Day 50: Zero in Damascus, Virginia
Day 51: Damascus to Pond campsite, 12.1 miles
Day 52: Pond campsite to Stealth campsite near VA 600, 11.9 miles
Day 53: VA 600 campsite to Stealth campsite near Bearpen trail, 11.4 miles
Day 54: Bearpen campsite to Trimpi shelter, 18 miles
Day 55: Trimpi shelter to Partnership shelter, 10.6 miles
Day 56: Partnership shelter to Relax Inn in Atkins, VA, 11.7 miles
Day 57: Relax Inn to Knot Maul Branch shelter, 13.9 miles
Day 58: Knot Maul Branch shelter to Chesnut Knob shelter, 9.1 miles
Day 59: Chestnut Knob Shelter to Fort Bastion Laurel Creek, 14.8 miles
Day 60: Laurel Creek to VA 608, 20.2. miles
Day 61: VA 608 to USFS 103, Woods Hole Hostel, 18.6 miles
Day 62: Zero day at Woods Hole
Day 63: Zero day at Days Inn, Christiansburg VA
Day 64-Day 66: Zero days at Virginia Beach
The first part of this phase was amazing! We had a wonderful break in weather. The buds starting appearing and the sun was shining. We had recovered from our crazy 20 mile day in the storm experience (you can find this day explained in our last blog post) and were reunited with our friends Cheeze-it and Ramen Shaman in Damascus! Another storm hit us on Day 58 though, and we realized we hadn’t quite recovered mentally from the last time we were caught unawares in cold, stormy weather. Now, we are enjoying a vacation from our adventure in Virginia Beach and are feeling renewed physically and mentally. This phase of our trail experience was the most social yet, and we are dedicating this blog post to our trail friends who have become our trail family. We’ll attempt to tell you a little bit about this phase while introducing you to some people who have become important in our journey of the Appalachian trail.
The Priest: (Icicle) We first met The Priest in the Smokies. Our first impression was of a quiet, intense man. He was covered in beautiful tattoos, has a lean build, eyes that pierce, and dark hair. He rescued our tablet, which Quailman had left in a shelter in the Smokies. We exchanged a beer for the service of carrying a couple of pounds for miles to return it to us. After that, we didn’t see him for a few days. But here and there we encountered him and learned a little more about him each time. He has a soft, firm voice. In that voice, we learned he was in fact going to become a Priest, hence his trail name. Being from New York, Quailman and The Priest had quite a few things in common and exchanged stories about delicious food and interesting places they had both been too. We started seeing the Priest almost every day and I especially enjoyed just being around him. He has a certain calm presence that’s nice to simply exist in. Cheeze-it, a fellow trail family friend, noticed he wore a ring and asked if he was married. We didn’t know religion he ascribed to, so it was a possibility. It turns out it was a rosary ring with little bumps to help keep track of rosaries said. Quailman and I have a lot of respect for him. His dedication is admirable and he only speaks of religion in a personal context or if asked. It’s changed the more rigid stance I had towards religion. He’s a good man and he will do amazing things in his priesthood. We’ve come to think of the Priest as part of our trail family. One of our favorite moments was when The Priest showed up at Fort Bastion. We were slackpacking for the first time thanks to a trail friend’s father and didn’t know if we would see him that night. He can do big miles if he chooses while we tend to be more on the moderate side of miles. We were sad we might not see him again, but knew that is part of the trail. Your trail family is constantly evolving and there’s an ebb and flow to how groups form along the way. When we entered Fort Bastion in the back of pickup truck, we spotted him! Fort Bastion is run by a man known as “TruBrit”. He owns a big piece of land about a half mile off the trail. Right now, there’s a giant tarp tee-pee with a fire pit in it, a portapotty, and a motor home he lives in. He claims to have hiked 150,000 miles, to have been in British special forces for 25 years, and to have given up all of his wealth 3 times over. We aren’t sure how much of this is true if truth be told. He’s maybe 60 years old. If you assume he started hiking around the age of 10, he would have had to hike 3,000 miles a year. That is a little hard to believe. Well, we hop out of the pickup truck and there was the Priest! He was standing among other tents set up there. “We are so happy you are here!” The Priest responds, “Well, I asked for a sign. I looked down and there was literally a sign with a number for Fort Bastion. It’s rare signs are so literal.” We all chuckle and are grateful he decided to hang out with us again that night. We’ve decided he will be the main character in a Class of 2014 Comic Year book we plan on creating. I mean, come on. A Priest in the making from the dark streets of New York covered in tattoos. It’s going to be an awesome comic book. He will clearly be fighting demons, or other Northbound hikers.
