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Exile's_Home ©1996 George Steffanos

gsat@skwc.com

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Then The Hail Came

Last updated 11/26/96


CHAPTER 9

TEAR DOWN THE WALL

(Cloverdale, Virginia to Waynesboro, Virginia)

SATURDAY, 6/25/83, MILE 722.2 --- Last night was one of the more pleasant interludes I had enjoyed in a long while. I had a couple of long conversations with the folks back home and spent the rest of the night laughing and joking with Alan. He is one of the good people, and has obvious fine taste in register reading material. It feels good to be hanging out again with someone I like -- for a little while. I cannot even attempt to keep his grueling daily pace just now if my shins ever are to heal. I can still grind out respectable mileage, but one twenty-mile day after another is out of the question for the immediate future.

I did not go to bed until midnight, but first thing in the morning I was up and on my way to the Post Office. The walk was a fascinating journey through a microcosm of America in the late twentieth century. Cloverdale was a community in transition, slowly and awkwardly transforming from a rural backwater to a chunk of not-so-small-town suburbia.

The motel at which we stayed was on US 11, just over the line from Cloverdale in the neighboring town of Hollins. This broad gray river of churning diesel trucks and endless streams of automobiles coursed through the outskirts of the town -- ironically, its most heavily built-up section. It was a vein of urban sprawl connecting the city of Roanoke to Interstate 81, knifing through sleepy farms and the quiet little neighborhoods which were the real heart of Cloverdale -- an anonymous piece of four-lane blacktop indistinguishable from hundreds of other such strips across America: stores, motels, small businesses, and factories. Gas stations and restaurants sprouted towering signs to lure highway-hypnotized motorists off from the interstate.

Turning off of US 11, I strode into an earlier time. The post office was about a mile off of that noisy thoroughfare, on a small, two-lane byway just across a strip of railroad tracks amid a cluster of small, tidy homes with green lawns and flower gardens. Welcome to Cloverdale. I mailed my mutilated boots home and filled out a change of address card forwarding my Montebello supply package to Waynesboro.

On the way back to my room, I stopped at the local hardware store for some Coleman fuel for my stove. They were all sold out of the stuff. That could lead to serious problems unless I find some in one of the three small general stores located near the trail between Cloverdale and Waynesboro. My remaining fuel will never stretch as far as Waynesboro.

I picked up breakfast at the grocery store across the road from my motel, finished loading my backpack, and sat down to my meal -- a pint of strawberry ice cream and a sixteen-ounce coke. They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, after all.

Alan had left town very early this morning. He would be waiting for me seventeen miles up the AT at Bobbletts Gap Shelter, if I made it that far. I myself had hoped for a fairly early start, but the morning was sprouting long, gray whiskers by the time I started walking US 11 back towards the Appalachian Trail.

It was more than two miles from the motel to the AT. That explains why that "mile" seemed so long to me yesterday. A small misunderstanding with the Data Book. It had listed the distance to the nearest motel, but we had gone on a bit further to stay at a place which had special significance to Alan. Several years ago, he tried to thru-hike the AT and was forced to drop out. When we reached Cloverdale, he had a strong desire to stay at the particular motel where he spent that bitter night of defeat. Being a man who understands a bit about personal demons myself, I agreed.

When I reached the AT, the first two-and-a-half miles were an uphill roadwalk which I completed in forty-five minutes. That helped me to partially atone for my late start. Picking up the roadwalk under the I-81 overpass near the sprawling truck stops on US 220, I soon found myself drifting back into the Virginia to which I had grown accustomed on this journey, following rural lanes past rolling pastures, barns, silos, and a few small clusters of residences. The mass of Big Tinker Mountain rose above the fields behind me and the long gray line of the Blue Ridge loomed ahead.

The trail entered the forest, and the next seven miles were a quiet woodland hike to the base of the Blue Ridge. Soon, I was having lunch at Wilson Creek Shelter. It was a rather late lunch -- 3:00 p.m. -- but not too late, considering my delayed start. I decided to hike on another eight miles and meet Alan at Bobbletts Gap.

The next three miles were an easy climb to the crest of the Blue Ridge, a mountain chain I had not encountered since the eventful early days of my journey in southern North Carolina and Georgia (I had been on the western fork of the Blue Ridge as recently as the Virginia Highlands, but it is the eastern fork which carries that name officially once they diverge). At Blackhorse Gap, I reached the ridgecrest and had my first encounter with the Blue Ridge Parkway -- an experience repeated several times this afternoon. This portion of the chain was restricted to a single string of mountains with broad valleys on either side and no major spur ridges. Thus, the Appalachian Trail was constantly crossing or running alongside of the road.

The parkway was a thin strip of two-lane blacktop with grassy shoulders snaking through forests along the ridgecrest. The only development I encountered along it was three scenic turn-outs crossed by the trail. The first one I passed, Taylor Mountain Overlook, was typical of the experience. The crest was very narrow -- just wide enough for the road and a small paved parking area -- and the spot commanded sweeping views of the valleys on either side of the Blue Ridge.

It was a good hike. The only drawback was the many contortions through which the trail went in order to avoid even more frequent contact with the parkway, often dropping a short distance down off the crest or climbing over small wooded knobs which the road skirted. On the other hand, the three overlooks provided me with terrific photo opportunities and trash cans. Apparently, it will not be necessary to carry around much garbage in my pack for a while. The Appalachian Trail parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway and its extension, Skyline Drive, for the next 220 miles, all of the way up to and through Shenandoah National Park.

I coasted into Bobbletts Gap Shelter at 8:00. Today's trail grading and footway had been a major improvement compared to the previous hundred or so miles, and my body was once again showing an amazing resilience in its ability to quickly shake off seemingly crippling injuries. Its condition is not yet back to a hundred percent, but it is much closer than perhaps I deserve, considering the giddy recklessness with which I hurl it into adventures like the stormy dash across Pearis Mountain.

The forests have been quite attractive since Cloverdale. Many of those through which the AT passed in the Alleghenies north of Mount Rogers had seen heavily lumbering in the recent past, resulting in profusions of weeds and young trees crowded together in dense tangles. The trail through those snarled jungles was difficult to keep cleared and often felt claustrophobic. Conversely, this portion of the Blue Ridge seems to have gone a long time without cutting. I walked beneath stands of tall, stately giants along a wide, clear path through lush green carpets of ferns and little else. The shade of that high forest canopy prevented the growth of the wild, chaotic jungles of underbrush which I found in those younger woodlands.

Alan had been waiting here since 3:00. I hope he goes on ahead soon. I enjoy his company, but the knowledge of how badly I was holding him back would haunt me. Sooner or later, he will be compelled to resign himself to hiking alone for a while, until he runs into someone who wants to keep his impressive pace.

