2019-Day 21: 200 mile clingmans dome edition

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What a miserable night of sleep. I was so cold the entire night and the chorus of snorers made it even more impossible to sleep.The man who made the most aggregious noises during the night was also the person who sat on the sleeping platform ordering his friends around to get thigns out of his pack while he cooked his food on the sleeping platform, which is a big no-no in terms of attracting critters. I could have killed him as I slowly muddled my way through my morning routine with frozen hands and feet. Before all of that came my trip down to the “toilet area” to have my morning times in the freezing weather. I walked past what seemed to be popular spots in the hopes that no one would bother to walk that far and I wouldn’t get spotted by anyone else. After another successful trip to the bushes, I went through the process of changing clothes, packing my bag and figuring out when to finally take off my warmer layers. The older section hiking women were amusing and kind. They kept urging us to get in front of the fire that someone had kindly built and this one offered me a square of dark chocolate as she huddled in her sleeping bag.

I left camp and felt like I was practically running to try to get warm. The woods were once again filled with morning fog, so I felt like I was walking in the clouds. Animal prints littered the muddy trail. Mostly dear, but I think I also spotted boar hooves. The trail consisted of a number of small ups and downs, with footing that wasn’t too sloppy and lent itself well to my attempts to keep up the tempo. My shins and feet on the other hand, did not agree with my attempts to hike faster, so I eventually slowed down to my normal pace to prevent exacerbating my cranky lower half.

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My mind is wandering to the recent attack (and murder) that took place on the trail in southern VA. The story has now gone national, so I don’t have to figure out a way to tell my relatives about the gruesome incident. Having such a horrific thing happen makes me question my choice to be out here and quite frankly, it’s terrifying. I’m half tempted to skip VA, but that’s not a logical defense against something that could happen anywhere, on trail, off trail, and on the streets of oakland.

I had skipped my morning body glide application to my feet, and I could tell the difference in the way the bottoms of my feet felt, so I finally forced myself to stop and take care of that obligation. I also put leuko tap (a KT tape variant that I borrowed from Cider) on a rubbing spot on my left big toe. That left foot continues to be a problem child in terms of rubbing. As I continued up the trail, I day dreamed about being able to cover longer miles, and as it happens, passed my own 200 mile mark! I stopped a bit early to make a 200 mile sign (today’s top picture) out of blossoms that were strewn along the trail.

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I eventually went up and over a misty ridge. I made a quick phone to oakland while I was at higher elevation and could manage it with my weak phone signal. Then straight back to airplane mode. I stopped shortly afterward to take a quick picture for oakland (embarrassing, but yes, i send her selfies). Right as I pointed the camera at my face, I saw cider pop into the frame behind me:

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This is the second time she’s caught me taking a selfie. The embarrassment led to a pleasant secondary benefit of warming me up a tiny bit in the crisp breezy morning. She loitered to make a phone call, and I continued onward in the bright green leaves that felt more like the precipice of the fall color change than the middle of spring.

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As I made my way down the trial, I caught glimpses of sunlit mountains to my left. I Hoped to have a view on Clingmans Dome when we get there. I Stopped to get out a snack to eat and walk with because it was Too cold for stopping in the wind that continued to blow through the trees making it feel like October. 

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Then came an extended climb that eventually led to Siler Bald shelter. I dropped my pack and went around the corner of the shelter for a quick pee break and came back to find an older guy walking down the trail SOBO towards me. Two of his friends followed along shortly. We talked for a minute while I finished my snack (usual “where are you headed” conversation). I didn’t stick around long because I wasn’t in the mood for small talk and it was too cold to stand around.

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I went over rolling hills and eventually onto a windy ridge with good views through the trees. I Felt like I was walking through a bob ross painting with evergreens in the foreground and lighter tree cover in the layers behind. It Didn’t photograph well but I tried.

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Then came a sharp little up that led to a sandy and partially mucky flat walk. There were Obvious signs of boar rutting based on how much the soil was turned up. Here’s a picture of the rutting I passed yesterday that I forgot to post (no picture of the damage for day 21):

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When I reached double springs gap shelter, I decided to stop for lunch because it was in the sunshine, there were benches, and I needed to get water. I had awkward but friendly company in the form of two college students on their summer break eating lunch and waiting for their sick friend to take a nap in the shelter. apparently the poor kid got food poisoning. Josh blew through and Cider showed up about halfway through my lunch. She decided to stop for food as well. I was grateful to have extra company. A french-canadian guy in his early twenties also stopped. His first question was whether there was a privy, and we informed him that someone had just gone searching for said privy (cider).

I filtered water from the stream about 50 yards from the shelter and continued up the trail. I pulled over almost immediately to take a pee break before the others got moving again and before I had to make the climb up to clingmans dome. The trail led me through dense pine forest covered in moss that was so much like NH and Maine that I got a glimpse of the emotional challenging reunion I might be in for when Oakland and I jump up north. The contrast makes it difficult for my phone to capture details, but here’s an attempt.

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I was lost in thought when I glanced up and saw sunlight catch the hide of an animal silently crossing the trail. I crept towards The crossing point and scanned the woods to find a large doe standing still waiting for me to pass. I hadn’t heard a single noise to indicate her presence. She craned her neck to watch me watching her. We stared at each other for a few seconds, and then I kept walking. 

