Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A vacation from our vacation. We cooked our last Knorr Side, broccoli cheddar rice, on the side of the road at the intersection of the Appalachian Trail and U.S. 52. Fourty-eight days and 584 miles after beginning our trek, we'd managed to land at this junction within two hours of our desired rendezvous time. Proud of ourselves for executing our plans so flawlessly, we sat in the shade refusing offers to hitch into town. We had our own, special hitch on the way. And lo, just as anticipated, a shiny black Toyota, filled to the brim and piloted by two smiling, sunglassed figures, pulled up the dusty gravel drive right on time. Lots of hugging ensued. For a brief moment, our on-trail lives and off-trail lives converged. We took pictures, walked a few yards of the trail. Then we dashed for the air conditioning. (For those of you born after 1987: why is it that whenever I try to be pithy in a blog post I sound like I'm writing a xanga entry about how much I love the lineup on TGIF?)

Anywho. The Goodriches were kind enough to meet us near Bland, VA (real name, I promise) and whisk us away to Duck, NC where Caroline Goodrich and Andrew Ornee are getting married (if either of you are reading this post after the wedding, congrats guys!). We're honored to be here to share in the celebration and grateful to have a beach vacation within our mountain vacation. I guess it's kinda like this.

We'll be spending days 49-55 visiting, eating chocolate frogs and fizzing whizzbees (thanks Mom and Dani), and washing everything we own. Looking forward to a rejuvenating respite. Despite the change of scenery and the easier terrain, many hikers suffer from the "Virginia blues" during this portion of the trail. We're feeling lucky to have 100+ miles of the state under our belts and a chance to refocus after this week off. When we return, we'll be carrying less weight (bye-bye winter gear) and hopefully rejoining some of our friends who we'd gotten ahead of.

By far the biggest highlight of the past week was our day and a half in the Grayson Highlands. If you live in south-central Virginia and haven't had the chance to visit this state park, please add it to your "must list." Imagine you're on the set of The Sound
of Music, add in a few dozen feral ponies and you'll have it.

Here's what we've done since Damascus:

Day 41
Damascus, VA to Lost Mountain Shelter (15.8 miles)

Sure feels good to be back on the trail. We love our off days but start to get antsy after too long. Ate some vegan jerky with lunch today that was absolutely delicious--really hit the spot.

Day 42
Lost Mountain Shelter to Thomas Knob Shelter (12.2 miles)

Dramatic weather! Last night at Lost Mountain was particularly serene and this morning was no different. As we set off to climb White Top and Mt. Rodgers, we were backed by birds chirping beneath blue skies. Soon, however, the sky began to turn hazy, then gray. Exasperated, we tried to hurry to the shelter, but it was out of reach. Buckets of water and tiny bits of hail drenched us to the bone. Within minutes the trail became a river. Mountain weather, you are fickle! Post-storm, however, the landscape opened up into something akin to the Swiss Alps. A stranger shouted, "Dudes! There's like 10 wild ponies over here!," a
lerting us to the presence of a great photo op. We spent the night (and weathered another storm) safe under the tin roof of Thomas Knob Shelter with some snoring firemen and some loquacious day-hikers. Oh, and in case you're keeping tabs or planning a hike yourself, Thomas Knob is up there in the Top 5 shelters with amazing views.
Day 43
Thomas Knob Shelter to Hurricane Mountain Shelter (16 miles)

A perfect day. The trail was even-tempered and well-graded. The skies were forgiving (save a bit off noontime heat), and the natural world was full of light. We ran into our second group of ponies right off the bat, and they were eager to interact with us. One licked, then nipped Lara's leg, but it was all in good fun. We found a glorious spot for lunch--a single, shady tree amidst miles of mountain grasslands near the 500-mile mark. One of our favorite days yet.

Day 44
Hurricane Mountain Shelter to Partnership Shelter (19.7 miles)

After an uneventful 19.7 mile hike we arrived at Partnership Shelter, adjacent to the Mount Rogers Recreation Area headquarters. Called "the Taj" by thru-hikers, this shelter has a built in shower and acts as nearby phone from which you can order pizza. We dug the place, but weren't fans of how crowded it was.

Day 45
Partnership Shelter to Davis Path Campsite (14.3 miles)

After 11 miles in the morning, we decided to stop in at "The Barn" restaurant for lunch near Atkins, VA where the trail crosses I-81. Our waitress, Carol, revealed at the end of our meal that she was a three-time thru-hiker and encouraged us to stay and wait out the oncoming thunderstorm. We took our sweet time, resupplying at the nearby Exxon station, drinking coffee and chatting with other hikers. Hours passed, but no rain fell. Sure enough, though, just as we decided to take a chance and leave, ominously dark clouds rolled in. We turned right back around, sat back down in the restaurant and waited out the downpour. Made it to camp during a window long enough to set up our tent and stay dry.

Day 46
Davis Path Campsite to Knot Maul Branch Shelter (11.3 miles)

This day may go down as one of our hardest, even though it was technically on the easy end. We had planned an 11.3 mile day--kids' stuff compared to what we've done by now. Unfortunately, we underestimated our reliance on our morning coffee and were feeling sluggish without it. (Zack felt doubly lethargic after getting a worrisome bug bite and deciding to take a Benadryl at 9:00 in the morning.) Our short days always seem to feel the longest. Maybe it was just the week catching up with us, but we crashed as soon as we arrived in camp. The day was not without enjoyment, however. An especially outgoing bunny visited us several times as we ate dinner. It was obvious he'd been fed by other hikers. Mixed feelings about that, but happy to have a cute critter around nonetheless.

Day 47
Knot Maul Branch Shelter to Jenkins Shelter (19 miles)

Climbed a big'un to the top of Chestnut Knob this morning, where we had lunch in an
old fire warden's cabin. An afternoon that looked tame on the elevation map turned out to be nothing close to easy, and we wiggled our way over rocks and gnarly roots. Thankful to have have a hiking partner on these hot Virginia days. Encouragement is where it's at.

Day 48
Jenkins Shelter to U.S. 21/52 (11.7 miles)

Left camp at 7:00 this morning and flew to our meet-up spot. Dinner in Chapel Hill--delicious pizza and salad. Craig and Andie G. even let me drive (an honest thrill after 7 weeks of traveling no faster than 3.5 miles an hour). Looking forward to a week's worth of sleeping in a real bed.

Love you guys,
Zack (and Lara)

PS - We finally added little pictures to the previous blog post, so check them out! (Also, Lara wants you to know it's OK if you don't get the "xanga" reference. She doesn't either.)

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