at 6:30. I got up and packed up my stuff as Pink Leprechaun rustled around on the picnic table nearby. He sent home his tent, so camping out in a field was a unique experience for him. As we were ready to head over to Weasie's for breakfast, a couple of girls walked across the field to a tent that wasn't there when we went to bed. Some guy had walked out of it earlier, coughing up a lung. The girls were upset that he wasn't there to give them a cigarette, but Pink offered them some of his tobacco to roll one of their own. The girl took two instead of one before Pink could say anything, but he didn't act upset. That's just how he is. We dined at Weasie's and discussed plans for the day. Pink still wasn't sure if his plan to meet up with his friend would work, so he was kind of in limbo. We sat outside the Shell station, I with a 48 ounce soda and he with a proportionally-sized cappuccino, and weighed his options. He decided that if his plans fell through, he'd like to hike with me. Someone I know at the shelter every night!! I not-so-secretly wished his plans to fail. A little consistency on the trail would be great, and he felt the same way. It looked as if my dream was coming true until his friend said she'd call in a half hour. Anxious to get back on the trail, I told him I supported his decision and that he knew where I would be. So as it works out, I'm not yet sure what he decided! I caught a hitch and resumed my journey.

I started hiking from Rockfish Gap, the point where Skyline Drive becomes the Blue Ridge Parkway (or vice-versa). The trail was still easy, but the well-groomed trails of Shenandoah are gone. I made good time stepping over and around rock piles a la southern New Jersey. I stopped by Paul C. Wolfe Shelter and found more writing from my friend Seabiscut, the guy who gave me the creeps at a shelter a couple nights ago. He likes to write his name on everything, and it cracks me up that he spells his own trail name wrong. Anyways, the shelter was very nice, with a privy where you could look out at the woods as you took care of business. What awaited me were a couple of switchbacked climbs up to the top of Humpback Mountain. I made whale sounds at the summit, but the mountain did not respond in turn. As I ate lunch on a rock face overlooking Wintergreen Ski Resort on the opposite mountain, I talked to a group of Washington and Lee students out for a pre-orientation trip. They asked me about how many calories I eat a day (I didn't know) and admired the Crocs I have dangling from my pack. Crocs are quite a divisive piece of footwear. You either love them or hate them. I hiked on, eager to get settled in at the shelter. I stopped to ask myself why I was rushing. I decided I should slow down and enjoy the walk. As I pondered this, I was attacked by a group of yellow jackets, prompting me to run down the trail. So much for taking it slow. Three stings and three miles later, I got to Maupin Field Shelter. There was another group of Washington and Lee students overflowing from the shelter. "I'm assuming it's full?" I asked hopefully. They offered to move out but I couldn't ask them to do that. I opted for the tent site nearby, but stopped over to cook dinner and talk with them. It worked out for me, seeing how I have a quesadilla sitting in my gut now. Plus they're nice kids. RAIN tomorrow! Also my first 4000-foot mountain in, uhhm, forever I think. Lots happening.

-Rooster

Pictures: beginning of the Blue Ridge Parkway; view from the flank of Humpback Mountain.


Monday, August 26, 2013

Day 75: Blackrock Hut to Waynesboro, VA

Miles today: 20.5
Miles total: 1328.4

Currently sitting in my tent...

Excited to get to Waynesboro, I woke up early this morning. Luckily, Michael and I had pored over his big maps and found a stopping point halfway through my day, preventing me from getting fixated on my distant endpoint. The smooth walking allowed me to play some of the mileage games that I made up during my higher-mileage days. One of my favorites was Ten by Ten, where you try to walk ten miles by 10 AM. I was a winner today, pulling up to Sawmill Overlook at 9:41 EST. My reward: a large honey bun and relaxation time in the sun. I once again forgot to take a picture of my good spot, but it's safe inside my head. As I took off again, I approached the southern end of Shenandoah National Park. The trail got a lot more overgrown and rocky, so I had to slow down a bit. Not much else happened on my way down into town other than passing a mountain covered with cell phone towers, giving me the best cell coverage on the trail to date. I got to US 250, stuck my thumb out, and was again treated to a couple who doubled back to pick me up. I was in Waynesboro in no time.

A guy on the street immediately came up to talk to me and ask me about the trail. He was really friendly and gave me his number for when I passed through his neck of the woods. Already Waynesboro was jockeying for a title as friendliest trail town. As Bubba spoke to me, I noticed another hiker appear, carrying a hiking staff. Pink Leprechaun! He had been on many adventures and was poised for another one, possibly heading up to a nearby town to meet up with a trail acquaintance. I told him he's well on his way to becoming a trail legend. He told me I wasn't the first person to say that. I used a computer in the nearby building, then went off to resupply at Kroger. I sat outside, eating donuts, when Pink gave me a call to see what I was up to. We ended up sitting on adjacent benches and doing more relaxing before heading to a trail legend: Ming Garden buffet. I've been hearing about this place from nobos since New Hampshire. There was no way I'd miss it. It was surprisingly nice inside, with plenty of Koi fish swimming around looking gross but adding to the atmosphere nonetheless. I ate two plates too many and checked out the weather channel on one of the TVs. Clear tomorrow and Thursday, but other than that it's all about the RAIN. Pink hypothesized that we could hike south of this system by the time it arrives. He had a point. we've had excellent luck with weather. Why would it stop now? Pamola, the protector of the mountains in Maine, has been following me along the trail with his weird moose-eagle-human body, casting good weather upon me.

After dinner, we waddled over to the YMCA, where I got a free shower. They directed us to a free campsite in town. I now lay under a tree that sporadically drops giant fruit, so please pray for my cranium tonight. Tomorrow is another reasonable-mileage day, so I have no plans to leave town too early. Skip town breakfast? Never. My guide says something about a pancake-eating challenge, but I'm not feeling so foolish.

-Rooster

Picture: crossing I-64, my only pic of the day.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Day 74: Hightop Hut to Blackrock Hut

Miles today: 21.4
Miles total: 1307.9

Brrrr cold front. Isn't August supposed to be warm? I was fully zipped up in my sleeping bag with the liner last night. I woke up and really didn't want to get out. I was so cozy! The prospect of food finally got me moving, and I got out of my sleeping bag to scoop my bag off the bear pole. It really wasn't that cold once I was out and about, but still, it's summer. I hiked the first mile while wearing my nano puff jacket for a little extra motivation and comfort. I was quickly warm enough to shed that layer before stinking it up too much; it doubles as my pillow. The beginning of today consisted of several sustained ups and downs before coming to Pinefield Hut. I took a short break there but continued on to my main destination: the Loft Mountain Wayside. I knew my order before I even got there. Black bean burger, fries, blackberry shake. Boo-yah. Before I got there, I met a couple out for a day hike, Wanna-be and Sunflower. Wanna-be dreams of hiking all of Virginia and maybe the whole trail. It was great to see the excitement in his eyes. I remember that feeling. Uncertainty, romanticism, unbridled enthusiasm. It isn't gone; it has just changed into something different, more practical, more seasoned. Listen to me, Old Man River over here.

