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 40: mountain harbour zero day edition

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I had a pretty restless night of sleep, between the comings and goings of people, the cool temperature (I finally put my puffy coat on), and the blue tv screen that I couldn’t figure out how to turn off in my stupor. I woke up around 6:15 and was a phone zombie for awhile. I finally decided to physically get out of bed around 7:30. I joined the masses up at the big house waiting for the infamous breakfast. It was indeed glorious and I ate far too much food. The biscuits and the French toast were incredible. There were eggs and sausage and potatoes with maple syrup and bacon. There’s no way I can eat this way tomorrow and actually hike anywhere. 

After breakfast, I creeped on my new section hiker friends and asked them if we could be social media friends. I had hoped they would ask me first, but I finally just took the plunge. I said goodbye to them in the parking lot and went back to the hostel to start my zero day! Which means I’m going to truncate this entry somewhat to account for all the time I’ve already spent staring at a screen and doing chores today. 

There were many packages to go through. My food drop and new shoes from HQ. A letter, ankle braces and cookies from Oakland. A card from my dad and stepmom to read and treats to add to my food. I washed my cookware and back-flushed my filter. I spent copious amounts of time updating social media. I managed to eek out two blog posts and wished I had done more. I ate too much heavy greasy food (more French fries with dinner and a grilled cheese sandwich). I managed to eat a salad with lunch that also included bourbon barbecue chicken wings, which I don’t think I’ve eaten in years. 

I goobered out over all of the animals. 3 dogs, the 2 barn kitties (turns out they’re sisters named Oda Mae & jackpot), and a 16 year old goat named Rosie.

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I talked to an older gentlemen who has had more on-trail injuries and false starts than me. I had a few FaceTime calls with Oakland. I checked in with my mom on and off as she navigated the funeral service for my grandmother. I said farewell for now to dizzy and brownie, who I’m sure I will see again soon.

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I met a few new hikers who arrived in the afternoon and stayed awake playing battleship downstairs like nerds while the bros watched the NBA playoffs. I pulled a colossal dingleberry from one of the fat cat’s butts because I couldn’t stand to watch it walk around fussing with it. And, per the usual, I stayed up far too late trying to plan for the next 7-10 days and writing today’s notes. By the time this post goes live, Oakland will be hiking with me! You’ll probably be relieved to stop hearing about all the phone calls I make to her. Instead you’ll have to suffer through pictures! 

I’m finishing this to the sound of the box fan, the occasional creak of my upstairs bunkmate, the heavy breathing/allllmost snoring of Doug, the man who works/lives here and sleeps on the couch, and the buzz of bugs outside. 

Mile 395.2 to mile 395.2 (0) 

Total miles: 403.5 

Creature feature: dogs, cats, and a goat, oh my 

2019-Day 31: RICE edition

I slept like the dead until my watch alarm went off at 6am. I always forget that I have to physically turn it off or it will go off at 6am everyday until its little engine dies. I should correct myself, I slept like the careful dead because I was very aware of turning over and keeping my ankle on the gigantic pillow I had under the covers. My king size bed comes with KING SIZE pillows that are perfect for elevating my leg and for nighttime leg/foot pillows.

I’m going to continue to give myself the treat of not going over every single detail

of my zero day, but I’ll give you the highs and lows and probably too many details

because I am terrible at moderation.

I had breakfast on the picnic table out back with the rushing creek as my soundtrack. then I wandered over to the communal space/main building that houses an eating/microwave cooking area, couches, and a “front desk” all in one room and a small side room with resupply options and freezer food. A gaggle of hikers were getting ready to head to Spivey gap for various slack packing endeavors. I sat around watching the shit show of several young dude bros drag themselves around trying to get ready while holding up the entire operation.

While I watched, I asked Sara and Taft if they knew where I could buy an ankle brace. There’s basically nothing around here so any option I had would be in Erwin. A German hiker named granger offered me her ankle sleeve which I tried on. it felt like a tight sock that would do little in the way of actually supporting my ankle. I heard Taft say he needed to go to Walmart for Gatorade and I swooped into his conversation asking if it would be possible for me to tag along. I didn’t really want to spend two hours roaming around the winding country roads, but I also didn’t want to embark on my slack packing plan with just a disposable ace bandage.

