The morning hike from Johns Hollow Shelter was greeted by the passing of a turtle on the trail, and a good climb up the mountain with views of the James River down below.
It was a hot day, and we took a couple stops to take in the views from above and to admire the wildflowers.
Once we got on top of Bluff Mountain, we found a monument for Ottie Cline Powell, a 4-year old child who had wandered off 7 miles from the Tower Hill School House back in 1891. Unfortunately, she wasn’t found alive at the site. It was hard for us to imagine a child so young straying so far, and up such a steep mountain.
We hiked a little over 13 miles, and I was ready to call it quits for the day. With the pain pills I acquired in Daleville (what was left of them), I would hike strong in the morning and early afternoon, but once the evening was beginning to set in, the pain shooting through my leg would get unbearable.
There was supposed to be a campsite 0.2 miles south of the road that we were standing on according to the guide. We wandered around in circles with Cautious, and two other hikers, Elf and Tsehay. We were uncertain if it was referring to “trail south” or “true south,” but couldn’t seem to find it no matter which direction we went. To this day, I’m uncertain if we totally missed it, or if it’s no longer there. After zero luck in finding a campsite, we decided we would just find a stealth site along the way.
We took a break at the 800-mile mark, then kept trucking alongside a lake and over several streams. I was moving slow, it was getting dark, and I was close to tears since the pain was so bad. Cautious had hiked on to the shelter ahead of us, but the remaining four of us stopped by a stream after we had passed a bunch of “no camping” signs before it.
On top of the leg pain, I had some awful blisters on my feet. I had suffered from blisters the whole hike, and never seemed to get any relief no matter what I tried. I stuck my feet in the cold water as Frisbee set up the tent and started a fire. I felt completely defeated.
Tsehay, who we would have several run ins with throughout our hike, was awesome enough to give me an extra pair of her Injinji sock liners which she swore helped prevent blisters with her feet. I would later agree with her! I am still super grateful for her act of kindness, because it totally changed everything and helped me out so significantly.
The following day, we didn’t travel far. The trail was pretty mellow and there were a couple placards along this section, which was formerly known as the Brown Mountain Creek Community. In the early 1900’s, it was a community of freed slaves, and although there was little left of the abandoned village, you could see what used to be rock walls bordering the stream.
We caught up with Cautious and a few others, and ran into some trail magic at the road crossing. We needed to resupply and run some errands in Buena Vista, and decided to rest up there for one night. One of the trail angels was kind enough to drive Cautious and us into town.
She drove us to Food Lion, and was nice enough to wait for us to finish shopping before dropping us off at the Budget Inn. Bluegrass, another hiker we had known a while, got a room next to us and told us he was feeling the effects of the “Virginia Blues” and was debating heading back home.
Virginia will do that to some people. It’s a very long state to hike through, especially after crossing state border after border in the beginning of the hike. At this point, we had hiked about 340 miles of Virginia and still had another 200+ miles to go before crossing into West Virginia. While we were at the hotel, we drank beer, did laundry, and heard breaking news about the horrible mass shooting that took place in Orlando. When you’re out on the trail, you tend to forget about all the turmoil taking place in the “real world.”
We hitched back to the trail and picked up a couple other hikers on the way. It was a steep climb from the road to Buena Vista, but we got some nice views on top of Cole Mountain before stopping at Seeley-Woodworth Shelter.
The next day, we would conquer The Priest! There was a lot of fear revolving around this section of the trail, but we were ready! We climbed to the top of Spy Rock to check out the scenery before making our way to The Priest Shelter.
There are hiker logs found at nearly every shelter which hikers sign into as a record of their journey. It is also used for hikers to communicate with each other and for entertainment. The Priest Shelter log book is where AT hikers traditionally “confess their sins” before/after (depending on your direction), the punishing walk up/down Priest Mountain.
I listed some of my favorite confessions below from some of my hiker friends who I will leave anonymous, just as a Catholic confessional would be (although they weren’t anonymous in the book)!
“Forgive me father for I have sinned. Day 2 at Gooch Shelter I put a heavy rock in someone’s pack while waiting for my friends to break out of camp. I don’t know who it was, but I watched them leave with the rock still in their pack.”
“Forgive me father for I have sinned. …I really enjoy killing mice in the shelters. So I ask forgiveness for the 17 mini lives I have taken on this trail.”
“I tried making it over Hump Mountain before I took a sh*t. Halfway up I was clinching hard, to the point I clinched hard enough that sh*t came out. There was nowhere to take a sh*t out of sight. So I ran up the mountain, found some trees, lifted up a rock and finished sh*tting myself. Then replaced the rock to its original position. I washed my underwear as best as I could.”
“Forgive me father for I imply to friends and family that I almost never have cell service or battery. Meanwhile, I’m streaming ‘The Big Lebowski’.”
Heading northbound, The Priest is a steep 3 miles downhill, which sucks if you have bad knees. Generally, it wasn’t as bad as it was pumped up to be, although I would hate to hike up it!
We received trail magic from a woman whose husband was right behind us along the trail before we stopped at Harpers Creek Shelter. There we met a section hiker who was headed southbound and warned him of the climb ahead of him.
The next morning, we were pumped! Devil’s Backbone Brewpub was a short hitch from the road the trail intersects at. We climbed up and over Three Ridges Mountain, which was fun with its rock scrambles. Maybe it was the thought of the beer I would soon have in my hand, but I was feeling pretty strong this day.
Once we were near the road, we passed two hikers we hadn’t met before, and then a squirrel fell out of a tree and almost landed on my head. The poor little guy didn’t land on its feet either, but recovered quickly as he was able to scamper away from the scene of the crash.
Reeds Gap was probably one of the harder places to hitch from. There isn’t a lot of traffic, and you’re standing by a day hiker’s parking lot, so most people don’t realize you aren’t there with a car. We finally got a ride, and the driver thought we were joking at first when we were standing on the side of the road with our thumbs out.
We saw a few other hikers out on the patio and a whole rack of hikers would follow suit. We were excited to run back into our old friend, Refill! We had a great time, but wanted to get back on the trail. A lot of the other hikers (Tsehay, Chia Pet, and StageLeft to name a few), stayed the night on the grounds so they could continue drinking and get the “hiker breakfast” offered there in the morning.
We left with a couple from Florida, Falsetop and Charge, via a limo-van of all vehicles! There was a business meeting at the brewpub, and Frisbee convinced the driver to drop us off up the road since he was still waiting on them to wrap things up. We stumbled upon a campsite with a view about 6 miles from Reeds Gap, and hoped it wouldn’t dump rain on us as predicted.
We got up as soon as we heard the rain drizzling on our rain fly, ate, and then headed to Waynesboro. The weather ended up holding up, and we passed a small cemetery as well as cabin ruins along the way. A large Black Rat snake crossed our path right before reaching Rockfish Gap, and we realized that our fear of snakes in general, had diminished over the time we had been out there. We would enjoy our time in Waynesboro, but more on that next time.
Total AT Mileage: 846.9 miles
Number of Hiking Days: 64
Number of Zero Days: 17
Average Mileage per Day Total: 13.2 miles
Average Mileage this Chapter: 12.6 miles (6 days)
Longest Hiking Day: 26.2 miles (Groundhog Creek Shelter, NC/TN to Hot Springs, NC)
Shortest Hiking Day: 3.5 miles (mile mark 802.6 to Buena Vista, VA)