I tossed and turned for the second half of the night. Snow White and fearless tented right next to me and Snow White kept mumbling in her sleep. Fearless would call out “Paula” (snow white’s actual name) over and over until she stopped mumbling. I woke up for good around 530. My sights were set on either another shorter day or a day of almost 15 miles. I tried not to get too attached to the longer mileage because as I told fearless when I left camp, the feet will decide. I have more than enough time to get to my Friday destination with shorter mileage, so I just have to deal with my own antsiness and fear that I’m being lazy. I’ve realized that the shorter days don’t feel hard enough and are too close to “vacation,” which somehow seems wrong. I’m so bad at “relaxing.” See, I can’t even say the word like it’s a real thing.
It was cold enough to warrant a puffy coat and my fleece hat during breakfast. Fearless drank her coffee from her tent, refusing to leave the warmth of her sleeping bag. She eventually emerged and we gathered the others’ food bags from the trees. I had already eaten and was nearly ready to go at that point. We exchanged contact info because fearless worries that her hiking partners will mutiny soon and she joked about needing me as a backup.
There were wrinkled and fading lady slippers in clumps below the wooden planks. I worked on my resupply list while I walked, hoping I would get enough service to let it sync with my mom’s phone. That’s the main way we communicate food info. About a half mile past the lake my phone started to buzz, but it was another few minutes before service was good enough to respond. Buzzcut and I have been talking the last day or so about the potential for her to join me on the trail so we both have company and she can continue to chip away at the trail. Sadly, I’m not sure it will work out because she’s in a lot of knee pain even with minimal activity. Then there’s more planning to be done for the visit from my steady. It’s frustrating how expensive rental cars are and I’m just far enough away from New York to make it a long drive. I have to somehow figure out a shuttle situation for Sunday if we are going to make things work. This is easier said than done when I can’t make phone calls, and every time I stop to work on something, I get bombarded with mosquitoes chomping through my clothes. While I sat in my little pocket of civilized air waves, I got the list out to my mom, confirmed a couple of things and promptly lost service as soon as I started walking.
The ledges gave way to pine forest and the trail descended gradually. I was preoccupied by guilt about how far the drive might be for such a short visit from my steady. My forehead slammed against a tree that had fallen over the trail some time ago. I yelled DAMN IT out loud, and I turned around and said “honestly” to the log, like it was somehow it’s fault for my distraction. I saw my service dwindling, and I knew the trail would continue to descend, so I plopped down off to one side and started trying to figure out a shuttle. I tried calling someone who works out of Hanover, but he couldn’t hear me on the other end of the line. I had just enough service to send him an email, which helped with my preoccupation.
The trail continued to descend over the next 3 miles. It was gradual with flat, soft sections, which made for comfortable walking. I could hear the sound of a stream in the distance off to my left and the sunlight warmed me. The trail eventually transitioned to muddier rockier terrain that slowed me down and made me question the longer option for today. I could feel the cold swipe of mud against the inside of my shins as I fumbled around the rocks.
The trail took a left turn and ran alongside big branch stream (brook? I don’t know what distinguishes these things). It’s a wide body of water with giant slabs of rocks breaking up the flow. I stopped at the bridge and ate a snack.
Shutterbug caught up to me and we both admired the bridge. We leap frogged for much of today, taking breaks in different spots at different times. On the other side of the bridge, I got distracted by the intense flow of water over the boulders:
After the brook, I walked past big branch shelter, which is right on the trail facing the stream. Quite the spot, but I couldn’t see much of a tenting area. The woods became dreary as the trees thinned and the clouds rolled in. I came to a registry point, so I stopped to sign myself in. Shutterbug was right behind me. We came to the road crossing together, but I stopped for lunch because I didn’t feel like walking another hour to eat at the next shelter.
I made my lunch wrap on a rock while being thwarted by cell service that dropped and came back constantly. A woman with a baby on her back emerged from the southbound side of the trail on her way to the parking lot. We said hello. The kid toddled around like a little monkey while her mother got their lunch from the car. She asked me questions about my hike and said she couldn’t do it right now because of the toddler and a 4 year old. I dallied on my rock, sending a few texts and generally being lazy. As I put my pack on, I saw a hiker walking down the road with a dog. At first I thought it was another grungy twenty something dude. Then I realized it was an androgynous looking queer person. I nearly jumped up and down in my spot. Instead, I waited under the guise of saying hello to their dog. I have seen exactly zero people who present the way I do (physically), so I made an unreasonable effort to keep up with them. We talked for a bit, but then they went silent and didn’t ask any questions, so I followed suit because I had been driving the conversation before that. We pulled off to let some day hikers with a dog pass by. The people asked about what we were hiking and assumed we knew each other. I said “oh no we just ran into each other around the corner.” The people were flabbergasted that we didn’t know each other. This kind of thing happens all the time. Depending on the day, I talk with at least half a dozen people who I just met but it looks (and smells) like we’ve hiked all the way from Georgia together.
