A Ryan Carpenter Production

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Pearisburg to Waynesboro, Virginia

Volume 36: Sat June 21, 2003

I last left you while strolling the streets of Pearisburg, Virginia. The next morning I headed off into the hills again. A rather short hike to the Rice Field Shelter perched on the top of a scenic overlook. Originally I was planning to go farther, but it was such a nice place and I really wasn't in any rush, so I quit the day early and enjoyed a restful afternoon overlooking an amazing view.

The next morning I woke to a pounding rain and the mooing of cows just outside of the shelter. It was kind of fun in a cowboy, rustic kind of way. Eventually the rain died off and I started the day's hiking. I made it to the Pine Swamp Branch Shelter before the water spigot in the sky turned back on, the only person on that 12 mile stretch of trail to avoid the rain, and when it started clearing up again, I continued on my way to Bailey Gap Shelter.

But the great water spigot in the sky came on again before I could reach it, so I whipped out my umbrella and continued on my way. Fortunately, the rain was actually somewhat warm and there was no bitter cold wind to go with it, so my spirits stayed high.

A footbridge crossed small stream, Dismal Branch. At first glance, the bridge looked pretty solid, but being made of wood and wet from the rain and lacking hand-rails, I took my time carefully crossing it. At least until I reached the middle of it where the bridge suddenly lurched like a horse trying to buck me off. Which it partially managed to do. My feet flew out from under me, but I managed to fall onto the bridge rather than over it. However, my umbrella went flying into the river where it immediately started to sink.

And I thought, 'I want that umbrella!' So with little thought, I jumped off the bridge into the water (it was maybe a drop of one foot into water perhaps a little higher than ankle deep) and recovered my umbrella. I sloshed the rest of the way to the other side and quickly looked around for any incriminating hidden cameras, but seeing none, I continued on.

The rest of the way was relatively non-eventful and I made it to the shelter without further incidents. I claimed my spot, changed into dry clothes, and settled down for the night.

The next day we woke up to fog, a fact that frustrated thru-hikers everywhere. It had rained every day—at some point—every day for the last three or so weeks, and we were generally fed up with these winter-like conditions through most of spring. It was now June, though, and we hoped he weather would finally change into spring.

And it began to clear, much to the relief of thru-hikers everywhere. The clouds parted, blue sky was overhead, and I decided to charge on 21 miles Sarver Hollow Shelter and take advantage of the great weather while it lasted.

Through one meadow I found my feet sinking up to my ankles in mud, rather disheartening on an otherwise beautiful day. So at the next creek crossing, I sat on the bridge, took off my shoes and socks, and proceeded to wash them.

Just before the shelter the trail climbs up to a ridge that it follows for a couple of miles, and there were strange piles of rocks along it. I'm not sure how they got there, who put them there, or when, or why, but it was an eerie feeling walking among them.

Later, at the shelter, I would learn that the area was haunted by the Blair Witch, a story I'm convinced was due to these strange rock piles I noticed earlier.

I shared this shelter with just one other person, a section hiker named John. During the middle of the night he heard a rustling nearby and flashed a light on the biggest, ugliest rat I had ever seen. I've seen lots of mice at shelters, but this creature was big enough to make even the most hardy of men tremble with fear. But we went back to sleep—what else could we do?

The next morning, I discovered that one of my precious socks were missing. I hung them on a nail to dry overnight, and I hunted around thinking that maybe a gust of wind blew it down or something but to no avail. My sock just up and left. Perhaps it was the giant rat, and he swiped it to use as a sleeping bag. Or maybe it was the Blair Witch playing a practical joke. My mom would probably be happy that I'd finally be required to replace the well-worn sock that has served me so faithfully for nearly 700 miles. I suspect Amanda might agree with my mom about that poor sock.

Whatever the reason, I would be leaving the shelter with one sock less than when I arrived.

Coming back down the mountain I would hear a strange buzzing sound coming from an indistinct direction. At the Niday Shelter I asked John—who had already arrived—if he heard the buzzing too or if I was going crazy, and he was as puzzled about the strange sound as myself.

