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Trail Update #5 – Erwin to Damascus

I have made it to Virginia! This is my unofficial quarter way point on the trail. It’s a big morale booster to make it into Virginia, where they say you can pick up the miles quickly. Honestly, I’m starting to feel like I can do this journey – it’s a good feeling. When I got back on the trail, I discovered that a bunch of my buddies came down with the dreaded neurovirus. Several of them got layed up in Erwin for a few days. Bad news for them – but the good news for me is that I’ll be able to catch them a bit sooner.

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The past week or so has been great. I went through the Roan Mountain area and saw some nice views. I had one pretty hectic and fun day that stands out most. In the morning, I took my first dip waters of nature! I passed by the Elk River and went for a dip for about 15 minutes. It was pleasant until some kids came up and started laughing at me – the water was cold. Just kidding. It was a nice little bath, especially after not having a shower for five days or so. Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of me as I was alone, but I don’t think you’d want to see it anyway.

After hiking a few more miles, I came across Isaac’s Cemetery. I dropped my pack and spent a bit of time walking around and checking out the headstones. It was a neat experience. There are only a few different families in the cemetery, but their lineage stretched back to the mid 1800’s. There were Potters, Jones, Isaacs, and Johnsons among others. There were also several ‘unkowns’. It was a neat place – I’m glad I spent the time there.

After leaving the cemetery and hiking some more, I saw a storm rolling in. I got obliterated by this thunderstorm – it was the first one I got caught in real badly. I was so close to the center that I would see a lightning strike and not hear the thunder for about three or four seconds. It was amazing. My pockets were literally filling with water as I hiked the last five miles to a shelter. It felt like I was in a waterpark, just sloshing around in ankle deep water. It was tough, but fun. That night was pretty rough though as I didn’t have much that was dry. But I survived. It was a trying, but exhilarating experience.

The week as a whole was great though. For all you MTL’ers, I hung out at Laurel Falls!!!

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Wait, wrong Laurel Falls. Here we go. This is me at Laurel Falls near Damascus:

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I walked through a field with a bunch of cows too. I stopped and had a five minute conversation with these three:

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They weren’t overly talkative. The conversation went like this:

Me: Hey, how’re you doing? Nice, you guys are looking good. So what are the plans for today? Hanging out… yea, me too. Walking around… yea, me too. Eating grass… yea, me too.

I didn’t want to tell them they were very boring because all the big cows were standing right behind me. They wouldn’t have liked me insulting their strange children.

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I also took my second swim, the second being more recreational. I chilled on Lake Watuga for a few hours with some locals, and my friends Party, Jason, and Pete. We just went swimming and hung out. Some people gave us some pizza and hot dogs. Then we camped on the shore of the lake. Below is a picture of me and Party, and below that is a view from our camp site that night.

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But that was just one of the many great times I’ve had out here. As I said, the past week has been great. But there is one super awesome thing that I did that I’d like to mention. As some of you know, I’m carrying a little tomahawk. So far, it’s been a glorified hammer that I nail my tent stakes in with. I’ve also make a couple walking stick with it for fun. Most people laugh at me when they see I’m carrying one. However, the other day, I finally used it in a truly sensible, and may I say, manly way. I was hiking up a mountain, and boom – right smack in the middle of the trail was a fallen tree (from that nasty thunderstorm the day before). I started to climb through/around it, but then a lightbulb went off – I have a tomahawk! I must clear this way for others! So I busted out the ‘hawk and started hacking away. I don’t have a before picture since my camera was dead. However, my buddy passed by the tree sometime later and was so impressed by the clearing that he took a picture of it (he didn’t know I did it). I didn’t cut through the main trunk, but I hacked away all the limbs around it. In short, I literally blazed a trail. Boom, roasted.

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Below is an image of what I may have looked like while carrying out my work:

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So that’s that – I’ve made it to a huge milestone with my entrance to Virginia. In about ten days, I hop off the trail to go to my parent’s anniversary party back home!!! Can’t wait to see everyone!! 🙂

PS. I am going to add a new page to the site in a few days. It’s called “The Beard Chronicles.” I’ll take pictures every few days of my facial hair growth so you can see the progression. All beards are welcome, so if you have a beard, send me a picture and I’ll put it up there. Beards are for cool weirdos (Paul has a beard and he’s a cool weirdo).

Trail Update #6 – Damascus to Pearisburg

So tonight is my last night at home before heading back to the trail. It’s a little bit tough to leave home, but I’m excited to get back on the trail. The past four or so days have been amazing. Not only did I get to eat tons of awesome food, but I got to spend time with all of the awesome people in my life. As I mentioned, Friday night was my parent’s 35th anniversary celebration. My friends Megan and Bill also had their first child on Friday – she’s a beaut. And Saturday night was my friends Dan and Natalie’s wedding day. Both were truly special. I want to write more about those events, but I’ll hold off on them for now. You’ll get that post in a few days or so.