I went to the wayside and got exactly what I had planned for the low, low price of an arm and a leg. I ate happily but was still hungry. I made my way to the camp store for ice cream and a brownie. Sitting outside, I met a section hiker named Michael, who is heading from Harper's Ferry to Waynesboro. He's a fireman from Oregon who is using some free time after going to the Fire Academy. He also was planning to stay at the same shelter as me. COMPANY! He hiked off before I did, so I stayed and enjoyed my sugary treats. He inspired me to pack out libations from the camp store. Michael is a smart man. As soon as I hit the trail again, I spotted a bear and her cub down the way, looking straight at me. I didn't feel fear, but I also didn't know what I was supposed to do. I raised my arms, but the bear didn't move. So I naturally moved forward a bit and took a long-range picture. Then I screamed, "GET OUTTA HERE," which is apparently my go-to for screaming at unwanted woodland creatures. They listened this time, turning tail and running off. After an hour of hiking, I ran in to Michael again. We hiked and talked the rest of the way together. He gave me tips on marriage (good ones), and I asked him about his thru-hike plans. He's got a few years to go, but he will be ready when he does. Tonight all that's left to do is drink my beer and look at the fire. It's safe, because it's supervised by a fireman.

-Rooster

Pictures: another good view; another good bear; another good beer.



Day 73: Big Meadows Lodge to High Mountain Hut

Miles today: 20.4
Miles total: 1286.5

Currently sitting at the picnic table...

After turning in late last night, I relished the opportunity to sleep in this morning. I knew my hike wouldn't require a full day, so I was in no rush. I was still the second person to breakfast, where I got the Hiker's Special. Har har har. But seriously. I made coffee in my room instead of paying $2.50 for what I'm pretty sure was the same thing in the lodge, uploaded my blog entry from last night, and was on my merry way by the lazy hour of nine. It was a beautiful, clear morning, a 180 degree turn from yesterday. I welcomed the change. As I turned the corner onto the trail, I waved to a couple walking with their small dog. Something I've loved about Shenandoah is the number of people I bump into. Southbounding is a lonely journey sometimes, but Shenandoah on a late summer weekend doesn't fit that description. What Shenandoah is, however, is full of bears. I saw a mother with three cubs right off the bat! The walking was ridiculously easy again, so I took a moment to sign the shelter log at Bearfence Mountain Hut. I flipped through the older entries and didn't notice anyone I knew. Afterwards, I had planned to get a snack at the Lewis Mountain Campground Store. I wandered around the campground asking people if they knew where the camp store was, but they all turned out to be foreign and thus very confused. They tended to direct me five miles down Skyline Drive, which was a less than ideal solution. I ate a Clif Bar instead and headed on.

After another few miles, I stopped at a picnic area to eat the food I had brought myself. Still feeling hungry and with time to kill, I decided I would try my luck at hitching into Elkton at the next road crossing. In the meantime, I hiked while listening to the Lion King soundtrack. Intensely motivational. I came to the road in no time and decided it looked good for a hitch. A few minutes of sticking my thumb out yielded no cars heading in my direction, but then I heard a horn honk from behind me. A couple waved to me and motioned me over. I almost ran in front of a car, but I made it and got to Elkton. The town worked well for what I needed: gas line antifreeze and Subway. I also tossed a few honey buns in my pack for good measure. I walked back to the big highway to hitch, spending about five minutes with no luck again. I saw a car drive by in the other direction, honking and waving. I assumed this was just a show of support, and I appreciated it a lot better than a simple drive-by. What I didn't realize was that the car was coming back around to get me. It was the couple I saw while starting out today! They had apparently passed me going my direction, doubled back, and turned around again to come get me. That's trail magic! All I had left after that was about 3.5 miles before the hut. I expected it to be swarmed on a weekend day, but I have it to myself again! This is why I seek out alternative lodging! Maybe I will get some late-arriving friends, or maybe a bear will snuggle with me. Either way, at least I can be happy knowing that these shorter days are giving my shin a chance to heal. But be warned: the Rooster will fly again one of these days.

-Rooster

Pictures: view from Hightop; end of the day.




Saturday, August 24, 2013

Day 72: Pass Mountain Hut to Big Meadows Lodge

Miles today: 18.8
Miles total: 1266.1

Currently sitting in my room...

Welp, Shenandoah continues to deliver as of Day 2. I started off early because I was planning to hop along to the next reasonably-spaced shelter, which was almost 27 miles away. Considering I saw 4 bears yesterday and I don't have a ton of experience hanging a bear bag, I have ruled out camping on my lonesome throughout this park. Instead, I'll stick to shelters, which have bear poles where you hang your food, safely out of reach of bears and safely away from you. The convenience of not having to worry about your food or tent merits the extra mileage, and Shenandoah's gentle trails make that decision so much easier. Thus, I woke before I could see and popped on my headlamp, hoping to get to Bearfence Mountain Hut before it was swarmed by weekend hikers. I hiked with my headlamp on until it was light enough to see. I had switched it off by the time I made the smooth thousand-foot climb up to Mary's Rock. The morning was misty and pretty. The mountains in the distance looked like clouds. I expected the haze to burn off in the daylight, but instead I heard thunder as I approached Byrd's Nest Hut. I stopped to sign the shelter log and to put on my pack cover, making inane chitchat with the weekenders eating breakfast in the shelter. I was off again, but before long, I was walking in a downpour. Luckily I moved quickly enough to avoid getting cold, but I put on my rain jacket for extra insulation just in case. Hovering between 3000 and 4000 feet on the day, the temperatures can occasionally get chilly.

