2019-Day 15: la tortuga edition

Had a pretty slow start this morning. I managed to get a good night of sleep next to the little stream despite the horror of yesterday afternoon. There was no reason to rush because the NOC opens at 9 and it’s .8 miles north of Rufus Morgan. Around 6:30, I squirmednojt of my sleeping bag, grabbed my PT and went to the privy. Someone must have heard me approaching because they moved a bucket inside the privy. I stood at the far end of the little trail next to the shelter to wait my turn. Brownie emerged a minute or two later. Her husband dizzy came walking towards me as she came out which meant that he would be waiting for me. It’s so hard to manage these things with an audience! I did my best and said hello as I walked back toward the tenting area. I tossed my PT in my tent and went to grab my food bag. Still there! A happy surprise every morning. I had trouble getting it down from the line again because of the hitch knot but I managed to work it out without having to cut the line. I passed turtle who I met at long branch shelter on my ankle saving short day:

I sat on the log and had breakfast while everyone around me packed up. Then I packed up while they all had breakfast. We all sat around until about 840 when it was a good time to leave for the NOC. We walked spaced apart at our respective paces but somewhat together, which is an unusual experience for me. It was a quick, unforgettable trip down to the road where we arrived and stood around gawking at the NOC complex, not sure where to start.

I went inside the overpriced general store and dithered about food options. Sunny made a joke about how it’s a little soon for us to start getting picky, and I said I’m always picky, which is why I do mail drops. She laughed. After fussing over the dismal dinner options (ramen, weird packaged dinners, or knorr chicken noodle side) I went over to the NOC to print out a smokies permit, but fuel, pickup my letters(!) and check out the postcard selection.

The permit system was pretty aggravating, but I finally got that squared away. Sadly my parents’ letter had not arrived, yet again. Or potential it was lost; it’s hard to say which. I did however manage to receive a stack of letters in one priority envelope from Oakland, the accumulation of which is partially because of missing mail at other stops. I went back across the street and had a short FaceTime call with Oakland while I was in the land of good phone signal and power outlets.

Then I organized my food choices and went across the street to put my phone on an outlet outside the outfitter. There was a lot of communal loitering and individual chores happening all at once. Sunny got chocolate ice cream from the little general store, which was tempting, but I knew if I tried to hike after eating that I would feel sick.

They’re all going up to Sassafras Gap shelter tonight. I had intended to go past that to the tent site because today’s weather will be better than tomorrow, but the longer I was at the NOC, the more tempting it was to stick with company. Sunny may be ending her hike on Friday because her mom her happens to be around here on a road trip vacation and she might just ride home to Canada. If I go short today, I will still make my destination on Friday, at which I’ve already decided to zero. so there’s less pressure to try to make Friday a super short day in order to get more time off my feet. I waffled back-and-forth about whether to stay or whether to just get moving. Staying felt “irresponsible” and leaving felt lonely. I finally decided that after yesterday, maybe today would be a good day to have more company while it’s available. I was still agonizing when West Texas asked me if I wanted to go eat lunch at the restaurant. I said no, but then about 45 seconds later, I said all right let’s go eat. The rivers end restaurant right next to the outfitter had an amusing combination of people over 70 in their white capri pants and dirty hikers eating burgers and fries. I opted for fish tacos and a side salad. The tacos were pretty disappointing, but it was nice to get more green matter besides the naked green juice I had earlier from the little store. I also had a healthy portion of West Texas’s sweet potato fries. Sunny opted out of lunch and sat with her feet in the water on the phone for a while. Around 1pm, I decided it might be time to get moving. It was hard to resist the call of the left hand milk stout during lunch and the longer I sat there, the more tempting it would be.

Everyone got up from the table and went out to our packs, which were all lined up on the benches outside the front door. Jess, who I met yesterday, went to get a “road soda” (aka cider to drink at the shelter). I don’t understand how people are drinking and then going to go hike in 80° sunny, humid North Carolina spring.

I wandered across the bridge and sat by the water with Josh and Ranger for a few minutes. I really wanted to put my feet in but I also wanted to keep them dry for the hike. I got moving first, somewhat reluctantly, but there’s no telling how long these jokers will linger, and I am worried about the gobs of hikers at the restaurant all vying for the same tent sites at the shelter.

I hate being the first person to leave a situation because it kicks up my FOMO, but I was also happy to not be sitting around any longer as I started the long gradual climb out of the NOC. Within minutes I was drenched and very happy I hadn’t eaten anything heavier at lunch.

The air is very still right now and the forest feels dry, but it is thankfully shady. I kept hearing little rustles around me and expected to see a snake. The mountain laurel makes me slow down almost every time I see it. I may never get anywhere. I heard a slightly louder rustle to my left and looked down to see movement and found a little frog. I was so happy to know where some of that sound has been coming from.

I went through narrow Mountain Laurel Corridors that were both beautiful and made me think of ticks as I brushed by.

At some point, I Heard a loud rustle to my left and thought I saw a snake, but the head and the tail seemed too close together. I stood there being confused when an older gentleman coming down the trail towards me said “what do you see?” He came over and poked around and the creature moved in such a way that we saw a leg. The hiker confirmed that it was a salamander not a snake. As his friends came down behind him, one of them said “let’s go” because he couldn’t stop on the downhill. As they moved on, I could feel the echoes of yesterday showing up louder than expected. Any one of those men could’ve been the same person that laynlifeless in front of us yesterday.