The 150 miles or so from Damascus to Pearisburg are a little bit of a blur at this point. I was pulling some of the longest days I’ve done thus far on the trip. Most days were around twenty milers, give or take a few miles. It feels good to be hauling out some longer miles, but it does take its toll on you, both mentally and physically. It’s also starting to get much hotter out there, which means I’m much sweatier and much smellier (kind of hard to do).

But besides the longer days, a few fun things stand out from my last two weeks or so of hiking. I met some cool people along the way. I’m still trying to hunt Tangy down (one of the reasons I was pulling longer days), but always great to meet new people. Greenland (see picture below), Hotshot, Wash, and Boo Bear were probably the people I hung out with most on this leg of the journey. Greenland wanted a picture of us before I hopped off the trail. I think I’m getting pretty good at taking these self-photos! All my Beard Chronicle photos are selfies, and I am impressing myself with my accuracy!

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Hopping off the trail for these four days puts me a little behind this new crew of friends, but I should be able to make some hay and catch them up fairly quickly. Hotshot (hilarious name by the way – she’s not as high and mighty as her name makes her sound though) is hopping off the trail for a quick return home in a few days, so I should be able to catch her up fairly easily, although she hauls like crazy.

I completed my longest day so far on the trail during this leg – 29 miles. I must say, I was pretty drained at the end of the day. But there is a reason I walked 29 miles in the first place. And yes, the reason is food, specifically pizza! I wish I had taken a picture of this pizza, because it was the hardest I’ve ever worked to get a meal. There’s this shelter that is right next to a park visitor center. And the trail angels at the visitor center are nice enough to put a phone outside along with a big binder of restaurants that will deliver to the visitor center for hikers. Obviously, this is big news for hungry, tired hikers, so everybody knows about this place. I had originally planned on doing only about 18 miles that day, but the call of the pizza was just too strong. I found myself picking up the pace throughout the day as the small thought of pizza in the back of my head eventually consumed all my brain power. I was pretty much a zombie by the end of the day, but the pizza was well worth it. I ate all but two slices for dinner, and the final two made a nice little breakfast in the morning. Yes, disgusting, but disgusting in the most delicious way possible. Pizza Quest 2013 was a grand success.

I hiked a day or so in the Grayson Highlands, where there are these “wild” ponies all over the place. I did not have too extensive of a conversation with them since I didn’t see a ton of them. And the ones I did see either ran away from me, or tried to eat me, and I ran away from them. This crazy guy was the first one I saw. Right when he saw me, he walked right up and just started attempting to eat anything on or around my body. It was unreal. I tried to feed him some grass, but he didn’t want that. He just wanted to eat my shirt. At that point, I decided I’d rather keep my shirt and I kind of ran away from him as I kept the rabid beast at bay with my hiking pole. It was all quite amusing, but not what I was expecting from the ponies in the park. Boo Bear encountered the same pony an hour or so prior to me, and it did the same thing to him. He got a great video of it all though as he ran away from the creature. Someone might need to put that horse down, he’s a man eater.

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It’s late now, just hit midnight. My plan of an early sleep tonight was foiled by my lack of energy earlier in the day. I need to wake up in a few hours to get on the road. My past two days of partying caught up with me today (especially last night at the wedding – things got a little too crazy, but I think I crushed the dance floor), so apologies if this post is somewhat lacking in creativity and overall entertainment value. The civilized life has blunted my mind, so I’m excited to become an unkempt and free thinking hiker once again.

As I mentioned, I’ll have another blog post in a few more days. I want to share some thoughts on all the awesome events that happened over the past few days after I’ve given it all a few days to sink in. Check out the plants and animals page and the Beard Chronicles as well. We got another bearded man up on there now – the Steve!

Have fun all, I’ll talk to ya soon!

Edit/Addition: A couple of things I failed to mention. In Damascus, the day before I left, we partied in some Mexican food restaurant – but the funny thing is is that it was closed. The reason they were closed is because a few brothers own it and they were just hanging out and partying in there. Somehow, Party got us in and we just hung out for a couple hours with these three completely  bombed dudes (they went golfing earlier).

And the other thing is that although my father has stopped calling me Chef Boyardee, I cooked up some awesome pizzas at the Woods Hole Hostel the night before I returned to Mt Laurel. This hostel is pretty awesome. Every night, they have a communal meal in which all the participants do some prep work for the meal. So I was the chorizo and pepperoni cutter and the cheese man. I was dropping some awesome culinary terms – “so… should I cut this pepperoni on a bias?”

