06-08-2018. Day 94. 10.0 miles. Laurel Creek Bridge to Elk Garden. (494.3 + 8.8 = 503.3 Miles)

The Sounds of the River Below

Even if the severity of the 14.1 miles had not been enough to put me to sleep the sounds of the river would have. The word was now out that “Pizza” from Israel had quit the trail. He announced that two months was enough. We were quieter by one more hiker. Oso was somewhere in front of me and Danish somewhere behind. Preparations for the hike went quickly and after a double helping of cinnamon and apple oatmeal and a drink I was up and moving on a hike that would bring me to the top of Whitetop Mountain.

A River Runs Through It

The river that had been my companion the night before continued to be as I hiked along it for about a mile. The trail then followed a smaller creek as I worked my way toward Lost Mountain Shelter. Along the way I met a mother and son section hiking Southbound. She was loudly complaining about a blister as I approached them. It was not on my agenda to listen to complaining so I continued climbing toward the shelter.

Trailwalker of New Jersey

At 1.8 miles I reached Lost Mountain Shelter. There were three hikers there including Trailwalker.  We had spoken a few moments the day before as he sat on the river’s edge.  The other two were Orlando who was NOBO and Oneida who was SOBO.  Oso had also been there and was already on the trail.  That meant that he had achieved his first day’s goal of 16 miles a day in order to get to Katahdin. Orlando and Oneida were both nice but Oneida’s decibel level was enough to make the neighboring foliage vibrate so I quickly moved on in order to begin the upcoming ascent of Whitetop Mountain.

No Cow Shall Pass

The climb was steady and I passed many spots that I remembered when hiking with Martha Roberts and members of the Oconee County Hiking Club. I stopped and talked to a mother and daughter who were day hiking five miles.  They were wearing probably the worse clothing and footwear possible for a hike out here but the Mom was ecstatic about the day and the environment.  The daughter, on the other hand, remained mute and appeared to be accustomed to not being able to get a word in edgewise. Before reaching road 601 I entered a working pasture which was bordered with these gate systems which allow hikers through the pasture without giving the livestock access to the rest of the world. Just in case there was a cow narrow enough to get along the gate and make the turn a board was added as extra incentive to not pass this way.  I found the extra step up and over them bothersome.  Something was wrong….my peace was disturbed.  I found that small things were bothering me.  It’s not that I didn’t enjoy what I was seeing.  It’s that I wasn’t REALLY enjoying what I was seeing.  I felt tentative with every step.

From Buzzard Rock on Whitetop Mountain

This climb brought me from 3100 feet to 5,086 feet and I felt it.  Strewn with rock the footing was unstable.  I found myself stopping often even when I didn’t need to.  Part of that was because my goal was only 10 miles on this day.  Tory and Rachel would be meeting me at Elk Garden and that would be the only exit possible for many miles so I would have to cut my hike day short. Multiple section hikers passed me on the way down the mountain and I found later that they had parked their vehicles on top of Whitetop and were hiking down to other vehicles parked near my previous nights campsite. The view was stunning but I missed the interaction of the tramily at these locations.

Oso joins Pizza Off of the Trail

About 0.2 miles from the peak I passed Oso.  He finally had a phone signal for the first time in two days and was speaking with someone from home.  He was not happy.  I worked my way past him and completed the hike to the summit while listening to him angrily express his frustration..  I heard him tell the person that he had to quit and needed help. He had just completed work helping to rebuild Puerto Rico after that last storm and needed help finding an apartment.  The person sent him an apartment hunting app. He was fuming and I didn’t blame him.  We had not had a signal in two days and as soon as we passed this spot we more than likely wouldn’t have it again.  Cell towers were not exactly a dime a dozen out here. Oso had been fighting a stress fracture in his foot for several weeks and now he had developed a blister on the back on his heal that was getting deeper each day.  He had a backpacking trip lined up in New Zealand in the near future and did not want to compromise that.  This would be the end of the AT for him.

