August Update

Our Triple Crown highpoint in Virginia was delightful, but also exacerbated the inevitable aches and pains from trekking up and down mountains in rainy, HOT, and humid weather. The timing seemed right to “zero” (rest) while enjoying our children, family, pups, cat and the leisures of the civilized world.

It’s all good, if a bit disconcerting to be uprooted from the “normalcy” of the trail. We’re enjoying everyday comforts more and feeling physical pain less.

In short, it’s great to be home…and yet recognize a yearning to return to the backcountry wilderness.

Current thinking has us finishing the last bit of VA in Aug/Sept, and our last “half” (940 miles or so) in 2020.

For now we’re looking forward to reconnecting and appreciate all the thoughts, prayers, and comments along the way.

Day 89 Mile 1120

✅ The AT’s “Triple Crown”

✅ Our 1/2 way!

Big day! We hiked Virginia’s three iconic waypoints in two days of sweltering summer heat, also passing our halfway point. We call this happenstance 3 + 1, as follows:

Dragon’s Tooth – A huge VA monolith with a hairy descent on its north side that surprised both of us.

The climb above is part of the 2.5-mile approach trail. Unlike the path from other parking lots, white blazing here is no gimmie!

McAfee Knob – We approached this iconic rock outcropping in late afternoon, doing our part to maintain its stature as one of the AT’s most photographed spots. Surprisingly, we shared it with just another couple and three young twenty-somethings. The ranger said there’d been lines to these side trails on the holiday. We felt lucky to hit it at a quiet time.

Tinker Cliffs – We stayed at Campbell Shelter after McAfee, which meant we only had a few miles to this gorgeous rocky cliffs-edge in them morning. We woke up to a five-mile look south at McAfee Knob and the ridge we hiked to get from there to here.

The miles added up, which became clearer from a distance.

Even better, we added a bonus fourth jewel to the crown: Mile 1096, marking the halfway point in our journey by foot to Katahdin.

For those seeking a visual representation of the mileage aspect, let’s revisit the Snickers “Dubba” metaphor first introduced in these pages at Day 50 Mile 554.

If this confection represents the 2192 mile Appalachian Trail…

…then the below image represents how much of the trail we have now “consumed”…

Will we chew through more miles? Not on Jen’s grit-abraded feet. With a Super 8 within sight of the Trail, we checked in to figure our next steps.

Day 84 Mile 1025

Hitting four-digit mileage is kind of surreal. Point the feet north, and go. Steps just keep adding up! Theres a life lesson in there.

We arrived in Pearisburg, VA, shaking with anticipation down to the scuffed tips of our hardworking shoes. We both had new orthotic inserts waiting! Dr Craig Cortese, our podiatrist, sent replacements with a surprise gift and a note. Many thanks, and for happier feet.

Jen decided to check that she had the right kind of shoes for a 5,000,000-step walk in the woods. When I learned how he helped her, I called for an appointment. We’ve seen how many other hikers walk in pain, and I realized this was one of our best preparations. (Ask if you’re curious for details.)

That is just one of the many reasons JJ earned her trail name “Marvel.” She comes up with ideas, some can sound whacky (and are), but others – like visit the podiatrist before walking 2,000+ miles – can give really great outcomes.

JJ also got new treads….600+ miles and they were way over baked. Nice heels.

Angel’s Rest Hiker Haven was a great hostel that put some lift under the wings.

And Wood’s Hole Retreat, a stop just prior to Pearisburg, was really special. It is the oldest hostel on the trail, where we had the 1880’s farm house to ourselves.

Our hike out of Pearisburg was rewarded with beautiful Rice Shelter overlooking a meadow and the valley below.

Day 71 Mile 860

Stormy weather moved in for weeks along NC, TN, and VA sections. Soaked, we navigated steeps turned into little rivers, slippery roots, and swollen streams under a persistent drumbeat of rain.

With a respectful tip of our drippy, wide-brimmed hats to the intrepid trekkers who stayed in shelters, we dried out nightly in Rog’s Hiker Hostel Tour. He couldn’t have planned backpacker-friendly lodging better.

