2019-Day 49: Oakland’s first day

I had a choppy but cozy night of sleep. The resident mockingbird did not heed quiet hours and made a racket half the night. Literally. We dragged ourselves out of bed around 6:45 and went straight to packing our gear. Then we had breakfast out at the table. It was a feast of yogurt, blueberries, a banana, and homemade banana bread. We had a couple of pieces of banana bread that we couldn’t make it through so I walked into the bunk room and offered them to the masses. A guy in a top bunk sat up and said okay! He asked if he could join us outside so we sat with him for a few minutes. His name is Alex and he sounded like a friendly but antsy NOBO who didn’t know what to do with himself if he made it to camp before 7:30pm. He also said his body likes to move quickly. I replied that I didn’t have either of those problems and suppressed my eye rolling to the best of my ability.

After breakfast, we walked back to the post office armed with a tracking number. I walked up to the counter and explained that I had a package with a tracking number that said it had been delivered but no one could find it the day before. The clerk asked me to write the number down and went back to the shelves. He came back with the small flat rate box that apparently didn’t have my last name on it which is why when I gave them my last name, they couldn’t find the box. Why they couldn’t have checked all of the small flat rate boxes (of which there weren’t many) is a different story. At any rate, we Solved the mystery of missing box and walked back to the hostel with our goodies. My dad and stepmom sent payday bars, oatmeal cream pies, and a thoughtful card. We added the snacks to our already heavy food bags and filled out waters. As we finished getting ready, I heard snapshot say to trivia, no no don’t get back in bed, we have to pack our stuff. Her response had the tone of s petulant 5 year old. I couldn’t wait to flee the scene of the passive aggressive bs about to ensue.

Right before we left, we weighed our packs. Mine came in around 25lbs. The heaviest weight to date. Oakland’s came in at a dismal 30lbs, which baffled and dismayed both of us. I could see Oakland’s face turn into anxious stone. She’s already anxious about her physical abilities and to have a pack that is at least 6lbs more than expected had her out of sorts.

We said goodbye to lee, one of the owners, as she worked on her front porch garden and fielded questions about rashes from Alex. We walked down east laurel street and took a right to follow the trail down hwy 58. We saw a small dog cross the busy street and wander through the business parking lots. I tried to feed it a cashew from my snack stash but it just stared at me. We continued walking and I tried to imagine that’s the dog was just out for a morning walk alone. The snack bag I had pulled the cashew from was actually soggy l, so I crossed the street to toss it in the gas station garbage.

The trail then took a left to follow the curve of the road and joined up with the Virginia Creeper trail for about a half a mile.

Then we Crossed the road and took a set of stairs into the woods. We walked Up the leaf strewn stairs and stopped at the top so I could get debris out of my shoe. I Had to take out my zseat because the ground was too soggy to sit on. I Took of my brace and my sock with no obvious cause of the prickly feeling in my sock. Oh well. I Put my shoe back on and we continued up the trail. My Right arch was VERY angry and I felt a pointed pain that I have had before that sometimes only gets worse. Oakland was also having right arch pain after the road walk, so we were both in pretty good starting shape for a day of hiking.

The trail took us up a Gradual hill on a silty path with soggy leaves and roots. I could hear Road noise and a Dog barking. The temperature was perfect for hiking. My Arch pain slowly faded as we walked along to the sound of opinionated Oven birds. I found a Blooming rhododendron that I was excited to show Oakland.

The trail Flattened out to a gentle rollercoaster. I saw more of the Small white flowers that I’d spied on the way into Damascus. Oakland immediately started taking pictures of fungi along the trail, which is another reason why we are great hiking partners. I don’t have to feel worried about slowing her down because there’s always some tiny organism to grab her attention.

We eventually Came to a slight opening in the woods and took a quick pee break using our brand new Kula cloths which are smaller than my previous pee towel, absorbent, subtle and produced by a women owned company. (Real time update: after having used the cloths for about 8 days, I highly recommend them!)

The trail transitioned to a Persistent uphill through pines with a fair amount of loose rocks. After the leg burning climb, the trail Flattened out a bit. Ferns and dozens of other green vegetation lined the trail. I Pointed out a rattlesnake fern to Oakland.

Around 11, we Sat at a small tent site and had a snack. I took off my right shoe and Massaged my arch which was still very cranky. We Listened to the small tap of a woodpecker that wasn’t visible in the thick leaf cover as we finished off our snacks.

As we got moving, my Arch still sparked but if felt different after the break. We went down a gentle hill with that transitioned to a roller coaster. Every so often I turned back to find Oakland taking pictures of fungi. I loved watching her excitement over all the mushrooms and lichen.

We Rounded corner and heard the low rush of water combined with road noise. Oakland thought it might be the wind but there was only a Light breeze blowing st the time. It almost sounded like a highway but eventually i decided it must be water.

We stood trying to spy a bird when we got passed by a Guy I recognized from the Damascus library. He was the last in a trio of hikers we let go by as we stood looking for the source of the small squeaking. The guy said “hey fellas” as he approached and neither of the us corrected him. Then he said something to the effect of “how are you guys today” and he immediately clarified that he says “guys” to everyone. We rolled with it and kept walking. I forget the comment that sparked it but at some point he affirmed something I said with “yes sir! I mean yes ma’am!” And replied “you could also just say “yes!” He laughed and said in a thoughtful tone, “yeah I could.”

We let him get ahead of us and had a baffled laugh at the gender mishmash he had gone through in such a short conversation. The trail transitioned to have more rhododendrons as it took us across a few small streams.

We noticed Clumps of rhododendron leaves laying on the ground, which was Confusing because the leaves don’t come off easily. As we mused on the subject, I looked up to see an older woman with a day pack and a baseball cap pruning rhododendrons with gardening shears.

As we approached, I asked if she had a permit for those shears. she laughed and said yes. We Passed her and had lunch around the corner at a campsite near a loud stream. Oakland tried her first bite of pop tart, the rest of which I ate for lunch with Fritos, spoonfuls of peanut butter and a few sesame covered cashews.

She reported that the pop tart wasn’t as sweet as she expected. We watched “snippy snip” wander up and down the trail grooming the rhododendrons as we ate to the sound of rushing water behind us and the occasional car passing by on a road out of sight.

We both took pee breaks in the rhododendrons and got moving again. Halfway to the shelter! We Crossed over a swollen stream where the only option for dry feet was to balance beam across a small log.

Then we Crossed a road and a newly constructed footbridge over whitetop laurel creek, which was the source of the loud rushing noise we’d heard a mile back. After the bridge, I took a soggy step in which muddy water Nearly went over the top of my shoes.

Then we Walked through more rhododendron tunnels. I Stopped to make notes and Oakland found an abundance of fungi to photograph. Stopped to get water and Oakland got distracted by coral mushrooms.

At some point, I Stooped under a blowdown And my phone popped out of my shoulder pocket. I picked it up and found a spider web of cracks all the way across the screen. I couldn’t believe such a short fall had caused so much damage. It must have fallen right into a rock or hard spot because I have definitely dropped my phone from far greater heights with no damage.

We kept walking and I did my best not to curse myself for having not learned my lesson. I know that my phone falls out of my pocket if I don’t tighten the strap. That’s how I cracked my phone in PA in 2017. I was aggravated by the avoidable mishap but it still worked so I tried to let it go.

The creek raged far below the trail to our right. We passed a handful of campsites between the AT and the creeper trail before the creeper took a right turn and crossed the overflowing creek.

We eventually made it to a Flat stretch that quickly became a rock field. We Crossed a log bridge next to a cascade

that was spitting water onto the logs.

Shortly after the sketchy log crossing were passed by two smelly NOBOs. Oakland watched them walk by and when they were out of earshot she said incredulously “why are they running?”

We Took a short break at the trail junction for Virginia creeper side trail. We had Just under 2 miles to go. Then came the Switchbacks up to the shelter turn off. We’d both scoffed at a commenter in guthook who lost his shit over the number of switches, so we decided to count them to see if the complainer had at least been accurate in his assessment.

Around the 5th switchback, I Heard a bird high in the canopy and I stopped to find it. I finally spotted some movement and it Turned out to be a scarlet tanager! We Stood still long enough for Oakland to get a good look at it. I was so happy to stumble on that kind of sighting her first day on the trail.

We Resumed the Switchbacks. Around the 10th corner, we Passed the smelly nobos taking a food break. Then we passed an older man who said seemed convinced that we were the people taking a snack break because he was baffled at our ability to pass him again.

It seems that the whiny commenter was right; there were indeed 16 Switchbacks. We arrived at the second exit for the shelter around 3:45 (it has two access points as we went to the northern point). We stopped to investigate a pod that we’d seen often throughout the day and found this inside:

We found Lucas the Swiss chocolatier and a couple of other hikers at the shelter.

We walked behind the shelter and set up the tent in a soft bed of pine needles with only a handful of pesky roots. Then Oakland pulled out her dinner essentials and began setting up her bed while I looked into getting reservations at our next hostel. She blew up her air mattress and then looked down in the bottom of her bag and exclaimed in horror because she realized that she had accidentally left a full 70oz platypus bag in the bottom of her pack from her last training hike, IN OAKLAND. Her bag was so heavy today because she had 2.5 liters of water in the bottom!

I laughed so hard and felt so relieved that she could hike with a light pack tomorrow. She, too, was relieved and horrified that she had made such a gaff and carried the extra weight all day. After the great realization, we sat outside the tent while I continued to work on reservations. I managed to get a phone call through only to find out that I had to reserve the room online. My signal of course then decided to disappear into the wind. I used my relatively reliable trick of forcing my phone into airplane mode and back out to get it to find a better signal. We settled on a room that is more expensive than We had hoped but it meant having a private room.

