Fare Thee Well, Virginia

According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy website, Virginia (the longest state on the AT) contains 550.3 miles of the trail. Sitting in the Damascus, Virginia public library on this morning of March 24th, I am poised to cross the Virginia/Tennessee border tomorrow morning, in 3.3 miles.

Nice...

Nice…

I've been thinking of this for 200 miles

I’ve been thinking about this town walk for 200 miles

As much as I’ve loved the hiking in this great state, I’m glad to see progress, warmer weather and changing trail conditions. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve gone from near total isolation to finally sharing shelters occasionally (twice). Once with a great section hiker named Sunshine, and then a few nights later with Gator, Shitfoot and 0311, a trio of motivated Nobos.

Nacho Libre (left) and the Professor

Nacho Libre (left) and the Professor

I’ve started seeing Nobos since Mount Rogers, including the amazing Nacho Libre, the Professor, OC, Montana and the Hiking Vikings who camped last night at The Place (Methodist hostel) where I am also staying in Damascus, VA.

View through the window screen at the Methodist church hostel, "The Place"

View through my window screen at the Methodist church hostel, “The Place

This town is well-known for Trail Days, the biggest annual event on the AT (in mid-May). Its a good trail stop with home-cooked food options, several great outfitters and lots of hiker-friendly places (read: high degree of olfactory tolerance) to stay.

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Glorious spring day on the ridge above Damascus

Trestle just north of Damascus

Trestle just north of Damascus

Me on the trestle

Me on the trestle…geez I’m gettin’ hairy

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At a trail switchback: my origin path goes up on the right and destination path descends lower left

Perhaps not surprisingly, the uptick in trail encounters has coincided with warmer weather and less snow. The only icy patches I’m seeing now are remote spots in high elevation that get little sun. But for the odd/shortlived April snowstorm I am hoping the worst cold is behind me. The weather report for the next 7 days looks relatively clear and warm with only a couple of cold/rainy days expected during that time.

Virginia mountain side field

Virginia mountainside field

The AT coincides with the best-named trail I've seen: the Virginia Creeper

The AT coincides for some miles with the best-named trail I’ve come across: the Virginia Creeper

Virginia, or the Badlands?

Virginia, or the Badlands?

More Badlands

More Badlands, expecting to see Roy Rogers and Trigger emerge from the underbrush

Sat here and used the rare cel service to get caught up on news from home

I perched on Whitetop Mountain to take advantage of rare cell service and get caught up on news from home

The "Fat-Man Squeeze"

In through the “Fat-Man Squeeze”

Wild pony in Grayson Highland, standing guard over his proud accomplishment

Hippie pony in Grayson Highlands, standing guard over his proud trail accomplishment

Reminds me of "Ponderosa"

It really does feel like Virginia on the Ponderosa

Copious water from snow run off and lots of rain

Copious water from snow run off and lots of rain

Troutdale Church Hostel, a great refuge from the storm. Hitched a ride from a friend of Ishmael, the 71 year old thru-hiker I helped across Rainbow Stream in July.

Troutdale Church Hostel, my refuge from a second consecutive day of cold wind and rain. Hitched a ride from Patti, a friend of Ishmael, the 71 year old thru-hiker I helped across Rainbow Stream way back in July in Maine.

Had the place to myself, the current norm

Had the run of the place, the current norm on a quiet trail

View of Troutdale from the hostel

View of Troutdale from the hostel

The Partnership shelter seems like it could sleep 30 comfortably. The showers in the small room on the right were not working at the time

The beautiful “Partnership” shelter seemed like it could sleep 30 comfortably. The showers in the small room on the right were not working at the time, but it still felt like a Hilton. Note loft window on gable.

Another great Virginia ridgeline

Walking another great Virginia ridge line surrounded by down slopes

Never get enough of train crossings

I just never get enough of train crossings

Sunny day under a foot bridge

Sunny day snack break under a foot bridge

Another swollen river crashing by

Another swollen river tumbles by

A month's-old note from Swish in the shelter log

Months-old note from Swish in the shelter log

Touching memorial aloong the trail just south of Bland, VA

Trailside memorial a mile south of Bland, VA

I think the pictures this time around do fairly well at portraying the changing face of the trail during seasonal transition. Chilly days smudged with greys and dirty winter browns are offset by sudden punches of sky blues and fresh spring foliage greens. The Grayson Highlands area deserves special mention as the only place so far (in 1718 miles) that made me feel like I was in the badlands of the Dakotas or Montana, a sharp contrast against the surrounding rhododendron forests.

