2019-Day 55: schoolhouse edition

REAL TIME UPDATE: we are in Daleville, VA for a zero today (7/5) so there will be a few posts coming your way. I’ve decided to focus more on taking a break for zeroes than trying to get the blog closer to real time, so the posts will continue to lag significantly from where we actually are. It’s too exhausting to spend 7 hours blogging and still be so far behind myself. Hopefully you’ll still visit when new posts arrive at glacial speeds!

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There were so many sounds in the woods last night! We both got a pretty choppy night of sleep. I woke up to the sound of distinct footfalls crunching over leaves around 1:15. The moon was so bright that I put on my glasses and I could see a fair ways into the woods. I couldn’t find the creature so I laid back down hoping not to wake oakland. She stirred and I let her Know what I was listening for. Sadly I had pee REALLY badly, so I finally got out of the tent and took care of that. I eventually drifted back to sleep. Oakland apparently woke up to the sound of something screeching in the 4am range.

Oakland made her trip to the Privy first around 5:45. By the time my watch alarm went off at 6:15 we were both exhausted. I dragged myself to the privy after grumbling about being too tired. Then we pulled our food bags down (another successful food hang!) and continued with the rest of breaking down camp.

We Sat down at the fire pit benches around 7:15 and had breakfast with banana who came over to chat without any food. At some point he fidgeted a bit and said “I have a weird question for you, do you know about any pride events in VA for pride month?” I kept a neutral face to hide my surprise at what I’d just heard (thank you, therapist skills). Admittedly I didn’t have any information about pride events. It hadn’t even occurred to me to check. When Oakland returned from the privy, I repeated banana’s question to her so she would be on the same page as everyone without me having to make a pointed “BANANA IS ONE OF US” statements. She too went with the new information seamlessly (teacher skills).

We stuck around a bit longer than intended and had a short but helpful conversation with banana about how lonely it is out here as a queer person and how incredibly straight it feels on a day to day basis. We joked about how high the bro quotient is and shared some stories from the kids in Damascus throwing around the word bro in every sentence.

We got some unsolicited but welcome campsite advice from The section hiking mom whose name we never actually got because she was too distracted to answer the question. We finally hit the trail around 8 and were immediately slowed down by the sighting of a new-ish bird that stopped right in front of us and hopped along a few feet before flitting off into the trees. It was a Small grey and white bird with a yellow throat. Then we stopped at the visitor center to top off our water bottles at the fountain.

It already Seemed like it was going to be a hot day. We Crossed the road and went up a short hill that led us to a slightly breezy ridge and back down again with the road in sight off to our left. When the breeze died down i could feel the heat of the morning. Oven birds expressed their opinions as we picked our way over rocks. We crossed another road and walked over an abundance of Broken glass in the first few yards of the trail. Whyyyyy. We made our way Up a hill through blooming rhododendrons.

It turned into a Shit kicker of a hill that led us onto a breezy but unfortunately rocky ridge with Rollercoaster hills.

We Passed the woman with dog that we ran into yesterday. She sat on the side of the trail changing her socks while her dog looked at us askance. He came around pretty quickly and gave us a sedate hello sniff while we stopped to say hello. She said she met Someone who saw 6 bears yesterday.

We left her to tend to her feet and Dropped down below the ridge through a sea of ferns. We Walked through waist high ground cover and then up another shit kicker hill with Pinging Raptor sounds high above us. I asked Oakland to lead the way for a minute so I could get the scale of the hill for you because it doesn’t look like much when it’s just trees and path.

The hill just – kept – going. It Wrapped around to the left and continued climbing over rubble. I Tripped and my pole came out of my left hand. My left foot landed on the bottom half of my pole across the rocks. I heard a snapping noise and knew it wasn’t good. I picked up my pole and found that it was broken almost completely in two. I said aloud to Oakland “I just broke my pole.” We stood there in silence for a Moment of panic. I checked my phone and decided to use the bit of service I had to call tomorrow’s hostel to get permission to have poles shipped there (some places don’t accept commercial packages). Then, because you don’t walk away from good phone signal, I Sat on a rock in the middle of trail and ordered new poles on rei with one day shipping. While I fiddled with my phone Oakland found me a good walking stick. In a matter of 10 minutes, the problem was mostly settled, and up the hill we went. Right around the corner, we sat on a nice log in the grass and had a snack. As we ate, An Older woman with scars on both knees came towards us. I said “we aren’t a mirage!” and she said “but are you the top?” Meaning the top of the pesky hill we were still on.

We did finally make it to the top of the hill and back down to a road Crossing, followed by another Small climb up through Burned section on our right.

The charred trees and bright green of the new growth lasted for quite awhile (the new growth is “secondary succession” according to our resident AP bio teacher). Our whole right side was void of tree cover so we had far Less shade and began sweating more profusely. We Passed the older woman on a hill that Gradually led us up to a Rocky ridge covered in waist high ferns.

I could hear a Train whistle in the distance as a Nice breeze blew and Oven birds continued to share their feelings. We saw a new yellow flower:

We went down a Rocky hill to this view:

then we went through a tight laurel tunnel that shortly opened up a bit and Down through open woods easy footing for less than a half mile. Then the trail turned into a rock pile again. We Continued descending Past a couple of streams running through rhododendrons.

We went Down a handful of stone steps and over even more rocks on a narrow trail in a gully between two sharp hillsides. I Felt claustrophobic and like we would never get to our lunch destination (chatfield shelter). We Crossed the same stream twice and the second time was right in front of the shelter. The privy is closed so people have repurposed a tree next to the privy. Oakland reported seeing piles of TP after taking a pee break up there. I decided to pee next to the privy instead the tree.

