I'm not quite sure where to begin. I guess I'll start by bringing you up-to-date from the last time we brought you up-to-date... a long, long time ago. What can I say, computers aren't as readily available on the trail as I hoped...
Upon arrival to Hot Springs after leaving Asheville, we were in search of a place to stay. We had just decided to night-hike out to the nearest campsite when our friends Patches and Downhill walked up. They had rented a cabin on the river and offered us one of the beds there. We gladly accepted. And crashed practically upon arrival. It was well past hiker's midnight (9:30 pm). We spent the next day around town and enjoyed a mineral bath hot tub at the Hot Spring's Resort. It was amazing. It's kind of strange because they own mineral rights to, well, nature. They pipe down the natural hot springs from a couple of miles out in the mountains to a hot tub right in town. They don't even have to heat the water or anything. The natural magnesium is supposed to have healing properties... which we surely felt afterwards. Native Americans lived on the land for many, many years. When they were forced to leave, the hot springs were discovered and, of course, commercialized. The Native Americans are said to have cursed the new settlers in the area for devastating their land. Ironically, the resort has burnt to the ground 3 times since opening. Ironic? I'll let you decide.
We enjoyed some miserable, rainy hiking weather for the next few days but still managed to pump out some decent miles. We've been meeting strange people all along the trail but for some reason they all decided to congregate at Big Bald Mountain Shelter when we did. We had the pleasant company of an old man who talks and farts ALOT (and walks around in see-through long johns). Not the most pleasant of sites on the Appalachian Trail. There was also a guy who makes kazoo noises from his mouth. Repeatedly. We thought that we rolled out of our tent fairly early the next day but everybody was gone. Darn old people.
The next town on our travels was Erwin, TN. The town is infamous for executing Mary, a circus elephant. Apparently she got a little rowdy one day and trampled to death one of the circus assistant's. The town decided that this poor, likely abused elephant needed to be executed. What did they decide was the best way to do this? Hanging her. They mounted her to a crane and hung her for the whole town to see. What a wonderful place. See picture here. Fortunately for us, we were greeted a little better. Miss Janet, an AT legend, is a trail angel who helps hikers however she can. She was right at the trailhead when we approached and gave us a ride to the local Super 8 (and as time would tell, multiple other places too). We spent a very relaxing zero day here and were sure glad that we did. When we woke up the next morning, the mountains were white. We have been fortunate enough not to have to hike through any snow thus far. Extremely unlikely for thou-hikers ( knock on wood).
We mustered enough courage to leave and walked within feet of a campground that Rob had stayed at a couple years prior. It was funny for him because he had no idea what the AT was at the time. Oh how the times change.
We ate lunch at a place called Beauty Spot the next day. There were a bunch of N.F.S. workers and the AT Conservancy Regional Director looking at torn-up ground when we got there. Not something we see everyday. When we asked what was going on, they told us that some locals came up with their truck and were doing donuts right through the campsites AND were chasing hikers around in middle of the night. This is exactly the reason why you don't camp near a road. A couple of weeks later, we learned of another incident that happened at this exact location. Another Erwin-ian (I'm sure not making this town look good) came up to the hikers and said he was the area Game Warden. Because he acted more like a crack head, was waving around a gun for no reason, and didn't have a badge, the hikers obviously didn't believe him. Us thru-hikers are smart cookies. Well anyways this guy held them hostage for an hour or so saying that he heard gunshots and believed the hikers were poaching (because people who backpack WANT to carry the extra weight of a hunting rifle). He demanded that they pay him money to get out of the ticket that he was going to write them. What he didn't know was that two of the hikers recently completed Coast Guard training. When the guy was ranting about something, one of the guys sucker-punched him and knocked him out cold. They hog-tied him and had him ready for the cops when they arrived. Don't mess with hikers. Actually, no. Don't mess with military personnel.
Anyways, I get off topic. Later that week, we walked through a 7+ mile stretch of bald mountains. It was really beautiful and REALLY cold. This beautiful section was followed with another beautiful section filled with waterfalls, flowering trees, and rock cliffs/outcroppings. I can't quite fathom a section of the trail that I would describe as ugly but believe me when I say that this section was beautiful. Perhaps one of the best yet. It was a good lead-up to Rob's birthday.
We hiked into Hampton, TN on an empty stomach as we wrongfully estimated the food supply we needed. Our dinner the night before consisted of two Pop Tarts (you can bet they were the brown sugar ones, Trish!), slices of pepperoni, and a tuna packet. Mmmm, how appetizing! We didn't have anything left for breakfast so we sluggishly made our way into town for Rob's birthday breakfast. We had the best biscuits and gravy ever. Perhaps it was just because of our ferocious appetites but either way, it was delicious. We followed this meal with some huge burgers, a BBQ sandwich, fries, and a pitcher of beer at the only place in the county that served beer (lucky us).
We thought about staying the night but Rob decided that he wanted to climb a mountain for his birthday. And that we did. It sucked. We were weighed down like a bag of bricks. All was well when we made it to the next shelter and were handed a beer upon entry. That's our kind of shelter! Some of our friends that we hadn't seen in awhile were there partying and made sure to keep Rob's birthday celebration going. Needless to say we were a little slow-moving the next day. We made up for it the following day when WE HIKED OUR FIRST MARATHON DAY AND CROSSED INTO VIRGINIA! The caps are supposed to express to our couple readers (mom and dad) how excited we were about this.
