April 12, 2018
Destination: Davis Path Campsite at Mile 548.5 Today's Miles: 15
Start Location: Partnership Shelter Trip Miles: 548.50
I stirred in my bag just before sunrise. I was about 60% awake.
I turned over onto my left side. I am a side sleeper, and for much of the trip I have had to turn from my left to my right back to my left (and so on) because my hips start to ache when I am on one side too long. I think this is because my sleeping pad, while I love how easy it is to inflate, is rather thin and firm once inflated. I decided I would go back to a thicker, inflatable pad. I have an insulated winter one at home, so I decided to order a lighter weight summer one and have it shipped to Pearisburg. I need to pick up my new trekking poles there anyway, so that will work out well. I can’t wait to try it! I’m pretty sure that will fix the hip issue. I pulled my ear plugs out and could suddenly hear the early morning in full effect. A very loud bird was right outside the shelter singing “ pew pew PEW PEW PEW,” as if it was mimicking the sound of some old fashioned sci-fi ray gun. This bird was clearly really into this song and just kept at it. It must have been sitting in the outer eaves of the shelter, but it felt like it was sitting right on my head like Woody Woodpecker, shouting into my ear. I wish I knew what kind of bird it was. It motivated me to get going, so I got up and grabbed my food bag down out of the tree. It was sooooo heavy! Just trying to slowly work it down cut off the circulation to my hands. I went back to the front of the shelter where I had set my pack and sat on the steps to make breakfast. The sunrise was beautiful, and I enjoyed watching it as I set water to boil. A Robin hopped around camp, puffing his chest out like he was the mayor of Partnership Shelter. It was kind of hilarious. They should rename it Crazy Bird Shelter. I also spotted a Towhee - another bird and the first one I’ve seen on this trip. With the warm weather and lower elevations, the avian wildlife is looking a bit more diverse and familiar, though I’m hoping to see birds that I have not seen before.
Others started to wake - Rumi (correct spelling, not “Roomy” as I typed before) and Eddie Steady, Dimples, the Herpetologist. As the rest of the shelter came to life, we enjoyed some funny conversation and had a pretty lazy morning. I had a big breakfast of two oatmeal packets, brown sugar cinnamon pop tarts with Jif Cinnamon spooned on top (not as good as Jif Maple!), and a honeybun. Eddie Steady and Rumi live in Brooklyn. Eddie actually used to play saxophone in Stephen Colbert’s Late Show band - fun fact! There are so many really interesting people out here on the trail.
After breakfast, Dimples and MacGyver headed out and the rest of us went up to the visitor center. I wanted to have one last look at the exhibits, charge my phone while doing so, and watch a short video they had on Hellbenders. We went over, dropping remaining trash in the dumpster along the way - a real luxury!! It was bittersweet for me because every time I opened the dumpster, I saw my poor left trekking pole inside, crumpled and sad. Ironic fact - breakdown trekking poles experience the opposite of rigor mortis when they die! What was once straight and strong can suddenly flex...to its doom. The visitor center had a live hellbender in an aquarium there. It was cool to see it, but the aquarium was way too small. Hellbenders look like large salamanders with flattish heads and they have gills along the sides of their bodies. They eat things like crayfish and small minnows. They can only survive in pristine waters, such as mountain streams in forests that aren’t polluted by farm runoff, proximity of cities, or industry. They live under rocks, so even something as simple as moving rocks in mountain streams can impact their habitats. The visitor center also had scat and footprint ID exhibits. Eddie pulled up a picture of a bear footprint they saw in the snow back on hogback ridge, just 26 miles before Erwin. It looked just like the exhibit! I still have not seen a bear, but I really hope to.
When we got to the visitor center, Sauerkraut couldn’t find his electronics charger plug. He looked and looked and we checked the grass and road where we came back in from town last night, but it was gone. Finally he gave up and used mine to get a little more charge before we left. He had phoned Jim Sparks to see if he left it in his car. He had not, but Jim was awesome and said he would bring him one that he had in his drawer. Jim is pretty awesome!
