Day 69 Jefferson Forest near Blacksburg, VA Miles Hiked to Date: 664 Hiked yesterday: 14 Trail Miles Miles to Katahdin: 1517.8
First, Hello to Michelle and Travis in Carlisle, PA! They are amongst some of our newest readers. Thank you for the wonderful email. I love the idea and I’ll be responding soon. It looks like you’re near the 1100 mile mark area of the A.T.; please watch the blog updates and when you see her “Miles Hiked to date” nearing 1100, please send me a reminder email and/or leave a comment on the blog.
Second, my apologies to those of you whom I made cry with yesterday’s blog. That wasn’t my intention and in fact, I’m not always sure where my day’s rambling writing is headed so if it’s any consolation … I, too, was crying as I wrote it. I got a lot of stares from the other patrons at the McDonald’s where I was drinking coffee and enjoying the free wifi. Oh, well, that is one of the benefits of following my kid to places I’ve never been: nobody knows who the blubbering woman on the laptop two tables over is!
After posting the blog, I got an early start back up the mountain to try to find the meet up point Chipmunk and I chose. Unfortunately, there were no GPS coordinates in the A.T. Guide for Rocky Gap, just “VA 601 (gravel road)”, which could indicate an unmaintained road. Because of that, I told Chipmunk I’d be there by 4 PM. If she arrived after 4 PM and I wasn’t there, she was to hike another 3 miles and stay at the Laurel Creek Shelter and then meet me the following day at the first road crossing, VA 42.
Soon after finding VA 601, I lost cell reception but it was a paved road. Yay! I drove about a few miles up, watching the roadsides for trail entrances, white blazes or A.T. signs. The road narrowed to a little more than a single lane but was still paved. It began to wind a little more and soon there was tall grass bordering the split rail pasture fences, making it harder to see what was ahead. I slowed down substantially at the blind curves, fearing I’d meet a vehicle head on and neither of us would have time to pull into the ditch before a collision. Luckily, that didn’t happen. In fact, I only saw 2 oncoming vehicles in the next 5 miles.
The road narrowed again and then turned to gravel. Although I hate driving the gravel roads, it was reassuring that the road now looked like most every other road to gap pick up spots. I was thrilled when I spotted a brown sign just above the roadside grass that read, “Appalachian Trail, 1.5 miles”. I checked the odometer and headed on. The road got a little steeper, a little muddier and had a few ruts that I maneuvered around. There were low hanging tree branches that I slowed to a crawl so that they would “skim”, rather than “whack” the camper. As I neared the 1.5 mile mark, the road crested and I saw a trailhead to the right. There was a clearing to the left where I could fit the truck and I pulled ahead to back into it.
The clearing wasn’t level; it was sloped more like a “runaway truck ramp” that you see bordering steep downhill roads. But I got the old Dodge parked up it and shut it off. I sat in the cab for a while, feeling proud of having solved the day’s cryptic puzzle of finding the meet up spot. After a while, gravity took hold and it became uncomfortable to hold myself back from the steering wheel. I folded my arms over it and left my head rest on them for a bit while the rain fell steadily. I waited a long while for the rain to let up but it didn’t.
In a short time, I heard a “Woo Hoo” shout from behind the truck and I knew that a hiker had found the Trail Magic. I watched my side view mirror as “Shake ‘n Bake” emerged from the trailhead. He was carrying an apple, one of the oatmeal cream pies and a lemon lime soda. He said, “Hey, Mama Chip” and I told him to put his pack on the hood of the truck and come in out of the rain. He hesitated and then said, can I take my boots off and let my socks dry out for a bit. (NOTE to SPICY JESUS: SKIP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH!) (NOTE to our other readers, Spicy Jesus hates all talk of feet. If you do, too, skip to the next paragraph.) Shake ‘n Bake climbed in the passenger side and painstakingly untied his wet, muddy laces and pulled his boots off. His feet smelled like … well, HIKER FEET! I turned the ignition key and opened the windows a bit more and he apologized. I told him it wasn’t a problem but that we should ventilate so that we don’t both pass out. He laughed. I asked how his feet were doing and he said they were pretty good; that he’d heard of other hikers getting black toenails or toenails falling off. In fact, that’s pretty common and I’m thrilled that Chipmunk’s toenails are all intact and healthy; I attribute that mostly to the really good Vasque boots and Thorlo Socks she wears. Shake ‘n Bake hung his socks on the passenger side view mirror which is beneath the overhang of the camper and was not getting rained upon. We sat and talked while he rubbed his feet and cleaned toe jam out from between his toes, flicking it out the window. I was surprised to see an hour had passed so quickly. We talked about family and he told me he wrote a blog about a Southbound hiker he’d met (www.chakenbake.blogspot.com), a wonderful short story, entitled “Six Year Southbound Hiker” that’s well worth the quick read. His socks weren’t fully dry but he put them and his boots back on, thanked me for letting him get out of the rain, pulled on his pack and hiked up the trail across the road.
