Bear bag, round two....

March 5, 2018

Destination: Betty’s Creek Gap Today's Miles: 16.20

Start Location: Muskrat Creek Shelter Trip Miles: 97

Ridgeline view after Standing Indian Mountain
Today was amazing day of hiking, eating, chatting, and photo taking (I won’t call my photos photography). But first, I remembered a few details about last night that I want to jot down.

I confessed to how much food I ate at dinner last night, but I left out one detail that I’m now ready to come clean on.... When I made the mashed potatoes in my pot, there was a lot of potato residue in the pot when I was done. I didn’t have the energy to wash it twice though, so I just poured my oatmeal in with the potatoes and went to town on it. I also didn’t heat water for the oatmeal; I just poured a little cool water on it, stirred it up with the potato bits, and shoveled it home! There, I said it.

I also remembered how bright the moonlight was last night. I woke up to nature’s call and thought it was already morning. I checked the time and it was 1am. The moon was just laying in the sky, sparkling like a diamond. I didn’t even need a headlamp. Later that morning I went up the hill by the shelter to use the privy and ran into Vermont the Penny Pincher who was at the Blue Mountain Shelter with me a few notes ago. He said he hiked in the dark to get to the shelter the night before. I’m sure the moonlight made that easier! 

The moon didn’t make this morning any warmer though. It was freezing when we woke up. The condensation under the gas canister for my stove froze to the canister, clinging to it like freezer burn. It was a beautiful morning though, and I moved lazily about camp since I had gone a few extra miles the day before. I savored my coffee and used it to help thaw out my numb fingers. Coffee finished, I began to organize my gear back into my pack, when Bear Meet and Cassandra (Clooney?) spotted me from the trail. They stopped to chat. They had stopped at Bly Gap, where I had originally planned to stop. One of my concerns there was the wind, but they said they didn’t have any problems and had the entire place to themselves. Pretty cool....

I got my stuff packed up and headed out around 8:30am. I peaked around the corner as I headed out of camp to see if a family I met yesterday was still there, but they were gone. Amy and her two sons Alec and Coby are section hiking. They are from Michigan and seem very active - what a cool thing to do with your kids! The two boys looked to be in their late teens, but I couldn’t tell how old. I was impressed by how quietly and efficiently they had gotten out of camp. 

I expected a day of brutal climbs with Standing Indian Mountain on the docket, the highest peak of the trail so far. Nothing could have been farther from the truth! The climbs today were all fairly gradual, and the downhills not too bad, so my knees were feeling good. I passed Cole and his friend. Later on I ran into Steve-O and took a picture with him (in my photos). I was looking for a lunch spot, and right after I saw him I found a great rock with a gorgeous view. I wasn’t quite at the summit yet, but it was a perfect spot for lunch. When I sleep in my tent, the footprint and rainfly are always wet the next day. I usually stuff them in the outer mesh pocket of my bag so they might dry a bit, and also spread them out to dry while I eat lunch. I spread them on the rock, kicked off my boots and socks, And set to making a delicious gourmet lunch of tuna packed in extra virgin olive oil with sun dried tomatoes in a tortilla. YUM!! I ate a granola bar as well. I still had two packs of peanut M&Ms and a snickers bar that I purchased at the Ingles in Hiawassee. I was very proud of myself for not touching those yesterday and saving them, so I decided to reward myself with the snickers. As I went to open it, I noticed it was one of those snickers wrappers that has a funny word on it. Mine said “klutz.” How appropriate, and such a harbinger of my evening to come. Holy amazing mouth explosions Batman!!! That snickers tasted like manna from heaven. It was divine, and I figured I had a good quarter mile of hiking while enjoying all the bits and bobs that were stuck in my teeth. The trail is good for dentists, but not for teeth (I’ve flossed a few times sweetie, I promise, but my fingers are gross and I don’t want them in my mouth!).

I reeled a little from the sugar buzz, but changed out my sock liners to crisp, dry ones, popped my boots back on, collected my tent gear (which had mostly dried), and pushed on. Before I did, I took the rocks I had used to hold my tent materials in place (it was a little breezy) and carefully put them back where I had found them. I do try and practice leave no trace, and I’m getting better at remembering it as I spend more time on the trail. 

I was close to the summit of standing Indian Mountain and the views were spectacular. It was an amazingly forgiving climb up for a reward that good! After I passed the summit the trail worked its way along the ridge line. Ever since I had entered the southern Nantahala forest earlier that morning, the signs of the forest fires from last fall (or was it the prior fall...?) were prevalent. It made me so grateful for the amount of rain we have had this year. I’ll now run off on a small tangent, so please bear (chuckle chuckle) with me. I heard a kid talking the other day about how he had a friend who lived up near the white mountains and came down to hike with him, but left after a few days because the mountains here weren’t as high as the whites and he was just hiking through a bunch of dead trees. Now, I’m paraphrasing, but that was the gist of it. And hey, that’s a perfectly valid opinion, so I’m not going to knock it. What I will say is, I am glad I have the ability to see and appreciate the beauty in death. Autumn would not be colorful without death. And there is such hope in the forest, for what else rebuilds itself in its entirety year after year after year at such a grand scale? Even the charred remains of the trees were impressive. Many of those trees had died to make fertile soil for a new generation of flora to come. Anyway, the signs of forest fire made me remember that comment that I heard, which made me happy that I can see the beauty in death as well as in the life of the forest. I don’t really differentiate them. Tangent done!

