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Damascus to Pearisburg, Virginia

Volume 35: Fri June 13, 2003

Sorry for my long delay in my adventures, but I have not been on the Internet since my last installment so they've been difficult to write! I'm writing the ATC (Appalachian Trail Conference) to suggest they install Internet terminals in all of the shelters.

But back to my story.....

Damascus was still getting over its hangover from Trail Days, but most of the crowds had cleared and I felt like I had the town to myself.

My maildrop arrived as expected, along with a fresh pair of shoes to replace my badly deteriorating ones I had used since Amicalola. I sent them to the Smithsonian since I knew they'd be a collectors item once I become famous.

I stayed at a hostel called The Place where I learned that there was a reward out on my head. It seems that someone a few days ahead of me on the trail is hiking with none other than his pet turtle, but somehow it managed to run away when he wasn't looking. How, exactly, a turtle can outwit its owner and make a daring run for freedom without getting caught, I'm not sure. But in any case, the guy had written in the register that there's a reward for anyone that can find the green turtle. For those of you that don't know it, my trail name is Green Turtle, due to the fact that my signature stamp is a turtle that I've been stamping into the registers with. Thus, it was with some glee that a couple of people tried to collect their reward by finding me. *rolling eyes*

The next day I woke up to rain, so I lingered in bed hoping it would let up. It didn't, so I found other ways to kill time hoping the rain would pass including a trip to the library for my Internet fix, sending postcards, and the buying of food.

Lots of food, in fact, because I was planning to hike a whopping 160 miles to Pearisburg without stopping to resupply along the way, so I figured I'd need at least ten days of food. I bought so much, in fact, I couldn't even fit it all in my pack and had to resort to tying bags to the outside of my pack to carry it all.

By 1:30 in the afternoon, the rain was still going, but if I was going to hike at all that day, I'd have to get going, rain or not. So I whipped out my umbrella and headed off.

I arrived at Saunders Shelter shortly before 5:00 where I decided to call it a night. It would be a night of Hamburger Helper for me, a fact that several other hungry thru-hikers watched with wishful thoughts.

The next day would be dreary and overcast, and introduce me to perhaps the muddiest section of trail I've ever seen in my life. I didn't hike down the mountains so much as I skated down them unintentionally.

At the next shelter, I got an unwelcome surprise: The West Virginians were back. They had signed the registry there the day before, and as slow as they hiked, I knew it wouldn't be long before I caught up and possibly share a shelter with them.

In fact, I saw several names I recognized as folks I never expected to see again having long passed them. However, some slower folks deciding—I suppose—that they'd never reach Maine without cheating, hitched rides out to Trail Days then started hiking north from there without going back to where they had gotten off the trail.

While this 'cheating' put the infamous West Virginians in my life once again, it also put some folks that I really liked back in front of me too. Such as Hotdawg and his cat, Stubbycat. At last check, Stubbycat has 16 confirmed kills with 3 escapees.

Cattle are often set out to graze on the balds to make sure they stay bald, but it can be hairy getting past them if they're sitting on the trail!

Continuing on, I caught up with the West Virginians several hours later near the Thomas Knob Shelter, where I was horrified to discover was a bustling town with dozens of hikers. I had caught up with a large group of slow-moving thru-hikers that had left from Trail Days a few days before.

To contemplate my situation, I dropped off my pack at the shelter and backtracked a half mile to a side trail up Mt. Rogers. It was about half a miles off the AT, but it's the highest point in Virginia so I HAD to drop by, even if there wasn't a view because of all the trees at the top.

After standing at the highest point in Virginia doing my 'I'm king of the world' dance, I hiked back down to the shelter and reality.

I heard that this shelter was really something amazing, and it was cute with even a completely enclosed second floor which was definitely unique. But rumors have it that the solar powered privy here was voted by Backpacker magazine as one of the top ten privies in the country to do your thing at. Unfortunately, I didn't have anything to do, so I guess I'll have to go back for another visit another day.

I had already hiked over 20 miles that day, but I finally decided that I'd continue on to the next shelter 5.1 miles away as sunset approached. Hopefully I'd have room in the next shelter to avoid the nasty looking rain clouds coming in. And I'd get away from the West Virginians, who were already bragging about their swift-thinking trade of their stove for a bag of tobacco. And perhaps I could push passed through this large crowd into more serene areas.

So I struggled over the Highlands, what I've heard to be one of the most scenic areas on the entire trail. Unfortunately, most of the view was blotted out by fog, so I'll have to take their word for it.

The horrible mud changed into horrible rocks jutting out at dangerous angles ready to catch the unweary or careless hiker. My progress slowed, but fortunately I didn't manage to hurt myself along the way.

