2019-Day 33: preoccupied edition

Last night was tricky. There were a ton of lights to contend with and I couldn’t really settle down for awhile. It hadn’t dawned on me how exposed I would feel sleeping in my tent near a road because the property feels self contained when you have a room with a door and a false sense of security. My ankle also did not love having to dangle just a bit without the extra support of a full size pillow between my legs (I use my sea to summit camping pillow as a knee pillow). I did however manage to sleep in two large chunks of time. 10:30-2 and, after getting up to pee (of course), 2:30ish to 6:20 when my alarm went off.

I got up around 6:30 and went through my morning routine. Bathroom, change of clothes, breakfast bar on the back porch even though I hadn’t stayed in the house last night. I decided for the sake of sleeping that I would go back to a room.l for my last night at the hostel. I felt like a wimp for returning to the indoors but I did it anyway.

I put on sunscreen while I waited for silverback and soul mama to be ready. They’re both hiking into Erwin today. We had an uneventful ride with Taft over to Spivey gap. I took the front seat to prevent some of the car sickness I was bound to experience on the serpentine roads. Taft dropped us off at a little gravel area on the side of the road. He pointed north and said you guys go that way. he pointed south, and said checklist, you go that way, and he drove away.

The Trail started off on a slight incline with a fair number of roots to be mindful of as the sun shone through the trees to my left.

I slowly worked my way upwards. I heard the yipping call of the pileated woodpecker nearby and stood still until I caught sight of the bird high up on the hillside moving between tree trunks. Silk tickled my legs and wrapped across my face as I continued up the trail.

At some point, I passed a Neon mushroom that looked as if it should have a cartoon expletive like splat! Or kaboom! written on it. The humidity had sweat rolling down my temples. I Nearly missed a turn because I was about to Billy goat through a somewhat overgrown grown uphill that looked like it could have been the trail. As it narrowed I stopped and turned around to assess the rocks behind me and I decided that I had gone the wrong way. A few steps backwards confirmed that the trail actually curved very easily up and over flat rocks as opposed to following the snarled edge that I had been towards.

My lower body Felt slightly less lopsided with its new accessory. I had managed to wrap the brace in a way that didn’t squeeze my forefoot as much (the site of one of the chronic injuries that kept me off trail last summer). I finally Made it to a flat breezy stretch, which felt good after the stagnant air during the climb. I tried to make phone call to Oakland but my signal wouldn’t hold and I had to keep moving. The Climb became much more of a climb and led me to a narrow trail with small views of hazy mountains.

I passed the side trail for High rock, which I skipped because silverback whined so much about how there wasn’t much of a view. I had enough walking ahead of me today to not add unsatisfying detours. Then came a nice breezy flat stretch.

Based on my impatience, I can tell that I am tired and scared about the precarious state of my ankle. I have a pretty strong fear that my foot injury will rear its head because of the weaker ankle issue.

I Passed a NOBO hiker that I met at Jerry Cabin shelter whose name I never did catch. She had already heard about my ankle story from someone else and asked how I was doing. news travels fast on the trail. I Passed a couple of hikers that I passed yesterday and said déjà vu and hello as they waited for me to go by. Not long after that, my foot hit a stick that caused another stick to move, which made me realize that IT wasn’t actually a stick.

It was a small and now cranky snake that pitched forward at me in strike mode, but I was standing far enough away to not be in danger. I waited patiently for it to continue across the trail into the brush.

As I walked, I tried my hardest not to search for pain in my foot. I was Tempted to take the brace off because it gives the illusion of my chronic foot injury but I know the brace is good for my ankle. I Ran into a veritable parade of people I’ve seen over the last few days. First the creepy-ish guy from hot springs, then a guy from jerry cabin whose name I didn’t catch, then opa and farm girl. They all asked me how I was doing, which felt kind.

I took an early Snack break with Oakland. When I got moving again, I Decided to try taking the brace off. I Went about 20 yards and immediately decided I should put it back on. While i was already Stopped, I decided to take a quick bathroom break and Managed to pee about two minutes before several NOBO Hikers came along. Close call. On my way through the woods, i felt the sting of a fly biting my calf. I Killed it with a slap and regretted my decision to not bring bug spray. I Heard the quiet searching squeak of a bird I still don’t know the name of but hear often. I decided to listen to my sports meditation to help with my anxiety. The woods were cool and lush as I made my way up to little bald.

The Climb got more intense. I tried and mostly failed to not worry about my foot starting to hurt. The pain I’m afraid of is the lateral part of my foot where the peroneal tendon wraps around the side of the foot and goes underneath to the arch. I haven’t run in almost 2 years because of that pain and it finally started to consistently recede about a month before I left for my hike.

I Listened to the meditation 5 times in a row and then walked in silence. I came to A small view and then went downward again. I think uphill is more taxing on my ankle at the moment, so I was grateful for the change in terrain.

I checked my math and was dismayed that I had covered such a short distance (4.5 miles) in three hours. It was hard not to feel dejected, but I tried to focus on the fact that I had covered distance at all rather than feel helpless about being even slower than usual without a pack. I put on my banjo gathering cd and did my best to focus on the music while I carefully made My way across the twig and root strewn trail over little bald.

I Walked along in a cranky and anxious haze. I passed the turn off for big bald shelter and slowly started to climb towards the first of the two balds on today’s agenda. I saw a beautiful sprawling tree off to my right that reminded me that I need to stop and look up every now and then and try not to anticipate pain that doesn’t exist.

It was a beautiful day for hiking and it shouldn’t matter how fast I go. I think my mind says that if I can’t make a certain speed, I’m not healthy enough to keep going.

The Trail opened up to a sweet smelling field. I Passed a gaggle of people sitting at tables and chairs in a small stand of trees. My first thought was trail magic but then I noticed all of their binoculars. I asked If they were a birding group. One of them enthusiastically said yes! And asked if I had any questions. I asked them about my mystery friendly squeaking bird but they couldn’t figure it out from my description. They each played their guesses from their bird apps. I listened to one of them that hadn’t been named for me and I said no, it’s not a junco, which impressed the talkative one of the bunch. He asked me my name and I gave him my trail name, which he got a kick out. I eventually said I had to move on and they were sad to have not solved the mystery. I asked the name of their group and they directed me to “big bald banding.” I haven’t looked it up yet, but I guess they’re identifying and tracking birds? A few hundred yards after the birders, the trail opened up to a wide field with views of the mountains on either side of me and big bald looming up ahead. I Found a good rock to sit on with a nice view for lunch.

