2019-Day 3: wind in the not-willows edition

Another horrible night of sleep, this time with the added joy of listening to everyone around toss and turn and snore. It might have been the worst night of sleep I’ve had in all my time on trail. The storm wasn’t as bad as predicted, but it definitely rained off and on all night. Around 5:45, a compact husband and wife couple trotted out all of their gear and started repackaging things at the picnic table. There’s a reason no one regaled the silent qualities of sil-nylon and cuben fiber. The gentleman sleeping next to me joined the stuffing party shortly thereafter. I came close to asking them to pay more attention to where their headlamps were shining, but Indo know how hard it is to prep in that environment when you want to leave early. AND THEN someone turned on their stove, which at that hour is akin to starting an F14. I muttered “seriously” loud enough for my neighbor to hear but there’s no chance the stove owner did. That was also the point at which one of them decided it was time to talk at full volume. 6:15 wake up here I come ready or not. I put on shoes and walked to the bear box I get my food. Then I ate somewhat wordlessly at the edge of the shelter. I switched over to just eating bars for breakfast and it is the dream. No dishes. No water boiling. I open the wrapper, eat, and put the wrapper in my trash ziplock.

I Left around 735. The weather was a bit cooler, so I wore my compression sleeves, which I brought to act as “long pants” this saving myself 4oz by not bringing 3/4 length spandex. The skies were thankfully dry as I headed down the short path back to the trail.

The terrain started off with rolling hills through forest that had the brightness of spring and overnight moisture. Shortly after getting onto the trail itself, I felt an Unexpected pain on the top of my foot that I had to talk myself out of worrying about. It wasn’t sudden or terribly sharp, but it was new, which has its own destructive narrative. I Tried to stand up straighter and use the rest of my body to help my foot with the workload. I also recited the very cheesy but very helpful sports meditation that I have been listening to how the last couple of months, some of which goes like this: “I am exactly where I want to be. I trust my training. I am strong and healthy….” embarrassing but effective.

The trail was lined with ferns, poison ivy, and volunteer trees trying to make it work among their more mature peers. Every now and then I walked through a wave of mist.

I passed the kids that i met on springer and then they passed me about 10 minutes later as we hoofed it up a gradual incline. I should really get their names if I’m gonna keep seeing them.

The trail wound through the forest with a steep drop off to the right for a couple of miles. I came upon a group of four people, three adult men and one teenage boy who were standing in the middle of the trail. they moved for me and then about three minutes later I had to move for them so they could pass me on a flat stretch. The kid in front gave me a Sheepish look, and I said “it’s inevitable so I’ll just wait here for you.” The guy in back turned away from me and clinched his jaw as he passed by, which was hard not to interpret as some sort of hostility, whether it through hiker or maybe homophobia or who knows what. The second round of being passed set my slow hiker demons off on a trot of their own. I pulled out my new mantra for just such an occasion “I’m here to complete, not compete” and tried to talk myself out of the looming funk. There’s something especially frustrating about being passed by people who get to be faster than me in part because their birth lottery gave them that body.

The wind picked up as the trail rose in elevation. I actually had to stop and put my gloves on because the damp air had chilled my hands beyond the point of comfort.

I climbed up to the view in today’s headline picture, which had cleared enough because of the same wind that was chilling my digits. Then came a short drop down to another flat stretch with the wind whipping through the trees making it sound more like I was at the beach rather than in the middle of the woods. Two guys from the shelter last night, Dave and Kevin, caught up with me at the Overlook. I let them pass by and went off on a side trail to pee without getting spied by the person behind them. (My newish strategy for being caught in a clump of hikers is to ask the last one if anyone is behind them.)

I Took a snack break on the side of the hill because I was getting too hungry. When I got moving again, I Talked to Oakland while she went about her morning routine at home because there was no walk to work today.

The trail dropped down into Woody gap which was a wind tunnel but I managed to find an empty water bottle in one of the bathrooms that I have turned into it my new scoop!

The climb out of woody gap was nonexistent, but a little while later we had our first real climb of the hike so far. It led up to this view where I ran into kids from Springer again.

