Unstealthing I HAVE NO IDEA. Call it mile 2110.1 [SOBO 1091.7]
Either the trail guide’s a disaster for this section, or I walked past signs for two shelters without seeing them. I crossed roads that aren’t listed, or maybe they are, not to mention cabins, private drives, park boundaries… argh. And a little while ago, as I was getting ready to panic because it was 15 minutes until sundown and I couldn’t find a place to pitch, I passed a big landmark that you’d think would be mentioned. I’ll get to that shortly.
This may be the longest entry ever, if my battery and my fingers hold out, so go. Grab tea. And maybe a cookie. Settle in; I’ll wait.
OK, we set? Good!
I woke up this morning to frozen water bottles and a frozen tent.
My friend Connie (hi, Connie!) texted me last night that people are worried that it’s too cold for me to be out. If you’re worried, that’s so nice of you! But it’s OK, honestly. If you go back and look at Day 1, you’ll see what the weather was like on Springer Mountain. That snow and ice and blistering cold persisted for all of March and into April. The Smokies were a skating rink. Winter Storm Virgil. Record-breaking cold temperatures.
Right now it’s in the upper twenties at night, maybe even low thirties. I had a lot of practice back in March and April. The temperatures I’m dealing with now are enough to make me complain, but not nearly as bad as I practiced with. And my winter sleep setup is excellent. I’m warm all night. The only time I’m really unhappy is in the morning when I have to transition from toasty to glacial.
So let me give you a hug for worrying and reassure you that it’s fine. The temps are going to warm up in the next few days, and it’s only for another week anyway.
So. That said… FROZEN WATER. I knew the tent was frozen because I looked up and saw the ice crystals on the fly. I didn’t realize the water was frozen until an hour later when I went to brush my teeth. (One of the tricks I’ve picked up recently is to wait a couple of hours to brush my teeth. It keeps my hands from having to touch ice water before they’re good and warm. So if you see me out here first thing in the morning, stay far away. It’s for your own good.)
So I packed up, miserable as usual. (I said I was fine; I didn’t say I was going to stop complaining.)
And I walked. I walked as fast and as hard as my Lurch-like body could manage, mostly because my hands and feet were blocks of ice. When I checked my book I realized that yesterday’s short day had an unexpected bonus: I was two miles from a deli. Hot food! Hot coffee! Unfrozen liquid!
I made it to the deli and drank a quart of orange juice and ate a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich outside at a picnic table that was covered with frost. Surreal. Then I got a coffee. They had a decent selection of the big resupply items, and I asked if they happened to have those little Hot Hands packs. They carry them for hunters, apparently, but not yet. It’s still not winter. So that was a bust, but all the rest of it was AWESOME. (I wouldn’t normally be so indulgent as to carry Hot Hands, because of the weight, but this close to the end I was willing to take the hit.)
Then… back to the trail. Everything was covered with frost, like it was made of candy. Spun sugar. A spun sugar forest, spun sugar weeds, spun sugar rocks. Unfortunately, I had to walk in it. The good news is that the trail today was more or less a series of hiker superhighways—smooth and even. There were some climbs (especially the unexpected beast at the end of the day), but mostly without too many rocks. The leaves continue to be my worst enemy; one of the infinite ankle rolls has aggravated an old injury, so now I’ve got a very sore ankle to add into the mix. Fortunately, it only hurts mildly while I’m hiking. The real tenderness happens when I take my shoes off. It’s manageable. If I gave you the litany of physical issues I’m working with now, after eight months of this idiocy, you’d be sore just reading it.
Aaannnyyyhhhoooo… It was a nice day! There’s still a period in the middle of the days, usually around lunchtime, where the sun warms things up and it’s pleasant walking. I love that slice of the day. It’s starting later and ending earlier all the time, though.
I had lunch on a big rock until loud gunfire from down in the valley drove me away. Getting shot would be a sucky way not to finish.
After that… I walked! And eventually I came to the amazing Pine Grove Furnace state park. It was closed, of course—empty parking lots, drinking fountains covered in trash bags. Zombie land. But one bathroom was open, so I used that and filled up my water bottles. I got to throw my trash out, which is always a huge treat.
I came to the Appalachian Tral Museum. (Hi, Earthtone!) What a beautiful place. I’m coming back as soon as they open in the spring. Field trip, anybody?
Then… dun-dun-dunh… the general store, home of the Half-Gallon Challenge! Thru-hikers eat a half-gallon of ice cream to celebrate being halfway done. Now, I did a private Half-Gallon Challenge between my two halves; I ate four pints of Ben and Jerry’s in two days. But there I was, at a deserted Pine Grove General Store, and the moment had to be commemorated!
The general store was closed, of course. But look! A soda machine! I decided I’d go a little crazy and do… the 12-Ounce Challenge!
So I hitched up my pants and sauntered to the Coke machine. I slowly fed in my dollar and watched while the machine spat out the instrument of my potential doom. Would I be able to finish? Would I puke?
The first six ounces were no trouble at all. It had been a long day of walking and I was thirsty. The trouble came during the second half. The bubbles, the excitement… I started to slow down. For a minute it was touch and go; then boom! I swallowed the last few drops in the can.
I didn’t even use a spoon.
The sugar must have gone to my head, because after that is where the directional issues started. It was late when I got to the general store, and I had something like four miles before the next shelter. And the sun was already getting low.
So I walked. I walked uphill as hard as I could. Then the trail flattened out, and there it was: a giant halfway sign with flags and a register. Except as far as I could tell, the halfway point is after the shelter.
There was nowhere to camp; the weeds and brambles were too thick. The sun was setting fast. I had no idea where I was. I walked a little farther, and spotted this flattish place. There was a campfire ring here, even though the site’s tiny. It’ll do just fine!
I got the tent pitched (it was still frozen). I’ll sleep, and tomorrow I’ll try to figure out where I am. My guess: That’s not the current halfway point, but a monument from some previous year. And I think I’m just a tenth of a mile from the shelter I was aiming for. It’ll all come out in the wash.
And that’s that! Oh, except for one thing: Happy 2100!