Saturday, April 27, 2013

Captain's Sock Log

4/23: Gamboling around Damascus, staying with Hoppy and WhirlieBirdie and playing with their charming neighbor's kid and their insane dog

4/24: 7(ish?) miles. Damascus, VA to... Somewhere parallel to the AT on the Virginia Creeper Trail (the old AT)

No more slack-packing! Back to carrying our 30-40 pound packs.

4/25: 14 miles. Creeper to Elk Garden (back on AT)

4/26: 17 miles. Elk Garden to Fox Creek. Over the Grayson Highlands! Mile 500!

Temporary split of Shanty Town (see previous post for explanation)

4/27: 23.1 miles. Fox Creek to VA 16 (hitched into Marion for the night and resupply)


Captain's Sock Log: Sock Date 0.00

I have made a grave mistake.

I ordered two new pairs of warmer-weather SmartWool socks with my REI dividend, and had them sent to my parents' house in Maine. They were then going to be sent in a care package to me in Atkins, VA. While staying in Damascus, Dumptruck and I decided to send back a lot of winter clothing- mostly to lighten our packs in case I needed to carry some of Dumptruck's load with his bum shoulder. Into the send-home package went my two pairs of thick winter woolen socks.

This stunning lack of foresight has left me with one pair of thin hiking socks. For FIVE DAYS OF HIKING.

Captain's Sock Log: Sock Date 1.00

Today I survey the innocuous purple socks on my feet as I sit in my tent on the Virginia Creeper Trail. It was a very easy day, and all of Shanty Town has traveled together. My feet look cozy. Happy, even. Their woolen cocoons are warm and clean. It's like my toes are being hugged by a a pair of thin, well-meaning muppets, whose only role is to assure children that if they can successfully learn the alphabet, the monster under their bed will not devour their lower extremities in the middle of the night.

It won't be that bad, right? I pull the socks off and put them into my sleeping bag, so that any residual sweat can evaporate overnight in the down (this really works! But only if the socks are very mildly damp). I snuggle down into my sleeping bag and wait for dreams to take me away to a place not so different from the Appalachian Trail. Except, of course, there are more baby bunnies in top hats to cuddle with.

Captain's Sock Log: Sock Date 2.00

Over the past week of slack packing, my feet have apparently decided that they can go back to being soft nambly-pambly white-collar feet. Does it matter that I've been doing over 20 mile days? NAY! Cries my body, which has retained its strong leg muscles but has otherwise retreated into a kind of soft-skinned hibernation. Like a bear with an addiction to HBO, who only remembers to come out of his cave halfway through summer because he suddenly realizes he is starving to death.

Over the first two weeks of the trail, I had developed awful blisters that had blissfully turned into callouses. Now those callouses have started to retreat, thinking their duty finished because they are no longer having to tout around 165 pounds of me and my backpack.

But today we returned to carrying our full packs, and over the 14 miles of beautiful scenery, over Buzzard Rock and White Top, my body sung out in a choir of screaming, terrified altar boys, running from a swarm of bees that has quite unfortunately been released into the cathedral during Sunday Mass.

But we have had a grand day of hiking. In the evening, I read two more chapters of Harry Potter aloud to Shanty Town for their bedtime story. I do different voices, and according to Hot Dog, my voice for Uncle Vernon sounds exactly like Edgar from Men in Black, when he gurgles his angry request for more sugar water. We watch the full moon rise over the horizon, huge and bright as the sun's little sister against the black night sky.

Inside my boots, the socks have started to retain some of the salt of my sweat, but they haven't become nightmarish.

Captain's Sock Log: Sock Date 3.00

According to Apollo, when he was in Korea he ate something that changed his life for the worse. Apparently the first aspect of this dish is skate, a kind of fish that looks similar to a foot-long sting ray. The skate is caught, killed and jammed into a mason jar. That jar is subsequently buried underground. For a month. After the month, the rotten and fermented skate is dug up from the ground, chopped into bits, and served over a divine bed year-old sour kimchi and smoked pork. Apollo said that the name of this dish translates to "Three Tastes" but the only tastes discernable are "Death, Bile and Horror."

This is what my feet smell like.

But today we saw WILD PONIES SO EVERYTHING IS OKAY. We also got some truly superb trail magic from a group of guys out camping who bring along a whole lot of food and sustenance for passing hikers. One of them is a former thru-hiker, whose trail name was MATH RAGE! I enjoy this very much.