Then We sat at the picnic table and took off our shoes and socks to air out our feet. Oakland unwittingly bought the waterproof altra lone peaks for the hike, so her feet are nice and warm because the waterproofs don’t breathe as well as the regular version. I spread out my array of lunch foods and felt both excited and horrified by the combination. Pop tarts, Fritos, Doritos, skippy, and 3/4 of a payday.

The older woman passed us again. She asked if we were going to Maine and I explained our circuitous route. She is a section hiker who has only 100 miles Before she will have finished the whole trail. She said it’s been 13 years in the making and she saved 7 miles in the 100 mile Wilderness of Maine as her swan song. Her name is Northstar. I didn’t get her picture but suffice it to say she is a tough one.

After lunch Oakland convinced me that she should get us water while I put my feet up in the shelter. They’re getting pummeled by the rocks. I fought her on it but in the end she won. She announced the presence of a cool salamander down at the stream. We decided to stick around a bit longer to work on the next food list so our amazing HQ doesn’t have to scramble at the last minute and so that the list will populate for them at some point today when my signal improves.

The trail got off to a Slightly rocky start after lunch. We both considered listening to Harry Potter but held out in favor of listening to the woods. We Crossed gravel road that led us to a short Detour for a purportedly “dangerous tree.” We walked about 20’yards past the white blaze and followed blue tape markers back into the woods. There were Blowdowns all over the place and a set of wooden stairs on their side. It looked like quite the scene (but didn’t translate well into a picture).

The trail took us through sometimes Mucky Rhododendron tunnels. We discussed which HP we would listen to on repeat if we could only pick one (consensus was order of the Phoenix with prisoner of Azkaban as a close runner up). Ominous thunder rumbled in the distance as we edged along a stream. Alex and squeaks (the bro-centric guys we met our last night/morning at hikers inn) from Damascus Passed us again. Squeaks wore shorts the color of Texas flag, which I suppose matched his Texas motorcycle license plate that swayed and squeaked from the bottom of his pack.

The Thunder got louder and longer as we walked. We stopped and Pulled out ziplocks for our phones and peed before it decided to rain. Then we Continued through rhododendrons until the forest opened up and led us through two separate power lines, the second of which had a low hum that could be heard from a quarter mile away and was covered in poison ivy.

We Stopped right before a sunny meadow to check email for packaged food order and to check in with HQ.

We eventually came to a small road crossing where we found an old schoolhouse that has been preserved and is part of the Settlers museum.

crows cawed in the distance as we put our packs down to check out the inside of the schoolhouse (today’s top picture). We marveled at the desks and read the teachers rules with horror because of the gender disparity.

we signed the register and headed back out into the heat of the day. The trail

took us across the road, Through a field and back into the woods before going through another field (you can see my fabulous walking stick on the left).

We heard road noise as we made our way to a set of Railroad tracks (Oakland’s first rural track crossing).

On the other side of the tracks we crossed a short Boardwalk.

The Highway noise we’d heard for awhile got louder even though we were still quite a ways from crossing it. We Eventually went through a rat maze of twists and turns through overgrown trail that was covered in poison ivy and lacking in shade. It was a Steamy nightmare of itchy grass and fear of getting poison ivy. I didn’t take any pictures of it because I was so cranky.

After what felt like forever, we Came out to a road and took a long break at the Sunoco across the road. I went inside to buy Orange soda and Pringle’s and to use the bathroom, all of which took quite awhile because of an Annoying child lingering in bathroom. She walked out as if there were no other humans in the world who might need to share the resources she’d just commandeered for nearly 10 minutes. We sat on the bench outside the gas station to eat our snacks and watch The comings and going’s of the somewhat broken Humanity. An older gentlemen we had both judged for his rifle toting sexist T-shirt, said “y’all going back out there before the rain comes?” He was the only person to acknowledge us and we appreciated the sentiment behind his question.

We left Sunoco and took a Road walk up to the left and underneath interstate 81. Cars whizzed by and I asked Oakland if this was her version of a nightmare. She agreed that it was not her favorite way to be on a road. But We did get to see a new purple flower:

We crossed the road near the highway exit and took a Right turn into an overgrown field.

We saw Red winged black birds and a Yellow bird with dark wings. We eventually Crossed small gravel road and went back into an even more overgrown path that thankfully opened up a bit.

Thunder rolled through every now and then. We crossed the last field of the day with views of the approaching storm behind us and cows dotting the yellow hillside to our right.

We climbed a rickety wooden ladder to get over the fence line.

Just on the other side of the fence we came to the memorial for stronghold, the hiker who was killed in the VA attack. There was a picture of stronghold in a ziplock bag that I’ve seen in news articles. Oakland placed a pine pod on top of the memorial where others had placed change and small keepsakes. We both teared up standing there taking in the gravity of the memorial.

Very unfortunately we also had a thunderstorm on our heels so I suggested we walk and cry to keep moving. We wound through dark woods with little ground cover for only a few more minutes before reaching the tent site. The woman who lost the dog bowl yesterday was already setup. We greeted each other and finally got her name (tea time) after having seen her about 4 times in the last 24 hours. We surveyed the scene and determined the best spot to be right at the high edge of the campsite across the way from our company for the evening. Oakland put a rock on top of a small patch of poison ivy and we proceeded to set up the tent to the sound of thunder. Then we walked around in search of a bear line tree. We found a limb that I feared would be too low once it had weight in it but our options were limited for trees that didn’t involve getting our ropes in a morass of poison ivy. I got my line over on the second try (another indication that the limb might be too low). Oakland made her throw onto the same limb on her third try. With that chore successfully done, we grabbed our cooking gear and food bags and joined teatime and blaze (the dog) by a fire ring at a lower set of tent sites. Here they are (it was hard to get them both looking at the camera at the same time).

