It wasn't long before we found some trail magic in the woods! A Baptist Church had left a really neat, handcrafted metal box in the woods full of a cooler of iced drinks and tupperware containers of snacks. Whoever built it, made it bear-proof, and actually had anchored it to the ground. Besides the awesome snacks and drinks, there was a ziploc full of some beaded keychains, and I put one on my backpack as a keepsake.
We only hiked about another quarter-mile, and we found a cardboard sign leaned against a tree that said, 'Trail magic provided by Sipsy and Crew." Just around the bend was a gravel road with a van next to 3 coolers, and Sipsy, his wife and grandson. We had seen Sipsy's name on the shelter logs, but had not met him yet on this trip. He told us that his wife and grandson had come to visit him in Damascus, and that he wanted to provide trail magic to his fellow hikers. He had brought iced drinks, a big box of chips, and candy bars! Sweet! We enjoyed visiting with him. He had actually been on the trail about 3 weeks before us, but had been taking his time. He had already seen 3 bears (we were jealous). And that's not all in the same day - he had seen 3 bears on 3 different days! (Even more jealous!) I know our time will come, but we are talking to more and more hikers who are seeing bears. We said our thanks and goodbyes, and headed on down the trail.
In a few miles, we started crossing a big pasture with beautiful views to the east of the misty mountains. We actually had to cross a pasture full of cows. This was rather surprising. Keith and I tried to avoid eye contact with the cows, and certainly didn't want to upset them. There were a lot of calves in the pasture, and if calves and their mommas were anything like bear cubs and their mommas, well, I knew how to act. Swamprat, on the other hand, apparently had much more cattle experience than we did, and was going through the pasture mooing and videotaping with his iphone as he pretended to sneak up on the LARGEST cows and play tag with them! We hurried to put distance between us and Swamprat. Thankfully, no bulls charged, and I am guessing these cows were pretty used to seeing hikers everyday.
The rest of the day was really a pretty easy hike day, and the sun finally came out again, warming it up until we were all in t-shirts and shorts again. We stopped at a shelter for lunch, and met a new hiker, Miles (does 20-30 miles per day). He had thru-hiked it before. This time, he was carrying next to nothing with him. He snacked each day on Poptarts and Snickers (no real food), and then when he hit town, he pigs out. He just sleep under a tarp each night, and wasn't treating his water at all (carrying no filters, etc.) I interrogated him on what all he had in his 12 POUND PACK! After I found out how he was getting by, I realized that there was just no way I could travel that way for six months, no matter how light the pack was. And I figured on these cold rainy nights, he had to be sleeping pretty cold. That day we also met a hiker named Trophy Wife (best name ever!), TP (for toilet paper - he was also bringing up the rear in his group), and Sugar Plumb (named by Sipsy - never did find out why she was named that, but she thought Sipsy looked like Santa Clause). We also met Nitrous Oxide (he accelerates going up the hills).
Today we also came across the tiniest shelter we had ever seen. It could not have held more than 2 or 3 hikers very comfortably. It looked like it had been there a very long time.
We were being caught by a lot of the younger hikers (remember, they do not hike in the rain), and figured out that they had all gotten bottlenecked back near Hampton when the weather turned ugly (snow). They were all out hiking again, and that meant Damascus was going to get full fast!
That evening, we stealth camped at about mile 460.7 and had a beautiful campfire. I had gone up to a ridge to call my mom (there was some cell service) when all of a sudden, rain came out of nowhere. I had to run for the tent, and luckily, Keith grabbed the few things we had airing out as he also ran for the tent. We ended up in bed early that evening. I think my legs and feet were very happy about that. The campfire ended up burning for a very long time, even though it rained for a long time. We hiked 17.7 miles for the day. Tomorrow morning we reach Damascus.