July 8, Camp just south of Elk Garden
Aside: Scott and I figured out today that this is our twelfth backpacking trip together if you count all the one-nighters: 1.) Silver Peak, near Portal, AZ, 1994. 2.) Dolly Sods, WV, 1996. 3.) New Hampshire, 1996 or 1997 near Franconia Notch. 4.) Yosemite National Park, CA, 1998. 5.) Canyonlands National Park, UT, 1998. 6.) Somewhere in Texas, Feb 1999. 7.)Weminuche Wilderness, CO, 1999. 8.) Oregon, 2002. 9.) White Mountains, NH, 2009. 10.) White Mountains, NH, 2013. 11.) Joyce Kilmer Wilderness, 2014.
Breakfast today was eggs and bacon. Rehydrated powdered eggs and a package of bacon bits seem gourmet on the Trail. We packed up from Lost Mountain Shelter and started hiking north, passing more hikers in the first 30 minutes of today than we did in the previous 1 1/2 days!
Today started with a lot of uphill hiking, and it felt like we were trudging along. Scott’s and my packs are nearly equally weighted, but he is carrying more actual gear than I as the pack I am carrying a very old Dana Designs daypack that Scott bought soon after college. It weighs pounds more than his lightweight pack. My pack, however, has a hipbelt and his homemade minimalist one doesn’t, so I can comfortably carry a larger percentage of my body-weight comfortably. The girls both have new Osprey packs, and both are carrying a good amount, but perhaps a better weight for their body sizes.
So far on this trek, we have hardly seemed to leave civilization, and that is one reason we chose this section for our first long family hike. Should we need to make an exit, there are multiple points of egress. This morning, after one mile of hiking, we crossed Highway 58 again. Soon after we found ourselves in a cow pasture right by another road. We passed day hikers here and there, including a group of 20-something guys at Buzzard Rock blasting “Ramblin’ Man” from their Bluetooth speaker. We started hearing the music at least 5 minutes away from the top. Buzzard Rock is supposed to have a beautiful view, but it was foggy this morning, which is just as well as I would not have wanted to stay there for long with the music blaring. They must have been debating among themselves whether they should be playing music so loud as I heard one of them protest, “But this is the soundtrack of life!” They were overly polite to us in a way that suggested sheepishness at their behavior, and bid us a good day as we quickly departed the scene. Note: Contrary to their belief, I would not consider “Ramblin’ Man” to be the soundtrack of my life.
Today was a wet day, but not terribly so. It just misted all day, as if we were walking in the clouds, which I guess we probably were. The wind would gust and drops of water off the treetops would make us think it was raining, but as soon as the wind died down the dripping would subside.
Today’s hike included a couple of balds, which are deforested mountaintops found in North Carolina and Virginia. Most have grasses and shrubs growing on them, and are often grazed as a method of maintaining them. I remember learning about balds in college from Dr. Peter Weigl, my Ecology professor in college. He took our class on an overnight trip to Roan Mountain and we discussed the ecology and origins of the balds. At the time, and perhaps still now, there is some debate about how they came to exist. Dr. Weigl’s theory is that they opened up during pre-history, and were maintained by large herbivores. They make a striking, breathtaking landscape. Many of the shrubs we saw on the balds today were blackberry and blueberry bushes. Alas, no berries were ripe yet; rather, they hung, hard and small and green, from the branches as we passed.
We are camped now just south of Elk Garden. We hiked out to where we hada good view of Elk Garden before retreating back into the woods to camp. It was 5 PM when we arrived here, and we’d passed a nice site near water. We hope that Elk Garden, a large bald with cows grazing now and a great view, would be a spectacular way to start our day tomorrow. We almost camped a couple of miles back, as Maya’s feet hurt and she’d had a run-in with a field of stinging nettle as she made her way to off trail to answer the call of nature. When everyone learned it was just 3:00, we all wanted to press on. So press on we did.
Wildlife sightings today included several deer, two junco nests, and we heard a screech owl. Maggie has been a great hiker and it’s entertaining to have a dog along. You just wonder what, if anything, she thinks about this serious diversion from her usual days napping on the sofa. Maya keeps pushing for finding a convenience store. We are not out of any supplies, but she is very interested in finding gas station snacks nonetheless. She might just be earning herself the trail name “7-Eleven.”
Now, all is quiet. We’ve read 3 chapters of Alice in Wonderland together, and it’s time for sleep.