Let me begin with a short update.
It’s been a while since I hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2018 and I have hiked a long way since. In order to keep some chronological order, I’ve refrained from posting until I could finish writing about the AT. As a consequence of COVID-19 I lost my job and have therefore come upon a plethora of time. Since hiking isn’t available at the moment, the closest I can do is write about it.
In Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, Spirit and I took shelter from typically cold and wet AT weather in a campground laundromat. This was at mile 1300 (going south) for anyone keeping track. In there we caught up with Field Trip and his dog Penny, and met Hummingbird and Turtleman. The camp store next door sold beer and we may have had one too many. The lady working at the store, Susan, said we could sleep there. So we did just that. In the night, fluorescent lights kept me up, but I was warm and you can’t really ask for more than that. In the morning we packed up and just as we were leaving I heard someone had called the rangers on us for sleeping in the laundromat.
Now that we’re all caught up,
We hiked away from the laundromat as fast and as cautiously as we could. The day ahead was one out of a Disney movie. Birds chirping joyfully all around, wispy clouds above allowing for sunshine to highlight the forest, and a family of deer crossing the trail as I came strolling down. To top it off a fox ran down the trail with a squirrel in its mouth. I half expected mice to start sewing me some ultralight backpacking gear, but it never went that far. It was a happy day for everyone involved, except the squirrel.
Everyone stopped at a shelter but Spirit and I kept going, wanting to get a few more miles in. We met Noodle and Crocket talking to Turtleman up on a hill as the sun was making beautiful art with the sky. They had found quite the camp spot. We kept walking in the dark and got lost. Somehow we managed to do a loop and end right back at the meadow where they were camping. We made another try and eventually got to a road. We set up to cowboy camp in a gravel parking lot, with the stars laying heavy like a blanket above us.
The following morning was exceptionally dewey and my sleeping bag was drenched. Lucky for me, I carried a synthetic sleeping bag for occasions just like this. No need to worry about getting down wet, just dry it out and it’s good to go. The sun started coming out, sparkling in the rain-drop clad trees, as orange light filtered onto the ground.
We walked with a spring in our step, fuelled not only by the thought of town, but by the thought of said town having a supposedly legendary Chinese buffet.
Spirit and I made it into Waynesboro, VA late morning and intended to go to Ming’s Chinese buffet immediately, but found out they didn’t open for another hour. We passed the time at a local coffee shop where I tried charging my electronics. I had no success. My cord or usb plug must have broken.
We went to Ming’s right after they opened, ready for the meal of a lifetime. Fast forward 3 hours… I won’t say it lived up to that high of an expectation. We got our money’s worth, there’s no doubt about that. As a vegetarian a lot of options were off the table. There were still tons of things to eat, although none that were all that great. I left feeling stuffed beyond capacity.
On the way out we met everyone else. Hazmat, Redwood, Hummingbird, Dandelion and Turtleman. They were on the way in. If there’s ever a town that has all you can eat (any kind), it’s an inevitable super hit among hikers. This was obviously no exception.
Next on our grand tour of Waynesboro was the library. A good place to read a book, use a computer, charge your things, or like I did, spread your things out on their front lawn to dry all of your gear. After 2 hours all of my things were crispy and dry. None of my electronics were charging still. At the grocery store we resupplied and I bought a charger cord and finally got my things to charge.
Everyone else was leaving but Spirit and I decided to stay overnight. We had heard of a local park with a pavilion to host hikers, so we sought that out. We got there late and were instructed per laminated paper notice to check in with one of the locals. It was past the time for check out so we called a brewery in town, Basic City, to ask if we could camp somewhere on their property. They said yes and we headed on over. Beer and a free place to stay, score!
The lovely people at the brewery showed us around and we set our tents up in the backyard. We sampled some of the very tasty beers and played a game of long awaited ping pong. Despite my taunts and challenges at Spirit for the past few hundred miles or so, claiming I would beat her in a game, I suffered a devastating loss. With defeat and perhaps a few beers in my system, I went to bed. Sleep arrived accompanied by the cacophony of a base drum and people making loud conversation.
At 7pm the next morning we packed our things and left the brewery. My power bank had finally charged to full capacity, eliminating the stress of not being able to charge my electronics out on trail. Before hitching back, we went to the gas station for coffee.
Being back on trail felt nice, as it most often does. Town days, although relaxing in their own right, are often filled with chores. Such as washing clothes (and yourself), resupplying and eating (not technically a chore but with the amount of calories a hiker eats, it can be tiring).
It was Sunday and a lot of people had decided to hit the trails. We met several people out for a day hike or run. Most notably Takeya – an aspiring thru hiker from Japan and Woody – a thru hiker that did the AT SOBO in 2017. One of the best things about being in the outdoors is the closeness to connection. People are usually more open to interaction and I often walk away feeling energised and inspired. Sometimes having made a good friend. In this case, we would come to run in to Takeya several times after this!
As we were approaching the next road and opportunity for town food, a hiker asked us: “are you Spirit and Dreamer?”. In surprise replied that we most certainly are. They told us about a package waiting at the trailhead for us. A package? We had no idea what that meant and were speculating for the rest of the hike there what could be in it. When we got there we found a bag with our names on it.
Inside were a bunch of snacks, a note and even a bit of money. At the end of the note it said “Woody”! She had been so sweet to leave us this wonderful trail magic after only interacting with us for a short while.
Things like this are what I’ll remember forever. At the time of writing this, it’s been 1,5 years since that happened. I can’t tell you what the trees looked like, what bodily aches I had or how many animals I saw that day, but I remember in detail, finding that bag, opening it and being overwhelmed by gratitude.
The rest of the day lived up to that same elated feeling. The only thing worthwhile to hitch to from the road is Devils Backbone Brewery. Passing it up wasn’t really an option since word about this brewery had begun over a 1000 miles prior. At first we had a hard time getting a hitch, but eventually someone stopped and took us down there.
It looked like they’d been having a huge festival, which we found out, they had. First (and only) things first: Beer and food. We sat down at a table next to most of the people we’d gotten to know over the last few weeks. Hazmat, Redwood, Hummingbird, Dandelion and Turtleman were all there. They’d been a part of the festival and had a good enough time to stay for 2-3 days.
They left for camp while Spirit and I finished our food. After eating it was dark and we had to find our way to the free campsite. We looked around for a while with no luck before asking some employees who sent us in the right direction. We found the others, tents got set up and we joined them by a campfire. There may or may not have been more beer involved. We were at a brewery after all.
I went to bed late that night, buzzed partly from beer, but mostly from happiness. Out of all places, I was happy to be right there and then, to be healthy and to be safe.