I slept somewhat well last night. There weren’t too many bad snorers. It Poured for a few hours. Poor Josh got soaking wet because he didn’t set up his rain fly. He apparently came in around 1:30 to sleep on the front edge of the shelter. I accidentally left my hiking shorts on the clothesline towards the edge of the shelter. They were pretty moist but not actively wet. I crawled out of my sleeping bag and did my privy/food bag circuit. I went ahead and did my cup hygiene routine so I would know where my water supply stood for the morning.
I also decided to pack up my stuff before eating. When I finally sat down with my food bag, I pulled out one of the kid food fruit squeezy pouches that sunny gifted me from josh’s overstock. I was excited to get a dose of fruit in the morning. I screwed off the little helicopter top, took a big swig and felt the mashed texture of applesauce while fully expecting the smooth consistency of yogurt. My face screwed up and I looked at sunny right as she happily said “it’s applesauce!” I said, “but I HATE applesauce!” Sunny found this highly amusing and laughed at me while I continued to force down the packet. I wasn’t about to carry the weight in my trash bag (3oz!).
Sunny and I Left at the same time and we were met with an immediate climb that leveled out after about a third of a mile. The woods were Misty this morning. A strong breeze blew onto the trail until we took a slight right and the wind completely died down. We Meandered in and out of rhododendron patches while still moving slightly upward With short, sharper climbs every now and then.
The last 0.2 of a mile were on the steeper side and I slowed to a crawl. Last night I joked about how sometimes I can only hike fast enough to prevent myself from falling over and this was definitely one of those moments. The view from the top was sadly not in the direction of the beautiful fog bank that I had seen through the trees on the way up.
People were camped on the bald which wasn’t as open as Siler but still had rip-roaring wind coming through. I was glad to have not camped up here. Sunny showed up a couple minutes later and caught her breath while she took in the view never removing her back.
Then we zombied our way down from the bald over the sodden ground and the occasional set of slick rocks.
The trip down was long and had boomerang switchbacks. sunny and I leapfrogged because I stopped to tape my other shin and her knee is bothering her on the down hills. I had to Stop at a big log to get some crap out of my shoe. My gators are shot and the Velcro keeps coming undone in the back. Sunny caught up with me and said her knee pain was really sharp. I suggested she tape it so she fought with her super sticky leuko tape and put the strip around the bottom of her kneecap much like those bands that runners wear.
There was a slight uptick on the trail and then it headed back down. Both of my shins were somewhat cranky this morning and I tried to do my best to stay with them and not go down the runaway catastrophe train. There were nice relieving flatter stretches in between climbs. huckleberry bushes occasionally lined the trail. The skies have started to clear around me and I can see mountains through the thick of the tree cover to my right. I Wound through a dark rhododendron tunnel for several minutes and popped back out into the lighter section.
At some point, I Stopped to take off my long sleeves and sunny ran into me again. We made our way down into Locust Grove gap. the climb out of the gap was also lined with overgrown huckleberry bushes. Eventually the trail switched to a rolling stretch that had a vine-like thing with briars on it standing out into the trail every so often. I saw a good log and decided to have a snack. Ate some weird Crackers filled with Doritos cheese that were an unnaturally bright orange color. Sunny passed me as I was setting my back down.
The sun was out for the time being, and there was a light breeze and the scent of pine wafted through the air. There was a Small burn area to the left side of the trail that still smelled a bit like smoke. The right side of the trail was overgrown with rhododendron and mountain Laurel and the occasional berry patch. The trail eventually opened up to a sweet smelling forest with rolling path and a woodpecker hard at work in the distance to my left.
I went up another long gradual hill that reminded me that my legs are tired from yesterday’s never-ending climb. I walked Oakland to work while I went up and down a series of hills. then came a pretty consistent downhill to a road crossing. I passed the couple with two dogs going southbound. That brought back a flood of yesterday’s events that I quickly shoved aside.
I went through a combination of beautiful green hillsides dotted with wildflowers and complete shit piles of rocks. There are short cuts that have been blocked off between the long switchbacks that lead down to the road, which was a major thoroughfare complete with Loud trucks, a Picnic table, and a trash can!
Sunny and I both ate a bunch of snacks and emptied out our trash bags. I commented on how I needed to pee and sunny pointed to the fire road. I resigned myself to the idea of peeing off the side of a major road, and wandered down the road just far enough to not be seen.
Jess showed up right as I was thinking about moving on. I Stuck around for a few minutes but wanted to get moving before it started to rain. The Climb out of stecoah gap was pretty mild. Sunny quickly over took me because I was taking pictures of flowers which I had joked about doing at the gap. I saw the spice bush that grows by my grandmother’s neighbor and wanted to take a picture of it.
The trail was easy and winding for a little while. Until the Achilles tendon stretching, long burning, sweat pouring down my eyelashes hill arrived.
Sunny stopped about 2/3 of the way up to let me pass and I slowly crept in front of her. The hill finally relented for a breezy walk along the thin Ridge.