Trail Update #7 – Pearisburg to Dalesville (almost)

I’ll give you a quick update while I’m hanging out here in Dalesville. Technically, I haven’t reached Dalesville yet. But I hopped into town (got chauffered into town) by my brother Matt who is going to hike a couple of days with me! We’ll head back to where he picked me up today and begin our hike in the morning.

It’s a big morale booster to have Matt here after having a rough past few days. I got back on the trail on Monday the first and hiked about 20 miles in the latter part of the day. Perfectly fine, nice day. I ran into Party, it was nice. I hung out with Party’s dog (Easy), I camped in the Captain’s backyard (some random dude who lets hikers camp at his house – you take this cool zipline type thing across the creek), I played with the Captain’s dogs (I was playing with tons of dogs on Monday).

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And then came Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. And they all shared one thing in common – rain. I was either wet, or drenched for the past three days. From a morale standpoint, it starts to take a toll. You just can’t get dry, it’s impossible. There isn’t much to do except grin and bear it, and know that hiking in the cold and wet is a part of this challenge I expected, and will accept with a smile.

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At least today I got some clean clothes and a hot shower at the hotel we’re staying at. Tonight we will celebrate the 4th with a few beers, recite the constitution to eachother, and know that moral individuals are the foundation of freedom (can I get a ‘here here’).  So have fun tonight. Raise a beer to the land we want to live in, and tell the freedom haters to get out of here, because they’re weirdos.

 

Trail Update #8 – Hiking with The Googan

Getting back on the trail after a zero day is always tough. But it’s even tougher when you take five or so days off, as was the case with me last weekend. And then it’s even tougher when you get rained on every day. So, needless to say, it was awesome to have Matt come out for a couple of days to hike with me. Here is The Googan gearing up before the hike – he’s got a machete. I had my tomahawk. No bears would mess with us.

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Originally, I had proposed to do about 42 miles over two and a half days. Something like two 16’s and a ten or something like that. Instead, we wound up doing the 45 miles in two days, and Matt left early on the third (Sunday). So we did a 23 and a 19. Needless to say, that is a whole lot of miles in two days, but Matt gutted it out. We saw a couple of good views early on the first day, McAfee Knob and the Tinker Cliffs. Here is The Googan on McAfee Knob, and one of me:

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Then we battled through most of the day to wind up in Daleville, where we ate a really good dinner at a bbq joint. After stuffing our faces, we planned to hike a couple of miles out of town to some campsite. However, upon getting to where we planned to camp, we discovered that the trail for the next mile cut through a narrow corridor of private land – meaning we would find no campsite there. I know you’re probably thinking that’s not a big deal, just keep walking until you find a site. But when you are at 20+ miles on the day, each mile seems like five. The Googan was definitely in this phase. After leaving the private land and not finding any good camp sites for a half mile or so, he asked me “Dude, are we in trouble?!”

One of my favorite questions. The answer of course was no. But that’s the mindset you have when you pull long days – they’re hard. Luckily we found a pretty awesome camp site about a half mile later and we settled down for a nice firefly spectacle that night.

So The Googan finished out his excursion with a few blisters and some soreness, but his mind power intact. We pulled some big time long days, and he gutted through them like a champ. It was a blast having him out there, and a huge morale booster for me. Now Paul is up next!

Some other pictures from when The Googan was here:

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I caught a toad, my brethren:

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The Googan caught a newt, his brethren:

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Trail Update #9 – An Unexpected Stop

So right now I am at my aunt and uncle’s house on the computer. A very unexpected stop, but a very welcome one. My Uncle Mark and cousin Taylor met me near Rockfish Gap yesterday and we went to a beautiful campground and did some bbq’ing. We had talked about meeting up somewhere along the trail, so it was a nice little break from the trail.

Unfortunately, the weather was again pretty terrible. So we were in the cold and rain for most of the day. Then Uncle Mark proposed returning to the Richmond area for the night. After some thought, I figured why not? I could get a good sleep, get out of the rain, and visit some family. So here I sit, getting some blog updating in (I updated plants and animals, Beard Chronicles, and added some pics to some earlier posts – check them out). And it appears the weather may actually be turning for the good. I’ll get back on the trail later this afternoon and pull a later hike into the night.

