Friday, July 31, 2015

Day 58: And finally out of Daleville!

May 4: I had wanted to get an early start to my day's hiking, but forces outside of my control seemed to slow me down. In truth, some of those forces were in my control. I spent too much time working on these blog entries and not enough time preparing for leaving town today.

The trail quietly leaves Daleville...

So after eating a big continental breakfast, I returned to my room and started repacking all of the food I bought at Krogers the day before into ziplock bags. Then I packed up my pack. Then I packed up my maildrops.

Maildrops, plural. I had two of them to mail. The first (and more important) was my laptop to be shipped ahead to Front Royal. The second just contained food which I was shipping ahead to my motel in Waynesboro. Technically, I could have bought food in Waynesboro, but I didn't want to get distracted with a stop in town. There was a motel at the edge of town near the trail and I liked the idea of heading to it, picking up the pre-packed food, spending a night, then hit the trail running the next morning. No hitches necessary.

Walking nearly a mile to the post office would certainly slow me down as well, but I had a plan to speed up the mailing of my packages. I checked out of my room, then sat down at the desktop computer next to the front desk and logged into the USPS website to print out my postage there. I taped it onto the boxes then left the boxes with the hotel to give their mailman whenever he arrived. It was the first time I had used the USPS website to print postage and I found the process slow and confusing--it took me the better part of a half hour to get the job done, but done it was.

Finally, at 11:00, I was back on the trail hiking. Of course, the first 1.5 miles was the section I had hiked two days earlier, but I hadn't taken any photos for Walking 4 Fun so I did that now.

The trail crosses under Interstate 81 here along this road.

The day's hike was fairly easy but the temperatures were unpleasantly warm. Probably in the 80s or so. Not hot, but warmer than I would have preferred. At least there was no rain to worry about.

At the Wilson Creek Shelter, two section hikers found a compass that they believed they saw a thru-hiker with his brown dog carrying earlier in the day. They planned to stop at the shelter but since I was continuing on, I offered to carry it ahead and see if I could find the rightful owner.

The last several miles of the day, the trail crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway several times. I remembered this road as being full of traffic and noisy motorcycles and generally hating it, but I was pleasantly surprised to see it all but barren and abandoned. It must still be their off season, and being during the work week reduced the numbers even further. That was great news as far as I was concerned!

Near the end of the day, I had covered over 18 miles--which was pretty good for the late start I got, and I hiked down off the trail to the Bobblets Gap Shelter. The shelter looked packed with people and knowing that the norovirus was making its rounds, I wasn't inclined to stay there anyhow. I did stop long enough to sign the register, however, and ask if anyone had lost a compass. I didn't see a brown dog among them, though, and wasn't expecting that any of them had lost the compass. When I described the section hikers telling me that they think it might have belonged to a thru-hiker with a brown dog, they pointed me further down the hill behind the shelter saying a fellow with a hammock fit the description.

So I headed behind the shelter in search of the man with the brown dog which I quickly found and sure enough, he had lost his compass. Another happy reunion! =)

Before it started getting too dark, I headed back up to the trail and looked for a place to set up camp. Not far, I found a single tent set up at a clearing on the side of the trail. I didn't recognize the tent, but I called into it asking if it was okay to camp nearby. I assumed it was okay, but if it was someone seriously cranky and mean, I certainly didn't want to.

It was Proudfoot, however, who I liked perfectly well. =) However, he was the hiker who told me the previous morning about getting sick with the suspected norovirus. I didn't need to get too close to him! He never came out of his tent, and I cowboy camped as far from the tent as I could. We talked a bit through the walls of the tent, but given my late arrival, it got dark pretty soon and we both headed off to sleep soon after that.

The Fullhardt Knob Shelter, so far as I know, is the only shelter on the trail with a cistern to capture rain water. That's what the long tube from the roof to the back of the shelter is for.

The cistern itself is here at the back of the shelter.

Crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) at MM 97.

