18.2 miles, 789.8 overall (Punchbowl shelter)
Although I turn in early I’m not able to get to sleep quickly. I do sleep well though and I’m awake at 6. However I putz around in my tent for almost an hour before packing up so I end up leaving camp at 8, later than I was hoping with the hot day I know is coming. Still, waking up earlier is a start and I am the first out of camp this morning (we won’t count the hiker who hikes into camp as I am getting ready to leave).
The morning is really pleasant and I feel better hiking than I have in some time. It is odd how quickly you can go from miserable to pleasant while you’re backpacking. I suppose this is why they always say to never quit on a bad day. The first few miles wind around the mountain through thickets of mountain laurel which, having a slightly later bloom than the rhododendron, is peaking right about now. I pass a few side trails before I begin the descent. Today the trail is taking us across the James River, a landmark in its own right and one I am familiar with from living in Richmond. From the trail the river isn’t quite picturesque, running brown from all the recent rain. I only get a brief glimpse before dropping into the woods. I follow the sound of a stream and soon arrive at the first shelter. It requires some rock-hopping to get across to the shelter where I briefly meet Catnap before he hikes on. I stop for a snack and while I’m there I’m passed by Teflon, who is trying to get miles in before the day warms up, and Mac and Snap who have run out of snacks and are on their way to the campground on the other side of the river to resupply.
Once I get moving again the trail follows the James for about a mile before arriving at a footbridge. It appears the bridge isn’t very old having been dedicated in 2000. I wonder where hikers crossed before the bridge existed. The river is too large to make fording or swimming across feasible.
On the other side I catch up with the others. Mac and Snap are trying to hitch a ride but most of the traffic is going the other way so they aren’t having any luck. The data book says the campground offers rides but nobody has cell signal to call them. When Teflon and I leave they are still sitting by the road trying to decide what to do.
We cross the road and enter the woods on the other side just as some overnight campers are leaving. I catch a whiff of them and they smell good. I hope they didn’t have to smell too much of me. We hike along another stream and when the trail turns away Teflon stops to soak his leg. He has been having shin splints and they are particularly bad today. I continue to the next shelter where I fill up on water and have a snack. The next section is uphill and there is no water for several miles. We are about to climb it in early afternoon, just as the day is reaching its hottest. Had I been up an hour earlier I could have avoided this. Oh well. At the shelter I also wash my shirt, serving the dual purpose of removing all the sweat as well as soaking it with cold water for the climb up the mountain.
The climb is only slightly more horrible than I thought it would be. Parts of it are pretty steep and the day is very warm. It doesn’t take long for my shirt to become soaked in sweat rather than water from the stream. When I reach the top I find a comfortable looking log and stop for a break. It is almost 2:00, right at the hottest time of the day. Attempting to implement my new strategy of hiking early and breaking in the hot afternoon, I eat my lunch and relax. Teflon catches up and stops for a little while but moves on so he can end early and rest his shin. After he leaves I take a nap for almost an hour. By the time I get up and moving again it is past 3:00 and a cool breeze has begun to blow in. I have 6 miles left on easy terrain, so I should be at the shelter easily by 6. On the way I stop to give Christy a call.
This section of trail is mostly unpeculiar except for a fawn right smack in the middle of the trail. It doesn’t appear to be dead – there aren’t any flies and it looks ok – but it doesn’t move even when I come really close to it. I poke it gently with my hiking pole, trying to determine its status. I decide it must have recently died and hike on feeling a bit sad for the cute bugger. However when I get to the shelter nobody either before me or after me saw it on the trail. It either died right before I arrived and was subsequently snatched up by some hungry animal, or more likely it had been alive but perhaps scared stiff by my presence.
At the shelter I find Teflon relaxing. I set up my tent and join him and Runner for dinner at the shelter picnic table. While I am eating Einstein arrives, followed by Mac and Snap as well as a new hiker named Tamir (Arabic for date, like the fruit). It turns out to be an incredibly social meal. Mac, Teflon, and Tamir are all army vets so they briefly discuss their service. Somehow the Wolfpack comes up and we share a few stories. Tamir, who started April 2 and so has been hiking incredibly fast, informs us that the group still exists but estimates it’s size at around a dozen hikers when he passed them in Erwin. We also share stories about Provisions, and we try to decide if Einstein were eaten by a bear which Ramen noodle flavoring he would taste most like (with thru-hikers it always returns to food). I am able to turn in at a reasonable hour, hopefully setting up an early day tomorrow where I can get a good number of miles and the big climb of the day out of the way early on the Appalachian Trail.