2019-Day 45: escaping the dreaded snorer edition

I managed to cobble together about 7 hours of sleep! I woke up around 3 and then again at 6, finally giving into the urge to phone zombie and write a few emails around 6:40. Around 7, I dragged myself to the privy. Joy of joys, I got my period last night right before bed. It’s TMI but it’s a significant event that changes my routine and frankly shouldn’t be hush hush. I managed to deal with my cup without dropping it into the bowl of the portapotty (the stuff of nightmares). Then I changed into my hiking shorts, which smell like they could walk themselves to Damascus because of all the rain. I packed away my sleeping pad, which I ended up using because the mattress felt like I was sleeping on the wooden bunk itself. I had the rest of my gear buttoned up by 7:30 and was settled on the couch to eat a quiet breakfast when cat showed up to check on my departure time. She stayed for about 15 minutes, telling me all kinds of stories about her dog and about how the locals treat them because they don’t go to church nor do they have their kid participate in church activities. They seem like cool people and I hope they stick around in the hiker scene.

Cat wandered away after we set a departure time of 8:15. I finished the last bits of tidying and rearranged my cup because I feared a mishap before getting to today’s shelter. Then I sat on the couch researching lunch options in Damascus so we can find a place that has something appealing for my mom.

Rabbit pulled up in the car promptly at 8:15 and I was standing on the AT by 8:25. My morning started with a Field walk over a crushed gravel path. I passed a barn with a giant AT emblem nailed to the side of it.

My eyes scanned the air in hopes of seeing new birds darting through field. I saw a Red winged blackbird, an Indigo bunting, and a few yellow warblers of some sort that I couldn’t get a good look at because they kept hopping fence posts too far away from me.

I also saw these strange land birds, aka cows, in today’s top picture. I Had to walk right through the gaggle of lounging lumps. the biggest one standing in the trail stared at me while I gave it a wide berth because of the presence of calves. The little guys didn’t like my hiking poles so they all got up whenever I came close to them.

I left the cow pasture by way of a wooden step over the fence line and walked through an empty field with a mowed path. I saw Another bright yellow bird with dark wings in flight and more yellow warblers on a fence line. I Stopped at one of the rocks in the next field and took off my long sleeve layer for the eventual climb into the woods that i could see farther up the field. A small Patch of fog hung in the field.

As i Entered the woods, i thought about my strategy for catching up on the blog. I felt the Rain drops start and resisted the Urge to put on raincoat because I had already decided I wasn’t going to bother with it. The humidity was too high and I didn’t see the point in walking with an extra layer. The trail consisted of flat path with slightly rolling woods. A crow rose out of the brush and cawed at me from a distance. I heard the usual milieu of Bird song as I walked.

I made a good morning Phone call to Oakland that was very short because of a wobbly phone signal. Then I decided to pass the time with the company of Harry Potter, deciding that the distraction was worth risking my earbuds to the rain. I Daydreamed about hiking farther than the shelter to get into town early and hit the library Saturday. I talked myself down from the ledge and told myself I was just going to stop at the shelter. No need to push just for the library.

After a little while, I came upon the double springs shelter stop where I saw the two college kids from mountain harbour. I decided to say hello for a second and found none other than BANANA sitting up in his sleeping bag. I asked everyone where they were headed so I could find out where the dreaded snorer would land for the evening. The kids muttered Damascus while they fiddled with their breakfast gear. Banana grumbled about the rain and said he might wait until the sun came out to go anywhere. We all kind of laughed at him and I said you might be waiting all day while my internal reaction was SH*T. Abingdon shelter (my destination) is only 8 miles from here and if he’s getting a late start, I bet he’ll stop there.

I walked away from the shelter cursing banana’s snoring in my head. My mind skittered over my options, which frankly were not great: Tent in the rain next to the shelter, hike farther and tent alone (likely in the rain), or hike all the way to Damascus (21.6 miles, although at the time I was making my decision my math was wrong and I thought it was 20.6). I i sent several whiny texts to Oakland and kept moving.

An older southbound day hiker passed me right as the quieter of the two college guys arrived on my heels. It was a funny traffic jam given the fact that we were in the middle of the woods. I stood aside to let everyone go by in their respective directions. The day hiker offered me trail mix but I politely declined because I already had 2.5 days worth of food in my pack. He warned me that there were more hikers on the way. A slow trickle of older people passed me for a few minutes and then I was alone until I came upon the college kid standing in the trail staring down at his phone. He looked up when he heard me and then his head whipped back towards his phone. He made no move whatsoever to get out of the middle of the trail even though I was about 10 yards away. At the last possible second before I would have to ask him to move, he took a lazy half step off the trail. I could have kicked him. You see a person coming: MOVE. little shit.

I kept walking past the phone zombies through the misty, soggy woods. He passed me again when I stopped to take a picture. As I walked, I decided to give in to the need to avoid banana’s snoring and hike 17.8 miles total to get to a tent site at the state line. Sadly there’s no water source past shelter so if I would have to carry it about 6 miles.

At some point, I Called Oakland again. She listened to my dilemma and encouraged me to make the long choice of my body felt up to it to give me the chance of better sleep.

I powered through the foggy, rainy morning with HP, quickly gobbled snacks and soggy pee breaks. The water source before Abingdon turned out to be a puddle, which I found out AFTER I gulped down most of my water. I walked around in the heavy rain trying to find a flow or a puddle big enough to scoop from, but I had no luck.

I reached the the shelter around 1:40, where I took my first real break of the day. I set my sodden pack down on the sleeping platform and pulled out muy szeat and lunch bag. I had a wisp of phone signal good enough to send a sporadic text and not much else. I made my peanut butter wrap and ate Doritos while the rain tapped on the metal roof.

Then I grabbed my filtering gear and walked down to the water. Guthook has it listed as an eternal, steep walk down. As I made my way over rocks and roots, I rolled my eyes at why people were so whiny about the trip. It took a grand total of 4.5 minutes of slow walking to get there (yes, I timed it). The pipe was barely flowing but it did the trick. I was surprised at how low the water sources were today based on the amount of rain. When I got back to the shelter, I realized I needed to deal With my cup. It was much Sooner than I’d expected and I had no privy to manage the mess with. I said f*ck it and went behind the shelter to drop trou and deal with it as quickly as I could.with my newly acquired water.

I Left the shelter around 2:25 and felt decent given the pace and sogginess of my morning. I had 6.4 miles to go until first tenting option. I Called Oakland again to walk and talk. she said she had a suspicion that I would hike to Damascus today. I told her I had already talked myself off that ledge, But when we got off the phone, I called hikers inn just to SEE if they had any availability. Lee, one of the owners, said they had One room left type of which to be determined. The Idea of camping 1) in the rain 2) alone and 3) with my period was worse than the idea of hiking for 4 more hours. I told Lee I would take the room.

Once the decision was made, I felt myself settle into the comforting rhythm of knowing I had a long way to go towards a warm, dry bed. I stopped to dump the extra water I had collected and chugged along through the thankfully forgiving terrain.

I eventually passed a guy heading SOBO. How many of you assumed he was white? Nope. He happened to be African American. He greeted me as we tried to make room for each other on the narrow slippery trail. As he passed, he asked me how close he was to the shelter and I gave him my estimate which I can’t remember now (no written notes for most of the afternoon).

The rest of the afternoon was a blur of HP, the occasional interaction with Oakland, and variations on the green tunnel with very easy footing. I passed rhododendrons in bloom and saw a New white flower and an infrequently recurring yellow flower, both of which were hard to photograph because of their drooping bloom. I also saw a GIGANTIC mushroom (or many mushrooms?).

I went through the Occasional rocky stretch but for the most part it was clear sailing. I made it to the TN/VA state line around 6pm.

