2019-Day 40: mountain harbour zero day edition

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I had a pretty restless night of sleep, between the comings and goings of people, the cool temperature (I finally put my puffy coat on), and the blue tv screen that I couldn’t figure out how to turn off in my stupor. I woke up around 6:15 and was a phone zombie for awhile. I finally decided to physically get out of bed around 7:30. I joined the masses up at the big house waiting for the infamous breakfast. It was indeed glorious and I ate far too much food. The biscuits and the French toast were incredible. There were eggs and sausage and potatoes with maple syrup and bacon. There’s no way I can eat this way tomorrow and actually hike anywhere. 

After breakfast, I creeped on my new section hiker friends and asked them if we could be social media friends. I had hoped they would ask me first, but I finally just took the plunge. I said goodbye to them in the parking lot and went back to the hostel to start my zero day! Which means I’m going to truncate this entry somewhat to account for all the time I’ve already spent staring at a screen and doing chores today. 

There were many packages to go through. My food drop and new shoes from HQ. A letter, ankle braces and cookies from Oakland. A card from my dad and stepmom to read and treats to add to my food. I washed my cookware and back-flushed my filter. I spent copious amounts of time updating social media. I managed to eek out two blog posts and wished I had done more. I ate too much heavy greasy food (more French fries with dinner and a grilled cheese sandwich). I managed to eat a salad with lunch that also included bourbon barbecue chicken wings, which I don’t think I’ve eaten in years. 

I goobered out over all of the animals. 3 dogs, the 2 barn kitties (turns out they’re sisters named Oda Mae & jackpot), and a 16 year old goat named Rosie.

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I talked to an older gentlemen who has had more on-trail injuries and false starts than me. I had a few FaceTime calls with Oakland. I checked in with my mom on and off as she navigated the funeral service for my grandmother. I said farewell for now to dizzy and brownie, who I’m sure I will see again soon.

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I met a few new hikers who arrived in the afternoon and stayed awake playing battleship downstairs like nerds while the bros watched the NBA playoffs. I pulled a colossal dingleberry from one of the fat cat’s butts because I couldn’t stand to watch it walk around fussing with it. And, per the usual, I stayed up far too late trying to plan for the next 7-10 days and writing today’s notes. By the time this post goes live, Oakland will be hiking with me! You’ll probably be relieved to stop hearing about all the phone calls I make to her. Instead you’ll have to suffer through pictures! 

I’m finishing this to the sound of the box fan, the occasional creak of my upstairs bunkmate, the heavy breathing/allllmost snoring of Doug, the man who works/lives here and sleeps on the couch, and the buzz of bugs outside. 

Mile 395.2 to mile 395.2 (0) 

Total miles: 403.5 

Creature feature: dogs, cats, and a goat, oh my 

2019-Day 39: 400 mile edition

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I actually managed to sleep pretty well last night. It didn’t rain but it was gusty and cold all night. Around 3:30 I decided to give in to the condensation and close my last remaining door. I also gave in to my bladder and peed next to my tent. My watch alarm went off at 6am. I put on my glasses and peeked below my door to find a wall of fog just past the trees. No need to get up for sunrise. I laid back down but then I remembered the number of people here and the singular privy. I put on my headlamp, took my gloves off my toes (they sort of helped with the numb toes), and went to the privy, which was already occupied based on the red beam in the woods. I made a trip there last night before I went to bed and my headlamp is the only reason I didn’t get walked “in” on. 

I waited a polite distance down the trail with my headlamp on so the occupant wouldn’t be too leisurely about their process. Then I took my turn and slowly crunched my way over the path back to my tent passed the shelter.

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Tents dotted the small foggy field.  Tim, my periodically snoring neighbor, was already sitting up in his tent making hot water for coffee.

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He spoke to me at nearly full volume and I wanted to shush him, but instead I responded in a quieter voice hoping to lead him in the right direction. It didn’t work. I got back in my tent to avoid being the one responsible for waking up the world. I considered going back to sleep, but the rest of Tim’s friends started to stir as did the families across the path. So I switched into my hiking shorts to warm them up and opened one of my doors in vain, hoping it might dry out some of the interior condensation. Then I had breakfast in bed again because I didn’t feel like standing out in the wind. 

I slowly put things back in my pack, having no desire to start moving in the foggy, breezy morning. There are only 9.5 miles to go today and the sooner I finish them the sooner I can go back to being a mental lump. As I packed up, Tim and I covered some basic life details. He’s a retired fireman and lives with his partner in Memphis. Before that he lived in a small Arkansas college town that was far more conservative than Memphis. I walked over to say goodbye to Tim and Snackpack before I left. Okay, let’s be honest, I mostly went over to say goodbye to Bailey, but she was occupied with sniffing all the day’s new smells.

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The blue blaze trail led me back through the field of wildflowers, some which were over 6 ft tall. The actual trail started with a persistent, lumpy uphill through a foggy overgrown meadow where I saw a number of new birds.

IMG_4480IMG_4483I stood with wet feet and cold hands watching birds in the berry brambles. I saw a brownish bird with a black eye circle that I cannot seem to find on the internet with the time and patience that I have at the moment. I also saw a bird with a drab olive body and a yellow throat (according to the internet, possibly an immature common yellowthroat). I heard a guy sing about 20 yards away. Black mask and drab body. I Thought it was an annoying kid but it turned out to be my tenting neighbor Tim. His friend brandy arrived shortly afterwards. We admired the fog and I let them go ahead of me so I could bird watch and be slow. I looked down at some point to find a storybook Spider web among the dew covered flowers. 

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The trail continued straight uphill for quite awhile. I Passed brandy one on of the steeper parts and continued through Overgrown sections into wider ones back into overgrown with occasional rocky patches. My Right ankle cursed at me on a flatter section, so I slowed down a bit. The trail eventually eased up to a nice semi-overgrown flat section. Moisture dropped from the trees as a strong wind blew, making the damp walk colder than I expected.

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The trail went up again and back into overgrown woods and fields. After awhile, I popped out to an open foggy field with a strong cool breeze. I saw a dark figure coming towards me that turned out to be Tim going back to wait on his friends (“the girls”) in a less windy spot. 

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I walked through the fog, occasionally catching the white outline of the sun as the gusting wind blew the clouds through. A dopey robin landed about 20 feet up the trail from me and hopped along in front of me, flying up ahead every time I got too close for comfort. Dew and moisture from the fog covered the blooming paintbrushes in droplets.

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I was technically on an open bald called “little hump” but it may as well have been a tree covered summit for the amount of view I could see through the thick fog.

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Around what I think might have been the top of the bald, I stopped to pee because there was no fear of being seen. I also put on my raincoat and my fleece hat because the wind continued to make me cold. As I picked up my pack, I spied another black masked yellow warbler, which I think is the adult version of the common yellowthroat.

Then came the sitcom timing of having just put on my warmer clothing to then walk right into the windblocked woods. I left it all on my body because I didn’t have the patience to take it off. I felt another sharp knife pain in left Achilles. It is definitely time for a hiking break. I Stopped to call Oakland for a second, but I had to keep going because it was too cold to stand still and my phone battery has been dropping quickly today.

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The trail led me back out into a field. I saw mountains to my right when I stopped to take the above picture and by time I got to the blaze, they had disappeared in the fog again. I Waited to get a better view, but the clouds proved to be thicker than my patience. I went Back into the woods with a very angry left Achilles. I think the lumpy field walking has made it crankier than usual. At some point I saw an orange flash on the ground that I took to be a leaf at first, but it was the red spotted eft.

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I passed brandy eating a snack in shorts and T-shirt, which made me feel a bit ridiculous as I was still wearing all of my warm gear and had no intention of taking it off anytime soon. The trail took me Back out into the open for lumpy and difficult walk up beautiful, wide open bald that reminded me of pictures of Scotland.

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Brandy passed me as I took a side trip to a rock to pee. I Spotted what I think is the rare red lily that you’re not supposed to touch according to a sign that I saw by over mountain shelter. Something to do with a fungus that is harming the lily and gets spread by human contact with the plants. This is best picture I could get because it was far away in the thick ground cover.

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Finally found a rock slightly out of the window and stopped for a snack and to give my feet a break.

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A Bird zoomed past and then back around. It turned out to be another yellow headed warbler that I’d seen back at over mountain shelter. It might be a black-throated green warbler or a hermit warbler. Hard to say at this point but those are close options according to the intertubes. I Saw another yellow warbler in the tree but I couldn’t get a clear view of it. Two women passed and asked if I was brandy. I startled at the disconnect and said “nope I’m Checklist. Brandy’s farther up the hill.”

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I moved on from my snack rock to find brandy about 100 yards up the trail on a giant rock with sweeping views. I was happy to have been out of the wind a bit for my snack, but I clearly had to also take a short break on the rock with the beautiful views that had only just become available in the clearing fog. Here’s a video and a picture that brandy took of me taking a video.

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Tim and Kim caught up, and I was tempted to continue lollygagging with them, but I decided to keep moving so I didn’t get too cold in the wind. I passed through a small fence and walked through this view for next mile.

IMG_4599Tim must not have stayed at his break for long, or maybe the 231 pictures I took had slowed me down because he was on my heels before I knew it.

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He gave me another hearty greeting and invited me to eat an early lunch just up ahead with the whole gang. I decided that lunch in the sun on an open bald with nice people was more important than getting to the hostel an hour earlier. We pulled over near a collection of boulders. I sat on the ground on my zseat and Tim pulled out one of his luxury items: a fold-up chair. Brandy showed up shortly thereafter and took a walk over to the rocks for a bathroom break before joining us for lunch. Lisa and Kim, the other two hikers in their group, slowly straggled in to join us. When Lisa arrived, she announced that big hump (the bald we had just climbed up and over) had kicked her big butt.

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I made my usual wrap while a strong breeze blew everything around. I took my shoes and socks off in an attempt to dry out my feet for a little while and a small orange butterfly landed on my toes.

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I Sat around for nearly an hour enjoying their company. Snackpack and Tim passed through as did a few other hikers.

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Brandy left first. I ducked behind the rocks and peed and then went on my way. I was only halfway through the day so there was a fair amount of hiking left for my tired feet. I Crossed a fence line and tucked back into the trees. I hiked through dappled sunlight and, as promised by Tim who’s done this section before, rocks and roots galore.

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It was slow going to the water source where I ran into Brandy and Tim. I decided to get water at the absolute trickle of a spring because the company was good and I needed to drink more. I had barely made it through half of my water supply all morning. I also made my 400 mile marker out of bits of fern taken from several different plants so as not to stress one plant too much. I shared the news with Tim and Brandy even though it felt a little like bragging. Kim and Lisa caught up with us right as we had all finished filtering water. Tim announced my milestone when I hadn’t planned to and I suffered through the congratulatory remarks they bestowed upon me. Then came another rocky stretch followed by a bit of easier trail past a view of a valley and into doll flats. 

