June 28, 2019
I had a clammy but decent night of sleep until Oakland unintentionally woke me up by slapping against the side of the tent. Apparently there was a creature outside that she was trying to scare away and instead of accomplishing that goal, she scared ME. As we lay in the dark, she expressed interest in shining her headlamp outside to try to thwart whatever was rustling about. In doing so, she discovered that the dreaded beast turned out to be a giant beetle scrabbling in the leaf matter we had used to form her splashguard.
Oakland exited the tent first and made her way to her “privy” location. There’s so much poison ivy around here that our options were somewhat limited, so we were both on strict orders to keep ourselves busy while the other uses the facilities. She grabbed our food bags and returned so that I could head off in search of my own safe space to take care of the morning’s duties. Afterwards, I crawled back in the tent and whined about having no desire to move. We reluctantly packed up tent and then had breakfast with the chomping gnats. Oakland took another visit to the trees (no rhododendrons here, which is sad for everyone), while I put on sunscreen. Then we filtered water and sat amongst the hordes of bugs while I wrote a few notes. It’s already humid, though the temperatures are low. My feet were still sore from yesterday’s water carry, which I still can’t believe we managed to execute. As we saddled ourselves with our packs, I lamented this fact along with the sense that my pack still felt heavy even though it lacked the extra water weight.
We headed north with the sun streaming through the trees and directly into our faces. The trail consisted of rolling incline and rocks with a side of rocks and then some more rocks. It flattened out a bit and then went sharply up. Sweat poured down my face and gnats hovered in front of my eyes. Oakland very kindly offered to break spider webs again, but I occasionally hit the sticky remnants of silk that she’d missed. The trail flattened out to wide open forest that felt like a big sigh of relief after the tight, rocky path we’d covered thus far.
We passed a sign for the Allegheny trail, which I of course looked up on my phone as we stood there swatting gnats. It’s apparently a 330 mile north-south trail that runs along the eastern side of West Virginia, which sounds like a beautiful and frightening prospect (politically). Oakland rolled her eyes at my thru-hiker lust for such a short trail (relatively speaking), and we continued onward. A little while later, Oakland stopped short with a small gasp. I thought she’d seen a snake but it turned out to be this new friend!
The trail narrowed a bit and got rockier. We heard the perpetual sound of machinery in the distance, along with yips from the occasional pileated woodpecker and a dog barking from somewhere far away. It’s amazing how far the sound of dog barking travels in the woods.
As we made our way downhill, the trail turned rocky yet again. We ran into blaze and teatime for what would be our last encounter. Teatime regaled us with stories of annoying campers and barking dogs at Wind Rock, which is our destination for the evening. Blaze fidgeted and pulled on his leash as we empathized with Teatime’s complaints. We warned her about the rattle snake we’d seen the day before to remind her of their general presence because blaze sometimes slops over the edges of the trail. This led to a few snake stories from previous hikes with blaze and one of her other dogs. I will miss getting to see our new trail friends in the evenings. Alas, everyone needed to keep moving, so we shared reluctant goodbyes and made our way northward.
The trail flattened out a bit as we snaked our way through rhododendrons. Around the two hour mark, we took a break on a large log just to the side of the trail. A hiker named Lemonade came along and shared the story of being forced to cut his bear line the night before. We shared a few grumbles about the rocks, but Lemonade is from NH, so he couldn’t be counted on to really dig into the whining. He continued up the trail in search of a place to head into town for new bear line and we finished our snack with the company of gnats.
After our break, we walked over loose rocks that turned into glorious switchbacks. We mused about song lines that would be odes to the switchback as we made our way through the still air. Oakland stopped for her first mushroom picture in awhile. She’s having left inner ankle/tendon pain today, which is being aggravated further by the uneven surfaces.
We eventually took a water stop at a small steam running through rhododendrons. Then we went downhill over the rock pile with bugs and the occasional wet section until the trail transitioned to drier switchbacks. We stopped for a coral mushroom photo, which are one of the hardest mushrooms for either of us to resist. Then we continued downhill past the pine branch shelter where Lemonade sat eating an early lunch at the picnic table. Neither of us was in the mood for company and it felt too early to eat, so we passed on the opportunity for reliable seating and continued through the twists and turns. The trail took us up and over a sharp hill followed by a narrow, twisting, muggy rhododendron tunnel within earshot and sometimes sight of wide beautiful creek (not pictured, so don’t search for it amongst the sea of green leaves).
