2019-Day 43: soggy watauga edition

*REAL TIME UPDATE: Oakland and I are steadily making our way north and have stopped for our first zero day in Ceres, VA. Oakland has 87 miles under her belt! Will try to muddle through the slow WiFi speeds to post a few blog entries!


Last night’s sleep came in two distinct chunks. 10-1:30 and 3:30 to 6 when my alarm went off. The dark hours were consumed by ax murderer thoughts and restlessness. I should have probably switched into my shorts to help with temperature issues. The one advantage of the 3 hour time difference is that I had the privilege of a comforting phone call from Oakland when she found out I was awake. The river had a rock formation that made some sort of deep, clunking gurgle that sounded like foot steps or if you’re in a rational head space: something akin to dropping a heavy rock into water. 

It was tempting to roll back over When my alarm went off, but today is a long day and it’s going to rain so I want to get a space in the shelter, assuming it’s not a snake and spider infested cave. I put on my shoes and grabbed my trowel, TP and precautionary headlamp (it was already light outside). I did as planned even though I really didn’t want to and I used the small rhododendron enclave, covering the disturbed earth with a rock from the extras around the fire pit. 

Then I went to retrieve my food bag. It wasn’t very visible from the trail so I experience momentary panic until I got close enough to the right tree. Still there! Untouched! I know I say that every time, but it’s exciting every time. Then I went back to my tent and undertook the short but laborious process of breaking down the inside and outside of my tent. The site was leafy and dry so the bottom of my tent was nearly pristine. Bonus. I leaned my pack up against a tree and sat by the water with my food because the rocks over there were much taller than my other seating options. It was already warm enough for short sleeves and it promised to be a very humid day. 

After breakfast, I prepped feet and filtered the last bit of water. I Peed one more time and checked my water options. They are dismal today. There’s An unreliable source 3 miles away and then nothing else until the 13 mile mark. I said goodbye to my slightly lighter pack and filled my sawyer bag with water. 13 miles is too far for even me to go on 1.5 liters of water. 

I set off at 7:30, and immediately crossed over the footbridge. The path was like a stroll in the park. I noticed Only one decent site off the river, which made me glad I had stopped at my site last night. I Crossed another footbridge, which felt like Deja vu and contained even more spider webs than the first bridge. I got to the other side, Looked down and found one of their larger web owners dangling from my pole. I of course yelped and dropped the pole. The spider skittered away. I stood there checking for more and clearing away the visible cobwebs from my arms. A Day hiker/maybe local runner passed by with a nod, and I said “I cleared the spider webs off the footbridge for you.” He came to life and said “{awesome you’re good that way for a little bit.”

It Only took one fly ricocheting around my ear to put in my earbuds. After a few minutes of easy walking, I came to The Trail for Hampton, TN, which went straight and the AT, which wrapped uphill back towards my campsite. The trail narrowed and I saw a new pink flower. I also saw many more of those red starburst-like flowers I’d seen before over mountain shelter. I paused to look at the Sun rising over neighboring ridge.

I could see and hear laurel fork far down below as I picked my way across the rocky path. There were moderately graded switchbacks connected by stone steps. I Felt glad to be doing the climb in the morning because it will be an even steamier pursuit as the day goes on.

Sweat poured down my face as I crunched over the rocky trail with birds as my accompaniment. 

The Switchbacks eventually straightened out to a gradual incline. I heard Dogs barking and engines in the distance. It may as well have already started raining based on how much I was sweating. Rhododendrons faded away and the switchbacks returned in long form. A fly buzzed around my head. It sounded like the light sabers in star wars, which was amusing at first and then slowly drove me mad. I Thought I heard the light footsteps of a bear but it turned out to be nothing. I Rounded a corner and came to a slightly steeper section. I Watched a black and white warbler circle a tree trunk as if it was stringing it with lights. It Didn’t seem afraid of me at all so I got it on video, but my WiFi isn’t strong enough to post it at the moment.

Then I Sat on a rock to make notes. I also looked at elevation and came to the dismaying realization that I was indeed only halfway through the climb to pond flats. Oh the irony of a place called pond flats which is neither flat nor contains a pond (it only has the unreliable spring that I had decided not to rely on). 

I Called Oakland and walked with her for awhile. I took an Early break on a rock at a campsite. It Started to drizzle as I crouched down to pee behind a tree. I was Cold because of the sweat and wet pack straps. The terrain did actually flatten out for a little while. It drizzled in fits and starts.

I Wound down the other side of the mountain (hill?) through rhododendrons with mostly moderate footing. My head ached as I walked down the trail and got a small view of the lake through the trees.

