Damascus to Pearisburg
Southwest Virginia

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The journal of Andy Linger ... thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in 1997

Back to May 21

May 22—The Place; Damascus, VA (Day 40 ~ milepoint 450.3)
Today turned out to be very interesting. The first 10 miles or so were great. The terrain was level, and the weather was cool and sunny. The next 8 miles I became very weak and tired. On the bright side, I finally reached Virginia! After what seemed like forever hiking through Tennessee and North Carolina, it's nice to be in another state (although Virginia will take forever). I lost my appetite, although I was still scarfing down food and water. I finally made it to Damascus and went to the hostel which was a house run by the local church. That evening I met up with Meltdown, Ladder, Hair Bear, Shaman, Rambleon, Pippi, and a bunch of other hikers. We decided to have a cookout with greasy cheeseburgers, steak and all the fixins. I wolfed down about 5 burgers, chips, and everything else on the table until my stomach felt like it was going to explode. About an hour later I went inside to try and take a 20 minute nap. I couldn't fall asleep but 15 minutes later I started to get really cold. I started shivering and then it got out of control. I got in my sleeping bag and zipped it up. It was probably 100 degrees in the bag, yet I was still shivering. I got up to get some water, and as I filled up my water bottle my hand started to shake uncontrollably. The other hikers said some were getting the 24 hour virus, the flu, and many other wonderful illnesses on the trail. I was hoping it was just from the fact that I hadn't gotten much sleep the last few nights (from the mice) along with pushing myself to do the last 8 miles while I was fatigued, or of course the burgers. Well, I guess I'll have to wait until tomorrow to see how I feel.—Andy

May 23—Saunders Shelter (Day 41 ~ milepoint 459.7)
Today I feel much better, although again I didn't sleep really well because of all the people stomping around and making noise. I still feel a little fatigued, but nothing like last night. I left for the trail around 2:30, and struggled to make it up the easy switchbacks to the top of Straight Mountain. I arrived at the shelter where I met up with Keebler Elf and Weeble, who I've seen on and off since Fontana Dam. I also met Rockdancer, another journal participant. It was a beautiful night, and I was tempted to go out to the bald and sleep under the full moon. However, I knew I wouldn't get much rest doing that so I stayed in the shelter.—Andy

May 24—Lost Mountain Shelter (Day 42 ~ milepoint 466.1)
My appetite is zero, and my energy level is zero. Only made it 6.4 miles to the next shelter, my smallest mileage yet. Usually for breakfast I'll down a couple Pop Tarts and 1/2 to 3/4 quart of raw oatmeal mixed with some hot cocoa powder. Today it was just a Pop Tart for breakfast and a half quart of gorp for lunch. Scarfing down the Tuna Helper for dinner which is usally a very easy task wasn't today. I'm hoping whatever has caused the appetite loss doesn't get worse. It may even be what Wingfoot refers to as the "Virginia Blues" (a condition where the body is at a low ebb, both physically and mentally, as it is undergoing major physiological changes about six to eight weeks into a thru-hike to cope with the day after day stress of long-distance hiking). Pippi thinks it's Romanian Rumpus Rash, and Icebox thinks it's Bulgarian Butt Fungus. Whatever it is, I know it won't last long. I just want to make sure I keep my mileage low and give my body a chance to recover.—Andy

May 25—Lost Mountain Shelter (Day 43 ~ milepoint 466.1)
Looks like I'm going to spent another night here. I haven't gotten sick or felt nauseous since this whole episode started, but my appetite and hence my energy level continue to remain very low. I figured a hike free day along with some extra sleep and rest would offer me a good chance of recovery (plus the fact there's a medical center a few miles away in case my condition got a lot worse). Two or 3 dozen people have passed through here during the day, and most were day hikers escaping the on and off rain that hit in the afternoon. Four of us plus Jackie, the dog, ended up in the shelter that afternoon, including One Ramp and a couple of weekend hikers. Part of today's trail talk consisted of foods to eat on the trail. I think this is the push that gave me the desire for dinner. It was a very quiet evening, except for the occasional very loud kraaack! and bang! on the roof from the trees above. We started an investigation into the matter and found it to be only small twigs hitting the metal roof - not big acorns or branches!—Andy

