Day 3: Tillotson to Corliss
I woke up feeling rested and ready for my day. I was excited to get to Corliss camp that evening. I had seen pictures of the camp and the shelter and my thoughts (before and after) were “I could totally live there”. I was up and out early, before any of the teenagers were up. I wanted to try and suffer through my breakfast alone and although I felt rested, I was not ready to chat. I forced down some coffee and cereal and started on my way. I had a 1000 ft climb up Mount Belvidere with wet socks.
Sometimes Your Fear Becomes the Unimaginable
Anyone who has been on the Long Trail knows that mud and water are plentiful. This spring/ summer so far was unseasonably wet. Each day my socks became wet in minutes of getting them on. Each day my extra pair was either shoved in the top of my shorts, as I hoped that my body heat would dry them or attached to my shoulder strap right next to my face. Considering my backpack smells like trash bag, wet, muddy socks near my face were not a worry at all. Each hiker “rations” their socks differently. This trip I brought 3 pairs. I switched out my pairs daily because of the mud and had an emergency pair that was also for camp. Every night I shoved both pair of socks deep into my sleeping bag or into the waistband of my base layers while I slept. I often hear that sleeping on the ground for weeks at a time would be uncomfortable. No, sleeping with damp, muddy socks in your pants for weeks at a time is uncomfortable. They are moist, sticky from Leuko tape and tend to become one with your body.
But it worked. Each morning I had dry socks. Except this morning. It had been so hot the night before I slept butt naked so my socks had fallen out of my quilt and not dried. Pulling on my socks in the morning I felt as if I was creating a monster in my shoes. Moisture leads to blisters.
As I pushed up Mount Belvidere, I started thinking about Undertoe, my first night on trail. He had talked about how he had developed trench foot on the AT years earlier, then another guy at camp pulled off his shoes and had it starting on his toes. I could feel my anxiety raising. Here I was being terrified of being alone, twisting an ankle, falling off a mountain, bears…. When in reality trench foot was more a reality than some of my “planned” fears. I immediately decided that when I got to the top, shoes were coming off and I was airing out my feet.
Strangers Who Believe in You
As I started to head down, with drier feet and a belly full of M&M’s (still the only food I wanted), I came across some of the worst bushwhacking yet. I am not a tall person, so I can often fit under trees where others can’t. This method would NOT work. I had to completely step off the trail and crawl through the massive pine tree that had fallen and taken many of its neighbors with it. But my feet were dry.
I made it though the maze and started to hear voices. They rounded the corner and it was two women in their late 50’s-60’s heading up to the top. Excited for adult conversation I called “good morning!” and stepped to the side. It is customary to allow those hiking up the right of way. “Good morning!”, they called back, “Keep heading down! We can use a break!”. I got closer and they asked if I was a thru hiker. I replied “yes, trying to be” and started laughing. They stopped and said how amazing it was to see a women out here alone and that they had no doubts in their mind that I will make it. I started to laugh again, but also had tears welling up. “I needed to hear that so badly today”, I said to the women. “It hasn’t been easy, but today is the first day my legs feel good”. They shared that it was pretty smooth sailing from here to Butternut and that I can do hard things. I thanked them again and turned to go. “Wait!”, one of the women called out. “I just wanted to make sure you know, there are storms scheduled for the next three afternoons and we are in a flood watch until Tuesday”. I thanked her again and we separated.
I started to pick up the pace, but unlike other days I did feel good. Really good. I crushed the 3 miles downhill to the parking lot where there was full sun and some dry heat. Trench foot lingering in my mind, I took off my shoes and socks, pulled out my M&M’s and laid in the sun. As I laid there a few cars started to pull in: an older man with a dog who I gladly gave some love to, a younger couple that spent a lot of time messing around in their car. Our eyes locked at one point, I gave a wave and they waved back. A few minutes later, the man came over and asked if I was a thru hiker and if I wanted a banana. “YES!” I practically screamed. I thanked them over and over again and destroyed the best banana I had ever eaten.
With the thoughts of afternoon storms in my mind, I packed up my stuff and headed out towards Devils Gulch. The banana couple said it was nice and cool through the area and plenty of water. I was waiting for the aching in my legs to start, but it never came. While I got closer to the gulch, the hotter it got. More humid, more still. The boulders were getting bigger, the size of cars and the air oddly started to cool. As I approached the area the rocks towered over my head and the trail seemed to disappear. It was no longer a pine, rock and root floor, but boulders with moss and massive cracks between them over what looked like water. Air vented up through and it was so cool, I almost wanted to lay down. There blazes were gone. I could feel panic starting to raise up in me. One wrong step and my ankles were done. I could see a blaze a ways away, but how did I get there! I started to look at the moss. What looked like it was stepped on before. Then I heard the thunder.
I have never liked thunderstorms. I have been stuck in bad storms fishing and thunderstorms in Michgian summer mean the potential for tornadoes, something I did not grow up with and was even more afraid of. But it sounded far away still, so I pushed on.
Devils Gulch is indescribable. It was impossible to get a good photo of what the area looked like. At one point you must walk through two massive rocks, the size of school buses that have collided together. I tried and tried to take photos of the area, but nothing did it justice and I needed to keep moving as the thunder was getting closer.
Butternut: No longer my favorite fall food
I got through the gulch with the thunder still rolling in the distance. It was still sunny and birds were singing so I decided I could keep pushing on. There were a few unnamed peaks a bit of 2000ft, then a vertical hike onto Butternuts summit at over 2600 ft. I had a 7 mile hike from just outside of the gulch to the shelter. It was only 11:30 am so I had a TON of time.
I started taking my time up the first unnamed peak. The thunder was sounding a bit further. I made it up and over and into a little divot between the next unnamed peak. I was feeling so good, was in my own world just putting one foot in front of another, I didn’t notice the sun go behind the clouds and hear the birds stop singing.
Out of no where a huge flash of lightening went off, followed immediately by thunder. I threw my poles to one side of the trail, mostly out of fear, took of my bag and left it in the middle of the trail and ran for a little gully on my left. I had little to no service so I couldn’t look at a radar for the weather, but had enough to get texts out. My mom was able to look at a map and shared that the storms seemed to be moving quick. I curled up in a ball and just couldn’t stop shaking.
Like all things, the storm passed. The birds started singing again, and the thunder turned to a light rain. I scooped up my stuff and started hurrying towards Butternuts peak.
I was less than a mile from the peak when it started again. This time there was no warning. I threw my pole to the side again and curled up in another ditch and started to sob as the thunder and lightening flashed over me. At one point I lifted up my head and saw that I was laying between two large ferns. Out of exhaustion and exasperation, I started laughing uncontrollably. All I could think of was Zach Galifianakis’ show. I laughed and laughed and laughed until I couldn’t laugh any more. Thankfully in that time, the thunder had dissipated. I needed to make the sprint over the top before the next set of storms comes in.
Looking back, I don’t remember coming down from Butternut. I needed to be off of a mountain and in a shelter. I didn’t want to talk, or eat, I just wanted to lay down and go to bed. Thankfully, I was camping alone that night. I made a large nest in one of the bunks and after attempting to eat rice and beans, I decided it wasn’t worth it to fight sleep much longer, I needed to get up and get moving tomorrow to make it to Johnson to pick up my resupply box.
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