Days 21 – 25; Rough, Rugged, and the Power of Thought

Day 21- 8.28 miles, 2,515′ elevation loss, Cold Spring Campsite to Paint Mountain Campsite

Down, down, down was the plan for today as River and I walk closer to the NOC and the Nantahala River. Yesterday was rough and I’m pretty sure I accidentally froze both of my water filters. I had zero clue we were in for snow and freezing temperatures; it was a total surprise to wake up to the noise and see the aftermath. But alas, we shall carry north and I’ll get a new one as soon as the money presents itself.

River and Sage

The wind was relentless, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the wind chill was around freezing or below for the entire day. We hiked at about 5,000′ of elevation for the morning making it over Tellico, Black and Rocky Balds before descending 1,200′ down into Tellico Gap. The terrain at 5,000 feet is much less forgiving than the Georgia section where we skirted around 3000′ feet mostly.

One of my goals for this trek is to squash my fear of heights. I don’t climb fire towers, I pass on hiking Katahdin’s Knife Edge trail, and I poop my pants when house projects require a ladder. After passing through Tellico Gap the Appalachian Trail ascends to the summit of Wesser Bald and its fire tower. I wasn’t feeling it back at the hundred mile marker with the tower on top of Albert Mountain, but the wind and the cold had me feeling some type of way and the next thing I knew, I was on top of the fire tower while River napped in the bushes below. I snapped a couple photos quickly and climbed down the steep, metal stairs back to solid ground. Slow- 1, Fire towers- 1.

Steady on top of their first fire tower.

View from Wesser Bald fire tower. Wesser Bald, mile marker 130.4

Day 22- 2.88 miles, 1,464′ elevation loss; Paint Mountain to Andrews, NC

I was trying to make it to the NOC without having to spend another night south of there, but the first thing out the window is always the plan. I got lazy in the cold, wind, and snow and didn’t take care of my feet like I should have. Every time I stop to eat lunch, I take my rubber coffins off to let them and my feet dry out. I did not do that yesterday and I paid the price. Instead of making it worse and with sundown fast approaching, I decided to turn in to a campsite and take care of my foot. It wasn’t a blister, but I basically rubbed my arch raw in my muddy socks.

I woke up with the bandage still on my foot and my mental at an all-time low for the trail. I packed camp and was walking by 0800. I knew I was going to take it even slower (if that’s possible), but I also knew I wanted to get off trail for the evening. And with another night of freezing temperatures forecasted I carried along with gusto! Before I knew it, we we’re at the NOC.

I called a shuttle, a nice woman who guides fly fishing trips on the river in season and shuttles for hikers as a side gig. She doesn’t have a business card but if needed you can find her number in the comments section of the NOC pin in FarOut. She scooped me up within 10 minutes and drove me 25 miles off trail to Andrews, North Carolina. Hikers typically go to Bryson City, North Carolina, but after three freezing nights, I just needed a reset without seeing a face I knew from the trail.

The room was great, laundry machine actually cleaned my clothes unlike the last time I did a load (hence my foot), and the tub was much needed for soaking my muscles and joints.

I walked across town and got River and I burgers at Burger Basket, twice as good as Five Guys and half the cost. On the way back we stopped into a Dollar General Market for frozen pizza and a few resupply items. While there, River made a new friend and even got him to add over a pound of dog treats to my pack. Thank you, Officer! We then stopped into an ice cream shop for a milk shake and a pup cup. His ice cream was on the house. River made out like a bandit today!

River enjoying a burger at the Burger Basket.

River an his officer friend he met at the Dollar General.

River with his free ice cream!River was the talk of the town!

Day 23- 5.11 miles, 2,545′ elevation gain; NOC to the Jump Up Campsite

I checked out of the hotel room five minutes before 1100 and I took River to Maria’s Diner to fuel up one more time before hitting the trail. Three eggs, bacon, sausage, hashbrowns, biscuits and gravy later, I wish I had ordered more. It was that good.

After slamming down some great food, I walked over to the intersection where it’s a straight shot to the NOC. Before checking out I had used food packaging and a hotel room pen to create a sign that read THRU HIKER. NOC? My plan was 30 minutes flying a sign hoping for a hitch to the trailhead. If I didn’t get picked up, I’d call the shuttle and pay the fee.

I had just texted my partner ‘not much luck hitching a ride’, when someone actually pulled over for me. Now, if you’re following my Instagram you already know how this unfolds. But, freaking Dragonsky picked River and I up and dropped us right off at the trailhead! Dragonsky is the author of Pack Light A Journey to Find Myself, thru-hiker, and just an all-around badass. I can’t thank her enough because in an instant I went from my all-time trail low to a trail high. Thank you Dragonsky, till out paths cross again!