One final note: at Wilson Creek Shelter this morning, Alan met that weird little fellow who was going to hike all of those 25-30 mile days. He was packing it in.

SUNDAY, 6/26/83, MILE 739.1 --- I have a confession to make. Scum that I am, while traveling with another hiker I usually manage to let them get out onto the trail before me each morning, when the path is spanned by immense spider webs spun during the preceding night. They are quite effective snares. Unless the sun happens to be striking them at just the right angle, you never see them until you are scraping big clumps of gunk off of your face and out of your hair. I like to let the other guy have the privilege of experiencing that wonderful sensation.

I started hiking this morning at 7:30, about a half-hour after Alan left. The initial two-and-a-half miles to Bearwallow Gap followed that same narrow ridge the Appalachian Trail and the parkway had shared yesterday. Once again, I was closely paralleling the road, often hiking just above or below it. While still wiping the sleep from my eyes, I passed the severed head of a recently slain rattlesnake. Some hiker had done the deed and left a note in the trail pointing out the grisly trophy for the edification of those who followed.

At Bearwallow Gap, two narrow strips of state blacktop rising from the valleys on either side met at the ridgecrest. The Appalachian Trail, which had been following a wide, overgrown woods road, came out of the woods and passed beneath a bridge carrying the Blue Ridge Parkway over the state road -- a graceful stone arch adorned with ivy. The exit and entrance ramp islands were manicured lawns sprinkled with flowering dogwood trees. Nice conception. Re-entering the woods, the AT left the Parkway and the main crest behind for a while, following a spur ridge called Cove Mountain. The pathway was, as it has been since Cloverdale, beautifully graded and cleared of obstructions; I was making excellent time when I stopped for a quick break at Cove Mountain Shelter, along the crest of the mountain.

In the register was a note for me from Alan. He had slain the serpent. He wrote that, if I could got my butt in gear and catch up to him three miles ahead at Jennings Creek, he would supply the stove and snake fillets if I would contribute some of the squeeze margarine I carry in my backpack. I was mildly intrigued, but not wildly enthusiastic.

By the time I finished nursing my shins down the long decent to Jennings Creek, Alan had been there for about an hour. He had a protein-induced glaze in his eyes, looking as contented as the backpacker who had just swallowed the reptile. The snake was all gone, as he had managed to weasel some butter off of a passing motorist. Oh, darn. He showed me the fifteen rattles he had taken as a souvenir and reminisced fondly about his recent repast. I think he said it tasted kind of like chicken.

The bank of the creek was a nice temporary haven from the rigors of late-June backpacking. The AT had descended into a deep valley cradled among some outlying spurs of the Blue Ridge, coming out on a narrow road and following it over a concrete bridge across the stream. The valley and its surrounding ridges luxuriated in cool, lush forests of hemlock, pine, oak, hickory, and dogwood. Cheerful rapids churned the rocky creek bed above the bridge and a tranquil trout pool sheltered by an enormous, partially-submerged boulder and gravel banks lay below. We took a long, giggly break at that spot -- too long, as it turned out.

I could barely get my engine restarted on the climb up Fork Mountain which followed. The thermometer was topping ninety again, for what feels like the zillionth consecutive day. Alan, dizziness, and nausea were my companions on that climb. Finally, three of us had to sit down for fifteen minutes and tell Alan to go on ahead. He was also looking somewhat wobbly, but he did not wish to stop. One day out of Cloverdale, his own personal demons were just a little too close for comfort.

I felt much improved when I resumed hiking. The trail quickly arrived at Fork Mountain's summit and began to descend. At the bottom of that climb was an AT campsite which boasted the first good drinking water I had seen since leaving Bobbletts Gap this morning. Having stretched one quart for twelve steamy miles, I was understandably dehydrated. I stopped and guzzled many cups of Tang before going on.

The next four miles were all climb -- a very discouraging prospect at the end of a long, hot day. Nevertheless, I made the best of it. I am becoming conditioned to making long climbs while drenched in my own sweat; I cannot remember my last dry one. The trail was nicely cleared and well tended, but steep in spots.

The ascent ended at the summit of Floyd Mountain, returning to the main crest. Since Bearwallow Gap, I had descended almost all of the way to the floor of the adjacent James River valley and subsequently re-climbed the Blue Ridge. The Appalachian Trail will do tricks like that frequently in the days just ahead -- more contortions to avoid the parkway. It should be interesting.

Wanting nothing more than to simply get home for the night, I sailed over the final half-mile descent to Cornelius Creek Shelter. The location was ideal -- a tiny clearing secluded within an impenetrable thicket of rhododendron beneath a towering spread of well-spaced hemlock and oaks, alongside a shallow, trickling stream in a very rocky bed.

Alan had left me a note in the register to the effect that seventeen miles were just not enough for him, and he was going on. It was enough for me. It was 6:30, and my stomach was rattling a tin cup against the bars of its cell, screaming for dinner. I wish Alan good luck against his demons. I hope he has his moment in the sun on Katahdin. He deserves it. It takes an awful lot of guts to do what he is doing.

I am now only thirty-one miles shy of my required fourteen-mile-per-day pace. I should be able to breeze into that magic number soon, even if my leg does not come around. I am shooting for at least seventeen more miles tomorrow. I am hurting, but I have my own demons to put to rest. I want my moment in the sun, too. 1399.4 miles to go.

MONDAY, 6/27/83, MILE 761.1 --- Once again, I had company in a shelter. As darkness fell, a bat began fluttered around the rafters, making one hell of a racket. I finally managed to evict him with my flashlight about dawn, but only after a night of frequently-broken sleep.

I left the shelter at about 7:00. Another warm day was obviously on tap when I received my first sweat bath while climbing the first hill. The climb ended at a spot called Black Rock and an excellent westward view across the Valley of Virginia towards the Allegheny Mountains. It was a typical Virginia summer morning: a haze hung heavy in the air, turning distant mountains into smoky, blue-gray specters.

Apple Orchard Mountain was a long, tough grind. A narrow, grassy power line cut not far below the summit overlooked a wild, wooded hollow embraced by long spurs of the Blue Ridge and backed by low foothills. Beyond, the Valley of Virginia again blazed bright green in the summer sun, while the faraway Alleghenies shimmered translucently through the haze, twitching upon dancing heat waves.

The Appalachian Trail never actually touched Apple Orchard's crest. It followed an elevation line just below, clambering over and through an interesting mass of exposed rock along the way. At one point, it wandered between two massive outcrops, following a narrow cleft beneath a large suspended boulder, the edges sides of which just barely clung to the rim of each rock. The situation looked precarious, but had probably existed for ages.

