Early wakeup, pack up, and down to the Waffle House for a gut-lining breakfast and the best coffee served in any American restaurant ... and served by real people, too, words spun out like a train goin' byyyyeee ....
Parked the Ion, met shuttle driver Steve. Fount of knowledge, as all these fellows are ... best way to buy stuff at Damascus Trail Days is to wait until the dealers are packing up, Thunder Ridge, Three Ridges and The Priest are at the same level as the northern and southern parts of the trail, and there's a mama bear terrorizing Thunder Hill Shelter. Seems she taught her kids to shinny up the trees and knock down the bear bags, and was able to knock over the first bear safe they installed.
Got it. Replanning to drop Thunder Hill.
The James River Foot Bridge was there for me. According to a sign at the south end, the bridge honors one Mr. Foot who was active in the ATC, and who hiked the cross country discovery trail with his wife one year before he moved on. Makes me think of Woody Guthrie's "Rambling Man" song.
Light rain tapered off before I started, so I ignored the wind-torn clouds and left the poncho in my backpack. The weather shifted as I climbed, though, and started to bombard me with grain-sized ice pellets. Quick, the poncho and the pack cover! While I was getting wrapped, of course, the weather changed back to a brisk sunny day ... the same thing happened about 4 pm.
I managed to stump right past the turn for the shelter where I planned to spend the night and over the first of the mountains that grace this section of the trail. When I realized my mistake, the choice of going back over the mountain did not appeal -- and happily, AWOL's guide listed a campsite with a reliable water supply just two miles ahead!
Uphill, of course. And the "reliable supply" has become a muddy swamp. So, another night on restricted water rations, then back down the hill to that overflowing creek a mile back.
Still, there was a small hand-carved cross marked with the AT emblem near a reasonably flat and safe - if muddy - space. I must be on the right trail.