The climb to clingmans dome was long, but not particularly difficult. I made somewhat decent time, although I did stop to check the mileage every so often hoping the dome would arrive much sooner than it actually did. I passed in and out of evergreens connected by open stretches with views of the surrounding mountains. Every time I dipped back into the pines, I could see my breath because of the amount of moisture in the air (and possibly the huffing and puffing I was doing).

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I finally reached the split i n the trail for clingmans dome, with a side trail that bypassed the dome. From that point until the dome, the trail never did get very steep. When I got to the tower “exit” I found myself on a paved road teeming with tourists. The culture shock was intense, and I felt the urge to duck back into the woods, but I resisted in order to see what the hype was about the tower.

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As I stood at the top taking in the view that wasn’t that much better than what I had seen from the peace and quiet of the trail, I heard people congratulating themselves for making the trek from the parking lot. Could they smell that I had done a bit more walking than them? I went back down the weird curving structure and sat at the bottom to have a snack before heading back into the woods. I tried to talk to a SOBO flip flopper from boston who seemed cool, but another man kept interrupting to have his own conversation. I finally gave up and headed back to the trail. A nice couple from indiana asked me about my hike as we walked down the path together.

The descent from clingmans was rocky and cold. As soon as I got back in the woods, my hands went frigid and I put my gloves back on. I tried to call oakland to say hello, but the signal wouldn’t hold long enough to have a conversation. I gave up and kept moving down the tricky footing ahead of me.

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I eventually heard road sounds and could hear cars swooping around curves to my right. I checked my mileage against what I thought was a road crossing and saw that it was 0.4 to the road. I started to get dejected that I still hadn’t crossed the road.  When I had gone what i thought HAD to be at least that far, I finally checked the map again to realize that I wasn’t actually crossing the road.

The trail started to rise again so I stopped to take my jacket and gloves off. So many wardrobe changes today. At the bottom of the climb, I had a mile to go before the shelter turn-off which would be another 0.5 miles off the trail. It was a forgettable hill up mount Collins into another dense pine forest. Spring beauties were all over the sides of the trail, and I had to force myself not to take pictures of them every 20 feet.

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At some point I looked back to try to find the dome and saw it as a tiny blob on the mountain top in the distance. There was a small view right before the summit. 

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I was Worried about shelter space but also didn’t want to sleep with snorers. But I ALSO didn’t want to freeze in my tent and have condensation everywhere like my GA Siler Bald experience. The French Canadian kid passed me while I fussed with my phone trying to send final texts to Oakland before I lost signal for the night. The trail went back down though it was thankfully not quite as rocky as the Clingmans descent. I reached the shelter turn off sooner than I expected. It was a mild trail through more dense woods.

I smelled smoke and imagined a gaggle of older white men fussing with a fire but I found a 40 something Asian woman named grateful. I also found a completely empty shelter! Yes! I picked a spot on top because it seemed easy enough to get on and off the Platform and it was far brighter than the lower bunk. I threw my deflated sleeping pad down and tossed my sleeping bag on top of it. I pulled out my dinner supplies, my clothes bag, and my headlamp. Then I decided to help out with the fire. Grateful immediately relinquished her efforts even though I had expressed no intention to take over the fire. I fussed with it trying to build a pyramid and threw some crumpled paper underneath it. I had it going in fits and starts, but it was a constant effort, and All I wanted to do was eat dinner and write my notes. I also really wanted a fire, so I kept trying. I got cranky when cider and the Frenchman weren’t really helping much and grateful didn’t pitch in to grab more firewood. I thought about giving up, but I was too stubborn so I set up my pot to boil Water and went back and forth between the pot and the fire. I set my food to “cook” and worked on the fire more. A handful of people filtered in. Graduate students who know each other from various schools. They were nice but no one really jumped in on the fire. Cider tried to help at some point. She had wet wood fire starter tablets which seemed to help, but ultimately nothing besides kindling would catch. We blew on it in vain, laughing occasionally at the futility. Then we both threw up our sooty hands and went back to our evening routines.

By that point I had eaten dinner (bare burrito with a tad too much water) and done my dishes. I brushed my teeth and flossed and hung my bag on the bear cables. It’s such a luxury to not have to look for a proper limb to throw a bear line. I tried to send a goodnight gps message to Oakland.  Brownie and dizzy talked to me while I sat out front waiting for the message to send.

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They asked about How the gadget worked. When I mentioned my partner’s parents, they asked if my partner likes to hike, to which I replied yes! When I said that my partner is a HS science teacher, brownie piped in that SHE used to teach HS science. Of course! The methodical food dehydrating and meal prep and regimented manner of doing things. It all made sense now. 

As we all finalized our evening routines, Cider offered me a Benadryl. After last night’s horrible lack of sleep, I decided for accept it. I finally gave up on the gps message because my feet were starting to get too cold. the device wouldn’t send anything and I was worried about zonking the battery. I’m Not sure why it wouldn’t send because my location ping had theoretically gone out earlier. I blew up my sleeping pad and changed out of my spandex. This shelter is a tad warmer so maybe I will actually sleep better. The grad kids were hilarious getting into their sleeping areas because one of them didn’t have a sleeping bag so two of them were trying to cram into one borrowed sleeping bag. I’m finishing this to the sound of them giggling and someone adjusting the air in their sleeping pad. 

