*Real time update: I’m covering miles with my pack again and have been since I left Erwin. I Didn’t do as much blog work as I intended on my zero day today but I managed to get a couple of posts finished. Back in the woods tomorrow!*
I went to bed a little later than I should have because of the pull to get another blog posted, but I slept much better than I did in my tent under the party lights. I got out of bed around 6:45 and ate my breakfast on the back deck while I wrote out some very early Father’s Day cards that I hoped to have sent out with Sara and Taft’s mail. Then I gathered my belongings, put body glide on my feet and squeezed in one more round of ice on my ankle. It’s stiff but not very painful if I keep the movements on the x/y axes. Circular motions are a different story right now but I’m sure those will be fine in time. I made sure to pack away the ziplock Sara gave me for icing my ankle in the hopes that uncle johnny’s will have some sort of ice situation. If all else fails I can dunk my leg in the Nolichucky River, which is right out their front door.
I grabbed my bags and poles and walked over to the bathhouse to drop my towels in the laundry bin. Then I sat out front waiting for Sara or Taft to come back to take my money (akkk so much money went into this rest period) and give me a ride to Spivey gap.
Sara talked most of the way and smoked a cigarette, which she kindly asked before lighting up. I didn’t have the heart to ask her not to, so we rode with the windows down. She asked me to hug her neck when we got to the gap. I’d seen her do this with several hikers, but it still felt special (and her phrasing is SO southern. I’ve heard my relatives say that hundreds of times).
A few college kids sat in the small gravel parking area at the gap. I’d seen them yesterday as I walked SOBO, but I hadn’t spoken to them. As I put on my ankle brace, One of them asked me if I was a “big solo hiker,” which made me pause and want to make a joke about being short. Instead I gave the rundown of my hike, which they were all horrified and curious about when it came to the broken elbow portion of the tale. They’re out for the weekend from Charlotte. They were nice kids. One of them Heard of woman who chipped tooth her second time and I wondered if it was wrong way, who last I heard several days ago was leaving the trail to get her tooth fixed from a fall.
I said goodbye, Crossed the road and went up a small set of steps. The trail started with a Steady humid climb next to a stream that coursed through rhododendrons below me and flies buzzing around my ears. I Crossed the stream a few times over well constructed footbridges.
At some point early on, I Stopped to put in my earbuds in the hopes that my ears would be less enticing. It was Overcast with brief moments of brightness and no breeze to speak of.
The skies darkened as the incline continued, and I made my way carefully over brief sections of rocks and roots. It’s felt like it could pour at any moment with the dimming light seeming more like twilight than 930 in the morning. I of course bring a raincoat because rain is not in the forecast. Thankfully the temperatures are warm enough that if it pours all day I should still be fine. The trail narrowed and the footing got a little trickier with small rocks covering a Fair amount of it.
A Flame azalea rose up and brought a splash of color to the green and brown palette. I Crossed a small stream whose slick rocks gave me pause but turned out to be fine. I Heard flapping and squawking and saw what I think was a cranky acorn woodpecker high up on a dead tree. I was Confused by a flash of blue and saw a small dirt mover/bulldozer down to my left. Then inCrossed over a dirt road and went back down into the woods.
The rocks eased up as I wound my down across a slightly rolling path. My ankle is achy this morning but doing well enough (writers note: I realize that most of my writing is in past tense but sometimes the present tense is more satisfying, so I’m leaving this in even though it doesn’t match).
I went in and out of Mountain Laurel and rhododendron tunnels. The forest occasionally opened up and the sun attempted to come out. I Went through a greener section that had spit bugs on much of the ground cover.
I felt a few twinges in the front of my ankle that frightened me, but they didn’t persist. I had been trying to find a decent place to have a snack but after the pain, I stopped virtually on the trail to eat and I took my shoe/brace off to breathe. I let Oakland know via gps that I had no signal and likely would have pretty spotty service all day based on the lack of elevation change. I heard the yip of a pileated woodpecker nearby as I ate almonds and dried blueberries (thanks family!) and watched a spider drop down from the lowest limb of a rhododendron onto a plant below. I gave my ankle a bit of a massage trying to think of what my friend Abby would do in this instance. She’s the neuromuscular bodywork person who helped me so much over the last 7 months.