Captain's Sock Log: Sock Date 4.00

Today was the first day of our temporary separation from Shanty Town. The sky drizzled, mimicking my feelings. We went 23 miles, which is our longest day so far, and the other 20s we did were while slack-packing, so today with our packs was no joke. Every once in a while I had to lie down with my feet up on my pack like a drunk in the shock position to get some of the blood to circulate away from my feet, while rain pattered on my skyward face. But overall it was a successful day.

At the 23 mile mark we tried to hitch-hike into the nearest town (Marion), but to no avail. Apparently I'm not as cute when I'm soaked as a drowned kitten and wearing my paunchy raincoat that makes me look like I'm pregnant with an alien baby in my ribs. After the 50th car drove by, noticeably swerving as far away from our shivering drippy forms as possible, we called for cab into town.

When I took off the socks in the motel room, they maintained their shape perfectly. They held their form like there were ghost feet still inside, like those wax-hands you can get at the carnival. I held them at arms length, studying them with a sort of perverse, scientific interest.

"It's like someone is still wearing them. But no one's there..." I trailed off, my eyes crossing vaguely, dazed from a long day of hiking. I took a shower in our bathroom, which I can most closely compare to a small version of the bathroom in Eastern Promises when Viggo Mortensen gets into a naked knife fight. But there was less blood. Dumptruck graciously did laundry, while I zoned out.

I didn't even really notice that Dumptruck had come back into the room until he declared,

"I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but: Get your rain gear. We're going to Walmart."

And that's how I spent 45 minutes in a Walmart in Virginia at 10:30 pm. We resupplied, or rather, I should say that Dumptruck resupplied while I pawed ineffectually at the shelves.

Captain's Sock Log: Sock Date 5.00

We are happy and ready to go. I have put back on the plum sock monstrosities, which are now laundered. I only have to wear them until Monday, and the package will be collected. We miss Shanty Town, but we will see them soon (see the post below this one for the explanation for the temporary split).

Clever Girl

500 Miles

We have successfully hiked 500 miles on the AT. At exactly the 500 mile mark, we made this video to commemorate our success thus far!

Also: DON'T PANIC but Shanty Town has TEMPORARILY split up. Dumptruck and I have a wedding that we will have to attend in Boston on May 11th, which means that in 2 weeks, Dumptruck and I will have to take 4 zero days (one day to get to Boston, two for the wedding, and one day to travel back down to Virginia). Because we are very intent on finishing the trail with Shanty Town, we figured out that we need to get ahead of them by 4 days. That way, when we come back to the trail our mileage will all add up and Dumptruck and I won't have to skip any miles in order to hike with Shanty Town for the rest of the trail. 

Unfortunately with the upcoming terrain, the best places for Dumptruck and I to do some extra long mile days (to pull ahead) are right now. If we waited, then we'd be trying to do a bunch of 20 mile days next week over Dragon's Tooth and other terrifyingly-named sections of the trail. Whereas our current section doesn't have as much crazy elevation change. Last night (the night of the 26th) was our last night all together. The plan is that Dumptruck and I will get to Daleville on May 9th, leave for the wedding, and be back to Daleville on May 13th. The rest of Shanty Town just has to get to Daleville by May 13th. Dumptruck and I will be averaging 18 mile days and the rest of Shanty Town will have to average 13 miles a day.

We're exchanging 2 weeks apart in order to spend the rest of the trail together. We figured it's what makes the most sense, so no one has to take 4 forced zeros while Dumptruck and I gallivant up the countryside in a car. 


In the meanwhile, here are the other Shanty Town blogs so you can follow our temporarily separated journeys!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

An Ode to Otto

The most recent blog post about our comings-and-goings is below this post, but here are more of Dumptruck's photos from 4/20 through to today, 4/23! We are staying in Damascus with a few of Otto's lovely friends, WhirlieBirdie and Hoppy. We grilled out last night, and they're letting us tent on their front lawn, because they are kind and generous folks.

I wrote an Ode to Otto, and performed it for him last night. Here it is!

Hiking we were
In Tennessee spring
When we began to unravel
Due to injuries and things

First Dumptruck did fall
And his shoulder did fly
Apart from his body
Now he's an off-kilter guy

And then our sweet Hot Dog
Got a rash on her rump
And all over her body
Doctors it did stump!