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I Passed a leaving NC sign with two Bright orange butterflies that I’ve never seen before.

I dropped my pack just past the sign and rushed to cover so I could pee. I’d needed to go since the water stop but I had been too worried that Kim and Lisa would catch up to me with my pants down. They were indeed right on my heels, as I saw them come through the field and take a left turn off the trail to get water. After my bathroom break, I passed a trio of late twenties men sitting on a big rock doing nothing and saying nothing. That is one of my least favorite demographics to encounter. I waved silently at them and they waved back. Then came a persistent downhill with some fairly rocky sections that weren’t as hard they looked at first glance.

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A trail runner passed me with a wave. I heard two birds with song like a high pitched house alarm calling to each other high in the canopy. My ankles were getting sloppy as I worked my way down through the rhododendrons to a cool rock formation that loomed large and dark in front of me.

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I found Tim and brandy taking a break underneath rocks. Tim had busted out his chair for the occasion. I decided to keep going because today was starting to feel endless. I was happy that the weather had improved, but I was also ready for the day to be over.

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The Footing alternated between a complete rock jumble and less antagonist smooth gradual downhills. The sound of dry flies intensified as the trail wound down through the forest. I took a quick bathroom break right after Tim passed me. Then I heard the rap of Brandy’s poles behind me. I Pulled over to write notes and grab a bite of cliff bar. I Decided to just sit down on a rock and eat fruit snacks and the rest of the bar rather than taking a half ass break. 

As I walked, I thought about the “last 100 miles” dedication I’m going to write for my grandmother on social media. Just when I felt my face crumple into the beginning of an ugly cry, I heard the thunk of hiking poles and looked up to see 3 older women walking towards me. They pulled over to let me pass. I asked how they were doing. One of them replied, “sweaty!” I said, “I bet. You’re going uphill.” After my captain obvious remarked, I continued down towards the road. I heard the knocking boing! of a grouse that sounds like a spring door stop bouncing back into place. 

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I walked across gravelly pebble footing that sometimes transitioned to more forgiving packed dirt. The trail followed a small stream that passed under the trail a couple of times through small pipes. I Heard the road sooner than I expected. I Felt good about the time it had taken me to walk the last two miles. It turns out I just need flatter, less stressful surfaces to walk close to my normal pace.

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I Crossed a footbridge over a large stream and took a hairpin turn to the left down a long corridor that led up to the road. Snackpack lay fast asleep on her sleeping pad and Tim sat with bailey waiting on their ride (Tim’s wife). I said hi and sat on a rock to confirm my directions then we mutually said “bye, have a nice life” because chances are high that I won’t see him again. I Waited for the safest moment to cross the major road (19E) and turned left.

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I Walked about 200 yards down the road and turned into the woods down a gravel path for hikers that cuts off half the road walking distance. I came to a barn that sat next to a small rushing stream with a larger red wooden house sitting up on a hill.

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There was no one to be found but a sign on the door to the store that said come up to the main house.

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I Left my pack down by the barn and brought my wallet with me up to the main house. I Walked in and someone called hello from another room. I Worried about walking on the carpet in my shoes but she said to come on back. I walked through the old house and met one of the owners whose name I sadly cannot remember. She checked me in and I confirmed breakfast for one morning. It’s $12 so if there’s nothing I want to eat, I didn’t want to commit to eating it both mornings. She Told me she’d be down at the store in a little while and to ask others if I had questions. 

I went back down to the barn where I found Silverback. He keeps showing up out of nowhere. It’s kind of like a skit at this point. I Went upstairs to my bunk, which was in a remodeled barn with somewhat rickety bathrooms and a small common space but nice bunks. There was a man sleeping on the couch who didn’t look much like a hiker, but who knows. There was another hiker with a bad ear who couldn’t hear me trying to say that there was nice outdoor space because I was trying to be quiet about it. We ended up going outside so she could hear what I had said.

I took a shower right away. As I toweled off, I could Hear the section hiker gang outside. Tim and brandy were downstairs. I gingerly set my tent out to dry on a picnic table not wanting to snag it on the wood. I Put a water bottle on it to keep it in place. Then I unrolled my sleeping pad and also set it on the table. I Sat with Tim and brandy for a few minutes drooling over the food truck menu. Then I Went back upstairs to get my wallet and came down to find soul mama. I was surprised to see her because I assumed she would be ahead of me. There were also two kids with their heads in their phones, one whom was shirtless hiker I had judged the day before.

Around 5pm they opened the food truck and thus began the ordering of dinner. I had a Cheeseburger with fries, an orange soda, and part of a snickers bar.

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My order took what felt like forever, but it was well worth the wait and the stomach ache I had afterwards because I ate nearly everything. If it’s open again tomorrow evening, I might just do grilled cheese, fries and salad. The shirtless kid joked about how he was using all the internet without even remotely offering to stop. I made a snide remark about how it wasn’t exactly out of his control, but I don’t think he heard me. Then everyone started giving him their leftover fries and for whatever reason, I got so cranky about this kid who couldn’t be bothered to take his headphones out receiving the goodwill of other people. Soul mama also offered to take her trash back after he’d finished eating her fries, at which point I had a reflexive response that I was somewhat embarrassed by but which would probably happen again. When she made the offer, I practically barked NO at her, saying he can take care of his own trash. She startled a bit and tried to explain that it had technically been her trash. I backed off but I also grumbled about how the kid could do it himself because he was the last person to eat the food.

After dinner, I Called Oakland for a few minutes before she met with our future house and catsitters. Speaking of cats, I met two ample and pushy barn cats who sleep on the stairs and meow whenever I walk by. They Sleep on each other and are adorable.

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I went back to my bunk and posted things on the inter tubes. I joked around a bit with the sections hikers. They have the upstairs loft in the barn all to themselves, so I was basically inserting myself into their conversation whenever I commented but they’re hilarious and nice, so I couldn’t help myself. Hopefully they didn’t feel like I was overstepping too much.

Around 7:30pm, 6pack stumbled into the room and started talking about nonsense. I asked how drunk he was on a scale of 1-10. He said 7.5. He had the king room. His stuff had been there since before I’d arrived, I just hadn’t known it. He staggered to his room. I went back outside to call my mom for a few minutes. The phone call occurred sitting outside on the steps between the barn and the big house because that’s where I have enough phone signal. My mom was in her hometown dealing with the viewing for my grandmother’s funeral proceedings. I feel guilty about not leaving the trail to be there for my mom when she’s done so much for me. She insists it’s an okay choice, but my usual role is to be Johnny in the spot, so staying in my own self-involved hiking bubble is hard to stomach, but the hoops to get east would have been pretty hefty. The graveside funeral service will be tomorrow. I’m really, really glad I took the time to visit my grandmother before I started to my hike. I regret that I didn’t call her one more time from uncle johnny’s, but how are we supposed to know these things. 

I went back to my bunk for a little while and phone zombied and brushed my teeth. Then I went back outside and attempted a call with Oakland as well, but the gnats were absolutely insufferable. To make matters even better, our connection got wonky and the audio cut out a few times. I had a tantrum about the challenges of the call and we got off the phone. I Came back inside and changed into lighter clothes (it was already cool outside and i needed leg coverage so I was wearing long johns and my puffy). 

6pack wanted to watch TV on his tablet but his headphones were broken, so he borrowed a set from “heard the call” who is the hard of hearing woman I mentioned earlier. 6pack sat on a chair across the room and started his show, not realizing that the headphones weren’t actually plugged in all the way. He was so drunk that he couldn’t tell the sound was coming from the tablet and not his headphones. I eventually had to have a half coherent conversation with him about turning off the main light. He exclaimed that I had scared the poop out of him by standing in his doorway.

After that ordeal, I finally got in bed to write notes. Around 10, unc showed up and walked through the dark room to 6pack’s room. PERFECT. they talked and went outside on the balcony where Unc periodically squeezed some dog toy someone had given him. I decided that if they were loud past 11 I would say something to them. I don’t even understand why Unc is here. 6pack said he was staying at the other hostel. Not long after Unc’s arrival, someone started snoring. I Thought it was the work for stay man on the couch (turns out he’s not a hiker), but it was actually Tim upstairs. I Don’t think there’s much sleep in my future tonight. I’m finishing this to the sound of snoring, 6pack giggling, Unc talking in his strange cadence, cars driving by on the highway, frogs croaking up a storm by the creek, and the whir of a box fan. 

Mile 386.0 to mile 395.2 (9.2) 

Total miles: 403.5 

Creature feature: so many birds! Chipmunks, the hostel dogs and those round hostel kitties. 

2019-Day 38: over mountain shelter edition

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It poured from about 1:30 until after sunrise. Shortly after it started raining, I Decided to close all of my tent doors and deal with subsequent condensation later. Then came the decision to put all of my electronics in their dry bag and shove my clothes inside my pack because water was puddling in my tent site and splashing in through the mesh. There were One or two flashes of lightning and a boom of thunder but mostly it just poured. I could feel the water pooping underneath me if I pressed down on the bottom of my tent. I Felt a bit like I was on a life raft because half of my tent was relatively dry and the other half was slowly getting soggier. It was Hard to sleep but there wasn’t much to be done about it. I Managed to doze off from 3:15 to 4 but then I found more sogginess in my tent and sent a few whiny texts to Oakland, both expressing my despair and pleading with her to not be dissuaded to join me because of my despair. It’s not cold. I won’t die from hypothermia because everything is wet. It’s just supremely aggravating. 

I woke up a few more times and the sogginess never turned into an outright puddle, so I’m pretty sure it was all secondary splashing and not an actual leak. Around 6:30, I woke up from a terrible dream where my orange, space cadet cat who is rickety and hard to wrangle had bolted out of an apartment and into an open stairwell. The sound of light rain increased my desire to stay in my dry enough tent, but nature called with a foghorn. I pulled my raincoat out of the dry sack I use as my pillow, grabbed my trowel and fumbled around in my bag for my TP (a late night relocation to prevent the possibility of sodden TP).  I put on my ankle brace, dirty socks (intentionally), and my shoes and walked through the slightly trampled high grass towards my food bag. I didn’t have time for the perfect hiding spot or a masterful cathole. Thankfully it was only drizzling slightly so my TP didn’t get soaked while I tried to use it.

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With THAT taken care of, I pulled down my food bag. I had again worried that the rain would make the hitch impossible to remove, but it was a cinch (knot pun intended, sorry Oakland). Most of my line had been in the air so the rope didn’t make my hands filthy. Then I opened the right door of my tent, left my shoes and food bag outside, and crawled back onto my sleeping pad. The sides of my tent’s bathtub and mesh doors were covered with mud and debris. 

