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​April 30th: Trent's Grocery

 Sometimes when I'm bored and there isn't a good fill spot, I make thee water funnels instead of scooping the water. 

Sometimes when I'm bored and there isn't a good fill spot, I make thee water funnels instead of scooping the water. 

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Miles Today: 18.9

Mile Marker: Trent’s Grocery 608.5

This morning was nice and leisurely.  I slept in until 8:00 because I didn't sleep very well.  Another hiker showed up around 10:00 which woke me up.  That was okay, but it woke Grok up too, and he spent the next few hours with lights on in the other room wandering around.  Also as I said, the mattress wasn't particularly great.

I got back to the trail around 10:00.  For the first part of the day I slowly bumped along.  Water spots were few and far between and really low when I got there.  For the first time I had to get water from a stagnant pool.  It was deep enough I was able to put my thumb over my water bottle and plunge below the sketchy top film and fill from below.  The water was really clear and still cold.  In theory that means it is still coming from a spring, but just too slowly to have a flow going.  When I found water I hung around and cameled up. The weather is only in the 80s, but with a pack on I am sweating profusely.  I think temps in the 50s are ideal for hiking, so when it's in the 80s and the trail is uphill it feels like the peak of Texas summer.  It should be interesting to see how I feel when temps are nearing 100 and so is the humidity.

Around 4:00 I realized if I did another 9 miles before 7:00 I could get to Trent's Grocery and get a pizza.  Motivation engaged!  I made it in time to get a 12” pizza with about five toppings, two 20oz Gatorades, and a package of Grandma's chocolate chip cookies. The grocery store is a half mile off trail, but they also offer camping including a shower and laundry for $6.00.  So worth it.  They will be open for breakfast tomorrow before I leave too.

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April 29th: Bland, VA

 Yes, that is the large Blizzard. No shame. 

Yes, that is the large Blizzard. No shame. 

 

Miles Today: 11.3

Mile Marker: 590.1 Bland, VA

Last night as I was getting ready to go to sleep I kept hearing someone walking around near my tent.  Which is weird because I was on the outside edge of camp.  Once everyone quieted down and went to bed, I heard someone walking around again.  Realizing it may not be a person and remembering the recent bear encounter sign on the shelter, I poked my head out to check.  I turned on my headlamp, which is like a spotlight, and found a deer 10 yards from my tent grazing.  Needless to say it was quite confused, but ran away when I started laughing.

I woke up this morning and tried to get going at 6:00, but I still couldn't do it.  I've grown accustomed to my 10-11 hours of sleep.  I know that sounds ridiculous, but honestly my body does need it. Once I finally got up and going I talked to Boo Boo who asked if I heard anything last night.  We laughed about the deer, but he said he was talking about someone throwing up.  It turns out it was Tailgate. Apparently he was sick all night.  He was planning on going into town today too, but looked miserable.  He was in surprisingly good spirits though.  I gave him some imodium I had and grabbed his bear bag for him.  Hopefully he's okay, because I know he's out of food at this point.  He normally gets started at 9:30 anyway, so I went ahead and left around 7:30.  As I was leaving I heard him throw up again.  Pogo was still with him, and Pogo had plenty of food, so they should be okay.

All I've been able to think about for the last couple of days has been getting to town and getting some DQ. I hiked 11.3 miles to the road, and I got there at 12:15.  Perfect time for lunch. Unfortunately I didn't get a ride into town until 1:00.  Thanks Doty! She saw me on the way by as she was dropping her nephew off at work and said to herself she'd pick me up if I was still there on the way back.  Of course I still was.  Once I got to the DQ I got a double cheeseburger with fries and an M&M Blizzard.  All was right with the world again.  The DQ is attached to the gas station, so I grabbed a Poweraid for the road.  I asked the guy at the register if I could sit outside and charge my phone.  He said sure, and also there was one in the back corner.  So I entered full hiker trash mode and carved out a hole in the stack of boxes in the back and sat down on the floor and charged my phone and drank my Poweraid. Much better being inside in the AC.  It's now officially in the mid 80s during the day, so the AC is a welcome change.

