It soon became tragically apparent that my Thru-Hiker's Handbook was about as trustworthy as my ex-girlfriend. Although its profile of Central Virginia made the trail look flat and easy, also like my ex-girlfriend, the reality of it was anything but. Every listed landmark was at or near the same altitude; for example, Dickinson Gap, at 3,300 feet, was followed immediately by the Allegheny Trail, at 3,500 feet. What the book doesn't tell you is that, in between, there's an unnamed 4,000 foot mountain. It was incredibly frustrating, confounding, and infuriating.
All I knew was that we were somewhere in between Pine Swamp Branch Shelter and the campsite and spring some ten miles before it. How did I know this? Somehow, I had run out of water. I was painfully aware of how far we would have to go before I'd have another opportunity to hydrate. In the meantime, the fact that we were traipsing up and down some seventeen thousand foot mountain that wasn't even in the guidebook was just an added bonus.
My stalwart hiking companion Bandito was less than helpful in this time of crisis. I knew he usually carried two liters of water, and at this point figured he must have had at least one liter left. But instead of offering me a sip or two of his supply to tide me over, he repeatedly reprimanded me for only carrying 40 ounces at a time.
He was right, of course. It was my fault. My Klean Kanteen did only contain 40 ounces. But how was knowing that I had made a mistake going to help me? It wasn't as if I could just hop off the trail into an outfitter and buy another water bottle. We were in the middle of the woods. What could I do?
I reviewed my options. My best bet was to suck it up, stay calm, and hike on to the next water source, which was just before the shelter. The chances of becoming dangerously dehydrated, hallucinating, and walking off a cliff are generally exaggerated, after all. I could also try drinking my own urine. But that would seem to be the refuge of truly demented, the astoundingly foolhardy, and Bear Grylls. I wasn't that desperate. So I chose the third option, which was to exacerbate my problem by crying like a baby.
All I could think about was being at home, near a refrigerator filled with unlimited juice, and my mommy asking me if I was thirsty, and then me saying yes, and then her bringing me juice. And just having that source of unlimited juice nearby. And of course the more I thought about juice, the thirstier I became, which only heightened my hysteria, which only made me cry even more, which only dehydrated me further.
Bandito, bless his soul, was enormously supportive of me through this time of crisis, by laughing uproariously at me, and then having the temerity to complain about his stomach hurting because I was making him laugh so much. Why was I hiking with him, again? Maybe there's something inherently funny about a grown man sobbing and whimpering and shaking all over like wet cat, but I didn't appreciate the implication. This wasn't a joke, and I'm not that good an actor. I really was desperate.
We must have lost twenty minutes to half an hour of daylight before I was able to compose myself. Still angry at Bandito, I hiked on ahead of him, and watched Jurassic Park in my head to distract myself. I had just gotten to the part where Samuel L. Jackson is saying "Vehicle headlights are on and they're not responding, those shouldn't be running off the car batteries," when I reached the stream.
When Bandito caught up with me, I had my Katadyn Hiker Pro's out hose firmly clenched in my mouth. I waited to fill my water bottle until after I had sated my thirst. He laughed, because I looked ridiculous, I made a mental note to start planning his accidental death, and we moved on.
We ended the night at the Pine Swamp Branch Shelter. Turkey and Thrasher were there, along with an old guy who we may or may not have met before, and a few other people whom I accurately suspected would be awful snorers. Bandito might have been sociable, but I was still too cross with the world, and so kept to myself. I made dinner, then second dinner, then went to sleep.
645.7 miles down, 1533.4 to go.