AT 2017: Day 53, Laurel Creek Shelter to Campsite at Mile 688

Walk me out in the morning dew today

I woke up early this morning and tried to pack my gear as quickly as possible. My plan wasn’t especially ambitious, but I figured any extra miles I put in today would shorten the miles I need to do tomorrow.

There was an ulterior motive for putting in a few extra miles. I’m hoping to arrive at Four Pines Hostel early enough tomorrow to get a ride to Homeplace Restaurant for dinner.

Homeplace is legendary among hikers. If it comes close to the hype, it will be worth the extra effort I put in today.

DateSaturday, June 3, 2017
WeatherMostly sunny, warming to near 80
Trail ConditionsPleasant meadows, followed by steep ups and downs
Today's Miles14.8
Trip Miles688.0

There was another reason for trying to add more miles today, and it was less superficial than trying to get to an all-you-can-eat restaurant. I wanted to prove to myself I was not slowing down and not running out of energy.

Yesterday was not a good day for me. I realize now I was feeling drained and unfocused.

I decided I need to change my mood and outlook. There are too many miles remaining to be feeling sluggish and unmotivated.

Soon after I started, as it always seems to do, the trail provided me with the help I needed. And in this case, it was literally the trail that lifted my spirits.

Just a mile and a half into the day, the trail entered a large, open meadow. As is usually the case when the trail crosses a meadow, the view was expansive.

This time, though, there was an added bonus. The field was wet with dew, and with that were all kinds of interesting smells to go with the sights. It was like experiencing the trail in a whole new dimension.

The trail passed through several open fields, each one with a different character, with different features and views.

Cows were grazing in one.

A creek flowed through one, with horses and mules grazing nearby.

My senses were in full operational mode through this section. At one point I smelled honeysuckle several yards before I saw it at the side of the trail.

A turtle was also enjoying this day in the sun, but it didn't want to be sociable with me.

Up ahead, I could see Sinking Creek Mountain, where the trail was headed next.

After crossing Sinking Creek and Virginia Highway 630, the trail entered some woods and began to climb.

An old, unmaintained cabin could be seen off to the side of the trail.

Just before the trail entered yet another meadow, a tree stood at the opening. It has been standing on that spot for more than 300 years.

The tree is called the Keffer Oak, and has been measured as standing more than 300 feet tall. It is about 19 feet in circumference.

There’s only one other tree on the AT that is bigger than this tree. If my hike continues to go well, I’ll see it in New York.

The last meadow to walk through before the trail returned to the woods had been recently mowed. My nose was immediately overwhelmed by the fresh scent of grass as I walked through it.

From there, the trail began a steep climb to the top of the ridge of Sinking Creek Mountain.

About an hour later, I began to see large piles of rocks. There were several stacks of these, appearing along the trail for the next mile or so.

Some of the rock piles were massive. The best guess for how these piles got here is they were collected by farmers trying to clear the land to make it tillable or grazable.

Continuing along the ridge, I saw a sign that made me laugh. “Closed to vehicles,” it said with all seriousness, and quoted the regulation and fines for breaking the regulation.

Given the ruggedness of the trail here, I think this is a regulation that isn’t in much danger of being broken.

Reaching the top of Sinking Creek Mountain, there were several opportunities to take in mountain views. This was another reason to make today a much better day for hiking than yesterday.

The trail continued over rocky ledges.

It was difficult at times to walk over these rocks because of the way they slanted downward.

Just after 2 p.m. I reached a sign marking the Eastern Continental Divide.

Water falling on the west side of the ridge flows to the Mississippi River before eventually reaching the Gulf of Mexico. Water that falls on the east side of the ridge flows to the James River and later to the Atlantic Ocean.

From the marker the trail began a steep descent off the mountain.

When I stopped at Niday Shelter to collect some water I met Downhill, the first person I had seen all day. She told me she and Pigpen had camped together last night.

This explains why I didn’t see Pigpen yesterday at Laurel Creek Shelter, as expected.

We talked about where we were planning to camp for the night. Downhill said she and Pigpen would stop at the same spot where I was planning to stop, so perhaps I would see them there. Then she left.

After I completed filtering my water I continued the short distance, less than two miles, to the campsite.

Downhill and Pigpen were not there.

It occurred to me that perhaps we misunderstood each other. They may have walked to another campsite just beyond the one were I had stopped.

The time was early enough that I could have continued walking, but from here the trail would be making a big climb up Brush Mountain.

The trail guide said the next campsite, where I guessed Downhill and Pigpen would be, was small and only had space for two tents. Making it even less appealing, there was no water source near that campsite.

No one was near where I was stopped, and I thought it would be nice to camp with Downhill and Pigpen. But if the space was as small as described, I feared my presence might make the two young women uncomfortable.

I decided to stay where I was and save the long climb for tomorrow.

Additionally, after looking at how far I had gone today, I realized I had walked a satisfactory amount of trail for one day. More importantly, despite some difficult sections of trail, I wasn't walking as slowly as I thought I had been. I wasn’t losing focus or energy, as I had feared.

I had a large campsite all to myself, so I took my time looking for an ideal spot to set up my tent.

Later, a couple of hikers stopped to look at the site, but I don't think they saw me because I was a couple hundred yards from the trail. They decided to move on.

Once again I was by myself, but I didn’t mind. The location was pleasant, the nighttime temperature was comfortable, and I was satisfied in my effort today.

I was in a good spot, no longer feeling unmotivated.

Walk me out in the morning dew, my honey
Walk me out in the morning dew today
Can't walk you out in the morning dew, my honey
I can't walk you out in the morning dew today

I thought I heard a baby cry this morning
I thought I heard a baby cry today
You didn't hear no baby cry this morning
You didn't hear no baby cry today

Where have all the people gone, my honey?
Where have all the people gone today?
There's no need for you to be worrying about all those people
You never see those people anyway

(This version of the lyrics used by the Grateful Dead is slightly different than the original.)

From “Morning Dew” by Bonnie Dobson


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.