I had a choppy but cozy night of sleep. The resident mockingbird did not heed quiet hours and made a racket half the night. Literally. We dragged ourselves out of bed around 6:45 and went straight to packing our gear. Then we had breakfast out at the table. It was a feast of yogurt, blueberries, a banana, and homemade banana bread. We had a couple of pieces of banana bread that we couldn’t make it through so I walked into the bunk room and offered them to the masses. A guy in a top bunk sat up and said okay! He asked if he could join us outside so we sat with him for a few minutes. His name is Alex and he sounded like a friendly but antsy NOBO who didn’t know what to do with himself if he made it to camp before 7:30pm. He also said his body likes to move quickly. I replied that I didn’t have either of those problems and suppressed my eye rolling to the best of my ability.
After breakfast, we walked back to the post office armed with a tracking number. I walked up to the counter and explained that I had a package with a tracking number that said it had been delivered but no one could find it the day before. The clerk asked me to write the number down and went back to the shelves. He came back with the small flat rate box that apparently didn’t have my last name on it which is why when I gave them my last name, they couldn’t find the box. Why they couldn’t have checked all of the small flat rate boxes (of which there weren’t many) is a different story. At any rate, we Solved the mystery of missing box and walked back to the hostel with our goodies. My dad and stepmom sent payday bars, oatmeal cream pies, and a thoughtful card. We added the snacks to our already heavy food bags and filled out waters. As we finished getting ready, I heard snapshot say to trivia, no no don’t get back in bed, we have to pack our stuff. Her response had the tone of s petulant 5 year old. I couldn’t wait to flee the scene of the passive aggressive bs about to ensue.
Right before we left, we weighed our packs. Mine came in around 25lbs. The heaviest weight to date. Oakland’s came in at a dismal 30lbs, which baffled and dismayed both of us. I could see Oakland’s face turn into anxious stone. She’s already anxious about her physical abilities and to have a pack that is at least 6lbs more than expected had her out of sorts.
We said goodbye to lee, one of the owners, as she worked on her front porch garden and fielded questions about rashes from Alex. We walked down east laurel street and took a right to follow the trail down hwy 58. We saw a small dog cross the busy street and wander through the business parking lots. I tried to feed it a cashew from my snack stash but it just stared at me. We continued walking and I tried to imagine that’s the dog was just out for a morning walk alone. The snack bag I had pulled the cashew from was actually soggy l, so I crossed the street to toss it in the gas station garbage.
The trail then took a left to follow the curve of the road and joined up with the Virginia Creeper trail for about a half a mile.
Then we Crossed the road and took a set of stairs into the woods. We walked Up the leaf strewn stairs and stopped at the top so I could get debris out of my shoe. I Had to take out my zseat because the ground was too soggy to sit on. I Took of my brace and my sock with no obvious cause of the prickly feeling in my sock. Oh well. I Put my shoe back on and we continued up the trail. My Right arch was VERY angry and I felt a pointed pain that I have had before that sometimes only gets worse. Oakland was also having right arch pain after the road walk, so we were both in pretty good starting shape for a day of hiking.
The trail took us up a Gradual hill on a silty path with soggy leaves and roots. I could hear Road noise and a Dog barking. The temperature was perfect for hiking. My Arch pain slowly faded as we walked along to the sound of opinionated Oven birds. I found a Blooming rhododendron that I was excited to show Oakland.
The trail Flattened out to a gentle rollercoaster. I saw more of the Small white flowers that I’d spied on the way into Damascus. Oakland immediately started taking pictures of fungi along the trail, which is another reason why we are great hiking partners. I don’t have to feel worried about slowing her down because there’s always some tiny organism to grab her attention.
We eventually Came to a slight opening in the woods and took a quick pee break using our brand new Kula cloths which are smaller than my previous pee towel, absorbent, subtle and produced by a women owned company. (Real time update: after having used the cloths for about 8 days, I highly recommend them!)
The trail transitioned to a Persistent uphill through pines with a fair amount of loose rocks. After the leg burning climb, the trail Flattened out a bit. Ferns and dozens of other green vegetation lined the trail. I Pointed out a rattlesnake fern to Oakland.
