We managed to get everybody packed up and loaded into the truck by 9:30. This time I drove, Mom rode shotgun, Tullie was on the seat between us and Puget, Fireball, Stringer, and Tew-Ton rode in back with all the packs and Micah.
Fireball and I were dropped off by 12. It was odd saying good-bye to the other guys. I didn't want to hug everybody and make a big deal about it, but I wondered how long it would be before I saw them again. I was a good two days behind them already, and I'll be taking 3-4 more days off the trail at the end of the month to go to Florida to watch my brother compete in the Junior Olympics for powerlifting. I really hope we'll all be back together down the trail somewhere.
As soon as I stepped foot on the trail it was as if a huge weight had been lifted from me. The smile on my face was a mile wide and I felt like I was home. We had all been whining for warmer weather and it looks like we finally got it. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day with temps in the 80's. Micah and I had to negotiate some pretty tricky stiles, but nothing could damp my joy.
Mom had brought me back my little Sportman radio. What a difference it made in my hike. The time seemed to fly by and I found myself dancing a time or two when irresistible urges hit me (Of course, I was hiking alone at the time).
About mid-afternoon I came up on Fireball standing in the middle of the trail with no pack on. I asked was was up and he gestured to the side. It was a rattlesnake! Uncoiled and making his way off the trail at a very leisurely pace. He was about 3 1/2 - 4 feet long with at least 6 rattles, which he kindly demonstrated the use of for me as I approached him. I was amazed at how fat he was, his body was as slim as a man's thumb up by the head but the middle part of his body was a big around as my arm.
Lots of flowers today including my first sightings of blooming flame Azaleas and Lily of the Valley. We're sharing a shelter with Skydiver and Michigan Plowboy. Plowboy showed us som wintergreen and I hope to be able to ID it again on my own. It tasted wonderful! Just as dusk fell I could hear the "Chip-burr" call note of a Scarlet Tanager followed by its sing-songing robin-like song. As night moved in, the Tanager's song was replaced by the distant calls of a Whipporwill.
Truly a great day on the trail.
Today was a relaxing play day for me. I'm in no rush for big miles right now. I wanted to be able to pull off the trail and kickback and read or write todya, and that's exactly what I did - twice. It's so much more enjoyable to not stress over trying to make miles. I toyed with the idea of making it a 17 mile day, but it was just gorgeous out and I was in the mood to dilly dally.
I saw two pileated woodpeckers today, one right after the other. The first was flying through the trees about 50 feet from me. Just a minute or two further up the trail, the second one scared the heck out of me as it flew up out of the brush on the side of the trail and flew off clacking into the trees.
Pink Lady's Slippers were out today. This is the first time I've ever seen them. What a beautiful, striking flower. It's one of the largest native orchids that you'll find in North America. The large single flower has a distinctive pink, inflated, slipper-like lip petal, veined with red and with a fissure down the front. It's amazing how these flowers reproduce. I remember reading that the seeds have to land on a specific type of fungus for them to actually sprout.
Pickle Branch Shelter was a full half mile off the trail, but it's in a really nice setting with a nice creek right down the hill. As soon as I got in I headed for the creek and took a wonderfully refreshing dip in its icy waters.
The shelter's pretty full tonight. There are 3 section hikers, Fireball, myself, and another thru-hiker named Big Foot. Big Foot is from Cincinnati and is making his hike a fund-raising one for Cysic Fibrosis.
It had rained during the night and we awoke to grey skies. The section hikers were still sound asleep as Big Foot, then Fireball, and (last but not least) I packed up our gear. Twoof the section hikers had been drinking liquor until 11 o'clock, at which time they came back to the shelter shining their headlights directly on us and making a lot of noise. Judging by the commotion both Fireball and Big Foot were making as they gathered their gear this morning, I think they were getting some revenge.
The trail was really tough today. The climb up to Dragon's Tooth kicked my butt and I was barely able to manage 2 mph. Fireball was to hike ahead and make a brief sidetrip to a grocery store four tenths of a mile from the trail at the Hwy 624 road crossing. There he was able to call the B&B and see if they had a room available and arrange a shuttle to pick us up at 3pm. I was trying to pick up my pace to make the shuttle, but the going was rough.
The descent from Dragon's Tooth is a pretty famous little stretch of trail. There were several sections where I had to sit on my butt to slide myself over ledges and down to the next level several feet below. I was so proud of Micah today. He was absolutely phenomenal in negotiating the ledges. I never once had to remove his pack and he came through every scramble with a wagging tail and big grin.
