2019-Day 42: laurel fork falls edition

 

I managed to get a fair amount of sleep despite waking up in 2-3 hour chunks and having nightmare visions of someone unzipping my tent. It was also a bit on the cold side because I left a door open on both sides of my tent. As I’ve done before, I wrapped my puffy up around my torso and neck to make up for the draftiness of the top of my sleeping bag. It’s super light but I’m not sure I would get it again (having said that, HQ I’m very grateful for having it and its weight saving qualities). The 35 degree rating just isn’t accurate for my body temperature. I woke up around midnight, again from 2-3am (ax murderer visions) and again around 4:30. My watch alarm went off at 6:10. At that point I probably could have easily gone back to sleep but I don’t want to get into camp too late tonight and there’s no telling what my pace will be. I sat up and put my cold sports bra on. Then I went up into the rhododendron armed with my trowel and TP. The digging was difficult because of roots and a gravel layer underneath the first few inches of soil. I made do (pun very much intended). 

Then i tromped over to my airborne food bag and retrieved it without complications. I grabbed my rock bag which I had accidentally left out overnight and took everything back to camp. I decided to pack up first and eat last. It took about 25 minutes to start to finish including my wardrobe change into hiking shorts and putting in my contacts. By the time I was done rolling my tent, my hands were black. I dusted them off as best I could (on my self-cleaning shorts), and sat down on the fire ring rocks to eat a breakfast bar and peanut butter. I also sent Oakland a good morning gps with the notice that I would be turning it off. The battery really doesn’t last once you start sending messages and I try hard not to use my phone brick for the gps. 

After breakfast I brushed my teeth and filtered my initial water supply. I Went through the tedious but necessary foot prep routine and took off my puffy to finish packing up my bag. The puffy removal is always a sad moment but this morning wasn’t too brisk. I grabbed my poles and walked across the footbridge into the rhododendrons on the other side of laurel fork. 

I Followed the water for about a tenth of a mile and then climbed up and away from it. The Sound of water remained strong for a few minutes. I Climbed up and into the filtered sunlight. My Hands were inexplicably freezing. I Considered putting on gloves but I decided to see if the hill would help warm me up.

I Walked across pine needles dodging the roots as best I could. I tried to take careful steps with both feet instead of only focusing on my right foot to help with the nagging achilles pain. I think the lumpy field walking over all of the balds did a number on my Achilles over the course of the roan highlands. As much as I tried not to, I Probably Overcompensated to protect right ankle. It’s also historically a tendon that gets angry on occasion, usually for no apparent reason. I Crossed over a few footbridges to the soundtrack of vireos and the occasional oven bird. I heard the ratatat of a woodpecker far off to my right. 

I eventually crossed forest service road and went up through more rhododendron tunnels. Thankfully they had decent footing. Sometimes the tunnels can involve walking through muddy trenches. A light breeze moved the trees high above me, but didn’t reach the ground. About a mile and a half in, I took off my fleece hat and rolled up my sleeves. My toes were still a little numb, but my hands had warmed up nicely. 

I walked in and out of tunnels through a thick, tall forest. I stopped to watch a towhee sing on a branch. Shortly afterward, I heard water rushing far off to my right. The Trail curved towards the sound and led me to a wide shallow stream with rhododendron creeping over the banks and through the middle.

I crossed the stream, tiptoed over a small mucky section and returned to the same terrain as the previous hour. 

I tried to employ the “woo woo”chi running/walking techniques where I imagined myself being pulled up from the torso and head rather than only being pushed forward by my feet hitting the ground. It made me stand up slightly more upright and use more of my glutes. As I walked, I considered how to explain gender issues on the blog and how personal to get while I felt periodic twinges in my left Achilles/inner heel. I’m worried that Oakland will spend time around the hiker world referring to me as “she/her” and Oakland will become so used to hearing the reference that she will begin to use the same pronouns for me. Oakland strictly uses they/them for me and happens to be one of the first people to ever do so since we met in 2016. It would be hearbreaking and frankly, sickening, to hear her start using the wrong pronouns. I‘ve expressed my fear to her and she assured me that she is aware of the issue and would do her best to hold steady to the “they/them” framework while the rest of the world genders the CRAP out of me using the wrong pronouns. It’s hard to explain why it would be so devastating for Oakland to make the switch, but I will give it a shot. Imagine if someone that you love started referring to you with a personal quality that you just absolutely don’t identify with at all. I’ll attempt to give a neutral example: say you don’t identify as someone who is extroverted. You adamantly consider yourself introverted, but your loved one starts referring to you as such an extrovert to you and to everyone around you, and every time you hear it, it just doesn’t match your internal sense of self.

In actuality, being misgendered is far more complicated and more distressing, and I can’t easily correct everyone who does it. Many of the people I come into contact with out here are not familiar with the concept of “non-binary” and “gender neutral.” To correct them would elicit a conversation in which I get put under a microscope about a concept which isn’t very relatable for most people. That’s about as personal I will get, but I will say that it is a paper cut that gets reopened every single day, dozens of times a day, by people who I know aren’t intentionally trying to harm me but have a negative impact nonetheless.

I crested a small hill and heard the roar of water nearby. 50 yards away, I came to a body of water called hardcore cascades. They didn’t seem to warrant such an intense moniker, especially considering the falls I saw later in the day, but it was a pretty spot. 

A little while later, I happened to catch a bar of LTE signal, so I sat in middle of the trail and made hostel reservations for Damascus. A bunk for my first night and a private room for the next two nights after Oakland’s arrival. Then I decided to go hog wild with time and battery, and I called Oakland while she fed a thousand cats during her early morning routine. I decided to also call the rabbit hole and reserve a bunk at that hostel, which is my Thursday evening destination. I tried to continue talking to Oakland as I walked, but I lost signal almost immediately.

As I walked, I saw what looked like a creature path towards a small stream. The trail crossed over the water. I stopped to watch a bird and heard a stick break off to my left. I didn’t see any movement so I walked a few steps until I heard the distinct crunch of leaves and turned to see the dark shape of a small bear making its way up the hillside across a small gully. I watched it while also scanning the woods and listening for the sound of more bears because it looked small enough to potentially have parental company. Sadly, it was too far away and too small to even bother trying to get a picture or video. 

My signal returned enough to call Oakland and share the news about the bear, but it quickly dropped again. I spent the rest of the morning hiking over a rollercoaster of a trail with some climbs being sharper than others.

At some point I stopped to check water sources, and I found that I’m in a 3 mile stretch with only an annoying source at the next shelter. I saw movement in a tree and found a black and white woodpecker peeking at me through the branches. He squawked and flew away. 

After about an hour of all the same terrain, I came to a set of switchbacks with a small picture window view. It led me down to Moreland gap shelter, which looked like an old softball dugout because of the cinderblocks.

Brownie and dizzy left me a note about a twin bed available above their queen at their hostel tonight. I heard people coming and felt the urge to rush away because I’d been walking for 4 hours without having seen any humans. I didn’t rush to leave, but I did manage to walk away before the other hikers arrived. I turned around halfway up the calf straining hill after shelter and saw someone’s arm putting things down at the picnic table. I turned back towards the trail and continued up the hill tht was followed by a short flat stretch and then an even longer hill. 

