Day 91: Mile 843.9 | Devil’s Backbone Brewery
It was a hot and humid morning when we woke up at The Priest. We had a relatively average day as far as miles were concerned: 15.4. But the terrain we were looking at was steep and some of the hardest we’d seen in Virginia. We set out from camp kind of late and headed down The Priest. We walked separately for a little bit and I listened to a story on Levar Burton Reads. 5 miles of steep down hill and about 6 waterfalls later and I was drenched in sweat and humid moisture. We crossed the Tye River on a suspension bridge.
When we reached the start of the climb back up to Three Ridges, Miles had caught up to me. He was dehydrated and bonking (a term hikers use to describe the state of fatigue when you haven’t had enough calories). I gave him some salty snacks and water. He sat and ate and drank. It was going to take him a bit to recover and the climb coming up was challenging. He told me to go ahead. I made sure about 12 times that he didn’t want me to stay. Finally, he told me to go on.
I started up the hill. The humidity, bugs, and heat were getting to me. I was heading up a 2,980 foot elevation gain over six miles. The trail was very wet from the rain and, in some places, a stream. A large amount of terrain today was concentrated in the last 2.2 miles. I kept moving slowly, but surely, up the mountain.
Miles caught up to me before Chimney Rock, a look out about halfway up the mountain. We came out to a bald view and two women were sitting chatting. I crept out onto the overlook, so as not to disturb their conversation, but they were actually excited to talk to me.
“Are you a thru-hiker?!” They called to me.
“Yeah!” I told them, enthusiastically.
“Oh my gosh!” One of them replied. “You are the first girl we’ve seen all day!” I laughed. “There aren’t many of us out here,” I said. They asked if we were going to the brewery (Devil’s Backbone) and we told them yes. They told us about the tough climb (Three Ridges) ahead but that after that it was downhill all the way there! They encouraged me and wished us well. We moved on, drenched in sweat, up the rocky hill.
As we moved up the hill slowly, 1.5 mph for us, the salt stung my back. I smelled like a million dead onions. The sun beat down on us. My shirt started itching my back and causing the chafe on my lower back to burn. Miles suggested I just take it off and hike in my sports bra. Lots of girls do it, besides my fanny pack covered most of my front side anyway. I took it off and immediately felt better. I continued on like that. We climbed three ridges, our hardest climb in a while. Harder than Dragon’s Tooth. We ‘no stoppy til the toppy’ all the way up the rocky climb. At the top we were rewarded with an incredible verdant view. We saw the ridge we had just climbed off to the left. Rain clouds crowded in on the valley. We took our photos and basked in our accomplishment.
After, we turned and hurried down the mountain, excited for brews and food! As we headed down the mountain we talked. We weren’t totally paying attention to the trail. I lead the way downhill, Miles usually leads uphill and I lead downhill, at a quick clip. Suddenly I heard a hiss and a rattle. I instantly looked down. Not 12 inches from me was a rattle snake! I jumped back and screamed! I bumped right into Miles behind me. “What is it?!” He asked. I just froze and yelled, “Snake!!” He ran south down the trail away. I stood frozen. “Come on!” He beckoned. I ran toward him, tears welling in my eyes. My body’s natural response was to cry! I had the heebie jeebies! We turned and looked toward the snake. It sat coiled under a tree right on the trail. “What do we do?” I asked him. I’d NEVER seen a snake in real life, aside from a garter snake.
“Do we get it to move?” I asked him.
“Oh noooo,” he told me, “we’re not fucking with that thing. We let it be. That is a deadly animal.” We went off trail around it. Giving it a wide birth. He watched it while I went around the back of the tree. I watched while he did. Once we passed it my heart rate finally went down. It had been pounding the whole time. I forgot all about my chafe and my legs hurting. I just focused on surviving. It scared the CRAP out of me! As we walked away I said, “Maybe we should call our parents and tell them we love them. That was a lot.” He laughed and agreed. As we approached the gap where we would hitch a ride to the brewery we called our parents. They were happy we were ok and glad to hear the story.
We arrived at the gap just as fat drops of rain began to fall from the sky. We saw some people with big packs getting into their cars. Miles approached them and asked if they were section hikers. They said they were and that they lived nearby. They asked if we were going to the brewery and offered us a ride. We hopped in the back of one of their vans and they drove us down to the brewery. He was a bit of a crazy driver but it was generous gesture, for sure. We realized it was the first ‘hitch’ that we’d gotten from someone without a southern accent! We were finally making northern progress!
We arrived at the brewery (a hiker OASIS!) and it began to rain harder. We headed over to the main part of the brewery. We spotted two hikers sitting at the outdoor bar. We went over and said hi. They introduced themselves as Moondrop and Bluegrass. We chatted with them for a while and they told us where the campground was. We told them we’d come back and hang out with them after we set up. We set up and I put on a shirt.
