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Thursday, November 17, 2016
It’s not far to Skyland, and it really wasn’t a hard hike, but I was worn down. It took me all morning. As I approached, a lovely voice said, “Stay the night!” Huh? “Stay the night. Get some rest.” Great idea! I’m in! I walked down to the lodge and went into the restaurant building, not knowing where to go. I asked a nice-looking young man where I check into a room. He just looked at me, with a big pack on my back, unshaven for six days, older than dirt and exhausted. He didn’t say a word, but motioned to follow him, taking me back out the door, up the steps and across to the Administrative room, opening the door for me. I patted him on the arm that felt like a lineman for the Packers, and said thank you. He just nodded and went on. I wanted to hug him!
Ever wonder how it possibly takes so long at the airport when you check in? What can they possible be typing? This was the case with the lady checking me in. A large man waited patiently beside her. After what seemed like 20 minutes, she gave me a key. I had asked for the cheapest room, and it was a hike to get there. Fortunately it was all down hill, across from the Conference Center and playground. I never knew this was here. I sat down, barely able to function and called Martha. Fortunately she picked up. I told her I had a room at Skyland, and she could come if she wanted, but I knew she had other things to do. She asked me what I needed, and I gave her a long list. She told me to take a nap and she would be up later.
Since there was no laundry, I put all my dirty clothes in the bathtub and put Dawn soap and water in it. Then I took a shower, stomping the dirty laundry like I was smashing grapes to make wine. I shaved, put on my second set of clothes and hung the wet clothes all over the deck. Surely the neighbors would love this! Now I had to wind my way back up the path to the dining room and get some lunch.
I can’t remember her name. Maybe it was Rita, but she was the best! She could see I was tired and hungry. I ordered a Pepsi, split pea soup and the Everything Omelet. Rita filled my Pepsi glass every time I drank it dry. It really settled my stomach, but I’ve gotta tell you, the split pea soup saved my life! I couldn’t eat the whole omlet – only half, and there was a fruit cup that I took with me. I thanked Rita and headed back down the hill. I laid down, but couldn’t sleep. I heard footsteps in the leaves below. Sure it was a bear, I had to get up and check. It was a lady walking slowly along the edge of the grass and leaves.
Martha got there about 5:30 with two bags. Long johns, pink gloves, a hat, and a complete restock of food. Too wonderful! I could never have made it without her doing this. There was nothing useful in the store – just tourist stuff. Someone later told me they usually have it, but since the season was over, they didn’t restock.
We drove up to the restaurant for dinner. Another very nice lady waited on us. More split pea soup please, and I’ll try the blackberry lemonade. Both were wonderful. Martha had shrimp, and I ordered trout with rice and something else. Same deal. I kept guzzling that blackberry lemonade, and she kept bringing it. Surely I was dehydrated. I managed to eat the excellent trout and a little rice, but couldn’t manage anything else, but that was more than I had eaten in the last four days combined.
I was stuffed and tired and fell asleep soon after getting in bed. They have great beds and quilts, so I left the door cracked for some fresh air. The heat system is a bit antiquated, but far better than a hut! At 5:00 in the morning there was a loud growl and Martha screaming about something in the room! Turning on the light, I fully expected to see a bear, but nothing was there. I quickly shut the door. She said it was in her bed, so we tore back the sheets. She said, “there it is!” A baby mouse ran along the wall, scared to death. I reopened the door, and he was quite happy to get the hell out of there. Laughing and relieved, we laid back down.
She had to go play tennis, and I knew I had to hit the trail. I thought it would be an easy day, but when I looked at the map, it wasn’t. Driving me to where I had gotten off the trail, I thanked her profusely for coming all this way. I could not have made if she hadn’t. I had no way to restock my supplies. I thanked he profusely! She said something about go get ‘em. Finish it! I was happy for the encouragement, the support and the love.
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
I felt like I was getting somewhere now. I had crossed Rt. 33 and was headed to Big Meadows, a place I was familiar with. I climbed up Bearfence Mountain that had a great overlook. There was a loop trail there, but I wasn’t sure where it led, and I didn’t want to climb anything unnecessary today. At the bottom of this great rock formation, I took a few pictures and thought I should keep moving. A scream broke the total silence, “YAHOO!!!!!” I stopped and looked all around, but didn’t see anything until the second yell, “YIPPEE!!!!” Then I saw the tall hiker on top of the rock with his through-pack on his back. I asked how the view was, and he said, “Magnificent! It’s a bit of a tricky climb, but so worth it!” “Well enjoy your beautiful day” I said, and he replied “How can you not?” His great enthusiasm brought a smile to my face and gave me some energy. So cool! I think the picture is the signature picture of the trip, and I will remember his enthusiasm forever.
