Daily Archives: May 10, 2013

No service

FYI, I’ve had no internet or mail for days. I just ran into a spot of service, but I’m about to plunge back into the woods.

Sorry to have fallen off the face of the earth without warning!

And now, here I go again…

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Day 65: Breather!

It rained all night… until at some point, miraculously, if didn’t. It’s 7:12 AM. I hear them moving and chatting up at the shelter. The tent’s still soaked. Just a half-hour of sunlight, that’s all I need. The sun’s not really out, but there’s a brightness in the sky. I’m taking a late start. I can’t carry the weight of a wet tent again today. So I’ll give it until 8 and try to hit the trail at 9. Frankly, fhe only thing that seems to give me mileage is easy terrain, and if the terrain is easy (ie, not rocky and not steep), I’ll get some miles whether I start at 7 or at 9. If the terrain’s difficult, I won’t get many miles if I start at 6. It doesn’t seem to be something I can really control—at least not while it’s still cold, which sucks the willpower out of me.

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Tenting at a random campsite [mile 517.6; mpd 7.96]

So, the sun came out at around 9! But the air was so saturated and the temperature was so low that nobody’s stuff was drying anyway. I found a patch of full sun and got the tent reasonably unwet, and managed to hit the trail at about 9:40.

The day started out pretty well. Yesterday’s rivers had settled into the ground, more or less, so the trail was sort of pillowy. That’s excellent! I always think I can do 15 miles when the day starts out that way.

Eventually the sun came fully out. I had to stop to change into shorts. There was one big climb early (although a big climb now is substantially different from a big climb a month ago—still a mile or two up, but at lower elevation and generally less steep. I got up into a bit of the old bare brown, but the trees are starting to get the message. They have tiny leaves now. I can’t wait until there’s a little shade. I’ve been walking for two months with nothing between me and the sky.

All the rain has really swollen the creeks and springs and freshets. I took so many pictures of pretty streams and waterfalls that I finally had to cut myself off. I don’t think I can take pictures of all of them! But they’re all so gorgeous! One day I want a cabin near a brook.

Speaking of water, the drinking water has been a little questionable. Because the rain swelled the springs, you can never be sure if you’re drinking spring water or runoff—you know. Pony poop tea.

I pinned the worst of the wet stuff to the top of my pack to catch the sun, but the air was so saturated that most of it didn’t dry. My shoes didn’t even show signs of drying until nearly 4 PM.

I was aiming for the next shelter up the way, but my feet were just too beat from the uphills. (The climbs stress my Achilles tendons; the downhills stress the balls of the feet.) So I checked the AT Guide and found this site. I’m the only one here and it’ll probably stay that way. A lot of hikers are off in various towns, and the young strong hikers probably pushed to the shelter, which is only 3 miles up the trail.

It’s a new state (Virginia, I mean), and I sort of feel like I’m figuring out the rules. There don’t seem to be as many ready-made campsites as there were in the previous states—or is it just that I’m still in the foothills of Mt. Rogers? It’s hard to camp on a steep, steep slope. For now I’m sticking to the book; hopefully up the trail I’l be able to cut loose again and be confident that I can find a spot whenever I need one.

i’m still trying to get to Pearisburg without a town stop. I’m not making the miles I thought I would, though, so food might become an issue. (I swear to gods, I hate the resupply part. If only this could be done without food!) If I do 12 or 13 miles a day, I need 8 or 9 days of food. I have 5 or 6, probably, the way I eat. Tomorrow I’m aiming for Partnership Shelter; you can order pizza from there! That’ll take care of tomorrow night and probably the next morning. (I still can’t eat a whole pizza in one sitting, although plenty of hikers can do that now.) The day after tomorrow there’s also a restaurant and a convenience store right on the trail. That should mean one good meal and a place to top off the food. So I should be good! I hope!

And now it’s raining. LOL. Well, thank heavens, because it’s been so dry around here!

Somebody said I might be able to get a signal at Partnership. I hope so! I’m a little frantic about not being able to check on work. It’s really astonishing when you think about it, that this country is so immense that there are still big areas of wilderness that remain unplugged.

Anyway, there it is. A nice spring day, with sunshine. And tomorrow, a famous school bus!