As my mind lingered on those thoughts, I saw a lump in the trail up ahead and said aloud to no one, “hey! Are you a turtle?” And the answer was indubitably yes (today’s top picture). For whatever reason my mind went to my friend are RBJ formally known on the blog as “cotton” which is the same friend who took me to the hospital in Maine when I broke my arm. She’s by no means as slow as a turtle, but I thought about how fun it would be to have seen a turtle with her. She started her own hike on May 4 And is doing a flip-flop out of southern VA. Here she is on her hike:

I passed two women walking uphill towards me. one of them asked how I was. I said sweaty and she said amen! Then came a blissfully flatter/downhill stretch. If the skies were darker, I would say it’s going to rain at any moment, but they are currently blue.

On another semi flat stretch, I felt a quick sharp shooting pain on the front of my left ankle and up into my shin. I think was a muscle cramp more than anything else. As I stood there massaging my shin, jess caught up with me, red-faced and sweaty. We exchanged remarks about the turtle and the heat and then she accepted my offer to go first so I could be extra slow about it. I drank more water and will get more as soon as I can. I passed a Memorial plaque for a firefighter who died near here and shuddered at yet another thought of death.

The trail consisted of loooong ups with a briefly relieving flat stretches followed by more long hills. I Stopped on a log to massage my shin and have a pee break. When I finally made it to the water source, which was a spring coming down the side of rocks, I drank an entire bottle of water and filtered two full bottles.

I also put some KT tape on my shin because why not. The trail then turned into a rocky jumble for a short stretch. I was grateful to have something different for my foot to do besides trudge up an annoyingly graded hill.

Then came a jungly, narrow uphill that led to a small view where I ran into Jess again.

I ate the rest of my pack of gummy snacks, which might be my new favorite thing. Jess kept going. I put on my pack right behind her and ran into Sunny coming up the hill wide-eyed and exhausted. She exclaimed about her shins and I agreed with her, feeling happy to know I’m not the only one having that problem today. I waved at my shin to show her the tape I had applied to deal with it.

Then came several flat stretches interspersed with sharp climbs. I’m trying to do my best to stay at the pain of today versus thinking about the pain levels I’ve had in the past when it comes to shin issues and hiking. I Ran into the two older SOBO section hiking gentleman I have a seen a few times now. We had a Nice short exchange where they warned me about the descent from cheoah bald.

I Found a spot to pee in a sparsely populated older rhododendron stand, worried that sunny would catch up to me but she didn’t. Then came a relieving mostly flat stretch. I listened to a music mix and watched the black and blue butterflies hover through the air.

Then came a sneaky uphill with the soft edges of the trail tilled by the points of hiking poles and open very green forest floor. I Eventually came to a somewhat gradual downhill that led to the sign for the shelter. Sassafras gap shelter to be exact. A Short half circle trail led down to the double decker shelter. I set my pack down and wandered around looking st tent sites while Jess, brownie and dizzy sat in the shelter. None of the campsites are good except one very far down a hill and I couldn’t decide whether to go down the hill to setup my tent on a flatter spot down by the water or stay in the shelter. I dithered and sat at the edge of the sleeping platform. Then I ate a snack, hoping that would help. I said to No one in particular: I wish I had a coin to decide and Jess said “I saw a penny earlier!” Just to the right of me sat a shiny penny. Tails for tent and heads for shelter. It was tails but I couldn’t commit to the answer. I flipped it again and said best out of 3?? the next two flips were heads. I felt relieved because I didn’t really feel like setting up my tent even though I sleep better in it. I don’t expect to sleep well tonight but it will help me make a slightly faster exit in the morning.

I pulled out my sleeping pad and threw it next to Jess’s. I Pulled out everything I need for dinner. Decided to go ahead and blow up my sleeping pad because why wait. I pulled out other things required for shelter life (clothes bag, charging/electronics bag, pee rag, etc). Then I forced myself to go take care of my period needs which involves hand washing and extra water. Thankfully it’s a warm day so I won’t freeze my hands off like I did on my 2017 hike during the first couple of months.

Once that glamorous task was done (did not drop the cup in the privy! Success!) I went down to the stream to get water. It’s a 30 yard walk and there was a giant pipe with really good flow. The most luxurious water situation I’ve seen yet. Then I wandered around looking for a good limb to hang my food bag. I found one that seems a little low but I didn’t have the energy for finding a better option. I got my line over the branch the first time. This underhand thing is really working out. Then I sat at the bench and put my water on to boil. I have a new packaged meal (good to go “chili”) because i bought food at the NOC so I had to guess about the amount. The directions said to wait 20 minutes. I made it about 18. It was edible but not as good as Mary Janes.

I read a couple of Oakland’s letters while I waited for my food. There was also a bit of a picture show and tell around the shelter. The group here is a good combo of older nerds, forgettable NOBO twenty somethings that kept to themselves and the usual suspects from last night with the exception of ranger and Thor who likely won’t make it this far. Jess kept saying she was full and kept pulling food out of her bear container, including this monolith of a rice krispy treat to go with her cider:

Josh showed up around 7:45 and muddled through his dinner while stressing out about day light left for setting up his hammock and bear line.

There’s an older woman named purple streak who seems pretty friendly. She broke her wrist about 80 miles into an intended 500 miles section last year so we commiserated about changes in plans because of injuries. I’m glad I stayed in line with the group. It was a fun and compatible evening at the shelter. A few people whose names I didn’t get also showed up and tented around the shelter.

I’m finishing this to the sound of brownie and dizzy fussing around with their clothes, josh eating double ramen dinner, a NOBO rummaging around in his food bag and the sound of a bird with a very short chirping call. It sounds the way I imagine a less than and greater than sign would sound when strung together < >

Mile 135.9 to mile 143.8 (7.9)

Total miles: 152.2

Creature feature: a lot happening out there today. Frogs, salamanders, and the turtle!

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