We finally hit the trail by about 10:20. We had been fully warned to get through the next 10 miles of trail as quickly as possible with all senses no full alert. There have been some hiker unfriendly incidents that have taken place in the past in this area and Smiley and I had agreed to at least hike this section together for safety. I was particularly concerned about a road walk section that was supposed to take you past several unfriendly dogs, of which at least one had actually bitten a hiker.
I'm happy to report that it was a sunny and mild day. That's not supposed to last very long, but I'm enjoying it immensely for the time being. I got a chance to teach Smiley a little about some flowers and birds today too. I spotted some Bishop's Cap this morning while walking through some low areas.
Well, the roadwalk was an adventure to say the least. I knew Micah would be a magnet for these dogs, so Smiley was armed with a big tree limb and I had my hiking stick. The quarter mile gauntlet started with a huge rottweiler on our right that lunged and came up gagging at the end of its chain, thank God! Then down the hillside on our left came two baying beagles and a matching pair from a yard on the right. All were met with stern commands of "No!" and "Go Home!" with an occasional threatening swing of a stick and that was enough to hold them off.
We no sooner turned our backs on the beagles than a large collie and smaller mixed breed came running down the road towards us. The collie was the one with the reputation as a biter. Micah was put between us and Smiley and I managed to form a sort of shield around him. The collie continued to flow, but again, strong verbal commands and a few threatening swings of our sticks were enough. We had one last pack of beagles to contend with before the trail finally dipped back into the peace and quiet of the woods.
I had originally only planned on doing 8.5 miles today and camping out, but I could tell that Smiley felt obligated to stay with me until we passed this magical 10 mile mark and he seemed pretty anxious to do more.
The profile map for this section of trail was a cruel joke. On the map this portion of trail looks pretty harmless. In reality the whole day was just a series of ups and downs, one right after the other. There were more creek crossings, muddy bank climbing, and slippery log walks than I've encountered anywhere else so far.
I offered to do an additional 3 miles if we could take a 1 hour break at a particularly nice creekside spot. This seemed to make Smiley much happier and we enjoyed a relaxing hour laying in the sun and listening to the creek.
I knew my legs were tired, but I hoped the rest and food I ate would help me over the next 3 miles. We started hiking again at 3:30. Again, it was all up and down and my fully loaded pack was really wearing my legs out. The beautiful flat tentsites we were expecting to find never materialized and around 5pm I resigned myself to the fact that we were going to have to hike to the shelter. I was absolutely exhausted and drained. Smiley is a much stronger and faster hiker than me and I wasn't even attempting to keep up, I just wanted to get it over with. There was one point where I literally just stopped for a second and sobbed briefly. I was cursing every blasted uphill on the trail and whoever had created such a cruelly misleading map. I swear the last mile of the day just went on forever, but finally, thankfully, the most beautiful shelter I've ever beheld came into view.
I'm here tonight with Al the Mumbler, Yank Dog, and Smiley. Shaggy and Spendin' Time passed through briefly. I think Smiley felt a little bad for turning my 8.5 mile day into a 13.5 mile day - he filtered all my water for me. (I had earlier accused him of trying to do me in so he could have all my food.)
They're calling for rain tomorrow.
I met two young hikers this morning, Roaming Gnome and Void of Consciousness, who are hiking the AT as a college project. They attend school in Maine and are hiking until May writing poetry and taking photos to create a book.
I slowed my pace considerably today and it felt good to be "hiking my own hike" again. Today was probably the last I'll see of Smiley since he's trying to finish by August 20th. I actually hiked for a little while with Al the Mumbler, and that really helped to make a few miles pass by since conversation with him is so off the wall.
The Laurel Fork Gorge was pretty spectacular. It's quite a scramble into and out of the gorge, but what a beautiful and impressive place. It is a deep, rugged gorge lined with rhododendron and crowned at one end by Laural Falls. It was here that I met a hiker by the name of Beavis. Beavis is a southbounder. He started up in Maine in June of '96! He's trying to make his trip last an entire year. Just contemplating some of the ordeals this young man must have encountered spending the entire winter on the trail, mostly in utter solitude, makes my mind spin. I know I personally would never attempt such a hike, but it's quite impressive to meet someone who is. Beavis is still loving the trail and has definitely maintained a sense of humor. He has a life-sized cardboard figure of Kathy Ireland's torso strapped on to his pack. He said she's a great hiking partner and he hopes she'll be able to complete the entire trail. :^)
I also met a work crew doing some major construction on the trail as I descended into the gorge. I started to say thanks to the first tow people I met when we all realized we knew one another. I had met Janet last summer when my maintenance club worked with the Konnarock Crew doing a trail relocation up by Knot Maul Shelter in VA. I had met Zeb while out on a winter weekend backpacking trip in the Mount Rogers area. Small world!