One of them is going by the name turkey. the other one’s name went right out of my head as soon as he said it because they all have the same name Kevin, Dave, Jacob, Justine, blah blah. I didn’t stick around long because their third person lit up a cigarette. I’m also anxious about save at the camping spot this evening, so I kept moving even though I have no expectation that I can actually stay in front of them. I did take great joy in staying in front of a couple of older gentleman with giant packs coming at me while I sat on my snack rock. When I heard their voices, i picked up my pack and scurried away from them up the hill. What do they have in there??

After the Overlook Trail flattened out to a nice Ridge walk. The trail wound down around the mountain and dipped down to an ugly stretch that abutted a lot of tree blow downs and rocky red clay footing. I got passed by the older men that i had felt sanctimonious about staying ahead of earlier. Then came turkey, cruising along with sunglasses and headphones. When he came down behind me, I asked if there was anyone behind him. he said he didn’t think so and asked if I was looking for someone and I said nope, I have to pee! He laughed and kept on walking. I popped a squat near the edge of the trail because there’s no way I’m walking farther into the woods because it’s full of poison ivy.

Down by lance creek, I crossed over this little footbridge and wished for the umpteenth time that the people in Maine would make two-board crossings. Then there was a bit of a climb back out of the creek bed that led me up to a prettier stretch of trail with ferns and wildflowers, including this one which grows in clumps a lot like lady slippers and came in start white, shades of pink and a variegated combo.

The rest of the walk was a bit of a rush because I was worried about camping space at jarrard gap. I decided to skip my lunch break to save time and prevent even more people from passing me. I scarfed the other half of my cliffbar while I took off my long sleeve shirt because the sun had finally come out and I was starting to overheat. Then I motored through a beautiful and quiet forest until I saw this giant Blob of what I’m assuming is bear poop:

That made me scan the woods a bit more than I had been, but I saw no other sign of bears. I regretted the familiar feeling of rushing to camp because I passed several spots that would have made for great breaks. I also passed a father and son pair ambling up the trail, and I joked to myself that I had finally come across someone I could outpace. I announced myself so I didn’t scare them and made my way around the pair.

I hustled my way down the last hill before camp. my knees protested, so I backed off because I didn’t want to overdo it the way I had at the end of the whites by half-running through a thunderstorm to get to the hostel after a 19 mile day.

When I got down to the gap, I was relieved to find several camping spots still open. Dave (aka la bamba) already had a crisp setup with his Zpacks (we have the same tent). The wind whipped as I walked around contemplating where to set up. I initially thought about a spot that was somewhat secluded. As I groomed the spot, tossing rocks off into the woods, I decided that I’d rather have my tent close to others if there’s any bear activity. it also felt anti-social to tuck myself away from the central tenting area. I hustled up the hill and looked at the spot closest to la bamba and deemed it more than acceptable.

I unfolded my tent and threw a water bottle on either side of it so it wouldn’t blow away. I very nearly stopped there and made myself lunch, but I decided to plow through. I added heavy rocks to some of the stakes as the tent doors whipped and curled in the wind. The bathtub floated off the ground until i put my pack in there to weigh it down.

Then I grabbed my food bag, my zseat and my water and settled against a tree after making sure there wasn’t any poison ivy or oak to contend with. Leaf matter definitely made its way into my wrap, especially when a gust of wind blew right as I finished applying the honey. Then I didn’t realize there was honey on my finger when I picked up my gps. Hello bears! I’m right here! The one with the honey! I wiped it off as best i could and then smeared it in dirt thinking that would somehow mask the remnants of honey. After having finally gotten more than just snacks in my belly, I wandered down to the water source, which thankfully wasn’t far. It also had a pipe running from the spring so I didn’t even have to use my newly fashioned scoop. As i filtered, I thought about how people always say oh, hiking the Appalachian trail! All you have to do is walk and feed yourself. If only the work actually stopped there.

