Neros on the Rocks with a Splash of Water

When I last posted, Copper had just completed his first supravigintal day, and I was tented on a cant on a tangle of shrubs just out of the wind. I woke up late the next morning, of course, having been up until 2am, and by the time I packed up the next morning, all of the folks I’d left 8 mi. back at Niday Shelter had passed me. It would seem that my extra walking in the night hadn’t bought me anything, but the truth is, I can’t imagine getting up early enough to walk 18 miles by 4:30pm, but I only had ten miles to go on fresh legs.
Halfway down the hill I was stopped by a random guy who was interviewing everyone that came down that hill, collecting trail names, hometowns, start points, etc. for some video blog thing. I was still too sleepy to remember to give the address of this blog, but if anyone finds out where he posted that video, leave a comment here and I’ll see if I can get a link back here on it.
From there, it was down to the creek where Copper got his first good drink in half a day (because there was no water up on the ridge) then a climb back up over Cove Mountain en route to Dragon’s Tooth.

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There were some amazing views from the ridge.

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But none so spectacular as the Dragon’s Tooth itself.

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After that, it was a deadly steep downhill straight to Catawba and Four Pines. There were rebar rungs in the rock walls and cracks along the edges of sheer faces. At one point I had to pull Copper off the edge of a rock and catch him just before he hit the ground, and at one point, he decided to take just about the most complicated and impressive route imaginable down a rock face, choosing to walk along a narrow lip until it started going up, turning around, slipping a bit down the side of it, and doing a double-bounce flying leap straight out into the landing ten feet down. What an acrobat. And it threatened to rain the whole way down.
When I got to the road, Joe was already running a full truck up to the Homeplace, and he told me to go up to the hostel and get comfortable. The hostel was a three-bay garage with a wood stove and a rack for hanging deer, and an assortment of already-claimed cots and couches.
Soon, Joe came back and I got a lift to the Homeplace, and I arrived just in time to join some of my fellow thrus in an empty chair at their table, thereby avoiding the 20min. wait for a table. They had only just begun a 3-meat family-style dinner, and I’m sure we collectively emptied every bowl at least ten times, in addition to draining five glasses of iced tea a piece. Then, once we were full, we topped it off with a cherry cobbler a la mode and a cup of coffee. Yet, despite my sudden 3-pound weight gain, I still managed to hobble out the front door.

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Joe swung us by the grocery store for some beer and basic resupply on the way back to his place, and then the night stretched on with many amusements. For instance, Doc decided that, since all available flat surfaces had been claimed, he’d hang his hammock from the meat hooks Joe used to clean deer. Yes, he eventually slept here.

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Later, when the rain had started pouring down in earnest and the old folks were looking to get some sleep, Medicine Man, Kudo, Broken Pack, Spider Mac, Doc, Boon, I, and one old vet whose name I’ve forgotten, tramped up to the barn to continue chatting and drinking. Spider Mac is full of hilarious and terrible stories. I wanted to record one but my phone wouldn’t turn on before he was half done. (Plot summary: a friend left a party for a beer run, tells everyone that his car got attacked by a swarm of thousands of moths on the way, and enjoins them to check out the front of his car if they didn’t believe him. They find the grille of the car dented and dinged and thoroughly soaked with blood. When the sun rises, they find the spot on the road where the moth attack happened, and there’s the remains of a family of upwards of twenty deer scattered across and beside it. Turns out the guy had dropped acid.) As folks trickled back through the rain to the garage, I stayed alone in the barn and curled up in a dog quilt on the hammock there.
It was still raining pretty solidly when I woke up around 10am, and I went back to the barn. Many folk had left or were leaving, but Doc and Boon and BP and SM were still around. D+B left soon after in the rain, but I took a shower, wrote the blog post, ate Star Crunch, and kept working on the six pack from the night before. Sometime that evening, the last person I expected to show up there walked in: Caribou!
He had taken about ten days off trail due to a rare foot condition which I couldn’t spell from his pronunciation (which either means it’s a hard thing to spell or he just mumbled whenever he said it) but I’m pretty sure it starts with an ‘S’. Anyway, he had come there to wait for a friend to pick him up and take him home. It was his last day on the trail. He’d only been out three days on his new custom orthotic insoles, but his foot was already hurting worse then it had when he’d quit before, so he decided to give up for the year. (Dovetail had gone on without him and was probably already in Waynesboro by this point, so maybe a couple of weeks ahead of me.) We played a game of chess (he won) and half of another (basically tied) before his friend arrived. We bro-hugged and he promised to provide some amazing trail magic when I came through PA.
I eventually determined to set off into the rain around 6pm, hoping to stop just shy of McAfee Knob and perhaps catch it the next day if the rain cleared up. I was halfway down the road back to the trailhead when I realized I’d left my towel in the bathroom and it seemed like my packa was leaking a bit, so I turned around and went back. I retrieved the towel and applied some duct tape and left again around 7pm, and I was once again only halfway down the road to the trailhead when the rain let up.
The creeks were pretty swollen, and I had to walk through ankle-high puddles at times.

