Jenny Knob Shelter [mile 599.0; mpd 8.44]
Five hundred and ninety-nine miles! 599! Dear freaking gods, that astonishes me! Tomorrow I’ll hit the big 6-0-0, and celebrate with either a sammich or something refrigerated from Trent’s Grocery, which is near the trail at mile 605. And they have a grill. 🙂 But that’s tomorrow.
Today was like this. You know how in the heat of the summer, you do something outside all day, and suddenly around dinnertime you realize you’re so exhausted you could just spread out where you’re standing and sleep for a week? That part-sunburn, part-dehydration feeling?
Two nights ago I was up to my chin in two layers of down, and Blackhawk and I were reminiscing about that horrible night at Lance Gap when we tented on snow and our shoes froze solid. And here I am now, lying in my (blissfully hot) tent in my sleepshirt and shorts, listening to the wind and watching the setting sun paint leaf shadows on the outside of the fly, like a scrim.
Life is good.
When I woke up at 6 AM on my shelf, a cold wind was blowing. I packed up and wore pants and gloves for the first hour, but the day warmed up by 8, and I stopped in the middle of the trail and changed into shorts, a tee shirt, and bug spray. Note: Within the first mile or two there were four little ready-to-wear campsites that were better than the shelf. But that’s usually how it goes.
The trees are about halfway there. I’d say we have about 50% shade now—enough to tantalize, but not really enough to keep an 85-degree sun off the back of your neck. Luckily the wind persisted most of the day because there was one chunk of trail that had no reliable water for 10 miles.
March was cold management. Now we’re getting into serious water management. I can’t just traipse along and know another spring is coming. Especially not when it’s sweltering and a lot of the trail is uphill.
(Speaking of uphill, here’s the plan I’m working with. I can fidget all I want on the flats and downhills, but for uphills I have to move with Pathfinder-like focus. It worked pretty well today, until late afternoon when I was just too tired to push that hard.)
The terrain was great today. Up and down, sure, but no climb longer than a mile or higher than a few hundred feet. And mostly a dirtwalk: a cushion of dirt and pine needles, without many rocks or roofs to chew up the feet. When I’d gone about three miles, I came across trail magic! Orange sodas and a whole case of water, along with a weather report in a plastic bag (which I thought was brilliant). I took one of the little waters and saved it, because I knew hard times were coming.
After that first long forested stretch, the trail was a roadwalk. We walked on the shoulder of a major highway for a couple of miles. I lost the trail once (I do that every couple of days); the blazing was infrequent, and they started to get creative, using rock cairns and such to mark the way.
Near the roadwalk I found the most unusual memorial yet—a homemade cross and what looked like a dog skull. I hope it wasn’t real. Maybe it was a dog’s memorial. Who knows? Wacky stuff is the rule out here.
Then came the long, brutal stretch without water. This was in scrub forest with few landmarks: just walk, walk, walk all day through the weeds, with basically invarying scenery. I leapfrogged all day with Canadian Bacon, Zen Master, and Rodeo, but they were more or less the only thrus I saw all day.
I stopped here at this shelter; they’re pushing on to Trent’s and a mile past that, bless them. I couldn’t manage another 6 miles today. Feet aside, I feel like I’ve been slapped with the sun stick. I’m pounding the water.
There’s only one other person at the shelter, a stranger named Mouse. This is a really weird week on the trail. This weekend in Damascus is Trail Days, a massive party. Hikers from all up and down the trail are hitching, renting cars, and persuading friends and family members to drive them down for the weekend then take them back to the trail afterward. It’s an enormous event. Not everybody goes; a lot of hikers skip the year they hike, then go the next year when the pressure’s off. Canadian Bacon, Zen Master, and Rodeo are skipping. Last I heard, 50/50 was thinking about going for a day. Jacko and Invisible Man and a WhiteBlaze contingent (Hi, Milkman!) are renting a house. I’m skipping it. I’ll be in Pearisburg, though, so I’ll be in the bubble with anybody who gets dropped off there. Probably a lot, given how empty the trail is at the moment. They’re all busting it out, trying to get to Pearisburg today or tomorrow.
Speaking of which, I’ll probably be rolling into town early Saturday morning and staying Saturday and Sunday to resupply and heal. It will have been 14 days since my last zero and 16 since my last major resupply. (Edited to add: I forgot about that day in the tent!) The only thing I’m nervous about is the lack of an outfitter. I’ll be out of Aqua Mira drops (and the backup tablets), so I’ll probably be using bleach for the next hundred miles or so to purify my water. (That’s common; I just haven’t gone that direction myself. And I hate new things!)
Can’t wait for Pearisburg! I’m still looking for my steak and baked potato! 🙂