REAL TIME UPDATE: I’m in Oakland, CA sitting next to a dozing 16 year-old orange tabby and listening to the dulcet tones of construction across the street from our apartment. Spoiler: I officially finished the AT on August 14th! and I am now beginning the process of updating the blog while trying to re-integrate as a productive member of society AND reduce the inevitable post-trail depression by taking myself outside as much as possible. Expect a slow, but hopefully steady trickle of posts in the weeks to come. Now back to hiking in VA…
I got a surprisingly decent night of sleep. The wind howled and I heard several different spates of rain, all of which helped to mask what little snoring their was. Someone stirred loudly around 5:20 and I thought it was Oakland shining her bright phone light at the door latch, But it turned out to be the section hiker named rich. Oakland did go to the privy right after him but with her red light on as early morning hiker etiquette dictates.
When she got back she whispered to me that it was indeed socked in outside, which I had predicted. I waited for one more person to go before I made the short and gusty trek to the privy. Fog rolled through my headlamp beam as I sat there. I saw A slight view down into the valley on my way back but our chances for morning colors seemed slim. When I got inside, No one stirred in the shelter so Oakland and I decided to wait until 6 to start moving around. We had a long day ahead of us and couldn’t wait forever for other people to get up.
We Sat at the table and ate as quietly as we could while Gadget packed up his hammock. Last night he had the most awkward conversation with his wife where he surprised her with speaker phone in the shelter. she sounded less than pleased. Then it sounded like he wanted her to meet him around harpers ferry and she wasn’t all that into the idea. She also gave him a hard time about not being more in touch. Listening to his half of the conversation was squirm-worthy. Why have such a private conversation over SPEAKER phone??
Anyway, Oakland and I had our breakfast bars and peanut butter. Then we started packing our things as other people finally started to stir. I made a second trip to the privy and saw a hint of sunlight breaking through the fast moving fog so I hurried back into to get my phone. Then I stood in my wet shoes without socks on and took about a dozen pictures of the view (today’s top picture) while Oakland brushed her teeth near the shelter.
When I walked back inside, a wall of hiker smells hit me. I felt bad for Oakland who has a sensitive nose. We were packed up and hiking by 7:11am. The trail started with about 30 yards of tall wet grass and then took us into the woods to follow a breezy ridge that descended to walker gap. There were occasional switchbacks as the trail took us off the ridge. Every now and then the sun broke through the trees but it didn’t stick around for long. We saw a few of the tall lilies that we’re not supposed to touch in order to protect them from fungus.
We arrived at Walker gap to find a car parked along the side of the road crossing and a handful of people camped on the hill. We checked our maps to see about the water sources for the day and we Stopped near the car to take off a layer. Two gentlemen said they had watched our car for us and I kindly let them know that it wasn’t our car. The trail went up from the gap and took a sharp left that led us to a sharper hill that I have come to label a “shit kicker” hill.
Much of the morning consisted of a series ups and downs that Oakland and I called “doodley-doos” on the map. Some of them were shit kickers but the majority were reasonable blips along the wooded ridge. A strong wind blew through the trees and the path occasionally narrowed. The footing varied from rocky patches to softer sandy section.
We Eventually dropped down below the ridge out of the wind which made for a much quieter experience. We took a Snack break on a decaying log at the two hour mark. Sadly we couldn’t stick around very long because the wind made it too cold. I can’t believe it’s the first day of summer and I’m saying I was too cold to sit still in southern VA. We continued along the ridge with footing that ranged from sandy to rocky to squishy. The side of the trail was dotted with red flowers. At some point mid morning, We Ran into the section hiking northstar heading southbound. We stopped to say hello and asked how she was doing. As we talked, the 4 NOBOs from chestnut knob shelter passed by, two of which were not wearing shirts. I was perplexed because the temperature was definitely NOT in shirtless range, but then I remembered that its hike naked day in honor of first day of summer. As we parted ways, Northstar said her spouse was down at the road in their camper van. Oakland and I secretly hoped and theorized that she had used vague language because her spouse was a female-bodied person. As we walked, I hoped we would have a chance to confirm/reject our theory.
