July 8, 2019
What a restless and soggy night I had, but it wasn’t because of rain. It was because I was drenched in sweat every time I woke up, which happened frequently after a middling time of night. Thankfully the temperatures were warm enough to keep me from freezing in my soaking shirt. I should have switched into long johns before going to sleep so I could stick my legs out of my sleeping bag, but inertia made me skip it. There were thankfully no spider incidents that I was aware of, although I did have the phantom (or possibly real) feeling of being bitten by no-see-ums every time I was awake. My watch alarm went off at 5:15. There was little motivation to stay in bed given how sweaty and uncomfortable I was. Oakland and I both sat up in the darkness. She went off to the privy, and I went around the corner to pee. My intention was to wait until the last possible minute to use the bathroom in order to force my hand at using the privy.
We quickly put our sleeping gear away and then had to deal with sensation of donning wet clothing. I finally went to the privy and found our current Wolfie on the door jamb near a beetle. I wrote my letter congress and didn’t linger because I didn’t want to see wolfie get the beetle. We sat at the picnic table for breakfast while mist blew in and the bugs snacked on us. Then we prepped our feet and brushed our teeth. Columns of sunlight formed in the moist air while the birds chattered.
Oakland went back to the privy, and I took the opportunity to write a few notes. For unknown reasons, my phone didn’t charge overnight, so I left it on the brick for most of our morning routine. Unfortunately, I too had to revisit the privy. I grabbed my toilet paper and steeled myself for wolfie and the beetle. Oakland said she hadn’t seen the spider during her visit, but I have too much evidence that privy experiences can vary widely between users. I slowly stepped through the open door (care of Oakland) and scanned the usual spots. I found wolfie tucked into the door frame where Oakland hadn’t spotted her. The beetle was safely at the bottom of the frame (for now).
We got on trail at 7am with dry skies (for the moment). We covered the small rise in elevation between the shelter and our sunset overlook from last night. No view this morning! The mountains were completely socked in. Then we went over a series of doodley-doos followed by a somewhat persistent downhill for quite awhile. Sun streamed in from the right. The birds were in full swing and we heard the occasional pileated woodpecker calling out from a distance.
We reached the Jennings creek intersection around 8:30. A wooden post right before the dirt road had a small paper plate sign about trail magic over the weekend. We groused about having missed it by a day and walked across the road to check out the view of the creek:
There was a plastic beach ball on the shoreline, which gave the impression that this is a popular swimming hole. A shirtless guy down the road called out to us that there was trail magic in the parking lot. Neither of us really needed anything in that moment given that we’d been hiking less than 2 hours, but we walked towards our benefactor anyway because it’s hard to pass up trail magic. We wound around into the parking to find another guy cooking what looked like hamburgers on a large camp stove. He offered us a seat and a beer or a coke. It was too early for me to consider ingesting either item, so I declined. Oakland took a coke, which I eventually helped with because it would take her too long to drink the entire thing by herself and we had already made the unspoken agreement to vacate this arrangement as soon as possible. The guy running the grill excitedly explained that it was his birthday so he’d decided to install himself in the parking lot to cook a shit ton of meat. Neither of the guys was particularly creepy, but they also gave off the kind of lingering bum-around hiker vibe that we don’t really relate to. The cook realized that he’d run out of fuel, so he hopped in his pickup truck to go get more. This baffled me because it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. We talked to the other guy while we drank the soda and tried not to visibly cringe at his cigarette smoke. His name is “One step.” He told us he was a NOBO thru hiker, which didn’t really make sense based on his start date, which I unfortunately can’t remember and didn’t write down, but I know it was well before I started. It became a lot more pleasant to talk to him once he finished smoking. Neither of us cared about eating a hamburger, so we gave our empty can to One Step and put on our packs. Just as we walked out of the parking lot, the cook returned. Where had he gotten fuel that quickly?? We didn’t stick around to ask. We turned back towards the direction we’d arrived only to be flagged down by One Step. In our haste to leave, we had missed the trail entrance right next to the parking lot. We thanked him for keeping us from wandering southbound and stepped into the woods to tackle a two mile climb.
