Chairback Gap Lean-to [mile 1106.9; SOBO 88.5]
I’d wanted to go three more miles today, but Chairback Mountain was a little tougher on the ascent than I’d expected. It worked out, though, because I got to meet a celebrity.
It was cold again last night! In fact, it was cold enough to keep waking me up. But it was one of those situations where I could have pulled out more clothes if I could have forced myself to do it. But no; better the warmth in hand than the momentary coldness that would have to be endured to get better warmth. Idiot. 😉
Upshot: I was sluggish getting up and out into the chilly morning. And it was chilly: fleece hat and gloves chilly. So weird! Just a few days ago it was insanely hot (and will be again, I’m sure).
So I got a late start. And when I walked out of the tent site area, a hiker was just coming down the hill from the shelter. El Flocco his name was—‘the skinny one,’ he translated it. (Did I spell ‘flocco’ right?) No… not skinny. ‘The scrawny one.’
El Flocco was entertaining as hell. He’s a big-miles hiker, but he graciously slowed down and hiked with me for a couple of hours. We had a great conversation. This is his third thru-hike; he hiked NOBO twice, in 2010 and 2011, I think he said, when he was 53 and 54. So at 56 he decided to do a SOBO.
I picked his brain! He was a real trail character—great sense of humor, great stories. He’s summitted Katahdin four times. I asked him if the Whites were as hard as Katahdin, and he didn’t even hesitate. “No way. Absolutely not. Katahdin is easily the most difficult thing you’ll do on the trail.” He went on to clarify that the Whites have challenging parts, like Mount blah and blah, which I couldn’t quite process, never having been there and apparently beng genetically unable to tell one dead president from another.
I got all sorts of other tidbits from him. Thank you, El Flocco! He doesn’t treat his water unless the source looks dubious (yes, one of those folks). He’s done some trailwork. But best of all… he didn’t see any ponies in the Grayson Highlands during his first thru. LOL. We compared bitter pony stories. It was exactly the same for him—everybody had their adorable pony encounters, and he and his buddy were the only ones who didn’t see any. He said he went back there for a weekend and the ponies were so thick he had to push them out of the way to get through the trail.
Anyway, great guy. A lot of fun. I might see him in Monson if he zeroes there, but otherwise he’ll be a day ahead of me then, with an increasing margin.
A couple of miles after that came the river fording I’ve been dreading for days. I don’t like those stream crossings at all. When the underwater boulders are big and slick there’s no control at all to be had, and the rushing black water feels like all it wants to do is sweep you away.
I got to the river, and laughed. It was wide enough, but because the weather’s been so dry, it was only shin deep, even on me. The bottom wasn’t big boulders, but more like a flat stony beach. Some of the rocks were softball sized and they were all slippery, but it was easy walking. The worst part was the fact that the water was frigid; that first step was a shock!
After that the trail stayed flat for a while, then the climbing started. Chairback Mountain was magnificent—but on the way up was another one of those nearly vertical rock climbs. I started to say ‘You, sir, are no Katahdin,’ except a tiny voice in my head screamed Ohmygod, this is almost just like Katahdin a little bit!
It wasn’t like Katahdin. For one, there was only one way to fall. For two, it only lasted a few hundred feet. And for three… actually, two are probably plenty. I got through it one rock at a time, and the view from upstairs was magnificent. I even caught a glimpse of the big K—the last view of it, I think.
Coming down was steep, steep trail—not rock climbing, but tough. I made the executive decision to stay at the next shelter. While I was down getting water from the fetid puddle that passes for a spring (there was a frog living in the puddle!), two hikers showed up at the shelter: Dragonstick and the famous Lady Gray. Dragonstick is doing a jump-around flip-flop. I think he said he flipped to New England from Waynesboro, and he’s heading north, then after Katahdin he’ll go… oh, I don’t know. In any event, it’ll be the whole trail in various pieces.
Lady Gray is somebody whose journal I followed before I started hiking. She does big miles, so even though she started the day after I did, I never had a prayer of catching her. That’s a benefit of flipping that I hadn’t though about. I’ll get to meet some people I know of but never had the opportunity to meet.
Lady Gray skipped two states. She did it after hard thought, and she evidently talked about it in her journal over at Trailjournals.com, if you’re interested. But the fascinating thing to me is how ready she is to be done. A lot of the NOBOs I’ve talked to are ready to be done. I had a nice chat with the ridgerunner today who said that NOBOs are doing 20 and 25 miles through this ungodly terrain because they’re ready to be done.
And it occurred to me that I’ve been out for the same number of nights as Lady Gray, and more nights than some of the guys who are whopping through now. I’m ready to be done, too… but I’ve got three months to go before I finish! That’s a lot of freaking hiking. Of course, even if I’d stayed NOBO and had a faster pace, I would have been out for another two months anyway.
I passed a boatload of NOBOs today, maybe 15 or 20. I heard that 27 of them left Monson yesterday. It’s going to be sardine-ville in the shelter areas for the duration of the northbound bubble. That’s something to keep in mind. I wonder if the bulk of them are through the Whites yet? That would be a bad place to not have tent space.
And that’s it! Today: Toads 1, snakes 0. And the toad was in my yellow drinking water.
Tomorrow: Hrm. Mountains and pine trees and rocks, I imagine. And at least one bog.
Oh! Speaking of bogs! I fell today. My pole caught in a root and tripped me into a bog. I splatted sideways into three inches of black mud, and my knees went into it and my hand went into it… and the first thing I did was look for the last corner of the Cliff Bar I’d been eating and heave a sigh of relief when I found it. I ate it, too. I must be a hiker!