Friday, September 28, 2012

Chapter 4 - Black water and Blue skies

New Jersey! The state was treating me well. I was getting ice cream a lot, and after the long state of Pennsylvania the end of the state was rushing towards me. While off the Trail, I set the date of wanting to get into Vermont by August 1st - 15 days ahead. That meant the rest of Jersey, New York, Connecticut  and Massachusetts. Just over 200 miles in  half a month. That seemed like a doable plan, but as we've learned already, having a "there by date" is a dangerous thing, so I didn't make it that I must be there by then, only that I'd like to be there!
There were lots of youth groups out, large groups traveling in either direction from NYC and surrounding areas. The shelter areas were occasionally hectic, to say the least. One night in particular I was in camp fairly early, along with Cheeks, Papa Wolf, and some others, when a group of 15 rolled in and setup camp. Shortly after another group of 20 plus hiked in! Talk about a busy (over-used!) site! I can understand why the site was popular, however. It actually had a flowing spring, everywhere else in New Jersey and in most places in New York the water had to be pumped, poured from a faucet, or bought at a store!

New Jersey and New York Water supplies!!
The highest point in Jersey. I had enough energy to hike a half mile out of the way to see it, so obviously not THAT high!
  The valley between where I stood and the highest point in the state, with the monument, was a very easy walk, across many swamps and board walks. These valleys had glaciers in them, and the Trail was taking me by the very lasting effects. The lakes and carved valleys were unlike anything the Trail had so far passed.
The next day, across a hazy valley, I spotted the monument I had been at the base of the evening prior.
The last day in New Jersey was a trying one. The temperatures had slowly been racketing up since I had gotten back on the Trail. The climax happened the morning after I crossed the NY border.

Even at 7am the humidity and heat were uncomfortable. By noon, dangerous. On top of this water was scarce, I was down to my last liter, I didn't have far to go, on a normal day, to get water. But with this 100+ heat index I was stopping often and not drinking enough. 
Suddenly, off to the west, peals of thunder began rolling over me. The Trail was following a rocky crest of a long ridgeline. I kept hoping I would get a bit more shelter before the storm broke over me, the storm kept getting closer and the Trail kept exposing itself to the sky. The storm broke. The temperatures dropped 25 or 30 degrees, the thunder seemed like it was right over me, I had visions of getting struck, another hiker finding my body crisped! I headed to a very shallow valley right off the ridge that paralleled the ridge (i hoped) to the west. I hunkered down and hoped the rain would pass quickly. After 10 minutes I got tired and frustrated of sitting there. I was going to get wet anyway, so why not make forward progress? I followed the valley north, trying to catch glimpses of the AT blazes up above me on the exposed ridge. I felt safer under the dense tree cover, but it also meant that I was pushing through soggy undergrowth where there was no trail.
The Trail eventually dipped off the ridge and began following a safer, and easier route down into larger trees. I had gotten rained on before I was able to eat lunch. My food was in my pack, to get to it I would have to soak myself and everything in my pack as well. I trudged on, still recovering from the stress of the heat, probably a little dehydrated, and very hungry. If I had a "Send me the EFF home right now!!" button, I would have pressed it.
Ice Cream, however, cures everything! At NY17a I walked a mere .3 of a mile to Bellvale Farms ice cream shop. Soon after, Jonnie Walker Red, Claudia, and Animal showed up too. We sat there as the rain began clearing up. I ate several scopes and had a milk shake and re-filled my water bottles. Thus prepared I walked into the semi-clearing day. I saw my last bear of the trip, running off like his tail was on fire - number 14 on the bear list!
Animal caught up and we got to a split in the Trail. The AT goes up a rock face, a blue blaze goes around. The first time we got to such a juncture I climbed the dangerous slick rocks to get no view from a pile of rocks, only to climb back down less than 100 yards ahead. The next time I took the blue blaze, while the more-pure Animal clambered over. On the other side of the rock, I dropped my pack and climbed up nimbly and safely to see what there was to see. Sometimes the Trail routers are just evil to purists!
The following day Jonnie Walker Red and Johnny Walker Black hiked together. He was a nice guy, and it was interesting to see peoples faces when we explained we had the similar trail name and had known of each other for 1000 miles but hadn't met until now. We hiked through Harriman State Park, much like Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, I began to think this was how all of New York was going to be - incredibly gorgeous, filled with very novel sights. There were yellow-grass fields under a cathedral-like dome of trees. The boulders were house-sized and the dells were magic. Jonnie and I made good time, enjoying the talk. It's always nice to have a good conversation over the course of an entire day! We got pictures of each other approaching the Lemon Squeezer (and right after that, a much more challenging rock scramble).

