Last night takes the prize for the worst night of trail sleep I’ve had thus far, as previously whined about in the post for Day 12. I woke up to light coming through my tent walls around 6:10. I fumbled around for my watch to turn off the 6:15 alarm. As I rearranged the comical number of layers I had on such that my hiking shorts were closest to my body rather than haphazardly shoved over my 2 camp layers, I heard my name. Meredith called out, “Checklist we’re back for the sunrise!”
We all stood around taking in the layers of mountains and low hanging fog banks as the sun rose (today’s top picture, which doesn’t come close to doing it justice). Again, not a spectacular color show but well worth the effort as the sun caught the edges of the fog and cut through the morning haze.
Around 7:30 Meredith and felix went back down to their camp and I set about breaking down my tent while shoving bites of cliff bar in my mouth. I have 10 miles to cover and 27% of my battery to hoard so I have enough juice to call my ride for tonight’s Nero “town” stop. I need to charge my electronics, do laundry and take a shower.
I tromped down the giant hill, taking in the incredible view and waving goodbye as I passed the lower campsite. I stepped foot on the AT proper at about 8am. About 5 minutes later, I felt a hot spot on the back of my left ankle, and I forced myself to stop to put KT tape on it before it turned into a full blown blister.
You’ll be spared a fair amount of my terrain talk for today’s post because I couldn’t dictate notes into my phone as I walked. The dictation sucks away a lot of battery power and it slows down my pace because I often have to wait several seconds per note for the software to catch up with itself. Not the most efficient way to hike but it’s what keeps the details in my head.
The trail started easily enough and I covered the first 2.5 miles quickly. I heard the occasional woodpecker, one of whom I stopped to search for and saw that it was a downy woodpecker. I eventually crossed over a paved road and came to the beginning of what I thought was a short journey up to the wayah bald tower. After about 25 minutes of walking and stomach rumbling, I decided to check my map, and I found that I had been very mistaken about the distance from siler to wayah. As it turned out, I still had 2.5 miles to go. I stopped at a very nice snack rock and gobbled half a cliff bar and some cashew/cheezit mix while a dark eyed junco loitered overhead.
It was a very long 2.5 miles up to the tower, some of which was in sight of a gravel road. I felt the urge to take the road several times rather than face the constant uphill that was in front of me but there’s no telling how much farther the road would be and gravel is not my friend.
I passed through rhododendron tunnels and rocky trough-like patches. At one point, I heard what I hoped was the loud thunk of a pileated woodpecker, so I stood searching the tree trunks. After about 3 minutes of staring into the sky, I finally caught sight of a woodpecker I didn’t recognize. After searching Audubon, I think it was an acorn woodpecker.
(This isn’t the trail, it’s just a pretty tree that was standing alone.)
In the last mile before the tower, I saw a slew of other birds: a wren flittting from limb to limb on a rhododendron, a mockingbird singing on the tip of a dead tree, and what I think might have been a nuthatch of some sort. I also heard a strange sonar type pinging overhead and saw a raptor slowly glide over the tree tops. I’m terrible with their silhouettes so I have no idea what it was besides large and not a buzzard.
After an interminable but pretty climb, I popped out of the woods and onto a paved pathway that led to the wayah bald tower. I groaned at the pavement, passed on a bathroom that looked too far away, and walked up to the tower in the heat of the mid-morning sun. I met an older gentleman named John who wore suspenders and called himself the slowest hiker on the AT. I joked that we should race for that title. He went on his way while I took in the partially clouded over view from the tower. I went back down to my pack with the intention of eating a snack and waiting out the fog, which was likely to blow through pretty quickly. As I fussed in my hip pocket a woman approached. I said hello in the AT way (like everyone is my new best friend) and she asked how my day was going. She also asked if I had any trash I wanted to get rid of. This is the question of people who know about hiking, because long distance hikers are always looking for ways to get rid of trash. I happened to only have one night of trash buried in my bag so I declined her offer. Then almost as an afterthought she said, “I also have snacks and drinks in my truck.”
On my way to wayah bald I had been daydreaming about asking a person parked there to charge my phone in their car. Lo and behold, here was my opportunity. “I love snacks!” I said, And then I sheepishly said, “I have another favor to ask which you can totally decline, but can I charge my phone in your truck?”
She immediately said yes, so we walked to her truck, which was all the way back by the bathrooms I had rejected. On the way there she told me about how her husband is out doing a 19-day section hike and they drove here from ND. When we got to the truck she opened it up so I could get to charging right away. Then she lowered the tailgate and began unpacking a series of bins. She’s clearly been doing this awhile! I grabbed a bottle of water and some Doritos but declined the breakfast burrito because it sounded too heavy.
As I sat on the pavement consuming my treats, Meredith and Felix emerged from the woods shortly followed by the older gentleman from last night. As it turns out, he’s the husband doing the 19-day section hike! Ah the coincidences of proximity. They all greeted each other warmly and tucked into breakfast burritos. When I saw the slim size, I awkwardly asked if there were enough for me to have one and I was greeted with an enthusiastic yes! So I sat on the ground eating a McDonald’s breakfast burrito, happily amused by the timing of it all.
