Day 51 – Friday, April 29: Dismal Falls to Pearisburg, VA, 24.5 miles, 634.6 total AT miles.

4aasssI woke up feeling good and smelling dampness in the air. Expecting rain clouds overhead, I looked at the sky from my vestibule and was surprised to see clearing morning skies. Not one to tempt fate, I quickly packed before making the decision to hike.

I mulled about, exploring the surrounding cliffs (and going to the bathroom), before returning to camp. Moon Boots was awake, as were Savage and Push. I looked toward the falls just in time to see Monster dive in for a morning bath. Within a few minutes, the skies parted and the sun started to shine.

I was honestly a little happy to not start off hiking again. I was sore and needed the break – plus, we couldn’t have chosen a better spot to take a half day off.

Moon Boots, Get Weird, Champa and I decided to take breakfast orders and hike a one-mile roadwalk to Trent’s Grocery. In order to get to the road, however, I had to cross the river ahead of the falls. I could either ford the stream (in the process, getting my freshly-taped heel wet) or I could tightrope walk along a large log. I was the last to cross and jumped up onto the log.

I couldn’t do it. It was too wet and I just couldn’t get any traction with my boots. I could see myself slipping, falling right in. I made several attempts – none more than a few feet before jumping back onto shore. I small crowd of my hiking buddies gathered on the other side of the river.

Needing more traction, I took off my shoes and tiptoed across in my wool socks. It was still very difficult. For something seemingly so easy, my heart was racing. I was honestly scared even though falling in would have meant nothing more than having to change clothes. I almost fell in half-way, but regained my balance and eventually made it. Everyone clapped – I had to sit down to catch my breath. Terrifying.

After the quick trip to Trent’s, I again made the log crossing (in wool socks and still just as scary) and finished breaking camp. I supplemented my hot breakfast with some pasta I got from a section hiker at Partnership Shelter last week. With a full belly, I set off for hills surrounding Pearisburg.

I don’t think I could have asked for easier terrain – wide, smooth paths covered with shady Rhododendrons. But something was wrong – I just couldn’t get moving. I felt weak and hot, I was sweating too hard for no reason.

Michael and Push soon passed me followed shortly by Moon Boots and Monster. It took nearly three hours, but I finally made it the six miles to Wapiti Shelter. I found everyone having lunch by a pond. I felt miserable – totally drained is a more accurate way to put it. I ate a hot lunch and moved on.

Heading north from Wapiti, the AT gains elevation at a pretty steep clip. Within 30 minutes or so, Savage caught up to me. She was the last to leave Dismal Falls this morning and had been swimming in the pond when I arrived for lunch.

I told her I just wasn’t feeling that well. She told me she’d rather have an easy day and would rather hike at my crawling pace. I was appreciative – hiking alone can sometimes be demotivating.

I trudged on, covered in sweat and cursing every step. The blister on my heel was killing me. Even though I spent most of the afternoon hiking in silence on sharp rocks, Savage kept politely encouraging me.

Just before 8:00, we made the nine miles to Docs Knob Shelter and decided to have dinner. I was still full from breakfast and lunch – still I cooked my last hot meal and ate. Juan was also having dinner – Oriole and him were staying there the night and planned on reaching Pearisburg tomorrow.

We decided we’d hike as far as we could. I switched on my headlamp and started moving. I felt miserable. About 30 minutes up trail, I asked Savage to hold up. I was getting dizzy. I told her I needed to throw up. She gave me permission, promising not to watch.

All I remember is thoroughly disgracing the AT with the contents of my stomach – most of which was the undigested remnants of breakfast. I cleaned myself up and took a few minutes to get back together.

I instantly felt great. I hiked over to Savage to tell her what came up. She was surprised – not that I had gotten sick, but that I kept that free meal from the section hiker AND chose to eat it. It had been removed from it’s packaging and sealed in a ziplock when I got it. I should have known better. Who knows how old it was or how much moisture had gotten in.

Lesson learned – we hiked on in full headlights. About five miles outside of Pearisburg, we came across a power line clearing that afforded a nighttime view of the surrounding valley. It was truly beautiful.

At about that time Moon Boots texted to let me know he and Canuck had just made it to Pearisburg. They got a room and told us we could sleep there if we made it to town. Monster, Push and Michael decided to camp just before the descent into town – still miles ahead of us. We hiked on with a renewed vigor.