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I dreaded the shit show of packing it up. There wasn’t any need to hurry based on the fog. I doubt I will get any views on roan mountain this morning. Based on sassafras’s description of the terrible footing, my only goal for the mountain is not to wrench my ankle on any of the wet surfaces. 

Sassafras emerged from her tent around 7:15 and surveyed the sogginess with her friend whose name I was given but can’t remember or spell. I laid in my sleeping bag trying to decide whether to eat then break everything down or vice verse. There’s debris all over the left door of my tent as well, which made me think of the trick someone did at carter gap where he laid rhododendron leaves all around the base of his tent to reduce the splashing from heavy rain. I didn’t see it or speak to the guy who tried it after we had torrential downpours but it sounds like an intriguing idea. My stomach kept rumbling so I decided to carefully eat a breakfast bar in my tent. 

I had intended to set up my tent in the field at over mountain shelter but I might suffer through the hordes of people staying in the barn to avoid assembling a wet and muddy tent. That decision will be made when I see what kind of post Memorial Day Friday night crowd I’m dealing with. Sassafras said she knows someone who stayed there when about a hundred people showed up. I couldn’t decide how long to wait around but when I checked the weather for roan high knob shelter it said increased chance of thunderstorms after 11, so I figured it might be best to get moving. There are several open balds to cover today and it sounds like the chances of walking through a storm are high. May as well get started. 

I changed into my hiking shorts and sports bra. I put Cuben fiber patching tape on a small snag in my pack’s outside pocket. Then I Prepped my feet and Stood outside talking to sassafras while brushing my teeth before the messy job of packing my tent. We shared instagrams names to stay connected with our respective hikes. A northbound Day hiker went by followed shortly by a SOBO backpacker who didn’t want to make the trek to the water. He had an unruly mop of long bleach blond hair that looked like a bad hair band wig. I asked sassafras and her friend if I could take their picture and they made me get in it. (Sorry Mary Ann, I couldn’t control my face). 

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I Strapped my tent to the bottom of my bag which I never do, but I decided the sogginess of the tent warranted it. I also Tied the little cinching string from the tent bag onto my pack straps to prevent it from rolling down a steep hill if it decides to pop loose. I said goodbye to everyone, including Unc who was still packing up, and I Walked into the mist to begin the tedious process of watching every step. Shortly after leaving, I stopped to add snacks to my side pocket, which I had forgotten to do In the distraction of attaching my tent to my pack. 

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I made my way up occasionally switchbacks and across slick rocks and roots. After about 20 minutes of walking I heard voices coming towards me discussing the national park system. The voices belonged to a couple of SOBOs, one named porridge and the other croatoan. They were both wearing colorful tiny shorts and dirty girl gaiters, and they were very friendly. They had a dog named ivy that porridge urged me to give treats to for no apparent reason, to which I of course obliged. Unc caught up just as the SOBOs parted. Thankfully he kept hiking while I stood typing notes. I wasn’t in the mood for navigating a conversation with him. 

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A Slight breeze blew through the woods causing moisture to drop from the trees but it wasn’t actively raining yet. I was surrounded by Ferns and lilies and every so often I caught the faint scent of evergreen while taking care not to step on my snail friends. The trees had bright green tips of new growth and what I thought were the beginnings of tiny pine cones but which I later realized were actually the start of new growth. 

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I decided to Skip the side trip to the cloudland hotel site because the meadow was covered in a blanket of fog. The same went for the short blue blaze to roam mountain road which was supposed to have somewhat decent views and was my intended sunrise attempt. As I stood surveying the foggy meadow near cloud land, a family of day hikers walked towards me on the lookout for carvers gap. I pointed them in the right direction and answered the dad’s questions about my hike. He looked like he should own a Harley and I very nearly asked him if he rides, but I resisted the impulse. 

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I left the family standing near the cloudland intersection and headed north where I passed a lone fireplace and immediately ran into Silverback who was slackpacking south from greasy greak hostel. We laughed at yet another meeting and kept moving in either direction. I felt a sharp pain in left Achilles near the inside base of my heel. It wasn’t a new sensation, but it was alarming because it’s a pain that can sometimes just get worse. I tried to take flatter steps with my left foot rather than leading with my mid foot which engages my Achilles’ tendon more. It seemed to go away shortly, but the pain put me on alert for not overworking that foot. I felt exhausted by yet another thing to be aware of. 

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The trail went through a brief easy stretch that was flat and sandy. Very sadly, it quickly transitioned back to a rocky stream bed that felt much like the smokies. I heard the family of four coming in hot behind me, so I stopped to eat a snack and let them go by rather than succumb to the ego of trying to stay in front of them. I couldn’t move quickly on this footing and I wanted to stop for pictures and notes at my leisure without having to basically walk with the family or just in front of them. 

I didn’t stay put very long because the dampness threatened to make my hands go numb. I continued up the ankle sloshing terrain. At some point, the mom of the family came walking towards me. I said in a confused tone, aren’t you going the wrong way? She said yes! Because I left my stick up here. She gestured to the ground and her walking stick lay right next to where I stood. She grabbed it and returned to her family who had stopped a hundred yards up the trail to wait for her. 

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My next encounter occurred with a woman wearing binoculars. I asked if she was a birder and she eagerly replied yes! I Asked her about an auburn bird that I see on a daily basis that I’ve been calling a thrush, but she had no clue what I was talking about. Instead, She asked if I’d seen a chestnut sided warbler and scarlet tanager, which were birds she’d seen the other day. I proudly said yes to both and we said goodbye shortly thereafter. I guess the bird I’m trying to identify isn’t exciting enough for her to know it. Then came a backpacker with a dog that he corralled off to the side of the trail for me to pass. We shared a quick hello. He had an AT hang tag on his bag, so maybe he’s flip flopping SOBO. 

The trail went through a series of descending switch backs, all covered in a variety of rocks. I could hear and sometimes see the family in front of me until I stopped to investigate a new bird sound. I couldn’t catch sight of the bird, so I kept moving. At some point the trail took a hairpin left and it was as if someone turned off the spigot of rocks. They receded back to a normal amount, for which I was very grateful. 

After what felt like an eternity, I finally made it to the water stop right before carvers gap. I Almost skipped it but i had barely been drinking water. I took the blue blaze that seemed to go nowhere but led me to a piped spring with a strong flow. I set my pack on the wet ground and filtered enough water to drink half a bottle and top everything off. 

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About 3 minutes after the water stop, I popped out of the woods to a large parking area with a fair number of people, primarily day hikers. It wasn’t as overwhelming as newfound gap, but it was close.

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I walked around the bend in search of the bathrooms and ran into Unc standing around with a man who had an adorable fox like cattle dog. Her name was bailey and his name was Tim. He apparently had been waiting for snackpack to arrive so he could hike with her overnight. I thought for sure that snackpack would have already passed the intersection because she left camp before I did. I offered to send her a gps message but we couldn’t get it to work because he didn’t have her garmin email address. 

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I didn’t have the patience to hang out for the mystery to be solved, especially not with the present company so I wished them good luck and walked back to the trail. I crossed the road and headed up the gravel path. An African American couple standing by a trail kiosk asked me questions. The husband is retiring from the military tomorrow and it’s the woman’s birthday today. They asked me how far the trail goes and I said well…1800 more miles that way, pointing north towards the open balds. 

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The highly groomed trail led me through a short tree covered section where I finally got a phone signal. I asked Oakland if I could call her when I got into the sun because it was far too cool in the shade to sit still for very long. A few minutes later I came out into the windy, open hillside with these views: 

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I found a giant rock with a log erosion measure that made for a perfect lunch seat. I had to wait a few minutes for Oakland to be ready for a call, so I sat down and pulled out my lunch setup. I also unhooked my tent bag and let it sit in the sun. A handful of day hikers passed by while I sorted out my supplies with earbuds at the ready. Right as I was about to open my peanut butter jar, an older woman hiked southbound towards me with poles and galactic gaiters. She gave a hearty hello, which I returned. Then she asked if I was through hiking and when I said yes, she said good for you! we women are much tougher than the guys. I let the gender comment pass through me and gave her the verbal high five reaction that her sentiment warranted. We proceeded to talk for the next 10 minutes, well past Oakland’s attempt at calling my phone. She’s day hiked from GA to halfway up VA and was full of stories. She and her friends decided that they would go into local eateries along the trail and ask people for shuttles to the trail. She said she re-hiked one section 3 times because she enjoyed a woman’s stories so much. They also got a ride from a man who Said that he had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and he gave them a ride because he wanted to do something nice for someone before he died. At some point, she asked for my name and when I asked for hers, she bashfully said someone called her “walking map” once but she doesn’t feel like she should have a trail name because they’re reserved for thru hikers. She asked if I minded whether she said a prayed for me every day. I gracefully said no not at all, And thanked her. It Never hurts to have goodwill out there even if you don’t really buy into the concept. Before she walked away I asked for her picture. Meet walking map: 

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When she left, I called Oakland and explained my delay. We talked for a few minutes on her way to a work meeting. Then I finished my lunch to a parade of day hikers tromping by. I also saw Snackpack and her friend tim! Mystery somewhat solved. I don’t know how she got behind me, but they found each other and that’s what matters. I Packed up and celebrated the small victory of having both my food bag and tent bag dry in the sun during my lunch break. 

I headed towards round bald and tried hard not to take pictures every 10 yards. I cursed the gravel as I huffed my way up the hill. At the top of the bald I saw a large group of section hikers eating lunch. I’d seen them in the parking lot and they all the shine of showered people whose gear wasn’t grubby yet. 

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I walked across a series of balds that reminded a bit of Maine without the granite slab, the elevation change, and the boulders.

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Somewhere in the middle of the bald traverse, I ran into Tim and snackpack eating snacks. Tim had a square of something wrapped in wax paper that I couldn’t identify. When I asked him what it was he said “it’s pemmican.” (Yes I had to look up that spelling.) In response to my quizzical look he said it’s dried meats with fruits, nuts and rendered fat. I tried my best not to turn up my nose too much and gave a general “oh wow” kind of response. You should know that Tim hiked barefoot. You should also know that he was a warm and amusing guy. I would totally want to be friends with him in real life. 

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I took off my raincoat and put on sunscreen while I was stopped. Then I kept moving because I worried that was invading their friend space. The views were beautiful views and they lasted for quite awhile. The trail was covered in blooming rhododendrons, mountain laurel and Flame azaleas. 

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I leapfrogged Snackpack and Tim for the next couple of miles. At one point they stopped at a water source and Tim dropped to his knees to drink straight from the pipe. I laughed as I kept walking, and I’m pretty sure I heard him say he didn’t bring a water bottle. The trail dropped down from the balds and led me over more complicated and aggravating footing.

