Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Lofty Ambition

Tuesday, June 28
Loft Mountain Campground (888.7)

Shelter begins emptying at 5:30, wake up at 5:50. Slow going to start, pack, head back to spring to hydrate, fill water bottles, and eat. On trail at 6:50.

Making good time. Overcast and cool, which gradually gives way to blue skies, humidity, and warmth. As happens quite often, shirt is soaked through with sweat and sticks to body.

Start noticing about eight miles out stomach is upset, and getting general cramping in intestines. Forces me to slow down. Norovirus? Bad food or water? What is it.

Half a mile before our first target shelter wait for Gabe, hoping he has an opinion. He goes through the checklist and it's probably a combination of not enough water and hiking hard. I adjust accordingly and it dissipates.

We have lunch at the shelter and agree to do another six miles to one of the National Park Services campsites.

Find cell service and call Achin to give him an update. He's been following the journal so is up to date. He's still planning on getting on Trail this fall.

Arrive at campground, lots of campsites, choose one as a thunder storm threatens. Some light food shopping at the Camp Store, planning for the next few days hikes, and turn in to our respective tents at 7:30.

The Ark is Full

Monday June 27
Calf Mountain Shelter (869.0)

Shuttle arrives on time, and we are at Rockfish Gap at 10:15. Good signal and I call Deb.

Half a mile in we stop to register at the southern terminus of the park. We are supposed to list where we will camp each night, which is kind of crazy because how can you tell? Weather, trail conditions, physical condition, can all play into where you end up.  Make an earnest attempt to begin with, but then rely on my bad handwriting to obfuscate. We keep one copy, and stuff the other two into the over full slot that asks that we don't fold, but gently slide in. We see Snow White here, but not again.

Trail is reasonably smooth, some elevations but hundreds of feet versus thousands. Make the 6.7 miles in little more than three hours (when I got on trail three weeks ago, took four hours to go five miles). We are moving ahead of a thunder storm expected at 3:00. Arrive at shelter and it's us plus one other. Two hikers arrive soon after and set up tents. Others start drifting in, then the skies open. Shelter fills up as more arrive, then more, and more. Rain comes down, cracking lightening, and it's like we are in Noah's Ark and the animals keep arriving but the Ark is full. People arrive and peer in, look all around, and come to the sad conclusion they need to set up their tent.

It's 7:30, the rain stopped hours ago, and 40 or more are here. People are in pretty good spirits despite the dampness.

Tomorrow we either go 14 miles to the next shelter, or 18+ to the first of the organized campgrounds.

Today is the first day of my fourth week.

- [ ]

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Hostel Gabe

Friday, June 24
Stanimals 328 Hostel (861.3)

At 5:00 AM our two long distance thrus jump up and start jamming bags together to leave, followed by our next long distance hiker.

I decide to get up since I either need to do 16 miles to get to the next shelter, or 21 to get to the road into Waynesboro. Despite yesterday's rains, the sky is blue, but as dawn appears the sky is red. Red sky in morning, sailor take warning...

I come out strongly and am making good time. Trail is surprisingly rocky, with many rock slides to navigate through. Get nice signal and able to talk to Deb about the prior day. Turns out she's watching the weather and it may be bad today as well.

Gabe and I have also been texting, he's very close, and there's a possibility he will be in Waynesboro today. After some back and forth, and me working miles hard, decide to just call him. He lets me know that he and three others are getting a shuttle into town as bad rains are expected beginning at 2 PM.

With this news redouble efforts to get to the shelter, 5.2 miles away and its 12:10. Zipping along and watch skies shift between light and dark. Don't want to get wet if possible. Making good time, but begin wondering if I too can manage getting shuttle to Waynesboro.

As luck would have it, find a side trail that goes to a parking lot, so call shuttle Gabe is using and this shuttle driver, who also runs a hostel, manages to get his wife to come.  Need to hike up to parking lot, a quick jaunt, and wait while a multiple generation Mennonite family enjoys a picnic break. The eldest talks with me for a bit, usual questions about the trail.

