Monthly Archives: May 2013

Day 86: Critters 4, hikers 1

Cove Mountain Shelter [mile 748.5]

Since day 1, I seem to have a universal problem with the second day out of town. It’s always horrible and pear-shaped. I feel awful, things go badly, and I end up with a short day.

Today I got 10 whole miles. And it took me nearly 8 hours.

Here’s the thing, I think. The first day out of town I have a massive boatload of food, but I’m also well rested, well fed, and full of optimism. I generally don’t sleep well the first night out—nightmares, all the old discomforts I forgot in town, too much caffeine in my system. So I wake up on morning 2 with a bad case of tired. By then, the town food’s worn off. The pack feels like I’m carrying Idaho. I’m out of condition from eating nonstop for a day and a half. And my stomach is empty again and crying out for a cheeseburger or ice cream. And I have caffeine withdrawal. So day 2 ends up being miserable.

Today was day 2 and it didn’t break the pattern.

I slept badly and woke up exhausted, but I hit the trail at 6:30. The day was immediately humid, and it got boiling hot as it wore on. At the overlooks, the haze covered the mountains and valleys like fog.

But the day really started going south at around 8, when I stubbed my toe, couldn’t recover fast enough, and went flying. I landed hard on my hands and knees, and my right knee smashed into a rock. The good news is that once again, nothing broke. The bad news? My pants are shredded.

It hurt. A lot.

I tried to get to a shelter to sit and fix myself up, but I couldn’t make it. I found a log, dragged off my pants, and had a look. The knee was skinned and scraped and cut, and I’ll probably end up with anoher legendary bruise, but the pants are done. Can’t even be sewn. I can patch them next time I’m in town, if I can find a patch, but in the meantime all I can do is tape them. And I didn’t want to empty my whole pack into the bug-infested leaves looking for the tape, so I just gave up and put my shorts on.

Of course, the long pants were my insect protection. In about 5 minutes, I had as many mosquito bites. Since I nixed the Off, I don’t have any repellant.

And I was just shaky and hot all day after that. I sweated like a waterfall ain the brutal sun. The trail was rocky, so my feet got chewed up. I needed water and had to walk a quarter mile to a spring, which was a half mile that didn’t count and also took time.

I finally got here at 2:30. This was supposed to be my lunchtime stop. And I was done, done, done.

Also, I found a tick inside my tent. But not on me! I think it jumped in when I was taking off my shoes. (I check for ticks insanely frequently.)

I only saw one hiker all day: Codewalker, this afternoon. (There are two people in the shelter now, eating dinner.) I think a lot of them stopped in Troutville for the trail fest there this weekend. And the rest were heading for a swimming hole and campground 3 miles from here, then the next shelter after this one.

On the other hand, I saw plenty of critters. A snake, a toad, a lizard! They all stayed nice and still while I took their picture. Then just a mile or so ago, I turned a corner and there was a deer standing right in the middle of the trail! I took her picture, but the phone made her the size of a pinhead. I’ll stick it at the bottom, and you can play Where’s Waldo, lol.

Looking forward to sleep. And I think I’ll start my hike over tomorrow.

And I’ll try to think of what I can do in future to reward myself on the dreaded day 2. A little candy maybe? A planned shorter day? I don’t know. I’ll figure something out.

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Day 85: A walk in the woods

Hotdogging near the Blue Ridge Parkway [mile 738.3]

Today was about as close to a regular old walk in the woods as this thing is going to get, I think.

Highlight reel: Saw a deer. Saw a toad. Saw fish. Saw 50/50 and friends. Saw flowers. Saw cows!

I had a quick breakfast af the Super 8 (waffle and a couple of yogurts, since they didn’t have eggs) and hit the ground running at 6:38. (I was going to round that up to 6:45 so I wouldn’t look as anal-retentive as I am, but what the hell. It’s got to be obvious by now.) The plan was to try to get the elusive 10×12 today… 10 miles by noon.

