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 61 today. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mile 395.2 to mile 407.9 (12.7) 

Total miles: 416.2 

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

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 38: over mountain shelter edition

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It poured from about 1:30 until after sunrise. Shortly after it started raining, I Decided to close all of my tent doors and deal with subsequent condensation later. Then came the decision to put all of my electronics in their dry bag and shove my clothes inside my pack because water was puddling in my tent site and splashing in through the mesh. There were One or two flashes of lightning and a boom of thunder but mostly it just poured. I could feel the water pooping underneath me if I pressed down on the bottom of my tent. I Felt a bit like I was on a life raft because half of my tent was relatively dry and the other half was slowly getting soggier. It was Hard to sleep but there wasn’t much to be done about it. I Managed to doze off from 3:15 to 4 but then I found more sogginess in my tent and sent a few whiny texts to Oakland, both expressing my despair and pleading with her to not be dissuaded to join me because of my despair. It’s not cold. I won’t die from hypothermia because everything is wet. It’s just supremely aggravating. 

I woke up a few more times and the sogginess never turned into an outright puddle, so I’m pretty sure it was all secondary splashing and not an actual leak. Around 6:30, I woke up from a terrible dream where my orange, space cadet cat who is rickety and hard to wrangle had bolted out of an apartment and into an open stairwell. The sound of light rain increased my desire to stay in my dry enough tent, but nature called with a foghorn. I pulled my raincoat out of the dry sack I use as my pillow, grabbed my trowel and fumbled around in my bag for my TP (a late night relocation to prevent the possibility of sodden TP).  I put on my ankle brace, dirty socks (intentionally), and my shoes and walked through the slightly trampled high grass towards my food bag. I didn’t have time for the perfect hiding spot or a masterful cathole. Thankfully it was only drizzling slightly so my TP didn’t get soaked while I tried to use it.

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With THAT taken care of, I pulled down my food bag. I had again worried that the rain would make the hitch impossible to remove, but it was a cinch (knot pun intended, sorry Oakland). Most of my line had been in the air so the rope didn’t make my hands filthy. Then I opened the right door of my tent, left my shoes and food bag outside, and crawled back onto my sleeping pad. The sides of my tent’s bathtub and mesh doors were covered with mud and debris. 

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I dreaded the shit show of packing it up. There wasn’t any need to hurry based on the fog. I doubt I will get any views on roan mountain this morning. Based on sassafras’s description of the terrible footing, my only goal for the mountain is not to wrench my ankle on any of the wet surfaces. 

Sassafras emerged from her tent around 7:15 and surveyed the sogginess with her friend whose name I was given but can’t remember or spell. I laid in my sleeping bag trying to decide whether to eat then break everything down or vice verse. There’s debris all over the left door of my tent as well, which made me think of the trick someone did at carter gap where he laid rhododendron leaves all around the base of his tent to reduce the splashing from heavy rain. I didn’t see it or speak to the guy who tried it after we had torrential downpours but it sounds like an intriguing idea. My stomach kept rumbling so I decided to carefully eat a breakfast bar in my tent. 

I had intended to set up my tent in the field at over mountain shelter but I might suffer through the hordes of people staying in the barn to avoid assembling a wet and muddy tent. That decision will be made when I see what kind of post Memorial Day Friday night crowd I’m dealing with. Sassafras said she knows someone who stayed there when about a hundred people showed up. I couldn’t decide how long to wait around but when I checked the weather for roan high knob shelter it said increased chance of thunderstorms after 11, so I figured it might be best to get moving. There are several open balds to cover today and it sounds like the chances of walking through a storm are high. May as well get started. 

I changed into my hiking shorts and sports bra. I put Cuben fiber patching tape on a small snag in my pack’s outside pocket. Then I Prepped my feet and Stood outside talking to sassafras while brushing my teeth before the messy job of packing my tent. We shared instagrams names to stay connected with our respective hikes. A northbound Day hiker went by followed shortly by a SOBO backpacker who didn’t want to make the trek to the water. He had an unruly mop of long bleach blond hair that looked like a bad hair band wig. I asked sassafras and her friend if I could take their picture and they made me get in it. (Sorry Mary Ann, I couldn’t control my face). 

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I Strapped my tent to the bottom of my bag which I never do, but I decided the sogginess of the tent warranted it. I also Tied the little cinching string from the tent bag onto my pack straps to prevent it from rolling down a steep hill if it decides to pop loose. I said goodbye to everyone, including Unc who was still packing up, and I Walked into the mist to begin the tedious process of watching every step. Shortly after leaving, I stopped to add snacks to my side pocket, which I had forgotten to do In the distraction of attaching my tent to my pack. 

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I made my way up occasionally switchbacks and across slick rocks and roots. After about 20 minutes of walking I heard voices coming towards me discussing the national park system. The voices belonged to a couple of SOBOs, one named porridge and the other croatoan. They were both wearing colorful tiny shorts and dirty girl gaiters, and they were very friendly. They had a dog named ivy that porridge urged me to give treats to for no apparent reason, to which I of course obliged. Unc caught up just as the SOBOs parted. Thankfully he kept hiking while I stood typing notes. I wasn’t in the mood for navigating a conversation with him. 

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A Slight breeze blew through the woods causing moisture to drop from the trees but it wasn’t actively raining yet. I was surrounded by Ferns and lilies and every so often I caught the faint scent of evergreen while taking care not to step on my snail friends. The trees had bright green tips of new growth and what I thought were the beginnings of tiny pine cones but which I later realized were actually the start of new growth. 

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I decided to Skip the side trip to the cloudland hotel site because the meadow was covered in a blanket of fog. The same went for the short blue blaze to roam mountain road which was supposed to have somewhat decent views and was my intended sunrise attempt. As I stood surveying the foggy meadow near cloud land, a family of day hikers walked towards me on the lookout for carvers gap. I pointed them in the right direction and answered the dad’s questions about my hike. He looked like he should own a Harley and I very nearly asked him if he rides, but I resisted the impulse. 

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I left the family standing near the cloudland intersection and headed north where I passed a lone fireplace and immediately ran into Silverback who was slackpacking south from greasy greak hostel. We laughed at yet another meeting and kept moving in either direction. I felt a sharp pain in left Achilles near the inside base of my heel. It wasn’t a new sensation, but it was alarming because it’s a pain that can sometimes just get worse. I tried to take flatter steps with my left foot rather than leading with my mid foot which engages my Achilles’ tendon more. It seemed to go away shortly, but the pain put me on alert for not overworking that foot. I felt exhausted by yet another thing to be aware of. 

