2019-Day 44: Tennessee red edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mile 437.6 to mile 449.0 (11.4)

Total miles: 457.3

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

2019-Day 34: nolichucky edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mile 333.1 to mile 344.1 (11)

Total miles: 352.4

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

2019-Day 23: tunnel edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mile 218 to mile 231.1 (13.1) 

Total miles: 239.4 

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

2019-Day 18: creekside zero day edition

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Zero day! I Slept until about 8am after a middle of the night freak out about a possible tick on my ankle (answer: not a tick). I had breakfast with the section hiker and Cynthia standing around fighting about healthcare systems. Cynthia kept giving the section hiker a piece of her mind when he said something idiotic about Obamacare. it was both enjoyable and more politics than I care to experience during breakfast. 

The day consisted of long stretches of blog zombie-ing. A trip to the grocery store in town that I should have skipped because I lost over two hours of blogging time. It would have been a shorter trip but Jeff decided to take us on a cool but fundatory tour of the cheoah river complete with a footbridge:

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Apparently the day we went by they had done a “dam release” which meant that kayakers were clamoring to head out into churning waters. there isn’t a kayaker in this video but you can get a sense of what the crazy people were in for.

The detour meant more winding roads and a very unfortunate amount of car sickness for me. I was green by the time we pulled in the driveway and it was noon. I went to my room and got straight to blogging. Around 2, I made myself kale salad with avocado and a leftover piece of sausage from the morning. After eating i sat and fussed over my timing for the smokies which has changed because one of the shelters I intended to use is closed because of an aggressive bear. I’m now going to be in the smokies for a day longer which means I don’t have quite enough food. I beat myself up for not figuring this out before having gone to the store. I called my mom and had a minor meltdown while trying to talk to her and organize my food at the same time. I think I also haven’t really spoken to anyone other than Oakland since the fatality on Tuesday and hearing my mom’s voice made me want to cry about it. For better or worse, I didn’t do that, but I did almost cry about the Smokies logistical hiccup and having to carry a heavier bag. Here are two happy dogs to distract everyone from my emotional wobbling (also the “tiling” of images is only possible because I’m on a library computer! Sadly can’t figure out how to do this on my phone):

I decided to give myself a break from planning and get in the hot tub for a few minutes. This came with a loaner bathing suit that was the most awful and most feminine thing I’ve worn in a VERY long time. I should have just used my spandex and sports bra but I didn’t feel like having to dry them again and I didn’t want to degrade the tick spray on my shorts. When I came out of the bathroom, I remarked absentmindedly to Jeff that I was now in drag. He heard me and didn’t understand what I meant. I heard him in the laundry room saying “drag? Now why would you say you’re in drag?” I poked my head around the door and said well, I don’t really identify as female. He then asked if I was transgender (good for him for even knowing the concept) and I said no, I’m just non-binary. He then mentioned that there are pronouns for that and i said yes, as a matter of fact I use those in real life whenever possible, but I haven’t tried to do it on the trail because it feels like too much of a hurdle and the awareness is lower than I feel like dealing with. Cynthia came over and joined in on the conversation, and the whole time I just wanted to walk away to be in the hot tub. I finally said that out loud and left them to sort themselves out. 

The hot tub was a good idea minus the feeling of being trapped in the wrong clothing. Then I took another shower and went back to blogging. We had dinner with Cynthia, Jeff and the section hiker again. This time they schooled the section hiker on his opinions about government regulations. It was amusing to watch them talk circles around him and I respected their intelligence and indefatigable approach to the conversation rather than just smiling and nodding. 

I had another dicey WiFi phone call Oakland and then back to the blog. Jess and I were then in one room for the night because two new couples were there as b&b guests, One of whom didn’t stop talking until about 11pm. I’m finishing this to the sound of microwave popcorn being made in the kitchen and my own sighs of frustration because my guthook app is being idiotic – the user comments disappeared and I rely on them to make choices about hostels and tent sites. I have once again stayed up too late. Tomorrow, the Smokies!

Mile 166.3 to mile 166.3 (0)

Total miles: 167.6

Creature feature: DOGS. and more dogs. and a couple of spiders

2019-Day 8: hiawassee zero day edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

Total miles: 77.5

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

Day 67: mountain meadows zero edition 


I slept until 730 this morning bringing me to a grand total of 9.5 hours of sleep. Huzzah. And evidence of needing to take a break because I felt ready for a nap after breakfast. Instead, I went to work on fixing up blog posts and helping halfway with his technological issues. That brings us to lunchtime wherein we got a ride to the deli by Alex, the manager, who has been helpful and interesting. He’s into mycology and makes tinctures from mushrooms he’s foraged. He wants to build a model for using forests in ways that go beyond logging. Sort of a roots to treetop model where mushrooms and other medicinal plants become part of the economic model. Or something like that. Anyway, guess who I saw at the deli?? 


Disco! Moss caught me taking his picture again. They came by the lodge later, but didn’t want to pay for tenting so they kept going. I didn’t really need to buy a sandwich and probably should have just eaten the food in my room, but I have a weakness for sandwiches. Oh well. Halfway and I ate in the common room while talking to one of his trail friends who had arranged to be picked up by her sister there. 

After our late lunch, I went back to my room and felt too full to lay back down to continue editing. I wandered down to the pond and met these two goofy dogs. 


Sat with my feet in the water for a bit and then laid on the dock to let them dry out. I felt guilty for not taking care of other tasks, but Halfway informed me that soaking my feet and doing nothing were indeed “productive” actions. I also received further instructions on how to do nothing from my dad and stepmother. 

After a bit of nothing, I went back to my room and exploded the food boxes I received from all of my parents. Regular supplies and a snack attack box. I’m returning here on Sunday and the staff said I could leave my food box here. That means I get the privilege of carrying 1.5 days of food, which is good because I have way too much right now. Then I did little things like washing my pot, backflushing my water filter, and making a haircut appointment for when I’m passing through Brooklyn in a few weeks. Need to tame this mountain magic going on up top. 


I went downstairs to find halfway deep in blog writing mode. I sat on an adjacent couch and went down my own rabbit hole of supply planning and transportation planning. Brace yourself for minutiae. I have to somehow figure out roughly where I will be (ha) and how to get from there to Brooklyn in 3 weeks. The family friend in NH that I know lives too far away to reasonably drive me anywhere, so I started calling NH hostels that offered shuttle services. A few phone calls later (my favorite) and some internet work and I now have a halfway decent plan (bus out of Gorham to Boston and a train from Boston to NYC) with a few moving parts (e.g. where will I be in relation to gorham? who the F knows?? I do, sort of). I have the person at the farmhouse inn and the person at the white mountains hostel to thank for figuring out where to even start. When I told the white mountains hostel guy I was trying to get from grafton notch to NYC he said “oh well you take this bus line from gorham at 750am to Boston and go from there.” Done. He gave me a somewhat flimsy response on whether he could do a shuttle when I needed it. When I balked, he said don’t worry, if I can’t do it, this guy can, and if he can’t, there are these other options. We’ll get you to gorham. So I gave in to having planned as far as I could plan. And then I bought train tickets from Boston to NY because I’m not riding buses for 10 hours in one day. 

Now I should get to sleep so I can be ready for a day of hiking in the rain. Gee, when was the last time that happened?

Miles: 0 

Total miles: 701.6 

Creature feature: fish jumping in the pond and all those silly dogs

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.