AT Journal 2007

Lehigh Gap, PA to Pearisburg VA, 8/11 to 9/19/2007

Sat. Aug 11, 10 AM

It’s a hot, beautiful day. Train has passed thru Bridgeport. It’s surprisingly crowded. Fine views of harbors, boatyards, marshes. Also views of graffiti and tired, run-down Connecticut towns. Occasionally there are beaches and boardwalks and folks out and about, enjoying the weather.

Surprisingly cool last night and this morning – less than 50 degrees showing on our back-porch thermometer. Easy ride to the University Ave. Amtrak station. The train was 15 minutes late. Hugs and kisses. Chatted with a fellow who was all agog about my upcoming adventure. Camping was definitely not his thing.

Just passed thru Darien CT. Saw a couple of herons in a marsh a while back. Should be in Penn station within the hour.

Not much sleep last night!! We hit the sack at midnight after watching “Brother from Another Planet.” But sleep eluded me ‘till 2:30 or 3 AM. Up like a shot at 5:00 and on the road 45 minutes later.

“Ira Fine” (finelodging) seems to have fallen through as my shuttle supplier from Slatington. WTF, I’m tempted to just grab a cab from Allentown to Lehigh Gap and be done with it.

8/11 @ George Outerbridge Shelter, just S of Lehigh Gap. 3 ½ hour bus ride from Port Authority. What a schlep! Then ½ hour wait @ Allentown for “W” bus, dropped off in Slatington. From Slatington, a nice jogging path along the river up to Lehigh Gap, then a quick 20 minutes or so up to the shelter. ~ 2 miles blue blaze, 0.7 miles on the old A.T. With Gary and “Pepper” [dog] @ Outerbridge shelter (1st night.)

8/12 8 PM @ Allentown Shelter. A shade under 17 miles today. Started @ 8:20 arrived here just before 6 PM.

But a hellish descent to “yellow” spring – ½ mile each way and at least a 300-400 foot drop. The round trip for water took 35 minutes.

Nice hike today. Some rocky sections in the middle, but the start & finish were easy walkin’.

Lots of day hikers out, and even met one or two NOBO thrus. An older fella hiking with a golden retriever, and a couple of minutes later, a young fellow with whom I chatted for a bit – trail name “Sailfish” or something like that. It’s his 2nd thru attempt. Last year he broke his leg at the Kennebec. This year he started at Springer on May 1. Vowed that he would not shave his beard until he finished his thru.

Views today were OK, weather was fine – I’m guessing a high in the low 80s.

I think this is supposed to be day 2 of the meteor shower. I’ve got a good place to view it – right here, at the picnic table in the clearing around the shelter. Nice shelter. Plain design, but looks like it was built recently – very clean and in good shape. There’s even a nice fire pit.

Water in PA is a big problem. There are occasional signs for springs, but I’m guessing most of them (the reliable ones) are a long way down the mountain.

I refilled today, around mid-day, at New Tripoli spring – but I cheated. I filled my platy bag from a gallon jug at the trailhead – I didn’t walk down to the spring. (I think the sign said 200 yds.)

I haven’t had to use the DEET yet. The new OR hat has a brim (a bill) so it counters the midges pretty well. But it’s hot, particularly when the sun is beating down.

8/13 Full house at Windsor Furnace Shelter. A foursome (Ray, Roger, Allen, Chris) of friends are here at the shelter (two in tents) and a trio in tents down below. Good folks, tho Ray is a bit of a holy roller. The two at the shelter are playing chess with paper pieces on a paper board.

Another 17 mile day. Plenty of rocks. Met a trail maintainer – Mike – whacking weeds in the morning. Met a couple of (late) NOBO thrus near Dan’s Pulpit.

Amazed when the trail actually crossed a running stream, just north of Rte. 309. Stopped and refilled everything, and soaked my shirt. Shirt was dry again in about ½ hour.

Stopped for lunch at Eckville Shelter. Caretaker came out to say hello. I asked about buying beer or soft drinks – no dice.

From Eckville, another 9 miles to Windsor Furnace. Left Allentown Shelter 7 AM, got here [Windsor Furnace] at 5:30. Long uphill along a gravel road from Eckville. That soon gave way to the usual PA rocks. There were ½-mile stretches today where my foot never touched loam – just hoppin’ from rock to rock.

Awesome views from the Pinnacle, where I stopped for another long break. Then another hour or so downhill to here.

TUE 8/14 The main thing on my mind today was WATER. Started out nice enough. I bid goodbye to Roger – the first up (and the only one awake) of the foursome at the shelter. He asked about Kurt Vonnegut books. (The subject had come up the night before.)

So I’m on the trail at 7:30. About 3 minutes S of the shelter the trail crosses a stream. This annoyed me (tho I took no action) because the water in the platy was not from a stream, but a small pond. Not only that… the platy was at least 3-4 cups down from “full” ‘cuz it hadn’t been replenished after dinner.

[In other words, by not taking water right then, I was about to cut off my nose to spite my face. But somehow my mind was made up that I was “self-sufficient” with regard to water, without stopping at that stream.]

So, nice easy walking all morning, in spite of the 500’ climb first thing in the morning. Beautiful temperatures that first hour or two.

About 10:30 or 10:54 I arrived at the steep descent where the A.T. first meets the Schuylkill River (aka Port Clinton.) I stopped there and stared at maps and still managed to make every wrong turn possible between there and my destination: the bar and/or restaurant at the Port Clinton Hotel. It was truly ridiculous. And it was starting to get hot on the pavement.

So, roughly an hour later, I’ve found the place and managed to get a cold Yuengling in hand and some food ordered: Caesar salad, and a bacon cheeseburger. The Yuengling was chased with a couple of Cokes. The salad and cheeseburger, when they finally arrived, were HUGE, and arrived with a plate of fries stacked at least six inches high. It was enormous.

I chatted with Emily, the 9-year old daughter presumably belonging to some employee of the restaurant. Later I chatted with Pamela, the waitress. It came out that Pamela has cancer. I told her that she looked good, and that I couldn’t have guessed.

So ultimately I had to move on… ever southward. By A.T. measurements I’d walked 6 miles, but I easily did an extra mile or so in my stupid aimless wanderings thru town before lunch.

My BIG mistake at that point was not topping off (or replacing w/fresh water) the contents of the platy bag. Thank goodness, I did refresh the 16-ounce plastic soda bottle.

It’s about 8.5 miles from the town to the turn-off for Eagles Nest shelter. I left the bar at 12:30 and arrived here 5:20, holding my usual 1.7 mile/hour pace.

[It turned out the stream at Eagles Nest shelter, along the access trail, was almost completely dry. I managed to secure enough water for dinner, and the next morning’s start, from a muddy puddle upstream. In doing so, I clogged the water filter. The entire day was dominated by water issues. And I was carrying the dregs of water taken near Windsor Furnace, the day before.]

WED 8/15 (mile 64) At the “PA Money Pit” down the hill from the Rte. 501 trailhead. It’s a ramshackle place occupied by Amy and Fritz and their dogs and cat. I hit the trailhead [Rte. 501] at 4 PM after a 7:15 start.

Stopped at “Sand Spring” after 15 minutes of walking [from Eagles Nest shelter, in the morning.] Of course, the spring was dry, but a note at the trail junction [ie., the spur trail to the spring] said water could be found by walking further along the spur path. So yes, I got water, but it was a 35 minute round trip.

All in all, a pretty boring day on the trail. Met no other hikers. No views at all till mid-afternoon.

There was water at Hertlein campsite, so I stopped there to camel up and fill the “reserve” bottle. Following that, a 500’ climb, at the top of which was the first view of the day.

Fritz picked me up at the trailhead about 10 minutes after my arrival. While I waited, a family piled out of their car and took photos of each other at the “Appalachian Trail” sign. But they didn’t seem to take notice of the A.T. hiker (me.)

There’s a small above-ground pool here and I took a swim, using a pair of trunks provided by Amy.

I had dinner with Amy, Fritz, Al and Mason – Italian sausages with “red sauce” and a bit of cucumber salad and about five glasses of sweet tea. It was good. Sitting on their shaded deck in nothing but swim trunks, smokin’ hand-rolled cigarettes and feeling human.

