The Captain’s place [mile 651.3; mpd 8.46]
So you know how you have those days when everything, everything, everything goes wrong and you eventually get afraid to even touch anything because you know it’s going to slap you in the face? Yeah, those days still happen on the trail.
Got up late. It was a little chilly in my hotdog spot—chilly enough that I’d worn my Thermasilks to bed. That always makes for a slow morning, that reluctance to get out of the warm and into the cold. Plus when I woke up there was a freaking snail crawling up my tent, six inches from my face. That’s why I hate bushwack camping.
Needless to say, the tent fly was wet. The leaves were wet. Everything was wet. Dew point. And the bugs were already up and gnawing pieces out of me. (Picaridin does nothing against flies, apparently. And fly bites—piranha flies, I call them—fly bites make me swell up. It currently looks like I have a half a grapefruit stuck to my shin, and a half a lime to my knee. When the swelling goes down, they’ll itch so bad for two days that I’ll want to gouge my leg with a tent stake. I’ll resist, of course! Mostly because unpacking a tent stake would be way too much work.)
I was up and climbing my hotdog hill by about 8. When I got back up to the trail, I was standing on a rock. I turned my head, ever so sightly, to look for the white blaze. And that most miniscule of motions was enough to alter my balance (given that I’m carrying the weight of a toddler in an unnatural spot). The rock was wet, of course! My feet slid down and boom! I was in the air. I came down hard on my hip and arm. No permanent damage that I noticed (yet), but I was scraped up. I hadn’t even taken one step on the trail yet.
And once again, I was on the ridge. I loathe ridgewalks, loathe them. The rocks just chew up your feet and ankles. And when they’re wet, it’s worse. But whatcha gonna do? You walk, that’s what. So I walked. And walked.
A mile down the trail was an outstanding campsite. Somebody had left flowers there.
At some point I remembered that I have a bug head-net with me. I pulled that out, and at least it kept the bugs out of my ears and my nose and my eyes and my mouth.
Some hikers passed me, including Iced Tea, the German from Wapiti Shelter who’d been trying to get a ride to Trail Days. He succeeded! But obviously it wasn’t the party he’d hoped for, not this year. The only other hiker I recognized was Spoon. He and I have been in the same bubble for the last couple of weeks. I think I met him on Mt. Rogers with Blacksquatch—who, by the way, is here tonight.
But the trail. Yeah. Either the signage in Virginia has a problem or the AT Guide has some errors for this section or I’ve gone crazy. And not only me. The next shelter was supposed to be 5 miles away. I’d walked 3 hours and passed a sign that said it was 2.5 miles away now. I was going slowly, but not that slowly. A German passed me (not Iced Tea) and said, “I thought the shelter was closer!”
The trail itself was pretty enough, after it came down off the accursed ridgeline. It was sparsely wooded for a while, then it turned into my favorite: deep-shadowed rhododendron forest next to a rushing creek.
And my feet were killing me again. Just my Achilles tendons, particularly the right one, which I’m starting to think is an actual injury. Not only were my feet killing me, but I just didn’t feel good. I wondered if I was getting sick. I was hot, miserable, headachy, nose-runny… and I decided I would have to do a short day. I’d just pack it in and tent at the next shelter, whenever it was going to magically appear.
But I didn’t get there, not right away, because first I had to deal with an enormous and highly pissed off rattlesnake.
I was limping down the trail, with the creek down a ten-foot, rhododendron-choked ravine on the left and a steep rhododendron-covered wall on the right. And up on the wall, somehow, by some miracle, were two hikers. “Dude!” they said. “There’s a huge rattlesnake ten feet down the trail! You’ll hear it!”
And sure enough, I crept a little closer, close enough to see the coils of it in the weeds (the thing was easily as fat around as my 24-ounce water bottle), and when I got about five feet away, it erupted. Loud as maraccas, that rattle. Shit. I jumped back and tried to figure out what to do.
Note: No good picture. I might make some bad decisions, but I haven’t lost all sense of reason. The bad picture is below; you can see some scales in the weeds.
I couldn’t climb up the way the others did. The hill was too steep for me, and without handholds. I tried a couple of times regardless and succeeded only in disrupting some mega-hive of big black ants and startling some little fast lizard thing. I think it was a salamander—black flecked with tiny yellow spots.
So back to the trail. That snake owned the trail. It was within 6 inches of the path, in the weeds, and any movement in its direction made it rattle and hiss.
What a day, right?
I felt a movement on the periphery and my hand snapped out to block the trail (I was happy to see that there’s at least a remnant of my old martial arts reflexes in there). It was another hiker, Goatman. “Rattlesnake,” I told him.
We chatted about the situation. I’d been standing there for 20 minutes by that point. Goatman eventually decided to try going across down closer to the creek on the left. There really wasn’t enough room there, though, and he slipped hard—and over on the right that snake started rattling and hissing and snapping. Then Goatman was up and past, and the snake slthered a foot or so farther off the trail, giving me some room to maneuver. Its face was toward Goatman… and I ran as fast as I could down the far left side of the trail. That snake was PISSED.
I’ll never forget that sound. Or what a rattlesnake looks like when it’s snapping (at Goatman, who was down the trail). Talk about Crankypants!
I got down to the shelter, which, it turned out, was only a few hundred feet from the rattler. It was full of people I didn’t know, although eventually Backtrack showed up! Remember him from… I think it was Cody Gap? There was snow on the ground then. He’d stayed up by the snake for a while to warn hikers.
There were no tent sites at the shelter. (I found three on the way out.) But besides that, the rattlesnake had kind of put me off sleeping there. So I decided to move on to the Captain’s place.
And here I am. A short day, but that’s just how it played out. (And I saw another snake on the way here, a little one.)
You get to the Captain’s by sitting on a porch-swing zipline and pulling yourself across a creek. The Captain is a trail angel who lets hikers camp on his land, even when he’s not home. And he has a refrigerator full of sodas, and if it’s raining you can sleep on his porch. Here’s a house where the owner is out at work, and there ars 25 strangers sitting at his picnic table and laying on his lawn. It’s fabulous to see that kind of trust. The Captain said people ask him why he does it, and he thinks the better question is why wouldn’t he do it? 🙂
A lot of the afternoon hikers pressed on, but there are about eight or ten hikers here now, including Coach and Blacksquatch. I imagine a couple more will show up.
I just needed a safe place to sleep tonight, where I don’t have to worry about snails and snakes and bear bags. I don’t know how the hell I’m going to get back across that creek tomorrow; I had help earlier. I hope my pack stays dry. I hope I don’t end up in the drink.
But all that aside…DISASTER. Two disasters, actually. First. I found a rip in the fabric of my pack. I might have gotten it when I ran from the snake. Looks like tree damage. I taped it for now, but I’m going to have to patch it somehow.
But worse… when I fell this morning I destroyed my Pstyle! (For those not in the know, that’s a device women use to pee standing up. A lot of outdoor women use them.) That was my most critical piece of gear! And I’m not kidding.
It’s in four pieces. Shattered. I used vinyl tape and fabric glue to seal it for now, but I’ll have to figure out a way to get a new Pstyle maildropped to the closest possible town. This is terrible, terrible news!
I need an emergency Pstyle! And I don’t have internet!
A bad, bad day. 😦 Awful.