2019-Day 23: tunnel edition

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Last night was warmer but I had another pretty bad night of sleep. I woke up around 10pm, took my phone off the charger, and turned my phone off. This helps keep the battery from losing 5-7% overnight. Then I woke up around 1:15 and was awake until well past 3am. I know I dozed off because I had some weird ass dreams, but when I woke up for good, I could feel the puffiness in my face. I spent about 45 minutes working on my next mail request from HQ so it wasn’t completely lost time, but I would much rather have been sleeping.

My first stop, as always, was the Privy. It’s purported to have really good sunrise views, but I Didn’t stick around the extra 5 minutes because the sky didn’t seem promising and standing around is a one way ticket to numb feet. I went back to the shelter and packed up my stuff. Someone smelled pretty ripe, and I hoped it wasn’t me. I moved my gear outside, and ate breakfast. I surveyed my food bag as I ate. It’s going to be tight, I’m low on daytime snacks, but I should be make it to my box at standing bear without running out of food altogether. Cider hadn’t emerged from her tent by the time I left for the day. I hope she doesn’t go stir crazy with the smaller miles she and her friend have planned. 

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The trail back to the AT was a gradual climb. I stopped at the cell signal wormhole I had found the previous evening and sent a good morning text to Oakland. The colorado father daughter duo passed by with the daughter giving her dad the skinny on the Game of Thrones she read last night in the shelter. Adorable nerdiness. They gave me a cheerful greeting and went on their way.  

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It Seems warmer today, but it’s still Misty. The Smokies are really living up to their name. I Had to stop every 30 yards for pictures. A Light breeze moved mist through the tree tops. The Sides of the trail were dotted with spring beauties. My Feet were sore but the path was already way better than most of yesterday. I heared a Hodgepodge of bird song and I could see a Bit of yellow on horizon, but the skies were mostly white with fog. 

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I Spoke too soon about footing, as the rocks slowly increased, but it still wasn’t quite as bad (yet). I went up a Gradual climb and Took off my raincoat so I wouldn’t get too sweaty. A guy passed me Taking picture of baby trees growing out of roots.

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He Asked how I was, and I said I felt glad he wasn’t a bear. He moved on quickly. I had no clue where he came from or where he was headed because he only had a day pack. Maybe he’s a ridge runner? I, on the other hand, was moving on the slow side because of my sore feet after yesterday’s rocky miles. 

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I heard an echoey chromatic bird call and passed a SOBO section hiker on a rocky climb. Then came More gradual uphill climbs through dense fog and pines, with the occasional blowdowns, followed by a Softer flat stretch. 

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Around 9:30, I sat on a stump and had a short call with Oakland. I had to keep moving before my hands froze, but I also made a phone call to a hostel in Hot springs to make a reservation for a single room. After the crowds of shelter life, I cannot wait to have my own evening space.   

The trail led me up and down dense tunnels (like today’s top picture) with repetitive flat stretches in between that made me feel like a video game character stuck in the same world/level over and over again. At some point, I Stepped over a big blowdown and didn’t account for a sapling on the other side of it. My right toe got caught and I pitched forward catching myself by planting my left foot and landing on my right hand. I stood up, turned around and slammed my trekking pole into the little tree ignoring the voice that said “don’t do that! You might break your pole!” My wrist was thankfully unhurt. Just a bit jammed feeling for a few minutes. Same for my left ankle, which I had flexed more than I cared for in order to keep myself from falling headfirst into a tree off the side of the trail. 

Angry and shaken from the fall, I kept moving while trying not to convince myself that I am in fact too klutzy to make it. I passed tricorner shelter. The sun eventually came out, but the trail turned away from the direction that would have given me amazing views down the mountain range. Then came yet another rocky climb. Not long after starting the climb, I sat in the middle of the rocky trail in a sunny spot to check my mileage and make some notes. 

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The Sky finally cleared enough to see the neighboring ridge. The trail periodically devolved into a rocky mess. It was like walking through a stream bed with minor breaks in a thick, but sunlit stretch of forest with the occasional sandy relief from rocks. 

