A friend of Gypsy's was visiting today and he drove Gypsy, Fireball, and myself into Bristol, TN. Gypsy was looking for new boots at the outfitters there and Fireball and I went for a ride.
Chops, Two Ton, and Matt Bockol (an AT-L newsgroup member) showed up today.
We hadn't walked more than about 15 minutes before a light drizzle started and thunder sounded off in the distance. Over the next few hours, the rain would alternate between sporadic droplets to heavy downpour. I didn't even bother trying to keep myself dry. It was just barely warm enough that I could walk through it in a t-shirt and shorts without getting too cold.
I had originally only planned on doing 11 or 12 miles today, but I reached the Saunders Shelter by 1 and Fireball and I talked ourselves into pushing on. The Saunders Shelter had one of the prettiest settings I'd seen so far. It's set among some tall pines with a nice bed of pine needles surrounding it and then there's a pretty meadow clearing off to one side.
The trail was very nice today. The grading was sweet and the footing pretty nice. There were several sections where it paralleled the Virginia Creeper Trail and provided nice views and overlooks of Whitetop Laurel Creek. Even the climb up to Saunders Shelter was nicely grade and switchbacked.
On the portion of the trail that paralleled the Creeper, there were quite a few fringed Polygala and Beaked Violets blooming. Then as I began to climb up to Saunders Shelter, Carolina Vetch began to take over.
At the shelter when I arrived were Al, Stringer, Meant 2 Be, Grey Bear, Long Pig, and a section hiker, Debbie, with her Siberian Husky, Simba. Fireball soon showed up too. Many of the thru-hikers had taken the Creeper Trail for much of the way. It's supposed to be more scenic, it's more easily graded, and it was 4 miles shorter.
I set up my tent and ate dinner, and then broke out the pint of Ben & Jerry's ice cream that I'd hauled up from town insulated in my sleeping bag. It was soft, but it was awesome!
The trail was so wet and muddy in some sections that it was actually a bigger stream at times than some of the water sources listed in the data books. I didn't care though, it was warm and there were blue skies showing between the clouds.
The 2000' climb up Whitetop was nicely graded, but very long. Almost the entire length of the trail from VA601 to the summit was lined with Fringed Phacelia for as far as the eye could see. At the exposed summit, the Phacelia gave way to Spring Beauties.
I basked in the sun on top of Buzzard Rock for almost an hour. It was so nice to have views of the surrounding countryside again.
As I descended Whitetop to the VA600 road crossing. I noticed a large hound laying in a small clearing off to the side of the trail. He watched Micah and me as we neared the roadside clearing, but he never moved. Fireball was relaxing in the sun and I joined him for a while. After about 15 minutes, the big hound ambled over and joined us. He seemed friendly enough, he had no collar, and he and Micah hit it off. That's all it took, he was ours. As Fireball, Micah and I headed off, he followed. I tried to shoo him off, we tried closing a fence gate before he could pass, Fireball tried to hang back and physically keep him from following, but it was no use, we had a new partner.
Thomas Knob Shelter eventually became pretty crowded, but I wanted to stay in a shelter and not tent since the mud depth surrounding the shelter varied from 3-6" in depth. Al, Fireball, Long Pig, Grey Bear, Stringer, Meant 2 Be, 2 section hikers, Micah, myself, and the hound now known as "600" all squeezed in. Luckily, one ofthe section hikers was willing to take "600" back south with him the next day.
Everybody else proved to have much more resolve and ambition than Fireball and me. We were the absolute last to leave the shelter when we trundled out at 9am. The morning definitely improved as we hiked. Lots of ponies, wonderful views, and sun, glorious sun, finally broke through the clouds.
We took a one hour break at Wise Shelter to bask in the sun, hiked another hour, and then abruptly plopped ourselves right back down on the hillside overlooking the Scales. It was just too beautiful of a day to worry about miles. Days like today are made to be appreciated and we wanted to do an honest job of that. We ended uplolling about for another two hours. Fireball even fell asleep for a while and got a good sunburn as a result.
We were back in action again by 3 and headed on to Old Orchard Shelter. I had toyed with the idea of doing 17 miles today, but I think slowing down to enjoy the good weather and to savor this very special section of the trail was the right choice fo me.
So far it's Al, Meant 2 Be, Fireball and myself. I'm tenting in the meadow in front of the shelter and we're all hoping for a pretty sunset.
The shelter register had two very amusing poems concerning the ongoing battle between hiking purists, who won't miss a single white blaze and carry their packs the entire way, versus the blue-blazers, who are willing to take side trails, roadwalks, and have their packs shuttled forward for them.
"I'm Better Than You" and "I'm Smarter Than You"
I've got slivers in my lips to prove that I'm right
'Cause I kiss every tree with a blaze that's painted white.
I don't take no shortcuts, I don't follow no blue,
Maybe you're done before me, but I'm better than you.
I'm better than you, I'm better than you,
I don't walk no blue, 'cause I'm better than you.
I'm pure and perfect in everything I do,
I'm better than you, I'm better than you.
I've got my backpack heavy as can be.
I don't let nobody carry it for me.
I pump the weight up, with a rock or two,
Your pack is wimpy and I'm better than you.
My socks are toxic, but that's okay,
I don't do no laundry - that's the pioneer way.l
I don't take showers, I don't use shampoo,
maybe you smell pretty, but I'm better than you.
