July 2, 2019
There were so many noises throughout the night, which I think is partially to blame for my restless sleep even though I knew that most of the crashes were just debris dropping from trees. I slept from about 9:15 to some very early hour, after which I tossed and turned, sleeping in fitful chunks of time. Oakland reported another Benadryl supported better night of sleep with the usual tossing but little in the way of prolonged wake-ups. My watch alarm went off at 5:15, after the whippoorwill. They really are like clockwork, starting their iterative calls around 9pm and again around 5am. Neither of us really wanted to move especially given the dim light, but we have bouldering on the agenda for today, so we forced ourselves to begin the routine. Oakland went off to the privy, making a wrong turn and shining her headlamp back into the tent before finding her way back down the hill. I changed my clothes and started packing my bag while she was gone. Usually I just lay there like a lump. Then I made my trip down to the privy. The first thing I saw when I approached the little wooden structure with the door wide open was a shining dot along the the foundation. Upon closer inspection, I found a wolf spider that was about 70% of the OG wolfie’s size. I didn’t have the time or the flexibility to wander around looking for a decent spot to dig a hole, so I took a deep breath and silently pleaded with wolfie to stay put for a few minutes. Despite the presence of hikers in the shelter about 50 yards away, I left the door to the privy open for a quick escape and for the illusion of safety. There’s something far more frightening about sharing a space with spiders in a fully enclosed privy versus one with open sight lines and breathing room.
I managed to take care of my duties despite the knowledge that wolfie lay in wait about two feet away. I hesitated to step over the threshold lest I disturb wolfie into action. As I walked away, I checked for wolfie. To my dismay, it was nowhere to be found, which meant that wolfie had been on the move during my movement (there’s no end to the privy puns). I walked back up the hill in the dim morning light and tried not to disturb the shelter-goers with my footfalls. Oakland was mostly packed upon my return. I shared my wolfie sighting with her and assured her that it wasn’t her fault that she hadn’t seen the spider. Based on the fact that it had disappeared in the short time I was there, chances are good that it hadn’t been visible when Oakland made her visit. After packing everything but our sleeping pads, we had an uncomfortable breakfast in the tent because neither of us felt like dealing with the tyranny of the black ants. For whatever reason, this site was overrun by the ornery insects. After a tidy and fulfilling breakfast, we emerged from the safety of the tent to filter water. We decided to be stubborn and not collect more for the long distance of 7.8 miles before the next source because neither of us really felt like making the trek back down to pickle branch or losing the time that such an errand would require. We packed up the tent, and Oakland went off to hang out with the spiders a second time while I sat on the camp chair and wrote notes to a chorus of birds with the occasional solo by a resident pileated woodpecker.
Once Oakland returned, we made our way back down the blue blaze trail and onto the AT, which started as a wide lane that passed the occasional giant (and perplexing) mound of rocks. We went through a small meadow with light streaming through the pines.
Then came switchbacks through incredibly heavy air and overgrown ground cover ranging from waist to shoulder high and littered with spider webs. Oakland kindly went first and took the brunt of the sticky webs as the sweat poured down our faces. We finally reached a narrow ridge that started with this small view and quickly turned into rock land.
Oakland continued in front so I could avoid straining my ankle and to keep catching spider webs for a little while. Texts started to buzz through my phone as signal returned, so we stopped to coordinate with Oakland’s college friend regarding a new pickup location and our best estimate on timing. Flies buzzed around us and birds called in the distance as we both stared down at our phones.
When we resumed hiking, the trail was rocky and sometimes covered in pine needles as we ascended to a series of ledges. At one point we passed a boulder that was literally COVERED in daddy long leg spiders of varying sizes. Oakland took a video while I stood aghast beside her.
The trip up to the ledges and across the ridge was a rocky one but it wasn’t as treacherous or as physically challenging as I’d expected. Here’s a smattering of pictures from that stretch, including a great view of the surrounding mountains:
We eventually made it to the side trail that led to dragon’s tooth itself, which was a mammoth, jagged rock formation surrounded by a wall of boulders that provided hard to reach views of the surrounding terrain (today’s top picture is one of the views). We noodled around the rock formation, checking for access to views and deciding that neither of us cared to scramble more than absolutely necessary.
We both preferred the previously mentioned ledges to the somewhat overblown touristy destination, so we headed back to the trail after grabbing a quick snack. The first half of the descent consisted of bouldering with more bouldering and a side of bouldering. We passed day hikers who were somewhat useless when I asked them if we could expect the steepness to remain consistent the whole way down. We slowly crept down the rocks, occasionally finding ourselves walking across stone walls that were just wide enough for our feet (e.g. the first picture where you can’t tell that the drop off on the right is much sharper than it looks).
Here’s Oakland’s tried and true scooching move, which I sometimes forecast by calling out “scoochertunity!” if I see a drop-off that she might not want to attack from an upright position:
After about an hour of the drudgery, my left knee decided it had had enough, and I finally had to ask for an early lunch break because of a sharp pain in the middle of my knee cap. We sat on neighboring rocks and made our food while shooing away the incessant black ants that seemed just as interested in biting us as they were in pursuing our food. I tried not to overreact about my knee because the pain was far sharper and more consistent than I’d experienced thus far. Oakland reassured me that she had experienced similar pain in the past and found that an overnight rest usually did the trick. Sadly we still had a ways to go before I could make that resting happen. We didn’t linger at our lunch spot because of our slow progress and with no certainty that the remainder of the descent would be much faster.
