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Day 26-28: Nephews, Blue Blazes, and Microbursts

Day 26: Near Beech Gap (Mile 91)-Big Butt (Mile 98.5); 7.5 miles

We started the day off with a full set of stretches. This is a new addition for us and we hope it will ward off any future injuries. We also walked more slowly and took more frequent breaks than usual to gradually transition Shutterbug’s knee back into thru hiking shape.

The morning was chilly, but not nearly as frigid as our first morning on the trail in March. As we walked, we saw lovely details in the forest.

In general, water on the AT has been plentiful, and today was no exception. This stream in particular caught our eye.

Most of our camping patterns from the PCT have carried over to the AT. However, each evening on the Appalachian Trail we hang a bear bag instead of using bear canisters. It takes a bit of extra time, but there are plenty of trees around so we are always able to find the ideal branch. Shutterbug fills a sleeping pad stuff sack with a couple rocks, attaches it to a 50 foot long rope, and throws the rock-filled sack over a designated branch. Who knew all those middle school baseball practices would come in handy?

After throwing the rope over the branch, we untie the stuff sack of rocks and attach our food bag. We hoist the food out of a bear’s reach and secure the rope to a nearby tree. We sleep soundly knowing our food is safe.

Day 27: Big Butt (Mile 98.5)-North of Wallace Gap (Mile 108); 9.5 miles

First thing in the morning North Star got very exciting news: she became an aunt! Three pictures of little baby Jack came via text message from her brother Jim. Jim and his wife Cindy are very excited to embark on the adventure of parenthood. One day we hope to take Jack on hiking and camping trips. We’ll keep the distances short though!

The day was beautiful. A mild temperature and gentle breeze made for perfect hiking weather. The AT wound along a mountainside with good views through leafless trees. We paused often to take in the sights because the footing was tricky and demanded our attention too.

When we started to climb Albert Mountain, the trail grew extremely steep. Sometimes we even had to scramble up the rocks on all fours. We were in good spirits and the added challenge was fun for us. At the top was a fire tower with a nice vista… and the 100 mile marker!

The path down the north side of Albert Mountain was much more mellow. Shutterbug was relieved because downhill walking has always been tougher on his knees. He is happy to report that his knees have been feeling good since we got back on the trail.

Day 28: North of Wallace Gap (Mile 108)-Near Wayah Bald (Mile 120) + 1 mile of additional side trails; 13 miles

We descended to Winding Stair Gap, crossed US 64, then climbed back up the other side, regaining the elevation we had lost earlier.

Our favorite parts of the day weren’t on the actual Appalachian Trail, though. We decided to try some out-and-back side trails and were glad we did. The first was a hike up to the top of Siler Bald. This mountaintop was historically covered in grasses and free of trees due to grazing. Now that grazing animals are prohibited in this area, the US Forest Service periodically clears trees to maintain the grassy bald. We found fantastic unobstructed views after a short steep climb to the top.

Our second blue blaze trail took us to the historic Wilson Lick Ranger Station. This is where Grady Siler, the first Nantahala National Forest ranger, and his wife lived back in 1917. The weathered wood shingles and massive stone chimneys were fabulous.

We came across the day’s third blue blaze trail late in the afternoon while on the lookout for a campsite. The trail wasn’t marked on our map but we decided to explore anyway. Unfortunately this one was a dud. We turned back without finding a campsite.

We continued hiking along the AT and entered a peculiar section of forest. Many of the trees were snapped in an unusual location – halfway up the trunk. Others were completely uprooted. Yet the area didn’t have other signs indicating an avalanche or fire damage had caused the destruction. We later learned the culprit was a microburst, a short but extremely powerful gust of wind.

We see and learn something new every day out here.

13 Comments Post a comment
  1. Allen Edwards #

    I have had knee problems on and off. If you think about it, you do the exact same amount of work going down as going up. The difference is that going down you can take it slow and do the work with your muscles, or you can go fast and put all that energy into your knees and pound the s*** out of them. I go slower going down hill than I do going up.

