Story-George on AT 3

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AT Trail Journal (Part 3) Week Six May 30th - June 5th, 1999
George Li

May 29 – Finally arrived at Pearisburg, VA, weather had been hot and dry.  Water was hard to come by at the high elevation springs.  This meant I routinely hauled water for 10 miles for an extra 5 lbs.  When I got in town & walked to the hostel (Holy Family Hospice) (see photo), I was surprised by how nice this old barn converted to hostel was. It had hot showers, a complete kitchen with working stove/range, and a lot of bunk space, plus a scale to weigh yourself on.  Outside there was a pavilion for dining and lawn space for tents. At night, the street lights down the valley was so bright that I felt strange above it.
The next 2 nights out, there was hardly any water in the shelters and most of the springs dried out. I heard 2 hikers got their water filters clogged up, and an old man got too frustrated and threw his “Hiker” model away in disgust.  (He could have opened the filter and rinsed it & and it would work again.)

Passed Dragon’s teeth & Mc Afee Knob (see photo), two of the most scenic spots in VA.  A fellow hiker told me that it was a thru-hiker standing on top of Mc Afee Knob that inspired him for his trip.

On the Sinking Creek Mountain I saw droppings on the top of the cliffs and was wondering what kind of animal would leave their mark on these high points. Soon I found out there were a flock of mountain goats at the top of the cliff.  As I tried to take photos of them, one goat came to lick on the salt deposit on the skin of my leg. It tickled me so bad that I kept laughing and told them to go away (photo).

Week 76/6 – 6/12/99
At Troutville, VA, I stayed at the Ecolodge with 2 other guys sharing a room, and had AYCE (all you can eat) buffet at the Western Sizzling, for dinner and breakfast.  This was one of the biggest shopping towns near the trail that had big department stores, a supermarket and a pharmacy near the trail. Most of the towns that I had passed did not even have a drug store!

Heading out again & took some photos of the rolling VA countryside, and stopped by a black cherry tree. I picked about a quart of the Bing cherries and enjoyed this morning treat.  This tree was growing in the orchard before the trail was there, but after the land was acquired by the NPS (National Park Service), the tree was left there alone. Climbed up the hills to take a lunch break at Fallhardt Knob Shelter and was told a story about a fellow thru hiker “Konma”, who had a few beers too many the night before, and had decided to hike in darkness after dinner. After he arrived at the shelter, maybe it was still early, he decided to hike on. Atlas, wrong direction!  And he headed back to town again. Well he stayed in town and had more breakfast and was on the road again.  His story was on the trail register and everyone enjoyed it. (I later met this guy at the Shenandoah National Park and spent 2 nights with him.)

The AT now paralleled the Blue Ridge Parkway for 100 miles, which then went into Shenandoah National Park.  For the last 2 weeks I was in cow pasture and the water in the valley was never good. Now I was at least in the parkland again.

Spent the night at Bobblets Gap Shelter & met “Trailhead” & “Splinter” again.  A hiker had bought in 12 iced old diet Pepsis and left them on the picnic table. “Trailhead” said he and “Splinter” each already had 1 and I could have the rest. With 10 sodas, I drank 3 while 2 boy scouts were staring at me.   So they had 2.  Then their troop leader showed up, and he had one. He then invited me to have dinner with them. It was roast beef with rice and it was salty! I had about 5 servings and 3 more Pepsis.  We talked a little more and they told me they had an Eagle Scout, “Fish”, who was thru hiking this year, and “Wow!” I said, “I met “Fish” at Old Orchard Shelter back at the Grayson Highlands.” (Remember the ponies?)   That night I spent my time awake.  Finally I understand that you cannot drink 6 sodas (equivalent to 6 cups of coffee) before bed time and then drop into La-la Land without trouble.

Another hot, dry day.  Hiking in mid-day from noon to 4 was getting uncomfortable.  The bugs were all out: mosquitoes, ticks, biting cow flies, snags, etc. 
Getting into Matts Creek Shelter where there was a real nice flowing body of water, and BSA (Boy Scouts of America), the troop from Tampa, was there again.  Like they knew I was coming, before I said anything, I was asked to join them for dinner.

Later their leader asked me for the water source.  They were worried as they hiked south they might not have water. I showed them where they could expect to find water & tent sites. BSA had over 30 members and they could not use shelters, so they had to find tent sites.   At the shelter register, I read that there was a rattlesnake staying at the back of the shelter and the boy scouts had killed the snake. That snake had been staying under a tree and refused to relocate. The scouts had skinned the snake and said they would take it back to Tampa and put it in their den for memento!  Too bad, now the mice would come back to the shelter without the residential rattlesnake to safeguard it.

