I got a fairly Decent night of sleep with a few customary wake ups and frequent turning to keep my shoulders comfortable. Oakland also managed to get slightly more sleep than usual (for her). I turned to her in the dim blue morning light and asked her if it was 5:30. It turned out to be about 5:50. We lay there marveling at the whippoorwill calling over and over in the distance. Oakland took her visit to the Privy, and I followed suit a few minutes later after having to wait for Paul (the guy with the veterans hat) to depart.
We didn’t need to rush out of camp for any particular reason, so we dawdled a bit while we changed clothes and packed up. I somehow managed to finish before Oakland, so I retrieved the food bags. I heard a pileated woodpecker on my way back to the tent. Once Oakland buttoned up her gear, we both stood near the tent and put in our contacts before we took down the slightly messy tent.
Then we sat at the picnic table and started eating breakfast while everyone worked through their morning routines. Blaze had very important things to share with Tea Time during her breakfast. Heard the call asked me a question, and I tried to answer her but she couldn’t catch what I said. Oakland, who had arrived in the middle of the question, took over the answer for me and eventually resorted to showing heard the call a written form of the word “Shenandoah” because she couldn’t make sense of it audibly. I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for her to be surrounded by conversations where she can’t get any traction. Somehow the conversation got on the topic of school children again, and John, one of the older section hikers, asked about the status of vocational schools these days. His southern accent piqued my curiosity, so I asked where he was from. He said he was from Henderson N.C. but he lives in southern VA now. I told him that I was born in Henderson N.C., to which I received a gaping mouthed, wide-eyed look that made me think he hadn’t heard me. As it turned out, he was actually aghast at the coincidence. I told him I was born at Mariah parham hospital. He was also born at that hospital, but in the original downtown location versus the current location right off of interstate 85. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. I was pretty surprised myself and also secretly proud of having sussed his accent.
Everyone around us slowly started to leave while Oakland and I talked to the older section hikers. The consensus seemed to be that everyone had plans to visit trent’s grocery for “town food.” It’s a half-mile detour off trail and a good place to get a greasy spoon meal. I found out that one of the section hikers had experienced a hike-ending fall similar to mine except his head ended up hitting a rock. He ended up walking about 5 miles to get off trail and went to the hospital. John also had a fall that left him with a blood infection and a hospital stay.
We were the last ones to leave camp, partially because we got delayed by the search for one of the bear line sticks that Oakland had misplaced. I went so far as to walk back to our food hanging tree and still couldn’t find the stick. We were both embarrassingly disappointed by the mishap. Oakland went off to take her second privy visit and I filtered water to the sound of oven birds. I needed to discard a fair amount of extra water so I walked to some trees behind the shelter. On my way back to our gear, I noticed a tidy stick sitting on the other side of the log where we had staged our bags. The bear line stick! I yelled out to Oakland that I’d found it and she cheered from the privy.
The morning started with a climb back to the trail. Then it was somewhat flat or downhill all the way to the first road crossing. At some point early on, I unknowingly stepped over a red spotted eft that Oakland pointed out. I got a video of it on the move, which is rare because they’re usually sitting stock still.
We meandered down through a dry stream bed underneath overcast skies. I felt grateful for the morning light coming through the trees. It feels like it’s been awhile since we’ve seen morning sun. Oakland paused every now and then to visit her mushroom friends (I’ll be sure to get some of her mushroom pictures soon so we can have them on the blog).
We came to the road and took a left to follow the blazes painted on the pavement. We took a right to head over a short footbridge and back into the woods to an overgrown trail (I swear there’s a dirt path somewhere in that second picture).
Then we had a long climb in humid air that left us both covered in sweat. Around 9, I stopped to call the MacArthur inn again, but no one answered. As we stood discussing what to do, we heard footsteps in the brush. I decided that we should get moving in case it was a bear (sadly no bear sighting was had). As we climbed, we heard a dog barking in the distance.
The trail eventually took us underneath power lines where I saw a sparkly new pink flower that I could not get my stupid phone to focus on. Here’s my best attempt:
We also had a decent view of the valley. Oakland amused herself by taking a picture of me taking a picture (which I will add to this post once I’ve had a chance to get it from her phone). Then we headed Back into the woods with pine needles for footing. The trail led us up to a narrow rocky ridge occasionally dotted with these little white flowers:
We heard cows far away off to our right and a disgruntled dog off to our left. I very nearly had to put in my headphones because the periodic howling made my insides roil. The ridge continued for awhile as did the rocks. Neither of us were in the mood to pick our way through tricky footing after yesterday’s long haul, but the only way out of the mess was to walk through it.
We finally descended over slightly softer footing and a few longs switchbacks. Around the two-hour mark, we sat on a log that laid across the trail to have a snack. I tried to contact the inn again. No answer. I decided to send them an email in the hopes of finding some way to get their attention. I expressed concern to Oakland about our ability to get picked up at the trailhead if they’re this bad about answering their phone. I tried to give them the benefit of the doubt and wondered aloud if maybe something had gone awry with their phones.