After dinner, a ride to town (Pine Grove) for grocery shopping. I did OK on the dinners but not so well on the snack food. Forgot CHEESE ! D’oh !!

8/16 @ Rausch Gap Shelter, after 17.5 miles from Rte. 501.

Some rain in the morning – for a while, intense enough for the Frogg Toggs top – and a brief layover at William Penn shelter. Met Ben-69 about an hour after leaving Wm. Penn. Nice walk along the ridge, even some views.

Met another nobo – a “chubby section hiker” – an hour later, he’d spent the night here [at Rausch Gap shelter with Ben-69.

Water filter is heavily clogged. Call CAMPMOR & order new filter – have delivered to…

Rain caused hiking boots to soak thru. They’re heavy and boots/socks/feet were soggy most of the day. Feet wouldn’t fit into crocs when I first arrived. [Photo of wet feet @ Rausch Gap.]

Meal tonight of Liptions Spanish rice mixed with baby shrimp. Followed by fruit cocktail for dessert!

8/17 Peters Mtn. Shelter with “Boogerdaddy.” Another 17+ mile day. Long phone call w/Merry from shelter. Another LONG hard walk downhill for water.

Overcast and cool this AM. Easy flat walking for most of the AM, then a 1000’ drop down to Rte. 325 – nice stream there. Had a long lunch. Then a 800’ climb up to the next ridge. Sun shining now. No horseflies, but the midges are back. The last 6.5-7 miles took just under four hours, including the climb. Shelter empty when I arrived, but Boogerdaddy arrived about 45 minutes later. Saw a rattlesnake on the ridge!

A couple of groups of day hikers on this ridge, and another couple walking uphill on my way down in the AM. Duncannon tomorrow! Yeehaw!

8/18 5:44 PM. At the “Club Café N’ Cremes” in Duncannon. Left shelter at 7 AM sharp, arrived at trailhead (Susquehana River) at 12:30. It took another hour or so to cross the two bridges and walk to “downtown” Duncannon.

It took about 30 seconds to find “The Doyle” and another 2 minutes to order a Yuengling. Pat – the bartender – runs the place; a room is $20, there’s a coin-op washer/dryer on the the 4th floor, public bathrooms on 3rd and 4th floors. My room (#12) is on the 3rd floor facing the “main” street.

So I had two “meals” and two beers. 1st meal was basically a sloppy joe (aka “pork barbeque) and the second was a pastrami sandwich on rye. After the two sandwiches and beers, I went upstairs to clean up myself and my dirty clothes. (Wearing Frogg Togg rain bottoms while laundry was in progress.)

Afterwards, Pat shuttled me up the hill to the supermarket. Where, of course, I bought too much. I remembered the cheese, at least. Got some more of those fruit thingies and even some fresh fruit (apple, peach, a few plums.)

Evening at the Doyle. After a long phone call to REI – ordered a replacement filter to be sent to PO at South Mountain, PA – I went back to the bar at the Doyle to check out the scene.

SUN 8/19, 5PM Left Duncannon about 9:30, arrived here at Darlington shelter shortly after 3 PM. Overcast skies, quite cool, and some rain while hiking. As I write this, from the comfort of the shelter, it’s raining quite steadily.

To be honest, I was peeved at having to “call it a day” at 3 PM. I could have hiked quite a bit further. But… there’s a fairly strict “no camping” rule between here and Boiling Springs, and that’s another 15 miles. No way would I try for a 25 mile day, especially not with rain likely.

The next 15 miles will be “something different.” To wit, walking in meadows, fields, pastures, hedgerows, etc. This is what used to be the famous “Cumberland road walk”. There’s a strong chance I’ll be walking it in the rain. S’truth, we need this rain, big time. But I haven’t been tested by all-day rain for some time now.

6 PM I stepped outside for a whiz and to check out the rain. It sounds fairly heavy, but seems less so outside. Actually, it’s about the same intensity of rain that I hiked through for the last ½ hour of today’s hike.

And you know what? It’s cold, and I was chilled for a while – tho feeling better now. I’ve got Injinji socks on, polypro/capilene top/bottom, scrub shirt, Frogg Toggs top, and hat and gloves on, sitting on Thermarest, back against a column of the shelter, and the sleeping bag draped over the lower half of my body. Thermometer says it’s just barely 60 degrees.

I’ve had two cups of tea, some pepperjack, a mini-sausage, and a few of those M&M cookies (thanks to the kind proprietress at the Doyle.)

What a change from (for example) that hot, muggy night at Windsor Furnace shelter!


The ten miles or so ‘tween Peters Mtn. Shelter and Duncannon were interesting – and tough. For a change, it was quite chilly at dawn. A good wind blowing, clear skies. I started that hike with polypro bottoms and Frogg Toggs top (F.T.T.) After an hour’s walking, on the southwest edge of that ridge (very nice views) I stripped back to the “usual” garb.

Another hour or two later, got my first views of the Susquehana River – it’s quite wide and impressive.

The approach to Duncannon from the north, is quite a tease. It being Saturday morning and nice weather – there were lots of day hikers out.

The trail follows the contours of the top of the ridge and makes a long U-turn toward the Clarks Ferry highway bridge over the Susquehana. This makes for intense rock scrambles and excellent views. Eventually Duncannon comes into sight.

But it’s still 45 minutes to the east end of the bridge. Wisely (ha!) I stopped there to apply sunblock and sunglasses. The highway bridge is a good ½ mile or so. Mighty wide river, that Susquehana.

At the other end of that bridge, you go over an older (and quieter) bridge over the Juniata River, beginning yet another long U-turn that leads, in another mile or two, to the “center” of Duncannon. It’s a long, quiet, residential street. Folks were outside tending to houses and lawns, sitting on the porch, kids on skateboards. A church or two, a funeral home, a hardware store, a fire house, and finally – voila! – the throbbing heart of Duncannon: The Doyle.

I’ve described the afternoon at Duncannon. There was a long phone call to REI, the upshot of which is: a replacement pump filter is being sent to the Post Office, General Delivery, at South Mountain PA, with “three to five day delivery.”

[diary has calculations of mileage between Duncannon and South Mountain.]

It looks like I might roll into South Mountain Thursday PM or some time Friday. (If, for example, the weather slows me down or if maildrop-pickup at Mt. Holly Springs takes too long.)

But I digress: Evening at the Doyle – after the REI call – was an all night (well, ‘till midnight) Grateful Dead-on-acoustic-guitar festival performed by Sue Grace in the bar room at the Doyle. Occasionally, the Dead tunes were interspersed with tunes from The Band, Allman Brothers (Melissa), Neil Young (The Damage Done) and Dylan (several, including All Along the Watchtower, Tangled Up in Blue). Sue’s coverage of the GD repertoire was stupendous. Did rousing versions of “Eyes of the World” and “Scarlet Begonias.” Oh yeah, a John Prine tune, too (Angel From Montgomery). Etc., etc. – one tasty tune after another.

The audience consisted of about 8-10 locals, myself, and the one other hiker here, Ed. It seems I’ve been following Ed here from Port Clinton. Ed’s a 50-ish tall lean fellow who works as a librarian at Lehman College, lives in Peekskill. He did the A.T. in’73-’76 in three long sections. Now he’s revisiting the trail in smaller sections. Having met the guy and chatted with him, I remembered the register entries (eg., at Rausch Gap) by “Ed.” (No trail name.) Nice guy! I think he was surprised that I knew about Lehman.

8/20 2:15 PM Boiling Springs

Sittin’ in a café waiting for a hamburger. Chatted with John at the ATC regional office, a block away. Very friendly. It was a quick 15 miles from Darlington Shelter, where I departed at 7 AM. I had on polypro top/bottom and Frogg Toggs top/bottom, expecting heavy rain and thunderstorms. Amazingly, no rain at all, at least till I got here.

As anticipated, today’s walk was largely through meadows and hedgerows and narrow bits of forest connecting them. Passed over the PA Turnpike. Passed a jogger early in the day, on the way to Scott’s Farm. Got to the farm around 8:30 and ended up taking a very long break there, maybe almost an hour. There were soft chairs on the patio. I realized I hadn’t sat on a soft chair since the hike began.