The footing was rocky at times, but manageable. The coke did NOT do me any favors in terms of hill power. Sweat poured down my temples as we chugged along. The trail eventually flattened out a bit and then went straight back down.
My knees ached, which was dejecting considering our intended distance for the day. I asked Oakland to go first to mentally pull me downhill. We walked through beautiful morning light with an occasional breeze. Around the 2.5 hour mark, we stopped to take another snack break. We discussed water strategy while we zombied our way through snacks. We had chosen not to get water at Jennings creek because guthook advised against it. The seasonal stream before the road crossing had been bone dry, so we had another couple of miles before we could fill up. There are a few sources between here and our destination, so we don’t have a long water carry, but our intended shelter only has a cistern-style water source (e.g. a pooling spring enclosed by rocks). Guthook has very mixed reviews on the quality of the water, so we are considering filling up at a source that is a little off trail and about a quarter mile before the shelter.
We finished our break and continued downhill through a beautiful, greener trail. Here’s Oakland navigating one of the occasional blowdowns we passed and a spider friend hanging out on a delicate wildflower:
We eventually stopped for water at a stream that ran alongside the trail. I took the opportunity to rinse my cup since we now had access to extra water. Oakland stood guard while I did my best to get as far away from the water source as possible, which was easier said than done given the poison ivy situation. I heard a pileated woodpecker while I squatted near the trail dealing with the infernal task. Then we drank some extra water before topping off our bottles and moving along. The trail then consisted of a gentle section through a gulley alongside another stream.
Not long after I took that picture, I spotted a turtle in the middle of the trail. They normally escape into their shells at this point, but our new speckled friend decided it was time to GO, and it raced off the trail with me following along taking a clumsy video:
Then came a loooong climb that included several poorly banked switchbacks and others that were more neutral. We huffed and puffed our way through the abundant greenery on a beautiful day sweating profusely every step of the way.
Around noon, we stopped for lunch on a large downed tree at the base of another long hill. We took our shoes off and did our best to thwart the giant black ants stalking our food. I called Stanimal’s to coordinate a ride for our next hostel stay. The person who answered was warm and helpful, and in a matter of 3 minutes, we had reservations and a ride from the trail. After finishing our food and mustering the energy to stand up, Oakland took a minute to examine some chaffing along the bottom of her sports bra. This was of course the exact moment that a SOBO hiker came down the trail towards us. We hadn’t seen anyone for most of the last two days with the exception of our soda benefactors. Rule of the trail #46: remove a piece of clothing and someone will appear out of nowhere.
We talked to the hiker about water supply for a minute while he grimaced from the never-ending downhill he’d covered and would continue to navigate for the next hour. We parted ways and steeled ourselves for another couple of miles of trudging uphill (we were somewhere in that bumpy “flat” spot near the 2300 ft range).
We were instantly sweating buckets again, and my achilles tendons gave me a piece of their mind as we made our way up the packed dirt trail. The slope eased up a little on a wide ridge with thick green ground cover. Someone had weed-whacked the center of the footpath, which made for comfortable walking as we went up the never ending and increasingly sharp climb.
Here are a few more pictures from this stretch. The light was beautiful and the humidity staggering, even for me.
We finally came to the peak where we switched spots, and Oakland led us down the hill. We eventually came to the Cornelius shelter turnoff where we barely looked up because we had already decided to get water 0.3 miles north. When we got to the stream, we discovered a trickle of water flowing across the trail. We surveyed our options and decided to make a leaf spout a few yards upstream. It took awhile to fill our bottles, but it was a totally functional water stop despite the fact that you can barely tell there’s a stream in this picture:
Then came another climb through rhododendrons and the occasional boulder plop.