This area is also famous in the thru-hiker community for the wild ponies that are allowed to roam the area, and believe me, I saw plenty of them. Most people ooohed and awwwed at them, taking pictures, and feeding them whatever they could find in their packs.

It was a friggin' petting zoo. Wild my ass! These animals were no more wild than the squirrels that walk up to you begging for food. And they aren't exactly the most exotic and exciting animals in the first place. Now if there was a tiger or giraffe roaming those hills, wake me up!

I finally stumbled into Wise Shelter a little after 8:00, after completing over 25 miles of hiking with a full pack. And that shelter was full too! The horror! Most people were already snuggled into their sleeping bags—where one person was watching Will and Grace on a portable television set. And THESE bozos were going to keep me out of the shelter? I think not.

I cleared off the picnic table and proceeded to set up camp directly on it. All the floor space might be full, but there was still plenty of room on the picnic table!

It rained that night, and I was mighty glad to have gotten myself into that shelter somehow.

The next day I was planning another ambitious 20 mile hike to Trimpi Shelter in the hopes of getting past these slow moving people just out of Trail Days.

And it was nice. The weather cleared up. The horrible rocks and mud were now behind me. And I made it to the shelter by 4:00 in the afternoon, the second person to have reached it and secured my place in it. Life was good.

Within an hour of my arrival, we could hear the rumble of thunder coming in. Which was weird, because the sky was relatively clear at the time. A few more people arrived at the shelter before a good, steady rain started.

Being the quick-thinking guy that I am, I threw my dirty socks onto the picnic table where the rain might be able to clean them off a bit. (Unlike the last picnic table that was under the shelter, this one was exposed to the rain.) You'd think this was a strange way of doing laundry, but everyone else in the shelter knew exactly what I was up to and didn't question it one bit.

By morning, it had cleared once again, and I was on my way, this time for a relatively easy 17.7 mile hike to Chatfield Shelter.

Along the way I'd pass Partnership Shelter, perhaps the most luxurious shelter I've seen to date. Not only did it include showers, but there was a phone nearby that one could use to have a pizza delivered! Needless to say, this was a very, very popular shelter among thru-hikers.

I was tempted to make a short day and stay there for the night just so I could order pizza that I could have delivered directly to the shelter, but ultimately I wanted more miles on the trail before I quit and knowing the crowd crunch from Trail Days was in the area, the shelter would likely be bursting with people later. Maybe next time.

I managed to appease some of my urges with two 3 Musketeers bars and a Pepsi at the visitor center next door, filled up my water supplies from a faucet with real, running water, checked the weather forecast and hit the trail once again.

Stiles are used to get hikers over fences, but they could sometimes be hard to get over if they were wet and slippery.

Upon reaching the Chatfield Shelter, I learned that the register for it was missing. It was probably full and was removed, but nobody had replaced it yet. Fortunately, I had a replacement.

I purchased a notebook back in Erwin that I had been carrying all this way just for such an occasion, and I was glad to part with the extra weight. I filled out the front page with my contact information so when it's full, someone can send me the register as a souvenir. It'll be great if it does get back to me someday, but only time will tell if it does.

The next day I woke up bright and early (really!) in order to take maximum advantage of where the trail would cross I-81. Based on my sources, there would be restaurants, motels, convenience stations and more!

Along the way I had to stop to let a train pass—a first on a hike for me.

Unfortunately, I made it a little too early to I-81. All of the promises were true, but everything was still closed when I arrived! Except the motel, which I didn't really plan to use. There was even a Dairy Queen with its lights still off from the night before.

I made some phone calls and killed time by eating Starbursts and Pop Tarts I picked up from the gas station convenience store. While I usually enjoy such treats with great enthusiasm, it just wasn't the same as a hamburger and a blizzard at Dairy Queen. Perhaps even a strawberry shake to wash it down with.

But as the saying goes, the day was a-wasting, and I still needed to hike another 15 miles, so I sadly said goodbye to the darkened Dairy Queen and continued on my way.

At the next shelter, the Davis Path Shelter, I was greeted by four beautiful women. I've never liked a shelter so much! =)

But as with all things on the trail, I said goodbye to them too and marched onward. I was disappointed to pass eleven people on the trail heading in the same direction as myself—rather unheard of—and it didn't bode well for getting a spot in the shelter.

And sure enough, when I arrived, there was a whole platoon of people there. Even worse, there wasn't an overhang where I could commandaneer the picnic table and assure myself shelter from the ugly looking clouds. And, just to add insult to injury, the water supply was another 0.2 miles down a rather steep hill.