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I walked through patches of shade and sunshine among old rhododendrons covered in lichen and ferns on the sides of the trail. Then came a series of Switchbacks, the majority of which had pretty bad footing. At the corner of one switchback, i passed an interesting cave.

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As I walked around the bend, I heard the tinkle of Bailey’s collar and heard a crash through the brush. She popped out onto the trail in front of me and darted forward like a zooming maniac. I heard Tim and snackpack calling for her. She stopped, ran towards me a few feet and then ran back up through the woods to the upper level. I tried to get it on film but my phone hiccuped when I hit the video option. I laughed at bailey’s shortcut mania and kept walking.

I Pulled ahead of them again and walked past a campsite where I considered peeing. I immediately regretted passing my options because the trail closed in again. Lucky for me, I only had to walk a few hundred yards before a giant tree that has clearly been used for pee coverage became available.

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I Decided to take a break on a rock near the tree and eat a snack. My feet were sore and I’d been getting a number of sharp, sudden pains. I’m Definitely glad to get new shoes soon. I moved on from my snackbreak quickly because the wind had made the air a bit chilly. Soon after resuming, I heard a Mockingbird going wild in the thick shrubbery to the left of the trail. I stopped to take a recording of the constant stream of bird songs coming from the mockingbird. As I stood with my phone pointed towards the leaves, a Guy passed me on the very narrow trail. He Sounded a bit miffed when he said pardon me. After nearly two minutes of DJ jazzy mockingbird, I finally hit stop on the recording. 

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Then the forest opened up and the footing eased slightly. I Stood to the side making notes when a college-aged kid walking north came towards me and said wow you look exactly like a girl who goes to my school. The awkwardness of not knowing how to respond and being misgendered for the thousandth time left me a bit tongue-tied. I said something nonsensical like “yeah but I’m a lot older” as the kid walked past me. There was a strong cool breeze moving through the woods as I passed a shelter that I hadn’t expected. A gaggle of Men in their 40s and 50s silently milled about fussing with food and gear. I felt like I had to say something, so I said “quite the party you’re having” and received silent nods. 

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Happy to be moving on, I walked Up a small hill and through a field covered in berry blossoms. I saw a Florescent color up ahead, which belonged to a day hiker accompanied by his very colorfully outfitted partner and a cute black and white dog. They’ve done long sections of the southern part of the trail around their home. They were friendly and asked a bunch of questions which I was happy to answer minus the weight on my back bearing down in my still feet. I finally pleaded the need to keep moving and walked Back into wide open woods. I was surrounded by Green with the Soft hiss of the wind in the trees reminding me of the sound of sea ranch which I visited for the first time last summer with Oakland’s family.  

I checked my mileage and saw that I had the Dreaded mile and a half distance to go. I Stopped at a wide section of the trail to pee and while I stood making a note, a young guy with no shirt passed by. Judging by his gate and crustiness, I’d say he’s been hiking since GA. I said hi as he approached. He nodded silently while sucking on his camelback and continued on. I judged him for walking around with no shirt on a day that did not warrant such measures. He gave off the air of a frat boy who would prance around with a frisbee assuming the world cared about his muscles. I know, I’m making all kinds of assumptions, but there’s also the basic fact that female bodied people can’t do the same thing for idiotic reasons. 

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Anyway, I kept putting one foot in front of the other and came across a new red flower. I took a thousand pictures and before I knew it, I reached the shelter intersection. I had just taken a picture of a common wildflower that has been too out of reach and I took the turn towards the shelter to find a whole field of them. I followed the blue blazes towards the right and stopped to get water at a piped spring on my way in. A couple of older me stopped at the spring right as I was about to put away my filter. I decided to be chummy and asked if they were just getting water or if they were stopping at the shelter. They weren’t sure yet but they wanted to see the shelter, as do most people because it’s a converted barn and it’s gigantic. 

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I walked on from the water and crested a small hill to find a row of tents already set up with the view in today’s top picture. Several potential section hikers sat in a cluster and I said “is this where the cool kids are?” They laughed and said of course! I decided to go for tenting even though my tent is a mess. I didn’t feel like being in a shelter, and I had designs on drying my tent out in the late afternoon sun. I untied it from my bag and laid it on the ground upside down. Then I plugged my phone in so I would have enough juice to write my notes for the day and attempted to text to Oakland with the feeble signal I have. My neighbors were friendly, TWO of them are gay (which they announced), thus doubling the number of gay people I’ve met in almost 400 miles. Between that and the fact that they seemed to find everything I said funny, we were fast friends. A dark cloud hung over the hill behind our tents As I heard about where they’re from and explained my hike. Snackpack and her friend Tim showed up with my new best friend bailey. They went about selecting their tents sites while I talked to the section hikers and took pictures.

Then there were a few claps of thunder. One of the section hikers called out, you better hurry up checklist! I rushed back over to my tent and started staking it down. I hit resistance about an inch under the grass in almost every spot I picked. Lisa, one of the section hikers, offered me a large rock to help push in the stakes. The soil was remarkably rocky, which made it difficult to set up quickly. I got the peaks set and tightened all of the guy lines about 3 minutes before fat drops of rain fell from the sky. I threw my bag and everything I’d already taken it out of it into my tent and crawled inside.

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It didn’t thunder much more but it poured for a good ten minutes before it eased up to a light drizzle. I closed all of the doors and fastened the doors, which I realized I had completely forgotten to do last night. I’m sure THAT didn’t help with my frog pond problem. I sat in my tent happy to be dry and very unfortunately having to pee terribly even though I’d just peed at the shelter intersection. 

I opened one of my doors and decided I would venture out into the drizzle to find a place to pee. That was easier said than done but I finally crouched behind a rock,  barely out of sight. Feeling much more comfortable, I went back to my tent and sat inside for a little while, contemplating the lower peak setup that snackpack recommended when I asked her about problems with splashing. She has her tent stakes much farther out than I do giving it almost a completely different shape. I didn’t even recognize it when I walked by.

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Tim brought a tent but he did NOT bring anything to form the peaks of his tent, so he and snackpack had to devise a structure out of large sticks. It was a hot mess for awhile, but they eventually made a functional tent for him and bailey. That’s Tim driving in the tent stakes with the butt of the giant knife he brought. I texted Oakland with my tiny signal. Then I decided to join snackpack and Tim during their dinner. I’m glad I didn’t bow out of that preemptively because I had a great time talking and laughing with them.

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Snackpack is funny and Tim is affable and Bailey is basically perfect minus her fluffy hair that I wouldn’t want in the house. None of us are going to hang our food and neither are my neighbors. I’ve NEVER intentionally slept with food in my tent and this is probably the only situation in which I would do it. There are several dogs here and there are bags in the woods for the bears to choose from first. Flimsy logic, but I’m doing it anyway. 

Tim ate another square of his pemmican for dinner and fed bailey her own square, which she consumed with glee. Snackpack and I cooked meals and answered Tim’s process questions. I was somewhat horrified with Snackpack’s dish “washing” method which is to sometimes just scrape her pot with her spoon and then use the water boiling for her next meal as the “cleaning” of the pot. I showed Tim my spatula scraper and shared my “dirty finger” washing method. It’s a terrible way to describe it but it’s pretty true that my hands are usually dirty when I use them to clean my bowl. 

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The wind picked up as we ate, which made for a colder and colder experience. By the time I brushed my teeth, my fingers were going numb. I flossed in the wind and scurried back to my tent. I grabbed my pee rag and went in search of another spot to pee. There are probably at least 30 people here so privacy is a commodity. I found a subpar spot and realized that the privy was up the hill behind me and it did in fact have sides. For some reason I thought it was totally exposed. That makes me feel better for the morning times. 

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I went back to my tent after admiring the view from the barn shelter platform. The red barn is the shelter with a sleeping platform on the left (not pictured) and an upstairs area that I didn’t actually visit. The shelter view has more layers than the view from the tenting area. I regretted not just sleeping in the shelter but I also really like my tent space. I crawled back inside my tent and went about setting up my bed and changing into warmer clothes. The wind was downright frigid and for the second time today, it felt like the smokies all over again. It didn’t seem like we would get much of a sunset view based on the wall of clouds descending upon us, which sadly turned out to be a correct theory.

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I laid in my tent writing up the end of today and listening to people set up their gear. Two men in their fifties came back and asked me a thousand technical questions about my tent. I happily answered what I could and let them peek inside. They wandered away to get warmer and I went back to writing. A little kid in the tent across the path exclaimed that a dark cloud was coming straight for us. I nearly laughed when he said “it looks worse and worse!” Between the rain and the wind it’s probably going to be an all tent doors closed kind of night. Tim told us it’s supposed to be in the 40s tonight, which made me cringe. I’ve gotten used to having warmer feet since getting out of the smokies. I actually decided to put my gloves on my feet over top of regular socks AND wool socks. They looked like kind of like rooster combs.

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I’m finishing this to the sound of my tent whipping in the wind, a light drizzle tapping on the roof, the crunch of the sleeping pads across the way that sound like deep squeak of someone walking through snow, and the occasional bird calling out from the nearby trees. I hate to admit it, but I’m looking forward to tomorrow afternoon when I can stop worrying about every single step I take and be a lazy blob for at least 45 minutes before I get stir crazy. The million dollar question is can I wait until dark to pee right next to my tent before I fall asleep. Fingers crossed I don’t regret my decision to leave my food bag in the tent. 

Mile 377.0 to mile 386.0 (9.0) 

Total miles: 394.3 

Creature feature: bailey the cattle dog, dark eyed juncos everywhere, more dogs at the shelter, and chipmunks. 

2019-Day 37: missing spoon edition

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I gave up on trying to turn yesterday’s notes into full sentences around 10pm and managed to get a semi decent amount of sleep last night. There was a 1:15 wake up, complete with the sound of a lot of little creatures on the move, which made it difficult to fall back asleep. I woke up around 5:45 to the sound of just in case packing his belongings. I waited a few minutes for a bit more light and then grabbed my TP and trowel and walked up the trail towards my food bag. I picked a decent spot to send my letters to congress but I failed to remember that just in case is hiking SOBO. I had just clicked off my headlamp when I saw a light bobbing towards me as I squatted over my cathole. I held my breath and hoped he wouldn’t turn to his left. I was a ways off trail but the woods were thin and he could have easily spotted me. Thankfully he was in first climb of the morning mode and did not look around. When the coast was clear, I turned back towards the tree I’d been holding and saw a bright pink line just above the mountain (hilltop?) through the trees. Fringe benefit to an early morning process. After I filled in the hole and cleaned off my trowel, I made my way over to my food bag. Still there! Huzzah! And the knot easily came unraveled. 