His map showed that there was some private property nearby, and we theorized there was a plant or something there causing the strange noise, but later discovered it was actually some sort of insect that I wasn't familiar with, being from the west coast and all. It was kind of disappointing not to be able to attribute that bizarre phenomenon to aliens or government conspiracies, which is always fun.

One of the rare sunsets I could watch from a shelter, this one just outside of Pearisburg overlooking into West Virginia

John and I chatted about the eternal question of "What do you do?" that always turns up on the trail, and interesting answers we could provide. We could tell people we were CIA looking for an undercover KGB agent on the run on the Appalachian Trail—or, even better, we were the ones on the run from the FBI or CIA. Laying low. Wouldn't that make someone else's day exciting?!

John even went one step further and suggested I could tell people that I was Eric Rudolph, abortion clinic and Olympic bomber at large that took off in the wilds a number of years back. The FBI spent all summer searching for him on the AT, reading registers for clues, and scouting out Trail Days in the hopes of catching him, but they never did find him.

I never got a chance to use that story, because about 20 minutes later I came out to a road crossing where a trail angel was passing out sodas and salads—much to my delight—and also learned that Eric Rudolph had been caught that very morning. So the Eric Rudolph story went down in flames before I had a chance to use it.

Later I learned the details of his capture and what he'd been doing for the last five years, living on a hillside near Murphy, North Carolina. Which didn't mean much to me until someone told me it's about three miles from Franklin, which the AT passes within a few miles of. Had I ventured out a dozen or so miles to his outdoor hide-a-way, I could have personally discovered the criminal! Wouldn't that have been an exciting story to tell... I'll have to keep a better lookout for criminals on the run in the future, although I'm not aware of any others hiding out near the AT.

I continued along the trail, this time up a tall, stupid mountain with a memorial for Audie Murphy. If you're like me, you have no idea who this person is. He's a WWII hero that died in a plane crash on a Virginian Mountain, and the memorial marks the spot "near" where the plane crashed.

However, this very tall mountain was completely devoid of views, and you could hear me huffing and puffing my way up wondering why the heck the trail went up there to see a memorial for a guy I'd never heard of.

Then the trail headed back down the mountain, and I followed a blue blazed trail a half mile out to Pickle Branch Shelter, not really surprised to see that nobody else was there. Most thru-hikers shun shelters that far off the trail.

I spread out and made myself comfortable, and was surprised that by dark three more people showed up. AFTER dark two more showed up. It turned out to be rather crowded, but they put together a roaring campfire so I couldn't complain too much.

The next morning it was raining once again, a rather dispiriting note. I packed up, pulled out my umbrella, and hit the trail.

The trail climbed steadily up to Dragon's Tooth, a cool-sounding name for the single most treacherous part of the trail I had seen to date. A climber's rope would not have looked out of place on this trail on a dry day. On a wet day, it was vital. I didn't have a climbers rope, though. Instead, I scooted down cliffs on my butt and bouldered down other areas after throwing my useless trekking pole down to the bottom. Miraculously, I had no mishaps, and followed the tortuous route past Devils Seat and finally down to civilization where the trail crossed Virginia highway 624.

One of my first views into West Virginia, but I'd still have to hike about 500 miles before stepping into the state!

Standing there, in the rain, after completing that harrowing piece of trail, I decided to follow the road down a third of a mile to a gas station. There I made some phone calls, and gorged myself with two chili dogs, Pop Tarts, Starbursts, and a bottle of apple juice.

I also learned from the front page of the Roanake Times that that May was the rainiest May ever recorded. I can't say it was really a surprise to any thru-hiker, but it was still dispiriting to see our fears confirmed.

There was also a poster promoting a gun raffle. Most communities try to get guns off the street. This one was so bored, they were trying to put them ON the streets. What was this, West Virginia or something?

I hiked back to the trail and continued my journey through fields surrounded by electric fences, because when it's cold and wet, barbed-wire just won't do. The added challenge of electric fences and cow dodging is far more fun.

