2019-Day 22: charlie’s bunion edition

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Had another pretty cold night. I think the Benadryl helped me sleep, but my feet were painfully numb the whole time I tossed and turned. I Had some crazy ass dreams, to put it eloquently, so I know I did technically sleep. I Woke up to the sound of cider stirring next to me. I popped my head out of my sleeping bag to find her sitting up and bustling around collecting her things. She’s on a deadline to meet a friend at newfound gap. Up we went. I switched into my spandex before getting up and tidied what I could from my prone position. Then off to the privy with sorer feet than usual. The rocks must have done a number on them yesterday. After packing up my shelter gear, Cider and I stood in the cooking area and rushed through our respective breakfast bars. The rushing for me was mostly because of the cold temperatures. I brushed my teeth and cringed at the contact with water when I rinsed my tooth brush. Cider left about 5 minutes before me and I sadly didn’t see her for the rest of the day. 

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The trail started out Flat and sandy for awhile with the occasional soggy patch. I Had to stop myself from taking pictures of light every 10 feet. I Started south with sun to my left and twisted and turned with it rotating between my left and in my face. It wasn’t high enough to actually create much warmth, but it was nice to see as I made my way through the quiet woods. 

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I eventually reached a steady downhill section that bugged my shins. There is a lot of water in this part of the smokies, so there was occasional drainage work and bog boards. I Could hear road noise every now and then and the soft tap tap of a woodpecker on soft wood.

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Two hikers passed me which hit my “you’re too slow” trigger, especially because they are both significantly older than me. I tried to let it wash over me and not get too stuck on it. Then came a slight uphill after which I passed by a giant blowdown (it’s hard to tell the scale but it’s probably at least 20 feet tall). I eventually saw a tiny view through the dense trees to my left (not visible enough for pictures). 

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I went Up and over a hill into brighter section, which made me Feel like a mole emerging from its burrow squinting into the sun. 

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There were long switchbacks down to Indian grave gap. I Could hear road noise and a bird that had long elaborate call almost like a morning bugle sound off. 

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I actually didn’t realize there would be a road/gap before newfound gap so when I popped out of the woods to see a small empty parking lot, I was confused and disappointed.

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Back into the woods I went after talking to a section hiking couple who were setting off on their SOBO trip. Somewhere along the way, I squeezed in 5 min call with Oakland. The signal has been sporadic at best this morning, so I spent most of the time in airplane mode. At some point, i crossed over this strange fence that is meant to keep out the wild boar to protect a beech tree community that is native to this region of the appalachian mountains. 

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The trail led me up and down the sunny side of the mountain on the way towards newfound gap. The morning light illuminated the contours of the surrounding mountains. 

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As I got closer to the gap, I Passed through rhododendrons and a retaining wall for the road.

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I Came out to a packed parking lot and people milling about everywhere. Day hikers, section hikers getting dropped off to start their hikes, car and motorcycle tourists stopping in to check out the view from the parking lot and use the facilities, etc. etc. I walked over to a trash can that was near a woman at a card table covered in food. She didn’t greet or beckon me in any way so I couldn’t tell if she was doing trail magic, and I didn’t want to make any assumptions. I tried to read the situation while not seeming too obvious and finally decided to plop down right there on the sidewalk to eat a snack. I figured if she was doing trail magic, she would call me over. Sadly, it never happened. I think she was in charge of food for a big collection of day hikers. After about 5 minutes, she collected the supplies and packed up her table. Oh well. I didn’t see cider anywhere and I heard someone say the bathrooms would be closed for 10 minutes so I didn’t even bother going down there. 

The sign leaving the gap had a comical disparity between landmarks: 

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I made my way out of the gap wrestling with my disappointment that there hadn’t been trail magic. I don’t actually need food and I definitely don’t expect people to provide it for me, but there had been something sad about anonymously passing through the gap. The climb out of the gap was purported to be tough, and it was indeed a long climb.

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I stopped to check out a view while a couple with a young kid were also stopped taking pictures.

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The kid (ambiguously 4-5 y/o) said hello to me and informed me that she had snacks and water in her backpack. I told her she was very prepared. she then told me how she has to suck on her water tube to get water. She really knew what was up. Her parents laughed and I applauded her resources as I made my way past them. 

A little ways up the hill, I decided to stop for water at a very slow trickle that was falling over a set of rocks to the right of the trail. The water sources are sparse for awhile and I would definitely need more before icewater springs shelter which was a ways down the trail. The small family passed me again as I finished filtering water. The little girl asked me why I stopped and I told her I had to get more water. She reminded me that she already had water and then said “okay, we’ll see you up there.” A trio of men who I had seen at the gap passed by as I put my water bottles back in my bag. I cringed at their pace, wishing I had gotten moving a minute sooner because now I was stuck behind them. They made no move to get out of the way, I guess assuming that they would be in front of me for awhile, so I had to ask them all to make room for me because their pace was just too slow. There’s a happy medium for me between too slow and too fast on a hill. Too slow is actually FAR harder than too fast. It makes my legs feel like dead weight. As I passed they remarked on how I was indeed faster than them, joking that they were walking off all the beer they’d had in town. I laughed and told them I wouldn’t be faster for long as I pulled away almost instantly. 

