2019-Day 28: oatmeal cream pie edition

*today’s 8.5 mile slack-pack went well. I will continue to slack pack the next two days to keep the load off my ankle, so I will have a bit more time for setting up blog posts. Side note: the odd capitalization comes from dictating and not having the patience to fix every error. The lack of consistent commas also comes from weariness of the tiny screen. Sorry about it.*

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As previously mentioned, I Went to bed way too late and i was woken up by hikers prepping to leave around 6am. Thankfully I went back to sleep until my alarm around 7:15. It was hard to get out of bed, but I forced myself to muster after a couple of minutes of being a phone zombie. I changed into my hiking clothes and packed up my bag while Runa periodically stopped in to chat. She decided to take her additional zero day after all. She apparently got a pretty rotten night of sleep, wants to give her calf a break and catch up on more of her YouTube journaling. (“Vlogging” as the kids call it).

Northstar, Runa and I had breakfast at the diner with that hiker named Tom who I met at Pecks corner or somewhere in the smokies. I ordered a sausage and cheese biscuit with 1 pancake because I couldn’t resist the siren call of the fluffy pancake. I felt pretty rotten by the time I finished but it tasted good! About halfway through breakfast Runa noticed that I wasn’t wearing my watch and asked if I had left it on my bed frame where I’d had it this morning. DOH. That meant I had an extra walk back to the hostel and then back into town. It’s not a huge distance but that’s an extra half mile on pavement that I could have lived without. Runa offered to run the errand for me but it was too much to ask. I Left my pack at the diner to keep my feet happier and made the sunny trek back to the hostel. The sheets on my bed had been changed already but my watch remained resting on the frame, untouched. I put it on and went back into town.

Runa kindly carried my package over to the post office so I didn’t have to juggle it with my poles. We took a picture together before parting ways. Northstar (far right) is heading to off to hike, Runa is hanging out for another day and I went to the post office. I Mailed my sweatshirt and my old gaiters home to California. I’ve been carrying them since fontana because I didn’t have the heart to get rid of them. They’re my “thousand mile gaiters.” Aka my original gaiters from 2017.

After sending out the package, I sat at the post office floor for a few minutes writing postcards until the library opened at 10am. I had plans with Oakland to FaceTime before I crammed in another hour of blog time and hit the trail. Older people occasionally walked in and out without so much as glancing at me on the floor.

After my short call with Oakland, Runa and I worked alongside each other at the library for about an hour, periodically fussing at the computers because the internet wasn’t being as cooperative as it had the day before. I had hoped to get through two more posts and barely managed to finish one and a few notes for my zero day. I bid farewell to Runa and refilled my water bottle in the bathroom. I sat out front and finished my batch of post cards that I then walked over to the post office and dropped in the blue box out front.

I made one more phone call to Oakland in which I got super sad to head out of town. The inconsistency of communication has been isolating and frustrating. I’m not out here to be sanctimoniously cut off from the world and when I can’t reach Oakland, I get pretty cranky about it. We finally ended our call, her sniffling because of a headcold and me sniffling because my face was leaking.

At 12:20, I got up from the bench, donned my newly laden pack and made my way down the street. The trail runs right through the Main Street of hot springs so I followed it across the railroad tracks and out of town. It’s the latest I’ve ever started hiking and I already felt a bit overwhelmed by what time I would be arriving in camp after my 11ish mile day.

The trail crossed the French broad river bridge and then tucked down below the bridge past a campground and a confusing tiny home community. It looked kind of like affordable housing or maybe a poorly outfitted cabin rental?

There were several hikers camped along the river bank, which the trail followed for a little ways. The French broad river roared next to me as I picked my way through short rocky sections and longer sandy stretches.

I eventually turned left and climbed up into the steamy woods. I Walked up the dusty trail past scraggly yellow paintbrush flowers reaching for the sun. I kept trying to get myself in the right mindset for the effort in front of me, but the whining overpowered my attempts to focus. I was tired and inexplicably sad.

As I walked, I Heard a scratching noise in the leaves and looked up to see a pileated woodpecker go from the ground to the base of a tree trunk. I Watched him until he flew a little up the hill and pecked around in the leaves. He was close enough to sort of catch on video and I stopped recording RIGHT before he flew to the base of a tree. I was Sad about the timing because it would have been the perfect wingspan shot. I Watched the woodpecker make its way up to the top of a tree and out of sight. I silently thanked the woodpecker for reminding why I’m here.

I continued up the hill with Sweat forming under the layer of sunscreen i’d applied before leaving town. The trail took me past several different overlooks as it rose in elevation. Sweat Poured down my face in a matter of minutes. I Probably shouldn’t have waited so late to start. The Climb flattened out for a brief moment and then continued gradually upward.

I heard loud trampling noises in the dry leaves far below me that I eventually realized was turkeys based on the occasional squeak and the flash of brown that I saw. A few minutes later, i Heard them again as I walked along the sort of flat stretch and finally caught sight of them way down in the woods while a black and blue butterfly floated around my head.

I Popped out onto a dry open area with the trail running just a little below the actual Ridgeline. I could still hear the roar of the French broad River from this far away. Thankfully I went back under tree cover pretty quickly. The Temperature difference was Stark and I welcomed the slight breeze in the shade. My phone Signal improved and I received news that one of my friends had her baby! Then back into the cellphone wormhole I went as the trail dipped down into a shady rhododendron patch.

The Trail finally turned away from the river and continued downward. The sound of motorcycles slowly faded into the distance and was replaced by wind and birdsong. I Rounded a sunny, dry corner and heard the dribbling sound of water which surprised me. I stopped and slowly got water from a trickle coming out of the hillside. I left my scoop inside the little spring and periodically emptied it into my squeeze bag.

I also dumped water over my head and a little bit on my wrists and I drank close to an entire bottle before topping off. I double checked the water sources throughout the day. None of them are great in terms of reliability but I know if I carry extra water weight right now, I’ll never get where I’m going, so I gambled with just two full bottles. When I started moving again, the wetness of my hair gave the illusion of a cool breeze for a few minutes. My heart is very much not in it today and I daydreamed about going home to Oakland for a couple of weeks until she’s done with school and can join me. I won’t do that but the thought was more tempting today than I’d like to admit.

I Entered a slightly shadier and greener section of woods that was a relief after the short oven-like stint i had just completed.

I Wound through rhododendrons and heard the ping of a raptor far overhead. A little while later, I Saw a wide open spot next to the trail and decided to both pee and take a snack break. I Plopped down on my zseat in the dry leaves, took my shoes off, and watched the ants move through the brush while I forced my food down. I Didnt stay long because I still had a long way to go before dark and I wanted to make the side trip to the rich mountain fire tower. I had Considered camping there for sunset/sunrise but Murphy, the triple crown* hiker from last night’s dinner, said section hikers had been harassed by a bear at that tent site. No thanks. There will be other chances for sunsets and sunrises.

I Got up from my short break and slowly went on my way. about 50 yards later, I reached a dammed pond where an older hiker was eating noodles on a bench. I remarked about how I’d taken a break in the leaves because I didn’t know this existed. He said it seemed like a good place to take a break to him! I Walked a little ways and sat on a different bench. As I watched the bugs flit off the water’s surface, I Saw a fish longer than my forearm swimming below the surface. It made me think of the days of fishing with my grandparents. They used to bring Fresca, a sprite-like soda that will forever make me think of hot buggy days on Gaston lake. I saw Dragon flies with blocky black-tinted wings and I heard the occasional singular chuck of a bullfrog.

After about 5 minutes, I got back on my feet. The trail took me Up a short climb through a field that popped out onto a dirt road with confusing markings but I managed to make the necessary left turn after going the wrong way.

I Followed the berry patch-lined road for about a quarter of a mile and then dipped back into the woods and snaked along the trail, the road sometimes within sight and other times blocked by a thick wall of rhododendrons. I was Grateful for the soft footing and for not immediately climbing up after leaving the road. I Don’t have much stamina today so I will take any easy stretch I can get. I went through a Dense rhododendron tunnel in which A scrabbling towhee startled me.

I Heard a siren in the distance and road noise from large vehicles. I figured I Must be close to a highway. The trail Passed over a small stream where I decided to get more water even though I didn’t really need it. It Seemed irresponsible to pass up the opportunity on such a hot day. I Drank about half a bottle and dumped more on my head before filling my bottles.

As I walked along the Cackle of a pileated woodpecker blended in with the whine of a large truck. I Popped out of the woods onto a paved road that crossed over a one lane overpass. There was a major 3 lane road below me.

A blue tailed lizard scittered ahead of me along the pavement. It felt like we were crossing the bridge together. Then I took a left turn and went back into the woods. The trail was Hot as it twisted and turned through woods with little shade. I Met a man who I had seen at the hostel named Chuck wagon sitting on a log for taking a break. He had a long scraggly beard and a bucket hat.

Flashes of the fatality two weeks ago definitely crossed my mind when I saw him sitting there from a distance. He asked me where I was from and I said Oakland. he said that he had been there in 65 on his way to ’Nam. We commiserated about the heat and I asked how he was doing. He’s stopping in a little less than 2 miles so I am hopeful that his day will soon be over.

The trail was a Roller coaster through a shadier section with a slight breeze. I Sat on a log step in the trail and shoved a few snacks in my mouth with my pack still on. As I stood up,I reminded myself to follow my rule of “always take my pack off for a break, no matter how short.” There’s something relieving about getting that weight off,even if it’s for two minutes.

About a quarter mile before the fire tower detour I ran into a hiker named wrong way. She was wearing a green dress and startled when she heard me. Her startled scared me and we both were a bit out of sorts for a second. I passed her as the trail climbed gradually up rich mountain.

The Fire tower trail was almost completely straight up and I regretted my choice to bring my entire pack, but I’m still paranoid about leaving it to the bears. I met a jolly older man on his way down from the tower who said he’d seen a couple of bears north of here. More evidence that I should camp around other people and forego the tower plan.

I put my pack down at the base of the newly renovated tower and Took my food bag up to the top where I called Oakland. It’s been a clingy day and I figured this might be my last chance for decent service. Unfortunately wrong way also made the trip to the tower so I Had company for most of my phone call. I apologized for being on the phone when she arrived but she waved me off. She then sat about 2 feet away from me while I was on the phone which was awkward, but I did my best. The tower had a see-through metal grating floor that was a little disorienting to look through.