Mile 189.8 to mile 202.8 (13) 

Total miles: 211.1 

Creature feature: the deer and a turkey! Juncos, a couple of thrushes, and several vireo in the bare scrubby trees on the windy ridge on the way to Clingmans Dome. 

2019-Day 20: frozen feet edition

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It was a cold and somewhat miserable night. My feet were numb when I went to bed, so I put my puffy coat around them and that helped. Dizzy snored on and off all night which was somewhat forgettable but their shuffling around in the middle of the night and the early morning hours was almost too much for me. Brownie went out early to take care of business.

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I followed suit shortly after her and didn’t quite wait long enough but I managed to not “walk in” on her until she was covering her hole. She passed me as I waited to step into the rhododendrons and said “there’s good diggin back there!” I laughed and went about my duties. Pun intended. 

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Afterwards, I grabbed my food bag off the cable and began the dance of trying to eat and do morning chores without having to put on my wet socks and shoes. I put on my spandex inside my sleeping bag and put my long johns back on to keep me warm until I walked out of camp. I sat on the edge of the shelter and ate a bar in my wool socks. After eating, I put my pack back together which meant taking off all of my warmest layers. Then I brushed my teeth and rushed through the rest of my routine because I was frozen. Someone said the temperature was 44 degrees. 

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I left camp first and walked up the trail into the morning fog. Today started with a small climb through the mist as water dripped from the trees. The trail was a roller coaster. my feet were useless blocks of ice as I navigated the rocks and the muddy spots while staying alert for bears. My right Hip and my knee were a bit sore from yesterday’s fall. The trail took a Slight uptick through a soggy rhododendrons tunnel. A Junco chirped angrily at me while I took my gloves and hat off and stood still to drink water. 

The trail eventually Opened up to a green, fern covered stretch. Every now and then the sky brightened just a tad but it quickly darkened again. I Stopped to take my raincoat off and got passed by Jose, one of the section hikers from last night. I felt Grumpy about being done so early in the day today but also worried that 17 miles would be too far and put me in a weird spot. I Passed by a patch of the pinwheel flowers and heard a squeaking that made me think about Boar but it turned out to just be a cranky bird. 

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I smelled smoke and Thought I was passing through a recent burn section but it was someone making A fire at the shelter around the corner. I waved and kept going through a dark rhododendron patch and thought about brownie’s phrase “good diggin’” and wondering how many people had pooped there. Decided to take my chances with a drainage ditch to take a quick pee before I got overtaken by other hikers from my shelter.  Noticed tiny button mushroom on a downed branch while I peed. 

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Had my 4ish mile snack on a rock in sun on the apex of a hairpin turn.

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The sun seemed to come out for good but there was a cool breeze that felt more like October than mid May and made me wonder if I should put my fleece hat back on. I decided against it for now and kept moving. The Trail continued upward for awhile. I Stopped at a rain-fed unmarked water source to get half a bottle. Water is sparse today and this was right on trail. When I got moving again, I found a peekaboo mountain view and continued along the narrow grass-lined trail.

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After what felt like longer than usual, I Finally got passed by someone (west Texas) and ranger passed me shortly after that. They’re attempting to do a 20 mile day so they can get to clingmans dome in the morning. I’m going to guess that clingmans will be socked in tomorrow morning, but I can relate to that kind of gamble.

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At some point in the morning, I Saw a horse! I passed through a Soggy section with annoying loose rocks and made a slight detour off trail to take a picture of the blooming tree that is today’s top picture. Then came a Small field with a symphony of bird noises as the trail continued upwards.

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I arrived at a small false summit with a bit of a view on the way up to rocky top. I decided to take a side trip to the edge of the bushes to pee, and I Nearly fell on my face because I tripped on my bag after putting it down. Am I too klutzy to be a thru hiker?? I noticed a clouded over summit in front of me and wondered if that was thunderhead mountain (my next destination).

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I kept moving up the gradual incline, feeling tired and hoping that the summit of thunderhead wouldn’t be clouded over. I was Socked in just below rocky top (a secondary summit for thunderhead), where I ran into West texas and ranger having an extended snack and smoke break. Apparently I had just missed an amazing view, but a cloud rolled in right before I arrived. I managed to get a small view just above where they were taking a break. It seemed too cold to stop, so I kept moving.

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I finally decided I was too hungry to wait for thunderhead summit, but I inadvertently had Lunch at the top of thunderhead because I had misread my location when I had stopped earlier (or maybe my GPS hadn’t refreshed fast enough before I closed the app). I had a short phone call with Oakland while I ate. I feel inexplicably Sad and fell apart towards the end of the call.  I was preparing myself to get back to walking when Josh caught up. We walked down the annoying rocky descent together. I lagged every now and then because of texting, but I caught him on the hills. He let me pass at the top to take a water break.

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Towards the top of that climb, I Saw Jose taking a break. I decided to also Stop for a second to eat some fruit gummies then kept going to avoid getting cold. The trail went down for awhile. I paid attention to foot placement over the loose rocks and let my mind wander. Out of nowhere I heard something galloping through the brush to the left of the trail. I’m pretty sure it was a wild boar based on the footprint I saw a little farther down the trail.