The rain had long since tapered off, for which I was grateful. I stopped at the state line for a quick pee break and to eat a snack. My grumbling stomach protested my plan to eat a late dinner in Damascus. Oakland sent me a text asking where I was. I hadn’t told her of my hair brained scheme yet, so I told her I was hiking. She knew right away I was up to something, and when I called to tell her about my plan she was both in awe of and aghast at my decision to just keep hiking.

I eventually Heard road noise and a dog barking, and I knew I was getting close. Sometimes noises of civilization can happen far sooner than the trail intersects with town, but when I checked the mileage, i was less than 2 miles from the middle of Damascus.

There were A few Switchbacks towards the end of the woods. The trail Popped out onto a residential street with variety of houses. I took a Left turn down beaver dam rd and walked through the famous Damascus sign at the edge of a small green space.

I followed the crushed gravel path through the park and took a right on 58. Normally when I walk Through town, I feel like an alien but less so in Damascus because it’s insanely hiker friendly. I Crossed the river and walked past small storefronts and a Dollar general.

I reached Hikers inn at 7:30 and found a note taped to the door letting me know that I could find my room at the top of the stairs.

I scuffed my shoes against the door mat as best I could and walked up to my room to drop my pack. Then I Went back downstairs to take my shoes off outside. They were filthy and I wanted to clap some of the dirt from their soles. On my way out the door, I Ran into Soul mama. We are once again staying in same place. She had the room that Oakland and I have reserved for Sunday/Monday. After I took my shoes, I Sat on the couch and talked to her, but I had to excuse myself after only a few minutes because it was after 8pm and I was starving. I Made chili Mac in my room and followed it with Doritos and 3/4 of a snickers.

Then I took a Shower and had a Short call with Oakland while she raced through the final preparations for her departure. I’m finishing this to the sound of rain and the silence of a dry house.

Mile 449.0 to mile 470.6 (21.6)

Total miles: 478.9

Creature feature: the cows! The cranky crow, chipmunks, the many different birds in the field walk, oven birds, and a few dopey robins.