I left before wrong way and took a quick pee break on my way back to the trail while I knew she was occupied and not likely to walk up on me. The trail then went downhill for an unfortunate amount of time at a grade that aggravated my knees. I passed a nice campsite with a nearby stream that I totally would’ve stayed at were it not for the bear activity. My knees ached as the hill persisted. The Trail eventually ran along side a dirt road that it then crossed and went back into the woods. Northstar texted me to ask whether I was coming to the shelter tonight and I confirmed my late arrival. I also passed a goliath mound of somewhat fresh bear poop:

As I walked, I heard a car drive by on a dirt road that I hadn’t realized was still so close. Yet another reason not to camp at by the fire tower. I Crossed over what felt like the same road as before and went back into the woods.

I Somewhat robotically wound my way through the woods. I happened to see a new little purple flower while also paying attention to every noise I heard because of the man’s mention of bears. The bugs are out in droves today so chances are high that I will try to tent unless the sites are no good.

The last mile felt like a sea of green compared to the dry parched forest I had walked through for much of the first half of the day. I was making really good time (for me) until the trail turned into a series of short climbs. Still, even with the unexpected hills, I made it to the shelter from the fire tower in just over an hour. That’s about fifteen minutes faster than I’d expected.

Northstar sat at the picnic table talking to brownie and dizzy as they finished up their dinner. They all greeted me warmly as I plopped my bag down and whined about the bugs that immediately swarmed. I walked up the hill to survey the tent sites and decided to setup right behind the shelter on a moderately flat stretch. there were a few pesky rocks but there also happened to be an abandoned T-shirt, so placed that over the rocks as a makeshift ground cover.

Then I pulled out my food bag and went about boiling water while constantly slapping at biting gnats. I finally had to put on my long johns and a long sleeve layer to reduce my tastiness to the bugs. I set my food to “cook” and went down the long hill to get more water. Thankfully there was a pipe and a decent flow so it was a moderately quick process. I also rinsed the sweat off my face and neck.

I was out of breath When I got back to the table and had little desire to eat but I made it through my chili Mac easily enough. Northstar and I talked about mileage as I ate. I think we will line up until Erwin depending on how Friday turns out. Brownie and dizzy will be behind because they have to take a detour to get a food drop tomorrow.

Wrong way made it to camp about 45 minutes after me. She made quite the entrance, announcing herself to be a “sweaty dirty girl.” She dropped her pack and pulled out a bunch of random food and a miniature bottle of barefoot hills red wine. As it turns out, she had some of the food from my gift package that I had not been able to carry with me because of weight and space. I was happy to see the food go to a good home and be enjoyed by someone rather than molder in a hiker box.

For dessert I had an oatmeal cream pie (today’s top picture) and one of Northstar’s double chocolate Newman’s o’s. It was too much sugar but I did it anyway. Then I brushed my teeth, hung my food bag on the bear cables (always a luxury), and forced myself to blow up my sleeping pad and change clothes. I’m going to try to take my sports bra off more at night. I usually just leave it on but the skin across the front of my ribs isn’t very happy with that plan.

I made the trek down to the privy for a pre-bedtime pee break and then said my goodnights. I heard someone set up a tent nearby and thought there was a new hiker in camp but it turned out to be Wrong way. The bugs in the shelter must have been too much for her. I’m finishing this to the sound of the bear cables squeaking lightly in the wind, bugs bouncing off my tent, the squeak of wrong way’s mattress, and the beginning of dizzy’s snoring.

Mile 274.6 to mile 285.9 (11.3)

Total miles: 294.2

Creature feature: so much bear poop In the last three miles! A western junco, towhees, the pileated woodpecker, and a vicarious bear sighting that northstar caught on video!

2019-Day 27: Madison county library edition

Today was a zero day in hot springs! I’m going to give myself a break from going through every detail of the day, but here’s a brief summary.

I went out for breakfast at the smokey mountain diner (today’s top picture). I spent HOURS at the Madison county library editing and uploading blogs. I made a very satisfying facetime call with oakland on the library’s wifi (clear picture! no delay! what a luxury). I picked up packages at the hot springs post office, one of which was a surprise from my brother’s family, one of which had my carefully packed resupply from HQ and one which was a couple of treats and a card from my dad and stepmom. Someone finally asked me about my preferred pronouns, and I nearly cried with joy and relief (Thanks, Runa).

I had dinner at the iron horse with brownie and dizzy and one of their hiker friends from the PCT who happens to be friends with jennifer pharr davis, the woman who held the fastest known time for awhile before Scott Jurek broke her record. After dinner, I managed to swoop in on the laundry before everyone else did because I left the restaurant early while a large gaggle of hikers continued ordering food and beer. very unfortunately, I stayed up way too late because my day at the library meant that I had not organized any of my gear or food. I had to open all of my boxes, figure out what to take and what to gift to other hikers. My nieces sent me several adorable postcards in their box, so I also spent some time writing them postcards to send out tomorrow.

All in all, it was a productive and mostly enjoyable day that sadly did not include much in the way of picture taking.

Mile 274.6 to mile 274.6 (0)

Total miles: 282.9

Creature feature: dogs! Many passing along the sidewalk and then the 2 in the picture above who mostly cared about their owners inside but they gave me a small greeting. A couple of cardinals and the usual cast of snack-hunting juncos

2019-Day 26: a hot day into hot springs edition

The giant man turned over a thousand times last night, and each time, I worried he was going to bash me in the head because he sounded like he was about an inch from me. I Woke up for good around 6am to find him sleeping diagonally with his gigantic arms so close to my head. I Sat up and massaged my feet and calves. Then I Got out of bed and looked around for the privy trail finally spying the privy in plain sight. It had walls that came up to my shoulders when I sat down, so I could stare out into woods and people could stare at me staring out into the woods.

I Came back to find people stirring in the shelter. I Pulled my pack off it’s hook and put it off to the side. I Shoved my sleeping bag in. I Realized I had lost my pen and walked up to the tree to find it and actually found the charging cable for my phone brick. THAT would have been TERRIBLE. I was sad about my pen so I scoured the ground trying to find it. Another woman who I happened to share a bear cable with saw me looking for something and offered me her pen. When she handed it to me I saw Walt Disney resorts scrawled printed on the side of it.

I felt stubborn (and superstitious) about hiking with MY pen so I looked one more time over by my bag itself and found my pen wedged under my hip pocket. It must have fallen out right when I set the bag down. Thanks for saving my ass, lost pen! If it hadn’t fallen out, I wouldn’t have looked up by the tree and I wouldn’t have known I had dropped the cable to my brick.

I put my pack back together and carefully picked through my toiletry bag because my Chapstick melted and is all over everything. I Rinsed the grease off of my fingers as best I could and put in my contacts. I Sat at table and ate a bar while writing up notes from last night that I couldn’t do after barging Into the shelter

I was Slow to leave because the company was enjoyable and I kept forgetting to do things (e.g. sunscreen, foot prep). While I ate, I Asked brownie about the trees around us and her response was it’s a Mixed mesophytic woodlands. The science jargon made me miss Oakland as did brownies discussion of chlorophyll in the beeches we had seen in the smokies.

I was the first one in the group to leave. I walked about a tenth of a mile up the trail and got water at a pretty little stream.

The Trail sent me through open rhododendron clusters. I Walked with a loud stream out of sight down to my right for a little while. The trail was serpentine so it was hard to tell if it was the same stream that I had collected water from earlier. I heard a loud noise branch breaking across the stream but I couldn’t tell if a bear came along with the noise. I Passed the first set of lady slippers that I’ve seen in a little while.

As Soon as the sun hit me through the trees I could tell it was going to be another hot day. I Stopped at a large rock and removed my long sleeve layer. I Crossed over another little footbridge and rounded a corner with the sun in my face again.

At some point, I Heard Josh walking behind me. He passed me while I took pictures of tiny button mushrooms growing on a downed tree.

Then he held the limbs from a branch laying across the trail for me. After the kind gesture, I let him go ahead of me because the trail was so flat that he was bound to be way faster than me this morning.

I Heard the cackle of a pileated woodpecker flying off to my left. It sounded like it was getting closer so I stood and hoped for it to pass through the canopy overhead but it stopped short. I stood and watched a bird that I think is a little blue warbler hop from limb to limb on a tree in front of me. I’m hoping to cover a lot of miles today but I don’t want them to be tunnel vision miles so I’m trying to pay attention what’s around me, like this new the purple flower that I found.

After watching the dark blue bird, i Listened to the crescendo of an oven bird calling from a tree to my left. The trail Curved through the woods and I watched the morning light filter into the ravines.

I also tried to figure out where to pee before the people behind me inevitably catch up. I finally settled on a spot in a wide curve where I could see people coming from either direction. The humidity was already starting to pick up, so after my bio break, I checked the water sources for the day to see when would be a good time to chug and resupply.

I decided to drink a fair amount between where I stood and the stream a mile and a half north. I May as well attempt to get slightly ahead of the dehydration that is bound to happen today.

A Scrawny shirtless kid passed me and asked about phone service because I had my phone in my hand (taking a picture). He barely heard my answer because he was moving so quickly.

I Crossed through lemon gap, which had a small parking area and a smattering of cars with license places from NC and surrounding states. Then I Went up a small hill and felt a refreshing breeze for the few minutes of the gradual climb. A bar of LTE popped up out of nowhere as I came to a water stop. I checked the elevation and decided to go to the next water 0.1 miles up the trail because it was slightly higher, which often means better signal. My gamble did not pay off because when i set my pack down and checked my phone, I had no service at all. I decided that on a 17.6 mile day, I probably shouldn’t head back down the trail just to have the luxury of a phone call. I sat on the ground, ate a snack and drank a boatload of water before topping off my bottles. The next several sources aren’t reliable so it’s tempting to carry more but i really want to keep the weight off my feet so I made another gamble and didn’t pack extra water.

I Continued up the hill and found a wormhole of signal in which to call Oakland. I sat on a very large log for about 10 minutes and talked to her while she collected laundry and went about her early Sunday morning chores (so much poop scooping to be done with 3 cats). Then I continued up the hill, passed through an open area and dipped back into the woods.

I went passed an older shelter that sat directly on the trail where a man Who had passed me earlier was eating a snack.

