2019 Update: Let the Maine edition begin

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

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

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

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

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

2019-Day 36: stella edition


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.


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.


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.


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. 


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. 


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.


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. 


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. 


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. 


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.


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.


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.”


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).


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. 


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. 


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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:


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


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.


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


*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!*


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:


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.


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). 


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. 


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.



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.


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. 


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. 


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.


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:


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.


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.


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. 

2019-Day 34: nolichucky edition

*Real time update: I’m covering miles with my pack again and have been since I left Erwin. I Didn’t do as much blog work as I intended on my zero day today but I managed to get a couple of posts finished. Back in the woods tomorrow!*


I went to bed a little later than I should have because of the pull to get another blog posted, but I slept much better than I did in my tent under the party lights. I got out of bed around 6:45 and ate my breakfast on the back deck while I wrote out some very early Father’s Day cards that I hoped to have sent out with Sara and Taft’s mail. Then I gathered my belongings, put body glide on my feet and squeezed in one more round of ice on my ankle. It’s stiff but not very painful if I keep the movements on the x/y axes. Circular motions are a different story right now but I’m sure those will be fine in time. I made sure to pack away the ziplock Sara gave me for icing my ankle in the hopes that uncle johnny’s will have some sort of ice situation. If all else fails I can dunk my leg in the Nolichucky River, which is right out their front door.

I grabbed my bags and poles and walked over to the bathhouse to drop my towels in the laundry bin. Then I sat out front waiting for Sara or Taft to come back to take my money (akkk so much money went into this rest period) and give me a ride to Spivey gap.

Sara talked most of the way and smoked a cigarette, which she kindly asked before lighting up. I didn’t have the heart to ask her not to, so we rode with the windows down. She asked me to hug her neck when we got to the gap. I’d seen her do this with several hikers, but it still felt special (and her phrasing is SO southern. I’ve heard my relatives say that hundreds of times).

A few college kids sat in the small gravel parking area at the gap. I’d seen them yesterday as I walked SOBO, but I hadn’t spoken to them. As I put on my ankle brace, One of them asked me if I was a “big solo hiker,” which made me pause and want to make a joke about being short. Instead I gave the rundown of my hike, which they were all horrified and curious about when it came to the broken elbow portion of the tale. They’re out for the weekend from Charlotte. They were nice kids. One of them Heard of woman who chipped tooth her second time and I wondered if it was wrong way, who last I heard several days ago was leaving the trail to get her tooth fixed from a fall.

I said goodbye, Crossed the road and went up a small set of steps. The trail started with a Steady humid climb next to a stream that coursed through rhododendrons below me and flies buzzing around my ears. I Crossed the stream a few times over well constructed footbridges.

At some point early on, I Stopped to put in my earbuds in the hopes that my ears would be less enticing. It was Overcast with brief moments of brightness and no breeze to speak of.

The skies darkened as the incline continued, and I made my way carefully over brief sections of rocks and roots. It’s felt like it could pour at any moment with the dimming light seeming more like twilight than 930 in the morning. I of course bring a raincoat because rain is not in the forecast. Thankfully the temperatures are warm enough that if it pours all day I should still be fine. The trail narrowed and the footing got a little trickier with small rocks covering a Fair amount of it.

A Flame azalea rose up and brought a splash of color to the green and brown palette. I Crossed a small stream whose slick rocks gave me pause but turned out to be fine. I Heard flapping and squawking and saw what I think was a cranky acorn woodpecker high up on a dead tree. I was Confused by a flash of blue and saw a small dirt mover/bulldozer down to my left. Then inCrossed over a dirt road and went back down into the woods.

The rocks eased up as I wound my down across a slightly rolling path. My ankle is achy this morning but doing well enough (writers note: I realize that most of my writing is in past tense but sometimes the present tense is more satisfying, so I’m leaving this in even though it doesn’t match).

I went in and out of Mountain Laurel and rhododendron tunnels. The forest occasionally opened up and the sun attempted to come out. I Went through a greener section that had spit bugs on much of the ground cover.

