May 10, 2018
Destination: Campsite at Mile 1020.7 Today's Miles: 15
Start Location: Stealth Campsite at mile 1005.7 Trip Miles: 1020.70
It was nice sleeping without a rain fly last night. Other than some weird screeching noises from something in the woods (spring is mating season, after all), the night was peaceful.
When I woke up at 6, I did my usual routine. Usually the first thing I do is unscrew the air valve in my sleeping pad and lay there as all the air is expunged. It’s the best way for me to get moving because I quickly become uncomfortable lying down! I went out to get my food bag down and saw two deer who didn’t like my morning look and promptly ran away, flicking their white tails as they leaped off.
I joined the others for breakfast. I skipped coffee as I was low on fuel, but had two packs of oatmeal and set off. We all hiked together up to a nice viewpoint and took a snack break. We were finishing up the last leg of the roller coaster section and the view was lovely! I decided to cut the break short and hike on my own for a bit, so I headed out. I also wanted to get to the Sweet Springs Store / gas station 0.3 miles off the trail at Keys Gap to get some food and ice cream! I hiked on and soon reached the end of the roller coaster section. The terrain leveled out a bit, but was pretty rocky so it was hard to turn on the cruise control. Rumblings of thunder sounded in the distance and a few rain drops began to sprinkle down. Now that it is warmer, I usually don’t use my rain gear unless it is a complete downpour. If I put it on I just get hot and soaked with sweat, and then my shirt gets salt deposits in it. If I just let it rain on me, I get wet from the rain but I stay cooler and don’t accumulate salt. I ignored the rain, largely because I could still hear the birds chirping and singing. Clearly they weren’t worried about taking cover! I passed another hiker putting on his rain suit. One of the reasons I like hiking is that everyone has his own system for doing things, and that’s ok. It’s all good as long as it works for you! I wondered if I would be putting my rain jacket on in a few minutes, but in the end it never did more than sprinkle.
I ran into a trail maintenance crew from the Blackburn Center, owned by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club. They were nice folks and I asked them if the Center had a shower. Guthook mentioned solar showers, but they said there was no shower. I decided to skip the Center as it was a quarter mile off the trail and there wasn’t really anything I wanted to see there. Apparently, on clear days you can see the Washington Monument from the Center. The others did go there and later told me that they could not see the monument today.
I pushed on for food, watching two or three deer bound off into the brush off the trail. I saw a little box turtle on the trail and stopped to have a look. I took a picture and moved on, as he was keen to get away from me. I love turtles! I enjoyed the sanctity of having the woods to myself for the afternoon, listening to the birds sing and picking my way carefully over rocks at times. When I got down to Keys Gap, I hung a right on the road and walked along with busy traffic zooming beside me. I walked past the remains of a poor raccoon that needing some piecing together to figure out it used to be a raccoon. The head was completely off and turned backwards and smooshed, but somehow amazingly the teeth were perfectly preserved and white. It was horrifying, but I couldn’t not look! I held my breath, anticipating putrid smells and marched on. It reminded me of the roadkill wax museum on the walk towards Mountain Harbour.
I got to the Sweet Springs store and set my pack and trekking poles down outside. The store was a gas station with a wide variety of gas station snacks and food, and it had a deli counter that served hot food. It was heaven! I ordered a cheeseburger with fries and mozzarella sticks, and got a Barq’s root beer to go with it. I sat outside against the gas station wall and ate those as there was no indoor seating. There was an outlet above my pack, so I charged my phone while I ate. I then went back in and got a peanut butter cup milkshake. I picked up some M&Ms for later, as well as a jumbo iced honey bun for breakfast tomorrow. The milkshake was awesome, so I got another (this time cookies and cream) and ordered an Italian sub to pack out. The others still hadn’t shown up and I had been hanging out for a little over an hour, so I decided to hike on. The cashier was quite nice and let me fill my water bottles in their sink before I left.
I saw the others at the road gap. I told them I was still going to have an early day and camp about 4 miles from town. I also warned them about the mangled raccoon - try not to look, if you can! I noticed the West Virginia welcome sign to the west of the gap. To the east there was a Welcome to Virginia sign.
I walked the line about 2 miles in, found the campsite, and stopped for the day. It was early - about 3/3:30. I love getting to camp early! The thunder returned as I pitched my tent. I got everything set up just as some rain came, but I only briefly huddled in my tent before it lightened and then stopped. I did some reading up on trail stops and when the gang showed up, I socialized with them and whatnot. Whitewater built a fire, which was nice. It was a good day. Tomorrow we will all be up early to get to Harpers Ferry and the ATC in time for a shuttle to get to Walmart to resupply. I’m excited about seeing the town and the ATC headquarters!
I was grateful to have some solo hiking time today to commune with nature, grateful that the rain was uneventful, and grateful for the good food and camp fun today. Tomorrow is going to be fun!
Postscript: thanks again everyone for the encouraging comments and thoughts! They are much appreciated!