The giant man turned over a thousand times last night, and each time, I worried he was going to bash me in the head because he sounded like he was about an inch from me. I Woke up for good around 6am to find him sleeping diagonally with his gigantic arms so close to my head. I Sat up and massaged my feet and calves. Then I Got out of bed and looked around for the privy trail finally spying the privy in plain sight. It had walls that came up to my shoulders when I sat down, so I could stare out into woods and people could stare at me staring out into the woods.
I Came back to find people stirring in the shelter. I Pulled my pack off it’s hook and put it off to the side. I Shoved my sleeping bag in. I Realized I had lost my pen and walked up to the tree to find it and actually found the charging cable for my phone brick. THAT would have been TERRIBLE. I was sad about my pen so I scoured the ground trying to find it. Another woman who I happened to share a bear cable with saw me looking for something and offered me her pen. When she handed it to me I saw Walt Disney resorts scrawled printed on the side of it.
I felt stubborn (and superstitious) about hiking with MY pen so I looked one more time over by my bag itself and found my pen wedged under my hip pocket. It must have fallen out right when I set the bag down. Thanks for saving my ass, lost pen! If it hadn’t fallen out, I wouldn’t have looked up by the tree and I wouldn’t have known I had dropped the cable to my brick.
I put my pack back together and carefully picked through my toiletry bag because my Chapstick melted and is all over everything. I Rinsed the grease off of my fingers as best I could and put in my contacts. I Sat at table and ate a bar while writing up notes from last night that I couldn’t do after barging Into the shelter
I was Slow to leave because the company was enjoyable and I kept forgetting to do things (e.g. sunscreen, foot prep). While I ate, I Asked brownie about the trees around us and her response was it’s a Mixed mesophytic woodlands. The science jargon made me miss Oakland as did brownies discussion of chlorophyll in the beeches we had seen in the smokies.
I was the first one in the group to leave. I walked about a tenth of a mile up the trail and got water at a pretty little stream.
The Trail sent me through open rhododendron clusters. I Walked with a loud stream out of sight down to my right for a little while. The trail was serpentine so it was hard to tell if it was the same stream that I had collected water from earlier. I heard a loud noise branch breaking across the stream but I couldn’t tell if a bear came along with the noise. I Passed the first set of lady slippers that I’ve seen in a little while.
As Soon as the sun hit me through the trees I could tell it was going to be another hot day. I Stopped at a large rock and removed my long sleeve layer. I Crossed over another little footbridge and rounded a corner with the sun in my face again.
At some point, I Heard Josh walking behind me. He passed me while I took pictures of tiny button mushrooms growing on a downed tree.
Then he held the limbs from a branch laying across the trail for me. After the kind gesture, I let him go ahead of me because the trail was so flat that he was bound to be way faster than me this morning.
I Heard the cackle of a pileated woodpecker flying off to my left. It sounded like it was getting closer so I stood and hoped for it to pass through the canopy overhead but it stopped short. I stood and watched a bird that I think is a little blue warbler hop from limb to limb on a tree in front of me. I’m hoping to cover a lot of miles today but I don’t want them to be tunnel vision miles so I’m trying to pay attention what’s around me, like this new the purple flower that I found.
After watching the dark blue bird, i Listened to the crescendo of an oven bird calling from a tree to my left. The trail Curved through the woods and I watched the morning light filter into the ravines.
I also tried to figure out where to pee before the people behind me inevitably catch up. I finally settled on a spot in a wide curve where I could see people coming from either direction. The humidity was already starting to pick up, so after my bio break, I checked the water sources for the day to see when would be a good time to chug and resupply.
I decided to drink a fair amount between where I stood and the stream a mile and a half north. I May as well attempt to get slightly ahead of the dehydration that is bound to happen today.
A Scrawny shirtless kid passed me and asked about phone service because I had my phone in my hand (taking a picture). He barely heard my answer because he was moving so quickly.
