2019-Day 55: schoolhouse edition

REAL TIME UPDATE: we are in Daleville, VA for a zero today (7/5) so there will be a few posts coming your way. I’ve decided to focus more on taking a break for zeroes than trying to get the blog closer to real time, so the posts will continue to lag significantly from where we actually are. It’s too exhausting to spend 7 hours blogging and still be so far behind myself. Hopefully you’ll still visit when new posts arrive at glacial speeds!

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There were so many sounds in the woods last night! We both got a pretty choppy night of sleep. I woke up to the sound of distinct footfalls crunching over leaves around 1:15. The moon was so bright that I put on my glasses and I could see a fair ways into the woods. I couldn’t find the creature so I laid back down hoping not to wake oakland. She stirred and I let her Know what I was listening for. Sadly I had pee REALLY badly, so I finally got out of the tent and took care of that. I eventually drifted back to sleep. Oakland apparently woke up to the sound of something screeching in the 4am range.

Oakland made her trip to the Privy first around 5:45. By the time my watch alarm went off at 6:15 we were both exhausted. I dragged myself to the privy after grumbling about being too tired. Then we pulled our food bags down (another successful food hang!) and continued with the rest of breaking down camp.

We Sat down at the fire pit benches around 7:15 and had breakfast with banana who came over to chat without any food. At some point he fidgeted a bit and said “I have a weird question for you, do you know about any pride events in VA for pride month?” I kept a neutral face to hide my surprise at what I’d just heard (thank you, therapist skills). Admittedly I didn’t have any information about pride events. It hadn’t even occurred to me to check. When Oakland returned from the privy, I repeated banana’s question to her so she would be on the same page as everyone without me having to make a pointed “BANANA IS ONE OF US” statements. She too went with the new information seamlessly (teacher skills).

We stuck around a bit longer than intended and had a short but helpful conversation with banana about how lonely it is out here as a queer person and how incredibly straight it feels on a day to day basis. We joked about how high the bro quotient is and shared some stories from the kids in Damascus throwing around the word bro in every sentence.

We got some unsolicited but welcome campsite advice from The section hiking mom whose name we never actually got because she was too distracted to answer the question. We finally hit the trail around 8 and were immediately slowed down by the sighting of a new-ish bird that stopped right in front of us and hopped along a few feet before flitting off into the trees. It was a Small grey and white bird with a yellow throat. Then we stopped at the visitor center to top off our water bottles at the fountain.

It already Seemed like it was going to be a hot day. We Crossed the road and went up a short hill that led us to a slightly breezy ridge and back down again with the road in sight off to our left. When the breeze died down i could feel the heat of the morning. Oven birds expressed their opinions as we picked our way over rocks. We crossed another road and walked over an abundance of Broken glass in the first few yards of the trail. Whyyyyy. We made our way Up a hill through blooming rhododendrons.

It turned into a Shit kicker of a hill that led us onto a breezy but unfortunately rocky ridge with Rollercoaster hills.

We Passed the woman with dog that we ran into yesterday. She sat on the side of the trail changing her socks while her dog looked at us askance. He came around pretty quickly and gave us a sedate hello sniff while we stopped to say hello. She said she met Someone who saw 6 bears yesterday.

We left her to tend to her feet and Dropped down below the ridge through a sea of ferns. We Walked through waist high ground cover and then up another shit kicker hill with Pinging Raptor sounds high above us. I asked Oakland to lead the way for a minute so I could get the scale of the hill for you because it doesn’t look like much when it’s just trees and path.

