2019-Day 21: 200 mile clingmans dome edition

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What a miserable night of sleep. I was so cold the entire night and the chorus of snorers made it even more impossible to sleep.The man who made the most aggregious noises during the night was also the person who sat on the sleeping platform ordering his friends around to get thigns out of his pack while he cooked his food on the sleeping platform, which is a big no-no in terms of attracting critters. I could have killed him as I slowly muddled my way through my morning routine with frozen hands and feet. Before all of that came my trip down to the “toilet area” to have my morning times in the freezing weather. I walked past what seemed to be popular spots in the hopes that no one would bother to walk that far and I wouldn’t get spotted by anyone else. After another successful trip to the bushes, I went through the process of changing clothes, packing my bag and figuring out when to finally take off my warmer layers. The older section hiking women were amusing and kind. They kept urging us to get in front of the fire that someone had kindly built and this one offered me a square of dark chocolate as she huddled in her sleeping bag.

I left camp and felt like I was practically running to try to get warm. The woods were once again filled with morning fog, so I felt like I was walking in the clouds. Animal prints littered the muddy trail. Mostly dear, but I think I also spotted boar hooves. The trail consisted of a number of small ups and downs, with footing that wasn’t too sloppy and lent itself well to my attempts to keep up the tempo. My shins and feet on the other hand, did not agree with my attempts to hike faster, so I eventually slowed down to my normal pace to prevent exacerbating my cranky lower half.

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My mind is wandering to the recent attack (and murder) that took place on the trail in southern VA. The story has now gone national, so I don’t have to figure out a way to tell my relatives about the gruesome incident. Having such a horrific thing happen makes me question my choice to be out here and quite frankly, it’s terrifying. I’m half tempted to skip VA, but that’s not a logical defense against something that could happen anywhere, on trail, off trail, and on the streets of oakland.

I had skipped my morning body glide application to my feet, and I could tell the difference in the way the bottoms of my feet felt, so I finally forced myself to stop and take care of that obligation. I also put leuko tap (a KT tape variant that I borrowed from Cider) on a rubbing spot on my left big toe. That left foot continues to be a problem child in terms of rubbing. As I continued up the trail, I day dreamed about being able to cover longer miles, and as it happens, passed my own 200 mile mark! I stopped a bit early to make a 200 mile sign (today’s top picture) out of blossoms that were strewn along the trail.

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I eventually went up and over a misty ridge. I made a quick phone to oakland while I was at higher elevation and could manage it with my weak phone signal. Then straight back to airplane mode. I stopped shortly afterward to take a quick picture for oakland (embarrassing, but yes, i send her selfies). Right as I pointed the camera at my face, I saw cider pop into the frame behind me:

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This is the second time she’s caught me taking a selfie. The embarrassment led to a pleasant secondary benefit of warming me up a tiny bit in the crisp breezy morning. She loitered to make a phone call, and I continued onward in the bright green leaves that felt more like the precipice of the fall color change than the middle of spring.

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As I made my way down the trial, I caught glimpses of sunlit mountains to my left. I Hoped to have a view on Clingmans Dome when we get there. I Stopped to get out a snack to eat and walk with because it was Too cold for stopping in the wind that continued to blow through the trees making it feel like October. 

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Then came an extended climb that eventually led to Siler Bald shelter. I dropped my pack and went around the corner of the shelter for a quick pee break and came back to find an older guy walking down the trail SOBO towards me. Two of his friends followed along shortly. We talked for a minute while I finished my snack (usual “where are you headed” conversation). I didn’t stick around long because I wasn’t in the mood for small talk and it was too cold to stand around.

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I went over rolling hills and eventually onto a windy ridge with good views through the trees. I Felt like I was walking through a bob ross painting with evergreens in the foreground and lighter tree cover in the layers behind. It Didn’t photograph well but I tried.

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Then came a sharp little up that led to a sandy and partially mucky flat walk. There were Obvious signs of boar rutting based on how much the soil was turned up. Here’s a picture of the rutting I passed yesterday that I forgot to post (no picture of the damage for day 21):

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When I reached double springs gap shelter, I decided to stop for lunch because it was in the sunshine, there were benches, and I needed to get water. I had awkward but friendly company in the form of two college students on their summer break eating lunch and waiting for their sick friend to take a nap in the shelter. apparently the poor kid got food poisoning. Josh blew through and Cider showed up about halfway through my lunch. She decided to stop for food as well. I was grateful to have extra company. A french-canadian guy in his early twenties also stopped. His first question was whether there was a privy, and we informed him that someone had just gone searching for said privy (cider).

I filtered water from the stream about 50 yards from the shelter and continued up the trail. I pulled over almost immediately to take a pee break before the others got moving again and before I had to make the climb up to clingmans dome. The trail led me through dense pine forest covered in moss that was so much like NH and Maine that I got a glimpse of the emotional challenging reunion I might be in for when Oakland and I jump up north. The contrast makes it difficult for my phone to capture details, but here’s an attempt.

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I was lost in thought when I glanced up and saw sunlight catch the hide of an animal silently crossing the trail. I crept towards The crossing point and scanned the woods to find a large doe standing still waiting for me to pass. I hadn’t heard a single noise to indicate her presence. She craned her neck to watch me watching her. We stared at each other for a few seconds, and then I kept walking. 

