Saturday, July 22, 2017

Pamola's Quest - Phase II-a - Shenandoah (Push 14)

Back to The Trail

After enjoying 30 zero days in a row, it was time to get back on the Trail.  It was time to start Phase II of Pamola's Quest.  All of the trail will be walked in due time.  We were no longer concentrating on hiking from the southern terminus to the northern.  We were just going to experience all the miles of the Trek, wherever and whenever we could get to it.

The Quest continues until it is complete.  There is no time limit other than the span of my walking life.  I will either complete the Quest, or be unable to walk for some reason.  

EarthTone and LoGear back on the Trail

Push 14: Shenandoah National Park

We decided to flip up to Rockfish Gap.  The beginning of Shenandoah National Park and proceed north 106.4 miles to a little road in the woods, just short of Rt 522 near Front Royal.  

Why were we stopping here, you ask?  This is where LoGear and I completed a 30 some mile southbound section back in 2012.  I have decided that I want to hike all new miles this year (after hiking no new miles in 2016), so I am now going to skip over the miles I have hiked (some of those miles, several times over), so I can experience more unique trail during this Quest.

The last Push I completed was Push 9 that ended in Damascus, VA.  Jumping up to Rockfish Gap, skips four VA Pushes (10 through 13). That is why this is named Push 14.  I also continued the day count from day one.  We would be getting back on trail on day 72 of the Quest.  

The plan was to complete the 106.4 miles in nine days.  We knew we had pretty much given up our hiker legs along with our Outsider badges, taking that much time off trail.  The workouts I did at the gym was most likely less energy expenditure than one full day of hiking, but it was better than nothing.  We would hike conservative miles, see how we felt, and move on if we felt like it.  We would finish the Push in eight days.

Day 72 - 7.7 miles - Calf Mountain Shelter
Day 73 - 13.0 miles - Blackrock Hut
Day 74 - 13.2 miles - Pinefield Hut
Day 75 - 19.8 miles - Lewis Mountain Campground
Day 76 - 12.3 miles - Rock Spring Hut
Day 77 - 15.3 miles - Pass Mountain Hut
Day 78 - 13.1 miles - Gravel Springs Hut
Day 79 - 12.0 miles - VA 602 - End of Push

This Push would require us to handle some of the challenges that Section Hikers have.  Since we were only coming out for this one Push, we had to figure out the getting to the trail and getting to the trailhead to start the hike.  We did the usual, drive and park at the end of the Push and get a shuttle down to the start.  We decided to park at the 4H Center near Front Royal where we had parked before.  You register with the office and they kind of keep an eye on the vehicle for you.  I had requested a shuttle down to Rockfish Gap from Stanimal, a local hostel owner and Hiker.  

We arrived at the parking after driving through steady and sometimes heavy rain all the way to the Trail.  When we parked, the rain had subsided.  We noticed another couple at the parking lot, getting their gear ready.  We quickly found out that we were both waiting for Adam to show up.  We were riding together.

We got to know Turbo and Hermit on the ride down to Rockfish.  They were very nice people and world travelers from PA.  They had decided to sample a bit of the A.T. to see how it was.  We learned about their other adventures on the ride, including their trip to summit Mt Kilimanjaro in Africa.  Their mileage plans were a bit more challenging as they had reservations at one of the Lodges in the park in a couple of days.  We would enjoy their company for the first couple of days though.


Hermit rests

Getting Back in the Groove

We arrived at Rockfish Gap, registered our back country hike with the ranger, ate our Sheetz sandwiches and hit the trail at just after Noon on a day that had turned sunny and humid at our start.  

As we started hiking, we immediately noticed a difference from when we were last on the trail.  When I got off in Damascus, it was the end of Spring.  Up here in northern VA, it was now high summer.  Heat and humidity would be our companion for this whole hike.  We actually were hoping for it to rain from time to time, but we had very dry weather for the whole Push.  We were covered in sweat in a matter of minutes as we headed into the woods.  We had planned an easy 7.7 mile day to get back into the swing of things and I was glad we did.

Stone pillars, with small writing on the metal bands.
A unique feature of Shenandoah.  

Those seven miles would leave us tired and sore as our bodies asked us what the fuck we were up to again.  Of course, we both kept asking ourselves once again what we had gotten ourselves into.  One redeeming character of this part of the Trail, is it seemed a little less challenging, elevation wise than what I had last hiked on down in SW VA. 

We pulled into the shelter area and saw hikers everywhere.  The camp was full of a group of southbound hikers who had come out for the holiday week to hike the park southbound.  We had no problem finding places for our hammocks and enjoyed the great conversation around the table that I had come to miss while being off trail.

After a good night's sleep back in my hammock, we did our morning evolutions and were on the trail pretty early.  Today would be a longer day and we wanted to be able to take our time as we still adjusted to being back on the Trail.  The night's rest had rejuvenated my body as it usually does and we had a good day of hiking.  It was still hot, but a nice breeze and some overcast skies helped get us through the day.

