A 196 Mile Appalachian Trail Section Hike in May: Damascus to Hot Springs, Part 4
This is part 4 of a 196 mile Appalachian Trail section hike. You can read:
Part 1 here.
Part 2 here.
Part 3 here.
Day 7 Continued: Mountain Harbour B&B
I got right to it with tasks that needed to get done so that I’d have time to relax later that night. I didn’t have to wait too long for my turn in one of the two showers on the 2nd floor of the bunkhouse, and I rinsed some items like my spoon and water filter out in the sink in the common area downstairs. It was after that, while sitting on one of the couches charging up my phone and waiting for the line to die down at the on-site bar and food truck that had just opened for the evening, that I knew I was in the right place.
Two other hikers were sitting in the common area doing their own thing. One of them was on the phone, and I could see tears on her face but minded my own business. When she got off the phone, I couldn’t help it.
“Do you want to talk about it?” I said.
This could have gone one of two ways, but she started spilling a little bit about her phone call with us. The other hiker, named Spin Cycle, offered to buy her dinner and went to grab her a menu to look at.
Upon hearing about her struggles, I was transported right back to my 2021 hike. The feelings I had when I was sitting at a town campground in Stratton, ME, 900 miles into that section, constantly on the phone with a relationship that was in shambles and feeling stressed to the gills were, in a very similar fashion, happening to this hiker right before my eyes.
She didn’t need encouragement to keep going. This was her fourth long trail, she was experienced. It seemed like she needed to know that it was okay to go home to take care of whatever she needed to take care of before coming back to the trail. I knew firsthand how nearly impossible it could be to hike while dealing with this scenario, and from what she described, she was experiencing that too.
This hiker, a few others and I hung out on and off for the rest of the evening at intermittent intervals between doing what we each needed to do, with tiny moments of comedic relief such as bird poop landing on my shoulder while we sat on the deck, before there was finally an open washing machine after most other hikers had gone to bed. We split the load before heading to sleep ourselves, knowing we’d be up early for breakfast.
Day 8: Mountain Harbour B&B to Stan Murray Shelter
It was true, this was one of the best breakfasts on the trail, a huge buffet spread completely homemade. There must have been at least 25 people in the line that morning, first scattered around the porch of the B&B just up the hill from the hiker bunkhouse to have some morning coffee. Thoughts of not wanting to catch the norovirus still lurked with me, but at least there was a hand-washing station as the first stop in the line.
After breakfast we all parted ways, the hiker getting picked up by her friends who lived near the area so that she could sort out what to do, as I decided to put together a resupply from the options available at the little shop before hiking out. My food options weren’t going to be exactly what I wanted, but that’s the tradeoff of deciding to choose convenience vs. trying to get into town. I hope she found peace, and I knew for a fact that this hiker would return to the trail at some point to finish it out.
The first five miles of my hike that morning were going to continuously climb, until I reached the top of Hump Mountain. I zeroed in, preparing my mind as if I were about start a specific workout or athletic endeavor, rather than leisurely wandering through the woods. I picked a slow pace that I thought I could maintain for five miles, rather than huffing it and constantly stopping, and began putting one foot in front of the other on the switchbacks as I matched my breathing to my footsteps as if I were going for a jog.
It felt like I was crawling, but it worked. The first landmark happened a little over halfway up, when I hit the North Carolina border. So far, the trail had been completely in Tennessee on this section (minus those first three miles in Virginia). Now the trail would be shared between the Tennessee and North Carolina border until I reached my endpoint.
Close to the top, I took a quick break to pee. I didn’t really have to go, but I’ve learned something the hard way in my time on this trail. If I’m about to enter a part of trail without woods or tree cover for a while, I must go to the bathroom first. It’s as if knowing there is no place to pee is exactly what causes me to have to pee.
Then, there I was, climbing up my first North Carolina bald of this section! These balds of the Roan Highlands are some of the iconic areas along the Appalachian Trail. I’ve read different theories online about their origin, but all I know for sure is that they’re beautiful. I wasn’t sure if I was going to hit this spot on a sunny day, and boy was I lucky. The climbing was still tough, but suddenly the landscape was different, and I had 360 views of mountains as far as the eye could see.
Not long after, it was time for another iconic Appalachian Trail landmark. After beginning the descent past Hump Mountain and Little Hump Mountain, I saw a teeny tiny red dot in the distance. That must be Overmountain shelter!
Now, I know it seems like that exclamation point conveys excitement for reaching this point. Overmountain Shelter is extremely photographed, has an amazing view in front of it, and is an insanely popular camp spot that’s been known to have 50+ people there on certain nights. Although the shelter itself has been closed since 2019 due to structural weakness, tenting is still allowed around it.
