Daily Archives: May 26, 2013

Day 82: 700 club

Catawba Mountain Shelter [mile 705.7]

Seven-hundred miles, baby! Seems like only a week ago it was 600! 😉 Cause for celebration!

Camping is restricted here in the McAfee Knob area. It’s Memorial Day Sunday. And this little camping area has me… and a bunch of guys here to party. They’re hammering, hammering, hammering. Is it wood? They’re chopping a massive amount of wood? And I smell lighter fluid? This doesn’t bode well for them knowing about hiker midnight! It might be the night to break open a fresh pair of earplugs.

This was a gorgeous day. It started out rocky—I mean literally rocky. The Dragon’s Tooth section from yesterday wasn’t quite finished; I hadn’t gotten quite as far as Lost Spectacles Gap. Which is excellent news, if you wear glasses and are superstitious.

When i did get to the Gap, it was flat and lovely… and guess what was finally in bloom? The rhododendrons! Great happy bursts of fuscia tucked among the waxy dark leaves. The trail went up and up in an area that felt like the Pacific Northwest to me, although I’ve never been there. I think it was the spruce trees. At least, I think they were spruces. Anyway, the trees interrupted great piles of rock that had to be crawled over or squeezed between. Fun again!

Eventually came the descent, and the half-mile roadwalk to the Catawba Market—a gas station and grocery store with a little grill inside. I got a breakfast sandwich and two cups of coffee, and some miscellaneous snacks and things to get me to Daleville. Outside was a veritable United Nations of hikers—two Germans and a guy from Israel. OK, a very small United Nations.

My favorite day of hiking: two days out from town when the food bag is nearly empty, and you hit a little grocery store for snacks! For lunch today I had nutritious and healthy circus peanuts (high-fructose corn syrup and orange dye no. 3) and Pringles (delicious, delicious slices of salted particle board). For dinner I had Oreos. How many Oreos? All of them!

After the grocery the trail went through a huge meadow. The grass was waist high, the sky was blue, and there were more varieties of butterlies than I’ve ever seen: blue ones, purple ones, black ones with blue wingtips. The sky was blue, too—so blue and perfect that it was hard not to smile. So I smiled!

At the top of the meadow hill the trail slipped back into shadow. The trees were thick, and the terrain was soft. Uphill and downhill, but soft. It smelled like pine. And eventually it went down, down, down to a parking lot full of cars. There must have been 60 of them! Then I remembered that it’s Memorial Day weekend, and that McAfee Knob is on the other side of the road. McAfee Knob—supposedly the most photographed site on the whole trail. It’s another one of those famous areas you can Google for images. And the dayhikers and weekenders are here in force!

I decided to camp here and tackle the Knob in the morning. Tomorrow’s another short day, then I’ll get into Daleville on Tuesday.

I ran into some familiar faces today. Remember back at Wayah Bald Shelter? Freezing rain for two days, snow overnight, and my tent ended up flooding? There were two guys in the shelter that night. And one of them is in this bubble. He was off the trail for three weeks, but he’s back. I keep forgetting his trail name, which kills me. Famous explorer, or a cowboy… hrm. It’ll come to me as soon as I hit ‘publish.’ Cody… oh, crap. I forget. Anyway, nice to see him. I also saw Planet and Rig… or heard them, anyway. They went past here while I was changing, so I couldn’t run out to chat. They recognized my tent, though, and gave a shoutout.

Tomorrow: McAfee Knob! But alas, I’m out of Oreos. I tell you, I’m sick of fast food. All I eat in town is cheeseburgers. pizza, and a salad—which usually means iceburg lettuce and a cherry tomato. I wonder if Daleville has a restaurant that’s not a fast food place or a diner? I just have the urge for an actual meal. With a vegetable.

I went a little crazy with the pictures today. Sorry about that!










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Last PSA

I owe some respo nses from around pstyle disaster day, particularly Sisu. I’ll figure that out in town.

OK, Karma out!

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Stopped briefly in a gas station for a breakfast sammie. Yum! Found an internet spot and got reasonably caught up, but now it’s back into the wild and no connectivity.

FYI, I’ve responded to every single comment, but I think sometimes the replies don’t show up. I can check in town, but not in the wild. If you didn’t see a response, thank you for the comment! =D

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Day 81: Lilies and boulders

Hotdogging in (I think) Lost Spectacles Gap [mile 696.1]

Lost Spectacles Gap! I swore all day I’d avoid that one, just because of the name! Yet here I am. It’s uncanny how little control I have over the trail and the hiking when all’s said and done.

This was a lovely, lovely day. The mountain laurels were blooming, and I saw wild lilies-of-the-valley—my mother’s favorite flower.