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The trail went through a brief easy stretch that was flat and sandy. Very sadly, it quickly transitioned back to a rocky stream bed that felt much like the smokies. I heard the family of four coming in hot behind me, so I stopped to eat a snack and let them go by rather than succumb to the ego of trying to stay in front of them. I couldn’t move quickly on this footing and I wanted to stop for pictures and notes at my leisure without having to basically walk with the family or just in front of them. 

I didn’t stay put very long because the dampness threatened to make my hands go numb. I continued up the ankle sloshing terrain. At some point, the mom of the family came walking towards me. I said in a confused tone, aren’t you going the wrong way? She said yes! Because I left my stick up here. She gestured to the ground and her walking stick lay right next to where I stood. She grabbed it and returned to her family who had stopped a hundred yards up the trail to wait for her. 

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My next encounter occurred with a woman wearing binoculars. I asked if she was a birder and she eagerly replied yes! I Asked her about an auburn bird that I see on a daily basis that I’ve been calling a thrush, but she had no clue what I was talking about. Instead, She asked if I’d seen a chestnut sided warbler and scarlet tanager, which were birds she’d seen the other day. I proudly said yes to both and we said goodbye shortly thereafter. I guess the bird I’m trying to identify isn’t exciting enough for her to know it. Then came a backpacker with a dog that he corralled off to the side of the trail for me to pass. We shared a quick hello. He had an AT hang tag on his bag, so maybe he’s flip flopping SOBO. 

The trail went through a series of descending switch backs, all covered in a variety of rocks. I could hear and sometimes see the family in front of me until I stopped to investigate a new bird sound. I couldn’t catch sight of the bird, so I kept moving. At some point the trail took a hairpin left and it was as if someone turned off the spigot of rocks. They receded back to a normal amount, for which I was very grateful. 

After what felt like an eternity, I finally made it to the water stop right before carvers gap. I Almost skipped it but i had barely been drinking water. I took the blue blaze that seemed to go nowhere but led me to a piped spring with a strong flow. I set my pack on the wet ground and filtered enough water to drink half a bottle and top everything off. 

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About 3 minutes after the water stop, I popped out of the woods to a large parking area with a fair number of people, primarily day hikers. It wasn’t as overwhelming as newfound gap, but it was close.

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I walked around the bend in search of the bathrooms and ran into Unc standing around with a man who had an adorable fox like cattle dog. Her name was bailey and his name was Tim. He apparently had been waiting for snackpack to arrive so he could hike with her overnight. I thought for sure that snackpack would have already passed the intersection because she left camp before I did. I offered to send her a gps message but we couldn’t get it to work because he didn’t have her garmin email address. 

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I didn’t have the patience to hang out for the mystery to be solved, especially not with the present company so I wished them good luck and walked back to the trail. I crossed the road and headed up the gravel path. An African American couple standing by a trail kiosk asked me questions. The husband is retiring from the military tomorrow and it’s the woman’s birthday today. They asked me how far the trail goes and I said well…1800 more miles that way, pointing north towards the open balds. 

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The highly groomed trail led me through a short tree covered section where I finally got a phone signal. I asked Oakland if I could call her when I got into the sun because it was far too cool in the shade to sit still for very long. A few minutes later I came out into the windy, open hillside with these views: 

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I found a giant rock with a log erosion measure that made for a perfect lunch seat. I had to wait a few minutes for Oakland to be ready for a call, so I sat down and pulled out my lunch setup. I also unhooked my tent bag and let it sit in the sun. A handful of day hikers passed by while I sorted out my supplies with earbuds at the ready. Right as I was about to open my peanut butter jar, an older woman hiked southbound towards me with poles and galactic gaiters. She gave a hearty hello, which I returned. Then she asked if I was through hiking and when I said yes, she said good for you! we women are much tougher than the guys. I let the gender comment pass through me and gave her the verbal high five reaction that her sentiment warranted. We proceeded to talk for the next 10 minutes, well past Oakland’s attempt at calling my phone. She’s day hiked from GA to halfway up VA and was full of stories. She and her friends decided that they would go into local eateries along the trail and ask people for shuttles to the trail. She said she re-hiked one section 3 times because she enjoyed a woman’s stories so much. They also got a ride from a man who Said that he had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and he gave them a ride because he wanted to do something nice for someone before he died. At some point, she asked for my name and when I asked for hers, she bashfully said someone called her “walking map” once but she doesn’t feel like she should have a trail name because they’re reserved for thru hikers. She asked if I minded whether she said a prayed for me every day. I gracefully said no not at all, And thanked her. It Never hurts to have goodwill out there even if you don’t really buy into the concept. Before she walked away I asked for her picture. Meet walking map: 

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When she left, I called Oakland and explained my delay. We talked for a few minutes on her way to a work meeting. Then I finished my lunch to a parade of day hikers tromping by. I also saw Snackpack and her friend tim! Mystery somewhat solved. I don’t know how she got behind me, but they found each other and that’s what matters. I Packed up and celebrated the small victory of having both my food bag and tent bag dry in the sun during my lunch break. 

I headed towards round bald and tried hard not to take pictures every 10 yards. I cursed the gravel as I huffed my way up the hill. At the top of the bald I saw a large group of section hikers eating lunch. I’d seen them in the parking lot and they all the shine of showered people whose gear wasn’t grubby yet. 

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I walked across a series of balds that reminded a bit of Maine without the granite slab, the elevation change, and the boulders.

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Somewhere in the middle of the bald traverse, I ran into Tim and snackpack eating snacks. Tim had a square of something wrapped in wax paper that I couldn’t identify. When I asked him what it was he said “it’s pemmican.” (Yes I had to look up that spelling.) In response to my quizzical look he said it’s dried meats with fruits, nuts and rendered fat. I tried my best not to turn up my nose too much and gave a general “oh wow” kind of response. You should know that Tim hiked barefoot. You should also know that he was a warm and amusing guy. I would totally want to be friends with him in real life. 

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I took off my raincoat and put on sunscreen while I was stopped. Then I kept moving because I worried that was invading their friend space. The views were beautiful views and they lasted for quite awhile. The trail was covered in blooming rhododendrons, mountain laurel and Flame azaleas. 

