My good buddy Kevin and I have a phrase that we apply to days like today when we go for a run in a park near my home. Just me and the ducks. I can’t think of many creatures more suited for a day like today. For hiking it was dismal. In fact, I thought about using the same opening paragraph that I began with yesterday. Again, the rain never ceased until the final two miles of a 21.7 mile day. At times it was downright annoying.
Despite the rain, however, my day got off to a great start over breakfast at Hardee’s. Just as I was finishing my meal, I heard a voice from a booth behind me say, “not very good hiking weather lately.” That brief comment led to a fifteen minute conversation with Fred Austin and his son, Steve. After sharing with the gentlemen about my hike in memory of my brother and his faith, Fred asked about our church. When I told him that our family was Methodists, he revealed that he had been a Methodist minister 38 years. The final portion of that tenure had been as a superintendent. Before our chat ended he had shown me a picture of his red-headed great-granddaughter. The retired minister exuded a sense of pride and kindness. His generosity became even more evident when he drove me to the trailhead about a mile up the road. My good fortune to keep meeting fine local folks continues. Before the reverend drove away, I let him know that he was now an official trail angel.
Walking into the woods, I felt a little irritated that I had to re-walk about three quarters of a mile that Snailmale and I had hiked yesterday. Still within half an hour I had crossed the New River Bridge and was headed back up a mountain. Shortly after beginning the climb, I saw my first turtle of my journey. Right after I passed the tortoise, the rain began. And I mean rain. For the next eight hours I would hike in a steady drizzle. A dense fog added to the discomfort since the trail was only visible a few feet ahead of me.
When I reached a rocky section, I noticed a safari type hat lying in the center of one of the flat slabs. Recognizing it as belonging to Jungle Juice, I picked it up and placed it in the mesh pocket on the back of my pack. I had met the young hiker last night in Food Lion. He was re-supplying to return to the trail even though it was almost dark and getting to the first shelter would require a 6.8 mile hike. I was a little concerned for him as he headed back to the trail.
So when I retrieved the hat I was counting on him still being at the shelter. I was right. When I walked up Jungle Juice was in his sleeping bag alone in the shelter. Very grateful for the return of his hat, which he said he lost in the dark trying to prevent a fall, JJ said he planned to stay at the shelter and take a zero today. I told him I would see him up the trail as I hiked back into the thick fog.
For about the next four miles I hiked on relentlessly, trying to maintain a fast pace just to keep warm. Like yesterday, I lamented not having the opportunity to enjoy the views. Suddenly in the distance I noticed an approaching hiker wearing a green poncho. I said something like, “I don’t believe it….another hiker!” The lady paused to ask if I were Mike. Don, the shuttler, had dropped her off where he was scheduled to pick me up in the afternoon. Speck, who said she was on day two of a section hike to Waynesboro, was slack packing south today. Before walking away I told her I was Don’s Brother. “No way!” She replied. Speck had been reading my journal regularly before beginning her hike. So we talked about sharing a shuttle for tomorrow briefly before both of us realized we better get moving before a chill set in.
And so I slogged away, only seeing three other hikers all day. Two thru hikers, also slack packing south today, only paused long enough to
tell me that plan. Then toward the end of my hike I met southbound thru hiker Crazy Horse, a young man wearing a Washington Nationals baseball cap. He had begun his hike in August, taken the winter off, and was now continuing to Springer. As long as a hike is completed within one 12 month year, it is considered a thru hike.
With about five miles to go, I called Don to tell him I was about an hour and a half ahead of schedule. He said he could be at VA 635 shortly after 4:30. At the time I was getting colder as the incessant rain continued. I also didn’t know at the time that a couple of flooded stream crossings would pose significant challenges. Stepping stone rocks were now under water when I arrived at the first stream. Since my shoes and socks had been wet all day, I simply stepped on the submerged rocks and crossed. At the next crossing, however, things would be different. Had it not been for an overhanging limb to use for balance, I’m not sure I could have made it. As I stepped on the first underwater rock, I felt the rushing water pulling on my shoe. Fortunately I maintained my balance as I carefully made my way across.
At about the same time I navigated the final stream, the sun peeked out for the first time in three days. After a quick stop at the Pine Swamp Branch Shelter, I steadily hiked to the road, crossing by wooden bridge over the raging Stoney Creek. Within ten minutes Don drove up to shuttle me back to Pearisburg. After a very wet, occasionally challenging, and a bit lonely day, it definitely felt good to be in a town tonight. With more rain in the forecast, tomorrow could pose difficult as well. Still, when tomorrow’s hike concludes, I’ll be just that much farther north on my way to Maine along the Appalachian Trail.