This morning, and in better spirits, Beast suggested a new theory for his apparently broken toe: he had just put in new (and very thick) insoles in Marion, but forgot to trim them this time before he put them into his shoes. The extra thickness reduced travel space in his shoe, and in conjunction with the other issues besetting his foot (previous break, blister/bruise, heavy pack) contributed to the break. (It sounds reasonable to me, but I'm no podiatrist.)
We again had a late start (almost 9:30). The morning started with what felt like a steeper-than-it-actually-was uphill to the Knot Maul Branch Shelter. Shortly after leaving camp, I saw a black snake half lounging on the trail, half up a tree.
Over the last few days, the rhododendrons have started to bloom, providing a bit more color to the greening forests. It's quite welcome now, since soon, I'll be surrounded by nothing but a sea of green.
Once at the shelter, I had a snack and waited for Beast. He arrived not too long after I did, though was a bit more tired than expected. We set our next meeting point, and I set off down the hill, and up and down the next mountain, where I stopped at a campsite Sassy was eating lunch at, next to a fairly substantial creek. There were more than a few butterflies flitting around, as well.
After a rather significant lunch break, Beast showed up more soaking wet than I had ever seen him before — he may as well have jumped in the creek, and he wouldn't have gotten wetter.
With whatever cold he had, his body was reacting badly to hiking, and he decided he couldn't go on (though, I wouldn't have let him go on if he wanted to). Apparently, he could sit down and talk, but anything beyond that was too much exertion, and his Beastly superpower over-manifested, causing him to sweat faster than he could drink water to replenish.
I set up Beast's tent, and after making sure he was going to be okay, continued on. I was somewhat conflicted about hiking on, but cell service was unusable where we were, and Beast needed to get a message to his parents so they wouldn't worry too much. (He had sent a Spot message indicating a non-emergency problem, but the messages are pre-determined, so there is no way to provide more details.)
The hike away from the campsite was up an extremely muddy section of the trail; it almost seemed excessively so. After passing a USFS road, the trail began a 4.5 mile ascent that felt reminiscent of the climbs in Georgia and North Carolina. To make matters worse, the shelter I was heading for does not have a water source; the closest reliable source was on the trail about two miles before the shelter. (There is a piped spring shortly before the shelter that turned out to be working, but I could not know or rely on that at the time.)
So after 2.5 miles of a steep climb, I collected four liters of water (9 pounds) and continued up the next two miles of less-steep uphill, heavily laden with water. (I was able to finally get signal and call Beast's dad shortly after I got water, once I got up on the ridge.)
Fortunately, the view along the ridge to the shelter, and the view from the shelter were very nice, so to an extent, the climb and water hauling were worth it.
In Hot Springs, I picked up a new piece of equipment (which I think I forgot to mention): a Therm-a-Rest Z-Seat Cushion. Basically, it's a foldable butt pad that makes sitting on anything softer and dryer. Also, I use it on top of my sleeping pad to provide a little extra softness for my shoulders when I sleep on my side. I picked it up because Beast had one, and I was more than a little envious. It's pretty awesome.
Because of the break to my routine with setting up Beast's tent and making sure he was ok, I accidentally left it behind when I left the creek. Fortunately, Sassy picked it up, and gave it to me when she caught up with me as I was finishing up collecting water.
As I said before, the view from the top of the mountain, and the Chestnut Knob Shelter is pretty amazing. From a clearing near the shelter, you can see a nearby valley completely encircled by mountains. The shelter itself is also pretty cool. It is completely enclosed, with windows and a door. (We are also in the Beartown Wilderness of the Jefferson National Forest. I'm sure that's just a coincidence.)
Intermittently, but especially the last few nights, I've been having issues regulating my body temperature at night. Basically, I wind up overheating, which causes me to sweat and soak myself and my sleeping bag. I think this might have to do with the series of different sleeping environments lately (shelter, tent, different hotel rooms with different blankets), and basically, my body doesn't know what it's supposed to do. Also, my 19 degree bag is probably too warm for the rising temperatures as spring progresses. I'm not really sure what to do about it. I'm hoping that, for tonight, anyway, this shelter will be warm enough that I won't have to zip up my sleeping bag very far.
Tomorrow: no idea. I'm hoping I'll get a text from Beast with his status before I leave. I have 2.5 days of food, am half a day behind our plan for Pearisburg, and I've heard that our chosen resupply point in 30 miles is not actually as good as the guidebook suggests. The town of Bland is about 20 miles ahead, but requires hitchhiking into town, and I'd rather avoid doing that if I can.
Possible new plan: two 24.2 mile days to shelters, skipping the off-trail resupply point in two days; then a nero into the Woods Hole hostel to let Beast catch up (and also apparently they have massages); and then a short day into Pearisburg, getting there on the original schedule.