We watched hail pound moments after ducking into Mountain Harbour, a Hilton of a hostel created in a renovated barn with essentials plus great eats from their food truck and breakfast that lived up to its hype.

Black Bear Resort cabins had that summer campy vibe, except with a room heater that allowed us to walk out in dry boots the next morning.

Creative & quirky Boots Off was also really functional, with super space in our mini-cabin, plus morning donuts!

When the daily deluge finally stopped, we took our chances on scattered showers to camp near shelters. Mist through the trees looked lovely with the sun shining through it!

Day 66 Mile 798

As we headed into Tennessee’s higher and exposed elevations, thunderstorms were on the way, too! Yikes. Beautiful places to be (except when the lightning is flying).

We tackled 17+ miles each of the next two days. Tough ascending gig, but that’s what we signed up for. 🙂

Flame Azaleas

The first ended with a 5-mile climb up Roan Mountain, a “globally imperiled Spruce-Fir forest.” The day went something like this:

We started at the left, and hiked to the top of the tallest peak, right. See that little cabin icon? Our home for the night.

Fun fact: the 15-sleeper High Knob Shelter, pictured below, is the highest on the AT at 6,186 feet.

Spruce forest

We had the cabin to ourselves. I guess others figured it wasn’t a great place to be during storms! (The next night a thru-hiker shared it with two Boy Scout troops. You just never know!)

The mountain was truly magical and almost eerily quiet.  And DRY, except for the clouds/fog that moved through overnight leaving our clothes hanging under the eaves wetter than they started. Oops.

The next day we trekked to a few rocky and grassy mountain tops known as the Roan Highlands. WOW! Impossible to take a bad picture.

Overmountain Shelter (lower right)

Does The Sound of Music come to mind?  

Could it get better? Yes! People left a cooler filled with “Trail Magic,” bags containing an apple, sweet/salty mix, beef jerky, granola bar, bottle of Gatorade, and a sweet note like this …


It’s hard – impossible – to carry and eat enough calories to make up for those we walk off daily. Hiker hunger hit hard – Jen left nothing but the fruit’s stem and the bag to carry out.

Not up for the big hike? Good news! You don’t have to stroll umpteen miles for the views. These gals enjoyed the Same peaks after a short walk from the nearby parking lot.

We didn’t dodge the rain much longer, as the next days proved. More on that next!

Day 63 Mile 751

Well, we missed seeing you at Uncle Johnny’s Nolichucky Hostel last night.

The Nolichucky River runs right through Erwin, TN, and just 100 feet from Uncle Johnny’s hostel where we spent a night. It’s well reputed on the trail, and lives up to its reputation.

Lots of rafting and stuff goes down on the Nolichucky. Beyond being a fun name to say, the Nolichucky looks like a big summer destination for water enthusiasts.

Erwin itself is a big draw, and uniquely if a man is in the market for plutonium rods that run submarines.

Interestingly, lots of legacy WW2 nuclear business lingers in Tennessee, including Oak Ridge (aka The Secret City – where the atomic bomb was built under the Manhattan Project label), which is just on the yonder side of the mountain from Erwin.

Yee Haw!! These hills are filled with….no, not sound of music…

Notwithstanding that rare radioactive quality, the sights are quite serene and most people stay here, with nature the main draw, not the otherwise enriched landscape.

How could we resist a pic of the hostel cat?

Our shuttle driver even shared that maybe, just maybe, the loose radiation might treat some [existing cancerous] cells! (Well, if hospitals use radiation to zap stuff – at a premium cost I might add – then why not get some of that action for free, right?)

Naw…we’ll just keep moving…and quickly at that! Er…as quickly as our worn boots can take us anyway into (more) days of forecasted storms while hiking to the highest shelter on the AT.

Here’s a (partial) screen grab. The silhouette on the left = us, and the 5-mile climb to the little brown shelter icon at the top of the mountain on the right our destination. We’ll check in after we get to the other side!