2019-Day 38: over mountain shelter edition

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It poured from about 1:30 until after sunrise. Shortly after it started raining, I Decided to close all of my tent doors and deal with subsequent condensation later. Then came the decision to put all of my electronics in their dry bag and shove my clothes inside my pack because water was puddling in my tent site and splashing in through the mesh. There were One or two flashes of lightning and a boom of thunder but mostly it just poured. I could feel the water pooping underneath me if I pressed down on the bottom of my tent. I Felt a bit like I was on a life raft because half of my tent was relatively dry and the other half was slowly getting soggier. It was Hard to sleep but there wasn’t much to be done about it. I Managed to doze off from 3:15 to 4 but then I found more sogginess in my tent and sent a few whiny texts to Oakland, both expressing my despair and pleading with her to not be dissuaded to join me because of my despair. It’s not cold. I won’t die from hypothermia because everything is wet. It’s just supremely aggravating. 

I woke up a few more times and the sogginess never turned into an outright puddle, so I’m pretty sure it was all secondary splashing and not an actual leak. Around 6:30, I woke up from a terrible dream where my orange, space cadet cat who is rickety and hard to wrangle had bolted out of an apartment and into an open stairwell. The sound of light rain increased my desire to stay in my dry enough tent, but nature called with a foghorn. I pulled my raincoat out of the dry sack I use as my pillow, grabbed my trowel and fumbled around in my bag for my TP (a late night relocation to prevent the possibility of sodden TP).  I put on my ankle brace, dirty socks (intentionally), and my shoes and walked through the slightly trampled high grass towards my food bag. I didn’t have time for the perfect hiding spot or a masterful cathole. Thankfully it was only drizzling slightly so my TP didn’t get soaked while I tried to use it.

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With THAT taken care of, I pulled down my food bag. I had again worried that the rain would make the hitch impossible to remove, but it was a cinch (knot pun intended, sorry Oakland). Most of my line had been in the air so the rope didn’t make my hands filthy. Then I opened the right door of my tent, left my shoes and food bag outside, and crawled back onto my sleeping pad. The sides of my tent’s bathtub and mesh doors were covered with mud and debris. 

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I dreaded the shit show of packing it up. There wasn’t any need to hurry based on the fog. I doubt I will get any views on roan mountain this morning. Based on sassafras’s description of the terrible footing, my only goal for the mountain is not to wrench my ankle on any of the wet surfaces. 

Sassafras emerged from her tent around 7:15 and surveyed the sogginess with her friend whose name I was given but can’t remember or spell. I laid in my sleeping bag trying to decide whether to eat then break everything down or vice verse. There’s debris all over the left door of my tent as well, which made me think of the trick someone did at carter gap where he laid rhododendron leaves all around the base of his tent to reduce the splashing from heavy rain. I didn’t see it or speak to the guy who tried it after we had torrential downpours but it sounds like an intriguing idea. My stomach kept rumbling so I decided to carefully eat a breakfast bar in my tent. 

I had intended to set up my tent in the field at over mountain shelter but I might suffer through the hordes of people staying in the barn to avoid assembling a wet and muddy tent. That decision will be made when I see what kind of post Memorial Day Friday night crowd I’m dealing with. Sassafras said she knows someone who stayed there when about a hundred people showed up. I couldn’t decide how long to wait around but when I checked the weather for roan high knob shelter it said increased chance of thunderstorms after 11, so I figured it might be best to get moving. There are several open balds to cover today and it sounds like the chances of walking through a storm are high. May as well get started. 

I changed into my hiking shorts and sports bra. I put Cuben fiber patching tape on a small snag in my pack’s outside pocket. Then I Prepped my feet and Stood outside talking to sassafras while brushing my teeth before the messy job of packing my tent. We shared instagrams names to stay connected with our respective hikes. A northbound Day hiker went by followed shortly by a SOBO backpacker who didn’t want to make the trek to the water. He had an unruly mop of long bleach blond hair that looked like a bad hair band wig. I asked sassafras and her friend if I could take their picture and they made me get in it. (Sorry Mary Ann, I couldn’t control my face). 

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I Strapped my tent to the bottom of my bag which I never do, but I decided the sogginess of the tent warranted it. I also Tied the little cinching string from the tent bag onto my pack straps to prevent it from rolling down a steep hill if it decides to pop loose. I said goodbye to everyone, including Unc who was still packing up, and I Walked into the mist to begin the tedious process of watching every step. Shortly after leaving, I stopped to add snacks to my side pocket, which I had forgotten to do In the distraction of attaching my tent to my pack. 