And I continued on to Campbell Shelter where I managed to squeeze myself in and make myself comfortable.

It rained that night, but I woke up to fog and got on the trail early hoping to outrun any approaching storms. The trail climbed over Tinker Cliffs, a visually impressive area where even the sun came out briefly for me to enjoy. But I didn't stop to rest until I reached Daleville, VA, where the trail comes out on US 220.

It was the most beautiful view I had seen all day. There stood a Pizza Hut right across the street, and a motel next door to it. Further down the street at the I-81 interchange I could see more fast-food establishments and motels as far as the eye could see. I was in paradise.

I hiked a third of a mile to an outfitters in hopes of finding new and improved gear to lighten my load even more. Ultimately I settled for a new pair of camp shoes that probably cut a pound or so off my pack weight.

Then I stopped at Krogers to resupply my food supply that—if all went well—would take me to Waynesboro. I guess my eyes were bigger than my pack, because I found myself sitting outside of Krogers unable to fit all my newfound food into my pack. I took a seat in some lawnchairs they were selling and proceeded to eat as much of my food as possible.

At one point, an employee on a break came out and sat nearby that I started up a conversation with. She looked like a teenager, probably working a part-time job after high school gets out.

Out of curiosity, I asked her what the population of Daleville was, and she told me that it's considered a part of Trouteville, which extends over a rather large area and has a huge population. I felt like I was talking to the Microsoft support staff. Her answer might have been technically correct, but it wasn't very helpful.

She told me that she had tried hiking one time, but the bugs were just everywhere, and she got out as quickly as possible, never to go back into the woods again.

Somewhere along in the conversation I mentioned that I've always wanted to see a tornado. She told me her dad was a truck driver and they were going through Utah one time and drove past three of them.

"And I've always wanted to be in a hurricane," I continued.

"No you don't. I was in one a couple of years back, and it wasn't fun."

"But I did get myself into a situation where I was 'essentially' a hostage while traveling in Guatemala that was really exciting!"

"I had an ex-boyfriend take me hostage—twice. It's scary when there's a gun to your head."

I nodded. For a teenager, she's sure got a lot of stories to tell. I decided to test a theory: "I was raped on the trail last week."

"Yeah, well I was murdered!"

Uh-huh.... I put what food I couldn't fit in my pack in plastic bags and walked down to the Ecnolodge where I checked in, kicked off my shoes, and played with the running water in the sink. After boring of that, I took a shower and kicked on TV. And continued to eat the food that wouldn't fit in my pack.

I got a slow start the next morning—it's hard to leave the comforts of civilization. By 10:00 I was on the trail again with the sun shining bright. Within a mile I passed under I-81, the third time on my trip I'll have crossed that particular interstate. A short jump later I was in Troutville, where I stopped briefly at the post office.

Then got back on the trail and headed into the woods and away from all those wonderful creature comforts, with a plastic grocery bag in one hand carrying all the food that I was still unable to fit into my pack.

A thru-hiker along a ridge, pausing to admire the view

Being such a beautiful, clear day, I hiked until 8:30 that evening—by far the latest I got into camp. The trail crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway three times along the way, where I got to see some nice views and the beginning of the sunset. I'd have stayed longer to watch the sun actually set, but I didn't have a flastlight (extra weight that I'd rarely ever need) so I wanted to get into camp before dark.

I woke the next morning to another beautiful day—two in a row now which was rather sobering. I left the Bobblets Gap Shelter by 7:30. The trail climbed back up to the Blue Ridge Parkway again where I crossed it a few more times before stopping to rest at the Bryant Ridge Shelter.

Then it was a long, 2000' climb up Floyd Mountain where I took turns resting, cussing, and drinking water—and not necessarily in that order. The temperature was up in the 80s, so it wasn't scorching hot, but definitely warmer than I'd prefer whie hiking up 2000' with a full pack.

But I finally made it to the Cornelius Creek Shelter where I'd be camping for the night. I wrote a few unkind words about Floyd and his mountain in the registry and set up camp.

