Tuesday, October 1, 2013

AT Project in VA - When Does A Deer Look Like a Cow?

Appalachian Trail in VA Project – 7/13/13 – US 220 Daleville to Wilson Creek Shelter – 11.2 Miles

The backpacking community throws arms open wide to those suffering from the same "affliction.”  Cathy introduced me to her AT-obsessed friends Mike and Becky and arranged a “quick” overnight trip.  I thought I had things figured out but I was about to learn some more.  

At least this time I knew I wanted the shorter day to be first.  Early Saturday morning we made the 4-hour drive from Charlotte to Daleville, VA with a dubious forecast looming.

Our good shuttle friend Homer helped us out in a way that was new to me.  We picked him up at his home, drove to our starting point, and from there he took my car back to his home overnight.  The next morning he had help delivering it to our end point.  I’ve never had any problems but I have seen other cars at remote trailheads with busted windshields (and heard stories of stolen vehicles).  I appreciated the security of my car sitting in Homer’s driveway overnight.

Goodbye six-lane highway, hello dirt footpath

Next obstacle, going under I-81 with trucks roaring overhead

My three fellow hikers were fast and I soon found myself in that familiar last place, comfortable for me as long as the white blazes are consistent.  At the back of the pack sometimes you see what others miss.   I stopped to watch a cautious mama deer and her two little ones crossing the railroad tracks.

A fence stile at the edge of an apple orchard

A reminder to behave so we can have nice things

We stopped at Fullhardt Knob Shelter for a lunch break and a little drizzle began but didn’t last.  Soon we were back at full speed on the trail.  On the moderately steep downhills my right knee began talking to me, sharp pains like I had been experiencing since March.  This was bad news for the early miles of an overnight trip.  Though my backpack weighed only about 22 pounds, the extra weight greatly exacerbated my fragile knee. 

Carolina vetch

Chicken of the woods

Becky in her hiking skirt.  This lady is remarkable, at age 70.  She began backpacking in her 60’s and has completed all the AT except a few miles in Maine, much of it as a solo hiker with her dog named Justice.  Justice has had to retire from the trail because of leg injuries, so now Becky’s trail name is “No Justice.”

Our timing in reaching Wilson Creek Shelter was excellent.  The shelter sits in view of the trail, but its water source is .3 miles down a steep switchback.  I followed Cathy down the hill to collect water, wincing with each step as my knee scraped and popped, but I made it.  Becky pitched her tent (she’s used to sleeping with her dog) and the rest of us chose the shelter.  As we finished up cooking supper the rain began to come down. 

A young backpacker named Bob had already set up residence in the shelter.  He was admittedly a novice, learning a lot by trial and error and having fun with it.  He built a fire and cooked his dinner in foil packets (yummy stuff but heavy to carry and most backpackers don’t build fires).  Using his camera tripod (also heavy to carry but at least he was finding multiple uses for it) he contrived hanging a can over his fire to boil water.   Bob asked lots of questions and was attentive to our advice and suggestions.  He had not heard of shuttles and was amazed that you could get a ride to your starting point and hike in one direction.  He seemed to be loving this new endeavor and I wish him a lifetime of adventures on the trails.

With the clouds and rain, dusk set in quickly.  The biggest deer I have ever seen walked around the edge of the shelter area.  Looking at its huge, squared-off flank passing silently through the trees, for one crazy moment I thought it might be a cow.  What’s a cow doing wandering around in the woods?

As we sat and watched the rain increase, we enjoyed trading stories about hikes completed and planned, ultralight gear, crazy high mileage days (not me).  Cathy and Mike are both seriously whittling away at the AT and Becky just likes to get out whenever and wherever she can.  When I mentioned my knee pain, Becky offered advice for the downhills which I shall try tomorrow.

There was lively discussion about hanging our food in a tree versus inside the shelter.  No convenient bear bag poles or pulley systems in this neck of the woods.  Mike said he hangs his food in the shelters and nothing ever disturbs it.  No bears?   Well, I caved in – after all, by now it was pouring rain – and hung my food bag with everyone else’s.  But I didn’t feel good about it. (Note:  the next morning my food bag was on the floor and a tiny hole was in it and my trail mix was all over the place.)

Becky went to bed, Bob tried to, while Cathy and Mike and I played a lengthy card game of war – guess who won.

“A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.”  ~Mark Twain


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