Seriously, I was very excited when I found out that the one flower was a lady slipper, because before the hike, I had read about the lady slipper being one of the more rare flowers we might see in the Smokies, and looked for it to no avail as we hiked through there. Turns out, I was looking for something much smaller. Had no idea the bloom was as big as it is! So delighted to have seen one, and now we have seen it several times along the trail. A couple of days ago, I was pointing it out to Keith and Swamprat, and some college-aged hikers came up behind me, and said, "Now, what is called again, a lady killer?" Pretty funny.
In case you missed it, the white flower was a mountain laurel. I now have another question for any botany nerds out there. The flower below is one I would love to identify also. At first, I thought it might be a flaming azalea, but the more I see it, I don't think it is. It looks more like a tree than a shrub, and the foliage is not like an azalea, and now I've seen them in both a golden yellow, and also a pink. Any ideas, anyone? Elise? Jeanette??? Let me know . . . I'm waiting. I'll see if we can come up with another prize also.
Back to the ongoing trail saga . . . We woke up in Bland, VA (which lived up to its name), tried to go to the Dairy Queen across the road for breakfast, but it did not open up until 8, and that was kind of late for us, especially when we wake up pretty hungry, so we bought some milk at the adjoining convenience store and did cold cereal in the room. The clothes I had washed the night before were still quite damp, even thought we had hung all of the socks over trekking poles that were rigged to hang over the AC vents. For some reason, our room seemed to have 100% humidity in it all night. For the last hour we were there, Keith cranked up the heat, and tried to get those socks dry! Right before we left, I put the damp things into zip loc bags and hoped for a sunny day so we could hang things out at our lunch break. I really hated to think how things were going to smell by the end of the day.
A local named Bubba (real name) was running shuttles to the trail that morning, and he took the three of us for $10. I sat up front in the truck and visited with him, and at first glance, I would have thought we had nothing in common, but it amazing when you take the time to visit with someone how much you might discover you actually share. Not enough room to get into that right now, but Bubba and I had a nice chat.
For some reason, even though I had a pretty bad night's sleep, I woke up feeling really good and energetic today, and led the hike the entire day. I actually put a good bit of distance between the boys and I for part of the morning. We eventually met two new hikers, April Showers (she had hiked the AT 3 times) and Rhymocerous (sp?). He was rather shy, but April REALLY enjoyed visiting when we would run into her. She stopped by the same shelter as us to get water, but we discovered the water was not worth getting, and moved on. However, this shelter was at the 599 mile mark, and we we got excited about reaching another milestone.
By the time we reached where we thought we were going to camp for the day, we had reached it so early in the day, that it seemed like we should hike farther, so we changed our goal to a grocery store at the road crossing 6 miles away, and hiked on. The trail was pretty gradual this day, so we were making better time than we usually do. Along the way, I came upon a huge back snake across the trail and came to a dead stop. Once again, a harmless snake, so Swamprat decided to play with it before letting it go on its merry way. I am hoping that the whole "snake on the trail" thing will not become a regular occurrence. I can live without this.
Right before the end of the hike, we reached a really large creek, Kimberling Creek, with the coolest suspension bridge, and when we crossed it we bounced quite a bit - not a secure feeling with a lot of weight on your back. I was happy to get off of it without losing my balance. we walked .5 miles down the road to the store, and found that Dirty Girl was there also. We all ordered burgers and fries, and ice cream, and visited with the owner. He was really nice, and had served about 20 hikers since lunch. He was letting us know he had a steady stream going through right now. Turned out, he had property right along that same stream that the bridge went over, and also a bathhouse with laundry. We could camp right there for $6 and have free showers and laundry, so we stayed put for the night. And we could come back for breakfast in the morning.
I was super excited about re-washing all of that laundry that had been getting mildewed as it rode around in our packs all day! As soon as we pitched the tent, I got the laundry going. Luckily, the clothes from all three of us does not even amount to one load. Quick and easy!
Dirty Girl had already used the shower when we got there, and had told us he would leave the bottle of shampoo he had bought at the store in the shower for us to use. He told us it was his trail magic to us. Sweet! I usually had a travel bottle of conditioner, but not shampoo. Everywhere we had stayed so far had provided a small bottle of shampoo, so I had not needed to carry that. I asked him how the showers were, because I was not impressed with the cleanliness of the bathroom at the grocery store. I won't repeat exactly what he said, but it had something to do with a prison bathroom scene. Yikes. He said I would definitely want to keep my Crocs on. Double yikes.
Anyway, we all showered and survived, and laundry got done. It wasn't quite dry when I was ready to go to bed, so I started it one more time and decided to get it out in the morning. I woke up later, thinking it was almost daylight, and stumbled to use the bathroom (a treat to get to use a toilet while camping!), and thought I'd go ahead and fold the laundry since we were about to get up. After I got done, I turned out the light, opened the door, and was surprised to find that it was still dark. I had not brought my headlamp, and now was kind of blinded after being in the light. I had my arms full of laundry, so sort of shuffled back to the tent (I could make it out in the darkness), all the while, hoping there was not a big black snake lurking between me and the tent. I made it to the tent, laundry intact, and discovered that it wasn't daylight after all, but the moon as still up, and it was only 4 in the morning! That's what happens when you drink too many Cokes at supper! I laid awake for another hour, finally got to sleep, and then just when I was sleeping my best, it was time to get up.
(Camped at Trent's Grocery Store, mile 605.5 = 18.6 miles hiked today)
The flowers definitely do look like azaleas/rhododendrons (azaleas are apparently one of several sub-types of rhododendrons), but the tree-shape is weird. I'm not sure exactly what kind they are, and the botany-bug isn't biting me this evening. I'm going to go with the infinitely more exciting story that you found a new species! Congratulations!
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