I had a somewhat choppy and sweaty night of sleep. Poor Oakland said she listened to a lot of Harry Potter which means she got less sleep than me. After making her visit to the privy, she crawled into my bunk and we discussed our plan to navigate the rain. Sadly it’s supposed to rain today and then again over the weekend. The strategy of staying another day to Wait out the rain isn’t all that helpful because we’ll still get wet during the next stretch no matter what. Oakland expressed anxiety about having to hike long miles in the rain and hoping to do it in a way that wasn’t as pounding as our rushed trip in to bear garden. We tentatively decided to cut our day short and stop at the chestnut knob shelter if the weather went south. Then we forced ourselves to start the process of packing up. We were in the main bunkhouse eating breakfast by 7am.
Bert and bob arrived in their little farm go cart around 7:15 to close out our bill. Oakland wasn’t up for a drawn out conversation and more unsolicited advice (Bert talked at us for about an hour yesterday), so we kept our interaction as short as we could and said our goodbyes. Then we went back down to our little bunkhouse to brush our teeth and put the last odds and ends away.
We crossed the road to walk back to the trail around 7:50. A few hundred yards later, we took a right turn into the woods, through an overgrown stretch with poison ivy, and up a climb that was a little less than a mile through the occasional blooming rhododendrons.
We Stopped a quarter of the way up so Oakland could take off her raincoat. The footing was relatively straightforward and the woods were on the quiet side. Maybe the birds knew what was coming.
The trail Smoothed out to a roller coaster along a breezy ridge. There wasn’t any rainfall yet, but we were getting dripped on by trees. We walked through blooming rhododendrons and passed the occasional snail. Every now and then an oven bird shared its opinion with the rest of the world. We also saw another red spotted buddy.
We eventually Stopped At knot maul shelter right on the trail to check the logbook looking for banana. I was curious to see if we could figure out where he might be staying for the night, but he wasn’t in there.
The trail took a slight downward turn through periodically muddy rhododendron tunnels of varying widths. There were Mushrooms everywhere and we made the occasional stop for Oakland to take pictures. She has quite the growing collection of amazing fungi shots.
We eventually Crossed a mossy foot bridge and stopped at a tentsite next to a small stream to have a snack.
Planes passing gave the illusion of thunder, but we could see a Patch of blue sky through the thick tree cover. Fat water drops fell on Oakland from the leaves as the wind blew high overhead. It had been a Dark morning thus far between the overcast and thick tree canopy.
We got up from our snack spot and donned our packs to go up the next climb. Because of course there’s a climb after a break. the rain started around 10, and didn’t stop until about 1:30. I didn’t take any notes for the rest of the day because of rain and the sheer aggravation of being soaked but I will do my best to retrace our steps. The rain started when we were near the top of a climb with far less tree cover than usual. I did my best not to resist the urge to walk faster so we didn’t bash our feet into the ground for no reason. We were many miles away from our destination so there would be no point in getting sore feet or falling just to shave off a few minutes of time in the elements. We tromped through the rain down a long descent with the occasional switchback and immediately went back up again. The climb was reasonable enough but the footing was annoyingly banked, putting my right foot on the high side. I complained about the lack of rhododendrons because they tend to block a fair amount of rain. We dropped down into a gentle roller coast with muddy section after muddy section. I felt kind of like a dirt bike navigating the mud and the small twists and turns in the trail. Neither of us fell but we definitely slid our way down the trail at many points.
We forced ourselves to stop for water at a small stream around the halfway point. We had done a pretty decent job of drinking it up until that point. We each took bites of bars as As we stood putting our water gear back in place. We went about 50 yards up the trail so we could both pee.
Not long after getting water, We saw a good snack Log off the trail a few yard. the rain was much lighter so we decided to take an extended snack break. As we set our packs down I saw a bright orange spot across the trail that turned out to be chicken of the woods. I put on my long sleeve shirt in favor of my rain coat because it seemed like a warmer move. I pointed Oakland in the direction of the giant mushroom. She ran around taking pictures of various fungi while I sat and pulled out food items. I scarfed pop tarts, Doritos, and half a babybel cheese. Oakland ate the other half along with a sizable portion of doritos, and part of a cliff bar. It started to rain harder right as we stood up to go. I changed out of my shirt and we stuffed our food bags into our packs.
Then we had a short climb up to a gravel road. I saw a truck parked in a small lot with people standing under the tailgate. We crossed the road and were at the edge of the steps to get back into the woods when we heard our names. We turned to see task rabbit running towards us in a rain coat holding a bottle (maybe beer? Maybe root beer?). She was super excited to see us and I would have been much happier had i not gotten cold at our break. We stood there for a minute not making any motions to stick around and she got the hint saying oh you probably want to keep going. We both nodded as politely as we could and said a rushed but kind goodbye.
Then came the 4.3 miles climb up to chestnut knob shelter, our updated destination for the day. Our original plan was to go to a campsite about two miles past the shelter but I suggested we stop short because of the chance to dry out without having to set up a tent with wet gear.
The climb took us over log steps and exactly zero switchbacks which aggravated both of our trouble spots (Oakland’s Achilles and my right foot, which was already angry because of the banking from earlier in the day). We passed a small stream and a random little gnome village a few yards off the trail.