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I made my way up occasionally switchbacks and across slick rocks and roots. After about 20 minutes of walking I heard voices coming towards me discussing the national park system. The voices belonged to a couple of SOBOs, one named porridge and the other croatoan. They were both wearing colorful tiny shorts and dirty girl gaiters, and they were very friendly. They had a dog named ivy that porridge urged me to give treats to for no apparent reason, to which I of course obliged. Unc caught up just as the SOBOs parted. Thankfully he kept hiking while I stood typing notes. I wasn’t in the mood for navigating a conversation with him. 

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A Slight breeze blew through the woods causing moisture to drop from the trees but it wasn’t actively raining yet. I was surrounded by Ferns and lilies and every so often I caught the faint scent of evergreen while taking care not to step on my snail friends. The trees had bright green tips of new growth and what I thought were the beginnings of tiny pine cones but which I later realized were actually the start of new growth. 

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I decided to Skip the side trip to the cloudland hotel site because the meadow was covered in a blanket of fog. The same went for the short blue blaze to roam mountain road which was supposed to have somewhat decent views and was my intended sunrise attempt. As I stood surveying the foggy meadow near cloud land, a family of day hikers walked towards me on the lookout for carvers gap. I pointed them in the right direction and answered the dad’s questions about my hike. He looked like he should own a Harley and I very nearly asked him if he rides, but I resisted the impulse. 

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I left the family standing near the cloudland intersection and headed north where I passed a lone fireplace and immediately ran into Silverback who was slackpacking south from greasy greak hostel. We laughed at yet another meeting and kept moving in either direction. I felt a sharp pain in left Achilles near the inside base of my heel. It wasn’t a new sensation, but it was alarming because it’s a pain that can sometimes just get worse. I tried to take flatter steps with my left foot rather than leading with my mid foot which engages my Achilles’ tendon more. It seemed to go away shortly, but the pain put me on alert for not overworking that foot. I felt exhausted by yet another thing to be aware of. 

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The trail went through a brief easy stretch that was flat and sandy. Very sadly, it quickly transitioned back to a rocky stream bed that felt much like the smokies. I heard the family of four coming in hot behind me, so I stopped to eat a snack and let them go by rather than succumb to the ego of trying to stay in front of them. I couldn’t move quickly on this footing and I wanted to stop for pictures and notes at my leisure without having to basically walk with the family or just in front of them. 

I didn’t stay put very long because the dampness threatened to make my hands go numb. I continued up the ankle sloshing terrain. At some point, the mom of the family came walking towards me. I said in a confused tone, aren’t you going the wrong way? She said yes! Because I left my stick up here. She gestured to the ground and her walking stick lay right next to where I stood. She grabbed it and returned to her family who had stopped a hundred yards up the trail to wait for her. 

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My next encounter occurred with a woman wearing binoculars. I asked if she was a birder and she eagerly replied yes! I Asked her about an auburn bird that I see on a daily basis that I’ve been calling a thrush, but she had no clue what I was talking about. Instead, She asked if I’d seen a chestnut sided warbler and scarlet tanager, which were birds she’d seen the other day. I proudly said yes to both and we said goodbye shortly thereafter. I guess the bird I’m trying to identify isn’t exciting enough for her to know it. Then came a backpacker with a dog that he corralled off to the side of the trail for me to pass. We shared a quick hello. He had an AT hang tag on his bag, so maybe he’s flip flopping SOBO. 

The trail went through a series of descending switch backs, all covered in a variety of rocks. I could hear and sometimes see the family in front of me until I stopped to investigate a new bird sound. I couldn’t catch sight of the bird, so I kept moving. At some point the trail took a hairpin left and it was as if someone turned off the spigot of rocks. They receded back to a normal amount, for which I was very grateful. 

After what felt like an eternity, I finally made it to the water stop right before carvers gap. I Almost skipped it but i had barely been drinking water. I took the blue blaze that seemed to go nowhere but led me to a piped spring with a strong flow. I set my pack on the wet ground and filtered enough water to drink half a bottle and top everything off. 

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About 3 minutes after the water stop, I popped out of the woods to a large parking area with a fair number of people, primarily day hikers. It wasn’t as overwhelming as newfound gap, but it was close.

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I walked around the bend in search of the bathrooms and ran into Unc standing around with a man who had an adorable fox like cattle dog. Her name was bailey and his name was Tim. He apparently had been waiting for snackpack to arrive so he could hike with her overnight. I thought for sure that snackpack would have already passed the intersection because she left camp before I did. I offered to send her a gps message but we couldn’t get it to work because he didn’t have her garmin email address. 

