It has rained for five straight days. There have been very few views, just cloudy mist at the tops of large climbs. On and off, it rains on us as we hike further into the south. October is supposed to be one of the best months to hike on the Appalachian trail in this area, yet it has not been the case this year.
I arrive at a shelter with scuttlebutt and Arbor at 2:30pm. It’s 10 miles to the next shelter, chestnut shelter, and we decide to push on, knowing a severe storm is on the way. We might have time to beat it. If we don’t, we could be in for a tough few miles; there are several very steep, 1,000+ ft climbs in these miles, and the shelter sits at the top of the mountain, a ‘bald’. That means no trees at the top to shelter you. We should have time. We’re strong, having hiked over 1,600 miles, and we can put away miles like no ones business if need be.
We take off, racing up the first climb, over 1,500 feet in just over a mile, when suddenly I get a jolt of pain on my scalp. I throw my poles down and swipe something off the top of my head in shock, and don’t see what got me. A spider, a bee? It stings, immediately giving me a headache. I stop and take some ibuprofen, and wait for Scudz and Arbor to catch up to me. The area starts to swell quickly, so Scudz gives me some Benadryl. She warns it may make me sleepy, but will help keep the swelling down. I’ve got a big enough cranium as is, so I take it, fearing my head getting any larger. The pain subsides as I begin to fall asleep on the trail. I’m having trouble focusing, trouble climbing, and most of all trouble staying awake. I shouldn’t have taken that Benadryl with nine miles still to hike. I fall behind the others, willing myself to continue in a zombie like fashion.
I climb slowly as the wind begins to pick up. At the crest of the first climb, I reach a ridge. I’ll follow this ridge the rest of the way to the shelter. It starts to sprinkle five miles out, and soon after a fierce crosswind nearly knocks me over as the front of the storm hits me. I set down my pack in disgust. The storm beat me to the shelter. I put on my brand new rain poncho, and battle the cross wind and drizzle for the next two hours. It’s not bad, just really strong winds at this point. It blows through the openings in my poncho and turns me into a giant inflatable ball. I laugh to myself, thinking of how outrageous I must look. How did I get here, on this ridge in southern Virginia, in this stupid situation? This whole scene is a mess, yet I can’t help but laugh at myself and what’s going on, even if it’s only laughing in my head. The Benadryl must be making me loopy.
I get to the last climb and fill up on water; the shelter is on the summit, and dry. As I climb, I hear a loud crack and fall of a tree up above me. The wind is only getting stronger, and the rain heavier. Yet I’m climbing higher and higher; exactly what you’re not supposed to do in a storm. Just beat the lightning, I think to myself. just beat the lightning.
I get to the bald, and know that I must be close, but it’s getting dark and I cannot yet see any shelter. I hear a ‘caw-caw’ yelled; it’s the kid and Arbor at the shelter. I half smile, knowing I’ve made it!
That’s how it’s been out here on the AT. A bunch of crazy situations that always end up working out. I got cryptosporidium, a bear tore through my bag and gear, ripping it apart. Our group has a knack for working things out, though rarely as planned.
This shelter we’re at has four walls of concrete, a mini fortress on the mountain. I duck into it with a sense of urgency, Scudz just behind me. High-fives are had all around. Arbor, with his eyes big and a giant smile, exclaims that this is the best shelter he’s stayed at. He, more than anyone I’ve hiked with before, has a way of being happily excited at any situation. He loves the trail, loves this experience, and has a constant excitement that’s contagious.
I unpack my bag and set up to sleep on one of the bunks as the storm begins to rage all around us. In this little castle on the mountain, away from any falling trees, we’re completely sheltered from the storm. We all gorge on our food, and soon I’m curled up in my sleeping bag. Scudz reads to us from lord of the rings: the two towers; she reads aloud to us every night. Momma Scuttlebutt, we call her sarcastically. But soon the wind is too loud, battering the sides of the shelter and howling above us. The battle for middle earth will have to wait until tomorrow. Tonight is my night, as I fall asleep quickly, saved from the inevitable snores by the loudest white noise; rip roaring wind and pouring rain.