Wife picks me up, and is kind enough to stop at WalMart where I get a replacement iPad.

Arrive at the hostel soon after which is a house in a residential area. The bunk room is in the basement, and there's Gabe, stretched out on a bunk. We are both glad to see each other, with Gabe saying how many times he thought he was in range to catch up to me on trail, and I'd squirt off again. We are in agreement to begin hiking together again, which will start with SNP which he has done before. Looking forward to it.

Dinner at a local pub with three other hikers, and as we finish the skies open, as if angered that we had somehow escaped it's fury.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Who is it, Deer?

Thursday, June 23rd
Maupin Field Shelter (840.5)

It's 1:30 in the afternoon and I'm in a shelter already. Everything I have for clothes is wet save a couple items; everything is hanging up.

Last night the rains did come, but not until early morning when the six of us in the shelter were all awakened by a large crack, then the skies opened. The rain and lightening continued through dawn.

Everyone ate but pretty much stayed in their sleeping bags. Conversations went from taking a sleeping pill and sleeping through the day, to pushing eight miles to get a ride to a brew pub that allows hikers to camp on their property.

I have to get to Waynesboro, and not going to get there in a shelter. So pack up when storm seems to be easing up and head out. The others wish safe trails.

Now I need to get up and over this 2,000 foot elevation. The rain comes down, at times hard, and I take time and watch my foot placement on the wet rocks. About half way up the rain stops, but the wind in turn picks up.

Get over top, nice views but with strong winds and being quite wet, keep moving. Quick call to Deb and leave message since its been a couple days, but probably sounded a little anxious.

Am able to move pretty quickly but strong winds give pause. I'm hit by a small branch, perhaps as a sign of warning.

I come over a small rise and 30 feet away is a young buck staring at me from alongside the trail. Beautiful red coat, and then what I assume is his mother crosses from the opposite side, and turns to look at me as well. I look at them, they look at me. Gradually, with no fear, they wander in to the woods, where they watch unperturbed as I continue on.

Make shelter at 1:15, three other hikers, all from Harvey Creek, arrive. Spend the afternoon trying to dry clothes while rain and lightening continue.

Part way, best way

Wednesday, June 22, 2016
Harper's Creek Shelter (834.3)

Today will be a hard day. The mileage is 14, but more important is getting to the supposed end of the mountainous portion of Virginia. Mile 862 is the southern entrance of Shenandoah National Park, and the 20 miles before that introduce the more rolling terrain promised there.

But before that is some quick ups and downs leading to the lip of The Priest, a monolith just before a sharp 3,000 foot descent, followed immediately by a 3,000 foot ascent. My plan is to do the descent, and go one-third of the way of the ascent, stopping at a shelter there for the night.

I get up early given the soggy rains, too much sleep, and too little food (although I did demolish two Pop-Tarts, but more on those later). On the trail at 6:40.

As expected, sharps ups and downs, but I'm doing well. Still few hikers out, but do talk to two hikers near my age who describe the hike coming south. They agree with my strategy of having fresh legs in the morning.

Stop at the Priest Shelter for an early lunch. This is the northernmost end point to-date, as hiking partner number 1 Achin reminded me the other day, of his attempts.

Continue on after hydrating a bit, leave but don't see The Priest, and start the descent.

Lots of small skittery rocks to pay attention to since they can slip underfoot on their own, but get down in due time, rest at bottom, and go. Nice suspension bridge over another too wide stream, then start up. It's a pretty tough 1,000 feet, in part because its late in my hiking day.

Set up tent in shelter, joined by a similarly minded, and aged, hiker. He says rain is coming but I don't think so. Two twenty somethings roar in and announce we need to pull tents out for hikers who are coming. We do, and the shelter and campsite have over 15 by day's end.