2019-Day 25: max patch sunset edition

*I’m taking an unscheduled (and hopefully short) hiking break because I rolled my ankle yesterday morning (5/23) so here is another blog post while I try not to catastrophize and go completely stir crazy! It wasn’t a terrible roll but my ankle hurts enough that rest is definitely in order. The pictures took 9 years to upload via cell signal so I may not do many more posts while I’m here. We’ll see what I have the patience for.*

~~~~~~~

I managed to get a really solid night of sleep once I drowned out the talking by the fire pit. It’s possibly the longest I’ve slept so far (about 8 hours). People starting stirring around 6:30. I laid in my bunk and made a few more social media posts. It’s been impossible to keep up with any sort of real time/daily posting because of the poor phone signal and attempts to conserve battery.

I crawled out of bed around 6:45 and went to the porta potty with my hand sanitizer that I hardly ever use. (Yes I’m that gross person). I grabbed my shorts and bra off the clothesline on the side porch on my way back into the spider cave. I changed into my pants in my sleeping bag, but for my bra, I Threw caution to the wind and just took my shirt off in the dim light of the cabin. I didn’t feel like trying to pretzel myself or change in the porta potty. Then I slowly started to put my pack back together. I Took my food and water filtering supplies to the eating/fire pit area and had breakfast with brownie and Dizzie. I filtered water to wash my hands so I could put my contacts in. It was Probably overkill but I did it anyway. Then I filtered water for the trail. Brownie commented on my process, and I confirmed that I do not trust the water here. Better to take a few minutes to filter than poop myself a little ways down the trail.

People emerged and packed up at their own rates. The kid “running” the guest checkout finally climbed out of his tiny bunk cabin and started taking payments around 8:15. Nothing happens quickly around standing bear but it happens.

I walked up the gravel road back towards the trail with the sound of the stream to my right and the fading bark of a dog on a neighboring property. My left heel is still cranky and my toes are a bit squished, but I assume they will work themselves out. I weighed myself and my bag before I left. I’m not sure I trust the scale because last night it said I weighed far less than I do this morning. Theoretically my bag weighs 23 pounds but the difference between yesterday and today feels much greater.

The trail took me Up a small hill under power lines with waist high daisies. Then there was a short climb during which I decided to pester Oakland with my newly acquired phone signal. We were just getting started with our conversation when I heard a loud rustle in the leaves a little ways up the trail. I asked Oakland to hang tight while I made sure the noise was a squirrel and not a bear. I crept in the direction of the sound, fully expecting to see nothing or maybe a squirrel hopping away. What I actually saw was the dark shape of a bear cub rooting around in the leaves down a slight hill to the left of the trail. I shared the news with oakland while also saying “shit shit shit” and scurrying back a few yards out of sight. I peeked around the corner to see if there were other bears and saw the large back of the mama bear coming down from the right. SHIT. I ducked back around the corner again – thank goodness this happened at a slight curve in the trail. I had no idea what to do, so I stood and waited, hoping the bears would move on, but I didn’t hear any sound to indicate as much. I told oakland to plug her ears and I blew my bear whistle. I listened but still didn’t hear any movement, so I blew it again and heard what I thought was the sound of footsteps up ahead. I waited a minute and crept back up the trail a few yards. I stopped just as I saw the mama bear get on her hind legs and turn back to look at me. I don’t know if she actually saw me but she looked right in my direction, so i scurried back down to my hiding spot. I waited a few minutes with Oakland on the phone and then crept back around the corner to find empty woods. I went as fast as I could up the hill and put some distance between myself and the bear zone. Easier said than done with my heavy-feeling pack and the incline of the trail at that point.

After the excitement of the morning, the trail was somewhat sedate. Oakland and I stayed on the phone for awhile longer because I wanted the company and I have no need to conserve battery the next couple of days. She eventually had to get going with her morning routine, so I ended my call with her and made phone calls to all of my parents. I haven’t spoken to them much since starting the trail, so I figured now would be a good time. In my conversing, I managed to miss out on one of the more reliable water sources, which was not the best idea on such a muggy day with a 5 mile climb. The sweat poured down my face for most of the morning as I continued my way up the roller coaster of a climb to snowbird peak. I eventually popped out of the woods into an open field that had a weird man-made structure. I later found out that it’s an FAA communication tower, but at the moment it was super confusing.

The peak provided great views of the surrounding mountains but no shade, so I passed by without taking a break. I got back into the woods (yay, shade) and saw a dark shape moving off to the right of the trail. My heart stopped but it turned out to be runa returning from a bathroom break. She stayed ahead of me for awhile, but I ran into her and north star at a campsite where I decided to join them for lunch. I ate a weird combination of food that felt like too much but I also wanted to get rid of some of the weight. In total, I ate a giant slim jim, a package of poptarts (400 calories. who knew), a package of crackers, and a tasteless cheese stick. A very happy and pushy yellow lab came bursting through our lunch space and then jumped back on the trail to greet its owner who arrived a minute later.

A few other NOBO hikers came through, as did brownie and dizzy.

They stopped to say hello and then kept moving. Northstar, Runa and I hiked together for about 300 yards before we arrived at an unmarked water source. I decided to get water there rather than walk the extra mileage down to the next shelter that is about 0.2 miles off trail. I also drank nearly an entire bottle while standing there before I topped off both of the bottles. I decided to call uncle Johnny’s in Erwin Tennessee to confirm their address. As soon as I called, I felt silly because it’s probably in the paper AWOL guide but it’s not listed in gut hook. The flies were a nuisance while I stood around but they were thankfully not the biting variety. Instead, they swarmed and crawled all over my skin as I tried to filter water and swat at them. Luna and Northstar kept going so I quickly found myself alone again, which was a tad disappointing but also gave me latitude to flower gaze and take pictures without the pull of trying to keep up with other hikers.

The trail became Rolling hills with footing that felt like shag carpet compared to the unforgiving rocks the last three days of the Smokies. I saw the plant that brownie had referred to as bear corn. I’ve always wanted to know the name of it!

At some point in the afternoon, all 5 of us hiked in a clump for a short stretch, and I got to witness someone besides me cozy up to a plant to take pictures. I also saw two new types of wild orchids (according to brownie).

We all dispersed not long after picture time, and I eventually went down a hill to the shelter intersection where I saw a handful of men taking a break. Then back up I went, over pine needles and through the soupy air. I Passed ahappy black lab and its owner heading southbound down the trail.

My bag continued to feel very heavy for whatever reason. I decided that I was ahead of schedule for the sunset plan and sat down on a nice log in the shade to dry my feet out a bit. I hung out for about 20 minutes keeping an ear out for bears and having a short FaceTime call with Oakland. So strange that I have enough signal to do that in the woods but no signal at all while I stayed at standing bear.

Northstar ran into me right as I decided to get moving again. She Hikes faster than me so I didn’t see her once she got moving. The trail continued to take us on a roller coaster of sneaky hills with the occasional orange explosion of color from blooming azaleas. Brownie later called them flame azaleas. Very aptly named.

As I hiked along, i Ran into North Star coming back from her first “she-wee” experience. The she-wee is a tubular gadget that allows female bodied people to pee standing up. She laughed about the strangeness of it as she packed the device away. I decided to stick around and have a snack with her while she waited for Runa who arrived about 5 minutes later. We all sat around for about 15 minutes until brownie and dizzy passed by again. Leapfrogging is the name of the game today.

Runa, northstar and I left together and made our way downhill to max patch road. A cheerful gaggle of young people and their dogs were just leaving the road with a cooler full of drinks. They offered us sodas, which we of course accepted.

There was also an older Woman waiting for her husband to come out of the woods. we had passed him on the way down. He was apparently looking for a couple of no-show hikers. I had Flashes to the other week and what the wife of the deceased hiker must have been thinking when she was waiting to hear about her husband on the trail.

I Chugged a Dr Pepper so that I could leave the can with the older woman to dispose of rather than cart it around until my next trash drop. As we made our way up the trail to the stream around the corner, i regretted my choice to accept the soda. Too much sugar in too short of a time.

We Had dinner on the log steps by this little stream while thunder rolled through and hikers slowly went by. After eating, I Brushed my teeth and got my food bag ready to hang in preparation for arriving at camp in the dark.

The Hike up to max patch was much easier than I expected. I Stopped to pee at an unused gravel road and lucked out because it happened to be the last good place. Runa left her bag at the top and went all the way back down there to pee. There were gorgeous Views almost immediately after coming out of woods.

The patch itself was an open bald with people scattered in all directions and a constant trickle of more on the way. Tents already Dotted with flat top. Northstar and I waited for Runa to return and we hiked up to the flatter area to hunker down for sunset.

There was a brief hackeysack circle that made me feel like I had stepped into a 1995 time warp. There were also Dark clouds in the distance,but the seemed to be heading the opposite direction. I Sat with Runa northstar a German guy named Daniel/commando, a Caribbean woman named washbucket and Jeff from Texas. They had all stayed at standing bear the night before and their tents were already set up on the bald. I was Tempted to stay for sunrise but I also didn’t want to be cold. I also wanted to get to all the way to hot springs and staying in max patch meant a 19.6 mile day. Last but definitely not least, the bathroom situation was dismal.

