Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Pamola's Quest - The Pushes (7 - 9)

Pushes 7 through 9

The last three Pushes of Phase I of Pamola's Quest were the most challenging for us.  After becoming rather spoiled with very decent weather, we were repeatedly hit with long, drenching rain storms that became more severe as the Push 7 continued.  There were three weather bypasses during this Push and we ended up taking all three of them due to the weather.  

The next two Pushes saw LoGear deciding to get off trail and when the loneliness became too loud, I too decided to take a break from the Trail.  I knew the Quest was far from over.  I always had a strong intuition that this Quest was going to take much more than the five months or so I had originally planned.  Here is how they progressed.

Push 7: The Push to Erwin, TN and Uncle Johnny's Hostel

Push 7 would be our most challenging hike of the Quest so far.  With my back pain and the challenging weather, my spirits would be low during most of the five days of hiking. Hypothermia was a real danger as we hiked.  This Push would be 69.3 miles and would take us five days of hiking with our first zero day after the hike.  

Day 27 - 11.0 miles - Spring Mountain Shelter
Day 28 - 15.9 miles - Jerry Cabin Shelter
Day 29 - 15.5 miles - Hogback Ridge Shelter
Day 30 - 10.1 miles - Bald Mountain Shelter
Day 31 - 16.8 miles - Erwin, TN - Uncle Johnny's Hostel
Day 32 - Zero - A much needed rest at Uncle Johnny's

 As we headed out of Hot Springs, we stopped at the Smoky Mountain Diner for a nice breakfast.  The mattress at the Hostel did a number on my back and knocked it out somewhat.  I had the pain that I know usually lasts about three days and that is about how long it took to get everything back in alignment again.  This pain would divert my attention from my foot pain, so there was that.  

LoGear at a pond just out of Hot Springs

The River was swollen and running fast as we passed over it and then along it, climbing up out of the valley.  The day was spent alternately being rained on and seeing a bit of sun.  We arrived at the shelter and set up nearby.  I found that I could sit in my hammock and that was about it.  My back was still shouting at me when I tried to move around too much.  As the shelter and area filled up with hikers, it was mostly people we hadn't met yet.  Most of them coming back to the trail after attending Trail Days in Damascus.  There was one girl in that group that I started calling Never Stop, because she never seemed to stop talking.  We retired to our hammocks early and I spent at least an hour or so, just listening to the conversation.  Her voice seemed to never stop to listen.  

I noted in my journal, that this was the first day where my mood was low the whole day.  It was more because of the back issue and not necessarily the rain.  (Yet)

The next day, my back was a little better, but I still had a ways to go.  The rain though was an all day affair.  We moved along, getting nice and wet, but as long as we kept moving, we stayed mostly warm.  We came up to Big Firescald Knob and saw a weather bypass.  A hiker that had just done that part told us about how rocky and precarious it was.  With the wetness of the day, we decided to take the weather bypass.  It wasn't any shorter, just a bit less rockier and steep.  

While on this bypass, I slipped on a rock.  As I tried to stop my slide with my trekking pole, it slipped between some rocks and sunk deep into the ground.  As my weight shifted, the pole bent.  Bending it back, broke it off as expected.  Oh well, a Walmart visit would be in my future.  Luckily there was one near Erwin, our next resupply point.

Also, while on the bypass we were walking along with LoGear right in front of me.  I saw movement at her feet and saw two baby grouse, running away from her.  Just then, their mother started calling from the nearby bush and sounded like a hurt dog.  It was pretty cool and made taking the bypass pretty interesting.  We passed the 300 mile mark just before the end of the day.

300 miles done

At the shelter, we quickly found spots for our hammocks and got them up just as the steady rain intensified.  I was able to refill my water bottle from the runoff of my tarp and I was glad I did, as the water that some hikers brought up from the creek source was pretty muddy looking.  

By the third day, I was pretty much out of dry socks.  There was just no way to get them dry.  I even tried to hang them around my neck and under my shirt to try to use body heat to dry them, but that just made my shirt smell like feet in addition to its usual amoma of natural human.  

During this day's rain, the wind was in accompaniment and we were starting to feel more chilled.  Even trying to just keep moving wasn't sufficiently keeping us warm.  We got into camp, set up once again and got into our only dry clothes.  Just as we were going to cook dinner, more rain arrived and we just sat under my tarp and cooked dinner.  LoGear was on the ground and got splashed quite a bit.  