I wake up at 10pm to Wolf Burger getting into the shelter. He’s been hiking through the storm to catch us. He’d taken his morning leisure to a whole new level, not leaving until 11am. This forced him to hike very late, through a nasty storm, in order to catch us.
“It’s really not that bad,” he says, in his nonchalant way that he approaches the trail. “I just can’t see shit. I had to bounce from white blaze to white blaze, backtracking when I didn’t see one for a bit.”
I’m happy he made it, and that he did so safely, and I tell him just that. Soon after, the thunder cracks. I fall back asleep quickly, having taken more Benadryl just before bed. A great nights sleep is had.
The area got over 5 inches of rain last night. It was the fifth straight day of rain we’ve had, and the forecast calls for two more days yet, before things actually clear up. As much as it can be miserable hiking through rain day after day, I’ve found that I’ve really enjoyed much of it; the creeks and rivers are swelled, the waterfalls raging, and the colors, the colors!! it’s a beautiful time to be in the woods. I’ve enjoyed the colors and the wild display the forest has put on for us during this time. It’s been an experience I won’t quickly forget.
I haven’t blogged in some time. Over a month, and 1,000 miles have gone by since I last posted. In Massachusetts my wordpress account was ‘full’. I couldn’t post anything. I couldn’t even write a draft and save it. I didn’t have the time to get to a computer and figure things out right away, and soon I lost track of time, got caught up in big miles and life on the trail, and writing fell out of my routine. I fixed the wordpress problem at harpers ferry, at the Appalachian Trail Conservancies headquarters. It was my first ‘zero’ day on the Appalachian Trail, after nearly 600 miles! Scuttlebutt and I averaged over 25 miles a day from Hanover, New Hampshire to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, passing through Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland in a flash. We were on a mission, a simple mission – get miles.
Scudz and I need to finish by November 10th, as I have to get back to work on the 17th, and Scudz heads to Africa on the 19th. She did a great job on her own through Maine and New Hampshire – the two most difficult states – averaging 17.5 miles a day. After I met her, we recalculated our average miles a day we needed to finish on springer mountain in Georgia by November 10th, we needed to average 23.5 miles a day the rest of the way. But it’s fall, and the days condo happy get shorter, making it harder to get as many miles in. By the time we hit harpers ferry, in WV, that finishing number had been whittled down to 22. Currently, that number is down to 20.75. Soon enough, we’re hoping to get it to below 20 to ease our minds.
After fixing the wordpress account, we finally made some good on trail buddies. We had been hiking too many miles to see anyone consistently; we would merely pass the SoBo’s we met, not seeing them again. They didn’t need to finish early, and certainly we’re not looking to do the miles we were. That is, until we met wolfburger. Bailing from Massachusetts, he took his time on the first half of the trail. He started June 2nd, and got engaged while visiting home before going back to the trail. We clicked immediately, and pushed him to do a big mile day with us in southern Pennsylvania. After he saw that he was more than capable, and didn’t need to be going as slowly as he was, he became a monster! He’s now smashing miles, trying to finish earlier than expected to get back to his fiancé. He often jokes about us dragging him along the trail, yet he always sticks with us no matter how many miles we do.
A few days south of Harpers Ferry, we met Arbor. It was an evening where I was starting to finally feel good (I was very sick with crypto, which I will explain in a later blog, for all of Pennsylvania), and I was starting to get tired of the trail, so I decided to challenge myself. I stopped and breaked for an hour, giving myself little daylight to get to the shelter that Scudz, wolfburger and I planned to stay at. I then began to run. For seven miles I ran to the shelter, getting there just before headlamp time. Arbor saw me race up. I was breathing heavy and sweating profusely.
“Did you run here, with your pack on?!” He asked.
“Yup.” I responded between gasps of air.
“Why would you do that?” He asked, looking at me intently for my response.
“I was getting bored, needed a change for a bit. A challenge.”
“Do you do this a lot?”
