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Maybe I'm mediocre after all!

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My wife and I still joke, after 30 years, about a TV announcer repeatedly bad-mouthing our football team -- until, when they were up by over three touchdowns, he said, "Maybe they have a good team after all." I make this post -- about a hike two weeks ago (yes, I'm falling behind) -- in that spirit. Last year's hikes, which I described as "too muddy, too muggy, too buggy", made me feel I was too slow to complete all 2185 miles of The Trail. This trek revived my confidence.

As I have done before over the years, I drove to a trail head, parked my car, used a taxi or bus to get to another trail head, and then hiked back to the car. What HAS changed this year is (1) my humility in estimating how far I can hike in a few days and (2) my speed. Despite fears that age and lack of conditioning would cause my body to deteriorate below its (already) pathetic state, this year I -- for reasons I don't understand -- am faster than I've ever been. When combined with my choice to only attempt wimpy mileage, my hikes have been FAR less problematic. Like I said in an earlier blog, the best travels are the ones without drama.

Seeing that I've done all miles north of U.S. Highway 60 (ie, Buena Vista) into New Hampshire, I decided to go south from there. Since I know that my REAL weak spot is going uphill, I also decided that I should try to go DOWN as much as possible. Which meant ending at the James River (Highway 511) parking area. Once again, arranging a ride with E's-Y Rider Cab
was (well) easy, as Eric is familiar with trail heads here. Since there was no way for me to know when, exactly, I would be at the James River car park, I told him I would call when I got there.

And this latter promise, while normally a simple task, proved to be QUITE a problem -- I couldn't get Verizon service there! Fortunately, I still had my car, so I drove to near Glascow and called from there. Note, of course, that I could ONLY do this because I had a car to drive to place with service -- if I had been calling for a pickup when I had no car, I would have REALLY had a problem!

Once Eric got my call, he got me quickly and safely to Long Mountain Wayside, at which I had to go a mere 1.8 miles -- all downhill -- to the Brown Mountain Creek Shelter. Since I started at 6:30pm, I figured even a ridiculously slow rate of a mile an hour would get me there before it got dark. I also calculated that, given all the factors in my favor (downhill, well-groomed trail, start of hike, short distance), I could do it in about 90 minutes. At 7:15 I thought, "If I'm doing well, I should be about half-way there." Imagine my shock when I saw the BMC Shelter right after that thought! As you can imagine, I had plenty of time to find a good tent site (there were already people there), eat my (now typical) unheated supper, set up my gear, and get to sleep about the time it got dark.

It was extremely intentional that my next day's hiking involved a mere 9.5 miles to the Punchbowl Shelter -- ten miles is close to my limit, particularly when there's a 1200 foot climb during the walk. Because I had VERY low expectations -- and thus plans -- I had little trouble getting to that shelter by mid-afternoon. Could I have walked farther? Almost certainly. Did I need to? No -- so I didn't. Instead, I decided to get my water, and wait before deciding whether or not to sleep in the shelter. Once again, it's nothing personal, I just don't sleep very well when I share a roof with strangers.
Within an hour, two guys came by and set their gear in the shelter, so my decision was easily made.
Once thing that was NOT easy was getting water, not the least a reasons being a lack of filterable water at Punchbowl.
The other, QUITE serious problem was that my Katadyn Filter was getting almost impossible to work. This is a pump filter so, if the handle becomes difficult to push or pull, then getting water is a trial. And, this night, that's exactly what happened. I was SOMEWHAT able to push water through the filter, but it seemed I was sweating off more water pushing the handle, than I was getting out. I couldn't tell if the pump was getting clogged due to silt, or simply getting old after about ten years of use.
For those who can't stand the suspense, I simply needed to lubricate the o-ring on the handle -- now it's as good as new. I still recommend the Katadyn Filter -- which, BTW, is pronounced like the company that makes it: "CAT-uh-dine" not "Kuh-TAH-din."
I was also able to boil a pint of water to my purification standards (ie, the water was bubbling for about one minute)
so I wasn't about to die here.

