July 7, 2019
Last night was quite the sound and light show for awhile. There were lightning flashes, lightning bugs and fireworks all happening at the same time. A creature tromped around at 4:30 in the morning. I’m pretty sure by the punctuated footfalls that it was a deer, but it had us both very alert for a few minutes. We woke up around 5:40 and got up for good. Oakland had a pretty mediocre night of sleep. I did well enough until the 4:30 visitor, which is not great, but it’s better than nothing. As always, the morning started with privy adventures. Oakland took her leave first while I massaged my feet and lower legs. Then I took my chances with the privy, which thankfully wasn’t occupied by very many buzzing inhabitants. I still kept the door open because we had the entire place to ourselves and it faced away from our tent site. Oakland was already packed up by the time I returned. I shuffled through the packing process, fighting the urge to crumple back onto my sleeping pad. I put in my contacts, and we packed up the tent itself. I once again thanked the storms for passing us by last night as we brushed dust off the bottom of the tent. Then we took everything over to the picnic table and perused the logbook entries while we ate our breakfast bars with skippy. Our soundtrack consisted of an unidentified loud bird, the occasional pileated woodpecker, and the consistent thud of a woodpecker already hard at work. After brushing our teeth came the tedious but necessary tasks of foot prep and second privy visits. Then sunscreen and water filtering. We have another day of distant and unreliable water sources ahead of us.
The morning started with a gentle rollercoaster past one of our three water sources for the day (pretty useless to pass one so early in the hike). The trail consisted of long curves punctuated by sharp upticks and the occasional train whistle.
The air hung heavily around us and sweat dotted my skin almost as soon as we started moving. As we trundled through the steamy woods, I made a terrible pun about our splashguard saying that it was a way to “leaf no trace.” Oakland pretended to be horrified. We heard another strange bird noise as sunlight hit our faces. The trail transitioned into a persistent up with a lot of the wrong banking (high side on the right, not pictured). We were surrounded by blueberry bushes interspersed with rhododendrons and patches of ferns. At some point, we rounded a corner and hit the sunnier side of the mountain, which immediately led to more sweating.
We crossed black horse gap at a dirt road and then went up and over a short rocky hill. A few minutes later, we came to our first Blue Ridge Parkway crossing at Taylor Mountain View.
I heard something tromping through the brush and looked to my right to see a doe safely cross the road. We walked to the overlook and soaked in the view while motorcycles rumbled behind us. I also checked the view from the other side of the road because I couldn’t help myself.
We headed back into the woods and stopped for a quick bio break once we were out of sight of the road. The trail felt like Shenandoah National Park (SNP) because of the nearby road and the spacious woods around us. We hiked adjacent to the road for awhile, sometimes dropping just below it, but mostly staying within sight of it. There were open stretches that had clearly been cut at some point and the occasional view:
We stopped for a break at the two hour mark on a comfy set of rocks with a nice breeze. I checked my phone and found text updates from brownie. She and Dizzy are about a day and a half ahead of us, and they’re having trouble with the heat/humidity. At some point shortly before or after the break, we saw yet another doe in the woods. See if you can spot her in the second picture:
We went up a short hill through an open section where a couple of black and white warblers popped out of the brush. I love those marbled little birds. We crossed the road and found another version of the same view.
At the edge of the woods, we found Oakland’s first trail magic!
Someone had propped a 6-pack of yellow gatorade on the wooden AT sign. We sat and split one on the spot and packed one to share for later. Warm gatorade has never tasted so good AND we lucked out with a trash can at the lookout. (Sadly no recycling) We headed back into the woods with stomachs full of gatorade and lighter hearts. Not long after that, Oakland decided that the large green nuts we’d seen dotting the trail should be called “poop nuts.” I think they’re actually hickory nuts, but Oakland’s nickname stuck, and we called them poop nuts for rest of our time in VA. I couldn’t stop laughing at the fact that the chair of the biology department of a fancy independent school was standing in the woods of VA smelling like a hobo and using the phrase “poop nuts.”
The trail then took us through a rollercoaster section with a few sharp hills. At some point, we walked alongside a stone wall, which made me feel more like a drifter than a long distance hiker.
We eventually passed the side trail to Bobblets Gap shelter (a fun name to say out loud). It’s a quarter mile off-trail, so we decided to skip it as a water source, especially given our gatorade abundance. I found a few wildflowers to gawk at along the way:
We went through a small stand of rhodies before the trail briefly widened. Then it was back to the green tunnel and up another couple of hills to a gentler stretch that eventually popped us out to the peaks of otter overlook.
I have a close friend who loves the peaks of otter hike, so the overlook made me homesick for the days of being able to hop in a car and visit her. We took in the view and decided to plop ourselves down on a shady spot along the stone curb to make lunch. It’s not a glamorous sight to behold, but it definitely felt good to get off our feet for a little while.