May 26—Thomas Knob Shelter (Day 44 ~ milepoint 478.3)
I got a late start this morning, not eager to start my day off in the heavy rains. At around 10 a.m. I tried something new. I've been carrying a stupid umbrella with me since Springer, and have yet to use it. While at home, I made some modifications to it - ripped off the handle, cut and rearranged the metal rods, and added some closed cell foam to pad my pack from the metal rods. Well, today I finally got to use it. I threw all my stuff in my pack, put the rain cover on, forced myself to eat a little food, plopped the umbrella on my pack, and got ready to head out. Of course, by then the rain had stopped, a mixed blessing for me. After the first hour of hiking the rain came back, and I threw the umbrella back up. It worked great! During the downpours, I stayed dry, even with my cotton t-shirt on (the fact that I'm carrying a stupid 2-piece rain suit is starting to really bother me now - only worn it once so far). As I neared the summit of Whitetop Mountain the rain started to let off a little. The fog near the summit was very dense, making it hard to see. I knew the trail went around the mountain, skirting the summit. What I wasn't aware of though, it the fact that the trail crosses the bald. I took the umbrella down, knowing the winds would quickly tear it to shreads. Fortunately, the wind was at my back, blowing all the rain onto my rain cover for my pack instead of me. Then, the worst thing that could have happened to me did. All of a sudden, I felt the pool of water in the gaitors, and all over my feet. My socks were now soaking wet, and my boots were full of water. I was now hiking in the pouring rain, in shorts and a t-shirt, knowing my rain gear wouldn't do me a bit of good. As I squish squashed my way past Buzzard Rocks in total fog, I noticed the white blazes suddenly disappeared. As I continued on I saw grey paint smeared over the white blazes. I turned my head around and had no idea how far back the next white blaze was. I got to a road that leads to the summit and then the second worst thing that could have happened to me did. I lost the trail. I traveled down the road looking for anything that resembled a white blaze. I kept a sharp eye off to the left figuring the trail would end up there. After a couple more switchbacks on the road I noticed a faded white blaze off to the left. I headed towards it and followed it down the mountain. The blazes disappeared again, and I knew I was on the old trail. It suddenly veered left into the woods and I followed it. To my great relief, below the trail I saw a nice fat bright white blaze. On the old trail, a large tree was fallen across, and beyond that appeared to be a switchback. I headed down the hill to the new trail and went the opposite direction. I was relieved to be back on the trail again. About a quarter mile later the third worst thing that could have happened did. As I traveled down the mountain it crossed the road again. There was a little sign reading S<N. Arggghhh! I was heading in the wrong direction! I yelled out a couple of explatives, turned around, and squish squashed my way back up the trail. I noticed what I thought was a switchback on the old trail was instead a fork in the road. If I would have gotten ten feet closer, I wouldn't have headed in the wrong direction. At least the rain had started to let up a little. It was a light rain now, and the wind had died once I left the bald. The characteristics of the trail changed quickly. At the top it was muddy. During the descent there reached a point where I felt I wasn't hiking any more. Instead, I felt like I was whitewater rafting. The trail had turned into a raging river from the runoff, jumping right over the waterbars and straight down the trail. Heading up the trail, I was laughing to myself, thinking about all the wonderful things that have happened to me today! Considering this was the first day of real rain I've seen in a month and a half, I don't have too much to complain about. As I neared the summit of Mt. Rogers, I could hear the wind howling above. I knew I was now close. At 5 p.m. I arrived at the Thomas Knob Shelter. The first thing out of my mouth was a word about the trail relocation fiasco. Out of the other 9 people in the shelter, 6 also followed the wrong trail. I hope the weather clears up for tomorrow. The hiking is supposed to me some of the most spectacular on the whole southern AT.—Andy

May 27—Thomas Knob Shelter (Day 45 ~ milepoint 478.3)
The weather this morning is more of the same, windy and no visibility. I had the crazy idea of taking another day off so I could possibly see some views tomorrow. Well, that's what I did. Something inside me is always telling me to push on. However, this trip is supposed to be a once in a lifetime experience. I'm not in it to push myself to the limits, but instead I'm here for the challenge and adventure. That's what I need to keep telling myself. Being half a mile from the summit of Mt. Rogers, which is the highest point in the state with the longest AT mileage, I figured I'd climb it just to say I've been there. It doesn't offer any views anyways, but I had nothing else to do. The two weekend hikers spending the day here were amazed by the fact that a thru-hiker would spend a day off going hiking.—Andy

May 28—Old Orchard Shelter (Day 46 ~ milepoint 489.2)
This morning around 9:30 I started to hear noises from downstairs (this shelter has a loft). Everyone seemed to be ooohing and aaahing as a flash of sunlight would emit from the heavens. "Look, over there!" "And over there too!" "I think it's gonna come out of that blue patch there!" It seems like it has been weeks without sun. Everyone was so excited to see it again, especially after another 30 degree night. I was slow to get up this morning, waiting for those clouds to dissipate a little more. I'm really glad I decided to take the day off yesterday. I would have been hiking through the most spectacular section of Virginia in thick fog if I departed yesterday. I left the shelter in the howling wind and cold, but I was happy to have the weather clearing. The first few miles of hiking offered views of the valley and distant mountains, with the sunlight filtering through the clouds lighting up the ground with ribbons of light. The wild ponies that roam the surroundign landscape could be seen feeding or caring for their foals off in the distance. The trail then dropped into the valley, only to rise again to the Wilburn Ridge area. More great views of endless skies, 360 degrees of rock outcroppings, treeless ridges, and over a billion years of erosion and Mother Nature at work. The weather started to cloud up again, but fortunately it waited for me to see the views I waited 3 days for.—Andy