The descent into Pearisburg was steep and rocky. I was finally feeling good and starting to make good time. As we approached the road crossing, Savage told me to hurry. She knew I wanted to make Pearisburg in 9 to 10 days – if I made to the road crossing by midnight, we would have covered the 165 miles from Damascus.

At 11:58pm, I tapped my trekking pole on the white blaze by the road, thus signifying our arrival. We made it! It was a rough day – I only felt good for the last seven miles. But I’m glad I kept going.

Savage and I walked into town and straight to the Holiday Lodge. Not only had Moon Boots and Canuck got us all a room, they also ordered us a pizza. What a great end to what was looking like a truly horrible day.

I’m sitting by the bathroom typing as my hiking buddies sleep. I’m truly thankful to be surrounded by people willing to help me out. I’m generally not one who accepts help readily – I don’t like to be put into a position of weakness. I needed help today and it came from folks I’ve only known for few weeks.

I’m having the time of my life.

Breakfast: the rancid free meal, labeled “Turkey Tetrazini – add two cups”.

Lunch: Alfredo Fettuccini Pasta Side with tuna

Dinner: Alfredo Fettuccini Pasta Side spiked with instant mashed potatoes

Second Dinner: 4 slices of pizza, 3 breadsticks, 2 cans of Sprite from the vending machine outside

Day 50 – Thursday, April 28: Laurel Creek to Dismal Falls, 27.1 miles, 610.1 total AT miles.

I woke at 5:30am and started packing – I knew I had a long day ahead. I had a little light rain overnight and it threatened to continue as I packed.

I retrieved my bear bag – another awesome hang, but not picture worthy.
Savage left early and first, ascending out of camp at 6:30. I stayed to drink a cup of coffee with Monster and Moon Boots as they ate breakfast.
Yesterday morning, Moon Boots and I met a section hiker (Michael) as we were leaving camp. We saw him periodically through the day and ended up tenting with him last night. Turns out, he’s looking to make big miles and liked the idea of making it to Pearisburg by tomorrow night.
I walked over to his tent and told him of our plan to make it to Trent’s Grocery – a country store and grill located about 25 miles up trail. He said he’d keep up – I offered to grab him a burger if he didn’t make it by the time they closed.
Moon Boots and I started the ascent out of camp at 7:30 at a fairly speedy pace. Push left shortly after Savage – we were playing catch-up as we hiked through Rhododendron tunnels on our way to Trent’s.
I passed two other thru-hikers, Champa and Get Weird, as I crossed the trail boss trail. I was about ten feet behind Champa when I looked down and saw what I thought was a fishing lure – it was actually a bright orange lizard. Champa paused to check it out – apparently, they’re quite frequently seen.

Moon Boots and I hiked on, heading towards I-77 when Monster caught up to us. This was totally expected – he’s well over 6 foot tall and carries a 60 lb. pack. He rarely uses his trekking poles. He’s literally a monster.
While the elevation profile called for a relatively easy hike to Trent’s Grocery, water management would be an issue. I left camp with enough to make it the 11 miles to Helveys Mill Shelter – my next viable water source.
With the interstate in sight, the three of us stumbled across some much needed trail magic. In the center of the AT lay a dozen grocery bags, each packed full of Mountain Dew, Coca-Cola and bottles of water. I added water to my Playpus and chugged a Mountain Dew before crossing the interstate.
My first days in Virginia were marked with graded mountains and green valleys. As we crossed the bridge, I noticed the terrain had subtly changed – the climate was drier and the mountains much rockier.