Around 11, we Sat at a small tent site and had a snack. I took off my right shoe and Massaged my arch which was still very cranky. We Listened to the small tap of a woodpecker that wasn’t visible in the thick leaf cover as we finished off our snacks.
As we got moving, my Arch still sparked but if felt different after the break. We went down a gentle hill with that transitioned to a roller coaster. Every so often I turned back to find Oakland taking pictures of fungi. I loved watching her excitement over all the mushrooms and lichen.
We Rounded corner and heard the low rush of water combined with road noise. Oakland thought it might be the wind but there was only a Light breeze blowing st the time. It almost sounded like a highway but eventually i decided it must be water.
We stood trying to spy a bird when we got passed by a Guy I recognized from the Damascus library. He was the last in a trio of hikers we let go by as we stood looking for the source of the small squeaking. The guy said “hey fellas” as he approached and neither of the us corrected him. Then he said something to the effect of “how are you guys today” and he immediately clarified that he says “guys” to everyone. We rolled with it and kept walking. I forget the comment that sparked it but at some point he affirmed something I said with “yes sir! I mean yes ma’am!” And replied “you could also just say “yes!” He laughed and said in a thoughtful tone, “yeah I could.”
We let him get ahead of us and had a baffled laugh at the gender mishmash he had gone through in such a short conversation. The trail transitioned to have more rhododendrons as it took us across a few small streams.
We noticed Clumps of rhododendron leaves laying on the ground, which was Confusing because the leaves don’t come off easily. As we mused on the subject, I looked up to see an older woman with a day pack and a baseball cap pruning rhododendrons with gardening shears.
As we approached, I asked if she had a permit for those shears. she laughed and said yes. We Passed her and had lunch around the corner at a campsite near a loud stream. Oakland tried her first bite of pop tart, the rest of which I ate for lunch with Fritos, spoonfuls of peanut butter and a few sesame covered cashews.
She reported that the pop tart wasn’t as sweet as she expected. We watched “snippy snip” wander up and down the trail grooming the rhododendrons as we ate to the sound of rushing water behind us and the occasional car passing by on a road out of sight.
We both took pee breaks in the rhododendrons and got moving again. Halfway to the shelter! We Crossed over a swollen stream where the only option for dry feet was to balance beam across a small log.
Then we Crossed a road and a newly constructed footbridge over whitetop laurel creek, which was the source of the loud rushing noise we’d heard a mile back. After the bridge, I took a soggy step in which muddy water Nearly went over the top of my shoes.
Then we Walked through more rhododendron tunnels. I Stopped to make notes and Oakland found an abundance of fungi to photograph. Stopped to get water and Oakland got distracted by coral mushrooms.
At some point, I Stooped under a blowdown And my phone popped out of my shoulder pocket. I picked it up and found a spider web of cracks all the way across the screen. I couldn’t believe such a short fall had caused so much damage. It must have fallen right into a rock or hard spot because I have definitely dropped my phone from far greater heights with no damage.
We kept walking and I did my best not to curse myself for having not learned my lesson. I know that my phone falls out of my pocket if I don’t tighten the strap. That’s how I cracked my phone in PA in 2017. I was aggravated by the avoidable mishap but it still worked so I tried to let it go.
The creek raged far below the trail to our right. We passed a handful of campsites between the AT and the creeper trail before the creeper took a right turn and crossed the overflowing creek.
We eventually made it to a Flat stretch that quickly became a rock field. We Crossed a log bridge next to a cascade
that was spitting water onto the logs.
Shortly after the sketchy log crossing were passed by two smelly NOBOs. Oakland watched them walk by and when they were out of earshot she said incredulously “why are they running?”
We Took a short break at the trail junction for Virginia creeper side trail. We had Just under 2 miles to go. Then came the Switchbacks up to the shelter turn off. We’d both scoffed at a commenter in guthook who lost his shit over the number of switches, so we decided to count them to see if the complainer had at least been accurate in his assessment.
Around the 5th switchback, I Heard a bird high in the canopy and I stopped to find it. I finally spotted some movement and it Turned out to be a scarlet tanager! We Stood still long enough for Oakland to get a good look at it. I was so happy to stumble on that kind of sighting her first day on the trail.