The AT again shared a narrow ridgecrest with the Blue Ridge Parkway for today's first ten miles. Nevertheless, the road was very unobtrusive upon my hike. The parkway crossing halfway through this stretch, just before Thunder Hill Shelter, was my first real contact with the road up to that point. The crest had constricted into a very slender rocky spine with sweeping vistas on both sides of the road. From my vantage point, an odd-looking F.A.A. structure on the summit of Apple Orchard just behind me resembled a setting from a sci-fi B-movie: a huge metallic sphere perched atop a relatively-flimsy scaffolding. Obviously, this installation was the reason the AT had skirted that mountaintop.

Thunder Hill Shelter sat directly upon the trail near the crest of a knob in a grassy, open woodland which looked to be an old field reclaimed by the forest. I took my first break of the day there, meeting a straggler thru-hiker: a man from New York City who had begun hiking the trail a month before I. He inquired about my starting point and destination. When I innocently answered Springer to Katahdin, he haughtily informed me that having begun with the intention of hiking the entire trail this year, he had discovered that it "wasn't in the spirit of the AT to set goals." Obviously, he was one of those self-righteous pinheads who feel the need to rationalize their quitting and then find some way to denigrate those who go on fighting for their dreams. The spirit of the AT is to hike your own trail and to let others hike theirs without attempting to cast aspersions upon them with some lofty-sounding, empty bulls___.

He seemed almost disappointed when his line failed to wound. Hey, he picked the wrong guy to fly that one on. It sounded too much like the type of rationalization I would make to myself before this quest began to turn me into someone I almost like. He was probably another of those who lose their edge as a result of long lay-overs in trail towns. I would rather take a short day in most cases than a day off. I get the rest I need and still keep my edge, physically and mentally. And I worked too damned hard on that mental aspect to risk losing it now. It is said that the only way to hurt a man who has nothing is to give him something and then take it away. Imagine how he would feel if he earned that something himself and then just let it slip away. Personally, I do not want to know.

When I left the shelter, Mr. Philosopher told me he would see me up the trail, and I said, "Sure." At 9:30, he still looked to be about a half-hour away from departure. I managed not to laugh until I was a half-mile away. I strode on, mean and macho.

I met an unusually large number of day hikers on the trail today. Even more unusual was the large number of them who were genuine women -- a nice, scenic change of pace from the typical run of hairy, unwashed men. I even managed to converse with them this time without drooling. I am one suave son of a b____.

Some features along the Blue Ridge Parkway clash a bit with the rustic aspects of the Appalachian Trail. After descending from Thunder Hill, the AT brushed past the Thunder Ridge Overlook. I found myself walking a portion of the loop trail from the nearby parking area, a path surfaced with pebbly gravel which crunched beneath my feet. You gotta love these wilderness experiences. A manmade stone platform extended out over the Arnold Valley, revealing prospects of a small cluster of farms surrounding a tiny village with the James River making lazy loops in the background. The AT then dropped just below the crest's western rim, returning to good old dirt footpaths.

The Blue Ridge is a crucial watershed. The major rivers emptying into the Atlantic along the coasts of Virginia and North Carolina originate on its slopes, but few cut through the long rock wall. The James is one of the exceptions. Having paralleled these mountains on a northwesterly course for about twenty miles, the river loops southeastward near Glasgow, Virginia and slashes a deep, rugged gorge through the range. At Petites Gap, the AT crossed a gravel United States Forest Service fire road a few yards to the west of the parkway and entered the James River Face Wilderness. The Blue Ridge Parkway turned eastward and descended from the main ridgecrest in order to circumvent the gorge, leaving the Appalachian Trail in sole possession for a while.

Once again today, the trail was meticulously maintained. On the several stretches along which the trail passed through thick concentrations of stinging nettle, an extra-wide path had been cleared. Nice touch. The one exception to this exceptional trail work was the short section of the Appalachian Trail traversing Highcock Knob. Jungles of oak, hickory, pine, hemlock, and laurel covered its slopes. Mature trees along the crest were sparse and spread-out, allowing through plenty of sunshine to encourage the flourishing of riots of tangled undergrowth -- mainly stinging nettle and poison ivy. Viewed from the south along the ridge, Highcock Knob was an interesting sight, resembling an almost-perfect cone. The trail up was far less pleasant -- very steep, very rocky, and choked with those vile chest-high weeds. I would have voted to bypass the summit and circle the knob, but since they had forgotten to mail me a ballot when the trail was laid out, I sweated and waded through the verdant mass, odorously pungent and steaming in the blazing summer sun. The climb down the far side was even steeper and more overgrown.

The remainder of today's trail was excellent. At the end of the descent, the Appalachian Trail passed through an area of scenic, rather sparsely-grown ridges which seemed almost barren compared to the dense rain forests throughout the southern Appalachians. It was a surprising and interesting change of pace.

The path clung to the sides of steep slopes. The thin topsoil was sand and rock. Little undergrowth existed, and that which did grew low and scrubby. The trees were somewhat dispersed and scraggly-looking: scrub oak, pitch pine, and some laurel. Constant openings in the trees revealed lushly-wooded hollows far below. The Blue Ridge, which had been trending northeastward, took a bend to the north, providing fine vistas of Highcock Knob, Thunder Hill, and, gradually, Apple Orchard Mountain with its distinct metallic sphere up top. The Appalachian Trail followed an elevation line along the western slopes just below the crest, high above the Arnold Valley.

Eventually, the trail almost doubled back upon itself to cross over to the east side of the crest. Lush, dense forests of hardwoods, hemlock, and pine returned as I descended towards the James River gorge, but there were a few views of the river below -- graceful azure loops through vivid green hills. Bluffs and hills lined the banks, rising quickly and impressively to lofty mountains. I could see tomorrow's menacing climbs looming across the river.

The descent from those ridges to Matts Creek Shelter was not difficult in itself, but the top of my left boot began digging into the outside of my ankle, chafing away at one small area where the pain soon became excruciating. The past two days hiking in these new work boots were the first in weeks in which my hiking had not been hindered by the condition of my footwear, but that short streak came to an end with a vengeance today.

Although ditching the crumbling lumps which I used to call hiking boots has allowed me to improve my mileage, long days and nagging injuries have begun taking a toll upon me -- a severe dose of physical and mental fatigue. I am drifting through a perpetual stupid haze in which minor mental processes seem beyond my capabilities. I am sure that a simple method of alleviating the problem exists, but I just could not grasp it today. Hopefully, I can shake this long enough to find a solution tomorrow.