After a short, steep push, the three of us arrived at the shelter and paused to eat lunch. I skipped on making a hot lunch in favor of conserving water – the hike down to the spring was steep and fairly long.
I spread my tent on the AT to dry in the sun as the three of us ate heartily. After a nice 30 minute break, we set off. The next nine miles ahead to Jenny Knob Shelter were without a water source as well. I still had two liters in my Platypus – more than enough to make the hike.
As we hiked, I observed an interesting pattern form that I can only attribute to Monster’s military background. He could have easily made the hike alone, burning up miles on the easy terrain and leaving Moon Boots and I (but just mostly me) in the dust. Instead, he liked to frequently re-arrange the hiking order, often suggesting Moon Boots or I lead. In the end, the three of us kept up with and motivated each other to hike fast through what was a pretty boring section.
It was a good thing we stuck together too – before we even realized it, we were crossing the 600 mile mark.
At 2:00, we made it Jenny Knob Shelter. The three of us peeled off the AT and headed straight for the spring – I had just run out of water. And I wanted my hot lunch. Even though Trent’s Grocery was only nine miles away, I could feel myself in need of nourishment.
After lunch, I took off my boots to change socks (my feet were pretty sweaty) and noticed that the minor discomfort I had begun feeling on my right heel was actually a blister. It was located in exactly the same spot (just a different foot this time) as the one that plagued me before I got new boots in Damascus. I threw on some Band-Aids and athletic tape before moving on.
Our pace slowed as we made the gradual descent from Jenny Knob to Trent’s Grocery. I told the guys to move on as I wanted to take it easy on my heel – that and I wanted a quick snack. I soon emerged from the woods and entered a small pasture – a sure sign I was getting close to a road crossing.
I re-entered the woods and came across Moon Boots and Monster at the beginning of a suspension bridge that spans Kimberling Creek. We paused to take a few photos when I heard a “hey Dad” come from the woods – it was Canuck, racing to catch up. The four of us crossed and immediately turned left onto VA 606 heading for Trent’s.
Trent’s Grocery is more like a convenience store with a grill. I went to set my pack down on the bench and saw Savage and Push’s packs leaning against the building. I walked inside and said hi – they had been waiting on us for maybe a half an hour.
I ordered dinner to go (including that promised burger for Michael) and bought a few snacks before sitting down. While they were waiting, Savage and Push scouted out possible camping sites. We had two choices: either pay $7 to camp at Trent’s “Campground” (the property behind the grocery) or hike on Dismal Falls – ranked as one of the prettiest side-trail campsites on the AT.
I knew it was decided before we even began debating. I told Push I’d see them at Dismal Falls and started hiking. Even though it was only two miles away, it was nearing late afternoon.
As I was hiking down VA 606 towards the trailhead, I saw three hikers approaching me. Champa and Get Weird were hiking with Michael, all on their way towards Trent’s. I handed the burger off to Michael who, upon hearing we were headed two miles up trail, turned around to follow suit.
The late afternoon push was well worth it. Dismal Falls is easily one of the nicest campsites I’ve had so far. Moon Boots and I camped on two small grassy areas – only about 20 yards from the falls.

After gorging on my to go sandwiches (and a whole bunch of snacks), I went to my tent to write.
Awesome day hiking! I thought it was cool to see seven hikers (now including Michael) hike a literal marathon and only be about an hour apart the whole day – no one let up or stopped short.
Tomorrow calls for rain – in fact, a light rain has been falling while I type. We discussed the weather as a group. If it’s nasty tomorrow, then we’ll all just make the push to Pearisburg. If it’s nice, then we’ll hang out at the falls until noon or so, tenting late at night a few miles outside of town. Either way, I’ve only got 25 miles to go.
I lost one of my North Face camp shoes today. It was stuffed in a side pocket and must have fallen out somewhere along the way. I don’t have high hopes of it being found. It’s the same color grey as most of the boulders and rocks in this area – it’s likely gone for good.

Breakfast: coffee, almonds, beef jerky, Blueberry Crisp Clif Bars
Snack: Mountain Dew
Lunch: 3 beef jerky tortilla roll ups, dried figs

Snack: 4 packs of Star Wars fruit snacks

Dinner (from Trent’s): orange Gatorade, two grilled chicken sandwiches ($8.48) then, two Blueberry Crisp Clif Bars and the rest of my almonds

Day 49 – Wednesday, April 27: Lynn Camp Creek to Laurel Creek, 23.1 miles, 583.0 total AT miles.

Note: This is the second night in a row with zero service. Other hikers said they got cell service today during the ridgewalk – I got stuck in the rain and didn’t check.

Shortly after I finished writing last night, a hiker walked through camp and said it was going to start raining at 11:00pm – he just got an updated weather report.

I closed the vents on my rainfly and fell asleep. I woke up to the sound of heavy rain hitting my tent – I could hear thunder in the distance. I nodded off, but woke again at 1:00am, the downpour still soaking the earth. I didn’t have any leaks – everything was dry.

I woke up again at 6:00, this time for good. I sat up and immediately started packing. I felt good and was pretty motivated to start hiking bigger mile days. I put my hand down on the floor of my tent and was a little surprised. There was a layer of water, maybe a half an inch, between my tent and the footprint.