I Stopped to get water at brown fork gap. I Thought sunny would stop as well but she kept on going. I think when anyone says rain, she motors and doesn’t stop for much. When I stopped for water, i Ran into Josh. he said it wouldn’t rain until about six but 15 minutes later it was a light result. He should probably stop relying on the weather app. Not long after I left the water stop, I came across a sloppy mess and a rock jumble.
The trail eventually led to a Climb up to a Rocky Ridge with moss covered Mountain Laurel and this plant.
I could also see a hazy view of the mountains. The Rocks eventually gave way to better footing as the trail found through overgrown underbrush. Silk wisps caught my face every so often as my mind wandered. The Trail finally headed down for awhile. It was a nice break from the uphill strain, but my heels are getting a bit sore today and my right hip does not love persistent downhills.
I walked along trying to ignore the various aches and pains when I noticed strange flies with white bulbous butts. They were like confetti floating through the air. I had 4.5 miles to go with the occasional threatening fat raindrop. I passed a downed tree with blossoms that might be part of the sweet smell I’ve noticed lately.
Around mile 13, I Had to Pee but I couldn’t find a good spot, so I ducked behind a tree practically on the trail. I was worried about Jake you catching up to me with my pants down, but I couldn’t wait any longer. Of course, then about 20 yards later i came across a nice open space that would’ve been perfect. My Feet were getting sore and I tried my best to ignore them.
I came to Another Rocky mess followed by a Strange combination of very tall Oaks and rhododendrons. I Heard a couple of new bird noises but couldn’t find them in the thick leaf cover.
I Meandered through the woods on a narrow path that thankfully was free of rocks for a while. I rounded a corner and was met with a nice breeze which was both leaving and made me think of rain. The Forest turned into a lush green, wide open space. Blossoms scattered the path as if the chipmunks had had a jamming party.
My Shins and feet continued to get sorer. I did my best to zone out so I could get through the last 2 miles of the day. I rounded a corner and could see a dirt road for a little and heard the sound of a stream nearby. The trail crossed the water and continued to wind down towards the road.
I had to pee too badly to make it all the way down the road or wait for a more private spot, so I crossed my fingers, dumped my pack, and peed on the side of trail. Success! Then I made my way down to the road on increasingly sore feet. When I got down to the road it wasn’t super obvious where the trail went until I saw an AT sign by the road. When I got closer, I saw that the sign was riddled with what looked like gunshots (today’s top picture).
The trail took a few steps up from the road and then wrapped back around for a short climb. It leveled out somewhat quickly and took long swooping curves through the forest, turning on itself like a coiled snake, or so it felt.
Sunny was waiting at the very, very small and very warped shelter. The floor had a visible hump in it. There was a hole near the front right edge that looked like snake heaven. But it’s supposed to rain tonight and it will be a good night to soak up the social energy. I plopped my bag down and sunny and I commiserated over sore feet and the difficulty of the last couple of miles. 15 is my farthest day so far this trip and my legs were pretty toasted around the 13 mile mark. Jess showed up before josh. Sunny swept out the spider cave and we all laid out our sleeping pads leaving space for josh if he decides not to hammock after last night’s debacle. I definitely felt a few more raindrops on my way here and it sprinkled during dinner, but nothing more came of it.
Next up came my stupid period task which I wanted to get out of the way so I would know how much water to filter. I went to the privy and discovered a secondary stream of water that will prove to be an annoying moat if it rains hard tonight. With That onerous task complete, i grabbed my bear line and wandered around looking for a decent limb. The one i spotted must have been popular because the hillside below it was chewed up. It took a few tries to get my line in the right place but I’m happy with it. Then I forced myself to get water for the night while everyone else started heating water, which put me a few steps behind everyone in the dinner process. I boiled water and poured in my knorr chicken noodles that I had absolutely no desire to eat. As predicted, it was bland and kind of gooey because I let it sit to “cook” rather than boiling it in my stove, which consumes way too much fuel. I added a packet of tuna and suffered through the blandness of it. Then as a treat I ate some peanut butter and Fritos before I finished the meal with half of a snickers bar. Everyone took their turn soaking their feet in the small stream that’s right in front of the shelter.
After dinner came the teeth brushing and flossing which felt especially exhausting today. Then I walked up the trail to hang my food bag. Fingers crossed no pesky rodents go adventuring. The same goes for my pack which is hanging on a string in front of the shelter.
After everyone finished their post dinner routine josh came over and sat on a rock in front of the shelter while sunny, Jess and I laid on our sleeping pads and talked through hiker midnight. I’m finishing this to the sound of the stream bubbling a few yards away and Jess letting little bits of air out of her gigantic air mattress so she doesn’t topple over the edge of it in the middle of the night.
Mile 143.8 to mile 159.2 (15.4)
Total miles: 167.6
Creature feature: a pesky squirrel that sounded like a bear crashing through leaves, a curious little oven bird who didn’t fly away when I approached, and a lazy one of those raspy flying things hanging out on a leaf