2019-Day 17: dog envy edition

I managed to get a decent night of sleep in the spider cave. I heard Small mouse noises but no pack chewing or running over my head. Apparently it rained for about 5 minutes all night, so we could have tented, but that’s fine. 

I was the first to crawl out of my sleeping bag and head to the privy. Then i retrieved my food bag and proceeded to get my hands filthy wrapping up the line. By the time I did all of that the others were up ad moving. I had breakfast sitting on the fire pit again. Decided to eat a tiny bit extra in the form of Fritos and peanut butter because a cliff bar really isn’t enough to start the day with. A Pileated woodpecker swept through the canopy out of sight and cackled as it circled. We were all ready to go the same time and stood there with our hiking poles in hand but no one making a move to head up the trail.  I nominated Josh to be first. Then came me, Sunny and Jess. Josh immediately pulled away while I felt as if I was walking backwards uphill. The air was heavy And it was difficult to breathe. Within the first few steps my quads started to burn. The trail was took us up a gradual climb with long switchbacks that caused us all to space out to our respective paces. Jess pulled in front of sunny while I maintained second position. You can just make out Josh in the thick leaf cover of the second picture.

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The climb finally eased up to a relieving flat stretch. It was overcast and felt as if it could rain at any moment but the temperature was warm so it wouldn’t be the worst if it did rain. The trail was lined with patches of ferns and berry bushes. I past this giant downed tree and then continued on the roller coaster that would be today’s trip into Fontana dam.

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When Jess dropped back enough to be out of sight, I felt l like I could actually slowdown to pay attention to what was around me. When there’s anyone besides Oakland behind me, I feel like my vision narrows to just my feet and my poles and the 10 feet ahead of me. I could hear the work of woodpeckers Far off to my left and I stepped over what might have been bear scratches crossing over the trail.

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I eventually came to a Rocky overgrown ridge with Virginia creeper living up to its name as it closed in on the trail. Around 9am, the sun decided to make an appearance and brightened up the woods a bit. I’m surrounded by mountains but they’re harder to see because the leaves are filled in.

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Ran into Josh taking a mini break commented on how many more miles we have until the damn. I let him go ahead of me because he’s speed racer today. The trail took a consistent downward slope taking my phone service with it. It shortly evened out to a sunny green path with a sweet smell while the humidity continued to rise.

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I came to a small campsite next to the slow-moving stream with two eroding logs serving as a foot bridge. Then the trail took a left and follow along the stream for few Hundred yards. I Crossed over a louder stream and continued to wind around With the sound of water quickly fading behind me.

The woods opened back up again, which felt good in terms of airflow. I’m not sure my breakfast was big enough because I was already relatively hungry and I had yet to reach my 4 mile snack break. My right foot caught a root, stretching a the muscles in the front of my ankle more than I wanted, but with no real repercussions. I Found a flat spot with a log and magical phone signal, so I decided to stop for a snack and a call to Oakland. Sunny and Jess showed up right as I was about to dial so I politely waited. They also decided to make a small break spot out of it, so i Hung out with them for couple minutes and then decided to try to walk and talk with oakland on the phone. That worked for about four minutes before my service completely kicked it as I lost elevation. Jess passed me as I stood in the trail saying goodbye to Oakland because moving made my wisp of a signal completely drop out. Then I found myself in between Jess and sunny.  We were spaced out of sight of each other, but close enough to occasionally hear the clacking of poles.

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The trail got bit rocky for a couple of minutes but then settled down to a nice hard packed dirt that continued to drop in elevation as we headed towards a parking lot. I stepped over bits of neon tulip tree blossoms as I daydreamed about buying salad fixings and bananas and yogurt in town. I don’t know that they will take us to the grocery store without charging for the shuttle, but one can hope.

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I Stopped to eat a snack at a dirt road crossing after going downhill for what felt like forever. Sunny and Jess were right behind me and also took the opportunity to eat a snack. We all griped about our own special pains because of the consistent drop in elevation. I Let them head out first and took a quick Pee break. Based on how everyone is moving, I feel confident I’ll be able to catch up at some point. Today is Sunny’s last day. She’s Ending her hike when she crosses over fontana damn.

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Not long after the dirt road, I walked Through a Marina parking lot and ran into Jess and sunny staring at a sign by the trail head. There was a small sign and a set of hiking boots full of pebbles. The sign asked hikers to take a Pebble from the boots that belonged to a man who died of pancreatic cancer before he could go on his own hike. That hit a little Close to home given the circumstances of Tuesday, so I picked up a pebble and put it in my hip Pocket.

The trail then went Up a short hill that we all whined about because, as expected, it went right back down. We wandered around through a dry Pine Forest passing the occasional rangy mountain Laurel. For a split second, I saw a warbler with a yellow mask, but it flew away before I could really take in the full color scheme. The internet tells me I might have seen a hooded warbler, which is like the inverse color scheme of the common yellowthroat. Whatever it was, it was beautiful.

We followed what felt like a series of twists and turns in a square mile, stopping to gawk at the view of the lake.

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We finally popped out to a road that ran next to the Fontana Hilton. It’s called that because there are showers and a water fountain up the hill and there’s a picnic area next to the shelter.