I heard another pileated woodpecker even closer to me as I put my brace back on. I Continued winding around the hillside. The low right-side banking of trail overworked the tendons in my right ankle tendons.
I happened to look down and a new little yellow flower. The were Occasional tiny patches of blue sky.
I Stopped for water at a slowly trickling piped stream and felt grateful that I could set my scoop down instead of having to crouch down with my sawyer bag. (I have no idea why the video is sideways and I can’t fix it on my tiny screen. Sorry!) I Had designs on taking an early lunch at the next shelter because the seating options on the trail have been nonexistent so far. I saw this very colorful beetle right as I walked away from the spring.
The trail took a short upward turn from the water to the shelter where there was a guy laying on the sleeping platform contemplating the ceiling. I didn’t even pause to put my feet up because I wasn’t in the mood to talk. When I put a little distance between myself and the resting guy, I pulled over behind a big tree to have a short pee break.
As I rounded a narrow bend in the flat but rocky trail, Texts popped through a wormhole. I sat on a mossy rock and told the theoretical snakes to go away while I had a short phone call with Oakland. I Decided to try my luck at moving to a more comfortable rock a few feet down the trail and had an early lunch with Oakland. I chose some hiker classics that I don’t normally carry but had purchased at nature’s inn as a treat:
Two thru-hikers I’d seen yesterday passed me and I apologized, explaining that I was on a terrible spot but had gotten phone signal and decided to just eat lunch in the middle of everything. One of them said “it looks like you’re in the perfect spot then.”
I got up after an extended break, already having pepperoni burps and made my way down the trail. A light breeze moved through the woods, evoking squeaks from the trees. Much of my afternoon looked like this:
Sometimes with Twists and turns and sometimes wide sweeping curves like this:
At one point, I stood drinking water and Saw a spindly red spider as a a mourning dove called from my left.
The trail Dropped down to a small campsite and then back up again. My quads and glutes were like hold on hold on, we don’t go UP today.
On the way up, A Bird came careening past me and skittered to a landing in the brush. Then it hopped across the trail and jumped around squawking at me. It had a Striped cap and light olive body. Yet another bird to look up!
Then came a Series of more pronounced Rolling hills about 3 miles away from uncle johnny’s. Every now and then I could hear road noise in the distance. It’s a Two-ish mile descent to the Nolichucky River. The footing was Sometimes rock strewn and slow going and other times it was dusty clear sailing. I could hear a Dog barking in the distance and the dry flies buzzing around me. The yapping of a pileated woodpecker blended in with the stuttering growl of Tractor trailers from the nearby highway.
I heard a bird call I didn’t recognize and stopped to search the nearby trees. I peeked through a break in the leaves to find a male cardinal calling from the top of a dead tree. Not long after that, I came to a Picture window view of the mountains with swallowtail butterflies milling about. Then came more Switchbacks and a nice breeze.
I eventually arrived at the infamous nolichucky overlook that I have seen dozens of times on other people’s social media (today’s top picture). I could hear tubers and other river-goers along with the sound of rushing water. I gawked and took a dozen pictures at two different vantage points along the trail before moving on. As I Turned the corner, it was like somebody turned off a noise machine. I was adjusting to the silence when a train whistle boomed up through the river gorge and startled me.
The rest of the way down to uncle johnny’s consisted of Easy switchbacks. I arrived at the road and looked left to find uncle johnny’s.
I Checked in with the friendly and laid back clerk, admired the Store kitty and went to find my “cabin” home for the night.
As I walked down the pathway behind the outfitter, I saw the hiker that I find challenging and a cast of familiar people around him. Their names are Freckles, 6pack, snackpack and John. I put my boxes down and Went back to look for soda and to grab my pack from the outfitters where Sara had dropped it. The soda machine was sold Out of all things selections so I passed. There wasn’t any access to ice, so I found an orange popsicle in the ice cream freezer to put on my ankle. The clerk looked at it and inexplicably Gave it to me for free.