8/20 6:15 PM Settled in at Alex Kennedy Shelter, about 4 miles south of Boiling Springs. I wanted to put some miles “back in the bank” and see how it would go, hiking in hard rain. From B.S. to here: another two miles in meadows, then two miles in the woods, with about 1200’ of vertical (shelter is on the 2nd peak south of B.S.) The verdict:

  1. I was warm, though clearly damp inside, wearing Frogg Togg top/bottom plus Seattle Sombrero,
  2. That “brainstorm” I had this morning didn’t pan out – though it truly felt as if it had. My feet didn’t feel “squishy” but upon undressing and changing here at the shelter, I discovered that the plastic bag (on the left foot) had a big hole in it and had bunched up near the front of the boot. The silnylon bag on the right foot held its position better, but both socks were soaked through. I think the key is that the thinner Injinji socks make more sense in the rain

Weather update: raining even harder now, quite steady, with occasional thunder.

Dryness/comfort update: I’ve changed into silk top/bottom, scrub shirt, knit hat, and thor-lo-ish socks. Feeling fine. No chills. Feet were quite wrinkled, though.

I gotta say, it’s lonely out here. Some company would be nice. But what other fool would hike in this weather?

No hot dinner tonight, on account of the big (late) lunch at B.S. and trying to conserve fuel. I figure I’ve got another 3-4 nights of fuel left. With luck. I made two cups of hot chocolate and am snacking on cold food. Oops! Tuna (from last night) has leaked into the “supper food” Ziploc bag.

“Wildlife” today: turkey, deer running across trail, cattle, horses.

8/21 7:30 PM Ironmasters Hostel, Pine Grove Furnace State Park

I’ve had a long hot shower, washed my socks, put on dry and relatively clean clothes. My feet are (or were) super-wrinkled and there’s a large, new blister on the outside of my left heel.

Arrived shortly before 6 PM. A senior (70-ish?) woman named Donna is the manager here, and she checked me in and showed me around. There’s a bunk room with about 15 beds; I’m the sole occupant. Men’s bathroom, shower stall. Large kitchen, feel free to use utensils, dishes, electric stove, help yourself to tea, instant coffee, etc.

So, because the package was covered with tuna-grease, I made dinner of Liptons Spanish Rice and the leftover tuna from 2 nights ago. Cooked in a skillet on an electric stove! Plus three cups of tea. I’d have more, but I’d be up all night.

It was a bitch getting started today. It rained all night and was still raining at dawn. I didn’t relish putting on yesterday’s wet clothes, so instead I put on the “short” base layer (ie., for warm-weather hiking) underneath the Frogg Toggs. That made it a bit more bearable. The woods were dark, gloomy and wet. But at least water can be found now!

There were interesting rock gardens on the last two mini-summits between Alex Kennedy shelter and PA Route 94 (the road to Mt. Holly Springs.) Really big rocks… boulders.. reminiscent of the “Lemon Squeezer” in New York. In better weather, I’d have lingered.

Got to Rte. 94 @ 10:15, ended up walking the whole 2.5 miles into town. I guess nobody wanted a stranger in a dirty hazmat suit messing up their car’s upholstery. Found the post office, got the package, mailed “used” maps back home. Walked a few blocks to a pizza parlor, set up shop there, charged phone. Got the mail drop crudely “integrated” into the pack while waiting for my pizza. (Pizza was yummy.) Skipped the supermarket. On the way out of town, stopped at Laundromat, threw clothes in dryer for $0.50 worth. Got the polypro dry again.

Caught a ride back to the trailhead! Yay! So now it’s about 12:45 and a bit over 10 miles to Ironmasters Hostel. No big deal… but like I said… sore feet and a new blister. No views or excitement (on trail) to speak of, between Rte. 94 and the Hostel.

Wed. 8/22 Quarry Gap Shelter

20 mles to PA-MD line! Tomorrow: walk through Caledonia State Park, then at Rte. 233, head into town of South Mountain, hopefully to pick up water filter.

Today’s walk: no rain, but lots of fog and mist, no sun at all. It rained overnight at the hostel, so I started the hike in Frogg Togg bottoms, polypro (long-sleeve) base layer on top – and wet Injinji socks, in wet boots. This is getting old. Come what may, tomorrow I’m starting with dry socks.

PA Rte. 30 is 2.5 miles. Rte. 233 is another 4.5 miles after that. Should hit 233 by late morning.

Quarry Gap shelter – way “cutesy.” Flowerpots hanging off the eaves. I like having the picnic table under the roof. But for the real estate, it should sleep 20, not 8.

Feet were wrinkled and hurtin’ again at the end of the day’s hike. Blister on right little toe. A couple of Advil ~ 3 PM eased the pain.

It’s chilly here tonight. 60 degrees on the thermometer. I’ve got silk top, scrub shirt, F.T. top over that. Smokin’ my last cigarette before lights-out. (It’s 8 PM, getting dark, writing by headlamp now.)

Long phone call to Merry and then to Tom Hartai at home. Getting’ tired of the cold and damp.

Fri. 8/24

CROSSED INTO MARYLAND shortly before 10 AM. YAY! Long break here (10:17) at Pen-Mar park, drinking a Pepsi from the vending machine.

Last night: slept in tent in woods a mile or two south of Deer Lick Shelter. There was something weird going on at Deer Lick that I wanted no part of. Broken glass in the fire pit, abandoned camp gear. WTF? Probably belonged to that wild-eyed young blond kid flying down the hill as I was slogging my way up.

Yesterday (8/23) started at Quarry Gap (cutesy) shelter and a long downhill to Caledonia State Park. The park was mostly empty and the concession stand didn’t open ‘till 11 AM so I continued on. (Huge, beautiful pool – woulda been nice on a hot day.)

Same weather as the last few days – overcast, foggy. Rocks on the trail still wet. The next 4-5 miles took me up on a low ridge with more of those rock gardens. Met two hikers heading NOBO; the first (Jeff) was about to finish a section from Harpers Ferry (finishing at Caledonia State Park.) The second (no name) was just some gentleman out for a 2-3 day jaunt.

Got to the road to the town of South Mountain around 11:30. Ended up walking the distance both to/from town. Thank god, my water filter was waiting for me at the PO. Another 200 yards to a hotel/bar (not really a hotel any more) where I had a cheeseburger, fries, and a couple of Yuenglings. (“Hanoi Jane” urinal sticker.) Quick stop at the nearly-useless convenience store and then 1.5 mile walk back to the trail.

Trail leads to a ridge; no views but relatively easy walking. Got to Tumbling Run shelter(s) around four. I was tempted to stay but it was too early to quit. Nice site, easy and plentiful water supply. I decided to move on. Antietem Shelter didn’t look so nice (but good water supply) so on up the hill to Deer Lick. Deer Lick creeped me out, so on another mile or two to my tent site in the woods. This was only my second night in the tent on this trip.

Fri. 8/24 (today) – started out gloomy and dripping with humidity, like the last several days. Some hard climbs/descents on the way here to Pen-Mar SP.

But sun is making a show! It promises to be a hot, muggy day.

8/24, 10:30 PM, FreeState Hiker Hostel

Beautiful, beautiful place. Ken and Janell Berry run it. Ken thru-hiked in 2006 – he was the first to summit K in ’06. He’s a physician’s assistant.

Got here 4:30, but it took a good 2 hours to get showered and finish laundry. I walked down the hill to Smithsburg (2.4 miles) got some stuff at the deli and had the veal parmesan dinner at Vince’s Pizza in town. After dinner, Janell picked me up and took me back “home” with a quick stop at the drug store (moleskin, spare headlamp batteries, tobacco, papers.) At the deli: salami, Ramen, three plums. Had a long chat with Ken, and another long talk with Merry – on the free phone at the hostel.

8/26, Hilltop House Hotel, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

16 miles today, from Dahlgren Campground to Harpers Ferry. No rain, temperatures mild. Occasional sun, but mostly overcast. No views to speak of.

Serious rain (thunderstorms) yesterday afternoon and last night. Fortunately, I wasn’t hiking in any of it.

The Tarptent held back the rain, but it’s critical to wipe down the condensation from the inside of the tent, else it spritzes back at you from the impact of the rain.

To do manana (Mon. 8/27)

  • Mail boots, maps home
  • Visit ATC HQ
  • Cash – ATM

Today’s 16 miles were relatively easy; one 750-foot climb early on, relatively free of foot pain until the last couple of miles on the C & O Canal tow path.