The morning was already warm when I set out. The weather report called for a temp of 90 by 5 PM, and the day eventually turned into a scorcher. But a scorcher with a light breeze. And under the shadows of the Green Tunnel (that’s what they call the AT), it wasn’t too bad, even with long pants on.

Oh! I forgot! I was tossing and turning last night about the DEET. I finally got up and did some reading at around midnight and realized that it would be stupid of me to spray myself with it. I’m pretty clumsy. All it would take would be one random swipe, and I could easily melt my tent, my pole handles, or—disaster scenario—my glasses. I’m pretty much blind without my glasses. So I ditched the DEET idea. For now, I’m thinking I’ll just wear long pants and see how that goes.

So even in long pants, the heat was manageable. The trail into Troutville was manicured and neat, even with some cutouts in the woods for tents (I presume).

Right on the other side of Troutville, 50/50 caught up with me! With him were Green Blaze and Jabberwocky. It was great to meet those two, and it’s always great to see 50/50. We leapfrogged all day, along with a hiker named Buckeye Cornelius who remembered me from way back in the day. It’s funny how the trail’s become Two Degrees of Separation. All the bubbles are doing some intermingling now. And now that the number of hikers has dropped, everybody either knows everybody else or has heard of them in passing, nine times out of ten. It’s rare to have a conversation where you can’t find mutual people in common.

After Troutville, the trail meandered through a meadow. I was looking down and watching out for cow poop, which i noticed was fresh. Then I thought, “Fresh? Then where are the ones doing the pooping?” And I looked up and a dozen big black cows were standing 30 feet away! Staring at me!

They were HUGE. Hey, I’m a city girl. They spooked me. I wondered if they were going to charge me or kick me or bite me. They didn’t, though, not even when I had to pass through another bunch of them who were milling around right on the trail. So go, cows! Be your own bad selves! Thanks for not hoofing me to death!

After that, the trail went woodsy again. It was pretty, as usual: soft ground, shady trees and pines. The mountain laurel trees were blooming. Water was available about every five miles, which was OK. With the heat, a dose of North Carolinian water frequency would have been handy. But I didn’t run out, so it’s all good.

Eventually the trail hooked up with the Blue Ridge Parkway. Spectacular views! I got about 14.8 miles and passed a good site, so I decided to go ahead and jump on it. I can hear the occasional car down on the Parkway, and I’m close to the trail. Both of those facts are comforting.

The only down side to the day is that I lost my two good pens. I somehow ended up with a hotel pen, though, so at least I’ve got something. I hope it has enough ink to get me to Waynesboro.

One good thing: I didn’t quite get 10×12, but I got close. I think I can get 10×12 if I hit the trail at 6. I can’t do 10 miles in 5 hours, but I can usually do 5 in 3. So I’m going to start setting my alarm and trying to do three 5-mile hikes every day, and another mile or fwo if my feet can tolerate it. That’ll get me my 14 with some wiggle room.

Somebody said today that the common wisdom is that if you get through Harper’s Ferry by July 4, you have enough time for a comfortable finish. I don’t know what ‘comfortable’ means in that context, since other people can churn out 20s, but it sounded hopeful anyway. I think Harper’s Ferry is around mile 1000—the psychological halfway point. I should be through by July 4—or actually end of June, I think. Not sure, between SNP (Shenandoah) and the home visit. We’ll see. It’s all up to the trail!

Tomorrow… I have no freaking clue. 🙂

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Day 84: Chillin’ and refillin’

Daleville, Virginia

Just chillin’ in Daleville. Well… not so much chillin’ as running around trying to get a bunch of errands done. Typical weekend, right?

I’m currently enjoying a massive cup of coffee in a Starbucks-like stripmall coffee shop. Hey, works for me.

When the world opens at around 8, I’ll start hustling. First up: Resupply. I’m planning another big one, but I honed my menu and quantities last night. Hopefully I’ve shined up the system so I don’t get into the next town with 2 pounds of food, like yesterday. Carrying 2 extra pounds is insanity.

