Back to reality. I’m exhausted.

I know my last post was pretty scattered. Damascus was the first trail town I hit in which I didn’t actually Zero. Instead, I hiked ten miles in one day and another 12 miles or so out the next day. Consequently, I didn’t have much time to write a post, nonetheless to proof read. Please excuse the grammatical errors!

When Lentil and I got into town, we were surprised to find the Hikers Inn and Dave’s Place both full, and The Place – operated by a local church – seemed uninviting with signs everywhere forbidding hikers from drinking, smoking, even laying on the couch. Instead, we stayed the night with Crazy Larry and – included in the cost – were treated not only to a shower and laundry, but also to a homemade meal of slow cooked venison with sautéed onions and all the fixins.

The following afternoon, Lentil and I both hiked out. We’d discussed our divergent priorities before leaving and went on our merry ways. Lentil wanted a couple of relaxing days to reenergize, whereas I decided to push toward Marion, VA in 3.5 days so that I could rent a car to get to Luray, VA for my girlfriend Mo’s wedding reception.

I started hiking before 3pm and immediately felt sluggish. My pack weighed me down more than usual, and I just felt like sitting instead. I pressed on for several miles and incidentally came across my first snake on the trail. I’d say it was about 2 or 2.5 feet long. Anyway, after a couple of hours during which I saw no less than 10 people slack packing southward (which, for the record, is terrible for morale when one is carrying 40 pounds on one’s back) I gave in. I sat down on the trail, cracked open my jar of Nutella, and ate no less than half of it. Ah, much better. Pumped full of sugar and less weight in my pack. I’m a thinker.

I ended up hiking until 8pm, at which point I set up my tent by a pond, made dinner, and promptly passed out. The following day I woke up early and began hiking before 8. The weather forecast was calling for afternoon thunderstorms, and I was hoping to make it to a shelter 16 miles ahead before the bottom dropped out. That day the trail ran along the Virginia Creeper Trail for a ways as well as among more picturesque and expansive views as it (and I) ascended Mount Rogers.

At 4pm, I was grateful to espy the eaves of the Thomas Knob Shelter as the heavy rain clouds began to roll in. When I came around to the entrance of the shelter, I was shocked to see this pony standing there as still as a statue. Two other hikers – Phys Ed and Dundee – were already in the shelter and warned me that the pony was, um, friendly. So I…made friends.

The pony approached me and started licking my exposed arms and legs. I’ve heard of these animals before – there’s a herd that lives in the Grayson Highlands, which is the area I was hiking. They lick hikers’ skin for the salt. Apparently, they’ll eat (ie destroy) gear that is soaked in salty sweat, so one has to be careful around them. This pony was generally harmless and absolutely hysterical.

Within minutes of arriving and engaging in this spectacle, it started to rain and bluster. By the following morning, the temperature had dropped to 22 degrees. Good thing I didn’t get rid of my winter gear yet.

Knowing that I wanted to push a 25 mile day, I got out early and was treated to a morning of crisp, clear views. The grasses were iced over, and a layer of fog blanketed the land below as I looked on from above the cloud line.

I started off slowly, only hiking five miles in my first three hours. I’m sure I stopped at least ten times. Oh, that’s a nice view. I should take a picture. And another. And I have to pee. I should take off my hat. And my jacket. And my pant legs. Oh, ok, one more photo. As the weather warmed up and the trail wound back into the trees, I picked up my pace.

I made it to Trimpi Shelter at 7pm with enough time for dinner, to set up in the shelter, chit chatting, and bed. The following morning, I hiked 10.6 miles in 3 hours and 41 minutes to the Mount Rogers Visitor Center, had Enterprise rent a car in Marion, VA pick me up, and made my way 242 miles north to Luray, VA, which took exactly 3 hours and 36 minutes. Yeah. Think about it.

As I was driving 75 miles per hour north on I-81 in an overwhelmed fog, I spotted signs for places such as Troutville and Waynesboro, and I thought, “Why have I heard of these places?” It took me a second to realize that I’ll be walking to them (and others) in the coming couple of months. And here I was, zipping by them as though they were trees.

I made it to the wedding reception in Luray (which, by the way, is another beautiful area along the trail), had a great time, and turned around Sunday morning and drove back to Marion to keep on moving in the direction of, oh, let’s say Luray, next time at the speed of my feet.

Meandering on,