I was sad to still have so many miles to cover after eating. I suppose the flip side is that I get to be out on this gorgeous day even longer. Two of the Birders passed me again and asked more questions. They kept moving and I made my lunch. Pony tail guy who I’ve seen on and off since hot springs passed by with a quick hello. A trio with a herding dog came through as I was putting on my brace. I made a point of saying that it was a nice day to The older man because he looked like he was eyeing me in that “what are you” way. They walked by as I put on my brace and he said slowly, “didn’t sprained it did ya?” I said only mildly and that it was doing okay. They kept walking, but then they Stopped a few yards past me. he said something to his wife. She called out to me that he had a wrap if I wanted it. I thanked him for the kind offer and said that my brace was working out well. I was surprised by the gesture given the way he’d given me the hairy eye.

I Got up from my sunny spot and kept moving across the wide open and beautiful mountain bald (picture above is looking southbound). 7.1 miles to go. I Saw Tom on top of big bald (the view is today’s top picture). We had a Quick hello and I kept moving. I Carefully tread along the lumpy well-worn path back into the woods.

A Nice strong breeze blew as I picked my way over Rocks and roots.

I eventually came to a Small spring where I stopped for water. It was Hard to ignore the brace but I continued to try my best not to imagine phantom foot pain. I Headed down for a little bit longer and then came to a beautiful breezy flat stretch where someone had weed-whacked the tall grass. I thanked those people in my head because the grass often obscured the trail, making it harder to see the footing and making my legs very itchy.

I Finally ran into brownie and dizzy! As They headed towards me, brownie said “you’re going the wrong way!” We caught up on shared trail acquaintances and they told a few stories. I finally had to cut them off so we could all keep walking. I Continued on through a beautiful sunny gradual downhill. Then I Passed through a shady overgrown section and found the perfect rock on which to take a break. I removed my brace, laid back and put my foot in the air while I ate a package of fruit snacks.

I heard voices and looked to see the Florida boys, who I met on spring mountain, walking towards me. I heard one of them say “is that checklist?” And I said to the sky, “yes it is.” They stopped and checked in with me. We are connected on social media so they knew about my slack packing endeavors. They’re interested in trying it themselves and might do it at uncle Johnny’s in Erwin. I also might do it for one more day once I get there. They kept going north and I put my brace back on. The trail gradually descended and eventually opened up to a slightly less claustrophobic forest. I passed a non-ironic sign that said nature trail and laughed out loud to myself. Then I turned my banjo music back on and continued south.

The trail kept heading downhill slightly with the occasional long switch back and eventually into green flat stretch. Something about the brace was slightly more comfortable since my newest application but I daydreamed about Oakland sending me a couple of braces that I have at home. I was Passed by a trio with a dog that I saw earlier on their way up to the bald. I watched them disappear down the trail as we Went through wide open slight roller coaster stretch.

Found this view crossing under a set of Power lines.

I Came to a small meadow right before the junction with a couple of driveways and heard a new bird but I couldn’t spot it in the high tree canopy. The trail crossed the intersection and took a short upward turn that eventually dumped me out into an open field that was beautiful but also a little hot. An older gentleman hiked past me and asked if he had seen me on the bald. I’m a little skittish of lone male strangers so I gave a noncommittal answer that required no follow up and we said a polite goodbye.

I had hoped to see a new bird or two in the open field but that sadly didn’t happen. I heard a cat bird right as I went back into the shady woods. Then came a somewhat pesky downhill with roots and loose rocks. I could hear the highway noise because I-26 is just compass west of here and the trail parallels it down to sams gap. The highway noise faded a bit and the trail evened out to a friendlier grade with better footing. I contemplated how I should navigate the next couple of days. Should I take a zero on Tuesday at uncle Johnny’s? Should I take tomorrow off to be super conservative? I also daydreamed about what to eat for dinner. I’m not sure whether I should try to eat through the dinners from my food bag or if I can continue with my veggie burger habit. I Walked along the still and shady side of hill for awhile until I eventually Rounded a corner to sunshine and a strong breeze.

The Highway noise got louder as I made my way through a gate that marked the boundary for national forest land. I finally saw a parking lot through the trees.

Right before the woods ended, I found a paper bag with a smiley face on it that had a milieu of hiker snacks.

It’s a terrible way to leave trail magic in bear country, but it was a nice surprise. I did my part and took a Welch’s fruit snack and some mini Oreos. I sat in the parking lot and ate my newfound snacks while feeling glad that today was over. it seemed to have gone well enough despite my critical attitude and somewhat constant anxiety. Taft arrived about 15 minutes later in a different car. I remarked on the fanciness and he told me it was 11 years old. Good ole Subarus.

We got back to the ranch around 5:15. everything was about to get a lot harder if I didn’t make my way towards food, but I wanted to get my laundry started so I didn’t have to stay up or wait for other people’s loads. I went straight for my pile of smelly clothes and took it with me to the shower. After my shower, I changed into my long johns and an unflattering button down that was in the bathhouse vanity for expressly the purpose of needing something to wear while laundering all of your clothes.

I set my laundry to wash and then put together my dinner. Another night of microwaved veggie burger with barbecue sauce, a giant plate of salad greens and half an avocado. I saw chuck wagon while I was in the common area and he made a comment about how slackpacking would be great but he can’t afford to do it. I felt like such a money wasting yuppie as I went back to the rental house to prepare my salad after which I would hang out on my king sized bed and ice my ankle that I’m healing by way of slack packing for days on end.

I sat out on the back porch with my dinner and made a face time call to Oakland. Then I went about packing up my collapsed tent, which involved rooting around to make sure everything was taken out of it. It was A tedious process with no poles to act as the tent peaks, but it didn’t take very long to break everything down. I folded up Taft’s tarp and put it in his barn/workshop. It’s hard to say if he’ll ever find it again based on the state of things.

Then I went back to my room to ice my ankle and prep my bags for tomorrow. I’m going to bring lighter food that will take up less space in my little day pack. Then came a phone call to uncle johnny’s to reserve another room, some family texting, and blog zombie time. The never ending “behind” feeling is hard to shake, but I’ll do my best. I’m finishing this to the sound of the AC and the silence of an otherwise empty house. I’m the only person in here tonight. It was Slightly creepy but far less creepy than sleeping in my tent outside. Ah the false sense of security a door can provide. I’m finishing this to the sound of the creek and the silence of an empty house.

Mile 319.6 to mile 333.1 (13.5)

Total miles: 341.4

Creature feature: a sandy colored toad, an eastern towhee, juncos, a few thrushes, and the snake!

