We’re having a heat wave! And what a week it’s been. It was not an easy task adjusting back to trail life after a week with family and joyful celebration at the beach (Days 49-53). It didn’t help that the temperatures soared, and the mileage was not “easy Virginia,” as we had been told. As a result, I have become one big heat rash, and we’re both covered in bug bites – these are a few of our favorite things! In spite of some trying times and a minor case of the “Virginia Blues,” we are still pushing onward, enjoying the company of our fellow hikers, and seeing some incredible sights. Here’s what’s happened since we left the beach:
The morning after Caroline and Andrew’s wedding was a gray and rainy one. We all decided it made it easier to leave such a wonderful place and time with family after such a beautiful wedding. After a long drive to Bland, VA, we said a tearful goodbye to my parents and hiked a short two miles back into the woods. It was the first night since we started hiking that we were the only people at a shelter. This worried us a little bit – have all of our friends gotten so far ahead? Has the trail become a ghost-town? Where is everybody? A strange feeling, but we didn’t have it for long.
My blister-free days are behind me. After not having developed a single one in 55 days, I took off my shoe tonight to find a doozie. The reason? I got a pedicure at the beach in preparation for the wedding, and it took off all my hard-earned callouses! The price of luxury! The blister didn’t slow me down though, and our first day back we did a long, 18-miler to Dismal Falls, which were actual anything but dismal. The waterfalls were not listed as anything spectacular in our guidebook, but we were so glad we checked them out. We also ran into some old and some new trail friends – so happy to see familiar faces, and the peaceful sounds of the nearby waterfalls also helped to soothe us back into trail life.
Originally, we had thought, “If we just spent a week off the trail, we won’t need another hostel or town stay for at least a week afterward.” Well, that was until we read the description of Woods Hole Hostel in our guidebook as “a little slice of heaven.” Sure enough, after a hot but short 12-mile hike, we arrived at the hostel to home-baked goods and friendly people. The hostel was built in the 1980s and has since become a family business, now run by the granddaughter of the original founders. The hostel has its own vegetable garden and bunkhouse; everyday fresh and local meals are made for guests. A communal dinner of delicious homemade bread, pasta and salad with 20 fellow hikers was just what we needed. (Topping it off with the locally made Butter Pecan ice cream didn’t hurt either.)
Breakfast at Woods Hole continued to reinforce the idea that we were experiencing “a little slice of heaven.” With our tummies full, we headed into the hot day and hiked into the town of Pearisburg, VA. There we got our fill again, this time on Mexican food at La Barranca restaurant, and resupplied at the grocery. Being in town made us so thankful that we hike in the woods and not on pavement; as hot as it is under the trees, it is truly unbearable in towns. So hot! The only remedy (obviously) was a dip cone and a Blizzard at the local DQ before heading back out into the woods. We got a little lost trying to get out of town, but – thanks to our college degrees – we were able to figure it out. We had a very steep, long uphill climb to our campsite, but we made it there before dark. Just after we arrived, a group of 16 from Tallahassee – mostly boy scouts and a church group – showed up too! It was great to see some young people and families on the trail amid the scruffy thru-hikers.
We arrived at Bailey’s Gap Shelter after slowly making our way up a very steep hill in our last mile of a long, hot day (the longest mile of my life!). Exhausted, we set up camp and heard big thunder rolling in. Sure enough, a huge thunderstorm raged right overhead for over an hour. It was a pretty scary experience. We’ve had relatively few storms out here, but the ones we have had have been intense. We held up well and were able to sleep through the night in spite of it.
A bit shaken by the previous night’s storm, we were a bit slow-going this morning. Another enormous climb in the afternoon zapped us of our energy, and we decided to cut our day short at 14.5 miles, rather than pushing on to 21 miles. Thunder threatened all afternoon, but unlike the night before, nothing became of it. Still, we were able to have a much-needed leisurely afternoon at the shelter with some of our friends – Mr. Tree, Jugs, John Stamos, Danish and Gravy.
Let me tell you, the heat did not let up! We tried to get an earlier start this morning, but even still, by 1:00, the heat was unbearable. We stopped with some of our fellow hikers at Niday Shelter at lunchtime and took a hikers’ siesta. I fell asleep on the shelter floor in the shade and couldn’t have been happier. By 3:00 we were able to head out again; the clouds had moved in, so the sun’s rage had diminished its hold over us. We put in a solid 8 miles after lunch and were able to make up the mileage that we had cut short the day before, arriving in time for an evening around the campfire with friends and their dogs (Luna and Kiwi – these thru-hiking dogs are very hardcore, but we still love Milo and Casey most of all).
Great things in store for us today! Within the first 6 miles of hiking, we reached Dragon’s Tooth, a huge rock that juts upward out of the top of a mountain. We each scaled the steep monolith and got to the top for our photo-ops, of which we were very proud (don’t worry moms, we were very, very careful!). It was a very rocky day of hiking, more boulder-climbing than I like (my short legs, try as they do, have a hard time in these sections). Mid-way through the day, many of our hiker friends were spreading their excitement about the legendary Home Place restaurant in Catawba, VA, a one-mile hitch from an upcoming road crossing. We hadn’t planned on going to eat there that day, but we couldn’t resist. After hiking 13 miles, we arrived at The Home Place, a beautiful old home restored as an all-you-can-eat soul food restaurant, which attracts people from all around. Even with the vegetarian version (very confusing to our waitress), we had our fill…far more than our fill, actually. The two-mile hike back out was an experiment in stomach-stamina. (Zack’s wins; mine loses.) Still, worth it.
We woke up before 6:00am today! This is a big deal for us, but as it gets hotter, it will have to become a habit. By 7:00 we got to McAfee Knob, one of the most famous spots on the A.T. A rock juts out over the side of a mountain with “the best view in Virginia,” and another amazing photo session. Waking up early also made it possible for us to hike the 18 miles into town before 3:00. Thankfully, there was a great breeze today, which made hiking not only bearable, but quite pleasant! Dinner at the Daleville Pizza Hut, and splitting a pint of ice cream from the BP was the perfect way to chill after a hot week on the trail.
We decided to relax and take the day off in Daleville. It’s not a fancy place, but it’s got what we need. Of course, the heat wave has continued to give us a break now that we are no longer hiking (the high today is a perfect 75). It’s a gorgeous day, and while we’ve got a few errands to run, we’re mostly planning on cashing in our free-doughnut coupons and sitting by the Howard Johnson Express swimming pool (believe it or not, it’s a very happening place).
I can feel our spirits lifting already, as our rashes, blisters and bug bites get a reprieve from the sweaty last few days. In the next week, we’ll finish the section of Virginia described as “rugged,” and enter the Shenandoah National Park, which is supposed to be absolutely beautiful, and a bit easier on the hiking legs. A lot to look forward to!
Lara (and Zack)