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Day 64: Downpour

Old Orchard Shelter [mile 505.9; mpd 7.91]

It’s hard to motivate when it’s cold, when it’s windy, or when it’s raining. When it’s all three and you also have to put on yesterday’s cold, soaked socks and clothes, I defy anybody to do it graciously. Not to mention quickly.

But here’s an amusing body function story for you, since I haven’t told one in a while. Plus it’s a nice change from ‘woke up late, didn’t want to get out of bed.’ I was lying there in denial for a good hour when I realized I had to use the privy. I pretended I didn’t and stayed under the quilt, but it became increasingly apparent that I was going to have to deal with the situation. Normally, camping alone, I’d get up, go into the woods a distance, and dig my hole. But this shelter has no room for tents; it’s a rocky nightmare. So what do we have when I look out? Tent city! Five tents crammed into this one tiny flat spot.

So I pulled my rain pants and rain jacket on over my pajamas, stuffed my feet into my crocs, and gamboled like a billy goat over the rocks down to the privy by the shelter.

Once you’ve splashed into frigid mud puddles in your crocs, packing up the rest of the gear in the cold windy rain becomes that much easier.

OK, that really wasn’t so funny. But it kind of sets the theme for the day anyway.

I heard a pony at around 7 AM! It was so close to tent city that I unzipped and peeked out. I couldn’t see the pony, but when i finally got out and on my way, there were fresh hoofprints and a massive pile of pony poop right near the tents. ‘Take that, people!’ That’s what that pony was saying.

Here’s how the day went: wall of fog, winds strong enough to grab my pack and knock me over, rain coming down in solid sheets for hours, and temperatures that I don’t think got higher than 50, if that. Once again, weather is hammering the class of ’13.

I couldn’t see anything of the Grayson Highlands because the fog was so thick, but I could tell it was beautiful! Rock scrambles that were easy enough to be fun and technical enough to be interesting. Moor-like hills that Heathcliff might have walked, with dun grasses and rust-colored trees… great gray rocks. Stunning. And pony poop everywhere! But no ponies. They were too smart to be out today—-as were most hikers.

Oh! Heard on the HGN: A few nights ago a group of hikers came to Thomas Knob Shelter on Mt. Rogers. The weather was so bad—-icicles falling out of the trees and such—-that they turned around and headed back to Damascus. I don’t think I buy that one. Or if it happened, it was section hikers who didn’t mind ending their trip early. Thru hikers would have gone down the other side of the mountain.

Anyway, I really regret not being able to see the Grayson Highlands. And ponies. The AT is the last thing on my bucket list, but I may start a new list with the Grayson Highlands at the top of it.

So it stayed winter all day. The trail was a river, treacherous and slippery. I mean really. Like Fifteen said tonight, that’s the farthest he’s ever walked in a creek. In places the mud was ankle deep. The surrounding woods seemed pretty, but frankly it was raining so very hard today and the footing was so tricky that I didn’t spend much time looking up. It’s supposed to clear up tomorrow, then a few more days of rain. Right now I’m in my tent, and guess what?! It’s raining! Also, my socks are in a tree because I keep thinking the rain is over. I hope they don’t blow away.

Today was the kind of day that had me thinking that this should be a punishment. “Eat your peas or I’ll make you hike the Appalachian Trail!” “If you’re late for work one more time, you have to hike the Appalachian Trail!” “Shut up and give me fifty miles!” But that’ll pass. I know summer is coming, and if I sound like a broken record, well… summer is coming! One of these years.

Speaking of which… 500 miles! Today! Now that’s a huge milestone! Normally I’d insert a YouTube link to the song 500 Miles (“And I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more ” etc, etc). but once again I have no internet service to speak of. Thank gods my sister’s checking my work email.

Ooh, oooh, the weather changed. It started to rain harder! 🙂

There are quite a few hikers in this shelter. It’s always good to see Fifteen. I don’t recognize any other voices, but I did meet a new hiker witb a great trail name: Blood Orange. I told him it sounds vaguely sinister but sweet. He started March 11, which is nice to hear.

Hopefully I’ll be able to upload these entries soon. Otherwise Pearisburg is going to be a big data dump!

