We both managed to get some sleep and there were no bear visits during the night. I tossed and turned on the usual schedule but never with much wakefulness. Oakland sadly had a pretty choppy night after her first few hours. We lay in our sleeping bags and listened to the morning birds with the white noise of the stream down below. She made the trek to the privy first and brought our food bags back from the tipsy bear box. When she opened the tent door, I could see blurry golden light coloring the top halves of the trees (didn’t have my glasses on yet). I walked up the hill to take my turn in the moldering privy. We Ate breakfast on logs by the fire pit. Then came the great repacking. We were out of camp around 8:15.
The Morning started with an unusual gradual downhill over loose rocks and weak sun coming through the trees. Unusual in that we almost always have to make a climb out of camp. The Trail eventually curved left and the sound of the stream immediately faded away to be replaced by the crunch of our feet over rocks and twigs and the Occasional passing airplane.
Wound down through slowly opening woods on a narrow trail. I kept hearing Rustling and thought it might be a bear, but it was Oakland’s jacket. There were Rocky patches, sometimes accompanied by sunlight filtering across small streams that crossed the trail.
We Shuffled our way down the hill in silence. I felt tired and happy to have company. We stopped so Oakland could take pictures of tiny orange mushrooms for her 9am picture and to remove our rain coats. The vireos were in full swing and I could hear the sound of rushing water up ahead. Then went over Rolling hills through open forest with vines crawling up the trees and hanging down in long thick coils. We Crossed small power line with tiny view.
We Passed a couple of SOBO section hikers and Oakland got to hear me field the thru hiker question, which is complex for me because I haven’t let go of my thru-hiker identity even though I’m technically a “LASHer” aka long ass section hiker. They urged us to use the bridge crossing over comer creek falls rather than take the detour requested by the parks service. Apparently the bridge has been deemed unsafe and part of the detour involves a road walk down a busy two lane highway.
Not long after we ran into the section hikers, I Saw a new purple that looks like a wild orchid. As we stood discussing it two of the younger guys we saw at hikers inn in Damascus Passed us. We continued winding through the open forest With Footing that ranged from gentle leaves to boulder sneezes, as Oakland put it. The rock piles tended to happen near the small streams crossing the trail.
The trail winnowed down to an undulating rhododendron tunnel that included a rocky turn up a half mile climb to the comer creek falls intersection.
We could hear the sound of rushing water far before we arrived at the creek. We made the choice to take the AT rather than follow the detour outlined by the parks. We took the left turn and the trail narrowed down to a goat path through thick rhododendrons on either side. Do not cross signs and a map were posted on the railing in front of what looked to be a perfectly fine, but slightly lopsided bridge (today’s top picture). Frankly, it looked more sound than half the log bridges I’ve crossed on the AT.
I know we probably shouldn’t have risked it, but we had heard from several hikers and seen comments on guthook about safe crossings. we went across the bridge one at a time and stopped to have a snack at the top of the stairs on safe ground. We didn’t have much time to dawdle based on our hiking/picture taking/note writing pace and the timing of our shuttle to Sufi lodge, so we kept the break short.
The last mile and a half of the hike were somewhat unremarkable. We went through rhododendrons (shocking) until the forest opened up slightly. I thought for sure we would see a bear because the terrain was so similar to other bear sightings but today was not the day for Oakland’s first AT bear. we could hear the road for the last mile or so. It sounded as if it ran high above the trail to our right But we didn’t have the patience to confirm they theory on the map. We hit the trailhead about five minutes sooner than I expected. The sun felt bright after having spent so much time under the trees. We walked over to the small trailhead parking lot and came upon horseback riders heading into the woods for a trail ride.
We dropped our packs in the sun to start the drying process and grabbed zseats and snacks to sit in the shade after the horses were safely out of spooking distance. Just as we walked away from our packs, a car pulled into the lot and an older guy said “Sufi lodge?”
We piled our packs in the back of the giant SUV and climbed inside. I took the front seat to spearhead Oakland’s first hostel shuttle experience. The owner, James, wore Sufi pants (think droopy diaper/mc hammer) and had a wry sense of humor. We mentioned the bull we had to walk past in the grazing area of the highlands, and He told us about a hiker whose pee rag motion had provoked a bull into charging at her. She apparently took out her phone to video the bull before trying to scare it away with her trekking pole. He said he’d been voting for the bull himself, which made both Oakland and me laugh.
