I had a Slightly better night of sleep, but I still feel like I can’t actually settle down when I get in bed. There’s nothing in particular running through my mind, but I feel like I’m bracing for something. I woke up to the sound of my alarm around 7am. I dragged ass out of bed and pulled together the odds and ends I had brought upstairs. There’s no way I had any intention of bringing my entire pack up there. I had to pee in the middle of the night and my calves were like shoe leather going down the stairs. That’s where a lot of miles go: my Achilles’ tendons.
Maya and I split the rest of my overpriced avocado from yesterday. I dashed off a few postcards while i absentmindedly ate a bar as the rest of my breakfast. Maya left around 7:40, and I followed suit around 8:20. Later than I had hoped, but there was no rushing to be had this morning.
The trail back up to the road was an annoyance with the last few yards (the steepest point) consisting of crushed gravel. I saw dalton (the messy dishwasher from jarrard gap) sitting by the outfitter drinking a breakfast soda and eating goldfish. Crazy kids. I very nearly forgot to mail my postcards, but I managed to remember right as I passed through the breezeway at neel gap.
Then came rock strewn switchbacks for the climb out of neel gap. There were a few more small climbs in which I leapfrogged with Dalton. Each time he passed me he looked more haggard than the last because of the incline and perhaps the bud light. I called Oakland to wish her a happy birthday and to have a bit of company. I’m feeling lonely and dejected this morning after last night’s Trump surprise. I don’t need best friends out here, but I’d like to feel more common ground and frankly, being around cisgendered straight men all the time is tedious. The homophobic jokes, the misogyny, the constant pissing contests. It gets old. Sadly the phone call with Oakland made me more dejected because of patchy service. Enter the first crying spell of the day! Oakland comforted me by saying that the birds and the trees are keeping me company no matter what. They are indeed why I’m out here and they are worth the BS that comes from the human component. I managed to pull myself together quickly enough and moved on.
The trail climbed briefly up to a ridge with peekaboo views of mountains on all sides. Then came a rocky but manageable ascent that continued to have views of the surrounding mountains.
I Stopped here to take a picture while a towhee scrounged about in the leaves a few yards away and a morning dove saying off to my right. I felt grateful for Oakland’s reminder that the birds and the trees are also keeping me company.
After a short and rocky descent down to a saddle (I think?), I took a snack and phone call break on a log at the edge of an informal camping spot. A group of about six men showed up to share the log with me, so I got off the phone and had a short chat with them.
They are from a range of places around the south and have known each other for a long time. We ran through the introductory and acute remarks (what kind of hike, are there switchbacks up ahead, weather and bears). Then came the kindly intended but ever so diminishing remark that they had seen a lot more women hiking the trail and isn’t that great! Why yes, it is great that female bodied people can do the same things as you and that they’re willing to put up with the things that make the trail more unsafe for them (namely: poorly socialized and/or aggressive men). I held my tongue, not willing to take on a gaggle of southern boys who would not be likely to hear the underlying message in their comments. I was tempted to say something relatable like “isn’t it great that more people over 60 are doing the trail?!” But then I become the angry “woman.” Sometimes it’s easier just to smile and nod.
I left them to their break and they wished me well. Then came a nice, slightly softer walk through newly leafing forest filled with mayflowers, Trillium and wild irises. I Walked a somewhat narrow and beautiful ridge that had mountain views on either side of me that were primarily visible because of the thin forest.
I eventually passed a trail side spring where an older gentleman sat eating a snack and filtering water. I decided to keep going and try my luck with the water sources down the way. They are poorly spaced today and most of them are off-trail, which is not ideal because it makes for sneaky miles on my feet. A few minutes down trail from the spring, I Took a quick pee break before the gentleman could catch up with me. Then came a pebble filled gradual climb up where I happened to see a side trail that led to this view.
I’m determined not to rush today, so I took my pack off and enjoyed the layers of mountains that sat before me. I Sent a picture of the view to my dad along with the GPS location so he could nerd out, which he did. Then came a short and Rocky descent that eventually led to a nice flat stretch where the man who had been at the spring now sat on a log taking another break. I asked how he was and he said slow but good. I replied that speed makes no difference! If only I could listen to myself.