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We saw a set of stairs and all gaped at whether we would have to climb the stairs. A little phone checking made it seem like we should follow the road so we took that option. 

A half mile and many groans later, we reached the Fontana dam visitor center which was a ghost town. The main building was open but the gift shop (with the ice cream freezer) was sadly closed. We ran into Josh who had been there for a while reading the plaques. We asked a passing man to take our picture. Sunny said her potential goodbye and walked across the dam. Her mom and stepdad are meeting her here but she doesn’t know exactly where so she might be back at the visitor center waiting for them. Josh, jess and I then hobbled down the stairs to hang out in the shade. I got a sprite from a vending machine, put my pack in the sun to start the process of drying out the straps (where the smell originates), and proceeded to house half a bag of Doritos with a little help from josh and Jess. 

Sunny’s mom showed up around 12:50. I could hear her dog barking with enthusiasm at the sight of her. Sunny came through the parking area with her dog and her family. I couldn’t get a great picture because the dogs were antsy, but here’s one of the mediocre ones: 

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We all stood around until the man from creekside arrived to pick up Jess and me. We both happened to make reservations for the same place today and tomorrow. Once we survived the very serpentine drive to the creekside inn, we were greeted by a handful of adorable and chatty dogs.

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We were shown to our respective private rooms and proceeded to collect our laundry in one basket to combine for one load. We were given robes to wear during this process, so after I took a nice long hot shower, I sat on the front porch in a robe and was periodically visited by this adorable face: 

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I did not love sitting around naked in a robe for hours on end but the clean clothes were worth it. I attempted to work on the blog which was easier said than done with the lack of privacy other than my room. I wanted to be outside but whenever i sat in a common space someone would try to talk to me. 

We had dinner with Cynthia, Jeff, and a section hiker who had a lot of opinions that drove me up a wall. Cynthia made salmon with roasted vegetables in an Asian marinade and thickly cut bread toasted with cheese. So good. after dinner I went back to being a blog zombie and eventually attempted a FaceTime call with Oakland over the WiFi. The signal was weak but we managed the delay and the loss of video for awhile before calling it a night. I’m finishing this to the sound of the creek rushing out front and bugs buzzing around me because there aren’t any screens on the windows. 

Mile 159.2 to mile 166.3 (7.1) 

Total miles: 174.7 

Creature feature: sadly I can’t remember much about this day in terms of wildlife 

2019-Day 4: alternative facts edition

The wind howled all night, making for a loud and very chilly experience. I decided to close both my doors and take whatever condensation came with that choice for the added degrees of warmth in my tent. I decided to play it conservative and put all of my electronics and my water filter into my sleeping bag to keep them warmer. The filters can stop working if they freeze, which seemed like overkill, but why not?

I woke up around 11:30pm with no chance of going back to sleep quickly. I tossed and turned, looked at comforting pictures on my phone. After being wide awake long enough, I had to pee. From experience, I know the best choice is the hardest one, so I put my shoes on, opened the door to my tent and walked out with my red light setting on. I HATE walking around in the woods in the dark. But when you gotta go, you gotta go.

The warmth of my sleeping bag felt even better after a few moments of breeziness in places that don’t normally catch a breeze. My new sleeping bag is not as comfortable as I had hoped and I keep finding myself with a cold face/neckline. I finally stuffed my puffy coat in front of my neck and immediately felt warmer. I’m pretty sure the temperature kept dropping after I finally fell back to sleep because my toes got progressively colder as the night wore on. I got slightly more sleep than the night before but still pretty miserable in terms of total hours.

I gave up on sleep around 6, and tried to will myself to go get my food bag. Now for the awkward part: this is a campsite, not a shelter site. That means no privy. I had intended to see if I could make it to the shelter about a mile up the trail but it’s 0.4 miles OFF the trail. One does not walk .8 extra miles if one can help it. There are at least 15 people camped here. That’s a lot of eyes that could spy me pooping behind a rock. But I tucked my trowel and my TP in my coat pocket just in case. The night before I had spied a decent spot with a boulder to hold onto and no poison ivy that I could see.

I wandered stiffly up the trail 80 yards or so to retrieve my bag. Kevin was already packed up and huddled on a log eating breakfast. No thanks. I took my food back to my tent and put on my spandex underneath my long Johns so they could warm up. I carefully ate a bar while tucked in my sleeping bag. There are only a little over 5 miles to hike today but I want to get a cabin that can only be reserved over the phone the same day, so I do have a deadline or I’m stuck staying at the hostel with 14 bunks and 1 bathroom. With that in mind, I started packing up as soon as I ate breakfast.

The wind had not died down as predicted, so packing my tent was nearly as fun as setting it up yesterday. I finally pulled my puffy coat off around 745. This is the last step on really cold mornings because the rule is: never hike in the puffy. You’ll get too hot. But more importantly, Your coat might get wet and you need it to be dry when you get to camp.

My rain coat serves as a third layer on mornings like this. I thought for sure it wouldn’t be enough, but it proved me wrong. The sun had started to peek through the trees by the time I clodhopped my way up the trail.

