I woke just before 6:00am and lay motionless on the ledge under the bridge. I felt pretty good. I thought it was funny I was finally sleeping under an overpass, even if it was only one that spanned a creek on some country road.
I started packing at 6:30 and pretty soon I was ready to go. Last night, we all three remembered seeing trash cans in the parking lot – or at least believed they were there. We bagged up our trash from last nights self-inflicted trail magic – I even walked around under the bridge and grabbed other litter (a few cans, a bottle and some food wrappers). I ended up with a bulging grocery sack full of trash.
I hiked up to the parking lot and looked around – no trash cans. I checked the AT Guide. While there weren’t any trash cans at Jenning’s Creek, there were some at a Blue Ridge Parkway road crossing – 16 miles away.
The three of us divided the trash and started hiking – I tied mine onto my pack. The trail ahead looked pretty rough – after a series of long ascents, I’d eventually top out at a radio tower on Apple Orchard Mountain 16 miles away before descending into camp.
After a hard up and over Fork Mountain, the three of us stopped at Bryant Ridge Shelter for a quick snack. By 9:30, we were back on the trail. Black Santa took the lead and I followed about 100 yards back all morning. Our goal was to make it to the Black Rock Overlook six miles away and enjoy a hot lunch.
The hike was tough – these gradual ascents can wear me out. I try my best to find a steady pace that I’m comfortable with – I make it my goal to hike for as long as I can before taking a break.
It’s hard – my brain kind of shuts down. I’m not really thinking about much at all when the hiking gets rough – usually just time, distance, food, etc. No higher level thinking, anyway. Often, I’ll look down at my watch and be surprised by how much time has passed.
Today was one of those days. The trail was certainly pretty today – lush and green with wild flowers blooming everywhere. Spring has officially arrived to the higher elevations.
I caught up with Black Santa about a mile before hitting Black Rock and walked the rest of the way in with him. Black Rock Overlook would have been great, but the haze was thick again and nearly obscured neighboring mountains and ridges.
I had just unpacked my stove and food bags when Savage arrived. She plopped down and the three of us started cooking. I ended up eating a little bit out of every snack I have before making my hot lunch.
I checked my phone and had decent reception – I needed to contact Medicine Man and send a few emails. I sent Medicine Man a message and was starting to look at the AT Guide when Savage and Black Santa got up to start hiking.
I told them I’d meet them at Marble Spring eleven miles up trail. It’s not like I was enjoying the view (really hazy) – I just felt like I needed to take some time and rest my mind – I just needed some quiet time.
In all, I spent three hours at the overlook. It was nice to have a little time to myself.
I left the overlook at 3:45pm and started hiking rapidly. I felt refreshed and was surprised by the amount of energy I had as I started hiking hard towards Apple Orchard Mountain. I passed right by the Cornelius Creek Shelter and made the difficult ascent to the summit.
There’s a cool FAA tower on the summit – I paused briefly before hiking on. The AT gradually descends towards Petites Gap six miles away – still another two miles from Marble Spring.
After a steep initial descent, I passed under “The Guillotine”, a huge boulder that’s precariously wedged between two rock walls. I quickly hiked through and began picking up speed as the AT leveled out a bit.
As I approached a road crossing at the Blue Ridge Parkway, I spotted two trucks parked on the road. I walked over and immediately recognized the same couple whose son (Tortilla) is hiking behind me. They had teamed up with another couple (this couple’s friend is hiking) and had a massive spread. Even though I had a huge lunch, I ate a few snacks before moving on. Thanks a million, Tortilla’s parents.
I passed right by the Thunder Hill Shelter, eyeing the privy as I hiked by. I hadn’t used the privy (or a log) since first thing this morning. I decided to hold it for camp.
That didn’t work well – about two miles down trail I had to peel off the AT and find a place to go. It was urgent. While I could see a road through the trees, I hadn’t seen a car pass for as long as it had been in view.
So I sit down and, sure enough, three cars pass before I can get a chance to finish. That’s the second time I’ve pooped too close to a road – I hate that.
I paused briefly at the Thunder Ridge Overlook and snapped a quick picture just so I could show how thick this haze had gotten. Two locals explained that it’s similar to what happens in the Smokeys – that it’s more of a vapor than a haze.
The descent towards Petites Gap was exceptionally well-graded. The trail was literally alive – I saw field mice and chipmunks, three rabbits, and this bird that took off out of the bushes right next to the trail. It was fairly large and sounded like a helicopter as it flew away. It scared me pretty good.
I made it to Petites Gap and only had a quick up and over Highcock Knob before making it to camp. The climb was steep and pretty hard, but the thought of dinner drove me faster. I paused at the summit – I could’ve swore I saw another hiker walking through the trees in front of me. As I approached where I thought they should be, no one was there. It was a little creepy.
I made my way into the campsites at Marble Spring at 8:15, just as the sun was starting to set. Savage and Black Santa were finishing dinner as I began to setting up my tent. I threw my gear inside and started to walk to the spring when up walks Push. Awesome! I hadn’t seen her since Four Pines – it looks like we’ll be hiking together again (until Trail Days at least).
I walked down to the spring by headlamp and returned to find most campers in their tents. I decided to eat a snack-dinner instead of cranking up my stove. After eating way too much, I crawled into my tent to type at 9:45.
It looks like the first half of my day will be about as easy as it gets – then I’ll hit Big Rocky Row and Bluff Mountain. I’d really like to get to camp early tomorrow.
The last forecast I got when I left Black Rock Overlook had thunderstorms coming for the next three days.
I’m really confident tomorrow’s going to be a good day hiking. And I’m really starting to look forward to Trail Days.
Breakfast: 18 gram store-brand protein bar, 20 gram Powerbar protein bar (Lemon Poppyseed – awesome)
Snack: beef jerky, almonds, combo trail mix, gummy worms
Lunch: beef jerky, almonds, combo trail mix, gummy worms, one Little Debbie Raisin Creme Pie, a couple handfuls of Dot’s pretzels. Then I cooked a Stroganoff Pasta side with canned chicken and instant mashed potatoes.
Snack (trail magic): One smoked brisket sandwich, one hotdog with pickles and mustard, one mini vanilla cupcake, one Dr. Pepper
Dinner: a whole bag of beef jerky, combo trail mix, one LD Raisin CP, more Dot’s Pretzels, a few handfuls of almonds.