2019-Day 52: mind the bull edition

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I had a pretty choppy night of sleep because I was cold and on a little bit of a side hill. A Robin made a racket right outside the tent with a funny two-segment call that always ended on a random noise. I Rolled over to Oakland and whined about not wanting to get up. As always occurs, nature spoke the loudest and we each crawled out of our warm cocoons for our respective Privy visits. I went to get the food bags from the bear box as a surprise favor to oakland. 

We Decided to sit at the shelter rather than huddle in the less than back friendly tent, so we went into packing mode. Each progressive step of getting out of the warm tent was harder than the last. We both kept our long johns and puffy jackets on throughout the whole morning routine. Once we had the tent completely squared away, We Decided to sit in the sun on the ground instead of at the shady shelter picnic table. The sun in our faces gave the illusion of slightly more warmth. As we got up from eating, Oakland announced that she had been sitting next to a pile of pony poop. Unprecedented breakfast accommodations. 

I Prepped my feet at the shelter and managed to forget my gaiters over by the tent area, so I had to remove everything all over again when I got back to my bag. Task rabbit awkwardly fussed over tad, repeatedly urging him to drink something warm despite his claims that he was okay. Oakland sat in the sun while I typed a few notes and a brisk wind blew through the tree tops. It was Thankfully not as windy at ground level. 

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We Said our goodbyes and got on trail at 8:15. We Started hiking with the sun in our faces and gloves on our hands. My feet were numb ice blocks and not responding well to my commands. We walked past the bear box and the tenting area and went through the gate towards the water source.

We Crossed the frightening bridge and went through roots and rocks across a wide slow stream.

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then we went through an overgrown meadow lined with more mountain laurel. I was so happy that Oakland had a chance to see the laurel in bloom. 

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We Crossed another wide boggy section with mediocre rock hop choices. I felt grateful for the sun on our legs however briefly it occurred. When I joked to Oakland about how NOT nimble my icy toes were, she said I had numble feet. 

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We eventually went Through a fence line and signed the trail registry on the other side. Dizzy & brownie made it through yesterday. In my haste to keep moving and not get too chilled, i forgot to check for other hikers I know. We walked Down the flat, semi rocky lane. Thus far, even with the boggy sections, our first hour of hiking went So much faster than yesterday. Oakland had just made a comment saying as much when we turned left up a rocky hill. I jokingly said “see what you did!” 

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The rocky climb Flattened out quickly to beautiful fern lined green forest. We heard the Sound of a woodpecker and the morning report from the rest of the birds. The trail took us through a handful of root covered wet sections that were basically like walking in a stream bed. Some of the wettest stretches were impassable and we had to use the unfortunate, but understandable side paths that hikers create to avoid getting too sloppy. For example: 

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Then we came to another blustery open field covered in blueberries, mountain laurel, wildflowers, pony poop and eventually, ponies! We could see the ridge line we hiked yesterday to our left. Several ponies crossed the trail in front of us as we gawked at their beautiful patterns.

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Task rabbit caught up with us in the field wearing only a T-shirt. She put on her raincoat to help cut the wind and set off in front of us. The field eventually led us down rocky log steps with views of ponies in the distance and the oddly out of place braying of cows nearby.

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We mused about why we would hear cows while we walked down the rocky path next to the hillside dotted with blooming mountain laurel. The trail led us to a strangely empty corral save for a single car parked near an information kiosk. We finally found the source of the cow sounds when we got to the junction and found This spotted bull sat chewing his cud right by the gate we had to use along with 3 or 4 calves (today’s top picture is the view of him after we went through the gate). 

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We cautiously walked past the bull who seemed very disinterested in us and crossed the field to an informational kiosk. The owner of the car happened to return in that moment and kindly offered us a Gatorade, but we declined (it usually makes me feel nauseous). He instructed us about the trail options ahead, claiming better views to the left and AT purists to the right to stay on the trail.

We went through the opposite gate and took a right to get Back into the woods. We passed up a snack rock because it was too shady and cool to comfortably use for a break. The trail took us through sun dappled poplar saplings and eventually over more rocky wet stretches.

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We Saw task rabbit sitting on a supreme snack log in the sun. I was envious of her break spot. My Stomach was getting emptier and I needed to stop. After yet another soggy rock hop, we Finally found a decent rock just across a small stream. We chomped away on cashews and cheezits while I posted a picture to social media with a wisp of phone service to make sure people knew we were doing okay. Then Oakland took pictures of fungus while I wrote notes. 

After our break, we Walked over rocks and roots through a technicolor green, sun dappled forest. There were Boulders covered in moss and small trees and ferns as far as the eye could see. The wide variation in light unfortunately obscures a lot of the details so I didn’t take any pictures of that stretch. 

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We eventually Came to another gate that took us through a very short stint the sun. two hikers came towards us wearing shorts and T-shirts. They were in stark contrast to our bundled bodies. Not knowing that it was a short field walk, I made a joke about how they’d clearly been walking in the sun and We’d clearly been walking in the shade. They corrected me to say their attire was because they’d been walking uphill. As we passed, they turned and said oh are you Checklist and Oakland? We said yes and they shared a hello from task rabbit. I laughed at Oakland’s first experience of word on the trail. 

Towards the middle of the short field walk, I noticed two trees that seemed to have grown together. One was a deciduous of some sort and the other an evergreen. Their trunks seemed to come from the same place and their limbs were enmeshed in such a way that both kinds of greenery sat together. The pictures I took don’t really show it well, but here’s one of them.

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We Back into the woods through another squeaky gate. As we picked our way through the never ending rocks, we Ran into a ridge runner carrying a hoe to work on the privies. We thanked her for her work and listened to her brief stories about how other hikers have fared in the cool, wet days of late. 

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Then came More rocks. So many rocks. My feet were getting markedly tender and I worried that I had unwittingly set Oakland up for a poor physical outcome because the last two days have been challenging hiking. We reveled in the green everywhere while simultaneously griping at each misstep.

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We occasionally stopped for Oakland to take pictures or for me to write notes. Here’s a classic Oakland shot where she takes tree hugging to an all new level. (There’s a cool white fungus inside the tree hollowed out stump). 

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We Finally got to the shelter for lunch around 12:30. Task rabbit was already there and joined us for lunch. We pulled out our food bags and settled onto the edge of the sleeping platform. I took off my shoes and put together my wrap. Our latest bottle of honey has crystallized which made that ingredient hard to apply. I decided to move to a log in the sun because I immediately started getting too cold for comfort. Tad showed up halfway through lunch looking a bit destitute in his multi layered outfit. He decided to keep going to find a sunnier break spot. After a lunch in which Oakland and I both wanted to keep eating, we walked down to the water source and topped off our bottles. The temperatures have made it challenging to drink enough water and I’m sure we aren’t succeeding at staying hydrated. 

We Left the shelter around 1:20 and walked through a wide open green forest with easy footing. It was a welcome change from the tedium of rocks even though it made both of our feet chatty. 

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We crossed a trial junction and the trail took us Gradually downhill. We eventually went through rhododendrons where task rabbit Passed us as I took yet another rhododendron picture. Then came more rocks and more rhododendrons.

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Oakland and I were both in end of the hiking day zombie mode, which is not to say that anyone was cranky. We were both in decent spirits, just ready to be done with the focused efforts of walking over uneven ground. we finally arrived at a road crossing before our last climb of the day. We stopped to drink water and take off our rain coats. Oakland spied a car that was covered in amazing bumper stickers. We gawked and I decided to leave an appreciative note for the driver. (Halfway, the “national park geek” one made me think of you!)

