[at-l] April 24-30: Gravel Springs Hut to Rusty's Hard Time Hollow

Mara Factor mfactor at gmail.com
Wed Jun 8 08:34:53 CDT 2011

Sunday, April 24, 2011: Gravel Springs Hut to Pass Mountain Hut

Sure enough, I woke up at dawn with that third log coming back to life.
 But, having slowly burned from the inside out all night, it broke into
three small logs and would likely burn itself out before we all left the
hut.  I did my best to help them along but left before the rest and
encouraged them to ensure that one last log was out cold before leaving.

Back at my car, I changed and then waited for the hikers to come up to give
them some fresh fruit I had in the car.  I took their garbage, too.

I then started driving slowly, watching for wildlife and turning into the
overlooks on the way to Elk Wallow wayside.  I got there shortly before 9am
when the bathrooms usually open but a nice lady that I recognized from my
time at the wayside during my 2008 hike came out and opened them up early.
 I then made my way to Thornton Gap to get a permit for four more nights in
the huts and with plenty of time to kill, went back to the wayside.  I hung
out, ate lunch, caught up on my journal, read more of Jared Diamond's
“Collapse” and ran into Solitaire, another thruhiker.  [This may have
happened on the 25th.]

I eventually made my way back to Thornton Gap, made sandwiches for dinner
and packed them along with all sorts of trail magic and humped all that up
the hill to the Pass Mountain Shelter.  Diggit was apologetic for taking the
trail magic because he was going to be getting off the trail in Harpers
Ferry.  He had walked there from Georgia and had nothing to apologize for.
 I shared the trail magic with a section hiking couple, Nimblefeet and
Bearchaser and enjoyed swapping tales with a Dad and his two kids out for a
first but obviously not last backpacking trip with his kids.

Just as we turned in, the lightning storm we had been watching for hours
made good on its promise and started to rain.

Monday, April 25, 2011: Pass Mountain Hut to Rock Spring Hut

I took my time leaving the shelter today and by the time I got back to
Thornton Gap, it was too hot to walk the road to the parking lot so I stuck
with the trail for a bit longer.  As I started driving, I saw my first deer
in the park alongside the road and was surprised to have not seen any

A short while later, while parked at the Tunnel Overlook, a man told me
about a bear cub in a tree a couple of overlooks further on.  Sure enough,
when I got there, it was easy to find given the tourists with their cameras
pointed in its direction.  But it was high up in a tree, well off the road,
and not being bothered by the attention.  I walked the road to a better
vantage point, got some pictures and just watched it for a while.  Then back
at the overlook, I saw a family hanging out on some rocks.  When I went over
to see the view from their rocks, they mentioned they were watching a bear.
 Sure enough, there was another bear.  I had only heard about the one I had
already seen so I mentioned I was happy to see two.  They didn't even know
about the bear everyone else had been looking at so I pointed that one out
to them.  As I watched this second bear, it climbed further up its tree, and
then down out of sight.  So, I think this family and myself were the only
ones to have seen both bears.  Needless to say, I feel very lucky.

At Skyland, I got some ice for my cooler, got online, and eventually went
for a ranger led talk about “Ancient Volcanoes.”  Our guide, Mara, (yes, she
had my name, too) showed us the difference between different types of
volcanic rock along the A.T. as well as the hexagonal basalt columns on the
A.T. that many of us are more familiar with from places like Devil's
Postpile, Devil's Tower, and other similar locales.  I recognized similar
formations when visiting a dry waterfall in El Salvador as well as during my
Overland Track hike in Tasmania, Australia.

This was also the stretch of trail where I remembered seeing a sow and cub
during my 2008 hike.

Back at Skyland, I ate a quesadilla and eventually left for the trailhead
only to find it closed and under construction.  So, I ended up parking a
mile down the road and had to do the mile road walk just to get to the fire
road into the hut.

I got in much later than expected and was surprised to find only two hikers
at the hut, Magic Bag, a thruhiker, and Jim, a man who gave me a funny look
when I introduced myself.  It turns out we know each other electronically.
 We're both on the AT-L backcountry.net mailing list.  He recognized me when
I gave my trail name but mentioned I wasn't thruhiking now.  We were soon
joined by Tigger, Red Rider, and Flying Squirrel, three more hikers getting
in very late for thruhikers.

Do four thruhikers, one former thruhiker, and one wannabee in one place on
the trail qualify as a mini-Ruck?