    April 12, 2013
  2. Barb #

    My exercise physiologist says that these days the “experts” say that instead of stretching before exercising, you should “warm up” by doing your walking (or whatever you are about to do) slowly – to warm up your muscles. Have you (or any of your readers) heard the same thing?

    April 12, 2013
    • Jan #

      Seems like it would depend on what your problem is. If it is an IT Band problem, stretching is critical. But your idea of also walking slowly at first to warm the muscles up makes good sense. I just got diagnosed with an IT band problem myself, so now I too can join the “stretch” first thing crowd…

      April 13, 2013
    • Barbara #

      I’ve heard the same thing- stretching warm muscles is best. The danger in stretching before is some get too vigorous & tear the muscles. I love to take time at the end of the day to stretch out.

      But if it’s working, stick with it!

      April 13, 2013
  3. Peter #

    Hello Guys. Just saw this and thought of Shutterbug’s knee. From Healthy Aging: What to Eat to Beat Knee Pain

    http://www.everydayhealth.com/knee-pain/knee-pain-what-to-eat.aspx?xid=nl_EverydayHealthHealthyAging_20130412

    What to Eat to Beat Knee Pain
    Simple diet changes can help chase away knee pain. Learn which foods can help — and hurt — knee health.

    By Jan Sheehan
    Medically reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH

    Looking for a natural way to relieve knee pain? You may want to tweak your diet. A growing body of research suggests that small dietary changes can add up to big benefits for knee health. “A number of foods have powerful anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties that may be as effective as some prescription medicines for arthritis and other types of knee pain,” says Beth Reardon, RD, MS, an integrative nutritionist and medicinal foods expert at Duke Integrative Medicine Center in Durham, N.C. Read on to learn how mealtime may be affecting the health of your knees.

    Diet and Knee Pain: Go Fish

    The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are natural anti-inflammatories. Calming joint inflammation can often help ease knee soreness, according to Steven Stuchin, MD, director of orthopedic surgery at NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases in New York City. In randomized clinical studies, omega-3 fatty acids were found to ease pain and reduce the duration of morning stiffness in people with rheumatoid arthritis. The best sources of omega-3s are salmon, tuna, sardines, herring, cod, and mackerel, as well as fish oil supplements. Another benefit of adding fish to your diet: “Fish is safer than anti-inflammatory medication, which may have side effects,” says Reardon.

    Diet and Knee Pain: Drink Orange Juice

    Orange juice is a top-notch source of vitamin C, a nutrient that may guard against knee osteoarthritis. A 10-year Australian study of almost 300 middle-aged adults found that those getting high amounts of vitamin C were less likely to suffer the kind of bone degeneration associated with knee osteoarthritis. “Drinking a glass of orange juice provides about 25 percent more vitamin C than eating an orange,” says Reardon. Other good sources of vitamin C to prevent knee pain are green peppers, grapefruit, and strawberries.

    Diet and Knee Pain: Eat Spinach and Onions

    Follow Popeye’s lead and add spinach to your regime. Australian researchers found that getting high amounts of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin (found in green veggies like spinach) can help relieve knee pain caused by osteoarthritis. Several studies have found an additional benefit of lutein and zeaxanthin, as they can help prevent vision-related diseases.

    Don’t forget to add some onions to your spinach salad as well. Adding onions to salads, sandwiches, stews, and casseroles may help put the brakes on knee pain. Onions are a rich source of quercetin, a flavonoid with strong anti-inflammatory properties, says Reardon. In studies of arthritic mice, quercetin resulted in significant decreases in arthritis symptoms. Apples, red grapes, and tea are also good sources of quercetin.