After a brief period of getting lost while trying to locate Skyland Resort, the large building appeared in the fog. The rain had relented, but I still wanted coffee and a snack. I guess walking quickly through the cold had gotten me hungry; I had two fist-sized muffins, a package of swiss rolls, a cinnamon toast crunch breakfast bar (an impulse buy), and a four-pack of Reese's Cups. During my stopover, I got really cold standing outside and being damp. I would have sat around inside, but it was a nice place and I didn't want to do anything to harm thru-hikers' reputation for those that come after me. I talked to a section hiker named Haystack who is going from North Carolina to Hot Springs, PA (a massive section). He gave me tips on a couple hostels farther south. Then I talked to a woman who was content to sit outside reading on her tablet while her friend was inside. Her name was Mary, and she was actually staying at Big Meadows. The cold had seeped into my bones, and I hatched a plan for a shorter day, justifying it by saying  my shin needs to ease into the grind anyway. With Big Meadows as my new destination, I pushed back out into the rain, which had picked back up. I usually warm up as I hike, but I just couldn't get moving fast enough. The cold water was sapping the heat from my legs. I had to put on my rain pants, the first time I've done this for warmth's sake. It helped a ton, and I once again hiked in comfort, albeit still briskly.

I got to Big Meadows before I knew it, having stopped only to check my mileage a couple of times. I dried off and walked in to the main room of the lodge to use  the wifi and to people watch, plopping down in an empty chair. Next to me were my two friends from Skyland sitting with their husbands! I said hi again and was invited to a traditional Friday night Jewish dinner. Being ignorant of most Jewish customs, I agreed to an education and to some tender vittles. Before that, I pre-dined downstairs so I wouldn't be ravenous. I made my way towards their campsite using the map that the lodge provided me, but it looked more like a rough sketch. Everything was out of proportion, and I wandered aimlessly for a while before finding their tentsite. They welcomed me warmly and introduced me to the final couple in their group. We sat around the fire for a while before singing a song in Hebrew, lighting candles, and eating. Everything was tasty and they even went so far as to cook my vegetables separately from the meat, something I told them they didn't have to do. They were refreshing because the conversation felt normal and whole, rather than centering on my hike. We did talk about the major points, but in general everyone contributed bits and pieces to the mix. It was a southbounder's dream. It got to be later than my trail bedtime, and I started to yawn, so I thanked everyone and bid them good night. I guess my late bedtime means I have to sleep in, making a visit to the lodge for breakfast seem natural. Such problems I have.

-Rooster

Picture: pretty haze before the rain came.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Day 71: Front Royal Hostel to Pass Mountain Hut

Miles today: 22.7
Miles total: 1247.3

Currently sitting at the picnic table...

Today was a day to see critters. It started almost as soon as I got back to the AT; I saw a black bear's round butt as it scuttled away into the brush. Soon enough, the same scene repeated itself. I had heard that Shenandoah had an active bear population, but I didn't expect the change to be so instantaneous. The bears here are not very big, and they're harmless to people who know not to feed them. I feel like I would stand a chance of winning a wrestling match with one. Also, the ground is crawling with millipedes. It must be the season or something. Or maybe they're trying to get out on the trails before the big Labor Day rush. Either way, they're all over. The walking today was incredibly pleasant. It was basically a hike down the ridge, all the time criss-crossing with Skyline Drive. I had some of my best views in a while, as well as reaching a 3000-foot peak for the first time since I can remember. Early in the day, there was a patch of leafless trees that allowed a glance at the ridge extending out in front of me and to my left. It looked how I had always imagined the AT to look: a long, tall, rolling, green ridge stretched out so far that it looked blue in the distance. I was so overjoyed to find this spot that tears burned my eyes before I told myself to quit being so sappy.

I hiked along and listened to the last part of Mockingjay, a book from The Hunger Games. I was very disappointed in the ending (or lack thereof), but it made the hike entertaining. After 15 miles, I approached my first wayside. These are buildings set up along Skyline Drive that have a convenience store and, more importantly, a grill. I got a black bean burger and a milkshake, devouring both. Can you devour a milkshake? If so, I did. Independent of my hunger, it was really good food. After sitting and reading over my AT Guide for a while, it was time to head on. I didn't have very far to hike to my destination, but I enjoyed the idea of getting in early and enjoying the afternoon with no rush to do evening chores. There were more good views and cool breezes before I spotted an opossum a few feet from the trail. He was doing his thing, playin' possum, and he looked just disgusting. He watched me with his fully black eyes as I passed. Something about him laying on his back made me want to scratch his belly and punt him like a football all at once, so I split the difference and yelled at him. "Get OUTTA here!" I said, using a few more words to express my sentiment.

The shelter tonight is pretty nice. They call them huts in Shenandoah apparently because they are all made out of stone rather than logs. As usual, I am alone tonight. I can't really complain though, because I turned down a bunkmate last night. To be fair, that guy was pretty nuts. I found his entry in this shelter log, dated three days before he got to the shelter where I found him yesterday. It was so profane and rude to fellow hikers that someone had crossed it out. Besides, I'm not totally alone.  A bird must be nesting nearby and keeps flitting around with worms. The shelter log tells me I may be visited by bears. And I hear my mouse roommates setting up shop in the top bunks!  So it's a party. Finally, I forgot to talk about my newest piece of gear. It's called a buff, and it's a stretchy tube of material that you can wear on your head every which way. Tonight, I had a fashion show. Enjoy.

-Rooster

Pictures: Shenandoah with Skyline Drive visible on the mountain; headband aka Rooster Style; doo rag aka Pink Leprechaun style; hairband aka Rooster in October; neck gaitor; cap; babuska; balaklava; kidnapping; stealth.










Day 70: Manassas Gap Shelter to Front Royal Hostel

Miles today: 14.5
Miles total: 1224.6

Currently sitting in the hostel's common room...

