Daleville to Luray

It’s been nearly two weeks since I last updated this blog, and finally – FINALLY – we are having a day off, in the town of Luray in Virginia.

We have had a few resupply trips into towns in the meantime, but to be honest by the time we’ve got off trail and done all our chores, I’ve been too tired to write. Various combinations of high mileage days, big ascents, heat, humidity and sore feet mean that every day is a challenge – there are few easy days on the AT! And while there have been some good views and things to see, there have also been long unremarkable stretches of trail, where we have just got our heads down, put one foot in front of the other and ticked off the miles.

We are now fully into spring, but the weather here is every bit as unpredictable as it is in England, possibly even more so. Twenty mile days are now the norm; some hikers are covering 25 to 30 miles each day, but we’re not in that much of a hurry! Besides which, I have once again left it slightly too late before replacing my shoes, so the last few days have been marred by sore toes and aching heels as my shoes have gone too soft to offer much support on rough and rocky sections of trail. But we now both have new shoes – both in brightly coloured Hoka Speedgoat 5 trail shoes – so fingers crossed for comfier feet on the next stretch!

Another thing causing discomfort on the last stretch of trail has been an increasing number of bugs, flying into our faces and biting our arms and legs. Reluctant to liberally spray ourselves with DEET, we’ve been treating them as an irritation rather than a threat. Then a couple of evenings ago I felt an itch on my ankle, and noticed two blood spots. By yesterday morning it was red, swollen and hot to the touch, and by lunchtime it had a definite dark ring around the outside. There’s a lot of Lyme’s disease in this part of the world (spread by ticks and characterised by a bull’s-eye rash) so today I’ve been to the hospital here in Luray (many thanks to Alison of the Open Arms hostel for getting medical advice for me and shuttling me around) and got a course of antibiotics as a precaution. I’ve invested in a particularly unglamorous pair of bugproof pants too – better late than never!

One thing that I worried about as we were preparing to hike this trail was that it would be really crowded. It is the most-hiked trail of the three Triple Crown trails (Pacific Crest, Continental Divide and Appalachian trails), with some 3 million hikers estimated to hike on it every year. But we have found it to be very variable in terms of how many hikers we see each day. For the first week or so out of Daleville, we were constantly seeing other thru-hikers out on trail. Last week, a trail angel going by the name of Fresh Ground was driving his van to various points where roads cross the trail, offering good freshly-cooked hot food, fresh fruit and cold sodas to passing hikers. We enjoyed his food and hospitality on three occasions, and it was great to sit in camp chairs in the shade, and catch up with other hikers. Unfortunately it did cause hikers to bunch up a lot more, resulting in busy tenting sites, shelters and hostels. But for the last five days we have been hiking with Pixie, a French thru-hiker, and we have only seen one other thru-hiker – Dingo, an Australian northbound thru-hiker who was slackpacking one section in the southbound direction. There are hikers that we know who are (we think) a day ahead of us on trail, and several a day or two behind, so hopefully with taking day off we’ll get to see some of them again soon.

Anyway, here are photos of the highlights of these last two weeks.

Like the sign says … Seen on a telegraph pole outside Daleville. Mount Katahdin is the end point of the AT, in Maine.
Cool grey day, and a good view from Skyline Drive, which the AT follows for a long way through northern Virginia
Lots of deer to be seen along the trail – surprisingly unafraid of hikers!
Pleasant hiking along the James River
Rhododendrons in bloom
Beautiful shady woods at lower elevation
No shade and very hot at the top of the mountain
Long views around Cole Mountain
Neil, me, Atlas and Pixie in Three Ridges Wilderness
Collecting water at Cripple Creek
Lush greenery, fog and rain (and not many views from the trail) in Shenandoah National Park
Red eft in Shenandoah – about 2 inches long, well spotted by Pixie!
Neil and Pixie, view over low-lying cloud
900 miles done! Woohoo!
Pixie feeding the orphan lamb at Small Axe Farm, Elkton
Enjoying pizza and beer in the camping barn at Small Axe Farm.

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