I had a pretty choppy night of sleep because I was cold and on a little bit of a side hill. A Robin made a racket right outside the tent with a funny two-segment call that always ended on a random noise. I Rolled over to Oakland and whined about not wanting to get up. As always occurs, nature spoke the loudest and we each crawled out of our warm cocoons for our respective Privy visits. I went to get the food bags from the bear box as a surprise favor to oakland.
We Decided to sit at the shelter rather than huddle in the less than back friendly tent, so we went into packing mode. Each progressive step of getting out of the warm tent was harder than the last. We both kept our long johns and puffy jackets on throughout the whole morning routine. Once we had the tent completely squared away, We Decided to sit in the sun on the ground instead of at the shady shelter picnic table. The sun in our faces gave the illusion of slightly more warmth. As we got up from eating, Oakland announced that she had been sitting next to a pile of pony poop. Unprecedented breakfast accommodations.
I Prepped my feet at the shelter and managed to forget my gaiters over by the tent area, so I had to remove everything all over again when I got back to my bag. Task rabbit awkwardly fussed over tad, repeatedly urging him to drink something warm despite his claims that he was okay. Oakland sat in the sun while I typed a few notes and a brisk wind blew through the tree tops. It was Thankfully not as windy at ground level.
We Said our goodbyes and got on trail at 8:15. We Started hiking with the sun in our faces and gloves on our hands. My feet were numb ice blocks and not responding well to my commands. We walked past the bear box and the tenting area and went through the gate towards the water source.
We Crossed the frightening bridge and went through roots and rocks across a wide slow stream.
then we went through an overgrown meadow lined with more mountain laurel. I was so happy that Oakland had a chance to see the laurel in bloom.
We Crossed another wide boggy section with mediocre rock hop choices. I felt grateful for the sun on our legs however briefly it occurred. When I joked to Oakland about how NOT nimble my icy toes were, she said I had numble feet.
We eventually went Through a fence line and signed the trail registry on the other side. Dizzy & brownie made it through yesterday. In my haste to keep moving and not get too chilled, i forgot to check for other hikers I know. We walked Down the flat, semi rocky lane. Thus far, even with the boggy sections, our first hour of hiking went So much faster than yesterday. Oakland had just made a comment saying as much when we turned left up a rocky hill. I jokingly said “see what you did!”
The rocky climb Flattened out quickly to beautiful fern lined green forest. We heard the Sound of a woodpecker and the morning report from the rest of the birds. The trail took us through a handful of root covered wet sections that were basically like walking in a stream bed. Some of the wettest stretches were impassable and we had to use the unfortunate, but understandable side paths that hikers create to avoid getting too sloppy. For example:
Then we came to another blustery open field covered in blueberries, mountain laurel, wildflowers, pony poop and eventually, ponies! We could see the ridge line we hiked yesterday to our left. Several ponies crossed the trail in front of us as we gawked at their beautiful patterns.
Task rabbit caught up with us in the field wearing only a T-shirt. She put on her raincoat to help cut the wind and set off in front of us. The field eventually led us down rocky log steps with views of ponies in the distance and the oddly out of place braying of cows nearby.
We mused about why we would hear cows while we walked down the rocky path next to the hillside dotted with blooming mountain laurel. The trail led us to a strangely empty corral save for a single car parked near an information kiosk. We finally found the source of the cow sounds when we got to the junction and found This spotted bull sat chewing his cud right by the gate we had to use along with 3 or 4 calves (today’s top picture is the view of him after we went through the gate).
We cautiously walked past the bull who seemed very disinterested in us and crossed the field to an informational kiosk. The owner of the car happened to return in that moment and kindly offered us a Gatorade, but we declined (it usually makes me feel nauseous). He instructed us about the trail options ahead, claiming better views to the left and AT purists to the right to stay on the trail.
We went through the opposite gate and took a right to get Back into the woods. We passed up a snack rock because it was too shady and cool to comfortably use for a break. The trail took us through sun dappled poplar saplings and eventually over more rocky wet stretches.
We Saw task rabbit sitting on a supreme snack log in the sun. I was envious of her break spot. My Stomach was getting emptier and I needed to stop. After yet another soggy rock hop, we Finally found a decent rock just across a small stream. We chomped away on cashews and cheezits while I posted a picture to social media with a wisp of phone service to make sure people knew we were doing okay. Then Oakland took pictures of fungus while I wrote notes.
