Day 63 – Wednesday, May 11: Stealth Camp to US 60 (Buena Vista, VA), 4.2 miles, 806.1 total AT miles

I woke up late – those consecutive 20-pluses over rough terrain had finally gotten to me. My right thigh was especially stiff as I silently started packing at 7:00am.

I emerged to retrieve our food bags and broke camp. I sat by the stream as first Push, then Savage, then Black Santa made their way down to eat breakfast.

The four of us started hiking late (8:30), but with a purpose. Push had new shoes waiting at a hostel miles ahead – the rest of us would stop short and hitch into town.

After passing the Brown Mountain Creek Shelter, the AT begins a steep ascent towards Bald Knob – thankfully, I’d only have to make a quarter of that before hitting the road crossing.

Push led with Black Santa and I dragging behind, Savage just a little behind us. I expected to see Push again at US 60, but I ran into her about a half mile away from the road crossing.
She had just run a huge frog. This thing was massive – like if you needed a big frog for a film set, you’d want this guy. I touched it.

Push tapped its back legs with her trekking poles and it started doing push-ups. Incredible.

Believe it or not, this frog was a 20 minute distraction. I took my pack off for this frog – it was that cool.

It was nearly 10:00 before the four of us made it to US 60. After promising to catch up (it’ll happen), Push made her way north and the three of us started trying to hitch into town.

After about an hour, we finally got lucky – a guy pulled over and took us to town. We immediately booked a room at the Budget Inn. Savage started our laundry and we all took our turns in the shower.

It felt so good to be clean and put on clean clothes. Savage and Black Santa walked to the Chinese restaurant while I talked on the phone – I can’t tell you how good it feels to reconnect after a week in the woods.

I made my way to the Dollar General for a new USB charging cable and Febreeze. On the way back to the hotel, I stopped at the Burger King for first dinner.

It was 4:00 and I still needed to call REI to make sure I’d have no problems returning my tent and pack – I was assured it wouldn’t be a problem. I also confirmed our rental car for tomorrow before heading to Burger King for second dinner.

I ate more than I should and shuffled over to my bed to write. I just called Shaggy (thankfully he’s tenting on a ridge about 30 miles behind us and has cell reception) to let him know I have a car and will pick him up sometime tomorrow for Trail Days.

Moon Boots and Canuck are 80 miles behind in Daleville, VA and have already procured a shuttle to Damascus – I can’t wait to see those two.

I still hope my not being able to reach Medicine Man is a fluke – I hope he’s getting back on trail.

I’ve been hiking with Black Santa for a while now and have just received permission (from him) to fill you in on why he’s been hiking with us. For the past two years, he’s been competing section hikes of the AT – this year his plan was to hike from Damascus to Harper’s Ferry.

That was his plan.

It took me 11 months to prepare for this thing – he made the decision to hike all the way to Maine a few days ago and has been working out the logistics ever since. Today, he approached me and said he was good to go – he has better opportunities waiting for him in Austin, TX.

Today, the trail family officially grew one hiker larger. I can’t wait for tomorrow.

Breakfast: one powdered donut, 20 gram Powerbar protein bar (peanut butter flavored)

Lunch: Bacon Double Cheeseburger from Burger King (via Black Santa).

Snack: the rest of my Dot’s Pretzels

Dinner: 10 piece nuggets, Bacon Double Cheeseburger from Burger King

Second Dinner: 10 piece nuggets Bacon Double Cheeseburger from Burger King, two plain burgers (dollar menu-sized).

Day 62 – Tuesday, May 10: Marble Spring to Stealth Camp, 25.3 miles, 801.9 total AT miles.

I had my alarm set for 6:00am, but it didn’t matter. That same screaming bird woke me up at 5:00 and I never really fell back asleep.

It had rained overnight, nothing too hard, and was still lightly raining as I started packing up. I retrieved our bear bags and sat down in my tent to eat a quick breakfast. By 6:30, the rain hadn’t let up, so I took my tent down from the inside, leaving my rainfly up as a temporary shelter (a feature that should be a necessity with regards to setting up/taking down any tent).

By 7:30, everyone was packed up and ready to go. Savage took the lead, followed by Black Santa and myself – Push wasn’t far behind.

I hiked in a t-shirt and shorts, the light rain felt good as I marched quickly on the relatively flat terrain. The overnight rains brought low clouds that clung to the mountainside.