We sat around talking and waiting for sunset. I occasionally creeped on the trail magic people’s dogs (the puppy’s name is hiker).

I was worried we would get shutout because of the thick clouds on the horizon but in the last few minutes before sundown, a flamingo pink sun came out from under the bank of clouds and cast pink light across the mountain silhouettes (today’s top picture). here’s a Picture Runa took of me taking a thousand sunset pictures:

Northstar, Runa and I set off for the shelter in the waning light and Walked down the bald with a full moon rising over the mountains to the east.

Even more people were camped in the woods below the bald. The light dimmed significantly as we dropped below treeline. I waited a few minutes to turn my head lamp on, enjoying the sensation of having just enough light to know where to put my feet. When it seemed unsafe, I clicked on my headlamp and followed northstar through the rhododendron tunnels and across small streams of water. The footing was a Little tricky at points but generally speaking it was gradually downhill or flat. I was happy to have company for this scheme rather than having to hike in the pitch black night alone.

We Got to the shelter around 9:30. Brownie sat at the picnic table writing notes by headlamp. There were 3 tiny spots left in shelter. We Hung our food on the squeaky bear cables and Tried to find decent tent sites in the dark but they were all terrible. We Settled for being those horrible people who clamor into a shelter late at night. I Pulled stuff out of my bag a few yards away and slowly set up my spot. I Sent my location to my family and a gps message to Oakland letting her know I had made it safely and that there wasn’t any service.

I took the spot between two people that wasn’t quite big enough but I made it work. I Wedged between a woman and some giant man. None of us changed clothes. I just crawled into sleeping bag and put glasses up by my head and tried to slow down long enough to fall asleep. I’m finishing this to the sound of people moving around on their sleeping pads and my ears ringing.

Mile 241.5 to mile 257 (15.5)

Total miles: 265.3

Creature feature: so many dogs!

2019-Day 5: terrarium edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mile 31.3 to mile 45.5 (14.2)

Total miles: 53.8

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

2019-Day 3: wind in the not-willows edition

Another horrible night of sleep, this time with the added joy of listening to everyone around toss and turn and snore. It might have been the worst night of sleep I’ve had in all my time on trail. The storm wasn’t as bad as predicted, but it definitely rained off and on all night. Around 5:45, a compact husband and wife couple trotted out all of their gear and started repackaging things at the picnic table. There’s a reason no one regaled the silent qualities of sil-nylon and cuben fiber. The gentleman sleeping next to me joined the stuffing party shortly thereafter. I came close to asking them to pay more attention to where their headlamps were shining, but Indo know how hard it is to prep in that environment when you want to leave early. AND THEN someone turned on their stove, which at that hour is akin to starting an F14. I muttered “seriously” loud enough for my neighbor to hear but there’s no chance the stove owner did. That was also the point at which one of them decided it was time to talk at full volume. 6:15 wake up here I come ready or not. I put on shoes and walked to the bear box I get my food. Then I ate somewhat wordlessly at the edge of the shelter. I switched over to just eating bars for breakfast and it is the dream. No dishes. No water boiling. I open the wrapper, eat, and put the wrapper in my trash ziplock.

I Left around 735. The weather was a bit cooler, so I wore my compression sleeves, which I brought to act as “long pants” this saving myself 4oz by not bringing 3/4 length spandex. The skies were thankfully dry as I headed down the short path back to the trail.

The terrain started off with rolling hills through forest that had the brightness of spring and overnight moisture. Shortly after getting onto the trail itself, I felt an Unexpected pain on the top of my foot that I had to talk myself out of worrying about. It wasn’t sudden or terribly sharp, but it was new, which has its own destructive narrative. I Tried to stand up straighter and use the rest of my body to help my foot with the workload. I also recited the very cheesy but very helpful sports meditation that I have been listening to how the last couple of months, some of which goes like this: “I am exactly where I want to be. I trust my training. I am strong and healthy….” embarrassing but effective.

The trail was lined with ferns, poison ivy, and volunteer trees trying to make it work among their more mature peers. Every now and then I walked through a wave of mist.

I passed the kids that i met on springer and then they passed me about 10 minutes later as we hoofed it up a gradual incline. I should really get their names if I’m gonna keep seeing them.

The trail wound through the forest with a steep drop off to the right for a couple of miles. I came upon a group of four people, three adult men and one teenage boy who were standing in the middle of the trail. they moved for me and then about three minutes later I had to move for them so they could pass me on a flat stretch. The kid in front gave me a Sheepish look, and I said “it’s inevitable so I’ll just wait here for you.” The guy in back turned away from me and clinched his jaw as he passed by, which was hard not to interpret as some sort of hostility, whether it through hiker or maybe homophobia or who knows what. The second round of being passed set my slow hiker demons off on a trot of their own. I pulled out my new mantra for just such an occasion “I’m here to complete, not compete” and tried to talk myself out of the looming funk. There’s something especially frustrating about being passed by people who get to be faster than me in part because their birth lottery gave them that body.

The wind picked up as the trail rose in elevation. I actually had to stop and put my gloves on because the damp air had chilled my hands beyond the point of comfort.

I climbed up to the view in today’s headline picture, which had cleared enough because of the same wind that was chilling my digits. Then came a short drop down to another flat stretch with the wind whipping through the trees making it sound more like I was at the beach rather than in the middle of the woods. Two guys from the shelter last night, Dave and Kevin, caught up with me at the Overlook. I let them pass by and went off on a side trail to pee without getting spied by the person behind them. (My newish strategy for being caught in a clump of hikers is to ask the last one if anyone is behind them.)

I Took a snack break on the side of the hill because I was getting too hungry. When I got moving again, I Talked to Oakland while she went about her morning routine at home because there was no walk to work today.

The trail dropped down into Woody gap which was a wind tunnel but I managed to find an empty water bottle in one of the bathrooms that I have turned into it my new scoop!

The climb out of woody gap was nonexistent, but a little while later we had our first real climb of the hike so far. It led up to this view where I ran into kids from Springer again.

One of them is going by the name turkey. the other one’s name went right out of my head as soon as he said it because they all have the same name Kevin, Dave, Jacob, Justine, blah blah. I didn’t stick around long because their third person lit up a cigarette. I’m also anxious about save at the camping spot this evening, so I kept moving even though I have no expectation that I can actually stay in front of them. I did take great joy in staying in front of a couple of older gentleman with giant packs coming at me while I sat on my snack rock. When I heard their voices, i picked up my pack and scurried away from them up the hill. What do they have in there??

After the Overlook Trail flattened out to a nice Ridge walk. The trail wound down around the mountain and dipped down to an ugly stretch that abutted a lot of tree blow downs and rocky red clay footing. I got passed by the older men that i had felt sanctimonious about staying ahead of earlier. Then came turkey, cruising along with sunglasses and headphones. When he came down behind me, I asked if there was anyone behind him. he said he didn’t think so and asked if I was looking for someone and I said nope, I have to pee! He laughed and kept on walking. I popped a squat near the edge of the trail because there’s no way I’m walking farther into the woods because it’s full of poison ivy.

Down by lance creek, I crossed over this little footbridge and wished for the umpteenth time that the people in Maine would make two-board crossings. Then there was a bit of a climb back out of the creek bed that led me up to a prettier stretch of trail with ferns and wildflowers, including this one which grows in clumps a lot like lady slippers and came in start white, shades of pink and a variegated combo.

The rest of the walk was a bit of a rush because I was worried about camping space at jarrard gap. I decided to skip my lunch break to save time and prevent even more people from passing me. I scarfed the other half of my cliffbar while I took off my long sleeve shirt because the sun had finally come out and I was starting to overheat. Then I motored through a beautiful and quiet forest until I saw this giant Blob of what I’m assuming is bear poop:

That made me scan the woods a bit more than I had been, but I saw no other sign of bears. I regretted the familiar feeling of rushing to camp because I passed several spots that would have made for great breaks. I also passed a father and son pair ambling up the trail, and I joked to myself that I had finally come across someone I could outpace. I announced myself so I didn’t scare them and made my way around the pair.

I hustled my way down the last hill before camp. my knees protested, so I backed off because I didn’t want to overdo it the way I had at the end of the whites by half-running through a thunderstorm to get to the hostel after a 19 mile day.

When I got down to the gap, I was relieved to find several camping spots still open. Dave (aka la bamba) already had a crisp setup with his Zpacks (we have the same tent). The wind whipped as I walked around contemplating where to set up. I initially thought about a spot that was somewhat secluded. As I groomed the spot, tossing rocks off into the woods, I decided that I’d rather have my tent close to others if there’s any bear activity. it also felt anti-social to tuck myself away from the central tenting area. I hustled up the hill and looked at the spot closest to la bamba and deemed it more than acceptable.

