Day mileage: 19.3
AT total mileage: 531
Time: 6 hours
I eventually fell asleep, and slept on and off throughout the night. When my alarm went off at 5:30 I started slowly packing up, attempting to be quiet although my ground pad seemed to be making more noise than normal. With a granola bar in me I hit the road, just about the time the sun crested over the mountain ridges in the distance. The trail from the Hurricane Mountain Shelter descended a thousand feet over 2 miles before turning around and climbing for many miles. At this point the impending heat was already apparent, and I was sweating before 7 AM. Half an hour later I was stopped to take my shirt off, not wanting to soak it through. I hate this kind of heat, and temperatures were expected to hover around 90 degrees today.
After two hours, keeping up with my recent 3 mph average, I was 6 miles into my shortsighted goal of reaching the shelter 9 miles away by 9:30. At one point around this time the trail emerged from the woods to cross a state road, and upon the reentry into the forest there was a styrofoam cooler of trail magic. My heart rate increased. Excitement boiled over inside of me. I opened the lid and was elated to find a cardboard box of Blue Moon seasonal beers. In a wonderfully mean twist of fate, the box was empty, as every beer had been consumed by a hiker ahead of me. Now, you're obviously saying to yourself "Well Ryan, according to your timeline this means you'd be consuming a beer at 8:30 AM... Are you serious?" To answer you, wise reader, heck yes. Lest not forget the (loosely quoted) immortal words of Stephen King's character Andy Duphrane (The Shawshank Redemption) after he tarred the roof of a local factory: "Cause after all, nothing makes a man feel more free than a cold bottle of suds on a hot summer day". Good point, Andy. At 8:30 AM I was already soaked from an extremely vigorous morning workout, and I would have killed for there to be an ale in that cooler with my name on it. Alas, it wasn't in the cards for me today.
I crested that climb and then dipped back down into a lower crevice where the Trimpi Shelter was located 0.1 miles off the trail. I stopped there to have a second breakfast, sign the log book, and refill my water. At this point I was consuming a liter an hour to try and stay ahead of the heat. I allowed myself 30 minutes there before pressing on, with 9.1 miles already completed and 10.2 miles left to go for the day. Not wanting to be stuck in the likely horrific afternoon heat, I was back on the trail at 10 AM and pressed on. My goal was initially to be at the shelter I'd end my day at by 1300hrs, but I needed to be lenient with myself due to the heat. The trail descended the mountain and emptied out into another pasture, however I doubt this one has been occupied in a long while. One structure still existed on the property, but it looked as if the wind from a hearty sneeze might complete its demolition. Upon exiting the pasture the A.T. followed along a dirt road for 1/4 mile or so. Halfway up the road there was a small sign pointing out a 10x10 pop-up tent and coolers of Trail Magic! A second opportunity for awesomeness, I was immediately disappointed to find out that all that remained was a zip loc bag will small tortillas. No drinks, no snacks, just a trash bag of disposed wrappers, which hammered the last nail into my coffin of broken trail magic dreams. I later wrote in a shelter log 'Trail magic sucks when there's no magic... Then there's just 'trail', and we all know I had that to begin with. Plenty of it.' I'm not ungrateful of the thought and intended kindness. Just bitter over the second magical letdown of the day. Probably irritable due to the heat as well.
Walking along for another mile, I crossed over a large wooden bridge and crossed over a 2 lane state road before disappearing into the woods again. A small climb opened the trail up for what became a mile of completely level hiking. At one point this section had obviously been cleared as some kind of road, traveling past sprawling farm fields. As I walked along the sun dutifully made its way across the sky, causing me to spend a while thinking about how amazing that fact in itself is. The sun doesn't complain, doesn't wake up late, doesn't miss birthdays or other special events. It's always there, only letting you down when you make the mistake of hanging out with it too much in a given timespan. We've never replaced it, it's never needed a tune-up or any warranty repair, it just keeps on working as it's done for immeasurable generations before us. How many things in history have been there every day, and have never been replaced? Salt water... fresh water... clouds... The moon... the sun... It's a damn good reliable thing, and the world's obviously lucky to have it.
Yep. These are my life-changing, self-reflecting, come-back-a-different-person kinds of thoughts.
My remaining miles passed slowly. My three mile per hour average was virtually nonexistent as the heat of the day was coming down in full force. I walked up a few 3,500' mountains (big hills? I'll work on differentiating these kinds of things..) at a pace of 2 mph, allowing the heat to get the best of my physical exertion. I stopped at one point to double check the status of my backpack's part that's being shipped to a restaurant I'll walk by tomorrow, and snacked a few times, majorly procrastinating my mileage. The pack as it's configured now (the only way it can be until my replacement part arrives) would be perfect for a small man with a frame of about 5' 2", and as such is horribly uncomfortable. The hip belt is where it normally rests, but the sternum strap cuts across nearly under my collarbone. There's no way to make this thing tolerable, and today I'll end up wrestling with it for 19 miles. Luckily I'll only travel 11 tomorrow before being in place to intercept the new part. I hiked along a few ridgelines, fidgeting in discomfort, sweating under the midday sun. At this point it was hot enough that even on easier, almost flat ridge sections the slightest misstep in my walk would jostle mature beads of sweat on my brow enough to send them plummeting to the forest floor in front of me. It was plain old hot. I begrudgingly continued along the remaining 2 miles and arrived at the Partnership Shelter at 1400hrs. All things considered, this still isn't bad timing to walk 19 miles.
Partnership is a one-of-a-kind place. Located immediately next to the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area Visitor's Center, there's not only a shower, real restrooms, vending machines, and a two floor log cabin style shelter, but also the ability to call local pizza places for delivery. I hung out for an hour or two snacking and enjoying comical conversation with hikers who had returned from town (Marion, VA) before ordering some food with Comfortably Numb for delivery. Dinner tonight was a (still piping hot) large BBQ Chicken pizza and ice cold Coca-Cola. 45 minutes after hanging up the free land-line phone at the visitor's center - side note: when was the last time you didn't have to dial an area code? It's been *quite* a while, but it was unnecessary here - our two hot pizzas were delivered to the shelter. This AND a shower, albeit somewhat chilly, were the icing on the cake for my hot day in the mountains.
I was the first person arriving here who will spend the night. Due to a gap of sorts between shelters there initially weren't a lot who joined me. Eventually we had 22 hikers here, occupying both floors. I'm on the lower level and am watching the shadows of a campfire dance on the walls of the shelter. Later in the evening Soleil and her dad Cinqo showed up after inadvertently doing a 24 mile day. I congratulated him and later in the night he and I spoke for a while about the Autobahn, BMWs & Audis, Paris, Barcelona, travel, and our work. I eventually said goodnight and turned in, as the sun had set and bedtime was calling my name.
Tomorrow I'll hike 11 miles to a state road crossing that leads hikers into Atkins, VA. I won't be heading into town, instead I'll set up shop at The Barn Restaurant where I'll get a lunch and wait around for the UPS truck to arrive with my part for my backpack. Hoping that they arrive at a decent hour, I'll then head on another 8-9 miles before the end of my day in order to keep my mileage near 20 for the day despite my waiting around. Fingers crossed that this goes smoothly.
Music & bedtime for me. The sun will be back around again before I know it.
Edit: It was brought to my attention that I mistook my measure of time when referincing the speed of light in my post the other day. I used minutes, it's actually seconds. That's what I get for being an audio guy trying to talk light science. Apologies to anyone who lost a trivia round due to my mistake.