I was still slogging along, pitiful as it was, but the trail was very pretty today, especially around Big Meadows, which is certainly one of my favorite parts of the trail. I saw a lot of deer and was in my mode when a young lady passed me like she was in a Mercedes, walking sticks in each hand. She wasn’t wearing a big pack, but something smaller. We exchanged pleasantries as she passed. Sheez! I caught up to her at a spring where she was eating some lunch. As I filled my bottles, I told her how I couldn’t eat much. Katy was her name, and she is day-hiking this part of the trail to complete the entire AT. She had started at Harper’s Ferry and gone the distance through Maine. Later she had done the southern part, and now this section. She took on part time jobs on farms to pay the way and support herself, and now she was thinking about the Pacific Coast Trail. She said it is normal that you can’t eat the first week. Then the second week, you are ravenous and your legs get stronger. I don’t think I was going to find out, but at least I knew it was normal. Katy said she would park her car and hike the day, hitching a ride back to her car. She said she never had a problem hitching a ride. They are going your direction anyway. On her giant hike, she would hike into towns to restock her food and get a good meal, then hitch back. I thought I was brave, out here all by myself in the woods for nine days. I was awed by the mental courage as well as physical strength she had to have.
I set off ahead, stopping shortly to hear something I have never heard before. An old buck growled at a doe in front of him, apparently getting the best of the acorns. He was telling her to move on. Katie went by as it all unfolded. I slogged on, looking up to see her looking at something in the woods. I hurried ahead as quietly as I could. A pretty black bear was eating his way through the woods. He could not have cared less that we were 60 yards away watching. After a time, we went on, Katie at an entirely different pace. It was a pleasure meeting her, and I appreciated her reassurance and encouragement.
As I walked around the back of Big Meadows, it was quiet, closed for the season, but one man was cleaning up. Behind the campground, another man was taking notes, probably of things that needed to be done for next season. I made it to Rock Springs Hut just as the sun set. Again I had the place to myself, and I loved it. The spring was running well, so I refilled my water bottles and started a fire. There was a bear locker at the last hut and this one, which is nice. You don’t worry so much about something getting into your bag looking for a crumb. I took a quick look at the map, seeing that I would pass Skyland tomorrow. It was very encouraging to feel like I was making progress. I was on the back side of the map, and I might make it. I knew I was tired though, and wearing down. Should I take a shower at Skyland, get a good meal, wash clothes? Could I take that much time? I was getting low on food and needed to restock, and had a list of things I needed. The first night camping with the bear family, I had lost my headlight, a ball cap and a pair of gloves. My best flashlight was now dead, but I had a backup.
Cell phone coverage was getting worse. It was more difficult to let Martha know where I was. I was using the InReach by Garmin, but it didn’t always get a satellite signal either. Most of these huts are down in a hollow where there is a spring. I recharged my phone with a battery/flashlight I bought at Batteries Plus, but now this was my only flashlight, so I didn’t want to use it all up, so I used it sparingly.
There was a PATC (Potomac Appalachian Trail Club) cabin close to the hut, so I checked it out. I have looked at a couple of others, and they are very cool. The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club owns these and manages them. They maintain the AT, and I’m sure use these as they are working. Others can rent them as available, so I am going to check that out. It doesn’t have full hookups, so it might not be Martha’s cup of tea, but who knows. Maybe just one night?
Am I going to have these huts to myself the rest of the way? Probably not, but I did like it. I crawled into my sleeping bag on the upper right side and felt right at home. I wasn’t cold, so why were my legs jumping? Thankfully they weren’t cramping, although sometimes when I stretched, they would cramp up for a minute. Put mustard on the list. Maybe a whole bottle. One spoonful of mustard will instantly put my leg cramps at rest, a tip I got from my great assistant, Pam. Top foods with high potassium that are not easily portable on a trip like this: avacado, sweet potato, coconut water, yogurt and acorn squash. Top portable foods high in potassium: apricots, mushrooms and white beans. I don’t know what you do with white beans, but apricots might be good. They have lots of sugar, which you also need on this kind of hike.