The only problem I have is that I’ve reached peanut saturation. If you’re stoveless, nuts are a big staple.

Next stop: outfitter. If you were curious, my Aqua Mira lasted through precisely yesterday. I never did have to use that bleach—another thing that worked out perfectly despite my needless fretting.

Other stuff on my outfitter list: a new pack cover, tent stakes, possibly a new shirt (mine is disgusting and also too big now, which means extra weight), textile glue, and a bunch of other little things. Permethrin if I can get it. Maybe DEET, although I have big issues with that [1: I don’t want to melt my gear; 2: I don’t want to marinate for weeks in something toxic enough to melt my gear], and I’m undecided. The picaridin isn’t scaring anything away, and it’s awfully hot for long pants. Heat index today is 95. On the other hand, the flies and other bugs are chewing me to pieces. The swelling is bad, then the itching is just another discomfort I’d rather address if I can, to maximize efficiency.

Then: UPS store. I’m biting the bullet and sending home my fleece shirt (or what I use as a fleece shirt). That’s 8 or 9 ounces and bulky. Bulk is my big enemy right now. Plus the shirt is way too big. If I get to New England, I’ll pick up a new one, one that fits.

I’m keeping my down clothes and my fleece hat and gloves, at least for the moment. I’m also keeping my Thermasilks. I keep using those.

Then back to the hotel for a bustling afternoon. Gear repair, bug spraying, and food packaging. Then pack up and hit the road early tomorrow.

The next legs are nervewracking. I’ll probably get to Waynesboro on a Friday night. That’s right outside Shenandoah, so lodging’s going to be questionable and I’m already anxious about it. After that, I’m working with my friend Janet to coordinate a much-needed visit somewhere around Big Meadow or Luray. Combined with the resupply issues, the apparently pesky camping rules in Shenandoah, and the inability to do really specific planning (not to mention the fact that internet connectivity is so uncertain), that has me really nervous.

It’ll all work out. One day at a time!

The good news: visit from home! And Janet’s bringing my new Pstyle! Woo! FrankenPee is holding up, but it’s a fragile monster and fraught with the possibility of grand misadventure. Like the one that happened two days ago, which I won’t describe in detail, but let me just say that it took me back to my traumatic toilet-training years. 😉

There aren’t too many hikers in Daleville. Daleville and the next town, Troutville, are neighbors, and most of the hiking action is in Troutville. You can camp for free in the town square, and shower and do laundry for free in the firehouse. And hikers love free! But that’s a couple of miles from the outfitter. If I didn’t need the outfitter visit so urgently, I would have pressed on through.

On the other hand, the Super 8 in Daleville is quite nice, and right next to the trailhead.

