16.1 miles, 690.1 overall (Pickle Branch shelter)
As we were preparing for bed I happened to ask Balls and Sunshine if they were early risers. Balls informs me they are usually hiking by 6:00. So that is a yes. I assume they will be stealthy when they leave, but in the wee hours I am awoken by their preparations. They don’t seem to be paying much attention to keeping the noise down. This is one of those unwritten rules of the trail – if you leave early you either tent so you don’t wake others or you try to keep the noise down. Some people can leave a shelter without waking anyone else up. These two obviously can’t. I wonder if this is something they haven’t learned because they are hiking so fast that nobody has had a chance to catch up and mention it to them, or if they’re just terrible at being stealthy.
I sleep in a bit. It was extremely cold last night. I had my 15 degree mummy bag zipped up all the way and the hood on, though I didn’t need to close all of the interior baffles. Granted I am a cold sleeper, but Jersey informs me that he was jealous of my bag during the night. He recently traded out his cold weather bag for a 40 degree warm weather bag and he was cold during the night. The combination of cold air and wet socks/shoes is not exciting. Once I pull myself out of the warmth of my bag it only takes an hour to get going and I am out of the shelter and starting the 0.4 mile side trail back to the AT a little before 8:30, my feet frozen into blocks by the cold wetness of my shoes.
Thankfully the ridge line is a little warmer than the hollow that the shelter was in. I occasionally get assaulted by a gust of wind, but when the wind is still and I am in the sunlight it feels good. The ridge has a couple of great views from some smooth rock faces that the trail traverses and I stop at one to have a short snack. I’m not in a hurry today. I only have 16 miles to cover, still keeping an eye toward setting myself up for Homeplace tomorrow. While I snack I watch some hawks riding the air currents up and down the ridge.
I pass the eastern continental divide, the place at which water on one side of the ridge flows to the Gulf of Mexico and on the other it flows to the Atlantic. I am now back in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. I follow the trail down and arrive at the next shelter. Jersey is there taking a break and chatting with Big Easy and DK. There is another man there who I find out is the infamous Fatherman, a 40-something with an apparent fondness for dry humor. Big Easy, DK, Medicine Man, Big Sky, and Diesel have all been talking about how cool he is and after a few minutes I can understand the appeal. He is easy-going and enjoys a light-hearted conversation. Jersey leaves soon after I arrive but the others, as I am beginning to understand is a trend with them, have still not packed their things. It is 11 now. They start talking about leaving by 12:15. I decide to hang out a while. I’m not in a hurry and my tent could use some time to dry out so I lay it on the picnic table.
During the conversation I discover that it is DK’s birthday. Later I kick myself for not remembering the extra honey bun in my food bag that could have been a “birthday cake”. She mentions she needs a charge for her phone so I lend her some power from my external battery. They discuss options for the day and for resupply since they are running low on food. There is a grocery 16 miles ahead of them and they discuss making it there instead o stopping 10 miles ahead at the shelter like I plan. Either way Big Easy has Homeplace on his mind and it sounds like they will be hitting it up with me tomorrow.
When I leave Chef has caught up but the 3 still haven’t really begun packing up. I hike on, feeling much better today than I have recently. I’m still hiking slowly but at least today it doesn’t feel like a struggle. I cross a road where an odd man and woman are hanging out but don’t stop to talk. Then I climb back up onto another ridge. Shortly after I gain the top I reach the Audie Murphy monument, erected to honor the most decorated soldier of World War II, and catch Jersey taking a break. The monument itself is simple enough: a large stone with a brief description of why it is here (it is located near where he died in a plane crash) and who he was (his decorations include the medal of honor, distinguished service cross, and 3 purple hearts). Around the monument are stacks and stacks of rocks. When hikers come upon a gravestone, monument, etc where they want to pay their respects they leave a rock. This monument has obviously had a large number of people pay their respects. Just past the monument is a trail to an overlook. When I take it I find another small monument: a plaque for a young man who passed away in 2010. By the boots placed above the plaque and the small pile of rocks here as well I surmise that he was also a soldier.
I stop here a while to let my shoes and socks dry out. I am starting to feel new blisters forming due to all the wetness and want to take care of it now. While they dry in the sun I am able to make myself lunch and call Christy.
Around the time I finish Chef catches up. He tells me that he talked to the odd couple at the road crossing and he thinks they tried to mug him. He scared them off with the bear spray he carries on his shoulder strap, but it makes me wonder about the 3 behind us. I assume with 2 guys in the group that they will be ok.
Chef and I hike together most of the rest of the 5 miles to the shelter for the night. He tells me about his kids and grandkids (another is on the way next month) and talks with enthusiasm about a show that I think was called Redneck Vacation where redneck families from Louisiana are taken to live in the Hamptons for a month. Since I haven’t seen it I don’t have much input, but his enthusiasm makes my silence ok as he goes on and on about it. When we reach the las short uphill of the day he stops for a break and I continue on.
I reach the shelter around 5. It is another one that is on a side trail, this time 0.3 miles but relatively flat. When I arrive Jersey is here as well as a father-daughter duo – her name is something like Treecycler but I didn’t catch his. I will have to look it up later in a shelter register. I decide to tent due to an abundance of both time this evening and of great tenting spots on the side trail to the shelter. This will ensure a good night of sleep as well as a dry tent in the morning since we should have no more rain for a few days at least. The early arrival also explains what seems to be an especially long entry today! While I have the time I’ll throw in a few more tidbits that I’ve been thinking about.
I am coming up on completing a full third of the trail. This should happen next week somewhere just short of the 730 mile mark since the trail this year is 2184.2 miles long.
I won’t be assimilating into Medicine Man, Big Sky, and Diesel’s group. I’ve decided they are too slow and I don’t think I would enjoy that group dynamic. However I really enjoyed hanging out at the shelter with Fatherman, Big Easy, and DK. I could see myself hiking with them for a while. We’ll see how it goes. They did not end up arriving at this shelter tonight, so tomorrow I will have to find them first. I assume I will come across their tents a few miles up the trail like I have every morning for the last few days.
Trail Days is coming up. It is a huge hiker festival held in Damascus every year in mid to late May. This year it is the weekend of the 19th. Hikers often hitchhike, find rides, etc to get back to it and hikers from precious years attend too. I will not be going this year. I can’t really justify it with the time I’m already taking off from the trail for 2 friends’ weddings and the time I’m already taking off from work. I can always go next year. However it will make for some empty trail that weekend and I fully expect to be hiking with lots of new people when they all return afterward. I don’t know if the hikers I’m with now are planning to attend or to keep hiking.
Finally, I still don’t know what’s up with the low energy level lately. Although I’m hungrier now than I have been it doesn’t seem to be a food issue because eating more doesn’t seem to help. I did have some allergy issues today so that could be part of it. Maybe I’ve caught a small cold but being in such good shape right now it is manifesting simply as exhaustion. Or today I was thinking it could be that my muscles are atrophying a bit. When I rowed in college I built a lot of muscle but then when I went home for the summer I basically stopped exercising. I got really tired for a few weeks while my body adjusted to the sudden lack of exercise. The funk I’ve been feeling is similar and began around the time I reached Virginia. Around that time the huge uphill climbs stop and the trail tends to be graded better. It could be that with all of this relatively flat land I am losing some of my climbing muscles. Who knows, all I know is that today, although I wasn’t pushing a fast pace, I felt better than I have in several days. Dry weather helps too.
Tomorrow I feast at the Homeplace on the Appalachian Trail!