Thursday, October 31, 2013

Day 19: Greenwall Shelter to Peru Peak Shelter

Today rocked. It was full of rocks. I hiked 15 miles.

Apart from the woodpecker drumming wildly, the woods were pretty silent as I packed up and hiked away from camp. The trail wound quite gently up to White Rocks mountain, where there was a sudden cairn city:

Nobody was around. I did a quick guerilla performance of 'Stones' by Christian Wolff:

what a weirdo.

yes, you can make a cairn in a tree.

Nice easy trail. I've never been hiking in Oregon, but I decided it probably definitely looks a bit like this there. 
Piney trees crowded the trail, spreading further than I could see. There were more cairns over the other side of the summit: 

1668.7 miles south to the end of the Appalachian Trail. 

There's a lot more evidence of habitation down here. Dykes, cellar holes, mellow paths alongside rivers and streams. 

In the afternoon, I pass some other hikers. It's been almost 24 hours since I saw another human. All morning I was walking through face-height cobwebs, meaning I was the first person hiking that stretch of the trail today. 

Little Rock Pond was pretty.

I walked a fair way by streams, and saw a neatly decapitated mouse on the trail. I covered its no-head with a leaf and carried on. Eventually I came down to a USFS road. It became very clear I was not carrying enough food for the remaining 6 days on the trail. Work trucks were moving slowly along the road -- I waited for them to leave so I could  scavenge some little green apples from a roadside tree. Somehow I felt embarrassed about scrumping. 

I signed into the Big Branch Wilderness, where the trail is minimally blazed/brushed and sometimes the leaves made it hard to see where the LT went. An older gentleman was walking north out of the wilderness, and asked where I was going. "Wonderful!" he said; we walked on in opposite directions. I ate all three apples, cores included. 

Here's the thing about the trail -- it's weird not to smile and talk to everyone you meet. It's a solidarity and safety thing. Usually when I travel -- say, gigging in Chicago or NYC -- I deliberately avoid eye-contact and conversation with strangers. Many years ago, a creeper tailed me around Oxford for several hours, threatening all kinds of stuff.  Because I smiled as I held the phone-box door open for him. So, often I don't smile at strangers now; I wear my sunglasses a lot and am deliberately very vague when people ask where I'm heading or where I live. But on the Long Trail, the contained, eye-contact-avoiding, unsmiling stranger is the one that comes off as a creeper. So I fit in with the conventions, smile, share any information I have, ask questions and listen to the answers. You know, the basic human interactions we don't bother with now there's Facebook. 

A young blonde lady is sitting snacking on the trail, going northbound. I step stenchily around her, smile, tell there there's lots of good stuff ahead. 

Over the bridge and up up to Lost Pond Shelter. It's about 4pm. A trio of hikers (and their dogs) from the Midwest are there. I fetch water and dither around prevaricating on whether to push on the additional ~5 miles over Baker Peak to Peru Peak Shelter.  It means probably hiking a bit in the dark, with dusk hitting between 6:30 and 7pm, but I can probably get over the actual peak before sunset. The Midwesterners say the southern side of Baker Peak is scrambly-bouldery and a likely place to take a fall in the wet or dark. It's dry -- I tighten my backpack and get going uphill. Past the peak I'm really getting a move on, not-quite-jogging over dry leaves in the almost-sunset. 

Griffith Lake is just before the shelter, I'm within a mile now. The guidebook mentions "extensive puncheon", a.k.a. duckboard. On duckboards I can march heavily along, feeling powerful like a spandex-clad ox. A bridge over a stream and I'm at the light-coloured, relatively new-looking Peru Peak Shelter. A group of Pennsylvania dudes and dogs are out on a weekend camping trip. They offer cheese and whisky and I fall on the former, politely decline the latter. I've been booze-free 17-months-2-days now. I cook up some ramen and then crinkle around under my emergency blanket in my sleeping bag. It's not terribly cold tonight.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Day 18: Clarendon Shelter to Greenwall Shelter

I feel kind of slow and heavy today, so I take it easy. I find that one day of pushing and walking as fast/far as I can (this is, of course, all relative) then one day of bumbling along taking snack breaks and photos as I like is a good kind of push-pull rhythm so I'm not getting super sore or achy.

It's dry and sunny and rather bonny again.

I photographed this bridge because it's exactly the width of my pack. I squeezed across hoping nothing would get dislodged and tumble into the river. A couple of northbound gents asked if I was going to Georgia. Ha.

Birch-tree notation:

I smelled smoke. Something was going on in the valley. If I'd been driving I'd never have noticed.

I sat and snacked and watched a tiny plane descend to meet its own shadow on a light-grey runway.

Then it was into the achy-feet, keep-going afternoon. A Euro-accented dude asked me how far a shelter was, and I replied with a string of those English idioms that are totally imprecise and vague ("Oh, no distance at all"; "couple of hundred yards maybe"; "you're right there"). Blah blah. I want to precision up my language.

I spend some time macro-photoing a toad-or-frog. Reliably, I have total solitude on the trail until I get into an awkward hunched-over macro-photo position. Then other hikers arrive and I try to explain that I'm taking photos not being a weirdo.

I wish I knew more about mushrooms:

and berries:

I do know not to eat mysterious stuff in the wild, though my food bags are starting to look a little empty.

White blaze for LT, black blaze a mystery:

I crossed a road in the late afternoon, and there was a long old climb up into the woods. An unexpected waterfall alleviated some of my tired grumpiness:

I hunched over macro-photoing a maple-leaf Jamaican flag I had ideas about turning into a logo for a certain musical project o'mine. Two hikers appeared. "I'm, um, photographing leaves!" was my helpful explanation. Yes, leaves I'd OCD-ily arranged myself.

Greenwall shelter was a half-mile off the trail, but worth the detour. I'm always quick on the spur trails down to a shelter -- my legs get on an auto-cycle as soon as I sense the "finish line" to the day.

So, Greenwall was an open shelter. I didn't want to spend the extra time in the morning dealing with a tent, but I hadn't slept alone in an open shelter that didn't have high bunks yet. Lying down just-above-ground-level with toes to the bears was not yet in my comfort zone, at all. I literally told myself to grow up and stop being an irrational wuss. Hung my food, made a fire, was pretty thrilled to find "trail magic" hanging in the shelter -- three packs of Ramen. What was most exciting was that one was "Oriental" flavour -- I'd been eating "Chicken" or "Beef" on a dull rotation. In the event, "Oriental" was a similar mix of salt and MSG, but it was what passed for excitement in the culinary sphere today.

I lay down in my sleeping bag and thought about bears. I reminded myself that I drive on I-89 through the winter, and that's more dangerous than bears. Cinched the bag shut over my face so I couldn't see any bear that mysteriously decided I was more interesting than food bags.

Then I started thinking: what if A Person arrives down the trail in the dark? My mind went off on a brief axe-murderer tangent, then I reminded myself that 1) it would be a very diligent axe-murderer who would hike multiple miles off the road carrying a heavy weapon uphill, and 2) I drive on I-89 in the winter. There's no rational reason to  get wound up about axe-murderers. Got to keep things in relative-risk perspective.

I'm not going to say I slept amazingly, but I did sleep. I was woken not by a bear or a marauder, but by a woodpecker in the just-dawn banging out rudimental patterns, unseen, on a tree high above my head.