Then we donned on our packs and I said let’s go Oakland. She started to move but immediately said nope! And ran towards crazy orange mushrooms growing out of a stump by the gravel parking lot.

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After the picture detour, we Crossed road and went over small footbridge. We then Came to much bigger footbridge they took us across a fast moving stream. We stopped for a few pictures.

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Then we went up a narrow rhododendron lined path with the sound of water slowly receding. I smelled horse and confirmed the sensation with Oakland. Then came the smell of wood smoke which seemed out of place for the time of day, and which I’m sure gave Oakland a small fright given her CA wildfire sensibilities.

We eventually Rounded a corner and heard the sound of water far below combined with subwoofers of a passing car. The climb Persisted, so we stopped to Take off our long sleeve layers for first time in 48 hours. I Heard the yip of a pileated woodpecker and stopped to search for it, but No luck. A little while later, We Took a pee break and I put on sunscreen at Oakland’s request. We Continued uphill until we stopped for Oakland to take pictures of tiny orange button mushrooms. 

Not long after we got moving again I heard a flapping and saw a flash of black and white land on the backside of a tree. I thought it was a black & white warbler but it actually turned out to be a woodpecker with a red cap and a red throat. As it pecked on the side of the trunk 5 feet from us, vireos dive-bombed it. The woodpecker flew away from its pursuers and off into the tree tops. We looked at each with the excitement of a cool bird encounter and kept moving. The hill had finally jumpstarted our desire to drink more water so we made occasional pit stops as we continued up the steady climb. The trail eventually spread out for a little while and then went almost imperceptibly down in dappled sunlight which made it difficult to see the errant loose rocks scattered among the roots. I felt dejected by how tired I was and how much I looked forward to a break tomorrow even though I’d just had 3 days off in Damascus. I shared this with Oakland when she asked what I was thinking and she of course tried to talk me out of my nonsense. 

The trail took us a down a few switchbacks and through a long rhododendron tunnel where we eventually found the hurricane shelter tent site. To call it a tent site is accurate because there seemed to be exactly one flat spot in the whole area. Task rabbit sat on a rock in the sun looking at her AWOL when we arrived. She shared her plan to head north a couple miles and asked what we had in mind. I said “oh we are done for the day. We have new feet to take care of.” It’s disappointing to fall out of line with task rabbit but it was about to happen tomorrow when we take our Nero at Sufi lodge. I shared a few fruit snacks with her and Oakland said goodbye while I started to pull out the tent. 

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The tent fit quite nicely among the roots such that we had a soft and mostly flat pitch next to the sound of a stream running through the rhododendrons. Given the 4:45 timing, We decided to work through bedding setup to kill a bit of time before making dinner. Oakland climbed into the tent, blew up her bright green mattress and her 32 pillows. Just kidding, she only has two: one for her head and one for her knees, and they are both worth their weight in gold. When she was done, I followed suit and resisted the urge to immediately put on my long johns. Why resist, I’m not sure. Then we sat on rocks that were too low for both of our fussy backs and made ourselves chili Mac. I love how excited Oakland gets about chili mac. We talked about the hiker community and its oddities and looked at some of our pictures from the day. We did our dishes and then each reveled in our respective desserts (Twix & Milky Way minis for me and m&ms for Oakland). We stepped away from our campsite to brush our teeth and then Oakland went to get her water for the morning while I puttered over my notes. 

We made the trek up to the shelter to use the privy and to put our food bags in the bear box. The comments for this shelter prior to the installation of the bear boxes are pretty terrible. Dozens of food bags were taken and hikers were harassed by bears that could have cared less about being yelled at. 

Up at the shelter, I made a phone call to set up a shuttle from the trail to our hotel for the night. The woman misheard me when I said we were leaving the shelter at 8am and proceeded to talk over me while i tried to clarify that were hoping for a ride at 11, NOT 8. Once we were finally on the same page, she let me know that the earliest we could get picked up would be 11:30. I happily agreed to the timing and ended the call. The only person at the shelter was a guy who lives a little farther north off the trail somewhere in VA. he’s only out for a few days. When I asked him where he called home, he said the name of his current town but that he grew up on Asheville. I made a joking comment about Asheville being terrible (because it’s where Oakland and I met). His head whipped up to look at me. I quickly back pedaled and said I was kidding, but to my surprise he said “oh it is terrible. I wish it was still the same as when I grew up there.” I got the impression that he meant mostly the density but then he said the people in government were now Mostly “outsiders,” which triggered my conservative good ole boy radar. We hedged away from the Asheville topic and he kindly gave Oakland a tea bag for her breakfast. 

We dropped the tea bag in the bear box with our food and gave ourselves one last hit of chapstick. Then we walked back to our campsite happy to be leaving the awkward conversation. We changed into our bedtime clothes, and I worked on my notes while Oakland massaged her calves at my recommendation. It helps a tiny bit with the morning cinder block phenomenon. As a treat and because it was so early, we played a few rounds of the golf card game before actually going to bed. I’m finishing this to the sound of the stream twenty yards to our left and the stillness of the trees which feels audible after last night’s wind tunnel. 

Mile 504.1 to mile 515.0 (10.9) 

Checklist total miles: 523.2 

Oakland total miles: 44.3 

Creature feature: a couple of squirrels, chipmunks, the two woodpeckers, blue headed vireo, brown thrasher (the bird I’ve been mistakenly calling the thrush), the cows! And ponies! 

2019-Day 51: grayson highlands pony edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mile 492.6 to mile 504.1 (11.5) 

Checklist total miles: 512.3

Oakland total miles: 33.4 

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

2019-Day 50: 500 mile flame azalea edition

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*REAL TIME UPDATE: we have reached narrows, VA and the next handful of posts will be brought you to from the public computers at the Iris Brammer Public Library. Thank you public libraries! I still don’t have the time and patience to comb through entries for typos or weird capitalization, so ignore those and focus on the pictures 🙂

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The smoke from the campfire made for a night of burning eyes but I managed to get a fair amount of sleep. I woke up around 3:20 and had to pee. there were just too many hours left before the final wake up time, so I crawled out of the tent and walked a few yards away taking care not to shine my red light directly at anyone’s tent. Oakland said she managed to cobble together two chunks of sleep which is not far from her usual pattern, so she fared okay. I felt bad getting out of the tent in the middle of the night but it had to be done. We both made visits to the privy, and we had a brief lesson on getting the bear bags down. Then came the great packing up process, which wasn’t much longer with two people.

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Oakland made friends with the little bundle of energy from last night. Her name is hank. The tent was nearly spotless because of the pine needle bed. We sat on the logs by the fire pit and ate breakfast while everyone else crowded around the picnic table and worked through their mornings. I tried not to judge snapshot for his pungent smell as he walked by on his way to the privy.  Hank’s owner somehow made a giant snare of two bear lines hung on the same branch and poor Lucas was one of the lines tangled around the stick used in her pct hang. We brushed our teeth and Oakland filtered water while I took care of my cup removal. I make it through the brunt of my period in town, which is A lucky coincidence.

It was a sunny and crisp morning, which made it hard to remove my puffy coat when the time came to close my compactor bag full of “must stay dry” items. Oakland checked water sources while I made a few notes and packed the final items in my bag. 

My legs burned on the walk back to trail head. At the intersection, I stopped to get debris out of my shoe and task rabbit (a code name because I want to leave her real trail name out of print) complained about the social dynamics with the group at the shelter. She said she had tired of their perpetually cheerful and vapidity.  She said in a mock perky voice fit for a texas cheerleader, “oh my god, my feet hurt so much.” We laughed at her imitation and commiserated with the “energizer bunny nothing matters who cares if we get into camp after dark and have to do everything in a sloppy mess” approach that none of us can seem to adopt, nor do we really want to. Task rabbit pulled ahead of us immediately and we were content to walk alone along the  narrow, breezy ridge. 

