I actually managed to sleep pretty well last night. It didn’t rain but it was gusty and cold all night. Around 3:30 I decided to give in to the condensation and close my last remaining door. I also gave in to my bladder and peed next to my tent. My watch alarm went off at 6am. I put on my glasses and peeked below my door to find a wall of fog just past the trees. No need to get up for sunrise. I laid back down but then I remembered the number of people here and the singular privy. I put on my headlamp, took my gloves off my toes (they sort of helped with the numb toes), and went to the privy, which was already occupied based on the red beam in the woods. I made a trip there last night before I went to bed and my headlamp is the only reason I didn’t get walked “in” on.
I waited a polite distance down the trail with my headlamp on so the occupant wouldn’t be too leisurely about their process. Then I took my turn and slowly crunched my way over the path back to my tent passed the shelter.
Tents dotted the small foggy field. Tim, my periodically snoring neighbor, was already sitting up in his tent making hot water for coffee.
He spoke to me at nearly full volume and I wanted to shush him, but instead I responded in a quieter voice hoping to lead him in the right direction. It didn’t work. I got back in my tent to avoid being the one responsible for waking up the world. I considered going back to sleep, but the rest of Tim’s friends started to stir as did the families across the path. So I switched into my hiking shorts to warm them up and opened one of my doors in vain, hoping it might dry out some of the interior condensation. Then I had breakfast in bed again because I didn’t feel like standing out in the wind.
I slowly put things back in my pack, having no desire to start moving in the foggy, breezy morning. There are only 9.5 miles to go today and the sooner I finish them the sooner I can go back to being a mental lump. As I packed up, Tim and I covered some basic life details. He’s a retired fireman and lives with his partner in Memphis. Before that he lived in a small Arkansas college town that was far more conservative than Memphis. I walked over to say goodbye to Tim and Snackpack before I left. Okay, let’s be honest, I mostly went over to say goodbye to Bailey, but she was occupied with sniffing all the day’s new smells.
The blue blaze trail led me back through the field of wildflowers, some which were over 6 ft tall. The actual trail started with a persistent, lumpy uphill through a foggy overgrown meadow where I saw a number of new birds.
I stood with wet feet and cold hands watching birds in the berry brambles. I saw a brownish bird with a black eye circle that I cannot seem to find on the internet with the time and patience that I have at the moment. I also saw a bird with a drab olive body and a yellow throat (according to the internet, possibly an immature common yellowthroat). I heard a guy sing about 20 yards away. Black mask and drab body. I Thought it was an annoying kid but it turned out to be my tenting neighbor Tim. His friend brandy arrived shortly afterwards. We admired the fog and I let them go ahead of me so I could bird watch and be slow. I looked down at some point to find a storybook Spider web among the dew covered flowers.
The trail continued straight uphill for quite awhile. I Passed brandy one on of the steeper parts and continued through Overgrown sections into wider ones back into overgrown with occasional rocky patches. My Right ankle cursed at me on a flatter section, so I slowed down a bit. The trail eventually eased up to a nice semi-overgrown flat section. Moisture dropped from the trees as a strong wind blew, making the damp walk colder than I expected.
The trail went up again and back into overgrown woods and fields. After awhile, I popped out to an open foggy field with a strong cool breeze. I saw a dark figure coming towards me that turned out to be Tim going back to wait on his friends (“the girls”) in a less windy spot.
I walked through the fog, occasionally catching the white outline of the sun as the gusting wind blew the clouds through. A dopey robin landed about 20 feet up the trail from me and hopped along in front of me, flying up ahead every time I got too close for comfort. Dew and moisture from the fog covered the blooming paintbrushes in droplets.
I was technically on an open bald called “little hump” but it may as well have been a tree covered summit for the amount of view I could see through the thick fog.
Around what I think might have been the top of the bald, I stopped to pee because there was no fear of being seen. I also put on my raincoat and my fleece hat because the wind continued to make me cold. As I picked up my pack, I spied another black masked yellow warbler, which I think is the adult version of the common yellowthroat.
Then came the sitcom timing of having just put on my warmer clothing to then walk right into the windblocked woods. I left it all on my body because I didn’t have the patience to take it off. I felt another sharp knife pain in left Achilles. It is definitely time for a hiking break. I Stopped to call Oakland for a second, but I had to keep going because it was too cold to stand still and my phone battery has been dropping quickly today.
