Tuesday, May 15, 2012

R&R in Blowing Rock

Hi Y'all -
I am taking a couple of days of R&R in Blowing Rock, courtesy of my friends Lynn Norwood and her husband Chip.  I want to be in Damascus by Thursday for Trail Days.  It was going to be too far to hike in on time (5 days of 20 miles each), so my only road crossing opportunities were going to be NC19 near Elk Park, or at Hwy 321 near Watauga Dam.  I was all set to get to 321, but it's hard to make miles and time when the weather stinks and the trail is sloppy.  I decided to bail at 19 while I had the chance.  Thanks to Hugh and Rebecca for getting thru to Chip Norwood who graciously picked me up at the trail head and offered their guest bedroom for a couple of days.  Lynn is on the road till tomorrow.  We will decide how best to get to Damascus from there.  Trail magic happens when you need it the most and these folks came through for me in a pinch.  I am very fortunate and very thankful to all.

I had a NERO day in Irwin.  It rained on the way into town and the hostel was filled with hikers trying to escape the weather.  So I got a ride to a motel, checked in and started to dry out myself.  Nice town, but very spread out without transportation.  But there was a McDonalds, a Huddle House, a Walgreens, a laundry, and a Food Lion within a few minutes walk to take care of everything I needed.

The next day I had breakfast at the motel, did my laundry, packed up and caught the shuttle ride back to the trail head near the hostel.  The climb up from town was beautiful as the trail overlooked the Nolichucky River most of the time.  I heard a train on the other side and learned later that many hikers were stuck for an hour or more waiting for it to pass.  I beat it across the tracks by only a few minutes myself.  There were several overlooks (called Lover's Leap for obvious reasons) with wonderful views of the valley, town, and river below.  (see the photo gallery)  I was making pretty good time and got to the first shelter by 3PM and I was still too fresh at that point, so I hiked on and camped alone at a campsite at mile marker 350 near Indian Grave Gap and Tn 395.

The best part of the next day was a hike up to Unaka Mountain.  There is a dense Spruce Forest on the twin peaks and immediately made me remember my younger camping days in California's Redwood State Parks - the woods were dense, the ground was needle covered and soft to walk on - and the air was still and quiet.  It was beautiful and a very special morning.  I made pretty good mileage and stayed at the Cherry Gap Shelter.  A short day and then the Clyde Smith Shelter.

Looking at my guidebook before going to sleep, I kept staring at the climb ahead going over Roan Mtn.  It went from 4,000 feet to over 6,000 feet in couple of miles.  Not the worst climb so far, but a tough one I expected and it was supposed to rain.  So, despite a restless night, I tried to get an early start to get over the mountain and beat the rain.  The climb was not as tough as I expected and I got over the top before noon.  I think I am getting stronger.  Then the rain cut loose.  The wind speed increased and the rain started to go sideways.  It had to be at least 45-50 mph as I crossed Round Bald and Jane Bald.  I was worried about the climb - now I was concerned over the exposed areas and winds that were knocking hikers down.  It was something I will not forget - and at some point I started laughing.  I was getting soaked and the wind was knocking me off stride, but it was actually kind of fun and certainly a memory to keep.  By the time I got to Stan Murray Shelter though, my thinking was changing - cold again, wet again, tired and hungry, and my pack cover had failed to keep my clothes and hammock dry AGAIN.  The shelter wasn't the best and was actually facing open to the wind and rain.  But the thought of another couple of miles was too much.  A section hiker named Spiderman and I hunkered down and tried to stay a little dry and out of the spray.  Several hikers paused, saw what we were facing, and pressed on.  One however came in differently - freezing cold, soaked to the skin, What May Come was in trouble.  He was shivering so much that his fingers couldn't unzip his coat nor could he untie his shoe laces.  Spiderman and I helped him out of his wet clothes and he managed to get into something dry and into a wet sleeping bag.  Luckily, his bag was synthetic which still provided some warmth even though wet.  Some hot tea and he began to warm up and settle in.  It was a disconcerting situation to say the least.  I saw him again as I waited at Hwy19 for Chip - he made it down the mountain and was headed for the hostel to dry out and rest up.  We both agreed that if there had not been anyone at the shelter when he arrived, he could have been in some serious danger.  Trail magic happens again.

That night I knew my gear, though damp, would work better as a hammock instead of in the shelter, so I set up just outside between two trees.  I was warm and dry, even though it stormed all night long - I was only concerned that the wind would pull my tarp stakes out and blow the tarp loose.  If that happened I would be the one who was wet, shivering and in trouble.  Thankfully, my hammock and tarp did their job and I got through the night. 

That morning is when I decided to ask for some help getting a few days off the trail.  So, here I am at the Norwood house.  My gear is hanging in the bedroom, drying.  Chip has given me the keys to his suburban, so I am going to drive to Boone to get another pair of pants and figure out a way to keep my stuff dry inside my pack.

Now that I have time and access to a computer, let's see if I can upload a photo gallery to show you what all I have been seeing on the trail.

Next stop:  Damascus - for Trail Days!  And then I am BACK ON THE TRAIL!

I am learning many things along the way about hiking and hiking logistics.  For instance, my water.  I still huff and puff going up the hills, sweating a lot and drinking water frequently to stay hydrated.  At the same time, water weighs about 2 pounds for every liter that I carry.  So, it's important to carry only what I need and get more water at the appropriate springs for streams along the way.  I am getting better at finishing at at water source with only a few swallows left.  BUT - there was one day ......  I was getting ready to leave the shelter when someone pointed to a puddle of water near my bag.  It looked like only a few ounces, and I knew I had a liter or more in the bladder, so I wasn't concered.  An hour later I discovered that the pack must have leaned on the bite valve and more water must have leaked through the shelter floor - because my water bladder was EMPTY!  I was helped along the way by Windmill and Samurai who gave me enough to get me to the next source.  Have to learn that lesson and remember - hiking without water is not smart nor safe.  Lesson learned!

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