Today we wouldn't have any decent water sources for the whole trek of 13 miles, so we took what we could and hoped that we would make it without becoming too dehydrated.  We took plenty of breaks during the day.  This would be the theme of this Push.  Break often.  Take your time.  We were in no hurry and felt no pressure to do long miles.  It was liberating actually, to not have to worry about getting in decent miles each day.  As long as we continued moving north, we would be fine.  Once we discovered the camp stores and Waysides, we would perfect the art of the "long break".  

Setting up camp at Blackrock Hut

Along with Turbo and Hermit, who hiked fast and didn't take as many pack off breaks, there were a couple other Hikers who were moving along with us at a similar pace and daily distance.  At first, we thought they would move well ahead of us, having their trail legs and all, but we would end up stopping at the same places or nearly so each day of our Push.  They were Huck and Hazmat.  They were both very interesting in their own right.  Huck had started back in March and gave me a cool, bushcrafter vibe.  He carried a couple knives and had a wool blanket in his kit.  We had some good discussions about the flora and fauna of the forest.  Hazmat, had started in Damascus at Trail Days, taking up where he had left off the year before.  Hazmat refined his breakfast beers and drunk night hiking skills while in the park.  They were a crazy group, that's for sure.

Along with those two were some other we came to know along the way.  Snake Eater, Chipmunk, Tunnel Rat and Casper.

After the second day, we had rekindled a bit of our trail legs somewhat and were able to complete the day's miles without too much trouble and pain.  Of course, the terrain in the Park is really mild compared to the south, so we got spoiled quickly. 

Camp Stores and Waysides

On day three, we discovered the magic of the camp store.  We arrived at the Loft Mountain camp store just around lunch time.  We spent the next couple of hours, drinking very reasonably priced 24 oz Yuenglings, eating lunch, taking a shower and charging our electronics.  There was a well stocked hiker box that provided some of our resupply and we picked up a few other things to top off our food bags.  We had purposely started with around four days of food, as we knew there would be plenty of opportunity to get food along the way.  

When we left the camp store we set our sights on dinner at the Calf Mountain Wayside which was another mile down the trail and then .6 off trail.  It was totally worth it.  On the way down the old forest road, we saw a mother bear and her cubs.  After a decent (but somewhat overpriced) dinner, we walked back up the road and saw the bears again.  She showed no fear of us, and basically just ignored us, but kept her body between us and the babies.  It was a very cool experience.  We would notice that the deer and bears in this park are very used to us humans being about.  They usually would ignore you as they went about their business.  

Our Longest Day

The next morning, Larry, the Hut maintainer came in and told lots of stories.  This day was planned at a short 8.2 miles and we were pretty sure that we would be ready to move on beyond that, but not quite sure we could da a 20.6 day.  Larry told us about a nice camping spot that would be about 17 miles or so.  We made a mental reminder to maybe try getting that far for the night.  

Today, there would be no Waysides to delay us and the water situation was much better throughout the day.  When we stopped for lunch at the Hightop Hut, LoGear was at first ok with calling it a short day and recovering some.  She was still having trouble on the uphills.  They would sap her strength and energy, but after a nice lunch and a rest at the shelter, she decided that she felt better and we should move on to that fabled camping spot.

We arrived at the spot late in the day and either I remembered the directions wrong, or Larry had "mis-remembered" the way.  We saw nothing at the milepost he had mentioned and besides, we were pretty near Skyline drive and it is against the rules to camp that close to the road.  We decided to continue on until we either came to a decent (and legal) dispersed campsite or maybe we could make it to the campground that was ahead a few more miles.  After a few half hearted attempts at finding a campsite, LoGear announced that we were making for the campground.

We watched the sun set through the trees as we approached the campground and walked into camp as dusk settled on all the car campers.  After talking to one of the campers, we found a spot, registered, paid our fee and set up camp.  As we were doing so, we saw an owl flying around the campground.  This owl was soon joined by the rest of his family and they screeched and squawked at each other for at least an hour.  I could hear one or two of them all night long as the parents most likely were training their babies how to hunt.  

We had just hiked our longest day of this Quest.  19.8 miles.  

More Waysides and an AYCE Breakfast

The next three days would be highlighted by the Big Meadows Wayside, an awesome breakfast at Skyland Resort and the Elkwallow Wayside.  We spent over five hours at Big Meadows.  Eating, drinking, charging and just hanging out with the other hikers.  We got to meet Turbo Turtle and Cheese another couple team.  We finally broke away from the whirlpool of the wayside and headed to the next shelter.  We heard the others coming in after dark when we were all snug in our hammocks. I remembered saying to myself as I lay in my hammock, that these are the kinds of days that make me want to stay out here for a very long time. I really enjoy this simple, honest lifestyle. I was very happy to see how quickly and comfortably we once again fell into the role of the Outsider.  The Long Distance Hiker, enjoying the Trail.  

