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!


  1. Hooray! Virginia! So proud of all of you. Tennessee/North Carolina has been a tough slog but you persevered! Damascus is supposed to be a fun trail town...hope you can enjoy it and then into the Blue Ridge! We're assuming you're feeling better...give our best to everyone and may all be recovered. We think of you every day (lots of times every day). Send us Otto's address via e-mail so we can send him a treat! He has been a true trail angel...first class! Love and miss you, Mom and Dad.

    1. Damascus has indeed been fun! We're happy to be in Virginia (though we'll be in Virginia for a long time).

  2. I hope this finds you "snake free" and wow! 3 down and 11 to go. Hopefully Virginia will be kinder health-wise to Shanty town.
    And we want to be sure that you insist Hot Dog shares her package goodies with you always!
    Margie and Maurice

    1. I hope our health will fare better here as well! So far so good :)
      Hot Dog was very good at sharing her goodies. It was a very exciting package! Thank you so much for thinking of all of us out here.

  3. Welcome to VA!!

    We will see you rascals at the Northern Border in a couple months or so...

    Ever forward!
    Uncle John

    1. Thanks Uncle John! We're excited to see you in Harper's Ferry. It may be a month (or ten, hard to say).

      Love you!