Pearisburg, VA to Big Stony Creek Road
Angel’s Rest Hostel Camp to Mayo Taco Camp
AT miles: 22
Total miles: 667.2
Elevation change: 5043ft gain, 4108ft loss
Leaving town always involves a confusing cocktail of mixed feelings. On one hand, the comforts of the modern age, such as backrests and cushions, are hard to give up. On the other hand, I’m usually craving the simpler, disconnected life in the woods again after dealing with an endless stream of town chores, such as my bottomless inbox. With reliable internet, there’s always something to do, one last thing requiring my attention. Even the act of hiking is affected by this town effect. My legs feel strong and rested after the time off, but my pack has doubled in weight, pulling uncomfortably again at my shoulders. For example, even as worn out as I was from the challenging stretch into Pearisburg, I still felt like I was flying with my pack bereft of food and nearly down to its baseweight. On the flip side, leaving town today with rested legs, it took all of my ice cream bonus energy to hoist my reloaded pack up and over a mountain. So what’s the payoff of visiting town? Besides the nourishing calls home, ice cream. Ice cream and fresh veggies and hot food and fizzy drinks. The first day back on trail is always a slog, but it’s worth it. Fresh food powa is no joke.
Getting a good night of sleep in town is also one of the challenges for me. I usually stay up way past my typical bedtime, then wake up right on schedule. That was true of this morning. To bed at midnight, awake at 6am. I knew better than to fight it, so I grabbed my apple and banana, and moseyed on down to the kitchen to take care of some phone chores and soak my feet in an epsom salt bath.
A couple hours later, my stomach was ravenous and my feet pruny. Back at the bunkhouse, the other dudes were getting prepared for a day of slack packing. The shuttle driver would drop them off at the road crossing 20 miles up the trail, and they would hike back to Pearisburg carrying just a light load of the essentials. Before they left, however, I made sure to bake and offer them some of the Pillsbury cornbread swirls I’d bought yesterday. If I was going to eat through my stockpile of food in time to hike, I needed a little help. They ate four of the six, then jumped in the burgundy SUV that waited outside on the lawn.
I retreated back to the kitchen where I fixed another large sandwich to be consumed later on the trail. I also polished off my pint of Ben & Jerry’s, a tubahummus, bucket of veggies, and half-gallon of booch. The three frozen burritos, along with that sandwich, were getting packed out. There was absolutely no way I was going to fit them in my stomach before leaving.
I changed back into my hiking getup, braided my hair, and packed my stuff. When Hot Tamale got back from her grocery run, I loaded everything back into her Taurus for the three miles ride to the AT. I let her dog stay in the passenger seat. You just don’t mess with that level of comfort.
Back on the trail at 11:40am, I quickly forgot that I was so near to a major confluence of human activity. It was peaceful and green around the old Pearis cemetery as I got used to the new balance and pressure points of my backpack. Then, as if I hadn’t been in a car five minutes earlier, I was surprised to run into a major highway. I’d known this was coming, of course. I needed the highway bridge to cross the big river, so it seemed funny that I’d forgotten about it.
The pedestrian walkway kept the screaming vehicles safely distant as I walked the 100 yards over the New River. Funnily enough, I’d learned that this was the second oldest river in the world. I’m not sure that my brain is sophisticated enough to really make sense of what that means, but it sounds cool. It looked like a normal river to me, except that it was flowing north, which, like the French Broad River in Hot Springs, weirded me out big time. The large Celenese factory on the other side was another strange thing to run into on a trail, but it quickly disappeared behind me when I turned off the pavement and into the forest.
With the late start, I pushed hard so that I could hopefully make it at least 20 miles, to avoid getting caught on a dry ridge for the night. Although my pack was heavy with a conservative resupply as well as the town food I couldn’t finish, I moved with what felt like a powerful grace. My legs definitely felt rested and recovered. The fresh and caloric town food had charged them up. I giggled to myself, thanking the “hummus powa” and “veggie powa” for this extra energy. Of course, I was probably mostly feeling the effects of the 1000 calories of sugar in the ice cream I’d eaten for breakfast. Ice cream powa. How long would it last?
I charged up the major climb from town, passing a stinky garbage dump and several dayhikers, out enjoying the warm weather. Four of them said that we’d met briefly two days prior. I had absolutely no recollection of this encounter, however, and blamed it on my headache. I gathered water for the rest of the day, then pushed the final mile to Rice Field Shelter, situated on a wide, grassy ridge with epic views to the northwest. I sat on a log bench for ten minutes, and ate half of the titanic sandwich that was growing soggy in my pack. Sandwich powa. Basking in the reward for the tough climb while counting farmhouses amidst the patchwork of green far below, and eating a dank sandwich was definitely my favorite moment of the day.
From there it was some classic Virginia ridge walking. Some grass, some power lines, some awful limestone, some messy blowdowns, and some smooth sections. I pushed hard, working up quite a lather, still feeling strong and in pursuit of my ambitious mileage goal. I ran into Posi and TBA at about the halfway point for them. After exchanging a few pleasantries, we split in opposite directions, them to the hostel, me to whatever woods lay ahead.
As the afternoon wore on, my energy began to flag. The heavy pack was taking its toll and my ice cream powa had run dry. Settling into a mellower mindset, I plugged in some Trevor Hall and drifted up and over some challenging bumps. At the top of the final, steepest of the bumps, I sat for a ten minute break to rest my feet and eat a burrito. I pulled the mostly-thawed Philly burrito from my pack and munched down. Philly powa.
The downhill was mostly standard cruising through mountain laurel. It was easy on the legs and easy on the mind. Reaching the bottom, I meandered and turned, following the banks of a largish creek up the bottom of a valley. The trail was surprisingly difficult for a few brutal uphills, but maybe that was just my end-of-day legs talking. The final mile, at least, was on flat and squishy trail, through a forest of towering pine that reminded me of the early days of the CDT through Glacier National Park. A crow cawed and some frogs ribbeted.
I found good camping right where I wanted it and quickly pitched my tent as the sparse clouds overhead flamed pink. I felt pleased with my 22 mile effort and rewarded myself with the rest of that yummy sandwich and another previously frozen burrito. Topping it off, I tried a mayo, chili sauce, and nutritional yeast taco. It was not something I will try to recreate. Hazelnut Oreos washed that flavor from my mouth, and I lay back, listening to the rushing creek. It seemed crazy to me that I managed so many miles with such a late start. Shouldn’t I be able to hike way further with a full day then? Eh, maybe. Or maybe it was the magic of fresh food powa.