I stuck my head outside my tent. What I thought was nice flat land the night before now showed itself to be bowl-shaped. Everywhere around my tent had standing water from the overnight rains. I finished packing and got everything out of my tent.

The only water that ever gets in (and this has happened a few times), is directly under my sleeping pad. I had the same problem this morning – it’s really very minor compared to stories you hear. I wiped it up before taking down my tent.

I did nail that bear hang.

I grabbed a quick breakfast and started hiking at 7:00 with Moon Boots. Despite the heavy rains, the trail was surprisingly in good shape. After the quick up and over Lynn Camp Mountain, things got tough.

We started the ascent of Chestnut Knob at 9:00am. While the trail was well-graded, we faced a continuous uphill hike for four miles. I was hiking at steady pace, not wanting to waste too much energy on the uphills. I stopped for water and a quick snack about halfway up.

As the switchbacks near the crest of Chestnut Ridge, the trail goes from forest to bald – I was about halfway done. As the trail followed the ridge higher in elevation to the summit, I kept a lookout for Chestnut Knob Shelter at the summit.

At 11:00am, Moon Boots and I found Push making lunch at the shelter. The shelter was very nice and had a great view of the farmland in the valley below.

Before I sat down to cook, I took out my soaking wet tent and hung it from my trekking poles to dry. I cooked quickly and ate. It looked like it was threatening to rain again. I could feel the humidity rising from the valley below. The air was cool, but not cold.

As I was leaving, Canuck and Savage showed up. They sat down to eat and I took off, heading for the eight miles of ridgewalking ahead. I felt like I was making good time. The trail consistently stayed away from the ridge line, instead following it about 20 yards to the side.

About an hour in, it started raining. It never got too heavy – I continued hiking in a t-shirt and gym shorts. I caught up with Moon Boots and the two of us realized we were approaching a road crossing.

At the trailhead we met E.T., a now-retired former thru-hiker. He gave me an apple. While I was throwing away trash, Canuck showed up – we ended up splitting his last Gatorade.

The three of us left just as the rain was finally letting up. I was wet, but not in that bad of shape. The trail deviates from the ridge and descends quickly towards Jenkins Shelter. I stopped with Canuck at the shelter for a quick snack before pressing on towards Laurel Creek.

The trail again climbs and runs alongside another ridge – although this time at a much lower elevation. It was a nice hike into camp. I emerged from the woods to find Monster, Moon Boots and Push all gathering water and/or bathing in Laurel Creek.

I filled up for the night and made my way to the campsites. In time the six of us that decided to try for bigger miles sat at the picnic table to make dinner. Juan, who missed the sign for Jenkins Shelter (he meant to continue hiking with Sweet Potato and Oriole), joined us.

My plan is to hike 25 miles tomorrow, stopping at Trent’s Grocery, and off-trail country store that apparently sells burgers. That would leave 26 miles on Friday to reach Pearisburg. There’s admittedly no rush – I just want to push myself before taking a day off.

I hiked all day in my short gym shorts and t-shirt, even in the light rain. I felt great.

Breakfast: Blueberry Crisp Clif Bar, Little Debbie Banana Marshmallow Pie

Snack: almonds, figs, LD Ban M Pie

Lunch: Cheddar Bacon Pasta Side with chicken, spiked with instant mashed potatoes, Star Wars fruit snacks, beef jerky

Snack: Apple, LD Ban M Pie, nearly an entire bag of dried cranberries

Dinner: Fettucini Alfredo Pasta Side with tuna, spiked with instant mashed potatoes, LD Ban M Pie, almonds, beef jerky, the rest of the cranberries, almost all of the figs 

Day 48 – Tuesday, April 26: Lindamood School to Lynn Camp Creek, 18.9 miles, 559.9 total AT miles.

I woke feeling surprisingly alert and refreshed after yesterday’s hike. I started packing up, still inside the schoolhouse. I ventured outside to find Moon Boots and Canuck waking up as well.