One of the few photos I took during the wet Push

The next day was more of the same.  Now the temperature had dropped into the 40s and hypothermia was a genuine concern.  We headed out and at one point could see the mountain we had to climb for the day and it was covered in cloud.  As we climbed up, the rain came down and the wind whipped about.  We took the weather bypass as we were feeling very wet and cold.  

Bald Mountain covered in cloud (and rain) (and wind)

After the bypass we came to a foggy bald and the wind stole the last of our heat.  Heading downhill the trail became slick and steep.  First LoGear fell and then me.  We were not having fun.  

We arrived at the shelter, just 10 miles in and Pixie and Blaze were there.  Blaze already had decided to stay and we soon made the same decision.  We would have to make up the miles tomorrow.  Pixie also decided to stay.  We all got into dry clothes and into our down to warm up.  We laid there as the shelter filled up and others also stopped for the day.  It was nasty out.

The next morning was still breezy, but eventually turned into a beautiful day.  It would take quite a while until my mood improved though.  I had let the challenging weather get to me and only after I stood at a view for a while, with the sun warming my body, did I realize that the day had turned perfect.  Luckily we would be in town soon, once we made up the miles we missed yesterday and finished the Push into Erwin.  

The Nolichucky River. Descending into Erwin

We arrived late in the day and at first were told that everything was booked, but maybe there was some camping space.  Here at Uncle Johnny's, they have built a pavilion in the back with places to put a hammock.  It was perfect and mostly empty.  We found our spots and set up.  We wouldn't need our tarps and could start drying out.  

After a quick shower, we took the shuttle to Walmart.  We ate a nice dinner at the Italian place and walked through Walmart to plan our resupply.  We had decided to take our first zero here and would come back the next day to fill our food bags for the next Push.  

The zero was well earned and totally needed after the last few days.  We mainly just took it easy, rested and got everything ready for the next day.  Pizza for lunch and back to Walmart in the afternoon for Mexican food and resupply.  We did our laundry early in the day and now had clean and dry clothes again.  




Just as we were loading into the van to go to Walmart, two hikers came in.  They quickly dropped their packs and climbed aboard.  They were Early Bird and Worm.  Two awesome hikers I would hang out with during the last Push of Phase I.

Mileage sign at Uncle Johnny's

We spent another dry night under the pavilion as the rain once again fell in the dark.

Push 8: The Push to Hampton, TN and Boots Off Hostel

Push 8 would see LoGear deciding to get off trail.  She was missing her girls too much and couldn't throw off the pain of not seeing them and talking to them in person.  Luckily an Angel was nearby and would be instrumental in getting LoGear off trail, to a bus station and on her way home.  It would take six days to cover the 84.3 miles, even with the detour to Johnson City and the bus terminal.  

Day 33 - 8.4 miles - Indian Grave Gap - Johnson City, TN
Day 34 - 13.1 miles - Apple Orchard campsite
Day 35 - 18.4 miles - Stan Murray Shelter
Day 36 - 11.1 miles - Mountain Harbour Hostel
Day 37 - 16.7 miles - Campsite by Streams
Day 38 - 16.6 miles - Hampton, TN - Boots Off Hostel

We headed out of Erwin and once again crossed an angry river and climbed up out of the valley.  I could tell that LoGear wasn't have a good day.  She walked along silently and it seemed that she was taking no joy in the day's hike.  When we stopped for lunch, I asked her if she wanted to go home and she said yes.

Now, my Sprint phone has been pretty barless most times I took it out of airplane mode, but when I did this time, I surprisingly had some good signal.  I sent a quick text to Miss Janet, a famous (on the trail) Trail Angel who lives in Erwin but spends a lot of time up and down the trail.  I told here where we were and asked if she could help in any way.  She quickly replied back that she would be at the next gap we would be hitting in about an hour.

We hiked down the mountain to the gap and took a rest.  A woman named Kay who was helping her friend do some slack packing drove up shortly after and we had some good conversation.  Before too long, Miss Janet pulls up and we were off to Johnson City, TN, but first we had to pick up a couple hikers over the next mountain who she would be driving up to Damascus later.

We went to an AYCE Chinese place in Johnson City which happened to be next to an Econo Lodge, so after filling our bellies and taking the obligitory picture with the trail legend, we went over and checked in for the night.  