We watched the video on hellbenders and then Eddie and Rumi headed out. I followed a bit after, and Sauerkraut hung back to meet Jim. Climbing out of the visitor center was lovely. It was a beautiful day and was good to be in shorts and a t-shirt, but still have a little crispness to the air. As I climbed up the ridge I got to a point where I had views on both sides. It was beautiful! I stopped to see if I might have a signal again, and I did. Virginia has been tough because AT&T signals are rare, and when I do get them they are usually when I’m hiking and trying to be in the moment. I hadn’t had a signal for a while and I wanted to do a few things, so I took off my pack and sat down. First, I texted my wife and a few folks. Then, I ordered a new sleeping pad and had it shipped to Pearisburg. I am hoping this one will be more comfortable on my hips. While I was doing these things, Sauerkraut rolled up and had to take care of a gear warranty issue of his own. It was weird to do online shopping from the trail, but hey - I had a rare signal and now I’ll have a new pad in Pearisburg.
Sauerkraut left the ecommerce trail way station before me, so when I was ready I hiked on alone. It was such a lovely day and I sang lots of songs. Eventually I arrived at Chatfield Shelter and saw Zane sitting there taking a break. I signed the register and we chatted for a few minutes, and then I hiked on. I ducked through rhododendron and then through some pine and eventually saw a house and a field on a trail to the right. I followed it as this was the site of an old 1890s farmhouse. They had the various structures labeled as to what their purpose had been, as well as some old machinery. I had thought that the settlers museum was at the same location, but after some confusion I realized it was just a little ways down the trail. I got back on the trail and continued on under some power lines that were buzzing intensely. It was kind of crazy, like they were radiating my entire body as I passed under them. I looked to the right where the power lines continued up the hill and saw a house under another huge transformer. It can’t be good to live under that!
Around the corner was the Lindamood schoolhouse. It was built in 1894 and used until 1937. Sauerkraut, Eddie and Rumi were on the porch and Zane arrived just ahead of me. We went inside and there were two rows of desks with a wood stove in the center of the room. The blackboard had a short history, and on a podium they had the original rules for teachers and the punishments for students for very specific things, along with the number of lashes they would get if they did each thing. It was all interesting and funny. How times have changed! I took a picture of them, but my favorite was the rule that if a teacher got shaved in a barber shop, it would put his integrity, worth and intention into question. Interesting....
Lindamood is famous for having trail magic, and it was locked and loaded today. They had three or four chests full of stuff in the back. One had cold soft drinks, another had snacks, another had staples and first aid supplies,etc. it was pretty amazing! It was definitely the most comprehensive trail magic I have seen yet. They had mugs root beer, so I jumped on that. I had some cookies and mini snickers. As we were feasting a girl drove up. Her name was Moxie, a previous thru hiker, and she was coming to check on the trail magic. We thanked her profusely and talked for a bit. After that we headed to the Settlers Museum just a short walk up the road. They had early settler recipe books with things like possum stew, and exhibits of farming tools. They had an old apple cider press that was cool. There was a lot of history on immigration into the area, particularly on the Scots-Irish.
I made a pit stop at the bathroom there because, well, it was an actual toilet and a sink with soap. Clean hands!!! Back at the schoolhouse Eddie, Rumi, and Sauerkraut were suiting up to go. I headed my pregnant pack on and we all headed out. There was a cool AT symbol painted on the rural road here as the trail marker leading into a meadow, so I snapped a photo of it. Next stop, Atkins!
The trail wandered through fields and open terrain, as well as thickets with thick brambles. I often wonder how birds can navigate those thickets so nimbly. They thrive in them, and I get that they are small birds, but it still impresses me. The trail doesn’t go through the heart of Atkins, but it passes by two gas stations (Sunoco and Exxon), as well as a restaurant called The Barn. We had been warned by a section hiker that a few people had recently gotten sick at the Barn, so we did not plan to go. Later we would hear from others who ate there with no issues. There is also a Mexican restaurant attached to Exxon, sort of like a truck stop cafe. Right before we got into Atkins we saw a guy just sitting in the bushes off of the trail. He was friendly enough, but it was a little weird and we weren’t sure what he was doing there. It was by no means a scenic point or a camp spot, or even much of a clearing at all.... 30 yards or so later the trail opened up to a road and we crossed it to get to Sunoco. We dropped our packs outside and went inside to refresh ourselves in the bathroom and get some snacks. I went to the bathroom and wasn’t sure if it was a single, so I opened the door carefully. The room was dark, so I pushed the door open, took one step towards the urinal, and heard a voice say “thank you.” After the semi weirdness with the guy in the bushes just outside of town, I almost jumped out of my skin. Then the guy kept talking and I realized he was in the stall. He said that the light had been off for about 5 minutes and started cursing about how he couldn’t even poop in peace there because the light just kept timing out on him. He had tried opening the stall door and waiving his hand, but the sensor was way out of reach. The whole thing ended up being kind of funny, though he was still mumbling when I left.