About a half mile later, I stopped to get water at a spring 0.1 miles straight downhill off the trail, which of course meant an uphill walk back. I questioned my choice to leave my pack unattended in bear country but there was no way I planned to lug it to the bottom of the hill. Thankfully the trip was worth it because the seasonal stream was flowing. I drank a bunch before topping off my bottles. the sun has come out to stay and it’s getting to be a warm day of walking. I sat and Had a small snack at the top to tide me over until I reach a view point a couple of miles away for lunch.
Then came a short climb up to another Ridge. I wish the water had been spaced differently today because I have a pretty hefty climb out of tesnatee gap and this water has to last me quite awhile. I nearly stopped to have lunch earlier than planned at a partially obstructed view point, but I decided to be greedy and try to find a better view.
Which I did! I sat here and had lunch “with” Oakland. The guy who made the homophobic remarks about liking sausage from last night showed up with a friend. I’ve begun calling him “West Texas” when referring to him to Oakland (his actual trail name is Thor). the guys didn’t realize I was on the phone, so Oakland got to experience west Texas firsthand as he heartily greeted me and asked me to take a picture of him with his friend. I dallied at my lunch spot a bit too long and regretfully had to keep moving, which meant getting off the phone because the erratic signal around here doesn’t like it when I move.
Then came a half mile descent down to tesnatee gap, which started with an even better view (today’s top picture) and this new flower, which is tiny and grows low to the ground so I had to drop my pack and sit down to get a clear picture.
The trail down to the gap was full of the kind of rocks that slip beneath your feet, so the going was a bit slow. Down at the gap I got my first trail magic!
A Cold bottle of water and a perfect banana, care of a local couple whose names I didn’t get but who were very friendly. A guy with a cowboy hat and jeans and a big pack that had a big knife attached to it came down the hill as we stood there. A dog I’d seen earlier named Jack Jack did not think kindly of this man and I don’t blame him. sadly I forgot to take a picture of jack jack! After I finished my treats, I went down a little side trail to pee before the switchbacks up towards Whitley gap.
The man who I saw getting water earlier was also enjoying trail magic and we stopped to chat at the top of the mountain. His name is Greg and he has 2 1/2 months to get as far as he can. We walked near each other for about 10 minutes down the other side of the mountain back to the road where he stopped to get more water.
I decided to skip the water for better Or worse, and I crossed the road at hogpen gap. Can’t make these things up.
I entered a dryer forest that had little shade. I have felt a bit sunbaked today and I’m not making very quick progress between my sadness this morning, my extended trip down to the water, and staying put a little longer so I could talk with Oakland at lunch. The temperatures are perfect in the shade but the relentless sun is wearing me out. It’s also making my skin freak out. I applied sunscreen twice today, and I still have the moderate beginnings of my usual Sun rash.
Greg and i leapfrogged for the next hour or so. He caught up with me because I took a break to get off of my feet, during which I had a snack and talked to Oakland again (it’s her birthday, I’m allowed to call her incessantly!). I got moving again after about 10 minutes. The break actually helped my feet a bit.
A little while later, as I contemplated just how far I could make it today, I heard a noise behind me and turned to find a trail runner about a foot from me. I reflexively said “you scared the poop out of me” and he laughed. He remarked about my garmin and asked if I was thru hiking. I said I was finishing a thru that got ruined by a broken arm in Maine. Then he informed me that he’s going to attempt the new speed record for the trail starting on July 1st. He marveled at how we could Be in Maine at the same time (his goal is the first week of August). As he returned to his run I asked his name. Meet Christian, who was fast enough that I barely got his picture when he turned away from me.
I took another break on a log a little while later. This stretch of trail has been relentlessly sunny, dry, and full of gradual climbs that are wearing me down mentally. I decided and undecided to stop at the shorter option a few times as I continued onward. I knew ultimately I wouldn’t stop short even though my right foot had started to hurt more than usual.
