*I’m taking an unscheduled (and hopefully short) hiking break because I rolled my ankle yesterday morning (5/23) so here is another blog post while I try not to catastrophize and go completely stir crazy! It wasn’t a terrible roll but my ankle hurts enough that rest is definitely in order. The pictures took 9 years to upload via cell signal so I may not do many more posts while I’m here. We’ll see what I have the patience for.*
I managed to get a really solid night of sleep once I drowned out the talking by the fire pit. It’s possibly the longest I’ve slept so far (about 8 hours). People starting stirring around 6:30. I laid in my bunk and made a few more social media posts. It’s been impossible to keep up with any sort of real time/daily posting because of the poor phone signal and attempts to conserve battery.
I crawled out of bed around 6:45 and went to the porta potty with my hand sanitizer that I hardly ever use. (Yes I’m that gross person). I grabbed my shorts and bra off the clothesline on the side porch on my way back into the spider cave. I changed into my pants in my sleeping bag, but for my bra, I Threw caution to the wind and just took my shirt off in the dim light of the cabin. I didn’t feel like trying to pretzel myself or change in the porta potty. Then I slowly started to put my pack back together. I Took my food and water filtering supplies to the eating/fire pit area and had breakfast with brownie and Dizzie. I filtered water to wash my hands so I could put my contacts in. It was Probably overkill but I did it anyway. Then I filtered water for the trail. Brownie commented on my process, and I confirmed that I do not trust the water here. Better to take a few minutes to filter than poop myself a little ways down the trail.
People emerged and packed up at their own rates. The kid “running” the guest checkout finally climbed out of his tiny bunk cabin and started taking payments around 8:15. Nothing happens quickly around standing bear but it happens.
I walked up the gravel road back towards the trail with the sound of the stream to my right and the fading bark of a dog on a neighboring property. My left heel is still cranky and my toes are a bit squished, but I assume they will work themselves out. I weighed myself and my bag before I left. I’m not sure I trust the scale because last night it said I weighed far less than I do this morning. Theoretically my bag weighs 23 pounds but the difference between yesterday and today feels much greater.
The trail took me Up a small hill under power lines with waist high daisies. Then there was a short climb during which I decided to pester Oakland with my newly acquired phone signal. We were just getting started with our conversation when I heard a loud rustle in the leaves a little ways up the trail. I asked Oakland to hang tight while I made sure the noise was a squirrel and not a bear. I crept in the direction of the sound, fully expecting to see nothing or maybe a squirrel hopping away. What I actually saw was the dark shape of a bear cub rooting around in the leaves down a slight hill to the left of the trail. I shared the news with oakland while also saying “shit shit shit” and scurrying back a few yards out of sight. I peeked around the corner to see if there were other bears and saw the large back of the mama bear coming down from the right. SHIT. I ducked back around the corner again – thank goodness this happened at a slight curve in the trail. I had no idea what to do, so I stood and waited, hoping the bears would move on, but I didn’t hear any sound to indicate as much. I told oakland to plug her ears and I blew my bear whistle. I listened but still didn’t hear any movement, so I blew it again and heard what I thought was the sound of footsteps up ahead. I waited a minute and crept back up the trail a few yards. I stopped just as I saw the mama bear get on her hind legs and turn back to look at me. I don’t know if she actually saw me but she looked right in my direction, so i scurried back down to my hiding spot. I waited a few minutes with Oakland on the phone and then crept back around the corner to find empty woods. I went as fast as I could up the hill and put some distance between myself and the bear zone. Easier said than done with my heavy-feeling pack and the incline of the trail at that point.
After the excitement of the morning, the trail was somewhat sedate. Oakland and I stayed on the phone for awhile longer because I wanted the company and I have no need to conserve battery the next couple of days. She eventually had to get going with her morning routine, so I ended my call with her and made phone calls to all of my parents. I haven’t spoken to them much since starting the trail, so I figured now would be a good time. In my conversing, I managed to miss out on one of the more reliable water sources, which was not the best idea on such a muggy day with a 5 mile climb. The sweat poured down my face for most of the morning as I continued my way up the roller coaster of a climb to snowbird peak. I eventually popped out of the woods into an open field that had a weird man-made structure. I later found out that it’s an FAA communication tower, but at the moment it was super confusing.
The peak provided great views of the surrounding mountains but no shade, so I passed by without taking a break. I got back into the woods (yay, shade) and saw a dark shape moving off to the right of the trail. My heart stopped but it turned out to be runa returning from a bathroom break. She stayed ahead of me for awhile, but I ran into her and north star at a campsite where I decided to join them for lunch. I ate a weird combination of food that felt like too much but I also wanted to get rid of some of the weight. In total, I ate a giant slim jim, a package of poptarts (400 calories. who knew), a package of crackers, and a tasteless cheese stick. A very happy and pushy yellow lab came bursting through our lunch space and then jumped back on the trail to greet its owner who arrived a minute later.
A few other NOBO hikers came through, as did brownie and dizzy.
They stopped to say hello and then kept moving. Northstar, Runa and I hiked together for about 300 yards before we arrived at an unmarked water source. I decided to get water there rather than walk the extra mileage down to the next shelter that is about 0.2 miles off trail. I also drank nearly an entire bottle while standing there before I topped off both of the bottles. I decided to call uncle Johnny’s in Erwin Tennessee to confirm their address. As soon as I called, I felt silly because it’s probably in the paper AWOL guide but it’s not listed in gut hook. The flies were a nuisance while I stood around but they were thankfully not the biting variety. Instead, they swarmed and crawled all over my skin as I tried to filter water and swat at them. Luna and Northstar kept going so I quickly found myself alone again, which was a tad disappointing but also gave me latitude to flower gaze and take pictures without the pull of trying to keep up with other hikers.
