2019 Update: Let the Maine edition begin

REAL TIME UPDATE: we have yellow blazed to Maine! We left VA around 4:40am this morning (7/17) and arrived at the White Wolf Inn in Stratton, ME after mannnnny hours of driving (13.5 to be exact), much of which I spent editing blog posts on my mom’s laptop and trying not to barf because of motion sickness. Here are a few driving pictures:

According to a comment in guthook, Caribou Valley Rd aka Caribou Pond Rd is now closed during the weekdays for logging, so our access point to get back to my exact re-entry point has theoretically been blocked until Saturday. The change happened on Monday, July 15th, so we just missed the cut-off! We don’t want to lose our buffer for hitting Katahdin with enough time to get Oakland home on time. Rather than deal with the logistics of hiking south and shuttling, we made a plan to brave the ski trails of sugarloaf resort to hike to the summit of sugarloaf where there is a blue blazed trail that leads down to the AT. The blue blaze comes out about 2.7 miles north of where I broke my elbow in 2017, which we have plans to revisit. It makes for a complicated and somewhat dramatic way to start our Maine leg, but Oakland is up for the adventure. Very sadly, the complications led to extended planning sessions and phones calls, which sealed the deal for keeping us in VA for an extra day (yesterday), thus making us lose the flexibility to meet up with my hiking friend Halfway. It was a long shot to begin with given his 2.5 hour drive (one-way) to get from family events in a different part of the state, but I’m pretty disappointed about it.

We arrived at the White Wolf Inn around 6pm. It was mind boggling to have breakfast in Virginia…well, technically Maryland because we ate in the car, and then have dinner in Maine across the street from a place that I haven’t seen since I broke my arm. Sadly, the White Wolf’s downstairs restaurant is closed on Wednesdays. After settling in, we zombie walked our way across the street to have a simple dinner at the Stratton Plaza which appears to be part bar, part hotel, and part restaurant. The front area is dotted with pool tables and you walk into a seating area that is likely populated more for the bar than the food. We sat near a handful of hikers that were up to their elbows in a nacho platter. Construction workers talked loudly at the bar and we marveled at their intense Maine accents. At some point, Oakland suggested that we ask the hikers whether they got off trail at the logging road or where it crosses RT 27. I scoffed, saying that no one gets out at the logging road unless they absolutely have to, but it seemed silly not to ask. I interrupted their dinner right as one woman had her mouth full of stringy cheesy pizza. After laughing about that, I asked the question of where they’d gotten off the trail without actually asking if they were hiking because hikers can almost always spot other hikers. They had in fact come from the logging road! And one of them used her car to drive in and out of there today. They turned out to be a jolly and personable group. One of them misheard me when I said that I broke my arm and thought that I’d broken my oboe. She then asked if she could call me oboe, which I of course agreed to should we ever meet again. They very unfortunately got trolled by the construction workers who did the classic “sit down at the table and be completely inappropriate while apologizing for being drunk and possibly inappropriate” routine. I wanted the hikers to tell them to shove off, but I know that’s not really what you do when faced with two men in a bar. You placate and exit as soon as possible, unless by some chance the attention is actually a good thing. We left the restaurant buoyed by the prospect of getting to hit the trail at the road rather than suffer up the steep grade of a ski trail while also feeling anxious about tenuous nature of the road access. For all we know, crews could arrive first thing in the morning and make the road impassable.

We are now settled back into the white horse. Our nerves are a bit on edge, our legs are stiff from the long ride, and I can already tell that I’m going to lose my shit when we take a detour to the spot where I broke my arm, but I’m so excited to show Oakland the wilds of Maine. The hikers at the restaurant didn’t do much to allay her fears of Maine after they despaired about how hard the hiking was from sugarloaf to the logging road. I tried to comfort Oakland by saying I did the hike with a broken arm, but I’m not sure it helped. I’m also not sure how much blog posting will get done while we’re in Maine, but I am writing daily notes and will work on publishing the backlog as soon as I can manage it. I will save some of the stories and emotions from today for the Day 85 post.

A gigantic thank you to my stepdad who braved sitting in the car with me for hours on end and who did the majority of the driving with a healthy chunk also done by Oakland. Tomorrow, we hike! In the meantime, here’s part of tonight’s sunset as seen from the white wolf while swatting mosquitoes and talking to two of the hikers we met at dinner who happen to be a gay married couple. Huzzah!