I walked back to my tent in the dim morning light and gave some thought about whether to pack up or go back to sleep. In theory I could walk as little as 9 miles today. If I feel good, the farther destination would be preferable but at 15.5 miles, it’s a stretch. I decided to go ahead and pack up to give myself time for the longer option or time to be slow if I felt like hiking 9 miles. The bottom of my tent was mercifully clean because the ground had been dry when I set up. I sat on a log with my fully packed bag and ate an almond probar with peanut butter for breakfast while Unc packed up. He went over to the shelter to smoke and schmooze with 6pack while I brushed my teeth and put on sunscreen.

Freckles emerged from her tent and said “where did everyone go??” Stella came bounding out of her tent and ran around like a fool. Freckles made the proclamation that she wanted to be Stella, and I said that the only price is you have to lick your own butt. She gave a hearty laugh and said it might be worth it.

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After prepping my feet, I walked over to the shelter to sign the logbook, but there was no book to sign. I said goodbye to the guys, and played with stella for a couple of minutes before finally tearing myself away from her cuteness to get started on the day. The morning started with a docile walk through open woods with the sun coming through the trees to my right.

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As is the apparently the rule, I got service about a half mile from camp. Several texts buzzed into my phone with very disparate tones. One message was a good morning from Oakland. The other set of messages were from my mom and stepdad informing me that my grandmother had passed away early that morning. I saw the words on my screen and came to a standstill in the middle of the trail. As is usually the case with death, I couldn’t quite believe what I was reading. I stood there feeling overwhelmingly sad and equally relieved for my grandmother who had become increasingly uncomfortable and agitated. I didn’t have long to soak in the news alone because Mojo and stella were hot on my heels. I heard mojo talking to Stella from a distance, so I was able to wipe away the few tears that I’d had time to shed and compose myself for the brief encounter.

I continued down the trail and called my mom who was already driving down to oxford to help with funeral arrangements. I walked and talked to her and tried my best not to fall apart as my mom told me the story of my grandmother’s last night. I Saw a flame azalea that nearly pushed me over the edge because of the azaleas that grow off the back porch at my grandmother’s house.

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We got off the phone because of our mutually failing cell signal. I felt a bit dizzy as I walked through a light breeze surrounded by ferns. I came to a picture window view of the mountains in the distance.

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Flies and gnats already buzzed around my head and the birds were hard at work filling their quota of the air space. The trail led me down a steady descent with the occasional wide, sweeping curve.

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I was grateful for the kinder footing so far. Wilting trillium were scattered throughout the ground cover. I Stopped to take in the sea of green next to me and noticed a new flower. Wind picked up right as I tried to take picture so this was the best I could do.

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A thoughtful text from my brother popped through the air waves. I responded in kind and kept moving. I felt tired and heavy, and I kept forgetting to drink water. The trail eventually crossed a road and took a gentle uphill turn past an old (potentially) hand carved trail sign.

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The trail continued uphill at a persistent but manageable rate. I crossed another road, and found a bit of phone signal. I promptly sat down just to the side of the trail in the dirt and called Oakland. She had already heard the news from both mom and myself, but we hadn’t had a chance to talk yet because of the phone signal. An older woman with two small fire plug dogs approached as I checked in with Oakland. I tried to get their picture, but they were too squirmy. I had to keep moving, so the phone call was short. 

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I continued uphill, accompanied by a nice breeze and cut grass turning to straw in the middle of the trail. The vireos were hard at work this morning. I eventually came to a perfect snack spot, and took a break to the sound of trees squeaking in the wind. I Watched a daddy long legs teeter around while I ate and swatted at annoying gnats. Unc passed by with the proclamation that he was proud of me. I don’t know why this makes me cringe. It feels patronizing even though I know that’s not his intention. It also feels too personal for the amount of superficial interactions we’ve had.

6pack joined me for last couple minutes of my break, making a joke about how Unc would be upset at his diversion from their itinerary. He lit up a cigarette, which I took as my cue to keep moving.

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The older woman with the dogs passed by on her way back to the parking lot. We exchanged pleasantries as her dogs scurried by.  The trail took a slight downhill towards an open meadow where I saw Snackpack’s tent nestled among a couple of trees.

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Her campsite happened to be right on the side trail to the water stop. I dropped my back by the trail right as 6pack passed me. I walked down to the spring with my water gear, calling out a hello to snackpack who seemed confused by someone knowing her name out of nowhere. When I said, it’s Checklist! she called out with relief, oh! hi checklist!  I filled up on water and made sure to drink a bunch before heading back to my bag.

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The trail went downhill briefly and then took me on slow, steady climb that got progressively steeper. I imagined 6pack griping about it up ahead of me. I eventually came to a ridge that consisted of a sawtooth of ups and downs. I made room for a small group of teens accompanied by two adults heading southbound. Two birds zoomed past my left flying about shoulder height through the forest. I stopped at the iron mountain campsite for lunch. I sat on a log in the sun and made myself a wrap to accompany my doritos. Then I managed to finally get a phone call through to the mountain harbour hostel, my next destination. I reserved a lower bunk and felt satisfied with that plan having been solidified. I packed away my food bag and continued down the trail.

There was a Short descent into Greasy creak gap. I decided that I should Call the hostel back to make a reservation for a second night, thus taking Sunday off. I didn’t have any phone service at the time of my realization, so I had to wait.

The trail wound through an open green forest with spit bugs galore and the occasional large blowdown to climb over. I also noticed that Something has been snacking on the trillium.

I went through a an easy flat stretch and wondered how my mom was doing with today’s responsibilities.

I Finally got a micron of cell service and called the hostel. They had bunk space, so my zero day plan was complete. I walked through rolling ups and downs. A bug bounced off of my half-open mouth.

I got to the shelter turn off and decided to take a break there. Turbo, lighthouse, unc and 6pack were all there. I laid on the shelter floor and put my feet up. Turbo offered me more arnica, and I accepted. Apparently they had decided to hike separately today, which is why when I left this morning I had seen turbo sitting alone at their tent site. She’s much faster than lighthouse so I guess she was waiting to give him distance. He laughed as he said that he basically half-ran to get to the shelter so she wouldn’t catch up with him. I never did ask why they didn’t just hike in the reverse order so everyone could walk at a relaxed pace.

Unc and 6pack decided to make the trek to the water source. I left with turbo and lighthouse because I didn’t feel like waiting for the guys to get back from water just to be polite. I had 6.5 miles to go and I needed all the time I could get.

I followed lighthouse and turbo down the Winding trail through beeezy woods. I stopped to send a couple of texts and fell behind, which was bound to happen in the next few minutes anyway. The terrain switched over to rhododendrons and got a little rockier.

I wondered if I’d made the wrong choice to push for 15.5 miles because my lower half felt sore and I was mentally exhausted. At the same time I was happy to cut the climb over roan mountain in half and make tomorrow a shorter day to over mountain shelter.

At some point, I sent my destination to Oakland’s mom and kept moving. I arrived at a nice viewpoint where I met a day hiking couple with a dog who seemed overheated. they’re from Tennessee but they live in Kentucky.

I Explained my “thru hike” to them while eating a few fruit gummies and taking pictures. I left them at the overlook with their hassling, good natured dog. The footing was messy for a few minutes but it finally eased up for the walk down to hughes gap.

I felt pretty tired and whiny, so I sat on a rock and called Oakland. She sympathized and also offered to call the Whambulance for me, which I found amusing because she said it in a supportive, slightly ribbing way. 6pack passed me while I sat on the rock talking to Oakland with what we call “frito bag signal,” which is used to describe a signal just strong enough to make a call that sometimes included missing every fourth word (or worse). Then there’s “Cheeto bag signal” which is when I can barely send a text. Both frito and Cheeto bag signals also have “extended” versions.

The day hikers passed me while I was grumbling to Oakland. I ended my call and tried to buck up. I crossed a small road that was paved to my left and gravel to my right. The Day hikers sat on their truck bed eating snacks with their dogs.

6pack sat on a log step about 20 yards up the trail staring at his toe. When I asked him what he was doing, He said he was trying to decide whether to fix a hot spot now or in 6 miles. I thought he had the mileage wrong, so I corrected him saying it was only 3.5 to ash gap, but he’s apparently aiming for roan Mountain. I might be alone tonight if Unc does the same or possibly alone with Unc.

I Trudged up a gradual hill and eventually came to the short blue blaze trail for water. I left my pack at the intersection and walked about 50 yards to a piped water source. I made sure to drink a fair amount before filling up my bottles and my sawyer bag. The water at the tent site is apparently like descending into Mordor and I don’t know what time I will arrive, so I decided to “camel up,” as they say . Back at the intersection, I ducked down and peed quickly, crossing my fingers that 6pack wouldn’t interrupt me.

Then I Continued sweating my way up hill, dismayed by mileage every time I checked. My Feet were sore. I Sat on rock to eat gummies and make notes. There was a decent breeze moving through the woods causing squeaks provoking squeaks from the treetops. Ferns and tall grass lined The sides of the trail. I Wondered where freckles would end up tonight. I hadn’t seen her all day, so my guess is she will stay at the shelter I passed up.

I Stopped to take a picture of the overgrown tunnel in front of me and Heard a slightly different bird call. I searched to my right and saw another one of the hooded warblers. I managed to get a picture of it (didn’t think to video it in the moment). Look them up; they’re striking birds.

The Trail kept climbing up the mountain through varying degrees of ridiculously overgrown to mildly overgrown. I came to a boulder that had a little path in the leaves heading perpendicular to the AT.

It reminded me of the path that was near my campsite on tray mountain in GA that went to an overlook. I stood there contemplating whether to keep going or to explore. My inner billy goat got the best of me. I unsnapped my pack, dropped it to the ground with my poles, and ducked into the hobbit hole. Less than a 100 yards later and one small leafy scramble where I nearly abandoned ship because I had visions of hurting myself, I came to the small but stunning view in today’s top picture. It was so worth the extra time on my feet on a day that had already involved way too much time on my feet. I walked back to my pack feeling very pleased with my impulsive side trip. I stood there contemplating whether I could make a decent campsite out of the small open space but it was just too lumpy. I checked the direction of the overlook on guthook and it was close to due north which sealed the deal. No direct access to sunset OR sunrise. Back to trudging up the mountain I went.

Sadly I still had 0.5 miles To go. I really thought it was going to be more like 0.3 when I checked the map. I know it seems like a minuscule difference but at the end of the day, that extra 5-7 minutes feels like an eternity. At some point i saw a new purple flower:

I crested the small blip in elevation that preceded the final 2 miles of climbing to the summit of roan mountain. I will do those miles tomorrow. The remaining walk to the tent site was a bit rooty at first but it calmed down to a beautiful grassy flat stretch that was darkened by the thick tree canopy and the lowering sun.

