Despite gnarly trail and rain most of the day, I was in an exceptionally good
mood all day today. I knew I was surpassing one-third of the distance (at 725
miles) - another sign of progress - and I would then be able to skip ahead to
the next section of Trail beyond Bearwallow Gap. Soon I'll be in the Shenandoahs!
I was also very happy to have Jim back home, and had fond memories of the
last three days with my friends on the Trail. Last, I knew I'd be taking
tomorrow off to get ready to move on up the road . . . all this helped make my
run go fast today, despite the rain and rocky obstacle course.
I finished in nine hours, right on my time estimate. Jim was happy to get to
our shady rendezvous in just under an hour this time; it took over 1:30 to get
to the start today, meaning he spent nearly five hours on the road taking me to
trail heads and going home between.
It was nerve-wracking in the morning because the low-fuel light came on in the
truck long before Jim expected it to. My starting location was in a remote
mountainous area, miles from civilization. Fortunately, he made it back down to
a gas station before running dry. I was glad when he called to tell me he didn't
have to hike for diesel fuel. It might have made a more interesting story, but
it would've ruined his day!
I call this section my "missing link." If you recall, I skipped ahead and did
three other sections closer to Roanoke on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday when Jim
was out of town and couldn't ferry me to and from trail heads. Three of my ultra
friends played that role and ran those sections with me.
So I had to return to pick up this one section I skipped.
It's been unseasonably hot and humid this week in southwest Virginia, so I
was glad for today's rain. I got the humidity in spades, but not the heat. Jim
didn't get into any rain between there and home, just the opposite of Friday
when Graham and I were high and dry in the mountains but Roanoke got soaked.
We saw more Trail Magic at the start today: someone left a case of
Hokie water bottles for hikers. (The Hokies are the Virginia Tech teams. I think
it's a strange name, but what do I know??)
Brilliant gold and orange flame azaleas brightened the foggy Trail the first
few miles of the Mountain Lake Wilderness. They contrasted beautifully with the
bright green leaves and ferns in the forest. Later, mountain laurels in bloom
made the Trail more interesting in several sections, including the rocky face of
Sinking Creek Mountain.
Today was unusual in that I started off high (a little above 4,000 feet) and
went down to the first shelter (War Spur, about 2,300 feet) in the first four
miles. There weren't any hikers at the shelter, so I just read and signed the
register. Someone had left a teeny can of Bag Balm in the plastic zip-lock bag
with the register. It measured only about a 1 1/4 inch cube, very cute.
I later ran across more Trail Magic on the trail - a cooler with drinks and
snacks. I couldn't read the note that accompanied the goodies because rain had
smeared the writing.
I had an 1,800-foot climb up to Rocky Gap and Kelly Knob. It was an
undulating, rocky but gradual ascent. The ridge was also extremely rocky and unrunnable. The next shelter (Laurel Creek) was just down the other side.
I had passed a hiker on the ridge, but didn't talk to him much. He didn't
look like a thru-hiker with his small pack and clean appearance. "Surface" came
in while I was still eating my food bar at Laurel Creek and we had a nice
conversation. He is a thru-hiker, but had been off the Trail for a few
days to have a wisdom tooth removed.
I asked him about his trail name. He's a caver (he didn't say "spelunker")
more than a hiker. He spends a lot of his free time underground, so his friends
teased him about "being on the surface" for six months while he hikes the AT.
Someone had left some lemon-line soft drinks in the shelter. For the first
time, I helped myself to some "trail magic." It may be my last. I drank about
2/3 of the can, tossed the rest out, crushed the can and put it in my pack, and
went on. The Trail became runnable, but I couldn't run. I was too dizzy for
about half a mile. I assume it was the sugar rush the soft drink gave me - I
expected belching, not getting dizzy! It cleared up in a few minutes,
Shortly after Laurel Creek, I came to some fields and VA 42. It was raining
fairly hard at this point. A young lady was just getting out of a car with
several rowdy 20-ish guys. She had a large pack with a bright green rain cover.
And she was wearing a skimpy two-piece bathing suit!
She was a very shapely, very attractive young woman who any young (or older!)
man would love to follow on the Trail. I got over the stile at the road before
she did, but she soon caught up to me as we climbed the first hilly field and we
talked a little.
Turns out she's a thru-hiker who goes by the name "Cucumber." She stopped in
Blacksburg for two days to visit her dad, and was determined to catch up to the
folks she's been hiking with. When I commented on her quick-drying outfit, she
said it was very practical for both heat and rain.
Cucumber and I played leap-frog up the next 1,500-foot climb to Sinking Creek
Mountain. Although it wasn't a contest, I was pleased to pace myself better and
easily beat her to the top! She just plain started out too fast. Since I came
back to do this section and have done 64 miles north of here, I doubt I'll see
It was about six miles across the Sinking Creek Ridge. Some was runnable,
most was not. A mile or two into the ridge, I ran across about twenty large
piles of rocks, some thrown together, some neatly stacked about five feet high.
If I hadn't read in the guide book that they were placed there by farmers
clearing their land for crops, I would've wondered if they were graves!
Later on the ridge there was an area with slick rock slabs set at a
45-degree angle that was interesting but difficult to negotiate. Although it
was sunny by then, the rocks were still slippery. I should have worn my more grippy
Hardrocks today; the Vitesse are more cushy on rocks, but I had problems sliding
around on those smooth outcrops. It's a wonder I didn't fall down.
There was a nice 2,000-foot drop over 3½ miles to Craig Creek Valley,
where I met Jim. There was one more shelter a mile from the end, Niday. The only
one I didn't go to today was Sarver Cabin, up on Sinking Creek Mountain, because
it was too far off the Trail.
I felt like I could've run longer today, probably because I did so much
walking. I love "easy" days like this! But this is probably not a section I'll return
to use as a training run. It's just too rocky and there aren't any compelling
scenic features. The views are better from Dragon's Tooth, McAfee Knob, and