What Is That Noise
We set an alarm to make the 6:30 am pickup. First alarm setting of the trip and hopefully the last. It was worth it though as we only have a few more days to spend with Kelly (aka Jolly Rancher) before he departs back to the real world. Kelly has been half hiking partner and half the best trail angel you could ever imagine. Just a great person all the way around. Kelly drops David, Becky and myself off where we left off from the trail and then drives on to meet his shuttle run. If we can hike far enough today we will be able to see him again.
Everybody (David, Becky and myself) says their pack is heavy with the full allotment of resupplied food. David as always starts out like he is shot from a cannon. Within seconds we no longer can see him. Becky and I go our usual turtle pace.
Wolfgang shunned the early pickup to sleep in and planned to catch the free shuttle from the hotel at 9. We think Wolfgang will catch us quickly after the first steep hill climb throws me for a loop and makes me dizzy. Becky and I rest for a good 45 minutes to an hour for me to gather my wits. I think staying up the night before to catch up on the blogging had a negative affect on my readiness for the morning. Only hiking a little over 3 miles in the last 48 hours has made me soft.
We planned an 8 mile day. It turned into 12.
So I finally get myself together and Becky and I hike on. We come up on Elena, Phillipp, and Alex just getting up for the morning. We sit down to enjoy some breakfast snacks and Alex offers me a couple swigs of Jameson. I did just have a dizzy spell but now it is just past 9 am and Jameson is almost bourbon and it has my name in its name so how can I say no? I eat a honey cracker to make myself think the whisky and honey together is a remedy for the slow start. We all hike on when they break camp.
Somehow Wolfgang got to sleep in and still got past us on the trail. Turns out the shuttle dropped him further along in front of us by about 4 miles. When he reached our planned rendezvous point he was still fresh and continued on. The shelter we planned to stop at was another 1/2 mile blue blaze off the trail on what was described as a steep hill. No way we are walking that.
That’s where the extra miles for Becky and me come from. When we continued on the next stop was 4 more miles away. As we approached our new destination of Wine Spring Road we run into Kelly. He has bad news. David caught a ride into town in order to see a doctor about possible shin splints. On our zero day he was looking for some compression socks but hadn’t complained any. Hopefully he gets back out after a little doctor care.
The long day comes to an end when we reach the campsite at Wine Spring. Unfortunately, there is no wine coming out of the ground; only water as usual. Wolfgang is there. Kelly, Elena, and Phillipp along with one guy and another girl who are each traveling separately. Alex had stopped for a second but continued on. I finally get to bed at 9. That is late for the trail.
Naps Should Be Mandatory
I awake and it is daylight already. Both Becky and I make a bathroom run together since there isn’t a privy at our site. Afterwards I go back to bed for a nap. When I wake up again Becky is around the communal unlit campfire with everybody. I climb out of the tent and sit down with everyone to enjoy some breakfast. The day before took a lot out of me so after breakfast I go back and take another nap. Becky joins me. When we finally get up only Wolfgang remains in camp.
Becky and I eat breakfast again. Kelly sends Becky a message saying that David had his doctor visit completed and the diagnosis is a stress fracture, David is getting a walking boot and going home to Utah. Sad news for all of us. We break camp and finally start hiking around 1:30 pm. Of course, we start with an uphill climb.
The whole hillside from the top of our climb shows the remains of getting burnt to a crisp. Every tree is black from top to bottom and no underbrush remains. There is a car pull off area with garbage cans and restrooms but a sign says they are closed for painting. It looks like this area gets a lot of visitors.
As we snack on cashews, macadamia nuts and peanut m&ms the forest service drives up and removes the closed signs on the restrooms. Becky goes up and gets the party started for countless number of visitors to the ladies restroom at Nantahala Observation Tower Wayah Bald. I wonder whether this is the first time the bathroom has been opened since the devastating fire.
A Nice Walk
The trail goes right around the Observation Tower. Kelly is still there along with Wolfgang. The view is spectacular once you look beyond the burnt out hillside. Kelly announces that he just spoke with his wife and has decided to spend a couple more days on the trail and is going to Fontana. That’s some good news.
The trail takes a turn for the better after passing the Observation Tower. The forest turns green. The trees still don’t have leaves yet but the underbrush is thick. The remains of our almost 8 mile day is a great walk. It ends with a nice climb up to Cold Spring Shelter. We have dinner with Wolfgang and get to bed right at dark. There is a great view from our campsite and as darkness falls we see the sparse house and street lights start to come on throughout the valley.