Then we scrounged up a rock and walked over towards the privy to have our first bear line lesson. I explained the underhanded slinging method and the trick of keeping the slack part of the line in your left hand to prevent it from flying away when the rock bag launched in weird directions or from flying into the air in a knot and getting your line stuck in the air. I managed to get my line on the intended limb after the third try but it was on a lower section that I’d hoped, so I pulled it down. Of course then it took about 6 more tries and some laughing to get it back on the limb in a higher spot. Oakland took her line with trepidation and nailed it on the second try. Then we grabbed our dinner gear and walked over to the shelter.

We both had a black beans and rice meal with our own tiny avocados which were the last of the batch from my sister in law. A new hiker arrived right as we were about to move over to the log seating area. I’m leaving her name out for anonymity because we found out she’s been having some trouble with a hiker that I know and have had mixed feelings about. We talked to her a bit while we ate dinner. Lucas emerged from his tent after having taken a nap. He apparently got blisters today, which does not bode well. It seems far too soon for blisters! He put together a fire while Oakland and I finished up our dishes. I gave Oakland a taste of my oatmeal cream pie – her second culinary first of the day. She said it was surprisingly good. Then we hung our food bags and I taught Oakland the pct method that I learned from la bamba. Our bags are a little lower than I would like, but I think they will do. We will be sure to hang them as high was we can tomorrow as we get closer to the very explicit bear warning zone.

I suggested we fill our water with the CA platypus, which managed to top off all 4 bottles. That’s not quite enough for tomorrow morning, so we walked down to the water supply and filled a sawyer bag. For now we are doing most things together until Oakland has had a few chances to practice things. Then came trips to the privy and wardrobe changes in the tent. I shared my new shirt and new socks philosophy. New people arrived as we lay in our tent. One of them was accompanied by an adorable and energetic mutt that was only mid-calf height. She ran around the campsite sniffing and wagging her tail and then bolted full speed back to her owner. I felt too lazy to get out and say hello but I watched her run around with glee and laughed from my cozy spot. Then I settled in to write up the days notes while Oakland reviewed the docket for tomorrow.

I’m finishing this to the sound of snapshot and trivia (the new hikers) talking to each other and the dog owner at full volume, the occasional crack from the small and annoyingly smoky fire blowing straight towards our tent, an airplane far overhead and bugs popping on the sides of the tent.

Mile 470.7 to mile 480.1 (9.4)

Checklist total miles: 488.3

Oakland total miles: 9.4

Creature feature: the scarlet tanager! A rust colored toad, oven birds, and the dog at the shelter

2019-Days 46, 47, 48: Oakland arrives edition

I have decided in the interest of getting through some back log and not boring you with town details, that I am going to truncate the three days in Damascus.

Saturday, Day 46, was a zero day for me. I ate at the Damascus diner twice – three times if you count the fact that I had leftovers for dinner. Pictured is the “hungry mother” which I did not realize would come with 3 pancakes the side of Texas.

I met a handful of new hikers, one of whom is named Viva and lives in Dahlonega and has dined in the same establishments as Amy Ray (of the Indigo Girls). Needless to say, I was extremely jealous when I asked the question and received an affirmative answer that she had in fact seen Amy Ray on MANY occasions.

I also spent about 3 hours at the library. It would have been longer were it not for their prohibitive shutdown of internet 30 minutes prior to closure.

Sunday, Day 47, brought the great waiting game of Oakland’s mid-day arrival. My mom drove 5 hours one-way to deliver Oakland to Damascus. We had a late lunch at the diner. In both of my Saturday meals, it had been a sleepy establishment. On Sunday, it was bustling with churchgoers, and we actually had to wait for a table. Brownie and dizzy arrived just in time to meet my mom. Then we trouped off to the real grocery store about a mile up the road to get a few luxury items while we had access to a car. My mom stuck around to play a few hands of golf (her new favorite card game) and then got back on the road for the long trek home. About an hour later, RBJ stopped by for a visit! Her new trail name is Research. She is having trouble with her feet and is on a two-ish week break from the trail in the hopes that she won’t feel like she’s walking on knives when she returns. Sadly I did not think to get her picture while she was here. I did, however, manage to get photographed wearing loaner scrubs while spraying my clothes with another round of tick treatment in the church parking lot adjacent to hikers inn.

In our effort to hang a clothesline, we used a taillight on a bus that prized the claim “on fire for Jesus” on the front hood. We organized our food for the next few days and gave Oakland her first taste of sitting around a table talking to random hikers. For dinner, we feasted on banana bread made by my mom, fritos, fruit and avocados from my sister-in-law, and snickers. A strange but functional meal.

Monday, Day 47, we went to the diner for “breakfast sandwiches,” which are Oakland’s favorite and consisted of sausage, egg, and cheese on biscuits. Then we spent a few hours at the library. Seems like they might know part of their audience quite well:

I whined and fussed over the blog while Oakland, ever the industrious one, crossed a few things off of her summer work to-do list and read new yorker magazines. On our way back to the hostel, Oakland had her first snake sighting! It was a large brown snake with a dull diamond pattern. It slithered under a hole in the raised sidewalk and that was that. We had another snack-based lunch because we had dinner plans with brownie & dizzy. Then we ran a few errands that included post-card buying and an attempted package pick-up from my dad and stepmom that sadly did not seem to be at the PO. Oakland went back to the hostel to putter and I went back to the library to madly dash through blog editing. As we made our way through town, we noticed a throng of antique cars rolling through town. The guy at the outfitter said they are all on their way to the Bristol Speedway and then off to somewhere else I can’t remember.

Tomorrow, we hike! Hopefully not in the rain.

Mile 470.6 to mile 470.6 (0)

Total miles: 478.9

Creature feature: my person! and the usual bird suspects.

2019-Day 45: escaping the dreaded snorer edition

I managed to cobble together about 7 hours of sleep! I woke up around 3 and then again at 6, finally giving into the urge to phone zombie and write a few emails around 6:40. Around 7, I dragged myself to the privy. Joy of joys, I got my period last night right before bed. It’s TMI but it’s a significant event that changes my routine and frankly shouldn’t be hush hush. I managed to deal with my cup without dropping it into the bowl of the portapotty (the stuff of nightmares). Then I changed into my hiking shorts, which smell like they could walk themselves to Damascus because of all the rain. I packed away my sleeping pad, which I ended up using because the mattress felt like I was sleeping on the wooden bunk itself. I had the rest of my gear buttoned up by 7:30 and was settled on the couch to eat a quiet breakfast when cat showed up to check on my departure time. She stayed for about 15 minutes, telling me all kinds of stories about her dog and about how the locals treat them because they don’t go to church nor do they have their kid participate in church activities. They seem like cool people and I hope they stick around in the hiker scene.

Cat wandered away after we set a departure time of 8:15. I finished the last bits of tidying and rearranged my cup because I feared a mishap before getting to today’s shelter. Then I sat on the couch researching lunch options in Damascus so we can find a place that has something appealing for my mom.

Rabbit pulled up in the car promptly at 8:15 and I was standing on the AT by 8:25. My morning started with a Field walk over a crushed gravel path. I passed a barn with a giant AT emblem nailed to the side of it.

My eyes scanned the air in hopes of seeing new birds darting through field. I saw a Red winged blackbird, an Indigo bunting, and a few yellow warblers of some sort that I couldn’t get a good look at because they kept hopping fence posts too far away from me.

I also saw these strange land birds, aka cows, in today’s top picture. I Had to walk right through the gaggle of lounging lumps. the biggest one standing in the trail stared at me while I gave it a wide berth because of the presence of calves. The little guys didn’t like my hiking poles so they all got up whenever I came close to them.

I left the cow pasture by way of a wooden step over the fence line and walked through an empty field with a mowed path. I saw Another bright yellow bird with dark wings in flight and more yellow warblers on a fence line. I Stopped at one of the rocks in the next field and took off my long sleeve layer for the eventual climb into the woods that i could see farther up the field. A small Patch of fog hung in the field.

As i Entered the woods, i thought about my strategy for catching up on the blog. I felt the Rain drops start and resisted the Urge to put on raincoat because I had already decided I wasn’t going to bother with it. The humidity was too high and I didn’t see the point in walking with an extra layer. The trail consisted of flat path with slightly rolling woods. A crow rose out of the brush and cawed at me from a distance. I heard the usual milieu of Bird song as I walked.

I made a good morning Phone call to Oakland that was very short because of a wobbly phone signal. Then I decided to pass the time with the company of Harry Potter, deciding that the distraction was worth risking my earbuds to the rain. I Daydreamed about hiking farther than the shelter to get into town early and hit the library Saturday. I talked myself down from the ledge and told myself I was just going to stop at the shelter. No need to push just for the library.

After a little while, I came upon the double springs shelter stop where I saw the two college kids from mountain harbour. I decided to say hello for a second and found none other than BANANA sitting up in his sleeping bag. I asked everyone where they were headed so I could find out where the dreaded snorer would land for the evening. The kids muttered Damascus while they fiddled with their breakfast gear. Banana grumbled about the rain and said he might wait until the sun came out to go anywhere. We all kind of laughed at him and I said you might be waiting all day while my internal reaction was SH*T. Abingdon shelter (my destination) is only 8 miles from here and if he’s getting a late start, I bet he’ll stop there.

I walked away from the shelter cursing banana’s snoring in my head. My mind skittered over my options, which frankly were not great: Tent in the rain next to the shelter, hike farther and tent alone (likely in the rain), or hike all the way to Damascus (21.6 miles, although at the time I was making my decision my math was wrong and I thought it was 20.6). I i sent several whiny texts to Oakland and kept moving.

An older southbound day hiker passed me right as the quieter of the two college guys arrived on my heels. It was a funny traffic jam given the fact that we were in the middle of the woods. I stood aside to let everyone go by in their respective directions. The day hiker offered me trail mix but I politely declined because I already had 2.5 days worth of food in my pack. He warned me that there were more hikers on the way. A slow trickle of older people passed me for a few minutes and then I was alone until I came upon the college kid standing in the trail staring down at his phone. He looked up when he heard me and then his head whipped back towards his phone. He made no move whatsoever to get out of the middle of the trail even though I was about 10 yards away. At the last possible second before I would have to ask him to move, he took a lazy half step off the trail. I could have kicked him. You see a person coming: MOVE. little shit.