The next morning, we started out as usual, with a possible plan to get some breakfast at the resort.  We took a break at a horse shelter and noticed that we had about 30 minutes to get their breakfast.  We hurried on and arrived to be seated.  I think they seated us in the corner to reflect our ripe odor.  We have finally stopped apologizing for our odor.  They know who and what we are and secretly envy our adventure cloud of stink that we travel in.  No worries, we learned that they have an all you can eat buffet and we quickly filled our plates with just about everything they offered.  The made to order omelettes were the highlight of the meal.  We continued on with full bellies and sated appetites.  

On day 78 we stopped at the Elkwallow Wayside, the last we would visit in the park.  We stayed once again ate, drank and recharged.  I went over to listen to a park ranger present a talk on bears in the park.  It was interesting.  We were getting everything together to head out when Chipmunk came in for a break, trying to entice us to stay longer.  We broke loose of the whirlpool and headed to camp.  

Bears and other Fauna

After that first sighting of the momma bear and her babies, either LoGear or I saw at least one bear the next three days.  We saw a lone bear moseying along below Big Meadows Campground.  We had just walked past a guy with a big telephoto lens.  I guess he was filming him.  The next day, I apparently walked right past a bear (also maybe a mother with cubs) sitting on a rock about 20 feet from the trail.  LoGear was behind me and she spotted it and talked to it while she took a photo.  I was far enough ahead that I had no idea what was going on.  The day after that, I was ahead again and I heard a ruckus in the woods behind me and saw the head of a yearling bolting away from us.  

I swear that dark area is a bear

The deer would totally ignore you unless it was standing in the middle of the trail.  If it was on the trail, it would stand there and stare at you, as it if was telling you to get off the trail instead of stepping off.  I also had a nice eight point graze behind my hammock all the while we were setting up.  

Doe grazing at the edge of the clearing at Pinefield Hut
Eight point wandering around our campsite at Pass Mountain Hut

Apparently I also walked past a frog hunting snake.  LoGear reported that she had seen a snake that appeared to have its head stuck between some rocks.  It was writhing and grabbing a nearby sapling trying to pull itself out.  Another couple that were hiking in the area, later reported that it was hunting a frog and was trying to get it out of its hidey hole. 
A young black rat snake soaks up the heat of the trail

Finishing Strong and Trail Magic

On our final day in the park, we only had 12 miles to go to get to our truck and complete this Push and Phase II-a of the Quest.  Our packs were the lightest they could be with almost empty food bags and only a liter of water.  We knew showers lay ahead of us on this day after six days bathing only in our own sweat.  

An overlook, overlooking an overlook

The whole camp had started stirring earlier than usual as they were all heading into Front Royal to do various chores that a hiker must do.  Post office, resupply, maybe a shower somewhere.  They all had a subtle urgency about them as the got ready for their day.

Saying "see ya later" to our latest Tramily
Cheese, Tunnel Rat, Old School, Turbo Turtle, Chipmunk, Lightweight and Hazmat

We were still the first out and we thought that at least some of the faster hikers would overtake us during the day, but that never happened.  We hiked along, crossing the road as happens a lot in that park.  Ate lunch in a parking lot and then followed the trail along a nice old forest road as we exited the park proper and then descended down some steep, rocky switchbacks to the last shelter before the road, Tom Floyd Wayside (not really a wayside).  We decided to take one last pack off break at the shelter before finishing the Push.  
Crossing the yellow blazes

At the shelter we met Wanna b and his son Flashback.  They had just started a nine day southbound traverse of the Park and had been hit squarely in the face with reality as their way too heavy packs weighed them down on the previous day's hike.  They had conducted a pack shake down and had a bag full of stuff that they had decided they didn't want to carry for another eight days.  We hung out for a while and when it was time to go, I asked if there was anything they wanted us to carry out, implying that it would be either hiker boxed or used by us.  I thought the bag had nothing more than extra food and a few extra cooking items that they didn't need.  I only took a quick look and saw coffee and a small frying pan.  

Wanna b was super grateful that we offered to carry it out and he handed over the bag to me which I put in my pack.  LoGear carried the pound of coffee.  We said our goodbyes and wished them a more pleasant hike with their slightly lighter packs.

On the way down, LoGear said that we should have gotten their address to send the stuff to as we were pretty sure we didn't need any of the gear.  I already had plans for the coffee as the cost of being a sherpa, but I agreed that we should have done that.