2019-Day 58: chestnut knob edition

I had a somewhat choppy and sweaty night of sleep. Poor Oakland said she listened to a lot of Harry Potter which means she got less sleep than me. After making her visit to the privy, she crawled into my bunk and we discussed our plan to navigate the rain. Sadly it’s supposed to rain today and then again over the weekend. The strategy of staying another day to Wait out the rain isn’t all that helpful because we’ll still get wet during the next stretch no matter what. Oakland expressed anxiety about having to hike long miles in the rain and hoping to do it in a way that wasn’t as pounding as our rushed trip in to bear garden. We tentatively decided to cut our day short and stop at the chestnut knob shelter if the weather went south. Then we forced ourselves to start the process of packing up. We were in the main bunkhouse eating breakfast by 7am.

Bert and bob arrived in their little farm go cart around 7:15 to close out our bill. Oakland wasn’t up for a drawn out conversation and more unsolicited advice (Bert talked at us for about an hour yesterday), so we kept our interaction as short as we could and said our goodbyes. Then we went back down to our little bunkhouse to brush our teeth and put the last odds and ends away.

We crossed the road to walk back to the trail around 7:50. A few hundred yards later, we took a right turn into the woods, through an overgrown stretch with poison ivy, and up a climb that was a little less than a mile through the occasional blooming rhododendrons.

We Stopped a quarter of the way up so Oakland could take off her raincoat. The footing was relatively straightforward and the woods were on the quiet side. Maybe the birds knew what was coming.

The trail Smoothed out to a roller coaster along a breezy ridge. There wasn’t any rainfall yet, but we were getting dripped on by trees. We walked through blooming rhododendrons and passed the occasional snail. Every now and then an oven bird shared its opinion with the rest of the world. We also saw another red spotted buddy.

We eventually Stopped At knot maul shelter right on the trail to check the logbook looking for banana. I was curious to see if we could figure out where he might be staying for the night, but he wasn’t in there.

The trail took a slight downward turn through periodically muddy rhododendron tunnels of varying widths. There were Mushrooms everywhere and we made the occasional stop for Oakland to take pictures. She has quite the growing collection of amazing fungi shots.

We eventually Crossed a mossy foot bridge and stopped at a tentsite next to a small stream to have a snack.

Planes passing gave the illusion of thunder, but we could see a Patch of blue sky through the thick tree cover. Fat water drops fell on Oakland from the leaves as the wind blew high overhead. It had been a Dark morning thus far between the overcast and thick tree canopy.

We got up from our snack spot and donned our packs to go up the next climb. Because of course there’s a climb after a break. the rain started around 10, and didn’t stop until about 1:30. I didn’t take any notes for the rest of the day because of rain and the sheer aggravation of being soaked but I will do my best to retrace our steps. The rain started when we were near the top of a climb with far less tree cover than usual. I did my best not to resist the urge to walk faster so we didn’t bash our feet into the ground for no reason. We were many miles away from our destination so there would be no point in getting sore feet or falling just to shave off a few minutes of time in the elements. We tromped through the rain down a long descent with the occasional switchback and immediately went back up again. The climb was reasonable enough but the footing was annoyingly banked, putting my right foot on the high side. I complained about the lack of rhododendrons because they tend to block a fair amount of rain. We dropped down into a gentle roller coast with muddy section after muddy section. I felt kind of like a dirt bike navigating the mud and the small twists and turns in the trail. Neither of us fell but we definitely slid our way down the trail at many points.

We forced ourselves to stop for water at a small stream around the halfway point. We had done a pretty decent job of drinking it up until that point. We each took bites of bars as As we stood putting our water gear back in place. We went about 50 yards up the trail so we could both pee.

Not long after getting water, We saw a good snack Log off the trail a few yard. the rain was much lighter so we decided to take an extended snack break. As we set our packs down I saw a bright orange spot across the trail that turned out to be chicken of the woods. I put on my long sleeve shirt in favor of my rain coat because it seemed like a warmer move. I pointed Oakland in the direction of the giant mushroom. She ran around taking pictures of various fungi while I sat and pulled out food items. I scarfed pop tarts, Doritos, and half a babybel cheese. Oakland ate the other half along with a sizable portion of doritos, and part of a cliff bar. It started to rain harder right as we stood up to go. I changed out of my shirt and we stuffed our food bags into our packs.

