Are you feeling blue because you haven’t heard from us hikers in awhile?

Good, join the club: we’ve been getting “The Virginia Blues” a bit lately.

We’ve been in this state longer than anyone who doesn’t reside here should. The trail magic has come in abundance, the people have been so welcoming, and the towns are hiker friendly – why would anyone want to leave, right? It’s probably the 10 other states we have yet to hike through after this one that’s making us a little anxious to cross VA off the list. In all fairness, we were warned of this, warned that the time it takes to hike through the longest state on the AT is enough to discourage someone attempting a thru-hike.

In addition we’ve dealt with a couple set backs while passing through. Brent was sick when we reached Daleville, VA. Whether it was actually Norovirus or some waterborne illness we are unsure, but it left us no option but to zero three days we hadn’t planned to. Shortly after we were back on the trail we had another snag – literally. Both of the dog packs ripped, within moments of each other. What are the chances? 800 miles of hiking with them must have been their expiration, and we had to get creative with rope and zip ties so they could continue.

A welcome break from the trail came when Brent’s parents, Jeff & Betty, made the drive out from Minnesota to visit us weary hikers. The six of us spent our days together in a lodge not far from the trail. It was a great time for us to reorganize, cook and eat a bunch, and just relax. (Huge Thank You to Jeff & Betty!) Also, we were able to contact the company that makes the dog packs, Ruffwear. They were so helpful and honored the warranty on the packs, meaning the pups will have new packs for the second half of the trail. Only bad news was they would be without them while we waited for them to arrive -through our next week of hiking through the Shenandoah National Park. They had no trouble adjusting, it was us the bad news was for: we got to carry six days worth of dog food for two 75 pound dogs. As one could imagine, it’s not a light load.

Having these pups along does not make things any easier on us. But, like we often say, “We wouldn’t have it any other way!” And although Virginia has got us feeling blue once and awhile, it will undoubtedly remain home to some of our best memories from the trail. We’ve seen plenty of hikers leave the trail, and the initial ones we started with are spread miles apart. Days like today, when we pass the 900 mile mark, and see our third and largest bear on the trail we are reminded why we’re out here. The half way point is just ahead, and we’ll be proud to say we arrived by passing every white blaze before it, never once slack packing, south bounding, or short cutting. Then, we’ll make our plans to do the same for 1,092.9 miles more!

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[?] What do you do when the weather turns for the worse?

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We get this question a lot, and there isn’t a simple answer. With over 700 miles hiked on the AT, we’ve lost count of how many times we’ve been caught in the middle of a soaker. The first thing it usually does is dampen our spirits, but our attitude on rain has changed since hot weather moved in these passed few weeks. Just the other day as we climbed to McAfee Knob, a rainstorm hit and we were relieved. It was a nice change to have our clothes dripping wet from rain instead of sweat. We didn’t get to see the most photographed spot on the AT in all it’s splendor but we did have it to ourselves. According to us, that is worth more than a good view on the often crowded trail. The weekend before, when weather was more ideal, a Ridge Runner counted 300+ visitors to McAfee Knob in one afternoon. Some Thru-Hikers waited for days in the shelter that came before just for a picture with a clear view.

The thing any hiker hates most though is wet gear, especially when it’s our home away from home – our tent. So, last night as it started to come down on us we decided to go against our no shelter policy. The pups are getting more comfortable to the point we trust putting a little distance between them and us overnight. We laid their mats underneath the shelter where they would stay dry and cool, and that was okay with Lewis until the early hours of the morning when he prefers snuggling. We never seem to get our best rest when we stay in the shelters, but waking up dry with little break down to be done is a nice consolation.

As hurricane season hits we’re watching the weather even closer. Stories from 2011 Thru-Hikers who were caught in Hurricane Irene’s path are nothing to take lightly. We didn’t sign up for this because we were promised it would be sunny and 65 degrees everyday. Taking the conditions as they come is part of the challenge and the beauty. Some of our greatest memories yet have been watching threatening weather move in from the top of a bald or drinking coffee under the roof of a shelter waiting for the rain to pass. So, to answer the question, we hike rain or shine. Sometimes we wait it out for a few hours, sometimes we luck out and are in town, but we have yet to get off the trail solely when faced with bad weather. Days like this make the days of sunshine and cool breezes that much more wonderful. 20130608-085026.jpg

Answers to all your questions:

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Thousands of people have both attempted and completed an Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike. One thing all of us have in common is the questions we receive from family, friends, and strangers before, after, and durning our journey. We found this list humorous, inspired by all the frequently asked questions us hikers receive. Have a question you don’t see answered above? Let us know!

Also, check out lowriderpress.com for a wonderful assortment of stickers like the one photographed above, inspired by hikers and life on the trail.

Damascus and Back Again

IMG_7894 After our rainy welcome into Damascus, VA accompanied by Craig and Gracie, we headed home with them for the weekend. Lori came and picked up us drenched hikers and we told her all about our adventure on the short drive back to Glade Spring, VA. Brent and I were so grateful to be headed towards a hot shower instead of crawling into a wet tent that night.