I kept walking past the phone zombies through the misty, soggy woods. He passed me again when I stopped to take a picture. As I walked, I decided to give in to the need to avoid banana’s snoring and hike 17.8 miles total to get to a tent site at the state line. Sadly there’s no water source past shelter so if I would have to carry it about 6 miles.

At some point, I Called Oakland again. She listened to my dilemma and encouraged me to make the long choice of my body felt up to it to give me the chance of better sleep.

I powered through the foggy, rainy morning with HP, quickly gobbled snacks and soggy pee breaks. The water source before Abingdon turned out to be a puddle, which I found out AFTER I gulped down most of my water. I walked around in the heavy rain trying to find a flow or a puddle big enough to scoop from, but I had no luck.

I reached the the shelter around 1:40, where I took my first real break of the day. I set my sodden pack down on the sleeping platform and pulled out muy szeat and lunch bag. I had a wisp of phone signal good enough to send a sporadic text and not much else. I made my peanut butter wrap and ate Doritos while the rain tapped on the metal roof.

Then I grabbed my filtering gear and walked down to the water. Guthook has it listed as an eternal, steep walk down. As I made my way over rocks and roots, I rolled my eyes at why people were so whiny about the trip. It took a grand total of 4.5 minutes of slow walking to get there (yes, I timed it). The pipe was barely flowing but it did the trick. I was surprised at how low the water sources were today based on the amount of rain. When I got back to the shelter, I realized I needed to deal With my cup. It was much Sooner than I’d expected and I had no privy to manage the mess with. I said f*ck it and went behind the shelter to drop trou and deal with it as quickly as I could.with my newly acquired water.

I Left the shelter around 2:25 and felt decent given the pace and sogginess of my morning. I had 6.4 miles to go until first tenting option. I Called Oakland again to walk and talk. she said she had a suspicion that I would hike to Damascus today. I told her I had already talked myself off that ledge, But when we got off the phone, I called hikers inn just to SEE if they had any availability. Lee, one of the owners, said they had One room left type of which to be determined. The Idea of camping 1) in the rain 2) alone and 3) with my period was worse than the idea of hiking for 4 more hours. I told Lee I would take the room.

Once the decision was made, I felt myself settle into the comforting rhythm of knowing I had a long way to go towards a warm, dry bed. I stopped to dump the extra water I had collected and chugged along through the thankfully forgiving terrain.

I eventually passed a guy heading SOBO. How many of you assumed he was white? Nope. He happened to be African American. He greeted me as we tried to make room for each other on the narrow slippery trail. As he passed, he asked me how close he was to the shelter and I gave him my estimate which I can’t remember now (no written notes for most of the afternoon).

The rest of the afternoon was a blur of HP, the occasional interaction with Oakland, and variations on the green tunnel with very easy footing. I passed rhododendrons in bloom and saw a New white flower and an infrequently recurring yellow flower, both of which were hard to photograph because of their drooping bloom. I also saw a GIGANTIC mushroom (or many mushrooms?).

I went through the Occasional rocky stretch but for the most part it was clear sailing. I made it to the TN/VA state line around 6pm.

The rain had long since tapered off, for which I was grateful. I stopped at the state line for a quick pee break and to eat a snack. My grumbling stomach protested my plan to eat a late dinner in Damascus. Oakland sent me a text asking where I was. I hadn’t told her of my hair brained scheme yet, so I told her I was hiking. She knew right away I was up to something, and when I called to tell her about my plan she was both in awe of and aghast at my decision to just keep hiking.

I eventually Heard road noise and a dog barking, and I knew I was getting close. Sometimes noises of civilization can happen far sooner than the trail intersects with town, but when I checked the mileage, i was less than 2 miles from the middle of Damascus.

There were A few Switchbacks towards the end of the woods. The trail Popped out onto a residential street with variety of houses. I took a Left turn down beaver dam rd and walked through the famous Damascus sign at the edge of a small green space.

I followed the crushed gravel path through the park and took a right on 58. Normally when I walk Through town, I feel like an alien but less so in Damascus because it’s insanely hiker friendly. I Crossed the river and walked past small storefronts and a Dollar general.

I reached Hikers inn at 7:30 and found a note taped to the door letting me know that I could find my room at the top of the stairs.

I scuffed my shoes against the door mat as best I could and walked up to my room to drop my pack. Then I Went back downstairs to take my shoes off outside. They were filthy and I wanted to clap some of the dirt from their soles. On my way out the door, I Ran into Soul mama. We are once again staying in same place. She had the room that Oakland and I have reserved for Sunday/Monday. After I took my shoes, I Sat on the couch and talked to her, but I had to excuse myself after only a few minutes because it was after 8pm and I was starving. I Made chili Mac in my room and followed it with Doritos and 3/4 of a snickers.

Then I took a Shower and had a Short call with Oakland while she raced through the final preparations for her departure. I’m finishing this to the sound of rain and the silence of a dry house.

Mile 449.0 to mile 470.6 (21.6)

Total miles: 478.9

Creature feature: the cows! The cranky crow, chipmunks, the many different birds in the field walk, oven birds, and a few dopey robins.

2019-Day 44: Tennessee red edition

And the answer is: I will never sleep in same shelter as banana again. He sounds like he’s being strangled.when he snores. He also very unfortunately makes sounds that reminded me of the gurgling made by the unconscious (likely already dead) hiker for whom I helped provide CPR several weeks ago. I slept so poorly and felt so angry the whole time because if you KNOW you snore that badly: warm people! or sleep in your tent! I was so awake in the middle of the night that I used my mediocre phone signal to post overdue pictures to social media. It rained on and off throughout the night. My watch alarm went off at 6am but there would be no need to hurry behind the shelter for sunrise views because of the thick fog hanging over everything. I did, however, want to get miles in while it wasn’t actively raining so I got and walked towards my food bag. Before retrieving my bag, I went down a little ways off the trail and took care of business among the rhododendrons and saplings. My food bag came down with no complications. I went back to the shelter and ate breakfast on the edge of the sleeping platform. I changed into my damp, smelly hiking shorts and put on the previous day’s socks and shirt because I didn’t see the point in putting on dry clothes on a day that’s guaranteed to have rain. May as well save them for later since I won’t be in Damascus until Saturday.

I Packed up my sleeping gear in the dim light, making little effort to be quiet. In fact, I hoped to wake banana up from his strangling slumber, but that son of gun snored through every last noise I made. As I packed up, Pulled out two bars for snacks in case it rains through lunch. InSigned the shelter book before I walked away from the world of sleeping hikers.

I walked through Misty woods over Tricky footing consisting of wet rocks and roots(not pictured). My left Achilles was cranky from the start and my Right hip did not approve of my plan for the day.

Not long after getting started I heard a chuffing sound off to my right. I never could find the creature but I’m pretty sure it was a deer snorting far below me. I didn’t take any real time notes for the rest of the day because I was focused on beating the rain to my hostel destination, but I will do my best to piece it together. The trail seemed to only go up for the first couple of hours. some of the footing was horrible with steeply banked eroding parts and slick rocks that required a lot of concentration. I spoke to Oakland for a little while and she had the unfortunate pleasure of listening to me get super cranky about the moisture from tall grass soaking my shoes. I HATE IT when my feet get wet and it’s not actually raining. My shoes had finally started to feel only slightly damp after yesterday’s soaking until stretches where the grass swept over my shoe tops turning them into a squishy mess.

After about 4 miles and one water stop, the terrain finally leveled out to a very reasonable series of mild rollercoaster hills combined with long easy flat stretches. I made pretty good time for quite awhile save the occasionally rockier footing where I forced myself to slow down to prevent sloppy feet. The trail was annoyingly overgrown so I brushed against wet leaves constantly but I was extremely grateful for the fact that it wasn’t actively raining. Flame azaleas popped out of nowhere on occasion and the woods were thick with fog for much of the morning.

I leapfrogged with two people I haven’t seen before and whose names I didn’t get. I also saw fern and chill bill. I asked fern how her ankle was doing when she passed me on a flat stretch. Apparently yesterday had given her troubles but today has been better. It sounds like we have similar barometer: does it hurt? Sometimes. is it getting worse? No. Answer: Keep hiking.

My left Achilles issue remained sub-stabby for the entire day. I definitely heard from it but I did my best not to overwork it and the less frequent ascents made a big difference in the strain put on it. I saw about 4 more of my little orange friends:

Because of the fog, I did NOT see much of the surrounding mountains until the very end of the hike through thick tree cover.

I stopped at iron mountain shelter to eat an early lunch while the rain held off. Someone or several someones left a coffeemate powdered creamer container and spilled pasta all over the ground. The mess made me so cranky. I almost didn’t pack out the creamer because I felt resentful that the people who made the mess weren’t cleaning it up, but that’s not how things get done. I grumbled to Oakland about it while she kept me company for lunch and eventually put the trash in my food bag to throw away at the hostel. Right as I packed away my food bag I felt the sky darken and worried that it was about to pour. It did in fact rain, but it was only a light drizzle for about 10 minutes. I took my rain coat off almost immediately because it was too humid to wear the extra layer. Much of my post-lunch Walked Looked like this:

I passed a monument to a local hermit. The epitaph reads: “lived alone, suffered alone, and died alone.”

Someone told me that the townspeople all banded together to have the memorial made and they walked up the mountain to have a service for him. That is a bleak picture indeed, and something I never want said about myself, no matter how introverted I may be.

Around 1:30, with about 1.5 miles to go, I decided to see what it would be like to hike while listening to Harry Potter. I chose the chamber of secrets audiobook and turned it down low enough to be able to hear birds and bears. I enjoyed the content but I have to say, I think I like listening to the birds more. At least, I can say that’s true on a day that was going well enough. Part of the only reason I see new birds is because I hear birds I don’t recognize and I stop to look for them. That said, on a rockier or harder day, I could totally get lost in Harry Potter.

