Dedicated to Mara's travel and hiking adventure journals as well as her words of wisdom and suggested resources for hikers and travelers.
Appalachian Trail: March through July 2008
What follows are the emailed reports sent to my TravelsAndTrails group in 2008. I hiked about a quarter of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Pearisburg, Virginia.
March (pre-hike injury, getting to the trail, and the first couple of weeks on the AT)
May (highlights include Trail Days and the Appalachian Trail)
June (highlights include paddling the Shenandoah River)
Wednesday, February 28, 2007: Boston, MA
How NOT to prepare for an AT hike...
...with a fall resulting in a separated shoulder.
Ah well, so that's what happened to me yesterday. I was carrying a table into my friend's basement (I'm storing stuff there) and fell off the third step, landing on my head, shoulder, and hip. The hip was just bruised. The head a potential minor concussion (I was told to have someone wake me every four hours while sleeping). But it's the shoulder... sigh. I've got a 2nd degree AC separation.
I saw the physician's assistant today and got the 2nd degree diagnosis. Tomorrow I start physical therapy. They know I'm planning on strapping a pack on in two weeks time and haven't yet ruled it out - especially once I told them my pack would top out at 20-25 pounds.
I may have to change my current plans for getting to Georgia though... Instead of taking my time and visiting friends while making my way south, I may need to stay in Boston for PT until ready to leave for the trail.
Stay tuned... I should know more after my PT appointment tomorrow and will be in touch - especially with those of you expecting visits from me.
Thursday, March 1, 2007: Boston
Subject: How to fasttrack a recovery... (ie. GOOD NEWS!!)
When the doctor in the emergency room who just told you that you have a separated shoulder gives you a skeptical look when you tell her you're planning on backpacking in two weeks, tell her your pack weight tops out at 20-25 pounds. There was instant relief in her eyes and acknowledgement that it might just work out.
When you call the orthopod's office for an appointment and are told the doc doesn't have an available appointment until March 12, accept the offer to see the physician's assistant the very next day.
Repeat the above skeptical look reaction with the PA as with the doc in the emergency room.
Call the physical therapist's office directly from the hospital and make an appointment for the very next day. Don't wait until no longer "acute."
Repeat the above skeptical look reaction with the therapist as I had with the PA and emergency room doctor.
Then surprise the therapist with good range of motion, good strength, etc. To be sure, there are definitely problem areas to be addressed. I'll be going in again tomorrow. That said, by the end of the day today, she was already telling me I could travel as I had originally planned. But, when asked, she also agreed that I might do well to come in for another session or two early next week.
I'll wait until after my therapy session tomorrow to decide if I'll start my travels on Sunday or Tuesday, but I think I'll be able to squeeze in everything I had originally planned, anyway.
Tomorrow, I bring in my pack - partially filled - so the therapist can see how it fits, and make suggestions for how I put it on, take it off, and adjust straps to relieve pressure as necessary, etc.
Stay tuned for more...
Friday, March 2: Boston
My therapy appointment went as well today as it had gone yesterday. My improvements at this point can almost be measured hour by hour. Certainly I'm a lot better later in the day than earlier. As with yesterday, the therapist said I could leave town this weekend but also agreed that one more appointment on Monday would be beneficial. So, I'll delay my leaving town by one day.
As a matter of fact, my range of motion had improved so much by the end of the day that I went contra dancing this evening. I wore my sling around my shoulder but I did not put my arm in it at all. It was mostly an indicator for potential partners to ask about my shoulder ("please, no under left-arm turns") and for others to go gently with me. I had no problems the entire night.
Saturday, March 3, 2007: Boston
My friend Rod came over and helped me move the last of my stuff out of the apartment and into Benson's basement. We dawdled over lunch at the High Price (err, High Rise Bread Bakery). Back at Benson's, I hung out for the rest of the afternoon before heading out for dinner with friends. It was an impromptu gathering but I was happy to see some friends I hadn't had a chance to say 'good-bye' to yet. Saw Babel before heading back to my old apartment for the last time.
Sunday, March 4, 2007: Boston
Grab the last of my toiletries, vacuum, hand over the keys to my landlord, and leave my apartment of seven years for the last time.
Drop stuff at Benson's and then head west to Amherst. My friend, Hilary, and her husband are hosting a waltz dance in honor of her leaving for the Appalachian Trail - again. She'll be my ride from West Virginia to Georgia. So, not only did I have a chance to have a lot of fun dancing, afterwards, I got to get to know more of the dancing crowd at a potluck they hosted. There were a lot of familiar faces there that I finally got to put names with. Plus, I dropped off my nearly fully loaded backpack and hiking poles with her so I wouldn't have to lug them all over town while I visited friends between Boston and West Virginia.
Monday, March 5, 2007: Boston, MA to Hartford, CT
Reorganized stuff and went to my last therapy appointment. My progress is still obvious though I could tell that my rate of improvement is slowing. That's no surprise given that I started therapy while my injury was still relatively "acute."
Did one last load of laundry at Benson's place so I wouldn't be storing anything dirty, left as much stuff in his basement as I could, and finally hit the road. I'm only taking "old" clothes with me that I no longer want and that are probably not appropriate for Goodwill. As I wear them, I'll be tossing them out. By the time I get to Georgia, I should have very little in the way of stuff to mail home before I get on the trail.
Tuesday, March 6, 2007: Hartford to Fairfield
Brought my Mom's van that I had been borrowing for the last two months in for a new tire and ended up with four new tires and a couple of tie-rods. Sigh.
Lunch with my Mom and my sister.
Then my sister drove me down to Sheffield to meet up with Michele, a friend who works there and lives in Fairfield. We "discovered" a great new Mexican restaurant and then Michele dropped me at her house whiel she went to a meeting. While she was gone, I installed a wireless adapter on her computer for her.
Wednesday, March 7: Fairfield
Hang out at Michele's while she works today. It's amazing how much stuff I still have to deal with even though I'm already traveling. I spent quite a bit of time on-line planning my next few days. I did a round of therapy. I walked to town in the bitter cold for lunch. Had I had my usual long-johns, etc. I would have been toasty but those were either in my backpack or back at home.
We had about 1.5 inches of light, fluffy, snow so I shoveled Michele's driveway and walk. It ended up being perfect because her house is for sale and they brought people that afternoon to see the house. It was nice the walk was shoveled before they got there.
Dinner at Three Bears Inn was another treat. It's the kind of place I would normally only go for very special occasions but Michele had a coupon that made it a very good deal.
Thursday, March 8, 2007: Fairfield, CT to King of Prussia, PA
Throw away my first batch of clothes. Feels weird.
Pack everything into one bag for easy transport today. There was a lot on my itinerary today. I walked to the train and caught the 9:18 to New York from Fairfield. In New York, I walked to 42nd Street Photo which is on 5th Ave, not 42nd St. to buy a digital camera. I spent well over double thae camera price by the time I was done buying peripherals. Now I have a book to read to figure out how to use all the features of this camera.
Hop the subway to Canal St and then hoof it to E. Broadway. I knew I was going to be too late to catch the 12:30 bus to Philadelphia and knew that there wasn't a 1:00 bus scheduled on Thursdays, but wanted to make sure I could get a ticket for the 1:30 bus. When I got there, I was told the 12:30 had been canceled, I could get the 1:00 bus. Perfect! Now, I just had to get lunch. Being Chinatown, that was not a problem. I soon had a $3.50 lunch packed to go to bring on the bus with me. I even had time to stop for a beverage.
The bus trip to Philadelphia was uneventful. When I got to Philly though, I was on my way to the bus to King of Prussia when I saw a PNC bank branch. I had wanted to open an account there but had run out of time. Perfect. PNC forgives all ATM charges worldwide on many of their accounts. It would be a great place to have a checking account while traveling over the next few years.
Then I hopped the bus to King of Prussia and was soon hanging out with friends, Camo Jack and Mule. Cami soon joined us and we went for Philly Cheesesteaks.
Friday, March 9, 2007: King of Prussia to West Chester
Camo works third shift so when he got home, we shared some pictures and then went for breakfast at Michael's, a New York style deli that has become somewhat of a tradition for us.
Back at his place, he's crashed for the day while I get directions and phone numbers I'll need for the next few days. I did my therapy as planned (I am only supposed to do them every other day) and have started to familiarize myself with my camera.
I also took a well needed nap and haven't felt this caught up on sleep for months. Since December, I've been excited but also anxious about all the prep work I needed to do to get out of my apartment and on the trail. Now that I'm out of the apartent, I've been sleeping better but vestiges of anxiety are still with me and likely won't dissipate until I'm on the trail. But, I'm already sleeping better.
Tonight, Camo and Cami will bring me to West Chester where I'll be staying with Tony for a night before heading to Shepherdstown on Saturday. More from there - I hope.
With a quick stop at the local King of Prussia AAA, I finally got my passport pictures so I could send in my renewal application. Then Camo and I took off for West Chester. We met Tony there and soon thereafter, Cami joined us and we went for dinner at a local brew pub.. The food was good but one highlight of the evening was the presentation of the beer sampler Camo ordered. Ten beers with a beer guide, all explained by the waitress as she placed each of the 4 ounce galsses on the table. Camo didn't seem to have any problems managing the lot.
Saturday, March 10, 2007: West Chester, PA to Shepherdstown, WV
Tony works for his family run construction/contracting company. One Saturday a month or so, they meet for an early breakfast at a diner and then have a meeting at his parents house. It's half an hour west of West Chester so rather have him go and then come back to pick me up, I got up early and got dropped at his parents house while he went for business breakfast. Having spent time at the house before, I was comfortable hanging out there. Unfortunately, his brother who pulled out ahead of us at one point, got pulled over in front of us as we watched. But, running a bit late, that ensured Tony wouldn't be all that late to breakfast.
At the house, I munched on convenience store breakfast, read the book about my new camera, and napped in succession until they returned from their breakfast and finished their meeting.
When the meeting ended, we were on out way. We first stopped at Good's Store so I could look unsuccessfully, for a fanny pack. But, I did find Poptarts for $.25/packet.
Our next option, a Walmart, yielded a $5 fanny pack that would fit the camera, a few snacks, and some peripherals. I've never liked the whole fanny pack in the front thing, but in this case, I really want to keep my camera handy so I'l give it a try.
We stopped for lunch at Cindy D's, just outside of Harpers Ferry where, for the first time, I ordered their specialty, fried chicken. It really was very good.
Dawdling in Harpers Ferry, Tony bought a sleeping bag and backpack for his upcoming Pacific Crest Trail hike. Topping off our time in town was a couple of frozen custard cones, eaten while walking in the 70+ degree weather. Beautiful.
We drove to my host's house, a beautiful place along the river. I had first been there for a Labor Day weekend party in '05 when I was working at the ATC office for a couple of months. Turns out, my hosts, Steve and Elaine, also know Warren Doyle - but from the dance community, not the hiker community.
Sunday, March 11, 2007: Shepherdstown
Breakfast with Steve and Elaine, then a ride to Mark and John's place. Lunch of leftover turkey and all the fixing's was delicious. Spent the afternoon with Mark and John and then had the place to myself for the night. I made the last arrangements for meeting my ride in Martinsburg the next day and then read more of "Bayou Farewell", a book I've been reading in bits and pieces as I've visited Mark and John.
Monday, March 12, 2007: Shepherstown, WV to Roanoke, VA
Saw Mark and John off this morning, did some last minutes stuff in the house and finished "Bayou Farewell" by Mike Tidwell. Wrote a review for later publishing on my web site. I highly recommend the book, by the way.
Elaine picked me up and drove me to Martinsburg. I had a few hours to kill there before my ride came so I mailed a couple of things from the mall post office, got my hair cut, had lunch, bought a pair of doggy nail clippers as Hilary had left hers at home and needed to cut Murray's nails, and then, as I was scouting the mall to give Hilary a good idea how to find me, I hear someone call out "Hiker trash!" It was Hilary who had gotten there a good half an hour before I really anticipated her arrival. Perfect timing!
With plenty of time to spare, we made our way to the local Hertz place and added me on to the agreement as another driver. Hilary, after having driven 7.5 hours, was happy to hand over the keys and take a break.
We drove three more hours to Roanoke, checked into a cheap motel, and unable to find a better restaurant, got KFC takout and ate in the motel room. A pack explosion ensued and we finally turned in around 1:00am.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007: Roanoke to Springer Mountain, Appalachian Trail, GA
The free continental breakfast was mini bagels, mass produced donuts, and mini muffins with juice.
A major road stoppage had us out of the car, commiserating and wondering with the other nearby driveres as to what could possibly bring the road to such a fairly sudden and complete stop. A helicopter taking off after a while was the answer. The had apparently closed the interstate so helicopter could land. When the traffic finally started moving again, we passed the scene whee an SUV had rolled over and gotten badly crunched in the roadside ditch.
Hilary and I, both in the mood for one last meal with good fresh vegetables, made out way to a Ruby Tuesday for a salad bar and were able to sit by a window facing the car so we could leave it open so Murray wouldn't bake in the car.
Then we made our way to Gainesville. The first post office we stopped at had closed at 4:00. The next we stopped at, at 4:35, had closed at 4:30. But we got directions to one that wouldn't close until 5:00. We made it there with just a few minutes to spare and we each sent out a bounce box and a box to go home.
We did one final bit of shopping at a supermarket and then met Warren Doyle who was giving us a shuttle to the trail as a wedding present to Hilary. Hilary had planned on starting at Amicalola. I didn't care one way or the other. But, Warren seemed to think the summit would be better and Hilary was swayed so we had quite the ride to Springer with Warren and Terry.
We started hiking at 9:45pm with our headlamps. Knowing that the Springer Mountain shelter is usually packed this time of year, we bypassed it and knowing that camping on the summit is "discouraged" but not prohiobited, we opted for the summit, Besides, we weren't cooking, we weren't even going to set up our tents. It was too nice and we wanted to sleep under the stars. Well, it was a good idea until it started to rain at 3:00am. Of course, it only started raining - a few drops - enough to chase us into our tents but that was it. It remained dry the rest of the night.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007: Springer Mountain to Hawk Mountain shelter
Even though signs indicated camping on Springer Mountain summit was "discouraged", there was nothing that said it was "prohibited". When Many Sleeps, the caretaker found us packing up on the summit, he gave a surly lecture and admonished us to never sleep on the summit again. But soon thereafter, he came around and became friendlier. We compared notes about mutual acquaintances.
With sunrise so late this far west in the eastern timezone, we hit the trail around 9:30.
As we approached the FS42 trailhead again, I noted that I needed to pee but since we could see some people hanging out there, I said I would wait a bit. Then we noticed the sign. It was a "No pee area". Huh? No wait! It was a "no FEE area". Well, either way, I had peed near there the night before so they got their pee, anyway.
It was a beautiful day and the hiking easy. At Three Forks, we stopped to talk to a couple of "older" women who enjoyed hiking but could "never" hike the trail. Well, one had already hiked Maine and done at least a little in most other states. We encouraged her to hike if she wanted to. There was nothing on the trail harder than anything she had already done.
Further on, we passed a couple of Army rangers fiddling near a pickup. They warned us of some gunfire (blanks) that we might hear ahead in case Murray would be upset. Soon enough, we caught sight of them in the woods. When they saw us, they tried to be still and not be seen by us. Too late. When we stopped to look at a huge hole in a tree, we looked back and saw the rangers crossing the trail behind us - very quietly.
When we arrived at Hawk Mountain shelter at 1:30, we saw the two rangers we had talked with earlier relaxing there. They had passed us on the trail when we stopped to apply sunscreen. We chatted with them a bit while they relaxed but then as their group of rangers came in sight, they got up saying they "had to look military" now. They donned their own backpacks, stood up, and watched as the line of 40-50 rangers in training walked by.
Other hikers soon arrived (Rick, Tom from Louisiana, Walking Cowboy, and Knockout the nurse anesthetist). Hilary, now Terrapin Flyer from her first thruhike in '93, amused us with a rendition of a coral puppet show, using a piece of a red net onion bag.
Wanting to take a significant break just to see how the shoulder was going to respond, we stayed at the shelter for two hours. Then we kept delaying our departure until finally a few raindrops (forecasted) made the decision for us. We were staying. Plus, with so few people staying in the shelter, it was going to be a good test to see how well Murray would behave in a shelter when there might be more people around.
Finally during the evening, the gunfire we had been told about finally started. There was a lot of automatic gunfire and a helicopter running back and forth from the area to, apparently, Camp Merrill. Rick mentioned they were the busiest woodpeckers he had ever heard and I'll never think of machine gunfire the same way again.
Thursday, March 15, 2007: Hawk Mountain shelter to Woody Gap (hostel)
Murray tried to follow me when I left the shelter in advance of TF this morning. She was out of sight at the privy so wasn't there to call him back. So, I had him sit, lay down, and stay. And he did! What a good dog.
TF caught up with me for breakfast number 2 and we walked together for the rest of the day. The forecast was for rain so we headed for the Hiker Hostel in Dahlonega run by Josh and Leigh Saint, former thruhikers, themselves. The rain, fog and wind picked up while we were on the trail so a quick call from the trailhead netted us the last two beds at the hostel.
Wasn't I surprised when Paul (Old Man) got out of our shuttle. He and Jaime (Navigator) have been helping out at the hostel for the last few springs. FWIW, Paul was just as surprised to see me. I know Paul and Jaime from ALDHA.
The hostel here is beautiful. Three stories of wood frame construction with wonderful detailing inside and out. They welcome dogs and their dog Maggie and Murray were immediate buddies.
A quick shower and then a trip into town for laundry detergent (unscented), a pizza, and one pint of Ben and Jerry's (to share).
It's been nice to be back on the AT. there's never any doubt as to where the trail goes (like on the CDT), water is plentiful, picnic tables at shelter sites make life easy, and so far, we've had views through the trees. It's nothing like desert hiking though. We're going up and down but these hills are not yet big enough to be a grind.
This morning's walk was also nice. It was really the first time I had hiked alone since starting the trail. It's easy to be with a hiking partner 24/7 so finding opportunities to have time to ourselves will also be important.
Friday, March 16, 2007: Woody Gap to Neels Gap (Hiker Hostel) 10.6 miles (30.5 total)
Pancakes, eggs, oatmeal, OJ for breakfast at 7:00am. Everybody out by 8:00am. Murray has been under the weather, not eating, diarrhea, etc. He's probably stressed from the change in his daily routing and not seeing Richard, Terrapin's husband, daily. So, we decided to slackpack and leave Murray to stay with Maggie, Josh and Leigh's dog.
It was cold, in the 40s, and foggy for our entire hike. It rained on and off but while we took our jackets on and off all day, it was never really enough to soak us. We took one standing break for a Luna bar but then the climb up Blood Mountain was easy compared to what I thought I remembered from '99. During my two year anniversary hike in '01, I skipped Blood Mountain due to very bad weather.
We hung out in the shelter, a stone house with no windows or doors, on top of the mountain long enough to put warmer clothes on for the descent and to sign the register. My hands were a bit cold so I put an extra pair of socks I had with me on my hands.
On the descent, we stopped to talk with more people than on the way up as the weather started clearing and it got warmer as we descended. We stopped for some silliness at a balanced rock formation, where pictures show Terrrapin stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Then is was a quick walk to Neel's Gap where we ran into Pirate. We did some shopping there, well, Terrapin did. I just got some tongue depressors to help my shoes fit better. I thought I wanted some five irons but then realized I already had a pair in my shoes.
Instead of calling for a shuttle, we got directions and hitched back to the hostel. One bad instruction had us miss the hostel but it wasn't hard to correct and hitching around here is incredibly easy. With three rides, it took at most three minutes of waiting time while hitching. It was much faster than waiting for the shuttle would have been.
Instead of town dinner, we made do with what we had in our packs.
Saturday, March 17: Hiker Hostel (zero day)
Today is the eight year anniversary of the start of my '99 thruhike.
Murray was sick again last night so Terrapin decided to take a zero day. Since we had been hiking together and having fun on the trail together, I did too - but not after talking a bit and sort of solidifying our partnership of sorts. We're still free to do what we want and we do have differing ways of dealing with towns/resupply/etc. So we'll just see how long this lasts.
In the morning, I went into town for a battery and to grab lunch for later. When I got back, John did his physiology assessment on me. I was surprised to come out in pretty good shape. I still won't be able to keep up with Terrapin on hills but hopefully I can stay close enough so I don't feel like I'm constantly playing catch up.
Munched on lunch. Completed the surveys that went with the study. Did more journaling. Shared ice cream with Terrapin but saved half for later.
St. Patricks Day dinner at the hostel of corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, Irish soda bread, cookies, and more. Lots of visitors so I got to see Stumpknocker, Bear Bag and Cimmaron, and Spur and Ready. I got to show Spur and Ready my camera. Ready had given me a lot of good advice about buying a digital camera and Spur ended up helping me download the images off of my camera.
Sunday, March 18, 2007: Nell's Gap to Low Gap shelter (10.6 miles/41.1 total)
Breakfast of French toast, my favorite eggs type breakfast. Got a free bandana from the Leave No Trace folks at Neels Gap. They also just gave me a free primer plate as I brought the wrong alcohol stove with me and it needs priming. Bought some bear bag rope.
It was cold but sunny hiking today so our long sleeved shirts were on and off all day. The latest rain and then freezing tempersatures have wrought havoc on the trail. The sides of the trail look positively rototilled. There are a lot of wispy ice formations pushing up individual grains of dirt.
The views were great in the sunny weather. We had the biggest and steepest climb so far but it wasn't bad at all.
Murray is now heeling anytime we cross paths with anyone else.
There's a mess at the shelter left over from yesterday's trail magic/St. Paddy's Day party. With any luck, it'll be cleaned up by the few remaining members of the those responsible - still tenting nearby.
Monday, March 19, 2007: Low Gap Shelter to Cheese Factory Site (tent) (13 miels, 54.1 total) Partly cloudy, 50s and 60s.
Second day out of town syndrome strikes again. I felt like I was plodding along all day.
My shoulder is better on the trail rather than off. Pressing down on my hiking poles to relieve stress from my legs supports one of the bones in my shoulder. My shoulder straps helps everything stay properly aligned. The worst part is still getting dressed and being careful when I pick up and put down anything heavy - like my backpack. Even yesterrday, on the short car ride to the trail, I could still feel the stress of the unsupported arm on my shoulder. I just don't need that kind of support on the trail.
Met Ed Williamson at Unicoi Gap today. He's a new member of the Florida Trails Association, Pensacola area. I suspect it won't be long before my Florida area friends hear of him.
We're starting to get to know more of the people on the trail. Rick, possible to be names something to do with chickens), we met at Hawk Mountain. Others we met as recently as tonight.
Spent less time walking with TF today. I just couldn't keep up. Mostly, the trail is steeper and my knees just can't keep up the pace.
TF is also reevaluating her original plans. She's now thinking of going into town tomorrow. Originally, she was planning on staying at the hostel but now that we have a quorum to share a motel room, she's rethinking. It'll be interesting to see how it all works out. Hitching with the dog, etc.
So far, we've seen very few hikers in their early 20s. Most have been in the 30s and 40s and retirees. It's an interesting mix and not at all unwelcome from my perspective.
Tonight, we're camping at the Cheese Factory site which many of us want to call the cheesecake factory site. Geezer and Pedro, members of the AT '06 Ewoks groups are here doing trail magic. Sodas, beer, burgers, chips and salsa, campfire, good company. Wonderful! the Dragon Lady and Hobbit are here, Rick, Erik, Dr. John, and more. The Dragon Lady wrote the first book on the Florida Trail that has since been handed over to my friend Navigator (Sandra Friend) to update.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007: Cheese Factory Site to Dicks Creek Gap, Hiawasee Inn (Motel) (12.5 miles, 66.6 total) 80s in the sun but much cool in the shade or with a breeze.
OJ trail magic with breakfast was a nice treat. Dry tent with no condensation - nice treat. Planned for Hiawasee with Rick and Erik.