Up up and away

Tuesday, June 21, 2016
Seeley-Woodworth Shelter (820.1)

Rain expected today, and hit first one arrives around 8:15. Since thunderstorms are expected early, am trying to get over Cove Mountain (a different one) before they arrive. Rain stops and I get to top of Cove as clouds are withdrawing from this grass covered summit. Get some good pictures.

Am shooting for first shelter, 10 miles away, in the hope of getting tucked in before heavier rains arrive. Am able to do so, arriving at 1:30, tent up by 2:30 and rains arrive soon after.

Not much to do with rain except doze and wait. Can watch the flies and other small flying bugs that have caught themselves under the tent's (outer shell) fly, but they are not imaginative and try the same escape routes over and over to no avail. Up, up, always up.

The rain ends at seven.

The music keeps the Bears away

Monday, June 20, 2016
Cow Cap Gap Shelter (809.9)

Series of events today, beginning of the third week of this section hike, passed the 800th mile from the starting spot in Georgia, and 900th mile overall.

Shuttle driver Gary shows up on time, and we are at trailhead at 7:45 AM and I'm on the trail soon after.

First six miles are more or less downhill, and the trail is smooth with few obstacles. Cross the Pedlar River Bridge, a hiker suspension bridge over a wide stream. It wobbles a bit but appears very sturdy.

Not soon after notice someone has created "800" using sticks on the side of the trail to mark that mileage. Take a picture and move on.

Heading up the hill I suddenly hear a really loud phone ringing. With bells, like the old rotary phones. I stop and try to place the direction and distance. It sounds like it's up in the woods a few hundred yards. Did a hiker lose their phone? Is a hiker missing and is someone trying to call them? The ringing stops.

I stand for a long moment, then call out to see if someone is there. No response, so continue on trail.

Soon enough it happens again, and my curiosity gets the best of me. Being careful to remember my way back, I go up the knoll, top it , and see a boathouse next to a lake. Apparently some kind of business with an amplified phone. Somewhat relieved, I turn back to the trail.

Make it to my target shelter and meet three other hikers, my first of the day. One has seen and knows of Sketch and saw him in Daleville. There are also texts from Gabe says he's going slower than hoped.

Although planned to stop here, decide to move up to next shelter for a couple reasons; it's a big hill and rather not face first thing tomorrow, and rain is expected tomorrow and would like to be further up trail.

Make shelter at 6:15, none the worse for wear. Only one section hiker here.

Since no one else is here, set up tent in one half of shelter and doze off around 9:00 PM.

At 9:30 Pack Mule arrives in a clatter of things, introduces himself, and syas no reason to make room in shelter. Pack Mule is clearly high on something, and making a hell of a racket. Talking a mile a minute about going night hiking, full moon, ten miles, and Red Bear will be here soon and he's a pretty strange dude.

Can hear Red Bear long before see him. Has a big boom box setup, blasting music while getting water before arriving at shelter. Ask if he'd turn off until he gets back on trail, and he says no but will turn it down (to 'too loud for the pool party' loud).

Won't bore you beyond this, except that about 10 other hikers arrive, similarly amplified with whatever the drug of the day is, and wander off around 11.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Bah-you-na Vista

Saturday and Sunday, June 18 & 19
Buena Vista VA (795.2)

Up early and working hard to get to Buena Vista. This includes three elevations, culminating at Bluff Mountain (3,372). Call to Motel to make reservation, and then to shuttle driver for pick up. At motel at 1:30.

Unpack, then start off in hunt for lunch, and then the Maury River Fiddle Festival, an annual event.

Doesn't take too long to long to realize how spread out this town of 6,000 is. Most trail towns are compact, this isn't. Lunch place (Mexican) is 1.1 miles away and the Fiddle Festival is over three. So much for a restful day.

Town is tired, little apparent industry, and home to a state university campus. It doesn't have the feel of an energized college town, but it's also summer.

Fiddle Festival is interesting. Afternoon event is a series of amateur competitions, such as solo bluegrass instrumental. All the acts are from somewhere on Virginia, including towns near the Trail I recognize.

Watch the headliner's early set then head back to motel, Hardee's burger in tow.