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Day 63: Trailiversary

Thomas Knob Shelter [mile 494.9; mpd 7.86]

What a strange, strange, strange, strange day. But first: Happy trailiversary to me! Today’s my two-month anniversary out here. Perfect for an eight-month thru-hike! 😉

You know, I see a difference between one-month hikers and two-month hikers, even when they’re at the same place mileage-wise. The two-month hikers have a sort of world-weary attitude; the one-month hikers still seem a little like puppies. The trail hasn’t adjusted their attitude yet.

The lack of internet is frustrating! I did manage to find enough of a weak signal to check my work email, but access is sporadic—-and insufficent to upload journal entries. I’m hoping that improves tomorrow when I’m past Mt. Rogers.

So. The day. I set an alarm and got up at 5:00. The tent was wet, of course. But here’s a measure of my occasional stupidity. I’m just farting around, brushing my teeth, wandering in the dark, taking my time… it was as though subconsciously I’d decided that because I’d had enough rain, the rain was over. Wrong! I was half packed up when it started to pour again.

It was Mt. Rogers day. Of course it was going to rain!

More interesting, though, the day started out in a pea soup fog. The rain stopped after a while, but I could hardly see the green meadows I was walking through. The trail left the meadows after the first mile or so, then it was a grueling four-mile climb that was much rockier than I’d anticipated. It felt like North Carolina in March. (The temp today was 48 at noon; there was a thermometer at one of the gaps.) Very tough. And that was just Whitetop Mountain; the entree would come after lunch.

At the top of Whitetop, tucked in among the boulders…trail magic! Somebody had left Cokes and cupcakes. Bojangles pointed them out to me. Remember Bojangles? I met him and Oxy outside of Erwin. They’re fellow Pennsylvanians. The pair of thm split back on Damascus, and Bojangles is hiking alone. Thank you, wonderful trail magic person!

I fought with the pack again. This time, though, it was clearly rain weight. My pack and tent were drenched. I unpacked and repacked twice and finally reached a manageable level of discomfort, but I can’t tell you how much I miss the sun!

After lunch the trail turned bad: rocky and wet. Mostly it was like one long uphill river walk (another four-mile climb). And the rain started in earnest again while I was climbing Mt. Rogers, along with thunder. I made it to the shelter, but the tent, of course, is soaked. Welcome to Appalachiaville!

The wet would be fine, if it weren’t so cold. But summer is coming!

Saw a lot of hikers today. One huge group of guys seemed to be traveling together: Sticks and Gus and Emperor from the Lazy Fox were in that pack. I don’t know any of the others. There seem to be a lot of section hikers.

The battery on the phone died! I’m sittinghere using the charger for the first time. Seems to be doing the job. I was surprised that reading drained the battery so fast. I’ll have to ration that.

The shelter’s gorgeous but noisy. Sounds like a party down there!

Tomorrow: wild ponies. I know they’re around. There’s pony poop all over the place. You know, the AT Guide calls them “feral ponies.” That makes me laugh. Ponies with fangs, humgry for blood!

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Day 62: The big dilemma

Well, here it is, 7:35 AM, the day after yesterday. I don’t feel so cranky anymore, so yay! But man, do I have a dilemma.

It’s still raining. Not only is it raining, it’s pouring. Not only is it pouring now, but it poured all night long; I didn’t really sleep. That usually leads to questionable decision making. It’s times like these that really make me wish I had a partner to bounce things around.

It’s cold. Not freezing, but I imagine it’s in the 40s. The wind is gusting hard. It feels like a regular old nor’easter.

Inside the tent is relatively dry. (Well, things are damp. It’s a mesh tent, and even under the fly, the rain is fierce enough to kick drops of rain and mud up the bottom third of the tent wall. Everything is ridiculously filthy.) I managed to keep the quilt pretty dry by staying semi-conscious all night and not letting it touch wet things.

So… do I stay or do I go?

I’m currently at about 3000 feet, I think. Whitetop and Mt. Rogers, ten miles away, are at about 5500. I’m sure they’re 10 degrees colder. It’s all uphill from here. It’s almost 8 now, and getting packed in the rain takes time. It’d probably be 9:30 or 10 by the time I got moving. The most I could reasonably expect for a long uphill and that late of a start would put me right at the top of the mountain to camp—with soaking wet gear. Hypothermia is a concern under these conditions.