There were hills. Erik took off. We didn't see him until town. TF caught up with me. Rick passed me. I passed him. We caugh up with TF. She passed us. We caught up. I had a bloody nose. Rick was concerned. Rick went ahead. I caught up with Rick, then TF. TF waited for me at the trailhead. We hitched together. Dropped her off the hostel. I went to town with her pack. Almost got left in the back of the car.
In Hiawasee, the motel left a bit to be desired. While the owners or managers were great, the room smelled and is in need of renovation, but they allow dogs, are hiker friendly, and even dropped the price for us for no apparent reason other than they like us. the shower was good even if I did have to duck to get under it. The laundry service here allows us to basically do our own with our own detergent even though they would normally do it for us.
They dropped us off for dinner at Daniel's Steakhouse for an All You Can Eat (AYCE) meal. Walking back afterwards, we had a bit of a tour of Hiawasee. Back at the Motel, Erik and I went shopping from TF's maildrop. She's still receiving way more than she can possibely eat yet so rather than dump the extra in the hiker box, she's giving it to us. It reminds me of my first hike where I had 30 maildrops planned.
Tonight's coral puppet show turned into the coral shadow puppet show.
Date:Sat Mar 24, 2007 6:32 pm
Just one day transcribed below. No time to type in the last two days as there are others waiting for the computer. The short story - did a long day of Standing Indian and Albert Mountain. Then a short day including a slackpack into Franklin.
Saw Mala and Tucker dog doing trail magic. Got a ride from him and caught up with him. It was good to see him again. I've known him for many years. Lots of the people behind have caught up with us. Perhaps some will be hiking closer to the pace I prefer to hike.
Not sure where I'll next get a longer chunk of time on-line.
But it looks like it'll be two days to NOC, then two more to Fontana, then on to the Smokies.
I'll update when I can...
Wednesday, March 21, 2007: Dick's Creek Gap (Hiawasee) to Plum Orchard Gap shelter (4.3 miles/70.9 total - sunny and 70s in town, colder up here.
Continental breakfast at this low budget inn was surprisingly good - hard boiled eggs, cereal, bagels, croissants, etc.
Caught up with transcribing my journal at the library. Forwarded my bounce box to Fontana Village. Lunch at the Chinese buffet. Shopped for the next few days to Franklin. Packed up. Too stuffed to eat the pint of Ben and Jerry's I bought. Put in freezer until ready to go. Felt I should eat "something real" before leaving town so grabbed a DQ hot dog.
Four of us squished into an Oldsmobile something or other with Murray on the floor in the front with TF, TF's pack in the trunk and three of us and our packs in the back seat, packed so tight seat belts were superfluous.
A very quick 4.5 miles to the shelter and then, to the bemusement of everyone there, I pulled out my pint of Ben and Jerry's carried from town. So, it was mostly melted but still a bit frozen and the photo op was great. Two guys on spring break sharing the shelter with us wondered who us crazy folks were.
Rick now seems to have formally adopted Mystery Chicken as his trail name. We'll see if it holds. The shelter register here was placed by none other than Leonard Adkins, the Habitual Hiker, earlier in March.
Oh yeah, we heard about a troublesome chicken in Hiawasee brought into town in the back of a truck in which it had roosted. Once in town, it got loose and caused havoc tying up traffic periodically throughout the day until rounded up by a group of Mexicans. The chicken was recognized by a local woman as one of 200 kept by her paw paw. It was returned, apparently no worse for wear, to it's farm. Talked to my sister Lori today and got a lot of "admin" stuff done. I'll soon receive my new credit card to replace my expiring one and a new bank card for the new bank account I just opened on the way south. Plus, it was nice to talk with family. Big difference from the last time I stayed here. There was 6" of snow on the ground and people I was with built anatomically correct snowpeople.
Date:Sun Mar 25, 2007 10:14 am
As always, pardon the typos - more interested in getting the journal typed than prettied right now.
Going to get out of town late today in an effort to keep up with my journal and limit the hiking hours so I'll reduce miles and hopefully limit any further injury to my ankles and preferably allow them to heal. So, here I am, getting out of town late, but still with plenty of time to hike.
Next update from - who knows where?
I'll be in the Smokies within a week - likely less.
Thursday, March 22, 2007: Plumorchard Gap shelter to Standing Indian Shelter (12.2 miles/83.1 total) partly cloudy ~60s.
Well, it's now apparent TF and I probably won't be maintaining a partnership much longer. Now that the hills have gotten steeper, I've slowed down and the only times we're together are at breaks and at shelters. I'm still doing relatively "long" miles with no significant aches or pains but it's just slow for me. Plus, our attitudes towards towns is significantly different so that also makes it hard to stick together when she wants to grab a maildrop box and go and I want a room with a shower, laundry, restaurant, etc.
It's too bad because we still enjoy each other's company. Sigh.
Today, we crossed our first state line and took a celebratory break at "the" Bly Gap tree. I basically walked alone most of the day and caught up with others at break points. Bly Gap, Muskrat Creek Shelter, etc.
I had another bloody nose - twice. it's aggravating.
It was nice to dump trash at the Deep Gap trash cans.
Friday, March 23, 2007: Standing Indian Shelter to campsite 1.5 miles north of Glassmine Gap. (18.5 miles/101.6 total) sunny 70s.
"Alpine" (predawn) start to catch sunrise on Standing Indian Mountain. By the time I got to the side trail to the summit, I could tell sunrise was already over the horizon, just not yet over the clouds. I skipped the side trail and caught sunrise from the trail.
It should have been a fast cruising day for me but my ankles, twisted perhaps one too many times, seemed tender and I went slow to avoid twisting them any more. They didn't hurt though. I took a quick pop tart break - just long enough to look at a map and see there was an upcoming shelter at which to take a longer break. Rick passed me on the way to the shelter but then everyone stopped at the shelter for breakfast number 2. Lunch number 1 was at the gap before Albert Mountain and lunch number 2 was on top of Albert Mountain. There were great views from the firetower on top of Albert Mountain and those not familiar with New Hampshire hiking got a bit of a taste of what it will be like on the hand over hand section near Albert Mountain's summit.
We had planned to stop just .5 mile ahead at Big Stamp shelter but when someone realized tomorrow was Saturday and the PO would close early, they all went ahead to Rock Gap shelter for a 20 mile day. I didn't want to do that given my ankles so I took a long break, checked out the map, and then decided to walk another three miles, gently downhill to the next gap, Glassmine Gap. Well, it was a good plan but Glassmine gap left a lot to be desired. But, I still planned on staying there so I started to get comfortable, ate a bunch but didn't feel like cooking dinner, took some ibuprofen and an hour later, decided to hike onto the next decent campsite.
A mile or so later, just before sunset, and just after yet another bloody nose, I found a great site to camp. The weather was fantastic so I didn't even bother to set up my tent. I just laid out my groundsheet, sleeping pad, and bag, and crashed right there.
Oh yeah, after leaving Big Stamp shelter, I found the tree with the water pouring out from underneath that I had remembered from my first hike. It didn't look the way I remembered it but it was close enough and it was still really cool. I got a bunch of pictures of it this time. I think I had run out of film last time and I had been kicking myself ever since. But, I still wonder - is it the same tree?
So, this is my first night camping alone. Barring any unforeseen human, animal, or meteorological visitors, it should be great. Waxing crescent moon, visible planets, and soon many stars are enough to keep me company tonight.
Saturday, March 24, 2007: unnamed campsite to Winding Stair gap (Franklin) (5 miles/106.6 total) Sunny and 80s.
Not much wildlife so far. Pairs of Barred Owls calling to each other in the evening, woodpeckers, juncos, robins, ruffed grouse starting their engines, and one squirrel. And it's not because of Murray that we're not seeing anything. There's just not much to be seen. All of the scat we've seen is very old.
The Lights of Franklin were spread out below me last night. I was a bit surprised at the dew on my bag in the morning given the entire night was clear but a thin layer of fog was enough to dampen my stuff just a bit. I was up and packed in 15 minutes and got on the trail at 6:45 just when it was light enoguh to hike without my light. I did keep it handy just in case.
My ankles seem tender but don't hurt but I'll still take it easy and walk gingerly. It's as if a few non-serious twists added up to a more major injury.
With only 1.5 miles to the shelter, everyone was very surprised to see me wandering in thinking I had gotten up very early from the previous shelter. It just never occurred to them that I might camp somewhere in between. turns out I missed TF and Murray by 15 minutes or so. I stopped by to peel clothes and use the privy, ever so much easier than digging a cathole.
At the road below Rock Gap shelter, Ron Haven, owner of the motel in town, was doing trail mgaic in the form of breakfast, or at least trying. With so many already on the trail, he missed quite a few and nobody really wanted to stop at that point. So, he ended up dumping a grill full of flaming coals, putting them out, and driving around Winding Stair Gap to do breakfast there, instead. He also slackpacked four of us (Don Keyhote, Finnegan, FlyAway, and myself) so with no packs and no water, it only took 1:15 to do the 3.7 miles.
At Winding Stair Gap, I found quite the crowd. TF and Murray, Erik, Mystery Chicken, Fidel, Finnegan, and Don were the ones I had been spending time with plus a couple more guys getting slacked from Wayah Gap, and four more heading north including Bag Lady, Forgetful, and Willing and Able. Mala and Tucker dog were also there, friends the trail community over the years. I had just seen that they had signed into the register at Rick Gap the day before and was bummed to have missed them so I'm glad I got to see them this time.
We caught up and I got to admire his travel setup. Now that I've also been spending a lot of time living in a vehicle, I could appreciate his pickup even more. He "lives" in his pickup even more than I've lived in my last vehicle, a '95 Ford Taurus Wagon.
After breakfast, I went with Mala as he dropped off a couple of Wayah Gap slackpackers and caught up with him as we drove back to town.
In town, it was time for showers, lunch (pulled pork BBQ and homemade fresh kettle chips at Mountain Feast), laundry, shopping, AYCE dinner at the Sirloin Steakhouse - formerly Western Sizzlin but still with a full food bar but with disappointing crawfish.
Ben and Jerry's for dessert after reorganizing my pack.
Internet access here at the hotel is great except short lived in the evening with a cutoff time of 7 pm. Great group here at the motel. The usual crowd plus, Bligh, Wonderfoot (working here), Fidel, Stretch, Knockout, and more.
It's Murray's 2nd birthday and he made out with a bag of treeats, a big bone, and yet another Ben and Jerry's container as well as a new toy - a playground ball.
Just before dinner, I looked at my ankles and for the first time, realized they were very swollen. Even though they were tender, they had never really hurt so now I'm going to force myself to slow down and limit my miles.
Sunday, March 25, 2007: Winding Stair Gap (Franklin, TN) to campsite after Wayah Bald (10.5 miles / 117.1 total) Sunny 80s (record high temps)
The breakfast shuttle seemed a no show so we walked to Hardees. Of course, the shuttle passed us as we walked back to the motel. Oh well.
I said good-bye to Terrapin Flyer (TF) as she took the first shuttle out to do a 16+ mile day. I got on-line, went to a second breakfast with Mala, got on-line again, talked with Nina, and then Mala finally dropped me at the trailhead at 1:00pm.
What a difference eight years makes. My ankle troubles this time are minor. I walk pain free – even in town. It was this stretch of trail eight years ago that had me contemplating getting off the trail.
This time, the biggest problem is the bugs. Last time, these tiny flies were here but in smaller numbers and not biting. This time, they’re horrible. They’re swarming, they fly into eyes, ears, nose, and mouth and they bite, too. I need bug dope and a head net if this is going to continue.
I flushed a turkey today, saw a chipmunk and another squirrel. Wolves were sighted in this area just this morning but I don’t expect to be lucky enough to see the elusive creatures.
I only took two small breaks and one 20 minute break all day. I may move slow but I seem to have endurance. I guess I’m the tortoise to everyone else’s hare. I even managed to almost catch up with Don Keyhote and Finnegan as they took many long breaks even though they started hours ahead of me today.
My lunch break was at Wayah Gap, at the picnic tables I had remembered from my last hike. It was where I had last said goodbye to Candleman and LJ when the last of my original trail family got ahead of me.
At camp, I found Mystery Chicken, Bligh, Knockout, Don, and Finnegan. If I’m up for it tomorrow, I may put in a long day so I can take a day to go kayaking at NOC. Who knows? Maybe this time I’ll have company on the river. There are some who are interested…
Monday, March 26, campsite to NOC (16.8 miles / 133.9 total) Partly cloudy, Highs in the 70s.
It was a long day. The bugs got active as soon as the sun rose over the horizon. We walked through miles of burned area from Licklog gap north a ways. The rancid odor was biting and tugged at my lungs. It can’t be healthy to walk through an area like that. It reminded me of the fires along the trail in ’99 and out west on the PCT.
The descent into NOC was as grueling as ever. Five miles of unrelenting downhill. My previous ankle problems are on the mend but the downhill hike gave me a bit of tendonitis on the inside tendon of my right ankle. I may take a zero tomorrow to spend part of a day in a kayak just as I had last time I hiked through here. Or maybe, I’ll kayak and then just do a few miles out of here.
I keep saying I’m going to slow down but I now realize why my miles keep piling up. Ever since my AT hike, I’ve done many hikes where it’s normal to hike al day. So, now I do it here and even though I’m slow, with my stamina and short breaks, the miles just keep adding up. I’ve had few physical complaints – a bit of chafing – one single tiny blister that I only noticed after the fact because it never hurt, a touch of tendonitis, and those swollen ankles. But, no aches, no serious pains. I have something on my left arm that resembles poison ivy in that it’s vaguely blistery but it’s not particularly itchy and it’s not red. I remember a much smaller but similar “patch” on my right arm during my first thruhike but never figured out what that was, either. So, I’m just ignoring it, hoping it will go away on its own.
I had a bit of a disagreement today with a hiker who was tossing his sausage wrapper on the ground. I didn’t think he was littering, but just putting it aside until he got out his garbage bag. Since mine was handy, I offered mine to him. He got all defensive, insisted the wrapper was biodegradable, and he wasn’t going to carry it out. He said if it bothered me, I could pick it up. I should have done so but was so stunned, I didn’t and eventually just moved on. I stewed about it for a while, vented to another hiker, and then had to let it pass. For the time being, we’ll probably be in the same area and will have to get along as best we can.
I got to NOC at 6:15, in time for dinner and to check into the bunkhouse for the night. Chicken Sherpa, a concoction of rice, lentils, chicken, broccoli, cheese and more was delicious. I also had a salad and a brownie sundae for dessert. Yum!
I showered with no towel, just used my sweaty bandana to dry off as best I could. I’ll do laundry tomorrow and kayak if there’s time.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007: NOC (0 miles / 133.9 total) Partly cloudy, high in the 70s.
The AYCE breakfast was great at the River’s End restaurant at NOC. Plus, I got to see TF and Murrray again before they hit the trail. Murray is now on his third doggy pack. With a little ingenuity, I hope the third time’s the charm for him.
I got some much needed mail at NOC today including a card my niece drew. I checked out of my room by 10:00 in case I wasn’t to hike on today. I put my stuff in the men’s bunk room becauswe I knew Boat Drinks was planning a zero and I could leave my stuff with his. My plan was to rent a ducky (inflatable kayak), run the river, and maybe hike out later in the afternoon. But, the water release from the upstream dam didn’t happen until nearly 11:00 and it takes 90 minutes for the increased flow to make it this far so the shuttle upstream wasn’t going to happen until 1:15. Oh well, a late start but still worthwhile.
I grabbed a hot dog for lunch and then Boat Drinks and I rented ducks for the trip. Jelly Bean, an ‘05/’06 hiker who I had met after breakfast was there with her own plastic kayak and the three of us ended up running the river and playing in the eddies together for the entire eight mile run from our drop in point upstream. Jelly Bean just happened to be hanging out and running the river when she could so it was nice to have another former thruhiker to hang out with.
As we finished our trip, Boat Drinks made it over Nantahala Falls with no problems. Jelly Bean rolled her plastic kayak – just as she had expected. I let another two man boat go in front of me and thought I had left plenty of room but they got stuck and I had to do some quick maneuvering to get around them and keep from compounding their problem. It was a boat with a father and younger son. The Dad got dumped.
I eddied with Jelly Bean until we could see that the Dad would be OK. Then we made our way to the landing. Just as we were about to walk away, the boat with the Dad and boy missed the landing and were headed for the more difficult rapids below used for an Olympic training facility. They were scared and upset over their previous dumping and the Dad just gave up and stopped paddling. JB and I jumped into the water as far as we could safely go to try to pull them in but missed by inches. Boat Drinks grabbed the throw bag, ran down the beach, tossed the bag but missed by just a foot or so. In the meantime, one of the NOC river workers, grabbed the boat I had just landed and gave chase and eventually was able to catch them and push them against the far bank. I was surprised to learn that during the season, two to three boats miss the return each day.
I showered again (Wow! twice in two days!), did laundry, and had dinner with JB during which time a plan was hatched.
It turns out she was in the area to do a couple of weeks of trail magic with Bare Bear at Stecoah Gap, 14 miles north along the trail. She was planning on getting there the next afternoon but had a problem. She couldn’t get her big pickup started and had already tried once, unsuccessfully, to start it. So, I pulled out my AAA card and asked if I could help… What do you know? Reverse Trail Magic. A few minutes later and AAA was sending a truck up to jump her pickup. In the meantime, knowing that if she got her truck started she would be going 14 miles north on the trail the next day, I secured a slackpack for the next day. She not only jumped at the chance to give me a slackpack, but to help out anyone else who also wanted to slackpack – UPHILL! Woohoo!
An hour later and a not so easy jump had the truck running but JB was immediately on her way into Bryson City for two new matching batteries for her diesel truck.
In the meantime, I finished our laundry and started letting other hikers know about the potential for the slackpack. JB was concerned that only healthy people who had already done some big mile days attempt this particular hike because there were no intermediate places where they could get their packs back if they didn’t make it. Plus, there was a 30% chance of rain so anyone slackpacking would have to be prepared for that, too.
By 9:30, she was back with two new batteries so I knew the slackpack was on but was too beat to go tell anyone else.
In the meantime, I had to find a way to rig the top pocket of my pack as a fanny-pack for the upcoming slackpack. I took off the hipbelt and rigged the top pocket as a fanny pack. It wasn’t great, but it would do.
With nobody else in the room, I took the time to read with the light on and then it was bedtime.
Date:Wed Apr 4, 2007 12:12 am
Got a few more days typed in tonight but I'm sending them off now as a violent storm is moving in and I want to get off the computer. More tomorrow...
Wednesday, March 28, 2007: NOC to Stecoah Gap (13.6 miles / 147.5 total) Partly cloudy and 70s with light rain in the early evening.
It was nice having another “private” room last night.
I woke up early to a migraine. I was up at 6:30 to eat a snack and take some Excedrin. Then I went back to sleep and got up in time to meet Boat Drinks, Jelly Bean, and Mickey One Sock for breakfast.
I grabbed my camera pack, my rigged fanny pack, and after stashing my pack in Jelly Bean's pickup camper rig, I got on my way. With better than a 3300’ climb to Cheoah Bald, it was slow going. There were hikers with their full backpacks going faster than me. I took breaks with Focus, Stretch, and Waffle (an 18 year old). Finally at Sassafrass Gap, Boat Drinks caught up with me. We actually walked together for a few miles before I had to stop to remove a pebble from my shoe.
It was a steep but quick descent into Stecoah Gap. It was great to see Jelly Bean’s rig and another huge RV when I got there. It turns out she’s doing trail magic with Bare Bear, also an ’05 (or ’06)er and they’ve got permission to set up shop and do trail magic at Stecoah Gap for a couple of weeks – or until the supplies run out. This isn’t some small setup. It’s huge with grill, tables, chairs, and even though they got a late start today and didn’t get everything est up today, they still had burgers, hotdogs, candy, chips, and more. I even made banana boats for dessert.
Future hikers will get even more including tiki lamps and wood fires.
Thursday, March 29, 2007: Stecoah Gap to Fontana Village (14 miles / 161.5 total) Cloudy and showers with temps in the 70s.
The unseasonably warm temperatures we’ve experienced for much of the hike continued today although we did get some much needed rain. It certainly wasn’t enough to put an end to the class one drought they’re experiencing in the region.
The trail magic at Stecoah Gap continued this morning with pancakes, OJ, and more. It was amazing. Not part of the standard trail magic, Jelly Bean downloaded my pictures and burned a CD for me this morning. She wanted copies of some of the pictures I had. Plus she added some pictures she had taken that I wanted to the CD for me. When I realized how few pictures were on the memory card, it made me realize that I have to start taking more pictures.
With the morning showers, I kept delaying my start and finally got on the trail at 10:00. I spent much of the day in the vicinity of the self-proclaimed “old geezers”, three men in their 60s or so. Miles McDuff, Ranger, and Thunder. Miles was funny and talked to me quite a bit when we were within range.
I pulled into Fontana just in time to get dinner at the pricey motel dining room. But the salad, and crab cakes were delicious. The chocolate cake however, was amazing. It was three layers of dense cake, maybe four inches wide of arc, and a radius of another 4” but it must have been six inches high. I managed to finish it but it was a stretch – even for this hungry hiker.
I shared a room with Sandwich, a speedy hiker who started on March 20, six days after me. She’s hoping to yoyo if her knees hold out.
I realize I feel like I’m spending more time in towns on this hike but I also realize that while the number of towns hasn’t changed much, the longer days I’m putting in means fewer days on the trail between towns. That plus the three days I spent at the Hiker Hostel could have something to do with my perception.
Friday, March 30, 2007: Fontana Village to Birch Spring Gap (tent) (7 miles / 168.5 total) Partly cloudy and 70s.
After running out of energy at the end of the day yesterday, I went to sleep without a shower so I started the day with a shower this morning and boy did it feel good. Breakfast at the motel was delicious and Sandwich and I shared two breakfast options – the burrito and the French toast. Both were great but I would recommend the burrito just because you can get reasonable French toast elsewhere on the trail.
At the Laundromat, Sandwich and I shared a load and were surprised when the machine took $1.75 instead of $1.25 as advertised. It was a programming mistake on that machine so we got our $.50 back so anyone heading there should watch out for that first machine and use one of the others. Dryers at $.25 for 10 minutes are a bargain.
While the laundry was being done, I picked up my bounce box. I resupplied from that, from the hiker box at the outfitter, and from food at both the outfitter and the general store. I sent my bounce box on to Hot Springs where I expect to pick it up on April 11 or so.
I made use of the phone in the room to make plans for next week. I’ve got friends (Waterfall ’00 and Sheltowee ’99) in Maggie Valley to visit plus it’s Passover so I hope to find a host family for at least one Seder.
I shuttled out to the marina and Stretch agreed to put my pack in the bathroom for me to pick up so I could slackpack at least the first mile. I got pictures of a 6” lizard in the trail. I tried to scare it away but it wouldn’t budge. Knowing Bligh was coming up behind me, I finally touched it’s tail. It still didn’t’ move. I could pet the lizard. Finally, it did startle and moved off the trail.
Bligh caught up with me as we took a look at the dam mechanics and we walked into the Smokies together. A mile of road walking over the dam and to the trailhead and we finally hit more trail. Five more miles later, after spotting a tiny brown striped skink and a nice long stop at Shuckstack tower, and we finally got to the campsite area at dusk. By the time we were eating, we were cooking in the dark. We shared the campfire the horsepacker built. It was well past hiker bedtime when we finally got to sleep. I had hoped to sleep out but the dew was already heavy before I went to sleep so I pulled out my tent knowing I would need a dry sleeping bag for the next few days.
Saturday, March 31, 2007: Birch Spring Gap campsite to Derrick Knob shelter. (17.1 miles / 185.6 total) Windy and partly cloudy 70s-60s.
Today hikers got to celebrate a milestone. It’s now officially less than 2000 miles to Katahdin. Yikes!
With yesterday’s late start, I made short miles that I hoped to make up today. Taking my first break just minutes from the campsite didn’t bode well. I had to peel clothes, dig a cathole, and while there, noticed an old wolf release cage so back to the pack to get my camera, back to the cage to take pictures, peel some more clothes, and finally hit the trail again.