Last night I slept with the light of a full moon beaming down on me. It was amazing to wake up in the middle of the night and be able to see! Not that I did anything with that ability, but it was cool. I woke up for real and got ready after the moon had set. I knew I only had about ten miles in to the town of Front Royal, but I didn't want to get ahead of myself. The hike started downhill, but not at a very steep angle. Nonetheless, the tendons in my shin and on top of my foot complained, so I stopped to rest in the gap. The rest of my morning hike was pretty standard with the added stress of another nagging injury. I think I probably put extra strain on these tendons as I was coddling my shin. I was forced to slow down over the rolling hills into town, but it worked out and I made it there around 10:45. I looked up the road, sizing up the best place to get a hitch, when I heard a guy's voice call out, "Hey, I remember you!" It was Mark, the guy who shuttled me in to Harper's Ferry on Monday. He was waiting to shuttle a couple hikers back to Harper's Ferry today, so he gave me a ride into town in the meantime. To top it off, he gave me a big protein bar as we parted ways.
With a somewhat ambitious mileage goal for today, I was on a bit of a schedule in town. Front Royal is spread out, so I had to pick a certain area to do everything in. I once again found myself dining at Burger King, then I went across the street to a grocery store. I resupplied and also got some extra snacks for town in the form of donuts and swiss rolls. As I packed my stuff up in front of the store, a townie gave me a tip to take a shortcut to the library. Feeling efficient, I cut across a grassy field and was in the library within a few minutes. I stank up the young adult section as I researched my tendon pain, narrowing it down to a mild case of tendonitis. I texted my chief medical consultant, who suggested getting an ace bandage to wrap around the affected area. I gave in and threw my schedule out the window, prioritizing my health over making it to an arbitrary stopping point. With a shorter day in mind, I wrapped my ankle and headed back to the trail.

I was astounded how much difference the wrap made. It leant support to my lower leg as well as applying compression. I hiked free of pain and once again found myself powering up an incline, free of worry. I came to my new intended stopping point, three miles up the trail. What I walked up to was a hiker who had his gear hanging up over absolutely everything, a radio blaring, and his hammock strung up in the entryway of the shelter. I began to reconsider my decision, but it was already too late to hike to the next shelter which was ten miles further. I sat and listened to him talk for a while, but somewhere between his confession of a colorful record, his mindless ranting about yelling at townfolk, and his wonky eye looking off in another direction, I knew I had to make other plans. I hiked on and noted Front Royal Hostel in my guide. I gave in and took the half-mile side trail down the hill. I came to the house that I suspected to be the hostel, but I gave the owner a call just in case.
"Hi, I think I'm out back, but I don't want to just knock on random doors."
"Did you read that this is a seasonal hostel that closes at the beginning of July?"
I apologized as he laughed raucously and hung up. "Bye..." I said to the disconnected phone. Mad at myself for not reading closely and a little irked at the owner, I started to pack up my stuff. Just then, I heard a voice from the deck ask me if I at least wanted to come up for a beer. The owner introduced himself as Mike, a former AT and Pacific Crest Trail thru-hiker. He had to limit his hours for the neighbors' sake and because he didn't get much late-season business anyways. He teased me for not reading and for being too concerned about hiking fast, but the beers kept coming. After number three, he appeared down at the door to the garage and told me to bring my pack inside. I got to stay the night after all, and we kept talking about hiking and about music. He went to five Grateful Dead shows while thru-hiking the trail. Before he went to bed, he tried to convince me to hike the Pacific Crest Trail and to go back to school for a PhD in philosophy. I politely told him that we would have to just wait and see. Today was filled with trail magic. A ridiculous amount.

-Rooster

Picture: my Shenandoah self-registration slip.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Day 69: Bear's Den Hostel to Manassas Gap Shelter

Miles today: 22.8
Miles total: 1210.1

Currently sitting at the picnic table...

The hostel last night had cable TV, and I noticed that the new episode of Breaking Bad would be airing at 3 AM. I set my alarm and went to sleep a little early. When I woke to that sound, though, I decided it would be in the best interest of my hike if I went back to sleep. I woke to my real alarm and reaped the benefits of staying in the hostel, drowsily making pancakes for myself in the wee hours of the morning. Even so, I was able to get hiking by 7:30 as I resumed my obstacle from yesterday: the Roller Coaster. This presented a unique challenge for me because I'm still nursing my tender shin and tendons. The downhills have all the danger. In general, the pain is negligible until I stub my toe in just the wrong way, in which case it'll stick around for a half hour or so. This happened a couple times during my ride on the Roller Coaster, but it was an otherwise uneventful trip. With all the climbing and descending, the section made for slow going. I stopped for lunch at Rod Hollow Shelter, where a cute section hiker named Otis was changing her socks that had been soaked by the morning dew on the low-lying plants. These days, it's a nice treat to find another person hanging out at a shelter. The northbounders have passed, and school is starting again. She was headed out, but we still chatted for a few minutes. I refilled my water bottles and glanced over the elevation profile before packing up as well. Before I left, I signed and read over the shelter log. A good number of people had made jokes about the name of the shelter. I couldn't wait to see what they had to say about Dicks Dome Shelter just nine miles down the trail.

The rest of the day went pretty quickly as the terrain flattened and I listened to an audio book. I passed in to Sky Meadows State Park, enjoying walking through open, hilly fields. The visitors center and associated vending machines were sadly located down a two-mile side trail, leaving me high and dry (in terms of soda). I contented myself to enjoy the scenery (boo!). Not that I minded; at the previous road crossing, I found a cooler with trail magic in the form of - you guessed it - Coca-Cola. At the very top of the cooler was a lone package of Reese's Cups, which I consumed with tears in my eyes. I packed out a soda for tonight. After leaving the state park, I caught up to an older man. I took out one ear bud to say hello and pass by, but he didn't yield. He started to talk, so I paused my audio book and joined in. He was complaining about how this section was overgrown, whacking bushes that were off the trail with his stick. I suppose we all have a different definition of "unmaintained". He told me he was only going as far as a spring up ahead, so I followed him, grinning and bearing. He ended up being a nice guy in spite of his small lapse in trail etiquette. On top of that, he told me about three breweries near the trail coming up. I decided that more than compensated for anything. We said goodbye and I was off to my home for the night: Manassas Gap Shelter.
I got in at a reasonable time, put my soda in the cold spring nearby to chill it, and planned out my resupply day in Front Royal tomorrow. These towns are getting too big. I have to choose which part of town to go into. Do I go to Taco Bell, which limits my resupply options to the 7-11 next door? Or do I resupply at Food Lion, limiting my dining options to Burger King? I suspect I may try hitching within town tomorrow. Life's rough in the big city.

Deer count: 5
Turkey count: 6

-Rooster

Picture: Roller Coaster warning sign.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Day 68: Harper's Ferry, WV to Bear's Den Hostel

Miles today: 20.4
Miles total: 1187.3

Currently sitting at the Bear's Den computer...