As I was headed to get my resupply it started to drizzle. By the time I got in the Dollar General, it was full on raining.  I checked the forecast, and it said the rain would only last an hour.  While I was taking my time shopping I got a severe weather alert calling for thunderstorms, quarter inch hail, and 60mph winds.  I wasn't planning on staying in Bland, but after that I called the Zero Days Hostel and Jeremy came and picked me up.  Not a bad little place out in the country.  Got a shower, did laundry, and slept on a bed made of springs and cheesecloth.  I ran into Grok, Nomad, and Raven there.  Of course none of the weather come through that night, but oh well.  I only lost a handful of miles, so no big deal.  Tomorrow morning Jeremy is taking Nomad, Raven, and me back to the trail.  Grok is staying there to do some work.  I think he's a professionally homeless hiker.  He says he's been living out of his backpack for the last 7 years and “doing 3,000 miles a year”.  From what I've heard it's common to run into “hikers” in Virginia who are really just homeless people.  Not a bad way to go really if you're homeless.  There are hiker boxes, trail magic, work for stay opportunities, and thru hikers tend to share.  

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April 28th: Lazy Day

Miles Today: 14.3 

Mile Marker: 578.8 Jenkins Shelter

Last night my hiking clothes got drenched, and I wasn't particularly excited about putting them back on this morning.  I got up and strung a clothesline using my bear line and hung everything to dry.  Then I went back to bed.  Around 11:00 I decided it might be a good idea to get going.  I finally got hiking at noon.

I planned on hiking 16 or 17 miles today, but Tailgate and Pogo talked me into staying at the shelter tonight.  My plan was to only have 10 miles into Bland, VA (real name) tomorrow.  I wanted to get there by lunch so I could hit up the DQ and get a Hunger Buster with cheese and a Blizzard.  Now I have to hike faster or just eat later.  I'll resupply in Bland and then head back out.

Hiking today wasn't too bad, but it was hot.  I ran out of water for a couple of miles.  Thankfully the next spring I found was nice and cold.  Despite the late start, it was a pretty decent day on the trail.

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April 27th: So Close

 Found it!

Found it!

 All of my wet gear in my tiny vestibule. 

All of my wet gear in my tiny vestibule. 

Miles Today: 16.9

Mile Marker: 564.5

I spent the first part of the morning thinking I had somehow missed the quarter mile mark.  I hadn't seen it, Tailgate hadn't seen it, Ho Chi Minh hadn't seen it, and Circus hadn't seen it either.  Tailgate saw someone post it on the Appalachian Trail Facebook group yesterday, so we were confident it existed, just not if we had passed it.  Finally we found it and my suspicions were confirmed.  The sign says 547, but it is now at what is mile 550.8 due to trail rerouting.

After that mystery was solved, the day was pretty uneventful.  I felt like I was moving kind of slowly, but I got my miles in.  Unfortunately I didn't get them in before the thunderstorms rolled in.  The skies had been threatening rain all day, but they didn't deliver until the last hour of my hike today.  I kept hiking until the rain died down enough for me to throw up my tent quickly without the inside getting soaked.  The downside to having such a small tent is I don't really have any extra room to put wet cloths to dry, or much space in my vestibule to cook.  Thankfully I packed out a family sized box of Cheezits I can snack on while I workout how I'm going to make dinner.

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April 26th: Welcome Back Sun, You Have Been Missed

 Historic School House.  No idea who this joker is or why he thought he could just grab my bag, but he insisted it weighted 10lbs more than it does.  Pretty sure I know how much my pack weighs bro. 

Historic School House.  No idea who this joker is or why he thought he could just grab my bag, but he insisted it weighted 10lbs more than it does.  Pretty sure I know how much my pack weighs bro. 

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Miles Today: 15.0

Mile Marker: 547.6

Last night I decided I would sleep in and catch the 11:00 bus back to the trail head.  However I still woke up exactly at 7:00.  I went down to the lobby for the “hot breakfast” they advertise.  Call me crazy, but a waffle iron and a toaster for bagels doesn't exactly qualify as a hot breakfast to me.  That's still a continental breakfast.  At any rate I loaded up my plate with the bountiful selection of carbs and went back to my room to eat, shower, pack, and lounge.