We finished our hike and went into the pool area to get a soda and some ice cream before heading to the nearest Pizza Hut Express for some pizza, my eternal craving when I am out on the trail.  I took my phone out of airplane mode to check for signal and saw I had a Facebook Messenger notification from someone I didn't know.  I accepted and saw a picture of, wait for it...  Wanna b's contact information.  I was blown away.  It seems he had left a satellite hot spot in the bag and had forgotten.  Our wish had been granted.  The trail had provided (along with Sprint and Facebook).  I got Wanna b's address and assured him I would send his stuff along as soon as we got home.  

When we got home I went through the 7 pound bag and was amazed.  Along with the hot spot (which was big and heavy), there were all kinds of electronic things.  One thing looked like an antenna extension for your phone.  There was a remote shutter switch for an iphone a carrying case for your arm, all kinds of stuff.  I took all the stuff that wasn't food and put it in one of our priority mail boxes and sent it out the next morning.  

After our traditional pizza fest at the end of the Push, we left the trail once again.  We now have things to take care of at home and have planned another visit to the Jersey Shore.  I will take another 16 zeros and then will once again head back to the Trail.  This time LoGear has elected to stay home.  She had fun on this Push, but is ok with taking a longer break and maybe coming out in the fall, when we maybe do one or two more Pushes somewhere, before the winter weather arrives.  

Taking some zeros at Exit Zero

Phase II-b of Pamola's Quest

This time, when I head back to the trail, it will be at the other end of a long stretch of trail that I have already hiked in the last five years or so. After we go see Tom Petty in Philly, LoGear will drive me up to Lehigh Gap, just outside of Palmerton, PA, where I completed a 77 mile Section back in 2014.  From there I will continue north to finish PA and then try to complete NJ, NY, CT and maybe MA.  

From there I can either return home once again or maybe catch a ride from LoGear's cousin, who will be heading up to Monson around that time and maybe I will go do the 100 mile wilderness and head up to Katahdin herself.  If I do that, I probably won't continue on over the Knife Edge to Pamola Peak, as I need to finish all the trail before I can do that.  I will be content to gaze over to the next peak to see my final goal and promise to return.  

I have come to really enjoy the way this Hike, this Quest, has turned out.  I have found a way to keep getting to the trail and walking the miles, but I have also found a way to intersperse other things that I like to do in the summers.  I'm in no hurry to be "done".

The Quest is always on my mind.  I continue to plan on where to go next and will continue to do so until I have done as Pamola has commanded.  To walk all of the trail, gathering the items for the Talisman of the Storm and once I have done all that, to then go to Pamola Peak on Katahdin and present the Talisman to Pamola for his judgment.  

Stay tuned...

EarthTone and LoGear

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Pamola's Quest - The Pushes (7 - 9)

Pushes 7 through 9

The last three Pushes of Phase I of Pamola's Quest were the most challenging for us.  After becoming rather spoiled with very decent weather, we were repeatedly hit with long, drenching rain storms that became more severe as the Push 7 continued.  There were three weather bypasses during this Push and we ended up taking all three of them due to the weather.  

The next two Pushes saw LoGear deciding to get off trail and when the loneliness became too loud, I too decided to take a break from the Trail.  I knew the Quest was far from over.  I always had a strong intuition that this Quest was going to take much more than the five months or so I had originally planned.  Here is how they progressed.

Push 7: The Push to Erwin, TN and Uncle Johnny's Hostel

Push 7 would be our most challenging hike of the Quest so far.  With my back pain and the challenging weather, my spirits would be low during most of the five days of hiking. Hypothermia was a real danger as we hiked.  This Push would be 69.3 miles and would take us five days of hiking with our first zero day after the hike.  

Day 27 - 11.0 miles - Spring Mountain Shelter
Day 28 - 15.9 miles - Jerry Cabin Shelter
Day 29 - 15.5 miles - Hogback Ridge Shelter
Day 30 - 10.1 miles - Bald Mountain Shelter
Day 31 - 16.8 miles - Erwin, TN - Uncle Johnny's Hostel
Day 32 - Zero - A much needed rest at Uncle Johnny's

 As we headed out of Hot Springs, we stopped at the Smoky Mountain Diner for a nice breakfast.  The mattress at the Hostel did a number on my back and knocked it out somewhat.  I had the pain that I know usually lasts about three days and that is about how long it took to get everything back in alignment again.  This pain would divert my attention from my foot pain, so there was that.  

LoGear at a pond just out of Hot Springs

The River was swollen and running fast as we passed over it and then along it, climbing up out of the valley.  The day was spent alternately being rained on and seeing a bit of sun.  We arrived at the shelter and set up nearby.  I found that I could sit in my hammock and that was about it.  My back was still shouting at me when I tried to move around too much.  As the shelter and area filled up with hikers, it was mostly people we hadn't met yet.  Most of them coming back to the trail after attending Trail Days in Damascus.  There was one girl in that group that I started calling Never Stop, because she never seemed to stop talking.  We retired to our hammocks early and I spent at least an hour or so, just listening to the conversation.  Her voice seemed to never stop to listen.  

