*today’s 8.5 mile slack-pack went well. I will continue to slack pack the next two days to keep the load off my ankle, so I will have a bit more time for setting up blog posts. Side note: the odd capitalization comes from dictating and not having the patience to fix every error. The lack of consistent commas also comes from weariness of the tiny screen. Sorry about it.*
As previously mentioned, I Went to bed way too late and i was woken up by hikers prepping to leave around 6am. Thankfully I went back to sleep until my alarm around 7:15. It was hard to get out of bed, but I forced myself to muster after a couple of minutes of being a phone zombie. I changed into my hiking clothes and packed up my bag while Runa periodically stopped in to chat. She decided to take her additional zero day after all. She apparently got a pretty rotten night of sleep, wants to give her calf a break and catch up on more of her YouTube journaling. (“Vlogging” as the kids call it).
Northstar, Runa and I had breakfast at the diner with that hiker named Tom who I met at Pecks corner or somewhere in the smokies. I ordered a sausage and cheese biscuit with 1 pancake because I couldn’t resist the siren call of the fluffy pancake. I felt pretty rotten by the time I finished but it tasted good! About halfway through breakfast Runa noticed that I wasn’t wearing my watch and asked if I had left it on my bed frame where I’d had it this morning. DOH. That meant I had an extra walk back to the hostel and then back into town. It’s not a huge distance but that’s an extra half mile on pavement that I could have lived without. Runa offered to run the errand for me but it was too much to ask. I Left my pack at the diner to keep my feet happier and made the sunny trek back to the hostel. The sheets on my bed had been changed already but my watch remained resting on the frame, untouched. I put it on and went back into town.
Runa kindly carried my package over to the post office so I didn’t have to juggle it with my poles. We took a picture together before parting ways. Northstar (far right) is heading to off to hike, Runa is hanging out for another day and I went to the post office. I Mailed my sweatshirt and my old gaiters home to California. I’ve been carrying them since fontana because I didn’t have the heart to get rid of them. They’re my “thousand mile gaiters.” Aka my original gaiters from 2017.
After sending out the package, I sat at the post office floor for a few minutes writing postcards until the library opened at 10am. I had plans with Oakland to FaceTime before I crammed in another hour of blog time and hit the trail. Older people occasionally walked in and out without so much as glancing at me on the floor.
After my short call with Oakland, Runa and I worked alongside each other at the library for about an hour, periodically fussing at the computers because the internet wasn’t being as cooperative as it had the day before. I had hoped to get through two more posts and barely managed to finish one and a few notes for my zero day. I bid farewell to Runa and refilled my water bottle in the bathroom. I sat out front and finished my batch of post cards that I then walked over to the post office and dropped in the blue box out front.
I made one more phone call to Oakland in which I got super sad to head out of town. The inconsistency of communication has been isolating and frustrating. I’m not out here to be sanctimoniously cut off from the world and when I can’t reach Oakland, I get pretty cranky about it. We finally ended our call, her sniffling because of a headcold and me sniffling because my face was leaking.
At 12:20, I got up from the bench, donned my newly laden pack and made my way down the street. The trail runs right through the Main Street of hot springs so I followed it across the railroad tracks and out of town. It’s the latest I’ve ever started hiking and I already felt a bit overwhelmed by what time I would be arriving in camp after my 11ish mile day.
The trail crossed the French broad river bridge and then tucked down below the bridge past a campground and a confusing tiny home community. It looked kind of like affordable housing or maybe a poorly outfitted cabin rental?
There were several hikers camped along the river bank, which the trail followed for a little ways. The French broad river roared next to me as I picked my way through short rocky sections and longer sandy stretches.
I eventually turned left and climbed up into the steamy woods. I Walked up the dusty trail past scraggly yellow paintbrush flowers reaching for the sun. I kept trying to get myself in the right mindset for the effort in front of me, but the whining overpowered my attempts to focus. I was tired and inexplicably sad.
As I walked, I Heard a scratching noise in the leaves and looked up to see a pileated woodpecker go from the ground to the base of a tree trunk. I Watched him until he flew a little up the hill and pecked around in the leaves. He was close enough to sort of catch on video and I stopped recording RIGHT before he flew to the base of a tree. I was Sad about the timing because it would have been the perfect wingspan shot. I Watched the woodpecker make its way up to the top of a tree and out of sight. I silently thanked the woodpecker for reminding why I’m here.
I continued up the hill with Sweat forming under the layer of sunscreen i’d applied before leaving town. The trail took me past several different overlooks as it rose in elevation. Sweat Poured down my face in a matter of minutes. I Probably shouldn’t have waited so late to start. The Climb flattened out for a brief moment and then continued gradually upward.
