Friday, February 29, 2008
Another Art Loeb Trail shelter
It was a shamefully lazy lazy day. It is still cold – a little warmer than yesterday, but my water bottle is still frozen.
Could it be that I am finished with this trip for now? I have another 90 miles to the finish.
It is Leap Day – time to take a leap of faith.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Cedar Rock A-frame Shelter
It was another cold day, morning especially, but full of blue skies and sunshine which made the cold humps seem liveable. For most of the morning, I walked on the Black Mtn Trail and got some beautiful overlooks this morning. Felt a little bit sick from the chocolate chips this morning at breakfast. Walked into town to resupply at Bi-Lo (Brevard town limits, barely) and ate a lunch special at Pizza Hut featuring a salad bar of wax-paper-translucent lettuce and a choice of 4 creamy dressings, and a very cheesy personal pan pizza with jalapenos, mushrooms, and spicy sausage. Ohh la la, and some coffee in a Pizza Hut plastic mug. I spent a while there, before thrusting (wrestling) on my pack and walking back to the trail.
On the Art Loeb Trail, I climbed upwards, passing by 3 dayhikers going to the road. Lots of ridge-jumping and one moment of fear when I saw a flash of blue through the trees. It was a discarded sleeping mattress foam pad. Kind of freaked me out. Ate an apple around sunset, then climbed down to curve around the final rocky mountain at its base and make the final push to the shelter. I saw an albino squirrel on the walk! I had to headlamp the last mile, but did see some beautiful stars above. This shelter is A-frame, literally.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Buckhorn Gap Shelter
Today has been frigid cold all day. I woke up to a dusting of snow outside my tent. My water stayed frozen all day and cliff bar froze too! God almighty, it’s cold. Beautiful snow, slow start to the morning. Heard the first 15 seconds of Alison Krauss’ “So Long, So Wrong” before I lost the radio station. Got to the shelter just before dark, and saw a bobcat! Run past. It is strange to sleep in a shelter after being so used to my tent…
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
In Another Roadside Attraction, Amanda’s mental clarity, or visions, came when there was a thunderstorm. Maybe the same is true for me. This morning, there was a rain and thunderstorm just at dawn, and it stopped at 9 am, when I ventured out to get the food and get ready to hike. And today, while hiking in the saturated morning, I had a storm of ideas, related to everything and anything. Either the thunderstorm… or the chocolate-covered espresso beans I chomped down this morning. Anyways, I saw a couple of runners and a lone hiker. It almost started to rain while I was hiking, then blew away five minutes later. 80% chance of rain or snow tonight!
It turned out to be a pretty nice day – I took some photos of turkey tail fungus. I’m on the old Biltmore Estate Shut-in Trail, which is horse-graded but does seem to jump up and down the ridges. My legs are tired after today.
Monday, February 25, 2008
Folk Art Center to the woods
Coming back to the trail this afternoon after a week of eating (I gained 6 lbs in one week!) and town feels like being a beginner all over again.
I didn’t get on the trail until 3:30 pm today – maybe even 4 pm. I ran into tons of walkers and runners out in the beautiful afternoon sun. Tomorrow, shit’s supposed to hit the fan, weather-wise. I want to hike a lot. Lazy “bear” bag – tied to a tree at shoulder-height. I’m going to be pissed if anything fucks with it during the night, especially because it was the most gourmet and expensive resupply yet. Asheville has eaten my budget alive.
Back on the trail today, I saw my first 3 flowers – honeysuckle, purple ones, and daffodils. The fragrant tunnel of honeysuckle was really wonderful. Listened to a great NPR interview with Katie, an elephant and whale communication specialist, who talked about her Quaker religion and the power of listening in addition to communicating or making song or sounds.
I set up camp just off trail at sunset. I’m really looking forward to reading White Teeth again. 153.5 miles to Clingman’s Dome.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Fastest Way Up Hills: Zigzag
By Andrea Thompson, LiveScience Staff Writer
posted: 22 February 2008 ET
A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points, but on a steep slope, zigzagging is the fastest way to go, a new study confirms.
On flat terrain, a straight line is typically still the best way to get from point A to point B. But climbing up a steep hill is a whole different ballgame; the mechanics and energy costs of walking up a hill alter the way we negotiate the landscape.
"You would expect a similar process on any landscape, but when you have changes in elevation it makes things more complicated," said study author Marcos Llobera of the
Llobera and co-author T.J. Sluckin of the
Most people don't need a model to tell them that though, they do it without even thinking.
"I think zigzagging is something people do intuitively," Llobera said. "People recognize that zigzagging, or switchbacks, help but they don’t realize why they came about."
The work is detailed in the Journal of Theoretical Biology.
Friday, February 22, 2008
Yesterday, MK and I decided post-lunch that it was time to venture to the downtown Asheville, and get out of the house and neighborhood. We took the bus, discussing Korean dating (or lack of – the karaoke bar scene where you pay $1000 as a group of men, get a room with karaoke for the night and snacks and drinks, and also a parade of woman to choose from for sex or escorting. And the woman come lined up by nationality, like a real parade).
We explored downtown by foot, starting at a cupcake shop where MK tucked in to get a bagel, and we promised to return later for cupcakes. Then we went browsing and window-shopping, to gourmet food, rare book shops, an artisan art and music shop (which was really fun – playing the instruments like the hammer dulcimer and harp, etc.). At the end of our browse, we swung back to the cupcake café and picked out some sweets and coffee and sat inside for a short while. We sat in heaven for half an hour, her German chocolate cupcake and my cream cheese brownie, and a girl walks into the shop and I began to stare at her. And finally, I tried, “Ren?” She turned and looked at me, confused. “It’s Bugs – I’m Bugs!” and a glimmer of recognition flashed in her eyes and gosh, what are the chances in hell of meeting up with Tofurky, a friend of mine from the Appalachian Trail, in that shop?
