The weather couldn’t have been better today. It started out a brisk 43° in town and ended up probably close to 70 in the afternoon. The sun was shining all day and hardly a cloud was in the sky. It’s such a stark contrast to the last few days.
I got up at about 6:30 and began packing and eating breakfast. It was about 7:10 by the time I got out the door and it was already light enough to walk. It was much brighter than 7:10 in the woods.
The ground and grass is very dewy just early in the morning. And there were several grassy fields I had to cross but luckily I was able to find wide enough cow paths that I kept in my shoes dry.
The trail skirts around the edge of town making its way towards the river. There is a separate pedestrian bridge across the river adjacent to the highway. You walk across New River heading directly to the Celanese gypsum plant. The plant makes a lot of noise and I realized now that’s what I was hearing yesterday when I thought I was hearing the highway 3 miles away. I was really hearing the plant whole time. Another interesting thing is that it appears as if most of the fog is really just steam coming from the plant. And halfway across the bridge I could see vapor from my breath which I couldn’t see on either bank. The other really odd thing is the air smelled like chicken wings. It had an acidic vinegary smell to it. Either that or maybe I’m still hungry for chicken wings.
Once you cross the river you go down a flight of stairs to get to an underpass to cross under the highway. This underpass is actually the entrance to the plant. The trail moves away from the entrance road up a gentle hill and then starts climbing onto one of the small nulls that overlooks the plant.
I don’t know why but factories like this intrigue me. There must be a million miles of pipe and dozens and dozens of liquid containing silos and tanks. It’s a mix of shiny stainless and dingy rusty iron. And steam spewing from at least 100 different places. And someone knows what all 100 sources of steam are for.
After this first small ridge the trail descends again to the road that leads to the landfill. The trail stays pretty close to the road and eventually by chain link fence with barb wire on top of it is just 10 to 20 ft to the left of the trail. While on the right side of the trail anywhere from 10 to 50 feet are posted no trespassing signs. I could see structures to the right but other than a trailer couldn’t really make out what most things were. I thought at one point I saw a treehouse but I’m betting that it was a complicated tree stand because less than a half a mile later I did see a guy sitting in a tree stand waiting for deer. I waved to him but he didn’t wave back.
When I was almost to the top of the main ridge, I spotted a trail maintainer spreading rocks on the trail. He actually carried a bag of rocks at least four miles up the trail just to dump them on the ground. I sat and talked with him for 5 or 10 minutes. I asked him about the trail reroute done a few years ago to move the trail further away from the gypsum plant. He indicated that there was probably a lot more politics than publicly known for the reasons for the relocation. He said the new trail was graded a lot better and an easier hike than the old trail. I would probably agree because the new trail was very well constructed and a very even grade. But it didn’t need another bag of rocks. After he asked me where I was from he mentioned that Florida’s football program was halted for a COVID-19 outbreak. Since the cell service was really good up here I looked it up and read about it after I moved on.
Not far from where I left him the trail turned to a meadow and then the shelter was visible from the top. I sat at the picnic table to make a tuna fish wrap and ate quickly and moved on. This was an early 11:00 lunch. On the other side of the meadow I saw another hiker sitting on a rock doing the same thing.
The maintainer had mentioned that this ridge was 12 miles long. On this side of the ridge there were meadows and otherwise fairly level ground. But around the middle some of the sections turned rocky and were slower to traverse. It seems like that 12 miles would never end. Most of the ridge looked identical to the rest and it actually got a bit boring.
I saw maybe six or seven hikers all day. Only two looked like thru-hikers. None of them seemed to want to stop and talk. That was okay by me as I needed to keep moving anyway. I knew there were two shelters coming up towards the end of the day, one of them would be too soon to stop and the other one would probably be just out of reach.
The trail turned into a lot of dense rhododendron. I got to the first shelter at 5:30 and that was way too early to stop. It looked like it was already full of hikers so I just waved to them and kept hiking. The next shelter was only four and a half miles away but there was a lot of climbing to get up to it. I estimated that I would get there about 7:30. That would be after dark but perhaps I could find some good camping before then.
The next 2 mi after getting down to the creek you would think would just follow along the creek. But for some reason they took the trail pretty far from the creek and several hundred feet up away from it. I’m assuming it’s because of property boundary issues because I would hate to think that the trail designers were actually insane. The two miles along the creek were very rough going. By the time I got to the road again to cross the river it was just about 6:30 and there would not be much light left.
Shortly after crossing the river and the road I found a good campsite amongst a grove of white pines. Normally white pines have too many branches to be useful to hammocks but these look like they have been stripped up pretty high and they were spaced perfectly apart to string the hammocks. I am just over a mile short of the shelter which is fine. I was able to hike a full day without the headlamp so that is a good day.
Tomorrow has more ups and downs so I will try to get out early. I think tomorrow is supposed to be a sunny day but Friday it is supposed to rain again so I am not looking forward to that. I’ll just concentrate on tomorrow for now and I’ll deal with Friday on Friday.