Powder River’s Appalachian Trail Journey from Georgia to Maine 2008

Archive for May, 2008

Wally World

Day 60

Location: Pearisburg, VA

Miles hiked today: 0

Miles from Springer: 622.1

Miles from Katahdin: 1551.9

Elevation: 1620′

I decided to take an unscheduled zero today, partly because there was a bad weather forcast for the afternoon, and partly because the hostel I’m staying at is simply really nice to relax at. I really didn’t count on the distance the hostel was away from the trail, and having walked so far yesterday, I was ready to relax. The hostel is run by the Holy Family Catholic Church, whose congregation has committed to helping hikers with the hostel. Father Pernelli told us that they have been recieving very few donations from hikers, many of whom are taking full advantage of the facilities but giving nothing in return. It is really amazing how many hikers are taking advantage of things like that. Unfortunately, in this as well as many other cases, without the money places like this could shut down.

I went to Super Wal-Mart today. It was a very bizarre experience. It was a little bit like being transported to a whole different world, with glaring flourescent lights and impossible amounts of stuff stacked high in hundreds of neat lanes. The contrast between the last two months I’ve spent in the woods and this experience was astounding. I felt like I was in the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” when the spaceship lands and all you can see is light. I just wandered around for about an hour in a state of awe, marvelling at all the stuff that had been manufactured, packaged and transported to this spot, where I stood. They have everything here! There were tons of people pushing their way through the aisles with overstuffed grocery carts filled with more stuff than any human can possibly need, towing whining kids who nip at their heels with well-composed appeals for why they NEED that extra 20 bucks.

There were DVDs that I couldn’t watch, CDs that I couldn’t listen to and lots of things that were too heavy to even haul back to the hostel. There were movies out on video that I had just seen before I left in the theater, and new albums out that I had no idea were out. Everything was Indiana Jones this or that, which I only heard was coming to theaters last week.

The food section was overwhelming. I was thankful that I already did my shopping at a grocery store because I would have been so lost as to where to begin. As if there were not already enough to buy, they’ve piled massive towers of bottled drinks in the center of the aisle. I could not even carry one of those cases out to the parking lot, much less anywhere else. No wonder the people who shop here have to bring a car!

In the end, it was too much and I made my exit as fast as I could. I bought some powdered milk and some grapes, both of which came in quantities far too big for me to consume. On the walk home I readjusted immediately to the fresh air, sunlight and the path through the woods behind Wal-Mart that brought me back to the hostel. I was thankful to have escaped that place, and at the same time mesmerized by it. It is rumored that hikers have been sucked in by it all, like a moth to a flame unable to draw their gaze away from all the bright lights and impossible quantities of food. They have to be carried off in their catatonic state for treatment, which could take months. Thank you Jesus for letting me escape that place!




Day 59

Location: Pearisburg, VA

Miles hiked today: 24.3

Miles from Springer: 622.1

Miles from Katahdin: 1551.9

Elevation: 1,620′

I did the full distance into Pearisburg today, coming in extremely late. There is a very nice overlook of the town called Angel’s Rest way up on Pearis Mountain, just before you descend 2,000 feet into town. I left there about 8:00 pm, and got in about 9:15.

It was a pretty tough hike today, because the trail was extremely rocky in several sections. There are rocks and stones in random angles and places along the trail, which really breaks your stride and punishes your feet and ankles. There were several places where you make very slow time. The trail does a big s-curve on the map in this part, and in one part you go along this long ridge, and you can see the next ridge across from you. Soon enough you are on the second ridge, and can see back at the first one, realizing that the trail took you on about 10 unnecessary miles.

Towards the end of the day I came to Doc’s Knob shelter, with still 8 miles to go. Everyone there was settling in for the night or cooking dinner, but I decided I wanted to be either in Pearisburg or really close to it by nighttime because the post office is only open in the morning. I decided to push on, with the sun pretty low in the sky. When I finally got to Angel’s Rest, the sun was setting. According to the sign it was 1.7 miles to the road, and my book told me it dropped 2,000 feet.