I kept hearing noises in the woods. I saw bear scat but no bears and heard the occasional caw of crows. I heard another large bird I didn’t recognize. I wondered if it was a raptor fussing with the crows. The seating options dried up right as I decided it was time to eat, and it took me 15 minutes of mostly uphill walking to find a suitable log.

I sent a few texts with my bit of service and ate the usual fair to the constant sound of birdsong. I was low on water and reminded myself to drink a bunch when I get to the next source. I aired out my feet and did a bit of massage on my left heel as a light breeze moved through the trees. I actually had to put on a long sleeve shirt because the breeze had a bite to it. After lunch, I peed next to a substantial pile of bear scat that I hadn’t noticed when I sat on my lunch log. I texted with my hiking friend Runa. She completed a 42 mile in 24 hours challenge and was now taking a short break in Damascus. I felt impressed and simultaneously envious of the accomplishment and the company she had. It had been a lonely day and imagining the camaraderie of such an undertaking with 5 other hikers made today feel even lonelier.

I left my lunch spot and walked along the breezy ridge. I could see mountain views through the trees. I wondered if I should have left my long sleeve layer on because the breeze continued to feel cool. The trail cut through a steeply banked hillside covered with ferns and a fair number of blow-downs. 

I Skipped over a very slow water source and resigned myself to walking off trail at a tent site a little ways up, but then I came to a small spring where someone had positioned a rhododendron leaf to make a perfectly functional flow of water. I drank an entire bottle and topped off both bottles while swatting at gnats. Then came a gentle downhill over pine needles. 

I walked through a small meadow past the campsite and up a hamstring burning incline that leveled off after a few minutes into a breezy gentle roller coaster. I crossed a dirt road and took a quick pee break in an irrigation cut out. Then I walked through a small stand of trees where there was evidence of fire. The trail cut through power lines with tiny hazy view. It was far hotter in the sun. The trail took me back into the woods, but there was only partial shade, so I stopped to put on sunscreen.

I passed a rangy, tall mountain laurel in full bloom as the trail climbed into even less shaded woods with a strong breeze. The path was peppered with mountain laurel blossoms. I went through a sunny stretch with hazy mountain views and a tufted titmouse (at least I think so based on the shape).

The trail finally went downhill and through a series of switchbacks surrounded by rhododendrons and boulders. I continued to feel lonely and anxious about camping by myself again. The trail dropped lower into greener and shadier woods with a light breeze. 

I stopped to check my elevation map and was about to put poles against a tree when I noticed a double web and this crazy colored spider.

Needless to say I did not stop there. I walked a few feet up and stood in the trail with my poles jammed against my abdomen to keep them from falling over. It’s mostly downhill from here until the falls, which is good because I was getting overheated. 

I sat on a boulder with this view and ate a snack. I checked my voicemail and had a message from brownie offering a bunk in their room tonight. I had thought they were joking in the shelter log, but apparently she was serious. The offer is tempting for the company but it monkeys with my timeline more than I want so I decided to decline. I finished my snack and put my brace and shoes back on. I wasn’t sure how to get in touch with brownie because she clearly called me from the house phone at their hostel and I didn’t have enough service to return the call. That makes me think she doesn’t have WiFi or cell service, which seems odd.

The trail got rockier and buggier as it lost elevation. The gnats were driving me crazy, so I put my earbuds in to deter them. The heavy air didn’t move, which gave the bugs license to throw themselves at my face. Footing devolved into a rocky mess and I had to force myself to slow down.

It finally eased up a bit as I passed a farm building that reminded me of tobacco drying sheds in NC. I smelled something sweet and found that this white flower was the source. 

I crossed the road and walked through a trailhead parking. I finally made eye contact with the first human all day when I saw a guy day hiking with his kid. I Left a note for brownie and dizzy on the opposite pole of a note from someone else. It seems archaic, but it often works!

I walked along a wide flat shell trail high above the banks of the rushing laurel fork river. I took a quick pitstop to dump a scoop of water over my head and wrists. Then I crossed a footbridge with a family hanging out in the water and made my way up a set of stone steps.

I went through a clearly man made rocky pass that opened back up to forest in which I found a smidge of signal. I sat on a rock and texted with Oakland for a few minutes. She’s in her last all day faculty meeting of the year! 

A Few day hikers passed by while I finished eating the package of fruit snacks I’d started at lunch. The Bugs were too much for me to loiter, so I donned my pack and continued towards the falls. Much of the steep descent consisted of Stone steps, as I’d mentally predicted when I saw the ease of the path from the trailhead and the dozens of day hikers making their way back from the falls.

There were a few rocky flats between steps that made for messy footing. When I finally made it to the falls, An older couple had the place almost to themselves, save for a man I didn’t notice at first because he was sitting at the far edge of the rocky area closest to the falls.

Laurel Fork Falls were beautiful. I didn’t stick around long after taking a few pictures and a video to capture the rush of the water.

On my way back to my pack, I met Waterhog, a thru hiker with 3 teenage kids who are accompanying him. I told him the brief version of my hike, and he asked for my finish date, which as it turns out, might be the same as his. He and his kids have already done VA so they will soon jump up to harpers ferry and continue walking higher miles than me. We had a brief discussion about some of the northern sections in which I assured him that he could do more than 12 miles a day in the whites, but it would hurt.

The trail was a rockpile immediately after the falls. It followed the water and swung around the side of a rock face. Then came a 5 minute stretch of sublime easy walking followed by a climb up and over more rocks.

A short descent led me down to follow the river. I decided to stop at the first decent chance I have for a tenting spot. The place I chose wasn’t perfect, but it’s not supposed to rain which is good because it’s a concave spot. You’d think I would learn my lesson after the puddle of ash gap. There wasn’t any space for other people except in an area that had glass, which pretty much assured that I would camp alone. I didn’t have the energy to keep walking for a bigger camp site, and there was phone signal where I stood, so I Called it quits. After combing my site for glass, I set up my tent.

I Double checked the weather and ate some sesame honey cashews from my dad and stepmom because I was starving. Then I Walked down the trail to figure out bear line. What a disaster I am at throwing bear lines on high limbs. After 15 minutes of failed attempts, I finally settled for one that was totally adequate and slightly lower. There aren’t many options given the terrain. There’s a Fast flowing river to my left and a gully adjacent to steep inaccessible rocky hillside to the right of the trail.

After what felt like forever, I finally walked back to camp and got water for my dinner. Camping so close to water is such a luxury. I used my scoop to collect water from the fast moving laurel fork. Yes, I’m camped next to the same stream (river?) that I slept next to last night. I filtered two bottles worth of water and filled my sawyer bag. Then I kept Oakland company on her walk home because I had cell signal! It felt so different from last night to have a connection to someone. It made the woods seem less wild and frightening in a good way and I did not feel bad about sharing my attention with my surroundings and the phone. I put water on to boil and then I set up my food to rehydrate while I sat on a rock with my heels in the icy river water.

