When I was sitting in the lobby of the HoJo in Daleville, I did a little bit of research on the upcoming section of trail, and discovered that there was a movie theater in Buchanan (pronounced bug-CAN-non, as in an inefficient way to kill blackflies). I decided instantly that I was going to get there to see a movie, and announced this intention to Medicine Man and Kudo. Jennings Creek, the road crossing nearest this fabled city, was just ten miles from Bobblet’s Gap shelter, and I told Coolie that night (where I last left off) that it was my intention to see a movie the very next night. Iron Man 3, if possible, since it had just come out. A little research in the morning revealed that this particular theater did only one showing a night and the only movie playing was The Croods. Well, that’d be better than no movie, so I just needed to figure out a way to get to town by 7:30. Awol’s Guide said that Middle Creek Campground, just a couple of miles east of the trail, could run shuttles, so as long as they could run a shuttle at seven I’d be golden.
Since this plan called for a short day, I slept late. Everyone else left the shelter before me, Coolie the very last. But soon, Shrek and Cody Coyote showed up, probably from the last shelter. Cody was in for lunch, because he always builds a fire to cook his ramen. This time, because the wood was all wet from the previous night’s rain, he burned a magazine someone had left in the shelter. (I had a picture of him doing this but it seems I’ve accidentally deleted it.)
I announced my movie-tropic tendencies to them as well before hitting the trail. It was a very dull piece of trail which crossed the BRP repeatedly and the only event was taking lunch in the next shelter (Cove Mountain) with the carpenter bees buzzing and doing some log-reading. I stayed so long another couple showed up (Miles To Go and Flash Gordon) and we talked mostly about the weather (isolated showers in the evening). An older man hiking with his grown son showed up just as we were leaving. He was a bit of a crazy purist, and insisted on returning to the trail along the same trail he came to the shelter, even though it meant climbing a hill just to come back down it again on the AT. It was only a handful of miles downhill from there to Jennings Creek, where I soon coerced a ride from Dylan and Ryan, who were camping there, up to Middle Creek Campground. I arrived around 4:30 and it looked like a wedding was going on up the hill near the pool.
They dropped us off and left and we walked up to the store/office. A man stopped me on the stoop and informed me that the owner’s daughter was about to be married and the campground was technically closed, but I could camp in the upper section and someone would come around to settle up after the wedding was over. I asked about a shuttle, and he said maybe after the wedding was over, as there were a lot of extra hands about to help with shuttling the guests around.
I picked a tent site, plugged in my phone, made supper, and fed Copper. Then I started making calls. I returned Mikella’s call first, and it was interrupted by an inbound thunderstorm which had Copper fleeing across the creek and out into the road. I hung up, chased him down, dragged him into the tent, then tossed everything I still had out in there as well. I called Mama from inside the tent while keeping Copper pinned down, and we started planning her visit to the Shenandoahs. The upshot of this planning was that I needed to get there by the 19th in order to be able to stay in the lodges, because Memorial Day weekend was all booked up.
I interrupted this call at 7pm to return to the store. I found the same man who said that no one could be spared to shuttle me. Not too surprising. I walked around the campground and found a couple just arriving in a Jeep, and offered them 20 bucks for a ride to Buchanan and back, but the man said they just wanted to stay there that night. Personally, I would have gladly accepted 20 bucks for two ten minute car rides spaced hours apart, but perhaps they had already come a long way. It was already 7:30 by the time I got back to my phone, so I crawled into the tent and finished the call I’d interrupted, and made my distance plans for the next few days. The hardest part of these plans was to simultaneously try to: resupply, make it to Rockfish Gap by the 19th, avoid 20 mile days, and still see a movie somewhere. Buena Vista (forget your understanding of Spanish vowels for this one: it’s BYOO-nuh VIH-sta) was just a few more days ahead, and it had a theater too. This was exacerbated by the fact that Copper was running low on food, and the campground did not sell dog food. I made an initial plan to hitch into Glasgow for a dog food resupply and then back out, then hitch again into Buena Vista for the movie and again back out. I later realized this plan was crazy.
