Liquid Shale Trail

Waking up at Mt Collins Shelter or should I say getting up was easy, for some reason I didn’t sleep well.  I had been up since five and had fought to go back to sleep.  The general consensus from everyone else was the same thing.  Not many people slept well.  I spent the morning writing and catching up while Thunder milled around and took his time.  We were in no hurry to get up and go. It’s funny on nice days we take our time and get ready but when it’s raining we just want to to get the day over with. Maybe because it’s still cold for the most part and no one likes to be cold and wet, I’m sure that will change as we go on.
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We had to hike about 17 miles and I wasn’t looking forward to it.  Zen had told me that the first 5 or so to Newfound Gap was mostly flat and slightly downhill. I was sure glad I listened to him, we pretty much ran the entire trail to Newfound Gap.  Hiking at almost a run on the flats we zoomed up and over the small rolling hills. Through the spruce forest we passed tree after dead tree untill we came to a small section that had been fenced off.  It turns out the at the park had taken precautions to protect this area of the forrest from wild hogs.  The flowers bloomed all along the trail, giving such a pleasant odor to the area. Onward, and upward we hiked to Newfound Gap.
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Just as we crested out into the parking lot we were met by a wonderful couple well into there sixties. It turns out that the woman’s brother had thruhiked in the seventies and she was taking the opportunity to give back to him by feeding the hikers now.  She and her husband had been coming out to the area for a decade or so feeding the hikers as they passed through.  Today was our lucky day, they met us with sausage biscuits and grape soda.  It was time for us to break and have a snack, what else can I say we couldn’t resist the hospitality and food either.  Listening to thier stories we sat and ate, sharing ours with them while we relaxed.  In true mom fashion she made sure we had plenty to eat and sent us off with more food than we could carry; snacks, cookies, more biscuits and eggs to share with the other hikers.

The trailmagic we have recieved in the Smokey’s has been some of the warmest, kindest, and eye opening that I have recieved so far.  It truly amazes me how much good will strangers give freely between each other because they know or what to know our story.  I thought on this as we hiked a long up hill to the Ice water Shelter.  The uphill went from mild to steep to mild to steep up and out of Newfound Gap.  By about halfway through my leg was cramping again.  My IT band was killing me, overall it’s doing better but wow it was on fire that day.  I had to stop twice on the way up to rest and stretch it out to relieve the excruciating pain from my knee and thigh.
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Just as we reached the top, Kevin and I we greeted by some friendly faces from behind us. Teddy, Ultra Notlight, and Card Shark came up singing from behind.  They must have gotten a ride back out from town a few hours ago and caught us on the way up.  I was quite happy to see their faces and hear there voices.  We sat at the shelter for a little while, imparting on them some of the food we were given and chatting.  I stretched again as they took off with vigor. Having fresh legs makes a difference.  Andrew Ultra Notlight had not accomplished his one goal for his zero day, all he wanted to do was to see The Avengers and there wasn’t a single theatre in town, that had a Ripleys, an aquarium, many moonshine establishments,  but no movie theatre.

Kevin sat and read the journal at the shelter and told me who had been here recently.  Aaaaaarrgggbhh nothing paisses me off more than when you try to get away from some people and here they are right in front of you again. You know how when you are doing 70 on cruise control and there is that one guy who does 60 to 80 in front of you that you can never pass. Well these four hikers are like that, we have been doingsom ewe good miles while they were in town and what do they do, yellow blaze in front of us.  A yellow blaze means they take the road and skip some of the trail. I wonder if they have resorted to doing this because everyone is passing them or they just don’t care. Either way it’s annoying to say the least, it wouldn’t be so bad if they just passed us instead of keeping up with us.

Heading out we followed the ridgeline from mountain to mountain, the trail would soon be called the liquid shale trail because of the gargantuan amount of loose shale rocks. Ranging in size from bigger than your hand to an inch or two in diameter. With all the rocks free floating on the hard vertical shale mountainside they slid with the slightest amout of movement.  Sliding, surfing down and up the trail we were blessed with view after view.  A truly magnificent reward for the liquid shale trail we were on.  The amount of quick views we had out numbered the amount of times I wanted to photograph them. I could spend all day taking pictures and still not get all the beauty that was around us.  I just stopped photographing and enjoyed the nature around me. The one thing I did notice was the amount of devastation that had happened to the forest. You could see a sea of dead trees that had been killed by an invasive species of beetle, probably the emerald ash burrower.  It was sad to see the amount of huge trees dead or decaying from the beetles.
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The miles after miles had began to take its toll on me and Kevin. We were getting tired and sore from all the balancing on the rocks, our muscles overused and stressed to their limits.  Still we had two or three miles to go.  Just one long downhill and a short up hill to the break in the trail.  Coming to a section in the trail we saw there had been a rock slide in recent years.  The only way to describe it was to take a picture, snapping a quick photo we headed out again.  With just about a mile or so to go at this point and we were running on empty.  The Smokey’s are not an easy section to do big miles in.  It’s never flat and there are almost always an ever changing terrain pushing you to work every bit of your body.  Coming to the trail he’d we headed down to the shelter, or so we thought.  This shelter felt like it was a million miles away from the trail and all downhill.  Good god the trail went on and on with no end in sight.  More liquids shale trail to hike over and this time it was all wet form springs.  Just when I had reached my wits end we could hear Ultra Notlight’s voice in the distance.  Coming to rest at Pecks Shelter we tented and were fast asleep from our long day.
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