I checked the area for snakes before I sat down, a statement which dismayed Oakland. I also bemoaned where in the world I would poop in the morning because I don’t have any truly LNT options because of the terrain. River to the left of the trail and spring to the right of the trail means I might have to do what I imagine other people have done which is to use a small hidey hole in the rhododendrons right next to the campsite. There are large rocks here that I can use to cover it so an animal can’t dig it up. It’s the best I can do given that I’ve chosen to camp somewhere that one technically shouldn’t inhabit. 

I poured more of the kale crumbs into my dinner and the result was equally as good as the night before. I’m happy that I found a way to consume the food without just pitching it straight into my garbage ziplock. Oakland kept me company during dinner. I accidentally started brushing my teeth while we were on the phone because the signal was so good that it seemed like we were practically in the same place. Oakland laughed when I told her what I’d done. Then I walked down the trail and hung my food bag on my sub optimal limb.  Several day hikers passed me while I ate dinner. So many so that I finally stopped one of them to ask where he’d come from. I had apparently camped close enough to the trail that leads into Hampton, TN that foot traffic was still happening after 8pm. I was dismayed by the accessibility and needed somewhat false reassurance from Oakland that it would be okay. Her feelings weren’t false, but her certainty doesn’t actually have an impact on reality. She did make the good point that if harassment from locals was a problem, people would have made comments on guthook about having had issues. 

Oakland had dinner plans with her parents so she had to depart, with the caveat that her mom might want to call me so I could help clarify some pin locations for her giant AT map. I charged my phone in airplane mode to prep for an impending map session and setup my bed in the meantime. A little after 8, Oakland and her mom did in fact call me and we worked out the missing pins (and fixed a pin or two that had been relocated by a certain 4 year old who thought I should be in WV instead of GA).  Here’s Oakland pouring over the map while getting shelter information from me over the phone:

Then they went off to finish their dinner preparations, and I laid in my tent finishing the days notes while trying to catalog the noises I heard. I saw a flash of light around 9 and realized that the lightning bugs had made their nightly appearance. I tapped away on my tiny screen periodically looking up to see their flashes while the water roared and gurgled about 20 yards away from my tent. I’m finishing this to the water sounds, airplanes periodically passing overhead (scaring me because their rumble feels out of place), birds that are just barely audible over the river, and the occasional bug dive bombing my tent. 

Mile 407.9 to mile 422.2 (14.3) 

Total miles: 430.5 

Creature feature: so many chipmunks! dozens of butterflies, the tufted titmouse, oven birds, the woodpecker, lightning bugs, and the bear 

2019-Day 29: 300 mile billy goat edition

I definitely heard some creatures tromping around last night at dusk but I managed to fall asleep pretty quickly after finishing my notes and stayed mostly asleep minus a few brief interruptions. The moon was as bright as a streetlamp Through my tent from about 2am onward. I woke up for good around 5:50 and decided to start slowly packing up. I switched into my hiking shorts and put on my slightly damp sports bra, which is Much easier to do in the privacy of a tent. Then came the trip to the privy which wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be based on dizzy and brownie’s review. Then I grabbed my food bag so I could put my contacts in before messing with all of my dirty gear. Next came the sleeping bag shoved into the bottom of my pack and all the other accessories scattered around my tent. The bottom of my tent was thankfully not too grubby which made for easy packing. No one else stirred the whole time I packed up.

I sat on a log being a phone zombie with the decent signal and ate a breakfast bar. Brownie finally got up around 6:50. Late for her morning duties by my watch. Northstar and I are heading to a shelter just under 16 miles from here and I’m eager to start hiking before it gets too hot. There was a cool breeze blowing all night and it continued as I ate my breakfast and watched People start their routines.

I Said goodbye to dizzy and brownie for now. They are heading to a hostel to pick up their food drop and then stopping at a shelter closer than my destination. Hopefully they will catch up when I slow down upon Oakland’s arrival the second week in June.

The Trail started with a gentle up through incredibly green ground cover and a tall tree canopy. Then came a long downhill that made my left leg pretty cranky. I stopped within the first five minutes to tape my shin to get on the front side of some tightness. Shortly after that I had to pee so I stopped again. I definitely don’t win the prize for fewest breaks. I picked a large tree and ducked behind it in case Northstar got a fast start out of camp after her breakfast.

A gusty breeze blew through the trees keeping the bugs somewhat at bay but also making it harder to hear any bear sounds. I spied a long uphill ahead of me and stopped to take my long sleeve layer off. No sense in getting that shirt soaking wet right away.

I Wound around to a narrow trail with a steep drop off to the left and thick rhododendrons to my right. A few minutes later, the hillside to my right thinned out a bit. I heard twigs snapping and looked up to see a small bear making its way up the hillside. It was too far away to tell if it was a cub or a yearling but I scanned the woods to check for mama bear and then hurried past.

I entered a darker patch of woods and snaked my way through the rhododendron patches trying to think of kind and useful for ways to instruct my sister-in-law with her packages to me. She asked for recommendations and seems really excited to send treats. My food system is pretty dialed in so “outside food” can wreak havoc on the weight of my food bag. It sounds dramatic but my food is the heaviest item in my pack by far and it can easily get out of hand.

I Went through a sunnier roller coaster stretch still feeling grateful for the wind because it’s keeping the temperature down. I saw a tiny, brightly colored bird feather, the source of which I have no clue. At some point early on, I Stopped to make sure I had packed my glasses in their case because I didn’t have any muscle memory of having done so. Yes! All was well in my ocular world. I Took the opportunity to pee again while I was still pretty alone in the woods.

Then came a persistent downhill. I Stopped to get water at a low flowing stream where someone had rigged a rhododendron leaf under a rock to create a spout. So simple and so useful.

I drank an entire bottle and topped off both bottles before heading on. I Ran into a NOBO wearing shorts that I almost bought for my camp shorts, which I uselessly informed him. He was pretty happy about the water source and his shorts.

Then came a Steady downhill. I heard a Loud knocking noise that reminded me of the theory that someone in hot springs shared. She was told that the noise comes from a male grouse that sits inside a hollow log and knocks until a female grouse comes along. I continued past the crazy knocking noise and started Daydreaming about running trail marathons in some post-trail life. Running is a visceral and distant memory because I haven’t been able to do it in about 18 months.

My Knees cooperated more on the current descent than this morning’s first downhill. I was still thinking about running when I a took a wrong turn and ended up at the road too early. I Saw a Madison county line sign, which is apparently the “jewel of the blue ridge,” but no blazes.

I Pulled out guthook and realized my error. I had to backtrack into the woods and take a right onto the trail which came out at the road just a little ways down.

I crossed the road and went up a pine needle covered small incline that got sharper in spots. I Found a good log at a nice height and stopped to eat some of the fruit and nut mix my sister-in-law sent. Dried cranberries felt like quite the luxury. Northstar caught up to me and mentioned her plan to eat lunch at the shelter. Hopefully I can arrive in time to have lunch company. I Peed before moving on and continued up the small climb.

The Trail flattened out pretty quickly into small ups and downs and very easy walking. The Breeze returned in fits and starts and felt amazing every time it blew through the woods. The Trees switched over to a fair number of rhododendrons and I felt like I was walking through a disco ball with the various bright sunspots moving with the wind on the ground and the occasional mountain laurel blossoms dotting the trail.

