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

The Unexpected Pizza
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Dear Family and Friends,

I arrived yesterday in Pearisburg, VA about 620 miles north of Springer Mountain and 165 miles from Damascus. For eight and a half days I've been averaging just under 20 miles a day, traveling in the company of three much younger guys. By that I mean that we have been winding up in the same place every night and occasionally crossing paths during the day, but most of my time is spent alone on the trail with innumerable trees, more shades of green than Crayola could imagine, the songs of seen and unseen birds, heat, sweat, wind, rain, gnarly roots, occasional vistas, deer, moles, squirrels, chipmunks, and, in the last miles into Pearisburg, my first bear. Actually two bears [image]. I was walking a long ridge on the day before I arrived in town and heard a crunch and scurry to my left. My first thought was "another deer" since there have been many in this area - surprisingly unafraid of hikers to boot - but as I turned to look what I saw was an indistinct black blurr disappearing into the woods. Another louder series of crunches followed accompanied by some heavy breathing (I've heard this before in the Adirondacks) and there, about 100 feet away to my left was a LARGE black bear. I quickly put one and two together - one being the cub that had quickly scurried off and two being the Mama Bear who was checking to see that here little one was safely away. We looked at each other for a bit. I decided to get out my camera and try for a picture, knowing that there were just too many trees and it was probably too shady but try anyway. I needed to move a little to get a better angle, and when I did, she also bolted down the hill. Oh well, they tell me the bears in New Jersey are a lot friendlier. So it took just
over 600 miles of walking to see my first AT bear. Paul, a 20 year old from Duke U. who I've been on the
trail with for the last couple of weeks saw 6 in the Smokeys where the have wire cages around the shelters
because there are so many bears.

Now about that pizza. On the day I left Damascus, I walked about 17 miles along some very lovely trails
through laurel and rhododendron blossoms and also along the path of an old railroad bed that paralleled
a shady river. About 3/4 of the way through the day I went into my pack to check on the trail book and maps
to see what the remainder of my day's hike would be like and realized that somehow I had left that package
behind in Damascus. I fretted about it as I continued north on the trail. It was really too far to head back to town and I could probably get information from other hikers as I went along. But it bothered me that
I had managed to misplace it and as much as I tried to rationalize it away and enjoy the rest of the walk, it
kept creeping back into my thoughts.

When I finally arrived at the shelter I was heading to, I found another hiker already there. Sven "Tin Man" is from Germany. In his mid/late 30's he had been on sections of the AT about 10 years ago but had returned to the states this year with the intention of hiking the entire trail. He has this FANTASTIC german watch that not only keeps time, but also tells the temperature AND track the altitude AND at the end of the day shows a little digital profile of the ups and downs walked along the trail. I'm sure it does much, much more but I haven't found out all its secrets yet. According to Sven's guide, the trail intersected a road in just over a mile which lead back to Damascus and, since it was still relatively early in the afternoon, I decided to hike out and see if I could
hitch a ride back to Damascus to look for my lost items. Before I left, Sven asked me to bring him back a beer if I made it to town.

I took my pack with me since it would indicate to passing motorists that I was a hiker and also since I did not know if I would get back that night. There was not much traffic and it took a while but finally a big Dodge Ram pickup pulled over and the driver told me he was going all the way to Damascus - I got and forgot his name so I'll just call him "Bob the Builder". He was a contractor building a house somewhere up in the mountains and was heading home for the evening.

He dropped me in Damascus at the hostel I'd stayed at after a drive that was quite a bit longer than I thought it would be. My things were not at the hostel, neither were they at the cafe where I'd stopped for a coffee and to send my last email before I left. That only left the outfitter where I'd refilled my fuel bottle just before leaving town and I thought it was already after their closing time. But I walked over anyway and, lo and behold, the door was still unlocked even though the place was supposed to be closed. I walked in and there were my things sitting on the counter where I had placed them when I went out to fill the bottle. I had a nice conversation with the owner which worked its way around to Peace Pilgrim and here 1952 AT hike. I gave
him a "Steps" booklet and then headed off to get Sven his beer. While on my way back to the Side Track to
get the beer I had a brilliant idea. Why not also get a pizza and surprise Sven with a pizza delivery to a shelter almost 17 miles down the trail from Damascus.

When the pizza was done, I threw the can of beer into the top of my pack. Grabbed the pizza box and hiked
the mile or so back to where the road I need to take back to the trail split from the other main highway
that passes through Damascus. It was about 7:30 when I finally took up my station by the roadside, pack on
the ground in front of me and pizza box balanced on top of the pack. I must have been quite a sight to
the passing (not many) motorists. After a half hour and two slices of pizza - by now I was getting might
hungry having been on the trail all day walking 17 miles plus the miles out to the road and around town -
another big pick up pulled over. A fellow who ran a par three golf course in the area who was heading off
for some evening bass fishing in a nearby lake offered me a ride. I threw my pack and the pizza box in the
back of the pick up and climbed in the cabn. We talked about the trail, golf, the Virginia mountains and fishing and though he was only going part way to his lake drove me an extra 5 miles to the trail head and then back to his destination. I gave both he and Bob origami cranes that I had folded while waiting to be picked up.

In the gathering dusk I headed back into the woods, beer in my pack and pizza box in hand. About 30 minutes later I arrived at the shelter and Sven and I had a pizza party [image]. I even took a little sip of Sven's beer (though I don't drink) to celebrate.

In the trail register at the shelter I entered the "Pizza Challenge". To meet it a hiker must walk the 17 miles from Damascus to the shelter then hitch back to town get a pizza and beer and be back at the shelter in less than the 4 hours the round trip took me. There were photos take - with flash in the darkness of pizza going into smiling mouths.

There is so much more to tell, but the library is closing in about 15 minutes so this is all for today. I have no idea when I'll be at a computer again. I'm back on the trail in the morning and have no plans for any more days off till I get back to CT in 10 days or so. It's just over 200 miles to Waynesboro, VA which is were I thought I might get before heading north. But after 8 days of 20 milers I may just slow down a little and "smell the flowers". We'll see when the trail once again stretches out ahead and the trees fold back in around me as I continue my walk north.

Peace, Blessing, and Love to All,

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