2019-Day 6: a beary busy day edition

Last night might’ve been the best night of sleep so far. The trees were still, although there were coyotes off in the distance and a resident barred owl hooted away as we buttoned down in our tents. There was also the resident snorer, confirmed to be Dalton. Kevin was up and shuffling around camp by about 545. I lay in my tent trying to decide whether I wanted to walk down our little bathroom path to try to poop in the woods with so many people so close by. There isn’t a good option nearby and the way the path has been the last few miles, there aren’t likely to be easily accessible areas to the sides of the trail. I finally decided to just go for it, so I put on my headlamp grabbed my TP and trowel and made my way through the back of our little camp. Too much information, but for those of who are curious or doing *research, the best way to execute this particular camp chore is to find something you can hold onto so you’re not relying only on your leg muscles. I scanned the ground for poison ivy found a suitable tree trunk, and the rest we shall never discuss.

Next came the job of getting my food down from the tree. With the PCT hang, this is now much easier task. As I picked my bag up from the ground, a nearby barred owl called out making me jump in the morning darkness. I wound my rope up so that it wouldn’t be a tangled mess later and made my way back to camp trying not to think about bears.

I sat on the log in the dark with Kevin while he slurped his peanut butter to the point where I almost had to say something about it or walk away. Lucky for me, he moved on to other tasks pretty quickly. I pulled out a bar and began my morning breakfast/dental hygiene/contact lens routine. Then came tent breakdown and filtering of the extra water I’d lugged from the last water source. Everyone else was somehow faster than me this morning. For whatever reason, I have this ill-conceived notion that because I’ve done half the trail, I should be more efficient than most of the people I’m meeting right now. Not a helpful mindset, I know.

La bamba was the last one out before me. We seem to have recovered from the trump question, and I thought about asking for his number to have someone else on trail to be in touch with, but I changed my mind. Maybe I will

do it if we meet again. Before setting off, I stopped to doctor my feet, which is always a mental struggle because I just want to get moving. The little toe on my left foot is pinching, which it has always done in any shoe during any activity that involves high miles. I put some tape on it and I put body glide on both of my feet while a dark eyed junco hopped around the fire pit looking for snacks.

The trail wound through open forest with the sun shining to my right over a horizon full of mountains. Occasionally the sun lit up patches of baby ferns that lined the right half of the trail. I am sore from yesterday’s effort but not quite as wrecked as I had expected. The water source for our campsite was .3 miles south and none of us wanted to get any this morning, but supposedly the closest reliable source is 4.5 miles up the trail. I laughed to myself as, almost immediately after leaving camp, I crossed several little springs that ran right across the trail. I felt a little sad that there wasn’t anyone to share this amusement with, but that’s fine. it’s still funny to me.

I passed so many little springs that I finally decided to get a bit more water for myself. I also drank a fair amount standing there since I hadn’t consumed much before leaving camp. I’m probably going to need to keep my long sleeve shirt on most of the day and possibly put my compression sleeves on up over my knees because I have full-on sun rash and today is supposed to be another nice day. I know the sloppy times are coming, but these first few days have had pretty amazing weather.

I heard the occasional woodpecker as I walked along taking in the morning light and the surrounding mountains. After having been been on the move for a few minutes I could tell that My right foot was sore, but I tried not to get too attached to it.

After about a mile of serpentine, flat trail, I went up a Long gradual hill onto a thin ridge surrounded by mountain views on either side. That probably sounds repetitive from yesterday, but today has pretty much the same terrain with amazing globelike views through the thin forest. I decided to stop near a log and take my short sleeve shirt off so that I was only wearing a long sleeve layer. Of course I hadn’t seen anyone for like an hour, and as soon as both of my shirts were off, a woman hiked towards me heading southbound. We had a laugh over the predictability of the timing and a brief conversation about water availability. shortly afterward, I saw this brain-like fungus (mold?) on a downed log:

As soon as I got moving again, I felt good about my choice. One layer was far less of a greenhouse than two as the humidity started to creep in. I passed the backpacking woman’s compatriots a couple of minutes later. They apparently had a really nice campsite at the intersection of the AT and Chatahoochee gap. As I passed by, I was envious of their morning view.

The AT took a right turn at the gap and quickly devolved into a Rocky narrow trail that left me with no chance for peeing anywhere. I was very glad I didn’t wait to use the bathroom this morning!

Eventually i Came to a small clearing where there was a campsite and a blue blaze trail. I Took the opportunity to pee and get off my feet for a minute. As I slung my pack back on, I Heard the quick ratatat of a woodpecker in the distance.