In the midst of all of this, an adorable cattle dog wandered around. I obviously pounced on the dog and took copious pictures while petting it incessantly.

The boys finally deemed themselves ready so we all piled into the van. I sat on the first bench behind the passenger and still managed to get queasy because the roads are just that windy. The dog (named udo I think) clamored up and over me to squish himself into the seat between me and another hiker whose name I didn’t get. Here’s a couple of selfies I took for Oakland that I will share with you so you can see what a van full of hikers looks like.

I held onto my cookies (barely) for the drive to Spivey gap, bid farewell to my new bestie, and rode onward to Erwin with Sara. We dropped the packs at uncle Johnny’s and I saw a pair of hikers I hadn’t seen since Hiawassee (the couple who I went to breakfast with and whose names escape me).

On to walmart we went, where I bought GREEN THINGS, yogurt, a few candy bars, and a halfway decent ankle brace. I was beside myself with joy over the food. I loathed the idea of eating only packaged food for the next several days while I use this as home base, but I knew they didn’t go to Walmart very often. Lucky me. I also bought an older Australian hiker named Rosie a packaged salad because she too is craving greens and will be staying here again tonight.

We got gas on the way out and as she got back in the car, Sara said in a forlorn voice, “wellll I have to make one more stop before we head back. I have to go to pals to get a cheeseburger.” I laughed and agreed wholeheartedly with the extra trip. I ate my feelings and got a cheeseburger and fries, which were really good.

We got back a little before noon. then, in an effort to not obsess over how my ankle will heal (or not), I went into blogging mode with my foot elevated and periodically icing for 15 minutes at a time. I only surfaced for a visit from Runa, to have a short phone call with Oakland, and to test my tent stakes out on the hammock gravel area (more on that in a bit). Runa decided to come to the hostel for lunch and to check on me which was very kind of her. I walked down to the main building right as she pulled in with Sara. She heated up a pizza and drank a coke while we caught up on trail life a bit and then talked about real life things for a little while.

Runa left around 2:30 and back to blogging I went. I sat on the back porch, scratched new bug bites, which is sad because my legs were just starting to get better, and tapped away on my tiny screen. The pictures uploaded much faster outside and I would much rather be outside, so I lived on the porch for awhile.

Around 6, I made myself a giant plate of greens with half an avocado and a few chips. I brought that down to the main building with Rosie’s salad and a bit of snickers for dessert. Rosie was finally back from her 13 mile day and she was overjoyed to see her salad. I offered her the other half of my avocado which she gladly accepted. I heated up a veggie burger from the freezer stash and ate that with my salad. It ALMOST felt like a real dinner. The only thing missing were raisins and olive oil for the salad.

I talked to the handful of other hikers who had all been there the night before. I think nature’s inn does a fair amount of slack packing. Or maybe I just caught a glut of slack packers coming through.

After dinner, I went back to my room to organize my day pack and my full time pack. Tomorrow I’m going to switch over to tenting to save money for however long I’m going to be here. The room is too expensive to stay in the whole time and I would rather sleep outside than in a stuffy bunk room, so I’m going to try to set my tent up in the hammocking area. Rosie set her tent up there and it seems nice and flat. The only downside is the gravel covering the ground. I’ve asked to borrow a tarp because I don’t carry a ground cover for my tent. I tried my stakes out to see if they would reach dirt underneath the gravel and I think it will work. It won’t be the best pitch ever but it’s a covered area so that shouldn’t matter much.

Fingers crossed for my plan to slack pack 8.5 miles tomorrow. If that goes well, I will slack pack the next section from Spivey gap to sam’s gap. If THAT goes well I will slack pack from Spivey gap to uncle johnnys on the edge of Erwin. If tomorrow doesn’t go well, I will scale back and take another rest day. I’m finishing this to the sound of the AC and the occasional crinkle of my ice bag.

Mile 311.1 to mile 311.1 (0)

Total miles: 319.4

Creature feature: that adorable cattle dog, a dog that I thought was a stray but is a neighbor’s dog, and a couple of cardinals

2019-Day 30: here we go again edition

Last night was not my best night of sleep and definitely not the worst. I felt like I was going to roll out of the side of my tent every time I turned over onto my left side, so I slept either on my right or on my back trying not to move. It did indeed smell like privy most of the night and a hiker came through around 11:30pm with his headlamp bobbing around casting a weird light on my tent. I Woke up for good around 6am when my watch alarm went off. I Changed into my hiking clothes and made my way to the privy, which was thankfully not as fly-ridden as it had been the evening before. I Kept my red light on to be visible to oncomers. Then I went back to my site and packed up everything except my tent before getting my food and toiletry bag down. The cables are squeaky and I was trying to be polite for the shelter sleepers who didn’t seem to be stirring yet.

