Original entry: Are you afraid of the dark?
This turned out to be the longest day so far - a distance of 19.6 miles between shelters (Tumbling Run to Birch Run shelters). I originally planned for the day to end 7.4 miles back at Quarry Gap shelters, but there was a huge boy scout troop there that had taken over the area. When I passed through I saw them making dinner, so I didn’t even ask if they were staying the night, just assumed it…
Yesterday I ran into a large hiker who was doing a section hike that, combined with his previous hikes, would finish up his AT hiking. He warned me about the weather tomorrow - supposed to be rain and thunderstorms all day. This would factor into my rationale for today’s long hike…
Hiked all the way to just before Caledonia State Park, and I headed west on the highway I was supposed to cross leading into it. There was a restaurant there called Timber's that was hiker friendly and recommended by the previous shelter’s maintainers. They even had a menu for the restaurant inside the shelter! (edit: it looks like Timber's closed a few months later unfortunately)
I got a giant two patty burger, a few unsweetened iced teas, and a vanilla milkshake. They were super nice to me and had me sign their hiker guestbook. They even filled up my water bottle for me! Great service. The food was also way better than the American fare in Waynesboro. Timbers has a great chargrilled burger that’s been the best so far. Finally the tide turned - previously the best place I dined at was a Japanese food place in Waynesboro, which wasn’t even run by Japanese folks, but Korean folks. So far leading to that, all the American fare places were kind of misses…
That food was the highlight of my day! It also turned out to be the fuel that kept me going through pretty much a second day of hiking packed all into the evening.
After Caledonia, the AT seems to go straight uphill for a ways, in what was probably the hardest part of the day’s climb. After that I looked forward to the usual waypoints on my map to mark my progress - streams, gas lines, and power lines. If only life itself was setup this way, with waypoints to let you know you were on the right track, and making progress…
Arrived in Quarry Gap shelters, which was recommended to me by the Tumbling Run maintainers, but the entire site was overrun with Boy Scouts. Maybe there were some tent sites available, but I really wanted to sleep in a quieter area, so I trudged on. If it was going to rain all the next day, the heck with it I thought, I may as well make some progress this evening instead.
There were several empty tent sites along the trail - each time I came across one, the sky was darker than before. I was a bit paranoid of where to store my food at these places. I could do the PCT bear bag hang if I remembered how to do it - and I didn’t - if I could find a good enough branch on a tree. I think there were a few good candidates for this, but I didn’t do it. Maybe it was fear at being of one of these relatively remote campsites alone.
I started my unplanned evening hike, which turned into a night hike with my small flashlight. This is an awesome flashlight with three power settings, the highest which lit up the path ahead very well, but also drained the battery fast. Because of that I was conservative and kept it on the lowest setting. My backup battery was buried somewhere in my pack…
The shelter was over five miles ahead, and my body seemed to be holding up fine. Of course the forest at night was creepy, with all sorts of sounds I hadn’t heard before. I was expecting strange eyes to be peering back at me when I shone my light into the darkness, but I didn’t see anything. I was half relieved and half disappointed, recounting one of my night hikes in Big Bear, where yellow and green eyes scoped me out from the sides of the trail.
As I got closer to the shelter, with greater frequency I passed active tent sites. People would be freaked out when they heard this crazy night hiker approaching, shining their flashlights in my direction. One group I passed was some teenagers or mid twenties folks having a party. They were half joking (?!) around to themselves after seeing me - “did you bring a gun?". Great, I am more likely to be killed out here by one of my own rather than a bear or whatnot.
I heard some shouting and partying when I approached the shelter, but thankfully it was in the distance. The shelter was entirely quiet. There were so many tents that it resembled the homeless tent city back in Santa Cruz.
Around 9:45pm I setup my tent with my flashlight in my mouth, making sure to prepare for the coming rain in the morning. Success! It pays to have practice… (I obviously need practice with that PCT bear hang, so I can be comfortable camping anywhere). Didn’t care about inflating the inflatable mattress tonight, and thought it would make too much noise. To be honest the cool ground felt relaxing.
(the following was written the next morning [April 14])
It was a cold night - I added my sleeping liner to the mix tonight. Despite the cold I think this was my most comfortable night, probably due to how tired I was.
It’s morning now, and it sounds like there is another Boy Scout camp and more all around me, waking up and cooking. It’s funny, at first I thought these folks talking and messing about with tents were super late night hikers being rude. But the growing glow surrounding the tent wasn’t the moon or some rude person shining their light at my tent - it was folks waking up for the morning. I hadn’t expected to sleep so well… really expected to wake up far more often. But the night passed too quick.
Now it doesn’t seem to be raining - did the forecast change? Can my feet take more walking today?
My memories one year later
Gah! I still remember the pain in my feet at the end of this day. I was hobbling around somewhat in the dark when I finally made it to my campsite, another totally overrun shelter and campsite. Must've been folks out on Easter/Spring Break.
I also remember being a little dazed while hiking through these places in the dark. There were SO MANY people camped out with campfires along the train, including a group which seems to have rented out a cabin in the middle of a valley. I stopped to get some water, and the group seemed freaked out, shining their flashlight at me like I was a ghost, but not actually trying to talk to me, so I didn't respond to them. Just relaxed, grabbed my water as soon as I could, then took off.
I could have set up at a number of places, but it was really important to find a spot that would be quiet so I could get a good sleep.
Incidentally, my sleep that night was some of the best sleep I've gotten. I must've fallen asleep instantly. The next sound I heard was voices the next morning as the Boy Scout troop (yet another one!) was making an earlier breakfast and tearing down their tents. I could swear I thought it was still night time, and some later arrivals having a super early dinner. Couldn't hardly believe it when I opened my eyes and saw daylight!