Quite a few pullouts for cars to admire the view from the BRP as well!

Sunset is fast approaching! Gotta find a place to camp!

The shelter is looking pretty darned full, though!

I'll just have to continue on a bit further.... this looks like a nice place to stop! =)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Day 57: Norovirus and Dinosaurs

May 3: When I went down for breakfast, the place was once again packed with thru-hikers. The hotel must have had 50 thru-hikers staying there and I kind of wondered where they all came from because I hadn't realized there were so many of them so close to me on the trail!

But one hiker I met told me a story of woe--he'd gotten sick. Diarrhea and vomiting kind of sick. I'd heard of norovirus outbreaks hitting the trail in recent years and his symptoms matched that 100%. Proudfoot, the poor guy, was among the first hikers to suffer this fate this season. He was feeling better today, but the day before was a pretty awful one for him.

I backed slowly away. He might have been on the upswing, but I didn't know how contagious he was and had no reason to take any chances.

After breakfast, I planned to do laundry. First, I needed some detergent. I walked over to the gas station convenience store next door, but they were out. Then I walked to the gas station convenience store on the other side of the hotel, but they too were out. The fellow manning the front desk said that they had some the day before but that there was a run on it. A run on laundry detergent?

I finally crossed the busy Highway 220 to yet another gas station convenience store which did have laundry detergent, but only in a giant bottle that was about 100 times more than I actually needed. I took a pass and thought about my next step. Where else could I get laundry detergent?

Hitting up all of the nearby convenience stores wasn't a total waste of my time. I did pick up a small bottle of hand sanitizer that could be hung from the exterior of my pack. If people were getting norovirus on the trail, I wanted to start using it a lot more!

Back at the hotel, I riffled through the hiker boxes near the front desk but came up empty. Then I walked over to the laundry facilities just to make sure I knew where they were and... look at that! Previous hikers had left behind extra laundry detergent free for the taking right there with the laundry! Why didn't I think to check that first?

I rushed back to my room to pick up all of my dirty clothes and back to the laundry machines. When I arrived, I met Elliot who was in the process of moving his clothes from the washer to the dryer. He told me another horrifying story of getting violently sick the day before and although he was feeling better today, was taking an unplanned zero day to make sure it was out of his system. He also said there were a couple of other hikers at a shelter who were throwing up and likely infected with the norovirus. Good grief, all of this happened since yesterday?!

The alley to the laundry facilities was rather narrow and we needed to pass each other, but I did so without accidentally bumping into Elliot. He was kind enough to give me all of the room he could not wanting to infect me with anything. I threw my clothes in the washer, followed by detergent and when I got back to my room, immediately used the hand sanitizer. I didn't know what all Elliot had touched in the laundry room, but I couldn't be too careful!

I returned later to move my clothes from the washer to dryer, then from the dryer to the room, each time using the hand sanitizer between visits to the laundry room.

After laundry was done, I dressed up nicely. I had a date! Well, okay, not a real date, but a couple of days earlier I'd gotten a message from Dinosaur who I had first met while thru-hiking the PCT. She lived in the nearby town of Roanoke and when she found out I was thru-hiking the AT and nearby, she said she wanted to meet up and take me out for lunch. Which I had no problem with! There was a restaurant in a nearby town that she wanted to try but had expressed concern that maybe it was "too nice" for a thru-hiker. She didn't know I had a secret weapon, however: a tie.

So I put on my collared shirt (now freshly laundered!), tucked it into my pants and put on my tie and waited for her to arrive. She arrived and I was surprised to see her looking more like a thru-hiker than I did! Definitely very informal! She seemed just as surprised at my own formality. =)

Then she told me that the restaurant she had been considering was closed on Sunday (it was Sunday) and we couldn't go even if we wanted to. Thus, presumably, the reason for her much more utilitarian outfit. (And maybe she didn't want to outshine me too much!)