The climb up to Pond Flats was a killer and I got my tent to set up and water from the spring just in time to beat the downpour. I really hope the terrain starts getting a little easier soon and I sure would like to dry out some time.
I didn't even think about believing the profile map. I'm finally learning my lesson. The map showed several flat sections that I would be covering today, and I mean pancake flat. What did I find instead? Up, down, up...
The nicest thing that happened today was spotting some ducklings and goslings on Watauga Lake. Other than that, there wasn't much that made me smile. I'm tired of being wet and my clothes stink.
I did find out that I'm only a day behind Gypsy. I'll probably catch her by Damascus. I hung out a little with Whetherman today at a rest break. The only other hikers I saw today were Hardcore and Spendin' Time.
I'm going to try for 19 miles tomorrow, so I'm off for some sleep.
The trail is much easier now and it has actually resembled the profile map since Vandeventer Shelter. It's not quite the moving walkway that people make it sound like, but I was able to do my 19 miles today on some pretty darned tired legs in just 8 hours. A bunch of the thru-hikers were doing the traditional 26 miles all in one shot to get to Damascus, but I had no intention of even trying it.
I met two hikers today who had thru-hiked in '92 as The Turtles. They knew Jim and Ginny Owen. They're down from Illinois on a one week vacation and were out day hiking.
Gypsy and Smokey were here at the shelter when I arrived. She's definitely having some problems with her knees and didn't look too happy. She knows she needs to lower her mileage, but that can be tough to do. It can really get to you to see others passing you by, and it's hard just to hike a few hours a day and then twiddle your thumbs all afternoon. I'm sure a few days in Damascus will help her both mentally and physically.
The shelter's crowded tonight. I'm so glad that I just always tent. I would hate to have to contend with the crowding, especially when latecomers drag into camp. Gypsy, the Count, Shadow, Void of Consciousness, Roaming Gnome, and Querkas are all in the shelter. Whetherman, myself, and a few others are tenting. I heard some grumblings among some of the hikers regarding Gypsy's dog Smoky staying in the shelter. Again, I'm glad I made the decision before even starting the trail to tent with Micah.
I realized when I saw Gypsy today that she's the first female thru-hiker I've seen in over a week. We didn't get to talk much at all since it started to rain again, but it's good to see her.
I can't wait to do laundry tomorrow!! As an extra bonus, I'll be in the state of Virginia when I'm doing it!
We crossed into Virginia at about 10. I was looking for a spectacular fanfare of a sign to go along with my joy at crossing this milepost, but it was a pretty low key kind of welcome - a sign for the Mount Rogers Recreation Area with the letters VA/TN penciled in on one of the supporting legs. It was still quite an accomplishment for me, and I was all smiles the remaining 3.5 miles into Damascus.
I walked the last few miles with Shadow. He's an Outward Bound leader who alternates homes between the Everglades of Florida in the winter and the mountains of North Carolina in the summer. We arrived in town a little after 11 and within the first block of town I ran into Fireball and Wapiti. It's so nice to unexpectedly see people you've met at one point or another further up the trail.
My first stop was the post office. I had several letters waiting for me there, including letters from Dee, Regina, Andy, Brent, Parthena, and a postcard from Patty and Never Ready. Every town stop is like a mini Christmas for me and I really enjoy all the letters I receive.
Next it was on to the laundry, where I hung out for a few hours with Fireball, CopperTop, Motha Bird, and a few other hikers while we listened to some really great music on the juke box.
My friend Tom was to be driving out from Raleigh to meet me. We met at Dot's and then went on to Abingdon for the night. I actually went to see a movie in Bristol! The movie house was in a mall and it felt so odd to walk through fancy dresses and high-heeled shoes looked so alien, but I have to admit I had a slight pang of longing for some more feminine attire than my fleece and Teva sandals. (Don't worry, it was very short lived)
Tom headed back to Raleigh at about 3 and Gypsy and I headed for the Town Hall where we had heard there were some computers available for hikers to use to access the Internet. It really was quite an impressive setup and we played around for about an hour.
More and more hikers kept coming in off the trail. Stringer, Peter Pan, Al, Chisel and Puget Pounder were some of the new arrivals. Puget had pulled a 33 mile day to make it in to town today!
Chisel is a hiker I hadn't met before. He's a middle-aged guy from GA who's doing the trail purely as a physical challenge. He didn't start the trail until early April and had already covered 450 miles - which means he's averaging around 25 miles per day since he's only hiking 6 days a week! Everybody out here does the trail a little differently. I doubt I'll be seeing Chisel again.