The Forest floor was covered in ferns and I walked through dappled sunlight occasionally swatting at flies that went straight for my ears and the brim of my hat. The Trail led me down to an unmarked junction and then slowly back up again. I was Grateful for the shade and the occasional strong breeze moving through the trees. Trees creaked and squeaked overhead. I startled at A crack near a pile of boulders high above me but I didn’t see anything. I Came to a small campsite and sat for a minute to check my mileage while Daydreaming about lunch. A Gusty breeze came through and cooled me down a bit. Then I went up a slight Incline that had me sweating again. I Heard a small rustle and was determined to find the source. I was about to poke the leaves when I saw a thin brown snake disappear into a crevice. Ah ha! I knew that was a snake noise.

I Stopped to collect water at a small stream but didn’t feel like filtering it so I left it in my bag. I Drank half a bottle to even out the weight. Not long afterward, I smelled smoke and came upon a smoldering fire in a fire pit at an unofficial campsite. I had to pee and didn’t want to walk away from the fire that still had the occasional tiny flame, so I decided why not kill two birds with one stone and pee on the fire! I squatted over the fire ring, taking care not to slip on the rocks, and pulled my pants down. I was immediately surprised at the heat cast off by the smoldering ashes and almost reconsidered my plan. But I went through with it and felt the steam rise up as I went about my business. I happened to look up at some point and saw four people hiking towards me. I jumped up, yanking my pants back to my waist and making every effort to stop peeing. Needless to say, I didn’t fully succeed, but I THINK I managed to not get caught with my ass out. They didn’t lift their heads until they were almost even with the campsite. I pretended to stretch as they walked by. My pants were definitely wet with urine and covered in ashes that had flown up with the force of the stream hitting them. I don’t think I’ll be doing that again.

I put on my pack and trudged up an Annoying hill to the wooded summit in my moist pants. There wasn’t a signal at the good lunch food rocks near the top, so I kept going and found a slightly uncomfortable rock with phone signal. I Had lunch while talking to Oakland and fielding logistical texts from HQ.

Then I Headed down the hill with 10.2 miles to go through a very green section that smelled a little bit like sugar snaps and raw green beans, which we call “snaps” in my family because that’s the sound they make when you nip off their ends and break them in half. The smell made me think of all the times I’ve sat at my grandmother’s old wooden kitchen table, prepping snaps for a meal.

Eventually The trail consisted of Long gradual switchbacks with tiny views of the mountains off to my side. I was passed by a younger hiker that I saw yesterday. The Max patch people are slowly catching up to me. I Heard a barred owl far off to my right and getting fainter as it kept calling “who cooks for you.” I can still remember exactly where I was when I heard a barred owl in the daytime for the first time in Pennsylvania. I’m pretty sure that was also the first day I stumbled upon the Lady slipper while freezing my ass off during the last 2 miles before the shelter. The conditions today are pretty different on this gorgeous North Carolina spring day, knock on wood.

I Stopped to pee yet again and about three minutes later got overtaken by Daniel, the German man I met at standing bear. He asked me where “the girls” were, which I assumed meant Runa and Northstar. It was Confusing that he had caught up with me but not passed them in the process. We had a laugh about his claim of the easy 20 miles to Hot Springs (he had been goading his friends about his last night). His group’s plan is actually to go to the last shelter before hot springs tonight. He and Jeff from Texas are done hiking on Friday so they don’t want to take a day off or spend money on a room. He offered to let me go first and I vehemently waived him on. He was out of sight within about three minutes.

Not long after Daniel disappeared, I Saw a moss covered cave on which someone has scrawled the AT symbol. The breeze had died down so the woods were getting muggier and I had post lunch/pop tart sweats.

I Came around the corner to find Daniel getting water at a little stream. I sat down on the big rock near the stream to check water sources and he offered to give me some of the water he had already bagged so he filled one of my bottles. I rinsed my head and face in the cool stream water and we talked for a couple of minutes about the joys of eating junk food and how he would miss it when he was done at the end of the week. The Forest transitioned into a drier section with more rhododendrons and Pine needles underfoot. My knees were getting a bit cranky at the persistent downhill.

I Crossed an unused road and continued on in a dusty pine forest. I Passed a couple of day hikers while they took a water break then I Took my own break with Daniel and the kid from earlier. Daniel smoked a cigarette so I sat a little far away and took my shoes off to let my feet sit out a bit. The day hikers came out of the woods to their car in a gravel parking lot. I could hear the woman say to her partner that she wished she had something to offer us.

We all heard her say it but kept to ourselves. About two minutes later, she called out across the parking lot asking if we wanted any cold water. We of course said yes because who rejects water on a humid day like today?

The kid left first. Then Daniel and I moseyed onward. He pulled ahead immediately and I was left to wind my way through the dry woods. An occasional strong breeze came through making it more bearable as the sweat dripped down my face on the gradual incline up from the parking lot.

I went through Long sweeping curves that dipped down into ravines and back up again. I Finally got a tiny picture window of a view through the trees.

I Had to keep my eyes on my footing Rather than spend too much time looking to my left because it was a steep drop off. The woods eventually transitioned to a shadier cooler section where I started to strategize whether to get water at the shelter. Sadly I decided that I needed to stop because my final destination is 3 miles past that point and I’m pretty low on water already. I Saw something scurry across the path and found that it was a shimmery green lizard. Or Maybe a salamander? With an orange throat. it scampered up some leaves and turned to stare at me. I said hey little buddy and moved on.

I Felt like I was going a little bit leaf-blind, so I stopped to admire this cheerful mountain laurel.

The Slightly hazy ominous sky said rain to my east coast muscle memory but nothing ever Came of it. The Pine forest opened and closed with rolling hills. As is my bad habit at the end of long days, I passed on the water when I finally arrived at the shelter intersection. Just past that, I Saw a creepy little family cemetery with one plot that was very concave.

A tenth of the mile up from the shelter, I sat on a stump and ate the rest of the snacks in my hip pocket. Then I put on my woodland music mix and got back on my feet for the last 80 minutes of the day. The sky has darkened considerably and the wind picked up. I didn’t know if I would make it out of the day without getting rained on.

I was met with a Short climb after my snack that flattened out pretty quickly. My Achilles tendons felt like wood blocks. The trail then wound me through rhododendron tunnels. My right side opened up a bit again and I could see the mountains across the way.

I Stopped to take a picture that looked much like the last one and when I started moving heard a rustle right next to my feet. I stopped and looked down to finda speckled lizard who decided I was safe enough to wait around while I lean forward and took a picture (today’s top image). Then I saw another tiny blooming mountain laurel.

The trail continued to Winding down towards hot springs. My Quads were tight and feet were sore. Something was pinching on my Big toe. As I contemplated what to do about my foot (stop or ignore it), I happened to see a pileated woodpecker take off down in the forest floor. I Decided to stop and look at my foot on a log near where I had last seen the woodpecker. As luck would have it, i managed to get really good view of it flying from trunk to trunk right behind me. I’m always amazed at how big and prehistoric looking they are. I couldn’t tell what was up with my toe, but I removed the tape because it had started to bunch. I crossed my fingers and hoped it wouldn’t get worse in the next 20 minutes.

The tape removal seemed to help a bit. I Heard the growl of motorcycles over a mile away from the road. Then I heard a dog barking in the distance. My Knees and feet were mad on the final stretch down.

The laughing heart lodge, my hostel for the next two nights, sits right at the edge of trail. The owner showed me to my tiny single room that I was so happy to have even though it smelled like mildew, only had half a power outlet (the other half occupied by a carbon monoxide alarm) and no screen on the window. So I had to choose between charging my phone and brick OR having the fan on overnight.

By the time I reached the hostel, I was Inconsolably tired and wanted food but it’s 0.4 miles to the nearest restaurant. That’s an eternity when you’ve just walked 17.6 miles and your feet feel like hamburger. I ate a snack and whined to Oakland over text about my food predicament and the lack of cell signal. AGAIN. There’s decent WiFi but minuscule phone service. Oakland ordered me to shower and to then decide what to do for dinner. I took my clothes into the tiny, stuffy bathroom and grabbed a towel off the shelves in the hallway. My skin continues to freak out and I look like i have a raging case of chicken pox from mid-thigh down.

After my shower I gathered a bag of supplies (letters from Oakland to read while I ate, a puffy coat in case it got cold on my walk home, my phone brick and headphones in case there was better service, and my wallet). Then I made the trek into town, surprised by how hot it was at 6:45pm. The trail runs right through town and there are AT emblems in the sidewalk.

I ran into OB1 (it’s not spelled that way but I don’t feel like figuring with my autocorrect to spell it “obee wahn”) at the tavern and sat near him and his compatriots outside. One of them gave me the serious creeps,and I did my best to disengage whenever I accidentally got snared into a conversation with him.

The server informed me that they were out of Tater tots and I gave her my most polite “are you kidding me? I ONLY WALKED HERE FOR TATER TOTS” response. She assured me the fries were good and once I confirmed that they were thin fries, I resigned myself to no tater tots. The salad options were dismal, so I order a Philly melt (think philly steak and cheese but on “Texas toast”), fries, cold slaw, and a special request of plain raw spinach to get something green.

While I sat and partially engaged with OB1, Walmart arrived. I have seen his name in books and heard others talk about him but this was my first chance to meet him. He has long sandy brown hair, a thick tidy beard, and clothes that hang off his tall lean frame. From a distance he looked like a CA stoner turned backpacker. He was super friendly and accessible and I was happy to meet him.

My food took over 35 minutes, so I didn’t eat until nearly 7:40 which is basically bedtime. I drank my ice water and took in the quaint riverside scene before me filled with motorcycles, older people and a rotating cast of heavily tattooed, heavily pierced younger crowd that clashed with the small town vibe the storefronts would have suggested (none of which happen to be pictured).

As I ate my dinner (the fries were indeed good), I glanced up to see brownie and dizzy walking across the street looking clean and chipper. Those crazy kids walked all the way to town! They had planned to stay at the shelter 3 miles before here but the allure of sleeping in and eating town food drew them in early. I sat with them for a little while and accepted brownie’s offer for a sip of her left hand milk stout. It’s on tap here but I didn’t get it because I knew a beer would make me feel awful. The sip I took confirmed that there is no part of me that wants alcohol right now, not even my favorite variety.

