Day 21 – A Mad Dash For Food

Day 21

Start: Burningtown Gap, NC

End: Nantahala Outdoor Center

Miles Hiked: 12.9

Miles on AT: 137.1


Whew! Today was a tough one! I didn’t think I was going to make it, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning.

The fiance didn’t make it on trail for this leg. The poison ivy is still doing its damage, so he’s going to take some time to heal up off trail. Although I wish he could come with me, I’m still happy to get back on trail.

The first mile out of Burningtown Gap this morning was rough! I guess I’d had my feet up and resting for far too long because the muscles and tendons in my calves and ankles were excruciatingly tight. I could barely walk uphill without them burning. I stopped and stretched a number of times, massaging the affected areas. After about a mile, though, I was moving like I had never gotten off trail.

3 miles in, I stopped at Rocky Bald for lunch. It was steep, but unsurprisingly had amazing views. While reviewing the map, I realized the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) was just one mile from my planned campsite. Not only that, but they had a restaurant with hot food. Who could pass that up?

I had service on the bald, so a quick search told me the restaurant closed at 7:00 pm. I checked my watch. It was almost 2:00 pm. With about 9 miles left to get to the NOC, I could theoretically make it, but it would be tight. The promise of hot food made me salivate. I was going to go for it.

After taking the requisite pictures, I headed down from my lunch spot and started on my mission. The terrain was relatively light and easy going. Yes, there were a few ascents, but nothing crazy.

I reached Tellico Gap and the electrical lines that ran through it and began my ascent from there. The climb toward Wesser Bald was mercifully moderate. The sun was high in the sky, its rays beaming down, heating up the air. Once I made it to the top, I spotted to my right a structure. Another lookout tower! 

Of course I had to take the chance to see the landscape from above. It was a beautiful day, so I was rewarded with a clear view of all the mountains in all directions. Two butterflies were swirling together in the wind just above the trees. One chased the other, then they switched sides. It was a magical game of tag.

After coming down from the tower, I went about another mile before stopping for water. It was pretty warm today, so I needed it. Checking the time, I could see I was still in the green for dinner, but just barely. I would need to keep moving to make it there.

Traversing the final bunch of up and down, up and down ascents, I relished the views, but was also starting to feel a bit hungry. I ate a Cliff bar on the go and kept it moving. When I reached the beginning of the long descent (~2,500 feet), I knew it was going to be rough. The first few steps were steep and rocky. I had to take it slowly because of my knees. My new brace was helping a lot, but I still had to be careful.

After about 2.5 miles, the descent started getting easier, with long, smooth switchbacks instead of rocky steps. The landscape changed, too. The underbrush was lush and full of butterflies and wildflowers. A purple flower with trigonal symmetry stood out to me; I had never seen one like it before. Breathtaking! 

The air took on the aroma of a florist’s shop. A sweetly subtle yet pungent parfum filled the air. I couldn’t stop inhaling; I wanted to bottle this smell and take it with me.

After a few 30 second breaks on the side of the trail to give my knees a rest, I had finally reached the shelter where I had planned to stay for the night. 1 more mile to go! Looking at the time, it was about 6:15. I could totally make it!

With a renewed spirit of hope, I hiked that last mile as well as I could. It’s always the last mile that seems the longest. But then, I heard it. Road noise! I was almost there. Soon, the pavement came into view and I could see all of the hikers and tourists milling about the NOC.

6:33 pm. Right on time for dinner. I made a beeline to the restaurant and ordered a trout cake sandwich with mashed potatoes, a Sprite, and a water. I ate every last bite. My server was even kind enough to bring me a bag of ice after noticing my braced knee. What better service could I have asked for.

Full and content, I found myself a cabin and rested for the remainder of the night. What a wonderful ending to a wonderful day.


And that’s day 21.


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Comments 2

  • Chris : May 8th

    You had me on edge wondering if you were going to make it, especially with your knee giving you issues. Congrats on the meal,.. but no food pictures 🙁 j/k

    • Jen Brown : May 16th

      Haha, it was close! I’ll have to take more food pictures next time 🙂


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