Snakes and Dehydration (4/27, 4/28, 4/29)
Day 60, 4/27: Bobblets Gap shelter -> Cornelius Creek shelter (18.5 miles)
I woke up after sleeping all night like a baby in my hammock. I may never go back to shelter sleeping. We took our time making breakfast in the shelter, and the one hiker last night left bright and early. I made blueberry pancakes in my tiny skillet fried in butter. Everything is better fried in butter.
We didn’t get on the trail until a late 9:00. The shelter was 0.2 miles steep off trail, so we were huffing and puffing even before we got to the real trail. We crossed the blue ridge parkway again a few times, and there was a sign for Sharp Top and Flat Top mountains. I used to hike those growing up, so it was cool to see them from afar.
I hung back behind Rash and Pinata and placed an order for my cuben fiber tarp to be sent to Harper’s Ferry. I’m nervous to hammock in the pouring rain with the tarp the hammock came with. I hiked along, alone, enjoying the solitude and the beautiful weather. Rain was in the remote forecast but for now it was sunny and warm, but not overly hot. I came to the first shelter where Rash and Pinata had stopped for lunch. There were large bees (carpenter bees someone wrote in the shelter log) everywhere and some were dive bombing Rash.
I continued on solo, and was greeted with a plethora of critters throughout the day. I saw a 2-3 ft black snake, a ton of little lizards running across the trail, and lots of butterflies. They were also enjoying the nice weather.
I had hiked this section previously in October, so I remembered some of the terrain. I came to the double decker shelter where Rash and Pinata were resting, which meant we only had 5 miles to go, but it was mostly uphill. I took a short break and left before them.
The previously clear and blue skies had darkened a little, and it was sprinkling a tad, but it was enough to make me nervous. I hustled along quickly, crushing those 5 hilly miles to the shelter. Rash and Pinata weren’t far behind. As soon as we got inside, the heavens opened and the rain fell in sheets. I made Annie’s Mac and Cheese for dinner. Since no one showed up to the shelter, Rash and I hammocked inside the shelter and Pinata is sleeping on the ground with her pad + Rash’s pad. Tomorrow we get to see Mike and get real food! I can’t wait.
Day 61, 4/28: Cornelius Creek shelter -> James River Footbridge (19.7 miles)
We woke up at 6:00, and very slowly got moving. Our goal was to get on the trail by 7:15 so we could tackle the 20 miles and get to Mike’s early. I didn’t sleep as well as the night before because I could still hear the mice scurrying around me, even though I was in my hammock. Mice are the worst.
We heard some birds chirping regularly and they were bright red. Rash identified them as Scarlet Tanagers. We ate breakfast and packed up. I left before Rash and Pinata and we decided to meet at the shelter ahead for a snack. The morning trail was lined with tall grass, and the dew collected on my shoes. I’d heard of it being a problem for hikers before, but I never gave it much thought. I should have, because the dew completely drenched my feet. Both socks were wet and so much water gathered in my shoes that I was sloshing down the trail, just like after I walked through the stream a few days ago. I couldn’t believe all that happened from dew.
When I got to the shelter, I took off my socks and rung them out. I let my socks and shoes dry in the sun while I ate some snacks. It didn’t do much, though, so I changed my liners and socks to my backups. My shoes were still damp but the dry socks helped a lot.
I hiked on alone again, and admired the beautiful morning. The weather (besides the dew) was perfect. There were a lot of day hikers enjoying the weather, too. We didn’t take our normal hour long lunch break, and only stopped for a few minutes at the shelter before the foot ridge. I met KJ, Happy, and someone I don’t remember at the shelter. Rash, Pinata, and I pushed on the 2 more miles to the footbridge. The walk next to the James River was beautiful and cool. I came across 5 boys jumping off the edge of the bridge. I had no desire to jump off the bridge, even though it was a hiker tradition.
We came to the parking lot and met Mike who drove us to his house. We met his girlfriend Rachel, and her parents, Ed and Linda. We all ate an amazing dinner together which Mike and Rachel made: steaks, shrimp, roasted squash, broccoli, rolls, and salad. It was everything a hiker dreams of. For dessert, he made pumpkin apple butter pie and chocolate chess pie. Talking with everyone at the table was relaxing and felt like being back in normal society where the conversations aren’t dominated by food or hiking.
Rash, Pinata, and I went to Walmart after dinner and didn’t get back until late. We get to sleep in real beds tonight which is always a treat.