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I didn’t have the patience to hang out for the mystery to be solved, especially not with the present company so I wished them good luck and walked back to the trail. I crossed the road and headed up the gravel path. An African American couple standing by a trail kiosk asked me questions. The husband is retiring from the military tomorrow and it’s the woman’s birthday today. They asked me how far the trail goes and I said well…1800 more miles that way, pointing north towards the open balds. 

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The highly groomed trail led me through a short tree covered section where I finally got a phone signal. I asked Oakland if I could call her when I got into the sun because it was far too cool in the shade to sit still for very long. A few minutes later I came out into the windy, open hillside with these views: 

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I found a giant rock with a log erosion measure that made for a perfect lunch seat. I had to wait a few minutes for Oakland to be ready for a call, so I sat down and pulled out my lunch setup. I also unhooked my tent bag and let it sit in the sun. A handful of day hikers passed by while I sorted out my supplies with earbuds at the ready. Right as I was about to open my peanut butter jar, an older woman hiked southbound towards me with poles and galactic gaiters. She gave a hearty hello, which I returned. Then she asked if I was through hiking and when I said yes, she said good for you! we women are much tougher than the guys. I let the gender comment pass through me and gave her the verbal high five reaction that her sentiment warranted. We proceeded to talk for the next 10 minutes, well past Oakland’s attempt at calling my phone. She’s day hiked from GA to halfway up VA and was full of stories. She and her friends decided that they would go into local eateries along the trail and ask people for shuttles to the trail. She said she re-hiked one section 3 times because she enjoyed a woman’s stories so much. They also got a ride from a man who Said that he had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and he gave them a ride because he wanted to do something nice for someone before he died. At some point, she asked for my name and when I asked for hers, she bashfully said someone called her “walking map” once but she doesn’t feel like she should have a trail name because they’re reserved for thru hikers. She asked if I minded whether she said a prayed for me every day. I gracefully said no not at all, And thanked her. It Never hurts to have goodwill out there even if you don’t really buy into the concept. Before she walked away I asked for her picture. Meet walking map: 

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When she left, I called Oakland and explained my delay. We talked for a few minutes on her way to a work meeting. Then I finished my lunch to a parade of day hikers tromping by. I also saw Snackpack and her friend tim! Mystery somewhat solved. I don’t know how she got behind me, but they found each other and that’s what matters. I Packed up and celebrated the small victory of having both my food bag and tent bag dry in the sun during my lunch break. 

I headed towards round bald and tried hard not to take pictures every 10 yards. I cursed the gravel as I huffed my way up the hill. At the top of the bald I saw a large group of section hikers eating lunch. I’d seen them in the parking lot and they all the shine of showered people whose gear wasn’t grubby yet. 

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I walked across a series of balds that reminded a bit of Maine without the granite slab, the elevation change, and the boulders.

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Somewhere in the middle of the bald traverse, I ran into Tim and snackpack eating snacks. Tim had a square of something wrapped in wax paper that I couldn’t identify. When I asked him what it was he said “it’s pemmican.” (Yes I had to look up that spelling.) In response to my quizzical look he said it’s dried meats with fruits, nuts and rendered fat. I tried my best not to turn up my nose too much and gave a general “oh wow” kind of response. You should know that Tim hiked barefoot. You should also know that he was a warm and amusing guy. I would totally want to be friends with him in real life. 

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I took off my raincoat and put on sunscreen while I was stopped. Then I kept moving because I worried that was invading their friend space. The views were beautiful views and they lasted for quite awhile. The trail was covered in blooming rhododendrons, mountain laurel and Flame azaleas. 

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I leapfrogged Snackpack and Tim for the next couple of miles. At one point they stopped at a water source and Tim dropped to his knees to drink straight from the pipe. I laughed as I kept walking, and I’m pretty sure I heard him say he didn’t bring a water bottle. The trail dropped down from the balds and led me over more complicated and aggravating footing.

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I walked through patches of shade and sunshine among old rhododendrons covered in lichen and ferns on the sides of the trail. Then came a series of Switchbacks, the majority of which had pretty bad footing. At the corner of one switchback, i passed an interesting cave.

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As I walked around the bend, I heard the tinkle of Bailey’s collar and heard a crash through the brush. She popped out onto the trail in front of me and darted forward like a zooming maniac. I heard Tim and snackpack calling for her. She stopped, ran towards me a few feet and then ran back up through the woods to the upper level. I tried to get it on film but my phone hiccuped when I hit the video option. I laughed at bailey’s shortcut mania and kept walking.

I Pulled ahead of them again and walked past a campsite where I considered peeing. I immediately regretted passing my options because the trail closed in again. Lucky for me, I only had to walk a few hundred yards before a giant tree that has clearly been used for pee coverage became available.