The three of us sat and talked about our lives and things/freeing ourselves of things. Ren recently had a bonfire at a friend’s house, a ceremony of sorts where she burned all of her old journals from age 16 and earlier. And MK talked about getting rid of her possessions. I explained to Tofu much later that evening about my theory of jellyfish strings-with-hooks attaching you to poisonous thoughts - those little nematocysts that keep you locked in place. And it’s only when you start detaching those bad people connections/relationships, and getting rid of extra possessions that you are really, mentally and emotionally, free. Like backpacking as a metaphor for life.
After we spent a good two hours in the shop, gleefully chatting and occasionally just glowing at the fates, MK needed to take the bus back to the Peacock’s and prepare for her phone interview for this position in Korea that she wants. “If there’s a higher power,” I said, “It’s got to be smiling down on us, grinning like a fool.” We walked to Malaprops and combed through the regional books section, Tofu and I intensively discussing the trail and what it will be like for her to be out on the trail again this year. Apparently, there is a girl starting the trail this year who was inspired to hike the trail by reading our trailjournals! FYI, Chunky Gal Trail is supposedly named after a volumptuous Cherokee girl who ran away across the mountains to marry a man of a different tribe. Yeppers, either that or a bastardization of the Cherokee word for that area.
We talked relationships, zillions of things, and when the bookstore closed, we left and walked back to her apartment in a little house of apartments, in the historic district. I met her roommate and two cats, and the three of us talked for a long while, until finally we realized that if we kept talking and trying to figure out what to do, we would miss all of the restaurants and I would be left with a brownie to stave me through the wild night. So we left at 10 pm to venture to a nearby awesome vegetarian joint called Rosetta’s kitchen and get some grub. I got a sweet peppermint tea and a seriously good veggie burger. Then as they were stacking the chairs on tables, after we had read the horoscopes aloud to eachother, we skipped down to the van and Cassie gave us a lift to a bar called Jack in the Woods.
Once we got there, both a little exhausted from life, we decided to stay and check out the bluegrass band on tap: a western Kentucky crew called Bawn in the Mash. They were just going on when we sat down, with our stouts – her Guiness and my local, dark, delicious beer. We sat back in a corner, discussing art and future (how does one chance encounter propel you to these lengths of conversation in one night?) and random acts of kindness. Until we could not longer stand the static nature of talking while good, energetic music was playing, so we started dancing in place, then standing, then finally abandoned our dark corner and drifted across the room to a more open area, and started to dance with drunk middle-aged men. Played a fake game of basketball on the dance floor, and eventually as the energy of the crowd piqued, we got more and more folks to dance with us and by the time we sweatily retreated outdoors, almost two hours after we had entered, gol-lee, the place was full of dancing fools. The band was awesome, full of cute young guys in flannel and with hip energy. “I’m glad you have no shame, too,” Tofu shouted over the music at one point.
Tired, we stepped outside into the cold night air, and sat there for a little bit, watching others enter. And after a little while, a fellow slurrily came up saying, “Do either of you girls have a cigarette?” We say no, and Ren adds, “I care about my lungs… not that you don’t. Just ever since I got sprayed in the mouth with a fire extinguisher.” And this guy was hooked by our quirk and intrigue! We talked for probably an hour, this guy was Hilarious, to the extreme. He was seriously scruffy with flannel and hiking boots, and when he mentioned wringing turkeys as a metaphor, we knew we had found a common soul in Rush. He grew up on a turkey farm for Christ-sake. We three bantered with Ren asking ballsy, probing questions, Rush responding with the funniest possible answers. Like, for example, in response to Ren’s question, “What’s your dream?” he said, “to play chess everyday.” (a pause) “And I’d probably rob a bank if I could.” Golly, an hour of that and then he said something along the lines of “Excuse me ladies” and ducked inside, and Ren and I decided it was time to go home. Around 2 am, fell asleep on the couch, drunk on serendipity and life.
I am moving to NC after graduation. I have just decided. That’s it. I am in love, and there are oodles of resources. And things to do, people to meet, education to be had.
I won’t be able to capture today right now (I hope I never truly “capture” as free and wild a day as I had in as clipped and constraining a form as language). I met Tofu at the library, then we headed to the Art Store to begin our mission – spreading random acts of kindness. Artstore, signs, author, coffee, cups, quotes, street musicians, hugs, homeless people magnet = free coffee, MK came, advice to sweet guy about his relationship, down the street we went, to corner, more hugs, homeless, to corner, and talking to the two girls who had just taken acid (one a year out of SUWS). Crazy homeless men, finishing coffee, and advice to girl about her boat in Costa Rica, returned coffee urn money in parking meters. Cassie called Ren – needed her roommate love and I pried myself away from her magnetism, and met MK at a Tibetian clothing shop she was in. We went to Salsa’s for dinner and had a really good time – talked about manifestation as a parallel to trail magic, and caused not necessarily by trail karma and interactions with others, coming full circle, but being a result of the resonance of good energy – from someone who meditates a lot. How did you two arrive here in my world? How can I make you moving orbs/souls stay close to me?
So filled with love, but by the end of the day totally sucked of energy. Falling asleep, drifting back… to a time before. To concerts at the Wednesday in the Park series near our house, popcorn and climbing on the statues.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
I am pretty clean (although, with this southeast water-scarcity pressure, it sure does make a good excuse for not showering every day. Save the Planet! practice the Elizabethian habit of monthly baths!).
I slackpacked for a couple hours yesterday afternoon, trailing behind my lively host in town, the maverick David Peacock, and talking about the public education system in the US and hearing his take on Life.
One of the reasons for being in town, aside from the comforts, is to continue my organization of thoughts for my The Future, which begins officially in the middle of June, when I graduate from Carleton College with a degree in Biology and need to pursue gainful employment. Just to put this out there: if you are based in North Carolina and are hiring, or can give me a contact to a potential employer, let me know! I am looking for a position that would last anywhere from 2 to 10 months, in the areas of conservation, environmental education, ecology (or other field biology) research, naturalist positions, non-fiction writing, or sustainable farming.
Just putting that out there... someone has got to be connected. E-mail me with thoughts!
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
To Folk Art Center with David Peacock
I have resigned myself to it: I will not be finishing the MST corridor this winter. I want to kayak the Neuse River, but it isn’t fair to subject my dad to something he sees as dangerous and on his vacation too. Instead, it seems like we will spend some time in Durham, and during the day local-adventure (I mean that as a compound verb).
