I gave up on trying to turn yesterday’s notes into full sentences around 10pm and managed to get a semi decent amount of sleep last night. There was a 1:15 wake up, complete with the sound of a lot of little creatures on the move, which made it difficult to fall back asleep. I woke up around 5:45 to the sound of just in case packing his belongings. I waited a few minutes for a bit more light and then grabbed my TP and trowel and walked up the trail towards my food bag. I picked a decent spot to send my letters to congress but I failed to remember that just in case is hiking SOBO. I had just clicked off my headlamp when I saw a light bobbing towards me as I squatted over my cathole. I held my breath and hoped he wouldn’t turn to his left. I was a ways off trail but the woods were thin and he could have easily spotted me. Thankfully he was in first climb of the morning mode and did not look around. When the coast was clear, I turned back towards the tree I’d been holding and saw a bright pink line just above the mountain (hilltop?) through the trees. Fringe benefit to an early morning process. After I filled in the hole and cleaned off my trowel, I made my way over to my food bag. Still there! Huzzah! And the knot easily came unraveled.
I walked back to my tent in the dim morning light and gave some thought about whether to pack up or go back to sleep. In theory I could walk as little as 9 miles today. If I feel good, the farther destination would be preferable but at 15.5 miles, it’s a stretch. I decided to go ahead and pack up to give myself time for the longer option or time to be slow if I felt like hiking 9 miles. The bottom of my tent was mercifully clean because the ground had been dry when I set up. I sat on a log with my fully packed bag and ate an almond probar with peanut butter for breakfast while Unc packed up. He went over to the shelter to smoke and schmooze with 6pack while I brushed my teeth and put on sunscreen.
Freckles emerged from her tent and said “where did everyone go??” Stella came bounding out of her tent and ran around like a fool. Freckles made the proclamation that she wanted to be Stella, and I said that the only price is you have to lick your own butt. She gave a hearty laugh and said it might be worth it.
After prepping my feet, I walked over to the shelter to sign the logbook, but there was no book to sign. I said goodbye to the guys, and played with stella for a couple of minutes before finally tearing myself away from her cuteness to get started on the day. The morning started with a docile walk through open woods with the sun coming through the trees to my right.
As is the apparently the rule, I got service about a half mile from camp. Several texts buzzed into my phone with very disparate tones. One message was a good morning from Oakland. The other set of messages were from my mom and stepdad informing me that my grandmother had passed away early that morning. I saw the words on my screen and came to a standstill in the middle of the trail. As is usually the case with death, I couldn’t quite believe what I was reading. I stood there feeling overwhelmingly sad and equally relieved for my grandmother who had become increasingly uncomfortable and agitated. I didn’t have long to soak in the news alone because Mojo and stella were hot on my heels. I heard mojo talking to Stella from a distance, so I was able to wipe away the few tears that I’d had time to shed and compose myself for the brief encounter.
I continued down the trail and called my mom who was already driving down to oxford to help with funeral arrangements. I walked and talked to her and tried my best not to fall apart as my mom told me the story of my grandmother’s last night. I Saw a flame azalea that nearly pushed me over the edge because of the azaleas that grow off the back porch at my grandmother’s house.
We got off the phone because of our mutually failing cell signal. I felt a bit dizzy as I walked through a light breeze surrounded by ferns. I came to a picture window view of the mountains in the distance.
Flies and gnats already buzzed around my head and the birds were hard at work filling their quota of the air space. The trail led me down a steady descent with the occasional wide, sweeping curve.
I was grateful for the kinder footing so far. Wilting trillium were scattered throughout the ground cover. I Stopped to take in the sea of green next to me and noticed a new flower. Wind picked up right as I tried to take picture so this was the best I could do.
A thoughtful text from my brother popped through the air waves. I responded in kind and kept moving. I felt tired and heavy, and I kept forgetting to drink water. The trail eventually crossed a road and took a gentle uphill turn past an old (potentially) hand carved trail sign.
The trail continued uphill at a persistent but manageable rate. I crossed another road, and found a bit of phone signal. I promptly sat down just to the side of the trail in the dirt and called Oakland. She had already heard the news from both mom and myself, but we hadn’t had a chance to talk yet because of the phone signal. An older woman with two small fire plug dogs approached as I checked in with Oakland. I tried to get their picture, but they were too squirmy. I had to keep moving, so the phone call was short.
