It was cold this morning. Not quite freezing, but close. Not wanting to get out of my sleeping bag, I went back to sleep, hoping it would be warmer in an hour. It may have been warmer, but really not by much. I then tried to all the packing possible inside my sleeping bag and tent, but eventually, I had to get out to pack those up. The cold had us moving pretty slowly, and we didn't get started on today's hike until 9.
Beast, unfortunately, had already sent home his winter gear, which meant exchanging his 19 degree sleeping bag for a 40 degree bag (that was also now quite old, so it really isn't a 40 degree bag anymore). This left him cold overnight, and with temperatures tonight supposed to be even colder, he was worried about how to stay warm.
The trail this morning was relatively moderate terrain, with some rocks. There was a nice view early in the day, but that was it.
We took our first break at the Pine Swamp Branch Shelter, which has an identical design as the Trimpi shelter I stayed at a week and a half ago, right down to the dedication plaque to Trimpi.
Afterwards, it was a long, steep uphill to Bailey Gap Shelter, where we stopped for a snack. The shelter maintainers here also installed an electrical box, complete with an electrical cable running behind a support to make for a more convincing gag. Shortly after the shelter was a three mile long rock field, which made for very slow, frustrating hiking.
Starting at the shelter, and continuing through the rock field, Beast tried to call the Mountain Lake Hotel, hoping to find out if they had rooms available tonight. This was really the only way that Beast was not going to get dangerously cold. Unfortunately, while his phone got a signal, it was not sufficient to actually make a call. Contributing to signal difficulty was the trail itself: during the rock field, the trail followed the ridgeline, but several hundred feet away and always below, so the rock blocked getting a strong signal. (One time he got through to the hotel, but then the call dropped before he could find out about vacancies.) This also made it questionable as to how we would even get to the hotel, since it was five miles off-trail.
Did I say the trail was being frustrating? The three mile rock field coupled with staying right below the wrong side of the ridge line was downright irritating, though also a bit funny in retrospect.
The Mountain Lake Hotel, situated next to Mountain Lake, one of Virginia's two natural lakes (and one of only a few in the world which is draining due to tectonic activity), was the filming location of the movie Dirty Dancing, and is also very expensive. Staying there is really not desirable, but a warm bed is far better than a freezing one.
A little over a mile before we reached the road that lead to the hotel, we reached a creek, our last chance to get water before our intended campsite tonight. Grudgingly, we loaded up on the water we'd need for cooking tonight, and enough to last us until the next water source sometime tomorrow.
For me, this meant an added seven pounds of weight that had to be hauled, but I've had to carry more water than that longer distances. This time was especially tiring, though, after the exhausting rock field and a not easy uphill to the campsite.
As we reached the road, we noticed two cars. One of them then immediately left, as if trying to get away from us. We tried to call the hotel, but there was no signal. Now, we were stuck.
Due to a miscommunication and disagreement between the AWOL and ATC guides we are using, Beast didn't realize there was a campsite 0.2 miles further down the trail, and I didn't press the issue when he wanted to camp near the road. Which became, on the island between the road and parking area, because there were really no good tentsites otherwise. Not that this was a good site at all, but we could make it work, barely. The biggest problem was that it was completely exposed, making wind a problem.
We noted that the one car left in the parking area had a Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets sticker; Beast said he never knew of a Corps of Cadets member who wouldn't help someone in need.
Just as we started to set up our tents, we see two people come off the trail from the north. Beast asks, and confirms that it is the Corps of Cadets member (and his girlfriend), and we ask if they could give us a ride to the hotel. They agree (and also give us a bunch of Twix bars), and Beast and I cram into the trunk of their Jeep, along with the contents of his dorm room. It was a very tight fit. I was holding onto his seat and the third brake light to keep steady, and Beast was doing much the same, while holding an empty diesel fuel container away from our packs. (They, and we, still smelled like diesel once we got to our room.)
Our hope for a room was buoyed when they mentioned that VT's graduation ceremonies were completed on Friday (two days ago), which made it reasonable to assume there would be a significant vacancies.
Five miles of extremely bumpy gravel road later, we made it to the hotel, and succeeded in getting a room (which, though expensive, was still better than Beast freezing overnight).
While we were checking in, we met a guy who had thru-hiked the AT some time ago, and met another and his wife while we were in the bar getting dinner. (Horray for town food, but this does nothing to reduce the weight in my pack!)
After a shower, I climbed into bed, and immediately made a mess of the sheets (too thin) and blanket (way too thick), wrote a blog post, and went to sleep.
Beast, however, had laundry to do (and mine as well, because he's awesome), and that was a whole adventure itself, culminating in a daring golf-cart raid of a resident employee's house for laundry detergent. ("Thank goodness that door that said 'This door must remain locked at all times' was not actually locked. [The maintenance guy] didn't have a key to it.")