After about five miles of steady (and rapid) descent, the AT levels out and follows the James River for about a mile. We eventually crossed the river (via the longest footbridge on the AT).

After a quick walk through the parking lot and mile hike through the woods, I came to Johns Hollow Shelter for lunch. Savage decided to press on – she liked the idea of taking some private time (as I did yesterday). Push, Black Santa and myself ate lunch and dried our tents in the field next to the shelter.

It was only 12:30 but we were already pressing on, having covered 10 miles for the day. “Ten miles before noon” has become a mantra with Savage, Black Santa and me – we rarely hit it, but when we do, it makes the rest of the day easier.

Push and Black Santa took the lead – I hung around the shelter for  a few minutes studying the AT Guide. I was starting to worry about Trail Days – it’d been over two days since I spoke to Medicine Man and his phone was still off. If he was no longer available to pick us up on Thursday, I needed to come up with a backup plan.

With storm clouds threatening in the distance, I began my ascent of Big Rocky Row and Bluff Mountain. The next seven miles were extremely difficult – whoever said “Virginia is flat” is a total liar.

I was sweating bullets the entire way up. The clouds broke for a brief shower as I topped Big Rocky Row and traversed the ridge towards Bluff Mountain. About an hour shy of the summit, I heard my phone ringing – I certainly wasn’t expecting this. I dropped my pack and went for the phone.

It was Moon Boots – he and Canuck had just made it McAfee Knob. He was calling to let me know he had spoken with Medicine Man, who was now home and undecided as to whether he’s returning to the trail. Our conversation was brief – I told him I’d see him at Trail Days before hanging up.

This is a huge bummer. I certainly hope Medicine Man decides to keep hiking – I’ll suspend speculation until I talk to him firsthand.

I eventually summited Bluff Mountain, apparently just a few minutes ahead of Savage and Push – Black Santa had been relaxing for at least a half hour by the time I arrived. I sat to eat some snacks – I also needed to bring up the possibility we no longer had a ride to Trail Days.

So why is it so important I make it to Trail Days? For starters, it’s a festival that caters to me – the AT thru-hiker. In addition to the free food and numerous drum circles (not my thing, assuredly), nearly every major gear manufacturer will be on hand for repairs and possible replacements.

And I’m admittedly hiking with some gear failures I haven’t mentioned yet. Yesterday, I broke the tip off my trekking pole and, earlier today, I blew out the side of my trail runners I had just gotten used to.

Additionally, getting off trail for Trail Days means I get to go to an REI to finally return my busted tent and ill-fitting backpack (I’m no longer a Gregory size medium).

While Push is pushing on (she’ll be getting off trail in Harper’s Ferry for over a week) – Savage and Black Santa are also looking forward to Trail Days.

I broke the news that we may no longer have a ride. Savage and Black Santa were also disconcerted to hear that I hadn’t been able to get in touch with Medicine Man. We dove into the AT Guide and started making a plan.

The only possible road crossing ahead that afforded both a hotel and a place to rent a car lay a mere 13 miles ahead – the trail ahead looks remote before hitting Waynesboro.

Fog (not haze) rolled over the summit of Bluff Mountain as we deliberated our options. It was decided that we’d hike hard the rest of the day and go into Buena Vista, VA first thing tomorrow.

Savage set a small goal before we even started hiking today – she wanted to make it to the 800-mile mark. By the time we started hiking again, it was nearing 3:00 – Savage led the way.

Leaving Bluff Mountain, the trail descends rapidly towards the Blue Ridge Parkway at Punchbowl Mountain Overlook. I hiked quickly, trying to keep up with the others.

(Why am I always perpetually behind? Answer: I got my camera working again. I try to take double photos, one with my iPhone (for use here) and one with my Sony. It really slows me down.)

I emerged from the woods to find Savage, Push and Black Santa enjoying trail magic – again, it came from Tortilla’s parents. It was almost like seeing old friends. Tortilla’s mom had a Dr. Pepper waiting for me as I walked up.

(I met Tortilla briefly at the Four Pines Hostel – if I ever see him again, I’m buying him dinner.)

After stuffing our faces, the four of us hurried on – I could hear thunder rumbling in the distance. We continued our descent – Push and Savage paired off and went ahead, Black Santa and I lagged slightly behind.

We made the 800-mile mark at sunset.