The trail went through a small rhododendron grove and opened up into an spacious sloping forest floor to my left and steeply banked hill to my right. I heard a repetitive goose or duck-like birdcall and wondered what could be making such a racket. Then I heard the telltale thumping of a pileated woodpecker. a second later, I saw the flash of black and white as the woodpecker landed on the trail about a hundred yards away. I couldn’t believe my luck! Pileated woodpeckers are one of my favorite sightings because they seem to happen so rarely. I stood there gawking and tracking the bird as it flew from tree to tree. It finally flew around to my left and sat on a branch close enough that I could catch some terrible video footage of it (although you can hear its call).

As it flew off for good, a woman who I hadn’t heard approach said “did you get it?!” I replied that I had, sort of! I continued onward feeling very excited about what had just happened.

And then the rocks hit. The trail turned into a PA-like rockpile that slowed me down and put my right foot to the test. I was reminded of one of the several reasons I don’t think I’ll ever attempt another complete thru-hike: PA ROCKS. Oakland and I had been texting on and off as she went about her morning routine. I sat down on one of the many rocks available to me to safely look at a picture she’d sent and I heard a rustle behind me. I turned, fully expecting to see a squirrel based on the volume of the leaves, and instead was met with a black bear walking up the embankment about 20 yards away from me. I stood up with a start, put my phone in my shoulder pocket, and reflexively hauled ass over the jumbled trail, somehow managing to not fall on my face while keeping one eye on the bear and one eye on my foot placement. When I got the point at which I was closest to the bear (I had to walk past it as it stood perpendicular to the trail), I thought maybe I should try to startle it in a different direction so I clicked my poles together. The bear stood there and stared at me blankly. Okay well that did nothing. So I walked faster and hoped that the bear Would stay put.

Thankfully it was not stirred into action by the sight of a skittering human and it watched me circle past it. I paused from a semi-safe distance to take a picture as the bear took a Step or two in its original direction (lower middle part of the frame). When I paused, it looked up at me, at which point i decided to stop pushing my luck and put more distance between me and the bear.

The footing cleared up enough for me to really hightail it, so I walked as quickly as my sore feet would carry me. The trail opened up to a spacious forest with a of green underbrush. I saw a new bird that had yellowish green side with a gray jacket. I didn’t stop for too long because the bear was only a little ways behind me.

Around 9:30, I took a water stop at a trail side spring and attempted to call Oakland, but I was disrupted by two guys stopping to get water. I’d seen them at Neel gap two days ago – one of them was trying to navigate lost luggage and ended up waiting at the gap for six hours while his bag was transported from ATL. There names are chad & Jason. they quibble like brothers and they’re both witty congenial people somewhere in their 40’s or maybe early 50’s.

I left them to the water and as I walked away, I said “I’m going to pee farther up the trail so if you see my pack, don’t look around!” They laughed and agreed to my terms. Then came a short climb up to Blue Mountain shelter where I stopped off for a quick bathroom break.

Then came rolling hills, some steeper than others. I took another phone break with Oakland and watched Jason zombie past me, only noticing that I was on the ground as he was past me.

Eventually I came to a very green, wide open forest with a lot of bird song. This eventually funnel down to a narrow and Rocky stretch of trail that got hotter with less shade and several tired looking people hiking the opposite direction.

I could hear the road as I made my way down to unicoi gap. “Gap” often equals long descent and long climb, and Unicoi fit the bill for both.

I saw chad and Jason at the bottom, and another fellow loitering near the cars . I secretly hoped He was doing trail magic but he didn’t offer anything immediately so I let go Of the idea. Then he said something about having drinks and an apple, but I had seen the drinks and they consisted of 2L sodas sitting out in the sun. I kindly passed and put my pack back on for the climb up Rocky Mountain.

Shortly after beginning the slog, I saw a new bird that was Dark blue with white spots on it’s wings and a white belly. At some point I need to look these things up!

The climb up Rocky Mountain was long and the switchbacks tailed off towards the top making for an ankle stretching, hunching over kind of ascent. I tried my best to stand somewhat upright, but it only sort of worked. Chad approached me in his blaze orange shirt right as I was finishing up at a stream. I had planned to walk a few hundred yards to peeI asked if he planned to get water and he said no, so his appearance would mean I’d have to wait. I always seem to run into these guys when I’m trying to stop for a bathroom break! At least I’m hydrated?

Chad and I ended up at the top of the mountain around the same time and leapfrogged our way to an overlook where we had both intended to have lunch. On the ridge, I saw my first set of lady slippers!

Chad and I talked a bit while he went through an elaborate process of making hummus from powders and I put together my wrap.

I took my shoes off to hopefully dry my feet a bit and cut down on the blister potential. Jason (aka “tortuga” according to chad) showed up when we were nearly finished eating. I listen to them yuck it up with each other and lost count of the number of times chad said “bro.” They kindly offered me half an avocado to lighten their load and work through their fresh food supply before it spoiled. Three cheers for overpacked section hikers!