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We had the occasional tiny view of the ridge line to our right as we traversed the small spikes in elevation interspersed with flat rocky sections. The trail dropped down below the ridge and then took a series of tight Switchbacks around the sunny side of the mountain.

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We were passed by a SOBO group of teenagers scattered along the narrow trail. The we took a short climb over loose rocks up to another narrow and gusty ridge that was sunnier than the last one. 

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The trail eventually took us down a gradual hill that was lined with low, green coral like plants that also have titan like appendages. the picture I took of the spears is out of focus, but here’s the basic plant:

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The Trail Flattened out a bit and wound around little gullies. We Passed a piped spring and walked over soft pine needles towards a trail junction. Then we took a gentle downhill with a sea of ferns around us. 

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We Passed a small pond that had an adjacent campsite where someone had left a giant red cooler sitting upside down, as if to dry it out.

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We went through a series of rhododendron tunnels. I asked oakland to walk in front for a bit so I could give you a perspective of the tunnel: 

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The Woods finally opened up and Oakland took more pictures of orange mushrooms with the accompaniment of light birdsong and a strong breeze. We call this ergonomic nightmare the mushroom pose: 

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Around the two hour mark, we stopped at a nice wide log and took a ten minute break with copious snacks and bathroom breaks. The Occasional stick and leaf matter dropped from trees, causing both of our heads to turn because they sounded like approaching creatures.  

After our break, we came to an intersection with Virginia creeper. We dropped our packs and walked to the right to see raging water on the creeper bridge.

The AT Followed the creeper for about 3/4 of a mile over crushed gravel and a long wooden bridge. We were passed by a few bikes, all operated by friendly people saying good morning with bright voices.  

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The Trail took a left turn back into the woods and followed along another large creek. My Feet were immediately happier with the varied surface versus the solid wooden planking of the bridge and the crushed gravel of the creeper.

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We eventually took a right turn away from the large creek and wandered alongside a smaller stream, eventually narrowing back down into a rhododendron tunnel. 

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The trail turned into a somewhat consistent climb and we had to stop to remove long sleeve layers. We crossed a gravel road and snaked past many small streams among the rhododendrons. The woods finally opened up into terrain that seemed like we might have a bear sighting, but it wasn’t meant to be. We made it to lost mountain shelter a little afternoon where we found task rabbit already in the middle of her lunch our.  She said she’s having hard days of late because of the social situation and trying to outrun her pink blazer (the annoying but established nomenclature for when a man jumps the trail to follow a woman). She made a collective “we as older women are a rare breed” and I took the opportunity to volunteer that I’m even more rare because I don’t identify as a woman. She said “NB?” (i.e. non-binary) which I wasn’t expecting, and which was a relief. No questions. No explanations. Just acknowledgement. 

I shared my social angst from my 2017 hike in an effort to empathize with task rabbit. After we finished eating, we went to get water at the spring about a hundred yards away. A Section hiking SOBO Dude bro arrived while we were gone. We returned to hear him giving unsolicited advice to task rabbit while smoking a cigarette and being generally overbearing. In light of the alienating new arrival, oakland and i busied ourselves with packing up and left around the same time as task rabbit. She stayed ahead of us for a little while until we passed her as she stood in the trail talking to slackpackers she knew. 

We crossed a small road and went past neat rows of pines that I assume were planted. Task rabbit caught up with us and stopped for a brief exchange about the pines, then moved on. 

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We eventually went through a fence line and skirted the edge of a field where we saw a black and white woodpecker. A gaggle of teenagers came towards us as we approached log steps that took us higher into the field.

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On the other side of the field, we crossed a gravel road and into the woods to begin the never-ending ascent to buzzard rock. The footing was fine for awhile, but it eventually turned into a rock pile that just kept going up.

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The felt endless and contained no flat stretches or switchbacks. About halfway up, we took a short break on a nice sitting rock while the wind gusted through the trees. We eventually saw task rabbit on a switchback but then she pulled ahead again. We slowed down for a slew of flame azaleas rising out of the forest around us, many of which had a fungus I’ve seen before.

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I was so happy to show Oakland the vibrant orange blooms because I had been afraid they would all be past their prime by the time she joined me. After several more minutes of walking, we took a snack break on rocks just before the trail opened up. It was far too cold for taking breaks in the gusting wind of a field. 

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Then We climbed through a short meadow that had wizened fruit trees scattered about. The views started about a third of the way out of the woods. Here’s Oakland getting her first taste of the open views after a long day of rhododendron tunnels. 

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The wind whipped around us and made it difficult to take a video from just below the official view point. I was glad for the dry weather because it would have been miserable in the rain. Both of us were chilled after standing still for a few minutes so we put on our raincoats and fleece hats to help with the wind.

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I could hardly walk straight and kept getting knocked aside just enough to make my left foot plant off-kilter many times. I saw the long open trail that followed the field up near power lines and my heart sank.

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Thankfully Oakland pointed out that the AT cut right back into the woods. We laughed at the ridiculousness of the wind as we made our way across the rest of the open bald and into the woods. I took a video of it, but for some reason wordpress doesn’t want to convert it properly, so here’s a picture of oakland in the tall grass and a pano she took instead. 

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When we made it back into tree cover, The wind died down to a manageable amount but the rocks continued to be incessant with very short breaks (as in 5ft at a time). Oakland sported another of those rare lilies that I saw in the roan highlands. It’s hard to capture the spots on the inside without touching the flower and there are warnings against spreading fungus so I took a picture of two different lilies with different angles. 

We crossed several small streams and tried to decide whether to count on getting water at the tent site or to get the sure thing on the trail beforehand. Both of our feet hurt so we decided to risk it and get water at the tent site a mile away rather than carry the extra weight. This of course spurred a few jokes about how Oakland was already used to carrying too much water after her platypus goof from yesterday. 

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We emerged from the woods and crossed a rocky sandy path that had a dazzling array of flame azaleas on either side of the trail. There were also views of the mountains to our right. Oakland was as excited by the flame azaleas as I had hoped she would be and I couldn’t believe our luck with the sheer number of them. The trail crossed a wide gravel road and went up a small hill that led us to the tent site where task rabbit had already set up. We kept walking to see about the sites closer to the spring which turned out to be a single rocky, sloped site. I left Oakland there to work on filtering water while I went back to the other area to see about a better tent site. The options were pretty bad but we had one possible choice that was flatter and not quite as public. Oakland mentioned the desire to not be right next to the spring where everyone would tromp through, which was a good point. I couldn’t decide if the spot was actually better so I took over the water operation and Oakland went to get a second opinion. She came back and seemed convinced that we would be better off at the other site, so we grabbed all of our things and went back to it. 

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Oakland made fun of me as I pried rocks out of the ground. There were so many sharp edges that I worried about the tent bottom so I laughed along with her while I continued my grooming project. We managed to get a decent set up with little in the way of sloping. I then put together my bed while Oakland wandered around looking for bear line limbs. Then she set up her bed while I did the same. Task rabbit asked how I was and I replied, “overwhelmed” which unfortunately evoked a kind but off putting offer of help. There wasn’t anything I could delegate to task rabbit, so I said that I was good. I picked out a few mediocre options for bear lines among the poor choices available. As I walked back to our site, task rabbit offered some advice about efficiency. Specifically setting food to cook and then doing chores. I did my best not to get snippy with the obvious advice. Instead I said “you know that’s a great idea and I’ve done that a lot but tonight that’s not how things worked out.” 