May 29—Trimpi Shelter (Day 47 ~ milepoint 503.6)
Today the weather was on & off, light rain. I spent much of the morning looking for a walking stick to replace the one that became 8" shorter from breaking in the mud. (I don't think I reported this but the one I had since day 3 in George finally died, it snapped in half during a desperate attempt to recover from tripping on a root). After looking at over a dozen possible replacements (hey, finding the right size, weight, shape, and color - okay, maybe color isn't so important - takes time), I finally found the right one. It had a funky moss growing on it at one end and a little wet from the rain, but it works. Off to Trimpi!—Andy

May 30—Chatfield Shelter (Day 48 ~ milepoint 521.1)
The sky was overcast this morning again. I stopped at the Mt. Rogers Visitors Center (the trail goes right through the place) for some lunch, water refill, and a rest. On the window, there was a 7 day forecast taped to it. Rain, thunderstorms, rain, thunderstorms, you get the point. The afternoon brought steady rain, but my umbrello-matic did it's job. Didn't need to wear rain gear, so I didn't need to worry about overheating (I know it will happen...I'll be hiking, not paying attention to the umbrella strapped onto my pack, and pass under some low-hanging rhododendrons which will rip the umbrella to shreds - all in a downpour). Arriving at the shelter in a downpour with only 2 people in it so far was a dream come true! I went back out to get water, then I didn't need to leave the shelter again. I downpoured outside while I had dinner and played cards with the other two in for the night.—Andy

May 31—Knot Maul Branch Shelter (Day 49 ~ milepoint 539.5)
Today I got lost again. Actually, not lost, but separated from the AT. Right before the trail nears the interstate, it travels over rolling pastures, from what I hear, there was a faded blaze mark heading off to the right. I went on the old trail which went straight. It eventually disappeared but I continued on because I could see the truckstop in the distance. I had to cross a good-sized stream, hop over a couple fences, bushwack through 4' high weeds, follow a railroad track to the road, and follow this to the truckstop. Three other hikers I talked to did the same thing. The truckstop lacked many hiker supplies, so I'm stuck with a loaf of bread instead of crackers, and one of my dinners will now need to consist of Vienna Sausage and sardines (tried them for the first time a couple weeks ago - not bad) sandwiches. After getting back on the trail I met with Shaman, Hook & Ladder, Hair Bear and Southpaw on the way. Southpaw was complaining about the extra dinners he was carrying. Bingo! We made a couple of trades and now I'm not stuck with sardine sandwiches for dinner any more! The shelter was busy tonight. There are 6 hikers and 3 dogs. Tonight seemed to be forgetful night as everyone asked each other where they left their stuff.—Andy

June 1—Chestnut Knob Shelter (Day 50 ~ milepoint 548.5)
The view of the sunset from the grassy bald atop the knob was spectacular. The towering cumulus clouds that dotted the horizon in every direction were lit up with a brilliant pink color. At the same time, lightening was visible off to the north in a distant thunderstorm. Tonight was definitely the best sunset I've seen so far. Leaving the shelter was difficult this morning. There was a steady rain when we woke up, and the idea of taking another day off for a "cribbage tournament" was floating around. As the rain subsided, so did that idea. Today also marked the 25% mark! As we reached this milestone, everyone let out a loud yell to celebrate. The weather improved, and the sun peeked through now and then (warming us a little too much) making the long climb up to Chestnut Ridge a wet one. The views up here were great. Mt. Rogers was clearly visible to the south, and Burke's Garden and the valley surrounding it was off to the other side.—Andy

June 2—Jenkins Shelter (Day 51 milepoint 558.4)
Left the shelter today with clouds and high humidity. As the day progressed, rain and thunderstorms developed, making the hike actually enjoyable, keeping us cool on the uphills. Shelter conversation this evening quickly became scary as subject matter switched from TV theme songs to 50 different uses for nose spray, to food combinations responsible for putrid flatulence. (One "outsider" in the shelter was getting frightened to the point of heading to the next shelter). At about 8 pm, Screaming Knee, Alien, Fire Marshall, and Flying Dutchman showed up after a 19.5 miler. The night ended well with no rain, clearing skies and a shelter with 7 hikers, including Globetrotter (another Trailplace journal participant), Summers Breeze, Hair Bear, Shaman, and Rubber Biscuit.—Andy