But no worries, I told her. I took off the tie and pulled out my shirt that had been neatly tucked into my pants. "I'm ready for anything," I told her. =)

We decided to go across the street to Rancho Viejo, a Mexican restaurant that I'd been eying since the day I arrived. It had a patio that looked so pleasant to sit out on and I wanted to sit out on the patio. We chatted for a couple of hours catching up (I hadn't seen her in five years, after all!). She told me about some of the inside workings of the ATC (where she worked), and I filled her in on some of the happenings on the trail. (She was very interested in the norovirus outbreak that was apparently in progress.)

Eventually she had to get back to her own life and left me at the hotel where I could continue my working ways.

Later in the afternoon, I walked over to Krogers to resupply my food for the upcoming several days. I was a little surprised to see that I had walked almost 10K steps without even trying. Running around that morning looking for detergent certainly added up to a few steps, and back and forth to the laundry room a few times helped as well. Walking to and from Krogers and all over the store added more steps. When I arrived back at the hotel, I was still a few hundred steps short of my daily goal, so I walked back to one of the convenience stores and picked up snacks to eat for dinner. By the time I returned to my room, I had my 10K steps.

So I stayed in my room for the rest of the night. Just working.... I had to crank out as many of these blog posts as I could before I hit the trail the next morning!

This was the only photo I took all day. That's Dinosaur on the left, just in case it wasn't obvious, and me on the right. =) Out on the patio of the Mexican restaurant--it was a great day for patio dining!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Day 56: Bumming around Daleville

May 2: Early in the morning, I headed to the continental breakfast and was stunned at the sheer number of hikers who were already eating. There must have been 20 hikers in that room, far outnumbering the non-hikers. Was everyone in this hotel a hiker?! And these were just the hikers who were currently eating breakfast. Some had undoubtedly already eaten and left, and others were probably still waking up and hadn't yet arrived. It was nice catching up with several of the people, though, such as Little Red and Chuckles. I recognized about half of the hikers, although when introduced to some of the unknown ones, I recognized many of their names either from the shelter registers or from talk I had heard about them.

I walked the better part of a mile just to pick up a postcard that Amanda had sent to the post office! But it was just as well... I picked up a priority mail flat rate envelope while I was there. =)

I ate breakfast, then headed back to my room to get some work done. So much work to do, so little time to do it. I was surprised when I saw Blueberry's bed was empty of gear. He had gone to breakfast, but apparently he didn't intend to come back to the room before he hit the trail again. I'd have made a point of saying goodbye to him when I left breakfast if I realized he hadn't planned on returning to the room, but I was sure I'd catch up with him again later.

Naturally, when I first arrived in Daleville, I called Amanda to let her know about my arrival and she told me that she mailed a postcard to me general delivery knowing that I forwarded my laptop to Daleville as my next big stop on the trail.

What I had failed to tell her was that I mailed my laptop directly to the hotel so I didn't have to make the nearly 1-mile walk to the post office, and that's where she sent the postcard. "You mean I have to walk a mile off trail just to pick up a postcard?!"

As it turns out, though, it wasn't really that big of deal. Amanda said it was just a postcard and no big deal if I didn't get, but I really did have to go to the post office anyhow to pick up a box to mail my laptop later to its next destination. It was nice not having to do that the day before when it was pouring rain. The postcard could wait a day, though.

And even though I intended to take a zero day, I still have this itch to walk at least 10,000 steps each day. It's a habit I formed when I started using a pedometer for Walking 4 Fun and I've walked a minimum of 10,000 steps every single day for nearly three years now. Well, except one time when I flew to Europe, lost a lot of hours in the day, and wound up about 500 steps short. ARGH! But still, I wanted to keep my streak going, so I needed some places to walk even on my off days. May as well hit the post office!