Cowgirl and Radioman: (Quailman) We met Cowgirl and Radioman briefly in Damascus as they shared a hostel room Ramen Shaman and Cheez-it, who we had been spending the day with. They were both ex-military and knew each other in service before the trail. We really met them, though, when we ran into Cowgirl’s dog, Cooper, approximately a half mile away from their campsite on the trail. Ramen Shaman grabbed the running dog and leashed him. Oh, he’s a miniature pincher and has a big personality. At that time, he was a lost miniature pincher with a big personality. Having wrangled in the wandering dog, we found Radioman and Cowgirl camped next to a little pond the trail skirted and decided this would be a cool place to camp too. There, we learned that Radioman got his name from his small hand-held radio he carried with him on the trail. It had a battery you could crank with a hand crank to charge. It was actually very cool to have some music playing while we hung out in camp since neither of us carry an iPod or any other music device. They are both very nice and we really enjoy their company. Radioman knows a ton about feet and how to make them feel better. He’s earned a reputation to the point where hikers come up to him and ask him what to do for their foot ailment. He always has an answer. He also always has a flask of good whiskey or a few cups of wine, which is always shared. He happily shared his flask with the group during the storm at Chestnut Knob. While camping at Trent’s Grocery he passed around some cups of wine he had with him. This is an awesome and rare treat on the trail. Then there is Cowgirl, who is an incredibly nice person and even paid for a bunch of thru hiker’s meals at a restaurant we all stopped at in Atkins! It was called “The Barn” and offered a country-style buffet. It was tiny, but the promise of a buffet drew us all in like moths to a light bulb. We got up to pay after strategically eating everything we could. There, we found that Cowgirl had paid for our meals! Thanks Cowgirl!
Batman: (Quailman) Yup, the comic book character. He gets his name from the t-shirts he wears with the Batman logo on them, in addition to his fruit bat tattoo. We met Batman in Damascus when he stumbled into the Blue Blaze Cafe around 10pm the night we arrived. He had just pulled a 41 mile day to get into town, and looked it. We knew we’d be friends when, instead of finding a place to stay for the night, he made his first order of business ordering a craft beer (of which they had quite a few at the Blue Blaze, only the second place to have them along the trail). We ran into Batman again at Trimpi shelter when he offered us a cup of coffee in the morning. Not normal hiker coffee, which normally consists of instant coffee in a single-serving packet, but a real, hand-ground, filter cup of serious coffee. As far as we were concerned, at this point Batman was equal to or greater than God. On top of that, he’s hilarious. We would run into Batman almost every night from that point forward and get to know him well. He was with us during the great “There-Is-Nowhere-To-Use-The-Bathroom” crisis at Trent’s Grocery. Trent’s, a little gas station that offers tenting in its horse fields for hikers, offered one bathroom that broke down moments after our arrival. As it was in a field, this made it hard to find a place to do our business. Batman wasn’t phased though. He simply brought out a case of PBR and made the best of the situation. In truth, the situation, minus the bathroom-less field, was fine. Ramen Shaman’s Father, Mason or Grandpa Kibble, had bought hamburgers from the grill before it had closed and they were delicious. We saw Batman again the next day at Wood’s Hole Hostel. I was having a particularly bad mental day (one of the reasons we are in Virginia Beach). After explaining my feelings to the group, Batman had us all in tears laughing with his “tell it like it is” style of humor. It helped an incredible amount, and I thank Batman for it. Icicle held back tears as she hugged him goodbye at Wood’s Hole Hostel since we weren’t sure if we would see him again anytime soon. He most definitely became part of our trail family.