Thankfully our lunch stop was near the point at which the steepness gave way to a more moderate descent, sometimes up stone steps, sometimes over sandy and beautiful footing and occasionally down a rock slab mess.
We eventually crossed through Lost Spectacles gap which was an unassuming intersection with an amusing name. Then came more bouldering along a narrow ridge that led to this view which momentarily made me forget how angry my body was and how eager I felt to be done for the day.
After a bit more scrambling like so:
…the trail turned into very reasonable pine and laurel stands that were eventually accompanied by road noise.
My left knee was stiff but less painful than it had been before lunch. We crossed a small paved road and passed a stream that our app recommended not to use as a water source.
Then came a dusty ascent with switchbacks. We were running very low on water which didn’t help with the equally low energy levels. We made our way down again, during which I had the pleasure of experiencing a sharp pain in the base of my right heel much like the knife-like feeling I’ve been getting in my left Achilles. It’s unusual for the pain to happen on my right side, so it took me by surprise. I stopped for a second to collect myself and then said “it’s fine” when Oakland heard me mutter to myself.
We eventually made it to our last half mile, which consisted of walking through a field dotted with black eyed Susan’s and white flowers that I think might be queen Anne’s lace, but I can never remember what that looks like. As soon we stepped into the field, we could feel the heat radiating from ground. We both thanked whomever had mown the path somewhat recently.
About halfway through the field walk, we went through a narrow, wooden zig-zag fence with a spring loaded door. I could barely fit my shoulders through the fence straight on. What microscopic human did the builders expect would be using this fence? Right before we went through, an indigo bunting flew from the top of a scrubby tree to a neighboring fence post. We also saw red-winged blackbirds as we wound to the left and headed for Blacksburg Rd. There was another fence right before the intersection. We sat in the shade just on the other side of this fence and waited for our ride. One of Oakland’s college friends had very kindly offered to host us at her home in Blacksburg, VA for the night and was on her way to pick us up. There was virtually no shoulder to the road, so giant pickup trucks and delivery vans whizzed dangerously close to us. The other seating options were either too sunny or too infested with poison ivy, so we stayed the course and tucked ourselves as far off the road as we could while we ate snacks. Oakland’s friend Kendra arrived 15 minutes early for our rendezvous and stopped her truck in the middle of the road so we could toss our packs in the back and hop in as quickly as possible. As we scrambled, an impatient truck towing mowing equipment scraped past us and ran their trailer over the shoulder of the other side of the road making a frightening noise. Once we were safely piled into the truck, we made our introductions and headed to Blacksburg. Kendra had asked us via text if we wanted any snacks for the ride, which we had politely declined. She politely ignored our request and showered us with chips and cold drinks from various bags and coolers in the backseat while she gave us an overview of the interesting geological facts about the surrounding area (she’s also in the sciences).
We arrived at Kendra’s sizable “country” abode in a neighborhood where houses perched on sprawling lawns with towering oak trees (among other varieties). We were instructed to remove our shoes (my nightmare, but I hobbled around the house as best I could in deference to the rule), and walked into a shiny, comfortably arranged, gigantic kitchen. Kendra led us to the finished basement where we had our own room and a bathroom complete with a ceiling showerhead that was bigger than a frisbee. As we marveled at our accommodations, Kendra announced that she was going to release the kraken, aka their adorable white pitbull mix named Libby who apparently has a jumping problem. We didn’t experience said pesky acrobatics because I taught Oakland the trick of turning her body slightly away from the dog to make it less appealing and functional for her to jump on us. Look at that face!
We had to juggle the fact that we needed to do laundry, but we also needed to shower and run a grocery errand for dinner. Kendra kindly provided us with a selection of loaner clothes to choose from. We both managed to find something relatively gender neutral that mirrored our usual hiking clothes (i.e. spandex and a t-shirt). Then came the shower that dreams are made of. Oakland went first while I scrounged around gathering laundry and getting that started upstairs. Then I took my turn in the jet stream (drought-conscious Californians would weep over the amount of water the shower head emitted). While I luxuriated in hot water and tried to mop up the giant mess made by a perplexingly leaky shower door (it was relatively new construction), Oakland spearheaded a pronoun conversation with Kendra. In communicating over text, Oakland had been using my correct pronouns (“they/them” for anyone who missed that conversation) and decided to explicitly address the subject in person on my behalf. Kendra responded with appreciation and shared her intention to do her best to use the correct pronouns.