There was a lot more lightning but no rain here.  But it did remind me that
I was here on July 4 in '08 watching the fireworks in the towns below from
the cabin just below the shelter.  There was also thunder and lightning
storms around that night but also pouring down rain in '08.  Glad not to
have that on the trail this year.

The salty chips I brought in were very welcome after a very hot and sweaty
day for the thruhikers.

Bedtime was after 10pm – very late for hikers but not surprising given that
some didn't get in until nearly dark.

My arms got sun burned.  They hurt a bit.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011: Rock Spring Hut to Bear Fence Hut

While not very early, I did want to get out before the heat of the day hit
the road as I had that road walk to reverse – this time going marginally
uphill.  I was hoping to get a ride but nobody offered so I just walked.  I
went back to Skyland to use their internet and saw Flying Squirrel and Red
Rider there.  Flying Squirrel needed to recharge his iPod so we plugged it
into my computer's USB port while I got online.  We sat and talked until
lunchtime.  At one point, Red Rider mentioned hitching from Partnership
shelter to Marion and having an old lady in a small car going the other way
stop and ask them “Trail names?”.  Before he could get any further, I
stopped him and much to his amazement asked “Kinnickinic?”  Sure enough, it
was a trail angel I knew from the AT-L mailing list who also did trail magic
for me in 2007.  She turned around and brought them to town, too.

At this point, I moved on to Big Meadows.  I ate at the Wayside, spent time
at the Visitor's Center exploring their display about Shenandoah, and tried
to nap in the car but it was too hot sitting in the sun in the parking lot.

I eventually went on to the trailhead for the shelter and got to watch a
road painting crew do their thing.

There were on and off showers all afternoon with rumbles of thunder mixed
in.  I sat out one shower in my car and then made my way to the shelter –
the shortest hike so far at only .25 mile or so.

There was nobody at the shelter but a Nikon lens cap was on the table.  I
put it in my camera bag to bring out the next day but the owner showed up to
reclaim it – that's much easier.

Nobody else showed up so this is probably my first night camping alone since

Wednesday, April 27: Bear Fence Hut to Pinefield Hut

I woke up to fog and dripping trees which was no surprise after my early
morning, when it was still dark, run to a tree.  It was very wet then, too.
 There was no real rain this morning but just a lot of mist and everything
was wet.

I took my time this morning, eating, packing, and reading before heading
back to my car.  I was pleasantly surprised to find it was nearly 9am when I
got to my car.  I had feared it would still be much earlier.  The fog was so
dense on the parkway that I rarely approached 35mph while driving to Lewis

When the staff there couldn't confirm one way or another whether the Birds
of Prey program at Big Meadows would be on or not this morning, I drove back
to find out.  It turns out, they hold the programs even when raining as long
as there isn't thunder and lightning.  I dressed for the wet but was happy
when John Manko, the ranger, pulled out a squeegee and towel to dry off some
of the benches.  One of the kids from a family there for the program dried
off a few benches (optimistic!) and then we sat down to a program featuring
a Barred Owl and a tiny Saw-whet Owl.  There was a family of four, a couple
and myself there for the program.  All of the birds they use for the program
are rehabilitated but deemed unfit to survive in the wild on their own.  A
few deer wandered past during the program, too.

It spat a little and the sun came out every now and then, but mostly it was
a cool and windy day.  I read and listened to NPR in the car and then had
lunch in the wayside where I met Waterbear on his way out as I went in.  I
met Rev, an eight year and counting section hiker who came in and joined me
as I ate lunch.

Then I made it to the “All About Bears” talk given by Mara which mostly
reinforced information I already knew but I was glad it was more about bears
than what to do during bear encounters.  At 3:00 with the weather mostly
clear, I went on the “Meadow” walk and learned how Big Meadow is kept
cleared in thirds by mowing, burning, and just leaving fallow for one year
at a time.  The meadow itself is much smaller now than it once was.

The history of the meadow is interesting but Kate, our ranger guide, didn't
delve too deep into the prehistory.  She mostly concentrated on the CCC camp
and history of the local family that lived here at the time the CCC came in.

Tornado watches for the entire state and warnings for some specific areas
didn't bode well for the weather tonight but I managed to drive to the trail
head and get to the hut before the weather turned ominously dark and it
started to thunder.

Like last night, there's nobody else here at the shelter so I'll likely have
it to myself tonight.  The whippoorwill that just started up seemed to be
chased off by my poor imitation.  That's a good thing.  If you've ever tried
to sleep with a whippoorwill calling not far away, well, let's just say it's

One shower did come through this evening and more is likely but with the
limited sight distance at this shelter, it's hard to tell.  The lack of
views here are more than made up for by the burbling streams here.