As the day wore down, the sun came out and dried everything. We climbed one last mountain, wanting a few more miles closer to the Hudson River. We ended on Black Mountain (it seemed appropriate for me to stay there!) and my first and only view of the NYC skyline. The views down to and along the Hudson River were very nice. Jonnie, Nomad, and I eked out places to setup. Again, having the hammock helped so we were all able to get good spots. 
In the wee hours of the night the rain began and continued until morning. I woke very early, with the vague sound of someone else packing up close by. I packed everything, and with a lull in the rain, packed the tarp and headed out. The rain began falling harder again, and would rain off and on the rest of the hiking day... mostly on and heavy! 
I was hiking thru gorgeous forest, the rain making it more pretty. The sound of the rain drops on leaves giving a wonderful music to an already magical view. I felt closer to a hidden world of spirits than I had previously on this trip. I felt like forest spirits were dancing on the puddles and leaves causing ripples and nodding leaves. The Trail began its ascent on Bear Mountain, the beauty continuing, as the Trail rose up into the clouds. There would've been views of the mountains I had recently climbed, but instead I saw a wall of misty white. I was happy though, my rain gear was keeping me dry, the weather was good to hike in, turkeys and deer were out and about.
At the top of Bear Mountain, the rain falling harder than ever, I took brief shelter in a handicap porta-john to grab a snack. It was clean, so don't cringe!! I heard later that a few "ultra-lite" hikers had decided to send their tents home and rely solely on shelters had gotten here very late and, having no shelter for another 10 miles had to sleep in the same porta-john to get out of the rain!! And that's one reason ultra-lite just doesn't make sense to me!

I quickly descended the "most expensive mile" of the AT. Bear Mountain must have a huge budget, all the way down the north side of the mountain steps had been installed. The steps were each probably a ton, 6 feet long at least and 2 feet wide. The forest was still very beautiful, and the stone work was very beautiful  in its own way. At the bottom the Trail goes around a lake, and the place was empty, but on a nice day this place would be packed. The evidence of over-use everywhere. Piles of trash, bare-ground, blacktop trails, and graffiti. I was glad I had the place to myself. I got into the zoo that the Trail passes through. And despite the rain I looked at all the exhibits, read all the informational plaques and thoroughly enjoyed my hike thru a zoo - and the lowest point on the AT. It's all up hill from here!
I stayed in town that night at a very nice little inn just down the road that picked me up and dropped me off the next morning. The day dawned clear and nice as I crossed the Hudson on the Bear Mountain Bridge, affording me some awesome early morning views up the river.
However, after this, the same trick that happened in New Jersey happened in New York. The state got mundane again! The views disappeared and the forest became that of Virginia again. But for brief stints, the Trail is nearly identical from Georgia to Vermont. If I was plopped down, or shown a picture out into the forest of most of those states I would not be able to distinguish where it was. This was a bit frustrating, especially after being teased with spots that are so truly different. 
But, at least instead of getting frustrated too much now, I had stuff to look forward to! Like Jim (Flip) coming back out for a visit! He was set to arrive in a few days and meet me wherever I was at the time!


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Chapter 3 - High hot Summer in the Mid-States

Ahh Harper's Ferry! Here I was 80 miles north of where Cara picked me up. But I wasn't skipping a section, I was just dropping off my car before getting a shuttle to Front Royal to fill in a gap.