Josh caught up with me and we walked down the rocky hill in the Dappled sunlight with a light breeze surrounded by green. I kept waiting for josh to ask me to go first up each subsequent hill but he kept chugging along. I decided rather than push past him I would hang back and let him set the pace. I had felt a few sharp pains in my right foot earlier, which thankfully disappeared. May as well let josh help keep my hill monster reigned in a bit. We passed by several giant blowdowns throughout our stretch of walking together:

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The Last two miles felt endless, not because anything hurt but because the hills just kept coming. I Got to the shelter and a man named denim was in the beginning stages of starting a fire. After I threw down my mat and pulled out a few things, I helped him keep the flame going while he wandered around getting more kindling. I sat out front and ate my afternoon snacks while two of the kids from last night ate before moving on to the shelter 5 miles from here.  They’re going into gatlinburg tomorrow which made josh perk his ears up because he’s trying to figure out how to go past icewater and possibly get his phone squared away. Apparently it decided to restore itself to factory settings while he had it in his pocket yesterday. Trying to fix his phone is part of why he ended up soaking wet yesterday afternoon. Were it not for the delay, he would have made it to the shelter before the late afternoon downpour. I have no desire to deal with gatlinburg even though power charging would be pretty useful. 

After snacks and a hand freezing trip down to the spring for water collection, I set up my sleeping pad and put on long johns. there’s a bone chilling coldness to the air right now. I have no clue how people do this in march. I would be absolutely miserable and frankly, not functional because of my reynauds. 

Over a dozen people rolled in to the shelter in waves. I feel good about having scored a spot in the snoring den rather than having to deal with my tent in the morning with frigid hands. It’s supposed to be about 37 in the morning. The space is not really big enough for the number of people but we made it work. Josh hung his hammock in the corner and several other people who showed up late tented. 

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I helped tend to the fire for awhile but I got tired of the duty and felt a bit watched but the older men, so I went over to my sleeping spot and put on my wool socks. I heard a German woman say she had hiked 26 miles today and she seemed so chipper that I wanted to smack her. She did, to her credit, say that her feet really hurt. 

After dinner and hanging my food bag, I Sat around writing my notes while the section hikers gabbed inside and brownie and dizzy talked to through hikers in the eating area out front. Josh huddled in his hammock and Jess tried to read her book but gave up quickly. I went out for my last pee and had a short conversation with a thru hiking couple from Portland, Maine. They also hiked 26 miles today and plan for another 20 tomorrow. Whyyyyyy.

I’m finishing this to sound of people creaking into their sleeping bags, denim making sexist comments about how this isn’t that hard because “girls are doing it!” to which I audibly said “hey! That’s not a compliment!” The older women next to me agreed, which felt good. Let’s hope my hands and feet still work in the morning. And where in the world are all these people going to poop! 

Mile 177.7 to mile 189.8 (12.1) 

Total miles: 198.1 

Creature feature: the loud rustling that I think was a boar. Juncos. The horse! 

2019-Day 19: soggy smokies edition

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BLOG NOTE: for the smokies, I had conserve my phone battery over 5.5 days, so I cut down on the terrain commentary because dictating into my phone consumes a lot of battery power. More pictures and slightly less exposition about going up and down and up and down hills!

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I had a Short but good night of sleep. Right before bed, I whined to Oakland about my guthook app which, as I mentioned, has lost all of the user comments. She kindly offered to text screenshots of the comments to me until I get through the smokies and can deal with the issue in hot springs. I stayed up far too late obsessing over the app and trying to upload another blog post. I’m still behind myself but I managed to get 4 days posted.

I got up around 7 and entered the social fray for Breakfast. We ate with Rod and Mary Beth, two non hiking b&b guests. I ate too much because I had to finish the yogurt & banana I bought at the store yesterday (banana!) and I decided to eat a waffle and a piece of sausage. Fuel for the hill we have to walk up! But mostly it made me feel sluggish.

Jess and I gathered our belongings and were standing around waiting for Jeff by about 8:45. We finally Left around nine after waiting for Jeff to rip himself away from fussing with maps for the b&b guests. We were standing in the living room with our packs on when he pulled out yet another map for them. I exclaimed that I would just sit down to wait, which made Cynthia and Jess laugh. Cynthia gave us hugs and ordered me to send a postcard from katahdin. On the ride back to Fontana dam, Jeff stopped in the middle of the road and opened his car door to pick up an empty ice bag. Great idea picking up litter, but maybe next time not in the middle of a two lane highway?? He Dropped us off at the dam around 9:30. I thanked him for everything and silently hoped to never ride in a car with him again.

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I made a quick stop at the bathroom by the visitor center to pee one more time while Jess kindly waited with the bags. We finally got on our way and walked across the dam together. It made me a little sick to look down all the way to the pump house. Maybe leftover car sickness? It was a pretty amazing view though.

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Across the dam we took a right turn and passed a very unimpressive side indicating that we had entered great smoky mountains national park: 

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for another 3/4 of a mile road work but I could not get off of Fast enough. We moved on and off the shoulder of the road depending on how tall the grass was. I asked Jess whether she preferred donuts or cupcakes. As it turns out, we are Both emphatically donut people. We Finally took a left turn into the woods where we had to stop and tear off the bottom portion of our permit to put in the registration box. 

