Day 35: Welcome Back AT

My Favorite Prankster

The AT pulled out its usual bag of tricks again today for the hike over Pond Mountain. A big, long climb with false starts, false summits, and finally, the tried and true missing the summit by a few feet and giving no view for the effort. Plus, acres of poison ivy along the creeks and lakeshore. Classic AT. I missed you the last two days.

Looking at Pond Mountain’s map profile before hiking it messed with my head. The hike features a steep, two-mile, 1,800-foot climb, and then an equally steep drop right back down. It looked intimidating on the map, but wasn’t that hard on the trail. I’ve climbed worse ones this Spring.

Today, I climbed the mountain alone, aside from Brandon Sanderson’s “The Lost Metal” whispering in my right ear. Yes, I’ve finally given in and resorted to audiobooks to get me up the big climbs. I not only did the big climb alone, I walked the entire day alone. I didn’t see a single thru-hiker on the trail all day. I have no clue where everyone went.

Missing Mom on Mother’s Day

I also missed my mom today, but I’d like to think she was smiling down on me. She handed me Bryson’s book all those years ago and inadvertently started this whole AT thing for me. I think she’d be pleased that I’m finally taking my walk in the woods. If she were still with us, she’d have a list of questions for me written in her little book. She’d sit me down, make tea, and we’d go over her questions one by one.

Trail Ethics I: Aqua Blazing

I stopped in at Boots Off Hostel for an early lunch. I also wanted to ask about an Aqua Blaze (boating instead of hiking) option I’d heard about. I couldn’t figure out how hikers got back to the trail from the other end of Watauga Lake, since the AT sits atop a ridge miles away from any point you could reach by boat.

But the hostel’s food area was locked up with no one around to answer questions, so I moseyed on and got my questions answered on the interweb. The hostel offers $90/person guided sit-on-top kayak rentals from the south end of the Lake (Mile 428.6) to a bay a short drive away from TN91 (Mile 449.1). Basically, that’s the worst part of today’s hike and all of tomorrow’s.

A crew was loading up kayaks and getting their safety briefing as I left. I love running rivers, but I have no interest in lake paddling or Yellow Blazing, so their Aqua Blaze option wasn’t even a little tempting.

Trail Ethics II: Blue Blazing

Like the Devil in the wilderness, the AT offered me a second temptation. This test came in the heat of the day. I hadn’t taken a break or eaten for a long while because the hostel store was closed and because the dense poison ivy crop along the trail along the lake left me no safe place to sit. And by now, we all know what I’m like when I’m hot, tired, hungry, and nearly out of water.

I was more than a little hangry when I finally hit the paved road the AT shares for a half mile near Wilber Dam. As I slogged up the black asphalt in the heat and humidity, I reached a junction point where the trail split off from the road. The AT headed back into the woods and up a ridge before recrossing the paved road a mile later. I’d planned to meet Northstar at the second crossing.

The White Blaze option along AT’s path was steep, rocky, long, and lined with poison ivy. The Blue Blaze option along road was shaded, had a soft grassy shoulder to walk on, and was considerably less steep than the trail, bypassing the peak that the trail summited. The road was also a half mile shorter to the crossing where Northstar was already waiting with some La Croix’s on ice.

What to Choose?

I stood at the junction point with two little hikers on my shoulders. One had a blue pointy tail and horns, and the other a pure white-blazed halo. Each whispered their temptations and virtues in ears, and derided the other’s arguments. I know I always say, “Hike your own hike, just enjoy yourself and the mountains. Don’t worry about the ‘rules’.” But somehow this choice seemed important.

I chose the trail.

If I’d been in danger of dehydration, on the verge of collapsing from fatigue, or at real risk of contacting poison ivy, I’d have stuck with the road. But I wasn’t. I was just tired and cranky. And I knew that the mile I’d skip would haunt me. Just a little, but enough to push me up that last hill.

In the movies, the trail would reward my purity by giving me a nice view, a new flower, a bear sighting, or a reunion with an old friend. Unfortunately, my life is not that well scripted, nor do I have that kind of relationship with the AT. The climb was steep and rocky, the trail missed the summit by a few feet, and the trail option offered nothing more than the same hot, humid, woods I’d walked in all morning.

Even so, I think I made the right choice for me.

Long-Beard Saves the Day

Just after I started hiking this morning, I saw Long-Beard walking packless near his tent along Laurel Creek. I hadn’t seen him since Hot Spring, so I reached out to give him a fist bump. But he put up both hands like he wanted a double high-five. I started to comply, but he said, “You should stay back. I’m not feeling well.” He said he’d been up all night with diarrhea and vomiting.

Norovirus, probably. I thanked him profusely for warning me and got the heck out of there. I’ve heard reports of Noro outbreaks all along the trail since Standing Bear Hostel. I’m starting to wonder about potential Noro issues at Trail Days this weekend.

Daily Stats:

  • Start: Dennis Cove Road (Mile 420.1)
  • End: Wilber Dam Road (Mile 432.9)
  • Weather: Hot & humid
  • Earworm: Hosanna (JCS) – the playlist is thin
  • Meditation: Ps. 139:13-14
  • Plant of the Day: Wild Roses, smells so much better than me.
  • Best Thing: Low mileage
  • Worst Thing: Humidity

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Comments 4

  • thetentman : May 16th

    If you think it is hot now, just wait till you get to NJ and NY. All the temptation will be cooked out of you.

    Also, beer is a great prophylactic against poison ivy, people say.

    Great post. Thanks.

    • Jon : May 16th

      Beer as prophylactic. You should be in advertising!

      • thetentman : May 17th

        A little-known fact is that 2 beers a day can increase your mileage by 15%. And you need the calories.

  • LongBeard : May 19th

    The Incident,
    It was nice to see you again. I only wish it was under better circumstances. You were looking so clean and sparkly (yes, I was envious!). I didn’t dare to contaminate your cleanliness, ha!
    Anyhow, my sickness left as quickly as it arrived. My body expulsions only lasted that one night. I suspect food poisoning from the canned tuna salad I had for lunch.
    I’m 100% again and am at Damascus as of Thursday, May 18th. Hope to see you around.



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