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I leapfrogged Snackpack and Tim for the next couple of miles. At one point they stopped at a water source and Tim dropped to his knees to drink straight from the pipe. I laughed as I kept walking, and I’m pretty sure I heard him say he didn’t bring a water bottle. The trail dropped down from the balds and led me over more complicated and aggravating footing.

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I walked through patches of shade and sunshine among old rhododendrons covered in lichen and ferns on the sides of the trail. Then came a series of Switchbacks, the majority of which had pretty bad footing. At the corner of one switchback, i passed an interesting cave.

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As I walked around the bend, I heard the tinkle of Bailey’s collar and heard a crash through the brush. She popped out onto the trail in front of me and darted forward like a zooming maniac. I heard Tim and snackpack calling for her. She stopped, ran towards me a few feet and then ran back up through the woods to the upper level. I tried to get it on film but my phone hiccuped when I hit the video option. I laughed at bailey’s shortcut mania and kept walking.

I Pulled ahead of them again and walked past a campsite where I considered peeing. I immediately regretted passing my options because the trail closed in again. Lucky for me, I only had to walk a few hundred yards before a giant tree that has clearly been used for pee coverage became available.

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I Decided to take a break on a rock near the tree and eat a snack. My feet were sore and I’d been getting a number of sharp, sudden pains. I’m Definitely glad to get new shoes soon. I moved on from my snackbreak quickly because the wind had made the air a bit chilly. Soon after resuming, I heard a Mockingbird going wild in the thick shrubbery to the left of the trail. I stopped to take a recording of the constant stream of bird songs coming from the mockingbird. As I stood with my phone pointed towards the leaves, a Guy passed me on the very narrow trail. He Sounded a bit miffed when he said pardon me. After nearly two minutes of DJ jazzy mockingbird, I finally hit stop on the recording. 

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Then the forest opened up and the footing eased slightly. I Stood to the side making notes when a college-aged kid walking north came towards me and said wow you look exactly like a girl who goes to my school. The awkwardness of not knowing how to respond and being misgendered for the thousandth time left me a bit tongue-tied. I said something nonsensical like “yeah but I’m a lot older” as the kid walked past me. There was a strong cool breeze moving through the woods as I passed a shelter that I hadn’t expected. A gaggle of Men in their 40s and 50s silently milled about fussing with food and gear. I felt like I had to say something, so I said “quite the party you’re having” and received silent nods. 

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Happy to be moving on, I walked Up a small hill and through a field covered in berry blossoms. I saw a Florescent color up ahead, which belonged to a day hiker accompanied by his very colorfully outfitted partner and a cute black and white dog. They’ve done long sections of the southern part of the trail around their home. They were friendly and asked a bunch of questions which I was happy to answer minus the weight on my back bearing down in my still feet. I finally pleaded the need to keep moving and walked Back into wide open woods. I was surrounded by Green with the Soft hiss of the wind in the trees reminding me of the sound of sea ranch which I visited for the first time last summer with Oakland’s family.  

I checked my mileage and saw that I had the Dreaded mile and a half distance to go. I Stopped at a wide section of the trail to pee and while I stood making a note, a young guy with no shirt passed by. Judging by his gate and crustiness, I’d say he’s been hiking since GA. I said hi as he approached. He nodded silently while sucking on his camelback and continued on. I judged him for walking around with no shirt on a day that did not warrant such measures. He gave off the air of a frat boy who would prance around with a frisbee assuming the world cared about his muscles. I know, I’m making all kinds of assumptions, but there’s also the basic fact that female bodied people can’t do the same thing for idiotic reasons. 

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Anyway, I kept putting one foot in front of the other and came across a new red flower. I took a thousand pictures and before I knew it, I reached the shelter intersection. I had just taken a picture of a common wildflower that has been too out of reach and I took the turn towards the shelter to find a whole field of them. I followed the blue blazes towards the right and stopped to get water at a piped spring on my way in. A couple of older me stopped at the spring right as I was about to put away my filter. I decided to be chummy and asked if they were just getting water or if they were stopping at the shelter. They weren’t sure yet but they wanted to see the shelter, as do most people because it’s a converted barn and it’s gigantic. 

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I walked on from the water and crested a small hill to find a row of tents already set up with the view in today’s top picture. Several potential section hikers sat in a cluster and I said “is this where the cool kids are?” They laughed and said of course! I decided to go for tenting even though my tent is a mess. I didn’t feel like being in a shelter, and I had designs on drying my tent out in the late afternoon sun. I untied it from my bag and laid it on the ground upside down. Then I plugged my phone in so I would have enough juice to write my notes for the day and attempted to text to Oakland with the feeble signal I have. My neighbors were friendly, TWO of them are gay (which they announced), thus doubling the number of gay people I’ve met in almost 400 miles. Between that and the fact that they seemed to find everything I said funny, we were fast friends. A dark cloud hung over the hill behind our tents As I heard about where they’re from and explained my hike. Snackpack and her friend Tim showed up with my new best friend bailey. They went about selecting their tents sites while I talked to the section hikers and took pictures.

Then there were a few claps of thunder. One of the section hikers called out, you better hurry up checklist! I rushed back over to my tent and started staking it down. I hit resistance about an inch under the grass in almost every spot I picked. Lisa, one of the section hikers, offered me a large rock to help push in the stakes. The soil was remarkably rocky, which made it difficult to set up quickly. I got the peaks set and tightened all of the guy lines about 3 minutes before fat drops of rain fell from the sky. I threw my bag and everything I’d already taken it out of it into my tent and crawled inside.

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It didn’t thunder much more but it poured for a good ten minutes before it eased up to a light drizzle. I closed all of the doors and fastened the doors, which I realized I had completely forgotten to do last night. I’m sure THAT didn’t help with my frog pond problem. I sat in my tent happy to be dry and very unfortunately having to pee terribly even though I’d just peed at the shelter intersection. 

I opened one of my doors and decided I would venture out into the drizzle to find a place to pee. That was easier said than done but I finally crouched behind a rock,  barely out of sight. Feeling much more comfortable, I went back to my tent and sat inside for a little while, contemplating the lower peak setup that snackpack recommended when I asked her about problems with splashing. She has her tent stakes much farther out than I do giving it almost a completely different shape. I didn’t even recognize it when I walked by.