Then we had a short climb up to a gravel road. I saw a truck parked in a small lot with people standing under the tailgate. We crossed the road and were at the edge of the steps to get back into the woods when we heard our names. We turned to see task rabbit running towards us in a rain coat holding a bottle (maybe beer? Maybe root beer?). She was super excited to see us and I would have been much happier had i not gotten cold at our break. We stood there for a minute not making any motions to stick around and she got the hint saying oh you probably want to keep going. We both nodded as politely as we could and said a rushed but kind goodbye.

Then came the 4.3 miles climb up to chestnut knob shelter, our updated destination for the day. Our original plan was to go to a campsite about two miles past the shelter but I suggested we stop short because of the chance to dry out without having to set up a tent with wet gear.

The climb took us over log steps and exactly zero switchbacks which aggravated both of our trouble spots (Oakland’s Achilles and my right foot, which was already angry because of the banking from earlier in the day). We passed a small stream and a random little gnome village a few yards off the trail.

About a third of the way up, I dropped my pack and suggested we sit for a few minutes on a nice flat rock. I wanted to massage my foot, but I couldn’t muster the energy to take off my brace. The time off my feet was worth the slight drop in body temperature. We continued up the hill in a light drizzle that eventually tapered off. Very unfortunately, right when we started to feel slightly drier (except our feet), we entered a 3 mile stretch of field walking through annoyingly overgrown and soaking wet grass.

We both cursed the overgrown and narrow trail as we pushed our way through the tall grass, slipping and sliding through the mud. Thankfully it wasn’t actually raining as we walked through the exposed field. We stopped at the pond and went down the side trail to get water because there’s no reliable water source at the shelter. Oakland went ahead of down the trail and cursed at the water getting on her pants. I think being behind me up to that point had saved her from some of the sogginess. We each topped off our bags and filled our sawyers about halfway full. We walked back to our packs at the trail intersection and ate a few bites of a bar before heading back into the wet grass. The fringe benefit of the annoying field walk was seeing at least 4 indigo buntings, yellow warblers and that yellow bird with dark wings that I haven’t been able to identify yet.

At one point my movement flushed out about 6 birds, two of which were buntings and the rest were warblers. I stopped dead in my tracks and was saying whoa whoa whoa in excitement when I turned to Oakland and saw a guy behind her hoping to pass. We stood out of his way and then resumed the soggy sloshing through the field.

The sky occasionally cleared enough for us to see down the trail and we even got brief glimpses of blue sky before the clouds rolled through again. The trail finally took us back into the woods for part of the last stretch. I’ve never been so happy to see rocks after all the mud whomping we’d done for most of the day. We walked down a wide trail with yellowing grass on either side and the occasionally soggy rocky stretch.

Right before the shelter, the trail opened back up into an open field. We saw the chestnut knob stone shelter standing in the field with the door shut.

Oakland heard voices, dashing my hopes of having first dibs on the bunks. We opened the doors to find the NOBOs from last night all settled in at the picnic table and a guy I didn’t recognize sitting on the lower bunk to the right of the door. We asked him if he was staying and he sadly said yes (sad because we were hoping to score two bottom bunks). I immediately put my stuff down on the opposite bunk and Oakland grabbed the top bunk by the door. Neither of us was in the mood to be around the NOBO kids but we didn’t have much choice. It was either that or go back into the wind and tent in the rain overnight. We set up our beds and took off our wet clothes. Then we settled into my bunk to play a few rounds of golf. More people showed up and the shelter eventually had as many as 10 people in it. Maybe 12? 3 hammocks and one hiker sleeping on the floor. Task rabbit showed up about an hour after we did. She seemed out of sorts and passively suggested that we sleep on the same platform to free up room. We considered the idea but it was just too tight for anyone to get a decent night of sleep, so we didn’t make the move. Thankfully task rabbit managed to find herself a spot on the wider platform and the last two NOBOs to arrive were not particularly choosy.

The sky eventually cleared enough for us to get a view of the valley so Oakland and I made a combo privy and sightseeing trip. We put our shoes and a few other odds and ends outside in the wind and sat with them so they wouldn’t blow away. it was a fools errand to try to dry anything but we weren’t alone in the attempt. A couple of friendly SOBO section hikers named Chris and rich joined us. They live in Roanoke and are on day 11 of 13, during which time they have clearly not done laundry because they smelled to high heaven.