I unfolded my tent and threw a water bottle on either side of it so it wouldn’t blow away. I very nearly stopped there and made myself lunch, but I decided to plow through. I added heavy rocks to some of the stakes as the tent doors whipped and curled in the wind. The bathtub floated off the ground until i put my pack in there to weigh it down.

Then I grabbed my food bag, my zseat and my water and settled against a tree after making sure there wasn’t any poison ivy or oak to contend with. Leaf matter definitely made its way into my wrap, especially when a gust of wind blew right as I finished applying the honey. Then I didn’t realize there was honey on my finger when I picked up my gps. Hello bears! I’m right here! The one with the honey! I wiped it off as best i could and then smeared it in dirt thinking that would somehow mask the remnants of honey. After having finally gotten more than just snacks in my belly, I wandered down to the water source, which thankfully wasn’t far. It also had a pipe running from the spring so I didn’t even have to use my newly fashioned scoop. As i filtered, I thought about how people always say oh, hiking the Appalachian trail! All you have to do is walk and feed yourself. If only the work actually stopped there.

Next came the bear line: my least favorite activity because the line never goes over the intended branch the first time and it always snags on the world when I’m trying to reel it back in from the misfires. The first issue in this campsite is tree selection. Most of them are far too tall or too short. Limb choice was slim. When I’d finally made my choice and untangled the godforsaken line, La bamba came over to tell me about a tree he’d found with a good limb. I stood there with my line all reeled out and very nearly waved him off, but I decided to hear him out. I rolled up the line and walked up the trail a few hundred yards (sneaky mileage on already sore feet). This guy Kevin from the shelter last night followed along and asked if he could watch. I said no! I’m terrible at this! No one is watching!

La bamba had indeed found a good tree. He left me to get the line up while he went off to show Kevin how to do a “pct hang” after which he would also show me. Sneaky bears know how to slash your lines from the tree trunk you tie off to, so you have to add a stick bumper (basically) so that the bag gets stopped by a small stick in midair and the rest of the line hangs down with no obvious way for a bear to get the bag down. I threw my rock sack a half dozen times, failing miserably because the branch was just high enough to be out of reach for my overhand toss. I’m really unpredictable at underhand throws but I might have to give it a shot because la bamba came back and slung it over the branch underhanded on the second shot. I’m embarrassed at how bad I am at throwing a bear line. But the effort of it all at least warmed me up a bit. The wind has made today on the chillier side and it’s even colder here for whatever reason.

After marveling at the pct hang and putting my bag up there for the afternoon, there wasn’t much to do but sit around and shoot the shit over the usual litany of hiker topics (eg hiking, demographic info, and hiking). I’m still trying to strike a balance between having 1,000 miles of knowledge and not sounding like a controlling know it all. I have no clue how I come across. I also know that I don’t come close to knowing everything about this crazy thing we’re doing.

While we were talking, a younger kid who had been at the shelter last night sat down to cook some food. He boiled water and poured it over top of dried pasta in a collapsible bowl. I asked him how he was going to cook it and he said he’d hoped that the hot water would do that. As he soon found out, that didn’t really work. I suggested he put it back in the pot to soak. He somehow managed to burn it to the bottom of the pot before turning it off. Then when he was about halfway done eating, he asked if he could wash his bowl out in the stream. I slowly shook my head while sussing out the reaction from everyone else, which was thankfully the same as mine. I said he had to eat it or throw it in his trash bag and then wipe out the dish. He seemed shocked. He tried to eat more of it but gave up after a few more bites. He eventually scraped it into his trash bag making a holy mess in the process. Remind me not to camp near that kid. He’s nice but serious bear bait.

Around 5:30 I grabbed my food bag, brought it over to the log seats and made my favorite dinner: chili Mac! It’s not really macaroni and cheese-like but it’s tasty and it has lentils so it feels useful. Did my “dishes” and ate dessert (mini snickers), all the while trying to text Oakland and my dad with the incredibly spotty phone signal. I’ve been sending various family members my location when i get to camp each day. If I’m carrying the garmin I may as well use it! It came in handy the first night when I had no signal at all. The messages sometimes take upwards of 15 minutes to send out but that’s better than nothing sometimes.

After dinner and tooth brushing, I attempted to rehang my bag, but the stick wrapping part is tricky with a thin line cutting into your fingers. La bamba must have been watching from a distance because he appeared out of nowhere to help me. I insisted on doing it myself because I can’t count on someone to be around all the time, so he talked me through it. I managed to get it up but we both realized at the same time that I had forgotten to thread the bear line back through the carabiner (the crucial step that makes the stick act as a stopper). I pulled the bag down, la bamba threaded the line through and then let me re-tie the string by myself. Viola! My first PCT hang. It hurts, but it’s better than having to re-tie a knot to a tree trunk.

I wandered back to my tent to get warm and start the long process of typing full sentences on a tiny screen. I’m finishing this to the sound of wind whipping through the trees, my tent door flapping, and the sound of the Alabama couple talking in their tent.

Mile 15.7 to mile 26.3 (10.6)

Total miles: 34.6

Creature feature: not much happening in the woods today. A thrush and another bird which I think might be a type of vireo but I need more signal to be able to look it up

2017 – Day 110: 1,000 mile edition

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**This a continuation of the story of my 2017 hike**

I had to sleep in one of 2 positions last night, neither of which were very comfortable because of the bend in my arm and the stabbing pain I experienced whenever I tried to roll onto my right side. The splint seems to be making life more uncomfortable even though I know it’s for the best because it immobilizes my elbow. I woke up around 630 feeling poorly rested and achy. I heard one of the owners knock on the doors of other hikers and call out that breakfast would be ready in 15-20 minutes. We hadn’t signed up for breakfast, but I wanted to get a decent start on the day to leave time for slow hiking, so I rolled out of bed and began the process of changing clothes. By rolled, I mean literally rolled out of bed because it was the easiest way to sit up without putting any strain on my arm. Cotton remained in bed while I went downstairs to put together my breakfast.

As I mixed together my usual granola/muesli medley with a yogurt taken from the well stocked store in the back room of the hostel, I asked the owner if I could join the other hikers for breakfast with my own food. I received a polite but firm no, that would not be an acceptable practice because it might make the others uncomfortable. I had only asked the question to be polite, expecting an affirmative wave of the hand. His answer took me by surprise and amplified the growing feeling of losing my place in the hiker community. I directed my gaze at the highly important task of stirring my food while I pretended to be okay with the idea of eating alone in the kitchen. I felt silly for being so unhinged by the situation, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of rejection as the sound of idle conversation filtered in from the dining room. My breakfast went down in gluey lumps as Tucker, the resident terrier, rested his chin on my knee in the hopes of capitalizing on my loss of appetite.

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I rinsed my bowl in the sink as the other hikers refilled their coffee mugs and loitered at the table. Then I went back upstairs to get ready for the day ahead. We’re “slackpacking” today, which means we are carrying only day hiking supplies in our regular packs, so I pulled out the items I didn’t need while Cotton ate a cliff bar and collected herself. I’m using today as a preview of what it might be like to hike with one working arm, and it became immediately apparent that my pack would be a source of struggle. Have you ever tried to use a zipper one-handed? Yeah, not so effective. Neither is closing a roll top, wide mouthed bag and then buckling it all together. I managed a lumpy version of the usually tightly rolled closure and slung my bag over my good arm to take it downstairs.

Cotton and I piled into the truck of the kilt-wearing hostel assistant whose name escapes me. We followed him 15 minutes up the road to deliver Cotton’s car to our exit point for the day and then he ferried us back to our starting point at the hostel. As we fussed with extending my hiking poles, the clasps of which had become vice-like and nearly impossible to open/close, I heard someone call out “Checklist!” I turned to find Hawaii, First Aid and Sunny resting on the porch of the hostel after their crossing of the Kennebec (this is part of the gaggle of hikers that I had spent a couple of days with around Mahoosuc Notch).  I explained the origins of my splint as they each dug into their collection of snacks. They expressed sympathy for my arm, which I was grateful to receive while also feeling the simmer of envy at their ability to finish what they started.

Cotton and I headed down Main Street towards the river. I clomped along with one pole and my left arm slung across my chest. We passed what appeared to be a thru hiker who had been met by a few family members at the river crossing. I made eye contact with everyone we crossed paths with expecting to get interrogated about my arm, but no one appeared to notice, which was both a surprise and a relief.