We boiled water and listened to tea time’s section hiking accomplishments. When she finishes her current section she will have done a little over 1,000 miles in the last 10 years. She’s also a teacher and only does sections during her school breaks. She said she started hiking with her dad who has since passed away due to cancer. Her dog blaze is 2 years old and a gangly fawn colored goof. Oakland and I set up our dinner and both hurried over to the water source to get water while our food cooked. I meant to ask teatime if it was okay to leave her in charge of guarding our food but I forgot. We walked through the rhododendrons to a wide pool of water that from a distance looked like mosquitoe hell and turned out to be a cold, clear spring with great water. Oakland dipped water into her sawyer bag with my scoop and was amazed by the clearness of the water. We each topped off our bottles and filled our sawyer bags. Then we rinsed our faces and I went an extra step and rinsed my armpits. they felt like they were chafing a bit today so I tried to remove some of the salt from all the sweating. Then we took a shortcut back to the tent and dropped off our water. We made it back around the 13 minute mark and enjoyed dinner with tea time and a very sleepy blaze. We made it through dinner and dishes, but right as teatime offered us cold s’mores (Nutella, marshmallow, and graham cracker) we heard the start of the rain that had been threatening for the last two hours.

We grabbed our gear and hunkered down in the tent. Sadly we hadn’t gotten through teeth brushing or hanging our food before the rain. We also had to deal with the stressful quagmire of figuring out how to manage our exposure to poison ivy. Oakland had a bad case of poison oak last year so she was pretty spooked by the prospect of getting poison ivy. We have one packet of tecnu (poison ivy/oak oil removal) but we were both verging on too tired and too overwhelmed to figure out the best process by which to use it. I needed to take my contacts out because my eyes were getting incredibly dry so I voted for using it on our hands first so we could at least touch our eyes without too much anxiety. Then we each did parts of our legs that were exposed. For me that meant all of my calves. With some of what was left over, I did the bare minimum of my gaiters and my hands again because I touched my gaiters. There wasn’t any way to comprehensively treat everything that had been exposed, but we did our best. Oakland closed both of her tent doors and I shortly followed suit. She was dismayed by a dryness and twitching in her left eye, which is near where her previous poison oak case occurred. I tried to comfort her by saying we didn’t know for sure what those sensations were yet and to try not to get too attached to them until we had more information.

Then Oakland went though her bed setup while I tried my best to stay out of the way. I set up my bed while griping about how much water was getting in from the edges of the tent. We were very unfortunately experiencing a fair amount of splashback from the rain into the tent. Thus began MY point of fixation which was how to prevent such bad splashing and being confused as to why it seems so much worse now than it was on my 2017 hike. Oakland did her best to comfort me by saying that we were mostly dry in a very wet place and that we had a place to dry out our gear in 24 hours. I tried to let it go rather than grumble the entire time. Instead, we cozied up as much as we could in the middle of the tent and Oakland dozed while I worked on my notes for the day. I could hear a train whistle far off in the distance as I fussed with my tiny cracked screen.

Around 8:30 we went back out into the rain to hang our food. First we stood under cover of thick rhododendrons and brushed our teeth. Unfortunately the swooping tree we had chosen for our lines was not up to the task of hoisting both of our food bags at the same time. I re-threw one of the lines to get it on a stronger more central part of the tree and managed to get the bags up together. Success! In the rain! After dark! The bag could be higher but it’s not the worst food hang I’ve ever seen.

We walked back to the tent in the light drizzle and settled ourselves back in. As I started to write more, we heard the distinct sound of a whippoorwill nearby. We both laughed at the timing. Thankfully the pesky bird didn’t stick around for too long. I’m finishing this to the sound of blaze shaking his collar in the tent across the way, the rain plopping in the woods and on our tent, and the low whine of road noise from I-81.

Mile 534.0 to mile 547.4 (13.4)

Checklist total miles: 556.2

Oakland total miles: 76.5

Creature feature: a vole, a cardinal and two wood thrushes, blaze the adorable gangly dog, more cows! The yellow bird, and a redwinged blackbird.

2019-Day 53: breaking the rules edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mile 515.0 to mile 520.1 (4.9) 

Checklist total miles: 528.1 

Oakland total miles: 49.2 

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

2019-Days 46, 47, 48: Oakland arrives edition

I have decided in the interest of getting through some back log and not boring you with town details, that I am going to truncate the three days in Damascus.

Saturday, Day 46, was a zero day for me. I ate at the Damascus diner twice – three times if you count the fact that I had leftovers for dinner. Pictured is the “hungry mother” which I did not realize would come with 3 pancakes the side of Texas.

I met a handful of new hikers, one of whom is named Viva and lives in Dahlonega and has dined in the same establishments as Amy Ray (of the Indigo Girls). Needless to say, I was extremely jealous when I asked the question and received an affirmative answer that she had in fact seen Amy Ray on MANY occasions.

I also spent about 3 hours at the library. It would have been longer were it not for their prohibitive shutdown of internet 30 minutes prior to closure.