I walked home with pink clouds in the sky, feeling a bit creeped out to head up the darkening stairwell back to the hostel. In light of all that’s happened in VA recently, I wondered if I had made a bad choice, but all was well. I cleared off my bed and made a somewhat patchy but eventually functional face time call to Oakland. I think the world showed up to tent here so the WiFi slowed to a crawl. I plan to hunker down in the hot springs library to use a real keyboard (!) and faster WiFi speeds to catch up on posts. I’m finishing this to the sound of people carousing in the common kitchen right outside my door.

Mile 257.0 to mile 274.6 (17.6)

Total miles: 282.9

Creature feature: more pileated woodpeckers! Squirrels that startled me; the occasional eruption of squeaking chipmunks, a mockingbird in town, and juncos galore.

2019-Day 25: max patch sunset edition

*I’m taking an unscheduled (and hopefully short) hiking break because I rolled my ankle yesterday morning (5/23) so here is another blog post while I try not to catastrophize and go completely stir crazy! It wasn’t a terrible roll but my ankle hurts enough that rest is definitely in order. The pictures took 9 years to upload via cell signal so I may not do many more posts while I’m here. We’ll see what I have the patience for.*

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I managed to get a really solid night of sleep once I drowned out the talking by the fire pit. It’s possibly the longest I’ve slept so far (about 8 hours). People starting stirring around 6:30. I laid in my bunk and made a few more social media posts. It’s been impossible to keep up with any sort of real time/daily posting because of the poor phone signal and attempts to conserve battery.

I crawled out of bed around 6:45 and went to the porta potty with my hand sanitizer that I hardly ever use. (Yes I’m that gross person). I grabbed my shorts and bra off the clothesline on the side porch on my way back into the spider cave. I changed into my pants in my sleeping bag, but for my bra, I Threw caution to the wind and just took my shirt off in the dim light of the cabin. I didn’t feel like trying to pretzel myself or change in the porta potty. Then I slowly started to put my pack back together. I Took my food and water filtering supplies to the eating/fire pit area and had breakfast with brownie and Dizzie. I filtered water to wash my hands so I could put my contacts in. It was Probably overkill but I did it anyway. Then I filtered water for the trail. Brownie commented on my process, and I confirmed that I do not trust the water here. Better to take a few minutes to filter than poop myself a little ways down the trail.

People emerged and packed up at their own rates. The kid “running” the guest checkout finally climbed out of his tiny bunk cabin and started taking payments around 8:15. Nothing happens quickly around standing bear but it happens.

I walked up the gravel road back towards the trail with the sound of the stream to my right and the fading bark of a dog on a neighboring property. My left heel is still cranky and my toes are a bit squished, but I assume they will work themselves out. I weighed myself and my bag before I left. I’m not sure I trust the scale because last night it said I weighed far less than I do this morning. Theoretically my bag weighs 23 pounds but the difference between yesterday and today feels much greater.

The trail took me Up a small hill under power lines with waist high daisies. Then there was a short climb during which I decided to pester Oakland with my newly acquired phone signal. We were just getting started with our conversation when I heard a loud rustle in the leaves a little ways up the trail. I asked Oakland to hang tight while I made sure the noise was a squirrel and not a bear. I crept in the direction of the sound, fully expecting to see nothing or maybe a squirrel hopping away. What I actually saw was the dark shape of a bear cub rooting around in the leaves down a slight hill to the left of the trail. I shared the news with oakland while also saying “shit shit shit” and scurrying back a few yards out of sight. I peeked around the corner to see if there were other bears and saw the large back of the mama bear coming down from the right. SHIT. I ducked back around the corner again – thank goodness this happened at a slight curve in the trail. I had no idea what to do, so I stood and waited, hoping the bears would move on, but I didn’t hear any sound to indicate as much. I told oakland to plug her ears and I blew my bear whistle. I listened but still didn’t hear any movement, so I blew it again and heard what I thought was the sound of footsteps up ahead. I waited a minute and crept back up the trail a few yards. I stopped just as I saw the mama bear get on her hind legs and turn back to look at me. I don’t know if she actually saw me but she looked right in my direction, so i scurried back down to my hiding spot. I waited a few minutes with Oakland on the phone and then crept back around the corner to find empty woods. I went as fast as I could up the hill and put some distance between myself and the bear zone. Easier said than done with my heavy-feeling pack and the incline of the trail at that point.

After the excitement of the morning, the trail was somewhat sedate. Oakland and I stayed on the phone for awhile longer because I wanted the company and I have no need to conserve battery the next couple of days. She eventually had to get going with her morning routine, so I ended my call with her and made phone calls to all of my parents. I haven’t spoken to them much since starting the trail, so I figured now would be a good time. In my conversing, I managed to miss out on one of the more reliable water sources, which was not the best idea on such a muggy day with a 5 mile climb. The sweat poured down my face for most of the morning as I continued my way up the roller coaster of a climb to snowbird peak. I eventually popped out of the woods into an open field that had a weird man-made structure. I later found out that it’s an FAA communication tower, but at the moment it was super confusing.

The peak provided great views of the surrounding mountains but no shade, so I passed by without taking a break. I got back into the woods (yay, shade) and saw a dark shape moving off to the right of the trail. My heart stopped but it turned out to be runa returning from a bathroom break. She stayed ahead of me for awhile, but I ran into her and north star at a campsite where I decided to join them for lunch. I ate a weird combination of food that felt like too much but I also wanted to get rid of some of the weight. In total, I ate a giant slim jim, a package of poptarts (400 calories. who knew), a package of crackers, and a tasteless cheese stick. A very happy and pushy yellow lab came bursting through our lunch space and then jumped back on the trail to greet its owner who arrived a minute later.

A few other NOBO hikers came through, as did brownie and dizzy.

They stopped to say hello and then kept moving. Northstar, Runa and I hiked together for about 300 yards before we arrived at an unmarked water source. I decided to get water there rather than walk the extra mileage down to the next shelter that is about 0.2 miles off trail. I also drank nearly an entire bottle while standing there before I topped off both of the bottles. I decided to call uncle Johnny’s in Erwin Tennessee to confirm their address. As soon as I called, I felt silly because it’s probably in the paper AWOL guide but it’s not listed in gut hook. The flies were a nuisance while I stood around but they were thankfully not the biting variety. Instead, they swarmed and crawled all over my skin as I tried to filter water and swat at them. Luna and Northstar kept going so I quickly found myself alone again, which was a tad disappointing but also gave me latitude to flower gaze and take pictures without the pull of trying to keep up with other hikers.

The trail became Rolling hills with footing that felt like shag carpet compared to the unforgiving rocks the last three days of the Smokies. I saw the plant that brownie had referred to as bear corn. I’ve always wanted to know the name of it!

At some point in the afternoon, all 5 of us hiked in a clump for a short stretch, and I got to witness someone besides me cozy up to a plant to take pictures. I also saw two new types of wild orchids (according to brownie).

We all dispersed not long after picture time, and I eventually went down a hill to the shelter intersection where I saw a handful of men taking a break. Then back up I went, over pine needles and through the soupy air. I Passed ahappy black lab and its owner heading southbound down the trail.

My bag continued to feel very heavy for whatever reason. I decided that I was ahead of schedule for the sunset plan and sat down on a nice log in the shade to dry my feet out a bit. I hung out for about 20 minutes keeping an ear out for bears and having a short FaceTime call with Oakland. So strange that I have enough signal to do that in the woods but no signal at all while I stayed at standing bear.

Northstar ran into me right as I decided to get moving again. She Hikes faster than me so I didn’t see her once she got moving. The trail continued to take us on a roller coaster of sneaky hills with the occasional orange explosion of color from blooming azaleas. Brownie later called them flame azaleas. Very aptly named.

As I hiked along, i Ran into North Star coming back from her first “she-wee” experience. The she-wee is a tubular gadget that allows female bodied people to pee standing up. She laughed about the strangeness of it as she packed the device away. I decided to stick around and have a snack with her while she waited for Runa who arrived about 5 minutes later. We all sat around for about 15 minutes until brownie and dizzy passed by again. Leapfrogging is the name of the game today.

Runa, northstar and I left together and made our way downhill to max patch road. A cheerful gaggle of young people and their dogs were just leaving the road with a cooler full of drinks. They offered us sodas, which we of course accepted.

There was also an older Woman waiting for her husband to come out of the woods. we had passed him on the way down. He was apparently looking for a couple of no-show hikers. I had Flashes to the other week and what the wife of the deceased hiker must have been thinking when she was waiting to hear about her husband on the trail.

I Chugged a Dr Pepper so that I could leave the can with the older woman to dispose of rather than cart it around until my next trash drop. As we made our way up the trail to the stream around the corner, i regretted my choice to accept the soda. Too much sugar in too short of a time.

We Had dinner on the log steps by this little stream while thunder rolled through and hikers slowly went by. After eating, I Brushed my teeth and got my food bag ready to hang in preparation for arriving at camp in the dark.

The Hike up to max patch was much easier than I expected. I Stopped to pee at an unused gravel road and lucked out because it happened to be the last good place. Runa left her bag at the top and went all the way back down there to pee. There were gorgeous Views almost immediately after coming out of woods.

The patch itself was an open bald with people scattered in all directions and a constant trickle of more on the way. Tents already Dotted with flat top. Northstar and I waited for Runa to return and we hiked up to the flatter area to hunker down for sunset.

There was a brief hackeysack circle that made me feel like I had stepped into a 1995 time warp. There were also Dark clouds in the distance,but the seemed to be heading the opposite direction. I Sat with Runa northstar a German guy named Daniel/commando, a Caribbean woman named washbucket and Jeff from Texas. They had all stayed at standing bear the night before and their tents were already set up on the bald. I was Tempted to stay for sunrise but I also didn’t want to be cold. I also wanted to get to all the way to hot springs and staying in max patch meant a 19.6 mile day. Last but definitely not least, the bathroom situation was dismal.

We sat around talking and waiting for sunset. I occasionally creeped on the trail magic people’s dogs (the puppy’s name is hiker).