I felt grateful that the morning started with a small climb because it’s the fastest way to create body heat. I lamented each time the trail dropped me onto the shady side of the mountain and felt overjoyed when I rounded the corner back into the slanted rays of sunlight.

About halfway through the climb to blood mountain, I stopped to call the cabin rentals only to find out that they weren’t open yet. I called again just below the summit of blood mountain and found out that they can’t take my reservation over the phone or they can’t give me the hiker discount. There were 6 Hiker rate cabins left at that point. A fair number, but as I come to find out many times: there are always more hikers than I see around me, especially in GA where most of the community starts their hike.

When I finished the call, I then gave Oakland a ring to say good morning. We tried to talk all the way up to the summit so she could travel along for the experience, but my phone service had other plans. I came through this stretch of rhododendrons to find a slightly obstructed sweeping view of the surrounding mountains.

This privy might have the best view on the trail:

There were scads of children clumped around the shelter packing up their gear. Apparently part of the reason there are bear canister rules here is because it’s a popular place for locals to camp and they leave a ton of food around. I dropped my pack by a tree and scampered up the boulders next to the encoded stone shelter (aka cold and damp box) and was met with the view from today’s headlining picture.

I felt supremely grateful to have a clear day to be on blood mountain, which is the tallest peak in GA. The rest of my camping group from last night arrived and we sat up there together like a smelly and unfamiliar band of misfits. My favorite thus far is Maya, a Canadian woman who has 4.5 weeks on trail before she has to go back to a new job. We shared a pop tart that came to me care of la bamba. Then the wind got the better of me, so i kept moving. Except then my signal came back so I called Oakland and took her on an adventure to pee with me on the phone because I highly doubted that there would be good spots coming down the mountain. The ascent was mild which means, by AT rules, the descent will be a rocky mess. Blood mountain partially lived up to this theory.

Here are the slabs we had to walk down for a bit. And in the second picture is the log I stepped right over rather than taking the left turn that the log intended me to take, but I sat it and thought “don’t trip on that log! Step over it!” As the footing got steeper, I wondered to myself how the dayhkkers I had passed were making such a climb. It was getting seriously angled, putting my foot and my nerves to a test. And then I saw a sign taped to a tree that said “this is not the AT. Turn around and it is on your right.”

I had climbed down twice as much rock slab as I needed to. Apparently this goof is listed in the guthook app but I hadn’t read that far into the details. Feeling like a rube and cranky about the extra time and strain I’d gone through, I hauled myself back up the rock side. The small upside of this detour is that I felt like a coordinated billy goat on the way up and there weren’t any lasting effects from the extra foot work needed to stay upright. I could have done without the visions of breaking my arm again.

Then came the long and varied descent down to neel gap. There was a steady stream of day hikers coming in the opposite direction, which made me very aware of the fact that I probably smell terrible. I tried whenever possible to stand in place and let others pass on the theory that it keeps more of my smell in one place rather than wafting past others. The hikers were an amusing combination of chipper and bedraggled as they made their way up the two-ish mile ascent. Not an easy hike.

At the bottom of the mountain, the AT crosses two other trails and continues onward with a very mild stretch until mountains crossing.

I could hear the road far before I saw it and when i came out to the intersection I knew why: there were dozens of motorcyclists streaming in and out of the mountains crossing parking lot. I guess it’s a popular break spot for hikers AND bikers.

I found my current pod of familiar people and dropped my pack. I asked maya if she wanted to split a cabin to defray costs and to be social. She immediately said yes, so I hauled tail down the side trail that led to blood mountain cabins and reserved us a spot. Then I had to go back up the hill to mountains crossing to eat lunch, which I had yet to do and was approaching meltdown, and to collect my mail! A food box and what was supposed to be two cards but one sadly did not make it into competent hands. Bonus feature: I bought an orange soda.

The rest of the day involves the usual “town” chores, a lot of which for me entails watching the spinning wheel on my phone as pictures upload to the blog at snails pace. maya and I were assigned raccoon cabin which does indeed have stuffed raccoons around the fire place.

The cabins offer free laundry if you drop it off by 2:30 so maya and I switched into our camp shorts and puffies, which is what you do when you’ve only brought 1 bra and no extra “stay clean” shirts. I washed my cookware, let my sleeping bag air out, backflushed my filter, etc. I also ate too much macaroni and cheese (yay full kitchen in the cabin!) and found out that 3 out of the 5 people I had surrounded myself with today are trump supporters. The 4th being a Canadian and the 5th being an unknown but likely trump person based on his background and interactions. This news hit me harder than I expected and I found myself in a verbal tussle with 2 of the men, which i attempted to end by saying, “I’m going to go.” Then one of them tried to spout off illegal immigrant numbers at me and I stopped him mid sentence by saying, “I’m just going to tell you that I’ve stopped listening and I’m going to go now.” Sadly la bamba is one of them. I don’t plan to completely shut these people out, but the interaction made me so angry that I was shaking by the time I got back to my cabin. The news came shortly on the heels of having one of them make a micro-aggressive remark about how he liked sausage, but “not that way.” I reflexively and as politely as I could said, “yeahhh that’s actually homophobic.” He backpedaled and took it better than I expected all the while basically saying “gay men are gross but hey! Let them be gay!”

