AT Day 37 – Here Comes The Sun, Just In The Nick Of Time
Big Stony Creek Road to Eastern Continental Divide
Mayo Taco Camp to Two Oceans Camp
AT miles: 26.1
Total miles: 693.4
Elevation change: 6867ft gain, 5892ft loss
The question in my mind all day today was will mayo go well with mashed potatoes at dinner time? I’d woken up with the idea, which demonstrates just how hungry I must have been. The combination sounded nasty to me at first, but I committed to at least giving it a try. However, there was a long day ahead of me first. A day of many ups and downs. A day of frantic calls home. A day of total peace. A day of joyful music. A day of hiking to stay warm. A day of sweat. A day of hunger. A day of disgusting fullness. In other words, a typically untypical day on the Appalachian Trail.
The morning was just cold enough to make me feel extra cozy, bundled in bed and watching the clear sky brighten overhead. Black to gray. Gray to white. White to pale blue. For breakfast, I finished off the last remaining vestige of my town gluttony, a pizza burrito. Like leftover pizza eaten the morning after, it was exquisite. I gobbled a few handfuls of trail mix too, for good measure.
At 8:15am, I was packed and climbing up the wooden stairs of the large bridge across Stony Creek. The sunlight reflected off of the rippling current, dancing in the forest to my right, and in my eyes when I let them wander too far. I hopped across a road, then followed the trail straight up the adjacent hillside. I moved quickly to stay warm, and also to increase the odds of my making it to the privy in two miles. It was going to be a close one.
After a tense few minutes of filtering water, I did finally find my relief. How could the day get any harder than that? Well, almost immediately after leaving the shelter, I joined a ridgeline of the rockiest trail this side of Burke’s Garden. I’ll admit that I had been warned of this particular stretch, so it was not as devastating a sight as it would have been if I was expecting a cruise. But really, all of the recent ridges had been rocky. Why would I expect any different here?
Perhaps because I saw it coming, and maybe because it was the start of the day, the troublesome stones didn’t bother me too much. They were just part of the trail, something to handle with irregular, stuttered steps. Soon enough, I was onto smoother tread, eating a celebratory Clif bar. An unbroken ceiling of clouds blew in from the West in a matter of minutes. I hiked fast, working hard even on the downhill, to stay warm in the blustery shade.
When I found a sip of cell service, some business in the front country demanded my focused attention for a few phone calls. During one, I was passed by another hiker who moved with the grace of a deer. He was one of those with a tiny, immaculately packed backpack so small that you wonder which major piece of gear they aren’t carrying. He had his trekking poles stashed neatly in the compression straps. Why even have trekking poles? It was a mystery to me, but I’m sure that there was a good reason. With those hikers, nothing is done without purpose. Once things had been resolved, I pushed downhill fast, trying to warm up and shake myself loose from the trappings of the real world. Had I even seen that hiker, I wondered. He passed like an apparition, and I was sure that I wouldn’t see him again.
I made lunch a quickie at the next shelter to make up for lost time. With only nine miles hiked by noon, and potentially twenty more to go, I was far behind where I wanted to be. I quickly put away a few handfuls of things and shot a spoonful of chia seeds straight, to fill in any gaps. Twenty minutes after plunking down at the picnic bench, I sped off in my last pair of freshly laundered socks. Time to fly.
I was able to lengthen my stride across the bottom of a wide valley through a classic mixture of pine and oak. When I got to the other side, however, I slowed to a crawl up the steepest of steep climbs. Whenever I turned around to catch my breath, it didn’t look particularly difficult, but continuing on, I needed everything I had. I gritted my teeth, furrowed my brow, and groaned up the big steps. I used every trick in the book. The shot of chia seeds came back to haunt me as they expanded in my stomach, causing me to feel uncomfortably full
I was ready for a breather when I reached the top and so took the side trail to the cliffs on Kelly Knob. The exciting crevasses that I’d read about turned out to be step-overs rather than leaps, and the views were a little overgrown, but I loved it anyway. A fresh breeze at the top of a tough climb is all I need. Views are bonus.
I crunched down the other side of the mountain, feeling the weight of my heavy pack with each step. At Laurel Creek, I filled up on enough water to get me through the night, just in case I couldn’t make it to the next good source, 12 miles and another ridge away. The clouds started breaking up as the trail flattened out next to open pastures with mooing cows. I’d been cold and working hard on rugged trail all day, and now, just in time for a pasture stroll, the sun broke through. I stepped from the forest as the sunlight danced yet again, playing across the endless fields of open grass. The scene was still, yet full of motion at the same time. The ever-changing light, the waves blowing through the grass. It was a living painting. Green ground cover painted the hillocks green while longer dry grass gave the appearance of a stubbled beard. I ate a Clif bar to buy me some time, fully aware that this was my favorite moment of the day. Even the blister on my left heel couldn’t spoil the blissful walk through it all.
Then it got even better when I got to meet a true giant, the Keffer Oak. Estimated to be over 300 years old, this tree was unmistakable. There was a sign pointing it out, but there was no missing it. I thought that I’d seen big oak before, but this wise old ancient was on another level entirely. It was over six feet in diameter at my head level, much wider at its base where it smooshed into the earth. Limbs wider than my shoulders reached sideways further than I imagined possible. It looked strong, yet out of balance at the same time, so different was it from other trees I’ve seen. I touched a palm to the ancient trunk. I heard no words, gained no wisdom that I could understand. However, I left with no doubt that the mighty Keffer had chamged me.
The final climb was not easy, but it was the last. The clouds crashed back across the sky as I reached the top, leaving me grateful for my timing through the valley and my visit with the Keffer. Where time seemed short earlier, it felt perfectly placed now. The clouds had opened to bring me sunny peace, precisely when I had needed it most.
For the final push to camp, I turned on one of the best recent additions to SpiceRack’s and my playlist, the Olllam. This instrumental music is pure, recorded joy, and was a perfect walking companion. I was transported back to our van trips to pick up bread donations for the Portland Food bank. The weather had been fickle then as well, but the times were happy, that’s for sure.
With the aid of the music, I gave the best effort I could, but fell short of making it to the next shelter by a few miles. The trail along the ridge was mostly the smooth, rock free cruising I had been dreaming of, but a few sustained fins of limestone slowed me down just enough to stop me before the last big descent. The slanted trail required attention to navigate safely, but the views were the real culprit. Dark ridges paralleled to the horizon, the most distant a d highest shone like beacons in bright sunshine. A rogue morning dove hooted an evening call. Instead of the shelter, I opted to pitch camp at arguably a much cooler spot, the Eastern Continental Divide. Water falling on the west side flows to the Gulf of Mexico, water on the east to the Atlantic. Of course, I peed on both sides at once. Doesn’t everybody?
Finally it was time to find the answer to the question of the day. Yes, mayo is a solid addition to mashed potatoes. It’s kind of like adding sour cream to a baked potato, and adds a nice creamy tartness to the potatoes stodgy blandness. I lay back satisfied. A challenging day, but well worth the effort.
This post was originally published on my blog hikefordays.com. Check it out for trip reports from my other hikes including the CDT and Sierra High Route.
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