Miss Janet, Tang, Professor, JFK, LoGear and EarthTone

The next morning, we took an Uber over to the bus station and before I knew it, LoGear was stepping on the bus and I was now a solo hiker.  Miss Janet came by not too long after and whisked me back to the gap where we got off.  I remember standing there at the parking lot for about five minutes, with my pack on, but feeling that I was forgetting something.  After a few minutes I realized that it was LoGear.  I now had no one to annoy by saying "These mountains aren't going to climb themselves".  I felt a little disjointed, but was also a little excited.  I thought it would be easier now as a solo.  I only had to make my plans with myself.  I thought that a lot of my worries were now relieved.  No more worrying if Home Base (Brandi) would be having any problems taking care of the house.  No more worrying about LoGear missing her babies.  Just me and the Trail.

That night I set up camp at an old apple orchard.  I was well away from the trail and close to the water source.  Another couple camped nearby, so I wasn't completely alone in the "wilderness".

After this detour and the semi-short day, I was ready for another long day.  As the day went on, I was feeling a little down.  I was missing my bride already.  It was strange to look up ahead on the trail and not see her moving along in front of me.  

Today, the big climb of the day was up Roan High Knob.  It was a pretty impressive mountain and I enjoyed exploring the spot where an old hotel used to be.  After coming down from the knob, I climbed over two balds where you could see the trail for miles.  It was pretty cool being able to see where you will be in about 2 miles or so.  

Roan High Knob

I could see for miles and miles

At the shelter, after the long 18.4 mile day, I had a little shot of whiskey that Coach, a hiker I had passed earlier in the day who carries a flask, offered. I retired to my hammock.  I saw General Hendricks, Early Bird and Worm come through, but they were heading to the large barn, Overmountain Shelter that was another 1.9 away.  

Climbing up from Overmountain Shelter

Day four of the Push was a fairly easy 11.1 miles to a nice Hostel close to the trail.  On the way there, I crossed another two balds that also had some good views and the need to wear sunscreen.  They were Little Hump and Hump Mountains.  I had some good signal up on the balds and sent LoGear a Happy Birthday text.

Humping Mountains

On this day, I finally left North Carolina for the last time.  I also was able to hike what they call 10 before 12, which is ten miles before Noon.  I have done that before in the past on my Section hikes, but this was the first time I did it on the Quest.

Finally leaving NC for the last time

I arrived at the Hostel and the bunkhouse was all booked up with a group that would be hiking over Roan Mountain with a guide.  It was all good as they had ample camping space, which was cheaper and let me retain my sleeping outside mode that being an Outsider requires.  This place is famous for its breakfast, so I made plans to indulge myself the next morning.

Excellent campsite at Mountain Harbour Hostel

The breakfast delivered as advertised and I headed back to the trail with a super full belly.  I had been seeing a woman hiker pass me from time to time over the last couple of days a after talking to her, she knew who I was.  She was Kay's friend, Arachne, who was finishing up her hike from the year before.  

Excellent breakfast at Mountain Harbour Hostel

The next day's hike had another accomplishment of passing the 400 mile mark.  I saw three different 400 markers.  Just like up by the Halfway point, this point moves with the trail's living growth.  Jones Falls was a pretty impressive waterfall and lunch was next to the lazily flowing Elk River.  That night's camp was just a small campsite near several stream crossings.  

400 miles done

I finished up the Push with another 16+ mile day to get to the Boots Off Hostel which is very close to the trail near Watauga Lake.  On the way there I had lunch by another impressive waterfall, Laurel Falls.  The climb down into that river valley and back out was a bear, but the falls made it worth it.  

Laurel Falls

When I arrived at the Hostel, Early Bird and Worm were there and were staying the night.  I had thought that they would just blow past me and I wouldn't see them again, but they had slowed their pace a bit due to some sore feet.  Once again I was able to set up in the nearby woods for a great price and the Hosel was awesome.  After a pizza which I purchased and a free beer that was left in the Fridge from some prior guest, we all took the shuttle into town for some resupply, beer and McDonalds.  

Signs as you approach Boots Off Hostel

That night Jim, the owner of the Hostel and his family lit a nice bon fire that we all sat around and enjoyed.  They made S'mores, which I didn't partake, since I don't like the sticky marshmallows and I took some good natured flack for it from one of the other hikers staying there, but it was an awesome time and we stayed up way past hiker midnight. 

