I woke up around 545 and tossed until my alarm at 6:15. Squinted one-eyed at my phone because I didn’t want to get up yet. But then I realized I should really let my toes dry out before I get on trail so I got up to take my last shower for the next four days. Then I put my pack together as best I could before heading off to breakfast with the couple in the room next-door. Their names are brad and Rosie and they are from Massachusetts. they’re retired and they’ve hiked the presidential range, so we swapped New Hampshire stories and the insanity of hiking in the whites while we ate at the Main Street grill next door. My stomach isn’t feeling so well this morning. Hopefully that’s a temporary development. Thankfully my knee seems to have mostly corrected itself. It’s a little achy.
Gene showed up promptly at eight to take us back to the gap. Ranger (the young woman I shuttled with from top of Georgia) decided to take another zero to help her blisters heal more. So the three of us piled into Gene’s car. It was quiet for a few minutes until i asked gene what he does When he’s not driving around smelly hikers. He said gardening and fishing, at which point he trotted out the old adage: “there’s a difference between fishing and catching,” which made everyone laugh. I asked him what he liked to grow. He listed off a number of vegetables, which elicited a gardening conversation between him and Rosie in the front seat.
He dropped us off at the gap where the man that I saw at Unicoi gap with the two dogs was hanging out. I remembered to take a picture of them this time! Apparently he slept at the gap last night. Not sure what his story is, but I think the dogs bungled his thru hike. I left them all standing around chatting and made my way into the humid woods.
After passing by the little gnome village at the trail head, today started with a bit of a climb that leveled out to the usual ups and downs. I passed two older men who were just about to set off after having packed up their camp. They looked at me as if I had five heads When I said good morning. Not sure why but I was nice to him and kept on walking. I heard The Ratatat of a pileated woodpecker in the distance. It sounded like the thud someone hitting a snare drum where the snare has been turned off. I can hear ovenbirds, what I think is a vireo and the call of other birds I can’t identify. Busy morning in the woods. The forest floor is covered in little yellows, ferns, and Virginia creeper (which is not the white flower pictured).
I’m a little anxious about the state of my feet but so far they are feeling OK. I decided not to tape my pinky toe because I think the extra material in my shoe might not have been helping with the space/swelling issue I’m having. It’s possible that when I’m hiking and dictating trail notes at the same time, I might be walking strangely because I have my poles in my left hand which leaves me a bit lopsidedly. I’m Going to try to pay more attention to that as I go along today.
It started as an overcast day, so I happily hiked in my short sleeve shirt all morning. Saw a few snails, which I jokingly think of as my “tramily” (trail family). I stopped at a little stream about two miles into the morning to get water because I intentionally hadn’t carried a full supply up from the gap. Brad & Rosie passed me as I filtered.
Then came a Long gradual downhill which was strewn with Pine needles and had generally soft footing. Next came a long Gradual climb out of Cowart gap. I Have biscuit lungs this morning. Definitely ate too much gluten while I was in town. Sweat fell from my temples as I made my way up the hill.
The Trail finally flattened out to a nice path below the ridge that then dipped down into a gap and immediately headed back up again. Around 10:20, I Stopped on a rock to walk Oakland part of the way to work. I turned it into a multifunctional snack and foot care break by taking my shoes/socks off and letting my feet air out. I also slathered more body glide on my toes.
While I talked to Oakland, I heard the telltale twinkle of a dog collar. an adorable pitbull and her owner came hiking towards me. The dog’s name is Ginger. She was rather skinny and I asked if she was always that skinny, which is how I found out that she had just been rescued. She was rather timid but give me a friendly little lick on my hand while I showered her with my ridiculous phone voice.
Then the trail dipped down into an even greener and windier stretch. I could hear a stream far below my left and I came across this blowdown that reminded me of the monster from stranger things.
When I got to the Plum Orchard gap clearing, I took a short pee break and then left. Supposedly there are sketchy people who hang around here according to the Facebook group. who knows, but I didn’t really need to find out first hand. Then came a Short climb up to a nice breezy flat stretch that quickly transitioned to another climb.
The trail was a roller coaster for awhile and led me to a a drier section of forest that had some evidence of a burn. Saw this potential rhododendron? It’s orange sherbet colored blossoms Popped out amongst the wall of green.
