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.

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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.

Zeroes

Mile 289.9—Bush camp (14.8 miles)Friday, April 12

I… don’t think I’m a big fan of zero days anymore. Don’t get me wrong—I like rest and being flat, and the body needs it, and all those errands take time, and sleep is magical. But a full zero really leeches the sense of mission. You never really get out of town early. You—or I, anyway—feel soft and unfocused, and it’s hard to get back on track, with that pack freshly full of heavy food. I like a good nero: Roll into town early, get breakfast, pick up the box or buy groceries, get organized, get lunch, get back out. Or stay one night to dry things out.

Unless you’re nursing an injury, the main purpose of zeroes is to eat. Chip away at the calorie deficit so you don’t lose weight too fast. Massive breakfast; digest; massive lunch; digest; three candy bars and a quart of Gatorade; digest; massive dinner, including dessert; digest; sleep.

Anyway, I inadvertently packed my headlamp somewhere, so my choices were to unpack (ohgod, please, no) or just wait until 7, get hotel coffee, and head out after dawn. So… a late start, at 7:30ish, up the massive hill. No 17 miles for me today!

Random: Why is hotel coffee always so terrible?

Anyhoo… weird day. Kind of depressing, and I can’t pinpoint why. The terrain was great. It rained briefly, then the sun came out. The climb out of Hot Springs was long, but not as beastly as I remembered. I think things started to go south when a young hiker told me that “People of your age—40s, 50s—smoke a lot of weed.” Thus reminding me that I’m an old lady. On the other hand, I’d say he was off by a decade, so there’s that.

Maybe it’s because this is that terrible stretch where everybody started getting sick with the plague, puking in the shelters, and all that. Another second timer put it perfectly: “This whole trail is deja vu.”

I’m camped too close to a road on a Friday night, but it feels OK. And there are a bunch of thrus back on the other side. I would have stayed over there, but it’s a weed crowd.

I’m seeing new faces. Gah. Have I fallen behind? Pushed ahead? Can’t tell. There’s no center to this thing.

Tomorrow I’ll hit 300 miles! I’ll try not to miss it this time!

Oh! Trotter’s back at the shelter, maybe 4 miles back. Zippy was on her way there, and apparently she took a zero on Max Patch! Birkie got an ankle brace, and she and Strider were slackpacking Lemon Gap to Hot Springs todsy to make up those miles. And that’s it for As the Trail Turns. 😁

Hot Springs and moving pictures

Mile 274.6–Laughing Heart Lodge, Hot SpringsWednesday, April 10

I shouldn’t even be here. 😀

The plan was an easy 15, then a 3-mile nero into town on Thursday. But the morning was glorious, the trail was smooth, and I found myself on top of Bluff Mountain, the big climb of the day, at 11 AM. With 10 miles and change into Hot Springs. Where there would be cheeseburgers.

So… I called the hostel and reserved a bunk, and I committed, dammit. I committed. And with 20 bucks on the line now, I flew.

The trail stayed smooth, and I flew. It wasn’t easy, frankly. My sore knee screamed and groaned, and I probably didn’t do it any favors, but you know, “Listen to your body” is one of the worst pieces of advice you hear out here. Nobody’s body says, “Gee, let’s hike 16 miles in yet another cold downpour, carrying 30 pounds of sopping heavy gear up and down filthy muddy mountains in vomitous disgusting clothes, again!” The body, frankly, needs a little push sometimes. Maybe “Check in with your body” might be more useful.

Anyway. So I pushed! My feet hurt, but not too badly. This is a quiet hostel, so that’s good.

Random trail non sequitur: I talk to stuff out here. Like… a LOT. In a funny voice.
“Hellooo, tree trunk obstacle that I have to climb over!”
“Hellooo, cheerful bird!”
“Hellooo, water crossing with oddly placed rocks!”
“Hellooo, unexpectedly loud fart!”
“Hellooo, giant roots that look like a mammoth!”

OK, I’m tired. Time for some Harry Potter. More tomorrow from my actual hotel.

Oh. Spruce Lee and Shitaki are here. I heard Berkie’s ankle is injured and that she got a shuttle into town to take some zeroes, but that’s unverified. She didn’t pass me today. She, Trotter, Strider, Unicorn, and Jayrock were all planning to stay at the other hostel. Fern from New Zealand is at the… Iron something, where I’ll be tomorrow. I only saw three hikers all day, and two of them were section hikers. Weird.