Yesterday, I woke up early after a restive night in the bed, rolling around trying to get comfortable and shedding and pulling on covers. I spent the morning partly sitting with MK in the living room, then transitioning to the public library to get some internet work done. I felt really productive, sending a resume to the Echinacea prairie research project in Minnesota. And then after getting kicked off the computer an hour later, I walked back to the house and we ate lunch.
Later in the afternoon, after I had talked to my saturation point and searched through the job database to my limit, I went for a 4 mile walk down the road and back, shaking up the clutter in my brain and hoping that (for once!) when the pieces fell back together, it would be like the watchmaker complexity. And only then I went to a coffee shop, and sat down and sketched out a plan for my trip, and then we all (MK and the Peacocks) loaded into their car and drove 45 minutes away to Hendersonville, to a Japanese woman’s house for a traditional meal. On my, what a crazy crowd gathered. Michika, the crazy Japanese woman host, on a tourist visa for 3 months. Dayle, a sweet, reserved, well-traveled Lithuanian-descended woman from the US (friends with Michika). Elizabeth, this nutzo lady who ran a nearby B&B and kept referring to her “travels abroad.” As Deanne said on the way home – “she’s not real.”
We stuffed ourselves with food, had some disjointed conversation, and a few folks (me and MK teetotalled) liquored up on wine.
Today after lunch, I went on a hike with David to the Folk Art Center, walked to the library and grocery store, cooked dinner, and saw the lunar eclipse! It was like an egg to an eyeball transition.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Am I okay? Why would you ask me that? Do I look bedraggled - has my greasy braided hair become untethered? Do my scrapped legs look like I have recently been in a scuffle with a mountain lion? Or worse of all - have my eyes begun to lose their remnant look of civilized sanity, have I developed the feral animal, HIKER STARE? Maybe, all possibilities. Or maybe "are you okay?" is another version of "how are ya'll?"
The trails have been designed with care, by I believe the Carolina Mountain Club, and they have been clear of brush mostly, whether from avoiding the high winds/ ice storm wreckage, careful maintainence, or more frequent use by dayhikers. Whatever the reason, I appreciate it.
And a grizzly little trail story to whet your hiker-tale appetite:
The weather on Sunday was gross. Fog, cold, rain, wind: recipe for misery. I will never forget the night before Katahdin in 06, in the shelter just south of Baxter with Buree and Roo, when Buree revealed to me one thing that she had learned about herself from the trail: "I do not like hiking in the rain." That has made me smile a lot on this trip. I also do not like hiking in the rain. Period, finito. But I did, 12 miles through the fog and up to the Craggy Mountain picnic pavilion. Where in the blustery fog, I set up my tent and weighted down the stakes with big stones and hoped for no tornadoes, 5,500 feet above sea level. I hunkered down for all afternoon and night, from 1:30 pm to 8:00 am, eating peanut butter and jelly (one of my only excess foods) by the spoonful, and listening to bluegrass on the radio. As it got dark, the rain poured outside, and there were two very very close strikes of brilliant pink lightening before the storm swept past. I drifted to sleep, and woke again at 4 am with the howling of coyotes across the mountains, one from nearby. At dawn, I woke in the calm morning to survey the weather. There was a spectacular, clear sky with clouds skirting the horizon and sunlight leaking through. Walking to a better view, I got within 10 yards of a coyote.
Just another day living. And now, for some serious town time.
Total MST miles: 517.3 (357.0 foot, 169.3 bike)
Total trip miles: 634.9 (393.8 foot, 238.1 bike)
Monday, February 18, 2008
I had an eventful night last night – a couple of very close lightening strikes (light pink in color) and thunder. I crouched in the lightening position for about an hour, doing some form of praying. Then at 4 am, I was woken up by coyotes howling and barking back and forth in the calmed night. I could see the bright moon out.
This morning, I woke again to the bright light of a clear, cold morning on top of a mountain. There were beautiful sunrise clouds, and when I got up to take photos, I got very close to a coyote up on the hill before it ran away. By the time that I began hiking this morning, the fog had rolled back in, and I walked again on the misty trail - but through the really lovely and moss-laden forest - up and down ridges, to Rattlesnake Lodge, or rather the remnants of it, abandoned in the 1920s and then burnt down in a fire. The chimneys and some stone walls were standing, including a concrete wall of the swimming pool!
I started to run into dayhikers around the wreckage – 2 women with dogs, chatting, an older man who told me that coyotes on the east coast are 30% larger than on the west coast – evidently they interbred with wolves (he said “Sounds pretty smart to me!”) and then ran into three men and couple small children walking and the first thing one of the men asked was, “Are you okay?” That question always catches me off guard. Do I not look as though I am okay? Do I really already have that feral look in my eyes? Did my greasy hair become untethered while walking (likely)? Did I smear too much zinc oxide on my face, making me look pasty-white and scary? I said that I was doing well and one of the men proceeded to tell me that I should join their Craigslist Asheville hiking group (yippee?) because they’re going to do things like hike the MST and the 60s (peaks over 6,000 feet in NC) – they had a special acronym for that. I told them that I would consider, if I moved to Asheville. Then the last fellow was an energetic serious hiker-looking man who stopped and we talked for a long while. He’s training to hike Everest! His story, as he told it, was that he had retired at 47, 9 years ago, sold a company for buttloads of cash, and now does mountaineering and rock climbing full-time. Killaminjaro last year in Tanzania, and Nepal this year, for 2 months in March to June. We went our separate ways, sending respective words of encouragement for our upcoming journeys.
Soon after, I ran into David Peacock, a fellow with snowy hair out walking a leggy golden retriever (part Irish Setter?) with a lot of energy. We walked together to his car.