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Tim brought a tent but he did NOT bring anything to form the peaks of his tent, so he and snackpack had to devise a structure out of large sticks. It was a hot mess for awhile, but they eventually made a functional tent for him and bailey. That’s Tim driving in the tent stakes with the butt of the giant knife he brought. I texted Oakland with my tiny signal. Then I decided to join snackpack and Tim during their dinner. I’m glad I didn’t bow out of that preemptively because I had a great time talking and laughing with them.

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Snackpack is funny and Tim is affable and Bailey is basically perfect minus her fluffy hair that I wouldn’t want in the house. None of us are going to hang our food and neither are my neighbors. I’ve NEVER intentionally slept with food in my tent and this is probably the only situation in which I would do it. There are several dogs here and there are bags in the woods for the bears to choose from first. Flimsy logic, but I’m doing it anyway. 

Tim ate another square of his pemmican for dinner and fed bailey her own square, which she consumed with glee. Snackpack and I cooked meals and answered Tim’s process questions. I was somewhat horrified with Snackpack’s dish “washing” method which is to sometimes just scrape her pot with her spoon and then use the water boiling for her next meal as the “cleaning” of the pot. I showed Tim my spatula scraper and shared my “dirty finger” washing method. It’s a terrible way to describe it but it’s pretty true that my hands are usually dirty when I use them to clean my bowl. 

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The wind picked up as we ate, which made for a colder and colder experience. By the time I brushed my teeth, my fingers were going numb. I flossed in the wind and scurried back to my tent. I grabbed my pee rag and went in search of another spot to pee. There are probably at least 30 people here so privacy is a commodity. I found a subpar spot and realized that the privy was up the hill behind me and it did in fact have sides. For some reason I thought it was totally exposed. That makes me feel better for the morning times. 

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I went back to my tent after admiring the view from the barn shelter platform. The red barn is the shelter with a sleeping platform on the left (not pictured) and an upstairs area that I didn’t actually visit. The shelter view has more layers than the view from the tenting area. I regretted not just sleeping in the shelter but I also really like my tent space. I crawled back inside my tent and went about setting up my bed and changing into warmer clothes. The wind was downright frigid and for the second time today, it felt like the smokies all over again. It didn’t seem like we would get much of a sunset view based on the wall of clouds descending upon us, which sadly turned out to be a correct theory.

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I laid in my tent writing up the end of today and listening to people set up their gear. Two men in their fifties came back and asked me a thousand technical questions about my tent. I happily answered what I could and let them peek inside. They wandered away to get warmer and I went back to writing. A little kid in the tent across the path exclaimed that a dark cloud was coming straight for us. I nearly laughed when he said “it looks worse and worse!” Between the rain and the wind it’s probably going to be an all tent doors closed kind of night. Tim told us it’s supposed to be in the 40s tonight, which made me cringe. I’ve gotten used to having warmer feet since getting out of the smokies. I actually decided to put my gloves on my feet over top of regular socks AND wool socks. They looked like kind of like rooster combs.

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I’m finishing this to the sound of my tent whipping in the wind, a light drizzle tapping on the roof, the crunch of the sleeping pads across the way that sound like deep squeak of someone walking through snow, and the occasional bird calling out from the nearby trees. I hate to admit it, but I’m looking forward to tomorrow afternoon when I can stop worrying about every single step I take and be a lazy blob for at least 45 minutes before I get stir crazy. The million dollar question is can I wait until dark to pee right next to my tent before I fall asleep. Fingers crossed I don’t regret my decision to leave my food bag in the tent. 

Mile 377.0 to mile 386.0 (9.0) 

Total miles: 394.3 

Creature feature: bailey the cattle dog, dark eyed juncos everywhere, more dogs at the shelter, and chipmunks. 

2019-Day 36: stella edition

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The woods were ACTIVE last night. I kept hearing crunching and noises every time I was almost asleep. I also got startled by lightning bugs while I massaged my right ankle with my glasses off in the dark. At first I thought it was seeing the eyes of a creature, but there weren’t any lights to make that reflection, and it was only one glowing dot moving towards my tent. I heard periodic loud snapping that I thought would amount to footsteps coming our way, but they never amounted to anything. There were also a couple of howling or crying noises of some sort. I did manage to get some decent sleep after about midnight, and I woke up almost exactly when I’d told 6pack I would: 6:09. 

I stretched my ankle and put on my bra before heading up into the rhododendrons to take care of business. The ground was full of small roots so the digging of the hole was tedious. I’m sure it wasn’t up to leave no trace regulation, but I did my best. Then I retrieved my food bag. The knot slid right off on the first try, which surprised me given the light rain showers that came through a couple of times overnight.

I changed into my hiking shorts and packed away the inside of my tent. Then I took down my tent which was unexpectedly clean on the bottom. Dry pine needles are the best surface ever. 6pack came back from getting water and called out “good morning sunshine.” No one else had stirred, so I didn’t yell back. I eventually walked over to the shelter with my stuff and sat on the picnic table to eat my breakfast bar. Unc was cranky because of 6pack’s snoring and he had twisted his knee on the way down the ladder last night to rouse 6pack in an attempt to silence him. 

Unc and 6pack sat around smoking their respective vices. I do NOT understand how people do that first thing in the morning. It is the last smell I want to ingest at that hour.

Right before I left, I Put on sunscreen that I will probably sweat off in an hour. The day started with a Short climb through mountain laurel and roots that led me past what looked like an old foundation.

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The Texts started buzzing as my phone service returned. The Sun shone through the trees from my left. I was Happy to not start the morning off with a rocky jumble, but I could have done without the endless strands of silk catching on every exposed bit of skin on my person.

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I Slowly rose in elevation and the trail became a Little rockier here and there. I Passed small spring and stopped to double check water today’s water strategy. The Sources are front loaded today with a long dry spell from the midpoint all the way through to the shelter. This is not what you want on a day that threatens to be soupy. I decided to drink a bunch of water and refill at the next source, Martin creek. It had a strong flow and took little time to fill my sawyer bag. I decided to carry half a bag surplus just in case the midday unreliable source was in fact dry. I was glad to have filled up at the creek because the last reliable source a few tenths of the way up the trail was a paltry trickle. It would have taken much longer to refill there. 