I whined about wanting to be on the other side of the creek rather than in the rhododendron maze. We finally arrived at a decent lunch log. We dropped our packs and I went up trail a few yards to relieve myself before settling down to make my peanut butter/frito wrap. Oakland consumed a poptart medley for lunch and we both marveled at a small winged creature with white spots that clung to various parts of our gear throughout the entirety of lunch.
Lemonade eventually passed us sporting new KT tape under his knees. I guess the descents don’t agree with his body. As for our progress, we were only halfway to our destination because the rocks and breaks slowed us down. After lunch, we begrudgingly donned our packs and followed the relatively flat trail for a few minutes until we went up a sharp, but short hill through rhododendrons and back down the other side over loose gravel. An oven bird shifted about in the brush as we picked our way down the trail.
Not long after the trail flattened out, we ran into man with a small Jack Russell. We stepped aside to let him pass and he stopped to ask us a question about how far we were from the last shelter. He seemed confused about where he had parked relative to where he was trying to meet someone on trail. After a minute of back and forth, we realized he was Task Rabbit’s partner, Kitchen Sink. It became clear that we were all supposed to head in the same direction, which led to internal groans for both of us because we weren’t having the most forgiving day and the prospect of fast talking, unknown company felt like more energy than we could spare. Oakland also really needed to keep moving to prevent her ankle from stiffening. Very unfortunately, Kitchen Sink was so excited to show us the maps he had overlaid that he didn’t heed her gentle nudge to keep walking. We finally just started to move and he came with us, talking a mile a minute about Task Rabbit and her issues with Unc.
We crossed a large footbridge and left Kitchen Sink at the gravel road with as cheerful of goodbyes as we could muster. Once we dipped back into the woods, we both sheepishly let out sighs of relief to be back in the silence of ourselves. Then we began the long and annoyingly graded climb up to bailey gap shelter. The trail had little in the way of step variation, so it was one achilles grinding step after another in the sweltering heat. When we finally reached the shelter, we put our feet up for a few minutes. Then we sat at the picnic table and ate a snack while listening to thunder rumble in the distance with blue skies and puffy clouds overhead. The air was thick with the odor of privy. We were so sweaty, and had no desire to move nor any desire to stay put: a common conundrum on the AT.
We finally heaved ourselves off the picnic table, made it up the brunt of the incline and entered an endless stream of rocks. The elevation changes were marginal but every step required concentration or risk of ankle twisting, foot stabbing or tripping to a rocky demise. The humidity, the bugs and the focus wore us both down. I broke first and asked for HP time to help distract myself from the painstaking monotony of not being able to get a rhythm on the rocks.
At some point, Oakland said “hiker coming,” and I turned to see the blue shirted Thor heading our way. We exchanged an amused greeting, and I made my usual statement of “I thought you’d be up ahead.” Apparently he and ranger had stayed in Pearisburg for 4 days. We let him pass and continued trudging over the boulder sneezes. Ranger followed not far behind him. She approached carrying a single pole, which is a change for her because she claimed to dislike poles the first time I met her. She perked up when I mentioned the pole and said cheerily, “I found it in the garbage!” She passed us and disappear up the trail.
We trudged on for what felt like forever. Right when I was about to check the mileage for the spring, I saw Thor’s blue shirt through the trees. He and ranger had stopped at the water and were planning to hike 7 more miles at 4:30pm to make a 23 mile day. I called them crazy in as kind a way as I could. They said they were trying to make up for having stayed so long in Pearisburg. Another hiker I didn’t recognize arrived to join the water filtering party. It was clear she had also walked over 20 miles to reach this point. I cursed them all in my head because I was envious and befuddled by their ability to make such high miles over the rocks. Here’s a new yellow flower to distract you from my incessant discontent over other people’s mileage.
After topping off, we headed up the trail as Thor and Ranger smoked cigarettes. The rocks receded and we began the final mile-long climb up to Wind Rock, our camping destination for the night. The trail narrowed in places, with berry canes scratching our forearms and thoughts of ticks crossing my mind. Thor and ranger eventually caught up, and we stood aside on a slightly wider spot to let them pass. We eventually came to a gravel road with a large gravel parking area that was thankfully empty. I wasn’t keen on camping so close to a parking lot and I was happy to see it unoccupied. We checked the map on the other side of the road and discovered that we had 0.2 miles to go.
