Hey there and welcome back! Here’s another update about my travels on the AT…
Just to back track for a moment–Rigga and I met each other the first day on the trail, and actually started hiking the approach trail a couple hours apart. By day 3, we began hiking together everyday. So, it was only natural that after 400+ miles I would invite her home for my brother’s high school graduation! She agreed to go, and on Tuesday after Trail Days, we took a rental car back to Sweet Home Alabama.
I had a great visit home–my family and friends were excited to catch up with me and meet Rigga. I am so proud of my little brother, DJ. I wouldn’t have missed his big moment for the world!It was a whirlwind. Graduation was Thursday, May 21st and Friday morning I was already headed back to the trail. Rigga made a blog post about her visit to Alabama. You can read it here:
Rigga and I reached the trailhead in Damascus at about 7-8pm Friday night. We hiked in about 5 miles before setting up camp. The next day we hiked about 13 miles. We mentioned how strange it was for just the two of us to be hiking alone again. That night during our last couple miles, right after sundown, we heard someone coming behind us..and..it was Bodyglide! Rigga was so excited to see him. He had gotten off the trail before Damascus for a prior obligation and had been doing 20+ mile days to catch us–and he did!
The next morning we decided we would try to do about 20 miles. Judging from the shelter registers, Rebel Yell was only a few days ahead. Chance, Perk, Mountain Goat, Howzit and Right On appeared to be another day or two out from Rebel Yell. Time to catch them! It was a good day for motivation anyway because I knew I would get to:
1. See the wild ponies in the Grayson Highlands.
Seeing the ponies has been on the top of my ‘excited to do list’ since I started planning my AT trip. The experience was all I imagined and more! Also, I’m convinced that 90% of their salt intake comes from the legs of sweaty hikers.
2. Summit the highest point in Virginia (Mt. Rogers).
For quite a few years I’ve had a goal in mind to visit all 50 states before I turn 50. One of the guys in the group is visiting the high point in all 50 states by the time he turns 50. Why didn’t I think of that? So, now I’d like to start visiting high points..never satisfied.
3. Cross mile 500
That song has been stuck in my head for over a month now. It was cool to be able to sing it and mean it.
After experiencing these exciting events I met Rigga and Cory at Wise shelter, which made 13.5 miles at that point. They had already set up camp and said they were done hiking for the day. I was still feeling pretty good and decided to continue on to complete the 20-ish mile day we had planned. The sun was close to setting, so I cooked dinner there. A German fella named UHaul and I were talking about the upcoming terrain. He said he was going to try hiking 29 miles the next day to Partnership Shelter outside of Marion, VA, because a local pizza restaurant will deliver to the shelter. I got all excited at the mention of pizza and said I might consider doing the same thing. UHaul seemed to think I wouldn’t be able to hike the 29 miles in 24 hours. It was then that a bet was made–if I could conquer the 29 miles by 9pm the next night, a pizza would be my reward. He seriously underestimated my abilities, especially considering food and hiker hunger were involved.
I ended up hiking (my first solo night hike) another 10.2 miles, stopping at Hurricane Shelter–which set my record distance of 23.7 miles! That definitely put the cherry on top of an eventful day.
The following day I hiked 18.8 miles to Partnership Shelter. UHaul had to put his money where his mouth is as he handed me a supreme pizza.
After enjoying some of my pizza bet earnings, I hitched into Marion and checked into the Travel Inn. Note to anyone planning to stay in Marion: the Travel Inn is the only motel with laundry on site–but, they lack the continental breakfast provided by the other motels. Lucky for me, I had leftover pizza–thanks again, UHaul!
On the morning of May 26th, I resupplied in Marion and began another long day of hiking. I knocked out 11 miles from Marion to Atkins, VA where I heard you could get a nice meal at The Barn Restaurant. I made it there in 4 hours, which is pretty good timing considering the terrain wasn’t super easy.
I inhaled a steak, multiple sides, coffee, and topped it all off with some peach cobbler and vanilla ice cream. It was about 8-9pm when I finally left the restaurant unsure of how many miles I had left in me for the day. Little did I know, my feet would carry me through another solo night hike, beating my record again with a 25.5 mile day!
A lot of people are downers when it comes to the subject of night hiking. They are quick to tell you how much you are missing out on because the sun isn’t shining. But honestly, I completely disagree. Night hiking, especially solo, has been quite liberating to me. It’s pretty much the creepiest experience you could have on the trail if being alone, in the woods, in the dark is spooky to you. Also, it can be one of the most beautiful experiences ever! Alone with nature in an open field, stars shining ever so brightly, and lightning bugs lighting up the night all around you is definitely magical. You just have to choose your state of mind.
I saw many deer while night hiking, one incident in particular I will never forget. I heard a noise and saw some eyes glowing, reflecting the light of my headlamp. I moved closer and literally said, “Hey! What are you?” I then saw it was a buck. In response, he grunted, stared at me and…peed. Well, okay Mr. Buck. Anyway, I wish I could share more evidence of how beautiful night hiking can be, but you really shouldn’t take my word for it–get out and see it for yourself!
Although most of my time during this particular section was spent alone, I really enjoyed it. I met a handful of new people, but being alone with my thoughts was just what I needed. Below are some of the pictures I captured:
Well, until next time–
Happy Trails 🙂