It's been a long road from Damascus, but contrary to some of your suspicions, I'm not dead. Though the internet might have been for all the access I've had to it for the last fortnight.
If you're traveling in the American interior, bring a Verizon phone, the other networks don't work, it's that simple.
Rested and resupplied, I headed off down the trail. Unfortunately the bounce in my step didn't last long. A combination of my aging trail shoes, the rocky terrain and my feet (softened by the days in town) made this one of the worst days on the trail. My feet were in significant pain after 10 miles, and by 15 I had no choice to stop. I camped at the Lost Mountain shelter more worried than I had been for a while.
Some sleep and ibuprofen later I was much better, most of the pain seems to have been caused by my lack of hiking and the next day was much better.
At this point I was crossing an area known as the Grayson Highlands. Rolling grassy hills, more Scottish in character than the endless American woods of the last few weeks. Unlike some of the other areas we've passed through, the forestry department aren't trying for 'wilderness', where everything is left to flourish, but looking to conserve the look of the area, as it was when early settlers got there. They use livestock and ponies to keep the clearings grazed which leads to beautiful views, unobscured by trees. (Because of the lower latitude the tree line is much higher than in Ireland, consequently views are rarer than you might expect for all my climbing.)
That day I did a little under 19 miles, stopping at Old Orchard shelter. I caught up with some friends, and heard that some others were only 5 miles down the trail.
The next day we finished crossing the highlands stopping at Partnership shelter. This shelter is special for two reasons. A shower, and a local Pizza place willing to deliver! As that's not an opportunity to be spurned there were lots of people there that night. High on carbs and caffeine we went to bed cleaner and better fed than usual.
Next, in terrible weather that had rolled in overnight, I did the 11 miles to Atkins. Home of the Red Barn, a pretty good diner, and one of the dodgiest motels I've ever been in. The Norman Bates feeling greatly aided by having half the buildings burnt down and marked as condemned.
Then we went from Lick Creek, to Laurel Creek, a few daya of nice but in eventful hiking.
Next stop Pearisburg, originally I was just planning to overnight there, but for better or worse, I ended up staying 3 days.
The decent into Pearisburg is mean. Almost 2000 feet in something well under 3 miles of new, muddy, slippy, frankly dangerous, trail. By the bottom, at the end of a 25 mile day, my feet felt like they'd been caned. If you combine this with being the type of wet you can only get if you're hiking in a cloud, you begin to understand my state of mind. (Feeling thunder go off in the cloud you're in is...odd.)
The next day, after reflection on the previous night's Mexican dinner, the group I was traveling with decided to stay another night here.
We were 630 miles in and my shoes were shot. I'd called Zappos from Atkins to replace them and the new pair were waiting for me in the post office. It's the first piece of equipment to need to be replaced because of ware and I feel strangely proud about it.
The following morning I didn't leave. I woke tired, uninspired and generally in a crappy humor.
I've quit things, or this would be a blog about a Bodhran-playing-physicist, but I didn't think there was a chance I'd quit this.
I decided to relax for a day, I kept the room I'd been sharing, sleeping and reading away the afternoon. While I hike on my own, a combination of inclement weather pushing me into the shelters and the desire to save money in town meant that time by myself, relaxing, had been missing from my life. By the end of the day I was somewhat refreshed and feeling much better.
The next day I was planning to hike out, but a friend arrived back in town with a day left on their car rental and a desire to see a movie.
One Thor later...it was too late to leave that night, so we left in the morning.
A triple zero. I'm days behind some of my friends, but in retrospect I needed it to keep my head on straight.
Out of Pearisburg we made it to Pine Swamp shelter, as delightful as it sounds. That night, the thunderstorms that I thought I'd avoided by staying in Pearisburg resurfaced and the following day I managed only 3 miles between downpours. (Bailey gap shelter.)
From there, in barely improved weather I did the 21 to Sarver Hollow Shelter. A lovely new shelter, a disheartening .4 miles off the trail straight down.
Next I stopped in the 4 Pines Hostel in Catawba. It was full, but sleeping on the floor is easier to face with some good company and a shower. That rest was needed after the last 5 miles into town was more challenging than expected. Who knew a ridge called 'Dragons Tooth' would be a tricky climb. The decent from that was the closest to a mountaineering style climb I've had so far. Hard when it's after 20+ miles of hiking.
Yesterday I hiked from the 4 pines to here, Daleville. After a late start it was probably on the foolish side of brave.
It was a great day, views from rock promontories, a cliff walk, my stupidly late approach even gave me a look at the sun sinking into a lake, but after another tricky, steep decent (it seems to be a hallmark of Virginia) I got into town last night, late, but just in time for dinner and a bed.
Now it's 3 minutes to checkout, the blog is written, I've just to shower and get on my way.
Talk soon, or as soon as possible.