I took more breaks at Mollies Ridge shelter amongst a field of Spring Beauties, tiny white flowers with pinkish purple stripes that are sure harbingers of spring. I ran into Graybeard, ’99 a ridgerunner taking pictures of the first Trout Lilies of the season. I tok a lunch break at Russell Field. I skipped Spence Field shelter as it was too far off the trail and managed the last six miles of the toughest trail to date in the Smokies to push on to Derrick Knob shelter by 7:30. It was a LONG day. With the forecasted rain, I was glad to get through that particular section of trail.
I was surprised to find Erik, now Granite, there and he was surprised to see me there, too. I cooked dinner, hung my food, and went to sleep by 9:00 or so.
Date:Thu Apr 5, 2007 12:35 am
I just spent my last day here in Maggie Valley visiting Asheville, having lunch with Dan, running into Restless Wind AT98 at the Mast General Store, etc. But the journal entry will have to wait until I finish writing it and get back on line somewhere up the trail. After two great days off the trail, I'm headed back into the mountains to much colder temperatures with highs in the 40s and lows in the teens. It'll be cold but mostly dry with only a few snow showers in the forecast until a week from now when it'll be warmer. Well, that's what the 10-dayt forecast says. We'll see how reality plays out. Besides, I'll be in Hot Springs by then, anyway.
Oh yeah, I don't have any set plans to check post offices along the way, but I will be checking at Hot Springs so if anyone needs/wants to send me anything, send it to:
Mara "Stitches" Factor
Mark it "Hold for thruhiker due 4/12"
Thanks so much,
Sunday, April 1, 2007: Derrick Knob Shelter to Silers Bald Shelter (5.5 miles / 191.1 total) RAIN!
It’s noon. I’m back in my sleeping bag in the shelter. It’s been blowing and raining since 3:00am. I’m glad the 1:00 arrival of a hiker, normally a bother, woke me up. I got up to pee before the rain came. I’ve had to wait for break and slow downs in the rain to get out for other bathroom breaks and to get my food bags off the bear cables. It’s apparently supposed to rain all day contrary to our hopes of it moving off this morning.
BooBoo, Bligh, and Stretch just walked in from Spence field, soaking wet and chilled to the bone. They changed into their dry clothing and crept into their bags to warm up. Knowing there were more hikers on the way, when the rain let up a bit later, I started packing. Will, the guy who came in late last night and Erik headed out just a few minutes before me.
The trail was a lot easier today but with the rain, the trail turned muddy and it was slow going to avoid slipping. I passed yet another group headed for the shelter I just left and was glad I left knowing how crowded it was going to be that night. I was even more sure I made the right decision when I got to the next shelter and found a raging fire and warmth with good tarps keeping the wind out of the shelter. There were two groups there already: a group of five high school kids out for their first backpack figuring it out as they were going; and a group of three consisting of two grown sons and their Dad.
There was still plenty of room in the shelter so I grabbed a spot. Bligh and Stretch showed up a bit later. Stretch grabbed a spot on the top bunk and Bligh next to me on the lower bunk. It was just as well. Bligh had been wanting to tell me some stuff but kept putting it off. We ended up having a heart to heart that night. It was nothing earth shattering but it explained a bit about his behavior and I think he was glad to have someone else on the trail know what was going on with him.
Monday, April 2, 2007: Silers Bald Shelter to Clingman’s Dome (Maggie Valley) Partly sunny, foggy, 50s.
I woke up early to more squirrel antics. Back to sleep. Finally got up and out shortly after 8:00am. Figured out along the way that my toilet paper had gone missing, probably during yesterdays antics at Derricks Knob. But, some nice guys at the next shelter came to the aid of this damsel in distress and handed me a roll to use at the first mouldering privy I had seen in the park. Privies are somewhat new to the park in response to the disgusting situations that came up in the “toilet areas” that many people did not know how to use properly.
Stretch and Bligh caught up with me at that shelter and the three of us walked most of the way to Clingman's Dome together. Stretch beat us there but was nowhere to be found when we got there. I don’t know if she skipped it or just got that far ahead of us.
Climbing up the tower, Bligh and I got talking with a family. I eventually asked for and got a ride from them to Newfound gap as I was running too late to hike there and was expected in town. It was fun., Even though it was only 50 degrees, they had the top down on their jeep. I owe a big thanks to the Ryans: Greg, Lucinda, and Susan, for giving me that ride.
At Newfound Gap nobody was going down the Cherokee side of the park. I eventually gave up hitching from the parking lot and made my way to the Clingman’s Dome turnoff to hitch where people would know exactly where I was headed. It took a while, but a woman finally stopped. She had three kids in the car, two of whom were probably less than six and neither of them in car seats. I had intended to get to Cherokee in the morning but it was 1:00 by the time I got there.
A quick call to Nina and it was time to eat. She had a meeting so I had to kill two hours. No problem. I was hungry and my ride had dropped me at a pancake breakfast joint.
I had my usual French toast but with ham this time. Followed by a convenience store run for some ice cream and a little Debbie Swiss roll. I had just enough time to complete one sudoku puzzle before Nina showed up.
Back at her and Dan’s beautiful house on the mountainside in Maggie Valley, I quickly got a load of laundry in the wash, borrowed a skirt from Nina (surprising given that she’s nearly a foot shorter and petite), ate a pre-dinner dinner, showered and changed in time for a five minute ride up higher on the mountain by 6:00. In Fontana, I had managed to find a host for the first Seder and they just happened to live in the same neighborhood as Nina and Dan.
When Nina dropped me off, she realized that she had met them a few years earlier when they were just moving in so she came with me to the door to say 'hi' and find out how best I should get back in touch with her to get a ride back to her place.
There were 10 of us at the Seder and as I’ve found in previous years while traveling, the Seder was very familiar – down to the Maxwell House Haggadahs (blue version). Nancy and Eliot Rennick, Jack and Barbara, Jack's two daughters, and Lee and her two daughters were there. Lee is the one I had talked with from Fontana and hadn’t known she was going to be there so it was nice to have a chance to meet her.
We started out with a two minute Seder before heading for the real thing. We had one interruption when a turkey walked by on their deck – they live in the mountains and there are wild turkeys nearby. I guess that one figured out it was safe as we were having brisket for dinner.
Tuesday, April 3, 2007: Maggie Valley (zero day) Sunny andd high 70s.
Today I tore through my “to do” list. I dried everything that had gotten wet from dew, rain, and/or fog. I planned my food requirements for the next stretch of trail to Hot Springs, about a week away. I emailed friends both on and off the trail. And, I managed to transcribe a few days of journal entries.
Lunch on the porch while baking in the sun with Nina was great. The forecast for the next few days is dramatically colder – perhaps colder than seasonable. Storms are expected tonight and then a major drop ih temperatures with lows in the teens. I haven’t really seen anything like that on the trail so far this year.
For dinner, Nina and I met Dan in Asheville for dinner at Jerusalem Garden. It was a nice Middle Eastern place and it had entertainment – there were a bunch of belly dancers there. It was just so weird to be on the trail one day and be having dinner with undulating women as entertainment the next.
I picked up a bunch of yummy junk food to share with my hosts.
With severe weather moving in, I transcribed a few more days before shutting the computer down to protect it from potential power surges due to lightning strikes.
Date:Thu Apr 5, 2007 6:09 pm
Well, when I got up to Clingman’s Dome this morning and the temperatures were in what I estimated to be the lower 20s, with high winds, rime ice chunks blowing off trees, and any previously flowing water in a solid state, it didn’t take much convincing on the part of Nina to get me back in the car and headed back to Maggie Valley. It’s one thing to be out there with cold overnight temperatures, but the promised 40+ degree highs just weren’t happening and to hike with three season gear in winter conditions, just wasn’t going to be fun. I would survive at best and the potential to run into problems was just too high to risk hiking in three or four days of record breaking cold temperatures. I hope other hikers have also bailed off the trail into the towns, usually much warmer at lower elevations.
Wasn’t it just days ago that I was mentioning record high temperatures?
Anyway, I’m back in town for now. We’ll see what the forecasters dish up over the next few days.
Wednesday, April 4, 2007: Maggie Valley (zero day) Sunny, windy, and 60s.
This morning, I read about half of Dan’s book, “America, One step at a time, a 3,400 mile walk in search of America.” Then it was time to drop Nina off at work as she graciously offered to let me use her car for the day so I could explore Asheville more thoroughly. I had seen the town briefly a couple of years ago and then again last night and it had piqued my curiosity – this bastion of liberal thought in the southern bible belt.
Not having had breakfast, I stopped in Malaprops on Nina’s recommendation. It’s a bookstore/café so I enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate and a piece of blueberry coffee cake. I then explored a wonderful art glass gallery next door. The works for sale there reminded me of an art glass exhibit I had seen at the MFA in Boston years ago. There was quite a variety of styles there.
By the time I was done there, it was time to call Dan to see if he wanted to join me for lunch. On the trail, my friend Bligh who had visited with friend in Asheville from Fontana had mentioned having had sushi. Completely unprompted from me, Nina had recommended Wasabi’s, a sushi place so Dan and I met there. I enjoyed a sushi lunch plate with a side order of a unagi (smoked eel) roll.
It’s easy to find pizza and Chinese in trail towns, but I really enjoy alternative ethnic foods when I can get them so I’ve been going to town here in Asheville. As long-distance hikers, both Nina and Dan understand exactly what I’ve been going through and where my cravings come from.
I wandered the downtown area after lunch and made my way to the Mast General Store and outfitters. I bought a couple of pairs of socks and a new headlamp. My last headlamp, a Black Diamond Ion, still worked but was chewing through batteries and at $6 a pop for batteries, I needed to make a change. My new light, a Petzl e+Lite, has two brightness settings for the white light, one for the red, and flashing modes on both the red and white lights. My old light was supposed to get 14 hours per battery. The new one should get 35-45 hours (depending on light intensity used) on two 2032 watch batteries. Plus, I’ll enjoy having the red light for those times when I want to preserve night vision and not wake my shelter mates with midnight runs to the privy.
While at the store, I was talking with one of the employees and it turns out he’s a thruhiker. “Restless Wind” AT’98 as well as a repeat PCTer. He knows my friends D-low and Mags, both of whom I had stayed with while touring Colorado last year.
I had hoped to visit the Biltmore Estate but ran out of time so I drove through the area but you can’t really see anything from the road.
I made my way to Waynesville in plenty of time to shop for my next three days on the trail and to have time to wander the downtown area while waiting for Nina to finish up Osondu Booksellers, a small town bookstore where she works. This place is one of those stores where maybe half the books face forward rather than just presenting the spines for customers to wade through. It also has a café, a children’s play area, and comfortable couches and chairs to sit and read in for a while.
At home, we cooked dinner (Nina’s an amazing cook), and then played Scrabble. With a bunch of good luck at picking high point letters, and one good high point place (GRAZE on a triple point), I just eked out a win over Nina who has a Master’s in English. Our second game started equally well for me when I was able to Bingo with DELUGES where the “S”, a blank, changed QUADS into SQUADS. We all faded rather quickly after that and never finished the game.
I also managed to connect with both sisters, Sharon and Lori, today to wish them a good holiday (Passover) and dealt with a bit of business with Lori who is handling my mail in my absence. It’s amazing how much junk mail I’m still getting. Sigh.
Date:Fri Apr 6, 2007 1:38 pm
Well, this cold front is going nowhere fast. I’m still in town, staying with Nina and Dan. For those who care, my return to the trail will determine when I arrive in Hot Springs. It’ll now be the 14th at the earliest but likely a day or two later. Basically, if I don’t manage to send out a daily report, especially for two days in a row, I’m probably on the trail again.
I'll try to send out a more definative note before I get back on the trail. In the meantime, here's yesterday's report...
Thursday, April 5, 2007: Maggie Valley (zero day) Sunny, much colder. 40s in the valleys and well below freezing with single digit wind chills in the mountains.
Today I wimped out. I had told myself when I stared that I was out here for fun and since I’ve become a bit of a fair weather hiker, I wouldn’t feel the need to hike in extreme weather – that I could and would hole up in town if the forecast was particularly nasty.
Well, it’s sunny and gorgeous today but when Nina drove me to Clingman’s Dome, I realized that while I could survive the cold conditions, it was stupid to head out into them when I had an option to stay in town. It was after 10:00 when we got up to the Clingman’s Dome trailhead. There was rime ice coating the trees, icicles on the rocks, and people from Florida trying to make snowballs out of the fallen rime ice. With all but two of my layers on my body and one layer yet to go on my legs, I was very cold just stepping out of the car. What would I do when the temps dropped overnight? My twenty degree bag, even with a silk liner to add nine degrees to that rating, wouldn’t cut it with any degree of comfort, especially since I am a cold sleeper.
So while driving back down the mountains with Nina, I was kicking myself for not getting out there, but I still know I made the right decision. Besides, Nina didn’t make it any easier to head out on the trail with such enticements as a warm fire in the fireplace, heat, a bed, an opportunity to see more of the area, good food in the fridge, and more.
I’ll now be finding ways to make myself useful as this cold front may be around for a few days.
Back at the house, I cleaned up around the kitchen and then Nina and I studiously avoided distracting each other as she had work she had to get done. I put a lunch spread out at 1:00 so she could grab a quick bite to eat before going back to work. I took a much needed nap, and then when Dan got home, I took Nina and Dan out to eat at their favorite pizza restaurant, Nick and Nates.
After dinner, we had a Scrabble rematch and in a very close game, Nina won.
Date:Sat Apr 7, 2007 11:04 pm
Well - still more boring town stuff to report - probably through tomorrow but then I hope to get on the trail on Monday. I'll probably have one very cold night out there though somewhat moderated for the past few days. Then I'll have a week or so to walk to Hot Springs. I'm now estimating my arrival there on the 14th.
Saturday, April 7, 2007: Maggie Valley (zero day) Continued cold
I awoke to a winter wonderland with everything coated with an inch of snow. There’s one stretch of road below the house where the snow sticks and a I watched an SUV spinning its wheels trying to get up the hill. The porch needed shoveling and the cars needed brushing. The temperature here was 20 degrees this morning which meant about 5 on the trail.
I washed the kitchen floor, we deemed it too cold to ventilate properly enough to paint today, and since the vacuuming needed doing, I took the opportunity to cut my finger and toe nails first.
Nina finished Chapter 12 of the novel she’s working on so she celebrated by practicing piano for an hour and then we wanted to do something fun this afternoon. We ended up seeing a kids Disney movie, “Meet the Robinsons” as the best of the selections.
We stopped for birdseed on the way home and when we got home, we found Dan had dinner just about ready to put on the table. We had a quiet evening, listening to music, chatting, reading, and enjoying the fire in the fireplace. It’s cold again tonight but the strong sun melted most of the snow in this area though the hills above the house are still coated in white.
Date:Sun Apr 8, 2007 11:50 pm
I'm still planning on hitting the trail tomorrow so this will likely be the last "daily" entry for at least a few days or a week. I'm still likely to hit Hot Springs on April 14 and will likely take a zero day there. After all, what's the rush? LOL
Wish me the best dealing with the cold weather that's only slowly going to be leaving the Smoky Mountains over the next couple of days... I think my next couple of entries will be written with very cold or mittened hands...
Sunday, April 8, 2007: Maggie Valley (zero day) Sunny and 50s (it’s getting warmer!)
My last (really!) full day here in Maggie Valley. I spent the afternoon with Nina and Dan exploring the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, learning about the history as best can be pieced together as far back as the Paleo period, then Archaic, Mississipian, and Trail of Tears, when thousands of Indians were force marched to western reservations. They even covered some of the “modern” practices such as the “roadside chiefs” who dress as western Indians for their greater effect and get tourists to pay to watch or participate in mock dance rituals which also may or may not be representative of the Cherokee nation.
Nina and I had fun baking a cake for dessert after the burgers Dan grilled for dinner. Yes, it was finally warm enough to grill again. But, it still wasn’t warm enough to sit outside to enjoy the burgers yet.
We got one last game of Scrabble in and with some high scoring letters and a wide open board, I was able to play well enough to pull off another win.
Then it was time for some last minute admin stuff – downloading pictures, burning a dvd, transcribing this last entry, replying to emails, etc, before going to bed.
Date:Mon Apr 16, 2007 3:13 pm
I was ready to go this morning when I put my pack on and started walking through town only to realize that with my pack back on, my shin splints started acting up. I went into the outfitter to use the computer to find out if there was anything I could do to help heal my shin splints other than stretch, take it easy, and take ibuprofen when I started hearing nasty weather reports... It's sunny today but winds are gusting well over 40mph and maybe as high as 50mph. Not a good time to be on-trail.
So, I'm still in town and the library has basically unlimited internet access as long as nobody is waiting. So, I've once again had a chance to catch up transcribing my journal.
So will I be on-trail tomorrow? Or still stuck in town? stay tuned... Once I'm back on trail, it'll be five days to Erwin, TN.
Monday, April 9, 2007: Clingman's Dome to Newfound Gap (Gatlinburg) (8.3 / 203.6) Overcast 20s to 30s and calm.
Well, I managed to get back on the trail today and hike for 8.3 miles. It went really well except during the few short breaks I took. I got cold when I stopped for just ten minutes or so and I was wearing most of my insulating layers. The trail was frequently covered with snow and ice though only the icy portions were treacherous.
Nina had dropped me of this morning at Clingman’s Dome and I walked the ½ mile approach trail easily. With so few people on the tower in the cold weather, I took a lot of pictures facing all directions – a 360 degree panoramic picture (maybe?). I even got shots of the tower, too.
Descending off the Dome was where the worst of the ice was. Then, with mostly downhill trail, I covered the 8 miles in about 4.5 hours including three or four stops for food, talk, and pee. With all the snow, it was nice to forgo the toilet paper and just use a couple of handfuls of snow. It may have been a bit cold at first, but it’s so nice to feel so clean on the trail.
Let’s see… I said good-bye to Nina and Dan this morning. I knew before I started that there was a good chance I would end up in Gatlinburg tonight and I agreed to call them if I ended up in town again. I was a bit disappointed when they weren’t there to take my call but was really wondering who won the bet – assuming they had one about whether or not I was going to end up in town that night. ;-}
Last week, when Nina attempted to drop me off, we had passed two elk by the side of the road on the Cherokee side. They were standing in the river and one was clearly collared. Today, we passed a roadside turkey on the way up to Clingman’s Dome. It was a big one. On the trail, I managed to see a grouse. I’ve heard many and even flushed a few but this was the first I had managed to see. I even got a pictures of a squirrel at one point.
This afternoon, when I hitched a ride in a pickup truck with a grandfather and his granddaughter, we ran into a Smoky Mountain traffic jam. A quick inquiry out the window and we found ourselves pulling to the side to park and go see a bear. It was on the far side of a large ravine so the hoards of people could safely watch it without disturbing it. I did manage to get pictures, but even with a 12x optical zoom, the pics still aren’t that great – the distance was just too far.
At Newfound Gap, I talked with a woman and her husband who were both from eastern Germany. They were traveling in their German RV that they had ferried to Argentina from Europe. They had already been on the road for 17 months and would eventually end up in Alaska. We found we had much in common in just the few minutes we talked. They offered me a ride down the mountain but as they weren’t going into Gatlinburg, I turned them down knowing it would likely be easier to find a ride all the way into town from the Gap than it would be to try to hitch the last little stretch from their turnoff.
After the bear sighting, I got to town and ran into Wonderfoot and a bunch of other familiar looking guys. We had our ’07 pictures taken at the outfitters and then I dumped my stuff in Wonderfoot’s room while we went to dinner at Wendy’s. I was craving cheap good food so had chili, a salad, and a baked potato.
The walk to Wendy’s gave me the opportunity to talk through town and see just how kitschy it really is. There’s Ripley’s Believe it or not, lot’s of karaoke bars, more pancake restaurants than you can count, gondolas to more shopping in the hills, and more. We even stopped to change the direction of a ball rolling on a tiny fraction of an inch of water.
I grabbed a pint of Ben and Jerry’s on the way back to the Motel and then found another hiker, Dave from Atlanta, who already had a room who was happy to share it and split the cost. Dave was in town dealing with everything from hypothermia, to gear issues, to knee problems. We talked gear issues a bit that night.
Tuesday, April 10, 2007: Newfound Gap (Gatlinburg) to Tri-Corner Knob shelter. 40s and partly cloudy (15.6 miles / 219.2 total)
Today was a long day.
I woke up at 7:00 and was surprised to shower, hit the nearest pancake place (French toast, eggs, bacon, and hash browns) finish packing, grab a Krispy Kreme donut that the motel proprietor put out, and start hitching by 8:15 or so. There were very few cars on the road but one guy, up early and out for a drive while his friends still slept in their hotel room, picked me up and took me all the way to Newfound Gap. I was hiking by 9:00.
Icewater Spring Shelter lived up to it’s name. The trail itself was covered with ice and I was forced off the trail to bypass the treacherous areas. Crampons would have been useful but certainly overkill given that so little of the trail was like that and it was possible to get around the bad spots without crampons.
I took a break at Charlie’s Bunion, a rocky outcropping. It stuck out in the sun and was moderately protected from the wind so it made for a good break point.
Moving along, I met Gandalf (another one) on the trail. He’ll be a triple crowner when he finished the AT having already completed both the PCT and CDT.
Tri-Corner Knob shelter no longer has a bear cage and the disgusting portapotty that had been there in 1999 has been replaced by a mouldering privy. Too bad they didn’t turn it 90 degrees from the shelter rather than facing the shelter. With tarps covering the opening and a fire in the fireplace, it was rather cozy in the shelter, if not really all that warm. Unlike most shelters where I prefer a bottom shelf bunk, the bottom shelf here is so short, that I preferred the top and it was still easy to get in and out.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007: Tri-Corner Knob shelter to Standing Bear Farm Hostel. (18.1 miles / 237.3 total) Cold, blowing fog, partly cloudy, rain, thunderstorm.
I was out early to beat the rain expected in the afternoon. There was 30mph fog blowing across the trail. I got pictures of some airplane wreckage near the trail. I also got pictures of a tree that is trying to fall over as the wind blows it. The roots have already been broken halfway around the tree and each time the wind blows, the tree would open its maw and I kept wondering what it would take to finally fall over. I stopped in Davenport Gap shelter to see if my bear bag cord was there – no luck. Sigh. I’ll have to get some more as I go along.
As we had descended this morning, the weather got better and better, finally giving way to sunny skies in the afternoon. That didn’t stop it from raining though – even with no clouds overhead. Stiff winds aloft must have blown those drops in from well out of sight.
I left the National Park at Davenport Gap. In the stretch of trail between the gap and I-40, there were a couple of wonderful campsites. The second is just above an amazing cascade of waterfalls. I had put my camera away when it had started raining earlier and debated getting it out again but the weather was threatening again so I left it in my pack.
Across I-40, I climbed the hill to get to the hostel. With just 1.2 mile left to go, it started raining for real. As I crossed the brook to get to the road the hostel was on, there was a big clap of thunder. I hurried down the road to the hostel but that was it for thunder. It was not it for rain however so I was disappointed to find it standing room only at Standing Bear Farm Hostel. Well, not quite standing room, but no more bunk space. They were happy to charge their same rate for any other space I could find and suggested either tenting, or setting up shop on one of their porches. That worked for me. The porches were large and dry even with the rain.
Rather than one large building, the hostel is a series of buildings. There’s a privy (bring your own TP), a bunkhouse or two, a kitchen building, a self-service pantry (“store”), a laundry/phone/internet building, etc. The setup was a bit soggy for a rainy day but on a nice day, it would be a wonderful place to hang out. Even in the rain, once inside, the smaller buildings made for cozy quarters, even if not heated.
As the evening progressed and I found myself hanging out in the kitchen, I realized there was very little traffic in there so I ended up staying in there instead of outside. It was much warmer and probably a bit less humid. Scholar, another hiker, ended up giving up her bunk so she could stay there, too. It was going to be a lot quieter in the kitchen than the bunkroom.