I noted in my journal, that this was the first day where my mood was low the whole day.  It was more because of the back issue and not necessarily the rain.  (Yet)

The next day, my back was a little better, but I still had a ways to go.  The rain though was an all day affair.  We moved along, getting nice and wet, but as long as we kept moving, we stayed mostly warm.  We came up to Big Firescald Knob and saw a weather bypass.  A hiker that had just done that part told us about how rocky and precarious it was.  With the wetness of the day, we decided to take the weather bypass.  It wasn't any shorter, just a bit less rockier and steep.  

While on this bypass, I slipped on a rock.  As I tried to stop my slide with my trekking pole, it slipped between some rocks and sunk deep into the ground.  As my weight shifted, the pole bent.  Bending it back, broke it off as expected.  Oh well, a Walmart visit would be in my future.  Luckily there was one near Erwin, our next resupply point.

Also, while on the bypass we were walking along with LoGear right in front of me.  I saw movement at her feet and saw two baby grouse, running away from her.  Just then, their mother started calling from the nearby bush and sounded like a hurt dog.  It was pretty cool and made taking the bypass pretty interesting.  We passed the 300 mile mark just before the end of the day.

300 miles done

At the shelter, we quickly found spots for our hammocks and got them up just as the steady rain intensified.  I was able to refill my water bottle from the runoff of my tarp and I was glad I did, as the water that some hikers brought up from the creek source was pretty muddy looking.  

By the third day, I was pretty much out of dry socks.  There was just no way to get them dry.  I even tried to hang them around my neck and under my shirt to try to use body heat to dry them, but that just made my shirt smell like feet in addition to its usual amoma of natural human.  

During this day's rain, the wind was in accompaniment and we were starting to feel more chilled.  Even trying to just keep moving wasn't sufficiently keeping us warm.  We got into camp, set up once again and got into our only dry clothes.  Just as we were going to cook dinner, more rain arrived and we just sat under my tarp and cooked dinner.  LoGear was on the ground and got splashed quite a bit.  

One of the few photos I took during the wet Push

The next day was more of the same.  Now the temperature had dropped into the 40s and hypothermia was a genuine concern.  We headed out and at one point could see the mountain we had to climb for the day and it was covered in cloud.  As we climbed up, the rain came down and the wind whipped about.  We took the weather bypass as we were feeling very wet and cold.  

Bald Mountain covered in cloud (and rain) (and wind)

After the bypass we came to a foggy bald and the wind stole the last of our heat.  Heading downhill the trail became slick and steep.  First LoGear fell and then me.  We were not having fun.  

We arrived at the shelter, just 10 miles in and Pixie and Blaze were there.  Blaze already had decided to stay and we soon made the same decision.  We would have to make up the miles tomorrow.  Pixie also decided to stay.  We all got into dry clothes and into our down to warm up.  We laid there as the shelter filled up and others also stopped for the day.  It was nasty out.

The next morning was still breezy, but eventually turned into a beautiful day.  It would take quite a while until my mood improved though.  I had let the challenging weather get to me and only after I stood at a view for a while, with the sun warming my body, did I realize that the day had turned perfect.  Luckily we would be in town soon, once we made up the miles we missed yesterday and finished the Push into Erwin.  

The Nolichucky River. Descending into Erwin

We arrived late in the day and at first were told that everything was booked, but maybe there was some camping space.  Here at Uncle Johnny's, they have built a pavilion in the back with places to put a hammock.  It was perfect and mostly empty.  We found our spots and set up.  We wouldn't need our tarps and could start drying out.  

After a quick shower, we took the shuttle to Walmart.  We ate a nice dinner at the Italian place and walked through Walmart to plan our resupply.  We had decided to take our first zero here and would come back the next day to fill our food bags for the next Push.  

The zero was well earned and totally needed after the last few days.  We mainly just took it easy, rested and got everything ready for the next day.  Pizza for lunch and back to Walmart in the afternoon for Mexican food and resupply.  We did our laundry early in the day and now had clean and dry clothes again.  




Just as we were loading into the van to go to Walmart, two hikers came in.  They quickly dropped their packs and climbed aboard.  They were Early Bird and Worm.  Two awesome hikers I would hang out with during the last Push of Phase I.

Mileage sign at Uncle Johnny's

We spent another dry night under the pavilion as the rain once again fell in the dark.

Push 8: The Push to Hampton, TN and Boots Off Hostel

Push 8 would see LoGear deciding to get off trail.  She was missing her girls too much and couldn't throw off the pain of not seeing them and talking to them in person.  Luckily an Angel was nearby and would be instrumental in getting LoGear off trail, to a bus station and on her way home.  It would take six days to cover the 84.3 miles, even with the detour to Johnson City and the bus terminal.  