June 3—Helvey's Mill Shelter (Day 52 ~ milepoint 572.9)
I have some disturbing news to report today. The now imfamous food keg is in a serious state of disrepair. There are large stress fractures (okay, some cracks) all over it, and the duct tape repair work scattered all over the surface has failed to keep it mouseproof and waterproof. The constant whacking of the keg on shelter overhangs and tree branches is continuing to destroy what has been a major part of my life during the hike (no, really!). Other hikers are starting to tease me about the trail of food I'll leave when the cracks get bigger. Other than that, not much exciting happened today.—Andy

June 4—Grassy field behind Trent's Grocery (Day 53 ~ milepoint 589.4)
The weather today is a repeat of the last several days - cloudy. However, it's much cooler than the last few days. Last night, a couple of hikers were playing cards on the picnic table but quit when their hands got numb. If me and everyone else out here remembers correctly...IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE JUNE!!! The hiking was great today with the cloudy and cool temps, but the ridgelines are very rocky and starting to turn my feet into ground meat. We crossed a suspension bridge (built just for hikers!) over the river and headed down the road to a small grocery store. For $2 we got a hot shower and tenting space in an open field next to the store. The first thing we obviously did was to pig out on as much food as our wallets could handle. Me, along with Alien, Firewarden and Flying Dutchman were busy scarfing down a pint of ice cream, thinking about dinner plans (Screaming Knees was in town right now with screaming bowels). The weather actually cleared that evening, and I decided to sleep under the stars. I was being teased about this, even though I'd be the only one that wouldn't need to dry out a dew-covered tent, and I could spend the rest of the night in the trailer next to us if it started to rain. The shower felt great, now it's time to fall asleep under the nighttime sky.—Andy

June 5—Woodshole Hostel (Day 54 ~ milepoint 601.9)
This morning I put my sleeping bag on my pack, rolled up the ground cloth and smirked at everyone else while they waited for their wet tents to dry. The hike today was dotted with rocks and temporary relocations. The 15 miles we did seemed more like 22 miles. The stop for lunch didn't go much better. Since Pearisburg is less than a day away, food supplies were running low and we were scrambling to find something in our packs that didn't require cooking. Somehow we managed. The only thing on our minds right now was Woods Hole Hostel. We arrived at the hostel at about 4 pm after the 1/2 mile of hiking on the gravel road. We were greated with an old remodeled homestead tucked in the middle of nowhere. To the left was a view of open pastures on the ridge, and farms dotting the landscape in the valley below. Off to the right a stream bubbled its way through the yard. Straight ahead was home for the night. It was a remodeled barn with sleeping lofts upstairs, and space to lounge around downstairs. There were 9 of us there that night trying to enjoy the sun that occasionally poked through. The loft had a couple of lights, allowing us to play cards, write journals, read and rest our bodies. Tonight my mind was focused on Pearisburg!—Andy

June 6—Holy Family Hospice; Pearisburg, VA (Day 55 ~ milepoint 612.3)
The sky was dark again this morning at Woods Hole. Temps were in the upper 30's and we tramped into the farmhouse for breakfast. The breakfast consisted of eggs, grits, sausage and a pile of biscuits. Tille Wood, who runs the hostel, shared her stories on thru-hiker visits and our reasons for pursuing the adventure. The weather wasn't much warmer as we left, encouraging us to leave quickly and walk fast (not to mention that Pearisburg was calling). When we arrived in town, everyone went their own ways. Some went to the hotels, and some went to the hostel. I went to the Holy Family Hospice, which is a barn converted to a hostel with shower, bathroom, stove, refrigerator, microwave, library, penny scale, and sleeping loft. After unloading my stuff, I went into town to do laundry and get groceries. As usual, I bought way too much. The 2 pound pack of fat-loaded cookies for $1 was irresistable. Next, the generic noodles and sauce for .75 cents each were screaming buy me. Unfortunately, the whole grocery shopping experience went like this. When I got back to the hostel, my body was overcome with fear as I neared the scale with my food. I put my food bags on the scale, placed a penny in the slot (my hand shook as I did this), and sat motionless as the dial turned. When it stopped, I glanced at the window in panic. I screamed in horror as I saw the needle on the number 24. With this kind of weight, I would need to eat over 13,000 calories a day to use up my food supply by the time I reached the next town. Okay, I admit, I wasn't really screaming in horror. Freaking out at the junk food selection at the grocery store is perfectly normal for a thru-hiker. The hiker box (box for hikers to leave or take extra food and supplies) was quickly becoming full with everything from noodles to chili mix. Most of us stayed in for dinner that evening because of all the extra food we had purchased. I made enough to feed 5 people. It was dubbed the dog food surprise. It had canned tuna and chicken, Hamburger Helper (wihtout the hamburger), Lipton Skillet Rice & Alfredo, along with chicken flavored noodles. It looked like a strange concoction, but everyone who tried it liked it. No one even thought about stepping outside with the wind and cold that evening. We'll see what kind of weather tomorrow brings.—Andy

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