The wind proved to be too much for us and it was after 5, so Oakland and I moved inside to make dinner at the table next to a gaggle of card players. It was a black beans and rice night with the tortillas that neither of us ate during lunch. We played golf while we waited for our food to cook. We shared covert eye rolls at the idiotic things coming from the High mileage NOBOs. After dishes, dessert and dental hygiene, Oakland went up to her bunk and I played a couple of hands of rummy with task rabbit. The wind howled outside and made the door of shelter flap open. It also slammed like someone dropping a 2×4 whenever people went outside without making an effort to let the door close slowly.

After I beat task rabbit at rummy, I cozied up next to Oakland in her bunk to write notes. The ladder was hard on my feet and is the only reason I don’t aim for top bunks because I love the privacy and birds eye view they provide. Oh well. Here’s a view of the crowd and the ridiculous number of hammocks in such a small space (there are 3 in case you can’t tell):

Oakland snoozed and was generally a lump while I tapped madly at my screen. Around 8:40, I climbed down and went outside to see what would come of sunset. A strong wind gusted through the field as the clouds raced through the sky. I caught a small bit of color in the shifting clouds (today’s top picture). Fingers crossed that sunrise isn’t obscured by a wall of fog. I felt bad leaving the front door unlatched while I was outside and everyone else had tucked themselves into bed. I squatted to pee one more time before heading back in. Oakland whispered to me to latch the door and I did my best but it still blew a bit in the strongest of gusts.

I’m finishing this to the sound of rich snoring from the top bunk, the wind whistling outside, the occasional shifting of someone on their sleeping pad, the creak of the front door when the wind catches it just right, and the beginning of a downpour. I’m glad we are inside for the night because it sounds like a blustery, soggy mess out there. Based on what I heard of Chris’s snoring before I left for the sunset, it could be a long night. It’s an unusually large and crowded place for Oakland’s first shelter experience. I hope she gets some semblance of sleep.

Mile 558.3 to mile 569.7 (11.4)

Checklist total miles: 578.5

Oakland total miles: 98.8

Creature feature: so many birds! buntings and warblers, sparrows, snails, and one little orange friend.

2019-Day 53: breaking the rules edition

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We both managed to get some sleep and there were no bear visits during the night. I tossed and turned on the usual schedule but never with much wakefulness. Oakland sadly had a pretty choppy night after her first few hours. We lay in our sleeping bags and listened to the morning birds with the white noise of the stream down below. She made the trek to the privy first and brought our food bags back from the tipsy bear box. When she opened the tent door, I could see blurry golden light coloring the top halves of the trees (didn’t have my glasses on yet). I walked up the hill to take my turn in the moldering privy. We Ate breakfast on logs by the fire pit. Then came the great repacking. We were out of camp around 8:15.

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The Morning started with an unusual gradual downhill over loose rocks and weak sun coming through the trees. Unusual in that we almost always have to make a climb out of camp. The Trail eventually curved left and the sound of the stream immediately faded away to be replaced by the crunch of our feet over rocks and twigs and the Occasional passing airplane. 

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Wound down through slowly opening woods on a narrow trail. I kept hearing Rustling and thought it might be a bear, but it was Oakland’s jacket. There were Rocky patches, sometimes accompanied by sunlight filtering across small streams that crossed the trail.

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We Shuffled our way down the hill in silence. I felt tired and happy to have company. We stopped so Oakland could take pictures of tiny orange mushrooms for her 9am picture and to remove our rain coats. The vireos were in full swing and I could hear the sound of rushing water up ahead. Then went over Rolling hills through open forest with vines crawling up the trees and hanging down in long thick coils. We Crossed small power line with tiny view.

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We Passed a couple of SOBO section hikers and Oakland got to hear me field the thru hiker question, which is complex for me because I haven’t let go of my thru-hiker identity even though I’m technically a “LASHer” aka long ass section hiker. They urged us to use the bridge crossing over comer creek falls rather than take the detour requested by the parks service. Apparently the bridge has been deemed unsafe and part of the detour involves a road walk down a busy two lane highway. 