I fell asleep that night to the sound of a party rocking just over the hill, the faintly recognized songs that play at every wedding reception, and the screaming and shouting that typically accompanies an open bar. Stupid wedding. Just like a bride to plan her wedding for exactly the right day to (temporarily) crush my movie-seeing dreams.
The next morning I got up early and got a shower, then went by the store just as the mother of the bride was coming up. She opened it just for me and I got a few days resupply in addition to the fee for my campsite. A man called from Buchanan asking for a ride back and she said if I could be packed up by the time the shuttle left for him, I could get a lift the two miles back to the trailhead. Despite skipping a full breakfast to save time (I may have eaten a Fudge Round), it took me almost a half-hour to pack up, and no one was around when I headed to walk out. I got an orange soda from the machine and started walking back down the road. None of the cars that passed on their way out responded to my thumb, so I ended up walking all the way back to the trail. There was an NFS-owned picnic shelter halfway back, so I stopped there and made a real breakfast of bagels and protein shake.
The real trail started with a four mile climb and descent of Fork Mountain, followed by a meander along a lush riverbed ending at the most luxurious shelter I’ve yet come across.
I decided to call Bryant Ridge Shelter “The Mansion at Bryant Ridge” based on the comments in the log. Here’s a video tour of its amenities:
While I was here, I chatted with Minnesota Pete and Navigator, and traded snacks with Shrek (a very good trade for me). Navigator convinced Shrek to go for a 34 mile day. It was around 3pm, but he insisted they could do another 22 miles. I would have been happy staying right where I was.
But, of course, I couldn’t stop after just five miles. I had to push on over the mountain to Cornelius Creek Shelter if I wanted to make my deadline. It was quite a climb, though, and took all afternoon. There was little water as well, so I had to take a nearly half-mile trail downhill to a spring so Copper could get a drink. While there, I got out my map and came up with a better plan. I could hike to halfway between Glasgow and Buena Vista, get a shuttle into Buena Vista, resupply, catch a movie, spend the night, and get a shuttle back out to the same place the next day. Satisfied with my plan, and Copper satisfied with his drink, I climbed back up to the trail, and then nearly to the peak before realizing my map had once again managed to work its way out of my shorts. After having spent so much time on my plan, I couldn’t just leave it on the trail, so I dropped my pack and humped it back down the hill. It wasn’t but a half-mile back, right in the middle of the trail, and the retrace gave me a chance to see this strange red bird who wouldn’t stay close enough to the trail to get in focus:
I also grabbed some photos of the trillium while I had the phone on.
Then it was up and over the mountain and down to Cornelius Creek Shelter, where someone had thoughtfully torn some pages from the log and taped them to the front of the shelter after penning on them, one word per sheet, “Happy Mother’s Day”. Navigator was already wrapped up in his bivvy (having abandoned Shrek 17 miles short of his stated goal…how cruel) and Minnesota Pete was tenting out beside the shelter. The temperature was dropping fast, so I made a hot meal, and some hot apple-cranberry white tea to chase it down. I tucked Copper under me once I was in the bag, and did a little bit of shivering that night. And that was the last night it was truly cold out as I recall.
My plan for the next day was to do around 18 miles to Matt’s Creek Shelter. It was one of those close days where it’s humid and somewhat warm and always threatening to rain. The trail went back to chasing the Blue Ridge Parkway all day, and so it looked like little of interest would happen. Navigator was up with me but packed up and left quicker, so I was still in when Pete got up. He said he planned to make the day more interesting by climbing down from the trail a mile to see a 200-foot cascade called Apple Orchard Falls. Despite the fact that this would raise my mileage for the day to twenty miles, I resolved to do the same. At least those two miles I could do without a pack.
The side trail was only a mile or two away, and I stashed my pack behind a rock and made myself a smoothie to carry down to the falls. As Pete had left before me, I passed him climbing back up as I went down, and then I probably spent most of an hour hanging around the various falls along the stream.
It took a while to climb back up and load up again, and the trail kept climbing up to the BRP. Despite the constant uphill, I moved as quick as I could. Near the highest point of the day, we passed below The Guillotine.