I finally saw empty campsites off to my left. I paused and in the silence I heard voices up ahead. I walked towards them and found two women section hikers and a space just big enough for me to cram my tent into. I asked if I could join them and a woman who introduced herself as sassafras said of course! Her friend stayed in her tent for the first half of my time at the site, griping about not having any socks on and being tired and achy. (I get it). When I told sassafras my name name, she said oh your friends just left a little while ago. I asked for their names and she hesitated but then she described a tall guy and an Asian woman and I said oh! Lighthouse and turbo. For whatever reason they must have announced that I would be headed their way.

I forced myself to set up my tent and did what seemed like a decent job of getting it to fit the space and still be well equipped for rain. Then I sat down with my food bag intending to eat a few spoonfuls of peanut butter before I threw a bear line. I searched the edges of my bag for my spoon and came up empty. Then I remembered that I had set it down on a piece of bark during my lunch and based on the fact that it was nowhere to be found, I must have left it there. I had an interior meltdown and an exterior stream of good natured expletives such as “fuck! I lost my spoon! That’s so unlike me!” Sassafras laughed and also immediately offered to let me borrow her spoon for the evening. Well, her first suggestion was that I grab some wood and whittle a spoon with whatever knife I have, which made me laugh. I then went into planning mode and subjected sassafras to my thought process out loud, muttering about how over mountain is a crowded place and I should easily be able to find a spoon to borrow there. I sat and ate peanut butter with my finger. Sassafras kindly offered me a gingersnap to use as a spoon which was quite tasty. I wanted to ask for more but I didn’t want to exhaust her generosity given the actual spoon I was about to borrow.

When sassafras was done with her spoon, I set my water to boil and sat with the foil windscreen to keep from losing too much fuel efficiency in the gusting wind. I have just enough fuel to make it to roan (or maybe one day past it). Then I set my food to “cook” and went searching for a bear line limb. I found one down a well worn path that means either it’s a popular tree or people head that way to poop. I got the line on the intended branch on the third try but it was too close to the trunk for my taste, so I re-threw it. Of course then it took about 6 tries but I finally got the line situated in a safer spot. I went back and scarfed my dinner to which I added red pepper flakes care of Oakland.

Snackpack arrived while I ate and looked around for a suitable spot. She plopped down on the ground in a heap and pulled out her water gear to make the trip down the dreaded blue blaze trail. She was gone so long that I forgot to expect her return. She decided to camp at the spots on the left side of the trail just a hair south of us.

6pack and unc arrived as I finished my dinner/teeth brushing routine. I was surprised to see them. I would have sworn they’d both gotten around me at my water stop. Their Intention was to go to town high knob shelter so they went down to get water. When they got back, they both sat down to fish out snacks. I went out on a limb and asked if either of them had an extra spoon. 6pack said in his low drawl, “yeahhh, I got two spoons.” He apparently had a plastic spoon from a hiker box and a regular flatware spoon that Unc had procured for him. He gave me the metal spoon, which was less desirable to him. I thanked him profusely and felt very satisfied with the swiftness with which my problem had been solved.

The guys were hyper masculine around the other women especially when sassafrass’s redheaded friend emerged from her tent. There wasn’t a concrete behavior I can point to but they seemed puffed up more than usual. I rolled my eyes on the inside and felt repulsed by the whole concept. 6pack kept hiking up to the shelter while Unc decided to stay put. He placed his rig right in front of mine. On my way down from the billy goat trail I hatched a plan to night hike up to the view at roan mountain road 1.5 miles from the tentsite to catch sunrise. I even asked Oakland to look up the timing for me bc phone signal too erratic. When I warned him that I might get up super early, he said great! What time are we leaving? 5? I muttered something about 5 or 5:15 and walked away to hang my food bag. Sassafras deciddd to rehang her food bag because it was too close to her friend’s tent. She was gone for over a half an hour during which time I had the pleasure of enduring an awkward conversation between Unc and the friend whose name i sadly can’t remember.

Sassafras finally came back and admitted to having a time with her food hang. I told Unc that I wouldn’t be leaving early if it was raining at 5am. Then I retired to my tent to put my bed together and change clothes. I’m Not sure if I will have to use the bathroom before the early morning departure and how THAT will work. It might take me too long to get out of here to even manage this sunrise plan but I’m going to give it a shot. I wished I had thought to put a pair of my contacts in the tent so they’d be available without having to get my food bag down. Fingers crossed I don’t fall on my face hiking in the dark or worse yet, twist my ankle. If I can’t leave early enough to do it without rushing, then I won’t go. I’m finishing this to the sound of the wind coursing through the trees, a ringing in my ears, and the occasional buzz of a bug landing against my tent. One more pee and then to sleep with me.

Mile 361.3 to mile 377.0 (15.7)

Total miles: 385.3

Creature feature: the fancy hooded warbler, a fledging dark eyed junco (and many other adults), a chipmunk scampering up the trail ahead of me for like 50 feet, and the three day hiking dogs.

2019-Day 36: stella edition

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The woods were ACTIVE last night. I kept hearing crunching and noises every time I was almost asleep. I also got startled by lightning bugs while I massaged my right ankle with my glasses off in the dark. At first I thought it was seeing the eyes of a creature, but there weren’t any lights to make that reflection, and it was only one glowing dot moving towards my tent. I heard periodic loud snapping that I thought would amount to footsteps coming our way, but they never amounted to anything. There were also a couple of howling or crying noises of some sort. I did manage to get some decent sleep after about midnight, and I woke up almost exactly when I’d told 6pack I would: 6:09. 

I stretched my ankle and put on my bra before heading up into the rhododendrons to take care of business. The ground was full of small roots so the digging of the hole was tedious. I’m sure it wasn’t up to leave no trace regulation, but I did my best. Then I retrieved my food bag. The knot slid right off on the first try, which surprised me given the light rain showers that came through a couple of times overnight.

I changed into my hiking shorts and packed away the inside of my tent. Then I took down my tent which was unexpectedly clean on the bottom. Dry pine needles are the best surface ever. 6pack came back from getting water and called out “good morning sunshine.” No one else had stirred, so I didn’t yell back. I eventually walked over to the shelter with my stuff and sat on the picnic table to eat my breakfast bar. Unc was cranky because of 6pack’s snoring and he had twisted his knee on the way down the ladder last night to rouse 6pack in an attempt to silence him. 

Unc and 6pack sat around smoking their respective vices. I do NOT understand how people do that first thing in the morning. It is the last smell I want to ingest at that hour.

Right before I left, I Put on sunscreen that I will probably sweat off in an hour. The day started with a Short climb through mountain laurel and roots that led me past what looked like an old foundation.

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The Texts started buzzing as my phone service returned. The Sun shone through the trees from my left. I was Happy to not start the morning off with a rocky jumble, but I could have done without the endless strands of silk catching on every exposed bit of skin on my person.

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I Slowly rose in elevation and the trail became a Little rockier here and there. I Passed small spring and stopped to double check water today’s water strategy. The Sources are front loaded today with a long dry spell from the midpoint all the way through to the shelter. This is not what you want on a day that threatens to be soupy. I decided to drink a bunch of water and refill at the next source, Martin creek. It had a strong flow and took little time to fill my sawyer bag. I decided to carry half a bag surplus just in case the midday unreliable source was in fact dry. I was glad to have filled up at the creek because the last reliable source a few tenths of the way up the trail was a paltry trickle. It would have taken much longer to refill there. 

I Called Oakland and talked to her while I wound my way through the woods. The terrain varied from rocky to forgettable with a somewhat steady climb in humid air. I passed the occasional budding rhododendron and mountain laurel.

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We ended our call after a nice long stretch with good service. I stood in the trail to make a few notes after the call and got passed by a French hiker who introduced himself as sock monkey. He squeezed by me on the narrow trail and i finished up my notes. 

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Shortly thereafter, the Trail flattened out. A Light breeze blew through the trees and ferns lined the sides of the trail. I saw what would have been a great snack place but sock monkey had already claimed it and I wasn’t in the mood for small talk just yet. I found a comparable spot farther up the trail and sat on a log with a tree behind it. I Took off my shoes and my brace and put my foot partially in the air by crossing my legs. It’s probably not that effective as an elevation technique but I did it anyway. I pestered Oakland with another phone call while I ate a snack. It’s a wonder she gets anything done. Then I kept moving. I traveled slowly to protect my ankle and there were still a lot of miles to cover. 

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Mountain laurel bloomed on either side of the trail, and tulip tree blossoms were scattered across the ground in various states of decay. The footing became Easier for a little while and the occasional breeze was accompanied by a drop in humidity. 

As I approached Indian grave gap, I saw a truck and a few chairs set up on the side of the road. Trail magic! An older man had three large coolers (water, sweet tea, and lemonade) and offered me Banana bread or a brownie. As I put my pack down he asked me where I’m from. I hesitated, as I always do, and said “I live in Oakland, CA.” He said, “okay, but where were you born.” I told him the north central part of NC. he pointed off to our right and said “well the state line’s right over there.” Silverback and sock monkey were there when I arrived. Silverback is slackpacking again today. He asked me about my ankle and I said it was holding steady. I sat down next to sock monkey with my banana bread slice and cup of water, which I felt guilty for accepting because chances were good that it was not going to be recycled.

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I asked the trail angel his name and he replied “brother Tom” and his dogs name is Moses. He had a missionary sticker on his truck and a hat with the same logo on his head. I tried to reserve judgment and was pleasantly surprised to hear him say to another older hiker that trump couldn’t expect to insult the Chinese people and get a trade agreement with them. I did not weigh in on the conversation. Instead I answered sock monkey’s questions about my hike and gave him the quick elbow story. I did ask Tom who had baked the banana bread, fully expecting him to say his wife. Tom responded with, “I mixed it together and god made it happen.” I smiled and nodded my head and said that it was good banana bread (a white lie, but it had been a nice surprise). Then I gave my thanks to Tom and went back to my snail’s pace into the woods. 

There was a small incline up from the gap. Sock monkey passed me almost immediately, but I saw him a few minutes later when he stopped to look for a snake that had crawled past him. I Asked him if the snake was black or brown. He asked why, and I said that black is usually fine, but Brown is questionable. He continued onward with his giant steps and disappeared into the laurel tunnel. 

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I carefully walked over roots and admired the mountain laurel mixed with purple rhododendrons that were past their prime. My Ankle twinged every so often, but the sensation never persisted. I took Careful slow steps and had to stop myself from taking pictures of every flame azalea I saw.

I tried to tell myself that it Doesn’t matter how long today takes. I Just need to keep moving forward, but the prospect of a 9 hour day of hiking (my estimate based on the my current pace of 1.5-1.7 miles an hour) loomed large and frustrating in my mind. 

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On a flat stretch, I Stepped aside to pee and then sat down to make some notes. I’m Trying not to walk without my poles, which means no walking and dictating. The Tunnel remained flat for a little while with a continuation of roots but it was still far better than the rocky mess up from johnny’s. 