The trail led me back out into a field. I saw mountains to my right when I stopped to take the above picture and by time I got to the blaze, they had disappeared in the fog again. I Waited to get a better view, but the clouds proved to be thicker than my patience. I went Back into the woods with a very angry left Achilles. I think the lumpy field walking has made it crankier than usual. At some point I saw an orange flash on the ground that I took to be a leaf at first, but it was the red spotted eft.
I passed brandy eating a snack in shorts and T-shirt, which made me feel a bit ridiculous as I was still wearing all of my warm gear and had no intention of taking it off anytime soon. The trail took me Back out into the open for lumpy and difficult walk up beautiful, wide open bald that reminded me of pictures of Scotland.
Brandy passed me as I took a side trip to a rock to pee. I Spotted what I think is the rare red lily that you’re not supposed to touch according to a sign that I saw by over mountain shelter. Something to do with a fungus that is harming the lily and gets spread by human contact with the plants. This is best picture I could get because it was far away in the thick ground cover.
Finally found a rock slightly out of the window and stopped for a snack and to give my feet a break.
A Bird zoomed past and then back around. It turned out to be another yellow headed warbler that I’d seen back at over mountain shelter. It might be a black-throated green warbler or a hermit warbler. Hard to say at this point but those are close options according to the intertubes. I Saw another yellow warbler in the tree but I couldn’t get a clear view of it. Two women passed and asked if I was brandy. I startled at the disconnect and said “nope I’m Checklist. Brandy’s farther up the hill.”
I moved on from my snack rock to find brandy about 100 yards up the trail on a giant rock with sweeping views. I was happy to have been out of the wind a bit for my snack, but I clearly had to also take a short break on the rock with the beautiful views that had only just become available in the clearing fog. Here’s a video and a picture that brandy took of me taking a video.
Tim and Kim caught up, and I was tempted to continue lollygagging with them, but I decided to keep moving so I didn’t get too cold in the wind. I passed through a small fence and walked through this view for next mile.
Tim must not have stayed at his break for long, or maybe the 231 pictures I took had slowed me down because he was on my heels before I knew it.
He gave me another hearty greeting and invited me to eat an early lunch just up ahead with the whole gang. I decided that lunch in the sun on an open bald with nice people was more important than getting to the hostel an hour earlier. We pulled over near a collection of boulders. I sat on the ground on my zseat and Tim pulled out one of his luxury items: a fold-up chair. Brandy showed up shortly thereafter and took a walk over to the rocks for a bathroom break before joining us for lunch. Lisa and Kim, the other two hikers in their group, slowly straggled in to join us. When Lisa arrived, she announced that big hump (the bald we had just climbed up and over) had kicked her big butt.
I made my usual wrap while a strong breeze blew everything around. I took my shoes and socks off in an attempt to dry out my feet for a little while and a small orange butterfly landed on my toes.
I Sat around for nearly an hour enjoying their company. Snackpack and Tim passed through as did a few other hikers.
Brandy left first. I ducked behind the rocks and peed and then went on my way. I was only halfway through the day so there was a fair amount of hiking left for my tired feet. I Crossed a fence line and tucked back into the trees. I hiked through dappled sunlight and, as promised by Tim who’s done this section before, rocks and roots galore.
It was slow going to the water source where I ran into Brandy and Tim. I decided to get water at the absolute trickle of a spring because the company was good and I needed to drink more. I had barely made it through half of my water supply all morning. I also made my 400 mile marker out of bits of fern taken from several different plants so as not to stress one plant too much. I shared the news with Tim and Brandy even though it felt a little like bragging. Kim and Lisa caught up with us right as we had all finished filtering water. Tim announced my milestone when I hadn’t planned to and I suffered through the congratulatory remarks they bestowed upon me. Then came another rocky stretch followed by a bit of easier trail past a view of a valley and into doll flats.
I Passed a leaving NC sign with two Bright orange butterflies that I’ve never seen before.
