Thursday Oct 7th 2021, 0650-1830
War Spur Shelter to VA Rt 100– Pearisburg, SOBO AT mm 1556.1
6150 gain, 6900 loss
I slept perfectly through the night and woke to the sound of steady rain. It’s really hard to leave a warm, dry shelter for the rain and darkness, so I waited a little later to depart. All There was the first to leave around 6:30 am, so I hoped he’d scare away the coyotes. It was still too dark to see without a headlamp until 10 minutes after 7 am. What a dreary day. Thank goodness for the shelters on days like this. Rain for a week(s) on the AT is nothing new, and the shelter makers must have known this.
Some hikers will just wait out the weather in a shelter. But as the rain wasn’t supposed to let up until Sunday, I couldn’t wait for days. The agreement I’ve employed since New Zealand is that I’ll hike all day in the rain if there’s a dry roof over my head to look forward to. Today there was both a shelter in 25 miles and a town in 32… plenty of options. I would just see how it went.
I certainly wasn’t off to a great start. I woke with a migraine, so already I wasn’t feeling well. I took my last pill, praying that my envelope of more prescription medication arrived the hostel I’d had it sent to. The climb was steady, 2.5 miles to over 4000′. I quickly became drenched in sweat, even though I was wearing only my hiking dress. On top of that, the trail was very overgrown. This didn’t work well with my umbrella. At some point, I heard a popping noise and realized that the brella was suddenly lopsided. One of the stays had just snapped…a first that’s ever happened. Chock up another piece of gear destroyed by the AT. This trail’s a killer…both of me and my gear.
The umbrella was still somewhat functional but now had to be held, not just be clipped in. Annoying but at least I could still stay dry. I tried another arrangement this day, using my rain skirt as a pack cover. I’ve been finding that the pack leaks a little, which isn’t the worst since I have my stuff bagged inside. But since I haven’t been using the skirt (it’s been too hot and not heavy enough rain), I figured it would make a good pack cover. And it did, pretty much.
On top of the ridge, I started to cool down. The wind was blowing hard and the trail so overgrown that I became pretty soaked, regardless of the umbrella. I finally had to put my rain jacket on…might have been a first this whole trail. Then the rocks started…the kind that were so prevalent in Pennsylvania. Between the ducking and dodging of overhanging branches and weeds, some climbing over deadfall, and picking through slippery rocks, my pace slowed considerably. Up until this day, I’d been in love with the Virginia AT. Now we were having our first lover’s quarrel. I cursed the rough conditions and the trail ignored me, continuing to be crappy all day. At least the rain stopped for a bit.
I went down through another valley, allowing myself the reward of a parallel road walk for a mile or so. Thank god for these kinds of breaks. I contemplated a road walk all the way into town but decided that would be pushing the boundaries too much. Besides, the couple trucks that were on the road were speeding, making me a bit nervous as they passed. I swear, a few of them actually accelerated and swerved in as they approached me. I was ready to get back on the trail.
Another big climb to a ridge followed. The switchbacks were easy but up on top, the trail resumed its crappy overgrown and rocky nature. Is it any wonder, besides the guys at the shelter, I only saw 2 northbound backpackers all day. Around 1 pm, it started to rain hard again. I struggled with my frumpy umbrella and lamented that I still had 6 miles to go to the shelter. 2.5 hrs of shitty hiking. Well, at least the rain let up after 30 minutes and didn’t return the rest of the day.
Being the longest state (over 500 trail miles), and also only the 4th state that NOBOs come to, many hikers get what are called the Virginia Blues. It’s daunting for NOBOs, dealing with the oncoming heat of the summer, knowing they still have more than 2/3rds of the trail ahead, making slow miles over the rugged terrain. It takes many a month or more to get through just this one state. Some get the VA blues so bad they quit…I think that’s what happened to the author, Bill Bryson.
For SOBOs, especially the trail-tested speedy ones like myself, VA is an entirely different game. I figured I couldn’t catch the VA blues if they couldn’t catch me. Given that I’d already completed almost 400 miles of VA in just 2 weeks, this held to be pretty true. But I could certainly sympathize with having the blues on this day. I didn’t even take one picture for fear I’d get my phone wet…and oh yeah, there wasn’t much to see. So most of the pics are from the day before.
Just as I made it to the shelter, the fog started to lift and I caught glimpses of the valley. With the improving weather, there was no doubt in my mind about pushing on to town. Why not walk more miles if it wasn’t raining? It would most likely be raining all day the next day. So I did another 30+ day…but man was I feeling tired by the end. I walked and talked with Brian all the way down from the ridge, which made the last miles go by quickly at least.
Since I hadn’t even planned to come into the town, I had no idea what was in store for the night. I’d read about a donation-based Catholic church hostel, The Holy Family, that had a caretaker named Twig. I took this as a sign that I should check it out. I called my counterpart and he was very enthusiast about shuttling me from the trailhead. That was easy. Like clockwork, there was Twig…perhaps the kindest and most considerate hostel worker I’ve ever met. He pointed out all the things in town and also called up orders of lasagna for each of us from the nearby pizza place. He gave me the tour of the hostel, which was an old corn-storage barn relocated from a farm. Long ago (1960s), the church pastor let hikers stay in the church. When that became too disruptive, someone donated the barn. It’s been going for over 40 years. How cool to be a part of that history.
Granted, these types of places can be a bit rustic. But this one was clean and well-cared for by the ever attentive Twig. It was so nice to have dinner with him and the only other hiker, Hype, then settle into the warm and dry loft for a good night’s sleep. What a pleasant and lovely ending to a hard day of hiking.