Browns Gap to Pocosin Road
Shenandoah Cruiser Camp to Shenandoah Grinder Camp
AT miles: 27.4
Total miles: 924.4
Elevation change: 6657ft gain, 6250ft loss
On any given day, there is always a blurriness that hazes out the details of a certain portion of hiking. That may be a few hours in the middle of the day, or shorter snippets throughout. Where the mind goes, why those blind spots in my memory exist is a bit of a mystery, but I think that it’s inevitable, especially given that I’m walking pretty much non-stop for over ten hours a day. Out of 25 miles, of course I won’t remember each hill, or every turn. My brain doesn’t work that way. In fact, hiking often serves as a moving meditation for me. I am grateful that I lose the present for short or large chunks of the day. My mind hungers for freedom to wander, to relive the past, to scope out the future, to pull lessons and value from the quagmire of memories, to visit the abstract. On some days, this effect is more pronounced and widespread. Today was one of those days. From the comfort of bed, I scrolled through my pictures, followed my route on the map, trying to remember what had happened and what I had seen. I drew a lot of blanks, big blanks, around just a few moments of stillness that stuck out. And that’s okay. My mind went where it needed to go while my body did what it needed to do. Working in harmony, yet separately, both were just along for the ride. That’s what it feels like out here sometimes, like I’m just along for the ride. And it’s a good ride.
My water was frozen and the sun shining brightly when I started packing up. The night had been peaceful, and I had been warm despite the frigid temps. And even though it was still cold, I started hiking without a jacket. The sun was doing its thing, and the warm light was all the jacket that I needed.
However, within the space of just several minutes, a dense layer of cloud had not just lightly hazed the sun, but diminished it to an omnipresent glow. The temperature dropped ten degrees in a flash. As I stopped to put on my wind jacket, I wondered, like I had before, how these clouds form so quickly. They don’t blow in on a breeze, they just appear, literally out of thin air. That’s crazy.
I wandered uphill into the Loft Mountain campground hoping to find some potable water and maybe a flush toilet. I found neither. The sprawling network of pavement and benches was deserted, still closed and sleeping for the season. About a dozen deer were the only residents that I could see, and I felt bad for disturbing them during one of their last remaining days of peace before the human wave, foamy with beer suds and hot dog char, crashed back across the slumbering landscape. As I ambled, I remembered the good ol’ days of car camping as a kid, being a part of that wave. Campfires at night, campfires in the morning, canned green beans and mac n cheese for dinner, pancakes for breakfast. The warm glow of nostalgia warmed my belly, and I made plans to give car camping another try this summer.
After visiting the locked and dark camp store, I cruised back on the AT around and up some things. The trail wasn’t quite as smooth as it had been yesterday, but it was in good shape by any reasonable standard. I caught a viewpoint to the west, then a view to the east. I must admit that the similarities outnumbered the differences, and that I wasn’t in the state of mind to fully appreciate them. View fatigue. I filtered water at the mighty Ivy Creek, then hiked for many miles until lunchtime. Besides a 15-minute conversation with a sobo flip-flopper, this stretch was one of those blurrs. I crossed Skyline Dr a few times, wandered up and down some things. That’s what my body did. Where my mind was, I don’t recall.
Lunch was as good as it needed to be. I sat on a patch of grass near the road at Simmons Gap, warming myself in the brightening sunshine. My hands shoveled food from different baggies as fast as my mouth could chew it. Several cars slowed down, maybe to wonder about me and what I was doing on the side of the road. None of them stopped and I didn’t blame them. My socks were getting to the stenchy tipping point where even I get a little distracted by their smell.
My energy dipped soon after lunch and I was feeling pretty worn out for the next seven mile push to Hightop. Near the wooded summit, I collected water from a spring boxed in concrete, relishing the excuse to stop for a few minutes. Usually I stand and stretch while gravity pushes water through my filter, but I sat this time. Feeling the new aches, deciding that it was definitely time for new shoes.
Just a short distance further, a rocky outcrop provided a view that I did not just gloss over. Nope, not this one. Once the family with the yapping “service dog” moved on, I sat down (again) to enjoy the striking scene. Clouds like I’ve never seen before textured the sky in so many strange ways. The ridges and humps that extended to the horizon were both hazy and sharp, and oddly colored in the muted sunlight. The view was surreal, like an abstract painting. I ate a bar, searching for an excuse to linger, knowing full well that this would be my favorite moment of the day.
To aid in the final afternoon push, I decided to repeat the formula that had been so effective yesterday. Moving to the next album chronologically, I turned on some more Linkin Park, then followed that with The Bravery after A Thousand Suns ran dry. When I finally pulled the earbuds out, I had crossed a big highway, and climbed a big hill to a picnic area. I wasn’t charging as hard as yesterday, but was still making good time, even though I didn’t feel particularly invincible or quick.
I deposited my trash from the day in a bear-proof recepticle, then coaxed my legs the final few miles to camp. It took one more short break to get there, but I made it in the gloom. I found a flat spot shortly after filtering water at the locked and deserted Pocosin Cabin and gratefully set up camp. I was beat and feeling worn out. Ready to call it a day for sure. It was around this time that I tried to remember what I had done all day. Blurry feelings and memories flitted by between mouthfuls of couscous. Meh, I’ll figure it out tomorrow.