Half day

Mile 494—Stealth camp
Sunday, April 28

Weelll… best laid plans, right?

It was raining, windy, and cold when my alarm went off at 4:30. The rain was what did it, though. I just could not—could not—face packing up in the rain again, and carrying that wet heavy mess. So I slept until about 6:30, when it was just getting light. The rain stopped, but the fly was still pretty wet. I got on trail at about 7:45—appallingly late for me.

I just couldn’t get into gear. I may have some allergies or the start of a little cold. The 5-mile climb to Mt Rogers took FOREVER. By 1 pm, I’d only managed 6 miles.

This was complicated by the fact that just up ahead are a bear activity zone, a no-tenting stretch, a remediation area (no camping), and ponies. I couldn’t wrap the spitballing part of my brain around any plan that covered all those bases. If I could do another 12, I’d be out of the no-tenting zone, but I’d have to run, I’d miss the ponies, and I was hiking really really badly. Like… I’d be hiking into the night. And I felt too ungreat for that.

Plus the wind up toward Mt Rogers was terrible again. Like, making me stumble. And a southbounder said the wind up at the next shelter was just awful—like, blow you off your feet awful. I think I have post-Hump PTSD about the wind.

And guess who passed me today? That crew. The big one. So they’d be somewhere, like a landmine of camping rudeness.

Then I jumped off trail to poop and found this stealth site. It’s sheltered from the wind. And I thought, yeah. Yeah. Take the 6, hunker and sleep, feel better, and tomorrow blast through the whole bear zone and the no-tenting areas. See the ponies in the morning, like 8 or 9 am.

So here we are. 😀

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Hellooo, Virginia!

Mile 488.0—Bush camp [17.3 miles]
Saturday, April 27

Virginia was kind today! It was 44 and foggy when I ghosted out of Damascus by headlamp, but it warmed up enough to switch to shorts.

Hiking in tights feels weird. On the other hand, they’re either marginally warmer than, just as warm as, or marginally less warm than the pants I sent home. I like them. They’re definitely lighter.

The trail alternated between magic secret lagoon and high airy pine forest. Lots of flat bits, lots of bikes on the Virginia Creeper Trail on a warm sunny Saturday in April.

What even is a weekend? What even is a day?

Sometimes I pass one of my old campsites and it takes me right back. I passed one today; I guess it must have been my first site out of Damascus. A flat spot above a still pool (“stagnant pond” per Guthooks). I slept well there, if I recall correctly, and whined about my heavy food carry. But the spot’s gone now—choked with downed trees and deadfall. It’s a weird feeling, to have both images right there at the same time. I hope that flat perfect spot stll exists in some subtle fold of time.

Shoesies!

So, while I’m all chest-beating about my 20.8, it turns out the cool kids were all doing 25, 27.5. 😆 And my critical brain is all beating me up because they’re also hiking out tonight (in the rain), not zeroing tomorrow (so: “i suck i suck i suck”). As though this group is the last group to come through Damascus, and I’m the caboose!

Then my other brain gently points out that (1) I’ve moved up about 400 numbers in line, (2) there are PLENTY of hikers behind me, (3) town always shuffles the deck, and (4) half of these hikers will quit in Virginia. Plus, after the scare on the Humps, I want good weather on Mt Rogers and for the ponies. (The weather was abysmal last time, which is why the ponies stayed hidden. In fact, it was Hump weather—hiking in ankle-deep water while the blasting wind blew my pack cover clean off.)

I made some gear adjustments:
• Sent home my pants. I picked up some lightweight tights to wear under my wind pants if it gets cold again, and up north. I also have rain pants. Saves me probably 5 ounces.
• Sent home my long-sleeve shirt, which is huge on me (and thus heavier and bulkier than necessary). Picked up a short-sleeve sleep shirt, and I’ll use my old sleep shirt (long sleeve) to hike in, if necessary. Saves probably 3 or 4 ounces.
• Sent home some ‘nice to have’ and ‘just in case’ stuff. Some of it was helpful, but I need to trim trim trim.
• Got my 3-ounce bug pants in my resupply, along with fresh shoes and socks.
• Relplaced one pair of heavier socks with lighter-weight ones. (I wear double socks.) The heavier ones were old and too thick. They wouldn’t dry.
• Sent home my ‘town’ socks. I was only keeping them until it was warm enough to wear just flip-flops.

I decided to keep the flip-flops. I need to rig a way to hang them on my pack. (It’s a 50 liter, and the 10-degree bag fills it. Bulk is my big issue.)

