Vandeventer Shelter to Laurel Fork Shelter
The boys got busy early boiling water for instant oatmeal and hot chocolate. I cooked Green Grits and Ham. One of the scout leaders taught me how to pour liquid from a wide-mouthed container into a small-mouthed container without spilling any liquid. You put a stick in the small-mouthed container and the surface tension of the stick draws the liquid into the container.
A short distance from the shelter, a small bear turned and ran away when he saw me. Moments later, his cousin turned tail also. I prefer for bears to show me their tails rather than their teeth.
My water bottles contained little more than condensation when I got to the road crossing near Watauga Lake, so I black-topped it down to the boat launch and pumped a liter of water from the lake. A man fishing from shore gifted me with two ice-cold bottles of water from his cooler which I drank on the spot. His stringer held no fish for supper, so the lake gained a few fish when he released his minnows. No doubt they made a good supper for a patient bass. Since he was packing up to leave, he offered me a ride up the road and I was back on the trail fully rehydrated and grateful for his kindness.
I stopped at the Watauga Lake Shelter for a lunch of Bean Bark Stew rolled into a tortilla wrap with cheese. After lunch, I took a sponge bath on the picnic table behind the shelter since I had the place to myself. I needed to rid myself of the three-day stink. I filled my ice cream bucket with cold water from the spring, placed it on top of the table and stood on the bench squeezing water over my body with the sponge. Just to be safe, I kept my shorts close at hand. I was almost satisfactorily clean when I heard rustling noises coming from the shelter. Seeker had arrived. I’m sure she wasn’t seeking a naked man, so I pulled on my britches pretty quick. No permanent harm done. It started raining, so I hung out with Seeker, a long-distance section hiker, for another hour until the rain stopped.
The ascent to the flat top of Pond Mountain was brutal and I leaned heavily on my hiking poles. When the trail leveled at the top I broke into spontaneous singing, something that would occur sometimes when I reached an easy stretch of trail after a strenuous ascent. My happy tune abandoned me like a fair-weather friend when the trail began the descent to Laurel Fork Creek over steep and rocky terrain. The path leveled once creek-side, but tested me again for the final half-mile climb to Laurel Fork Shelter over slick rocks and mud in the rain with darkness closing in. My mind fretted about getting to the shelter with enough light to find a suitable tree to hang my food bag, and I thought I might have to skip supper tonight.
Trust the trail. I reached Laurel Fork Shelter at dusk to find Roman, aka Lone Wolf, settled in with Max, his Rottweiler/Chow mix companion. With big Max standing guard, no bears would approach tonight and I could simply hang my food bag in the shelter. I cooked Ramen Noodles with Turkey and Kraut with a side of Ratatouille under the light of my headlamp. Dessert could wait until tomorrow. I was more interested in sleep. I shed my wet boots and clothes, changed into my dry long johns, and slid into my sleeping bag. Crickets, katydids, and tree frogs filled the night with a pulsing cacophony as I drifted off to sleep with steady rain falling.