I pretty much walked a giant circle around Daleville, and I declare this the most interesting-looking building I found! =)

So I hit the post office, picked up the postcard and a couple of medium flat-rate boxes and walked back to my hotel room to deposit them. Then I walked the other direction down Hwy 220, crossing under I-81 near a somewhat terrifying intersection to walk with no sidewalks or shoulder, to Hardees for lunch. Daleville, let me tell you, was not designed for people traveling on foot!

After lunch, I studied my map and figured I'd take a more scenic route back to my hotel by walking up Highway 11 to where the AT intersected it, then hike south on the AT back to Highway 220 next to which my hotel was located. Although I considered today a zero day, I'd actually be hiking 1.5 miles of AT that I hadn't yet done. But I was walking in the wrong direction for my photos to be in the correct sequential order on Walking 4 Fun and I planned to walk out of my hotel and just start hiking north, so I'd be covering this section of trail anyhow. As such, I considered today a zero day, even though some people might have called it a "nero" (a near-zero).

Anyhow.... when I arrived where the AT intersected Highway 11, I met a young hiker with a huge pack being dropped off by a woman who I guessed was his mom, and it was. The hiker was named Spencer and I had assumed he was going out for a few days or a week or something, but as it turned out, he was planning to thru-hike the entire trail. He lived in nearby Roanoke and rather than start at Springer Mountain, he decided to start at Daleville hiking north then, after reaching Katahdin, flip down and finish the section south of Daleville. I happened to catch him as he was about to take his very first steps of his thru-hike.

His mom was bubbling with pride asking me all sorts of questions about the trail and advice I would have for her son. I didn't really have much to offer. Just take things one day at a time. I also mentioned that his pack looked rather heavy for a thru-hiker, but not to worry too much about that. He'll figure out how to lighten his load along the way and there were plenty of hikers around to give him suggestions if he wanted them.

His mom wanted a photo of us together, which seemed a little weird to me since I had just met the guy. It's not like we were good friends or had hiked together or anything, but I guess her son meeting his first thru-hiker was a moment she wanted to capture for posterity and I didn't mind. Snap away!

Eventually we parted ways. I told them I was taking a day off today and maybe tomorrow (I still hadn't decided yet), but I was generally hiking 20 mile days at this point and would likely catch up in a couple of days.

Then I started hiking south on the AT while Spencer started his hike northbound.

The rest of the hike back to my room was uneventful. I got my 10K steps for the day done, and I locked myself in my room to get more work done. For dinner, I had the leftover pizza in the mini-fridge. By late afternoon, I knew I'd take one more zero day in Daleville. I still had too much work that needed to get done.

A wonderful little mural!

But just in case you somehow missed the giant animals and mural, they kindly put up this sign to let you know. =)

Friday, July 24, 2015

Day 55: And into Daleville...

May 1: It rained heavily overnight and weather forecasts predicted it to continue throughout the day today but fortunately for everyone on the trail, the rain had largely stopped by morning. Some fat fog got everything damp and tree snot would fall from the trees whenever a gust of wind struck, but the rain had stopped. For now, at least!

I had a short 9.4-mile hike into the busy town of Daleville where I intended to take a zero day and maybe two of them depending on how much work I got gone. I checked into the Howard Johnson located conveniently mere steps from the trail. Just as I arrived, spits of rain started to hit me--I arrived not a moment too soon!

Knowing I had planned to stay at this hotel, I had my laptop shipped ahead directly to the hotel so I wouldn't have to suffer the nearly 1-mile walk to the post office with its limited hours. The laptop would already be waiting for me at my arrival-- at any time of day or night I happened to arrive on any day of the week. I was no longer at the mercy of the USPS office hours!!

The number of hikers I saw at the hotel were astounding. I saw several in the lobby when I arrived, and more roaming around outside. During the short walk to my room, I passed several other rooms that clearly hosted additional hikers as well--I could see their gear through the windows and their shoes resting just outside of the doors.

Just in the time it took me to check in, the rain started coming down in torrents. I would have normally pulled out my umbrella for such a heavy downpour, but it was a short jog through the rain to the building with my room and I was going to strip out of my clothes and take a shower anyhow. Between my trekking pole and the mail drops I carried awkwardly, the umbrella didn't seem so important.