I made it to the road a few minutes earlier than expected. The heat of the day was far more intense at the trail head parking lot. I dropped my pack in the sun to begin the vain process of trying to dry it out and I called the hostel owners for a ride. I sat down and judged the crap out of a couple In the parking lot (still picturing straight people? I do it too). The woman had a dream catcher tattoo and the white-presenting guy (so I assume) had dreads. Meh.

Cat, one of The hostel owners, arrived about 5 minutes later and popped out of her SUV wearing a tie dyed T-shirt and no shoes. I sheepishly said that I smelled like a wet dog as I put my pack and poles in the back. We rode to the rabbit hole hostel with the windows down and talked about their current chicken experiment which hasn’t gone all that well. We also discovered that we both have (or had in my case) pit bulls named Red.

Cat dropped me off at the bunkhouse which is a spacious building equipped with 12 wooden bunks, a couch, tv and a outdoor seating. I met rabbit, cat’s partner and co-owner. He wandered off and cat settled my bill. The minute I set foot in the hostel my stomach felt emptier than a liquor store on a Sunday in the Bible Belt. I decided to go for broke and get the milkshake they offered along with a $2 shuttle to the country store so I could buy chips and an orange soda. My total came to a whopping $25.

There was a giant fan set up at one end of the room. I immediately took everything out of my pack and set it within striking distance of the air flow. Then I walked to the outdoor shower building. The sky looked somewhat ominous but I didn’t feel like waiting to see if it would rain. I did in fact get sprinkled on by a passing shower but it didn’t matter all that much because I was already wet.

I was the first hiker to arrive for the day so I had the place all to myself. I began the process of unpacking my food. Oakland and I had an extended planning session to figure out how much food she should bring to Damascus for our first few days, how much food to include in our first mail drop, and where to send said mail drop. As it turns out, the shelters in southern VA are super awkwardly spaced. Very frequently the next two shelters are incredibly far apart, forcing one to use an official or unofficial campsite along the way, many of which are far too close to roads for my comfort. We studied our maps and hemmed and hawed for quite awhile. We finally mapped out a basic plan for the first three stops. Thankfully Oakland remembered to plan for zero days! We finally had to end our call because Oakland had to do actual work. I Called one of our intended destinations to ask about their mail policy.

Then i continued my food organization and list making for Damascus. As I was about to open my small frito bag and dump it into my ongoing supply, I saw a flash of sandy brown coming towards me. As promised, cat had brought red for a visit! She told me all about his rescue story and I turned into a dog loving pile of mush. At one point I sat down on the floor and red did exactly I had hoped: he threw his butt against my shoulder and eventually sat in my lap the way my red used to do. Sadly he was also sitting on my phone so I didn’t get any picture evidence of the plop. I did however get a few pictures taken by cat, one of which is today’s top picture.

After cat left with the dog (I had to, I’m sorry), I made myself a hiking dinner in an effort to use some of my food and not eat frozen pizza. Then I called up to the house and asked for the milkshake I had pre-ordered. In about 5 minutes, cat hand delivered this, which disappeared about 5 minutes later:

After the gluttony, I brushed my teeth and rearranged various items that I was attempting to dry with the giant fan. Then Oakland and I had a FaceTime call. She is facing the interminable to do lists of trying to leave for a long trip combined with the extra stress of preparing our apartment for cat sitting house guests. I wished that I could help with her many tasks on the docket for tomorrow but the best I can do is listen and attempt to edit the lower priority items.

I made one more trip into the rainy night to visit the porta-potty and settled into my hard but functional bunk. I’m finishing this to the loud hum of the fan and the deep thud of rain drops against something outside. I can’t believe I have this whole place to myself. I hope I can make up for some of the poor sleep over the last three nights.

Mile 437.6 to mile 449.0 (11.4)

Total miles: 457.3

Creature feature: the usual cast of birds that I’m too worn out to detail, that chuffing dear, and Red the TN wonder dog

2019-Day 43: soggy watauga edition

*REAL TIME UPDATE: Oakland and I are steadily making our way north and have stopped for our first zero day in Ceres, VA. Oakland has 87 miles under her belt! Will try to muddle through the slow WiFi speeds to post a few blog entries!

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Last night’s sleep came in two distinct chunks. 10-1:30 and 3:30 to 6 when my alarm went off. The dark hours were consumed by ax murderer thoughts and restlessness. I should have probably switched into my shorts to help with temperature issues. The one advantage of the 3 hour time difference is that I had the privilege of a comforting phone call from Oakland when she found out I was awake. The river had a rock formation that made some sort of deep, clunking gurgle that sounded like foot steps or if you’re in a rational head space: something akin to dropping a heavy rock into water. 

It was tempting to roll back over When my alarm went off, but today is a long day and it’s going to rain so I want to get a space in the shelter, assuming it’s not a snake and spider infested cave. I put on my shoes and grabbed my trowel, TP and precautionary headlamp (it was already light outside). I did as planned even though I really didn’t want to and I used the small rhododendron enclave, covering the disturbed earth with a rock from the extras around the fire pit. 

Then I went to retrieve my food bag. It wasn’t very visible from the trail so I experience momentary panic until I got close enough to the right tree. Still there! Untouched! I know I say that every time, but it’s exciting every time. Then I went back to my tent and undertook the short but laborious process of breaking down the inside and outside of my tent. The site was leafy and dry so the bottom of my tent was nearly pristine. Bonus. I leaned my pack up against a tree and sat by the water with my food because the rocks over there were much taller than my other seating options. It was already warm enough for short sleeves and it promised to be a very humid day. 

After breakfast, I prepped feet and filtered the last bit of water. I Peed one more time and checked my water options. They are dismal today. There’s An unreliable source 3 miles away and then nothing else until the 13 mile mark. I said goodbye to my slightly lighter pack and filled my sawyer bag with water. 13 miles is too far for even me to go on 1.5 liters of water. 

I set off at 7:30, and immediately crossed over the footbridge. The path was like a stroll in the park. I noticed Only one decent site off the river, which made me glad I had stopped at my site last night. I Crossed another footbridge, which felt like Deja vu and contained even more spider webs than the first bridge. I got to the other side, Looked down and found one of their larger web owners dangling from my pole. I of course yelped and dropped the pole. The spider skittered away. I stood there checking for more and clearing away the visible cobwebs from my arms. A Day hiker/maybe local runner passed by with a nod, and I said “I cleared the spider webs off the footbridge for you.” He came to life and said “{awesome you’re good that way for a little bit.”

It Only took one fly ricocheting around my ear to put in my earbuds. After a few minutes of easy walking, I came to The Trail for Hampton, TN, which went straight and the AT, which wrapped uphill back towards my campsite. The trail narrowed and I saw a new pink flower. I also saw many more of those red starburst-like flowers I’d seen before over mountain shelter. I paused to look at the Sun rising over neighboring ridge.

I could see and hear laurel fork far down below as I picked my way across the rocky path. There were moderately graded switchbacks connected by stone steps. I Felt glad to be doing the climb in the morning because it will be an even steamier pursuit as the day goes on.

Sweat poured down my face as I crunched over the rocky trail with birds as my accompaniment. 

The Switchbacks eventually straightened out to a gradual incline. I heard Dogs barking and engines in the distance. It may as well have already started raining based on how much I was sweating. Rhododendrons faded away and the switchbacks returned in long form. A fly buzzed around my head. It sounded like the light sabers in star wars, which was amusing at first and then slowly drove me mad. I Thought I heard the light footsteps of a bear but it turned out to be nothing. I Rounded a corner and came to a slightly steeper section. I Watched a black and white warbler circle a tree trunk as if it was stringing it with lights. It Didn’t seem afraid of me at all so I got it on video, but my WiFi isn’t strong enough to post it at the moment.

Then I Sat on a rock to make notes. I also looked at elevation and came to the dismaying realization that I was indeed only halfway through the climb to pond flats. Oh the irony of a place called pond flats which is neither flat nor contains a pond (it only has the unreliable spring that I had decided not to rely on). 

I Called Oakland and walked with her for awhile. I took an Early break on a rock at a campsite. It Started to drizzle as I crouched down to pee behind a tree. I was Cold because of the sweat and wet pack straps. The terrain did actually flatten out for a little while. It drizzled in fits and starts.

I Wound down the other side of the mountain (hill?) through rhododendrons with mostly moderate footing. My head ached as I walked down the trail and got a small view of the lake through the trees.


Much of the long descent down to watauga lake consisted of switchbacks with mild footing. I Called Oakland again for company down the never ending hill. Towards the bottom, a Bird called and flew in front of me to land on a limb. It had a Yellow face with a pale greenish body and black coloring around the eyes. 

I Popped out of woods and went a slightly wrong way across a busy two lane road. Because of the detour, I had to walk south to the picnic area where I intended to have an early lunch while it was only drizzling. A Small family splashed around in the water. A pair of Pushy ducks immediately came over when I sat down and pulled out my food bag.

I fed them 2 Fritos and they squawked at me for more. the Screaming kids lost their float because none of them were willing to swim to the edge of the rope off area to get it. One girl tried to retrieve the float, but she was just walking on the lake bottom and never actually SWAM. It was confusing and I could have done without her blood curdling shrieks demanding that her brother help rescue the intertube as it floated out into the middle of the lake. After lunch, I Filtered some water and Watched a mama duck bring her chicks to shore while I packed up.

It started to drizzle more consistently while I filtered water and by the time I got back into the woods it had turned into a full blown rain shower. I walked through a narrow corridor with the sound of street noise above me to the left. There were a half dozen side trails where people have come in off the road. I couldn’t wait to get farther away from civilization. It felt like I was walking down an alley with the chance of running into someone at any given point. The rain pattered all around me as I brushed against wet leaves. The trail finally opened up into a gloriously easy path covered in pine needles. It led me around the perimeter of the lake with occasional views and a smattering of roses.

I thanked the lake for not having a rocky shore. I made incredible time in the first hour of rain. Early on I stopped for a quick pee break and to put my phone in a ziplock (it fits perfectly in the snack size by the way). All was well enough, And then the hills started, first in the form of a road walk after crossing over watauga dam.