And that, as they say, is that. For now.

~~~

Update!

Mission mostly successful. I had to get some fat tent stakes, which will be OK, if not ideal. In fact, they’ll probably be better in the soft leaf-strewn ground.

The outfitter was out of permethrin, which is a fail. So I’m going to experiment extremely cautiously with some dry-formula DEET on my socks and arms. Hrm. I probably won’t find permethrin until Harper’s Ferry. Unless I stumble onto a Walmart between here and there.

Got a new sleep shirt that’s more cottony than my old one. Hopefully that will help the hot-sleeping issues.

And now the massive marathon of food packing!

Oh, guess who I ran into? Buffalo! From all the way back at Lance Creek! Awesome! I’ve been thinking about him lately and wondering how he’s doing! It’s so great to be running into earlybirds here. It ups the hope quotient considerably.

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Day 83: Bambi

Daleville, Virginia [mile 723.5]

Horizontal at last! Well… not really all that uncommon, given that I woke up horizontal. But horizontal, clean, and in a bed! With food that has no peanuts in it! No nuts at all! Nothing that’s square or rectangular or uncrushable!

It felt cold last night, but I think it was only about 60. But I was camped right next to a creek, down in a gap, and that’s always chilly. I kept hearing weird noises all night, and I thought there was a bear out there. But silly me, it was only other tenters who’d pitched their tents after I’d gone to sleep.

There was another tick on my tent last night. ‘Tis the (yucky) season. On the menu tomorrow is to try to get some permethrin and spray my clothes and tent and pack.

So. The alarm went off at 5, and I dithered around for a bit while I tried to convince my body to slough off the quilt. Eventually I succeeded. I hit the trail at 6:40—personal best! If I could hit the trail by 6 every morning, I’d be able to get 8 to 10 by noon. Sometimes. 😉

The walking was plain old uneventful Virginia. Rocks, a soft pine needle floor, uphills, bugs, and humidity. The usual. I liked it!

I saw two deer early—young ones, I think. They were unblemished brown, running away then stopping to peer at me through the brush, to see if I was going to menace them or chase them or eat them. Or, in my case, just keep walking.

There was a long ridgewalk, but it was the good kind: boulders you could walk around, scrambly places that were fun rather than deadly, and beautiful views. My phone finally died after a couple of hours, so I didn’t get many pictures, but you’ve seen the scenery before.

It was partly cloudy, partly sunny, but summer was here with a vengeance: 87 degrees and super humid. It’s supposed to be that way all week, but hotter and sunnier. The last couple of hours were a tough trek on a mud path through weeds and poison ivy. But the hotel was right next to the trailhead, so here I am—in my first air conditioning of the year! (I don’t have AC at home, so it’s a treat.)

The only disadvantage is that the outfitter and grocery store are a mile away. My feet are too beat to go that far today, so tomorrow’s going to be busy. But I’ll sit here tonight and make my lists. Go forth prepared!

I need to make some repairs to a few things anyway—including my tent. Found a couple of tiny holes in the mesh. There are also holes in my mesh pack pockets. This hike is hard on gear.

Beerdre (or Bierdre?) just called. We’re going to grab dinner at 6. I probably should have exercised more restraint with the junk food!

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Groundhog Day 82: Cliffhanger

Lamberts Meadow Shelter [mile 714.1]

The last of my short days! Well… tomorrow’s the nero into town. Nine miles. At the beginning, that was a full day rather than a nero! Well, I guess it is tomorrow, too.

I’m almost out of phone battery! I should be writing this longhand and saving the battery for reading and photos, but transcribing the entries after the fact takes twice as long. I got two full charges from the New Trent, which is awesome, but I’ve been free with the internet usage. Three phone charges in a week! That’s terrible. I’ll have to ration myself better. The short days are partially to blame. Setting up camp earlier means more time reading. Photos use a lot of battery, too, and I’ve been snapping away.

About the numbering: Javelin realized I skipped number 38! (Thanks, Javelin!) I was going to go back and correct the posts, but the phone app only goes back 30 days. I may fix them when I get home. Or maybe not.

So… the day. The party boys weren’t up too too late, but I could hear the partying going on all through the restricted zone. It was like Memorial Day weekend in a state park campground. I got up latish but still hit the trail around 7:20.

