Conquering the Roan Highlands
Day 35: 3,570 ft ascent, 11.0 miles
We woke up and got on trail early, ready for a big day. We crossed a river first thing, which told us ‘up’ was coming. It felt like an easier climb with a more gradual grade uphill. I have been thinking that a lot about climbs lately, so I’m not sure if the trail is really more gradual or my trail legs are making me think it is.
My brother was planning to pick us up some time this week from the trail to go to his college graduation the upcoming weekend. As we were climbing, we made contact with him and found out he had decided he wanted to come pick us up early and was on his way! We coordinated a pickup spot and had raised spirits knowing we were going back to sleeping in a bed that night!
I had packed some hot chocolate from Erwin, a treat we hadn’t indulged in on the trail yet. We got to our planned pickup spot a few hours early and enjoyed the hot chocolate. We got to looking at the map and realized the gravel road we were sitting by most likely led to the road crossing we had encountered a couple of hours earlier. Since we had time and it was a little chilly, we started walking down the road. Two miles later we had completed a big circle for the day! We got picked up right at dark and headed to my parents’ house for a break and family celebrations.
Days 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42: Zeros
It was strange being off trail for a week. My body felt like it needed a break, but mentally I was longing to get back to the trail. Driving around town was extremely difficult and stressful for me after going over a month without doing it.
Before we left the trail there were snow showers at Roan Mountain, which was 2 days ahead of where we got off trail. I had intended to keep my winter gear for a little while longer after hearing that, but when I looked at the forecast I changed my mind. The 10-day forecast showed lows in the high 40’s on the mountain! I decided to leave all of my winter gear for my mom to ship back to me later on the trail. TBD if I regret this decision.
Day 43: One Last Zero
We got back to the trail just past an area called Beauty Spot. It was after 6pm when we got dropped off, so we decided to camp at a campsite with a water source right off the road. Although it was a gravel forest road, there seemed to be traffic every 30 minutes or so all night long.
Day 44: 3,280 ft ascent, 13.2 miles
After eight days off trail, I wasn’t sure if I would lose my trail legs or how I would feel mentally to be back outside. Luckily it turned out I was more than ready both mentally and physically to keep heading north. The climbs didn’t feel difficult and I was in a really good mood.
I did notice quickly it had seemed to get hotter while we had been gone. My 10° sleeping quilt suddenly started feeling too hot at night and I was sweating more during the day. I don’t love the cold, so I was more than ready to feel comfortable getting ready in the tent in the morning instead of freezing and wearing everything I had to stay warm.
As much as the break away from the trail was hard mentally, it was really good for me physically. The Achilles tendinitis I had been struggling with for weeks wasn’t as painful when we got back to the trail! At this point I’m not very hopeful the pain will go away completely while on the trail, so not getting worse is a win for me!
Day 45: 4,350 ft ascent, 15.0 miles
I was getting excited as we neared the Roan Highlands. I have previously hiked small segments of the trail that we had already passed, but the Roans were always my favorite, most memorable, and would be the last of the segments I was familiar with.
We initially planned to hike to Jane Bald and camp up on the bald that night. As the day went on, the forecast showed that was becoming not a great idea. Thunderstorms were forecast to hit that evening. As we descended Roan Mountain, we could see clouds building in the distance. The sun went behind the clouds as we summitted Round Bald. The wind picked up as we got to Jane Bald. We raced down the trail trying to get below the tree line before the lightning started.
About a mile later, we came upon a campsite and threw up camp. Just in time! The rain started pouring as we threw our bags inside. I was disappointed we didn’t have time to take in any views that afternoon, but I knew we had a couple more balds to cross the next day that I was excited about.
Day 46: 1,870 ft ascent, 12.1 miles
We got up in a heavy fog, but I was hopeful it wouldn’t last for long. It started to clear as we approached Overmountain Shelter. I had been there a few times before so I didn’t take the side trail to go see it again, but I encouraged Erik to go take a look while he got us a water refill.
We quickly summitted Little Hump Bald and then Big Hump Bald. Wow are those climbs easier with trail legs! We had incredible views at the top of both, and stopped for lunch on Big Hump.
We rushed down off of the balds to the place where I’ve taken one of my favorite sunrise pictures: Doll Flats! I love the view of the valley from this spot and have multiple pictures from here hanging in my house. This is also where we left North Carolina for the final time after skirting the border with Tennessee for miles.
We had made reservations at a nearby hostel for the evening. We weren’t planning a Nero or a zero for another five days, but the opportunity to get a shower, clean clothes, and “the best breakfast on the trail” was hard to pass up.
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