I was worried we would get shutout because of the thick clouds on the horizon but in the last few minutes before sundown, a flamingo pink sun came out from under the bank of clouds and cast pink light across the mountain silhouettes (today’s top picture). here’s a Picture Runa took of me taking a thousand sunset pictures:

Northstar, Runa and I set off for the shelter in the waning light and Walked down the bald with a full moon rising over the mountains to the east.

Even more people were camped in the woods below the bald. The light dimmed significantly as we dropped below treeline. I waited a few minutes to turn my head lamp on, enjoying the sensation of having just enough light to know where to put my feet. When it seemed unsafe, I clicked on my headlamp and followed northstar through the rhododendron tunnels and across small streams of water. The footing was a Little tricky at points but generally speaking it was gradually downhill or flat. I was happy to have company for this scheme rather than having to hike in the pitch black night alone.

We Got to the shelter around 9:30. Brownie sat at the picnic table writing notes by headlamp. There were 3 tiny spots left in shelter. We Hung our food on the squeaky bear cables and Tried to find decent tent sites in the dark but they were all terrible. We Settled for being those horrible people who clamor into a shelter late at night. I Pulled stuff out of my bag a few yards away and slowly set up my spot. I Sent my location to my family and a gps message to Oakland letting her know I had made it safely and that there wasn’t any service.

I took the spot between two people that wasn’t quite big enough but I made it work. I Wedged between a woman and some giant man. None of us changed clothes. I just crawled into sleeping bag and put glasses up by my head and tried to slow down long enough to fall asleep. I’m finishing this to the sound of people moving around on their sleeping pads and my ears ringing.

Mile 241.5 to mile 257 (15.5)

Total miles: 265.3

Creature feature: so many dogs!

2019-Day 24: standing bear edition

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I Managed to get a halfway decent night of sleep no thanks to whoever was rattling around at 4:40 in the morning with a headlamp blowing their nose loudly and crunching their water bottle. I could have killed that person. As I lay there last night, all bunched up in my sleeping bag, I did something super cheesy but I shall share it anyway. I said “you are safe. It’s okay to go to sleep,” and I could feel my body let go of the tension I hadn’t realized it was holding. 

Someone’s alarm went off twice and the second time I checked my phone to see that it was only 6am. If I am attempting 17 miles now would be a good time to get going. I changed into my hiking shorts and calf sleeves (compression sleeves that I only wear for the lightweight warmth not the compression), then made my way to the privy. I Packed up as quietly as I could which I cannot say the same for others. One woman sat on the top platform holding her sleeping pad to her chest while it made a persistent whine as the air escaped. I would have kicked her if I had been closer. 

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Then I retrieved my food bag from the cables listening to the ominous thunder in the distance. I sat and ate my breakfast of champions, frosted pop tarts, a cliff bar and a spoonful or two of peanut butter. People packed up around me (even brownie and dizzy who are usually not that quick to rise) and I weighed my options for the day. Aaaand then it started pouring.  Everyone who had been getting ready to leave slowed down their process. No sense in hurrying if it’s actively raining. Brownie asked if I wanted any warm tea to help stay warm. My cup was buried in my bag, so I hesitated, but I gratefully accepted after she offered to let me drink it out of her pot. I sat inside the shelter drinking my warm fruit zinger medley and listening to the thunder and lightning that had started not long after the rain. And then it HAILED.

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By about 8am, it had finally slowed to a light drizzle. I decided to head out in the event that I actually attempted 17 miles for the day. The trail started with a rocky, gradual descent in a carved out trough that was also a temporary stream because of the rain. Thankfully the water wasn’t very deep and could easily be walked over in most places without the threat of soaking my shoes.

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After making it down to low gap, the trail went back up through fog with the occasional soggy flat stretch. I Thought I heard voices behind me,. but no one caught up. Around 9:15, I Stopped to make a short good morning phone call to Oakland and then went straight back to airplane mode. I imagine there are some mountains out there, but I surely couldn’t see them for the Blanket of fog. I did however see a new white flower. 

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Then came more climbing through dense rhododendron. I Finally looked at elevation because I thought today was mostly downhill. Whenever someone says that, I find myself going mostly UPhill. I was very near the top of the last climb. In the rhododendron thicket, heard a strange loud bird call. I Waited and finally saw what I think was a blue jay, but I’ve Never heard one make that noise. maybe another bird was yelling at the jay? Hard to say but it was a startling noise.

I eventually found out that the voices I had heard earlier belonged to three early twenty something people with day packs. they asked if we were close to the tower, and I assured them it was right around the corner. I have no clue where they came from or where they’re headed because it was on the early side for day hikers and they were coming from the wrong direction to have originated from davenport gap. I passed on the tower side trail because it was 0.6 miles, one direction, and the fog seemed too dense to make it worth the 1.2 mile detour. Of course, the billy goat in me immediately regretted that decision and when the skies cleared only a few minutes later, I was REALLY sad that I hadn’t made the side trip.

At that point i was hungry and a little cranky, so I ate some fruit snacks and part of a luna bar, my last snacks until the new food box. I’d only been hiking for about an hour and a half, but It had been 3 hours since breakfast because I’d gotten such a late start. I’m trying to wait until standing bear farm to eat lunch so that I can charge and eat at same time.

A little ways past the fire tower side trail, I ran into two women in their twenties who had slept IN the tower. They oohed and aaahed over the sunset they’d seen. One of them showed me pictures and I was so envious. they continued on, trying to figure out their plans to get to trail days (think woodstock for hikers, held in Damascus, VA).

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I walked along, feeling cranky about the tower when I came upon a giant rock that had a sweeping 180 view of the mountains. I set my pack down and clamored to the top of it with my phone to take pictures and a video. As I stood up there, Grateful came down the trail. She saw me on the rock and started muttering to herself about how she was too scared to be that high and didn’t even stop to check out the view from the ground.

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Grateful muttering that she was scared to be so high and kept hiking. I climbed down from the rock and continued on my way through the incredibly green forest. A few Rhododendrons have started to bloom!

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I passed a short stone retaining walk and continued downhill with the occasional flat stretch that all made for pretty easy walking. There were unfortunate sections of Rhododendrons with very squishy leaf piles in the middle that made it nearly impossible to keep my feet dry. After what felt like a least a mile, but was probably shorter, I got some relief from the overly saturated stretch for awhile. I spent my time dodging mud and pondering what to do with the next two days to Hot Springs. I’d love to find a way to see the sunset at max patch, but hiking 17 miles to stay in line with runa and northstar would make that a silly combination of miles. I roughly decide to take my chances with standing bear in order to hike to max patch the next day, watch sunset, and hike two miles to the shelter in the dark.

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I heard voices ahead of me and found the two women I had met earlier talking with a ranger who had asked to see their permits. I pulled my permit out of the depths of my bag and stuck it in a hip pocket after he looked at it. Apparently we have to put it in a permit box at the end of the smokies. High tech system.

Somewhere along the way down to the gap, I felt a sharp pain in the heel where rough hard spot has formed over the weeks. I tried not to get too attached to the sensation as I made my way through the easy and sometimes soggy walking. Looked up to find splash of purple with an early blooming rhododendron.

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The Air felt heavy like there will be more rain later. the trail took me down Long sweeping switchbacks through a brilliant green forest.

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I Saw what I thought was the road but it turned out to be the reflection of the roof off of the Davenport gap shelter. Ran into OB1 again. He had just started hiking for the day at 12:15. We walk together for about four or five minutes. he asked where I was headed for the night, which felt inclusive. He might try to do 26 miles to get to Hot Springs tomorrow to which I replied, well I’ve run 26 miles but I’ve never walked 26 miles in one day. That led to a brief conversation about marathons, but I had to let him go ahead of me because he was too fast and my feet were getting sore trying to keep up with him.  Apparently he almost got caught by the Ranger after having built a fire ring. A ridge runner happened upon him before the ranger did and told him to dismantle it before the Ranger caught him.

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I saw OB1 again at the permit dropbox and heard Sundrop and her friend curry (the two women from the tower sleepover) congratulating themselves for finishing the smokies. When I got down to the gap it felt somewhat anticlimactic because it was a dirt road, a mileage sign and a few large rocks. Sundrop and curry cheered me on as I came out of the woods. I plopped down on a rock and made a peanut butter wrap, thus officially obliterating my food supply. I had about two tablespoons of peanut butter, an eight of a bottle of honey, and about a quarter cup of Fritos left. I hardly ever let my food supply get THIS low but I have a food box at standing bear so there’s nothing to worry about. 

OB1 came down a couple of minutes later, smoked a cigarette and kept walking. Sundrop and Curry’s ride showed up as I as packed up my empty food bag. I wished them well and went on my way. My guthook app had given me the road mileage for standing bear and not the trail mileage, so I mistakenly thought I was much closer.

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When I got up on the trail and checked again, the mileage said 2.5. I was crestfallen because I thought I was a mile away. I walked along the forgettable and easy trail and pondered my smokies experience of not having seen a single bear the entire time. The air continued to feel heavy and I hoped to reach my end point for the day (tentatively standing bear) before getting soaked.

The trail popped out onto the road, crossed over a wide fast moving river, and went under I-40. A woman in a car pulled up next to me and I thought she was going to offer me a ride but she was actually asking me for help with directions to standing bear. I showed her my map and how she needed to head under the highway. 

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As I got under the highway myself I saw her pick up a gaggle of hikers. She thanked me again for my help and I said you were so close! Then I proceeded to miss my turn into the woods. Luckily my AT reflex of “this is too easy” kicked in and I checked my map. I had to turn around a few yards to head up this staircase: 

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I eventually stopped at a beautiful little stream and decided that if I was staying at standing bear, maybe I should bring my own water. There’s been talk of people getting norovirus there and hikers are afraid to stay overnight. I want to stay because the mileage lineup works out somewhat well to get me to max patch for sunset and then hot springs late Sunday. runa one of the two people who kindly offered to let me use their chargers texted to tell me that she and northstar were going to go to the campsite past standing bear. I called Oakland to say hello and to get get some help with yet another tedious logistical decision. Our conversation made me lean in the direction of sticking with assured and good company rather than my hairbrained sunset idea. She assured me that I should dump the extra water weight I had acquired if I wasn’t going to stay at standing bear. 

