6.5 miles , campsite site at 4,000 feet near spring.
( hiking on 5/18 )
Walking the AT in Virginia with a full backpack after moving through here one year ago is quite a beautiful experience. I am walking here for about a 24 hour period over three days ( one whole day, two half days). Checking my daily journal of my AT thru-hike last year, I see that I was walking through here in May, almost exactly to the day. This year, I am walking with my wife, Auntie Mame, and her twin sister V8, two women who are walking strong. I am walking south, after the three of us were shuttled 35 miles up the Trail as we head back to my rental car , sitting in the lot of the Rendezvous Motel in Pearisburg, VA.
I experienced considerable concern about whether I could be able to keep up with the “ Speedy Sisters”, after 6 months off the Trail. I saw enough “ friend/family failures” to know that it generally doesn’t work for a thru-hiker to accommodate a backpacking visit from family member or friend. Even in cases where the visitor is in strong physical shape, the sheer mileages ( 15-20 miles a day) that a thru-hiker can crank out at this stage of the hike generally affects the feet of the visitor in a dramatic way. Leaves them blistered, raw, or painful. This was my concern, especially since my feet are still screwed up from my own 5.5 months on the Trail last year. I still experience numbness, some pain, and occasional cramping of both forefeet.
The good news is my Inov8 Rocklite 295’s, with wider forefoot, increased cushion, and lighter weight than the three pairs of Inov8 Terr-Roc 330’s that I found best for me last year. This time, I switched out the stock inner foot pads with custom orthotics I was fitted with in November ’07. I am very pleased to report that the orthotics helped. I ended up covering some relatively big miles with no blisters, or additional forefoot pain . I highly recommend that potential thru-hikers pay a visit to a respected sports podiatrist to check out their feet before thru- hiking.
We started at 1 PM on Sunday, May 18th, heading south from the 601/ Rocky Gap trail crossing. There was a 30 % chance of rain, but things looked bright at the start of the walk. I started hiking at the back, content to just walk along this beautiful, springlike path again. It was very surprising to me to see how quickly the twins moved along. I have been hiking with them off and on for , well, I guess it has been 36 years now! However, they were moving twice as fast as they ever had before, and were steady and deliberate on the uphills as well. It was a most amazing experience to witness their transformation from weekend hikers to human hiking machines.
We moved through countryside that was at first appeared new to me. But soon memories came back. Last year I just forded Stony Creek, but this year the twins wanted to take the road walk and avoid wading, so that is what we did.
Our trio completed a relatively fast 6 miles, stopping for a break at the Warspur shelter around 3.
We moved on. Then the precipitation cycle went like this : First, sprinkling. Then winds. Then rain. I told myself, “ No big deal, at least it isn’t that cold” Then I noticed these little balls of ice bouncing along the trail at my feet. Hail. Somewhere in the above progression I started to get cold, so I put on my rain jacket. I think it was too late, as it took me hours to regain a decent core temperature.
We eventually reached peak elevation at about 4,000 feet, where we found a site that had a fire ring, and a piped spring nearby. We were in for the night.
By this time, it had stopped raining, but the temperature had now dropped into the 40’s. I had with me a new pair of Pearl Izumi Windstopper gloves, but they weren’t warm enough. My hands were cold for hours. We could see our breath. It felt like the low temps reached the high 30’s. Mame said that they hadn’t had a night that cold in weeks.
Our home for the night was Tarptent’s Double Rainbow, which I used last year and had willed over to Auntie Mame. It fits two, and Mame and I unzipped my 40 degree Western Mountaineering down bag that we mated to the new under sheet. We slid into that “ We’ve got to work out a compromise” place right away where I was cold and wanted to pull the drawstring around my shoulders, but she didn’t, as she would have felt smothered with the drawstring pulled taught.
We didn’t sleep too well. My first day back on the AT day put me though a wide range of emotions, from true appreciation for the beauty of the Trail to downright suffering, with hours of ice cold hands, and colder temps prevailing that definitely outpaced the limits of our summer gear.