I’m finishing this to the sound of cars passing on the highway while i sit in the dark on the porch of the cabin rental store because it’s the only place I can get WiFi.

Mile 26.3 to mile 31.3 (5)

Total miles: 39.6

Creature feature: a ton of familiar birds and day hikers galore!

2019-Day 2: sleepless in GA edition

I Did not sleep very well last night. Thankfully it wasn’t because of any bear activity, but it was a restless night waking up pretty much every hour. I’m really glad that I decided to eat the 2 1/2 ounces of weight on my pillow because having it between my knees is really good for my hips. Pretty achy all night. Heard the father and son duo leave on the early side. Finally forced myself to get up out of my sleeping bag around 630. Changed my clothes in my sleeping bag because I had a door on either side of my tent open. then I attempted to go to privy, but my desire to get in front of the pack was faster than my stomach could work. So back to my tent I went and packed everything up. I managed to remember to put in my contacts before packing up my tent, Which is an important order of operations for dirty hands touching my eyes. I said goodbye with my usual “I’ll see you when you pass me” refrain. And then I wandered down the trail.

It wound me down towards more rhododendrons and this stream crossing which brought up a little bit of falling flashbacks. then I walked along more rhododendrons with the sound of water far below me off to my right.

I was greet with the smell of pines as the trail opened up to a tall grove with the sound of a woodpecker off in the distance. I Eventually crossed over the stream that had been out of sight down a rhododendron covered bank. Then i walked down a wide partially gravel flat stretch trail. I Passed two hikers that had dipped in and out of camp last night. I guess they decided to go on about a mile.

My foot is feeling tight this morning. I’m trying not to pay too much attention to it and just think About flexibility in my mid foot and not get too attached to the soreness on the outside. The Creek is now raging below me to my left. There’s no phone signal here and hasn’t been since about an hour before I got to stover Creek last night.

I wound through rhododendrons and pines with not much else to speak of in terms of terrain. Came upon a wide spot in the trail and decided to pee because it seemed like a safe spot with a little poison ivy. I also knew Dave wasn’t far behind me so I should get that out-of-the-way while I could. Dave came around the corner about four minutes after popped a squat. Good timing.

I saw this little guy middle of the trail and took my pack off so I could take a picture of my spirit animal. Crossed another big creek that had no camping signs everywhere and people had clearly been camping. I Managed to get bit of phone signal so I left Oakland a voicemail and touched base with couple of people.

Not long after that, I got an even better signal right, so I stopped in the middle of the trail and called Oakland. I stayed put for longer than I intended to because I could tell that there were people at the water source right around the corner and I didn’t want to be rude and be on the phone while filtering water. We said our goodbyes, and I came around the corner to find for people Hanging out on the log. I filtered water and talked to one of them. They’re out for four and a half of days doing a shakedown hike for a trip to Montana. I gave my 1200 mile spiel and went about my way, crossing over the little stream. around corner, I took another bathroom break because it seemed like the coast was clear. Then I ran face-to-face with a gentlemen using a giant limb as a hiking stick, which always sets me on edge. But he was harmless enough.

I stopped at a seasonal stream to get water because I felt anxious about how long of a stretch there would be with no sources. The group doing a shakedown hike caught up with me and I leapfrogged them down the hill to high water gap. There was a woman dropping off her car to do the last 3.5 miles she needs to finish the GA stretch of the trail. The duo were named Puttputt and Grambo (Rambo grandma style). They were handing out water, which I didn’t need but I decided to guzzle a bottle anyway. They also offered to take my trash which was minimal, but I gave it to them anyway because why not. Then I passed the shakedown group on the short but chug worthy climb out of high water gap. By the time I reached the top I was huffing and puffing. It smelled a bit right like rain and the air felt heavy. I passed a hammock camper packing up. Not sure what he’s doing at 11:45 in the morning but whatever. As I got to a flat stretch it’s starting to drizzle, but it stopped shortly there after.

I decided to Stop for lunch before it rained on me. I found a great set of rocks at the midpoint of a hill. Two of the kids from last night showed up. One of them was nattering on about weight consciousness and wearing his rain coat so his clothes didn’t get heavier while he reached for a water bottle that looked like it had to be at least a pound, empty. As he slung his giant pack on, I also noticed a leather knife sheath clipped onto his hip belt. I don’t think wet clothes are going to be this kid’s downfall.

My food definitely still tastes like dryer sheets. The kids are camping at Justus creek so I could stay there with company or try to push the extra mile and a half to gooch mountain shelter. It’s supposed to be windy and rainy tonight so the shelter is tempting but that’s longer than I intended to start with this week (12.9 miles).

After lunch there was a short climb that led to a nice flat stretch where I saw a new flower:

The trail dropped me down to a road crossing at horse gap and then right back up one of the longer climbs thus far. I got to this overlook and decided to plop down to take advantage of the weak phone signal that had come out of nowhere. Service has been hopping around erratically all day.