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Not long after we ran into the section hikers, I Saw a new purple that looks like a wild orchid. As we stood discussing it two of the younger guys we saw at hikers inn in Damascus Passed us. We continued winding through the open forest With Footing that ranged from gentle leaves to boulder sneezes, as Oakland put it. The rock piles tended to happen near the small streams crossing the trail. 

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The trail winnowed down to an undulating rhododendron tunnel that included a rocky turn up a half mile climb to the comer creek falls intersection.

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We could hear the sound of rushing water far before we arrived at the creek. We made the choice to take the AT rather than follow the detour outlined by the parks. We took the left turn and the trail narrowed down to a goat path through thick rhododendrons on either side. Do not cross signs and a map were posted on the railing in front of what looked to be a perfectly fine, but slightly lopsided bridge (today’s top picture). Frankly, it looked more sound than half the log bridges I’ve crossed on the AT.

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I know we probably shouldn’t have risked it, but we had heard from several hikers and seen comments on guthook about safe crossings. we went across the bridge one at a time and stopped to have a snack at the top of the stairs on safe ground. We didn’t have much time to dawdle based on our hiking/picture taking/note writing pace and the timing of our shuttle to Sufi lodge, so we kept the break short. 

The last mile and a half of the hike were somewhat unremarkable. We went through rhododendrons (shocking) until the forest opened up slightly. I thought for sure we would see a bear because the terrain was so similar to other bear sightings but today was not the day for Oakland’s first AT bear. we could hear the road for the last mile or so. It sounded as if it ran high above the trail to our right But we didn’t have the patience to confirm they theory on the map. We hit the trailhead about five minutes sooner than I expected. The sun felt bright after having spent so much time under the trees. We walked over to the small trailhead parking lot and came upon horseback riders heading into the woods for a trail ride.

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We dropped our packs in the sun to start the drying process and grabbed zseats and snacks to sit in the shade after the horses were safely out of spooking distance. Just as we walked away from our packs, a car pulled into the lot and an older guy said “Sufi lodge?” 

We piled our packs in the back of the giant SUV and climbed inside. I took the front seat to spearhead Oakland’s first hostel shuttle experience. The owner, James, wore Sufi pants (think droopy diaper/mc hammer) and had a wry sense of humor. We mentioned the bull we had to walk past in the grazing area of the highlands, and He told us about a hiker whose pee rag motion had provoked a bull into charging at her. She apparently took out her phone to video the bull before trying to scare it away with her trekking pole. He said he’d been voting for the bull himself, which made both Oakland and me laugh. 

We drove about 5 minutes through the green hills of VA and arrived at an old one story building with a paved parking lot that had been re-purposed into a dog yard and container garden. As we grabbed our stuff out of the trunk, James said “hurry up I’m not gonna hold this door all day!” It sounds rude but his tone of voice made it amusing. We walked in and put our stuff in the first room on the right. Then we stood in the entryway with 3 sufis staring at us. After formal introductions, which included a request for real names, I said, to break the awkward silence, “well what do we do first?” James said, “go meet the dogs!” 

I marched forward even though I didn’t know exactly where to go and Susan, one of the owners said, “hold on, I’ll show you.” We walked out into the blinding parking lot to meet Lucy, a pushy black lab mix and Charlie, a dopey white and tan mutt. We also met a cranky kitty who decided I was worthy of rubbing against. 

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After feeling like we’d fulfilled our first task, we went back inside to ask a few questions. Oakland kindly performed surgery on my phone and added a layer of packing tape so I don’t have to carry it in a ziplock bag anymore unless it’s raining.

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Then we raided the hiker store and bought packaged Indian food for dinner, a few snacks to fill in the holes for our current food supply (eg. a snack sized peanut butter to get us through Tuesdays lunch and pop tarts for my raging sweet tooth). Oakland also splurged on ramen for lunch while I ate a winning combination of pop tarts, a lemon dill tuna packet, and smart food popcorn for lunch. 

After eating, we went through the usual chore list. Well, usual for me and a first time for Oakland. We washed our cookware, backflushed water filters, showered, loafed around on our phones and periodically bugged the owners for more shop items (eg. toilet paper, super important item to restock). James had a knack for asking us to do small things for him, which we found hilarious. I posted a flyer on their hiker bulletin board, Oakland restocked their TP shelf in the little store, and a few other things I can’t remember. I also made a WiFi phone call on Oakland’s phone to make a reservation at our next destination. The available options are confusing but the owner seemed happy to hold one of them open for us so we could see what we wanted. My scarcity/planning gene kicked in and I told her I would confer with my partner and call back to reserve something specific. We decided to go for the slightly private smaller bunk room rather than the completely private house that had no cell service and no WiFi and sits a quarter mile away on the property. 