I Crossed over a dirt road, passed three Sobo section hikers and had to go up several pesky climbs that made sweat pour down my face.

I Trudged up a continuous climb with glimpses of the mountains off to my right. I Passed by what seemed like a dark stick and realized right as I was in line with the object that it was a rat snake. It remained still while I turned back to take a picture and video of it and quickly went on my way.

Somewhere along the way the left side of my bag started Squeaking and it drive me crazy on the uphills. I have trouble with certain kinds of repetitive noises and I could barely focus on anything around me because of the blasted squeak. I managed to get to the shelter in time to have with northstar. We Met two NOBOs one of whom is named fern and the other one I can’t remember. I called and made Reservations for uncle johnnys. Relief! Northstar left and I stayed behind to make my 300 mile marker out of the tulip tree blossoms I collected along the trail this morning. In my haste to make it to lunch, I hadn’t stopped to make the sign at the mile it actually belonged.

After the shelter came a Long gradual climb with varying degrees of steepness and easy footing. The forest floor was thick with ferns and other small blooming plants. The wind died down a bit and I could feel The heat of the day. I stopped to take a drink of water and saw movement out of the corner of my eye. Upon closer inspection I found a woodpecker twisting its way up the tree trunk. As I stood watching, I also heard a bird in the leaves and looked to find one of those brown and orange speckled birds that I saw on Charlie’s bunion and cannot seem to find on the internet. The trail narrowed in places with my legs brushing against long grass making me itchy and worried about ticks. I finally finished climbing and went down a narrow rolling descent with hazy views of mountains just barely visible through the dense tree cover to my right.

Butterflies twirled around each other as I made my way north. I crossed over several dry water sources and worried for my next water attempt, but the piped spring was moving well. I Ran Into Fern making her lunch right by the stream. When I walked by, I commented on how tasty it looked and how Late it seemed for lunch (it was about 2:30). I said I would punch someone if I ate after 1. She agreed and said she probably wouldn’t wait that long again.

I Drank some water and topped off my bottles. While I was filtering she asked if it was me that smelled good. I startled at the question because it’s not a phrase I would associate with how I smell most days. I said “well I guess it could be me. This is the first time I’ve worn this shirt after laundry. Fern then Asked me if I planned to take bypass trail around the open ridge ahead of us. It Hadn’t occurred to me to skip the ridge on such A nice day. I said, I’m too much of a billy goat to take the bypass on a day like this.”

I Left the water and went through sandy rhododendrons. I took a short side trail to check out the View at white rock cliff. I Ran into chill bill (?) sitting on the cliff and asked him to stay put so I could get some human scale in my picture, which is hard to do when you’re hiking alone. I also took a picture of one of my nieces postcards so that I could tell her we climbed a mountain “Together.”

Fern came along as I sat down to contemplate my snack. She and chill bill left me sitting there eating fruit snacks. Then the Trail became a rocky, rooty mess mixed with easier sandy stretches. I came to the divide for the summit trail and the bad weather bypass. Billy goats to the right!

It was Rocky and slow-going with some strange new flowers that stood about 3 feet high. I finally popped out onto a beautiful narrow ridge. I Stopped to take a video and eat another snack surrounded by mountains. (I can’t get that “e” down there to go away and I’m too tired to try for fear of losing the video that took so long to upload)

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Towards the middle of the ridge I stopped to take a video of Butterflies and a hummingbird zoomed out of nowhere, hovered near me and then fussed with some blossoms nearby before zooming away altogether. I still find it confusing to see them in the middle of nowhere. In my mind they’re the bird that comes to your porch to drink from the feeders, not the bird that passes by on a mountain top. The trip across the ridge had rocks that sent Echoes of NH and Maine through my legs.

Once I reached the northern bypass intersection, The trail Finally eased up and turned into your average roots and rocks combo. I Passed a 300 mile marker made of sticks and laughed to myself because I assumed it was northstar but I later found out it actually wasn’t hers.

The last two miles were pretty easy going with a few exceptions in the form of annoying loose rocks. I got to the shelter and was overwhelmed by the smell of privy wafting towards me. I was also startled to see the creepy dude from the tavern in hot springs. Northstar had already set up her tent and was about to make dinner. I wandered around, annoyed m with the tenting options and not willing to walk farther down the trail to see the other sites. My choices close to the shelter were lopsided rolling down a hill or slightly flatter with rocks and the Privy smell. I took the privy smelling flatter spot and begrudgingly set up my tent on the subpar surface hoping that I wouldn’t get any holes in my tent floor. I forced myself to blow up my sleeping pad and change into long johns right away to prevent being eaten alive by gnats. I realized while I was fussing with my pack that my pee towel was nowhere to be found. I must not have snapped it on well or maybe it got snagged on something along the way because it had fallen off in the last couple of hours of the day. I pulled out my tent towel and decided to repurpose it as my pee towel for now until I can get a new one ordered/purchased.

After the setup process, during which I questioned my choice as the privy smell became more evident, I grabbed my dinner stuff and reluctantly made my way to the shelter. The last time I’d seen that guy he was belligerently yelling about how people had teased the VA murderer on trail. I didn’t really want to talk to him, so I set myself up in a way that had my back partially towards him and went about boiling water while eating the rest of my day time snacks. I met opa (grandpa), farm girl, silver back and a man whose name I didn’t get. While my food “cooked” I decided to get water even though I really just wanted to sit there and be a zombie. The water source was surprisingly uphill. It’s almost always a trek down to get water at night. There was a pipe with a very thin stream of water that took awhile to fill my bag. I rinsed my face as well and went back to the shelter picnic table to eat. Opa and northstar were talking about hiking. Eventually it came to light that all 4 men present were ex-military and all army, to be specific. That led to a bit of shop talk, some of which I could chime in on being a military brat. I wished my dad had been there to geek out with them. The guy I don’t care for, whose name I’m going to leave out, made a fire and we all sat around it, although frankly it was too hot and the smoke kept blowing in my face. I should have been in my tent planning my next resupply box, which I of course didn’t remember until I retired from the still-active fireside conversations and I got in my tent at 8:30. I pulled out my AWOL and immediately became overwhelmed by the challenges of TN shelter distances and how to predict whether I can hike longer miles or if I need to stick with 13-15 mile ranges. Even with that assumption, the options on paper are awkward. There are always more unmarked campsites but I can’t plan my days around those. I finally threw up my hands and put 4.5 day’s worth of food on the list. I think that will get me to Damascus by about June 4th. We will see how my shot in the dark plays out. I’m finishing this to the sound of moths smacking the side of my tent, crickets in the distance, the occasional insistent hoot of an owl (not barred but I’m not sure what it is), and the wind in the trees.

Mile 285.9 to mile 301.8 (15.9)

Total miles: 310.1

Creature feature: the small bear (!), juncos, towhees, a rat snake, oven birds and a woodpecker.

2019-Day 15: la tortuga edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mile 135.9 to mile 143.8 (7.9)

Total miles: 152.2

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

2019-Day 14: burned into my brain edition

**TRIGGER WARNING** a hiker collapsed and died about 15 minutes ahead of me on trail this day. I recount the story of hikers giving him CPR and a rescue team subsequently pronouncing him dead in this post. Skip over it if that kind of information is upsetting for you!

