2019-Day 74: barred owl* edition

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July 6, 2019

I had upsetting dreams about cookies last night. Basically town food nightmares. I woke up around 5am with a stiff right leg. Oakland’s alarm went off at 5:30, but she had clearly been awake long before that. Another restless night of sleep for everyone! We both decided to take another shower before leaving civilization. Then we ate our own food for breakfast while sitting in bed. I had a gigantic helping of cherries, a green machine juice ( both care of our zero day visitors), and half a probar. It was way too much food, but I didn’t want it to go to waste. My stomach ached and cramped after I was done; it’s clearly not used to fresh fruit. 

We packed our bags, did a few compulsive sweeps of the room for potentially abandoned gear, and stopped by the front desk to checkout and ask them to mail postcards for us. Neither of us really wanted to leave. I think if it had been actively raining, we both would have caved on taking a second zero day. I felt exhausted and Oakland had a topsy turvy stomach, but we gritted our teeth and forced ourselves to walk away with our newly laden packs. 

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We crossed through the Pizza Hut parking lot and walked past the gas station to get to the trailhead. We stepped into the woods around 745 where we were instantly met with a cornucopia of spider webs that went on for at least a mile (one of which is today’s top picture). 

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Oakland kindly offered to take on Spider Web Alley first, so I walked behind her through the dense woods with the loud sound of cars whizzing behind us. The path eventually widened into a grassy lane for awhile.

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The road noise was so loud that it sounded as if we were basically still walking along the highway. There was so much moisture in the air that long columns of sunlight formed in the treetops. The cicadas were already hard at work, making for quite the racket when combined with the whine of large trucks. We eventually popped out to a short road walk alongside a two lane road.

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We dipped back into the woods and I tried my best not to stop every 10 yards to take pictures of the morning light streaming through the trees.

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We eventually crossed a small creek with steam rising of the water’s surface. I tried to capture it on camera and was only partially successful:

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Then we jaywalked across a 4-lane road and went back into the woods to start our first major climb of the day.

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After a few minutes of sweating our way uphill, we stopped at a fence line to pee and take notes. The chorus of noises continued with birdsongs, cicadas, and trucks still very audible from the surrounding roads. 

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We went through the fence and into the morning sun up a short, but steep field (that’s me huffing and puffing up the deceptively banked hillside). At the top of the hill, we had views of the surrounding mountains that looked a bit like the East Bay because of low hanging cloud banks.

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I saw another yellow bird with dark wings coast away. Im pretty sure it’s an American goldfinch, which I haven’t seen for awhile because the goldfinches in Oakland have a different color pattern (they’re the “lesser goldfinch” which is an odd name for a beautiful bird, but it apparently has to do with stature and habitat range).

IMG_7466IMG_7465 At the bottom of the wet grassy field walk (goodbye dry feet!), we crossed a short footbridge and went back into the woods for just a minute. Then we crossed another little road and headed back into the woods for a longer stretch.

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Beautiful morning light shone through the trees with a decent path that only had small stretches of rocks. A light breeze blew for which we were both thankful because it was already a steamy day. I had trouble keeping up with Oakland. I felt hung over and sluggish from all of the rich (and glutenous) town food I’d consumed in such a short period of time. At some point, I felt a tickle on my arm and looked down to find a dime sized spider. I couldn’t free my hands fast enough, so I blew it off and kept walking. 

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At the two hour mark, we sat on a log and had snacks even though my appetite still wasn’t very strong. A light breeze blew as large flies buzzed all around us in search of salt. When we started up again, the trail widened to a mossy and rocky lane. I heard the pinging sound of what I’d always assumed was a raptor, but the bird we saw looked like a jay of some sort. As we moved on from watching the blue jay, we heard the yips of a pileated woodpecker nearby along with the drone of cicadas. Whenever we passed through a break in the shade I could smell the sunbaked pine needles underfoot. A lot of the second half of the morning looked like this: 

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The trail narrowed as it slowly gained elevation and turned into a laurel tunnel. The sunny stretches created even warmer pockets of air. I made a joke that we were doing hot yoga hiking because it felt like we were walking in a sauna. Around noon, we were passed by Mismatch who is slackpacking again and has a 28 mile day. When he shared that news, I jokingly said, “okay, we can be done talking now,” as if to say “I cannot relate to you or keep up with you at all.” It was noon when we saw him, and he still had 21 miles to go. No thanks. 

Not long after mismatch, we spotted a big mossy rock that looked suitable for lunch. We ate while we contended with the ants and the incessant but thankfully non-biting flies. At one point, there was not one but two of the sinister hovering bugs that I have begun calling hover monsters. We only had 4 miles to go before reaching our destination, and we hoped to beat the afternoon thunderstorms. 