We continued towards the road (and our food splurge at Trent’s) for another couple of miles. Around 10:45, Oakland Stopped to take a mushroom picture, and I called the inn again. No answer. About two minutes later a 540 number called me back. I decided to answer it, and it was the inn! They apparently forwarded their phones incorrectly while they were away at a conference and they hadn’t been receiving any of their calls. I Made reservations for our zero day and got instructions on how to arrange a shuttle. I felt so relieved to have our accommodations pinned down, and to have a private room with a flush toilet in our future.
The trail eventually took us down switchbacks and sharply banked straightaways. The woods opened up to high grass with a view of the mountains in the distance. I asked Oakland to walk in front of me so I could get some perspective on the density of the grass.
A grove of what looked like intentionally planted pines stood to our left as we sifted through the overgrown trail doing our best to dodge the errant poison ivy. Right before the road, we Crossed a beautiful suspension bridge over a wide, lazy creek (river?).
I smelled woodsmoke and soon saw that it originated from a gaggle of men in their 30s and 40s camped out by the river. As we headed up the trail towards the road, I heard the crisp sound of a can being opened and muttered to Oakland that it was probably beer. We both agreed that neither of us cared to experience the outdoors that way.
We arrived at the road, took a Left turn and walked up the road on a wide gravel shoulder. About halfway there, we Crossed over to the right side to stay on the wider shoulder. As we approached trent’s, a small rural grocery and grill, we found all of our companions from last night sitting on the benches outside. Teatime yelled out “did you get lost???” because we were the last ones to arrive. Her insinuation of lateness pushed my “I’m too slow button” but I managed to hold my tongue and not lash out at her. Best to accept it as good natured ribbing and move on. I gave her a scoffing face and said “this is the arrival time of people who take too many pictures, write notes and make phone calls!”
We gave everyone a friendly hello and went inside to assess our lunch options. I nearly opted for a grilled cheese but the woman running the counter convinced me to go for a burger. We also ordered Cajun fries and an orange soda. Then we each visited the bathroom while we waited for our food. A man who was easily in his late seventies sat at the small eating area against the windows drinking something out of a styrofoam cup and watching a nature show about kangaroos. We took our burgers out to the benches and obligingly took the room that teatime made for us. Sadly I didn’t take any decent pictures of the building or our lunch company, but here’s a candid:
The fries were crinkle cut and GOOD. The burger made me long for a grilled cheese and left me feeling greasy and guilty for having consumed beef. The orange soda filled me with joy until I had to throw it away instead of recycle it. Blaze settled down in a heap to take a nap while his person loitered for the company (today’s top picture). Teatime asked us again where we hoped to stop for the day. I had conferred with her a bit in the morning, but we both had ambiguous answers at that point, and her destination was a couple of miles north of where we’d intended to go. Teatime openly expressed her wish to stop wherever we stopped so she could have company for the evening. Oakland and I decided we would push the extra couple of miles past our planned stop to stay at dismal creek, which was teatime’s original destination for the day.
Teatime and heard the call got a ride back to the trail from a hiker in a pickup truck. When I found out they were getting a ride, I gaped with envy. Teatime asked the man if he would also give us a ride and he kindly agreed to do so when he got back from dropping them off. We went inside to get the small resupply we had decided to do at trents rather than have HQ Mail a tiny box or carry too much food. I couldn’t resist the siren call of pop tarts and little debbies, which left me with too much food for the short time we have left to Narrows. I also got an ice cream sandwich, which was gratuitous considering the size of my lunch, but I ate it anyway.
The older section hikers ended their trip at trents, and John’s wife arrived while we stood around organizing our food. It had been about twenty minutes since teatime’s departure, so I decided to scout out another ride in case the hiker in the pickup didn’t return. As John and his friend packed up their car, I asked them if we could squeeze in for a ride back to the trail. John kindly said yes. He asked about Paul as well because he was loitering at the store eating a string of snacks that he would purchase one at a time. Paul heartily agreed to a ride, so John’s wife and his hiking friend stayed at the store to allow for all 3 of us to pile in for a ride back to the trailhead. Thankfully, the pickup truck returned before we left, which gave me the opportunity to tell the driver that we’d found another way back to the trail. He gave me a fist bump and asked if anyone else needed a ride before rumbling away in his tin can with a very cute dog in the back seat. Then we rode back to the trail in John’s sparkling clean car. I was so grateful to avoid the extra time on gravel and along the side of the road.
After about 3 minutes, John tucked the car safely onto the side of the road and we all piled out chiming our thank yous. Paul disappeared across the road while Oakland fussed with her food bag. Then we crossed the road, passed a trail registry, and went Uphill through tall deciduous trees with little ground cover.
We were both feeling the heft and grease of our lunch decisions. The air was still as we carefully stepped over rocks and roots. The trail took us through more blooming rhododendrons.
We Passed on the side trip to dismal falls because of the extra mileage. We were both running on empty at that point in terms of energy for extra curricular activities.
