Day 57, Catawba Mountain Shelter to Daleville, Va.
When we come to the place where the road and the sky collide
The forecast was correct, and our plan to wait until today for McAfee Knob was going as we hoped. The weather cleared overnight, so it was going to be a good day to get our picture taken on the rock overhang standing above the Catawba Valley.
Day 56, VA 624 to Catawba Mountain Shelter
And he screams back, "You're a cow! Give me some milk or else go home"
There was no point in making an early exit from my tent this morning. It was raining and I had no where to go for a while. I stayed inside and reorganized my gear. I wasn’t planning to get back on the trail until Stick returned from his historic railroad conference. He texted me at 8 a.m. to say he was leaving Johnson City, Tenn. I calculated he would arrive between 10:30 and 11:00, so I could wait until at least 10 a.m. before I took down my tent. When I did, I moved to the garage to wait and eat freezer pops.
I survived yesterday, but it wasn’t easy. I overcame the most difficult day on the trail so far, pulled along to the end by the tug of an all-you-can-eat dinner. Today was another difficult day. There were no perilous descents down sheer cliffs. There was another all-you-can-eat dinner, but it was difficult nonetheless. I was bored.
Day 54, Campsite at Mile 688 to VA 624
No one said it would be easy, but no one said it'd be this hard
After an invigorating and occasionally challenging day, I was ready to take on another. I was still motivated and hopeful to reach Four Pines Hostel early enough to catch a ride to The Homeplace Restaurant for dinner tonight, so I was up early. I left camp at 7:30 a.m.
I woke up early this morning and tried to pack my gear as quickly as possible. My plan wasn’t especially ambitious, but I figured any extra miles I put in today would shorten the miles I need to do tomorrow. There was an ulterior motive for putting in a few extra miles. I’m hoping to arrive at Four Pines Hostel early enough tomorrow to get a ride to Homeplace Restaurant for dinner. Homeplace is legendary among hikers. If it comes close to the hype, it will be worth the extra effort I put in today.
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.