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When we reached the water’s edge, we saw the canoe ferry operator picking up a load of passengers from the western bank. To give you some context, from approximately late May to mid-October, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy contracts Greg Caruso, a part-time ferry operator, to assist hikers in crossing the Kennebec River. This is done because the crossing is 400-feet wide and has a strong current under the best of conditions. To make matters more complicated, there is a hydroelectric facility upstream that releases water without warning, which causes a surge in both depth and current. Needless to say, I had absolutely no intention of fording the river even before breaking my arm. Cotton and I watched the operator and the passenger at the bow paddle across the swift river. We were so mesmerized by the process that we didn’t realize we were supposed to be filling out release forms that were set up underneath an ez-up tent. We rushed through the forms and met Greg down at the canoe. He seemed nonplussed by my splinted arm as he lowered my bag down into the center of the canoe and held the sides steady as I took my position in the center seat. Cotton and Greg paddled us across the river towards a small gaggle of northbound hikers waiting to cross. We mentioned our intention of returning after hiking four miles south, and Greg reminded us of the 2pm deadline for the last crossing of the day. Our timing would be on the tight side, but if necessary we could always just turn back sooner and catch the necessary mileage north of our original endpoint. In thru-hiking land, miles that you cover twice only “count” once, so our plan was to hike south for 4 miles, then double back and hike 6 “new” miles north of the Caratunk House to just south of Pleasant Pond, making a total of 10 AT miles and 14.6 actual miles. I’ll pause here for those of you compelled to roll your eyes at thru-hiking logic. I totally get it.

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The sound of water lapping against the shore faded away as we wound our way up the hillside. The trail flattened for a short stretch before dipping into a hollow. Cotton peered back at me with wide eyes as the grade steepened. I assured her that I was okay, and she eventually stopped checking in with me at every change in footing.

The trail brought us within earshot of a raging stream, which I felt sure that we would have to cross in some perilous manner because: Maine. I felt relieved when it became clear that we were going to walk parallel to the stream for the time being. We picked our way through rocky sections with the occasional root-filled rise in elevation that felt like a warm embrace relative to the body slamming terrain I’d covered since entering Maine.

Then came the log crossing. One of the hikers from the Caratunk house stood warily eyeing the slick, narrow log that spanned the banks, hanging several feet in the air above the stream. He urged us to cross ahead of him, clearly steeling himself for the task ahead. Cotton went first, opting for the winged approach that resulted in a graceful navigation across the sodden, knotty log.

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I balanced my pole in the fingers of my left hand and put one foot on the bridge. The surface was as slippery as I’d imagined, and I felt my pulse quicken while also wondering how Cotton had made it look so easy. The “railing” of the bridge (or should I say “bridge”) was placed at such a height that I had to bend at the waist to use it for support. I shuffled across the bridge without incident and stepped foot on solid ground with the dread of our return trip swirling in my stomach.

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The weather was overcast and humid, and the darkened tree trunks, still wet from yesterday’s rain, amplified the greens around us. We crossed another log footbridge that had been cut with a mercifully flat walking surface and wasn’t as saturated as the previous log (Cotton maintained her winged strategy). The trail wound us through a sparse pine forest with brilliant moss and other ground cover with a raging waterfall off to our left. We stopped to take in the sound of water coursing over the boulders, but we didn’t give ourselves much time for gawking.

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We eventually rounded a corner to see this large pond with a mist covered mountain staring at us from the distant shore. The trail skirted a beaver damn that made for pesky footing with jagged rocks and unevenly set boards.

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I tried not to think about how close the water’s edge was as I picked my way past the dam. Our pace slowed even more as we entered an exceptionally rooty and muddy section. With the ferry deadline looming and sloppy tree roots as far as the eye could see, we decided to turn around and catch the remaining .2 miles on the north end of our goal for the day.

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As we made our way back to the ferry, I became overwhelmed by a visceral sadness. I did my best to keep it together because, as mentioned many times over the course of this journey, it is difficult to hike with tear-filled eyes. But the gravity of the situation was too much for me, and I let myself cry for a few steps here and there as Cotton walked ahead of me. I had worked so hard to get here, and two days ago, I had felt so ready for the final northbound tasks ahead of me (e.g. the 100 mile wilderness and Mt. Katahdin). And in a matter of seconds, my intended version of a thru-hike had vanished. There would be no Katahdin this year. That scramble is difficult enough with all four limbs in working condition, so attempting it with one arm was completely out of the question. There’s also no way I could cover enough ground with one-ish arms to actually finish the southern half this year [2017]. I tried to pull myself back to my immediate surroundings, with little success until it came time to re-cross the dreaded slip ‘n slide. Cotton skittered over the bridge as easily as the first time, and put herself in position to take my picture as I made my way across.

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I went with the same strategy as before: hiking pole in my left hand (having not yet been given any doctor’s orders not to hold anything in that hand), and my right hand shuffling along the railing to steady my balance. About 2/3 of the way across, my right foot slipped off the log and I came crashing onto my rear, catching myself against the railing with both of my armpits, thus preventing myself from completely falling off. Here’s the slightly blurry image that Cotton managed to capture:

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Pain shot through my left arm, and I had no idea what to do next. Standing up seemed both an impossible feat of physics and unwise given the slick footing. Cotton scrambled up the stream bank and back to the end of the bridge as I did the only thing I could think of: butt scooch along the wet log until I got close enough to grab Cotton’s hand. Not my proudest moment, butt scooching with a broken arm in the middle of Maine. Cotton helped me to my feet at the edge of the bridge and stared at me in wide-eyed silence. I felt humiliated for having fallen when Cotton had managed the crossing twice with no incident. Why was I such a klutz? [unrealistic expectations for hiking with a broken arm? who? me?] I felt like a failure as I stood there with my arm throbbing and my mind racing through scenarios in which the impact of smacking my arm against the log had just made my hopefully “simple” fracture into a misaligned mess.

There was nothing to do in that moment except keep moving, so I assured Cotton that I was okay, and we resumed our positions with her tromping ahead of me while I sunk into a desolate mood. I wanted to quit for the day, but I knew that part of my despair had to do with exhaustion and hunger, so I decided not to make any choices about distance until after we had eaten lunch.

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We made it to the ferry with about 15 minutes to spare and had a breezy trip back over the Kennebec. Then we plopped down on the pebble covered riverbank and silently scarfed our respective lunches. As I ate, I knew that there was no way I could stop short of the 1,000 mile mark. My splinted arm was hot and achy, but that would likely be the case whether I hiked 6 more miles or went back to Caratunk and sat on the porch.

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Onward we went, back across the road and into a hardwood forest that was basically a green tunnel with rolling hills and easy footing. The terrain reminded me of northern VA and southern PA, which caused my brain to ricochet through memories of the miles I had already covered. Back to the crying place I went, doing my best to blink away the tears so I could safely put on foot in front of the other. The trail eventually went down a gradual pine-needle covered hill and led us along several small streams.

With 2.7 miles to go, we stopped at one of the streams to filter water. I fumbled my way through the task with my working arm, eventually relenting and letting Cotton help. Neither of us were quite ready to move on, so we sat with our feet draped in the cool water. I don’t have a strong memory of what I said in those moments, but I do know that I cried a lot and Cotton continued to be a supportive presence with a helpful combination of validation and silence. We finally pulled our feet out of the water and did our best to dry off before donning our shoes to make our way north.

The trail got a bit messy, with bog boards and roots crossing the path with some frequency. We still had about an hour to go, so we took another short break to eat snacks. Cotton managed to drop a fair amount of her trail mix on the ground, so I dutifully sat in the middle of the trail and helped her eat it. Leave no trace!

The grassy parking area where Cotton’s car sat waiting for us appeared far too soon. We walked a little ways past the car to “officially” cover the necessary mileage. I dropped my pack and stooped over a flat rock to make a 1,000 mile marker out of Fritos on a rock. Then I ate the evidence, and we turned back to the car to call it a day. I have little memory of the ride back to the Caratunk House and most of the evening. I know we had macaroni and cheese with sausage for dinner out at the picnic table, and Cotton practiced her banjo for an upcoming wedding gig. I have a faint memory of the owners applauding our efforts with an air of incredulity. After dinner, we walked back out to the river to catch sunset, but there weren’t any colors in the sky to speak of. Both Cotton and I sat by the river stewing in our respective uncertainties. She wasn’t ready to go home, and I had no home to return to with no obvious next steps except “meet with orthopedic surgeon” and “don’t make arm worse.”

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We sat by the river until twilight and then carefully made our way back to the house. I unwrapped my throbbing arm and fumbled through a shower, making sure to put neosporin on the scrape that the doctor warned me not to neglect. My wrist and fingers felt wonky, which made me worry about tendon and nerve damage, but there wasn’t much point in going too far down that road, so I told myself the weird feelings were to be expected. I iced my arm in the downstairs living room while rain pattered against the windows. Tomorrow I will start the process of actually resting and working on getting the swelling in my arm down. Today’s “1,000 mile mission” felt absolutely necessary and was likely a terrible idea based on the increased puffiness in my elbow. [2019 note: I would make the same decision if faced with that choice today, although I might say “fuck it” to the official versus unofficial mileage debate.]