About twenty minutes after the falls intersection, we heard the tinkle of blaze’s collar. They’re blurry because Blaze had no intentions of stopping to say hello. We walked with teatime for about 3 minutes before she swiftly pulled ahead. The trail went alongside of a beautiful creek for quite awhile through rhododendron tunnels. It eventually turned away from the water and opened up into small pines for about a hundred yards before we got swallowed by another rhododendron tunnel. We crossed several small footbridges that only had one handrail, and I took every opportunity to gasp in mock horror while Oakland pretended to be cross with me for making fun of her dislike of footbridges with single rails.
With about 2.5 miles to go, we stopped to get water from the creek. There were tricky steps over to the best rock for collecting water. I felt anxious about twisting my ankle or slipping but the traverse was fine for both of us. Tea time passed us again and remarked on how thirsty she had been a little while ago and how great the trail was at the moment.
At my request, we loitered at the creek in order to remove our shoes for a few minutes. Here’s Oakland living her best life with no socks and some wicked hiker hair loft.
Heard the call passed us right as we decided to get moving. She seemed to disappear into thin air because we didn’t run into her for another 10 minutes when The trail took us Up an annoying climb. We passed heard the call then went down through an odd forest that was sometimes dry and scraggly and sometimes full of lush ground cover. Oakland theorized that it had likely been clear cut. Somewhere in there we saw yet another gaggle of blooming rhodies.
A little while later, we heard voices in the distance and assumed it was heard the call at our campsite. It turned out to be two trail maintainers. They were an older couple with long handled sheers. They asked about blow downs south of there, but we couldn’t remember if we’d passed any. We thanked them for their work and they wished us a good hike. When they asked where we were staying, they knew of the creekside tent site, and said it was a couple hundred yards up the trail. That got my hopes up and was not even remotely true. Perhaps the guy meant to say it was a couple tenths of a mile??
We crossed an unused gravel woods road and went back into the woods for about a a hundred yards to the campsite on the banks of dismal creek. Oakland and I joked earlier about how it sounded like we were spending the night in an old time song. Teatime already had her tent setup and her snacks out by the time we arrived. Blaze enjoyed some rare off leash time because she assumed (correctly) that he was too tired to be a flight risk. He gave a subdued but affectionate tail wag and sat down in the pine needles. We took off our packs and surveyed the tenting options. The creekside spot had a couple of very unfortunate roots. The next best site looked to be a puddle risk but we took it anyway. I had the Pavlovian instinct to eat snacks as we setup the tent but I wasn’t actually hungry yet because of our giant lunch.
Once our tiny home was aloft, we sat on logs by the fire pit and gave in to the snack monster with teatime. Then we forced ourselves to peel away from the enjoyable company to throw a bear line. Teatime also needed to do that chore so we wandered off in a group in search of a good limb. I found a tree that had a limb teatime liked and a higher limb that I found suitable for two bags. Teatime tied her rope to a stick, which seemed so much harder than using a rock bag but she totally made it work. Oakland wanted to throw our line. Her first throw went straight up in the air and came down almost where I had been standing. I watched from the trail after that close call and retrieved the bag when the throws were off the mark. After a little over a dozen attempts and right when I was about to go take on another chore to be efficient, the rock bag sailed over the designated limb. We both cheered and walked back to camp. Then Oakland set up her bed while I filtered water and washed my pee cloth with soap away from the water source. For whatever reason it had gotten particularly ripe today and I couldn’t stand the smell any longer. I also rinsed my face and my armpits which is a farce, but I did it anyway. Then I started filtering Oakland’s water as a favor to her. She finished setting up her bed and stormed over to me in jest, pretending to be mad that I had stolen her water gear. She also washed her pee cloth and wiped down her face and arms. I set up my bed while Oakland did her cleaning tasks. When she returned, she loaned me her a’s bandana to wipe the mud off of my inner calves.
Then we joined teatime at the log area for dinner. I ate more than my appetite dictated because I had an entire star crunch as my dessert, save the 3 bites I gave Oakland because she’s never had one before. I pulled out the package and teatime gasped “is that a star crunch??” Oakland asked me what exactly she was getting into and what it would taste like. I looked at it in my hand and said, “it tastes like 1992.” Oakland gave it the seal of approval.
After dinner, dishes and dessert came the usual teeth brushing/flossing routine. Then we all walked over to put up our food bags. Teatime watched Oakland and me do the pct hang for our bags on one line and was intrigued by the process, but she declined my offer to teach it to her. I grabbed my pee cloth and wandered away from the stream to take relieve myself. On my way to the trail I heard a barred owl call in the distance. Then we all forced ourselves to all get in our tents to journal or in Oakland’s case, look at her mushroom pictures and study the maps. I’m finishing this to the sound of the creek bubbling to our right, the occasional turn of a map page, bugs plinking off the sides of the tent, distant bird song, and the chuffing of a deer not far away from our tent site.
Mile 603.6 to mile 615.9 (12.6)
Checklist total miles: 624.7
Oakland total miles: 145.3
Creature feature: red spotted efts, piles of bear poop, minnows in the creek, a bird fanning its rear while Oakland threw the bear line, a second barred owl as I got out of the tent to pee around 10pm