As we mowed through our respective wraps, a truck with a sleeper cab stopped to check out the view. Oakland pointed out that they were Vermonters. They pulled slowly towards us, and I had a feeling they would stop, which they indeed did. The inhabitants were an older couple who asked asked us questions from their vehicle until Oakland pointed out that they had a rope dragging the ground towards the back of their rig. The husband got out of the driver’s seat and went to tie off the rope. As he did so, he offered us cold water. You don’t really pass up the chance for a cold beverage in the middle of a hot July day in VA (unless you’re me and you refuse to drink beer while hiking), so we each took a tiny bottle despite the desire to avoid plastic. When we asked the couple where they’d been in their camper, they lingered to tell us all about their gigantic road trip. They’ve basically gone across the country and up and down the entire west coast. They eventually drove away, and we enjoyed the rest of our lunch in the dappled shade that kept creeping away from us.
It was hard to get moving with full stomachs, but we collected ourselves and headed back into the woods. We went through a repetitive easy stretch for awhile. I stopped to clean my cup before we hit the next intersection. There was little in the way of privacy trees, so Oakland dutifully stood guard as I made my way through the task a little ways off trail. At Millers Gap overlook, we were rewarded with this view of puffy clouds against a bright blue sky and a sea of mountains (and another trash can!):
Back into the woods we went for another couple of miles before the next road crossing and our last water source, which was a creek just below the road. I generally try to stay away from water at roadsides, but this was our only option because our shelter for the night does not have a water source.
We dropped our gear at the edge of the footbridge and dug out our filters to the tune of rolling thunder and the occasional passing car. We filtered water into our bottles and filled our sawyer bags to get us through the night and to tomorrow morning’s water source. What direction do you think our shelter was from here? That’s right. UPHILL!
We walked across the road with our cinderblock packs and began the 0.7 mile climb to the top of the hill. About 3 minutes in, the rain started. It proceeded to pour for the next 45 minutes turning the trail into a stream in most places (no pictures because it was raining too hard). We tried our best to avoid the deepest sections even though our feet were sloshing in our shoes after only a few minutes. Thunder cracked loudly overhead with some frequency as the rain pounded down. There was nothing to do but keep walking and make sure to take careful steps. Towards the end of the storm, when the rain had started to taper, we ran into an older man who was all smiles. He asked with exuberance if we were going to Maine. I hesitated and just said, “yes” because I didn’t have the stamina to share the long version while standing in the rain. “I’m from Maine!” He announced. I asked what part and he said, “Maine!” So I said again, “what part?” And he told us he was from near Bangor. We parted ways with a cheerful goodbye (ours somewhat forced and his clearly genuine), and continued tromping down the soggy trail. It eventually stopped raining, and we reached a slightly drier section with fewer puddles and a couple of nice views.
We stopped at one of the views to eat a few bites of a bar in an attempt to avoid hanger. The base of my right heel went haywire a few times, and I felt sudden sharp pains, but none of them devolved into a constant sensation, so I didn’t stop. I spied the metal shelter roof at 3:50pm. We managed to make pretty good time despite (or maybe because of) the rain. There was a nice tent site right at the shelter turn off, but we walked down to the shelter to check it out in the event that it’s going to rain all night. We also had no desire to hunker down in a tent with wet clothes. We dropped our packs, and I immediately took out my headlamp for a spider check. Ever since the wolf spider (Wolfie), I’ve been on high alert, which is NOT good practice in the woods. Of COURSE there were spiders in the shelter. And of COURSE two of them were frighteningly large. WHY DID I LOOK FOR THEM? It’s best to approach these things from a place of ignorance. We decided to keep moving on our chores before the rain hit again, so we took out our bear lines and went hunting for limbs. I had spotted what seemed like a decent tree a few minutes earlier from my perch in the shelter, so we checked that option first. Right before we started to throw our rock bag, I noticed a cone shaped dirt nest hanging from a tree. Wasps. New tree time! There’s no way either of us was going to throw a rock bag towards a tree with an active wasp nest. With our luck, there would be a misfire that landed right in the nest. We found another good option with a fork that would allow for both of our bags to go on separate lines in the same tree. I threw first while Oakland untangled her rope, and I made it on the third or fourth try. Then she threw from a different direction to get the line over the other side of the fork. She had just asked me to go in search of a backup option when she managed to get the line right at the beginning of the fork. A strong position for our heavy bags.