We Continued along the ridge for a little longer and then dropped down a short distance to VA 623, which was a gravel road with a small parking lot. We saw Northstar’s van and waved to the person inside who turned out to be a cis-man (“cis” refers to someone whose gender identity matches the gender they were assigned at birth. In other words, he was a male-bodied person who also identifies as male). Gay Theory rejected. Oh well. He was very nice and enthusiastically returned our wave while opening the door to say hello. His name is Derrick (trail name: snapshot) and he’s a science writer. That morning he was working on an article about methane for the union of concerned scientists. This of course led to a small science confab between Oakland and Derrick. He offered us almonds or cashews as a parting trail magic gift because they are heading home after today. We happily took a bag of cashews and the rest of a bag of fancy chocolate chips. Their cute, gray-muzzled dog made an appearance as Derrick scrounged around in the food tupperware for our goodies. As we parted ways, a group of hikers got dropped off by bubba’s shuttle service, which I know because one of the women said “thanks bubba!” This made Oakland and me chuckle under our breath.
While the section hikers tried to decide which way was north or south, we crossed the road and took a short climb that settled down to a mostly flat section with rocks. There were Tons of large boulders off the trail in the wide open, green forest.
Then the trail devolved into a Rockier and muddier mess for a little while. We eventually had a long descent with no suitable lunch spots. I also had to pee, which I finally did off the side of the trail while Oakland kept lookout for the two younger women who had gotten behind us because of a water stop.
We Finally settled on a mediocre but functional rock right on the trail. Thankfully no one passed us while we ate. Oakland had a Tuna wrap and I made myself a Pb wrap. Doritos for all and we both ate some of our trail magic chocolate chips. We had 6.6ish miles to go depending on where we decided to tent for the evening.
Back down the trail we went. At one point, I looked up to see movement ahead of me that turned out to be a sizable deer with a small rack. I couldn’t count the points but it looked to be less than fully grown. It turned to see us coming and barely seemed to register us. After a few feet of movement it finally decided to make tracks. With a swish of its tail, it took a lazy gallop down into the woods and continued grazing.
We leapfrogged with the two younger women from shelter last night (their names are google and oats in case they come up in the future). task rabbit eventually joined the train of hikers. We ended up at the same water source where she said she saw a cub this morning. I’m Sad we haven’t had a bear sighting for Oakland yet.
Right before the water stop, the Forest opened up and became greener but rockier. We Got water at a trickle of a source where someone had set a leaf under a rock to help consolidate the meager flow. I Drank a bunch of water before topping off my bottles.
After the pit stop, the trail Narrowed to a still-aired laurel tunnel and then opened back up to wide forest with hills around us. We pulled ahead of task rabbit but I had to pee again so we dropped our packs and waited for her to catch up/pass. She showed up and stopped behind us, not catching the drift of why we had stopped. I finally just told her I needed to pee to give her the hint to keep going. Upon hearing the news, she said “get it girl.” I said “not a girl “ as I walked off into the brush. I’m not sure if she heard me. This is the kind of gendered language that a lot of people don’t notice and I didn’t expect to hear from her after she seemed so aware of non-binary people. She didn’t leave right away, but finally gathered that I wasn’t going to pee while she stood 5 feet away. After relieving myself, we continued up the trail with the return of a Light breeze and the sun! Finally! It turned into a beautiful day to hike. A little while later the trail took us up a long hill through rhododendrons in which we saw another one of our little orange friends.
We crossed over a sturdy log footbridge and eventually came upon two major blowdowns, one of which we’d been warned about and which i forgot to photograph. Two large trees went across the trail and a muddy trail had been created up the embankment. We were advised to pass our packs through the trees and climb between the trunks, which worked out well.
We came upon The second blowdown (pictured above) right as a trio of weekend hikers approached from the other direction. They took an annoyingly long time to make it past the tree and we got stuck at the bottom of the hill talking to the first one to make it down. He was an older gentleman who gave me the heebs because he reminded me of the man who died on trail about a month ago. I was happy when his compatriots finally passed us and we could make our way up the hill.
Oakland and I made quick work of the blowdown by putting our poles and packs underneath and crouching below the tree trunk with jagged limbs. Afterwards, The trail continued uphill with terrible banking that aggravated my right foot. My pace slowed and my morale dropped as we continued up the lopsided trail.
We took a Short break on log that was a tad too high but in a good location to take a breather from the poor footing. I Took off my brace to let my foot relax. We ate snacks and checked in with each other. Oakland seemed to be doing pretty well so far. We kept the break pretty short. Thankfully the trail improved. As we finally crested the hill, the trail went down for a hundred yards and leveled out into a wide lane that seemed too easy, and for which I was very grateful.
We walked along in silence for long stretches and occasionally chewed on open ended questions, such as musing about what we would like to be doing in that moment were we not on this hike (eg. Playing music at Oakland’s family olive farm). There were periodic muddy patches along the flat trail. In one of the mud pits, I saw what looked like toe prints and wondered aloud whether someone had been walking in five finger shoes.
