Day mileage: 23.2
AT total mileage: 621.5
Time: 10 hours
Despite my body naturally waking up at 5 AM, I laid in bed for a half hour before falling back asleep. Closing my eyes finally at after 10 PM last night didn't give me much hope of rising before the sun to begin my day. I got out of my tent at 6:30 to find many had left, and after eating and packing up I was on the trail by 7:30. Today's mission was rather simple: 7 miles to a road which allowed a hiker to walk 0.5 miles east to Trent's Grocery, then another 15 miles to the very popular Wood's Hole Hostel. Despite the 'simplicity' of this, I got distracted more than once with pretty things to look at, sights to take in, and impending laziness in the (literal) heat of the day. To my frustration, it took me much longer than expected to get where I was going.
From last night's' shelter the trail descended shortly and I again passed the 600 mile mark, this time with my backpack strapped on my back. After crossing a small paved country road it turned back into the woods, where at 7:45 AM I was greeted with trail magic. A few hikers had their car and were camped on the trail handing out sodas and cupcakes, including a banana nut variety that were delicious. After talking for a few minutes and thanking them, I hiked on and began the steady climb out of the gap and up to the ridge where the next 5 miles would take place. Once atop, I stopped to post yesterday's blog and call my exceptionally awesome & supportive mom to wish her a happy belated Mother's Day. I had mailed a card early last week, don't worry, but let me take this moment to wish all mothers reading this a happy belated Mother's Day as well. Good. Now that that's done... The miles on the ridge flew by. I descended from the mountain tops back into the valley below, completing the 7 miles from the shelter in just over 2 hours. After crossing a rather large A.T.-volunteer built suspension bridge, I stood on the pavement of another state road. Walking east on the road for half a mile brought me to a small single-pump gas station with 'Trent's Grocery' attached, where I bought a few items for hiking food as well as a made-to-order double cheeseburger, grilled ham & cheese, and a half gallon of milk. I happily sat outside with a half dozen other hikers, enjoying my early lunch. When I went in search of a trash can I rounded the corner of the building and saw two 6' diameter, mid-60s Gulf gasoline signs propped against a garage at the adjoining property. I rushed inside and asked the cashier about them, and he informed me that the station used to be Gulf branded when his grandmother opened it. Apparently many people make offers on the signs but they're a family thing. Too bad, else I may have bought one.
After an hour or so, having finished my short term food goodies, I hiked back to the trail and continued on. Two miles uphill from the road I split off the trail half a mile to the west to a popular place called Dismal Falls, a waterfall that a dozen or so hikers were coming and going from, cold water rushing over ancient rocks with deep pockets where people were diving into. It was hugely tempting to stay there, lying in the sun with good company and gorgeous surroundings, but alas I had places to be. I said goodbye to people, many of whom I won't see again as they're hitchhiking back to Trail Days tomorrow.
Brief explanation- every year mid-May Damascus, VA has 'Trail Days'. An unbelievably large celebration of all kinds of Appalachian Trail hikers both past and present, nearly 30,000 people descend on the tiny town for a long weekend of partying, parades, vendor booths, food, and general A.T. talk. Many currently hiking are stopping to hitchhike back to Damascus in order to make the event. I thought about it, and decided that at this point I'm nearly 200 miles ahead of Damascus, with no real interest in going back. Should I complete the trail, I'll return in the future when I'm not restricted by time off the trail. Regardless, it sounds like an amazing weekend, and that will be big news in the trail world come Thursday through Sunday of this week.
Carrying on... The trail climbed ever so gradually for the next five miles, walking under many more rhododendron plans, sometimes up to 10 feet tall arching over the trail. Despite the greenery of the world around them, none of these hugely popular plants have begun to bloom with their gorgeous flowers yet. At mile 613 I stopped at the Wapiti Shelter for a quick snack and to chug two liters of water before an obnoxiously challenging climb to begin the 'end' of my day. With only 7 miles to hike after Wapiti, two of those were spent with an exceptionally (seriously...) steep climb 1,700 feet out of the valley below. This is some of the most sustained steep climbing I can remember in recent weeks. In the afternoon sun it was torture, with sweat pouring down my face. Taking 40 minutes to reach the top after several times muttering 'this might kill me' to my attentive audience of trees, the trail leveled out a bit and began a 5 mile ridge walk, still with some climbs and falls. At this point it was around 1700hrs and I was growing frustrated with the time I was making. As I said earlier, distractions didn't help today. I pressed on, cautious with my desire to rush, as the trail continued over some very rocky sections. The threat of rocky sections at the trail at the end of the day is twofold- first, the constant threat of an ankle or knee twisting in a way that could quickly end my trip; second, continually analyzing the terrain to make sure I didn't step on some variety of venomous reptile exposing himself in the cooler warmth of the afternoon sunlight atop a rock on on the trail. Processing all of that while rushing downhill- not for the faint of heart.
Eventually the trail dropped and climbed enough times for one day, and spit me out onto Sugar Run Road, a dirt road extending 20 someodd miles into the woods from the nearest town. After chugging another liter of water, I hiked half a mile to the east and came across Wood's Hole Hostel, where Jellybean and Pneumo were sitting on the porch, hands in the air as if disappointed in how long it took me to get there. They had placed bets that I'd be in around 3... It was 6:30! I explained my 'distractions' and they laughed. I snagged a bunk in the bunkhouse and went into the main cabin to introduce myself to the caretaker and owner and sign up for a place to stay. I was also sold on buying into dinner, a $13 meal that was AYCE (all you can eat) Mexican food, a huge salad, homemade bread, and ice cream. The bread was absolutely heavenly, made along with all the other food, by the young woman who owns the hostel with her husband. I sat on the porch with new and old friends (Tigger from Damascus was also here) and watched the sun go down over the hundreds of acres of their farmland from the porch of the bunkhouse. There was also some entertainment when the pigs got out of their pen and were running around the yard. The hostel is a working farm, based around a log cabin that was built in 1880. With a matching addition, open floor plan, massive wood beams, and a 2.5 story cathedral ceiling library/living room, it's a gorgeously quaint place in the mountains. The bunk house (photo below) is equally old.
I took a long, hot shower in the outdoor shower stall, changing into my clean clothes and putting a load of my disgusting hiking attire into the laundry. I also splurged a bit and bought a homemade smoothie from the caretaker Stonebear with vanilla ice cream, fresh strawberries, bananas, and blueberries. Served in a quart-sized mason jar it was absolutely delicious and a filling end to my day. Sitting in a rocking chair on the porch I laughed along with many others as the hair trimmers were used to cut off all of Tigger's long hair, down to a Tinkerbell kind of haircut. At around 9:30 I headed upstairs in the bunk house, ready for bed in my sleeping bag, nicely laid out on a squishy mattress. There are probably a dozen mattresses up here, tightly packed together with 15" fans on the ceiling moving air around in the loft. I love the ambient noise of a fan at night, so I'll sleep without headphones until someone starts snoring.
Not sure what kind of mileage I'll do tomorrow, as I'm not sure what time I'll leave Wood's Hole. Regardless, I'll just keep walking, because that's what I'm here to do.