“It is not genius, nor glory, nor love that reflects the greatness of the human soul; it is kindness.” – Henri-Dominique Lacordaire
After a night of bug attacks and getting only an hour of sleep, I was so glad to say goodbye to Punchbowl Shelter. I was also glad that today would be a short day, just 11.3 miles, as I was heading to Buena Vista to shower, do laundry, and resupply.
After crossing the Pedlar River Bridge, I crossed the AT 800 mile marker, spelled out in sticks. While on the surface insignificant in the context of a 2189.1 mile journey, I have come to appreciate these little milestone markers. They are good opportunities to pray, eat a candy bar, reflect on the progress made, and consider the physical and mental work that remains. Whether you’ve embarked on a goal to write a book, lose some weight, raise a child, or hike a trail, I’d suggest breaking it up into a series of smaller pieces and celebrating each one of them. I’m not sure I can hike 2200 miles, but I might be able to hike 100 miles 22 times.
Shortly after crossing the 800-mile marker, I approached a historical sign with a bench next to it. The sign informed hikers that the next 1.4 mile section of trail featured the remains of the Brown Mountain Creek community. In the early 1900s, freed slaves built and lived in this community. They worked hard, lived in small homes, and ate simple but nourishing food. Living as sharecroppers, they raised tobacco, corn, wheat, and oats. It was a simple life and, most importantly, they were free. The community disbanded when they sold their land to the National Forest Service in the early 1920s. I didn’t see any remnants of their community as I passed through, although it was overcast and fairly dark in the woods and I wasn’t sure exactly what I was looking for.
I emerged from the woods at a parking lot on US 60, 9.3 miles east of Buena Vista. I tried hitchhiking for 15 minutes, but all 50 or so cars and trucks passed by. It wasn’t a great first impression of the town, but then again I was a smelly, sweaty male hiker so I can understand the reluctance. Tired of waiting, I called a shuttle service and 45 minutes and $15 later, I finally arrived at the Budget Inn. I was so hungry that I chose Burger King (across the street) over a shower, which doesn’t happen often. I managed to spend $16 at Burger King, eating a variety of food from each section of the large overhead menu. I stepped outside, belched loudly, and smelled myself. It was quite possible I was the most disgusting living thing in Virginia that afternoon.
After showering and doing laundry, I walked up the road to re-supply at the Family Dollar and the Amish Cupboard, which has a variety of canned and dried foods, jerky, etc. I then ate some excellent Mexican food for supper at Don Tequilas. After dropping my stuff off at the hotel, I walked next door and finished off the day with some shaved ice.
Job 1 today was to walk back downtown and be the first customer at the barber shop when they opened. The barber lady was very nice and quite interested in my hike. I told her to basically cut all my hair off but don’t touch the beard, because it grows only one centimeter per year. She told me about the town, its economic struggles, and history of flooding. After the haircut, I ate a footlong sub at Subway and then walked up to the town intersection to try to get a hitch. This time it only took two minutes! Kara, a very kind lady in a convertible, pulled in and offered me a ride to the trailhead, restoring my faith in humanity.
Given my late start, I only hiked 6.3 miles today, but half of that was up a fairly steep mountain to Bald Knob, which isn’t. I tent camped at Hog Camp Gap, a sprawling grassy meadow, along with Gamel, Verge and Legs (really cool sisters), Pantry and his dog, Jelly and Peanut Butter (another dog), and several others. Pantry easily has the largest food bag on the AT this year, with a wide assortment of food, herbs, and spices.
About 25 yards from us was an impressive encampment of Boys Scouts…specifically, BS Troop 27 out of Newport News. Just prior to sunset, Scoutmaster Tommy, their leader, walked down to us and said, “Hey guys, we have plenty of leftover spaghetti and bread if you guys are interested.” We looked at each other, grinned from ear to ear, thanked him, wiped drool from our chins, and made our way up the trail to the Troop 27 encampment. We were like pigs running toward a trough at feeding time. It was Hog Camp Gap, after all, and if aspiring thru-hikers are anything…we are ravenous hogs.
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