“The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.” – Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Just a few miles into the hike this morning, I saw the first of what would be many views and crossings of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Given the beauty and popularity of that road, I was surprised not to hear or see any traffic on it. I would learn later that they occasionally shut down sections of it to trim branches or do maintenance on it.
The Virginia rains that I had become accustomed to had been replaced by high humidity and oppressive heat. Sweat was pouring off of me at an alarming rate. I decided to take my shirt off, which didn’t cool me off much, but did provide a scary sight for southbound hikers. The hotter it got, the more motivated I became to reach today’s big goal…Jennings Creek! Two words in my AT guidebook drew me like a magnet to the creek: “swimming hole.”
I crossed over the VA 614 bridge and arrived at Jennings Creek by 4:15 p.m. As two male hikers eating lunch on a large creekside boulder watched in amusement, I stripped down to my synthetic, quick drying underwear and waded out into the frigid waters. Once I got over the initial shock of the cold water and caught my breath, it was a wonderfully refreshing moment. I swam out to the whirlpool and fobbed up and down like a manatee playing in a tidal pool. I eventually waded over to a large boulder and stretched out across it to nap and dry out. Later, as I waded back to shore, I caught a large crawfish, named him Cajun, and looked for another in order to have a crawfish duel. I couldn’t find another so he remained the Jennings Creek champ, uncontested and undefeated. As you might suspect, the next item on the agenda was fishing. Unfortunately, I was shut out, moving my record versus AT fish to 2-1. I think they might have been spooked by my earlier frolicking in synthetic, quick drying underwear. As I walked a few yards from the creek, I spotted and got a picture of a bird’s nest, a final gift from this excellent AT watering hole.
Refreshed, I felt like hiking a while longer, so I did. Five minutes into my ascent up Fork Mountain, I saw a 6′ long black snake (#8) right on the trail. Knowing they can bite but are non-venomous, I reached out and grabbed his tail and he spun around. I chose to show him mercy and not make a belt out of him.
After a 20.8 mile day, I stopped at a deep ravine and stayed in the large, 20-person Bryant Ridge Shelter, along with Tree, Big Stick, and several others. One hiker about my age, while going down 15 or so steps to the water source, lost his balance and wiped out. All the other hikers, myself included, started laughing out loud at his misfortune. Then we went over to the bushes to check on him and confirm that he wasn’t injured. We probably should have checked on him before laughing.
Today was a really tough day of hiking. First of all, it was unbelievably hot and humid, and there were no swimming holes to provide relief. Second, the morning featured a 3000-foot climb and the afternoon featured a 2000-foot descent. All day there was almost no flat terrain to catch a breather. Third, I awoke with a small outbreak of poison ivy on my right forearm, which served me right for laughing at the hiker who fell yesterday. I’m very susceptible to getting poison ivy, so I’m surprised my first bout on the trail didn’t happen until 75 days in. Fortunately I have my trail legs and there were plenty of water sources, so I just drank a lot, powered through the climbs and descents, and tried to ignore the poison ivy.
Today’s top man-made sight was a large Federal Aviation Administration tower/facility at the top of Apple Orchard Mountain. Less than half a mile later, I hiked under The Guillotine, a large boulder hanging right over the trail between two even larger boulders. After passing the Thunder Hill Shelter, which was closed indefinitely due to bear activity, I saw snake #9, a harmless fellow about a foot long.
After a hot, exhausting 17.1 mile day, I tent camped at Marble Spring along with Big Stick, Smiley (epic snorer), and David and Sarah from DC. I also met Tree Beard (who has a long beard in a pony tail) and Waterfall (who fell earlier on his journey while trying to position himself higher up on a waterfall).
The story being told around the campfire that evening was that an aggressive bear had been harassing hikers at the Thunder Hill Shelter. The bear also knew how to knock most bear bags down and one evening helped himself to several bags of hiker food. Then the bear followed/stalked a group of hikers from the shelter down to the Harrison Ground Spring camping area. Once that was reported to authorities, the bear had to be put down near Petites Gap. I can’t confirm whether all the details of that story are actually true, but it was certainly the talk around the campfire that night. There was also a rumor that a male model was posing in his underwear for a GQ photo shoot at Jennings Creek. I don’t know where all these crazy rumors come from.
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