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I decided to eat an early lunch in a log in the sun rather than stretch it to the helicopter pad a mile away. I assumed the helipad would be windy and potentially cold, and the sun seemed like a far kinder option. I was tired and cranky and annoyed that I carried extra water when I didn’t really need to. Gnats swarmed in clouds overhead as I Ate my pb wrap and Forced down the last of rubbery Doritos because they’re calories. Thankfully the gnats kept their distance, which is more than I can say for the large black flies that buzzed my head and landed on my gear. I continued on after my short break. Whenever I stop to eat in the middle of the woods like that, I worry that a bear will stumble upon me. Knock on wood, it hasn’t happened yet.

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I made a brief water stop at guyot spring. The trail continued to be a river bed of rocks that was accentuated by the trough-like erosion along the sides. My mind wandered to the VA attackers dog again, but I did my best not to go down that road. I rounded a corner to an open sunny sky and sweeping views. 

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The View from the helipad was beautiful. I Felt like I was in a different country and I was a Little sad I didn’t eat there because it was breezy, but sunny and warm. 

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Two backpackers showed up and introduced themselves as Pb (Paul Bunyan which was apt. 6’4” at the least and wide frame with giant beard) and Kentucky. I Didn’t feel like making small talk even though they were probably nice guys, so I got up and kept moving. 

The trail followed a ridge with views to my right for a little while and then headed downhill. I heard woodpecker and spied it on a dead tree. I’m Pretty sure it was an acorn woodpecker because there were no obvious red patches. The French-Canadian guy came along and tried to spot the bird but couldn’t and wordlessly kept going down the hill. 

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I went down Through rhododendrons and hit an intersection where 50-something white men were standing around with their phones out. I asked if this was the official phone spot and they said they’d found a bit of ATT. I said enjoy and took a right turn onto the AT which continued to be a rhododendron tunnel on a narrow ridge. There were Misty mountains to my left and a sloping tree covered hillside to my right. I Rounded a corner and the rhododendrons were like a privacy fence between me and the long ridge line across the way.

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Every now and then they drop down and thicken even more, making it feel like I’m at a much lower elevation than I am. The rocks are wearing on patience my today and making my feet and ankles sore, though it’s still not as bad as yesterday, Knock on wood. I Caught a bit of phone signal and stopped to resend some texts that wouldn’t go through earlier. And then the wormhole closed again, so I got up and kept working my way carefully down. Most of the rest of the day is a descent, which I was not looking forward to. 

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I stopped to take a picture at this partial viewpoint and Tom (rob? Damn I can’t remember) passed me. I hardly recognized him with a baseball cap and a button down shirt. We exchanged quick hellos and he kept walking. I followed suit shortly afterwards and nearly caught up to him on our first climb in over two hours. He must have heard me because he sped up a tiny bit and then as soon as the trail flattened, out he was was off. I almost caught him on the next hill but it wasn’t very long and I saw that it was going to flatten out soon so I didn’t bother motoring past him. 

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The trail was gloriously free of rocks for about a mile and a half. Well, free of EXTRA rocks. And then, about a half mile from the shelter, the rocks came back with a vengeance. I slowly made my way through the mess and took the turn off for the shelter. It was a short side trail to a shelter that looks pretty much identical to all the others, including the giant ugly tarp that is useful and irritating. There were only a handful of people here so I easily took a spot on the top shelf again. It isn’t as easy to access but the light and airflow have become more appealing to me as the week has gone by. 

I pulled out my shelter life and put my food bag on the cooking bench outside. I reflexively grabbed my stove and remembered that I wouldn’t be cooking tonight. Now I definitely know how much I look forward to a hot meal at night. 