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I Decided to take a break on a rock near the tree and eat a snack. My feet were sore and I’d been getting a number of sharp, sudden pains. I’m Definitely glad to get new shoes soon. I moved on from my snackbreak quickly because the wind had made the air a bit chilly. Soon after resuming, I heard a Mockingbird going wild in the thick shrubbery to the left of the trail. I stopped to take a recording of the constant stream of bird songs coming from the mockingbird. As I stood with my phone pointed towards the leaves, a Guy passed me on the very narrow trail. He Sounded a bit miffed when he said pardon me. After nearly two minutes of DJ jazzy mockingbird, I finally hit stop on the recording. 

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Then the forest opened up and the footing eased slightly. I Stood to the side making notes when a college-aged kid walking north came towards me and said wow you look exactly like a girl who goes to my school. The awkwardness of not knowing how to respond and being misgendered for the thousandth time left me a bit tongue-tied. I said something nonsensical like “yeah but I’m a lot older” as the kid walked past me. There was a strong cool breeze moving through the woods as I passed a shelter that I hadn’t expected. A gaggle of Men in their 40s and 50s silently milled about fussing with food and gear. I felt like I had to say something, so I said “quite the party you’re having” and received silent nods. 

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Happy to be moving on, I walked Up a small hill and through a field covered in berry blossoms. I saw a Florescent color up ahead, which belonged to a day hiker accompanied by his very colorfully outfitted partner and a cute black and white dog. They’ve done long sections of the southern part of the trail around their home. They were friendly and asked a bunch of questions which I was happy to answer minus the weight on my back bearing down in my still feet. I finally pleaded the need to keep moving and walked Back into wide open woods. I was surrounded by Green with the Soft hiss of the wind in the trees reminding me of the sound of sea ranch which I visited for the first time last summer with Oakland’s family.  

I checked my mileage and saw that I had the Dreaded mile and a half distance to go. I Stopped at a wide section of the trail to pee and while I stood making a note, a young guy with no shirt passed by. Judging by his gate and crustiness, I’d say he’s been hiking since GA. I said hi as he approached. He nodded silently while sucking on his camelback and continued on. I judged him for walking around with no shirt on a day that did not warrant such measures. He gave off the air of a frat boy who would prance around with a frisbee assuming the world cared about his muscles. I know, I’m making all kinds of assumptions, but there’s also the basic fact that female bodied people can’t do the same thing for idiotic reasons. 

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Anyway, I kept putting one foot in front of the other and came across a new red flower. I took a thousand pictures and before I knew it, I reached the shelter intersection. I had just taken a picture of a common wildflower that has been too out of reach and I took the turn towards the shelter to find a whole field of them. I followed the blue blazes towards the right and stopped to get water at a piped spring on my way in. A couple of older me stopped at the spring right as I was about to put away my filter. I decided to be chummy and asked if they were just getting water or if they were stopping at the shelter. They weren’t sure yet but they wanted to see the shelter, as do most people because it’s a converted barn and it’s gigantic. 

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I walked on from the water and crested a small hill to find a row of tents already set up with the view in today’s top picture. Several potential section hikers sat in a cluster and I said “is this where the cool kids are?” They laughed and said of course! I decided to go for tenting even though my tent is a mess. I didn’t feel like being in a shelter, and I had designs on drying my tent out in the late afternoon sun. I untied it from my bag and laid it on the ground upside down. Then I plugged my phone in so I would have enough juice to write my notes for the day and attempted to text to Oakland with the feeble signal I have. My neighbors were friendly, TWO of them are gay (which they announced), thus doubling the number of gay people I’ve met in almost 400 miles. Between that and the fact that they seemed to find everything I said funny, we were fast friends. A dark cloud hung over the hill behind our tents As I heard about where they’re from and explained my hike. Snackpack and her friend Tim showed up with my new best friend bailey. They went about selecting their tents sites while I talked to the section hikers and took pictures.

Then there were a few claps of thunder. One of the section hikers called out, you better hurry up checklist! I rushed back over to my tent and started staking it down. I hit resistance about an inch under the grass in almost every spot I picked. Lisa, one of the section hikers, offered me a large rock to help push in the stakes. The soil was remarkably rocky, which made it difficult to set up quickly. I got the peaks set and tightened all of the guy lines about 3 minutes before fat drops of rain fell from the sky. I threw my bag and everything I’d already taken it out of it into my tent and crawled inside.

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It didn’t thunder much more but it poured for a good ten minutes before it eased up to a light drizzle. I closed all of the doors and fastened the doors, which I realized I had completely forgotten to do last night. I’m sure THAT didn’t help with my frog pond problem. I sat in my tent happy to be dry and very unfortunately having to pee terribly even though I’d just peed at the shelter intersection. 

