165 miles is all I had left to go. 10 days is all I had left to do it. Not only had I committed by giving the okay for a day to have people join me on the final climb, but I also had committed by agreeing to go back to work within a couple of days of my arrival on Springer. Sure, it’s one of the easiest sections of the trail, but that only meant it was bound to be even more of a whirlwind tour than Maine was: there were fewer views, fewer hard climbs and fewer reasons to stop or slow down in general. It’ll be a wonder if I can even remember half of it. I’ve certainly forgotten all the names.
It all started in the dark. I don’t mean I got up before dawn. I didn’t. I mean there was no light inside. Despite being a mile from an immense hydroelectric dam, power outages are a recurring problem, and I just happened to start my hike during one of them. As a result, it did no good to make it to the lobby before breakfast ended: how breakfast was canceled. They offered me a room temperature pastry instead. Welp. Good thing we had sandwich fixings in the room. Not a particularly auspicious way to start a 22 mile hike, but on the bright side, it gave me little reason to stick around. Continue reading →
During our 45-minute meeting on the side of the road, as action-packed as it was, my parents had a few moments to spare a word or two about the cottages they’d been in the past two nights (and in which I would spend that night). They sounded nice, but I was a hiking fool. I looked and smelled like I needed a shower, but I felt rested and energized and ready to hike my greasy head across another 13 mile stretch. The range of elevations would be only 1300 feet, with the change spread out over the whole day, and I was ready for an easy day. (Compare this with the multiple 2500 foot elevation changes of the previous day.) In fact, it would be even easier than it looked: the terrain was downright pleasant.
When Copper and I got to the car, mom and Renea refused to touch us for fear of catching some dread disease. We first rode to Shady Valley for a delicious pickle from the Country Store then on to Auntie’s Cottage in Damascus, right off the AT.
I may or may not have mentioned this, but Mary at the Mountain Harbour B&B makes the best breakfasts on the AT. Copper needed a day off to recover from his illness, and that was as good excuse as any to get to participate in this smorgasbord two days in a row.
The weather and the trail coming away from the Nolichucky and Erwin were both nice, if cold. What with how nice it was, I was surprised to see Pilgrim marching back south saying “I’ve been praying all morning, and I’m ending my hike here. God is telling me my true purpose is providing to trail magic to the other hikers.” I never met him before, but it’s always sad to hear a thru-hiker is quitting.
It was only around 5 miles to the first shelter, and we had no intention of staying there, but the sky opened up and a nice day turned rainy as we climbed the last stretch to it. A large group was there waiting out the rain and eating lunch, including a guy who was crazy enough to be carrying 60 lbs. up the trail, a third his body weight! But the only one who stuck around when it stopped was Crow, a Hawaiian guy who was “taking the day off” by only walking to the first shelter and spending the night there. One interesting thing about this shelter was a hiking challenge inscribed on it with several rules, but the gist being that two hikers sharing a pack must leave no earlier than 5pm from the shelter to go to Rocky’s pizza in Erwin, order 2 large pizzas upon arriving, and bring them and a 12-pack of beer back to the shelter before dark. Clearly a challenge for summertime.
Clay, who, with his wife Karla, played spades with me and Katfish my last night at Hemlock Hollow, taught me how to make panoramic pictures with my phone that night, so this post will be full of them. Hope they fit on your screens.
I woke up early that next morning and got my coffee and breakfast, settled up, and packed. Around 9:30, I got a free ride to the trailhead. It hadn’t been snowing too long, as there was only around an inch on the ground. For the first couple of miles, the only footprints were those made by me and Copper until we were passed by Zippy and Ditto, who had spent the night at the last shelter before the gap. I caught up to them at Little Laurel Shelter and we chatted over lunch. I told them I’d be pushing on to Jerry Cabin Shelter that night, and they made noises about doing the same. We also discussed the upcoming decision of whether to take the trail along the exposed ridge the AT follows over Fireskald Mountain, or to take the Bad Weather bypass trail because of the snowstorm. I knew I would be staying off that ridge, but apparently I was the only one who avoided it, because I was snowblazing the bad weather trail (or Packgrabber Trail, as it should be called because of all the low-hanging laurels I had to duckwalk under) when I got to it.
My mom and her friend Renea were expecting to meet me in Hot Springs two days after I arrived at Standing Bear, with four mountains and some thirty-odd miles between the two, so I got up as early as I could and ate a nuked sausage, egg, and cheese croissant with the orange I had been gifted the night before and a juice box. It took quite a while to get everything squared away and make a plan, including climbing a hill to get enough cell service to discuss plans for Hot Springs. I figured I could hike all the way if I could make it to Roaring Fork Shelter by nightfall. Of course, that meant climbing two balds that very same day. I grabbed a can of Vienna Sausage and an Oatmeal Creme Pie for lunch on the trail, heaved my pack onto my shoulders, and set off down the road.
The first task of the day was to climb Snowbird, which started with a very steep climb right up the side of a hill, and then slowly leveled off into a gradual two mile climb. Altogether, I rose around 1500ft. in two miles. When I got to the top I was surprised to see an FAA radar station.
I’m now at the Lodge in Fontana Village. Today was mostly uneventful, except for lunch at the Dillard House. It was easily more than my mom and I could eat in a single sitting, but we took a good bit for supper too. Behold and be jealous of my last minute carb-loading:
Sometime after arriving, I decided to pull out everything I was packing and reconsider it. A few things didn’t make the cut, but the tent will be going. I don’t expect to have to use it, but I need to get used to carrying it since I will need it once I get out of the Smokeys and Copper joins me. Take a look and see if there is anything here you would do without:
There are very few hikers this far north. Four are staying at this hotel. The two from Oregon are waiting for a package, but the two from Pennsylvania will be hauling themselves up Stecoah with me in the rain tomorrow. I’m only planning to go the first ten miles to Mollie’s Ridge tomorrow after a satisfying last real breakfast for at least a week.
The hardest part is going to be hiking without the dog. This will be the first overnight hike without him since before we adopted him. I miss him already!