I wanted to push and do 14—not that it matters, because the next two days are going to be short anyway, but I wanted to put it out there as my intention. And I ended up doing a little more than that, so yay! And some of that was steep climbing, and some of it was rocky ridgewalking, and the end of it… holy crap, you’re not going to believe me when I tell you what I just climbed down. I can’t quite believe it myself.

Anyway. Got an early start, which felt great. It was cold this morning, but I actually think it was colder yesterday up on that mountain in the wind. I still needed my fleece and gloves when I got rolling. Again, thank gods I didn’t dump that stuff in Pearisburg!

And the trail rewarded me with easy terrain! At least until 2 in the afternoon. That’s when things got a little rocky. Literally.

In the morning, the trail meandered through the Brush Mountain Wilderness—and what a great place that would be to visit if I were local. Good paths, lots of little creeks and bridges, and plenty of campsites and potential campsites. Just good forest.

There was a decent climb in there that took me by surprise: Brush Mountain (duh!), about 1500 feet elevation gain over a couple of miles. But at the top, a bench! Random. Then the trail followed a flat grassy path for a mile or so to the Audie Murphy monument. Murphy was the most decorated American soldier of World War II. At first that seemed random, too—to have this memorial out on a mountain in the middle of nowhere. But apparently he died there in a plane crash. Hikers have piled rocks all around the monument in respect, along with other items: dogtags, flags. Towers of them. So powerful! And how appropriate for Memorial Day Saturday. I left my own rock silently, then went back to the trail.

The terrain stayed blessedly, blissfully easy down to Trout Creek, where I bumped into Planet and Rig and some other hikers (who graciously took a picture of me). Guess what! After I told Planet and Rig about the rattlesnake, they ran into this macho survivalist dude who’d just killed one with a machete and cooked it. A machete? Really? That fascinates me! Out here people don’t even want to carry an extra TicTac. Snakewise, I like to think that the snake I saw is healthy and menacing as ever, and the one this guy killed was a different one, old and sickly, and he did it a favor by killing it quickly. Namaste!

After that the trail changed. The soil got sandier (pale gray sand from rock) and the forest low and shrubby. After a mile, though, the rocks I’d been dreading all day finally made their appearance. It was a ridgewalk at first, under a blue sky but with a chill blustery wind, but eventually it started climbing. And climbing. And climbing.

Even though my feet were sore, it was fun! Like an uphill boilder obstacle course. There were places where I had to toss my poles over a boulder and scramble over the top. So many boulders! I lost the trail a couple of times, but found it again. Obviously.

Then I passed my 14-mile mark at a place called Dragon’s Cove. Planet and Rig were having a rest there. I figured I’d just mosey down and find a spot to stealth camp… but ohmygod, the downhill was a giant rock wall that went on for half a mile! I mean a wall! There were places where they’ve driven steel hand- and foot-holds right into the rock! And it was a long way down!

My fear of heights and the traction issue should have had me quaking. But it was exhilerating! I think the difference was that I could grab onto the rocks like handholds. That, and for most of it I just crawled down on my rear end.

As soon as I got to the bottom, after mentally kissing the ground in gratitude for not letting me plummet to my death, I started looking for a place to camp. And here I am, the only hotdog in the forest.

Tomorrow’s Memorial Day Sunday, but there’s another little grocery store and grill a half-mile from the trail. Since the next two days are short anyway, I might go down there and get breakfast. Or at least a breakfast sandwich and some snacks. I crave Oreos.








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Day 80: Cold hard truth

Niday Shelter [mile 681]

I guess I do have a little of the Virgina blues after all. It took me 5 hours to go 6 miles today, and that was all I could face. So here I am, shelter to shelter. Six miles is not 12 to 15. And there’s a group down at the shelter now, a big group. One of the guys just said to his friends, “You know how long it took me to do the last 6 miles? Exactly 2 hours!” Bite me, buddy.

Here’s the day, then I’ll get to the numbers.

Last night when I was lying there, I happened to notice a tick crawling up the outside of my tent. A tick! Right there, six inches from my face! It kind of made me paranoid. Was I camped on the mother lode of ticks? A heaving, giant pile of ticks? How would I keep ticks off my backpack while I took down the tent? (I always go immediately to the direst circumstance; it’s never just one tick blown in by a strong thunderstorm.) Anyway, I was itchy all night. And after the thunderstorm, the winds blew in hard. I was freezing! So not much sleep.

And it was still freezing when I woke up. Not cold enough to freeze shoes, but the steady wind was probably 20 or 30 mph, enough to make it feel frigid.

Between the cold and the hard work yesterday (that mountain at the end of the day), I was wiped out. Got a very late start—8:30.

