Day 14: Trail Games

The AT is a Bully!

Sometimes, I think the AT has a mean streak. It might even be out to get me.

It throws up roots to catch my feet and break my toes. It hides the white blazes or distracts me, so I miss turns and have to backtrack. It drops trees that block my path. It wets the rocks in the steepest places, just when I need sure footing. It puts pointless climbs in long descents, and climbs for thousands of feet only to skip the summit view. Don’t even get me started about what it does with poison ivy.

This morning, I realized that the AT doesn’t have a black heart. It isn’t a bully trying to crush my spirit. The AT is that awkward kid on the playground who trips you and laughs. It just wants my attention. It wants to play, and those are the only games it knows. Now, when the AT pulls one it’s pranks, I try to laugh and think “That was a good one. You got me. We’re friends, right?”

Trail Games

One of the AT’s favorite games is “hide the summit.” I’ve watched dozens of YouTubers narrating their climbs in northern Georgia. They’ll point at a peak and say, “I think that’s Blood Mountain in the distance.” Nope, not even close. The trail will take a sharp turn and entirely bypass the peak they photographed. I play that same game almost every day.

The AT desperately wanted to play the summit game with me on today’s 4,000-foot climb from the NOC to Cheoah Bald. It gave me false summits, views of peaks that were probably, could be, should be Cheoah, but I knew they were too close and not high enough. It hid the summit in clouds, rain, and fog. It put blue sky and shafts of light over nearby peaks as if heaven itself had revealed the summit location. It put some flat sections that could well have been the summit approach, but weren’t. It even sent a hiker down to tell me I was getting close.

I was having none of it. I just plodded along for three and a half hours, ignoring its tricks, and knowing I’d get there soon enough.

Cheoah Bald

And I did, eventually. I started the climb in a light drizzle over the NOC parking lot, the last remnant of the previous night’s hard rain. When that ran out, I walked under dripping trees and ominous gray skies and around long puddles. By mid-morning, the clouds started to break up, alternatingly lighting and shading the green slopes of the Nantahala Valley below.

But up above, Cheoah Bald’s head and shoulders were socked in with low clouds. I chased the lifting fog up the mountain. Just before I walked into the clouds, at the top of “The Jump Up,” one of the steeper sections of the climb, I stepped out of the wet trees into bright sunshine and an amazing view of the upper Nantahala.

Just as suddenly, I was engulfed in thick fog, which hung with me for the last three miles up the mountain. I’d left Spring at the lower elevations, so the mists surrounded the bare trees like ghostly vapors in spooky cemetery. By the time I’d hiked to the Bald, my clothes were soaked with sweat and wet fog.

But my new friend must have seen me shivering and alone, because just as I crested the Bald, the sun broke through the clouds, giving both warmth and an epic view, as well as pair of German hikers, Junco and Spills (?) for company.

More Games

The trail was back to its normal tricksy self for the hike back down to Stecoah Gap. It pounded my knees and Achilles, put mud and water in all the steepest spots, and threw in another 900 feet of climbing along the 2,600-foot descent.

But no more than normal. And Mrs. I was there at the end, handing out Tootsie Pops to hikers and making them laugh. Another epic day on the AT, my new playground buddy.

A Few Random Thoughts:

  • We walked up to Nantahala Falls last evening to watch kayakers. Pretty river, lovely sound.
  • NOC let us boondock for free. We just needed a free parking pass. Classy.
  • Altra is sending me a free pair of Olympus V’s. Met a guy at lunch yesterday who was having the same delaminating sole problem, and he tipped me off to their warrantee web portal.
  • If I’m 4,000 feet above you and 6.5 miles away, and I can still hear your motorcycle rev up, it’s too freakin’ loud.
  • Simp Gap? Who was that named after?
  • I caught up to Psy-Ops taking a break around 1:30. We chatted briefly and then he took off RUNNING, hoping to make Fontana Dam by sunset (~19 miles). As if his normal pace isn’t already supersonic. I won’t see him again.
  • I think I’m hiking into the next hiker bubble. I’m seeing lots of new faces and few of the old ones.
  • Survivor didn’t catch me today. No trail name hints today.

Daily Stats:

  • Start: The NOC (Mile 136.7)
  • End: Stecoah Gap (Mile 150.6)
  • Weather: Rain, fog, clouds, cold, sun
  • Earworm: See meditation, Whitney Houston version from The Bodyguard
  • Meditation: Jesus Loves Me (thank you, reader Debbie Carney)
  • Plant of the Day: Moss-covered burls (tree fungus)
  • Best Thing: Walking alone in soggy fog
  • Worst Thing: Climbs on the descent

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 7

  • Billie Shelton : Apr 23rd

    Great adventure

    • Jon : Apr 24th

      Indeed. Thx for reading!

  • thetentman : Apr 24th

    The AT is out to get you. Watch out.

    Happy trails.

    • Jon : Apr 24th

      Eyes open.

  • Denae : Apr 24th

    Hi! “Trail Games” lol love your reframe & wish you well on your adventures!

    • Jon : Apr 24th

      Thx for reading!


What Do You Think?