Here's an excerpt from the Data Book's trail description for today's section of trail: Mile 0.0 - On left deer, Mile 0.1 - On right deer, Mile 0.2 - On left and right 2 deer, Mile 0.3 - Trail switchback and deer with fawn on right.
It really was incredible the amount of wildlife we saw. Literally dozens of deer, turkey, rabbits, snakes, but alas, no bears yet. A lot of other hikers are reporting sightings, but we haven't been so lucky yet. It's been fun to watch Micah's reactions to all these animals. I'm very glad he's been on a leash the whole time - therre are just too many temptations to expect him to resist if he were on his own.
Here's something First Knight copied into the Pinefield Hut register for everyone to enjoy:
The Philosophy of John Murr: Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.
It's a peaceful night at the shelter. Only 4 of us herre with 2 dogs. Maverick and Jaffy and their black labs, Callie, are sharing the shelter with FireBall, Micah, and me. There's a creek nearby to lull us to sleep and a whipporwill is giving its call off in the distance.
After about half an hour, we decided to start packing up. FireBall headed for the bathroom and I started pulling my gear together. I heard a loud gaggling noise as I was bent over my pack and looked up to find Micah hunched up and coughing. I thought at first it was just his normal little choking cough to clear his throat, but in a second he became more frantic. His back was arched high, head down, and he was throwing his head from side to side! I immediately thought "Oh my God, he's choking to death in front of me!" Then I saw blood spewing from his mouth and he started to lunge and buck, all the while his front legs were frantically scrabbling at his face with every other step. I had images of a stick having pierced his throat.
I lunged at Micah to try and grab him. He was absolutely wild and I couldn't hold him still. Blood was flying from his mouth and I tried to hold his head down. I started screaming for FireBall and finally he came racing up the hill. I was able to get FireBall to hold Micah's body and head and then I grabbed a bandana and used it to pull Micah's lower jaw down to open his mouth. I knew that Micah was so crazy with pain and scared that he could bite me and this seemed the safest thing to do.
As I opened his mouth, I could see it. There was a short length of stick jammed into the roof of his mouth back between the last teeth. It had punctured the gums. I was able to pull it loose with a little prying and then I just completely collapsed in a fit of nerves. Micah took a few swallows, licked his chops a time or two, and then gave me a big wet kiss with tail wagging. He was fine. I on the other hand was a mess. I just kneeled on the ground and shook as I burst into tears. I had really thought he might die.
I don't think I've mentioned it before, but Micah has been a very huge part of my hike. From the very beginning I always felt that I absolutely needed him with me to make it to Maine. He is my best friend uot here and I count on him for a lot of emotional support. He's my protector and official cheering squad and makes me laugh every day. The thought of losing my "partner" is just devastating.
So, in a tribute to Micah, I hereby present: The Top 10 Reasons I Like Hiking With My Dog:
10. Doesn't mind eating the same thing day after day
9. He's a great yogi-ing assistant ("Yogi-ing" is the art of getting food from others without asking - ala Yogi Bear)
8. No more packing out leftovers
7. I never have to clean my cook pot
6. He's a great foot warmer
5. Mice/rats/and other vermin stay clear of us in shelters
4. He takes up less room in the tent/shelter than your standard hiking partner
3. He NEVER complains
2. I get to make all the decisions
1. Micah thinks all my decisions are great ones
It was a bit of a struggle to hike at all after dinner, but we managed to roll on down the trail for another 1.5 miles before setting up camp. We had a great spot overlooking Franklin Cliffs and enjoyed an absolutely wonderful sunset.
Got to meet some new hikers during the day today - Cheesehead from Wisconsin and a section-hiker by the name of Bubbles. Cheesehead had started a thru-hike in '96 and had to pull off in Waynesboro for injures. He's back out this year to finish where he left off.
It was a great start to send me on my way and things only got better. Within an hour of leaving camp I heard some loud noises up a hillside to my right. I stopped to look and spotted a large black bear. It was about 25 feet away amidst some dense vegitation. It had definitely spotted Micah and me. Its head was raised and it was taking in great breaths of air and letting the air gust out the sides of its mouth. I stood in awe and finally remembered to take a picture. We stood for a few more moments of mutual inspection and then the bear seemed to get a little agitated. With no real warning, it charged down the hill towards me! I stood my ground (more out of shock than rational thought), and it halted its charge about 15 feet short of me. I decided this was an excellent time to take my leave and started talking to it in a loud voice as MIcah and I slowly backed down the trail. I was shaking by now and the bear continued to parallel us for a short distance before finally heading on up the hill.
The rest of the day was extremely uneventful by comparison. I enjoyed a long lunch and some pretty intensive questioning by tourists at Stony Man Cliffs. The shelter is pretty crowded, so a lot of us are tenting. Here tonight: Cakes & Flapjack, Little Toe, Pockets, Bubbles and family, FireBall and Cheesehead.
It was an extremely leisurely day with a long lunch break for a cheeseburger and fries at Elkwallow Wayside. Even with the long break, our little convoy arrived at the shelter by 3pm. We even got to see a bear cub today as it scampered up the hillside.
A few showers today, but at least it's warm. There are 15+ people here, so I'm tenting. Lots of bears have been sighted in this area, so I'm glad for Micah's company.
Tomorrow we're planning 18+ miles, so I'm off to bed early tonight.
Bubbles was only headed 8 miles to Compton Gap where she and her parents were to be leaving the trail. I was going to continue on 6 more miles to the road crossing to Front Royal, and then Bubbles and her parents were going to give Fireball and me a shuttle ride into Linden for a maildrop pickup and then to a motel in Front Royal.
My maildrop was a good one. I had letters from my Dad, Andy, and Robby Cahill. My packages included a goodie-box from Randy and Georgene Blankley loaded with great snacks. Most of the snacks were eaten before we even made it to the motel.
A day off tomorrow - YEAH!
On the way back to the motel, we ran into Dwight. I first met Dwight at Mt Rogers and I'm always bumping into him. He's a photographer that's traveling the length of the trail in a vehicle made by International back in 1969. It's quite an interesting machine and suits Dwight perfectly. He's a very soft-spoken man with a long white beard, graying shoulder-lenght hair, and blue eyes. He originally planned on hiking the trail but soon discovered that an 80+ pound pack loaded with camera gear didn't make for a fun trip. He now travels by car and day hikes on the trail with his equipment. He's hoping to get some of his work into the ATC calendar.
Dwight seems to have a special affinity for Micah and he always stops to chat whenever he sees us. Micah usually ends up getting a treat in the deal. This time I also got a ride back to the motel and Dwight also offered to shuttle us the 5 miles back to the trail tomorrow morning too. It's good to have friends along the way!