19 miles, 674 overall (Sarver Hollow shelter)
Once again it rains through the night. It isn’t raining when I wake up though and I’m able to pack everything without getting even more wet, although the tent is going into the pack wet for the second day. Being by myself I’m able to get going quickly and leave by 8. The morning is foggy and I don’t expect a great view from Wind Rock anymore. A couple miles up the trail my suspicion is verified. However I do see 2 tents there and assume it is Big Easy and DK. Whoever it is, they are just stirring when I arrive. I say good morning to whoever it is and get a gruff “mornin'” in reply.
I feel good hiking but I’m still going slower than usual. I’m also hungrier lately and am contemplating eating more. When I stop at the first shelter I decide to try out a bigger snack. Instead of just the normal portion of gorp I also add a fun size snickers bar and a honey bun. The extra items don’t seem to have an effect on my appetite, but I hope they at least provide a longer energy boost. I spend a while at the shelter wondering if anyone will catch up but nobody does. After almost an hour I move on.
The trail today goes down into and then back up and out of two valleys. After the first shelter I get to tackle the first climb. It is steeper than many of the climbs we’ve had in Virginia but isn’t anything I haven’t seen before. However halfway up it begins to rain. I am halfway to the next shelter and hope that it will hold off until I get there. I’m not so lucky. By the time I reach the ridge it is pouring. I don’t bother putting on my rain jacket. It is still wet from yesterday. I slog through, pausing briefly at a knob to verify that the rain has stolen my view. By the time I reach the shelter I am soaked.
At the shelter I again take a long break. This time it is a worse idea. It is cold today and the combination of cold and wet is horrible. I eat my lunch and add some extra black bean salsa to try to get some extra something. Then I sit for a while, partly waiting to see if someone else shows up and partly just not wanting to move. The longer I sit the colder I get and the more my legs tighten up.
When I finally pick myself up my legs require stretching to get going. I need water and that is just past the shelter. Since I have to wait 5 minutes for the Aqua Mira to mix that means more standing around cold. Once I finally get hiking though it doesn’t take long to warm up.
It is 6 miles to my target shelter and it is 3. I don’t need to push it. The trail winds through pastures and I finally get some views today. I pass a huge oak tree that is apparently the largest on the AT in the south and it truly is a behemoth. A bit more uphill and I reach the shelter for the night right around 6.
The shelter is 0.4 miles off the trail so I wonder if anyone else will venture down. When I arrive I meet Jersey and Chef, two older gentlemen who started in Damascus. Both had previously completed the section from GA to Damascus and have returned to complete the trail. While I am cooking dinner Balls and Sunshine arrive. I read about these two before I started and wondered if I would meet them. Sunshine is 12 years old and Balls is her dad. They are on the second leg of their triple crown. They turn out to be great people and the 5 of us have some good conversation before bed. I find out from Balls and Sunshine that Big Easy and DK actually hiked on to the next shelter 6 miles away.
Today was interesting in that it was the first day that I have not run into another thru-hiker while hiking. I had the day almost completely to myself. I’m not sure if it is something to do with the weather and the section of trail we are on or if it has more to do with how many thru-hikers are left. What I do know is that in 2 days I will be at mile 702 where the trail crosses VA 311 and I plan to take a side trip to the Homeplace for dinner! We’ll see how many hikers join me for the brief detour from the Appalachian Trail!