I Managed to get a pretty decent but somewhat short night of sleep. Breakfast was weird fruit flavored yogurt and cereal. Maggie asked me if I wanted a bagel, but I had eaten so much gluten-based junk food the day before that i declined more bread. I packed up and she took me back to the trail.

By 8:25, I was walking along gradual climb from burningtown gap. There was a bit of humidity in the air but it wasn’t hot yet. I wove In and out of the sun. Saw another little snail friend.

I tried not to think about feeling lonely. I got a lot done at the lodge, but being the only one there and starting the morning to what felt like empty woods was a bit much even for me.

Sweat slowly collected at the end of my nose as I listened to the different birds give their morning report. It felt strange to have the smell of fresh laundry emanating from my body instead of from passing day hikers.

I Went past the shelter that is directly on the trail and saw two hikers packing up. It’s almost 9 AM so I figured maybe they’re going into town at the NOC today. I Called the NOC to find out when they open. Sadly the answer is 9am, which is later than I’d hoped but still fine for tomorrow’s miles.

The Trail narrowed such that a steep bank was to my left. I went through a soggy scraggly patch of rhododendrons that required some maneuvering to avoid wet feet.

Then I Popped back out to a drier section that had a consistent, low-grade incline Until I rounded a corner and it went down with log steps for erosion abatement. I stopped to get a picture of the mountain view have between the trees and saw a new bird.

Yellow chest with light gray wings. Then I Made my way down many of the steps and stopped in my tracks when I heard an insistent new song off to my left. I scanned the trees and saw another little yellow breasted bird.

A few yards down the trail I came to this overlook. Then Trail flattened out. There are a lot of tightly coiled ferns in this section, some as high as 2 feet tall. Saw tiny birds on a rangy shrub which I believe is the beginning of mountain laurel. One of my favorite spring flowers!

I heard a Loud noise but I couldn’t see anything. Probably chipmunk. I passed two older gentlemen who both stepped aside for me. I hoped I didn’t smell like a goat as I walked by. The Trail turned to loose rocks and went slightly upwards. Then the rocks eased up quickly and the footing turned back to comfortable packed dirt. I Left my pack down at the start of the rocky bald side trail. I was happy to have done so when I saw that the name of the bald was self-explanatory because I had to walk up open slab to reach the outlook.

As I stood taking in the view, i Ran into Claudio and caught up on where people are. Sunny is apparently not far behind him. They camped at wayah bald shelter last night. I walked down the rock face with a woman in that is part of a section hiking couple. She was going on about birds and I felt my nerd spirit reach out to her. I left her and her partner at the intersection and kept on walking.

The trail slowly lost elevation over easy footing. Ranger seemed to come out of nowhere because she doesn’t have poles. I said a quick hello and remarked on her new shoes. Seems like her blisters have resolved themselves. She was about 10 yards away when I called out and asked how far back Sunny was. She stopped and said that she and Sunny had made a plan to stay at the shelter right before the NOC because they don’t want to stay at the NOC, but they need to resupply. So my half hatched a plan to go past the NOC today dissolved, and I decided to stop at Rufus Morgan to avoid another lonely night with no detriment to my overall timeline. Of course, as soon as ranger walked away, I pessimistically expected them all to get to the shelter so early that they would decide to keep going. We shall see.

I heard the jingle of a dog collar and an Adorable black and white pit mix came running up behind me. She ran past me, stopped and gave me a quick look hello and then ran back up the trail. I waited for her to return but I heard her owner say “stay” so I walked back up the hill a few yards to say hello (yes I will walk backwards when dogs are involved). her owner was a tiny bit gruff so I didn’t stick around long.

I headed back north and continued my phone conversation with Oakland as she walked to work. About 10 minutes later, the little dog came tromping through the rhododendron tunnel and I waited for her to pass. So cute.

The Trail continued downward towards tellecoi gap. I Expected to lose Oakland but my signal held and inwalked her almost all the way to the gap. I only have a 3.5 day stint without power, so I’m using my phone with abandon today.

At the gap, i Ran into ranger and the section hiking couple all having a snack. The dogs followed shortly and said hello as their owner tried to corral them while they waited for his partner. I Told Ranger about the campsite past the NOC and she seemed interested. Apparently she, sunny and Thor a.k.a. West Texas hung out in Franklin. there was a fair amount of drinking and a lost debit card. The mention of Thor made me less inclined to try to line my evening up with Ranger and sunny, but I eventually decided to do it anyway. He’s nice enough and as long as we stay away from politics and I push back on his hyper-gendered lens, I can be around him.

The climb out of tellicoi gap was somewhat forgettable. There were A lot of blow downs and some evidence of fire. I wound my way up towards the tower passing through lush sections with bluets and drier Rocky stretches. About halfway up, I called one of my grandmothers, who happens to live in North Carolina, to say hello. As I mentioned a while ago, her health is declining (she’s the reason I flew to RDU instead of straight to Atlanta), and I want to be sure to say hello a few more times. My mom also happened to be with my grandmother, so we said hello and had a few logistical exchanges. We usually talk about once a week, so being on trail means longer stretches without contact.

I got to the top of the hill and was about to settle in at an overlook when I noticed the wesser bald tower just off trail. Of course I ate my lunch up there. Another 360° view of mountains.

I ran into the section hiking couple as I came down the steps. Their names are brownie and dizzy which they acquired on the PCT. Right as I put my pack on Sunny came hiking along. I put my pack down and said hello. she asked me about my plans for the day. I’m still toying with the idea of going past the NOC but it would also be fun to camp with Sunny and Ranger at least one more time. She confirmed that she would most likely be staying at the shelter because she will have done two 15 mile days in a row. With that decision officially confirmed from sunny, I made up my mind to stay at Rufus morgan.

The cute dog that I saw before tellecoi gap came sputtering up the hill, literally. She was so overheated and making the worst strangled noise when she tried to breathe much like a sprinting Frenchy. Ranger and West Texas showed up next while I said hello to the dog. West Texas was drenched in sweat and looked like he was struggling. I admit to having a moment of superiority because the hill hadn’t felt very difficult to me.

I left rather than sticking around While they all took another break. As soon as I got moving, I started kicking myself because I have been internally whining about company all morning but I just walked away from it. Enter the vortex of damned if you do damned if you don’t loop that I so easily put myself in. But this evening there will be company and tomorrow will be tomorrow.

I Stopped to get water at an oddly set up water source. West Texas also stopped and we had a short chat. I asked how he was doing. Ranger and the section hiking

Duo passed on water and kept going. West Texas and I walked near each other for less than a 10th of a mile before he took the exit for the shelter so he could eat lunch. I feel good about my choice not to hike 15 1/2 miles AND stop at the NOC AND try to buy food at the grocery. I will have some good company and some company that is more of a spectacle tonight and that will be fun. My only regrets are that I will have to wait another day to get a letter from Oakland and my parents, and I will have to do more miles tomorrow most likely in the rain. The trail Rose just a bit and then followed along an Overgrown Narrow ridge with a sea of mountains to my right and eventually mountain views on both sides. Near the top of the ridge, there was evidence of a pretty big fire.