And first up? McAfee’s Knob, the most photographed spot on the trail! It was an easy uphill climb on a wide path to the knob itself—a heap of rocks jutting from the side of a mountain. The morning sun was beautiful, and I sat there alone for a while drinking in the endless mountains and the silence… and waiting for somebody to show up and take my picture, lol. Eventually a local hiker showed up, then thru-hiker Beerdre, who started March 1. I greatly added to the ‘most photographed’ total.

After that, the trail went down, then up up up seemingly endlessly all afternoon. Until it ended… at a half-mile cliffwalk called Tinker Cliffs. The word ‘cliffwalk’ had me nervous, but it was actually quite beautiful. The trail followed a line of cliffs right on the side of a mountain. But the trail was never more than a foot or two from the edge, and usually six to ten feet. I didn’t get too close, but close enough.

Then down back into the Virginia woods to the shelter. And here I am. The place was empty when I set up my tent, so I’m thinking the holiday weekend warriors have pretty much gone home. A group of people just arrived up there; we’ll see how that goes. With the restricted camping, this is the last place for water and rest until Daleville. (There’s a tent site a quarter mile down the trail; I’m hoping any weekenders will go there. But you never know!)

I chatted a couple of times with hiker Davy Crockett. That’s the name I forgot last night. I remembered ‘D’ and ‘C’ but I had them in the wrong order. Anyhoo, he saw so many ponies in the Grayson Highlands that it stopped being even interesting. They weren’t shy at all… came up and chewed his clothes, that sort of thing. I’m so going back there one day!

But listen. Right after we had that conversation, he saw a bear. It ran across the trail right in front of him, so he chased it! Crazy! But he got his picture. 🙂

And that’s that! Tomorrow Daleville to recharge, in more ways than one.

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Day 82: 700 club

Catawba Mountain Shelter [mile 705.7]

Seven-hundred miles, baby! Seems like only a week ago it was 600! 😉 Cause for celebration!

Camping is restricted here in the McAfee Knob area. It’s Memorial Day Sunday. And this little camping area has me… and a bunch of guys here to party. They’re hammering, hammering, hammering. Is it wood? They’re chopping a massive amount of wood? And I smell lighter fluid? This doesn’t bode well for them knowing about hiker midnight! It might be the night to break open a fresh pair of earplugs.

This was a gorgeous day. It started out rocky—I mean literally rocky. The Dragon’s Tooth section from yesterday wasn’t quite finished; I hadn’t gotten quite as far as Lost Spectacles Gap. Which is excellent news, if you wear glasses and are superstitious.

When i did get to the Gap, it was flat and lovely… and guess what was finally in bloom? The rhododendrons! Great happy bursts of fuscia tucked among the waxy dark leaves. The trail went up and up in an area that felt like the Pacific Northwest to me, although I’ve never been there. I think it was the spruce trees. At least, I think they were spruces. Anyway, the trees interrupted great piles of rock that had to be crawled over or squeezed between. Fun again!

Eventually came the descent, and the half-mile roadwalk to the Catawba Market—a gas station and grocery store with a little grill inside. I got a breakfast sandwich and two cups of coffee, and some miscellaneous snacks and things to get me to Daleville. Outside was a veritable United Nations of hikers—two Germans and a guy from Israel. OK, a very small United Nations.

My favorite day of hiking: two days out from town when the food bag is nearly empty, and you hit a little grocery store for snacks! For lunch today I had nutritious and healthy circus peanuts (high-fructose corn syrup and orange dye no. 3) and Pringles (delicious, delicious slices of salted particle board). For dinner I had Oreos. How many Oreos? All of them!

After the grocery the trail went through a huge meadow. The grass was waist high, the sky was blue, and there were more varieties of butterlies than I’ve ever seen: blue ones, purple ones, black ones with blue wingtips. The sky was blue, too—so blue and perfect that it was hard not to smile. So I smiled!

At the top of the meadow hill the trail slipped back into shadow. The trees were thick, and the terrain was soft. Uphill and downhill, but soft. It smelled like pine. And eventually it went down, down, down to a parking lot full of cars. There must have been 60 of them! Then I remembered that it’s Memorial Day weekend, and that McAfee Knob is on the other side of the road. McAfee Knob—supposedly the most photographed site on the whole trail. It’s another one of those famous areas you can Google for images. And the dayhikers and weekenders are here in force!

