I definitely heard some creatures tromping around last night at dusk but I managed to fall asleep pretty quickly after finishing my notes and stayed mostly asleep minus a few brief interruptions. The moon was as bright as a streetlamp Through my tent from about 2am onward. I woke up for good around 5:50 and decided to start slowly packing up. I switched into my hiking shorts and put on my slightly damp sports bra, which is Much easier to do in the privacy of a tent. Then came the trip to the privy which wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be based on dizzy and brownie’s review. Then I grabbed my food bag so I could put my contacts in before messing with all of my dirty gear. Next came the sleeping bag shoved into the bottom of my pack and all the other accessories scattered around my tent. The bottom of my tent was thankfully not too grubby which made for easy packing. No one else stirred the whole time I packed up.
I sat on a log being a phone zombie with the decent signal and ate a breakfast bar. Brownie finally got up around 6:50. Late for her morning duties by my watch. Northstar and I are heading to a shelter just under 16 miles from here and I’m eager to start hiking before it gets too hot. There was a cool breeze blowing all night and it continued as I ate my breakfast and watched People start their routines.
I Said goodbye to dizzy and brownie for now. They are heading to a hostel to pick up their food drop and then stopping at a shelter closer than my destination. Hopefully they will catch up when I slow down upon Oakland’s arrival the second week in June.
The Trail started with a gentle up through incredibly green ground cover and a tall tree canopy. Then came a long downhill that made my left leg pretty cranky. I stopped within the first five minutes to tape my shin to get on the front side of some tightness. Shortly after that I had to pee so I stopped again. I definitely don’t win the prize for fewest breaks. I picked a large tree and ducked behind it in case Northstar got a fast start out of camp after her breakfast.
A gusty breeze blew through the trees keeping the bugs somewhat at bay but also making it harder to hear any bear sounds. I spied a long uphill ahead of me and stopped to take my long sleeve layer off. No sense in getting that shirt soaking wet right away.
I Wound around to a narrow trail with a steep drop off to the left and thick rhododendrons to my right. A few minutes later, the hillside to my right thinned out a bit. I heard twigs snapping and looked up to see a small bear making its way up the hillside. It was too far away to tell if it was a cub or a yearling but I scanned the woods to check for mama bear and then hurried past.
I entered a darker patch of woods and snaked my way through the rhododendron patches trying to think of kind and useful for ways to instruct my sister-in-law with her packages to me. She asked for recommendations and seems really excited to send treats. My food system is pretty dialed in so “outside food” can wreak havoc on the weight of my food bag. It sounds dramatic but my food is the heaviest item in my pack by far and it can easily get out of hand.
I Went through a sunnier roller coaster stretch still feeling grateful for the wind because it’s keeping the temperature down. I saw a tiny, brightly colored bird feather, the source of which I have no clue. At some point early on, I Stopped to make sure I had packed my glasses in their case because I didn’t have any muscle memory of having done so. Yes! All was well in my ocular world. I Took the opportunity to pee again while I was still pretty alone in the woods.
Then came a persistent downhill. I Stopped to get water at a low flowing stream where someone had rigged a rhododendron leaf under a rock to create a spout. So simple and so useful.
I drank an entire bottle and topped off both bottles before heading on. I Ran into a NOBO wearing shorts that I almost bought for my camp shorts, which I uselessly informed him. He was pretty happy about the water source and his shorts.
Then came a Steady downhill. I heard a Loud knocking noise that reminded me of the theory that someone in hot springs shared. She was told that the noise comes from a male grouse that sits inside a hollow log and knocks until a female grouse comes along. I continued past the crazy knocking noise and started Daydreaming about running trail marathons in some post-trail life. Running is a visceral and distant memory because I haven’t been able to do it in about 18 months.
My Knees cooperated more on the current descent than this morning’s first downhill. I was still thinking about running when I a took a wrong turn and ended up at the road too early. I Saw a Madison county line sign, which is apparently the “jewel of the blue ridge,” but no blazes.