    Diet and Knee Pain: Order Indian Food

    A helping of curry could do wonders for your knee pain. That’s because turmeric, a spice used in curry and other Indian dishes, contains curcumin, a powerful anti-inflammatory. “Curcumin works similarly to COX-2 inhibitors — drugs that reduce the COX-2 enzyme that causes the pain and swelling of arthritis,” says Reardon. A 2006 Canadian study of the effects of both curcumin and quercetin found that curcumin reduced the inflammation of arthritis in animals. Quercetin (the flavonoid in onions) worked too, but not to the extent of the curcumin.

    Diet and Knee Pain: Use Ginger Generously

    The herb ginger traditionally has been used to relieve upset stomach, but researchers recently discovered that it also reduces knee pain by decreasing inflammation. In a study of 261 patients with moderate to severe knee pain due to osteoarthritis, ginger extract significantly reduced knee pain during standing and walking. Cooking with this spice can increase the flavor of meals while decreasing knee pain.

    Diet and Knee Pain: Avoid Refined Carbohydrates

    Some research suggests that diets high in refined carbohydrates can increase inflammation, says Reardon. She recommends steering clear of white bread, pasta, and baked goods — taking these foods out of your diet can have an added bonus of helping you drop excess pounds.

    Because changing your diet is a relatively easy step, it makes sense to try some — or all — of the foods listed above. You may find some relief from knee pain and get some added health benefits to boot.

    April 13, 2013
  4. margaret alexander #

    So, Chris’ knee has structured your hiking with more ‘present moment’ moments…..

    Love those purple mountain majesty vistas!

    April 13, 2013
  5. Jan #

    Congratulations, North Star, on the nephew. Leave it to you two to be already thinking about taking him hiking! :-)

    These are awesome vistas! And I love the picture of the old ranger station. The microburst picture is quite amazing. Never heard of those before. You two do learn knew things all the time, and thanks for passing them on to us.

    And Shutterbug, what a great throwing arm you must have! I like the form you learned in middle school…

    April 13, 2013
  6. Mary Goodkind #

    Spring is popping in Asheville so I imagine the forests on the trail will soon be full of pollen and new leaves. Enjoy those vistas now and then the cool shade of green when it gets warmer. Happy hiking.

    April 13, 2013
  7. Dana #

    so-deeper questions about the dynamic of the trail thus far. What are other thru-hikers doing for mileage? did some start out doing 20+? or are they easing into it as well? Given the bailout rate, have you encountered hikers who have quit already? Just curious what the thru-hiker trail morale is like. Thanks for sharing your journey!

    April 13, 2013
  8. Suzanne in Berkeley #

    Your images of early spring are great. It is interesting to hear of differences tween this trip and the PCT. glad the knee is doing better.

    April 13, 2013
  9. Barbara #

    Are you guys avoiding the shelters or they just haven’t fit your mileage yet?

    Just curious.

    April 14, 2013
  10. Carol #

    Loved the mountain vistas! Be careful hiking! So good you are hanging your food up high. Just wanted to let you know that from Kimberling Creek (Swinging Bridge)/Trent’s store and 5 miles north should be in pretty good condition for you. The Man of the House aka “Big Mike” and his friend “LIttle Mike” have finished cutting back the rhododendron and clearing the way for you. Hope the water is still running at Dismal Falls for you. Happy Trails!

    April 15, 2013
  11. I got so tired of the friction in hoisting food sacks that I started to use a small pulley. I tied the end of the cord which came down from the branch to the ring on top of the pulley and then threaded the free end through the pulley and held it. then, pulling on the rope coming down from the branch I hoisted the pulley to the branch. I then pulled the end which was threaded through the pulley until I had a loop of rope coming down vertically from branch and pulley and tied the end of the loop to the food sack, hoisted away on the free end and tied it off to the tree. No more friction. Easy.
    In the end though on advice from people with lots of experience, we just placed out food, toiletries and so on in plastic fridge/freezer boxes and scattered them in the bush around the camp site. never had any problems from bears.

    Barrie

    April 15, 2013

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