The next morning we woke up to rain—a drenching, dispiriting downpour—ending our two day streak of beautiful weather. We all sat in the shelter for much of the morning watching the evil rain falling outside. Apparently flood warnings were in effect in the area, in fact.

But finally I headed out with umbrella overhead. It was a bad day on the trail. First, my umbrella suffered a catastrophic failure with one of the 'arms' bent in half.

Then when I arrived at Thunder Hill Shelter, I was welcomed with, "Is Jesus in your heart?!" It was the missionary, the same one I thought I had left for good hundreds of miles back. It seems he decided that hiking to Maine wasn't practical, so he hitched ahead right into my path once again. He was wearing a bright, red tie, hand-decorated with crosses and other religious symbols. He was packing up his large, canvas duffel bag—I learned that he doesn't hike with a backpack, but rather that large duffel bag, which he holds to his chest as he hikes. This particular mode of hiking means he can't see the trail very well, and I've heard he trips numerous times over the unseen rocks in a vain attempt to kill himself.

And THEN, later in the day when I stopped for water, I realized that one of my precious new camp shoes was missing, falling off my pack at some unknown point within the last eight miles.

I scribbled a note to leave there at a trailhead in the hopes that somebody might have picked it up and could 'trail mail' it to me at the next shelter where I planned to spend the night.

And at last, I arrived at the Matts Crek Shelter where I set up camp and the day improved.

First, a guy arrived carrying no other than my missing shoe. Strangely, it was found on the trail AFTER the point I noticed it was missing, and I can only surmised that it walked up the trail by itself in search of me. We hadn't been together very long, but we'd already formed a very close bond.

Then the guy with my missing shoe announced that he passed nobody on the trail—including the missionary that must have gotten off and would not be sharing a shelter with me that night. Praise the Lord, Jesus is in my heart!

And finally, the weather forecast was for partly cloudy skies without rain. Things were definitely looking up.

I went to sleep feeling good, but later that evening was woken by a late arrival with headlamp blarring evilly. It was Missionary Moses, bless his annoying heart, waking the dead with his 'Is Jesus in your heart?' crap. I'm not sure he's ever turned anyone on to God, but I'm pretty convinced he's converted at least a couple to Satanism.

He plopped himself next to me and spent the next half-hour spreading out all his gear while I groggily tried to ignore him. The day ended on a sour note.

I woke the next morning—because GI Jesus (a nickname that thru-hikers started calling him behind his back) decided that it was vitally important to read Bible passages out loud—at 5:00 in the morning. The bastard. I was ready to kill.

Needless to say, I got one of my earliest starts ever on the trail in the hopes of putting in a very long day and get as much distance between myself and the missionary.

A sunset along the trail....

Today's hike would take me over the James River, something I'd been admiring from the mountain tops for a couple of days by then. It was rather exciting passing over this river since it was one of the largest ones I've seen on the trail, and it was the first river I'd actually heard of before starting my journey. Many Civil War battles occurred near the river, and it was great to finally see it in person.

The bridge across it was fairly new and dedicated specifically for AT users to pass over. It was a beautiful structure, and I thought what every man must think while hiking over it: Wouldn't it be cool to pee off? So I did. For you women out there, it's a man thing. You'll never understand our desire to pee off high places.

My business done, I continued on, crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway yet again, and stopped at Little Irish Creek where a couple of wonderful trail angels had set up camp. They offered me a soda and a cheese sandwich that I ate with great relish.

The man picked up the nickname "Mileage Assassin" due to his ability to kill hiker's mileage for the day. He tried to kill mine as per tradition, with promises of dinner in another hour and a pancake breakfast in the morning—a very tempting offer indeed—but looking over my shoulder and the tie-wielding missionary in mind, I begged off and continued my journey.

I passed by a dam—the water supply for Lynchburg if the signs are accurate—that was hynotic to watch as it cascaded over the dam. The reservoir was actually full, and the water runoff flowed over it beautifully.