A hiker couple passed me as I sat being a phone zombie. I caught up with them around the corner while they stood taking a quick breather. I asked where they planned to stop for the night because I’m trying to keep from camping alone. They had a noncommittal answer similar to my own (gooch is too far but RAIN). I started out ahead of them but quickly let them pass. When the gentleman looked up confused, I gave my now usual refrain, “I’m slower than I look.” They moved on and almost immediately I saw something I wanted to take a picture of. Shocking I know. But I found a new flower!

Somewhere along the climb, I ran into putt putt. I have her a hearty hello using her trail name and she returned with mine. On a whim I asked for her picture so meet Putt putt:

We parted ways with a fist bump, and I continued huffing my way up the climb. I saw columbine on the way up and found the hiking couple on the flat stretch. The forest floor was covered in May flowers and the trail was soft, for which I’m always grateful.

I took my headphones out my ear to be social but shortly thereafter I got more phone signal so I took the opportunity to call Oakland. Maybe my trail name should be Clingy. We managed to eek out a pretty functional call for a few minutes and then the towers called it quits.

I continued my way down an unfortunately rocky descent that made my right foot cranky. I decided to stop and dump some of the water in my bag rather than wait until the road crossing .2 miles down. Why wait? So I sat down on a rock and filtered enough to fill my bottles and dumped the leftover water in the brush.

On the other side of the gravel road crossing the trail footing eased, which made the longer shelter choice seem more possible. I made the mistake of passing a good snack log and didn’t find another good spot for almost mile. I found a rock on the trail with enough room for people to pass and plopped my bag down. I scarfed half a cliff bar and part my new favorite salty snack which is cashews and white cheddar cheezits. The cheezits don’t hold up as well as I’d hoped but it’s nice to have something salty. I checked the shelter specific weather on at weather.org. The wind and rain forecasted for tonight sealed the deal. Going long to gooch mountain it is. I heard voices in the distance behind me and decided to get moving. Shortly up the trail, I came to a camping spot and rushed up behind a tree to go pee before the people caught up with me.

Every time I drop my pants, I think of the time in New England when a dude walked past me while my butt was out. With another successful bathroom break behind me, I got moving again. The last two miles of trail were easy going and wound me past alternating sections of saplings and rhododendron groves.

Then came Justus Creek. A high flowing, wide creek that had wet rocks as part of the intended crossing. I stood there and bemoaned my options. Cross on wet rocks, cross on a thin lumpy log, or take my shoes off and cross barefoot. The couple that I’d been leapfrogging with caught up to me and we surveyed the options together. They both opted for the rocks. I watched as their long legs gave them sounder steps than I would be able to manage. They got to the other side and called out they would wait for me to cross safely but I assured them I would be fine because I planned to go for my trusty barefoot option. I couldn’t stomach the idea of turning an ankle or slipping off a rock, so I sat down and took my shoes, socks and gaiters off. The water was only about ankle deep and the brisk temperature felt good on my sore feet.

I sat down on the other side and dried my feet with my tent towel. There was a short climb up out of the creek bed and then the trail continued on as it had before with easy footing. I caught up with the couple right before we hit the shelter. From a distance I could hear whooping and yelling from people at the shelter. That noise could only come from someone with testosterone coursing through their system. Just what I didn’t feel like dealing with.

We came around the bend to find a shelter full of people, probably at least 10. My heart sank as I quickly tried to come to grips with pitching my tent on a rainy night. I set my bag down and walked over to the shelter to suss out the situation. One of my least favorite things to do is walk in front of a group of strangers looking bedraggled and smelling worse than I look. But I forced myself to do it immediately lest someone else swoop in. There looked to be only one spot left unless people squished. I offered first dibs to the couple but they decided to tent. I thanked them and quickly threw down my sleeping pad and began the tricky process of pulling things out of my bag for shelter life. It’s hard to remember everything you need to prevent yourself from digging around in the early morning or right after everyone’s gone to sleep.

As it turns out the whooping was from a rowdy card game being played at the picnic table. I Set up my water to boil and put my food in to hydrate. Then came the task of getting water. The couple are from Alabama and they were friendly. I Ate at the picnic table while everyone was at the edges of the space. Felt a bit like a pariah but I tried to talk myself out of it. People went about their own routines and I sat around engaging in conversation while trying to write blog notes for the day.

Had another call with Oakland to wrap up the evening while other people sat at the picnic table talking gear and hiking experiences and a section hiker did Tai chi.

Mile 2.8 to mile 15.7 (12.9)

Total miles: 24

Creature feature: A chipmunk at the first water stop that scurried out of sight Black and white warbler. More swallowtails. A new bird that I couldn’t quite get a good look at it. Greenish back and a black cap? A Barred owl called out while everyone was hanging out in the picnic area at the shelter. Saw it fly through the tree tops.

The commute: getting to the GA mountains edition

Yesterday was a long day that was both important and incredibly exhausting, complete with a whopper of a caffeine headache for most of the day because I’m officially off the sauce. I woke up in Raleigh at 7:30am, rented a car, drove 45 minutes north on a stretch of highway that I have been on a thousand times, and spent 4 hours soaking up the linguistic gems of the south while visiting with my grandmother. Here’s her back porch and the sprawling backyard that my brother and I used to catch lighting bugs in when we were younger:

On my way up to Raleigh my mom asked me to buy cards, so without asking why, I grabbed a deck at the grocery store while getting lunch food. As predicted, she wanted cards so we could play a game called “golf” that I taught her when she came to visit in CA. We managed to squeeze in a few rounds which made for a fun break from trying to figure out what to talk about.

