Friday, June 3, 2016 9:16 pm
Location: Hightop Mountain (904.1 miles)

Since we were planning on getting breakfast at the Loft Mountain Wayside, which doesn't open until 9 am, I initially felt that waking up at 6:30 was too early. Then I realized that it was sunny out, so I could attempt to further dry things, including my tent which got a little wet during the rain last night.

There were, however, slugs everywhere.

Camping on the grass, slugs found their way on top of my tent's rain fly, on top of the tent body itself, and most disgustingly, all over my pack and inside its rain cover.

Getting them off the tent and rain cover was easy and satisfying: flick the material on the other side from the slug, and watch it fly away. Getting them off the pack itself was harder. In either case, there was awful sticky residue on everything, including my tent poles.

But, at least it wasn't raining, and laying my tent rain fly out on the campsite's parking pad did an excellent job drying it out.

My shoes and insoles were still soaking wet, but there was a restroom nearby with a hand dryer that actually used heat, so I attempted to dry my insoles using the hand dryer. I spent five or ten minutes trying that, but it didn't really work because they had so much water in them — I could still press them together and squeeze a little water out of them. Not having any better ideas, I was resigned to having wet feet again today, and put my shoes on. On the first step, a significant amount of the water in the insoles squeezed out, and I immediately realized I should have tried standing on them with my crocs to squeeze water out.

The first few steps felt like it did in the rain, with water sloshing around my boots, but the water was quickly absorbed by my socks, and the sloshing went away.

I continued down the trail to its intersection with the Frazier Discover Trail, a side trail that leads the Loft Mountain Wayside, a restaurant and gift shop, and ran into Sarah and David partway there (they had left while I was still trying to dry my stuff, and took a detour to the camp store; they were just about to arrive back on the AT when I came across them). We discovered a trail marker that read “Unmaintained Rd to Loft Mtn. Campstore, 0.5 mi”. The marker pointed towards a thick growth of trees; clearly, the road had been unmaintained for so long, the marker was left as a joke. We continued on to the wayside, where we got breakfast.

View from Loft Mountain
View from Loft Mountain

On the way back up to the AT after breakfast, Sarah and David (who were about a minute ahead of me) saw two bear cubs on the trail, and scared them off; the two cubs, and two others climbed a tree a short distance off the side trail. I was able to see two of the cubs once I got there.

The other day, due to the loud rattling and clacking noises my poles are making, someone told me they could hear me from a mile away. With this bear encounter, I joked that the reason I never saw bears was that my poles made so much noise it scared the bears away before I got anywhere near them, and this time, I was just too far away to scare them off.

The hike to the next shelter, the Pinefield Hut, was uneventful, apart from my shirt (and pants, and underwear) continuing to get soaked. I finally decided it was due to the cooler water in my water bladder, which is almost directly against my back, and the condensation from the hot, humid air against the bladder was pulling a ton of water out of the air and depositing it onto the bladder, from where it could run down onto the pack and get into my shirt and pants from where the back of the pack touches it.

At Pinefield, I took off my shirt and put it on a rock in the sun to let it dry, as well as my shoes, socks, and insoles. My feet were completely soaked, and desperately needed to be dried out.

The long break included a discussion with Tree and Odysseus about the annoying insects which constantly buzz in front of your face just close enough to be blurry specks in your vision, before they make suicide runs at your eyes. This turned into a brief discussion on free will, before one of the participants needed to make a privy run, and I needed to get on with my hike. With the lively conversation, as I was packing up, I nearly forgot the dirty water bag for my water filter, and almost hiked off without it.

Fortunately, everything was a little bit dryer, though not really dry enough to be comfortable. As it was late (from the late start due to breakfast, and the long lunch break), I decided to push the 8.2 miles to Hightop Hut without a break, to have a chance at getting there at a reasonable time.

Unfortunately, by the time I got to Hightop Hut, the shelter and all its tentsites were full, according to the park ranger who was staying there.

In a way, the "race to the shelter" is worse in Shenandoah than it was in the Smokies. There, you had to stay in shelters, or tent around them, and camping elsewhere was prohibited, but there were always tons of tentsites around the shelters. In Shenandoah, many of the shelters have a small (relatively, compared to the Smokies) number of tentsites around each shelter, and camping is otherwise prohibited anywhere else within 100 yards of the shelter.

In this case, it meant moving on (as suggested by the ranger) to the campsites at the top of the mountain (and which are not listed in my guidebook). There, there were roughly 2.5 viable tentsites, two of them already occupied, with me and a fourth person trying to figure out what to do. Ultimately, they decided to continue on and take their chances, and I got a really awful (slanted and rocky) tentsite near the site at the top of the mountain.

My clothes soaked from condensation and sweat, I disappeared into my tent for a bit to change clothes. This was when I found out why my feet had been hurting so much during the latter half of the day: my shoes were missing their insoles! Apparently, when I put my shoes back on at Pinefield, I forgot to put the insoles back in, and so I hiked nearly nine miles with no insoles. My feet hurt something awful, and I just didn't notice during the hike because they had been hurting from being waterlogged.

Fortunately, I had cell reception at the top of the mountain, so I was able to contact Beast, who is supposed to be back on the trail tomorrow, and ask him to pick up a pair of insoles for me on his way to the trail.

Towards the end of the day, I passed 900 miles, though I didn't see a mileage callout like so many times past. Still, a happy milestone, even if my toes look like cauliflower.