I grabbed some snacks - a Yoo-hoo, a spicy V8, peanut butter M&Ms, and a Mayfield ice cream sandwich. I paid for them and went outside to sit by my pack, but someone had parked a huge motorcycle in front of the packs and so I sat away from them on a bench on the other side of the shop entry door. I drank my Yoo-hoo and ate my ice cream sandwich. After all the trail magic and this, and the food from Marion yesterday, I was feeling good and a little sugared out. Sauerkraut came out and talked with the guy on the bike a bit, and the bike man took off. I went back over to the bags where Sauerkraut was as I tackled my V8. A truck pulled up as Eddie and Rumi walked out of the store and an older gentleman hopped out and let out a weird kind of cackley cry as he did so. It was sort of like “yeeeeheeaaaa.” Maybe. I’m not sure I am recreating it properly. It was weird. Anyway, he had this kind of crazy look in his eyes but he was friendly and immediately told us he had done the trail in ‘68. He started warning us about bears. I’ve found this to be a common topic with town locals - bears and weather. He had a cute little dog in the passenger seat that looked like some kind of terrier mix. He finally went in the store and as soon as he did the dog started barking at us. It was time to move on.
The trail through the outskirts of Atkins leaves Sunoco and heads up the road towards The Barn. We hung a left in front of an Exxon as the trail headed out of town. There was a Mexican restaurant in the Exxon. On another day I probably would have stopped to check that out, but today I’d had enough food for now, believe it or not! We pushed on as the trail crossed a highway exit and entrance ramp, and then wound back through brushy thickets into the woods. Everything around us seemed to be named Davis this and Davis that. We passed the Davis cemetery and then paused at a stream to get water. We decided to stay at a place called the Davis Path campsite, which was basically just a campsite right off the AT that had a privy. It was about the right distance for the day. There was no water there, so we stopped to gather all the water we would need and pack it out. We had some climbing left to do, but somehow I powered up the hills despite my bag full of food and carrying 3 liters of water. We got to the campsite and it was small, but perfect, and even had a picnic table. It only really has one level tenting spot though. The spot I chose was on a pitch, but I would make it work. We got ourselves set up and looked around for places to hang food. That was tough as well. The ridge behind us was steep, and it dropped off even steeper on the east side of the trail. I ended up climbing up the ridge to the west and found a tree up there. When I went back down I commented that we might get a good sunset view if we climbed to the top of the ridge, and so we decided to do that. We all brought snacks. I took a smoked salmon packet, avocado, hot sauce from Taco Bell, and Fritos (for some trail guac). It was an awesome sunset and we had fun eating and chatting while it made our day complete. Afterward, we climbed, slid and ran a little down the steep hill back to camp. We chatted about all sorts of stuff and really had a great time at camp. What we didn’t talk about was that we had passed the quarter way point, just shortly before the campsite at mile 547.7. I didn’t realize it until we saw a photographed an older quarter way sign the next day. We had completed one fourth of our journey, but in some ways the success of that manifested in the fact that we didn’t even mention it. We were living in the moment, and that is what I, for one, had come out here to do.
I had one last climb up the hill to get my food bag hung. It was so hard to lift the weight of it in the tree that I used my gloves to prevent rope burn. Oh well - I’ll definitely eat it! I scrambled down the hill and got in my tent. As I was getting situated, a small white spider crawled over my leg. It was so light that I couldn’t even feel it on my leg. I grabbed a tissue and squashed it. I felt kind of bad, but for any spider that looks like it could bite I kind of have an “if you’re in my tent and I can’t easily flick you out, the gloves are off and tissues are out” rule. I have two little side pockets in my tent and I usually put any night trash like that in them, then transfer it to my food trash bag in the morning when I get my bag down. I stashed it there for later, along with a tissue I blew my nose with to make sure I didn’t accidentally litter in the morning. The Big Dipper was shining bright above us. In the distance we heard a train passing through Atkins. All was right with the world.
#1 - thanks Eric for the correction via the guest book! Yes, the trash can and bathroom I mentioned in the Buzzard Rock to Mt. Rogers section should have been noted as at Elk Garden trailhead on Whitetop Road. Good catch! It’s hard to keep this stuff straight sometimes when I’m thinking back on the day with bleary eyes in my sleeping bag.