I had gone home for nearly a week to re-access my devotion to the Appalachian Trail. Did I really want to complete this journey? I was so close to finishing half of it, I might as well go back and do a week of hiking to Harper's Ferry and see how I feel, right? The more days I had been at home the more convinced I wanted to go back out. Not just for myself, but also for all the people that had heard me gush endlessly about how awesome the Trail is.
I made some changes to my gear, I plotted low mile days, and I had my car to walk back to - I had an easy out if I was still in a bad mental spot.
I brought a hammock and began sleeping in that, and would continue sleeping in a hammock comfortably and happily the rest of the trip. I slept more deeply off the ground, I didn't wake up nearly as much, I felt safer and more relaxed - possibly this was psychological, but whatever the case, it was a great boon to get good night sleep.
During this experimental week the temperatures sky-rocketed. There were some 105 heat index days. I would hike slowly and drink a ton of water, I went so far as to try to breathe only though my nose to conserve as much moisture as possible.
With the terrible memories of Shenandoah behind me I felt like I was entering a new chapter, a happier chapter - some kind of corner had been turned. There was still rain, humidity, heat, and bugs but I felt better armed. The hike to the Roller Coaster was easy, and the Roller Coaster was fun even in the extreme heat. I had hiked portions of this and it was fun to be walking down memory lane remembering that root and that rock.

Summer was upon me, not only was the heat crushing, in places the forest became jungle-like. That had been a problem in Shenandoah, as it is impossible to find a good camping spot in a jungle. Another advantage of a hammock is the ground doesn't need to be flat, just two trees 16 to 20 feet apart, relatively clear of brush in between. The campsites in Northern VA became nicer and more frequent, there was less over-use, the tent pads no longer muddy pits and plenty of stealth sites in-between. I still wasn't seeing too many other hikers, but more than I was previously. Right before the Roller Coaster began I decided to hike over a few hills before calling it a night - good thing I had as the shelter area had close to 30 people at it and I had a silent hill-top campsite to myself!

Time began speeding up again, the feeling of running through water departed. I passed the 1000 mile mark, I passed out of Virginia, I saw a bunch of Trail I had seen before, and drew closer and closer to Harper's Ferry! I sped down the hill and over the Shenandoah River into Harper's Ferry, I hiked in to the ATC headquarters to be photo graphed and numbered! In a few short days I felt huge leaps and bounds of progress where I had felt like I was making no progress at all just a week before. My heart was back in it, I wanted to see what was around the next corner again.
I took my car back home that weekend and had Cara drop me back off on Sunday. I had a lot of things to look forward to in the next few weeks. Cara was coming back out to see me in a couple weeks, my brother was meeting me on July 2nd to hike with me, my friend Jon was looking to meet up with me, and my birthday was rapidly approaching!

Southern Pennsylvania was great! The terrain is fantastic, and I have such fond memories of being here when I was a kid and I passed the real half way point! Additionally there were snack bars at the state parks I was passing through. I had some relatives come and pick me up from Caledonia and I stayed the night at their place, they also had gifts of dried fruits and beef jerky!

I could of pushed big miles and sailed through the state, but I was meeting my brother in Duncannon and so I was forced to do small days, sleep in start late and finish early! It was great. I could stop for long lunches, soak in the beauty, and talk with other hikers. I stopped at Pine Grove Furnace for several hours just shooting the breeze with some hikers. I made a friend with Animal, a great guy that carried a 5 Gallon bucket full of food in one hand all the way from Georgia! I would see him off and on all the way through CT.
Boiling Springs was achieved by crossing through a series of fields, and following a road into downtown. I talked to a guy there that was interested in sharing a room at the Allenberry Resort just up the road. Rooms were $40, split I could turn that down. The place turned out to be fantastic! All you can eat buffet, a playhouse, a pool, situated on a gorgeous river. This place really looks out for hikers and I will definitely be going back.

After the nice stay at the Allenberry I did a short hike to Carlisle and met with Cara, the heat had gone way up again, so the 9 miles in 100+ degree heat was draining, but the AC at the hotel room fantastic! The next day Cara and I did an out-and-back section hike. The bugs were miserable, flying in our eyes and ears and it wasn't fun dealing with them. I'd wished I could have taken her on a better hike, but there wasn't much around, the views were poor, and very hot. Mostly, though, when she came and visited I didn't want to hike! I wanted a day of rest!
I walked in the Doyle, famous for its good food and terrible accommodations and cheap booze. I picked up my drop box that was there and bought a round for the guys there... I wanted to get a round of Jonnie Walker, but alas, Jim Beam had to do! The town of Duncannon, so close to Harrisburg, had a desperate feel. The houses leaned on each other for support, decaying under the summer, the people hidden in the dilapidated homes. The Trail goes right through the town for almost a mile before crossing the Susquehanna, on the other side of town I came to a rough looking cement building, the place claimed to sell ice cream, and be a nude bar, just as seemingly desperate as the rest of the town.
The following day Kevin got dropped off by Jen to come and hike with me. He had plans to hike for a couple weeks, but left it open ended. He brought along Chloe, his dog, to accompany us. I love hiking with my brother, we always hike well together with a similar pace and good conversation. Despite the heat and the lack of views and the endless green tunnel I enjoyed myself immensely. It was so nice to watch 'Paws of Fury' (aka Chloe) wind her way through rocks, and see how well behaved she was while we hiked. We made good campsites, and dodged afternoon rain-storms. Kevin and Chloe had enough room to bunk with me under the tarp and hammock, so he was able to travel light too.

