Pearisburg to Four Pines Hostel: Days 55-59
The next week begins in a haze of rain and text messages. With Silas and Carter returning from trail days, we find our trail family scattered over a range of nearly 100 miles:
‘Let’s try and reunite at McAfee’s Knob on Monday!’ Kelly texts.
‘That sounds great!’ Silas responds.
‘See you there dudes!’ Carter writes shortly after.
I hike out from Pearisburg in a steady drizzle, arriving at Rice Field Shelter around noon to find a group of hikers huddled around an iPad, watching Captain Fantastic. Briefly, I consider pressing on. I check my phone. Thunderstorms. Then, I see another text.
‘I’m at Rice Field Shelter today/tonight (642.1),’ writes Tom.
I look closer at the movie crowd. No Tom. I walk to the back of the shelter. There are four or five orange tents, all identical to Tom’s.
‘Is one of the orange tents yours?’ I text.
‘Yep!’ Tom pokes his head out.
That afternoon, I set up my tent, watch the rest of the movie, and promptly fall asleep at 3:00 pm. By the time I wake up from the nap, it’s hiker midnight, so I go back to sleep.
And so it goes for the next few days, with each of us periodically broadcasting our locations as we move towards McAfee Knob. The rain continues the next day.
“It’s like a series of tests. In England, it’s death by drizzle. Here, it’s death by drowning. Only, the test is that you don’t drown yourself,” an English hiker comments drily.
The rivers are swollen with rain. I find myself wading through knee deep water when crossing one creek. A crayfish pops up on the trail one day, peering curiously, far from the pockets of fresh water that would form its usual habitat. After two days of rain, we get lucky: The skies clear. One afternoon, I meet a self-professed hobo at Laurel Creek Shelter.
“Everyone’s a bit crazy,” he says, staring at me intensely. “It’s just a question of how much crazy you can take.”
I feel rather glad to be tenting amidst other hikers that night.
The sun shines brightly the day I hike into the infamous Four Pines Hostel. I am marveling at the good weather and my good luck in encountering two completely unexpected trail magic events: one after climbing up Brush Mountain, where I hardly dared believe anyone would set up trail magic - let alone a full-blown hiker cookout with pizza, burgers, and hot dogs - and another after climbing down the rocky trail on Dragon’s Tooth.
There, I meet the Quirin family: a couple hiking with their baby daughter.
Four Pines is a converted garage filled with a mishmash of sofas, cots, and the occasional baked good. A donations-based hostel, it is popular with the hikers in the area. Joe, proprietor of Four Pines, walks down the driveway in bright pink suspenders and sticks out his hand as I arrive. “Hi, I’m Joe Mitchell. Where are you from?”
An Appalachian Trail sign hangs sandwiched between an American flag and a Confederate flag at the hostel. I grab an ice pop, and set up my tent outside.
Tom and Ian show up in the afternoon, and we all jump in the shuttle to the Homeplace Restaurant. In the small town of Catawba, the restaurant is famous for serving family-style Southern cuisine Thursday through Sunday.