Mile 2034.3 to mile 2044.3 (10)

(14.6 if you count the out and back across the river)

Total miles: 1000.1

Creature feature: a chattering king fisher, a heron at dusk at the river, and a few red squirrels.

Day 35: topsy turvy edition 


I woke up so many times last night. Pretty sure I got about 5 hours of sleep with all the tossing and turning and then waking up naturally at 5am. I heard noises in the kitchen even at that hour. I later found out that the rattling about was our host, georgio, cooking us breakfast. I finally gave up on sleeping around 545 because I could hear buzzcut fidgeting, and I was starting to get hungry. I hobbled downstairs and georgio said oh the little church mice are stirring. He insisted I go back to bed, but I told him it was too late. I went down into his basement and folded our laundry. Then I creaked back upstairs with my tight Achilles’ tendons. They’re super unhappy first and last thing in the day. I can’t wait to soak my feet/ankles in epsom salt and hot water. Why does that feel so good?? Halfway and I were wondering about that way back at the holly inn. 
By 630, everyone was downstairs, but Giorgio made no moves towards serving food. I have to eat pretty soon after waking, and by that point I’d been up for nearly 90 minutes. I came so close to asking him when we were going to eat, but it felt rude. Instead, I went upstairs and busied myself by putting my sleeping gear away. Then I couldn’t take it anymore, and I busted into my peanut butter and ate it with Fritos. It’s a combination I’ve seen buzzcut eat, and it’s surprisingly good. The snack sort of helped, but it also just made me want real food.

 I went back down stairs and pretended to be involved in the conversation while dying to say, can we eat NOW. Finally, JD slid forward on the edge of the couch and Giorgio took the cue. Then he made us all eggs to go with her bratwurst and wheatberries. The food was incredible, and he wouldn’t let us help with any of the dishes. Then we gathered ourselves and piled into the car with the dog frantically bouncing from one side of the backseat to the other between buzzcut and me.

Giorgio of course refused our offers to pay for his gas and the groceries that he bought expressly to make us breakfast. We said goodbye to him at Arden Valley Road, and he went off into the woods with his dog. I tried to walk quickly to warm up in the cold drizzle, but the rocks were slick, and I felt like my feet were cinderblocks. I had to slow down for fear of tripping or stepping in a way that would hurt my cranky ankle. The woods in that part of Harriman felt expansive. There were mammoth boulders amongst large, spread out trees with fern ground cover. I tried to look around me, but I was just too cold. I considered stopping to put on another layer, but I knew that within the half hour, I would probably be comfortable enough. I’d rather have a dry mid layer for later than start sweating in a little while and have to stop all over again for a wardrobe change. It feels funny to call my collection of clothes a “wardrobe.” I’ve worn the same 2 shirts for the last 35 days with the variety of either having my Rapha wool shirt or my rain coat as a top layer. When I get to camp and I’m done setting up whatever sleep system is going in place, things start to get crazy. That’s when I put on my puffy coat. Living at the crusty fringes of fashion. 
Somehow JD fell behind, which left buzzcut and me walking in silence for the first hour. As we passed through a boggy area with several little stream crossings that were tricky in the rain, buzzcut fell back because she needed to check on a toe situation. I decided not to wait because something about her energy seemed like she wanted to be alone, and I knew I would get cold if I just stood around. I spent the better part of the next hour walking around taking pictures of the misty woods and feeling happy that my body was not as sore as I expected. I, too, had a toe situation that I should have checked out, but I’m out of the proper tape, so I couldn’t do much about it anyway. The trail took us up towards more exposed rocks and low lying bushes. Rain fell steadily for the entire morning. 

Around 1130, I made it to William brien Shelter, which thankfully was directly on the trail. I decided to take the opportunity to have a roof while prepping my lunch wrap. I saw a man named clean sweep that I met the day before and treebeard. I have been wondering how Treebeard fared yesterday with the intense elevation changes and his achy knee. As it turns out, he stopped at fingerboard shelter, a.k.a. bearville, because he was too tired to move on. The pesky bear stole his food bag! Along with four others. Treebeard said that he salvaged some of the food the bear deemed uninteresting, and when he stood on the shelter porch he could see the bear watching him from about 20 yards away. 
As I sat there listening to treebeard’s crazy story, I made a peanut butter, frito and honey wrap that I decided to just eat right then instead of waiting until later down the trail. JD and buzzcut arrived looking soggy and haggard. Buzzcut stepped into the shelter and sat down on one of the bunks. I happened to look back at her and noticed that her eyes looked wet with something more than just rainfall. I asked her if she wanted to talk about it fully expecting to be brushed off. But she nodded yes, so I sat on the bunk with her, and she said, I’m gonna go home. She said she misses her kids, and listening to Georgio talk about being estranged from his family made her realize that the sacrifice of being on the trail might be too great. She couldn’t come up with convincing answers (for herself) as to why she should stay. I validated the idea of letting herself take a break and going home. At that point, other people were listening in and they echoed the opinion that if she wanted to go home it would be OK. Then we set about trying to figure out where she could get to the nearest road and actually have cell phone signal to call a cab (seven lakes road was closest but no signal). I pulled up the map that I already have on my phone for Harriman and realized that the point at which the trail crosses the Palisades Parkway is less than a quarter of a mile from the visitor center. I called to make sure they were open, and then told buzzcut that would be the best place for her to stay warm and find resources. In that moment, I felt cold and sad and so uninterested in camping in the rain alone, so I called stony point center to see if they had any open rooms for the night. I can handle rain and I can handle cold, but I can’t handle both of them at the same time on a day that also happens to be the day a good to trail friend leaves. I opened the invitation to share a room with JD and prepared, and told him to think about it over the next few miles. My new plan was to walk to the bear mountain bridge and get picked up by the center’s staff. This would involve another 9 miles of walking. JD seemed interested, but skeptical as to whether he could get that far. Treebeard expressed similar sentiments and said he needed to stop at the visitor center to use the facilities because he didn’t feel like pooping in the rainy woods. 
So we set off to get buzzcut to the road and ourselves north towards a warm, dry room. First things first, climbing up this pile of rocks. 
Then the trail leveled out into more of the same terrain with mild ups and downs. We had a short steep climb up to this point for a view of the neighboring ridges and swift mine lake. Then the trail headed back down into the woods and eventually popped us out onto the shoulder of the palisades parkway, which is a very busy highway. I felt like a turtle as I tried my best to run across the road between cars going 50-60 miles an hour. Okay it’s New York, they were probably creeping on 70mph. We made it across the northbound lanes and crossed the wooded median to the southbound side. I gave buzzcut a quick hug and watched her walk up the shoulder towards the visitor center. it was hard to see her go, but people have to make the choices that are right for them. I didn’t have a lot of time or space to really let her absence sink in because I needed to keep moving for warmth. Once we crossed the southbound lanes, JD and I spread out to our own paces. 


I caught up with him while he was chatting with the couple that are out hiking with their three month old baby. I get slow down by taking pictures, and JD gets slow down by talking to everyone he comes across.

After is a goodbye to the cutest little family ever, we made the long, lung burning climb up what I thought was bear mountain, but actually turns out to be the mountain before bear mountain (need to look that up). As we started to climb, I looked at the elevation chart and laughed. Here’s a screenshot of what it looked like (I’m the little blue dot).


It actually wasn’t as bad as I expected, and there were several view points once we got higher up the mountain. It started raining again as we enter a flat section, so I had to take out my raincoat, which I had taken off for the climb. so much adjusting at any given moment. Here are a few pictures from the walk along the ridge and back down to the road. 

Then came the climb up what was actually bear mountain, which involved a butt ton of stone steps. In some ways, stone steps are great because they cut down on the stabilizing required on uneven rocks and roots. However, they are incredibly hard on the balls of my feet and make my legs ache because there’s no give when you land. 

Around 3p Treebeard texted to say that he was waiting at the bear mountain inn for us. He decided to cut his day short and give himself a break. With that in mind, I texted our shuttle driver to move the pick up location from the bridge to the end, which cut a mile from our day. At that point, I had no qualms about cutting it a little short. The exposed rock and the steps were turning my feet into minced pancakes. 


I told everyone I knew to avoid bear mountain on a weekend, and had accidentally arrived there on a major holiday. But the weather saved me from having to elbow check people and feel like a smelly weirdo. When we finally got to the bear mountain overlook, it was absolutely deserted. I couldn’t believe it. The last time I was here, the place was crawling with tourists and weekenders. JD and I stopped at the Overlook to catch a wider view of the cloud covered mountains we had been seeing all morning, and then kept moving down the other side of the mountain. I hiked that section of the AT last October with a group of friends I know from banjo Camp and my former partner. I can remember how my friends got really excited about the idea of leaving something there for me to find on my hike. They didn’t do it for logistical reasons, but the memory made me feel like I had good company as I winced my way down the never ending set of stone steps that was only mildly broke up by flat stretches of crushed gravel. 


