11.2 miles, 733.7 overall (Wilson Creek shelter)
In the morning Jersey wakes me up when he leaves for breakfast. I told him I didn’t want to sleep in too long. I get up and take another shower. I like to shower as close to leaving town as possible. Then I head down for breakfast. This morning I plan to be more careful about what I eat. The two waffles + syrup yesterday made for a queasy stomach. Today I will only have one waffle with less syrup and instead eat several bowls of raisin bran. My stomach thanks me.
Jersey is leaving the trail for a few days. His son’s graduation is coming up and he has some stuff to take care of at home. He figures it will all take about 4-5 days. He can either leave now and get it done or hike a couple more days and then get it done. The rain made his decision for him and his wife is on her way to pick him up. After breakfast I pack the last of the things in my pack and say goodbye. Chances are when he returns I will be almost 100 miles ahead, too far to make it likely I’ll see him again on this hike.
I leave the dryness of the room and enter the wetness of the outdoors. For a minute I wonder if those in the other hotel room will hike out today or if they’ll decide to take a zero like I did. I have the long legs of my convertible pants on as well as my rain jacket. For some reason every time I rains I think these things will be a good idea to have on, and every time I regret it just minutes later. A mile into my hike I take off the pant legs while they are still only slightly damp. I am more reluctant to take off the rain jacket since it is already soaked and I don’t have a great place to put it.
The trail is easy. There is a climb out of town but it is well graded, as most of the climbs out of towns in Virginia have been. Even though I am hiking at what for me is a slower pace the distance gets covered quickly, especially since I am able to put my mind elsewhere. Today while I hike I am reconsidering what it means to hike your own hike. I have been thinking about this a bit lately partly because of the number of hikers who have apparently stopped hiking. This includes Bunny and Button, both of whom have had medical issues recently that have forced them to take time away from the trail. They both plan to return (from what I can gather) but in combination with so many other hikers leaving it has jogged my mind. I was also surprised by Jersey and Chef’s reluctance to go an easy 0.1 mile out of their way to see the view from Dragon’s Tooth. I did find out from Jersey that he had taken the slight side trail to McAfee’s Knob and that he just wasn’t as interested in Dragon’s Tooth, but I doubt from the way Chef talked about views and side trails if he even bothered at McAfee’s. For him it seems the trail is the purpose – he cares less about enjoying the views as he does passing the blazes. While everyone surely has their own motivation for hiking, he is the first hiker I’ve met who doesn’t include stopping periodically to enjoy pieces of the trail in his reasoning. I wonder whether his determination will be sufficient to get him to Maine. I also think about Diesel who has been hiking with Big Sky since day 1. He is itching to do bigger miles but she is slower and his feeling of obligation has so far held him back. This is the downside to hiking with others, and part of what I have been enjoying lately since I’ve been on my own.
I arrive soon at the first shelter where I find two tents still set up at 11:30. This means people have decided to zero here because of the rain. In the shelter I find Nacho and Einstein. They didn’t make it far yesterday. I stop for a snack and while I’m stopped it begins to rain hard. I check the radar on my phone and it seems the rain will pass in an hour or two so I decide to wait it out. My clothes are still only damp and that is far preferable to soaking wet. While I wait Nacho mentions he plans to leave the trail tomorrow. This takes me by surprise. Even though I’ve just met him he seemed like a strong hiker. I ask why he’s leaving. His reasoning is he woke up this morning and was tired of smelling bad. He figures he has done the entire trail south of Harper’s Ferry (completing the part north of us on another hike apparently) and isn’t interested in the trail north of Harper’s Ferry. I suggest only that he think about whether when he gets home he will regret stopping. I wonder what his motivation was up until now and how he has suddenly lost it.
While we’re waiting for the rain to pass Mac and Snap arrive from town. They have been soaked by the downpour and look the part of drowned rats. We make room for them but the shelter is cold, so much so that I am shivering and I’m not even that wet. I force myself to get hiking again, knowing that I’ll warm up if I’m moving. Teflon has arrived and I hike on with him.
I haven’t gotten to talk much to Teflon yet. We have crossed paths several times but haven’t had much chance to talk. He is a military veteran having served several years in the army. Now he lives in Maine and helps his parents with their business while he tries to decide what he wants to do. As he explains his options and what he’s thinking I realize that this guy doesn’t have a problem of a lack of options, but rather too many options – paradox of choice. I find myself wishing I could jump ahead to see where he ends up in 10 years, curious which route he will take.
We get to the next shelter around 4. Teflon had been thinking about hiking on but as we sit down to take a break another downpour begins. It seems I have timed my segments perfectly today to take advantage of the light rains and avoid the heavy ones. The downpour helps Teflon decide to stay put. Not long after we arrive Einstein and Nacho arrive too. Nacho has decided to keep hiking. I’m not sure if I played a part in that decision or if the other people in the shelter did, but I’m glad he’s sticking around. He seems like a good guy and I wouldn’t want him to wind up at home wondering “what if.” Those two are followed by Mac and Snap, still looking wet but never miserable. These two have great attitudes and I have yet to see Snap without a smile on her face.
We all hang out in the shelter for a few hours. Mac suggests a game of rummy and I play against him, Snap, and Einstein while Nacho and Teflon entertain themselves. We decide that every round’s loser has to wear the sombrero that was left in the shelter by some previous hiker. Unfortunately we don’t think until afterward about the possibility of lice. Hopefully the hat is clean.
I had considered tenting but Mac and Snap decide to tent leaving only 4 of us in the shelter. With the rain still coming down I decide to chance a bad night’s sleep for the ability to keep my tent dry. We cook dinner and talk until 8 and then turn in.
It was a short hiking day but turns out to be one of my favorites so far on the trail. I enjoy not feeling the pressure to hike further, and I also enjoy passing the time with other hikers in the shelter. Although it was a rainy day most of my stuff is only slightly damp at bedtime. Hopefully tomorrow will be another short hiking day with lots of opportunities for socializing with my current hiker bubble on the Appalachian Trail.