Chloe really knew how to be a hiker. If we took a break, she took a nap!
We spent the 4th of July at the 501 shelter, I had originally thought I would be there for my birthday - so despite 9 days off recently and going slow to sync up with Kevin I was still 9 days ahead of schedule! We went to a clearing that over looked a valley into eastern PA and watched the fireworks of locals and of the surrounding towns. That night Mother Nature gave us an even louder and more dramatic display by having a large lightning storm roll over! We slept in the shelter that night and stayed dry and safe. That was one of the few shelter stays I enjoyed and the last as well!
Sometimes PA was full of rocky trail, though more often it was not. There would be short sections as in the picture above followed by very long sections on old logging roads where we were able to cruise. We followed several very long ridges with little elevation deviation, which was quite nice. We dropped off one of these ridges into Port Clinton where we were to meet Jon Banks for a hotel stay. I went into Port Clinton to get a drop box... that wasn't there! Or maybe it was and they just couldn't find it. The box eventually was shipped back home and it arrived 2 days after I finished the Trail! Fortunately I had a buddy coming and we had wheels to go grocery shopping! My brother was developing some painfully blisters and decided to go home. He'd been out for a week, we'd done some awesome miles and had a lot of fun. I was going to really miss him as a hiking partner, but I understood he had an out and he was taking it!

Jon and I had a good relaxing weekend. He brought me a bottle of whiskey, he took us to Yuengling for a brewery tour, we had good food at nice restaurants, he dropped me off for a 6 mile slack pack, and went to Cabelas for provisions. He even carried my pack for me up to the Trail when he was dropping me off!
It was great and really nice of him to come see me. Having friends come visit buoys the spirit. The nights I'd stayed in the hotel with Jon a storm had come through. From inside it had seemed small, the clouds dark, and the rain hard but it didn't seem like much. The following day on the Trail there were trees down all over the place, including in the shelter areas over top of where people sometimes setup tents! I'm very glad no one got hurt that I heard about.

Back on the Trail on my own, very well rested, well fed and with a week of PA left; I was still waiting for the 'Rocks of Pennsylvania' to begin. I had heard so many horror stories, and past hikers crying how terrible it was that maybe I was expecting worse. Maybe since I had so many mental diversions I failed to become annoyed, but 3/4 of the state behind me I was still waiting for the rocks to begin! I was looking for them so hard, I did a blue blaze loop to a views and finally found the rocks! They aren't on the AT!!

The same day that I traversed the blue blaze where the rocks actually were I also went through a sections that had 17 miles without water. I went over a scoring cliff climb, the best views in PA, of the Super Fund (more like SUPER FUN SITE!) and followed an open ridge dripping with ripe berries to Wind Gap. Supposedly there was a hotel that allowed hikers to fill up their water bottles for free. Incorrect. The hotel claimed they had no tap water and one could by 8 oz of water for 1.25. Ouch. I'd been depending on that. Coming out of Wind Gap the rocks finally began. For the next 6 miles the Trail followed a literal river of rocks, every step painful. I had dreams of moving to Wind Gap and shuttling people around this terrible section. I had dreams of coming back and removing the rocks for future hikers. At the end of a very long strenuous hot day with no water in sight I finally got annoyed at Pennsylvaniaian rocks! But after that section they disappeared again and the Trail to Delaware Water Gap was pleasant.