I dropped my pack just past the sign and rushed to cover so I could pee. I’d needed to go since the water stop but I had been too worried that Kim and Lisa would catch up to me with my pants down. They were indeed right on my heels, as I saw them come through the field and take a left turn off the trail to get water. After my bathroom break, I passed a trio of late twenties men sitting on a big rock doing nothing and saying nothing. That is one of my least favorite demographics to encounter. I waved silently at them and they waved back. Then came a persistent downhill with some fairly rocky sections that weren’t as hard they looked at first glance.
A trail runner passed me with a wave. I heard two birds with song like a high pitched house alarm calling to each other high in the canopy. My ankles were getting sloppy as I worked my way down through the rhododendrons to a cool rock formation that loomed large and dark in front of me.
I found Tim and brandy taking a break underneath rocks. Tim had busted out his chair for the occasion. I decided to keep going because today was starting to feel endless. I was happy that the weather had improved, but I was also ready for the day to be over.
The Footing alternated between a complete rock jumble and less antagonist smooth gradual downhills. The sound of dry flies intensified as the trail wound down through the forest. I took a quick bathroom break right after Tim passed me. Then I heard the rap of Brandy’s poles behind me. I Pulled over to write notes and grab a bite of cliff bar. I Decided to just sit down on a rock and eat fruit snacks and the rest of the bar rather than taking a half ass break.
As I walked, I thought about the “last 100 miles” dedication I’m going to write for my grandmother on social media. Just when I felt my face crumple into the beginning of an ugly cry, I heard the thunk of hiking poles and looked up to see 3 older women walking towards me. They pulled over to let me pass. I asked how they were doing. One of them replied, “sweaty!” I said, “I bet. You’re going uphill.” After my captain obvious remarked, I continued down towards the road. I heard the knocking boing! of a grouse that sounds like a spring door stop bouncing back into place.
I walked across gravelly pebble footing that sometimes transitioned to more forgiving packed dirt. The trail followed a small stream that passed under the trail a couple of times through small pipes. I Heard the road sooner than I expected. I Felt good about the time it had taken me to walk the last two miles. It turns out I just need flatter, less stressful surfaces to walk close to my normal pace.
I Crossed a footbridge over a large stream and took a hairpin turn to the left down a long corridor that led up to the road. Snackpack lay fast asleep on her sleeping pad and Tim sat with bailey waiting on their ride (Tim’s wife). I said hi and sat on a rock to confirm my directions then we mutually said “bye, have a nice life” because chances are high that I won’t see him again. I Waited for the safest moment to cross the major road (19E) and turned left.
I Walked about 200 yards down the road and turned into the woods down a gravel path for hikers that cuts off half the road walking distance. I came to a barn that sat next to a small rushing stream with a larger red wooden house sitting up on a hill.
There was no one to be found but a sign on the door to the store that said come up to the main house.
I Left my pack down by the barn and brought my wallet with me up to the main house. I Walked in and someone called hello from another room. I Worried about walking on the carpet in my shoes but she said to come on back. I walked through the old house and met one of the owners whose name I sadly cannot remember. She checked me in and I confirmed breakfast for one morning. It’s $12 so if there’s nothing I want to eat, I didn’t want to commit to eating it both mornings. She Told me she’d be down at the store in a little while and to ask others if I had questions.
I went back down to the barn where I found Silverback. He keeps showing up out of nowhere. It’s kind of like a skit at this point. I Went upstairs to my bunk, which was in a remodeled barn with somewhat rickety bathrooms and a small common space but nice bunks. There was a man sleeping on the couch who didn’t look much like a hiker, but who knows. There was another hiker with a bad ear who couldn’t hear me trying to say that there was nice outdoor space because I was trying to be quiet about it. We ended up going outside so she could hear what I had said.
I took a shower right away. As I toweled off, I could Hear the section hiker gang outside. Tim and brandy were downstairs. I gingerly set my tent out to dry on a picnic table not wanting to snag it on the wood. I Put a water bottle on it to keep it in place. Then I unrolled my sleeping pad and also set it on the table. I Sat with Tim and brandy for a few minutes drooling over the food truck menu. Then I Went back upstairs to get my wallet and came down to find soul mama. I was surprised to see her because I assumed she would be ahead of me. There were also two kids with their heads in their phones, one whom was shirtless hiker I had judged the day before.
