For most of my life, I have had a vision of how I wanted to live. Then life happened, and that vision started to fade away about 30 years ago. But today, I got a small glimpse of how it might have been, and it was glorious!
I met another thru-hiker at the campground this morning named Scar. He’s is a retired electrician from a Lexan plant in southern Indiana and, naturally, has blue LED lights in his tent. That is the recipe for an instant friend in my book. Neither he, nor Train Wreck, intended to stop at Woods Hole Hostel today, so I convinced both of them that it was a “not to be missed” destination.
Train Wreck and I left camp together for the half mile walk back to the trail. As is usually the case when coming out of a Gap, the trail started with stairs (ugh!) and continued uphill from there. Train Wreck soon left me in his dust. I don’t know why he got the name Train Wreck, because that guy can climb like a modern diesel locomotive. I, on the other hand, with my blue shoes and blue shirt, more closely identify with Thomas the Tank Engine.
We soon met up at the totally misnamed Dismal Falls. I don’t know who in the Virginia Tourist Bureau was in charge of naming these falls, but they totally missed the mark. Dismal Falls is gorgeous! Train Wreck and I took turns taking each other’s pictures, and he took off. While I was there, I ran into Muskrat and his dog Marla. I don’t remember having seen him since the Overmountain Shelter, so we had a nice visit while sharing our trail adventures.
The morning hike followed along Dismal Creek and was very gentle on me. It was mostly flat with a soft cushion of pine needles underfoot, and I made really good time walking through the rhododendron tunnels. I even caught up briefly with Muskrat when he stopped to filter water.
Soon I arrived at the trail leading to the Wapiti Shelter, and I couldn’t resist a short side trip to see the “Murder Shelter.” On May 19, 1981, a drifter named Randall Lee Smith, from the Pearisburg area, killed hikers Robert Mountford Jr. and Laura Susan Ramsey at this shelter, and buried their bodies nearby. Smith was sentenced to 30 years in prison for this crime, but much to the chagrin of the families of the victims, as well as the hiking community, he was released in 1996 on parole after serving only 15 years. On May 6, 2008, Smith shot two fishermen who were fishing on Dismal Creek, less than two miles from the Wapiti Shelter. The fishermen survived the assault, but Smith, to no ones disappointment, died in custody from injuries he sustained during his capture. Although the original shelter has long since been torn down and replaced, this area still has a creepy feeling to it. I don’t know anyone who has ever spent the night at the Wapiti Shelter.
After leaving the shelter, I started a 1,200 foot climb and was rewarded with a nice view. The elevation profile showed a reasonably level trail for the rest of the day, and I looked forward to an early arrival at Woods Hole Hostel. I know that the A.T. is an inanimate object, but it seems like every time I’m anxious to get somewhere, the trail throws up a hurdle to slow me down. This time, it was in the form of 1.5 miles of extremely rough and rocky trail through what might be the ugliest section of forest that I have yet encountered. It seemed like it took forever to clamber through this section, which was made even worse by the fact that I was carrying five days worth of food that I would eat for two days.
As I finally turned off of the road and approached Woods Hole, I had the feeling that I was getting a glimpse of my lifelong dream. I still have, and have read, the first 10 years of Mother Earth News and a collection of Rodale books to prove it. The centerpiece of the property is a log cabin built in 1880 out of American Chestnut logs. It is surrounded by 100 acres of land featuring gardens, hot boxes, pig pens, chicken coops, and a pasture full of cows. I could not imagine a more idyllic scene.
The Woods Hole property was purchased in 1942 by Tillie and Roy Wood who opened the bunkhouse to hikers in 1986. It is now run by their granddaughter Neville and her husband Michael. They have since expanded the original cabin by adding a kitchen, and a wing for extra bedrooms, and have added showers and composting toilets to the bunkhouse. The emphasis here is on sustainable living through organic gardening, animal husbandry, and recycling.
There are about 30 people here today, and the evening started with a group yoga session (I sat on the sidelines). Prior to dinner, Neville has everyone hold hands, introduce themselves, and state something for which they are thankful. The communal style dinner consisted of delicious beef stew, roasted asparagus, fresh baked bread, and made from scratch macaroni and cheese. To top it off, we had homemade ice cream for desert. After I was stuffed, I hung out on the front porch with Train Wreck and Scar until dark. I believe they were happy that I talked them in to coming to this place.
I had reserved an inside shared room for the night, and my roommate is an interesting young man named Scott Bond. He is a photojournalist who is traveling around the USA on a BMW motorcycle. Having started in San Diego, CA, he has traveled through the south all the way to Key West, and is now working his way up the east coast to Maine and Canada. You can follow is adventure at wanderbond.com.
Woods Hole is an amazing experience, and is the kind of place that is so peaceful and relaxing that you don’t want the experience to end. Before dinner, I discovered that Maple is here, and she has given up her thru-hike attempt to spend her summer working at the hostel. Honestly, I can’t think of a better place to have a summer job.