2019-Day 54: tunnel vision edition

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I slept so soundly that I thought I was in our bed in CA every time I stirred in the middle of the night. We got up for good around 6:45 and proceeded to do the hiker shuffle of stuffing things back in their respective homes. A loud thumping sound occurred while we were filling our water bottles at the common sink and poor Oakland thought it was an earthquake for a split second. You can take the Californian out of California but you can’t take the earthquake instincts away. I assured her it was a clothes washer or dryer and she recalibrated the sound. 

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Susan made us raspberry pancakes and scrambled eggs. Apparently they are incorporated as a b&b and they are required to provide us breakfast in some fashion, but we aren’t allowed to use their kitchen. If they were legally a hostel, it would be the opposite: Kitchen access but they’re not allowed to cook for us. We had our bags 99% packed by 7:25 and were eating gigantic pancakes, eggs and turkey bacon by 7:40. James Asked us when we wanted to leave by yelling out the question from his seat in the office. When we requested about 10 more minutes, he jokingly called out, okay 9.5 minutes! 

All four of us (Susan included), piled into the SUV around 8:15. We talked about their experiences in Damascus, Syria during the short drive to Dickey gap. They had intended to retire there after having lived there two different time periods, but the conflict became too dangerous and they decided against it. They dropped us off at the gap where we loaded up on Sunscreen before heading into the woods.

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The trail was a Narrow tunnel that took us up a gradual hill for a few minutes. then the woods opened up to blowdowns and a slanted trail, the combination of which gave the impression of walking sideways.

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We were Passed by a seasoned looking hiker going south. A little while later, we Crossed a horse path and went on a longer, slightly more obvious uphill with tiny views of the neighboring ridge line. Here’s oakland taking the rare terrain picture (most of her time is spent stopping for mushrooms). 

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A Nice strong breeze kept us cooler as we made our way with pancake lungs. Then we went Up a short rocky hill and onto a breezy fern lined and deceptively rocky ridge with dappled sunlight.

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I was cranky about the rocks and Feeling clumsy. Thankfully the Trail dropped us down a bit and the rocks eased up every now and then. Then came a More obvious gradual downhill with a hairpin left curve to follow the trail over more Rocks. The path narrowed for a bit and opened up to wide woods with a long sloping forest floor down to our right. The terrain was pretty repetitive, with the trail widening and narrowing as it snaked through the woods feeling as if we were constantly walking back from where we’d just come. The wind picked up every so often and large gusts made loud rushing sounds through the trees. 

We eventually went down a Long gradual downhill that brought out all the aches in my joints. I had a Slight headache and felt tired but happy that we had perfect hiking weather. We Stopped at the trimpi shelter turn off for a snack break on a nice log. 

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Then we had Easy walking through the woods to a gate that led us to a cow pasture.

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We saw a Calf drinking milk from its mother and giant cow patties everywhere. Oakland Called it the poopalachian trail. The field made for Lumpy walking, but it was thankfully not very long. We went Over wooden steps to cross barbed wire fence and back into the woods down an easy gravel lane.

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Then we Crossed an unmarked paved road and went back into the woods for a gradual up and then back down. Oakland discovered one of my favorite ferns that grows in a circular pattern. It was Hard to get a decent picture of them because of the wind, but we passed more later in the day at a more still spot. 

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We Came to a small footbridge over a pretty stream and Signed another trail registry where a travel bible sat in a small ziplock.

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An older man who we saw a couple Of days ago caught up to us and I made a joke about how there was an emergency bible in there if he needed one. He laughed and said he already had one, and I think he was serious. We Crossed the bridge of sparkly water and I Saw a new white flower.

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Then We Crossed a road and went up a small climb that flattened out to a forest full of whirling dark vines creeping up the sides of trees and hanging down onto the forest floor. We Stopped at a small tent site for lunch. The older man eventually passed us with so many things bouncing off of his pack. I wanted to ask him what he had INSIDE the pack given all the things bobbing on the outside but I didn’t want to sound like a jerk. 

We had to spread the honey for our wraps because it’s become completely crystallized. It worked out well enough. We each Ate the last of our baby bel cheeses (a luxury care of my mom in Damascus). Oakland told gnarly stories she heard from our friend who is an ER doc in Oakland. There was a cool breeze as we sat on a comfortable log in partial shade. We made it More than halfway through our day before lunch. 6.7 miles to the shelter!  Per the AT rules, we had a climb after lunch that transitioned into a roller coaster and eventually led us to an annoyingly rocky ridge with a nice breeze.  

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Then came a Long slightly steeper climb. We Passed the guy with the cluttered pack. Then came Another stupidly sharp, but short uphill. I cursed its existence, which made Oakland laugh in agreement. Then came a Rollercoaster with a downward trend. 

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I managed to get a small signal so We sat in the trail and looked at a poison ivy quiz website so I wouldn’t steer Oakland wrong in identifying the plant. As it Turns out, I HAD been telling Oakland something wasn’t poison ivy that probably is. We Walked for a few more minutes and then sat on a log and had a snack in the strong breeze. We each got a little lost in our phones for a few minutes because for one of the first times, we both had a signal. All the cats seem to be holding up well in the presence of their caretakers. And there were Father’s Day texts to be sent. I also checked in on research to see if she’s made it back on the trail. She plans to hike tomorrow! Fingers crossed her feet will cooperate. 