Except for an hour long lunch break at Thunder Hill Shelter and a short snack break in Petites Gap, I hardly stopped moving all day. After a steep and pointless climb over the top of a small crag call Highcock Knob, I cruised into a level area called Marble Springs Gap with good water and camping where a shelter once stood years ago. Several tents and hammocks were already set up and several folks were sitting around the fire. Three were from Mississippi or just across the border in Tennessee, and the fourth, called Smurf, a small firey woman who could dominate a conversation. I decided to stop and cook dinner with them before cruising the last six miles into Matt’s Creek.
I had all my stuff out, Cop was eating, and I was cooking when it finally decided to rain. I dropped what I was doing and threw my tent up while everyone else rain for shelter or rain gear. By the time I had the tent erected, the rain had stopped, but I figured I was already committed and just moved my stuff inside and dried it off. I put Copper in and finished cooking. Some more folk arrived (having just completed back-to-back 25 mile days) and the rain came back for another short spell too. I asked one of them who set up close to me to wake me up early if he woke up early so I could make up those six missing miles before breakfast and make sure my new plan, the one involving a shuttle between Buena Vista and the BRP crossing, could come off successfully. Of course, to call a shuttle driver, one needs a phone, so I plugged mine into my mobile battery, and then, absent-mindedly, read myself to sleep.
Leaving my phone plugged into it, of course, drains both completely. My phone was dead as a doornail when I awoke.
Or rather, when I was awoken. My neighbor had us up around 6am as promised. I asked him if I could use his phone to call a shuttle and the hostel in Buena Vista, and he agreed, but then I realized the hostel didn’t open until 7am, and he wasn’t planning on staying up; after two 25s he wanted to sleep in a while. So I just decided to find someone further down the trail with a phone. I packed up quick and moved off towards the James.
The trail was perfectly flat for 3 miles, briefly went uphill, then descended the ridge and finally fell off the side of the ridge diving towards Matt’s Creek, so I was flying. Here I met the first person I’d seen since leaving camp: An older lady climbing the ridge. She said her phone wouldn’t work there because she had AT&T. I arrived in Matt’s Creek Shelter around eight, and ate a sizable breakfast before refilling my water in the creek. Soon, two guys came jogging down from the way I’d come at high speed, slowing up at the creek long enough to take a drink and chat. The one guy who talked said he was on his way to work and couldn’t wait for me to catch up to make a call on his phone. He offered to give me his old charger, as if I could find some place to plug it in out in the woods. Then, when he fully understood my situation, said “I’m just not any good for you right now!” and ran off. I packed up and walked to and then along the James until I reached the Foot Bridge. At 625 ft., it’s the longest bridge on the AT and the longest pedestrian-only bridge in the U.S. It’s named for George C. Foot, a long time AT maintainer and champion, and the main driving force behind the creation of the American Discovery Trail.
Just across the bridge, I passed several people and asked to borrow their phones, but they all said there was no service in the valley. So, I went out to the road to see if anyone would stop and help. Shortly, a Hummer with license plate 4SAFARI turned in to the parking area. I talked to the man inside, an older gentleman with a vaguely British accent (Eben Schoeman of Eben Safaris), and soon he offered to give me and Copper a ride to somewhere with cell reception for his phone so I could make my calls. We ended up going a long way up the BRP in search (at one point passing Navigator, whom we both knew since Eben had given him a ride to the BRP also), and soon we were at the very place I had wanted to be picked up. We went a bit further and I called a shuttle for 8pm from the highway crossing nearest Buena Vista to Bluedogart Cafe, and reserved myself a spot at same hostel. Then, we went back and parked at the AT. He was going to hike five miles up Bluff Mountain and back to his truck, while I went the other way, down through the valley. In fact, he is doing the entire trail this way, in 5-15 miles in-and-out-again sections. He and his wife operate their safari company from an RV wherever they happen to be, and he can take every other day off to hike. In two years or so, he’ll have done the whole trail backwards and forwards.
Personally, I don’t care whether I do it backwards or forwards, so Cop and I set off north.
I finally got to see the yellow lady’s slippers that Smurf had bragged about seeing in Petites Gap when I came down Rice Mtn. In fact, there were several of them there. Unfortunately, as previously stated, my phone was completely dead, so you can’t see them.