The hill just – kept – going. It Wrapped around to the left and continued climbing over rubble. I Tripped and my pole came out of my left hand. My left foot landed on the bottom half of my pole across the rocks. I heard a snapping noise and knew it wasn’t good. I picked up my pole and found that it was broken almost completely in two. I said aloud to Oakland “I just broke my pole.” We stood there in silence for a Moment of panic. I checked my phone and decided to use the bit of service I had to call tomorrow’s hostel to get permission to have poles shipped there (some places don’t accept commercial packages). Then, because you don’t walk away from good phone signal, I Sat on a rock in the middle of trail and ordered new poles on rei with one day shipping. While I fiddled with my phone Oakland found me a good walking stick. In a matter of 10 minutes, the problem was mostly settled, and up the hill we went. Right around the corner, we sat on a nice log in the grass and had a snack. As we ate, An Older woman with scars on both knees came towards us. I said “we aren’t a mirage!” and she said “but are you the top?” Meaning the top of the pesky hill we were still on.

We did finally make it to the top of the hill and back down to a road Crossing, followed by another Small climb up through Burned section on our right.

The charred trees and bright green of the new growth lasted for quite awhile (the new growth is “secondary succession” according to our resident AP bio teacher). Our whole right side was void of tree cover so we had far Less shade and began sweating more profusely. We Passed the older woman on a hill that Gradually led us up to a Rocky ridge covered in waist high ferns.

I could hear a Train whistle in the distance as a Nice breeze blew and Oven birds continued to share their feelings. We saw a new yellow flower:

We went down a Rocky hill to this view:

then we went through a tight laurel tunnel that shortly opened up a bit and Down through open woods easy footing for less than a half mile. Then the trail turned into a rock pile again. We Continued descending Past a couple of streams running through rhododendrons.

We went Down a handful of stone steps and over even more rocks on a narrow trail in a gully between two sharp hillsides. I Felt claustrophobic and like we would never get to our lunch destination (chatfield shelter). We Crossed the same stream twice and the second time was right in front of the shelter. The privy is closed so people have repurposed a tree next to the privy. Oakland reported seeing piles of TP after taking a pee break up there. I decided to pee next to the privy instead the tree.

Then We sat at the picnic table and took off our shoes and socks to air out our feet. Oakland unwittingly bought the waterproof altra lone peaks for the hike, so her feet are nice and warm because the waterproofs don’t breathe as well as the regular version. I spread out my array of lunch foods and felt both excited and horrified by the combination. Pop tarts, Fritos, Doritos, skippy, and 3/4 of a payday.

The older woman passed us again. She asked if we were going to Maine and I explained our circuitous route. She is a section hiker who has only 100 miles Before she will have finished the whole trail. She said it’s been 13 years in the making and she saved 7 miles in the 100 mile Wilderness of Maine as her swan song. Her name is Northstar. I didn’t get her picture but suffice it to say she is a tough one.

After lunch Oakland convinced me that she should get us water while I put my feet up in the shelter. They’re getting pummeled by the rocks. I fought her on it but in the end she won. She announced the presence of a cool salamander down at the stream. We decided to stick around a bit longer to work on the next food list so our amazing HQ doesn’t have to scramble at the last minute and so that the list will populate for them at some point today when my signal improves.

The trail got off to a Slightly rocky start after lunch. We both considered listening to Harry Potter but held out in favor of listening to the woods. We Crossed gravel road that led us to a short Detour for a purportedly “dangerous tree.” We walked about 20’yards past the white blaze and followed blue tape markers back into the woods. There were Blowdowns all over the place and a set of wooden stairs on their side. It looked like quite the scene (but didn’t translate well into a picture).

The trail took us through sometimes Mucky Rhododendron tunnels. We discussed which HP we would listen to on repeat if we could only pick one (consensus was order of the Phoenix with prisoner of Azkaban as a close runner up). Ominous thunder rumbled in the distance as we edged along a stream. Alex and squeaks (the bro-centric guys we met our last night/morning at hikers inn) from Damascus Passed us again. Squeaks wore shorts the color of Texas flag, which I suppose matched his Texas motorcycle license plate that swayed and squeaked from the bottom of his pack.

