Last night we all slept quite well. When we woke, Kevin had already packed up and was preparing to leave. The value of sleeping in was not yet lost to me. The meal plan was, yet again, oatmeal. I think I will get tired of this quickly. The problem was that I had Giant brand oatmeal. What crud. I hit the trail around 10:30. It was warm and sunny with blue skies overhead. As I hiked, squirrels and chipmunks dove off of the trail, scattering a wake of leaves. About ten minutes after I started to hike around to Hightower Gap, I heard the others about a quarter of a mile behind me, laughing and talking as they hiked. I crossed USFS Route 42 (!), beginning a series of ups and downs. The next few miles was a roller coaster hike, up and down, up and down, up and down. For a few miles the trail was covered with tiny flecks of mica, glittering as I walked forward. I felt like Dorothy on the Yellow Brick Road. 'Cept here the whole place seems like the Emerald City.
A couple hours later, I hit a trashed campground. There were remnants of some recent hikers. There was a bag of bread on the ground, the bag ripped and mashed bread exposed. Near it lay a five-pound sack of flour, ripped open, powdery innards mingling with the dirt beneath. Cans and other trash lay in and around the fire circle. I considered packing it out, but it was weight that I couldn't bear. I still feel bad about it.
I met up with High-Tech at Justus Creek about an hour later. He was clad only in shorts, clothing draped over the footbridge, water pump on the ground. He was taking a break after the tough hike, doing a little housecleaning. After the creek I entered a beautiful series of rhodo tunnels, with bloodroot gazing up at me as I passed. The trail meandered up the mountains, crossing small streams and ducking under low branches. Around 3:30 I hit my goal, Gooch Gap Shelter. It was small, sitting on top of a hill and naked-looking. As I was signing into the register, I found my hand betraying me. "Hiking on", it wrote. It was in pen and in the register, what else could I do but hike on? Elsewhere in the register, I saw a few familiar names. Meg Huddleston and Christine Shaw, both fellow Charlottesvillians, had signed in. Meg had even said "hi" to me. While leaving the shelter I bumped into Kevin. He, too, was pushing on. We hiked together for a bit, but I soon out paced him. Slow and steady wins the race.
I spent the next half hour daydreaming, engrossed by the views and my own thoughts. I was jerked into reality when I nearly stepped on a four-foot black snake sunning itself. I stepped back, picked up a few twigs, and lobbed them at it, trying to get it to leave. I didn't want to end up with a snakebite, but I didn't care to wait for the sun to go down, either. After a few it began to move. Then it rattled. Black snakes just don't do that. Rattlesnakes do that. I think I'm safe in saying that I'm none too keen on rattlesnakes. I took another few steps back. Black snakes I'll hurry. Rattlesnakes can take their own time. It rattled a few more times. I looked a little more closely, trying to count the rattles. That's when I noticed that it had none. The black snake was just shaking its tail against the dead leaves to sound like a rattlesnake. Pretty cool.
I finally hit my new goal, Woody Gap, at 6 PM. It seems like a popular spot, for several cars went by each minute. Some stop, people getting out of their cars at the overlook. I set up my tent in the soft soil right next to the parking lot and ate a dinner of pita and peanut butter. Kevin soon arrived, looking tired, but happy. A car of five guys and two girls pulled up soon after. The five guys got out and began to hacky-sack. I couldn't resist. I put on my sandals, tightened them up, and hacked with them. The two girls were clearly quite drunk, but all of the guys were fine. I realized how much my back hurt when I tried to do a back stall. I surrendered and turned in for the night around 8:30.
The song stuck in my head today: Jamie Dyer's "Gallows Yard"
What's the difference between thru-hikers and the homeless? Gore-Tex.