Day mileage: 20.3
AT total mileage: 735.3
Time: 9 hours
First off, my excuse for the lower mileage is the amount of time I spent in town today, and general frustration with the trail as the day went on. Now that we have that settled, let's re-cap:
I woke up without the assistance of my alarm at a few minutes before five o'clock this morning. I've yet to decide if this is a good thing or not. I packed up camp, not needing to be as quiet as normal, since there was a strongly flowing river next to our campsite which created a good amount of ambient noise to mask the sounds of my breaking camp. I was packed up and on the trail by 5:45, at about the same time that J-Rex was turning her headlamp on to start packing up as well. The first thing I noticed about this morning's early hiking was that it wasn't as annoying as most of its kind. What I came to discover was the complete lack of rhododendron plans, meaning no spiders, meaning no cobwebs across the trail. I hiked quickly, keeping my fleece North Face jacket on for almost an hour of hiking before taking it off. Per the weather report I read this morning, temperatures had dropped to just below 40 degrees last night. It was *cold* both waking up and hiking in these temperatures. At about 6:15 I pulled off the trail to a rocky outcrop and witnessed the last few minutes of dawn before the sun crested the mountain range across the valley. These moments, before the hustle and bustle of the world begin for the day, are the ones I enjoy being awake and alone on the trail for. It was an absolutely gorgeous sunrise, sorbet colors painting the sky. After taking in the view for a few minutes, I continued on the trail.
The 10 or so miles into Daleville, VA weren't exceptionally hard, just rocky and rolling hills. I maintained a good 3 mph speed and neared into town at just after 9 AM. My biggest priority for getting there so early was to make it to the post office before they closed, keeping in mind the bankers hours on Saturdays. I was hoping to hitch a ride, but with the building being just over a mile from the trail I didn't want to cut my timing too close in case I had to walk. I exited the trail after finding a little trail magic in a decorated ammo can, and ventured over to the Sunoco station on the side of the road heading out of town. The only guy getting gas wasn't a local, so I began my walk to the post office. About 1/4 mile out of the gas station I slowed my walking at an intersection, hoping to catch a red light. Sure enough the intersection cycled and my lane's light turned red. I waited for a car to pull up and immediately asked the driver and his wife if they were passing the post office. He made a motion of yes, and I hopped into the bed of their truck for a ride the rest of the way. Their small dog in the back seat spent most of the trip with its face against the rear window staring at the strange guy in the back of the truck. They dropped me off and after thanking them, I headed inside to mail home a few pounds of gear I don't need. The nice post office lady actually gave me a smaller flat rate box (a size they don't advertise or leave out for consumers) and saved me $5 in shipping, which allowed me to buy stamps as well. As I was walking out I asked a gentlemen also leaving if he was headed back into town, to which he replied no but he'd be happy to take me. We made small talk as he drove me to the grocery store, I thanked him and we parted ways. Before the grocery store I visited a hiking outfitter in the same shopping center. For $40 I was able to purchase a smaller hip belt for my bag, as I've lost enough weight that the medium size that my backpack came with wasn't fitting anymore. I've been padding it for a few weeks with foam to get it to hold. Money well spent. I then hit up the grocery store, probably buying too much food, but after checking the maps I don't know the next time I'll physically walk through a town. For $41 I walked outside and sat in the sun while my electronics charged at an outlet I found after crawling behind a row of exterior vending machines.
I hit the trail at 1, but got distracted and made a few important phone calls to friends. Actually hiking by two, I had 11 miles to go to the shelter I wanted to reach. The initial climb out of town was pleasant, and I reached the first shelter at almost four miles in around 3:30. I passed no other hikers, and met only one guy at the shelter. His name was Muttenchops and he's a multi-year hiker of the Appalachian Trail. His mother also lives in Beverly, MA and he frequently hiked Harold Parker, a state forest up the road from me. We chatted and I said goodbye, still with 7 miles to make before my day would be through. From the shelter I descended down, walking along an even ridge for a while before making a sharp descent down into a low gap. Annoyingly, this process would repeat a few times. 6-700 foot drops in elevation between ridges, cross a river with few rocks above water due to the recent rain, climb the 6-700 foot inclines back to another ridge, then repeat the process. I was very frustrated, and although I hadn't done much mileage today I was still rather tired. Clouds had moved in and the temperatures dropped, wind picked up and the whole experience was generally unpleasant.
I eventually made it to Wilson shelter, where I unsurprisingly found myself alone. All in all I saw not one hiker on the trail today, with Muttenchops being the only guy I ran into at all. I believe that everyone is back in Damascus for the last days of Trail Days. I cooked dinner, realizing that I didn't eat anything while in town earlier - I really regret not getting a pizza or something. Sitting at the picnic table alone eating my dinner, I was entertained by a group of deer playing around in the woods around the shelter, no more than 40 feet away. As I was packing up I was joined by a section hiker named Symphony (for his snoring, apparently) and then later a couple thru-hiking also arrived. With my sleeping bag set up, I said goodnight and climbed into bed. Temperatures are supposed to drop back into the low 40s tonight, so I'm sleeping with my fleece jacket on.
Tomorrow looks to have some good climbing towards the end of my day, but it should be a decent day on the trail. Also, interestingly enough, I've now completed just over 1/3 of the trail, so at least I've got that going for me.