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After the break, We went through a few more rollercoaster hills, during one of which we found a blue dog bowl sitting on the trail. Oakland offered to carry it to the shelter in the event that someone will be there to claim it. then the trail dropped down to a nearly consistent rhododendron tunnel for the last mile and a half, much of which felt uphill (one of the views is today’s top picture). We passed a woman puttering at her tent site. I gave a wave and was planning to walk on by, but Oakland noticed that she had a dog and asked her if she was missing a water bowl. The woman said “yes! I was hoping someone would see it!” We returned the bright blue object to her and continued on our way. I said “isn’t that so satisfying!” to Oakland after we got out of ear shot. We stopped every so often for Oakland to take a mushroom picture. On one of those occasions I flung off my pack and shoved a few bites of cliff bar in my mouth. It was only 4:30 but I was approaching the bottomless hungry feeling. We had just stopped to admire the thick bright green grass covering the hillside to our right when I saw a flash of brown. Out popped a doe and her spotted fawn tromping up the trail. I thought I’d seen tiny deer footprints in the mud but I wasn’t sure until I saw the fawn. Oakland and I watched as they bounded back into the woods. I managed to get a decent video of them wandering away at a reasonably unafraid clip. 

Right around the corner, we came across a pine needle area with a half dozen tent sites and I spotted the wooden shelter through the trees. We made it there about 10 minutes earlier than I’d expected. It’s amazing what a difference terrain makes. We walked past the tenting area and stopped in front of the shelter. Banana (The Dreaded Snorer) sat at the picnic table with a family of four. I said hello and said that we were going to tent when he described the available space in the shelter. I wanted to warn the family about his snoring SO badly but I also didn’t want to make an ass of myself, so I kept my mouth shut. Oakland and I picked up our packs and went back over to the tenting area to scope out a spot. We easily found a nice plot of pine needles that was uncomfortably close to poison ivy, which has been EVERYWHERE since this morning after having dwindled to nothing since southern N.C. 

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After we had the tent set up, Oakland wisely took a giant rock and put it over the sprig of poison oak that was closest to my door. Then I sat outside of the tent swatting gnats and writing notes while Oakland blew up her air mattress. When she found out how buggy it was, she decided to stay in the tent while I bumbled through my bed setup. Then we took on the task of bear lines, which becomes much harder with the addition of poison ivy everywhere. We settled on two adjacent limbs in the same tree with just enough clear space from which to throw. I Went first and made over a half dozen misses before getting the line on the intended branch. Sadly it was far too close to the trunk. Oakland had the bright idea of going to fetch water while I re-threw my line. I managed to get it sufficiently far away from the trunk after only a few more attempts. I was worried about tangling Oakland’s line with mine so I went in search of a different tree and came up empty. All the options were either too thin, too many branches, or too close to poison ivy. I went back to my line and tied the excess off on a broken twig to keep it out of the way. Then i uncoiled Oakland’s line, attached the rock bag and flung it towards my target, which was the limb behind my limb. Success! I managed to get Oakland’s line over both of the branches on the first try. Oakland came back with two full platypus bags that she filled at the mount Rogers visitors center water fountains around the corner. I shared my triumph and showed her the setup.

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Then we grabbed our dinner gear and made dinner at the benches in front of the shelter. As we waited for our water to boil, I heard a pileated woodpecker nearby. I stopped what I was doing to  searched the trees and I managed to spot it landing on a giant tree trunk way down in the woods. Oakland came over to where I sat and looked into the woods and also managed to find it amongst the sea of green. I had hoped for her to get a closer sighting but I’m sure there will be more opportunities. Banana came over to chat while we fixed our food. He’s an amiable and conversational guy, and we made easy small talk with him while we ate dinner. Snapshot (from the Damascus hostel) arrived around 6:30 after having hiked nearly 20 miles from hurricane mountain shelter. Banana apparently came from their as well but he cut off about three miles by walking on the  road. Snapshot sat down with the look of vacant exhaustion that comes from having hiked a very long distance. 

Banana told snapshot about the sleeping options and I found my moment to mention, with care, that part of why we tented was because of bananas awful snoring. He apparently KNOWS HE DOES IT, Which to me means don’t sleep in the shelter unless it’s awful outside. Snapshot went off to get water and attempt a phone call for pizza from the visitor center phone. This is one of the few shelters to which you can get pizza delivered (well technically it comes to the visitor center parking lot). 

Oakland and I did our dishes and had dessert. She kindly gave me a few m&ms to go with my mini snickers. Then she went behind the shelter to brush her teeth. I decided to check out the logbook from the shelter and got embroiled in a conversation with the family from Illinois. Oakland had already told them about my first hike in 2017 so they had a number of questions for me. I also asked the mom what sections she had hiked. She’s done about 500 miles of the trail so far and knew her stuff when I started mentioning locations in Maine. I feel like she is totally thru hiker material but she’s doing her hike in 100 mile increments because that works for her lifestyle. A respectable choice.  

The conversation lasted a bit longer than I intended. Oakland kept herself busy talking to banana and snapshot. Then we headed back to our tent to finish the evening chores. I brushed my teeth and We each rinsed our salty faces. Then we searched for bear hang sticks and went through the nail biting task of actually hanging the bags. It’s always a bit nerve wracking as to whether the branch we’ve selected is actually strong enough for the hang. Tonight’s choices proved up to the task and we had our bags safely in the air in no time. Then we settled into the tent to change into sleeping clothes. Oakland was horrified by how she smelled but I assured her she was not alone. Then I wrote my notes while Oakland scrolled through her picture for the day and looked through tomorrow’s hike on guthook. The woods were very active as we lay in the tent. I’m finishing this to the sound of a bullfrog, a chorus of different birds, Oakland rustling in search of socks, and crickets. 

Mile 520.1 to mile 534.0 (13.9)

Checklist total miles: 542 

Oakland total miles: 63.1 

Creature feature: the doe and her fawn, the pileated woodpecker, the cows! and the calf, a small tan frog, and mysterious hairy poop that may have been from a coyote or bobcat (it seemed too big for a fox but I could be wrong). 

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