Oakland and I sat on a mossy log just below our tent site and prepared our food. While it cooked Oakland helped me gather rocks for my 500 mile marker. The campsite is just past the 500 mile point! I made it out of pebbles because of their availability and because of the annoying rocks we had today. We both reveled in the joy of eating dinner (chili mac) and then had parts of payday and snickers bars for dessert after doing our dishes. Then we stood around brushing and flossing while we watched other people slowly trickle into the area. A trio of teenagers came through twice, both times with a speaker playing, which did not bode well for this evening’s quiet hours. 

After our evening hygiene came the task of throwing the bear line. We had both been too hungry to delay dinner with the dreaded task. We wandered around looking for limbs because my earlier choices now had campers beneath them. Oakland pointed out a really thick limb which I kindly rejected saying that it was thick enough for a bear to tap dance on. I explained the philosophy of using the smallest limb that would be strong enough to hold the food bag and not strong enough to hold a bear. We finally picked out a decent limb that unfortunately was very dead. I found that out by getting my line over the limb, giving it a good yank and pulling down the entire limb with a sharp crack. I shrieked and we both laughed at the disaster. The good news is I had cleared the zone to be able to get our lines on a much better branch. I made several tosses that all went too far left so I turned my body as I had the night before and finally made it on the limb. We attempted to put both bags on the same line but they were too heavy to string up together. Oakland threw her line while another hiker tossed his line over a limb that was far too large a few trees over. For a few minutes the only noises were the thunk of rock bags hitting the ground and the groans of hikers missing their branches. Oakland made a joke about it being a hiker soundtrack. After several tries, She finally got her line right next to mine at the same time that the other hiker successfully landed his line. It took some doing to keep them from getting tangled and Oakland kept managing to lose her stick, but we finally had both bags in the air without any entanglements. It was 7:54. Earlier I had made an exhausted comment about how we wouldn’t be in the tent until about 8pm. Oakland looked at me and said something to the effect of “you guessed it.”

We had a quick pooping lesson in the woods below our tent site. I showed Oakland the different postures one could use, how wide and deep to dig the hole and where to position herself over the hole. I also gave the tip to remove her TP from the ziplock BEFORE squatting down to get started. We had discussed the possibility of pre-digging our holes but neither of us had the stamina after the bear line fiasco. Instead, we each took another pee break and crawled into the tent to get warm and go to sleep. The temperatures have been pretty cool all day and they dropped even more during dinner. By the time we had our food bags hung, my fingers were going numb. As we got settled in our tent, we heard the gang from last nights shelter arrive. Oakland was baffled and horrified at how late they had arrived. She thanked me profusely for being the person who would help get us to the tent site at a reasonable hour. Because of our timing, we had scored a somewhat secluded tent spot with no fear of anyone building a fire or setting up next to us at some awful hour. 

The latecomers walked around talking loudly and being generally irritating. We forced ourselves to change shirts and take off bras. I removed the bandaid from the cut on my big toe which has been doing okay (I think I forgot to mention that I hit my toe on the shower in Damascus and got a nice little slice on the tip of my big toe). I showed Oakland a few basic foot and calf massages to do. It was a long and hard day for a second day out, and I wanted to make sure she didn’t get too stiff. The tent is fabulous in dry conditions but I continue to worry about how we will fare in the rain with the tight fit. Our gear and our bodies come close to all four sides of the mesh lining the outside edges of the tent. 

I’m finishing this to the sound of bass in the music being played somewhere nearby, someone walking around cursing with a headlamp on (it’s unclear what their damage is), a moderate breeze in the treetops, the squeak of sleeping pads, and Oakland’s heavy breathing because she fell asleep while I was writing.  

Mile 480.1 to mile 492.6 (12.5) 

Checklist total miles: 500.8 

Oakland total miles: 21.9 

Creature feature: the deer, the woodpecker, hank the cute dog, dark eyed juncos, and a spotted towhee 

2019-Day 49: Oakland’s first day

I had a choppy but cozy night of sleep. The resident mockingbird did not heed quiet hours and made a racket half the night. Literally. We dragged ourselves out of bed around 6:45 and went straight to packing our gear. Then we had breakfast out at the table. It was a feast of yogurt, blueberries, a banana, and homemade banana bread. We had a couple of pieces of banana bread that we couldn’t make it through so I walked into the bunk room and offered them to the masses. A guy in a top bunk sat up and said okay! He asked if he could join us outside so we sat with him for a few minutes. His name is Alex and he sounded like a friendly but antsy NOBO who didn’t know what to do with himself if he made it to camp before 7:30pm. He also said his body likes to move quickly. I replied that I didn’t have either of those problems and suppressed my eye rolling to the best of my ability.

After breakfast, we walked back to the post office armed with a tracking number. I walked up to the counter and explained that I had a package with a tracking number that said it had been delivered but no one could find it the day before. The clerk asked me to write the number down and went back to the shelves. He came back with the small flat rate box that apparently didn’t have my last name on it which is why when I gave them my last name, they couldn’t find the box. Why they couldn’t have checked all of the small flat rate boxes (of which there weren’t many) is a different story. At any rate, we Solved the mystery of missing box and walked back to the hostel with our goodies. My dad and stepmom sent payday bars, oatmeal cream pies, and a thoughtful card. We added the snacks to our already heavy food bags and filled out waters. As we finished getting ready, I heard snapshot say to trivia, no no don’t get back in bed, we have to pack our stuff. Her response had the tone of s petulant 5 year old. I couldn’t wait to flee the scene of the passive aggressive bs about to ensue.

Right before we left, we weighed our packs. Mine came in around 25lbs. The heaviest weight to date. Oakland’s came in at a dismal 30lbs, which baffled and dismayed both of us. I could see Oakland’s face turn into anxious stone. She’s already anxious about her physical abilities and to have a pack that is at least 6lbs more than expected had her out of sorts.

We said goodbye to lee, one of the owners, as she worked on her front porch garden and fielded questions about rashes from Alex. We walked down east laurel street and took a right to follow the trail down hwy 58. We saw a small dog cross the busy street and wander through the business parking lots. I tried to feed it a cashew from my snack stash but it just stared at me. We continued walking and I tried to imagine that’s the dog was just out for a morning walk alone. The snack bag I had pulled the cashew from was actually soggy l, so I crossed the street to toss it in the gas station garbage.

The trail then took a left to follow the curve of the road and joined up with the Virginia Creeper trail for about a half a mile.

Then we Crossed the road and took a set of stairs into the woods. We walked Up the leaf strewn stairs and stopped at the top so I could get debris out of my shoe. I Had to take out my zseat because the ground was too soggy to sit on. I Took of my brace and my sock with no obvious cause of the prickly feeling in my sock. Oh well. I Put my shoe back on and we continued up the trail. My Right arch was VERY angry and I felt a pointed pain that I have had before that sometimes only gets worse. Oakland was also having right arch pain after the road walk, so we were both in pretty good starting shape for a day of hiking.

The trail took us up a Gradual hill on a silty path with soggy leaves and roots. I could hear Road noise and a Dog barking. The temperature was perfect for hiking. My Arch pain slowly faded as we walked along to the sound of opinionated Oven birds. I found a Blooming rhododendron that I was excited to show Oakland.

The trail Flattened out to a gentle rollercoaster. I saw more of the Small white flowers that I’d spied on the way into Damascus. Oakland immediately started taking pictures of fungi along the trail, which is another reason why we are great hiking partners. I don’t have to feel worried about slowing her down because there’s always some tiny organism to grab her attention.