Then next did we have
Plague and pestilence
But that was just Apollo
Scratching on our tents

And yet we did get
From Erwin to Damascus
"A miracle! Amazing!
But how?" you might ask us

Down from the hills
Not a moment too late
Came a man of grand humor
Sir Otto the Great

Into his mighty truck
We put our backpacks
He slack-packed us those miles
And put up with our crap

He brought us ice cream
Sandwiches and good cheer
And only twice did he fart
At least that we could hear

He taught us about the trail
And honored our choices
He never complained
About our loud child voices

All through the day
Though we scream and squawk
Otto makes us laugh
And encourages our walk

We're all healed now
And can put on our packs
If it weren't for Sir Otto
We may have turned back

On we will travel
Safe and Northbound
Knowing that Otto's
The best guy around

Photos by Dumptruck


Cats at Kincora Hostel

Left to Right: Clever Girl, Whistle, Hot Dog, Apollo, Grim and Apple Butter

It's hard to tell in this photo - but my legs are INSANELY HAIRY.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Longest Thursday

Thursday, 4/18 (I've lost track of the day count): 14.1 miles. US 19E Road Crossing to USFS 293 Crossing. Dumptruck's first day back hiking!

4/19: 11.8 miles. USFS 293 to Kincora Hostel. The group hiked this, but Hot Dog, Dumptruck, Otto and I did not.

4/20: 13.8 miles. Kincora Hostel to Wilbur Dam Road. First day with both Hot Dog and Dumptruck able to hike again!

4/21: 22.6 miles. Wilbur Dam Road to Low Gap

4/22: 16.1 miles. Low Gap to Damascus VIRGINIA!


There is a virus on the trail.

They're calling it a Norovirus, and it has affected roughly 80% of all thru-hikers. It lasts 24-48 hours on average. Here is what is being reported about the Norovirus:

"Severe Norovirus outbreak on the Appalachian Trail between Hot Springs and Erwin, NC. 50% of hikers sick (now 80%). Shelters and privies reported contaminated by sick hikers. Avoid the area or at least the shelter / public areas.
The virus is transmitted by contaminated food or water; by person-to-person contact; and via aerosolization of the virus and subsequent contamination of surfaces.

Norovirus infection is characterized by nausea, forceful vomiting, watery diarrhea, and abdominal pain, and in some cases, loss of taste. General lethargy, weakness, muscle aches, headache, coughs, and low-grade fever may occur."

On Wednesday night I woke up with a pair of snakes fighting in my stomach. Angry snakes. Angry snakes who had both invested money in a pyramid scheme, lost all their snake money and blamed each other. Or, perhaps, angry snakes who couldn't remember whose idea it was to take up residence in the stomach of a human, but were pissed about the living arrangement. Who wants to live in a stomach? NOT SNAKES. THEY HATE IT IN THERE.

We'd encountered many sick hikers over the past two weeks, and Shanty Town had become fully aware of the fact that it was probably only a matter of time before we would one by one fall victim to the plague. We had taken to pointing at each other and stating: "THE VIRUS MAY ALREADY BE INSIDE OF YOU" with all of the Orson Welles drama we could muster. Whistle's aforementioned food poisoning a few weeks ago was apparently one of the first instances of the Norovirus on the trail. I liked to imagine that Whistle was actually Typhoid Mary, the genesis of the trail-wide malady originating from her unwashed cooking pot, but it turns out people were sick before her and she was just one of the early bloomers. I'm surprised it took me this long to get sick, considering my sense of hygiene has gone the way of the Dodo Bird. It's not that I'm not putting in any effort to stay clean, it's just that it's so hard with all of this dirt all over me.

On Thursday morning, everyone had already broken down their tents and started hiking before I was able to crawl out of my sleeping bag. I didn't feel any nausea, so I attributed the fighting Ouroboros in my intestines to bad food. I thought I just needed a little bit of time for my tummy to settle before hiking the 14 miles to our next road crossing. Otto was slack-packing us (meaning we only had to carry tiny day-packs and our regular packs were in his truck), and the 14 miles looked relatively tame terrain-wise.

"What'th the plan?" asked Dumptruck.

He has bad allergies and his nose has been stuffed for days.

"Thinth we can thlackpack, I fink I can hike wiff you today. I dun whan you hiking awone if you're feewing thick."

We sat on a rock at the trailhead, while Hot Dog and Otto went to Subway in the truck to get half-off sandwiches before 9am. It's a thing. I looked at the map and decided I was being silly, that I just had indigestion, and I could totally hike. It would be Dumptruck's first day back hiking, and we could take it slow. Hot Dog and Otto came back to get Dumptruck, but Dumptruck bravely lisped that he was going to hike with me. Otto and Hot Dog gave us a sandwich because they are HEROES (the people, not the sandwiches; those would be gyros). We loaded up a little slackpack and the two of us headed up the trail to a triumphant chorus of Dumptruck's sneezes.

