I had Another terrible night of sleep. I woke up around 1045 and had to pee. That’s wayyy too early to sleep through the sensation, so I grabbed my headlamp and crept down to the shelter steps to put my shoes on. I turned my red light on right outside the shelter and was met with a dense fog. I walked about 5 feet away and returned to the shelter without trying to wake the world. I felt wide awake, so I spent awhile texting and strategizing with Oakland. Tomorrow’s mileage is awkward and my ankle is cranky from yesterday’s idiotic race up Indian mountain and the weird step I took coming back from the overlook. There’s a shelter the perfect distance away but it’s practically around the corner from a parking lot where the Franklin shuttle runs. I’m going to be on my own in terms of known company this evening so staying at a shelter that close to the road is very unappealing. There are tent sites about 4 miles past that but it’s supposed to storm tonight. I know I’ll have to get soaked at some point but it seems wise to avoid it whenever I can and 16ish miles on a testy ankle seems unwise. My other options are to stay in Franklin for a night which feels lame and expensive, or make it a short day and stay at long branch shelter. Oakland did her best to tell me it was okay to take a short day and I did my best to be okay with it, but it felt like failing to say I would only hike 8.7 miles for the day. I eventually attempted to go back to sleep with only intermittent success.
Our weekender shelter-mate peed no less than four times throughout the night, each time letting out a machine gun burst of a fart. There was also the intermittent Ratatat of rain combined with the beeping sound of my GPS telling me it was low on battery. I finally got up and turned it off. One of the advantages of being pretty blind without my glasses or contacts is that I can move around the shelter without really having to turn a light on.
Josh’s aka “Johnny quest’s” phone alarm went off at 520. He groggily apologized and fumbled for his phone to turn it off. Then it went off again at 6am, at which point I decided to give up on sleeping. We all slowly inched our out of bed. My First stop was the privy. Then i went to see about my food bag, which remained untouched! Something chewed a hole in the top of Johnny quest’s bag, or maybe it ripped against the tree. Either way it will require fixing. He left about 25 minutes before sunny or myself because he wanted to catch an early shuttle to Franklin.
Our neighbor stayed mostly in bed while sunny and I went about getting ready. I gave him my extra water because I always manage to collect too much at night. I somewhat Awkwardly asked sunny to wait for me to pee one more time before she left so we could set out at the same time. I didn’t want the feeling of unconsciously hoping to catch her all morning. She seemed confused but said she would wait.
The trail wound us up a gradual and meandering climb that went past several small burn areas in a thin grove of rhododendrons. I passed through cooler and warmer packets which reminded me of riding my motorcycle in Atlanta. My ankle seems to be functional enough as long as I take pretty controlled steps.
Sunlit ridges stood off to my left and variety of birds sang overhead. I tried not to be too preoccupied with my ankle as it began to tighten up. Passed yet another trail friend:
I eventually crested a hill that revealed layers of mountains with a thick fog bank nestled in the valleys between them. The trail narrowed and became rockier and rootier with the occasional soggy section. The sun was shining and the humidity started to rise. Johnny quest informed me last night that bluets those are the cheerful little flowers springing up in clumps all over the trail. They lined the narrow stretch of trail making for an upbeat accompaniment to annoying footwork.
I Forced myself to take careful steps and not rush even though sunny is somewhere behind me. I’m surprised and happy to see the sun this morning based on the weather report. We will see how long it lasts.
I passed through yet another burned rhododendron stand where bright new growth had started at the base of many of the trees. The trail had twisted us around in such a way that the foggy valley was now on my right. City gait came blazing through at mall-walking speed holding his poles as he went by. He joked about seeing me pass him on the uphill and I said in my head “not today.” About 30 seconds later i noticed a short path that led to an unobstructed view of the mountains below. Sunny stopped at the edge of the trail looking at me as if to say “should I bother?” She’s having SI joint pain today so the extra steps probably didn’t seem appealing. And I said “it might be worth it!” So she joined me in gawking at the scene before us (today’s top picture – a pano so the ratios might be weird on your screen). I could have stood there all day.