If I’m feeling brave, I’m going to sew a couple of zipties to the hem of my rainfly so I can guy it out in that one place where the design is deficient and the fly sags into the tent wall. I wanted some kind of tiny grommet, but I think I can work with the zipties. Or maybe some little loops of cord, but that’s a fussier solution. I’ll decide tomorrow.

Got my new shoes to replace my old holey ones! Thank you, shoes that were beat a hundred miles ago! (Yes, those shoes in the pic all started out exactly the same.)

The laundromat here, like the one in Hot Springs, has closed.

I put half my resupply into the hiker box and bought a bunch of cookies. And peanut butter, which I spoon right out of the jar at about 500 calories a pop. Oh… there’s no scale here, but I don’t think I’ve lost more than a pound or two, based on how my pants are fitting. My shorts are a bit too loose, but I decided I can live with it. I’m not anticipating any more “big” weight loss.

And that’s it, I think! I’m one-quarter finished. Saturday starts a new hike—a hike that consists entirely of Virginia. (After the southern PCT, the length of Virginia doesn’t bother me even a little, lol.)

BOOM! 😀

Mile 465.2—Bush camp [20.8 miles]
Wednesday, April 24

BOOM! 😀 First 20!

It’s completely meaningless, of course. I’m still getting into Damascus tomorrow morning and spending Thursday and Friday there. But psychologically? BOOM! In fact, there was a terrific campsite at 19.9, and I decided to push on for the 20. Then I didn’t find anything for a while, and I was moving so fast I was afraid I’d get all the way into town. lol.

It was just good terrain. And I’m headed into town, so the food weight is at its lowest. And frankly, at 13 miles I didn’t think I could make 16 because I was beat. So I decided to listen to my iPod… and the music got my feet rolling! I was jacked! Can’t use that superpower every day, though. Tomorrow starts Virginia, which is a challenge. I need to use the superpowers sparingly so they stay super.

I thought I found a couple of ticks on me, but after a freakout and an embarrassingly thorough tick check right on the trail, and after a few more of them showed up, I realized they’re some kind of weird Tennessee flying beetle that looks tickish. I’ll still be glad to get my clothes sprayed tomorrow. It’s definitely bug season here.

Today was hot and sunny and nothin’ but walking. I saw a lot of old friends, and met some new ones. The bubble is converging on Damascus because the weathet’s supposed to get ugly tonight and tomorrow.

So: Virginia border in the early morning, then Damascus, then Saturday Mt. Rogers, then I guess Sunday is… PONY DAY. Pony Day Redux.

I thought I found a couple of ticks on me, but after a freakout and a few more of them, I realized they’re some kind of weird Tennessee flying beetle that looks tickish. I’ll still be glad to get my clothes sprayed tomorrow.

For now, excuse me while I eat everything good that’s left in my food bag, and waste phone battery like crazy, and stay up late. Because I don’t have to get up early tomorrow. It’s just a five-mile stroll to the diner. 😁

Happy birthday, Shakespeare! Happy death day, Shakespeare!

Mile 444.4—Iron Mountain Shelter [16 miles]
Tuesday, April 23

So. Today I:
• Fell in a fetid soupy swamp, up to my knees
• Just plain fell—the usual type: stub your toe on an invisible rock or root or stump, and go flying; no harm done
• Walked a bunch of miles
• Forgot to take pictures. So have a picture of the reroute instructions I was trying to figure out by headlamp at 6 AM. (The lake flooded out the trail.) When I come across written instructions, I always snap a pic. This exact same reroute happened in 2013—and I think the dunking, too.

Kind of a low-energy day. Not just me—pretty much everybody I saw today, including the 15 or so tenting at this shelter. All older guys. It was the hottest day on trail so far, and after the cold snap last week (snow!), it may just be bodies adjusting.

No Big Crew here, btw. Or not yet, anyway. I may have escaped their orbit.

It’s shelter to shelter at the moment. It’s the only thing that makes sense for getting into Damascus.

Sekrit location

Mile 428.4—Sekrit location [14.8 miles]
Monday, April 23

Oh, all right. I’m at another damned hostel. Boots Off Hostel, which has a Jerry Garcia meets ZZ Top kind of vibe (and I’m too lazy to check to see if I spelled those right).

I ran up against a decision point today. The factors were: (1) There’s a bear problem in this area (somebody had a food bag stolen just yesterday—a hostel employee, not a hiker). (2) Just north of here there’s a five-mile no-camping zone. (3) The big group
from the shelter last night never passed me, which means they could roll up late somewhere, and pounce.

