Currently sitting in the hotel room...
Solid day for the Rooster. I woke early to give myself options for where my dad could pick me up. We had 13-, 22-, and 26-mile options (spoiler alert, read the start of this post). The people who had camped at the shelter informed me that I talked in my sleep. "I know, I know, I babble when I'm exhausted," I said.
"No, like full words, clear as day!" FGH said. "In the middle of the night, you said, 'I know, it's crazy! I've just been walking all this way!" I guess it's true. FGH had somehow snapped something on her hammock and ended up hanging really low, basically on the ground. We had some morning laughs and I made a big breakfast with my extra food before heading out for the day. The first half of my hike would work me gradually up from 869 feet to 4225 feet. I had my work cut out for me. Up to High Cock Knob, up to Thunder Ridge, then up to Apple Orchard Mountain. I stopped at Thunder Hill Shelter for a break, spotting two coke cans inside. Upset that someone didn't pack out their trash. Upon closer inspection, I found that they were sealed, and that they were for me. This was all very fortunate because the shelter's water source was dry. I praised the trail gods and continued on to Apple Orchard Mountain, my high point on the day. To get there, I had to pass through the Guillotine, a boulder suspended on two larger boulders, looking like it might fall at any minute. It's one of those AT things you hear about. Apple Orchard's summit was another grassy bald, but this one had an FAA tower on top. It looked like a giant soccer ball.
I headed down what would be roughly ten miles of downhill. Thunder rumbled in the distance although it remained sunny. I stopped at Cornelius Creek Shelter to fill up on water. Nature also demanded that I visit the privy, so my stop took longer than expected. As soon as I took off from the shelter, it got so dark that I almost pulled out my headlamp. I had a slight uphill to Floyd Mountain, and on the way it started to pour. I took it in stride, but still felt like reacting out loud to keep my sprits up. I shouted at myself like a horse, "Hyah, HYAH". I talked to myself, "A half hour ago I was DRY!" Lightning was striking pretty close by, but it was kind of nice to feel a survival instinct kick in. I booked it over the peak, and the rain abruptly stopped. Just enough to really, completely soak me down to my very soul. I rode the ridge down, down, down. I startled two wild turkeys and they took flight, awkwardly whacking limbs with their wings as they flew by, whoom whoom whom. Something about their flying style made me laugh out loud. I stopped to check how many miles I had to the shelter. Only three! My heart started to sing. In fact, it started to burn. A horsefly had landed on my chest and was biting in for all he was worth. He suffered the same fate as many of his brethren.
I pulled up to Bryant Ridge Shelter with time to spare before my dad got there. I decided to make the most of that time, hiking up and over Fork Mountain. It was just a better situation that way. Otherwise I would have hiked a half-mile side trail to a hard-to-find gravel road. Instead, I hiked directly on to VA 614 and caught a ride to Middle Creek Campground, where I knew my dad was headed. Turns out he had actually taken a wrong turn and came from the other direction, but I was luckily sitting on a bench where I could see him. I spotted his truck rolling through, with him looking in all directions. I waved to him emphatically, but he was too busy trying to find his son that he didn't recognize me. Something finally clicked and he stopped. We got food in Buchanan but ultimately decided to stay in a hotel in the relatively populous Daleville. I felt like a phony because we'll actually be hiking through town in a few days, but the hotels here have really good hiker rates, and grocery stores are better for resupplying. So here we sit, ready to embark on our first voyage tomorrow. I drank too much orange juice.