An Appalachian Trail Series – Virginia, Part Two

Part two in this two-part post covers the Appalachian Trail north from Daleville, VA to the Virginia/West Virginia border:

277.5 miles from Daleville, VA to the Virginia/West Virginia border

  •   536.8 miles total in VA (not including the 15 miles +/- that hug the Virginia/West Virginia border)

23 Days from Daleville, VA to the Virginia/West Virginia border

  •   53 total days spent in VA

Fun Fact: Nearly one-fourth of the Appalachian Trail runs through Virginia.

Virginia

Leaving Daleville was a struggle. Not so much from the pull of the town but from the state of exhaustion I found myself in. I don’t know if it’s malnourishment (probably) or the daily wear-and-tear on my body (likely) but I knew I needed to try something new. We’re going to start with upping our calorie count. Little things like adding olive oil to meals and packing out peanut butter are worth their weight in gold in terms of the calories added.

At this point, the trail started to follow alongside the Blue Ridge Parkway. This would remain the case until we exited out of the Shenandoah Valley near the end of Virginia (the Blue Ridge Parkway changes names to Skyline Drive once you reach Shenandoah National Park). While the road was busy with traffic and people, you didn’t have to wander too far from the road to feel like you are back in nature’s serenity.

A couple of days after Daleville, we came upon the perfect swimming hole. It was freezing cold but it boosted our energy levels for the remainder of the day. Rob jumped in with his crocs on and then proceeded to have to chase them down the quick-moving stream after they slipped off his feet. Watching him wildly splash around trying to get his hands on them was quite amusing for me; I think it was amusing for him, too.

Appalachian Trail 565

Our fun continued when we received the most amazing trail magic that night at a shelter. As we were enjoying good conversation with some trail friends before bed, we heard someone scream out from the pitch dark “Any thru-hikers want some beer?” Our group instantly responded “Hell yeah!” in unison, as if there was any other fathomable response to the question. Up walked Raingear, a 2011 thru-hiker, carrying a cooler of beer and turkey sandwiches. He lived in the area and wanted to pay it forward to the next class of thru-hikers. He did so in an epic way. Thank you, Raingear!

The next day we hiked across the James River footbridge and threw our thumbs in the air trying to catch a ride to Glasgow, VA. We’ve been eating A LOT and were in need of an unplanned resupply. It took us about a half-hour before an older man, who drives this route daily, stopped to pick us up. He mentioned that he always picks up hikers whenever he sees them (for the company AND the entertainment). After arriving in Glasgow and expressing our gratitude, we turned away from the car to explore the town and were stopped in our tracks as if hitting a brick wall. What sight caused this reaction, you ask? I’ll show you as words couldn’t possibly do it any justice:

Glasgow, VA

I’ve seen some strange statues in my day but this… this was a first. I never learned the back story behind this dinosaur-riding cavewoman but I now feel that this should be replicated wherever possible. It would bring the world so much joy.

We weren’t expecting much in the small town of Glasgow but we were pleasantly surprised. There was a good diner, decent resupply, a library, and a shelter the town built for hikers. Believe me when I tell you they went above and beyond when constructing this shelter.

Appalachian Trail 582

The shelter had been built within the past couple of years so we benefited from a nice, clean, new shelter. It also had real benches surrounding a fire pit and a heated, private shower. Heated is an understatement – it was skin-melting magma hot (we later learned that the temperature regulator had recently broken). I wanted to benefit from some warmth so I kept turning the hot water on until I couldn’t bear it anymore and flipped it back to cold. It was as bipolar of a shower as I’ve ever had – but a shower nonetheless!

On the way back out of town, we ended up hitching a ride with the same guy who brought us into Glasgow. I guess he wasn’t kidding when he said he always stops for hikers. This guy deserves a dinosaur-riding statue in his honor!

Feeling refreshed, we covered some ground the next couple of days. The most notable occurrence was our swim in an emerald colored lake just before Brown Mountain Creek Shelter. After getting out, I looked back out at the lake to admire the view and instead admired a snake swimming in the water right in the vicinity where we were splashing around. I don’t think I could have remained calm if that thing swam by me while still in the water. I mean, what would you do? I’m glad we got out when we did!

Appalachian Trail 586

This could have been our last picture taken…

The beginning of June is primetime for berry picking. Grabbing some fresh berries during a long climb made for a nice distraction.  Another nice distraction? This trail magic:

Appalachian Trail 590

A really neat spot in this section of trail is Spy Rock. Spy Rock is a huge rock outcropping that provides 360° views over the greatness that is Virginia. Do not skip climbing to the top. The experience is unbeatable.

Appalachian Trail 592

On our way to “The Priest” shelter, we met a group of tourists who were so intrigued with our journey that they all took pictures with us. I felt a little strange that we made it into their vacation album. I feel like future conversations about the picture would go something like this:      

       “Who are these people, Frank? Celebrities?”

