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Hit a dry spell - Part 1

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As those parts of The Trail, that I have not walked, become farther away from both my home and usable mass transit, it has become increasingly difficult to get to a trail head from which I can then get to another trail head no more than fifty miles away. That distance is my "magic" number, in that it's about the maximum I can expect to hike in five days. That time period is the maximum I can plan to be away from responsibilities of mine that I prefer not to neglect. However, last week I was able to sneak in just over 41 miles, from Highway 621 (just north of Blacksburg) to Daleville. I might have tried to do more miles, but the area had a thunderstorm on Tuesday. I don't mind driving to an area in a thunderstorm, but I'd like to avoid downpours while on The Trail. Yes, that makes me a wimp, but I'll gladly be a dry wimp.

My plan was to use the $4 bus service between Roanoke and Blacksburg -- more details here:
As is usual for me, I planned to park my car at one end of my trek, get to the other end by mass transit or taxi or shuttle, and then hike back to the car. I've always figured that it's better to end one's hike at the car, as it is impossible to tell a shuttle or taxi when to expect me at the end of a multi-day hike.
As Daleville has a park & ride lot on a well-travelled road, it was pretty clear that this would be my end point. But, once I leave my car there, how do get to a Smartway bus stop?
The nearest such stop is the Roanoke Airport, so it makes sense to get from Daleville to there. In order to get an early start on my first day of hiking, I saw it would be best to leave the airport at 6:35a. Being at the airport at that time of day basically means staying at a motel near the airport; and I was able to find an adequate motel, with free airport shuttle, at a good price.

I had little trouble driving down to Roanoke, checking into the Quality Inn, parking my car at Daleville, and getting a taxi back to the airport. As I noted in my descriptive posting, "B. Early" Taxi has the advantage of accepting credit cards for fares, so I used that company.
Nervousness over this hike resulted in a less than ideal sleep at the Quality Inn, and a (typical) reluctance to eat a lot before hitting The Trail. Their free shuttle got me to the Smartway stop in plenty of time, and this bus got me to Squires Student Center pretty much on schedule.
At which point I THOUGHT I would have no problem getting one of the five taxi companies in this town to take my money after driving me to the trail head. Unfortunately, it took three phone calls before anyone said they had a driver available, and he took over an hour to get to Squires.
Fortunately, this driver was familiar with Craig's Creek Road, also designated Virginia Highway 621. However, he was not familiar with the exact location of the trail head. For those who don't have Google Maps{R} to locate this spot while you are in a car, going northeast on this road from U.S. Highway 460, I'll mention
1) It's just past Teaberry Lane, a short road just off Craig's Creek Road
2) You'll see this
when you get there.

As I learned to do, in keeping with my (pathetic) abilities as a backpacker, my first day of hiking was the fairly simple hike of 8.8 miles to the Pickle Branch Shelter. I'm glad to say not much happened in this day's hike.
Although I had not intended to even stop at the Audie Murphy Memorial, the place is defnitely worth a break. It's just off the trail, there's a bench to relax on, and (most importantly) I found it moving to see the wide variety of memories that people left here.
Reading on his career, I have to admire Murphy for his openness on how he suffered from battle fatigue (now known as PTSD), making it clear that this condition is NOT a symptom of weakness or cowardice -- unless you want to call Murphy a weakling or a coward. His candor on the matter forced our society to accept that some war wounds can't be seen, but still need medical attention.

I arrived at the shelter a at about 6pm, giving me plenty of time to eat dinner, gather water for the next day, and set up my gear for the night. At about 8p I laid down to "give my eyes some rest"* and, before I knew it, I was ready for shut-eye. After more than one night of bad sleep in the last week, I was ready for some REAL time in dreamland.

I awoke the next morning at 6am -- almost ten hours of sleep! Despite a later than usual start time of 7a, and a planned walk of over thirteen miles to the Johns Spring Shelter, my confidence was strong for exceeding last year's typical pace of a mile an hour. Thus, I figured, I should have no problem getting to JSS well before dark. I even planned to wash myself and my undershirt while there.
I also noted that I had seen a grand total of three people since starting my trek. I began to think I would have a lot of solitude over the next few days.
Things did NOT go as planned!
It wasn't bad that I ran into about thirty day hikers in the next couple hours, but it was bit jarring after planning on quiet this day.
The first problem was that the hike down from Dragon's Tooth Overlook is a killer -- its steepness reminded me of Agony Grind in New York State. 1210 feet down in the two miles to Highway 624 doesn't sound too bad -- but it IS. By the time I got to that road, I found I wasn't just failing to exceed a mile an hour, I was going LESS than that! I actually started planning what I would do if it got dark before I got to JSS.
Fortunately, I soon began to make up my lost time, and got to JSS by 7pm. Plenty of time, I thought, to fill up my almost empty water bladder.
Second problem: there was no water at Johns SPRING Shelter. Indeed, there wasn't even a sign on where to look for water. My map showed a creek within a quarter-mile of the shelter, but I didn't see any trail going down in that direction. I thus resolved to at least search for this creek, using the map app on my Droid to locate where I was in relation to that creek.
The good result of this decision: I saw a bear during my search -- only my fourth while right on the AT, and my second in two weeks! Again, it ran off before I could even turn on my camera app, as bears near shelters should do.
The bad result: it was getting dark, there was nothing remotely resembling a trail to this creek (even if it existed!), and I was guiding myself with a Droid. Before I got myself into REAL trouble, I just decided to go back to the shelter, spend a quiet night, and get water wherever I happened to find it the next day.

* A family in-joke -- as a young child, more than once I would insist, "I'm not going to sleep, I'm just resting my eyes."

Updated 08-22-2014 at 20:09 by GoldenBear