(A pano of McAfee Knob)I have never hiked in so much rain in my life. I left Daleville on a Saturday. I tented at the Wilson during a super intense thunder and lightening storm that felt like it was right on top of me for a while. I could see and hear the lightening and thunder cracking right there. It was cool, and I was happy to be safe inside my tent.
The next day proved to be a nice walk. Instead of going to the next shelter, I opted to camp at Jennings Creek, which according to my data book had nice swimming hole. I couldn't pass that up. I got there round five o'clock and the sun was still shining. I was able to get a good swim in and I even laid out on the big rocks. That felt good. And in retrospect I was happy that I had that moment, because I didn't see the sun for the next five days.
Monday till Friday were five of the wettest days of my life. It rained every day. It was mostly drizzles and light rains, but three times there were complete downpours. I couldn't have been more wet had I just jumped in the river. The good thing about the rain is that there aren't any bugs and the morning spiderwebs that get spun across the trail are virtually non-existent. (These are, personally, two of my biggest annoyances on the AT.) Also, wildlife loves the rain.
On day I walked by four of these eastern salamanders in a row, so I decided to count how many I could see in a day. I counted 46. These guys love the damp trail.
I also saw several of these eastern box turtles. They are so cute.
Also, this is the week all the berries started to be ripe. I remember last year being so frustrated because I'd walk past bushes of blackberries that were days away from being ripe enough to pick. This time around I had ample opportunity to get my share of berries. Blackberries abounded, but my most favorite were the wild blueberries. They day I hiked over the James River I picked handfuls and handfuls of them. They were so delightfully delicious. God bless picking wild blueberries in the rain. They were a grateful distraction.
Truly though, hiking in the rain isn't as bad as you may think. Once you're wet, there's nothing you can do about it. Not only that, but once you're wet you have nothing to stop you from really tromping through those puddles and mini rivers that form on the trail. And it doesn't stop you from hiking through all the overflowing streams and springs that are suddenly brimming with so so so so much water. On the contrary, hiking in the pouring rain can be quite the fun experience. For me, as long as I know that my gear is dry in my pack and that I have a dry place to sleep, i.e. a shelter, I'm a happy hiker.
My hiking buddies, Rylu and Strider finally caught up to me for the Fourth of July. (They had taken a zero in Daleville.) I was hoping I'd be among familiar company, because I'd already decided that I would be awesome and perform a four-song patriotic medley for whoever I would be camping with, and I'd prefer to do it before friends. Just call it my patriotism coming out. It was meant to be. We were at the Seeley-Woodworth shelter and someone had left a small American flag which I used as a prop as I stood up atop the fire pit and sung Yankee-Doodle, You're A Grand Ol' Flag, My Country Tis of Thee and The Star Spangled Banner for the grand finale. There may be a video of this somewhere at some point. Watch out.
The next day we had a very intense day. The downhill was The Priest. It was a 4 mile, 3000 ft, steep descent to the Tye river. I felt like I really booked it down that thing. It was a nice saw-tooth on the contour map as we had to go straight back up Three Ridges Mountain. It was a total 5618 ft of ascent and 6668 ft of descent. A good 20 mile day. (I was able to really hop up my miles after I got my trail runners. My feet were much, much more content in those shoes. Three Ridges was an awesome mountain to climb. The top was covered in clouds and it was super steep and rocky coming up. There was tons of thunder and it was really windy at the top. But it was flat and green up top and I felt great getting to there.
I rearranged my itinerary so that I would be ending up in Waynesboro, VA right before Shenandoah National Park, but I arrived in Waynesboro two days before I needed. So I decided to hike into the Shenandoahs until I had to turn around. But I did stop in Waynesboro for a stop at the outfitter to trade out my Big Agnes sleeping pad that had a very slow leak in the valve. I'd blow it up at night and within 4 or 5 hours I'd be flat on the ground. Big Agnes has an awesome guarantee on their products and makes sure that their customers are completely satisfied. I called them up and, no questions asked, they just said to bring it in to the next outfitter to trade it out. Waynesboro also called for a stay at the hotel, a shower, laundry and FOOD. Me, Strider and Rylu feasted at the Green Leaf Grill. Gourmet pizza, hamburgers, fries and some of the best artichoke and spinach dip I've ever had. Yum.
We crossed this bridge (perhaps illegally) to get to the laundromat. It was only a little bit sketchy.
A word about the trail friendliness of Waynesboro. It was amazing. There were people offering us rides left and right. I loved it! It's so nice when people are so generous and willing to help a hiker out.
Next up, the Shennies!