After about twenty minutes of silence, the potential queer (not to make assumptions), stopped to have a snack. I didn’t want to invade their space, so I kept going even though I was dying to stay and talk. I did however stop after a few feet and ask them what their pronouns are. This was sort of a secret handshake move, but I couldn’t help myself. When the person said “I prefer they” I felt so relieved. Finally! Someone who gets it. We talked for a minute about how it’s sometimes easier to go by she around people who are clueless. Then they made a joke about how “they” might have become my trail name if I had tried to get the seemingly predominant straight hiker community to use that pronoun. To be honest, I don’t really care for “they” either so I’m kind of screwed in the pronoun department because none of them fit. I said goodbye and kept walking, assuming I would see them at the next shelter where they were thinking about taking a swim break in the pond.
The rest of the walk to Little Rock pond was not memorable. Rocky, flat, and kind of aggravating. I got there around 130 to find shutterbug dithering over whether to keep going. I had intentions of going to the next shelter (as did the queer*), but I wanted to wait to confirm that they were headed that way before I made the effort. Shutterbug decided to stay because he doesn’t often get to camp by a beautiful pond. I went down to the water to wait for the arrival of the queer. Time passed. I got antsy. I filtered water. The mother of some kids who were already camped out at the shelter arrived and I asked her if she’d seen a woman (sorry, queer person, it was the most straightforward descriptor) with a black dog. She said no. I was so perplexed and disappointed. I guess the queer took the side trail around the opposite side of the pond? That’s the only thing I can make out. When fearless arrived I asked if she’d seen them. Again, no. I finally gave up, but then I couldn’t decide whether to go chasing after them to the next shelter. This might seem ridiculous, but they’re honestly like the 3rd queer person I’ve seen in the last 61 days. I live in Brooklyn. I’m surrounded by queer people all the time. It’s comforting and it makes me feel reflected. Being surrounded by non-queer people is yet another way of feeling alone. Those of you who fit in all the boxes might find this hard to relate to because it’s not often that you enter a space where some part of you isn’t reflected in those around you.
Anyway, I didn’t put my tent up as Snow White and fearless went about choosing their spots. I decided to give them my reasons for being ambivalent, which resulted in a short conversation about what it means to be gender queer and how it’s different from sexuality and it’s not necessarily about not having decided or being uncertain, etc. I was in an educating generous place with them because I like them and they seemed open to being contradicted. By that point it was 315, and I decided to just stay put even though I felt weak for only going 10 miles again.
I pitched my tent in a somewhat lopsided spot by the shelter. Then I went down to the water and waded around while Snow White rinsed her clothes and fearless sat on a rock in the water. I thought hard about swimming, but there was just enough breeze to make it too cold. Once I get damp and cold there’s no going back. We laughed and had a good time ribbing each other. Then they went back up to camp. I stayed in the sun on a rock writing the beginning of this post and letting my feet dry out. The sun eventually went away making it too cold to be without my puffy jacket, so I went back up to camp. I sat with snow white and drank a cup of her tea to warm up. She told me about how she ended up out here. Her son bought her a backpack for Christmas and said, hey mom you should hike the Appalachian trail. She said okay why not, and here she is 600 miles later.
Fearless came to the picnic table and we all sat around talking until we heard a distant rumble. Then came the scramble to heat water for food before the rain hit. We could have gone to the covered porch of the shelter, but the family was sprawled out and none of us felt much like integrating. I thought it would blow over, but the thunder got louder and the sky darkened. After I set up my dinner to cook, I grabbed my bear line and rock bag hoping to set up my rope before it rained. No dice. As soon as I got back to the table, it started pouring. Fearless ran for her tent. Snow White, shutterbug and I ran for the shelter where we sat and sort of talked to the parents of the family. I ran back out to get my water bottle and noticed that little balls of hail were also falling. The sound of the hail was deafening under the tin roof. After about 10 minutes, it slowed to a steady rain and then a drizzle. I did my dishes and hung a bear line closer to my tent than I’d like, but I didn’t have the energy to go searching in the rain for something better.
I walked down to the water to see if I could pick up service. A mist had formed on the surface of the pond, and I watched it as I stood in the rain writing texts. I spend large chunks of the day not looking at my phone other than to take pictures (or obsessively check mileage) but when I’m done for the day, it’s comforting to have access to people I know. Not having service at night on a good day can create space and feel okay. On a bad day, it makes me claustrophobic. Today was somewhere in the middle. I have good company, but the rain drove us all into our tents. There’s a good chance I will be asleep by 8 because there’s just nothing else to do. I’m finishing this to the sound of rain plopping on my tent, a bird with a mechanical short burst of a chirp, and the odd scuffles and shifting from the shelter. My hands are so cold because of the rain.
Mile 1660.8 to mile 1670.5 (9.7)
Total miles: 667.3
Creature feature: the pond is full of salamanders and the minnows nibbled on my toes as I stood in the water.
*regarding the use of the word queer for those of who you are less familiar with it: it’s not pejorative when used in a context such as this. we’ve reclaimed it; don’t be horrified.