I got to the bus stop at 10:58, but the bus was already gone.  I later learned the driver said “This is good enough, we're going.” at 10:55.  Oh well, I walked down to the street and stuck out my thumb.  A lady immediately pulled over, but said she was only going downtown.  Forward progress is forward progress, so I got in.  Turns out she's from Austin and her husband is from West Texas, but they now live in Marion, VA.  She works at her family’s cafe.  She parked in the back and ran in to see if it was slow enough for her to take me to the trail, but unfortunately she couldn't.  I walked a block to get back to US 16 and started over.  Shortly after a guy in a truck pulled over who was already taking Nomad and Raven back to the trail.  He is going to hike the trail next year so he grilled us about gear and footwear in exchange for the ride.  Hikers always love to talk about gear, so it worked out well.

Once I finally got on trail it was the perfect day.  The sun was shining, not a cloud in the sky, and the trail was in great shape.  Toward the end of the day there were lower sections that were still flooded and muddy, but nothing like Sunday.

About half way through the day there was a historic school house and a settlers museum.  It turns out the local church keeps the school house stocked with sodas, snacks, and every toiletry a hiker could want.  Advil, benadryl, toothpaste, wet wipes, chapstick, shoe laces, sun screen, muscle soreness cream, and on and on.  We were all incredibly impressed by everything they had.  All of us needed something different, but the magic box had it.  Shortly after we arrived a car pulled up with two of the people from the church that stock the school house.  It turns out the lady’s son hiked in 2013.  That explained the perfect selection.

The next stop was the Barn Restaurant 2.8 miles away for a one pound burger and some potato salad.  It wasn't that great, but it wasn't bad.

After all of the delays, I ended up hiking until just before sunset to make it to my goal of hitting the 25% mark.  Supposedly there is a sign, but I didn't see it.  My guess is this section of trail has been expanded and the sign is now actually slightly past the 25% mark.  Hopefully I see it first thing in the morning.  Just like the 500 mile mark, I'm very excited for this goal.  I finally feel like I've got some momentum behind me, and I'm mostly out of the rookie stage.  I've just got to stay focused and do what I've already done three more times.  Thinking about the end goal is incredibly daunting.  I normally only focus on three to five days out, but at these big milestones I stop and reflect on what I've accomplished and what I still have left to do.  Knowing I've made it this far fortifies my resolve and confidence of making it to Katahdin.  I still get awe struck by the fact I'm actually out here doing it.  I'm really hiking the Appalachian Trail.  I thought at a certain point that feeling would fade, but now I'm starting to suspect I'll continue to have these moments the whole way through.  I certainly hope I do.

I started typing this while the sun was setting and now it is completely dark.  I'm still close enough to town to have some light pollution, but I'm going to stay up past my normal bedtime and stare up at the stars for a while. Magnificent.

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April 24th: Zero in Marion, VA

Miles Today: 0.2

Mile Marker: 532.6 Mount Rogers Visitors Center

This morning I got up and had the grueling task of hiking 0.20 miles to the Visitors Center to catch the bus into town.

Normally I don't write about zero days, because I use them as a break from as much as possible.  I love writing the blog, but it takes time, and sometimes I need a break from it too.  However since yesterday was so terrible, I didn't want to end on a sour note.

I made it into town early and got a room by myself at a motel.  A luxury I've been avoiding to save money, but today I needed it.  My last zero I actually paid $10 to tent in the lawn.  No real bed, but access to a shower and laundry.  The manager of the motel here was nice enough to let us check in early and double dip on breakfast today and again in the morning.  After breakfast I grabbed a shower and made a couple of calls.  Then I headed to an all you can eat buffet with Tailgate and Catch Up.  Next we took care of our resupply.

