2019-Day 11: priorities edition

I had Another terrible night of sleep. I woke up around 1045 and had to pee. That’s wayyy too early to sleep through the sensation, so I grabbed my headlamp and crept down to the shelter steps to put my shoes on. I turned my red light on right outside the shelter and was met with a dense fog. I walked about 5 feet away and returned to the shelter without trying to wake the world. I felt wide awake, so I spent awhile texting and strategizing with Oakland. Tomorrow’s mileage is awkward and my ankle is cranky from yesterday’s idiotic race up Indian mountain and the weird step I took coming back from the overlook. There’s a shelter the perfect distance away but it’s practically around the corner from a parking lot where the Franklin shuttle runs. I’m going to be on my own in terms of known company this evening so staying at a shelter that close to the road is very unappealing. There are tent sites about 4 miles past that but it’s supposed to storm tonight. I know I’ll have to get soaked at some point but it seems wise to avoid it whenever I can and 16ish miles on a testy ankle seems unwise. My other options are to stay in Franklin for a night which feels lame and expensive, or make it a short day and stay at long branch shelter. Oakland did her best to tell me it was okay to take a short day and I did my best to be okay with it, but it felt like failing to say I would only hike 8.7 miles for the day. I eventually attempted to go back to sleep with only intermittent success.

Our weekender shelter-mate peed no less than four times throughout the night, each time letting out a machine gun burst of a fart. There was also the intermittent Ratatat of rain combined with the beeping sound of my GPS telling me it was low on battery. I finally got up and turned it off. One of the advantages of being pretty blind without my glasses or contacts is that I can move around the shelter without really having to turn a light on.

Josh’s aka “Johnny quest’s” phone alarm went off at 520. He groggily apologized and fumbled for his phone to turn it off. Then it went off again at 6am, at which point I decided to give up on sleeping. We all slowly inched our out of bed. My First stop was the privy. Then i went to see about my food bag, which remained untouched! Something chewed a hole in the top of Johnny quest’s bag, or maybe it ripped against the tree. Either way it will require fixing. He left about 25 minutes before sunny or myself because he wanted to catch an early shuttle to Franklin.

Our neighbor stayed mostly in bed while sunny and I went about getting ready. I gave him my extra water because I always manage to collect too much at night. I somewhat Awkwardly asked sunny to wait for me to pee one more time before she left so we could set out at the same time. I didn’t want the feeling of unconsciously hoping to catch her all morning. She seemed confused but said she would wait.

The trail wound us up a gradual and meandering climb that went past several small burn areas in a thin grove of rhododendrons. I passed through cooler and warmer packets which reminded me of riding my motorcycle in Atlanta. My ankle seems to be functional enough as long as I take pretty controlled steps.

Sunlit ridges stood off to my left and variety of birds sang overhead. I tried not to be too preoccupied with my ankle as it began to tighten up. Passed yet another trail friend:

I eventually crested a hill that revealed layers of mountains with a thick fog bank nestled in the valleys between them. The trail narrowed and became rockier and rootier with the occasional soggy section. The sun was shining and the humidity started to rise. Johnny quest informed me last night that bluets those are the cheerful little flowers springing up in clumps all over the trail. They lined the narrow stretch of trail making for an upbeat accompaniment to annoying footwork.

I Forced myself to take careful steps and not rush even though sunny is somewhere behind me. I’m surprised and happy to see the sun this morning based on the weather report. We will see how long it lasts.

I passed through yet another burned rhododendron stand where bright new growth had started at the base of many of the trees. The trail had twisted us around in such a way that the foggy valley was now on my right. City gait came blazing through at mall-walking speed holding his poles as he went by. He joked about seeing me pass him on the uphill and I said in my head “not today.” About 30 seconds later i noticed a short path that led to an unobstructed view of the mountains below. Sunny stopped at the edge of the trail looking at me as if to say “should I bother?” She’s having SI joint pain today so the extra steps probably didn’t seem appealing. And I said “it might be worth it!” So she joined me in gawking at the scene before us (today’s top picture – a pano so the ratios might be weird on your screen). I could have stood there all day.

The unobstructed view lifted my spirits a bit and I welcomed the shade and cool breeze running through the rhododendrons when I dipped back onto the trail. Then the Forest opened up a bit and rhododendrons gave way to other trees, Birch and maybe poplar? I’m hoping to make it to Albert fire tower before it rains so I can get a 360 view of the surrounding mountains.

The valley slowly rose up on my right as the trail lowered in elevation. The footing this morning has been decent and soft, save for that narrower stretch. I’m happy it’s not more technical because my ankle Is definitely chattier than I want it to be.

The Trail took a left turn away from the valley and dipped further into the woods. I zoned out for awhile until I got to a wooden sign that said “toilet area.” I stopped to take a picture and sunny passed me, laughing when I pointed out the sign.

I took off a layer and did indeed use the bathroom in the toilet area. then I forced myself to stay put long enough to apply sunscreen. About 50 yards down the trail, i walked through betty Creek gap which is where brad and Rosie theoretically camped last night.

As I walked, I tried to keep perspective about the sensations in my ankle. I kept telling myself that new pain is not worse pain, and that it doesn’t matter how far I go today. It matters that I’m able to keep going. A gradual climb had me huffing in the increasingly humid air. I forced myself to be slow and not attempt to catch up with Sunny.

Near the top of the hill, I Heard a Pileated Woodpecker laughing in the trees off to my right. The trail immediately dipped back down into a fern covered, open forest. I’ve decided that today is about taking good steps and drinking water. No speed goals. No distance goals. No cowboy shit. All of which is easier said than done when my mind wants to go much farther than my body.

I crossed a dirt road just past Mooney gap. As I walked past the sign, I Wondered how many mooning pictures have been taken there. It Occurred to me that now is a situation in which a normal person would take anti inflammatories, so I forced myself to stop and take 2 aleve.

I also Forced myself to stop and get water even though I heard laughter a little ways up ahead and felt the urge to try to catch up to what I assumed was sunny and city gait. But socializing is not one of today’s goal. Hydrating IS. I filtered water from a culvert pipe that has started its own little ecosystem. Just past the water I looked up to find a hillside of trillium standing at attention:

Then came a narrow, Rocky and often root-filled small climb followed by an easier stretch of trail. On the way up, I got another view of the valley.

It felt like I was in the middle of nowhere until I turned a corner and saw a full sized pop up tent and people sitting at card tables. I waved as I walked by and felt even more confused when I saw their pickup truck. Then I noticed a gravel road that ran right next to the trail. Now I get it.

I Ran into sunny at the base of final climb up to the Mt Albert mountain fire tower. She made room for me to go first after we both passed a hiker with two very cute ginger colored dogs. As I got ahead of sunny, I Heard a loud clatter and a few groans. I hurried as best I could to find City Gait on the ground taking a moment. When I asked what the initial assessment was, He said it was mostly his pride that was hurt. We all laughed a bit and I told him his pride would grow back. Sunny and I left him there to collect himself and we kept climbing.

The trail turned New Hampshire-like for short stretches at a time. Both fond and exhausting memories of NH and Maine came to mind as I made my way over the boulders. Sweat poured down my face by the time I got to the fire tower.

I went to the highest level of the fire tower that was accessible and took 927 pictures and a video (which my internet speed is too annoying to post). Sunny eventually made it up and slowly walked up the creepy metal stairs. I was too cold to stick around long even though I’d put on an extra layer, so I sat down at the bottom and started to eat a snack. Sunny came back down and deliberated about how to navigate her town stop. She hasn’t taken a zero yet but the thought of spending two nights in a hotel made her twitchy. I commiserated with the difficulty of down time. City Gait showed up eventually and gave a review of his injuries (just bruises). We all sat around a bit and then they took off to hike 5 more miles so they could catch the last shuttle for Franklin. I loitered and made a phone call to Oakland, which would likely be the only one of The day based on scheduling and phone battery. She listened to me whine about feeling weak that I’m only hiking 8.7 miles today and I listened to the ins and outs of her weekend plans. I got off the phone feeling very supported but also lonely and dejected. In all likelihood, I will see sunny tomorrow at siler bald shelter because she seemed intrigued by the idea of taking a half day and hiking up to that shelter, which is about 7 miles out of deep gap. But today would be another long day of sitting around at a shelter for me. It’s One of my least favorite things to do, especially when it hadn’t actually rained yet and was currently very good hiking weather.

