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Today started off very humid and hot. It's It felt a bit like we were walking through a blow dryer and it was still early morning. It ended up being ridiculously hot out but we still managed to hike 18 miles. Early in the day we passed Blue Kazoo and had a wonderful reunion with her. It made me miss them all so much again. Shortly after we met up with Peanut and the rest of the group. I'd been carrying her trekking pole since the last night I saw her way back near Pearisburg and so I finally returned it to her.
We arrived at the gap right near the James River Footbridge. My friend Eli got lost and we didn't really have service to help direct him so we told him to meet us in Glasgow, VA. Sarah and I were able to get a hitch at night down to Glasgow from lady who told us she was a school teacher. She was very friendly. Once Sarah and I were in town and waiting for Eli we tried to perform surgery on my ingrown toenail. We had tweezers, nail trimmers, and peroxide. It was painful but I think it was worth it. Eli arrived about an hour after us and we had such a great time hanging out before bed. The park in that town is quite dingy but hikers are allowed to camp anywhere in it and there were plenty of others there. It felt like the kind of place people would party all night and that proved to be true. It feels like a miniature Trail Days.
Today we woke in Glasgow and showered at the park we slept at. There were some grimy showers that were for hikers. I barely slept last night because people had a fire and were running around yelling all night. Eli drove us to the nearby town of Lexington and we had a nice breakfast and stopped by an outfitter to get some supplies. After a long detour we finally made it to the trailhead which was at the James River Footbridge. We felt it was a great opportunity to jump in for a swim so we found a rock on the edge of the river and jumped in. It was a super hot day.
I hiked mainly with Eli since he was new out here. Sarah went on ahead. I gave Eli the rundown on what to do in the rare case he saw a bear. I mentioned that he should hit his trekking poles together, make loud noises, and seem bigger than it. After a long, slow ascent, Eli and I finally arrived. Sarah was laying on her pack listening to music. I started setting my tent up and Eli and Sarah were talking. Sarah had her back faced to the woods. I heard Eli start to frantically stutter "Mountain Lion" and run back and grab his poles to hit them together. As he did that I saw what looked like a large deer jump back into some brush. Since Eli and I are extremely sarcastic people I thought he was just playing a joke. I asked him and he seemed shaken up and said "No, that was a huge mountain lion!". Immediately I felt some adrenaline kick in. For one, I wanted to impress Sarah but I also felt I needed to protect all of us. Two summers ago I scared away a mountain lion that approached my brother in I while camping in a canyon in Colorado. That gave me a boost of confidence.
We started throwing rocks and yelling as loud as we could to scare it off. At this point we couldn't see where it went. I threw my headlamp on and grabbed my poles and headed up to where I thought it was and started yelling more. Almost immediately I saw its eyes reflecting back at me and they were so big I compared them to golf balls. I picked up more sticks and rocks and threw them. For some reason I felt the need to charge the mountain lion and so I did. I hit my poles together, yelled as loud as I could, and ran at it. I hit my poles together so hard that one of the pieces of my pole, a carbon fiber replacement, snapped in half. I kept running and yelling and then I saw the mountain lion leave the brush, cross the trail in front of me, and run down the mountain. The moment that it came out of the brush I was able to get a full glimpse of its body and size. It looked like an African lioness. A lion without the mane. It was enormous.
I somehow walked back to camp without worrying that I had just turned my back to the mountain lion. When we got back and I realized what had just happened the fear finally set in. Realizing the size and power of that animal terrified me. All of us started yelling and hitting sticks on trees and then we made a massive fire. We camped our tents right next to each other and Sarah decided to share mine. We made an agreement to wake each other up if we had to pee so someone could stand guard. Before we went to bed we all prayed together. Once we were settled, felt calm, and starting to drifting off, we heard a loud scream nearby that we assumed was a bobcat. It could've been the mountain lion but at least the thought of a bobcat to us was less terrifying.