First thing I did was use the toilet because hey! Running water! Then I striped off my nasty clothes, leaving them in a disgusting heap on the floor, turned on the shower and stepped in.

I didn't have clean clothes to put on afterwards, but I put on my camp clothes which were considerably better than the hiking clothes. Less dirt, less smell and I could perhaps pass myself off as somewhat presentable in public.

Then I got online and started catching up with emails and other messages which occupied me for the rest of the afternoon. For dinner, I looked out the window and saw that the rain had stopped--briefly, at least, and I dashed across the street to Pizza Hut. If it had been raining hard, I had been thinking about ordering food delivered. (I could imagine, "Yeah, do you deliver pizza across the street? You don't even need a car!" The restaurant was, quite literally, across the street from the hotel.)

By the time I finished dinner, however, the rain had started up again. Fortunately, I had planned on this contingency and brought my umbrella. The most difficult part of the return journey, however, was crossing Highway 220 during rush hour. I must have stood on the side of the road for five minutes before there was a break in traffic large enough that I felt safe to dash halfway across the street to the center divider, then a couple of more minutes before I could safely dash the rest of the way across the street.

The leftover pizza I put in the mini-fridge for later, and the rest of the night was spent on my laptop catching up on work.

Somewhere near sunset, someone knocked loudly on my door. Who could that be? I wasn't expecting anyone. Before opening the door, I looked through the peephole to see who had arrived. I was wearing my long underwear (it was cleaner than my other clothes which I hadn't gotten around to washing...yet) but not much else. And what did I see? A giant, wet Blueberry!

I opened the door. "Blueberry!" I thought he was still a day or so behind me, but he had done a huge mile day to make it into Daleville that evening. What a miserable day for walking. I asked if he had a place to crash yet, offering up the second bed in my room if he wanted it. He took it and we chatted for a bit, but he was starving for food and soon headed out again to resupply his food for the trail and get some McDonalds for dinner. I went back to work.

He knocked again a couple of hours later with a harrowing story of getting lost on his way to the McDonalds, or maybe it was coming back from there, and roads with no shoulders or sidewalks to walk on. It sounded pretty crazy to me. =)

I didn't get much work done after that. We chatted until we got tired and eventually went to sleep. I don't remember everything that we talked about, but one thing I do remember was doing an Internet search about how to build a raft. Blueberry wanted to "aqua blaze" the Shenandoahs. There was a route that one could raft a river around the Shenandoah Mountains rather than hike through them. It wasn't very common during my 2003 thru-hike, but it sounds like a lot more people take that option now-a-days. It kind of appealed to me as well. I've already thru-hiked the AT once. Anything to make it more interesting and different from my first hike was a welcome addition, but for Walking 4 Fun, I figured I really needed to stick to the official trail. I'd rather be aqua-blazing, but I wouldn't.

Anyhow, Blueberry did want to aqua blaze and he could aqua blaze, but he thought it would be fun to build his own raft for the journey. Which intrigued me to no end. That would be so cool! So I did some Internet searches on my computer to find plans about how to build a raft, how large it would need to be and so forth. I'd love to be a fly on the wall while he was building a raft, and I'd laugh if it actually sank (a very real possibility, I thought!), but it gave us a lot to discuss until then. =)

Then off to sleep we went, dreaming about building our own rafts. Although I didn't intend to aqua blaze the trail, the idea of building my own raft really appealed to me. Maybe when I was back in Seattle. I could take it to Alki and launch it into Puget Sound, rowing it to downtown or something. It might be fun! =)

The AT really likes to take people to the very edge of these cliffs! =)

And... civilization! Highway 220 to be exact.

The Howard Johnson was all of about a 1-minute walk from the last photo where I got off the trail. =)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Day 54: McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs

April 30: It didn't rain during the night, much to my relief, but the rain and thunderstorms were predicted to start at around 3:00 in the afternoon so I intended to get as much hiking in before then as I could. Not a moment to lose!