Sunday, Day 47, brought the great waiting game of Oakland’s mid-day arrival. My mom drove 5 hours one-way to deliver Oakland to Damascus. We had a late lunch at the diner. In both of my Saturday meals, it had been a sleepy establishment. On Sunday, it was bustling with churchgoers, and we actually had to wait for a table. Brownie and dizzy arrived just in time to meet my mom. Then we trouped off to the real grocery store about a mile up the road to get a few luxury items while we had access to a car. My mom stuck around to play a few hands of golf (her new favorite card game) and then got back on the road for the long trek home. About an hour later, RBJ stopped by for a visit! Her new trail name is Research. She is having trouble with her feet and is on a two-ish week break from the trail in the hopes that she won’t feel like she’s walking on knives when she returns. Sadly I did not think to get her picture while she was here. I did, however, manage to get photographed wearing loaner scrubs while spraying my clothes with another round of tick treatment in the church parking lot adjacent to hikers inn.

In our effort to hang a clothesline, we used a taillight on a bus that prized the claim “on fire for Jesus” on the front hood. We organized our food for the next few days and gave Oakland her first taste of sitting around a table talking to random hikers. For dinner, we feasted on banana bread made by my mom, fritos, fruit and avocados from my sister-in-law, and snickers. A strange but functional meal.

Monday, Day 47, we went to the diner for “breakfast sandwiches,” which are Oakland’s favorite and consisted of sausage, egg, and cheese on biscuits. Then we spent a few hours at the library. Seems like they might know part of their audience quite well:

I whined and fussed over the blog while Oakland, ever the industrious one, crossed a few things off of her summer work to-do list and read new yorker magazines. On our way back to the hostel, Oakland had her first snake sighting! It was a large brown snake with a dull diamond pattern. It slithered under a hole in the raised sidewalk and that was that. We had another snack-based lunch because we had dinner plans with brownie & dizzy. Then we ran a few errands that included post-card buying and an attempted package pick-up from my dad and stepmom that sadly did not seem to be at the PO. Oakland went back to the hostel to putter and I went back to the library to madly dash through blog editing. As we made our way through town, we noticed a throng of antique cars rolling through town. The guy at the outfitter said they are all on their way to the Bristol Speedway and then off to somewhere else I can’t remember.

Tomorrow, we hike! Hopefully not in the rain.

Mile 470.6 to mile 470.6 (0)

Total miles: 478.9

Creature feature: my person! and the usual bird suspects.

2019-Day 44: Tennessee red edition

And the answer is: I will never sleep in same shelter as banana again. He sounds like he’s being strangled.when he snores. He also very unfortunately makes sounds that reminded me of the gurgling made by the unconscious (likely already dead) hiker for whom I helped provide CPR several weeks ago. I slept so poorly and felt so angry the whole time because if you KNOW you snore that badly: warm people! or sleep in your tent! I was so awake in the middle of the night that I used my mediocre phone signal to post overdue pictures to social media. It rained on and off throughout the night. My watch alarm went off at 6am but there would be no need to hurry behind the shelter for sunrise views because of the thick fog hanging over everything. I did, however, want to get miles in while it wasn’t actively raining so I got and walked towards my food bag. Before retrieving my bag, I went down a little ways off the trail and took care of business among the rhododendrons and saplings. My food bag came down with no complications. I went back to the shelter and ate breakfast on the edge of the sleeping platform. I changed into my damp, smelly hiking shorts and put on the previous day’s socks and shirt because I didn’t see the point in putting on dry clothes on a day that’s guaranteed to have rain. May as well save them for later since I won’t be in Damascus until Saturday.

I Packed up my sleeping gear in the dim light, making little effort to be quiet. In fact, I hoped to wake banana up from his strangling slumber, but that son of gun snored through every last noise I made. As I packed up, Pulled out two bars for snacks in case it rains through lunch. InSigned the shelter book before I walked away from the world of sleeping hikers.

I walked through Misty woods over Tricky footing consisting of wet rocks and roots(not pictured). My left Achilles was cranky from the start and my Right hip did not approve of my plan for the day.

Not long after getting started I heard a chuffing sound off to my right. I never could find the creature but I’m pretty sure it was a deer snorting far below me. I didn’t take any real time notes for the rest of the day because I was focused on beating the rain to my hostel destination, but I will do my best to piece it together. The trail seemed to only go up for the first couple of hours. some of the footing was horrible with steeply banked eroding parts and slick rocks that required a lot of concentration. I spoke to Oakland for a little while and she had the unfortunate pleasure of listening to me get super cranky about the moisture from tall grass soaking my shoes. I HATE IT when my feet get wet and it’s not actually raining. My shoes had finally started to feel only slightly damp after yesterday’s soaking until stretches where the grass swept over my shoe tops turning them into a squishy mess.

After about 4 miles and one water stop, the terrain finally leveled out to a very reasonable series of mild rollercoaster hills combined with long easy flat stretches. I made pretty good time for quite awhile save the occasionally rockier footing where I forced myself to slow down to prevent sloppy feet. The trail was annoyingly overgrown so I brushed against wet leaves constantly but I was extremely grateful for the fact that it wasn’t actively raining. Flame azaleas popped out of nowhere on occasion and the woods were thick with fog for much of the morning.

I leapfrogged with two people I haven’t seen before and whose names I didn’t get. I also saw fern and chill bill. I asked fern how her ankle was doing when she passed me on a flat stretch. Apparently yesterday had given her troubles but today has been better. It sounds like we have similar barometer: does it hurt? Sometimes. is it getting worse? No. Answer: Keep hiking.

My left Achilles issue remained sub-stabby for the entire day. I definitely heard from it but I did my best not to overwork it and the less frequent ascents made a big difference in the strain put on it. I saw about 4 more of my little orange friends:

Because of the fog, I did NOT see much of the surrounding mountains until the very end of the hike through thick tree cover.