But it would be wise for me to take it easy on my ankle and I have hostel reservations Monday so there’s no point in trying to get ahead of myself. Stopping short today means more miles on Monday, but that’s fine. It sounds fine, right? Do you believe when I say it’s fine? Yeah, me neither.

I left the top of Albert and was grateful that the descent consisted of a gradual loss in elevation over mild footing. I was in a funk about stopping early and I covered 2.5 miles quickly in a cranky fog.

As predicted, I lost most of my signal by the time I took the turn for the shelter. I grabbed water from a beautiful little stream and drank a bit extra while I was close to the water. Who knows how annoying it will be to come back if it does indeed storm all afternoon.

The shelter is new and palatial and if I had Oakland here to keep me company, I would’ve cared less about continuing down the trail. I sat and made myself lunch while I watched the birds. a black and white speckled woodpecker hopped up a tree trunk. A hummingbird zinged by and swooped around the shelter. I heard the startling cackle of a bird that I didn’t recognize. I could hear water rushing down in the ravine.

Two women that I saw earlier in the day at the tower came to the shelter for lunch. They weren’t especially talkative but we managed a few pleasantries. The sky began to darken and it opened up not long after I finished hanging my bear line. The three of us sat in the shelter watching it pour. It wasn’t until then that I could feel somewhat okay about having stopped.

A sopping thru hiker came in for a little while, but he moved on when the rain lightened a bit. Then came the thunder and lightning. More thru hikers trickled in, all soaking wet and very pleased by the size of the shelter. They all did 16 miles today and came from the same shelter and have been hiking in and around each other for a week. Not exactly what I needed in the thick of my apparently inevitable tramily angst. Everyone is faster and hikes farther than me so I’m alone all day and I can’t keep up in terms of miles. At least that’s how it feels.

I made myself dinner around 5 and was somewhat horrified by how much the men ate. Some of them are downing two mountain house meals a piece. So much volume. I finished my dinner, did my “dishes” and ate my gifted snickers. Then I wandered back up the blue blaze trail to hang my bag. I think Sunny’s right: I don’t think I’m ever satisfied by the height of my bag but then I saw some of the other food hands and they were terrible. Most of the people here are nice except a veteran thru hiker who likes to head himself talk and insisted that *everyone* can do 25 mile days in the hundred mile wilderness. Fuck off with your high miles.

One of the guys said he wanted to get an early start, which for him meant waking up at 7am. Maybe I’m too uptight for a tramily. 7am is like sleeping until 10am in hiker land. I felt pretty angsty for awhile, agonizing over whether I felt included and figuring out when to try to be heard. I don’t have good luck getting my voice into large groups so I often give up and feel like a mute that no one cares to hear from (project much?). After about two hours of this, things finally felt more cohesive.

Everyone was sitting in the same space (or if you’re Nate who works in construction you hang out on a support beam) and shooting the shit about trail stuff or terrible reality tv shows (all hetero all the time). I wanted to go to bed far earlier than everyone else, but my FOMO wouldn’t let me tuck myself away in my sleeping bag. People finally started to make their way to bed Around 8:15.

A Swiss gentleman named Claudio took this picture. Me on the left, turtle in the middle, a british kid named Liam who is clearly the good natured butt of all of their jokes, and the jack*ss on the stairs whose name I didn’t catch. I’m finishing this to the sound of vireos in the surrounding trees and the sound of the annoying veteran hiker talking to Nate who has a glorious beard that is both mesmerizing and repulsive. I imagine the time off my ankle has been good for it, but I have to admit I am feeling extremely stir crazy, lonely for the feeling of being included, and my lower back is sore from the extra sitting around.

Mile 93.5 to mile 102.1 (8.7)

Total miles: 110.5

Creature feature: dark-eyed juncos hopping around the shelter looking for snacks and not much else today. Those little guys are like sparrows, always angling for snacks. I can relate.

2019-Day 10: 100 miles edition

I slept so fitfully, partially because I had to pee about two hours into the night. So irritating because I went to the bathroom right before I went to sleep. Around 345 I finally gave up and crawled out of my tent. Part of the problem was that I was so close to the water source that I shouldn’t be peeing near my tent, and I was trying to avoid it. But I finally gave up and was a terrible person and did it anyway. It rained around five, But thankfully tailed off before I needed to get up and pack everything away. I made my way towards the privy around 620 feeling grateful to finally be near a privy after so many campsites. Josh, a fellow I met at neel gap ,was already at the picnic table in the shelter.

I grabbed my food bag and Went back to my campsite and muddled my way through packing up. The tent bottom wasn’t the worst but my hands were definitely a little black by the time I was done wiping away the dirt with my tent towel. I had Breakfast sitting at the picnic table. crock’s friend continues to not feel well and they’re not sure if they’re going to keep going. I could tell crock was itchy about it and I am sad that we won’t get to spend more time walking together. I asked him if he was on Facebook which then led him to walk down to the water with me so I could get a signal to check my username. We decided to exchange phone numbers so that if his friend does not continue on he will try to drop on trail wherever I am and hang out for a little while. Of course this happens the day after a few days of me feeling somewhat low about not having steady company.

The air was Misty but not too chilly. I left camp wearing a long sleeve and I’m comfortable although my hands are a little cold. The Walk started with gentle rolling trail through rhododendrons and hardwoods that were shrouded in fog with bright spots of those blue little flowers. Standing Indian mountain is on today’s agenda. Maya will likely be ending up at the same shelter as me so that will hopefully make for decent company tonight. My little toe seems to be working itself out. Hopefully my feet don’t end up too wet today to ruin whatever callous has started to form.

As I walked i listened to the Steady patter of drops falling from the moisture in the trees. It’s Hard to tell what’s old or new rain. The sun tried to brighten things up every now and then and the humidity was definitely creeping. I wandered along thinking about my wardrobe choices (too hot/too cold) and what the various people in my life are up to right now

I Noticed more variations of what I assume is Trillium based on the leaf formation. And a new pinwheel looking flower:

Little concave spiderwebs dotted the sides of the trail. They look like acrobatic nets with the spiders as trapeze artists. I’m Already daydreaming about lunch which reminds me of crock’s favorite lunch which is tortilla smothered and peanut butter with snickers and Tabasco sauce.

I had Sandy moderate footing for a little while and then it turned slightly rockier though not as bad as the section where I ran into the bear the other day.

InWorked my way up towards a gap and I happened to notice this new flower. Not long afterward, I saw a flash of blew off to my left but I never could get another glimpse of the bird. I assume it was a bluebird? I Had to stop myself from hoping to see Mia around the crest of every new hill. Not because I want company but because I feel slow, And it would be nice to catch up with someone.

I came to a Short-lived tricky section where I could see Mia just ahead. Then the footing alternated between soft and relatively rooty.

Then came Another technical rocky downhill that evened out after not too long. My feet are sloppy this morning. I’ve had to catch myself from falling a couple of different times.

I had more Trail magic (banana! And a beagle! The same beagle from yesterday) at the gap where the rest of the group were already gathered. I decided to race the world up standing Indian which is a 2.5 gradual climb to a 5400 foot mountain.