To my EXTREME blessing, a fellow hiker had a Sawyer Squeeze
which might be what I get when my Katadyn finally falls apart.

ANYWAY, once I got my water situation a little more settled, I had little trouble getting my tent set up, and my gear ready for any kind of weather that evening.
Unfortunately, I did have trouble getting to sleep that night, because
(1) the frogs in the pond were loud all night. The fact that I know that male frogs make noise because they are looking for reproductive mates,
I couldn't stop thinking about a male frog (basically) saying, "Ribbit, ribbit, Hey, baby, wanna pass on some DNA?"
(2) It started to drizzle. Then rain. Then pour. When you're in a small tent with rain coming down in buckets, all you can do is just lay there and hope the tent doesn't leak -- there is NO WAY you can sleep. In 20-20 hindsight, maybe I should have stayed in the shelter after all.

VERY fortunately, I had only a bit more of hiking -- almost all downhill -- in order to get to the James River and end my hike. Thus, the water I got from a generous co-hiker was more than enough for my needs this next day. This made for a hike that was, except for two events, pretty dull.
(1) For only the third time while actually on The Trail, I saw a bear. And, like the previous two times, the bear was running away at full speed before I even got my camera out of its holder. I know that's actually good for the bear -- they SHOULD run full speed away from humans as soon as they smell us -- but it was sad for me.
(2) As I arrived at Johns Hollow Shelter for a short break, my grand total of A.T. hiking distance reached 1001 miles. Bizarrely, even though I try to keep track of this number every day, I had gotten confused on the number of miles done, and was unaware of the milestone I had just passed. It was only after getting home that I did some calculations and realized that I had clicked over to four digits.
Anyway, I arrived at the James River by mid-afternoon -- again, a pretty good pace for me.

I could have spent this night at a motel, or another night at a shelter close to a road. Instead, I compromised and spent it at the Peaks of Otter Campground.
In my numerous visits to the area mid-week, I have found that, even in summer, the unimproved campgrounds are almost empty. One night here costs $16, payable by cash or check. If there is someone at the camp entrance when you arrive, you can pay with credit card, but -- like almost all of my visits to campgrounds, there was nobody at the station this evening. I was (again) blessed to find someone who had change for my $20 bill, and chose a site in the tent-only section, close to the flush toilets but not adjacent to anyone else. I slept quite well, and awoke ready for more miles.

During a previous week of "ultimate slackpacking," I had done several miles on the A.T. where it crosses and re-crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway. However, I still had a seventeen mile section, between Parker's Gap and the James River, that I had not covered. My plan was to do some of these miles on this trip, using a method I'd done before:
(1) Leave a bicycle at the high point of where the A.T. crosses a road that parallels The Trail.
(2) Drive down to a lower part of that road.
(3) Hike back up to the bike.
(4) Ride the bike down the paved road, back to the car.
My choice for a high point on the Blue Ridge Parkway is at elevation 3900 feet, and called "Upper BRP" in the Companion. I hiked up there from both Parker's Gap (3430 feet) and the Thunder Ridge Parking area (3501 feet). I found the fields atop Apple Orchard Mountain full of flowers, butterflies, and radar equipment

My plan to cover this untrod section worked well EXCEPT for an unexpected problem -- the Blue Ridge Parkway is REALLY steep along here! I not only didn't have to pedal, I almost wore out my brakes going down. This approach of mine; combining walking, biking, and driving; works fine IF you don't mind going down so fast that it can be scary. I decided to not go any further with this approach, not even down to Petite's Gap. I then made an easy seven-hour drive back home.

As a minor aside, on this trip I managed to avoid all slip & falls, mosquito bites, mud, and forgetting of my hiking pole -- in other words, all the things that made last year so miserable. In addition, I've discovered (almost by accident) that a simple change in how I use my pole allows me to avoid shoulder pain that required a cortisone shot last year.