It rained on and off until maybe midnight. I made one more venture out to pee around 9:30pm and finally finished my notes for the day around 10:15. We both got two major segments of restless sleep with a long stretch of wakefulness in the 2:30 hour. At that point the wind had taken over and rushed through the trees the rest of the night and into the morning. I woke up around 5:45 to the sounds of Oakland getting herself ready to visit the rhododendrons. After a minute or two, I sat up and started to massage my feet for their first steps of the day. I put on my ankle brace and noticed the veritable morass of daddy long spiders nestled in the peak of my door. At one point there were as many as 8 all along the netting.
Oakland returned and I exclaimed that I needed to exit through her door because mine was infested. She laughed and helped me get out. Then I made my own visit to the neighboring rhododendrons which smelled vaguely of rotting once I got my spade in the ground.
We left the tent up and ate breakfast on the other side of the trail in our puffy coats. We discussed strategy for getting laundry done in narrows later today because we have to visit a laundromat, which means a time commitment and no loaner clothing. Then we put in our contacts and brushed our teeth in the windy cool morning air.
Everything was sticky with moisture. When we went back to the tent, I used Oakland’s door because mine still had too many unwelcome visitors. We packed up our gear and reluctantly removed warmer layers. From the safety of the inside of the tent, I flicked spiders from the eaves and watched them scurry away before I exited through my door. Their little bodies felt like eraser tips as I prodded them through the mesh door. The bottom of the tent wasn’t as messy as expected given all the rain, but it was definitely soggy inside and out.
The trail started with a downhill stretch into rolling and flat rhododendron tunnels that were sometimes so dark that it felt like we were walking into a dungeon. There were occasional patches of grass that had been flattened by the fast moving water from last night’s downpours.
Oakland had to put her hand lamp on for one of the darkest tunnels. Leaves and pine clumps littered the trail and water stood in a lot of places making for frequent soggy stretches that required strategic foot placement. Tiny white mushrooms dotted the limbs and downed trees alongside the trail.
The woods eventually opened up to the usual spacious forest. I happened to look up to find two large deer standing there staring at us, one on the right side of trail and another two point buck on the left side (or is it 4 points if there are 2 points on each side?).
We stared back at the buck and he decided that his breakfast was far more important than our presence. Once we got a little ways past the deer, we stopped to take off our long sleeve layer and Oakland went off trail to get a mushroom pic.
We went over several rocky and pebble covered climbs that led us to a smattering of stone steps and up to power lines with a great view of the valley. We decided to stop for our morning snack on the rocks under the power lines. We enjoyed the sun as the wind continued to whip keeping the air cooler than usual, especially when the sun dipped behind a cloud. A sneaky chipmunk loitered several yards away from me but it never made an attempt to come closer. I warily eyed the ominous clouds in the distance hoping that we could make it to Narrows without getting rained on.
On the other side of the power lines, we crossed a narrow grassy ridge that eventually widened out, but the path remained overgrown. The humidity rose as we hiked and the breeze became more appreciated. As we waded through the high grass, I began to slump mentally and physically. Oakland offered to go in front and act as a tug boat, which helped, as did the discovery of a few new flowers.
We eventually made it to Pearis Ledges. From the overlook, we could Hear dogs barking and machinery in the distance. I took a video, but wordpress is being cranky at the moment, so you get still pictures instead.
As we got moving again, we felt a few rain drops. Oakland stopped short in the middle of the trail with a start. I thought she’d seen a snake but it turned out to be two giant luna moths sitting in the middle of the trail (today’s top picture). We both marveled at their feathery antenna and took a few pictures as they lay motionless.
The trail over to Angel’s rest (the landmark, not the hostel) was rocky. We both grumbled about the overgrown grass and the hidden attack rocks causing trips and toe stubs with some frequency. Right before Angel’s rest, we were passed by a southbound gaggle of kids accompanied by a couple of adults. Oakland and I marveled at how the kids had made it up the long ascent from the road because they seemed to be between the ages of 6 and 12. We got to angel’s rest in time for lunch, so we scampered onto the boulder at the overlook to eat. The view was more populated and included an eye sore of an industrial plant off to the far left. Narrows was out of sight around a bend in the river to the left. I must have been in a mood because I don’t have any pictures of this overlook except for the approach which included rhodies and boulders
The trip down to the road was a long and sometimes steep descent with the occasional snail friend and long switchbacks.