I stopped at iron mountain shelter to eat an early lunch while the rain held off. Someone or several someones left a coffeemate powdered creamer container and spilled pasta all over the ground. The mess made me so cranky. I almost didn’t pack out the creamer because I felt resentful that the people who made the mess weren’t cleaning it up, but that’s not how things get done. I grumbled to Oakland about it while she kept me company for lunch and eventually put the trash in my food bag to throw away at the hostel. Right as I packed away my food bag I felt the sky darken and worried that it was about to pour. It did in fact rain, but it was only a light drizzle for about 10 minutes. I took my rain coat off almost immediately because it was too humid to wear the extra layer. Much of my post-lunch Walked Looked like this:

I passed a monument to a local hermit. The epitaph reads: “lived alone, suffered alone, and died alone.”

Someone told me that the townspeople all banded together to have the memorial made and they walked up the mountain to have a service for him. That is a bleak picture indeed, and something I never want said about myself, no matter how introverted I may be.

Around 1:30, with about 1.5 miles to go, I decided to see what it would be like to hike while listening to Harry Potter. I chose the chamber of secrets audiobook and turned it down low enough to be able to hear birds and bears. I enjoyed the content but I have to say, I think I like listening to the birds more. At least, I can say that’s true on a day that was going well enough. Part of the only reason I see new birds is because I hear birds I don’t recognize and I stop to look for them. That said, on a rockier or harder day, I could totally get lost in Harry Potter.

I made it to the road a few minutes earlier than expected. The heat of the day was far more intense at the trail head parking lot. I dropped my pack in the sun to begin the vain process of trying to dry it out and I called the hostel owners for a ride. I sat down and judged the crap out of a couple In the parking lot (still picturing straight people? I do it too). The woman had a dream catcher tattoo and the white-presenting guy (so I assume) had dreads. Meh.

Cat, one of The hostel owners, arrived about 5 minutes later and popped out of her SUV wearing a tie dyed T-shirt and no shoes. I sheepishly said that I smelled like a wet dog as I put my pack and poles in the back. We rode to the rabbit hole hostel with the windows down and talked about their current chicken experiment which hasn’t gone all that well. We also discovered that we both have (or had in my case) pit bulls named Red.

Cat dropped me off at the bunkhouse which is a spacious building equipped with 12 wooden bunks, a couch, tv and a outdoor seating. I met rabbit, cat’s partner and co-owner. He wandered off and cat settled my bill. The minute I set foot in the hostel my stomach felt emptier than a liquor store on a Sunday in the Bible Belt. I decided to go for broke and get the milkshake they offered along with a $2 shuttle to the country store so I could buy chips and an orange soda. My total came to a whopping $25.

There was a giant fan set up at one end of the room. I immediately took everything out of my pack and set it within striking distance of the air flow. Then I walked to the outdoor shower building. The sky looked somewhat ominous but I didn’t feel like waiting to see if it would rain. I did in fact get sprinkled on by a passing shower but it didn’t matter all that much because I was already wet.

I was the first hiker to arrive for the day so I had the place all to myself. I began the process of unpacking my food. Oakland and I had an extended planning session to figure out how much food she should bring to Damascus for our first few days, how much food to include in our first mail drop, and where to send said mail drop. As it turns out, the shelters in southern VA are super awkwardly spaced. Very frequently the next two shelters are incredibly far apart, forcing one to use an official or unofficial campsite along the way, many of which are far too close to roads for my comfort. We studied our maps and hemmed and hawed for quite awhile. We finally mapped out a basic plan for the first three stops. Thankfully Oakland remembered to plan for zero days! We finally had to end our call because Oakland had to do actual work. I Called one of our intended destinations to ask about their mail policy.

Then i continued my food organization and list making for Damascus. As I was about to open my small frito bag and dump it into my ongoing supply, I saw a flash of sandy brown coming towards me. As promised, cat had brought red for a visit! She told me all about his rescue story and I turned into a dog loving pile of mush. At one point I sat down on the floor and red did exactly I had hoped: he threw his butt against my shoulder and eventually sat in my lap the way my red used to do. Sadly he was also sitting on my phone so I didn’t get any picture evidence of the plop. I did however get a few pictures taken by cat, one of which is today’s top picture.

After cat left with the dog (I had to, I’m sorry), I made myself a hiking dinner in an effort to use some of my food and not eat frozen pizza. Then I called up to the house and asked for the milkshake I had pre-ordered. In about 5 minutes, cat hand delivered this, which disappeared about 5 minutes later:

After the gluttony, I brushed my teeth and rearranged various items that I was attempting to dry with the giant fan. Then Oakland and I had a FaceTime call. She is facing the interminable to do lists of trying to leave for a long trip combined with the extra stress of preparing our apartment for cat sitting house guests. I wished that I could help with her many tasks on the docket for tomorrow but the best I can do is listen and attempt to edit the lower priority items.

I made one more trip into the rainy night to visit the porta-potty and settled into my hard but functional bunk. I’m finishing this to the loud hum of the fan and the deep thud of rain drops against something outside. I can’t believe I have this whole place to myself. I hope I can make up for some of the poor sleep over the last three nights.

Mile 437.6 to mile 449.0 (11.4)

Total miles: 457.3

Creature feature: the usual cast of birds that I’m too worn out to detail, that chuffing dear, and Red the TN wonder dog

2019-Day 40: mountain harbour zero day edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mile 395.2 to mile 395.2 (0) 

Total miles: 403.5 

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

2019-Day 39: 400 mile edition

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I actually managed to sleep pretty well last night. It didn’t rain but it was gusty and cold all night. Around 3:30 I decided to give in to the condensation and close my last remaining door. I also gave in to my bladder and peed next to my tent. My watch alarm went off at 6am. I put on my glasses and peeked below my door to find a wall of fog just past the trees. No need to get up for sunrise. I laid back down but then I remembered the number of people here and the singular privy. I put on my headlamp, took my gloves off my toes (they sort of helped with the numb toes), and went to the privy, which was already occupied based on the red beam in the woods. I made a trip there last night before I went to bed and my headlamp is the only reason I didn’t get walked “in” on. 

