Day mileage: 23
AT total mileage: 669.0
Time: 9.5 hours
Since Samuel L. Jackson is obviously a frequent reader of my blog, I thought I'd dedicate today's title to his flop of a movie. In the interest of full disclosure however, Samuel L. Jackson does not read my blog. Yet.
Despite the lightning of last evening, I don't think it ever actually rained a drop. I woke up as I usually do at about 2 am and stayed awake until just shy of 3, a weird habit that I've had off and on for a few years now, probably due to my work schedules. Regardless, I finished writing yesterday's blog and went back to bed. The next time I awoke it was to the noise of Pneumo packing up his tent right around dawn. Feeling refreshed I also started packing up, being sure to stay quiet so as to not wake up Drew who we were sharing the campsite with. As I was eating breakfast I was entertained by a lone white tail deer who was playing around in the woods no more than 20 feet behind our campsite. When I'd move around she would scamper off, only coming back once I'd sat down again for any length of time.
On the trail by 6:30, I hiked for only a mile before Jellybean and his puppy Lucy showed up behind me. He had tented a quarter mile south of us, arriving at his campsite at midnight after spending the day in town working via his laptop before continuing to hike out of town. As a web developer, he mails the laptop from town to town so he can work while not taking away from his time at campsites. We talked for a while before I let him pass while I stopped to post the blog once I had service. I continued on from there for a few miles before the trail dipped down into a gap where I met up again with Pneumo and Jellybean at Pine Swamp Branch shelter. I stopped quickly to use the privy, where I was joined by a decently sized snake. It scared the shit out of me (see what I did there?), but I think he was equally surprised because he immediately slithered back through a hole in the wall. I filtered a few liters of water before heading on, the last of the three of us to leave the shelter. Having stayed at a campsite between shelters, we had a nice gap of hikers both in front of and behind us that allowed me to mostly hike on my own throughout the day. The trail meandered on an almost flat grade for a few miles before crossing a bridge and heading up towards the next ridge. Less than half a mile before the bridge I was happily walking along, audibly singing The Beatles' "Lady Madonna" for some reason, when my heart nearly stopped. I had mentally processed rather quickly that the stick in front of me across the trail actually was black and had scales. For the second time in 30 minutes I was face to face with a snake, this one much much larger. I took a step back instinctively before reaching for my camera to photograph it. I spoke to him about what I was doing, and explained that as soon as I had dSLR and iPhone photos I'd be stepping very widely around him and carrying on my way. His silence undoubtedly indicated his understanding and I kept to my word, moving on quickly after snapping some pictures. From there it was up a very steep climb of 1,000' or so over a mile to the Bailey Gap shelter, where I stopped for an early lunch. By this time I was just shy of 10 miles into my day.
After Bailey Gap the trail continued to climb and the terrain although not steep was exceptionally rocky. As I'd mentioned a few days ago, this is the kind of stuff that makes ankle twisting easy, so I was slow and cautious traversing it. When possible to safely do so I sped up my pace, eventually coming across one of the only water sources on this ridge, where I met a hiker named Double R. A recently retired man originally from Maine, he used to work for "the railroad" as he put it, and now lives in Houston. We spoke for a while about costs of living, his work, and the history of Texaco oil, as he said he frequently drives by the hometown of the company. I surprise myself sometimes at how quickly I can get a life story out of someone I meet. After a half hour or so of conversation and drinking lots of water, I said goodbye and carried on. Double R only does 12 miles a day, having started in early March, so I doubt we'll run into each other again. The trail continued on for a few more miles before crossing over a dirt road with a parking lot for day hikers. Running parallel to the pedestrian path for a few hundred feet, the Appalachian Trail eventually merged with it, making me laugh at the stupidity of having us not walk on the pedestrian path in the first place. The logistical planning of this mammoth dirt trail is something I'll never be able to comprehend, but sometimes the stupidity of its routing is quite comical. Back into the woods and on the real, non-day-hiker Appalachian Trail, the path descended into another gap where a third shelter existed a few miles down the mountain. Losing 2,000 vertical feet over a few miles, I ended up at the War Spur shelter where I had one last snack, again reunited with Pneumo and Jellybean as well as a few other hikers. Pneumo and I headed out together, and I hesitantly walked on towards a pain in the ass climb out of the gap we were in.
For the next 3 miles the A.T. climbed the same 2,000 feet it had just descended on the other side of the gap. The trail was exhausting, as the pitch was upwards of 17 degrees horizontally as we climbed up. Step after step, sweat pouring down my face, I desperately wished that the thunder I'd been hearing from intermittent dark clouds all day would come true on an unspoken promise to pour torrentially on me as I hiked. It was miserably difficult to ascend out of this gap. I'm not even embarrassed to admit I stopped a few times on the way up to double check I wasn't going to have some kind of cardiac issue. After 19 miles already hiked, I was allowed to be tired and pissed at the trail for this pointless climb. Pneumo, as you may have guessed, was getting a kick out of my audible frustration towards the inanimate Appalachian Trail. We summited Kelley Knob before, you guessed it, descending half the elevation we had just climbed, in order to reach Laurel Creek shelter. Upon arrival we met back up with Jellybean and four-legged Lucy, who were packing up to hike 6 more miles to the next shelter. Pneumo was going to join them, and both guys urged me to come along. Physically I'm completely capable, it would have made today a 29 mile day, but I had no interest. I was in camp by 1730 and was ready to call it a day. I'll catch up to them tomorrow.
I ate dinner with an older hiker named Quabbin Trekker from Orange, MA who's a veteran and part of a group called Warrior Hike, another soldier hiking group that gets soldiers on the Appalachian Trail every year. He actually used to work in the town I live in at the National Guard base. The world is incredibly small. We talked for a while as I cooked, dehydrated risotto with chicken and parmesan cheese, and were later joined as a few other hikers arrived. I'm sharing an 8 person shelter with 3 other hikers, all new to me, and there are two tents. The numbers are surely thinning. After conversing until after dark about trail experiences and infamous hikers (Carver was mentioned) we turned in for bed.
Against the grain of my typical operation, I don't know where I'm planning to hike to tomorrow. Rain is a threat apparently, which will obviously be an influential factor in the matter. Regardless, I'll get some good sleep and reevaluate in the morning. Hopefully the shelter's critters tonight will be limited to mice, as my daily exposure-to-slithering-reptiles quota has been already been exceeded.
Onward & upward with the sun.