AT Day 4 – Blood Mountain
Last night as I drifted off to sleep, I started to snore. I thought I was a bear and scared myself awake. It took a minute before I realized what was going on. Until then, I laid there holding my breath, waiting for a black wet muzzle to appear under the edge of my tent.
Then at 4am I heard Keith up and about. He was making some noise on the end of camp where the privy and bear box are. Was he getting something to eat, or was he going to the bathroom? Then I heard Keith’s footsteps crunching by my tent as he walked back to the shelter.
In the morning I ask Keith why he was up at that hour. He says he was not up. We were the only two in camp. Then those noises must have been made by… (gulp). I guess imaginary bears are scarier than real ones.
I did sleep better though. I had pitched the tent for wind and rain: lower height, shortened guy outs, backside toward the wind. The tent did well. Although it rained off and on all night, everything inside the tent stayed dry. The tent seams that I sealed myself at home did not leak. Check that box. Very happy.
I guess imaginary bears are scarier than real ones
On the PCT I cowboyed most nights. My duplex tarp worked great when I needed shelter. But it was not up to the task on nights when there was very bad weather or on nights when, due to my own insecurity, I wanted more isolation. My new tent looks like it may give me more peace of mind when I need it.
A trail name is conceived
Anyway, I get up at 6, and after getting my own self organized in my tent I go over to the shelter to see how it went with Keith. I am shocked to see his free-standing Big Agnes tent set up INSIDE the shelter. I guess the man is afraid of mice. I think there is a trail name in this moment but one doesn’t immediately form. (Holiday Inn? Double Up?) He is not at all embarrassed about what he has done. He says he would have taken his tent down if a hiker had shown up in the night. I am skeptical. We hit the trail at 7:40. The Woods Hole shelter gets two thumbs up.
Keith and I are looking at competing weather forecasts. His says the rain will clear off by mid morning. Mine says 50 percent chance of rain all day. I will not be led down the disappointing path of failed weather forecasts. It makes me a grumpy man. I am setting my mind for rain all day. And now that I am expecting the worst, I don’t have to be mad or keep looking at the weather radar all day.
First up: Blood Mountain. Lots of nice stone steps. The trail crews have done a nice job in this area. The GATC is on top of things.
At the top of the mountain is a stone cabin. It feels cold and creepy inside. A hammock is suspended in the back room, but the occupant is gone. Obviously, the mountain druids have carted him off to their lair where they will fatten him up for a summer solstice barbecue.
We head down the mountain. The views are stupefying. Here is Keith pointing at his favorite section of fog. He is ecstatic that the scenery is not distracting in the smallest way his views of fog. He will be in heaven all day. There will not be the slightest hint of scenery.
At the bottom of the mountain is Neels Gap and Mountain Crossings, the outfitter where we get some supplies. And the store has a hiker box! The box has a brand new fuel container, flour tortillas, mayo packets, packages of tuna, and a bunch of other stuff we don’t care about. Inside, the store looks kind of touristy – nature knick-knacks and impractical expensive clothes. The real hiker stuff is in the back: ramen, protein bars, shot blocks, etc.
As we eat our lunch, we notice for the first time that shoes are hanging all over the trees outside the store. I am intensely incurious about them. Shopping for supplies puts me in “all-business” mode. Normally, I am a very indecisive shopper, prone to distraction. If I don’t stay focused, I will shop for way too long. Be fierce! You can loosen up on the trail.
Also in the hallway where Keith and I are eating are the men and women bathrooms. The Women come and go freely but the mens bathroom looks like this.
The white paper sign on the door reads “Men use porta John’s in lower lot”. A table is pushed up against the door. A stop sign sits on the table. A big stone sits on the ground at the foot of the door. There is obviously a story here. But in the absence of knowledge, imagination will suffice. You tell me, what is the story behind the blockade of the men’s bathroom.
- Male hikers are so rank that the bathroom has been damaged beyond repair.
- The door hides an inter dimensional portal (worm hole) to an outfitter in another galaxy.
- The bathroom has been haunted since a jealous hiker stabbed another man through the skull with a trekking pole.
- The door leads to Narnia.
In the parking lot we run into some of the hikers we have met on the trail. Nick is looking good, and I learn that his mom has safely made it off the trail. Nick had been helping this female hiker down the rocky northern side of Blood Mountain. She had no trekking poles and was really struggling with the descent. So you can relax, Karen, not only is your boy surviving, he is helping others survive, too! Here are Nick, Gordon from Florida, and the rest of the gang in the parking lot.
Back on the trail, I lose patience with all my efforts to capture a good picture of a beautiful and shy little flower I see in many places on the trail. It’s a sad fact that flowers are mostly not for us. Flowers are for pollinators. And when those pollinators are on the ground, sometimes flowers face downward to get their attention. So I have to tilt this little flower up by hand so you can enjoy it too. What it worth the effort?
What is hiking?
Keith and I need to put our heads down and really focus on hiking if we are to make it to our target camp at Whitley Gap. Unfortunately that means I have to curtail my flower browsing. But the focus on hiking leads me to a meditation on the essence of hiking. It all starts with an act of will – lean your body over the trail. Now that you have committed yourself to movement, you could fall down, or you could prevent that fall by finding a place to set for your foot. Here is a sample trail.
If the trail is smooth, there is little else to consider. But most trails are a complicated jumble of rocks, roots, soil and plants. You process all this trail information in a split second, and place your foot….there. But you are now moving. Another step must follow. You select a spot and step…there. Wash, rinse, repeat.
With experience, you can look ahead and calculate a path – left side, right side, over, under. With practice, you can manuever over difficult trails at rapid speed. Your arms are moving, your lungs and heart are noticeably working. A kind of out-of-body joy takes over. It feels great. And this is just basic hiking.
Now add to this all your other interactions with weather, nature, friends, music, your body, internal thoughts, whatever. There is a lot going on. You might say all of life is like this. But all of life is not like hiking, because we are born for hiking – for moving our bodies across this planet while shouldering burdens. And deep inside, we know this.
Oh, we might hate it at the time. We might rather do something else. Why? That is the subject for another meditation. But for now, this animal is content just putting one foot in front of the other, feeling this moment, and thinking about his next tuna wrap.
Six degrees of separation
Our goal today is Whitley Gap shelter. It’s a little over a mile off the AT on a trail that was once the main AT. The trail is a nice ridge walk with a couple of overlooks. Very pleasant. On our way, we meet Bill. He asks us how far is the water. Keith and I look at each other. This guy must have mistaken the trail to the spring with the trail back to the AT. He has already gone over half a mile in the wrong direction!
We accompany him back to camp. Bill is a sports journalist who worked in NYC most of his life covering those popular teams. Now he is the Sports Editor for the paper in Las Vegas. When I mention that I am a big Orlando Magic fan, he reveals that he is friends with the Magic play-by play announcer, David Steel. The people you meet out here!
- May 7
- Miles hiked today: 12
- Total AT miles: 38
- Feature animal: bears (real and imagined)
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