I felt a few twinges in the front of my ankle that frightened me, but they didn’t persist. I had been trying to find a decent place to have a snack but after the pain, I stopped virtually on the trail to eat and I took my shoe/brace off to breathe. I let Oakland know via gps that I had no signal and likely would have pretty spotty service all day based on the lack of elevation change. I heard the yip of a pileated woodpecker nearby as I ate almonds and dried blueberries (thanks family!) and watched a spider drop down from the lowest limb of a rhododendron onto a plant below. I gave my ankle a bit of a massage trying to think of what my friend Abby would do in this instance. She’s the neuromuscular bodywork person who helped me so much over the last 7 months.

I heard another pileated woodpecker even closer to me as I put my brace back on. I Continued winding around the hillside. The low right-side banking of trail overworked the tendons in my right ankle tendons.

I happened to look down and a new little yellow flower. The were Occasional tiny patches of blue sky.

I Stopped for water at a slowly trickling piped stream and felt grateful that I could set my scoop down instead of having to crouch down with my sawyer bag. (I have no idea why the video is sideways and I can’t fix it on my tiny screen. Sorry!) I Had designs on taking an early lunch at the next shelter because the seating options on the trail have been nonexistent so far. I saw this very colorful beetle right as I walked away from the spring.

The trail took a short upward turn from the water to the shelter where there was a guy laying on the sleeping platform contemplating the ceiling. I didn’t even pause to put my feet up because I wasn’t in the mood to talk. When I put a little distance between myself and the resting guy, I pulled over behind a big tree to have a short pee break.

As I rounded a narrow bend in the flat but rocky trail, Texts popped through a wormhole. I sat on a mossy rock and told the theoretical snakes to go away while I had a short phone call with Oakland. I Decided to try my luck at moving to a more comfortable rock a few feet down the trail and had an early lunch with Oakland. I chose some hiker classics that I don’t normally carry but had purchased at nature’s inn as a treat:

Two thru-hikers I’d seen yesterday passed me and I apologized, explaining that I was on a terrible spot but had gotten phone signal and decided to just eat lunch in the middle of everything. One of them said “it looks like you’re in the perfect spot then.”

I got up after an extended break, already having pepperoni burps and made my way down the trail. A light breeze moved through the woods, evoking squeaks from the trees. Much of my afternoon looked like this:

Sometimes with Twists and turns and sometimes wide sweeping curves like this:

At one point, I stood drinking water and Saw a spindly red spider as a a mourning dove called from my left.

The trail Dropped down to a small campsite and then back up again. My quads and glutes were like hold on hold on, we don’t go UP today.

On the way up, A Bird came careening past me and skittered to a landing in the brush. Then it hopped across the trail and jumped around squawking at me. It had a Striped cap and light olive body. Yet another bird to look up!

Then came a Series of more pronounced Rolling hills about 3 miles away from uncle johnny’s. Every now and then I could hear road noise in the distance. It’s a Two-ish mile descent to the Nolichucky River. The footing was Sometimes rock strewn and slow going and other times it was dusty clear sailing. I could hear a Dog barking in the distance and the dry flies buzzing around me. The yapping of a pileated woodpecker blended in with the stuttering growl of Tractor trailers from the nearby highway.

I heard a bird call I didn’t recognize and stopped to search the nearby trees. I peeked through a break in the leaves to find a male cardinal calling from the top of a dead tree. Not long after that, I came to a Picture window view of the mountains with swallowtail butterflies milling about. Then came more Switchbacks and a nice breeze.

I eventually arrived at the infamous nolichucky overlook that I have seen dozens of times on other people’s social media (today’s top picture). I could hear tubers and other river-goers along with the sound of rushing water. I gawked and took a dozen pictures at two different vantage points along the trail before moving on. As I Turned the corner, it was like somebody turned off a noise machine. I was adjusting to the silence when a train whistle boomed up through the river gorge and startled me.

The rest of the way down to uncle johnny’s consisted of Easy switchbacks. I arrived at the road and looked left to find uncle johnny’s.

I Checked in with the friendly and laid back clerk, admired the Store kitty and went to find my “cabin” home for the night.

As I walked down the pathway behind the outfitter, I saw the hiker that I find challenging and a cast of familiar people around him. Their names are Freckles, 6pack, snackpack and John. I put my boxes down and Went back to look for soda and to grab my pack from the outfitters where Sara had dropped it. The soda machine was sold Out of all things selections so I passed. There wasn’t any access to ice, so I found an orange popsicle in the ice cream freezer to put on my ankle. The clerk looked at it and inexplicably Gave it to me for free.