I heard loud trampling noises in the dry leaves far below me that I eventually realized was turkeys based on the occasional squeak and the flash of brown that I saw. A few minutes later, i Heard them again as I walked along the sort of flat stretch and finally caught sight of them way down in the woods while a black and blue butterfly floated around my head.
I Popped out onto a dry open area with the trail running just a little below the actual Ridgeline. I could still hear the roar of the French broad River from this far away. Thankfully I went back under tree cover pretty quickly. The Temperature difference was Stark and I welcomed the slight breeze in the shade. My phone Signal improved and I received news that one of my friends had her baby! Then back into the cellphone wormhole I went as the trail dipped down into a shady rhododendron patch.
The Trail finally turned away from the river and continued downward. The sound of motorcycles slowly faded into the distance and was replaced by wind and birdsong. I Rounded a sunny, dry corner and heard the dribbling sound of water which surprised me. I stopped and slowly got water from a trickle coming out of the hillside. I left my scoop inside the little spring and periodically emptied it into my squeeze bag.
I also dumped water over my head and a little bit on my wrists and I drank close to an entire bottle before topping off. I double checked the water sources throughout the day. None of them are great in terms of reliability but I know if I carry extra water weight right now, I’ll never get where I’m going, so I gambled with just two full bottles. When I started moving again, the wetness of my hair gave the illusion of a cool breeze for a few minutes. My heart is very much not in it today and I daydreamed about going home to Oakland for a couple of weeks until she’s done with school and can join me. I won’t do that but the thought was more tempting today than I’d like to admit.
I Entered a slightly shadier and greener section of woods that was a relief after the short oven-like stint i had just completed.
I Wound through rhododendrons and heard the ping of a raptor far overhead. A little while later, I Saw a wide open spot next to the trail and decided to both pee and take a snack break. I Plopped down on my zseat in the dry leaves, took my shoes off, and watched the ants move through the brush while I forced my food down. I Didnt stay long because I still had a long way to go before dark and I wanted to make the side trip to the rich mountain fire tower. I had Considered camping there for sunset/sunrise but Murphy, the triple crown* hiker from last night’s dinner, said section hikers had been harassed by a bear at that tent site. No thanks. There will be other chances for sunsets and sunrises.
I Got up from my short break and slowly went on my way. about 50 yards later, I reached a dammed pond where an older hiker was eating noodles on a bench. I remarked about how I’d taken a break in the leaves because I didn’t know this existed. He said it seemed like a good place to take a break to him! I Walked a little ways and sat on a different bench. As I watched the bugs flit off the water’s surface, I Saw a fish longer than my forearm swimming below the surface. It made me think of the days of fishing with my grandparents. They used to bring Fresca, a sprite-like soda that will forever make me think of hot buggy days on Gaston lake. I saw Dragon flies with blocky black-tinted wings and I heard the occasional singular chuck of a bullfrog.
After about 5 minutes, I got back on my feet. The trail took me Up a short climb through a field that popped out onto a dirt road with confusing markings but I managed to make the necessary left turn after going the wrong way.
I Followed the berry patch-lined road for about a quarter of a mile and then dipped back into the woods and snaked along the trail, the road sometimes within sight and other times blocked by a thick wall of rhododendrons. I was Grateful for the soft footing and for not immediately climbing up after leaving the road. I Don’t have much stamina today so I will take any easy stretch I can get. I went through a Dense rhododendron tunnel in which A scrabbling towhee startled me.
I Heard a siren in the distance and road noise from large vehicles. I figured I Must be close to a highway. The trail Passed over a small stream where I decided to get more water even though I didn’t really need it. It Seemed irresponsible to pass up the opportunity on such a hot day. I Drank about half a bottle and dumped more on my head before filling my bottles.
As I walked along the Cackle of a pileated woodpecker blended in with the whine of a large truck. I Popped out of the woods onto a paved road that crossed over a one lane overpass. There was a major 3 lane road below me.
A blue tailed lizard scittered ahead of me along the pavement. It felt like we were crossing the bridge together. Then I took a left turn and went back into the woods. The trail was Hot as it twisted and turned through woods with little shade. I Met a man who I had seen at the hostel named Chuck wagon sitting on a log for taking a break. He had a long scraggly beard and a bucket hat.
Flashes of the fatality two weeks ago definitely crossed my mind when I saw him sitting there from a distance. He asked me where I was from and I said Oakland. he said that he had been there in 65 on his way to ’Nam. We commiserated about the heat and I asked how he was doing. He’s stopping in a little less than 2 miles so I am hopeful that his day will soon be over.
The trail was a Roller coaster through a shadier section with a slight breeze. I Sat on a log step in the trail and shoved a few snacks in my mouth with my pack still on. As I stood up,I reminded myself to follow my rule of “always take my pack off for a break, no matter how short.” There’s something relieving about getting that weight off,even if it’s for two minutes.