I could have camped 4 miles back at a big camping spot. BUT… that would mean I’d have to do three back-to-back 15s to get to Damascus Thursday night. And my mileage has been fluctating. And also, I’d bet that the big group is heading there.

I could have managed 16 today, but not 19 (ie, hiking past the closure)—and frankly, I want a few more miles than that between me and the bear problem, which seems to be confined to Watauga Lake. (The shelter is closed because of the bears, and rumor has it it’s going to be closed permanently.)

So there was this hostel. Twenty-five bucks or whatever (plus a run to McDonald’s and Subway, and I got BOTH). It’s an OK place. There’s a big group of thru-hikers, all older. I don’t know them. One of them probably knew my dad; they worked in the same division of the state government at the same time. Which is pretty interesting, because I’ve been thinking about my dad really hard lately. Really hard. The hikers here seem to have started around March 6.

The bunk room is pristine, unlike that last dump. And it’s not full, and there are privacy curtains. I didn’t even bother with the shower (the shower’s some weird bit of carpentry, and I’m a little intimidated by it).

I’m going to try to be out of here by 5:30, back on trail by 6 AM. Damascus is 42 miles away. I’d like to get the bulk of that done on Tuesday and Wednesday so I can get into town by noon on Thursday. I have a LOT to do in Damascus—-including getting new shoes and spraying all my stuff with permethrin (for ticks; I’m spraying every time I get new shoes).

Hiking today was good, but slow. I haven’t slept well for days. Last night there was some kind of crazy loud owl singoff, like American Idol but with screeching and hooting. It was fantastic, but man; those owls have some pipes on them. For hours.

Laurel Falls was beautiful. I have a blister. So it goes.

Did I mention that there was this mysterious yellow ball in the sky all day?

Easter

Mile 413.6–Moreland Gap Shelter [18.4 miles]Sunday, April 21 [Easter]

Happy Easter, yo!

Grim, gray day… but no rain! Lots of squelchy squishy squashy mud, thick and black, and lots of pools of standing water. And lots of waterfalls!

A couple of times the sun tried to poke out. It didn’t quite make it, but tomorrow’s supposed to be 75 and sunny. Woohoo! We have survived the miasma!

The shelter is freaking crowded with tents. I’m stuck in this bubble, now that we all got bottlenecked at Roan Mountain. I should have gone farther to get out of it, but I was spent. And I made sure to camp in a place where I wouldn’t disturb the shelter when I snuck out. But the tents descended all around me, too freaking close. One of the hikers just popped one of my guylines. This is the same group that hung the bear bag over my tent. But I’m done apologizing in advance for leaving early! Tomorrow I’ll try to avoid the shelters. I have time now. I booked a room for Thursday and Friday nights in Damascus. It’s just a question of what timr on Thursday I’ll get there.

Oh! And 400! Hit 400 miles today.

Happy Easter!

Mile who the hell knows

Hostel 19E
Whatever, some sort of day

I’m in a HOSTEL! It’s a crazy hostel. The quaint, expensive B&B hostel is full, so I’m in the live music, craft beer hostel. We’re packed in here like sardines, but it’s a good mix of people. I’m kind of astonished at the number of hikers here who started March 4, March 7, February.

I woke up at Doll’s Flats (big flat place with a lot of campsites), and it was cold, and it was raining, and I had the meltdown I should have had last night—-after, it turns out, I did that long bald ridgewalk in hurricane-force winds. I hadn’t gotten the hurricane message. If I’d known it was hirricane windy, I would have stayed at the barn.

After the meltdown, I read up on the hostels, called the good one (they were, of course, fully booked)… then I decided I could withstand one night of the party crowd. But I think there are enough non-partiers here. It’ll probably be loud and drunk later. I’ll try to be quiet when I sneak out at 5 AM.

I think I got the last bunk, even at 9 AM. It’s freezing and rainy and snowy outside… again. I’m so happy to be indoors!

I got nothin’. Hiked three miles in, and my clothes are washed and I had a blissful hot shower. Part of the reason I hike is because it gives you a vast appreciation for things we take for granted. Hot water pouring over your cold filthy body. Having a place to go when you have to take a crap. The amazing warmth of soft socks, not stinking soaking cold trail runners.

This part of the frail has been beautiful.

I’m about 75 miles from Damascus—-the psychological quarter point. I picked up an expensive resupply here, so I can skip Hampton. Next stop: Damascus.

End of North Carolina!