I sat and read for a while and suddenly there was a dog outside my truck door. I recognized him immediately; it was Bandit, “Papa Smurf’s” and “Mama’s” trail dog. Chocolate Chip was glad to see another 4 legger and soon Bandit’s owners emerged from the trail with cold sodas and beer and big smiles on their faces. They told me they were shocked to find the Trail Magic and that they’re sure the couple about an hour behind them would truly appreciate it. Apparently, one of them noted that he was really low on food supply when Papa Smurf and Mama passed them.
Not long after that, “Nibs” and “Gator” arrived. Both Nibs and Mama were wearing shorts and shivering, so while the guys downed beers and cookies in front of the truck, the girls and I climbed into the cab so they could warm up. I handed them my hoodie and Chipmunk’s fleece jacket to cover their legs, then I rolled the windows up to almost closed (both of them smelled like hikers so again, kept the airflow so none of us passed out). We caught up on trail gossip: who’s hiking with whom now, who’s left the trail, etc. Nibs said that she wanted to get home soon; that her 2 dogs that she left in her mom’s care, got into a fight and one ended up dying from his wounds. She wanted to go home and get the other and bring him back to the trail with her. Although I was sorry to hear of the tragedy, I hope the dog she brings back isn’t confrontational. Most all of the trail dogs are docile and easy going and fit in well in the trail community. I suspect that her dog that passed may have been the more docile one. Hmm.
I was startled to hear my phone suddenly ding, indicating a message. It was a message from Chipmunk saying she was having a bad day and was worried that I might not find the meet up spot, without having GPS coordinates to go by. I texted her back that I was at the meet up spot but good old AT&T didn’t get that message out; the little spinny thing just kept spinning. I continued talking with the girls in the truck and the guys seemed unfazed by standing in the rain in front of the truck. About an hour later, my phone dinged again and it was another message from Chipmunk saying she was really tired; hoped I made it to the meetup spot because she didn’t think she had an extra 3 miles in her to hike to the back up spot, the shelter. Again, I texted her that I was at the meet up spot AND that there was Trail Magic waiting for her. The spinny thing spun and spun but the message didn’t go out.
As the girls and I talked, Nibs asked where I was going once Chipmunk arrived. I told her I planned to head into Blacksburg for the evening since there was no place to park flat at Rocky Gap and there was no good in between place either. She asked if she and Gator could ride into Blacksburg with us so that she could possibly catch a Greyhound bus home. I told her that was fine. Then Mama asked if she and Papa Smurf could also catch a ride so that they could get a hotel room, a hot meal and get showers. I told her that was fine, too because I was heading that way any way.
About 7 PM, I heard a female voice call out, “Mom!” It was Chipmunk and she was overcome with emotion when she emerged from the trailhead. I jumped out of the truck and asked her if she was OK. She nodded as tears ran down her face. I asked her what was wrong and she said she was scared I was dead. I said, “What? Why?” She said she sent me text messages throughout the day and hadn’t gotten one response. She worried that the road to the meet up spot was rough and muddy and that maybe I had gotten into an accident or fallen over the cliff side. I hugged her and assured her that everything was OK. While we hugged, she noticed the other hikers behind me at the truck and suddenly wiped her face, saying, “I’m so embarrassed.” Mama climbed out of the truck and said, “Don’t be embarrassed. I cry a lot. I miss my mom and my sisters and my dog.” She was very sweet to Chipmunk.
I told her that we were heading into Blacksburg for the evening and that we’d be giving the hikers a ride into town. She pulled off her pack, put it on my bunk in the camper and returned wearing her Crocs, the standard hikers’ evening shoe. I told Gator and Papa Smurf to load all the packs onto the bunk area and that they and the dog, Bandit, would ride back there. Chipmunk climbed into her jump seat behind the driver’s seat and Chocolate Chip soon followed, licking Chipmunk’s face and sniffing her ears. Nibs and Mama returned to their spots on the front bench seat.
We drove slowly down the mountain road, which seemed less scary on the way down. When we got closer to Blacksburg, all of our cell phones dinged and Mama started searching her phone browser for a cheap room. I did a quick “lodging” search on Evil Vengeful Rosie, the GPS, and suggested they might get a better deal by calling the hotels direct since it was a “same day check in”. She called a few and I noticed that she wasn’t using the best lingo to get the best price. After a few unsuccessful calls, I suggested she say, “Hi, what’s your best price on a room for tonight? I’m shopping around and looking for the best price on a room for 2 plus one dog.” She started doing that and during one call, I nudged her after she said, “Oh, there’s a $20 pet charge on top of that?” I said, “Ask them if they can waive the pet charge.” She did and they agreed; the room would be $59 plus tax. Before she booked it, I told her to tell them she’d call them right back. She hung up and I told her to go online to hotels.com and do a search for the cheapest room within 50 miles of Blacksburg. She found one for $49 but it was 30 miles away. I told her to call that same hotel back and ask if they’d be willing to match the $49 room you just found online. She did and was stunned that they agreed. So, the $59 room with the $20 pet fee that would have cost $79 total plus tax, now only cost her $49 + tax, no pet fee.