I managed to make it up the first with josh pacing behind me. I thought he was comfortable back there, so I kept pushing it. As it turns out he was giving it all he had to keep up with me. At one point I very nearly stopped to call Oakland rather than stay in front. I missed my window to walk her to work and I couldn’t stop to linger over picture taking with the pressure of people behind me. For all of my complaining about being last, I think it might suit the way I actually LIKE to hike versus the way I WISH I hiked (faster). I also think I strained my foot in the midst of my ego trip because somewhere towards the top quarter, I had a really sharp pain deep inside my ankle joint. It seemed to go away But then as I came down from the Overlook, I stepped onto my foot funny. The sharp pain in my ankle went away quickly but now there’s a definite tightness in the bottom of my foot and the outside of my ankle.

I made my way across the ridge and down the mountain trying my best not to freak out. I told myself just because it hurtsndoesn’t mean I’m injured. I said my goal for the rest of the day is to be the slowest person out here. No more racing. I broke my own mantra about completing versus competing.

Parts of the descent were rocky, which was nerve-racking but I picked my way through them slowly and eventually everyone passed me. I put on Music to help distract me from paying too much attention to every footfall. I tried to think of all the times my body felt pain on my first hike and each pain had eventually resolved itself. The trip down standing Indian was thankfully very similar to the trip up with long switchbacks. I made sure to take careful, flat steps to prevent any extra rolling/movement

I Stopped to make food after passing maya on a rock but then I heard a low distant thunder. I pulled out my stuff, made my wrap and did what I never do, which is ate lunch while walking and occasionally stopping on a log to rest. I hope there’s room in the shelter for me!

I eventually came upon a Strange squishy stretch where water had clearly flowed from somewhere and flooded the trail. I checked the mileage just passed the monkey bit and saw that there’s only 3.3 miles left to the shelter. Shortly thereafter I ran into four of today’s group having a lunch break. Maya must’ve gone by because she wasn’t there. I left them as they collected themselves and continued walking with City Gait Leading the way. That guy is way faster than me. around the bed, I ran into the great Dane family again. Such a strange sight.

I Passed a large blowdown section that I think people must have had to go through earlier in the year because it’s now cut through. Walked over a small water source but I skipped it again. I know I should be drinking more water today but I just want the day to be over and I want to make sure I get in the shelter. I also want to get off my foot a soon as possible.

I Turned off my music for a few minutes so I could listen to a loud stream burble far down in the ravine below the trail. I Saw a new flowering tree.

The stream I heard was actually a water source later down the trail that I skipped. I left Gary they’re trying to fill his sawyer bag because he said he was too lazy to get his scoop.

Gary passed me going up hill where I stopped to take one of my shirts off. about 100 yards later I passed him because he was also having temperature regulation issues. I Found a bit of cell signal and sent a few texts. I Haven’t had service for the last two hours. Around the cell wormhole, which closed as quickly as it had opened, I Saw this peekaboo view of the mountains. There has been periodic thunder but so far nothing has come of it.

I made a Misstep over I stream and ended up with A muddy foot. Brad and Rosie passed me a while ago. When I heard them approaching I forced myself not to rush. I’m anxious about space in the shelter, But if I have to set up my tent in the rain, so be it. I Finally got through the Long gradual climb that led to a short flat spot where I saw Brad waiting for Rosie to finish the bathroom break. we shared the sentiment that this had been a long day Even though it’s not that many miles.

The Trail slowly lost a bit of elevation as it led me down towards the Carter gap shelter. A long ridge line loomed over to my left. the woods were full of blow downs and small evidence of fire.

Somewhere in the last couple of miles, I crossed my 100 mile mark. It seems hard to believe I’ve come that far, and I also feel like I’ve just started. Part of me says 100 miles is the barometer to successfully sticking this out, but I know just how fast a hike can end, regardless of physical and mental endurance.

I made it to carter gap shelter right behind maya, who’s trail name is now sunny. She was wandering around with her pack still on because the signage is a little wonky. The shelter used to be on the left side of the trail and they built a new one just ahead to the right. We celebrated our shelter arrival success while we went about making our respective phone calls because there’s a tiny bit of service here. I threw down my sleeping pad on the side of the floor that didn’t have a hole and put my pack on a hook.

I Got water in the rain which turned me into a muddy misery for a little while, but the rain stopped before I finished. Everything is getting that typical AT layer of dirt and leaf dander. I Walked back up and found brad & Rosie planning their moves. It’s too early for them to stop and normally I wouldn’t consider stopping at 2:15, But today has felt mentally tough and I think it’s wise to give my ankle an early day.

The problem with stopping this early is there’s nothing to do but sit around which is hard on my body in a different way and I want to eat all my food. I decided to hang my bear line and make my 100 mile marker before it started raining again. I had intended to make my sign out of ferns but moss was the most abundant material, so moss it was!

Then came several hours of talking to people about anything from hiking to mamma Mia actors. A couple of hammock sleeping weekenders hung out in the shelter while it poured. A thru hiker named backtrack showed up during a rainy stretch. We learned that he had hiked the Te Araroa in NZ which is a CRAZY hard trail. He hung out for awhile eating a honey crisp apple and left around 5pm to go 3.5 more miles. No thank you. Not on a day like today.

We all went through our various dinner routines. I had a black beans and rice meal with some of the Doritos that I didn’t eat at lunch because of my abbreviated break. one of the weekenders abandoned his hammock and is sleeping in the shelter. My skin crawled a bit when I heard him tell his friend that he thinks trump has done more than anyone else and to him that’s what matters. Baffling and infuriating but very much not a conversation I had any intention in starting.

Then came then came the hygiene routine, people wandering about brushing their teeth. I walked over to my bear line and cringed at the flexibility of the branch when I pulled my bag up into the air. I managed to get a decent pct hang but it’s a little lower than I’d like. I came back and said as much to sunny and she told me that I say that every time. Who knew.

I had a short phone call with Oakland because service! And long distance! It’s hard to have reasonably timed calls in the shelter because everyone goes to bed pretty early. For example it’s 6:50 and everyone is relatively tucked into sleeping bags doing their own thing. At least they were doing their own thing until it started HAILING. It made a deafening sound on the metal roof.

Now comes the infernal last bathroom break timing that is made slightly more complicated by also not wanting to get rained on. I’m finishing this to the sound of the rain plopping on the roof, sunny rustling around in her pack, the weekender occasionally clearing his throat and the soft patter of rain hitting sodden earth.

Mile 81.0 to mile 93.5 (12.5)

Total miles: 101.8

Creature feature: the possible blue bird or blue jay is the only thing I noted besides the occasional squirrel. It was a head down kind of day, but there was constant

Bird chatter in the canopy so they were out there.

2019-Day 9: lunch in GA, dinner in NC edition

I woke up around 545 and tossed until my alarm at 6:15. Squinted one-eyed at my phone because I didn’t want to get up yet. But then I realized I should really let my toes dry out before I get on trail so I got up to take my last shower for the next four days. Then I put my pack together as best I could before heading off to breakfast with the couple in the room next-door. Their names are brad and Rosie and they are from Massachusetts. they’re retired and they’ve hiked the presidential range, so we swapped New Hampshire stories and the insanity of hiking in the whites while we ate at the Main Street grill next door. My stomach isn’t feeling so well this morning. Hopefully that’s a temporary development. Thankfully my knee seems to have mostly corrected itself. It’s a little achy.

Gene showed up promptly at eight to take us back to the gap. Ranger (the young woman I shuttled with from top of Georgia) decided to take another zero to help her blisters heal more. So the three of us piled into Gene’s car. It was quiet for a few minutes until i asked gene what he does When he’s not driving around smelly hikers. He said gardening and fishing, at which point he trotted out the old adage: “there’s a difference between fishing and catching,” which made everyone laugh. I asked him what he liked to grow. He listed off a number of vegetables, which elicited a gardening conversation between him and Rosie in the front seat.