On the way to the Punchbowl Shelter at Salt Log Gap, I ran out of water and was about 3 miles anywhere to the next water source. Well, just kept going! At the top of Punchbowl Mountain, there was a memorial with lots of toys, coins and plastic flowers on it (too bad, I did not take a photo, I was a little spooky due to dehydration).   Right next to the memorial stone was a bandana with “Teton’s Range” imprinted on it.  This was answer to my prayer! I had been stopping now & then to wipe sweat from my forehead, and now a Bandana was what I needed. Reading on the inscription on the memorial, it told about a little boy who lost his life hiking in a summer day and his body was found at this spot. My heart sunk and felt for the life lost and the grief that came to the relatives.  Could it be someone had left the bandana for this boy?  Well, at least he could not use it, & I grabbed it.

At Punchbowl Shelter I tried to get water from the pool, but it was clogged with sediment and my filter gave up after 2 quarts.  Now, great, my filter was dead! No filter, no water in this weather.  That meant serious trouble.

That night I got to Brown Mountain Creek Shelter and there was a good creek full of clean water. I did the filter clean up and also re-greased the pump cup gasket and the filter worked again.  What a relief!  I washed the Bandana and put it on. Right on, “Candor”, my shelter mate, asked me where I got it. I told him the little boy’s memorial and said I kind of feeling bad robbing dead people. “Condor” said that was his bandana and he worked the dude ranch in Montana years ago. He offered to give me his starky red bandana in return.  I gave his bandana back & he said he would buy me soda at Tye.

The next day I met an elder lady thru hiker, “Sparrow” early in the morning at the crossroad to the town of Montebello, Va, down at the valley below. She was quite disoriented and helpless.  I asked, “What is the problem?” She said the road had too many forks and each went uphill and to dead ends.  Now she did not know which one would go to town.  I took out the compass, showed her the sign “Fish Hatchery Road” and told her, “Go down!  Go downhill, keep going down and you will be there.”  (Later in Waynesboro, she thanked me. In her confusion, she had forgotten down was where she should go.) The night before I had joined the first birthday party on the trail, for “Jiffy”. His friends brought in food, sodas and beers (with ice) and even a birthday cake. They hiked 6 miles in and threw him a party, right there on the trail.

At Humback Rocks, I took some pictures of the most scenic spots in VA on the AT.
Week 7 - Picture sequence: Rolling hills in VA, Blue Ridge Parkway, Boy Scouts, Trail Magic at the Shelter (Beer), James River, Fuller Rocks overlooking James River, Spy Rocks, Tye River Bridge, Humback Rocks, Town of Waynesboro.

Week 8 6/13-6/19/99
6/12/99, Sat. morning, crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway to US 250 & tried to hitch a ride into the town of Waynesboro. On the third try, a lady stopped and picked me up. She said she had never picked up strangers but her favorite student was Chinese, and I was looking like an oriental, so I got the ride.  I thanked her hospitality and she took me to the post office. It was still early, so I walked the 4 blocks to YMCA, pitched up my tent, went back to shower (all free, courtesy of Waynesboro YMCA) and went to the post office to pick up my mail drop. Did the laundry, did the buffet at Ming Gardens Chinese Restaurant ($5.95 with drinks). It was here that I ate about 6 plates & was completely filled.   I did not even try to eat dinner, some camp mates were doing BBQ & they invited me to burgers & salad which I did accept.

At the Waynesboro public library, there were computers and I sent out e-mails to friends.
The next day, I went to the AYCE (all you can eat) Pancake House, and without asking, the waitress said, “You are a hiker, and you want pancakes, right?”  I said, “Yes.”  She bought 8 pancakes with butter and I had about 3 mugs of coffee. Their mugs were 12 oz. big.  Then the hostess took my bill away and I asked her why. She said the lady I had talked to treated me without mentioning it.  I did not even have a chance to thank her but this town was surely friendly.

On the way out, an ex-navy guy picked me up & brought me to the entry station to Shenandoah National Park. After the mail drop, my pack weighed about 60+ lbs. and felt heavy. At the top of the hill there was a radio tower (see photo) & I met a couple from NJ. They walked me down to the car, and asked if I wanted some apples. They handed me 4 apples and a bottle of water and I thanked them. The guy worked at AT&T just across from where I live in Piscataway, NJ.  What a small world!

