2019-Day 80: Spy rock edition

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July 12, 2019

I got a decent night of sleep. Wind blew moisture from trees, but no new rain fell after about 10:30. We woke up for good around 5:30. Oakland went to the privy, and I immediately followed suit before the teenage world stirred and made it impossible to get any privacy. The privy was really close to the shelter, but it faced away and everyone seemed asleep, so I left the door open for a mental buffer between me and the spiders that I decided NOT to look for. Then I got our food bags down, and we changed clothes and packed up our gear. I put on my last pair of clean socks today. Such luxuries. We ate breakfast on a log by the fire pit with the cackle of pileated woodpeckers somewhere in the tree canopy. The teenagers unveiled themselves around 7:15.

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They grumbled, but continued to be amiable kids. I felt cranky about the shirtless male-bodied kids because it reminded once again of the way our female bodies are sexualized and the lack of privilege we have to do something as simple as cool ourselves down by removing clothing. The kids didn’t seem to be filtering their water, which seemed like a terrible idea to me, but there was no chance of me sharing that opinion. We packed up our food, put in contacts, and collapsed the tent, which was filthy on the bottom. I joked about having self cleaning pants as I wiped my dirt-stained hands on my thighs. Everything felt clammy, but we were grateful for the slightly cooler morning air as we left our campsite. We stopped for a quick water refill on our way out of the shelter area. 

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Light shone through trees on the way back to the AT. We happened upon the VA tech kid stretching in the middle of the trail, and we decided to wait for him to finish rather than bother passing him. The moisture on the plants sparkled in the morning light.

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We arrived a small clearing in the trees right as the trail started to get misty. We took in the partial view while a ratchety bird call sounded nearby and a strong breeze swept around us. 

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Then came a rollercoaster through mist and wet grass. We walked through a foggy field with no views except a tiny break in the fog that lasted about two seconds. We found a new spotted lily that I later found out is a tiger lily.

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The trail took us through another stretch of fields and dropped us down into the woods with bright green ferns and a nice breeze.

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We made our way down to hog camp gap and across a gravel road and through a turnstile near a giant beautiful maple tree.

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We were both glad we hadn’t kept hiking yesterday. We would have been soaked in the late afternoon storm. We made a short, but sometimes sharp climb up to tar jacket ridge.

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On the way, we saw day hikers with a full size greyhound dog and two women that we passed two days ago with their kickin gaiter color combos. We enjoyed the views off to our right before the trail sent us back into the woods for a bit. Oakland fussed at me as I took picture number 7,456 of her. 

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We decided to take an early break because we were both hungry and there was a sizable rock just off trail that made the perfect two-seater. We snacked on bars while flies buzzed around us and a light breeze blew through the trees. This was our 7th day of hiking in a row, and we both felt zapped. 

After the break, we had switchbacks down into salt log gap. We crossed two gravel roads, the first of which had a small truck with a tarp and tuppers in the car, but no person. We went back into the woods and stopped by a large tree for a quick bio break. Then the trail took us upward for a bit and eventually eased into a gentle rolling path surrounded by alternating patches of creeper and laurel.

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We made it to yet another gravel road crossing and decided to have lunch on the steps leading back into the woods while drying out the tent, my sleeping pad and various towels that were soaking wet.

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I ate a pepperoni and cheese wrap for lunch, which was good but on the greasy side for a midday meal. My frito bag fell out of my hands at some point, and I had to spend extra time gathering the mess, taking care to dust them off rather than treating them as trash. While we ate, we talked about the various decisions involved in our Maine trip. It seemed useful and necessary to take an extra zero day in VA, but that could mean jeopardizing our chances of seeing halfway. There was a heaviness to the day despite the absolutely gorgeous weather. 

We gathered our now much drier gear (thank you, scorching VA sun), and continued north feeling overheated because of our sunny lunch spot. We passed a trio of women who zinged the now cringe-worthy question of whether we were thru hiking. I didn’t have the energy to get into it with them, so I just said no and we never stopped moving.

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A mile or so later, we made a pitstop at a seasonal spring that was thankfully flowing with cold water (it’s hard to tell, but the pebbles in the middle of the above picture are covered in a small pool of water). We drank a bunch and then filled our bottles before heading back onto the rollercoaster trail covered in ferns and the occasional rocky stretches. The breeze helped with the heat of the day, but it didn’t do much for my mood. I felt lonely and exhausted, although my spirits were briefly lifted by a giant frog (toad?). 

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As we approached another stream crossing, we ran into a ridgerunner who asked us if had ever seen a hiker named Unc and another guy named “prime time” whose entries we’d seen in the logbooks. We shared what we knew about Unc’s last location, and I gave him my impressions of Unc being quick-tempered and invasive, but never crossing a line with me specifically. After a bit more polite chit chat, we moved on. A little while later, we stopped for water, and I asked Oakland to hike in front to help with loneliness. Something about seeing her in front of me made the woods feel less empty. We stumbled along together through rockier patches. I can’t remember much else about terrain because I was a zombie. Here are few pictures from the middle of the afternoon. 