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When the climb finally abated, I found myself on easy walking across a flat ridge. I pulled off on a little side trail to what seemed to be an animal trap of some sort (bear?) so that I could pee without being spied by the trio of men behind me somewhere. I actually just barely managed to avoid them because they walked by right as I was reattaching my pee rag to my pack. They never did look up, so I surprised them when I asked to pass them by yet again on a different hill. That’s when I found out they’re out for a month, starting at springer, and had about 10 days left. We all collectively ran into a chatty older couple who are part of a local-ish wednesday walking group. The trail from that point on was rather populated with this walking group and other long distance hikers. It was also very populated with ROCKS. Small, scrabbly, annoying rocks that made for tedious walking in places and sore feet by the end of the day. (It’s hard to tell in the pictures how pervasive the rocks were)

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I passed icewater springs and lamented the fact that I couldn’t stay there. It seemed to have a nice view and I had cell service. I imagine it would have also been a lot colder because of the elevation. I filter water at the spring right on the trail right around the corner from the shelter. One of the men from the walking group stopped to ask me how my filter worked. I Later found out that he was a Yankees fan, and I don’t think he liked my ribbing because he kind of kept his distance when we were at charlie’s bunion together. 

I continued down the rocky descent and eventually short climb up to Charlie’s bunion, which is a large outcropping of rocks with an INCREDIBLE view of the smokies (one of the 234 pictures I took is today’s top picture). The views started before we even got to the bunion:

 

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I regret that I didn’t take a video from the central point but the rock was covered in hikers when I got there and I didn’t have the social stamina to deal with taking up space. I found a semi-comfortable spot to eat lunch and made myself a wrap. A SOBO section hiker garnered attention because of his guitar and I eavesdropped on his conversation with the Yankees fan while watching birds peck around for crumbs.

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I saw this new bird also looking for snacks among the juncos: 

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Here are a few more views from the Bunion: 

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I Took the blue blaze back around to the AT at a northern access point rather than backtracking. I’m not THAT much of a purist and I wanted to see the mountain views for a little longer. Little did I know most of the rest of the afternoon would be filled with views of the range on either side of the trail. I managed to have a short phone call with oakland. I had a bit of a meltdown because I admitted to being scared about violent people and life after the smokies when the crowd of hikers thin out and Cider gets off trail. Sadly the signal wouldn’t really support walking AND talking, so we ended our call shortly after starting it. I walked along a narrow ridge path that continued to provide amazing views while the rocks pummeled my feet. 

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It Felt a bit like rain but don’t think there’s any in the forecast. I saw the Lilies that I saw up north but they’re a slightly different color and more spring beauties. 

I made my way through rolling hills along the ridgeline, wondering what dizzy and brownie will do tonight and having an ugly cry over where the VA attackers dog might end up. Yes, I know it’s a ridiculous thing to cry about but all I could picture was a dog who had an owner and a place in the world and now it might be sitting in a shelter with no clue why and no obvious way to get out. These are the things that keep me up at night. 

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My big toes were starting to go numb the way they do when they’ve suffered a lot of impact in one day. It’s a feeling that is very familiar from my days in the whites. Perhaps my feet will toughen up sooner than my last hike? Another thru-hiker passed me while I was stopped trying to send a text. She introduced herself as Northstar and we exchanged pleasantries before she continued onward. It was nice to see another hiker and another asian hiker at that. There’s not much in the way of diversity out in the long distance community. 

The trail continued to be Rolling and then it went back up again for laurel top. My Feet were getting monumentally sore and I feel lonely and sad. I Decided to stop to post 200 milestone from yesterday but lost my signal as soon as I sat down. Back on the move I went, to the summit of laurel top for more amazing views. I Sat just below the summit and posted a couple of pictures and then quickly went back to airplane mode to preserve my battery. Another Hiker passed me with a hello but didn’t stop. 

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I took another bite of cliff bar before setting off down the rocky slope again. The views have been outstanding but the footing has been trash for most of the day. Loose rocks and a fair amount of decline have made my feet into hamburger. 1.8 miles to go before the turn off to the shelter which is another 0.4 miles down. At some point this afternoon, I saw this pink speckled lily mixed in with the greenish yellow ones. 

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The trail continued down the narrow ridge and began to slope downward with a thick stand of pines along the edges. It ducked down into the woods and crossed the remnants of a rock slide which led to yet another wide view for the day.