Couple of joggers on the trail in the A.M. (It’s Sunday.) A group of youngsters at Gaithland State Park. Lotsa folks walking, riding bikes on the tow path. Lots of folks riding inner tubes down the Potomac. (Current flows in the opposite direction from my SOBO AT walk.)

Stopped at Ed Garvey shelter and surprised to find someone there – a young fellow named Robert, with whom I chatted for a bit.

Leaving Ed Garvey shelter – very weird experience of hearing amplified human voice and loud engines. It seems there’s some sort of race track or drag strip west of the trail and out of view. No views whatsoever of Harpers Ferry until you’re there.

Once at H.F., I proceeded directly to the outfitters and dropped $170 just like that: new boots, Bridgedale socks, gaiters, pack cover, Liptons, and a drink from the cooler. The desk clerk directed me to this place (Hilltop House Hotel) which I found after a couple of wrong turns. Said it was “seedy” – but hey, compared to the Doyle, it’s seriously posh. (Private bath!)

About yesterday’s (8/25) hike – from the hostel @ Wolfesville Road, to Dahlgren Campground. It was a HOT day, very humid and hazy. There were a couple of places on the ridge from which to catch both westward and eastward views. But because of the haze, not too impressive. I didn’t take the side trip to Annapolis rocks, but caught the view from “Black Rocks” nearby.

‘Round about 1 PM or so the trail crossed over I-70 on its own footbridge. Furious traffic below. Then thru some back yards and back in the woods – not necessarily shady woods. (Someone told me that the lack of leaves on the trees is due to gypsy moths.)

Arrived at the “Old” Washington Monument ~ 2:30 or so and met up with a foursome of weekend hikers with whom I spent the rest of that day and evening – at the South Mountain Inn (prime rib dinner, Yuenglings) and at Dahlgren campground, about 3 minutes away on a gravel path.

We were all a wee bit nervous about the weird guy at the campground. He was camped there with his dog, bike, and bike trailer. Not the least bit friendly [and he made it clear that the dog wasn’t, either.]

The four hikers I befriended were Brent, Bill, Eric and Eric. I guess they’re high-school and college buddies. They were sweating and panting but making a game effort. I enjoyed their company immensely.

About Friday’s (8/24) hike from Pen-Mar to Wolfesville Road: in a word, surprisingly difficult. From Pen-Mar, two “serious” hills, both of them quite rocky. Plus, it was starting to get seriously hot. Rivers of sweat were streaming down my face. It turns out that the four hikers (from the “Old” Washington Monument”) were the same four that I passed going downhill, a bit north of Wolfesville Road on 8/24.

Monday 8/27

At a restaurant/lounge 0.3 miles W of the trail at Keys Gap, which is about 6 miles south of Harpers Ferry.

Beautiful hiking today. Gorgeous weather – sunny and clear, not too hot.

Some (hopefully minor) issues with toes on left foot heating up – stopped once to apply Gold Bond, stopped again @ Keys Gap (just before road walk) to cool them again.

Ah, that Rolling Rock tastes fine! There’s a mini-mart next door – hopefully pick up a couple of’ goodies there. Morning’s walk involved a 700’ climb out of Harpers Ferry, then a fairly level walk along the ridge to Keys Gap. Though occasionally quite rocky.

So now I’m wondering about PA and its reputation as the “rockiest” state. I dunno – Maryland wasn’t much less rocky, nor were the six miles this morning.

Of course, I had the obligatory stop at ATC headquarters – not far from the hotel. Had my photo taken for the 2007 book, and spent 20 minutes or so going thru the 1990 picture book. Many, many faces I recognized!

I sent the Wolverine boots, the Waldies, and the “used” maps home, and got $200 cash at the ATM. Then the visit to ATC HQ, and then hit the trail. [I took the blue blaze, rather than walk back down the hill to the center of Harpers Ferry.]

8/28, Sam Moore shelter

A measly 11.4 miles from Blackburn Center (last night.) But tough hiking – the first part of the infamous “roller coaster.” Nice hiking weather.

Yesterday (8/27): 13 miles or so from Harpers Ferry to Blackburn Center. Easy hiking, including the initial climb to the ridge from Harpers Ferry. Hot in the afternoon – forest canopy denuded by gypsy moths.

Good time at Blackburn Center. Met Bill and Jon, two retired gentlemen. Bill thru-hiked in 2005. Also, an odd vagrant-type dude named Tonka. Talked at length with the caretakers, Hopeful and Redwing (Ahem… very Christian.) Coffee and muffins for b’fast.

Today (8/28): Somewhat tougher hike, started easy but got progressively harder & hillier as the day wore on. Stopped for a healthy lunch at the Horseshoe Curve Restaurant at Snickers Gap. Then an easy climb to Bears Den hostel for a long break and a Dr. Pepper, waiting for Bill and Jon to show up. That was around 2:30 or 3 PM. From that point on, the hike was pretty tough. I was beat by the time I got here.

8/29, Dicks Dome Shelter

Josh is here, as are Bob and his son, Phil, from NJ – they’ve been sectioning from Harpers Ferry. Tough 15 miles today – at least until early afternoon. Four 500-foot humps in rapid succession. Then, at Rod Hollow shelter (~11 AM) about 3 or 4 miles of truly pointless ups and downs with near-zero vertical gain/loss. Kinda sapped my spirit for a while.

Things got a bit better after crossing Ashby Gap – a long (1000’) climb, but nicely graded and meadows to walk thru at the top.

In truth, this shelter [Dick’s Dome] is a PIT. There are four of us here, and that’s a full house. But it’s so ratty I’d rather sleep in my tent. Trouble is, there are no tent sites. At least there’s water in the creek…

8/30, Some Italian restaurant in Front Royal

I kicked butt today – and my feet are still barking. Left that pit of a shelter (Dick’s Dome) a bit after 7 AM and arrived at Rte. 522 (leading to Front Royal, mile 288) just before 4 PM.

The two shelters I passed today were both MUCH much nicer than the one I stayed at last night. Manassas Gap shelter is pretty conventional, but off a nice short side trail (~100 yards) and a magnificent piped spring less than 100 feet from the shelter.

Inside the shelter was Eagle – quite the character. He’s a Triple-Crown, now doing a quadruple yo-yo of the A.T. He was quite friendly. I guess he’s a retired military guy. We spoke at length. He was not, for one instant, the least bit condescending.

“This A.T. annoys me some times. All these silly ups and downs.”

“Did you run into that idiot Tonka?”

The second shelter I passed – and visited – was Jim and Molly Denton shelter, about 5-6 miles north of Rte. 522. It was huge and new and palatial. Again, a very short side trail. Big porch off the front of the shelter with a comfortable reclining bench. A picnic table under a pavilion roof nearby.

“Stumblefoot” – one of the day hikers I’ve seen these last couple of days, working out of Bears Den – had written a negative review of the shelter in the logbook. I had to laugh and shake my head.

So anyway. The day’s hike was 15 miles. Went fast but it was tough, and my feet were hurtin’ at the end. About 20 minutes from the end, I stopped at a small stream, peeled off shoes and socks, and dipped my feet in the stream. This is something I should do more often!

So finally, I get to Rte. 522. Fold up the poles. A beat up black sedan, young kid at the wheel, stops (he’s going the other way) to let me know that Front Royal is that way (he’s pointing west.) I was just checking the map to make sure. He drives another 0.1 mile and does a U-turn, then picks me up. Takes me into town, to the Post Office. Waits at the PO while I get my packages, then he takes me to the Quality Inn – nice pool!

By 6 PM, I had taken a swim, showered, done laundry, opened Tom’s package and read the cartoons he cribbed off the web.

So now dinner’s done, I’m finishing off my second Corona and waiting to pay up. It’s 7:46, light outside is fading. But pool is open ‘till 10!

Must admit spirits were down yesterday and today. Yesterday was damned tough hiking, and ended up at the ugliest shelter I’ve ever seen on the A.T. [Dick’s Dome.] I ended up sleeping on the foot bridge in front of the shelter. Phil and his dad weren’t very talkative. A bit shy and reticent. I got to liking Josh, but I probably won’t see him again – his plan was for an 18 mile day today.

