It’s almost 4 months since I did my second training hike, its about time I write about it. I’m going to make up for the lack of entries with a few in quick succession! I promise I’ll be more punctual in my blog entries once I start hiking because at that point I’ll have a smartphone that I can do a nightly update on. At this point I don’t have the smartphone yet. I’ve been waiting for the iPhone 5 to come out so I can compare/contrast to the available Droids and decide what to go with. I’ll have to balance ease of use, weight, and battery life.
Anyway, back to the training hike. Strap in because this is going to be a long one! I planned a 4 day hike on the AT just south of Shenandoah National Park. I left on Friday of Memorial Day weekend, taking a day off work to get started early. However I didn’t start my hike early as planned. The first day was going to be a short walk, so of course I took my time getting there. I did some errands in the morning, including picking up some more stove fuel on my way, and didn’t ended up at the parking lot until around 3:15. By that point it looked like it was going to rain, so I got going pretty quick up the road to the trail. Almost got lost on the approach trail to the AT because it wasn’t very clearly marked (by not very clearly marked, I mean it wasn’t marked). Then I completely missed the AT. Turns out I had missed a sharp left and hiked past it, instead doing about a half-mile loop. Luckily I ended up back where I started rather than having to hike the half-mile or so back. I corrected myself and by 4:45 I had gotten to a place called Spy Rock. This rock is known for the great 360 degree views you can get by climbing to the top of it. By this point I heard thunder, but it sounded like it was still far enough away. I figured I could get up the rock quick, get a great view, figure out how far away the oncoming rain was, get down, and get off the mountain pretty quick. I figured wrong. As I crested the rock, I got a full view of the imminent thunderstorm. I scooted my butt off that rock as fast as I could, and got off of it just in time to pull my rain gear on as the downpour commenced.
Now the bad part about this situation is I was at a high point on the landscape with a huge thunderstorm rolling over me. I started to hike down the trail to get to low ground, but quickly realized I was holding metal poles in a thunderstorm – probably not the best idea. So I put my pack and poles dow, found a low spot away from them, and waited out the storm. Luckily it only lasted about 20 minutes and then I was able to get going again. By 7:00 I strolled into Priest shelter where I met 3 older section hikers (sorry guys, didn’t write down your names and its been 3.5 months!). They were some really interesting guys – two were doctors, one a former congressman (ousted in the 2010 elections) – who had been hiking different sections of the AT for several years. Two of them had arrived minutes before me, but the other had gotten there early in the day and already had a fire going which I was able to use to dry out the clothes that had gotten wet. The years these guys have been hiking have apparently paid off because they knew how to hike – one of them had brought a water bladder full of wine! I hit the hay around 9, just as a thru-hiker named Low-key was arriving. Everyone ended up staying in the shelter to stay dry, so it was nice and cozy. Day 1 down, no knee problems, but the day had been all uphill. Downhill is when my knee started hurting last time.
Day 2 – Up at 6:45. Took my time getting up, eating, and packing. Everyone left ahead of me. I finally got going around 8:30. I had a choice that day – I could go 7.5 miles to Harper’s Creek shelter or go 13.7 miles to Maupin Field Shelter. The day started out with a long downhill off Priest mountain. Commence knee pain. Obviously this is more of a problem than I originally thought, and this was a HUGE downhill – 4.8 miles down, but finished it by 11:20. Caught up with the section hikers at the parking lot at the bottom of the hill where they had found their cars and were drinking they beers that they had strategically placed in the trunk the day before – like I said, these guys knew how to hike! I spent about 20 minutes talking to them about the trail ahead and deciding which shelter I should hike to. I still didn’t know what I would do when I set out again, but by 12:30 I had hit the Mau-Har Trail. This trail, 1 mile away from Harper’s Creek, also happens to be only about 3.5 miles from Maupin Field because it takes a straight shot rather than the round-about route the AT takes, thus cutting out about 3 miles. Extra bonus, it had waterfalls – SOLD! I decided to blue-blaze to Maupin (sacrilege to purist thru-hikers, but hey, its only a training hike), which would put me closer to where I needed to finish on Sunday since Christy was going to be picking me up.