I was so tired when I got there that I wasn’t functioning well. After I grabbed a pizza and sodas from the pantry, that I was happy to let Birch, with whom I was sharing a pizza, figure out the pizza oven. I just remember that at one point, I managed to say that “I don’t eat with my mouth full.” I was tired.
Rockman’s register entry was particularly funny. We had been following barefoot prints in the snow and mud. I knew they were from Dirtnap but Rockman hadn’t yet been introduced. Anyway, Rockman mentioned following the prints of the elusive “Smallfoot” or perhaps it was that other creature, the “Sassafrassquatch”. We all got a kick out of it and I hoped that Dirtnap, hiking barefoot, would have a chance to see the entry before pushing on.
Thursday, April 12, 2007: Standing Bear Farm Hostel to Roaring Fork (15.4 / 252.7) 50s, windy, and sunny.
Just as a group of us were leaving the hostel, a pickup truck drove by and we could see turkey feathers on the wing sticking up from the bed.
I crossed the first big bald of the day with Troll and Double Bird, a couple from Oxford, Maine. I got pictures of them with the big radar tower in the background. These are the types of towers used by aircraft to figure out where they are.
I stopped for lunch on Low Gap rather than go off trail to the shelter. Then, while walking along, I got so tired, I actually stopped to take a nap. It was great even though people kept walking by every five minutes or so. I’ll have to remember to take more naps when I’m tired.
We ran into trail magic by Apple, the same person who had done some trail magic for us earlier in the trip though we didn’t know it at the time as he wasn’t there when we had passed through. This time, it wasn’t just sodas; it was hot dogs as well. Being just a few miles before Max Patch, it was a welcome calorie supplement.
Just before Max Patch, I ran into someone else doing trail magic but the situation was so weird, I just passed it up. Turns out, the guy was either weird or shy but the magic was good. Stone crabs from Florida. Ah well, I’ll just have to go to Florida to get some someday.
At Max Patch, a large bald mountain, the 35+ mph winds deterred all those who had hopes of tenting up there. I assumed the next shelter would be full but when I got there, it was empty. After the Smokies, everyone preferred to tent so I set up shop in the shelter. I was eventually joined by three others. The water source for the shelter was quite a ways away. It would have been prudent to get water as I had crossed the stream near the steps. Next time.
Note to self: Grape soda burps are nasty
Note to self: Nap more often
Friday, April 13, 2007: Roaring Fork shelter to Deer Park Mountain shelter. (14.8 miles/ 267.5 total) Mostly sunny, windy, 50s.
With three miles of gentle downhill, today’s hike started refreshingly quickly and easily. I was surprised to find Mala and Tucker Dawg camped there with Gandalf and DKS. I went ahead to Walnut Mountain shelter and waited for Mala there. It was nice to walk together but then I developed shin splints and walking became painful.
So, I slowed down, took ibuprofen with lunch, and limped along the rest of the day, unable to put weight on my right heel without sharp pain. I had been contemplating doing three more miles to get to town today but with the pain, I gave up on that idea. I just hoped the pain would be better in the morning – or at least more manageable.
The Deer Park Mountain Shelter, like Walnut Mountain, is a small shelter designed for only five people or so. I was built by the CCC in 1938. Most people choose to tent but Steve and I shared the shelter and having safely mouse-bagged our food, just laughed at the scampering mice we heard after we turned our lights off for the night.
Saturday, April 14, 2007: Deer Park Mountain Shelter to Hot Springs, NC (3.2 miles / 270.7 total) 60s, cloudy, raining, thunderstorms
Though we had a few unexpected showers after we got to the shelter last night, the rain held off and I had a good, pain free, hike into town this morning. I was glad today was a short hike to allow whatever was ailing me (shin splints) to continue to heal with little undo stress.
Once in town, I went straight to the diner. I had plenty of time to eat first and get my mail afterwards. I walked in and was surprised to find Karen, Ed, Marta, and a whole groupd of hammock hanger folks there. Even though I tent, I ended up joining them for breakfast. I had long been anticipating their incredible skillet breakfast. It’s a huge pile of potatoes, onions, peppers, mushrooms, and cheese topped with two eggs over easy and a biscuit on the side. I couldn’t finish it and took the leftovers for lunch.
After breakfast, I picked up my mail, my bounce box and a card, and went in search of lodging.
I lucked into a private room at Elmer’s Sunnybank Inn. I had missed out last time I came through town. There, I found Sunny, a woman who had hosted me on my road trip west a year ago as I passed through Memphis. She was now working for Elmer so we had a chance to catch up a bit. I toured the town to find my food options and was pleasantly surprised how good they were. Not perfect, but good enough.
Finally, I took a shower and did laundry. It started to rain on and off at that point. I dropped off my clean stuff at the B&B and then walked to the ice cream shop for a peanut butter chocolate shake ( not nearly as good as when real peanut butter is used) and then on to the campground to visit the hammock crowd. Having ordered dinner at the B&B, I refused the hot dogs and cole slaw they offered – they knew it was nothing personal. ;-)
I hung out with the hammock crowd for an hour and then accepted a ride back to the B&B as it was raining a bit harder and I would have been soaked had I walked.
Sunday, April 15, 2007: Hot Springs (zero day) 50s-30s. Rain then snow.
Back to the diner for breakfast – this time a smaller one.
Checked the forecast and couldn’t figure out what 52 and snow meant. Thought I would try to slackpack. Got ready, got cold, thought to eat lunch and do a smaller slackpack, watched the weather change as I ate lunch, the temperature dropped dramatically and it started snowing. I hung out at the outfitter, went back to Elmers for dinner where Sunny had prepared a wonderful meal.
Date:Wed Apr 25, 2007 1:09 pm
I am fully entrenched in the town vortex that is Erwin and Miss Janet's. I've been here since Saturday and have been enjoying my time here. I had hoped to slackpack again today but I wasn't feeling well this morning so perhaps I'll hike tomorrow... It'll be very weird if I end up spending another nine days in Erwin - just like I did last time... Well, not "just" like but still...
For those wondering about my shoulder... See the update in the 4/24 entry.
Monday, April 16, 2007: Hot Springs (zero) 50-60s, Sunny and windy
Life in a small town: Diner for breakfast. Tried to leave town but carrying pack from Elmer’s to outfitters was enough to get shin splints going after two days without. Hang out at outfitter. Find out weather not so hot up in the mountains, either. Find three others to share another room with. Pizza from diner for lunch. Eat pizza at picnic table outside laundromat/grocery store so Moon Goat could get beer and sit with his dog, Otto. Found library in “upper” Hot Springs. Transcribed journal. Outfitter. Ben and Jerry’s. Back to Spring Brook Cottages. Broke lexan “Light my Fire” spork eating ice cream. Back to outfitters. Bought new spork. Paddler’s Pub for dinner. Tried to rename Moon Goat to Last Tap. Back to Cottages. Watch some of Godzilla. Switched to Discovery Channel to watch Wolfman show – then Feral children show. ZZZzzz.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007: Hot Springs to Spring Mountain Shelter (11 miles / 281/7 total) Sunny and breezy in the 50s.
Breakfast at the diner. I couldn’t find my packcover at either Elmer’s or outfitters (it had gotten left at Elmers yesterday) so left town hoping garbage bag liner will do trick if necessary. Left town with Moon Goat and Otto. Let them get ahead almost immediately when I realized Otto, a shepherd, was trying to do what comes naturally when I fell back to take pictures. Slow day. Very slow day. Very, very slow day. Seven hours to go 11 miles slow day. I couldn’t get it in gear. Nice day though. Perfect for hiking. But, lots of thoughts of getting off trail.
Visited Rich Mountain fire tower. Heard radio of workers below tower. Meandered down the trail. Eventually found the shelter. There were still quite a few snow patches along the way.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007: Spring Mountain Shelter to Jerry Cabin Shelter (15.4 miles / 296.1 total) Nice sunny day in the 60s.
I found out yesterday that FAL and Hercules, friends of mine from the AT in ’99, live at Allen Gap and were doing trail magic yesterday. But having gotten an email from them, I knew they were expecting me today so was looking forward to my visit with them after less than four miles this morning. I was psyched when I got to the road crossing to find that they were doing yet more trail magic and everyone was invited for what was going to be a spread.
I turned right at the road and followed the directions they had given to find their house, a beautiful log cabin up on a hill, with fairy tale elements such as wood nymphs reading books, and faces on trees along the driveway. I left my pack and shoes on the porch and headed in for a great little reunion.
Their trail magic was amazing! We started out with freshly made waffles to order (with or without pecans), then pork stew, then a choice of desserts. Some opted to repeat some or all of the experience.
Unfortunately, the experience was ruined when they handed out their address so those that wished could be in touch with them post hike. Not only was their address on a sheet of paper, but a Christian quote that lead to proselytizing. It was completely unexpected and unwanted. I felt too polite, sitting at their dining room table upon which we had just been fed a feast to get up and walk out but then again, wasn’t it rude of them to keep us “politely captive” while we had to listen to their unwanted spiel?
Instead of staying behind for a few extra minutes to reminisce about some of the fun experiences we had on the trail in ’99, I left as quickly as I could with the rest of the hikers.
I stewed on the experience for the next few miles until I could vent in the next shelter register. I also felt the need to explain to the few hikers nearby who knew that I knew FAL and Hercules from ‘99 that I in no way condoned their behavior nor had I expected it or had any idea that FAL and Hercules would proselytize.
The afternoon’s hike went slow as we took many detours. There was another fire tower to visit today. Then there were the White Rock cliffs and the Black Rock cliffs. The cliffs were on a trail that had been a blue blaze in ’99. The ’99 AT was now the bad weather route. After the cliffs, the trail followed a rough ridge walk that reminded me a bit more of the White Mountains – mostly in rocky demeanor, rather than elevation gain and loss.
Thursday, April 19, 2007: Jerry Cabin Shelter to Hogback Ridge Shelter (13.7 miles / 311.6 total) Partly sunny then rainy and cold.
The morning started with a quick hike up Big Butt Mountain. Then it was a long, gentle downhill hike for six miles. After a break in the shelter, I continued on, passing my first southbounder, Hubcap, finishing the thruhike he had started last year. The climb up Hogback Ridge was wet with rain and sleet. It was cold but I didn’t stop to put anything on other than my rain jacket over my t-shirt and shorts. My arms and hands got very cold but the rest of me stayed warm and hypothermia was not an issue.
I was glad the rain stopped and the sun came out a bit before I got to the shelter. That meant I could keep walking in my wet stuff and partially dry them out before I got to the point where I was going to stop walking for the day.
The shelter was packed so I tented. While making dinner, I met Derrick, Clara, and Ryan, Michele’s husband, friend, and daughter. Michele, a Cambridge hiker blogging on Boston.com and mutual friend of Bear Snack (from my ’99 hike), was attempting a thruhike and they were visiting. Derrick had an extra Backpacker’s Pantry dinner and gave it to me as trail magic. Wanting to unload a heavier meal, I saved it for tomorrow. I was even more excited when Derrick pulled out a Scrabble game. I played with him, Clara, and Ryan. Either my brain is already fried from the trail or I really got bad letters and placement. I lost both games and not by just a few points. Thankfully, the rain held off while we played.
Friday, April 20, 2007: Hogback Ridge Shelter to Bald Mountain Shelter (10.2 miles / 321.8 total) Foggy to partly sunny, 40s and 50s.
Soggy packing this morning. Walked mostly with Michele and party to the gap where she decided to get off trail and head back home to family and friends. She’ll reevaluate and maybe come back to section hike, maybe supported, or with car to slackpack. I told her to keep me in mind if she wanted a slackpack partner. I was certainly tempted to go with her back to Boston but knew they wouldn’t have room in their car.
It was a long slow day over Big Bald. I took a lot of pictures knowing that in order, it would give someone an idea what it looked like to hike over a bald. Don’t know if I’ll ever use them.
It was an early day at the shelter for me. Bill, a section hiker, brought trail magic in the form of sodas and beer. I don’t really like cola but that one was delicious with my Jamaican BBQ chicken meal. I had plenty of time to catch up in my journal.
Wildlife sightings: Two “large” butterflies, one mostly black and blue speck on the trailing wings, the other a yellow and black – the kind that isn’t a monarch. I’ve noticed that on the PCT, I saw not only butterflies, but the caterpillars and pupa that turned into the beautiful insects. On the AT and east coast in general, I either never or rarely see butterfly caterpillars and pupa. It’s probably because the vegetation density is so much higher here that I rarely see butterflies in their earlier stages.
Northbounders dilemma: As hikers head north, we climb trails on the south side of the mountains. Climbing is where we generate the most heat and yet that’s also where the sun hits hardest. So we get very hot climbing hills. Then as we come down the north side of the mountains, we generate less body heat and have less sun shining on us. So we get cold very easily. It can quickly get very tiring to try to regulate body temperature. Jackets must go on or off, shirt sleeves pushed up or down, gloves and hats put on or off, etc.
Saturday, April 21, 2007: Bald Mountain Shelter to Erwin (Miss Janet’s House) (16.9 miles / 338.7 total) sunny and warm.
Beautiful hike this morning through grassy groves. The trail was easy, too. There was a miles long nice gentle downhill with nothing to trip over which allowed me to make three miles per hour for a little while. The trail followed a beautiful spring down to Spivy Gap.
On the other side of the gap, the trail followed the Ogilvy Branch, another beautiful spring. Past the stream, there was another burn area to walk through. This one somewhat older than the earlier Licklog Gap burn area I had walked through.
The burn area stopped at the Pisgah National Forest and from there, it was mostly gentle sidehill walking to the No Business Knob Shelter where I caught up with a bunch of other hikers. It was only 1:00 and with only seven miles to Erwin, I knew I would be going in that day.
It was more easy hiking along the ridge and then I missed the exact location where I fell and gashed my elbow open eight years ago. Then a nice quick walk down the hill to Uncle Johnny’s. He didn’t recognize me but when I told him he had taken me to the hospital with a gashed open elbow eight years ago, he remembered.
Uncle Johnny ended up very reluctantly giving me a ride to Miss Janet’s. I wanted to surprise her because I didn’t know if she knew I was even on the trail. She wasn’t there when I got there, so I got a bunk and went across the street to the church fundraiser (I try to support local organizations that do good things for hikers – and this church definitely does). I came back, settled in, and surprised Miss Janet when she got back to the house. As I suspected, she had no idea I was on the trail.
Miss Janet took me shopping for ice cream, soda, fruit, and juice. Then I hung out and got on-line for a while. It was only then that I realized that not only was it 'about' eight years ago that I fell on the day I walked into Erwin, it was actually eight years ago 'to the day.' Weird!
Sunday, April 22, 2007: Erwin (zero) Sunny and 70s.
After helping out with breakfast, I spent the rest of the day holding the rocking chair down on the porch. It was nice to chill out for a day. I could already tell I would be in town for a few days – no need to rush anything here. Went to Johnson City and did some damage at the Chinese buffet with Miss Janet and Hangman for dinner.
Monday, April 23, 2007: Erwin (8.3 miles / 347 total) (slackpack) Sunny and warm. Upper 70s.
Helped with breakfast. Slackpacked from Indian Grave Gap back to Erwin. Pizza Hut buffet for dinner. It had taken Miss Janet three car loads to get all the hikers to dinner. After dinner, in the parking lot at the Pizza Hut, we staged a clown car routine. It was hilarious… We got Miss Janet coming out of the drivers side of the car, walking around to the other side to open the door of her daughters tiny sports car, and then kept filming as maybe 15 hikers piled out of this tiny little car. We were in hysterics.
Back at the house, it was even funnier to watch it on the computer.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007: Erwin (zero) Cloudy and 70s.
It was supposed to rain today so I stayed in for another zero day. After breakfast duty, I cleaned the fridge with help from Miss Janet and Hangman. Then finally made it to Erwin Burrito for a grilled chicken burrito and a side of guacamole. Watched movies.
For dinner, two area churches invited hikers over. So made the rounds.
It’s ironic how you might expect a church giving hikers a trail magic barbecue to offer a prayer but doesn’t when two hikers doing trail magic out of their home insist on proselytizing. Sigh.
Shoulder update: With my shoulder continuing to heal, I’ve been spending more time sleeping on it. Since it doesn’t hurt immediately when I turn onto that shoulder, it doesn’t wake me up when I roll onto it. But since my body weight on my shoulder still stresses it, I’ve been waking up in more pain than a few weeks ago. Before it had healed so much, as soon as I tried to roll onto it, I would wake up immediately and roll off before damage was done. Now, what I’ve found is that on softer town beds, I can actually sleep on it without pain. It’s on the trail that I’m causing either damage or slowing the healing down. So, I’m pretty happy being in town these days and getting a good night’s sleep – something that’s been elusive the last few weeks on the trail. I’m sure as it continues to heal, I will sleep better again – while on the trail – and won’t necessarily seek so much town time. Assuming I’m still enjoying the trail.
Date:Mon Apr 30, 2007 8:14 pm
Well, I have managed one more day of slackpacking since my last update, but I'm still in Erwin. At this point, I'm pretty sure I'm not thruhiking, but the question is whether or not I'm through hiking. I suspect I still have some hiking left in me for this spring, and I am planning on hiking at least to Damascus, but I'm not in any rush to leave here.
I will definitely be going to Trail Days in Damascus, VA from May 18-20. What I do between now and then is up in the air.
Stay tuned... When (if?) I figure it all out, I'll definitely put it in my journal.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007: Erwin (zero) Rainy, 60s.
I was ready to hike today but severe weather in the area made me rethink my decision to go over bald mountains today. There was just no reason to head out when both the forecast and the radar showed thunderstorms in the area. Of course, the day ended up with only a short period of showers. So much for being a fair weather hiker.
I continue to hang out here at Miss Janet’s, helping out as best I can, preparing breakfast, doing dishes, doing endless loads of laundry, and even holding down the fort when Miss Janet takes off to run shuttles by answering the phone and making sure new hikers wandering are oriented to the amenities here. I even moved here computer system one day.
Thursday, April 26, 2007: Erwin (zero) More threatening weather.
Today brought more of the same threatening weather though the forecast has good changes in the works.
Waxing philosophical today…
Life still goes on while hikers hike (or hang out along the trail). With email, I’ve been keeping in touch with friends and family and hearing news of friends or acquaintances. So far this year, there’s been quite a bit of bad news since I’ve been hiking. I’ve gotten news of friends with cancer (some terminal), divorces (pending or final), a guy I knew in high school with a brain aneurism (not expected to survive), and a couple of deaths.
Sometimes I wish I could be with those who are suffering. At other times, I’m reminded why I retired at 36 (I’m now 41) and am living life as I do. I don’t want to reach my 60s and 70s and have any “could’ve, should’ve, would’ve” regrets.
Friday, April 27, 2007: Erwin (zero) Sunny and 70s.
Bunch of musician types hanging around including a few not staying here. One couple, Jenna and Carl [not a couple, just friends traveling together], are musicians with fiddle and guitar. They are hikers, hitchhikers, and hobos, choosing to ride trains, stick out their thumbs, and walk trails for transportation rather than pay for locomotion. When necessary to make some money, they busk for cash.
The Dude, here for a couple of days before getting shuttled to Gatlinburg to join Baltimore Jack on the trail, shared some moonshine with the group. That and Mate's birthday present of a bottle of whiskey had the group feeling good and the songs flowing.
Some of the group got an early ride to a nearby festival grounds for a bluegrass festival tomorrow while others of us, more entrenched here at Miss Janet's, made plans to go in the morning. The Fiddlers and Fiddleheads Bluegrass Festival is a small festival (~3000 people), held in nearby Unicoi, just 7 miles down the road.
Saturday, April 28
With Miss Janet heading to Hot Springs today for Trail Fest and most of the rest of us going to the bluegrass Festival, breakfast, usually a long, large, and time consuming affair was reduced to breakfast biscuits from McDonald's.
Our ride to the festival came around 9:00am which gave us plenty of time to get ourselves oriented before the festival began at 10:00. I took the time to look at some of the antique cars that had already arrived. I also walked back to the road to get pictures of the covered bridge and managed to get shots with some antique cars driving through. There were Canada geese and goslings roaming the grounds. Also a contingent of noisy peacocks strutting their stuff, making amends for the noise they created with the beauty of their feathers. I caught a quick glimpse of an albino peahen.
The music started at 10:00 and was great. Act after act of various flavors of bluegrass. There were two venues with scheduled acts and a couple of other venues with areas for musicians to jam not to mention large fields, too. I moved inside just in time to get a seat before it started clouding over. As I grabbed lunch, it started to rain but I still had my seat inside with a bunch of other hikers. Not everyone had a seat so it was nice to sit for the couple of hours it rained.
As it stopped raining, an act with an 11-year-old child prodigy playing guitar came on stage. I would have like to listen to him more, but there was another act going on outside that I didn't want to miss. A family of 12 had their own act. It was two parents and their ten children. The two youngest, still in diapers, weren't part of the act yet but everyone else played instruments and/or danced. Their act was an anomaly though being Celtic rather than bluegrass.
I talked with them afterwards and found that two of their kids are world champs in their age category for West Coast Swing. We chatted about their lifestyle and how they make it all happen with home schooling.
We joined the hikers camped in the field for a break and to listen to them jam for a while. Jenna, Carl, and Coach would play. Mate would sing - or stand on her head.
Hunger set in after a while and I led the crowd back to the tents to grab dinner and rejoin the bluegrass acts in progress. Coach and I, both having missed some of the outbuildings, went off to take a look at the blacksmith shop. While there, Robin, the owner's son came over with some friends and ended up giving us all a tour. Fascinating. We also went past some signs to view the albino peacock and managed to see their rescued bobcat. Then we found out about the shop and gallery so stopped to take a look at that, too. Wow!
We caught a couple more acts including another child prodigy who at 11 was already quite the showman. He played Ashokan Farewell, known to many as the theme music that Ken Burns used in his Civil War documentary but known to me as the music from the Ashokan Dance Camp that Jay Unger had written long before Ken Burns' series. (See the Ashokan Farewell FAQ for more info.) Coach even asked me to dance although I think he should stick to coaching and leave the dancing until he has a chance to take a lesson of two.
Hmm, there was also a storyteller there (maybe Old Jonah, the Mountain Man?) I'll have to look up his name and add it here. I’m wondering if my brother in law, also a storyteller, knows him or knows of him.
Sunday, April 29, 2007: Erwin (10.8 miles / 357.8 total) sunny and 60s.
Once again, with Miss Janet still at Trail Fest, there was no big breakfast today so I took the opportunity to grab a 7:45 shuttle to slackpack again. We stopped at McDonald's for biscuits on the way out. Today's hike brought us over Unaka Mountain with its unusual stand of red spruce (I think?) and then over Beauty Spot.
When I got back, I instigated a trip to an Indian Restaurant but most of the hikers planning on joining me ended up going to a Chinese buffet instead. So it was just Kimchee and I eating surprisingly wonderful Indian food in Johnson City. It was delicious. The only surprises were the small size of the vegetable pakora and the fact that there were just three small chick pea pieces - the rest were battered vegetable pieces, and the Malai Kofta which had wonderful curry but very small veggie balls and only four of them for such small balls. It tasted great and I couldn't finish my meal so I brought back extra Alu Paratha and Malai Kofta.
Date:Sat May 5, 2007 3:41 pm
Happy Cinqo de Mayo,
I'm still in Erwin, but thinking about heading out - perhaps on Monday after spending a day rafting the class IV rapids on the Nolichucky River. Woohoo!!!
Gotta leave soon or else I won't get to Damascus under my own steam in time for Trail Days.
April 30, 2007: Erwin (zero) 80s and Sunny.
It’s warmed up. People I started the trail with are now two weeks ahead and well over 100 miles up the trail. I’m still biding my time here, watchful of weather forecasts and Trail Days dates. I still have plenty of time to get there.
