On Saturday, September 2nd, I stayed in a not-so-nice hotel run by a very nice woman in Pearisburg, VA. I was fine with that, though. Because of the previous day’s hike in grueling weather and the probability of rain continuing, I decided to take a Zero. Hopefully, all the rain will help the water sources on the Trail.
I have to admit that Notre Dame playing their first game today made the decision to take a Zero a bit easier. I enjoyed the game and was left with the feeling that the Irish are going to have a decent year.
I had a 1700-foot ascent to start the day on Sunday the 3rd. It was chilly and the cloud cover was very thick. By about 11 AM, it had burned off and turned into a decent day.
A good part of the day was spent hiking through rhododendron tunnels. These appear quite frequently in Virginia. It’s significantly darker and quieter when walking through these tunnels, and some of them were between a quarter and a half mile long. I am told that when they are blooming, the tunnels are a stunning sight.
That night I stayed at the Woods Hole Hostel. The owners, Neville & Michael, live sustainably through beekeeping, farming, organic gardening, pottery, yoga and massage therapy. It was quite an experience and quite a place. I doubt I could live the way these folks do, but it works for them. They keep animals; they grow a lot of their own food; she meditates religiously and frequently, and they run the hostel. Michael’s thought seem to echo Neville’s, and they fully support each other. Earlier in the day, they trimmed their goats’ hooves. Later on, I saw these peaches in the back of the house.
On Monday the 4th, I hiked a little over 15 miles. I got a late start, because I wanted to have one of Neville’s well-known breakfasts. She served crepes, spinach, eggs, ground sausage, fresh peaches, homemade bread with homemade butter and jam, plus coffee and orange juice. I have to admit, it was delicious. Neville also made five extra loaves of bread and gave one to each of us as we left. She is such a nice person.
Most of my day was under a canopy of trees which included at least three more miles of rhododendron tunnels. At the end of my hike there was a combined grocery store and restaurant a half mile from the Trail. I stopped and ordered a meal. While I was eating, an older gent looked at me and asked, “You going south?” When I told him I was, he simply said, “Ain’t a drop of water on the Trail. You’ll have to wait till ya get to Bland.” Bland, VA was my next destination. I had sent the Beast ahead to a hostel there in order to slack pack the following day.
Here are a couple of mushrooms I saw on the Trail today. The birdbath-looking big guy was at least 15 inches high, and the hand-grenade-looking little guy was about 4 inches high.
Some hikers know the difference between good and bad mushrooms, and are not reluctant to eat them if they judge them to be good. I am not knowledgeable on that subject and eat nothing from the Trail other than apples and blueberries.
Before turning in, I enjoyed a beer and half of Neville’s loaf of bread.
When I got up the morning of Tuesday the 5th, I had to hike a mile to get to the Trail. It was an 18.4 mile hike to Bland, and I started early with a head lamp. It was extremely clear, and the millions of stars in the sky made a very impressive sight. When light began to come through the canopy, I startled several dear and a bear cub. The animals immediately ran away when they heard me. I was a bit concerned about baby bear because I thought mama might be nearby. But if she was, I never saw her. It was a good day for hiking, with cool temperatures and a constant breeze.
I stopped for lunch at a campsite and polished off the other half of Neville’s loaf of bread. At the end of the day, my shuttle driver, Bubba, was waiting for me and drove me into Bland, where a hostel and the Beast were waiting for me.
While there, I tried to make reservations for Thursday night, the 7th, at the Appalachian Dreamer Hiker Hostel. I spoke to the gent that owns and runs the place, and he told me he would be closed that day due to medical appointments in Raleigh. I asked him if there were any other sleeping options in his area, and he told me it was very rural and there were no other options. This news made me worry, because of the lack of water right now on the Trail. A half hour later, he called me back, saying he was aware of the water situation and concerned for me. He told me if I wanted to, I could come to his house and he would leave the screened-in porch unlocked. If it was raining, I would be protected, and he would also leave a pitcher of water for me. He expected to be back home anywhere between 4 and 9PM, and if he was admitted to the hospital I could simply use my sleeping bag on the porch. I told him I would probably come. The only disadvantage is that his hostel is 2.5 miles from the trail head. These rural roads have very little traffic which makes it difficult to hitch a ride. But what a kind and concerned person to call me back and make such an offer!
Bubba dropped me off at the trail head at 0645 on Wednesday, and it had already been raining for well over an hour. My goal was to hike 15 miles with a full pack to St Luke’s Shelter. The hike started with an immediate, very tough 1600-foot ascent. The fog was amazingly thick. My headlamp could only provide visibility for about three feet in front of me. If I tried to look ahead on the Trail all I could see was fog, much like using high beams in your car during foggy weather. It continued to rain for three and a half more hours.
