Twig Adventures

AT Day 66: On the SOBO Train

Tuesday Sept 28th, 2021, 0615-1830             
Hilltop Hut to Calf Mountain Shelter, SOBO AT mm 1321.1
34.6 miles!
7220 gain, 7700 loss

I got a smashingly good start on this morning. It was a quick downhill to the first road crossing, where I elected once again to walk the road. The trail went off in the trees while I watched another sunrise across the valley from an overlook. These were plentiful all morning. I was also kept entertained gazing into and over the lush forests. The road allows one to see the canopies at times, as well as the forest floor. I couldn’t get over how vibrant these forests seemed. Some leaves were just starting to turn but overall everything was so very green.

I also enjoy seeing the water trickling from the rock cuts along the road. There were little seeps and springs everywhere. One thing about all the rain earlier, especially the most recent storm that came through while I was off trail, it’s not usually hard to find water when I need it. This is the biggest difference from other trails I’ve hiked out west. The road was the most quiet I’ve seen it, with only about 10 cars passing over 5 miles or so. Some deer ran across in front of me, snorting as they went. They seemed really upset. I guess they’re used to seeing cars but not a walker.

Just when I was about to get back on the trail, a car stopped next to me and the driver asked if I was walking the AT. Given my status on the road, I sheepishly said yes and he handed me a bag of bite-sized Snickers bars. Growing up, these were my mom’s favorite thing but I never liked them for some reason. Now with my hiker hunger, I gobbled them down, thinking they were delicious.

Back on trail, I crossed a large creek then followed it up a ways. Little did I know that this would be the last real creek crossing for some 20 miles. Forget what I was just saying about water being plentiful. The trail climbed steadily to the summit of Loft Mountain, where I caught up to 2 women, both SOBOs (can’t recall their names right now). We all arrived the Loft Mtn camp store around 1030 am. By this time, I’d already walked 14 miles, which is probably an AT record for me for this early in the day.

Loft Mountain with some fall colors

This was the last camp store/wayside along the AT and I needed to stop to at least pick up dinner. I had hoped to be able to buy enough resupply to get another 70 miles down trail, but the selection was quite limited. I’d need to go into town the next day. I got some snacks and mac & cheese for dinner. I was surprised to see Stellar’s pack sitting outside the store. He’d left Harpers Ferry almost a whole day before me. I’d been doing some big days but figured he had as well. Somehow I’d made up almost 20 miles. There was also a lady I’d met in HP at the ATC headquarters, Frog. She was flip-flopping… I’d start to run into many more of these hikers south of HP, since that’s where many begin their flop south.

Everyone left the store before me and it took a long time to catch up again…hours in fact. So many northbound hikers had told me of all the SOBOs they’d passed that were just in front of me. But this late into the season, everyone is fit and walking as fast a pace as me. It’s hard to catch up to people during the day. I’d also be forgiven for being a bit sluggish compared to my present company, since I’d walked at least 8 miles farther already that morning. Where I make up ground are the several hours I’m on trail in the early mornings. That’s always been my secret to success.

I came to Blackrock Summit, a rocky outcrop with good views in the early afternoon. There I found Stellar, who helped me take some glamour shots on the rocks, modeling my hiking dress. I love my Purple Rain Adventure dress so much…I have to put in a plug for Mandy here. She gave me the dress to demo. Free or not, I’d sing its praises, shouting from the mountain tops. It’s been the best outfit for this trail. I’ve lived in it for months now.

I hiked with Stellar for the rest of the afternoon, sharing stories about the park. Shortly we happened upon even more thru-hikers, a set of 2 couples: Taco and Paddles as well as Bugs and Char. We started hiking with them, creating the largest SOBO train I’d enjoyed yet. They’d all been hiking together since the 100 mile wilderness, pairing up shortly after that. Trail romances. With all these new SOBO friends, I neglected to pay attention to the water situation. I’d planned to stop for the night somewhere around 28-30 miles, but realized that there was no water in the vicinity of this distance. I’d only filled one of my bottles way back at the campground and was already about empty. I had no choice but to go another 5 miles to a shelter where there was a spring. I’d set such a great pace earlier, I might as well go for a record day…almost 35 miles. I figured this might be the best chance I had on the AT, given how short the days are becoming.

Hiking with the group was very fun. They were a young and energetic bunch, full of stories and funny jokes. We stopped to admire a tree with an entertaining growth. I might have missed it had I not been with them. Some things are best enjoyed in the company of others…

Needs no explanation.

It was hard to keep pace for the last few miles. I was pretty thirsty and a bit tired. Again, I had already hiked at least 8 miles more than everyone else plus had all the previous big days on my books. I had done 150 miles in 5 days…yes that’s a lot of walking in a short time. To give my feet a rest, I popped onto the road for a few miles. There I enjoyed a nice breeze and the late sun casting shadows on the valley overlooks. One feature even resembled my last name.

Jarman Gap…or could be Harman Gap

Of course a final climb to the shelter was the last in store for my long day. It was graded and not the worst, just very rocky. At least the spring was running well. I downed a liter on the spot, marveling how there had been so much water in the morning, then none when I needed it in the afternoon. A long spur trail to the shelter was the final blow…just to find out that the area was absolutely packed with section hikers. There were no good tentsites left but only one guy set up in the shelter (of course the one snorer). It looked like it might rain, so all 6 of us piled inside, taking over the place. The section hikers were probably annoyed at us showing up just before dark, then making noise to cook and get situated. Of course I was bothered by the situation of putting in such a long day, achieving so many miles, only to be outdone by all the people that had hiked much shorter days to get the best spots. There’s no reward for a PR day on the AT, except for maybe bragging rights. Squished in the middle of 6 smelly and shuffling hikers, I really wished that I was in my tent. I needed some quality sleep to recover from the miles but that was far from what I got. Oh well, that’s just the way things are sometimes.

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