The trails in Shenandoah were well developed.  They were groomed, smooth and wide with no weed along the trails.  But it was the terrain that stayed more or less at the same elevation that made twenty-mile days routine.  Now if I walked 20 miles while my friends were doing 26, 30 miles, and the guys now I met were all fast, strong hikers, we had passed most of the 6 month thru-hikers.  Every day I saw mountain goat type hikers splint by doing 3 mph with a light pack (about 30 lbs.) while I still struggled on.  At times, I wished I could change all the gear & food type and cut down the weight to 40 lbs. (with 30 lbs. I would be moving like a rocket.)

In Shenandoah you could only camp at designated shelters or campgrounds, and there were motels and restaurants along the way.  A guy “Mule” had breakfast at Big Meadows, lunch at Skyland, and met me at the Paronmer Restaurant and talked me into having dinner with him. The other night I stayed at the Big Meadows Campground with “Cosmos” and his cousin Larry was to bring him some trail magic and he invited us to enjoy the food. Larry brought in bread, animal crackers, and 5 quarts of Ben & Jerry.  Five guys sitting around the picnic table, each with a spoon were hand playing musical chair with the ice-cream and the animal crackers.  Nobody cooked that night.

At the Stony Mountain overlook (see photo), I met five ladies that were finished with their last stretch of their section hikes. They did their trips for 2 weeks for 26 years, and this year they finished at Harper’s Ferry. Imagine that! Weather had begun to change. On 6/17, it rained all day till 3 p.m. I was all soaked, but at least the feet were still dry, thanks to the Gortex socks.  The boots already gave out 2 weeks ago and were leaking in light rain.  When it started to rain light, I just walked on.  When it got steady, I put on my rain pants so the rain would not drain into my boots.  After about 1 hour, when I was all wet, or when it poured and the rain kept my eyes from seeing the trail, it was time to put on the parka. Then I kept walking until it stopped raining and got too warm to wear all the rain gear, and you peeled off again.

That night at Gravel Spring Hut, “Mule” tried to start the fire with the wet wood. I gave him my extra paper towel, raided a mouse nest (inside were a lot of toilet paper, dried weeds, no mouse though) high on the roof, and finally we were burning the books left in the shelter.  It was so funny. Mule kept saying. “I am down to page 300, it better start soon or I am running out of stories.” Well, with the help of strong wind, we finally had a huge fire going! It only took 6 days to travel through Shenandoah National Park, an easy and enjoyable walk.
The last stretch in VA from Ashby Gap to Blackburns Trail Center was a hilly rolling stretch, where a sign said: “Welcome to the Roller Coaster, built and maintained by the Merry Crews of the Blackburn Trail crews.  Enjoy it if you can survive it.”  What a scary sign!  From here the trail just rolled up about 700 feet, dropped 700 and up and down.  Here we go again! I had never been passed by so many people before, now everybody was passing me.  What a pity!

At Sam Moore Shelter I met a couple in the shelter and their socks stung.  It was surprising how many hikers never cleaned themselves on the trails.  I tried to take a sponge both daily and brushed my teeth daily.  All it took was 16 oz. of water to clean all the skin on your body with a small towel, (more water if you could get it) including wiping the stingy feet. If you cleaned your feet daily, your feet would not smell (only some odor) and keep the sleeping bag clean. (Sorry, no photo here.) 

Week 96/20/26/99
6/21, noon, walked across the Shenandoah River Bridge on US 340, took pictures of some rafting party and the river. Harper’s Ferry is a historical town and CMC should come here to do some hiking or biking some day. I walked to the downtown area with old buildings, then to the Jefferson Rock, had breakfast at the Coffee Grind, and visited the Outfitter for some pole tips for my hiking poles. After 1,000 miles, the new tips had been ground to nothing and needed replacement.  After playing tourist for an hour, I stopped by the ATC (Appalachian Trail Conference) headquarters and talked to John & Gladdy. (I had met them 2 days ago while they day hiked & they invited me to the office to chat.) and two volunteers who worked for the conference. John took my picture, which was #368, for thru hiker #368 passing Harper’s Ferry.  They also asked for my trail name, real name, address, the date I started the trip and the date I arrived at Harper’s Ferry. The last 200 thru hikers all came through in the month of June.  We all guessed how many would make it to Katahdin, ME this year.  Maybe 500?

