Waking up in a field in the middle of Pearisburg isn’t how I thought I’d ever start a day. By 7 am dog walkers were out, including a woman who could have called the space her “backyard.” On top of the interesting location, I had a charming wine headache that comes with treating bag wine like Gatorade. I also noticed this stabbing sensation in my chest. But these weren’t the worst of my problems. None of those things fill you with panic like having to find a place to defecate in a neighborhood with no indoor plumbing options. I handled the issue because I’m a problem solver, but not without two minutes of “house-on-fire” urgency and stress.
None of those things fill you with panic like having to find a place to defecate in a neighborhood with no indoor plumbing options.
The morning felt like a low point in so many ways. Packing up was painful and slow. In the next mile on trail we moved through the town towards the New River. We crossed the Shumate Bridge to the site and smell of a large chemical plant. It was by far the worst thing I’d seen or smelled on the trail yet. I started up the hill out of town and stopped to make maté and eat breakfast. The group trickled in and stopped too because maté is the best stuff in the world and it solves all problems. After an hour we were kicked out by the chemical plant releasing gas that smelled like hot mayonnaise.
The group trickled in and stopped too because maté is the best stuff in the world and it solves all problems. After an hour we were kicked out by the chemical plant releasing gas that smelled like hot mayonnaise.
The next few miles were a recent reroute that didn’t match our guides. Most of it was bulldozed out leaving trenches in the trail tread. Luckily it was finished off by my man Bobby Berry’s ATC crew with some beautiful hand-tool-crafted side hill.
After a few breaks of ‘can-you-hit-the-can’ (new sling shots were a hit! I didn’t get one because I can’t handle the responsibility) I met a guy that I’d been recently seeing around. He looked 20, had a wispy blonde mustache and a hat with cats and colorful highlights on it. Never discounting younger hikers for lacking wisdom I noticed he might have attained a different level of hiker bliss. At water breaks, lunch, afternoon tea, and night time fun he plays Pokémon on a Gameboy color (I get to type on a phone). A small part of me is extremely jealous and I wish I’d thought of it. He turned out to be an articulate fella from Ohio with a great sense of humor. I liked him before we spoke. On trail his name is slightly different but in public it’s Laser Cat. For some middle ground I might call him LP.
On trail his name is slightly different but in public it’s Laser Cat. For some middle ground I might call him LP.
We spent the night at a trail angel’s house named The Captain. Free soda and you had to use a zip line to get there. I spent the next day trying to contact a friend in Blacksburg, Aaron F Teets (To this day I’ve never heard anyone call him by his first name, obviously). Miraculously, we ended up camping at an old Rec Society regular spot called Captain. The campsite was named for its location in the town of Captain, Virginia, Population 25. I had spent a half dozen weekends at that campsite and it had been a place in the past that I’d look North and South where the trail disappeared into the woods, and dream.
Without clear communication and planning Teets showed up at Captain with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Teets is an excellent all around naturalist seeming to know an astonishing amount about native plants and fish. He’d taught me more about both than he knows. Seeing him made up for the fact I decided to save time and skip a visit to my alma mater in Blacksburg.
I woke up late the next day and had a long breakfast enjoying my favorite campsite on the AT. Sambo liked it so much he decided to sleep into the afternoon.
Departure puts you directly into Kelly’s Knob and a mean climb. Halfway up the pressure around my ribs was too great and I had to stop. I stared at my chest hoping both sides were rising evenly. I adjusted my pack and continued seeing the desired symmetry. Soon after I stepped on the side of the trail moving fast and blew out the footing, tossing me off trail three feet below into excessively stinging nettles. Stinging nettle gives you an irritation like soap in your eyes wherever it touches for up to 20 minutes. If you can find Jewelweed it will help to neutralize and ease a sting. The bed I landed in with my foot and leg bent behind me was inhospitable. Fall number 2.
The summit was beautiful so Rambo and I took a late lunch despite the fact we were 3 miles into the day at 3pm. I started to really enjoy hiking with him. Rambo’s a picture perfect image of southern hospitality on first impression but proved to have a level of crass vulgarity that bonds the Thru Tang. He’s from the best state in the country so I’ll give him a pass for going to NC State. We had similar educations, studying natural resources at public land grant universities and loved to bounce tree identifications off each other. He proved to be well versed in smaller plants as well, but often only knew the Latin name (which always sounds hilarious with a thick Carolina accent).
He proved to be well versed in smaller plants as well, but often only knew the Latin name (which always sounds hilarious with a thick Carolina accent).
Above all I appreciated his confidence without being overly cocky. He was a high school starting quarterback, state leader in stolen bases, and was recruited to play baseball at college. I’d never say this to his face but I think he was as fast of a hiker I’d seen on trail. Faster than me.
We hiked past the second largest oak on the trail and stopped to marvel, amazed to see a living thing that has been alive for longer than this country.
We caught Caboose and Patch on the ridge line around dark to group up for the final push. Patch already had dinner at a view with an original twist. He forgot he added strawberry mix to all of his water so he was forced to have strawberry pasta Alfredo. He said it wasn’t bad but I didn’t believe him.
We rolled into Niday shelter around 10:30 pm. Not desirable and not the last time we’d have to night hike because of the day’s procrastination. Funny thing about late nights is that they make for late mornings and an undesirable cycle.