I Put in my contacts and packed up the last few things before heading down to the shelter area to eat breakfast and fix my feet. It was a Pretty quiet breakfast crowd and I did my best to avoid getting into conversation with creepy dude. There’s something off about him that I can’t place, which makes me feel bad because he probably seems like a polite upstanding guy to everyone around me.

Around 7:20, I said goodbye to northstar as she sat in the vestibule of her tent and walked into the misty woods. I passed several great tent sites as I left the campsite and cursed myself for being so myopic last night. I could have had softer ground with more privacy and no privy smell if I’d just walked 40 yards down the trail instead of circling back and forth being out of sorts.

This morning started with a gradual climb up to big butt (not kidding). The footing was soft with the occasional switchback as droplets of moisture fell from the trees in a strong breeze. I worried that it was going to start raining but it didn’t seem to be new precipitation. I Realized about a half mile in that I forgot to sign the shelter log, again. I had intended to leave a note for dizzy and brownie since it’s fun to see one’s name in the shelter log.

I Cursed the wet grass as it slid against my shins and soaked the tops of my perfectly dry shoes. I Came to a foggy field.

A Small Bunny erupted out of the tall grass and bounded ahead of me. Thick Berry patches lined either side of the trail. I Heard a shrill call and looked up to see an indigo bunting on a tall briar. It flew off in a flash of blue and landed a few yards up on the other side of the trail. While I stood to watch it, I also saw a cedar waxwing. The waxwing flew right behind me and sat on a briar for a minute before dashing up to a tree limb. Sadly I couldn’t get its picture before it was on the move. I can still remember the first time I saw one of those on bald pate mountain in Maine. A hummingbird zoomed by as I stood making notes about the birds. As soon as I started walking again, I ran into an older man sitting in an open tent with a small black and white dog. I had been standing about 20 feet from him without even knowing it.

I searched the field for more birds as I made my way up the trail. I was Sad to go back into the woods as the trail took a turn. I walked over slick rocks and thought about how exciting it was to see the bunting. My right foot slid off the side a small rock and my ankle rolled to the outside with a quick pop and a sharp pain. And then I badly rolled my trick ankle. My heart raced and I immediately starting talking myself down from freaking out about it. I kept slowly moving and tried to assess the damage. There was a sharp sensation in the tendons in front of my outside ankle bone. I decided to stop to do a stirrup taping to give it some support. When I stood up and put weight on it, I could tell it wasn’t going to be enough of a fix. The pain was still sharp.

Silverback came along as I stood up from taping my ankle. I told him what happened and he brushed it off saying he had sprained his ankle so many times that he just walks through it. I agreed while also thinking to myself that I felt a pain that probably wouldn’t appreciate being walked on for very long. I asked him to remind me where he planned to exit the trail that day because I had heard him say something about making a stop today. He said he planned to go to devils fork to stay at nature’s inn hostel. I checked my map and was crestfallen at the 7.5 miles before the road he’d mentioned. Counting the half mile i’d already gone that would be about 8 miles on a mildly sprained ankle.

The trail of course devolved into a rock pile for the next couple hundred yards. I made my through it trying not to take any precarious steps that relied heavily on my right foot while also trying to walk as normally as I could. As I crossed another field, silverback stopped ahead of me and said “you know I have an ace bandage. Do you want it?” I immediately said yes and watched sheepishly as he dismantled his entire pack to get to the ace bandage in the bottom of the bag. I stopped a few minutes later and sat on a wrapped ankle. My ankle immediately felt more stable.

As I walked slowly down trail, I called Oakland. She expressed sympathy and helped keep things in perspective. I had already started thinking about the people I’ve known in the past who had to slow down for an injury. Specifically, halfway came to mind. He had terrible shin pain heading into Delaware water gap and I think he might have stayed there for 2-3 extra days to give his legs some rest. He ended up finishing his through hike. I kept him in mind as Oakland mentioned other people she’d read about from my 2017 trip and how this isn’t necessarily a hike ending event. I’ve had a couple of activity ending injuries in the last two years that it’s difficult to not go down the worst case scenario rabbit hole.