I browsed through the 99 album and saw that some of my buddies already passed Harper’s Ferry. There would be more to come. Leaving Harper’s Valley & went into Maryland. Maryland was hilly and started to get rocky, also many road crossings with lots of traffic.  Lots of monuments. At Gathland State Park, there was the War Correspondent Monument (see photo & literature) and Washington Monument, which looked like a milk bottle (photo).
This week was also the week that my body started to fall apart, pain at the neck, tiredness, and the worst was diarrhea for two days. I thought it might be the water filter that was getting out of order and I hurriedly ordered a replacement from Campmor. Luckily, after two days, the run stopped and I felt better. I still could not locate the problem.  It might have been the dirty “Nalgene” bottle that I put powder milk in.

6/25 night, I met a girl who had visited China before and she spoke some Mandarin. She came in late, at about 7 p.m., and I was already in bed. I told her my plan of having my ½ gallon of ice cream tomorrow and she said ice cream was bad for diarrhea.  Well, we’ll see.  The next day, I got to Pine Grove Furnace State Park, the halfway point of the Appalachian Trail, and promptly ordered ½ gallon of butter pecan ice cream.  I tried real hard and barely finished the cartoon, while “”, “Too Obtuse of the Hill People”, “Raw-wit”, “Loaded” and the official keeper of the Half Gallon Club - the young lady in the General Store, looked on.  Seemed you could not cheat! The record was 33 minutes. I took about an hour.  And these guys could still eat 2 cheeseburgers and fries afterwards. I guessed they did not eat all day the previous day. After the ice cream, I still felt good & I knew my diarrhea was over.  Thank you. Do you know how hard it was to find extra paper on the trail?

Week 106/27-7/3/99
Pine Grove Furnace State Park to Port Clinton, PA
From Pine Grove Furnace State Park, crossing two mountain ranges, the AT came to the Cumberland Valley where the trail winded along hedgerows and rolling farmland. The National Park Service (NPS) spent about $6.6 million to acquire more than 90 properties in the valley and the deal was no camping along the valley. The scenery was beautiful, seeing green corn and golden wheat ready for harvest  (see photo).

The valley was hot and it was raining sparsely, the walk through the valley was about 15 miles but it was murder to walk in this hot June day. When I got into the Yellow Breeches Creek near the Boiling Springs, PA, I saw a lot of fishermen in the creek, all busy fishing. One guy was particularly good and he caught two big trout within ten minutes (see photo).  I spent some time watching the fishes. The creek was shallow, about 1-2 feet deep, but I was told the water came out of the spring upstream (actually there was the “Boiling Spring” where water came out from the middle of the plain, and was ice-cold (about 55 F), cold and clean. This was a strictly catch and release stream so all the fish stayed.

There was a big fish out in the creek facing upstream against the current, and it stayed in front of the eddy of a big rock, which made its stay effortless. Whenever there was a small fish trying to get the spot, it would chase them away. There were so many fishes in the creek of assorted sizes, it was a joy to watch all these fishes playing with the fishermen.
After lunch, I walked out of Boiling Spring and tried to make it to the first shelter, but the heat was too intense and I made slow progress. Finally I went to the trail center and asked the caretaker’s wife, Albergil, to let me stay at the Scot Farm. She let me use the bathroom and shower, but said, “You cannot tell anybody.”
Next day, kept going to Duncannon, PA for the next mail drop.  Pennsylvania was famous for its rocks. The trails at times were so rocky you had to walk slowly through the boulder field.  This was bad for my feet and particularly my left leg. So slowly I hiked on.
I was caught in a surprise shower at mid noon, it came so fast that I was soaked and my boots were filled with water.  I could not even walk because water was in my hair and blocked all vision out of the lenses.  Well, had to open my pack and get the jacket out. With the hood on, at least I could see. But that messed up the contents of the pack big time.  All wet!

Down to Duncannon I went, got my mail drop and went for the laundromat.  First time the dryer had more stuff in it than the washer. Stayed at the River Front Campground and it was bordered by the trail and US 22 Clarks Ferry Bridge. Traffic was so loud that I hardly slept till dawn.   For the next few days there was threat of a big thunderstorm but it never came this way. 

7/3, pulled into Port Clinton, PA and had dinner at the Port Clinton Hotel.  But smelly hikers were only allowed in the bar room. I stayed at the Parks Pavilion (free) with other hikers.  “Pale Rider”, his mother “Chuck Wagons” and “Daddy Jim” came by on 7/3 and served us lunch and dinner, with fruit, cookies and beers, while I was still writing this journal to you guys.

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