Men go off the beaten track for a good cause

Zeke Carrillo, Daryl Wilson and Lee Baird.

Save members, Daryl Wilson and Lee Baird, joined by hiking buddy Zeke Carrillo, safely returned from their eight-day 160-kilometre hike to raise funds for vital and essential living expenses for Uthando House for abused and orphaned children near Hazyview.

Uthando can be home to up to 30 children at any given time and receives limited funding for the everyday living necessities that we take for granted.

The eight-day section hike of the Appalachian Trail had them starting where Wilson and Baird stopped last year, in Front Royal/Warren County, heading north and crossing two state lines from Virginia through Maryland and into Pennsylvania.

Wilson provided Hazyview Herald with a day-by-day breakdown of their journey:

Day 1

Set off this morning from Compton Gap where we left off last time. It had rained yesterday in the hills so it was very humid and a bit muddy all day. That turned out to be a pretty brutal combination. Also because we’re carrying lots of food at the start, our pack weights are higher. Probably 20-22 kilograms each, had hoped for less but it’s hard to skimp on food and water

We planned to do only around 14 kilometres on our first day but ended up doing 17.

Our overnight stay is at a very nice shelter with decent tent sites and plenty of room.

The first part of the trail was downhill. We said goodbye to Shenandoah National Park after a couple of kilometres.

The rain of the previous day had made things quite slippery so it was reasonably hard going. Especially the four-kilometre uphill section in the middle of the day. It was even worse when there was no view at the end.

We met an old guy at the shelter who has done about half the trail. He carries more gear and walks slower than us so there’s hoping we can get through the whole thing someday. A combination of jetlag and humidity meant we were pretty stuffed at the end of the day. Early night and hopefully a good night’s sleep before we attack day two.

Day 2

We woke up to rain, which is never a good start, but it cleared and we left a little later – at around 08:30. It’s not getting light till around 06:45, so it’s hard to get away too early. Packs were slightly lighter than yesterday, but every bit helps. It was much the same as day one.

Stopped for breakfast at a little picnic table near a major highway.

Straight after that we had our hardest part of the trail for the day. A four-kilometre hike uphill and the humidity was still bad. We stopped at a shelter for lunch and met a couple who had just been hiking in the mountains of Maine at the top end of the trail. They said they thought it was harder going here because of the humidity.

It started raining about two kilometres from the end. After 17 kilometres we arrived at Dicks Dome Shelter. It looked brand new – deck and chairs – we were feeling spoilt.

We all spent the night in the shelter. It had a loft so I slept up there. It was a pretty good nights sleep and saved us putting up our tents in the rain.

Day 3

The good thing about staying in a shelter is you don’t have to pack up your tent. So we got up around 06:00 today and left by 07:00.

I had a bit of a scare when I went to get my food from the bear pole. Something big came down from a tree nearby. I reckon it might have been a bear, but no proof – it could have just been a dead squirrel.

No rain on day 3 thank goodness, but some of our gear was still wet. We made good time today, we usually stop after about two hours for breakfast. We had to cross a four-lane motorway before we had breakfast. Kind of like a human game of frogger. We had a late lunch at a shelter and reached the “rollercoaster” section late afternoon. This “rollercoaster” is no fun at all. It consists of 20 kilometres of steep ups and downs, lots of rocks – I hate rocks. We got about four kilometres done. We were free camping at an informal camp site on top of a hill and we had to cook well away from the tents and suspend our food bags from a tree, hoping the bears won’t find us.

Day 4

The rollercoaster kicked our butts. We got off to a pretty early start after our night in the bush. Best sleep we’ve had so far. I think for me it was because the ground was nice and soft.

The hills of the rollercoaster were merciless. I think we managed about five ups and downs. For every flat bit you know there’s an even steeper section on the way. But that’s not all, the rocks were even worse. A lot of the trail was just rocks everywhere. It’s tough going. but that’s not all, the humidity was killer, we sweated buckets. I think we probably drank five or six litres of water each. So even though we didn’t make it as far as we wanted, we think it was a good effort.

As a bonus we arrived at the Bears Den Hostel late in the afternoon. We had a very basic room with bunks, a shower, toilet and it feels like heaven.

Also, we had pizza and ice cream for dinner. Perfect end to a tough day.

Day 5

After a hearty breakfast of pancakes we conquered the last of the rollercoaster and crossed the state line into West Virginia. The rollercoaster saved the best for last and we saw the best views of the trip so far at a couple of spots this morning. We spent the rest of the day hugging the Virginia and West Virginia state line.

We stopped off for lunch at the Blackburn Trail Centre. Comfortable seats on a big old veranda. We arrived at a shelter for the evening. Great shelter with a veranda and separate eating area. We finished up doing 18 kilometres – a pretty good effort.

Day 6

We dragged our butts out of bed reasonably early and hit the trail. Zeke and Lee stayed in the shelter once again, so it’s a quicker pack up time for them. No need to pull the tent down. It was mostly easy going early in the day and we made really good time despite Zeke and I taking a small detour off track to the sweet springs country store for morning tea. Then we hit rocks which slowed us down a bit. We hit a huge descent into Harpers Ferry, which slowed us down some more. The down bits can be just as hard as the up bits.

Then we hit Harpers Ferry, a very cool little town with a lot of Civil War history. The Potomac and Shenandoah rivers come together at Harpers Ferry. The Potomac wins and goes on all the way to Washington DC. We spent a few hours in Harpers Ferry seeing the sights, restocking food supplies and having lunch. Headed out of town later in the day. My back started giving me grief. We were going to stay in a hostel about five kilometres

past Harpers Ferry. But because of my back we upgraded to a crappy hotel instead.

Day 7

After a good night’s sleep we hit the trail early at around 07:00. First up was a long climb of around 3,5 kilometres. What a great way to start the day. We made pretty good time this morning and ended up at a park for lunch which also had a lot of civil war monuments and information. Great spot for a break. Then in the afternoon we saw a few more historical sites. We kept going past our original target shelter to a camp ground three kilometres further on. Tent sites, picnic tables, a bear pole and best of all a toilet and shower block. We were in heaven.

The boys are in fine form. After this, Lee moved his tent spot because he didn’t want to be too close to the bear pole. I was now first in line to be eaten at Dahlgren Backpackers Campground. It was Zeke’s birthday so we walked to a nearby restaurant for dinner. I can guarantee we were the worst dressed people in there, by a mile the food was fantastic though.

All up today, we did 25 kilometres. Finally starting to get the hang of this hiking thing. It helped that there were a few flat patches but at the end of the day we are all stuffed.

Day 8

Another big one today. We broke camp about 08:00. It was tricky to find a place to leave the trail. We would have to trek

22 kilometres to make it out by nightfall, which is massive after yesterday. After a couple of early morning climbs we hit Washington State Park and Washington Monument – a tribute to the first US president. Then it was off on the long run home. It was a pretty uneventful day today. In the end we arrived at the exit point just before 17:00. Appalachian Trail trip 2017 was complete, and we were exhausted – for a good cause.

Stefan de Villiers

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