The trail became Rolling hills with footing that felt like shag carpet compared to the unforgiving rocks the last three days of the Smokies. I saw the plant that brownie had referred to as bear corn. I’ve always wanted to know the name of it!
At some point in the afternoon, all 5 of us hiked in a clump for a short stretch, and I got to witness someone besides me cozy up to a plant to take pictures. I also saw two new types of wild orchids (according to brownie).
We all dispersed not long after picture time, and I eventually went down a hill to the shelter intersection where I saw a handful of men taking a break. Then back up I went, over pine needles and through the soupy air. I Passed ahappy black lab and its owner heading southbound down the trail.
My bag continued to feel very heavy for whatever reason. I decided that I was ahead of schedule for the sunset plan and sat down on a nice log in the shade to dry my feet out a bit. I hung out for about 20 minutes keeping an ear out for bears and having a short FaceTime call with Oakland. So strange that I have enough signal to do that in the woods but no signal at all while I stayed at standing bear.
Northstar ran into me right as I decided to get moving again. She Hikes faster than me so I didn’t see her once she got moving. The trail continued to take us on a roller coaster of sneaky hills with the occasional orange explosion of color from blooming azaleas. Brownie later called them flame azaleas. Very aptly named.
As I hiked along, i Ran into North Star coming back from her first “she-wee” experience. The she-wee is a tubular gadget that allows female bodied people to pee standing up. She laughed about the strangeness of it as she packed the device away. I decided to stick around and have a snack with her while she waited for Runa who arrived about 5 minutes later. We all sat around for about 15 minutes until brownie and dizzy passed by again. Leapfrogging is the name of the game today.
Runa, northstar and I left together and made our way downhill to max patch road. A cheerful gaggle of young people and their dogs were just leaving the road with a cooler full of drinks. They offered us sodas, which we of course accepted.
There was also an older Woman waiting for her husband to come out of the woods. we had passed him on the way down. He was apparently looking for a couple of no-show hikers. I had Flashes to the other week and what the wife of the deceased hiker must have been thinking when she was waiting to hear about her husband on the trail.
I Chugged a Dr Pepper so that I could leave the can with the older woman to dispose of rather than cart it around until my next trash drop. As we made our way up the trail to the stream around the corner, i regretted my choice to accept the soda. Too much sugar in too short of a time.
We Had dinner on the log steps by this little stream while thunder rolled through and hikers slowly went by. After eating, I Brushed my teeth and got my food bag ready to hang in preparation for arriving at camp in the dark.
The Hike up to max patch was much easier than I expected. I Stopped to pee at an unused gravel road and lucked out because it happened to be the last good place. Runa left her bag at the top and went all the way back down there to pee. There were gorgeous Views almost immediately after coming out of woods.
The patch itself was an open bald with people scattered in all directions and a constant trickle of more on the way. Tents already Dotted with flat top. Northstar and I waited for Runa to return and we hiked up to the flatter area to hunker down for sunset.
There was a brief hackeysack circle that made me feel like I had stepped into a 1995 time warp. There were also Dark clouds in the distance,but the seemed to be heading the opposite direction. I Sat with Runa northstar a German guy named Daniel/commando, a Caribbean woman named washbucket and Jeff from Texas. They had all stayed at standing bear the night before and their tents were already set up on the bald. I was Tempted to stay for sunrise but I also didn’t want to be cold. I also wanted to get to all the way to hot springs and staying in max patch meant a 19.6 mile day. Last but definitely not least, the bathroom situation was dismal.
We sat around talking and waiting for sunset. I occasionally creeped on the trail magic people’s dogs (the puppy’s name is hiker).
I was worried we would get shutout because of the thick clouds on the horizon but in the last few minutes before sundown, a flamingo pink sun came out from under the bank of clouds and cast pink light across the mountain silhouettes (today’s top picture). here’s a Picture Runa took of me taking a thousand sunset pictures:
Northstar, Runa and I set off for the shelter in the waning light and Walked down the bald with a full moon rising over the mountains to the east.
Even more people were camped in the woods below the bald. The light dimmed significantly as we dropped below treeline. I waited a few minutes to turn my head lamp on, enjoying the sensation of having just enough light to know where to put my feet. When it seemed unsafe, I clicked on my headlamp and followed northstar through the rhododendron tunnels and across small streams of water. The footing was a Little tricky at points but generally speaking it was gradually downhill or flat. I was happy to have company for this scheme rather than having to hike in the pitch black night alone.
We Got to the shelter around 9:30. Brownie sat at the picnic table writing notes by headlamp. There were 3 tiny spots left in shelter. We Hung our food on the squeaky bear cables and Tried to find decent tent sites in the dark but they were all terrible. We Settled for being those horrible people who clamor into a shelter late at night. I Pulled stuff out of my bag a few yards away and slowly set up my spot. I Sent my location to my family and a gps message to Oakland letting her know I had made it safely and that there wasn’t any service.
I took the spot between two people that wasn’t quite big enough but I made it work. I Wedged between a woman and some giant man. None of us changed clothes. I just crawled into sleeping bag and put glasses up by my head and tried to slow down long enough to fall asleep. I’m finishing this to the sound of people moving around on their sleeping pads and my ears ringing.
Mile 241.5 to mile 257 (15.5)
Total miles: 265.3
Creature feature: so many dogs!