He dropped us off at the gap where the man that I saw at Unicoi gap with the two dogs was hanging out. I remembered to take a picture of them this time! Apparently he slept at the gap last night. Not sure what his story is, but I think the dogs bungled his thru hike. I left them all standing around chatting and made my way into the humid woods.

After passing by the little gnome village at the trail head, today started with a bit of a climb that leveled out to the usual ups and downs. I passed two older men who were just about to set off after having packed up their camp. They looked at me as if I had five heads When I said good morning. Not sure why but I was nice to him and kept on walking. I heard The Ratatat of a pileated woodpecker in the distance. It sounded like the thud someone hitting a snare drum where the snare has been turned off. I can hear ovenbirds, what I think is a vireo and the call of other birds I can’t identify. Busy morning in the woods. The forest floor is covered in little yellows, ferns, and Virginia creeper (which is not the white flower pictured).

I’m a little anxious about the state of my feet but so far they are feeling OK. I decided not to tape my pinky toe because I think the extra material in my shoe might not have been helping with the space/swelling issue I’m having. It’s possible that when I’m hiking and dictating trail notes at the same time, I might be walking strangely because I have my poles in my left hand which leaves me a bit lopsidedly. I’m Going to try to pay more attention to that as I go along today.

It started as an overcast day, so I happily hiked in my short sleeve shirt all morning. Saw a few snails, which I jokingly think of as my “tramily” (trail family). I stopped at a little stream about two miles into the morning to get water because I intentionally hadn’t carried a full supply up from the gap. Brad & Rosie passed me as I filtered.

Then came a Long gradual downhill which was strewn with Pine needles and had generally soft footing. Next came a long Gradual climb out of Cowart gap. I Have biscuit lungs this morning. Definitely ate too much gluten while I was in town. Sweat fell from my temples as I made my way up the hill.

The Trail finally flattened out to a nice path below the ridge that then dipped down into a gap and immediately headed back up again. Around 10:20, I Stopped on a rock to walk Oakland part of the way to work. I turned it into a multifunctional snack and foot care break by taking my shoes/socks off and letting my feet air out. I also slathered more body glide on my toes.

While I talked to Oakland, I heard the telltale twinkle of a dog collar. an adorable pitbull and her owner came hiking towards me. The dog’s name is Ginger. She was rather skinny and I asked if she was always that skinny, which is how I found out that she had just been rescued. She was rather timid but give me a friendly little lick on my hand while I showered her with my ridiculous phone voice.

Then the trail dipped down into an even greener and windier stretch. I could hear a stream far below my left and I came across this blowdown that reminded me of the monster from stranger things.

When I got to the Plum Orchard gap clearing, I took a short pee break and then left. Supposedly there are sketchy people who hang around here according to the Facebook group. who knows, but I didn’t really need to find out first hand. Then came a Short climb up to a nice breezy flat stretch that quickly transitioned to another climb.

The trail was a roller coaster for awhile and led me to a a drier section of forest that had some evidence of a burn. Saw this potential rhododendron? It’s orange sherbet colored blossoms Popped out amongst the wall of green.

I stopped to look at guthook and considered where to stop for lunch. There aren’t many views on the docket for today. Then came a Short climb up several switchbacks. I Decided to stop on a log just short of the highest point in this particular climb so I could eat lunch in the shade.

After I ate, I Called Oakland to get help with hostel strategy. I batted away giant black ants while we talked though the ups and downs of taking two neros (“Nero” = a day where you hike a short distance and take the rest of the day off in town) or a Nero and a zero that would turn out to be 1.5 days off. I called the Creekside B&B and made a reservation for next week. I’m starting with two Neros, and I will see how it goes.

As I packed up my seat, I heard hikers coming towards me. I met a man named crock who completed his full section hike of the trail in 2014 and his friend who wanted to experience the trail and has One month to be out here. She looked red-faced after their climb up from the little gravel road. Crock informed me that I had met them on their first day out in their first hour. He seemed kind enough and he knew right away that my arm tattoo was the trail. It came in handy when I explained the sections that I need to finish. We all moved along, and shortly thereafter, I pulled ahead. The forest opened up and the sun came out. I cursed myself for not remembering to take my shoes off at lunch. Must do that at the afternoon break. I considered putting on my long sleeves to cover my arms but the thought of wearing something over my wrists was too much today. Thankfully the woods were shadier for more of the day than they have been.

At some point today I walked past a patch of over 50 lady slippers! saw a few new flowers as well (picture above – sorry it’s too complicated to move pictures around on my tiny screen).

I was trudging up yet another hill when I saw an older man with a knee brace laying on his pack half in the trail and half stretched out into the rhododendron. He glanced up but didn’t move. I jokingly called out “I thought you were a bear!” He didn’t really respond until I got closer. Apparently he had just fainted and was laying there trying to recover. I asked him if I could help and he said no. We decided to see if he could get himself up to a shadier section about 30 yards away. I walked him up to the log area even though he insisted that i keep going. I set my pack down to hang out for a bit while He dumped water on his head and then eased/crashed onto the ground. I asked him he Had food and water and told him there’s a campsite a mile up. I also got his phone number in case he needed to reach somebody and had enough service to do so. Croc and his friend showed up and secondarily assessed the situation. We left don resting against the log.

i ended up walking with croc for a little

while, hearing some of his section hiking stories. He decided at some point that he should stop and wait for his friend. She has knee troubles and he wanted to keep from leaving her too far behind. Almost immediately after I walked away from him, I crossed the Georgia/North Carolina border. One state down! It’s only about 85 miles, which I’m the grand scheme of things is a drop in the bucket but it feels pretty great to say I’ve finished the state of GA.

Just past the border, I got water at a piped spring where Ginger and her owner were resting. Then came sharptop mountain.

A sneak attack steep but relatively short ascent that left me winded and sweating like crazy. Halfway up, I thought to myself how in the world will don be able to do this if he tries to make it to his car which is parked at a road crossing 7 miles north of here.

Then came a pretty walk through rolling hills followed by Another doozy of a short climb. I came to this overlook right before the climb and took it upon myself to Pee and have a little snack. I Watched towhee scramble about in the leaf cover and then went on my way.

There is one more big climb today. It has been a surprisingly tiring day. Potentially because my phone says it’s 80 degrees according to whatever weather tower it’s picking up. Croc and his friend will be at muskrat later. I had considered camping a little north of the shelter by the creek, but given my complaint about being lonely, I might stick closer to the shelter. Plus there’s apparently a blue blaze trail that leads to a really good sunset overlook.

The descent into Sassafras gap was not as bad as it seemed it would be on the map. I ran into an older woman who, when I asked how she was doing, said “ready to stop for the day.” She considered camping at Sassafras and asked how far it was to the shelter. I pulled out guthook and I was happily surprised that it was 0.9 miles away. I asked if she had enough water because I was going to offer to give her some if she wanted to camp at the gap. She declined and said she would probably just take a rest.

The trail Went through thick and therefore shady stand of rhododendrons that was noticeably cooler. I enjoyed the drop in temperature while it lasted. The Next Climb was longer and more gradual than the trip up sharptop had been. It was also sunnier and wore me out in a different way. The Side of the trail was peppered with little blue flowers.

After the climb, I Stopped at a stream to dump a scoop of water over my head and wrists. The rest of the walk passed by pretty quickly. A mild downhill led me to the shelter area before I realized it. I walked up to the shelter to say hello to brad and Rosie.

then I wandered back over the little stream and tried to decide on a tent site. This is always the pre-meltdown stage of the day even when it’s not terribly late. Psychologically, I’m so done when I get to camp and the chores are mostly tedious (except dinner!).

