Wow! So much has happened since the last time I updated! I've walked almost 300 miles, crossed a few state lines, and witness (FINALLY!) the coming of Spring. My computer time is rationed here, so I'll attempt to refrain from my typical bloviation.
After leaving Erwin, TN, I started to develop ankle problems. I had previously twisted my left ankle in the Smokies, but it reared its ugly head again once I got into snowy and icy terrain in the Roan Highlands. I ended up taking a zero day in a random shelter on Easter Sunday because I couldn't walk on it. Roan Mountain, one of the highest peaks on the AT (and home to the highest shelter) was about three miles of continuous ice. And when I say continuous, I mean I stepped on nothing but ice for three miles. Trying to do that on one ankle is a bit of a challenge, to say the least. Fortunately, the ankle felt a little bit better just on the day I was set to go to the doctor, so I pushed on, making sure to baby it. And boy was I rewarded! The Roan Highlands consist of about eight "balds"; mountaintops that are grassy fields at the top. The views are terrific, and no one is quite sure why no trees grow up there! I had one of my first bright, sunny, beautiful days while crossing Hump Mountain. I'd upload a picture but the internet is too slow here and apparently I'm too much of a moron to make my pictures actually show up. Still working on that problem, folks!
After the Roans, I crossed for good out of North Carolina and into Tennessee. And boy was that nice! Tennessee featured some of the easiest terrain to date; traveling through river valleys and along steady ridgelines. With a few exceptions, it was more or less a racetrack. I did my first 1-percenter: a day where I hiked more than 1% of the AT (21.8 miles). My time in the river valleys also featured my most fun stealth camping location to date: a graveyard. There were warnings everywhere not to camp too close to a particular road crossing because of the risk of crime or harassment. So I kept pushing on as the sun was setting and soon found myself with very little level ground and a severe need to go to sleep. But the good old Isaac Cemetery sure was level, and that night, I certainly rested in peace! As far as I see it, the dead don't care, and the baptist church never found out, so what's the problem?
I'm not much of a hostel-dweller. I don't like paying for accommodations when the whole woods is just waiting for me to stake my claim for the night. But there was one hostel I absolutely had to stay at: the Kincora Hiking Hostel in Hampton, TN. When you get to the road crossing, there are two hostel options, one to the east, and the other to the west. The one on the east side is a lot nicer: it has heating, good resupply, wireless, and whatever other perks. The west side hostel is unheated, and generally unremarkable. But it has Bob Peoples as the owner. And so I decided to go to Bob's hostel, Kincora. I'll save you the sibilant sophistry of Robert Frost, but boy am I glad I went to the dumpy place! Bob Peoples has to rank up in the top ten most interesting people I've ever met, on the AT or otherwise. Former colonel in the US Air Force, has a Ph.D in Mayan archeology, former starting hockey goalie for UMass, trail maintainer extraordinaire... the guy is a walking storybook. He dropped in to drop off a load of fresh towels that evening, and he and I spent the next two hours discussing possible pre-Columbian Old World-New World contact. He was particularly knowledgeable about Peruvian sites, which I very much enjoyed discussing, given my recent trip down there. Shelters north of Kincora on the trail feature Chuck Norris-style Bob Peoples graffiti jokes: "Bob People can slam turnstiles". "Bob Peoples sleeps with a pillow under his gun". "Every time Bob Peoples builds a switchback, an angel gets its wings". You get the point.
After Hampton, the trail was easy, for the most part, to Damascus, Virginia, the "friendliest town on the AT". I didn't spend much time there, but managed to meet up with most of my trail friends, many of whom I hadn't seen in a couple weeks because my ankle was slowing me down. And AFTER Damascus, my wonderful grandparents came to visit! I absolutely loved spending some time with them. They even did a mile or so of the AT with me. It's amazing how much you become jaded to how beautiful it is out here, and sometimes you need someone who's new to it to remind you of it. I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did! Speaking of grandparents, I'd like to give a random shoutout to Grandma Nell.
After Damascus came Mt Rogers, the highest point in Virginia (don't bother climbing it, there was absolutely no view) and the beautiful Grayson Highlands. Wild ponies graze in the area. They're pretty used to humans, though, and don't even notice your existence... unless you offer them food. Then, as Samson found out, they will harass you endlessly to get more. And sometimes, they end up eating your socks. Feeding the ponies: not advised.
After about Atkins, VA, I had another injury scare. Suddenly my good ankle became my bad ankle, and walking on two gimpy ankles is even worse than one. I got tendonitis in my right Achilles, and climbing uphill was excruciating. Once again, I resolved I was going to the doctor "tomorrow" (in both instances, it was a Sunday and so the clinics would be closed). And once again, I woke up the following day and felt well enough to continue.
On that Monday morning, I got up and was preparing to go into town to get some Aleve. As I came down the hill to the road crossing, I saw a couple of trucks parked at the road crossing. Somebody was in the drivers seat of one of them, so I walked up to try and hitch a ride in. Lo and behold, he got out, said he was from the local Methodist church, and asked if I'd like a free all-you-can-eat breakfast! After picking my jaw off the floor, I hopped in his truck, and was treated by the fine folks at the church to one of the best breakfasts I've ever eaten, period. Their blueberry pancakes featured wild blueberries picked from the Grayson Highlands, local real maple syrup, eggs, sausage, grits, you name it. And they had granola bars, cookies, and goodies for the road. And ALEVE! Saved me a trip into town, and sure made my morning!
The weather has finally improved. The past few days have been rainy, but it's been in the 70s and 80s for the past week or so, and it hasn't dropped below freezing at night except for once. It's the greatest thing in the world not jam your feet into frozen shoes in the morning! The longer days, nicer weather, and easier terrain have allowed me to pick up the pace a bit. The other day, I passed the 500 mile mark, and then the one-quarter pole. And today, I passed the thousand-kilometer mark! Hooray obscure milestones! Of course, I'll still be in Virginia for another 400 miles or so, but it sure is nice to be making progress!
Well, so much for a brief post. My bad.