An Unexpected Zero

Day 54

Though I slept well, morning found me still tired. Coffee helped a little; the hotel offered it in addition to a light continental breakfast. Serendipity began hiking while the rest of us went to the outfitting store to purchase fuel and Picaridin spray. Cricket and Hummingbird returned to the trail, but my body wasn’t ready. I hung out at the hotel, waiting for the rest of our tramily.

Shortly before noon, Sonic Boom, Lt. Dinglebeary, High Route, and Hobble-It arrived in town. Along with a hiker named Three Sticks, we went to brunch at Cracker Barrel. Sonic is so much the mom of our family, making sure the rest of us had snacks until our table was ready. The food wasn’t amazing, but it was a lot of fun. I got to know Dingleberry. He is from Dayton, Ohio. Prior adventures include hiking the Buckeye trail and biking from Seattle to Washington DC in 79 days.

Hobble-It and I planned to hike out following brunch. First she needed a resupply so I accompanied her and the others to Kroger. I sat beside Three Sticks as he ate sidewalk sushi and I had a snack, marveling at how it felt natural to sit about anywhere to eat. Then I wandered into Outdoor Trails to watch High Route try on new shoes. At that point it was past 3 pm, the next reliable water at least 9 miles down the trail. Hobble-It and I decided to  crash with Sonic and Dinglebeary then hike out in the morning.

Both Cricket and Hobble-It have buzzcuts and Serendipity cut hers very short. It seems so low maintenance. Besides, all I do is braid mine and tuck it away. I told Hobble-It my thoughts and she loved the idea, offering to provide moral support. In fact, her, Sonic, Dinglebeary, and High Route all went with me. Sonic insisted on documenting the entire process. High Route said my new cut made me look like a supermodel. I love it! Running a hand across felt like petting a horse and the breeze stirred each hair.

Back at the Super 8, Hobble-It and I hung out in the room while the guys went to a church feed. We found bottles of Permethrin in the hiker box and sprayed our hiking clothes, socks, and shoes. I now feel better protected against ticks. When the guys returned we stayed chatting in the room. Eventually, High Route returned to his room and we went to sleep.

Day 55

I got a great night’s sleep and felt rested. At 7 a.m. we met High Route downstairs for breakfast. He looked quite happy in his brand new yellow Topo shoes. High Route planned to zero and look into slack packing. Sonic rented a car yesterday in order to drive to Waynesboro and hike Shenandoah with family. He will later hike the section of trail that he missed.

After breakfast, Dinglebeary, Hobble-It, and I returned to the trail. Within a mile, we reached the “1/3 of the way to Katahdin” sign and stopped for a picture. We took a break near a stream to filter water and another at a shelter to eat lunch. I found out Dinglebeary worked as a coal miner and more recently a nurse.

A couple miles after lunch we encountered the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) for the first time. The trail parallels it for over 100 miles. Hobble-It walked along the road edge to the next crossing while Dinglebeary and I stuck to the trail. The next three crossings of the BRP were overlooks with impressive views. In between the trail mostly traveled through forest.

We stopped at Bobblets Gap shelter to get water from a spring. There was no good camping so we continued on a short distance and camped beside the parkway. I left my rain fly off and the others hung their hammocks. A gentle breeze kept the temperature pleasant and we had a great view during dinner. The BRP was silent as this section is closed for the Blue Ridge Ironman 70.3 race which begins in the morning.

Day 56

I woke with the light and birds. Hobble-It and I sat in grass beside the BRP, ate breakfast, and watched the sun slowly rise. It was beautiful, peaking around a blue mountain. I got on trail and immediately ran into a thru-hiker named Wise Acres. We hiked the next six miles together, chatting about Legos and Star Wars.

The trail dropped far down to Jennings Creek and a bridge. I came upon unexpected trail magic! A nice couple, Heather and Dingo, who drove over two hours to camp and feed hikers. Dingo thru-hiked the trail in 2006. He cooked grilled cheese sandwiches on a camp stove in the back of their truck. I had grilled tomato and cheese. Afterward, we went over to the creek. Dinglebeary briefly plunged into the chilly water while Hobble-It and I soaked our feet.

What goes down must go up! We spent the afternoon climbing uphill. I stopped at Bryant Ridge shelter to check it out. By shelter standards, it was a mansion, three levels with the uppermost quite generous in size.

As I neared the top of Floyd Mountain, I stopped my audiobook to enjoy the beauty. A uniform carpet of plants blanketed the forest floor and birds trilled loudly. At the top, I heard a loud noise and looked over to see two bear cubs rapidly climbing a tree while their mom stood up on her back legs and watched me. The mom dropped to four legs and disappeared from view so I continued up the trail to give them space. I went 100 feet or so then turned and watched the cubs descend the tree. They are such agile climbers!

During the short downhill to Cornelius Creek Shelter, I marveled at my first AT bear sighting. Hobble-It and Dinglebeary were already there. Lots of good camping so we stayed for the night.

Day 57

I got a great night’s sleep, waking naturally from a convoluted dream minutes before 5 am. Hit the trail shortly after 6 am. Fog for the first time in a while gave the morning a mysterious feel, though it ruined any view from Apple Orchard mountain. Descending from the mountain I passed under the Guillotine, a large boulder suspended over a stairway between rock walls. On top of the next knob, I ran into a three-person trail crew scything brush alongside the trail. We chatted briefly and I thanked them for maintaining the trail.

I had a quick lunch at Marble Spring, chatting with a thru-hiker named Come Along. Then came a long descent to the James River footbridge. I achieved my goal, 20 miles by 4 p.m! My friend Mike, from Colorado, is in Virginia for a family reunion. His parents were waiting for me in the parking area, on their way back from the reunion. They drove me to their house in Roanoke.

Mike and I spent an hour or so catching up. Then his parents took us to Mellow Mushroom to get takeout pizza. We ate at a nearby park. It was a cute area with new-looking picnic tables, bollard lighting, and a fountain. The first GF pizza I have enjoyed since starting the trail! On the way home, Mike drove a scenic route through Salem’s downtown. Before bed, I replenished my Ursack with a resupply box that I had sent to the house. There were surprise treats from my parents and sister!

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