2017 – Day 138: bear canister edition

**This is a continuation of my 2017 hike**

I woke up to be sound of my alarm at 6am. The morning’s are much darker than they used to be, obviously, which has made my natural wake up time later than usual. I hit snooze and closed my heavy eyelids knowing that i needed to get up but having trouble mustering the energy to do so in the dark. I’m meeting my mom at a road crossing 2.5 miles away to get the bear canister that she so kindly bought last night on her way home from work. It’s the one tactical error I’ve made thus far: not trying out the bear line. I knew the bear poles were heavy and unwieldy, but I figured I would just throw my line over the hooks and work it out that way. Not so simple, as previously noted the other night.

Anyway, I forced myself to start moving before the snooze went off. I started to organize the loose items in my tent and then went to the privy. I walked past a shelter of sleeping hikers, which clinched my decision to eat breakfast in my tent. I grabbed my food bag on my way back and hunkered down in my sleeping bag. After breakfast, I went through the tedious task of putting away my sleeping gear. It takes about 30% longer with mostly one arm (I do tiny non-weight bearing things with my left hand). Stuffing my pack is difficult and involves holding the compactor bag that lines my sleeping gear with my teeth while I shove my sleeping bag into the bottom of the bag.

After getting everything put away, I emptied out my tent, brushed my teeth, and put my contacts in before dealing with my tent. The ground in VA has been muddy and today is no exception. Everything gets muddy, and I can’t really do a good job of keeping things clean, which drives me a little crazy. I skipped my morning arm PT in favor of putting kt tape on the back of my heel in a spot that is seriously considering forming a blister. Then I forced myself to sign the logbook for the shelter even though I have no clue who will recognize me coming down the trail. But why not. I forced myself to say goodbye to the boisterous section hikers and coach in an effort to not sink farther into my hermit mindset.

The morning was cool, but not as brisk as yesterday. The woods were somewhat dim with a bit of sunlight filtering in from my left. My shin seems to feel better today, but I’m reserving judgment until I have a few miles behind me. I sang along to a recording of friends from music camp as I walked and hoped that no one would stumble upon me before I had a chance to go silent. The trail consisted of rolling hills with the occasional rocky sections. Then came a long gradual descent to cross over tucker Lane and walk under I-66.

As I walked over the footbridge to get to the parking lot, i spotted my mom sitting at a picnic table. It felt so strange to pop out of the woods to find her there as we had planned. We had a warm greeting and then got down to the business of picking which bear canister to use. I assume the larger capacity is what I need but it’s heavy and only fits in my pack vertically, which won’t work. I dithered and settled on the smaller canister with the knowledge that I would have to still hang my toiletries and overflow food. Not ideal but easier than trying to hang 8-10 pounds of food. Then I sat in the backseat and did my arm massage/PT.

My mom informed me that I smelled bad when she hugged me goodbye. I joked that I would smell better tomorrow and we laughed at how wrong that actually is. Then I headed out with my unfortunately heavier pack. My mom passed me in her car as I walked down tucker lane admiring some chickens in a nearby yard. she slowed to wave bye again and then she drove away leaving me to fend for myself. I admire the ability of her and the rest of my parents to let me do crazy shit without putting up too much fuss.

I crossed over route 55 and walked along a stream until the trail crossed railroad tracks and took a turn upwards for a long gradual ascent that felt like the first real climb since I’d returned to the trail. I stopped halfway up to eat a snack then continued chugging my way up the hill.

The trail eventually led me to a series of field walks that had the crisp smell of freshly mown grass. I thanked whoever did the mowing in my head and felt grateful that it was another mild day of walking in the sun. Then came a long stretch of green tunnel during which I stopped for an early lunch by a spring. On the side trail to the water, i saw this dilapidated building.