She hung up and said, “I can’t believe that worked. Thank you!” Before I could say anything, Chipmunk said, “My mom’s really good at business.” The words were bittersweet to hear. For 15 years, I ran my own business and felt strong and confident and like a good businessperson. I still have lingering guilt that I wasn’t able to save it and revive it when it took a bad turn in 2008. I decided not to let thoughts of that get in the way of a good evening with my daughter. As soon as we took the exit for Blacksburg, Chipmunk yelled, “Look! Outback Steakhouse!” My mouth watered instantly.
Chipmunk and I cleaned up in the camper and put fresh, clean dry clothes on and headed into the Outback. We were seated within 10 minutes and Chipmunk nearly drooled over the menu. When the waitress asked if we’d like an appetizer, Chipmunk said, “Yes! Coconut Shrimp.” She ordered a Coke and I asked for an ice water with lemon. We both got the Outback Special 6 oz. steaks with salads and vegetable for sides. While we ate, Chipmunk noticed that the wait staff were singing Happy Birthday and delivering a dessert just a few tables away. She looked at me with pleading eyes and I stopped our waitress and whispered in her ear. After our plates were empty and cleared from the table, she arrived with a big scoop of Vanilla Ice Cream covered in hot fudge and chocolate shavings. Chipmunk smiled big and looked all kinds of relaxed and happy. Seeing her change in mood made it all very much worth it. (Chipmunk and I say, “Thanks again”, Carol S.!)
I pulled the truck camper into the well lit Lowe’s Home Improvement lot across the street and parked alongside other RVers who know that Walmart, Lowe’s and Home Depot all welcome overnight guests. I walked Chocolate Chip, locked up the truck and the camper back door and both Chipmunk and I were in our bunks and asleep within minutes. I slept really well and woke about 6 AM. I let Chipmunk and Chocolate Chip sleep a little while longer while I drove back to the trailhead. The overnight rains did not improve VA 601 but they didn’t make it much worse either. I parked, made “goat”meal for Chipmunk while she dressed and then walked Chocolate Chip.
When I returned, I asked her how she was feeling. At first, she mentioned her common "hiker" aches and pains; I listened and then asked how she was feeling emotionally. She said, "Much better. I think having a 'normal evening' helped." Then she thought for a minute and said, "You know, when I'm hiking totally alone for miles and miles and there's nothing but the same trees and rain and mud, I think it's kind of like Sensory Deprivation. I start dwelling in my own mind too much." I said, "Hmm. That makes sense. Most all the books we read about the Virginia corridor of the A.T. indicated that it was beautiful but like a tunnel of unchanging trees." In fact, many hikers' books list Virginia as their least favorite section to hike for amongst other reasons, "it's boring" and they find themselves getting depressed. In reality, it is beautiful and a favorite hiking area for section hikers who want to get away from city life on weekends, etc. For thru hikers, it's different. I told her that I'd like her to try and hike with other hikers whenever possible, even if for short stints. She looked at me and said what she has said all along: "this is my hike. I don't want to try to keep up with other hikers or wait for them to keep up with me." I said, "I know. I just want you to have a little social interaction and see if that helps." She agreed that she'd try.
If you’d like to send Chipmunk words of encouragement or birthday wishes (her birthday is mid-June), her email address is email@example.com; if you’d like to send her a birthday card, she can receive mail or packages up until June 14th addressed to: Tammy/Neva Warren, C/O Middle Creek Campground,
1164 Middle Creek Rd, Buchanan, VA 24066; Be sure to mark mail “For A.T. Hiker, ETA 6/14/13”.
FYI, we are trying to build support and maybe even get some sponsors to help in the expenses of Chipmunk’s quest to become the youngest solo thru hiker to complete the Appalachian Trail. We could use your help. If you enjoy reading the story of our adventure, and you’d like to send some “Trail Magic” to Chipmunk, click on the “Donate” button at the upper right (not left) of today’s blog post. Feel free to forward our website link (or email updates) to your family, friends, co-workers, etc, (www.ridethenation.org). Chipmunk maintains a twitter account: @openlymtngoat where a common hashtag is #GoChipmunk and she can receive personal messages directly to her email: firstname.lastname@example.org. She or we (email@example.com) will try to answer any questions you may have about her hike and this family adventure.
Thanks again for all your support,
Mama Chip, Papa Chip, Chipmunk and her dog, Chocolate Chip
(Tammy, Jay, Neva and Coco)