We drove about 5 minutes through the green hills of VA and arrived at an old one story building with a paved parking lot that had been re-purposed into a dog yard and container garden. As we grabbed our stuff out of the trunk, James said “hurry up I’m not gonna hold this door all day!” It sounds rude but his tone of voice made it amusing. We walked in and put our stuff in the first room on the right. Then we stood in the entryway with 3 sufis staring at us. After formal introductions, which included a request for real names, I said, to break the awkward silence, “well what do we do first?” James said, “go meet the dogs!”
I marched forward even though I didn’t know exactly where to go and Susan, one of the owners said, “hold on, I’ll show you.” We walked out into the blinding parking lot to meet Lucy, a pushy black lab mix and Charlie, a dopey white and tan mutt. We also met a cranky kitty who decided I was worthy of rubbing against.
After feeling like we’d fulfilled our first task, we went back inside to ask a few questions. Oakland kindly performed surgery on my phone and added a layer of packing tape so I don’t have to carry it in a ziplock bag anymore unless it’s raining.
Then we raided the hiker store and bought packaged Indian food for dinner, a few snacks to fill in the holes for our current food supply (eg. a snack sized peanut butter to get us through Tuesdays lunch and pop tarts for my raging sweet tooth). Oakland also splurged on ramen for lunch while I ate a winning combination of pop tarts, a lemon dill tuna packet, and smart food popcorn for lunch.
After eating, we went through the usual chore list. Well, usual for me and a first time for Oakland. We washed our cookware, backflushed water filters, showered, loafed around on our phones and periodically bugged the owners for more shop items (eg. toilet paper, super important item to restock). James had a knack for asking us to do small things for him, which we found hilarious. I posted a flyer on their hiker bulletin board, Oakland restocked their TP shelf in the little store, and a few other things I can’t remember. I also made a WiFi phone call on Oakland’s phone to make a reservation at our next destination. The available options are confusing but the owner seemed happy to hold one of them open for us so we could see what we wanted. My scarcity/planning gene kicked in and I told her I would confer with my partner and call back to reserve something specific. We decided to go for the slightly private smaller bunk room rather than the completely private house that had no cell service and no WiFi and sits a quarter mile away on the property.
I tried to upload pictures to a drafted blog post and quickly tired of the snails pace that the WiFi moved. Instead, I worked on fully writing previous days’ posts so they would be picture ready when I can find better WiFi. While I did that, Oakland perused our options for the next couple of weeks so we could figure out our next mailing list. VA continues to be very annoyingly spaced out in terms of shelters and town resources. I gave up on blogging and switched over to planning mode, which sent me into a bit of a tailspin, as it usually does. We have what appears to be a 5-day food carry coming up. No bueno for temperamental feet.
We emerged from our room around 6:15 for dinner. Neither of us wanted to spend the extra $17 per person on their prepared dinner so we had our gourmet microwave dinners at the little tables setup in the common area. I felt bad not taking part in the food option given the mom & pop vibe and the rave reviews about the cooking, but we also weren’t in the mood for mystery meal. The packages food was surprisingly good but far too spicy for my sensitive gullet.
After dinner we organized our food. There was a brief time when we first got here that my package was nowhere to be found while Oakland’s sat safely on a shelf in the office. The mail carrier delivered my package about two hours after we arrived and it looked as if someone had dropped it from the back of a postal service truck two counties away and rolled it all the way here. My Dorito bag was as flat as a book, but I was happy to have the rest of the contents. Very sadly a package from my sister-in-law did NOT arrive in time. Rural VA postage currently leaves something to be desired but maybe it will get better.
After the last of our chores, Oakland made a phone call via WiFi to her parents in CA to let them know she had survived the first leg of the trip. Then we turned into phone zombies for our respective purposes. Around 9:15, a whippoorwill sounded off outside our window and we cracked up. They’re almost like an inside joke at this point because I’ve whined about them so much. We also heard the distinct crunching of foot steps on dry leaves that were accompanied by one of the dogs barking their fool head off. We assumed it was the resident bear that James had mentioned. there was no chance of spotting it in the dark, but oakland definitely heard the footsteps of her first bear.
I’m finishing this to the sound of the whippoorwill continuing to have feelings outside, the low hum of our ceiling fan, Oakland pouring water into her epsom salt foot tub (the Sufi lodge has their priorities straight), and one of the resident dogs still barking at the neighborhood bear tromping around outside.
Mile 515.0 to mile 520.1 (4.9)
Checklist total miles: 528.1
Oakland total miles: 49.2
Creature feature: the Sufi dogs and cat, the horses, the whippoorwill and the sounds of marauding bear