Now I've got all of the chores that come with a zero day.  Even a day off from hiking isn't really a day off.  First I usually start by updating the blog send replying to messages I've missed if I have time.  Sometimes I have to wait to respond to the comments. As an aside on comments if you register an account with an email, you'll get notified when I reply.  Then I've got to pull all my gear and clean and dry it.  Just about everything I have is soaked through right now.  This means emptying every little pocket and bag out all over the place to ensure it all dries.  While that's drying I'll start repackaging all of my food and getting it ready to go.  Lastly I'll do laundry.  Since I'm staying in a motel and not a hostel, I'll just hand wash it in the sink.  Let me tell you nothing gets you quite so acquainted with how filthy your clothes are like hand washing them in the sink.  Once that's all done, I'll take another shower, watch TV or browse the web for a couple hours, and then I'll head to bed.  Tomorrow morning will consist of repacking all of my gear and triple checking I have everything before returning to the trail.

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April 23rd: Well That Sucked

Miles Today: 14.0

Mile Marker: 532.4 Partnership Shelter

The rain was non-stop all night and into the morning.  I kept waiting and waiting for a break this morning so I could pack up my tent.  I had all of my gear packed and was ready to go, but the rain wouldn't quit.  Finally I unpacked my sleeping bag and laid back down.  I started debating taking a zero in my tent for a while.  At 12:30 I gave up and packed up in the driving rain.  I decided I would make it to the next shelter four miles away and reassess.  

When I got to the shelter a trail maintainer named Chris/Cruise was there tidying up.  He thru hiked the AT in 2006 and most of the PCT a few years later.  He asked if I wanted a drink and held up a box of Franzia he packed out.  I sat and had a drink with him chatting until about 3:00.  I decided I needed to make it to the Partnership shelter ten miles away so I could get to town tomorrow.

I hiked the last ten miles non-stop and got in just before 7:00.  Much of the trail had turned into a small stream where the water was ankle deep in many places.  The rest of the trail was equally deep mud.  My rain gear completely wetted out and I was soaked to the bone.  The temperature never rose over 45 degrees.  The 20mph wind gusts were constantly slapping me with more rain; robbing me of body heat and forward momentum. Today was the first day where I've been truly miserable on the trail.  There is something about being uncontrollably saturated with no end in sight that is incredibly frustrating.

I got to the shelter and heard several people talking, but the shelter appeared empty.  It turns out this shelter is two stories.  I climbed the ladder to find seven other hikers taking refuge.  The general consensus seems to be everyone is heading to town tomorrow.  Hopefully there are enough places for everyone to stay.  The forecast is calling for rain all day again tomorrow and possibly into Tuesday.  After four days of rain I need a break for my sanity.

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April 22nd: Rain with a Trail Magic Silver Lining

Miles Today: 16.7

Mile Marker: 518.4

I woke up this morning to a bit of sunshine and a mostly dry tent.  It rained heavily last night, so I was glad to see the dry rainfly.  Once again it started to pour as I started hiking.  About 4 miles in I ran into a group of 3 guys heading South who said “Eggs, bacon, and beer” and pointed behind them.  I quickened my pace and made it down the hill just as the rain took a break.  The guys running Trail Magic had a massive setup with a grill, several ice chests, tons of chairs, and tarps covering everything.  They told me I had just missed breakfast burritos and it would be a while for lunch, but to snack on whatever I could find.  I was eating some little Debbie's and chips when one of the guys offered me some cherries from a jar.  One whiff confirmed my suspicions.  More moonshine.  Then one of the guys realized they had a pot of boiling water still on the fire, so he threw in some hot dogs for me.  I hung around for a bit snacking and eating a couple of hot dogs before I headed back out.

The rain must have sensed my unabated forward progress because it came back in full force.  It rained for the next several hours until I got to a shelter with some other hikers and took a break.  They all decided to stay there for the night, but I pressed on.  Thankfully the rain transitioned to light misting the rest of the way.  I was able to get my target mileage in, find a campsite with water, and set up while it is still dry.  I got dinner cooked too, but it started to rain again before I could eat.  Dinner in the tent again.  Tonight and tomorrow hold a forecast of 100% rain with 2 to 3 inches expected. It also says “The rain could be heavy at times.”  I can't wait…

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April 21st: D

 Fat Man's Squeeze. Yes, that is part of the trail, and that is the official name. 