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Within minutes, sweat was pouring down my nose dropping from my temples. The trail wasn’t especially steep but it was very humid and my bag was heavy because I had about 5 1/2 days of food in it. There were switchbacks mixed in with longer gradual climbs. I heard a noise up above me to the right and saw a monotone color. My brain had to work hard to recognize it as blue of a hiker backpack and not the brown of a bear. It turned out to be dizzy and brownie who were stopped talking to a ridge runner named David.

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I hung out for a minute or two and then decided I needed to keep moving because I am familiar with how much brownie can talk and my priority was to keep my feet moving. Standing in one place is a fastrack to sorer feet for me.

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The trail gained elevation I found myself in a misty forest, squelching my way over clumps of saturated leaves that were the result of two days have heavy rain washing down the trail. I heard a Very insistent of oven bird off to my left. I passed through the Occasional flat stretch amongst the climbing and rolling hills. I felt Very grateful that it wasn’t pouring at that moment. Thus far there had only been passing blips of rain that hadn’t amounted to much.

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I Came to a little stream decided to top off my water and drink a bit more since the sources are somewhat spread apart today. Here’s a pano shot to give you an idea of the curves (I’m standing at the top of the curve by the stream):

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I pulled my phone out of airplane received a number of supportive text from my mom And Oakland. Then into airplane mode and onward up the hill. There were Rolling to flat stretches for a little while. I took the time to look around at the bright green forest. Occasionally there were bits of tree blossoms strewn across the trail that looked like broken balloon pieces. I could just make out a bit of the surrounding mountains through the trees and fog to my left. 

Past an unexpected water source flowing over trailside rocks, passed a new flower, and then had to go over a pretty big blowdown. I chose the lower path and it was fine even for my short legs. 

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Right around the corner I came to a rocky overlook that would’ve been a nice place to have lunch had it not been for the slight drizzle and my wet shirt. I rounded a corner to find a small overlook with rocks that were peppered with a gangly tiny white flower that I first saw I high on a mountain in Georgia.

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Passed over another unmarked water source. I suppose there will be plenty of those today given all the rain.  I eventually came to a side trail for the shuckstack fire tower. There were a handful of backpackers standing around, trying to decide whether it was worth it to head up the side trail for the view. I went for it, and regretfully decided to bring my pack because I didn’t want to leave it unattended for a sneaky bear. I passed a guy coming down from the side trail asked him if he had seen anything. He seemed confused and gruff. I asked him again if he had seen any view on the fire tower. As it turns out he had unintentionally gone up the side trail and hadn’t gone up into the tower.

As I set my pack down at the base of the tower, two of the men I had seen in the debating group came out of the woods. We all went up the old wooden tower with questionable handrails and got a bit of a view (today’s top picture and the next picture) before it fogged over and began to rain. 

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I scurried back down the rickety tower before I got soaked by the passing rain cloud. I slowly made my way back down to the main trail, passing this new purple on the way there:

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Shortly after getting back on the AT, I ran into Brownie and Dizzy. We walked near each other for a few minutes before I pulled ahead.

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I came upon Jess sitting on a log and decided to Stop for lunch, which consisted mostly of snacks because I wanted to get moving again before the rain returned. Brownie and Dizzy joined us shortly after I sat down. My hands started to get pretty cold, so I said my goodbyes and moved on to the soundtrack of woodpeckers and birdsong filtering through the tree canopy alongside the constant patter of moisture dropping from leaves around me.

The temperature was hard to manage in terms of wardrobe. I didn’t want to be soaked by a passing rain, but it was also a little too humid to wear my raincoat up the frequent climbs. Inertia left me wearing my raincoat as I made my way through the woods. I passed the elusive balloon flower.

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I Realized a bit too late that I should have popped it and packed it out in my trash. Then came a nice flat stretch followed by more rolling Hills covered in Painted trillium and ferns and the occasional patch of soggy bluets. 

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I Wound my way through the woods thinking about shelter space and how strange this whole thing is to walk every day carrying everything you need on your back solely for the purpose of moving from one place to the next. I Saw a new bird that had stripes on its back towards the wings and a white ring around its eye with an overall dark color. I Heard another new bird that had a video game-like chime first going up and going down with tones that were maybe a half step off of each other. Every now and then the sky brightened. My mid back was achy from the extra weight and I was itching to go past the first shelter, but I forced myself to let go of that plan. Extra miles today do absolutely nothing for my bigger picture schedule because of the shelter closure.

About three miles before mollies Ridge, I stopped and ate another snack near a silent hiker who sat on a different log. I didn’t make any attempt to talk to him because I was cold and didn’t feel like it. I’d seen him at the fire tower and he was gruff then, so I made no effort for him. The trail was either flat or more down for a while with very saturated the sections that made my feet Slip a few inches here and there with some of my heel plants. I’ve been a bit on edge all day because I’m worried about stumbling upon a bear or worse, bear Cubs. Just about every noise makes me look around. The big toe on my right foot is pretty achy today for whatever reason. I tried not to be aggravated that I had taken a day and a half off and something still hurt.