After our break, we Walked over rocks and roots through a technicolor green, sun dappled forest. There were Boulders covered in moss and small trees and ferns as far as the eye could see. The wide variation in light unfortunately obscures a lot of the details so I didn’t take any pictures of that stretch.
We eventually Came to another gate that took us through a very short stint the sun. two hikers came towards us wearing shorts and T-shirts. They were in stark contrast to our bundled bodies. Not knowing that it was a short field walk, I made a joke about how they’d clearly been walking in the sun and We’d clearly been walking in the shade. They corrected me to say their attire was because they’d been walking uphill. As we passed, they turned and said oh are you Checklist and Oakland? We said yes and they shared a hello from task rabbit. I laughed at Oakland’s first experience of word on the trail.
Towards the middle of the short field walk, I noticed two trees that seemed to have grown together. One was a deciduous of some sort and the other an evergreen. Their trunks seemed to come from the same place and their limbs were enmeshed in such a way that both kinds of greenery sat together. The pictures I took don’t really show it well, but here’s one of them.
We Back into the woods through another squeaky gate. As we picked our way through the never ending rocks, we Ran into a ridge runner carrying a hoe to work on the privies. We thanked her for her work and listened to her brief stories about how other hikers have fared in the cool, wet days of late.
Then came More rocks. So many rocks. My feet were getting markedly tender and I worried that I had unwittingly set Oakland up for a poor physical outcome because the last two days have been challenging hiking. We reveled in the green everywhere while simultaneously griping at each misstep.
We occasionally stopped for Oakland to take pictures or for me to write notes. Here’s a classic Oakland shot where she takes tree hugging to an all new level. (There’s a cool white fungus inside the tree hollowed out stump).
We Finally got to the shelter for lunch around 12:30. Task rabbit was already there and joined us for lunch. We pulled out our food bags and settled onto the edge of the sleeping platform. I took off my shoes and put together my wrap. Our latest bottle of honey has crystallized which made that ingredient hard to apply. I decided to move to a log in the sun because I immediately started getting too cold for comfort. Tad showed up halfway through lunch looking a bit destitute in his multi layered outfit. He decided to keep going to find a sunnier break spot. After a lunch in which Oakland and I both wanted to keep eating, we walked down to the water source and topped off our bottles. The temperatures have made it challenging to drink enough water and I’m sure we aren’t succeeding at staying hydrated.
We Left the shelter around 1:20 and walked through a wide open green forest with easy footing. It was a welcome change from the tedium of rocks even though it made both of our feet chatty.
We crossed a trial junction and the trail took us Gradually downhill. We eventually went through rhododendrons where task rabbit Passed us as I took yet another rhododendron picture. Then came more rocks and more rhododendrons.
Oakland and I were both in end of the hiking day zombie mode, which is not to say that anyone was cranky. We were both in decent spirits, just ready to be done with the focused efforts of walking over uneven ground. we finally arrived at a road crossing before our last climb of the day. We stopped to drink water and take off our rain coats. Oakland spied a car that was covered in amazing bumper stickers. We gawked and I decided to leave an appreciative note for the driver. (Halfway, the “national park geek” one made me think of you!)
Then we donned on our packs and I said let’s go Oakland. She started to move but immediately said nope! And ran towards crazy orange mushrooms growing out of a stump by the gravel parking lot.
After the picture detour, we Crossed road and went over small footbridge. We then Came to much bigger footbridge they took us across a fast moving stream. We stopped for a few pictures.
Then we went up a narrow rhododendron lined path with the sound of water slowly receding. I smelled horse and confirmed the sensation with Oakland. Then came the smell of wood smoke which seemed out of place for the time of day, and which I’m sure gave Oakland a small fright given her CA wildfire sensibilities.
We eventually Rounded a corner and heard the sound of water far below combined with subwoofers of a passing car. The climb Persisted, so we stopped to Take off our long sleeve layers for first time in 48 hours. I Heard the yip of a pileated woodpecker and stopped to search for it, but No luck. A little while later, We Took a pee break and I put on sunscreen at Oakland’s request. We Continued uphill until we stopped for Oakland to take pictures of tiny orange button mushrooms.
