2019-Day 28: oatmeal cream pie edition

*today’s 8.5 mile slack-pack went well. I will continue to slack pack the next two days to keep the load off my ankle, so I will have a bit more time for setting up blog posts. Side note: the odd capitalization comes from dictating and not having the patience to fix every error. The lack of consistent commas also comes from weariness of the tiny screen. Sorry about it.*

~~~~~~~~~~~~

As previously mentioned, I Went to bed way too late and i was woken up by hikers prepping to leave around 6am. Thankfully I went back to sleep until my alarm around 7:15. It was hard to get out of bed, but I forced myself to muster after a couple of minutes of being a phone zombie. I changed into my hiking clothes and packed up my bag while Runa periodically stopped in to chat. She decided to take her additional zero day after all. She apparently got a pretty rotten night of sleep, wants to give her calf a break and catch up on more of her YouTube journaling. (“Vlogging” as the kids call it).

Northstar, Runa and I had breakfast at the diner with that hiker named Tom who I met at Pecks corner or somewhere in the smokies. I ordered a sausage and cheese biscuit with 1 pancake because I couldn’t resist the siren call of the fluffy pancake. I felt pretty rotten by the time I finished but it tasted good! About halfway through breakfast Runa noticed that I wasn’t wearing my watch and asked if I had left it on my bed frame where I’d had it this morning. DOH. That meant I had an extra walk back to the hostel and then back into town. It’s not a huge distance but that’s an extra half mile on pavement that I could have lived without. Runa offered to run the errand for me but it was too much to ask. I Left my pack at the diner to keep my feet happier and made the sunny trek back to the hostel. The sheets on my bed had been changed already but my watch remained resting on the frame, untouched. I put it on and went back into town.

Runa kindly carried my package over to the post office so I didn’t have to juggle it with my poles. We took a picture together before parting ways. Northstar (far right) is heading to off to hike, Runa is hanging out for another day and I went to the post office. I Mailed my sweatshirt and my old gaiters home to California. I’ve been carrying them since fontana because I didn’t have the heart to get rid of them. They’re my “thousand mile gaiters.” Aka my original gaiters from 2017.

After sending out the package, I sat at the post office floor for a few minutes writing postcards until the library opened at 10am. I had plans with Oakland to FaceTime before I crammed in another hour of blog time and hit the trail. Older people occasionally walked in and out without so much as glancing at me on the floor.

After my short call with Oakland, Runa and I worked alongside each other at the library for about an hour, periodically fussing at the computers because the internet wasn’t being as cooperative as it had the day before. I had hoped to get through two more posts and barely managed to finish one and a few notes for my zero day. I bid farewell to Runa and refilled my water bottle in the bathroom. I sat out front and finished my batch of post cards that I then walked over to the post office and dropped in the blue box out front.

I made one more phone call to Oakland in which I got super sad to head out of town. The inconsistency of communication has been isolating and frustrating. I’m not out here to be sanctimoniously cut off from the world and when I can’t reach Oakland, I get pretty cranky about it. We finally ended our call, her sniffling because of a headcold and me sniffling because my face was leaking.

At 12:20, I got up from the bench, donned my newly laden pack and made my way down the street. The trail runs right through the Main Street of hot springs so I followed it across the railroad tracks and out of town. It’s the latest I’ve ever started hiking and I already felt a bit overwhelmed by what time I would be arriving in camp after my 11ish mile day.

The trail crossed the French broad river bridge and then tucked down below the bridge past a campground and a confusing tiny home community. It looked kind of like affordable housing or maybe a poorly outfitted cabin rental?

There were several hikers camped along the river bank, which the trail followed for a little ways. The French broad river roared next to me as I picked my way through short rocky sections and longer sandy stretches.

I eventually turned left and climbed up into the steamy woods. I Walked up the dusty trail past scraggly yellow paintbrush flowers reaching for the sun. I kept trying to get myself in the right mindset for the effort in front of me, but the whining overpowered my attempts to focus. I was tired and inexplicably sad.

As I walked, I Heard a scratching noise in the leaves and looked up to see a pileated woodpecker go from the ground to the base of a tree trunk. I Watched him until he flew a little up the hill and pecked around in the leaves. He was close enough to sort of catch on video and I stopped recording RIGHT before he flew to the base of a tree. I was Sad about the timing because it would have been the perfect wingspan shot. I Watched the woodpecker make its way up to the top of a tree and out of sight. I silently thanked the woodpecker for reminding why I’m here.

I continued up the hill with Sweat forming under the layer of sunscreen i’d applied before leaving town. The trail took me past several different overlooks as it rose in elevation. Sweat Poured down my face in a matter of minutes. I Probably shouldn’t have waited so late to start. The Climb flattened out for a brief moment and then continued gradually upward.

I heard loud trampling noises in the dry leaves far below me that I eventually realized was turkeys based on the occasional squeak and the flash of brown that I saw. A few minutes later, i Heard them again as I walked along the sort of flat stretch and finally caught sight of them way down in the woods while a black and blue butterfly floated around my head.

I Popped out onto a dry open area with the trail running just a little below the actual Ridgeline. I could still hear the roar of the French broad River from this far away. Thankfully I went back under tree cover pretty quickly. The Temperature difference was Stark and I welcomed the slight breeze in the shade. My phone Signal improved and I received news that one of my friends had her baby! Then back into the cellphone wormhole I went as the trail dipped down into a shady rhododendron patch.

The Trail finally turned away from the river and continued downward. The sound of motorcycles slowly faded into the distance and was replaced by wind and birdsong. I Rounded a sunny, dry corner and heard the dribbling sound of water which surprised me. I stopped and slowly got water from a trickle coming out of the hillside. I left my scoop inside the little spring and periodically emptied it into my squeeze bag.

I also dumped water over my head and a little bit on my wrists and I drank close to an entire bottle before topping off. I double checked the water sources throughout the day. None of them are great in terms of reliability but I know if I carry extra water weight right now, I’ll never get where I’m going, so I gambled with just two full bottles. When I started moving again, the wetness of my hair gave the illusion of a cool breeze for a few minutes. My heart is very much not in it today and I daydreamed about going home to Oakland for a couple of weeks until she’s done with school and can join me. I won’t do that but the thought was more tempting today than I’d like to admit.

I Entered a slightly shadier and greener section of woods that was a relief after the short oven-like stint i had just completed.

I Wound through rhododendrons and heard the ping of a raptor far overhead. A little while later, I Saw a wide open spot next to the trail and decided to both pee and take a snack break. I Plopped down on my zseat in the dry leaves, took my shoes off, and watched the ants move through the brush while I forced my food down. I Didnt stay long because I still had a long way to go before dark and I wanted to make the side trip to the rich mountain fire tower. I had Considered camping there for sunset/sunrise but Murphy, the triple crown* hiker from last night’s dinner, said section hikers had been harassed by a bear at that tent site. No thanks. There will be other chances for sunsets and sunrises.

I Got up from my short break and slowly went on my way. about 50 yards later, I reached a dammed pond where an older hiker was eating noodles on a bench. I remarked about how I’d taken a break in the leaves because I didn’t know this existed. He said it seemed like a good place to take a break to him! I Walked a little ways and sat on a different bench. As I watched the bugs flit off the water’s surface, I Saw a fish longer than my forearm swimming below the surface. It made me think of the days of fishing with my grandparents. They used to bring Fresca, a sprite-like soda that will forever make me think of hot buggy days on Gaston lake. I saw Dragon flies with blocky black-tinted wings and I heard the occasional singular chuck of a bullfrog.

After about 5 minutes, I got back on my feet. The trail took me Up a short climb through a field that popped out onto a dirt road with confusing markings but I managed to make the necessary left turn after going the wrong way.

I Followed the berry patch-lined road for about a quarter of a mile and then dipped back into the woods and snaked along the trail, the road sometimes within sight and other times blocked by a thick wall of rhododendrons. I was Grateful for the soft footing and for not immediately climbing up after leaving the road. I Don’t have much stamina today so I will take any easy stretch I can get. I went through a Dense rhododendron tunnel in which A scrabbling towhee startled me.

