Bye Bye, Burger
We have had a lot of milestones since Neel Gap. We have earned our 100 miles on the trail. We have crossed the NC state line. Now, we have reached Fontana Dam – entrance to the Smokies.
We have had so many wonderful moments on our journey so far. We have experienced trail magic, incredible generosity, and wonderful people.
After our resupply at Mountain Crossings in Neel’s Gap, we camped at Baggs Creek Gap Campground. It was an incredible night spend around the fire with wonderful people. We enjoyed conversations with Greydog, a repeat AT hiker, Bootie Snatcher, Sugar, Flamin’ Hot, Big Agnes, and some other notable individuals. Greydog first hiked the AT in 1971 at the age of 19. He has been a delightful presence on the trail – full of wisdom and always inspiring laughter.
From Baggs Creek, we hiked on to Blue Mountain Shelter. We knew the weather was going to be bad, so we tried to push our mileage before the storm. That night, at Blue Mountain Shelter, it poured rain and thunder stormed. We heard that tornados were in the forecast in addition to the rain, so many of us decided to get off-trail. The next morning, with the storms raging, we hiked 2 miles to Unicoi Gap and shuttled to Helen, GA. We stayed at the Helen Hampton Inn for the night, taking our first nero day. Burger enjoyed having a queen bed to herself and some extra trays from Betty’s Market. We resupplied and hit the trail at 9 am the next morning.
Hostel Around the Bend picked up our bags at 9:30 am from Unicoi Gap. We had made arrangements to stay at this hostel before we got off trail to bad weather. We slackpacked for Unicoi Gap to Dicks Creek Gap, our longest day yet. We got to Hostel Around the Bend pretty exhausted. When we arrived there was cold beer and hamburgers on the grill. The hostel had all-inclusive hot showers, laundry, and even an inversion table! The owners, Gordon and Lisa, were SO accommodating in helping us arrange our slackpacking, and working with our schedule. This place was top-notch. We never went into town, but at this hostel, you didn’t need to. From Hostel Around the Bend, we hiked. Our next stopping point was going to be Franklin.
After leaving Dicks Creek Gap, we hit our first milestone of crossing the GA/NC state line. As soon as we crossed the line, the sky opened up and we were getting soaking wet. We had some steep hills to climb to get to Muskrat Creek Shelter from Bly Gap. There was rain forecasted for the next couple of days. After we made camp, we hunkered down for the night to ride out the rain. The next morning there was a break in the rain and we hit the trail. After only one mile we started getting poured on again. We knew that it was going to be 29° that night, so staying dry was a priority for us. We took another nero and only hiked 5 miles to the next shelter, Standing Indian Creek Shelter. We dried off, made camp, and rode out the cold night.
The next day, we hiked to Winding Stair Gap and headed into Franklin, NC to avoid the next wave of rain. On this hike, we made our first 100 miles on trail! Just before hitting our 100 miles we had some of the most incredible trail magic. Two men cooking hotdogs with beer, soda, chips, and oatmeal cream pies absolutely made our day. We also rain into our good trail bud, Surplus, and his wife Kali at the trail magic. We had such a wonderful time catching up with our friends before getting to Winding Stair Gap.
Our first real zero day was in Franklin at the Microtel Inn. We enjoyed dinner and beer at the Lazy Hiker Brewing Company and we even won trivia! Friendly locals helped us to get around. We even had an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast at the Franklin First Baptist Church. Their generosity was incredibly moving.
Nantahala Outdoor Center
After resting our legs and taking as many hot showers as we could, we pushed on to our next mile marker, the NOC. There were some cold nights between Franklin and the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC), including one notable 17° night. After reaching the NOC, we pigged out at the restaurant with our trail mates before starting the horrendous climb out of the NOC towards Fontana Dam.
Between the NOC and Fontana Dam, we hiked for about a day and a half. We left the NOC at 11 am and hiked straight uphill for almost 8 miles to Sassafras Shelter where we spent our first night actually sleeping inside a shelter. With Burger curled up with us, mice in the shelter were not a problem. We hit the trail bright and early, summiting Cheoah Mountain and had some tremendous views.
We experienced some wonderful trail magic in Stecoah Gap from a lovely man on a Harley. He had tea and Kind bars and lots of friendly conversation. That night, we camped at Cody Gap before making the final leg to Fontana Dam.
We planned on meeting my brother at Fontana Marina to send Parker off before entering the Smokey’s. Dogs are allowed in Great Smokey National Park, so you need to plan ahead and make accommodations for them. Ethan met us in Fontana Dam and took us to Fontana Village to do our laundry and get some grub. He brought us our resupply for the Smokey Mountains and graciously took Burger under his wing for the next few days. We had hot showers at the ‘Fontana Hilton’ and stayed in the shelter. We are missing Burger dearly, but are super excited for our adventure into the Smokey Mountains. After the Smokies, Burger will be back by our side!
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