Sometimes PA had a hint of New England
My boots, my constant companions for over 1500 miles finally gave up. DWG had two outfitters, both with small selections of footwear. I decided on getting the Solomon's and I made the right call! They treated my feet right the rest of the trip (unless they got water-logged, then they'd eat my feet alive).I still had a few days until my birthday weekend and I decided to make a few miles into New Jersey before getting a rental car and heading back to Hershey, PA to meet Cara. New Jersey was gorgeous to begin with, after getting beyond Sunfish Pond the ridgelines opened up with grasses and great views, and more BEARS!
The rocks in New Jersey were worse and more frequent than in PA. I wasn't sure how PA got the bad wrap?! After the Trail passed out of the DWG National Recreation Area, it became much more mundane, more green tunnel. But that was OK! It was a short state and in a couple days I'd be in NY! But first I jumped off the Trail for 3 days to go see Cara!

Chapter 2 - The Good the Bad: Virginia

Things on the Trail sometimes take days to catch up to you. I was pushing hard and making good miles. I also wasn't eating enough calories, my appetite hadn't kicked into high gear yet, and the foods I had were occasionally disgusting me. I had bags and bags of almonds that I had stopped eating. Honey Stinger protein bars I had to choke down. Clif bars were lumps of re-processed bear poo in my mind.
I did some big days over massive mountains, over Unaka Mountain one day, the next over Roan, Little Hump, and Hump. The day after my energy waned quickly, over easier terrain I made it to a hostel that I hadn't planned on staying at, but the lure of rest and 'real' food was enchanting. I skipped most of my lunch that day and when I got to the hostel I bought a pizza cooked it and then couldn't eat that either, I just had absolutely no appetite for it. I put it in bags and took it with me the next day. What I was able to eat, however, was a pint of Ben and Jerry's. I knew I had to eat something, between the listlessness and lower miles, I was in need of the energy. That night at 3am I got up to a roiling stomach, I ran to the privy and lost the ice cream in a matter of seconds. Not only had I now skipped a meal or two I couldn't keep food down!
I still had the specter of making it to Damascus in a few days to meet Dan. I had tried to build in an extra day for myself to get there and take a half day off before he got there, but to do that I had been pushing pushing pushing everyday. The day after I got sick I was only able to make 11 miles, figuring if I felt better I could make up the lost time. I came to a road crossing at Dennis Cove Rd, I could turn right and get a private room or left and go to Kincora hostel; I was hiking with a guy that was going to Kincora and decided to follow him there. I made a mistake! I was able to eat, get a ride to a grocery store for some town food, but the place was very crowded, it had rained during the day so many hikers were showing up for a roof as well. I went to bed early feeling very run down and in need of a good sleep, which I couldn't get. First one extremely self-inflating girl wouldn't shut up about her awesome exploits, most of which were about how she had no money and went from town to town to play her instrument to get some spending cash to go up the Trail to the next town. Then Tree Piper showed up. This guy had already made a name for himself at Uncle Johnny's when he stayed up all night playing (extremely poorly, I should add) a recorder. A recorder, like the one almost every 1st grader is forced to play for a year. High-pitched and shrill, he whistled his recorder into the night directly below the bunk room despite numerous pleadings by people and Baltimore Jake to stop. On top of this the hostel was overrun by cats, which would be fine if any of them had been treated with Frontline; they hadn't been and were covered in fleas. I didn't sleep deeply or well and was out as early as I could be. My energy sucked even worse, and it was raining and I was now behind schedule with no hope of a day off and doubt whether I could even make it to Damascus in time. On top of all that, looking at a map I noticed the Trail went up 2000 feet and down 2000 feet in a matter of 6 miles over Pond Mountain with no views, or a road walk of 2 miles to skip that entire pointless mountain. Frustrated I decided to walked to Hampton, TN and got a shuttle to Damascus and to take a zero. I felt very bad that I was even contemplating a Yellow Blaze, but the more I thought about how little fun I was having and how much I was really hurting myself to the point of possibly having to quit the more I can to terms with the necessity of jumping to Damascus. I missed 46 miles of TN. I missed the border of VA. I have every intention of going back a couple days before Trail Days next year and hiking in to complete that gap!

Right before Pond Mountain, a mt I have not climbed
I rented a room at a house downtown, and I was the only one staying there, so the entire house was mine! I was able to relax and walk the small town to get food and look in the outfitters for a new tent. Sundog had a Black Diamond Ultra Lite tarp tent that could easily fit both Dan and myself and was only a pound. I bought it and packaged the old heavy tent to send home with Dan's wife. Because the tarp was floorless I bought a piece of Tyvek to lay on the ground to sleep on top of and keep clean.
Dan arrived at around noon a day later. He was very excited to begin his first backpacking trip. I was excited to be doing smaller days, and to be hanging out with a good friend! This was what my body needed, a nice easy pace and realistic goals.

