My Walk in the Woods, Ch 7

This is the tale of A Lo Hawk’s 132 day, 2200 mile traverse of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in 2008.

Chapter Seven (May 19th-28th)

Day 42: (VA) 20 miles from Dismal Falls trail to Angel’s Rest

It is a beautiful, sunny morning and the walking is easy. At my mid-morning rest stop I unpack my gear at a sun-drenched spot and dry everything out. The trail begins to climb to ridges as the clouds return. I follow the ridges to a rocky overlook called Angel’s Rest. The trail from here descends steeply to Pearisburg (which I plan to visit tomorrow) so I find a well protected camp site between the walls of two massive rocks of the overlook. It begins to drizzle as I set up my tent and I rush through a tasteless dinner just as the serious rain begins.

Day 43: (VA) 22 miles from Angel’s Rest to Pine Swamp Shelter

It was a wet night and my tent is soaked. I pack up camp and eagerly make the steep drop to a county road where the art deco neon of Wade’s Market floats in the morning fog. Inside the old store the ceiling is low and the flourescent lights are discolored. I order two pre-made egg sandwiches from the helpful lady behind the glass display case in the deli section then grab 48 oz of caffeinated soda.

After breakfast, I head past the market and follow the white blazes down the road and across a creek to where the trail resumes up a grassy slope and into the trees. I continue climbing back to the ridges where the walking gets easier and the day remains cloudy and windy.

I reach the shelter and discover a tree had fallen on the shelter destroying the roof. The tree had been removed but the roof had not been rebuilt. I notice a fellow hiker camped nearby so I go over and meet my new traveling companion. ABOMAN is a sophisticated southern gentleman who likes his Kentucky bourbon in the evening. His trailname is short for ‘Aboriginal Man’ because of his ability to use the bow method to start a fire. He tells me a humorous story of his recent stay in Pearisburg:

This morning as he was packing his gear to leave the motel he noticed his wallet was missing. He searched his room frantically, turning his pack inside out. Getting desperate, he hurried through town stopping at all the businesses he had visited yesterday but no luck. I could not believe where he says he finally found it — IN HIS SHOE. It had been there since putting his shoes on this morning but his feet were so hammered he didn’t feel the lump!

Day 44: (VA) 18 miles from Pine Swamp Shelter to Laurel Creek Shelter

In the morning I approach wide and swift Storey Creek. There is no bridge so I wade right in without breaking stride. The round slick rocks slow me down but the ford gives me a refreshing morning jolt. I stop to filter water and wash up. In the afternoon I am back to ridges with nice views at well named Windy Rock and partly cloudy skies at Kelly Knob.

Day 45: (VA) 21 miles from Laurel Creek to Trout Creek

Today is clear and sunny with a cool breeze. I labor up long climbs to easy flat ridges. Before lunch I see a large Texas flag hanging from a tree. Then I see a marker to a side trail and follow it to the Audie Murphy monument. Apparently the decorated WWII hero and actor was killed in a plane crash at this spot. (I find out tomorrow he was from Texas and a fellow Texan hiker left his flag at the monument as a memorial.)

Later I hike up and over two big ridges including the Eastern Continental Divide at Shrinking Mountain. All along the trail everyone is talking about the legendary Homeplace Restaurant in Catawba. I plan to be there when they open tomorrow after I pick up my mail at the post office.

Day 46: (VA) 17 miles from Trout Creek to camp 2 miles past Catawba Mtn Shelter

The morning starts out overcast and warm with lots of rocky climbs but the afternoon turns sunny and overall it is a great day of hiking. There is a long climb through tunnels of blooming laurel to an outstanding rock outcrop called Dragon’s Tooth. I stop for a long break here and take my turn scrambling to the pinnacle for awesome views.

The trail drops to a gap where it crosses road 311. I turn toward Catawba and walk along the shoulder down the hill to town. Actually, calling it a town is generous as it is basically a post office, a store and the famous family style restaurant, The Homeplace, each across the road from the other.

I begin at the store for cold beverages then pick up my re-supply box at the post office. I sit in the shade while I reload my food canister with dehydrated dinners and miscellaneous toiletry items. I wander over to the gazebo in front of the restaurant where hikers are already assembling. I hook up with ABOMAN and another hiker to share a table. The restaurant is in a beautifully restored and furnished farmhouse surrounded by bucolic green fields No reservations are allowed; no take-out, alcohol or menus — it is family style all you can eat. They always have their famous fried chicken and roast beef (Thursday is BBQ) with cornbread and corn on the cob with sweet tea. Endless side dishes include mac & cheese (terrific!), cole slaw, green beans as well as every potato dish imaginable except french fried. I agonize over their dessert choices but go with the classic cherry pie a la mode. All of this for a ridiculous $13.

The hikers eventually trickle out of the dining nirvana and recline on the grass like the cows in the next field. When I finally feel like walking, I barely get my toes to the road when a helpful motorist stops and asks me if I need a ride back to the trail. Magic! When I get to Catawba Mtn Shelter I stop to chat with ABOMAN then hike another two miles to a nice trailside camp.

Day 47: (VA) 18 miles from camp to Troutville Motel

It was a rainy night but it is a beautifully clear, cool morning as I hike toward one of the most celebrated viewpoints on the trail: McAfee Knob. I have the hazy views all to myself and I follow the trail along the cliff edge eventually making my way to more obscure views at Tinker Cliffs.