I limped into Matts Creek at 4:00. The shelter was well-maintained and attractively located with a deep swimming hole nearby in the adjacent creek, but its surroundings were very buggy. A weekend hiker staying there tonight offered me some homemade beef jerky which turned out to be excellent. That thoughtful gesture was very much appreciated. Several entries in the register at Cove Mountain Shelter yesterday had informed me that the small store located on Virginia 130 in Snowden, a mile west of the Appalachian Trail crossing of the James River, had recently gone out of business. As this was the first of three small stores along the AT between Cloverdale and Waynesboro where I had counted on obtaining food, I am a little short of rations until I reach the second one tomorrow, about a mile west of the AT crossing of US 60 in the village of Oronoco. I hope they carry fuel for my stove. That situation is growing extremely critical.

The next shelter was five miles further up the trail. I liked Matts Creek and did not relish the thought of inflicting more damage upon my ankle, but I had begun to realize that my moment of truth could not be postponed indefinitely. Although I discovered last week that my relentless drive forward had started to become as big a threat to my quest as my old quitter habits, it had begun to bother me that I have not yet managed a prolonged unbroken stretch of excellent hiking. Despite my ankle problem, shin splints, physical and mental fatigue, and the many grueling climbs in this portion of the Blue Ridge, I had never had a better opportunity. The stretch of trail between Cloverdale and Waynesboro is one of the finest on the entire AT. The trail maintenance is impeccable, and the grading on most of the long ascents and descents is excellent. The scenic qualities of the range are ideal for long hikes: attractive, airy forests with little undergrowth and occasional fine viewpoints, but without constant spectacular highlights to grab my attention and slow me down. The time had arrived to put up or shut up.

I rested for a half-hour and left. The AT traversed several low ridges, descended to the James River, and crossed it on a highway bridge. The river was shallow and its rocky bed created short stretches of foaming rapids. The surrounding bluffs which made up James River Face were intensely green. A low hydroelectric dam for a small power plant formed a calm lake just upstream. Train tracks, a power transmission line, and a couple of small state highways converged at the bridge, but the gorge was otherwise attractive and fairly pristine. On the east bank, the AT turned left on Virginia 501 and then quickly right up a small embankment into the woods. It climbed another low ridge, went over a few small knobs, and descended into Johns Hollow.

Johns Hollow Shelter is one of the jewels of the Appalachian Trail. It is freshly painted and immaculate, and the caretaker has even left a small vase of flowers on the picnic table. Now, that is civilized. A grove of towering hemlock and hardwoods rises above a small, flat, bowl-shaped widening of the hollow with a stream running along one side and a little spring bubbling out of the ground on the other. The spring features the first really cold water I have tasted on the trail in Virginia. The dark earth, devoid of undergrowth save for a nice smattering of ferns around the fringes, has a light coating of acorns, twigs, dead leaves and needles. Both ends of the widening pinch off into narrow ravines and its sides are flanked with low ridges.

Even the outhouse is a palace -- fresh coat of paint, large mesh screens for excellent ventilation, and the extra amenity of a nail on which to hang one's roll. After all, just because one is roughing it, one should not necessarily be compelled to descend in to barbarism. Pardon me, but could you please pass the Gray Poupon?

Twenty-two miles today on bad legs, despite a myriad of problems. Mean and macho. Mean and macho.

TUESDAY, 6/28/83, MILE 778.6 --- A whippoorwill put on quite a show this morning, soothing me awake bright and early (5:30) with a loud, lovely burst of song. I enjoyed the performance so much that I lay there in my sleeping bag enthusiastically shouting out requests (Shut the f___ up; get lost . . . variations on that theme). As he chose to ignore them, I rolled out of bed before sunup. I almost always have late starts on the morning after a long, hard hiking day, but, thanks to that obnoxious little bird, I was on the trail at 7:15.

The hike began with a long ascent along a spur ridge to the main ridgecrest at the top of a peak called Little Rocky Row. At first, the AT climbed through lush, green forests in various stages of growth. Stately old trees like those surrounding the shelter hung on for a while, gradually dwindling into forests of intermediate age. Along one level stretch of the ridgecrest, I strode through a large grove of supple saplings sighing in the faint breeze. The grades grew increasingly steep. Towards the top, along a particularly arduous slope, I encountered terrain very similar to the ridges of the James River Face Wilderness from yesterday's hike. The soil gave way to a thin mixture of sand and pebbles. Scrub hardwoods, gnarled pitch pine, and scraggly clumps of grass clung to the mountain's flank.

Little Rocky Row lived up to its name, for better and for worse. The worse was a steep scramble up over boulder fields on a trail strewn with small, loose stones constantly rolling and sliding beneath my feet. The better included a line of cliffs named Fullers Rocks near the summit from which outstanding views of the James River gorge blew away those offered by the trail across the river in the wilderness area. Far below, the winding blue serpent slithered through green hills. The slight bulge of Snowden Lake, just above the dam near the US 501 bridge where the Appalachian Trail had crossed the river, gave the snake a contented, well-fed appearance. The southeast face of the mountain plunged precipitously downward towards the rolling country of low ridges and hollows in which I had spent last night. Beyond, outlying mountains vanished into a thickening haze.

There was a very slight descent into the sag between Little Rocky Row and its big brother. The climb up Big Rocky Row was rocky and steep, but neither as difficult nor as lengthy as the climb from Johns Hollow up to Little Rocky Row had been.

I had it going today. I averaged better than two miles per hour along the steepest climbs and flew over the remainder of the trail. I stopped for my first rest at Saddle Gap after four-and-a-half miles. Five minutes later, I was hiking once more. If you are feeling strong and there are big climbs to be made, why put them off?

Just below the summit of Bluff Mountain, a plaque designated the exact spot where a four-year-old child had been found dead after wandering from home and becoming lost in 1895. There are many ghosts along the Appalachian Trail.

After seven miles of virtually continuous climbing, I finally began a long descent, from Bluff Mountain into the Pedlar River Valley. At a junction of woods roads a mile-and-a-half later, the AT turned right off of the one it had been following down the crest of Bluff Mountain and onto another. I continued straight ahead, taking the quarter-mile side trail to Punchbowl Shelter for lunch. It was so early, and I had already come so far, that I was quite comfortable with removing my boots and socks and kicking back for an hour, munching and perusing the shelter register. I managed to come up with another warped creation for my growing fan club (I know that I have only met one person thus far, but, before that, I had not encountered any -- that works out to a staggering rate of growth).

The shelter sat at the edge of a slight bowl-shaped depression along the western slope of the Blue Ridge inside a setting from Tom Sawyer. Everything was intensely green. The road was a wide strip of grass broadening into a large meadow sloping gently downward to a tiny pond. The opposite shore was becoming densely overgrown with tall, pungent weeds. Even the waters of the pond had a slight greenish tinge of algae and mud. Tadpoles swarmed in the murky shallows, while a chorus of bullfrogs croaked complacently in the soporific afternoon heat. A small spring trickled through a shallow ravine below the pond. I love exploring side trails; they almost always seem to pay off.

