Winter Appalachian Trail – Day 48 (34 + 7 = 41 miles)
Well today turned into the unexpected.
It started off getting up at Big Ups’ house and, after breakfast, getting on trail just after 10am.
After yesterday’s snow, rain and then freeze, the trail was mainly ice. I put on my pocket cleats and started doing what I do, walking. It was nice to be back on trail after a few days away, with the added bonus of clear skies and the temperature was just above freezing.
My IT band had become really tight and I was worried that walking all day would aggravate it further. It got tighter and I was beginning to get really worried after only 3 or 4 miles. However, I was gave myself 4 more miles to see what would happen. I was glad I did because it eventually loosened up and I was good to go.
I walked hard all day and spent a fair bit of time in the Shenandoah National Park without seeing a single other person. This is the 18th National Park in the US I have been to now. The range is extremely narrow and the trail offered exceptional views of the surrounding valleys.
Being (normally) a highly used section of the AT, it was well built and mostly free of rock. It also had very little elevation change, (perhaps the flattest section to date?). Both these factors made for a high speed day, and I cruised along in autopilot.
Besides the constantly frozen trail, my day passed without incident. With my hip feeling good, the late start and fine weather I decided to walk a couple of hours after dark before setting up camp.
This is when the fun happened.
With clear skies I was cowboy camping. I set up my stuff and went off to dig a cat hole and go to the toilet. When I got back my air pad had deflated. Why, what is going on? I blew it back up, squashed it and it went flat within seconds. For a third time I blew it back up and was looking for the hole but could not find it.
Well! With the clear sky the temperature was dropping and was now in the mid 20s (-3C). It would be an extremely miserable night sleeping directly on the partially frozen ground.
I have to say this is when I swore profusely and stomped around a bit.
I have to say this is when I swore profusely and stomped around a bit. But then it was what do I do? I went through the possibilities. Sleep here on top of my backpack – I would be miserable and still in the same situation tomorrow. Where was the next road to town – a bit to far at 25 miles away. Is there a trail off the mountain – Yes, 2 miles back the way I walked there is a fire road.
This is what I decided. Even if I could not fix it tonight, I would be 2,500ft (800m) lower and therefore warmer.
I took this option, on the way down I rang Big Ups to partially vent and see if he could help. He said that he had a friend in town that might be able to help. Great! I continued down the AT until I hit the Blue Ridge Parkway Road, and jogged back on this to the fire road at Brown’s Gap. Here I got a text saying how long it would take to get down and a mate of Big Ups would put me up for the night.
I ran down the mountain as best I could. It was a long day by this stage and I had not eaten for some time. It took my 1.45hrs to jog the 7 miles to the valley. Here I met Brendon, who took me back to his house. Under the house light I saw the 1cm gash in the matt and went about patching it with almost 0% hope of it working.
I pumped it up, lay heavy objects on it and went to bed a tired man but glad for the warm bed.