Today’s hike wasn’t as tough as yesterday’s but still took it out of me. Prolly around 2000 feet up and another 2000 back down.

Friday 8/31, Gravel Springs Shelter, Shenandoah National Park

After several highly sociable evenings (starting at Blackburn Center) I’m back to being alone in this shelter. And it’s the Friday of Labor Day weekend. Go figure.

Met a bunch of folks on the trail. Couple of guys with packs, heading north, a mile or two from the road (Rte. 522) Up the mountain, in the park, spoke at length with Jim (aka “Web Breaker,”) a trail maintainer (whacking weeds) and big PATC honcho. Thru-hiked in 2000, knows Skyline (from Whiteblaze – Skyline maintains the next SNP hut south from here. ) Very friendly, talked about huts, the park, shelters, etc.

A few miles later I chatted with Phoenix, a NOBO. He started his hike at Davenport Gap, and is headed for Bear Mountain, NY. Traveling with two dogs, both of whom used our chat as an opportunity for some shut-eye. He’s traveling low-budget (he looks to be about 20 years old) and carrying lots of food to avoid town stops. Phoenix mentioned that he’d seen bear in the park.

Sho’ nuff! About ten minutes later I spotted a handsome, medium-sized bear just off the trail. I froze for a moment, and then the bear noticed me and took one or two bounds into the woods – but still in plain sight. The bear didn’t seem too concerned about me… it was more interested in foraging. The bear remained in the woods off to the left side of the trail (and a few feet above the trail.) and moved slowly south, parallel to the trail. I walked slowly forward. The bear and I tracked each other for several steps, eyeing each other. Eventually, by the time I pulled up alongside Bruno, he turned tail and took several more bounds into the woods.

I think the bear and I had similar reactions: surprise, but no fear. I didn’t quite have the gumption to pull the camera out – but the encounter lasted quite a few seconds, with Bruno and I carefully sizing each other up. We actually traveled on parallel paths, maybe five yards apart, for 50-75 feet of trail.

The whole experience left me feeling happy and high. No fear. Just fascination.

OK… the hike. The shuttle [out of Front Royal] got me to the trailhead at 8:30 or so. By 11:30-noon I was still huffin’ and puffin’ uphill with a town-heavy pack.

Lotta vertical today, 1900’ to Compton Peak, 500’ down to a gap, then 800’ up and 700’ down. It was only 13.5 miles. I arrived here at ~ 5 PM. Coulda walked (maybe) another hour or two – but the next shelter is another 5.5 miles (and up/down 900’. Yikes.) So here I stay.

8:45 PM Three other hikers here now. John and Dan are hiking SNP. “Mr. Wiffle” is a SOBO thru-hiker.

Weather today: mostly overcast. Nice temps. Seriously looked like rain ~ 4 PM – 5 PM or so. [But no…]

9/1 Mary’s Rock

Awright!! Sitting on a rocky perch atop “Mary’s Rock.” About 16 miles today and lots of vertical – this last one about 1300 feet. Nearly 360 degree view. “Chilly” – another SOBO thru hiker – is sharing this campsite with me. At the moment, he’s perched about 15 feet below me, reading a book and casually finishing his dinner.

The view is spectacular. It’s 7:30 and sunset appears to be about 10-15 minutes away. The weather couldn’t be more perfect.

Made good time today. Got to Elkwallow Gap at about 10:15, had a blackberry milkshake, a smoke, and made a call (collect, on a pay phone) to Merry. Made it to Thornton Gap by about 2:45, but the facility (“Panorama”) was closed. I filled my Platy bag from the drinking fountain and continued on – the 1300 foot climb to here. A woman I’d spoken to at Panorama told me about this campsite.

9/2 Skyland

Easy walk so far this AM, to Skyland, where I’m presently enjoying a Yuengling and a cobb salad (excellent!) Some nice views too.

Chilly was still encamped when I left, (just before 8 AM) and AFAIK, didn’t pass me en-route.

Ran into Heald and his female hiking companion on the first short ascent. We talked for a while about all sorts of stuff. He’s a 7x thru-hiker. Not thru-hiking when I met him – and he was complaining. Couldn’t enjoy the trail unless he was thru-hiking, he seemed to be saying.

He was out of toilet paper, asked if I had any to spare – I said no, which was true.

Slept well last night. Even in the tent, I found myself zipped up inside the bag – instead of the usual (warm-weather) arrangement of having the bag loosely draped over me like a quilt.

The morning was warm – it looked like a hot day in store – so I put on the shorts right away (no polypro.)

Last night really was one of the best camping experiences on the AT, ever. We were at the very top of the mountain with phenomenal views, yet our campsite was perfectly flat – and just big enough for the two of us. There was no water, but we’d both hiked up with a full supply.

9/3 Big Meadows, SNP

Last night and b’fast with George and Sandy Burrier at Big Meadows campground. They let me stay at their campsite (they’re “hosts”) here. Nice fire, good company.

Nice walk yesterday. No major climbs, nice views, not too hot. Mostly sunny, some overcast. [in diary, George Burrier leaves street and email address.]

9/3 Hightop Hut, SNP

21 miles today, from Big Meadows to Hightop Hut (a bit south of Swift River Gap.)

At Lewis Mountain Campground, ran in to Chilly again but probably for the last time. I got some supplies at the camp store, plus Klondike bar and cold chocolate milk (yum!) Chilly remained in camp yesterday ‘till noon and is still ahead of me. But I’m proud of my 21 miles!

Couple of nasty bee stings this afternoon, somewhere near Pocosin cabin. Hurt like hell, but I figured the best tactic was to keep walking hard and fast.

After that I was searching for a “pleasant” place to take a break and dig out some Advil and Benadryl. Which didn’t happen for another hour. And when it did happen, I found the Advil – but not the Benadryl. So I took some comfort from the spice jar – and that really helped. Big-time.

Blah views most of the day – until the very end, here on Hightop Mountain. And that view was religious. Ridge after hazy ridge. Nothin’ but mountains.

Awesome sendoff in the AM, courtesy of the Burriers – a hot breakfast of French toast, sausages, coffee and OJ. I’m sure that – plus the refreshments at Lews Mtn. Campground – gave me the impetus & “nutrition” to do today’s long miles.

9/4 Dundo Group Camp

19 miles today from Hightop Hut. Long stop at Loft Mtn. Campground. Bought ice cream & soda, consumed it. Then walked to the amphitheater and made calls on cell phone – message at home, “real” conversation with Marty (at work) and msg. w/Tom (at work.) The filled water bag and a choice: hoof another 6.5 miles to Blackrock Hut (would need to walk real fast & hard) or camp in woods somewhere beteen,

Leaving Loft Mtn. area, Mr. Wiffle caught up with me, heading for same place. I kept pace with him (barely) for about three miles – and then spotted this camp – and turned off. I hope he’s not worried about me (I didn’t call out when I turned off the trail.) I have a raw spot on my right ankle from the effort.

Nice campsite, though! Of course, I’m alone. Decent walking today, but lotsa ups and downs. Good views here and there. Still a few hikers on the trail, but a lot less traffic on Skyline Drive, now that Labor Day weekend is over.

9/6 The Inn at Afton, Rockfish Gap

Arrived at Rte. 250/I-64 around 11 AM after a night at Calf Mountain Shelter with a hiker (72 year old named Rick) and Chilly. How Chilly keeps ending up behind me is a mystery. Rick’s a retired engineer from Florida.

When I arrived at the shelter yesterday @ 4 PM (a 15-mile day) Rick was asleep in his sleeping bag. I didn’t know what to think – maybe he was ill, who knows.

I headed back to the spring (0.15 mile) to fill the Platy, and when I returned, Rick was up and about. An hour or so later (while I was changing into “night” shorts) Chilly showed up.

I was surprised and pleased to see him. Later, a fourth hiker showed up (decked out rather outlandishly) but he did not socialize. He had water bottles attached to his poles and one of those vests-with-many-pockets, each one bulging with “stuff.” Straight out of some Field & Stream caricature or cartoon.

Woke up this AM to one sock missing and a pole strap chewed through. Damned mice! The missing sock intrigued me. AFAIK, each sock was laying over its respective shoe on the lower deck of the shelter when I clicked off my headlamp in the evening.

