People started stirring in the shelter around 530. Treebeard, an older gentleman with a long beard that includes a thin braid down to his waist, was the first to leave the comfort of his sleeping hammock. I got up after him and hung out with the spiders in the privy for a few minutes. I love composting privies because they smell like wood shavings (vs that the sickening chemical waste smell of non-moldering privies). Then I hobbled down to the bear box and grabbed my food bag along with Chrissy’s and Buzzcut’s. There’s a small joy in doing something simple for other people who don’t ask for anything from you.
I had breakfast at the picnic table below the shelter. Spoke with a NOBO named gator who got to the shelter after we’d all bedded down for the night. He ate special k in instant carnation breakfast water. He said he liked it because of the strawberries, which I found endearing. At first glance he looks like a kid I would never talk to. I can’t (and don’t think I necessarily should) shake the guardedness of being a non-traditionally presenting queer person in the world, but I’m trying really hard to push past that and be open to connections. Within reason. Gator is from Florida and he started his hike early to intentionally experience snow. Crazy bastard.
After breakfast, I packed up and was ready to roll by 7am. It’s so fast when all you have to do is roll up your pad and stuff your sleeping bag in your pack. I loitered in the hopes that buzzcut and I would set out at the same time, but I also didn’t want to be her shadow in an annoying way, so I left before she was quite ready. I took it slow to warm up my creaky Achilles’ tendons and my right ankle.
Buzzcut caught up with me when I stopped to sign a seemingly random trail registry in the middle of nowhere. We walked together for most of the rest of the day. I pestered her with personal questions, which she obligingly answered and returned with some of her own questions for me. We talked about her relationship with her kids, the challenges of asking for help, family dynamics, and other things I can’t remember right now.
About an hour into the morning, the trail emerged from the woods to a view of Culvers lake. We took a break here, which left enough time for treebeard and lost & found to pass us by. About an hour after the lake, we came to the carver fire tower which provided a great 360 view of the surrounding mountains. Everyone in my current little group arrived at the tower within 5-10 minutes of us. This happened multiple times today. It feels good to hike with people who have slightly more similar paces.
After the tower, there was a gradual, rocky descent that transitioned to a peaceful and forgiving flat stretch that lasted a few miles. Buzzcut and I had plans to eat lunch at the sunrise mountain pavilion, which we did with the company of treebeard who took this picture:
Chrissy and JD arrived about 15 minutes after we plopped down on the 1 bench left standing in the pavilion. I don’t think I’ve mentioned JD yet. He’s a retired doctor who lives in GA about an hour north of Atlanta. He has a southern drawl and a dry sense of humor, both of which make me feel at home. He also has the language and sensitivity of someone who has spent some time considering his privilege and impact on others. Later in the afternoon, I came upon him giving treebeard a history of all of the boats he’s owned and his molasses baritone voice nearly put me to sleep mid stride.
After lunch, we all hobbled back into motion. I caught sight of a black and white marbled bird right as we stepped out of the pavilion. When I get a better signal, I will see if I can figure out what it was. The next 6 miles were on the aggravating side. The rocks were more frequent and sharper than this morning. Despite the terrain I made good time.
We all took a pit stop at the mashiponoq shelter (none of us can say the name so we butcher it on purpose. I favor something that sounds like “mashipinplong”). I laid on the shelter ground and put my feet up against the wall. It felt so good to let the blood drain from my legs. My ankle did better than I expected given how it felt after I tweaked it in the first mile of the day. I’ve continued to be extremely mindful to make sure it lands flat. JD amused himself with the shelter log, and buzzcut fussed with her sore feet.
The next 2.6 miles were so tedious. The rocks were steady and there was a short steep climb. I checked my phone hoping it would say something in the neighborhood of .4 miles (I like to guess the distances) and it said .9, which of course made me say f*ck you to my phone. Buzzcut laughed and asked if I was talking to the rocks again.
We finally, finally got to the shelter turn off and braced ourselves for the “steep downhill” that never materialized. The first mistake I’ve encountered in the guthook app, but one I’m pretty okay with. Instead, we had a flat, albeit longer than ideal, approach trail that dumped us out in front of an older shelter that I had no intention of sleeping in because of the dark gap between the shelter and the ground. Snakeville.
We all decided to tent. Getting mine set up was quite the hassle because the ground was freakishly hard below the quarter inch of soft mud. After much cursing, i settled for a questionable pitch. There’s no wind tonight so it should be fine. Here’s a shot of the typical camp set up/gear fidgeting/dinner eating that happens:
As I sat eating my neon Mac & cheese, the couple with the baby arrived. HOW DO THEY DO IT? The mother of the couple, whose trail name is Leche, seems so serene for having just hiked 15 miles with a 3 month old (trail name Chupa Leche, aka milk sucker).
After dinner, I went down to the stream to filter water. There happened to be the perfect foot soaking log sitting across the stream, so after I filtered, I crawled out to the middle of the log and dunked my feet and ankles in. Ah, the cold satisfying ache of a mountain stream. I told buzzcut about the setup because her feet had been so sore this afternoon, but she was already in her tent and could not be roused to go anywhere.
Now I’m finishing this entry to the racket of a very persistent whiporwhil, which has made me and chrissy erupt into giggles multiple times because of lost and found’s tedious choice to play the call in the shelter yesterday even though we all groaned and told him we had heard it a thousand times already. Before the whiporwhil stole our sanity, we heard a bard owl (whose call sounds like “who cooks for you!”). I saw a neon pink sunset through the trees a few minutes ago, which made me so sad that we are down here in the bog and too far from the nearby overlook for me to sneak up there. Let’s hope that whiporwhil gets tired SOON.
Mile 1318.4 to mile 1333.4 (15)
Total miles: 330.2
Creature feature: a smattering of chipmunks, one of whom I saw disappear into a hole in the ground, and the aforementioned black/white bird. no snakes today!