Mile 380.3—Bush camp [with Fern from New Zealand] — 14.3 milesThursday, April 18

End of month 1:
380.3 + 8 = 388.3 / 4 = 97.075 mpw

Rough day. Didn’t think I’d get up Roan.

The wind is furious. Snow and rain coming…

—————
Mile 392.2, tenting at Doll Flats — 11.9 miles
Friday, April 19

Today was, in a word, harrowing. Stop reading if you don’t want to be harrowed.

So, I woke up and it was raining. The wind was crazy. I packed up in the rain and crazy wind. Great. So far, so good. There was a spotless outhouse at the parking lot a 10th of a mile away. Yay for pristine poops! Alas, that was the highlight of the day.

The wind was furious. The rain was relentless, all day long. And the cold fog meant visibility was about 10 feet. If that. And today was the day to go over the giant balds—-high-altitude grassy-topped mountains with no cover.

The trail was a river. I mean the entire trail, all day long. The depth ran from 2 to 3 inches to mid calf. There was no getting around it; you had to just bite the bullet and slog through it. The mud underneath with slick and treacherous and sloppy. I skied on my trailrunnerd, and slip-slid, and fell once. That part was OK, though. The harrowing part came later, after Overmountain barn shelter.

I passed Overmountain and started to climb up Little Hump bald—-the first of the last two big balds that were on the menu. So I started the rainy foggy slog up Little Hump and… it started lightning. It actually had been lightning a little bit before that, but I thought I’d gotten out of range. So I stood there in the pouring rain for a couple of minutes, wondering: Do I risk it and keep going, do I wait here under this lonely little tree, where do I go back to Overmountain Shelter and try to wait it out? (Being on a high bald in a thunderstorm isn’t brilliant.)

I grimaced and went back to Overmountain. Let me tell you how much through hikers like to backtrack! Bonus miles today.

So, I waited. Other hikers started to show up, the hikers who had stayed at Roan High Knob Shelter last night. They’d done 8 miles and decided that they were going to stop at noon. Me, though, when the lightning stopped at about 1 o’clock, I decided to go ahead and try to finish the humps.

The lightning issue was fine. There wasn’t any. With there was was wind—-wind that was so fierce it literally picked me up off my feet and threw me off the trail twice. It was one step at a time. Sometimes it knocked me over and I had to crawl for a couple of feet. It was absolutely harrowing. What trail there was was a rushing river. And zero visibility.

But you know, the only way past it is through it. I kept singing that kids’ song about the elephants playing on the spiderweb, and kept my weight low, and inched along, and eventually the mountain ended.

I only made it a few more miles. I’m camped in my tent and the wind is still howling, and I hope the tent holds up! It should. It’s anchored by about 10 pounds of soaking wet gear and clothes,

I might take a short day tomorrow and stay overnight in a hostel. I have to resupply anyway. And tomorrow’s supposed to be like today, but with snow.

Oh! I’ve officially left North Carolina for good! It’s all Tennessee now, until Virginia.

Magic mountain is still magic

Mile 365.9—Bush camp [17.4 miles]
Wednesday, April 17

Tomorrow ends month 1. Assuming I can manage 15 (maybe not, because tomorrow has all the Roan Mountain stuff, 6000+ feet), and including the 8 miles of the Approach Trail, that would put me at just over 97 miles per week. Not bad for Georgia and the Smokies, but not supersonic.

Trail magic first thing this morning! Coffee and banana bread, courtesy Brother Tom. Thanks, Brother Tom! 😀

The coffee supercharged me all the way up Unaka Mountain, which was still a magical place. It feels silent and sacred up there. Numinous.

What else? A lot of walking, lol. I kind of got hypnotized by it. I was going to stop at 16.8, when I realized another couple of tenths would get me to 17. Oh! I think this is my longest day! The only problem is, it’s bedtime already!

I’m trying to come up with some ways to trim a half-hour from my morning routine. It’s been taking me an abysmal 1.5 hours to get on trail. That 0.5 could be one more mile.

That’s it! I got nothin’.

Wind’s picking up. Hrm.

Uncle Johnny’s and other strangenesses

Mile 348.5—Curley Maple Gap shelter [15.4 miles]
Tuesday, April 16

So. I’ve been brooding about this all day. Somebody hung their bear bag eight feet from my tent last night.