Yeah, I know what you're thinking. I'm thinking it too. The Rooster has gone soft. Three hostel stays in three nights. Not to mention five zero days since Duncannon. It makes me flustered just thinking about it. But hear me out, or whatever I'm supposed to say here. I stayed at the hostel this morning long enough to make myself some pancakes. Mark, our shuttle driver and former thru-hiker, got Bernie and I to the trail by 8:30. Bernie didn't realize that at the hostel, he had been in Knoxville, Maryland. He thought he had been in Harper's Ferry the whole time. I gave him the bad news as we leapfrogged the part of the trail where I had already hiked, but Bernie had not. He seemed intrigued, but not concerned: a typical Bernie emotion. We walked through what was left of the town as I played "Take Me Home, Country Roads" from my phone's speaker. We crossed the Shenandoah River and to our surprise still found ourselves in West Virginia. State borders are weird. We had a pretty good climb out of town followed abruptly by a right turn. I remembered that this was the section of trail that perfectly followed the WV-VA line. I liked to imagine my left foot in Virginia, while my right foot was getting shot at by a crowd of yokels in a pickup truck. The trail was smooth if not a bit rocky in a few sections, so I found a good rhythm. John Denver's song continued to play in my head, and I hiked happily. I allowed myself to think ahead a bit, but not in the discouraging way that I had been. I thought about Shenandoah coming up in less than 60 miles, about my dad's upcoming visit to hike with me, and about rising out of the valley that has characterized the Appalachian Trail for the last 500 miles or so. Soon I will be flying above 3000 feet again! I also looked backward and counted my blessings. I thought about some of the amazing sights of Maine and New Hampshire. I thought about sitting on the porch at Lakeshore House in the sun, drinking a PBR tall boy with Dirty Mike and the Boys, Dr. Scholls, and Mulligan. I reminded myself that the weather through the mid-Atlantic lowlands has been as perfect as could be, with cold front after cold front destroying any chances of dehydration and sending the bugs into submission. I still haven't had to wear a head net. The forecast for today was a chance of afternoon showers and thunderstorms, but I felt as though I could push them away by sheer power of will.

It may have been a change in my attitude, but the hiking and scenery today seemed more beautiful than I remembered. The ground was more forgiving. I saw ten deer in all. They didn't even care that I was watching them. Look!


Another opportunity for you to feel embarrassed for the thru-hiker who apparently has no shame left. Anyways, after some smooth miles and a stop at another gorgeous PATC shelter (a swinging bench and a deck? Really?), it was time for another Appalachian Trail challenge: the Roller Coaster. This is about 14 miles of short ups and downs with no real breaks in between. The climbs are all less than 500 feet, I think, which actually makes the effort a little more aggravating than if one were making one big climb. What struck me, though, was how much I enjoyed the effort of going uphill. I got into a rhythm and got a little sweaty. This hasn't actually been happening much lately; there's been a cold front, and I've been on flat ground. Those who know me will understand how odd it would be for me not to sweat during exercise. Well the sweat is back. To top it off, I completed a small climb and came to a view! That's something I've been missing. I swung my feet over the edge of the rocks and had a snack. After another one of the Roller Coaster's humps (not to mention officially crossing into Virginia and dropping under 1000 miles to go) I came to a road. I also came to a metaphorical crossroads: hike 3.6 miles to a shelter, or hike 0.6 miles to another hostel. It was 4:45, not late by any means. However, I had come almost 20 miles and I thought it would be in my best interest to take the shorter option. Did that sound convincing? I didn't think so. While I had little reason to justify stopping at yet another bunkhouse, the Bear's Den offered another fantastic deal. I couldn't turn my back on ice cream, pizza, internet, and TV for such a reasonable price. It was another cosmic sign, I decided. I'll toughen up again one of these days and become a mountain man once again. In my defense, I can't be a mountain man when I am not climbing mountains anyways. So I'll wait until after Shenandoah, home of some of the easiest walking on the whole trail. See you soon, Dad!

Deer count: 10

-Rooster

Pictures: a shelter with a picnic area and a swinging bench; view from a cliff; Virginia is for hikers; 1000 miles to go.






Sunday, August 18, 2013

Day 67: Zero in Harper's Ferry, WV

Miles today: 0
Miles total: 1166.9

Currently sitting at the Harper's Ferry Hostel computer...

What a difference one day makes. I woke up rested and was still on the fence about staying on the trail. I hopped on the Appalachian Trail online forum, whiteblaze.net, and started researching the phenomenon called "Virginia Blues". Northbound thru-hikers tend to lose their momentum at some point in Virginia as the trail flattens out and the novelty wears off. The condition sounded a lot like what I was experiencing. Without even changing how I felt about the trail, I felt better knowing that there were others who felt the same way. I didn't feel alone, and that in itself began to motivate me to stick with it. To help myself further, I made my own post on the site, asking for advice at this crossroads. People quickly began commenting, encouraging me to push on and see what the trail holds, but acknowledging that it was my choice. Then something really surprised me: a hiker whom I had met commented. Leprechaun (not to be confused with Pink Leprechaun), whom I had seen on Smarts Mountain in Vermont while picking blueberries, popped up with well wishes. He told me about the great spots in Virginia to look forward to. Others reminded me that I am about to get back to the mountains and that Shenandoah is great. Others empathized and told me that I had completed the most boring part of the trail in going from Connecticut to Maryland. One quote I liked was "you can't hit the peaks if you don't traverse a few valleys along the way". I liked that one. I would be reluctant to continue if the trail was going to be like this forever. With changes coming up ahead, I would feel unjustified stopping now. I am rejuvenated, and I think I can attribute some of my feelings to the "hangover" that comes from leaving a loved one. I took the time and rested my body to get it healthy again; yesterday reminded me that I have to keep my brain healthy as well. My head is screwed on straight now, I think. It's time to set off on the next leg of this adventure. I've been walking to The South this whole time. It's time to enjoy it!

So here is how my day went otherwise. I ate pancakes for breakfast with Bernie and the Swedes, then realized I had overdone it and retired to the couch. I did the aforementioned perusing of whiteblaze.net, hung out talking to Bernie, and watched the movie "Uncle Buck". For those unfamiliar, that is the pinnacle of late-80s comedy. I have seen it many times, but I still was laughing my tuchus off. John Candy was a comic genius. Anyhoo, I spent the rest of the time listening to music and laying on the couch, making the most of hopefully my last zero for a while. I've made approximately NO progress since Duncannon! I'm ready to put in some consistent work, I think. Idle hands are the devil's plaything! Or something like that. I'm off to watch a movie with the crew on this giant projection screen. I think we're having some quesadillas tonight. This is a great hostel. Sorry to kind of jerk your chain last night; I was just expressing what I was feeling. I often say that emotions change quickly out here. Sometimes I feel like a startled cuttlefish, rapidly changing colors. It's hard to describe that animal, so here's a video.