I decided to camp here and tackle the Knob in the morning. Tomorrow’s another short day, then I’ll get into Daleville on Tuesday.

I ran into some familiar faces today. Remember back at Wayah Bald Shelter? Freezing rain for two days, snow overnight, and my tent ended up flooding? There were two guys in the shelter that night. And one of them is in this bubble. He was off the trail for three weeks, but he’s back. I keep forgetting his trail name, which kills me. Famous explorer, or a cowboy… hrm. It’ll come to me as soon as I hit ‘publish.’ Cody… oh, crap. I forget. Anyway, nice to see him. I also saw Planet and Rig… or heard them, anyway. They went past here while I was changing, so I couldn’t run out to chat. They recognized my tent, though, and gave a shoutout.

Tomorrow: McAfee Knob! But alas, I’m out of Oreos. I tell you, I’m sick of fast food. All I eat in town is cheeseburgers. pizza, and a salad—which usually means iceburg lettuce and a cherry tomato. I wonder if Daleville has a restaurant that’s not a fast food place or a diner? I just have the urge for an actual meal. With a vegetable.

I went a little crazy with the pictures today. Sorry about that!

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Last PSA

I owe some respo nses from around pstyle disaster day, particularly Sisu. I’ll figure that out in town.

OK, Karma out!

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PSA

Stopped briefly in a gas station for a breakfast sammie. Yum! Found an internet spot and got reasonably caught up, but now it’s back into the wild and no connectivity.

FYI, I’ve responded to every single comment, but I think sometimes the replies don’t show up. I can check in town, but not in the wild. If you didn’t see a response, thank you for the comment! =D

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Day 81: Lilies and boulders

Hotdogging in (I think) Lost Spectacles Gap [mile 696.1]

Lost Spectacles Gap! I swore all day I’d avoid that one, just because of the name! Yet here I am. It’s uncanny how little control I have over the trail and the hiking when all’s said and done.

This was a lovely, lovely day. The mountain laurels were blooming, and I saw wild lilies-of-the-valley—my mother’s favorite flower.

I wanted to push and do 14—not that it matters, because the next two days are going to be short anyway, but I wanted to put it out there as my intention. And I ended up doing a little more than that, so yay! And some of that was steep climbing, and some of it was rocky ridgewalking, and the end of it… holy crap, you’re not going to believe me when I tell you what I just climbed down. I can’t quite believe it myself.

Anyway. Got an early start, which felt great. It was cold this morning, but I actually think it was colder yesterday up on that mountain in the wind. I still needed my fleece and gloves when I got rolling. Again, thank gods I didn’t dump that stuff in Pearisburg!

And the trail rewarded me with easy terrain! At least until 2 in the afternoon. That’s when things got a little rocky. Literally.

In the morning, the trail meandered through the Brush Mountain Wilderness—and what a great place that would be to visit if I were local. Good paths, lots of little creeks and bridges, and plenty of campsites and potential campsites. Just good forest.

There was a decent climb in there that took me by surprise: Brush Mountain (duh!), about 1500 feet elevation gain over a couple of miles. But at the top, a bench! Random. Then the trail followed a flat grassy path for a mile or so to the Audie Murphy monument. Murphy was the most decorated American soldier of World War II. At first that seemed random, too—to have this memorial out on a mountain in the middle of nowhere. But apparently he died there in a plane crash. Hikers have piled rocks all around the monument in respect, along with other items: dogtags, flags. Towers of them. So powerful! And how appropriate for Memorial Day Saturday. I left my own rock silently, then went back to the trail.

The terrain stayed blessedly, blissfully easy down to Trout Creek, where I bumped into Planet and Rig and some other hikers (who graciously took a picture of me). Guess what! After I told Planet and Rig about the rattlesnake, they ran into this macho survivalist dude who’d just killed one with a machete and cooked it. A machete? Really? That fascinates me! Out here people don’t even want to carry an extra TicTac. Snakewise, I like to think that the snake I saw is healthy and menacing as ever, and the one this guy killed was a different one, old and sickly, and he did it a favor by killing it quickly. Namaste!