2019-Day 32: slack-packing edition

I had Another luxurious night of sleep in the king bed. I’m sad to give up the space but it makes a lot more sense to switch to tenting. I made the long six foot walk to the bathroom and then put together my breakfast of yogurt/banana and a cliff bar and ate on the back porch. The yogurt unfortunately sat a little funny but I ate it anyway. Then I changed into hiking clothes and finalized my day pack and my regular pack so it could sit out on the porch all morning. I attended to my feet (body glide) and put on my brace. Then I walked over to the main building and waited for the others to be ready. Opa and farm girl are heading out from sam’s gap so I will walk south to make the rides easier. I won’t see them again because they’re ending their section hike on Monday in Erwin. I imagine with my slowdown I might also not see Rosie again so I said goodbye before I hopped in the car to head to the gap.

Sara Dropped us off at Sam’s Gap a little after 8. I walked under the highway and up a little hill that quickly tucked me into the woods. I could hear the sounds of I-26 as I labored up the hill. I Saw a black-and-white Warbler land on a tree trunk right in front of me and stopped to watch it hop around. The pain in my foot is so long been my foot and it’s hard not to imagine that my foot is the thing that hurts.

I felt so weightless without my pack that it was hard to moderate my pace, but I didn’t want to overdo my Ankle right away so I did my best to walk a casual speed as the highway sounds slowly receded and the birds gave their morning report. I looked down early on in my hike and found that I had picked up a passenger:

Most of today is supposed to be rolling hills which is good because per the usual flats are one of the harder sections for me. The woods were green with a slight breeze and tall groundcover. The sun filtered in from my right as I waded through tall grass next to an old barbed wire fence.

I Took a short detour to the view at high rock, which was not a very hospitable point. The rock was covered in roots and there wasn’t really much flat surface. Then it was back to rolling Hills with sweat slowly dripping down much of my face despite the perfect hiking temperature. I went down a Gradual descent that passed a trail intersection where I decided to take advantage of the extra space and took a short pee break. Then I resumed the rolling hills and soft, mostly even footing.

Around the five mile mark, I Stopped at a small unofficial campsite and had a large snack. I always forget how good Payday bars are. Tom, the hiker I had breakfast with in hot springs, came walking along and stopped for a minute.

I mentioned my current hiccup. He asked where I was staying and mentioned potentially stopping at the same place. I regaled him with the pizza and the pulled pork that everyone has been consuming, both of which piqued his interest before he continued down the trail.

I Felt a little sick after my break. The pepperoni and cheese stick may have been too much food with an entire payday bar. I Called Oakland but I lost my signal pretty quickly. I went Up and over a hill that came out to a slightly open area with a view of the mountains to my right (today’s top picture) and berry patch lining either side the trail.

I received a text from North star asking me to transfer the Uncle Johnny’s hostel reservation to her name so I made a quick phone call with the randomly great phone service I had gotten back and took care of that logistical detail before getting back on the move.

A few minutes later, i Ran into Chuck wagon coming down the hill towards me. It’s always very confusing for NOBOs to see people coming south that used to be heading north. I gave him a quick rundown of my situation and asked how he was doing. he wished me well told me to stay out of trouble a couple of times. It reminded me of my grandmothers both telling me to “be good” at the end of our phone calls. Chuck wagon and I bid each other farewell and went our separate ways.

A little while later I passed an unmarked spring and stopped to assess my water situation. I only had 2.4 miles to go, so I decided to skip the water. Even if I drink everything in my daypack, I only have a little over an hour of hiking left and will be fine. Day hiking is so different from backpacking. The Pressure to be prepared is so much lower, at least when you’re hiking in predictable woods close to roads on a day like today.

I ran across two northbound weekend hikers with a couple of dogs. I saw them from a distance and they stopped short to put one of the dogs on leash. I called out that they didn’t need to do so for my benefit but they did it anyway. when they got closer I realized why. The dog leaned against the leash, front paws barely grazing the ground with pure unadulterated yipping excitement to get closer to me. I imagine if they had left him offleash he would’ve jumped all over me. The trail then led me downward, twisting through thick groundcover.

As I Wound my way down, I Could hear water rushing far below me and wondered if that was the waterfall that a northbound hiker named John had mentioned when I passed him much earlier in my hike. The stream I came upon a little while later didn’t seem to be much of a fall.

I eventually passed the actual waterfall a little while later. The footing started to degrade the last couple of miles, becoming slightly rockier and more uneven, but I took my time and tried my best to make flat contact with each step. I ran into a man I’ve been calling the ponytail hiker that I have seen on and off since Neel gap. He creeps me out a bit but he’s nice enough. We exchanged hellos at a small stream crossing and he jokingly told me I was going the wrong way. I gave him the brief rundown then wished him a good day of hiking on this sunny Memorial day weekend. The trail led me continuously down to a small road. I heard dogs barking close by and happened upon a note to hikers from the neighbors asking for our help bringing their dogs back if we see them. I crossed over a small stream and the road and went back into the woods.

I went up a short, hot climb to a barbed wire turnstile that I think might mark the TN/NC border.

I could hear the road and I checked to see that it was 0.2 miles away. I decided to go ahead and call Taft a little early. I’d walked a few yards down the trail, when I realized I’d told Taft the wrong pickup location. He’d mentioned having to pick up another guy at the same place I would be. Then it dawned on me that he was probably referring to Tom and that meant I had told Taft the wrong intersection. I had to call him back and give him my proper location, which was devils fork road.

Then I sat on the side of the gravel parking lot and watched the cars go by while a light breeze blew through the trees. My ankle ached but there hadn’t been any sharp pains my entire hike which I took as a good sign. I’m going to continue to baby it and slack pack the next two days. Hopefully it will continue to cooperate.

Taft picked me up around 1:40 and we made small through the 15 minute drive back to the hostel.Taft kindly retrieved a tarp from the barn and I put it down on the gravel hammock pad. We both made comments about how it seemed like rain and sure enough, 15 minutes after he dropped off, we a had a passing rain shower.

I walked over to the rental house and made myself a pb wrap which I ate with chip and a soda, experiencing non-recycler’s guilt with every sip. There’s no recycling service around here so they sadly don’t recycle the zillions of soda cans that hikers go through. After lunch, I went through the tedious but ultimately successful process of setting up my tent on the gravel. Then I set up my bedding while low-key freaking out about whether the double layer of tarp would be enough to protect my tent because I could see the pointy impressions of the gravel wherever I put weight down. Both my mother and Oakland assured me that it was probably fine.