Thank you, sincerely, for tuning in again. My next update will likely be from Irwin, Tennessee around the end of March. See you then.

Max

Back on the Trail

Sorry for the delay in posting this update but today is my first chance in front of a computer since leaving Minnesota. At the end of February I opted to take a bus to the trail instead of dropping my car off again, due in part to the surprisingly great experience I had in November busing up to Maine. The experience this time: two breakdowns totaling 10 hours, multiple assaults (including one on a police officer) and a variety of scary situations. Yeah.

"...but the hound broke down and left us all stranded, in downtown [Milwaukee]..."

“…and that ‘Hound broke down and left us all stranded, in downtown [Milwaukee]…”

When the Greyhound arrived in Roanoke, I caught the local bus to Blacksburg where Sagacious and Blueberry- two Sobo friends from the trail- helped me immensely over the course of the next week as I hiked in a semicircle around their town.

Special thanks to Sagacious and Blueberry for all the help getting back into the trail groove

Special thanks to Sagacious and Blueberry for all their help getting me back to the trail. He since shaved- is this the last picture of his hiking beard?

The first four days back on the trail caught me by surprise: I trudged through deep snow the entire time and never saw another hiker. Between the trail conditions and my lack of trail legs, mileage was hard to come by. I tented all but one night and was happy at the gear changes I had made in the interim.

Sagacious dropped me here as the last mile of road to the trail was deep with unplowed snow

Sagacious dropped me here because the last mile of road (behind me) to the trailhead was deep with unplowed snow

Trudging through deep snow and finding the trail- the two biggest challenges for the first few days

Trudging through deep snow and finding the trail- the two primary activities for the first few days

Doesn't look as cold now as I remember it

Doesn’t look as cold now as I remember it

Bump a Rhododendron branch while you're passing under, and pay the price

Bump a rhododendron branch while you’re passing under, and pay the price

Not much going on in this first shelter I encountered my first day back

Not much going on in this first shelter I encountered on my first day back

"but my words, like silent raindrops fell, and echoed in the wells of silence"

“but my words, like silent raindrops fell, and echoed in the wells of silence

The white blaze on the tree in the center is the only indication I'm on the trail

The small white blaze on the tree in the center of this picture is the only indication I’m still on the trail

Camping, night three. Fireside Gatorade bottle full of snow melted nicely for water.

Camping, night three. With no streams nearby, the fireside Gatorade bottle full of snow melted nicely for water.

Since then, I’ve hiked an additional four days in mixed weather: one was sunny and 60, the others were rainy and colder. I decided to stay in town tonight (3/14) due to weather reports of thunderstorms. Rain hiking is run-of-the-mill on the AT, but for thunderstorms I will gladly take a night off if I’m near a town.

A first for me: downed powerline blocking the trail on day five

A first for me: a downed powerline blocking the trail on day five

Me in the rain on day five

Me in the rain on day five

One of these two streams is the trail; glad I switched to waterproof shoes

The lower of the two horizontal streams is the trail- glad I switched to waterproof shoes

Section hiking Papa Bear on day 5- first hiker encountered

Section hiking Papa Bear on day 5- first hiker I encountered

I’m surprised at how emotional it feels being back. You’d think I’d resent Virginia with all my foot troubles here in November, but I can’t help but love this place. The successive layers of hills and ridges, cast in that fabulous blue tint, as far as the eye can see, puts me at home in a way I can’t describe without sounding cheesy.

Hitching into town this morning, the first truck picked me up and Joe- the driver and recent transplant from Long Island, New York- insisted on taking me out for breakfast. We had breakfast sandwiches at Subway, which was a deja vu. Wendy and I picked up Toast, Stringbean and Ducky at this very spot in November on the way to hikers thanksgiving at Swish’ grandparents condo.

