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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Virginia: Rocks and snakes.

We are still hiking through Virginia, and are now at mile 723.5, just shy of completing one third of the trail. Whoever told us that Virginia is flat clearly has not hiked this portion. We were also surprised to encounter some very rocky terrain, which, aside from being tiring and slow going, presents a new issue of being on the lookout for snakes. We have seen a few king snakes, garden snakes, a rattlesnake, and a copperhead.  I have never before encountered a poisonous snake on such up close and personal terms. Call me crazy, but I want to give them very wide berth; Keith is more adventurous. The other day, we were hiking along in the late afternoon, when I saw the rattler a few feet in front of me. I stopped dead in my tracks. Keith had somehow hiked right past without noticing. I'm not sure how, since it was right in the trail, which was fairly narrow, but it's easy to daydream a bit while hiking, so I'll cut him some slack. 
I called Keith back to look at it. The snake wasn't rattling, but was hissing his tongue a bit. I thought it prudent to go off trail and around. Keith threw a small stick right on top of it trying to move if off trail so those coming behind wouldn't accidentally step on it. The snake didn't move. What does Keith do? He grabs his hiking pole and proceeds to pick it up to move it off the trail, while I watch with horror envisioning some super-powered snake move where the rattler darts forward with lightning speed to sink large fangs in Keith's chest. Thankfully, the rattler simply curled up on the pole and allowed itself to be moved off trail. We later learned from a hiker ahead of us that the snake was probably so docile because it had just devoured a chipmunk and was full. Keith has agreed to not use his hiking pole anymore to move poisonous snakes. :-)

Virginia has been quite beautiful and we've enjoyed many scenic views of green valleys and farms below. We're looking forward to hitting Shenandoah National Park in about ten days. 

Until the next post, Canadian Bacon out. 

 Keith lounging on a hillside at lunchtime. 

Keiffer oak. The largest tree in the south on the AT. 
Us on top of McAfee knob. Awesome views. 

The rattlesnake Keith moved off trail. 
Copperhead on the trail. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Oh Weather!

We are now at mile 542, just outside Atkins, Virginia. Our travels since Damascus have included many days of rain and lots of slippy, slidy mud. The trail had so much flowing water that we joked we were hiking the Appalachian river, rather than a trail. On our second day back out, we climbed Whitetop mountain, about a four mile climb, which has a large bald (grassy, treeless bare top). Starting out the weather wasn't too bad, although colder than one would expect for May, and it was raining lightly and a little windy.  Right before we got to the top, the winds started to pick up. We met up with some other thru hikers Quohag and Oreo who had been ahead of us. They warned us that the winds were about 55 mph at the top. They had left their packs on the other side and come back to assist Quaker since he was behind us and they were concerned about him crossing the bald without assistance in the high winds. Little did we know what was in store for us at the top. Our first steps were shocking with the difference in wind, rain, and temperature. The closer to the top we got, the worse the weather became.  The rain/sleet/ice we were pelted with was unlike anything I've experienced before. These were not 55 mph winds. I've stood outside in category one hurricane winds. This was worse. We had to literally inch our way along the trail while digging our poles in and struggling to stay upright. Keith was blown over when he took a misstep on a rock just as a huge gust of wind blew. We were blown several feet off the trail constantly, and although we knew it was only a couple hundred yards to the other side, I was very scared we would not make it across. We later discovered that the winds were 80 mph sustained, with 100 mph wind gusts. By the time we finally made it to the other side, everything was soaked through and we were freezing. We debated briefly about waiting for the others, but decided we couldn't be sure how long they would be and we were risking hypothermia if we didn't keep moving. We found a spot to set up camp (pic below) about a mile or so further and set about quickly putting up our tent and getting into dry clothes and warming up. We worried about the others but later learned that they went past us another mile to a trailhead/parking area where nine hikers huddled in a small bathroom while they waited for hours for someone to pick them up and take them into town. We spent the next day in our tent while it rained. The experience was the lowest point of our trip and more than a little disheartening. However, the following day we set out again, reaching Grayson Highlands State Park and a treat that made up for the previous misery. Right after lunch, we came across a herd of wild ponies, including two babies, who came right up to us and licked the salt off our sweaty clothes. We were rained on yet again, and cut our day short to spend the night in the closest shelter with a group of others. A couple of pics below show the interesting food combinations hikers were putting together that day. In one, there is peanut butter and honey on one half of the tortilla, and salami, cheese, chips, and hot sauce on the other half. Yum. 
We hiked a fourth day in the rain, which oddly, ended up being our first 20 mile day. The next day, we finally saw sunshine and our spirits improved greatly. We came into the Mount Rogers visitor center where we had burgers and fries delivered, which really made the day. We are both losing weight (Keith way too much) and try to eat as much as possible since we burn about five to six thousand calories a day. 