I powered through tent setup hoping that it doesn’t rain because my site is a bit sloped underneath my tent. Then I blew up my bed, switched into camp shorts, took off my day socks and put on a new pair (a new strategy to help my feet: “fresh” socks for walking around camp). Then I filtered water down at the little stream that runs right through camp (luxury!). Finally, I forced myself to throw a bear line and managed to get it (underhanded) on the second try. I’m getting the hang of it. THEN, after all of that, I went back over to the shelter with my dinner supplies, very nearly forgetting fuel and having flashbacks to the night I gave myself the name checklist.

Somehow I’m almost always the first person to eat. Anytime after 5 is fair game to me and by the time I started eating it was 5:45. Croc and his friend Deborah (finally asked her name), made it to camp about 25 minutes after I did. They set up in the shelter and poor Deborah looked toasted. I wanted to tell her it gets easier but I don’t actually know if that will be true, and it’s not necessarily the thing you want to hear after a hard day. The climbs today were hard for me, so I can’t imagine how they felt as a first day experience.

Other people eventually started cooking. Gary, the section hiker from Long Island NY, now going by “city gait,” is also here. He’s clearly not using sunscreen because his face is tomato red and splotchy. I laughed to myself as brad and Rosie quibbled over their dinner prep. I can’t say for sure how Oakland and I will do out here when things get tough, but I look forward to NOT quibbling with her. Croc offered up slices of a green apple he had packed out for their first day. He and Deborah also had some trying moments sharing their mountain house meal. Differing recipe opinions are hard to navigate when you’re sharing one bag of food.

After dinner, I brushed my teeth, flossed, and went to hang my bear bag. Hopefully it’s high enough! Tomorrow is only day 2 Of this stretch so it wouldn’t be a good day to lose my food to a hungry bear. I went back to the shelter to be social for a little while and maya showed up! Leapfrogging is the way of the trail and it’s always a fun surprise. She seemed chipper and her blisters have receded. She wandered off to set up her tent and came back to the shelter with her entire pack to setup dinner. We caught up a little bit about the happenings of the last few days. She’s been hiking lower miles with a group of guys right behind us but today she went on without them because they were only doing 5 miles and she has a deadline to attend to.

I left the shelter to get a start on my notes For the day. Then maya and I walked down this serpentine and somewhat creepy side trail called the raven rock trail that is purported to have a good view of the surrounding mountains and the sunset. We crossed over several downed trees and all I could think about was how many ticks I might be picking up on this little side trip. We finally made it to a rocky outcropping that had a blue blaze on it. We both decided to keep going to a second rocky outcropping where the blazes stopped and the trail petered out over the side of a cliff.

Sadly it wasn’t a fully western view but we could see a wide swath of mountains (today’s top picture). The pastel skyline and the dwindling light made for a rich texture of layers. It made us both a bit dizzy to look down or directly across from us. The rock really was at the edge of a very high cliff. It started to get windy and I could tell that the colors weren’t going to be saturated tonight, so I suggested we walk back while it was still light. I made sure my pockets were zipped so my phone and my phone charger didn’t go tumbling over the side when I stood up. Here’s a video (if the WiFi here can handle the bandwidth):

We made our way back in the dim light and shared bear stories, which may not have been the best pre-bedtime topic. Then I settled into my tent for an evening treat which was a call to Oakland with my two bars of service. As we talked, I saw flashes of lightning in the distance. Perrrfect. Fingers crossed that the storm goes around us. I’m finishing this to the sound of the wind, the occasional plop of something against the side of my tent (probably tree matter), and the far off squelch of other people’s sleeping pads.

Mile 69.2 to mile 81.0 (11.8)

Total miles: 89.3

Creature feature: bit of a slow day in the woods. A handful of the usual birds is really all I remember noticing.

2019-Day 8: hiawassee zero day edition

Today was a zero day! And as such I have spent far too long staring at my phone, so today’S entry will be somewhat abbreviated. I had a lovely breakfast of Yogurt and granola from Walgreens at the picnic table under a giant tree. I organized my food. I perseverated over how to manage food drops from my current location through the smokies. I spoke to Oakland about a glorious snafu with my taxes. Apparently I was supposed to file a return in the state of California for 2017 even though I earned exactly ZERO dollars in the state of California in 2017. Poor Oakland has added the task of helping me solve this problem to her already overloaded plate.

I had a solo lunch at a small cafe next door that was hopping with Southern culture. I’m pretty sure the average age was 75 and “mashes taters” was on the specials board. I spent some time socializing with my fellow hikers, trying to fight my social demons that make me feel like I have the ability to awkwardify otherwise enjoyable experiences for other people. Nearly all of the hikers staying here at the moment smoke. So strange to me. And two of them have poison ivy/poison oak reactions, one of which is in the poor girl’s nether regions. Note to self: continue to be super vigilant about THAT.

I dried out my pack straps, though I’m not sure what difference it made. I sink-washed my various hand towels and my hiking shorts. I met both of the owner’s very friendly dogs (here’s one)

Mailed a couple of letters at “Goin’ Postal” (not kidding). Generally sat on my butt. Had a bit of mental battle between trying to keep a thoughtful and thorough record and just being a hiker bum on a zero day. Met a few new hikers and saw a few familiar faces trickle in as the day went by. I also managed to bang the BEJESUS out of my kneecap on the picnic table during my breakfast. So much so that it has been stiff and achy all day. Let’s just hope that works itself out overnight.

My pinky toe is feeling a bit better after draining most of the fluid in the blister (sorry, these are the things hikers talk about: blisters and rashes). My skin continues to be spotty and sad, but there’s nothing to be done about it. I suppose I could ask for my 3/4 length leggings but that makes me sweaty just thinking about having my kneepits covered.

Tomorrow: back into the woods! For a 4 day stint. I decided to try get in touch with the closer stop again this morning and managed to make a reservation. I will still be carrying a heavier food bag out of here, but I will be able to do laundry and charge up in 4 days rather than not being able to easily do laundry and stopping in 5 days. Details that might be total noise for most of you, but these are the things that keep me awake. I will be back in a few days!

Total miles: 77.5

Creature feature: a few mockingbirds, a bluebird (!), the owner’s dogs, and a resident badger that lives in the snarl of brush between here and Walgreens.

2019-Day 7: meltdown edition

I woke up around 6:15 to a slightly pinkening sky out of my left tent door. My sunrise alarm bells went off and I felt the urge to rush out of my tent, creepy trail be damned!

But my skepticism and tiredness got the better of me. There looked to be a layer of clouds that were going to dull the colors. I laid back down and considered going back to sleep. My plan for this morning’s “letter to Congress,” as Nobody called his morning bathroom break, was to hike the 0.3 miles to the shelter and use the privy because I didn’t feel like dealing with the privacy and effort of digging a cathole. My stomach, however, had other plans. I dug out my trowel and TP and wandered down the side trail into the rhododendrons. Thankfully there wasn’t a lot of ground cover and the poison ivy was pretty sparse. Rhododendrons, by the way, make for good support systems.

I got back up to camp to find the brothers stirring around. I was about to grab my food bag when Nobody said he might walk out to the bluff. I couldn’t resist the trip with the option of company, so I asked to join him. Today’s top picture is the view we had. There was a low hanging fog bank that looked like a lake running through the valleys between the mountains and the sun rose directly in front of us. So worth the extra time on my morning feet. Here’s Nobody:

Then we all wandered through our morning routines with periods of content silence and the occasional spate of conversation. They are getting off the trail Today, which I’m sad about because they are easy company.

We all left around 8am, with the brothers in front and me trailing behind stopping to text Oakland and take pictures. It feels like it’s going to be hot today based on the quick rise in humidity after sunrise. I put on sunscreen before I left camp in the hopes of preventing a worsening rash. The brothers took the side trail to the shelter to get water, and I continued onward. A little while later, I got passed by turkey and his current gang.