My mom and I decided to leave my grandmothers sooner than necessary so she could rest and my mom could make the 4 hour drive home. Around 2pm, I switched into my hiking clothes and regretfully handed my street clothes to my mom to take home with her. I wasn’t quite ready to make my transformation into hiker wear for the rest of my travels, but that was the easiest way to unburden myself from them. I gave my mom the handful of bits and bobs that I had forgotten to add to the gear box I sent her last week.

I made it back to RDU with about 2 hours to kill before my flight, during which I went cross-eyed madly adding pictures to the posts for my 2017 hike. The tedium of the tiny screen is real, but it’s the only way to keep things moving along.

The flight to Atlanta was uneventful and mercifully short. An old friend (“LCA” for blog purposes) from the years that I lived in Atlanta came to pick me up at the airport and graciously let me crash at her place for the night. It was strange to pass so many old haunts on the way to her apartment near Emory university.

Meet Ramona, LCA’s special needs cat who’s been making it work for 15 years! LCA and I meandered through various life updates until about 11:30pm. I had originally decided not to ask my friend for this favor, but I’m glad I changed my mind because it was far better to see a familiar face and have the luxury of a slow start to the morning rather than waking up in a sketchy airport motel south of the city.

LCA left me with a key to her apartment and a cheerful hug goodbye. I slowly hatched my plan for the morning while periodically giving Ramona a scratch as I passed through her section of the apartment. I “walked” Oakland to work by talking to her during her morning commute on foot. Then I decided to take a lyft to Decatur to drop a letter at the post office and get lunch before heading to north springs MARTA station for my shuttle to barefoot hills. I’m grateful that my budget can handle the rides I’ve been catching because they have saved me a ton of time. This morning’s ride also kept me from walking very far on pavement, which is agitating to my persnickety right foot (the one that kept me off trail last summer).

My lyft driver took the back roads from LCA’s place over to Decatur. We passed giant houses and modest brick ramblers nestled among the green giants that I dearly miss from the east coast. IT’S SO GREEN HERE. I dropped my letter in the giant blue box outside of the Decatur P.O. The familiar feeling of being an oddball washed over me as I walked away from the P.O. in full hiker regalia and headed toward tacqueria del sol to grab an early lunch. I sat on the patio and enjoyed a couple of spicy tacos while the local professionals filtered in for their lunch breaks. There seemed to be a good number of gay people amongst the crowd, which was comforting in terms of mitigating one of the reasons I might get stared at.

I stopped myself from finishing the entire bowl of guacamole and sat on the curb in the parking lot to wait for my lyft to north springs station. A couple women who had been on the patio walking past me and one of them said in a friendly tone, “are you hiking?” to which I replied, “indeed I am.” she asked me where I was hiking and I truncated my convoluted answer for her by saying, “I’m going from GA to northern VA on the Appalachian trail.” She wished me luck and said earnestly “be safe.” I called back, “I’ll do my best!”

After 35 minutes in a herky jerky lyft car, I stood in the park & ride at the MARTA station waiting for my shuttle. Bret, the driver, showed up right on time and we went through the usual medley of introductory hiker topics while we waited for a second passenger coming from the airport.

With all hikers accounted for, Bret drove us up to barefoot hills with one stop at a gas station for me to grab a lighter (and Doritos, of course). The green of spring continues to be intoxicating.

After checking in, I set about organizing my food, back flushing my water filter, and rearranging some things in my pack. I decided to go light on the food so there was little to do except move things from the box to my food bag. For whatever reason the bug spray I asked for leaked. This is the same spray that leaked into my hip pocket during my last day on trail in 2017, ruining my headlamp and the waterproofing of the pocket fabric. I’m keeping it double bagged for now in the hopes that I can avoid another round of ruined gear.

I went up to the office to see if they would recycle my mail drop box and found out that there is no recycling pickup here (thus, no recycling). Whyyyyyy. Then I settled into a chair on the sprawling back deck to write up today’s notes and do a bit of planning for my third box. About 10 minutes into tapping away on my tiny screen, an older couple came out of a door off the deck. The gentleman, a tall broad man with gray hair to his shoulders and unruly facial hair said in a jolly voice, “excuse me sir, but I’m going to smoke a cigarette out here if that’s okay.” I didn’t bother to correct him and had started to say, “alright then” when he saw his error and said, “I mean ma’am.” I waved him off with a kind “who cares” gesture and told him he could happily smoke his cigarette, and I would move along if I needed to. Then his wife used “he” referring to me in a sentence (can’t quite remember the context), but quickly changed back over to she. I suppose it could have been a teaching moment for gender neutral pronouns, but I didn’t have the energy for it, so I just let them flounder and settle into feminine pronouns.

The couple are on a three week road trip from Florida and decided that rather than making their way all the way up the east coast, they’re going to stay farther south where the weather is better. Today’s mission involves prospecting for gold, and the gentleman showed me his ziplock bag of dirt in a 5 gallon bucket. I politely engaged with them for awhile, sharing my hiking plans and hearing about the dangerous wildlife of Florida. Then I extracted, saying I needed to go do my “homework,” which is partially true.