We spent a couple of days at the “Hammond Inn” (as us returning guests like to call it) then the trail was called us back. We returned to Damascus where we left off, the four of us officially crossing under the town’s signature trail welcome sign. Still having the town to walk through, the trail following the sidewalk and streets from end to end, we took our time returning to the woods. The town was preparing for Trail Days, scheduled for that following weekend. We knew we’d be back for it, along with thousands of others, so we enjoyed the calm before the chaos. All our pits stops were equally necessary; fuel canister purchase at the outfitters, and an ice cream cone from a local shop before getting on the trail. IMG_7895
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IMG_7928 The type of country we saw north of Damascus was beautiful. Whitetop Mountain, Mount Rogers, and Grayson Highlands were among the highlights. My birthday came on a perfectly clear day when we planned on hiking up Whitetop Mountain. I got spoiled with breakfast in tent from Brent, and we broke down camp at a leisurely pace. That day, May 14th, is still the best weather day we’ve had yet. That helped, because our climb was a bit more strenuous than anticipated. Brent was a little antsy to get to the top, but cautious not to rush me on my day. When we arrived to the clearing near the top I soon discovered why, as Brent pulled a big bag out from behind Buzzard Rock. IMG_7910 When one spends day after day in the woods, sights like a large bag that isn’t our packs is enough to equal parts confuse and excite a hiker. He placed the bag in front of me to examine, and I quickly learned it was filled with goodies. Specifically, Birthday goodies he had arranged with Craig and Lori to be brought to the trail, all without my knowledge. I skipped over any credit he may have deserved and instead was in disbelief that they took the time to pick up and deliver these wonderful treats. We inhaled a feast of Big Mac’s, fries, sweet tea, birthday cake, red wine, and all the ingredients for some s’more making. 20130603-104149.jpg Between turning the big 2-5, the ideal weather, clear views for miles, and our rare on trail food coma it is sure to remain one of the most magical memories of our thru-hike. Mount Rogers, Virginia’s highest elevation point, was next and unfortunately was overshadowed by the excitement of entering Grayson Highlands State Park just ahead. Wild ponies roam throughout the park and we were a little nervous to see how Jack & Lewis would interact with them. These ponies are not bashful and accustomed to hikers passing through. Silly us, thinking our pups would spook them – instead they did quite opposite and sparked their interest. The first one we encountered trotted up to Lewis like he was a distant relative he hadn’t seen in awhile, eager to say hello. Dog and pony went nose to nose until Lewis snapped, realizing he was not related to this hoofed creature with a long face and mane. We caught it on video and we hope to share it with our followers when have the resources. Despite all the excitement, we were thankful no ponies or puppies were injured durning our visit to Grayson Highlands State Park.
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IMG_7994 After we completed that popular stretch of the AT it was nearly time for Trail Days Festival, taking place back in Damascus, VA. Our guide book called it the largest event on the Appalachian Trail and us Midwesterners figured we better attend while we were this close. Craig came to pick us up at Dickey Gap, about 60 miles north of Damascus by trail. Many of this years attempting thru-hikers (AT class of 2013) had hiked past and then hitched back for the festivities. The other thousands in attendance were a mix of former thru-hiking alumni, section hikers, gear reps, locals, church groups, and basically anyone who has a desire to have a good time with a bunch of smelly hikers. A veterinarian was doing free check ups for trail dogs Friday morning and we made sure to pay him a visit. He reassured us they were in great shape and told us that dogs hiking the trail are usually the healthiest and happiest dogs he sees in his line of work. Ours in particular have age on their side – being just over a year old and overflowing with energy. But, as we’ve been told many a times, the percentage of completion for dogs attempting a thru-hike is far less than the 25% success rate for human attempts. As frustrated as they make us some days, we’re grateful for each and every mile they complete with ease and happy to have them along. The vet sent us on our way with reminders to keep them well hydrated, take care of their paws, and monitor them extra closely in the heat that would fill our days ahead. 20130603-103945.jpg
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20130603-104212.jpgWe only stuck around Trail Days that Friday. That was enough time to catch up with other hikers we had met earlier in the trail, get free haircuts, fill up on free food, and visit the gear reps. We left with a brand new Therm-A-Rest air mattress we’d traded our defected one for, refreshing hair cuts, and the motivation from so many other hikers to keep pressing on. The remainder of the weekend we stayed back at the “Hammond Inn”, missing the parade and the unfortunate situation that arose in the midst. For those of you that didn’t catch it, an elderly man plowed into spectators during the parade on Saturday. The shocking story of people being pinned under the car and injuring many made national news. Last we heard it was a medical condition that caused the driver to lose control, and all hospitalized were released and recovering. Overall, it was shock to the crowds of people in attendance but all seemed grateful it wasn’t the worst outcome it could have been.

It ended up being a nice weekend to be off the trail. Thunderstorms and plenty of rain moved through the area and we didn’t end up returning to Dickey Gap until Monday afternoon. When we did return we hiked the 14 miles to Partnership Shelter in no time and set up tent. The shelter has amenities like showers and a sink in it, and is a popular stop because hikers can get pizza delivered to the trail there, it’s location being just off a road. We knew we were coming off of being spoiled by the Hammonds when we opted not to order a pizza for dinner. We have been so lucky to have their help and been able to enjoy their hospitality and company through Southern Virginia and even before. It made it a little bittersweet to be continuing down the trail. We continued further into Virginia knowing there is always a visit to Craig, Lori, Gracie, Charley Ann, and the rest the family in our future!IMG_8035