I hit the AT around 10:00 AM after a breakfast of dry cereal and leftover sausage. (Future reference -- always brush your teeth after eating summer sausage...what a taste after a few hours!) I think it'd be safe to say that most of the day was fairly boring hiking. The trail followed the parkway along a rocky, plant-lined path. I finally crossed the parkway at Dripping Rock and began the longer-than-it's-listed-as ascent to Humpback Rock. I passed Totin' Chip on the way, whom I'd not seen since he limped out of the Trails Cafe just before Trail Days. Since I didn't know him too well, there were no hugs or questions of past experiences, merely a greeting.
It took longer than I'd anticipated to get to Humpback. Considerably longer, in fact. This is an awful feeling, especially if I'm on a section of trail that I kinda-sorta know. After I believe I've gone the, say, two miles to the shelter, I'll find myself thinking "Oh, yeah, it's just right around this corner -- I remember now!" And, of course, the shelter is not. This may keep up for half an hour until it finally appears. When I go through this routine for long enough, I'll usually end up needing to take a break for a few minutes. And, naturally, the shelter is 50 feet from where I'd taken my 20-minute break. This isn't just me, I've asked around -- it's a universal hiking thing. (Just ask those microbes from Mars about thru-hiking the Valles Marineris canyon system.)
It was great to get to Humpback Rocks. That was the first place on the AT I'd been to in the area, having gone on a family trip when I was 12. At that point I had no idea that I was on the Appalachian Trail, though I was well aware of the existance of the AT, but I enjoyed Humpback immensely. The rocks jut out 100 feet or so into space (though well-supported space, by rocks below), with a great view of the valley, a ribbon of Blue Ridge Parkway winding into the distance. There was a German couple up there, and Totin' Chip soon caught up to me. I've always liked the graffitti up on Humpback. I realise that it sounds silly to say that, but it's kind of neat. Much of it is quite old, going back to the former portion of the century. I know that this doesn't sound old to most readers, but it's a sort of a comfirmation of the rocks' age. I know they're billions of years old, but I have a hard time getting a sense of that. So I can appreciate, by way of the spray-paint and chiseled "DL+AC '34" that all of this is at least a good 62 years old.
The descent down Humpback was pretty much as I remembered it -- somewhat steep at times, paved with gravel and broken up with wooden stairways. Totin' Chip needed to hitch into Waynesboro, so he left from the parking lot with that German couple from the rocks. I continued down a couple of miles towards the Paul C. Wolfe shelter. The trail wanders down the side of the mountain until you can hear the rushing of Mill Creek, and there is the shelter. This was the first really impressive shelter that I'd ever stayed at. I've seen some mighty impressive shelters along the AT, but I've spent so much time at the Paul C. Wolfe that I really like this one. It's so full of memories that I have to like it.
Once, a couple of years ago, I was up here for two nights, just a weekend camping trip, with a bunch of friends. On the second day, while exploring Mill Creek, I'd slipped on a rock and twisted my ankle. I fell into the water, crawled onto land into stinging nettles and an ant hill. I found the whole thing rather funny at the time, and I was found several minutes later, wet, scratching myself furiously and laughing hysterically. I had to be carried back to the shelter, where I lay for the next 24 hours in more pain than I cared for. The next morning, when we were to leave, we decided that it would be easily enough to move me. The others set about making a stretcher, just like some of us had learned in Boy Scouts, by stretching clothing over two long, strong limbs.
This worked nicely. For about five minutes. The clothes slipped and I kept falling through. They tried a sleeping bag instead, which didn't work much better. They tried all kinds of carries and multiple-person devices from scouts, EMT classes and medical books. Finally, after meeting with failure over and over, Nathan Williamson slung me over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and carried me up to the Humpback Rock parking lot.
This time I decided to be a little more cautious in my crossing of the creek, and so I simply walked right through the water instead of tiptoeing along slippery rocks. I found a couple of groups in the shelter, each of which had just arrived from opposite directions. One of them was a man and his son. The father was a large, friendly man, carrying a large external-frame pack. His son, Kindergarten-age, was carrying a smaller pack and constantly testing his father's limits. The second group was a half-male, half-female group of kids who looked to be aged 16 or 17. They told me they were an SCA group (Student Conservation Association? Society for Creative Anachronisims? Society of Cinema Artists?) that had just finished doing some trail maintence and blazing, and this hike of a few days was their break and reward for hard work. They were hiking from Rockfish Gap to Hog Camp Gap, just before the Priest.
The father and son set up camp away from the shelter, and so I spent the evening with the group of kids. There was a main councilor, a guy who was not much older, but seemed to be in charge. I spent a bit talking to one guy talking, who said he attended "the top prep school in the U.S." I asked him what school that might be. He told me, and it meant nothing to me. He was shocked. He told me that he plans on attending Harvard, and I told him I'm not entirely opposed to my doing the same. We had a gloriously obnoxious discussion about our own achievements and how Harvard could never possibly turn either of us down. I won't reproduce the conversation here, as to cut down on my volume of hate-mail. I made mac and cheese for dinner, ate about ten bites, and took it out back and buried it. I think that was my last box of mac and cheese.
I slept well in my new sleeping bag, though I stayed up later than perhaps I ought to have -- I was continuing reading Toni Morrison's "Song of Solomon". It's one darn good book.
Song In My Head Today: Joni Mitchell, "My Old Man"