This morning, while I was stuffing items into my backpack and preparing to leave, I just happened to turn around to find a big black cow standing five feet from me. Had this been a bear, I would have (to quote Bill Bryson from the book “A Walk in the Woods”) literally $hit myself to death. How an animal that large could get so close without even making a twig snap is beyond my comprehension. But instead of ripping me to shreds and eating me for breakfast, Bessie just continued down the path towards greener pastures.
After my heart rate returned to normal, I finished breaking camp and climbed back to the trail. However, the 1,000 foot climb up Cove Mountain soon had my heart rate back into surprise cow territory again. The trail started out with a nice, gentle grade, but turned very steep and rocky near the top. Along the way, there were several nice views to give me an excuse to take a breather.
At the summit of Cove Mountain is a spectacular monolith called Dragon’s Tooth. This is a very popular destination, but today I had the entire area to myself. Since there was no one around to call for a rescue helicopter, I declined to climb to the top of the “Tooth,” but it was very tempting. The rock formations, as well as the views, were amazing, but it was also cold and windy so I didn’t stay long.
What really surprised me was the climb down the other side. For nearly a half mile, the trail was nothing but a very steep descent down rock. In some places, the climb down was so technical that the trail builders had thoughtfully installed rebar steps to assist with the climb. Today, this rock scramble was a blast, but I can’t imagine trying to safely negotiate those rocks when they are wet. The trail builders also thoughtfully installed a warning sign…. at the bottom of the climb.
Once clear of the rocks, the trail went through the first blooming thickest of rhododendron I had seen. That, combined with several outstanding overlooks, made this an incredibly beautiful section of trail. I was admiring the view from Rawies Rest when suddenly Boo Boo appeared! He had finally caught up with me after taking multiple days off in Damascus to recover from shin splints. It was great to see him again, and we soon headed down the mountain.
There is a group of at least a dozen thru-hikers traveling down the trail together that I have dubbed “The British Invasion.” The group consists of at least four chaps from Great Britain (with names like Teabag and Waldo), along with a few Yanks (Odie and Feathers) and several young ladies (Lobo, Wonder Woman, and a couple of childhood friends from Oklahoma).
The de facto leader of the group seems to be a fellow named Wild Thing. I actually met Wild Thing at the same shelter that I met Boo Boo at on day one. Wild Thing is an elementary school teacher, and his class in England is following his progress as he sends them videos about trail life. Early on in the hike, he was visiting schools along the trail to give classroom presentations about the outdoors and hiking the A.T.
The British Invasion is actually a fun group of people to be around, but they hike fast and, because of the size of the group, they get to the shelters early and use up all of the resources. I first encountered this mini bubble, and got to meet most of them, when I stayed at Woods Hole Hostel. In Pearisburg, they decided to take a “zero”, so the trail has become much less crowded.
By early afternoon, Boo Boo and I arrived at the Four Pines Hostel. This hostel is donation based and is provided by former thru-hiker Joe Mitchell. What you have here is a three car garage in Joe’s backyard that contains a random selection of cots and beds, several old couches, a couple of refrigerators, and one bathroom with a shower. I’m not certain how this place is even legal, but Joe is kindly trying to provide a low cost alternative for hikers needing a place to stay.
Shortly after we arrived at the hostel, the British Invasion also arrived, swelling the number of guests. Joe offers a free shuttle service to the Homeplace Restaurant, which is legendary among thru-hikers, and it took two trips there to transport all the guests.
The Homeplace Restaurant is located in a house built in 1907 at the site of a former 600 acre farm. The food there is a traditional Sunday dinner that is served all you can eat family style, and we had 15 hungry hikers at our table. That poor server. Every time she sat down a plate of food, within seconds the plate was empty. It was like lowering a cow into a school of piranhas, and then pulling the skeleton back out. For $15 each, we ate through heaping mounds of fried chicken, roast beef, ham, green beans, slaw, mashed potatoes, biscuits, and gravy. When we couldn’t eat any more (you always save room for dessert) we finished it off with cobbler topped with ice cream.
We returned to the hostel in a food coma. The British Invasion wanted to stay up and party for a while, so Boo Boo and I decided to sleep outside in our tents (there were no beds left anyway). There is supposed to be a lot of rain tonight, so everything has be battened down to keep all my stuff dry.