I Walked along pretty flat stretch that had a high bank on the left and a steep sloping bank to the right with what would’ve been views of the mountains if it weren’t for the fog. The forest opened back up and the trail took a steady downward trend. It Finally flattened out and became bit muddy. At some point, I removed my raincoat because I was too worried about getting sweaty and subsequently very cold. I arrived at an intersection with a side trail to water and was stopped in my tracks by the incredibly loud sound of a woodpecker high in the trees.

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I stood taking a picture of an inchworm that was on my arm when the Ratatat came from almost directly overhead and made me jump again. With less than an hour to go, most of that time being uphill, I decided to skip the water to avoid the extra weight.

There was Passing rain shower for which I didn’t bother putting on my raincoat because of the incline. I was generating plenty of body heat to stay warm. I saw a somewhat full version of the blossom that was all over the trail earlier.

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Speaking of things on the trail, I also saw horse manure earlier. I continued to climb and take what seemed to be wraparound corners like the trail was coiling in on itself. I stopped to take my pack off for a minute and ate the rest of the fruit snack packet. I don’t think my lunch was big enough but it feels too late to sit and eat now, so I pushed onward.  

I startled at the sound of plastic rustling and looked up to see the section hiker sitting on a log eating a snack. I was about to say “I thought you were a bear!” When my feet caught a stick and I pitched forward. My knee and palms partially caught my fall, as did my right temple, but it hit a soft part of the ground. I righted myself on my butt and the hiker walked towards me asking if I was okay. I told him I just needed to sit there for a minute and he went back to his log. I checked my faculties and brushed off the dirt, feeling slightly embarrassed but mostly just grateful to have not hurt myself. As I stood up I said, well that was graceful! The section hiker grunted in my direction and went up the trail. I followed shortly behind him. My uphill pace was faster than his, but I didn’t want the pressure of staying in front of him, so I went slowly. To my relief, he pulled off to the side for something in his pack and I pulled ahead. About 4 minutes later, I saw the shelter just to the side of the trail. A man stood at a hitching post (I guess horses are a thing here) washing mud off his tent. I said hello and surveyed the small double decker shelter. The bottom layer has small wooden dividers which I’ve never seen but which are useful for corralling the man-spreading.  I picked a spot towards the left half, not too far in the corner but not right next to the only guy here. I pulled out my pad and threw it down without inflating it. Then I pulled out a bunch of other shelter specific items and hung my pack on one of the giant nails on the eaves of the shelter. 

It started pouring as I sat in the “kitchen” area. I felt bad for Jess, dizzy and brownie who were stuck in the downpour. Jess showed up first and came in smiling at the ridiculousness of being soaked. We commiserated over the rain and she collected herself. I went to make a short phone call to Oakland. It’s a battery splurge but I did pretty well today in airplane mode. She tried out new trail shoes on a hike in redwood today because our current shoe model have been changed for the worse in this year’s version. Of course! 

As I talked to Oakland about her hike, people came rolling in, soaking wet. First josh (unexpected!), then dizzy and brownie. There are a couple of section hikers here as well. Ranger and west Texas made it around 4:30. Also Unexpected. Jess, now going by Cider, and I figured they all would have gone on to the next shelter. 

I sat around updating my notes for the day and waiting for my moment to get water. The rain finally let up around 5, so a bunch of us sloshed our way down to the stream. It was a steep and soggy trip but an easy enough place to fill. 

By the time I got done with water, I was soggy again, so I blew up my sleeping pad and changed into my long Johns in my sleeping bag. Cider and brownie went “ass out,” as did west Texas. In other words, everyone just tries to look away and you change in public. I’m sleeping next to brownie and dizzy who are attempting to take up one sectioned off floor space for two people. We’ll see how that goes. 

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Next came dinner! People clustered in phases in the kitchen space to prepare their meals. I had black beans and rice with one of the small tortillas I didn’t eat for lunch and part of a Twix bar for dessert. I alternated between sitting and standing around. My hands were close to being numb but managed to never quite go over the edge of horrible. Brownie and dizzy are always the last to eat because their elaborate dehydrated meals take awhile to prep, but they smell good! 

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After dinner came the dental routine and hanging food bags on bear cables. I’ve only used them a couple of times during my 2017 hike so it was a clumsy process. Cider had the good suggestion to clip my carabiner to the cord itself rather than looping it over the hooks provided, so I went back and rearranged it. The bears around here are pesky and very habituated to food hanging procedures, so they know how to shake bags off the cable hools. 

I wandered down into the “toilet area” to pee. I’m embarrassed by my pee rag because I haven’t seen anyone else using one but i refuse to use toilet paper that many times a day. Speaking of which, next came the nightly pee timing dance. My shoes are wet, which makes it all the more exciting (read: onerous) to get up in the middle of the night. 

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I’m finishing this to the sound of a section hiker snoring on the 2nd level (it’s 7:10pm by the way), josh talking about his pillow leaking air, Jess griping about the strings on her jacket, brownie fussing with her bear canister (they’re required to be hung on cables in the smokies), and late-comers laughing over in the cooking area. They apparently saw 2 bears and a wild boar not far from here. Did I forget to mention the wild boar?  Yay!