I sat at the picnic table out front and iced my ankle for a few minutes. I managed to eat it before it got too mushy, and it was just as good as an orange soda. I took My pack to room and of course had to go back to the outfitter for my poles which I had left by front counter. Back and forth and back and forth. Sneaky miles.
After settling in, i Decided to sit at table with the challenging dude because he keeps popping up. His name is “unc” short for uncle (possibly uncle something, but all I know is the uncle part). I succumbed to the urge for a soda and bought a diet Mountain Dew which I drank while eating copious amounts of snacks
Freckles and company and purchased bought burger fixings on a grocery store run earlier in the day. 6pack cooked them on a grill and placed a plate of finished burgers on the table for people to eat ($5 for 2 to help freckles recoup the cost). I hadn’t asked for a burger in the planning phases, so I hung back to see if there might be extras because once they were in front of me I couldn’t resist. Soul mama arrived and we both had one of last two. She kindly purchased mine even though I offered to get money from my room. Unc put pickles on for me. I Felt pretty gross afterwards and I regretted not eating my own food to cut the weight down, but it was good. As we ate, I found out that Freckles is a psychotherapist. She was in the middle of telling soul mama her profession when I said me too! Freckles turned to me and asked where I live. I responded with Oakland. She told me she had trained in the bay area. She returned to her conversation with soul mama. On a whim, I Asked freckles if she’d heard of the pacific center (where I recently worked as a program assistant and would like to return as a therapist) and she said “that’s where I had my first client ever.” Small world. As always. Here’s Freckles:
After my early burger dinner, I Took a shower. Then I joined everyone back at the picnic table. Freckles asked if I wanted to see picture of her and her first girlfriend camping in the smokies in the late eighties. Finally! Another gay! (which is a term I use globally, she identifies as lesbian). So happy.
I forced myself to go to my room to organize food. I decided that in order to do so, i needed to check my new “ankle friendly” calculation for days between stops to fully organize food. Slower miles means a different break down. I took my AWOL book and Sat at picnic table. My planning mode provoked some ribbing, but I don’t care. It keeps me fed and I’m good at it. Here’s Unc with his topo map out. He has no AWOL and no phone at the moment because it went for a swim in the French broad river.
After planning, I Went to river with freckles. She Asked about my ankle and i Told her the hopefully not too whiny version of my ankle woes and my broken elbow. The water was cool but not quite as great as ice. Little yapping dogs swam on the other shoreline. We both feared for them in the strong current, but their owners seemed nonplussed.
Freckles left to call her parents and i Walked back alone. I ate half of the last avocado leftover from my Erwin Walmart stash and gave other half to soul mama who was working her way through a leftover salad.
Then I went back to my room and called my mom to her use freezer bags with the sliders and not regular ziplocks because they’re more durable. I felt terrible quibbling over details because she’s dealing with so much right. she’s got a sinus infection on top of everything else, and I’m asking her to change ziplocks type. It’s not inconsequential because if a bag breaks, I have food supply issues (and a giant smelly mess to contain), but I felt bad nonetheless.
I finally Finished my food organization and decided to treat myself to a call with Oakland. She Helped me with my plan for tomorrow. I’ve been debating whether to slack pack 10 miles and stay here again or hike 4 miles at the very end of the day to be at first shelter. If I stay here I get a bit of blogging time and a longer break off of my ankle. It would be the first hike I’ve some with my pack since rolling my ankle, so the prospect of leaving was stressful, but 4.5 miles would be a very succinct trial run. it was well past hiker bedtime when we said goodnight.
I’m finishing this to the sound of hikers talking by a fire pit 20 yards away, the occasional thwack of an ax against a giant tree stump (they’re chipping off large chunks of firewood from a section of an old tree that’s probably 1.5 feet across and 4 feet long), the rattling of my ceiling fan, and the hum of the mini fridge.
Mile 333.1 to mile 344.1 (11)
Total miles: 352.4
Creature feature: cute dogs, the cardinal, chipmunks, a small fish that nibbled on freckles’ ankles, woodpeckers, and the new bird