April 16, 2018
Destination: Wapiti Shelter Today's Miles: 24.20
Start Location: Helveys Mill Shelter Trip Miles: 617.60
Waking up today was a bit of a flashback to the cold days I had experienced so regularly thus far. It only took a few warm ones to make me feel, somehow, that the bitter cold might not return.
Silly me! This morning was also a flashback of how tough it can be to get moving when it’s cold. I remember in the Smokies when it was so hard to take that first step in getting out of the sleeping bag. Yet here I was again, waking up to a light rain/snow mix, and knowing that when I got out of my bag I would be cold, would have to put on wet socks and shoes, and have numb hands as I went about the morning routine. But, as the famous Confucius quote goes, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” I find this to be true in pursuing any task. To get going in the morning, I don’t need to think about walking the entire AT, or even getting to the next shelter. All I need to do is get into action - pick a task to get moving and do it. Inertia is my enemy out here when it is driven by fear or the desire to be comfortable a little longer. If I think too much, I get lost inside my own head and psych myself out. So, on the cold mornings, I try not to dwell on it too much - I just pick small tasks. Get up and pee. Put the sleeping bag away, etc etc. I use the same tactic when approaching other areas of my life that are challenging, complicated or overwhelming. I try to just “do the next right thing,” or “take a single step,” or “focus only on today,” and when things are tough or uncomfortable I have to remember “this too shall pass.” These little quips and sayings may seem obvious and cliche, but they really work for me, whether I am pursuing a fledgling goal like hiking the AT, starting a business, or trying to change or adopt a habit in my life. Taking a single step, choosing small approachable tasks, and getting into action keep me focused and moving. So, that’s what I did.
I sat up in bag and out my fleece on. I hopped out of bag, peed, and retrieved my food bag. That wasn’t so bad! Now I was moving. The others were in various stages of motion too. Wallace, a guy named Redbird, Apollo and Skutch took off first. They were planning on stopping at Trent’s Grocery somewhere down the way about a half mile off the trail. I did not plan to do this as I would resupply in Pearisburg, and I would stay at Woods Hole Hostel the next day before resupplying in town. My plan was to make it to Dismal Falls, or just north of that, to make hiking into Woods Hole only a 10-12 mile day. I had my usual coffee and breakfast, talked with Sourkraut and MacGyver, then headed out.
The day was full of ups and downs and lots of rocky ridge line walking. When I checked The weather it had said a 40% chance of precipitation, but it misted or sleeted off and on throughout the day. At one point during the hike I saw a little bird with yellow coloring. I am not sure what it was. I tried to get a picture but wasn’t quick enough. I thought back to the Golden Wing Warblers of Tennessee that I never saw. I’m not sure if it was that or something else. I loved it though! When I get a signal I can google to see what it could have been.
On top of the first ridge the slanting sleet had me holding my trekking pole/stick with one hand, and my rain hood with the other to try to keep it shielding my face. The wind was strong! After that, the precipitation was much more manageable for a while. I descended down and crossed a large suspension bridge across a very flooded river. I hadn’t seen another soul all day. I trekked last the road to Trent’s Grocery and up a soggy climb around the side of a ridge. I came across a guy sitting to the side of the trail with two large dogs. I don’t think he was a thru hiker. One of the dogs acted like it wanted to eat my face. He restrained it. The other one just sat there. I had to walk between him and that dog, so I was nervous. I called out “hello!” He didn’t respond but knew I was there. As I walked by I asked how he was. I got kind of a grunt for a response. Maybe he wasn’t a fan of the weather.... Anyway, I pressed on and the trail got soggier and soggier. It was saturated from all the rain. I reached Dismal Falls tired and soggy, but I still wanted to see it, so I stashed my pack and took the 0.3 mile side trail down. It was awesome, in a flood stage kind of way! It wasn’t a tall waterfall - more of a ledge rapid - but it was cool to see and hear it. The power of the water was chilling. There was a log people had obviously used to cross over it - the water was just barely flowing over that log now, making it a very dangerous crossing for anyone who tried it. I took some time to absorb the scene, then headed back to the trail.
On my way back to the AT on the blue blaze trail I briefly met a hiker named Turtle Man. He was southbound and doing a flip flop hike, which basically means you start somewhere in the middle of the trail and work your way to one end, then go back to the middle and work your way to the other end. He said Woods Hole Hostel has been packed the other night and that I might want to call ahead and reserve a spot. As soon as I got back to the AT that’s exactly what I did. I’m glad I did this because now my bunk for Tuesday night was reserved, and I was about to lose cell service for the rest of the day.
I hiked on past Dismal Falls. The trail got wetter and wetter. My feet were completely soaked. Every creek crossing was swollen from the rain. Originally I was going to camp after the falls, but the wetter I got, the more I started to think I might push all the way to the next shelter. I kept going. The creek crossings got more challenging. I saw Apollo and Kutch on the other side of a large one and I just tore through it without even trying to figure out a way and place upstream to get over the creek without getting wet. I tore through another one and passed Zane. I was determined to get to the shelter, and I also really wanted a spot at the shelter given the weather! It had started snowing again and was coming down pretty hard. I finally got to the shelter at about 7:30pm and there was one slot left! The other 4 gentlemen who were there were really nice and made room for me. There was The Colonel, Underdog, Trucker, and Wandering Dad. I had to go back down the hill from whence I came to get water, and who came marching in but Sourkraut! Then not too far behind him came MacGyver. We hadn’t planned on hiking this far, but the weather made everyone push for it. As I cooked my dinner in the dark, I watched mice peek their heads out from under the shelter, then scurry away.
I was grateful for the yellow bird sighting today and the strength to hike as far as I did! I was also grateful for my time hiking alone today - it allowed me to check out a little bit, which was nice. Tomorrow morning is going to be a frozen one!