Sunday is a similar, longer-than-anticipated walk to get groceries. With resupply done, watch James Bond movie marathon, eat carb/fat heavy junk food, and doze. Set up up 7:20 AM pickup tmw to get back on trail. Next big stop is shy of 60 miles away at Waynesboro, the last town before Shenandoah National Park.

Hopefully there Friday or Saturday, and will meet up with Gabe this section. He says he's close.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Pitter Pitter Poon, the Rain Came Doon

Friday, June 17
Johns Hollow Shelter (786.0, 110.0)

Second night of big rain, and this heavier than the last.

Last four miles yesterday were hot, humid, no breeze. Luckily had lots of water but was sweating buckets. Got into camp (alone) after wobbly putting up tent, washed out everything from days hike in an adjoining stream, like some wood nymph, and hung them to dry. Switched to backup clothes.

Rain came from nowhere at 8. Can see blue skies but winds suddenly picks up. Realize what's happening and close vestibule panel just in time.  Not enough time to get wet clothes. Hunker down to listen to two hours of banging, rippling, waterfall emulating thunderstorm.

In morning, pack up wet clothes in plastic bag and head to next shelter, with the not fully formed idea of spending part or all of day drying out. It's five miles away and cover distance in about two hours. Includes crossing the James River on a 1,000' wooden bridge, longest on the AT.

Arrive at shelter, sweaty from the humidity and thinking dark thoughts*. Set up tent in one half of shelter for protection from bugs and rain, and go about hanging wet clothes and tent fly (exterior). Snooze for three hours, always trying to catch up on sleep.

Rain starts an hour after I arrive. Glad I'm off trail.

The day continues. Humidity in air slows drying so little chance to change mind, pack,and hike further. One hiker stopped in for water. Listen to an audiobook and doze.

* Dark Thoughts - thinking about quitting, why am I doing this to myself, so much better entertainment this summer available than this, etc.


Thursday, June 16
Matt's Creek Shelter (784.3, 105.1)

Started day cool, and up a steep hill, one of several today, and although started cool, day got quite hot. My iPad screen is slowly breaking up, and not sure how much longer can keep using it.

Another day of hiking and being reminded how boredom set in. Not sure where Gabe is and hoping to get in to town soon to resupply, shower, feed, the usual.

(I'm posting this on Saturday night, and iPad is pretty close to done.)

Puppy Mill

Wednesday, June 15
Cornelius Creek Shelter (764.4, 87.4)

At some point last night rose up to turn over, put my hand on my iPad (which is what I write this blog on), and broke the screen. Still working, but looks ugly and runs the risk of chips of glass breaking off.

Got up at usual time, and Susan gave me a ride back to trailhead after settling my bill. I had noted a letter on their wall, with the owner in 1947 writing to CBS about doing a broadcast from the then hunt club. Susan said it had been pretty famous in its time, with politicians and others from D.C. traveling there for hunts. It later became a tomato farm, complete with cannery, and then a campground under Mr. Camp in the '60s. No clarity how she and her gained ownership.

On Trail at 7:30, and expecting (and receiving) a hilly day. 1,000 feet in the first mile, down again to 1,200 feet to rise to 3,500. I stop midway and get a snack, talk to a guy who helps build the Trail but is now hiking. He's working to complete his AT thru hike he began in 1978. 100 miles this time, then he has everything north of Bear Mountain in N.Y. to finish.

Finish at 1:30, somewhat low on water but generally relaxed.  Would continue further but the  next shelter has had bear problems, is now closed, and the one beyond that is too far.

"Puppy Mill" is here after finishing 18 miles (already!).  She wanted to get ahead of the rain forecast for the day. She got her name after one young man became infactuated, but she wasn't interested and her friends thought he looked like a hurt puppy. Happened again with another young man, so that's how she got her trail name.

We chat amicably, other hikers arrive, including a payroll  accountant and a opera singer. They've been hiking around each other and chatter on a far ranging topics (including the adrenaline rush one gets hiking up steep inclines when talking about Donald Trump).