Oakland looked at it, pointed to the claw marks, and said, “um I think that’s a bear print.” It was gigantic. We both pooped ourselves a little bit as we continued down the trail. For better or worse, the forest was wide open at that point, so a bear would have been easy to spot, as would we.
The last 2.5 miles were pretty easy walking with a bit of knee aching downhill towards the end. There isn’t much to report in terms of terrain. It looked like variations of this for most of it:
We got to the bridge right at the road crossing and immediately heard cars passing. I recoiled at the idea of camping so close to a busy gravel road, but we didn’t have any other nearby options.
We crossed the footbridge and paused to take in the beautiful, wide stream that would be our water source for the evening (sorry the video is a bit blurry). Then we explored up and down the trail within 0.2 of a mile and the spots nearest to the intersection with the gravel road were unfortunately the best. We took a relatively flat spot tucked away by itself in the rhododendrons. I made sure to scarf small bites of snacks during this process to keep myself human. I don’t know what it is, but when I get to camp everything gets exponentially harder. We groomed the spot, which had one piece of glass but no more that we could find. Then we pitched the tent with ease because of the soft ground. Oakland offered to go get water at laurel creek across the road while I setup my bedding. I happened to spot what looked like a good bear line limb as I stood by the tent, so I got Oakland’s opinion before she left for her chore. She agreed that it was a perfect limb (strong, easy access, and no poison ivy to contend with on the ground). We divided and conquered and reconvened after about 10 minutes. My feet did not like being in wet socks this morning and when I let them free, I had red marks that looked rash-like but didn’t itch. Oakland ran into the younger women we leapfrogged down at the water. They apparently took an extended lunch break and are going to keep hiking awhile longer.
As we sat down on our fire ring log, task rabbit made it to camp. She showed us her picture of the bear claw and we told her we’d also seen it. She asked if she could join us for dinner and we happily agreed. Oakland assembled her bedding. Then we boiled water and setup our food to cook. Oakland made it over the 100 mile mark today! She also hiked her longest day! Here she is meticulously arranging her mile marker sign.
Another hiker named gills arrived a little before our dinner with a cute pittie named butters. I couldn’t resist the siren call of a cute pittie so I walked over there to say hello. Gills took off butters’ saddlebags and I got a modest face kiss from him before he plopped himself in the leaves. He had blood splotches on his head that apparently come from scratching his ears too hard.
Task rabbit joined us for dinner. We did as most hikers do and talked about hiking. We also fantasized about what hometown restaurants we would go to first when we’re done with our hikes. As we ate, gills walked by asking if we wanted any fish because he was going to try to catch some. I held my tongue regarding the absurdity of his proposition and politely declined. We gave some of our trail magic to task rabbit to help lighten our load. Oakland and I washed our pots, had dessert and brushed our teeth while task rabbit lingered. She went to finish her dinner chores as we picked up odds and ends around the campsite. Then Oakland and I hung our food bags. Very strangely, the carabiner on Oakland’s food bag broke when she hoisted it in the air. We have extras, so we moved the one from the rock bag onto her food bag. Then we both took an evening trip to the rhododendrons to pee and tucked ourselves into the tent. Both of our socks smell horrific because of the rain and wearing them for a second day in a row. At least now I’m not the only one with gross socks!
Oakland looked at the map while I wrote my notes. I’m finishing this to the sound of a junco chirping nearby, a vireo in a tree off to our right, the white noise of the creek across the road, gills talking over by his tent site, bugs bouncing off the tent wall, and the occasional rumble of an airplane in the sky.
Mile 569.7 to mile 584.8 (15.1)
Checklist total miles: 592.8**
Oakland total miles: 113.9
Creature feature: chipmunks, the deer, the new pittie named butters, juncos, robins, a handful of snails in the morning, and at some point another red spotted eft – this one a slightly tanner color that makes me wonder if it’s a female.
**as it turns out, hiking for hours on end compromises my ability to use a calculator (and I think the guthook gps mileage vacillates just enough from the established landmark mileage to cause math issues), so my daily mileage amounts are all of a bit off. I will fix this at some point, but I’m not going to delay posts in the service of avoiding yet another barrier to finishing the blog. The tallies are close enough for government work, and I can assure you that my hobbit feet covered every inch of the 2017 & 2019 versions of the AT (it changes slightly every year for various reasons). Who’s counting anyway?