The climb to clingmans dome was long, but not particularly difficult. I made somewhat decent time, although I did stop to check the mileage every so often hoping the dome would arrive much sooner than it actually did. I passed in and out of evergreens connected by open stretches with views of the surrounding mountains. Every time I dipped back into the pines, I could see my breath because of the amount of moisture in the air (and possibly the huffing and puffing I was doing).

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I finally reached the split i n the trail for clingmans dome, with a side trail that bypassed the dome. From that point until the dome, the trail never did get very steep. When I got to the tower “exit” I found myself on a paved road teeming with tourists. The culture shock was intense, and I felt the urge to duck back into the woods, but I resisted in order to see what the hype was about the tower.

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As I stood at the top taking in the view that wasn’t that much better than what I had seen from the peace and quiet of the trail, I heard people congratulating themselves for making the trek from the parking lot. Could they smell that I had done a bit more walking than them? I went back down the weird curving structure and sat at the bottom to have a snack before heading back into the woods. I tried to talk to a SOBO flip flopper from boston who seemed cool, but another man kept interrupting to have his own conversation. I finally gave up and headed back to the trail. A nice couple from indiana asked me about my hike as we walked down the path together.

The descent from clingmans was rocky and cold. As soon as I got back in the woods, my hands went frigid and I put my gloves back on. I tried to call oakland to say hello, but the signal wouldn’t hold long enough to have a conversation. I gave up and kept moving down the tricky footing ahead of me.

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I eventually heard road sounds and could hear cars swooping around curves to my right. I checked my mileage against what I thought was a road crossing and saw that it was 0.4 to the road. I started to get dejected that I still hadn’t crossed the road.  When I had gone what i thought HAD to be at least that far, I finally checked the map again to realize that I wasn’t actually crossing the road.

The trail started to rise again so I stopped to take my jacket and gloves off. So many wardrobe changes today. At the bottom of the climb, I had a mile to go before the shelter turn-off which would be another 0.5 miles off the trail. It was a forgettable hill up mount Collins into another dense pine forest. Spring beauties were all over the sides of the trail, and I had to force myself not to take pictures of them every 20 feet.

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At some point I looked back to try to find the dome and saw it as a tiny blob on the mountain top in the distance. There was a small view right before the summit. 

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I was Worried about shelter space but also didn’t want to sleep with snorers. But I ALSO didn’t want to freeze in my tent and have condensation everywhere like my GA Siler Bald experience. The French Canadian kid passed me while I fussed with my phone trying to send final texts to Oakland before I lost signal for the night. The trail went back down though it was thankfully not quite as rocky as the Clingmans descent. I reached the shelter turn off sooner than I expected. It was a mild trail through more dense woods.

I smelled smoke and imagined a gaggle of older white men fussing with a fire but I found a 40 something Asian woman named grateful. I also found a completely empty shelter! Yes! I picked a spot on top because it seemed easy enough to get on and off the Platform and it was far brighter than the lower bunk. I threw my deflated sleeping pad down and tossed my sleeping bag on top of it. I pulled out my dinner supplies, my clothes bag, and my headlamp. Then I decided to help out with the fire. Grateful immediately relinquished her efforts even though I had expressed no intention to take over the fire. I fussed with it trying to build a pyramid and threw some crumpled paper underneath it. I had it going in fits and starts, but it was a constant effort, and All I wanted to do was eat dinner and write my notes. I also really wanted a fire, so I kept trying. I got cranky when cider and the Frenchman weren’t really helping much and grateful didn’t pitch in to grab more firewood. I thought about giving up, but I was too stubborn so I set up my pot to boil Water and went back and forth between the pot and the fire. I set my food to “cook” and worked on the fire more. A handful of people filtered in. Graduate students who know each other from various schools. They were nice but no one really jumped in on the fire. Cider tried to help at some point. She had wet wood fire starter tablets which seemed to help, but ultimately nothing besides kindling would catch. We blew on it in vain, laughing occasionally at the futility. Then we both threw up our sooty hands and went back to our evening routines.

By that point I had eaten dinner (bare burrito with a tad too much water) and done my dishes. I brushed my teeth and flossed and hung my bag on the bear cables. It’s such a luxury to not have to look for a proper limb to throw a bear line. I tried to send a goodnight gps message to Oakland.  Brownie and dizzy talked to me while I sat out front waiting for the message to send.

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They asked about How the gadget worked. When I mentioned my partner’s parents, they asked if my partner likes to hike, to which I replied yes! When I said that my partner is a HS science teacher, brownie piped in that SHE used to teach HS science. Of course! The methodical food dehydrating and meal prep and regimented manner of doing things. It all made sense now. 

As we all finalized our evening routines, Cider offered me a Benadryl. After last night’s horrible lack of sleep, I decided for accept it. I finally gave up on the gps message because my feet were starting to get too cold. the device wouldn’t send anything and I was worried about zonking the battery. I’m Not sure why it wouldn’t send because my location ping had theoretically gone out earlier. I blew up my sleeping pad and changed out of my spandex. This shelter is a tad warmer so maybe I will actually sleep better. The grad kids were hilarious getting into their sleeping areas because one of them didn’t have a sleeping bag so two of them were trying to cram into one borrowed sleeping bag. I’m finishing this to the sound of them giggling and someone adjusting the air in their sleeping pad. 

Mile 189.8 to mile 202.8 (13) 

Total miles: 211.1 

Creature feature: the deer and a turkey! Juncos, a couple of thrushes, and several vireo in the bare scrubby trees on the windy ridge on the way to Clingmans Dome. 

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