Fat Man's Squeeze. Yes, that is part of the trail, and that is the official name. 

 I felt like I was back on the Mixmaster. 

I felt like I was back on the Mixmaster. 

 

Miles Today: 16.7

Mile Marker: 501.7 Quebec Branch

More rain today.  I played the wait it out game this morning and half lost half won.  Every time I thought I had a break in the rain I started to pack up.  Then just as I got ready to get out of my tent and put it away the rain would start again.  I finally got a break long enough to get out, wipe off some of the water, and start to put my tent away.  Just as I was shoving the main body of the tent in the stuffsack it started to pour.  I got it strapped to my pack and headed over to the shelter (the log building that is dry where I should have slept last night) to wait out the rain again.  After 15 minutes it stopped and I headed out.  It then rained for the next 8.5 miles.  I got to a trailhead for lunch and sat down under the sign with an awning and the park information.  Just as I was finally in a dry spot the clouds parted and the sun came out.  I moved out from under the awning and basked in the sun while I ate.

The terrain was muddy and incredibly rocky.  It made very slow going today.  I also had to cross over the last big mountain in Virginia.  The mountains won't get up to 5,000 feet again until well after I've left Virginia.  Later in the day I made it to the Grayson Highlands where there are wild ponies roaming around.  A few times I had to wait for them to move off the trail or bushwack around them.  They are completely indifferent to your presence, but I still gave them their space so as to avoid a possible kick to the head.

I also crossed the 500 mile mark today.  I haven't been particularly excited about 100 mile markers since the first 100, but I have been anxious to get to this one.  I was pretty excited when I finally hit the marker today.  Most mile markers aren't officially marked, so hikers make their own signs.  Because the 500 mile mark happened to fall in the Grayson Highlands one clever/disgusting (I'll let you decide) hiker used horse droppings to construct the marker.  I thought it was hilarious.  In their defense, there wasn't much else around.

The rain, mud, and terrain really threw off my schedule today.  I ended up not having enough daylight to get the last 1.7 miles I wanted to do today done.  I was also quite frankly out of steam.  I was able to find a small spot I could pitch my tent right after I cleared a no camping area.  I quickly threw up my tent and started making dinner.  My hope was to get dinner cooked and my bear bag hung before the rain rolled in.  I didn't make it.  Now I am having to eat in my tent and will have to hang my bear bag in the rain.  I prefer to eat away from my tent to avoid food smells from lingering.  The last thing I need is some small rodent or something larger thinking they need to chew their way into my tent to get food that isn't here.

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April 20th: Hiking out in the Rain

Miles Today: 15.8

Mile Marker: 485.0 Lost Mountain Shelter

I stopped for breakfast at Mojos and had an excellent omelet with toast.  Then I did my subway resupply and packed out a foot long with nearly every vegetable they have for lunch and dinner today.

About thirty minutes into the hike it started to rain.  It was consistent for about two hours.  Not quite a downpour, but enough to warrant the rain jacket and hood so I could see.  After the rain broke the skies opened up into a beautiful day.  Sunshine the rest of the way.

Along the way there was a detour from where the bridge washed out.  The sign said it was a notice from 2014.  They also had added permanent plastic signs with arrows navigating thought the detour.  After three years and permanent signs being added that seems more like a reroute of the AT than just a detour.  Shortly after I made it back onto the regular AT I stopped for lunch and ran into Tailgate.  His first response was “I didn't think we had to ford a river until Maine!”  I started laughing and explained there was a detour he missed.  Since he was already drenched from the rain he walked through the river with his waterproof boots on.  Props to him.  I'm still glad I took the detour.

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April 18th: Damascus Virginia

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Miles Today: 10. 4

Mile Marker: 469.2 Damascus, VA

Last night and this morning we got a bit more rain.  I sloppily packed up my tent because I knew I would be in Damascus by lunch.  There is a chance I'll have to tent at one of the hostels, but I'll deal with that when I get there.

Today I crossed over into Virginia.  Three states down, nine to go.  Virginia is the longest state.  I won't cross another border for about another 550 miles.  More than I've hiked so far.  Many people report the “Virginia Blues” because the terrain can get boring and there aren't any milestones.  