I Heard a siren in the distance and road noise from large vehicles. I figured I Must be close to a highway. The trail Passed over a small stream where I decided to get more water even though I didn’t really need it. It Seemed irresponsible to pass up the opportunity on such a hot day. I Drank about half a bottle and dumped more on my head before filling my bottles.

As I walked along the Cackle of a pileated woodpecker blended in with the whine of a large truck. I Popped out of the woods onto a paved road that crossed over a one lane overpass. There was a major 3 lane road below me.

A blue tailed lizard scittered ahead of me along the pavement. It felt like we were crossing the bridge together. Then I took a left turn and went back into the woods. The trail was Hot as it twisted and turned through woods with little shade. I Met a man who I had seen at the hostel named Chuck wagon sitting on a log for taking a break. He had a long scraggly beard and a bucket hat.

Flashes of the fatality two weeks ago definitely crossed my mind when I saw him sitting there from a distance. He asked me where I was from and I said Oakland. he said that he had been there in 65 on his way to ’Nam. We commiserated about the heat and I asked how he was doing. He’s stopping in a little less than 2 miles so I am hopeful that his day will soon be over.

The trail was a Roller coaster through a shadier section with a slight breeze. I Sat on a log step in the trail and shoved a few snacks in my mouth with my pack still on. As I stood up,I reminded myself to follow my rule of “always take my pack off for a break, no matter how short.” There’s something relieving about getting that weight off,even if it’s for two minutes.

About a quarter mile before the fire tower detour I ran into a hiker named wrong way. She was wearing a green dress and startled when she heard me. Her startled scared me and we both were a bit out of sorts for a second. I passed her as the trail climbed gradually up rich mountain.

The Fire tower trail was almost completely straight up and I regretted my choice to bring my entire pack, but I’m still paranoid about leaving it to the bears. I met a jolly older man on his way down from the tower who said he’d seen a couple of bears north of here. More evidence that I should camp around other people and forego the tower plan.

I put my pack down at the base of the newly renovated tower and Took my food bag up to the top where I called Oakland. It’s been a clingy day and I figured this might be my last chance for decent service. Unfortunately wrong way also made the trip to the tower so I Had company for most of my phone call. I apologized for being on the phone when she arrived but she waved me off. She then sat about 2 feet away from me while I was on the phone which was awkward, but I did my best. The tower had a see-through metal grating floor that was a little disorienting to look through.

I left before wrong way and took a quick pee break on my way back to the trail while I knew she was occupied and not likely to walk up on me. The trail then went downhill for an unfortunate amount of time at a grade that aggravated my knees. I passed a nice campsite with a nearby stream that I totally would’ve stayed at were it not for the bear activity. My knees ached as the hill persisted. The Trail eventually ran along side a dirt road that it then crossed and went back into the woods. Northstar texted me to ask whether I was coming to the shelter tonight and I confirmed my late arrival. I also passed a goliath mound of somewhat fresh bear poop:

As I walked, I heard a car drive by on a dirt road that I hadn’t realized was still so close. Yet another reason not to camp at by the fire tower. I Crossed over what felt like the same road as before and went back into the woods.

I Somewhat robotically wound my way through the woods. I happened to see a new little purple flower while also paying attention to every noise I heard because of the man’s mention of bears. The bugs are out in droves today so chances are high that I will try to tent unless the sites are no good.

The last mile felt like a sea of green compared to the dry parched forest I had walked through for much of the first half of the day. I was making really good time (for me) until the trail turned into a series of short climbs. Still, even with the unexpected hills, I made it to the shelter from the fire tower in just over an hour. That’s about fifteen minutes faster than I’d expected.

Northstar sat at the picnic table talking to brownie and dizzy as they finished up their dinner. They all greeted me warmly as I plopped my bag down and whined about the bugs that immediately swarmed. I walked up the hill to survey the tent sites and decided to setup right behind the shelter on a moderately flat stretch. there were a few pesky rocks but there also happened to be an abandoned T-shirt, so placed that over the rocks as a makeshift ground cover.

Then I pulled out my food bag and went about boiling water while constantly slapping at biting gnats. I finally had to put on my long johns and a long sleeve layer to reduce my tastiness to the bugs. I set my food to “cook” and went down the long hill to get more water. Thankfully there was a pipe and a decent flow so it was a moderately quick process. I also rinsed the sweat off my face and neck.

I was out of breath When I got back to the table and had little desire to eat but I made it through my chili Mac easily enough. Northstar and I talked about mileage as I ate. I think we will line up until Erwin depending on how Friday turns out. Brownie and dizzy will be behind because they have to take a detour to get a food drop tomorrow.

Wrong way made it to camp about 45 minutes after me. She made quite the entrance, announcing herself to be a “sweaty dirty girl.” She dropped her pack and pulled out a bunch of random food and a miniature bottle of barefoot hills red wine. As it turns out, she had some of the food from my gift package that I had not been able to carry with me because of weight and space. I was happy to see the food go to a good home and be enjoyed by someone rather than molder in a hiker box.

For dessert I had an oatmeal cream pie (today’s top picture) and one of Northstar’s double chocolate Newman’s o’s. It was too much sugar but I did it anyway. Then I brushed my teeth, hung my food bag on the bear cables (always a luxury), and forced myself to blow up my sleeping pad and change clothes. I’m going to try to take my sports bra off more at night. I usually just leave it on but the skin across the front of my ribs isn’t very happy with that plan.

I made the trek down to the privy for a pre-bedtime pee break and then said my goodnights. I heard someone set up a tent nearby and thought there was a new hiker in camp but it turned out to be Wrong way. The bugs in the shelter must have been too much for her. I’m finishing this to the sound of the bear cables squeaking lightly in the wind, bugs bouncing off my tent, the squeak of wrong way’s mattress, and the beginning of dizzy’s snoring.

Mile 274.6 to mile 285.9 (11.3)

Total miles: 294.2

Creature feature: so much bear poop In the last three miles! A western junco, towhees, the pileated woodpecker, and a vicarious bear sighting that northstar caught on video!

2019-Day 27: Madison county library edition

Today was a zero day in hot springs! I’m going to give myself a break from going through every detail of the day, but here’s a brief summary.

I went out for breakfast at the smokey mountain diner (today’s top picture). I spent HOURS at the Madison county library editing and uploading blogs. I made a very satisfying facetime call with oakland on the library’s wifi (clear picture! no delay! what a luxury). I picked up packages at the hot springs post office, one of which was a surprise from my brother’s family, one of which had my carefully packed resupply from HQ and one which was a couple of treats and a card from my dad and stepmom. Someone finally asked me about my preferred pronouns, and I nearly cried with joy and relief (Thanks, Runa).

I had dinner at the iron horse with brownie and dizzy and one of their hiker friends from the PCT who happens to be friends with jennifer pharr davis, the woman who held the fastest known time for awhile before Scott Jurek broke her record. After dinner, I managed to swoop in on the laundry before everyone else did because I left the restaurant early while a large gaggle of hikers continued ordering food and beer. very unfortunately, I stayed up way too late because my day at the library meant that I had not organized any of my gear or food. I had to open all of my boxes, figure out what to take and what to gift to other hikers. My nieces sent me several adorable postcards in their box, so I also spent some time writing them postcards to send out tomorrow.

All in all, it was a productive and mostly enjoyable day that sadly did not include much in the way of picture taking.

Mile 274.6 to mile 274.6 (0)

Total miles: 282.9

Creature feature: dogs! Many passing along the sidewalk and then the 2 in the picture above who mostly cared about their owners inside but they gave me a small greeting. A couple of cardinals and the usual cast of snack-hunting juncos

2019-Day 24: standing bear edition

IMG_2959

I Managed to get a halfway decent night of sleep no thanks to whoever was rattling around at 4:40 in the morning with a headlamp blowing their nose loudly and crunching their water bottle. I could have killed that person. As I lay there last night, all bunched up in my sleeping bag, I did something super cheesy but I shall share it anyway. I said “you are safe. It’s okay to go to sleep,” and I could feel my body let go of the tension I hadn’t realized it was holding. 