About a quarter mile before the fire tower detour I ran into a hiker named wrong way. She was wearing a green dress and startled when she heard me. Her startled scared me and we both were a bit out of sorts for a second. I passed her as the trail climbed gradually up rich mountain.
The Fire tower trail was almost completely straight up and I regretted my choice to bring my entire pack, but I’m still paranoid about leaving it to the bears. I met a jolly older man on his way down from the tower who said he’d seen a couple of bears north of here. More evidence that I should camp around other people and forego the tower plan.
I put my pack down at the base of the newly renovated tower and Took my food bag up to the top where I called Oakland. It’s been a clingy day and I figured this might be my last chance for decent service. Unfortunately wrong way also made the trip to the tower so I Had company for most of my phone call. I apologized for being on the phone when she arrived but she waved me off. She then sat about 2 feet away from me while I was on the phone which was awkward, but I did my best. The tower had a see-through metal grating floor that was a little disorienting to look through.
I left before wrong way and took a quick pee break on my way back to the trail while I knew she was occupied and not likely to walk up on me. The trail then went downhill for an unfortunate amount of time at a grade that aggravated my knees. I passed a nice campsite with a nearby stream that I totally would’ve stayed at were it not for the bear activity. My knees ached as the hill persisted. The Trail eventually ran along side a dirt road that it then crossed and went back into the woods. Northstar texted me to ask whether I was coming to the shelter tonight and I confirmed my late arrival. I also passed a goliath mound of somewhat fresh bear poop:
As I walked, I heard a car drive by on a dirt road that I hadn’t realized was still so close. Yet another reason not to camp at by the fire tower. I Crossed over what felt like the same road as before and went back into the woods.
I Somewhat robotically wound my way through the woods. I happened to see a new little purple flower while also paying attention to every noise I heard because of the man’s mention of bears. The bugs are out in droves today so chances are high that I will try to tent unless the sites are no good.
The last mile felt like a sea of green compared to the dry parched forest I had walked through for much of the first half of the day. I was making really good time (for me) until the trail turned into a series of short climbs. Still, even with the unexpected hills, I made it to the shelter from the fire tower in just over an hour. That’s about fifteen minutes faster than I’d expected.
Northstar sat at the picnic table talking to brownie and dizzy as they finished up their dinner. They all greeted me warmly as I plopped my bag down and whined about the bugs that immediately swarmed. I walked up the hill to survey the tent sites and decided to setup right behind the shelter on a moderately flat stretch. there were a few pesky rocks but there also happened to be an abandoned T-shirt, so placed that over the rocks as a makeshift ground cover.
Then I pulled out my food bag and went about boiling water while constantly slapping at biting gnats. I finally had to put on my long johns and a long sleeve layer to reduce my tastiness to the bugs. I set my food to “cook” and went down the long hill to get more water. Thankfully there was a pipe and a decent flow so it was a moderately quick process. I also rinsed the sweat off my face and neck.
I was out of breath When I got back to the table and had little desire to eat but I made it through my chili Mac easily enough. Northstar and I talked about mileage as I ate. I think we will line up until Erwin depending on how Friday turns out. Brownie and dizzy will be behind because they have to take a detour to get a food drop tomorrow.
Wrong way made it to camp about 45 minutes after me. She made quite the entrance, announcing herself to be a “sweaty dirty girl.” She dropped her pack and pulled out a bunch of random food and a miniature bottle of barefoot hills red wine. As it turns out, she had some of the food from my gift package that I had not been able to carry with me because of weight and space. I was happy to see the food go to a good home and be enjoyed by someone rather than molder in a hiker box.
For dessert I had an oatmeal cream pie (today’s top picture) and one of Northstar’s double chocolate Newman’s o’s. It was too much sugar but I did it anyway. Then I brushed my teeth, hung my food bag on the bear cables (always a luxury), and forced myself to blow up my sleeping pad and change clothes. I’m going to try to take my sports bra off more at night. I usually just leave it on but the skin across the front of my ribs isn’t very happy with that plan.
I made the trek down to the privy for a pre-bedtime pee break and then said my goodnights. I heard someone set up a tent nearby and thought there was a new hiker in camp but it turned out to be Wrong way. The bugs in the shelter must have been too much for her. I’m finishing this to the sound of the bear cables squeaking lightly in the wind, bugs bouncing off my tent, the squeak of wrong way’s mattress, and the beginning of dizzy’s snoring.
Mile 274.6 to mile 285.9 (11.3)
Total miles: 294.2
Creature feature: so much bear poop In the last three miles! A western junco, towhees, the pileated woodpecker, and a vicarious bear sighting that northstar caught on video!