He ran cross country and track in college. He picked Scudz and my brain that night, shocked at how many miles a day we were doing. He hiked out that next day with us, quickly learning that he could fly down the trail, and do as many miles as he wanted. He’s been with us all of Virginia, and I have no doubt he’ll finish with us. I often find myself chasing after him on the big climbs, struggling to keep up with him. ‘I like to feel my heart rate go up, feel like I might puke if I keep pushing it so hard up hill’ he told me a few weeks ago after racing up the priest together, ‘it reminds me of my cross country days in college.’ The guy is an animal, and an absolute blast to hike with. He never has a bad day, and sees the bright side of everything. Constantly excited, the guy is a pleasure to be around on the trail.
I met the kid and lone stride in waynesboro just in passing. Arbor, wolfburger, Scudz and I got an early ride out if town in the morning, doing a big day out. The next morning, we woke up to rain. Scudz read us a chapter of lord of the rings, and we decided to continue sleeping, hoping the rain would be done soon. We woke at 10:30, and it was still raining. ‘Looks like it’s an on trail zero’, we joked, though seriously considering. Soon the kid arrived.
“Never did I think I would see you guys again!” He said, having just met us the day prior, where we shared in the glory of Ming garden buffet. “You guys go so fast, take hiking so seriously.”
After much joking and banter between all of us he saw that he was wrong. You don’t have to take hiking seriously to hike fast. We have a blast hiking, and don’t hesitate to goof off; or sleep in if it’s raining while we’re dry and protected in a shelter. He’s been hiking with us ever since.
It’s a common theme on the Appalachian Trail; people don’t know what they’re capable of. It’s their first through hike, and they’ve been told by others who have done the trail that they should expect five to six months to complete the trail. They’re scared to push themselves to do more miles than that. They carry heavy packs, and are over prepared. Classic Boy Scout approach, prepared for any situation, rather than preparing for what they’ll actually see. It’s not the PCT, where most hikers I was with were either experienced, prior athletes, or did enough research to see that they could hike the trail faster than people did just a decade before due to the lighter gear. I often tease these guys (mostly arbor) of how n00b they are. They tease me right back, saying I go ‘ultralight’ by having them carry my gear for me. But it’s true, the Appalachian trail is the testing ground, where novice hikers either stay novice, or get serious and see themselves grow, ready to take on new challenges, and more demanding trails. Already, Arbor and The Kid (who turned 18 on trail) are talking about the next trail they’ll do, and how they will approach it and prepare for it. And I’m just the same as them, on my first thru-hike (I consider the pct and this one big thru), already dreaming of my next big trail and what I need to get better at for that undertaking.
And then there’s scuttlebutt. I’ve hiked the whole AT with her, and cannot say enough good things. She’s the strongest hiker I’ve ever partnered up with. From day 1, she has kept right up with me, pushing me often to go faster or further. She’s has a great attitude, always upbeat and loving the trail. She’s been such a good friend, and I’m beyond glad we’ve shared this experience. Her only flaw is her nightly snoring – girl can cut some logs, on an equal level with fat old men. It’s both impressive and frightening.
It’s been exciting to hike with a group for the last 500 miles – it makes the trail so much more enjoyable when it’s shared. I’m definitely a social hiker, no doubt. It’s what made my pct experience so memorable, the friends I made. Guthrie has already come and hiked two days with me not long ago, meeting all my new buddies. Sheriff Woody will be out at the end of the month as well, and I’m so excited for it!
Hiking with these others slowed me from making that first ‘I’m back’ blog. But as I lay here unable to sleep, in an old schoolhouse turned museum, I finally have the opportunity. Since This new group has formed, I’ve had the most fun I’ve had on the AT, and to me, it’s worth writing about. For this experience, I want to remember 🙂
Here’s a few picture highlights from Massachusetts to southern Virginia.
The highlight of Pennsylvania for me, meeting up with GI Joe. We met him in Vermont and kept in touch. He lives near the trail in southern PA, and picked us up, got us lunch, took me to a shoe store, and best of all have us his trail notes for the trail south that he has done. A true trail angel, and just a great guy!