After a quick trip to the semi-restored, yet fully-functional, boys privy, the three of us set off for town. The trail this morning was stunning – we exited the forest and hiked through grassy farmland on our way to The Barn in Atkins.
The four miles into Atkins went by too quickly. Little did I know we would have even better pasture crossings in the miles ahead.
The three of us walked into The Barn to order breakfast, first grabbing a booth, then a large table as other hikers arrived. The same eight hikers (myself included) that had lunch yesterday in Marion now sat to eat breakfast in Atkins. It’s not always Pasta Sides in the woods.
While I ate, I uploaded my blog and discussed plans moving forward to Pearisburg. I expressed interest in hiking in on Friday night – that would mean hiking 93 miles over the next four days, including today. For me, that seemed a little ambitious, but I think I’m up for the challeng
We departed separately, all heading for the same campsite I’m tenting at tonight. I was at the end of the line. The trail crosses under I-81 after leaving Atkins – and right before the trail left the roadside and entered the woods, two deer ran right in front of me. Little did I know, there’d be weirder animals ahead.
I paused to check my external battery and try to get some music playing through my speaker, when Push caught up to me – she stayed at a trail angel’s home with a few other hikers last night. Despite today’s apparently jagged elevation profile, the trail was well-graded and made for easy miles. We enjoyed intermittent music through the speaker (as cell coverage prohibited) as we hiked.
At the bottom of Little Brushy Mountain, we ran into Moon Boots and Savage relaxing by stream next to the Crawfish Trail. I grabbed some water and sat for a few minutes to rest. I still felt great – it was noon and I’d covered nearly 10 miles.
The four of us set off together to climb Walker Mountain – another nicely graded climb. Moon Boots stayed ahead. When I found him at the top of the mountain, he was sitting next to a sign. I knew at some point today I’d pass the 1/4 mark – and was very pleased someone had hung a sign to commemorate the event. High fives and “hell yeahs” all around.
The four of us descended Walker Mountain and quickly found ourselves exiting the woods and entering one of the most beautiful pastures I’ve ever seen – rolling green hills and big blue skies. The weather was perfect, mid 70’s with a nice breeze.

We hiked through a thin wooded area, fenced in on both sides by private farms. I personally speculated how old this section of trail must be, seeing as how the only reason this bit of land exists is to provide an easement for the AT.

As we approached a road crossing, we ran across Lumbermack, a former thru-hiker, now retired and out providing trail magic for the day. I enjoyed a quick snack and pressed on – through another perfect pasture.
We entered the woods again and started descending towards the Holston River. I was following Moon Boots when, all of the sudden, he jerks his head left, points at a tree and yells, “What the hell is that?”
I didn’t see it at first, but when I did, I was dumbfounded. Something furry was clinging to a tree (and nearly perfectly camouflaged). I got off trail and moved closer to inspect it and snap a picture. It was decided that it was a woodchuck – I had never seen one before and still don’t know if that’s what it was.
Today was going pretty good so far – hot breakfast, beautiful pastures, weird animals and trail magic. But it was getting hot. 

Luckily, we soon found ourselves on the banks of the Holston River. The four of us relaxed in the water and cooled off. It was extremely refreshing – just what I needed.
After a quick ascent up Brushy Mountain, we bypassed the Knot Maul Branch Shelter and found Monster, Juan, Sweet Potato and Oriole at Lynn Camp Creek. I set up my tent and made a quick dinner.
We sat around until 8:00 being entertained by Juan and Savage trying to figure out “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros on the banjo and ukulele. (It’s good to know other folks have as hard a time getting this song out of their heads as I do).
At sunset, I set out to hang my food – usually an easy task made difficult tonight by a lack of suitable trees. It was tough, but Savage and I managed to hang our bags over the creek – it’s one of my finer hangs. I’m actually proud of it.
I retired soon thereafter and started writing. So if I really want to be in Pearisburg by Friday night, I’ll need to put up some big miles for the next three days – I’ll need 75 miles in all. My goal for tomorrow is to make it 24 miles to Laurel Creek. The elevation looks okay – my only concern is about the eight miles of ridge walking tomorrow. If it’s rocky (as they’re prone to being around here), I’ll be moving slowly.
Trail rumor has a fifty percent chance of rain for the next three days, supposedly starting at some point tonight.
Today was a great day to be hiking the AT – this small section definitely ranks towards the top as far as I’m concerned. So far, Virginia has been great.
Breakfast: The Barn – 8oz sirloin steak, hashbrowns, side of biscuit and gravy, coffee, orange juice $14.25 with $5.75 tip
Snack (trail magic): Cola, Little Debbie Fudge Round
I skipped lunch – just wasn’t hungry
Snack: Almonds, beef jerky, Little Debbie Banana Marshmallow Cake
Dinner: Cheddar Chipotle Pasta Side with chicken spiked with cheddar-bacon flavored instant mashed potatoes, Star Wars fruit snacks, Blueberry Clif Bar