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I came to a set of Power lines that had a light Buzzing. Clumps of Mountain Laurel  blooms popped out among the green of the overgrown power line corridor. I went immediately Back into the woods and the Trail turned into a grassy lane dotted with the occasional bright red leaf.

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I stopped to make sure I hadn’t missed a turn because it seemed too wide and easy. After a few minutes of easy walking, I Crossed a gravel road and the trail winnowed back to its usual one-person width.

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The Humidity was on the rise again and sweat began to form at my temples. The trail eventually Popped out into a field that would mark the beginning of the views for a place called “Beauty spot.”

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I had lunch with this view while talking to Oakland about the amusing antics of her niece who keeps moving the pins that Oakland’s mom as been placing on her AT wall map to record my nightly stops. Today’s feature lunch item is a spiderman poptart (because it was only fruit flavored one sold at uncle johnny’s).

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Apparently Oakland’s niece thinks I should be in West Virginia! As Oakland and I talked, I heard a few rounds of gunshots. I said as much out loud, but didn’t think much of it because I’m in rural TN/NC. 

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I got up to return my food bag to my pack and met a woman named mojo and her dog Stella. Oakland had to suffer through my dog voice as I greeted the adorable black and white dog with blue saddlebags. They scampered away while I gathered my belongings. I walked the rest of the way over beauty spot and decided that my lunch setting below the flat summit had been one of the better views. On the other side of the bald, I passed through another field where I saw an indigo bunting. The trail then dipped back into the woods. I stood in the shade making notes and heard a loud flapping noise. I looked up to find spotted towhees running amuck in the brush. A text from my friend RBJ came through. It turns out she’s having some serious foot pain and she’s taking a zero day to eat copious amounts of food and get new shoes. 

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I continued walking and eventually came to an intersection with a road. I took a right turn to stay on AT and realized 0.1 miles in that the road had been my unreliable water source for the midpoint of the hike. I groaned and decided to make the effort to backtrack because I was low on water. As I put my pack down along the side of the road, I ran into two hikers I’ve seen twice during my slackpacking adventures. They introduced themselves as lighthouse and turbo. Apparently they had been very close to the gunshots. So close that they called their shuttle driver to inform him that a man with a red pickup truck was standing at a gravel road intersection shooting a gun. I later learned that the shuttle driver then called Brother Tom, who then called the police. Mojo told me that she had been standing on the top of beauty spot posting pictures from her daughter’s wedding when the police arrived. Nothing ever came of it as far as I know, but it was quite the excitement for a short time. 

After hearing the firsthand account from lighthouse and turbo, I moved my pack so that it wasn’t visible from the road. They asked my name, and when I said “checklist,” they perked up because they’d heard of me through brownie and dizzy. Lighthouse and turbo are newlyweds doing the trail as part of their honeymoon adventures. They said goodbye and I continued across the road to follow the blue blazes to water. The unreliable source proved to be unreliable. The only water present sat in stagnant pools not deep enough for a scoop. I returned to my pack and kept walking. 

A little while later, I ran into lighthouse and turbo at their break. They asked about my water luck and I shared the news of a dry spring with low water supply for the rest of the hike. Lighthouse kinly offered to give me some of their water. I almost declined, but I decided to fill half of one of my bottles. As I stood with my pack on, getting ready to depart, Turbo asked about my tattoo. That led to my broken elbow story, for which I put my pack back down on the ground because I hate standing around with my feet overloaded. Given my slow pace for the day, I finally said that I would be happy to keep talking later at the campsite, but that I needed to get moving.

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The trail led me through another field walk where I saw another indigo bunting. I dreaded my upcoming road crossings for fear of intersecting with the red pickup truck. The trail went back into the shady woods and I started the climb up unaka mountain. As it turns out, one of the map points that I’d interpreted as a road crossing was just walking near a gravel road. I heard a car coming and ducked down to the ground, feeling ridiculous but also paranoid enough to stay where I was until the burgundy minivan was out of sight. I continued up the trail and eventually sat on a rock in the breeze to check in with Oakland. I think the gun shots story alarmed her, and I had shared my anxiety about the road crossing. I checked my mileage and was dismayed by pace, but I tried my best to let it go and know that things would just take longer for awhile. 

I Stood up from the rock and heard a bird chirping above me. I spotted a dark, all-blue bird. I Couldn’t tell if it was another bunting because of angle of light. Rather than delay myself further waiting for the brid to move, I continued on the climb. There were a few long switchbacks connected by stone stairs that eventually straightened out to an overgrown narrow path. An older man in his mid seventies with a small camouflage pack with small chocolate brown mutt walked towards me heading south. Determined not to hide from the quintessential rural old white man, I told him he had a cute dog. The man paused in the trail to tell me all about how his dog helps him find the bears. I couldn’t tell right away if they were looking for bears to shoot or just bears to observe, but I’m pretty sure it was the latter. He also told me about how bear cubs will drop 30 feet out of a tree and scamper away in front of you. The information left me wide-eyed and even more wary of bear cubs. When he said he hiked all over the Chattanooga state forest, his accent made it sound like he’d said “turkey state forest.” When we parted ways he said “have a good ‘un” and I laughed to myself quietly because Oakland is going to have a field day with the accents she hears out here.

As I continued north, My right foot started to get tender. I Stopped to drink water, write notes, pee, and filter the rest of my water. I had less than a liter for the last 5 miles. I eventually came to a side path that led to a Christmas tree dedicated to a suicide victim named max norrell. The tree was decorated in a variety of trinkets and there was a log book in a ziplock bag tucked at the base of the tree.

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I leafed through the book and ran across a message tucked into the middle of the blank pages that had clearly been left by one of Max’s friends. His pain and pleading made me cry as I stood there alone in the woods.

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I left my own message in the book and sniffled my way up the rocky mess that opened up to spacious pine forest. It then quickly narrowed back down into a footing nightmare.

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At Mile 357.7, I passed heart shaped rocks that had been placed there by a hiker, which I know only because I’ve seen the hiker’s posts in the facebook group page.

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The trail varied between beautiful sandy flat walking and tiny rocks everywhere.

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After awhile of hiking, I heard the tinkle of a dog collar in the distance and I ran into Stella and mojo again (today’s top picture). She told me all about the gunshot incident, which I covered earlier in the post. I quickly told her I would see her up the trail because I couldn’t keep up with her pace in order to hold a conversation. The footing eased up some as I made my way through a pine forest that eventually switched over to mostly deciduous trees and with even easier footing. I stopped on a retaining log to rest my feet for a few minutes.

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The last 1.6 miles were of the “head down get it done” variety. My feet and ankle were sore, but well within the range of reasonable pain. When I got to camp, I saw mojo and Stella already setup and freckles walking around with her pack still on. There was a giant flat beautiful spot open next to a man named “just in case.” He had apparently left the spot for someone else. I thanked him and said that in my tired state, I would make use of it. I went straight into tent and bedtime setup to get those tasks out of the way. Then I pulled out my bear line and went hunting for limbs. On my way past Stella, we played a little catch me if you can as she ran around with a squeaky toy in her mouth. 

After ripping myself away from the cute dog, I found what seemed like a strong enough limb about a hundred yards up the trail. It took several tries, but I finally made it onto a part of the limb that would work. I tied my rock bag onto a sapling and went back to get water. Just in case and I became acquainted as I stood holding my water filter. He apparently tried to flip flop last year and had to stop because of an abscess in his ankle. We commiserated over the loss of our thru-hikes and then I excused myself to continue with the chores that would get me closer to dinner. 

Freckles pointed me in the right direction for water because I didn’t notice the blaze on the tree to the left of the shelter. It was a short trip to a piped spring with a decent flow. I probably should have consumed a lot of water when given the opportunity but I didn’t want to be up all night peeing in the dark, so I drank a modest amount and filled all of my vessels. Finally, the main event could begin. I grabbed my food bag, pot, zseat, stove and fuel and joined freckles and mojo. Stella was in the tent taking a nap. She’s ADORABLE. A little uncertain about new people coming in to camp, but otherwise very friendly. Mojo has already done two long sections that were intended to be thru hikes and had to get off trail each time. She really wanted to officially thru hike so she started over in GA and is headed north. I ate my black beans and rice with the tortilla that I would have normally had for lunch. Then I did my dishes and had half a Twix bar that I bought at nature’s inn. My sweet tooth is picking up steam so the little bite size desserts I get in my box feel like not quite enough. I’m trying not to go too crazy with the junk food but dammit if snickers bars aren’t everywhere I go. Here’s freckles doing a little after dinner planning:

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And here’s Stella investigating the quality of my dinner after emerging from her nap:

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6pack showed up right as I was headed up to hang my food. I asked where Unc was and he said that he had stopped to get water south of the shelter. 6pack made a bit of an eye roll and said that he’d tried to tell Unc that there was good water at the shelter, but he wouldn’t listen. I said something about how you can’t tell men anything (sexist, I know) and 6pack made a whooping noise and jokingly got upset about the zing. 

My rope very nearly came off the branch I’d chosen when I tried to pull the bag up, but it held on just long enough for me get the bag to the height of the limb and tie the clove hitch on the stick. I got the knot on the first try because the bag is slightly lighter than yesterday and because the branch was high enough that it didn’t matter when the rope slipped a bit as I switched hands. 

Unc arrived as I was hanging my bag and Stella was VERY unhappy about his presence. He didn’t help matters when he stood there somewhat stiffly with his poles and his giant bag still on. I want to like Unc but sometimes he makes antagonistic choices that continue to rub me the wrong way. Mojo seemed confused and off-put by Unc. It wasn’t their first meeting, but I think his subsequent chatter about the dog barking wasn’t well received. 

I walked away from the low grade tension to hang my feet up over my head at the shelter. My right Achilles’ tendon ached the whole time I laid there listening to turbo and lighthouse interact with 6pack. They kindly offered me some of their arnica gel, which I applied after about 10 minutes of elevation. I hadn’t kept the nearly empty tube that freckles had given me because it was so bulky. 

Then I went back to my tent and sent a few gps messages to Oakland while freckles talked to Unc from inside her tent. From what I gathered, 6pack is about to run out of money because his unemployment ends soon. From the sound of it, I think it’s an unexpected development and it will likely mean he ends his hike sooner than later. Unc asked about making a fire right outside my tent. I wanted to ask him not to but instead I said “sure it’s not windy.” Thankfully 6pack suggested they make the fire in the shelter pit instead of in the middle of the tent sites. Everyone else is already buttoned up in tents so I’m glad they went further afield. Tomorrow’s hiking options are awkward. It’s either a short 9.1 day to the next shelter or a 15.5 day to an unofficial campsite with a reliable water source. I’m not sure the 15.5 mile option is a good idea yet. I might go to the next shelter and save the 15 mile energy to get to over mountain the following night. It’s supposed to have good views.