My right foot almost immediately said WHAT ARE WE DOING. The trail followed the road across the lake and up a long hill before turning into the woods to continue climbing. On the way down to the dam I met a hiker who had no sense of the fact that I didn’t want to stand in the rain and talk about his hike. I finally said “yeah I gotta keep moving” and walked away while he was still trying to finish his story. I know I’m already soaked but that doesn’t mean I want to stand In the rain on pavement with my pack on. Between that guy and the road walk, I was incredibly cranky for the next mile or so. My raincoat had soaked through within the first hour of rain. I gave up on wearing the hood because it made me too hot. Water drops swayed from the brim of my cap as I went up the steep hill that led up from the road and then right back down to the same road. Thankfully the trail went right back into the woods and I didn’t have to suffer another road walk. 

I couldn’t take any pictures or make notes and stopping was somewhat miserable. I did it anyway at a couple of different points because I needed to let my feet rest. My right arch was very angry from the non-stop hills of the morning and the roadwalk. I stopped every so often to check mileage or send a whiny text to Oakland but i limited my phone use because it got wet no matter where I stood, in part because some part of me would drop on it. As it turns out, those thick rhododendron Tunnels are good for finding a semi-dry spot to stand. 

I walked through the woods with my head down trying my best not to step on snails (definitely crushed one and felt awful about it). I saw another one of my orange friends (the top picture for today). The rain would lighten just enough for me to hope that it would stop and then it would rain harder. That happened at least a dozen times and I finally gave up. I was still making surprisingly good time with 2.2 miles to go at 3:15, which had me on track to finish a 15 mile day by 4:15 (4:30 with a water stop). I guess this is what happens when you don’t stop every 100 yards to take pictures. 

I made the water stop 1.7 miles from the shelter rather than walking the steep 0.3 mile blue blaze trail. I know the math doesn’t make any sense because I’m ultimately carrying water farther and with a heavier overall load, but psychologically I didn’t have the stamina to get water after arriving. I just wanted to change clothes and get myself closer to food. Someone had set up a rhododendron leaf in the usual fashion, which made for a fast water fill. I drank about half a bottle, topped off my bottles, and filled my sawyer about 3/4 of the way full. 

At some point in the last hour, the rain finally tapered off. I heard the sound of an animal nearby and looked up to find a deer staring at me about 20 yards up the trail. A log obstructed part of the trail so I was obscured but the doe still didn’t trust me. She bolted down into the woods, snorting and chuffing the whole way. Less than a hundred yards later, I heard a clatter and looked up to see another deer bolting into the woods. This one stopped and waited for me long enough for me to catch it on video. Sadly I can’t post it at the moment.

There was a half hearted drizzle in the last mile that thankfully didn’t last long. My raincoat had finally started to dry so when the rain started I nearly laughed at the prospect of being soggy again. At some point I passed another orange friend:

I arrived at the shelter to find 3 people. I hadn’t seen a NOBO all day so I had fully expected to be alone again tonight. Two of the people are section hikers heading SOBO from Damascus to hot springs. The third is a thru hiker named banana who had to miss a week because he had to put his dog to sleep. Very sadly I can’t remember the section hikers’ names. 

I put my poles against the edge of the shelter and pulled out my sleeping gear without getting it wet as best I could. My compactor bag has water on the twirled part of it but the gear inside of it was dry. Success! I left my tent bag out in the hopes that it would dry overnight. It’s at the top of my bag so it had the most moisture on it. Then I hung my pack on a hook and sat down for a minute. I needed to power through my bear line chore but I wanted to rest my feet for a few minutes. 

I turned on my gps and tried to get it to find my location. It was super slow to register so I finally put it down and I went behind the shelter to check out the purported “great view.” 

The shirtless kid aka one of the kids who sat around on his phone for 36 hours at mountain harbour had shown up and was sitting on the rock smoking a cigarette with headphones in. He came to the shelter and proved himself to be comically naive.

After a little while of making fun of him and listening to the section hiker play his travel guitar, I grabbed my rock bag walked away with my bear line. I was gone a ridiculous amount of time and Soon you’ll know why. I walked south on the trail looking for rocks to put in my rock bag and found nothing. I had to walk all the way back to the shelter to find decent rocks. I wasn’t about to try throwing a line within eyesight of anyone sitting at the shelter. Armed with rocks, I went to a tree not far from the shelter that had a decent branch. The only problem being it was slightly obscured by a smaller branch and there wasn’t a good angle from which to throw. I tried a few times and gave up. I spotted a semi dead tree that had hefty branches down towards the edge of the drop-off behind the shelter. The branch I chose was super easy to throw over because I was uphill from the tree and throwing almost horizontally. I realized as i was throwing my line that the tree had broken off limbs that basically formed a ladder to my bag should a bear choose to climb it. I tried to throw my line farther out onto the limb away from the broken off limb. In one such toss, the bag went over the limb, ricocheted off a tree on the other side and wrapped around a fork in one of its branches. Basically, it was stuck. I stood there dumbfounded. What in the hell was i supposed to do now?? I pulled on my line and nothing happened. I tugged harder and the bag moved a bit. I yanked as hard as I could and the bag somehow came loose, flying back over the limb and into the rhododendrons next to me. I couldn’t believe it had worked and I decided to give up on that tree altogether lest my bag get stuck again. I walked back down the trail and found a reasonably high branch that seemed attainable. 15 minutes and many throws later, I had my line in the tree. I’m embarrassed for Oakland to see my throwing in action. She insists she will be worse at it, but I’m not sure that’s possible. 

I went back to the shelter and decided it was finally time to change out of my wet clothes. I Had to get half naked behind shelter. 

I Called Oakland while eating dinner a few yards away from the shelter. She had to depart for an acupuncture appointment. I did my dishes, had dessert, and hung my food bag. Then I finally set up my bed. At some point, the other kid from mountain harbour arrived, so I Sat around with the dynamic duo and banana. I laid on my sleeping pad with my feet against the shelter wall and worked on my notes. Then I massaged my calves while listening to the nitwits ask stupid questions. I Called Oakland again while she drove home and started her dinner prep. I was Standing to the right of the shelter when I saw a flash of red that turned out to be a scarlet tanager. Oakland laughed at me as I got super excited about the bird, saying it was a good sign. I’m superstitious that something is going to ruin her arrival, namely that I will somehow get injured. Towards the end of our conversation I heard the unmistakable repetitive and twirling call of a whippoorwill. I’ve regaled Oakland with the horror stories of being woken up by that infernal bird. We’ve also played YouTube videos of it to freak out the cats so we had a good laugh about me hearing it in person. 

I finally Got off the phone after having spent too much time on my feet and went back to the shelter where one of the kids was fussing between doing push-up and walking around singing to himself. I couldn’t really believe how much noise he was making. I have absolutely no regrets about leaving my watch alarm set for 6am because all of these idiots are going to make it impossible for me to sleep. I’m finishing this to the sound of banana snoring his face off next to me even though he said his mouthpiece prevent him from doing it, the kid pouring water out for who knows what reason, the whippoorwill calling from a distance, and a slight breeze in the trees. 

Mile 422.2 to mile 437.6 (15.4) 

Total miles: 445.9 

Creature feature: the deer, a rabbit, the tanager, chipmunks, the duck families, Canadian geese, and the whippoorwill which I didn’t see but definitely heard oh so well. 

2019-Day 42: laurel fork falls edition

 

I managed to get a fair amount of sleep despite waking up in 2-3 hour chunks and having nightmare visions of someone unzipping my tent. It was also a bit on the cold side because I left a door open on both sides of my tent. As I’ve done before, I wrapped my puffy up around my torso and neck to make up for the draftiness of the top of my sleeping bag. It’s super light but I’m not sure I would get it again (having said that, HQ I’m very grateful for having it and its weight saving qualities). The 35 degree rating just isn’t accurate for my body temperature. I woke up around midnight, again from 2-3am (ax murderer visions) and again around 4:30. My watch alarm went off at 6:10. At that point I probably could have easily gone back to sleep but I don’t want to get into camp too late tonight and there’s no telling what my pace will be. I sat up and put my cold sports bra on. Then I went up into the rhododendron armed with my trowel and TP. The digging was difficult because of roots and a gravel layer underneath the first few inches of soil. I made do (pun very much intended). 

Then i tromped over to my airborne food bag and retrieved it without complications. I grabbed my rock bag which I had accidentally left out overnight and took everything back to camp. I decided to pack up first and eat last. It took about 25 minutes to start to finish including my wardrobe change into hiking shorts and putting in my contacts. By the time I was done rolling my tent, my hands were black. I dusted them off as best I could (on my self-cleaning shorts), and sat down on the fire ring rocks to eat a breakfast bar and peanut butter. I also sent Oakland a good morning gps with the notice that I would be turning it off. The battery really doesn’t last once you start sending messages and I try hard not to use my phone brick for the gps. 

After breakfast I brushed my teeth and filtered my initial water supply. I Went through the tedious but necessary foot prep routine and took off my puffy to finish packing up my bag. The puffy removal is always a sad moment but this morning wasn’t too brisk. I grabbed my poles and walked across the footbridge into the rhododendrons on the other side of laurel fork. 

I Followed the water for about a tenth of a mile and then climbed up and away from it. The Sound of water remained strong for a few minutes. I Climbed up and into the filtered sunlight. My Hands were inexplicably freezing. I Considered putting on gloves but I decided to see if the hill would help warm me up.

I Walked across pine needles dodging the roots as best I could. I tried to take careful steps with both feet instead of only focusing on my right foot to help with the nagging achilles pain. I think the lumpy field walking over all of the balds did a number on my Achilles over the course of the roan highlands. As much as I tried not to, I Probably Overcompensated to protect right ankle. It’s also historically a tendon that gets angry on occasion, usually for no apparent reason. I Crossed over a few footbridges to the soundtrack of vireos and the occasional oven bird. I heard the ratatat of a woodpecker far off to my right. 