I tried to upload pictures to a drafted blog post and quickly tired of the snails pace that the WiFi moved. Instead, I worked on fully writing previous days’ posts so they would be picture ready when I can find better WiFi. While I did that, Oakland perused our options for the next couple of weeks so we could figure out our next mailing list. VA continues to be very annoyingly spaced out in terms of shelters and town resources. I gave up on blogging and switched over to planning mode, which sent me into a bit of a tailspin, as it usually does. We have what appears to be a 5-day food carry coming up. No bueno for temperamental feet. 

We emerged from our room around 6:15 for dinner. Neither of us wanted to spend the extra $17 per person on their prepared dinner so we had our gourmet microwave dinners at the little tables setup in the common area. I felt bad not taking part in the food option given the mom & pop vibe and the rave reviews about the cooking, but we also weren’t in the mood for mystery meal. The packages food was surprisingly good but far too spicy for my sensitive gullet. 

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After dinner we organized our food. There was a brief time when we first got here that my package was nowhere to be found while Oakland’s sat safely on a shelf in the office. The mail carrier delivered my package about two hours after we arrived and it looked as if someone had dropped it from the back of a postal service truck two counties away and rolled it all the way here. My Dorito bag was as flat as a book, but I was happy to have the rest of the contents. Very sadly a package from my sister-in-law did NOT arrive in time. Rural VA postage currently leaves something to be desired but maybe it will get better. 

After the last of our chores, Oakland made a phone call via WiFi to her parents in CA to let them know she had survived the first leg of the trip. Then we turned into phone zombies for our respective purposes. Around 9:15, a whippoorwill sounded off outside our window and we cracked up. They’re almost like an inside joke at this point because I’ve whined about them so much. We also heard the distinct crunching of foot steps on dry leaves that were accompanied by one of the dogs barking their fool head off. We assumed it was the resident bear that James had mentioned. there was no chance of spotting it in the dark, but oakland definitely heard the footsteps of her first bear. 

I’m finishing this to the sound of the whippoorwill continuing to have feelings outside, the low hum of our ceiling fan, Oakland pouring water into her epsom salt foot tub (the Sufi lodge has their priorities straight), and one of the resident dogs still barking at the neighborhood bear tromping around outside. 

Mile 515.0 to mile 520.1 (4.9) 

Checklist total miles: 528.1 

Oakland total miles: 49.2 

Creature feature: the Sufi dogs and cat, the horses, the whippoorwill and the sounds of marauding bear

2019-Day 51: grayson highlands pony edition

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It was a cold and slightly soggy night but everything in the tent stayed pretty dry save a few wind swept rain drops. I managed to get a fair night’s sleep until about 3am when it turned into the usual choppiness because I was worried about a downpour with every concentrated smattering of drops hitting the tent walls. Oakland had another bifurcated sleep that sadly was not nearly enough total hours. We turned to each other in our sleeping bags and discussed the strategy for our morning duties – pun intended. I volunteered to go first, then Oakland. It wasn’t actively raining but all the trees were wet as was the ground where I dug my cat hole. I had sympathetic nervous stomach and the process took longer than usual, which my knees did not thank me for. Oakland tromped off into the soggy forest after I returned and came back triumphant. Then we got our food bags down without event. Success! As we wound up our ropes it started to actually rain so we headed for the cover of the tent to eat breakfast in bed which is good for no one’s back but is better than getting soaked. 

After carefully eating our food, we packed up inside of the tent and then broke down the tent itself, which wasn’t as dirty of a process as expected. Task rabbit came over to say hi as did hank the wonder dog. We Left with soggy clammy hands at 8:05, and stopped after a few minutes of hiking because Oakland needed to rearrange things to reduce the noise in her pack.

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We continued down the misty, wet trail with rocks and roots. I had cinderblock toes that did not want to navigate the tricky footing.

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There was a fair amount of water on the trail and we crossed several small sources, so much so that oakland remarked on the abundance of water relative to hiking in northern california. We also spotted a Snail exploring along the rocks.