Breakfast here at Miss Janet’s is always an amazing feast so I’m trying to reduce the size of the other meals I eat. I’m also trying to reduce the number of snacks I eat – difficult given weeks spent on the trail. A mid-afternoon quesadilla kept me from joining the celebratory trip to the Chinese buffet after Miss Janet got her large van back. It had been in the shop for a couple of weeks and shuttles in a tiny car had been interesting in the intervening time.
Of course, I got hungry later and headed to Sonic for a BLT. I found Hangman there and with all the friends he’s made there, I ended up getting my meal for free. Cool!
More movies, this time with a choice from Tumblers 60 strong collection that he’s carrying with him. I had met Tumbler when he was working at the Hiawassee Inn. He’s another Boston thruhiker, just out on the trail for fun, not to make miles or even hike consecutive miles as I’ve been doing.
Tuesday, May 1, 2007: Erwin (zero) Partly sunny and 70s.
Hung out with Tumbler today. Changed out the washing machine and hit the hardware store for a new hose. Lunch at Erwin Burrito. I had the nachos the way Miss Janet orders them – I guess just with both chicken and beef. They were pretty good but I still think the Burrito and Quesadilla were better. Middle of the afternoon, I ran Shalom and Ian's (sp?) car to Iron Mountain Gap.
We got Lucky tonight. We also got lucky tonight. Lucky is a hiker who just finished culinary school in Vermont and he’s cooked dinner tonight – with help from friends of his: Fried chicken cutlets; string beans; sweet potatoes; mashed potatoes with butter and cheddar; one garden salad; one salad with fruit, nuts, feta, and greens; and cornbread. It was all delicious and much too much food to eat.
After dinner, a group of us, including August, one of the few black thruhikers on the trail, were hanging out. Earlier in the evening, we had been joking about a variety of race issues on the trail. So when someone was trying to tell August how he would recognize a certain hiker he hadn’t yet met, I recalled the common theories that after a few weeks all the guys on the trail look the same – brown hair, moustache, and beard and that all black people look the same to some white people. So, I just turned to August and rhetorically asked him “don’t we (with a gesture to all of us “white” people standing around) all look the same to you?” Now normally, I wouldn’t ever joke about such "politically incorrect" topics but in this case, everyone got the joke and it was well appreciated. Especially because in this group of hikers, apparently August is the one who most frequently jokes at his own and / or others’ expenses and the group appreciated August getting it from someone else.
Wednesday, May 2, 2007: Erwin (zero) Building clouds. 70s.
Yurtman stopped by during breakfast. He’s thruhiked the length of Madagascar and I got his contact info so I can email him and pick his brain about travel in Madagascar. I said goodbye to Tumbler. I’ll either see him Friday if he can get back to town for Spiderman 3 or at Trail Days.
Another day of porch sitting with a fun break this afternoon when August challenged me to a game of Scrabble. I knew he was a games person to the point that he was carrying a chess game with him. But, even though Scrabble wasn’t his game, he is a writer with good command English so he challenged me. For someone who doesn’t play much, he played a good game and achieved a very respectable score of 232. I however, had a banner game including two bingos (used all seven tiles in my hand), and scored a 355. Yowza!
Thursday, May 3, 2007: Erwin (zero) Thunderstorms and pouring rain. 60s.
Good day to be indoors. Rain held off for breakfast but moved in soon thereafter. We scramble to shut windows to keep out the driving rain. We watched Spiderman in anticipation of Spiderman 3 coming out in the theater tomorrow.
For the evening’s entertainment, five of us went to a Johnson City dance club. Silverheels, who has also been cooling his heels for as long as I’ve been here, a former pool shark, dazzled us with his prowess with a pool cue. The rest of us occasionally hit a ball into a pocket but he did a pretty good job of clearing the table, usually getting at least a couple balls to drop each turn.
The dance floor was large enough for me to wish I had a partner with me. Unfortunately, it was mostly covered with women. I managed a passable Cotton-eyed Joe and a bad Electric Slide.
But the best entertainment of the evening was the mullet watching. We were counting them up using the months of the calendar and probably made it almost through one year. Some were frizzy, some were long (past butt length!), some were scraggly, and some were well overgrown. None looked particularly good.
Friday, May 4, 2007: Erwin (zero) More rain and thunderstorms. 60s.
Breakfast inside – sort of. It kept trying to rain so we set up a buffet in the house and had those who wanted to brave the intermittent drizzle sit outside or else find a place to be indoors.
Well, today was a madhouse. Everyone was running shuttles and I was stuck answering the phone and making the rest of the hostel run as smoothly as possible. It’s obvious many of the people staying here appreciate the work I’m doing, but sometimes I’m not so sure about Janet. Certainly she knows I’m working but she only seems to see what goes wrong and when I’m not privy to information about her plans for the day, I can only hear about the problems after the fact when it’s too late to help do something to rectify the situation.
I had been planning on leaving tomorrow but between the forecast calling for more very rainy weather and Jelly Bean, who just got to town, luring me to go rafting on Sunday, I’ll probably hike out on Monday instead. Jellybean is hiking out on Monday as well so perhaps with a partner to get to Damascus, I may enjoy hiking again. Plus, this rainy pattern we’ve had for the last week or more is expected to break and we should have a stretch of five days without rain. Hopefully, I can get to Damascus without too much rain as my packcover has managed to precede me there.
The craziness here at the hostel had Jellybean and her boyfriend running town shuttles in the absence of both Janet and Hangman. A bunch had been waiting for her as hours earlier she had told me she would be home in 20 minutes. Oops!
One of the younger guys here had started calling me “house slave” and then changed it to “house wench”. I think that’s another reason to leave. I don’t like nicknames much and already answer to Stitches. One nickname (or trailname) is enough.
I also don’t want to leave with any bad impression of Miss Janet’s so sooner may be better than later. I haven’t asked for any work for stay but I’ve certainly put in many more than three hours of work on most days I’ve been here.
So when Hangman pulled up to the house having arrived back from Hot Springs with Baltimore Jack, The Dude, and Two Dogs, and then Miss Janet got back shortly thereafter, I beat a hasty retreat with Jelly Bean, Shorty, and Timmy, and headed out for dinner at a local Chinese restaurant. Back at the house, we dropped off Timmy and picked up Sir Privy Winks and headed the few blocks to the movie theater to see the opening of Spiderman 3. With quite a few hikers present, most of whom put Miss Janet’s name on their raffle tickets, it wasn’t much of a surprise when she won the raffle.
Date:Sun May 6, 2007 10:27 pm
I am planning on hiking out tomorrow (Monday). Got stuff ready to go. Weather looks like it’ll cooperate for four days, at least. Can’t imagine anything keeping me here at this point.
I expect to mostly slackpack to Damascus with Jelly Bean. Then, after Trail Days, I should be hiking with Leapfrog (and Jellybean, I expect). Then maybe a weeklong paddle on the Shenandoah. (Much tamer than rafting.)
P.S. Just noticed I’ve been included in Michele’s Boston Globe blog on Boston.com:
Saturday, May 5, 2007: Erwin (zero) Rain, thunder and lightning, 70s.
As insufferable as he can be at times, I was happy to have Baltimore Jack here at the hostel today. He also contributes without being asked to help, answers the phone, does dishes, laundry, etc. I actually was able to step back a bit today to let my stress level simmer down a bit.
A crisis with the washing machine this afternoon didn’t help matters. The drain hose just installed a few days ago let go and we had a minor flood here in the laundry room. The Dude stepped in to do the dirty work, mop up the mess, and actually fix the drain hose so it might hold this time.
Tomorrow, Baltimore Jack and The Dude go back to Hot Springs and I’m going rafting with Jelly Bean. I hope the house knows how to take care of itself.
A group of about 25 hikers from both here at the hostel and the nearby Super 8 went to Johnson City today for a Mexican dinner to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Only beer is sold here in Erwin so the field trip was necessary in order to get margaritas. And margaritas it was. They reminded me of the huge “mass” of beer that people order in the Hofbrauhaus in Munich only these were 48 ounce margaritas. We left the restaurant with quite a few tipsy hikers though all of the drivers had abstained.
I unfortunately had to deal with Smooth, a hiker with a dog, in the van. The dog wasn’t the problem. This one hiker, obnoxious at the best of times was much worse when drunk. His poor dog suffers the ill-informed attention of his owner and so do the rest of us. Dingo, an Aussie, helped me focus my attention elsewhere on the ride home.
The Cinco de Mayo crowd continued partying back at the house but with a 6:30 wake up alarm, I didn't stay up late. Thankfully, the rest of the people staying in my room didn’t disturb me at all when they came in later that night. [I found out that they had disturbed the neighbors who had called the police at one point.]
Sunday, May 06, 2007: Erwin. (Zero) Rain then clearing and sunny. 60s-70ish.
Rafting the Nolichucky River through the gorge his morning. It was rainy and foggy this morning even though the stars had been trying to show themselves last night. But with class IV rapids, we would be getting wet anyway. Between the time it took to get to the outdoor center, get checked in, outfitted, and on the bus, the weather had started to clear. But, it didn’t last long because as soon as we drove through Indian Grave Gap back into North Carolina, it got cloudy again, thankfully not for long though.
The rafting was a lot of fun with many class III and IV rapids, and the beautiful Nolichucky Gorge to float through. I started out in the back of the boat with the guide. The view was great from there but the seating slick and I ended up in the bottom of the boat a couple of times. Better there than falling out of the boat, though.
We had a water and cookie break at one point. While there, we saw this large, 3” long, insect. It had pincers, a long segmented body that reminded me of a centipede or millipede but was neither. It only had legs in the front part of the body with the back segments just looking like it had thorn-like legs. Our guide said it was a grampus. [Google yielded it as a dobsonfly larva, hellgramites, or go devils.]
Back on the river for the second portion of the trip, I changed seats and ended up in the front opposite the one guy in our raft that kept goading the guide to make him fall out. So, whether on purpose or not, that’s just what happened. He ended up being the only one from our raft that took a swim.
Our 4-4.5 hour trip took only 3.5 hours with the river running so high and fast.
Back in town, we stopped at Uncle Johnnie’s to see if anyone needed a ride to town but instead found a large gaggle of hikers about to hit the trail again.
Long John Silvers for lunch. A&W root beet float. Back at Miss Janet’s, we did laundry to clean and dry all of our clothes that had gotten soaked on the river. I’ll need mine to hike in tomorrow.
I turned down a barbecue chicken dinner to eat the rest of the food I had here in the house only to find that my food had gone missing. Argh! Tim took me to Wendy’s, then stopped at McDonalds for himself, and then we went to the River to pick up a couple of hikers to bring them to Miss Janet’s.
I gave them the tour, ate dinner, and worked on my journal. This is likely the last entry to make it on-line in a while – perhaps until I get to Damascus.
Oh yeah… The standard tour of Miss Janet’s goes something like this:
On the porch: These four chairs (of which two are rocking chairs) need to be sat upon. There’s some mighty good porch sitting here.
In the living room: There are DVDs and tapes but no TV reception here. The maildrops are under this table, registering for your stay is self-service.
Moving forward, I point out the little bathroom as the outhouse. Anyone who’s been in it will surely agree.
The left bunkroom: We go in and I point out the computer room, the hiker box, the boot dryers, the cotton town clothing hikers are welcome to wear, the linens, and the bathroom that has a shower.
The right bunkroom: Has two bunk beds the bottom ones of which are doubles (one of which has been my bed for two weeks). The door opens into the hall so I ask them to keep it closed so the hall isn’t blocked and it’ll keep out the dogs and cats which cause my allergies to act up.
Moving back to the kitchen, I explain they have full kitchen privileges; they should just be sure to clean up after themselves.
Then to the laundry room: Clean stuff on the table, dirty laundry on the floor in front of the washer. They should try to combine hiker loads, fill loads with cotton stuff if possible, etc. Move others’ wet loads to the dryer rather than wait, move dry stuff to the table, do their own laundry, etc. I also point out the other “fast” computer in this room.
Backyard: Breakfast and hangout area.
Date:Tue May 8, 2007 8:33 am
OK - this really is the last morning at Miss Janet's. But I am back on the trail and hiking north even though I was back here last night.
Monday, May 7, 2007: Erwin [Roan Mountain to Iron Mountain Gap] (~12 miles / ~260 total) Sunny and 70s. Perfect hiking weather.
Last night was supposed to be my last night here at Miss Janet’s but this morning, when planning our day hike, we realized that a southbound slackpack of this section made a lot more sense in that it would be mostly downhill. It would also put us in position to come back to Erwin again.
When we left this morning, we were headed for Carver Gap. When we got there, we realized we could drive to the summit and shave 1.5 miles from or day’s hike. Given how late it was (noon), that seemed a good idea.
There’s nothing like starting a hike on the top of a 6,000’ mountain. We had very little uphill all day. I think our largest climb was just 800’. Going downhill however, has its drawbacks. It made for a lot more foot and knee pounding. But we could keep up a good pace.
My purpose when slackpacking is to carry as little as possible. Jellybean’s is to carry as much as necessary to get in better shape. That means quite a bit of weight. Given that she’s a much stronger and faster hiker, we were hoping that her extra pack weight would slow her down enough that we could hike together. I think she still had to slow down a bit and I certainly had to push my own pace a bit, but the day went well so we’ll just have to see how the next few days go.
The extra pack weight in Jellybeans pack today was a load of apples and oranges to do trail magic along the way. She would hand out fruit and get pictures and names. As we were southbound, we saw at least two days worth of hikers. 46 to be exact. All of our stopping slowed us down quite a bit and yet we felt rushed as we couldn’t talk long with any of those whose path we crossed.
Shorty met us at Hughes Gap at lunch to restock Jelly Bean’s waning supply of oranges. He also took Bisby, Jelly Bean’s dog off the trail. The morning warmed up and he was getting too hot. At the end of the day, he met us with hot dogs, a nice snack to hold us over until we got to town.
Back in town, it was time to shower, do laundry, and have a late dinner at Sonic. We forgot all of our other plans to bake for the next day’s trail magic hike.
I hadn’t remade my bed and with one girl still needing a place to sleep, I ended up moving to a single bed so she could share the double with someone else. I was exhausted but hit the porch for one more session in the rocking chair before calling it a day and hitting the sack.
Date:Thu May 10, 2007 9:04 pm
Still hiking... Still taking advantage of fun opportunities...
Tuesday, May 8, Roan Mountain to 19E (Mountain Harbour Bed and Breakfast and Bunkhouse) (15.9 miles / 385.5 total) sunny and 70s.
After our last amazing breakfast at Miss Janet's of french toast with chocolate chip cream (chocolate chips, fudge sauce, cream cheese, and cool whip) with fruit, bacon, home fries, and more. I hit the road with Jelly Bean with Shorty caravanning behind us. It took a while to drop the truck off, register, say 'hi' to August who has been doing work for stay for a few days, and then shuttle back to Roan Mountain for the walk back to the B&B. It was noon by the time we started - a late start for a long day.
Today, going northbound, we knew we would see fewer thruhikers and those we did see would likely be the same ones that benefited from JellyBeans trail magic yesterday. Still JellyBean wanted to do more so she brought along some store bought cookies to share.
The weather was amazing and we walked for miles on balds. It made for an amazing day.
The evening went amazingly well, too. Back at the B&B, Shorty had spaghetti ready for all of us. I didn't even go back to the bunkhouse before eating dinner.
Back at the bunkhouse, I was a bit dismayed to have ended up on the couch but it wasn't that big a deal. Then August came in and needed to talk with me. Earlier, I had mentioned that I would love to ride if there was any possibility. Turns out, they were looking for someone to exercise their horses. If I was flexible the next day, I might have an opportunity to ride. Woohoo!
I told Jelly Bean of my change in plans and everything seemed cool. I could leave later in the day and catch up either that next day or the day after. Or, since she was planning a zero at Kincorra, I could even zero and catch up there.
Wednesday, May 9, 2007: 19E (zero) Sunny and high 70s.
I had pop tarts for breakfast and was soon helping Terry saddle up the two mares. Mostly, I just played the roll of step and fetch it. The tack was western and not really knowing the intricacies, I let Terry do the tacking while I just watched. It didn't take long to get them tacked up and I was soon changing into my tights and mounting up.
I started on Molly who really didn't want to go. Molly did walk for me and deigned to jog every now and then. Meanwhile, August, on Shadow, had his hands full. Shadow was happy to jog and lope but also tossed her head and bucked a bit. We explored the pastures a bit and while I was getting bored with Molly, August was getting tired on Shadow. So, we ended up switching horses. Once on Shadow, I had a much better time even with Shadow throwing her head around. She could have used an English style martingale for a bit of training.
Shadow worked up quite the lather so I ended up walking her to cool her down. then we stripped the tack and turned them loose again.
I was beat and ended up in the house while August heated up some leftovers for lunch. I wasn't very hungry even though I was starving. It doesn't make much sense but after a few bites, I was done with lunch. I think I was just too tired to eat.
I tried to curry, and brush the horses after lunch but they were always in the pasture each time I looked in on them. Later in the afternoon, I hung out in the bunkroom and went to dinner with Vegas, Yellow Jacket, and Yellow Jacket's husband.
Thursday, May 10, 2007: 19E to Abby's hostel (12.4 miles / 397.9 total) Sunny, near 80.
Mary, Terry's wife, returned home yesterday afternoon. That meant she prepared breakfast today. She puts out a huge spread. ham, quiche, sausage egg casserole, fruit, lemon cakes,, chocolate cherry cake, danish, gravy, biscuits, and more.
August headed out this morning with his full pack. A large group of us were slackpacking up the trail today. We started out shortly thereafter. I walked with Vegas today. We visited a beautiful waterfall, then stopped at another to get wet and cool off, then a stop at the new shelter.
Once we found the hostel, I realized I knew Vango from Gathering's and such. I settled, in, took a nap, split a pizza with Vegas, caught up on my journal, and even managed to get it transcribed.
Date:Wed May 16, 2007 1:16 pm
I'm here in Damascus even though I'm still 14 miles south of Damascus. I'll have to do one more slackpack tomorrow to actually finish the trail miles to get to town. With rain today, I'm glad I waited. I should have a good dry day to hike tomorrow.
Friday, May 11, 2007: Laurel Fork (Abby’s Hostel) to Dennis Cove Road (Kincora) (12.4 miles / 409.3 total) Sunny and 80s.
I woke up with a migraine and it was a bad one. I took Excedrin as soon as I could cobble together both some water and food. It worked slowly.
I was pulling a stuff sack out of my pack with the plastic clip came off in my hand. Then I looked at the stuff sack and the clip was still there. Then I realized it wasn’t a clip in my hand, but a large beetle which quickly got tossed on the floor. Yuck! As much time as I spend outdoors, I still don’t like insects or spiders. I can look at them and even appreciate their beauty and contributions to the natural world, but I really hate to handle them. Blech! Shudder!
I was happy to get a late start to let my headache dissipate when Vegas had his own health issues to deal with. The two of us didn’t even start hiking until well after 10am. We moved slowly, stopping every hour or half hour for water and to eat something small.
Since my ’99 thruhike when someone told me how to find junco nests, I’ve been trying to follow juncos that take off near my feet back to their nests to no avail. Today, I found a junco nest. It was nestled under a 1.5 foot tall evergreen sapling. It had three small eggs in it. Vegas and I took a few quick pictures and then quickly moved on to let the mother come back to its nest.
The pink lady’s slippers are starting to bloom. I saw my first flame azaleas today and one more May apple blossom.
Vegas and I pulled into the hostel just as Bob was about to run a shuttle into town. But, much to the surprise of a few of the hikers there, he stopped first to give me a hug and then insult me in as many ways as he could. But, we both knew it was all in jest and good fun. It was good to see him again. With no time to shower and change, we went to town stinky and sweaty for pizza, Arby’s, and a supermarket stop. I opted for pizza and bought a 1.2 gallon of ice cream to share with whomever had a spoon.
Back at the hostel, I joined Pat while she visited her horses, helped brush one, and watched as pat lunged the Arabian.
Saturday, May 12, 2007: Kincora (zero) Rainy 60s.
Sunday, May 13, 2007: Kincora [321 to Dennis Cover Road] (8.9 miles / 418.2 total) Sunny and 80s.
Morning slackpack by friends of Bob. Vegas and I, still on the same itinerary slacked the ~9 miles from Wautauga lake back to the hostel. It’s spring. Mountain Laurel, flame azalea, yellow azalea, rhododendron, and more are all blooming. The river walk was beautiful and the falls flowing full. We weren’t quite warm enough to swim in the creek so we went straight back to the hostel. Once again, we were just in time for an early, lunchtime, town shuttle. Rather than shop, I went with Bob on his errands. Most hikers know him only as the proprietor of the hostel and maybe a trail maintainer extraordinaire. It was interesting for me to get to know a different part of him – the traveler with more than a superficial interest in other parts of the world bolstered by his Masters in Political Science.
Back at the hostel, I had time to shower, evaluate my food needs for the next few days, an hang out just a bit before the dinner run. This time, I ate at Arby’s. [Lori: Find an Arby’s for an orange cream milkshake – it’s just like a creamsicle – Yum!] I did some last minute shopping for the next three days on the trail. Eventually, I managed to do my laundry so I can start out with everything clean tomorrow. I’ll be strapping on my full backpack for the first time in over three weeks. Yikes!
Monday, May 14, 2007: 321 (Watauga lake) to Iron Mountain Shelter (15.4 miles / 433.6 total) Sunny and 70s.
Today’s shuttle was chock full of hikers – front and back. Then we stopped at the Post Office before hitting the trailhead so we piled boxes on top of boxes on top of hikers. The truck was packed!
At the lake, I donned my backpack for the first time on over three weeks. It was nice easy walking today if mostly uphill. I’m still walking with Vegas – sort of – but now that he’s healthy again and we’re both wearing packs, I expect he’ll be on his was soon. Or at least, we’ll probably walk to Damascus but then he’ll be leaving town earlier and doing more miles than I expect to.
Today we walked the length of Watauga lake, climbing the ridge as we went. The vantage point from the rock behind the Vandeventer Shelter showed the more industrial side of the lake. There was swimming near where we started but large marinas near the other end.
Somehow in the afternoon, I managed to get a Charlie horse on the back of my right thigh. After a stop at a campsite for a break, I managed to exacerbate it more. I ended up limping painfully into the shelter tonight. Plus, my allergies have been acting up. So tonight I’m well medicated with both ibuprofen and Benadryl.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007: Iron Mountain shelter to route 421 (to Damascus) Sunny and 70s.
After having taken a Benadryl last night, I woke up very well rested after my first night’s sleep on the trail in weeks. The hiking was easy today and the miles passed quickly. At the first road crossing, we found a bunch of hikers trying unsuccessfully to hitch to Shady Valley for breakfast. We passed them by and entered what seemed to be disused farm fields. We passed a hiker, completely outfitted with homemade tyvec gear and walking barefoot. He was on a mission to get the military to require all personnel leaving the service to get two weeks of counseling. Vegas, the man I’ve been hiking with, is a Vietnam vet himself, and feels it’s a lost cause. I suspect he’s right but I would like to hope otherwise.
The next road crossing seemed a better prospect for hitching and I got caught up in the quest for cheeseburgers. Six of us hitched to town in two vehicles. We stopped at a general store/restaurant at the small crossroads and got those burgers we had been craving. The woman who took our order was a character. Clearly she had been working there for a while but she wasn’t much of a waitress and had a hard time keep our orders straight even though she was writing everything down – slowly and meticulously – or so it seemed to us.
We when finished, we were about to hitch back to the trail when we realized we could just as easily hitch to Damascus. Then we would just have a 14 mile slackpack to complete the stretch to Damascus.
We didn’t even have to stick out our thumbs to get a ride. Our ride was in a pickup truck getting ready to leave the general store across the way. For the promise of a beer once we got to town, he happily drove all six of us all the way to Damascus. He even played tour guide along the way, stopping so we could visit the world’s shortest tunnel through Backbone Rock.
After a stop at the Mill, I grabbed a bunk at the Place, spent time on-line at the library, got a shower, and finally got the quickest service and pizza I’ve had at Sicely’s. Of course, things will change one the crowds arrive for Trail Days.