—————

Thursday, April 11
No man’s land—ie, a bench outside the outfitter while I wait for Iron Something to open

So! I slept like a LOG last night. Unbelievably good sleep. That hostel has quiet hours, and the wall bunks have little walls of their own, so I felt cozy and safe and private. As trail hostels go, it’s a good one. 🙂

I had breakfast. Couldn’t finish. I’m drinking too much coffee and enjoying the hell out if it. I’ll probably skip breakfast tomorrow (until a bit later) and head out at the buttcrack of dawn. As I recall, the climb up and out of this little hiker Mecca is a beast.

Woah! Hellooo, young hippie-type person zoom-surfing past on a Segue with no handlebars! That’s amazing! You’re amazing!

Sooo many hikers here. Lots of familiar faces, but I forget their names. Birkie is here and hobbling to the clinic. Trotter and Strider just got into Laughing Heart. Tiny (for “tiny bladder”) is at Elmer’s. Just saw Fern; she said Horse Something was good last night. Jayrock and Unicorn did laundry at Laughing Heart and were on the way to Elmer’s.

Miscellania: Lost 4 pounds. That’s excellent. I was afraid I was losing too fast, but that number puts me in good shape—especially since I’m probably building some muscle. Point of reference: Last time, I’d lost something like 17 pounds by Hot Springs.

The single most important thing I’ve learned is that the difference between a miserable, slow, depressing, possibly injurious beginning and a tough but strength-building and confident one (not to mention cheaper) is that it’s CRITICAL (for me, anyway) to get to ideal body weight before hiking. That, and March 19 is a much better start date than March 7 or 8. 😀 (And having 3000 long-distance miles under my belt already doesn’t hurt, lol. Turns out I know some tricks.)

I’m holding solid in the middle. Talked to some young hikers this morning who started March 9—a full 10 days before me. Actually… close to the me of ‘13.

Miscellania: I’m not so into the cheeseburgers this time! I’m more liking bowls of things—your chilis, your coconut rice bowls, your soups. This is the Bowl of Something tour.

—————

Iron Horse Inn

This place is fabulous! Hardwood floors. Antiquey lovely—high-end looking stuff, instead of knockoffs. I mean, they may be knockoffs, but they’re good knockoffs. Writing desks and blanket chests and oriental rugs. I was here an hour before I realized there’s no television. Which is fine by me, because I don’t have one at home, either.

Miscellanea: I’m so tired of losing things! You think it would be hard to lose things in a one-person tent, but let me tell you. You know when you move and you can’t find your toothbrush for 2 1/2 weeks (not that I speak from experience) and there are boxes everywhere and you don’t know what’s in them? This is like that, only you move every day. Your pocket knife is in your pocket; you use it, and it’s raining that day so you stick it in the pocket of your rain jacket. Then the next day you use it, and it’s not raining but it’s windy so you stick it in the pocket of your longsleeve. Then the next day it’s not windy or raining, so you stick it in your pants pocket. By the fourth day you have no idea where it is, what pocket it’s in, or even if it made it to a pocket at all—particularly if you’re tearing down the house in a 5 AM downpour and trying to keep the important things relatively dry. Did you throw it out? Did it fall out of your pocket? Did aliens abduct it? So you obsess over it and tear everything apart and don’t find it, and you tear everything apart again and don’t find it, and you brood over it for a day and then you tear everything apart again and don’t find it. And you finally give up and buy a new one in Hot Springs. And then you find it in your backpack. Or sometimes not. So it goes. Every single day. With knives, gloves, cords, stakes, bits of velcro, brain cells, Twitter addiction, socks.

Hey look at my new knife! 😀 On this string around my neck, where it’ll live now, rain or shine!

Eventually you lose every single gram of extraneous stuff. The trail strips you bare, then manages to flense away just a little bit more. What’s left lives in one place and one place only, and everything is clean and calm and echoless. Then the hike is close to over. So it goes!

Looks like the forecast is rain for the next week! Yay! Rain, for a change! 😀

(But I’ll have my tiny knife.)

Guess!?

Guess where I am…

BOOM! 17.6 miles today (longest yet, this trip) and got into Hot Springs on Wednesday night instead of Thursday morning. Grabbed a bunk at the hostel. Ate a cow. Doing laundry.

Zero here in Hot Springs tomorrow. Errands. Boxes.

More to come…

Hot Springs, baby!

Clingman’s

Smokies, Night 3Friday, April 5

Mt Collins shelter—mile 202.8

Today was the sort of day tht drives people off trail—but I can’t help feeling happy. Wet, cold, and tired, but really grateful to be here, now.

I missed the 200 mark on the ground. Oh, well! No complete set this time!