The cuttlefish is feeling good, though! In the morning, you'll find me back on the trail and clucking off miles. Get it? I think I'll close this entry by having you listen to the song that inspired my blog's name. The word's don't really matter (they're a little bit of a downer) but I like that it's upbeat. Here ya go!


-Rooster

Pictures: VIP screening of Uncle Buck; the bunkroom; outside the hostel.




Saturday, August 17, 2013

Day 66: Pine Knob Shelter to Harper's Ferry, WV

Miles today: 22.9
Miles total: 1166.9

Currently sitting at the table in Harper's Ferry Hostel...

Today was an important day. I left Maryland and ended up at the headquarters of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Harper's Ferry. This is often called the "emotional halfway point" of the trail. It is a ritual for the staff to take your picture in front of the sign and for thru-hikers to officially check in with the ATC.
I should back up and talk about the rest of my day though. This morning was similar to a good number I had before my days off: I woke up, got ready, started hiking, and immediately started thinking about how many miles remained. The fun had been sucked out of hiking itself. All I had to tide me over was the knowledge that I would make it to Harper's Ferry tonight and that I would experience the joy of the ATC ritual. Getting there entailed 23 miles of nearly flat hiking. I rolled off the miles, getting a few views but generally not wanting to hike. The dark cloud that had hovered over me yesterday was still firmly in place. This same cloud had found me on the day I entered Connecticut, but it had dispersed quickly. I found entertainment and motivation in trying to race to Harper's Ferry to meet my mom at the ATC. With nothing in particular to pull me forward, I'm dead in the water. It's not that I should need anything to drag me along, but it is what got me this far. In order to get through the day, I allowed myself to consider getting off the trail at Harper's Ferry. With this possibility worming its way into my brain, my mood brightened. You mean I don't have to death-march every day? I started to wonder what would happen if I continued like this, being miserable for 8 to 12 hours of hiking in exchange for (maybe) two hours of social time at night. Would anything change as I hiked forward? I began to worry that I would continue to hike without any soul. Nothing is new anymore, nothing has presented itself as a challenge, the novelty is gone. I felt guilty for having these thoughts when I still have people knocking on the door to visit, when I have so many family and friends following along online. I didn't want to let anyone down, but I wanted to preserve my own sanity. I stopped to write in what may have been my last shelter log. I said a possible goodbye. In it, I mused that I might have gotten all I could from the trail for the time being. It sounds selfish, but it's true. On this trip, I spent a lot of time digesting, well, everything that has happened in my life. But that digestion and processing has slowed down and stopped. I had talked to Sole about having no new thoughts to go over while hiking, and I think that might be a result of reaching a level of peace within myself. I miss interacting with people. Those who know me well understand that I enjoy and require a little bit of solitude to recharge, but I fear I've had too much. It's clear that I can do the hiking and camping end of things, so I wonder what is left to prove. These are the thoughts that make me not want to take another step. I need to mull them over some more.

I made it to Harper's Ferry by 3, with plenty of time before the ATC's closing. I stopped for ice cream then walked up the hill. Walking up to the office kind of felt like the end. It was hard not to think of it that way. The moment passed because there was a thru-hiker out front who was evidently very drunk. I learned his name was Sawyer and that he was a northbounder who started in March. It all made sense. He was more of a "traveler". I got my picture taken, signed the printout with my info, and put it in the binder. It claims I am the 14th sobo of the year, but Matt Kirk, the now-reigning unassisted speed record-holder, was listed as 8th. Not that I'm too concerned with my ranking at this point. I enjoyed visiting the office, and checking out the ten-foot-long relief map of the entire trail was pretty cool too. I signed the log in the office, thanking the volunteers and eventually thanking the trail itself. My eyes started to burn a little, so I wrapped it up quickly. After a dinner in town, I couldn't find a way to the hostel. I knew Bernie was staying there because he had texted me. I asked him if he could talk to anyone at the hostel. What ended up happening was Bernie arriving in a borrowed truck to get me. I don't really know. Everyone at the hostel has been so nice, including the four Swedish girls who checked in when I did. The trail still provides. After second dinner and some ice cream, here I sit. I'm going to stay here tomorrow, relax, and hopefully weigh my options. This is a big one; there's no sense rushing into anything.

-Rooster

Pictures: the very first monument to George Washington; Harper's Ferry.



Day 65: Waynesboro, PA to Pine Knob Shelter

Miles today: 18.0
Miles total: 1144.0

Currently sitting at the picnic table...

The mood this morning was mildly grim; the vacation was coming to a close. I continued to steam-shovel food into my mouth, but the end was nigh. I took one last shower just because I could, and it was back into the hiking clothes for me. I had been masquerading as a civilian for the last few days in clothes from home. Both my mom and I dragged our feet since it was hard to say goodbye. It's been difficult to hike away from people I like. I couldn't imagine turning my back and walking away from someone I loved. We drove to where the AT crossed the road and walked the tenth of a mile out of Pennsylvania together. Then there was nowhere to go. We stopped for a few last pictures and hugs but walked off in opposite directions. For me, it was somehow tougher than saying goodbye in Maine. I hiked in a funk for a while, but I knew in the back of my mind that this was temporary. I passed through Pen Mar park and enjoyed a view of the Maryland countryside. I was treated to more of the same at High Rock. Why couldn't Pennsylvania reward its hikers' effort like this? Anyways, I stopped to take a look at Raven Rock Shelter. It was another immaculate Potomac Appalachian Trail Club temple. The floors were lacquered. Again, I lamented that I couldn't stay the night and headed on.

Maryland has a few of those rocks for which Pennsylvania is famous, but the rocky stretches were short and far between. I could focus and hike without pain, a reward for taking time off to rest. It didn't hurt that the rest of the trail was like walking on a cushy bike path. I bumped into a mother-daughter team hiking south. They had started at Katahdin but avoided the high-water river crossings, leap-frogging to Monson. They ended up getting off the trail in Andover to take some time off, but now they're starting south from the Mason-Dixon line. I enjoyed talking and hiking with them until we reached Pogo Campsite, my intended stop for the day. I had, however, been toying with the idea of going an extra three miles in order to stay in a shelter and to not deal with setting up the tent for the night. I decided it was worth it and bid my hiking partners farewell. The next three miles were nice and easy, making me think I made the right choice. I'm alone here unfortunately, but I have the sound of I-70 to drift me off to sleep. It was a little tough not to make the split-second decision to hop in the car and head for the southern mountains or even for home, but I've found that it's best not to let impulsive quitting notions take hold. They are sometimes intense but almost always ephemeral. Starting the hike today was like jumping in a cold swimming pool. I just had to do it, and the rest took care of itself.