We had told Baloo, a hiker friend I met in Fontana and Miles knew since day 2 who got off trail to work on an commune for a few weeks, that we would be at the brewery that night. The commune he was staying at was supposedly nearby. We weren’t sure he’d gotten our message or if he’d show up. As we left the bathrooms I saw him walking around! “Is that Baloo?!" I yelled. “Hey!!” He yelled with a big smile on his face. I ran over and gave him a hug. He walked with us to get food at the restaurant there.
We sat and talked with him. I hadn’t seen him since Hot Springs! He told us about the commune and how he got the position through WWOOF. We had beer and food and talked for hours. Eventually we headed outside to the pavilion where Moondrop and Bluegrass were hanging out. We played chess and drank and talked about the trail and our gear. Moondrop’s pack weighed less than 20 pounds! He was doing up to 40 miles in a day, averaging over 25. His pack looked like a school kid’s book bag! He was the definition of Hike Your Own Hike (HYOH). He did what he wanted and he did it well. He hiked in parachord sandals! Incredible!
At the end of the night we were the last ones on the pavilion. We eventually went to bed and said goodbye to Baloo. It was a GREAT day. Even though it was difficult and uncomfortable at times.
2. The company of cool hikers
Day 92: Mile 863 | Grace Hiker Hostel @ The Grace Lutheran Church in Waynesboro, VA
We woke up early for a $5 breakfast and coffee at the brewery. After breakfast I aired out my wet tent in the sun and charged my phone. We waited for the free shuttle back to the trail. The breakfast was great. After breakfast we got back on the trail. This was the day people who attended Trail Days would return to the trail so we were excited to see who would be around now! But we would miss having the trail and all the shelters mostly to ourselves.
We moved quickly to get to Waynesboro. Our salt chafe was BAD and stingy and we needed showers desperately. The humid heat only made it worse. I walked at about a 3-4mph pace the whole day. It, honestly, felt pretty good to move so fast. The terrain wasn’t too hard. Some great views, too. We crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway again.
2 big black snakes crossed our path. Thankfully, they were the nice kind of snakes. We arrived to town around 4pm. We saw Moondrop and Bluegrass one last time. We also saw Biscuits (of the Woo Crew). There was a list of trail angels that would give you a ride into town from Rockfish Gap if you ask at the Popcorn stand they told us.
Up at the popcorn stand we called a few numbers. The 6th had time to come get us. I got a popcorn and Gatorade while we waited. It was really satisfying. We got picked up soon after and by 5 we were in town. The trail angel took us to a donation based church hostel that had just reopened for the season that day. We were the first ones in the log book! They checked us in and we met Jill, a volunteer. She took our pictures for their log book.
Once we were checked in she showed us where to shower. That was THE BEST SHOWER OF MY LIFE. The salt chafe was soothed by the cool water of the shower. I washed my hair for the first time since Craig and Tania’s House. I pulled out clumps and clumps of hair that would normally have been combed out daily. I had to wash it twice to get it manageable. I considered cutting it all off but then decided that might be a brash decision...
Vermont and Odd Job arrived shortly after us. We headed out with Odd Job and got Chinese food at a nearby buffet. When we came back to the hostel we were talking about how fun playing chess at the brewery was. Vermont told us he played chess, too. Jill told us that she had just put a chess board in a pile for a yard sale the day before! She told us she could bring it over for us if we wanted. She brought it back and we played a few rounds! We set up our cots in a large, auditorium type hall.
We went to bed late after playing lots of chess. I beat Miles for the first time since he taught me how to play.
Day 93: Mile 863 | Grace Hiker Hostel @ The Grace Lutheran Church in Waynesboro, VA
We got up early because they wanted us to be out of the hall by 9am. They told us we could come back at 5pm if we wanted to take a zero. We decided our salt chafe would benefit from staying another night. Plus, we still had to do all of our town chores. Odd Job, Vermont, Miles, and I set out in the sun with our packs to the laundromat. We did our laundry (with free soap from the hostel!) and checked out a thrift store next door. Miles picked up a pair of flip flops for camp shoes and a book. I missed my Kindle but it wasn’t working when my mom sent it to me so I sent it back home. I bought a book at the thrift store, too. I also got a lunch box to make into a pot cozie. Total: $1.50.
After laundry, Odd Job and Vermont went to WalMart while Miles and I went to the post office and a coffee shop. At the post office we met Swimmer and his son, who was joining him for a section. While at the post office, it began to downpour. Miles finally got his new sleeping bag!
Later, we all met at Kroger and got our resupplies and some food for dinner. Then we all headed back to the church hostel. I sat and blogged a while once we were there. Miles played chess with Odd Job and Vermont. I joined them later. We went to bed late, happily.
1. New Book