Someone’s alarm went off twice and the second time I checked my phone to see that it was only 6am. If I am attempting 17 miles now would be a good time to get going. I changed into my hiking shorts and calf sleeves (compression sleeves that I only wear for the lightweight warmth not the compression), then made my way to the privy. I Packed up as quietly as I could which I cannot say the same for others. One woman sat on the top platform holding her sleeping pad to her chest while it made a persistent whine as the air escaped. I would have kicked her if I had been closer. 

IMG_2876

Then I retrieved my food bag from the cables listening to the ominous thunder in the distance. I sat and ate my breakfast of champions, frosted pop tarts, a cliff bar and a spoonful or two of peanut butter. People packed up around me (even brownie and dizzy who are usually not that quick to rise) and I weighed my options for the day. Aaaand then it started pouring.  Everyone who had been getting ready to leave slowed down their process. No sense in hurrying if it’s actively raining. Brownie asked if I wanted any warm tea to help stay warm. My cup was buried in my bag, so I hesitated, but I gratefully accepted after she offered to let me drink it out of her pot. I sat inside the shelter drinking my warm fruit zinger medley and listening to the thunder and lightning that had started not long after the rain. And then it HAILED.

IMG_2882

By about 8am, it had finally slowed to a light drizzle. I decided to head out in the event that I actually attempted 17 miles for the day. The trail started with a rocky, gradual descent in a carved out trough that was also a temporary stream because of the rain. Thankfully the water wasn’t very deep and could easily be walked over in most places without the threat of soaking my shoes.

IMG_2885IMG_2926

After making it down to low gap, the trail went back up through fog with the occasional soggy flat stretch. I Thought I heard voices behind me,. but no one caught up. Around 9:15, I Stopped to make a short good morning phone call to Oakland and then went straight back to airplane mode. I imagine there are some mountains out there, but I surely couldn’t see them for the Blanket of fog. I did however see a new white flower. 

IMG_2895

Then came more climbing through dense rhododendron. I Finally looked at elevation because I thought today was mostly downhill. Whenever someone says that, I find myself going mostly UPhill. I was very near the top of the last climb. In the rhododendron thicket, heard a strange loud bird call. I Waited and finally saw what I think was a blue jay, but I’ve Never heard one make that noise. maybe another bird was yelling at the jay? Hard to say but it was a startling noise.

I eventually found out that the voices I had heard earlier belonged to three early twenty something people with day packs. they asked if we were close to the tower, and I assured them it was right around the corner. I have no clue where they came from or where they’re headed because it was on the early side for day hikers and they were coming from the wrong direction to have originated from davenport gap. I passed on the tower side trail because it was 0.6 miles, one direction, and the fog seemed too dense to make it worth the 1.2 mile detour. Of course, the billy goat in me immediately regretted that decision and when the skies cleared only a few minutes later, I was REALLY sad that I hadn’t made the side trip.

At that point i was hungry and a little cranky, so I ate some fruit snacks and part of a luna bar, my last snacks until the new food box. I’d only been hiking for about an hour and a half, but It had been 3 hours since breakfast because I’d gotten such a late start. I’m trying to wait until standing bear farm to eat lunch so that I can charge and eat at same time.

A little ways past the fire tower side trail, I ran into two women in their twenties who had slept IN the tower. They oohed and aaahed over the sunset they’d seen. One of them showed me pictures and I was so envious. they continued on, trying to figure out their plans to get to trail days (think woodstock for hikers, held in Damascus, VA).

IMG_2910IMG_2915

I walked along, feeling cranky about the tower when I came upon a giant rock that had a sweeping 180 view of the mountains. I set my pack down and clamored to the top of it with my phone to take pictures and a video. As I stood up there, Grateful came down the trail. She saw me on the rock and started muttering to herself about how she was too scared to be that high and didn’t even stop to check out the view from the ground.

IMG_2912

Grateful muttering that she was scared to be so high and kept hiking. I climbed down from the rock and continued on my way through the incredibly green forest. A few Rhododendrons have started to bloom!

IMG_2922

I passed a short stone retaining walk and continued downhill with the occasional flat stretch that all made for pretty easy walking. There were unfortunate sections of Rhododendrons with very squishy leaf piles in the middle that made it nearly impossible to keep my feet dry. After what felt like a least a mile, but was probably shorter, I got some relief from the overly saturated stretch for awhile. I spent my time dodging mud and pondering what to do with the next two days to Hot Springs. I’d love to find a way to see the sunset at max patch, but hiking 17 miles to stay in line with runa and northstar would make that a silly combination of miles. I roughly decide to take my chances with standing bear in order to hike to max patch the next day, watch sunset, and hike two miles to the shelter in the dark.

IMG_2929

I heard voices ahead of me and found the two women I had met earlier talking with a ranger who had asked to see their permits. I pulled my permit out of the depths of my bag and stuck it in a hip pocket after he looked at it. Apparently we have to put it in a permit box at the end of the smokies. High tech system.

Somewhere along the way down to the gap, I felt a sharp pain in the heel where rough hard spot has formed over the weeks. I tried not to get too attached to the sensation as I made my way through the easy and sometimes soggy walking. Looked up to find splash of purple with an early blooming rhododendron.

IMG_2928

The Air felt heavy like there will be more rain later. the trail took me down Long sweeping switchbacks through a brilliant green forest.

IMG_2931

I Saw what I thought was the road but it turned out to be the reflection of the roof off of the Davenport gap shelter. Ran into OB1 again. He had just started hiking for the day at 12:15. We walk together for about four or five minutes. he asked where I was headed for the night, which felt inclusive. He might try to do 26 miles to get to Hot Springs tomorrow to which I replied, well I’ve run 26 miles but I’ve never walked 26 miles in one day. That led to a brief conversation about marathons, but I had to let him go ahead of me because he was too fast and my feet were getting sore trying to keep up with him.  Apparently he almost got caught by the Ranger after having built a fire ring. A ridge runner happened upon him before the ranger did and told him to dismantle it before the Ranger caught him.

IMG_2933

I saw OB1 again at the permit dropbox and heard Sundrop and her friend curry (the two women from the tower sleepover) congratulating themselves for finishing the smokies. When I got down to the gap it felt somewhat anticlimactic because it was a dirt road, a mileage sign and a few large rocks. Sundrop and curry cheered me on as I came out of the woods. I plopped down on a rock and made a peanut butter wrap, thus officially obliterating my food supply. I had about two tablespoons of peanut butter, an eight of a bottle of honey, and about a quarter cup of Fritos left. I hardly ever let my food supply get THIS low but I have a food box at standing bear so there’s nothing to worry about. 

OB1 came down a couple of minutes later, smoked a cigarette and kept walking. Sundrop and Curry’s ride showed up as I as packed up my empty food bag. I wished them well and went on my way. My guthook app had given me the road mileage for standing bear and not the trail mileage, so I mistakenly thought I was much closer.

IMG_2937

When I got up on the trail and checked again, the mileage said 2.5. I was crestfallen because I thought I was a mile away. I walked along the forgettable and easy trail and pondered my smokies experience of not having seen a single bear the entire time. The air continued to feel heavy and I hoped to reach my end point for the day (tentatively standing bear) before getting soaked.

The trail popped out onto the road, crossed over a wide fast moving river, and went under I-40. A woman in a car pulled up next to me and I thought she was going to offer me a ride but she was actually asking me for help with directions to standing bear. I showed her my map and how she needed to head under the highway. 