I continued uphill, accompanied by a nice breeze and cut grass turning to straw in the middle of the trail. The vireos were hard at work this morning. I eventually came to a perfect snack spot, and took a break to the sound of trees squeaking in the wind. I Watched a daddy long legs teeter around while I ate and swatted at annoying gnats. Unc passed by with the proclamation that he was proud of me. I don’t know why this makes me cringe. It feels patronizing even though I know that’s not his intention. It also feels too personal for the amount of superficial interactions we’ve had.
6pack joined me for last couple minutes of my break, making a joke about how Unc would be upset at his diversion from their itinerary. He lit up a cigarette, which I took as my cue to keep moving.
The older woman with the dogs passed by on her way back to the parking lot. We exchanged pleasantries as her dogs scurried by. The trail took a slight downhill towards an open meadow where I saw Snackpack’s tent nestled among a couple of trees.
Her campsite happened to be right on the side trail to the water stop. I dropped my back by the trail right as 6pack passed me. I walked down to the spring with my water gear, calling out a hello to snackpack who seemed confused by someone knowing her name out of nowhere. When I said, it’s Checklist! she called out with relief, oh! hi checklist! I filled up on water and made sure to drink a bunch before heading back to my bag.
The trail went downhill briefly and then took me on slow, steady climb that got progressively steeper. I imagined 6pack griping about it up ahead of me. I eventually came to a ridge that consisted of a sawtooth of ups and downs. I made room for a small group of teens accompanied by two adults heading southbound. Two birds zoomed past my left flying about shoulder height through the forest. I stopped at the iron mountain campsite for lunch. I sat on a log in the sun and made myself a wrap to accompany my doritos. Then I managed to finally get a phone call through to the mountain harbour hostel, my next destination. I reserved a lower bunk and felt satisfied with that plan having been solidified. I packed away my food bag and continued down the trail.
There was a Short descent into Greasy creak gap. I decided that I should Call the hostel back to make a reservation for a second night, thus taking Sunday off. I didn’t have any phone service at the time of my realization, so I had to wait.
The trail wound through an open green forest with spit bugs galore and the occasional large blowdown to climb over. I also noticed that Something has been snacking on the trillium.
I went through a an easy flat stretch and wondered how my mom was doing with today’s responsibilities.
I Finally got a micron of cell service and called the hostel. They had bunk space, so my zero day plan was complete. I walked through rolling ups and downs. A bug bounced off of my half-open mouth.
I got to the shelter turn off and decided to take a break there. Turbo, lighthouse, unc and 6pack were all there. I laid on the shelter floor and put my feet up. Turbo offered me more arnica, and I accepted. Apparently they had decided to hike separately today, which is why when I left this morning I had seen turbo sitting alone at their tent site. She’s much faster than lighthouse so I guess she was waiting to give him distance. He laughed as he said that he basically half-ran to get to the shelter so she wouldn’t catch up with him. I never did ask why they didn’t just hike in the reverse order so everyone could walk at a relaxed pace.
Unc and 6pack decided to make the trek to the water source. I left with turbo and lighthouse because I didn’t feel like waiting for the guys to get back from water just to be polite. I had 6.5 miles to go and I needed all the time I could get.
I followed lighthouse and turbo down the Winding trail through beeezy woods. I stopped to send a couple of texts and fell behind, which was bound to happen in the next few minutes anyway. The terrain switched over to rhododendrons and got a little rockier.
I wondered if I’d made the wrong choice to push for 15.5 miles because my lower half felt sore and I was mentally exhausted. At the same time I was happy to cut the climb over roan mountain in half and make tomorrow a shorter day to over mountain shelter.
At some point, I sent my destination to Oakland’s mom and kept moving. I arrived at a nice viewpoint where I met a day hiking couple with a dog who seemed overheated. they’re from Tennessee but they live in Kentucky.
I Explained my “thru hike” to them while eating a few fruit gummies and taking pictures. I left them at the overlook with their hassling, good natured dog. The footing was messy for a few minutes but it finally eased up for the walk down to hughes gap.