Dan took to hiking like a duck takes to water. He soon found himself a laurel branch to use as a hiking staff, and he really enjoyed the woods around him. We stopped often that first day to enjoy the warm sun, and look at whatever there was to look at. The Trail side slabbed a mountain before descending back to a bike trail and following that for a bit over an old railroad bridge. The trees in the area are big and old and our first campsite lay beneath a pine stand, the soft needles making for a great bed with the new tent.
The next week was lots of fun. Woodteeth (as became Dan's Trail name) and I had good conversation, and fun adventures. On Grayson Highlands we were transported to Scotland. The blowing wind and mist, around the low scrub brush, and the ponies visiting out of the mist was other-worldly.
Despite having rain for a couple days, or spirits were high and the miles rolled easily. Here we stood on the highest mountain in Virginia, and we had hardly gotten winded getting there. We came over balds and through wind swept scrub pine forest on some of Virginia's most interesting terrain. We were meeting cool people and seeing them almost daily, another thing that hadn't happened often during the first 500 miles of this trip. There was a sense of excitement in the air. Trail Days was approaching the following weekend, and many hikers were hiking south to get there, or planning on getting shuttles or hitches from Marion, VA. We saw more people this week than I had seen for weeks previously. The woods were alive with spring and festival excitement.

Towards the end of the week I presented Dan with an option to do a 20 mile day to get to Partnership Shelter, a famous shelter that has a shower, is two stories, and most importantly can get pizza delivered to it. He was game and we woke early and rolled through those miles. We made awesome time and were at the shelter by early afternoon, that was the quickest most comfortable 20 miles I'd done yet! We had plenty of time to get a good tent spot under some pine trees, order a pizza, get soda from the vending machine, and mingle with a bunch of hikers. I was taking the same amount of time off that most of these hikers were also taking off, I expected I would see them on the other side of the weekend. When I came back from Cara's birthday weekend and they came back from Trail Days. I, however, didn't see them again. Nor did I ever hear about most of them ever again. One kid I saw again doing a day hike in Connecticut after quitting. The rest I either out-paced or never got back on after Trail Days. I would be stuck in a hiker-free bubble after my time with Dan, always a day ahead or a day behind a bunch of people I could never seem to sync up with. But that is a story for later!

 Dan and I enjoyed fantastic weather the last couple days, walking though fields and lowlands as we came down out of the highlands of VA. We approached Atkins not wanting our hiking time to be over, but as inevitably happens, time grows short and life must resume.
I had a rental car come pick us up at a gas station in Atkins and we drove back towards Richmond where I would drop Dan off and continue on home to spend a long weekend with Cara for her birthday. We went to Southeast PA and went hot air ballooning, from 3000 feet up in the basket I could see the mountains I would be hiking on in a few weeks. I wondered if I could see the balloon from those mountains?

The answer was 'maybe' - I did see a balloon way off in the distance, just barely visible to the eye, I could tell it was red, but there was no way to know if that was ours. But I'd like to think that it was!

After that wonderful weekend, I began eating even more. I went to the grocery store with Cara and she pointed out some things I should add. I now was carrying bagels and wraps, protein powder and cream cheese. I was determined to start eating better. Here I was 40 days in and 20 pounds lighter! I looked sickly, my face hollow. Cara was concerned for my health, as was I. If I lost any more weight I would probably have to quit, I was on the brink of starving myself!
Thus armed with caloric goodness I arrived back in Atkins late in the afternoon and began hiking north once more, the whirlwind weekend of nice restaurants, floating weightlessly in the sky, and sleeping in my bed after a nice trip to a winery passed in a snap, a dream come and gone too quickly. I did have the promise of seeing Cara again in a few short weeks near Roanoke or somewhere around there, before or after. I was determined not to set a hard date and place as I had previously!
I hiked through a spring that was quickly heating towards summer, Southern VA passes over dozens of stiles, having a right of way through pastures.
The Trail would ascend a ridgeline and follow a ridgeline for many miles before going down through the pastureland again. The Trail was so easy, however there were very rarely any views, and the heat and humidity were making for stinky sticky nights. The bugs were beginning to come out more, sleeping in a floorless tent made for some interesting visitors. I wonder what crawled over me while I slept?
I was occasionally having bouts of doubt about continuing. I became very lonely and bored with the terrain. I think I would have loved this section had I had a partner to hike with. As it was I was fighting the Trail again. I was frustrated at the lack of views, I was wanting harder terrain just to occupy my mind. I would be exuberant on a cool beautiful morning, with a campsite alone and a view to die for.