Nobo count: 0
Sobo count: 0

-Rooster

Picture: officially entering The South!

Day 64: Zero in Washington, DC and Waynesboro, PA

Miles today: 0
Miles total: 1126.0

Currently laying in a hotel bed...

No childhood Rooster stories for you tonight; this boy is tired.

-Rooster

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Day 63: Zero in Washington, DC

Miles today: 0
Miles total: 1126.0

Currently laying in a bed...

Today was a good one. We took the Metro and did the normal walk-around-the-Mall touristy things, including taking a while in the Museum of Natural History, which is always a personal favorite. I accidentally stumbled into the geology section, but they had a pretty cool corner about the Appalachian Mountains. So I think it was meant to be! Other than that, I took it easy and enjoyed the extremely low humidity. Here's another story about my romance with the mountains to fluff my word count for the day.

The Origins of Rooster
Part II: Asheville

Another couple of family friends, Cecil and Leta, live in the western North Carolina town of Asheville. When I was in middle school, they invited us to visit them. Driving in to the city was pretty cool. It's sort of situated on the flat bottom part of a bowl, with mountains rising up around the sides. I loved looking out in the distance in town and seeing the hazy blue mountains. It's not that I particularly wanted to go climb them; I just thought they made a nice background. Again, the cool air was really agreeable. My family and I would visit Asheville more frequently after that. We came back right before I started college. This time, it was August and I was way more concerned with physical fitness than I had been in 7th grade. Nonetheless, I contented myself to run laps on a nearby fitness loop for exercise. I was driving back to Cecil and Leta's, cresting a hill and dropping down, when "Carolina in My Mind" by James Taylor came on the radio. It was perfectly corny, but at that point I don't remember having a cynical bone in my body, so I was feeling it. Again, my eyes drifted to the mountains in the distance. The closest I came to going on a hike during that trip was visiting Chimney Rock, a precariously balanced piece of mountain that seems to stand by itself. It's a popular tourist attraction, granting views of the surrounding area from up high. There's even an elevator straight up to the top through the stone. I don't think I knew that I could probably see all the way to the ridge where the Appalachian Trail ran. Still, I always looked fondly towards Asheville, jumping at any chance to visit while I went to college in the eastern part of the state. Only later did I start to go outside and explore those mountains to the west. For the time being, I liked the idea of mountains all around, like wallpaper in the sky. They looked nice and gave the town its flavor. There are stages of infatuation with the Appalachian Trail, and some hikers begin their thru-hike attempts at this level. I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with that. It is an interesting statistic, however, that about ten percent of northbounders quit after the first three days of hiking. Many of them say things like "It wasn't what I thought it would be." I'm sure that if you plopped my senior-year-of-high-school self on the Appalachian Trail, he might say something similar. I wasn't ready to fly yet!

-Rooster

Pictures: view from the Lincoln Memorial; Woolly Mammoth pose; Appalachian Trail exhibit.





Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Day 62: Zero in Waynesboro, PA and Washington, DC

Miles today: 0
Miles total: 1126.0

Currently laying in a hotel bed...

Blogging from a bed with zero miles on the day: there are worse things in the world. The initial plan for the day was to catch a movie in nearby Hagerstown before migrating to Washington, DC for the night. While we milled around the mall waiting for our showtime, however, my mom and I got to talking about my sore shin. Being both an ER nurse and the mother of an only child, my mom expressed her concerns. I agreed, seeing that I still have quite a bit of hiking ahead of me. We headed to a nearby urgent care center where the service was excellent. Everyone was amazingly nice, including the doctor, who got my blog's web address from my mom. A couple of x-rays ruled out any major fractures. The recommendation was to rest for the next few days and to keep the mileage low, like I have been. Hearing a doctor tell me I'd probably be alright really cleared my mind. I'm going to be able to hike in peace from here on out. Woohoo! Now that's all the pertinent hiking news I've got for you. I finally have the time and energy deliver on my promise of explaining what got me interested in hiking this trail. Tonight you'll be treated to part one in a series that I'm going to call...

The Origins of Rooster
Part I: Mount Mitchell, NC

This is an incredibly vague memory of mine, but I've done my best to piece it together based on what my parents have told me. When I was but a young sapling, my parents drove me north to meet up with family friends at Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi. I don't know how old I was, but I remember getting impatient on the steady uphill drive, wondering when we would get there. My mom told me fifteen minutes, which meant nothing to me at that age. I was confused, so she told me it was half an episode of "Muppet Babies", a TV show aimed at my demographic. This was also the peak of my "Lion King" phase, and that movie came out in '94. That puts me around 4 or 5.  On the way up, I recall looking out of the window and seeing a cloud. We were driving through it. I was baffled. I'd spent my whole life in the Low Country of South Carolina, living in a home at about 10 feet above sea level. Big mountains were like nothing I had ever seen. The next thing I remember is hiking somewhere on the mountain and really enjoying it. My parents were baffled; this was kind of out of character for me at that age. There was something about the chilly, damp air that felt good. That's about all I can remember about that day, other than pretending to take a nap in the car on the way home. Unfortunately, the AT doesn't cross over Mount Mitchell, but that peak is characteristic of the southern Appalachians that come to mind when I dreamed of hiking the trail. I count that trip as the day the seed was planted in my little Rooster brain.

-Rooster

Monday, August 12, 2013

Day 61: Rocky Mountain Shelters to Waynesboro, PA

Miles today: 14.9
Miles total: 1126.0

Currently laying in a hotel room bed...