We drove the 6 miles “home” and I met Mary Katherine – a long term couchsurfer trying to get her South Korea teaching visa while in town – and Deanne, David’s tandembike co-rider and wife. I took a glorious shower, sat down to this weird meal of little lumps of prepared food that they order from a guy down the street every week (like weekly take-out?). The food was good – just strange to think about eating that way out of take-out containers! We talked for a long while, me and David and peripherally Mary Katherine, a meandering conversation that jumped from farming to biodynamic farming according to weird rituals and the cosmos involving hanging sheep inards stuffed with camomille blossoms in the sun, then making a tincture out of it to spread on the land! To soil rehab in India to the Appalachian Trail as a metaphor for life, to this trip and my goals for it and what I have learned so far.
Mary K and I ventured off to the thrift store where I found shorts and a t-shirt to wear in town. I am feeling good, my legs feeling strong. Mary K is interesting, she is trying to finish paying off her student loans by working nonstop in Korea, teaching ESL. And is going through a lot of cleaning, I think, right now. She had a buttload of film slides in the backseat from travels, headed for the dumpster. Photos! It’s so difficult for me to think about permanently purging that type of memory-device. She only kept some family photos, at a friend’s house in California. One of the joys of travel and backpacking is cramming everything into a backpack that you can carry and still be mobile with, and then just being in the moment, untethered by excess. It’s a glorious feeling, but to be totally unbound? By family or photographs or favorite sweaters/overalls? By that 20-degree sleeping bag? Now that is an overwhelming thought – it almost borders on agoraphobia – the fear of large, open spaces - fear if too much freedom, or not having an escape route or backup plan.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
To Craggy Mtn “Picnic Pavilion”
It was a Gross Day. All I saw today was blah: fog, rain, and trees cloaked in mist. I listened to flashes of top 40 countdowns on my radio. I am tented in the heavy wind at the top of Craggy Flats under a wooden structure and I intend to stay here until morning. I just hope that the wind and thunder don’t get me first.
Modeled after “In This I Believe” from NPR:
I believe in trail magic. I first was introduced to the concept on the Appalachian Trail, when I hiked from Georgia to Maine in 2006. It came in the form of some guy sitting at a card table in a gap with bologna and mustard sandwiches for hikers. Since then, I have figured out that beyond this affected (but well-meaning) trail magic, there is a greater force helping travelers on the road or trail. While studying in Ghana, I found that same type of coincidence. If you needed something, it would just appear in the market or the courtyard.
Since hiking alone in the North Carolina mountains, I have found the same, magical appearance of things that I need on the side of the road or trail, such as an unopened bottle of water sitting on the side of the road, as I contemplated flagging down cars to ask for water. It’s as if there is some greater force looking over the traveler, the hiker, and when something is needed and obtaining it is not as easy as going to the store and buying it, it is furnished. I have utmost faith in trail magic.
When you dig deeper, it is probably just a combination of factors: focusing your want or need on items of perfectly defined specificity and having the time and patience for it to fall into your path. Nonetheless, it seems to me a phenomena best described as “magic.
Saturday, February 16, 2008
First thing in the morning, I woke up pre-dawn and could not get back to sleep, so I stayed up and read until it got light outside, then started to prepare things for the day while listening to WNCW “the state of things” with a debate/discussion between Duke Power and NC Warren – a watchdog environmental group about the new coal plant that Duke Power wants to open up north of Charlotte. It’s extremely controversial for the environmental community – because it would majorly increase CO2 emissions. It was an interesting, heated discussion. It seems like it will be decided very soon.
As I walked down the ridge to Black Mtn Campground, and onto the Mt. Mitchell Trail, I passed by loads (like a dozen!) of dayhikers, out for the nice Saturday morning to hike! Some had even been camping at the grounds. Imagine – in February. I listened to NPR (WNCW) jazz for 1.5 hours, then an hour of cartalk on the other NPR station, then on to bluegrass. I passed by about 5 hikers going up, all backpackers. The mountain trail was beautiful, and reminded me of a bit of Mt. Rogers as I got higher up.
Some trees were labeled “poison tree” and there were a lot of downed trees, cloaked in moss and lichen. Up, slowly, and steadily, the trail rose. Sections of it were coated in ice, and the temperatures began to drop. Once I got a little bit higher, I was cloaked in a cloud. At the turn-off for the summit, there was a sign saying, “Trail Closed Use Detour; Danger: Keep out” Bullshit. You cannot close a mountain summit. So I dropped my pack and climbed up, to the 6,648 foot summit, where the observation tower was under construction. Snapped some silly shots among the foggy wreckage, then descended to the main trail. I then began the easy “climb” down from the parking lot, thinking about whether or not it’s a good thing that the highest peak in the eastern US is accessible by road. Would it be better if it were hiking only? Research only? Completely closed to the public? Closed to humans? For us, the Black Mtn range seems manageable. But when Elisha Mitchell died on these mountains, there weren’t any established trails, steps, blazes on trees, or switchbacks. That would be such a different experience.
I am now on the south side of Potato Knob, sitting and reading/writing and listening to WNCW public radio, and their eight hours of bluegrass on Saturdays. I talked to Salam today, and he asked me right off the bat how my face is doing. I assured him that it is normal.
Friday, February 15, 2008
Today, there was some uphill climbing - nothing major. I heard on the radio that visits to state parks were up last year, probably because people didn’t have the money to go on cruises, etc. But visits to lakes were down 50% (drought) and visits to Mt. Mitchell up 10%! One big problem with today’s hike is that there was no water for a long stretch, and I didn’t fill up this morning at that little stream by camp. The water situation climaxed with my knocking down two icicles from a rock ledge to add them to my water bottle. Soon afterwards, I came to a couple springs that I had to dig out with my hands, under all of the leaves. Another problem was that there were deep piles of leaves and lots of fallen trees and branches. Most of the trees I could climb over or through, or around (with some effort), but three times I actually had to get down on all fours and crawl under branches.
