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Adding miles when I get the chance

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I started 2015 with some hope that I’d be able to get some miles both in Southwest VA and in the Whites. However, because I make a real effort to avoid walking for more than two days (out of five) in the rain, I always check weather forecasts to ensure that the area, in which I plan to hike, will be acceptably rain-free. Sadly, I just didn’t get a lot of weeks like that for the two areas I’d like to hike in – leading to significantly fewer hiking miles than I would have preferred. Thus, upon seeing that the area near Atkins VA would have five consecutive days of 0% chance of rain, there was no way I was going to pass up the chance to hit The Trail.

One simple reason I really wanted to get more miles – now that autumn is here, there aren’t a lot of daylight hours any more. In June I can hike to almost 9pm, hit the floor soon after, wake up at 5am, and hit the Trail when there’s enough light at 6am. In September it’s still dark when I awake at 6:30am, and hiking even till 7:30pm is marginal. This doesn’t leave a lot of daylight time FOR ME (note those last two words) to make much more than twelve miles in a day. Also, it’s starting to get sufficiently cold that my summer hiking gear is barely able to keep me warm at night. Unless I get a lot of blessings all at once, this will probably be my last week of backpacking.

Once again, I drove my car to a convenient parking space – this time, the Visitor Center for Mount Rogers National Recreation Center (MRNRA-VC) – and had Bubba Shuttle take me to a spot that I could hike back to with minimal expected trouble. He dropped me off the same spot where he had before (Highway 623, a place I was glad HE was driving to), after which I simply walked back to my car.

One disclaimer about parking at the MRNRA-VC: the gates are only open between about 7am and about 5pm. If you arrive to park after those hours – or worse, want to leave – you absolutely can not get your car into or out of the parking lot. Unless you are 100% certain about getting your car out before the gates are closed, you should not park there.
Fortunately, there is room for about five cars on the pull-off along Highway 16, opposite to the entrance to the MRNRA-VC. I chose not to take a chance, and parked at the latter place.

Bubba got me to Highway 623 in plenty of time to get to Chestnut Knob by mid-day. I thus got a fairly nice view while there
along with a nice lunch break.
One thing that I did NOT get was water – it’s still pretty scarce in this area. The only TRACE of water I saw, right on The Trail, between Lick Creek and Jenkins Shelter, was at Walker Gap – and it wasn’t flowing all that well. Lest you fear dying of thirst, however, there does seem to be a couple of places with water NEAR The Trail; I just didn’t bother to walk there.

Another thing to note – between Chestnut Knob and the Settlers Museum – a distance of about 26 miles – you’ll spend a lot of time outside the “canopy of trees” that the A.T. is famous for. Because I lacked a sun hat during an earlier hike near Pearisburg, I brought one – and needed it – along this jaunt.

Stayed at a small tent site about four miles beyond Chestnut Knob on Tuesday, and had little trouble getting to Crawfish Valley on the next day. On Thursday I had two enjoyable stops, one at the Shell station in Atkins (amazing how much I miss soda pop), one at the Settlers Museum just a few miles beyond there. Both places gladly allow us backpackers to sit on their benches in the shade; the latter even gives us free admission – walk inside for air conditioning, if nothing else.

Spent Thursday night at the Chatfield Shelter with Wolf Man, the only SOBO I met during my five days on The Trail. Friday had me getting to the MRNRA-VC by 2pm, about when I expected to do so. After a shower at the Shell Station ($5) and some more soda pop to refresh my spirits, I was able to make the nine hour drive back to Shuttle with little trouble.

I’m now at 1263 miles, and hope to do a little better next year.