Around 5pm they opened the food truck and thus began the ordering of dinner. I had a Cheeseburger with fries, an orange soda, and part of a snickers bar.
My order took what felt like forever, but it was well worth the wait and the stomach ache I had afterwards because I ate nearly everything. If it’s open again tomorrow evening, I might just do grilled cheese, fries and salad. The shirtless kid joked about how he was using all the internet without even remotely offering to stop. I made a snide remark about how it wasn’t exactly out of his control, but I don’t think he heard me. Then everyone started giving him their leftover fries and for whatever reason, I got so cranky about this kid who couldn’t be bothered to take his headphones out receiving the goodwill of other people. Soul mama also offered to take her trash back after he’d finished eating her fries, at which point I had a reflexive response that I was somewhat embarrassed by but which would probably happen again. When she made the offer, I practically barked NO at her, saying he can take care of his own trash. She startled a bit and tried to explain that it had technically been her trash. I backed off but I also grumbled about how the kid could do it himself because he was the last person to eat the food.
After dinner, I Called Oakland for a few minutes before she met with our future house and catsitters. Speaking of cats, I met two ample and pushy barn cats who sleep on the stairs and meow whenever I walk by. They Sleep on each other and are adorable.
I went back to my bunk and posted things on the inter tubes. I joked around a bit with the sections hikers. They have the upstairs loft in the barn all to themselves, so I was basically inserting myself into their conversation whenever I commented but they’re hilarious and nice, so I couldn’t help myself. Hopefully they didn’t feel like I was overstepping too much.
Around 7:30pm, 6pack stumbled into the room and started talking about nonsense. I asked how drunk he was on a scale of 1-10. He said 7.5. He had the king room. His stuff had been there since before I’d arrived, I just hadn’t known it. He staggered to his room. I went back outside to call my mom for a few minutes. The phone call occurred sitting outside on the steps between the barn and the big house because that’s where I have enough phone signal. My mom was in her hometown dealing with the viewing for my grandmother’s funeral proceedings. I feel guilty about not leaving the trail to be there for my mom when she’s done so much for me. She insists it’s an okay choice, but my usual role is to be Johnny in the spot, so staying in my own self-involved hiking bubble is hard to stomach, but the hoops to get east would have been pretty hefty. The graveside funeral service will be tomorrow. I’m really, really glad I took the time to visit my grandmother before I started to my hike. I regret that I didn’t call her one more time from uncle johnny’s, but how are we supposed to know these things.
I went back to my bunk for a little while and phone zombied and brushed my teeth. Then I went back outside and attempted a call with Oakland as well, but the gnats were absolutely insufferable. To make matters even better, our connection got wonky and the audio cut out a few times. I had a tantrum about the challenges of the call and we got off the phone. I Came back inside and changed into lighter clothes (it was already cool outside and i needed leg coverage so I was wearing long johns and my puffy).
6pack wanted to watch TV on his tablet but his headphones were broken, so he borrowed a set from “heard the call” who is the hard of hearing woman I mentioned earlier. 6pack sat on a chair across the room and started his show, not realizing that the headphones weren’t actually plugged in all the way. He was so drunk that he couldn’t tell the sound was coming from the tablet and not his headphones. I eventually had to have a half coherent conversation with him about turning off the main light. He exclaimed that I had scared the poop out of him by standing in his doorway.
After that ordeal, I finally got in bed to write notes. Around 10, unc showed up and walked through the dark room to 6pack’s room. PERFECT. they talked and went outside on the balcony where Unc periodically squeezed some dog toy someone had given him. I decided that if they were loud past 11 I would say something to them. I don’t even understand why Unc is here. 6pack said he was staying at the other hostel. Not long after Unc’s arrival, someone started snoring. I Thought it was the work for stay man on the couch (turns out he’s not a hiker), but it was actually Tim upstairs. I Don’t think there’s much sleep in my future tonight. I’m finishing this to the sound of snoring, 6pack giggling, Unc talking in his strange cadence, cars driving by on the highway, frogs croaking up a storm by the creek, and the whir of a box fan.
Mile 386.0 to mile 395.2 (9.2)
Total miles: 403.5
Creature feature: so many birds! Chipmunks, the hostel dogs and those round hostel kitties.