Thursday, December 01, 2011
All I can think about is how bad the soles of my feet are hurting. Every step on the hard pavement sends a shockwave through my feet, around my ankles, and up my shins. I'm tired, my toes and feet hurt from pushing into the front of my boots. I have a stabbing pain in my left shoulder and at the base of my skull when I look to the left. On top of that, it's dark, it's freezing, I left Alex behild a mile ago, and I still have more to walk. However, as I look back over my shoulder I can see the last bit of daylight fading over Pilot Mtn. to the west and feel content with the effort we put out today.
The day dawned crisp and clear. After a surprisingly restful night, I awoke ready to roll. Relaxing in the warmth of my sleeping bag, I wiggled my toes and flexed my legs. Feeling my muscles contract and loosen I could feel no soreness or stiffness in the legs and knew it would be a good day. Quickly we dressed, cooked, pumped water, and rolled out. While it was still pretty cold out, we warmed up quickly and shed layers within 15 minutes. The next few miles from Butter Gap to Gloucester Gap went by quickly as we settled into a good rythm. We both are feeling good and I know we'll cover some decent mileage today.
We are planning on camping on Farlow Gap trail just past the first waterfall. I remember a good campsite there from the times I've ridden past on a bike. We'll make it there for sure. Up next however, is the monster ascent up over Pilot Mtn. A monster climb it proves to be too. The further we go up, the steeper it gets. Switchback after switchback we climb. Looking out over the adjacent ridges I know we are gaining alot of elevation quickly. The view at the top should be great! Finally I pop out of a Rotodendron tunnel and am in the sunlight on the rocky summit of Pilot Mountain. The 360 degree views are indeed incredible. We are higher than anything else that side of the parkway. After a few minutes, Alex makes it up, we eat lunch, and take pictures. Looking at the map we can tell that we are way ahead of schedule and can probably make it back down to the river off of Daniel Ridge trail and a great campsite. That will leave us with a shorter walk tomorrow!
Down we go. Down off of Pilot Mtn, down Farlow Gap. Seems like we were going downhill forever. As rocky as Farlow is and as hard as it is to ride on a bike, I think it's actually harder to walk down! While still making good time, we are starting to get fatigued from sliding around on the heavy leaves and unstable rocks. I am having to wait a little longer for Alex to catch up as well. I know his feet are hurting from the downhill. Soon though, we cross the last creek and I know we'll soon turn onto Daniel Ridge Trail and be at the river in no time.
The sun has dropped behind the high ridges surrounding us as we descend. I can see the golden, warm sunlight above us on the higher ridges but it is starting to get cold in the shadows where we are. Soon, we are at the river. Alex is tired and hurting so we opt for the first campsite we see. Glad to be done for the day, we drop our packs and set to making camp. I get my tent set up quicker than Alex and start clearing out the fire ring and getting firewood ready for the cold night. That's when some problems start to manifest themselves. Apparently, this deep in the valley doesn't get much sunlight and I'm having a hard time finding any organic matter that isn't soaking wet. Looks like a fire will be out of the question. Gonna be a long, cold night. The ground proves to be not as comfortable as it appeared on earlier inspection either. Rocks, rocks, and more rocks under the wet leaves. Not a terrible problem until Alex discovers that his air mattress has a quarter sized hole in it and won't inflate. This will mean that in addition to sleeping on rocks, he will lose valuable warmth as well.
After a short consideration of our situation, I propose a plan. There was a little daylight left so we decided to go for the car back at the Fish Hatchery. I figured that Alex just needed to make it the 1/2 mile to the road, layer up more clothes and wait for me. I'd hike back to the Hatchery, get the van, come get him, go get Mexican food, and drop in on Robert for a place to crash. So, we pack up quickly, racing the nighttime and put the hammer down. We make it back to FS475 as it gets dark. I keep walking and soon leave Alex behind to wait near Cove Creek. Davidson River Trail is my last obstacle and passes quick enough. Fortunately, I didn't start to hurt till I got to the pavement. I got back to the Hatchery, walk unnoticed through a Sheriff's roadblock and get the van. I have to stop and hand over my license and proof of insurance the second time through though. Soon, I make it back to Cove Creek and pick up Alex.
Dinner was great and Robert's house was warm ending a long day and another great trip.