I eventually crossed forest service road and went up through more rhododendron tunnels. Thankfully they had decent footing. Sometimes the tunnels can involve walking through muddy trenches. A light breeze moved the trees high above me, but didn’t reach the ground. About a mile and a half in, I took off my fleece hat and rolled up my sleeves. My toes were still a little numb, but my hands had warmed up nicely. 

I walked in and out of tunnels through a thick, tall forest. I stopped to watch a towhee sing on a branch. Shortly afterward, I heard water rushing far off to my right. The Trail curved towards the sound and led me to a wide shallow stream with rhododendron creeping over the banks and through the middle.

I crossed the stream, tiptoed over a small mucky section and returned to the same terrain as the previous hour. 

I tried to employ the “woo woo”chi running/walking techniques where I imagined myself being pulled up from the torso and head rather than only being pushed forward by my feet hitting the ground. It made me stand up slightly more upright and use more of my glutes. As I walked, I considered how to explain gender issues on the blog and how personal to get while I felt periodic twinges in my left Achilles/inner heel. I’m worried that Oakland will spend time around the hiker world referring to me as “she/her” and Oakland will become so used to hearing the reference that she will begin to use the same pronouns for me. Oakland strictly uses they/them for me and happens to be one of the first people to ever do so since we met in 2016. It would be hearbreaking and frankly, sickening, to hear her start using the wrong pronouns. I‘ve expressed my fear to her and she assured me that she is aware of the issue and would do her best to hold steady to the “they/them” framework while the rest of the world genders the CRAP out of me using the wrong pronouns. It’s hard to explain why it would be so devastating for Oakland to make the switch, but I will give it a shot. Imagine if someone that you love started referring to you with a personal quality that you just absolutely don’t identify with at all. I’ll attempt to give a neutral example: say you don’t identify as someone who is extroverted. You adamantly consider yourself introverted, but your loved one starts referring to you as such an extrovert to you and to everyone around you, and every time you hear it, it just doesn’t match your internal sense of self.

In actuality, being misgendered is far more complicated and more distressing, and I can’t easily correct everyone who does it. Many of the people I come into contact with out here are not familiar with the concept of “non-binary” and “gender neutral.” To correct them would elicit a conversation in which I get put under a microscope about a concept which isn’t very relatable for most people. That’s about as personal I will get, but I will say that it is a paper cut that gets reopened every single day, dozens of times a day, by people who I know aren’t intentionally trying to harm me but have a negative impact nonetheless.

I crested a small hill and heard the roar of water nearby. 50 yards away, I came to a body of water called hardcore cascades. They didn’t seem to warrant such an intense moniker, especially considering the falls I saw later in the day, but it was a pretty spot. 

A little while later, I happened to catch a bar of LTE signal, so I sat in middle of the trail and made hostel reservations for Damascus. A bunk for my first night and a private room for the next two nights after Oakland’s arrival. Then I decided to go hog wild with time and battery, and I called Oakland while she fed a thousand cats during her early morning routine. I decided to also call the rabbit hole and reserve a bunk at that hostel, which is my Thursday evening destination. I tried to continue talking to Oakland as I walked, but I lost signal almost immediately.

As I walked, I saw what looked like a creature path towards a small stream. The trail crossed over the water. I stopped to watch a bird and heard a stick break off to my left. I didn’t see any movement so I walked a few steps until I heard the distinct crunch of leaves and turned to see the dark shape of a small bear making its way up the hillside across a small gully. I watched it while also scanning the woods and listening for the sound of more bears because it looked small enough to potentially have parental company. Sadly, it was too far away and too small to even bother trying to get a picture or video. 

My signal returned enough to call Oakland and share the news about the bear, but it quickly dropped again. I spent the rest of the morning hiking over a rollercoaster of a trail with some climbs being sharper than others.

At some point I stopped to check water sources, and I found that I’m in a 3 mile stretch with only an annoying source at the next shelter. I saw movement in a tree and found a black and white woodpecker peeking at me through the branches. He squawked and flew away. 

After about an hour of all the same terrain, I came to a set of switchbacks with a small picture window view. It led me down to Moreland gap shelter, which looked like an old softball dugout because of the cinderblocks.

Brownie and dizzy left me a note about a twin bed available above their queen at their hostel tonight. I heard people coming and felt the urge to rush away because I’d been walking for 4 hours without having seen any humans. I didn’t rush to leave, but I did manage to walk away before the other hikers arrived. I turned around halfway up the calf straining hill after shelter and saw someone’s arm putting things down at the picnic table. I turned back towards the trail and continued up the hill tht was followed by a short flat stretch and then an even longer hill. 

I kept hearing noises in the woods. I saw bear scat but no bears and heard the occasional caw of crows. I heard another large bird I didn’t recognize. I wondered if it was a raptor fussing with the crows. The seating options dried up right as I decided it was time to eat, and it took me 15 minutes of mostly uphill walking to find a suitable log.

I sent a few texts with my bit of service and ate the usual fair to the constant sound of birdsong. I was low on water and reminded myself to drink a bunch when I get to the next source. I aired out my feet and did a bit of massage on my left heel as a light breeze moved through the trees. I actually had to put on a long sleeve shirt because the breeze had a bite to it. After lunch, I peed next to a substantial pile of bear scat that I hadn’t noticed when I sat on my lunch log. I texted with my hiking friend Runa. She completed a 42 mile in 24 hours challenge and was now taking a short break in Damascus. I felt impressed and simultaneously envious of the accomplishment and the company she had. It had been a lonely day and imagining the camaraderie of such an undertaking with 5 other hikers made today feel even lonelier.

I left my lunch spot and walked along the breezy ridge. I could see mountain views through the trees. I wondered if I should have left my long sleeve layer on because the breeze continued to feel cool. The trail cut through a steeply banked hillside covered with ferns and a fair number of blow-downs. 

I Skipped over a very slow water source and resigned myself to walking off trail at a tent site a little ways up, but then I came to a small spring where someone had positioned a rhododendron leaf to make a perfectly functional flow of water. I drank an entire bottle and topped off both bottles while swatting at gnats. Then came a gentle downhill over pine needles. 

I walked through a small meadow past the campsite and up a hamstring burning incline that leveled off after a few minutes into a breezy gentle roller coaster. I crossed a dirt road and took a quick pee break in an irrigation cut out. Then I walked through a small stand of trees where there was evidence of fire. The trail cut through power lines with tiny hazy view. It was far hotter in the sun. The trail took me back into the woods, but there was only partial shade, so I stopped to put on sunscreen.

I passed a rangy, tall mountain laurel in full bloom as the trail climbed into even less shaded woods with a strong breeze. The path was peppered with mountain laurel blossoms. I went through a sunny stretch with hazy mountain views and a tufted titmouse (at least I think so based on the shape).

The trail finally went downhill and through a series of switchbacks surrounded by rhododendrons and boulders. I continued to feel lonely and anxious about camping by myself again. The trail dropped lower into greener and shadier woods with a light breeze. 

I stopped to check my elevation map and was about to put poles against a tree when I noticed a double web and this crazy colored spider.

Needless to say I did not stop there. I walked a few feet up and stood in the trail with my poles jammed against my abdomen to keep them from falling over. It’s mostly downhill from here until the falls, which is good because I was getting overheated. 

I sat on a boulder with this view and ate a snack. I checked my voicemail and had a message from brownie offering a bunk in their room tonight. I had thought they were joking in the shelter log, but apparently she was serious. The offer is tempting for the company but it monkeys with my timeline more than I want so I decided to decline. I finished my snack and put my brace and shoes back on. I wasn’t sure how to get in touch with brownie because she clearly called me from the house phone at their hostel and I didn’t have enough service to return the call. That makes me think she doesn’t have WiFi or cell service, which seems odd.

The trail got rockier and buggier as it lost elevation. The gnats were driving me crazy, so I put my earbuds in to deter them. The heavy air didn’t move, which gave the bugs license to throw themselves at my face. Footing devolved into a rocky mess and I had to force myself to slow down.

It finally eased up a bit as I passed a farm building that reminded me of tobacco drying sheds in NC. I smelled something sweet and found that this white flower was the source. 

I crossed the road and walked through a trailhead parking. I finally made eye contact with the first human all day when I saw a guy day hiking with his kid. I Left a note for brownie and dizzy on the opposite pole of a note from someone else. It seems archaic, but it often works!

I walked along a wide flat shell trail high above the banks of the rushing laurel fork river. I took a quick pitstop to dump a scoop of water over my head and wrists. Then I crossed a footbridge with a family hanging out in the water and made my way up a set of stone steps.

I went through a clearly man made rocky pass that opened back up to forest in which I found a smidge of signal. I sat on a rock and texted with Oakland for a few minutes. She’s in her last all day faculty meeting of the year! 

A Few day hikers passed by while I finished eating the package of fruit snacks I’d started at lunch. The Bugs were too much for me to loiter, so I donned my pack and continued towards the falls. Much of the steep descent consisted of Stone steps, as I’d mentally predicted when I saw the ease of the path from the trailhead and the dozens of day hikers making their way back from the falls.

There were a few rocky flats between steps that made for messy footing. When I finally made it to the falls, An older couple had the place almost to themselves, save for a man I didn’t notice at first because he was sitting at the far edge of the rocky area closest to the falls.

Laurel Fork Falls were beautiful. I didn’t stick around long after taking a few pictures and a video to capture the rush of the water.

On my way back to my pack, I met Waterhog, a thru hiker with 3 teenage kids who are accompanying him. I told him the brief version of my hike, and he asked for my finish date, which as it turns out, might be the same as his. He and his kids have already done VA so they will soon jump up to harpers ferry and continue walking higher miles than me. We had a brief discussion about some of the northern sections in which I assured him that he could do more than 12 miles a day in the whites, but it would hurt.

The trail was a rockpile immediately after the falls. It followed the water and swung around the side of a rock face. Then came a 5 minute stretch of sublime easy walking followed by a climb up and over more rocks.