No clue what that used to be. I ate lunch in silence and watched the light shift around me wishing I had a sunnier spot but knowing it made more sense to eat by the water so I could refill when I’m done. The next two hours were more of the same mild terrain with little to discuss. There were slight shifts in the makeup of the woods, sometimes with taller trees and sometimes bright green ground cover spanning the sides of the trail. I had hoped to make it 17 miles today, but I could tell by lunch that I should let that goal go. My body was up for it, but the timing was just too late for a reasonable camp arrival, especially considering how long things take.

I arrived at the mountain home cabbin (not misspelled) around 230. They had a maildrop for me, which felt a bit silly about considering my Mom had just driven gear to me, but that was an unplanned visit. Scott, one of the owners, stopped his riding lawn mower to greet me. I shared my elbow story and he told me that he’d nearly broken his wrist in Maine. I walked up to the main house to collect my package, Lisa, the other owner, greeted me with an outstretched hand, which I looked at and did not take because it would have meant holding my wallet with my left arm. I explained my hesitation and she looked at me, baffled. She said do you need to be driven somewhere? I explained that it was a month old and that I’m out hiking until I go back for an x-ray. She continued to look at me as if I had just said I planned to walk blindfolded, but she treated me warmly and walked out to the hiker cabin with me. Their 15 year old dog, which I sadly did not photograph, accompanied us and then watched eagerly as I unpacked my food box. I charged my phone while I organized my food and did my best to fit it in the canister. Nearly everything fit except my chips which I had expected. Auxiliary food bag it is!

I packed away my bombshell of food and walked up the drive to say goodbye to my temporary hosts. Then I walked back down to the trail and proceeded to take a wrong turn that had me on ankle straining uneven ground. Something didn’t seem right so I checked my map and found my mistake. I nearly turned an ankle like 3 times because of the invisible holes in the thick grass. I said aloud to no one “if i break my ankle on a detour, I’m going to be pissed.” But I didn’t. And I got back on track quickly to the actual trail that runs parallel to route 522 with a series of strange bog boards that must come in handy in rainy weather, but looked utterly useless today.

The trail crossed 522 and proceeded to climb alongside a fenced-off open field for nearly a mile. Then it leveled out a bit and crossed a small gravel road. I came to a stream that seemed low, which made me concerned for the water levels of the spring at the shelter I’m headed to tonight. It’s listed as an unreliable water source and it’s .2 miles downhill from the shelter, so I decided not to risk it and filled up my sawyer bag and my two water bottles, thus adding nearly 3 pounds to my already heavier bag with 4 days of food and a bear canister. Then I walked uphill for 1.5 miles to the shelter, getting crankier by the switchback (while also being very grateful for the switchbacks). My left arm began to throb and my hand swelled with the effort.

After a series of side trails, I finally got to the shelter turn off. I arrived to find two guys that I’d met my first night back and another guy who didn’t bother to raise his head or say hello. I wasn’t in the mood for small talk and didn’t get a very warm feeling, so I walked past them and down the hill to a very far away and somewhat rocky tent site. I could feel a food meltdown on the way, so I ate a snack before setting up my tent in the rocky mess. Then I threw a line for my auxiliary food/toiletries bag and got to work making my dinner while talking to Oakland. VA has been much kinder with the cell service than Maine, which has helped with the loneliness.

After dinner, I hung my toiletries and found what I hope is a good place for my bear canister. In case you’re wondering, I use my feet to hold the bear canister in place while taking the top on and off. It’s super awkward, and I scrape my knuckles nearly every time because the top is designed to require a lot of force and fine motor skills.

I watched the sunset turn from golden to fiery red through the trees. I’m finishing this to the sound of falling acorns, crickets, dry flies, the occasional barred owl, a distant dog barking, far off road noise, and what is most definitely an animal tromping around nearby. Let’s hope it’s a squirrel and not a bear. Honestly they sound the same when you can’t see what’s making the noise.

Mile 1209.4 to mile 1223.0 (13.6)

Total miles: 1036.5

Creature feature: another slow day in the woods in terms of actual sightings.

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