I Called Oakland and talked to her while I wound my way through the woods. The terrain varied from rocky to forgettable with a somewhat steady climb in humid air. I passed the occasional budding rhododendron and mountain laurel.

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We ended our call after a nice long stretch with good service. I stood in the trail to make a few notes after the call and got passed by a French hiker who introduced himself as sock monkey. He squeezed by me on the narrow trail and i finished up my notes. 

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Shortly thereafter, the Trail flattened out. A Light breeze blew through the trees and ferns lined the sides of the trail. I saw what would have been a great snack place but sock monkey had already claimed it and I wasn’t in the mood for small talk just yet. I found a comparable spot farther up the trail and sat on a log with a tree behind it. I Took off my shoes and my brace and put my foot partially in the air by crossing my legs. It’s probably not that effective as an elevation technique but I did it anyway. I pestered Oakland with another phone call while I ate a snack. It’s a wonder she gets anything done. Then I kept moving. I traveled slowly to protect my ankle and there were still a lot of miles to cover. 

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Mountain laurel bloomed on either side of the trail, and tulip tree blossoms were scattered across the ground in various states of decay. The footing became Easier for a little while and the occasional breeze was accompanied by a drop in humidity. 

As I approached Indian grave gap, I saw a truck and a few chairs set up on the side of the road. Trail magic! An older man had three large coolers (water, sweet tea, and lemonade) and offered me Banana bread or a brownie. As I put my pack down he asked me where I’m from. I hesitated, as I always do, and said “I live in Oakland, CA.” He said, “okay, but where were you born.” I told him the north central part of NC. he pointed off to our right and said “well the state line’s right over there.” Silverback and sock monkey were there when I arrived. Silverback is slackpacking again today. He asked me about my ankle and I said it was holding steady. I sat down next to sock monkey with my banana bread slice and cup of water, which I felt guilty for accepting because chances were good that it was not going to be recycled.

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I asked the trail angel his name and he replied “brother Tom” and his dogs name is Moses. He had a missionary sticker on his truck and a hat with the same logo on his head. I tried to reserve judgment and was pleasantly surprised to hear him say to another older hiker that trump couldn’t expect to insult the Chinese people and get a trade agreement with them. I did not weigh in on the conversation. Instead I answered sock monkey’s questions about my hike and gave him the quick elbow story. I did ask Tom who had baked the banana bread, fully expecting him to say his wife. Tom responded with, “I mixed it together and god made it happen.” I smiled and nodded my head and said that it was good banana bread (a white lie, but it had been a nice surprise). Then I gave my thanks to Tom and went back to my snail’s pace into the woods. 

There was a small incline up from the gap. Sock monkey passed me almost immediately, but I saw him a few minutes later when he stopped to look for a snake that had crawled past him. I Asked him if the snake was black or brown. He asked why, and I said that black is usually fine, but Brown is questionable. He continued onward with his giant steps and disappeared into the laurel tunnel. 

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I carefully walked over roots and admired the mountain laurel mixed with purple rhododendrons that were past their prime. My Ankle twinged every so often, but the sensation never persisted. I took Careful slow steps and had to stop myself from taking pictures of every flame azalea I saw.

I tried to tell myself that it Doesn’t matter how long today takes. I Just need to keep moving forward, but the prospect of a 9 hour day of hiking (my estimate based on the my current pace of 1.5-1.7 miles an hour) loomed large and frustrating in my mind. 

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On a flat stretch, I Stepped aside to pee and then sat down to make some notes. I’m Trying not to walk without my poles, which means no walking and dictating. The Tunnel remained flat for a little while with a continuation of roots but it was still far better than the rocky mess up from johnny’s. 

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I came to a set of Power lines that had a light Buzzing. Clumps of Mountain Laurel  blooms popped out among the green of the overgrown power line corridor. I went immediately Back into the woods and the Trail turned into a grassy lane dotted with the occasional bright red leaf.

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I stopped to make sure I hadn’t missed a turn because it seemed too wide and easy. After a few minutes of easy walking, I Crossed a gravel road and the trail winnowed back to its usual one-person width.

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The Humidity was on the rise again and sweat began to form at my temples. The trail eventually Popped out into a field that would mark the beginning of the views for a place called “Beauty spot.”

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I had lunch with this view while talking to Oakland about the amusing antics of her niece who keeps moving the pins that Oakland’s mom as been placing on her AT wall map to record my nightly stops. Today’s feature lunch item is a spiderman poptart (because it was only fruit flavored one sold at uncle johnny’s).

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Apparently Oakland’s niece thinks I should be in West Virginia! As Oakland and I talked, I heard a few rounds of gunshots. I said as much out loud, but didn’t think much of it because I’m in rural TN/NC. 

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I got up to return my food bag to my pack and met a woman named mojo and her dog Stella. Oakland had to suffer through my dog voice as I greeted the adorable black and white dog with blue saddlebags. They scampered away while I gathered my belongings. I walked the rest of the way over beauty spot and decided that my lunch setting below the flat summit had been one of the better views. On the other side of the bald, I passed through another field where I saw an indigo bunting. The trail then dipped back into the woods. I stood in the shade making notes and heard a loud flapping noise. I looked up to find spotted towhees running amuck in the brush. A text from my friend RBJ came through. It turns out she’s having some serious foot pain and she’s taking a zero day to eat copious amounts of food and get new shoes. 

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I continued walking and eventually came to an intersection with a road. I took a right turn to stay on AT and realized 0.1 miles in that the road had been my unreliable water source for the midpoint of the hike. I groaned and decided to make the effort to backtrack because I was low on water. As I put my pack down along the side of the road, I ran into two hikers I’ve seen twice during my slackpacking adventures. They introduced themselves as lighthouse and turbo. Apparently they had been very close to the gunshots. So close that they called their shuttle driver to inform him that a man with a red pickup truck was standing at a gravel road intersection shooting a gun. I later learned that the shuttle driver then called Brother Tom, who then called the police. Mojo told me that she had been standing on the top of beauty spot posting pictures from her daughter’s wedding when the police arrived. Nothing ever came of it as far as I know, but it was quite the excitement for a short time. 

After hearing the firsthand account from lighthouse and turbo, I moved my pack so that it wasn’t visible from the road. They asked my name, and when I said “checklist,” they perked up because they’d heard of me through brownie and dizzy. Lighthouse and turbo are newlyweds doing the trail as part of their honeymoon adventures. They said goodbye and I continued across the road to follow the blue blazes to water. The unreliable source proved to be unreliable. The only water present sat in stagnant pools not deep enough for a scoop. I returned to my pack and kept walking. 