So here I am, 1 PM, by the poolside at The Inn At Afton, imbibing Cokes. Had a couple of swims. Washed black shorts, REI undies, brown shirt in sink in hotel room, they’re hanging on the balcony railing, drying. In a moment I’ll head upstairs and call the taxi and arrange for trips in & out of town [Waynesboro.]

7:14 PM. Town chores done. Picked up last mail drop. Then to Kroger’s supermarket, then to laundromat (B-Z) then to “Weasies” for a cheese steak sub followed by lemon meringue pie.

Got pole straps repaired at the outfitters ($5.00) picked up a new pair of undies (REIs are falling apart) gas canister and (finally!) a spare bite valve for the platy bag.

When I checked myself in the mirror at the motel, I was surprised to find lots of heat rash on my chest and left arm. I’m guessing that’s maybe the result of not sleeping in the silk last night, but in the scrub shirt and “spare” undies. Possibly from contact with either the Thermarest or the shelter floor while sleeping (given that the shelter was rodent-infested.) But maybe it didn’t happen overnight – maybe it’s been accumulating over the last few days without my noticing.

The walking: Yesterday – Standard 15-mile day from Dundo Campground to Calf Mtn. shelter. Nice views from Blackrock summit in the morning, then mostly flat walking, with a final climb to Calf Mountain shelter. No water anywhere. I was praying that (at least) the spring at Calf Mtn. shelter was running, and it was. Whew!!

Today: easy 7-mile walk. Some uphill at first. Then at McCormack overlook, I decided to walk the last three miles to Rockfish Gap on Skyline Drive. Ho-hum. It all went by pretty fast, and at Rockfish Gap (the park entrance booth) I grabbed a blue-blaze back to the AT, then followed the AT downhill to the highway (S) where I-60 and VA 250 meet.

9/8 Harpers Creek Shelter

Yesterday (9/7): Made a bad call from the get-go and walked about a mile south (and back north) on the Blue Ridge Parkway, expecting to see a double-blaze and a trailhead, leading to the AT that ran just east and parallel to the Blue Ridge. Wrong! The trail ducks back into the woods just below the hotel – parallel to the Blue ridge, but not on it. Oh well… 45 minutes “shot” for a leisurely morning walk.

Back on the trail, it’s easy walking up ‘till the Paul C. Wolfe shelter. What a nice shelter it is! I stopped for a break and to make a register entry, then headed on up Humpback Mountain – and 1800 foot climb. Starts easy, nicely graded. But right around the summit, it turns into a rocky GNARLY mess that would do Pennsylvania proud. Most of the descent (south face) of that mountain was rocky as hell and tough hiking.

I wasn’t looking to make it a long day. Fresh out of town, heavy pack. It’s hot.

I stopped at Humpback picnic area (0.3 mile blue-blaze) – got water from spigot – filled Platy completely – and continued on, intending to camp at some nice spot. And what a spot it was: Cedar Cliff. 100% illegal, but it was beautiful.

Awesome view south, of the Blue Ridge (mtns.) and the sunset. Protected and mostly-level camping in low woods, back from the cliff. I described it as an “aerie” to Merry on the phone (not sure of the spelling, or even if it’s a word.)

I had the tent set up with only one guy line so that I could roll up both flaps of the vestibule. No problems, and that obviously allows better airflow.

Saw a semi-large, dangerous-looking snake on the trail. I think maybe it was a copperhead. I tried to make noise, but it wouldn’t get off the trail, so I took a large, fast step over it. That worked.

I knew that the campsite was illegal – but I just didn’t care. Figured I was entitled to use it, respectfully. Which I did. Had tea, then dinner, then photographs, and only set up camp after sunset. Last person I’d seen on the trail was a woman at the peak of Humpback Mtn. (carrying nothing – no maps, no water, nada.)

9/8: 7:40 AM start. Gnarly, rocky trail from the get-go, almost three hours to get back to B.R.P. at “Three Ridges Overlook.” A man got into his car and drove off as I crossed the road. He’s the only human I’ve seen all day [*wrong: saw a few more in cars, while crossing VA 664 a few minutes later.] Not a single hiker on the trail. It was hot.

“Easy” 600-foot up & down between the Overlook and Maupin Field shelter. At MF shelter, took a privy break (nice new privy) and refilled the Platy. Didn’t stay because there was no shade. It’s hot.

From MF shelter it’s an “easy” 1300 foot climb to the north ridge of “Three Ridges.” The peak is 4000 feet – same as The Priest. Then: 2200 foot descent – always hot, often rocky – down to this shelter (Harpers Creek) which ended (IIRC) around 3:30.

This shelter: old, beat-up, traditional, table in front (unprotected) – but very nice site and a short access trail. The stream in front would be flowing if it weren’t for the drought.

Lots of signs of drought on the trail. Trees dropping their leaves like crazy. Sections of the trail (especially, the final descent) felt hellishly hot, with the vegetation all withered and the trail littered with dead leaves.

Stream isn’t “flowing” but there’s a large, clean pool of water in it. The surface has pollen and dead bugs but the water looks clean. It looks spring-fed. Maybe it is flowing… a trickle.

The cell phone is quite useless tonight (at Harpers Creek shelter) so this will continue to be a most-lonely day.

Got my bod mostly cleaned up at the creek, rinsed shirt and black shorts (they’re hanging up to dry.) The obligatory 2-cups of tea plus J-bar, followed by Liptons “Taco Rice” with Colby cheese and summer sausage thrown in. Still alone at this shelter as of 7 PM. That’s OK. Just wish I could say hello to Merry.

Tomorrow: down 1200 feet to Tye River, then up The Priest (3000 foot climb) then rolling ridge for a while. Ending at either the Dutch Haus B & B or Seeley-Woodworth Shelter.

Terrain for the next five days or so looks similar to what I’ve hiked so far from Rockfish Gap. Ie., “not easy.”

After that: the treats: McAfee Knob and Dragon’s Tooth. After that: two or three “hard” days and then DONE.

Calculations confirm that, at this moment, I’m 164 miles from “the end.” At 15 miles per day, that’s almost exactly 11 days.

Lit a campfire. Not because it’s cold, but because I could. Jesus helped me. I used pages from some religious pamphlet for kindling. Big, secure fire ring here.

9/10 Buena Vista, Budget Inn

I don’t “deserve” this break, but man, I needed to get out of the woods.

A fella named William picked me up at the “Long Mountain Wayside” and will bring me back to the trailhead tomorrow AM. ($20 round-trip donation.)

Yesterday: (Leaving Harpers Creek) Climbing The Priest wasn’t bad at all. I left the shelter at 7:10, by 8:30 I was crossing the Tye River and heading uphill; reached Priest Shelter around 12:30.

At the shelter, a Rastafarian hippy named Crazy Horse was lazing around in his sleeping bag. I roused him. It turns out he thru-hiked the AT in 2005, and the PCT in 2006. Started the CDT this year, but had to quit his quest due to some intestinal ailment. Crazy Horse had a guitar, a bottle of Merlot, and a hash pipe. The Merlot was down to the last dregs, but it tasted good to me! He played a few tunes on his guitar. I filled the Platy bag and then it was time to move on.

The rest of the day’s walk was uneventful. Couple of the usual 600’ – 800’ humps. The woods are hurtin’. Dropping leaves already. This drought sucks.

At Fish Hatchery Road, I dug out the cell phone and called the Dutch Haus, but reconsidered after learning I’d have to do a 700’ drop (and of course, a 700’ climb in the AM.) So, a fast 2.2 miles to Seeley-Woodworth shelter. Nice site, great piped spring.

It was empty when I arrived. Around 7:30 an odd older couple arrived, with a yappy dog – but they tented out back behind the shelter and didn’t socialize.

Today: Filled platy bag 100% (3 quarts) at the spring before leaving the shelter at 7:50. Easy walking for the first 4 or 5 miles, but then the ups and downs begain… Hog Gap, Cow Gap, who knows. Some meadow walking on one of the high ridges. Lots of overcast mixed with the sun today – it really felt like it might rain. And it did, ever so slightly, while waiting for the shuttle and during the long nine-mile ride into town.

Tonight’s math: 450.4 miles walked in 30 days. 0.4 miles in the bank.