I laid in my tent with ice on my ankle and worked on a blog post. The afternoon heat and prone position eventually got the best of me and I fell asleep for about a half an hour. When I woke up, my left eye was super cranky for some reason. I don’t know if i got gravel dust in it or if it was the gnat that kamikazed into it while I hiked. Around 5:45, I got up and made myself another plate of salad greens with avocado, grabbed my bag of chips and water bottle and went down to the communal space. I was allowed to leave my food bag and cold food in the rental house so I don’t have to worry about where to store it outside.

Tom, chuck wagon, silver back and bright side were all hanging out somewhat silently and awkwardly. The office played on the TV and silverback and I laughed at the nonsense while chuck wagon tried to figure out how to work the microwave. I offered chips to the room. Tom took a hearty portion and proceeded to eat every single one of them with his mouth wide open. I nearly stole them back so I wouldn’t have to listen to him crunch anymore.

After dinner, I begrudgingly took a shower at Oakland’s urging. Then we had a FaceTime call before she headed off to give a fancy science dinner to a group of parents from her school. I’m finishing this to the sound of the creek, someone clanging silverware down at a cabin barbecue, and an airplane passing overhead. Hopefully Sara was right about the lack of bears because I have my toiletry bag and food bowl in my tent. Chances are high that I will actually be too paranoid to leave them here and will stow them in the house with my food bag. My left eye continues to tear up. Fingers crossed for a decent night of sleep in my new abode, through which I can see this cheerful string of lights that hopefully don’t keep me awake.

Mile 311.1 to mile 319.5 (8.5)

Total miles: 327.9

Creature feature: a few chipmunks, the black and white warbler, robins, and a dog in one of the rental cabins that was too far away for a picture.

2019-Day 31: RICE edition

I slept like the dead until my watch alarm went off at 6am. I always forget that I have to physically turn it off or it will go off at 6am everyday until its little engine dies. I should correct myself, I slept like the careful dead because I was very aware of turning over and keeping my ankle on the gigantic pillow I had under the covers. My king size bed comes with KING SIZE pillows that are perfect for elevating my leg and for nighttime leg/foot pillows.

I’m going to continue to give myself the treat of not going over every single detail

of my zero day, but I’ll give you the highs and lows and probably too many details

because I am terrible at moderation.

I had breakfast on the picnic table out back with the rushing creek as my soundtrack. then I wandered over to the communal space/main building that houses an eating/microwave cooking area, couches, and a “front desk” all in one room and a small side room with resupply options and freezer food. A gaggle of hikers were getting ready to head to Spivey gap for various slack packing endeavors. I sat around watching the shit show of several young dude bros drag themselves around trying to get ready while holding up the entire operation.

While I watched, I asked Sara and Taft if they knew where I could buy an ankle brace. There’s basically nothing around here so any option I had would be in Erwin. A German hiker named granger offered me her ankle sleeve which I tried on. it felt like a tight sock that would do little in the way of actually supporting my ankle. I heard Taft say he needed to go to Walmart for Gatorade and I swooped into his conversation asking if it would be possible for me to tag along. I didn’t really want to spend two hours roaming around the winding country roads, but I also didn’t want to embark on my slack packing plan with just a disposable ace bandage.

In the midst of all of this, an adorable cattle dog wandered around. I obviously pounced on the dog and took copious pictures while petting it incessantly.

The boys finally deemed themselves ready so we all piled into the van. I sat on the first bench behind the passenger and still managed to get queasy because the roads are just that windy. The dog (named udo I think) clamored up and over me to squish himself into the seat between me and another hiker whose name I didn’t get. Here’s a couple of selfies I took for Oakland that I will share with you so you can see what a van full of hikers looks like.

I held onto my cookies (barely) for the drive to Spivey gap, bid farewell to my new bestie, and rode onward to Erwin with Sara. We dropped the packs at uncle Johnny’s and I saw a pair of hikers I hadn’t seen since Hiawassee (the couple who I went to breakfast with and whose names escape me).

On to walmart we went, where I bought GREEN THINGS, yogurt, a few candy bars, and a halfway decent ankle brace. I was beside myself with joy over the food. I loathed the idea of eating only packaged food for the next several days while I use this as home base, but I knew they didn’t go to Walmart very often. Lucky me. I also bought an older Australian hiker named Rosie a packaged salad because she too is craving greens and will be staying here again tonight.

We got gas on the way out and as she got back in the car, Sara said in a forlorn voice, “wellll I have to make one more stop before we head back. I have to go to pals to get a cheeseburger.” I laughed and agreed wholeheartedly with the extra trip. I ate my feelings and got a cheeseburger and fries, which were really good.

We got back a little before noon. then, in an effort to not obsess over how my ankle will heal (or not), I went into blogging mode with my foot elevated and periodically icing for 15 minutes at a time. I only surfaced for a visit from Runa, to have a short phone call with Oakland, and to test my tent stakes out on the hammock gravel area (more on that in a bit). Runa decided to come to the hostel for lunch and to check on me which was very kind of her. I walked down to the main building right as she pulled in with Sara. She heated up a pizza and drank a coke while we caught up on trail life a bit and then talked about real life things for a little while.

Runa left around 2:30 and back to blogging I went. I sat on the back porch, scratched new bug bites, which is sad because my legs were just starting to get better, and tapped away on my tiny screen. The pictures uploaded much faster outside and I would much rather be outside, so I lived on the porch for awhile.

Around 6, I made myself a giant plate of greens with half an avocado and a few chips. I brought that down to the main building with Rosie’s salad and a bit of snickers for dessert. Rosie was finally back from her 13 mile day and she was overjoyed to see her salad. I offered her the other half of my avocado which she gladly accepted. I heated up a veggie burger from the freezer stash and ate that with my salad. It ALMOST felt like a real dinner. The only thing missing were raisins and olive oil for the salad.

I talked to the handful of other hikers who had all been there the night before. I think nature’s inn does a fair amount of slack packing. Or maybe I just caught a glut of slack packers coming through.

After dinner, I went back to my room to organize my day pack and my full time pack. Tomorrow I’m going to switch over to tenting to save money for however long I’m going to be here. The room is too expensive to stay in the whole time and I would rather sleep outside than in a stuffy bunk room, so I’m going to try to set my tent up in the hammocking area. Rosie set her tent up there and it seems nice and flat. The only downside is the gravel covering the ground. I’ve asked to borrow a tarp because I don’t carry a ground cover for my tent. I tried my stakes out to see if they would reach dirt underneath the gravel and I think it will work. It won’t be the best pitch ever but it’s a covered area so that shouldn’t matter much.

Fingers crossed for my plan to slack pack 8.5 miles tomorrow. If that goes well, I will slack pack the next section from Spivey gap to sam’s gap. If THAT goes well I will slack pack from Spivey gap to uncle johnnys on the edge of Erwin. If tomorrow doesn’t go well, I will scale back and take another rest day. I’m finishing this to the sound of the AC and the occasional crinkle of my ice bag.