IMG_2952

IMG_2954

IMG_2955

As I got under the highway myself I saw her pick up a gaggle of hikers. She thanked me again for my help and I said you were so close! Then I proceeded to miss my turn into the woods. Luckily my AT reflex of “this is too easy” kicked in and I checked my map. I had to turn around a few yards to head up this staircase: 

IMG_2957

I eventually stopped at a beautiful little stream and decided that if I was staying at standing bear, maybe I should bring my own water. There’s been talk of people getting norovirus there and hikers are afraid to stay overnight. I want to stay because the mileage lineup works out somewhat well to get me to max patch for sunset and then hot springs late Sunday. runa one of the two people who kindly offered to let me use their chargers texted to tell me that she and northstar were going to go to the campsite past standing bear. I called Oakland to say hello and to get get some help with yet another tedious logistical decision. Our conversation made me lean in the direction of sticking with assured and good company rather than my hairbrained sunset idea. She assured me that I should dump the extra water weight I had acquired if I wasn’t going to stay at standing bear. 

I kept chugging along and tried to dictate some notes since I was about to be near power and could stand to lose the battery that dictation drains. As I stepped down a muddy little slope with my phone one hand and my poles in the other, my left foot lost purchase and I Went straight down on my butt. My heart stopped for  second as I worried that I had hurt my tailbone again. what I felt seemed painful but not injured. I stood up and cursed myself for being careless with my footing while simultaneously being glad that it hadn’t been worse. 

I made it to the standing bear farm around 2:30. It’s a hard place to describe but it’s a hodgepodge of buildings, some hiker specific and some occupied by the owner. It’s hard to tell who lives nearby and whose passing through. There’s a bunkhouse in which I will most definitely get a spider bite. There’s a fire pit and an old school washboard for laundry (I’m doing mine in hot springs). There’s an outdoor shower. The bathrooms are two porta potties. There are resident dogs one of whom is half blind and not that mobile but tries hard. There are local dogs who wander over here for the company and hiker snacks. There’s a resident older dog who seemed half blind and very rickety Itoday’s top picture). He depressed me but I took comfort in the fact that many of the hikers gave him affection as he tottered around the grounds.

img_2989

All of this I learned as I stuck around. When I first arrived I had no idea what to do but grateful stuck her head out of a building and called out hello! I walked down into the property and found an outlet on the main building. Then I flagged down a woman in the kitchen and asked her how to get my package. She offered to look for it and disappeared into a room that looked like it would be hard to locate an elephant because there was so much stuff. I sat on the porch and waited patiently while trying to decide what weird bubble I had just dropped into. She miraculously found both my food box and my letter. 

I sat on the porch and organized my food, expecting to leave shortly after Runa and north star arrived. I went up to a side building where there were short term resupply options (aka snacks galore). I had heard about them selling expired food so I checked everything that I “bought.” I needed to supplement my lunches because I’m basically out of peanut butter and won’t be getting more until hot springs. I picked out pop tarts and slim Jim’s, candy bars (Twix dark!) and crackers. I got a sprite for the wait. I wrote down All of the prices on my arm because the system was to use a slip of paper to keep track of your purchases, but there hadn’t been anyone around to provide said slip of paper. 

North Star and Runa arrived and quickly decided that staying would be fine and they would like to join me for my Max patch sunset and night hike to the shelter plan. Brownie and dizzy showed up about 15 minutes later. The whole gang is here! In this very strange place that basically amounts to another on-trail shelter. 

img_2960

I felt overwhelmed by the setting and by the lack of privacy while also being happy to have lined up with more company. I couldn’t seem to focus on any one thing I needed to do. I decided to sit down on a rock by the stream to soak my feet and read a letter. When I settled my rear onto the giant rock, it moved! And I slid forward and my bare feet slammed into the rocks on the bottom of the stream and my butt dipped into the stream, getting my camp shorts wet. Luckily I had zipped the pocket I put my phone in because I had worried that it might pop out. The best part is that I had an audience! Albeit a kind one who asked me if I was okay. My right arch took the brunt of the force but it didn’t seem to be injured in any way. I gave up on the stream and sat back down around the fire pit. Here’s brownie checking out the maps in her new food drop:

IMG_2963

After more loitering and watching people go about their routines, I sat down to cook myself food around 6, which based on my mood was about 45 minutes too late. My meal was a new rice dish that didn’t sit all that well. I almost gave up on it halfway through but I knew I needed the calories so I kept on eating while sometimes joining in on the conversation Runa was having with someone who may be a hiker? I couldn’t really tell but he is an Iraq vet who was wearing a motorcycle vest, had a giant septum piercing and was covered in tattoos. If I had seen him in a gas station in TN (the state I’m currently in), I would have made assumptions about the assumptions he would make about ME. But in this setting, he’s just another guy to talk to sitting around a fire pit. 

Brownie kindly offered to let me borrow her flip flops to take a shower. She said it so many times that I asked her if she was trying to tell me something (aka YOU SMELL TERRIBLE). She claimed that that wasn’t the case, just that it would feel good to take a shower. I knew she was right but it seemed like so much effort. I finally relented. She ushered me up to the outdoor shower and showed me the ropes. She was right. It did indeed feel good even though I still smelled vaguely like soup afterwards. 

Around 7:45, I extracted from a conversation with dizzy that had been started right as I was trying to settle in finish my notes for the day. I walked over to the main building and sat down next to what seemed like a wireless router. Oakland and I attempted to face time but the connection finally got so bad that we went to face time audio and then THAT devolved into an impossibility. 3-5 second delays are just enough to make conversing futile. We said goodnight right as I became inconsolably tired and overwhelmed by the idea of having to get off the phone and figure out how to find privacy to write. 

I left the porch and sat in the dark on a log as much away from everyone as I could be. My butt was sore from the day’s fall so I switched off between sitting and standing as I swatted bugs and tried to piece together the afternoon. I’m finishing this to the sound of hikers talking around the fire pit, very chatty frogs singing the song of the species by the creek, and crickets filling in the gaps. I have two nights of private rooms booked in hot springs and I am looking forward to having a space that I can escape to. Tomorrow: max patch! Which I’m sure will be a popular destination on a saturday night.

Mile 231.1 to mile 241.5 (10.4) 

Total miles: 249.8 

Creature feature: the blue jay, manyyy dogs at standing bear, and NO bears for the entire smokies. 

2019-Day 23: tunnel edition

IMG_2819

Last night was warmer but I had another pretty bad night of sleep. I woke up around 10pm, took my phone off the charger, and turned my phone off. This helps keep the battery from losing 5-7% overnight. Then I woke up around 1:15 and was awake until well past 3am. I know I dozed off because I had some weird ass dreams, but when I woke up for good, I could feel the puffiness in my face. I spent about 45 minutes working on my next mail request from HQ so it wasn’t completely lost time, but I would much rather have been sleeping.

My first stop, as always, was the Privy. It’s purported to have really good sunrise views, but I Didn’t stick around the extra 5 minutes because the sky didn’t seem promising and standing around is a one way ticket to numb feet. I went back to the shelter and packed up my stuff. Someone smelled pretty ripe, and I hoped it wasn’t me. I moved my gear outside, and ate breakfast. I surveyed my food bag as I ate. It’s going to be tight, I’m low on daytime snacks, but I should be make it to my box at standing bear without running out of food altogether. Cider hadn’t emerged from her tent by the time I left for the day. I hope she doesn’t go stir crazy with the smaller miles she and her friend have planned. 

IMG_2762

The trail back to the AT was a gradual climb. I stopped at the cell signal wormhole I had found the previous evening and sent a good morning text to Oakland. The colorado father daughter duo passed by with the daughter giving her dad the skinny on the Game of Thrones she read last night in the shelter. Adorable nerdiness. They gave me a cheerful greeting and went on their way.  

IMG_2769

It Seems warmer today, but it’s still Misty. The Smokies are really living up to their name. I Had to stop every 30 yards for pictures. A Light breeze moved mist through the tree tops. The Sides of the trail were dotted with spring beauties. My Feet were sore but the path was already way better than most of yesterday. I heared a Hodgepodge of bird song and I could see a Bit of yellow on horizon, but the skies were mostly white with fog. 