The trail led me eastward, down the mountain with the sun in my face. I very quickly changed into just one long sleeved shirt. I’m really Looking forward to when my skin stops freaking out so I can wear short sleeves again.

Eventually I took a small climb upward with the sound of a woodpecker in the distance. I also saw a black and white warbler flitting about with nesting material in its beak.

The Trail dropped down for a while into a wide forest that had a nice sandy path for about 50 yards. Then came a long climb up the eastern side of the ridge with the sun blazing on the right side of my face. I turned my hat sideways to cover my ear and the right half of my face. DJ jazzy checklist at your service:

The trail had multiple blobs of strange poop in the middle of the path today. I took pictures but maybe I will

spare you the gooeyness. As I sweated my way up the hill, I heard the cackle of a pileated woodpecker far off to my left. I’m so happy I know what they sound like now so I know they’re out there.

The trail went through a somewhat sandy occasionally rocky green corridor surrounded by dry, half-dead saplings and a lot of blowdowns. The sun beat down on the back of neck, so I turned my hat completely backwards to cover my neck. Around 9:45, I Stopped for a phone call with Oakland while I had signal and she ate breakfast.

Then came another short climb. Starting back up again made it more obvious that my left pinky is very squished. I considered re-taping it, but I didn’t think it would do any good. Hopefully a callous will build there soon enough. In the meantime I just need to keep it clean and write off the pain.

Then there was a long gradual downhill that wrapped around to a fern covered sloping hillside. I startled at part of a tree trunk that lay across the trail and looked like a bear for a millisecond. I worked on my town list as I wandered through the repetitive dry forest.

I stopped to check for water sources at “swag of the Blue Ridge,” which is just a midpoint between two mountains. Some idiot stole the sign; probably because it said “swag.” Water today is somewhat terrible and all off-trail except one that is 6 miles away.

I eventually went through a rhododendron tunnel that was mercifully shady and had a smattering of pines mixed in, which made for a slightly softer footing as the trail went through small ups and downs. I went Up a long, Dusty hill that dropped down to another descent that made me feel déjà vu from about an hour ago until I passed a patch of trillium. A swarm of flies startled me as it rose up from yet another pile of scat on the trail. I’m tired today and the sun is wearing me out. The idea of hiking in even hotter temperatures feels oppressive, but I know they’re coming.

I decided to stop for water, which unfortunately involved a steep hike down (picture is of the hike back up). I brought my pack because I was worried about bears. I was both grateful for not having to worry about it and regretted bringing it the whole time I walked down the store trail knowing it would be a hefty hike back up with freshly filled water bottles.

The water source was a beautiful little spring that emerged from the base of a tree trunk in a small ravine. I poured a scoop of water over my head, drank almost a full bottle, and filtered enough to top off both of my bottles.

At the top of the next hill, I heard a sweet little song come from a bird in the trees. I stopped to watch it fly from treetop To treetop. ahen the light was finally right, I realized that it was a scarlet Tanager! My second favorite bird to spot. It actually might be tied with the pileated woodpecker. I can still remember very clearly the first time I saw one in 2017 right after the exhausting climb up Lehigh gap (PA).

At the start of the long climb up to Kelly’s knob, I saw another Tanager. A young woman that i’d seen at the bottom of the hill caught up with me and asked what I was looking at as I stood gawking up at the canopy. Then we chugged up the never-ending hill. She had no poles, which just confuses me, so I asked her about it. she said she thought they were annoying. Craziness but YDY (“you do you”).

I did my usual nonstop tiny stepped assault up the mountain, quickly leaving her behind. I stopped near a partial view and considered eating lunch on a shady rock, but I wasn’t keen on having to continue climbing with a full belly. When i got to the top, I surveyed a potential lunch spot, but it was too sunny for my taste. Unfortunately everything was too sunny and after 3/4 of a mile, I gave up and sat on a log in the sun to eat my wrap. Then I looked at the logbook to see where to get my next mail drop. I’m about a day behind in making that choice, which is stressful for me and for my HQ team. I called my first choice of places to stay, which is about four days up the trail. They didn’t answer. their reviews on guthook are not good for answering when you need to be shuttled away from the trail. I took the ringing phone as a bad sign and decided to re-calculate for a more sure thing that is unfortunately another day down the trail. What this means is a heavier pack with more food, and I have to do a much better job of managing my phone battery. Five days is probably the edge of what my charging brick will cover.

I got up from lunch feeling overheated and tired. There was a gradual downhill to a nice soft flat stretch followed by yet another climb with more varied footing rather than just packed trail, which offers no change in foot angles. I talked very briefly with the young women whose trailname is ranger. When I gave her my name, she said oh I’ve heard of you. Akk. I didn’t ask her what she’d heard. She moved on, and I continued to work on planning while the sun beat down on the back of my neck.

A little while later, I crossed over a trickle of water halfway up a hill and stopped to check to see if that was my next water source. Negative. My actual water source is 2 miles up, so I kept on walking. The trail went up a hill and down a small dip and then back up another short hill…see a pattern? Then came a nice grassy green stretch and then guess who? Another hill!

I came upon a side trail that led to a view, but people on guthook said things about rattlesnakes nesting in the rocks. I’ve seen enough mountains for today, I think I shall pass on the opportunity to run into snakes. Then came the greener section of trail with a nice light breeze, which was a relief until the trail started a long and meandering descent into dicks creek gap.

My knees kept saying “New Hampshire!” And I kept saying, “no! Georgia.” Trying to convince them that this wasn’t so bad. About halfway down there was a short-lived but delightfully gusty breeze came through making me realize how still the air has been most of the day.

I was in a slightly shadier section on the way down to the gap when I heard the familiar clack of polls behind me and turned around to see turkey. Apparently he and his group took a long break at a shelter where the water source was pretty far away. then they had took a break at the view I decided to skip. We both thought we were almost done for the day, but when I checked guthook it said 1.1 more miles. this disappointed turkey as much as me. Then the crazy bastard took off at a jog and disappeared down the trail. My feet hurt just watching him scamper away.

I finally passed the water source I had been considering, but at that point I just needed to be done. Rather than filter water, I dumped a scoop over my head and kept moving. The last part of the descent took me through a thick Rhododendron tunnel next to dicks creeks where I eventually passed this thinking spot.

When I got to the gap, I took a left and walked along the shoulder of a busy two lane highway. My feet were screaming at me and I felt so hot and dusty. I wished in that moment that I had the gumption to hitchhike but I just didn’t want to. I arrived at top of Georgia a tired mess that was looking forward to getting my food box and collapsing onto a bunk.

What I found was a business in shambles that had closed their bunkhouse AS OF TODAY. I found this out after I was ordered to take my pack off outside and take off my shoes. The idea of walking around barefoot was unconscionable. But the woman assured me I only had to step inside the doorway. When I got inside, the man in a kilt running the front area told me the bunkhouse was closed. I thought he was kidding me because he could see how bedraggled I was and maybe it would be fun to fuck with the tired hiker, but he repeatedly assured me he wasn’t.

I asked him about a ride into town and he suggested I go back to the gap and hitchhike. When I firmly said I wasn’t going to do that, he danced around and said “but it’s freee!” I said, “that’s great but I’m not doing that. I will happily pay someone for a ride.” Chad and tortuga were inside sorting out their food and ordering snacks while the exchange occurred. Chad urged me to drink an orange soda and the right decision would become clear to me. I said “I will have a soda as soon as I have a plan.”

I went outside to collect myself and call the budget inn in Hiawassee. Guess what I didn’t have? Cell service! I went inside and asked if I could use their phone because I’d seen two receivers sitting around. They told me to enable WiFi calling on my phone. Guess what didn’t work on my phone? Their WiFi! And guess what I needed to enable WiFi calling? To visit the Verizon website!