I’d been walking about 4 miles and couldn’t find anywhere to sit so I made do with a log that acted as an erosion barrier. I ate a snack and put my foot up. Then I kept moving. The pain in my ankle was noticeable but not awful. I made sure to take careful steps and the trail was very forgiving. I went downhill through rhododendrons and then back up. The sweat poured down my face despite the slowness of my pace. I kept Oakland on the phone on and off for about an hour because the company was reassuring.

Northstar finally passed me and I informed her of my new development. I told her to keep the reservation at uncle johnny’s for herself. She offered to walk with me but I declined but I know myself and I will feel pressured to walk too fast if I have company. I saw her again at the shelter where she shared chocolate and expressed a bit of homesickness she’d had earlier in the day.

I sat at the picnic table with my foot up and ate a couple of squares of chocolate. Then it was back to it with 2.7 miles to the road. There were a few stressful Rocky sections interspersed with calm rhododendron tunnels.

I Could periodically hear dogs barking far away in the distance. The trail was a bit of a roller coaster with a slight predominance of downhill. My ankle did not enjoy the flat stretches but the ups and downs seemed to agree with it well enough.

I came to a set of log steps that I hoped would lead me up to a parking lot, but it sadly dumped me onto just another stretch of trail.

I made it to the road around 12:45 and saw an older man sitting on the ground with his phone. A car pulled up and he hopped to his feet. In the event that the car happened to be the hostel shuttle, I picked up my pace ever so slightly. When I saw him get in the front seat I assumed he was getting picked up by family, but I asked them if they were from hostel just in case. He said no and I asked if he had phone service because I happened to look at my phone and see 1 bar of 1x service. Not even close to enough to make a call. He said no to the service and asked if everything was okay. I mentioned needing to get picked up to go to a hostel because I had rolled my ankle. He and his partner kindly offered to take me or help me find it, saying that they’d seen one nearby but I knew that the hostel I wanted was not the one closest to that intersection. Right as I was about to look up the address in guthook, I noticed 1 bar of LTE service. I jumped on my phone to see if I could place a call before the signal decided to vanish.

A man picked up and when I identified myself as a hiker who had no reservation but had a turned ankle with the hopes

of staying there tonight, he said “oh yeah. We can come get you. Someone’ll come by in a few minutes.” He confirmed my location (they pick up from 3 intersections) and that was that. The couple in their car wished me well and drove away. I sat on the ground, put my foot up on my pack and waited for my ride.

Sara, one of two owners, picked me up about 15 minutes later. She drove up with her windows down and when she turned the car off she said, “hey sweetie, I heard you have a bum ankle. Let’s get you out of here.” And she was just as friendly and warm the entire ride there. Her accent brought me back to NC in a way that doesn’t always happen (she’s originally from Asheville) and the vibrant green countryside was beautiful.

When we got to nature’s inn, Sara laid out the sleeping options of the bunk house or or king room. They also have adorable little cabins with screened porches, but none of them were available.

I Checked out the bunkhouse (not pictures) and decided to spring for the king, partially because of the distance over the uneven grass and partially because the bunkhouse was small and stuffy. I Asked about ice before we left the main building. Sara gave me a gallon sized ziplock and directed me to get ice in the freezer at the rental house. I Took my pack over to the “main house” which has 3 rooms, a kitchen, living room and porch.

I Went back over to buy a soda to go with lunch. Then I Made myself a peanut butter wrap and took it outside with ice bag. I Wrapped the ace bandage around the ice, put my foot up in chair and called Oakland. I Whined to her (AGAIN) and she was supportive. I Texted all of my parents to let them know about the incident and my plan to slowdown. Then I Went inside and put my foot up on a pillow. I Phone zombied for a little while and Nearly fell asleep.