I guess I was expecting a lot more difficult trail down, but it was amazing how surefooted I was even in the failing light. As it got darker and darker, I still didn’t want to turn my headlamp on because it would not have helped so much at that time as ruined my night vision. I was able to walk just as fast as I normally would, and never tripped once on an unseen rock or root. It was a bizarre experience, because I’m pretty sure I wasn’t picking up all the features of the trail in that light.

When I got into town I stopped at Dairy Queen for some food and talked on the phone for a little bit, but I still needed to get to the hostel. It turns out that the hostel is about 2 miles across town, tucked way up on a hill in a residential neighborhood. The directions I had weren’t so good, so I got lost a few times and eventually ended up getting there at about 11 pm.



Day 58
Location: Trent’s Grocery (VA 606)
Miles hiked today: 16.3
Miles from Springer: 597.8
Miles from Katahdin: 1576.2
Elevation: 2100′

The weather turned beautiful today, and it was a really nice day for hiking. I stuck around the shelter this morning as they built another fire, and I still didn’t have all of my stuff quite dried out.

The trail in this section is in the worst shape I have seen yet. The white blazes on the trees are all very faded, and at times I had to stop and check to see if I hadn’t somehow wondered off the A.T. The leaves from plants and bushes are all overgrown here, and there are times when I wish I had a machette to hack my way through. I walk at a fairly good clip, and it was hard to try to identify each and every plant as I brush past it to make sure it is not poison ivy. There were several times that I saw poison ivy leaning out on the trail, so I guess I am lucky that I didn’t actually rub against some.

There was not a whole lot of excitement today, just a lot of walking. However, when I got to VA 606 there was a really nice suspension foot bridge over Kimberling Creek, which would sway and creek as you walked over it. The creek itself was very nice, calm and deep. Perfect for swimming! It was about 80 degrees, so I took advantage. I thought there might be some snakes in there though, so I kept it short.

Since the bridge and the creek were right at the road I needed to be at anyways, I was almost done with my day. A half mile down the road is a place called Trent’s, which offers tenting, a shower and laundry for six dollars. They also have a grill right there, so you can order all the food you want. The place was definitely convenient, but the shower and laundry area was extremely neglected. The garbage was overflowing in every garbage can, with what looked like several weeks or months of garbage. However, the shower had really good pressure and really hot water, which made it about the best shower on the trail so far.

There was a guy there named Stinger, who got his name because he sat down on a hive of yellow jackets and got stung many times in the rear. He had walked here from Ohio, mostly on roads, and was on his way to Springer. I guess there is always one more way to hike the trail.


Round Mountain United Methodist Church

Day 57
Location: Helvey’s Mill Shelter, VA
Miles hiked today: 9.2
Miles from Springer: 581.5
Miles from Katahdin: 1592.5
Elevation: 3,090′

Last night’s walk into town to deliver Red added another 5 miles or so on my day, so I camped right near the road with another hiker named Bigglesworth. The campsite was kind of weird, as it apparently gets used by hunters and they leave a lot of pieces of deer carcasses lying about. There were several deer skulls nailed to a tree, and another tree had vertebrae nailed to it. We also found a carcass in the woods. It was an animal with all white fur. I didn’t want to think to long on what it could be.

Of course, all of these discoveries were after camp was all set up for the night and I was too tired to move. Besides, I wanted to be close to the road because there was a rumor that the Methodists would come in the morning and whisk us off to some insane breakfast.

Sure enough, through that hazy fog of sleep I was vaguely conscious of some vehicles driving around in the morning, and some voices and slamming doors. I was actually awake before that, wondering if I should get out of my tent to pee or hold it. I could also tell that it was about to rain (the forcast had been promising rain since yesterday), and if I could get all my stuff packed up before that happened, I could keep all my stuff dry and sit in the rain, or I could stay in the tent and it would get all wet. Well, I stayed where I was, and the rain started. But I was able to see a white vehicle parked at the road so I decided to go investigate. The owner of the vehicle was a cheerful, thin man who was re-stocking a cooler in the woods with juice (a cooler I had failed to notice) and when I approached him, he asked if he could offer me breakfast!