Mile 311.1 to mile 311.1 (0)

Total miles: 319.4

Creature feature: that adorable cattle dog, a dog that I thought was a stray but is a neighbor’s dog, and a couple of cardinals

2019-Day 30: here we go again edition

Last night was not my best night of sleep and definitely not the worst. I felt like I was going to roll out of the side of my tent every time I turned over onto my left side, so I slept either on my right or on my back trying not to move. It did indeed smell like privy most of the night and a hiker came through around 11:30pm with his headlamp bobbing around casting a weird light on my tent. I Woke up for good around 6am when my watch alarm went off. I Changed into my hiking clothes and made my way to the privy, which was thankfully not as fly-ridden as it had been the evening before. I Kept my red light on to be visible to oncomers. Then I went back to my site and packed up everything except my tent before getting my food and toiletry bag down. The cables are squeaky and I was trying to be polite for the shelter sleepers who didn’t seem to be stirring yet.

I Put in my contacts and packed up the last few things before heading down to the shelter area to eat breakfast and fix my feet. It was a Pretty quiet breakfast crowd and I did my best to avoid getting into conversation with creepy dude. There’s something off about him that I can’t place, which makes me feel bad because he probably seems like a polite upstanding guy to everyone around me.

Around 7:20, I said goodbye to northstar as she sat in the vestibule of her tent and walked into the misty woods. I passed several great tent sites as I left the campsite and cursed myself for being so myopic last night. I could have had softer ground with more privacy and no privy smell if I’d just walked 40 yards down the trail instead of circling back and forth being out of sorts.

This morning started with a gradual climb up to big butt (not kidding). The footing was soft with the occasional switchback as droplets of moisture fell from the trees in a strong breeze. I worried that it was going to start raining but it didn’t seem to be new precipitation. I Realized about a half mile in that I forgot to sign the shelter log, again. I had intended to leave a note for dizzy and brownie since it’s fun to see one’s name in the shelter log.

I Cursed the wet grass as it slid against my shins and soaked the tops of my perfectly dry shoes. I Came to a foggy field.

A Small Bunny erupted out of the tall grass and bounded ahead of me. Thick Berry patches lined either side of the trail. I Heard a shrill call and looked up to see an indigo bunting on a tall briar. It flew off in a flash of blue and landed a few yards up on the other side of the trail. While I stood to watch it, I also saw a cedar waxwing. The waxwing flew right behind me and sat on a briar for a minute before dashing up to a tree limb. Sadly I couldn’t get its picture before it was on the move. I can still remember the first time I saw one of those on bald pate mountain in Maine. A hummingbird zoomed by as I stood making notes about the birds. As soon as I started walking again, I ran into an older man sitting in an open tent with a small black and white dog. I had been standing about 20 feet from him without even knowing it.

I searched the field for more birds as I made my way up the trail. I was Sad to go back into the woods as the trail took a turn. I walked over slick rocks and thought about how exciting it was to see the bunting. My right foot slid off the side a small rock and my ankle rolled to the outside with a quick pop and a sharp pain. And then I badly rolled my trick ankle. My heart raced and I immediately starting talking myself down from freaking out about it. I kept slowly moving and tried to assess the damage. There was a sharp sensation in the tendons in front of my outside ankle bone. I decided to stop to do a stirrup taping to give it some support. When I stood up and put weight on it, I could tell it wasn’t going to be enough of a fix. The pain was still sharp.

Silverback came along as I stood up from taping my ankle. I told him what happened and he brushed it off saying he had sprained his ankle so many times that he just walks through it. I agreed while also thinking to myself that I felt a pain that probably wouldn’t appreciate being walked on for very long. I asked him to remind me where he planned to exit the trail that day because I had heard him say something about making a stop today. He said he planned to go to devils fork to stay at nature’s inn hostel. I checked my map and was crestfallen at the 7.5 miles before the road he’d mentioned. Counting the half mile i’d already gone that would be about 8 miles on a mildly sprained ankle.

The trail of course devolved into a rock pile for the next couple hundred yards. I made my through it trying not to take any precarious steps that relied heavily on my right foot while also trying to walk as normally as I could. As I crossed another field, silverback stopped ahead of me and said “you know I have an ace bandage. Do you want it?” I immediately said yes and watched sheepishly as he dismantled his entire pack to get to the ace bandage in the bottom of the bag. I stopped a few minutes later and sat on a wrapped ankle. My ankle immediately felt more stable.

As I walked slowly down trail, I called Oakland. She expressed sympathy and helped keep things in perspective. I had already started thinking about the people I’ve known in the past who had to slow down for an injury. Specifically, halfway came to mind. He had terrible shin pain heading into Delaware water gap and I think he might have stayed there for 2-3 extra days to give his legs some rest. He ended up finishing his through hike. I kept him in mind as Oakland mentioned other people she’d read about from my 2017 trip and how this isn’t necessarily a hike ending event. I’ve had a couple of activity ending injuries in the last two years that it’s difficult to not go down the worst case scenario rabbit hole.

I’d been walking about 4 miles and couldn’t find anywhere to sit so I made do with a log that acted as an erosion barrier. I ate a snack and put my foot up. Then I kept moving. The pain in my ankle was noticeable but not awful. I made sure to take careful steps and the trail was very forgiving. I went downhill through rhododendrons and then back up. The sweat poured down my face despite the slowness of my pace. I kept Oakland on the phone on and off for about an hour because the company was reassuring.

Northstar finally passed me and I informed her of my new development. I told her to keep the reservation at uncle johnny’s for herself. She offered to walk with me but I declined but I know myself and I will feel pressured to walk too fast if I have company. I saw her again at the shelter where she shared chocolate and expressed a bit of homesickness she’d had earlier in the day.

I sat at the picnic table with my foot up and ate a couple of squares of chocolate. Then it was back to it with 2.7 miles to the road. There were a few stressful Rocky sections interspersed with calm rhododendron tunnels.

I Could periodically hear dogs barking far away in the distance. The trail was a bit of a roller coaster with a slight predominance of downhill. My ankle did not enjoy the flat stretches but the ups and downs seemed to agree with it well enough.

I came to a set of log steps that I hoped would lead me up to a parking lot, but it sadly dumped me onto just another stretch of trail.

