20.8 miles, 754.5 overall (Bryant Ridge shelter)
As expected I don’t sleep well. Something about the hard planks on the floors of the shelters just keeps me tossing and turning all night. Teflon, Nacho, and Einstein are all up already when I finally sit up. I pack up my gear and eat my breakfast. Nacho leaves first. He likes to get moving early and, from what Einstein says and from what I remember from the other day, he hikes fast. We won’t see him again until later. We plan to meet at a creek about 15 miles away that has a campground nearby with food. Teflon leaves soon after Nacho but Einstein doesn’t get moving until about the time I leave so we hike together.
I take the lead and hike faster than my typical morning pace since I have a follower. There isn’t a lot to see this morning. It is foggy from all the rain we got yesterday and through the night. I do notice that the rhododendron blooms are starting to fall off the plants. We also can hear the mind-melting hum of cicadas. They have been ever-present for the last several days. At first I wasn’t sure what they were because I never saw them. Before I got to town I read a shelter register entry where someone identified the sound, and when I was on my way into town I finally saw the little buggers. They actually aren’t so little, and their size makes it funny to watch them try to fly. I figure after so many years in the ground and with only a short time above ground it probably makes sense for them to not be the most efficient flyers, but it is still entertaining to watch.
While we hike we talk about random things. I enjoy hiking with Einstein because he enjoys the silence as much as the talking and we pass a lot of the time hiking simply hiking between bouts of conversation on a topic. A few miles in we run into Treecycler and Kicker who are getting started for the day after spending the night in town with a friend. We hope for some sodas from the friend as he drops them off, but no luck.
For the next week or so until Waynesboro the trail will criss-cross the Blue Ridge Parkway. Treecycler and Kicker were dropped off at the first crossing. We cross the road several more times during the day. Initially we think maybe there will be trail magic at one of the crossings, but being a weekday it seems unlikely. At one of the road crossings there is an overlook and we decide to stop for a snack. When we figure out which crossing we are at we find we’ve already covered 5 miles. Time flies when hiking with someone else! We take advantage of the trash can at the overlook to offload some weight and I take some time to read the informational sign about hawks.
Soon after we leave the overlook we are at the first shelter. Though we stopped recently we decide to take another break and refill our water because there won’t be another good source for almost 10 miles.
We leave the shelter and cross the parkway a few more times before the next shelter where we catch up with Teflon. We break for lunch and while eating Teflon brings to my attention the high weight of my lunch (tortillas, fish, cheese). I hadn’t thought much about it since I started hiking but he is right, the calorie to weight ratio for my lunch is rather low. I may need to consider some alternative lunches.
When we leave Teflon stays with us. We are now a hiking group of 3. This makes it unlikely we will see any animals but it does make the hiking go faster. Nobody wants to be the one to slow down the group. With Teflon in the lead Einstein and I discuss the shortness of our legs and the disadvantage we have compared to Teflon in terms of the number of steps we need to take. He agrees though that short legs are probably an advantage on uphills both because we are used to taking quicker steps and because our short legs have better leverage. We also discuss how to buy pants since we have the same problem -department stores usually don’t carry pants with a short enough inseam for us.
It doesn’t take the group long to cover the 3 miles to the road to the campground. Once we get there we find SOS’s wife and she gives us some goodies from her car – I get an apple and juice. In case I haven’t mentioned SOS before, he is a thru-hiker but he is doing it a bit unconventionally. He is working his way from GA to ME but he day hikes each length of trail. His wife meets him at the end of each day and they find a place to sleep – hotel, campground, hostel, etc. So he is essentially day hiking the entire trail all in one go.
After finishing out snacks we have to make a decision -continue on to the shelter or go to the campground where we can get food. The campground is 1.2 miles away. We are hesitant to go that far so we call to find out what food they have – no beer but they do have burgers and ice cream. I’m still hesitant but Einstein and Teflon are sold. Off we go, hoping to be able to catch a hitch on the way, but it doesn’t happen. We walk the entire way.
At the campground we find Nacho. He has apparently been here for almost 2 hours and has already had a burger. I follow Teflon’s lead and order a cheeseburger, fries, and a soda with a scoop of black raspberry ice cream to eat while I wait for them to cook. The ice cream is delicious, and when the burger is done it isn’t bad either. The fries are huge and neither I or Teflon are able to finish all of them.
Once we’re done eating it is time to return to the trail but we lose Einstein. He and Nacho have decided to stay in a cabin for the night with Dakota Dan. They try to talk us into staying but after my zero I’m not anxious to spend more money. Teflon and I start the hike all the way back to the trail.
The campground happens to be at a road crossing that is perhaps the lowest elevation we have been to yet on the trail at less than 1000 ft. This of course means an immediate uphill. I feel terrible hiking uphill with all the greasy food in my stomach. Teflon isn’t bothered as much. About halfway up I begin to feel better and by the time I make I to the shelter it seems the food is digesting properly. I consider the detour not worth it, but Teflon says he would do it again if given the chance.
The shelter is beautiful. I is one of the new high-capacity, hiker-friendly shelters with 2 levels and a covered picnic table area. Still, I want a good night’s sleep so I take a mostly flat but somewhat rocky space and set my tent up. I don’t bother cooking dinner, still full from the campground. Instead I eat a Snickers and turn in for the night. Today was a long day. It helped make up for the shorter day in the rain. Tomorrow should be an easier day on the Appalachian Trail.