About 30 minutes after lunch, we made our way down a series of dusty, gravely switchbacks. Sun and blue skies lay ahead of us and a rain cloud decided to hover right above us. Thankfully we didn’t get very wet before it tapered off and the humidity returned. The downhill made my knees cranky and it bugged Oakland’s shoulder, which is bothering her after having wrenched it a few days ago.

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We finally made it down to a wide, shallow stream with mosquitoes and minnows where we stopped to filter and drink more water. I slapped at bugs and felt like I may never stop sweating. Oakland had her lips drawn tight because of the strain in her shoulder and the anxiety of getting caught in rainstorms over the next few days of unpredictable weather. 

After filling up, we continued over dry crushed gravel ups and downs, stopping occasionally to drink water and admire the mossy tufts that we’ve taken to calling “bob ross moss.”

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Around 2:15, I needed a pee break, so I dropped my pack and Oakland dutifully turned the other way so I could squat close to the trail. I spied blueberries while I was down there and brought one back to her. She calls them power berries. She grabbed a couple of fat ones from a nearby bush and handed me one as well. Then we continued sweating our way to the shelter. Somewhere along the way we went through a dry stretch riddled with blowdowns that trail crews had cleared away. Thank you!!

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It had been a particularly muggy day today and the last mile or so was no exception. We dropped down to a beautiful little stream. Neither of us was in the mood to carry water the rest of the way into camp so we passed over it without stopping. The rest of the 0.7 miles to the shelter was a gradual, moderately graded climb through the dappled green tunnel. We passed an old handwritten sign that had a description of the “Collier” cleared area where we stood (or it would have been clear had there not been a few blowdowns). Apparently people treated timber and turned it into a fuel source before the advent of coal mining. I thought I took a picture of the sign, but alas, I only did that in my mind.

A few minutes after the sign, we ran into an older gentleman who stepped aside to let us pass. I asked if it was hot enough for him, and he replied that he was doing fine because he had just stopped at the shelter. He told us to tell his son to hurry up. Apparently the son was taking a nap at the shelter. He then managed to mansplain about water sources without actually having gotten any of his own water (his son did it for him). He tried to tell us that the stream we had just passed was the only water source for the shelter. Not true. We told him we were good and would get water at the shelter. We both walked away feeling aggravated by the overbearing interaction. 

We arrived at the shelter turnoff around 3, which is an early day for us, but the options are awkwardly spaced, and we’d hiked plenty far enough for the heat of the day. We turned left and walked about 30 yards to the shelter picnic table. A guy in his 40s sat there looking at his phone. We delivered the message that his dad said he needed to hurry up and hike because he was too slow. The guy laughed and said “is he still telling people that??” When he heard our answer that we were not thru hiking, he proceeded to talk at us for the next 5 minutes without taking a breath. He ran through the litany of gear that he’d started carrying for his dad and their hiking itinerary. Both of us nodded a lot and tried to sound engaged while feeling trampled by his conversational style. The only interesting part was that he’d figured out a system of waiting for his dad to get about 45 minutes ahead of him so he could then catch up within the hour and make sure he was safe rather than hike in front of him all day. He wandered away at some point, and we both turned our backs to the shelter to get a break while we ate snacks. He came back, filtered water into his bottle and then proceeded to pour out about a liter of water without asking if either of us wanted to take it. Oakland was horrified because she’d actually seen him do it. A couple of minutes later, he went on his way.

We sat there with our hair blown back and took a few minutes of silence to recover. Then we formulated a plan of attack for our various chores. A gray rain cloud loomed nearby so we decided to hang our bear lines and put our food up to see if the weather turned wet before setting up our tent. There were a lot of good limb options, which was helpful because the weight of our freshly stocked bags meant we would need separate limbs. We each got our lines on with only a few tries and had our bags hanging in the air quickly. Then, since the weather had held, we set up the tent on a soft site a little ways in front of the shelter. Next came to the trek to the water, a purported 0.2 mile walk. Given our safe and sound food, we did the errand together. I happened to have checked the shelter log in which Brownie left a note instructing people to take a left turn at the water source to find the actual flow. Armed with that tip, we each grabbed our day packs with our water vessels and filters. I poured my existing water into the platypus because I needed extra hand washing water to deal with my period cup obligations. Oh the joys of navigating bodily functions in the woods. 

