I rose at 7:00, by when The Professor and Gilligan had already left, around when Totin' Chip, Jayhiker and Wooden Nickel woke. I had cereal for breakfast, on top of which I piled on the blackberries that I had picked the day before. I'd even had the sense to chill the berries by putting a Zip-loc full of 'em in a bottle of cold spring water.
The other three and I headed out together, Totin' Chip taking lead, then me, Jayhiker and finally Wooden Nickel. I filled up on water at the spring on the way back to the trail -- it looked like it would be a dry day, in terms of spring and stream locations. We all made a point of drinking a quart that morning to cut down on how much we'd need to consume throughout the rest of the day.
The day promised to be a beautiful one. The sky was a deep shade of blue, the carefree, pure kind, with little white clouds. Chip and I pulled ahead before long, but the Brothers Kansas were never far behind. Before long we came to the sign announcing that we were officially entering Shenandoah National Park boundaries, which warranted a victory whoop from all of us. The Professor and Gilligan were road-hiking, it turned out, as we saw them just about every time we crossed a road. (That happens a lot, in the Shenandoah National Park, as the road and trail weave across one another frequently.) We took a lot of breaks, making a point of reading the signs describing the historic value of the area in some war and explaining what we were seeing in the overlooks. The terrain was pretty easy, and water was more abundant than we'd predicted. It was hot, but wearing just shorts solved that.
Totin' Chip had a great solution -- he wears a skirt when hiking. "It's not a skirt!", he protests. "It's a sarong!" It's a skirt. He says that the airflow is great, but that he tends to scare the day hikers. "Chicks dig it," he says. Any chick that would dig me in a skirt I wouldn't want to dig me. (My friend Claire insists I'd be cute in a skirt.)
We broke for lunch at 12:30. I ate the remainder of my food, having planned to restock later in the day at Loft Mountain Campground, and decided to boogie on out of there before the others. I had a strong interest in getting there before 5:30, when "The Thru-Hiker's Handbook" said that they close. Being 1:30, that left me with 3.5 hours to get there with time to buy stuff. That's a pretty speedy 10 miles.
I zipped over to Blackrock Shelter, where I signed in and out, continuing up to Blackrock. It was a steep climb up, but I remembered it from last time I'd hiked in the area. I passed a few people headed down the mountain, but I just chugged past them like a speed-walkin' city fella gone wrong. The view from the top of Blackrock was great, but I didn't even stop. I've spent hours up there before, so I didn't feel guilty this time.
After ascending Blackrock, the trail was pretty flat. It was well-shaded and well- graded, with many road crossings. I was going so well, in fact, that I managed to overtake and pass three teenage girls without even stopping or saying more than "Hi". That is urgency.
I followed the first sign, on the south side of Loft Mountaincampground, that pointed to the camp store. I suddenly found the trail crowded by dayhikers -- couples, women in sundresses, kids playing in the trees. Not far past them I came to a walkway, which was when I recognised where I was. My family had camped here four, maybe five years before. I remember walking down to the campstore, which was where convienently exactly where I was now headed.
The sign on the door said "Open Until 7:00". I felt stupid. Not long after I walked in, The Professor and Gilligan walked in, too. I bought chips, 32 ozs of OJ, a pint of Shenandoah's Pride ice cream (impressively bad) and 32 ozs of chocolate milk. I sat on the ground out front, along with Professor and Gilligan. Both are hard to get to speak. The Professor really is a professor, an older gentleman who listens to conversations intently, but seldom speaks. Gilligan is a younger guy, with an appearance that does not commit itself to memory easily. I'm not quite sure what their relationship is (Father/son? Friends? Teacher/student?), but they seem close. Or, at least, they seem quiet together. That's about all I know about 'em.
After eating all of that, I returned to the store and shoped for another day and a half of food, which should've gotten me to Lewis Mountain Campground. I loaded up my pack, in which time Gilligan and the Professor left, and waited for the others to show up. I finished up "Song of Solomon", and then just juggled for a bit. While waiting, I met a guy looking for directions to where he could get food. He told me that he was a camp councilor down at Camp Friendship in Palmyra. There was a girl with him, though she stayed in the car. We would meet again later.
I wound my way back into the campground, a huge circle with circles inside and cross- roads, and even occasional grassy spots for camping on. In nearly every available space there was an RV, motor home or conversion van parked, with a family sitting nearby, around a fire (with wood paid for, $3.00 a bundle, at the campstore), the hum of the generator reminding them that they're in The Great Outdoors. Deciding that Totin' Chip and the Brothers Kansas had, for whatever reason, not made it all the way to Loft Mountain, I set up camp. Lacking a tent, as I had left it back home at week before, I decided to just sleep under the stars.
I walked around for easily an hour, looking for a good spot. I finally found one, just inside and to the left. I laid down my sleeping bag on the ground, my pack next to it. I mixed up some Kool-Aid, downed a quart of that, and decided to head off. I'd read on the announcements board that there would be a bird lecture in the amphitheatre at dusk. So, as the sun began to set, I walked down, a sausage in one pocket and half a pound of cheese in the other. There were a lot of people there for the talk, though nobody was sitting in the front row. This is a phenomenon not entirely, in the male mind, like girls going to the bathroom in groups. So I, being Waldo, sat right down in the front and centre. There was a bit of a chill in the air, so many of the people there we wearing jeans and jackets. I was the freak with the shorts and t-shirt carving cheese into his mouth and tearing up sausage with his teeth.
The ranger's talk waws interesting, but it was almost embarassing to watch her. She seemed frightened to be in front of so many people, like a comedian on stage for the first time. I did learn some interesting things about the species of avians living in the Shenandoah National Park. There was, as an added bonus, a great sunset going on during the talk.
I walked back in the dark to my campsite, set my boots next to my sleeping bag and pulled myself in. (Into the sleeping bag, not the boots.) I wrote for a bit, but I finally went to sleep, mesmerised by the bobbing of passing flashlights.
Song Stuck in my Head Today: Elvis Costello and The Brodsky Quartet, "This Offer is Unrepeatable"