Once I climbed back to the AT, the going was fairly easy. That was fortunate, because the heat was really beginning to take hold. After Punchbowl, the Blue Ridge Parkway, returning from its long detour around the rugged river gorge, reclaimed the main ridgecrest. The Appalachian Trail crossed the parkway and detoured over a spur ridge called Rice Mountain. The nothing climb over Rice's summit was mixed in with a great deal of downhill to Pedlar Dam and the lake which it had created on the Pedlar River. The surrounding portion of the river valley was almost totally undeveloped -- a lushly-wooded landscape of ridges and hollows penetrated by a mere handful of extremely primitive gravel fire roads.

From the dam, the AT climbed about a hundred feet up the side of a ridge and skirted the edge of Pedlar Lake on a level sidehill trail. Some short ascents and descents surrounded the shallow ravines of a few small brooks running down into the lake, but the trail was not difficult. That was a blessing; the recent long hiking days were beginning to catch up to me again.

The trail descended to Brown Mountain Creek near its confluence with the Pedlar River and followed it up a gentle slope for a mile to the shelter of the same name, where I am staying tonight. I covered seventeen-and-a-half miles. That will be my rest day between yesterday's twenty-two miles and a hike tomorrow which may just be the most difficult I have yet attempted on the Appalachian Trail. I am shooting for another twenty-two miles, the first five of which will consist of a 3000-foot climb back up to the Blue Ridge. There also looks to be some fairly rugged hiking over the ensuing seventeen miles, but, what the hell, I am starting to hit my stride once again. I am even feeling strong on the long climbs.

On a less chipper note, the store just ahead on US 60 has also gone out of business. I have just heard the news from a teen-ager and his mother staying at this shelter with me tonight. They were able to spare about a cup of Coleman fuel for my stove, so I might just make it to Waynesboro before running out. My main problem is that I have no solid food of any kind remaining. I was counting on restocking at one of those stores, and both have closed down since the publication of my brand-new 1983 Data Book. That's just life on the edge. I guess.

The last of the three stores between Cloverdale and Waynesboro is just over a mile off of the AT on Virginia Route 56, about twenty-five miles up the trail in Tyro, Virginia. Several hikers have informed me that this store has also closed down since the Data Book was published. I am now exactly fifty-two miles from Waynesboro. I need to make time, fueling my body with the likes of soup and instant oatmeal, in order to reach solid food in Waynesboro before I start suffering too badly from the lack of it. Catch 22.

I wish I could attempt to cover the distance in two long days, but these work boots are not nearly well enough broken-in for that type of mileage. However, I did solve the problem of the left one cutting into my ankle today. I simply leave the top half of the boot unlaced. I risk spraining an ankle on the rockier sections of trail, but at least I can walk.

At this point, I have killed off 336 miles of Virginia. Only 209 remain. Oh, God . . .

**************************************************************

When I stopped at Punchbowl Shelter for lunch, four backpackers were already settled in for the night. I walked over to the first one and asked, "How far did you come today, son?"

"Forty-five miles, sir!" he replied in a strong, clear voice.

I told him to keep up the good work and moved over to the second hiker. I asked him the same question, and he shot back, "Thirty miles, sir, but both of my ankles are sprained!"

I told him I was proud to be hiking with men like him, and vigorously shook his hand.

The third hiker's reply was a sickly, but firm, "Twenty miles on a broken leg, sir." I was overcome. I knelt down, said a little prayer for the lad, and kissed his forehead. Then, I walked over to the fourth hiker.

"I've been here at this shelter for six days," he sobbed. "I just can't seem to shake off this depression. Virginia is too much for me. It's all the same. I can't stand it! Everything is all the same! I can't take it any more!"

I grabbed the yellow b_____d by his collar and yanked him to his feet. "You no-good, lousy, stinking coward!" I screamed. "You don't belong here in this shelter with these fine men! Get out! Get back out on that trail, and I hope you fall off a cliff! Godd____t, I should push you off myself! You make me PUKE!!"

He ran out blubbering into the forest, quivering like a leaf. I know that Ike is going to give me hell for this, but, then, the AT is hell. I love it, though. God help me, I do love it so.
--General George Steffanos

WEDNESDAY, 6/29/83, MILE 800.6--- NOON, MILE 785.9 -- We have just finished lunch at Wiggins Spring Shelter. It is 12:00, and the next shelter is fifteen miles further up the Appalachian Trail. Rain looks imminent. George is going to try for that shelter, anyway. He is a mean and macho guy. If he doesn't stop blubbering, I'm going to slap him.
--General George Steffanos

NIGHT, MILE 800.6--Somehow, I made it to the Priest Shelter, where I collapsed into a heap of mush. The General came over and kissed my forehead. I kicked him where it counts. Henceforth, I am wimping out on days like this.
--Private George, the chump

**************************************************************

It rained a bit last night. Not much -- just a few widely-scattered light showers. It is raining rather heavily tonight at the Priest Shelter. Maybe we are finally going to get some relief from the long heat wave. Maybe my backpack will sprout wings and fly me to Katahdin. Hey, what did I expect? It is almost July.

The five-mile climb back up to the Blue Ridge today was a real b_____d. The continuous ascent was often steep. Several stretches were very steep.

I had another early start today -- off before 7:00. The initial mile-and-a-half from the shelter to US 60 was fairly moderate climbing, the bottom half of which followed Brown Mountain Creek upstream through pleasant, mature forests. The numerous crumbling remains of old stone walls and slight traces of old woods roads gave evidence to the fact that this valley had once, long ago, been inhabited. It is all part of the George Washington National Forest today.

US 60 was a major crossing of the Blue Ridge. Nevertheless, it was a narrow two-lane road winding around hairpin curves and snaking up and down steep grades. After I had crossed it and fought off a strong impulse to ruin my twenty-two-mile day by hitching nine miles into Buena Vista for food, the hard work began. The lower section of the climb up Bald Knob was the worst. For one mile the trail just seemed to leap straight uphill. I was fortunate to have gotten an early start; I was hiking this stretch while the day was still relatively cool. Had I not done so, I would have been swimming in sweat by the end of that mile.

Some steep stretches were scattered along the remainder of that climbs but it was nothing compared to what had come before. The summit of the knob had at one time been open pastures but was now overgrown with briar bushes and small trees. With all of that tangled growth and the summit's lack of views, the spot was reminiscent of the Alleghenies. Surprisingly, the trail was very well cleared of undergrowth. It must have been a hell of a job to keep up.

The ensuing mile of descent into Cow Creek Gap also felt like a vacation in comparison with that climb. This was followed by another climb, very steep along the lower half, of almost a mile in length up Cole Mountain. My stomach began to give me hell, but I had nothing much to put into it. As a desperate last resort, I stopped and devoured about a half-cup of sugar.