We looked around for blue blazes and found a set in the direction of our food bags, but when we followed them they led us back to the main trail. The non-stop talker had said something about going that way to get water, but I decided to check the guthook map first because it didn’t seem right. Turns out we needed to cross the AT right in front of the shelter and walk perpendicular to it. We went back to the shelter, crossed the AT, and spotted a side trail with a wooden sign that said water. Success! We made our way down the switchbacks. Around 3 minutes into the journey Oakland remembered that we hadn’t packed a scoop. Not smart given the low water levels we’ve encountered recently. She went back for it and told me to keep going. I walked a couple more minutes and came to a rocky stream bed with a few puddles. I looked to my left and heard the faint trickle of water. It was coming from a spout someone had formed with a rhododendron leaf. I followed the trampled down briars up the stream about 15 yards and set up my water filter. I felt bad that Oakland had gone all the way back when the spout was good enough to fill our bags. Having the scoop would give us a better tool for taking bird baths so her trip wasn’t completely wasted. 

I had filtered half of my water by the time Oakland returned. I filtered her water while she began cleaning her arms, legs and face. Then I did the same, with the final touch of dumping water over my hair. On our walk back to the tent, I scavenged for leaves to make a rain splashguard. There hadn’t seemed to be many good options around our campsite when I’d taken a cursory glance earlier. As it turns out, there was actually a downed limb that had a ton of leaves near our food bags, so I pilfered most of my resources from there. 

We were both about to hang our day packs on branches to dry off when I saw a swooping brown creature land behind the shelter. The wing span was enormous and the feathers had a mottled texture, both of which meant it had to be an owl. I stopped Oakland mid-sentence to tell her what I’d seen behind her. We crept over to the shelter and saw the bird fly to a nearby branch and stare at us. It turned out to be a great horned owl barred owl. We couldn’t believe the size of it nor the creepiness of its stare. I walked closer to it and managed to get a low quality video of it sitting in the tree until it deemed me too close for comfort. Look between the two tree trunks in the middle of the frame: 

After marveling at what had just happened, We decided to retrieve our food bags to have a snack before setting up our beds. We sat on the log adjacent to our tent and ate for a few minutes. I had sesame covered cashews from my care package.

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Then I set about dismantling the leaf bunches from the fallen limb to make a rain gutter while Oakland put her bed together.  I pulled a bunch of leaves off for her as well and piled them to the side of her door so she could arrange them as she pleased.

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Then I got inside the tent and forced myself through the drudgery of blowing up my sleeping pad. The tent was boiling despite having all the doors open. Sun shone through the thin cuben fiber turning it into a toaster oven. But it was a bug free zone, so we stuck around for a few minutes anyway. We each lay like zombies on our beds. I fell asleep a few different times while Oakland texted with her sister. A little after 6, we decided to make dinner. We still had the place entirely to ourselves. 

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We boiled water at the picnic table and played “golf” while our food heated. Oakland sadly dunked her dish cloth into her food bowl when she was moving it, so she now has a food soaked edge of what used to be a clean cloth. We each made chili mac and enjoyed it while swatting bugs and dodging a buzzing wasp that seemed to think we had something that would interest it. I’m pretty tired of being dogged by things that might sting me while I’m trying to eat and poop. They’re both processes that would be best engaged in without duress! 

After dishes, I ate a somewhat smushed oatmeal cream pie (don’t worry, it still tasted good). By then, I had a full-on stomach ache because I’d eaten too many nuts throughout the day. Yet another form of discomfort to add to the list. Then we brushed our teeth and distributed bowls and toiletry bags between our food bags. Oakland helped me wash my hands by providing me with a “faucet” water bottle. It’s way better than sliming my water bottle with soapy hands. Then I went over to the privy intending to hide on the other side of it while removing/rinsing my cup. I took one step around the privy and heard a chorus of buzzing that I immediately walked away from. Hover monsters! aka the damned hornets we keep seeing. I walked several yards away and let my ass hang out because no one else was around, and I trusted Oakland not to peek. 

With THAT lovely task taken care of, we re-hung our food bags and retired to the tent. Despite our mini baths we both had sticky skin and felt like revolting creatures. We changed into “fresh” nighttime clothing to the dulcet tones of nearby thunder. It sounded like we were surrounded by a massive thunderstorm. Oakland cozied up into her bed, and I continued to tap away through my notes while the thunder intensified. I thought for sure we would get poured on at any moment, but we only got an occasional sprinkle. I checked the radar and saw that there was a pretty big storm just north of us.

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I typed in the waning light, occasionally looking up to check the progress of the brilliant pinks I could make out through the trees. It looked like a stellar sunset, and I was sad that we couldn’t see it fully. I’m finishing this to the sound of Oakland’s foot twitching every now and then, motorcycles thrumming their way up the blue ridge parkway (which is very close to us as the crow flies), a few evening birds including a very distant whippoorwill, the snap of falling debris, and local fireworks mixing in with the boom of thunder. 

Mile 729.7 to mile 740.9 (11.2) – Wilson Creek Shelter 

Checklist total miles: 749.7

Oakland total miles: 270.3

Creature feature: a bunny, lizards, minnows, the great horned barred owl, and little green metallic beetles. 

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