When my cousin David picked me up at the trailhead yesterday, I was so happy to see him, and to get out of the rain, that I didn’t notice that it was going to be a steep climbing 0.8 mile road walk to get back to the trail. My legs were buckling under the weight of my five days worth of provisions, but I eventually made it to the trailhead. From there, it was a walk downhill back to street level. I had to do it, but what a PUD.
Not all of the A.T. is routed through forests and National Parks. To get out of Pearisburg, you first have to walk across the Senator Shumate Bridge over New River alongside the extremely heavy traffic of US 460. Then you pass by the Celanese Plant to get to the US 460 underpass. Then as you climb away from the highway, the piece de resistance is the opportunity to walk by the landfill. I feel very fortunate that it was a cool, crisp morning. I’m certain that on hot days, this section of the trail would smell like the opposite of honeysuckle.
Soon I was away from all the industrialization and started a smooth, gentle 1,100 foot climb towards Rice Field Shelter. As climbs go, this was about as good as it gets. Train Wreck’s wife met him in Pearisburg, so he had stayed behind for a zero. But soon, Scar passed me as I was climbing and inquired where I was headed for the night. I told him that I was headed for the Captain’s, but it was going to be a 20+ mile day. I also convinced him that it was another of those “not to be missed” places, and he agreed, against his better judgement, to give it a try.
As I got closer the Rice Field Shelter, I got a huge surprise! The A.T. guide didn’t indicate that there was anything at the top of the climb except a shelter, but suddenly the woods opened up to reveal a bald with magnificent views. This spot was made to order for a lunch stop, so I took advantage of it. I had been told that the trail in this ridge parallels the VA-WV border, so I had lunch in WV with a view of those lovely West Virginia hills.
As the trail continued along the ridge line, I passed through several huge blackberry thickets. At this time of year, the blackberries look like little green peppercorns, but those later season hikers are going to have a feast through this section.
All along the ridge line, the trail went gently up and down while alternating between open grass fields and lush forests bursting with spring. It was one of the most enjoyable walks I have had on the A.T. At Symms Gap, I came upon a campsite that had a beautiful view of the valley, as well as the final mountain we would have to climb for the day. Scar soon joined me for a snack break, but since we were still facing over 8 miles of hiking before reaching our destination, we didn’t linger long.
After an easy climb through the forest, I began the long descent to Stoney Creek Valley. By this time, I had already walked nearly 20 miles (not including the 0.8 road walk to start the day) and everything was starting to hurt. The last mile of the day is always the longest mile, and today was no exception. Finally, I saw a little wooden sign pointing to the Captain’s!
Captain is a thru-hiker from the 1960’s who lives in a house with his dog, and has graciously opened his immense grass lawn for free camping to hikers. To get to his property, affectionately know as The Captain’s, you have to pull yourself across Stoney Creek using a pulley/zip line contraption. Scar arrived just before I did, so we swapped phones to take pictures of each other making the crossing. I barely had enough energy to pull myself across the creek, and Scar took a video of my efforts that I will share someday. Your reward for making it across alive is a refrigerator full of free cold sodas that Captain generously supplies.
There are nearly 30 people camping at The Captain’s tonight. There are a few new faces, but most of them are folks that I have been running in to since meeting them at Woods Hole. We have a campfire burning and are enjoying the fellowship of the trail. Captain is a Trail Angel for providing the environment to make this happen, and he has our gratitude.