About a third of the way up, I dropped my pack and suggested we sit for a few minutes on a nice flat rock. I wanted to massage my foot, but I couldn’t muster the energy to take off my brace. The time off my feet was worth the slight drop in body temperature. We continued up the hill in a light drizzle that eventually tapered off. Very unfortunately, right when we started to feel slightly drier (except our feet), we entered a 3 mile stretch of field walking through annoyingly overgrown and soaking wet grass.
We both cursed the overgrown and narrow trail as we pushed our way through the tall grass, slipping and sliding through the mud. Thankfully it wasn’t actually raining as we walked through the exposed field. We stopped at the pond and went down the side trail to get water because there’s no reliable water source at the shelter. Oakland went ahead of down the trail and cursed at the water getting on her pants. I think being behind me up to that point had saved her from some of the sogginess. We each topped off our bags and filled our sawyers about halfway full. We walked back to our packs at the trail intersection and ate a few bites of a bar before heading back into the wet grass. The fringe benefit of the annoying field walk was seeing at least 4 indigo buntings, yellow warblers and that yellow bird with dark wings that I haven’t been able to identify yet.
At one point my movement flushed out about 6 birds, two of which were buntings and the rest were warblers. I stopped dead in my tracks and was saying whoa whoa whoa in excitement when I turned to Oakland and saw a guy behind her hoping to pass. We stood out of his way and then resumed the soggy sloshing through the field.
The sky occasionally cleared enough for us to see down the trail and we even got brief glimpses of blue sky before the clouds rolled through again. The trail finally took us back into the woods for part of the last stretch. I’ve never been so happy to see rocks after all the mud whomping we’d done for most of the day. We walked down a wide trail with yellowing grass on either side and the occasionally soggy rocky stretch.
Right before the shelter, the trail opened back up into an open field. We saw the chestnut knob stone shelter standing in the field with the door shut.
Oakland heard voices, dashing my hopes of having first dibs on the bunks. We opened the doors to find the NOBOs from last night all settled in at the picnic table and a guy I didn’t recognize sitting on the lower bunk to the right of the door. We asked him if he was staying and he sadly said yes (sad because we were hoping to score two bottom bunks). I immediately put my stuff down on the opposite bunk and Oakland grabbed the top bunk by the door. Neither of us was in the mood to be around the NOBO kids but we didn’t have much choice. It was either that or go back into the wind and tent in the rain overnight. We set up our beds and took off our wet clothes. Then we settled into my bunk to play a few rounds of golf. More people showed up and the shelter eventually had as many as 10 people in it. Maybe 12? 3 hammocks and one hiker sleeping on the floor. Task rabbit showed up about an hour after we did. She seemed out of sorts and passively suggested that we sleep on the same platform to free up room. We considered the idea but it was just too tight for anyone to get a decent night of sleep, so we didn’t make the move. Thankfully task rabbit managed to find herself a spot on the wider platform and the last two NOBOs to arrive were not particularly choosy.
The sky eventually cleared enough for us to get a view of the valley so Oakland and I made a combo privy and sightseeing trip. We put our shoes and a few other odds and ends outside in the wind and sat with them so they wouldn’t blow away. it was a fools errand to try to dry anything but we weren’t alone in the attempt. A couple of friendly SOBO section hikers named Chris and rich joined us. They live in Roanoke and are on day 11 of 13, during which time they have clearly not done laundry because they smelled to high heaven.
The wind proved to be too much for us and it was after 5, so Oakland and I moved inside to make dinner at the table next to a gaggle of card players. It was a black beans and rice night with the tortillas that neither of us ate during lunch. We played golf while we waited for our food to cook. We shared covert eye rolls at the idiotic things coming from the High mileage NOBOs. After dishes, dessert and dental hygiene, Oakland went up to her bunk and I played a couple of hands of rummy with task rabbit. The wind howled outside and made the door of shelter flap open. It also slammed like someone dropping a 2×4 whenever people went outside without making an effort to let the door close slowly.
After I beat task rabbit at rummy, I cozied up next to Oakland in her bunk to write notes. The ladder was hard on my feet and is the only reason I don’t aim for top bunks because I love the privacy and birds eye view they provide. Oh well. Here’s a view of the crowd and the ridiculous number of hammocks in such a small space (there are 3 in case you can’t tell):
Oakland snoozed and was generally a lump while I tapped madly at my screen. Around 8:40, I climbed down and went outside to see what would come of sunset. A strong wind gusted through the field as the clouds raced through the sky. I caught a small bit of color in the shifting clouds (today’s top picture). Fingers crossed that sunrise isn’t obscured by a wall of fog. I felt bad leaving the front door unlatched while I was outside and everyone else had tucked themselves into bed. I squatted to pee one more time before heading back in. Oakland whispered to me to latch the door and I did my best but it still blew a bit in the strongest of gusts.
I’m finishing this to the sound of rich snoring from the top bunk, the wind whistling outside, the occasional shifting of someone on their sleeping pad, the creak of the front door when the wind catches it just right, and the beginning of a downpour. I’m glad we are inside for the night because it sounds like a blustery, soggy mess out there. Based on what I heard of Chris’s snoring before I left for the sunset, it could be a long night. It’s an unusually large and crowded place for Oakland’s first shelter experience. I hope she gets some semblance of sleep.
Mile 558.3 to mile 569.7 (11.4)
Checklist total miles: 578.5
Oakland total miles: 98.8
Creature feature: so many birds! buntings and warblers, sparrows, snails, and one little orange friend.