(Note: This post is written by Marie but I have added some captions to go with the photos. Also the pictures are a mix of hers and mine, but mostly hers with more to come from the last part of the state. I will update the post with those pictures. Can you believe Springer Mountain is only three states away!?! -Jeff)
I’m happy to report that I’m walking out of VA and into TN tomorrow! This is the longest mileage state on the trail at 550 miles. There is so much to mention, as it has also been one of my favorite states, next to Maine. We sobos really have the timing right for the fall colors, it was amazing. And now they have all blown off the trees and it truly looks like winter. So far, the weather has been surprisingly warm. Yesterday we were sweating climbing Whitetop Mountain. We were worried about staying on top of Mt. Rogers (VA’s highest peak at 5,729 ft) and were planning on not staying at the shelter up there, but decided to anyway because we knew the forecast was warm! Once again, I’ve really lucked out with the weather. Not meaning to brag or anything, but I’ve had good weather for all the renowned bad weather spots: Katahdin, Mt. Washington, Franconia Ridge, Mt. Rogers. Now, we do have a few more high peaks to go, so here’s to our winning streak!
My journey into VA began with a nice 3 night stay with Powder’s and my friends Redwing and Hopeful at Bears Den. This was the longest continuous stay I’ve had anywhere, it was nice to have the same bunk for 3 nights in a row! Our friends are the caretakers at this hostel, one of the nicest on the Trail. We enjoyed spending some time with them and going to their church on Sunday morning! They are very encouraging and some of my prayer warriors for the trip! During my stay there, I was still hiking during the day without my heavy pack: “slacking packing.” My good friends from Baltimore: Jake (and Sophie the Great Dane), Mark and Christian came to visit and hiked 8 miles with us! Thanks Redwing, Hopeful, Jake, Sophie, Mark and Christian for an uplifting weekend to start off VA right!!!!
From there I hiked through the well-talked-about section the Shenandoah National Park. It was very nice. I saw no bears sadly. My friends saw 6 at once. Oh well. We especially enjoyed all the pit-stops for food throughout the park. It is a big tourist attraction, especially during the fall, and there are many opportunities to get “human food” as I like to say. Meaning: food that didn’t come out of a foil package, just-add-water.
My friends T-mello, Coach, Tag and Bogart (formally Effect/Dylan) had a running joke that we were just as much an attraction in the Park as the black bears. It’s true, there are lots of car pull-offs for views. Often, the AT is routed right down the hill from these over-looks. It’s very disorienting because you can hear the voices but it takes a second to figure out they are above us. We look up. They look down. “Oh! there’s a thru-hiker! Look at him/her go!” It doesn’t help that there are signs everywhere “Don’t feed the wild animals.”
My mom was longing for those VA mountains and came up to see us at Loft Mountain and fed us all. Thanks Mom!
Then we entered my favorite spot on the trail, where I’ve done all my hiking: Humpback Mountain, Three Ridges, The Priest to Hogback Gap. Good times. I asked the boys to get a traditional Reeds Gap shot (I plan to put all the past years Reeds Gap shots on Facebook). My hiker friend from Maine and Vermont, Valerie, came to meet me at Hogback Gap. She is now officially my hiking partner! (Trailname Teenie) It’s been amazing to always have someone with you! So I think this superwoman is one of the biggest reasons I keep goin day after day. I have had my moments of realizing how crazy this is, and why am I still walking? But, yes, it really helps to have a friend. My sobo buddies had some grand plans to hike 25mi days everyday (So I said “bye” to them at McAfee Knob). But they had some troubles and Val and I have been ahead of them for nearly 2 weeks. The boys just walked into this library where I’m typing! Yay for friends! Friends make this trip.
WEIGHT OF WINTER
The trees are preparing for winter
Rush, rush, rush- we skid through the fallen leaves
All day long- swoosh, swoosh, rush, rush, rush, rush
They will stand naked once again this year to bear the cold
By the labor of my hands
I earned these green leaves of paper that now prepare me for winter
The search for the very best feathers and fur has long since begun
The leaves fly off their branches and layer the path
I’m weighted down more than ever
With these layers of warmth in my pack
And so we groundbirds march on
Hundreds of miles slip by on our epic journey south
South for winter
For now we’re in Virginia
The bears all around scrounge and root
To increase their weight for the cold
March, march, march
Rush, rush, rush
Swoosh, swoosh, swoosh
The ever-more naked trees
Stand to watch the progress
All the woodland creatures search
High and low to increase their weight for winter
And yes, we found the very best feathers and fur
And yay for my amazing boyfriend who continues to shower us with trail magic. We’ll be seeing him the rest of the way to Springer. It’s a plus that he’s really into winter hiking.
Oh, yes! And I must mention the food has gotten better and cheaper since we’ve come into southwestern VA!!! When I came into town today, I got a mess of bacon, 2 fried eggs and a biscuit for $3. Whoohoo for the South!!!!
We have managed to stay in warm places on cold nights. Including my relatives near the Trail: the Twarks (my aunt and uncle Tom and Deb and cousins Emilee, Jessica and Taylor) and the Weavers (my cousin Tracy and husband Robie and their kids: Madison, Erin, Christian, Daniel and Matthew). I wanted to mention everyone’s names because you all were such a big help and encouragement! Teenie and I thank you for the beds and good food!
We also stayed at “The Captain’s.” It’s true, you take a zipline across the creek to get to his house. He actually let us stay in his house and watch Foodnetwork on his bigscreen TV. We ended up running into him and his friends a week later on the trail. They were out for the weekend! Great guy! He really loves Trail Days in the Spring in Damascus and feeds a bunch of hikers at his place every year.
Ah yes, and we really enjoyed the Grayson Highlands and Mt. Rogers. There are wild ponies all over those meadow top mountains. We pet them and Teenie gave them some potato chips and shrieked “THE PONIES!!!!” When we saw them.
So, Virginia was great. I moved on average the fastest I’ve moved yet. Everyone is picking up the pace, because honestly we are so close to being done and so ready to not carry 30lb packs everyday up and down 1,000ft mountains.
SPRINGER HERE WE COME!!!