I sweated bullets through a trail getting muddier by the second, and if the folks of Lynchburg wonder about that sweet taste in their water supply, you can tell him it might be my sweat as I hiked through their watershed.

And at last, over 20 miles later, I pulled into Brown Mountain Creek Shelter. There I got to watch the Great Homer Cookout when Homer knocked over his flaming stove spilling burning alcohol on himself, the picnic table, and the ground. Very exciting, though nothing worse than minor burns on Homer and a good laugh over the whole thing.

Winginit explained to me how to make an alcohol stove out of soda cans—a prospect that seems strangely manly. How cool it would be to make your own stove with nothing more than a couple of soda cans and a knife. I'd have to try that sometime. I've started calling them MacGyver stoves, although everyone else simply calls them 'alcohol stoves'. How boring is that?

The missionary didn't catch up, thank goodness, but I did waken in the middle of the night to a pouring rain and lightning that was bright enough to pass for daylight.

The next morning I woke up to beautiful, blue skies, though, and hit the trail running. I picked up a spare pair of gaiters someone had left behind. We surmised that they probably belonged to Blink Blink, who had left earlier that morning and we found the gaiters where she had been sleeping. Being the recipient of trail mail three times now (sunglasses, trekking pole, and a camp shoe), I was excited to return the favor to someone else.

I caught up to her and Winginit at the top of Cold Mountain where they were trying to dry all their gear from the wetness of the last few days. The gaiters did belong to Blink Blink which I was happy to return, although she hadn't even realized they were missing until I asked if she was missing some.

Then I continued on to the Seeley-Woodworth Shelter where I decided to continue a few more miles to Spy Rock. Besides the fact that it was a cool name, there were supposed to be fantastic views and the weather report for the night was clear and dry. So I figured I'd hike out to Spy Rock where I could watch the sun set and camp there among the trees nearby.

I set up my tarp—not because I had to, but rather because it seemed like a manly thing to do and I was feeling particularly manly. Then I hauled myself up on top of Spy Rock where I watched an incredible sunset and chatted with a few other thru-hikers who had the same idea I did. None of us knew how the rock got its name, but we all felt there was a good story behind it—whatever it was.

Then I headed back down to my campsite and promptly went to sleep. I woke the next morning to a beautiful, glowing, orange orb rising through the trees, and lounged around in my sleeping bag enjoying the morning.

Finally I got myself up and broke down camp and continued my journey. Along the way I found a good sized black snake—the longest one I've ever seen in the wild—that was exciting. I don't know what kind of snake it was, although I did recognize it as not being any of the venomous kind.

The trail then climbed up 3000 horribly exhausting feet to Three Ridges. The day was warming up rapidly and I found myself half way up and already out of water, although I discovered a spring a mile later that I used to quench my thirst.

I ended the day at Maupin Field Shelter to learn that only Blink Blink would be sharing the shelter that night with me—a nice change from the usually crowded shelters I had been staying in recently. The other thru-hikers on the trail continued a couple miles farther to a hostel run by Rusty—a unique and interesting place I've been told is not worth missing, but I'd be missing it anyhow.

The bugs buzzed and bit us all night long, rather an annoyance when you're trying to sleep, but otherwise it was a good night.

Then it was on to the Paul C. Wolfe Shelter a measly 16.1 miles down the trail. I took my time since by now such a short mileage day I could crank out in no time. For good measure, the trail crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway two final times before heading down to the shelter.

Then I'd be hiking five more miles into Waynesboro the next morning and the trail friendly Shenandoahs beyond that.

I woke early—about six am—and was on the trail within a half hour. I started trudging down the trail along a nice little stream with a couple of cute waterfalls for about 15 minutes before I realized that I wasn't actually on the Appalachian Trail. As it turned out, I took the wrong trail out of the shelter.

Loa sits on a stile eating an apple. The fence keeps cows out of this shelter!

I trudged up the trail back to the shelter, found the correct trail, and headed off yet again towards Rockfish Gap. It was my intention to meet up with Amanda there, although I didn't have any idea when she'd actually be arriving since I hadn't crossed a pay phone to talk to her in over a week.

