Day 64: A Bubble and an Unplanned Flip Flop
The AT welcomed me back with a day of drizzle, fog, and humidity. I don’t mind hiking in a drizzle, and I absolutely love walking in fog. I could have done without the humidity, but it still felt good to have the trail under my feet again. And by “good,” I mean slightly painful. As usual.
It never rained hard enough to pull out my rain gear, but my clothes were damp all day, either with sweat or rain. For the most part, my body heat kept pace and kept me from getting totally soaked. Plus, trail maintainers had recently cut back most the overhanging vegetation which kept me from getting smacked with wet grass and leaves all day.
I’m still not 100% yet. I felt well enough to hike, but the climbs felt tougher than they should have, and my pace suffered. A group of four young men pulled away at the bottom of the four-mile, 2,800-foot climb up Bald Knob and I just let them go. I didn’t even try to keep up. I passed them when they stopped for water a half mile later though and they never caught me afterward. But still, I didn’t have the fight in me I usually have.
What Would I Do If?
US60 crosses the trail about a third of the way up the long climb to Bald Knob. For some reason, as I climbed, I found myself pondering what I would do if Northstar was at the crossing having decided that she wanted to go home. I was deep down that rabbit hole when I stepped out of the woods and saw our van parked across the road. Uh oh. We weren’t supposed to meet until Salt Log Gap, about eight miles further north.
I knocked on the door but got no answer. So, I opened it up and found her cashed out in bed. She’d driven toward the pickup point, but found the steep, dirt road impassible in the rain, at least for our van. So, she’d driven back to where she had cell service, which is our standard emergency plan.
She woke up to find me staring at her with “a weird look.” Stupid me, I explained why, which now sounded more ridiculous to me that it does to you. Northstar, of course, had no plans to quit and frankly, was a little insulted that I’d been thinking she might. Hey, I can’t help where my brain goes when I’m walking alone in the rain. I can’t even stop myself from writing about it later.
An Unplanned Flip Flop
Since our original meeting place was unreachable, we decided to try an alternative pickup spot six miles ahead, but this time we’d drive there together to make sure the road was open. Then it occurred to me that if the van made it up there, she could drop me off and I could hike south. I’d meet her back at US60, which had excellent cell coverage, making it a better place to wait than Salt Log Gap. As a bonus, two-thirds of my 2,800-foot climb just turned into a descent.
It turned out she’d been up the wrong road last time, so we ended up at Salt Log Gap after all, via a bumpy but drivable road rife with wildlife. We saw at least a dozen deer and two turkeys along the way, as well as a bunch of gold finches, cardinals, and other colorful songbirds. Win, win, win.
My southbound, flip-flop route still had 1,200 feet of climbing but was broken up into three separate ascents instead of one big long one. Two of the climbs took me across grassy balds, something I hadn’t expected to see in Virginia. Both were lovely, even in buried in thick fog.
By the time I reached the descent to US60, the clouds had started to lift, giving brief views of the wet valleys below and even briefer glimpses of blue patches of sky above. By the time I reached the van, the rain stopped, the sun shone, and a stiff breeze did its best to dry everything out. Also, the rain cleared most of the Canadian smoke out of the air.
Old Home Week
Compared to the last few weeks, the trail was crowded today. I’m used to having it to myself most mornings. But today, I passed two dozen hikers before I reached US60 and at least that many tents with their occupants inside, presumably waiting out the rain.
As usual, most of those I passed had nothing to say, but I forced a grudging hello out of as many of them as I could as I passed. While walking by the Brown Mountain Creek Shelter, I heard someone call out, “Is that The Incident?” As that almost never happens, I stopped and climbed up to the shelter to find PsyOps, who I’d last seen in Damascus, but hadn’t spoken to since he literally ran ahead of me trying to do a 30-miler to Fontana Dam.
During the southbound flip-flop part of my day, I passed most of the hikers I’d passed in the morning, but now I was going the opposite direction. I could see a flash of recognition in eyes of the more sullen ones, who gave a confused nod but said nothing. A few others stopped and asked if I was doing some kind of loop.
When the trail provides a perfect opportunity to make someone pay for their morning grouchiness, you take advantage of it. I tried out a couple with different people, some of whom I strung along for a few minutes:
- “Really? You saw someone who looked like me? Weird.”
- “Uh, no. You’re going south. I’m going north. Did you get turned around?”
- “You must have seen my twin brother. We’re self-shuttling and walking opposite directions.”
Later in the day I passed Proton, who I’d last seen in Hot Springs, as well as a woman who remembered meeting Gus and me somewhere near Erwin. I think my four zeros this month allowed some of the Trail Days crowd to catch up.
Out of the Haze
Still later, while I sat in the van writing, Haze walked out of the woods and past our open door. I’d last seen Haze getting out of the clown car with Machina at Mt. Rodgers HQ after Trail Days. He was days ahead of me then. I’d since heard he was with the Walrus somewhere in Pennsylvania. But no, he’d gotten shin splints and two bouts of Noro and had been off trail for more than a week.
Haze told us PhD broke his ankle and is done for the summer. In a weird coincidence, after we’d raced up Hump Mountain, PhD told me, “It will take a broken ankle or something to get me off this trail…no way I’m not finishing.” He must be devastated.
After catching up, Haze went over to the roadside to try to hitch a ride into Buena Vista. Ninja, another hiker we hadn’t seen for a month, appeared next and joined Haze on the shoulder. A few minutes later, Ninja knocked on the door and asked to be taken to the urgent care in Lexington. He’d been stung by wasps and his arm was starting to swell. We just can’t seem to escape Lexington.
Odd and Ends
- Last Friday marked two months on the AT. Hard to believe it’s been that long.
- I passed a lady this morning wearing an ankle-length clear poncho with a pointy hood that covered her face. The phrase “see-through Klansman robe” got in my head and couldn’t get out.
- I just heard that Bluebird is off the trail with foot problems. She crushed 600+ miles and has the chops to finish the trail. I’m sure she will.
- Do any hikers between the ages of 18 and 32 have the ability to express a thought without using the f-word at least once? If so, I hope I meet one someday.
- I met a grifter in the motel breakfast area claiming to be a thru-hiker needing some help. Boy, did he pick the wrong guy. He knew a few things about the trail, but not nearly enough to convince a real thru-hiker. Mostly, he just didn’t look like a hiker with 800 miles under his belt. Though apparently, neither do I, since the guy picked me as his mark. Unfortunately, the AT attracts some of those folks.
- Start: Pedlar River Suspension Bridge (Mile 802.3)
- End: Salt Log Gap (Mile 817.6)
- Weather: Fog, drizzle, humidity. Then sweet late afternoon sunshine.
- Earworm: Love Story (Taylor Swift). Ugh.
- Meditation: Mt. 11:28
- Plant of the Day: Common Cowparsnip
- Best Thing: Being back on trail
- Worst Thing: Being wet on trail
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