It rained overnight. The floor of the tent got wetter than I wanted, but we were dry and warm minus some face splashing. Someone hiked down the trail, and thus through our camp, loudly singing around 12:30am. This startled both of us and resulted in a long stretch of wakeful hours for Oakland. The rain started around 2:45. I had to close the doors to my side of the tent, and I needed to pee, so I decided to just do both given the number of hours left until morning. We woke up to dry skies and a wet tent, inside and out. We staggered our visits to the rhododendrons and decided to pack up the tent rather than try to eat inside. I grabbed the food bags while Oakland worked on packing her gear. We decided to leave the tent for last, so we sat on our trusty fire ring log and ate breakfast, both feeling dismayed by the sogginess of things on the cusp of a long day, but grateful for a dry breakfast. Task rabbit showed up right as Oakland needed to take a second trip to the rhododendrons, so I made conversation with task rabbit to preserve Oakland’s privacy. The tent wasn’t horribly muddy which was a nice surprise. As we made our final preparations to leave, Oakland felt exhausted and overwhelmed by another wretched night of sleep on the eve of a day in which we have planned a lofty 18.8 mile goal. We hugged it out and left camp at 7:25.
The morning started with a slight climb through dark rhododendrons, during which we came face to face with a little deer staring at us from the middle of the trail. It Didn’t seem very perturbed and sauntered off into the brush after giving us a good long stare.
The trail opened up and took us up through many switchbacks with easy footing, both of which we very grateful for. As we gained elevation, we walked into fine mist that hung in the air. We trudged over pine needles and crushed rocks until the trail Wound us through a maze of pines and rhododendrons. We Passed an opening in the trees with a view of the misty mountains across the way.
I Asked Oakland to let me know if she notices a lot of blossoms on the ground. Two seconds later, I spotted a scattering of rhododendron blossoms, so I stopped early to make my 600 mile marker. Right after I took a picture of my work, We were Passed by a section hiker who hit his 900 mile total just a few yards up. We Congratulated each other from a distance and he kept moving.
A little while later, we Sat on zseats in the leaves and had a snack. We are Both tired zombies today. Task rabbit walked by as we ate our bars. She greeted us cheerily, and kept hiking. I had apparently given up on finding a break spot right before a nice view, which of course had logs that would have kept us off the ground. I made a mental note to do a better job of checking guthook for such opportunities. Here’s the view from that spot:
We wound around and around in repetitive pine tunnels over easy footing and rollercoaster elevation changes. A burn zone took us by surprise and we marveled at the new inhabitants growing next to charred tree trunks.
We eventually came to a Gravel road that led us down into an intersection that consisted of the brushy mountain outpost and a church that appeared to have zero windows. Towards the beginning of the road walk, we spotted the bright yellow bird with dark wings that I have yet to identify, and saw a long beautiful view past giant power lines and down the mountain range.
We got to the outpost and dropped our packs at a picnic table under a metal awning next to the store/grill. Two hikers loitered in the seating area, one of whom set out immediately and the other of which disappeared while we were inside.
We walked into the wood paneled, modest two room establishment to find a small selection of hiker foods, a commercial kitchen, and task rabbit tucking into a cheeseburger with the section hiker we’d seen earlier. A woman popped out of the kitchen to take our order. we warned her that it would be a couple of minutes because we had no clue what we wanted, so she went outside to continue smoking her cigarette. When we finally decided to split a burger and a grilled cheese sandwich with fries and an orange soda, I beckoned the woman back at her convenience and we ordered our food. The woman told us we could put pins on the map in the back of the store, but she said in such a thick accent that only I understood what she meant (e.g. phrases like “back there” turned into “back ‘err.” Oakland stood there silently while I thanked the woman and led us to the back of the store to check out the map.
