Day 39 – Angel’s Rest Hiker Haven – Pine Swamp Branch Shelter — 19.3 miles
The shuttle back to the trail left the hostel at 8:30 this morning so I made sure that I was up and ready for that. I put down a couple cups of coffee and some pop tarts before getting into the shuttle with two other people, Jaws and Dawdle. It didn’t take long to get back to the trail and I talked with Dawdle for a few minutes before she set off. As I was getting my bag ready I saw Gabe, Spaceship, Fuego, and Camo who I haven’t seen since Erwin, Tennessee almost 300 miles back. We talked and caught up then started hiking for the day. The morning was sunny with a nice breeze. Really good hiking weather. We walked together for a few miles and then eventually found our paces and split up. The trail didn’t have too many ups and downs, but it was really rocky and my feet got pretty sore. Around 4 in the afternoon I started feeling raindrops. The canopy was keeping me relatively dry, but I stopped and put my rain jacket and pack cover on anyway. It only rained for about 20 minutes, but the trail started to get muddy and slippery so I had to slow down a little bit. When I got about 19 miles in there was a sign that said “TRAIL MAGIC! .1 miles down”. I got excited and walked the .1 miles down the trail to see a bunch of hikers munching on hotdogs, candy, chips, and drinks. Mr. Zip was there with Gabe, Spaceship, and Fuego. I also met Bo, whose mom was the one that put on the trail magic. I ate my fair share of pasta salad and cheez itz and then it started to downpour. Instead of pushing on with everyone else, I backtracked .3 miles to the last shelter and posted up there for the night. I was the only one there at first, but eventually Green Bean, Falling Leaf, Cosmo, and Jaws all made their way in here. We ate dinner together and made a fire to keep the bugs away. My legs are a little sore today, but I think with some rest I’ll heal up nice. Big mileage day tomorrow!
Day 40 – Pine Swamp Branch Shelter – Stealth Camp — 25.7 miles
I woke up around 6:45 and started to get all my things together. I tried to be as quiet as I could so I wouldn’t wake up anybody and was out of camp 20 minutes later. I stopped at the first stream to fill up my water bottles, eat breakfast, and brush my teeth and then I was on my way. It was cloudy and the plants on the side of the trail were still wet from the rain the night before. It was cloudy and muggy so the first climb got me sweating pretty good. The trail was filled with roots and rocks and I had to watch where I put my feet because if I stepped on a sharp rock the wrong way I could definitely feel it. I walked 10 miles in 4 hours, snacking along the way, and then stopped at a shelter for a tuna and bagel lunch. Gabe, Spaceship, Fuego, Charlie, and Camo were all there, but left as I was getting all my food out because they had been there for a little bit before me. As I was eating Mr. Zip came by and joined me at the table for lunch. We had a nice talk and then I said my goodbye because he was going to stay back and wait for his brother to hike with and I was pushing on. I hope his hike and health continues to go well and he makes it to Maine! After a half hour I was back on the trail and it started out with a pretty steep climb. It was a battle getting up the first hill as I was still digesting my lunch, but once I got to the top the trail flattened out and I started cruising. I eventually caught up to Charlie who I saw by the second largest tree on the Appalachian Trail, the Keffer Oak. It’s 300 years old and it’s prominence overpowered its surroundings. We hiked together for the rest of the day. Before it got dark we wanted to fill up our water supply and the only water source was a half mile off trail. We had no choice, but to the the extra round trip mile and by the time we got back on trail I was ready to find a spot to camp as soon as possible. It was starting to get dark and I had been walking all day so laying down sounded really appealing to me. About 20 minutes later we passed a nice wide open spot that could fit 2 tents and we set up camp. A big pasta dinner followed by a snickers felt great and then I was ready to lay down and get off my feet. It’s raining a little bit right now and can hear the drops hitting my tent. I feel fulfilled after a full day of hiking and I’m so happy I get to do it everyday.