The trail passed several large pile of rocks at one point—a graveyard according to my guidebook—and then the ruins of an old homestead before I arrived up at Rockfish Gap. This is the 'beginning' of the 500 or so mile Blue Ridge Parkway, although for me it would be the end of my time on the parkway and the beginning of Skyline Drive.

Upon reaching Rockfish Gap, I didn't see Amanda anywhere so I walked down to the Information Center there in search of, well, information. Like where the nearest payphone was.

The information guy pointed behind me to a payphone about five feet away—which made me feel kind of silly—but I got over it quickly and took off my pack, sat down on the chair at the phone (ahhhh!), and started dialing. Foiled again—I only got Amanda's voice mail. I left a message saying I made it to Rockfish Gap and was hanging around killing time waiting and hoping she'd be by soon to pick me up.

Then I made some more phone calls and checked my e-mail (or some of it, at least) with my Pocketmail device. I even signed the visitor center register to kill an additional 30 seconds.

That done, I tried calling Amanda again, but still nothing. I left a message saying I'd be going into Waynesboro on my own before too long if I don't get ahold of her soon and wait for her somewhere in town.

As I hung up, a couple of people walked in and noticed me on the phone. Or rather, I wasn't on the phone anymore, but still enjoying the feeling of sitting in that wonderful chair in front of the phone.

They noticed me and the woman said something like, "Look, it's a hiker!" As they explained it, they 'wanted to be trail angels,' but they couldn't find the Appalachian Trail. I thought this was very amusing but was thrilled at the prospect of sodas and Twinkies and all I had to do was show them where the AT came out at. NO PROBLEM! =)

Then the woman looked at the register and looked up suddenly—"Green Turtle is here!?" I raised my hand and said that I was Green Turtle, kind of surprised at this strange behavior from someone I had never met before.

"We were looking for you!" Okay, now this is kind of freaky....

"We're the TripleV Gang."

Ahhhh.... Okay, at least I knew who they were now—letterboxers I had exchanged e-mails with before, although I was still mystified how they knew I'd be at Rockfish Gap then.

They explained that Amanda arranged the meeting, who was still MIA. And since I had been unable to talk to her for the last week, she wasn't able to warn me about the surprise welcoming party.

However the TripleV Gang had news for me—Amanda expected to arrive between ten and eleven o'clock in the morning. It wasn't quite ten yet, but at least now I had a time frame for when to expect her arrival.

I went with the TripleV Gang to their car where they fed me Hawaiian Punch, Twinkies, and a banana. It was wonderful. And after I finished my first soda, I pulled out a pocketknife and immediately started carving away at it in an attempt to turn it into a stove, which I explained to the poor family who surely thought I must have spent one day more in the outdoors than I should have.

Amanda drove up about a half hour later where we continued to talk and exchange stamps. Then we headed off to get some real food—I think normal people call it lunch. We drove to Wendys where I enjoyed the luxury of air-conditioning on this exceptionally sunny and hot day, weather conditions I found bizarre and difficult to fathom.

Eventually we said our goodbyes and the TripleV Gang headed off into the proverbial sunset with tentative plans to meet up with me again in Front Royal about 100 trail miles away.

Amanda drove me to a hotel where I got to shower, shave, and change into sharp, clean clothes she had brought. I felt almost human once again!

Then we headed to the library where I got on the Internet for the first time in three weeks and weeded through e-mails from hundreds of admirers such as Jennifer that wanted to 'talk' to me on her website at www.not4kids.com

I also found a website where I found 'official' directions for making a soda-can stove. With this in hand, I thought, making a stove should be much easier!

We stopped at other miscellaneous places such as a craft store (I needed something to poke holes for my stove) before retiring for the night where I got to watch the marvels of modern television.

And that takes you up to my arrival in Waynesboro. I'm now currently frolicing around in Front Royal, Virginia, so there's still more to be written, but that'll have to wait another week or so. =)

Carpe diem!

— Ryan

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