We eventually Came to a slight opening in the woods and took a quick pee break using our brand new Kula cloths which are smaller than my previous pee towel, absorbent, subtle and produced by a women owned company. (Real time update: after having used the cloths for about 8 days, I highly recommend them!)

The trail transitioned to a Persistent uphill through pines with a fair amount of loose rocks. After the leg burning climb, the trail Flattened out a bit. Ferns and dozens of other green vegetation lined the trail. I Pointed out a rattlesnake fern to Oakland.

Around 11, we Sat at a small tent site and had a snack. I took off my right shoe and Massaged my arch which was still very cranky. We Listened to the small tap of a woodpecker that wasn’t visible in the thick leaf cover as we finished off our snacks.

As we got moving, my Arch still sparked but if felt different after the break. We went down a gentle hill with that transitioned to a roller coaster. Every so often I turned back to find Oakland taking pictures of fungi. I loved watching her excitement over all the mushrooms and lichen.

We Rounded corner and heard the low rush of water combined with road noise. Oakland thought it might be the wind but there was only a Light breeze blowing st the time. It almost sounded like a highway but eventually i decided it must be water.

We stood trying to spy a bird when we got passed by a Guy I recognized from the Damascus library. He was the last in a trio of hikers we let go by as we stood looking for the source of the small squeaking. The guy said “hey fellas” as he approached and neither of the us corrected him. Then he said something to the effect of “how are you guys today” and he immediately clarified that he says “guys” to everyone. We rolled with it and kept walking. I forget the comment that sparked it but at some point he affirmed something I said with “yes sir! I mean yes ma’am!” And replied “you could also just say “yes!” He laughed and said in a thoughtful tone, “yeah I could.”

We let him get ahead of us and had a baffled laugh at the gender mishmash he had gone through in such a short conversation. The trail transitioned to have more rhododendrons as it took us across a few small streams.

We noticed Clumps of rhododendron leaves laying on the ground, which was Confusing because the leaves don’t come off easily. As we mused on the subject, I looked up to see an older woman with a day pack and a baseball cap pruning rhododendrons with gardening shears.

As we approached, I asked if she had a permit for those shears. she laughed and said yes. We Passed her and had lunch around the corner at a campsite near a loud stream. Oakland tried her first bite of pop tart, the rest of which I ate for lunch with Fritos, spoonfuls of peanut butter and a few sesame covered cashews.

She reported that the pop tart wasn’t as sweet as she expected. We watched “snippy snip” wander up and down the trail grooming the rhododendrons as we ate to the sound of rushing water behind us and the occasional car passing by on a road out of sight.

We both took pee breaks in the rhododendrons and got moving again. Halfway to the shelter! We Crossed over a swollen stream where the only option for dry feet was to balance beam across a small log.

Then we Crossed a road and a newly constructed footbridge over whitetop laurel creek, which was the source of the loud rushing noise we’d heard a mile back. After the bridge, I took a soggy step in which muddy water Nearly went over the top of my shoes.

Then we Walked through more rhododendron tunnels. I Stopped to make notes and Oakland found an abundance of fungi to photograph. Stopped to get water and Oakland got distracted by coral mushrooms.

At some point, I Stooped under a blowdown And my phone popped out of my shoulder pocket. I picked it up and found a spider web of cracks all the way across the screen. I couldn’t believe such a short fall had caused so much damage. It must have fallen right into a rock or hard spot because I have definitely dropped my phone from far greater heights with no damage.

We kept walking and I did my best not to curse myself for having not learned my lesson. I know that my phone falls out of my pocket if I don’t tighten the strap. That’s how I cracked my phone in PA in 2017. I was aggravated by the avoidable mishap but it still worked so I tried to let it go.

The creek raged far below the trail to our right. We passed a handful of campsites between the AT and the creeper trail before the creeper took a right turn and crossed the overflowing creek.

We eventually made it to a Flat stretch that quickly became a rock field. We Crossed a log bridge next to a cascade

that was spitting water onto the logs.

Shortly after the sketchy log crossing were passed by two smelly NOBOs. Oakland watched them walk by and when they were out of earshot she said incredulously “why are they running?”

We Took a short break at the trail junction for Virginia creeper side trail. We had Just under 2 miles to go. Then came the Switchbacks up to the shelter turn off. We’d both scoffed at a commenter in guthook who lost his shit over the number of switches, so we decided to count them to see if the complainer had at least been accurate in his assessment.

Around the 5th switchback, I Heard a bird high in the canopy and I stopped to find it. I finally spotted some movement and it Turned out to be a scarlet tanager! We Stood still long enough for Oakland to get a good look at it. I was so happy to stumble on that kind of sighting her first day on the trail.

We Resumed the Switchbacks. Around the 10th corner, we Passed the smelly nobos taking a food break. Then we passed an older man who said seemed convinced that we were the people taking a snack break because he was baffled at our ability to pass him again.

It seems that the whiny commenter was right; there were indeed 16 Switchbacks. We arrived at the second exit for the shelter around 3:45 (it has two access points as we went to the northern point). We stopped to investigate a pod that we’d seen often throughout the day and found this inside:

We found Lucas the Swiss chocolatier and a couple of other hikers at the shelter.

We walked behind the shelter and set up the tent in a soft bed of pine needles with only a handful of pesky roots. Then Oakland pulled out her dinner essentials and began setting up her bed while I looked into getting reservations at our next hostel. She blew up her air mattress and then looked down in the bottom of her bag and exclaimed in horror because she realized that she had accidentally left a full 70oz platypus bag in the bottom of her pack from her last training hike, IN OAKLAND. Her bag was so heavy today because she had 2.5 liters of water in the bottom!

I laughed so hard and felt so relieved that she could hike with a light pack tomorrow. She, too, was relieved and horrified that she had made such a gaff and carried the extra weight all day. After the great realization, we sat outside the tent while I continued to work on reservations. I managed to get a phone call through only to find out that I had to reserve the room online. My signal of course then decided to disappear into the wind. I used my relatively reliable trick of forcing my phone into airplane mode and back out to get it to find a better signal. We settled on a room that is more expensive than We had hoped but it meant having a private room.

Then we scrounged up a rock and walked over towards the privy to have our first bear line lesson. I explained the underhanded slinging method and the trick of keeping the slack part of the line in your left hand to prevent it from flying away when the rock bag launched in weird directions or from flying into the air in a knot and getting your line stuck in the air. I managed to get my line on the intended limb after the third try but it was on a lower section that I’d hoped, so I pulled it down. Of course then it took about 6 more tries and some laughing to get it back on the limb in a higher spot. Oakland took her line with trepidation and nailed it on the second try. Then we grabbed our dinner gear and walked over to the shelter.

We both had a black beans and rice meal with our own tiny avocados which were the last of the batch from my sister in law. A new hiker arrived right as we were about to move over to the log seating area. I’m leaving her name out for anonymity because we found out she’s been having some trouble with a hiker that I know and have had mixed feelings about. We talked to her a bit while we ate dinner. Lucas emerged from his tent after having taken a nap. He apparently got blisters today, which does not bode well. It seems far too soon for blisters! He put together a fire while Oakland and I finished up our dishes. I gave Oakland a taste of my oatmeal cream pie – her second culinary first of the day. She said it was surprisingly good. Then we hung our food bags and I taught Oakland the pct method that I learned from la bamba. Our bags are a little lower than I would like, but I think they will do. We will be sure to hang them as high was we can tomorrow as we get closer to the very explicit bear warning zone.