Well I Just So Happen To Be Going Your Way

Oso and I spent some time on Buzzard Rock and I offered him a ride back to Greenville, South Carolina where he could catch a bus ride.  The offer was immediately accepted and he moved on knowing that it was going to take him a long time to negotiate the last 2.6 miles to Elk Garden where Tory would meet us. As for me I broke out a tuna pack and a dirt bar and had lunch overlooking this magnificent view.  I managed to get a few phone calls in and caught up on my emails.  I posted the short video that I had taken while Oso was still with me. Orlando caught up with me and after taking a picture or two she moved on toward Elk Garden.

The Approach to Grayson-Highlands State Park

In time I moved on.  Contact with Tory related that his ETA was 4:20 PM.  That gave me about two hours to negotiate the final 2.6 miles…plenty of time.  I moved on passing many day hikers.  My mind was elsewhere.  I had met six through hikers by name in the last four days and two of them had to quit the trail. The atmosphere was definitely different now.  Gone was the excitement of reaching the next intermediate goal.  As a group even though most of us hiked solo we found each other at night.  No matter how ugly the weather or the climb or the descent the goal of Maine was there and we were approaching it. We fed off of each other’s strengths and frustrations.  In spite of the hardships the timeline said that we would make it to Maine. This felt to me like the moments I had worked with a dying patient and in spite of how hard we worked on him or her we were forced to watch the cardiac monitor slowly become bradycardic and…….become a flat line.

At Least We Found Some Cover. Orlando and Oso

The hike from Buzzard Rock was pretty much down the mountain to a gap called Elk Garden.  My legs had felt great for four days now.  I did have a bit of pain on the back side of my right knee for a moment in Damascus but that quickly disappeared as I walked through town.  As I worked my way down I once again felt discomfort first behind my right knee and then medial left knee.  It was exactly the same spot that had begun this travesty of pain. The pain that had turned out to be my lumbar spine rather than my knee.  I slowed even more cautiously watching every step.  And then it happened…from out of nowhere a gully washer of a storm.  It was one of those three drops and then a torrent types of storms. I threw my pack off and scrambled to get my rain gear as well as the pack cover on.  From out of nowhere a hiker appeared in front of me.  He kept asking me a question as I was getting my gear on but I couldn’t understand or hear him. I finally figured out that he was from Germany and wanted to know if it was supposed to rain. Well……heck no…but it is so it’s time to save our gear.  We both scrambled hopping around attempting to get our rain pants over our boots.  Good grief..I was only a half mile from the pick up point.  When I arrived Oso was safely standing under the hike kiosk dry as a bone.  Orlando had not been so lucky….

When Wet is Saturated

A ranger there told her that all of the shelters ahead were already filled with day hikers so she better set up here.  She managed to get the tent up but not the rain fly…She was absolutely drenched…more importantly her tent was toast.  She went back into the woods and brought it out in a heap and dumped it on the ground.  New plans would need to be made. My pack sitting next to her gear appeared to be relatively happy and secure.  Soon it would be safely in my truck….not a bad thing since it was calling for rain over the next three days.  In spite of that we stood under the kiosk waiting for Tory and watched ten different weekend hikers/campers arrive, park their cars, and hike off into the park ahead.  We wondered if we had not been through hiking would we have shown up in this weather to do our weekend camp…or would we cancel.

Into the Wet of Grayson-Highlands

With our spots under the kiosk secured we watched as weekend hikers moved off into the gloom.  Oso was more than bothered by the fact that he was having to get off of the trail.  In spite of the fact that my reason for leaving at the moment was a surprise party for Jan I also had doubts.  Each time pain like this had developed it had continue to increase.  It was slight at the moment but only time would tell. Tory and Rachel were caught in traffic both in Asheville and Johnson City so they ended up being more than an hour late.  The rain had stopped for a moment and Orlando’s tent was beginning to dry. She decided to stay and set up camp there.  Oso decided to ride with us to Asheville and then catch a bus to Jacksonville…a trip via bus that would begin at 10:30 the next morning and end at 0230 the following day….16 hours on a bus.  “That’s OK” he said. “I can sleep”.  His goal of 16 mile days had ended after one. I hope he heals for New Zealand.  He would have been a great co-hiker heading Northbound.

Oh well…first I need to figure out which way this body of mine is going.

Time for a surprise party and then hopefully “hike on”.

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