The Ridge felt like snake heaven but I didn’t see any. I stopped to pee in between two downed logs so that if any of the people behind me came along they wouldn’t see my butt immediately. The trail then finally opened up a bit as it wound down the side. I heard Raspy clicking protest of flying grasshoppers as I disrupted them in the middle of the trail. It Narrowed back down to an overgrown goat path that followed the ridge.

I Passed two packs, we remarked about the fire, and kept moving. The trail proceeded to climb even more. My forefinger was getting pretty sad and my ears were itchy because of the lack of shade. Butterflies roamed through the bare sea of trees at the top.

The Ridge narrowed even more towards what felt like the bow of a ship with insane views (today’s top picture). Sat there long enough that Johnny quest now going by JQ happened along. Sunny followed shortly thereafter.

we all marveled at the view and the steepness of the path down. I caught a bit of the rush of hiking in New England and feeling like a Billy goat, link my way down the mountain. then took a turn downward for a rocky dissent. Thankfully the rocks didn’t stick around for long but the trail remained steep as it wound down the ridge.

The shade increased slightly once we got a bit off of the ridge. JQ pulled away as We Wandered our way down. A few minutes later, I heard a handful of people talking up ahead. I Thought it was people collected at a water source, but it turned out to be a huddle of hikers giving a man in his 70s CPR. The next 3 hours were on the gruesome side. I’m not sure how much to share, but I will try my best to convey the events without getting too far into the especially hairy details.

The scene, as i came upon it, was an older male hiker half propped up against the upper bank of the trail and half splayed across the trail with two other men giving him CPR. A younger kid and an older woman stood on the other side of them and JQ had stopped short on this side of the collapsed man. The trail was too narrow to pass by without slipping down into the underbrush of a short bit steep bank.

One of the friends asked us if we knew CPR and we both said no. We put our packs down and stood off to the side. Sunny came along and i filled her in on what was happening. She put her pack down with wide eyes. The section hiker couple arrived about 10 minutes later, during which the friends continued to give CPR. It was hard to look away from the process. One of the friends was on the phone with the paramedics explaining the situation and giving our location. For the first few minutes, I kept hoping the man would sputter and come back to life the way people do on television, but he continued to look ashen and lifeless.

At some point josh jumped in to help with chest compressions. I stayed out of the way sitting on a rock wondering how in the world this situation would go. We were three miles south of the NOC and nowhere near a road in the other direction. I saw a flash of orange behind me on the hill coming down towards the scene and realized it was the couple with the dogs. There wasn’t any way for them to pass easily so I ran up and intercepted them. They went back up to a flat spot to hang tight.

The man’s color continued to deteriorate as people took turns doing chest compressions and breathing. The friend making phone calls had been in contact with a doctor buddy who kept saying that as long as we did chest compressions, there was a chance for revival. With that information in hand, the friends settled in for the long haul even though the man continued to turn blue and waxen. The friend with the phone also called down to people who were with the man’s wife down at the NOC to tell them the basics of what had happened.

West Texas and ranger eventually showed up and jumped in on the chest compressions rotation. I felt useless but also completely unwilling to do chest compressions, so I eventually offered to take a breathing shift. I had to sort the man’s face into shapes and not think about what I was actually doing in that moment. I didn’t last very long because in order to be in breathing position, I had to brace my feet against the bank and my feet can’t handle that angle for very long. I switched off with the young man who had been there from the start and stood next to him holding the lifeless man’s arm from slipping down the hill. He had to be repositioned every so often because the angle of the trail was such that he was in danger of slipping down the bank.

About two hours in, someone said something about getting water so we wouldn’t all run out. Sunny volunteered for the job and I jumped at the prospect of having something else to do. We hustled 0.9 of the way north to a water source and filled sawyer bags. I could feel the urge to run and had to stop myself the whole way there because I didn’t want to strain my previously injured foot/ankle. No one was going to perish if we were slow with water so running wasn’t necessary. Someone had set up a large leaf in such a way that it created a stream of water that we could fill the sawyer bags. I finished filling first and sunny suggested I start the entirely uphill trip back. My lungs burned and my calves were screaming by the time I saw the rescue truck parked way down a hill at what seemed like the end of an unmaintained forest road. I saw heads bobbing up ahead and ran into the rescue team navigating their way up the rocky trail with a body board attached to a single rugged bike wheel. Sort of like a rescue unicycle.

They asked me how far away we were, which I woefully underestimated because I had been practically running when I had come in the other direction. I trudged along behind them until we reached the scene. There were four men on the rescue team. One guy in front with a walkie talkie, Two guys maneuvering the board and one guy in back carrying the gear bag. When we reached the scene, They took over compressions, which astonishingly were still happening, and hooked electrodes to the man to check for heart activity. Within 2 minutes, they pronounced him dead.

Sunny and I waited for our moment to go around the other side of the body with our full bags of water. we scrabbled down the bank and on to the trail offering water to people. I went up the hill to offer water to hikers waiting up there and was surprised to find a gaggle of like 10 hikers who sunny had intercepted as things were evolving down the trail. A woman named two packs and West Texas took some water but everyone else declined. When I got I back down the hill, the team had started putting a cover over the man’s body and had him on the board with his giant hiking boots sticking out. They began the slow process of wheeling the man away and we watched as the friends collected his gear. I asked if they needed any help carrying things down and one of them said they could divvy up the food bag. they had literally just started their trip and were packed for 3 days and it would be an easy way to distribute weight. That turned out to not be necessary because one of the paramedics wore the pack down the hill.

The hikers from the top of the hill came down and sunny and I took the caboose position. I had had to pee for over an hour so I asked her to hang tight and wait for me to do that (again with asking sunny to wait for me to pee). We followed the line of people trailing the paramedics. All these hikers slowly walking down the hill after the body felt like a funeral march. The medics found a spot wide enough for us to pass and we spread out into our respective paces. I looked at the mountainside views to my right through the hills wondering if the guy had looked that way on the hike up. Was that his last view? How would his wife, who sat 3 miles away, deal with the news of her husband’s sudden death?

We hiked down for what felt like forever. I saw new flowers but didn’t stop to take pictures of them. The early evening sun came through the trees on the tall hillside. It was about 5:30 when we got moving, which is late in hiker timing. I was hungry and exhausted and numb.

I Finally got to the shelter and stood there feeling overwhelmed by all the things that had to happen. It was 7:15 and the whole chore list was ahead of me. Everyone was torched, but we all puttered through the necessities.

I Ate crackers And Set-up my tent immediately in a semi flat spot. I Pulled out my food bag and cookware. Threw a bear line which was comically bad. Sunny and I both missed over a dozen times before finally making it onto our chosen limbs. I Made dinner on the log in a line of hikers. There was talk of the atrocity of doing CPR for far too long and a general tone of shock and exhaustjkn with the punchiness that comes from not knowing how else to react without falling apart.

The man’s friends eventually came down past the campsite and were heading all the way down into the NOC. Seeing them was like seeing a ghost because they wee so tethered in my mind to the body of their friend.

