Day 8 – 12 : Time To Make Those Miles

Last update was tired me, alone me camped on a ridge determined to find my hiking partner in the morning. 

Day 8: A Solo Night to a Treacherous One

Woke up early even though it took me a while to pack up. Many things were delaying me, and taking a poop was one of them! The sooner the general public knows how quickly a thru-hiker can change the subject to poop, the better!

I finally packed up in the light rain to try and find Sprout! Surely she can’t be too far ahead of me! It ended up being a little over a mile and a half north, instantly feeling better once we reconnected. 

Only 5 miles to get us to the NOC (Nantahala Outdoor Center)! A memorable stop for AT thru-hikers and rafting folks alike!

The sign right off trail heading towards the NOC!

Hopefully, a delicious treat and a cool sticker are waiting for me! Poked around the general and gear store a little bit before Sprout made it to me at the beach just over the bridge!

It’s never a long wait and it didn’t take long for her to join in lizard time! Lay out all the soggy stuff on the beach, have our feet in the cold river enjoying our treats from the general store. Two ice cream sandwiches and a Gatorade later, we started looking ahead at the trail when we suddenly found urgency in leaving. 

Checking the radar on my phone, the weather once again, changed. A heavy storm front coming in and roughly three hours until it reaches the area. Do we stay at a restaurant here for many hours and wait it out OR hike on to the closest shelter? 

We aren’t the type to sit around, so we pushed the 7 miles to a shelter. We got rained on getting there and didn’t care because at that point that was our stopping point. Push through the weather and call it a day! Once we rolled up to the shelter, 10 minutes apart we were presented with bluebird skies. The both of us were beside ourselves. 

We exerted all this energy to get to the shelter for great weather? I guess we keep pushing on; everyone else was! Supposedly another 7 miles to the road where there are a few tent spots. 

Hiking to the road, I eventually started passing some other hikers and asked where their sleep spot was. There were many people around us and didn’t want to all end up in the same spot. 

From what I was told, most heading to the shelter 2.3 miles past the upcoming gap, Stecoah Gap. The guy I was talking to, he and his buddy were heading to the two tent sites just up the road I was hoping we could snag. I then found myself at the road, sitting at a picnic table looking at options while Sprout makes it to me. 

Looking into options and taking into account the ever-changing weather, it became clear tonight could be life-threatening weather if we set up camp within our limited options. We could be in danger! The surrounding 22 counties were in a tornado watch. Advise you to head indoors as there were severe winds and hail swiftly approaching. When I broke the news to Sprout, she was not at all surprised and jump-started the calling process! Not something we want to mess with, especially if we are already on a road that can get us to a warm roof over our heads! 

It eventually worked out, like it always does and we got picked up at the trailhead, just before the rain started falling. Found a place to hang our ponchos, tents, and jackets off for the night. We laid to bed very late, but very thankful; 18 miles closer to Katadhin. 

Day 9: Fontana Marina

Up before the sun early and back at Stecoah Gap during the thunder & lightning. The hostel owner/our morning driver was quite hesitant to let us leave with thunder in the near distance. We thanked him for the ride, got our ponchos and headphones situated and we were off. We also had slight hope the radar would hold and would fade around lunchtime. 

Trudging up, and down, and back up, to go right back down is always the theme of trail. Today, I was gifted by not having to deal with walking in mud, but rather a chocolate milk river that was the trail. Walked a consistent 8 miles until the storm started to break up. Thank goodness it broke, because my soggy feet were starting to lose hope! It’s always nice to feel a warm breeze and shed that poncho and rain jacket! Before I knew it, we had walked 14 miles to the Fontana marina! 

Damn, that’s a pretty sight!

We saw familiar faces while we waited for our shuttle to be able to retrieve our resupply box, which of course is a whole story of its own!

Unfortunately or maybe fortunately for you, I’ll keep the story short and sweet. We pulled up to the general store that had our resupply box, only for the UPS truck to be outside unloading. Fingers crossed it’s in there!! After a half hour of pacing in the general store, we had our box in hand thankful for the nearly perfect timing! 