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The Trail Flattened out now and then but the rocks persisted. The woods around us were a vibrant green as we made our way Down to the elk garden parking lot where there was a bathroom and a trash can! We made us of the facilities while a couple of older hikers came southbound through the cowfield across the road.

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We ate snacks, emptied our trash and then made our way through the cows up a short hilly pasture. I was glad the sun came out a tiny bit and that it wasn’t raining as we traversed the open field and went back into the woods. 

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The woods were dark and misty with the occasional juncos cavorting on the trail. We eventually took an actual break (versus the snippets of breaks we’d taken thus far because of the cool temperatures) to put a bandaid on my toe and get off our feet for a few minutes. We Checked out the water sources as the wind picked up. The goosebumps and shivering dictated the end of our break. The rain started to come down harder not long after we got moving again. I didn’t take that many notes for the rest of the day because I needed to protect my phone from the rain and I was too aggravated by the rockfields that you’ll get to later in the post. I’m going to let the pictures do more of the talking for the middle part of the day. 

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We trudged our way up the rocky climb in the rain. I borrowed oakland’s phone to take a few pictures but for the most part it was a head down, just get it done kind of section. 

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We eventually came to an open area with tall ground cover all around and fog blowing through the air just enough to give us passing views of the mountains down below.

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There was pony poop everywhere! We finally made it the shelter where a giant gaggle of teenagers took up most of the floor space. A guy standing outside the shelter said to me, “they went around back.”  I no idea what he was talking about, and I had little patience in my cold, frazzled state. I said, are you talking about the ponies? because right now I don’t care about ponies. He was actually talking about someone who was looking for two hikers, but he quickly figured out that we were not the hikers in question.  

We set our packs down at the rocky edge of the shelter and pulled out our food bags. I was prepared to ask the teenagers to move but they decided it was time to leave of their own accord, so we waited for them to tromp out of the shelter in their ponchos. We plopped down in our soggy clothes onto the shelter floor. I boiled hot water in an attempt to get a bit warmer. A couple of bedraggled looking SOBO section hikers showed up and did pretty the same thing we had which was collapse and complain about the weather while eating and trying to get warm. A mouse made an appearance and proved to be crafy and very persistent. He didn’t actually get into our food bags but i’m sure he would have if he had been given a minute long window to make the leap. Dark eyed juncos also landed on the shelter floor in search of crumbs. The sun came out in fits and starts but the wind negated a lot of the sun’s warming qualities. I was in a state of disrepair and had no desire to stay put OR to keep hiking, but that was our best option. Oakland kindly filtered all of the water so that I wouldn’t have to touch anything wet. We Left around 1:45. I had sore, numb feet that were so cold that the impact of the ground hurt. The sun had cleared away enough of the fog for us to get a decent view of the hillsides around us. 

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Not too far from the shelter, we finally spotted our first batch of Ponies! We went back into the woods and walked through green tunnels of varying widths. In a slightly more open section, I happened to notice a swath of purple blossoms on the ground off to the left of the trail and decided to call it a snowdodendron because it looked like purple snow. 

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A little farther up the trail, I saw a small path lead off to the left and end at the base of a giant rock. Oakland teased me a bit, but of course we had to find out if there was a view. We scrambled up the giant rock and kept our balance in the wind to take in the sweeping views.

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I took a video of the view, but again wordpress is being cranky. You can get a small sense of the wind if you look at my jacket in the picture above. Anyway, the views were incredible and it was worth the drop in body temperature to stand up there for a few minutes. Then we continued through the rocky shitpile, which I have dubbed most of the highlands because of the pony poop and the ENDLESS rocks that NO ONE TALKS ABOUT.

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I think everyone is pony blind, because it was some of the more aggravating terrain I’ve come across in the southern half so far. We finally ran into a troup of ponies that stood practically on the trail. There was also a pony right on the other side of the sign that said “no horses,” which we both found hilarious. The top picture for today is oakland giving a quiet hello to the group and here are a few more pictures from the pony times: 

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After making it into grayson highlands state park and going through another batch of ponies, we took a break on a sunny rock to eat snacks and give our feet a rest from the rocks.

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We Passed through a field of shrub sized mountain laurel still in full bloom with little pony side trails veering off in all directions. There were several trail junctions that all had good signage. At some point, Oakland really had to pee but was dismayed by the public nature of the trail. It was close to a parking lot so there were families around. I convinced her to take a side trail just out of sight. She definitely felt better afterwards.

