Day #92-Trail chaplain visits the Priest; Miles hiked: 15.5

After an amazing breakfast with Kim, it was back to the rainy AT again this morning. Nothing quite like wet feet in the first step!

Still too rainy for pictures today, but I caught back up to four of my new friends-Spork, BamBam, Slim, and Ollie. They are all guys around my age and a blast to hang out with…which comes in handy for all of us when the sky continues to bucket and the temps continue to drop.

After fording (yes-fording in VA) several creeks that are crazy high due to rain, we all attacked one of the most daunting southbound climbs together: The Priest.

It’s a far cry from Katahdin, but 3,000 straight feet of vertical climbing certainly gets your blood pumping.The best part of the climb was reading the shelter log at the campsite on top. Hikers for years have used it as “confessional” for all of their trail sins. The most common ones (that are blog appropriate) are not hanging food and digging cat holes right next to perfectly good tent sites.

I had to come clean to the latter for my entry…but it was an emergency!

Day #91-Magical rain rescue; Miles hiked: 19.1

There aren’t too many pictures from today because well…it’s still raining.

I don’t mean to complain, but I’ve seen one sunny day since Harpers Ferry and it looks like another week of rain is on the way. Wet and wild!

Anyway, after a lovely trip to Charlottesville it was off to hike alongside the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I got to meet a maintenance crew at the shelter I ate lunch at and couldn’t thank them enough for clearing Flo’s blow downs. I am looking forward to joining the Tennessee Eastman trail club while I’m at ETSU for med school. Nothing better than a little manual labor to break up the studying, right?

Before the rain really got going, I found this little guy-say hello to Buster the box turtle!He’s a little camera shy.

As the rain starting coming down hard and the fog got denser, my spirits started sinking. When I finally got to the road where I was planning to hitch to Devil’s Backbone brewery to meet my friends, I was worried I wouldn’t even get a ride in the dark, cold fog.

The Lord had other plans. The first and only car that came by in my direction pulled over and not only gave me a ride down the mountain, but took me to their nearby vacation house!This is Kim, my rescuer. She treated me to leftover spaghetti, a salt bath for my destroyed feet, and a warm/dry place to sleep. I’m going to have to call this magical evening the best trail magic yet!

Day #90-Chinese food coma and friends from Nash; Miles hiked: 7.7

After putting down over 54 miles in 48 hours, today was a well deserved nero day into Waynesboro. Even though it wasn’t predicted, it rained most of last night. I thankfully chose to sleep in the shelter and only watched everyone’s headlamps come on at 1 am to secure rain flys on tents.

Nevertheless, the SOBO army exited Shenandoah National Park and caught a hitch in a pickup from the Blue Ridge Parkway straight to the parking lot of Ming’s.Upon arrival at the dynasty, we all did the place justice by putting away 4 heaping plates each.Up next was showers at the YMCA-a service offered by the Waynesboro Y for over 40 years! A former lifeguard and swim instructor myself, I was proud to be back at my high school employer. There was a group of kids (I’m guessing home school PE) there that had to be shushed by their teacher when they commented on how bad “those people with backpacks stink.”

This afternoon and evening has been a lovely time with a good friend from Vandy. She is in grad school at UVA and whisked me away to Charlottesville where I’ve been able to enjoy the luxuries of a larger town: Trader Joe’s, Chipotle, and Crazy Rich Asians.

Goodnight from a real life apartment!

Day #89-Walk now, eat later; Miles hiked: 26.2

When the SOBO army woke up today, we all left the shelter with sights set on one very special place–Ming’s Chinese Buffet. The catch? We needed to hike another marathon day to be in optimal position for the lunch special on Friday.

Into the sunrise we went!I ran my first marathon in April, and approached this day with a very similar mindset.

At mile 7, we hit Loft Mountain and the last of the Shenandoah waysides (trailside restaurants for motorists driving Skyline Drive). Unfortunately, due to hurricane closures and a broken blender, I’m leaving Shenandoah without a famous black berry milk shake, but the world will keep spinning…These new friends still found a way to smile when the cook offered the ice cream itself as a consolation prize. At mike 13, I got to spend some good time with my friend Trash Panda at this cool overlook-Black Rock.The SOBO bubble continues to roll through Shenandoah as fast as we can as there is plenty more rain on the way. Happy trails!

Day #88-And miles to go before we sleep; Miles hiked: 28.6

All of the NOBOs I hiked with said that you could push big miles through the relatively gentle trail of the Shenandoah. With the sun shining for the first time in forever, that’s exactly what I decided to do today.

There were a few hikers that I wanted to catch up to with a big day, and my efforts were successful! I’ve managed to catch my friends Trash Panda, Rebound, and Scout as well as some flip floppers that I hiked with headed northbound. Twenty-eight miles is quite a long way, so I spent almost every bit of daylight and a little bit of darkness walking, but got the opportunity to swap stories with this hiker in the blue shirt. She’s about 10 years older than me, but is interested in going to medical school too. I can’t wait to learn more about her story and what she’s learned on the trail.I’ll be honest, my body hurts after hiking for over 12 hours, but goodnight from the SOBO bubble. There is even a family of copperheads hanging out with all of us…they’re a little bold for my tastes haha.