A short descent led me down to follow the river. I decided to stop at the first decent chance I have for a tenting spot. The place I chose wasn’t perfect, but it’s not supposed to rain which is good because it’s a concave spot. You’d think I would learn my lesson after the puddle of ash gap. There wasn’t any space for other people except in an area that had glass, which pretty much assured that I would camp alone. I didn’t have the energy to keep walking for a bigger camp site, and there was phone signal where I stood, so I Called it quits. After combing my site for glass, I set up my tent.

I Double checked the weather and ate some sesame honey cashews from my dad and stepmom because I was starving. Then I Walked down the trail to figure out bear line. What a disaster I am at throwing bear lines on high limbs. After 15 minutes of failed attempts, I finally settled for one that was totally adequate and slightly lower. There aren’t many options given the terrain. There’s a Fast flowing river to my left and a gully adjacent to steep inaccessible rocky hillside to the right of the trail.

After what felt like forever, I finally walked back to camp and got water for my dinner. Camping so close to water is such a luxury. I used my scoop to collect water from the fast moving laurel fork. Yes, I’m camped next to the same stream (river?) that I slept next to last night. I filtered two bottles worth of water and filled my sawyer bag. Then I kept Oakland company on her walk home because I had cell signal! It felt so different from last night to have a connection to someone. It made the woods seem less wild and frightening in a good way and I did not feel bad about sharing my attention with my surroundings and the phone. I put water on to boil and then I set up my food to rehydrate while I sat on a rock with my heels in the icy river water.

I checked the area for snakes before I sat down, a statement which dismayed Oakland. I also bemoaned where in the world I would poop in the morning because I don’t have any truly LNT options because of the terrain. River to the left of the trail and spring to the right of the trail means I might have to do what I imagine other people have done which is to use a small hidey hole in the rhododendrons right next to the campsite. There are large rocks here that I can use to cover it so an animal can’t dig it up. It’s the best I can do given that I’ve chosen to camp somewhere that one technically shouldn’t inhabit. 

I poured more of the kale crumbs into my dinner and the result was equally as good as the night before. I’m happy that I found a way to consume the food without just pitching it straight into my garbage ziplock. Oakland kept me company during dinner. I accidentally started brushing my teeth while we were on the phone because the signal was so good that it seemed like we were practically in the same place. Oakland laughed when I told her what I’d done. Then I walked down the trail and hung my food bag on my sub optimal limb.  Several day hikers passed me while I ate dinner. So many so that I finally stopped one of them to ask where he’d come from. I had apparently camped close enough to the trail that leads into Hampton, TN that foot traffic was still happening after 8pm. I was dismayed by the accessibility and needed somewhat false reassurance from Oakland that it would be okay. Her feelings weren’t false, but her certainty doesn’t actually have an impact on reality. She did make the good point that if harassment from locals was a problem, people would have made comments on guthook about having had issues. 

Oakland had dinner plans with her parents so she had to depart, with the caveat that her mom might want to call me so I could help clarify some pin locations for her giant AT map. I charged my phone in airplane mode to prep for an impending map session and setup my bed in the meantime. A little after 8, Oakland and her mom did in fact call me and we worked out the missing pins (and fixed a pin or two that had been relocated by a certain 4 year old who thought I should be in WV instead of GA).  Here’s Oakland pouring over the map while getting shelter information from me over the phone:

Then they went off to finish their dinner preparations, and I laid in my tent finishing the days notes while trying to catalog the noises I heard. I saw a flash of light around 9 and realized that the lightning bugs had made their nightly appearance. I tapped away on my tiny screen periodically looking up to see their flashes while the water roared and gurgled about 20 yards away from my tent. I’m finishing this to the water sounds, airplanes periodically passing overhead (scaring me because their rumble feels out of place), birds that are just barely audible over the river, and the occasional bug dive bombing my tent. 

Mile 407.9 to mile 422.2 (14.3) 

Total miles: 430.5 

Creature feature: so many chipmunks! dozens of butterflies, the tufted titmouse, oven birds, the woodpecker, lightning bugs, and the bear 

2019-Day 41: solo camping edition

It was a bit warmer last night but I still had to employ the puffy in the wee hours of the morning. I draped it over my long johns underneath the covers and felt much more comfortable. I managed to sleep until the late great hour of 6:25am. I phone zombied for a little while and wrote an email to my friend halfway who continues to be a source of support and humor as I make my way north. Around 7:15 I dragged myself out of bed and began packing up the last bits and bobs that needed to get in my bag. The total weight with water, a new fuel canister, and 4.5 days of food came in at 24lb. Huzzah. That is lighter than I expected. It’s probably closer to 24.5 if I’m only wearing my warm weather gear because I had on my long sleeve shirt and calf sleeves when I weighed my pack. 

Soul mama and I walked up to the big house gossiping about the couple of college boys who had their heads in their phones for the last 30 hours. We walked into the house and the smell of coffee hit my nose. I had no desire to actually drink it, but it was a cozy smell nonetheless. I sat on the couch and talked to fern and her partner chill bill who I met around the whiterock cliff area awhile ago. She’s had some ankle issues as well after sitting down hard on her ankle during a fall. The call for breakfast came and the hungry hikers piled into a line. I managed to eat slightly less than yesterday. Here’s a mediocre picture of the breakfast spread:

I sat at a table combined with thru hikers an older couple who stayed in the tree house and arrived by car. I asked where they live to fill the silence and when they gave their answer (TN somewhere) the hiker next to them said no way! I’m from there. Thus began the conversation that follows an enjoyable coincidence. It turns out the husband retired from school admin to become an Alcohol & drug counselor so we also had something in common. 

Around 8:40 I excused myself and said goodbye to my host. She gave me a hug and told me to be safe. I asked her about compost and she said they have very little waste between the hikers and their animals, which made me feel better about the copious amounts of food still sitting on the buffet. Then I went to collect my belongings and hit the bathroom one more time. I very nearly forgot to change into my new shoes and regretfully put my old ones in the hiker pile. I saved all of my old shoes from my 2017 hike, but I ended up throwing them out later, so I won’t be saving them this time. I put my phone on the charger to see if I could get it back to 100% and put on sunscreen to please the world. 

The guys in the hostel bumbled around putting their stuff together while I made notes laying on my bed. I left the hostel around 9:20 and Walked up gravel path towards the road. I took a left turn onto the shoulder of the 3 lane busy road with Tractor trailers whizzing by. 

I Stepped onto the actual trail at 9:30. It took me on a Slight uphill and then it was an easy trip over to the small side road that I had crossed getting back to the trail. Yes, I walked forwards to go backwards because it meant that I wasn’t cutting off a section of the trail. I crossed the small paved side road and went Down into the woods. The trail took me up mildly graded switchbacks connected by high log steps. I had a moderate case of Biscuit lungs and a fully loaded pack, but my legs felt strong.

Morning light came in from my right and cast light on the Ferns and rhododendrons lining the trail. The Road noise lasted for awhile, but I didn’t notice it fade away. 

I eventually came to a Slow and steady climb through tall grass and a small meadow. Matt, the guy from TN who slept in the top bunk last night, passed me shortly after we entered the overgrown section. he disappeared in and out of tall grass ahead of me until he took the turn into the woods.

After several hundred yards of pushing through thick grass, the trail opened up ever so slightly, and I thanked whoever had mown part of the meadow. I Saw a new purple flower and got this view behind me at the end of the meadow. 

Then the trail took me Back into the shady woods. After the hot sunny climb, I Needed to take off my calf sleeves but I decided to wait for a break. In the meantime, I Rolled them down making it look like I had on like 4 pairs of socks. 

I Continued upward breathing heavily. The trail Took a slight right onto a flat and wider lane that was sometimes overgrown and sometimes clear sailing. The Humidity felt high and there were hazy clouds in the sky that felt like rain. I Wound my way through the woods on the flat trail as it narrowed and widened. At some point, I Heard a bird and looked up to see a male cardinal high in a tree to my right. 

The trail went Uphill Through another field. I Saw an older hiker take a picture at seemingly nothing, but when I got to that part of the trail I spied his subject.


I called out to Single mom who was close behind me that there was a surprise for him. Single mom is neither single, nor a mom. His trailname has irksome origins. Apparently he was cooking dinner one night and claimed that he felt like a single mom because he had to do all of the cooking and cleaning. When I heard the story the day before, I’d wanted so badly to pointedly say something to the effect of “oh, so you had to TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF? ALL ALONE? that must have been hard for you..

When he saw the turtle I heard him say hey buddy and he stopped for a picture. I kept walking up the hill and stopped near the older guy to take this picture.

The man Asked me if I was going all the way. I said Yes and no, and told him I was finishing a thru hike from 2017. I stood there to send a few texts with a bit of signal and he continued up the trail. Single mom followed shortly and then two other hikers that had been at mountain harbour. I asked the first one if he’d seen the turtle and he sarcastically said “what? Me see something unique and interesting on the trail? Not a chance.” It was good-natured disappointment and I empathized with him. Before I left the view and the signal, I Sent my dad a happy birthday text. He’s 61 today. 

Towards the top of the hill, I Passed the three younger guys taking a water break. I waved and kept going. The trail took a downward turn through open and cheerfully green woods. I decided to Call Oakland with the signal that had lingered past the field. As we talked, I came upon a cemetery and pulled over to take a picture. The three kids and the older guy all went past me. The trail then curved around as if to go away from the cemetery only to turn right back towards it and take me alongside the fence line for a minute.

I happened to look up not long afterward and see a church steeple through the trees. “A church!” I exclaimed as Oakland was mid-sentence. This happens a lot: she’ll be in the middle of a story and I will see something that causes me to reflexively exclaim aloud. Spoiler alert: It’s usually just a flower. 

Shortly after spying the steeple, I Crossed a small road where the church stood. On the other side of that road, I promptly Lost my signal. I also Stopped for water because the next source was 3 miles away and I had consumed a fair amount of my water during the field walk. The Older guy leapfrogged me again. Maple, a young woman from the hostel, also passed me. She groaned as she walked in front of me, sharing that she was stiff and full from breakfast. I agreed with that assessment. She quickly pulled ahead so i Took the chance to pee before continuing up the trail. 