Now, I’ve made my share of mistakes, and I still make them, so I mention this only as a PSA: Don’t hang your bear bag over somebody else’s goddam tent. Especially if it’s one of those crappy hangs where you just sling the bag over a knob of bark like a towel in the bathroom. Don’t tell me it’s a “mouse hang.” There’s no such thing as a mouse hang unless you’re in a place with zero, nada, zilch, no bears. And if you’re stupid enough to think a mouse will climb 7 feet but not 8, I have to assume you’re stupid enough to fill your food bag with fresh fish and Limberger cheese and other stinky bear bait. So please, hang your damn bear chum over your own damn hammock. Or carry a canister or something if you’re that worried about mice.

OK, rant over. 😀

Picked up my resupply from Uncle Johnny at Uncle Johnny’s. Got in and got out. This box thing is the BEST. Thank you, brother John!

I like this part of Tennessee/North Carolina. It’s got a little of everything—pine forest, jungles, streams. And mountains. It was a gorgeous day—bright and sunny and windless. Hot, by the late afternoon.

Only two other people at this shelter. Turns out the plague is around! Burner said she knows at least 12 who got sick, and that doesn’t include Ding Dong, who I knew about. A lot of them are down at Uncle Johnny’s. It’s been hitting the hostels, apparently.

Tomorrow: Unaka Mountain—one of my favorite mountains on the whole trail. Magic!

Snowy balds!

Mile 333.0—Bush camp [16.9 miles]
Monday, April 15

Rain and wind all night! And this morning… snow. Honestly, aside from the fact that cold is my kryptonite, I hate the wind. And this was a sustained 20 mph, with 40 mph gusts.

On the way to the big climb (Big and Little Balds), I kept seeing these trees with beautiful white flowers. Then I realized it was ice. 😀 My disgusting drenched socks from yesterday froze. Also, my snot bandanna froze like an origami swan. Origami of snot, except all the snot washed out in yesterday’s downpour.

The balds were ethereal and amazing. The frigid wind, though, kept blowing me off course.

Tomorrow I pick up a resupply at Uncle Johnny’s hostel, sent by my brother, who is also an Uncle Johnny. 😀 The hostel has a reputation for being a party place and a bit of an armpit, so I want to get there early enough in the day to get in and get out. That means I have to crank out 11 miles in the morning. Hrm.

Wet and wild

Mile 316.1—Bush camp at Rice Gap (10.6 miles)Sunday, April 14

No way to sugarcoat it: Today sucked. Not just for me. For everybody.

It’s been overcast and drizzly for the last two days. Then last night, it broke out into horrific wind and pouring rain. I popped a tent stake, waited until dawn (late for me), then packed up wet.

The wind was terrible all morning. Loud as a constant train, ripping at my pack cover. Then around noon the rain broke out, too. It was 55 degrees. I made it about 3 hours. When I decided I was getting too chilly, I found a flat spot and set up in the driving rain. I ate food and got into my sleeping bag. But now the rain’s stopped and the wind’s whipping hard down this gap again, and I’m just lying here hoping the stakes hold and the pole doesn’t break.

I hate today.

In other news… jeep update! There was a drivers license on the ground near the jeep. Also, two hikers saw the man and woman walking away down a side road. If anybody feels like looking into it, I’m dying to know how they’re getting that car off the trail! It was between Hot Springs and Erwin, at around mile 301, just after the ‘bad weathet bypass.’

Wind wind wind wind. Tomorrow morning I’ll have a sodden nightmare of a mess to deal with. Even my pack is soaked—it’s out in the vestibule.

Wait… what?

Mile 305.5—Shelton Graves [15.6 miles]Saturday, April 13

Yes, I’m sleeping in a clearing near two Civil War graves. They won’t mind. There’s even a fire ring nearby.

Another rough day. Spitting rain, drizzle, chilly clouds. Lots of climbs. But the weirdest thing happened right after mile 300. There was a jeep crashed on the trail. An actual jeep. On the trail. On a part of the trail that no jeep could possibly have driven to. Surrounded by ruts that showed how hard he’d tried to get out. He’d hit a little tree and it was poking up into the engine.

A few miles later down at the shelter were the jeep drivers. They obviously were involved in a big mess fueled by who knows? There was no signal to call out, but one hiker took pictures of the crashed jeep and said he’d send them to the cops or rangers when he had a signal.

Spring is coming from the ground up. The trees are gray and leafless, but closer to the ground, the world is remembering color.

Didn’t see anybody I know today. Really, have I fallen behind? I did see a few hikers who were at Laughing Heart when I was, and I met a German girl, Ding Dong, who had to take three zeroes in Hot Springs because her calves are in bad shape.