It gets quite warm as I work my way along rocky ridges. I come around a bend in the trail and see a young guy sitting on a rock with his beat up canvas backpack in the grass and four empty beer cans around his feet. When I get closer I see he is wearing high top basketball shoes and the soles of one foot are ripped open exposing his swollen toes. We exchange hearty greetings and he asks me if I will join him for his last two beers. Of course I will so I drop my pack and find a seat.

I notice his eyes are glassy and narrow as he sits swaying to the tune playing in his head — this dude is BAKED! After we finish our beers he pulls out a small pipe and asks if I will have a toke. Of course I will so I do. We spend the next fifteen minutes discussing the best duct tape shoe repair strategy.

Super easy descent to a major road crossing at Troutville. A nice Holiday Inn Express is within sight of the trail so I head for it. After checking in I shower and do laundry before visiting the outfitter and ABC (liquor) stores. Great BBQ and beers at the 3 Little Pigs restaurant. Dessert is a six pack of Negro Modelo Especial in my room watching TV. Later, my kidneys wake me up and I stumble to the toilet. I remember starting to urinate then the next thing I know I am sprawled across the bathtub with a painful bump on my forehead where I hit the faucet when I faint. A memorable day on the trail for sure.

Day 48: (VA) 14 miles from Troutville to camp past Black Horse Gap

I am so hung over! I slowly shuffle to the Kroger then down the strip mall to a coffee shop where a talkative guy chats me up about the AT. I check out and get back on the trail late on this muggy morning. At the first road crossing I see my friend from the coffee shop sitting in his car. He offers energy bars and books for the trail. Troutville trail groupie?

Wearily I climb until I get to the shelter with the best name: Fullhardt Knob. A couple of grannies with their grandsons are anchored here so I move on. I stop for lunch with several young hiker dudes at Wilson Creek Shelter. They are all bitching’ and moaning about their aches and pains.

Along comes a hip looking young couple out for a weekend hike. They listen sympathetically to the whining then ask how they can help. Without missing a beat I ask, “Do you have any weed?” The man gives me a knowing smile and says, “Sure, let me roll a couple of blunts.” We all chat while passing the joints around the eager circle. I craftily end up with both roaches in my pocket.

I enjoy a mellow hike into the late afternoon until I find a sweet camp site past Black Horse Gap. I devour a gourmet meal of beef and potatoes (from Kroger deli) with dark chocolate for dessert. I sip from a tiny bottle of Southern Comfort while watching the sky turn from bright orange to dark violet.

Day 49: (VA) 21 miles from near Black Horse Gap to camp 2 miles from Cornelius Creek Shelter

It was a warm night and I knew it would be a hot day so I get going early. I stop for a long refreshing break along Jenny Creek. After lunch I smoke the two roaches from yesterday for a good afternoon buzz (3rd day in a row).

Day 50: (VA) 20 miles from camp to Matt’s Creek Shelter

The day starts with a worthless and tiring 2.2 mile side trip to Lone Apple Orchard Falls. Influenced by good reviews in the guidebook, I make the 1000 foot drop to a disappointing dribble of water flowing down a rock hidden by trees. The day improves as I climb back to scenic views. I take my obligatory picture of Guillotine Rock (one of the most photographed spots on the trail).

At Thunder Ridge Overlook I receive trail magic from the parents of CATFISH. They have an RV parked at the overlook and are handing out cold sodas and cookies. I meet SEA-TO-LAND and hike with him to the shelter. ABOMAN is here and we all have happy hour shots from my bottle of Maker’s Mark.

Day 51: (VA) 22 miles from Matt’s Creek to Brown Mtn Shelter

Once again I am first out of camp. It already feels hot and muggy as I take my time leading up to and across the James River on this amazing foot bridge. It starts to rain as I begin climbing out of this river valley.

As I am pushing along through the thick humid air I see three preppy looking hikers standing in the middle of the trail deep in conversation. I immediately get caught in a momentum trap and am hit with a salvo of stupid questions about being a thru hiker. From their haughty attitude I feel like their trained monkey ordered to perform on demand. They indicate they are going my direction so I salute them with a sarcastic ‘Happy Trails’ and put the hammer down on my pace to get the hell away from them.

Around lunch time I feel I have outrun the rabble so I stop at lovely Punch Bowl Shelter next to a peaceful pond. I see three bohemian dudes sitting cross-legged on the floor with decks of strange playing cards stacked around them. They take turns throwing cards into the middle of their circle then the apparent winner takes them away. I call these guys THE GAMERS.

They seem friendly and I spy a glass pipe lying on the floor so I politely ask for a toke. They happily oblige and I quickly get stoned on their quality weed. In my intoxicated state I become hypnotized by the rhythm of their unusual games using cards with unrecognizable markings. Time is suspended, nothing exists outside of the bare wood dimensions of the shelter while the three men alternately bob their heads like monks in prayer.

Suddenly I hear a high-pitched laugh coming from outside seconds before our tranquil paradise is shattered by a cacophony of sound brought by a pack of unruly hikers (including the dildos I met earlier). As they spread their gear over every available surface, I make eye contact with THE GAMERS who have been pushed into a corner and give them a hearfelt ‘mahalo’. I then turn to the crowd, shout out ‘Aloha’, throw on my pack and escape to the serenity of the quiet trail.

It is an easy walk in the afternoon to the Brown Mtn Creek Shelter where I once again camp with ABOMAN and share more of my Troutville Maker’s Mark.

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