The unobstructed view lifted my spirits a bit and I welcomed the shade and cool breeze running through the rhododendrons when I dipped back onto the trail. Then the Forest opened up a bit and rhododendrons gave way to other trees, Birch and maybe poplar? I’m hoping to make it to Albert fire tower before it rains so I can get a 360 view of the surrounding mountains.
The valley slowly rose up on my right as the trail lowered in elevation. The footing this morning has been decent and soft, save for that narrower stretch. I’m happy it’s not more technical because my ankle Is definitely chattier than I want it to be.
The Trail took a left turn away from the valley and dipped further into the woods. I zoned out for awhile until I got to a wooden sign that said “toilet area.” I stopped to take a picture and sunny passed me, laughing when I pointed out the sign.
I took off a layer and did indeed use the bathroom in the toilet area. then I forced myself to stay put long enough to apply sunscreen. About 50 yards down the trail, i walked through betty Creek gap which is where brad and Rosie theoretically camped last night.
As I walked, I tried to keep perspective about the sensations in my ankle. I kept telling myself that new pain is not worse pain, and that it doesn’t matter how far I go today. It matters that I’m able to keep going. A gradual climb had me huffing in the increasingly humid air. I forced myself to be slow and not attempt to catch up with Sunny.
Near the top of the hill, I Heard a Pileated Woodpecker laughing in the trees off to my right. The trail immediately dipped back down into a fern covered, open forest. I’ve decided that today is about taking good steps and drinking water. No speed goals. No distance goals. No cowboy shit. All of which is easier said than done when my mind wants to go much farther than my body.
I crossed a dirt road just past Mooney gap. As I walked past the sign, I Wondered how many mooning pictures have been taken there. It Occurred to me that now is a situation in which a normal person would take anti inflammatories, so I forced myself to stop and take 2 aleve.
I also Forced myself to stop and get water even though I heard laughter a little ways up ahead and felt the urge to try to catch up to what I assumed was sunny and city gait. But socializing is not one of today’s goal. Hydrating IS. I filtered water from a culvert pipe that has started its own little ecosystem. Just past the water I looked up to find a hillside of trillium standing at attention:
Then came a narrow, Rocky and often root-filled small climb followed by an easier stretch of trail. On the way up, I got another view of the valley.
It felt like I was in the middle of nowhere until I turned a corner and saw a full sized pop up tent and people sitting at card tables. I waved as I walked by and felt even more confused when I saw their pickup truck. Then I noticed a gravel road that ran right next to the trail. Now I get it.
I Ran into sunny at the base of final climb up to the Mt Albert mountain fire tower. She made room for me to go first after we both passed a hiker with two very cute ginger colored dogs. As I got ahead of sunny, I Heard a loud clatter and a few groans. I hurried as best I could to find City Gait on the ground taking a moment. When I asked what the initial assessment was, He said it was mostly his pride that was hurt. We all laughed a bit and I told him his pride would grow back. Sunny and I left him there to collect himself and we kept climbing.
The trail turned New Hampshire-like for short stretches at a time. Both fond and exhausting memories of NH and Maine came to mind as I made my way over the boulders. Sweat poured down my face by the time I got to the fire tower.
I went to the highest level of the fire tower that was accessible and took 927 pictures and a video (which my internet speed is too annoying to post). Sunny eventually made it up and slowly walked up the creepy metal stairs. I was too cold to stick around long even though I’d put on an extra layer, so I sat down at the bottom and started to eat a snack. Sunny came back down and deliberated about how to navigate her town stop. She hasn’t taken a zero yet but the thought of spending two nights in a hotel made her twitchy. I commiserated with the difficulty of down time. City Gait showed up eventually and gave a review of his injuries (just bruises). We all sat around a bit and then they took off to hike 5 more miles so they could catch the last shuttle for Franklin. I loitered and made a phone call to Oakland, which would likely be the only one of The day based on scheduling and phone battery. She listened to me whine about feeling weak that I’m only hiking 8.7 miles today and I listened to the ins and outs of her weekend plans. I got off the phone feeling very supported but also lonely and dejected. In all likelihood, I will see sunny tomorrow at siler bald shelter because she seemed intrigued by the idea of taking a half day and hiking up to that shelter, which is about 7 miles out of deep gap. But today would be another long day of sitting around at a shelter for me. It’s One of my least favorite things to do, especially when it hadn’t actually rained yet and was currently very good hiking weather.