I stopped to look at guthook and considered where to stop for lunch. There aren’t many views on the docket for today. Then came a Short climb up several switchbacks. I Decided to stop on a log just short of the highest point in this particular climb so I could eat lunch in the shade.
After I ate, I Called Oakland to get help with hostel strategy. I batted away giant black ants while we talked though the ups and downs of taking two neros (“Nero” = a day where you hike a short distance and take the rest of the day off in town) or a Nero and a zero that would turn out to be 1.5 days off. I called the Creekside B&B and made a reservation for next week. I’m starting with two Neros, and I will see how it goes.
As I packed up my seat, I heard hikers coming towards me. I met a man named crock who completed his full section hike of the trail in 2014 and his friend who wanted to experience the trail and has One month to be out here. She looked red-faced after their climb up from the little gravel road. Crock informed me that I had met them on their first day out in their first hour. He seemed kind enough and he knew right away that my arm tattoo was the trail. It came in handy when I explained the sections that I need to finish. We all moved along, and shortly thereafter, I pulled ahead. The forest opened up and the sun came out. I cursed myself for not remembering to take my shoes off at lunch. Must do that at the afternoon break. I considered putting on my long sleeves to cover my arms but the thought of wearing something over my wrists was too much today. Thankfully the woods were shadier for more of the day than they have been.
At some point today I walked past a patch of over 50 lady slippers! saw a few new flowers as well (picture above – sorry it’s too complicated to move pictures around on my tiny screen).
I was trudging up yet another hill when I saw an older man with a knee brace laying on his pack half in the trail and half stretched out into the rhododendron. He glanced up but didn’t move. I jokingly called out “I thought you were a bear!” He didn’t really respond until I got closer. Apparently he had just fainted and was laying there trying to recover. I asked him if I could help and he said no. We decided to see if he could get himself up to a shadier section about 30 yards away. I walked him up to the log area even though he insisted that i keep going. I set my pack down to hang out for a bit while He dumped water on his head and then eased/crashed onto the ground. I asked him he Had food and water and told him there’s a campsite a mile up. I also got his phone number in case he needed to reach somebody and had enough service to do so. Croc and his friend showed up and secondarily assessed the situation. We left don resting against the log.
i ended up walking with croc for a little
while, hearing some of his section hiking stories. He decided at some point that he should stop and wait for his friend. She has knee troubles and he wanted to keep from leaving her too far behind. Almost immediately after I walked away from him, I crossed the Georgia/North Carolina border. One state down! It’s only about 85 miles, which I’m the grand scheme of things is a drop in the bucket but it feels pretty great to say I’ve finished the state of GA.
Just past the border, I got water at a piped spring where Ginger and her owner were resting. Then came sharptop mountain.
A sneak attack steep but relatively short ascent that left me winded and sweating like crazy. Halfway up, I thought to myself how in the world will don be able to do this if he tries to make it to his car which is parked at a road crossing 7 miles north of here.
Then came a pretty walk through rolling hills followed by Another doozy of a short climb. I came to this overlook right before the climb and took it upon myself to Pee and have a little snack. I Watched towhee scramble about in the leaf cover and then went on my way.
There is one more big climb today. It has been a surprisingly tiring day. Potentially because my phone says it’s 80 degrees according to whatever weather tower it’s picking up. Croc and his friend will be at muskrat later. I had considered camping a little north of the shelter by the creek, but given my complaint about being lonely, I might stick closer to the shelter. Plus there’s apparently a blue blaze trail that leads to a really good sunset overlook.
The descent into Sassafras gap was not as bad as it seemed it would be on the map. I ran into an older woman who, when I asked how she was doing, said “ready to stop for the day.” She considered camping at Sassafras and asked how far it was to the shelter. I pulled out guthook and I was happily surprised that it was 0.9 miles away. I asked if she had enough water because I was going to offer to give her some if she wanted to camp at the gap. She declined and said she would probably just take a rest.
The trail Went through thick and therefore shady stand of rhododendrons that was noticeably cooler. I enjoyed the drop in temperature while it lasted. The Next Climb was longer and more gradual than the trip up sharptop had been. It was also sunnier and wore me out in a different way. The Side of the trail was peppered with little blue flowers.