A guy that passed me earlier sat on the food bench eating snacks. He had the look of someone who would keep hiking. My estimation was confirmed when he said he intended to go on to Davenport gap. That’s 7 more miles from here and it was about 4pm. When I kindly scoffed and said yes when he asked if I was staying put, he replied that he wouldn’t know what to do with himself if he ended his day this early. I shared my meltdown point (about 6pm) and stopping before it as an attempt to prevent inconsolable misery. His name was OB1 and when I told him my name he said checklist…I’ve heard of you! He met la bamba  and had hiked around him briefly. 

OB1 and I talked on and off while I also set up my stuff inside the shelter. He asked about the timing for hot springs and when I told him how close it was (about 45 miles) he said he had way too much food. I laughed and said well I’m almost out of food. He dug around in his bag and offered me two packages of pop tarts. Score! I now had extra dinner food and breakfast calories. I would have rather had something salty because I’m swimming in sweet food (bars) but I wasn’t about to turn it down. I don’t usually let my food supply get this low but my stubbornness about carrying a heavy pack in the Smokeys has led me to eating dregs for dinner. As it turns out, OB1 is from New York and used to live about 2 blocks from me in Brooklyn. He left around 4:40 to hike his 7 more miles. Crazy guy. But he was easy to talk to and I would have enjoyed hiking with him in a different universe with a body that could keep up. 

North Star, the NOBO I met yesterday, and Runa, a NOBO I met on top of springer, showed up a little while later. As we all ate dinner, I asked about their plans for the next couple of days. They’re skipping standing bear and going straight for hot springs. I mentioned my issue with needing to charge my phone brick and they both kindly offered to let me use a bit of their juice if I decide to skip standing bear. They’re considering a 17 mile day tomorrow, which might be a bad idea for me, so I’m not sure what to do. It would be great to have established company, but I don’t want to fall short of their campsite and not have enough power to get to hot springs. 

My dinner consisted of many courses. First a cliff bar with peanut butter, then a tuna packet with Fritos and honey, then the pop tarts and then a tiny snickers. I assume I ate enough. I certainly felt full afterwards and a little sick from the sugar in the pop tarts. After dinner I went through the usual tooth brushing bag hanging routine. I forgot to put on chapstick and decided to take advantage of the simplicity of bear cables and get my bag back down. Then I laid on my sleeping pad with my feet on the rafters to help with the inflammation and soreness. I massaged both feet and calves earlier while I was talking to OB1. I decided to take a break from planning and confirmed with HQ that it would be okay to get the next resupply list done by Saturday. 

A little after 7, I crept down from the sleeping loft and chatted with brownie and dizzy. Here’s another shot of them having dinner.

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Then I wandered a little ways back toward the trail, sat on my zseat and had a splurge of a phone call with Oakland. I know I’ve mentioned phone calls with her nearly every day, but they’re about 5-7 minutes each, so in our world, we’ve hardly spoken. The signal was like a cat distracted by a string. It would be fine for about 6 minutes then drop out and come right back or just drop out altogether. We cobbled together a good call and she helped me with the current logistical decision (standing bear or 17 miles). The answer remains to be seen and will be based on what time I get to the farm, how weird of a place it is, and how long it takes me to get sorted out with food. 

I walked back to the shelter amused by how light it still was and how long most of the hikers had been buttoned up in their sleeping bags. Brownie and dizzy diligently went through their cleaning routines. It’s possible I should invest in some wipes the way other people do for their face and feet. Or maybe I will just continue to stink to high heaven. I usually rinse my face in a stream towards the end of the day, but the Smokey’s have been so damp that the thought of touching water, other than to filter it, is intolerable. 

I’m finishing this to the sound of two late arrivers unwrapping plastic and bustling about with their packs in the cooking area, North Star breathing deeply, brownie occasionally clearing her throat, someone having a throat gurgle snore that I’m SUPER excited to listen to later, and the occasional vireo cutting through the shelter noise. Fingers crossed for some semblance of a decent night of sleep. 

Mile 218 to mile 231.1 (13.1) 

Total miles: 239.4 

Creature feature: juncos galore, another acorn woodpecker, possibly one of those blue warblers, and horse poooop. 

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