Cheez-It, Ramen Shaman, and Leaf litter: (Icicle) Cheez-It and Ramen Shaman are the trail family we are closest to out here. Leaf litter is their adorable Australian Shepard. I first interacted with Cheez-It online. We had found each others blogs and chatted here and there before hitting the trail in February. We only started one day apart, but we didn’t actually meet them until a week or two into our hike. We traveled through the Smokies with them and that really solidified our friendship. They were amazingly supportive while I was sick and never made me feel bad for being a walking snot germ. We were sad when we ended up being separated by a few days. Our paces were a little different and they had to take a couple of extra zeros for Ramen Shamans knee and Leaf litter getting sick. Well, for Phase Friends, we have been with them every day! It’s been such a great boost to be with trail family who knew what it was like to be in intense cold. We really missed them for the week and half or so we were mostly hiking alone. During the first part of our reuniting, we traveled through the Grayson Highlands, a beautiful park famous for having wild ponies. Cheez-It was really worried Leaf litter would ruin our experience by scaring the ponies away. Since she kept saying this in one form or another, to stop herself, she declared she would buy us each a beer every time she said she was worried about the ponies being scared away. So we decided it was best to encourage the worry by saying things like, “The whole reason we hiked the trail was to see the ponies. It would be too bad if we never saw them.” “My whole life I’ve always wanted to see wild ponies”. We have a lot of fun with each other, so much fun, we are now in Virginia Beach with them. At the end of Phase Friends, you’ll notice we have 5 zero days.
(Quailman) When we reached Wood’s Hole Hostel, I hit a bad mental day. I was fed up with being ripped off by hostels, the worst being the one we currently were staying at, and the cold weather. It turns out that we had not really recovered mentally from the storm we experienced during our first 20 mile day. When this new storm hit us on Chestnut Knob Shelter, we found ourselves even more drained and mentally exhausted than before. The weather had called for rain, and it was rain that we were expecting. We began to climb the mountain of the day and halfway up, we began to be pelted by sleet. Icicle and I looked at each other and frowned. This was feeling similar to the other storm we had encountered going over Mt. Roan. When we reached the cleared top, it was snowing and the wind was howling. It was also cold. Winter cold. The kind of cold that we thought we were done with. Luckily, the shelter was fully enclosed, so some of the wind was mitigated. We did some musical beds to make sure there was room for Cheez-it, Ramen Shaman, Grandpa Kibble, and Leaf Litter, since we didn’t want them sleeping out in the cold or on the floor. However, it was still very cold that night, and some of the wind still managed to bring the temperature in the shelter down to about 26. It was another stormy, cold, wintry night when we thought there wouldn’t be any more. This, compounded with the disappointment of Wood’s Hole, set off the very bad day for me. To add to that, Icicle took a pretty bad fall that day. A stick got caught in between her feet in that way that only sticks can infuriatingly do, and she went face-down into the ground. She landed in the same position you see chalk outlines in for victims in movie. A moment after she fell, after making sure she was ok, we started to laugh. We had been pushing very hard to try and keep a schedule that we had made for ourselves. Sound familiar? We had fallen back into putting stress on ourselves again, and had managed to suck the fun out of hiking that day once again. Icicle started to laugh first, and it was Cheez-it who said “What are we doing?” After stopping and laughing for a bit, we resolved that it didn’t matter how many miles we did that day, or how many miles we did any day. It was more important that we had fun, so that’s what we resolved to do. The rest of the day went better. Unfortunately, she hit her knee pretty hard and it began to bother her. That night, it had swollen up and locked up during her sleep, which worried me. We decided it would be best for her to take it easy and not let a small thing become a big thing. That said, with the cold, my bad mental day, and Icicle’s knee, we determined it might be a good time to mix things up a little bit. Luckily, Cheez-it had just recently been contacted by a University in Williamsburg about entering the PhD program there. We all decided it was time to take a vacation from our adventure and head to Williamsburg. Then we noticed Virginia Beach was only about an hour from Williamsburg and that settled it. As I type this, I am sitting in a hotel overlooking the beach, while Raman Shaman hands me a hard apple cider in a towel and Leaf Litter is sleeping next to me. Pretty great vacation and it’s pretty great that Raman Shaman and Cheez-it came with us. Also, they are very good at finding hotel deals. After sitting in the back of the car for about half an hour, they had gotten us a beachfront hotel with a pool and gym for less than the hostel price per person. Now, after 3 days of relaxation on the beach, the five of us are ready and excited to be back on the trail again. Although I think Leaf Litter is excited for anything.