About halfway down, we stopped to pee and I heard a scarlet tanager. Right as I whined about how those birds tend to stay so high in the canopy, one of them popped out behind a tree within easy viewing distance. I gawked for a few minutes before we continued downhill along switchbacks full of greenery. The grade eventually eased up, which helped the aching that had grown in my knees. We crossed a small paved road and went down into a sad looking set of woods with lots of Blowdowns and highway noise. Then we walked parallel to power lines and passed a small waterfall where the trail took an upward turn to cross the power lines with a plunging view.
We went up a few hundred yards up the hot and buggy trail before stopping to call the MacArthur inn. An older man with marbles in his mouth answered the phone and asked me if I wanted to text when we got to the trailhead or if I’d rather he was “setting there” waiting for us. Translation: sitting there. I told Oakland about the phrase and laughed at her amazement because it was second nature for me to hear. We continued along the trail in silence until a bug flew directly into my right nostril. I yelped and snorted trying to get it out with little success. It felt like it had flown into my brain. I cursed loudly and rubbed my nose aggressively trying to either get it out or kill it as soon as possible. Oakland expressed sympathy as I apologized for my outburst. Then the sneezing began. Over the new next quarter mile I sneezed no less than 15 times. Then a bug flew into my ear, and I lost my sh*t again. I stopped abruptly to put my headphones into my ears. The rest of the descent was muggy and buggy and took us through dark woods with steep hillsides. We eventually came out to a small field and crossed a road to sit in the pearisburg cemetery trailhead parking lot.
I texted the man from Macarthur Inn but he didn’t respond within 5 minutes, so I called and spoke to him over the phone. He said he would be headed that way in a pickup truck. We settled in to wait the short time that it would take for the driver to get there. We laughed to ourselves as nearly every vehicle that passed us turned out to be a pickup truck. After about ten minutes, a single cab beater of a truck pulled into the parking area. An older man with a grizzled, long mustache sat behind the steering wheel. He stopped in front of us and delivered a warm and garbled greeting that only I understood because Oakland couldn’t parse his thick southern accent. We tossed our packs into the back of the truck that was littered with construction debris.
Oakland bravely took the middle seat and we puttered down the road with the windows down. The driver introduced himself as Allen, and he turned out to be the proprietor of the inn. He yammered along as he drove, telling us all about local history and his adventures taking pictures of an endangered flower. He apparently jumped a fence around the plant and then posted pictures of it on Facebook. This caught the attention of some authority. Allen said that some officials came from “warshington” to ask him how he’d gotten that picture.
He welcomed us into Narrows as we entered the sleepy township that had everything we needed within a 1 mile radius. He pulled behind the Inn, which is a red brick building with grand white columns that were apparently carved out of redwoods from California.
We walked in the back door with our packs and Allen went directly to an elaborate juke box that he restored. He dropped in a quarter (maybe? I can’t quite remember the change he used) and then he fussed with the buttons making his music selection. Gladys Knight and pips blared through the speakers as Allen walked over to the front desk to sort out our room reservation. He tallied our bill and Oakland paid him while the juke box switched over to Ella Fitzgerald. As we stood there waiting for our room key, Allen answered the phone and yelled through the receiver as the music continued to boom out of the jukebox. I can’t imagine what the person on the other end of the line thought. Allen finished his call and told us to walk past his mustache trophies and take a left into the stairwell. Neither of us totally digested what he had said until we saw the top of a cabinet that was littered with various trophies and certificates from mustache contests and flat footing contests. Sadly I didn’t get a good picture of the mustache trophies, but I did snag one of the sticker on Allen’s truck.
We walked up the stairs while Allen serenaded us from first floor. Our room sat at the very end of the hallway next to the emergency exit that was cracked open because someone had clearly been using it as a convenient place to smoke. Our street side corner room had a giant sleigh bed with two huge windows. After the zero day in bear garden, we were so happy to have running water. We dropped our packs and collected our belongings to head straight to the laundromat. Our plan was to wash most of our laundry today and tomorrow, Oakland will wash the clothes we are currently wearing while I hunker down in the library.
We walked out the side door to avoid getting caught in a lingering conversation with Allen and made our way down one block of the bustling streets of Narrows towards the laundromat. We tried to pick out the least offense smelling option for soap and I removed my bra in the bathroom to get that washed in the first round.