JD and I made it to our date with the shuttle driver right on time. We walked to the front of the inn as the van pulled up. A talkative man named Rick said, are you jay? To jd because he had thought he had spoke to a man earlier via text and in the 20 second phone call we had about timing. I knew that he thought he was speaking to a man when he spelled out the name Jay in a text, but I didn’t correct him because I enjoy the gender ambiguity and the surprise when people realize that they’ve been speaking to someone who is not a man. I felt a little bad for not telling him, but also kind of good about causing confusion and indirectly pointing out the assumptions that we all make about gender and the way it can inform our conversations. I’m sure there’s a more eloquent way to put that, but writing this at a late hour after another long day doesn’t really lend itself to articulation.


We made it to stony point center around six and went through a very confusing check-in process that was too tedious to describe. It’s apparently a multi faith activism retreat center, which i did not realize when I booked it standing in the rain st the top of a mountain. By the time we got our stuff into the room, I was nearing a food meltdown. Civility and patience were quickly going out the window, so I set up my pot to boil water and shoved Fritos in my face until I felt slightly more sane. After about 15 minutes my rice was ready. I sat in silence and ate it while staring at the wall. Eventually, I felt human enough to carry on a conversation and take a shower. A gentleman named. Chainsaw, whom I have mentioned in passing as a late arriving high energy character, agreed to pick up a few items for me when he got ferried to the grocery store. I have an awkward amount of food to get me through the next two days, but the idea of walking around a grocery store made me want to cry. The only downside to getting the favor is that he forgot to buy Fritos. I guess I will rummage through the bear mountain vending machines tomorrow before we set out. 

I’m writing this in a large common room with a pretty decent color scheme given the antiquated look of the exterior, a wood-burning fireplace,and a crucifix evoking tablecloth on the glass topped table to my right. Time to go crawl into my sleeping bag on the queenish (but actually more like a double) that I’m sharing with JD who is also using his sleeping bag. 
Mile 1389.4 to mile 1402.9 (13.5) 

Total miles: 399.7
Creature feature: saw several cute little frogs today and two giant turkeys across the road when we got dropped off at our starting point. Not much happening in the way of interesting birds. No snakes today, but a couple of lizards! one with a blue tail. 

Day 16: creekside edition 


Another cold morning, although not quite as frigid as yesterday. I woke up almost exactly the same time as yesterday (558 to be exact). Sadly, the sunrise was mostly yellow and gray, so I debated between going back to sleep or getting up to make breakfast. My stomach decided for me, so I walked across the trail and down the hill to take my first cat hole. As Zach described it, pooping in the woods IS rather peaceful. I little hard on the knees, but not bad.
After that experience, I untied our food bags and brought them over to the little firing. No sign of stirring from Zack or the street, but I felt eager to get moving because of the temperatures, so I started packing up the gear in my tent. As I mixed peanut butter into my muesli, Zack crawled out of his tent. He made himself coffee and ate a granola bar with peanut butter and honey on top. The straight, whose trail name is Wall Street, which I should probably use instead of calling him the straight, came out of his tent shortly thereafter. He stood there with his perfectly groomed beard and remarked about how it was nice that the cold mornings were behind us. Meanwhile, Zach is holding his gloved hands up to his little pocket rocket flame for warmth and I’m wearing 85% of the clothing I brought with me. Zach and I both grunted in his direction and went about our routines. 
I left camp while zach packed his bag, his tent still fully in place. The first mile was a bit rocky, but it quickly turned into a leisurely set of rolling ups and downs. I got water at a little stream directly on the trail (as in, I sat down in the middle of the trail and filtered water) because our camp site last night didn’t have a water source. I need to fashion a scoop cup because the sawyer filter water bag is the bane of my existence. I think it’s actually made of water repellant material. A scoop will make it much easier to fill the squeeze bag. 

I hit PA state game lands after a road crossing and also stumbled upon a wild eyed hiker pulling their pants up after some sort of function about 30 yards from a water source, which is a no no. I got a stiff, weird vibe, so I didn’t pause while I muttered hello and hiked on by. 


The woods over the next mile or so were filtered with morning light and birdsong. There were probably a dozen little stream crossings making for a nice walk. Also saw this little guy between two rocks. 


Then came a rocky hill that wasn’t steep, but it kept going after teasing little flat sections. I had a partial view of dehart reservoir for some of the hill. Around 9, I texted Chrissy to say that I was interested in catching up with them and she let me know that they hadn’t even eaten breakfast yet!

Zach caught me on the never ending hill and we had a laugh at the slowness of the other half of our group. When we got to the campsite, they were STILL packing up. As I laughed with Jimmy about their delayed start, Chrissy yelled from her tent, is that checklist?! Is she here already?? And then she gave a congratulatory whoop, because she’s a whooper. 

Apparently they had quite a night with a few porcupine visitors that scared everyone except halfway because he was snoring his face off all night. Zach and I left the nerds to their packing because we got cold just standing around, and I had water to filter at the stream a mile away. 


The little stream had a hearty patch of rhododendron alongside it and I felt like I was in the jungle while I sat on a rock and squeezed that infernal water bag over and over again. 

Much of the second half of today’s trail had rhododendron. I’m sad they aren’t blooming yet, and I hope I haven’t somehow timed my hike to be too early for all of my favorite forest flowers. I lost my phone signal right as I hit the stream and didn’t get it back until Chrissy and I stopped for lunch at the campground that used to be an old coal miner settlement. Or it has a trail that leads to the settlement? I’m not sure, but it has this mailbox with the trail register in it. 

After a lunch of tuna wrap with crushed Fritos and a dash of honey, my phone caught a signal. At that point, I should have had the wherewithal to warn people that I might not have a signal the rest of the day (sorry mom). Who knew a seemingly not remote section of the trail would be a complete dead zone? (turns out we were adjacent to a Fort Indiantown Gap military base, so that’s my guess) 

After lunch, I felt tired and my feet were getting sore. At that point, I’d covered about 10 miles. I also felt dejected by my inability to keep up with anyone in the group. I don’t necessarily want to talk and walk. In fact, I prefer to walk in silence, but something about getting passed all the time drives me nuts and makes me feel weak. That feeling opened the gateway for other sad feelings, and I spent a few minutes trying not to fall on my face while crying. I decided to listen to comfort music (my trusty running playlist and a sad playlist my steady made), which helped a little bit. I also saw a few new birds, which helped remind me about part of why I’m putting myself through this: to observe the natural world around me. 

About a mile from our intended stopping point, I ran into Chrissy plopped in the middle of the trail rewrapping the sad spots on her feet. That gave me a chance to be in front her for awhile. The trail eventually switched from rhododendron to mostly evergreens with a black shale like rock that flints when the light catches the surface just right. I heard a loud rushing sound off to my left, which eventually materialized into this fast moving creek. 


Rausch creek to be exact. It’s set well below the ground level with high eroded sides and trees perched with exposed root systems. We are camped at the tent site about a half mile from the shelter spur trail. The creek nearly drowns out the gunfire from military field exercises nearby. 

Anyway, we all decided we would rather camp at a tent site than near the shelter because of the inviting creek. We had another great fire around which we ate our respective starchy weird meals and laughed about nonsense. There were tiny white iris looking flowers by the creek bank where I filtered water. They were the size of my pink fingernail and had delicate purple stripes. 


 I soaked my feet in the frigid creek water for as long as I could stand to help soothe the throbbing after a longish day of rock dodging. 

I’m not sure what’s happening with the group after Thursday. Chrissy and halfway are contemplating a zero day. Zach is more in the mood to keep moving. Jimmy has a friend coming to meet him Thursday and will likely do short days until Chrissy and halfway catch up with him. I’m not sure what to do. It feels too soon for another zero, and I’m not sure that I want to be a third wheel with Jimmy and his friend. Zach is ready for higher miles than me. I’m torn between the recuperation of a zero and guaranteed company and the desire to stay a little bit ahead of my schedule. If I keep moving, I could end up alone for who knows how long. Or I could meet another fun group and settle in with other people for awhile. At some point, all of our schedules will shake things up anyway. I’m not doing this to be alone, and I’m not doing it to meet my next best friend. Okay, enough deliberating. 

For now, I’m going to go to sleep with the sound of creek to my right, the moon shining off to my left (I placed my doors so that I can get the eastern light in the morning), and a helicopter circling very close by. 

Mile 1163.2 to mile 1176.7 (13.5) 

Total miles: 173.5 

Creature feature: a little black and white zebra striped bird that hopped along a tree trunk and was really fun to watch, a bird with a greenish yellow cap and chest and a darker body color, and what I think was a navy colored bird with a bit of white flashing on the wing and in the tail feathers. No clue what any of them are. Oh and a chipmunk skittering along a log somewhere in the rhododendron tunnel after lunch. A frog (toad?) tucked between two giant rocks that I happened to notice as I was stepping over it. And a black and white beetle (lady bug size) with crazy painted shell.