I reunited with and crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway for the first time in a while, surprising a biker when I burst out of the forest in a cacophony of leaf-crunching. He was from Marion, and said, “I’m not used to seeing hikers out here.” Apparently he mountain-bikes on the MST around here. I think I saw an owl today. I read lots and ate chocolate covered pretzels (from the Natural Food shop yesterday) to my heart’s delight. I’ve been thinking a lot about what it would feel like to be able to read people well and flex yourself to make them happy in your presence. On the morning radio show a few days ago, the hosts read a “fact” that said that “more-socially awkward couples stay together than extroverted people because the extroverts are “acting” or playing a role, not necessarily being themselves”. Very interesting…
The weather was gorgeous today – blue skies and sun and up to the 60s for most of the day. I am camped (accidentally, actually) right smack in the middle of the trail. I was getting tired, hadn’t seen the “flat area” that I thought I remembered reading about, and the sun was sinking lower. So when I saw a flattish spot down the hill, I left the trail and set up my tent on it. And lo and behold, I’m all moved in when I realize that there is a white blaze right next to my tent.
Tomorrow, up to Mt. Mitchell!
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Last night there was this weird, slow flashing light that would illuminate my tent, then fade, then reappear. At first, I didn’t investigate – I figured it was a spotlight or a blinking light nearby at the USFS helicopter base. But after a while, I decided to check it out, and it was the moon! Just a half moon too! And the wind was so strong, it was blowing wispy clouds across the moon’s face and away, causing a slow strobelight effect.
I hitched into town this morning with a cop (the “sheriff” as they call them down here). Who asked me if I was “wanted.” My first stop in town was the Bi-Lo (Buy Low?) grocery store, to resupply. I was asked by the woman behind me at the check-out, “Are you doing okay?” in a concerned voice, fingering the cross around her neck. I sat for a little while in the store, eating fruit and granola bars and watching the pajama-d clientele coming in to buy big balloons and flowers last-minute.
After, I have moved on to my second stop – Dutchy Deb’s Donuts (and expresso bar) for my second cup of coffee and a donut. I asked the cashier, “What’s the best type of donut?” and he said, “I don’t like donuts.” I almost replied, “I don’t like donuts either, but I have to get my sugar and fat fix while I’m in the land of plenty,” but instead I ordered a crème-filled chocolate-covered one. I talked with and then hitched a ride with a 70-year-old man at the shop. Very endearing. He’s heard of the MST! All of these folks have! Not all, but a LOT more since I’ve gotten to these mountains. I guess that makes sense – the trail is completed here, so everyone is more likely to know it.
I ate gargantuan amounts of food today – I have a full little pot-belly from all of it.
Fruit bar, granola bar, 2 cups coffee, banana, apple, 2 donuts, a carrot, a large handful of chocolate-covered pretzels, a big platter of cheese enchiladas, chips n’ salsa, rice, & pinto beans. Back on the trail, I tried to eat dinner (cheese and bread) and could get down less than half of it. That’s a lot of food, especially when my stomach has been shrinking this last week with food deprivation.
At the library book sale, I procured a book called Dick Gregory’s Natural Diet for Folks Who Eat: Cookin’ With Mother Nature. I read the first section of it, which is actually about fasting and eating only fruits and veggies and weighing 97 lbs in his case (a good thing?). I had some good talks with intelligent, curious women at the library. I stopped at the Huckleberry Farms Natural Foods Store on the way back to the trail, with a small selection of natural foods, mostly bulk-purchased and repackaged, and run by an Amish family. Very curious. I then hitched back to the trail with a man from Florida in a rental car going to visit his daughters at Sugar Mountain.
I hung a bear bag on an almost fallen (uprooted) tree, with the hopes that if a bear tries to get my food, the tree will fall and scare it off. Tricky, eh?
Tomorrow: some climbing to make headway towards Mt. Mitchell!
I will admit it, I am totally head over heels in love. It started slowly, with a flirtatious glance, a hint of sunshine, the tantilizing blue humps on the horizon... but now I am consumed with a deep, passionate, heart-pounding love for these mountains (or more specifically, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail).
Let's begin in Boone, where I stayed with a friend from the AT - Grizzly - and some of his App State frat brothers, ate the most incredible breakfast, and convinced him and a friend to hike for an afternoon with me on the trail. They turned back after Rich Mtn, and I continued onward. I have found the trails in the last 5 days to be challenging, engaging, and totally gawkably gorgeous. The weather has been a little chilly, a little windy (65 mph winds the day after I left Boone!), the teeniest bit rainy, and mostly blue skies.
I have crossed or more accurately "rock-hopped" at least a dozen streams, and waded across 3 more (only fallen once!). The water sources, needless to say, have been plentiful and full of clear mountain water. After running into tons of hikers and a group of weekend backpackers (!) near Boone, I didn't talk to anyone yesterday or the day before on the trail. The Linville River was knee-high, climb UP from the gorge unexpectedly strenuous (1600' straight up at the end of the day is pretty exhausting), and leaf piles coming down from Table Rock Mountain waist-high.
I am really looking forward to the next segment, including the Big Mitch (Sir Mt. Mitchell, highest peak east of the Mississippi) and Asheville, where I will take some time off before hopping back on the trail to finish the last stretch to the Smokies!
Total MST miles: 461.5 (301.2 foot, 169.3 bike)
Total trip miles: 575.0 (333.9 foot, 238.1 bike)
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
I woke up to a lot of rain (light, constant) last night and a wet tent in the morning. When I was packed up, I walked down to the Pinnacle to see if I could get a better view than yesterday (ie. more than a white-out) and I got some clouds interspersed with mountains which was enough for me.
Down the trail (lots of muddy logging road rock-walking today). It thankfully didn’t rain at all today. I weaved up and down (villicination – is that the GRE word?) and around the ridge to the path up to Dobson Knob and Bald Knob. The path was uphill but pretty gradual, and I enjoyed the walk. At the top of the mountain, I got some nice views of up-and-coming mountains! The one cloaked in clouds in the distance – I think that’s probably Mt Mitchell. And then, on my windy, switchback-full climb down from the Bald, the sun came out and the clouds dissipated into the distance and I was graced with a lovely chilly sunny afternoon.
I climbed down all the way (by what seemed like kind of a circuitous route…) to the Catawba River / RR tracks, where I ran into two dogs and a man – we waved – and sat down to dry out my tent, have lunch, and read some of Guns, Germs, and Steel. At this rate, I am going to need a new book by Asheville. I stayed for about an hour (just getting into the North America colonialization part!), then took my stuff and climbed gradually to a few lookout points (clear-cut areas. I wonder what the point of a clear-cut is, if you don’t take the timber?). And then down on switchbacks to this wildlife field where I am tented.
