Appalachian Trail ticks, blisters, balds, hostels

It has been a rough but rewarding week (I think it's been a week, we mostly measure the days by the amount of food we need to carry. Two of Bear Squad had tick scares. In one case a suspicious rash developed and then receded. In the other instance our biologist discovered a nymph-stage tick on her arm. We have been diligent about tick checks and so she knew the tick had been there less than ten hours. The tick tweezers could not grasp the tick due to its small size and the head broke off and remained lodged in the skin. Panic ensued. We practically dug a hole in the arm to get the head out and then cleaned and dressed the wound. Our worried was great until we met a day hiker who let us use his phone and we were able to get more information. No rash has developed since. The risk of Lyme disease is low.

Almost all of Bear Squad has blisters. Some of the blisters have been growing since the rainy days of the Smokies and they look like fat red caterpillars lounging on our feet. I am lucky that most of mine have shriveled into calluses. I am almost certain the pain in my leg is shin splints. The pain has receded beyond notice, though in the evenings it creeps back to remind me of my limitations. Ibuprofen is as much a staple as oatmeal. We have (jokingly) begun referring to ourselves as Bear Squad Rx.

There have been many beautiful balds (mountaintops not covered by trees) this section and we have been treated to fantastic views after the aggravation of many a false summit. You can see for miles and the mountains in the distance are like waves in a blue sea. Clouds loom and pile into space. The sky is so large I feel like a bug in a jar. You can see some examples in the photos tab.

Weve visited a number of hostels close to the trail. Cici and I each ate a pint of Ben and Jerry's at the Greasy Creek Friendly, which can safely be imagined as The Burrow from Harry Potter, but with booze. We passed through Uncle Johnnie's  in Erwin, which had a good resupply. We decided to move on since everyone on the porch was drunk or getting there and we sensed a doldrums vibe. A mile on we stayed at the Nolichucky Gorge Campground and had the entire 20 person bunk-house to ourselves. We used the industrial fan to dry our socks and slept on the screened-in porch. The sunset was phenomenal. A few days later we got a tip from a family camped next to us about the best breakfast in the trail at the Mountain Harbour hostel and I hiked ahead to make reservations. It was well worth it. That night the whole of Bear Squad reunited and we camped on the lawn of the Vango/Abby Memorial Hostel. We cooked frozen pizzas on a stove on the porch and watched the rain fail in sheets. It fell so hard we had to yell above the noise. The next day the owner, Scottie, slack packed (drone our packs ahead) us for a reasonable fee to Hampton Tennessee. I was ambivalent about slacking but the rain did not let up all day and it was a nice break to not have forty pounds on my back as I slipped and scrabbled up rocky hills. That night and today we stayed at the Braemer Castle Hostel, which is clean and comfortable an very nice. Bear Squad rented two rooms so we have a suite to ourselves. Today we are zeroing, which means we are hiking no miles on the trail. We are spending the time stuffing our faces, watching Harry Potter movies, and planning the next section. Most importantly we're letting our bodies rest.

Bear Squad, best squad

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