The first noteworthy point I reached was McAfee Knob. When I arrived, there was a couple with their dog, but that was it. Later I'd talk to other thru-hikers who had arrived on a weekend and described the horror of seemingly hundreds of people milling around the viewpoint and how awful it was, but it was quiet and peaceful when I arrived.

The view was incredible, but I'll let the photos on this blog tell that story. McAfee Knob is best known not for the views from it, however, but rather the views of it. It juts out from a cliff and people can walk out to the edge causing a dramatic effect. It's probably among one of the most photographed points along the AT.

I didn't linger long, however. The clouds looked ugly and rain was still in the forecast. I continued on, and a few miles later, I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye up the trail. It was pretty far up the trail--the trail stayed straight as an arrow for nearly half a mile and I could see almost its entire length along that section. At first I just assumed the movement I saw was a hiker ahead, but when I focused on it, I realized it was actually a bear! A real, live bear!!!

This, to say the least, was very exciting for me. I love seeing bears in the wild. I whipped out my camera and immediately took a photo as zoomed in as I could. The bear was a mere dot in the camera, a black spec of dust that could have been anything if you didn't know what you were looking at.

The bear was directly on the AT, maybe a quarter mile ahead. It wasn't a good view, and the photo was even worse. The bear, I think, noticed me as well because ten seconds after I spotted him, he moved off the side of the trail. Not with any urgency--I wasn't anywhere close to him--but off the trail and out of view.

I kept my camera on and approached, hoping I'd spot him hiding behind a tree on the side of the trail or something, but when I reached the point where I saw the bear, there was nothing. The bear was gone, and all I had was a blurry photo as proof. Later, when I got on my computer and could zoom into the photo, I could see a little more detail. It looks like a bigger dot with leg-like protrusions coming out from the bottom of it, but it's still hard to identify as a bear unless you're told what you're looking at. All-in-all, it was exciting to spot the bear. It was disappointing not to get a good photo of it.

I continued onwards, next stopping at Tinker Cliffs. I stopped to pee off the cliffs (with a name like 'Tinker,' how could I not tinkle off the top?) and admired the view for a few minutes. The views were dramatic and impressive, but I could actually see rain falling in the distance. It hadn't rained on me yet, but the ground around the cliffs was wet as if it had rained recently. I must have just narrowly avoided the rain storm, but my luck wouldn't hold out. I needed to keep moving.

As if the weather wanted to punctuate that point, I heard thunder rolling off the hills in the distance. My cue to go!

I arrived at the Lamberts Meadow Shelter at about 3:30 just as the first drops of rain started to fall. I had made it! Another day of not having to hike in the rain!

I was immediately put off by a tent I saw set up IN the shelter. What kind of person sets up a tent inside a shelter? He introduced himself as Stubby.

On the other side of the shelter was a Swedish section hiker named Garm who told us he was celebrating the start of spring because it's a holiday in his country. He intended to build a campfire--if the rain didn't make it impossible--and perhaps sing a Swedish song for us. Sounds like fun to me!

I ignored the tent in the shelter at first. So far, there were only three of us there and even though I thought the tent in the shelter was a selfish thing to do, there was still plenty of room for all three of us and the tent. As far as I knew, nobody behind me was expected to arrive here, but being only 3:30 in the afternoon, I totally assumed that at least a couple of more people would show up before dark. If a few more people did show up, I fully intended to make a stink about the tent in the shelter.

But looking at that tent, it just annoyed me and I finally asked Stubby what was the deal with the tent in the shelter. He stuttered a series of answers... it helped keep him warm at night, it gave him more privacy and he had wanted to dry his tent from the night before. And when he arrived, nobody else was there and he thought he'd have the shelter to himself.