But it would be wise for me to take it easy on my ankle and I have hostel reservations Monday so there’s no point in trying to get ahead of myself. Stopping short today means more miles on Monday, but that’s fine. It sounds fine, right? Do you believe when I say it’s fine? Yeah, me neither.
I left the top of Albert and was grateful that the descent consisted of a gradual loss in elevation over mild footing. I was in a funk about stopping early and I covered 2.5 miles quickly in a cranky fog.
As predicted, I lost most of my signal by the time I took the turn for the shelter. I grabbed water from a beautiful little stream and drank a bit extra while I was close to the water. Who knows how annoying it will be to come back if it does indeed storm all afternoon.
The shelter is new and palatial and if I had Oakland here to keep me company, I would’ve cared less about continuing down the trail. I sat and made myself lunch while I watched the birds. a black and white speckled woodpecker hopped up a tree trunk. A hummingbird zinged by and swooped around the shelter. I heard the startling cackle of a bird that I didn’t recognize. I could hear water rushing down in the ravine.
Two women that I saw earlier in the day at the tower came to the shelter for lunch. They weren’t especially talkative but we managed a few pleasantries. The sky began to darken and it opened up not long after I finished hanging my bear line. The three of us sat in the shelter watching it pour. It wasn’t until then that I could feel somewhat okay about having stopped.
A sopping thru hiker came in for a little while, but he moved on when the rain lightened a bit. Then came the thunder and lightning. More thru hikers trickled in, all soaking wet and very pleased by the size of the shelter. They all did 16 miles today and came from the same shelter and have been hiking in and around each other for a week. Not exactly what I needed in the thick of my apparently inevitable tramily angst. Everyone is faster and hikes farther than me so I’m alone all day and I can’t keep up in terms of miles. At least that’s how it feels.
I made myself dinner around 5 and was somewhat horrified by how much the men ate. Some of them are downing two mountain house meals a piece. So much volume. I finished my dinner, did my “dishes” and ate my gifted snickers. Then I wandered back up the blue blaze trail to hang my bag. I think Sunny’s right: I don’t think I’m ever satisfied by the height of my bag but then I saw some of the other food hands and they were terrible. Most of the people here are nice except a veteran thru hiker who likes to head himself talk and insisted that *everyone* can do 25 mile days in the hundred mile wilderness. Fuck off with your high miles.
One of the guys said he wanted to get an early start, which for him meant waking up at 7am. Maybe I’m too uptight for a tramily. 7am is like sleeping until 10am in hiker land. I felt pretty angsty for awhile, agonizing over whether I felt included and figuring out when to try to be heard. I don’t have good luck getting my voice into large groups so I often give up and feel like a mute that no one cares to hear from (project much?). After about two hours of this, things finally felt more cohesive.
Everyone was sitting in the same space (or if you’re Nate who works in construction you hang out on a support beam) and shooting the shit about trail stuff or terrible reality tv shows (all hetero all the time). I wanted to go to bed far earlier than everyone else, but my FOMO wouldn’t let me tuck myself away in my sleeping bag. People finally started to make their way to bed Around 8:15.
A Swiss gentleman named Claudio took this picture. Me on the left, turtle in the middle, a british kid named Liam who is clearly the good natured butt of all of their jokes, and the jack*ss on the stairs whose name I didn’t catch. I’m finishing this to the sound of vireos in the surrounding trees and the sound of the annoying veteran hiker talking to Nate who has a glorious beard that is both mesmerizing and repulsive. I imagine the time off my ankle has been good for it, but I have to admit I am feeling extremely stir crazy, lonely for the feeling of being included, and my lower back is sore from the extra sitting around.
Mile 93.5 to mile 102.1 (8.7)
Total miles: 110.5
Creature feature: dark-eyed juncos hopping around the shelter looking for snacks and not much else today. Those little guys are like sparrows, always angling for snacks. I can relate.