**This is a continuation of my 2017 hike**
I woke up in darkness around 545. I groggily started packing up around six and was up the hill at the shelter by 630 with my tent in my bag. JD got my food from the bear pole, and we had a nearly silent breakfast. Then I made a visit to the privy, put in my contacts, brushed my teeth, massaged my arm and did my movement exercises. JD and I left at the same time, but I took a quick stop to fuss with my bag. I took my time, putting a little bit of distance between the two of us because I wanted to hike alone. I hoped JD wasn’t also secretly dallying.
The morning started with rolling hills that led to a gradual dissent towards the loud but not too busy highway which the trail crossed on the other side they were bog boards and a little stream where I decided to filter water because the options are limited for the next four or 5 miles and it seems unwise to skimp on water in Virginia even though it’s another relatively cool morning. Unexpectedly, water is one of the easiest things to do one-handed of my major tasks. It doesn’t look pretty because it involves squeezing the water bag between my knees to push the water through the filter, and I get water on my shoes, but it’s doable! I use my feet to hold the bottles still while I tightened their tops.
The trail shortly turned into a pleasant field walk that reminded me of when I used to check my map to see if I’d taken a wrong turn. The signage was good, so I didn’t have to wonder. The sun shone to my left, providing warmth without being overbearing. The fields were a vibrant green, and it was a bit more humid than yesterday, but still a far cry from what I expected of VA in early September. Beyond the field came a green tunnel of jewel weed (top picture) with the occasional arched canopy of small trees on either side meeting in the middle of the trail.
I stopped for lunch near a barely flowing spring. My shin is bothering me today and has been since about 10am, which is far too early for something to start hurting. I made my lunch and ate to the sound of crickets with periodic chirping and squeaking from the bushes around me. Then I massaged my shin and my left forearm. My wrist has decided it doesn’t like being down all day and is more swollen than I would like, but there’s no change in pain levels, so I’m going to assume it’s a function of that thing one calls a lymph system having a hard time keeping up. After my homegrown PT, I looked up bear canisters on the REI website. I really don’t want to carry one bc the canister alone weighs 2.5 pounds, but I can’t rely on someone to always be around to help me hang my food bag. A canister seems like the option that allows for the most predictable outcome.
The next couple of hours were gentle walking with the occasional rocky hill. If it weren’t for my shin, I would have felt like I could walk forever. Around 2, I heard a man’s voice say hello. I looked up to find a guy in his forties sitting on a log with a day pack. He asked me if I was thru hiking and I said it’s complicated, which led to a mention of breaking my elbow. He said “it doesn’t look broken” in a skeptical voice. I nearly said I don’t need you to be able to tell what’s wrong with it for it to actually be broken. Instead I replied that it was indeed broken. He asked me several other questions that I felt wary of answering. I hate to say it, but single men alone with day packs are my least favorite type of encounter. I always experience low level fear that they’re sussing me out for suitability to creep after me. I politely disengaged and continued walking.
JD texted me to say he had reached the shelter and was considering moving on. I didn’t respond because I frankly don’t want to be tied to him in such a way that he shares his daily trail positions with me. If he continues doing it tomorrow, I will find a way to get that message across. I took a break at a log and ate a snack, loitering in the hopes that my absence might dissuade jd from staying. I also just wanted to take a break for my shin’s sake. I resumed walking with the distant report of a pileated woodpecker echoing over the fiddle tunes of jimmy Triplett.
I got to the shelter trail around 330. I stood looking at the sign, strongly considering moving on, but the voice of reason tugged at my ear reminding me that I am sadly in the process of regaining my trail legs and now might not be the time to push it. I say sadly bc I was in such amazing hiking shape when I left Maine. I had been really looking forward to hiking higher mile days in the easier terrain of VA. I made the better choice and took a left towards the shelter.
I approached the structure expecting to find a loitering JD, but it was empty. I put my stuff down and looked in the logbook, which is how I learned about the resident snake. So much for not putting up my tent today. I don’t care to share space with snakes, so I went back down the trail towards the AT and set up my tent just past the bear pole. Then I went through the task of setting up my sleeping pad. As I stood getting ready to collect my water gear my mom texted with questions from REI. She had agreed to stop by the store and buy a bear canister that she would drop off the next morning. What would I do without her?? Spend a lot of time fussing with bear lines for one thing. We got the canister purchase squared away, and I went to bear pole to assess the situation. I strategized a way to hang my line in such a way that I could secure my rope to a broken off branch near the bottom of a nearby tree. This allowed me to coil the rope around the end of the broken branch rather than have to tie a knot around an entire tree trunk.
No rope tension to worry about! I threw my line over the top of the bear pole and secured it in place for post-dinner hanging experiment. Then I went to the spring to filter water.
My mom called me back to say that one of the clerks at rei wanted me to know that he’s rooting for me. I know this is all a choice, and I can go home whenever I want. Or rather, I can leave here whenever I want because “home” is complicated right now. But it’s still really hard to be here, and hearing unbridled support from a stranger makes my resolve ever so slightly stronger. I still question this return wondering if i should finish the other half next year. For now, I can’t seem to let it go.
I walked back up the hill to find coach sitting at the edge of the shelter. I asked if he had fared any better today and he said that he had indeed. We had a mellow 40 minutes together while I put my dinner together and he rested. I even went so far as to ask him to take my pot out of the cozy rather than stand there grabbing at it with my teeth. He seemed grateful that I had asked for help rather than have to watch me struggle. I in turn was grateful that he hadn’t offered because I’m a weirdo.
I put the second half of the avocado I packed out from my mom’s into my dinner and ate the last of her oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. A group of older section hikers arrived and went through various stages of plopping down and bed setup. The question to what kind of hike I’m on has become complicated. It feels like yet another way I don’t fit into a box. Am I a thru hiker? Am I flip flopping? What AM I? Two more hikers arrived. Coach looked at me and we shared a moment of feeling overwhelmed by the influx of people. One of the newer folks started talking to me and in the course of conversation I said that I can do most everything I need to with one arm except hang my food. He looked at me and said “just sleep with your food.” I couldn’t help myself. My voice went up an octave and I said what? Have you been to VA?? He proceeded to tell me he never hangs his food. I said okay well that’s great. I won’t be doing that and I said my goodbyes to retire to my tent. I’m finishing this to a chorus of bugs that call to mind the North Carolina summers of my childhood spent playing in the woods. I heard that same raucous owl a few minutes ago. I wish halfway were here. He would know what it was.
Mile 1196.5 to mile 1209.4 (12.9)
Total miles: 1022.9
Creature feature: a few frogs jumped across my path, otherwise a quiet day in creature land