IMG_2773IMG_2777

300C1C27-8B67-43ED-B0F8-826FBC35EFF3

I Spoke too soon about footing, as the rocks slowly increased, but it still wasn’t quite as bad (yet). I went up a Gradual climb and Took off my raincoat so I wouldn’t get too sweaty. A guy passed me Taking picture of baby trees growing out of roots.

IMG_2792

He Asked how I was, and I said I felt glad he wasn’t a bear. He moved on quickly. I had no clue where he came from or where he was headed because he only had a day pack. Maybe he’s a ridge runner? I, on the other hand, was moving on the slow side because of my sore feet after yesterday’s rocky miles. 

IMG_2795IMG_2808

I heard an echoey chromatic bird call and passed a SOBO section hiker on a rocky climb. Then came More gradual uphill climbs through dense fog and pines, with the occasional blowdowns, followed by a Softer flat stretch. 

3AF7E574-CA2B-4D41-927C-F992A8446F9F

IMG_2821

Around 9:30, I sat on a stump and had a short call with Oakland. I had to keep moving before my hands froze, but I also made a phone call to a hostel in Hot springs to make a reservation for a single room. After the crowds of shelter life, I cannot wait to have my own evening space.   

The trail led me up and down dense tunnels (like today’s top picture) with repetitive flat stretches in between that made me feel like a video game character stuck in the same world/level over and over again. At some point, I Stepped over a big blowdown and didn’t account for a sapling on the other side of it. My right toe got caught and I pitched forward catching myself by planting my left foot and landing on my right hand. I stood up, turned around and slammed my trekking pole into the little tree ignoring the voice that said “don’t do that! You might break your pole!” My wrist was thankfully unhurt. Just a bit jammed feeling for a few minutes. Same for my left ankle, which I had flexed more than I cared for in order to keep myself from falling headfirst into a tree off the side of the trail. 

Angry and shaken from the fall, I kept moving while trying not to convince myself that I am in fact too klutzy to make it. I passed tricorner shelter. The sun eventually came out, but the trail turned away from the direction that would have given me amazing views down the mountain range. Then came yet another rocky climb. Not long after starting the climb, I sat in the middle of the rocky trail in a sunny spot to check my mileage and make some notes. 

IMG_2827

The Sky finally cleared enough to see the neighboring ridge. The trail periodically devolved into a rocky mess. It was like walking through a stream bed with minor breaks in a thick, but sunlit stretch of forest with the occasional sandy relief from rocks. 

IMG_2829

I decided to eat an early lunch in a log in the sun rather than stretch it to the helicopter pad a mile away. I assumed the helipad would be windy and potentially cold, and the sun seemed like a far kinder option. I was tired and cranky and annoyed that I carried extra water when I didn’t really need to. Gnats swarmed in clouds overhead as I Ate my pb wrap and Forced down the last of rubbery Doritos because they’re calories. Thankfully the gnats kept their distance, which is more than I can say for the large black flies that buzzed my head and landed on my gear. I continued on after my short break. Whenever I stop to eat in the middle of the woods like that, I worry that a bear will stumble upon me. Knock on wood, it hasn’t happened yet.

IMG_2831

I made a brief water stop at guyot spring. The trail continued to be a river bed of rocks that was accentuated by the trough-like erosion along the sides. My mind wandered to the VA attackers dog again, but I did my best not to go down that road. I rounded a corner to an open sunny sky and sweeping views. 

IMG_28349B200186-08BF-4B92-98D8-C6C0FCCBDB22

The View from the helipad was beautiful. I Felt like I was in a different country and I was a Little sad I didn’t eat there because it was breezy, but sunny and warm. 

IMG_2849IMG_2850

Two backpackers showed up and introduced themselves as Pb (Paul Bunyan which was apt. 6’4” at the least and wide frame with giant beard) and Kentucky. I Didn’t feel like making small talk even though they were probably nice guys, so I got up and kept moving. 

The trail followed a ridge with views to my right for a little while and then headed downhill. I heard woodpecker and spied it on a dead tree. I’m Pretty sure it was an acorn woodpecker because there were no obvious red patches. The French-Canadian guy came along and tried to spot the bird but couldn’t and wordlessly kept going down the hill. 

IMG_2860

I went down Through rhododendrons and hit an intersection where 50-something white men were standing around with their phones out. I asked if this was the official phone spot and they said they’d found a bit of ATT. I said enjoy and took a right turn onto the AT which continued to be a rhododendron tunnel on a narrow ridge. There were Misty mountains to my left and a sloping tree covered hillside to my right. I Rounded a corner and the rhododendrons were like a privacy fence between me and the long ridge line across the way.

IMG_2863

Every now and then they drop down and thicken even more, making it feel like I’m at a much lower elevation than I am. The rocks are wearing on patience my today and making my feet and ankles sore, though it’s still not as bad as yesterday, Knock on wood. I Caught a bit of phone signal and stopped to resend some texts that wouldn’t go through earlier. And then the wormhole closed again, so I got up and kept working my way carefully down. Most of the rest of the day is a descent, which I was not looking forward to. 

IMG_2868

I stopped to take a picture at this partial viewpoint and Tom (rob? Damn I can’t remember) passed me. I hardly recognized him with a baseball cap and a button down shirt. We exchanged quick hellos and he kept walking. I followed suit shortly afterwards and nearly caught up to him on our first climb in over two hours. He must have heard me because he sped up a tiny bit and then as soon as the trail flattened, out he was was off. I almost caught him on the next hill but it wasn’t very long and I saw that it was going to flatten out soon so I didn’t bother motoring past him. 

IMG_2872

The trail was gloriously free of rocks for about a mile and a half. Well, free of EXTRA rocks. And then, about a half mile from the shelter, the rocks came back with a vengeance. I slowly made my way through the mess and took the turn off for the shelter. It was a short side trail to a shelter that looks pretty much identical to all the others, including the giant ugly tarp that is useful and irritating. There were only a handful of people here so I easily took a spot on the top shelf again. It isn’t as easy to access but the light and airflow have become more appealing to me as the week has gone by. 

I pulled out my shelter life and put my food bag on the cooking bench outside. I reflexively grabbed my stove and remembered that I wouldn’t be cooking tonight. Now I definitely know how much I look forward to a hot meal at night. 

A guy that passed me earlier sat on the food bench eating snacks. He had the look of someone who would keep hiking. My estimation was confirmed when he said he intended to go on to Davenport gap. That’s 7 more miles from here and it was about 4pm. When I kindly scoffed and said yes when he asked if I was staying put, he replied that he wouldn’t know what to do with himself if he ended his day this early. I shared my meltdown point (about 6pm) and stopping before it as an attempt to prevent inconsolable misery. His name was OB1 and when I told him my name he said checklist…I’ve heard of you! He met la bamba  and had hiked around him briefly. 

OB1 and I talked on and off while I also set up my stuff inside the shelter. He asked about the timing for hot springs and when I told him how close it was (about 45 miles) he said he had way too much food. I laughed and said well I’m almost out of food. He dug around in his bag and offered me two packages of pop tarts. Score! I now had extra dinner food and breakfast calories. I would have rather had something salty because I’m swimming in sweet food (bars) but I wasn’t about to turn it down. I don’t usually let my food supply get this low but my stubbornness about carrying a heavy pack in the Smokeys has led me to eating dregs for dinner. As it turns out, OB1 is from New York and used to live about 2 blocks from me in Brooklyn. He left around 4:40 to hike his 7 more miles. Crazy guy. But he was easy to talk to and I would have enjoyed hiking with him in a different universe with a body that could keep up. 

North Star, the NOBO I met yesterday, and Runa, a NOBO I met on top of springer, showed up a little while later. As we all ate dinner, I asked about their plans for the next couple of days. They’re skipping standing bear and going straight for hot springs. I mentioned my issue with needing to charge my phone brick and they both kindly offered to let me use a bit of their juice if I decide to skip standing bear. They’re considering a 17 mile day tomorrow, which might be a bad idea for me, so I’m not sure what to do. It would be great to have established company, but I don’t want to fall short of their campsite and not have enough power to get to hot springs. 