I suggested we fill our water with the CA platypus, which managed to top off all 4 bottles. That’s not quite enough for tomorrow morning, so we walked down to the water supply and filled a sawyer bag. For now we are doing most things together until Oakland has had a few chances to practice things. Then came trips to the privy and wardrobe changes in the tent. I shared my new shirt and new socks philosophy. New people arrived as we lay in our tent. One of them was accompanied by an adorable and energetic mutt that was only mid-calf height. She ran around the campsite sniffing and wagging her tail and then bolted full speed back to her owner. I felt too lazy to get out and say hello but I watched her run around with glee and laughed from my cozy spot. Then I settled in to write up the days notes while Oakland reviewed the docket for tomorrow.

I’m finishing this to the sound of snapshot and trivia (the new hikers) talking to each other and the dog owner at full volume, the occasional crack from the small and annoyingly smoky fire blowing straight towards our tent, an airplane far overhead and bugs popping on the sides of the tent.

Mile 470.7 to mile 480.1 (9.4)

Checklist total miles: 488.3

Oakland total miles: 9.4

Creature feature: the scarlet tanager! A rust colored toad, oven birds, and the dog at the shelter

2019-Days 46, 47, 48: Oakland arrives edition

I have decided in the interest of getting through some back log and not boring you with town details, that I am going to truncate the three days in Damascus.

Saturday, Day 46, was a zero day for me. I ate at the Damascus diner twice – three times if you count the fact that I had leftovers for dinner. Pictured is the “hungry mother” which I did not realize would come with 3 pancakes the side of Texas.

I met a handful of new hikers, one of whom is named Viva and lives in Dahlonega and has dined in the same establishments as Amy Ray (of the Indigo Girls). Needless to say, I was extremely jealous when I asked the question and received an affirmative answer that she had in fact seen Amy Ray on MANY occasions.

I also spent about 3 hours at the library. It would have been longer were it not for their prohibitive shutdown of internet 30 minutes prior to closure.

Sunday, Day 47, brought the great waiting game of Oakland’s mid-day arrival. My mom drove 5 hours one-way to deliver Oakland to Damascus. We had a late lunch at the diner. In both of my Saturday meals, it had been a sleepy establishment. On Sunday, it was bustling with churchgoers, and we actually had to wait for a table. Brownie and dizzy arrived just in time to meet my mom. Then we trouped off to the real grocery store about a mile up the road to get a few luxury items while we had access to a car. My mom stuck around to play a few hands of golf (her new favorite card game) and then got back on the road for the long trek home. About an hour later, RBJ stopped by for a visit! Her new trail name is Research. She is having trouble with her feet and is on a two-ish week break from the trail in the hopes that she won’t feel like she’s walking on knives when she returns. Sadly I did not think to get her picture while she was here. I did, however, manage to get photographed wearing loaner scrubs while spraying my clothes with another round of tick treatment in the church parking lot adjacent to hikers inn.

In our effort to hang a clothesline, we used a taillight on a bus that prized the claim “on fire for Jesus” on the front hood. We organized our food for the next few days and gave Oakland her first taste of sitting around a table talking to random hikers. For dinner, we feasted on banana bread made by my mom, fritos, fruit and avocados from my sister-in-law, and snickers. A strange but functional meal.

Monday, Day 47, we went to the diner for “breakfast sandwiches,” which are Oakland’s favorite and consisted of sausage, egg, and cheese on biscuits. Then we spent a few hours at the library. Seems like they might know part of their audience quite well:

I whined and fussed over the blog while Oakland, ever the industrious one, crossed a few things off of her summer work to-do list and read new yorker magazines. On our way back to the hostel, Oakland had her first snake sighting! It was a large brown snake with a dull diamond pattern. It slithered under a hole in the raised sidewalk and that was that. We had another snack-based lunch because we had dinner plans with brownie & dizzy. Then we ran a few errands that included post-card buying and an attempted package pick-up from my dad and stepmom that sadly did not seem to be at the PO. Oakland went back to the hostel to putter and I went back to the library to madly dash through blog editing. As we made our way through town, we noticed a throng of antique cars rolling through town. The guy at the outfitter said they are all on their way to the Bristol Speedway and then off to somewhere else I can’t remember.

Tomorrow, we hike! Hopefully not in the rain.

Mile 470.6 to mile 470.6 (0)

Total miles: 478.9

Creature feature: my person! and the usual bird suspects.

2019-Day 45: escaping the dreaded snorer edition

I managed to cobble together about 7 hours of sleep! I woke up around 3 and then again at 6, finally giving into the urge to phone zombie and write a few emails around 6:40. Around 7, I dragged myself to the privy. Joy of joys, I got my period last night right before bed. It’s TMI but it’s a significant event that changes my routine and frankly shouldn’t be hush hush. I managed to deal with my cup without dropping it into the bowl of the portapotty (the stuff of nightmares). Then I changed into my hiking shorts, which smell like they could walk themselves to Damascus because of all the rain. I packed away my sleeping pad, which I ended up using because the mattress felt like I was sleeping on the wooden bunk itself. I had the rest of my gear buttoned up by 7:30 and was settled on the couch to eat a quiet breakfast when cat showed up to check on my departure time. She stayed for about 15 minutes, telling me all kinds of stories about her dog and about how the locals treat them because they don’t go to church nor do they have their kid participate in church activities. They seem like cool people and I hope they stick around in the hiker scene.

Cat wandered away after we set a departure time of 8:15. I finished the last bits of tidying and rearranged my cup because I feared a mishap before getting to today’s shelter. Then I sat on the couch researching lunch options in Damascus so we can find a place that has something appealing for my mom.

Rabbit pulled up in the car promptly at 8:15 and I was standing on the AT by 8:25. My morning started with a Field walk over a crushed gravel path. I passed a barn with a giant AT emblem nailed to the side of it.

My eyes scanned the air in hopes of seeing new birds darting through field. I saw a Red winged blackbird, an Indigo bunting, and a few yellow warblers of some sort that I couldn’t get a good look at because they kept hopping fence posts too far away from me.

I also saw these strange land birds, aka cows, in today’s top picture. I Had to walk right through the gaggle of lounging lumps. the biggest one standing in the trail stared at me while I gave it a wide berth because of the presence of calves. The little guys didn’t like my hiking poles so they all got up whenever I came close to them.

I left the cow pasture by way of a wooden step over the fence line and walked through an empty field with a mowed path. I saw Another bright yellow bird with dark wings in flight and more yellow warblers on a fence line. I Stopped at one of the rocks in the next field and took off my long sleeve layer for the eventual climb into the woods that i could see farther up the field. A small Patch of fog hung in the field.

As i Entered the woods, i thought about my strategy for catching up on the blog. I felt the Rain drops start and resisted the Urge to put on raincoat because I had already decided I wasn’t going to bother with it. The humidity was too high and I didn’t see the point in walking with an extra layer. The trail consisted of flat path with slightly rolling woods. A crow rose out of the brush and cawed at me from a distance. I heard the usual milieu of Bird song as I walked.

I made a good morning Phone call to Oakland that was very short because of a wobbly phone signal. Then I decided to pass the time with the company of Harry Potter, deciding that the distraction was worth risking my earbuds to the rain. I Daydreamed about hiking farther than the shelter to get into town early and hit the library Saturday. I talked myself down from the ledge and told myself I was just going to stop at the shelter. No need to push just for the library.