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We continued past several rocky formations and I felt grateful that we didn’t have to walk over them. We did however not get much in the way of a break from the rocks. The trail eventually flattened out a bit and led us through a sea of ferns. Then we descended soggy log stairs, some which were already unstable even though they looked like a new addition and we crossed a steam with a footbridge and a cable. 

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We eventually went through a fence line and took a hard right to face more rocks. when the rocks finally receded a bit, the roots took over. Task rabbit caught up with us and we walked silently together for the rest  of the way to the shelter.

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Thankfully there was a bit of sun at the shelter area so it wasn’t completely frigid. Oakland and I dropped our packs and conferred about where to set up our tents, not knowing that there were many more tenting sites around the corner from the shelter. We had differing opinions and I was close to a food exhaustion meltdown but we managed to pick a site. I grabbed a few snacks for the setup process and we got down to business. When the test was ready, we crawled in to make sure the lumps and the angle were hospitable enough for all parties. We agreed that it would do just fine. Then we took our packs over to the shelter area and boiled water while talking to snack rabbit. Once our food was set to cook, Oakland and I took turns setting up our beds. It’s possible to do it st the same time but much easier to stagger the giant flotation devices bopping around inside the tent. I sent our gps location to the parentals and Then we ate dinner with task rabbit. bare burrito with leftover lunch tortillas and a few Fritos for both of us. Another guy we’d seen at Thomas knob shelter arrived while we ate. His name is Tad and he’s a talkative person. I felt like I was scarfing my food, partially because it was warm and partially because I felt like a bottomless pit. Oakland had a slightly better appetite than she did the day before and easily made it through her dinner. 

After dishes and dessert we wandered around tending to our dental hygiene while task rabbit and tad took a trip to the water source an eighth of a mile north. Oakland and I followed suit with our food bags because there’s a bear box on the way! I can’t tell you how much of a luxury it is to not throw a bear line. Granted, there’s the fear that mice will eat through our bags, but in the short term it’s a relief. We dropped off our bags and saw a southbound sign that said no camping in the shelter area. No such sign exists on the northbound side of the shelter so we had no idea there were more tentsites across from the bear box. We wandered down the trail looking for the water source. We followed the sound of water through a poorly designed fence and found a raging creek with a well constructed but frightening crossing (pictures of that to come in Day 52). Oakland exclaimed that it should have a railing on both sides and I agreed. We filtered a bottle of water each and filled our sawyer bags for the morning supply. On the way back, my hands did their usual revolt and went numb in the cool evening air. We decided to put our water in the tent tonight because word is that the wild ponies will chew and suck on anything left unattended outside. Oakland got in the tent for the evening and I went to the shelter to throw my feet above my head. Then I made a visit to the moldering privy which is new and has a full supply of leaf duff for “flushing.” The walk back let me know, once again, that I am tired because my feet were not following my brain’s instructions as I stumbled the short distance. I got in the tent to get warm and batten down the hatches but I stubbornly got back out to retrieve Aleve for Oakland. She didn’t want me to, but it seemed like an easy sacrifice to make if it helps with her sleeping in any way. Then I finally settled in for the evening. I was about to write up my notes when we discovered that we were about to get behind schedule on food drops. I mistakenly thought we had more time to get our second box after Damascus in the mail but we needed to have it out by Saturday. I hate sending urgent texts to HQ about postage because I feel guilty for requesting short turnaround times. It hits my “get your shit together” button. I had a mini meltdown when Oakland suggested we work on the box tonight because I hadn’t started trying to put my notes into complete sentences yet. I responded with exasperation that I couldn’t handle that kind of task right now but I also didn’t know when else to do it. We decided that I would do notes and she would start the process of figuring out the mail. Then we sat in the dark and populated our food lists so that when we got phone signal they would get through to HQ. I’m finishing this to the sound of the wind (it may gust up to 40mph over night), the rustle of the ziplock that my cracked phone is in, and Oakland shifting in her sleeping bag while she stares at our AWOL guide with her headlamp. 

Mile 492.6 to mile 504.1 (11.5) 

Checklist total miles: 512.3

Oakland total miles: 33.4 

Creature feature: a deer crossing the road at elk garden, ponies!, robins, the occasional crow, and the moo cows 

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 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 62 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.