I stopped at the post office and picked up my package with two pairs of shorts, my hat, and a surprise from Aunt Mary and Aunt Jane.  They included some pecan praline cookies for me!  I ate one while I walked to my lunch spot.  The shorts are a huge relief as it has already gotten so hot.  Rolling up my pants helps, but they are still way hotter than shorts.  I'm also stoked to have this hat.  It was a gift from my dentist Dr. Kirkham before I left.  He and my Hygienist Holly were both incredibly excited and supportive of this hike.  They loaded me up with all sorts of toothpaste, floss, and swag before I left.  If you're  near the 76137 area code, Fossil Creek Dental is THE dental office to go to.  And while I can be bought, it takes more than a free hat and toothpaste.  So I say that without any paid bias.  They really are great.

Right now I'm waiting for the burrito place in town to open up.  It appears 90% of Damascus is asleep until noon.  Once I get some food on board I'll figure out where I'm going to sleep, take a shower, do laundry, knock out a resupply, and then hang out the rest of the day.  I may stay tomorrow and zero, but we'll see.

Update: The burrito had mushrooms in it, and when I asked for hot sauce they brought me Siricha.  At a Mexican restaurant!  Things are strange and scary here in Virginia.

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April 17th: Kathy Strikes Again

 This tree is so big the trail crew cut a step in it instead of cutting through it.  To give an idea of how massive the tree is, that trekking pole is 45 inches tall. 

This tree is so big the trail crew cut a step in it instead of cutting through it.  To give an idea of how massive the tree is, that trekking pole is 45 inches tall. 

Miles Today: 18.8

Mile Marker: 458.8 Abingdon Gap Shelter

This morning I woke up and finally put the sewing kit I bought nearly a month ago to use.  (Yes, my shirt still has a hole in it.)  Last night as I was getting toward the end of my day I came upon a downed tree across the trail.  This is pretty common, and one of the things the amazing volunteers come out to clear throughout the year.  Sometimes you can crawl over or under them.  Usually though a side trail is formed as everyone goes around the obstacle.  Side trails destroy vegetation and invite erosion, so they should be avoided when possible.  The tree I encountered already had a side trail, but I felt I could limbo my way under.  I was wrong.  I got down into a pushup position and was wiggling my way under when I heard a solid rip.  The outside of my pack has a mesh pocket where I store things that I'm okay with getting wet when it rains or need to dry when the sun is out.  These pockets are notorious for getting destroyed on a thru hike, so I've been very careful setting down my pack.  Then I go and rip a five inch hole in it because I decide splaying out and working under a log was somehow the better choice than walking twenty feet off trail and around it.  So I spent the first fifteen minutes of the morning addressing that before it got worse.

About an hour into my hike this morning it started to sprinkle.  The weather has been warmer, so I welcomed the cooling drizzle and forged on.  Then the drizzle turned to rain.  At that point I was already drenched and there was no point stopping to put on the rain jacket.  After a couple hours of the rain getting worse and worse, I started to wonder if I was going to be able to find a dry spot for lunch.  Then I rounded the corner and saw a white RV parked at the US-19 intersection.  My first instinct was “It would be incredible if that was Kathy.”  I get closer and see the RV is not a mirage, and in fact has the awning extended so there is a dry spot.  I knew it had to be Kathy.

Kathy is the sweetest person I have met on the trail.  Last night Fedora said every time he made eye contact with Kathy she would offer him something else.  We all agreed that was the perfect way to describe it.  She ended up staying till 3:30 P.M. yesterday, after starting about 9:00 A.M.  She even forgot to eat herself.  She basically gave away every bit of food in the RV before she left.  Her husband 8 Track told her it's okay to leave, but she insisted she couldn't leave when there were hungry hikers.  Trying to feed hikers until they are full is like trying to drain the ocean.  You can make a very concerted effort, but it isn't going to happen. We're all always in this perpetual state of low grade hunger.  Remember the massive breakfast I had three days ago at 8:00 A.M. I thought was going to make my stomach explode?  I was snacking while walking again by 9:30 A.M.