I sat at the picnic table out front and iced my ankle for a few minutes. I managed to eat it before it got too mushy, and it was just as good as an orange soda. I took My pack to room and of course had to go back to the outfitter for my poles which I had left by front counter. Back and forth and back and forth. Sneaky miles.

After settling in, i Decided to sit at table with the challenging dude because he keeps popping up. His name is “unc” short for uncle (possibly uncle something, but all I know is the uncle part). I succumbed to the urge for a soda and bought a diet Mountain Dew which I drank while eating copious amounts of snacks

Freckles and company and purchased bought burger fixings on a grocery store run earlier in the day. 6pack cooked them on a grill and placed a plate of finished burgers on the table for people to eat ($5 for 2 to help freckles recoup the cost). I hadn’t asked for a burger in the planning phases, so I hung back to see if there might be extras because once they were in front of me I couldn’t resist. Soul mama arrived and we both had one of last two. She kindly purchased mine even though I offered to get money from my room. Unc put pickles on for me. I Felt pretty gross afterwards and I regretted not eating my own food to cut the weight down, but it was good. As we ate, I found out that Freckles is a psychotherapist. She was in the middle of telling soul mama her profession when I said me too! Freckles turned to me and asked where I live. I responded with Oakland. She told me she had trained in the bay area. She returned to her conversation with soul mama. On a whim, I Asked freckles if she’d heard of the pacific center (where I recently worked as a program assistant and would like to return as a therapist) and she said “that’s where I had my first client ever.” Small world. As always. Here’s Freckles:

After my early burger dinner, I Took a shower. Then I joined everyone back at the picnic table. Freckles asked if I wanted to see picture of her and her first girlfriend camping in the smokies in the late eighties. Finally! Another gay! (which is a term I use globally, she identifies as lesbian). So happy.

I forced myself to go to my room to organize food. I decided that in order to do so, i needed to check my new “ankle friendly” calculation for days between stops to fully organize food. Slower miles means a different break down. I took my AWOL book and Sat at picnic table. My planning mode provoked some ribbing, but I don’t care. It keeps me fed and I’m good at it. Here’s Unc with his topo map out. He has no AWOL and no phone at the moment because it went for a swim in the French broad river.

After planning, I Went to river with freckles. She Asked about my ankle and i Told her the hopefully not too whiny version of my ankle woes and my broken elbow. The water was cool but not quite as great as ice. Little yapping dogs swam on the other shoreline. We both feared for them in the strong current, but their owners seemed nonplussed.

Freckles left to call her parents and i Walked back alone. I ate half of the last avocado leftover from my Erwin Walmart stash and gave other half to soul mama who was working her way through a leftover salad.

Then I went back to my room and called my mom to her use freezer bags with the sliders and not regular ziplocks because they’re more durable. I felt terrible quibbling over details because she’s dealing with so much right. she’s got a sinus infection on top of everything else, and I’m asking her to change ziplocks type. It’s not inconsequential because if a bag breaks, I have food supply issues (and a giant smelly mess to contain), but I felt bad nonetheless.

I finally Finished my food organization and decided to treat myself to a call with Oakland. She Helped me with my plan for tomorrow. I’ve been debating whether to slack pack 10 miles and stay here again or hike 4 miles at the very end of the day to be at first shelter. If I stay here I get a bit of blogging time and a longer break off of my ankle. It would be the first hike I’ve some with my pack since rolling my ankle, so the prospect of leaving was stressful, but 4.5 miles would be a very succinct trial run. it was well past hiker bedtime when we said goodnight.

I’m finishing this to the sound of hikers talking by a fire pit 20 yards away, the occasional thwack of an ax against a giant tree stump (they’re chipping off large chunks of firewood from a section of an old tree that’s probably 1.5 feet across and 4 feet long), the rattling of my ceiling fan, and the hum of the mini fridge.

Mile 333.1 to mile 344.1 (11)

Total miles: 352.4

Creature feature: cute dogs, the cardinal, chipmunks, a small fish that nibbled on freckles’ ankles, woodpeckers, and the new bird

2019-Day 33: preoccupied edition

Last night was tricky. There were a ton of lights to contend with and I couldn’t really settle down for awhile. It hadn’t dawned on me how exposed I would feel sleeping in my tent near a road because the property feels self contained when you have a room with a door and a false sense of security. My ankle also did not love having to dangle just a bit without the extra support of a full size pillow between my legs (I use my sea to summit camping pillow as a knee pillow). I did however manage to sleep in two large chunks of time. 10:30-2 and, after getting up to pee (of course), 2:30ish to 6:20 when my alarm went off.

