Dispatches from the Appalachian Trail

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Dispatches from the Appalachian Trail: Daleville to Buena Vista

By: Beau Denton

Beau Denton hikes from Daleville to Buena Vista.

May 21, 2014


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Since leaving Daleville…

Day 69: Daleville to Wilson Creek Shelter, 11.2 miles
Day 70: Unplanned zero at shelter (rain delay)
Day 71: Wilson Creek Shelter to Cornelius Creek Shelter, 25.7 miles
Day 72: Cornelius Creek Shelter to Johns Hollow Shelter, 21.6 miles
Day 73: Johns Hollow Shelter to U.S. 60, ride into Buena Vista, 20.1 miles

I was not ready to leave Daleville Wednesday morning. I was worried about my ankle, still sore everywhere else even after a day off, and really wanting to stick around long enough for another trip to Three Little Pigs Barbecue. But I found the motivation to leave and walked a slow, grumpy 11 miles to a shelter.

Thursday brought all-day rains and flash flood warnings, so I decided to stick around the shelter and take the day off with Wet Dog. (I think the rain was just an excuse…my motivation was severely lacking.) You might remember this picture from before Hot Springs, when I was having pack trouble. Wet Dog’s the one in the middle…I’ve seen him on and off since the Smokies, and he was good company on a rainy day.

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The rain finally let up sometime before dawn Friday, and by the time I was moving the weather was sunny and cool. The storm brought in a front that temporarily chased off the heat, so the last few days have been perfect spring weather with hiking temperatures in the 60s and 70s, and it’s actually been cold again the last couple of nights.

Encouraged by the nice weather, and frustrated about having taken another day off, I decided to try for a big-mile day on Friday. About an hour into my hike I stopped to take a picture, only to realize my phone wasn’t in my pocket…I had it out while I was eating breakfast that morning, and I could picture the exact spot where I left it.

By that point I had gone almost three miles, and with a few choice words I decided that, rather than going back for it, I would hike without a phone for a few days and figure it out when I got to town.

(I should explain something here. Completing the Appalachian Trail takes an average of 5 million steps, and at this point in the trip I can feel every one of those steps wearing on me. So I won’t stay at a shelter that’s more than 0.2 miles from the trail, and I only take a side trail to a scenic point if I can see the destination from the main trail or if someone I trust recommended it very, very strongly. The choice, then, between backtracking three miles or buying a new phone was really no choice at all.)

I ended up managing my biggest day, 25.7 miles, then followed it up with two more 20-plus days. The weather was perfect, this part of Virginia is gorgeous, and my ankle was getting along nicely as long as I remembered to take my breaks.

The trail through this section zigzags the Blue Ridge Parkway for about 100 miles. It can be frustrating to see the road curving gently around a mountain while the trail insists on taking me straight up and down, but all the road crossings and scenic points make for a nice change of pace. (The temptation to yellow-blaze, which means walking along a road to bypass part of the trail, was strong at parts, but so far I’ve stayed between the white blazes.)

The road noise was always close, and there were lots of day-hikers, but Friday morning with Wet Dog was the last time I’ve seen another thru-hiker. Some of my friends are a day or two ahead, Tank and some of the others are a couple of days behind, and a lot of folks, especially the younger crowd, have gotten off for Trail Days, a massive festival for hikers back in Damascus this weekend. If you know me at all, you know the thought of leaving the trail to go party with thousands and thousands of people was hard to resist. And if you don’t know me, that was sarcasm.

It was even nice hiking without a phone for a little bit. There wasn’t a temptation to check for a signal on my breaks, and I didn’t have to worry about how to capture the moment since I didn’t have a camera. (The picture at the top, from Wednesday afternoon before the rain moved in, was the last one I took.) The only time I really wished I could take a picture was crossing the James River near dusk yesterday, walking the longest pedestrian-only bridge on the whole trail. That was pretty cool.

This morning, worried about having to spend my whole town stop looking for a place to buy a phone, I set my watch alarm for 3:30 a.m. and had my first experience hiking in the dark. It was terrifying and awesome. I’ll definitely do that again.

I reached my target road crossing a little after noon and started trying to hitch a ride. Half an hour went by, longer than all the other times have taken so far. Eventually a section hiker came off the trail and walked over. He introduced himself as Wes and said that his wife was picking him up there so they could give me a ride. “By the way,” he said, “you didn’t happen to lose a phone a few days ago, did you?”

It turns out Wes was tenting in the rain a little south of where I left my phone. He found it at the shelter and walked with it for three days, hoping we’d cross paths. He actually passed me at some point yesterday, but since I got such an early start this morning I reached the road before him. And since I wasn’t having any luck hitching, I was still there when he walked up. When his wife got there, they drove me into town, treated to a lunch at Burger King, then dropped me off at the hostel where I’m staying tonight.

Every once in a while I happen upon a moment that feels profound to the point of speechlessness, like everything around me is whispering and tugging on my sleeve, trying to get me to stop and pay attention. This was one of those moments.

As always, thanks for reading.

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