Nighttime update: it is pouring again! the upside being maybe now I won’t have to listen to other people’s snoring. 

Mile 166.3 to mile 177.7 (11.4) 

Total miles: 186.1 

Creature feature: the new bird! But not much else in light of rainy patches. 

2019-Day 18: creekside zero day edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mile 166.3 to mile 166.3 (0)

Total miles: 167.6

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

2019-Day 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 16: beauty in the breakdown edition

I slept somewhat well last night. There weren’t too many bad snorers. It Poured for a few hours. Poor Josh got soaking wet because he didn’t set up his rain fly. He apparently came in around 1:30 to sleep on the front edge of the shelter. I accidentally left my hiking shorts on the clothesline towards the edge of the shelter. They were pretty moist but not actively wet. I crawled out of my sleeping bag and did my privy/food bag circuit. I went ahead and did my cup hygiene routine so I would know where my water supply stood for the morning.

I also decided to pack up my stuff before eating. When I finally sat down with my food bag, I pulled out one of the kid food fruit squeezy pouches that sunny gifted me from josh’s overstock. I was excited to get a dose of fruit in the morning. I screwed off the little helicopter top, took a big swig and felt the mashed texture of applesauce while fully expecting the smooth consistency of yogurt. My face screwed up and I looked at sunny right as she happily said “it’s applesauce!” I said, “but I HATE applesauce!” Sunny found this highly amusing and laughed at me while I continued to force down the packet. I wasn’t about to carry the weight in my trash bag (3oz!).

Sunny and I Left at the same time and we were met with an immediate climb that leveled out after about a third of a mile. The woods were Misty this morning. A strong breeze blew onto the trail until we took a slight right and the wind completely died down. We Meandered in and out of rhododendron patches while still moving slightly upward With short, sharper climbs every now and then.

The last 0.2 of a mile were on the steeper side and I slowed to a crawl. Last night I joked about how sometimes I can only hike fast enough to prevent myself from falling over and this was definitely one of those moments. The view from the top was sadly not in the direction of the beautiful fog bank that I had seen through the trees on the way up.

People were camped on the bald which wasn’t as open as Siler but still had rip-roaring wind coming through. I was glad to have not camped up here. Sunny showed up a couple minutes later and caught her breath while she took in the view never removing her back.

Then we zombied our way down from the bald over the sodden ground and the occasional set of slick rocks.

The trip down was long and had boomerang switchbacks. sunny and I leapfrogged because I stopped to tape my other shin and her knee is bothering her on the down hills. I had to Stop at a big log to get some crap out of my shoe. My gators are shot and the Velcro keeps coming undone in the back. Sunny caught up with me and said her knee pain was really sharp. I suggested she tape it so she fought with her super sticky leuko tape and put the strip around the bottom of her kneecap much like those bands that runners wear.

There was a slight uptick on the trail and then it headed back down. Both of my shins were somewhat cranky this morning and I tried to do my best to stay with them and not go down the runaway catastrophe train. There were nice relieving flatter stretches in between climbs. huckleberry bushes occasionally lined the trail. The skies have started to clear around me and I can see mountains through the thick of the tree cover to my right. I Wound through a dark rhododendron tunnel for several minutes and popped back out into the lighter section.

At some point, I Stopped to take off my long sleeves and sunny ran into me again. We made our way down into Locust Grove gap. the climb out of the gap was also lined with overgrown huckleberry bushes. Eventually the trail switched to a rolling stretch that had a vine-like thing with briars on it standing out into the trail every so often. I saw a good log and decided to have a snack. Ate some weird Crackers filled with Doritos cheese that were an unnaturally bright orange color. Sunny passed me as I was setting my back down.

The sun was out for the time being, and there was a light breeze and the scent of pine wafted through the air. There was a Small burn area to the left side of the trail that still smelled a bit like smoke. The right side of the trail was overgrown with rhododendron and mountain Laurel and the occasional berry patch. The trail eventually opened up to a sweet smelling forest with rolling path and a woodpecker hard at work in the distance to my left.

I went up another long gradual hill that reminded me that my legs are tired from yesterday’s never-ending climb. I walked Oakland to work while I went up and down a series of hills. then came a pretty consistent downhill to a road crossing. I passed the couple with two dogs going southbound. That brought back a flood of yesterday’s events that I quickly shoved aside.

I went through a combination of beautiful green hillsides dotted with wildflowers and complete shit piles of rocks. There are short cuts that have been blocked off between the long switchbacks that lead down to the road, which was a major thoroughfare complete with Loud trucks, a Picnic table, and a trash can!

Sunny and I both ate a bunch of snacks and emptied out our trash bags. I commented on how I needed to pee and sunny pointed to the fire road. I resigned myself to the idea of peeing off the side of a major road, and wandered down the road just far enough to not be seen.

Jess showed up right as I was thinking about moving on. I Stuck around for a few minutes but wanted to get moving before it started to rain. The Climb out of stecoah gap was pretty mild. Sunny quickly over took me because I was taking pictures of flowers which I had joked about doing at the gap. I saw the spice bush that grows by my grandmother’s neighbor and wanted to take a picture of it.

The trail was easy and winding for a little while. Until the Achilles tendon stretching, long burning, sweat pouring down my eyelashes hill arrived.