“No. Just some hobo’s we met on vacation that walk around a lot. They smelled pretty bad.”      

       “Why’d you take a picture of them then?”

“Just in case we ended up seeing them on an ‘America’s Most Wanted’ poster. Those rewards can be pretty hefty, you know.”

Interestingly enough, “The Priest” shelter was our first night in a shelter where we had the whole place to ourselves. 821 miles into the trip and this was our first solo shelter stay. That should give you an idea of how popular this trail has become. We took this opportunity to take a little photo shoot depicting our daily morning routine:

Appalachian Trail 594

Wakey, wakey…

Appalachian Trail 597

Checking out what lies ahead.

Appalachian Trail 602

Mmm… let’s go back to sleep…

Appalachian Trail 603

Starting the stove for breakfast.

Appalachian Trail 605

Peanut butter and jelly wraps.

Appalachian Trail 608

Ew.

Appalachian Trail 609

Vitamin “I”

Appalachian Trail 611

Morning coffee

Appalachian Trail 613

Visit to the privy…

Appalachian Trail 614

Writing in the shelter log before leaving…

My parents and niece were coming to Virginia to pick us up for a mini-vacation (read: they wanted to make sure we were still alive with all limbs intact). Because they were going to pick us up a day later than planned, we ended up having to ration our food to last until their arrival. Our saving grace came in the form of an advertisement from Devil’s Backbone Brewery – they were providing free rides to and from the brewery for all thru-hikers. We called, they picked us up 10 minutes later, and we were stuffing our faces in no time. The food was slightly expensive but very tasty. The beer wasn’t too bad either. Devil’s Backbone was a seriously cool spot owned by seriously cool people. It turns out that one of the owners was actually the gentleman that picked us up. How many places provide that kind of service? He offered for us to camp in the field behind the brewery. If we didn’t already arrange to meet my parents in Waynesboro, we would have happily taken him up on his offer. Hikers… go here!

When we made it into Waynesboro, we bee-lined it to the New Ming Garden Chinese Buffet. We heard that the food was really good and had some time to kill anyways. I mean, really, what kind of place is better for a hiker to get their grub on than at a buffet? The food being good is the understatement of the century.

IT.

WAS.

MIND-BLOWING.

They had everything we had been craving (including deviled eggs! – strange, I know) and then some. The sushi was phenomenal; the hibachi grill was fantastic; the beer list was extensive. We filled our bellies after 7 or 8 plates each and had to force ourselves to quit. The staff was giving us funny looks and we thought they would kick us out if we didn’t stop eating. I’m sure their profit margin shrinks substantially when a thru-hiker stops for dinner. Again, thru-hiker food reviews are pretty much worthless but the sheer quantity of food is where the greatness of this place lies.

This was gluttony at its finest.

With full stomachs, we made our way to the YMCA after reading that they offered free showers. Unfortunately, they were closed on Sundays so we were extra stinky when my family picked us up. My poor niece, Morgan, had to share the back seat with us. I’m convinced I caught her sticking her head out the window a few times.

After spending a few days visiting Washington D.C. and the surrounding areas, and enjoying much needed family time, our mini-vacation ended quicker than Brian Williams’ credibility. There is nothing more reassuring and comforting than the words spoken to you from your parents to give the extra push you need. Family truly is the greatest support. Unless your parent is Cersei… that advice may not come from a fountain of good intentions:

My parents dropped us back off in Waynesboro to begin our hike through Shenandoah National Park. After saying our goodbyes, and then saying them again after my parents had to turn around to drop-off our forgotten guidebook, we crossed Rockfish Gap and thus entered the southern boundary of the park. Some fun facts about the Shenandoah’s:

  • The A.T. traverses 104 miles through SNP covering nearly the entire length of the park
  • Members of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built the park in the 1930’s. Many of the overlooks, stone walls, campgrounds, hiking trails, and picnic areas enjoyed today are here because of their efforts.
  • There are several hundred black bears currently living in the park making this stretch one of the most likely locations to spot a bear on the A.T. We saw nine!
  • There are Waysides (basically a rest area with a restaurant and snacks) spanning the length of Skyline Drive through the park. Being that the A.T. follows the road closely, you can count on eating some of your meals here (aka – less food, lighter pack). If you visit while blackberries are in season, try one (or ten) of their delectable blackberry shakes!
  • Climbs rarely exceed 500-1,000 feet throughout the entire park making for nice, easy terrain.

Surprisingly enough, our first night in the park was at yet another unoccupied shelter. We were attacked a couple of times through the night by some relentless crickets and mice. I’m guessing this is why the shelter was vacant. This wouldn’t be our only sleepless night in the Shenandoah’s.