It felt longer than that as we walked up the hot, rocky path, but we finally saw the side trail for the rocky outcropping known as Wind Rock. Lumpy grass campsites are located right before you get to the view and there are 2 tent sites right at the rocks. The woman we’d seen getting water had already begun to set up her tent in the prime spot. We were about to head back down to check out the other sites when she offered to move to the smaller of the 2 spots so we could fit our tent where she stood. I felt selfish agreeing to it, but she seemed totally fine with it, so she moved her tent by picking it up and dropping it back down because she has a tent with poles. These are the only times I envy tents with poles. Oakland and I dropped our packs and surveyed the lumps to find the best-case scenario. Then we powered through tent set-up, which we have down to a science. Afterwards, Oakland organized her bedding while I sat on the rocks taking in the expansive view and stuffing my face with snacks to quell the pre-dinner hunger. Then I forced myself to go through bedding setup before we cooked dinner.
Our tenting companion goes by the trail name glide. We did the usual introductory conversation and found out that she’s from Michigan and works in the outdoor touring industry. She also seems to hike pretty high miles. Today was a 20 miler for her. Another hiker named Scott showed up while we fussed with our gear inside the tent.
We grabbed our cooking gear and food bags and joined glide and the other hiker on the rocks. Glide listed off a number of fresh foods as part of her dinner. She is stoveless and carries extra food weight to be able to eat less packaged junkfood. Oakland and I made our black beans and rice dish and added the last of the viable spinach to our pots to “cook” with the meals. I had to work hard not to munch away on my dwindling Frito supply while we waited for dinner. When our food was ready, we grabbed our zseats and found a vaguely comfortable spot with an incredible view among the slanted rocks.
There was some idle chatter between all of us, mostly about hiking, combined with long stretches of silence. Oakland shared her Frito stash with me, and, after we did our dishes, I shared a bite of snickers with her. Throughout this whole time, we’d been hearing thunder rumbling and watched the storms on the distant ridges. Gray tendrils of rain streamed down from the clouds. We all wished for the storms to pass us by, which is ultimately what happened.
I stood watching the occasional lightning flash while I brushed my teeth in the cooler evening air. We heard the exclamatory sounds of people throwing bear lines, which made me anxious because it meant that we had missed first dibs on food hanging trees. Oakland and I divvied up the toiletries and bowls between us – her bag is bigger, so she gets the bulky food bowls and I get the toiletries. Then we wandered down into the lower camping area to find that Glide and Scott had indeed taken Oakland’s first choice from her recon mission earlier.
We found a good alternative for Oakland and she nailed it on the third try. Sadly, the branch was clearly not strong enough for both of our bags. I looked around for another option and settled on one that had more lower limbs than I usually care for, but we were running out of options and time. Right as I was about to throw my line for the first time, a gnat flew directly into my ear. I cursed loudly and dropped my line to flap at my ear trying to dislodge the gnat. Poor Oakland stood off to the side and tried to stay out of the splash zone of my bug rage. I had left my ear buds out for this venture, which was clearly a mistake. After half a dozen tries with my bear line, I was both frustrated and embarrassed because Oakland had done hers so quickly, but I’m supposed to be the “experienced hiker.” I was also DONE with gnats dive-bombing all parts of my exposed body. I finally got the line over a limb I hadn’t been aiming for, but which totally satisfied the requirements.
We walked back to the tent site and I apologized for my temper. Oakland was nonplussed by it and said that no one likes a bug in their ear. We were right about to settle into our tent to wait for sunset when a friendly father and young son arrived with camera equipment to catch the sunset. We got stuck in a bit of small talk with them, but retired to the tent to get away from bugs, and so I could get a head start on my notes. Being the obsessive weirdo that I am, I couldn’t stay in the tent and miss the different layers and stages of the waning light. We both climbed back out and sat (or in my case stood) on the rock, swatting gnats and talking with the father while his son twitched around the tentsite throwing rocks at the ground and generally being 12 years old. The storm clouds from earlier had finally lifted, which meant we did get a pretty decent amount of light and color, though the sun got lost in another cloud right before we would have seen it drop below the ridge line. Here are a few more pictures in addition to today’s top picture:
Glide went to her tent about 10 minutes before we did. The father son duo said goodnight and went back down to their car. We changed into our sleeping clothes later than usual. Then Oakland checked a couple of things on the map and looked at her pictures while I forced myself to type up the evening’s notes. I couldn’t bring myself to go back and fully write the whole day because of the late hour. I’m finishing this to the sound of a plane passing overhead, Oakland drifting off to sleep, the occasional rustle from glide’s tent, a small creature in the nearby brush, and bugs bouncing off the tent. I hope there are fewer rocks tomorrow.
Mile 650.8 to mile 664.1 (13.3)
Checklist total miles: 672.9
Oakland total miles: 193.5
Creature feature: the turtle, our last blaze sighting, and a dark eyed junco at camp