I got up around 6:30 and went through my morning routine. Bathroom, change of clothes, breakfast bar on the back porch even though I hadn’t stayed in the house last night. I decided for the sake of sleeping that I would go back to a room.l for my last night at the hostel. I felt like a wimp for returning to the indoors but I did it anyway.

I put on sunscreen while I waited for silverback and soul mama to be ready. They’re both hiking into Erwin today. We had an uneventful ride with Taft over to Spivey gap. I took the front seat to prevent some of the car sickness I was bound to experience on the serpentine roads. Taft dropped us off at a little gravel area on the side of the road. He pointed north and said you guys go that way. he pointed south, and said checklist, you go that way, and he drove away.

The Trail started off on a slight incline with a fair number of roots to be mindful of as the sun shone through the trees to my left.

I slowly worked my way upwards. I heard the yipping call of the pileated woodpecker nearby and stood still until I caught sight of the bird high up on the hillside moving between tree trunks. Silk tickled my legs and wrapped across my face as I continued up the trail.

At some point, I passed a Neon mushroom that looked as if it should have a cartoon expletive like splat! Or kaboom! written on it. The humidity had sweat rolling down my temples. I Nearly missed a turn because I was about to Billy goat through a somewhat overgrown grown uphill that looked like it could have been the trail. As it narrowed I stopped and turned around to assess the rocks behind me and I decided that I had gone the wrong way. A few steps backwards confirmed that the trail actually curved very easily up and over flat rocks as opposed to following the snarled edge that I had been towards.

My lower body Felt slightly less lopsided with its new accessory. I had managed to wrap the brace in a way that didn’t squeeze my forefoot as much (the site of one of the chronic injuries that kept me off trail last summer). I finally Made it to a flat breezy stretch, which felt good after the stagnant air during the climb. I tried to make phone call to Oakland but my signal wouldn’t hold and I had to keep moving. The Climb became much more of a climb and led me to a narrow trail with small views of hazy mountains.

I passed the side trail for High rock, which I skipped because silverback whined so much about how there wasn’t much of a view. I had enough walking ahead of me today to not add unsatisfying detours. Then came a nice breezy flat stretch.

Based on my impatience, I can tell that I am tired and scared about the precarious state of my ankle. I have a pretty strong fear that my foot injury will rear its head because of the weaker ankle issue.

I Passed a NOBO hiker that I met at Jerry Cabin shelter whose name I never did catch. She had already heard about my ankle story from someone else and asked how I was doing. news travels fast on the trail. I Passed a couple of hikers that I passed yesterday and said déjà vu and hello as they waited for me to go by. Not long after that, my foot hit a stick that caused another stick to move, which made me realize that IT wasn’t actually a stick.

It was a small and now cranky snake that pitched forward at me in strike mode, but I was standing far enough away to not be in danger. I waited patiently for it to continue across the trail into the brush.

As I walked, I tried my hardest not to search for pain in my foot. I was Tempted to take the brace off because it gives the illusion of my chronic foot injury but I know the brace is good for my ankle. I Ran into a veritable parade of people I’ve seen over the last few days. First the creepy-ish guy from hot springs, then a guy from jerry cabin whose name I didn’t catch, then opa and farm girl. They all asked me how I was doing, which felt kind.

I took an early Snack break with Oakland. When I got moving again, I Decided to try taking the brace off. I Went about 20 yards and immediately decided I should put it back on. While i was already Stopped, I decided to take a quick bathroom break and Managed to pee about two minutes before several NOBO Hikers came along. Close call. On my way through the woods, i felt the sting of a fly biting my calf. I Killed it with a slap and regretted my decision to not bring bug spray. I Heard the quiet searching squeak of a bird I still don’t know the name of but hear often. I decided to listen to my sports meditation to help with my anxiety. The woods were cool and lush as I made my way up to little bald.