All of which I checked off mentally as BS answers. Last night was the first night in awhile it wasn't particularly cold and tonight was expected to be even warmer with the insulating layer of clouds to trap in the heat. You don't go to a shelter for privacy. Shelters are a communal place. If you want privacy, set it up somewhere outside the shelter! And I cowboy camped the previous two nights. I knew darned well it hadn't rained and that condensation hadn't made his tent wet. And as to the thought that he might have the shelter to himself, it was 3:30 when I arrived and I already expected more people to arrive, even if I didn't know who. It was way too early in the day to predict that nobody else would show up. (But it begs the question, if he thought he'd be the only person in the shelter, why would he need a tent for "privacy"?)

But to each of the BS answers he gave, I just nodded, "Uh-huh. I see."

He stopped stuttering and looked directly at me asking if I had a problem with the tent.

"No," I told him aloud. Not yet, I thought privately. This was pretty passive aggressive of me because, well, technically, I guess I did have a problem with it, but I'd bite my tongue until more hikers showed up. Even if nobody else showed it, it was still an inconsiderate move to make.

He continued to stare at me, not saying anything else. I stared back, thinking his stare seemed particularly aggressive and angry. I couldn't really blame him--he must have sensed my hostility towards the tent even though I told him I didn't have a problem with it. I remember wondering if I should break eye contact with him, but I really had nothing better to do. It was too early in the day to make dinner. I had already spread out my gear and made myself comfortable in the shelter. I couldn't think of anything else to do, so I just stared at him.

We stared at each other like this for perhaps 30 seconds before he finally broke eye contact and started doing something else. I just kept watching him because I didn't have anything better to do, and I liked the fact that I think it was making him uncomfortable. =)

Eventually, more hikers did show up. I continued biting my tongue after the fourth person showed up at the shelter but when a fifth person showed up, I suggested that he should take down his tent. He immediately pointed to my ground sheet and complained about all of the room it was taking up. "Don't worry about my groundsheet," I told him. "I can shift it to be narrower in seconds, and I'll made room as needed. Your tent can't do that."

The fifth hiker said he wanted to camp in his tent next to the creek, so it defused that situation. For now...

I started dreaming of the horrible things I'd do to Stubby if he refused to take down his tent when the next hiker arrived. I imagined throwing a bucket of water on his tent in the shelter. "Keeping dry, are you?" I'd shout, then laugh. I'd wait until morning, though. I wouldn't want him to have the opportunity to throw a bucket of water on me during the night, after all. As long as I could out-hike him (and I could--he was a section hiker who'd only been on the trail for a week or two, and looked to be of retirement age and not in terribly good shape), I'd never have to see him again.

I imagined all of us thru-hikers ganging together and forcibly evicting him from the shelter, throwing his tent and everything in it out into the rain in the middle of the night.

I had all sorts of horrible thoughts....

Then another hiker arrived--Bostrich!--and before I could even say a word, Stubby suggested that maybe he should take down his tent. Good choice, Stubby. Good choice.

Rain did settle in during the afternoon, but during one of the stops, Garm started a fire with wood he had collected earlier and had stored in the shelter to keep dry. He did sing us a song, but I couldn't tell you what it was since it was in Swedish. It sounded pleasant to listen to--though I'm not sure if it was his voice that sounded nice or just the language. =)

Stubby continued annoying me with his chatter the rest of the night. He complained about unions not getting the respect they once did--didn't everyone know how much they improved the workplace environment since The Jungle came out? (Did Stubby not know that book was written over a hundred years ago and things have changed since then?) I can't really say that I'm for unions or against unions. I'm for a lot of the things they stand for, and sometimes I think they shoot themselves in the foot and make things worse. I just loved the time the union for Hostess voted to go on strike even though the company said they'd have to declare bankruptcy and liquidate if they did. They did vote to strike, and Twinkies vanished from store shelves for nearly a year until another company bought the rights to make them. And all those people in the union... lost their jobs. Yeah, you showed them all right. If they've gotten a bad rap recently, it's because they spend too much time shooting themselves in the foot.