*Real time emotionally-laden side note: Deciding whether to advocate for my pronouns is something I have to engage with every single day. As I’ve mentioned before, I mostly gave up on gender neutral pronouns while on the trail, but in my non-hiking life, the issue comes up multiple times a day, every day, and I have to choose whether to intervene or let it go. The spectrum of interactions ranges from the oblivious person who sits on their front porch and calls out “hello ladies” to my partner and I as we walk down the sidewalk or having to choose whether (and how) to correct someone in my inner circle of family or friends when they use the wrong pronoun. I’m not militant about it, and I try to make the corrections without evoking shame (nearly impossible) or profuse apologies that require me to take care of the other person. I’ll be honest: it’s exhausting and it’s an emotional paper cut every time. Like a cardboard cut that digs in deeper than your usual envelope-induced nick. There’s no resolving, hopeful upswing to this side note. I just wanted to share a small window into the emotional labor that goes into existing outside the binary. Now back to hiking…
Not long after Oakland and I made ourselves presentable and less odorous, Kendra’s two small children were deposited at home by their weekday caretaker. The house became a flurry of little voices bidding for our attention and snacks while being generally good humans. Because our showers had eaten away the child-free time period, we had to wait for Kendra’s husband Brian to come home in order to do our grocery errands. My fears of eating dinner far later than usual became more real as the 4 o’clock hour slipped away. Brian eventually arrived and took over parenting duties while we piled into the minivan to buy dinner provisions and a two-day resupply to get ourselves to Daleville where we would resupply with fully loaded boxes from HQ. Our first stop in Blacksburg was a strip mall parking lot where the women at a fish truck that Kendra frequents were in the process of packing up for the day. We had technically missed our window, but they know Kendra, so they rummaged around in freshly re-packed boxes to find the salmon she had requested. Kendra had apparently been talking about our arrival because they asked if we were “the hikers,” which took us by surprise. I chuckled to myself on the inside because the women appeared to be members of the classic Indigo Girls fanbase: mid 50’s, cargo jeans/t-shirt/baseball hat wearing lesbians. Obviously all of those assumptions could be off-base, but Oakland and I shared a few amused looks as Kendra paid for the fish. In our vernacular this counts as a “family sighting” – “family” referring to other members of the LGBTQ community. Kendra stubbornly refused to let us help with any of the bill, which she also did at the megastore where we did the rest of the shopping. We arrived at the grocery chain with a sprawling parking lot and both cringed as Kendra decided to park in the far reaches of the lot with the common refrain of “you’re hikers! you like to walk!” Neither of us had the heart to tell her that walking through a paved parking lot after having scrambled down a mountain all morning wasn’t exactly ideal.
We split up at the entrance and agreed to meet back at the cash wrap when we were done with our respective missions. Oakland and I wandered the aisles trying to find the basics and mused over the intense Hokies display near the front of the store.
We ended up buying too much food because a couple of the items on our list don’t come in 2-day quantities (e.g. Oakland’s lunch tortillas and my lunch poptarts). We did manage to avoid a few heavyweight treats that shouted at us from the shelves in our pre-dinner states of hunger (oreos!). We tried our best to get through the resupply quickly, but it was a HUGE Kroger, and neither of us could remember where certain items might be located. We eventually made it back to the front of the store and sheepishly put our passel of packaged foods onto the conveyor belt while Kendra waited with a basket predominantly loaded with fresh food. We rode home via the downtown route that cuts through part of VA Tech’s campus. My brother graduated from tech, so I’m vaguely familiar with the area, but it was Oakland first foray into Hokie-land.
Kendra and Brian wouldn’t let us help with any of the cooking, so we alternated between entertaining the children and sitting at the kitchen barstools talking to the adults. There were a few of the usual sibling meltdowns that were swiftly navigated by Kendra and/or Brian. The end result of our errands was an amazing dinner of salmon, kale salad, and warm potato salad followed by ice cream from a local creamery for dessert. We fielded dozens of trail questions and showed the kids pictures of animal poop while we feasted. It’s clear that Kendra and Brian have the itch to do long distance hiking. At one point in the latter part of the evening, Brian asked about our first aid kit (he’s a police detective), and when I showed him my minimal kit, his eyes went wide. He disappeared a couple of minutes later. When Kendra noticed his absence, I joked that he was probably searching for a tourniquet. Sure enough, he emerged from the garage with a tourniquet, and 2 other “must have” items: an emergency blanket and combat gauze, which is apparently a magical substance intended for packing wounds to staunch blood flow. We laughed at him and thanked him for the suggestions. I kindly, but firmly passed on the tourniquet because it was just too bulky, but we took the other two items. Then we excused ourselves and went downstairs because we still had to organize our food, and it was already far past hiker midnight. We sluggishly made our way through the repackaging and organizing process, then we folded laundry and put our sleeping bags on the basement couch to air out. We passed out a little after 10pm. I did not write the end of this entry at the house, but I can tell you that we fell asleep to the sound of the air conditioner blowing unwelcome arctic air into our bedroom. Tomorrow: McAfee Knob!
Mile 697.3 to 705.6 (8.3)
Checklist total miles: 714.4
Oakland total miles: 235.0
Creature feature: dozing deer tucked in the woods, so many noisy squirrels, a few lizards, a cute day hiking dog, Libby the white pitbull I wanted to put in my pocket, the indigo bunting, a tufted titmouse, chickadees, and red-winged blackbirds.