Day Three -- start at Partnership Shelter -- 20 miles
We figured out how to make up for lost time, but it means two long days.
What we've lost in speed, we've gained in stamina. (At least, that's what I'm trying to tell Ryan to convince him to hike 20 miles today.)
Questions Ryan asks on the toughest ascents:
"What do you think God will do with us in our next 10 years?"
"Which one of the boys is more observant?"
"What's your favorite gospel song?"
Questions Ryan asks on the descents:
"Um, that's poison ivy." -- Ryan to me after I moved a downed tree branch.
It's everywhere! There are fields of it!
This mountain stream is beautiful! It's a great place for a break and water refill!
WAIT! The guidebook says "Cow pastures drain into it, however." DYSENTERY ALERT!
"If you don't mention ticks, I won't mention snakes." -- Ryan
Another thunderstorm. This one's mild, so we'll keep walking.
Thankful for gators and pack covers.
No exciting terrain today. Stopping at Hurricane Mountain Shelter.
Rick's here. He's hiking the AT in week-long section hikes.
If everybody stinks, nobody stinks.
I convince Ryan to pitch the tent inside the shelter. Perfect.
Our Preference List for Sleeping at Night:
1) Tent inside shelter
2) Tent outside but near shelter
3) Tent at campsite
Feeling really, really close to God.
Day Four -- start at Hurricane Shelter -- 16 miles
The privies aren't working for me. In fact, nothing's working for me in that department.
It's a rough morning.
We can't find water.
We passed a day hiker. "You think that guy held his breath when we passed?" I ask. "Probably so," Ryan answers.
Day hikers smell mmm-mmm good.
I'm losing it quickly. I'm hungry and thirsty.
It's a good man who'll sacrifice his Cheetos for his hungry wife.
Climbing over these boulder fields is extremely challenging.
There are two things never to trust for distance measurements: signs and other hikers.
We're told water is scarce for the next bit, so we're stopping to get water out of a puddle. Literally.
So, THIS is the Scales. THIS I can handle.
The views are spectacular here. We'll eat lunch on this bald.
Oh! A cowboy! He's been riding around these mountains longer than we've been alive.
The beginnings of the horse trails are here.
Regarding eating lunch near cows: "You think I smell better than a cow pattie?" -- Ryan
After one Mountain House meal each (Chicken Enchilada Ranchero) - twice the normal serving - and an hour break , we're off again.
Massie Gap, Wilburn Ridge, and Rhododendron Gap are breathtaking.
Ponies! Ryan petted one!
Climbing the boulders is the toughest hiking I've done, but the views are magnificent.
I'm missing the kids. (I'm not ready to return to them, but four days in and I'm finally missing them.)
I looked in a mirror today for the first time since we left. My skin is clear, which makes me question all that money spent on acne wash and cream.
Camping at a campground between Rhododendron Gap and Thomas Knob.
The ponies walked right up to Ryan while he was sitting at camp.
This is a populated area, and obviously not everyone adheres to the "pack it out" philosophy.
We're definitely bringing this kids here in a few years. There's a shorter hike to access this area directly.
Day Five -- start at Rhododendron Gap campsite -- 14 miles
This area is absolutely gorgeous. We're passing Mt. Rogers.
It's a holiday week, but I wonder if it's always this crowded. We've seen more people in the past 12 hours than we have in the past five days.
Whitetop Mountain is beautiful. We're having lunch on Buzzard Rock.
Another storm is heading our way. We passed a guy waiting in a shuttle van who said 80-mile-an-hour-winds are coming toward us. Not many choices but to keep going.
We've got to get out of this field and into the woods.
Here it comes! This one's the worst one we've seen!
We're taking shelter in rhododendrons, but small limbs are falling all around us. The treetops are swaying. I'm officially scared.
Pray, pray, pray.
"Do we stay put or push through?" I ask.
"It's harder to hit a moving target," Ryan replies.
We cover the next two miles (uphill) in less than thirty minutes. We reach Lost Mountain Shelter.
There's a thru-hiker, Meandering Snail, taking refuge. We decide to wait it out.
It's not letting up, so we'll stay here tonight. Thanks to Snail's advice, we'll hop off the trail a couple of miles down the road and finish to Damascus on the Virginia Creeper Trail.
Eight twenty-somethings wander in. They're nice, but they're twenty-something. They're loud. They listen to loud music. On the AT. I'm not a fan.
Day Six -- start at Lost Mountain Shelter -- 13 miles
My fingernails are so dirty. I've washed my hands but the dirt seems permanent.
Two miles in and we're on the Creeper!
It's an old converted railway route. It's flat and pea gravel. Heavenly.
The Whitetop Laurel Creek is following us, so we've got the sound of running water, the shade of trees covering the path, and the pleasure of easy terrain.
Thanks, Meandering Snail.
Every time a biker passes I can smell his/her shampoo, lotion, soap, and deodorant. I'm pretty sure we can smell what he/she had for breakfast.
Oh, wow. We're passing by locals.
"Sonny better watch out or he'll get a pole up his a**" -- Ryan in response to an owner's yelled "SONNY!" who was yapping at our heels.
It would stink to make it all this way and get creamed by a bike.
A man stopped to take our picture. He said he was documenting things he saw along the Creeper.
The truck won't start. We'll go eat lunch and try again.
Spinach and artichoke dip, a half-pound cheeseburger and fries, and two HUGE sodas.
The flushing toilet and tissue to blow my nose almost beat the cheeseburger for most-blissful-thing-in-a-week Award.
The truck started, and we're headed to Asheville!
The Grove Park Inn was luxurious and sinfully expensive. Instead of paying the $90 (EACH) access fee for the sauna/hot tub, we just took hour-long showers. Room service was actually the cheapest meal option, which worked out well. We ate sandwiches in bed and watched Deliverance on cable. It's a good thing I didn't see that movie before our trip. We might have skipped the whole thing.
Saturday we were ready to head home. A sign of a good vacation is feeling rested, refreshed, and ready to go back to the "real world." It took ten years to experience it, but it ranks among the top five experiences of my life. We're extremely grateful to my family (and Katie) for making it possible.
I've got a new answer for when people ask "Why'd y'all want to hike that there trail?"
"Because it's there."
Thank you, Deliverance.