The Thunder got louder and longer as we walked. We stopped and Pulled out ziplocks for our phones and peed before it decided to rain. Then we Continued through rhododendrons until the forest opened up and led us through two separate power lines, the second of which had a low hum that could be heard from a quarter mile away and was covered in poison ivy.

We Stopped right before a sunny meadow to check email for packaged food order and to check in with HQ.

We eventually came to a small road crossing where we found an old schoolhouse that has been preserved and is part of the Settlers museum.

crows cawed in the distance as we put our packs down to check out the inside of the schoolhouse (today’s top picture). We marveled at the desks and read the teachers rules with horror because of the gender disparity.

we signed the register and headed back out into the heat of the day. The trail

took us across the road, Through a field and back into the woods before going through another field (you can see my fabulous walking stick on the left).

We heard road noise as we made our way to a set of Railroad tracks (Oakland’s first rural track crossing).

On the other side of the tracks we crossed a short Boardwalk.

The Highway noise we’d heard for awhile got louder even though we were still quite a ways from crossing it. We Eventually went through a rat maze of twists and turns through overgrown trail that was covered in poison ivy and lacking in shade. It was a Steamy nightmare of itchy grass and fear of getting poison ivy. I didn’t take any pictures of it because I was so cranky.

After what felt like forever, we Came out to a road and took a long break at the Sunoco across the road. I went inside to buy Orange soda and Pringle’s and to use the bathroom, all of which took quite awhile because of an Annoying child lingering in bathroom. She walked out as if there were no other humans in the world who might need to share the resources she’d just commandeered for nearly 10 minutes. We sat on the bench outside the gas station to eat our snacks and watch The comings and going’s of the somewhat broken Humanity. An older gentlemen we had both judged for his rifle toting sexist T-shirt, said “y’all going back out there before the rain comes?” He was the only person to acknowledge us and we appreciated the sentiment behind his question.

We left Sunoco and took a Road walk up to the left and underneath interstate 81. Cars whizzed by and I asked Oakland if this was her version of a nightmare. She agreed that it was not her favorite way to be on a road. But We did get to see a new purple flower:

We crossed the road near the highway exit and took a Right turn into an overgrown field.

We saw Red winged black birds and a Yellow bird with dark wings. We eventually Crossed small gravel road and went back into an even more overgrown path that thankfully opened up a bit.

Thunder rolled through every now and then. We crossed the last field of the day with views of the approaching storm behind us and cows dotting the yellow hillside to our right.

We climbed a rickety wooden ladder to get over the fence line.

Just on the other side of the fence we came to the memorial for stronghold, the hiker who was killed in the VA attack. There was a picture of stronghold in a ziplock bag that I’ve seen in news articles. Oakland placed a pine pod on top of the memorial where others had placed change and small keepsakes. We both teared up standing there taking in the gravity of the memorial.

Very unfortunately we also had a thunderstorm on our heels so I suggested we walk and cry to keep moving. We wound through dark woods with little ground cover for only a few more minutes before reaching the tent site. The woman who lost the dog bowl yesterday was already setup. We greeted each other and finally got her name (tea time) after having seen her about 4 times in the last 24 hours. We surveyed the scene and determined the best spot to be right at the high edge of the campsite across the way from our company for the evening. Oakland put a rock on top of a small patch of poison ivy and we proceeded to set up the tent to the sound of thunder. Then we walked around in search of a bear line tree. We found a limb that I feared would be too low once it had weight in it but our options were limited for trees that didn’t involve getting our ropes in a morass of poison ivy. I got my line over on the second try (another indication that the limb might be too low). Oakland made her throw onto the same limb on her third try. With that chore successfully done, we grabbed our cooking gear and food bags and joined teatime and blaze (the dog) by a fire ring at a lower set of tent sites. Here they are (it was hard to get them both looking at the camera at the same time).