After a water refill, the four of us pulled out our headlamps and started looking for a possible place to camp. It was nearing 8:30 and getting dark when we finally stopped at an unmarked stream crossing and made camp.

Savage hung our food bags (Tortilla’s parent’s trail magic essentially served as dinner) as I washed my feet in the stream. I saw a huge salamander and screamed, but couldn’t get to my phone or camera to take a photo.

The four of us talked about our plans moving forward before going to bed.

Tomorrow morning, Savage, Black Santa and myself will make the short five mile hike to US 60 and hitch the nine miles into Buena Vista, VA. From there, we can rent a car Thursday morning, drive to REI in Richmond, VA, turn around and pick Shaggy up at a road crossing, then drive the four of us to Trail Days in Damascus.

We’d depart Satuday evening (theoretically – might be Sunday morning), drop Shaggy off, return the rental and then restart our hike towards Waynesboro.

As far as Push is concerned, she’s gonna slow her pace in hopes we reunite before she reaches Harper’s Ferry.

I’m going to bed with a light rain falling on my tent. I’m don’t like the idea of taking this many days off, but I’ve always wanted to go to Trail Days (from back when I was reading trail journals years ago).

When I look at the miles I’ve hiked since leaving Damascus, I feel better about taking a few days off. Even with the double zero in Pearisburg, the three of us have been going hard ever since. As far as my own calculations go, I’m almost ahead of schedule.

I am very exited to go to town tomorrow – I haven’t slept in a proper bed in 8 days (I think) and I’m bathing in creeks because I smell so bad.

I would highly recommend this experience to anyone.

Breakfast: 18 gram store brand chocolate protein bar, 20 gram Powerbar protein bar (another Lemon Poppy Seed, not as good this morning)

Snack: the rest of my hybrid trail mix

Lunch: chicken ramen with tuna and instant mashed potatoes. Half a bag of beef jerky, the rest of my gummy worms.

Snack (Bluff Mountain): almonds, two LD Raisin Cream Pies

Dinner/trail magic: two sloppy joes, two dill pickle slices, two sleeves of powdered donuts, two Dr. Peppers.

Second Dinner: handfulls of dried cranberries, 20 gram Powerbar protein bar (Peanut Butter flavored – it’s the best).

Day 61 – Monday, May 9: Jenning’s Creek to Marble Spring, 20.9 miles, 776.6 total AT miles.

I woke just before 6:00am and lay motionless on the ledge under the bridge. I felt pretty good. I thought it was funny I was finally sleeping under an overpass, even if it was only one that spanned a creek on some country road.
I started packing at 6:30 and pretty soon I was ready to go. Last night, we all three remembered seeing trash cans in the parking lot – or at least believed they were there. We bagged up our trash from last nights self-inflicted trail magic – I even walked around under the bridge and grabbed other litter (a few cans, a bottle and some food wrappers). I ended up with a bulging grocery sack full of trash.

I hiked up to the parking lot and looked around – no trash cans. I checked the AT Guide. While there weren’t any trash cans at Jenning’s Creek, there were some at a Blue Ridge Parkway road crossing – 16 miles away.

The three of us divided the trash and started hiking – I tied mine onto my pack. The trail ahead looked pretty rough – after a series of long ascents, I’d eventually top out at a radio tower on Apple Orchard Mountain 16 miles away before descending into camp.

After a hard up and over Fork Mountain, the three of us stopped at Bryant Ridge Shelter for a quick snack. By 9:30, we were back on the trail. Black Santa took the lead and I followed about 100 yards back all morning. Our goal was to make it to the Black Rock Overlook six miles away and enjoy a hot lunch.
The hike was tough – these gradual ascents can wear me out. I try my best to find a steady pace that I’m comfortable with – I make it my goal to hike for as long as I can before taking a break.
It’s hard – my brain kind of shuts down. I’m not really thinking about much at all when the hiking gets rough – usually just time, distance, food, etc. No higher level thinking, anyway. Often, I’ll look down at my watch and be surprised by how much time has passed.
Today was one of those days. The trail was certainly pretty today – lush and green with wild flowers blooming everywhere. Spring has officially arrived to the higher elevations.