Day 33 - 8.4 miles - Indian Grave Gap - Johnson City, TN
Day 34 - 13.1 miles - Apple Orchard campsite
Day 35 - 18.4 miles - Stan Murray Shelter
Day 36 - 11.1 miles - Mountain Harbour Hostel
Day 37 - 16.7 miles - Campsite by Streams
Day 38 - 16.6 miles - Hampton, TN - Boots Off Hostel

We headed out of Erwin and once again crossed an angry river and climbed up out of the valley.  I could tell that LoGear wasn't have a good day.  She walked along silently and it seemed that she was taking no joy in the day's hike.  When we stopped for lunch, I asked her if she wanted to go home and she said yes.

Now, my Sprint phone has been pretty barless most times I took it out of airplane mode, but when I did this time, I surprisingly had some good signal.  I sent a quick text to Miss Janet, a famous (on the trail) Trail Angel who lives in Erwin but spends a lot of time up and down the trail.  I told here where we were and asked if she could help in any way.  She quickly replied back that she would be at the next gap we would be hitting in about an hour.

We hiked down the mountain to the gap and took a rest.  A woman named Kay who was helping her friend do some slack packing drove up shortly after and we had some good conversation.  Before too long, Miss Janet pulls up and we were off to Johnson City, TN, but first we had to pick up a couple hikers over the next mountain who she would be driving up to Damascus later.

We went to an AYCE Chinese place in Johnson City which happened to be next to an Econo Lodge, so after filling our bellies and taking the obligitory picture with the trail legend, we went over and checked in for the night.  

Miss Janet, Tang, Professor, JFK, LoGear and EarthTone

The next morning, we took an Uber over to the bus station and before I knew it, LoGear was stepping on the bus and I was now a solo hiker.  Miss Janet came by not too long after and whisked me back to the gap where we got off.  I remember standing there at the parking lot for about five minutes, with my pack on, but feeling that I was forgetting something.  After a few minutes I realized that it was LoGear.  I now had no one to annoy by saying "These mountains aren't going to climb themselves".  I felt a little disjointed, but was also a little excited.  I thought it would be easier now as a solo.  I only had to make my plans with myself.  I thought that a lot of my worries were now relieved.  No more worrying if Home Base (Brandi) would be having any problems taking care of the house.  No more worrying about LoGear missing her babies.  Just me and the Trail.

That night I set up camp at an old apple orchard.  I was well away from the trail and close to the water source.  Another couple camped nearby, so I wasn't completely alone in the "wilderness".

After this detour and the semi-short day, I was ready for another long day.  As the day went on, I was feeling a little down.  I was missing my bride already.  It was strange to look up ahead on the trail and not see her moving along in front of me.  

Today, the big climb of the day was up Roan High Knob.  It was a pretty impressive mountain and I enjoyed exploring the spot where an old hotel used to be.  After coming down from the knob, I climbed over two balds where you could see the trail for miles.  It was pretty cool being able to see where you will be in about 2 miles or so.  

Roan High Knob

I could see for miles and miles

At the shelter, after the long 18.4 mile day, I had a little shot of whiskey that Coach, a hiker I had passed earlier in the day who carries a flask, offered. I retired to my hammock.  I saw General Hendricks, Early Bird and Worm come through, but they were heading to the large barn, Overmountain Shelter that was another 1.9 away.  

Climbing up from Overmountain Shelter

Day four of the Push was a fairly easy 11.1 miles to a nice Hostel close to the trail.  On the way there, I crossed another two balds that also had some good views and the need to wear sunscreen.  They were Little Hump and Hump Mountains.  I had some good signal up on the balds and sent LoGear a Happy Birthday text.

Humping Mountains

On this day, I finally left North Carolina for the last time.  I also was able to hike what they call 10 before 12, which is ten miles before Noon.  I have done that before in the past on my Section hikes, but this was the first time I did it on the Quest.

Finally leaving NC for the last time

I arrived at the Hostel and the bunkhouse was all booked up with a group that would be hiking over Roan Mountain with a guide.  It was all good as they had ample camping space, which was cheaper and let me retain my sleeping outside mode that being an Outsider requires.  This place is famous for its breakfast, so I made plans to indulge myself the next morning.

Excellent campsite at Mountain Harbour Hostel

The breakfast delivered as advertised and I headed back to the trail with a super full belly.  I had been seeing a woman hiker pass me from time to time over the last couple of days a after talking to her, she knew who I was.  She was Kay's friend, Arachne, who was finishing up her hike from the year before.  

Excellent breakfast at Mountain Harbour Hostel

The next day's hike had another accomplishment of passing the 400 mile mark.  I saw three different 400 markers.  Just like up by the Halfway point, this point moves with the trail's living growth.  Jones Falls was a pretty impressive waterfall and lunch was next to the lazily flowing Elk River.  That night's camp was just a small campsite near several stream crossings.  