Dragonsky and Slow with their pupsTrail Angel

After saying goodbye to Dragonsky, we hoisted our packs on and continued NOBO. The climb out of the NOC was brutal. We had been warned but I cast it aside as typical fearmongering. And now I know. With a pack full of resupply and River’s food and not hitting the trail until well after noon, I knew we wouldn’t make too many miles. The first campsite with a view we walked past we turned in, and what a lovely night we had.

Day 24- 6.98 miles, 2,314′ elevation gain; Jump Up Campsite to Mount Possible

I woke up around 0730 to the sound of a noisy sleeping pad, it was nice camping with the three folks who also called the Jump Up home for the night. Being only the third time I’ve shared a campsite, these three folks by far gave me nothing to worry about, unlike my previous two experiences. Although, I still did have a titch of worry sleeping near folks I really didn’t know. Despite my passing privilege, as a trans person, I still have to navigate the world with a vigilance towards my safety and wellbeing. It gets tiring, hence why I often camp alone. But alas, one of my reasons why for hiking this trail is to hopefully restore my faith in humanity.

As we continue to climb out and away from the NOC it feels like the trail is headed straight up the mountains. The Appalachian Trail crosses the Nantahala River at mile marker 136.9. The NOC stands for Nantahala Outdoor Center and it’s exactly that, an outdoor gear shop, river trips, food, laundry, etc. Great people watching, but we did not stay here too long.

I appreciate all the prior switchbacks, something the White Mountain National Forest also doesn’t have. Steep, rocky climbs carved right out of the mountainside was for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Endlessly we kept climbing, higher and higher with this being our hottest day on trail thus far. The additions made to my food bag in Andrews felt a little dreadful now too, but I’d rather go slow than go hungry.

Day 25- 6.81 miles 1,423’ elevation gain The Jump Up to Mount Possible

Another thing North Carolina has graced us with is a lack of water. I typically will carry just a quarter of a liter for River in case of anything and I’ll filter every couple miles for us. However, that hasn’t been the case for quite some time it feels. Long waterless stretches add multiple pounds to the pack so when it can be avoided, I’ll carry just the little bit for River.

As I was setting up camp for the night another hiker comes along, it was Grateful. He ended up calling it a day and pitching his tent in the other flat spot by mine. I’ll admit that I was a little bummed to have to share a campsite again. The forest isn’t mine and it would have been a total ass move to say he had to keep hiking on to another campsite. In the end it wasn’t so bad, and we got to complain about how hard the trail has gotten. One thing the trail has made me good at is accepting change in an instant. I’m a creature of habit but growth and comfort do not coexist.

sunset from Mount Possible

River has been absolutely loving life out here. Every day is like the first day on trail to him. He has his own little routine with mornings filled with lovings, afternoons filled will rolling in the grass, and evenings spent rolling around in the tent as I shit bricks that he’s gonna snap a tent pole. And just like all other animals in the kingdom he naps from about one to three in the afternoons. If we don’t pick the pace up, we may never make it back home to Maine and that’s okay, first thing out the window is always the plan. We can always be LASHers (long ass section hikers), weekend warriors, you name it, but we can’t go back and get a do over.

Have you ever thought and wondered that no two people will ever see the same view exactly the same? Whether it be height differences, perceived color, etc., even if viewing from the exact same spot, no two people see a view in the same way. The power of the mind is not a joke.

…and still we’re headed home.

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Comments 3

  • Flash : Mar 28th

    Thank you for sharing your AT hike with us, the Trek readers. As a female trail runner I
    can relate to your vigilance, as I am often way out on a trail by myself and I have to pay attention to my surroundings in order to stay safe. I’m wishing you and River safe travels.

  • Furnace : Mar 30th

    Enjoying your posts. 2018 thru hiker here and I wanted to give you a tip on getting your socks clean. I found that I needed to thoroughly wash/rinse them out by hand before I put them in the machine. If not, they looked clean but the fine grit stayed in and worked like sandpaper on my feet.
    Also, I understand your hesitation about camping close to others but hopefully you will find that most of the thru hikers on the trail are pretty accepting.
    Best of luck to you!

  • Cheri : Apr 4th

    Are you and your precious pup still on trail? I haven’t heard from you since March 28 and curious about what you’ve been up to! I miss reading your post and look forward to hearing from you again soon! Keeping you in my prayers!


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