The sugar eased my burden, as did the great views from the crest of Cole Mountain. An F.A.A. tower was at the top, surrounded by a huge meadow. As I stood upon the summit, clouds were drifting past above, around, and below me, but I had glimpses between them of long valleys and a labyrinth of encircling peaks. Those clouds kept the heat down all day long. That was downright pleasant.

The ridgecrest remained open and scrub-grown for most of the next one-and-a-half miles to Hog Camp Gap, and the panoramic views continued. The trail was hacked through thickets of wild strawberries, but other hikers had beaten me to most of the ripe ones. I was continually catching intense whiffs of strawberry, but could never manage to locate the sources of these aromas. If there is a hell for starving thru-hikers, it is probably very similar to that experience.

After a seven-mile morning, I followed the half-mile side trail from the AT to Wiggins Spring Shelter. I had been told that the water from this spring was worth the trip in itself, and, anyway, a backpacker needs a place at which to lay back with his boots off at some point during the course of a twenty-two-mile day. Shelters are oases in a comfortless desert of insects and mud. It is nice to relax without the need to stay alert as to whether large, red ants are crawling up one's leg. Additionally, to be honest, the main reason for the side trip was that I was ninety percent decided on wimping out on the grueling day I had planned. Rain was imminent, and, although I am trying, I have not yet become as mean and macho as I like to joke that I am.

Although it was still morning, two hikers were already at the shelter when I arrived. One was the lady who had suggested to me the use of duct tape for temporary shoe repairs at that little store near North Mountain Thursday. She is making a sort of a thru-hike. She told me that she hitchhikes over parts of some sections and skips others completely, but is just out for the enjoyment of those sections she chooses to hike. She listened to me bitch about the unfortunate closures of all three stores and my subsequent food supply situation, and gave me a squash she had liberated from a garden near Pedlar Dam and some flour along with instructions about the making of pan bread. That was generous, coming from another thru-hiker.

The other person at that shelter was the middle-aged leader of a group of Boy Scouts out on a backpacking trip. Having injured his Achilles tendon and been forced to drop out of the hike, he was in a surly mood and seemed to resent the fact that the lady and I were in so much better physical condition than himself.

Wiggins Spring is located on an old road gravel-surfaced and passable for cars from the valley below up as far as the shelter, at which point it becomes an undrivable dirt track for the remainder of the distance to the Appalachian Trail along the ridgecrest. A man who lived a half-mile down that road stopped by. He is one of a number of incredibly perceptive local people along the Appalachian Trail who sort of adopt backpackers, being very fond of us as a group (Well, we are cuddly and lovable at that). He agreed to give the scout leader a ride down the mountain and to take the lady to her mail drop in Montebello. I made a quick recovery from my brief descent back into loserhood and decided to hike the remaining fifteen miles to the Priest Shelter this afternoon, after all.

Often when one is walking through the woods, one hears the onset of a light rain before feeling its contact against skin. It makes cheerful little popping noises similar to Rice Krispies in milk as fine drops spatter off of nearby leaves and twigs. Further off, the pops merge into a faint sighing like a gentle breeze rustling the treetops or a small cascading brook. I began hearing these sounds immediately upon departing from the shelter. I have heard them often on this trek. It is not a happy tune to a backpacker several days from the next trail town. I may never eat Rice Krispies again.

Less than a minute later, it began to pour. I felt it then. By the time I had gotten into my rain gear, it was 12:30. The remaining fifteen miles had just grown to be much longer, and I was extremely tired from the morning's climbs. I now faced a choice. I could walk back a few yards to spend the night at Wiggins Spring after a big seven-mile day or continue forward into certain misery.

As you already know from the schizophrenic opening of today's entry, I went on and I made it. I had a fairly good time throughout the afternoon in spite of the cold rain, walking along laughing at what an idiot I was and serenading myself with an extremely sarcastic rendition of "George Steffanos Was a Man," sung to the tune of the theme of the old Daniel Boone television show.

Once I had climbed the dirt road back to the Appalachian Trail at Cow Camp Gap, the trail crossed a fence and entered a large pasture. The open terrain continued for more than a half-mile, to just past the summit of Tar Jacket Ridge. Along the crest, the pasture diminished to a grassy swathe surrounded by tangled bracken. Profusions of wild flowers bent beneath the deluge's onslaught and birds seemed to shelter in every tree -- it must have been quite a place on a nice spring day. There were watery views back down into Cow Camp Gap, with the fields running along Cole Mountain and through Hog Camp Gap above looming gray and lifeless through the veil of murk and rain. Bald Knob was barely a faint shadow beyond.

A couple of more distant prospects opened up a few times during brief lulls in the rain. To the northwest, the farms and tiny villages of the upper Pedlar valley below huddled in cold, gray mists. Across the valley, thicker clouds from the west were boiling over the main crest of the Blue Ridge, rapidly devouring the mountaintops. I was in for a long day.

The remainder of the trail was densely wooded, generally lacking in viewpoints. That was of little consequence today. The cold rain intensified and lingered into the night. Rain makes for a much more introverted hiking experience than on a clear day. Far-off vistas disappear and distant colors are muted into shades of gray. A hush descends upon the land, broken only by the pattering of raindrops off hundreds of leaves. Fogs frequently close in, further narrowing one's horizons. The light itself is mundane And flat, lacking dazzling highlights and deep shadows.

On the other hand, nearby colors seem to grow more vibrant. Mosses gleam with almost phosphorescent green intensity. Shreds of clouds hang here and there, suspended in treetops like wisps of smoke. When I get past the cold, wet, miserable sensation of backpacking in the rain, I tend to enjoy the more intimate contact with my immediate vicinity such days provide. Today, the chill actually provided a nice change from the long heat wave.

I saved my best for last. I had already walked more than twenty-one miles, including the one-mile round trip to Wiggins Spring. I caught up to the tail-end of a group of about twenty backpackers and discovered that they were planning to stay at the same shelter as I. There was no way I was going to pitch a tent in the rain after a day like this. Having no idea of the extent of their charity, I figured I had better get to the shelter first. The final two miles were all uphill, and I was feeling completely spent, but I blew by that large, spread-out, moving mass of people in about a minute. Another minute later, they were out of sight behind me.

I crossed a rutted, gullied strip of dirt known as Crabtree Farm Road about a mile before the shelter. A primitive National Forest campsite was located in a large grassy field alongside the road. A man camping there gave me the unsolicited piece of information that I was two miles from the shelter. I smiled and told him that my guidebook informed me that the distance was one mile, and, in this case, I would prefer to believe the guidebook. He laughed.

