Summary: Random campsite mile 872 Random campsite mile 890
Total miles: 18 So, mile-wise, one may notice we are not halfway, but with our hiker legs, we should, barring injury, be about halfway in days to the finish line. Seems kind of impossible, but it's something to celebrate! We left camp at 9:30. Again, the terrain was gorgeous. It often feels like someone smoothed out the trail and removed lots of nasty rocks (or at least compared to what we had been working with). However, our shoes are really old and any rocks we step on seem to get felt right into our arches. Tyler's shoes aren't gripping all that well either. His warranty shoes are waiting in Luray at the post office as are Emily's Amazon Prime shoes.
Anyway, we soldiered on. The heat and humidity was definitely a new complaint. It's been warm before, but even on these fairly gentle climbs, by the end we are absolutely drenched and all that sweat had nowhere to go since the air is a swimming pool.
At one we stopped for lunch at Black Rock Hut. Uncle Puck and Crayola, who we had run into a few times recently, were also there finishing lunch. They headed out and we had the place to ourselves for a while. The trail has seemed quiet recently, presumably since so many hikers are aqua blazing. When we left, a couple other hikers had come in and gave us foreboding news of an upcoming storm that was supposed to dump 3-4 inches that afternoon. But, if we wait around on supposed rain, we will never get anywhere so on we went About a mile away, we reached Black Rock Mountain, which has several short bald stretches, and of course, the skies opened up. We had just seen a couple day hikers, wished them well and to stay dry, and then a sheet of water came down. It had briefly sprinkled before and we had just wrapped our bags in our ponchos since we were so sweaty from hiking that wrapping ourselves in plastic didn't sound desirable. But once the sheet of water rushed down our backs over the poncho we told the weather it had won and we put on our ponchos properly. Further down the trail, our shoes in complete squish mode, the day hikers yelled to us from the parking lot and offered us a spot to stay at the upcoming Loft Mountain Campground if we needed it. We wanted to make a few miles beyond that, but we said if the rain got worse we would drop by. We thanked them for the offer and generosity and kept hiking, praying no mind to puddles now given the state of our shoes. The day suddenly became dark and we realized we were in a cloud. The on off rain and dripping leaves from walking in a cloud was very reminiscent of the Smokies, a dark time in nearly every thru hikers trip. Still, we only had 7.4 miles to go after the shelter. The rain let up a bit and we saw a couple bucks standing in the trail. They both had felted antlers. One looked like a three point buck, but jumped off into the woods before we could get a better look. The younger one, with his wee starter antlers, stared us down from about twenty feet (that's about 6 meters for our German readers). As we slowly got closer (we still needed miles), he sauntered another ten feet down the trail and began eating again, seemingly confused rather than scared as to why we were following him. He eventually got off the trail ten or so feet to let us pass. We finally made it to our destination for the evening, which was the loft mountain campsite. There, we also received word that Dean and Michael had managed to score a ride to Max Factor's magic hiker condo for the evening which we had thought was already over. We can't wait to hear how it went!
*rainbow and clouds in the mountains
At the campstore, there was a large breezeway with benches. Uncle Puck and Crayola had some wet gear spread out and were making their way through a six pack. Turtle and Willie, new trail friends from today, were also relaxing on the benches. They told us they had just thrown all of their wet gear in the cheap laundry in the building. We dried off, changed into dry clothes, and threw our clothes in too. It was some accidental trail magic. We followed Uncle Puck's lead with beer and Pringles, and added ice cream and Smartfood popcorn and began the relaxation at 6.
We got some more info about our companions backgrounds, talked about our reasons for hiking, talked about the prison system, snacks, and how we, in particular, should best enjoy our hike. A bit later, Fresh Princess, who we had met briefly the day before, and the Dogfather, with his two lemon eucalyptus smelling dogs, Naya and Pharaoh arrived.
There was some debate as to where we were all going to sleep for the evening. Crayola said she might sleep in the bathroom shower stall (rain really gets to us). Willie and Turtle set up their tent right in the store lawn and Uncle Puck followed suit. At around 9:45, we headed out in the dark to set up our tent a bit farther down the trail. We found a little spot ten minutes or so down the AT. We will see what the site actually looks like (it appears to be on a cliff of some sort) in the morning. Hanging out in a campstore breezeway, stinking up the joint for all the car campers at the nearby campground, and chatting about life before, during and after the trail was certainly one of the strangest nights so far. But a good one. Our motley crew was a great crossection of the tramilies that form and dissipate as we all head towards Maine.