Rains have begun, first real rain since on the Trail and in my new tent. Thinking about trying 20 miles tomorrow ahead of Gabe's pending reunion.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Bearly a problem

Tuesday, June 14
Middle Creek Campground (755.7, 78.7)

A bear went through camp twice last night, the first time around 2:20 AM and again at 4:40 AM. I had heard a hiker come into camp after I got in my tent but left them to their business. At first I thought the bear was a disoriented person trying to find the privy without a flashlight or headlamp. Took a few steps, paused, take one, pause, etc. very similar footfall to a person. With the amount of bear activity this year, have already planned my rough defensive routine and got ready, although I was sensing more curiosity than aggression. The other hiker and I were both doing the same thing, getting ready to sound like the mother-of-all Bears, trekking poles at the ready, headlamps ready to blind, backpack for protection or ram.

It came to none of that. Bear moved through camp both times slowly, deliberately, but 15 minutes was gone. Both of us had our food bags tied up in the trees like good AT hikers, and gradually could settle down to get more sleep.

In the morning got to meet Sweep, a woman in desperate need of bug spray. She went in the shelter and was under constant attack by mosquitos, and then had to pay attention to the bear.

We both have interest into getting to Middle Ground Campground 3.2 miles distant. She wants a milkshake from their camp store, and I need resupply (my lunches aren't packing enough calories) and a nearo. We both head out about the same time, getting down in 1.5 hours. Another hiker lets us borrow his phone since neither of ours gets a signal to call campground for a ride, and we are there after a short ride given by owner Susan.

We are joined by two other hikers Sweep knows, a couple, with him on his third thru and her on her second. They say there's some good slack packing options from the Campground, and after discussion agree to share the cost of a sixteen mile slack tomorrow.

Scratch is here and know all of us. Sleepy afternoon and not much to do except hydrate and doze.

Hear from Gabe, he's 3-4 hiking days behind, we'll get together soon.

As it happens, late in the day slack hiking option is off the table, so back to the Trail in the morning.

Monday, June 13
Cove Mountain Shelter (752.5, 77.5)

Straight day of hiking. Trails here are forgiving, and more like the paths I thought the AT would be about.

Trail was paralleling park roads for the morning, and every so often the trail would cross the road to get an overview. Don't see my first hiker until mid-morning.

Run into Jeargen, a South African ex-auditor who's thinking through a career move on his first trip to the States. He's off to a shelter beyond my target. Stop a the first shelter, figuring I'll doze for a bit, eat, get water. Finish eating and "Tayonce", also at the shelter last night, arrives with her border collie "Blue". Her trail name is a mix of singers Taylor Swift and Beyonce's, and she said she didn't name her dog after her, but notes Beyonce's daughter's name is Blue.

At shelter am alone up to this writing (usually done at 7 PM). Run another fire to give any bears in the area pause.

Hare today

Sunday, June 12
Wilson Creek Shelter (738.7, 63.7)

As with most trail towns, Daleville is in a valley, so you climb out to get out. Did breakfast at the motel (included) then headed out around 8 AM. 1,400 ascent to get to the first shelter. Have a snack with the hikers and move on.

Not much to see today. Mostly woods, although did see my first turtle and a couple hares.
Saturday, June 1
Dalesville, VA (727.5, 52.5)

At the Howard Johnson Express; it's transient housing and a hiker hotel. Same thing I suppose. Not well maintained but has a good pool, and close to the Trail. About a half mile away is a supermarket, outfitters, series of fast food and regular restaurants. Visit most of them.

Replace my tent of three years as three zippers have corroded and open panels allow rain and wind in. Get a smaller, lighter tent (Big Agnes Fly Creek 1 Platinum).

Spend time reading, updating blog, swimming, and napping. Hiker Hunger hasn't arrived yet (the condition when you've burned off most your body fat and your brain says "eat everything, it's okay." so I eat but without much interest.