Virginia – Part VI

The early mornings have been quite chilly for the last few days, so I start out with three layers of shirts. But by the end of the hikes, I’m down to one short-sleeve hiking shirt. For reasons I don’t understand, my legs have not been cold, so I just wear simple hiking shorts.

Most of Saturday, September 9th was spent under a canopy, and the Trail was rockier than I would have liked, but I did make good time, and hiked over 19 miles.

The only scenic view I had was this picture. There was a sign that read, “View of Walker Mountain.” When looking at the view or the picture, nothing really stands out, so I am not sure where Walker Mountain is or what is so special about it.

I hiked 22.2 miles to Wise Shelter with the Beast on Sunday the 10th. It was chilly enough that I wanted to wear gloves, but I couldn’t find them. It had been quite awhile since I wore gloves, and they had hidden themselves in the Beast. So I started the hike with pretty cold hands.

I was also concerned about water availability. I did not meet any hikers that were going NOBO that I could ask about the water situation they faced. But Trail Magic can, at times, be amazing and unexplainable. Seeing a box on the Trail later that day, I opened it and found two items in the box: a 12oz Dr. Pepper (which I drank in a heartbeat) and a pair of gloves. Amazing, considering I was concerned about beverages and my hands were cold!

These guys were grazing in the Pine and Stone Mountain area. They were very friendly and came right up to me. After scratching them on the forehead, they followed me down the Trail for more. 

Monday the 11th, my goal was to hike 24 miles, which would leave only 9 miles to Damascus, VA. That way, I hoped to avoid the worst of Hurricane Irma’s winds and rains that were expected on Tuesday. I was looking forward to arriving in Damascus as we have friends in nearby Bristol. They had invited us to stay and had planned to pick me up the next day.

The day’s hike took me into Grayson Highlands and along a long exposed ridge line above 5,000 feet. This was the first time I had been at such an altitude since New England. The wind was whipping as I hiked in the clouds with no sun, and it was miserably cold.

Grayson Highlands is described by all as being absolutely beautiful with panoramic views. Disappointingly, there were no views that day.

Nine miles into the hike, it was difficult to take any more of the 48-50 degree weather with 35-40 MPH winds, along with the very moist cloud cover. I came to a trail head and met two hikers who told me they were also bailing from the Trail due to the weather, and were waiting for a shuttle to bring them into Damascus. I invited myself along and offered to share the shuttle fee. 

We waited over an hour for the Damascus shuttle. You know it must be bone-chillingly cold when three men crowd into a 6×6 public bathroom rather than be outside!

When I got to Damascus, I was very hungry and randomly chose a restaurant to eat. When I entered, I heard, “Hey, Old Guy!” I looked and saw a couple of hikers I had previously met on the Trail. Within the next half hour, two more hikers came into the restaurant that I knew, including Little Bear Stumbles. She was with her mother and husband, who left Florida to escape Irma. It was as if a message had gone out to hikers that said, “Get off the Trail and get into town.”

My friend Ron picked me up and brought me to his house, where I was soon warm and dry, enjoying a wonderful meal and conversation with him and his wife, Brenda. The next day’s weather was predicted to be the same, with the addition of rain. Every hiker I knew, including me, was planning on taking a Zero.

It was hard to believe that it was the 16th anniversary of 9/11. It doesn’t seem that long ago.

I spent my zero on Tuesday the 12th catching up on news and enjoying time with Ron and Brenda. They are such wonderful and gracious people. Brenda went above and beyond by cooking delicious meals and insisting on doing my laundry (that alone deserves an award).

I also spoke to my oldest son, Jonathan, and made plans for him to meet me the following week. We will hike together for several days, and I’m really looking forward to it. It’ll be a lot of fun.

On Wednesday, September 13th, Ron and I got up early and were on the road by 0600 to Damascus, as I slack packed a 15.2-mile section NOBO.

I finally left Jefferson National Forest. It seemed as if I was in this National Forest for a couple hundred miles. But during the day’s hike I entered Cherokee National Forest and crossed into Tennessee.

That hike may have been the easiest 15 miler I have done on the Trail. Afterwards, it was good to see Diane waiting for me at the trail head. We proceeded to Ron & Brenda’s house, where we had a wonderful time. What a great visit and what hospitable folks!

Ron and Brenda

On Thursday, September 14th, Diane and I got up at 0430 and tried to make as little noise as possible as we left Ron and Brenda’s house and drove to Elk Garden trailhead, back in Virginia. This is where I bailed from the Trail Monday the 11th because of Hurricane Irma.

The weather was extremely foggy and stayed that way the entire day. It drizzled about 7 of the 11 hours it took me to complete the hike. The Trail was a bit rocky and extremely wet. But I was impressed with the abundance of water. The folks further north would love these streams.

This 24-mile hike was the longest stretch I have done on the Trail. I was pretty much spent by the end of the day. But finally, I was done with Virginia. It seemed as though I would never reach Tennessee. Virginia is so long, well over 500 miles. Some hikers talk about the Virginia Blues and I have to admit: with rain, canopy, wind, low temperatures, fog and combinations of these, I have experienced these Blues. Good bye Virginia!

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