One month solo on the Appalachian Trail
Throughout the night, a fire crackles in the firepit outside, lending us warmth against the raging wind. Several times, I hear one of the other hikers get up to throw another log onto the flames.
I wake to find a fresh dusting of snow on the ground. Snowflakes continue to drift down as I pack.
Bird's Nest Hut, the next shelter, lies merely 5 miles away. Woody and I talk about hiking through Bird's Nest and trying for the shelter after that: 15 miles.
I leave after the three thru hikers hike out. Woody stays behind, cleaning his pot.
With a long day of hiking ahead, I try to hike as quickly as I can. After half an hour, though, something seems wrong. The shelter lies only 0.2 miles from the trail, but I have yet to see white blazes. I don't remember seeing the tire tracks in the ground when I hiked in the day before. Though my footprints lie clearly in the snow, I see no other footprints from the other hikers who left earlier that morning.
I decide to backtrack.
As the shelter appears in the distance, I find myself at a fork in the road. Footprints line the other path. In my haste, I failed to notice I took the wrong path! Vowing to be more careful, I continue onto the trail.
Bird's Nest Hut lies nestled at the top of a ridge. As I climb, the snow picks up. I pass a road and keep climbing up the rocky path. The road gets smaller and smaller below me.
A turkey vulture begins circling above my head as I near the top, which I find mildly amusing: perhaps I am staggering up so slowly and wearily that I look like I will drop dead at any second.
Bird's Nest Hut stands empty when I arrive at noon. I see no sign of either Phlatlander or Woody all day. Vaguely, I wonder whether we will meet again.
The snow clears up in the afternoon. As I hike past parking areas and campgrounds, the trail flattens out considerably. The aroma of grilled food reaches me as I pass Skyland Resort. How I wish I could stay for some real, non-dehydrated food!
I grit my teeth and hike on.
That night, I set up camp at dusk after hiking 13 miles. I am a couple miles shy of the second shelter, but no matter: If I hike as far as I can every day, I will be able to make better mileage one day. How lucky I could view the Shenandoahs in snow!