Leaving the outlook was pretty (minus my very clearly blistering left pinky toe), then the trail turned into a dusty oven with big manmade steps that take a lot of work and are hard on the legs. The Trip down was thankfully shorter than expected. As I tromped my way down to Indian grave gap, I texted with Oakland to decide whether to take a zero at top of Georgia on Wednesday. She confirmed that it would be a good idea to rest my feet and give my skin a break from the sun and to “accumulate rest.” A concept that would not have occurred to me as I come at zeros from the perspective of “why do I need rest. No one else seems to.” Saw this little friend on the way down:

Down at the gap, I nerded out with chad over their logistics as he confirmed their A and B camping choices. They’re avoiding shelter areas and he had like 3 different maps. Tortuga rolled in about 8 minutes later and plopped down on a rock in the shade. One more mountain to go for me. Their plan included nearly 8 more miles so there was no way I could Clinton camping with them tonight. I too don’t really want to go to the next shelter, so as I sweated my way up tray mountain, I contemplated stopping just short of the shelter to camp at a spot that is purported to have good horizon views.

The tray mountain climb was hot and heavy because I’d gotten extra water about 2 miles back in case I decided to stop before the shelter. I’m Pretty sure the extra weight and the sweating are part of what is making my toe so sad.

There was very little shade on the way up Tray with the exception of the occasional rhododendron tunnel. Near the top was a stand of rhododendrons and this view, where I decided to take a picture of the hand my niece gave me back in 2017 when I broke my elbow. It’s been in my pack ever since, so I left it there for good luck (today’s top picture).

I didn’t stick around at the overlook for long because the minutes kept ticking away. When I got to the campsite, I was relieved to see two older men already settled in. Company! Unfortunately, it was a small, lumpy and rocky site. Guthook said there were more sites down a side path, but it was too isolated for my taste. I walked all the way to the end of the path to check out the bluff that someone said was there (how do people find these things?). The path led through a dense patch of rhododendron and eventually opened up to a small rocky point that looked due east. I had hoped to see sunrise there, but I’m not sure about walking down the creepy path in the dim morning light.

As it turned out, the two older men at camp are brothers. Their trail names are Nobody and Uncle Rotten (yes, a child gave it to him). They were jolly and talkative and I very much enjoyed their company. I Set up my tent half in the lumpy grass and half on the rocky dirt. Then I heated up water and did bedding while it cooked. We had an overly talkative and manic visitor in his 40’s named highwaymen who was passing through on his way to the shelter and stayed for over 30 minutes. I wandered away to throw my bear line because his energy was too much for me. I tried an underhand toss and managed to get the intended branch on the second try. Maybe I can do it underhanded! Sadly the branch was dead so I had to bail. In my post hiking stupor, it didn’t occur to me to let the rock back fall to the ground and pull the other end of the rope down. Instead, I yanked on the rock bag to get it over the branch and it came crashing down straight for me. I reflexively pit up my arm and the bag of rocks slammed into my right elbow in almost the exact spot as my left elbow break. My stomach wobbled a bit with the pain and the symmetry, but it was thankfully nothing more than a superficial knot. I threw my line (underhanded!) on a different tree that was NOT dead and went back up to camp.

As our manic visitor continued to tack away at the brothers, a family of day section hikers (van camping at night) came through with their two dogs,one of whom was a Great Dane. Everyone marveled at the size of the Dane. He could have licked my face without jumping up.

Our little camp cleared out, and we were left to make dinner. I made “bare burrito” (think refried pinto beans with rice & cheese powder) and talked with the brothers. One lives in GA and the other in Chicago. They were sufficiently cranky and funny.

After dinner, dishes, dessert, and hanging my food, I attempted a phone call with Oakland. The phone signal was erratic and seemed to disappear if I even thought about moving but we cobbler together a few minutes before we decided to call it a day.

I came back to find camp mates retired to their abodes. Nobody had a tent and uncle rotten sacked out in a hammock. I tried to work out next two resupplies but they are close together and complicated by not knowing exact dates and reservation availability. I’m trying to avoid POs and send boxes only to places that I’m staying overnight. This keeps me from being beholden to weird small town post office hours. But it means I have to commit to a destination pretty surely or run the risk of staying somewhere different than my box. I finally gave up on the task when the light became too dim to see my guidebook and moved on to my nightly blog drafting.

I’m finishing this to the crinkle of my tent door in the light breeze, the occasional shuffle from one of the others, and wind in the trees. Hopefully it doesn’t pick up much because there are a lot of dead trees around here (Dead limbs are called “widow makers”).

Mile 45.5 to mile 57.8 (12.3)

Total miles: 66.1

Creature feature: busy day in the woods! bear, two pileated woodpeckers (I cant remember what section I saw the second one so it’s not in the account for today), and a couple of new birds.

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