I Crossed through lemon gap, which had a small parking area and a smattering of cars with license places from NC and surrounding states. Then I Went up a small hill and felt a refreshing breeze for the few minutes of the gradual climb. A bar of LTE popped up out of nowhere as I came to a water stop. I checked the elevation and decided to go to the next water 0.1 miles up the trail because it was slightly higher, which often means better signal. My gamble did not pay off because when i set my pack down and checked my phone, I had no service at all. I decided that on a 17.6 mile day, I probably shouldn’t head back down the trail just to have the luxury of a phone call. I sat on the ground, ate a snack and drank a boatload of water before topping off my bottles. The next several sources aren’t reliable so it’s tempting to carry more but i really want to keep the weight off my feet so I made another gamble and didn’t pack extra water.
I Continued up the hill and found a wormhole of signal in which to call Oakland. I sat on a very large log for about 10 minutes and talked to her while she collected laundry and went about her early Sunday morning chores (so much poop scooping to be done with 3 cats). Then I continued up the hill, passed through an open area and dipped back into the woods.
I went passed an older shelter that sat directly on the trail where a man Who had passed me earlier was eating a snack.
The Forest floor was covered in ferns and I walked through dappled sunlight occasionally swatting at flies that went straight for my ears and the brim of my hat. The Trail led me down to an unmarked junction and then slowly back up again. I was Grateful for the shade and the occasional strong breeze moving through the trees. Trees creaked and squeaked overhead. I startled at A crack near a pile of boulders high above me but I didn’t see anything. I Came to a small campsite and sat for a minute to check my mileage while Daydreaming about lunch. A Gusty breeze came through and cooled me down a bit. Then I went up a slight Incline that had me sweating again. I Heard a small rustle and was determined to find the source. I was about to poke the leaves when I saw a thin brown snake disappear into a crevice. Ah ha! I knew that was a snake noise.
I Stopped to collect water at a small stream but didn’t feel like filtering it so I left it in my bag. I Drank half a bottle to even out the weight. Not long afterward, I smelled smoke and came upon a smoldering fire in a fire pit at an unofficial campsite. I had to pee and didn’t want to walk away from the fire that still had the occasional tiny flame, so I decided why not kill two birds with one stone and pee on the fire! I squatted over the fire ring, taking care not to slip on the rocks, and pulled my pants down. I was immediately surprised at the heat cast off by the smoldering ashes and almost reconsidered my plan. But I went through with it and felt the steam rise up as I went about my business. I happened to look up at some point and saw four people hiking towards me. I jumped up, yanking my pants back to my waist and making every effort to stop peeing. Needless to say, I didn’t fully succeed, but I THINK I managed to not get caught with my ass out. They didn’t lift their heads until they were almost even with the campsite. I pretended to stretch as they walked by. My pants were definitely wet with urine and covered in ashes that had flown up with the force of the stream hitting them. I don’t think I’ll be doing that again.
I put on my pack and trudged up an Annoying hill to the wooded summit in my moist pants. There wasn’t a signal at the good lunch food rocks near the top, so I kept going and found a slightly uncomfortable rock with phone signal. I Had lunch while talking to Oakland and fielding logistical texts from HQ.
Then I Headed down the hill with 10.2 miles to go through a very green section that smelled a little bit like sugar snaps and raw green beans, which we call “snaps” in my family because that’s the sound they make when you nip off their ends and break them in half. The smell made me think of all the times I’ve sat at my grandmother’s old wooden kitchen table, prepping snaps for a meal.
Eventually The trail consisted of Long gradual switchbacks with tiny views of the mountains off to my side. I was passed by a younger hiker that I saw yesterday. The Max patch people are slowly catching up to me. I Heard a barred owl far off to my right and getting fainter as it kept calling “who cooks for you.” I can still remember exactly where I was when I heard a barred owl in the daytime for the first time in Pennsylvania. I’m pretty sure that was also the first day I stumbled upon the Lady slipper while freezing my ass off during the last 2 miles before the shelter. The conditions today are pretty different on this gorgeous North Carolina spring day, knock on wood.