The reason for all the people, besides the Trail Days crunch, was that it was Memorial Day weekend, and tons of weekend packers were out in force. They'd hike maybe five miles in three hours, claim all the shelter spots, so us thru-hikers that had spent all day hiking nearly 20 miles would actually have to set up their own shelters. Bastards. They didn't have anything better to do all day than set up the tents they'd hauled up just not to use them.

So I made a decision much like I make many of my decisions: spontaneously. I would continue hiking down the trail until I found the first spot I could set up camp near a water source that I wouldn't have to hike to.

Which turned to be the same water source for the shelter. The first order of business was setting up the tarp. To save weight, I had sent my stakes home, so I scoured the area looking for large rocks and logs that I could bring over to anchor my tarp with, and set it up rather smartly.

Then it was time to make dinner: Quesadillas that night in order to use up the cheese I had been carrying before it went bad.

By this point, I actually had quite an audience watching me, asking all sorts of questions about my tarp and how I resupplied. They had all come down from the shelter to get water, something that took them longer than it took me to set up camp and make dinner.

But finally, the water was gathered and they were off to hike back up to the shelter.

That night, I would test my tarp against the rain for the first time. As evening progressed, the first drops came. I threw all the assorted stuff I had scattered around beneath the tarp, including myself, where I read the Spanish version of Readers Digest until it got dark and went to sleep.

The next morning I woke up to gloomy skies, but at least the rain had stopped and I along with all of my possessions (minus the tarp for obvious reasons) were dry.

I broke up camp and continued my journey, which was a rather dull day considering it stayed overcast and there was nothing of interest to see.

I stopped by the Chestnut Knob Shelter strategically placed at the top of Chestnut Knob with what must be a spectacular view had it been clear out.

Inside was a guy that within 5 seconds asked if I had God in my heart, and I—irritated—replied something to the effect of having lots of doom and gloom in my heart, but I'd manage.

Suspension bridges are always fun to jump on. =)

Then he proceeded to explain that God had created this beautiful day. I looked outside—rather gloomy and overcast—and looked at him slightly speechless, then asked, "Have you actually LOOKED outside today? The weather is HORRIBLE! It's cold and wet and I can't see more than 20 feet in every direction! The ONLY good thing I can say is that it's not actually raining!"

The guy was clearly not amused by my observations, and didn't seem to get the hint that I had no interest in discussing God, so I politely explained that I didn't hike up there to be preached to, and I'd appreciate it if he stopped. He said okay, he wasn't out to bother anyone that didn't want God in their heart. Even in his apology he was preaching. Ugh!

He left me alone to my own thoughts for ten minutes or so that I used to read the registry. And then it came: "How do you spell Savior?"

I can't write the first thought that came to mind, but I wondered if this guy was serious or if it was Round 2 of his sermon. Giving him the benefit of a doubt, I spelled it out for him: S-A-V-I-O-R. I hoped it would end there.

But no, "Are you sure there's not a U in there somewhere?"

I knew there would be no right answer to this question. But still holding back my real venom and assuming it really was an innocent question, I said the British probably spell it with one like they do with so many other words. Saviour. Just rolls off the tongue, don't you think?

Then it came: "Ah, yes, it does have a U, because it's save-our, like Jesus 'saved our' souls." (At this point, I wanted to start making vomiting noises, but I still managed to refrain from being that rude.)

I kind of nodded my head in pain at that twisted logic, doing all I could do to point out that savior is not a contraction of "save" and "our". The way I pronounce it, "save your" would be more correct, and I wanted to suggest that maybe he should spell it saveyour and maybe he'd get bonus points for being a dumbass.

Rather than continue to be heckled by this man, I put the pack back on and hit the trail once again, this time stopping at Jenkins Shelter for a good 19 mile day hike.

The shelter was pretty full, though not nearly as bad as the night before. I wasn't sure if rain was in the forecast, but I figured I could set up my tarp and hope it dried during the night, and since it was already up, I may was well use it since the ground was softer than the hard wood of the shelter and I'd be less likely to catch the virus running through the thru-hiker community.

The privy, as it turned out, I was told was a "must see", but without further elaboration. So I hoofed over to it out of curiosity, and I wasn't disappointed. The walls, floor, and ceiling had been painted by someone—obviously someone with too much time one their hands—with bizarre psychedelic colors of various scenes. One wall had a pot smoking leprechaun. The floor was painted as a huge monster, with the toilet filling the void for where the mouth would be, along with a "feed me" sign behind it. I'm glad it was one privy I had the opportunity to visit, because I'm sure I'll never see anything like it again.

The next day I woke up early in preparation for a 23.6 mile hike to the Jenny Knob Shelter. It would be my longest hike so far—at least the longest that actually was planned ahead of time. I hit the trail at 8:00 with grey skies, but I had a feeling the day would be kind it me, and it was.