After a little while, I came upon the double springs shelter stop where I saw the two college kids from mountain harbour. I decided to say hello for a second and found none other than BANANA sitting up in his sleeping bag. I asked everyone where they were headed so I could find out where the dreaded snorer would land for the evening. The kids muttered Damascus while they fiddled with their breakfast gear. Banana grumbled about the rain and said he might wait until the sun came out to go anywhere. We all kind of laughed at him and I said you might be waiting all day while my internal reaction was SH*T. Abingdon shelter (my destination) is only 8 miles from here and if he’s getting a late start, I bet he’ll stop there.

I walked away from the shelter cursing banana’s snoring in my head. My mind skittered over my options, which frankly were not great: Tent in the rain next to the shelter, hike farther and tent alone (likely in the rain), or hike all the way to Damascus (21.6 miles, although at the time I was making my decision my math was wrong and I thought it was 20.6). I i sent several whiny texts to Oakland and kept moving.

An older southbound day hiker passed me right as the quieter of the two college guys arrived on my heels. It was a funny traffic jam given the fact that we were in the middle of the woods. I stood aside to let everyone go by in their respective directions. The day hiker offered me trail mix but I politely declined because I already had 2.5 days worth of food in my pack. He warned me that there were more hikers on the way. A slow trickle of older people passed me for a few minutes and then I was alone until I came upon the college kid standing in the trail staring down at his phone. He looked up when he heard me and then his head whipped back towards his phone. He made no move whatsoever to get out of the middle of the trail even though I was about 10 yards away. At the last possible second before I would have to ask him to move, he took a lazy half step off the trail. I could have kicked him. You see a person coming: MOVE. little shit.

I kept walking past the phone zombies through the misty, soggy woods. He passed me again when I stopped to take a picture. As I walked, I decided to give in to the need to avoid banana’s snoring and hike 17.8 miles total to get to a tent site at the state line. Sadly there’s no water source past shelter so if I would have to carry it about 6 miles.

At some point, I Called Oakland again. She listened to my dilemma and encouraged me to make the long choice of my body felt up to it to give me the chance of better sleep.

I powered through the foggy, rainy morning with HP, quickly gobbled snacks and soggy pee breaks. The water source before Abingdon turned out to be a puddle, which I found out AFTER I gulped down most of my water. I walked around in the heavy rain trying to find a flow or a puddle big enough to scoop from, but I had no luck.

I reached the the shelter around 1:40, where I took my first real break of the day. I set my sodden pack down on the sleeping platform and pulled out muy szeat and lunch bag. I had a wisp of phone signal good enough to send a sporadic text and not much else. I made my peanut butter wrap and ate Doritos while the rain tapped on the metal roof.

Then I grabbed my filtering gear and walked down to the water. Guthook has it listed as an eternal, steep walk down. As I made my way over rocks and roots, I rolled my eyes at why people were so whiny about the trip. It took a grand total of 4.5 minutes of slow walking to get there (yes, I timed it). The pipe was barely flowing but it did the trick. I was surprised at how low the water sources were today based on the amount of rain. When I got back to the shelter, I realized I needed to deal With my cup. It was much Sooner than I’d expected and I had no privy to manage the mess with. I said f*ck it and went behind the shelter to drop trou and deal with it as quickly as I could.with my newly acquired water.

I Left the shelter around 2:25 and felt decent given the pace and sogginess of my morning. I had 6.4 miles to go until first tenting option. I Called Oakland again to walk and talk. she said she had a suspicion that I would hike to Damascus today. I told her I had already talked myself off that ledge, But when we got off the phone, I called hikers inn just to SEE if they had any availability. Lee, one of the owners, said they had One room left type of which to be determined. The Idea of camping 1) in the rain 2) alone and 3) with my period was worse than the idea of hiking for 4 more hours. I told Lee I would take the room.

Once the decision was made, I felt myself settle into the comforting rhythm of knowing I had a long way to go towards a warm, dry bed. I stopped to dump the extra water I had collected and chugged along through the thankfully forgiving terrain.

I eventually passed a guy heading SOBO. How many of you assumed he was white? Nope. He happened to be African American. He greeted me as we tried to make room for each other on the narrow slippery trail. As he passed, he asked me how close he was to the shelter and I gave him my estimate which I can’t remember now (no written notes for most of the afternoon).

The rest of the afternoon was a blur of HP, the occasional interaction with Oakland, and variations on the green tunnel with very easy footing. I passed rhododendrons in bloom and saw a New white flower and an infrequently recurring yellow flower, both of which were hard to photograph because of their drooping bloom. I also saw a GIGANTIC mushroom (or many mushrooms?).

I went through the Occasional rocky stretch but for the most part it was clear sailing. I made it to the TN/VA state line around 6pm.

The rain had long since tapered off, for which I was grateful. I stopped at the state line for a quick pee break and to eat a snack. My grumbling stomach protested my plan to eat a late dinner in Damascus. Oakland sent me a text asking where I was. I hadn’t told her of my hair brained scheme yet, so I told her I was hiking. She knew right away I was up to something, and when I called to tell her about my plan she was both in awe of and aghast at my decision to just keep hiking.

I eventually Heard road noise and a dog barking, and I knew I was getting close. Sometimes noises of civilization can happen far sooner than the trail intersects with town, but when I checked the mileage, i was less than 2 miles from the middle of Damascus.

There were A few Switchbacks towards the end of the woods. The trail Popped out onto a residential street with variety of houses. I took a Left turn down beaver dam rd and walked through the famous Damascus sign at the edge of a small green space.

I followed the crushed gravel path through the park and took a right on 58. Normally when I walk Through town, I feel like an alien but less so in Damascus because it’s insanely hiker friendly. I Crossed the river and walked past small storefronts and a Dollar general.

I reached Hikers inn at 7:30 and found a note taped to the door letting me know that I could find my room at the top of the stairs.

I scuffed my shoes against the door mat as best I could and walked up to my room to drop my pack. Then I Went back downstairs to take my shoes off outside. They were filthy and I wanted to clap some of the dirt from their soles. On my way out the door, I Ran into Soul mama. We are once again staying in same place. She had the room that Oakland and I have reserved for Sunday/Monday. After I took my shoes, I Sat on the couch and talked to her, but I had to excuse myself after only a few minutes because it was after 8pm and I was starving. I Made chili Mac in my room and followed it with Doritos and 3/4 of a snickers.

Then I took a Shower and had a Short call with Oakland while she raced through the final preparations for her departure. I’m finishing this to the sound of rain and the silence of a dry house.

Mile 449.0 to mile 470.6 (21.6)

Total miles: 478.9

Creature feature: the cows! The cranky crow, chipmunks, the many different birds in the field walk, oven birds, and a few dopey robins.

2019-Day 44: Tennessee red edition

And the answer is: I will never sleep in same shelter as banana again. He sounds like he’s being strangled.when he snores. He also very unfortunately makes sounds that reminded me of the gurgling made by the unconscious (likely already dead) hiker for whom I helped provide CPR several weeks ago. I slept so poorly and felt so angry the whole time because if you KNOW you snore that badly: warm people! or sleep in your tent! I was so awake in the middle of the night that I used my mediocre phone signal to post overdue pictures to social media. It rained on and off throughout the night. My watch alarm went off at 6am but there would be no need to hurry behind the shelter for sunrise views because of the thick fog hanging over everything. I did, however, want to get miles in while it wasn’t actively raining so I got and walked towards my food bag. Before retrieving my bag, I went down a little ways off the trail and took care of business among the rhododendrons and saplings. My food bag came down with no complications. I went back to the shelter and ate breakfast on the edge of the sleeping platform. I changed into my damp, smelly hiking shorts and put on the previous day’s socks and shirt because I didn’t see the point in putting on dry clothes on a day that’s guaranteed to have rain. May as well save them for later since I won’t be in Damascus until Saturday.