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My left boot, the one with the gaping hole in the toe box, proved its utility that night, as it drained and left my left sock merely damp while the right sock arrived quite moist. The hike was over farmland at first and then, once the sun set, over a low ridge packed in fog. As I arrived at Johns Spring Shelter, I saw that it was full, and barely had enough time to patrol the grounds searching for the most level spot before it started to rain again. I quickly threw up the tent and packed it in for the night. It was about midnight.
I slept late the following morning, as it continually rained and I had no desire to get wet. Most of the people had left the shelter by early afternoon when I finally left the tent to go to the privy. BP and S-Mac were still there waiting out the rain. When the rain lightened a bit, I moved my pack and everything up to the shelter, and soon the rain had stopped completely. I cooked and spent a couple of hours washing the mud off my tent before packing up and leaving BP and S-Mac behind (BP draining his iPod playing chess, S-Mac calling friends and family). It had started sprinkling again by the time I reached the famous rock outcropping, but there was still something like a view to be had there. No one else was there to take my picture, and I couldn’t use a timer because of the rain, so I settled for a picture of Copper.

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Soon, a rainbow formed in the 1 degree gap between the stormcloud and the mountain on the horizon, and I sat for a moment with my legs hanging over the edge, but had no desire to stay out in the rain. I moved as quick as I could to Campbell Shelter as the rain slowly picked up, and stepped inside to huddle for the night with Rabbit (already eating his signature carrots). Total credited miles for the day: 4.
The next day Rabbit and I laid around until nearly noon before we headed out into the rain for Daleville, but the rain stopped fairly shortly after we left. The fog remained, though, and there was absolutely no view available from the Tinker Cliffs. I would like to go back there someday, though, as the cliffs were a great spot for bouldering or ropework. (Indeed, I found a van with NSS and SCCI stickers in the Hojo parking in Daleville the next day.)
It was only nine miles to Daleville, but we took our time. I took a long lunch at Lambert Meadow Shelter with Poncho, a mountain of a man who was then hiking south to Four Pines. Soon after that, we came to Hay Rock.

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We didn’t reach the edge of the last downhill stretch into Daleville until the sun was already setting.