I Stopped to pee yet again and about three minutes later got overtaken by Daniel, the German man I met at standing bear. He asked me where “the girls” were, which I assumed meant Runa and Northstar. It was Confusing that he had caught up with me but not passed them in the process. We had a laugh about his claim of the easy 20 miles to Hot Springs (he had been goading his friends about his last night). His group’s plan is actually to go to the last shelter before hot springs tonight. He and Jeff from Texas are done hiking on Friday so they don’t want to take a day off or spend money on a room. He offered to let me go first and I vehemently waived him on. He was out of sight within about three minutes.
Not long after Daniel disappeared, I Saw a moss covered cave on which someone has scrawled the AT symbol. The breeze had died down so the woods were getting muggier and I had post lunch/pop tart sweats.
I Came around the corner to find Daniel getting water at a little stream. I sat down on the big rock near the stream to check water sources and he offered to give me some of the water he had already bagged so he filled one of my bottles. I rinsed my head and face in the cool stream water and we talked for a couple of minutes about the joys of eating junk food and how he would miss it when he was done at the end of the week. The Forest transitioned into a drier section with more rhododendrons and Pine needles underfoot. My knees were getting a bit cranky at the persistent downhill.
I Crossed an unused road and continued on in a dusty pine forest. I Passed a couple of day hikers while they took a water break then I Took my own break with Daniel and the kid from earlier. Daniel smoked a cigarette so I sat a little far away and took my shoes off to let my feet sit out a bit. The day hikers came out of the woods to their car in a gravel parking lot. I could hear the woman say to her partner that she wished she had something to offer us.
We all heard her say it but kept to ourselves. About two minutes later, she called out across the parking lot asking if we wanted any cold water. We of course said yes because who rejects water on a humid day like today?
The kid left first. Then Daniel and I moseyed onward. He pulled ahead immediately and I was left to wind my way through the dry woods. An occasional strong breeze came through making it more bearable as the sweat dripped down my face on the gradual incline up from the parking lot.
I went through Long sweeping curves that dipped down into ravines and back up again. I Finally got a tiny picture window of a view through the trees.
I Had to keep my eyes on my footing Rather than spend too much time looking to my left because it was a steep drop off. The woods eventually transitioned to a shadier cooler section where I started to strategize whether to get water at the shelter. Sadly I decided that I needed to stop because my final destination is 3 miles past that point and I’m pretty low on water already. I Saw something scurry across the path and found that it was a shimmery green lizard. Or Maybe a salamander? With an orange throat. it scampered up some leaves and turned to stare at me. I said hey little buddy and moved on.
I Felt like I was going a little bit leaf-blind, so I stopped to admire this cheerful mountain laurel.
The Slightly hazy ominous sky said rain to my east coast muscle memory but nothing ever Came of it. The Pine forest opened and closed with rolling hills. As is my bad habit at the end of long days, I passed on the water when I finally arrived at the shelter intersection. Just past that, I Saw a creepy little family cemetery with one plot that was very concave.
A tenth of the mile up from the shelter, I sat on a stump and ate the rest of the snacks in my hip pocket. Then I put on my woodland music mix and got back on my feet for the last 80 minutes of the day. The sky has darkened considerably and the wind picked up. I didn’t know if I would make it out of the day without getting rained on.
I was met with a Short climb after my snack that flattened out pretty quickly. My Achilles tendons felt like wood blocks. The trail then wound me through rhododendron tunnels. My right side opened up a bit again and I could see the mountains across the way.
I Stopped to take a picture that looked much like the last one and when I started moving heard a rustle right next to my feet. I stopped and looked down to finda speckled lizard who decided I was safe enough to wait around while I lean forward and took a picture (today’s top image). Then I saw another tiny blooming mountain laurel.
The trail continued to Winding down towards hot springs. My Quads were tight and feet were sore. Something was pinching on my Big toe. As I contemplated what to do about my foot (stop or ignore it), I happened to see a pileated woodpecker take off down in the forest floor. I Decided to stop and look at my foot on a log near where I had last seen the woodpecker. As luck would have it, i managed to get really good view of it flying from trunk to trunk right behind me. I’m always amazed at how big and prehistoric looking they are. I couldn’t tell what was up with my toe, but I removed the tape because it had started to bunch. I crossed my fingers and hoped it wouldn’t get worse in the next 20 minutes.