So it was true! I thought it was all just a rumor, (they do breakfasts for hikers just on Mondays normally, but the rumor was they were doing breakfasts all week this week.) and it felt like I was talking to a mirage. The Methodist Church breakfast was already legendary in my mind, so I was giddy that I was actually going to it. I sprinted back to my tent to pack up, while shouting to Bigglesworth that we were about to be fed. I couldn’t pack up my stuff fast enough. It was still raining, so I basically threw all the stuff inside the tent in my pack, threw the tent in the back of the truck along with the (wet) food bags, and hopped in.

The hiker breakfast ministry is run by Round Mountain Methodists Churches, pastored by Alan Ashworth. It is a really remarkable thing. They pick hikers up at three trailheads, bring them in for an all you can eat southern home-cooked breakfast, where you are offered coffee, milk, juice or all three! You eat as much as you please, and then they are more than willing to run you into town or back out to the trail. The whole thing requires a lot of people to run, and it is amazing how dedicated they are to it.

This week, there is another church from Arkansas involved, the First United Methodist Church. These folks travel here once a year around Memorial Day, just to feed the hikers for a full week. It was really great to see an example of Christ’s love, and even better to be on the recieving end of it. When I was done eating, they even took me into town to the grocery store and then back out to the trail.

It rained even more this afternoon once I was back on the trail, so I stopped at Helvey’s Mill shelter. The next shelter up was 14 miles, and during a rain storm it’s always nice to be under a roof. When I got to the shelter, a couple of hikers, Wasabi and Chris, were in the process of moving the fire to within about 10 feet of the shelter. This was quite a large fire, and the logic was to dry out all of the gear hanging up and keep us warm all night. However, as I was setting up my stuff, I immediately noticed the flaw in their logic as I couldn’t breathe inside the shelter. It was filled with smoke because the wind was blowing the smoke right inside. So much for thinking ahead!

However, the wind did change and the fire turned out to be pretty nice. At one point they got the flames over 10 feet high, and even stuff that was hanging in the shelter was in danger of melting. It seems everyone escaped having something melted however.


God’s Thumbprint

Day 56
Location: Laurel Creek, VA 615
Miles hiked today: 14.3
Miles from Springer: 574.2
Miles from Katahdin: 1602.0
Elevation: 2450′

Red was gone in the morning when I woke up. I had to put him outside of the shelter (which is a rare, four walls and a door type) because he was just too crazy and ran around trying to get into people’s food. Tied up he wasn’t much better, as he started to bay. (You know, that wavery hound-dog baying). So out he went, and he bothered a guy in a tent outside for about 2 hours. It wasn’t too cold, but was plenty windy so I figured he’d find a spot to bed down in the woods.

The guy in the tent said he saw him at about 5:30 in the morning, but nobody saw him after that. It was actually a huge relief not to have to deal with him, as I had taken it upon myself to keep him out of everybody’s stuff and feed him. Those two things alone required my full attention and all four limbs, so there wasn’t much time to take care of my own chores. I took my time in the morning eating and getting packed to go, but I just couldn’t shake the feeling that we hadn’t seen the last of Red.

Chestnut Knob shelter has a very commanding view of an area called Burke’s Garden, which is a huge crater-shaped depression bordered on all sides by a high ridge. The valley is filled with farms and dotted with barns and houses, and the AT follows one of the ridges on one side. This was the Vanderbilt’s first choice for their Biltmore estate, but supposedly they couldn’t get the landowners to budge so they ended up building it near Asheville, NC. The nickname for the valley is God’s Thumbprint. We were fogged in pretty good at the shelter, but it cleared just long enough for me to get a glimpse, and then later on I got another look at it from the ridge. What a beautiful area this is.

I was right about Red. At a place called Davis Farm campsite I heard some hikers coming up behind me, and right at their heels was Red, the coon dog. They already knew my name, because someone had told them the story about how I was trying to get Red back to his owner. I was both relieved that Red was going home, and annoyed with the amount of effort it would take. But before I could get a leash on him, he ran away again! He took off after the two guys, (who I heard later were doing 30 miles each day and started at Springer Mountain on May 10th. At that rate, they’ll be done in 70 days.) but at least we now knew where he was. They said they found him travelling south that morning on the other side of Chestnut Knob shelter, which means that he was actually on his way home. But of course, he’s not trying to get home, so he followed the first hikers he saw.