Walked around town some. (Buena Vista) Found Dominic’s Pizza, a Mexican restaurant and a Chinese restaurant. “Family Dollar” didn’t have much for food. Next potential resupply (distances from Buena Vista)

  1. Jennings Creek, 50 miles
  2. Bearwallow Gap, 67 miles
  3. Cloverdale/Daleville/Troutville, 79 miles

9/11 Punchbowl Shelter

A measly 10.5 miles from Rte. 60, where William (the shuttle guy) dropped me off at 9 AM. I arrived here at 2:30, after about two hours of walking in rain. It wasn’t a cold rain, and I elected to just walk without rain gear, ‘till I got to this shelter.

Unfortunately, the next shelter’s another eight miles. With an early start and without the rain, I might have made it.

Yes, of course, I’m feeling mighty guilty after walking a mere 5.5 hours today. OTOH, am I going to leave the comfort of this shelter, knowing that I’ll have to walk and then camp in dark, wet woods?

The answer is YES!

Left Punchbowl at around 4:30, walked another 4-5 miles or so, up the peak and then along the ridge. Found myself a tasty tent site just off the trail at “Saddle Gap.” So… a 14-15 mile day, after all.

Afternoon’s walk wasn’t bad at all. I wore F.T. bottoms and scrub shirt. The F.T. top was too hot. It didn’t rain at all after I left the shelter. Long phone call to Tom from the shelter.

Enough time at this tent site to cook up a Liptons dinner with tea, and a Jello fruit-cup for dessert.

9/12 Johns Hollow Shelter

Here for a break – privy stop, water, smoke, register entry, etc. Beautiful weather this morning. James River is another hour’s walk, I imagine.

9/12 Marble Spring Gap

(Just north of Highcock Knob.) 14.5 miles or so from Saddle Gap. 6.5 miles on Map 5, 8.5 miles on Map 4.

Start with 2400 foot drop down to James River, then 2000 foot climb and a long ridge traverse.

Awesome views all day.

It was very cold this morning – about 45 or 50 degrees, and it felt like we were in a new “temperature regime.” But I dunno. It was still mighty hot in the afternoon without protection from the shade.

Tomorrow’s walk doesn’t look a whole lot easier. 800 foot up/down for starters (Highcock Knob.) Then 1800 feet up to summit of Apple Orchard Mountain, with the usual 300 foot PUDs in between. Then 2000-plus feet down.

I’m at mile 81.5 on Map 4. Thunder Hill Shelter is at mile 74.5 . Cornelius Creek Shelte is at mile 69.5 (12 miles) Bryant Ridge Shelter is at mile 64.5 (17 miles.) Tough choice. One’s easy, the other’s a bit tough, given the terrain.

Sunset: Last hikeable light is about 7:30 PM. Dark by 8 or so.

Trip stats: I’m at mile 480. Exactly 15 miles/day. But zero miles in the bank. Cloverdale is 49 miles away. If I can hoof it (maybe not tomorrow, but Friday and Saturday) I could do it in three days and get there Saturday PM.

From Cloverdale to “End” is another 60 miles or so, which means “End” might happen at the close of next Wednesday’s hiking – exactly one week from now.

I’m 107 miles from “End.” Tomorrow, I begin the “under 100 miles to End” countdown.

One week to go!!!

9/13 7:15 PM, Bryant Ridge Shelter

Tough 17 mile day from Marble Gap. First, up and over Highcock Knob. A mere 800 foot PUD. Following that up/down, 1800 feet up to the summit of Apple Orchard Mountain. Not much for views, notwithstanding the weather, which was dull overcast. It was chilly and felt like rain could fall.

There’s a small meadow and a large radar installation at the top of Apple Orchard Mountain. Big whoop.

An interesting rock formation called “the Guillotine” on the way up. There’s a boulder overhead, wedged between two much larger ones, on either side of the trail.

I wore polypro top for a good part of the day. By one or two PM I switched back to the scrub shirt.

Nice shelter here! (Bryant Ridge.)

I’ve washed my whole body with warm water. Many red spots on ankles and lower legs. A bit worrisome. I’ve given ‘em Gold Bond and Aveeno (preceded by a thorough washing.)

Dinner tonight = Mac & Cheese. Food supply is dwindling but that’s OK. I’m planning to be at Troutville/Cloverdale on Saturday PM – so that’s only 2 more hiking days, and one more dinner.

Trip stats: 90 miles to go. 497 down. Six more days of hiking @ 15 miles/day. Resupply at Cloverdale, then four more days to End.


A 13.5 mile day to Bobblet’s Gap Shelter. It’s raining hard. It was raining when I got here (around 3 PM) and for an hour or two before that, but not so hard as now.

Glad I didn’t “tough it out” and end up camping in this rain. The next shelter is another 7.7 miles – too far to go, especially in the rain.

I can (presumably) hit Troutville with a 17 mile day tomorrow (or Cloverdale at 18.5 miles.) It would have been “in the bag” but for the rain cutting my day short at 3 PM!

Very easy walking today, notwithstanding an 800-foot up/down at the start. Were it not for the rain, I could have done several more miles. Damn!

OTOH, it’s raining hard and steady, and I’m warm and dry.

9/15 (Saturday) 6:30 PM – Cloverdale

Sitting at “Three Little Pigs” restaurant, waiting for someone to take my order. Today’s 18 (from Bobblet’s) went pretty easy, only one or two climbs, less than 2000 feet total. I walked the “extra” two miles to the US 220 trailhead. My motel is about 300 feet away. Got room, got showered, washed Frogg Toggs in tub (I hope they dry in time.) Walked down to the supermarket/strip mall. Nice outfitter there. Got yet-another water filter cartridge and another two CR-2032 batteries (turns out the headlamp takes four.) Then, at Kroger’s, food for the last four days. The only job not yet done is laundry.

Crazy-assed weather last night and this morning. Rain gradually ceased by nightfall. But in the morning I heard a strange sound: wind, and lots of it. Howling wind.

I suited up in silk top/bottom and Frogg Toggs top/bottom. It was appropriate for the first few hours’ walking. The air temperature was probably fifty degrees or so. Oh yeah, hat and gloves, too. Over the course of the day I shed various layers. But definitely a shift toward “fall” weather. The air is much cooler and less humid.

Brrr! Walking home from “Three Little Pigs” – it was quite cold out. I was dressed in shorts and brown knit shirt. I’ll bet the air temp is about 55-60 right now (8 PM.)

Writing this section from the laundry room of the Howard Johnson’s lodge, across the street from where I’m staying. Econo-Lodge has a pool, but I don’t think I’ll be using it.

So this is pretty exciting. This is my last town stop before “the End.” Less than sixty miles to go!

I was walking like a maniac this morning – determined to pound out my 18 miles to Cloverdale, and not certain if I would make it. By noon I was more confident that it could be done, and by 3 PM or so I was at Fullhardt Knob shelter, and knew it was “in the bag.”

People met on trail: Today, around mid-day, a couple heading NOBO on a section to Rockfish Gap. Yesterday: a trio (a guy and two women) heading NOBO on a section to James River. Day before yesterday: Otto and Auto, two guys on a section from Bland VA to Rockfish Gap.

9/17, 9:24 PM

In my tent, in a meadow, I’m guessing a mile or so shy (north of) Pickle Branch Shelter. In any case, today’s start was from Campbell shelter, on the north slope and just below the summit of McAfee Knob. So, to recap, from Cloverdale (yesterday AM)…

(9/16) Couldn’t sleep at all at the Econo-Lodge… possibly related to a long (but pleasant) talk with Merry on the cell phone. Whatever. Sunday’s (yesterday’s) walk was 100% sleep-deprived.

Left the motel, got tobacco, some cash at the ATM, and into the woods. A few stops for much-needed BMs. A guy just breaking camp, tells me he’s done hiking for the season, too cold now. He’s heading back (?) to Damascus.

Up on the ridge, beautiful views toward a reservoir (a dammed river) to the left. Gorgeous hiking, really, but it’s going slow. Many small PUDs, an uneven, rocky surface, and a windy (as in “meandering”) trail. 2 ½ hours after hitting the trail, I can see clearly the strip mall where I shopped and ate the night before. It looks like I could toss a stone off this ledge… and it would land on the roof.

