16.1 miles, 484.1 overall (Campsite just past Lost Mountain shelter)
My double zero with Christy was great, but I am itching to get back on the trail. Already I can feel myself getting too used to creature comforts like showers, television, soap, cars, air conditioning, robes, and fruits and vegetables. I fear before too long I might become a normal human being again, smelling like cocoa butter and eating regular sized portions of food.
I get up early to get some things done before breakfast and I’m able to pack almost everything before I eat. The B&B has made a hearty breakfast of stuffed french toast to send me on my way. By 10:00 we are out the door and on our way back to Damascus to drop me off at the trail. After we say our goodbyes I hike off, although not quite into the sunset.
The trail for the next several days is typical Virginia – it follows the contours of the land with few tough climbs or descents. I figure I can make some good time here. Even with the late start I plan to do around 15 miles today and somewhere around 20 each of the next few days.
The trail starts with an uphill. It isn’t pleasant having a resupplied pack. I’m not carrying quite enough to get me to my next mail drop because there are resupply points along the way I plan to hit. However there are some things that are hard to resupply in small quantities, such as bagels and tortillas. As a result I am carrying somewhere around 5-6 days worth of food weight right now. That makes my pack near the heaviest it has been on this trip.
After 2 days off I wonder how my body will react. My knees soon let me know their displeasure with my return to the trail. They don’t hurt like an injury, more like they’re saying, “Hey, wait a minute! We had 3 days off last week, we thought we were done with this whole backpacking thing!” My Achilles tendons are also still tight. I’m hoping the new, properly sized shoes will help with that. I’m also planning to stretch more often. As they are they won’t keep me from getting to Maine but I don’t want them to get worse, and I’d certainly have a more pleasant hike if they weren’t so tight on a regular basis.
Hiking by myself today is different. I haven’t hiked alone since my 32 mile day, and I haven’t hiked alone without a definite goal in mind at any point this trip. My plan today is to at least get to the second shelter about 14 miles out and then camp wherever I please based on the time and how I feel. By getting at least 14 miles out of the way it will keep me on pace to get to Partnership shelter on night 3. This shelter is famous for having a phone nearby from which you can order a pizza to be delivered. It also has showers, and with the high temperatures we are supposed to have this week I’m not even very worried about whether they are heated or not.
I cover the first several miles easily and reach the first shelter. I decide to stop and have a rare proper lunch. Typically I just snack throughout the day, but I’m not in a rush. It is 1:00 and I only have 6.5 miles left to my target. I am in luck because this shelter also has a privy, a luxury we have been deprived of for quite some time now. I spend an hour at the shelter having lunch with Secrets and Shenanigans. They plan to stay here for the day after having had a bit too much fun last night in town.
When I leave it is 2:00. If I hiked quickly I could be at the next shelter by 4:00. I don’t hike quickly today though, instead stopping for pictures and to talk to some thru-hikers who are slack packing back to Damascus. Among the slack packers are Skeeter and All-Smiles, two hikers I haven’t seen since probably before Fontana. I thought they had been ahead of me but it turns out they were a day behind.
By 3:00 I have covered a bit less than 2 miles. I now run the risk of getting into camp late, something I hate doing because it puts me behind on making dinner and typing my blog entry. I pick up the pace but around 4:00 I run out of water. I will need to stop at the next spring. I run into the local Ridgerunner and ask where the next good water is but she isn’t incredibly helpful, mentioning a pond coming up. I’m not a fan of drinking pond water. It turns out the next good water is only a half mile back the way she came and before the pond.
The trail isn’t incredibly beautiful today, but it does have flowers starting to bloom. It also parallels the Virginia Creeper Trail for quite a large part of the day. For pieces the two trails coincide and I find myself walking the opposite direction that people on bikes are going, making for some close encounters. One woman with a young boy stops to ask me where the next point is where she can get picked up by a car. I wonder why she is asking the guy with a backpack on, but politely mention that I haven’t seen one but also haven’t been on the trail long. After I pass her I see one not 50 yards back the way she came but they have already moved on.
I make it to the next shelter at 6:00. Miles is there. I didn’t expect to catch him. At first I thought he would have left Damascus yesterday and made good miles. When I got to the first shelter today I saw that he had stayed there last night, so he either left Damascus late or decided to do a short day for some reason. It turns out the reason was shin splints. He is in a lot of pain and could only make it to this next shelter today. He and a few other hikers are planning to hike one more mile and then drive to stay at the house of one of them tonight. I don’t get invited and don’t try to invite myself. Instead I decide to hike on another 2 miles to get to a campsite by a stream tonight. I should be there before 7 and it will shorten tomorrow’s hike a bit.
I make good time and when I arrive around 6:45 I find 2 hikers already there who I haven’t met yet. Hungus and Pace started 2 days before I did in Georgia and Hungus is on his second thru-hike, having done one in 2007. They already have a fire going when I show up. They are also sleeping in hammocks so the flat space in the campsite is still available for my tent. I set up and then eat dinner with them next to the fire. They are friendly people and they say they have heard of me, but as they rattle off names of hikers they could have heard of me from I don’t recognize any of them. Obviously there are still hikers in this bubble I am traveling with that I haven’t met yet. This is probably compounded by the fact that I did 2 zeroes while most hikers only would have done 1, so some people will be catching up to me from behind. Now that I’m hiking alone this will probably tend to happen more often. I don’t mind though, I’m excited to meet some more hikers. Perhaps I’ll make a few more friends tomorrow on the Appalachian Trail!