I finally caught up to Red at lunch. A bunch of the guys who were at the shelter last night were eating lunch at the next shelter up, and Red had found them. They had fed him some food, and he was fast asleep, just as content as he could be. I immediately put him on a rope and tied him to the shelter, which he didn’t seem to mind and even seemed used to. From there on, Red and I were close buddies. He seemed happy to see me, and actually cooperated for once as I was figuring out his new leash.

We had five miles of trail to go to the nearest road, and I planned on walking him down the road until I found some people that could take Red and I back to the farm he came from. I was thankful I had a map, as I could pinpoint exactly where Red lived. Red was very difficult to walk with. He is very strong, and pulls as hard as he pleases on the leash. He is also constantly sniffing and stops randomly to double-check some bush or rock, or to pee on trees. The rope I had wasn’t very long, so this meant that when he wasn’t pulling me along he was abruptly stopping right in front of me to pee on something. When we got to the road, there was a stream on one side and he never gave up trying to get into that stream, even after I let him down there a few times.

We reached a small community and I tied him up at the church while I went around to talk to neighbors. The first guy was very old, and past driving age so he couldn’t help me. The second guy had a very low opinion of stray dogs, and I thought for a second he would offer to shoot Red on the spot. He actually called the Sherriff to come pick him up, but their animal control officer was off duty today. I didn’t have a problem with Red going to the pound, as long as we could contact the owner. However, as only I knew how to get to the owners house and had no phone number, this didn’t seem like a good idea. Finally after about an hour of going house to house and navigating Red down the highway, I found an extremely nice guy named Mike who didn’t hesitate for a second to take Red, as he thought he knew the area where the owner lived and my description of the farm was just what he remembered. Either way he promised to get Red home, and even feed him table scraps that night! I was so thankful to get Red into good hands. I got a real sense of peace from Mike, that he would take it from there and my part was done.

It felt good knowing that I had done a big thing for Red, and possibly saved him from the pound or worse. He’s a real nice dog, but judging from the amount of attention he’s recieved his owner doesn’t strike me as a dog owner that will bother to keep Red from running off again. I hope he at least gets him a tag with a name and phone number on it. I’m pretty sure that Red has the run of the place back home, and all he has to do is cross the little creek and he’ll be back on the trail again. I wonder how many days until he catches up with me?


Chuck Norris Mountain

Day 55
Location: Chestnut Knob Shelter
Miles hiked today: 20.2
Miles from Springer: 557.7
Miles from Katahdin: 1616.3
Elevation: 4410′

When I saw that Big Walker Mountain was on the agenda for the day, I had an almost instant flashback to “Walker, Texas Ranger” reruns on TBS. I couldn’t help but think that there was just a typo on this mountain, and that the real name for it is really “Chuck Norris Round-house Kick to the Face Mountain.”

Before long we were all thinking of our favorite Chuck Norrisisms and lamenting that Mike Huckabee didn’t win the Republican primaries because we could have had Chuck Norris as our Secretary of State. (Stephen Colbert had already secured a spot as his running mate).

So, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, I am talking to you. Please put down the proper name of this mountain in your book! It seems really unfair to just have an oblique sideways reference to the man, Chuck Norris, by using just the last name of his teeth-busting roundhouse-delivering Dodge Ram-driving cowboy-hat wearing shirt-always-tucked in Texas Ranger persona from TV. I mean, seriously, you guys are fooling nobody.

Chuck Norris Mountain sure delivered a roundhouse kick to my face, in other words, after having climbed it I felt a little tired. (I guess my jaw was a little sore too). There was a nice surprise waiting at the top, because someone had crafted the number 25% out of sticks in the middle of the trail, a reminder that this was the 25% of the way to Katahdin point! How awesome is that? Chuck Norris Mountain delivers! Or did that sign mean that Chuck Norris Mountain is so awesome, that it IS 25% of the trail? Hmmmm.

