At 7:00 a.m. the shuttle from the Relax Inn took Whiskers, Rocket and me back to Dick’s Gap where they had picked us up the day before. It was a 30 minute drive through very rural country up into the mountains. Whiskers and Rocket planned to return to the Relax Inn for another night so they had very light packs with only enough food and clothing to get them through the day. My pack was about as heavy as it has been after the big resupply the night before but the new pack supports the weight very well and it feels good with most of the weight being carried on my hips.
Whiskers and Rocket knew they had to hike 26.5 miles (a little more than a marathon) to get back to Atkins. I planned to do about 21 miles and camp at the Chatfield Shelter. Conditions were fantastic for the first twelve miles with smooth, soft trails and temperatures in the low 50’s, perfect for hiking and I made good time.
Both Partnership Shelter and the Mount Rogers Visitor Center are located at the twelve mile point so I took a break there to talk to Half and Half, Roughneck and some others who were there.
After my break I took off again feeling great and thinking about doing big miles and going much further than planned, maybe even doing my first 30 mile day. Those thoughts were dashed by the rough, rocky trail conditions for the next seven miles. I got to the Chatfield Shelter at 3:30, so I had still made pretty good time for the day. It was too early to stop for the day and there was no one at the shelter so I decided to continue on and walk the additional 5.5 miles back to Atkins and the Relax Inn. Fortunately trail conditions turned favorable again and I followed a beautiful stream through a thick canopy of rhododendron for most of the way to Atkins.
I arrived at 5:15, so it had taken me almost ten hours to hike what had taken only 30 minutes to drive. The difference is that the AT winds around and climbs up and down, so there is no relationship at all between road miles and trail miles. In fact the trail winds around so much that I generally have no idea of where I am located in relation to landmarks or nearby towns until I get to them. On a cloudy day I may not even know which way is north because although the trail goes north overall there are many twist and turns throughout the day. I don’t carry maps or a compass only a trail guide that provides distances between landmarks such as roads, streams, shelters, and towns. I navigate by simply following the white blazes that mark the AT and using the information in the trail guide. Many times I would love to have the series of AT trail maps but I have chosen not to carry the additional weight.
So I made it back to the Relax Inn where I’ve seen Roughneck, Navigator, Trucker, Whiskers and Rocket, and a few other hikers that I recognize.
Here’s a photo of Whiskers and Rocket getting ready to set off on the Atkins Marathon and another photo showing a white blaze that marks the AT.