Monday, November 14, 2016
Since I went to bed so early and slept so well, it wasn’t hard getting up at 5:00. I knew the game now. Get your ass in gear and get going! It takes a while though. Gather some firewood trying not to wake the neighbors out back. Now go fill up with water and filter it into your bottles, get some coffee going and eat something. I still didn’t feel like eating, but I forced something down. My orange juice was from little vitamin C packets, and it works well. Now to deflate the air mattress, roll up the mattress and sleeping bag and pack those. Now which shoes will hurt less today? Pack the clothes up, put something in your pocket to eat along the way, then put the food on top. Cinch up the main part of the bag. Wash up best you can, treat the feet, brush the teeth, and get more water. Now I appreciated the two bottles, but to leave the filtering bag full of water as a third, and I wouldn’t pass up a spring again! It was warm, in the 60’s and even 70’s a couple of days. When you’re climbing up mountains carrying a pack, you are going to get very hot. OK, I was out by 7:30.
There were some pretty vistas, but I was all business today. When I crossed the road at Powell Gap, the post said Hightop Hut and Springs was three miles away and it was 1:00. OK, this was good. It you’re half my age, this is a piece of cake, but for me, the thought of getting to the hut in plenty of daylight was a wonderful thing. I still felt queasy all the time and couldn’t eat much, and it was difficult to drink as well. I was a little worried about it now, but knew I had to force some things down. By the time I found the sign post, the hut was only .1 mile away and it was 2:50. Oh happy days!
No one was there, but I knew it was early. Two out of three nights, I had shown up in the dark, so the same could happen, but it was a Monday night and most of the world has to work. As it turned out, I had the place to myself, and I liked it a lot. Still I was in bed by 7:00 in the upper right corner, my spot!
44℉ at 5:00, high of 57, windy
Monday, October 24, 2016
We walked the Kilburn Loop Trail in Pisgah State Park. It is a 6.2 mile hike through beautiful forests of Hemlocks and Beach trees. You pass Kilburn pond, which is very pretty. it took us about 3 1/2 hours with a stop for lunch. No bears, no moose, no ducks, no deer. The wind was blowing pretty hard, but we couldn’t feel it much on the forest floor. The trees, however, were talking, rubbing against each other as they moved with the wind. It’s pretty cool the different sounds they can make. It would be eerie if you were camping on Halloween night!
We hadn’t hiked for two days, so it felt good to get out. By the end of the last uphill climb of .7mi, we were tired. We drove back down to the Connecticut River to investigate the bike trail along the river. We walked on a side trail that goes out through a marsh. It was lined with 10-foot bushes loaded with berries of several sorts. Tons of little birds were stocking up for the winter. A photographer passed us, complaining the little birds wouldn’t sit still long enough for him to get any pictures. They are no doubt tough to catch. The strategy might be just to sit down and wait for them to come to you. There were several beaver huts, but this beautiful area was strangely devoid of any ducks or geese. I haven’t seen a flight of geese or ducks at any time along the Connecticut.
Back at Hinsdale Campground, Martha did the laundry while I cleaned out the cook box that had gotten wet with the snow and rain. It is a toolbox I set on its side for better access, but that means the lid doesn’t prevent water from getting in. The bikes and the cook box are covered with a tarp, but the heavy snow was too much for it. Sagging with the weight, it allowed water to get in along the sides. I had everything spread out all over the place when Dave (who works the camp) came by. He looked the place over strangely, and I wondered if I had violated some code. He asked if Martha was doing laundry and if I had my water connected. Then I asked him what was up. There was going to be a freeze tonight and he was going around cutting off the water so the pipes don’t freeze. The campground closes this weekend, and this seems to be the determining factor for closing – freezing pipes. I’m not sure how old Dave is, but we got to talking about the area and his growing up here, fishing the pond where we had hiked. It was hard to get all the facts right as he talked. I didn’t want to stop him because the stories were good. A very nice gentleman, and obviously smart, I wondered why he worked the campground as the manager came up. They went over to several campsites turning water off. When he came back, he continued. He works about half the time for pay and half as a volunteer. He said he would go crazy if he sat at home all the time. He and his wife had sold their house, bought a big camper and went on the road for 10 years, thus his great knowledge about campgrounds. “Oh, I’ve been to Virginia many times”. Nova Scotia was one of his favorites. He worked for the State, the Federal government and different companies that dealt with hazardous waste – mostly cell phones. When ownership of his plant changed hands, they always wrote in the contract that Dave had to stay. Government regulations hold people like Dave responsible forever if something goes wrong with the hazardous waste. He talked about being retired and on the road, when the company called him to help solve a problem, so he came back for a month to solve the issues. I was enjoying his great stories, but he had to go cut water off and I was getting the evil eye from the laundry lady. Dave was pleased when I gave him a coffee cup. I hope he is still here should we pass through again.