The miles went by quickly today, but I made sure I took some long breaks. We climbed a total of over 5000 feet today, including a climb to the top of Apple Orchard Mountain at the ver end of the day. At 4,225 feet, Apple Orchard is the highest peak I'll be seeing for quite some time - actually until Mt. Moosilauke, N.H.
It was a warm, humid day. I could tell I was getting tired when fantasies of hitch hiking the last 5 miles of the day started occupying my thoughts. Fireball, Micah, and I had taken a 2-1/2 hour break at Cornelius Creek Shelter. While we were napping, Fox on the Run and Smiles stopped by. They were slackpacking southbound and shared some fresh mini-carrots and part of a roastbeef sandwich with us!
We didn't beat the rain to the shelter, but it actually felt good to have some of the day's sweat wash off. The shelter is full and there are wet clothes hanging everywhere. Two southbounders have joined us - Shortcut and Brumbee, as well as Web Catcher, Grasshopper, Fireball, and me and Micah. Grasshopper is under strict instructions to be as quiet as possible, but he still plans on getting up by 5:30. :^(
Flower of the day was a mutant Spiderwort that had a pure white flower instead of the normal violet-blue.
I finally worked up enough energy and determination to pack up my things and I left the shelter with a glance over my shoulder at FireBall. He was still in his sleeping bag, but he roused himself enough to give me an evil look. I called out to him as I left "You can always stay!" -- I knew he wouldn't.
We decided to at least make it as far as Matt's Creek Shelter, which was 12.4 miles away. From there it would only be an easy 2.6 mile hike the next morning to the road to the Wildwood Campground. We would pick up my maildrop, grab some food, do some laundry, and get back on the trail. At least that was the plan.
The miles were flying by for me once I got out on the trail. I was averaging just over 3 mph, which is fast for me. About 7.5 miles into the hike, FireBall passed me at full speed as I was getting water at a spring. Only 5 more miles to go and we'd be at the shelter and done for the day!
I pulled in to the shelter at 4:10. There was FireBall with his pack contents strewn about the shelter, obviously quite happy with himself for having budged at all today. I sat down on the edge of the platform with my pack still on and just looked at him. He guessed my thoughts immediately and said with a disbelieving look of horror on his face, "You want to continue on, don't you?" I just smiled in reply.
He threw a few items around in a mock temper tantrum, but eventually packed up his stuff and we were on our way once again. Two hours later we were contentedly eating two cheeseburgers each, along with two bags of chips and some Big Slams. We were able to rent a little trailer for the night for $25, so we didn't have to worry about wet tents, rain, or cold weather.
The goodies that were waiting for me at the campground were amazing. As soon as I told Ed, the campground owner, my name, he gave me this weird look and just started laughing. My pile of boxes and letters was almost three feet tall!! A big thanks to Faith and Mitch, who managed to send me perfect hiker goodies, including a pair of socks (which I was desperately needing). From Brent I had a Native American flute, a bottle of wine, brownies, and even canned dog food for Micah! And of course, there was the maildrop from Mom with the ever popular "surprises" that she manages to put in every box. Letters galore too--Andy, Brent, Mike Diebert, and Grandma. Thank you to everybody for all your support and good wishes--they really mean a lot to me out here.
Let's see, if I've got 1401 miles to go, and let's say I move my end date out to September 30......that gives me 126 potential hiking days...hmmmm.... If I take 3 days off to go to Florida with the family and 3 days of at 4th of July, I would have to ONLY average 11.67 miles/day.......What if every 7th day is a rest day???.....Then I'd have to average 13.73 miles/day....I can do that.....etc., etc.
I was just making the numbers tell me what I wanted to hear. It took me until 11 this morning to make the final decision that I wasn't going anywhere today. Once made, I was very comfortable with it. I also was glad for the chance to give my legs a rest. Lately I've been suffering from some very acute pains around my left shin. The front of my leg actually has a faint, long, narrow bruise running along the outside of the bone. I'm hoping it's just a temporary shinsplints kind of thing that will go away of its own accord, but it's been getting worse over the past few days and a day of rest will feel good.
So, my day consisted of letter writing, daydreaming in a nearby meadow, eating, showering, playing my new flute, more daydreaming, a trip to the PO in Buena Vista with Kenny (the campground's resident trail angel), more eating, and a little reading thrown in for exercise.
I'm not sure about little ghosts coming to visit us tonight, but this shelter is definitely haunted by thousands of frogs. There's a small pond about 50 feet from the shelter and once dusk arrived, the noise became quite deafening. Peepers and bullfrogs competed for the airwaves and I'll definitely be sleeping with earplugs in tonight. They sound pretty for a while, but not when they're ten feet from your tent.
There are 16 hikers here tonight! The majority of us are tenting. My decision to tent was helped by the fact that I was trying to get as much extra warmth around me as possible. It was a beautiful, cloudless day with temps in the high 60's, but it's going to go down in the low 40's tonight and my tent is much warmer than sleeping in the shelter.
I met some new thru-hikers tonight: Bryan from Lancaster, PA who has his cousin Phil hiking with him for the week; Goldfinger, a retired military guy from Maine who got his name for his previous profession--he was a gynecologist; Rip from Tennessee, who quit a job at Glaxo as a chemical engineer to hike the trail; and Rip's partner, Bones.
Sandman was the last to role in to the shelter after having put in a 25 miler to get here. I was particularly glad to see him since he had been having lots of knee problems a while back when I had first met him just before Hot Springs. He's a middle-aged restaurant/deli owner from Texas who is known on the trail for getting lots of extra food goodies in his maildrops that he's more than willing to share with any nearby thru-hikers. He's quite a crowd-drawer at the PO :-)
While we were all gathered at the picnic table cooking our dinners and eating, a very nice couple by the name of Ed and Mary Ann Williams walked up to the shelter bearing lots of goodies just for us! They call themselves "The Friends of the Trail" and live nearby in Vesuvius, VA. They spend a great deal of time providing trail magic for hikers. They had brought us cold juice drinks, apples, fresh water, packs of Nabs, and orange candy slices that they had carried up from a nearby forest road parking area. They keep a record and photo history of all the hikers they meet and where they are from. Last year they provided trail magic to over 260 hikers!
Originally I wasn't in any rush this morning since Gus wouldn't be picking me up until 2 or 3 and I only had 10.6 miles to go, but as FireBall was leaving camp he offered me a ride into Buena Vista for lunch if I could get to the road by 12 or 12:30. He was leaving the trail for the weekend as well to attend a wedding in Connecticut and his Dad was driving down to pick him up.
I made it to the road in time and FireBall's Dad and younger brother were already there waiting for him. There were some other hikers at the road crossing as well, including "Grandma". I'd been looking forward to meeting her since I'd been in touch with her son, Dan, via e-mail and he'd asked me to keep an eye open for her. She looked to be doing just great and was in very high spirits.
Lunch was great and FireBall's Dad gets a big thanks for treating us to a good meal. Back at the trail head, Gus showed up by 2:30 and I was on my way for a dose of civilization.
My left shin was very painful for the last few miles today, so I'm hoping that these 3 days off will cure all my aches and pains. I'm also going to look for a smaller, lighter backpack this weekend. Since I've switched to my summer gear, my current pack is less than two thirds full. I'm looking at going to the 3500 cubic inch Mountainsmith Wizard. At only 3 pounds 3 ounces, it would cut another 2+ pounds off my current pack's weight.
Also, I got a note from Grey Bear in England. She and Long Pig decided to return to their home, buy a car, and tour some of Europe. They're definitely making a good go at "life after the trail!"