Day 40: Unmated Mockingbirds and the Apple Orchard

Nightly Birdsong

By 2:00am, I had one missing earplug because my tired ass self doesn’t put them back in when I hear something and was hearing the constant trilling of several birds. What bird even sings at night? Thank god I had service. I only put ‘bird that sings at’ before Google autofills the rest with ‘night Tennessee’. Yeah, that’s what I want. Mockingbirds. Specifically, unmated males. When do they sing? Moonlit spring nights. They started at 8:30pm the previous night and kept going until sunrise. One was chilling in our camp, so we couldn’t easily ignore the fucker.

Anywho… wake up was at 6:30. The sun hadn’t risen yet, but Kea was already sitting on a log drinking tea. I begrudgingly started packing. In short order, I had everything packed and ate a Kind and Clif bar for breakfast. RIP oatmeal. The day was already warm too.

Comforting Spiderwebs

By 7:30, we all headed out. I started off in front, but realized I didn’t want to lead because the spiderwebs were everywhere. Kea offered to take my spot because he said that the webs were ‘comforting’. I don’t know how spiderwebs all over ones body is comforting, but to each their own.

Indian Grave Trail Magic

Kea, Sweeper, and I hiked together for miles. We chatted and I grilled Kea on his thru-hike of the Colorado Trail. At Indian Grave Gap (I swear there was one in Georgia named this too), we ran into some trail magic. I didn’t catch the guy’s name nor got a photo, but he had a variety of morning beverages, fruit, brownies, and banana/pumpkin bread. We hung out for twenty minutes before continuing. As we headed up to Beauty Spot, we continued our conversation. At the top, we stopped and ate a snack.

Unaka Mountain Shin Pain

On the way down and to Unaka Mountain, we separated. Kea and I stuck together for the most part – even choosing to hike along the road – before I started to get pain in my left shin. On the climb up, the pain worsened. It wasn’t sharp stabbing pain, but it was noticeable.

The top of Unaka Mountain was not a bald like I thought. It was covered in pine/spruce (I don’t really know the difference) trees. The atmosphere was nice, but I thought I’d get to see some views. I caught up to Kea who had started eating lunch. I sat down and ate mine too. I also took some Ibuprofen for the shin pain.

Kea finished and left, saying that he was going to meet me at the Cherry Gap Shelter. Five minutes later, I was up and gone too. For maybe 500 feet. I had to stop to put socks on. It was at that moment that Sweeper caught up. Since Kea and I took the nearby road to avoid the steep switchbacks, we weren’t sure if Sweeper was ahead or not. He wasn’t.

We hiked together the remaining three miles to the shelter. The pain in my shins began to throb. I wasn’t sure what to do. Since Sweeper is a physical therapist, he showed me a stretch I could do. Otherwise, the wisest choice of resting wasn’t an option.

Troubling Thunder

By the time we got to the shelter, the clouds were looking very dark. We snacked, refilled our water, and asked how everyone was feeling. Every single one of us had plans to push on further. I wasn’t sure if I should. Sweeper and Kea got ready to leave and asked if I was coming. “Yeah.” I put on the pack and the instant I stepped from beyond the shelter roof, there was a loud clap of thunder. I backed away back into the shelter. It started to rain and the others waited. After a few minutes, the rain stopped. We tried again and began heading down trail. I didn’t like the look of the clouds above us. It thundered again and my pace faultered. Sweeper, who was behind me, gave a laugh because he knew I am frightened of lightning. It started to rain again and Kea, who was up front, stopped and looked at us. “I think it’s going to pour.” We turned around and back to the shelter. Another clap of thunder sounded and I ran back under the roof – shin pain be damned.

The moment everyone was under, the skies let lose and it poured. And poured. The ground that was finally starting to harden after all the rain days ago was becoming muddy once again. The wind pushed the rain into the shelter, so we flattened ourselves against the wall. We waited twenty minutes for it to stop. We waited another ten before we tried hiking again. If we waited any longer, that shelter would be our home for the night.

We made it further than last time and I studiously ignored the thunder in the distance. The majority of those who get struck by lightning are men. That’s just statistics. Scientists don’t know why men are more likely to be struck, but I do. Men are the ones who are dumb enough to hike in a lightning storm. And I was following along! Good news is, I wasn’t struck.

Continuing On

From the shelter, we had 4.3 miles to the campsite I was planning on. The miles went by quick. Three quarters of the way there, I checked to see if I had service. I did! Fine Young Buck texted asking where we’d end up at tomorrow. He was going to get back out on trail. I said that we were shooting for the Roan High Knob – the highest shelter on the Appalachian Trail. He texted back saying he’d meet us there.

I put my phone away and hiked the remaining mile to our campsite for the night. It was in an apple orchard with a water source nearby. It was nice.

The Apple Orchard

We all washed the dirt and sweat off our bodies before making dinner. I had a high calorie ramen packet that I’ve been carrying since Franklin. It was time for it to go. I snacked also.

I did the typical camp chores before crawling into my tent. It was a long day and all I wanted was to lay down. Sweeper came by saying that his wife said we should be proud with the miles we put in. It was a lot of elevation for this mileage. I was out soon after.

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Comments 3

  • jhony : May 7th

    Birds that sing at night? OWLS, Nightjars, Nightingales, Whippoorwills — oodles more

  • Nature Boy : May 7th

    Captain (oh my Captain!) – thank you for putting the effort into these reports, for having us (to a small extent) along with you on your journey, it is much appreciated! Your photos are excellent! Fortius et altius…

    • Morgan Schmidt : May 16th

      I’m so glad you’re enjoying them! I really try hard to include as much detail as possible.


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