After the climb, I Stopped at a stream to dump a scoop of water over my head and wrists. The rest of the walk passed by pretty quickly. A mild downhill led me to the shelter area before I realized it. I walked up to the shelter to say hello to brad and Rosie.
then I wandered back over the little stream and tried to decide on a tent site. This is always the pre-meltdown stage of the day even when it’s not terribly late. Psychologically, I’m so done when I get to camp and the chores are mostly tedious (except dinner!).
I powered through tent setup hoping that it doesn’t rain because my site is a bit sloped underneath my tent. Then I blew up my bed, switched into camp shorts, took off my day socks and put on a new pair (a new strategy to help my feet: “fresh” socks for walking around camp). Then I filtered water down at the little stream that runs right through camp (luxury!). Finally, I forced myself to throw a bear line and managed to get it (underhanded) on the second try. I’m getting the hang of it. THEN, after all of that, I went back over to the shelter with my dinner supplies, very nearly forgetting fuel and having flashbacks to the night I gave myself the name checklist.
Somehow I’m almost always the first person to eat. Anytime after 5 is fair game to me and by the time I started eating it was 5:45. Croc and his friend Deborah (finally asked her name), made it to camp about 25 minutes after I did. They set up in the shelter and poor Deborah looked toasted. I wanted to tell her it gets easier but I don’t actually know if that will be true, and it’s not necessarily the thing you want to hear after a hard day. The climbs today were hard for me, so I can’t imagine how they felt as a first day experience.
Other people eventually started cooking. Gary, the section hiker from Long Island NY, now going by “city gait,” is also here. He’s clearly not using sunscreen because his face is tomato red and splotchy. I laughed to myself as brad and Rosie quibbled over their dinner prep. I can’t say for sure how Oakland and I will do out here when things get tough, but I look forward to NOT quibbling with her. Croc offered up slices of a green apple he had packed out for their first day. He and Deborah also had some trying moments sharing their mountain house meal. Differing recipe opinions are hard to navigate when you’re sharing one bag of food.
After dinner, I brushed my teeth, flossed, and went to hang my bear bag. Hopefully it’s high enough! Tomorrow is only day 2 Of this stretch so it wouldn’t be a good day to lose my food to a hungry bear. I went back to the shelter to be social for a little while and maya showed up! Leapfrogging is the way of the trail and it’s always a fun surprise. She seemed chipper and her blisters have receded. She wandered off to set up her tent and came back to the shelter with her entire pack to setup dinner. We caught up a little bit about the happenings of the last few days. She’s been hiking lower miles with a group of guys right behind us but today she went on without them because they were only doing 5 miles and she has a deadline to attend to.
I left the shelter to get a start on my notes For the day. Then maya and I walked down this serpentine and somewhat creepy side trail called the raven rock trail that is purported to have a good view of the surrounding mountains and the sunset. We crossed over several downed trees and all I could think about was how many ticks I might be picking up on this little side trip. We finally made it to a rocky outcropping that had a blue blaze on it. We both decided to keep going to a second rocky outcropping where the blazes stopped and the trail petered out over the side of a cliff.
Sadly it wasn’t a fully western view but we could see a wide swath of mountains (today’s top picture). The pastel skyline and the dwindling light made for a rich texture of layers. It made us both a bit dizzy to look down or directly across from us. The rock really was at the edge of a very high cliff. It started to get windy and I could tell that the colors weren’t going to be saturated tonight, so I suggested we walk back while it was still light. I made sure my pockets were zipped so my phone and my phone charger didn’t go tumbling over the side when I stood up. Here’s a video (if the WiFi here can handle the bandwidth):
We made our way back in the dim light and shared bear stories, which may not have been the best pre-bedtime topic. Then I settled into my tent for an evening treat which was a call to Oakland with my two bars of service. As we talked, I saw flashes of lightning in the distance. Perrrfect. Fingers crossed that the storm goes around us. I’m finishing this to the sound of the wind, the occasional plop of something against the side of my tent (probably tree matter), and the far off squelch of other people’s sleeping pads.
Mile 69.2 to mile 81.0 (11.8)
Total miles: 89.3
Creature feature: bit of a slow day in the woods. A handful of the usual birds is really all I remember noticing.