Our section into Atkins was one of the prettiest so far. We had moderate terrain through green meadows full of wildflowers and smelled fragrant trees and flowers the whole way. Thankfully, we made it into town right before the rain started again. We are warm and dry tonight and ready to start out tomorrow in the sunshine. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

The Good.

I find it difficult to adequately express the beauty we experience every day as we travel north through the mountain ranges. Each day it is a little greener. Each day new flowers are blooming, the leaves on the trees fill in and plants get bigger. We often stop to admire majestic views of bright green valleys with mountain ranges as the backdrop. We have seen brightly colored lizards, a baby mole, snakes, cows (yes, cows), and a turtle, who we affectionately nicknamed Shell Shocked, that we came across one day on the trail after having climbed for several miles and a few thousand feet of elevation. Keith (a/k/a Zen Master) joked that Shell Shocked started the trail about a decade ago. We have enjoyed starting the trail early on some mornings when the day is cool and crisp, the birds are singing, and we feel as if we are the only hikers on the trail. We also love the lazy lunches with other hikers while we rest our legs and soak up some sunshine.

This last leg we were able to enjoy several gorgeous waterfalls and hiked along riversides and Watauga lake in Tennessee.

We have met some amazing people along the way: a 70 year old woman named Vagabond who completed over 700 miles last year and was back out this year to continue on. We also met a 60ish man Quaker, who is spreading a little of his father's ashes in each state as he goes along. We witness this hiker community made up of people of all ages and from all walks of life who become instant friends and watch out for one another. We enjoy the solitude of our hike and being lost in our thoughts just as much as we enjoy the camaraderie with other hikers.

Seeing old friends and making new friends.

Food. Lots and lots of food. Snickers especially on the trail and enormous half pound burgers in town.

Hot showers and clean clothes in town.

Silliness and gossip at the hostels.

The Bad.

Rain. Rain. Rain. Cold and rain. Cold and rain and mud.

The trail when it is made up of what we have dubbed a minefield of rocks. Rocks of all sizes that threaten to overturn and cause twisted ankles.

Sore knees and sore feet. Rocks and roots have a nasty habit of slyly concealing themselves from you until your boot slams into them sending shooting pain up your foot or causing you to stumble forward violently head first toward the ground. Thankfully, we hike with poles which has prevented us from face planting into the dirt.

A crazy guy on the trail who was harassing hikers and scaring some, particularly a young female friend of ours, Rainbow Bright. He was out in the middle of the woods dressed in a button down and khakis and suede dress shoes, with a black duffel bag and a pail in which it appeared he was bleaching clothes. He spoke to some in a Russian accent and to others in a weird mix of Spanish, preaching that they were condemned.

No cell phone service - even in town.

The Ugly.
An experience we would rather not repeat. Imagine this: you have just hiked for several hours in the pouring rain. Your boots are so thoroughly soaked that you could literally take them off and pour water from them. It is really cold. You have finally managed to make camp, and get into warm, dry clothes. You are zipped up tight in your mummy sleeping bag, which is snug even around your head. You are getting ready to fall asleep when suddenly your stomach makes threatening gurgling noises. Hmmm. You take some pepto bismal. No relief. The thought occurs that perhaps you might vomit. That thought turns into reality moments later as you struggle to free yourself from your mummified position, unzip yourself and the tent's inside and outside zippers before hurling the contents of your dinner (chicken a la king, which I may never eat again) over your boots and just beyond the rain fly. Twice. Then, about an hour later, your spouse repeats the process, which causes you to once again violently expel any remaining stomach contents. You spend the rest of the night enduring the horrible smell coming from just outside the tent, and the next day moaning in the tent.

Lest you think the bad in any way overshadows the good, it has not. We are in our fourth state approaching the five hundred mile mark and still loving our journey.

As we say out here: see you down the trail!