I Pulled out guthook and realized my error. I had to backtrack into the woods and take a right onto the trail which came out at the road just a little ways down.
I crossed the road and went up a pine needle covered small incline that got sharper in spots. I Found a good log at a nice height and stopped to eat some of the fruit and nut mix my sister-in-law sent. Dried cranberries felt like quite the luxury. Northstar caught up to me and mentioned her plan to eat lunch at the shelter. Hopefully I can arrive in time to have lunch company. I Peed before moving on and continued up the small climb.
The Trail flattened out pretty quickly into small ups and downs and very easy walking. The Breeze returned in fits and starts and felt amazing every time it blew through the woods. The Trees switched over to a fair number of rhododendrons and I felt like I was walking through a disco ball with the various bright sunspots moving with the wind on the ground and the occasional mountain laurel blossoms dotting the trail.
I Crossed over a dirt road, passed three Sobo section hikers and had to go up several pesky climbs that made sweat pour down my face.
I Trudged up a continuous climb with glimpses of the mountains off to my right. I Passed by what seemed like a dark stick and realized right as I was in line with the object that it was a rat snake. It remained still while I turned back to take a picture and video of it and quickly went on my way.
Somewhere along the way the left side of my bag started Squeaking and it drive me crazy on the uphills. I have trouble with certain kinds of repetitive noises and I could barely focus on anything around me because of the blasted squeak. I managed to get to the shelter in time to have with northstar. We Met two NOBOs one of whom is named fern and the other one I can’t remember. I called and made Reservations for uncle johnnys. Relief! Northstar left and I stayed behind to make my 300 mile marker out of the tulip tree blossoms I collected along the trail this morning. In my haste to make it to lunch, I hadn’t stopped to make the sign at the mile it actually belonged.
After the shelter came a Long gradual climb with varying degrees of steepness and easy footing. The forest floor was thick with ferns and other small blooming plants. The wind died down a bit and I could feel The heat of the day. I stopped to take a drink of water and saw movement out of the corner of my eye. Upon closer inspection I found a woodpecker twisting its way up the tree trunk. As I stood watching, I also heard a bird in the leaves and looked to find one of those brown and orange speckled birds that I saw on Charlie’s bunion and cannot seem to find on the internet. The trail narrowed in places with my legs brushing against long grass making me itchy and worried about ticks. I finally finished climbing and went down a narrow rolling descent with hazy views of mountains just barely visible through the dense tree cover to my right.
Butterflies twirled around each other as I made my way north. I crossed over several dry water sources and worried for my next water attempt, but the piped spring was moving well. I Ran Into Fern making her lunch right by the stream. When I walked by, I commented on how tasty it looked and how Late it seemed for lunch (it was about 2:30). I said I would punch someone if I ate after 1. She agreed and said she probably wouldn’t wait that long again.
I Drank some water and topped off my bottles. While I was filtering she asked if it was me that smelled good. I startled at the question because it’s not a phrase I would associate with how I smell most days. I said “well I guess it could be me. This is the first time I’ve worn this shirt after laundry. Fern then Asked me if I planned to take bypass trail around the open ridge ahead of us. It Hadn’t occurred to me to skip the ridge on such A nice day. I said, I’m too much of a billy goat to take the bypass on a day like this.”
I Left the water and went through sandy rhododendrons. I took a short side trail to check out the View at white rock cliff. I Ran into chill bill (?) sitting on the cliff and asked him to stay put so I could get some human scale in my picture, which is hard to do when you’re hiking alone. I also took a picture of one of my nieces postcards so that I could tell her we climbed a mountain “Together.”
Fern came along as I sat down to contemplate my snack. She and chill bill left me sitting there eating fruit snacks. Then the Trail became a rocky, rooty mess mixed with easier sandy stretches. I came to the divide for the summit trail and the bad weather bypass. Billy goats to the right!