I made it to the road around 12:45 and saw an older man sitting on the ground with his phone. A car pulled up and he hopped to his feet. In the event that the car happened to be the hostel shuttle, I picked up my pace ever so slightly. When I saw him get in the front seat I assumed he was getting picked up by family, but I asked them if they were from hostel just in case. He said no and I asked if he had phone service because I happened to look at my phone and see 1 bar of 1x service. Not even close to enough to make a call. He said no to the service and asked if everything was okay. I mentioned needing to get picked up to go to a hostel because I had rolled my ankle. He and his partner kindly offered to take me or help me find it, saying that they’d seen one nearby but I knew that the hostel I wanted was not the one closest to that intersection. Right as I was about to look up the address in guthook, I noticed 1 bar of LTE service. I jumped on my phone to see if I could place a call before the signal decided to vanish.

A man picked up and when I identified myself as a hiker who had no reservation but had a turned ankle with the hopes

of staying there tonight, he said “oh yeah. We can come get you. Someone’ll come by in a few minutes.” He confirmed my location (they pick up from 3 intersections) and that was that. The couple in their car wished me well and drove away. I sat on the ground, put my foot up on my pack and waited for my ride.

Sara, one of two owners, picked me up about 15 minutes later. She drove up with her windows down and when she turned the car off she said, “hey sweetie, I heard you have a bum ankle. Let’s get you out of here.” And she was just as friendly and warm the entire ride there. Her accent brought me back to NC in a way that doesn’t always happen (she’s originally from Asheville) and the vibrant green countryside was beautiful.

When we got to nature’s inn, Sara laid out the sleeping options of the bunk house or or king room. They also have adorable little cabins with screened porches, but none of them were available.

I Checked out the bunkhouse (not pictures) and decided to spring for the king, partially because of the distance over the uneven grass and partially because the bunkhouse was small and stuffy. I Asked about ice before we left the main building. Sara gave me a gallon sized ziplock and directed me to get ice in the freezer at the rental house. I Took my pack over to the “main house” which has 3 rooms, a kitchen, living room and porch.

I Went back over to buy a soda to go with lunch. Then I Made myself a peanut butter wrap and took it outside with ice bag. I Wrapped the ace bandage around the ice, put my foot up in chair and called Oakland. I Whined to her (AGAIN) and she was supportive. I Texted all of my parents to let them know about the incident and my plan to slowdown. Then I Went inside and put my foot up on a pillow. I Phone zombied for a little while and Nearly fell asleep.

Around 5, I walked over to see about dinner food. There were section hikers eating pork sandwiches. I had a black bean burger, microwave velveeta shells and cheese, and an entire bag of microwaveable Brussels sprouts. They were Mushy and there were far too many of them, but I ate them anyway. Then I had an ice cream drum stick and was thoroughly stuffed. I Spoke to Taft about shuttling and slack packing. For those of you who have no idea what that means, it’s basically day hiking where you carry water and food, get dropped off at one point and walk to a second point where you get picked up and go back to your hostel for the night. You can also have the shuttle drop your main pack off at your destination and keep going from there. Taft Explained the system and the prices to me. In theory I could slack pack my way to Erwin in 3 distinct sections. That would mean 4 nights at nature’s inn, which is a pricey prospect in my current luxurious digs.

At dinner, Opa (one of the section hikers I met at Jerry’s cabin shelter) offered me biofreeze. Everyone expressed Sympathy for the ankle and wished me well as they mowed through their pork sandwiches. After dinner, I Walked back to my room and iced again. Took more meds. Then I Sat on back porch to get some outside time. I always want to be outside and backpacking makes walls feel even more suffocating than usual. Then I went back Inside to ice again. I took advantage of the extra time and phone signal and Called my mom. Then I Called Oakland and went to bed. All the while trying to be optimistic while having no clue if I have done damage that won’t work itself out with moderate rest and continued activity.

I’m Finishing this to the sound of AC, the slight rush of the creek outside because I opened my windows, and a buzzing that could be in my ears or it could be the lamp.

Mile 301.8 to mile 311.1 (9.3)

Total miles: 319.4

Creature feature: the indigo bunting, cedar waxwing, and 2 bunnies.

2019-Day 29: 300 mile billy goat edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

e

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

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

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

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

Mile 285.9 to mile 301.8 (15.9)