I was swirling in a catch-22. I went back outside and asked if anyone’s phone was working. Tortuga kindly let me borrow his phone, which I used to call the budget inn to no avail. The older woman came out at some point and offered to take me into town. I accepted her offer with many thanks but I still didn’t have a guaranteed place to stay. I kept calling the hotel and tried to stay calm, knowing that there were many options and my biggest hurdle – getting to town – had just been solved.

Ranger showed up and received the same rejection I had. She immediately looked up shuttle drivers and tried to find a ride. I felt awkward because I had a ride and the staff were telling people that they weren’t doing town shuttles. She couldn’t reach gene (her intended shuttle) on her phone but my phone finally caught wind of a signal and I managed to get him on his home phone. He told us to wait at the end of the driveway and he’d be there in 15 minutes. I asked for my mail drop, which they thankfully had, but they did NOT have a letter I was supposed to have from Oakland. Letters are apparently hard to manage in GA.

Ranger and I waited at the bottom of the hill in the side of the road until gene pulled up in a white suv. After hearing that we couldn’t reach the hotel, he very kindly called the owner of the budget inn to inquire about rooms, which were indeed available! Two biggest problems: solved. Gene inquired about the state of the hostel and mentioned that he’d been hearing weird stories this year.

Ranger and I paid gene for the ride and got our own rooms at the decrepit but very functional hotel next to several gas stations and a Walgreens. I walked into my musty room with a king sized bed and felt very grateful to be somewhere I didn’t have to leave. I’m taking tomorrow off, so I will having a zero day in the bustling town of Hiawassee where I plan to do as little as possible on my feet. My left pinky toe has developed a full-on blister that I decided to pop, which helped tremendously.

I went about unloading my stuff. Then I spread my tent out onto the lawn to dry it out from the overnight dew and condensation. I spoke to Oakland on the phone and gave her the full story after having sent sporadic texts because of my sporadic phone service. As I wrapped up my tent, I hear my name being called by la bamba. The three trumpeteers were here! And they’re staying in the room next door! I forgot that they’d intended to come here today. They asked me if I wanted to go to Mexican food but when I found out it was a mile walk in one direction, I declined. Instead I walked to Walgreens and dithered over what to cook on my stove. I came away with Mac & cheese, which I apparently cannot resist. However, as I started boiling water, I realized that i need to conserve my fuel until I get to the NOC. I turned off my stove and walked to Dairy Queen where I spent far too long eating and waiting for a to-go order of fries for ranger. It felt like I might never leave, but they eventually called out my number.

Then came a trip back to DQ with the trumpeteers, during which Kevin apologized to me for the other day. I wasn’t sure exactly what he was apologizing for, so I asked him and based on his answer, I’m not sure he really knew either, but it was a decent gesture. One chocolate chip cookie dough blizzard and a few mosquito bites later, and it was time to retire to my room. I called Oakland and “had dinner” with her. Then I fussed over my maildrop plans and finally decided to wing it for two and a half days rather than have dear HQ send a partially filled priority box that would need to arrive in a short turnaround time.

I had a hard time stopping the logistical puzzle work, but I eventually forced myself to put it down. Then I put on a meditation to help me sleep (thank you, British man from Headspace).

Here’s a video from this morning’s sunrise for those of you not on my social media:

Mile 57.8 to 69.2 (11.4)

Total miles: 77.5

Creature feature: the scarlet Tanagers! The occasional chipmunk that scared the poop out of me each time, quarreling Oven birds, and The trunk hopping bird I still haven’t looked up.



Total miles:

Creature feature: the scarlet Tangier’s! The occasional chipmunk that scared the poops out of me each time. Oven birds. The trunk hopping bird I still haven’t looked up

2019-Day 5: terrarium edition

I had a Slightly better night of sleep, but I still feel like I can’t actually settle down when I get in bed. There’s nothing in particular running through my mind, but I feel like I’m bracing for something. I woke up to the sound of my alarm around 7am. I dragged ass out of bed and pulled together the odds and ends I had brought upstairs. There’s no way I had any intention of bringing my entire pack up there. I had to pee in the middle of the night and my calves were like shoe leather going down the stairs. That’s where a lot of miles go: my Achilles’ tendons.

Maya and I split the rest of my overpriced avocado from yesterday. I dashed off a few postcards while i absentmindedly ate a bar as the rest of my breakfast. Maya left around 7:40, and I followed suit around 8:20. Later than I had hoped, but there was no rushing to be had this morning.

The trail back up to the road was an annoyance with the last few yards (the steepest point) consisting of crushed gravel. I saw dalton (the messy dishwasher from jarrard gap) sitting by the outfitter drinking a breakfast soda and eating goldfish. Crazy kids. I very nearly forgot to mail my postcards, but I managed to remember right as I passed through the breezeway at neel gap.

Then came rock strewn switchbacks for the climb out of neel gap. There were a few more small climbs in which I leapfrogged with Dalton. Each time he passed me he looked more haggard than the last because of the incline and perhaps the bud light. I called Oakland to wish her a happy birthday and to have a bit of company. I’m feeling lonely and dejected this morning after last night’s Trump surprise. I don’t need best friends out here, but I’d like to feel more common ground and frankly, being around cisgendered straight men all the time is tedious. The homophobic jokes, the misogyny, the constant pissing contests. It gets old. Sadly the phone call with Oakland made me more dejected because of patchy service. Enter the first crying spell of the day! Oakland comforted me by saying that the birds and the trees are keeping me company no matter what. They are indeed why I’m out here and they are worth the BS that comes from the human component. I managed to pull myself together quickly enough and moved on.

The trail climbed briefly up to a ridge with peekaboo views of mountains on all sides. Then came a rocky but manageable ascent that continued to have views of the surrounding mountains.

I Stopped here to take a picture while a towhee scrounged about in the leaves a few yards away and a morning dove saying off to my right. I felt grateful for Oakland’s reminder that the birds and the trees are also keeping me company.

After a short and rocky descent down to a saddle (I think?), I took a snack and phone call break on a log at the edge of an informal camping spot. A group of about six men showed up to share the log with me, so I got off the phone and had a short chat with them.

They are from a range of places around the south and have known each other for a long time. We ran through the introductory and acute remarks (what kind of hike, are there switchbacks up ahead, weather and bears). Then came the kindly intended but ever so diminishing remark that they had seen a lot more women hiking the trail and isn’t that great! Why yes, it is great that female bodied people can do the same things as you and that they’re willing to put up with the things that make the trail more unsafe for them (namely: poorly socialized and/or aggressive men). I held my tongue, not willing to take on a gaggle of southern boys who would not be likely to hear the underlying message in their comments. I was tempted to say something relatable like “isn’t it great that more people over 60 are doing the trail?!” But then I become the angry “woman.” Sometimes it’s easier just to smile and nod.

I left them to their break and they wished me well. Then came a nice, slightly softer walk through newly leafing forest filled with mayflowers, Trillium and wild irises. I Walked a somewhat narrow and beautiful ridge that had mountain views on either side of me that were primarily visible because of the thin forest.

I eventually passed a trail side spring where an older gentleman sat eating a snack and filtering water. I decided to keep going and try my luck with the water sources down the way. They are poorly spaced today and most of them are off-trail, which is not ideal because it makes for sneaky miles on my feet. A few minutes down trail from the spring, I Took a quick pee break before the gentleman could catch up with me. Then came a pebble filled gradual climb up where I happened to see a side trail that led to this view.

I’m determined not to rush today, so I took my pack off and enjoyed the layers of mountains that sat before me. I Sent a picture of the view to my dad along with the GPS location so he could nerd out, which he did. Then came a short and Rocky descent that eventually led to a nice flat stretch where the man who had been at the spring now sat on a log taking another break. I asked how he was and he said slow but good. I replied that speed makes no difference! If only I could listen to myself.