The rest of this evening looks to be pretty quiet. There’s one other hiker staying in the bunk house. He has a toiletry that is chock full of pill bottles and looks like it weighs 5 pounds on its own. I don’t envy his load but he’s made it this far from amicalola, so he’s doing okay (barefoot hills is in Dahlonega, which can be a first stop before starting or a pit stop about 3 days in. He told me that the approach trail was challenging and rather than tell him he has much harder climbs ahead of him, I said “what made it challenging?” When his answer involved talk of elevation gain, I couldn’t manage to avoid saying, “well that sounds like what we’re here for.” As in, gee that sounds like HIKING. Halfway wanted me that I might have trouble with the newbies around me, and I can already tell it’s going to take some effort to not sound like an insufferable veteran. Probably doesn’t help that it was past my snack time and it’s day 2 with no caffeine.

A shuttle just dropped off a handful of hikers, so I’m going to finish this one before the day is over and stop staring at my phone for awhile. Tomorrow: hiking!

Mile 0 to 0

Total miles: 0

Creature feature: a cranky dark gray and light gray bird hoping to get to its nest in the eaves of the porch

The Commute: eastbound edition

Sunday morning was a doozy. I had managed to put myself in a good position to spend most of my time at home with Oakland rather than scurrying about throwing things in bags. We navigated jags of excitement and despair as we made our way through breakfast and the hours that followed.

On the highway to the airport, I did my usual anxious flight status check and found out that the second leg of my journey from Denver to RDU had been delayed several hours, making for a 2:35am arrival. Guess what kind of services are available at that time of day? Yeah, not much. As I sat at the gate still buzzing from the sadness of leaving Oakland at the security line, I made phone calls to hertz and my hotel, changing the car reservation to 6am and completely cancelling my hotel reservation. The obviously young kid I talked to at the hotel front desk responded to me as if I were a parent asking him to clean his room. I fielded his delayed monosyllabic responses while the gate attendants announced our boarding procedures and my mind quickly scrolled through the options of cancelling my hotel or having one for about 3 hours.

With my hotel cancelled and a window seat secured, I settled in for a mopey flight only to hear the pilot announce that Denver airport had temporarily closed for arrivals because of hail that had collected on the runways. I felt grateful that my tedious flight delay from Denver to RDU meant no need to sweat over flight connections as we loitered at the gate. After about 45 minutes of waiting, we were back in action with an open runway in Denver.

When we arrived in Denver, I learned that my RDU flight was only about 2 hours delayed, making my arrival a very awkward 12:15am. Not enough time to get my rental car and far too much time to sit in baggage claim at RDU. After some deliberation, I decided to re-book my hotel room and changed my car reservation to 8am. Then I stared at my tiny screen editing blog posts from 2017 in an attempt to prevent myself from more moping. As it turns out, leaving someone you love for seven weeks of indeterminate ability to communicate is pretty difficult even if you’re heading towards something you ALSO love.

My plane landed at RDU around 1am. I anxiously searched for my black suitcase among all the other black suitcases on the baggage claim belt. Note to self: put identifying marks on the underside of my bag because most of the luggage came out upside down, making my attempt to delineate my bag with tape on the handle basically useless. After a very brief, but friendly Lyft ride, I found myself in an older, but totally functional hotel near the airport. Face planting in bed quickly ensued.

Next up: a visit to my grandmother, a flight to Atlanta, and a shuttle ride to Dahlonega, GA!

2017 – Days 112 and beyond: the limbo pinball edition

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*This is a continuation of my 2017 hike**

Thus began a very untethered period of time in which I woke up in Brattleboro, VT, on August 14, 2017, and boarded a 1pm train to NYC that afternoon. I spent part of the morning calling orthopedic surgeon offices to make an appointment and part of the morning walking with Cotton in a nearby state forest because the thought of sitting inside all morning to then sit on a train for hours to then enter the fray of Grand Central Station seemed abominable.

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I don’t think I’ve mentioned it yet, but as soon as I shared the news of my broken elbow, my ex-partner kindly offered to let me stay with them* in their apartment while I figured out my next steps, so my destination that day was an apartment full of animals that I sorely missed and a social situation that I was apprehensive about. Per the usual, our ability to co-exist trumped whatever old (and new) hostilities buzzed between us. It was disorienting to be back in the same apartment with all the same creatures, but I was very happy to get to see this face on a daily basis:

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The orthopedic surgeon decided that, based on the anatomic alignment of the break, I did not imminently need surgery. He wanted to monitor the healing process and see me in a couple of weeks. Thus began the interminable “wait and see” period of about 4 months (although I didn’t know it would be that long at the time). I continued to check in with the doctor every 2-4 weeks, and he continued to say “looks good, let’s keep checking just in case you actually do need surgery.” I was both relieved at the decision to not have surgery and incredibly anxious about the possibility of a surgery looming in my future. As previously mentioned, I intended to try to restart my hike as soon as possible and continue until the weather became too cold. Foolish, I know, but I was in the full grip of the trail at that point and the idea of stopping didn’t make any sense. If surgery would lead to a faster and more concrete healing time, I didn’t like the idea of delaying it. BUT surgery would have been a much more involved and painful healing process, so I was grateful to skip that ordeal.