My dinner consisted of many courses. First a cliff bar with peanut butter, then a tuna packet with Fritos and honey, then the pop tarts and then a tiny snickers. I assume I ate enough. I certainly felt full afterwards and a little sick from the sugar in the pop tarts. After dinner I went through the usual tooth brushing bag hanging routine. I forgot to put on chapstick and decided to take advantage of the simplicity of bear cables and get my bag back down. Then I laid on my sleeping pad with my feet on the rafters to help with the inflammation and soreness. I massaged both feet and calves earlier while I was talking to OB1. I decided to take a break from planning and confirmed with HQ that it would be okay to get the next resupply list done by Saturday. 

A little after 7, I crept down from the sleeping loft and chatted with brownie and dizzy. Here’s another shot of them having dinner.

IMG_2875

Then I wandered a little ways back toward the trail, sat on my zseat and had a splurge of a phone call with Oakland. I know I’ve mentioned phone calls with her nearly every day, but they’re about 5-7 minutes each, so in our world, we’ve hardly spoken. The signal was like a cat distracted by a string. It would be fine for about 6 minutes then drop out and come right back or just drop out altogether. We cobbled together a good call and she helped me with the current logistical decision (standing bear or 17 miles). The answer remains to be seen and will be based on what time I get to the farm, how weird of a place it is, and how long it takes me to get sorted out with food. 

I walked back to the shelter amused by how light it still was and how long most of the hikers had been buttoned up in their sleeping bags. Brownie and dizzy diligently went through their cleaning routines. It’s possible I should invest in some wipes the way other people do for their face and feet. Or maybe I will just continue to stink to high heaven. I usually rinse my face in a stream towards the end of the day, but the Smokey’s have been so damp that the thought of touching water, other than to filter it, is intolerable. 

I’m finishing this to the sound of two late arrivers unwrapping plastic and bustling about with their packs in the cooking area, North Star breathing deeply, brownie occasionally clearing her throat, someone having a throat gurgle snore that I’m SUPER excited to listen to later, and the occasional vireo cutting through the shelter noise. Fingers crossed for some semblance of a decent night of sleep. 

Mile 218 to mile 231.1 (13.1) 

Total miles: 239.4 

Creature feature: juncos galore, another acorn woodpecker, possibly one of those blue warblers, and horse poooop. 

2019-Day 15: la tortuga edition

Had a pretty slow start this morning. I managed to get a good night of sleep next to the little stream despite the horror of yesterday afternoon. There was no reason to rush because the NOC opens at 9 and it’s .8 miles north of Rufus Morgan. Around 6:30, I squirmednojt of my sleeping bag, grabbed my PT and went to the privy. Someone must have heard me approaching because they moved a bucket inside the privy. I stood at the far end of the little trail next to the shelter to wait my turn. Brownie emerged a minute or two later. Her husband dizzy came walking towards me as she came out which meant that he would be waiting for me. It’s so hard to manage these things with an audience! I did my best and said hello as I walked back toward the tenting area. I tossed my PT in my tent and went to grab my food bag. Still there! A happy surprise every morning. I had trouble getting it down from the line again because of the hitch knot but I managed to work it out without having to cut the line. I passed turtle who I met at long branch shelter on my ankle saving short day:

I sat on the log and had breakfast while everyone around me packed up. Then I packed up while they all had breakfast. We all sat around until about 840 when it was a good time to leave for the NOC. We walked spaced apart at our respective paces but somewhat together, which is an unusual experience for me. It was a quick, unforgettable trip down to the road where we arrived and stood around gawking at the NOC complex, not sure where to start.

I went inside the overpriced general store and dithered about food options. Sunny made a joke about how it’s a little soon for us to start getting picky, and I said I’m always picky, which is why I do mail drops. She laughed. After fussing over the dismal dinner options (ramen, weird packaged dinners, or knorr chicken noodle side) I went over to the NOC to print out a smokies permit, but fuel, pickup my letters(!) and check out the postcard selection.

The permit system was pretty aggravating, but I finally got that squared away. Sadly my parents’ letter had not arrived, yet again. Or potential it was lost; it’s hard to say which. I did however manage to receive a stack of letters in one priority envelope from Oakland, the accumulation of which is partially because of missing mail at other stops. I went back across the street and had a short FaceTime call with Oakland while I was in the land of good phone signal and power outlets.

Then I organized my food choices and went across the street to put my phone on an outlet outside the outfitter. There was a lot of communal loitering and individual chores happening all at once. Sunny got chocolate ice cream from the little general store, which was tempting, but I knew if I tried to hike after eating that I would feel sick.

They’re all going up to Sassafras Gap shelter tonight. I had intended to go past that to the tent site because today’s weather will be better than tomorrow, but the longer I was at the NOC, the more tempting it was to stick with company. Sunny may be ending her hike on Friday because her mom her happens to be around here on a road trip vacation and she might just ride home to Canada. If I go short today, I will still make my destination on Friday, at which I’ve already decided to zero. so there’s less pressure to try to make Friday a super short day in order to get more time off my feet. I waffled back-and-forth about whether to stay or whether to just get moving. Staying felt “irresponsible” and leaving felt lonely. I finally decided that after yesterday, maybe today would be a good day to have more company while it’s available. I was still agonizing when West Texas asked me if I wanted to go eat lunch at the restaurant. I said no, but then about 45 seconds later, I said all right let’s go eat. The rivers end restaurant right next to the outfitter had an amusing combination of people over 70 in their white capri pants and dirty hikers eating burgers and fries. I opted for fish tacos and a side salad. The tacos were pretty disappointing, but it was nice to get more green matter besides the naked green juice I had earlier from the little store. I also had a healthy portion of West Texas’s sweet potato fries. Sunny opted out of lunch and sat with her feet in the water on the phone for a while. Around 1pm, I decided it might be time to get moving. It was hard to resist the call of the left hand milk stout during lunch and the longer I sat there, the more tempting it would be.

Everyone got up from the table and went out to our packs, which were all lined up on the benches outside the front door. Jess, who I met yesterday, went to get a “road soda” (aka cider to drink at the shelter). I don’t understand how people are drinking and then going to go hike in 80° sunny, humid North Carolina spring.

I wandered across the bridge and sat by the water with Josh and Ranger for a few minutes. I really wanted to put my feet in but I also wanted to keep them dry for the hike. I got moving first, somewhat reluctantly, but there’s no telling how long these jokers will linger, and I am worried about the gobs of hikers at the restaurant all vying for the same tent sites at the shelter.

I hate being the first person to leave a situation because it kicks up my FOMO, but I was also happy to not be sitting around any longer as I started the long gradual climb out of the NOC. Within minutes I was drenched and very happy I hadn’t eaten anything heavier at lunch.

The air is very still right now and the forest feels dry, but it is thankfully shady. I kept hearing little rustles around me and expected to see a snake. The mountain laurel makes me slow down almost every time I see it. I may never get anywhere. I heard a slightly louder rustle to my left and looked down to see movement and found a little frog. I was so happy to know where some of that sound has been coming from.

I went through narrow Mountain Laurel Corridors that were both beautiful and made me think of ticks as I brushed by.

At some point, I Heard a loud rustle to my left and thought I saw a snake, but the head and the tail seemed too close together. I stood there being confused when an older gentleman coming down the trail towards me said “what do you see?” He came over and poked around and the creature moved in such a way that we saw a leg. The hiker confirmed that it was a salamander not a snake. As his friends came down behind him, one of them said “let’s go” because he couldn’t stop on the downhill. As they moved on, I could feel the echoes of yesterday showing up louder than expected. Any one of those men could’ve been the same person that laynlifeless in front of us yesterday.