Sunny stopped about 2/3 of the way up to let me pass and I slowly crept in front of her. The hill finally relented for a breezy walk along the thin Ridge.

I Stopped to get water at brown fork gap. I Thought sunny would stop as well but she kept on going. I think when anyone says rain, she motors and doesn’t stop for much. When I stopped for water, i Ran into Josh. he said it wouldn’t rain until about six but 15 minutes later it was a light result. He should probably stop relying on the weather app. Not long after I left the water stop, I came across a sloppy mess and a rock jumble.

The trail eventually led to a Climb up to a Rocky Ridge with moss covered Mountain Laurel and this plant.

I could also see a hazy view of the mountains. The Rocks eventually gave way to better footing as the trail found through overgrown underbrush. Silk wisps caught my face every so often as my mind wandered. The Trail finally headed down for awhile. It was a nice break from the uphill strain, but my heels are getting a bit sore today and my right hip does not love persistent downhills.

I walked along trying to ignore the various aches and pains when I noticed strange flies with white bulbous butts. They were like confetti floating through the air. I had 4.5 miles to go with the occasional threatening fat raindrop. I passed a downed tree with blossoms that might be part of the sweet smell I’ve noticed lately.

Around mile 13, I Had to Pee but I couldn’t find a good spot, so I ducked behind a tree practically on the trail. I was worried about Jake you catching up to me with my pants down, but I couldn’t wait any longer. Of course, then about 20 yards later i came across a nice open space that would’ve been perfect. My Feet were getting sore and I tried my best to ignore them.

I came to Another Rocky mess followed by a Strange combination of very tall Oaks and rhododendrons. I Heard a couple of new bird noises but couldn’t find them in the thick leaf cover.

I Meandered through the woods on a narrow path that thankfully was free of rocks for a while. I rounded a corner and was met with a nice breeze which was both leaving and made me think of rain. The Forest turned into a lush green, wide open space. Blossoms scattered the path as if the chipmunks had had a jamming party.

My Shins and feet continued to get sorer. I did my best to zone out so I could get through the last 2 miles of the day. I rounded a corner and could see a dirt road for a little and heard the sound of a stream nearby. The trail crossed the water and continued to wind down towards the road.

I had to pee too badly to make it all the way down the road or wait for a more private spot, so I crossed my fingers, dumped my pack, and peed on the side of trail. Success! Then I made my way down to the road on increasingly sore feet. When I got down to the road it wasn’t super obvious where the trail went until I saw an AT sign by the road. When I got closer, I saw that the sign was riddled with what looked like gunshots (today’s top picture).

The trail took a few steps up from the road and then wrapped back around for a short climb. It leveled out somewhat quickly and took long swooping curves through the forest, turning on itself like a coiled snake, or so it felt.

Sunny was waiting at the very, very small and very warped shelter. The floor had a visible hump in it. There was a hole near the front right edge that looked like snake heaven. But it’s supposed to rain tonight and it will be a good night to soak up the social energy. I plopped my bag down and sunny and I commiserated over sore feet and the difficulty of the last couple of miles. 15 is my farthest day so far this trip and my legs were pretty toasted around the 13 mile mark. Jess showed up before josh. Sunny swept out the spider cave and we all laid out our sleeping pads leaving space for josh if he decides not to hammock after last night’s debacle. I definitely felt a few more raindrops on my way here and it sprinkled during dinner, but nothing more came of it.

Next up came my stupid period task which I wanted to get out of the way so I would know how much water to filter. I went to the privy and discovered a secondary stream of water that will prove to be an annoying moat if it rains hard tonight. With That onerous task complete, i grabbed my bear line and wandered around looking for a decent limb. The one i spotted must have been popular because the hillside below it was chewed up. It took a few tries to get my line in the right place but I’m happy with it. Then I forced myself to get water for the night while everyone else started heating water, which put me a few steps behind everyone in the dinner process. I boiled water and poured in my knorr chicken noodles that I had absolutely no desire to eat. As predicted, it was bland and kind of gooey because I let it sit to “cook” rather than boiling it in my stove, which consumes way too much fuel. I added a packet of tuna and suffered through the blandness of it. Then as a treat I ate some peanut butter and Fritos before I finished the meal with half of a snickers bar. Everyone took their turn soaking their feet in the small stream that’s right in front of the shelter.

After dinner came the teeth brushing and flossing which felt especially exhausting today. Then I walked up the trail to hang my food bag. Fingers crossed no pesky rodents go adventuring. The same goes for my pack which is hanging on a string in front of the shelter.

After everyone finished their post dinner routine josh came over and sat on a rock in front of the shelter while sunny, Jess and I laid on our sleeping pads and talked through hiker midnight. I’m finishing this to the sound of the stream bubbling a few yards away and Jess letting little bits of air out of her gigantic air mattress so she doesn’t topple over the edge of it in the middle of the night.

Mile 143.8 to mile 159.2 (15.4)

Total miles: 167.6

Creature feature: a pesky squirrel that sounded like a bear crashing through leaves, a curious little oven bird who didn’t fly away when I approached, and a lazy one of those raspy flying things hanging out on a leaf

2019-Day 15: la tortuga edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mile 135.9 to mile 143.8 (7.9)

Total miles: 152.2

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