And the wind! The wind was fierce all day! (It’s still blowing hard and strong.) Somebody heard in town that the winds today were 32 mph. Combined with the cloudy skies and already low temperature, it felt like March. I wore gloves and my raingear all day just trying to be warm. I never got there… and that’s what did me in, I think. The cold. I never realized just how low my tolerance of it is.

The day started with more climbing. I’d actually stopped a half mile or a mile short of where I thought I was last night. Easy to do out here. The trail was flanked by piles of rock, tossed like litter but also stacked like chimneys. Barrow wights!

After a bit, the fun started. I use the word with deep sarcasm. For a mile or two, the trail was a hated ridgewalk. But this wasn’t a regular old rocky ridgewalk. This was great slabs of rock taken and tilted nearly vertically… and the trail led right across that sloping nightmare. It reminded me of the back side of Blood Mountain, but much steeper.

To the left was a dropoff; had to be 30 feet. To the right was either a steep slope, or more slabs of rock going down a hundred feet or so. A slip could have been very, very bad. I haven’t had the best luck with traction and balance with the pack, so I was pretty unnerved for the whole mile or two. Plus, that terrible wind was blowing hard and gusting harder. I used my poles liberally to pick my way, and I didn’t fall, which is great! But it took hours. (Also, bonus hazard; to the right, the lower end of the slope, the trail was full of poison ivy.)

There were some gorgeous views, marred only by the great ceiling of heavy clouds hanging over the area. You could see the brighter sky peeking out at the far edges.

I met a hiker named Kokopeli and his dog… Deedee, that was the dog. Kokopeli was great. (I’d heard his name here and there but never met him.) An old hippy. He even had a peace sign around his neck. He thru-hiked last year and got within 90 miles of Katahdin when he broke his knee. And here he is, starting again from the beginning! He said, “What else would I be doing?” He loves it. He also said that this year the pressure is off. He’s done it all and he doesn’t care if he goes 6 miles, 10 miles, 25 miles. And because the pressure is off, he’s actually doing bigger miles. But last year, he said, he only did four 20s.

What was the message there, I wondered? Don’t worry if you fall short? It’s time to end the pressure?

Deedee was great, too. Just a little long-haired thing, but happy and with a good weight. There are a lot of dogs out here that just look sickly—way too skinny, but still trying to please their masters. I have to trust that the owners know what they’re doing, but seeing dogs that thin makes me worry for them!

Later, after the rock sliding board, I met two section hikers going SOBO. They asked if I was going all the way to Maine, and I said that was the plan, but I didn’t think I was fast enough. The man said, “Don’t worry about that! The important thing is to be out and enjoying it!”

Which, I have to confess, I’m not. At least not the relentless discomfort and the occasional threat of imminent death. And the cold.

When I got to this shelter there were two guys here. One of them had just been in town and said the temperature’s going down to 38 tonight and tomorrow night. Presumably it’ll be colder here at elevation. And all the drive and motivation just drained out of me. Gone. I was done. Six miles. Maybe seven.

So I sat in my tent and ran some numbers (in full down clothing, I might add, and thank gods I didn’t follow the traditional practice of sending home my winter gear in Pearisburg; I bet a lot of hikers are freezing their tails off at the moment).

This is how it’s going to go. I need to do 14 miles per day, for a total of 85 miles per week, with one zero per week. I’ll probably do more like 1.5 zeroes every 1.5 weeks; that ‘one per week’ thing is hard to work out neatly. I figured out what mile I need to be at every Wednesday from here to the end of September. That gives me a week or so in case the weather is bad at the end, too, and I have to wait in Baxter for permission to summit.

But 14 per day is going to be very, very tough. (Note: If the nero part of the 1.5 zeroes should happen to be 6 miles, that would bring the daily requirement down to 13 and change. There’s some fluidity in there.)

So I’m on a three-strike system. The first Wednesday I don’t make the goal is strike one, and so on. When (if) I get three strikes, I’ll probably switch this to a section hike.

At that point I’d have to decide whether to walk north until September, regardless of where I end up; whether to call it a day after the halfway point in Pennsylvania (probably after the half-gallon challenge, which I think I’ve earned!), which makes most sense both financially and logistically, if I’m going to section hike the rest anyway; or whether to flip-flop (ie, go to Maine and do Katahdin then come SOBO to finish the hike), which I’m not that keen on because I’d have to take a second mortgage to stay out of work for that long.

Now, if the terrain really does get easier at some point, maybe I really can do 16 or 18 miles some days. That would rock, because I’d have some days in the bank for the bad sections in the Whites! But if this is the terrain that counts as ‘easier,’ then I’m probably a section hiker in three weeks’ time. Which, you know, I could manage to live with. The people out here who seem to be having the most actual fun are the section hikers. There’s a lot to be said for spending an afternoon at Charlie’s Bunion (or a random waterfall) if you want to, instead of being on a mission deadline. Section hikers do smiles, not miles.