I Packed up my sleeping gear in the dim light, making little effort to be quiet. In fact, I hoped to wake banana up from his strangling slumber, but that son of gun snored through every last noise I made. As I packed up, Pulled out two bars for snacks in case it rains through lunch. InSigned the shelter book before I walked away from the world of sleeping hikers.

I walked through Misty woods over Tricky footing consisting of wet rocks and roots(not pictured). My left Achilles was cranky from the start and my Right hip did not approve of my plan for the day.

Not long after getting started I heard a chuffing sound off to my right. I never could find the creature but I’m pretty sure it was a deer snorting far below me. I didn’t take any real time notes for the rest of the day because I was focused on beating the rain to my hostel destination, but I will do my best to piece it together. The trail seemed to only go up for the first couple of hours. some of the footing was horrible with steeply banked eroding parts and slick rocks that required a lot of concentration. I spoke to Oakland for a little while and she had the unfortunate pleasure of listening to me get super cranky about the moisture from tall grass soaking my shoes. I HATE IT when my feet get wet and it’s not actually raining. My shoes had finally started to feel only slightly damp after yesterday’s soaking until stretches where the grass swept over my shoe tops turning them into a squishy mess.

After about 4 miles and one water stop, the terrain finally leveled out to a very reasonable series of mild rollercoaster hills combined with long easy flat stretches. I made pretty good time for quite awhile save the occasionally rockier footing where I forced myself to slow down to prevent sloppy feet. The trail was annoyingly overgrown so I brushed against wet leaves constantly but I was extremely grateful for the fact that it wasn’t actively raining. Flame azaleas popped out of nowhere on occasion and the woods were thick with fog for much of the morning.

I leapfrogged with two people I haven’t seen before and whose names I didn’t get. I also saw fern and chill bill. I asked fern how her ankle was doing when she passed me on a flat stretch. Apparently yesterday had given her troubles but today has been better. It sounds like we have similar barometer: does it hurt? Sometimes. is it getting worse? No. Answer: Keep hiking.

My left Achilles issue remained sub-stabby for the entire day. I definitely heard from it but I did my best not to overwork it and the less frequent ascents made a big difference in the strain put on it. I saw about 4 more of my little orange friends:

Because of the fog, I did NOT see much of the surrounding mountains until the very end of the hike through thick tree cover.

I stopped at iron mountain shelter to eat an early lunch while the rain held off. Someone or several someones left a coffeemate powdered creamer container and spilled pasta all over the ground. The mess made me so cranky. I almost didn’t pack out the creamer because I felt resentful that the people who made the mess weren’t cleaning it up, but that’s not how things get done. I grumbled to Oakland about it while she kept me company for lunch and eventually put the trash in my food bag to throw away at the hostel. Right as I packed away my food bag I felt the sky darken and worried that it was about to pour. It did in fact rain, but it was only a light drizzle for about 10 minutes. I took my rain coat off almost immediately because it was too humid to wear the extra layer. Much of my post-lunch Walked Looked like this:

I passed a monument to a local hermit. The epitaph reads: “lived alone, suffered alone, and died alone.”

Someone told me that the townspeople all banded together to have the memorial made and they walked up the mountain to have a service for him. That is a bleak picture indeed, and something I never want said about myself, no matter how introverted I may be.

Around 1:30, with about 1.5 miles to go, I decided to see what it would be like to hike while listening to Harry Potter. I chose the chamber of secrets audiobook and turned it down low enough to be able to hear birds and bears. I enjoyed the content but I have to say, I think I like listening to the birds more. At least, I can say that’s true on a day that was going well enough. Part of the only reason I see new birds is because I hear birds I don’t recognize and I stop to look for them. That said, on a rockier or harder day, I could totally get lost in Harry Potter.

I made it to the road a few minutes earlier than expected. The heat of the day was far more intense at the trail head parking lot. I dropped my pack in the sun to begin the vain process of trying to dry it out and I called the hostel owners for a ride. I sat down and judged the crap out of a couple In the parking lot (still picturing straight people? I do it too). The woman had a dream catcher tattoo and the white-presenting guy (so I assume) had dreads. Meh.

Cat, one of The hostel owners, arrived about 5 minutes later and popped out of her SUV wearing a tie dyed T-shirt and no shoes. I sheepishly said that I smelled like a wet dog as I put my pack and poles in the back. We rode to the rabbit hole hostel with the windows down and talked about their current chicken experiment which hasn’t gone all that well. We also discovered that we both have (or had in my case) pit bulls named Red.

Cat dropped me off at the bunkhouse which is a spacious building equipped with 12 wooden bunks, a couch, tv and a outdoor seating. I met rabbit, cat’s partner and co-owner. He wandered off and cat settled my bill. The minute I set foot in the hostel my stomach felt emptier than a liquor store on a Sunday in the Bible Belt. I decided to go for broke and get the milkshake they offered along with a $2 shuttle to the country store so I could buy chips and an orange soda. My total came to a whopping $25.

There was a giant fan set up at one end of the room. I immediately took everything out of my pack and set it within striking distance of the air flow. Then I walked to the outdoor shower building. The sky looked somewhat ominous but I didn’t feel like waiting to see if it would rain. I did in fact get sprinkled on by a passing shower but it didn’t matter all that much because I was already wet.

I was the first hiker to arrive for the day so I had the place all to myself. I began the process of unpacking my food. Oakland and I had an extended planning session to figure out how much food she should bring to Damascus for our first few days, how much food to include in our first mail drop, and where to send said mail drop. As it turns out, the shelters in southern VA are super awkwardly spaced. Very frequently the next two shelters are incredibly far apart, forcing one to use an official or unofficial campsite along the way, many of which are far too close to roads for my comfort. We studied our maps and hemmed and hawed for quite awhile. We finally mapped out a basic plan for the first three stops. Thankfully Oakland remembered to plan for zero days! We finally had to end our call because Oakland had to do actual work. I Called one of our intended destinations to ask about their mail policy.

Then i continued my food organization and list making for Damascus. As I was about to open my small frito bag and dump it into my ongoing supply, I saw a flash of sandy brown coming towards me. As promised, cat had brought red for a visit! She told me all about his rescue story and I turned into a dog loving pile of mush. At one point I sat down on the floor and red did exactly I had hoped: he threw his butt against my shoulder and eventually sat in my lap the way my red used to do. Sadly he was also sitting on my phone so I didn’t get any picture evidence of the plop. I did however get a few pictures taken by cat, one of which is today’s top picture.

After cat left with the dog (I had to, I’m sorry), I made myself a hiking dinner in an effort to use some of my food and not eat frozen pizza. Then I called up to the house and asked for the milkshake I had pre-ordered. In about 5 minutes, cat hand delivered this, which disappeared about 5 minutes later:

After the gluttony, I brushed my teeth and rearranged various items that I was attempting to dry with the giant fan. Then Oakland and I had a FaceTime call. She is facing the interminable to do lists of trying to leave for a long trip combined with the extra stress of preparing our apartment for cat sitting house guests. I wished that I could help with her many tasks on the docket for tomorrow but the best I can do is listen and attempt to edit the lower priority items.

I made one more trip into the rainy night to visit the porta-potty and settled into my hard but functional bunk. I’m finishing this to the loud hum of the fan and the deep thud of rain drops against something outside. I can’t believe I have this whole place to myself. I hope I can make up for some of the poor sleep over the last three nights.

Mile 437.6 to mile 449.0 (11.4)

Total miles: 457.3

Creature feature: the usual cast of birds that I’m too worn out to detail, that chuffing dear, and Red the TN wonder dog