2019 Update: Let the Maine edition begin

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

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

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

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

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

2019-Day 57: bear garden zero day edition

Today is a zero day at bear garden hostel!I slept well enough on my high rise bed. We both decided to put our sleeping pads on top of the bunk mattresses because they were just too hard.

In brief, our day consisted of flannel pajama pants, jimmy dean frozen breakfast sandwiches, planning planning and more planning, picture/blog uploading at drugged hamster speeds, drying out gear, wishing we were hiking in the sunshine but knowing the break was necessary, an indigo bunting sighting, and an unending supply of good company with Oakland around. She went so far as to trim sections of my hiking stick into permanent bear line sticks that we will carry with us.

Here are a handful of pictures of the day and some shots of my Old/new poles for good measure.

Right before bed We saw a thousand flashing twinkles care of the resident lightning bugs.

Mile 558.3 to mile 558.3 (0)

Checklist total miles: 567.1

Oakland total miles: 87.4

Creature feature: so many birds! Indigo bunting, robins, Carolina wren (or a house wren?), buzzards, etc. and the owners’ two goofy German shepherds

2019-Day 55: schoolhouse edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We went down a Rocky hill to this view:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mile 534.0 to mile 547.4 (13.4)

Checklist total miles: 556.2

Oakland total miles: 76.5

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

2019-Day 51: grayson highlands pony edition

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It was a cold and slightly soggy night but everything in the tent stayed pretty dry save a few wind swept rain drops. I managed to get a fair night’s sleep until about 3am when it turned into the usual choppiness because I was worried about a downpour with every concentrated smattering of drops hitting the tent walls. Oakland had another bifurcated sleep that sadly was not nearly enough total hours. We turned to each other in our sleeping bags and discussed the strategy for our morning duties – pun intended. I volunteered to go first, then Oakland. It wasn’t actively raining but all the trees were wet as was the ground where I dug my cat hole. I had sympathetic nervous stomach and the process took longer than usual, which my knees did not thank me for. Oakland tromped off into the soggy forest after I returned and came back triumphant. Then we got our food bags down without event. Success! As we wound up our ropes it started to actually rain so we headed for the cover of the tent to eat breakfast in bed which is good for no one’s back but is better than getting soaked. 

After carefully eating our food, we packed up inside of the tent and then broke down the tent itself, which wasn’t as dirty of a process as expected. Task rabbit came over to say hi as did hank the wonder dog. We Left with soggy clammy hands at 8:05, and stopped after a few minutes of hiking because Oakland needed to rearrange things to reduce the noise in her pack.

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We continued down the misty, wet trail with rocks and roots. I had cinderblock toes that did not want to navigate the tricky footing.

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There was a fair amount of water on the trail and we crossed several small sources, so much so that oakland remarked on the abundance of water relative to hiking in northern california. We also spotted a Snail exploring along the rocks.

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The Trail Flattened out now and then but the rocks persisted. The woods around us were a vibrant green as we made our way Down to the elk garden parking lot where there was a bathroom and a trash can! We made us of the facilities while a couple of older hikers came southbound through the cowfield across the road.

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We ate snacks, emptied our trash and then made our way through the cows up a short hilly pasture. I was glad the sun came out a tiny bit and that it wasn’t raining as we traversed the open field and went back into the woods. 

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The woods were dark and misty with the occasional juncos cavorting on the trail. We eventually took an actual break (versus the snippets of breaks we’d taken thus far because of the cool temperatures) to put a bandaid on my toe and get off our feet for a few minutes. We Checked out the water sources as the wind picked up. The goosebumps and shivering dictated the end of our break. The rain started to come down harder not long after we got moving again. I didn’t take that many notes for the rest of the day because I needed to protect my phone from the rain and I was too aggravated by the rockfields that you’ll get to later in the post. I’m going to let the pictures do more of the talking for the middle part of the day. 

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We trudged our way up the rocky climb in the rain. I borrowed oakland’s phone to take a few pictures but for the most part it was a head down, just get it done kind of section. 

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We eventually came to an open area with tall ground cover all around and fog blowing through the air just enough to give us passing views of the mountains down below.

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There was pony poop everywhere! We finally made it the shelter where a giant gaggle of teenagers took up most of the floor space. A guy standing outside the shelter said to me, “they went around back.”  I no idea what he was talking about, and I had little patience in my cold, frazzled state. I said, are you talking about the ponies? because right now I don’t care about ponies. He was actually talking about someone who was looking for two hikers, but he quickly figured out that we were not the hikers in question.  

We set our packs down at the rocky edge of the shelter and pulled out our food bags. I was prepared to ask the teenagers to move but they decided it was time to leave of their own accord, so we waited for them to tromp out of the shelter in their ponchos. We plopped down in our soggy clothes onto the shelter floor. I boiled hot water in an attempt to get a bit warmer. A couple of bedraggled looking SOBO section hikers showed up and did pretty the same thing we had which was collapse and complain about the weather while eating and trying to get warm. A mouse made an appearance and proved to be crafy and very persistent. He didn’t actually get into our food bags but i’m sure he would have if he had been given a minute long window to make the leap. Dark eyed juncos also landed on the shelter floor in search of crumbs. The sun came out in fits and starts but the wind negated a lot of the sun’s warming qualities. I was in a state of disrepair and had no desire to stay put OR to keep hiking, but that was our best option. Oakland kindly filtered all of the water so that I wouldn’t have to touch anything wet. We Left around 1:45. I had sore, numb feet that were so cold that the impact of the ground hurt. The sun had cleared away enough of the fog for us to get a decent view of the hillsides around us. 

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Not too far from the shelter, we finally spotted our first batch of Ponies! We went back into the woods and walked through green tunnels of varying widths. In a slightly more open section, I happened to notice a swath of purple blossoms on the ground off to the left of the trail and decided to call it a snowdodendron because it looked like purple snow. 

