July 14, 2019
I managed to sleep mostly okay minus waking up drenched in sweat halfway through the night. My watch alarm went off at 5:20. It was difficult to get up, but we both wanted to get the morning’s letter to congress out of the way before the world became conscious. Oakland went out into the dark morning first. I saw her headlamp bob around and then remain stationary. I sat up and massaged my feet/calves to get them ready for carrying me off into the dark. I put on my ankle brace and made my way towards Oakland’s now-moving headlamp. I asked her in a whisper how it went as she came towards me with her food bag. She apparently got lost in the dark, so she missed her pre-determined spot, but she made it work. I wandered back towards the far edge of the tenting area and started digging in the rocky soil. I felt like I was making a crazy amount of noise. My knees were not very happy with the crouching, but they managed. Then I retrieved my food bag without poison ivy incident and headed back to tent. Others began stirring as Oakland and I changed clothes and packed up our gear. I wanted to say something to the late arrivals about their poor etiquette, but I didn’t want to get an arrogant, defensive remark in return (based on their demographic, this seemed like the most likely outcome). As we packed, we took joy in whatever noise our crinkly compactor bags made. The tent bottom was nearly pristine. We had breakfast on the log watching and judging all the people across from us while pileated woodpeckers called from the tree canopy. Other birds gave their reports from a distance. The gaggle of older men were actually really quiet as they emerged from their tents. So last night’s ruckus was not due to a lack of capacity for lower voices. Okay, okay, enough complaining. We filtered water, prepped our feet and walked out of camp at 7:10.
We hiked uphill past the shelter, which sat well off the trail, and began the 3.5 mile climb to top of top of three ridges. The dim morning light looked more like 7pm than 7am. Neither of us was ready or in the mood for the rock pile boulder barfs, but they were thankfully short-lived and one section came with the side benefit of a stick bug!
We stopped at a small, somewhat overgrown. I shimmied out to the middle of the slanted rock to take a picture of a new purple flower and the views.
We came to another more traveled overlook where we stopped for pictures and another breather. We were both thankful for bright blue skies and to be making this climb in the early morning hours.
Then came more rock scrambles and boulder sneezes, but the trail was never very steep for very long. I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about in guthook, although I’m sure that’s partially to do with our fresher morning legs.
A light breeze hit us as we rose in elevation and the last half mile towards the ridge was downright pleasant, which I did not expect.
We walked along a fern and tree covered ridge until we got to a small stealth camping spot that had a two-seater snack rock. A robust breeze cooled us down as we ate bars and laughed at Oakland’s sweet hat hair (my earbuds are in to dissuade dive-bombing gnats).
Before moving on, we drank a bunch of water and filtered a bit more for the walk down to the next shelter where we intended to have lunch. We walked along the ridge and took another long pit stop at hanging rock overlook where we met a section biker about 240 miles from being done with the whole trail. She had a cute dog named cricket. I noticed her Altras and shared my tripping/broken elbow story. This led to her sharing the fact that she, too, had tripped in her Altras because of the floppy toe guard, and she’d broken her nose. The overlook had amazing views. I took a video, but there’s too much background talking to make it enjoyable. Here are some pictures instead (including the today’s top picture):
The descent followed my completely anecdotal formula that if a mountain is a rock sneeze or steeply graded on one side, it will be kinder footing/grading on the other side (Madison in the Whites is one the of the major exceptions to this unofficial rule). We crossed a few rock sneezes and walked through laurel tunnels and ferns with the occasional group of day hikers. We also saw a spotted black salamander that was too wriggly for a clear picture, but I’m including it anyway.
We saw a couple of red fungi, which we obviously slowed down to investigate (pictures care of Oakland):
We made it to the shelter trail at 11:45. A trio of younger people lounged at the shelter with their stuff all over the place. We decided to sit in a log area near the privy instead of going down there because their spread out nature was unappealing. Three of the guys from “the late arrivals” showed up after we did. Oakland took advantage of the privy while I made my peanut butter wrap. We decided to save time and skip water collection because we had less than 2 miles to go, and if I know my mom, she would have at least 4 bottle of water in the car. It seemed more important to show up on time. We left the shelter campsite without ever going down to the picnic table area. I felt anti-social, but at the same time, I wasn’t in the mood to be around the people who had kept us awake last night or the people who had spread their gear all over the place. My patience for humanity has grown thinner as the miles go by.