Next came the bear line: my least favorite activity because the line never goes over the intended branch the first time and it always snags on the world when I’m trying to reel it back in from the misfires. The first issue in this campsite is tree selection. Most of them are far too tall or too short. Limb choice was slim. When I’d finally made my choice and untangled the godforsaken line, La bamba came over to tell me about a tree he’d found with a good limb. I stood there with my line all reeled out and very nearly waved him off, but I decided to hear him out. I rolled up the line and walked up the trail a few hundred yards (sneaky mileage on already sore feet). This guy Kevin from the shelter last night followed along and asked if he could watch. I said no! I’m terrible at this! No one is watching!

La bamba had indeed found a good tree. He left me to get the line up while he went off to show Kevin how to do a “pct hang” after which he would also show me. Sneaky bears know how to slash your lines from the tree trunk you tie off to, so you have to add a stick bumper (basically) so that the bag gets stopped by a small stick in midair and the rest of the line hangs down with no obvious way for a bear to get the bag down. I threw my rock sack a half dozen times, failing miserably because the branch was just high enough to be out of reach for my overhand toss. I’m really unpredictable at underhand throws but I might have to give it a shot because la bamba came back and slung it over the branch underhanded on the second shot. I’m embarrassed at how bad I am at throwing a bear line. But the effort of it all at least warmed me up a bit. The wind has made today on the chillier side and it’s even colder here for whatever reason.

After marveling at the pct hang and putting my bag up there for the afternoon, there wasn’t much to do but sit around and shoot the shit over the usual litany of hiker topics (eg hiking, demographic info, and hiking). I’m still trying to strike a balance between having 1,000 miles of knowledge and not sounding like a controlling know it all. I have no clue how I come across. I also know that I don’t come close to knowing everything about this crazy thing we’re doing.

While we were talking, a younger kid who had been at the shelter last night sat down to cook some food. He boiled water and poured it over top of dried pasta in a collapsible bowl. I asked him how he was going to cook it and he said he’d hoped that the hot water would do that. As he soon found out, that didn’t really work. I suggested he put it back in the pot to soak. He somehow managed to burn it to the bottom of the pot before turning it off. Then when he was about halfway done eating, he asked if he could wash his bowl out in the stream. I slowly shook my head while sussing out the reaction from everyone else, which was thankfully the same as mine. I said he had to eat it or throw it in his trash bag and then wipe out the dish. He seemed shocked. He tried to eat more of it but gave up after a few more bites. He eventually scraped it into his trash bag making a holy mess in the process. Remind me not to camp near that kid. He’s nice but serious bear bait.

Around 5:30 I grabbed my food bag, brought it over to the log seats and made my favorite dinner: chili Mac! It’s not really macaroni and cheese-like but it’s tasty and it has lentils so it feels useful. Did my “dishes” and ate dessert (mini snickers), all the while trying to text Oakland and my dad with the incredibly spotty phone signal. I’ve been sending various family members my location when i get to camp each day. If I’m carrying the garmin I may as well use it! It came in handy the first night when I had no signal at all. The messages sometimes take upwards of 15 minutes to send out but that’s better than nothing sometimes.

After dinner and tooth brushing, I attempted to rehang my bag, but the stick wrapping part is tricky with a thin line cutting into your fingers. La bamba must have been watching from a distance because he appeared out of nowhere to help me. I insisted on doing it myself because I can’t count on someone to be around all the time, so he talked me through it. I managed to get it up but we both realized at the same time that I had forgotten to thread the bear line back through the carabiner (the crucial step that makes the stick act as a stopper). I pulled the bag down, la bamba threaded the line through and then let me re-tie the string by myself. Viola! My first PCT hang. It hurts, but it’s better than having to re-tie a knot to a tree trunk.

I wandered back to my tent to get warm and start the long process of typing full sentences on a tiny screen. I’m finishing this to the sound of wind whipping through the trees, my tent door flapping, and the sound of the Alabama couple talking in their tent.

Mile 15.7 to mile 26.3 (10.6)

Total miles: 34.6

Creature feature: not much happening in the woods today. A thrush and another bird which I think might be a type of vireo but I need more signal to be able to look it up

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