First Step on the ATSiler BaldSelf Portrait in WhitesWhite Mountains

Bird Man's AT Journal

Trail Updates and Photos from the 2002 AT "Flip-Flap" Hike
© Bruce Nichols - 2002

Dancin' Along the Blue Ridge
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Dear Family and Friends,

Two nights ago I slept in a grassy glade about 50 feet back from a west facing cliff near the summit of Hogback Mt. about 12 miles south of Waynesboro, VA. The day had been very hot and I'd climbed some long steep trails going over "Three Ridges" earlier in the day, then sat out the last half of a thunder shower in
a shelter with "Turtle" from Nacadocious, TX for part of the afternoon. When I finally reached my mountain
top campsite after 23 miles of walking, it was 8:30 PM and dusk was just beginning to settle down on the Blue
Ridge Mts. of central Virginia [image]. I set up my tarp and walked back to the cliff to watch night seep down into the valley in front of me. The texture of the canopy of trees slowly softened as the colors faded from brighter greens to subtle shades of dark green and grey. Across the valley, on the next ridge, the lights of a vacation village and ski resort glowed brightly. Off to the right and out in the valley, town lights spread out in dim clusters across rolling farmland. Birds sang their evening arias and clouds of silver grey streaked the evening sky. A magic moment on the trail.

During the night a cooling wind blew up from the valley and my tarp fluttered quielty and I slept a deep peaceful sleep. I rose before dawn and walked back to the cliff to watch the just past full moon settle down on the ridge to the west. My reason for rising particularly early was a burning desire to be in Waynesboro in time for the Pizza Hut "all you can eat" luncheon buffet. It is just impossible to carry enough calories in you pack to fuel the type of walking a long AT journey requires. Well, maybe not impossible; but certainly impracticle and darn right crazy in the type of heat I've encountered in western Virginia. So those occasional forays into towns are, for hikers, like the wild feeding frenzies of famished sharks.

Word travels up and down the trail about where to find the most for the least. Chineese buffets, AYCE (all
you can eat) pizza, Country Kitchen vegetable buffets, and, here in Waynesboro, Weasies Kitchen where you can have an AYCE pancake breakfast for $3.99.

After arriving at the Pizza Hut in Pearisburg 15 minutes after the 1:30 deadline and being told that I could not partake of the AYCE buffet, I was bound and determined to be in Waynesboro before the deadline. So the 23 mile day on Tuesday (really one of a string of long trail days since leaving Pearisburg), and the early rising from my airey mountain top campsite. I had 12 miles to walk to Rockfish Gap and set out at first light. To my advantage, the trail was mostly good, mostly downhill, and I was HIGHLY MOTIVATED [image]. I was also almost totally out of food and carring just enough water for the final miles so my pack was as light as it will probably ever be on this trip. (Pack weight is another entire email). I made it to the gap just a little after 10 AM - better by almost an hour than I expected. I got lucky with the hitch into town - another pick-up, of course. And had a great conversation with a fellow about my age. He had dreams of walking the trail and I shared some of my
experiences and fueled his ambitions a bit.

He took me right to the local YMCA which offers hikers a place to pitch a tent (or tarp) on some open space
next to the Y for free, and showers and use of the facilities for another $2.00 a day - a good deal. Since I was in town so early I had a chance to set up my camp, say hello to Paul, another hiker who had jumped a day ahead of me by bypassing a stop in Troutville, and taking a long, long shower. Since I'm down to minimal clothing to keep that pack weight down, I took my only pair of shorts right into the shower with me and, as Peace Pilgrim used to do, gave them a good hand washing, wrung them out well and put them right back on damp. They were almost dry in the 90 degree heat of Waynesboro by the time I walked the mile or so to the Pizza Hut, arriving just a noon.

Oh the gustatory joy of chowing down on pizza and green salad after almost a week of Lipton noodles,
stale bagels with peanut butter, and snickers bars. I made three trips through the buffet, much to the amazement of my waitress who wondered if I was putting it into a bag under the table. I left pleasently stuffed and slowly sauntered back to my camp to loll about in the shade like a sated lion and, unlike the lion, read a book. How sweet it is.

I'll be back on the trail this afternoon. I've decided to push on to Harpers Ferry, West VA, only another 160 miles down the trail. Most of that distance is in Shenandoah National Park which, I think is the most visited park in the nation being within a days drive of, probably 50 million people. The trail winds back and forth across Skyline Drive, the road that traverses the length of the park and also passes many campgrounds, tourists centers, SNACK BARS and RESTAURANTS so it should be an interesting few days walk. I understand that there is one section where it is possible to eat breakfast in one snackbar, walk 10 or 12 miles an have lunch in another and then walk another 10 or twelve mile and enjoy a sit down dinner in a restaurant along the drive. Hiker hunger heaven. And if your feeling a little grubby from your days ramble, just stop by one of the several campgrounds and drop a few quarters in the pay shower and wash away the grime of the trail. Well, I'm about to go and find out it this is fact or fiction. I'll save the story about my "trail magic" lunch for
another edition.

A quick not about an interesting couple met a few days ago. "Flash" and "Hot Flash" stopped by Brown Mt. Creek Shelter about an hour after I had arrived. It had been another hot 20 mile day and I'd just been down in the nearby creek for a soak in the cold water and another quick rinse of those trail worn shorts. F and HF, around 60, were locals who were day hiking but they had thru hiked in 87 and also been cartakers of a hiker facility run by the Patomic Appalachia Trail Club in past seasons. They had also walked quite a bit with Earl Shaffer, the first thru hiker in 1948, when he did his 50th anniversary hike at the age of 78 in 1998. They were playing "trail angels" for the day and produced from a cold sack an ice cold soda that they offered to me. Now, before the trail I had not been drinking soda for a few years but my hot, dehydrated body has lately been unable to resist anything that is both wet and cold, and soda is once again on the "cannot refuse" list. I sipped on the icy sweet liquid and enjoyed the feel of the cold dripping can in my hand as we talked about trail
experiences. They then offered me some fresh, cool bean salad and I relished the sweet sour taste as we
continued to talk. Another hiker arrived. "Buckshot" had started 22 days after I did and was flying north
at 25+ miles a day. He also received an ice cold soda and some salad and before Flash and Hot Flash left we
finished the whole tupper.

It turned out that Buckshot was from New Haven, CT and, small world, was also a graduate of Hopkins the
priviate highschool where I had spent my last two years. He had also gone to Hopkins for just his last
two years of hight school and had graduated in 1999 - 35 years after my 1964 commemcement. In addition, his mother had just been made permanent "head of school" after a year as interim. I had received a notice about this appointment in an alumni mailing just before I left for Georgia. So here we sat, Buckshot and I, about 800 miles up the trail from Springer, also about 800 miles from New Haven and 35 years apart in age talking about our experiences at Hopkins and on the trail. And all that after enjoying some cold soda in the middle of the woods. A memorable day.

That's the latest, but by no means the complete story, from the trail so far. I doubt that I will see another computer before I return to CT, but still have a pocket full of experiences to share - and maybe some photos when I get home. I may do so via a website rather that through email but will keep you all informed.

Thanks to all who have written. I do enjoy getting your mail even if I am not responding to it all.

Peace, Blessings, and Love to all,

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page created - 11/09/2002
updated - 11/22/2002
All text and photos © Bruce Nichols