Then what? I saw friends that I had missed all summer. I went to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and for walks in Prospect Park (extending my arm for the picture on the right was a painful and questionable idea), I went on a birthday ferry ride to Brighton Beach at sunset, and soaked up as much time with my dog as I could.

I cried a lot (shocking, I know), and I was generally floundering while making every attempt to keep my emotional self above water with the people that I loved.

I also flew to CA twice in the span of two weeks, the explanation for which requires a bit of context. The day that I broke my elbow, I mentioned having texted with a “music friend.” This friend and I attend the same old time music camp in Swannanoa, NC. In 2017, I threw myself at said friend and she, thankfully, decided to catch me. We tentatively began a long distance relationship after music camp, with no real sense of how to manage the future because of the great Uncertainty that came with our geography at the time: Oakland, CA and The Woods, East Coast. And then I broke my arm (I get a lot of mileage out of that sentence).

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Important sidenote: this “music friend” (pictured above) now has the trail name “Oakland,” which I shall use from this point forward. I dubbed her “Oakland” in part because she self-proclaims to “bleed green and gold” and because when we’re out hiking together, it’s fun to say “let’s go, Oakland,” because it harkens to her favorite past time and is descriptive for what is happening in the moment.

So, back in August of 2017, when I was convalescing in a space that had its complications, I decided that it didn’t make sense for me to wait around in Brooklyn when I could be waiting around in the much desired company of Oakland. Off to the east bay I went, with my arm in a sling and a small collection of possessions on my back. Oakland likes to make fun of how the majority of the contents of that bag were actually coffee-making equipment. I’d gotten pretty used to wearing the same clothes over and over again, and traveling with one working arm did not lend itself to carrying a cumbersome amount of stuff. So I packed lightly!

In between those two CA trips, I went back to the orthopedic surgeon for another x-ray. The doctor decided it was time to remove my splint, which felt far too soon for me because it left me with a wobbly and unprotected still-broken arm. I was given the instructions to not pick up anything heavier than a pencil and to move my elbow, “but not too much!” because I could cause the alignment to change and that could lead to surgery. When I asked the doctor how I would know if I had moved it too much, he said, “you won’t!” He then proceeded to tell me that some patients come back to him and think they’ve definitely caused a misalignment when they haven’t, and other patients think they’re doing great when in reality their bones have shifted. Perfect! More uncertainty! My favorite! With a side bonus of more pain because moving my arm hurt. Hell, NOT moving my arm hurt.

All the while, thoughts of the trail continued to fester. For reasons that are too convoluted to explain, my CA flight took me to VA where my mom and stepdad live (otherwise known as HQ! they sent me all of my regularly scheduled mail drops in 2017 and will be supply masters again this year). I decided that when I got back to VA after my labor day trip to CA, I would see if I could set up my tent with one arm. My mom, ever the encourager of hair-brained schemes, watched the experiment with a clear desire to jump it at a moment’s notice. As it turns out, a Zpacks Duplex tent is not impossible to set up with 1.05 arms (.05 = using my left hand as a whisper of stabilization for the trickier parts).

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For whatever reason, the tent setup had been my mental bottom line. If I could do that, everything else would be fine. Little did I know how impossible it would be to hang my food…

Total Miles: 1000.1

Creature Feature: temporarily pausing this widget.

*”they/them” is not a typo. my ex-partner uses gender neutral pronouns. I also use gender neutral pronouns, so this is likely a topic that will come up again as I navigate the predominantly straight and binary space of the AT. If this concept is confusing, I recommend doing some reading. If it’s repugnant, I ask that you consider a reality outside of your own and get curious about it. If that’s too much to ask, then go find the little “x” button in your browser that closes this page and be on your way.

Here we go again…

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Excuse me while I flap away the cloud of dust that has formed on both this blog and my writing muscles. As of my last post, I had 990.1 miles under my belt and a fractured left elbow. Fast forward to 2019, and mannnny things have changed. I can now do 12lb bicep curls (this is an improvement from not being allowed to hold anything heavier than a pencil) and dozens of wall push-ups on my completely healed, though slightly wonky, left elbow. I now live in Oakland, CA, with 3 cats and a wonderful partner who amazes me on a daily basis.

I am also about two weeks away from heading back out on the AT to finish what I started in 2017. Before I begin posting about this year’s 1,200 mile hike, I would like to finish chronicling the events from my 2017 thru-hiking attempt, partially to complete the story for those of you who followed along at the time, and partially because I want a complete account for myself.

Stay tuned for more posts about the adventures of 2017 Checklist, the highlights of which include hiking with a broken elbow! flying across the country with two cats and my person! becoming emotionally and professionally adrift when an ankle/foot injury kept me from going back out on the trail in 2018, and more! I’m not sure how much I can manage to cover while also doing the inevitable scramble to finish prepping for this year’s hike, but I will do my best.

Today’s picture: the French Trail in Redwood Regional Park during a hike with my mom back in February