The book was correct. I was soon at the shelter, laying out all of my stuff and settling in. That large group of hikers began to drift in about twenty minutes later. They turned out to be a bunch of young teens from a school for troubled youths hiking with three adult supervisors. I made room for them, and we all managed to squeeze into that small shelter, but it was tight. I was glad that I already had my space on the end picked out, but I certainly did not mind sharing. Nobody wants to pitch a tent on a night such as this if they do not have to.

One of the adults told me that it was very generous of me to make room for all of those kids, but I did not think it was any big deal. I do not own the shelters, and I had no intention of shutting anyone out -- I just wanted to secure my own place. The kids gave me a big box of crackers and two cans of spaghetti -- now, that was generous. Not enough fuel was left in my stove's tank to get it started. Thanks to all of their manpower, they quickly built a large, roaring blaze in the shelters fire pit, and I was able to cook my soup and rice on that fire. The crackers tasted like heaven after my long days of solid food deprivation.

Tonight is turning out quite well. This is one great group of kids, and I am not just saying that because they provided me with food and fire when I was lacking (although that is the quickest way into a thru-hiker's heart). They are well-behaved, courteous, and have a delightful sense of humor even on this cold, dismal night. If these are troubled youths, I would sure like to see what the nice kids are like down here.

I wanted very badly to wimp out back at Wiggins Spring when the rain started. I am glad that I did not. Another few steps closer to Katahdin. 1337.9 miles to go.

THURSDAY, 6/30/83, MILE 813.6 --- High atop a shoulder of a mountain called The Priest, not far from the 4063-foot summit, a spur ridge makes a perpendicular intersection with the main ridgecrest. A large clearing surrounded by gnarled and rather sparse trees just below this junction is the site of the shelter where a large group of kids, three adult chaperones, and one slightly-used thru-hiker spent a night of rain, fog, and unseasonable cold on the second-to-the-last day of June, 1983. A shallow little spring beside the shelter fed into a flat area, forming a small bog which grew by leaps and bounds during the night's monsoons. The elbow formed by the joining of the two ridges sheltered the structure from north, west and south winds. Ironically, the open end of the building faced the gap, and a bitter easterly blast howled through all night. Shivering was actually an enjoyable experience after all of the sweltering heat and humidity I have endured lately. A lingering chill drizzle greeted me at 6:30 this morning when I awoke.

Having no fuel, I breakfasted upon those two cans of cold spaghetti which the kids had given me and started packing my gear -- slow work with all of those sleeping bodies hemming me in. My backpack was finally loaded and I was decked out in all of my rain gear at 7:45. My new friends were still asleep, so I left a sincere thank-you in the register as I headed out on the trail.

The long crest was very narrow and the flanks fell away fairly precipitously. I passed some promising viewpoints, but all were completely socked-in, opening into a vast white void swirling with light grays. The landscape was thick undergrowth, gnarled oaks, and great boulder formations. I appeared to be following a thin supernatural green land bridge through clouds.

The half-mile climb up to the actual summit was followed by a four-mile descent into the Tye River valley. The path was rocky and steep in many spots, the trail elevation dipping from 4063 feet at the summit to 997 feet at the river crossing. The final viewpoint on the mountain was reached as I finally dropped below the clouds. I got one good photograph of a lush, green valley speckled with daubs of white mist.

Those kids had given me food and fire when I sorely needed them, but their most precious gift may have been the welcome piece of information that the store in Tyro, Virginia had not gone out of business. I came out on Virginia 56 -- another major Blue Ridge crossing which was little more than a narrow, snaking roller-coaster through rugged foothills. The Appalachian Trail crossed this road just at the point where it began to straighten out somewhat as the Tye River valley was expanding from a narrow, wooded gorge into a broader farming plain. I turned right off of the AT for the mile-and-a-quarter hitch to Tyro. Only three cars passed me on that obscure rural highway. I wound up walking the entire distance, passing orchards, pastures, and tidy little houses squeezed into a narrow strip alongside the river.

I arrived at the store at 10:30. The place was small and had a limited stock of goods, but did carry fuel for my stove and a sufficient stock of solid food. The man behind the counter was friendly and funny, and even kept his own AT register behind the counter for all thru-hikers who stop by. I made my purchases and headed outside to dig into some munchies.

Once outside, I got into a conversation with a man who had been inside of the store keeping the owner company when I arrived. I had wasted a lot of time trying to hitch a ride on that lightly-traveled road on the way in and did not have any more to spare today getting back. I offered him some gas money for a ride to the AT. He refused my money but gave me the ride. On the way, he informed me that the owner of the store had just buried his son that morning. He was such a pleasant gentleman you never would have guessed the pain he was in. It must have been rough for him to work today, but I guess it would have been even tougher to sit around thinking. To a far lesser extent, tonight and tomorrow morning would have been rough on me had he not opened the store. The food and especially the fuel I bought there saved my butt. Thank you, my friend.

Back on the trail, the AT crossed the Tye River on a long suspension footbridge. Although sturdily constructed of stout timbers and-thick wire cables, it would buck up and down a bit in long, undulating waves as a person crossed it -- more so were he the depraved type of thrill-seeker who encouraged the effect with some rhythmic bouncing as he walked. Usually, I have a mild problem with heights, but for some reason I was amused and entertained by this experience. I think this trail is warping my mind.

In the next two-and-a-half miles, the trail climbed about 1200 feet and dipped slightly back down to the 1800-foot elevation at Harpers Creek Shelter. I stopped for an hour. I was facing a three-mile climb back up to 3870 feet atop Three Ridges Mountain, the last of a long series of grueling ascents in the National Forest lands between Cloverdale and Waynesboro.

I read in the shelter register entry after entry by thru-hikers who were skipping this final climb by following a blue-blazed side trail which visited some waterfalls and rejoined the Appalachian Trail on the other side of Three Ridges. The side trail was three miles shorter than the bypassed section of the AT. In those entries, hikers were raving about the falls (which the northbounders had not yet even seen) and penning long passages about why they did not feel they were staining the integrity of their AT thru-hikes. I could certainly sympathize with that decision, and everybody has the right to hike their own trail, but the entries did amuse me. You would have thought the side trail went by Angel Falls from the way people went on and on praising its scenic wonders, while they glossed over the fact that they would be avoiding a difficult climb and the three extra miles on the AT. I left an entry of my own:

All of this babble about pretty waterfalls is horses___! You're a bunch of stinking yellow b_____ds! You climbed Groan Mountain and Pond Mountain, and now you're wimping out on Three Ridges. You make me want to PUKE! I should personally slap each and every one of you.

--General George S. Patton

I followed the Appalachian Trail over Three Ridges. The climb was rough -- probably the roughest of this long, hard week. The worst section was the steep one-mile ascent of the final and loftiest knob. The wide, clear path I had been following turned into a virtual bushwhack through shoulder-high weeds, rife with stinging nettle, still dripping from the past night's heavy rains. I was forced to wear my rain suit.