The day was beautiful, but I was having trouble appreciating it due to all the scenery's annoying insistence on bending and kaleidoscoping in my vision. Rude. I tried to hike on with my game face, but my game face was looking more and more like Elmer Fudd's after he has been foiled again by that wascally wabbit. I was having to drop my poles and sprint off into the woods every 30 minutes or so, because the snakes were trying to clear out some space to remodel the snake bathroom they were building in my lower intestine. I had to plead with my legs to get them to keep moving, as I had no energy whatsoever. I was miserable. After and hour or so it became perfectly clear that I had the hiker flu and 14 miles to hike in 80 degree weather.

Dumptruck was patient as ever, telling me we could thtop ath many timeth ath I needed. I never threw up, but I did have increasing nausea throughout the day, and I did have to make approximately 15 cat-hole deposits. The hike took about 6 hours or less for everyone else in Shanty Town, and it took us about 11 hours. We stopped many times and sat on the side of the trail until my nausea would subside. Dumptruck gently rubbed my back with his non-sling arm while firing snot rockets into the rhododendrons.

Near the end of the hike my head was pounding with the music of 1,000 toddlers across America who have simtaneously found the cabinets that contain all the pots and pans. The pounding increased as we heard roaring water in the distance. We rounded the corner to find a beautiful waterfall crashing down onto rocks and flowing into a creek that crossed the trail.

I did the only thing I could think to do. I ran off the trail, climbed up to the waterfall and stuck my head in it.

The shock of freezing water blasted the illness right out of my skull. I screamed in delight and cold, letting the water splash over most of my body. It gave a whole new meaning to the phrase "go soak your head." Or rather, it just gave the phrase some literal meaning. I climbed back down and Dumptruck and I kept hiking with temporarily renewed energy.

I felt good for about 5 minutes, and then the sickness crept back in and nestled into my belly with the tenacity of a cantankerous great aunt who won't get out of your favorite chair. We made it 13.5 miles and were greeted by Hot Dog and Apollo, who'd come to see if we were dead. We weren't.*

There was a campsite a quarter of a mile before the spot where everyone else was staying, and I burbled that Dumptruck and I should camp there lest we get someone else sick. I curled up against a log while Dumptruck, Grim and Whistle brought our tent and backpacks to the campsite and set up our things for us. I tried to be as helpful as possible, which meant that I stayed curled in the fetal position and tried not to breathe on anybody. Whistle's wonderful parents had come to visit, and though I didn't get to meet them that night, they did send some fresh food to Dumptruck and me, delivered by Whistle.

I woke up feeling mildly better in the morning, but still not ready to hike. The rest of the crew was going to hike the 11 miles to Kincora Hostel, and Otto and Hot Dog were going to drive there, as Hot Dog's feet were still not yet healed enough to hike. It was raining as well, so Dumptruck decided he wasn't yet up to the risk of hiking with wet, slippery ground. I decided not to hike either, because the hiker flu knocked me out.

Kincora Hostel is run by a man named Bob Peoples, who is assisted by a man named Seiko, and who are BFFs with Otto. The three of them maintain the trail for many miles around this area, and Bob is a retired Corporal who does an intense trail maintenance each year called Hardcore. Here are some things that have been written about Bob Peoples in grafitti in the shelters in the area:

Bears hang their food bags off of Bob Peoples.

Bob Peoples gives his boots blisters.

Jesus asks Bob Peoples for forgiveness.

Bob Peoples does not need the periodic table of elements, because the only element he believes in is the element of surprise.

Otto technically lives at Kincora, so he helped us get some of the best beds at the hostel. Dumptruck and I got to stay in a tree house! It was spectacular. By the early afternoon Apple Butter, Grim, Whistle and Apollo had finished their hike and made it to the hostel. We spent the day bumming around the hostel listening to stories, and then Mama Whistle came and took us to the tiny downtown Hampton for resupply. I spent the time sitting in a McDonalds because it was the only place in town with wifi. Mama Whistle was very patient with me even though I complety lost track of time (I still feel guilty about it). Mama and Papa Whistle then cooked and entire, delicious dinner for Shanty Town at their rented cabin and we had a rolicking good time.

For the past 3 days Dumptruck, Hot Dog, Whistle, Apollo, Grim, Apple Butter and I have been hiking together with little day packs, looking like smell-good day hikers. Otto has been driving his truck ahead so we can slack pack the recovering sick and broken residents of Shanty Town. He is not hiking this section because of this- he is doing this out of the immense kindness of his heart. We probably wouldn't have been able to hike this section without him. After Damascus, we will go back to hiking with our full packs. We will be forever grateful to Otto, our favorite bearded superhero.

Clever Girl


Here are Dumptruck's photos from Erwin (Friday the 12th) through the 19th.

Whistle is balancing that on her chin!