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

Sly hikertrash at gmail.com
Thu Jun 9 18:30:10 CDT 2011

Hmmm...  on again, off again.  According to Rusty, himself, he wasn't 
going to open this year.

On 6/8/2011 9:34 AM, Mara Factor wrote:
> 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 sooner.
> 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 
> <http://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 2008.
> 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 Campground.
> 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 annoying.
> 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 too.
> 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 back.
> 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.  LOL
> 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 2003
> 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 parkway.
> Visit my Travels and Trails web site at: 
> http://friends.backcountry.net/m_factor
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