I kept chugging along and tried to dictate some notes since I was about to be near power and could stand to lose the battery that dictation drains. As I stepped down a muddy little slope with my phone one hand and my poles in the other, my left foot lost purchase and I Went straight down on my butt. My heart stopped for  second as I worried that I had hurt my tailbone again. what I felt seemed painful but not injured. I stood up and cursed myself for being careless with my footing while simultaneously being glad that it hadn’t been worse. 

I made it to the standing bear farm around 2:30. It’s a hard place to describe but it’s a hodgepodge of buildings, some hiker specific and some occupied by the owner. It’s hard to tell who lives nearby and whose passing through. There’s a bunkhouse in which I will most definitely get a spider bite. There’s a fire pit and an old school washboard for laundry (I’m doing mine in hot springs). There’s an outdoor shower. The bathrooms are two porta potties. There are resident dogs one of whom is half blind and not that mobile but tries hard. There are local dogs who wander over here for the company and hiker snacks. There’s a resident older dog who seemed half blind and very rickety Itoday’s top picture). He depressed me but I took comfort in the fact that many of the hikers gave him affection as he tottered around the grounds.

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All of this I learned as I stuck around. When I first arrived I had no idea what to do but grateful stuck her head out of a building and called out hello! I walked down into the property and found an outlet on the main building. Then I flagged down a woman in the kitchen and asked her how to get my package. She offered to look for it and disappeared into a room that looked like it would be hard to locate an elephant because there was so much stuff. I sat on the porch and waited patiently while trying to decide what weird bubble I had just dropped into. She miraculously found both my food box and my letter. 

I sat on the porch and organized my food, expecting to leave shortly after Runa and north star arrived. I went up to a side building where there were short term resupply options (aka snacks galore). I had heard about them selling expired food so I checked everything that I “bought.” I needed to supplement my lunches because I’m basically out of peanut butter and won’t be getting more until hot springs. I picked out pop tarts and slim Jim’s, candy bars (Twix dark!) and crackers. I got a sprite for the wait. I wrote down All of the prices on my arm because the system was to use a slip of paper to keep track of your purchases, but there hadn’t been anyone around to provide said slip of paper. 

North Star and Runa arrived and quickly decided that staying would be fine and they would like to join me for my Max patch sunset and night hike to the shelter plan. Brownie and dizzy showed up about 15 minutes later. The whole gang is here! In this very strange place that basically amounts to another on-trail shelter. 

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I felt overwhelmed by the setting and by the lack of privacy while also being happy to have lined up with more company. I couldn’t seem to focus on any one thing I needed to do. I decided to sit down on a rock by the stream to soak my feet and read a letter. When I settled my rear onto the giant rock, it moved! And I slid forward and my bare feet slammed into the rocks on the bottom of the stream and my butt dipped into the stream, getting my camp shorts wet. Luckily I had zipped the pocket I put my phone in because I had worried that it might pop out. The best part is that I had an audience! Albeit a kind one who asked me if I was okay. My right arch took the brunt of the force but it didn’t seem to be injured in any way. I gave up on the stream and sat back down around the fire pit. Here’s brownie checking out the maps in her new food drop:

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After more loitering and watching people go about their routines, I sat down to cook myself food around 6, which based on my mood was about 45 minutes too late. My meal was a new rice dish that didn’t sit all that well. I almost gave up on it halfway through but I knew I needed the calories so I kept on eating while sometimes joining in on the conversation Runa was having with someone who may be a hiker? I couldn’t really tell but he is an Iraq vet who was wearing a motorcycle vest, had a giant septum piercing and was covered in tattoos. If I had seen him in a gas station in TN (the state I’m currently in), I would have made assumptions about the assumptions he would make about ME. But in this setting, he’s just another guy to talk to sitting around a fire pit. 

Brownie kindly offered to let me borrow her flip flops to take a shower. She said it so many times that I asked her if she was trying to tell me something (aka YOU SMELL TERRIBLE). She claimed that that wasn’t the case, just that it would feel good to take a shower. I knew she was right but it seemed like so much effort. I finally relented. She ushered me up to the outdoor shower and showed me the ropes. She was right. It did indeed feel good even though I still smelled vaguely like soup afterwards. 

Around 7:45, I extracted from a conversation with dizzy that had been started right as I was trying to settle in finish my notes for the day. I walked over to the main building and sat down next to what seemed like a wireless router. Oakland and I attempted to face time but the connection finally got so bad that we went to face time audio and then THAT devolved into an impossibility. 3-5 second delays are just enough to make conversing futile. We said goodnight right as I became inconsolably tired and overwhelmed by the idea of having to get off the phone and figure out how to find privacy to write. 

I left the porch and sat in the dark on a log as much away from everyone as I could be. My butt was sore from the day’s fall so I switched off between sitting and standing as I swatted bugs and tried to piece together the afternoon. I’m finishing this to the sound of hikers talking around the fire pit, very chatty frogs singing the song of the species by the creek, and crickets filling in the gaps. I have two nights of private rooms booked in hot springs and I am looking forward to having a space that I can escape to. Tomorrow: max patch! Which I’m sure will be a popular destination on a saturday night.

Mile 231.1 to mile 241.5 (10.4) 

Total miles: 249.8 

Creature feature: the blue jay, manyyy dogs at standing bear, and NO bears for the entire smokies. 

2019-Day 23: tunnel edition

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Last night was warmer but I had another pretty bad night of sleep. I woke up around 10pm, took my phone off the charger, and turned my phone off. This helps keep the battery from losing 5-7% overnight. Then I woke up around 1:15 and was awake until well past 3am. I know I dozed off because I had some weird ass dreams, but when I woke up for good, I could feel the puffiness in my face. I spent about 45 minutes working on my next mail request from HQ so it wasn’t completely lost time, but I would much rather have been sleeping.

My first stop, as always, was the Privy. It’s purported to have really good sunrise views, but I Didn’t stick around the extra 5 minutes because the sky didn’t seem promising and standing around is a one way ticket to numb feet. I went back to the shelter and packed up my stuff. Someone smelled pretty ripe, and I hoped it wasn’t me. I moved my gear outside, and ate breakfast. I surveyed my food bag as I ate. It’s going to be tight, I’m low on daytime snacks, but I should be make it to my box at standing bear without running out of food altogether. Cider hadn’t emerged from her tent by the time I left for the day. I hope she doesn’t go stir crazy with the smaller miles she and her friend have planned. 

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The trail back to the AT was a gradual climb. I stopped at the cell signal wormhole I had found the previous evening and sent a good morning text to Oakland. The colorado father daughter duo passed by with the daughter giving her dad the skinny on the Game of Thrones she read last night in the shelter. Adorable nerdiness. They gave me a cheerful greeting and went on their way.  

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It Seems warmer today, but it’s still Misty. The Smokies are really living up to their name. I Had to stop every 30 yards for pictures. A Light breeze moved mist through the tree tops. The Sides of the trail were dotted with spring beauties. My Feet were sore but the path was already way better than most of yesterday. I heared a Hodgepodge of bird song and I could see a Bit of yellow on horizon, but the skies were mostly white with fog. 

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I Spoke too soon about footing, as the rocks slowly increased, but it still wasn’t quite as bad (yet). I went up a Gradual climb and Took off my raincoat so I wouldn’t get too sweaty. A guy passed me Taking picture of baby trees growing out of roots.

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He Asked how I was, and I said I felt glad he wasn’t a bear. He moved on quickly. I had no clue where he came from or where he was headed because he only had a day pack. Maybe he’s a ridge runner? I, on the other hand, was moving on the slow side because of my sore feet after yesterday’s rocky miles. 

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I heard an echoey chromatic bird call and passed a SOBO section hiker on a rocky climb. Then came More gradual uphill climbs through dense fog and pines, with the occasional blowdowns, followed by a Softer flat stretch. 

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Around 9:30, I sat on a stump and had a short call with Oakland. I had to keep moving before my hands froze, but I also made a phone call to a hostel in Hot springs to make a reservation for a single room. After the crowds of shelter life, I cannot wait to have my own evening space.   

The trail led me up and down dense tunnels (like today’s top picture) with repetitive flat stretches in between that made me feel like a video game character stuck in the same world/level over and over again. At some point, I Stepped over a big blowdown and didn’t account for a sapling on the other side of it. My right toe got caught and I pitched forward catching myself by planting my left foot and landing on my right hand. I stood up, turned around and slammed my trekking pole into the little tree ignoring the voice that said “don’t do that! You might break your pole!” My wrist was thankfully unhurt. Just a bit jammed feeling for a few minutes. Same for my left ankle, which I had flexed more than I cared for in order to keep myself from falling headfirst into a tree off the side of the trail. 

Angry and shaken from the fall, I kept moving while trying not to convince myself that I am in fact too klutzy to make it. I passed tricorner shelter. The sun eventually came out, but the trail turned away from the direction that would have given me amazing views down the mountain range. Then came yet another rocky climb. Not long after starting the climb, I sat in the middle of the rocky trail in a sunny spot to check my mileage and make some notes. 

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The Sky finally cleared enough to see the neighboring ridge. The trail periodically devolved into a rocky mess. It was like walking through a stream bed with minor breaks in a thick, but sunlit stretch of forest with the occasional sandy relief from rocks. 

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I decided to eat an early lunch in a log in the sun rather than stretch it to the helicopter pad a mile away. I assumed the helipad would be windy and potentially cold, and the sun seemed like a far kinder option. I was tired and cranky and annoyed that I carried extra water when I didn’t really need to. Gnats swarmed in clouds overhead as I Ate my pb wrap and Forced down the last of rubbery Doritos because they’re calories. Thankfully the gnats kept their distance, which is more than I can say for the large black flies that buzzed my head and landed on my gear. I continued on after my short break. Whenever I stop to eat in the middle of the woods like that, I worry that a bear will stumble upon me. Knock on wood, it hasn’t happened yet.

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I made a brief water stop at guyot spring. The trail continued to be a river bed of rocks that was accentuated by the trough-like erosion along the sides. My mind wandered to the VA attackers dog again, but I did my best not to go down that road. I rounded a corner to an open sunny sky and sweeping views. 

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The View from the helipad was beautiful. I Felt like I was in a different country and I was a Little sad I didn’t eat there because it was breezy, but sunny and warm. 

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Two backpackers showed up and introduced themselves as Pb (Paul Bunyan which was apt. 6’4” at the least and wide frame with giant beard) and Kentucky. I Didn’t feel like making small talk even though they were probably nice guys, so I got up and kept moving. 