That all will start next week (ie, I need to reach mile 810 by Wednesday, June 5). I have to zero in Daleville anyway because I need a lot of stuff from the outfitter and some groceries. And camping is restricted between here and there, so I’ll have one more short day anyway. Can’t be helped, unless I could manage a 20. In which case I wouldn’t be in this bind, lol.

Wow, a ton of people have showed up at this shelter! Where did they stay last night? Probably Springer. 😉 They seem to be partiers—Trail Days folks, most likely. They’re playing a radio. Oh, Planet and Rig are here! That’s nice. I don’t know any of the others.

Speaking of which, that would be another advantage of sectioning the second half. I could draft other slow hikers to come along. I think this would be a lot more fun with a friend or three. 🙂






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Day 79: Many good things

Hotdogging at Bruisers Knob [mile 674.8; mpd 8.54]

I’m not really hotdogging, since I’ve pitched my tent on a lovely flat spot left by somebody else. But this campsite isn’t listed in the book.

But man, there’s a fierce thunderstorm going on overhead. One minute I was pitching my tent under a bright blue sky; I no sooner got tucked inside and my shoes off when the sky turned black and the wrath of Zeus started! So funny… as I was pitching I was quoting one of my AT rules: Whatever it’s doing at night, set up camp for the opposite. If it’s dry at night, prepare as though it’s going to rain. If it’s calm at night, prepare as though a big wind is coming. The weather changes regularly overnight. So I’m pitched for rain and wind, even though it was sunny and calm a half-hour ago.

The lightning’s a little scary, though.

Anyway, lots of good things today, and no real bad ones. Here’s the Cliff Notes version:

1. For a little while at lunchtime, I had internet! The first thing I did was order a new P-style!
2. Nefarious offered to send me a P-style! And I would have been on that in a New York minute if I hadn’t been so quick on the draw. Thanks, Nefarious!
3. I met some old friends! I mean way old… like week 1 or 2. Planet and Rig! It was great to see them. They think we’re fine, by the way, even with a max of 15 miles (and not a ton of those).
4. I saw an owl flying, but I couldn’t see its face.
5. I did 14 miles. And part of that was a massive climb and also a rocky section, so I feel good about that.
6. I saw a 300-year-old oak tree!

I packed up wet this morning. One thing I decided to try was taping my foot. I suspect there are a few different issues going on. We’ll see how that goes! I don’t have the right kind of tape, but I made do.

The first part of the trail was a long downhill right to the shelter I’d been trying to make last night. It was empty, although on the way out I spotted an MSR tent in a grassy field. (I found out later it was Planet and Rig.) The day wasn’t rainy, and the temperature was a little lower, so the walking was good. Later—most of the day, in fact—the sky was overcast. That helped the hiking, let me tell you. And sweat was still pouring off the end of my nose.

After the shelter, the trail visited Florida again: soft ground, shadowed paths, and the rush of water. There were a lot of springs and streams. So pretty! But then the ascent: 1700 feet of elevation gain over the course of about 2-1/2 miles. Nothing there wasn’t plenty of in North Carolina and Tennessee and Georgia, but those types of climbs have been a little sparser here. Some of it was brutal! But my feet held up.

One of the things I wanted to try was taking a full hour for lunch. Virginia hasn’t had as many big logs to sit on, so breaking has been difficult. Then this morning I thought, You idiot; you have a tent. It wouldn’t be worth pitching for ten minutes, but for an hour? I decided to experiment.

The trail turned shrubby at the crest of that climb. There was a lookout point called Kelly Knob. One thing about lookout points: there’s usually a campsite there! I was pitching the tent when Rig and Planet showed up. How great to see some winter people! They looked fit and strong. We chatted about how hard March was.

Did the hour help the feet? Not sure. I was stiff when I got up, and bumbling around like Frankenstein. But it did seem to pass, and the afternoon’s march was manageable. At least until this last steep climb. They don’t call it Bruiser Knob for nothing!

The sun came out for the afternoon and the trail turned pastoral. I love walking through grass and meadows for a change. The sun did beat down, though, with nothing to block it.

But then, some actual trail magic. The trail passed the famous Keefer Oak, the biggest oak tree on the southern trail. It’s 18-feet around. Magnificent! It felt like a wise old Amazon, with arms outstretched to the sun.

After the meadow, the trail went back into the woods and climbed. That was not an easy ascent. But right at the top was this site, and I practically threw my pack down in my haste to get horizontal.

And here I am! Safe from the rain!

In the next two days the trail moves through a reclamation area. Camping is allowed only in certain spots. Planet said a friend of his told him they tag a certain number of rattlesnakes there. There’s supposed to be a ton of them! I hope they’re mellow and not at all pissed off. 🙂







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