The Climb got more intense. I tried and mostly failed to not worry about my foot starting to hurt. The pain I’m afraid of is the lateral part of my foot where the peroneal tendon wraps around the side of the foot and goes underneath to the arch. I haven’t run in almost 2 years because of that pain and it finally started to consistently recede about a month before I left for my hike.

I Listened to the meditation 5 times in a row and then walked in silence. I came to A small view and then went downward again. I think uphill is more taxing on my ankle at the moment, so I was grateful for the change in terrain.

I checked my math and was dismayed that I had covered such a short distance (4.5 miles) in three hours. It was hard not to feel dejected, but I tried to focus on the fact that I had covered distance at all rather than feel helpless about being even slower than usual without a pack. I put on my banjo gathering cd and did my best to focus on the music while I carefully made My way across the twig and root strewn trail over little bald.

I Walked along in a cranky and anxious haze. I passed the turn off for big bald shelter and slowly started to climb towards the first of the two balds on today’s agenda. I saw a beautiful sprawling tree off to my right that reminded me that I need to stop and look up every now and then and try not to anticipate pain that doesn’t exist.

It was a beautiful day for hiking and it shouldn’t matter how fast I go. I think my mind says that if I can’t make a certain speed, I’m not healthy enough to keep going.

The Trail opened up to a sweet smelling field. I Passed a gaggle of people sitting at tables and chairs in a small stand of trees. My first thought was trail magic but then I noticed all of their binoculars. I asked If they were a birding group. One of them enthusiastically said yes! And asked if I had any questions. I asked them about my mystery friendly squeaking bird but they couldn’t figure it out from my description. They each played their guesses from their bird apps. I listened to one of them that hadn’t been named for me and I said no, it’s not a junco, which impressed the talkative one of the bunch. He asked me my name and I gave him my trail name, which he got a kick out. I eventually said I had to move on and they were sad to have not solved the mystery. I asked the name of their group and they directed me to “big bald banding.” I haven’t looked it up yet, but I guess they’re identifying and tracking birds? A few hundred yards after the birders, the trail opened up to a wide field with views of the mountains on either side of me and big bald looming up ahead. I Found a good rock to sit on with a nice view for lunch.

I was sad to still have so many miles to cover after eating. I suppose the flip side is that I get to be out on this gorgeous day even longer. Two of the Birders passed me again and asked more questions. They kept moving and I made my lunch. Pony tail guy who I’ve seen on and off since hot springs passed by with a quick hello. A trio with a herding dog came through as I was putting on my brace. I made a point of saying that it was a nice day to The older man because he looked like he was eyeing me in that “what are you” way. They walked by as I put on my brace and he said slowly, “didn’t sprained it did ya?” I said only mildly and that it was doing okay. They kept walking, but then they Stopped a few yards past me. he said something to his wife. She called out to me that he had a wrap if I wanted it. I thanked him for the kind offer and said that my brace was working out well. I was surprised by the gesture given the way he’d given me the hairy eye.

I Got up from my sunny spot and kept moving across the wide open and beautiful mountain bald (picture above is looking southbound). 7.1 miles to go. I Saw Tom on top of big bald (the view is today’s top picture). We had a Quick hello and I kept moving. I Carefully tread along the lumpy well-worn path back into the woods.

A Nice strong breeze blew as I picked my way over Rocks and roots.

I eventually came to a Small spring where I stopped for water. It was Hard to ignore the brace but I continued to try my best not to imagine phantom foot pain. I Headed down for a little bit longer and then came to a beautiful breezy flat stretch where someone had weed-whacked the tall grass. I thanked those people in my head because the grass often obscured the trail, making it harder to see the footing and making my legs very itchy.

I Finally ran into brownie and dizzy! As They headed towards me, brownie said “you’re going the wrong way!” We caught up on shared trail acquaintances and they told a few stories. I finally had to cut them off so we could all keep walking. I Continued on through a beautiful sunny gradual downhill. Then I Passed through a shady overgrown section and found the perfect rock on which to take a break. I removed my brace, laid back and put my foot in the air while I ate a package of fruit snacks.

I heard voices and looked to see the Florida boys, who I met on spring mountain, walking towards me. I heard one of them say “is that checklist?” And I said to the sky, “yes it is.” They stopped and checked in with me. We are connected on social media so they knew about my slack packing endeavors. They’re interested in trying it themselves and might do it at uncle Johnny’s in Erwin. I also might do it for one more day once I get there. They kept going north and I put my brace back on. The trail gradually descended and eventually opened up to a slightly less claustrophobic forest. I passed a non-ironic sign that said nature trail and laughed out loud to myself. Then I turned my banjo music back on and continued south.