The Hostel had a little challenge they do in partnership with a Hostel in Damascus.  They had a five pound Gnome statue named Kevin, that, if you carry it the 42 miles to the Broken Fiddle Hostel in Damascus, VA, you receive a free night in the Hostel.  Early Bird took up the challenge.  

Kevin fuels up for his next adventure

Push 9: The Push to Damascus, VA and Crazy Larry's Hostel

When I started this Push, I didn't know it would be the last of this Phase of the Quest, but I was starting to get an idea that it might be.  I was starting to resent the miles I had to walk each day.  It was starting to feel a lot like a job where your only task is to walk X number of miles each day.  The work day isn't over until the miles are walked.  I didn't like this.  

It started to become tiresome.  I would check my watch and figure how many more miles and hours I needed to walk before the "workday" was over and it would make me unhappy.  I started foregoing breaks, because if I took a break, I wasn't walking and that was making my work day longer.  My mind started asking me if this is what I want to do for the next four months or so.  

After a while the answer became no.  I started thinking of other things I wanted to do, like walk my dog, go to the beach for a bit, watch my tv shows and play on my computer.  That inner voice can really become a bitch sometimes and as I walked along, it's voice became louder and louder. 

This final Push of Phase I of Pamola's Quest would take three days and would be 42.2 miles.  My total AT mileage walked on this Quest would be 469.2 miles in 41 days.

Day 39 - 15.9 miles - Iron Mountain Shelter
Day 40 - 15.9 miles - Abingdon Gap Shelter
Day 41 - 10.4 miles - Damascus, VA - Crazy Larry's Hostel
Day 42 - Zero - One more day of rest before heading home for a break

I headed out first the next morning, forgetting my plastic ground cloth that I had set out to dry, but as far as leaving gear behind, this wasn't a big deal.  

This day's hike would take me along the very large Watauga Lake for most of the day.  As I gained elevation, I kept seeing more of the lake.  After a lonely day of just walking, where I saw pretty much no one and no one passed me, I arrived at the shelter, with sore feet and a low mood.  I thought for sure the Boys would pass me during the day, but I was all set up and just finished with dinner when they arrived.  

A Hiker from Canada, named Thomas came through.  He was out of food and still 26 miles from Damascus, so we gave him some of our extra stuff to help him out.  Gazelle also came in for dinner then continued on.  She is quite the fast hiker and her pack is the size of a book bag.  

The next day was basically more of the same, with an interesting twist or two.  Along the way you pass through some active pasture and I got to walk through the middle of a cow herd.  The young ones start to approach you, maybe thinking you have something to offer them, then they get skittish and move off.  It was cool.  


When I arrived at the shelter, I was pretty sure that Damascus would be the stopping point for this Phase of the Quest.  I was ready to take a break and do some other things, but was pretty sure that, before too long, I would be back on the trail somewhere, walking more miles of the Quest.  

When we were hanging out at the shelter making dinner, two German hikers came in. Blitz and Grams.  Grams is an ultra light hiker whose pack was smaller than Early Birds food bag.  Blitz is an interesting guy who I got to know better in Damascus.  

Blitz and Grams.  The white bag is Early Birds food bag, the book bag is Grams' pack.

After a decent night with a little morning rain falling, I headed out to do the last miles into Damascus.  It was time to finish Tennessee, my third state of the Quest.  

Just before reaching the TN/VA sign, the Boys caught up and we celebrated finishing another state then did some fast trail where I was able to keep up with them, but I knew this was something I couldn't do for a long time.  I decided to get some water at the last source before town and the Boys moved on.  

It's the Early Bird that catches the Worm

A slimmer me...

I arrived in town just before Noon, with sprinkles in the air.  I walked to the Post Office and picked up the package that LoGear had sent.  

Damascus, VA

I called Crazy Larry's to see if they had space and he said yes.  When I got there, something was going on.  It was about General Hendrix and some Hostel owner from down south talking shit about him and credit card fraud and some such.  No one believed it and it turned out to be all bull shit.  The General is an awesome dude who is Never in a bad mood.  He actually brushed off this incident with his usual good humor.  I lost a lot of respect for Zen of Gooder Grove, and all of it went to The General and his awesome attitude.  