Total miles: 310.1

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

2019-Day 28: oatmeal cream pie edition

*today’s 8.5 mile slack-pack went well. I will continue to slack pack the next two days to keep the load off my ankle, so I will have a bit more time for setting up blog posts. Side note: the odd capitalization comes from dictating and not having the patience to fix every error. The lack of consistent commas also comes from weariness of the tiny screen. Sorry about it.*

~~~~~~~~~~~~

As previously mentioned, I Went to bed way too late and i was woken up by hikers prepping to leave around 6am. Thankfully I went back to sleep until my alarm around 7:15. It was hard to get out of bed, but I forced myself to muster after a couple of minutes of being a phone zombie. I changed into my hiking clothes and packed up my bag while Runa periodically stopped in to chat. She decided to take her additional zero day after all. She apparently got a pretty rotten night of sleep, wants to give her calf a break and catch up on more of her YouTube journaling. (“Vlogging” as the kids call it).

Northstar, Runa and I had breakfast at the diner with that hiker named Tom who I met at Pecks corner or somewhere in the smokies. I ordered a sausage and cheese biscuit with 1 pancake because I couldn’t resist the siren call of the fluffy pancake. I felt pretty rotten by the time I finished but it tasted good! About halfway through breakfast Runa noticed that I wasn’t wearing my watch and asked if I had left it on my bed frame where I’d had it this morning. DOH. That meant I had an extra walk back to the hostel and then back into town. It’s not a huge distance but that’s an extra half mile on pavement that I could have lived without. Runa offered to run the errand for me but it was too much to ask. I Left my pack at the diner to keep my feet happier and made the sunny trek back to the hostel. The sheets on my bed had been changed already but my watch remained resting on the frame, untouched. I put it on and went back into town.

Runa kindly carried my package over to the post office so I didn’t have to juggle it with my poles. We took a picture together before parting ways. Northstar (far right) is heading to off to hike, Runa is hanging out for another day and I went to the post office. I Mailed my sweatshirt and my old gaiters home to California. I’ve been carrying them since fontana because I didn’t have the heart to get rid of them. They’re my “thousand mile gaiters.” Aka my original gaiters from 2017.

After sending out the package, I sat at the post office floor for a few minutes writing postcards until the library opened at 10am. I had plans with Oakland to FaceTime before I crammed in another hour of blog time and hit the trail. Older people occasionally walked in and out without so much as glancing at me on the floor.

After my short call with Oakland, Runa and I worked alongside each other at the library for about an hour, periodically fussing at the computers because the internet wasn’t being as cooperative as it had the day before. I had hoped to get through two more posts and barely managed to finish one and a few notes for my zero day. I bid farewell to Runa and refilled my water bottle in the bathroom. I sat out front and finished my batch of post cards that I then walked over to the post office and dropped in the blue box out front.

I made one more phone call to Oakland in which I got super sad to head out of town. The inconsistency of communication has been isolating and frustrating. I’m not out here to be sanctimoniously cut off from the world and when I can’t reach Oakland, I get pretty cranky about it. We finally ended our call, her sniffling because of a headcold and me sniffling because my face was leaking.

At 12:20, I got up from the bench, donned my newly laden pack and made my way down the street. The trail runs right through the Main Street of hot springs so I followed it across the railroad tracks and out of town. It’s the latest I’ve ever started hiking and I already felt a bit overwhelmed by what time I would be arriving in camp after my 11ish mile day.

The trail crossed the French broad river bridge and then tucked down below the bridge past a campground and a confusing tiny home community. It looked kind of like affordable housing or maybe a poorly outfitted cabin rental?

There were several hikers camped along the river bank, which the trail followed for a little ways. The French broad river roared next to me as I picked my way through short rocky sections and longer sandy stretches.

I eventually turned left and climbed up into the steamy woods. I Walked up the dusty trail past scraggly yellow paintbrush flowers reaching for the sun. I kept trying to get myself in the right mindset for the effort in front of me, but the whining overpowered my attempts to focus. I was tired and inexplicably sad.

As I walked, I Heard a scratching noise in the leaves and looked up to see a pileated woodpecker go from the ground to the base of a tree trunk. I Watched him until he flew a little up the hill and pecked around in the leaves. He was close enough to sort of catch on video and I stopped recording RIGHT before he flew to the base of a tree. I was Sad about the timing because it would have been the perfect wingspan shot. I Watched the woodpecker make its way up to the top of a tree and out of sight. I silently thanked the woodpecker for reminding why I’m here.

I continued up the hill with Sweat forming under the layer of sunscreen i’d applied before leaving town. The trail took me past several different overlooks as it rose in elevation. Sweat Poured down my face in a matter of minutes. I Probably shouldn’t have waited so late to start. The Climb flattened out for a brief moment and then continued gradually upward.

I heard loud trampling noises in the dry leaves far below me that I eventually realized was turkeys based on the occasional squeak and the flash of brown that I saw. A few minutes later, i Heard them again as I walked along the sort of flat stretch and finally caught sight of them way down in the woods while a black and blue butterfly floated around my head.

I Popped out onto a dry open area with the trail running just a little below the actual Ridgeline. I could still hear the roar of the French broad River from this far away. Thankfully I went back under tree cover pretty quickly. The Temperature difference was Stark and I welcomed the slight breeze in the shade. My phone Signal improved and I received news that one of my friends had her baby! Then back into the cellphone wormhole I went as the trail dipped down into a shady rhododendron patch.

The Trail finally turned away from the river and continued downward. The sound of motorcycles slowly faded into the distance and was replaced by wind and birdsong. I Rounded a sunny, dry corner and heard the dribbling sound of water which surprised me. I stopped and slowly got water from a trickle coming out of the hillside. I left my scoop inside the little spring and periodically emptied it into my squeeze bag.

I also dumped water over my head and a little bit on my wrists and I drank close to an entire bottle before topping off. I double checked the water sources throughout the day. None of them are great in terms of reliability but I know if I carry extra water weight right now, I’ll never get where I’m going, so I gambled with just two full bottles. When I started moving again, the wetness of my hair gave the illusion of a cool breeze for a few minutes. My heart is very much not in it today and I daydreamed about going home to Oakland for a couple of weeks until she’s done with school and can join me. I won’t do that but the thought was more tempting today than I’d like to admit.

I Entered a slightly shadier and greener section of woods that was a relief after the short oven-like stint i had just completed.

I Wound through rhododendrons and heard the ping of a raptor far overhead. A little while later, I Saw a wide open spot next to the trail and decided to both pee and take a snack break. I Plopped down on my zseat in the dry leaves, took my shoes off, and watched the ants move through the brush while I forced my food down. I Didnt stay long because I still had a long way to go before dark and I wanted to make the side trip to the rich mountain fire tower. I had Considered camping there for sunset/sunrise but Murphy, the triple crown* hiker from last night’s dinner, said section hikers had been harassed by a bear at that tent site. No thanks. There will be other chances for sunsets and sunrises.

I Got up from my short break and slowly went on my way. about 50 yards later, I reached a dammed pond where an older hiker was eating noodles on a bench. I remarked about how I’d taken a break in the leaves because I didn’t know this existed. He said it seemed like a good place to take a break to him! I Walked a little ways and sat on a different bench. As I watched the bugs flit off the water’s surface, I Saw a fish longer than my forearm swimming below the surface. It made me think of the days of fishing with my grandparents. They used to bring Fresca, a sprite-like soda that will forever make me think of hot buggy days on Gaston lake. I saw Dragon flies with blocky black-tinted wings and I heard the occasional singular chuck of a bullfrog.

After about 5 minutes, I got back on my feet. The trail took me Up a short climb through a field that popped out onto a dirt road with confusing markings but I managed to make the necessary left turn after going the wrong way.