Day 63, 4/29: James River Footbridge -> Punchbowl shelter (10.7 miles)
We slept in this morning, me relishing sheets and a real mattress. Mike made us breakfast which was an amazing combination of perfectly cooked potatoes, thick cut crispy bacon, and cheesy scrambled eggs with peppers and onions. I hung out in the kitchen tending the bacon and caught up with Mike. Rash, Pinata, and I wolfed the food down in record time, and sat talking with Mike while he ate at a normal person’s pace. We packed up, but my mom and dad called as we were getting ready to leave, so I talked with them for a few minutes. Mike drove us to the trailhead and we started hiking around 10:30. Pinata found a tick crawling on her in the parking lot and promptly killed it with a few spritzes of Deet.
We knew it was supposed to be a hot day hiking. What we didn’t know is how terribly hot 90 degrees would feel and how exposed the hefty 2,500 ft climb was. There’s a balancing act between carrying enough water to be hydrated while you’re climbing and not carrying too much that you’re carrying a lot of extra weight up the mountain. We got that formula terribly wrong today.
Pinata and I were both carrying 1.5 L, and Rash was carrying around 1 L. There looked like there was a water source on top of the mountain but we figured if it didn’t work out, we could make it to the shelter. We had easily made it 10 miles before on 1-1.5 L. We started the climb, and I hung back to listen to my audiobook. Right out of the gate I knew it was going to be tough because I was sweating profusely with minimal exertion. I kept wiping the sweat away with my handkerchief only to have the beads immediately reappear on my arms and face. My handkerchief dried instantly and was soon crusted with salt. There was very little tree cover so it felt like the desert. The sunscreen I had applied before starting was sweated off in the first few minutes, but reapplication wasn’t an option. The climb was split into sections, and after the first section I came to large rocks that I plopped down on and had an incredible view of the James River.
I needed that view because the hike thus far was awful. I felt like my legs were molasses and I felt like my pack weighed 1,000 lbs. I was doing the math and I wasn’t sure 20 miles was in my future today if I wanted to get in before dark. In 4 miles I had downed 1 L of my 1.5 L water stash. I rationed my water from there out and slowly started on the next hills. I switched from audiobook to upbeat music to help with the climb. After completing 75% of the climbing for the day, I had a sudden urge to turn my music off. I opened my multipack to put away my headphones while striding along, and heard a high pitched buzzing noise that sounded almost mechanical coming from the right side of the trail.
I stopped in my tracks and slowly backed up. I could see in the grass just off the trail a yellow snake with a brown diamond pattern down its midsection and a black tail with a small rattle attached to its rear. It was buzzing the rattle furiously. I couldn’t see its head so I stepped well out of range until the rattle stopped. A minute passed, and when he decided I wasn’t an imminent threat anymore, he cautiously and effortlessly glided through the grass. As he slide his body across the trail to the heavy brush, I got a good look at how enormous he was. He was easily 3-4 feet in length and his girth could rival a normal sized water bottle. I was awestruck. He stopped a little ways off the trail, partially covered by a log. I decided to try and sneak by, keeping my distance, but he was unhappy with my movement and gave me another few rattles of his tail. I backed up again and waited for him to decide to move further into the brush before I hurried past. Despite this day being pretty terrible starting out, this was a huge treat.
Besides the rattlesnake, there were a lot of critters out today. Lizards were running back and forth across the trail, each time making me jump a little thinking maybe the snake brought some friends along. Butterflies were everywhere feasting on the myriad of blooming flowers. The forest was green and beautiful, and it was hard to remember how drab and brown it looked in Georgia.
I finished the rest of the climb and downed the rest of my water as a reward. I was still sweating profusely. I still had 2.5 miles to the shelter where Rash and Pinata were taking a break, but it was all downhill so I could probably tough it out until then.
I arrived at the shelter after the blissful downhill thirsty but alive. Rash and Pinata were there with Shoelace who is sectioning 1,000 miles and Happy, who is doing a few days with Shoelace. Pinata was doing ok, but Rash was not. He was huddled on his mat in the shelter and looked exhausted and sickly. Pinata said that he was dehydrated and they had decided to stay here for the night. I was relieved because I had no desire to push on. It was almost 5:00 and all I wanted to do was drink a lot of water, eat, and rest. I ate bread and butter and some teriyaki noodles with sugar snap peas for dinner. We all hung our hammocks in a little trio and turned in before sunset.
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