Then I would start hiking and get frustrated all over again. This elusive bubble of hikers I kept hearing about from section hikers heading south, "There's 10 hikers just a day ahead". So I did big miles again, and with the addition of more food I was physically able to push through and not get weak. I was running into my mental barriers now, I was fighting loneliness and an urge to be done with the Trail.
A hike of this length puts a person through all these trials. Here I was at close to 700 miles and I was still just getting my head wrapped around it. My body was just getting adjusted to the trek, my mind wasn't there yet! Virginia just seemed to keep on going with very little change in scenery. The rolling hills, the pasture land, and the long seemingly boring ridge walks. The green tunnel, as it is so aptly called.
Smiley on one of the many pasture walks
I went to Woods Hole Hostel and loved it there, I took a blue blaze to get to a store and see Dismal Falls, I stayed in Pearisburg and was depressed at what a shithole the place turned out to be. I did some good days, and was generally happy, but lonely. I pushed and got to McAfee Knob one evening, only 2 other people were up there. I know that place can be a mad-house so I was glad about the timing, also glad there was someone there to take my picture on the most photographed spot on the Trail!
Dragons Tooth and McAfee Knob in one day, followed by Tinker Cliffs and getting into town to meet up with Cara the next. This part of Virginia became really exciting! After all that time of boredom I was making progress, moving through Virginia. I had even hiked the next section before. I had hiked the part following the Blue Ridge Parkway up to Thunder Ridge shelter with my brother in 2005.
I spent a good weekend with Cara, visiting the first annual Trail Days in Troutville, VA, finding a fun winery, and just riding around enjoying ourselves.
Back on the Trail after a nice weekend I got to James Face Wilderness area, and was back into new territory again heading down to the James River. I thought after the spectacular sights of Tinker Cliffs that maybe the Trail would spice up again, but I quickly sank back into my 'green-tunnel-funk' the days passing much like the one before. The pastures and ridge-walks not all that different. I started doing even bigger miles, I could feel the halfway point just ahead, I felt like I was in my back yard, connecting different sections I had hiked before, like the Three Ridges Wilderness area, and having driven down the Blue Ridge Parkway. I pushed and pushed and the scenery didn't change much, I did several marathon+ days, just because I could. This part of Virginia felt like running in water at the time though. I would do a bunch of really big days, feel great, look on the map and see I still had a LOT of Virginia left!
I finally made it to Shenandoah and pushed to get through there as fast as I could. I was still alone every day and night, the campsites were no good, I would wake up frequently from bugs and the thought of bugs. My mental state was quickly deteriorating. I was passing views, just a few tenths off the Trail, but I had this desire to make this big miles so I wouldn't stop. I had mile fever and wouldn't pull up to go and look at what the Trail had to offer.
Anthony and Liz came and visited after my first and only 29 mile day, I slept illegally in a picnic area close to Big Meadows where we met the following day. I ate a lot and we rock scrambled and hiked down to a waterfalls. It was a good day to see some of the sights I had been missing.

After they left the weather turned and the campsites got worse, I pushed and found myself on the front of PATC cabin in the mist and rain. The next day was worse, blowing mist and rain, but still way too hot for rain gear. I was frustrated and determined to get out of Shenandoah. I hiked along the Skyline some and some on the Trail, as they were so close as to be indistinguishable. A guy stopped and offered me a ride, and Cara later called and determined that she was coming to get me that afternoon, there must have been a note in my voice that gave me away. I spent the day in a hotel in Front Royal watching the rain fall outside. Cara got me we drove home.

I wasn't sure if I was coming back. Part of me wanted to call it right then and not see any more of the Trail, to get a good night sleep in a bed, to eat good food, and be with the one I love...

Part 3