After gawking at the selection of junk food, we sat with task rabbit and the other hiker whose name I didn’t ever get. The food was as good as the guthook comments had predicted. Think slightly higher brow than fast food. After eating, we went back outside and I realized the error of our ways. We should have eaten outside and dried the tent at the same time because the sun had finally come out in full force. We decided to sacrifice the extra time in favor of having a dry tent, so Oakland and I spread it out in the gravel along with our various towels and wet items that might actually dry in the few minutes we had to spare. The tent dried wicked fast, although we did have to hold it up to get the condensation to dry out of the inside. After less than 10 minutes, we were ready to hit the road. Literally, because most of the next mile turned out to be a hot and tedious road walk down to the woods on the other side of interstate 77. We started that venture by accidentally going up a side trail that we weren’t weren’t supposed to use, but it led to a really great view of the highway and an indigo bunting sighting (sadly not pictured because they are tiny):
We continued down the mostly empty road across the highway under the hot sun. We had little access to water for the rest of the day, so I griped about having to walk through an exposed section while rationing water.
We followed the road to the right and finally saw a blaze someone had painted onto the guard rail. There was a significant lack of blazes for this section (we would have been lost without gut hook app), . As we turned off the road and walked through a small trailhead parking lot, we saw a woman bustling around her car, collecting herself to head out for a section hike. She approached us with a flurry of questions about which way was north or south because she too hadn’t been able to see any blazes. We happened to be standing at a hairpin turn in the trail where the right side of the curve faced trail south up the paved road and the left side of the curve headed trail north into the woods. I sadly forgot to take a picture of the confusing spot until we were already on our way, but the poor person made me reassure her that the road was indeed southbound.
We crossed a small stream that ran alongside a stealth campsite and made our way up a persistent hill with no switchbacks. Within minutes, we were sweating bullets in thick humidity. We saw a blue headed vireo as we made our way over a blowdown during the first few minutes of the interminable hill. I also stopped to take a picture of a weird black brain-like mushroom that Oakland felt too rushed to capture.
Then came another long afternoon of doodley-doos. At some point, we stopped to drink water and put in headphones for HP zone-out time to help make it through the miles.
We eventually sat on a log to take break and rest our feet. We listened to distant rumbles of thunder and airplanes in the still, humid air. As we continued up the trail, we saw a handful of deer along the way. They continued to think nothing of the smelly hikers passing through their snacking grounds.
After awhile of hiking, we stopped for Oakland to take a pee break and heard series of gunshots down in the valley. They continued on and off for a couple of hours, never becoming any less disturbing. I wondered aloud if there was some sort of re-enactment happening in the valley but then there were rapid fire shots that didn’t make sense for that theory. The last 10 miles of the trail were one variation on a green tunnel after another along the rollercoaster ridge.
Every now and then we went up and over a sharp hilltop but for the most part it was a mild afternoon for elevation change. I didn’t take many notes or pictures because of the monotony and the desire to keep making good time. Notes also mean standing in one place with my pack on, which equals sore feet.
We took another break around 2pm and sat on a log in the middle of the trail to eat snacks. The water from the outpost tasted pretty terrible compared to stream water. As we continued walking, both of us were lost in HP but we managed to share the occasional commentary on something in our immediate environment. Oakland didn’t take any mushroom pictures today as another time saving measure, but we occasionally paused to gawk at them.
We took another break around 4 in which we sat on a log and took our shoes and socks off. This made a huge difference for both of our feet. Right after lunch at the outpost, I switched into the more minimal brace my mom brought me in Damascus. It’s less squeezy on the outside of my foot but there’s a seam on it that hurts the bottom of my foot. It’s also less substantial than the other brace, but my ankle seemed to do just fine without the extra support. We ate a bunch of snacks while we zombied out at our break, both craning our heads at the slightest noise. There had been several giant bear poops on the trail, so we were both on edge for uninvited company.
As we headed north, I kept checking in with Oakland to make sure she wasn’t feeling too broken, and she continued to assure me that she was okay. We stopped at the 14 and 15 mile campsite options and decided to keep going each time. We took one more break around 5:30 with 1.2 miles to go. About half of that mileage was downhill. I turned around to oakland at one point and said that I’m pretty sure I’d rather go uphill at the end of a long day than down. My knees ached and my feet were not interested in the extra muscle work of keeping my balance on the descent over loose rocks. The footing and the grade eased as we wound our way through gully after gully until the trail eventually went back up and spit us out at the trail for the shelter.