I caught up with Black Santa about a mile before hitting Black Rock and walked the rest of the way in with him. Black Rock Overlook would have been great, but the haze was thick again and nearly obscured neighboring mountains and ridges.
I had just unpacked my stove and food bags when Savage arrived. She plopped down and the three of us started cooking. I ended up eating a little bit out of every snack I have before making my hot lunch.
I checked my phone and had decent reception – I needed to contact Medicine Man and send a few emails. I sent Medicine Man a message and was starting to look at the AT Guide when Savage and Black Santa got up to start hiking.
I told them I’d meet them at Marble Spring eleven miles up trail. It’s not like I was enjoying the view (really hazy) – I just felt like I needed to take some time and rest my mind – I just needed some quiet time.
In all, I spent three hours at the overlook. It was nice to have a little time to myself.
I left the overlook at 3:45pm and started hiking rapidly. I felt refreshed and was surprised by the amount of energy I had as I started hiking hard towards Apple Orchard Mountain. I passed right by the Cornelius Creek Shelter and made the difficult ascent to the summit.
There’s a cool FAA tower on the summit – I paused briefly before hiking on. The AT gradually descends towards Petites Gap six miles away – still another two miles from Marble Spring.

After a steep initial descent, I passed under “The Guillotine”, a huge boulder that’s precariously wedged between two rock walls. I quickly hiked through and began picking up speed as the AT leveled out a bit.

As I approached a road crossing at the Blue Ridge Parkway, I spotted two trucks parked on the road. I walked over and immediately recognized the same couple whose son (Tortilla) is hiking behind me. They had teamed up with another couple (this couple’s friend is hiking) and had a massive spread. Even though I had a huge lunch, I ate a few snacks before moving on. Thanks a million, Tortilla’s parents.
I passed right by the Thunder Hill Shelter, eyeing the privy as I hiked by. I hadn’t used the privy (or a log) since first thing this morning. I decided to hold it for camp.
That didn’t work well – about two miles down trail I had to peel off the AT and find a place to go. It was urgent. While I could see a road through the trees, I hadn’t seen a car pass for as long as it had been in view.
So I sit down and, sure enough, three cars pass before I can get a chance to finish. That’s the second time I’ve pooped too close to a road – I hate that.

I paused briefly at the Thunder Ridge Overlook and snapped a quick picture just so I could show how thick this haze had gotten. Two locals explained that it’s similar to what happens in the Smokeys – that it’s more of a vapor than a haze.

The descent towards Petites Gap was exceptionally well-graded. The trail was literally alive – I saw field mice and chipmunks, three rabbits, and this bird that took off out of the bushes right next to the trail. It was fairly large and sounded like a helicopter as it flew away. It scared me pretty good.
I made it to Petites Gap and only had a quick up and over Highcock Knob before making it to camp. The climb was steep and pretty hard, but the thought of dinner drove me faster. I paused at the summit – I could’ve swore I saw another hiker walking through the trees in front of me. As I approached where I thought they should be, no one was there. It was a little creepy.
I made my way into the campsites at Marble Spring at 8:15, just as the sun was starting to set. Savage and Black Santa were finishing dinner as I began to setting up my tent. I threw my gear inside and started to walk to the spring when up walks Push. Awesome! I hadn’t seen her since Four Pines – it looks like we’ll be hiking together again (until Trail Days at least).
I walked down to the spring by headlamp and returned to find most campers in their tents. I decided to eat a snack-dinner instead of cranking up my stove. After eating way too much, I crawled into my tent to type at 9:45.
It looks like the first half of my day will be about as easy as it gets – then I’ll hit Big Rocky Row and Bluff Mountain. I’d really like to get to camp early tomorrow.
The last forecast I got when I left Black Rock Overlook had thunderstorms coming for the next three days.
I’m really confident tomorrow’s going to be a good day hiking. And I’m really starting to look forward to Trail Days.
Breakfast: 18 gram store-brand protein bar, 20 gram Powerbar protein bar (Lemon Poppyseed – awesome)
Snack: beef jerky, almonds, combo trail mix, gummy worms
Lunch: beef jerky, almonds, combo trail mix, gummy worms, one Little Debbie Raisin Creme Pie, a couple handfuls of Dot’s pretzels. Then I cooked a Stroganoff Pasta side with canned chicken and instant mashed potatoes.
Snack (trail magic): One smoked brisket sandwich, one hotdog with pickles and mustard, one mini vanilla cupcake, one Dr. Pepper
Dinner: a whole bag of beef jerky, combo trail mix, one LD Raisin CP, more Dot’s Pretzels, a few handfuls of almonds.