As my mind lingered on those thoughts, I saw a lump in the trail up ahead and said aloud to no one, “hey! Are you a turtle?” And the answer was indubitably yes (today’s top picture). For whatever reason my mind went to my friend are RBJ formally known on the blog as “cotton” which is the same friend who took me to the hospital in Maine when I broke my arm. She’s by no means as slow as a turtle, but I thought about how fun it would be to have seen a turtle with her. She started her own hike on May 4 And is doing a flip-flop out of southern VA. Here she is on her hike:

I passed two women walking uphill towards me. one of them asked how I was. I said sweaty and she said amen! Then came a blissfully flatter/downhill stretch. If the skies were darker, I would say it’s going to rain at any moment, but they are currently blue.

On another semi flat stretch, I felt a quick sharp shooting pain on the front of my left ankle and up into my shin. I think was a muscle cramp more than anything else. As I stood there massaging my shin, jess caught up with me, red-faced and sweaty. We exchanged remarks about the turtle and the heat and then she accepted my offer to go first so I could be extra slow about it. I drank more water and will get more as soon as I can. I passed a Memorial plaque for a firefighter who died near here and shuddered at yet another thought of death.

The trail consisted of loooong ups with a briefly relieving flat stretches followed by more long hills. I Stopped on a log to massage my shin and have a pee break. When I finally made it to the water source, which was a spring coming down the side of rocks, I drank an entire bottle of water and filtered two full bottles.

I also put some KT tape on my shin because why not. The trail then turned into a rocky jumble for a short stretch. I was grateful to have something different for my foot to do besides trudge up an annoyingly graded hill.

Then came a jungly, narrow uphill that led to a small view where I ran into Jess again.

I ate the rest of my pack of gummy snacks, which might be my new favorite thing. Jess kept going. I put on my pack right behind her and ran into Sunny coming up the hill wide-eyed and exhausted. She exclaimed about her shins and I agreed with her, feeling happy to know I’m not the only one having that problem today. I waved at my shin to show her the tape I had applied to deal with it.

Then came several flat stretches interspersed with sharp climbs. I’m trying to do my best to stay at the pain of today versus thinking about the pain levels I’ve had in the past when it comes to shin issues and hiking. I Ran into the two older SOBO section hiking gentleman I have a seen a few times now. We had a Nice short exchange where they warned me about the descent from cheoah bald.

I Found a spot to pee in a sparsely populated older rhododendron stand, worried that sunny would catch up to me but she didn’t. Then came a relieving mostly flat stretch. I listened to a music mix and watched the black and blue butterflies hover through the air.

Then came a sneaky uphill with the soft edges of the trail tilled by the points of hiking poles and open very green forest floor. I Eventually came to a somewhat gradual downhill that led to the sign for the shelter. Sassafras gap shelter to be exact. A Short half circle trail led down to the double decker shelter. I set my pack down and wandered around looking st tent sites while Jess, brownie and dizzy sat in the shelter. None of the campsites are good except one very far down a hill and I couldn’t decide whether to go down the hill to setup my tent on a flatter spot down by the water or stay in the shelter. I dithered and sat at the edge of the sleeping platform. Then I ate a snack, hoping that would help. I said to No one in particular: I wish I had a coin to decide and Jess said “I saw a penny earlier!” Just to the right of me sat a shiny penny. Tails for tent and heads for shelter. It was tails but I couldn’t commit to the answer. I flipped it again and said best out of 3?? the next two flips were heads. I felt relieved because I didn’t really feel like setting up my tent even though I sleep better in it. I don’t expect to sleep well tonight but it will help me make a slightly faster exit in the morning.

I pulled out my sleeping pad and threw it next to Jess’s. I Pulled out everything I need for dinner. Decided to go ahead and blow up my sleeping pad because why wait. I pulled out other things required for shelter life (clothes bag, charging/electronics bag, pee rag, etc). Then I forced myself to go take care of my period needs which involves hand washing and extra water. Thankfully it’s a warm day so I won’t freeze my hands off like I did on my 2017 hike during the first couple of months.

Once that glamorous task was done (did not drop the cup in the privy! Success!) I went down to the stream to get water. It’s a 30 yard walk and there was a giant pipe with really good flow. The most luxurious water situation I’ve seen yet. Then I wandered around looking for a good limb to hang my food bag. I found one that seems a little low but I didn’t have the energy for finding a better option. I got my line over the branch the first time. This underhand thing is really working out. Then I sat at the bench and put my water on to boil. I have a new packaged meal (good to go “chili”) because i bought food at the NOC so I had to guess about the amount. The directions said to wait 20 minutes. I made it about 18. It was edible but not as good as Mary Janes.

I read a couple of Oakland’s letters while I waited for my food. There was also a bit of a picture show and tell around the shelter. The group here is a good combo of older nerds, forgettable NOBO twenty somethings that kept to themselves and the usual suspects from last night with the exception of ranger and Thor who likely won’t make it this far. Jess kept saying she was full and kept pulling food out of her bear container, including this monolith of a rice krispy treat to go with her cider:

Josh showed up around 7:45 and muddled through his dinner while stressing out about day light left for setting up his hammock and bear line.

There’s an older woman named purple streak who seems pretty friendly. She broke her wrist about 80 miles into an intended 500 miles section last year so we commiserated about changes in plans because of injuries. I’m glad I stayed in line with the group. It was a fun and compatible evening at the shelter. A few people whose names I didn’t get also showed up and tented around the shelter.

I’m finishing this to the sound of brownie and dizzy fussing around with their clothes, josh eating double ramen dinner, a NOBO rummaging around in his food bag and the sound of a bird with a very short chirping call. It sounds the way I imagine a less than and greater than sign would sound when strung together < >

Mile 135.9 to mile 143.8 (7.9)

Total miles: 152.2

Creature feature: a lot happening out there today. Frogs, salamanders, and the turtle!

2019-Day 13: truck magic edition

Last night takes the prize for the worst night of trail sleep I’ve had thus far, as previously whined about in the post for Day 12. I woke up to light coming through my tent walls around 6:10. I fumbled around for my watch to turn off the 6:15 alarm. As I rearranged the comical number of layers I had on such that my hiking shorts were closest to my body rather than haphazardly shoved over my 2 camp layers, I heard my name. Meredith called out, “Checklist we’re back for the sunrise!”

We all stood around taking in the layers of mountains and low hanging fog banks as the sun rose (today’s top picture, which doesn’t come close to doing it justice). Again, not a spectacular color show but well worth the effort as the sun caught the edges of the fog and cut through the morning haze.

Around 7:30 Meredith and felix went back down to their camp and I set about breaking down my tent while shoving bites of cliff bar in my mouth. I have 10 miles to cover and 27% of my battery to hoard so I have enough juice to call my ride for tonight’s Nero “town” stop. I need to charge my electronics, do laundry and take a shower.

I tromped down the giant hill, taking in the incredible view and waving goodbye as I passed the lower campsite. I stepped foot on the AT proper at about 8am. About 5 minutes later, I felt a hot spot on the back of my left ankle, and I forced myself to stop to put KT tape on it before it turned into a full blown blister.

You’ll be spared a fair amount of my terrain talk for today’s post because I couldn’t dictate notes into my phone as I walked. The dictation sucks away a lot of battery power and it slows down my pace because I often have to wait several seconds per note for the software to catch up with itself. Not the most efficient way to hike but it’s what keeps the details in my head.

The trail started easily enough and I covered the first 2.5 miles quickly. I heard the occasional woodpecker, one of whom I stopped to search for and saw that it was a downy woodpecker. I eventually crossed over a paved road and came to the beginning of what I thought was a short journey up to the wayah bald tower. After about 25 minutes of walking and stomach rumbling, I decided to check my map, and I found that I had been very mistaken about the distance from siler to wayah. As it turned out, I still had 2.5 miles to go. I stopped at a very nice snack rock and gobbled half a cliff bar and some cashew/cheezit mix while a dark eyed junco loitered overhead.

It was a very long 2.5 miles up to the tower, some of which was in sight of a gravel road. I felt the urge to take the road several times rather than face the constant uphill that was in front of me but there’s no telling how much farther the road would be and gravel is not my friend.

