Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Appalachian Trail 2016 Update 6: Damascus VA to VA 610

May 31 to June 5
Start Location: Damascus VA (mile 469.0)
End Location: VA 610 (mile 553.9)
Total Miles Hiked: 553.9
Miles Left: 1635.2
Miles Since Last Update: 84.9

May 31
Start Location: Damascus VA (mile 469.0)
End Location: Lost Mountain Shelter (mile 484.8)
Total Miles: 15.8

I had bought so many groceries that it took me almost an hour to get packed.  No matter what I did, I couldn't get my pack to close.  I ate my way through a bit of my supplies, squished the food items that were squishable, and eventually got everything in my pack.  Still, this was a big set back, and I wouldn't get on the trail until 11:00 am.

I had two clear sightings of deer that day, both as I was following the Virginia Creeper Trail along the highway (the AT parallels the VCT in a few spots).

Trestle on the Virginia Creeper Trail




Lunch for the day was freeze dried beef stroganoff, which, while good, wasn't as tasty as my mom's stroganoff.

I got into the Lost Mountain Shelter around 8:50 pm and decided to call it a day, having just enough daylight to set up my tent.

June 1
Start Location: Lost Mountain Shelter (mile 484.8)
End Location: Grayson Highlands State Park south entrance (mile 499.6)
Total Miles: 14.8

I got an 8:30 am start, much better than I was thinking I would do.  Throughout the day the sky was a mixture of blue and bright, and dark and ominous.  It felt like it could rain at any point all day, though it never did.

View from Buzzard Rock





My back continued giving me problems, and as a result my pace was slowed all day.  As I passed Elk Garden, a gentleman who was helping his wife slackpack filled one of my water bottles for me.  That was definitely appreciated.

Climbing out of Elk Garden

There were fantastic views starting around Thomas Knob.  There would be great views all the way from here, to my eventual campsite (about 2.5 miles).








Towards the end of the day I ran into a group of wild ponies.  A couple of them were quite friendly, and I actually got to pet one.  It was my first time petting a pony of any variety.

Wild ponies


I stopped at the entrance to Grayson Highlands State Park as there was no tenting allowed inside the park, and I didn't feel like pushing all the way through that night.

June 2
Start Location: Grayson Highlands State Park south entrance (mile 499.6)
End Location: Bobby's Trail (mile 519.9)
Total Miles: 20.3

Grayson Highlands State Park was spectacular, and I was very glad that I didn't hike through it in the dark.  It was definitely one of my favourite parts of the trail in Virginia, and as an added bonus, I saw more wild ponies.



I call this the Terrence Malik shot


It wasn't too long before I passed the 500 mile mark.  This was one of the more exciting moments of my hike.  Even if I didn't make it to Katahdin, 500 miles was still quite an achievement as far as I was concerned.



Around the trail to the Hurricane Creek Campground it began absolutely pouring rain, and I got completely drenched.  I was considering turning around and going to the campground, which had showers, but I pushed on to a campsite just off of Bobby's Trail.  The rain stopped a little bit before I got into camp, so I wasn't setting up my tent in the rain.

June 3
Start Location: Bobby's Trail (mile 519.9)
End Location: About a mile back of USFS 86 (mile 535.4)
Total Miles: 15.5

It was a very solitary day, as I only saw 3 people for the better part of the day.  The trail was fairly moderate, going through a picturesque field at one point.



At the Mount Rogers Visitor's Center (near Marion VA) I was able to get a pizza delivered.  I had a big pizza and a big bottle of Pepsi, and tried to replenish some of the calories that I had burned off.

I pushed on, intending to make it quite a bit further, but in the end I decided to end early, a little ways before USFS 86.

June 4
Start Location: About a mile back of USFS 86 (mile 535.4)
End Location: Crawfish Trail (mile 550.6)
Total Miles: 15.2

I got a 9:30 am start and headed down the trail in good spirits.  Good spirits until I ran into a very long black snake.  I asked it to move, and it stretched out so that it was blocking the trail.  Not what I had in mind.  I threatened it.  I begged it.  I did everything under the sun to get it to move, and then in the end I just bushwhacked around it.  Snake 1, Tortoise 0.

I got into Atkins around 2:00 pm and went for lunch at a local restaurant.  I had a big meal, consisting of a cheeseburger, a hot dog, and a Philly sandwich.  Very good, very filling.

I topped up my supplies at the nearby gas station and headed back down the trail.

My dad, a collector of railway spikes, would approve of this


Later in the day it began to storm, with thunder rumbling in the distance to a chorus of pounding rain.  At two points there was a flash of lightning followed by immediate thunder, both times scaring me quite bad.

My goal was to get to a campsite near the Crawfish Trail.  I got to what I figured was the campsite, but pushed on to find the Crawfish Trail sign, so that I could know I could stop.  As I was hiking, a deer came flying down around a corner right at me.  I startled it, and given that the trail was wet and slippery, it lost its footing and went over the bank.  It got up immediately and took off while I tried to stop laughing.

June 5
Start Location: Crawfish Trail (mile 550.6)
End Location: VA 610 (mile 553.9)
Total Miles: 3.3

The night was long and difficult as I, in a very short time span, became violently ill.  Without getting to graphic, I lost a lot of fluid, and was unable to keep any in.  I got the chills quite bad too, putting on every layer I had.

It took me two and a half hours to take my tent down.  That told me I needed to get off the trail.  It was a little over 3 miles to the next road crossing, and a very helpful hiker told me that there was a hostel three quarters of a mile west of the road.  She also gave me electrolyte powder and imodium, both of which were life savers.

Despite being only 3 miles from the road, it took me 5 hours to get there.  I was very weak and had to sit down every few minutes.  Before I got to the road I passed the one quarter mark of the AT.  It was a bittersweet moment for me.  Sweet, because I had hiked so far, bitter, because I was coming to realize my hike was probably over.

I got a ride from the road to the hostel and the hostel proprietor drove me to the hospital in Marion.  I got diagnosed with a viral infection (which I suspect may be norovirus), bronchitis, and pneumonia.  I was told I had lost too much weight too fast, and that was likely my ultimate downfall.  I started the hike at 185 pounds.  In that hospital I was 135 pounds.

I knew my hike was over then, but it was okay.  I had hiked a huge chunk of the trail, and had an amazing time doing so.  I had met lots of great people, and had gotten an experience that I will never forget.  I'm not happy with how the hike ended, but really, I have no regrets.

I got a hotel room in Marion after I was discharged from the hospital, and spent the next week resting up.  When I was feeling stronger, I took a bus to Roanoke, and flew from Roanoke to Vancouver.  I got home and began to recover more rapidly.  While I'm still feeling a little sick now, I'm feeling much better, and I think I will be completely recovered soon.

Flying out of Roanoke, I looked out the window at the Appalachian Mountains below.  I marveled at their beauty, and reflected on my time in them.  Then, the mountains disappeared into cloud.  When we came out of the clouds, there were no more mountains.