An easier section of trail allowed me a relatively comfortable and enjoyable ’20′ before a storm broke.
People left Jenkins Shelter at different times, the earlier risers going about their business quietly so as to not disturb hose still sleeping. I left at a pretty typical start time for me of 7:25. I already had 1.6L of water so didn’t have to stop to refill. This section a couple of days before and ahead are pretty ‘dry’ so you have to pay close attention to exactly where to get water reliably and then figure out how much will be safely sufficient each time.
Today the only choices in the first 16 miles after Jenkins would be a river just 4.8m further north and a mediocre stream 13m north. So actually it was pretty easy to decide where to get water today!
I was aiming to do around 18 miles today which would be slap in the middle of a mostly undocumented 8 mile section, by which I mean the guidebook had no information about it all other than to note a shelter, Helveys Mills, 0.3m off trail with water a further steep 0.3m beyond that. Other than that the trail could have been made of cheese for all I knew. So I needed to go in with a full load of water (current capacity is about 3.2L) and just hope to find a tent site near the end of the day.
Back to the morning session. The weather was perfect, cool but not cold, a bit of sun and the trail was dry and, after an initial 500′ climb, quite flat. I made great time and soon came across Big Cheese taking a break with Renaissance, presumably where he camped last night, just a few hundred yards before the river. Big Cheese told me he surprised, and was in turn surprised by, a bear on the trail 2 miles back. The bear ran away uphill. “The best view of a bear is the backside” declared Big Cheese.
When I was filling up water at the river John Doe arrived, stripped down to his shorts and went for a bath. I already had taken my water so that was fine.
More fast progress was made in the next few miles too and it was a pleasure walking on trail that was mostly ‘forest floor’ ie compacted mud with some leaves and general brush. Just a couple of hours on this showed up hard the underfoot conditions have been these last near-600 miles. By noon I had done 12 miles including a 25 minute mid-morning shoes-off break, averaging over 3mph, 50% faster than usual. All because the trail was kind.
By now I was getting hungry and was also on the edge of Bland, Virginia, a potential resupply town for hikers. As it requires arranging a ride I was pushing on to Trent’s Grocery store, 0.5m off the trail at mile 606, 18m after the far side of Bland. I found some shade under a tree by the roadside and had a long lunch. I had great signal, I was well ahead of my miles and I took an hour to rest and do yesterday’s blog.
Around 1pm I pushed on walking along roads and across a bridge over a busy highway until I reached where the AT re-enters the woods at mile 588. I could see a hiker waiting down there and when I got nearer I recognised Bart, the buddy of Chosen One from my extended stay at Fontana. He recognised me and asked how I was. I was going to ask how he was doing but he was wound up and annoyed by the lack of markings as to where the trail actually went from here. It was confusing but I was just after a full load of water at that point. Fortunately a southbound sectioner came out which showed him where the path went.
I talked to the sectioner while flirting water. He is from Virginia and was finished with his 2 weeks section once he got up near my lunch place. He reassured me there were small tent spots along the mysterious section.
It took a long time to collect and filter 3L of water from the stream and it was 2pm before I set off into the woods. I was now chasing miles over 18 to make tomorrow easier but thought I would have been going before 2pm.
There’s an old joke about the AT you sometimes see on t-shirts or suchlike. “Today I walked the entire width of the Appalachian Trail!” Well, this hiker whose trail name is Hare did exactly that. I couldn’t stay to see him finish or whether he skipped any.
After an hour or so I saw Cruise up ahead. Coming towards me with no backpack on. Weird. He must have dropped something like John Doe and his headphones I helped him look for the other day. But no, he admitted to having been sucked into the party scene at Fort Bastian for 3 days now and was slack packing south today. I accused him in jest of going to the dark side and he looked a bit sheepish. “I hope to leave tomorrow” he said.
I might be going off southbound slack packing as a legitimate method for ‘thru hiking’. I mean, the clue’s in the name. There’s nothing ‘through’ about picking an uphill section like this one and doing it backwards so it’s easier. With just a satchel of snacks to carry. I think it’s more the southbound issue that annoys me – you’re doing a different trail to me. You’re a SOBO. Taken to its logical extreme, you could SOBO the whole trail and still claim to be a NOBO. It’s wrong in some way. And slackpacking in your twenties? Hmmm. Nice work if you can get it. Even I could do a 30 that way. I’m killing myself doing it the hard way but other people are skipping sections, leaving their pack at the B&B, hiking downhill every day, etc and will claim at the end to have done the same hike I have. It’s not the same at all. But it’s the pick-and-choose your direction thing that I think means you are not even thru-hiking any more, so there needs to be a new term. COBO perhaps – convenience bound.
As I had completed my 18 by 4pm I pushed on towards 20 at 5pm and found a small stony area to tent at mile 595.8. It was also slopey so I gathered lots of leaves from the forest and covered the area to protect my tent floor from stones and to level it out a bit.
As I was getting set up a cheerful ‘hey’ came from up the trail and I saw Long John. I haven’t seen him since NOC many weeks ago. We had a long chat and I asked him how come? He has taken 14 zeros is the short answer. The longer answer is he has spent some time with family off trail (and will go home for a few days of home cooking when he gets up to Pennsylvania), some time fishing near Damascus and some time was lost in classic fashion to Trail Days. He’s on a tear now though, hitting 25 miles days, and is having a great time on trail. Long John had been told to look out for my bear encounter video ask asked me about it and told me he himself had seen 13 bears so far!
My food bag has dwindled down to a small ramen packet, the second half of the Knorr Rice Side from last night, a Snickers bar, a Power Bar and a bite size Reese’s cup or bar or something. Reese’s have a million products now. And some olive oil. After dinner was over I have just the Power Bar and the Reese’s bite. And the oil. So I’d better get to that grocery store in good time or lunch will be oil.
I’m kidding of course. I won’t have the oil for lunch. I will have it for breakfast to get those easy calories in me early in the day. No kidding.
Various rumbles of thunder had been heard for an hour or so and once I turned in a mild lightning and thunder storm struck. Decent wind gusts but nothing too amazing. Hopefully tomorrow will be dry.