I waited a polite distance down the trail with my headlamp on so the occupant wouldn’t be too leisurely about their process. Then I took my turn and slowly crunched my way over the path back to my tent passed the shelter.

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Tents dotted the small foggy field.  Tim, my periodically snoring neighbor, was already sitting up in his tent making hot water for coffee.

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He spoke to me at nearly full volume and I wanted to shush him, but instead I responded in a quieter voice hoping to lead him in the right direction. It didn’t work. I got back in my tent to avoid being the one responsible for waking up the world. I considered going back to sleep, but the rest of Tim’s friends started to stir as did the families across the path. So I switched into my hiking shorts to warm them up and opened one of my doors in vain, hoping it might dry out some of the interior condensation. Then I had breakfast in bed again because I didn’t feel like standing out in the wind. 

I slowly put things back in my pack, having no desire to start moving in the foggy, breezy morning. There are only 9.5 miles to go today and the sooner I finish them the sooner I can go back to being a mental lump. As I packed up, Tim and I covered some basic life details. He’s a retired fireman and lives with his partner in Memphis. Before that he lived in a small Arkansas college town that was far more conservative than Memphis. I walked over to say goodbye to Tim and Snackpack before I left. Okay, let’s be honest, I mostly went over to say goodbye to Bailey, but she was occupied with sniffing all the day’s new smells.

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The blue blaze trail led me back through the field of wildflowers, some which were over 6 ft tall. The actual trail started with a persistent, lumpy uphill through a foggy overgrown meadow where I saw a number of new birds.

IMG_4480IMG_4483I stood with wet feet and cold hands watching birds in the berry brambles. I saw a brownish bird with a black eye circle that I cannot seem to find on the internet with the time and patience that I have at the moment. I also saw a bird with a drab olive body and a yellow throat (according to the internet, possibly an immature common yellowthroat). I heard a guy sing about 20 yards away. Black mask and drab body. I Thought it was an annoying kid but it turned out to be my tenting neighbor Tim. His friend brandy arrived shortly afterwards. We admired the fog and I let them go ahead of me so I could bird watch and be slow. I looked down at some point to find a storybook Spider web among the dew covered flowers. 

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The trail continued straight uphill for quite awhile. I Passed brandy one on of the steeper parts and continued through Overgrown sections into wider ones back into overgrown with occasional rocky patches. My Right ankle cursed at me on a flatter section, so I slowed down a bit. The trail eventually eased up to a nice semi-overgrown flat section. Moisture dropped from the trees as a strong wind blew, making the damp walk colder than I expected.

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The trail went up again and back into overgrown woods and fields. After awhile, I popped out to an open foggy field with a strong cool breeze. I saw a dark figure coming towards me that turned out to be Tim going back to wait on his friends (“the girls”) in a less windy spot. 

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I walked through the fog, occasionally catching the white outline of the sun as the gusting wind blew the clouds through. A dopey robin landed about 20 feet up the trail from me and hopped along in front of me, flying up ahead every time I got too close for comfort. Dew and moisture from the fog covered the blooming paintbrushes in droplets.

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I was technically on an open bald called “little hump” but it may as well have been a tree covered summit for the amount of view I could see through the thick fog.

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Around what I think might have been the top of the bald, I stopped to pee because there was no fear of being seen. I also put on my raincoat and my fleece hat because the wind continued to make me cold. As I picked up my pack, I spied another black masked yellow warbler, which I think is the adult version of the common yellowthroat.

Then came the sitcom timing of having just put on my warmer clothing to then walk right into the windblocked woods. I left it all on my body because I didn’t have the patience to take it off. I felt another sharp knife pain in left Achilles. It is definitely time for a hiking break. I Stopped to call Oakland for a second, but I had to keep going because it was too cold to stand still and my phone battery has been dropping quickly today.

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The trail led me back out into a field. I saw mountains to my right when I stopped to take the above picture and by time I got to the blaze, they had disappeared in the fog again. I Waited to get a better view, but the clouds proved to be thicker than my patience. I went Back into the woods with a very angry left Achilles. I think the lumpy field walking has made it crankier than usual. At some point I saw an orange flash on the ground that I took to be a leaf at first, but it was the red spotted eft.

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I passed brandy eating a snack in shorts and T-shirt, which made me feel a bit ridiculous as I was still wearing all of my warm gear and had no intention of taking it off anytime soon. The trail took me Back out into the open for lumpy and difficult walk up beautiful, wide open bald that reminded me of pictures of Scotland.

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Brandy passed me as I took a side trip to a rock to pee. I Spotted what I think is the rare red lily that you’re not supposed to touch according to a sign that I saw by over mountain shelter. Something to do with a fungus that is harming the lily and gets spread by human contact with the plants. This is best picture I could get because it was far away in the thick ground cover.

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Finally found a rock slightly out of the window and stopped for a snack and to give my feet a break.

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A Bird zoomed past and then back around. It turned out to be another yellow headed warbler that I’d seen back at over mountain shelter. It might be a black-throated green warbler or a hermit warbler. Hard to say at this point but those are close options according to the intertubes. I Saw another yellow warbler in the tree but I couldn’t get a clear view of it. Two women passed and asked if I was brandy. I startled at the disconnect and said “nope I’m Checklist. Brandy’s farther up the hill.”