Taken from register at Old Orchard Shelter - Author was JZero Wildcat Brother
I'm smarter than you, I'm smarter than you,
I walk the blue, 'cause I'm smarter than you.
I take the shortcut in everything I do,
I'm smarter than you, I'm smarter than you.
You climb that mountain, while I go around,
'Cause I always search for the lower ground,
And there's a nice, flat roadway that goes right through.
You're scrambling boulders and I'm smarter than you.
I think I'll find me a little room tonight,
I'll take a shower and flick on the lights
I'll find a barstool and have a few,
You're drinking Kool-Aid and I'm smarter than you.
I had a little over 10 miles to go to get to the road that would take me into Troutdale. he skies had clouded up overnight and there were thunderstorm warnings for the area. As I climbed to a ridgeline, the skies looked particularly dark and the pitter-patter of raindrops began. I could hear the thunder approaching and I quickened my steps to get off the ridge. Fireball wasn't so lucky on his timing and found himself on top of the ridge just as the lightening strike since he was literally running down the trail to get out of the storm.
The rain didn't last long and it turned into a pretty morning. I was averaging better than 3mph on this section, which is really good for me. I hit the road crossing by 10:15 and Fireball was waiting for me since he knew I didn't like roadwalks or hitching by myself. We only half-heartedly tried to thumb a ride since it was supposed to only be a 1.8 mile road walk. Well, it was the longest 1.8 either of us had ever done. I definitely think it was a longer road walk than that.
We finally arrived at Ray's Restaurant and Deli. We ordered some food, got some groceries, and arranged for a ride up to the Fox Hill Inn. The drive up to this place was incredible. It's a single lane gravel driveway that winds through rhododendron thickets and woods and finally puts you out on top of a beautiful open hilltop where the Inn sits. The place was deserted, but there was a note for us to make ourselves at home - which we promptly did.
We spent the afternoon cleaning up, doing laundry, and eating food. Fireball even baked a chocolate cake! Mark & Janet showed up late in the afternoon. They were just returning from their backpacking trip in PA. We had a great time hanging out on the patio with them.
Fireball and I threw together a 5 course hiker dinner from the hiker box and what we'd bought in town. Mark even found us a bottle of wine. After dinner we enjoyed a nice fire, watched a movie, and then Mark & Janet joined us for some coffee and chocolate cake. It's way past my bedtime now and I do have to hike tomorrow after all.
Mark and Janet soon came over from their cottage and I dropped a pretty big hint for a French toast breakfast. After a great breakfast, Mark drove me and Micah back to the trail. Fireball would be taking a few days off the trail to visit with a friend, so I was on my own. I was on the trail by 10.
During the day I ran into Tew-Ton, Chops, Matt, Yard Dog, and Roo. Tew-Ton and I ended up hiking much of the day together. He's a 25 year old from Vermont who got his trailname from the size of his pack at Springer. He has since sent home quite a bit of gear and just got himself a new pack in Damascus and he seems a lot happier. We hiked at a pretty good pace together and arrived at the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area Headquarters at around 4. Gypsy was already there.
The HQ is a pretty nice setup for hikers. During business hours there's a sode machine and restroom available. You can set up your tent on their grounds or sleep on the porch. There's a pay phone available from which you can order pizza, groceries, deli meals and breakfast for delivery right to the HQ. That pretty much covers everything your average thru-hiker might need except beer.
Gypsy, Tew-Ton and I were soon joined by Matt, Chops, Yard Dog and Roo. Most of us planned to just sleep on the porch since rain was in the forecast. Yard Dog and Roo were actually planning on doing another 7 miles to the next shelter, and yet they didn't finally roll out until 7pm! I don't know how these guys that hike until 10 at night doit. I hate hitting camp any later than 5, and there they are starting the other half of their day at 7pm!
Gypsy was the first to stir because, as always, she was hungry. She took everybody's requests and had an order placed with the Sugar Grove Cafe for a breakfast delivery. I guess this is the trail equivalent of breakfast in bed. I just got coffee for myself since I felt like if I went through the pain of carrying a breakfast meal, I darn well wanted to eat it.
We all left the headquarters within 30 minutes of each other. I hiked the entire day with Gypsy and really enjoyed her company and the conversation. Gypsy is in much better spirits now that her knees are no longer bothering her and her feet are feeling better. It looks like the new boots she got while we were in Damascus really did the trick.
The skies cleared up some and it turned into a nice, breey day. This next 50 miles of trail is maintained by the Piedmont Appalachian Trail Hikers, my maintaining club, so I'm familiar with much of the trail. It makes such a big difference in your hike when you know what's ahead of you and what to expect.
We arrived at the Village Motel by 2. Chops, Tew-Ton, Stringer, Peter Pan, Long Pig and Grey Bear were already here. Gypsy and I registered for a room and made a bee-line for the Dairy Queen, where I consumed what I believe was my biggest meal to date: double cheeseburger, fries, coke, chicken tenders, more fries, garlic toast, and ice cream for dessert.
The highlight of the afternoon was me cutting Tew-Ton's hair in the bathtup of his motel room. I was quite proud of the results and got a loaf of rye bread and some cheese from him as payment. I think that's a pretty favorable business transaction.