Around 5, I walked over to see about dinner food. There were section hikers eating pork sandwiches. I had a black bean burger, microwave velveeta shells and cheese, and an entire bag of microwaveable Brussels sprouts. They were Mushy and there were far too many of them, but I ate them anyway. Then I had an ice cream drum stick and was thoroughly stuffed. I Spoke to Taft about shuttling and slack packing. For those of you who have no idea what that means, it’s basically day hiking where you carry water and food, get dropped off at one point and walk to a second point where you get picked up and go back to your hostel for the night. You can also have the shuttle drop your main pack off at your destination and keep going from there. Taft Explained the system and the prices to me. In theory I could slack pack my way to Erwin in 3 distinct sections. That would mean 4 nights at nature’s inn, which is a pricey prospect in my current luxurious digs.

At dinner, Opa (one of the section hikers I met at Jerry’s cabin shelter) offered me biofreeze. Everyone expressed Sympathy for the ankle and wished me well as they mowed through their pork sandwiches. After dinner, I Walked back to my room and iced again. Took more meds. Then I Sat on back porch to get some outside time. I always want to be outside and backpacking makes walls feel even more suffocating than usual. Then I went back Inside to ice again. I took advantage of the extra time and phone signal and Called my mom. Then I Called Oakland and went to bed. All the while trying to be optimistic while having no clue if I have done damage that won’t work itself out with moderate rest and continued activity.

I’m Finishing this to the sound of AC, the slight rush of the creek outside because I opened my windows, and a buzzing that could be in my ears or it could be the lamp.

Mile 301.8 to mile 311.1 (9.3)

Total miles: 319.4

Creature feature: the indigo bunting, cedar waxwing, and 2 bunnies.

2019-Day 27: Madison county library edition

Today was a zero day in hot springs! I’m going to give myself a break from going through every detail of the day, but here’s a brief summary.

I went out for breakfast at the smokey mountain diner (today’s top picture). I spent HOURS at the Madison county library editing and uploading blogs. I made a very satisfying facetime call with oakland on the library’s wifi (clear picture! no delay! what a luxury). I picked up packages at the hot springs post office, one of which was a surprise from my brother’s family, one of which had my carefully packed resupply from HQ and one which was a couple of treats and a card from my dad and stepmom. Someone finally asked me about my preferred pronouns, and I nearly cried with joy and relief (Thanks, Runa).

I had dinner at the iron horse with brownie and dizzy and one of their hiker friends from the PCT who happens to be friends with jennifer pharr davis, the woman who held the fastest known time for awhile before Scott Jurek broke her record. After dinner, I managed to swoop in on the laundry before everyone else did because I left the restaurant early while a large gaggle of hikers continued ordering food and beer. very unfortunately, I stayed up way too late because my day at the library meant that I had not organized any of my gear or food. I had to open all of my boxes, figure out what to take and what to gift to other hikers. My nieces sent me several adorable postcards in their box, so I also spent some time writing them postcards to send out tomorrow.

All in all, it was a productive and mostly enjoyable day that sadly did not include much in the way of picture taking.

Mile 274.6 to mile 274.6 (0)

Total miles: 282.9

Creature feature: dogs! Many passing along the sidewalk and then the 2 in the picture above who mostly cared about their owners inside but they gave me a small greeting. A couple of cardinals and the usual cast of snack-hunting juncos

2019-Day 18: creekside zero day edition

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Zero day! I Slept until about 8am after a middle of the night freak out about a possible tick on my ankle (answer: not a tick). I had breakfast with the section hiker and Cynthia standing around fighting about healthcare systems. Cynthia kept giving the section hiker a piece of her mind when he said something idiotic about Obamacare. it was both enjoyable and more politics than I care to experience during breakfast. 

The day consisted of long stretches of blog zombie-ing. A trip to the grocery store in town that I should have skipped because I lost over two hours of blogging time. It would have been a shorter trip but Jeff decided to take us on a cool but fundatory tour of the cheoah river complete with a footbridge:

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Apparently the day we went by they had done a “dam release” which meant that kayakers were clamoring to head out into churning waters. there isn’t a kayaker in this video but you can get a sense of what the crazy people were in for.