I felt pretty tired and whiny, so I sat on a rock and called Oakland. She sympathized and also offered to call the Whambulance for me, which I found amusing because she said it in a supportive, slightly ribbing way. 6pack passed me while I sat on the rock talking to Oakland with what we call “frito bag signal,” which is used to describe a signal just strong enough to make a call that sometimes included missing every fourth word (or worse). Then there’s “Cheeto bag signal” which is when I can barely send a text. Both frito and Cheeto bag signals also have “extended” versions.
The day hikers passed me while I was grumbling to Oakland. I ended my call and tried to buck up. I crossed a small road that was paved to my left and gravel to my right. The Day hikers sat on their truck bed eating snacks with their dogs.
6pack sat on a log step about 20 yards up the trail staring at his toe. When I asked him what he was doing, He said he was trying to decide whether to fix a hot spot now or in 6 miles. I thought he had the mileage wrong, so I corrected him saying it was only 3.5 to ash gap, but he’s apparently aiming for roan Mountain. I might be alone tonight if Unc does the same or possibly alone with Unc.
I Trudged up a gradual hill and eventually came to the short blue blaze trail for water. I left my pack at the intersection and walked about 50 yards to a piped water source. I made sure to drink a fair amount before filling up my bottles and my sawyer bag. The water at the tent site is apparently like descending into Mordor and I don’t know what time I will arrive, so I decided to “camel up,” as they say . Back at the intersection, I ducked down and peed quickly, crossing my fingers that 6pack wouldn’t interrupt me.
Then I Continued sweating my way up hill, dismayed by mileage every time I checked. My Feet were sore. I Sat on rock to eat gummies and make notes. There was a decent breeze moving through the woods causing squeaks provoking squeaks from the treetops. Ferns and tall grass lined The sides of the trail. I Wondered where freckles would end up tonight. I hadn’t seen her all day, so my guess is she will stay at the shelter I passed up.
I Stopped to take a picture of the overgrown tunnel in front of me and Heard a slightly different bird call. I searched to my right and saw another one of the hooded warblers. I managed to get a picture of it (didn’t think to video it in the moment). Look them up; they’re striking birds.
The Trail kept climbing up the mountain through varying degrees of ridiculously overgrown to mildly overgrown. I came to a boulder that had a little path in the leaves heading perpendicular to the AT.
It reminded me of the path that was near my campsite on tray mountain in GA that went to an overlook. I stood there contemplating whether to keep going or to explore. My inner billy goat got the best of me. I unsnapped my pack, dropped it to the ground with my poles, and ducked into the hobbit hole. Less than a 100 yards later and one small leafy scramble where I nearly abandoned ship because I had visions of hurting myself, I came to the small but stunning view in today’s top picture. It was so worth the extra time on my feet on a day that had already involved way too much time on my feet. I walked back to my pack feeling very pleased with my impulsive side trip. I stood there contemplating whether I could make a decent campsite out of the small open space but it was just too lumpy. I checked the direction of the overlook on guthook and it was close to due north which sealed the deal. No direct access to sunset OR sunrise. Back to trudging up the mountain I went.
Sadly I still had 0.5 miles To go. I really thought it was going to be more like 0.3 when I checked the map. I know it seems like a minuscule difference but at the end of the day, that extra 5-7 minutes feels like an eternity. At some point i saw a new purple flower:
I crested the small blip in elevation that preceded the final 2 miles of climbing to the summit of roan mountain. I will do those miles tomorrow. The remaining walk to the tent site was a bit rooty at first but it calmed down to a beautiful grassy flat stretch that was darkened by the thick tree canopy and the lowering sun.
I finally saw empty campsites off to my left. I paused and in the silence I heard voices up ahead. I walked towards them and found two women section hikers and a space just big enough for me to cram my tent into. I asked if I could join them and a woman who introduced herself as sassafras said of course! Her friend stayed in her tent for the first half of my time at the site, griping about not having any socks on and being tired and achy. (I get it). When I told sassafras my name name, she said oh your friends just left a little while ago. I asked for their names and she hesitated but then she described a tall guy and an Asian woman and I said oh! Lighthouse and turbo. For whatever reason they must have announced that I would be headed their way.