We arrived at black rock view sooner than I expected. We enjoyed the breezy overlook with moderately comfortable rocky surfaces while we ate. I have no idea why this video is sideways, but I’m including it anyway.
After a few minutes of snacking, we noticed what looked like a small rain system straight out in front of us. We decided to exit stage right and get moving in the event that the rain cloud decided to turn into something more substantial.
After black rock, the afternoon devolved into a series of challenges, none of which were too overwhelming on their own, but when combined with the number of miles we had walked and the heat, they resulted in a few near-meltdowns. After black rock, we continued climbing over rubble. We crossed over an extra nubbly foot bridge where someone had nailed trim pieces over top of the regular slats.
The woods eventually opened up to thick ground cover. Oakland led the way for awhile with me trailing behind and calling out when I found cool mushrooms that she had passed over. Now that she’s more comfortable, we take turns being in front and acting as psychological tugboats. Here are a couple of her mushrooms/fungi from the day:
After awhile, we crossed over a small gravel road and went up a set of log steps to continue climbing up to apple orchard mountain.
When we checked our mileage, we were both stymied as to how we had covered so little territory. Oakland asked me to take the lead, so I squeezed around her and did my best to keep a decent pace despite my rapidly waning patience and coordination. I kept kicking or stumbling over the rocks hiding among the straw covered trail. It looked so idyllic from the knees up, but the footing required more concentration than I had to spare. I felt like I was going cross eyed, and I felt like my vision consisted of a 2’x3’ field. We wound our way up the incessant hill surrounded by dappled sunlight and a few new flowers.
I couldn’t get all of them in focus no matter how many times I tried, but you get the idea. At some point, we popped out of the woods for about a hundred yards and saw a weather radar station that looked like a giant soccer ball in the air.
I was grateful for a momentary break in terrain while simultaneously happy to head back into the partial shade surrounded by old fruit trees. We finally reached the uneventful summit of Apple Orchard Mountain, and immediately began to head back down. I asked Oakland to lead the way because it helps to have her in front on the descents.
We went down a series of stone steps that my knees did not agree with. They led us to a landmark called the guillotine, which is a large boulder wedged between two giant boulders that looks as if it might slam to the ground at any moment. Oakland got spooked by it and hurried her way through.
After a few more minutes of rocks, we went through a flatter section with shoulder high greenery and wildflowers flanking both sides of the trail. After what felt like forever, we crossed the blue ridge parkway and started on the last 0.4 of a mile to the shelter.
We lucked out again with trail maintenance as someone had trimmed the sides of the trail saving us from having to walk along an overgrown field that people in guthook had complained about. A few minutes in, I saw a side trail lead off the right. I asked Oakland if the water source was on that trail or if we should be looking out for a blue blaze. We checked our phones and found out that we had already passed our water detour, but it thankfully was NOT the extremely overgrown trail I’d just noticed. It was actually a trail that forked off of the AT a couple hundred yards back. It was only moderately overgrown and led us to both a new flower and a spring with crisp, clear water. Someone had installed a leaf to make a spout out of the very slow trickle coming from the ground spring (the bigger leaf in the 2nd picture).
I had asked brownie if this spring was running and she’d described it as a pooling spring, but that description didn’t match where we stood at all. We decided that brownie must have been talking about the water at the shelter. Since we already stood in front of a certain water source, we topped off our bottles, filled our sawyer bags and rinsed our faces. Then we swished through the tall grass back to the AT. After about 7 more minutes of walking, we made it to the shelter turn off. Our 6:45ish arrival was about 45 minutes later than I had anticipated, but we made it and managed to beat the rain. The tent sites were located across from the bear box (YAY). We dropped our bags and surveyed the very lumpy scene, which I sadly did not photograph. There were a few hanging branches that didn’t look ideal if we were to get a lot of wind and the ground consisted of a patchwork of hard turrets. We walked down to the shelter (about a hundred yards away) to see if there were any other tenting options. Negative. Neither of us felt like putting ourselves back into a spider situation so soon after last night’s den experience, so back to lumpy grass we went. We set up the tent while mist rolled in and the wind picked up. The site we picked was the best of the dismal options, and it still left us rolling downhill, which was made even more obvious by the guy lines of the pitched tent. We collected our dinner gear and food bags, threw our packs in the tent , and battened down all the doors so we could eat down at the shelter without having to worry about rain.