We played cards while we waited. A handful of people came and went, but for the most part we had the place to ourselves. The time flew by and before I knew it we were folding our meager pile of clothing. I put my bra back on and we made our way to the small supermarket down the street to get breakfast and lunch provisions. Then we went back to the inn for showers and clean clothes to go out to dinner at Anna’s, the only restaurant in town. The waiter sat us at a table in the very front of the room that was occupied by one other family. As we sat there looking at menu and gawking at the country quaint decor, we heard music coming from the other room. We both wondered if it was live, so I stuck my head in and saw an old time jam circle tucked into a corner of a large dining area with at least 15 tables. We immediately asked if we could move tables. The waiter seemed surprised but happily moved us to a table in the way back of the music room. We listened to the music feeling nostalgic for Swannanoa Old Time Week where we met. The roast beef sandwich that I ordered was actually a thick slab of roasted beef between two pieces of white bread with no cheese in sight, which for whatever reason I hadn’t expected. Oakland’s mac & cheese was quite possibly the blandest I’ve ever tasted. The mediocre food was overshadowed by our excitement over having stumbled across an old time community. They eventually played a song that I recognized, but I couldn’t remember the name of, so I decided to just ask the older fiddler player what it was as he put his fiddle down for a quick break. He informed me that the song was “old molly hare.” I said “oh I recognized that because I’ve played it before, but I couldn’t remember the name” (this is a common refrain for old time banjo players). The fiddler’s head snapped up and his eyes bored into mine. He said “you play??” I said “yes, sir I play banjo and she plays fiddle,” gesturing to our table where Oakland sat eating her dinner. He was very pleased and immediately told us to join in, but I waved my hands saying we didn’t have any instruments because we were passing through town on a hike. He went off to the bathroom, and I returned to our table to tell Oakland the name of the song.
A few minutes later, I saw the fiddle player pick up his instrument and slowly head our way. My stomach dropped because I knew instantly that he was going to ask us to join him by offering up his fiddle. He did indeed approach Oakland and asked if she wouldn’t mind leading a song or two. She plastered a smile on her face while being flustered on the inside. I knew this was her personal nightmare, and I felt horrible for having played a part in making it happen. The man warmly cajoled her into saying yes, and that’s how Oakland found herself in a circle of musicians with someone else’s fiddle after having not played for over a month.
The fiddler (far right in the newsie hat) did not make any attempt to scrounge up a banjo for me, so I figured I had escaped participating, but an older woman saw me sitting there and asked if I also played. As soon as she heard me say yes, she nudged her grandson and asked him to get his banjo for me while Oakland led the group in Old Liza Jane. The kid presented me with a resonator banjo that was horribly out of tune. He handed me finger picks but I declined them trying to ignore the surprise on his face. I play clawhammer banjo and have no use for picks. When I joined in, we played Newt Payne’s tune, which no one else knew but it’s not the hardest song to chase. Then Oakland chose a song I don’t remember all that well. We kind of fell apart and no one else knew the tune, but the beauty of old time is that it doesn’t matter AND the song can end whenever the fiddle lifts their foot to signal the last time through. We bowed out after that. People approached us afterwards to find out where we were from and why we were in town. They were gobsmacked by our CA origins and horrified that we were hiking alone with no protection, aka gun or pepper spray. One exuberant man cornered me and showed me pictures of his recent obstacle course race while Oakland was consumed with a woman who wanted to talk about her fiddling phenom grandson. We closed down the place at 8pm. As we left, the older fiddler player came over and said he enjoyed our company. He told us, as nearly everyone already had, that we should try to make it to Thursday’s jam at the inn. I said we had to keep walking. He laughed when I asked him if he wanted to join us on the trail.
We finally escaped the kindness of our musical strangers, and headed back to the inn. On our 3 minute walk home, Oakland shared her mortification of being the outsider fiddler leading songs that no one knows. I was also pretty embarrassed by how much I had faltered on the last song we played (“Tomahawk” for those of you who know anything about old time). We agreed not to talk about the experience for a little while to preserve Oakland’s sanity. Back in our room, we ate dessert and removed gear from our packs to air it out before crashing in our bed that had a footprint twice the size of the tent. I’m finishing this to the sound of Oakland flipping through the map, the rumble of our mini fridge, and an unidentifiable engine outside.
Mile 628.2 to mile 637.0 (8.8)
Checklist total miles: 645.8
Oakland total miles: 166.4
Creature feature: the deer, small woodpeckers, the scarlet tanager, the two giant luna moths, and a couple of snails.