Thursday, April 28: Pinefield Hut to Waynesboro, VA

Wow!  What a day!  Last night's thunder eventually turned to lightning
before I went to sleep.  Then, at 3am, the rain came pounding on the roof
and woke me up.  Of course my bladder kicked right in so I waited for a lull
and made my way out of the hut to find a tree.  Sometime after I crawled
back in but before I fell asleep,  I heard a loud metallic clang.  I
couldn't imagine what could have caused such a clang in the vicinity of the
shelter in the middle of the night so I looked around and when the shelter
looked OK and my food bag was still hung on the bear pole, I shrugged and
went back to sleep.  It was about 5am.

When I got up at 8am, I realized at that point that while my food was still
hung on the pole, the incredibly heavy poles they leave to help hang food
bags was off its own hook.  Given that it was too heavy to blow off and
extremely unlikely to fall off, I assumed a bear may have knocked it off
though the ground was covered in needles so there were no prints.

It was a rainy morning and I made it back to my car mostly successfully
between showers.  I went to the Loft Mountain Wayside only to find they had
a blackout.  Not only that, but Lewis Mountain and Big Meadows were also
affected.  It turns out they get their power from the town below and the
entire town was without power having been knocked out by the storms.

As the day went on and news that almost 300 had been killed, a blackout, as
annoying as it might be, didn't seem all that bad though I did feel for the
thruhikers I met at the wayside who had been hoping and maybe counting on
lunch at the Wayside.

I had a permit for two more nights camping in the backcountry but decided to
head for Waynesboro instead so that I would get there during the week.  As
is my wont, I pulled into every open viewpoint along the way.  Many are
closed in preparation for the 75th anniversary of the park this year.  Many
of the southern viewpoints have the AT going through them.    At one, I met
Niners, Stillwater, and Katmandu.  At another, Spam and his Dad, John, then
Kodiak and Teddy (two of the three bears), and d'Artignon (sic), followed by
the Corsican who was surprised and a bit disappointed to find out he wasn't
the first Corsican to have thruhiked the trail, and then Ghost pulled in

At Rockfish Gap outfitters, I met the Red Team (Riding Hood and Wagon), a
couple who needed a ride to town.   After dropping them off, I was on my way
to the YMCA when I ran into the Three Amigos, Sgt. Pepper, South Butt, and
Leaf Guy, who were looking for a nearby B&B.  They had know each other since
kindergarten and were celebrating one of their birthdays.  I got them piled
into the car and drove to the B&B only to find out they didn't have room at
the Inn.  So I brought them with me to the YMCA.

The Y is still putting hikers in awe at their generosity.  They provide free
showers, will allow hikers to leave their packs there during the day, give
them goodie bags with everything from toiletries to munchies, and provide a
free place to camp along the river.  While in town, I would be hanging out
at the river a lot in order to help out hikers.

Waynesboro also has a listing of trail angels and phone numbers so that
hikers could make phone calls and get a local to come drive them to or from
the trail and then around town if they needed to go somewhere beyond normal
“town” walking distance.

So, I drove over the the campsite and there, I met Sqush (sic), Polo (from
Spain), and Silver Heels, a guy I knew from marathon porch sitting at Miss
Janet's in 2007.

Used the wifi at the library and then had AYCE dinner with the guys at
Ming's.  I mostly ate peel and eat shrimp and sushi, leaving the Mongolian
barbecue, Chinese, pizza, and other options for others.  I dropped off the
guys at Oasis, a bar, so that they could celebrate with South Butt who was
legal for the first time that day.

I found ice and wireless at the fast food central part of town then talked
with Polo for a while before turning in.  I set my alarm for an early wake
up in case I felt like getting up for the Royal Wedding.

Friday, April 29: Waynesboro

I got up to my alarm and decided to hit a wifi hotspot to watch the Royal
Wedding.  Along the way, I started listening to the silliest BBC broadcast I
had ever heard.  When I finally got online, I realized the radio had much
better commentary than the video feed.  For about five hours, I watched and
listened to the analysis of the clothing, hats, transport, ceremony, and
crowds.  When it was done, I was disappointed to find my inverter hadn't
worked as promised and depleted my battery to the point where it wouldn't
start the car.  With nobody around, I called AAA and quickly got a charge.
 Live and learn.

Back at the campsite, with no hikers needing shuttles, I went and did
laundry.  I also made dinner plans with the Radney's, a couple I knew first
from the PCT, then CDT, and finally from my 2008 AT section hike.