The tape removal seemed to help a bit. I Heard the growl of motorcycles over a mile away from the road. Then I heard a dog barking in the distance. My Knees and feet were mad on the final stretch down.
The laughing heart lodge, my hostel for the next two nights, sits right at the edge of trail. The owner showed me to my tiny single room that I was so happy to have even though it smelled like mildew, only had half a power outlet (the other half occupied by a carbon monoxide alarm) and no screen on the window. So I had to choose between charging my phone and brick OR having the fan on overnight.
By the time I reached the hostel, I was Inconsolably tired and wanted food but it’s 0.4 miles to the nearest restaurant. That’s an eternity when you’ve just walked 17.6 miles and your feet feel like hamburger. I ate a snack and whined to Oakland over text about my food predicament and the lack of cell signal. AGAIN. There’s decent WiFi but minuscule phone service. Oakland ordered me to shower and to then decide what to do for dinner. I took my clothes into the tiny, stuffy bathroom and grabbed a towel off the shelves in the hallway. My skin continues to freak out and I look like i have a raging case of chicken pox from mid-thigh down.
After my shower I gathered a bag of supplies (letters from Oakland to read while I ate, a puffy coat in case it got cold on my walk home, my phone brick and headphones in case there was better service, and my wallet). Then I made the trek into town, surprised by how hot it was at 6:45pm. The trail runs right through town and there are AT emblems in the sidewalk.
I ran into OB1 (it’s not spelled that way but I don’t feel like figuring with my autocorrect to spell it “obee wahn”) at the tavern and sat near him and his compatriots outside. One of them gave me the serious creeps,and I did my best to disengage whenever I accidentally got snared into a conversation with him.
The server informed me that they were out of Tater tots and I gave her my most polite “are you kidding me? I ONLY WALKED HERE FOR TATER TOTS” response. She assured me the fries were good and once I confirmed that they were thin fries, I resigned myself to no tater tots. The salad options were dismal, so I order a Philly melt (think philly steak and cheese but on “Texas toast”), fries, cold slaw, and a special request of plain raw spinach to get something green.
While I sat and partially engaged with OB1, Walmart arrived. I have seen his name in books and heard others talk about him but this was my first chance to meet him. He has long sandy brown hair, a thick tidy beard, and clothes that hang off his tall lean frame. From a distance he looked like a CA stoner turned backpacker. He was super friendly and accessible and I was happy to meet him.
My food took over 35 minutes, so I didn’t eat until nearly 7:40 which is basically bedtime. I drank my ice water and took in the quaint riverside scene before me filled with motorcycles, older people and a rotating cast of heavily tattooed, heavily pierced younger crowd that clashed with the small town vibe the storefronts would have suggested (none of which happen to be pictured).
As I ate my dinner (the fries were indeed good), I glanced up to see brownie and dizzy walking across the street looking clean and chipper. Those crazy kids walked all the way to town! They had planned to stay at the shelter 3 miles before here but the allure of sleeping in and eating town food drew them in early. I sat with them for a little while and accepted brownie’s offer for a sip of her left hand milk stout. It’s on tap here but I didn’t get it because I knew a beer would make me feel awful. The sip I took confirmed that there is no part of me that wants alcohol right now, not even my favorite variety.
I walked home with pink clouds in the sky, feeling a bit creeped out to head up the darkening stairwell back to the hostel. In light of all that’s happened in VA recently, I wondered if I had made a bad choice, but all was well. I cleared off my bed and made a somewhat patchy but eventually functional face time call to Oakland. I think the world showed up to tent here so the WiFi slowed to a crawl. I plan to hunker down in the hot springs library to use a real keyboard (!) and faster WiFi speeds to catch up on posts. I’m finishing this to the sound of people carousing in the common kitchen right outside my door.
Mile 257.0 to mile 274.6 (17.6)
Total miles: 282.9
Creature feature: more pileated woodpeckers! Squirrels that startled me; the occasional eruption of squeaking chipmunks, a mockingbird in town, and juncos galore.