We crossed over a woods road and continued north down the AT. We had to stop almost immediately so Oakland could take a mushroom picture and so I could pee because I hadn’t been willing to use the privy back at the shelter.
Then we hiked uphill for longer than I expected. We joked about how the trail seemed like the moving stairs in Harry Potter and that we were only going up because we had just eaten. I finally stopped to check the map. It turns out we had both missed the fact that we would have to hike almost a mile uphill before descending into reed’s gap. The trail took us over bee mountain and then right back down, finally turning into a persistent descent into the gap. The footing was rocky at times, but we made good time even with a pit stop to say hello to a new toad friend.
We eventually reached the edge of an overgrown field covered in greenery over 6 feet tall.
With only 5 minutes to go, I received a text from my mom saying that she had reached the gap. We stopped just short of the gap and watched to see if my mom would bring my niece out on the trail to meet us. When we saw a diaper change in progress, we gave up on the idea and went towards the parking lot to meet them.
We received an exuberant greeting from my niece in her polka dot sunhat. My mom, who had expressly been told not to bring anything with her, showed us the cooler full of orange sodas, a bag of kettle chips, m&m’s, and other odds and ends to keep the kid happy. Leave it to HQ to always come prepared.
Thankfully the sodas were cold, so we decided to skip the gas station side trip we’d been daydreaming about. We all piled into the car, and thus began the stark change in reality from sweating our way through the woods to sitting in an air-conditioned vehicle full of snacks and people wearing regular clothes. My mom confirmed that we did in fact smell pretty awful. It’s both useful and frightening to lose perspective of how bad one’s hiker smell can be. We kept the windows down until we hit the highway, at which point we filled the car with our hiker cloud. My not-quite-2 year old niece fared pretty well on the long car ride home, repeatedly saying my name and telling us that she had tattoos (over and over and over). She’s hanging out with my mom all week because her mom and sister are at sleep away camp in Ohio and they arranged for childcare to be my mom and stepdad. Very sadly, this happens to be the reason why my mom won’t be driving us to Maine, but she may drive to pick us up like the maniac that she is.
It was hard to stay awake after 9 straight days of hiking, but the joyful screeches from the backseat and the snacks helped. After about two hours of driving, we hit a quick downpour. Oakland and I were grateful to not be at the mercy of VA’s afternoon thunderstorms.
We arrived in Haymarket around 4:15. Oakland and I turned right back around and went to the grocery store to buy soap, shampoo, and other comforts of home that we decided to splurge on rather than use whatever we found at my mom’s house. It was difficult to avoid an exhaustion meltdown in the middle of the grocery store, but we both managed to keep ourselves together and made it back to the house in one piece. Then came showers and street clothes! To my surprise, the pants I wore on the plane ride over back in April are now too big. During my 2017 hike, I took a couple of breaks off the trail and didn’t fit into my pants because they were too small, so I fully expected to have the same experience this time around. Maybe it was all that ice cream in New York state. To Oakland’s dismay, her pants also hung loosely on her hips.
We decided to let the flurry of chores start the next day and saved the remainder of our energy for having dinner with my family, including my brother who came over for the evening. Around 8:30, we collapsed into bed with aching, overstuffed stomachs and the underlying buzz that accompanied news of health complications for a member of Oakland’s family. I’m finishing this to the sound of the air conditioner, the hint of bass from the downstairs television and the roaring silence of suburbia.
Mile 836.5 to mile 844.6 (8.1) – Reeds Gap
Checklist total miles: 853.4
Oakland total miles: 374.0
Creature feature: cricket – the cute overlook dog, a giant toad, a cardinal or two, and the fast moving black spotted salamander