I ran some errands and hit the library, typing until I was too tired to type
any more.

At the campsite, I met V-8, a 28 year old Japanese man finishing the Triple
Crown with his AT thruhike.  He's doing Ray Jardine proud with very
lightweight homemade gear, and moving 20+ miles per day.  V-8 ended up
joining me for dinner and there was no surprise that he knew some of the
same people Walt and Pat knew, especially the prior Japanese hikers.

After dinner, I took V-8 to do his laundry and ran into Rusty at the
laundromat.  I had been planning on visiting him the next day.  He has a
homestead on the Blue Ridge Parkway and has been hosting hikers for years.
 I stayed there in '99 and hadn't managed to get back since.  I know he
enjoys when us old timers and alumni stop by.

Mongo and Johnny Appleseed had arrived back at the campsite when we got

Saturday, April 30: Waynesboro to Rusty's Hard Time Hollow

I woke up with a hankering for Weasie's, a greasy spoon type of diner
popular with thruhikers for their large portions and AYCE pancakes.
 Thinking it might be my big meal of the day, I had the three smaller
pancakes, one egg, and bacon.  Kevin, Windscreen chowed down on humongous
omelets and V-8 did the chipped beef gravy on two biscuits proud.  He likes
the variety in American food and described the typical breakfast in Japan
with rice, miso soup, and maybe some fish which to most Americans sounds
nothing like breakfast food.

Went to the library for a couple of hours then packed up and met Grizz '10
and his girlfriend who were hanging out at the campground and going to lunch
with the other couple of hikers who had come in the night before.  I went to
Riverfest, a one day festival in town.  Much was geared towards kids but not
all.  There were plenty of groups there  espousing environmental protection.
  Reptile World was there introducing kids and their parents to  an
Alligator Snapping turtle, American Alligators, Nile Crocodile, Spotted
Lizard, Albino Python, Anaconda, Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake,
Copperhead, and a Pakistani Cobra.  The Wildlife Center of Virginia was also
there with an opossum, screech owl, broad winged hawk and more.

A hot dog sufficed for lunch after my big breakfast and I used the
opportunity to recycle the cans from my car at the recycle bins at the
festival.  The local supermarket had taken my cardboard earlier in the day.
 It's getting harder to find recycle opportunities as I get further south.

I saw Venudo's father at the library.  He's still finishing up the section
of trail he didn't do last year while accompanying his eight year old son on
his successful thuhike.

I stopped at Martin's Supermarket, then got gas for $3.69 (it's getting
cheaper as I go south), grabbed a quick sandwich at Wendy's and finally hit
the Blue Ridge Parkway after 6pm.  It was too late to spend time at the
Humpback Rocks Visitor's Center and overlooks though I did drive through
most of them.  I did stop to talk to one thruhiker,  Ali Baba, who was
already talking to the park rangers who had stopped just ahead of me to make
sure he was OK.  He was eating the last of five cans(!?) of Chef Boyardee's
and was too stuffed to eat any of the donuts I offered to him.  We all
grinned at at the next comical moment when I turned to the Rangers, the
police of the Parkway, and asked if they would like any donuts.  They
laughed and one said thanks but he just couldn't perpetuate the stereotype.

The hiker did accept a soda.  My current selection is orange and birch beer.
 I never buy the typical colas or lemon-lime flavors and hikers are always
surprised and happy for a change of flavor.

The rangers were able to direct me to Rusty's, giving me landmarks that
turned out to be very helpful.  I had last been there in 1999.  It was easy
to find and going very slowly, I made it down the long drive even in my
front wheel drive vehicle without high clearance.  It wasn't quite as bad as
the Steens Mountain road I drove on in eastern Oregon with my Mazda back in

It was good to see Rusty.  I know he misses hikers and wishes more would
stop by, whether first timers or alumni like myself stopping in for a short
visit or to stay awhile.  Having run into him yesterday, he was looking
forward to my visit so he could get some work done topping an apple tree
that had grown too tall.  He didn't want to do the work when he was alone in
case there was a problem so I just watched as he climbed the ladder into the
tree and took off the top.  Thankfully, there were no accidents and the work
was done in short order.

We then did some good porch sitting until it got too cold and then moved
inside.  By 10pm, it was bed time and I got situated in the alumni hostel to
sleep.  I had stayed in the same room as a thruhiker but things have
changed.  The Hollow now has electricity.  The Hollow is also for sale.
 Whoever buys it will have the only address actually on the Blue Ridge

Visit my Travels and Trails web site at:
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