Or I can sit here and wait it out a day. It’s me versus the mpd. I want to get up, get the miles. It’s just a little rain! Don’t be such a wimp! Things are gradually getting wetter anyway. The tent floor is damp in spots. The quilt is dampish.

But today’s the last day of rain predicted, I believe. And that mdp is much more easily corrected now when I’m trying to get it from 7 to 9 than it will be later when I’m trying to get it from 10 to 11.

Meh. I think the smart choice is to sit tight. I certainly have enough food. At least I can keep an eye on things. If the sun comes out, maybe I can get to another campsite up the road, just a few miles farther.

But I don’t think the sun’s going to come out.

It’s you and me! I’ll keep you posted.

10 AM update: Still raining! Not so much with the pouring, though, which is excellent. Just a steady soaking rain. It’s staggering how much water the sky can hold.

The bad news: The tent’s finally leaking. Who could blame it? The ground’s so saturated that we’re basically sitting in a lake.

The good news: I hear birdies. Two of them.

Oh, crap. We just upgraded back to pouring.

Well, rain or shine, tomorrow we’re on the move again. The plan’s only good if the tent is dry. If it’s wer anyway, well, let’s gnaw on that mpd.

Come on, sun! Come on! If I had any signal I’d try to get a forecast.

Noon update: The sun’s trying to come out! That is… the periods of steady rain are broken by periods of intermittent drops, and a couple of times the clouds have turned vaguely yellowish. Now I’m having crazy thoughts: If the fly dries by 12:30, I’ll pack up and go for 4 hours! That’s pretty ridiculous, because nothing’s drying. It might get just the slightest bit of dry time, then it rains again.

Later: Last update, probably. It’s raining again. 😉 Looks like it’ll just be a long wet slog tomorrow. Luckily I’ve reduced my food weight by a couple of pounds. Also, it turns out I’m the kind of person who can spend a day in a coffin-sized tent with absolutely nothing to do and completely enjoy it. (I’ll read some in a little bit.) Who knew?

After Mt. Rogers comes Pearisburg. Traditionally that’s where you send your winter stuff home. So presumably, after Mt. Rogers, if this should happen again, hypothermia won’t be an issue. At least not until New England.

Sorry, mpd. I’ll make it up to you. I promise.

Really, really the last update: The sun came out at 2! I emptied the tent, got everything dry, put it all back in the tent… and it’s pouring again! You gotta laugh. 🙂

Really, this turned out to be the extra day I should have taken in Damascus. I had a chance to look at the book and make some plans for the days ahead, including hitting some restaurants that the trail passes close to. I really have to start reading that guide every night. I’ve just been using it for water and elevation profiles, basically. And mileage.

Anyhoo, I’m going to get an early start, rain or shine. I’d love to hit the 500-mile mark tomorrow, but that includes Mt. Rogers. Also, I might camp just before Grayson Highlands. That’s where you see the wild ponies, right? I don’t want to be rushing through that just to score another 3 exhausted miles.

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Day 61: Miss Crankypants rides again

Tenting near a creek [mile 484.1; mpd 7.94]

The good news: The new air mattress is fine. It was a typical March night (appropriate, since March was January) and I slept so warmly that I didn’t realize I was in a tent when I woke up. I didn’t know where I was, particularly, but I think I thought sheets and a bed were involved.

The bad news: I woke up late, fussy, cranky, and all manner of irritable. Everything went wrong from minute one, and it kept going wrong, and I finally called it quits after half a day. The good news is that even though I left work at lunchtime, the mpd still crept up a little bit.

I will never, ever, ever get past freaking Mt. Rogers!

See? Cranky! OK, that amused me. 🙂

So, it was wet and cold when I woke up. Not cold enough to freeze, but with the fierce wind gusts I’m thinking the wind chill was around 30. Which is fine at home, but when you’re in a mesh tent and have to take your pajamas off… highly not pleasant. It was already 7:30. I have no idea why I slept like that. Presumably I was already well rested from Damascus.

Also, it had rained; the tent was wet.