I got to Maupin Field by 3:45, completing approximately a 10 mile day, and boy did my knee know it. When I arrived, Gumby and Fishhead were there. Both are thru-hikers who started in Ga in the end of March (around the time I plan to start!) and Gumby has his own blog. I got to talk to them for a few minutes before they prepped to leave, but as they were about to leave Carla, aka Zipper, arrived! Turns out Zipper had thru-hiked in 2009 and was back to do trail magic for current thru-hikers. Gumby and Fishhead stuck around for a while extra to shoot the breeze, drink some of the beers, and eat some of the food Carla had brought. Around the time they left, Ramblin’ Man arrived and set up camp for the night. Soon after Doc Boom arrived too, but he only stayed long enough to eat dinner before pushing on (since this weekend I’ve started reading some new trail journals and I’ve seen his name pop up several times – how cool!). Zipper, Ramlin’ Man and I stayed up for a while chatting before I turned in – one important thing I learned from them: I can cut more weight from my pack (more on this for another post). Everyone decided to stay in tents instead of in the shelter.
Day 3 – Woke up at 6:30. It seems I wake up earlier when hiking. Packed up and had breakfast at 7:30 to get a start hiking by 8:10. I had 15.8 miles to go to get to Paul C Wolfe shelter, which would make for the longest day yet in my training. With a bum knee I wasn’t sure how the day was going to go. However Zipper, who I maybe gave too much credit to seeing as how she had already thru-hiked, convinced me to push through the knee pain because every hiker experiences some aches every now and then. I hit Reed’s Gap, where Zipper had left some trail magic the day before, by 9:10 but saw no sign of the goodies. Around 11:50 I hit the trickle that was Dripping Rock Spring and filled my hydration system as much as I could. I crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway shortly thereafter and started my hike up Humpback Mountain. Somewhere near the top I started to bonk. I had eaten a bunch of trail mix and a power bar type thing, but I was running low on water and was probably starting to feel the effects of a few consecutive high mileage days. I had been training hard in the gym and I’m sure it helped, but when you get on the trail your body moves differently than when you’re lifting weights. After a while it takes a toll. If it hadn’t been for Zipper telling me about it the day before, I would have thought I was hallucinating when I saw 2 mountain goats on the trail in front of me. Weirdest thing ever! I don’t know what they’re doing in the mountains in the middle of Virginia, but here they were walking up the trail toward me. I yelled and waved a bit so they would notice me, and they moved off the trail to avoid me. After I passed them, they got right back on the trail and kept going.
Luckily a short time later I found a spring that was large enough for me to get water from. I stopped to fill my Camelbak and took the time to pull some food out of my pack. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches have never been so good! I ate two of them, drank all the water I could, and then topped off the Camelbak before continuing on. It was 3:30 by the time I left. I wouldn’t get to the shelter until 5:30, but what a reward! The Paul C Wolfe shelter has got to be one of the most scenic on the trail. It is perched on the side of a hill overlooking a picturesque mountain stream. I was the only person there when I arrived, so I took the pack off and hiked downstream a bit to a pool where I waded in and soaked my feet and legs in some ice cold mountain water – so refreshing! I tried icing my knee in it, but the cold water didn’t seem to help. It only took a few minutes to cool off though, and I felt 10 times better. A short time later a couple older thru-hikers arrived who would stay the night in the shelter, and soon after that a family arrived and pitched tents. I’ve decided that shelters aren’t for me – the wood isn’t comfortable to sleep on – so I pitched my tent outside. I cooked a large dinner but even after packing the whole thing away in my stomach I was a little hungry. Thru-hiker hunger is going to suck. I didn’t record what time I went to sleep, but I know it was somewhat early.
By 8:30 I was out of camp again. Christy was supposed to meet me around 11 and I had about 5 miles to hike. It was all uphill so that was good, giving me less knee pain than the previous day. I was at the Gap by 10:45, and Christy arrived soon after. Overall a successful hike, but it obviously confirmed that the knee pain is something a bit more serious than a pulled muscle or something like that.