The way I look at it, if this hike is 2,000 miles long (plus change), then we can regard the first 500 miles as the beginning, the middle 1,000 miles as, well, the middle, and the last 500 miles as the end… Which means that, as we are now officially past 500 miles (532 to be exact), we are at the beginning of the middle! We’re now in Virginia,  our fourth State, and so far it’s been pretty soggy.  Plus I can’t stop singing that John Denver song…

The rain started a few days before we hit the Tenneessee/Virginia state line, and went on for about a week.  We were soggy; all that we owned was soggy.  We’d discovered that our tent manufacturers don’t fully seam seal their Ultra-lite tents (Curses. Drippage overnight. Don’t touch the sides of the tent!), and that whilst zip lock bags make excellent booties to stop your precious pair of dry socks getting wet when putting on soaking boots, when the rain becomes truly torrential, they take in water via the top, leaving you walking in bags of ice cold water (Cap’n! The booties! They be taking on water!! Aargh!).

We’d also discovered that, when you’re hiking and the humidity is around 97%, a poncho doesn’t so much keep you dry, as provide a jaunty membrane between the ‘soaking wet with sweat’ underneath, and the ‘soaking wet with rain’ above.  But at least it keeps your pack drier, and this is important for the change of socks.

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There was one area of mild peril though, where the rain may have worked in our favour. Leaving the thriving metrop. of Hampton, Tennessee, where we’d detoured to visit McDonalds, Dollar General and the Post Office (all the essentials), we climbed Pond Mountain and came to the Watuaga Lake area, to find it closed due to bears…

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Basically, the bears here were so active lately (yoga? cycling?) that they’d temporarily closed a four mile stretch of the trail to all but Appalachian Trail hikers (who are probably crazy anyway).  So we could hike through, but no stopping, loitering or picnicking, and watch out for active bears.

I’ve never hiked four miles so quickly in my life.  Normally I assume that any daytime bears won’t be a major threat if we’re sensible and don’t approach, but something about these ‘Public Safety’ notices made me nervous.  Trying to project Druid-y vibes, and to be as loud as possible so as not to startle any bears (which mostly consisted of stomping and periodically shouting ‘Ding-a-ling! I’m a bear bell!’ – cheaper than buying bear bells.) we zoomed on through in double quick time, and never saw a sniff of a bear.  Whether this was due to our precautions, or whether they’d all very sensibly stayed in bed due to the relentless, pouring rain, we’ll never know.  But I must say I was relieved to emerge the other side.

And eventually we limped, squelching gently, into Damascus, Virginia. Little did we realise though, that it was Memorial weekend, and finding a B&B was unexpectedly challenging. But, just as we were beginning to panic, the 5th or 6th place we tried had a room for the night, and we gratefully dried ourselves and our belongings, seam sealed the tent and got boot re-waterproofing with determination. We also got new tips for the hiking poles, which were beginning to look rather worn…

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Since then things have definitely been looking up. The sun has returned at intervals, the trail has been all Indiana Jones and rock climb-y, and I am beginning to feel like Lara Croft, as I cheerfully tackle obstacles that I would have balked at a year ago, with so far no vertigo moments at all. (Did I mention I’m terrified of heights?)

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Interestingly, I think a lot of my increased confidence is just that I’m learning to trust my own body, and to realise it’s more capable than I knew. Perhaps I really don’t need my hand held after all.  It’s a good feeling.

Wildlife watchers will be excited to hear it’s been all about the reptiles this week.  While hiking in the thunderstorms we saw an army of determined frogs, all headed in a single-minded fashion to an unspecified location.  And there’s also been some adorable lizards. Special mention goes to this little orange guy, but I think my favourite is the miniature Komodo dragon we saw near Laurel Falls.

Sending love to all at home, and may the middle be as wonderful as the beginning has been.

Pup and Pan

xxx

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