Date:Sun May 20, 2007 3:53 pm
Trail Days (or as many of us call it - Trail Daze), is wrapping up... I'm getting one last on-line session in before hitting the trail tomorrow. I'll be back in Damascus in about a week after hiking the next section southbound from Dickey Gap then getting a ride to continue north again from Dickey Gap.
Going through the Mount Rogers area will be the last high peak for a while and I'll be switching out some gear for lighter stuff that is more appropriate for warmer weather.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007: Damascus (zero) Cloudy, rainy, and 70s.
I woke up plenty early to slackpack but with rain in the forecast, I decided to stick around town. Someone had left many dozens of bagels as trail magic at the Place and with cream cheese they comprised breakfast. I spent an hour or two at the library transcribing my journal. When I went to the Baja Cafe for lunch, I sat with my shuttlers from Kincora. At the end of lunch, they asked if I needed a ride the next day to slackpack the remaining 14 miles as had been my plan for today. I said 'yes' and asked if there was room for others. Sure enough there was and the others soon agreed to also meet at 9:00am for a shuttled back to route 421. Perfect!
I picked up my new shoes (New Balance 809s) at the post office. they seem to fit so I wore them around town today and will wear them for my 14 mile slackpack tomorrow. Being sneakers, they probably don't need much break in time so I'll either be breaking them in over the next few days or they'll be breaking my feet in. I hope it's the former.
As a matter of fact, I've been having a vague annoying but not too painful problem with the ball of my right foot. It just feels like there's always some extra sock thickness there that's really not there. I need some new custom Superfeet and am hoping to get them at Trail Days this weekend.
I mostly hung out for the rest of the day, catching up with friends from the trail this year or others in the hiking community I've gotten to know over the years. One local church hosted a burger cookout this evening for supper so I snagged a burger and then got a free massage. The church had hired a massage therapist, too. What a deal! Back at The Place, a local hostel, I worked on a jigsaw puzzle with Lucky, Marco Solo, and others.
Thursday, May 17, 2007: Damascus. (route 421 to Damascus) (13.8 miles / 458.5 total) Sunny and 60s.
After an unfortunately memorable night when a drunk, young hiker chic, decided to pee on the floor in our hostel room instead of the toilet, I was up early enough to get tickets for this evenings church sponsored dinner. Then I still had plenty of time to get pancakes for breakfast before meeting my 9:00 shuttle to route 421 to start my 14 mile slackpack back to town.
At the trailhead, Hammer was doing trail magic. Having just filled up at Cowboys, I said 'hi', declined the food, and hit the trail at 9:30. Moving north, the trail was grassed over old woods road. It was easy and soft to walk on though it could snag hiking poles as I pulled them through shin high grass.
My usual 1.5 mph hiking speed, often 2 mph when slackpacking, was a solid 3 mph for much of this day's hike. I passed an old 2 person shelter (McQueen), stopped at Abingdon shelter to sign the register, and kept hiking. At noon, I stopped for a quick lunch stop at a trailside campsite.
After lunch a few distractions slowed me down a bit. One aggressive garter snake posed for my camera and then repeatedly struck at a stick. Another slithered off the trail without a backwards glance. I passed the Backbone Trail junction and thought it would be nice to hike it sometime. A few day hikers heralded our proximity to town and I quickly arrived at the state line.
I crossed into Virginia, my fourth state on this hike. If I want to make it to the fifth state, it'll be a quarter of the trail to hike in just Virginia before I hit West Virginia. At this point, I know I'll hike another week, but I'm not at all sure how much further I'll go beyond that.
Back in town, I ran into familiar vendors setting up shop. I saw Equinox, Vargo, a bunch of trailside outfitters from Harpers Ferry on south to Neels Gap, and finally got to the combined ATC, ALDHA, and AT Museum booth where I'll be volunteering this weekend. I also got permission to camp there, both to help maintain an overnight presence there as well as to give me a much quieter place to crash other than the noisy tent city.
Back at the Place, I packed a bit, grabbed a shower, and then walked the block to the church to line up for the 7-8pm dinner seating. by the time we finished and got back to the hostel, and packed some more, it had started raining so after a couple hours of non-stop rain, I unpacked and spent one last night there.
Friday, May 18, 2007: Damascus (zero) Partly sunny, around 70.
Even with no reason to wake up early, I always do. So, I left the rest of the people in my room sleeping, then went for breakfast at Cowboys, a local gas station with a little dining room and surprisingly good pancakes, biscuits, and other breakfast goodies. Back at the hostel, I finished packing up one lat time and then grabbed a ride from a hiker at the Place to go out to tent city. Many of the vendors that come to Trail Days set up shop there and offer free gear repairs and sometimes exchanges. I had a bunch of my gear repaired - even some I didn't know needed repair. My pad got patched but in more places than I thought needed it. My sleeping bag got patched. My rainjacket got recoated with waterproofing. Even my backpack got a new ladderlock so one of my load lifters shouldn't slip anymore.
Then I hitched a ride with Bob Peoples to the park to help man the ALDHA booth. After lunch, I toured the vendors in the Park and then went to the hiker hangout and ended up playing scorekeeper for a game of trail jeopardy.
Back at tent city, I picked up all of my repaired gear, and exchanged my headlamp for a new (or refurbished) Princeton tech model which will likely be less likely to chew battery power. Of course, I had already bought a new Petzl e-light, so we'll just have to see which works out best. I dropped off my gear in the park and went back to town to have dinner with Leapfrog and Mountain Man.
I journalled in the Park, listening to the band until they quit at 11:00 and then went to sleep in the ALDHA booth. Laurie and Dick were camping there in their tent as was Peter Pan also in his tent. Me? I just slept out in my bag - and left my tent in my pack.
Saturday, May 19, 2007: Damascus (zero) Sunny and 70s.
I had breakfast with Camo (not Camo Jack) at Dairy King. We sat with a tiny old lady whose teeth wouldn't stay put. She gnawed on her ham biscuit, eating biscuit but mostly leaving chewed up pieces of ham behind on her plate. Her repeated questions to us reminds me of my own mother, whose current dementia (Alzheimers) robs her of almost all short term memory.
I hitched back out to Tent City this morning and got picked up by none other than Creed Jones, the Mayor of Damascus. He wanted to make sure I was having a good time and was pleased to hear that I had been to Trail Days many times and was coming back for more.
I finally brought my poles to Leki to be repaired/maintained, and picked up Dick's poles to save him a trip. Crab cake sandwich and a slice of chocolate covered cheesecake on a stick made for a wonderful lunch. Then it was time to line up - or perhaps mob up - for the hiker parade. It's tradition for the townspeople to try to soak the hikers and the hikers to retaliate. Supersoakers, garden hoses, water balloons, and more are all ways to get wet. Not carrying anything to get anyone wet, I wasn't much of a target, but I still carrying my camera in a plastic bag and took most of my pictures blind. It'll be interesting to see if any of them come out.
Even though I'm not entirely likely to thruhike this year, I opted to parade with the 2007 crowd as I know so many of this year's class of hikers.
Mount Rogers Outfitters was throwing out new packages of socks into the crowd. I picked up a pair of medium socks - too small for my feet.
Later in the afternoon, I found John, the doctor doing physiological research. I repeated the test he had down in Dahlonega. I've actually gained a few pounds but my level of physical fitness has also improved. As a matter of fact, my VO2max was the highest of all women they had retested so far. It was correctred for body mass (other variables, too?) so my height shouldn't be the reason why. Imagine if I was hiking more and taking fewer zero days? I could be even fitter and weigh less, too.
I had run into Tumbler and looked for him to grab dinner but eventualy gave up, grabbed a burger, and went to look in on the dance. Without having grabbed a shower in a couple of days, and wearing clothes that were probably a bit stinky by now, I decided to leave the dancing to those a bit cleaner than me. I watched a couple of dances and then made my way to Tent City to see a bit of the BSR (Billville Safety Research) gear contest. I ran into Tumbler there but he was busy running errands and I had to get more clothes. While we had only had rain on Thursday for this Trail Days, this festival was much colder than most.
At the now vacated ALDHA/ATC tent that I started calling the castle, I ran into Coffee, a hiker who was picking up his coffee gear. We talked about everything from skydiving, to scuba diving, to astronomy, and more. I eventually went to listen to the last of tonights concert, wrote my journal entry, and gabbed a bit with G-Force and Tim before going to sleep in my bag on a table.
Date:Sun May 27, 2007 5:44 pm
I'm back in Damascus for the long weekend. I'll be here until Tuesday in order to pick up any mail that didn't make it here last week. I'm aware that I'm waiting for one package (Lori - my mouth is watering... ;-). If anyone else sent anything here, please let me know by email so I know to either look for it, for leave a forwarding address for it.
The next time I'll be checking a post office for mail will be in Pearisburg, VA. Mail can be sent to me there at:
Please hold for hiker due June 8
Please also send me a follow-up email so I know what to look for there. I've had very few letters/packages this time around and yet have already had a couple of problems.
At this point, I expect to get to Pearisburg anytime between the 7th and the 10th. Of course, weather and the fickleness of my attitude towards hiking could certainly change that but it's something to go on for now...
Oh yeah... I've gotten most of the last week's journal entries typed in. I'll get the rest in tomorrow morning and send them all out at that time.
Sunday, May 20, 2007: Damascus (zero) sunny and 70s.
I had a pre-breakfast gear talk with Brawny who just made me a pair of custom rain pants. I had breakfast with Rockdancer, a friend from Massachusetts and the trail community. Rockdancer ended up shuttling me all over town. We went to Mojoe’s for breakfast. They had great omelets in an atmosphere that’s completely foreign to Damascus. I felt like I was transported to one of the tonier communities west of Boston more than a trail town coffee shop. The prices were all Damascus though. Scholar, who I had shared bunk space with in the kitchen at the hostel in Davenport Gap joined us for a while to chat. Then it was to Tent City to replace my leaky pad with a new one. For a one ounce hit, I now have an insulated version. I just wonder how much of a hit I’m taking up in terms of packing space. It really does seem bulkier. Sigh. A local outfitter was willing to trade but since it was only a one ounce hit, I’ll deal with the extra space if necessary.
I ended up having a peanut butter chocolate milkshake with a scoop of ice cream on top for lunch. I spent the rest of the afternoon tracking down computer time, transcribing my journal, and reading about the unfortunate turn in my original hiking partner’s relationship with her husband. Most of the bad relationship information I’ve heard on the trail has been about off-trail relationships. This is the first I’ve heard about from my on-trail friends. On trail gives a very different perspective. Do you stay on the trail? Get off? How do you communicate when you only get to town or a cell phone signal (for those carrying cell phones) every few days?
I couldn’t find any company for dinner so went to Sicily’s. I was basically ignored there and went to the counter to order, grabbed my own soda out of the cooler. They did bring the food to my table but the sauce was cold and I couldn’t get anyone’s attention to warm it up so I ate the calzone without the extra sauce. Then I had to go to the counter to get my check and pay. I did not leave a tip. Usually, when I’m in a hiker town, I leave extra because of the hikers that I know can’t afford to leave enough. Sigh. And it had nothing to do with my being a hiker as almost everyone else in there was also a hiker.
At the B&B where Sue was treating me to a night’s lodging, I grabbed a shower, got a ride to the Laundromat, the store to shop, and then back to the B&B to organize. Knowing I could leave stuff in Sue’s car while we hiked for the next five days certainly lightened my load. I think the extra stuff I had been carrying amounts to POUNDS. I’ve got to reevaluate how I do bounce boxes.
Monday, May 21, 2007: Dickey Gap to Hurricane Shelter ( miles / total) Sunny and 70s – then showers.
A mixup had two shuttles showing up this morning after our amazing breakfast at the Lazy Fox Inn. We ended up using both so that Rockdancer could do a slackpack hike with us today. We dropped Rockdancer's car off at 603, then stopped for an early lunch at the Restaurant / Grocery Store / Gas station in Troutdale and then Willie shuttled us up to Dickey Gap.
We started hiking at about noon. Then, we took our first break just one mile in at the waterfall. Our next break happened when we passed Half Pint going in the other direction. Rockdancer and I helped her with her pack which was somewhat maladjusted. I hiked mostly with Rockdancer today knowing I would have four more days to hike with Leapfrog. We got to the shelter at 3:30 for a short day. Sir Privy Winks was there, quoting Thoreau in the shelter register. He left shortly thereafter to continue up the trail some more that day.
Ranger Jan walked in while Leapfrog was changing. I tried to warn her that someone was coming up the trail but she thought I was joking. She eventually realized I wasn’t joking and covered up a bit. The Leatherneck and finally the Artiste moved in. This shelter, built in 2004 is clean and remarkably still has no discernable graffiti – AMAZING!
The Artiste built a fire that night which was eventually doused by the showers that threatened and spat during the early evening that finally materialized into rain as it got dark. It’s nice when rain on the trail has so little affect on hikers.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007: Hurricane Shelter to Wise Shelter ( miles / total) Cloudy then rain – 70s.
Easy walking today. Going slow to hike with Leapfrog. I took a much needed nap at Old Orchard Shelter while Sue went ahead. It took a while to catch up because I had to stop and talk with all the northbound thruhikers coming out of Damascus and Trail Days.
It rained a bit along the way – enough at one point that I pulled out my packcover but never needed to don rain gear. Sue got some trail magic at the Scales and I found her there lounging in a chair. But we quickly moved along. Sue, hoping for a shorter day, was looking for, but missed, a favored campsite a mile or so before the shelter. I kept hearing good things about the shelter such as the setting, the nearby stream with swimming hole, etc. I was disappointed not to get to see Sue’s campsite, but glad to not have to set up my tent. This was especially true when we got close to the shelter. We stopped at the beautiful creek to get water but a clap of thunder had us reevaluating… We quickly donned our packs and went the last couple of hundred yards to the shelter. Almost as soon as we got there, the rain let loose. Once again, perfect timing! We were glad to have kept all of our gear dry even if we might have had to get water in the rain. But with a shower like that, it wasn’t likely to last all that long and within an hour or so, I went to grab water for the both of us.
While there, I not only filled our water bags and bottles, but cleaned myself up a bit. It was a bit too cold to go for a real swim but it was nice to rinse out the worst of my clothes and scrub off the worst of my body odor.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007: Wise Shelter to Thomas Knob Shelter ( miles / total) Cloudy and rainy 70s and 60s.
Today we hit Grayson Highlands. It’s my favorite area along this part of the trail. Grayson Highlands is known for the herds of feral ponies that occupy the area though the first large animals I saw as I entered the area were a couple of deer. There’s some gray areas as to where these ponies come from, but at least one theory has then coming from the Chincoteague/Assateague ponies of “Misty” (a Marguerite Henry book) fame. I’ve also heard one ranger completely dismiss that theory so your guess is as good as mine. At this point, the herds more than maintain themselves and are occasionally culled with some ponies taken out of the herds and sold.
While these ponies are not supposed to be fed, it’s obvious they frequently get handouts. They may be feral, but they don’t start if you approach them and they will approach you. Unlike many supposedly trail savvy domesticated horses, these ponies are completely at home with hikers yielding backpacks and hiking poles. If you put down your pack, they come and mouth the packs, trying to eat the salt off them. Then do the same to hikers and it’s not unusual to have them tugging on loose straps, loose hair, and even clothing.
Many enjoy a good scratch though some are wary and prefer not to be touched even though they approach you quite confidently – obviously looking for tasty handouts. Young foals are a bit more wary even though their mothers could care less if they approach you. I would just sit down on the ground and let the ponies come up to me on their own terms. I had one mare nuzzling my neck while two foals worked up the courage to approach me.
Even though rain had threatened a couple of times, we once again timed our arrival at the shelter perfectly. We had just crawled into the shelter to claim space even though we knew most of the hikers at the picnic table would be moving on once they finished lunch. Almost immediately, before we could get settled, the rain let loose. And boy did it come down. All the hikers quickly grabbed their packs and got them under cover of the shelter eaves. They also took cover and with good reason. The downpour had quite a bit of embedded pea-sized hail. Ouch!
As the rain slowed, the hikers slowly cleared out and while the weather improved somewhat, it stayed foggy and windy with the occasional rumble of thunder for the rest of the day. We were quite content to hang out in the shelter. One of the others there read tarot cards for Leapfrog and one other hiker.
Thursday, May 24, 2007: Thomas Knob Shelter to Lost Mountain Shelter ( Miles / total) Foggy, partly cloudy – 60s to 70s.
We had a very strange night last night. At 1:30 in the morning, some dude (Tick?) comes up to the shelter, lost, looking for the way back to the road. He was probably drunk. He wouldn’t listen to us when we tried to give him directions back to the road. He said he had been to the “treeless” “summit” of Mount Rogers. Given that the summit is tree covered, we knew he didn’t have any idea what he was talking about. He ended up sleeping on the ground in front of the shelter with a dog which was supposedly Lone Wolf’s dog, Max. I was glad he had the dog to curl up with because it was just cold enough for me to be worried about hypothermia otherwise. He muttered to himself for quite a while before I finally fell asleep again. In the morning, someone pointed him to the spring and then back down the trail in the right direction. I certainly hope he got out because we followed in his footsteps just an hour later and never saw him.
I started out half an hour ahead of Leapfrog today. Just a short distance from the shelter was the spur trail to the summit of Mt. Rogers, the highest point in Virginia. I had bypassed it during my ’99 thruhike but at that point, I guess I hadn’t really given that much thought to collecting state high points. The summit was interesting to me. There were Balsam Fir trees, lemon sorrel, and other plants more similar to high mountain forests in New Hampshire. The dense undergrowth and downed trees also reminded me of hiking up north. In these southern states, it’s very easy to find a campsite that conforms to Leave No Trace (LNT) principles. Up north, it can sometimes be difficult just to step off the trail, much less get 200’ from the trail and find a flat open spot in which to pitch a tent.
I met Leapfrog back at the trail junction and we continued our mostly downhill hike together. Following Leapfrog made me think about how differently I hike compared to when I started my AT thruhike in ’99; with frequent short stops to negotiate “difficult” terrain that I now negotiate barely slowing down. Not only is my pack significantly lighter, but the way I move along the trail had changed, too. I now wear New Balance sneakers; I pick where I put my feet more carefully – but I do it subconsciously. I can also hike all day with fewer and shorter breaks than I took in ’99. I look at Leapfrog and can only imagine how her hiking will change once she’s thruhiking and on the trail week after week. “Efficiency of motion” – or perhaps “Economy of motion” are terms that come to mind to describe ones hiking ability and style of movement along the trail.
[Warning – diatribe ahead.]
Another topic gnawing at my consciousness today is hiker respect for the trail, for other hikers, and for trail structures such as shelters, privies, signs, etc. There seems to be a huge change since 1999. My experiences at Thomas Knob shelter, while not unique, brought it all home to me.
One hiker carried a portion of a z-rest out of town to use as a sit pad and decided he didn’t want to carry it anymore so instead of continuing to carry it to the next town, left it at the shelter. That’s behavior I expect of ignorant hikers near the beginning of the trail, not of someone who has hiked nearly 500 miles. Another lit up some weed while taking shelter from the rain under the eaves in front of the shelter. Never mind the fact that it’s illegal, hikers at least used to go some distance behind the shelter to avoid offending anyone who might otherwise be uncomfortable around such activity.
There were toilet paper flowers next to the shelter. This shelter has a privy and yet folks who don’t want to go so far in the middle of the night leave their paper for others to find. If they don’t want to make it to the privy, they should at least bag their paper and dispose of it the next day in the privy or carry it out. The privy, while clean and dry, had two duff barrels, both of which were empty of duff but had already had trash thrown into them. There is no garbage collection up here. Everyone should be prepared to carry out whatever they carry in.
Even at the shelter… Anytime I’ve been the first to a shelter on any given day, if there’s a broom available, I sweep out the entire shelter. In 1999, anyone who followed was careful to limit the dirt they brought into the shelter. Most would remove shoes to walk around in the shelter or at least kick extraneous dirt off their shoes and be careful not to walk on others’ belongings. I’ve had people walk on my pad, my water bag, and watched as others’ bags got muddy from people inadvertently stepping on them when they fail to try to avoid them.
There are also many dogs on the trail this year. Many are well-behaved, trained well, and have responsible owners. Unfortunately, with the increased number of dogs, there are an increased number of irresponsible owners who fail to keep their dogs out of the shelters (when requested to do so) and off others’ belongings. I suppose if people no longer respect others’ gear, how can we expect dogs to? These are often the same people whose dogs challenge others on the trail, bite others, steal and beg food, and perhaps pee on packs or tents on the ground. In this case, knowing the dog slept with the owner, I asked that the owner keep it out of the shelter until they were ready to go to sleep. He would tell the dog to stay out but the dog wasn’t trained well enough to either listen or understand and the dog repeatedly jumped into the shelter and left muddy prints on no fewer than three sleeping bags. When I asked if the dog could be leashed so that it couldn’t reach the shelter, the owner yelled at me and refused to even entertain the idea. If didn’t help that most other people around were intimidated and didn’t bother to say anything to the hiker. They did thank me for trying to speak up though – but only when out of earshot of the hiker.
Cell phones are also an issue. While those of us involved in the trail community as a whole, on-line and off, as part of trail organizations, etc. are aware that cell phone use on the trail bothers others, many of those who aren’t involved except for their own thruhikes can’t even comprehend why in the world using a cell phone could possibly bother anyone else. Sigh. That’s one battle that’s probably lost already. Those users just look at you crazy if you suggest the phone only be used out of sight and earshot of other hikers.
Friday, May 25, 2007: Lost Mountain Shelter to Damascus (via Creeper Trail) ( miles / total) Sunny and 80ish.
If anyone reading my journal has only been following my progress because I’ve been a purist, you may want to skip today’s entry.
Today I blue-blazed. A blue-blazed trail is a side trail off the AT. It may go just a short distance one-way to a water source; it may be a short-cut between two points on the AT; or it may be a long-cut between points on the AT. All hikers use them to get water, but some hikers believe a thruhiker should only follow the official AT and not take any blue-blazed trails that prevent the hiker from seeing some of the white-blazed trail. My blue-blaze today was a bit of a short cut, definitely an easier option than the AT, and by many account more beautiful. The AT is concurrent with the Virginia Creeper Trail for a short distance about nine miles outside of Damascus. Rather than follow the AT to get back to town, we stayed on the Creeper Trail, a rail trail, all the way back to town. It’s a gravel trail that criss-crosses the creek by going ove myriad trestles. The creek is beautiful, especially at midday when the sun, filtered through the trees, sparkles as it reflects off the water. The rail grade made for fast and easy walking. By 11:00, we were in Taylor Valley, a small community with a couple of small eateries. We stopped at the first one for lunch. My French fries were delayed so the proprietor brought out a bag of freshly made mini-donuts, gratis, to make amends. Those donuts were delicious but definitely better when eaten hot. I wouldn’t bother to get them to go for later. Moving down the trail, we stopped at the second eatery for dessert. Their menu was more extensive than the first and included more desserts. The chocolate cake, a triple-decker, was good though the skinny slice was a rather meager portion.
By afternoon, we could barely walk side-by-side anymore. The bicyclists were often too numerous and came by with such frequency that we just walked single file. On the edge of town, we stopped for ice cream. Then we grabbed bunks at The Place. I ran to get maildrops expected by the weekend but was disappointed to find that neither the post office nor Mount Rogers Outfitters had any boxes for me. After showers and laundry, Leapfrog, Tortuga, and I went to Damascus Eats for dinner. The southwest chicken salad was great.
Back at the Place, hikers with dogs were run off the property by a surly caretaker. The hikers shouldn’t have tried to camp there as there are signs posted that no dogs are allowed on the property, but the caretaker didn’t have to be surly when asking the hikers to leave. The cops came by a little while later to check but the dogs and hikers were long gone by then.
Saturday, May 26, 2007: Damascus (zero) Partly cloudy with a rumble of thunder – 70s.
I watched as Leapfrog and Tortuga were also amazed when we walked into Mojoe’s. The place just seems too nice for Damascus. They were out a few ingredients but knowing shopping was already underway, we decided to wait. We had loaded omelets for breakfast.