About a half mile later, I stopped to get water at a spring 0.1 miles straight downhill off the trail, which of course meant an uphill walk back. I questioned my choice to leave my pack unattended in bear country but there was no way I planned to lug it to the bottom of the hill. Thankfully the trip was worth it because the seasonal stream was flowing. I drank a bunch before topping off my bottles. the sun has come out to stay and it’s getting to be a warm day of walking. I sat and Had a small snack at the top to tide me over until I reach a view point a couple of miles away for lunch.

Then came a short climb up to another Ridge. I wish the water had been spaced differently today because I have a pretty hefty climb out of tesnatee gap and this water has to last me quite awhile. I nearly stopped to have lunch earlier than planned at a partially obstructed view point, but I decided to be greedy and try to find a better view.

Which I did! I sat here and had lunch “with” Oakland. The guy who made the homophobic remarks about liking sausage from last night showed up with a friend. I’ve begun calling him “West Texas” when referring to him to Oakland (his actual trail name is Thor). the guys didn’t realize I was on the phone, so Oakland got to experience west Texas firsthand as he heartily greeted me and asked me to take a picture of him with his friend. I dallied at my lunch spot a bit too long and regretfully had to keep moving, which meant getting off the phone because the erratic signal around here doesn’t like it when I move.

Then came a half mile descent down to tesnatee gap, which started with an even better view (today’s top picture) and this new flower, which is tiny and grows low to the ground so I had to drop my pack and sit down to get a clear picture.

The trail down to the gap was full of the kind of rocks that slip beneath your feet, so the going was a bit slow. Down at the gap I got my first trail magic!

A Cold bottle of water and a perfect banana, care of a local couple whose names I didn’t get but who were very friendly. A guy with a cowboy hat and jeans and a big pack that had a big knife attached to it came down the hill as we stood there. A dog I’d seen earlier named Jack Jack did not think kindly of this man and I don’t blame him. sadly I forgot to take a picture of jack jack! After I finished my treats, I went down a little side trail to pee before the switchbacks up towards Whitley gap.

The man who I saw getting water earlier was also enjoying trail magic and we stopped to chat at the top of the mountain. His name is Greg and he has 2 1/2 months to get as far as he can. We walked near each other for about 10 minutes down the other side of the mountain back to the road where he stopped to get more water.

I decided to skip the water for better Or worse, and I crossed the road at hogpen gap. Can’t make these things up.

I entered a dryer forest that had little shade. I have felt a bit sunbaked today and I’m not making very quick progress between my sadness this morning, my extended trip down to the water, and staying put a little longer so I could talk with Oakland at lunch. The temperatures are perfect in the shade but the relentless sun is wearing me out. It’s also making my skin freak out. I applied sunscreen twice today, and I still have the moderate beginnings of my usual Sun rash.

Greg and i leapfrogged for the next hour or so. He caught up with me because I took a break to get off of my feet, during which I had a snack and talked to Oakland again (it’s her birthday, I’m allowed to call her incessantly!). I got moving again after about 10 minutes. The break actually helped my feet a bit.

A little while later, as I contemplated just how far I could make it today, I heard a noise behind me and turned to find a trail runner about a foot from me. I reflexively said “you scared the poop out of me” and he laughed. He remarked about my garmin and asked if I was thru hiking. I said I was finishing a thru that got ruined by a broken arm in Maine. Then he informed me that he’s going to attempt the new speed record for the trail starting on July 1st. He marveled at how we could Be in Maine at the same time (his goal is the first week of August). As he returned to his run I asked his name. Meet Christian, who was fast enough that I barely got his picture when he turned away from me.

I took another break on a log a little while later. This stretch of trail has been relentlessly sunny, dry, and full of gradual climbs that are wearing me down mentally. I decided and undecided to stop at the shorter option a few times as I continued onward. I knew ultimately I wouldn’t stop short even though my right foot had started to hurt more than usual.

At the trailhead for low gap shelter, I saw a father and son duo that had camped near me at jarrard gap. We exchanged quick pleasantries and I kept walking. I heard people laughing and carrying on from the shelter trailhead, which sealed the deal for my decision to move on. My hope is to camp at a place called poplar stamp listed in guthook. The water source is iffy, so I plan to get extra water a little ways up the trail and carry it the mile to camp. The last thing i need right now is more weight but it’s better to have guaranteed water than a lighter pack. As I stopped, I worried that the father son duo would pass me and take the last tent spot at the small campsite (the app says it’s only 3 or 4 tents). But I forced myself to take my time and pour water over my head to cool myself down a bit. They did in fact pass me and as they went by I asked where they planned to stop. “Popular gap” they said. I didn’t correct them but I did say oh yeah me too! If there’s space. (Hint hint)

I finished filtering water and filled my sawyer bag, leaving me with an extra 32 oz of water and a noticeably heavier pack.

The trail continued to be annoyingly rocky from there until I finally stopped for the day, but I saw a new wildflower! It’s hard to tell in the pictures but there are loose rocks all over the trail which makes my sweaty feet slosh around: the perfect recipe for blisters. I walked along behind the duo for awhile. Then they stopped for a break and I passed them. Then we came upon a campsite that might have been poplar stamp but none of us really knew and it was already partially occupied. The duo moved on and i deliberated but ultimately decided to move on. Then i came upon another campsite that was full of random people I’d never seen and had one open tent site that was rocky and sloped. The duo showed up, gave one look at the crowd and moved on. As did I.

At this point I’d walked far longer than I meant to with extra water. I felt safer knowing I could stop anywhere I wanted since I had water, but the weight and miles were turning my feet into hamburger. Thankfully the more focused pain I had felt in my right foot had gone away on its own about a mile back. I walked on from the poor tent site and wondered where in the world I was going to sleep and felt overwhelmed by how late it was getting (5:15 at that point).

I passed the duo again and walked up the rocky path cursing my choice to skip over two different camping options. I eventually smelled a campfire. Then I saw a neon green bear line that I recognized as la bamba’s. I came to a small clearing and discovered the three trumpeteers set up around a small fire pit with a poorly started, smoky fire. They greeted me with warm surprise, not expecting to see me this far down the trail. I dropped my pack and decided that I would camp here no matter what the sites looked like or how awkward the company got. I couldn’t take anymore time on my feet.

I dithered about where to tent because the best site was in line with the smoke from the fire which meant potential floating ash/embers. I tried to cram into a smaller space but gave up and settled on the smoky spot. I rushed through tent set up, barely clearing the ground of sticks. Then la bamba offered to help me throw my line in the same tree he had chosen down the path. I accepted his help and made small talk while I attempted to untangle my snarled line which I had intended to fix yesterday. Rather than have him witness my poor throws, I let him sling the line up over the branch on the first try. Then I set my water to boil and put my sleeping gear together while my food rehydrated. Dinner could not have come soon enough. The trio (la bamba, Kevin and dalton) have clearly been around each other all day and were throwing around inside jokes and making plans for their next few days. They made no attempt to include me, and I made no attempt to include myself. Mutual exclusion is fine with me. I went through the usual evening routine of dinner, dessert, teeth brushing (and flossing!) and hanging my food bag. Everyone retired to their tents shortly thereafter.

I’m finishing this to the sound of Kevin (or maybe dalton?) snoring, random animal noises in the distance, the occasional squeak of someone’s sleeping pad and a barred owl saying “who cooks for you!” Let’s hope for no middle of the night bathroom breaks tonight. Today was hot and far too long, but I felt like I was walking through a terrarium made of mountains.

Mile 31.3 to mile 45.5 (14.2)

Total miles: 53.8

Creature feature: bluebirds! For a second, flashing between trees. A few towhees, Dark eyed juncos hopping around at the outskirts of camp. A badger right before Greg caught up with me on the climb out of tesnatee gap.