I stopped on a rock for a snack break and Coolie and Minnesota Pete both passed me.Soon, we were walking along the reservoir, an easy walk over creeks and springs and bridges. At one point, when I stopped to adjust my insoles to better accommodate my pinky toes, a strange man dressed all in navy with no laces in his shoes came by. Here was our conversation:
Me: Do you have the time?
Him: Ah, huh? No. (stopping) Sorry, I’d have to go in my pack for it. (starting again) It’s like noon or one o’clock or something like that.
Me: (expecting it was closer to 3pm) No, it’s much later than that.
Him: (moving quicker) Yeah.
Me: Have a nice hike.
Him: (passing me by) Yeah.
The whole encounter, he was acting really shifty.
At one Boy-Scout-built bridge, I stopped to soak my aching feet in the creek. A mile later, I caught up to Minnesota Pete in the Brown Mountain Creek Shelter. Beacon and several others came up while we were there as well. We talked about the creepy guy and the historic feeling you get walking up Brown Mountain Creek. It was, until the forest service bought it in the 1920s, the home to a number of freed black sharecroppers, and there’s plenty of remains of the things they built there. Interpretive signs at either end of the area feature quotes from a man who had grown up there.
I sat and cooked dinner, because I was starving, but Copper had finished the last of his food for breakfast so he had to keep waiting. Then, around 6:45, I left to climb the last 2-mile hill to the road. I arrived around 7:30 and Gary, my ride, arrived early at 7:50. He swung by the Family Dollar on the way to get Copper some supper, and because it was on the way, he didn’t charge me four dollars extra. He charged me $15 for the 9 mile trip, and said he’d take me back to the Blue Ridge Parkway in the morning to tie up the section I’d skipped for just $10 more.
I arrived at Bluedogart Cafe just in time to claim the slowly deflating air mattress in the corner and watch Coolie unbox his package. He had the cutest letter from his little cousin talking about how he’d want to be hiking the AT also. The misspellings were precious.
I also found out the movie theater in town was only showing The Host, and The Big Wedding, and only at 7:30pm, and according to the web, only on Thursday night when I was planning on leaving. But there was a theater in Lexington, the university town just 10 miles away, so I figured I could get there the following night after I stitched up the skipped 10mi. section with a slackpack.
Eventually, I persuaded those who were hungry to get down to Don Tequilas for some supper (extra supper for me) and margarita night. It was only $1.99 a glass and they put mango flavor in them. I had three. The food was average.
The next morning, I went down for my included breakfast when the cafe opened (I had the AT Trailhead Omelette) and signed Copper’s and my name on the wall next to Cricket and Roscoe’s. Coolie said he’d watch Copper in the hostel and maybe take him for a walk. I left his leash next to his food and water and jumped in Gary’s truck. We swung by the Family Dollar again on the way out so I could get snacks for the day and change to pay Gary. Then, he dropped me off on the BRP and I started hiking up Punchbowl Mountain.
Less than a mile in, I stopped at the Punchbowl Shelter for the privy and some log-reading. I noticed an igloo tent in the field and an open, scattered blue backpack next to a nearby firepit. I figured it must be the same creepy guy from the day before. I called “Hello the igloo!” but no one answered. I bet he was awake but too antisocial to answer.
Just a bit further up Punchbowl Mountain I finally got to see some of the huge pink lady’s slippers the lady section hiker had back before Wilson Creek.
At the top of Bluff Mountain, I met Nevis Beeman, who’d gotten behind me due to taking a day in Glasgow. There were some watchtower foundations to sit on and a clear view. It was truly the perfect place for a couple of hikers to stop and have a conversation while eating a whole bag of sour gummi worms.
Just down from the peak was a marker with a sad story attached.
Halfway down the hill, I pass Eben again, now doing the other side of mountain. Then, at Johns Hollow Shelter, near the bottom, I found a couple who were about to get off the trail due to injury. They left the shelter first, but arrived at the road just after me. I was talking to a kayaker, trying to swing a ride to Glasgow, but they managed to get a passerby in a pickup truck first. I jumped in the back and cruised into Glasgow, where the couple was getting off. I went into the gas station store he stopped at to get a snack and a cold drink, then walked back out to the highway and stood for a good 20min., before Butch Lawhorn, the Buena Vista Fire Chief, picked me up on his way back to BV. I arrived back at the Bluedogart Cafe around 4pm, which was plenty of time to figure out how to get to the theater.
