March 18, 2018
Destination: Walnut Mountain Shelter Today's Miles: 17.90
Start Location: Painter Branch Campsite Trip Miles: 261.40
What do a king size snickers, a hostess cupcake, and two strawberry pop tarts all have in common? You should be able to get this one by now....
They were all part of my breakfast this morning, of course (with coffee)!
I slept in a bit and didn’t get up until about 8. I really slept well. It was warmer and I had the noise of the creek in the background. I got up to get my food bag and another hiker, Geo, was getting his off a different tree. He apologized for the noise they made last night. I told him I hadn’t noticed. He said that they heard a bear coming down the hill towards the creek, and then shined their headlamps and could see its eyes, so they made a bunch of racket and shouted to dissuade it from coming towards camp. I don’t think they were 100% sure it was a bear, but if they could hear it moving it couldn’t have been that small, and if they saw its eyes but not the rest of it, it probably wasn’t light colored like a deer. Whatever it was, I just slept like a baby.
I had breakfast in bag, set about getting my stuff packed, and then grabbed my trowel and TP to read the morning funny papers. I was actually sandwiched in between two creeks, and above me were hikers, so the only place far enough from the water and everyone else was straight up the hill across the creek, at about a 75 degree angle. I climbed through the bushes and grabbed shrubs and dug my boots in to scramble up to what looked like an area with a bit less angled slope. I must have looked like a confused chimpanzee trying to learn a new skill. I grabbed hold of a small tree to try and stabilize myself while I dug a cat hole. There were a lot of roots so it took a little while. Also, I was on a steep hill, so my dirt kept falling away on me. I then realized that I was going to have to cling to this tree while I read the funny papers, and so I went ahead and got my TP ready. When I was done, a lot of my dirt had rolled down the hill so I had to dig another mini hole to get dirt to fill my first hole. When that business was complete, I slid down the mountain less than gracefully, a triumphant chimp.
I bandaged up my thumbs at camp and filtered water. My thumbs, especially my left one, have been cut open for much of the trip. I use them every day so the cuts don’t heal. The split on my left thumb gets wider. When I can get some new skin or something like that in a town, I will be very excited. In the meantime, I just sanitize them and try and cover them during the day time.
As I finished packing up camp, Postcard, the hiker who welcomed me to camp last night, was leaving. Not that long after, I hit the trail myself. It was probably close to 10 when I got going. I wandered a bit and then had a cell signal, so I stopped to finally update my journal. I carried on through various ups and downs until the sun came out, at which point I stopped to tape up some chafing spots on my now skeletal hip bones, dry out my tent fly, and eat something. Nomad, Willow and Transformer came by. We chatted for a bit. Transformer is from Australia and Willow is from Germany. Nomad is American. As we talked an older gentleman named Turtle came by. He said his wife was helping him slack pack as he did various sections of the trail. He said we might see her down the way, and that her trail name was Ramblin’ Rose. They all peeled off while I finished eating my tuna.
The ups and downs continued. We were all waiting for the ku de tat - max patch. The sun was now out and the sky clear, so it would be a gorgeous view at the top of the bald. I passed Turtle eating a sandwich and then caught up to Nomad and the others. Nomad was expressing concern that he couldn’t get enough calories. They all three are vegetarian as well. His pack was already cinched as much as possible at the hip, with no room to move. The hunger struggle is real!
I moved on and as I got closer to max patch, I passed over the road that leads up to it (maybe it was 1182) and came to a beautiful little stream crossing. I filtered some water and completed a short climb, and there was the sign to the summit of max patch that the AT passes through, as well as a woman sitting down. I asked “are you Ramblin’ Rose?” “Why yes!” she said. We chatted a bit and she offered me water bottles to top off my water, as well as let me empty my trash. She was really awesome and I took a picture with her. I expect I will see her in the trail again. Thanks Rose!!
I picked up a lot of trash today. Ever since I met Chloe the Ridge Runner and she gave me the trail karma necklace, I have tried to pay more attention to when I pass trash. When I do, I pick it up and pack it out. I feel like it is an easy thing to do to make the trail a better place, so that’s what I’m going to do. And of course, the trail provides! I pick up a bunch of trash and trail angels show up to allow me to dump it! Service work has always lead me to a better place, and helped me to accept life on life’s terms, though I have been slow to come to learn this. If I love the trail, I have faith that it will love me back. If I look out for other hikers on the trail, I trust that they would do the same for me. Faith and service will get me through, and that’s why trail angels exist - they understand this and learn from the magic of the trail.
I climbed up max patch and the views were stunning. Pictures don’t do it justice. I had planned to find a nice sunny spot up there to cook a mid-day rice side, but as always happens, the trail had something else in mind. I came upon a small snowman next to one of the AT blazes. This poor snowman had an empty bottle of Champagne on both sides of him and looked pretty sad. Obviously someone had a sense of humor. I heard a voice “hey are you a thru hiker?” I turned and a guy motioned me over. I saw Postcard sitting down. More trail magic? Yep! Three thru hikers from last year were giving out food and some drinks, as well as collecting trash! I grabbed a snickers and a honey bun and put the trash I had collected off the trail in the short time since I saw Ramblin’ Rose into their trash bag. I stayed to chat a while and enjoy the view. The three angels were Sticks (from Panama City Beach), Two Dogs (from Birmingham, AL), and Sea Wolf (not sure where she is from). Postcard took a picture of me with the three of them. We talked about the trail and they emphasized trying to stay present and enjoy every moment. So true! They said they wished they had documented their journeys a little more when I told them I was journaling. It was really fun chatting with them and I’m grateful for their trail service!! I decided to mosey on and hiked past beautiful max patch back down into the woods. I passed lots of charming streams with rustic log bridges over them. The “bridges” over all of the little streams along the AT are something I enjoy very much.
I made it to Roaring Fork Shelter. A lady hiker named Swass was there with her dog, whose trail name was Bur Bus because of all the burs he gets in his hair. He was a cool dog. I think she said he was 8. We chatted a bit about the Smokies. She was hiking with her husband and they were going to go back and hike the Smokies without Bur Bus since dogs aren’t allowed there.
I decided to press on to the next shelter. I had lots of light left and it was a beautiful afternoon. I crossed over many more creeks and bridges, passed through Lemon Gap, and then walked over the bald into Walnut Mountain. It was there that I turned and took my last photo of the day over the bald as the sun was starting to get low in the sky.
There was a group of guys at Walnut Mountain Shelter who were friends from Taylor University, every year they get together and do a section hike together. The shelter was full so I set up my tent far behind it on a pretty ridge. There were a few other tents. I cooked dinner at the table with the Taylor crew and chatted with them a bit. They were pretty funny. They asked about the Smokies so I relayed the tales of ice and frostbite. All the good stuff!
As I hung my food bag on the bear cables, Postcard rolled into camp. I think we are both planning to try and get an early start to Hot Springs in the morning. It’s a 13 mile hike and I want to have the afternoon for laundry, showering and eating!
I’m grateful for the weather and good company along the way today. The trail magic, and more so the people behind it, really were incredible and made the day so fun. I am thankful for all of the beautiful things I saw today - just countless. Time to get some sleep. What will the trail have in store tomorrow?
Just a heads up - last time I was in Hot Springs it was a cellular dead zone, so I may not have a signal to post until I leave. We’ll see....
South Carolina, I think the trail magic you did at Fontana was awesome! I wouldn’t change a thing! Thank you so much again!!!!