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I moved on from my snack rock to find brandy about 100 yards up the trail on a giant rock with sweeping views. I was happy to have been out of the wind a bit for my snack, but I clearly had to also take a short break on the rock with the beautiful views that had only just become available in the clearing fog. Here’s a video and a picture that brandy took of me taking a video.

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Tim and Kim caught up, and I was tempted to continue lollygagging with them, but I decided to keep moving so I didn’t get too cold in the wind. I passed through a small fence and walked through this view for next mile.

IMG_4599Tim must not have stayed at his break for long, or maybe the 231 pictures I took had slowed me down because he was on my heels before I knew it.

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He gave me another hearty greeting and invited me to eat an early lunch just up ahead with the whole gang. I decided that lunch in the sun on an open bald with nice people was more important than getting to the hostel an hour earlier. We pulled over near a collection of boulders. I sat on the ground on my zseat and Tim pulled out one of his luxury items: a fold-up chair. Brandy showed up shortly thereafter and took a walk over to the rocks for a bathroom break before joining us for lunch. Lisa and Kim, the other two hikers in their group, slowly straggled in to join us. When Lisa arrived, she announced that big hump (the bald we had just climbed up and over) had kicked her big butt.

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I made my usual wrap while a strong breeze blew everything around. I took my shoes and socks off in an attempt to dry out my feet for a little while and a small orange butterfly landed on my toes.

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I Sat around for nearly an hour enjoying their company. Snackpack and Tim passed through as did a few other hikers.

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Brandy left first. I ducked behind the rocks and peed and then went on my way. I was only halfway through the day so there was a fair amount of hiking left for my tired feet. I Crossed a fence line and tucked back into the trees. I hiked through dappled sunlight and, as promised by Tim who’s done this section before, rocks and roots galore.

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It was slow going to the water source where I ran into Brandy and Tim. I decided to get water at the absolute trickle of a spring because the company was good and I needed to drink more. I had barely made it through half of my water supply all morning. I also made my 400 mile marker out of bits of fern taken from several different plants so as not to stress one plant too much. I shared the news with Tim and Brandy even though it felt a little like bragging. Kim and Lisa caught up with us right as we had all finished filtering water. Tim announced my milestone when I hadn’t planned to and I suffered through the congratulatory remarks they bestowed upon me. Then came another rocky stretch followed by a bit of easier trail past a view of a valley and into doll flats. 

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I Passed a leaving NC sign with two Bright orange butterflies that I’ve never seen before.

I dropped my pack just past the sign and rushed to cover so I could pee. I’d needed to go since the water stop but I had been too worried that Kim and Lisa would catch up to me with my pants down. They were indeed right on my heels, as I saw them come through the field and take a left turn off the trail to get water. After my bathroom break, I passed a trio of late twenties men sitting on a big rock doing nothing and saying nothing. That is one of my least favorite demographics to encounter. I waved silently at them and they waved back. Then came a persistent downhill with some fairly rocky sections that weren’t as hard they looked at first glance.

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A trail runner passed me with a wave. I heard two birds with song like a high pitched house alarm calling to each other high in the canopy. My ankles were getting sloppy as I worked my way down through the rhododendrons to a cool rock formation that loomed large and dark in front of me.

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I found Tim and brandy taking a break underneath rocks. Tim had busted out his chair for the occasion. I decided to keep going because today was starting to feel endless. I was happy that the weather had improved, but I was also ready for the day to be over.

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The Footing alternated between a complete rock jumble and less antagonist smooth gradual downhills. The sound of dry flies intensified as the trail wound down through the forest. I took a quick bathroom break right after Tim passed me. Then I heard the rap of Brandy’s poles behind me. I Pulled over to write notes and grab a bite of cliff bar. I Decided to just sit down on a rock and eat fruit snacks and the rest of the bar rather than taking a half ass break. 

As I walked, I thought about the “last 100 miles” dedication I’m going to write for my grandmother on social media. Just when I felt my face crumple into the beginning of an ugly cry, I heard the thunk of hiking poles and looked up to see 3 older women walking towards me. They pulled over to let me pass. I asked how they were doing. One of them replied, “sweaty!” I said, “I bet. You’re going uphill.” After my captain obvious remarked, I continued down towards the road. I heard the knocking boing! of a grouse that sounds like a spring door stop bouncing back into place. 

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I walked across gravelly pebble footing that sometimes transitioned to more forgiving packed dirt. The trail followed a small stream that passed under the trail a couple of times through small pipes. I Heard the road sooner than I expected. I Felt good about the time it had taken me to walk the last two miles. It turns out I just need flatter, less stressful surfaces to walk close to my normal pace.

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I Crossed a footbridge over a large stream and took a hairpin turn to the left down a long corridor that led up to the road. Snackpack lay fast asleep on her sleeping pad and Tim sat with bailey waiting on their ride (Tim’s wife). I said hi and sat on a rock to confirm my directions then we mutually said “bye, have a nice life” because chances are high that I won’t see him again. I Waited for the safest moment to cross the major road (19E) and turned left.

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I Walked about 200 yards down the road and turned into the woods down a gravel path for hikers that cuts off half the road walking distance. I came to a barn that sat next to a small rushing stream with a larger red wooden house sitting up on a hill.

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There was no one to be found but a sign on the door to the store that said come up to the main house.