Today she dropped 8 Track off to slack pack 21 miles into Damascus. She said she was about to leave “But it started to rain, and I knew I had to stay.”  She absolutely didn't have to stay, but I'm incredibly glad she did.  She invited me into the RV and made me a grilled cheese, a baked sweet potato, a baked regular potato, and two beef soft tacos.  She also gave me a Sprite, a bag of chips, and a piece of cake. And she offered to slack pack me (drive my gear ahead while I hike with just snacks and water) the 21 miles to Damascus.  I had already done 7.3 miles at this point, but I strongly considered it.  Ultimately I decided I wouldn't get in until 8:00 P.M. and that would be a waste of a night in town.  That and I wasn't entirely sure how I would feel after a 28+ mile day.

I finally left the comfort of the RV after hanging out just over an hour.  There were still around 10 hikers hanging out getting Kathy's world class Trail Magic when Ieft.  The rest of the day was cloudy, but for the most part it didn't rain.  Rain is in the forecast tonight, so I'll likely have a wet tent to contend with in the morning.  My hope is I can get moving early enough and fast enough in the morning to make the 10 miles into Damascus by lunch.

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April 16th: More Trail Magic and Familiar Faces

 Baby geese. 

Baby geese. 

Mile Marker: 440.0

Miles Today: 16.1

Mile Marker: 440.0

This morning I had a nice hike down off the mountain I camped on last night.  When I got to the bottom I saw a sign that said 0.10 miles to a hostel called Boots Off.  Per the usual I decided to pop in for a soda.  I got a red Mountain Dew.  No idea what the flavor was, but the guys running the place were insistent it was the best.  It was pretty good.  I ran into Gabe and Galaxy there, who I haven't seen since the Smokies.  They took a couple of extra days in Hot Springs for Gabe to heal up, but then Galaxy got sick and they were grounded another two days.  It's kind of funny how the ebb and flow of the trail works.

After I left I ran into DaVinci the lake and caught up with him. Just as we were about to get started Blue Deer flagged us down from the top of the hill.  Apparently 8 Track’s wife Kathy was set up with trail magic.  She gave me a huge cup of sweet tea and made us scrambled eggs with cheese and a piece of well buttered toast with plum jam.  Then a beer.  Then some homemade peach brandy.  Then a homemade rum and coke… 11:30 morphed into 1:30 amazingly quickly.  Finally I pulled myself away and got back on the trail.

My advice is to always participate in day drinking when you can.  Nothing beats a warm day sitting in the shade of a patio with a cocktail.  Today I will add an asterisk to that recommendation.

*Unless you still have 13 miles left to hike in the heat.

Moments like today are all part of the experience of this grand adventure.  I have no regrets spending part of the day hanging out and socializing.  However when I was hiking back up into the mountains drenched in sweat, I did question the rum and coke.  Still, no regrets.

My two hour detour meant I got into camp much later than I normally do.  I could have stopped 2.5 miles earlier at a shelter with water, but I felt like I could make it.  When I got to the campsite I found six other people there.  Fedora and Hop Along, who I hadn't seen in a couple of weeks.  I met Tin Cup (a different one) and Hot Tea.  Cricket and Grasshopper were there too. 

I was able to get my tent set up, dinner cooked, and water filtered just before dark.  Turned out to be another excellent day on the trail.

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April 15th: Another Day

 This is literally the trail. It hugs the rock face along the river. 

This is literally the trail. It hugs the rock face along the river. 

Miles Today: 15.2

Mile Marker: 423.9 Pond Flats

The majority of the day was uneventful.  It's starting to get hotter and the humidity is brutal, but thankfully water has been plentiful.  I hiked most of the day by myself.  About 10 miles in I ran into a few hikers at a road crossing.  Kick-it, a thru hiker from last year, was there doing trail magic.  He had hotdogs with tortillas, Milwaukee’s Best Ice, and some store bought “moonshine”.  I sampled all three so as not to be rude.

After leaving the trail magic I hiked with a guy named Tarzan for about 20 minutes.  He had done the trail last year and was going to do the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) this year, but got a job offer.  He's out here for a few more weeks enjoying the time off before he starts.

