Day 12: Hitting My Stride

Have A Nice Day

​We slept in Franklin last night. Mrs. The Incident was still out cold at wheels up, so I kissed her cheek and said, “Time to go, beautiful.” She made a sleepy sound and mumbled “Have a nice day. Be safe.” When I laughed, she woke up enough to realize she had to drive me up the mountain to the trail.

A Hike Down Memory Lane

The woods were magical today. The steep-sloped open glades, carpeted with last season’s browned leaves, and lit by dusty shafts of sunlight shining down through nearly bare branches, took me back 50 years. I spent my childhood hiking alone through the same scenes, going everywhere and nowhere in particular. Back then, the top of every wooded slope promised never-seen-before views. Every seep, spring, and stream was a path to adventure. A well-traveled trail to follow was the only difference in today’s walk. What a treat to visit that time again.

Hitting My Stride

Winding Stair Gap to Burningtown Gap is 14.6 miles, with two 1,500-foot climbs. At this point in my trek, that distance feels about right. I’m tired at the end of the day, but not exhausted, and not sore the next morning. Perfect.

I think I’ve figured out my pacing. On the long climbs, I’m following the advice of a guide we met on Mt. Rainier some years ago who said to pick a climbing pace you could maintain all day if you had to. So that’s what I do on the climbs. On rolling terrain and on smooth descents, I pick up the pace to grind out the miles.

But I also stop more. I stop to chat with other hikers, mostly. But I also pause to identify and photograph flowers, to let Roux drink from springs, and to take in the scenery. I think doing the 20.8-mile day to Deep Gap on Day 10 gave me confidence that I could log big miles eventually. In the meantime, I don’t need to rush.

Survivor’s New Project

Today’s highpoint, literally, was the stone tower on Wayah Bald (5,337 ft – a bald is a unique type of treeless peak found in North Carolina). I walked in Wayah Bald parking area at lunchtime, hungry and hoping for trail magic, but settled for catching up with Survivor, Machina, and Wheels, the hikers we drove into Franklin yesterday. They loved the van and asked a hundred questions about it and how I convinced Mrs. I to buy it. Actually, she convinced me.

Also, Survivor has made it his mission to weedle the “Incident” story out of me. He got nowhere at lunch time. Later, when I got to Burningtown Gap, Survivor was there, trying to convince Mrs. I that I’d given her permission to tell him the story. Mrs. I wasn’t having it, but that didn’t stop him from making all sorts of guesses. I finally got him to stop by promising him I’d give him a hint if I saw him tomorrow.

I did not promise it would be a useful hint though. Always check the fine print, Survivor. But then, he’s got another 2,074.4 miles to work it out. I wish him luck.

More on the Drug Bust

Back at Wayah Bald, I had just left when I got a text from Mrs. I saying she was at the Wayah Tower turnoff. Did I want to meet for lunch? Of course! So, Roux and I turned around, climbed back up to the bald, and waited while she drove up the steep gravel road.

As I waited by the parking area, some locals showed up and started talking about the big drug bust at Rock Gap. Their main source was a young lady one of them met at the Franklin library who was using “that Facebook thing.” Eventually, they said hi to me, and I mentioned that I’d been at Rock Gap for the action. We traded a few facts. Mine, from what I saw. Theirs, third hand from that Facebook thing, but definitely more interesting than mine.

One of them, who was riding on a motorized wheelchair scooter, claimed to have left Rock Gap just before the bust. That might sound a little far-fetched, but in fact, one of the spectators mentioned that a guy on a scooter had tried to drive it up the trail earlier that afternoon. Scooter guy didn’t share what he was doing at Rock Gap in his scooter or how he knew Sunspot. Several of the hikers at Wayah Tower had also heard about the bust. News travels fast in the woods.

Sitting on the Front Porch

At Burningtown Gap, we put out our camp chairs and chatted with a few of the hikers who came through. Mousefeathers, who graduated high school early to hike the trail, stopped in, accepted an orange, and told us how he got his name. On his first night on the trail, a mouse ate his puffy and the whole shelter got a dusting from the debris. A few minutes after Mousefeathers left, Huckleberry, a Black Lab/Great Pyrenees mix we’ve seen for the past week, galloped in to play with the doodles. Double H (Huckleberry’s Human) followed soon after, with Shooter and Ninja. Fancy Feast hiked through in the late afternoon after a zero in Franklin.

Quite a few of them are on the same pace as me to enter the Smokies on Monday morning. I’m looking forward to travelling with familiar faces.

Daily Stats:

  • Start: Winding Stair Gap (Mile 109.4)
  • End: Burningtown Gap (Mile 124.0)
  • Weather: Same ol’ same ol’, sunshine and glory
  • Earworm: Running on Empty (Jackson Browne). Go figure.
  • Meditation: Jn 8:30
  • Plant of the Day: Fawn Lilies & a magenta Trillium
  • Best Thing: Fawn lilies in a bed of star chickweed.
  • Worst Thing: Itchy spider webs in the face – early morning silk blazing.

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Comments 4

  • thetentman : Apr 21st

    Thx for the post. One foot in front of the other.


    Good luck.

    • Jon : Apr 21st


  • Mike Nixon : Apr 21st

    Thanks for great blogs (I guess they are?) I followed a guy last year as he hiked the AT. Since then, I get pop-ups on my phone of other thru-hikers. I have decided to soley “follow” you. It appears we are about the same age, and I like your writing style. I am truly in awe of y’all. My wife and I do some occasional hiking here in the Piedmont of NC. I could never do what you.

    As to your post about the drug bust, you are completely correct about the young lady who lied to the deputies about being with the 2 who got arrested. As a retired police officer, all too often folks lied to us, about trivial and serious matters equally. And yes, you are correct…yes sir/ma’am and no sir/ma’am go a long way…especially in the South.

    Keep up the good work, and stay safe out there!

    • Jon : Apr 21st

      Thx, Mike. And thank you for your service.


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