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!