Day 39

I wrote the last post last night but it didn’t get sent out until tonight. The service has been pretty rough lately. I’ll have three bars, but can’t call or text.

Last night was, as expected, really, really cold. It dropped below 20 degrees for a good portion of the night and the wind was almost constantly gusting. By morning all of my water bottle had frozen solid and my tent was covered in a thick layer of frost. The impromptu bivy sack I made out of my trash bag and coat definitely helped to keep the cold out. Unfortunately they also kept a lot of moisture in, so by morning the bottom half of my sleeping bag was damp. I’m not sure if I’ll use that technique again because of the risk of too thoroughly wetting my bag, but it was a good experiment. Tonight promises to be cold as well, but hopefully not quite so bad. It will definitely be less windy so my tent should trap more of my body heat.

Speaking of my tent, somehow today the other pole used to set it up snapped as well! Talk about poor craftsmanship on MSR’s part. I’m handling them pretty carefully, yet both poles have broken on me now. The tent comes with a pole repair sleeve, basically an aluminum tube that slides over the break, so when the first pole broke it wasn’t too big of an inconvenience. All I had to do was put on the sleeve before setting it up and it would be good as new. Obviously with two poles broken and only one sleeve, the second break was much worse. For a while I thought I would have to sleep with a floppy rainfly until I can get a replacement. But after a bit of brainstorming I realized I could use my two tent stakes and duct tape to make an impromptu repair sleeve by placing one stake on either side of the break and taping them together. It looks like it should hold up for the night, but I’ll have to keep it taped during the day, which means having a pole sticking out of my pack, so I’m eager for a replacement to come.

I hiked 16 miles today. I would’ve liked to do more because I got in around 4:30, way too early to stop, but there was nowhere better to go. The next shelter was too far and pushing a few more miles wouldn’t have made much of a difference in tomorrow’s walk. Since I have reception here I decided to stay so I could catch up with my roommate and talk about where to live next year.

In other news, I was wrong about where the ponies come from. The Virginia Highlands are a truly beautiful stretch of trail, they’re largely bald, so one can see for a long way off and it’s reminiscent of the high peaks of Colorado, or something of the like. However, according to a poster I passed today that is not its natural state. The highlands used to be a lush forest until the early 1900s when they were cut down for lumber. Once the lumber was gone, the land was barren and perfect for farming. It wasn’t good land for growing crops though, so they used it for grazing cattle. The activities of the ranchers kept the range bald. However, once the state bought the land and turned it into a wilderness area, the land quickly started to recover and the trees started regrowing. To keep the land bald “for beauty and recreation” the forest service introduced the ponies to graze on the grasses and “for the entertainment of visitors.” They also regularly burn the area.

So in reality the view one sees when one walks through the Virginia Highlands is not natural at all. In fact its closer to a golf course than to a wilderness. It’s a carefully, albeit subtlety, manicured patch of land designed to be as pleasing as possible. If left to its own devices, nature would make sure it was a pretty dull stretch of trees indeed.

While I agree with the forest service that it’s a much more striking area due to their work, I think it’s a shame to manipulate the land for such trivial reasons and a sham to call it a wilderness. It’s closer to a theme park than a forest.

Tomorrow, 20 miles. The shelter I’m headed to has showers and hikers can have pizza delivered there! So I’m very excited for that.

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