I suppose it is a holiday, but out here it’s just another day among the trees, albeit a slow one and with more errant hikers. Instead of getting up at the crack of dawn and hiking, I have elected to spend the morning reading interesting books about science (SCIENCE!!), drinking tea, and writing to you. My Yogi tea bag (Vanilla Energy!) says, “Your strength is your own knowledge,” and I have decided to interpret that as justification of this morning’s educational choices. It is proof that me sitting in the sunshine, reading, writing, and drinking tea
-all are part of a wondrous state of existence that the many tribulations of our world cannot detract from. Also, let’s not forget the Snickers bar.
Anyways, I rolled over this morning at the above-mentioned crack of dawn (It was not very loud. May have been branch, also; am not really sure what flaming ball of seething plasma sounds like when it comes over the horizon. Probably death? Or nothing, if you are in the dark, empty vacuum of space). I ruminated briefly on making it to Kincora Hiking Hostel today (all signs point to, “No,”) which is only 20 miles distant, but then read a bit and went back to sleep for a while, before waking up and reading some more, as trees cast dawn shadows across my mat.
I only say, “only,” because I would like to celebrate the fact that (finally!) we are at the stage where one can haul a pack up and down and over rugged terrain at high speeds for long distances, without being sad. If necessary. It is very unpleasant, otherwise. I realized this capability on Saturday morning, when I had occasion to test it by covering 9 miles over-mountain before 9:30 in the morning, which is when the Roan Mountain post office closes on Saturdays.
This need for speed would have been really tragic if it was nice out, because that is an incredibly beautiful area of the trail. Luckily for us all, it was horrible; it is very miserable going up the mountains and over the balds (treeless mountaintops) in mist, darkness, and storm. I started at 5:45, because I overslept my brain’s alarm. The flowerheads (some member of the aster family) were all bent across the path in water-laden bundles, which was all right, if a bit wet. But then, one must cross the balds, which are vast spans of blackberry sprigs and goldenrod and ragweed and daisies and meadow grasses, with granite poking through the turf at random intervals. Now, this is ostensibly quite pleasant; but none of these are very tall, and they are all on exposed mountaintop, and the dregs of Harvey were blowing through from where they had been flung eastward across the country. The worst was the fog and mist coalescing on my glasses. As if seeing in the darkness wasn’t hard enough already! (All you wearers of glasses out there- you know this pain. Especially when opening the dishwasher, if you have one.)
The sun came out from the mist at Doll Flats, which is where you stop straddling the NC-TN border (which I have been on since Smoky Mountain National Park) and cross fully into Tennessee. The last three miles were downhill, through switchbacks, in the sunshine, and done at about 4-5 mph, which is when I had the time to reflect on the pleasant state of my legs and lungs. Huzzah! I guess doing nothing but hiking for three months will do that for you.
I got to the road at 9:15, and hitch hiked the four miles in by 9:25, whereupon the postal worker not only gave me my package and a letter, but also biscuits and gravy and butter and jam and an asian pear from her uncle’s tree, and then I walked down to the Roan Mountain farmer’s market and conversed with people and listened to the live music (bluegrass), and then was given freshly baked granola bars, and then taken to a farm-to-market hom/hostel and fed lunch, and then after some lounging about and talking and feeding of the animals and transplanting of herbs in the greenhouse and exploration of the hydroponics system therein (so cool!), we went out and bought way too much food to prepare for dinner, and returned to find that it was exactly the right amount, for two more hikers had come in out of the rain, and we reunited with much amazement and many joyful exclamations, because we knew each other from last night and a couple days before, and were now randomly meeting in a farmhouse six miles off the trail, for unplanned dinner and company. So it goes.
Here is a view from the front of my tent, this morning. The mosquitoes are quite upset they can’t reach me. It may storm later today, but I intend to read and write letters a bit more before moving onto the trail, and then must catch up on science, for I have not taken data on streams in a while and would like to get back to that. The rain makes it more interesting (Much runoff! Many streams!) but also my box of sciencing is made out of cardboard, and I must carry it some hundreds of miles before it disintegrates. ([Also usually I am very sad in the rain.] Huzzah, happy mediums!) I am taking data for research on greenhouse gas levels in inland waterways, which involves me carrying things to measure water temperature, barometric pressure, stream width, depth, etc, and also glass vials, because I like air and will sample it like some sort of oxygen/carbon dioxide obsessed crazy person. Then, I send my observations off to Yale researchers so they can do science to them. Observations observations. It means I spend all my lounging time at streamsides with my hands in the water, except when I am lounging in my tent and writing to you like this. Usually each observation takes anywhere from 20-30 minutes of the day, unless my brain is on trail-brain (then, it takes 45. I think my solo record is 14 minutes, but when Smallest Brotherski was here to do the width/depth/velocity for me, we could get ‘er done in 12. Guess he was ok to have around, sometimes…)
Anyways, I am a slow writer, so I had better be off; I’d like to have several miles away before I get rained on later today. Lunch! Tuna salad and ritz.