Not long after we got moving again I heard a flapping and saw a flash of black and white land on the backside of a tree. I thought it was a black & white warbler but it actually turned out to be a woodpecker with a red cap and a red throat. As it pecked on the side of the trunk 5 feet from us, vireos dive-bombed it. The woodpecker flew away from its pursuers and off into the tree tops. We looked at each with the excitement of a cool bird encounter and kept moving. The hill had finally jumpstarted our desire to drink more water so we made occasional pit stops as we continued up the steady climb. The trail eventually spread out for a little while and then went almost imperceptibly down in dappled sunlight which made it difficult to see the errant loose rocks scattered among the roots. I felt dejected by how tired I was and how much I looked forward to a break tomorrow even though I’d just had 3 days off in Damascus. I shared this with Oakland when she asked what I was thinking and she of course tried to talk me out of my nonsense.
The trail took us a down a few switchbacks and through a long rhododendron tunnel where we eventually found the hurricane shelter tent site. To call it a tent site is accurate because there seemed to be exactly one flat spot in the whole area. Task rabbit sat on a rock in the sun looking at her AWOL when we arrived. She shared her plan to head north a couple miles and asked what we had in mind. I said “oh we are done for the day. We have new feet to take care of.” It’s disappointing to fall out of line with task rabbit but it was about to happen tomorrow when we take our Nero at Sufi lodge. I shared a few fruit snacks with her and Oakland said goodbye while I started to pull out the tent.
The tent fit quite nicely among the roots such that we had a soft and mostly flat pitch next to the sound of a stream running through the rhododendrons. Given the 4:45 timing, We decided to work through bedding setup to kill a bit of time before making dinner. Oakland climbed into the tent, blew up her bright green mattress and her 32 pillows. Just kidding, she only has two: one for her head and one for her knees, and they are both worth their weight in gold. When she was done, I followed suit and resisted the urge to immediately put on my long johns. Why resist, I’m not sure. Then we sat on rocks that were too low for both of our fussy backs and made ourselves chili Mac. I love how excited Oakland gets about chili mac. We talked about the hiker community and its oddities and looked at some of our pictures from the day. We did our dishes and then each reveled in our respective desserts (Twix & Milky Way minis for me and m&ms for Oakland). We stepped away from our campsite to brush our teeth and then Oakland went to get her water for the morning while I puttered over my notes.
We made the trek up to the shelter to use the privy and to put our food bags in the bear box. The comments for this shelter prior to the installation of the bear boxes are pretty terrible. Dozens of food bags were taken and hikers were harassed by bears that could have cared less about being yelled at.
Up at the shelter, I made a phone call to set up a shuttle from the trail to our hotel for the night. The woman misheard me when I said we were leaving the shelter at 8am and proceeded to talk over me while i tried to clarify that were hoping for a ride at 11, NOT 8. Once we were finally on the same page, she let me know that the earliest we could get picked up would be 11:30. I happily agreed to the timing and ended the call. The only person at the shelter was a guy who lives a little farther north off the trail somewhere in VA. he’s only out for a few days. When I asked him where he called home, he said the name of his current town but that he grew up on Asheville. I made a joking comment about Asheville being terrible (because it’s where Oakland and I met). His head whipped up to look at me. I quickly back pedaled and said I was kidding, but to my surprise he said “oh it is terrible. I wish it was still the same as when I grew up there.” I got the impression that he meant mostly the density but then he said the people in government were now Mostly “outsiders,” which triggered my conservative good ole boy radar. We hedged away from the Asheville topic and he kindly gave Oakland a tea bag for her breakfast.
We dropped the tea bag in the bear box with our food and gave ourselves one last hit of chapstick. Then we walked back to our campsite happy to be leaving the awkward conversation. We changed into our bedtime clothes, and I worked on my notes while Oakland massaged her calves at my recommendation. It helps a tiny bit with the morning cinder block phenomenon. As a treat and because it was so early, we played a few rounds of the golf card game before actually going to bed. I’m finishing this to the sound of the stream twenty yards to our left and the stillness of the trees which feels audible after last night’s wind tunnel.
Mile 504.1 to mile 515.0 (10.9)
Checklist total miles: 523.2
Oakland total miles: 44.3
Creature feature: a couple of squirrels, chipmunks, the two woodpeckers, blue headed vireo, brown thrasher (the bird I’ve been mistakenly calling the thrush), the cows! And ponies!