The detour meant more winding roads and a very unfortunate amount of car sickness for me. I was green by the time we pulled in the driveway and it was noon. I went to my room and got straight to blogging. Around 2, I made myself kale salad with avocado and a leftover piece of sausage from the morning. After eating i sat and fussed over my timing for the smokies which has changed because one of the shelters I intended to use is closed because of an aggressive bear. I’m now going to be in the smokies for a day longer which means I don’t have quite enough food. I beat myself up for not figuring this out before having gone to the store. I called my mom and had a minor meltdown while trying to talk to her and organize my food at the same time. I think I also haven’t really spoken to anyone other than Oakland since the fatality on Tuesday and hearing my mom’s voice made me want to cry about it. For better or worse, I didn’t do that, but I did almost cry about the Smokies logistical hiccup and having to carry a heavier bag. Here are two happy dogs to distract everyone from my emotional wobbling (also the “tiling” of images is only possible because I’m on a library computer! Sadly can’t figure out how to do this on my phone):

I decided to give myself a break from planning and get in the hot tub for a few minutes. This came with a loaner bathing suit that was the most awful and most feminine thing I’ve worn in a VERY long time. I should have just used my spandex and sports bra but I didn’t feel like having to dry them again and I didn’t want to degrade the tick spray on my shorts. When I came out of the bathroom, I remarked absentmindedly to Jeff that I was now in drag. He heard me and didn’t understand what I meant. I heard him in the laundry room saying “drag? Now why would you say you’re in drag?” I poked my head around the door and said well, I don’t really identify as female. He then asked if I was transgender (good for him for even knowing the concept) and I said no, I’m just non-binary. He then mentioned that there are pronouns for that and i said yes, as a matter of fact I use those in real life whenever possible, but I haven’t tried to do it on the trail because it feels like too much of a hurdle and the awareness is lower than I feel like dealing with. Cynthia came over and joined in on the conversation, and the whole time I just wanted to walk away to be in the hot tub. I finally said that out loud and left them to sort themselves out. 

The hot tub was a good idea minus the feeling of being trapped in the wrong clothing. Then I took another shower and went back to blogging. We had dinner with Cynthia, Jeff and the section hiker again. This time they schooled the section hiker on his opinions about government regulations. It was amusing to watch them talk circles around him and I respected their intelligence and indefatigable approach to the conversation rather than just smiling and nodding. 

I had another dicey WiFi phone call Oakland and then back to the blog. Jess and I were then in one room for the night because two new couples were there as b&b guests, One of whom didn’t stop talking until about 11pm. I’m finishing this to the sound of microwave popcorn being made in the kitchen and my own sighs of frustration because my guthook app is being idiotic – the user comments disappeared and I rely on them to make choices about hostels and tent sites. I have once again stayed up too late. Tomorrow, the Smokies!

Mile 166.3 to mile 166.3 (0)

Total miles: 167.6

Creature feature: DOGS. and more dogs. and a couple of spiders

2019-Day 13: truck magic edition

Last night takes the prize for the worst night of trail sleep I’ve had thus far, as previously whined about in the post for Day 12. I woke up to light coming through my tent walls around 6:10. I fumbled around for my watch to turn off the 6:15 alarm. As I rearranged the comical number of layers I had on such that my hiking shorts were closest to my body rather than haphazardly shoved over my 2 camp layers, I heard my name. Meredith called out, “Checklist we’re back for the sunrise!”

We all stood around taking in the layers of mountains and low hanging fog banks as the sun rose (today’s top picture, which doesn’t come close to doing it justice). Again, not a spectacular color show but well worth the effort as the sun caught the edges of the fog and cut through the morning haze.

Around 7:30 Meredith and felix went back down to their camp and I set about breaking down my tent while shoving bites of cliff bar in my mouth. I have 10 miles to cover and 27% of my battery to hoard so I have enough juice to call my ride for tonight’s Nero “town” stop. I need to charge my electronics, do laundry and take a shower.

I tromped down the giant hill, taking in the incredible view and waving goodbye as I passed the lower campsite. I stepped foot on the AT proper at about 8am. About 5 minutes later, I felt a hot spot on the back of my left ankle, and I forced myself to stop to put KT tape on it before it turned into a full blown blister.

You’ll be spared a fair amount of my terrain talk for today’s post because I couldn’t dictate notes into my phone as I walked. The dictation sucks away a lot of battery power and it slows down my pace because I often have to wait several seconds per note for the software to catch up with itself. Not the most efficient way to hike but it’s what keeps the details in my head.