When I got to the north fork of the Holston River, I made a new friend. His name is Red, and he is the most obnoxious and completely oblivious dog I have ever met. Apparently he’s been running around the fields since he was a puppy, without rules, boundaries or much attention. He does not understand the word no, go home, sit, no, lay down, and especially the word no. He doesn’t have a sense of boundaries when around people. For instance, if he smells food in your pack he will aggressivly lunge for it over and over again, no matter how many times you tell him no or pull him back. If you try to teach him something he will not learn, no matter how many times you repeat.

Anyways, Red ran right up the trail ahead of me just as I was leaving. No amount of yelling, gesturing or reasoning would get him to turn around and go home. He is a coon hound, so he doesn’t spend much time around me anyways so much as he is way up ahead sniffing out the trail and marking every tree. It seemed at first as if he does this all the time; follow some hikers up the trail a ways and just have a grand old time sniffing and peeing, and presumably return home after a while. This is what we all assumed he would do, as he really acted like he had done this before. For a while he followed some other hikers, too.

It wasn’t until about 10 miles in that he started trying to make friends with me, and by this point I knew he was hopelessly lost. We tried to attach him to some southbounders, who could take him straight home, but he just ran away from them and caught up with me again. I think he thought he was on some great hunting trip and there was a cooler full of meats and cheese in the pickup at the end of the day.

Today was a long enough day as it was, but dealing with Red made it seem a lot longer. He ended up at the shelter at the end of the day, which was like having a bull in a china shop. He immediately ran inside and jumped up on the table, nosing out any food he could find and assuming it was for him. I eventually got him tied to a post, but he would not quit making lunges for food even as I was trying to feed him.

He also bays like a hound dog, and the concern was that he was going to do that all night. I eventually put him outside, and he bothered the guy in the tent outside for something like 2 hours before going to bed.

I have decided to try to take him back to his owner. I know where the farm is that he came from, and if I can get to civilization with him, hopefully somebody can give me a ride to deliver him to his owner. I also hope to have a few words with his owner about the idea that this dog has no business running free, with no tag and no sense not to run away.


Cowboy Camping

Day 54
Location: Davis Path Shelter, VA
Miles hiked today: 2.7
Miles from Springer: 537.5
Miles from Katahdin: 1636.5
Elevation: 2,840′

I made it to a church this morning, which the lady said was a “short walk” just down the road. Turns out it was more like a 2.5 mile walk on asphalt, but who’s counting? The service was really great, and I was greeted like a celebrity after the service. Everyone there seemed to know why I was attending church in smelly t-shirt and shorts, and wished me luck on the trail. When it was learned that I am from Wyoming, there was this wave of excitement in the crowd, like they had just seen their first polar bear at the zoo, and they never had seen one in theirs or their parent’s lifetime! They were all really great people and extremely nice, and one guy offered to give me a ride back to the trail. Eventually he told me that he used to own the land that the trail goes through near route 11 where it crosses the road, but it was all taken from him by imminent domain so that they could build the trail. I felt bad, as I had just walked through his old farm the day before and it was a very beautiful section. It made me think about how much is taken away from some people so that others may enjoy it. He was really cool about it however, and he was, after all, giving me a ride back to the trail. What a fine example of grace!

I decided to hang out with Chipmunk and Zeke today, and not worry about the miles I was doing. They are part of my “trail family,” and sometimes it makes more sense to spend time with friends than to leave them all behind to make more miles. They had already come about 7 miles to get into town, so they were only planning about 3 out.

It was a beautiful sunny day, so we took our time leaving the interstate crossing. The walk out was very beautiful, over rolling farm fields and with huge vistas of the mountains we had come down. The shelter was not very far up, so it was nice to have a good bit of time to relax and eat before going to sleep. The shelter had been partially torn down, and was only a platform now. At first we were ready to put up tents, but as it was supposed to be a clear night we decided to cowboy camp, under the stars. How wonderful it was! The last thing I remember before going to sleep was the big dipper.