I discovered there’s a seam ripping in my new pack. That’s two packs from ULA, both with manufacturing defects. So I’ll probably have to stitch that up at some point in the next week. I might have to use dental floss; the thread in my sewing kit isn’t heavy duty.

Then… I just couldn’t get the pack packed. I know it’s only two inches shorter. It’s some mystery of physics. Well… it’s the too much food combined with the fact that my pack liner is giving up the ghost, so I’m having to get extremely creative to keep my quilt and down pants and jacket dry. I can’t just mush them into the bottom anymore.

It stayed windy and cold while I wrestled with the gear issues, but the wind dried the tent, which was excellent. However, because of the space issues, I had to jam the tent into the outside pocket again, and all that misery of the old pack was right back again.

All morning, I fought with that freaking pack. I was in tears at least three times. I pushed, pulled, wrangled, adjusted. It felt like somebody was stabbing me in the shoulder blade with an icepick. I stopped and unpacked and repacked. I raised, lowered, tightened, loosened.

I finally got it tolerable just when I got to the first shelter of the day. The shelters in Virginia are much nicer than in Tennessee! And woohoo, the privies are back and they have doors!

I didn’t see any other thru-hikers. Saw two pair of weekenders. And I crossed a fabulous long bridge over a rushing creek and ran into a group of girls heading home after a weekend camping trip, trying to avoid the rain. I got them to take my picture. Thanks, women! Aside from that the only other soul I saw was a park ranger (who was cute as a button, like a marginally grown-up Boy Scout), who warned me that it’s super cold up top. He meant up on Whitetop Mountain, which was where I was headed—-the last peak before Mt. Rogers.

And you know what? I had a meltdown. I just couldn’t flipping do it! So I forced myself to chew out a couple of miles to get to a good site with water, and I made camp. I’m going to sit here and eat the heaviest food in my pack. Then I’ll read a little bit, now that I have the phone charger. Then I’ll eat more heavy food.

Oh, that’s another issue! No phone service! Things were going so well that I thought I’d be good for a while. But I’ve got nothing, not even roaming. Must be Mt. Rogers. So very frustrating.

Mt. Rogers is at mile 494.5. I’m currently at 484.1. I should manage to get past it tomorrow, I hope, even though the weather’s still supposed to be cold and rainy and shitty. And it’s a lot of downhill after that.

You know, I said this was a lot of new for me. I actually think that’s part of the issue today. This was like starting out fresh at Springer. Of course it’s going slow; my gear and I are getting used to each other. But also, I think it’s partly because I rushed through Damascus. I normally like to take the first afternoon and do nothing but eat, sleep, shower, and laundry. This time I also resupplied, which was a mistake. I found myself in the grocery store without a list or even a clear idea of where the next resupply point was, and everything from there was just rush-rush-rush because of that pack issue.

Note to self: Even though I’m impatient, major gear purchases require one extra day in town, or I’ll simply end up back on the trail overwhelmed and with only half my ass.

The trail today, by the way, was stunning. Damascus really knows how to make a network of hiking and biking trails. The AT also included what has to be the easiest mile on the trail, because it followed the Viginia Creeper bike trail: flat, gravel-paved, and next to a gorgeous creek.

Right now it’s pouring rain.

Let’s see… which of this food is heaviest? Why the hell am I packing Sour Patch Kids?

Oh, yay. Hard thunder, maybe up on Whitetop. Maybe it’s a good thing I had a meltdown!

Update at dusk: Still pouring. It’s been pouring for hours. Days like this make you wonder how the sky can possibly hold so much moisture without collapsing. Except it is collapsing, isn’t it. Every raindrop is a piece of sky. Which may be why those rain puddles reflect the clouds so clearly; they’re remembering that they used to fly.

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Day 60: Simple math

Near a pond [mile 478.7]

Here’s the simple math. A 6-month thru-hike requires a miles-per-day (mpd) average of 12. A 7-month hike requires an mpd of 9.

Miles per day = Current mileage divided by current day

So right now, my overall mpd is 7.98. That wouldn’t be enough to get me to Katahdin—-except that that includes all those snow zeroes (sneroes!) I had to take at the beginning. Now that I have my trail legs and the worst of the winter weather has passed, I’m doing well above my early average. All I need to do is get that mpd up past 9, and I’m looking at a 10/7 finish, more or less. If I can get it to 10, even better: that would be a late September finish. And 11 would be mid-September.