To top off an amazing afternoon, I had to make use of the privy to take care of my period cup because earlier that morning I had experienced the joys of THAT arriving. I decided to do that while my food hydrated. I passed a group of young guys geeking out in the shelter and stood at the edge of the privy washing my hands. The privy was very close to the shelter and situationed in such a way that I had to be strategic about not having my ass hang out the door to take care of the situation. I rinsed my cup into the moldering privy pit while saying “don’t drop your cup” over and over again.

I ate on the log with the others. Then came dishes, dessert, teeth brushing and attempting to hang my food. I actually Had to re-throw my line. Even for my super light bag, the branch I made it across the first time hung too low. Then I Set up my bed and Pulled things out so I wouldn’t be horribly noisy when I settled In for the night.

I walked about 30 yards up the trail, sat on a log step and Called Oakland as the light waned. I Surprisingly had signal even though we were at a low elevation. She wanted to hear the story of the afternoon, so I told her most of the details of the event. I felt stunned and didn’t really want to think about it too much while very much having mortality and the cascade of grief that would follow the man’s family involuntarily running through my head. As we talked, I noticed a tiny light moving towards me. Then another and another and I realized that lighting bugs had begun to light up along the forest floor. I watched, mesmerized and comforted by their movements. It’s one of my favorite sights, and I had no idea it was even possible out here.

I Finally got off the phone and squished around in my tent, Changing into camp shorts and a fresh shirt. As I settled on to my sleeping bag, i Realized I’d left my zseat on the steps up the trail. I Considered leaving it there but i imagined an animal making off with it. I unzipped my tent, put my shoes back on and went back out to get it. It was Disorienting to walk around with the red headlight but I found my way and was soon settled into my tent.

I’m Finishing this to the sound of the stream bubbling a few yards away, people squeaking on their sleeping pads and the pop of bugs hitting the side of my tent.

Mile 124.0 to mile 135.9 (11.9)

Total miles: 144.3

Creature feature: birds but at the moment I can’t remember which ones.

2019-Day 11: priorities edition

I had Another terrible night of sleep. I woke up around 1045 and had to pee. That’s wayyy too early to sleep through the sensation, so I grabbed my headlamp and crept down to the shelter steps to put my shoes on. I turned my red light on right outside the shelter and was met with a dense fog. I walked about 5 feet away and returned to the shelter without trying to wake the world. I felt wide awake, so I spent awhile texting and strategizing with Oakland. Tomorrow’s mileage is awkward and my ankle is cranky from yesterday’s idiotic race up Indian mountain and the weird step I took coming back from the overlook. There’s a shelter the perfect distance away but it’s practically around the corner from a parking lot where the Franklin shuttle runs. I’m going to be on my own in terms of known company this evening so staying at a shelter that close to the road is very unappealing. There are tent sites about 4 miles past that but it’s supposed to storm tonight. I know I’ll have to get soaked at some point but it seems wise to avoid it whenever I can and 16ish miles on a testy ankle seems unwise. My other options are to stay in Franklin for a night which feels lame and expensive, or make it a short day and stay at long branch shelter. Oakland did her best to tell me it was okay to take a short day and I did my best to be okay with it, but it felt like failing to say I would only hike 8.7 miles for the day. I eventually attempted to go back to sleep with only intermittent success.

Our weekender shelter-mate peed no less than four times throughout the night, each time letting out a machine gun burst of a fart. There was also the intermittent Ratatat of rain combined with the beeping sound of my GPS telling me it was low on battery. I finally got up and turned it off. One of the advantages of being pretty blind without my glasses or contacts is that I can move around the shelter without really having to turn a light on.

Josh’s aka “Johnny quest’s” phone alarm went off at 520. He groggily apologized and fumbled for his phone to turn it off. Then it went off again at 6am, at which point I decided to give up on sleeping. We all slowly inched our out of bed. My First stop was the privy. Then i went to see about my food bag, which remained untouched! Something chewed a hole in the top of Johnny quest’s bag, or maybe it ripped against the tree. Either way it will require fixing. He left about 25 minutes before sunny or myself because he wanted to catch an early shuttle to Franklin.

Our neighbor stayed mostly in bed while sunny and I went about getting ready. I gave him my extra water because I always manage to collect too much at night. I somewhat Awkwardly asked sunny to wait for me to pee one more time before she left so we could set out at the same time. I didn’t want the feeling of unconsciously hoping to catch her all morning. She seemed confused but said she would wait.

The trail wound us up a gradual and meandering climb that went past several small burn areas in a thin grove of rhododendrons. I passed through cooler and warmer packets which reminded me of riding my motorcycle in Atlanta. My ankle seems to be functional enough as long as I take pretty controlled steps.

Sunlit ridges stood off to my left and variety of birds sang overhead. I tried not to be too preoccupied with my ankle as it began to tighten up. Passed yet another trail friend:

I eventually crested a hill that revealed layers of mountains with a thick fog bank nestled in the valleys between them. The trail narrowed and became rockier and rootier with the occasional soggy section. The sun was shining and the humidity started to rise. Johnny quest informed me last night that bluets those are the cheerful little flowers springing up in clumps all over the trail. They lined the narrow stretch of trail making for an upbeat accompaniment to annoying footwork.

I Forced myself to take careful steps and not rush even though sunny is somewhere behind me. I’m surprised and happy to see the sun this morning based on the weather report. We will see how long it lasts.

I passed through yet another burned rhododendron stand where bright new growth had started at the base of many of the trees. The trail had twisted us around in such a way that the foggy valley was now on my right. City gait came blazing through at mall-walking speed holding his poles as he went by. He joked about seeing me pass him on the uphill and I said in my head “not today.” About 30 seconds later i noticed a short path that led to an unobstructed view of the mountains below. Sunny stopped at the edge of the trail looking at me as if to say “should I bother?” She’s having SI joint pain today so the extra steps probably didn’t seem appealing. And I said “it might be worth it!” So she joined me in gawking at the scene before us (today’s top picture – a pano so the ratios might be weird on your screen). I could have stood there all day.

The unobstructed view lifted my spirits a bit and I welcomed the shade and cool breeze running through the rhododendrons when I dipped back onto the trail. Then the Forest opened up a bit and rhododendrons gave way to other trees, Birch and maybe poplar? I’m hoping to make it to Albert fire tower before it rains so I can get a 360 view of the surrounding mountains.

The valley slowly rose up on my right as the trail lowered in elevation. The footing this morning has been decent and soft, save for that narrower stretch. I’m happy it’s not more technical because my ankle Is definitely chattier than I want it to be.

The Trail took a left turn away from the valley and dipped further into the woods. I zoned out for awhile until I got to a wooden sign that said “toilet area.” I stopped to take a picture and sunny passed me, laughing when I pointed out the sign.

I took off a layer and did indeed use the bathroom in the toilet area. then I forced myself to stay put long enough to apply sunscreen. About 50 yards down the trail, i walked through betty Creek gap which is where brad and Rosie theoretically camped last night.