Today is the day. The beginning of my vacation from hiking. My shin and my mind both know it. I think it's appropriate that this event happened just a little bit after the halfway mark. It'll be good to get refreshed and to attack the trail again with vigor. With a really short day planned, I again woke up late and just took my time getting ready. What I didn't count on was that the impending hiatus from hiking would be so prominent in my brain. I was impatient for every second of hiking. How much farther until the next shelter? 6.6. When will I be done? 12:30? That's FOREVER! On a normal hiking day, I would simply keep hiking and not ask questions, but today I was playing a mental game of "Are We There Yet" with myself. I couldn't snap myself out of it. I stopped by a few of the shelters along the way to break up the monotony again. The best distraction I could find was to pick a landmark from my guidebook and predict when I would get there. Alright. Six tenths of a mile to the powerline. Twelve minutes. Those amounts of time were digestible, so I was more content to walk. I did eventually reach the road. Like usual, I took the bandanna off my head, put my pack in front of my feet, put on my best I-am-a-good-person smile, and stuck out my thumb. Not two minutes passed before a couple picked me up in the bed of their pickup. They dropped me at Burger King, home of a veggie burger and the World's Best French Fries (not up for debate). The man driving offered to give me a ride back to the trail if we timed it right, but I smiled and told him that wasn't a part of my plans. Probably too big of a smile, but who cares if one more person thinks I am crazy.

After lunch, I went back to the street and performed my hitch-hiking show again, with similar success. I was in a car in about the same time. My driver took me to the library, where I updated my blog and checked up on old hiking buddies' blogs. Maybe this break will give me a chance to hook up with Dirty Mike and the Boyz, Brightside, Squints, or some other southbound friends again. I walked up the street to the Days Inn, got a room, and rinsed off my disgusting hiking clothes before I even thought of putting them in the washing machine. How much dirt can a pair of wool socks hold? I put on my rain pants and jacket, and carried my wad of dirty clothes over to the laundromat. After popping everything in the washer, I walked over to the Turkey Hill convenience store. These are new to me, but since hiking I've come upon them several times. They have 32 ounce slushies for 79 cents and these weird bagel roll-ups with cream cheese. I love it. I'm disgusting.

After resting up in the hotel room for a few hours, my mom arrived from South Carolina. She had driven all the way up today, navigating peak-hour DC traffic just to come visit. After a very long hug and a few motherly tears, we were off to dinner. I opted for familiarity and chose a mexican restaurant, where I knew the beans would satisfy my bottomless stomach. My mom was evidently and understandably very tired from working a long shift yesterday then waking up early to drive here. We retired to the hotel and it's almost bedtime. It's still kind of weird and difficult to sleep in a real bed with these giant pillows, but I think I'll manage. Next up: three days of not hiking. Weeeeeeiiiiirrrrrddddd.

Nobo count: 2
Sobo count: 0

-Rooster

Pictures: I'm typing this on my computer and I'm too lazy to get up and get the phone cable. There were two shelters I came upon today, one was for snorers and one was for non-snorers. Made me laugh, ha ha ha.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Day 60: Toms Run Shelters to Rocky Mountain Shelters

Miles today: 19.2
Miles total: 1111.1

Currently sitting at the picnic table...

Oh what a difference it makes to take shorter days. After my section hiker buddy talked to me for 15 minutes last night as I played possum, I decided to award myself extra time to sleep in. This was made possible because I constrained myself to 19 miles today. Because my injury is no longer affecting my hiking pace, shorter distances give me more time to relax and do whatever I want. I turned off my alarm and woke naturally at 6:30. Soon after, Sole came to say goodbye. He had a long day planned, so I wouldn't see him again for a while. I decided I had better hurry up and get ready before my shelter-mate woke up and started talking. I was almost ready to go when he began stirring. He immediately continued his monologue from last night, talking about how strenuous his five-mile hike had been.
"The trail ahead for you is nothin' but rocks. I'm sure I sweated five gallons on the way up here."
"That would be about forty pounds."
"Yeah I know, I must be getting sick. Yeah the trail here is no good. The stuff in Virginia is like that over there." I could see out of the corner of my eye that he was gesturing, but I didn't feel like feeding the flames. "Yeah like that. Virginia's trail is more like that stuff." I gave in and looked. It went on like that until I hurriedly left.

Six miles in, I stopped at another nice southern Pennsylvania shelter with Pink Leprechaun. This one was situated in a grassy clearing near a stream. It was immaculate, with bunks for its occupants. I finished writing my journal entry from last night, then promptly deleted all of it. Argh. I signed the shelter register and headed on down the hill towards Caledonia State Park, my next planned relaxation stop. Today, my music choice was the album "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" by Kanye West. Say what you will about Yeezy's personal life, but that is a pretty complete album. I bopped down the trail until it ended. Soon I spotted something that looked like it belonged in Better Home and Garden magazine. It was the Quarry Run Shelters. They had actually been landscaped. There were plants hanging from the structures and sitting around the entry way. Never have I seen such a quaint shelter. I signed the log to thank the "Innkeeper", as he was called, and to confirm my reigning title as the fifth southbounder of the season. This just came to light recently, but in front of me are only four people, one of whom is Matt Kirk. He is technically no longer "in front of me" because he finished his record-setting thru hike while I was staying at the Doyle. I don't plan on holding this distinction for long; I am taking a few days off after tomorrow because my mom is coming to visit! I'm not sure exactly what we'll do, but I am surely not hiking. I can fully heal my shin while riding around in a car, and I'm going to take advantage.

I stopped to chat with a family from Hong Kong as I descended the hill into Caledonia State Park. The son was so amazed with what I was doing that he asked to take a picture with me, which I was happy to do. I love feeling like a celebrity! The park itself was pretty much like I imagined: families were grilling out, the pool was full, and there was a snack  bar. I had found a perfect place to chill for a few hours. One order of cheese fries and two large Pepsis later, I lay on my back on a bench underneath a tree canopy, looking ahead in my AT Guide. Virginia looks like it will be great. After tomorrow, I will have completed the second- and third-longest states in Maine and Pennsylvania, respectively. Virginia's trail length is more than the next two combined. Many hikers suffer from "Virginia Blues" as they long for a state border crossing, but I am excited for all that Virginia holds. (Almost) anything is better than PA, with its rocks and lack of views, so I am easily excited I guess.

After deleting most of my post from the halfway point, I figured I still had some stuff to say about it. I really can't believe I've made it this far with so little trouble. I credit that to a lot of help from friends. Everyone I've ever hiked with has made an impact, from giving me tips to simply leading by example. Everyone who reads my blog has also helped, whether you know it or not. I read every comment you post, and it makes me extra confident to know so many are behind me and have a stake in this hike. I'll keep trying my hardest for you all. Also, my visitors on the trail: Sami, Ben, B-rod. You guys gave me more of a boost than I would probably admit in person. It was great to see a familiar face. And to my upcoming visitors: I'll do my best to still be on the trail when you want to come!

Nobo count: 1
Sobo count: 2

-Rooster

Picture: shelter most likely decorated by my Aunt Kim.