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I Left my pack down by the barn and brought my wallet with me up to the main house. I Walked in and someone called hello from another room. I Worried about walking on the carpet in my shoes but she said to come on back. I walked through the old house and met one of the owners whose name I sadly cannot remember. She checked me in and I confirmed breakfast for one morning. It’s $12 so if there’s nothing I want to eat, I didn’t want to commit to eating it both mornings. She Told me she’d be down at the store in a little while and to ask others if I had questions. 

I went back down to the barn where I found Silverback. He keeps showing up out of nowhere. It’s kind of like a skit at this point. I Went upstairs to my bunk, which was in a remodeled barn with somewhat rickety bathrooms and a small common space but nice bunks. There was a man sleeping on the couch who didn’t look much like a hiker, but who knows. There was another hiker with a bad ear who couldn’t hear me trying to say that there was nice outdoor space because I was trying to be quiet about it. We ended up going outside so she could hear what I had said.

I took a shower right away. As I toweled off, I could Hear the section hiker gang outside. Tim and brandy were downstairs. I gingerly set my tent out to dry on a picnic table not wanting to snag it on the wood. I Put a water bottle on it to keep it in place. Then I unrolled my sleeping pad and also set it on the table. I Sat with Tim and brandy for a few minutes drooling over the food truck menu. Then I Went back upstairs to get my wallet and came down to find soul mama. I was surprised to see her because I assumed she would be ahead of me. There were also two kids with their heads in their phones, one whom was shirtless hiker I had judged the day before.

Around 5pm they opened the food truck and thus began the ordering of dinner. I had a Cheeseburger with fries, an orange soda, and part of a snickers bar.

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My order took what felt like forever, but it was well worth the wait and the stomach ache I had afterwards because I ate nearly everything. If it’s open again tomorrow evening, I might just do grilled cheese, fries and salad. The shirtless kid joked about how he was using all the internet without even remotely offering to stop. I made a snide remark about how it wasn’t exactly out of his control, but I don’t think he heard me. Then everyone started giving him their leftover fries and for whatever reason, I got so cranky about this kid who couldn’t be bothered to take his headphones out receiving the goodwill of other people. Soul mama also offered to take her trash back after he’d finished eating her fries, at which point I had a reflexive response that I was somewhat embarrassed by but which would probably happen again. When she made the offer, I practically barked NO at her, saying he can take care of his own trash. She startled a bit and tried to explain that it had technically been her trash. I backed off but I also grumbled about how the kid could do it himself because he was the last person to eat the food.

After dinner, I Called Oakland for a few minutes before she met with our future house and catsitters. Speaking of cats, I met two ample and pushy barn cats who sleep on the stairs and meow whenever I walk by. They Sleep on each other and are adorable.

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I went back to my bunk and posted things on the inter tubes. I joked around a bit with the sections hikers. They have the upstairs loft in the barn all to themselves, so I was basically inserting myself into their conversation whenever I commented but they’re hilarious and nice, so I couldn’t help myself. Hopefully they didn’t feel like I was overstepping too much.

Around 7:30pm, 6pack stumbled into the room and started talking about nonsense. I asked how drunk he was on a scale of 1-10. He said 7.5. He had the king room. His stuff had been there since before I’d arrived, I just hadn’t known it. He staggered to his room. I went back outside to call my mom for a few minutes. The phone call occurred sitting outside on the steps between the barn and the big house because that’s where I have enough phone signal. My mom was in her hometown dealing with the viewing for my grandmother’s funeral proceedings. I feel guilty about not leaving the trail to be there for my mom when she’s done so much for me. She insists it’s an okay choice, but my usual role is to be Johnny in the spot, so staying in my own self-involved hiking bubble is hard to stomach, but the hoops to get east would have been pretty hefty. The graveside funeral service will be tomorrow. I’m really, really glad I took the time to visit my grandmother before I started to my hike. I regret that I didn’t call her one more time from uncle johnny’s, but how are we supposed to know these things. 

I went back to my bunk for a little while and phone zombied and brushed my teeth. Then I went back outside and attempted a call with Oakland as well, but the gnats were absolutely insufferable. To make matters even better, our connection got wonky and the audio cut out a few times. I had a tantrum about the challenges of the call and we got off the phone. I Came back inside and changed into lighter clothes (it was already cool outside and i needed leg coverage so I was wearing long johns and my puffy). 

6pack wanted to watch TV on his tablet but his headphones were broken, so he borrowed a set from “heard the call” who is the hard of hearing woman I mentioned earlier. 6pack sat on a chair across the room and started his show, not realizing that the headphones weren’t actually plugged in all the way. He was so drunk that he couldn’t tell the sound was coming from the tablet and not his headphones. I eventually had to have a half coherent conversation with him about turning off the main light. He exclaimed that I had scared the poop out of him by standing in his doorway.

After that ordeal, I finally got in bed to write notes. Around 10, unc showed up and walked through the dark room to 6pack’s room. PERFECT. they talked and went outside on the balcony where Unc periodically squeezed some dog toy someone had given him. I decided that if they were loud past 11 I would say something to them. I don’t even understand why Unc is here. 6pack said he was staying at the other hostel. Not long after Unc’s arrival, someone started snoring. I Thought it was the work for stay man on the couch (turns out he’s not a hiker), but it was actually Tim upstairs. I Don’t think there’s much sleep in my future tonight. I’m finishing this to the sound of snoring, 6pack giggling, Unc talking in his strange cadence, cars driving by on the highway, frogs croaking up a storm by the creek, and the whir of a box fan. 

Mile 386.0 to mile 395.2 (9.2) 

Total miles: 403.5 

Creature feature: so many birds! Chipmunks, the hostel dogs and those round hostel kitties. 

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!*

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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