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Once we reached the level trail in the valley it started to rain again, so I did not feel like stopping to undo my packa and fish out my headlamp. We did the last couple of miles in the dusky near-dark. Somewhere near the end, I failed to make a turn and instead of coming out on the road at the AT crossing, I came out right behind the HoJo Express. Which was fortunate because that is exactly where I wanted to be. I climbed down the hill to check in (and the lady let Copper inside the lobby dripping wet, so of course, he decided to go lay down next to her behind the front desk).
I stashed Copper in the room with some food and immediately climbed down the embankment next to the gas station and turned for the Troutville side of the interstate. This meant walking through an intersection AWOL calls “inadvisable” though it was not so scary as all that, and then through a mess of truck stops (as that road was apparently a favorite of every trucker passing through the county), until I finally reached the first WaHo I’ve seen near the AT.
I had almost finished my All-Star there when the waitress yelled “BEAR!” out of nowhere, and pointed to the front door. I turned in time to see a black butt fly by. Another patron (a regular) got to the door first, and jumped back inside blocking the door when the bear turned towards him. By the time I got outside, the bear was at the far end of the parking lot and moving into an adjacent lot with a cat on its tail. But that parking lot belonged to that cat, so of course it would run off any mooching trespassers. It looked to be about a 200-lb. bear and is, so far, the only one I’ve seen this trip. A few minutes later a man came in with two kids saying they’d been chasing it in their car, trying to block its escape. Which seems kind of mean if you ask me. I paid up and went back to the hotel for a shower, a movie on TV and a good night’s dry sleep.
The next day was forecast to be the one rain-free day of the week, so I slept until the last possible minute that I could still catch the end of the free continental breakfast. I managed to get a little bit of everything despite the girl trying to get it all put up by nine o’clock. Then I went back to pack everything up and get everything out of the room by eleven. What with getting another good shower, I didn’t make it back to the lobby with the key until ten after. I left Copper tied to a post just outside my room, where he could lie in the shade of the breezeway while I went shopping, and left my pack in the hotel office.
On the list for the outfitter was some more water treatment, a 1-inch buckle (to replace the one I’d broken back at Laurel Creek Shelter the morning I ate the cake, jammed an old broken minibiner into, and not undone since), and some things they did not have. Next was Kroger for more food and snacks (including a can of plums to be eaten later in the hotel lobby and a can of tart cherries), then finally a stop by 3 Little Pigs for a barbecue slaw sandwich to go (which came with a complimentary thru-hiker-only banana pudding to help with the carb-loading).
Then it was back to the hotel where Medicine Man and Kudo were still sitting around because they’d learned that the factory would replace their broken phone if they mailed it in, and so they needed to upload all 300 pictures taken on it. After I’d repackaged my food and eaten lunch and retrieved Copper (not necessarily in that order), we ended up walking out about the same time (though Copper and I were headed for the trail and they for Kroger).
It was an easy two mile walk over a meadowy hill (as are often encountered near towns) to the I-81 underpass, and then another mile to route 11 which ran to Troutville. I took a left and road-walked into town. I had almost reached the sidewalked section when a random townie lady pulled over to give me a bottle of water and a packet of lemonade flavoring powder just because I was a hiker. I saved the powder and split the water with Copper. Then I was at the post office to pick up my package (new boots, new camp shoes, chocolate-covered almonds) and a Pepsi. We sat at a picnic table in front to drink the Pepsi and do the unboxing.
Then I set off for the fire station. Halfway there, the park manager stopped mowing the lawn to inform me that if I were planning to camp in the park, dogs were forbidden by a town ordinance, so I told him I was just going to the fire station.
At the fire station, a man showed me where the washer and dryer were so I could wash my clothes. I put on my clean underwear, tied a sheet I found there into a toga, started the washer, and went to the kitchen to watch Galaxy Quest on TV.
At some point a lady came in and gave me the stinkeye and the fourth degree and sometime later a guy came by saying she’d asked about me. At some other point, there was a highway accident and the trucks took off, leaving the bay doors open, and some time after that I got a call from a lady saying she was holding Copper outside the firehouse. I had been too engrossed in the movie to noticed the doors were left open, but Copper, of course, had no desire to stray too far. Later, I went across the street to the grocery for batteries and dog food and snacks, and when my clothes were dry, I started packing up…but first I had to eat my cherries.
Then, I tossed my old boots, the boots that served me well the past five years, unceremoniously in the trash. I thought I might buy some flowers and some nails and nail them to the side of a shelter as planters, but there was nowhere nearby to acquire such things. So they were left to keep my old smelly shower shoes company in the trash can.
Just before I left, some British kids came in from the park where they were having a barbecue to cap off their bike ride for the day. (Apparently, Troutville comes before Damascus on the Trans-Am trail, and apparently only Brits like to bike said trail.) I wished I could join them, but I still had to walk some four miles out of town. Fortunately, as soon as I started walking back to the trailhead, a random guy (whose name I’ve forgotten) pulled in next to me and offered me a ride. Turns out he’s active with Together 4 Troutville and was planning to put together a hostel in town.
We hiked up the hill and reached the top of Fullhardt Knob just as the last light was fading away. Medicine Man and Kudo were already there and so was Coolie McJetpack, as well as a few section hikers: a vet and also had a dog, Nop, and an older lady who did very short days. I think he was the source of the cigarette smoke I fell asleep to and woke up to. I distributed the chocolate almonds to as many people as I could to try and get rid of them, laid out my tent on the ground to let it dry overnight, and nestled into the shelter with my bag half open. It was still quite hot out, so I let Copper sleep outside.
The next day I handed out more almonds, then left the remainder on the log with a note and a date. Coolie and Nop and I were the last ones out, but Coolie ran ahead quick. Nop nerd-sniped me by being a computer scientist working on an interesting (if impractical) problem. I ended up thinking mathy thoughts all the way to Wilson Creek Shelter. The only distraction was that it was a very reptiley day because of the heat, and I saw a couple of alligator lizards and some four-foot-long black ratsnakes. I passed the vet and Nop somewhere near the first intervening creek, took a brief moment to read the sign about the Collier’s Pit, and flounced on up to the shelter. The lady was already there and the vet with the dog came right behind, but Nop came much later, as he took a bath in the creek. I ended up looking up the names of algorithms and such to asymptotically speed up his project. All of those folk were planning to stay there (after only six miles!) so I went back down to the Collier’s Pit to soak my feet in the creek, and they were still there when I got back up, as well as one thru who stopped for water and wanted to wait out the sprinkling rain that had just started up. It only lasted for a few minutes, and the thru and me and Copper were the only ones who moved on.
The trail moved up to the Blue Ridge Parkway soon after that, and we walked within a hundred yards of it the entire evening.

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It amused me that just ten yards away from where hundreds of tourists passed each day, someone had made a gummi bear monument that only a handful of hikers would ever see.

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In general, I felt that having a road so nearby kind of ruined the hiking atmosphere. The noise of the passing cars and the occasional site of the asphalt strip detracted from the wilderness experience.
We raced an incoming storm until dusk, and it started raining just 5 minutes before we reached Bobblet’s Gap Shelter, where Coolie and Salad Days were already tucked in out of the rain. And the sun went down and the sun came up, and that was the first over-ten-mile day in the previous five, finally breaking the streak of neros.

And I think that brings you up through May 10th if my mental figuring is correct. Stay tuned for the next episode “To Catch A Movie” coming soon to a frequently-crashing blog near you in 3 days tops.

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