Day 41 – Stealth Camp – Stealth Camp — 24.5 miles
It rained all night last night so my rain fly was absolutely soaked, but I was dry inside. It was cold and windy when I got out of my tent and I wanted to start hiking as quickly as possible so I could warm up. I knew I wanted to go pretty far today, so I prepared myself to be ready to night hike and make as many miles as I could. I had a pop tart and some carnation and protein, broke down my tent, packed up my bag, and I was on the trail by 9:00. I don’t enjoy starting this late usually, but it was nice to get the extra rest in the morning. Charlie and I started out hiking together, but eventually would split up as the climbs got tougher and we found our own pace. Today was a mental grind and I really had to push myself to get my heavy legs up and down the hills. Sometimes going downhill feels worse on the legs because there is so much pressure with each step. After about 15 miles of what seemed to be long and slow hiking, I got to a shelter and stopped to fuel up before pushing on. I made some pasta and ate whatever snacks I could find. I think I was a little dehydrated too because when I put down a liter of water and ate the food I felt fully recharged and ready to go. Charlie showed up at the shelter while I was eating and we ended up leaving around 7 pm to hit another 10 miles. It doesn’t get completely dark until a little after 9, but the mist and fog made it a little hard to see so we put our headlamps on early. The trail took us down some pretty technical sections, doing more climbing then hiking. It was actually the most technical part of the whole trail as of yet, with the added bonus of doing it in the dark haha. We hiked for 4-5 hours and then around 12:30 am hit a wall and decided it was best if we found a place to camp. It was still another 4 miles to the shelter we originally wanted to get to, but we listened to our bodies and stopped. We found a nice open spot on top of a ridge and instead of cooking I just ate a few quick snacks, set up my tent, and layed down. I’m completely wiped and can’t wait to sleep. Excited for tomorrow though because I’ll pass McAfees Knob which supposedly has some of the best views on the trail and is the most photographed spot!
Day 42 – Stealth Camp – Daleville, Virginia — 22.7 miles
I only got about 6 hours of sleep, waking up at 7:45, but I felt recharged and ready for the day. The sun was out and I was excited for the beautiful day. I got my tent packed up and everything ready and was on the trail by 8:10. It was sunny, but cool which is the nicest weather to be hiking in. McAfee Knob was about 5 miles away from where I was and I got there in about 2 hours. The view at the top was incredible and you could look out for miles and miles. There’s a rock that jets out over the cliff and it’s a great place for a picture so I was glad I caught it on a good day. On the top I met two day hikers named Carolyn and Cameron. I had passed them on the way up and spoke briefly, but at the top saw them again and Carolyn offered out some Oreos that were very much appreciated. We talked some more and before they left gave me a Clif Bar which I devoured right after. They were really nice people and their trail magic made my day. I continued on my way and stopped at the next shelter so I could fill up my water and brush my teeth. I met a hiker name F Word and we talked as I made some breakfast and got ready. The rest of the day was really pleasant hiking with a few steep sections was relatively flat. It was rocky, but only in certain parts and there were views of the valley pretty much throughout the whole stretch of the day. I didn’t stop to eat lunch or anything I just packed up my hip pouches with food and ate while I hiked. I did the 22 miles and got to town by 6:30 and headed straight to the Three Little Pigs bbq joint. I ate some wings, a burger, some vegetables, and a sweet potato and they gave out a free banana pudding for dessert to thru hikers. I met a nice family after I was done eating Zack, Jim, and Sherry and they asked me a bunch of questions about my hike and it was really nice to share my journey with them. They were an awesome group of people. After dinner I walked across the street to Kroger’s and got my resupply. As I was packing it all into my bag outside, people walking in and out noticed my bag and kept asking about my hike and everything. One person in particular named Shari, loved what I was doing and said she was planning on thru hiking as soon as she could. We talked for about ten minutes and before leaving she offered me some fried chicken which was nice. Fuego, Bo, and Spaceship eventually came to resupply and we hung out on a seat outside of the store for a while before heading to sleep. They camped out a little ways down on the trail, but I split a room with Charlie at the Howard Johnson so I could shower and have a bed. Today was a great day!