Day 36: A Ridge Walk

There But for the Grace of God…

I’m just one stumble away from ending my hike. Today, I stepped over a log while adjusting the strap on my trekking pole, caught my heel, and slid awkwardly, twisting my knee. Fortunately, I stopped my fall with my other pole before completely trashing my knee and was able to walk it off.

I trip over roots or rocks at least five times a day. I don’t fall, thanks to my poles and an overworked guardian angel, but you never know. I read a blog yesterday by someone who did a faceplant and ended up with stitches, a concussion, brain trauma, and a trip home. They say it takes five million steps to reach Katahdin. Any one of them could be the last.

Dog-gone It

Gus gave me that look this morning as I left the van. I’ve been leaving him with Northstar because of the rain forecasts, the mileage, and the poison ivy. He’d been up late last night looking at the weather satellites and the trail profile and was convinced today was his day. So, I relented and invited him along.

He followed me obediently up the first half-mile, 500 foot climb before reminding me that although I’d filled his food bag and water bottle, and put his collapsible dish out, I’d left it all on the counter in the van. So, we got a bonus mile and a second shot at the first climb of the day. He was particularly excited about running down the trail to catch Northstar before she drove off. He thinks I walk too slow.

Is There a Ridge in Mirkwood?

Most of the route today followed a long, but more or less level, ridge. The trail had some up and down sawtoothing, but no big climbs or descents. I don’t want to jinx it, but this trail is getting easier.

When we walked atop the ridge, we got a nice cooling breeze. When the trail dropped off the ridge, we descended into a humid green tunnel. Those sections were like walking in Tolkien’s Mirkwood – we had only the narrow brown path in front of us and an opaque jungle of the thick green summer foliage on either side.

My New Normal

Despite the thrill of setting new records for spider webs in the face in the morning, I had to pull out the audiobook again today to get me through the afternoon doldrums. I treasure my time in the woods, but I’m also getting more accustomed to it. I find myself less likely to stop to photograph plants I’ve seen before, and more likely to be thinking about my mileage.

I’m also accepting the fact that I’ll probably walk most of the AT alone. I chat with hikers I pass or see at the water sources, but my hiking and camping style, tend to make me the odd man out. I start hiking early, while most people are still sleeping, maintain a brisk pace, rarely getting passed, and knock off by mid-afternoon. Plus, I camp near the road crossings in our van.

Trail Days in Damascus

But the hikers I have met are all talking about the Trail Days Festival that runs this weekend in Damascus. There are two basic responses: (1) Hoo-wee! Par-tay!, and (2) Ugh. Crowds, Noro, noise, and filth – no thanks. I lean toward the latter, but we’ll probably stop by Friday morning when the vendors show up. I’m hoping to get a replacement basket on one of my trekking poles, meet The Trek folks, pick up some new Injinji toes socks, and then escape back to the lonely woods.

Own It!

A lot of hikers are trying to time their hike to arrive in Damascus Friday morning, which might explain why the trail has been so lonely that past few days. One couple I met told me they’d realized that they couldn’t do the pace required to get there on Friday, so they had a friend drive them ahead 26 miles.

That’s exactly what I was writing about yesterday. They just owned their yellow blaze and were totally oblivious or unconcerned about how anyone might judge them for that. Good for them.

Wrap Up

I walked into the TN91 parking area by 3:00 pm, our camp for the night, to find some trail magic, plus Onesimus with his never-ending supply of ice cream sandwiches.  We chatted for a bit, before settling down in the van for the night.

Not long before dark, the Boots Off van pulled into the lot with their load of aqua blazers, one of whom was Yogi, who I’d met on the climb out of Erwin last week. I popped out and said howdy. He’ll be heading for Damascus tomorrow too, so I’ll try to catch him and find out about his lake paddle.

Daily Stats:

  • Start: Wilber Dam Road (Mile 432.9)
  • End: TN91 (Mile 449.1)
  • Weather: Overcast, threatening rain.
  • Earworm: Beverly Hills Cop theme. Why?
  • Meditation: Jn 16:24
  • Plant of the Day: Mapleleaf Virburnum
  • Best Thing: The breeze
  • Worst Thing: I stink (why I liked the breeze)

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Comments 5

  • thetentman : May 17th

    Injini are good. Darn Tough is better.

    Hike on.

    • Jon : May 17th

      LOL. I wear Injinji toe sock liners under my Darn Tough woolies. Bulletproof.

      • thetentman : May 18th

        Glad it works. I will have to try them.

  • Mike Nixon : May 22nd

    A little behind on reading your posts…but I didn’t realize that the AT actually got LONGER as you went!? 😳

    Miles remaining
    21,535 mi.

    • Jon : May 22nd

      LOL. Details, details. But some days it feels that way.


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