It would have been prudent to practice sleeping with my quilt/sleeping pad setup before setting out on the AT, but I’ve never considered myself a prude.
In any case, I spent most of my first night on the trail tossing about—half my body on the hard shelter floor, half on my half-deflated sleeping pad—in a futile attempt to cover more than like 60% of my body with what felt like a Möbius strip of down.
Getting My Feet Wet
At 6:22 a.m. I woke to find half of my shelter mates dressed, packed, and chowing down on steaming pots of instant oatmeal. I tried to raise my head and felt my neck seize in rebellion. After coaxing out the knots with an icy cold hand, I tried again, only to find just inches in front of my nose a dismal sight: rain.
Classic, Frosting, and Snow White didn’t seem to mind, and the trio set off as soon as it was light enough to see the trail. Physics and I took our time, talking over the miles ahead, hoping the rain would let up while we cooked breakfast.
Somehow, somewhat unfortunately, our conversation turned to bears. We’d seen signs yesterday warning of bear activity in the area. Physics brushed them off.
“They’re pretty rare here, I think. In fact, the highest concentration of bears of the trail is in New Jersey.“
Fantastic, I thought. I have relatives all through Pennsylvania, and many had offered to house and feed me whenever I passed by on the trail. So by the time I get to New Jersey, I’ll be nice and plump, a slow-moving relatively clean target for all those peckish bears.
Physics started walking while I continued my pleading with the rain; I planned to wait up for Starfish and meet her 14 miles uptrail, and he was shooting for a solid 24 on the day.
So I hiked the morning alone, midway through my tramily that was now scattered across 40+ curvilinear miles.
After a dreary, hilly 14-mile morning I decided to call it a day at Wapiti Shelter, 16 miles south of Pearisburg, VA.
It was only 1 p.m. but I went ahead and laid out my bed and curled up to watch the clouds do their precipitation thing.
But the clouds grew bored. Moved on. Within 15 minutes of setting up camp, the thick rain trickled to a halt and a faint yellow haze burned through the fog on the surrounding ridges. I’d sworn and sloughed and shivered through four hours of muck and wet, and now I’d spend the afternoon listening to jays rejoice in the dry warmth, watching lush evergreens shake off the remains of the storm. Splendid. Just splendid.
Crisis Number One
It was amid those moments of peeved disbelief that I also noticed I was running low on food.
Turns out, there are fewer tortillas in a pack than one might assume, and instant oatmeal is surprisingly unfilling, and it appeared that my peanut butter had been plundered before I ever left home. The jar was more than half empty. Now, who the plunderer was is not important. Alright fine, it was me. I ate the peanut butter. I like peanut butter. I’m the PB perpetrator. But I’m also the victim here. Which is really what we should all remember.
I cursed myself again after realizing that I’d had plenty of food, but had given a large portion of it to Starfish right before she left for a night in town and a resupply. Starfish loves Larabars, and I’m indifferent, so I gave her all I had. What can I say; at least I’m a generous idiot. And now I’m out here trying to figure how to make it 18 miles on 600 calories, while she’s probably still working off a Chinese buffet and topped off by a fully loaded ice cream sundae. (And yes, again, perp here. But more importantly, victim.)
Thus, my options for survival were three: go south, go north, call for help.
Calling for help was out of first. I was not in mortal danger, it’s day two on the trail, and the Jefferson National Forest rangers would probably shoot me on spot if I requested an airlift due to a “severe peanut butter shortage.”
South, the nearest resupply was 22 miles away. I knew because I’d just been there, because I’m an idiot.
North, Pearisburg would take 18 miles and, according to Physics, a “significant amount of climbing.” How significant, but Physics knows. And I have no idea how close to town the trail runs. Could be a long asphalt hike.
It’s now evening, still at the Wapiti Shelter. The jays are quiet. The forest still. The sky again dark marbled cinder, with a soft band of near-white just over the western rim of the valley.
Tomorrow, I’m going north.
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