We sat at the picnic table and boiled water while congratulating ourselves for making it through the day. Oakland had found the last four miles as tough as I did. I congratulated her on making it to 300 miles, which she did about a mile before we got to the shelter. 300! She actually made her mile marker sign two days later, but I’m including it here anyway:
Oakland was curious about the water source, so she went to explore it. There’s a small cistern built around a pooling spring. Brownie told me about it over text, and said that there was a green frog protecting it. I called out to Oakland asking her if there was a frog and she said, “yes” incredulously. I admitted that brownie had told me about it, and I walked over to see the infamous frog (today’s top picture). It was a beautiful little frog and had coloring that I’ve ever seen. I stooped down to take its picture and it didn’t stir. A serious little creature on a mission.
The rain started right as our food finished cooking. It was only a light misting, but we gathered our belongings and sat inside the shelter to eat under cover.
As we ate our newly beloved macaroni with green peas, I showed Oakland pictures of Maine to give her concrete ideas about what to expect. She said earlier in the day that her anxiety had lost interest in today’s challenges and had moved on to worrying about Maine, so it seemed useful to show her what I’d come across in 2017. Unfortunately, the beginning of Maine is crazy in terms of terrain, so I don’t think I helped allay her anxiety. A dark eyed junco came searching for snacks. I caved and tossed two small Frito pieces out onto the ground. It hopped closer to the shelter, snatched up one of the pieces and worked on it for a couple of minutes. As we ate, I realized that I had forgotten my toiletry bag in the tent, which meant I would have to brush my teeth in the rain. Oakland insisted on going to get it for me in between our main course and dessert. I put up a small fight, but I didn’t have the energy to go get it myself, and I really didn’t feel like standing in the rain even though it was pretty light at that point. She returned with my bag and we did our dishes. Then we ate a couple of desserts and brushed our teeth from the comfort of the shelter until it came time for spitting. I swallow my toothpaste (it’s Tom’s without flouride), but Oakland has to spit hers out, which she does either in the fire pit or at the edge of wherever we are.
Then we gathered our food bags and seats and went up to the bear box. It had a very sticky latch that I feared we wouldn’t be able to get open. I had nightmare visions of having to throw bear lines in the rain, but Oakland finally managed to pry the squealing door open. Then we scurried into the tent. As I was about to get in, I saw a large tick crawling on the bare floor. I plucked it out and proceeded to freak out about the presence of more ticks. We each looked over our packs and the bottom of the tent, but we couldn’t find anymore. Oakland set up her bed while I whined about the gigantic rock we had missed while picking the tent site. I shoved my tent towel over it to keep the abrasion on the tent bottom to a minimum. Then I went through my bed setup while Oakland changed clothes and puttered on her half of the tent. It’s amazing how one can get used to such a small space. I griped about having to write notes, but settled down into the task despite my strong desire to sleep. Oakland looked at her pictures and then took a gander at the section of Maine we will start next week. She put her phone down and turned over around 9:30. I’m finishing this to the sound of sporadic rain drops plopping on the tent and wind rushing through the trees. Let’s hope those dead branches stay put overnight.
Mile 754.7 to 771.9 (17.2)
Checklist total miles: 780.7
Oakland total miles: 301.3
Creature feature: the spotted turtle, the dark eyed junco, the crazy green frog, beetles, a brown thrasher that we surprised in the brush.