I should have it up past 9 by the next big town, Pearisburg. Look at it this way. When I left Damascus my mpd was 7.91. One short day later, and it’s crept up. I’m thinking things are looking good, trail willing.

OK! Enough of that boring crap! On to the hiking!

I love Virginia, and not just because it was my mom’s name. The trail was so pretty today! Just the kind of beauty I most appreciate: red pine needles, soft green rocks, and water: waterfalls, creeks, brooks and little bridges. The trail climbed quite a bit, as it usually does coming up out of town, but I’m not so worried about the pace anymore, so I just take it slow.

The weather, on the other hand, sucked. Well… not as much as it’s going to suck tomorrow, with more torrential rain in the forecast. But it was cold, gray, and blustery. The wind has roared all day.

Leaving town this morning I ran into Pathfinder. She was the one who gave me the Pringles trail magic when she, Headbones, and OB (‘Old and Busted’; and here I thought he was a gynecologist) did the southbound slackpack at Big Hump. We had a great chat. She also changed packs in Damascus, from a ULA to her old Osprey. We commiserated about having to feel out whether the new setup was working. Headbones and OB are now a day ahead of her.

Later when I stopped for lunch, Gus the dog and his person Sticks passed me. They were in the Coach tribe, but the rest of the tribe is a day ahead of him now. Damas us seems to have done that to a pot of people—-stripped away their groups, at least for a while.

I also ran into 50/50, one of my favorite hikers. He was doing a SOBO slackpack and is already past Mt. Rogers. His knees are really bothering him. I hope it’s just the cold front moving in.

I saw a few other hikers, but mostly the trail seemed populated by dayhikers. That’s nice to see. Beautiful area, relatively warm weather… it’s great to see people of all ages and shapes and sizes out taking a walk. Interesting to note: Up north, dayhikers rarely have trekkng poles. Down here, they’re nearly de rigeur.

I had one incident. I’d been looking for a spot for my 2 PM foot dangle and spotted a nice flat rock about 6 feet ip the hillside to the left of the trail. I checked meticulously for poison ivy and spiders, then climbed up and plonked myself. I unhitched the pack, and boom! It slid off the rock behind me… into a patch of poison ivy.

I froze. I touched nothing and reevaluated. No, there was no poison ivy in front. I wasn’t sitting in it, my sticks weren’t laying in it. And in fact, neither was the pack. It had fallen near three small plants that were an offshoot of a patch farther up the hill.

Nothing to be done about it. Where I think the pack made contact was mostly the pack cover, and hopefully that contact was minimal. I’ve got one small packet of Tecnu in case I get some spots. But maybe I dodged the bullet. I’ll know in two or three days. It was a lesson learned, though. Gotta remember to start watching out for the summer menaces, too.

I made some errors in Damascus. For some reason I was really behind the ball there. I forgot to get tent stakes. I forgot to get trash bags. And I just found a tear in my compactor bag/pack liner that’s going to require some logistical alterations given the coming rain.

Now… the pack! The pack seems OK. But it’s hard to judge because I have SO MUCH FOOD. It’s not biting into my collar bones anymore, but it still hurts my shoulder blades; that’s because of the weight of the pack and because with the slightly smaller volume I had to put the tent outside again, which is part of the problem. I think it’ll be fine, but I won’t know until I eat away some of this weight.

So. New pack. New shoes and socks and insoles. New pants and new shorts. New sleeping mat. New phone charger. That’s a whole lotta new for me. I like my stuff to be stodgy and comfortable. 😉

So I stopped after 12 miles to rest and recover. I’m mostly concerned about the mat, to tell you the truth. Up til now I’ve been using a down mat with an R-value of 6 (good down to 0 or colder). The mat I have now only has an R-value of 3. And it’s still freezing cold at night! We’ll see how it goes.

Oh, I screwed up my geography. Mt. Rogers wasn’t today. It’s tomorrow! In the rain! Highest point in Virginia—-up around 5500 feet, I think. I’ll be glad to get that over with!

And here’s a picture of my last morning at the Lazy Fox, with Miss Ginny and her grandaughter. Plus the usual pics from the day.

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