After Marion, there is the cute, little, old Lindamood School right along the trail. The local Methodist church left trail magic inside, and they actually showed up again to re-stock while we were visiting to add more fruit, veggies, and sodas (which we were very grateful for!).
We stopped a few miles later at the El Burrito Loco which was a Mexican restaurant attached to a gas station. We were hoping to get some cheap Mexican food (which was surprisingly pricey), and Margaritas (which they did not have). After eating, we settled for some tall boys which we drank hobo-style, brown bag and all, right outside the gas station. We then returned to the trail, and hiked through some meadows to Davis Path campsite.
Although Davis Path was the “official” quarter-way point for 2016 (the mileage changes annually), we got to pass the un-official quarter-way-point sign the next day.
We passed through a cow field, said hi to the cows (the babies were timid, but adorable!), then I proceeded to step in some old, moldy cow poo while hiking back towards the woods to get to a very crowded Knot (“Darth”) Maul Branch Shelter.
We climbed over some fences on the way to Chestnut Knob Shelter, which is one of the few fully enclosed shelters on the trail.
There were nice views, so we decided to take a long lunch break there and decided to bask in the sun for a while.
Shortly after leaving the shelter, I nearly taught myself how to fly when I almost stepped on a Timber rattlesnake after returning to the trail from a bathroom break. Glad it wasn’t the other way around! That was the first, and only (so far) rattlesnake I’ve seen in the wild, and I was absolutely excited! Just not enough to get too close to it. It didn’t move at all from its coiled position and I thought it might be dead, until Strider decided to poke at it with his trekking poles a couple times and it lifted its head up. It still never rattled.
We crashed out at Jenkins Shelter, and after a 20-mile day, we fell into a deep, deep sleep. So deep that we didn’t hear all the commotion going on from the other hikers in the middle of the night over the bear that was sniffing around the site.
I was bummed I missed out on the nighttime excitement and was even more unhappy when I tried to un-plug the nozzle from my sleep mat and it popped out in my hand. Fantastic.
More irritation was to come, thanks to all the Tent caterpillars. We had to walk through strings and strings of webs, and probably had a few multi-legged hitchhikers attached to us, before we hitchhiked ourselves into Bland, VA (the name suits the town, by the way), to get food and resupply.
Bland first brought some minor bad news. For starters, after calling NEMO regarding my busted nozzle, they wouldn’t replace it (even though it had been jamming on me for weeks), and would only provide me with a repair kit which required tools (since I just so happen to be lugging a toolbox with me on the trail. No, not really). It was a holiday gift from REI from my mother-in-law, and since it was purchased less than a year ago, we thought we’d ask her if she could call them, and have a replacement sent to our next stop.
It’s funny how life works. We wouldn’t have called his parents at all during that time under normal circumstances, since this was a quick in-and-out town stop. His parents wouldn’t have called us, since we never have cell reception to begin with. After getting in touch we got some really bad news. Frisbee’s grandmother, who he’s always been really close to, was un-responsive, and it wasn’t looking promising.
We were both pretty distraught, but made plans to get back in touch when we reached Pearisburg in a few days, if not sooner. Fortunately, we live in Maryland, and so did his grandmother, so we were close enough to get a ride home in case things turned out for the worse.
After getting a hitch back to the trail, the day blessed us with some good distractions. Before crossing the highway, we saw a black bear foraging up on the hill in the distance. There was a super steep hill to climb as soon as we entered the forest. We saw our third snake on the trail since we started, a cute little guy that I originally thought was a twig and nearly stepped on.
We hit our “unofficial” 600-mile mark (we skipped 14.4 miles due to the wildfires around Hot Springs), and heard a bear barreling though the woods after we startled it (once again, Frisbee sees the whole bear, I miss it). We stopped at Jenny Knob Shelter for the night, and Strider, Frisbee, and I found some dumb entertainment by saying the shelter name as Forest Gump would say it, all evening and the following morning.
We knew that we would soon be leaving the trail briefly under bad terms, but that returning back to the trail afterwards would be the best place we could possibly be.
Total AT Mileage: 587.4 miles
Number of Hiking Days: 45
Number of Zero Days: 14
Average Mileage per day: 13.1 miles
Average Mileage this Chapter: 17.4 miles (4 days)
Longest Hiking Day: 26.2 miles (Groundhog Creek Shelter, NC/TN to Hot Springs, NC)
Shortest Hiking Day: 4.3 miles (Erwin, TN to Curly Maple Gap Shelter, TN)