A little while later, I ran into lighthouse and turbo at their break. They asked about my water luck and I shared the news of a dry spring with low water supply for the rest of the hike. Lighthouse kinly offered to give me some of their water. I almost declined, but I decided to fill half of one of my bottles. As I stood with my pack on, getting ready to depart, Turbo asked about my tattoo. That led to my broken elbow story, for which I put my pack back down on the ground because I hate standing around with my feet overloaded. Given my slow pace for the day, I finally said that I would be happy to keep talking later at the campsite, but that I needed to get moving.

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The trail led me through another field walk where I saw another indigo bunting. I dreaded my upcoming road crossings for fear of intersecting with the red pickup truck. The trail went back into the shady woods and I started the climb up unaka mountain. As it turns out, one of the map points that I’d interpreted as a road crossing was just walking near a gravel road. I heard a car coming and ducked down to the ground, feeling ridiculous but also paranoid enough to stay where I was until the burgundy minivan was out of sight. I continued up the trail and eventually sat on a rock in the breeze to check in with Oakland. I think the gun shots story alarmed her, and I had shared my anxiety about the road crossing. I checked my mileage and was dismayed by pace, but I tried my best to let it go and know that things would just take longer for awhile. 

I Stood up from the rock and heard a bird chirping above me. I spotted a dark, all-blue bird. I Couldn’t tell if it was another bunting because of angle of light. Rather than delay myself further waiting for the brid to move, I continued on the climb. There were a few long switchbacks connected by stone stairs that eventually straightened out to an overgrown narrow path. An older man in his mid seventies with a small camouflage pack with small chocolate brown mutt walked towards me heading south. Determined not to hide from the quintessential rural old white man, I told him he had a cute dog. The man paused in the trail to tell me all about how his dog helps him find the bears. I couldn’t tell right away if they were looking for bears to shoot or just bears to observe, but I’m pretty sure it was the latter. He also told me about how bear cubs will drop 30 feet out of a tree and scamper away in front of you. The information left me wide-eyed and even more wary of bear cubs. When he said he hiked all over the Chattanooga state forest, his accent made it sound like he’d said “turkey state forest.” When we parted ways he said “have a good ‘un” and I laughed to myself quietly because Oakland is going to have a field day with the accents she hears out here.

As I continued north, My right foot started to get tender. I Stopped to drink water, write notes, pee, and filter the rest of my water. I had less than a liter for the last 5 miles. I eventually came to a side path that led to a Christmas tree dedicated to a suicide victim named max norrell. The tree was decorated in a variety of trinkets and there was a log book in a ziplock bag tucked at the base of the tree.

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I leafed through the book and ran across a message tucked into the middle of the blank pages that had clearly been left by one of Max’s friends. His pain and pleading made me cry as I stood there alone in the woods.

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I left my own message in the book and sniffled my way up the rocky mess that opened up to spacious pine forest. It then quickly narrowed back down into a footing nightmare.

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At Mile 357.7, I passed heart shaped rocks that had been placed there by a hiker, which I know only because I’ve seen the hiker’s posts in the facebook group page.

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The trail varied between beautiful sandy flat walking and tiny rocks everywhere.

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After awhile of hiking, I heard the tinkle of a dog collar in the distance and I ran into Stella and mojo again (today’s top picture). She told me all about the gunshot incident, which I covered earlier in the post. I quickly told her I would see her up the trail because I couldn’t keep up with her pace in order to hold a conversation. The footing eased up some as I made my way through a pine forest that eventually switched over to mostly deciduous trees and with even easier footing. I stopped on a retaining log to rest my feet for a few minutes.

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The last 1.6 miles were of the “head down get it done” variety. My feet and ankle were sore, but well within the range of reasonable pain. When I got to camp, I saw mojo and Stella already setup and freckles walking around with her pack still on. There was a giant flat beautiful spot open next to a man named “just in case.” He had apparently left the spot for someone else. I thanked him and said that in my tired state, I would make use of it. I went straight into tent and bedtime setup to get those tasks out of the way. Then I pulled out my bear line and went hunting for limbs. On my way past Stella, we played a little catch me if you can as she ran around with a squeaky toy in her mouth. 

After ripping myself away from the cute dog, I found what seemed like a strong enough limb about a hundred yards up the trail. It took several tries, but I finally made it onto a part of the limb that would work. I tied my rock bag onto a sapling and went back to get water. Just in case and I became acquainted as I stood holding my water filter. He apparently tried to flip flop last year and had to stop because of an abscess in his ankle. We commiserated over the loss of our thru-hikes and then I excused myself to continue with the chores that would get me closer to dinner. 

Freckles pointed me in the right direction for water because I didn’t notice the blaze on the tree to the left of the shelter. It was a short trip to a piped spring with a decent flow. I probably should have consumed a lot of water when given the opportunity but I didn’t want to be up all night peeing in the dark, so I drank a modest amount and filled all of my vessels. Finally, the main event could begin. I grabbed my food bag, pot, zseat, stove and fuel and joined freckles and mojo. Stella was in the tent taking a nap. She’s ADORABLE. A little uncertain about new people coming in to camp, but otherwise very friendly. Mojo has already done two long sections that were intended to be thru hikes and had to get off trail each time. She really wanted to officially thru hike so she started over in GA and is headed north. I ate my black beans and rice with the tortilla that I would have normally had for lunch. Then I did my dishes and had half a Twix bar that I bought at nature’s inn. My sweet tooth is picking up steam so the little bite size desserts I get in my box feel like not quite enough. I’m trying not to go too crazy with the junk food but dammit if snickers bars aren’t everywhere I go. Here’s freckles doing a little after dinner planning:

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And here’s Stella investigating the quality of my dinner after emerging from her nap:

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6pack showed up right as I was headed up to hang my food. I asked where Unc was and he said that he had stopped to get water south of the shelter. 6pack made a bit of an eye roll and said that he’d tried to tell Unc that there was good water at the shelter, but he wouldn’t listen. I said something about how you can’t tell men anything (sexist, I know) and 6pack made a whooping noise and jokingly got upset about the zing. 