After that the trail changed. The soil got sandier (pale gray sand from rock) and the forest low and shrubby. After a mile, though, the rocks I’d been dreading all day finally made their appearance. It was a ridgewalk at first, under a blue sky but with a chill blustery wind, but eventually it started climbing. And climbing. And climbing.

Even though my feet were sore, it was fun! Like an uphill boilder obstacle course. There were places where I had to toss my poles over a boulder and scramble over the top. So many boulders! I lost the trail a couple of times, but found it again. Obviously.

Then I passed my 14-mile mark at a place called Dragon’s Cove. Planet and Rig were having a rest there. I figured I’d just mosey down and find a spot to stealth camp… but ohmygod, the downhill was a giant rock wall that went on for half a mile! I mean a wall! There were places where they’ve driven steel hand- and foot-holds right into the rock! And it was a long way down!

My fear of heights and the traction issue should have had me quaking. But it was exhilerating! I think the difference was that I could grab onto the rocks like handholds. That, and for most of it I just crawled down on my rear end.

As soon as I got to the bottom, after mentally kissing the ground in gratitude for not letting me plummet to my death, I started looking for a place to camp. And here I am, the only hotdog in the forest.

Tomorrow’s Memorial Day Sunday, but there’s another little grocery store and grill a half-mile from the trail. Since the next two days are short anyway, I might go down there and get breakfast. Or at least a breakfast sandwich and some snacks. I crave Oreos.

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Day 80: Cold hard truth

Niday Shelter [mile 681]

I guess I do have a little of the Virgina blues after all. It took me 5 hours to go 6 miles today, and that was all I could face. So here I am, shelter to shelter. Six miles is not 12 to 15. And there’s a group down at the shelter now, a big group. One of the guys just said to his friends, “You know how long it took me to do the last 6 miles? Exactly 2 hours!” Bite me, buddy.

Here’s the day, then I’ll get to the numbers.

Last night when I was lying there, I happened to notice a tick crawling up the outside of my tent. A tick! Right there, six inches from my face! It kind of made me paranoid. Was I camped on the mother lode of ticks? A heaving, giant pile of ticks? How would I keep ticks off my backpack while I took down the tent? (I always go immediately to the direst circumstance; it’s never just one tick blown in by a strong thunderstorm.) Anyway, I was itchy all night. And after the thunderstorm, the winds blew in hard. I was freezing! So not much sleep.

And it was still freezing when I woke up. Not cold enough to freeze shoes, but the steady wind was probably 20 or 30 mph, enough to make it feel frigid.

Between the cold and the hard work yesterday (that mountain at the end of the day), I was wiped out. Got a very late start—8:30.

And the wind! The wind was fierce all day! (It’s still blowing hard and strong.) Somebody heard in town that the winds today were 32 mph. Combined with the cloudy skies and already low temperature, it felt like March. I wore gloves and my raingear all day just trying to be warm. I never got there… and that’s what did me in, I think. The cold. I never realized just how low my tolerance of it is.

The day started with more climbing. I’d actually stopped a half mile or a mile short of where I thought I was last night. Easy to do out here. The trail was flanked by piles of rock, tossed like litter but also stacked like chimneys. Barrow wights!

After a bit, the fun started. I use the word with deep sarcasm. For a mile or two, the trail was a hated ridgewalk. But this wasn’t a regular old rocky ridgewalk. This was great slabs of rock taken and tilted nearly vertically… and the trail led right across that sloping nightmare. It reminded me of the back side of Blood Mountain, but much steeper.

To the left was a dropoff; had to be 30 feet. To the right was either a steep slope, or more slabs of rock going down a hundred feet or so. A slip could have been very, very bad. I haven’t had the best luck with traction and balance with the pack, so I was pretty unnerved for the whole mile or two. Plus, that terrible wind was blowing hard and gusting harder. I used my poles liberally to pick my way, and I didn’t fall, which is great! But it took hours. (Also, bonus hazard; to the right, the lower end of the slope, the trail was full of poison ivy.)

There were some gorgeous views, marred only by the great ceiling of heavy clouds hanging over the area. You could see the brighter sky peeking out at the far edges.