I couldn’t believe we had actually hiked the entire way. I told Oakland she was crazy and she of course told me I was crazy. The answer is we are both a little unhinged, even more so after hiking for 10 hours. The trail to the shelter was also downhill but it was thankfully short. We heard voices as we approached the shelter, and I saw two different tents setup from a distance. My heart sank a bit because I had hoped we wouldn’t have to deal with competition for tent sites. On the bright side, one of those tents belonged to tea time (the woman with the dog named blaze). She greeted us warmly from the picnic table where she sat with two older men and a man named Paul whom we’ve seen before. He’s rail thin, wears a veterans hat and doesn’t talk very much. He also unfortunately smokes cigarettes. Heard the call, the woman who couldn’t hear a word I said from mountain harbour, was also there.
The tenting options were somewhat dismal. Unfortunately a man whose name I didn’t get had parked his one-person tent right in front of a really good two-person site. We couldn’t set up that close to him and I wasn’t about to ask him to move, so we settled on a sloped site a few feet farther away. We pitched the tent first, which all went pretty well considering how tired we were and the tardy dinner time. Then we joined everyone at the table to boil water and setup our dinners. Once they were set to heat up in our pots, we made the trek down to the water source to double up on chores happening at the same time. The shorter path to the water was treacherously steep on loose gravel. Thankfully neither of us lost our balance, but I had visions of falling on my ass the whole way down. The water source was a trickle flowing into a pool as a result of someone putting a leaf under a rock. We filled our bottles and each rinsed the salt off our faces. On and off throughout the day Oakland had expressed horror at how bad she smells, and she shared that news again during our face washing. I of course find this hilarious and also can’t really smell her because I’m too engulfed in my own cloud of humanity.
We took the longer, slightly less steep route back up to the shelter where I proceeded to scarf everything in sight. Poor Oakland had a dinner she wasn’t quite in the mood for, so she had to do some force feeding. Blaze was adorable during the first half of dinner, coming over to say hello to both of us and settling down on Oakland’s foot for a few minutes. He eventually got fussy and started whining at tea time. As it turns out, all he wanted was to be in bed. Once she took him the to the tent and left him there, he was silent. We talked to tea time and the older guys whose names I’ve sadly forgotten. Oakland and tea time got into teacher discussions and we all shared general amazement at the mushrooms along the trail. I wasn’t sure how much to eat because of the extra mileage, so I just kept going until i felt moderately full. Then I did my dishes and had two different desserts before brushing my teeth.
We hung our bear bags in a pretty reasonable amount of time. We tried to use a pine tree that had small branches but it was too crowded with offshoots that got in the way of throwing the line. We settled on using the same curved over tree as tea time even though it was a larger trunk thank I tend to use. Oakland was in charge of throwing the line so she could get practice. She made it on the limb the second try but it was too close to the trunk and to tea time’s hang (which felt too close to the trunk for my risk tolerance), so she re-threw it and nailed the perfect spot. She hoisted our bags up on the same line, and I was in charge of tying the clove hitch, which still gives Oakland a bit of trouble.
By the time we got back from hanging our food, the entire campsite had buttoned up. We unfortunately still had a lot of noisy chores to get through because we had yet to set up our bedding. Oakland started on hers while I tried to call our next hostel. I didn’t have any luck getting them on the phone so I went back to the tent and went through my own cacophony of gear rustling and blowing up my air mattress. I made a quick visit to the privy which oddly has a metal seat. It’s also fully enclosed which made for a gnarly smell with the door closed.
A whippoorwill sounded off as we settled into our beds and I worked on my notes. To our horror, a second whippoorwill joined in, slightly out of sync with the first. I really hope Oakland can get some sleep after two long days in a row. I’m finishing this to the sound of a slight breeze in the trees, bugs pinging off the tent, a singular whippoorwill very far away, and a passing plane.
Mile 584.8 to mile 603.6 (18.8!)
Checklist total miles: 608.6
Oakland total miles: 132.7
Creature feature: several deer! The bright yellow bird, at least 3 indigo buntings, cute dogs, the whippoorwills, and the vireo.