I did have dessert first tonight!
Jim met me at the Dairy Queen when I ended this section at
I-81. It's a popular spot with thru-hikers, especially on a warm day.
Even though it was cool, breezy, and wet most of the day, I had ice cream on
my mind for eight hours. That chocolate shake sure tasted good!
I didn't have very high expectations for today, based on my perusal of the AT
guide and maps. There weren't any spectacular views like yesterday, or
interesting geological features. This section was basically a means to an end.
It turned out to be nicer than I expected.
It was in the low 50s and foggy/misty at 8:15 AM when I started the first
climb. I really liked the cool temperature and breezes. I've been lucky so far
with the weather: mostly cool, sunny days. This was only the fourth day
with rain, I believe. I'll take this over hot and muggy any day.
I couldn't see into the distance much because of the fog, but I was pleased
to find a large area of bright rhododendrons, mountain laurels, and flame
azaleas blooming a little bit up the trail. I would come to these floral
treasures several times during the day, and every time I'd smile because the
flowers were so riotous and beautiful. The rhodos grew in large bunches, but the
azaleas were always solo.
Within a few miles I popped out of the woods into the first meadow of the
day. I had to side-step several really big cow patties. Hmm. Yesterday it was
horse poop, today it's cow pies . . .
As I ran down the hilly pasture and made a sharp right turn, I was face to
face with about ten cows. I slowed to a walk and started taking photos of some
of them. They all just stared except the one above, who came over to inspect me
more closely. She didn't lick me like the pony yesterday, but she did let me pat
I'm a sucker for animals.
Later on, a southbound (SOBO) hiker warned me about some wild pigs on the
ridge I was heading for. They were right in the Trail and he had to skirt around
I've seen wild boars on the Duncan Ridge Trail in north Georgia before. They
just ran when they saw me, so I wasn't afraid when the hiker told me about these
pigs. It did wake me up, though - I was interested in seeing them. When I got to
the top of the ridge, I could see where they had been foraging around in the
leaves, but I never saw the pigs. Phooey.
I made pretty good time the first ten miles, then the Trail turned more and
more rocky. I went from being optimistic that I'd beat Jim to the pick-up point
to realizing I'd be late again. I probably ran about 35% of the distance today.
I averaged an 18+ minute pace per mile, better than some days. That time
included taking photos and stopping at a shelter for about fifteen minutes. There
were more climbs than descents. None were steep, just long.
It's so much easier on my mind and body when I don't have to think so hard
about every foot plant. On top of Brushy Mountain and some of the other spiny
ridges today, the rocks were pointing at such sharp, varied angles that it was
difficult to find a flat place to land. I was happy later in the run to have
more soft forest paths and grassy fields to run through so my feet could get a
break. I slid around a little more in the Vitesse shoes today, but appreciated
There were more road crossings today than ever. Most were deserted little
dirt forest service roads, but I nearly got run over on busy US 16 two thirds of
the way through the run. Sure could use some of those roads in the Smokies and
the Hundred-Mile Wilderness in Maine, where road crossings are few and far
The only shelter I visited today was the very attractive Partnership Shelter,
shown above. It's located in the woods behind the equally attractive Mt. Rogers
National Recreation Area office building and visitor center on US 16. The AT
guide says this shelter holds sixteen people. No way! They'd have to be very
close friends. I expected to see a loft, but
there wasn't one.
This is the second nicest shelter and privy I've seen so far (the Fontana
Hilton wins my top vote). It's also one of the few requiring reservations; the
shelters in the Smokies also have to be reserved ahead of time.
As I was eating a harvest muffin and reading the trail register, one
of the forest service employees came by looking for someone. He's a paid section
leader of the Konnarock crew, which I've read about. They work with volunteers
on the more difficult Trail projects, like building shelters and major
relocations that take several days or weeks to complete. There are several of
these paid crew leaders up and down the Trail to assist the thirty local
volunteer groups who maintain it.
It's amazing how much work is done to keep the Trail open to anyone who wants
to use it!
WHAT'S A MUFFIN'S HALF-LIFE?
Speaking of those harvest muffins (see Prep #17 for the recipe), I want you
to know how well they keep - almost as long as fruitcake, only they taste a
whole lot better!
I made four dozen of them before we left home on April 28. I froze them at
home but didn't have room in the camper freezer for very many bags. So most of
them have been in the refrigerator for, uh, almost five weeks now.
They still taste great! There is so much fruit in them that they are moist
and just as tasty as when they were made. I thought the fat and protein would
have gone bad by now, but the muffins aren't furry yet and haven't made me sick,
so I'm still eating them.
If you make some, be sure to keep them either frozen or refrigerated. I know
they'd be furry by now if they hadn't been kept cold.
I by-passed the last shelter today even though I was curious to see when
Warren Doyle's "AT Expedition" had been through. I could smell the marijuana
before I even saw the shelter! Six or seven hikers were crowded inside, trying
to stay dry (it rained lightly off and on the whole day, but by then it was a
I said hi from the Trail and kept on running. I just wanted to be done.
I had planned to pay a short visit to the Settlers' Museum of SW Virginia
when I went by it about three miles from my destination. However, it was raining
and I was late, so I ran on by it, too. Hikers are allowed to tour the museum,
visitors' center, functioning 1890-era farm, and 1894 school for free.
Volunteers wearing period clothing staff the farm. It sounds similar to Explore
Park near Roanoke, where Jim and I like to run.
BACK TO REALITY
Some days I'm ambivalent about finishing my run. I enjoy the peaceful forest,
and I'm reluctant to return to civilization. The transition is made easier when
Jim picks me up at fairly remote locations and we go directly to our campground,
usually in a quiet national forest.
Today, I could hear the cacophony of traffic on truck-intensive I-81 over a
mile before the end. I knew it was coming, but it still shattered the calm
feeling I had all day. I just hate crossing over or under busy roads, especially
freeways. This won't be the last time.
I wound around the last hill and through a wet field, then came to a railroad
crossing with an interesting history. During the Civil War, this rail line down
the New River Valley was a crucial Rebel supply link between the Confederate
heartland and Lynchburg, VA. Numerous Union raids were launched against it and
nearby salt and lead mines.
Confederate General Robert E. Lee's retreating forces were hoping to reach
Lynchburg and escape west on the railroad when they were hemmed in and defeated
at Appomattox, VA, in 1865.
I remembered reading this as I listened to make sure no modern trains were
approaching to run me down. I crossed the tracks, walked up and over another
grassy hill, and ran down to the freeway and the world's best crew person.
Then I got my milkshake at Dairy Queen. Yum!
Jim moved the camper to another nice national forest campground today that is
centrally located for the next few days. We have lousy cell connections again,
so journal entries and responses to e-mail letters will be slow. I am so
grateful to all who have written expressing support and encouragement. We're
trying to respond to everyone as quickly as possible. Thanks so much!