Quarter Way Inn to Angel's Rest Hiker Haven: Days 48-54
Subjectively speaking, the terrain from Partnership Shelter to Pearisburg is not one of my favorite areas of Virginia. Views seem few and far between.
One night, I bolt upright at 1 am as the crack of thunder jolts me awake. I am camped in a tent, alone, on a ridgeline. Lightning. One-one-thousand. Two-one-thousand. Thunder again. The storm is right overhead. I lie awake for hours.
When the sun shows, I find myself hiking in sweltering heat, straight through scores of spiderwebs and dangling inchworms strung across the trail. Every few minutes, I pause to peel away silken threads clinging to my face.
I pass familiar sights. Places I visited on my first backpacking trip to Virginia. An old hotel in Atkins, VA, advertising color TV. A one-room schoolhouse filled with boxes of toiletries and snacks -even some apples - for hikers.
What I choose to remember about this section is the kindness of the people.
There is Tina, owner of the Quarter Way Inn, who offers me breakfast in the morning. I am the only hiker there: most returned to Damascus for trail days.
“Do you want breakfast? We have leftovers,” she says as I make myself a sad bowl of instant mashed potatoes. “Free of charge – I just kept thinking, it’s not your fault that you’re the only one here.”
Leftovers or not, the breakfast Tina serves up is a gourmet meal to me. French toast, potatoes, scones, and muffins - I clean my plate.
I remember the contentment of reuniting with my tramily - sans Silas and Carter, who are at trail days - one night at Chestnut Knob Shelter: eating mashed potatoes around the fire pit, talking to the other hikers gathered there, enjoying the view into the valleys below. Tenacious and Nighthawk are there, along with a small, fit woman with braided silver hair: Carjack.
“We always see you at the randomest times, and then you disappear,” Tenacious tells me.
“I sometimes hike between bubbles,” I explain, “and I get up early.”
Tom arrives at the shelter later that night.
“There’s the top bunk open,” Kelly says.
“There’s a lot of mouse droppings up there,” Tenacious warns him.
Tom briefly surveys the bunk. “– I think I’ll just take the weirdly lumpy grass,” he says, walking out the door.
The night after encountering the thunderstorm, I stay at Jenny Knob Shelter and meet Joe, a section hiker and trail maintainer. He lets me use his gas stove to try one of his Knorr sides, since my Esbit stove can only boil water for about 5 minutes: 5 minutes short.
I spend the day before my birthday relaxing at Woods Hole Hostel: meeting other hikers, sampling the homemade bread and cheese, and enjoying the birthday apple my mom sent in my mail drop. Two dogs and a duck roam freely about the property. A couple work-for-stay hikers run to and fro, greeting new arrivals and filling smoothie orders. The duck-in-residence follows me around, eyeing my bread and cheese.
Before dinner, Neville, owner of Woods Hole, gathers the guests into a gratefulness circle. Then, we feast on bread, fresh salad, curry, and stir-fried ground pork. Neville even fries up a pepper-free pan of pork just for me.
“I’ve been all over the United States,” the young man sitting next to me says. “Of all the places in the world, the one that makes me happiest is this house right here.”
Before breakfast the next morning, we again gather in a gratefulness circle. “I’m grateful for my - as of today - 25 years on Earth,” I say.
There is a slight pause. Then, a chorus of Happy Birthday breaks out from the circle of hikers. Neville sticks a few candles in my French toast and gives me a warm slice of her addictive cookie bars for the trail.
Woods Hole is one of the experiences unique to the Appalachian Trail: Guests come together to help with cooking and cleaning dishes, and each guest is expected to pick a chore from the jobs jar before leaving.
“What it does is create an awareness of space,” Neville says. “When Michael and I created this vortex of awesomeness, it wasn’t like that. I’d grown up watching my grandmother walking around, straightening things…back then, y’all were much more aware of the space. Now, you’re more aware of the people you’re with.”
“You all get to be in the woods. So many people are stuck on cement, in jobs they hate. But you all have taken a moment to come out here, to not hate your lives.
The Appalachian Trail will always be free, because we believe it to be free, but that means we have to be aware of our surroundings and take care of the trail…the more you give, the more you receive.”
⁃ Neville, owner of Woods Hole Hostel
That night, I hike into Pearisburg and catch up with Kali at the Angel’s Rest Hiker Haven. The rain has not let up. The entire complex consists of 70’s style mobile homes. A narrow, unofficial footpath connects the hostel to the Food Lion next door. I slip out to buy some grapes for dinner, then settle in to watch Netflix shows with the other hikers. Black Mirror blares in the background. It’s good to be out of the rain.