I opened one of my doors and decided I would venture out into the drizzle to find a place to pee. That was easier said than done but I finally crouched behind a rock,  barely out of sight. Feeling much more comfortable, I went back to my tent and sat inside for a little while, contemplating the lower peak setup that snackpack recommended when I asked her about problems with splashing. She has her tent stakes much farther out than I do giving it almost a completely different shape. I didn’t even recognize it when I walked by.

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Tim brought a tent but he did NOT bring anything to form the peaks of his tent, so he and snackpack had to devise a structure out of large sticks. It was a hot mess for awhile, but they eventually made a functional tent for him and bailey. That’s Tim driving in the tent stakes with the butt of the giant knife he brought. I texted Oakland with my tiny signal. Then I decided to join snackpack and Tim during their dinner. I’m glad I didn’t bow out of that preemptively because I had a great time talking and laughing with them.

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Snackpack is funny and Tim is affable and Bailey is basically perfect minus her fluffy hair that I wouldn’t want in the house. None of us are going to hang our food and neither are my neighbors. I’ve NEVER intentionally slept with food in my tent and this is probably the only situation in which I would do it. There are several dogs here and there are bags in the woods for the bears to choose from first. Flimsy logic, but I’m doing it anyway. 

Tim ate another square of his pemmican for dinner and fed bailey her own square, which she consumed with glee. Snackpack and I cooked meals and answered Tim’s process questions. I was somewhat horrified with Snackpack’s dish “washing” method which is to sometimes just scrape her pot with her spoon and then use the water boiling for her next meal as the “cleaning” of the pot. I showed Tim my spatula scraper and shared my “dirty finger” washing method. It’s a terrible way to describe it but it’s pretty true that my hands are usually dirty when I use them to clean my bowl. 

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The wind picked up as we ate, which made for a colder and colder experience. By the time I brushed my teeth, my fingers were going numb. I flossed in the wind and scurried back to my tent. I grabbed my pee rag and went in search of another spot to pee. There are probably at least 30 people here so privacy is a commodity. I found a subpar spot and realized that the privy was up the hill behind me and it did in fact have sides. For some reason I thought it was totally exposed. That makes me feel better for the morning times. 

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I went back to my tent after admiring the view from the barn shelter platform. The red barn is the shelter with a sleeping platform on the left (not pictured) and an upstairs area that I didn’t actually visit. The shelter view has more layers than the view from the tenting area. I regretted not just sleeping in the shelter but I also really like my tent space. I crawled back inside my tent and went about setting up my bed and changing into warmer clothes. The wind was downright frigid and for the second time today, it felt like the smokies all over again. It didn’t seem like we would get much of a sunset view based on the wall of clouds descending upon us, which sadly turned out to be a correct theory.

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I laid in my tent writing up the end of today and listening to people set up their gear. Two men in their fifties came back and asked me a thousand technical questions about my tent. I happily answered what I could and let them peek inside. They wandered away to get warmer and I went back to writing. A little kid in the tent across the path exclaimed that a dark cloud was coming straight for us. I nearly laughed when he said “it looks worse and worse!” Between the rain and the wind it’s probably going to be an all tent doors closed kind of night. Tim told us it’s supposed to be in the 40s tonight, which made me cringe. I’ve gotten used to having warmer feet since getting out of the smokies. I actually decided to put my gloves on my feet over top of regular socks AND wool socks. They looked like kind of like rooster combs.

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I’m finishing this to the sound of my tent whipping in the wind, a light drizzle tapping on the roof, the crunch of the sleeping pads across the way that sound like deep squeak of someone walking through snow, and the occasional bird calling out from the nearby trees. I hate to admit it, but I’m looking forward to tomorrow afternoon when I can stop worrying about every single step I take and be a lazy blob for at least 45 minutes before I get stir crazy. The million dollar question is can I wait until dark to pee right next to my tent before I fall asleep. Fingers crossed I don’t regret my decision to leave my food bag in the tent. 

Mile 377.0 to mile 386.0 (9.0) 

Total miles: 394.3 

Creature feature: bailey the cattle dog, dark eyed juncos everywhere, more dogs at the shelter, and chipmunks. 

One Comment

  1. Pemmican! I went through a pemmican stage back in the late 80s when I found some in the health food store I worked at. My favorite was meat free of course. Did he tell you that it was a traditional Native American food? And hiking barefoot is just crazy, though the grounding must be nice. And that fireplace! That just got my imagination rolling. I wonder…..

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