400 miles done

I finished up the Push with another 16+ mile day to get to the Boots Off Hostel which is very close to the trail near Watauga Lake.  On the way there I had lunch by another impressive waterfall, Laurel Falls.  The climb down into that river valley and back out was a bear, but the falls made it worth it.  

Laurel Falls

When I arrived at the Hostel, Early Bird and Worm were there and were staying the night.  I had thought that they would just blow past me and I wouldn't see them again, but they had slowed their pace a bit due to some sore feet.  Once again I was able to set up in the nearby woods for a great price and the Hosel was awesome.  After a pizza which I purchased and a free beer that was left in the Fridge from some prior guest, we all took the shuttle into town for some resupply, beer and McDonalds.  

Signs as you approach Boots Off Hostel

That night Jim, the owner of the Hostel and his family lit a nice bon fire that we all sat around and enjoyed.  They made S'mores, which I didn't partake, since I don't like the sticky marshmallows and I took some good natured flack for it from one of the other hikers staying there, but it was an awesome time and we stayed up way past hiker midnight. 

The Hostel had a little challenge they do in partnership with a Hostel in Damascus.  They had a five pound Gnome statue named Kevin, that, if you carry it the 42 miles to the Broken Fiddle Hostel in Damascus, VA, you receive a free night in the Hostel.  Early Bird took up the challenge.  

Kevin fuels up for his next adventure

Push 9: The Push to Damascus, VA and Crazy Larry's Hostel

When I started this Push, I didn't know it would be the last of this Phase of the Quest, but I was starting to get an idea that it might be.  I was starting to resent the miles I had to walk each day.  It was starting to feel a lot like a job where your only task is to walk X number of miles each day.  The work day isn't over until the miles are walked.  I didn't like this.  

It started to become tiresome.  I would check my watch and figure how many more miles and hours I needed to walk before the "workday" was over and it would make me unhappy.  I started foregoing breaks, because if I took a break, I wasn't walking and that was making my work day longer.  My mind started asking me if this is what I want to do for the next four months or so.  

After a while the answer became no.  I started thinking of other things I wanted to do, like walk my dog, go to the beach for a bit, watch my tv shows and play on my computer.  That inner voice can really become a bitch sometimes and as I walked along, it's voice became louder and louder. 

This final Push of Phase I of Pamola's Quest would take three days and would be 42.2 miles.  My total AT mileage walked on this Quest would be 469.2 miles in 41 days.

Day 39 - 15.9 miles - Iron Mountain Shelter
Day 40 - 15.9 miles - Abingdon Gap Shelter
Day 41 - 10.4 miles - Damascus, VA - Crazy Larry's Hostel
Day 42 - Zero - One more day of rest before heading home for a break

I headed out first the next morning, forgetting my plastic ground cloth that I had set out to dry, but as far as leaving gear behind, this wasn't a big deal.  

This day's hike would take me along the very large Watauga Lake for most of the day.  As I gained elevation, I kept seeing more of the lake.  After a lonely day of just walking, where I saw pretty much no one and no one passed me, I arrived at the shelter, with sore feet and a low mood.  I thought for sure the Boys would pass me during the day, but I was all set up and just finished with dinner when they arrived.  

A Hiker from Canada, named Thomas came through.  He was out of food and still 26 miles from Damascus, so we gave him some of our extra stuff to help him out.  Gazelle also came in for dinner then continued on.  She is quite the fast hiker and her pack is the size of a book bag.  

The next day was basically more of the same, with an interesting twist or two.  Along the way you pass through some active pasture and I got to walk through the middle of a cow herd.  The young ones start to approach you, maybe thinking you have something to offer them, then they get skittish and move off.  It was cool.  


When I arrived at the shelter, I was pretty sure that Damascus would be the stopping point for this Phase of the Quest.  I was ready to take a break and do some other things, but was pretty sure that, before too long, I would be back on the trail somewhere, walking more miles of the Quest.  

When we were hanging out at the shelter making dinner, two German hikers came in. Blitz and Grams.  Grams is an ultra light hiker whose pack was smaller than Early Birds food bag.  Blitz is an interesting guy who I got to know better in Damascus.  

Blitz and Grams.  The white bag is Early Birds food bag, the book bag is Grams' pack.

After a decent night with a little morning rain falling, I headed out to do the last miles into Damascus.  It was time to finish Tennessee, my third state of the Quest.  

Just before reaching the TN/VA sign, the Boys caught up and we celebrated finishing another state then did some fast trail where I was able to keep up with them, but I knew this was something I couldn't do for a long time.  I decided to get some water at the last source before town and the Boys moved on.  

It's the Early Bird that catches the Worm

A slimmer me...