As I walked, I tried to keep perspective about the sensations in my ankle. I kept telling myself that new pain is not worse pain, and that it doesn’t matter how far I go today. It matters that I’m able to keep going. A gradual climb had me huffing in the increasingly humid air. I forced myself to be slow and not attempt to catch up with Sunny.

Near the top of the hill, I Heard a Pileated Woodpecker laughing in the trees off to my right. The trail immediately dipped back down into a fern covered, open forest. I’ve decided that today is about taking good steps and drinking water. No speed goals. No distance goals. No cowboy shit. All of which is easier said than done when my mind wants to go much farther than my body.

I crossed a dirt road just past Mooney gap. As I walked past the sign, I Wondered how many mooning pictures have been taken there. It Occurred to me that now is a situation in which a normal person would take anti inflammatories, so I forced myself to stop and take 2 aleve.

I also Forced myself to stop and get water even though I heard laughter a little ways up ahead and felt the urge to try to catch up to what I assumed was sunny and city gait. But socializing is not one of today’s goal. Hydrating IS. I filtered water from a culvert pipe that has started its own little ecosystem. Just past the water I looked up to find a hillside of trillium standing at attention:

Then came a narrow, Rocky and often root-filled small climb followed by an easier stretch of trail. On the way up, I got another view of the valley.

It felt like I was in the middle of nowhere until I turned a corner and saw a full sized pop up tent and people sitting at card tables. I waved as I walked by and felt even more confused when I saw their pickup truck. Then I noticed a gravel road that ran right next to the trail. Now I get it.

I Ran into sunny at the base of final climb up to the Mt Albert mountain fire tower. She made room for me to go first after we both passed a hiker with two very cute ginger colored dogs. As I got ahead of sunny, I Heard a loud clatter and a few groans. I hurried as best I could to find City Gait on the ground taking a moment. When I asked what the initial assessment was, He said it was mostly his pride that was hurt. We all laughed a bit and I told him his pride would grow back. Sunny and I left him there to collect himself and we kept climbing.

The trail turned New Hampshire-like for short stretches at a time. Both fond and exhausting memories of NH and Maine came to mind as I made my way over the boulders. Sweat poured down my face by the time I got to the fire tower.

I went to the highest level of the fire tower that was accessible and took 927 pictures and a video (which my internet speed is too annoying to post). Sunny eventually made it up and slowly walked up the creepy metal stairs. I was too cold to stick around long even though I’d put on an extra layer, so I sat down at the bottom and started to eat a snack. Sunny came back down and deliberated about how to navigate her town stop. She hasn’t taken a zero yet but the thought of spending two nights in a hotel made her twitchy. I commiserated with the difficulty of down time. City Gait showed up eventually and gave a review of his injuries (just bruises). We all sat around a bit and then they took off to hike 5 more miles so they could catch the last shuttle for Franklin. I loitered and made a phone call to Oakland, which would likely be the only one of The day based on scheduling and phone battery. She listened to me whine about feeling weak that I’m only hiking 8.7 miles today and I listened to the ins and outs of her weekend plans. I got off the phone feeling very supported but also lonely and dejected. In all likelihood, I will see sunny tomorrow at siler bald shelter because she seemed intrigued by the idea of taking a half day and hiking up to that shelter, which is about 7 miles out of deep gap. But today would be another long day of sitting around at a shelter for me. It’s One of my least favorite things to do, especially when it hadn’t actually rained yet and was currently very good hiking weather.

But it would be wise for me to take it easy on my ankle and I have hostel reservations Monday so there’s no point in trying to get ahead of myself. Stopping short today means more miles on Monday, but that’s fine. It sounds fine, right? Do you believe when I say it’s fine? Yeah, me neither.

I left the top of Albert and was grateful that the descent consisted of a gradual loss in elevation over mild footing. I was in a funk about stopping early and I covered 2.5 miles quickly in a cranky fog.

As predicted, I lost most of my signal by the time I took the turn for the shelter. I grabbed water from a beautiful little stream and drank a bit extra while I was close to the water. Who knows how annoying it will be to come back if it does indeed storm all afternoon.

The shelter is new and palatial and if I had Oakland here to keep me company, I would’ve cared less about continuing down the trail. I sat and made myself lunch while I watched the birds. a black and white speckled woodpecker hopped up a tree trunk. A hummingbird zinged by and swooped around the shelter. I heard the startling cackle of a bird that I didn’t recognize. I could hear water rushing down in the ravine.

Two women that I saw earlier in the day at the tower came to the shelter for lunch. They weren’t especially talkative but we managed a few pleasantries. The sky began to darken and it opened up not long after I finished hanging my bear line. The three of us sat in the shelter watching it pour. It wasn’t until then that I could feel somewhat okay about having stopped.

A sopping thru hiker came in for a little while, but he moved on when the rain lightened a bit. Then came the thunder and lightning. More thru hikers trickled in, all soaking wet and very pleased by the size of the shelter. They all did 16 miles today and came from the same shelter and have been hiking in and around each other for a week. Not exactly what I needed in the thick of my apparently inevitable tramily angst. Everyone is faster and hikes farther than me so I’m alone all day and I can’t keep up in terms of miles. At least that’s how it feels.

I made myself dinner around 5 and was somewhat horrified by how much the men ate. Some of them are downing two mountain house meals a piece. So much volume. I finished my dinner, did my “dishes” and ate my gifted snickers. Then I wandered back up the blue blaze trail to hang my bag. I think Sunny’s right: I don’t think I’m ever satisfied by the height of my bag but then I saw some of the other food hands and they were terrible. Most of the people here are nice except a veteran thru hiker who likes to head himself talk and insisted that *everyone* can do 25 mile days in the hundred mile wilderness. Fuck off with your high miles.

One of the guys said he wanted to get an early start, which for him meant waking up at 7am. Maybe I’m too uptight for a tramily. 7am is like sleeping until 10am in hiker land. I felt pretty angsty for awhile, agonizing over whether I felt included and figuring out when to try to be heard. I don’t have good luck getting my voice into large groups so I often give up and feel like a mute that no one cares to hear from (project much?). After about two hours of this, things finally felt more cohesive.

Everyone was sitting in the same space (or if you’re Nate who works in construction you hang out on a support beam) and shooting the shit about trail stuff or terrible reality tv shows (all hetero all the time). I wanted to go to bed far earlier than everyone else, but my FOMO wouldn’t let me tuck myself away in my sleeping bag. People finally started to make their way to bed Around 8:15.

A Swiss gentleman named Claudio took this picture. Me on the left, turtle in the middle, a british kid named Liam who is clearly the good natured butt of all of their jokes, and the jack*ss on the stairs whose name I didn’t catch. I’m finishing this to the sound of vireos in the surrounding trees and the sound of the annoying veteran hiker talking to Nate who has a glorious beard that is both mesmerizing and repulsive. I imagine the time off my ankle has been good for it, but I have to admit I am feeling extremely stir crazy, lonely for the feeling of being included, and my lower back is sore from the extra sitting around.

Mile 93.5 to mile 102.1 (8.7)

Total miles: 110.5

Creature feature: dark-eyed juncos hopping around the shelter looking for snacks and not much else today. Those little guys are like sparrows, always angling for snacks. I can relate.