After a short-ish day of leisurely hiking (13 miles) over rolling hills, we tucked in for the night at a more populated shelter after dispelling multiple disbelief’s that we were indeed thru-hikers (must have been the new shoes and refreshing vacation to tidy up our appearances). It was tough to fall asleep as another hiker was going through a routine of singing, sleep-talking, talking in tongues, and yodeling in her tent. I don’t really know what was actually going on but that is the best way for me to describe it. We ended up popping a couple of melatonin’s hoping it would aid in our sleeplessness and blissfully ignore all thoughts that we were in presence of Dexter. After getting a couple hours of troubled sleep, we woke up in middle of the night needing to relieve ourselves.

THE FRIGHTENING ROUTINE WAS STILL OCCURRING.

We were both too scared to leave the confines of the shelter by ourselves so we both walked into the woods together practically holding hands while pissing. I’ve seen some strange things on the trail already but this tops it all. Poor girl. We out-hiked her over the next couple of days. While successful in Virginia, our upcoming trip home to Michigan for Rob’s sister’s wedding would prove our efforts futile in the months to come. More on that later…

One of the neatest parts of the Shenandoah’s, besides than the bountiful blackberry shakes, is all of the wildlife we encountered. You would think they would be scared off from the abundant tourists and road traffic but they were surprisingly plentiful. On top of the nine bears, we had a much too close encounter with a timber rattlesnake and saw a baby raccoon, a skunk, a lot of deer, and too many grouse to count. It turns out that grouse are even more rattling that a rattlesnake. Apparently they wait to fly off until you are standing, quite literally, right next to them during which they make a noise more startling than a jackhammer at 7AM.

And the ticks… oh my, the ticks. This is where your true danger lies. Deer ticks are prevalent along many regions of the Appalachian Trail. We hiked in a bad tick year being that spring was warm and summer was hot. As carriers of Lyme Disease, those infected can experience flu-like symptoms, fatigue, joint pain, severe headaches, and potentially irregular heartbeats. While most people will get a bulls eye-shaped rash at the infection site, some will not. For more information about Lyme Disease, and how to remove a tick, visit the CDC’s page here.

If there is anything of importance to take from this post it is this… please, please, please be diligent and check your body daily. Ticks are incredibly small and could look like a speck of dirt (making it even more challenging for a thru-hiker to notice with how dirty you get). We heard countless stories of people having to hang up their boots on their thru-hike due to contracting Lyme Disease. Ticks loved Rob; it was probably easier to latch onto his leg or arm hair when he skimmed by them. We were fortunate to hike in a pair so we could inspect each other. Grab a partner if you must – you’ll get to know each other real fast. Rob had a lot of fun with this.

For reference on how small they can be!

After completing a nearly 24 mile day on our last day in the park, we headed for Front Royal, VA. Wanting to treat ourselves (which is not so much a treat as it is our typical desire to indulge in the finer things in life), we got a Jacuzzi suite at the Quality Inn downtown. It was quite luxurious for a couple of people coming out of the woods! Getting there was interesting. Once we arrived at the main road that takes you to town, we planted ourselves on the shoulder thinking it might take us awhile to get a ride. Not even five minutes later, we found ourselves in the back seat of a friendly family’s car sandwiching their poor son between our stinky selves. Oh man, that poor kid! He said we were fine but he said so through that high-pitched voice as if he was talking while holding his breath. Sorry kid!

Front Royal has any service you might need with big chain grocery stores, a post office, many restaurants and hotels, laundry, and a Goodwill! I bought a tank-top to help endure the treacherous heat we’d been experiencing. As always, it was tough leaving town after a warm breakfast and a morning Jacuzzi soak. It wasn’t any more reassuring after reaching the first shelter, getting absolutely soaked from a huge storm and have this crawl onto our rain coat:

A giant and terrifying wolf spider!

A giant and terrifying wolf spider!

We made do and decided to have a hiker fashion show the following day:

Appalachian Trail 621

Appalachian Trail 620

The final section of trail in Virginia for Northbounder’s is a little section affectionately named “The Roller Coaster”. Named for obvious reasons, this 13.5 mile hike will take you straight up and straight back down a dozen or so mountains… er… hills. For a thru-hiker, you’ll already have your trail legs and should be able to take this on like a champ. While challenging, it wasn’t anywhere near what you’ve experienced already and what experiences you have to come (say, in New Hampshire). Nevertheless, we appreciated the trek. No doubt if I were to go back now, I would be huffing and puffing the whole way through.

And with that, we made it to West Virginia! We completed the eternal stretch through the state of Virginia! Once reaching the border (which is also the 1,000 mile mark!), we headed toward Harper’s Ferry (the mental halfway point of the trail). Boom!

UP NEXT: West Virginia and Maryland

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