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I heard a deer stomp off to my right as we arrived at a wide, shallow stream. We stopped just past the stream to sit on a rock and eat a snack. There were 2.5 miles to go to the spy rock campsite. We had yet another hilly water carry ahead of us because there is no water source at Spy Rock. Flies nearly sent me into a cursing fit as they incessantly tickled my legs during our snack break. 

Oakland took the lead again and we walked about a mile up the trail to porters gap. We turned left into the grass at the sign and dropped our packs in the pines. The ridgerunner had advised us to take the path to the right rather than the old woods road to get to the Rock Spring water source. I grabbed my daypack so we could carry our water gear and still use poles over the loose rocks. The spring is aptly named because it sits at the base of two very large rocks.

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There were horse hoof prints in the wet sand leading up to the spring, which was perplexing given that horses aren’t allowed on most of the AT. The water was cold and easy to scoop. We did the usual drink, filter, stockpile routine that comes with dry campsites. We took a quick pee break before continuing with the last 1.6 miles of the day. We walked through a series of small ups and downs and crossed a small rocky road that sat at the bottom of the 0.4 mile sharp climb to spy rock. It was an unrelenting hill littered with loose rocks and the occasional log step for erosion abatement. Nothing like getting completely soaked all over again in the last 20 minutes of the day. We trudged silently up the hill stopping only so I could take a few pictures. 

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We finally made it to the grassy area where the AT takes a sharp left and the spy rock side trail goes straight. At the intersection there are grassy, lumpy tent sites and a couple of fire pits. We put our packs in the tall grass (tick bait!) and wandered around inspecting the sites for hidden rock fields and levelness. We decided on a site that looked well-traveled and had only a few terrible rocks that we covered with a couple of camp towels. Then came tent setup, snacks and throwing our bear line. I got mine over a decent limb after a few tries and Oakland got hers quickly as well.

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We decided it was time for dinner, but first Oakland had to visit the rhododendrons. A few day hikers with a bouncy dog showed up while she was taking care of things and surprised her from her perch in the woods. Thankfully she said she was far enough out of sight. I set up my bed while she managed to not get caught pooping. Then we put our dinners together, and Oakland set up her bed while our food cooked. A trio of backpackers arrived as we sat down to eat. They asked if we were in for the night, which seemed silly given the tent and the dinner we were about to eat. Oakland called out that we were indeed here for the evening. They asked if they could join us at our tent site, but first they were going to check out the view. We waved and then secretly scoffed at them for not leaving their packs while they went exploring. We both cringed at the prospect having to interact with new people while we ate. Neither of us felt particularly proud of our anti-social tendencies, but we also didn’t feel compelled to force ourselves to be chipper about constantly interacting with new people. We talked a little bit about Oakland’s challenges for the day. She’s also been feeling sad and is worried about ruining my hike with her various anxieties. 

We finished our dinner and dessert with no further visitations, so we figured the trio of hikers must have set up closer to the rock. We slogged through our dental routine, hung our food and congratulated ourselves for getting the bags relatively high in the air. We confirmed the theory about the backpackers setting up at a different site on our way to see sunset after being zombies in the tent for about 15 minutes. In fact, they pitched their tents ON the blue blaze trail, which made me cranky. We had to walk through their dinner to get past them.

We took the somewhat new trail that was in the process of being marked and is intended to keep people from scrambling around the right side of Spy Rock. We navigated a short rocky section and then made our way up the sharply banked packed dirt trail. Then came a scramble over rock face that led to a 360 degree view.

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In the middle of the plateau, there were puddles with tadpoles, which obviously captured Oakland’s attention.

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We had the gallery of mountains and sunset all to ourselves because the trio didn’t come up to check out the view. I find that so confusing, but also totally fine by me. I sat with Oakland while the sun slowly dropped in the hazy sky, and I periodically stood up to take a dozen versions of the same picture (e.g. today’s top photo). The colors never really saturated because of the haze, but the light was beautiful and the sun went behind a bank of clouds causing a bright yellow outline for a few minutes.

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We left sooner than I normally would for sunsets because Oakland wanted to have some light left to navigate the return path. I would have stayed had the colors been more striking, but they were already fading into a blueish-pink hue. We made it safely back down the rock slab and into the woods. The campers were already in their tents as we passed by.

When we got back to our site, we each peed and then got into the tent for a tick check and a change of clothes. Oakland looked at tomorrow’s map and I took abridged notes for the evening. It was far too late to suffer through full sentences. As I wrote, a barred owl called out from our left. Oakland tucked herself in bed around 9:45. I’m finishing this to the sound of her light snoring (an unusual occurrence), a passing airplane, a beetle rustling in the leaves by our heads, bugs popping off the tent, and the wind gently moving through the trees. 

Mile 812.3 to mile 825.2 (12.9) – Spy Rock campsite 

Checklist total miles: 834

Oakland total miles: 354.6 

Creature feature: tadpoles, blue headed vireos, dark eyed juncos, the gigantic frog,  butterflies, day hikers bouncy dog and the barred owl. 

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