Time to head to the cabin in the woods, our place of rest for the evening. Once we got the lay of the land, we started unpacking our things just shy of 4:30 pm! That had both of us feeling good about the timeline for the rest of our tasks. 

My order of operations is usually to shower, lay out any items to dry, situate food, and charge electronics all while simultaneously consuming calories or rehydrating! 

We got our permits issued and printed for tomorrow! We are less than a 2 mile walk from the border! Fontana Dam is the gateway to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park! We estimate 5 days in the park; here we go! 

Day 10: Into The Smokey’s We Go!

Up early & heading back to the Fontana Marina! With our printed permits in hand, we had roughly 2 miles until we were officially into the Great Smokey Mountains National Park! 

We’re officially at the border of the park!

With the gloomy weather above, the miles seemed to last a lifetime. I took a lot of short breaks throughout the day which felt very relieving. No rushing, tons of excess stretching as there’s a lot of elevation gain today.

We had agreed on a shelter before leaving the marina that would make 19 miles hiked today. We weren’t in any rush to get there although I was eager to be horizontal. My hips have started to bother me the past few days, and have upped my hip flexor stretching since. 

Most of my day felt like I was listening to the same thing on repeat, walking up the same hill with the same looming skies. Another few stops, stretches, and water breaks, I was at the shelter. Somehow there surprisingly early to set up my sleep spot for my first AT shelter! 

My little corner of the world for the night.

I devoured my big dinner while attempting conversations with the hodgepodge of folks who found themselves at the same shelter. 4 college boys all hopeful to hike it all once they graduate, a father and daughter out for the night, a solo gentleman, and us two ladies all enjoying the warmth of a fire! 

As I lay down for the day, I finally felt caught up with my writing, feeling ahead in life… for now! 

Day 11: So It Begins: Mundane

Not super thrilled to wake up shivering. The fire felt nice last night, but a chilly pack-up doesn’t lend for an invigorating start to my day.  

Any excuse to take a break every 2 – 4 miles I was gonna take it. Cool picture? Rock in my shoes? I’ll take a second to stop. Just overall feeling sluggish today, but this day was bound to happen. Pushing these bigger days out here, with the elevation gain will eventually get anyone. 

Still a beautiful view with the looming moody clouds!

The erratic rain, constant fog, and rolling hills today also lead to a whole lot of nothing special to report on. Just a day on the trail, trying to make miles towards a bigger goal. 

Got to camp and stumbled upon a mostly empty shelter! Score! An older lady, and a solo female thru-hiker! My second one on the AT! Solo females are always so inspiring and leave me invigorated! Time for bed, another night in a wooden shelter on the Appalachian Trail with 19 miles hiked today! 

Day 12: Charlies Bunion & Mother’s Day 

No one set an alarm and it was amazing! This shelter had a tarp covering the opening, which held in heat nicely as I’ve been pretty cold in the smokey’s! I also broke out a hand warmer in the middle of the night which also helped! Thank you past self! 

Sprout was excited to go see Charlies Bunion, while I was dreading that area. It’s a weekend, in a National Park on top of that area being popular for day trips! This windy and narrow trail, once heavily populated with people and fresh fragrant smells, makes little ol’ me a tad overwhelmed! 

Took my time finding spots to tuck away for little breaks before coming up on the first junction for Charlies Bunion.

I sure do love rocks and a good sign!

Sitting there contemplating my next move, the influx of families enjoying Mother’s Day was starting to get to me. As much as I was suppressing this feeling, there’s no denying that I’m homesick. How could you not?! 

Trying any way to lift my spirits as I pushed on, I finally stumbled into Newfound Gap. Busy with traffic here too! The beautiful blue skies attracted all outdoor enthusiasts out today! 

Just felt like missing my family was all I did today. Fighting away the negative thoughts trying to stay in a generally positive headspace to camp. We hiked 21 miles in total today. Not my best day, but without rain there are no rainbows! 

Until next time, happy trails!

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