At the trailhead for low gap shelter, I saw a father and son duo that had camped near me at jarrard gap. We exchanged quick pleasantries and I kept walking. I heard people laughing and carrying on from the shelter trailhead, which sealed the deal for my decision to move on. My hope is to camp at a place called poplar stamp listed in guthook. The water source is iffy, so I plan to get extra water a little ways up the trail and carry it the mile to camp. The last thing i need right now is more weight but it’s better to have guaranteed water than a lighter pack. As I stopped, I worried that the father son duo would pass me and take the last tent spot at the small campsite (the app says it’s only 3 or 4 tents). But I forced myself to take my time and pour water over my head to cool myself down a bit. They did in fact pass me and as they went by I asked where they planned to stop. “Popular gap” they said. I didn’t correct them but I did say oh yeah me too! If there’s space. (Hint hint)
I finished filtering water and filled my sawyer bag, leaving me with an extra 32 oz of water and a noticeably heavier pack.
The trail continued to be annoyingly rocky from there until I finally stopped for the day, but I saw a new wildflower! It’s hard to tell in the pictures but there are loose rocks all over the trail which makes my sweaty feet slosh around: the perfect recipe for blisters. I walked along behind the duo for awhile. Then they stopped for a break and I passed them. Then we came upon a campsite that might have been poplar stamp but none of us really knew and it was already partially occupied. The duo moved on and i deliberated but ultimately decided to move on. Then i came upon another campsite that was full of random people I’d never seen and had one open tent site that was rocky and sloped. The duo showed up, gave one look at the crowd and moved on. As did I.
At this point I’d walked far longer than I meant to with extra water. I felt safer knowing I could stop anywhere I wanted since I had water, but the weight and miles were turning my feet into hamburger. Thankfully the more focused pain I had felt in my right foot had gone away on its own about a mile back. I walked on from the poor tent site and wondered where in the world I was going to sleep and felt overwhelmed by how late it was getting (5:15 at that point).
I passed the duo again and walked up the rocky path cursing my choice to skip over two different camping options. I eventually smelled a campfire. Then I saw a neon green bear line that I recognized as la bamba’s. I came to a small clearing and discovered the three trumpeteers set up around a small fire pit with a poorly started, smoky fire. They greeted me with warm surprise, not expecting to see me this far down the trail. I dropped my pack and decided that I would camp here no matter what the sites looked like or how awkward the company got. I couldn’t take anymore time on my feet.
I dithered about where to tent because the best site was in line with the smoke from the fire which meant potential floating ash/embers. I tried to cram into a smaller space but gave up and settled on the smoky spot. I rushed through tent set up, barely clearing the ground of sticks. Then la bamba offered to help me throw my line in the same tree he had chosen down the path. I accepted his help and made small talk while I attempted to untangle my snarled line which I had intended to fix yesterday. Rather than have him witness my poor throws, I let him sling the line up over the branch on the first try. Then I set my water to boil and put my sleeping gear together while my food rehydrated. Dinner could not have come soon enough. The trio (la bamba, Kevin and dalton) have clearly been around each other all day and were throwing around inside jokes and making plans for their next few days. They made no attempt to include me, and I made no attempt to include myself. Mutual exclusion is fine with me. I went through the usual evening routine of dinner, dessert, teeth brushing (and flossing!) and hanging my food bag. Everyone retired to their tents shortly thereafter.
I’m finishing this to the sound of Kevin (or maybe dalton?) snoring, random animal noises in the distance, the occasional squeak of someone’s sleeping pad and a barred owl saying “who cooks for you!” Let’s hope for no middle of the night bathroom breaks tonight. Today was hot and far too long, but I felt like I was walking through a terrarium made of mountains.
Mile 31.3 to mile 45.5 (14.2)
Total miles: 53.8
Creature feature: bluebirds! For a second, flashing between trees. A few towhees, Dark eyed juncos hopping around at the outskirts of camp. A badger right before Greg caught up with me on the climb out of tesnatee gap.