I am really excited for town (and food!) tomorrow. I don’t think that I will get a shower, or do laundry, but at least I will be full and get a cup of coffee.
It is a done by 3:30 pm kind of afternoon – “exceptionally strenuous” my ass. I haven’t talked to a soul again today, but I did see that man in the distance.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
End: near the Pinnacle
It was on hell of a day of ascending and descending! I tried to start out early, but didn’t get going until 8 am (what with food prep, double-bagging everything to keep in dry in the forecasted rain, and taking down camp). Plus I was in a valley so I missed an early sunrise.
Before noon, I had climbed up to the gorgeous summit of Table Rock and snapped all kinds of silly photos. There was ice on some of the rocks, but I was buzzing around like a little energetic bee to and fro. I climbed down from the summit to the picnic area with a beautiful row of trash cans! Free of small amounts of trash, I frolicked with my pack down the trail to the Chimneys – lots of stacks of rocks like pillars (supporting nothing) dotting the mountain-scape. The walk was narrated by NPR and the Diane Reem show, on which she was interviewing the articulate author of Souled Out about the rise of the religious right, and more generally the role of religion in politics. Very interesting.
The trail took me through sections of young pine down to a gap and then on the ascent up to Shortoff Mountain, which was totally burnt during a fire last year. There weren’t too many blowdowns, and it was interesting observing the degrees of burn through the forest with some spots just a bit scorched to others where the heat had knocked down all of the trees, and eaten into the ground to the tree roots. From the long mountain ridge, I could see down to Linville Gorge and across it to other mountains.
I pushed hard most of the day, praying that the rain would hold off enough to keep the Linville River low so that I could cross it. It did start to rain a teeny bit but (true to tradition) once I got all of my rain gear on and pack readied for a downpour, it started to fade away. Down at the river, I had nothing to worry about – I waded across in just my shoes, not wanting to get my socks and spandex wet, and the water didn’t come up past my knees. It was pretty cold though and I was happy to be done with the 60-foot crossing. I was more inundated by the pile of leaves (to my waist) on the path down from Table Rock Mtn!
So then I began my walk farther, hoping to finish this 16-mile section to leave less walking for tomorrow. Little did I anticipate that the hike up to the Pinnacle would be STRAIGHT uphill! It started to rain a little more seriously then (the sun had opened its eye for a two minute blink at the beginning of the climb) and I just kept grunting upwards. A 1600 foot climb isn’t so bad for late afternoon. I camped out in some rhododendron and Devil’s walking stick, and jumped in my tent. I didn’t run into a single person, all day long!
Tomorrow, I cross the Catawba River (on a bridge) and go over some mountains.
Monday, February 11, 2008
I am camped down just past some spectacular waterfalls. I was going to go farther today buuuut found this nice place to camp. I rock-hopped seven streams and waded one stream this morning in the frigid weather (icicles hanging off of rocks and some rocks slick with ice). I didn't fall at all today! It was another sunny, cool day and the wind finally flagged sometime last night. I had lunch up on a ridge in the sunny, grassy intersection of the two long-ago logging roads. My trail routine/ camp setup is starting to become automatic! Finally, only 544 miles after I started!
My food situation is also turning up, once I realized that I had not 5 but 6 pieces of bread left, which gives me a piece of bread with cheese dinner, and 1.5 pieces of bread and pb&j for lunch! I have also been dreaming at least partly of food every night. Last night, it was eating ice cream with Amelia. And I have been scavenging crumbs from my lap when I eat. Mmmm. This is one way to get me to meditate on food.
Water at least has been super-plentiful the last few days, which is a relief. I am worried about crossing the Linville River tomorrow. Especially in the rain. I’ll just see what it is like, I suppose. It would be better to try tomorrow, after a little rain, than after a nightful and morning of rain on Wednesday.
Today was my third day in a row of no coffee or caffeine (other than dark chocolate morsals for breakfast) and I don’t even feel an effect! It probably helps that I am resting about 11 hours each night! After crossing the highway today, and down the logging road, I ran into an older couple with 2 horses who were very aware of the MST. They gave me some advice about the sections ahead and asked how close to completion the trail is. It is so nice to know that people are keeping their eyes on the trail, hoping that it will soon be done. The woman said something to the effect of, “I’m sorta envious” that I can do this. Sort of… Down here in this little hideout, I just passed a HUGE waterfall with sculpted rock and crashing water and I snapped a wholly unjust portrait of it.
It is a chilly night ahead, but maybe a few degrees warmer than last night. I’m keeping my food inside the tent tonight and I hope it doesn’t become a mistake – one ounce of solace is that I don’t have an odoriferous food that would attract animals (bears). Tomorrow, to Tablerock Mtn and Linville Gorge!
Sunday, February 10, 2008
It was a very very windy night last night and I awoke begrudgingly to pee in the cold windy morning sun. It’s so different living out of my tent (instead of a shelter). When I got up, I finished my last leg of the Tanawha Trail and climbed up to the (very very windy) and gorgeous view from Beacon Heights. Then back to the MST and yee good old white blazes (who blazes their trails with a hawk feather anyhow?? - the blaze for the Tanawha Trail). I walked downhill for a ways, to an old logging road, and then back to a trail in Pisgah National Forest! Where I have evidentally arrived. The trail led me over (at least) eight creek crossings, one of which I was cockily hopping across, lost my balance and plunged into the creek with pack and all. Bummer. It was a beautiful day again, and the trail hugged the creek all day. I ran into five dayhikers. One couple I talked to for a long time gave me some more Asheville advice, and we talked about the south, from an upstate NY point of view.
I’m camped out today down by a creek. Temperatures are supposed to get pretty low tonight. Morale is high. I am wondering what the next few days will hold.