Shortly after crossing the border is a quaint Virginia town called Damascus. It is coined as "The Friendliest Town on the Appalachian Trail". We spent a couple of days here recuperating and enjoying good food and hospitality. Rob went mountain biking which consisted of being shuttled to the top of a mountain and riding down (in other words, just the fun part). We forced ourselves to leave and crossed into the Grayson Highlands a couple of days later.
If you have never heard of the Grayson Highlands, they are only the BEST place in the whole entire world. No exaggeration. Why is this, you ask? Because the park has herds of WILD PONIES! They were introduced to the area a couple of decades back as a way to manage grass and tree growth. The ponies know exactly where the people walk through and congregate in those areas so that we can play with them! Yes, that is their intention. When we walked through, there were a couple of baby ponies that were likely born a few days prior. I don't know what makes wild ponies that much more awesome than domesticated ones but it was an amazing experience.
We forced ourselves to leave the area and made it to the Partnership Shelter. This is perhaps one of the nicest shelters on the trail. It has two floors with tons of space, a solar-heated shower, a visitors center nearby with bathrooms, and a pizza place that delivers TO the shelter area! This was a pretty good week.
The next town (if you can even call it that) was Atkins, VA. We had to stay here for one night because Marks's friend Brian was picking us up the next day so that Rob could go to Mark's Bachelor Party! The first inn off the trail is a lovely place called the Relax Inn. There was trash and beer bottles everywhere and a Neo-Nazi next door waving a flag with a swastika. We had to stop here to pick up the package that Amy, Mark, and Ava sent to Rob for his birthday (which we grabbed and RAN across the street to the Barn Restaurant and opened it there). Sister and family, you made Rob a VERY happy man!! We ate the 16-ounce hiker burger like it was nothing. We got a hitch down the road to the Comfort Inn and enjoyed a night of luxury (clean rooms with no racist employees). Brian picked us up the next day where Rob had a BLAST whitewater rafting for Mark's Bachelor Party. I spent the weekend in the small town of Wytheville, VA. Very pedestrian unfriendly but, nevertheless, nice. It is the home of President Woodrow Wilson's wife (the silent president). There was also a Polio outbreak in the 1950's that killed mostly children (it was called "The Summer Without Children"). The downtown area is renowned for Skeeter Dogs (hot dogs smothered with chili, onions, and mustard) and a giant pencil in front of a building. I became a Wytheville historian on the walking tour I took.
When we got back to the trail, we made our way to Bland, VA. On the route, we stayed at a shelter called Chestnut Knob where deer will eat grass right in front of you and not even care that you are there. That would sure make hunting a lot easier in Michigan. We debated all week if we would hitch back to Damascus for Trail Days, the largest festival on the AT. When we got to Bland, it was easy enough to get back so we decided that was our sign. We tented there all weekend where we enjoyed free showers, free food, free foot massages, and walked in a parade that the town customarily turns into a town-wide water fight. We got a shuttle back and hit the trail again.
We enjoyed moderate terrain over the next couple of days. It started to downpour the day before getting to Pearisburg, VA. Fortunately for us, it started as we were braked for lunch at one of the shelters. Because there was a lightening storm pretty much right overhead of us (we couldn't even count a full second between the lightening and thunder) and we were on top of a ridge line, we decided to cut our day short. Plus we were feeling lazy so it was an added bonus. While sitting there, we really witnessed why it is so
important to take those flash flood warnings seriously. Previously dry stream beds were now rushing with water. The whole empty area in front of the shelter was also filled with flowing water. It wasn't anything too horrible but if we were tented up near one of those dry stream beds, we would have turned very unhappy very quickly.
The clouds parted for our hike into town. We were eager to get into Pearisburg because we are now going to sleep in hammocks and needed to send our tent home. We also needed to send back our winter gear since we won't even be hitting 4,000+ feet too frequently and its been in the mid-80's most of the time. Overall, we sent back a 12 pound box (clothes are heavier than one may think!). It is a good thing we did because our new hammock set-ups will weigh more than the 2.5 pound tent that we were previously carrying. We stayed at a place called Holy Family Hostel ran by the local Roman Catholic Church. On the way there, we picked up the AMAZING maildrop that my sister sent to us. It was filled to the brim with all sorts of good, unique food that most of these small town stores don't carry. We are eager to try them out on the trail. We spoke with the priest for awhile who was very nice. He talks as if he would during mass with very exaggerated sayings. The hostel is pretty neat and has a great view of the area. He invited and treated us to the Chinese Lunch Buffett the next day. He entertained us with the town gossip and swore way more than we imagined a priest would. Perhaps it was because he is Roman Catholic AND Italian... kind of like "The Soprano's". Either way, we were very grateful for his generosity! We caught up all of our typical chores when we get to towns (i.e. laundry, resupplying, personal hygiene) and took part in the best entertainment we could find in the area... walking around Wal-Mart. We are now about to hit the trail again and head toward Daleville, VA (the next town) and eventually the next highlight... the Shenandoah's!
Hello. We are Robert and Candice Fox. We created this blog for people who want to follow us as we thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. If you don't know what the Appalachian Trail is, we will let our favorite online resources tell you most anything you need to know. Just click on the blue stuff.