The PO still didn’t have my box even though I had gotten word that it had been sent priority mail the previous Monday. So I went back to MRO to have them check their pile and sure enough, I realized they had it listed under the name of my friend who sent it to me, not under my name. Oops! So, I got my box and now only have to wait for one or two more.
It was too late for me to switch everything out and get my heavier pack in the mail so I’ll hang out here in town until Tuesday. I should get all my boxes by then and I also hope a cold I had been fighting all week goes away by then. Then I’ll mail my extra gear out and send a bounce box up the trail.
I printed out the next section of the Companion at the library. I ate lunch and then went back to the Place only to be invited to a picnic lunch at the park. Well, the burritos at Baja are huge so I wasn't hungry but I went anyway. We stopped at the store to pick up stuff for grilling. I picked up a small cheesecake to share for dessert. I was surprise to find we were going to Backbone State Park and not the town park. We ended up picnicking in the pavilion because rumbles of thunder had us thinking we might otherwise get very wet. The rain never materialized though we did have a couple of impressive gusts of wind. After the picnic, Kolocho, our driver, took us to see Backbone Rock as most of the others hadn't yet seen it. This spine of rock towers above the road as was tunneled through for a railroad. The road now follows that route through what is billed as the world's shortest tunnel.
Back at the Place, the worst luck had me in negative digits while playing rummy 500. When Kolocho decided it was time to head for the Bluegrass concert that I had read about on the Creeper Trail the day before, I was ready to go. It was a fun, small, jam session concert where half the audience members seemed to get up from time to time to play for a song or two. It may not have been the best bluegrass around but it was certainly fun, friendly, and a nice change of pace from an evening doing nothing in town. the concert was part of the "Music in the Mountains" series, held in a former garage, along Virginia's Crooked Road Musical Heritage Trail, just one of the many "trails" that lead to or go through Damascus, VA.
Sunday, May 27, 2007: Damascus (zero) Partly cloudy and 80s.
Tortuga and I both want to see Mojoe's succeed but I doubt the coffee shop with the marvelous omelets will be in business next year. It's a holiday weekend and for the entire duration it took us to order and eat our omelets at a leisurely pace, only four other customers came in. That just can't be enough to sustain a business like that. Lion King, one of the other customers and an AT videographer and producer, joined us for breakfast after hearing our raves and was also impressed. Today's breakfast was a late one. We only started for Mojoe's after seeing off Root Drop, Crockett (her boyfriend), and Doc (Crockett's brother). They were getting a ride to the hospital in Abingdon with Kolocho. Root Drop's ankles and heels needed serious medical attention.
After breakfast, I caught up on phone calls and email, tracked down some blank CDs, and spent much of the afternoon transcribing my journal and copying pictures to CD. Afterwards, I found the gang drowning their sorrows at having to say good-bye to Root Drop - even if only for a week or two.
Being Sunday, many establishments close early in town. Being erroneously told that Sicily's was closed, I went back to the hostel to find some coupons for a pizza place that would deliver and found another couple there to help share the costs off the "two 'fer" deals. They even had a car so we decided to drive - only to find Sicily's open. So I joined them for dinner and then we went for ice cream afterwards. Tortuga and I played Jargon, a weird Scrabble like game that didn't seem worth the time it took to play.
Date:Tue May 29, 2007 9:32 am
After spending so much time in towns, I'm now heading back to the trail and am not sure where I'll next have on-line access - perhaps not until Pearisburg. Today, I hitch to Troutdale, about 25 miles away. I'll spend the night in the hostel there. Tomorrow, I'll be back on the trail.
I still have some foot pain from what's likely a compressed nerve in my right forefoot. My time off hasn't helped at all but since it's only a little painful in the morning and then fine the rest of the day (numb?), I'm not going to worry about it for now. If it gets worse, I'll reevaluate when I get to Pearisburg. My cold is annoyingly persistent. I still cough a bit but the throat isn't quite as sore. We'll see if the trail ends up being good for it - or not. There's another crowd of hikers behind me who are also fighting colds. Something must be going around.
Oh yeah... for what it's worth, I still go to Sicily's, that place where I was ignored that once. That bad experience was an anomaly. I do hope others will continue to frequent the restaurant to make up for those that no longer go there out of bigotry and ignorance. The current owners, immigrants, are nice people but some who live or visit here can't see beyond their ethnic origin.
Monday, May 28, 2007: Damascus (zero) Partly cloudy and thundershowers
I started the day by downloading the rest of my pictures off of my second memory card and burning three more CDs. I also transcribed more of my journal. I did something different for breakfast and tried Damascus Eats. it was great for dinner but not so good for breakfast. I'll go back to Mojoe's. That said, the Orange cream cheese frosted cinnamon roll was delicious. (I got one to go and ate that as a snack in lieu of lunch.) I once again made use of the phone and arranged for at least a couple of days of slackpacking on Wednesday and Thursday. Woohoo!
A mid-afternoon game of jargon with Tortuga when thunder threatened and a shower passed through occupied the rest of the afternoon. Come evening, I instigated a trip to Abingdon for a movie. Given that Kolocho had already seen Pirates, and none of us had seen Shrek the Third, we opted for Shrek. With an hour and a half to kill before the movie, we went for a seafood dinner. My scallops left a lot to be desired, but the catfish was good.
By the time we got back to the Place, it was almost 11:00pm and I was surprised to find the hostel bustling. Two nights ago, I was the only one on the entire second floor. Now, I went up to my bunk to consolidate in case any late arrivals needed a place to crash.
I took some time to wind down by journaling while a late night crowd of hikers and bicyclists socialized well past hiker bedtime.
Date:Thu Jun 7, 2007 5:12 pm
I'm thinking of getting off the trail - perhaps as early as today...
I'm in Pearisburg, VA and have been mulling this over for the last week or so. The good days haven't been outnumbering the bad days as much as I would like so it may be time to do something different. I'll be taking the next day or two to make a decision. Even if I stay on trail a bit longer, it probably won't be much more than another week or two before I get off for good.
If there's anyone along the AT route who happens to be heading north and east who would like a rider, let me know. I'm in no rush. Stops along the way in areas such as Harpers Ferry would be a bonus but not a requirement.
Alternatively, if anyone has an old beater for sale, I'm likely in the market for a used car just to get me through the summer. Or a recommendation for a place to look for a car... (I'll have to check the local craigslist action...)
I'm sure I'll be on-line again tomorrow... Beyond that, I'm not sure. I don't know weekend hours here and if I decide to hike again, I could be on the trail. I'll try to keep y'all (that's southern, y'know) updated. In any case, I should be able to get on-line tomorrow and transcribe my journal to date... Just not today.
Thanks for any suggestions for transportation north...
Date:Thu Jun 14, 2007 7:47 pm
I've been off the trail since June 7. Here are my last journal entries from the trail. I'll try to get more of my journal transcribed but I expect to be traveling for a few days and may not have the opportunity until sometime next week.
At this point, I'm headed back home to visit with family and friends and to buy a car. Then, I expect to spend the summer in the Adirondacks.
I'll write more when I can...
Tuesday, May 29, 2007: Damascus to Troutdale (hitching) partly cloudy and thunderstorms. (1/2 mile – swimming – not on trail)
This morning I packed my frameless pack for the first time since I got it in the mail. I still needed to add my laundry which needed cleaning first but I could tell it would fit. I stuck my laundry in the washer at the Laundromat on the way to Mojoe’s for my last omelet of my stay in Damascus. Things went really slow there so I was still eating when I should have been switching my laundry to the dryer. When I finished eating, I ran out of the restaurant without paying to go move my laundry to the dryer. I only realized I had done that when I was at the Laundromat. Oops! But, I knew the manager knew I was planning on coming back to use the computer so I didn’t worry about it. Sure enough, back at the restaurant, the manager wasn’t at all concerned about my coming back to pay. I got back on the computer for a while and by the time I was done on-line, my laundry was dry, too.
Back at The Place, I finished packing my frameless pack and got my Kelty internal frame pack ready to ship to my sister Sharon’s place. I also readied a bunch of stuff to bounce to Pearisburg. I stopped at the Post Office to pick up an expected box and was relieved to find it a small box with delicious contents. My sister Lori had sent me some homemade sweet and salty treats, basically glorified rice crispy treats though I don’t think there were any rice crispies in there – just some marshmallow to hold all the other goodies together.
At MRO (Mount Rogers Outfitters), I shared some of the goodies with the folks who work there. They’ve always been a big help to so many of the hikers. While there, I got a large box to pack up my backpack and packed both the extra gear to go home and my bounce box. Then it was back to the Post Office to get everything mailed out.
At the library, I copied some Sudoku puzzles to have some opportunities for logical thinking along the trail. I ran into Hummingbird and Dutch Treat there and we chatted for half an hour or so before I finally left the library. I went back to The Place to grab my backpack, said good-bye to Tortuga for the last time, used the phone on Larry’s porch (he leaves it out for hikers and bicyclists), grabbed a sub at Subway, and then ate it with a milkshake from the ice-cream shop on the trail on the way out of town.
Then it was time to start hitching. My first hitch got me just a mile down the road. No complaints there. It got me to the intersection where many cars go the wrong way. Traffic going in the direction I was going was sparse to say the least. I watched many 10s of cars going the “wrong” way. One car passed me going in the direction I wanted to go and eventually, when the second car came by, they stopped for me. Marion and Roy, two brothers from Abingdon and Damascus, were going to pick ramps in an area near Troutdale. They went just a couple of miles past their intended turn-off to bring me to the store. Besides, with the threatening weather – it had rained on and off along the drive – it was unclear whether they were still going to pick those ramps. Oh yeah… ramps are a wild onion with a garlicy onion flavor. Both the bulbs and the leaves are supposed to be good eating. I see them when I hike but don’t bother to pick them as it takes too much time and effort to both pick and cook. Perhaps sometime when I’m out for a day hike in the area…
At the gas station/grocery store/restaurant in Troutdale, I met Lone Wolf. The OTHER Lone Wolf. As it turns out, there are two hikers named Lone Wolf living in the southern Virginia area. This solved the mystery from the night at Thomas Knob Shelter when the drunk hiker said he had Lone Wolf’s dog and yet none of us knew Lone Wolf had a dog. It was the OTHER Lone Wolf. And this Lone Wolf – with the dog – was extremely upset when that other hiker went off with his dog and didn’t come back overnight. Anyway, Lone Wolf was helping out at the restaurant for a day or two.
Kinnickinic, the woman who was to be slackpacking me for the next two days, ended up picking me up today. We went to the Wellness Center in Marion where I got to go for a ½ mile swim. Then I got my second shower of the day. We picked up a couple of other hikers in Atkins and went for a dinner at a Mexican place in Marion. Somehow I ended up paying for dinner – and it wasn’t cheap, either. Kinnickinic brought me back to the church hostel at 9:30pm. I ended up staying in the pavilion with a couple of other guys.
Wednesday, May 30, 2007: Dickey Gap to Partnership shelter. (14.6 miles / 523.3 total) sunny and 80s.
Between the rooster and the crow, it was impossible to sleep late. This, after a night of peepers, wood frogs, and whippoorwills. I mentioned a slackpack to a bunch of guys who showed up at breakfast and decided to join me. BumBum (Brian), Bill, Ben and I left our packs, or in my case, my garbage bag (so I could use my pack), at the restaurant for Kinnickinic to pick up and got a ride to the trailhead from Jerry, the new owner of the restaurant.
This stretch of trail has a ton of poison ivy. I kept trying to take a break but most of the ground and downed trees had ivy. The downed trees without ivy often seemed to have colonies of millipedes. Yuck! With all the obstacles, I only had one break to sit down other than the break at the shelter we passed.
Kinnickinic was waiting for us at Partnership and ended up agreeing to change plans to go to the Sugar Grove Diner instead of Japanese. But, she had an errand to run first so we hung out at the shelter, got hot showers (the shelter shower’s conversion to propane was a nice surprise). Only BumBum ended up joining us for dinner. We ended up stopping at Kinnickinic’s place to see the injured Moscovy duck that she had been trying to rescue.
Thursday, May 31, 2007: Partnership shelter to Groseclose (11.6 miles / 524.8 total) Sunny, humid, and 80s.
Brian, Bill, and Ben decided to carry their own packs. I called my slackpack and suggested a better location to pick up my pack where should could do it at her own convenience. I started hiking at 8:20. It was fast hiking through this area and I caught up with the gang at the shelter. They went ahead while I took a break there. Then I stopped again when I got to the Settler’s Museum only to realize that I’ll have to stop by sometime when I have a few hours, not just ½ an hour. At least this time, I found out that the museum is a working farm, producing cabbage.
In Groseclose, I talked with Ox while waiting for Kinnickinic. We had decided to share a room until Kinnickinic showed up without my gear. Then, since she had to go back to Partnership shelter anyway, we decide to save some cash and sleep there again. We went to a different Mexican place for a mid-afternoon lunch/dinner. then stopped in Marion to pick up some dessert. Ox and I agreed to share a cheesecake and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. Hmm, Ox and I have similar tastes. Perhaps he’ll catch up to me after his visit with his wife. We grabbed a case of soda to bring up to the shelter for trail magic and were very surprised when we got back to find a huge crowd there. Last night there had only been eight or so of us. Tonight, well over 20.
I was surprised to see Baltimore Jack and the Dude there. They were hiking with Jones and Fox and doing the stretch back to Damascus southbound. Some other hikers ended up zeroing there. There were a few too many partiers there but they did keep the pizza delivery guys busy.
Friday, June 1, 2007: Groseclose to Knot Maul Branch Shelter (13.9 miles / 548.7 total) Partly cloudy, thunder, no rain.
Sawnie picked Ox and me up at Partnership shelter and brought us to the Wellness Center. I grabbed a shower as the shower at Partnership last night was COLD – they ran out of propane. Then we stopped so I could grab some supplies at a supermarket and then back to Partnership to get Ox’s pants and wallet, left there by accident this morning. Thankfully, they were still there. We finally got dropped off at the Exxon station. The Dairy Queen that used to be there and was then gone, and then back, is now gone again. It’s about to be replaced by 54 Roses, a restaurant with southern cooking and a touch of Middle Eastern thrown in. She’ll also have a bunch of internet access there for the hikers.
I did some final shopping, repacked, and then hit the trail at about 10:30.
I started hiking and almost turned back immediately. My pack felt too heavy, I was uncomfortable, I was walking through grassy humid fields completely exposed to the sun. I decided to make it to the shelter just 2.5 miles in and regroup. I took a long break there and almost walked out with Coyote who was walking south to get off the trail to go home. After an hour long break, I continued on. In the forest, my pack didn’t seem so heavy. I took another long break on a big flat rock near a switchback. I laid back and actually fell asleep for a few minutes. I woke up to rumbles of thunder, scarfed down a couple of granola-type bars, put my packcover on, and continued walking. It didn’t rain. Well, the lack of rain was good for me, but bad for the water sources which are drying up.
I walked through some more field later in the day and they seemed familiar somehow. Then I found the US Geological survey marker that I had found while walking with Cassiopeia and Freak Dog during my ’99 thruhike. Strange what sticks out in your memory. This time, this is the second AT survey marker I’ve seen. The first was in Damascus, in the road, at the corner between Sundog Outfitters and Damascus Eats.
Today’s hike sent me through more stiles than I could count. At one point, as I approached a stile, a herd of cows barely moved to make way for me. But, my presence was enough to make them nervous. You know what nervous cows do? They piss and shit everywhere… I had to watch my step to avoid fresh mud and cow pies. Blech!
When I got through that herd of cows, I had to climb over a badly broken and dangerous stile. The supporting feet were broken and the stile swayed and twisted as I climbed and threatened to dump me onto the barbed wire fence below. This was at the route 610 crossing (mile-marker 544.2 north of Groseclose, VA). I went and sat across the street for a while and realized that it needed to be cow-proofed. No, these cows couldn't climb the broken stile, but because the cows use it for a scratching post, lean on it, and even step on it occasionally when trying to get out of the way of other cows, it need to be able to support much more than the weight of a loaded down backpacker. [reported to the ATC]
I pulled into the shelter at 8:00 while it was still light. The BBB barely saw fit to greet me. It was weird. One newcomer, just starting, seemed nice but was apparently taking cues from the BBB and “went to sleep” to read rather than do even the basics of typical shelter socializing. I managed to cook, eat, clean, and crawl into bed all before it became necessary to use my light. Neither guy in the shelter saw fit to move any of their hanging stuff even though it was right in front of where I was sleeping. As a friend of mine put it, I needed to get off their itinerary. It’s too bad, I like all of them, but when they ignore your attempts to join in on conversations they’re having in your immediate presence, it goes beyond shyness and becomes rude.
Saturday, June 2, 2007: Knot Maul Branch Shelter to campsite one mile north of Walker Gap. (11.5 miles / 560.2 total) Cloudy and 70s.
During my midnight run to the tree last night, I was aware of animals near the shelter. Knowing deer had been in the area earlier, I purposefully went in the other direction so as not to disturb them. When I came back, I listened to them a while before crawling back in. When one growled at me, it occurred to me they might not be deer and knowing someone had a food bag hung in the vicinity, I turned my light on. At first, I could only see two sets of glowing white eyes. When one turned sideways and I could see it was a deer, I was surprised as I’ve only ever seen deer eyes glow orange. But, at least it wasn’t a bear. But hmm, deer growl? It really didn’t sound like a snort. But, I went to sleep knowing we were guarded by deer.
When I woke up for real, I was up and out early intending to do big miles. But, since I have food for short days, I decided to rethink my plans at Chestnut Knob Shelter. It’ll be a good opportunity to get on my own itinerary. But, since there was no water source, I moved on. Walker Gap was “occupied” by some good ol’ boys doing target practice in the gap. At least they were positioned to be shooting at targets down into the ground rather than level or up into the hills. Still they were “on” the AT. Oh well… They were the ones with guns and neither I nor Phil felt comfortable saying anything. In any case, they gave us some water, and then a tip as to where to find a good spring and even how to get back on the trail if we didn’t mind blue-blazing. They were neither rude nor threatening. I’m guessing they were just ignorant of the fact that the AT is considered part of the National Park system and their use of guns on the trail may have been a federal offense, not to mention just plain unsafe shooting in the vicinity of a well-traveled trail. To their credit, they did clean up after themselves and certainly left the place cleaner than when they found it [hikers who passed by after we had left mentioned how clean the gap was].
We moved on and found a really nice campsite a mile or so past Walker Gap. We could still hear an occasional shot in the distance but knowing none of the shooters would be doing any hiking (getting out of the truck was obviously exercise enough for them), I felt comfortable stopping there. Phil however, moved on. I was glad to be stopping. I had been having some issues with a nerve or something in my right hip and welcomed the break.
The only potential downside to the site was a plethora of flies and a bunch of ants. But, neither seemed particularly interested in me or even my food as I cooked so I just ignored them. I cooked dinner and got rid of more weight out of my pack. Then I bear bagged. Usually a comical routine whereby I throw like a girl and my rock or stick doesn’t see fit to go over the branch I’m aiming at, this time, the stick sails over the branch exactly where I want it to as if I were some sort of pro. Was there anyone around to see me successfully bear bag in just one try? No. Argh!
Now I have to wonder whether or not I need to set up my tent. I prefer sleeping out in the open, there’s a slight breeze here and no biting bugs that I’ve felt, and the ground doesn’t seem crawling with anything to worry about. The big question is whether the rain that has been threatening for the last few days will decide to materialize overnight. With short miles, I would have plenty of time to dry my tent if it got wet, but I still prefer to sleep out so I decided to just cowboy camp as the current AT vernacular calls it. I did, of course, keep my tent handy just in case.
Sunday, June 3, 2007: Campsite to Jenkins Shelter (~8 miles / 567.7 total) rainy and 50s all day.
I woke up with a migraine at 3:00am for the second day in a row. What’s with that? With no one else around, my evening routine went very fast. After eating, I had plenty of time to write in my journal, read, and do some Sudoku puzzles and I still went to sleep at 8:30 last night. So, when I woke up at 3:00 and couldn’t go back to sleep, I did some more Sudoku for an hour and then went back to sleep. I woke up at 6:15 and started my morning routine only to hear it start to rain just a few minutes after I woke up. I started scrambling to pack everything only to realize that the tall, mature maples I was camped under were doing a wonderful job of keeping the rain off. I slowed down a bit, packed normally, and hit the trail half an hour later still without having felt anything more than a slight spray on occasion. I’m glad I slept out – and I’m very glad I always wake up early. It was only after I got on the trail out of the protection of the huge maples, that I started feeling my first drops. At first the rain stayed light. I walked slowly and ate a couple of Pop-tarts.
A Ruffed Grouse surprised me this morning. At first, it did the broken wing/broken leg fluttering on the ground thing. Then it got up and spread all of its feathers to make it look as big as possible and bluff charged towards me a few times but only for a foot or so each time it “charged”. As it did it’s thing, I looked to the side and saw tiny chicks, about the size of chicken eggs, scurrying away to safety. Of course, when it had started to rain, I had packed my camera in my pack. I missed this opportunity but decided to pull out my camera for other opportunities. Besides, it still wasn’t raining all that hard.
So, I pulled out my camera pack, put the camera in a plastic bag and rigged a plastic bag as a “packcover” for my fanny pack (camera pack).
I walked the rough trail, glad that I had stopped where I had the night before. There really weren’t any more good campsites for miles though I could have or would have made do here and there along the way. Of course, the light rain ended up turning into heavier rain and I was soon soaked. I was cold but not too cold as long as I kept moving. I just kept moving until I got to the shelter. There, I changed into dry clothes, inflated my sleeping pad, and crawled into my sleeping bag. Then, I ate a bunch of food as the only thing I had eaten all day was two pop-tarts. Not much fuel for an 8 mile day in the rain. It wasn’t long before I was warm again.
The three people who were there when I got there eventually left and wandered out into the rain. I took a nap and was soon joined by Calvin and Hobbes, a father/daughter team from Utah. They settled in to get warm and dry and eventually decided to stay the night. Then Wildcat, from Vermont (but originally from Stuttgart) settled in. Doc, Crockett, Dogman, and another woman passed through. Then Joker and Scissors passed on by. Finally at 8:00, four loud guys came by wanting to start a fire after a long day of soaking rain which would have gotten all the firewood wet. Plus, Calvin, Hobbes, and Wildcat were already trying to sleep. It could end up being a long evening. They ended up trying to build a fire behind the shelter. Not sure if they succeeded – I eventually went to sleep.
Other wildlife I ended up seeing today: two deer, two red efts, and from the shelter, one scarlet tanager.
Today I finished a book I had been carrying since Springer. It was Thoreau’s “Walden” and “Civil Disobedience”. As someone who can polish off a Clancy novel in an afternoon, reading one book for so long was an interesting experience. I’ve heard quotes from Walden out of context so many times. I knew they were out of context because Walden Pond is frequently where I choose to go swimming in the summer. I have wandered the grounds many times, seen the Thoreau house site, seen the replica house, and know the area that he describes in his book quite well – from village, to the Baker Farm, to neighboring hills and ponds, etc. Many hikers believe Thoreau was living in a remote location. Even at the time he was living there, it wasn’t remote. The train went right by his house and he was an easy walk to town.
The quote often used out of context (from “Walden”, Where I Lived):
"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."
The quote that really puts the above in perspective (from “Walden”, The Village):
"Every day or two, I strolled to the village to hear some of the gossip which is incessantly going on there, circulating either from mouth to mouth, or from newspaper to newspaper, and which, taken in homeopathic doses, was really as refreshing in its way as the rustle of leaves and the peeping of frogs."
Monday, June 4, 2007: Jenkins Shelter to Helvey’s Mill Shelter (via Bland). (13.8 miles / 581.5 total)
There’s nothing like packing wet gear. Usually when heading to town, it’s no big deal. But today, I went to Bland which has no Laundromat. Thankfully, the 12 miles to town were quick and easy walking. At the five mile mark, I turned down the offer of an all you can eat breakfast at a local church. I wanted to spend time in town on-line and couldn’t afford the delay. But, I did get a bottle of Gatorade they had left as trailhead trail magic.