The trail started easily enough and I covered the first 2.5 miles quickly. I heard the occasional woodpecker, one of whom I stopped to search for and saw that it was a downy woodpecker. I eventually crossed over a paved road and came to the beginning of what I thought was a short journey up to the wayah bald tower. After about 25 minutes of walking and stomach rumbling, I decided to check my map, and I found that I had been very mistaken about the distance from siler to wayah. As it turned out, I still had 2.5 miles to go. I stopped at a very nice snack rock and gobbled half a cliff bar and some cashew/cheezit mix while a dark eyed junco loitered overhead.

It was a very long 2.5 miles up to the tower, some of which was in sight of a gravel road. I felt the urge to take the road several times rather than face the constant uphill that was in front of me but there’s no telling how much farther the road would be and gravel is not my friend.

I passed through rhododendron tunnels and rocky trough-like patches. At one point, I heard what I hoped was the loud thunk of a pileated woodpecker, so I stood searching the tree trunks. After about 3 minutes of staring into the sky, I finally caught sight of a woodpecker I didn’t recognize. After searching Audubon, I think it was an acorn woodpecker.

(This isn’t the trail, it’s just a pretty tree that was standing alone.)

In the last mile before the tower, I saw a slew of other birds: a wren flittting from limb to limb on a rhododendron, a mockingbird singing on the tip of a dead tree, and what I think might have been a nuthatch of some sort. I also heard a strange sonar type pinging overhead and saw a raptor slowly glide over the tree tops. I’m terrible with their silhouettes so I have no idea what it was besides large and not a buzzard.

After an interminable but pretty climb, I popped out of the woods and onto a paved pathway that led to the wayah bald tower. I groaned at the pavement, passed on a bathroom that looked too far away, and walked up to the tower in the heat of the mid-morning sun. I met an older gentleman named John who wore suspenders and called himself the slowest hiker on the AT. I joked that we should race for that title. He went on his way while I took in the partially clouded over view from the tower. I went back down to my pack with the intention of eating a snack and waiting out the fog, which was likely to blow through pretty quickly. As I fussed in my hip pocket a woman approached. I said hello in the AT way (like everyone is my new best friend) and she asked how my day was going. She also asked if I had any trash I wanted to get rid of. This is the question of people who know about hiking, because long distance hikers are always looking for ways to get rid of trash. I happened to only have one night of trash buried in my bag so I declined her offer. Then almost as an afterthought she said, “I also have snacks and drinks in my truck.”

On my way to wayah bald I had been daydreaming about asking a person parked there to charge my phone in their car. Lo and behold, here was my opportunity. “I love snacks!” I said, And then I sheepishly said, “I have another favor to ask which you can totally decline, but can I charge my phone in your truck?”

She immediately said yes, so we walked to her truck, which was all the way back by the bathrooms I had rejected. On the way there she told me about how her husband is out doing a 19-day section hike and they drove here from ND. When we got to the truck she opened it up so I could get to charging right away. Then she lowered the tailgate and began unpacking a series of bins. She’s clearly been doing this awhile! I grabbed a bottle of water and some Doritos but declined the breakfast burrito because it sounded too heavy.

As I sat on the pavement consuming my treats, Meredith and Felix emerged from the woods shortly followed by the older gentleman from last night. As it turns out, he’s the husband doing the 19-day section hike! Ah the coincidences of proximity. They all greeted each other warmly and tucked into breakfast burritos. When I saw the slim size, I awkwardly asked if there were enough for me to have one and I was greeted with an enthusiastic yes! So I sat on the ground eating a McDonald’s breakfast burrito, happily amused by the timing of it all.

With about 35% battery, I decided to get back on the trail to finish my miles for the day. I asked for the woman’s name and a picture before I left. Meet jeanneatte!

She made my day a lot less stressful and my stomach a lot fuller (I was planning to snack through lunch to be time efficient). I made use of the bathrooms before I left since they were now too close to pass up. They had Toilet paper! which can be a rarity at popular tourist spots and becomes exciting when you’re in the woods for days on end.

I walked back up to the tower, took a few more pictures and went on my way. Before leaving, I Took note of Siler Bald (red arrow), which is where I camped last night.

The trail was a bit rocky here and there but the rest of the day proved to be pretty easy walking in terms of footing. I ran into two older men who I’ve seen twice now. They’re section hiking SOBO and I see them about every other day. We exchanged a friendly hello and had a short conversation about how easy and well kept this part of the trail is relative to some more rugged northern sections. I also passed John while he stopped for a lunch break. When he saw me, he said, “see, I told you!” I scoffed and said “it’s just because you’re stopped!” To which he snickered and wished me well.

