Friday, June 13 – Sunday, June 15, US60, Buena Vista – VA664, Reid’s Gap, Waynesboro (Mile 838.7 since Springer Mountain and only 1346.6 miles to Katahdin)
Buena Vista was a great stop, with plenty of food and a couple of beers to raise my energy level and recalibrate my enthusiasm.
I’ve slipped into a friendship with Billy Goat, as we seem to be walking at pretty much a similar pace and have ended in the same place for a couple of evenings. He is a quiet, modest guy who is actually a real life hero, despite his protestations, as an ER doctor in San Francisco. He was due to meet his mother and aunt at Reid’s Gap on Saturday afternoon at about 4pm and that tied well into my plan to get into Waynesboro that evening for the England v Italy World Cup game, as he offered to give me a lift.
Consequently, when we left Buena Vista that morning, we had decided to try to get to Priests Shelter, a daunting day of over 20 miles, especially as we could only get a shuttle back to the trailhead at 10am, so our day’s hiking couldn’t begin until 10.30. We knew that we’d likely be hiking nearly until dark.
This day turned out to be my best hiking day thus far, not least because we encountered three examples of trail magic.
The first happened over breakfast in the hostel/cafe we’d been staying in, The Blue Dog Art Cafe, the previous evening. We were having our fill of breakfast with a couple of lady hikers when the owner of the cafe brought in a basket that had been donated by a group of local women. In the basket, there were items for hikers and we were told to help ourselves. I chose a pack of hand wipes, always handy, so to speak, on this bacteria overload of a trip.
At the Trailhead, there was another large group of hikers, along with a lovely gent who was handing out all sorts of goodies to us. I opted for the baked beans and frankfurters, and took an apple for dessert. Two bits of trail magic prior to taking a step was a great omen for the day.
You may remember from my previous post that I cut short my day the night before to get some food inside me. It was also because I knew that there was a bloody great hill coming up and it was this hill that I was facing this morning. In that last post, I forgot to mention that I had just been thinking that the week back from my infection had been excellent, with good mileage and not a single fall. Within seconds of this daft thought I was on my backside again, for the eleventh time, only 200 yards from the road and the end of the day!
The hill I had been fearing was certainly tough, though significantly less so because it was the first, as opposed to the last, climb of the day. The beans and breakfast may have had something to do with it as well.
Once at the top, I relaxed and strode out confidently and was rewarded when a small deer burst out of the undergrowth in front of me, crossed my trail and settled in the less dense bushes on the other side, only about 30 yards in front of me. I pulled out my phone and shot this small video of young Bambi.
This set the scene for a joyous day that next led me through a couple of balds which are, as you doubtless now know, my favorite feature out here. I managed to FaceTime Diane and thought I may as well get yet another (two) shots of these wonderful features. The second was shot because a short walk through the first led to an unexpected extension through a little gap to the more expansive second. I know I’m a little boyishly enthusiastic about these things, but you really need to see how magnificent they are and I never tire of seeing them; I hope you feel the same.
Unfortunately, the only bad part of this terrific hiking day was the fact that we were constantly expecting rain, yet it never came and the Trail spent a lot of time either on balds or in direct sunlight on the edge of the forest. As a result, I missed the best opportunity yet to get my solar charger charged up, as it was packed away, under the raincover on my backpack. As we learned in a previous post, I’d never make it as a weather forecaster.
The third, and most spectacular trail magic came about 10 miles into the day. I had been running low on water and needed to get into my pack to get a few more protein bars, when I ran into Billy Goat and Mookie, another hiker who had shared the hostel with us the previous evening. They were looking rather pleased with themselves, next to two coolers. This often happens, as Trail Angels leave coolers regularly, though they are often empty by the time I arrive. Not this time! There was a regular cornucopia of treasures to be had, including Gatorade and REAL coke, as well as Snickers (the hiker’s favorite candy bar) and other tempting morsels. I confess that I really took advantage of the find, yet left tons of stuff for those who were following. Thanks Goman, a 2012 thru-hiker. These gestures are never taken for granted and appreciated far more than you might expect.
I eventually got to Priests Shelter at about 7.45 that evening, well satisfied with both the mileage and the day.
The following morning, yesterday, Billy Goat and I set out separately, though within about 20 minutes of each other, to hike to Reid’s Gap to meet his mom. The hike down from The Priest is a rocky, yet spectacular descent from over 4,000 feet to less than 1,000 feet. Every now and then, there are breaks in the trees to give expansive views of the valley below, as shown here.
To be honest, glorious though these views were, the descent and following climb, back up over 4,000, were tortuously hard work and I found the hike a little joyless, which is unusual for me. That said, there is a considerable feeling of achievement once you have “conquered” this challenge, particularly because of the preponderance of rocks in your path along the way.
Despite this challenging hike, Billy Goat and I met up with his mom and his aunt and they got me to the game on time!! Sadly, England lost, but I managed to consume enormous quantities of chicken wings and a few beers, so not an entirely wasted day!
Today, in line with my plan, I am staying in Waynesboro for a zero day and luxuriating in a lie in, a breakfast of champions in Waffle House, followed by several coffees in Starbucks and expect to get on the outside of many wings again later in the same sports bar as I watch the culmination of the US Open Golf Championship. Not a mountain in sight for today, but looking forward to tons of them tomorrow.