The remaining seven miles went quickly. I thought about, but did not take the Trail Boss trail. I wonder if Chris (aka Trail Boss), from the Blackburn Center has ever hiked it. I got to town around 1:00 after an easy hitch from the third vehicle that came along. Number two was a FedEx truck so I barely count that one. My ride brought me to the library and pointed out relevant buildings along the way. I dropped my pack at the library and went to the Citgo station for pizza lunch. I stopped at the IGA grocery store for an ice cream on the way back. I was frequently stopped along the way as people were curious about me and wanted to talk about the trail. It took maybe an hour or more for me to get my food, eat, and talk with everyone before I got back to the library.
I spent the rest of the afternoon at the library. I’m thinking about getting off the trail and want to get my ducks lined up in a row so to speak. I read and sent email. Now that my book is finished, I printed out more Sudoku puzzles. I only do the “evil” level ones at websudoku.com so that they’ll last a little while and give me some brain exercise along the way. When the library closed at 4:30, it was time for dinner – even though I wasn’t all that hungry having had a late lunch.
I hitched up to the Dairy Queen Brazier and ate a bacon double cheeseburger – or rather most of one – along with fries – or most of them – and a chocolate, peanut butter milkshake – I finished that. Three hitches later, I was back on the trail. In an hour, I was at the shelter.
As I walked in, I was surprised to find BBB there. When BumBum asked if he could get some water for me even before I had the chance to put my pack down, I took him up on the offer and handed him my water bag. I’m glad I had the presence of mind to tell him only half full. Apparently, the water source was way down the hill and he saved me quite the hike. After a while, I remembered racing Husky down that hill to the water back in ’99. I’m glad I didn’t have to do it this time and appreciated BumBum’s offer even more.
Even though some people had started to settle into the shelter, I started to slowly sweep the mostly empty half where I was going to spread my stuff. The others in there picked up their stuff when I indicated I would be happy to sweep the whole thing but didn’t want to expose anyone to mice turd dust (hanta virus carrier stuff).
Red started a fire – a CAMPfire. I shared the Walden quotes I had just printed out at the Library. I’m thinking of putting them in the shelter registers. It rained – but only after most of us were settled in or had pitched tents. A couple of late arriving guys were a bit damp but we gave them room to maneuver and they were soon dry and warm.
Tuesday, June 5, 2007: Helvey’s Mill shelter to route 606 (Trent’s) (camp) (16.3 miles / 597.8 total) Partly cloudy, breezy, around 80 with storms in the evening.
I saw another family of grouse this morning. This time, instead of bluffing me, the parent flew in one direction and I watched as tiny downy chicks, perhaps a smidge bigger than the previous group, actually flew in the other direction. They were so fluffy looking I couldn’t believe they could fly already.
The poison ivy continues and is impossible to avoid altogether. I just try to brush past it as gently as possible. So far, I haven’t had any reaction so I’ve come to the conclusion that gently brushing against it doesn’t impart any or enough urushoil for most people to react to. Either that, or there are so many people gently brushing against it that the oil has worn off the edges we brush against.
I took a break at a shelter with the BBB. While there, we worried an LBJ (Elbe Jay - or Little Brown Job) who had nested in the eaves on the outside of the shelter.
Once at Trent’s, I finally got a much needed shower and did laundry in the somewhat skanky facilities they have at their “campground”. Mostly, their campground is a storage facility for disused RVs. But I really couldn’t care less now that I don’t stink. I had gotten to the point where I couldn’t stand my own odor. Blech! I felt bad sitting in the library all yesterday.
I hung out with Lil Red, a section hiker, and we compared gear notes, had dinner, and got stuck in the store for an hour or so while a thunderstorm passed overhead. I could only hope my eight year old tent was holding up to the heavy rain. We made it back to the campsite during a break in the rain. I found a small, but manageable flood – OK, just a small leak – in my tent. I dried what I needed to before going to sleep and then watched the fireflies putting on a show in the nearby grassy horse paddock. It was strange, they seemed most active when it was raining. Once the rain stopped, there were many fewer fireflies putting on the show.
Wednesday, June 6, 2007: Route 606 to Wood’s Hole Hostel. (13.9 miles / 611.7 total) Sunny and 70s.
When I got up this morning, I sponged out my tent from both leaks and from condensation. Thankfully, the only leaks appear to be in the floor, along the center seam and in one of the corners where I have a previous repair. The only place that really got wet on the floor were in a couple of the corners and along the edge that connected them as well as under my sleeping pad. Given that my pad is like a 2.5 inch thick raft, I wasn’t at all concerned about anything getting wet underneath the pad. I just had to make sure I avoided putting anything that couldn’t get wet along that one edge.
I then left my tent up while I went for breakfast back at Trent’s. I hoped the sun would come up enough to dry it before I had to pack it. I even took my pad and bag out of the tent and put them in the laundry room in the hopes that they would dry and the tent floor would dry.
After breakfast, my pad had, in fact, dried so as I folded it, I stuck my sleeping bag in the dryer on low. I checked it every few minutes to make sure it wasn’t getting too hot and by the time I finished folding my pad, the few wet spots in my bag had thoroughly dried.
By now, my tent had mostly dried but I wasn’t going to wait so I packed it still a bit damp on the shady walls and corners.
After just two miles, I detoured to Dismal Falls, a spot I had skipped during my thruhike. I had been hearing that it was the best swimming hole on the entire trail and having been there now, I think I concur. It was a wonderful stream with a lot of ledgy rocks on with to stair step up and down, with plenty of sun to warm up in. Had it been warmer and later in the day, I might have been able to get more than just my feet in the water. As it was, I couldn’t even keep my feet in for very long. The water was COLD!!! Even the falls were ledgy and you could probably sit under them if you moved carefully along the rocks. It was early, but I stopped long enough to eat half of my lunch here.
After leaving the falls, I walked for an hour or so with Nugs, talking photography. We eventually stopped at the next shelter where to the amusement of the rest of the hikers, I enjoyed the remaining half of my somewhat unusual trail lunch. Rather than the typical granola bars or cheese and summer sausage that many eat while drinking water, I was enjoying the rest of a turkey sub, Fritos, and a Diet A&W Root Beer.
Later on, we stopped at an overlook. We could hear something moving around below us and eventually we figured out it was a deer. It seemed unconcerned at our presence above it even though we weren’t making much of an effort to keep quiet. I left Nugs waiting for his brother only to realize just a few hundred feet down the trail that the “real” overlook was ahead of where we had been taking a break for half an hour. I called back to Nugs to let him know he should move a bit ahead to wait for his brother. I waited for him to show up and the sure enough the expression on his face when he saw the more extensive view was worth the wait.
We had heard from a southbounder just a few miles earlier that the Wood’s Hole hostel was in fact open. There had been register entries stating it was closed so we were excited to find it open. As it turns out, both were correct. The hotel had opened late this year and had only been open for five days. The last bit of trail just before the turn-off for the hostel was surprisingly rough and discouraging. But the road walk was worth the extra half a mile and it was nice to be back at Wood’s Hole Hostel. This time Tillie wasn’t there so I met Neville, her granddaughter. Tillie, as it turned out, was in Boston for the Harvard University graduation. She was going to get to see both Bill Clinton and Bill Gates speak. Cuyahoga, Phil, and eventually a sizable group of others spent the evening, killing time reading and answering Trivial Pursuit questions.
Thursday, June 7, 2007: Wood’s Hole Hostel to Pearisburg. (10.9 miles / 622.6 total) Sunny and 70s.
I woke up to someone else’s watch alarm which, of course, did not wake up the owner. Argh! I had the veggie breakfast of eggs, fruit, and biscuits and apple butter while the meat eaters had sausage and gravy. Neville outdid herself. During breakfast, we introduced ourselves and told a bit about ourselves. As is typical, I started getting emotional when I mentioned I was likely to be getting off the trail in Pearisburg. But. I held it together and got through breakfast.
After a continuations of yesterday’s evening’s rocky trail, things smoothed over and most of today’s walking was on old woods roads. I stopped at a shelter just two miles from the Hostel and wrote one last, very long, register entry. This time, I finally included a few quotes from Thoreau. I surprised myself afterwards when back out on the trail at how upset and sad I was. I couldn’t help but cry as I walked. I’m just glad the trail wasn’t more difficult. I knew it was time to get off. When the good days just don’t come close to outnumbering the not-so-good days and I have other options for the summer, it was silly to stay on the trail. But to be so sad at the prospect of getting off surprised me. I had told myself I wouldn’t make any decisions about getting off the trail until I got to Pearisburg and yet it seemed I had already made the decision. Well, there was nothing set in stone so I knew I could still change my mind and stay on the trail but I just doubt I’ll do that now.
Once I got to town, I wasn’t even hitching when someone pulled over and offered me a ride. He ended up giving me a ride to the Post Office and then to Dairy Queen. I met the Hobbits at the DQ and ended up sharing a room with them at the Plaza. For $14 each, we had two rooms with three double beds. Since two of them were a couple, nobody even had to share a room who didn’t want to. Perfect! Plus, it beats the hostel which is quite the climb at the other end of town. After dumping out stuff, we went to the library. With no prospects for rides out of here from my feelers sent a few days earlier, I’m still not sure what to do. It does look like this is my last chance for easy internet access in a trail town for about 200 miles. I may start looking for a used car tomorrow.
We hit Marsha’s for dinner and all had the special – spaghetti. Rite Aid had a sale on Haagen Daaz so I tried the Mayan Chocolate (with cinnamon). Then I stayed up watching TV until well past midnight – for the first time in months.
Date:Fri Jun 15, 2007 3:06 pm
I managed to finish transcribing all of my journal entries through yesterday. So, I'm up to date for now...
Of course, sometimes in my haste, I miss something. Like yesterday, sometimes my own shorthand sneaks into my journal entries... yesterday's references to BBB were to the three guys, Brian, Bill, and Ben who were hiking together whose itinerary I was trying to get off of. But even though I was going slow and they were trying to do big miles, they kept taking extra days here and there for this reason or that reason so I kept finding myself in the same place as them.
So, here's what I've been up to for the last week.
Friday, June 8, 2007: Pearisburg – the end of the trail. Sunny and 90s – then threatening.
We had a very lazy morning, luxuriating in our suite, sleeping late, and watching TV. The Hobbits, Giselle, Andy, and Tim, eventually hit the trail, carrying incredibly heavy packs, filled with food for two weeks in an experiment to see if they could stay out of town for that long. I was packed and ready to go by the 11:00 check-out time but stayed in the room to use the phone and try to reorganize my summer. I will most likely end up spending the summer in the Adirondacks.
It was lunchtime when I finished so I stopped at the Pizza Plus and managed to limit myself to one plate each of salad, pizza, and dessert. It’s going to be hard to stop eating like a hiker…
I then stopped at the Goodwill to try to buy some non-hiking clothes and managed to find a skort (skirt/shorts) to wear around town. Of course, today would end up being scorching hot and just walking from the Goodwill to the library, I ended up drenched in sweat. I used the internet access at the library to get in touch with friends I intended to visit on my way north. I looked up the local craigslist.org to find some used cars in the area to check out. I also checked hospitalityclub.org for local hosts and emailed a likely candidate in Blacksburg.
I left when the library closed and stopped by the public pool to check their hours and the Subway, to grab a sub for dinner. Then I lucked out and got a ride up to the hostel. The hostel is at the top of a big hill and is not particularly convenient for the hikers, but it is “free” or at least only supported by donations so that hikers are able to pay what they feel is appropriate. Once there, I hung out for a while, ate, and settled in at the hostel and then joined a group of hikers going down the back way, across the fields, to the Walmart. It was there that I connected with Mark Lattanzi from Hospitalityclub.org and arranged for some lodging in Blacksburg the next day. It was a day sooner than I would have otherwise gone to Blacksburg but Mark was a dancer and was going to hook me up with a ride to a contra dance that night – even though he couldn’t go.
Saturday, June 9, 2007: Pearisburg to Blacksburg. Sunny and 80ish.
Someone’s watch alarm woke me up early so I didn’t fight it. I got up, packed, ate breakfast, and went back to Walmart to buy a suitable shirt to wear to the dance. I hitched a ride in a pickup with no doors to get to the Post Office where they didn’t have either of the two other boxes I was hoping to receive. Then I hitched another ride to the Library to get on-line for a few minutes. I didn’t have much to do there so I was able to make a 10:00am meeting time to rent a kayak and run a section of the New River. I had kept passing this place in town called “I canoe the New” and had stopped in the day before asking about the possibilities. I lucked into a run for this morning.
For some reason, I keep getting onto “N” rivers. I’ve been on the Nantahala, the Nolichucky, and the New river this year – all in different types of vessels. It’s been fun. This run was only class 1 and 2 which was why we, as novices, could use the plastic kayaks. There was one inexperienced couple and one guy complete with his own rig also on the run. We sort of stayed together as there was no rush. Had I gotten to the pullout early, I just would have had to wait for the others. So, I got my exercise by paddling hard every now and then and then waiting for the others to catch up to me. The run took about 3 hours. The sun was hot enough for us to enjoy getting splashed as we went through the rapids. We stopped a couple of times to take breaks and empty out partially flooded kayaks. Nobody capsized. Near the end of the run, we saw two large cormorant type birds and one huge Great Blue Heron. We finished the run with a couple of canoes with a trio of people who had been fishing.
At the pullout, there was one other hiker there. It was Smooth. I was not at all happy to see him and was glad he mostly ignored me other than to ask the obvious – had I run the river?
After the ride back to I canoe the New, I grabbed a shower at the public pool just a block or so away. When I was done there, I started hitching.
I watched a lot of cars go by. I’m assuming most of them were local traffic. Amongst them was one little, bright red, BMW convertible. We all fantasize about getting rides in cars like that. Well, it wasn’t too long before I saw the same car going in the other direction. Then it came back and turned into the pool lot. Dave, the driver, was visiting his Dad in town but his Dad was busy that day. He was just killing time driving around and when he found out where I was headed, he offered to take me to Blacksburg. Wow! I was glad there was at least one other hiker there to see… Lil’ Red was still trying to hitch up the hill to the hostel and saw me get into that car. What a great ride! With the top down, I got the ultimate blow dry in that car. I think that was my best hitch so far.
Dave dropped me off downtown, just across the street from the outfitter. I intended to ask if I could leave my pack there until I met up with my host but when I walked across the street, it was evident that Blue Ridge Outdoors had just closed. Too bad. It was the place that I had bought some Asolo mid-weight boots eight years earlier during my thruhike. I hope there aren’t too many hikers who make the trek into town to go there only to be disappointed. The next good outfitter that I’m aware of is in the Daleville, Cloverdale area, 200 miles further up the trail.
I wandered downtown a bit and went to Squires Student Center to find a phone only to find they had no payphones there. Someone let me use his phone though.
Just a few minutes later, Mark came to pick me up in a VW camper van. Even though I found Mark through a web site that encourages cultural exchange, this time, there would be no exchange. We already had too much in common. He extremely active outdoors and had just gotten back from Scotland where he had participated with Team Superfeet/Life is Good team in the Wilderness Adventure Racing World Championship (Link no longer works: http://www.arwc2007.com/homepage.htm). He’s also a retired ex-techy at the age of 41 having retired a couple of years ago, and as I mentioned earlier a dancer. He didn’t go to the dance tonight because he and his girlfriend, Jen, are going to a wedding reception for a friend who had just gotten married. This friend, as it turned out, is Jody Bickel who I know from the ATC and with whom I’ve done some trail maintenance after the ALDHA Gatherings.
Mark is currently renovating his home, turning it back from a four unit apartment building back to its original single-family status. He’s also added a dance/music hall while doing the renovation. He’s got two dogs, an older German Shepherd named Karynn (pronounce Corinne), and a Bernese Mountain Dog who though nearly full grown at 1.5 years old, is still in her puppyhood. She doesn’t know how to wag her tail, she wags her whole body. She’s so cute.
I had just enough time to run out to Subway before Mark brought me to Shawn and Matt’s place for dinner before the contra dance. Yes, with my hiker appetite, I figured I had better eat one dinner before showing up at a stranger’s place for dinner. Also joining us for dinner was Nathan, a grad student here at Virginia Tech. After dinner, yet another dancer showed up for the carpool. Matt decided not to go to the dance so Shawn drove us in her brand new Prius. It was fun watching the monitor to see how energy was being generated (electraic or gas), where it was going (brakes to battery, engine to battery, to wheels, etc.) and any number of other uses the the touch screen monitor is used for.
Because Shawn was the caller and had to lead a pre-dance workshop, we got there plenty early for me to wander town a bit. Floyd is a very small town but does have at least two restaurants and a café. I wandered back to the dance and with no dance shoes, made do with socks and my ancient camp sandals which did surprisingly admirably.
I had a great time at the dance but faded early and had basically stopped dancing by 10pm. But there were plenty of people to talk with, such as Anand who has taken classes with Nathan, so as is usual, by the time the dance ended and then the socializing ended, and we drove back to Blacksburg, it was about midnight when I got dropped off at Mark’s place. I let myself in, turned lights out, and quickly went to sleep myself.
I made an interesting observation today… Whenever I had to introduce myself, I found myself hesitating. I’m back to being Mara, not Stitches. Each time I hesitated, I had to explain why. People do find it odd when you have to hesitate to come up with your own name.
Monday, June 11, 2007: Blacksburg. Sunny to partly cloudy, 70s.
After leaving a bunch of messages yesterday, today I finally connected with some car owners. I also thought I figured out a way to get my car registered in Massachusetts while I was still on the road – thanks to some help from my sister. I had lunch at a local barbecue joint. I finally got to see and drive a couple of vehicles later in the afternoon: a Ford Windstar (which I could easily sleep in) and a Honda Civic (great on gas mileage). But, by the time I had seen them, my plans for getting the car registered may have fallen through. So, I also started pursuing other opportunities. I checked out auto driveaway but they didn’t have anything going in my direction. The bus from Roanoke was a fairly easy option, too. More to think about tomorrow. It was dark – basically 9pm when I finally thought to go grab dinner. With many places closed, I ended up with pizza.
Tuesday, June 12: Blacksburg. Sunny and 70s – then thunderstorms.
I’ve finally given up completely on trying to buy a car. But, I’ve got a ride arranged to New England already. Nathan, the dancer I had met on Saturday is going to Vermont and I can hitch a ride with him as far as I want to go, most likely Bridgeport or Rocky Hill, CT. I’ll crash at his place the night before to make our early morning exit go quickly.
I ate lunch of leftover pizza and took the time to get back to people who I had been in touch with about their cars to let them know I was no longer interested. As sorry and frustrated as I am to not be able to visit with friends on my way north, the stress of trying to make that happen has been lifted. It’ll be so much easier to buy a car once I’m back in MA.
I took a much needed nap this afternoon and planned a large salad for dinner for the next day. The local Farmer’s Market will be open here in Blacksburg so I hope to get local veggies. Although I end up eating a lot of pasta on the trail, it’s rare to have tomato sauce so I had some baked penne for dinner tonight. Then it was back to the house to watch a DVD.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007: Blacksburg. Partly cloudy, showers, and 70s.
I spent a good part of the morning transcribing my journal. Then had lunch with Mark at the passable Chinese restaurant across the street. This is the same restaurant I ate at with my friend Betsy eight years ago while doing laundry just a couple of doors down in the same shopping center. Small world. Mark then gave me a ride to the town pool, a really nice setup with lanes there during public swims, a kiddy pool, a spa, and a sauna. I swam more than ½ mile before a quick dip in the spa. Then a shower and I got a ride from a Mom with two of her own and one other kid. I had no objections to a stop at Carol Lee’s for donuts (cream cheese filled chocolate covered, anyone? Yum!) and then she dropped me at the Farmer’s Market.
It was a small market so I only bought a very large head of green leaf lettuce and a bag of spring mix. I also picked up a couple of nearly ripe peaches and a quart of strawberries. The small take on vegetables meant I still had to make a trip to the Kroger’s. I took the bus there, stopped at the bakery for a loaf of bread, bought my first deodorant in three months, and then went shopping at the supermarket. I grabbed the bus home just as it started to rain. Shawn was there helping Mark so I made three huge salads but since they were planning on eating at the pub where they play bridge on Wednesdays, they ended up leaving extras for Ali. Doesn’t matter, I was planning on prepping more salad for the next day, too.
Thursday, June 14, 2007: Blacksburg. Cloudy and rainy and 60s.
Today’s weather was supposed to be better than yesterday’s. That’s why I waited until today to go to Roanoke. Oh well. I walked through sprinkles to the bus where for three dollars, I grabbed a bus to the nearby bigger city of Roanoke. I realized on the way there that that was where Hilary and I had stopped for the night on the way south. But we hadn’t gone into the City Center and I was glad to take the time to do so today.
The weather held off enough for me to enjoy some of the outdoor stuff such as the Farmers Market and the railwalk, a walkway showing the accoutrements and history of the railroad through the town. I had lunch on the City Market food court. I enjoyed the Virginia Museum of Transportation complete with some of the last steam engines to ply the local rails. I also had time to visit the O.W. Link Museum. Link was a wonderful photographer whose pictures of steam engines operating, especially at night, are world renowned. He frequently needed 60 flashbulbs and nearly a mile of wiring to get the lighting right for his images. His images of trains were frequently in the background while other images, such as a couple watching from the porch, a group swimming in a creek, or a mule waiting at a railroad crossing brought life to the pictures. I also found an unexpected connection with some of the pictures. Link had taken pictures along the Virginia Creeper railroad, the same rail where I had recently walked along what is now the Virginia Creeper rail trail.
It started raining again so after grabbing some corn and cantaloupe from the Roanoke Farmers Market, I grabbed the next bus back to Blacksburg. There, I cooked up my corn and had more salad for dinner and fruit salad for dessert. My body, so used to trail food and fast food, probably doesn’t know what to do with all this fresh produce but I’m certainly enjoying it.
Another movie tonight that was interrupted with the arrival of Mark and Jen with the dogs that had just been sprayed by a skunk. Yuck! I had already closed some windows as it had gotten quite cold tonight. With the stench from the dogs outside, I quickly helped Jen close the rest of them. Mark did his best to try to wash the smell off Karynn but it didn’t do too much. The dogs would be relegated to the outdoors for the time being. The doggy door was locked.
I remembered an episode of Mythbusters about which remedy works best for destinking dogs so did my best to look it up and found a recipe for a homemade mix which is supposed to work better than commercial deskunking stuff.
I finally watched the rest of the movie and called it a night.
Date:Mon Jul 16, 2007 10:32 am
It's been about a month since I've sent an update.
Since mid-June, I spent a week in Blacksburg, a week or so traveling back to Boston, and 2.5 weeks in Boston staying with family.
While in Blacksburg, I had hoped to buy a car so I could take my time traveling back to Boston. But, Massachusetts makes it nearly impossible to buy a car while out of state. So, I spent a week there, getting to know the area a bit, finding the swimming pool, figuring out the bus system, taking a day trip to Roanoke, etc. While the rest of the country is still talking about 9/11, the people in Blacksburg talk about 4/16. The tragedy that happened at Virginia Tech is still obviously on people's minds - there are ribbons and supportive signs all over town - but people have moved on and life goes on.
On my first night in town, I had found a potential ride to New England and when purchasing a car didn't pan out, I took Nathan up on the offer of a ride north. He drove me to Connecticut where I spent a couple of days with my friend Michele. She then drove me up to Rocky Hill where I hung out with my sister Sharon and her family for a few days. I borrowed a car and was also able to visit with my Mom.
Then, I got a ride through craigslist rideshare to Natick, Massachusetts. Starting that morning when a friend picked me up, I spent the next couple of weeks catching up with friends, crashing on my sister, Lori's, couch, helping out her family with everything from medicating the cat to watering the lawn, washing dishes, etc.
Last updated, March 19, 2012.
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