After 8 days hiking everything has fallen back into place, with the major exception being I’ve only seen 2 other hikers (both sectioners) on the trail. This is much more what I envisioned when I lit out from Maine in July- solitude, isolation, quiet. I thrive in these conditions, so I am enjoying it immensely, but I can’t help but miss my ‘trail family.’  Nearly every shelter I pass has an encouraging note from one of them. There is something spectacularly surreal about hiking 15 miles into the woods, arriving cold and tired at an isolated shelter blanketed in snow, to find a personal message left by a hiker friend I haven’t seen in months.

One of the many notes left for me by my hiker family

One of the many notes left for me by my hiker family

The picture is blurry but Neville's organic cooking was spot on. Kitchen dinner with Papa Bear, Kickit, Neville and Sue at Wood's Hole Hostel

The picture is blurry but Neville’s organic cooking was spot on. Kitchen dinner with Papa Bear, Kickit, Neville and Sue at Wood’s Hole Hostel

The Virginia green tunnel

Another section of the ‘green tunnel

Snow shorts: I'm nothing if not fashionable

Snow shorts: I’m nothing if not fashionable

Typical AT view from a Virginia ridge- always another blue ridgeline in the distance

Typical AT view from a Virginia peak- always another hazy blue ridgeline in the distance

Before I go, some unfinished business. People ask me often how/why I chose the name Maxheap as my trail name. Its a very long story, but one that begins with a drawing my oldest son did (using a computer mouse) when he was a kid. Here’s max.

The original Maxheap, by Oliver Goshey

The original Maxheap, by Oliver Goshey

Lastly, I’ve been listening to a lot of great music to pass the time, but its a song that is not on my iPod that has been stuck in my mind for days. Its an old Tom T. Hall tune that my mom- a big fan of country and western- played a lot when I was a kid. Follow the above link to hear the whole song, but I’ll leave you with the chorus, along with my sincere gratitude for tuning in again to catch up on my progress. I’ll update again in a week or so. Cheers.

I washed my face in the morning dew,
Bathed my soul in the sun. 
Washed my face in the morning dew, 
And kept on moving along.

Happy birthday tomorrow Wendy! Thank you for making this entire year possible!

Max

Ready to Continue!

Heading Back to Virginia!
Today is Wednesday, February 25th and I wanted to inform anyone still following that I will be heading back to the trail in a few days. I had intended to leave Minnesota this coming Saturday (2/28), but the sudden funeral of a dear friend and the recent warnings to AT thru-hikers about current weather conditions have shifted that plan by a couple of days. I hope to be on the trail by the end of next week and will try to get an update out within a week or so after that.

Video
For anyone interested, I’m included a link to a draft of a video I’m working on to capture memories prepping for and hiking on the trail. Once the final part of the hike is done I intend to add sections for all 14 states so it serves as a video scrapbook. Fair warning: I made this purely as a personal scrapbook so you may find it tedious and self-indulgent.

Australia
As some of you know, Wendy and I spent part of January and February visiting her dad and his wife in Australia. As reflected in these photos, it has been a tale of two winters. And as fun as it was with Roly and Jane in Surfer’s Paradise, I’m thrilled to be returning to Appalachia to restart the hiking engine and try to close out my remaining miles. Thank you once again for your suppport. I hope we enjoy another 6-8 weeks together following white blazes on this final push to Georgia. I’ll see you on the trail near Pearisburg very soon!

Good friends make Christmas fun!

Good friends make Christmas fun!

Fish house shany town on our lake, days before leaving for Australia.

Fish house shanty town on Medicine lake, days before leaving for Australia.

Wendy, Jane and Roly moments before getting soaked.

Wendy, Jane and Roly on our first day in Australia, moments before getting soaked.

Frequent morning visitor on the back deck.

Frequent morning visitor on our back deck

This guy turned to the camera on cue!

This guy turned to the camera on cue!

Yep, these things are everywhere.

Yep, these things are everywhere.

Just another day in Aussie paradise

Another day in Aussie paradise

Every day is a postcard on the Gold Coast.

Every day is a postcard on the Gold Coast.

Australian guillotine- a lot like the one on the AT!

Australian guillotine- a lot like the one on the AT!

Rain Forest in February!

Rain forest in February!

A pirate, washed ashore. Aaarrrr!

Pirate washed ashore

Back to reality: a van crosses Medicine Lake yesterday (2/24). Can you feel the biting wind?

Back to reality: a van crosses Medicine Lake yesterday (2/24). Can you feel the biting wind?

Max (Michael)