The trail followed a ridge with views to my right for a little while and then headed downhill. I heard woodpecker and spied it on a dead tree. I’m Pretty sure it was an acorn woodpecker because there were no obvious red patches. The French-Canadian guy came along and tried to spot the bird but couldn’t and wordlessly kept going down the hill. 

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I went down Through rhododendrons and hit an intersection where 50-something white men were standing around with their phones out. I asked if this was the official phone spot and they said they’d found a bit of ATT. I said enjoy and took a right turn onto the AT which continued to be a rhododendron tunnel on a narrow ridge. There were Misty mountains to my left and a sloping tree covered hillside to my right. I Rounded a corner and the rhododendrons were like a privacy fence between me and the long ridge line across the way.

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Every now and then they drop down and thicken even more, making it feel like I’m at a much lower elevation than I am. The rocks are wearing on patience my today and making my feet and ankles sore, though it’s still not as bad as yesterday, Knock on wood. I Caught a bit of phone signal and stopped to resend some texts that wouldn’t go through earlier. And then the wormhole closed again, so I got up and kept working my way carefully down. Most of the rest of the day is a descent, which I was not looking forward to. 

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I stopped to take a picture at this partial viewpoint and Tom (rob? Damn I can’t remember) passed me. I hardly recognized him with a baseball cap and a button down shirt. We exchanged quick hellos and he kept walking. I followed suit shortly afterwards and nearly caught up to him on our first climb in over two hours. He must have heard me because he sped up a tiny bit and then as soon as the trail flattened, out he was was off. I almost caught him on the next hill but it wasn’t very long and I saw that it was going to flatten out soon so I didn’t bother motoring past him. 

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The trail was gloriously free of rocks for about a mile and a half. Well, free of EXTRA rocks. And then, about a half mile from the shelter, the rocks came back with a vengeance. I slowly made my way through the mess and took the turn off for the shelter. It was a short side trail to a shelter that looks pretty much identical to all the others, including the giant ugly tarp that is useful and irritating. There were only a handful of people here so I easily took a spot on the top shelf again. It isn’t as easy to access but the light and airflow have become more appealing to me as the week has gone by. 

I pulled out my shelter life and put my food bag on the cooking bench outside. I reflexively grabbed my stove and remembered that I wouldn’t be cooking tonight. Now I definitely know how much I look forward to a hot meal at night. 

A guy that passed me earlier sat on the food bench eating snacks. He had the look of someone who would keep hiking. My estimation was confirmed when he said he intended to go on to Davenport gap. That’s 7 more miles from here and it was about 4pm. When I kindly scoffed and said yes when he asked if I was staying put, he replied that he wouldn’t know what to do with himself if he ended his day this early. I shared my meltdown point (about 6pm) and stopping before it as an attempt to prevent inconsolable misery. His name was OB1 and when I told him my name he said checklist…I’ve heard of you! He met la bamba  and had hiked around him briefly. 

OB1 and I talked on and off while I also set up my stuff inside the shelter. He asked about the timing for hot springs and when I told him how close it was (about 45 miles) he said he had way too much food. I laughed and said well I’m almost out of food. He dug around in his bag and offered me two packages of pop tarts. Score! I now had extra dinner food and breakfast calories. I would have rather had something salty because I’m swimming in sweet food (bars) but I wasn’t about to turn it down. I don’t usually let my food supply get this low but my stubbornness about carrying a heavy pack in the Smokeys has led me to eating dregs for dinner. As it turns out, OB1 is from New York and used to live about 2 blocks from me in Brooklyn. He left around 4:40 to hike his 7 more miles. Crazy guy. But he was easy to talk to and I would have enjoyed hiking with him in a different universe with a body that could keep up. 

North Star, the NOBO I met yesterday, and Runa, a NOBO I met on top of springer, showed up a little while later. As we all ate dinner, I asked about their plans for the next couple of days. They’re skipping standing bear and going straight for hot springs. I mentioned my issue with needing to charge my phone brick and they both kindly offered to let me use a bit of their juice if I decide to skip standing bear. They’re considering a 17 mile day tomorrow, which might be a bad idea for me, so I’m not sure what to do. It would be great to have established company, but I don’t want to fall short of their campsite and not have enough power to get to hot springs. 

My dinner consisted of many courses. First a cliff bar with peanut butter, then a tuna packet with Fritos and honey, then the pop tarts and then a tiny snickers. I assume I ate enough. I certainly felt full afterwards and a little sick from the sugar in the pop tarts. After dinner I went through the usual tooth brushing bag hanging routine. I forgot to put on chapstick and decided to take advantage of the simplicity of bear cables and get my bag back down. Then I laid on my sleeping pad with my feet on the rafters to help with the inflammation and soreness. I massaged both feet and calves earlier while I was talking to OB1. I decided to take a break from planning and confirmed with HQ that it would be okay to get the next resupply list done by Saturday. 

A little after 7, I crept down from the sleeping loft and chatted with brownie and dizzy. Here’s another shot of them having dinner.

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Then I wandered a little ways back toward the trail, sat on my zseat and had a splurge of a phone call with Oakland. I know I’ve mentioned phone calls with her nearly every day, but they’re about 5-7 minutes each, so in our world, we’ve hardly spoken. The signal was like a cat distracted by a string. It would be fine for about 6 minutes then drop out and come right back or just drop out altogether. We cobbled together a good call and she helped me with the current logistical decision (standing bear or 17 miles). The answer remains to be seen and will be based on what time I get to the farm, how weird of a place it is, and how long it takes me to get sorted out with food. 

I walked back to the shelter amused by how light it still was and how long most of the hikers had been buttoned up in their sleeping bags. Brownie and dizzy diligently went through their cleaning routines. It’s possible I should invest in some wipes the way other people do for their face and feet. Or maybe I will just continue to stink to high heaven. I usually rinse my face in a stream towards the end of the day, but the Smokey’s have been so damp that the thought of touching water, other than to filter it, is intolerable. 

I’m finishing this to the sound of two late arrivers unwrapping plastic and bustling about with their packs in the cooking area, North Star breathing deeply, brownie occasionally clearing her throat, someone having a throat gurgle snore that I’m SUPER excited to listen to later, and the occasional vireo cutting through the shelter noise. Fingers crossed for some semblance of a decent night of sleep. 

Mile 218 to mile 231.1 (13.1) 

Total miles: 239.4 

Creature feature: juncos galore, another acorn woodpecker, possibly one of those blue warblers, and horse poooop. 

2019-Day 22: charlie’s bunion edition

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Had another pretty cold night. I think the Benadryl helped me sleep, but my feet were painfully numb the whole time I tossed and turned. I Had some crazy ass dreams, to put it eloquently, so I know I did technically sleep. I Woke up to the sound of cider stirring next to me. I popped my head out of my sleeping bag to find her sitting up and bustling around collecting her things. She’s on a deadline to meet a friend at newfound gap. Up we went. I switched into my spandex before getting up and tidied what I could from my prone position. Then off to the privy with sorer feet than usual. The rocks must have done a number on them yesterday. After packing up my shelter gear, Cider and I stood in the cooking area and rushed through our respective breakfast bars. The rushing for me was mostly because of the cold temperatures. I brushed my teeth and cringed at the contact with water when I rinsed my tooth brush. Cider left about 5 minutes before me and I sadly didn’t see her for the rest of the day. 

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The trail started out Flat and sandy for awhile with the occasional soggy patch. I Had to stop myself from taking pictures of light every 10 feet. I Started south with sun to my left and twisted and turned with it rotating between my left and in my face. It wasn’t high enough to actually create much warmth, but it was nice to see as I made my way through the quiet woods. 

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I eventually reached a steady downhill section that bugged my shins. There is a lot of water in this part of the smokies, so there was occasional drainage work and bog boards. I Could hear road noise every now and then and the soft tap tap of a woodpecker on soft wood.

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Two hikers passed me which hit my “you’re too slow” trigger, especially because they are both significantly older than me. I tried to let it wash over me and not get too stuck on it. Then came a slight uphill after which I passed by a giant blowdown (it’s hard to tell the scale but it’s probably at least 20 feet tall). I eventually saw a tiny view through the dense trees to my left (not visible enough for pictures). 

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I went Up and over a hill into brighter section, which made me Feel like a mole emerging from its burrow squinting into the sun. 

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There were long switchbacks down to Indian grave gap. I Could hear road noise and a bird that had long elaborate call almost like a morning bugle sound off. 

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I actually didn’t realize there would be a road/gap before newfound gap so when I popped out of the woods to see a small empty parking lot, I was confused and disappointed.

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Back into the woods I went after talking to a section hiking couple who were setting off on their SOBO trip. Somewhere along the way, I squeezed in 5 min call with Oakland. The signal has been sporadic at best this morning, so I spent most of the time in airplane mode. At some point, i crossed over this strange fence that is meant to keep out the wild boar to protect a beech tree community that is native to this region of the appalachian mountains. 

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The trail led me up and down the sunny side of the mountain on the way towards newfound gap. The morning light illuminated the contours of the surrounding mountains. 

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As I got closer to the gap, I Passed through rhododendrons and a retaining wall for the road.

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I Came out to a packed parking lot and people milling about everywhere. Day hikers, section hikers getting dropped off to start their hikes, car and motorcycle tourists stopping in to check out the view from the parking lot and use the facilities, etc. etc. I walked over to a trash can that was near a woman at a card table covered in food. She didn’t greet or beckon me in any way so I couldn’t tell if she was doing trail magic, and I didn’t want to make any assumptions. I tried to read the situation while not seeming too obvious and finally decided to plop down right there on the sidewalk to eat a snack. I figured if she was doing trail magic, she would call me over. Sadly, it never happened. I think she was in charge of food for a big collection of day hikers. After about 5 minutes, she collected the supplies and packed up her table. Oh well. I didn’t see cider anywhere and I heard someone say the bathrooms would be closed for 10 minutes so I didn’t even bother going down there. 

The sign leaving the gap had a comical disparity between landmarks: 

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I made my way out of the gap wrestling with my disappointment that there hadn’t been trail magic. I don’t actually need food and I definitely don’t expect people to provide it for me, but there had been something sad about anonymously passing through the gap. The climb out of the gap was purported to be tough, and it was indeed a long climb.