Middle-of-the-day was a drudge. Anticipating the big climb to Tinker Cliffs, but seemingly stuck on this interminable “flat” ridge. The profiles lie! Horribly!

These two days were supposed to be easy (or so I thought) but have been quite hard.

So anyway… eventually arrive at the climb, in spite of some misinformation from a NOBO hiker, and then to Tinker Cliffs. It’s hot, so I change from polypro back to summer outfit (and another BM. Whoo!)

Meet Mr. Ridge Runner and his wife and baby, up for a stroll to the Cliffs.

It’s two PM. Tinker Cliffs very nice, but hot. Shelter is five miles away. I figure, no sweat. Ha! The descent off the cliffs and that long walk along the knife-edge to Campbell shelter seemed interminable. Whatever. Got there about 5 or 6 PM. Alone at shelter – but, an hour or so later, three gents show up. They started at the “Route 311 Parking lot,” which seems to be a major nexus for hiking ‘round these parts. A real “happening” place, apparently.

Nice guys, all from high-tech fields, old friends. Two of them are in hammocks, one (Fred) is in shelter with me. It’s chilly. I think: this would be a night for a campfire. So I gather wood, and between us, Fred and I got a nice fire going. I slept well, completely zipped up in the bag.

9/17 (today): Left shelter 8:20 or so. Easy ascent to McAfee summit. It really is beautiful. A guy is already there. His face reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut. He works for the city of Roanoke, and he’s a musician. We chat for a bit. I have a smoke and enjoy the view. But then it’s time to move on.

It takes ‘till 11 AM or so to get to the “Route 311 Parking lot.” Once there, made cell phone contact with a shuttler (“Maurice”) who turns out to be one of the guys on the trail relo crew that I passed en route to Tinker cliffs, yesterday.

OK, 11:45, I’m walking again. I get to Rte. 785 by 2 PM. To get to Pickle Branch shelter (I figured…) it’s 7.5 miles and I’ve got five hours of daylight. Easy. Wrong! From 785 there’s some pleasant meadow walking (preceded by change of clothing, polypro to “summer”) and a gratuitous 300 foot hump before reaching Catawba.

I think about the grocery store. I think about the “bed” icon on the map. Nah, push on! Dragon’s Tooth! Let’s make miles. From Catawba, Dragon’s Tooth is a 1250 foot ascent, so I figure 1.25 hours. Wrong! It’s an amazingly steep ascent, at least the top half. (The bottom half was nicely graded.) Very, very steep. Had to fold poles so I could use my hands. OK, by about 5 PM I’m at the summit. From this point on the day was a drudge and a disappointment. There’s a blue-blaze to see the Dragon’s Tooth but it wasn’t the one I’ve seen in the photos – that long, horizontal tooth jutting out from the ridge and hanging over empty space. What I see is a “tooth” jutting skyward. Interesting in its own right, but it wasn’t what I was looking for. Whatever. Must move on. There are campsites there (at Dragon Tooth summit) – maybe not legally, but “usable.” I move on.

Again, judging from the profile [a mistake,] I figured the next few miles would be much easier than they turned out to be. This made for some very tense hiking at the end of the day, trying to decide if this or that potential campsite was “the one” or whether I could possibly reach the shelter [Pickle Branch] before dark.

It got darker. The sun set. It’s a bit chilly. I’m still way high on the ridge. The ridge isn’t flat at all, it’s riddled with 25, 50, 75-foot PUDs. Light’s fading. I dig out and put on the headlamp. The trail is losing altitude and using switchbacks now (good sign!) As darkness closes in, the trail opened onto this meadow. It’s now or never. So I’m “home.” No cell phone service though.

I set up the tent, hung a bear rope, did the usual tea + Liptons dinner thing, and here I am. It’s going to be another cool night. What a change in the weather from Bobblet’s Shelter (Saturday AM.) Safe and snug, and – I’m guessing – within a mile of that damned shelter.

So here’s my guess/plan for the last two days:

  • 24 miles to “the End” from Trout Creek
  • I’m less than 2 miles from Trout Creek
  • Possibly looking at tough 1000-foot descent, first thing tomorrow.
  • Three more ridges to ascend and two to descend
    • 1500 feet to Audie Murphy (only 2-3 miles of “flat”)
    • Nearly 2000’ feet to Sinking Creek (five-mile-long ridge)
    • 1800’ to Kelly Knob. “The End” = south end of that ridge

Tomorrow night: Plan on camping somewhere along Sinking Creek ridge.

  • Unless it turns out to be “easy” to reach Starver Cabin
  • Sarver is the only shelter of interest

9/18: Sarver Shelter

It’s full. A group of three guys heading north, a pair heading south. The spring was muddy but I managed to fill the Platy by double-filtering the water – first thru the bandana, then via the filter.

Feels strange. I gave away my gas canister and a foil package of tuna steak. I’ve had my last supper on the trail. Nine miles to go.

First, off this ridge (Stinking Shitty Creek) [technically, Sinking Creek, henceforth SC] and then up and across Kelly Knob. The NOBOs tell me it’s easy. Assuming Maurice shows up at five, I’ll be at Roanoke airport tomorrow night.

Today’s hike: Pickle Branch Shelter (or rather, the junction with its access trail) was three minutes walk from my campsite last night. But the SOBOs here (who were at Pickle Branch last night) tell me that the blue blaze to the shelter would have been tough in the dark.

The climb up and over Audie Murphy was a delight. There was even a park bench at the south end of the ridge, which I used to make phone calls and take a long break.

The afternoon – on Sinking Creek Mountain – was a drudge. The trail was rocky and gnarly, overgrown and poorly blazed. Ancient deadfall in the trail, when it ducked into the woods. Progress was so slow along the ridge for a while that I was afraid of a repeat of yesterday – not making it to Sarver Shelter by dark.

An earlier decision not to fill the Platy at Niday shelter had forced the issue. With marginal water in the Platy, I had to make it to Sarver.

9/19: The End

At the end. (Written ~ 2:30 PM)

It doesn’t feel like much. Just impatient to get to town. Today’s walking was easy. I got here around 1 PM.

9/18: 2 AM, Best Western, Roanoke

Can’t sleep. 6 AM flight, 4:30 AM wake-up call (but I’m awake.) 5 AM cab to airport.

I feel nothing. No particular sense of elation. Why? Why not?

The hike went like clockwork, from start to finish. Maurice, the shuttler from Rocky Gap, showed up exactly at 3 PM, just as I was about to bum a ride to Blacksburg. His timing was incredible.

During the two hours that I sat at Rocky Gap, not a single vehicle came by.

So what were the odds – back on June 2, 1990 – of a hiker and a vehicle arriving at exactly the same time?

My memory of the gap didn’t exactly match the place. In the critical details, yes. In others, no. Could I have gotten the location wrong? If so, not by much. Based on distance to Pearisburg, it’s where it should be.

Today’s hike was fine. I only had nine miles to do, so I was hoping to sleep in at the shelter. No dice. The NOBOs at the shelter were up at 5:30, breaking camp, making breakfast, packing gear. I was the last to leave the shelter.

Straightforward ridge walk and descent off SC mountain, though with lots of meadow walking (and stiles) in the valley between SC and Kelly Knob.

A weird old abandoned house in the woods just off the trail, on the initial ascent up Kelly Knob.

A short stop to change into “summer” gear at Laurel Creek shelter, then the final 1000 feet up Kelly Knob, then the traverse – through rhodo/laurel thickets – across the top of the knob. Stopped and took the blue blaze to “viewpoint.” Ho-hum. I want to get to the End.

No problem, got there around 1 PM. Met a couple, and their two dogs, obviously out for a short walk, while coming down the last stretch to the road. Their blue pickup truck was parked at the trailhead.

So what’s the matter with me? Why can’t I be content with this success? I should go see a shrink.

Maybe it’s cuz the trip was quite lonely. Maybe it’s cuz Rocky Gap isn’t Katahdin. Maybe it’s cuz Rocky Gap didn’t exactly match my memory, and it’s such a remote, desolate place. Maybe cuz the cell phone didn’t work and I had nobody to share the moment with. Maybe cuz this quest has been so drawn out. Maybe cuz this section hike was so over-engineered. Maybe it’s cuz I’ll never be a thru-hiker. After 587 miles, my body and mind are both suffering from trail-rot.