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A little farther up the trail, I saw a small path lead off to the left and end at the base of a giant rock. Oakland teased me a bit, but of course we had to find out if there was a view. We scrambled up the giant rock and kept our balance in the wind to take in the sweeping views.

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I took a video of the view, but again wordpress is being cranky. You can get a small sense of the wind if you look at my jacket in the picture above. Anyway, the views were incredible and it was worth the drop in body temperature to stand up there for a few minutes. Then we continued through the rocky shitpile, which I have dubbed most of the highlands because of the pony poop and the ENDLESS rocks that NO ONE TALKS ABOUT.

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I think everyone is pony blind, because it was some of the more aggravating terrain I’ve come across in the southern half so far. We finally ran into a troup of ponies that stood practically on the trail. There was also a pony right on the other side of the sign that said “no horses,” which we both found hilarious. The top picture for today is oakland giving a quiet hello to the group and here are a few more pictures from the pony times: 

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After making it into grayson highlands state park and going through another batch of ponies, we took a break on a sunny rock to eat snacks and give our feet a rest from the rocks.

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We Passed through a field of shrub sized mountain laurel still in full bloom with little pony side trails veering off in all directions. There were several trail junctions that all had good signage. At some point, Oakland really had to pee but was dismayed by the public nature of the trail. It was close to a parking lot so there were families around. I convinced her to take a side trail just out of sight. She definitely felt better afterwards.

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We continued past several rocky formations and I felt grateful that we didn’t have to walk over them. We did however not get much in the way of a break from the rocks. The trail eventually flattened out a bit and led us through a sea of ferns. Then we descended soggy log stairs, some which were already unstable even though they looked like a new addition and we crossed a steam with a footbridge and a cable. 

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We eventually went through a fence line and took a hard right to face more rocks. when the rocks finally receded a bit, the roots took over. Task rabbit caught up with us and we walked silently together for the rest  of the way to the shelter.

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Thankfully there was a bit of sun at the shelter area so it wasn’t completely frigid. Oakland and I dropped our packs and conferred about where to set up our tents, not knowing that there were many more tenting sites around the corner from the shelter. We had differing opinions and I was close to a food exhaustion meltdown but we managed to pick a site. I grabbed a few snacks for the setup process and we got down to business. When the test was ready, we crawled in to make sure the lumps and the angle were hospitable enough for all parties. We agreed that it would do just fine. Then we took our packs over to the shelter area and boiled water while talking to snack rabbit. Once our food was set to cook, Oakland and I took turns setting up our beds. It’s possible to do it st the same time but much easier to stagger the giant flotation devices bopping around inside the tent. I sent our gps location to the parentals and Then we ate dinner with task rabbit. bare burrito with leftover lunch tortillas and a few Fritos for both of us. Another guy we’d seen at Thomas knob shelter arrived while we ate. His name is Tad and he’s a talkative person. I felt like I was scarfing my food, partially because it was warm and partially because I felt like a bottomless pit. Oakland had a slightly better appetite than she did the day before and easily made it through her dinner. 

After dishes and dessert we wandered around tending to our dental hygiene while task rabbit and tad took a trip to the water source an eighth of a mile north. Oakland and I followed suit with our food bags because there’s a bear box on the way! I can’t tell you how much of a luxury it is to not throw a bear line. Granted, there’s the fear that mice will eat through our bags, but in the short term it’s a relief. We dropped off our bags and saw a southbound sign that said no camping in the shelter area. No such sign exists on the northbound side of the shelter so we had no idea there were more tentsites across from the bear box. We wandered down the trail looking for the water source. We followed the sound of water through a poorly designed fence and found a raging creek with a well constructed but frightening crossing (pictures of that to come in Day 52). Oakland exclaimed that it should have a railing on both sides and I agreed. We filtered a bottle of water each and filled our sawyer bags for the morning supply. On the way back, my hands did their usual revolt and went numb in the cool evening air. We decided to put our water in the tent tonight because word is that the wild ponies will chew and suck on anything left unattended outside. Oakland got in the tent for the evening and I went to the shelter to throw my feet above my head. Then I made a visit to the moldering privy which is new and has a full supply of leaf duff for “flushing.” The walk back let me know, once again, that I am tired because my feet were not following my brain’s instructions as I stumbled the short distance. I got in the tent to get warm and batten down the hatches but I stubbornly got back out to retrieve Aleve for Oakland. She didn’t want me to, but it seemed like an easy sacrifice to make if it helps with her sleeping in any way. Then I finally settled in for the evening. I was about to write up my notes when we discovered that we were about to get behind schedule on food drops. I mistakenly thought we had more time to get our second box after Damascus in the mail but we needed to have it out by Saturday. I hate sending urgent texts to HQ about postage because I feel guilty for requesting short turnaround times. It hits my “get your shit together” button. I had a mini meltdown when Oakland suggested we work on the box tonight because I hadn’t started trying to put my notes into complete sentences yet. I responded with exasperation that I couldn’t handle that kind of task right now but I also didn’t know when else to do it. We decided that I would do notes and she would start the process of figuring out the mail. Then we sat in the dark and populated our food lists so that when we got phone signal they would get through to HQ. I’m finishing this to the sound of the wind (it may gust up to 40mph over night), the rustle of the ziplock that my cracked phone is in, and Oakland shifting in her sleeping bag while she stares at our AWOL guide with her headlamp. 

Mile 492.6 to mile 504.1 (11.5) 

Checklist total miles: 512.3

Oakland total miles: 33.4 

Creature feature: a deer crossing the road at elk garden, ponies!, robins, the occasional crow, and the moo cows 

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.