My rope very nearly came off the branch I’d chosen when I tried to pull the bag up, but it held on just long enough for me get the bag to the height of the limb and tie the clove hitch on the stick. I got the knot on the first try because the bag is slightly lighter than yesterday and because the branch was high enough that it didn’t matter when the rope slipped a bit as I switched hands. 

Unc arrived as I was hanging my bag and Stella was VERY unhappy about his presence. He didn’t help matters when he stood there somewhat stiffly with his poles and his giant bag still on. I want to like Unc but sometimes he makes antagonistic choices that continue to rub me the wrong way. Mojo seemed confused and off-put by Unc. It wasn’t their first meeting, but I think his subsequent chatter about the dog barking wasn’t well received. 

I walked away from the low grade tension to hang my feet up over my head at the shelter. My right Achilles’ tendon ached the whole time I laid there listening to turbo and lighthouse interact with 6pack. They kindly offered me some of their arnica gel, which I applied after about 10 minutes of elevation. I hadn’t kept the nearly empty tube that freckles had given me because it was so bulky. 

Then I went back to my tent and sent a few gps messages to Oakland while freckles talked to Unc from inside her tent. From what I gathered, 6pack is about to run out of money because his unemployment ends soon. From the sound of it, I think it’s an unexpected development and it will likely mean he ends his hike sooner than later. Unc asked about making a fire right outside my tent. I wanted to ask him not to but instead I said “sure it’s not windy.” Thankfully 6pack suggested they make the fire in the shelter pit instead of in the middle of the tent sites. Everyone else is already buttoned up in tents so I’m glad they went further afield. Tomorrow’s hiking options are awkward. It’s either a short 9.1 day to the next shelter or a 15.5 day to an unofficial campsite with a reliable water source. I’m not sure the 15.5 mile option is a good idea yet. I might go to the next shelter and save the 15 mile energy to get to over mountain the following night. It’s supposed to have good views.

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I’m finishing this to the sound of birds chattering up a storm, turbo and lighthouse setting up their beds, the snapping of firewood, just in case snoring next door, and a barred owl VERY nearby to my left (so close that I got a very clear recording of it). It’s time to massage my feet and ankle and figure out when to pee for what will hopefully be the last time tonight. 

Mile 348.5 to mile 361.3 (12.8) 

Total miles: 369.6 

Creature feature: Stella! The indigo buntings, the mystery bird, juncos of the dark eyed and regular variety, loud robins that scared me with their sudden flapping, a few chipmunks, and a couple of bounding squirrels. 

2019-Day 35: trial run edition

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*REAL TIME UPDATE: the next batch of posts will be brought to you by a 3-day weekend in Damascus. Oakland arrives tomorrow! I’m currently holed up in the fancy public library. Sadly it’s closed on Sundays, so tiny screen work tomorrow and back to the luxury of the library on Monday. Tuesday, we hike!*

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I did not sleep all that well. I woke up around 6am with the birds and made an early trip to the bathroom. Soul mama was in bathhouse prepping for her 20 mile day of slackpacking. She very kindly left the bathroom and continued her prep outside so I could have my morning times alone. Then I went back to my cabin, and I managed to sort of fall back asleep until about 8:15. I had breakfast at the picnic table while Unc had his food splayed out in resupply mode. I grabbed my wallet and bought a weird “icee” to put on my ankle with a rubber band while. It worked quite well as an ice pack (today’s top picture). While I “iced,” I talked to Oakland during her early breakfast. Then I packed up my bag and vacated the room. Brownie had her eye on my cabin, so I confirmed with the front desk that it was available for the night. Brownie and dizzy are taking a zero at uncle johnny’s so they moved into my room after the staff changed the linens. 

Then I put on my pack and walked up the little gravel walkway to the front of the hostel to test out the weight on my ankle. I felt an ache in the front of my ankle but no pain. With that cursory information, I Decided to go for the 4.4 mile walk to the shelter later in the afternoon. 

After my assessment, I went to work finishing the edits for day 30. It was hard to focus with constant interruptions. Around mid-morning, Brownie and dizzy went on the hostel shuttle into town and were kind enough to buy me the donut holes I asked for from Dunkin’ Donuts. Very unfortunately they also kept interrupting me while i was trying to write and order a new pee cloth online. They are kind and interesting people, but I realized very quickly that if I was going to make it to my goal of getting days 30-32 posted, I would have to hide.  I grabbed a seat in the shade near this sleepy hiker pup:

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I finally managed to get the post updated with complete sentences and pictures around 12:15. Days 31 & 32 had already been drafted and populated with pictures, so I published those days with a few taps of the screen. Then I had lunch sitting with nickels and John Wayne, a young international kid who confuses me and wears a giant cowboy-ish hat. Nickels has a checklist tattoo! Yes, it does say “fireball” on her list.

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I had a pb wrap, chips and donut holes for lunch and promptly felt sick after eating so much sugar. I took my stack of postcards up to the picnic tables near the front of the hostel to charge my phone and write some messages to family and friends. Then I had a phone call with Oakland before she headed into an afternoon of work obligations (classes have ended but the work continues). 

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I decided to dunk my feet in the river one more time before departing so I walked across the street and had a short but useful soak while watching a kayaker navigate the small rapids in front of me. I returned to the front picnic tables to let my phone charge and fully dry my feet in the sun before I put body glide on them for the hike. I also rolled some TP onto my existing TP because I feared that I didn’t have quite enough. Should I get my period earlier than expected, I definitely wouldn’t have enough. 

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I dallied out front, not wanting to leave the land of familiar faces and phone signal and not wanting to test my ankle for fear of hurting myself. I Sat out front and made notes for the day while Unc ate through part of his food stash and silverback pontificated about the elevation changes between the AT/PCT/CDT. Silverback stayed at the super 8 yesterday but he decided to move over to uncle johnny’s for better access to shuttles. He’s on his second zero day and I think he’s going to continue slackpacking. I was very tempted to do the same but this 4.4 mile hike is kind of the perfect way to test my ankle with pack weight. 

Around 3:30, i Said goodbye and walked across the bridge. The Trail took a slight right and went into the woods where it ran just below the railroad tracks for a few hundred yards before crossing over the tracks. I looked at the chunky loose gravel in front of me with a large sigh and slowly walked across the tracks.

