16.7 miles, 565.2 overall (Chestnut Knob shelter)
Since I am camped in my tent next to a stream I sleep well. I always sleep better in my tent and next to a stream. It is getting harder to force myself to get out of my sleeping bag in the morning though. The days are getting hotter and my clothes are getting smellier. This makes it even more unpleasant to put them back on in the morning. I’m also starting to dread the heat and already can’t wait for New England where it will get cooler again.
Although I feel efficient in getting packed up I don’t leave camp until 8:30. I’m not in an incredible rush because I know I have a short day ahead. I plan to get to Chestnut Knob shelter, nicknamed “The Cave” because it is a stone shelter with a door. It also overlooks a crater-shaped depression called “God’s thumbprint.” It sounds too cool to pass up and the mileage is ok. It does mean a couple longer mileage days later in order to get to the hostel when I want to arrive, but I’ll tackle those when they arise. Before I leave Loribob invites me to come visit her whenever I want. She even gives me directions to her house. It is very generous of her but, having known her for less than a day, I doubt I’ll take her up on it.
On the way out of camp I contemplate my water situation. I am running low on Aqua Mira to treat my water. I don’t want to risk drinking untreated water on this trip, so I spend part of my hike today figuring out my options. First, I can ask other people for water treatment. Second, I can boil water. Third, I can drink untreated water. These seem like my only options. Tonight I hope TW catches up to me so I can borrow some from someone I know.
Another topic I consider today is how to improve the AWOL data book. I think of things he could add such as designations of especially rocky sections or, rather than grading streams as intermittent or perennial, it could estimate how often the spring is running. Eventually I decide that in order to incorporate what I would like to have the data book needs to become electronic. That way it could be more like Google maps with layers you could turn on or off. With the increased prevalence of smartphones on the trail this could work well. AWOL already sends electronic copies of his data book to anybody who has already bought a paper version and asks for an electronic copy.
The hiking begins with an uphill but it isn’t too difficult. On the way down the trail leaves the woods and enters pastures. A sign warns hikers that for the next 14 miles the trail runs through a narrow corridor of easements and that straying from the trail should only be done with landowner permission. It is easy to see that this is the case as I pass by farmhouses and climb over fencestiles to cross properties. I dodge cow patties in the pastures and do a decent job avoiding them until I come to a rocky road. I don’t expect them here and I’m preoccupied with which way the trail is going when I step right in one. It flows up and over the top of my shoe, covering my toes in greenish pooey mess. Luckily there is a river nearby and I kick my foot around in it to get as much as I can off the shoe before it dries.
The trail has an odd feel today. Part of it is surely because I am hiking alone, but several strange things also occur today. First, I take a wrong turn and stop seeing white blazes. It is the first time I have been so disoriented and I have to backtrack to figure out where I went wrong. When I the location of my error it is obvious that others have made the same mistake, so I find some sticks to use to mark x’s in the wrong path. Just after I get going again I turn a corner and come face to face with a cow. It stops and stares at me long enough for me to get a picture, but as soon as I step towards it it turns and runs off. I am surprised because first, cows are typically more used to people, and second, I have never seen a cow move so fast. Finally I find a dead squirrel right in the middle of the trail. This is somewhat weird in and of itself for something dead to be directly in the trail, but the really weird part is that there is a turtle eating it. I decide that today is the weirdest day I have had on the trail so far.
The rest of the day is somewhat uneventful except for the fact that I meet several new hikers. Santa and Gnome are an older couple who I think are from Florida. I also meet Head-n-out and Tagalong, another older couple. Finally I meet section hiker Fresh Prince, who despite the name is also an older gentleman. It appears I have jumped ahead into a bubble of older hikers. I ponder this while I hike and come to the tentative conclusion that the age distribution on the trail may be shifting higher. Many of the hikers I saw at the beginning who were least prepared, either in terms of mental preparedness, gear, or knowledge, seemed to be younger hikers. It seems likely that at this point on the trail many of them have been weeded out, especially now that the heat is setting in and hiking becomes more difficult. I find myself bracing for more days hiking alone as I continue to do larger miles than others and sense the overall numbers beginning to dwindle. As evidence, when I reach the shelter today I am the first hiker there who plans to stay the night. Only 4 others arrive after me, making for a drastically different experience than I would have had a month ago when shelter space would have been tight.
On the way to the shelter I am worried about water. The next section looks to be somewhat dry and I don’t know how I can do the large miles I plan without water treatment. I luck out when I reach the shelter. A southbounder named Provisions is there and has Aqua Mira that he says I can use. I get about 2.5 liters out of this fill-up. Later when Wild Turkey arrives I also ask if I can get some water using his filter. I follow him down to the spring and get an additional liter or two. I now have enough to cook, clean, rehydrate for the night, and get me through half of tomorrow. That leaves only 2 days worth of water I need to account for now before I get to the hostel and can resupply on Aqua Mira.
Besides giving me some Aqua Mira, Provisions also decides to give me a wealth of talking. When I arrive he is pondering war and peace as it pertains to the Civil War. This transitions soon into fighting tactics with various weapons ranging from broadswords to shotguns to rope. He seems to have a thing for rope. When Wild Turkey and I go to get water he comes with us and tells us to wait so he can grab his rope. Provisions is what I would call a character on the trail – an incredibly unique individual. Even when I don’t respond to his instructions on proper use of swords or rope he continues to provide them. I am happy when they become redirected to Wild Turkey who is entertained by Provisions’ oddity.
While I worry a bit about water for the next few days I have two things working in my favor. First, it is supposed to cool down from the mid 80’s weather we have been having. Second, the trail will provide. It is a saying I coined before I started because of the frequency with which plans just seemed to fall into place. I continue to use it out here and it continues to be true. Just when you are thirsty, trail magic appears in the form of water. Just when you feel like you can’t go on, you get a cool breeze. When you feel like the trail has looked the same for 200 miles, you get a breathtaking view or a walk through pastures instead of forest. It is odd how often these things happen, and other hikers have noticed them to. The trail seems to be a being itself, its purpose in life to provide for the hikers that need it. One way or another I’ll find a way to treat my water until I reach the hostel a few days from now on the Appalachian Trail.