Stealth camping at Saltlog Gap [mile 787.7]
The cicadas were off the hook today! It’s the 17-year bunch. I thought I’d heard cicadas before, but this sound is like nothing else. Maybe it’s being out in the woods. Maybe it’s being in the south. The sound is like a robotic whir… a robot’s arm lifting. But thunderous, and coming from everywhere. And there are cicada bodies on the trail now. It’s kind of miraculous to be out here for something that happens only once every 17 years. Odd to think that I might not be around for the next batch.
And while I’m on the subject of celebrations, congratulations to my fabulous nephew, who graduated high school today! He’s starting at Johns Hopkins in the fall. Outstanding work, nephew!
So… where to start? How about with the good news? (That’s deceptive; it’s all good today.) Today I hiked 15.1 miles. Woohoo! I was trying for 18, to stay at haunted Punchbowl Shelter, but seriously, how ridiculously grandiose is that? After the week I had, 15 is another miracle.
So how? How did that happen? First, I ate a lot. I don’t know how I managed to forget so thoroughly that calories are everything out here. I wasn’t getting into town with 2 pounds of food because I bought 2 pounds extra; rather, I wasn’t eating everything I had, which is a huge mistake. Maybe the worst mistake. You know, if I filled my backpack with nothing but Snickers, I still wouldn’t have enough calories per day for the number of days I’ve been staying out. When you figure that most of my pack doesn’t contain food, well… Virginia blues, and not enough energy to hike. I added up my estimated calories, and I think I’ve been getting half, maybe a third of what I need. That’s like being at home and trying to live on 700 calories. I can’t wait for Waynesboro, when I can shop with my new list! Of course, with the extra two days I took, I’m having to be careful with the food now, which sucks. I was thinking about staying at the Dutch Haus B&B at mile 818 to get a good meal or two, but we’ll see. I’d love to push on to Waynesboro. (I’m still anxious about where I’ll stay and how I’ll get there.)
The other thing that happened today was random and astonishing. There was a big climb early on. I was just irritated with my trekking poles, so I stopped and hitched them to my pack for a while. And don’t you know, my speed increased dramatically? I climbed a hill, took some pictures, had a couple of water breaks, and when I got to the next landmark, I’d covered 2.3 miles in an hour.
Yes, 2.3—better than my absolute maximimum rate of 2 mph. And this was uphill. Granted, the ground was good. But I was so elated that I stayed poleless for most of the day, to see what would happen. What happened was this: I’d left camp at 6:40. By 9 AM I’d done 5.5 miles. By 11:35 I’d done 9.4 miles. Then there was a massive climb (4 miles), and I finished 3 miles of it at a rate of 2 mph. I’d made 15 by 4:30 and found a stealth place to stop. I thought about pushing on, but… grandiose, eh? Fifteen is good for today.
How crazy is that? I have some theories, but I don’t want to think about it too much. I did break out the poles again toward the end of the day when it got rocky and I started to stumble. I’m going to experiment with this. So encouraging! Maybe I’ll be able to finish after all! All I know is that it was an immense relief to be able to plan the day as I went, knowing that I could reliably do 2 mph. Usually I’d plan for 1.5 to 1. Today I felt like a normal hiker! (My feet still hurt, by the way, but the exhaustion was much worse than that.)
(Side benefit: Because I was covering twice my normal distance, I got to take a lot of food breaks. Breakfast, second breakfast, lunch, second lunch. I hope this wasn’t a fluke!)
There were some other things at play, too. My food bag is light now. It wasn’t super hot (although the afternoon was definitely sweaty). And the poles on my pack are heavy, so I’m not sure how that’ll play out with a full boatload of food. Time will tell.
For a good part of the morning, the trail wandered near creeks then the James River. Was that the first big river? I think it was. Beautiful and wide, winding through the mountains. I met some new hikers, including a German pair named Strawberry Doughnut and Whistler. They found a turtle!
The longest footbridge on the AT crossed the James. In keeping with my apparent tradition of asking strangers to take strikingly awful pictures of me on bridges, I got hiker Bear Snack to snap me.
After that the trail stayed next to a creek estuary, and I saw a snake while I was peeing! I actually think it was a young copperhead, but I could be totally wrong. I took one step toward it to try for a picture, and it was off like a shot and gone down toward the creek. No picture, alas.
And that’s that! I’m stealth camped at the junction of two trails near an enormous field of… giant weeds. It’s actually getting a little nippy. Wonder what the weather’s supposed to do?