Day #87-Rain rain went away; Miles hiked: 17.6

I got dropped off on the trail in the rain this morning. Again. Virginia continues to experience its wettest stretch in state history and I get to hike in it for about 500 more miles. Hey, at least all of the springs are flowing well!

There’s not much to report from the first half of my day as it was spent sloshing down the Appalachian National Scenic River alone.

However, by lunchtime I came across a gem in the Shenandoah wilderness–Skyland Lodge and Restaurant. It was certainly not cheap, but I ran into some other hikers who agreed the food and the warm dining room was well worth the price. We sheltered and stuffed our faces with delicious lunch and blackberry cobbler for at least two hours.If anyone is ever traveling through Shenandoah, I highly recommend this place. I’m sure the view would be amazing if it wasn’t socked in with rain!

After a few more wet miles, the sun came out! This is the first time I’ve seen that lovely glowing orb in the sky in about 100 miles-what a sight for sore eyes.

Hurricane Florence has created a SOBO “bubble” that is actually bigger than any kind of group I hiked with headed north. Tonight, I’m camping at a car camping campground (with a bath house!) with 10 other SOBOs. None of us quite know what to do with this many people around, but I’m glad for the company and the forthcoming ministry opportunities.More Shenandoah adventures to come!

Day #86-Flo says you can run but you can’t hide; Miles hiked: 24.8

I woke up around 4 am to the sound of the first hurricane bands rolling in. By 6, it was time to face the elements and get rolling.

Let me tell you, hiking in a hurricane (especially the one I just spent 4 days and almost 1000 miles of travel trying to outrun) is quite an experience.

It was pouring rain and the wind was raging. I’ve never seen trees get whipped around like they were. The extra exciting part was not seeing another living soul for 25 miles. I was pretty convinced that the rapture had occurred and I had been left behind. Skyline drive and the waysides (much to my chagrin) were all shut down for weather so the park was a ghost town.

Nonetheless, around mile 23 the sun came out and I heard the familiar hum of traffic again-town!

Tonight I’m treating myself to a stay at Open Arms hostel where I’m safe from my friend Flo the hurricane. Back at it tomorrow!

Day #85-Back at last!; Miles hiked: 9.1

Getting back to the trail was none short of a saga, but the journey is complete! Thanks to my best friend (and family) Emily for the ride to the Knoxville airport, to my cousin Michael for a place to crash in DC, and megabus for the ride to Front Royal.

No pictures from today because as soon as I hit the trail, so did the rain. However, a summary of my second “first day back” is as follows.

1. Receive all sorts of random kindness from locals in Front Royal to get me back to the random road crossing I bailed at last week.

2. Six easy miles to VA 522 where I left all of my sharp items so that I could fly back with my pack right by my side.

3. Almost stay at the hostel where I left my things but eventually decide it would be best to move on.

4. Three more miles to the border of Shenandoah National Park.

5. Pitch my tent in the shelter because it was leaking so much from the rain.

Shenandoah starts tomorrow!

Update: Thru hike on hold again

After driving home from Virginia into the wee hours of the morning yesterday, my friend River and I were ready to tackle some miles in North Carolina so we didn’t get behind schedule with hurricane Florence.

Overnight, the storm decided to follow us and head south. On the way down to Fontana Dam to hike for 3 days, phones started buzzing with word that the exact section of trail we were headed to was set to close. We did an about face and have determined that we indeed will not be able to ride out this storm on the Appalachian Trail.

I’m quite the “type A” individual, so changes like this can be challenging, but River and I have decided to make the best of it and enjoy Knoxville for the indefinite future.

When the storm moves out, it’ll be back to the trail in Northern VA. For now, goodnight from home sweet home.

Day #84-Florence has spoken; Miles hiked: 17.1

Today was a bit shambly, but the show goes on. I started the morning with a 3 mile round trip backtrack when I had that gut feeling that my pack was 2 ounces lighter and I’d left my water bladder behind. Oops.

Less than 10 miles into what was supposed to be an easy day, phones started buzzing with word that Shenandoah National Park, my next stop, was closing tomorrow (Wednesday) until further notice for hurricane Florence. Time to come up with an evacuation plan!

After several phone calls, I got the wonderful news that my dad (Papa Blueberry the airline pilot) was on the way back from Europe and could scoop me up and drive me out of the path of the storm.Instead of holing up in a hotel in Front Royal for 5 days, another hiker and I are headed to Knoxville where we plan to knock out some miles down South away from Florence.

We will return to Northern Virginia as soon as it’s safe. Goodnight from a long “yellow blaze” down I-81.