I passed through rhododendron tunnels and rocky trough-like patches. At one point, I heard what I hoped was the loud thunk of a pileated woodpecker, so I stood searching the tree trunks. After about 3 minutes of staring into the sky, I finally caught sight of a woodpecker I didn’t recognize. After searching Audubon, I think it was an acorn woodpecker.

(This isn’t the trail, it’s just a pretty tree that was standing alone.)

In the last mile before the tower, I saw a slew of other birds: a wren flittting from limb to limb on a rhododendron, a mockingbird singing on the tip of a dead tree, and what I think might have been a nuthatch of some sort. I also heard a strange sonar type pinging overhead and saw a raptor slowly glide over the tree tops. I’m terrible with their silhouettes so I have no idea what it was besides large and not a buzzard.

After an interminable but pretty climb, I popped out of the woods and onto a paved pathway that led to the wayah bald tower. I groaned at the pavement, passed on a bathroom that looked too far away, and walked up to the tower in the heat of the mid-morning sun. I met an older gentleman named John who wore suspenders and called himself the slowest hiker on the AT. I joked that we should race for that title. He went on his way while I took in the partially clouded over view from the tower. I went back down to my pack with the intention of eating a snack and waiting out the fog, which was likely to blow through pretty quickly. As I fussed in my hip pocket a woman approached. I said hello in the AT way (like everyone is my new best friend) and she asked how my day was going. She also asked if I had any trash I wanted to get rid of. This is the question of people who know about hiking, because long distance hikers are always looking for ways to get rid of trash. I happened to only have one night of trash buried in my bag so I declined her offer. Then almost as an afterthought she said, “I also have snacks and drinks in my truck.”

On my way to wayah bald I had been daydreaming about asking a person parked there to charge my phone in their car. Lo and behold, here was my opportunity. “I love snacks!” I said, And then I sheepishly said, “I have another favor to ask which you can totally decline, but can I charge my phone in your truck?”

She immediately said yes, so we walked to her truck, which was all the way back by the bathrooms I had rejected. On the way there she told me about how her husband is out doing a 19-day section hike and they drove here from ND. When we got to the truck she opened it up so I could get to charging right away. Then she lowered the tailgate and began unpacking a series of bins. She’s clearly been doing this awhile! I grabbed a bottle of water and some Doritos but declined the breakfast burrito because it sounded too heavy.

As I sat on the pavement consuming my treats, Meredith and Felix emerged from the woods shortly followed by the older gentleman from last night. As it turns out, he’s the husband doing the 19-day section hike! Ah the coincidences of proximity. They all greeted each other warmly and tucked into breakfast burritos. When I saw the slim size, I awkwardly asked if there were enough for me to have one and I was greeted with an enthusiastic yes! So I sat on the ground eating a McDonald’s breakfast burrito, happily amused by the timing of it all.

With about 35% battery, I decided to get back on the trail to finish my miles for the day. I asked for the woman’s name and a picture before I left. Meet jeanneatte!

She made my day a lot less stressful and my stomach a lot fuller (I was planning to snack through lunch to be time efficient). I made use of the bathrooms before I left since they were now too close to pass up. They had Toilet paper! which can be a rarity at popular tourist spots and becomes exciting when you’re in the woods for days on end.

I walked back up to the tower, took a few more pictures and went on my way. Before leaving, I Took note of Siler Bald (red arrow), which is where I camped last night.

The trail was a bit rocky here and there but the rest of the day proved to be pretty easy walking in terms of footing. I ran into two older men who I’ve seen twice now. They’re section hiking SOBO and I see them about every other day. We exchanged a friendly hello and had a short conversation about how easy and well kept this part of the trail is relative to some more rugged northern sections. I also passed John while he stopped for a lunch break. When he saw me, he said, “see, I told you!” I scoffed and said “it’s just because you’re stopped!” To which he snickered and wished me well.

I eventually came upon an overlook with this view and a young man staring into the distance. I said hello to announce myself and we shared the space for a minute. In that time I saw another one of the new birds from the day before, which I later looked up and it’s a chestnut warbler. Yellow cap, black and white with a rusty stripe near the wings. The guy creeped me out a tad, so I didn’t stick around long.

I continued toward burningtown gap, which was my destination for the day. I heard the guy hiking behind me laughing to himself, which in that moment didn’t help his creepy factor. I let him pass me because he was hiking faster and he kindly said thank you. His hiker smell was so potent that I had to stop to let him gain some distance in order to walk downwind of him.

I reached the burningtown dirt road around 1:40. Later than I had hoped but still a fine enough time to get off my feet for awhile. The strange dude arrived after me (can’t remember how we leapfrogged again). He walked on through and then came back, staring at the sky and putting out even weirder vibes than before. He put down his pack, took off his sports jersey (unusual hiking attire, which added to his overall weird tone) and started fussing with his belt buckle. My mind went into overdrive hoping that he wasn’t about to take off his pants and force me to confront him. Thankfully he was just adjusting his belt. I felt silly for jumping to conclusions, but I also could not get a good read on him at all and we were alone in the middle of the woods. He grabbed something out of his pack, wandered over to a nearby tree and stood there, then came back. Doing all of the above wordlessly.

My ride showed up before I had to decide whether to break the silence or continue to try to be invisible. When the woman from the “lodge” got out of her car, the dude came to life and said hello to her like he had just landed back on earth. I said goodbye and happily hopped in the car with a chatty British woman. We went done a gravel road at high speed stopping suddenly at several washouts that happened after recent heavy rains.

It turns out that I would likely have the place entirely to myself for the night. As of my pickup, no one else had made a reservation. Maggie (the British woman), led me to the packroom where I was to remove my laundry, food, and other personal items and leave my pack. She kindly let me keep my shoes on when I told her I couldn’t comfortably walk around barefoot. I offered to brush them off, so I sat and did that while she went to get loaner clothes so I could wash everything I had. She showed me my “bunk room” which was a tiny room stuffed with two twin beds. It looked a spider cave. Then she led me straight to the shower, which was palatial.

After I showered, I discovered that Maggie had whisked away my laundry before I could ask for cold water and low heat (wool shirts!). I couldn’t figure out how to get in touch with her. My cell didn’t work and she was nowhere to be seen. I finally stuck my head out the window of the bunk room and interrupted her husband who was doing construction work in the yard. He told me to wait by the landline phone Inside and he would have Maggie call me.

With my laundry instructions successfully communicated, I attended to my list of chores. I hung my tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad on an awkwardly located clothesline. My tent was still soaked inside and out from Siler Bald , and I worried that it wouldn’t dry in the shade, but after several hours it was indeed dry!

I sat in the main lodge room being a productive phone zombie. It takes tiiiime to upload blog pictures on rural WiFi speeds. It was both a relief and incredibly lonely to have the place all to myself. I microwaved a frozen pizza and ate it with a sprite while talking to Oakland on FaceTime. There wasn’t any phone service but we had ample WiFi and no other hikers to worry about social propriety.

At some point in my blogging haze, I remembered that I had other chores to attend to. I put my down phone and washed my cookware and backflushed my water filter. I also discovered that my food bag was wet on the inside and the ziplock holding my last dinner had split, thus getting cheese powder on some of the other contents. That was an unexpected annoyance. I emptied the contents, washed my food bag and wallet, which I had very mistakenly decided to put in the food bag to stay dry. Then I put both bags out on a chair by the clothesline. I also sent an email about mail drops to my HQ team. Then came more blogging, a very late frozen burrito dinner, and another call to Oakland.

I’m finishing this to the ear-ringing silence of existing within four walls in rural NC.

Mile 113.7 to mile 124.0 (10.3)

Total miles: 132.4

Creature feature: so many birds! not sure if it was an especially bird friendly stretch of woods or if I was overly tuned into them, but wrens, mockingbirds, downy woodpeckers, dark eyed juncos, the chestnut warbler, raptors, a crow or two, and maybe more that I can’t remember.

2019-Day 8: hiawassee zero day edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

Total miles: 77.5

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