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I’m finishing this to the sound of birds chattering up a storm, turbo and lighthouse setting up their beds, the snapping of firewood, just in case snoring next door, and a barred owl VERY nearby to my left (so close that I got a very clear recording of it). It’s time to massage my feet and ankle and figure out when to pee for what will hopefully be the last time tonight. 

Mile 348.5 to mile 361.3 (12.8) 

Total miles: 369.6 

Creature feature: Stella! The indigo buntings, the mystery bird, juncos of the dark eyed and regular variety, loud robins that scared me with their sudden flapping, a few chipmunks, and a couple of bounding squirrels. 

2019-Day 35: trial run edition

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*REAL TIME UPDATE: the next batch of posts will be brought to you by a 3-day weekend in Damascus. Oakland arrives tomorrow! I’m currently holed up in the fancy public library. Sadly it’s closed on Sundays, so tiny screen work tomorrow and back to the luxury of the library on Monday. Tuesday, we hike!*

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I did not sleep all that well. I woke up around 6am with the birds and made an early trip to the bathroom. Soul mama was in bathhouse prepping for her 20 mile day of slackpacking. She very kindly left the bathroom and continued her prep outside so I could have my morning times alone. Then I went back to my cabin, and I managed to sort of fall back asleep until about 8:15. I had breakfast at the picnic table while Unc had his food splayed out in resupply mode. I grabbed my wallet and bought a weird “icee” to put on my ankle with a rubber band while. It worked quite well as an ice pack (today’s top picture). While I “iced,” I talked to Oakland during her early breakfast. Then I packed up my bag and vacated the room. Brownie had her eye on my cabin, so I confirmed with the front desk that it was available for the night. Brownie and dizzy are taking a zero at uncle johnny’s so they moved into my room after the staff changed the linens. 

Then I put on my pack and walked up the little gravel walkway to the front of the hostel to test out the weight on my ankle. I felt an ache in the front of my ankle but no pain. With that cursory information, I Decided to go for the 4.4 mile walk to the shelter later in the afternoon. 

After my assessment, I went to work finishing the edits for day 30. It was hard to focus with constant interruptions. Around mid-morning, Brownie and dizzy went on the hostel shuttle into town and were kind enough to buy me the donut holes I asked for from Dunkin’ Donuts. Very unfortunately they also kept interrupting me while i was trying to write and order a new pee cloth online. They are kind and interesting people, but I realized very quickly that if I was going to make it to my goal of getting days 30-32 posted, I would have to hide.  I grabbed a seat in the shade near this sleepy hiker pup:

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I finally managed to get the post updated with complete sentences and pictures around 12:15. Days 31 & 32 had already been drafted and populated with pictures, so I published those days with a few taps of the screen. Then I had lunch sitting with nickels and John Wayne, a young international kid who confuses me and wears a giant cowboy-ish hat. Nickels has a checklist tattoo! Yes, it does say “fireball” on her list.

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I had a pb wrap, chips and donut holes for lunch and promptly felt sick after eating so much sugar. I took my stack of postcards up to the picnic tables near the front of the hostel to charge my phone and write some messages to family and friends. Then I had a phone call with Oakland before she headed into an afternoon of work obligations (classes have ended but the work continues). 

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I decided to dunk my feet in the river one more time before departing so I walked across the street and had a short but useful soak while watching a kayaker navigate the small rapids in front of me. I returned to the front picnic tables to let my phone charge and fully dry my feet in the sun before I put body glide on them for the hike. I also rolled some TP onto my existing TP because I feared that I didn’t have quite enough. Should I get my period earlier than expected, I definitely wouldn’t have enough. 

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I dallied out front, not wanting to leave the land of familiar faces and phone signal and not wanting to test my ankle for fear of hurting myself. I Sat out front and made notes for the day while Unc ate through part of his food stash and silverback pontificated about the elevation changes between the AT/PCT/CDT. Silverback stayed at the super 8 yesterday but he decided to move over to uncle johnny’s for better access to shuttles. He’s on his second zero day and I think he’s going to continue slackpacking. I was very tempted to do the same but this 4.4 mile hike is kind of the perfect way to test my ankle with pack weight. 

Around 3:30, i Said goodbye and walked across the bridge. The Trail took a slight right and went into the woods where it ran just below the railroad tracks for a few hundred yards before crossing over the tracks. I looked at the chunky loose gravel in front of me with a large sigh and slowly walked across the tracks.

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The footing on the other side was much milder. I heard voices and turned at the powerlines to see a Doublewide trailer just up the way to the left. It was cooler in the shady woods than it was at the hostel. As I walked, a fly bit me in a place that I have at least two other bites. Every step felt like a test, which is not necessarily productive hyper-vigilance, so I tried to distract myself from over analyzing the sensations in my body.

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The trail started to climb and became rockier. I found my eyes glued to the ground, hardly noticing anything around me until I heard a small bird in the rhododendron tree nearest to me. I looked up to see a small brown wood thrush with white eye liner. 

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Then came more rocks. I Felt like I’d lost a fair amount of confidence in terms of foot placement. The trail was Hot and narrow with dry flies buzzing and the river rushing far below. snack pack passed me heading sobo and then a few minutes later freckles did the same. They did an 8ish mile slackpack today. Freckles asked how I was doing. I replied anxious but good enough. She said she was ready to be done. I will likely see her tomorrow based on how the mileage works out. 

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The Footing eased up a bit from roots and rocks to hiking in the pine needles and leaf duff as the rhododendrons crept into the mix of trees around me. I Crossed a small stream over a nice footbridge, which was followed by more rocks and another footbridge. I walked alongside a pretty stream, trying to focus on the beauty of the scene rather than the fear of every step.

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The trail devolved back into a rock pile for quite awhile. I got dejected and exhausted. i had to keep reminding myself that i was afraid and annoyed but I wasn’t actually in pain. I decided to listen to my meditation once through and then I switched to my old standby comfort music (indigo girls). I didn’t feel all that hot, but I sweated buckets as I made my way up the mostly rocky climb. I stopped at one point to make a note and checked my mileage. 0.8 miles to go. The footing eventually eased up and switched over to pine needles and roots. A small somewhat stagnant flow of water sat alongside the right of the trail. Not long after I noticed the water, I saw the empty shelter ahead of me in a frame of rhododendron trees The picture didn’t come out well, but here’s the shelter from a different angle:

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I put my pack down and looked at the tenting options thoroughly. Well as thoroughly as I could without having to walk up a hill out of sight of the shelter. I found a spot that would fit my tent and leave me with one side of flat-ish sleeping and one sloped side that I could lay my pack on. When Oakland gets here we’ll have to try harder to find two flat sides. For now I decided it was good enough. I ate a few almonds and set up my tent.

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Then I grabbed my water supplies and filtered water from the small pooling spring that was the source of the trickle I had seen on the trail. I tried to use the tiny flow of water from a propped rhododendron leaf but it provided me with a leaf filled cup. On the second round of that I got frustrated and tossed the water out, but my cup slipped out of my hand and flew into the mud. I said aloud to no one “oh COME ON.” I gave up on the moving water and dipped my cup into the small pool, figuring that the clear pool was created by the moving water so it’s probably just as safe. 

Then I decided to undertake my least favorite task: throwing my bear line. I found a decent tree but after 10 botched throws, I moved to a lower branch on a tree a little farther up the hill. I had seen it first but it looked like a limb that I would say to sunny “I don’t think my bag is high enough.” After missing the other branch so many times, I settled for the less ideal option and got it on the second try. Then I prepped my food and laid in the shelter writing notes with my feet propped over my head against the shelter wall. My nerves are a bit shot, but my ankle never went above a solid ache on the hike from uncle johnny’s, so we’ll call today’s experiment a success.

I sat at the picnic table and ate dinner (chili mac) alone. There wasn’t any phone signal, so I read Oakland’s letters to keep myself from feeling too lonely. After dinner, I washed my pot and ate dessert before brushing my teeth. I didn’t want to hang my food right away in case I had company because my bear line is right over the trail, but around 7:45 I decided to go ahead and hang it. Unc showed up while I was struggling to get my bag up the in the air on a limb that wasn’t quite strong enough to handle the weight of 4.5 days of food. He greeted me kindly and asked if i needed help. I said I probably did need help but I was going to decline at the moment. He deemed my limb too low and told me it would be grabbed. I didn’t have the patience to throw another line, and his exacting tone irritated me. I did re-throw it to a slightly thicker part of the same branch, which helped me get the bag up in the air. My new problem was that the bag was too heavy for me to keep the tension on the stick to switch sides for the clove hitch. After struggling for over 5 minutes I finally managed to get the knot in place. Unc is probably right, it’s low but it will have to do. My next worry was being able to get the clove hitch back out in the morning because of the weight of the bag. To be continued…

Unc and i were alone at the table for about 3 minutes when 6 pack showed up. 6pack is the man at jerry cabin shelter whose name I didn’t get. He’s kind of a hot mess because he tends to be high or drunk, but he’s nice enough. He’s yet another military vet (Air Force). Unc had a mind to build a fire so he set about that task and 6 pack leafed through a newspaper that had been left in a gigantic ziplock bag.

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Unc declared the news a flaming shit pile (those weren’t his exact words but he said something of the sort). I went off to my tent and set up my bed. Then I laid in the shelter with my feet up while the dynamic duo went about their evening routine. Unc set up his tarp and fumbled with his newly acquired bug netting while 6pack rifled through his food in the waning light. I went into the woods for what I hoped would be my final pee and, Against my better judgment, I sat at the fire with unc and 6pack for about 15 minutes. An howl hooted far off in the distance. Unc thought it was human but I insisted that it was an owl. Right as I made that declaration, I saw two beams of light bobbing through the woods towards me. They were coming from the opposite direction of the hoot, but the timing was was impeccable. The hikers turned out to be a couple that I had seen at Uncle Johnny’s but I didn’t get their names. I declared goodnight to everyone and went to my tent in the dusky light, hoping not to make a misstep on the pine roots. I switched into my camp shorts which I should really do sooner but I always forget or I remember and don’t want to expose more of my legs to the bugs during my dinner routine. I dutifully removed my bra even though I hate putting it back on in the morning and switched my shirt. Then I massaged my ankle and feet for a few minutes. I’m finishing this to the sound of the fire crackling, the latecomers settling into the shelter, 6pack asking unc when this will get easier, bugs popping against the sides of my tent, and the occasional train whistle. My lopsided spot is pretty comfortable and I’m happy to have the privacy of my tent. 

Mile 344.1 to mile 348.5 (4.4) 

Total miles: 356.8 

Creature feature: a chipmunk, the cute dogs at johnny’s, the hooting owl sounds, and a pileated woodpecker cackling right as Unc started to make the fire. 

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