Saturday, February 9, 2008
Days like today are the reason that I am out here! It was cool, then warm, and the sky was blue blue blue and there were lots of people out and recreating in the woods. The trail started out paralleling the Boone Fork River, and I had to take off my shoes and wade across it this morning. I passed lots of water all day, gorgeous stone boulders, rhododendron, a few fields, LOTS of dayhikers and even a group of about 8 backpackers going to the Grandfather Mountain trails. I talked to a woman named Anna about American attitudes towards global warming and water. Apparently last year Atlanta had 6 days worth of water left!
It was a rocky, wonderful climb on the Tanawha Trail up to Rough Ridge boardwalk with totally amazing views.
I ran into a group of 4 hikers from Greensboro at the end of the day. The younger man in the group said this long, beautiful prayer for me, thanking God for running into me and for the inspiration that my trip gave them. And for God to stay with me and guide me in the miles ahead. This trip is making me think so much about religion. A few days ago when I was listening to NPR, there was an interview with the documentarians who made “Seeing Purple” about the series of conversations they had about faith and religion, between a believer and a non-believer who were roommates in college at Davidson.
I almost lost my camera, but the group of 4 hikers from Greensboro found it and came looking for me. It is a good thing, because it is a prime source of entertainment for me at the end of the day. In order to process the day and keep it distinct from all of the other days, I look through that day's photos once before I go to sleep. It gives me unimaginable pleasure, which is surely a sign of how deprived I am of technological stimulation.
Friday, February 8, 2008
Nick and his friend drove me up to the parkway, after he fixed me an epic trail breakfast. I skipped 25 miles of the parkway, speeding by in the back of his SUV. We all hiked up Rich Mountain, and then they went home to go out again to another party, and I traveled into the woods. Nick convinced me to stay on the trail for this section, as it’s supposed to be the best.
Thursday, February 7, 2008
Because of last weekend's ice storm, there are trees and branches all over the trail (the poor FMST really has their spring trail work cut out for them!). And I would like to dispute this whole "severe drought in North Carolina" rubbish. I almost adopted a beagle. It followed me 30 miles down the trail. I don't want to talk about it.
For all of the rain and obstacles and puppy sob stories, the views have been WAHOO! worthy, the blue ridge skyline a gorgeous backdrop to this segment of the adventure.
Also, a little trail magic joy to brighten your day and give you some goosebumps:
Today I ran out of water, and even went so far as to start going to houses along the parkway and ask for water (no luck). Half mile down the trail, on the side of the road, I found a sealed bottle of water sitting in the grass.
I am tired and my feet smell bad. The puppy follow me all day again, after a restive night sharing my tent. So now – in addition to smelling like sweat and mildew, my stuff all smells like wet dog. At least I am staying with another backpacker (albeit a reformed hiker).
Can I let a beagle break my heart? I can’t anthropomorphize her… it. She was good company for a couple of days. I shouldn’t have fed her… but I did.. so no looking back at that. And now I am in the little “local color” Beanstalk with half a dozen overcaffeinated patrons, jabbering to each other about mugs and puzzles downstairs. And upstairs, much quieter but full of artistes scribbling amateur ART in our little notebooks. Or something like that.
I am enjoying exploring this new world of Boone. But I want to see more in-depth than I am now – and it seems strange to complete this journey without digging down somewhere. I wish that I could find a good way to balance travel and work and making new friends… and wearing blue jeans.
Today was cool and beautiful. I don’t want to think about the puppy and the puppy was on my mind most of the day. Most of today, I walked on the BRP. The Mountains to sea trail has been flagged in this area, but not yet dug or built. I did hike a cute little loop-trail with interpretive signs with the names and descriptions of trees along it. And I hiked a little bit of the unbuilt trail this morning, following the flags like the needle of a compass through the woods (elementary orienteering!!). It felt good to be tramping through the woods – “like a Daniel Boone!” I mused for a moment before reflecting that actually, if I were Dan Boone, I would have to deal with directions and no paths ever and definitely no guidebook, not to mention the unknown danger of running into a Native American in the forest, who may not treat you as a benign trade partner but instead potentially as the ENEMY. Not to mention that I would not have fleece to keep me warm and plastic to keep my things dry.
Upon reaching the highway to Boone, I hitched on the road and was picked up by a woman who declared me brave to hitchhike alone as a woman nowadays, eventhough she used to do it all the time when she was younger, between the NC mountains and the Florida beach. She said that she had “one bad experience and it was bad” and then let that drop off and I didn’t ask her to repeat the experience to me.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Oh lordy, what a day she has gotten me into. “She” being the little beagle who is curled up in my vestibule after scarfing down a bowl of cereal. I came upon her early this morning while I was hiking. I was listening to NPR on my headphones and stopped when I heard a little sound. I turned around to see a little timid beagle following not 2 feet behind me. No collar. She followed me all day long, all 15 miles, most of them through the rain. I’m not sure what the “right” thing to do is. My plan of action is to make a leash for her if she’s still with me tomorrow, hitch into Boone with her, and then see if I can find the animal shelter and go in to get their advice. She’s already weaseling her way into my lonely heart.
But then again… what am I doing thinking that I can support a dog financially and stability-wise?
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
It was an early stop today (around 4 pm) as I found a pretty good camping spot and my feet are sore from hiking (and lugging this load). Only 3 interactions with people today, one late morning when I came across a group of young men chain-sawing the brush on the side of the road, then at the trail crossing near Lauree Springs, I asked a woman if I could get water (“all drained out”) and a man pulled up while I was rummaging for a dollar for a soda and asked if the soda machine was working.
It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day. And I enjoyed it immensely. Bluff Mtn (bald) gave beautiful views towards the Blue Ridge mountains. I saw a coyote this morning around 9:30 am, across the parkway in a field! And lots of deer and wild turkeys, at least 1 grouse, and an owl.
There were a LOT of blowdowns today, mostly pine trees. The FMST have their work cut out for them this spring when they get to their trail maintenance!
I am stealth-camping in the woods off of the BRP mp 250. Two more days to Boone!! One thing that I have been frustrated with on this trail is the unaffordable-ness of hiking it legally. Campsites have been near $15/per site. And we’re not allowed to camp off of the parkway, soooo what is a poor hiker to do? Unfortunately break the law. And in winter, it is literally impossible to abide by those rules, because none of the campsites are open. It’s frustrating – I don’t particularly like breaking the law (and being paranoid about it).
