26.2 miles, 889.5 overall (Pinefield Hut)
I wake early, although not as early as I would like. Today I plan to move north two shelters. More importantly, just before the second shelter is a Shenandoah wayside, a place for tourists to get gas, food, and souvenirs. The trail comes within a half mile of this first wayside, close enough to be worth a side trip, and I intend to get there.
I get out of camp at a respectable 7:20. I feel good today. It seems the nero out of town yesterday may have been a good rest for me. I hit a quick pace and pretty soon I’ve passed several landmarks that I remember from my practice hikes. About an hour in I catch up to Middleberry. She was one of the hikers who was at the shelter when I arrived yesterday and was particularly dismayed at my recollection of a terrible spring at the next shelter. I wonder where she will end up tonight.
I leapfrog with Catnap, Pancake, Dropout, and Frodo today. They catch me having a snack on the side of the trail, then I pass them when they snack. Eventually I get to the next shelter to pick up some water and have another snack. Dropout joins me but the others hike past. It turns out that the shelter has great water and I feel bad for warning everyone that it is bad. I leave a note in the shelter register owning up to the mistake.
As I’m thinking about leaving a storm cloud rolls in and it looks like it will rain. We wait several minutes and only get a few sprinkles. I decide to chance it and move on. I can’t wait around too long today or I won’t make it to the wayside. As I leave I turn and hike the half mile to the summit to find Frodo and Catnap taking a break. They have a perfect view to the north where they are watching the storm move through a gap and roll into the valley on the other side. I watch for a while, thinking about how to time my hike so as to miss the rain.
I finally move on, hoping to get in between one of the bands of rain moving through that gap. For a while I think I have timed it perfectly but it begins to sprinkle. That sprinkle turns to bigger drops. Pretty soon I am getting soaked. At this point it is pointless to try to find shelter, but I see Bamboo Bob and his wife under a rock overhang ahead. I duck in with them to see if I can’t wait out the rest of the storm. It doesn’t take long before we see patches of blue sky to the east. I make a run for it, hoping to cover the remaining 5 miles to the wayside with no more rain. If I don’t get rained on anymore I will only be slightly damp by the time I get to the wayside.
Unfortunately the rain has other plans. Just before I reach Loft Mountain campground it lets loose on me again. It seems I will have to work hard for my food today. I trudge through the mud, mad at the rain. I think about how close I am to home and how easy it would be to get there. I also think about how I’ve already hiked this section before so theoretically I could catch a hitch to the wayside and still have done all of the trail. Finally I think about how I still have about 3 months of hiking left and how many more times it could rain. Rain is depressing.
Eventually the rain stops again. I begin to dry out as I walk and the wayside is now only about 2 miles away. I am in a determined hike to get there. One thing I have learned about myself on this hike: once I set my mind to a goal for the day I make it. I have decided to get to the wayside and I will find a way to do it. As I’m hiking I pass the first side trail that leads to the wayside, opting to go for the third side trail further ahead that is less steep and leaves less trail to hike to the shelter afterwards. As I pass the second side trail I hear a crashing in the woods to my right that startles me. I stop and look more closely trying to figure out what made the noise. It was two big crashes coming from near each other so it couldn’t have been a branch falling. As I’m looking a bear cub jumps out onto the trail in front of me! It is a brave little bugger and starts walking toward me. I instinctively back up as it walks toward me. Then I realize that I need a picture so as I’m backing up I pull out my camera. While I do so I’m also looking around for momma who I haven’t spotted yet. I snap a quick picture, then start talking in a calm, slightly loud voice as I continue to back up. By now the cub has stopped coming toward me and moved back into the bushes a bit. I figure by talking I will let them know where I am and cause them to go away. I consider changing plans and heading down path #2 to the wayside instead of moving on to path #3 but soon the bear cub disappears into the brush on my right, presumably following momma. I move ahead slowly, still talking loud enough to inform the bears as to where I am and listening for any movement. I don’t hear any and pretty soon I am a few hundred yards past the location of the encounter. I hike on excited that I have now had my token bear encounter. Next up: moose!
I make it to the side trail and head for the wayside. When I get there Opie and Parmesan are inside. Opie has family visiting so they slack packed today and have already eaten. I peruse the menu and settle on a pork barbeque sandwich with sweet potato fries and a beer. The beer selection is limited and in my mind I curse Catnap for the bad information. I suppose this is what I get for the bad spring info. I take a Blue Moon and although it wouldn’t have been my first choice it does do the trick. The cook gives me a plate heaping full of sweet potato fries and by the time I have finished I am almost full.
Catnap arrives as I’m figuring out my plan. He used to work here and has come to visit his old manager. While he chats I survey the food available in the store. I settle on a couple cupcakes for second dinner tonight once I reach the shelter. I also take advantage of indoor plumbing – something you learn quickly to appreciate when you’re hiking – and stop by the restroom on my way out.
It is a quick 4 miles to the shelter and the trail is pretty, passing a stream and an overlook. I don’t enjoy it much though because the rain is again threatening. I hear thunder several times and a few times it begins to sprinkle. It finally begins to really come down just as I’m on the final downhill to the shelter. I pick my pace up to a full jog and make the turn onto the shelter trail. I cover the last tenth of a mile in hardly any time at all and get to the shelter not too much wetter than I left the wayside. My marathon is done with just enough time left to get ready for bed.
The shelter isn’t full but is cozy. I prefer tenting anyway and there is a spot left so during a break in the rain I get it set up. I return to the shelter to eat my cupcake and the energy bar I still have leftover from the day. Dropout is in the shelter. He stopped with the other hikers at the camp store instead of the wayside. While there he picked up a 6 pack of beer and hiked it to the shelter. He doesn’t offer me any, but I’ve only known him for a day and I’m content with my cupcakes. I hang my food and turn in after a long, wet day on the Appalachian Trail.