After the thunderstorm passed through last night there was no more rain. The air remained cool and damp when I woke up. While preparing breakfast I talked to Pigpen, who was feeling better after yesterday’s migraine headache. We discussed where we were heading today. Pigpen was glad to know I was planning to go to Laurel Creek Shelter, and she said she thought she would go there too. She told me she hadn't yet camped by herself and appreciated knowing someone else would be there.
Day 51, Campsite at Mile 643.6 to Bailey Gap Shelter
Well, pick up your gear and Gypsy roll on, roll on
I took my time to get going this morning. There was no reason to hurry today. After taking a look at the map and the calendar, I knew I could go easy for the next few days and still meet up with Stick when he returns from his conference. Even with a more casual hiking schedule, I’ll probably have to take a zero day.
Day 50, Pearisburg to Campsite at Mile 643.6
Nailed a retread to my feet and prayed for better weather
It felt weird to wear new hiking boots. It wasn’t just that they hadn’t been broken in. The soles were grippy. The tread on the soles of my previous boots had been worn down to little more than smooth bumps. No wonder I was slipping so much coming down off the mountain into Pearisburg. Apparently hiking more than 600 miles will do that. My new boots fit well and I was glad I had switched to the wider size. I probably should have started with this size from the beginning.
Days 47-49, Doc's Knob Shelter to Pearisburg and Roanoke
She brings me 'bout every darn thing except the jailhouse key
Sleeping last night in a closed-in space surrounded by rhododendrons made for a quiet night. It was like being in a sound-proof chamber, though a damp one. With such a dense cover of leaves, the area was dark and dank, even after the sun came up. Stick and I tiptoed around when we pulled down our food bags and ate breakfast. Sun, Crayola and Scout had not yet roused from their sleeping bags in the shelter, so we tried to be kind and not awaken them.
Remember when I returned to the trail after Trail Days I said I would let up on the gas pedal? Yeah, that isn’t happening. I need to put in 27 miles between now and tomorrow noon. That will put me at a road near Pearisburg, Va., where I plan to meet my wife Kim. Because it's Memorial Day weekend, she has an extended weekend off from work.
Day 45, Campsite at Mile 594.3 to VA 606
On a freight train leaving town, not knowing where I’m bound
Despite my best efforts, my sleeping bag seemed this morning to be even more wet than before. Or if it wasn’t wetter, it certainly wasn’t any drier. The morning was a chilly, breezy 50 degrees F, with only a hint of sun in the sky. When I crawled out of my tent the air seemed just breezy and sunny enough to at least be worth an attempt to dry out my sleeping bag and quilt.
Day 44, Jenkins Shelter to Campsite at Mile 594.3
I ain't got time to be messing with all of your bad rain
Despite my goal of not pushing myself as hard as I had been doing, I walked 19 and 20 miles in two days with less-than-ideal weather. Perhaps I could do better today by cutting myself some slack. I decided to sleep in an extra hour.
Day 43, Knot Maul Branch Shelter to Jenkins Shelter
I've got a head full of quandary and a mighty, mighty, mighty thirst
If I were to categorize each day on the trail, I would call this one, to put it nicely, challenging. Though rain had moved out of the area yesterday afternoon, it came back this morning. A brief rain shower started around 4 a.m., then started again as I packed up to leave. That would make this the fifth day in a row with rain.
Day 42, Chatfield Shelter to Knot Maul Branch Shelter
Search for where the rivers end, or where the rivers start
The rain that fell most of yesterday had stopped around midnight. Everything outside my tent was still dripping wet when I woke up. Though I had resolved to stop pushing myself as hard as I had been, I can’t say that was why I took my time this morning to get moving and back on the trail. The truth is, I was slow because I dreaded putting on my still-very-wet shirt. By this morning, it was also a very-chilly shirt. There are few things in my hiking life I hate worse than putting on a cold, wet shirt.
Since leaving Springer Mountain nearly two months ago, I have been intently focused on getting to one place or the next. First it was to reach Davenport Gap so that I could take off for a week to attend a conference. Then it was to spend a weekend with Kim at Trail Days. I had to keep moving. I couldn't let weather, trail conditions, or how I was feeling slow me down. Today I told Kim I was ready to lift my foot off the gas pedal, at least just a bit. From now on, I reasoned, I don't have a tight schedule to meet. I can take it easy. But honestly, I'm probably fooling myself to think that. There are still more the 1600 miles ahead of me, and I need to walk them in four months. At my speed, that leaves little time for loafing.
Today was a time to relax, rejuvenate, reconnect and resupply. In other words, it was time to revive a worn-out hiker. The location for this recovery to take place was Trail Days.
Day 39, Hurricane Mountain Shelter to Mt. Rogers Visitors Center
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden
For the last three days I have passed a steady stream of hikers walking in the opposite direction. Fewer hikers have passed me lately, but on Tuesday and Wednesday I walked by dozens of southbound hikers. It was as if I was going the wrong way. It felt like I was missing out on something big. While it's true most of the hikers were headed to something big, I won't miss out completely. I am headed there too, only in a more round-about way. Our destination is Trail Days at Damascus, which has been likened by some to Woodstock or Burning Man or some other large bacchanal.
When I left my campsite this morning I was walking at an elevation above 5,000 feet, but not for long. The trail soon began a slow descent and it will be a long time before it takes me to this elevation again. I will not be above 5,000 feet again until I reach Mount Lafayette in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. That's more than 1,300 miles away. The trail will stay mostly below 3,000 feet until it crosses Mount Greylock in Massachusetts. For now, though, I can be content with focusing on something much smaller. I will be walking through meadows populated by more than 100 wild ponies.
I have been doggedly focused the last few days on reaching a road crossing on the trail where my wife can pick me up Friday afternoon. Nevertheless, being successful at this will take more than just determination. I must hike about 18 miles a day for the next three days. I can't slow down. I can't stop early because I'm tired. If the skies remain free of rain and the footpath continues to be easy to walk, I have a better shot of reaching my goal, but I will need more help than that.
In hiker terms, a zero is a day when you don't hike any miles. A nero is when you hike just a few miles to get into town, or stay in town until late and then hike just a few miles to leave. Near zero, get it? Today would be a good day for a nero. I camped last night just six miles from Damascus, Va. If I wanted a nice, long day in town to relax, the opportunity was there for that today. Maybe I can take a nero some day soon, but right now I have no time for it.