06-29-2018. Day 115. 13.9 miles. Laurel Creek Shelter to Craig Campground (688.2 + 8.8 = 697.0 Miles)s

There is a Bit of a Nip in the Air

The morning air proved to be a bit chilled when we awoke the next morning. I was tempted to abscond with Jedmorgensen’s hooded sweatshirt but settled for my long sleeve hiking shirt. Jed had retrieved the food bag from the tree where he had hung them the night before. We are now getting reports of bear encounters daily from both in front and back of us. We have remained free of sightings but the act of hoisting our food bags into a tree each night is now imperative.

We realized that our food was now becoming much more scarce and we still had 32 miles to go. Another inventory was done. Food that we had been carrying awhile because it wasn’t all that good was now being eaten. Our gifted cheese was gone. I had enough dinners and breakfasts but lunch was going to become….oh my gosh…… dirt bars. How will I survive?

So is This Supposed To Be a Good Sign?

So you are hiking along and suddenly streaks of sunlight break through the trees. Whoa!!!!! Impressive! No way that can be a bad omen! Cumberland Gap was ahead of us and just the historical significance it holds in our nations development was driving me forward to experience crossing it. Daniel Boone had walked this same land and it had served as the main passage into what was then the frontier territory. I dove into history with 2 liters of water and a packet of Spam. I bet Daniel had no Spam!!!!

The Entry into Cumberland Gap

At 1.8 miles we began to hear a sound of a tractor way off in the distance. The noise slowly got louder as we worked our way through a forest that had opened up with the drop into the lower elevation.

Was That a Bear?

We touched the edge of a large field only to turn back into the woods. The trail then meandered through the forest. At one point I heard a deep growl from below us. The sound reverberated through the hollow. It sounded like an animal in distress. A small pond came into view below. Was a bear somehow injured near the pond? As we came closer and the sound became clearer….. a large unseen bullfrog. He had to be the size of Jabba the Hutt.

His deep resonating croak echoed through the hollow. Ok….. so I can confuse a bear for a frog…… worse things have happened to me.

We Popped Back Into the Field

The trail then entered into the pastures for the entire width of the valley. The machinery noise was a farmer several hills away bush hogging his field. The smell of newly cut grass was in the air. The pastures extended all around us. We were in the Cumberland Gap valley.

Happy to Have Gators On

The grass yet to be mowed reaches up to soak us as we passed. I was quietly glad that I now have been putting on my boot gators each morning. Back in the snow of the Smokies they had been life savers. I thought about dumping them after that to save weight but reconsidered and hung onto them. Not only do they help when it’s raining they make it much more bearable when traipsing through the fields. We were now deeply into the marriage of private lands and the National Park Trail. The marriage seems to be working.

No Desire for Boulders and Tree Limbs in my Boots

Like the phenomenon of a frog croak escalating into a bear growl the act of trash getting into your boots also morphs into something larger. Each little grain of dirt or tiny piece of wood in your boot feels like a boulder or tree branch when hiking with 30 pounds on your back. My daughter Whitney’s gift of the gators was being put to good use.

The Cumberland Gap Road Now Behind Us

We crossed the two lane Cumberland Gap Road unceremoniously. It wasn’t like the rockets red glare or bottom of the ninth home run of jumping from Tennessee to Virginia. It was more the smell of grass, the feeling of history, and the sense of the amount of labor necessary by the local farmers to maintain this land. On the negative side….. we had crossed the road….. it was time to go up and the wide open spaces combined with the afternoon heat promised a baking. Jed and I set our pace. At this point he was behind me working his way up the mountain. Who was in the lead was often determined by who was stopping to take more pictures.

The Mountain We Came From.. Only to climb Another on the Other Side

We had traversed the valley and would now be climbing to be able to look down upon it from above. The heat was becoming intense and I could feel the energy being sucked from me. We finally entered the forest with the welcoming shade it provided. It was different this day though….. the East Coast was getting hit with 90+ temperatures and we were feeling it.

Sinking Creek

At mile marker 677.8 we crossed Sinking Creek. Fatigue had set in and I searched for a place to park myself. Luckily across the bridge was a small parking lot for those who wanted to climb the AT for a view into the valley. A nearby large rock caught my eye. I was down on it in the blink of an eye.

An Abandoned Cabin

Signs of day’s gone by still appear as we hike through the area. The climb here was wicked so I didn’t leave the trail to investigate.

The Keffer Oak

A couple of small hills later and we found ourselves at the Keffer Oak which is purported to be the second largest tree along the AT. About 300 years old it is about 19 feet in circumference. It was named after Rex Keffer a former landowner. (1905-1988)

Bruisers Knob Cairns

Once we reached the ridge line above the valley we found a flat area in which farmers had cleared the land of rocks. All around us were dozens of piles of rock. One in particular had been transformed into a giant cairn. Jed took a few pictures with us in front of it to get some perspective of its size.

If Cairns are There Can Rock Climbs Be Far Behind?

Sure enough….. we were soon back in rock mazes. Squirming through tight access points once again became the norm.

The Rock Negotiations Did Not Come Without Rewards

Finally we reached the summit and the long ridge line beyond. Views back into the Cumberland Gap valley were extensive. We made our pauses short in order to insure that we reach our desired camp site on time.

SOBO Snake

As I worked my way through the brush we suddenly came upon a hiker standing in the middle of a briar patch. “I’ve been waiting for these berries to ripen for a month!” He was standing among fresh blackberries and he was busy inhaling them. His name was Snake and he was Southbound. 670 miles and he would be done.

Eastern Continental Divide

We moved into another area of rock walks. Our legs once again became toast. At mile marker 684.1 at 3:05 pm we reached the Eastern Continental Divide the point at which the terrain would lead down the mountain to our intended camp site. The Divide marks the point at which all waterways commit to opposite directions of flow. If the spring, or branch, or creek, or river or raindrop flowed to the left of the sign it would eventually end up in the Gulf of Mexico 1,920 miles away. If it flowed to the right in would arrive in the Atlantic Ocean 405 miles away. We, however, were flowing North.

We ended up stopping 9/10 of a mile short of our goal. Totally exhausted we set up our tents and cooked supper. The next leg would be difficult ( like hard to believe that it could be more difficult). Our campsite was on Craig Creek at mile marker 688.2. Tomorrow we would hike on to mile 700 and beyond. I welcomed the soft ground and moments later I was in LaLa Land.

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