It was Rocky and slow-going with some strange new flowers that stood about 3 feet high. I finally popped out onto a beautiful narrow ridge. I Stopped to take a video and eat another snack surrounded by mountains. (I can’t get that “e” down there to go away and I’m too tired to try for fear of losing the video that took so long to upload)
Towards the middle of the ridge I stopped to take a video of Butterflies and a hummingbird zoomed out of nowhere, hovered near me and then fussed with some blossoms nearby before zooming away altogether. I still find it confusing to see them in the middle of nowhere. In my mind they’re the bird that comes to your porch to drink from the feeders, not the bird that passes by on a mountain top. The trip across the ridge had rocks that sent Echoes of NH and Maine through my legs.
Once I reached the northern bypass intersection, The trail Finally eased up and turned into your average roots and rocks combo. I Passed a 300 mile marker made of sticks and laughed to myself because I assumed it was northstar but I later found out it actually wasn’t hers.
The last two miles were pretty easy going with a few exceptions in the form of annoying loose rocks. I got to the shelter and was overwhelmed by the smell of privy wafting towards me. I was also startled to see the creepy dude from the tavern in hot springs. Northstar had already set up her tent and was about to make dinner. I wandered around, annoyed m with the tenting options and not willing to walk farther down the trail to see the other sites. My choices close to the shelter were lopsided rolling down a hill or slightly flatter with rocks and the Privy smell. I took the privy smelling flatter spot and begrudgingly set up my tent on the subpar surface hoping that I wouldn’t get any holes in my tent floor. I forced myself to blow up my sleeping pad and change into long johns right away to prevent being eaten alive by gnats. I realized while I was fussing with my pack that my pee towel was nowhere to be found. I must not have snapped it on well or maybe it got snagged on something along the way because it had fallen off in the last couple of hours of the day. I pulled out my tent towel and decided to repurpose it as my pee towel for now until I can get a new one ordered/purchased.
After the setup process, during which I questioned my choice as the privy smell became more evident, I grabbed my dinner stuff and reluctantly made my way to the shelter. The last time I’d seen that guy he was belligerently yelling about how people had teased the VA murderer on trail. I didn’t really want to talk to him, so I set myself up in a way that had my back partially towards him and went about boiling water while eating the rest of my day time snacks. I met opa (grandpa), farm girl, silver back and a man whose name I didn’t get. While my food “cooked” I decided to get water even though I really just wanted to sit there and be a zombie. The water source was surprisingly uphill. It’s almost always a trek down to get water at night. There was a pipe with a very thin stream of water that took awhile to fill my bag. I rinsed my face as well and went back to the shelter picnic table to eat. Opa and northstar were talking about hiking. Eventually it came to light that all 4 men present were ex-military and all army, to be specific. That led to a bit of shop talk, some of which I could chime in on being a military brat. I wished my dad had been there to geek out with them. The guy I don’t care for, whose name I’m going to leave out, made a fire and we all sat around it, although frankly it was too hot and the smoke kept blowing in my face. I should have been in my tent planning my next resupply box, which I of course didn’t remember until I retired from the still-active fireside conversations and I got in my tent at 8:30. I pulled out my AWOL and immediately became overwhelmed by the challenges of TN shelter distances and how to predict whether I can hike longer miles or if I need to stick with 13-15 mile ranges. Even with that assumption, the options on paper are awkward. There are always more unmarked campsites but I can’t plan my days around those. I finally threw up my hands and put 4.5 day’s worth of food on the list. I think that will get me to Damascus by about June 4th. We will see how my shot in the dark plays out. I’m finishing this to the sound of moths smacking the side of my tent, crickets in the distance, the occasional insistent hoot of an owl (not barred but I’m not sure what it is), and the wind in the trees.
Mile 285.9 to mile 301.8 (15.9)
Total miles: 310.1
Creature feature: the small bear (!), juncos, towhees, a rat snake, oven birds and a woodpecker.