I met a hiker named Kokopeli and his dog… Deedee, that was the dog. Kokopeli was great. (I’d heard his name here and there but never met him.) An old hippy. He even had a peace sign around his neck. He thru-hiked last year and got within 90 miles of Katahdin when he broke his knee. And here he is, starting again from the beginning! He said, “What else would I be doing?” He loves it. He also said that this year the pressure is off. He’s done it all and he doesn’t care if he goes 6 miles, 10 miles, 25 miles. And because the pressure is off, he’s actually doing bigger miles. But last year, he said, he only did four 20s.

What was the message there, I wondered? Don’t worry if you fall short? It’s time to end the pressure?

Deedee was great, too. Just a little long-haired thing, but happy and with a good weight. There are a lot of dogs out here that just look sickly—way too skinny, but still trying to please their masters. I have to trust that the owners know what they’re doing, but seeing dogs that thin makes me worry for them!

Later, after the rock sliding board, I met two section hikers going SOBO. They asked if I was going all the way to Maine, and I said that was the plan, but I didn’t think I was fast enough. The man said, “Don’t worry about that! The important thing is to be out and enjoying it!”

Which, I have to confess, I’m not. At least not the relentless discomfort and the occasional threat of imminent death. And the cold.

When I got to this shelter there were two guys here. One of them had just been in town and said the temperature’s going down to 38 tonight and tomorrow night. Presumably it’ll be colder here at elevation. And all the drive and motivation just drained out of me. Gone. I was done. Six miles. Maybe seven.

So I sat in my tent and ran some numbers (in full down clothing, I might add, and thank gods I didn’t follow the traditional practice of sending home my winter gear in Pearisburg; I bet a lot of hikers are freezing their tails off at the moment).

This is how it’s going to go. I need to do 14 miles per day, for a total of 85 miles per week, with one zero per week. I’ll probably do more like 1.5 zeroes every 1.5 weeks; that ‘one per week’ thing is hard to work out neatly. I figured out what mile I need to be at every Wednesday from here to the end of September. That gives me a week or so in case the weather is bad at the end, too, and I have to wait in Baxter for permission to summit.

But 14 per day is going to be very, very tough. (Note: If the nero part of the 1.5 zeroes should happen to be 6 miles, that would bring the daily requirement down to 13 and change. There’s some fluidity in there.)

So I’m on a three-strike system. The first Wednesday I don’t make the goal is strike one, and so on. When (if) I get three strikes, I’ll probably switch this to a section hike.

At that point I’d have to decide whether to walk north until September, regardless of where I end up; whether to call it a day after the halfway point in Pennsylvania (probably after the half-gallon challenge, which I think I’ve earned!), which makes most sense both financially and logistically, if I’m going to section hike the rest anyway; or whether to flip-flop (ie, go to Maine and do Katahdin then come SOBO to finish the hike), which I’m not that keen on because I’d have to take a second mortgage to stay out of work for that long.

Now, if the terrain really does get easier at some point, maybe I really can do 16 or 18 miles some days. That would rock, because I’d have some days in the bank for the bad sections in the Whites! But if this is the terrain that counts as ‘easier,’ then I’m probably a section hiker in three weeks’ time. Which, you know, I could manage to live with. The people out here who seem to be having the most actual fun are the section hikers. There’s a lot to be said for spending an afternoon at Charlie’s Bunion (or a random waterfall) if you want to, instead of being on a mission deadline. Section hikers do smiles, not miles.

That all will start next week (ie, I need to reach mile 810 by Wednesday, June 5). I have to zero in Daleville anyway because I need a lot of stuff from the outfitter and some groceries. And camping is restricted between here and there, so I’ll have one more short day anyway. Can’t be helped, unless I could manage a 20. In which case I wouldn’t be in this bind, lol.

Wow, a ton of people have showed up at this shelter! Where did they stay last night? Probably Springer. 😉 They seem to be partiers—Trail Days folks, most likely. They’re playing a radio. Oh, Planet and Rig are here! That’s nice. I don’t know any of the others.

Speaking of which, that would be another advantage of sectioning the second half. I could draft other slow hikers to come along. I think this would be a lot more fun with a friend or three. 🙂

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