Day 71: Bleached bones

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. πŸ™‚ 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?

Yeah, baby!

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! πŸ™‚

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Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 14 Comments

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14 thoughts on “Day 71: Bleached bones

  1. Eileen Drummy

    600 miles is astounding. Thank you for sharing your adventure so that the AT is real to me now. Lovely pictures, good descriptions.

  2. Bill

    Keep it up baby. You are doing great.

  3. Shari wb

    Warm weather sleeping! Yay!!! You are doing an amazing thing. Thanks for taking us along!

  4. jack

    Way to go! Nice to leave the cold weather behind.

  5. Milkman

    Hey Karma,
    You’re doing great kiddo! Wish you were coming to Trail Days but I understand why not. I was really looking forward to running into you this year on the trail and possibly hiking together at times but my knees didn’t make it. I’m getting new ones and gonna try again next year. Maybe we could meet at Trail Days at that time. I’ve been following you all along just don’t comment much. I love the way you write and really enjoy it. I’m cyber hiking your hike. Thanks for the laughs.
    Sincerely and with respect,
    BobbyJo Sargent
    aka Milkman

    • Hi, Milkman! I heard from Hikerboy that your kneew didn’t make it. I’m so sorry!

      I know you’ll have a blast at Trail Days. Have fun wih the gang!

      Nice to know you’re cyberhiking with me! πŸ™‚

  6. Marge

    Yeah, karma! Come on Pearisburg! Come on steak and baked potato! You have me thinking…..Steak and Baked Potato sound like trail names!! Now that I have read Wild, I can ask questions that don’t make me sound as dumb as I really am! Do you use iodine tablets for your water? And, is a purifyer hand pump too awkwark or too much to carry? I love the pictures that you paint with your writings, maybe more than the ones you take! You are the best. Miss you a lot and more on Thursdays!! xo

    • I use Aqua Mira drops, which are some kind of chlorine dioxide. Although I almost out, so I’m probably switching to bleach for the next leg. I have a filter, but once they’re wet, they’re a little too heavy for me. plus they clog and you have to bring something to backflush them. The drops seemd easier to me, and lighter.

      I’m so glad you’re reading along. πŸ™‚

  7. Pflug

    Linda,
    Hate to tell you but the water situation gets worse. There is a 14 mile stretch after Rockfish in which there are no springs, creeks or anything. It might be good to get an extra water bladder somewhere between where you are and there. I suffered through that stretch and Janet calls me a camel!
    Keep on hiking…
    Pflug

    • Nooooo! 14? That sucks!

      Today I nursed 24 ounces for 8 miles or something. I forgot to check the book!

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