The trail kept heading downhill slightly with the occasional long switch back and eventually into green flat stretch. Something about the brace was slightly more comfortable since my newest application but I daydreamed about Oakland sending me a couple of braces that I have at home. I was Passed by a trio with a dog that I saw earlier on their way up to the bald. I watched them disappear down the trail as we Went through wide open slight roller coaster stretch.

Found this view crossing under a set of Power lines.

I Came to a small meadow right before the junction with a couple of driveways and heard a new bird but I couldn’t spot it in the high tree canopy. The trail crossed the intersection and took a short upward turn that eventually dumped me out into an open field that was beautiful but also a little hot. An older gentleman hiked past me and asked if he had seen me on the bald. I’m a little skittish of lone male strangers so I gave a noncommittal answer that required no follow up and we said a polite goodbye.

I had hoped to see a new bird or two in the open field but that sadly didn’t happen. I heard a cat bird right as I went back into the shady woods. Then came a somewhat pesky downhill with roots and loose rocks. I could hear the highway noise because I-26 is just compass west of here and the trail parallels it down to sams gap. The highway noise faded a bit and the trail evened out to a friendlier grade with better footing. I contemplated how I should navigate the next couple of days. Should I take a zero on Tuesday at uncle Johnny’s? Should I take tomorrow off to be super conservative? I also daydreamed about what to eat for dinner. I’m not sure whether I should try to eat through the dinners from my food bag or if I can continue with my veggie burger habit. I Walked along the still and shady side of hill for awhile until I eventually Rounded a corner to sunshine and a strong breeze.

The Highway noise got louder as I made my way through a gate that marked the boundary for national forest land. I finally saw a parking lot through the trees.

Right before the woods ended, I found a paper bag with a smiley face on it that had a milieu of hiker snacks.

It’s a terrible way to leave trail magic in bear country, but it was a nice surprise. I did my part and took a Welch’s fruit snack and some mini Oreos. I sat in the parking lot and ate my newfound snacks while feeling glad that today was over. it seemed to have gone well enough despite my critical attitude and somewhat constant anxiety. Taft arrived about 15 minutes later in a different car. I remarked on the fanciness and he told me it was 11 years old. Good ole Subarus.

We got back to the ranch around 5:15. everything was about to get a lot harder if I didn’t make my way towards food, but I wanted to get my laundry started so I didn’t have to stay up or wait for other people’s loads. I went straight for my pile of smelly clothes and took it with me to the shower. After my shower, I changed into my long johns and an unflattering button down that was in the bathhouse vanity for expressly the purpose of needing something to wear while laundering all of your clothes.

I set my laundry to wash and then put together my dinner. Another night of microwaved veggie burger with barbecue sauce, a giant plate of salad greens and half an avocado. I saw chuck wagon while I was in the common area and he made a comment about how slackpacking would be great but he can’t afford to do it. I felt like such a money wasting yuppie as I went back to the rental house to prepare my salad after which I would hang out on my king sized bed and ice my ankle that I’m healing by way of slack packing for days on end.

I sat out on the back porch with my dinner and made a face time call to Oakland. Then I went about packing up my collapsed tent, which involved rooting around to make sure everything was taken out of it. It was A tedious process with no poles to act as the tent peaks, but it didn’t take very long to break everything down. I folded up Taft’s tarp and put it in his barn/workshop. It’s hard to say if he’ll ever find it again based on the state of things.

Then I went back to my room to ice my ankle and prep my bags for tomorrow. I’m going to bring lighter food that will take up less space in my little day pack. Then came a phone call to uncle johnny’s to reserve another room, some family texting, and blog zombie time. The never ending “behind” feeling is hard to shake, but I’ll do my best. I’m finishing this to the sound of the AC and the silence of an otherwise empty house. I’m the only person in here tonight. It was Slightly creepy but far less creepy than sleeping in my tent outside. Ah the false sense of security a door can provide. I’m finishing this to the sound of the creek and the silence of an empty house.