On the way to the house last night, we stopped at REI. A very necessary stop. Just in the past week or so, some of my gear has started to feel the wear and tear. My tent seams are leaking a little bit, so I got some sealant, and then there are my trekking poles. Sadly, I no longer have the same poles I began my journey with. About three days ago, I realized I lost one of the metal tips on a pole, resulting in much slipping and sliding. Not a huge deal, but something I would need to remedy. Then yesterday morning, I awoke only to find what I first thought was foliage on the handles of my trekking poles. However, after closer scrutiny, I realized the “foliage” was the remnants of the wrist straps. Some creature (likely mice) had devoured both wrist straps, nearly in entirety, throughout the night. Might not sound like a big deal, but a lot of your weight is transferred into the straps, so they are very necessary when hiking. So anyway, my trekking poles, in a matter of about 3 days, became a liability.

I went into REI and asked a guy if I could get some replacement straps and metal tips. To my surprise, he said no, and told me to instead just return them for a new pair. Honestly, I didn’t really want to do that – I feel like that’s taking advantage of their awesome policy. But he told me no, go ahead and do it – so I did it. It was kind of crazy, I gave them two delapadated, old trekking poles, and they gave me a pair of perfectly new ones. After being an “owner” of REI for about three or four years, that was the first item I ever returned. So good work REI – you guys did well. The only bad thing is I lost the sentimental value of my old trekking poles. But oh well, I still have over 1,000 miles to put some wear and tear into these new ones!

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Hoping for better weather in the week or so ahead! Next stop is Luray, Virginia!

Trail Update #10 – Luray, Virginia

First off, I’d like to thank my worldwide audience. Yes, I said worldwide. Apparently, I have some big fans in Russia! And a bunch of Spaniards, and even an Egyptian view. Hilarious stuff. I hope you guys are enjoying following an American stooge. Anyway, I thought that was hilarious. Check back again in a few days as I’ll update when I’m in Harper’s Ferry again!

The past few days hiking have been pretty good, but long. The previous two days I pulled a 27 and a 25 mile day, so headed into town yesterday, I was pretty beat. But it was all good, because I had some pretty neat wildlife encounters to lift my spirits.

About four days ago, I stayed at the Loft Mountain Campgrounds – a legitimate, RV style campground (I obviously did not pack in an RV, although that would have been awesome). Right before I was going to sleep, I was writing in my journal at my little picnic table. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a doe and a fawn about 30 yards away, and then in front of me another deer about 20 yards away. Over the next thirty minutes or so, the deer came to within about five yards of me as they were feeding and just hanging out. It was pretty wild. Unfortunately, my camera was in my tent, and I couldn’t move about much for fear of scaring them away.

I also came across this pretty cool vulture kind of bird thing up on top of a cliff. Luckily I didn’t scare him away, and I got some pretty neat pictures of him. The second one I took a split second before he leaped off the edge of the cliff. It was awesome – he dropped for about two seconds, then I saw him ride an updraft up and out through the valley.

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Then, yesterday, about three miles out of town, I had my second bear encounter! Bear sightings have been rampant in the Shenendoah National Park (I’ve been in there for the past five days or so), so it was only a matter of time before I saw one. It wasn’t a great sighting, but it was better than my first. I came upon two dudes hiking who told me they saw two cubs and a bear. So after making some noise and proceeding a bit further, we saw the mama and the two cubs run off the trail and down into the woods. I was about 30 yards from them, so it was a neat sighting. Again, sorry – no pictures!

The Shenendoah National Park has  been neat though. It’s fairly easy hiking, and they have a bunch of things called Waysides throughout. They’re pretty much roadside burger joints. So there are a good amount of opportunities to stuff your face along the trail. I take advantage.

Another big milestone – I successfully pulled off my second hitch, and my first solo hitch. Here’s my awesome sign I made to get into Luray:

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I got scooped up by a kid and his dad who own a landscaping company. They were normal blue collar guys – always the best for getting hitches from. Neat guys, and a fun ride into town even though I struggled understanding a lot of what the dad said. So when I did understand a question, and I answered it without any awkward pauses, I was quite happy.

After they threw me out of the window while still going about ten miles per hour, I took my first zero since getting back on the trail on the first of July. So it’s been a long time since I’ve had some relaxing time. Luray is a pretty neat town – it’s got that quaint old feel to it. I’m staying at a much better hotel than I did in Buena Vista. It’s even got enough room to put up my tent! I had to seal the seams of my tent today. With all the rain last week, I started to spring a few leaks.

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And lastly, as you can see on the bed in the picture, I got my first maildrop from home!! Everybody hooked me up with some good stuff, and Paul got me a couple awesome Mountain House meals. And… I got a nice little pint of whiskey!

So that’s that! I’m about to head to the outfitter now. It’s getting a bit too hot for my +15 bag, so I’m thinking about making a purchase to deal with that (and hopefully cut down on some pack weight). Then, of course, I’m going to eat a bunch of food! The life of a hiker!