I Followed the berry patch-lined road for about a quarter of a mile and then dipped back into the woods and snaked along the trail, the road sometimes within sight and other times blocked by a thick wall of rhododendrons. I was Grateful for the soft footing and for not immediately climbing up after leaving the road. I Don’t have much stamina today so I will take any easy stretch I can get. I went through a Dense rhododendron tunnel in which A scrabbling towhee startled me.

I Heard a siren in the distance and road noise from large vehicles. I figured I Must be close to a highway. The trail Passed over a small stream where I decided to get more water even though I didn’t really need it. It Seemed irresponsible to pass up the opportunity on such a hot day. I Drank about half a bottle and dumped more on my head before filling my bottles.

As I walked along the Cackle of a pileated woodpecker blended in with the whine of a large truck. I Popped out of the woods onto a paved road that crossed over a one lane overpass. There was a major 3 lane road below me.

A blue tailed lizard scittered ahead of me along the pavement. It felt like we were crossing the bridge together. Then I took a left turn and went back into the woods. The trail was Hot as it twisted and turned through woods with little shade. I Met a man who I had seen at the hostel named Chuck wagon sitting on a log for taking a break. He had a long scraggly beard and a bucket hat.

Flashes of the fatality two weeks ago definitely crossed my mind when I saw him sitting there from a distance. He asked me where I was from and I said Oakland. he said that he had been there in 65 on his way to ’Nam. We commiserated about the heat and I asked how he was doing. He’s stopping in a little less than 2 miles so I am hopeful that his day will soon be over.

The trail was a Roller coaster through a shadier section with a slight breeze. I Sat on a log step in the trail and shoved a few snacks in my mouth with my pack still on. As I stood up,I reminded myself to follow my rule of “always take my pack off for a break, no matter how short.” There’s something relieving about getting that weight off,even if it’s for two minutes.

About a quarter mile before the fire tower detour I ran into a hiker named wrong way. She was wearing a green dress and startled when she heard me. Her startled scared me and we both were a bit out of sorts for a second. I passed her as the trail climbed gradually up rich mountain.

The Fire tower trail was almost completely straight up and I regretted my choice to bring my entire pack, but I’m still paranoid about leaving it to the bears. I met a jolly older man on his way down from the tower who said he’d seen a couple of bears north of here. More evidence that I should camp around other people and forego the tower plan.

I put my pack down at the base of the newly renovated tower and Took my food bag up to the top where I called Oakland. It’s been a clingy day and I figured this might be my last chance for decent service. Unfortunately wrong way also made the trip to the tower so I Had company for most of my phone call. I apologized for being on the phone when she arrived but she waved me off. She then sat about 2 feet away from me while I was on the phone which was awkward, but I did my best. The tower had a see-through metal grating floor that was a little disorienting to look through.

I left before wrong way and took a quick pee break on my way back to the trail while I knew she was occupied and not likely to walk up on me. The trail then went downhill for an unfortunate amount of time at a grade that aggravated my knees. I passed a nice campsite with a nearby stream that I totally would’ve stayed at were it not for the bear activity. My knees ached as the hill persisted. The Trail eventually ran along side a dirt road that it then crossed and went back into the woods. Northstar texted me to ask whether I was coming to the shelter tonight and I confirmed my late arrival. I also passed a goliath mound of somewhat fresh bear poop:

As I walked, I heard a car drive by on a dirt road that I hadn’t realized was still so close. Yet another reason not to camp at by the fire tower. I Crossed over what felt like the same road as before and went back into the woods.

I Somewhat robotically wound my way through the woods. I happened to see a new little purple flower while also paying attention to every noise I heard because of the man’s mention of bears. The bugs are out in droves today so chances are high that I will try to tent unless the sites are no good.

The last mile felt like a sea of green compared to the dry parched forest I had walked through for much of the first half of the day. I was making really good time (for me) until the trail turned into a series of short climbs. Still, even with the unexpected hills, I made it to the shelter from the fire tower in just over an hour. That’s about fifteen minutes faster than I’d expected.

Northstar sat at the picnic table talking to brownie and dizzy as they finished up their dinner. They all greeted me warmly as I plopped my bag down and whined about the bugs that immediately swarmed. I walked up the hill to survey the tent sites and decided to setup right behind the shelter on a moderately flat stretch. there were a few pesky rocks but there also happened to be an abandoned T-shirt, so placed that over the rocks as a makeshift ground cover.

Then I pulled out my food bag and went about boiling water while constantly slapping at biting gnats. I finally had to put on my long johns and a long sleeve layer to reduce my tastiness to the bugs. I set my food to “cook” and went down the long hill to get more water. Thankfully there was a pipe and a decent flow so it was a moderately quick process. I also rinsed the sweat off my face and neck.

I was out of breath When I got back to the table and had little desire to eat but I made it through my chili Mac easily enough. Northstar and I talked about mileage as I ate. I think we will line up until Erwin depending on how Friday turns out. Brownie and dizzy will be behind because they have to take a detour to get a food drop tomorrow.

Wrong way made it to camp about 45 minutes after me. She made quite the entrance, announcing herself to be a “sweaty dirty girl.” She dropped her pack and pulled out a bunch of random food and a miniature bottle of barefoot hills red wine. As it turns out, she had some of the food from my gift package that I had not been able to carry with me because of weight and space. I was happy to see the food go to a good home and be enjoyed by someone rather than molder in a hiker box.

For dessert I had an oatmeal cream pie (today’s top picture) and one of Northstar’s double chocolate Newman’s o’s. It was too much sugar but I did it anyway. Then I brushed my teeth, hung my food bag on the bear cables (always a luxury), and forced myself to blow up my sleeping pad and change clothes. I’m going to try to take my sports bra off more at night. I usually just leave it on but the skin across the front of my ribs isn’t very happy with that plan.

I made the trek down to the privy for a pre-bedtime pee break and then said my goodnights. I heard someone set up a tent nearby and thought there was a new hiker in camp but it turned out to be Wrong way. The bugs in the shelter must have been too much for her. I’m finishing this to the sound of the bear cables squeaking lightly in the wind, bugs bouncing off my tent, the squeak of wrong way’s mattress, and the beginning of dizzy’s snoring.

Mile 274.6 to mile 285.9 (11.3)

Total miles: 294.2

Creature feature: so much bear poop In the last three miles! A western junco, towhees, the pileated woodpecker, and a vicarious bear sighting that northstar caught on video!

2019-Day 27: Madison county library edition

Today was a zero day in hot springs! I’m going to give myself a break from going through every detail of the day, but here’s a brief summary.

I went out for breakfast at the smokey mountain diner (today’s top picture). I spent HOURS at the Madison county library editing and uploading blogs. I made a very satisfying facetime call with oakland on the library’s wifi (clear picture! no delay! what a luxury). I picked up packages at the hot springs post office, one of which was a surprise from my brother’s family, one of which had my carefully packed resupply from HQ and one which was a couple of treats and a card from my dad and stepmom. Someone finally asked me about my preferred pronouns, and I nearly cried with joy and relief (Thanks, Runa).

I had dinner at the iron horse with brownie and dizzy and one of their hiker friends from the PCT who happens to be friends with jennifer pharr davis, the woman who held the fastest known time for awhile before Scott Jurek broke her record. After dinner, I managed to swoop in on the laundry before everyone else did because I left the restaurant early while a large gaggle of hikers continued ordering food and beer. very unfortunately, I stayed up way too late because my day at the library meant that I had not organized any of my gear or food. I had to open all of my boxes, figure out what to take and what to gift to other hikers. My nieces sent me several adorable postcards in their box, so I also spent some time writing them postcards to send out tomorrow.

All in all, it was a productive and mostly enjoyable day that sadly did not include much in the way of picture taking.

Mile 274.6 to mile 274.6 (0)

Total miles: 282.9

Creature feature: dogs! Many passing along the sidewalk and then the 2 in the picture above who mostly cared about their owners inside but they gave me a small greeting. A couple of cardinals and the usual cast of snack-hunting juncos