Mile 319.6 to mile 333.1 (13.5)

Total miles: 341.4

Creature feature: a sandy colored toad, an eastern towhee, juncos, a few thrushes, and the snake!

2019-Day 32: slack-packing edition

I had Another luxurious night of sleep in the king bed. I’m sad to give up the space but it makes a lot more sense to switch to tenting. I made the long six foot walk to the bathroom and then put together my breakfast of yogurt/banana and a cliff bar and ate on the back porch. The yogurt unfortunately sat a little funny but I ate it anyway. Then I changed into hiking clothes and finalized my day pack and my regular pack so it could sit out on the porch all morning. I attended to my feet (body glide) and put on my brace. Then I walked over to the main building and waited for the others to be ready. Opa and farm girl are heading out from sam’s gap so I will walk south to make the rides easier. I won’t see them again because they’re ending their section hike on Monday in Erwin. I imagine with my slowdown I might also not see Rosie again so I said goodbye before I hopped in the car to head to the gap.

Sara Dropped us off at Sam’s Gap a little after 8. I walked under the highway and up a little hill that quickly tucked me into the woods. I could hear the sounds of I-26 as I labored up the hill. I Saw a black-and-white Warbler land on a tree trunk right in front of me and stopped to watch it hop around. The pain in my foot is so long been my foot and it’s hard not to imagine that my foot is the thing that hurts.

I felt so weightless without my pack that it was hard to moderate my pace, but I didn’t want to overdo my Ankle right away so I did my best to walk a casual speed as the highway sounds slowly receded and the birds gave their morning report. I looked down early on in my hike and found that I had picked up a passenger:

Most of today is supposed to be rolling hills which is good because per the usual flats are one of the harder sections for me. The woods were green with a slight breeze and tall groundcover. The sun filtered in from my right as I waded through tall grass next to an old barbed wire fence.

I Took a short detour to the view at high rock, which was not a very hospitable point. The rock was covered in roots and there wasn’t really much flat surface. Then it was back to rolling Hills with sweat slowly dripping down much of my face despite the perfect hiking temperature. I went down a Gradual descent that passed a trail intersection where I decided to take advantage of the extra space and took a short pee break. Then I resumed the rolling hills and soft, mostly even footing.

Around the five mile mark, I Stopped at a small unofficial campsite and had a large snack. I always forget how good Payday bars are. Tom, the hiker I had breakfast with in hot springs, came walking along and stopped for a minute.

I mentioned my current hiccup. He asked where I was staying and mentioned potentially stopping at the same place. I regaled him with the pizza and the pulled pork that everyone has been consuming, both of which piqued his interest before he continued down the trail.

I Felt a little sick after my break. The pepperoni and cheese stick may have been too much food with an entire payday bar. I Called Oakland but I lost my signal pretty quickly. I went Up and over a hill that came out to a slightly open area with a view of the mountains to my right (today’s top picture) and berry patch lining either side the trail.

I received a text from North star asking me to transfer the Uncle Johnny’s hostel reservation to her name so I made a quick phone call with the randomly great phone service I had gotten back and took care of that logistical detail before getting back on the move.

A few minutes later, i Ran into Chuck wagon coming down the hill towards me. It’s always very confusing for NOBOs to see people coming south that used to be heading north. I gave him a quick rundown of my situation and asked how he was doing. he wished me well told me to stay out of trouble a couple of times. It reminded me of my grandmothers both telling me to “be good” at the end of our phone calls. Chuck wagon and I bid each other farewell and went our separate ways.

A little while later I passed an unmarked spring and stopped to assess my water situation. I only had 2.4 miles to go, so I decided to skip the water. Even if I drink everything in my daypack, I only have a little over an hour of hiking left and will be fine. Day hiking is so different from backpacking. The Pressure to be prepared is so much lower, at least when you’re hiking in predictable woods close to roads on a day like today.

I ran across two northbound weekend hikers with a couple of dogs. I saw them from a distance and they stopped short to put one of the dogs on leash. I called out that they didn’t need to do so for my benefit but they did it anyway. when they got closer I realized why. The dog leaned against the leash, front paws barely grazing the ground with pure unadulterated yipping excitement to get closer to me. I imagine if they had left him offleash he would’ve jumped all over me. The trail then led me downward, twisting through thick groundcover.

