Virginia is for lovers. And hikers.

It’s been twenty-eight days since my last post! Woops! Sorry about that y’all. Stumble and I have been marching forward through the month of May, picking up our mileage and packing down the calories as we make our push through the longest state on the Appalachian Trail, Virginia. But before I get to where we’re at now, let’s recap with how we got here.

When we last left off, we were almost to Damascus, VA, an iconic trail town that the trail actually walks right through the middle of and is nestled into the mountains just north of the Tennessee/Virginia border. We were so happy to put our third state officially behind us and begin the 540-mile trek across Virginia, which is longer than the entire length it took us to get here from Springer Mountain in Georgia (465 miles). The rain that was so welcoming while fires ravaged the land are quickly becoming a constant monotonous gray shadow that threatens moisture at least 30% of every hour of everyday. When you’re hiking and it’s raining, a rain coat keeps you dry from rain but quickly insulates your hiking body heat and pours swear from your pores. So what do you prefer, rain moisture or sweat moisture?

Damascus was a great reprieve from the rain and pain. We stayed three nights and finally made our escape to the Lost Mountain Shelter where the famous mousecapades occurred. See Stumble’s last blogpost (runningfrompolarbears.wordpress.com) if you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s a fun tale of midnight mouse shenanigans. Virginia really begins in the south with a bang, packed with famous towns, rocks, views, and animals. A couple days after Damascus we reached the Grayson Highlands State Park and the infamous wild ponies. We camped just outside the state park with some of the ponies and cooked over the fire, under the stars. The ponies mostly mind their own business, unless you offer them a sweaty limb to lick, which they’re glad to do. Yes it did tickle.

The next morning we hit the 500 mile mark, hiked under the perpetual gray clouds, went to bed with a threat of rain, and woke up to the gentle pattering of drops on the tent rain fly. Fifteen miles later we found Partnership Shelter, a shelter with an actual working shower at it and phone nearby to call for pizza and Chinese delivery. It was awesome, but the allure of eating food in town was too strong so we hitched to Marion, gorged on food not cooked in a small pot over a backpacking stove, watched an abominable NHL game seven between the Dallas Stars and St Louis Blues, and walked a couple miles through the night to a small hotel where we happily collapsed and crashed.

The next day we walked to Atkins, VA where my dad and grandma drove down to meet us! We caught up with them and enjoyed a few nights with the creature comforts of home. It was a wonderful stay, where we delivered some inadvertent trail magic, stopped by Trail Days in Damascus, visited an 18th century school house now maintained as a museum, and slack packed a few miles before getting back on trail with full weight. I can’t begin to explain how nice it is to see family while doing this hike. Hiking this trail is an extensive commitment, probably around 6 months, and that’s a long time to be away from family that I’m close with at home. A big thank you to Pops and The G for making the journey and sharing our experience with us. It was more revitalizing than we could’ve imagined.

After family headed home we headed back to trail and realized that hiking this thing is like our job now. It’s tiring and ongoing and has so many surprises and rewards but also many hardships and trials. It’s getting hot and we stink. Our socks smell worse than puberty rolling around on the floor beneath a dive bar urinal and don’t always dry by morning when you need to put them back on. The bug bites resemble star charts and I can’t always tell whether my ankles are tan or just coated in dirt. The hashtag “hikertrash” is beginning to make a lot of sense. We keep hearing about other hikers who have dropped out or are talking about it and can understand why. We literally hobble around like feeble grandmothers in our hotel room on zero-days because our feet are so sensitive. And then we strap up and hike on.

This past week we met Pineapple, a guy originally from Michigan who also started on the same day we did (March 23) and hiked in and out with him for a while. We celebrated 600 miles on Brushy Mountain  and the next night camped at mile marker 616 where I thought about calling home but didn’t get reception. The gray continued, we trudged onward through a jungle-esque environment of rain, mud, and rhododendrons, and received an incredible food box from our friend Carissa from home. We completed our first 20-mile day which also occurred on the first completely sunny day in weeks, and found the second largest Oak tree on the AT, measuring more than 18′ around and over 300 years old. That’s a lot of junk in the trunk! And just in time for Memorial Day, we passed by the Audie Murphy monument, a memorial for the most decorated soldier of WWII, as well as Dragon’s Tooth (huge stone monolith), the 700-mile marker, McAfee Knob (most iconic view on the trail), and Tinker Cliffs (another large mountain to climb up and over). After all of that, we made it here, to Daleville, VA, a town right off trail with great BBQ and a Kroger. We’re stationing ourselves here, doing laundry, having showers, and relaxing on Memorial Day while we wait for the post office and gear outfitter to reopen tomorrow.

Oh, and we just got new shoes! Big thanks to Merrell for hooking us up. We put over 700 miles on our first pairs and are eager to start hiking in some new shoes. Until next time, cheers!

The G and I in an 18th century school house

Morning view coming out of Rice Field Shelter

Audie Murphy monument

McAfee Knob, iconic spot on the trail. We didn’t realize it was Memorial Day weekend when we hiked up, so it was very, very busy.

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About Ben Stark

My name is Ben Stark, no relation to Tony or the House Stark. B.A. in Sociology from Calvin College Preferred mode of transportation: Bicycle, Ice Skates, Feet Currently pursuing Adventure as Vocation Let's cross paths!
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