When the rain stopped, the Trail was incredibly silent and stayed that way for several hours. I was over 4,000 feet in elevation with temperatures in the mid 50s, and even a small breeze while being wet made me very chilly. At the end of the day, a driver picked me up at the trailhead to take me to St Luke’s Shelter.
Upon arrival, I was offered beer and whiskey while still in the car! A party-like atmosphere is high on the priority list of St Luke’s laid-back staff. Unfortunately, serving a timely breakfast is not — I did not begin hiking the next morning until 0800.
Well into the hike, I came upon Chestnut Ridge, which gave a commanding view of Burkes Garden, VA. Locals told me that Burkes Garden was Vanderbilt’s first choice for the location of the Biltmore Estate but he could not get all the property owners to agree to sell their land. This area is a 4- by 8-mile crater-like area formed by a giant limestone sinkhole, and is affectionately called “God’s Thumbprint.” If you enlarge the picture, you can see the crater aspect of it below.
There’s also a unique shelter named Chestnut Knob Shelter. It’s basically a cabin with a picnic table inside. It was a former fire warden’s cabin and is a great shelter.
When I reached the trail head, I had already hiked 18 miles, and began the 2.5-mile hike to the Appalachian Dreamer Hiker Hostel. For ten minutes, not one car came in either direction. Then I heard one coming, stuck out my thumb, and bingo! A young guy with a souped-up Mustang stopped and picked me up. He drove me two miles to the road where the hostel is located. After taking a look at the narrow, steep, rough gravel road, he told me he was unwilling to drive his car any further. The hostel was still a half mile up, on top of the ridge. I thanked him for saving me two miles of hiking, and began a very steep hike up the gravel road.
About halfway up, a pickup truck approached from the opposite direction. An elderly gent was behind the wheel, and we engaged in quite a conversation.
Gent: You doing OK?
Me: Yes, just going up to the hiker hostel. It’s supposed to be on top of the ridge.
Gent: You want a ride?
Me: That would be nice.
Gent: Let me go down and turn around and I will give you a ride up there.
Several minutes later he returned and I climbed in the truck.
Gent: Are you thru-hiking?
Me: Yes, I started the first week of April. I really don’t know anybody from here, but I have to admit I’ve already met two people who have been kind, you and a young guy who gave me a ride when I was hitch-hiking from the Trail. Also, even though I haven’t met him, the guy who owns the hostel was very kind and generous to me when I spoke to him 2 days ago.
Gent: Folks around here think he is difficult to get along with.
Me: That may be, but he was very nice to me when I spoke to him.
Gent: That’s good to know.
Me: It really is beautiful on this ridge.
Gent: Sure is. Well, here’s his place.
Me: He told he might not be home until 9PM or possibly not at all. I was told I could use his back porch and he would even leave some water for me.
Gent: Well, let’s see.
I opened the screen door. The gent reached inside his pocket, got a key, and unlocked the house door. He smiled at me and said, “Come on in, I’ll show you around.”
I have to admit, I was taken hook, line and sinker. He had been heading down the gravel road to look for me.
The gent’s name was Mack. He is 75 years old and runs an immaculately clean hostel. The interesting conversations, that night and the next morning, revolved around life, current events and religion. After saying a blessing, we shared a meal. His food was delicious.
Mack has goats, donkeys and chickens, and hiked the Appalachian Trail about 10 years ago. He makes everyone show an official picture ID and sign a lengthy waiver/release. It even states that he may, if he thinks it is necessary, run your license through law enforcement agencies. He simply states, “If you want to stay, you have to sign the form. If you don’t want to sign the form, no hard feelings and I will drive you back to the trail head.” Mack said that this protects not only him, but any other hikers who are staying.
It was one of the more enjoyable stays I have had at a hostel. Here are a couple of views from his house atop the ridge. Also, a picture of his canned fruits and vegetables.
The following pictures are from his website. Mack and his wife run this hostel as a ministry, and request only a donation from hikers. He designed and built the hostel himself with help from his church. Providing a service and spreading “the Word” are his goals, and he does it with a hearty laugh and good sense of humor.
The next morning, after pancakes, coffee and conversation with Mack, he drove me to the trail head. We shook hands and went our separate ways. I could go on about my stay with Mack, but this is lengthy enough. Suffice it to say this was a unique experience that I thoroughly enjoyed. There should be more Macks in this world. I spent the next 5-6 hours reflecting on my stay at the Appalachian Dreamer Hiker Hostel as I hiked to Atkins, VA.