Noreaster last night. Crazy wind, and everybody got soaked.
Packed up a soaking wet tent in the rain. Didn’t get on trail (sopping wet and cold) until 9.
It poured all morning. The trail was a river of shoe-sucking mud all day. Very slippery, and I landed on my butt more than once.
Went past Clingman’s Dome. Totally fogged in. Clingman’s 2, Karma 0.
Got to camp very late for me—lke 7 PM. I could have quit at 2:30, but I didn’t!
I’m SO tired. 😁

—————
Mile 218.2
Peck’s Corner Shelter (Smokies)
Saturday, April 6

Good day. (Beth and Bernie, if you see this, I got to Newfound Gap today and thought of you!)

There was a church group doing trail magic (ie, feeding hikers) at Newfound, so I had a delicious Sprite and an oatmeal cookie thing.

Weather was good. Walking happened. 😀

Oh! And somebody made a 200 at mile 205. I’ll take it!

—————

Max Patch!

Mile 257.0—Roaring Fork ShelterTuesday, April 9

Ohmygod, it poured last night. I packed up in a driving rain, and it rained all morning. The sun cracked at about noon, I spread out in the leaves to dry things (hiker trash laundromat, lol), and the sky was gorgeous for Max Patch at around 3.

I’m at the shelter after Max Patch. The usual suspects are here: Berky, Trotter, Strider, Fern, Unicorn, Jayrock. Only one guy, and none of the young guys. My theory is that they all zeroed at Standing Bear to get a good Max Patch day tomorrow, when the weather is supposed to be excellent. Or maybe they’re up there now.

Me, I’m pushing toward Hot Springs. I hope to get there early Thirsday morning for a nero. I reserved a room in town for Thursday night. Food!! 😀

For what it’s worth, Friday is the day I pass myself. I was in Hot Springs on April 12 in ‘13, and I’ll be there on April 12 this year.

Tennessee bald

Mile 243.7—Bush camp near Painter Creek
Monday, April 8

As it turned out, the night in the shelter was good. It rained and thundered torrentially all night. I do think a mouse ran over my head, though. Like they do.

Some people really love shelter life.

Got out of the Smokies at 10:30, and to Standing Bear by 12:30ish. Picked up my resupply (thank you, brother John!), ate a bagel… and lo and behold, they now do outgoing mail! So I was able to lose 2 pounds of Smokies-specific gear.

Had a mini-meltdown when I lost my poles. Spruce Lee found them. They were right next to my pack! I’d mistaken my duct tape for a fliplock. D’oh!

LOTS of hikers I know are at Standing Bear. I didn’t stay. (Spruce Lee and Shitaki are also somewhere on this mountain.)

I broke out the shorts today.

It POURED after Standing Bear and I got drenched. Then it stopped, and I said I’d camp at the next flat spot. And the next flat spot was this beautiful spot I’d passed and fallen in love with in 2013. So I finally can camp here.

It’s POURING rain again. But I’m warm in my tent!

I heard the laundromat in Hot Springs closed. That’s a problem.

Tomorrow: Max Patch!

End of the Smokies

Mile 231.2–Cosby Knob Shelter
Sunday, April 7

Last night in the Smokies! And… I’m in a shelter! And… okay, it’s torture. I HATE these things. I’m too introverted; I can’t even breathe. I hope nobody judges when I slip out at 5 AM!

Aside from that, the patter of the rain on the roof is soothing. Nice to be indoors for that reason!

Pretty day.

Smokies —Days 1 and 2

Smokies Night 1
Wednesday, April 3, 2019
Mollie’s Ridge Shelter—mile 177.7

Good first day. Late start (had to wait for the shuttle). Fontana Lake was magnificent! I think it was a cloudy mess of white last time.

The shelter is full, so we can tent. My first time tenting in the Smokes! I’m trying to do things differently where I can.

Rain’s supposed to start tomorrow and last for a week. This should be interesting! 😀

—————
Smokies Night 2
Thursday, April 4, 2019
Derrick Knob Shelter—mile 189.8

Rough day, for the low mileage. I think I psyched myself out. It was only 12 miles, right? Ha! It was all uphill, to over 5000 feet. Including a mountain called, I think, Thundertop. Which I decided was really Thunderdome. 😀

Weather’s finally changing. It was crazy blustery all day, but now the sky is metal. Rain coming, tonight or tomorrow. And tomorrow… Clingman’s Dome, and 200 miles.

Smokies! Smokies!

Thirsday, April 2
Heading into the Smokies tomorrow morning. Looks like it’s going to be a wet week up there! So it goes. Wish I could plow through a little faster, but the rules are the rules. (I think I even have to do one 7-mile day in the middle. Which, yikes.)

Lots of hikers here, including Dan from the Approach Trail. Also Radar and Nibbles, whom I’ve been leapfrogging with. Lots if nice conversations.

No cell service in the Smokies. See you in a week or so!