I hiked on, figuring I would stop at Carters Gap. When I got there around 2:30, Bear Meat and Cassandra Clooney were tenting off the trail away from the shelter. They told me that Obiwan and his friend Eddie Man were heading for Betty’s Creek Gap. It was still early in the day and the hiking had been manageable, so I decided to push on another 3.7 miles to Betty’s Creek to tent for the night. I really don’t like staying in shelters. It is very hard to sleep and I worry more about mice, or getting sick from other hikers. When it is forecasted to rain though, shelter sleeping can be nice because there is no wet tent to pack up in the morning. Tonight and tomorrow it is supposed to rain, so I figure I’m getting wet either way - tenting it is! As I walked past the trail to the shelter I passed an older lady named “Slosh.” She told me she was “probably the slowest thing on the trail.” She said she didn’t like sleeping at the shelters either, so she might go to Betty’s Creek too. As I sit here typing this, it’s 8:32pm and dark, so I’m guessing she found somewhere else nice to hole up for the night.

I hiked a few ups and downs, and the. Along a ridge line full of what looked like dead rhododendron, probably from the fire. The views were incredible off to the east, and another hiker who is camping here tonight helped take a picture with me in it. I returned the favor for him. 

I walked on in solitude, until around a few bends I saw Obiwan and Eddie Man. They joked that they would follow me to camp, and let me pass. I was kind of excited because I wanted the chance to hear their stories and learn more about who they are. Ed previously told me that in addition to his own kids, he takes care of three kids from Kenya. He mentioned something about Bill (Obiwan) helping set up a medical facility for their village back in Kenya. This was in a conversation we had a couple of days ago just north of Dick’s Creek Gap. I ran into him as I was hitting the trail after a short break and he was taking a quick rest himself.

When we got to Betty’s there was a sign posted. They were doing some reforestation so there was no camping within sight of the trail. That limited our options. Ed and Obi pushed on, but I stayed because I needed water and I like to camp where there is water. I guess I will have to get the details on the Kenya story another time. A few other hikers rolled in, and then Steve-O showed up. I cooked and chored, trying to set myself up for a morning in the rain. I made this Mac and cheese, but I tried to cook it in the bag instead of my pot. Even with my cook pouch it was a little crunchy. It had a mushroom truffle flavor to it though, so I didn’t care. I crunched through it and then drank the broth water that was left over. Trail life! I then ate another tuna burrito and two granola bars, and then continued my nightly ritual of ginger turmeric tea. The tea is quite good and is supposed to help with inflammation. I don’t know if it works, but either way I like it. 

Now it was time to hang the bear bag. Remember that snickers? I looked around for a good branch and struggled to find one. To be fair, I was being lazy because I knew I would probably have to get the bear bag down in the rain tomorrow. There was a craggy tree near my tent (not the best place to hang, but sometimes corners get nipped) and i thought I could make it work. I found a good heavy rock for the toss sack and let ‘er rip. Bingo! A good throw it was! The positioning of the rope was a little close to the tree trunk, so I tried to slide it over. Unfortunately, I slid it too far over and now it was too close to another tree. I could just see a raccoon leaning over and grabbing it. I decided this  branch wouldn’t do, so I slowly tried to pull  the rock bag down. Thunk! Ugh.... I managed to pull it right into the crevice of a forked branch, and it was stuck tight! More embarrassing, it was stuck behind the end of someone else’s bear bag attempt. Maybe I should feel better because of that. I really didn’t want to lose my toss sack. If there is one thing Hungry Cat doesn’t do, it’s give up! I decided it was time to try the go go gadget trekking poles again, so I used my gorilla tape to create one long pole again. It wasn’t long enough, BUT there was a bent tree right beside the one the bag was stuck in, so I climbed up onto that tree trunk, braced myself, and tried again. Voila! I had made contact! Now if I could just push it ...a little...... farther...... and over........hmmmmmmph! There, done! It whizzed to the ground with the sound of a zip line. Time to find a new tree. I walked about 30 yards away and there was a big, beautiful, no consequences branch. I got it in the first try. Next time, I’ll be more selective. I posted a photo of my successful food bag hang :-).

Steve-O (I posted a photo of him) asked if he could hang his bag on my line. Perhaps he saw my shenanigans and didn’t want any part of that process. I don’t blame him! I said sure and hung our food bags, and then chatted with him for a bit. He owns a printing company at home and has 15 employees. When he reaches Damascus, he plans to go back to check on his business. If all is well, he’ll come back. We talked a bit about economic and social systems for a bit. You know, the usual light camper banter :-). Then it was time to journal and head to bed. There’s no signal here so I will back post this entry. As I lie here, the rain is pitter pattering on my tent fly. Tomorrow will be a wet one. I intend to hike to Winding Stair Gap and stay in Franklin tomorrow. I’ll get a ride in, sleep overnight, then resupply and hit the trail the next day.  The smokies are coming soon.... I’m so excited ! I need to get my permit for the smokies - I can probably do that in Franklin. 

It was such a nice day today. The sun laid off and so did the rain. I’m grateful for a relatively painless day and for the beautiful sound of rain as I fall asleep.

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