We Resumed the Switchbacks. Around the 10th corner, we Passed the smelly nobos taking a food break. Then we passed an older man who said seemed convinced that we were the people taking a snack break because he was baffled at our ability to pass him again.
It seems that the whiny commenter was right; there were indeed 16 Switchbacks. We arrived at the second exit for the shelter around 3:45 (it has two access points as we went to the northern point). We stopped to investigate a pod that we’d seen often throughout the day and found this inside:
We found Lucas the Swiss chocolatier and a couple of other hikers at the shelter.
We walked behind the shelter and set up the tent in a soft bed of pine needles with only a handful of pesky roots. Then Oakland pulled out her dinner essentials and began setting up her bed while I looked into getting reservations at our next hostel. She blew up her air mattress and then looked down in the bottom of her bag and exclaimed in horror because she realized that she had accidentally left a full 70oz platypus bag in the bottom of her pack from her last training hike, IN OAKLAND. Her bag was so heavy today because she had 2.5 liters of water in the bottom!
I laughed so hard and felt so relieved that she could hike with a light pack tomorrow. She, too, was relieved and horrified that she had made such a gaff and carried the extra weight all day. After the great realization, we sat outside the tent while I continued to work on reservations. I managed to get a phone call through only to find out that I had to reserve the room online. My signal of course then decided to disappear into the wind. I used my relatively reliable trick of forcing my phone into airplane mode and back out to get it to find a better signal. We settled on a room that is more expensive than We had hoped but it meant having a private room.
Then we scrounged up a rock and walked over towards the privy to have our first bear line lesson. I explained the underhanded slinging method and the trick of keeping the slack part of the line in your left hand to prevent it from flying away when the rock bag launched in weird directions or from flying into the air in a knot and getting your line stuck in the air. I managed to get my line on the intended limb after the third try but it was on a lower section that I’d hoped, so I pulled it down. Of course then it took about 6 more tries and some laughing to get it back on the limb in a higher spot. Oakland took her line with trepidation and nailed it on the second try. Then we grabbed our dinner gear and walked over to the shelter.
We both had a black beans and rice meal with our own tiny avocados which were the last of the batch from my sister in law. A new hiker arrived right as we were about to move over to the log seating area. I’m leaving her name out for anonymity because we found out she’s been having some trouble with a hiker that I know and have had mixed feelings about. We talked to her a bit while we ate dinner. Lucas emerged from his tent after having taken a nap. He apparently got blisters today, which does not bode well. It seems far too soon for blisters! He put together a fire while Oakland and I finished up our dishes. I gave Oakland a taste of my oatmeal cream pie – her second culinary first of the day. She said it was surprisingly good. Then we hung our food bags and I taught Oakland the pct method that I learned from la bamba. Our bags are a little lower than I would like, but I think they will do. We will be sure to hang them as high was we can tomorrow as we get closer to the very explicit bear warning zone.
I suggested we fill our water with the CA platypus, which managed to top off all 4 bottles. That’s not quite enough for tomorrow morning, so we walked down to the water supply and filled a sawyer bag. For now we are doing most things together until Oakland has had a few chances to practice things. Then came trips to the privy and wardrobe changes in the tent. I shared my new shirt and new socks philosophy. New people arrived as we lay in our tent. One of them was accompanied by an adorable and energetic mutt that was only mid-calf height. She ran around the campsite sniffing and wagging her tail and then bolted full speed back to her owner. I felt too lazy to get out and say hello but I watched her run around with glee and laughed from my cozy spot. Then I settled in to write up the days notes while Oakland reviewed the docket for tomorrow.
I’m finishing this to the sound of snapshot and trivia (the new hikers) talking to each other and the dog owner at full volume, the occasional crack from the small and annoyingly smoky fire blowing straight towards our tent, an airplane far overhead and bugs popping on the sides of the tent.
Mile 470.7 to mile 480.1 (9.4)
Checklist total miles: 488.3
Oakland total miles: 9.4
Creature feature: the scarlet tanager! A rust colored toad, oven birds, and the dog at the shelter