With about 35% battery, I decided to get back on the trail to finish my miles for the day. I asked for the woman’s name and a picture before I left. Meet jeanneatte!
She made my day a lot less stressful and my stomach a lot fuller (I was planning to snack through lunch to be time efficient). I made use of the bathrooms before I left since they were now too close to pass up. They had Toilet paper! which can be a rarity at popular tourist spots and becomes exciting when you’re in the woods for days on end.
I walked back up to the tower, took a few more pictures and went on my way. Before leaving, I Took note of Siler Bald (red arrow), which is where I camped last night.
The trail was a bit rocky here and there but the rest of the day proved to be pretty easy walking in terms of footing. I ran into two older men who I’ve seen twice now. They’re section hiking SOBO and I see them about every other day. We exchanged a friendly hello and had a short conversation about how easy and well kept this part of the trail is relative to some more rugged northern sections. I also passed John while he stopped for a lunch break. When he saw me, he said, “see, I told you!” I scoffed and said “it’s just because you’re stopped!” To which he snickered and wished me well.
I eventually came upon an overlook with this view and a young man staring into the distance. I said hello to announce myself and we shared the space for a minute. In that time I saw another one of the new birds from the day before, which I later looked up and it’s a chestnut warbler. Yellow cap, black and white with a rusty stripe near the wings. The guy creeped me out a tad, so I didn’t stick around long.
I continued toward burningtown gap, which was my destination for the day. I heard the guy hiking behind me laughing to himself, which in that moment didn’t help his creepy factor. I let him pass me because he was hiking faster and he kindly said thank you. His hiker smell was so potent that I had to stop to let him gain some distance in order to walk downwind of him.
I reached the burningtown dirt road around 1:40. Later than I had hoped but still a fine enough time to get off my feet for awhile. The strange dude arrived after me (can’t remember how we leapfrogged again). He walked on through and then came back, staring at the sky and putting out even weirder vibes than before. He put down his pack, took off his sports jersey (unusual hiking attire, which added to his overall weird tone) and started fussing with his belt buckle. My mind went into overdrive hoping that he wasn’t about to take off his pants and force me to confront him. Thankfully he was just adjusting his belt. I felt silly for jumping to conclusions, but I also could not get a good read on him at all and we were alone in the middle of the woods. He grabbed something out of his pack, wandered over to a nearby tree and stood there, then came back. Doing all of the above wordlessly.
My ride showed up before I had to decide whether to break the silence or continue to try to be invisible. When the woman from the “lodge” got out of her car, the dude came to life and said hello to her like he had just landed back on earth. I said goodbye and happily hopped in the car with a chatty British woman. We went done a gravel road at high speed stopping suddenly at several washouts that happened after recent heavy rains.
It turns out that I would likely have the place entirely to myself for the night. As of my pickup, no one else had made a reservation. Maggie (the British woman), led me to the packroom where I was to remove my laundry, food, and other personal items and leave my pack. She kindly let me keep my shoes on when I told her I couldn’t comfortably walk around barefoot. I offered to brush them off, so I sat and did that while she went to get loaner clothes so I could wash everything I had. She showed me my “bunk room” which was a tiny room stuffed with two twin beds. It looked a spider cave. Then she led me straight to the shower, which was palatial.
After I showered, I discovered that Maggie had whisked away my laundry before I could ask for cold water and low heat (wool shirts!). I couldn’t figure out how to get in touch with her. My cell didn’t work and she was nowhere to be seen. I finally stuck my head out the window of the bunk room and interrupted her husband who was doing construction work in the yard. He told me to wait by the landline phone Inside and he would have Maggie call me.
With my laundry instructions successfully communicated, I attended to my list of chores. I hung my tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad on an awkwardly located clothesline. My tent was still soaked inside and out from Siler Bald , and I worried that it wouldn’t dry in the shade, but after several hours it was indeed dry!
I sat in the main lodge room being a productive phone zombie. It takes tiiiime to upload blog pictures on rural WiFi speeds. It was both a relief and incredibly lonely to have the place all to myself. I microwaved a frozen pizza and ate it with a sprite while talking to Oakland on FaceTime. There wasn’t any phone service but we had ample WiFi and no other hikers to worry about social propriety.
At some point in my blogging haze, I remembered that I had other chores to attend to. I put my down phone and washed my cookware and backflushed my water filter. I also discovered that my food bag was wet on the inside and the ziplock holding my last dinner had split, thus getting cheese powder on some of the other contents. That was an unexpected annoyance. I emptied the contents, washed my food bag and wallet, which I had very mistakenly decided to put in the food bag to stay dry. Then I put both bags out on a chair by the clothesline. I also sent an email about mail drops to my HQ team. Then came more blogging, a very late frozen burrito dinner, and another call to Oakland.
I’m finishing this to the ear-ringing silence of existing within four walls in rural NC.
Mile 113.7 to mile 124.0 (10.3)
Total miles: 132.4
Creature feature: so many birds! not sure if it was an especially bird friendly stretch of woods or if I was overly tuned into them, but wrens, mockingbirds, downy woodpeckers, dark eyed juncos, the chestnut warbler, raptors, a crow or two, and maybe more that I can’t remember.