Suddenly, as I attained the ridgecrest, the trail became impeccable once again. It transformed from virtually nonexistent into a wonderful four-foot-wide swathe through solid green walls of stinking weeds from one moment to the next. The remainder of the day was a breeze, ending with a two-mile descent to Maupin Field, and the final shelter on the Appalachian Trail before Waynesboro.

It was raining once again as I rolled in at 4:45, after thirteen miles of hiking. I had made decent time in spite of two hours in Tyro and an hour break at Harpers Creek. I could have continued on and camped somewhat nearer to Waynesboro, now seventeen miles away, but I did not feel the need to prove anything more to myself today. I needed the rest after a tough week of hiking, and I hate tenting in the rain.

June is over. I hiked 477 miles this month -- a nice increase over the 336.6 miles I covered in May. In June, I averaged 15.9 miles per day, in spite of many difficulties with boots, shin splints, thunderstorms, and The Wall. I am now only 11.4 miles shy of the fourteen-mile-per-day pace which I need to maintain over this entire hike, so I have made up almost all of that ground this month. Tomorrow begins a new month, and soon I will be out of Virginia. I am beginning to see the first faint glimmerings of light at the end of the tunnel.

I still use that mental image of my future self standing by that pond in Baxter State Park at dusk, staring up at Katahdin, to psyche myself up for some hard, fast miles when I am feeling down. It has become so real to me that at times I feel I am walking in a dream and this vision is my only reality.

I have no past before the Appalachian Trail, and certainly no future beyond. I no longer seem to exist as an entity except in the here and now. Perhaps this was the hidden price which the weak, desperate man who began hiking this trail had to pay to get this close to his dream. I can barely remember him. I wonder how much of my present self will be lost if I can manage to pull off the remainder of this adventure.

The fabric of Time has been completely transformed on the Appalachian Trail. Tennessee was long ago. Georgia has become a fading memory of the distant past. My home in Connecticut is a faint, misty legend from the dawn of time. The future is even harder to comprehend. Katahdin is a fairy tale. How can this long trail end?

1324.9 miles to go.

Kathy, I said as we boarded the Greyhound in Pittsburgh
Michigan seems like a dream to me now.
--from "America" by Paul Simon

FRIDAY, 7/l/83, MILE 830.6 --- It rained throughout the night upon the massive trees and lush ferns surrounding Maupin Field Shelter. The air hung still and leaden, cloaking the old forest in a shroud of dense fog and mystery. Something primeval in the atmosphere seemed conducive to my mind once again wandering strange pathways.

The rain petered out before dawn, but wisps of mist lingered into the morning, a faint, fading echo of the night's magic. Just above the shelter, in a sag along the crest, the flat grassy swathe of Maupin Field lay hushed and dripping inside a thin, stationary cloud.

The first mile-and-a-half of the Appalachian Trail was pleasant walking. In Reeds Gap, the trail crossed meadows with views north and south along the ridgecrest on either side of a small state road just east of its junction with the Blue Ridge Parkway. The AT followed the line of an old stone wall as it ascended the north field.

The next thirteen miles were no picnic. The path-was constantly either (1)overgrown with tall, rank weeds; (2)very steep; (3)as,rocky as hell; or (4)all of the above for most of those miles. Much of this section was sandwiched between the twin obstructions of the Blue Ridge Parkway and a huge development of vacation homes and condos along the ridgecrest.

The sun, which had been playing peek-a-boo with the fogs and mists since sunrise, emerged triumphant, combining with the lingering rainwater to gradually brew up a tropical mixture of wilting heat, stifling humidity, and dripping vegetation. In order to avoid a thorough soaking from the soggy underbrush which frequently intruded upon the trail, and to protect my arms and legs from constant incursions of briars and stinging nettle, I had to wear my rain suit for most of the day. The greater portion of my hike was grim and joyless.

There were some highlights along the way. A few nice views looked westward over the upper Shenandoah Valley. Those from the crest of Humpback Mountain were especially fine. A line of cliffs near the south summit overlooked a big chunk of the Shenandoah, as well as Rockfish Valley to the east and the Wintergreen development with its ski runs and summer homes to the south. Three Ridges Mountain and The Priest loomed in the background. The northern end of the hump -- the mountain's summit -- had another line of cliffs with views of Waynesboro and a surrounding sliver of the Shenandoah and a broad portion of the Rockfish Valley. To the north, beyond Rockfish Gap, the mountains of Shenandoah National Park stretched to the horizon. By the time I stood on that summit, the morning's mists had cleared just enough for me to enjoy the full extent of the views.

The best views of Rockfish Valley came at the end of the day, from Rockfish Gap -- the major crossing of the Blue Ridge in Virginia. The Appalachian Trail followed the parkway on a bridge over Interstate-64 and US 250. Below to the east was a green, rolling country rimmed by rugged-looking mountains on three sides. There were large swathes of grassland, snakes of forest, contoured fields of crops, scattered farm buildings, tiny meandering roads, and a couple of villages. I climbed down to US 250 and began my hitch into Waynesboro.

I was slow-moving and sluggish all day, but I made the Waynesboro Post Office before it closed thanks to a nice little spurt at the end where I sucked it up and hiked the final three-and-a-half miles in just over an hour, and a hitch that lasted just twenty minutes before I obtained a ride.

Waynesboro is another trail town with sharp contrasts -- even more so than Cloverdale. Inside the city limits along Interstate-64, herds of cows roam wide green pastures, while a strip of huge, smoking factories line Virginia 624 and the railroad tracks along the west end of town. US 250 through town is similar to US 11 in Cloverdale -- a bustling strip of motels, restaurants, gas stations, and shopping malls. Unlike Cloverdale, Waynesboro is actually a small city with a very built-up downtown district of stores and offices.

I got a room in a nice motel for only $22.00 because the air conditioning was not working properly. I took a long, hot shower, put on the clean clothes from my package, and went out for some pizza. I now have my new hiking boots, along with some new shoulder straps for my backpack (the old ones were beginning to tear). I also have a ton of food for Shenandoah National Park.

The springtime of my adventure has definitely come to an end. Somewhere along the line, it segued into the beginnings of summer. All things must pass. Fulfilling its promise of a time of birth and growth, this spring saw the gradual emergence of a new man -- not a perfect one by any means, but he seems to be the man I was looking for. He faces challenges in a far different manner than the barely-remembered man who began hiking this trail two months ago. He has had his baptism of fire, and has met The Wall and torn it down. More fires lie ahead: the furnace -- blistering high summer in the lower elevations of the central Appalachians. A long weary road still must be trod before autumn comes with its promise of reward.

1307.9 miles to go.

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©1996 George Steffanos

gsat@skwc.com

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