May 18 2015
Today I started out on trail before everyone. I spent a few miles clearing spider webs with my face until I encountered my favorite southbound duo: Dusty Pilgrim and Mofo. We were both glad to see one another because it meant that the mouthfuls and tickles of spider webs were done for the day. I hiked most of this day with Nurse who told me stories about nursing and in general kept the day moving along very well. We hiked on and off because I was slow going up hills.
It was nice to have human contact and to be alone throughout the day. Later I could see he was picking up his pace and thought maybe I wouldn’t see him again. A thunderstorm rolled in just as I finished a climb to a rocky ridge. I ran the ridge because lightning was crashing all around and the trees were small. I stopped during the downpour to draw a silly cartoon in one of the shelter journals.
When I came out of the scraggly forest and down into the farm fields the rain let up. The ground was saturated with water and I fell on a tricky board bridge which was just a floating board. I found out later a lot of other hikers fell in that trap. I made my way up the other side of the valley to find the Keiffer Oak, the largest oak tree south of the Mason Dixon line. I was in awe of its majesty. I sat there for a long while contemplating time and growth. I felt like I was sitting at the feet of an ancient. What had this tree seen pass by?
I studied my map for the next shelter finding that I had another tough climb to make and a few miles of side trail to the place I would call home for the night. I pushed on up a vertical climb to the top of a high ridge. I was aiming to sleep at a shelter called Sarver’s Hollow, an old homestead site. All along the ridge were 6-8 foot piles of rocks. I was baffled by the piles and made up many reasons as to why they were there. They seemed ghostly either way. They were a tribute to human forces out there in the woods.
The sun was thinking about setting as I got to the cut-off trail for the shelter: Switchbacks… straight off the ridge. I sighed and let gravity pull me back down off the mountain. I was exhausted upon arriving but was happily surprised to find Nurse eating dinner at the picnic table at one of the most beautiful shelters I had seen on trail. It had skylights.
I went down to the old homestead spring and pumped my water for the next day and explored the cabin ruins. Thick stone walls were disintegrating in the vibrantly green forest. A dedication sign on the shelter quoted Jack Kerouac, from the book I was currently carrying. I found this coincidence comforting and magical.
25 miles today, my longest day on trail so far.