Then Oakland went off to check out the privy, and I sat in the shelter worrying over whether to sleep in the spider den or set up a tent that would most definitely get rained on with nowhere functional to hang our clothes except the shelter. If other people arrived, we would then be the jerks taking up shelter space AND tent space. Oakland came back with her mouth screwed up. She shared the news that the privy housed a very large spider, likely another wolfie. I shook my head in silent fear. Oakland then attempted to relocate one of the large spiders in the shelter, but, as I predicted, it skittered into a crevice the second she approached it with her water scoop. The other (GIGANTIC) spider of concern lay at the base of its thick trampoline-shaped web about knee high in the far corner of the shelter.
We couldn’t decide what to do, and Oakland wished for it to pour to force our hand. At the very least, we needed to get out of our wet clothing, so we each took off our shoes and socks, stripped down and put on long johns and dry shirts (see top picture for the classiness of our situation). My feet and hands were prunes and new portions of my fingertips had started to peel. A light rain began to fall as I started on the late afternoon notes. We had some social media zombie time, and then we made dinner in the shelter because the picnic table was still wet from the most recent drizzle. I didn’t put enough water in my food, so it turned out like mortar. Tasty, but far too thick. We talked about the difficulties of tomorrow, and Oakland’s concerns with the weather and the terrain. We’ve planned for seventeen miles tomorrow, and she’s anxious about how long it will take us. We made a bail out plan, and I assured her that we would take things as they come. After dishes and dessert (mini snickers), we both lay on our backs to give them a break from sitting on the hard wooden floor. I put my feet up against a beam in the shelter to use the power of gravity to help with inflammation. Then we brushed our teeth and hung our bear bags. The limb turned out to be fantastic. At first glance, it seemed like the bags might be too low, but we decided they were at least ten feet in the air. Oakland asked me to check out the spider in the privy to confirm that it was a wolf spider. We went into the mansion of a privy that still smelled of new wood and searched for the spider with our headlamps. It was, of course, no longer in the location where Oakland had seen it earlier. I spotted it curled on a beam right over my head, which of course made me jump a few steps. I gave my unprofessional opinion that it was probably a wolf spider, albeit a small one for that class of giants. Then I had to leave because I couldn’t stop picturing it jumping down on me. Oakland ended up using the privy while I sat in the shelter looking at the logbook. Then I switched to researching whether wolf spiders bite humans. Apparently they aren’t aggressive, and they won’t kill you. The spider in the corner is not a wolf spider because wolfies tend not to build webs (frightening). Sadly, this means I can’t vouch for the behavior of our unwanted roommate. After a bit more dithering about whether to sleep in the spider cave or the tent, we finally decided to stay in the shelter because of the extra space. I forced myself to blow up my pad as a sign of commitment to the choice. I wanted to tent, but I knew if it rained, we would be dealing with a wet tent on a morning when it would be nice to save a few minutes.
During the course of the evening, I decided to break down and ask our house/cat sitter to mail my old phone to HQ so I can switch back to it. As of today, the screen on my phone has stopped responding in a few places, and it’s become even more impossible to use. Then we lay and puttered, waiting for the time to leave for our sunset mission. There’s an overlook a few minutes up the trail that has a western view. We decided to risk it and head over in our long johns (the risk being wet sleeping clothes if it decided to rain). About halfway there, I realized I hadn’t brought my zseat for the waiting game. We reached the rocky outcropping around 8:15, and I could tell immediately that there were too many clouds for saturated colors. There were also several beautiful fog banks hanging in the valleys. After some jockeying, we got ourselves onto two separate rocks for the duration. I whined a bit about the sky and Oakland was perplexed. She called me a sunset snob, and I wholeheartedly agreed with her. We stayed until about 8:45 when the bugs became too much for Oakland, and it was obvious that the sun couldn’t penetrate the heavy cloud cover on the horizon. Here are a couple of shots from our field trip. I swear they’re different.
We walked back to the shelter in the blue of twilight and took off our wet socks and shoes. Someone had left a hiking newspaper in the shelter, which we sacrificed in order to ball it up in our shoes in the vain hope that they might dry a bit more overnight. Then we pulled out our sleeping bags and got into long sleeves to prevent the bugs from taking advantage of us in the night. Debris from the trees clattered to the ground every now and then, and as the light dimmed, the evening orchestra came alive. We each took a Benadryl to help us sleep. I’m finishing this to the sound of Oakland breathing next to me, the evening bugs, the occasional plop of moisture falling from the trees, distant road noise and a train whistle. Oakland kindly offered to sleep on the spider side of the shelter. I obviously took her up on this flimsy layer of protection 🙂
Mile 740.9 to mile 754.7 (13.8) – Cove Mountain Shelter
Checklist total miles: 763.5
Oakland total miles: 284.one
Creature feature: spiders! several deer, a cardinal, the black and white warblers, and a bunny.