After that dust settled, I settled into my bunk, with Blitz up above me.  I got my laundry ready and found a funny shirt to wear from their hiker box supply.  The Boys wanted to go out to dinner so we headed to a place about .5 away for a nice meal.  When we came out, it was pouring again.  I had my rain jacket with me, but was still pretty wet when I got back to the Hostel.  It was all good, because I was sleeping indoors that night and my clothes would all be dry in the morning.

Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy

Later, I went and got a six pack and went over to the Broken Fiddle where the Boys were staying and shared some with them.  All the other Hostels have adopted a no drinking rule, (most likely due to bad hiker behavior) except the Broken Fiddle, so that is where you go if you want to indulge.  It is a really laid back place.  Early Bird had safely delivered Kevin to the Hostel and was enjoying his free bunk for the night.  

The next morning, I had all day until I would take a shuttle to Marion, VA and after another night in a Hotel, board my bus (the same route that LoGear took) that would take me back home for a break.  

Hanging out on Crazy Larry's porch

It was funny, but I felt a strong urge to walk while I was waiting for the day to pass.  Most of the hikers who had come to town that day or the one before were heading out and it was a strange feeling to not be heading out myself.  I walked to the Food City just to buy some chocolate milk, pretzels and deodorant.  I later walked down to the local Mexican place for some lunch and a beer or two.  

After a while, Barb, my shuttle driver drove up and we were off to Marion.  I checked into my room and got my pack ready for a bus ride.  I went out to some nearby stores and got some beer and the ingredients to make a McGangBang, which Early Bird had taught me to make.  It is basically a McDouble and McChicken put together to make one sandwich.  It is cheap and tasty.  

Walking to the bus station (actually just a desk at the back of an AC and R shop) I saw a hiker in front of me who disappeared into the McDonalds.  Later he arrived at the bus stop.  He was Poco and was getting off trail to go to a wedding.  We compared notes on who we knew from the Trail and he transferred at the first stop along the way.  

I had downloaded a book on tape for the ride home and that was how I spent that day.  Sitting in a bus seat and listening to Mrs Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children.  It's funny.  I just realized that a hiker named Peregrine drove LoGear and I to the trail and a woman named Peregrine accompanied me home from the trail.  Interesting...

It was dark as the bus pulled into the station in Baltimore.  LoGear was there waiting for me and that night, I slept in my own bed again.  Of course I dreamed about the trail and walking all night.  

What's Next

We spent the next 30 zero days doing the things that I started thinking about when I was walking all day.  I opened the pool and tended my small garden. I watched my TV shows and walked Ginger in the nearby woods.  Each time I entered the woods, I would feel at home once again.  We went down to Cape May for several days, just to enjoy a different kind of environment.  We spent time with our daughters and had some quality time with the grand doggy when we watched her for a few days.  Things were almost back to "normal".  We even bought tickets for a Tom Petty concert at the end of July.

Laying in my hammock at home in the back yard.  

One thing neither of us did was go back to work.  It wasn't too long before we started talking about getting back onto the trail.  We were missing our Tramily and the trail itself.  The memory of the constant pain had faded enough that we wanted to get back out there.

We decided to get back on at a point that would be comparable to where we would be if we continued hiking.  That 392 miles (510 for LoGear) that we were skipping for now, would be made up later.  Either in the Fall or maybe next spring.  We would head back to Rockfish Gap and hike Shenandoah.  

Once we completed that 107 miles, we would come home again.  LoGear wants to spend some more time with her sisters and father down the shore and we have that concert to go to now.  I plan on doing some traveling around first in NJ, then in PA near the A.T. Museum, my old stomping grounds.  I hope to provide a little trail magic when I am up there and hope to see those I have hiked with on this Quest.

After the concert, we will head back to the trail in PA.  We will head to Lehigh Gap where we will continue through to the end of PA and beyond.  We will have about three weeks or so to get as far north as we can. Hopefully into CT or even MA.  

Once we come home again at the end of Aug, we will decide where to go to next for our final Pushes of the season.  

I think I am going to become one of those people who works a bit in the late fall and winter and heads out hiking and boondocking in the spring and summer.  Seems like a great way to do the things we love and meet the best people in the world, Hikers.

Stay tuned.  The Quest continues.

EarthTone and LoGear

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