But my enthusiasm was for something much more meaningful in hiker world. A privy! Day 8, and I’d reached the first privy of this section!
Of course I was going to take the side-trail down there. I had also been told by friends that this privy was bedazzled with stick-on jewels, but when I got there, it looked like whoever maintains this shelter had replaced the bedazzled graffiti and put the toilet back to its original state.
I sat down and told myself to take this moment in, because I didn’t have to go through the process of digging a hole, and this privy was pretty clean and also had a view. There wouldn’t be another privy for a while once again.
Ugh, are you kidding me? I don’t have to go?
Believe me, I tried. Oh well. It was worth the stop, the view was pretty spectacular. After a nice conversation with a hiker who was setting up camp, I almost decided to stay myself, but it still felt too early in the day and I didn’t like the idea of not knowing how many people were going to show up. I decided to press on as it started drizzling again.
Another couple miles, and I came up to Stan Murray Shelter. Everything still felt completely damp, the woods dripping in the intermittent rain. Two hikers were set up to sleep in the shelter already, and as nice an idea as it seemed to get out of the rain, I still wasn’t keen on sleeping in shelters right now with more talk of the norovirus spreading around.
One of the hikers was “hiking for the house” to raise money for the Ronald McDonald foundation. You can search “Hiking for the House” on facebook to find him!
Another family of three were setting up nearby, who turned out to be southbound section hikers just like me. After a nice chat with the couple in the shelter and hiking down to the creek for water, I told them I was going to press on for about a mile. I walked maybe 100 feet and came upon a nice little tent spot. I yelled back to them that I’d be stopping right there! We had a nice little laugh from a distance. I slept soundly that night, close to the other folks but still having my little private area.
Day 9: Stan Murray Shelter to some tentsite a mile past Clyde Smith Shelter
That morning was still damp, and wet, and it turned out the rest of the day would be that way. This is more significant than it would be if I were just sitting inside my apartment, at work, or somewhere with four walls and a roof. Picture what it feels like to hang around in a damp bathing suit that never fully dries. I sure know I did this a lot as a kid on summer days. That feeling is just kind of there in the background, and while the hiking is still wonderful, it’s ever so slightly brought down half a notch by my body just feeling like it wants a little moment of relief to be dry.
Despite that feeling, it was still an incredible day. The trail climbed over three more balds: Grassy Ridge Bald, Jane Bald, and Round Bald. This time, there were no views. But I didn’t care, because I got to experience the balds of the previous day in sunshine. Now I felt a tourist getting to see the part of a city that people actually live in, and not just the visitor attractions, because I saw the weather that these mountains call home when it isn’t sunny. I was in a cloud, solid white on either side, and walking through the mist brought me right back to New Hampshire and Maine. It was like I had adrenaline propelling me forward at the excitement of this rocky, tree-lacking socked-in landscape again.
One hiker gave out a big “woo hoo!” when he passed me, a collective understanding that this was somewhat thrilling. Everything was wet, but it was just enough to make me feel alive, and not rainy or windy enough to make the situation concerning.
In keeping with the trend of hitting iconic trail landmarks throughout these few days, I eventually came to the turnoff for Roan High Knob Shelter. This is the highest shelter on the Appalachian Trail, not to be confused with the actual highest point on the trail that resides at Clingman’s Dome in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. At 6,270 feet, this shelter existed in a misty pine forest, and was more enclosed because of the weather it faces. I put my pack cover down so I didn’t have to sit straight on a wet log, and joined the ranks of four other hikers who were taking a snack break.
I couldn’t even tell if it was raining or not anymore, because the air just seemed to be permanently wet. But the remaining several hours of the hiking day made it obvious. It started really raining again, and stayed that way. Eventually the family of three southbound section hikers passed me, as always seems to happen even when we wind up at the same place eventually. I was a little relieved, as this had been the first time on this hike where I felt that tiny little anxiety that people were behind me the whole time and wondering if we’d get stuck leapfrogging in and out of each others’ hikes.
I admit that I started to feel a little worn out by the rain, and just wanted the hiking day to end. I decided I’d go all the way to Clyde Smith Shelter, which was feeling like a stretch when I just wanted to stop where I was. When I reached the turnoff at the shelter, I could hear the projected echo from the forest of voices laughing and talking. I knew that the family of three had stopped there, and I could tell there were more people besides just them. As much as I didn’t want to take any more steps, I scrounged up a bit more energy and opted to be alone. There was a marked tentsite in the guide about a mile later, and I was able to settle in there for the night, trailside under a big open canopy of trees with a water source nearby.
That night, I wrote in my journal “The best thing ever would be to not wake up until it’s morning.”
You can read part 5 here!
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