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I Ran into the guy who passed me earlier. I passed him because the trail was slightly uphill and we talked for a minute until I pulled ahead. My feet were too toasted to linger for much of a conversation, but I found out His name is Chris and he’s out for 5 days (newfound gap to hopefully hot springs). He stuck around back there for the remaining few minutes until I took the blue blaze down to pecks corner shelter around 4:45pm. 

Just past the turn I took my phone out of airplane and discovered signal, which I hadn’t expected. That led to a few more whiny texts to Oakland. I’m not sure how I will manage to return the favor of supporting her with such depth and consistency. Feeling slightly buoyed by the extra interaction, I picked my way down the rocky trail and eventually heard laughter in the distance. That made me fear for space and when I walked up to find a porch full of people in various stages of dinner, I got more worried, but I manged to get one of the last 3-4 spots. I would sleep much better in my tent, but at this point in the day, setting one up becomes a trial and the spots at this site don’t look hospitable. 

I tossed my poles down and tried to sound friendly when I said hello to the dozen pairs of eyes staring at me. I saw cider tucked down in front of the eating area, which was a relief. I hadn’t seen her and her friend all day and was worried they had somehow been delayed or had a change of plans. 

I walked into the shelter and was dismayed by how dark the hanging tarp made it. Spider cave enhancer. I tossed my pad onto an upper spot because once again they were easier and less claustrophobic to reach than the lower bunk. I went ahead and blew up my mattress because it wouldn’t be any easier after dinner. I grabbed what I would need for the night and put it onto my sleeping pad. Having slept in a shelter for the last several nights, I’ve got the pack routine pretty down. Then I grabbed my dinner stuff and went out front to sit next to cider. 

It was a chili Mac night. Once I had my food set to cook, i had to go back into the shelter to get the snacks out of my hip pocket. Then I proceeded to house most of them while I waited for my food and caught up with cider and her friend. They apparently saw a small bear today! Possibly a cub but it was far away. The couple who passed me this morning were sitting on the bench behind me. Their names are double shot and lost girl. When I said that there was an old time song named lost girl, I got a blank stare and missed my Oakland friends. I made a joke out of it saying there’s also a song called lost Indian and probably lost woodchuck. That brought people back and got a laugh. Double shot is thru hiking and his partner (I assume) is doing a big section (springer to Damascus). They’re pulling high miles so I’m not sure I will see them much. apparently their bodies are “totally fine” doing four 20 mile days in a row! That was the last thing I felt like hearing. I made a joke about we could be done talking now, but I’m not sure double shot heard me. At some point during dinner, double shot mentioned that he had taken a picture of someone’s beautiful 200 mile marker made out of petals, and I chimed in with “that was me!” He showed me his picture and sure enough, it was my marker. 

After dinner, I shared one of my Twix with cider and finished off my own. Next came Teeth brushing and flossing while trying not to spend any time on my very sore feet. I hung my food bag together with the heavy bags of a father daughter duo from Colorado out for a 10 day hike. They brought all 10 days of food with them. Ouch. Nice people though. The kid looked to be in high school, but I found out later int he evening that she is 20.  She seemed like an agreeable and outdoorsy nerd. 

By the time i had done all of my evening routine, it was only 6:15. It felt like at LEAST 8pm. I loitered at the shelter rather than heading down to get water because I didn’t want to miss cider retiring to her tent. We will be offset as of tomorrow, so this is our last day of hiking together. Or rather, our last day of staying st the same place because we don’t often hike together. I sat on a log while others stood and we talked for a few minutes. My hands started to get cold so I regretfully decided to go down the steep little path to get water for the morning. Cider was still out when I returned. We said a quasi-goodbye and then I took a trip up to the privy, which is of course UP a hill. That will be fun on sore feet in the morning. 

Most of the hikers I’d seen earlier were all tucked in bed by the time I got back. Two new people arrived as I was walking to the privy and when I walked back I saw dizzy and brownie heading down the trail. They made it! Sadly no shelter spots for them, which I’m sure brownie was disappointed by. The two kids who arrived minutes before them decided to take the last two spots. 

I’m finishing this to the sound of someone fussing with bear cables, the occasional shuffle of someone in their sleeping bag, the heavy breathing of someone who’s already asleep (it’s 7:15pm), and the punctuated chirp of a nearby junco. Fingers crossed, it doesn’t seem as cold tonight as it has been. Maybe I can actually get some sleep! Snoring be damned. 

Mile 202.8 to mile 218 (15.2) 

Total miles: 226.3 

Creature feature: saw a cute little squirrel chewing on tree moss, the usual cast of juncos, and a new bird scavenging for snacks at Charlie’s bunion that reminded me of a towhee with different coloring. A tawny brown jacket with white chest and brown speckles around the waist. 

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