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I stopped to check out a view while a couple with a young kid were also stopped taking pictures.

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The kid (ambiguously 4-5 y/o) said hello to me and informed me that she had snacks and water in her backpack. I told her she was very prepared. she then told me how she has to suck on her water tube to get water. She really knew what was up. Her parents laughed and I applauded her resources as I made my way past them. 

A little ways up the hill, I decided to stop for water at a very slow trickle that was falling over a set of rocks to the right of the trail. The water sources are sparse for awhile and I would definitely need more before icewater springs shelter which was a ways down the trail. The small family passed me again as I finished filtering water. The little girl asked me why I stopped and I told her I had to get more water. She reminded me that she already had water and then said “okay, we’ll see you up there.” A trio of men who I had seen at the gap passed by as I put my water bottles back in my bag. I cringed at their pace, wishing I had gotten moving a minute sooner because now I was stuck behind them. They made no move to get out of the way, I guess assuming that they would be in front of me for awhile, so I had to ask them all to make room for me because their pace was just too slow. There’s a happy medium for me between too slow and too fast on a hill. Too slow is actually FAR harder than too fast. It makes my legs feel like dead weight. As I passed they remarked on how I was indeed faster than them, joking that they were walking off all the beer they’d had in town. I laughed and told them I wouldn’t be faster for long as I pulled away almost instantly. 

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When the climb finally abated, I found myself on easy walking across a flat ridge. I pulled off on a little side trail to what seemed to be an animal trap of some sort (bear?) so that I could pee without being spied by the trio of men behind me somewhere. I actually just barely managed to avoid them because they walked by right as I was reattaching my pee rag to my pack. They never did look up, so I surprised them when I asked to pass them by yet again on a different hill. That’s when I found out they’re out for a month, starting at springer, and had about 10 days left. We all collectively ran into a chatty older couple who are part of a local-ish wednesday walking group. The trail from that point on was rather populated with this walking group and other long distance hikers. It was also very populated with ROCKS. Small, scrabbly, annoying rocks that made for tedious walking in places and sore feet by the end of the day. (It’s hard to tell in the pictures how pervasive the rocks were)

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I passed icewater springs and lamented the fact that I couldn’t stay there. It seemed to have a nice view and I had cell service. I imagine it would have also been a lot colder because of the elevation. I filter water at the spring right on the trail right around the corner from the shelter. One of the men from the walking group stopped to ask me how my filter worked. I Later found out that he was a Yankees fan, and I don’t think he liked my ribbing because he kind of kept his distance when we were at charlie’s bunion together. 

I continued down the rocky descent and eventually short climb up to Charlie’s bunion, which is a large outcropping of rocks with an INCREDIBLE view of the smokies (one of the 234 pictures I took is today’s top picture). The views started before we even got to the bunion:

 

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I regret that I didn’t take a video from the central point but the rock was covered in hikers when I got there and I didn’t have the social stamina to deal with taking up space. I found a semi-comfortable spot to eat lunch and made myself a wrap. A SOBO section hiker garnered attention because of his guitar and I eavesdropped on his conversation with the Yankees fan while watching birds peck around for crumbs.

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I saw this new bird also looking for snacks among the juncos: 

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Here are a few more views from the Bunion: 

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I Took the blue blaze back around to the AT at a northern access point rather than backtracking. I’m not THAT much of a purist and I wanted to see the mountain views for a little longer. Little did I know most of the rest of the afternoon would be filled with views of the range on either side of the trail. I managed to have a short phone call with oakland. I had a bit of a meltdown because I admitted to being scared about violent people and life after the smokies when the crowd of hikers thin out and Cider gets off trail. Sadly the signal wouldn’t really support walking AND talking, so we ended our call shortly after starting it. I walked along a narrow ridge path that continued to provide amazing views while the rocks pummeled my feet. 

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It Felt a bit like rain but don’t think there’s any in the forecast. I saw the Lilies that I saw up north but they’re a slightly different color and more spring beauties. 

I made my way through rolling hills along the ridgeline, wondering what dizzy and brownie will do tonight and having an ugly cry over where the VA attackers dog might end up. Yes, I know it’s a ridiculous thing to cry about but all I could picture was a dog who had an owner and a place in the world and now it might be sitting in a shelter with no clue why and no obvious way to get out. These are the things that keep me up at night. 

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My big toes were starting to go numb the way they do when they’ve suffered a lot of impact in one day. It’s a feeling that is very familiar from my days in the whites. Perhaps my feet will toughen up sooner than my last hike? Another thru-hiker passed me while I was stopped trying to send a text. She introduced herself as Northstar and we exchanged pleasantries before she continued onward. It was nice to see another hiker and another asian hiker at that. There’s not much in the way of diversity out in the long distance community. 

The trail continued to be Rolling and then it went back up again for laurel top. My Feet were getting monumentally sore and I feel lonely and sad. I Decided to stop to post 200 milestone from yesterday but lost my signal as soon as I sat down. Back on the move I went, to the summit of laurel top for more amazing views. I Sat just below the summit and posted a couple of pictures and then quickly went back to airplane mode to preserve my battery. Another Hiker passed me with a hello but didn’t stop. 

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I took another bite of cliff bar before setting off down the rocky slope again. The views have been outstanding but the footing has been trash for most of the day. Loose rocks and a fair amount of decline have made my feet into hamburger. 1.8 miles to go before the turn off to the shelter which is another 0.4 miles down. At some point this afternoon, I saw this pink speckled lily mixed in with the greenish yellow ones. 

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The trail continued down the narrow ridge and began to slope downward with a thick stand of pines along the edges. It ducked down into the woods and crossed the remnants of a rock slide which led to yet another wide view for the day.

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I Ran into the guy who passed me earlier. I passed him because the trail was slightly uphill and we talked for a minute until I pulled ahead. My feet were too toasted to linger for much of a conversation, but I found out His name is Chris and he’s out for 5 days (newfound gap to hopefully hot springs). He stuck around back there for the remaining few minutes until I took the blue blaze down to pecks corner shelter around 4:45pm. 

Just past the turn I took my phone out of airplane and discovered signal, which I hadn’t expected. That led to a few more whiny texts to Oakland. I’m not sure how I will manage to return the favor of supporting her with such depth and consistency. Feeling slightly buoyed by the extra interaction, I picked my way down the rocky trail and eventually heard laughter in the distance. That made me fear for space and when I walked up to find a porch full of people in various stages of dinner, I got more worried, but I manged to get one of the last 3-4 spots. I would sleep much better in my tent, but at this point in the day, setting one up becomes a trial and the spots at this site don’t look hospitable. 

I tossed my poles down and tried to sound friendly when I said hello to the dozen pairs of eyes staring at me. I saw cider tucked down in front of the eating area, which was a relief. I hadn’t seen her and her friend all day and was worried they had somehow been delayed or had a change of plans. 

I walked into the shelter and was dismayed by how dark the hanging tarp made it. Spider cave enhancer. I tossed my pad onto an upper spot because once again they were easier and less claustrophobic to reach than the lower bunk. I went ahead and blew up my mattress because it wouldn’t be any easier after dinner. I grabbed what I would need for the night and put it onto my sleeping pad. Having slept in a shelter for the last several nights, I’ve got the pack routine pretty down. Then I grabbed my dinner stuff and went out front to sit next to cider. 

It was a chili Mac night. Once I had my food set to cook, i had to go back into the shelter to get the snacks out of my hip pocket. Then I proceeded to house most of them while I waited for my food and caught up with cider and her friend. They apparently saw a small bear today! Possibly a cub but it was far away. The couple who passed me this morning were sitting on the bench behind me. Their names are double shot and lost girl. When I said that there was an old time song named lost girl, I got a blank stare and missed my Oakland friends. I made a joke out of it saying there’s also a song called lost Indian and probably lost woodchuck. That brought people back and got a laugh. Double shot is thru hiking and his partner (I assume) is doing a big section (springer to Damascus). They’re pulling high miles so I’m not sure I will see them much. apparently their bodies are “totally fine” doing four 20 mile days in a row! That was the last thing I felt like hearing. I made a joke about we could be done talking now, but I’m not sure double shot heard me. At some point during dinner, double shot mentioned that he had taken a picture of someone’s beautiful 200 mile marker made out of petals, and I chimed in with “that was me!” He showed me his picture and sure enough, it was my marker. 

After dinner, I shared one of my Twix with cider and finished off my own. Next came Teeth brushing and flossing while trying not to spend any time on my very sore feet. I hung my food bag together with the heavy bags of a father daughter duo from Colorado out for a 10 day hike. They brought all 10 days of food with them. Ouch. Nice people though. The kid looked to be in high school, but I found out later int he evening that she is 20.  She seemed like an agreeable and outdoorsy nerd. 

By the time i had done all of my evening routine, it was only 6:15. It felt like at LEAST 8pm. I loitered at the shelter rather than heading down to get water because I didn’t want to miss cider retiring to her tent. We will be offset as of tomorrow, so this is our last day of hiking together. Or rather, our last day of staying st the same place because we don’t often hike together. I sat on a log while others stood and we talked for a few minutes. My hands started to get cold so I regretfully decided to go down the steep little path to get water for the morning. Cider was still out when I returned. We said a quasi-goodbye and then I took a trip up to the privy, which is of course UP a hill. That will be fun on sore feet in the morning. 

Most of the hikers I’d seen earlier were all tucked in bed by the time I got back. Two new people arrived as I was walking to the privy and when I walked back I saw dizzy and brownie heading down the trail. They made it! Sadly no shelter spots for them, which I’m sure brownie was disappointed by. The two kids who arrived minutes before them decided to take the last two spots. 

I’m finishing this to the sound of someone fussing with bear cables, the occasional shuffle of someone in their sleeping bag, the heavy breathing of someone who’s already asleep (it’s 7:15pm), and the punctuated chirp of a nearby junco. Fingers crossed, it doesn’t seem as cold tonight as it has been. Maybe I can actually get some sleep! Snoring be damned. 

Mile 202.8 to mile 218 (15.2) 

Total miles: 226.3 

Creature feature: saw a cute little squirrel chewing on tree moss, the usual cast of juncos, and a new bird scavenging for snacks at Charlie’s bunion that reminded me of a towhee with different coloring. A tawny brown jacket with white chest and brown speckles around the waist.