Living the vanlife along the trail means van-accessible road locations dictate my hiking mileage. I might want to hike 20 miles every day, but usually I have to choose 12, 15, or 24 miles because that’s where the road crossings fall along the trail.
Figuring out which roads are van-accessible can be a crap shoot. The FarOut app helps, as it marks the location of every road that crosses the AT and notes whether it is paved or unpaved. But FarOut generally doesn’t say whether road is drivable, so I try to stick with State highways or named, paved roads whenever possible.
Sometimes, if my only choices are unpaved forest service roads, I’ll post a question on the AT 2023 Facebook page, contact some of the local shuttle drivers, or look at Google Earth imagery to sleuth out the driving conditions, particularly if the weather forecast is bad. Every once in awhile I forget to check.
Yesterday was one of those once-in-awhiles. Providentially, on our return from Marion after a resupply mission, the idea to check out tomorrow’s pickup point popped into my head. So, we turned around and made the circuitous drive off VA16 toward Glade Mountain Road. Not only was it a named road, FarOut assured me that it was maintained by the US Forest Service.
The locals disagreed. At the end of the paved road, a local farmer had posted a sign claiming that Glade Mountain Road was private, with no trespassing allowed. Even if I wanted to argue the point with the farmer, which is a risky proposition in Appalachia, trees overhung the rutted dirt road so low that we’d be sure to destroy our roof-mounted solar panels if we tried to drive any further.
Had we not checked, Northstar would have hit this blockage on her way to pick me up, and I would have been either sitting on the mountain all night or grudgingly turning an already long 18.3-mile day into a brutal 23-mile day. So, we revised the plan and made it into a shorter, 14.8-mile day, which came with its own set of blessings.
First, I saw my third bear on the ridge just after I hiked out of Dickey Gap. Well, part of a small bear. Not the bitey end, the part that’s visible as it runs away. And once again, no part of the mama bear. Second, I heard a couple of spiders wolf-whistling me as I passed, probably because my hair and beard were even more silvery than usual as they were draped with a record number of early morning spider webs.
Then, I met Birdsong climbing up from the South Fork of the Holston River. He’s a nice young man with solid Kentucky manners, who just started a flip-flop thru hike at Damascus “just in time to miss all that Trail Days mess.” My kind of guy.
At the top of the climb, I stopped to chat with Slapshot, a LASH-er from Calgary. He mentioned that he and Birdsong were heading to Marion for a resupply, so I offered to drive them in, something I couldn’t have done if I’d stuck with my original pickup point. We agreed to meet at the Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area Headquarters a few hours later.
When I pulled into the NRA HQ at 12:30, Birdsong was there talking with Chili Pepper and Moose Jaw, two hikers I’d never met. They turned out to be from Tucson and worked in the same consulting field as me. Small world.
Then, just as Slapshot walked into the parking area, a compact car pulled up. The doors opened and Machina, Haze, The Walrus, two other hikers, the driver, and her dog all clown-car’d out of the vehicle, each with a full backpack. I don’t how they fit, let alone managed to sit inside it for the curvy two-hour drive from Damascus. Machina said Wheels is only 20 miles behind. Just yesterday, I’d concluded I’d never see any of them again.
None of that would have been possible if I’d stuck to my original plan. Weird.
An Agenda Item
Every day since I walked into Damascus, I’ve passed a woman who hikes with little furry dog she keeps on a long leash. Like most little dogs, it barks at bigger dogs. Gus is a bigger dog. Not by much, but enough to meet her little dog’s criteria. Gus usually walks off-leash, but always right behind me in the heel position, not counting the odd deer-chase in the woods.
Every time this woman sees Gus, she squawks out something in what sounds like German, grabs her little dog (which is already on a leash), glares at me, and says something. I think she’s scolding me, but I’m too deaf to make it out, and I certainly don’t want to stick around lest she keel over with a stress-induced heart attack. Gus, of course, couldn’t care less about this little dog or the squawking lady. He just walks on by without even looking at them.
Tomorrow, Gus will be taking a zero with Northstar, so I plan to meet and befriend this woman. Failing that, I need to either figure out what she’s saying or somehow reassure her that Gus and I have no interest in her excitable little friend.
- Start: Dickey Gap (Mile 520.2)
- End: Nick’s Creek Road (Mile 535)
- Weather: Blue skies and cool.
- Earworm: Let it Be
- Meditation: Ps. 120:1 (Thanks, Charlotte)
- Plant of the Day: Multiflora Rose (smells go good)
- Best Thing: Machina returns
- Worst Thing: Cranky lady with leashed dog
PS – Happy Birthday, big brother. You’re a good man.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek’s ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.