As I reached the 624 road crossing, I could see some hikers and a car at the side of the road. It was Southpaw with some very welcome trail magic waiting for us. Fireball, Big Foot, and another hiker by the name of Crookin' were there relaxing. The bad news was that the B&B was full, the good news was that Fireball had bought us a pint of chocolate ice cream and Southpaw had a cooler full of cold sodas and ice water. We sat and relaxed over an hour as the skies began to clear and the sun broke through.
Fireball and I finally moved on at about 2:30. We didn't make it very far though. Within a half hour we came to a beautiful, narrow meadow with a creek running through it and some absolutely perfect tentsites that were too good to pass up. Cookin' and his father, Shadow, have joined us. I made some sun tea and added some mint that I found on the bank. Fireball has made a nice fire and he had also purchased some hotdogs, buns, cheese, and chili at the little grocery store, so we're going to have a little hiker feast tonight.
Tomorrow we're doing a full 15 miles of hiking - honest...
Once again Fireball came through with some surprises today. He had run down to the general store at the Hwy 311 road crossing and when he got to the top of McAfee's, he pulled out two cold sodas and two pints of chocolate ice cream as well as a 16oz can of dogfood for Micah!
The flowers were out in full force. Lots of flowers I hadn't seen yet: Lyre-leaved sage, Ground Ivy, Spiderwort, Celandine, Bowman's Root, Gray Beardtongue, Maryland Figwort, Pale Corydalis, Rattlesnake Weed, Early Saxifrage, and Wood Sorrel. Some of the old stand-bys that are like old friends now were Columbine, Fire Pinks, Star Chickweed, Vetch, Pink Lady's Slippers, Bluets, Wild Stonecreep, Squawroot, Crested Dwarf Iris, Azaleas, Blueberries, and Blackberries. Quite a lot of variety over a relatively short trial.
I leave you today with a poem I copied out of Lambert's Meadow Shelter register. It's called "Song of the Open Road."
Song of the Open Road
Afoot and light hearted I take to the open road,
Health, free, the world before me,
The long, brown path leading me wherever I choose.
Henceforth I ask not good fortune,
I myself am good fortune,
Henceforth I wimper no more,
Postpone no more, need nothing.
Done with indoor complaints, criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.
The earth that is sufficient, I walk!
Now I see the secret of the making of the people.
It is to grow in the open air
And eat and sleep with the earth.
O open trail,
I say I am not afraid to leave you,
I love you.
You express me better than I can express myself.
To know the universe itself
As an open trail,
As many open trails,
As all trails for travelling souls.
- Walt Whitman
We eventually got back to sleep after all the excitement died down, but we ended up with a little later start than planned. I felt absolutely fantastic today though and flew down the trail effortlessly. i actually ran the last two miles of the day and never got winded. I love it when my body feels this good.
I shared a room at the Best Western with Fireball and Grasshopper. Regular round of town errands - P.O., laundry, shower, gear cleaning, etc... and a great all-you-can-eat meal at Country Cookin'.
At the north end of Troutville, the trail moved into pastures and meadows. Lots of red and white clovers covered the ground as well as the yellow- flowered Hops Clover. Oxeye Daisy towered above the lower grasses with Buttercups filling in the gaps. Micah was great in negotiating all the styles we crossed today. It's amazing what small little gaps he can squeeze through once I take off his pack.
As we moved into the forests, the variety of flowers increased and kept me constantly stopping the ooh and ahh over some new flowers. Common Speedwell, Yellow Stargrass, and Galax were the new discoveries of the day as well as a delicate little Milkweed flower with an amazingly heady fragrance. The striking violet-blue flowers of Spiderwort were out in abundance as well as the lavender flowers of Wild Geranium. The Pink Lady's Slippers are still evident here and there and we also found some flowering Wild Ginger today.
At the shelter tonight are Grasshopper, Cookin', Shadow, Pan, Fireball, and me and Micah.
During the day I also ran into Magic Maerk and Repack. They were returning to the trail after a full week off. Repack had an infected bone spur that had put him in the hospital for a while and today was his first day back on. He didn't look too good and was obviously still in a great deal of pain. His foot looked absolutely horrible, but he swore it was infinitely better than what it had been. Repack is determined to stay on the trail since he feels that this is his one and only chance at doing a thru-hike. I hope things turn out well for him.
I owe Fireball big after today. There's no convenient water source at the shelter we're at and he had to bushwhack a half mile down the side of the mountain to find a creek. Then it was a half mile climb back up the mountain, but this time he was carrying a couple of gallons of water for us. I guess I'll be doing water-filtering for the next few days to make amends.
Flower of hte day is One-flowered Cancer Root. An odd little parasitic plant with a single, white fragrant flower. It has no clorophyll so the plant is a ghostly, mushroom-like white.