Since the plan this morning was to meet Beast in Buena Vista tomorrow, I really only need to get halfway there today, so that indicated Punchbowl Shelter, about 9 miles ahead. A short day like that wouldn't normally warrant leaving early, but it was going to be hot today, and with a long uphill, I did want to leave before it got too warm out.
That meant I wound up leaving the shelter around 8:15, while there was still a little cloud and fog cover, though that didn't last very long. As a consolation for the early morning climb, there was at least a nice view or two.
While I was taking in the view, I checked to see if I got a cell signal now that I was higher up, and I got a text message from Beast, saying that he was slackpacking today, and was trying to catch up to me. Granted, the only way he was actually going to catch up with me was if I stood still for two hours, so I told him I'd see him at Punchbowl; he'd have to at least get that far if he were slackpacking.
I'm glad I left Johns Hollow Shelter when I did. Although it meant getting to Punchbowl Shelter a little after noon, I got to avoid hiking during the worst of the heat, though parts of the uphill climb in the morning were still exposed, and the heat and humidity sapped my energy.
The Punchbowl Shelter, like Johns Hollow, is very close to its water source, which meant that at both shelters, there was a constant onslaught of bugs that wouldn't stop biting. I sprayed myself with bug spray again, which helped a bit. Punchbowl also had two sleeping spots in the shelter tainted with bird droppings, where clearly a flock of birds had camped out near the front center of the shelter, and an ant problem as well.
The water source at Punchbowl is pretty lousy, as well. It has a large pond (which are generally to be avoided as a water source) partially fed by a small, slow-flowing spring that was somewhat difficult to get water from. (I could only fill my two liter water bag one liter at a time because of the slow speed and inadequate space to fully fill the bag.)
An aside on privies: many privies have hooks or latches on both sides of the door — on the inside to keep people from getting in, and on the outside to keep the door shut when no one is using it. The problem with that design is that it's possible to lock someone into the privy. The privies at the last two shelters have had a latch whose handle extends into the inside, so it's not actually possible to lock someone inside, but the door can still be secured so it doesn't swing open when no one is inside.
While I was killing time, Beast texted, proposing going into town with him tonight and slackpacking tomorrow. For whatever reason, I thought he had been planning on staying at the shelter tonight, so escape from the bug-infested shelter was highly welcome.
Beast arrived at the shelter about an hour and a half later. We tried to arrange for a shuttle into town, but no one was available. We did, however, manage to secure a ride back to the trail for tomorrow morning.
We hiked the next half mile or so to the next road crossing, the Punchbowl Mountain Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway, which wasn't very much of an overlook, and tried again to get a ride into town. Although a fair number of cars (and quite a lot of motorcycles) were going past on the parkway, no one seemed interested in giving us a ride. We were eventually successful in contacting a local trail angel, Mike, who agreed to give us a ride into town. After a roughly 40 minute wait for Mike and his wife Pat to pick us up, we got into town, and dropped our gear in the room Beast had from the night before.
We walked from the hotel to Hardees for dinner, a "short" half mile down the road (downhill), though it was fairly hot walking down the sidewalk with no appreciable breeze. After we were done there, we walked across the street to the snow cone stand ("WARNING: Heat kills. Only ice can save you."), got snow cones, and got a ride back to the motel from locals Jake and Kiersten.
Back in our room, we got showers and mostly didn't do anything else the rest of the evening. (We had The Matrix on the tv, but it was hard to hear over the incredibly loud AC unit.) The hot shower was like scratching a thousand bug bites all at once. Itchy, and yet, oh so satisfying. There was no laundry readily available, so it was back into sweaty, smelly clothes. At least I was clean, though.
Tomorrow, the plan is to slack 11 miles to the next major road crossing, where Beast's parents will meet us.