I arrived in town just before Noon, with sprinkles in the air.  I walked to the Post Office and picked up the package that LoGear had sent.  

Damascus, VA

I called Crazy Larry's to see if they had space and he said yes.  When I got there, something was going on.  It was about General Hendrix and some Hostel owner from down south talking shit about him and credit card fraud and some such.  No one believed it and it turned out to be all bull shit.  The General is an awesome dude who is Never in a bad mood.  He actually brushed off this incident with his usual good humor.  I lost a lot of respect for Zen of Gooder Grove, and all of it went to The General and his awesome attitude.  

After that dust settled, I settled into my bunk, with Blitz up above me.  I got my laundry ready and found a funny shirt to wear from their hiker box supply.  The Boys wanted to go out to dinner so we headed to a place about .5 away for a nice meal.  When we came out, it was pouring again.  I had my rain jacket with me, but was still pretty wet when I got back to the Hostel.  It was all good, because I was sleeping indoors that night and my clothes would all be dry in the morning.

Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy

Later, I went and got a six pack and went over to the Broken Fiddle where the Boys were staying and shared some with them.  All the other Hostels have adopted a no drinking rule, (most likely due to bad hiker behavior) except the Broken Fiddle, so that is where you go if you want to indulge.  It is a really laid back place.  Early Bird had safely delivered Kevin to the Hostel and was enjoying his free bunk for the night.  

The next morning, I had all day until I would take a shuttle to Marion, VA and after another night in a Hotel, board my bus (the same route that LoGear took) that would take me back home for a break.  

Hanging out on Crazy Larry's porch

It was funny, but I felt a strong urge to walk while I was waiting for the day to pass.  Most of the hikers who had come to town that day or the one before were heading out and it was a strange feeling to not be heading out myself.  I walked to the Food City just to buy some chocolate milk, pretzels and deodorant.  I later walked down to the local Mexican place for some lunch and a beer or two.  

After a while, Barb, my shuttle driver drove up and we were off to Marion.  I checked into my room and got my pack ready for a bus ride.  I went out to some nearby stores and got some beer and the ingredients to make a McGangBang, which Early Bird had taught me to make.  It is basically a McDouble and McChicken put together to make one sandwich.  It is cheap and tasty.  

Walking to the bus station (actually just a desk at the back of an AC and R shop) I saw a hiker in front of me who disappeared into the McDonalds.  Later he arrived at the bus stop.  He was Poco and was getting off trail to go to a wedding.  We compared notes on who we knew from the Trail and he transferred at the first stop along the way.  

I had downloaded a book on tape for the ride home and that was how I spent that day.  Sitting in a bus seat and listening to Mrs Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children.  It's funny.  I just realized that a hiker named Peregrine drove LoGear and I to the trail and a woman named Peregrine accompanied me home from the trail.  Interesting...

It was dark as the bus pulled into the station in Baltimore.  LoGear was there waiting for me and that night, I slept in my own bed again.  Of course I dreamed about the trail and walking all night.  

What's Next

We spent the next 30 zero days doing the things that I started thinking about when I was walking all day.  I opened the pool and tended my small garden. I watched my TV shows and walked Ginger in the nearby woods.  Each time I entered the woods, I would feel at home once again.  We went down to Cape May for several days, just to enjoy a different kind of environment.  We spent time with our daughters and had some quality time with the grand doggy when we watched her for a few days.  Things were almost back to "normal".  We even bought tickets for a Tom Petty concert at the end of July.

Laying in my hammock at home in the back yard.  

One thing neither of us did was go back to work.  It wasn't too long before we started talking about getting back onto the trail.  We were missing our Tramily and the trail itself.  The memory of the constant pain had faded enough that we wanted to get back out there.

We decided to get back on at a point that would be comparable to where we would be if we continued hiking.  That 392 miles (510 for LoGear) that we were skipping for now, would be made up later.  Either in the Fall or maybe next spring.  We would head back to Rockfish Gap and hike Shenandoah.  

Once we completed that 107 miles, we would come home again.  LoGear wants to spend some more time with her sisters and father down the shore and we have that concert to go to now.  I plan on doing some traveling around first in NJ, then in PA near the A.T. Museum, my old stomping grounds.  I hope to provide a little trail magic when I am up there and hope to see those I have hiked with on this Quest.

After the concert, we will head back to the trail in PA.  We will head to Lehigh Gap where we will continue through to the end of PA and beyond.  We will have about three weeks or so to get as far north as we can. Hopefully into CT or even MA.  

Once we come home again at the end of Aug, we will decide where to go to next for our final Pushes of the season.  

I think I am going to become one of those people who works a bit in the late fall and winter and heads out hiking and boondocking in the spring and summer.  Seems like a great way to do the things we love and meet the best people in the world, Hikers.

Stay tuned.  The Quest continues.

EarthTone and LoGear