Sometimes You Just Need A Break
We wake up early and try to catch the sunrise. Both Becky and I play with different settings on our phones to try and film the morning. As we see the clouds rolling in it becomes a scramble to get everything taken down and packed up before the rain sets in. In the excitement of the scramble we lose our focus on teamwork. Each of us thinks the other isn’t doing something correct.
Becky exits the campsite and tells me that I need to walk back 1 or 2 tenths of a mile to the last shelter we passed. There we would correct our hurried packup. I pack up and head out. When I get to the decision point of going left to where Becky said I BETTER go, I instead turn right. After walking 5.8 miles in the rain I stop at the next shelter to dry out and eat lunch.
Bison is relaxing on the bench inside the shelter. Three other people are still curled up in their sleeping bags. Potato and Fluffy Puppy are two of them. The third is someone new who I would grow to regret meeting by the time 24 hours pass. One by one people show up to get out of the rain and adjust their loads or change their clothes before leaving again. I put on dry clothes and snack on everything in my food bag that doesn’t require cooking.
Some Crowds Suck
Becky shows up and asks me first thing if I’m in a bad mood. I respond that I’m good and our troubles pass. Evidently we are at the shelter we were planning to spend the night at. My mood with Becky has improved but my desire to be at this shelter has evaporated. The ever growing crowd that continues to show up makes me uneasy.
The next shelter is 5 miles away. The Nantahala Outdoor Center with bunkhouses is 6 miles away. Talk grows about a group getting reservations for a bunkhouse and I am eager to join. We have already hiked almost 6 miles and this additional trek will add 6 more. Potato calls for reservations and we learn that we have to check in by 7pm. It is 3ish already and the hike is mostly downhill but will be wet and could rain again until 5 before clearing up.
Some Crowds Dont Suck
When Becky agrees to the additional miles the deal is sealed. We have 9 vying for room in an 8 bed bunkhouse. Becky and I are the only couple so ‘share a bunk we will’ (Yoda voice). Becky, myself, Wolfgang and the third sleeping hiker from the shelter are the first to take off. The trail is steep the first mile. Being slippery from all the rain and the continuing light sprinkle makes it worse. After the first mile down the path becomes a more manageable grade.
I am the first one down to the Nantahala Outdoor Center and there are 20 minutes to spare. I checkin for the bunkhouse and pay the entire cost. I go across the street to a restaurant and order two meals to go and a 12-pack of Yeungling Beer. While waiting I have a draft of the local IPA. Only a few others show up in time to order food before the restaurant closes.
It’s a mystery on how to find the bunkhouse. When we do Becky and I share the food I ordered to go in the community kitchen. Kelly is the only person I haven’t seen yet and it is getting dark so I walk back to see if he needs help in finding the bunkhouse. On the way down I see Alex and another guy reviewing the map. I show them the way and continue down to fetch Kelly. He is already at the General Store office relaxing on a bench. He thinks he is parked somewhere around here as we walk back to the bunkhouse. Sure enough, his SUV is parked right in front of our destination.
We have a two room bunkhouse and each room has two sets of bunk beds. Nothing else is in the room. Nothing. Everybody antes up their portion of the bill and I give Elena back her 20 because she was ahead from her REI gift card swap during the first zero. Alex bought a second 12 pack of PBR and most of us sit outside on the porch and drink the beer before calling it a night.
Trail Magic Givers
The next morning Becky and I decide to take a ride with Kelly and Wolfgang to do trail magic. We load up with some soft drinks, candy bars, chips, a loaf of bread and peanut butter and jelly. We drive to Clingmans Dome and walk a half mile in to sit on the trail and wait for thruhikers to pass. It is around 1pm. It doesn’t take long for all our food to vanish. First one hiker, then a group of 7 or 8 show. A few others come along as well. We feed them all we can and take their trash for them before heading out.
We all go to the top of Clingmans Dome while here to get photos in case the time we pass while hiking is not the clear day that it is today. Afterwards, we go to Gattlinburg to eat at the Mellow Mushroom. We have an appetizer, then a salad, then comes the pizza. Wolfgang opts for a burger and then makes me watch as he has a dessert. We all leave stuffed and happy. Becky is especially happy because some chair she wanted to buy was at the local outfitter so she got to eat and spend more money. Nothing makes a lady happy like shopping.
We all share a room at the Hampton Inn for the night. In the morning Kelly drives us back to where we left off and then catches a shuttle to take him farther down the trail to drop off his ride and then bring him back to our starting location. He will be behind us a few hours but we plan to all meet back at the same shelter tonight. The hike will be uphill all the way.
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Really enjoying reading about James and Becky’s adventures on the trail. James is a really great writer. Makes my legs ache just reading it.