I walked over rolling hills to another small road and back into the woods. I Heard a large bird make a sound I’ve never heard before. It made me whip around to search the trees, but I couldn’t find it. Then came Another Achilles’ tendon straining incline and back down again. I Heard a noise and thought it was a bear but it was maple a few hundred yards up the trail. There were a lot of small campsites around, which made me wonder about the local weekend warrior camping population. I’m not enthused about the potential for camping alone given all the small roads today, but it’s the best mileage choice, so I’m sticking with my plan to camp at upper laurel fork. 

Before I knew it, I arrived at the Jones falls side trail. I Thought about bringing my pack to eat lunch but there were 3 packs lined up by the sign. I felt like a dweeb bringing my pack for the extra trip, so I left it there and brought my poles. The Kids from hostel were all there, including Thor. I stretched and maple announced that she liked my tattoos and wanted to know what they were. I pointed to my left arm and said well you’re standing on this one, and, pointing to my left arm, I said, my partner drew this as a doodle. They all left right after I arrived, and I immediately regretted my decision to leave my pack.

The falls would have been a good lunch spot. I walked back to the trail and put on my pack lamenting my lunch possibilities given the lack of seating I’d already noticed. I also Needed to take a break soon to give my left Achilles some rest. The stabbing pain hasn’t been constant, but it has been more frequent than I would like. 

As I walked, I saw No good break spots. I felt Annoyed at myself For not stopping at the falls. It was such a high school cafeteria thing to do. I Finally saw a little side path to a small tent site with nowhere except the ground to sit, but I stopped there anyway to give my feet a break. I took my shoes and my brace off. Then I Made my peanut butter frito wrap. I also Ate kale chips that I snagged from the hiker box. I like them in civilian life but I Wouldn’t want to carry them regularly. They crumble and they’re hard to eat. I Contemplated my camping options for the evening (again) and decided to still shoot for upper laurel fork, which is a water source with a few unofficial tent sites. 

I left my lunch spot around 1:15. I Worried about my Achilles’ tendon flaring beyond return, and I did my best to take it easy. My Pace has improved a tiny bit between the simple terrain and my zero day. I had hoped the day off would keep my Achilles from being so chatty so soon. 

I Went downhill a bit and realized I had been literally around the corner from the elk River, a much more scenic lunch spot. Oh well. there wasn’t exactly anywhere great to sit anyway, but the water was beautiful.

I Heard an Older couple from the jones falls intersection behind me. Raise your hand if you assumed that I saw a man and a woman. That, my friend, is the power of a hetero-normative society. They were hauling ass, so I let them pass me, but then they pulled over to look at the river.

The trail Followed the water part of the way around a curve and then turned left. The Wide river sounds were replaced by the hollow sound of a smaller stream running into the river. I pulled over to make some notes and the older couple caught up with me again, as did Thor who apparently had taken a wrong turn somewhere. The woman wanted me to go first, saying that I was probably faster. I said “maybe on an uphill, but I take a lot of pictures and I write a lot of notes.” She smiled, but I did as she asked and went first. 

The Trail turned left and the sound of water instantly faded. Then it snaked back and forth above the river bank. The water sparkled and made me Want to swim. As predicted, the older couple Passed me again as I stood writing a few notes. I Followed them through the rhododendron tunnels until they took a short break.

I Asked their names as I walked by. They are Dan And Virginia creeper because they are creepin to VA. I’m going to shorten her name to creeper because the whole thing is too much to type on my tiny screen. They’re from NH and have hiked the whites decades ago and done a fair amount of the northern half of the trail in New England. I left them to their water stop and went up a short but hefty climb. I Tried to use my bigger muscles to take some strain off my calves and Achilles. I Snaked my way through the woods as a light breeze blew. Creeper and dan passed me again as I sat on a log giving my feet a small break and writing notes. I’ve given up on dictation. It’s tedious to stop so often but it’s even more tedious to correct the random ass words my phone chooses and try to figure out what I meant while squinting at a screen in my tent at night. 

A few minutes after my break, I arrived at a water source before mountaineer shelter that had a waterfall high up on the hillside. creeper and dan had stopped to get water as well.

I asked where they planned to stay tonight, but They hadn’t decided. From the sound of it, they would end up at the shelter. I said goodbye and kept going. The Woods opened up a bit and there were fewer rhododendrons. 

About a half mile later, i heard an eruption of leaves to my left and my amygdala said BEAR. I looked up to see a pileated woodpecker take flight, cross the trail and zoom up into the treetops. The loud flapping startled me and the sudden stop aggravated my Achilles’ tendon, but the bird was magical. It flew off in a flash of red, black and white. I was sad to have not spied it before it spooked, but I was excited to have seen one so close.

The trail took me back into rhododendrons on a Somewhat steady uphill. I Passed a trio of dayhikers, two women and a kid who looked to be about 12. Not long afterward I Saw another backpacking older couple (did you do assume straight again?) with a black and white wire-haired dog that had its own pack. I said “that’s a cute dog you have. All business.” The guy said “not really he just has somewhere to be.” Sounds about the same to me, but I kept my mouth shut and wished them a good hike.

The trail went steadily up with a couple of switchbacks but mostly straightaways. There wasn’t anywhere good to sit but I Stopped to put my pack down for a minute anyway. It had started to feel unusually heavy. I had a couple of bites of cliff bar and took a bathroom break in the brush. 

Less than 3 minutes later, I arrived at a well kept gravel road with a couple of seating options. I Decided not to stop there because I didn’t want to be seen alone by a driver. I crossed the road and walked a few tenths of a mile where I Found a nice tree stump. As I sat on my zseat holding my baggy of cashews and white cheddar cheezits, I Heard a loud noise behind me. I jumped up but I didn’t hear any additional noises or see any creatures, so I sat back down and quickly finished my snack. As I ate, I Heard a couple of cars crunching down the gravel road that was a few hundred yards through the trees behind me. I’m glad I didn’t stay by the road. 

I Continued north through the pines and rhododendrons. The were occasional root-ridden sections, but they were short lived. I finally arrived at the bench that marked 0.5 miles left. It had this small but worthy View: 

I took off my pack and sat down for about two minutes to take in the view and enjoy the bench. Then I Continued on a slight incline and then back down towards my destination: upper laurel fork. I saw a new purple flower:

The trail took tight twists and turns and then went down a dark straightaway.

I Finally heard the sound of water and arrived at laurel fork, which was a beautiful stream with a well constructed footbridge and about 3 campsites. A small feeder stream joined the bigger stream from the right. There’s wasn’t anyone else there, so I took the biggest spot to accommodate my SUV of a tent. I could have also camped across the water in a sandy spot, but when I see sand, I think BUGS.

Setting up was easy because of the soft soil. I put my doors towards the water sources and leaving the broadside towards the trail (today’s top picture). Then I went searching for a good food bag limb and proceeded to take about 25 minutes to get my line on the desired branch. I got it on a different limb on the same tree but that limb hung over too many small limbs, and I could imaging the little chipmunks and squirrels sitting there with curbside service through the night. A solo SOBO hiker Passed me while I struggled but he thankfully didn’t witness any of my throws because I heard him coming. I was away from my tent site for so long that I went back and grabbed my food bag to keep it closer to me lest a little creature find it while I’m cursing and throwing a rock bag upside down behind my head. I felt triumphant when I finally got the line on the desired limb. I gave it a good tug and hoped that it wouldn’t break when i put my newly stocked food bag on it. The limbs tend to seem strong enough until faced with the force of pulling the bag in the air. 

I went back to my tent site and set my water to boil. The problem with camping near water is that it obscures noise such that everything sounds like footsteps. I had to will myself not to jump every time I thought I heard someone coming. While my food hydrated I collected water from the smaller of the two streams. The lone female hiker I’d seen earlier during the tail end of her bathroom break passed through. I was sad she didn’t stop. I sent my location to the usual collection of folks and let Oakland know I had no signal and that gps messages were taking an extraordinary amount of time to send. Then I ate my dinner which was chili Mac with kale chip crumbs thrown in as an experiment. I listened to the water gurgle while I slapped at the dreaded tiny gnats and read Oakland’s latest letter. The kale turned out mostly okay. A tiny bit chewy sometimes but overall a success. I felt downright healthy. After I did my dishes, I had a few Doritos and a third of a snickers bar to polish off the meal. Then I brushed my teeth and flossed while walking around to relax my back. It doesn’t really like to sit on rocks and logs for too long. Then I went back to my bear line and managed to hang my barely closed food bag pretty easily. It’s so full because of the food bowl and toiletries, Otherwise I could easily roll it down at least 4-5 times. Part of me wonders if I should buy a new one like Oakland’s. Zpacks has changed their default food bag size to a bit larger than my bag which was purchased in 2017.

I peed while I was far away from the stream and then went back to set up my bed. I took off my shoes and crawled into the tent. Then I pulled out the evening and morning necessities (trowel, TP, headlamp, and tiny pocketknife because I’m alone). I took out my contacts, and switched into camp shorts and a new shirt sans bra. I assumed someone would come along while I had my shirt off because that’s how it seems to work, but not tonight. I blew up my sleeping pad and pillow and laid on top of my sleeping bag finishing off the evening notes. Then I looked at the plan for the next few days to remind myself of the mileage and because I didn’t really have anything else to do. I don’t like camping alone but I’m perfectly happy not to have to hold a conversation. I’m finishing this to the surround sound of the streams (big one to my left and little one to my right), the occasional squeak of my sleeping pad, phantom footsteps that are actually just the water, and the ping of bugs on my tent. 

Mile 395.2 to mile 407.9 (12.7) 

Total miles: 416.2 

Creature feature: the surprise pileated woodpecker, a few chipmunks, the hiking dog, and another large bird that I didn’t recognize. It looked about the size of a duck.