The skies cleared—at least briefly—and I hiked the entire distance without stopping for more than ten minute breaks.

The first part was infuriating, criss crossing a creek—21 times according to one hiker's count—within two miles. It was about 15 or 20 feet wide, requiring skilled dexterity to hop from rock to rock without falling in. And the trail would cross this creek over and over again to an infuriating level.

At the last crossing, there was actually a bridge, and a trail angel was waiting with an ice chest full of drinks such as orange and grape juice, along with a trash can for us to lighten our loads a bit. I stopped long enough to gobble down an orange juice and grape juice, and I eyed an apple juice for a good, long while before passing on it. It was good karma to leave it for another thru-hiker, but the real reason was that I was filled up by the other two drinks. If I could have, I'd have had the apple juice too. I'd have even taken it for later except I didn't want to carry around the empty bottle afterwards.

The rest of the hike was non-exciting, with no more than slight ups and downs. I crossed my third interstate on the trip, I-77, although no truck stops or convenient stores crowded the area.

At the Jenny Knob Shelter, a church group were already scattered everywhere, but were thoughtful enough to leave the shelter for thru-hikers. So I secured my place and started preparing dinner. The church group were amazingly nice, far beyond the call of duty and even offered to get water for me since they were headed down there already.

One hiker had carried in the day's USA Today, something I readily gobbled up in a feeble attempt to grasp at reality. I miss a lot of the creature comforts of home, and the simple act of reading a newspaper becomes an addicting hobby. Not only am I reading the paper, but it's all about news from the outside world!

This paper had an article about how bad drivers are and which states had the best and worst roads. It also mentioned that the #1 movie last weekend was Bruce Almighty having taken in over $84 million during the Memorial Day weekend. What has happened to this country since I left for the trail? News like that makes me feel like I SHOULD be on the trail and away from all those wackos. Bruce Almighty?! Sheeze! =)

The next day I was planning for another long day—23.2 miles in total. So I woke up early and was on the trail by eight, the first as far as I could tell.

The terrain was practically flat most of the way, a welcome relief from the all too common of climbing a big mountain to learn there's no view through the trees, and treading back down it again—several times a day.

Dismal Falls was the most scenic part of the entire day, oddly enough!

One detour took me to the gloomily named Dismal Falls, ironically the most scenic part of my entire day. It wasn't a big waterfall by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a nice, calming cascade that I couldn't help but wonder how it got such a dismal name. There's got to be a story behind that one, but I don't know what it is.

I loitered at the falls for nearly a half hour before continuing on to Doc's Knob Shelter that I only had to share with one other occupant. Most people either stop 2.2 miles before it at the Woodshole Hostel, or continue 7 or so miles out to the bustling metropolis of Pearisburg.

Pearisburg had been in my sights since Damascus, a journey of about 160 miles where I didn't once leave the AT to resupply or rest. And I did it in nine days. Not too bad, I thought.

I woke to rain pounding the ground outside, and I lounged around camp hoping it would let up before I tromped into Pearisburg. And it did!

I hit the trail at around 9:30, later than I had hoped, but still would allow me to reach town by around noon. An hour later, the rain that had stopped came back with a vengeance. It poured in buckets, along with small, pellets of hail. My umbrella was unqualified for the task due to the myriad of low-branching trees it kept getting snagged on. I was glad I had a town I'd be drying in that day.

Then a flash of lightning. Nice, I thought for a moment, before the deathening roar of the thunder hit me less than a second later. I figured the lightning was a mile or two away and just coming in, but it was far closer than I had expected which is why the thunder startled me so much. Sound travels about one mile in six seconds, and this thunder came less than a second from the flash—it was extraordinarily close!

And a half hour later, the rain died off again, and I slogged my final few miles through the mud-filled trails to Pearisburg.

I decided to stay at the Rendezvous Motel strategically located just a block or two from the AT. And ended up splitting the cost with another thru-hiker named Monster, a large but friendly guy that didn't live up to his trail name.

Next stop: Dairy Queen. I had been craving that soft serve ice cream since I passed up the one that was closed near I-81, and now I was ready for some serious indulging.

After eating about three meals worth of food, I wobbled down to the post office where I picked up some mail drops and then to the supermarket where I stocked up on such important items as frosted cherry Pop Tarts and string cheese.

Then it was back to the motel where I clicked on television, popped some microwave popcorn (there was a microwave available in the room!), and generally enjoyed my time in gluttony. Monster spent most of the night out drinking with friends leaving the whole room essentially to myself.

And that�s it for this episode of Ryan�s Great Adventure. I�m now in Waynesboro, Virginia, so there�s still lots more for me to tell, but that�ll have to wait until next time. Farewell!

— Ryan

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