As I Wound my way down, I Could hear water rushing far below me and wondered if that was the waterfall that a northbound hiker named John had mentioned when I passed him much earlier in my hike. The stream I came upon a little while later didn’t seem to be much of a fall.

I eventually passed the actual waterfall a little while later. The footing started to degrade the last couple of miles, becoming slightly rockier and more uneven, but I took my time and tried my best to make flat contact with each step. I ran into a man I’ve been calling the ponytail hiker that I have seen on and off since Neel gap. He creeps me out a bit but he’s nice enough. We exchanged hellos at a small stream crossing and he jokingly told me I was going the wrong way. I gave him the brief rundown then wished him a good day of hiking on this sunny Memorial day weekend. The trail led me continuously down to a small road. I heard dogs barking close by and happened upon a note to hikers from the neighbors asking for our help bringing their dogs back if we see them. I crossed over a small stream and the road and went back into the woods.

I went up a short, hot climb to a barbed wire turnstile that I think might mark the TN/NC border.

I could hear the road and I checked to see that it was 0.2 miles away. I decided to go ahead and call Taft a little early. I’d walked a few yards down the trail, when I realized I’d told Taft the wrong pickup location. He’d mentioned having to pick up another guy at the same place I would be. Then it dawned on me that he was probably referring to Tom and that meant I had told Taft the wrong intersection. I had to call him back and give him my proper location, which was devils fork road.

Then I sat on the side of the gravel parking lot and watched the cars go by while a light breeze blew through the trees. My ankle ached but there hadn’t been any sharp pains my entire hike which I took as a good sign. I’m going to continue to baby it and slack pack the next two days. Hopefully it will continue to cooperate.

Taft picked me up around 1:40 and we made small through the 15 minute drive back to the hostel.Taft kindly retrieved a tarp from the barn and I put it down on the gravel hammock pad. We both made comments about how it seemed like rain and sure enough, 15 minutes after he dropped off, we a had a passing rain shower.

I walked over to the rental house and made myself a pb wrap which I ate with chip and a soda, experiencing non-recycler’s guilt with every sip. There’s no recycling service around here so they sadly don’t recycle the zillions of soda cans that hikers go through. After lunch, I went through the tedious but ultimately successful process of setting up my tent on the gravel. Then I set up my bedding while low-key freaking out about whether the double layer of tarp would be enough to protect my tent because I could see the pointy impressions of the gravel wherever I put weight down. Both my mother and Oakland assured me that it was probably fine.

I laid in my tent with ice on my ankle and worked on a blog post. The afternoon heat and prone position eventually got the best of me and I fell asleep for about a half an hour. When I woke up, my left eye was super cranky for some reason. I don’t know if i got gravel dust in it or if it was the gnat that kamikazed into it while I hiked. Around 5:45, I got up and made myself another plate of salad greens with avocado, grabbed my bag of chips and water bottle and went down to the communal space. I was allowed to leave my food bag and cold food in the rental house so I don’t have to worry about where to store it outside.

Tom, chuck wagon, silver back and bright side were all hanging out somewhat silently and awkwardly. The office played on the TV and silverback and I laughed at the nonsense while chuck wagon tried to figure out how to work the microwave. I offered chips to the room. Tom took a hearty portion and proceeded to eat every single one of them with his mouth wide open. I nearly stole them back so I wouldn’t have to listen to him crunch anymore.

After dinner, I begrudgingly took a shower at Oakland’s urging. Then we had a FaceTime call before she headed off to give a fancy science dinner to a group of parents from her school. I’m finishing this to the sound of the creek, someone clanging silverware down at a cabin barbecue, and an airplane passing overhead. Hopefully Sara was right about the lack of bears because I have my toiletry bag and food bowl in my tent. Chances are high that I will actually be too paranoid to leave them here and will stow them in the house with my food bag. My left eye continues to tear up. Fingers crossed for a decent night of sleep in my new abode, through which I can see this cheerful string of lights that hopefully don’t keep me awake.

Mile 311.1 to mile 319.5 (8.5)

Total miles: 327.9

Creature feature: a few chipmunks, the black and white warbler, robins, and a dog in one of the rental cabins that was too far away for a picture.

2019-Day 31: RICE edition

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

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

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

because I am terrible at moderation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mile 311.1 to mile 311.1 (0)

Total miles: 319.4

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