Much of the long descent down to watauga lake consisted of switchbacks with mild footing. I Called Oakland again for company down the never ending hill. Towards the bottom, a Bird called and flew in front of me to land on a limb. It had a Yellow face with a pale greenish body and black coloring around the eyes. 

I Popped out of woods and went a slightly wrong way across a busy two lane road. Because of the detour, I had to walk south to the picnic area where I intended to have an early lunch while it was only drizzling. A Small family splashed around in the water. A pair of Pushy ducks immediately came over when I sat down and pulled out my food bag.

I fed them 2 Fritos and they squawked at me for more. the Screaming kids lost their float because none of them were willing to swim to the edge of the rope off area to get it. One girl tried to retrieve the float, but she was just walking on the lake bottom and never actually SWAM. It was confusing and I could have done without her blood curdling shrieks demanding that her brother help rescue the intertube as it floated out into the middle of the lake. After lunch, I Filtered some water and Watched a mama duck bring her chicks to shore while I packed up.

It started to drizzle more consistently while I filtered water and by the time I got back into the woods it had turned into a full blown rain shower. I walked through a narrow corridor with the sound of street noise above me to the left. There were a half dozen side trails where people have come in off the road. I couldn’t wait to get farther away from civilization. It felt like I was walking down an alley with the chance of running into someone at any given point. The rain pattered all around me as I brushed against wet leaves. The trail finally opened up into a gloriously easy path covered in pine needles. It led me around the perimeter of the lake with occasional views and a smattering of roses.

I thanked the lake for not having a rocky shore. I made incredible time in the first hour of rain. Early on I stopped for a quick pee break and to put my phone in a ziplock (it fits perfectly in the snack size by the way). All was well enough, And then the hills started, first in the form of a road walk after crossing over watauga dam.

My right foot almost immediately said WHAT ARE WE DOING. The trail followed the road across the lake and up a long hill before turning into the woods to continue climbing. On the way down to the dam I met a hiker who had no sense of the fact that I didn’t want to stand in the rain and talk about his hike. I finally said “yeah I gotta keep moving” and walked away while he was still trying to finish his story. I know I’m already soaked but that doesn’t mean I want to stand In the rain on pavement with my pack on. Between that guy and the road walk, I was incredibly cranky for the next mile or so. My raincoat had soaked through within the first hour of rain. I gave up on wearing the hood because it made me too hot. Water drops swayed from the brim of my cap as I went up the steep hill that led up from the road and then right back down to the same road. Thankfully the trail went right back into the woods and I didn’t have to suffer another road walk. 

I couldn’t take any pictures or make notes and stopping was somewhat miserable. I did it anyway at a couple of different points because I needed to let my feet rest. My right arch was very angry from the non-stop hills of the morning and the roadwalk. I stopped every so often to check mileage or send a whiny text to Oakland but i limited my phone use because it got wet no matter where I stood, in part because some part of me would drop on it. As it turns out, those thick rhododendron Tunnels are good for finding a semi-dry spot to stand. 

I walked through the woods with my head down trying my best not to step on snails (definitely crushed one and felt awful about it). I saw another one of my orange friends (the top picture for today). The rain would lighten just enough for me to hope that it would stop and then it would rain harder. That happened at least a dozen times and I finally gave up. I was still making surprisingly good time with 2.2 miles to go at 3:15, which had me on track to finish a 15 mile day by 4:15 (4:30 with a water stop). I guess this is what happens when you don’t stop every 100 yards to take pictures. 

I made the water stop 1.7 miles from the shelter rather than walking the steep 0.3 mile blue blaze trail. I know the math doesn’t make any sense because I’m ultimately carrying water farther and with a heavier overall load, but psychologically I didn’t have the stamina to get water after arriving. I just wanted to change clothes and get myself closer to food. Someone had set up a rhododendron leaf in the usual fashion, which made for a fast water fill. I drank about half a bottle, topped off my bottles, and filled my sawyer about 3/4 of the way full. 

At some point in the last hour, the rain finally tapered off. I heard the sound of an animal nearby and looked up to find a deer staring at me about 20 yards up the trail. A log obstructed part of the trail so I was obscured but the doe still didn’t trust me. She bolted down into the woods, snorting and chuffing the whole way. Less than a hundred yards later, I heard a clatter and looked up to see another deer bolting into the woods. This one stopped and waited for me long enough for me to catch it on video. Sadly I can’t post it at the moment.