After Boone, I have 300 trail miles to Clingman’s Dome!
Monday, February 4, 2008
This morning, I talked to the old and lonely man with the dog, staying in the RV by the bathroom. And then 4 (four!) ranger trucks pulled up with 5 employees and they proceeded to “clean” the ground and rake gravel. I got directions from them on getting back to the trail.
I climbed up Stone Mountain on a new orange-blazed trail with nice switchbacks and stairs. It was warm enough that I shed layers until I was only in my dress. I ran down the trail, to see a man with a Canadian accent working on building the trail. I wanted to hug his not-drawling self, but instead hiked to the road, then down the road a ways to meet up with the MST at Widows Creek. I headed up into the blown-down laden trail up-up-up to Devils Garden and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Saw a pileated woodpecker! It started to rain once I got to the BRP. It’s now around 6 pm and still raining, lightly. I am crossing my fingers for no rain tomorrow! It is super-foggy tonight.
Sunday, February 3, 2008
Amelia and Salam then dropped me off at Stone Mountain, where I left off two days ago. Super big backpack loaded, I took off down the trail at 4:30 pm and almost immediately, a car pulled off to offer me a ride down the road. I got two peace signs flashed at me by drivers on the road tonight and stopped and got a delicious blueberry cream pie ice cream cone at the Stone Mtn general store. I tented in the dark at the campground, surrounded by glowing deer eyes. It’s raining. Tomorrow, I get to climb Stone Mountain!
Saturday, February 2, 2008
Today, I got a ride with Steven Joines to the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail annual meeting in Greensboro. It was fun being the smelly "celebrity" in the room for a few hours and hearing about the backroom tick-tockings of a snow-balling trail organization. Tomorrow to the trail!
I got picked up just post sunrise at the highway 12 and road intersection by Steven of Sparta. He bought me a coffee at the McDonalds drivethru, and we talked about the AT (he’s a sectionhiker and maybe future thruhiker).
We arrived at the meeting center, in Bur-Mil Park about 45 minutes early, so I got a chance to meet and greet a lot of people before the meeting began – including the guidebook clutching Harry O, eager to begin his MST hike. I talked to hikers Lee Price, Jeff Brewer, Allen DeHart, and Bruce Wisely. It was really interesting experience – we had a meeting and catered lunch, and all kinds of presentations. The meeting proceeded very step-wise. I wanted to stand up and shout, “But what about campsites and water sources!?” but I understand that although as a thruhiker I am thinking about the logistics of my experience, they are focusing on getting trails built and mission statements written. Nevertheless, it was inspiring to see so many people behind the organization, and have so many hands to shake and names and business cards handed to me “just in case” or “when you’re passing through”. The best moment may have been when they all got a good laugh at my expense, because I get to pass through wreckage from the ice storm in this next section.
After the meeting, Amelia and Salam made it to the center and we drove to Boone, to stay with their friends Kristen and Dan.
Friday, February 1, 2008
Dobson to Traphill Road, Stone Mtn area
Overcaffeinated brainstorming while waiting out the rain in the Surry Inn room…
What is it about North Carolina in particular that makes it unique? Everything about barrier islands screams change and a relative simplicity in a world where ecological excess results in a complex struggle – competition, evolution. On the outer banks, the soil is sandy, the wind and water reign supreme and everything is ephemeral and ever-changing. It is a perfect arena to study relationships – between land and sea, sand and sun and water and plants, animals migrating and year-round residents (humans included), and our relationships with the land and how attitudes have changed from even the era of colonization. From small, personal relationship to pure economic gambling paid for by federal insurance.
Historically, freshwater dictates where most life can occur (save desert and marine organisms). We have worked around rivers, floods, lakes, springs, and wells. Farming has used local water to make food for local consumption. And then we got smarter than Ecology, Mother Nature, Magic, God, whatever you want to believe is in charge of the organization of the world.
Suddenly, it made sense to irrigate a desert golf course (but those beautiful natural sand traps!) and plug up a river beaver-style with a dam strong enough to control the flow of water but disallow the flow of fish. No biggie, we chant and toss in a few fish ladders, choke-hold traditional fishing, and genetically engineer those fishies. We stop eating fish (ethics, pollutants, slimy-gook, three eyes) and begin finding the winters more bluesy. Pop some pills for depression only to find all we’ve gotta do is Tom-Sawyer it down by the river with line and hook, build a 13-year-old dream raft and feel what it’s like to be alive. Remember that feeling? Not satisfaction or full or calm but neurons vibrating (there goes the coffee bean on its orbital turn around my head!).
After I got my crazy on at the little Surry Diner, I headed out to the road at about 12:30 by which time the rain had stopped. Everything, however, was cloaked in a thin layer of ice from the freezing rain, and as I peddled chunks of it would fall down from trees and powerlines and splat! on the pavement. Chased by a couple of dogs, the afternoon was cold (sub 35 all day) and gray. I biked to the Faith Baptist Church on Traphill Road and sat for a couple hours, mostly reading Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond. I was going to stay the night on the porch but then a couple trucks pulled into the drive and rubber-necked, so I decided to move on. I went less than half-mile down the road and knocked on a door to a well-kept house. A nervous looking woman with hair curlers came around the side. I explained my situation, and she said, “Well, I don’t know. I’ve never been asked that before.”
I waited until her husband pulled up in a big tractor, and he came out of the house about 10 minutes later, and said that I could sleep in the barn. Here I am in the barn, by the bull munching on hay and the farm equipment covered in mud. I saw a skunk outside. I hope I don’t get a smelly visitor tonight. It’s also ironic that I am sleeping on the ground of a barn as I read the section in Guns Germs and Steel about how crowded domestic animals living close to humans is the source of most infectious diseases. Uh-oh. Tomorrow, to Greensboro to the Friends of the-Mountains-to-Sea annual meeting!
“Somewhere in the archives of crudest instinct is recorded the truth that it is better to be endangered and free than captive and comfortable.” – Tom Robbins, Another Roadside Attraction