We boiled water and listened to tea time’s section hiking accomplishments. When she finishes her current section she will have done a little over 1,000 miles in the last 10 years. She’s also a teacher and only does sections during her school breaks. She said she started hiking with her dad who has since passed away due to cancer. Her dog blaze is 2 years old and a gangly fawn colored goof. Oakland and I set up our dinner and both hurried over to the water source to get water while our food cooked. I meant to ask teatime if it was okay to leave her in charge of guarding our food but I forgot. We walked through the rhododendrons to a wide pool of water that from a distance looked like mosquitoe hell and turned out to be a cold, clear spring with great water. Oakland dipped water into her sawyer bag with my scoop and was amazed by the clearness of the water. We each topped off our bottles and filled our sawyer bags. Then we rinsed our faces and I went an extra step and rinsed my armpits. they felt like they were chafing a bit today so I tried to remove some of the salt from all the sweating. Then we took a shortcut back to the tent and dropped off our water. We made it back around the 13 minute mark and enjoyed dinner with tea time and a very sleepy blaze. We made it through dinner and dishes, but right as teatime offered us cold s’mores (Nutella, marshmallow, and graham cracker) we heard the start of the rain that had been threatening for the last two hours.

We grabbed our gear and hunkered down in the tent. Sadly we hadn’t gotten through teeth brushing or hanging our food before the rain. We also had to deal with the stressful quagmire of figuring out how to manage our exposure to poison ivy. Oakland had a bad case of poison oak last year so she was pretty spooked by the prospect of getting poison ivy. We have one packet of tecnu (poison ivy/oak oil removal) but we were both verging on too tired and too overwhelmed to figure out the best process by which to use it. I needed to take my contacts out because my eyes were getting incredibly dry so I voted for using it on our hands first so we could at least touch our eyes without too much anxiety. Then we each did parts of our legs that were exposed. For me that meant all of my calves. With some of what was left over, I did the bare minimum of my gaiters and my hands again because I touched my gaiters. There wasn’t any way to comprehensively treat everything that had been exposed, but we did our best. Oakland closed both of her tent doors and I shortly followed suit. She was dismayed by a dryness and twitching in her left eye, which is near where her previous poison oak case occurred. I tried to comfort her by saying we didn’t know for sure what those sensations were yet and to try not to get too attached to them until we had more information.

Then Oakland went though her bed setup while I tried my best to stay out of the way. I set up my bed while griping about how much water was getting in from the edges of the tent. We were very unfortunately experiencing a fair amount of splashback from the rain into the tent. Thus began MY point of fixation which was how to prevent such bad splashing and being confused as to why it seems so much worse now than it was on my 2017 hike. Oakland did her best to comfort me by saying that we were mostly dry in a very wet place and that we had a place to dry out our gear in 24 hours. I tried to let it go rather than grumble the entire time. Instead, we cozied up as much as we could in the middle of the tent and Oakland dozed while I worked on my notes for the day. I could hear a train whistle far off in the distance as I fussed with my tiny cracked screen.

Around 8:30 we went back out into the rain to hang our food. First we stood under cover of thick rhododendrons and brushed our teeth. Unfortunately the swooping tree we had chosen for our lines was not up to the task of hoisting both of our food bags at the same time. I re-threw one of the lines to get it on a stronger more central part of the tree and managed to get the bags up together. Success! In the rain! After dark! The bag could be higher but it’s not the worst food hang I’ve ever seen.

We walked back to the tent in the light drizzle and settled ourselves back in. As I started to write more, we heard the distinct sound of a whippoorwill nearby. We both laughed at the timing. Thankfully the pesky bird didn’t stick around for too long. I’m finishing this to the sound of blaze shaking his collar in the tent across the way, the rain plopping in the woods and on our tent, and the low whine of road noise from I-81.

Mile 534.0 to mile 547.4 (13.4)

Checklist total miles: 556.2

Oakland total miles: 76.5

Creature feature: a vole, a cardinal and two wood thrushes, blaze the adorable gangly dog, more cows! The yellow bird, and a redwinged blackbird.

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