There was a half hearted drizzle in the last mile that thankfully didn’t last long. My raincoat had finally started to dry so when the rain started I nearly laughed at the prospect of being soggy again. At some point I passed another orange friend:

I arrived at the shelter to find 3 people. I hadn’t seen a NOBO all day so I had fully expected to be alone again tonight. Two of the people are section hikers heading SOBO from Damascus to hot springs. The third is a thru hiker named banana who had to miss a week because he had to put his dog to sleep. Very sadly I can’t remember the section hikers’ names. 

I put my poles against the edge of the shelter and pulled out my sleeping gear without getting it wet as best I could. My compactor bag has water on the twirled part of it but the gear inside of it was dry. Success! I left my tent bag out in the hopes that it would dry overnight. It’s at the top of my bag so it had the most moisture on it. Then I hung my pack on a hook and sat down for a minute. I needed to power through my bear line chore but I wanted to rest my feet for a few minutes. 

I turned on my gps and tried to get it to find my location. It was super slow to register so I finally put it down and I went behind the shelter to check out the purported “great view.” 

The shirtless kid aka one of the kids who sat around on his phone for 36 hours at mountain harbour had shown up and was sitting on the rock smoking a cigarette with headphones in. He came to the shelter and proved himself to be comically naive.

After a little while of making fun of him and listening to the section hiker play his travel guitar, I grabbed my rock bag walked away with my bear line. I was gone a ridiculous amount of time and Soon you’ll know why. I walked south on the trail looking for rocks to put in my rock bag and found nothing. I had to walk all the way back to the shelter to find decent rocks. I wasn’t about to try throwing a line within eyesight of anyone sitting at the shelter. Armed with rocks, I went to a tree not far from the shelter that had a decent branch. The only problem being it was slightly obscured by a smaller branch and there wasn’t a good angle from which to throw. I tried a few times and gave up. I spotted a semi dead tree that had hefty branches down towards the edge of the drop-off behind the shelter. The branch I chose was super easy to throw over because I was uphill from the tree and throwing almost horizontally. I realized as i was throwing my line that the tree had broken off limbs that basically formed a ladder to my bag should a bear choose to climb it. I tried to throw my line farther out onto the limb away from the broken off limb. In one such toss, the bag went over the limb, ricocheted off a tree on the other side and wrapped around a fork in one of its branches. Basically, it was stuck. I stood there dumbfounded. What in the hell was i supposed to do now?? I pulled on my line and nothing happened. I tugged harder and the bag moved a bit. I yanked as hard as I could and the bag somehow came loose, flying back over the limb and into the rhododendrons next to me. I couldn’t believe it had worked and I decided to give up on that tree altogether lest my bag get stuck again. I walked back down the trail and found a reasonably high branch that seemed attainable. 15 minutes and many throws later, I had my line in the tree. I’m embarrassed for Oakland to see my throwing in action. She insists she will be worse at it, but I’m not sure that’s possible. 

I went back to the shelter and decided it was finally time to change out of my wet clothes. I Had to get half naked behind shelter. 

I Called Oakland while eating dinner a few yards away from the shelter. She had to depart for an acupuncture appointment. I did my dishes, had dessert, and hung my food bag. Then I finally set up my bed. At some point, the other kid from mountain harbour arrived, so I Sat around with the dynamic duo and banana. I laid on my sleeping pad with my feet against the shelter wall and worked on my notes. Then I massaged my calves while listening to the nitwits ask stupid questions. I Called Oakland again while she drove home and started her dinner prep. I was Standing to the right of the shelter when I saw a flash of red that turned out to be a scarlet tanager. Oakland laughed at me as I got super excited about the bird, saying it was a good sign. I’m superstitious that something is going to ruin her arrival, namely that I will somehow get injured. Towards the end of our conversation I heard the unmistakable repetitive and twirling call of a whippoorwill. I’ve regaled Oakland with the horror stories of being woken up by that infernal bird. We’ve also played YouTube videos of it to freak out the cats so we had a good laugh about me hearing it in person. 

I finally Got off the phone after having spent too much time on my feet and went back to the shelter where one of the kids was fussing between doing push-up and walking around singing to himself. I couldn’t really believe how much noise he was making. I have absolutely no regrets about leaving my watch alarm set for 6am because all of these idiots are going to make it impossible for me to sleep. I’m finishing this to the sound of banana snoring his face off next to me even though he said his mouthpiece prevent him from doing it, the kid pouring water out for who knows what reason, the whippoorwill calling from a distance, and a slight breeze in the trees. 

Mile 422.2 to mile 437.6 (15.4) 

Total miles: 445.9 

Creature feature: the deer, a rabbit, the tanager, chipmunks, the duck families, Canadian geese, and the whippoorwill which I didn’t see but definitely heard oh so well. 

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