I eventually came upon an overlook with this view and a young man staring into the distance. I said hello to announce myself and we shared the space for a minute. In that time I saw another one of the new birds from the day before, which I later looked up and it’s a chestnut warbler. Yellow cap, black and white with a rusty stripe near the wings. The guy creeped me out a tad, so I didn’t stick around long.

I continued toward burningtown gap, which was my destination for the day. I heard the guy hiking behind me laughing to himself, which in that moment didn’t help his creepy factor. I let him pass me because he was hiking faster and he kindly said thank you. His hiker smell was so potent that I had to stop to let him gain some distance in order to walk downwind of him.

I reached the burningtown dirt road around 1:40. Later than I had hoped but still a fine enough time to get off my feet for awhile. The strange dude arrived after me (can’t remember how we leapfrogged again). He walked on through and then came back, staring at the sky and putting out even weirder vibes than before. He put down his pack, took off his sports jersey (unusual hiking attire, which added to his overall weird tone) and started fussing with his belt buckle. My mind went into overdrive hoping that he wasn’t about to take off his pants and force me to confront him. Thankfully he was just adjusting his belt. I felt silly for jumping to conclusions, but I also could not get a good read on him at all and we were alone in the middle of the woods. He grabbed something out of his pack, wandered over to a nearby tree and stood there, then came back. Doing all of the above wordlessly.

My ride showed up before I had to decide whether to break the silence or continue to try to be invisible. When the woman from the “lodge” got out of her car, the dude came to life and said hello to her like he had just landed back on earth. I said goodbye and happily hopped in the car with a chatty British woman. We went done a gravel road at high speed stopping suddenly at several washouts that happened after recent heavy rains.

It turns out that I would likely have the place entirely to myself for the night. As of my pickup, no one else had made a reservation. Maggie (the British woman), led me to the packroom where I was to remove my laundry, food, and other personal items and leave my pack. She kindly let me keep my shoes on when I told her I couldn’t comfortably walk around barefoot. I offered to brush them off, so I sat and did that while she went to get loaner clothes so I could wash everything I had. She showed me my “bunk room” which was a tiny room stuffed with two twin beds. It looked a spider cave. Then she led me straight to the shower, which was palatial.

After I showered, I discovered that Maggie had whisked away my laundry before I could ask for cold water and low heat (wool shirts!). I couldn’t figure out how to get in touch with her. My cell didn’t work and she was nowhere to be seen. I finally stuck my head out the window of the bunk room and interrupted her husband who was doing construction work in the yard. He told me to wait by the landline phone Inside and he would have Maggie call me.

With my laundry instructions successfully communicated, I attended to my list of chores. I hung my tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad on an awkwardly located clothesline. My tent was still soaked inside and out from Siler Bald , and I worried that it wouldn’t dry in the shade, but after several hours it was indeed dry!

I sat in the main lodge room being a productive phone zombie. It takes tiiiime to upload blog pictures on rural WiFi speeds. It was both a relief and incredibly lonely to have the place all to myself. I microwaved a frozen pizza and ate it with a sprite while talking to Oakland on FaceTime. There wasn’t any phone service but we had ample WiFi and no other hikers to worry about social propriety.

At some point in my blogging haze, I remembered that I had other chores to attend to. I put my down phone and washed my cookware and backflushed my water filter. I also discovered that my food bag was wet on the inside and the ziplock holding my last dinner had split, thus getting cheese powder on some of the other contents. That was an unexpected annoyance. I emptied the contents, washed my food bag and wallet, which I had very mistakenly decided to put in the food bag to stay dry. Then I put both bags out on a chair by the clothesline. I also sent an email about mail drops to my HQ team. Then came more blogging, a very late frozen burrito dinner, and another call to Oakland.

I’m finishing this to the ear-ringing silence of existing within four walls in rural NC.

Mile 113.7 to mile 124.0 (10.3)

Total miles: 132.4

Creature feature: so many birds! not sure if it was an especially bird friendly stretch of woods or if I was overly tuned into them, but wrens, mockingbirds, downy woodpeckers, dark eyed juncos, the chestnut warbler, raptors, a crow or two, and maybe more that I can’t remember.