I forced myself to set up my tent and did what seemed like a decent job of getting it to fit the space and still be well equipped for rain. Then I sat down with my food bag intending to eat a few spoonfuls of peanut butter before I threw a bear line. I searched the edges of my bag for my spoon and came up empty. Then I remembered that I had set it down on a piece of bark during my lunch and based on the fact that it was nowhere to be found, I must have left it there. I had an interior meltdown and an exterior stream of good natured expletives such as “fuck! I lost my spoon! That’s so unlike me!” Sassafras laughed and also immediately offered to let me borrow her spoon for the evening. Well, her first suggestion was that I grab some wood and whittle a spoon with whatever knife I have, which made me laugh. I then went into planning mode and subjected sassafras to my thought process out loud, muttering about how over mountain is a crowded place and I should easily be able to find a spoon to borrow there. I sat and ate peanut butter with my finger. Sassafras kindly offered me a gingersnap to use as a spoon which was quite tasty. I wanted to ask for more but I didn’t want to exhaust her generosity given the actual spoon I was about to borrow.
When sassafras was done with her spoon, I set my water to boil and sat with the foil windscreen to keep from losing too much fuel efficiency in the gusting wind. I have just enough fuel to make it to roan (or maybe one day past it). Then I set my food to “cook” and went searching for a bear line limb. I found one down a well worn path that means either it’s a popular tree or people head that way to poop. I got the line on the intended branch on the third try but it was too close to the trunk for my taste, so I re-threw it. Of course then it took about 6 tries but I finally got the line situated in a safer spot. I went back and scarfed my dinner to which I added red pepper flakes care of Oakland.
Snackpack arrived while I ate and looked around for a suitable spot. She plopped down on the ground in a heap and pulled out her water gear to make the trip down the dreaded blue blaze trail. She was gone so long that I forgot to expect her return. She decided to camp at the spots on the left side of the trail just a hair south of us.
6pack and unc arrived as I finished my dinner/teeth brushing routine. I was surprised to see them. I would have sworn they’d both gotten around me at my water stop. Their Intention was to go to town high knob shelter so they went down to get water. When they got back, they both sat down to fish out snacks. I went out on a limb and asked if either of them had an extra spoon. 6pack said in his low drawl, “yeahhh, I got two spoons.” He apparently had a plastic spoon from a hiker box and a regular flatware spoon that Unc had procured for him. He gave me the metal spoon, which was less desirable to him. I thanked him profusely and felt very satisfied with the swiftness with which my problem had been solved.
The guys were hyper masculine around the other women especially when sassafrass’s redheaded friend emerged from her tent. There wasn’t a concrete behavior I can point to but they seemed puffed up more than usual. I rolled my eyes on the inside and felt repulsed by the whole concept. 6pack kept hiking up to the shelter while Unc decided to stay put. He placed his rig right in front of mine. On my way down from the billy goat trail I hatched a plan to night hike up to the view at roan mountain road 1.5 miles from the tentsite to catch sunrise. I even asked Oakland to look up the timing for me bc phone signal too erratic. When I warned him that I might get up super early, he said great! What time are we leaving? 5? I muttered something about 5 or 5:15 and walked away to hang my food bag. Sassafras deciddd to rehang her food bag because it was too close to her friend’s tent. She was gone for over a half an hour during which time I had the pleasure of enduring an awkward conversation between Unc and the friend whose name i sadly can’t remember.
Sassafras finally came back and admitted to having a time with her food hang. I told Unc that I wouldn’t be leaving early if it was raining at 5am. Then I retired to my tent to put my bed together and change clothes. I’m Not sure if I will have to use the bathroom before the early morning departure and how THAT will work. It might take me too long to get out of here to even manage this sunrise plan but I’m going to give it a shot. I wished I had thought to put a pair of my contacts in the tent so they’d be available without having to get my food bag down. Fingers crossed I don’t fall on my face hiking in the dark or worse yet, twist my ankle. If I can’t leave early enough to do it without rushing, then I won’t go. I’m finishing this to the sound of the wind coursing through the trees, a ringing in my ears, and the occasional buzz of a bug landing against my tent. One more pee and then to sleep with me.
Mile 361.3 to mile 377.0 (15.7)
Total miles: 385.3
Creature feature: the fancy hooded warbler, a fledging dark eyed junco (and many other adults), a chipmunk scampering up the trail ahead of me for like 50 feet, and the three day hiking dogs.