I'm trying out 15ish mile days right now, so often that puts me at odd places away from shelters.  I'll likely be hiking out of sync with everyone else because of that for a while.  I'll be in Damascus on Tuesday or Wednesday, so I'll run into all the hikers converging there.

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April 14th: Incredible Breakfast

Miles Today: 15.0

Mile Marker: Mountain Harbour Hostel 408.7

The hostel I stayed at last night was voted the best breakfast on the trail last year.  It is $12 for all you can eat.  I now know why.  I was picturing a hotel style buffet spread of scrambled eggs, bacon, and pancakes.  What I got was an immaculate spread of gourmet breakfast foods. Perfectly presented fruit plates, perogies, beautiful cream puff pastries, French toast made from French bread, sausage polenta, made from scratch biscuits and gravy, some sort of poached egg dish, and about 10 other things I can't remember but still ate.  Breakfast was at 8 and checkout was at 10.  I took that full time after breakfast to recover before getting back to the trail.  

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful.  The climb back out wasn't too bad, for which my full stomach was grateful.  There was a cool waterfall and one lookout, but the rest of the day was spent in the woods.  The green tunnel effect gets stronger every day.  I did cross over the 400 mile marker today, so that was kind of cool.

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April 13th: Nearo

Miles Today: 3.3

Mile Marker: 393.7 Mountain Harbour Hostel

Nice easy day down to the Hostel.  I showered and got laundry done. Always makes me feel like a human again.  They don't do shuttles the 3.5 miles to town, but I called the BBQ joint and the owner came and picked me up! 

I had a monster lunch, resupplied, and now I'm relaxing.  Excellent day at an excellent hostel. 

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April 12th: Roan Highlands A+

 Snack break spot. 

Snack break spot. 

Miles Today: 15.4

Mile Marker: 390.7 Doll Flats (NC/TN final border)

Today is what hiking this trail is all about.  There are days where there are no views, the trail sucks, you're tired of the food you have, it's raining, and you question why you're even doing this.  Then you get a day like today.

I woke up this morning and hiked over Roan Mountain and got some pretty good views.  Then a few miles later I hiked up onto this gorgeous bald with incredible 360 degree views.  Then another one, and another one, and another one.  Most of today was spent up at elevation with incredible views everywhere you looked.  At a certain point I had to stop taking pictures and focus in hiking, because everything was so amazing.  The weather cooperated and made it a perfect day.  Not too hot, and a nice breeze coming through most of the day.

I was having such a great time I ended up hiking about a mile and a half further than I intended.  I made it to the final North Carolina/Tennessee border.  I've been hoping between the two pretty much since I hit NC.  From here until Virginia it is Tennessee all the way.  That means two states down! Only twelve more to go.

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April 11th: Significantly Better Day

 The Tent I switched to forever ago. 

The Tent I switched to forever ago. 

April 11th: Significantly Better Day

Miles Today: 13.5

Mile Marker: 375.3 Ash Gap

I guess I woke up on the right side of the tent this morning.  Last night I camped on a ridgeline with my tent oriented to catch the morning sunrise.  I woke up a little more motivated today and got going about an hour sooner.  I sat and stared at the mountains eating my breakfast as the sunlight washed over the valley.  Much better start to the day.

The first half of the day flew by.  I felt like I was back in the groove.  So much so that I accidentally stepped on a snake.  It was some small non-venmous snake, so it wasn't a big deal.  I had my headphones in and was cruising along when all of a sudden, I was though “Wait was that a snake?”  I turned around and this little foot and a half long snake had its head turned toward me with this “What the hell man!?” expression on its face.  While I do hate snakes, I did apologize.  It gave me pause  about wearing both earbuds while I hike, but I ultimately decided it's no big deal.  If I have a similar encounter with one of the bitey diey types, I might change my mind.

The forecast for tonight calls for a 50% chance of rain, but the clouds are looking like they are going to deliver.  I was able to stop early before it gets here at a campsite with water instead of heading up to the shelter.  I likely could have made it, but another couple of miles today doesn't affect my schedule for resupply.  No reason to risk it right now.

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