Day 18: Norovirus and Baby Rabbits

The Plan for the Day

Sleeping in beds always seems to give me a deep night’s sleep now since it’s either that or the ground. I was out of it last night. Once I started waking up, I kept checking the clock to make sure I wasn’t oversleeping. Me and two others had made plans to leave at 8:30 to shuttle over to Stecoah Gap.

I was quick to get ready and we left shortly before 9:00. I didn’t hit the trail until 9:30. It was definitely later than I was hoping. Going southbound from Stecoah Gap left me with 13.9 miles, about 3,200 feet in elevation gain, and 4,600 feet in elevation loss. It was going to be a long day.


On the way over, and even before leaving, the discussion was centered around norovirus. It has hit the trail a month earlier than usual and has sprung up in Georgia this time, not the Smoky Mountains. Granted, norovirus is currently in the Smokies, which leaves me right in the middle of it. The two others I was talking with were deeply concerned. It started to make me spooked. I was having ideas that it may be best passing up the Smokies since I would be required to stay in a shelter – the hot bed for this virus.

Loaner Clothes and Cheoah Bald

When we arrived at the trailhead, I was quick to head off. It was going to be a hard stretch. Plus, standing around was making me cold. I brought my puffy, but not my gloves. I was also going commando in very breathable shorts. What can I say? I will do whatever I can to keep my clothes clean. Loaner clothes for the win.

For the first five miles, it was just up. The grade seemed pretty moderate, so it wasn’t overly difficult. I could just be getting used to the trail though. 

It may be possible, but it kicked my ass.


I experienced something pretty cool while hiking this stretch. I was heading southbound during the height of NOBO season. When I’m hiking northbound, I seem to rarely see other people. It constantly gives me the sense that I am alone. Since I was SOBOing it today, I saw not one, not two, but nearly three DOZEN thru-hikers. I finally got to see how crowded the trail actually was. It just happened that I ended up stopping and talking to nearly every one of them. I knew about half. With the ones I knew, they all said, “You’re going the wrong way.” I missed my opportunity to put on a horrified face and say, “Wait. Really?”

I got to see Grace, Pete, and Sideways again. Grace doesn’t quite have a trail name, but she is thinking of calling herself Little Foot. It was nice to see them again.

Here’s a Pitch

As I continued hiking, I didn’t think on any heavy subjects. I instead had internal debates and was trying to pitch ideas to random people I have never met. There is this one YouTuber that I enjoy watching on occasion that has a series called ‘Challenge Accepted.’ She titles her videos “I tried ________.” I spent a good thirty minutes trying to pitch a video called “I tried thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail.” Complete with hand gestures and everything. I’m sure if somebody was watching me, they’d think I was on something.

Fellow Sandal Hiker and Lunch

About a mile away from Cheoah Bald, I decided I would have lunch up there. I passed by two hikers who I hadn’t met yet and was leaving the area before one, called Inch, said, “Hey, another sandal hiker.” I stopped dead in my tracks before whipping around, gaze landing on his feet. “Yo, you are the only other hiker I have met who has been hiking in sandals,” I exclaim. We then proceeded to geek out for a solid five minutes.

The final ascent was steep, but I was motivated to eat lunch. The moment I got to the top, the wind blasted past me and through the trees. It was at least thirty miles an hour. And it was constant. I got some good pictures but had to retreat downhill. I was not eating lunch in such windy conditions. I instead hiked another 1.2 miles to the shelter.

A view from Cheoah Bald.

I ate lunch near the Sassafras Gap Shelter sign. I wasn’t there long, but it was long enough to eat, filter water, and apply some Bodyglide to my thighs. I was up and moving again. It was downhill from there. The way down was mostly steady. There were a few exceptions, but those areas came with views. I spent a good chunk of that time listening to an episode from Backpacker Radio. 

The NOC (Once Again)

My body was holding up pretty well, but the last two miles were long. About four miles from the NOC, I could see it. Two miles away, I would catch a glimpse, but it always seemed so far away. I was ready to end the day with some pizza.

When I got to the restaurant, I celebrated with some root beer as I waited for my takeout pizza. It couldn’t come soon enough. When I got the pizza, the bartender put a folded-up bag on top of it. I thanked her and left the restaurant. I was convinced the small bag contained a cookie. It was just napkins. That was the biggest disappointment of the day.

Plans for Tomorrow

I sat outside the gear shop and saw that Clan Topos made it to town. We chatted and I began stuffing my face with pizza as I waited for the shuttle from Gorgeous Stays. They were planning on rafting tomorrow in the rain. 

Wendi arrived and I jumped in. The trip was short, and I was soon finishing the rest of my pizza. Wendi said that despite two other female hikers were planning on staying there and that I selected a shared room price, she was giving me the room to myself. I was very thankful. She asked what I had planned for tomorrow, and I mentioned that I was going to try to see if I can get to Bearmeat’s Indian Den – an awesome art store/gift shop that I’ve been to several times located between Cherokee and Maggie Valley. It was only thirty minutes away and I wanted their homemade soap (it’s the best I have ever found). Wendi said that I should talk with their child, Em.

Baby Rabbits

I took a shower and headed back to the lodge. I called my mom and she said that she found our dog, Abby, outside having the time of her life playing with a squeaky toy. “The neighbors must have given it to her because none of her toys squeak anymore. She was loving it. She would throw it up in the air and catch it. It was only when I got closer that I realized it wasn’t a dog toy. It was a baby rabbit.” I choked on the water I was drinking when I heard that.

Abby, the rabbit killer. Photograph credit: Tammy Schmidt

After that wonderful conversation, Scott got me back on the table and did his chiropractor things. Good news is, my body held up during my hike and that my body wasn’t showing signs of going over its threshold. 

Rangering and Exploration

I was close to sleep, but I ended up talking with Em. Em was curious about the process of being a park ranger and I helped them out by supplying tips and providing the resources that helped me. Trying to become a federal ranger can be intimidating, but once you understand the process, it becomes much easier.

We then talked about the attractions in the area. Their family moved here in January, so I pointed out places that I’ve really enjoyed. I have never lived in western North Carolina, but I have visited several times. I said that once July/August comes around, that they must visit this one roadside market. The peaches are to die for. Em also offered to take me to Bearmeat’s Indian Den once they got off work. Afterwards, I headed back and was quick to fall asleep.

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Comments 1

  • Margie : Apr 2nd

    I am so glad you are doing well! I have been following you since you first got on the trail and start to worry if you don’t post for a few days.I am 75years old and have done a lot of hikes – I hiked Yellowstone in winter a couple of years ago and have done some other really great ones, but I have never done what you are doing!, I am very happy to be living vicariously through you. Keep it up. I love what you are doing.


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