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The footing on the other side was much milder. I heard voices and turned at the powerlines to see a Doublewide trailer just up the way to the left. It was cooler in the shady woods than it was at the hostel. As I walked, a fly bit me in a place that I have at least two other bites. Every step felt like a test, which is not necessarily productive hyper-vigilance, so I tried to distract myself from over analyzing the sensations in my body.

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The trail started to climb and became rockier. I found my eyes glued to the ground, hardly noticing anything around me until I heard a small bird in the rhododendron tree nearest to me. I looked up to see a small brown wood thrush with white eye liner. 

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Then came more rocks. I Felt like I’d lost a fair amount of confidence in terms of foot placement. The trail was Hot and narrow with dry flies buzzing and the river rushing far below. snack pack passed me heading sobo and then a few minutes later freckles did the same. They did an 8ish mile slackpack today. Freckles asked how I was doing. I replied anxious but good enough. She said she was ready to be done. I will likely see her tomorrow based on how the mileage works out. 

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The Footing eased up a bit from roots and rocks to hiking in the pine needles and leaf duff as the rhododendrons crept into the mix of trees around me. I Crossed a small stream over a nice footbridge, which was followed by more rocks and another footbridge. I walked alongside a pretty stream, trying to focus on the beauty of the scene rather than the fear of every step.

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The trail devolved back into a rock pile for quite awhile. I got dejected and exhausted. i had to keep reminding myself that i was afraid and annoyed but I wasn’t actually in pain. I decided to listen to my meditation once through and then I switched to my old standby comfort music (indigo girls). I didn’t feel all that hot, but I sweated buckets as I made my way up the mostly rocky climb. I stopped at one point to make a note and checked my mileage. 0.8 miles to go. The footing eventually eased up and switched over to pine needles and roots. A small somewhat stagnant flow of water sat alongside the right of the trail. Not long after I noticed the water, I saw the empty shelter ahead of me in a frame of rhododendron trees The picture didn’t come out well, but here’s the shelter from a different angle:

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I put my pack down and looked at the tenting options thoroughly. Well as thoroughly as I could without having to walk up a hill out of sight of the shelter. I found a spot that would fit my tent and leave me with one side of flat-ish sleeping and one sloped side that I could lay my pack on. When Oakland gets here we’ll have to try harder to find two flat sides. For now I decided it was good enough. I ate a few almonds and set up my tent.

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Then I grabbed my water supplies and filtered water from the small pooling spring that was the source of the trickle I had seen on the trail. I tried to use the tiny flow of water from a propped rhododendron leaf but it provided me with a leaf filled cup. On the second round of that I got frustrated and tossed the water out, but my cup slipped out of my hand and flew into the mud. I said aloud to no one “oh COME ON.” I gave up on the moving water and dipped my cup into the small pool, figuring that the clear pool was created by the moving water so it’s probably just as safe. 

Then I decided to undertake my least favorite task: throwing my bear line. I found a decent tree but after 10 botched throws, I moved to a lower branch on a tree a little farther up the hill. I had seen it first but it looked like a limb that I would say to sunny “I don’t think my bag is high enough.” After missing the other branch so many times, I settled for the less ideal option and got it on the second try. Then I prepped my food and laid in the shelter writing notes with my feet propped over my head against the shelter wall. My nerves are a bit shot, but my ankle never went above a solid ache on the hike from uncle johnny’s, so we’ll call today’s experiment a success.

I sat at the picnic table and ate dinner (chili mac) alone. There wasn’t any phone signal, so I read Oakland’s letters to keep myself from feeling too lonely. After dinner, I washed my pot and ate dessert before brushing my teeth. I didn’t want to hang my food right away in case I had company because my bear line is right over the trail, but around 7:45 I decided to go ahead and hang it. Unc showed up while I was struggling to get my bag up the in the air on a limb that wasn’t quite strong enough to handle the weight of 4.5 days of food. He greeted me kindly and asked if i needed help. I said I probably did need help but I was going to decline at the moment. He deemed my limb too low and told me it would be grabbed. I didn’t have the patience to throw another line, and his exacting tone irritated me. I did re-throw it to a slightly thicker part of the same branch, which helped me get the bag up in the air. My new problem was that the bag was too heavy for me to keep the tension on the stick to switch sides for the clove hitch. After struggling for over 5 minutes I finally managed to get the knot in place. Unc is probably right, it’s low but it will have to do. My next worry was being able to get the clove hitch back out in the morning because of the weight of the bag. To be continued…

Unc and i were alone at the table for about 3 minutes when 6 pack showed up. 6pack is the man at jerry cabin shelter whose name I didn’t get. He’s kind of a hot mess because he tends to be high or drunk, but he’s nice enough. He’s yet another military vet (Air Force). Unc had a mind to build a fire so he set about that task and 6 pack leafed through a newspaper that had been left in a gigantic ziplock bag.

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Unc declared the news a flaming shit pile (those weren’t his exact words but he said something of the sort). I went off to my tent and set up my bed. Then I laid in the shelter with my feet up while the dynamic duo went about their evening routine. Unc set up his tarp and fumbled with his newly acquired bug netting while 6pack rifled through his food in the waning light. I went into the woods for what I hoped would be my final pee and, Against my better judgment, I sat at the fire with unc and 6pack for about 15 minutes. An howl hooted far off in the distance. Unc thought it was human but I insisted that it was an owl. Right as I made that declaration, I saw two beams of light bobbing through the woods towards me. They were coming from the opposite direction of the hoot, but the timing was was impeccable. The hikers turned out to be a couple that I had seen at Uncle Johnny’s but I didn’t get their names. I declared goodnight to everyone and went to my tent in the dusky light, hoping not to make a misstep on the pine roots. I switched into my camp shorts which I should really do sooner but I always forget or I remember and don’t want to expose more of my legs to the bugs during my dinner routine. I dutifully removed my bra even though I hate putting it back on in the morning and switched my shirt. Then I massaged my ankle and feet for a few minutes. I’m finishing this to the sound of the fire crackling, the latecomers settling into the shelter, 6pack asking unc when this will get easier, bugs popping against the sides of my tent, and the occasional train whistle. My lopsided spot is pretty comfortable and I’m happy to have the privacy of my tent. 

Mile 344.1 to mile 348.5 (4.4) 

Total miles: 356.8 

Creature feature: a chipmunk, the cute dogs at johnny’s, the hooting owl sounds, and a pileated woodpecker cackling right as Unc started to make the fire.