18.4 miles, 655 overall (Stealth camp 2 miles past Bailey Gap shelter)
Because I got into camp late I also get to bed late. Because I get to bed late I also get up late. I don’t start packing until 8 this morning. While I am packing I start to hear the characteristic noise of rain. When I finally emerge from my tent I find the area covered in a dense fog. By the time I eat my breakfast and get going it is 9. I am not the only one being slow today. Q-tip, Cheeze-It and Tickle Monster are all still in the shelter when I leave, and Medicine Man, Big Sky, and Diesel are only minutes ahead of me. I head out into a patchy drizzle.
I don’t have a clear goal today. In the data book it lists a campsite with a view at a location called Wind Rock 20 miles away. It sounds tempting, but as I start hiking this morning it seems a long way off. I’m not feeling it today and I can tell I’m hiking slow. Just over 2 hours go by before I catch the 3 who are ahead of me when they stop for a break. They claim we have already hiked 7 miles. This would mean they have been doing a 3.5 mph pace and I’ve been doing a 3 mph pace. I call BS, but can’t convince them otherwise. It isn’t until several miles later when we see a sign that proves we were not that far along that I have the proof I need. Big Sky is not happy when she sees it. She is having a rough day already and this just makes it worse.
We finally reach the next shelter 12.5 miles away around 2. It is a late lunch, mostly caused by the late start, and it makes me wonder if Wind Rock is still possible today. When I arrive at the shelter Q, who left before I even got out of my tent this morning, is there with another hiker named Cricket. They tend to hike the same miles, which today seems to mean over 20. They don’t stay for much longer after I arrive since they still have almost 13 miles left to cover.
While I am preparing my lunch with the other 3, two new hikers arrive. DK and Big Easy were apparently in some of the tents we passed this morning on the way here. As I put ingredients on my tortilla DK talks about how mad she is at the Pearisburg Food Lion and the Giles County police. From what I can gather they were arrested on Cinco de Mayo for trespassing in a back room of the Food Lion. DK writes a manifesto in the shelter register, letting other hikers know of her mission to give these establishments a piece of her mind. Once she gets past the ranting though she is incredibly pleasant and very chatty. There isn’t any silence for long with her around, interjecting random thoughts and questions. It is uncanny how much she reminds me of my friend Kat, so much so that I have to force myself to stop staring. They look alike and even have similar mannerisms and laughs.
Eventually I move on, leaving the others to finish their lunches. In a mile there is supposed to be a zipline from the trail to a man’s yard. The Captain allows thru-hikers to camp in his yard and even supplies sodas to those passing through. When I get there I’m a little disappointed that it is less a zipline and more a pulley system to move hikers across the stream to his yard. It is impressive nonetheless, but I don’t feel a need to try it out. I forget that there are sodas on the other side waiting for me.
Onward I go, up the only big climb of the day, to the second shelter of the day. I arrive just in time – minutes later a downpour begins and drenches all of the hikers who arrive behind me after staying behind to finish their lunches. They also spent time going to the Captain’s place and getting sodas, so their timing is not the best. Big Sky is incredibly unhappy now and sulks in the back of the shelter. I can already tell she won’t be doing any more miles today. However the rain stops and it is only just after 5. I am mostly dry and can still get some miles in. Wind Rock is 4 miles away so I throw my pack back on and set my sights on it. DK and Big Easy seem like they might move on too, but I don’t wait to find out.
As I hike I can tell something is wrong. My energy is really low and I don’t know why. When I got to the last shelter I ate a Pro Bar just after arriving so it shouldn’t be a matter of snackage, but I can’t come up with a better explanation. After a few minutes of resisting I grab for another snack and find a packet of pop tarts Big Easy was getting rid of earlier – another example of the trail providing! After I wolf them down I feel much better.
I continue on, but it is past 6 now and I’m not sure of the mileage to Wind Rock. I start considering camping spots next to the trail. I pass a few, hoping to get a little further before stopping. Then I hear it coming. I look to the left and see the haze of a downpour headed for me. I only have seconds to take off my pack and put on my rain jacket before it begins. Now I am disappointed I didn’t take one of those earlier camping spots. I put my pack back on and start hiking again, but the trail doesn’t want me to go far. On my left I spot 2 areas where people have obviously had tents recently. They look great and I’m not excited about continuing to hike in the rain. I am a little nervous about setting up my tent in the pouring rain, something I haven’t had to do in the few years I’ve had the tent now, but I have rehearsed it before both in my mind and when setting it up in dry weather. I decide this is the perfect time to see if the practice has paid off. Within 5 minutes I have my tent set up and the inside remains dry -success!
I start going about my nightly chores, setting up the inside of the tent, cooking dinner, etc. Even though I know it’s not a good idea I cook in my tent vestibule. I can’t bring myself to get any more wet tonight. While I’m cooking I hear hikers approaching and when they go by they say hi. It is DK and Big Easy, moving on as I thought they might. I invite them to join me here for the night but they want to find a spot with water so they move along. I will be tenting alone tonight.
Today I considered whether I want to rejoin a group of hikers for some time. Lately I’ve been hiking faster than those around me so that few hikers are passing me but I’m passing lots of hikers. I’ve enjoyed meeting the people that I’ve been seeing in the shelter registers for so long but I haven’t gotten a chance to really get to know any of them. The group I’m with now, while quirky, could be fun to travel with for some time. I may at least slow down so that I stop skipping hiker bubbles and instead tend to see the same people each day even if I’m not explicitly hiking with them. It could be a nice change of pace and would force me to do a bit less planning and a bit more go with the flow, something I’ve also been thinking I should do more of. We’ll see how it turns out. If nothing else maybe I can get this group to come with me to the Homeplace for AYCE family style dining this weekend on the Appalachian Trail!