First, I had to walk the dog, though (because Coolie said he couldn’t find the leash), and get some lunch. But I didn’t really want to spend all that time, so I figured if Cop could wait 8 hours without a walk, he could wait another 7. Coolie had managed to swing a ride to Trail Days so he didn’t want to come with me anymore. Then I dressed up with actual underwear and pants on to go out on the town. By the time this was done, the last $0.50 shuttlebus had come and gone. So I walked to the highway that ran to Lexington and got a small sandwich and drink at the Subway, then when out front to try and thumb down a ride. It took quite a while this time (probably another twenty minutes) but some random guy in a pickup stopped, and was going as far as the Hardee’s just short of Lexington. Beggars can’t be choosers, so I said that’s where I wanted to go also.
It turned out that Hardee’s was right next to an ABC store, so I stopped and bought five tiny bottles of flavored whiskey and put them in my pocket. They were for sharing in the shelters and not for the theater, but my pocket was the only place I had to keep them.
It was a solid twenty minute walk into the middle of Lexington due to construction on the main street, but I made it in time for the 7:00 showing of Iron Man 3. I bought a large drink, spilled it all over the counter, got it refilled, went to the theater, tried to call Daddy for his birthday two days before, didn’t get an answer, and played Arkeon until the movie started.
Although it was fairly easy to find happening bars in Lexington, I figured my best chances of getting back to Buena Vista that night would be if I started trying immediately. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to resupply at a Kroger, though, so I walked there first. And I had some incredible luck, because as I was walking over to the gas station where I was hoping to catch a ride, a guy randomly shouted “Hey baby!” out a car window at me. Then they pulled into the gas station. Turns out they were coming back from a huge concert or something and had no idea where they were going. So I managed to swing a ride and a beer from them. They had to go past their turn-off to get me closer to BV, so I just told them to drop me at the Food Lion and I walked the last mile into town. Having had no supper, I stopped in a gas station for some microwave food which I dropped into the gracery bags I was carrying still hot. I was back in the hostel by 11pm, and very few folk were left there compared to the previous night. Minnesota Pete had decided to take a nero and spent the night, and there were a couple of German kids there. But I couldn’t sleep yet. Cop still needed to walk. So I took him out onto the street and down to the river to eat my micowave chicken and cheese sandwich until he had gotten it all out. Then, closer to midnight, I could finally start tucking in for the night. I did some rearranging and made my bed and went to it.
The next morning there was a lot to do. I had to eat breakfast, pack, get even more dog food for Copper, walk him, and visit the upholsterer (who couldn’t help me but gave me a length of heavy duty thread). At one point, I decided to tie Copper to the same pole as Caveman’s German Shepherd while I ran inside, and he had to separate them since he was mounting Copper in a dominance display and it was bothering the Cafe patrons. I also wanted to write the last post that morning, but it didn’t happen. If I’d written instead of chasing my movie dream, it would have happened sooner. Sorry, folks! I think it was worth it, though.
I barely made the 3:30 shuttle back to the trailhead. (In fact, it left me even though I was signed up for it, but came back.) It was me and Caveman and the two dogs in the bed, and halfway back to the trailhead, it started raining. Fortunately, aerodynamics kept our gear dry. When we stopped, I attached my packa, but it seems like we went right through the storm because it didn’t really rain again until a couple of hours later. Around 5pm, I arrived at Cow Camp Gap and walked the half mile down to the shelter to eat supper with the folks there (one of which was Smurf). I waited out a quick shower in the shelter and then took off into the dark because I still had to make it to Waynesboro by the 19th.
But the race to Waynesboro is another story. The movie’s been caught so this post should have ended a couple of paragraph’s back. Next post will bring you up to the Shenandoahs, and should go up in no more than four days. That would mean you would still be two weeks behind me, but if I can get just one real zero, one where I don’t have to do anything, I can get caught up. Stay tuned.