But that was all besides the point because nobody on the trail wants to talk politics! Well, okay, obviously some people (like Stubby) do, but seriously, it just pisses everyone else off. Then there was his comment that the United States was becoming a fascist society before correcting himself and saying it already was a fascist society. Seriously? Does he even know what fascism is? I just wanted him to stop talking.

He as also pretty excited about a branch on a tree just in front of the shelter declaring it the "perfect" place to hang a bear bag. It was, admittedly, a nice branch in a lot of ways. It was high enough, stretched out far enough from the trunk and was free of lower-hanging branches that would get in the way, but the branch looked several inches wide to me and I was pretty confident that a small bear (or even a baby bear) would easily be able to climb out on the branch and nab a food bag.

"I don't know..." I told him. "That branch looks a little thick. I think some bears could just crawl out on it."

He looked at the branch and slowly nodded in agreement. "Almost the perfect branch."

Almost, indeed. That's the problem with hanging food bags from trees. There's never a perfect branch around--just almosts. When Stubby walked out of hearing distance, I leaned over and told Garm that I personally know about a dozen people who've had their food bags taken by bears over the years and there's one thing every one of them had in common: They all hung it from a "perfect" tree.

Garm commented that if we're lucky, we might actually get to see a bear eat Stubby's food bag. As much as I liked the idea of Stubby learning that there's no such thing as a perfect tree, I didn't want a bear to learn bad habits either by associating food bags with people. Nothing good would come from that.

Stubby didn't score anymore points from me when he pulled out his pot to smoke. He explained how he hid his marijuana in capsules of some sort when he flew from California to get his pot on the trail. Smuggling drugs through an airport. Awesome. I was so disappointed he hadn't gotten caught doing that. I'd never have had to meet him at all on the trail if that had happened. He was kind enough to offer a smoke to everyone else in the shelter, but nobody else was interested so he smoked by himself and explained that it was for medical purposes because it helped him sleep at night. Maybe it really does help him sleep at night, I don't know, but I had a hunch he'd been smoking pot since the '70s and it wasn't to help him sleep nor was for any medical purposes. He just likes to smoke pot but doesn't want to seem to come out and say so which just annoyed me further. I've seen a lot of pot use on the trail, but everyone else--if asked--just says they enjoy it instead of making up stupid medical excuses for it. (They'll often have medical marijuana cards to acquire pot, but they'll readily admit that there's not any real medical reason for it.)

It was somewhat refreshing when Stubby finally went to sleep and I didn't have to listen to any of his nonsense anymore. I had been thrilled to reach the shelter before any rain started, but it felt more like a punishment as the afternoon and evening dragged on. Stubby had a particular knack for getting under my skin and I couldn't wait to be rid of him for good!

McAfee Knob is quite dramatic! (There's a photo Superman showed me of him doing a handstand right near the edge. That's one scary photo!)

Storm clouds are brewing!

View from the edge of McAfee Knob.

Can you see the bear in this photo? It's that black dot almost dead center in the photo, just above where the trail crests that small hill.

I zoomed into that same photo here. See the bear now? It's still small and fuzzy, but at least it looks like a black dot with legs on it now! If it hadn't been moving, I wouldn't have recognized it as a bear at all.

Just look at how steep this trail is!

A tunnel! How exciting! =)

View from Tinker Cliffs

My view while sitting on the edge of Tinker Cliffs.

The trail follows along the edge of Tinker Cliffs for about half a mile!

Looks like rain in the distance! Time to get to the shelter before it hits!

Home, sweet home for the night. That tent on the left bothered me the second I saw it. If you ever camp in a shelter, never set up your tent in it unless you are the only person in the shelter that night! It is incredibly inconsiderate to other hikers. (And here's a hint: You won't know if you'll be the only person when it's early in the afternoon. You need to wait until dark before you can be fairly confident that nobody else will show up.)