Days 36 – 40; Smiles for Miles

Day 36- 8.57 miles, 3,540’ elevation gain; Stealth site to Groundhog Creek Shelter camping

We saw the sign for Standing Bear Farm and Hostel, a rustic and popular hostel that many people stay at and carried on. Having just zeroed a bunch and an entire week for Riv, he and I were ready to carry on north at a slightly faster pace. By slightly faster I’m aiming for 10 mile days compared to our eight. Slowly, we’re moving faster. It felt so good to have River’s wagging tail back as my daily views.

Since leaving Georgia the trail has become a lot more rugged and honestly makes me feel as though my trail legs have digressed a bit. It could be the five to seven day food carries or a number of other things but damn these constant, waterless climbs are brutal and we still have over 1,900 miles left.

Down at lower elevations the early wildflowers have come and gone, finally the trillium has begun to blossom. Trillium is the flower that represents Tara and I’s love. Whenever I see one or a patch of many, I’ll send her a photo. I’ve always thought they were beyond gorgeous with their three large distinct green leaves and three petals or either white, red, or white with pink highlights. Seeing my first of the trip was fitting at this moment as she just left yesterday.

The highlight of the day was summiting Snowbird Mountain, a four thousand footer with a campsite and great views at the top. To get there, a generously spaced staircase that was not built by a Jolly Green Giant provided easy stepping as we made our way one rock stair at a time. We had our lunch at the top, cameled up on some water then carried on another two and a half miles to Deep Gap.

I had intended on staying at Deep Gap, yes another gap named Deep, however there was already two tents setup for the evening and it looked a little tight to ask to add a third. Plus with the shelter being close by I knew I’d have more space there.

I didn’t go past the front of the shelter but it sounded like only one person was in it. The rest of the area was covered with tents, about eight of us. I settled in for the night and before I knew it the sun was up on a new day!

Day 37- 11.24 miles, 3,478’ elevation gain; Groundhog Creek Shelter to Lemon Gap Stealth site

I was the last one to pack up and leave, no surprise there. Trail name is Slow and I earned it. Considering today’s date, where I am on the trail, and factoring in 11-ish mile days for most hikers. Last night’s overload at the shelter is the March 1st bubble on my tail.

The highlight of today was Max Patch! Although a little windy, we stayed dry. As River and I were enjoying some trail magic provided by Jackson, Gale Force caught up to us. I met them back on Blood Mountain in Georgia, my first rainstorm of the trip. We got to talking and come to find out they were one of the two tents set up last night in Deep Gap. I’m bummed and I wish I had stopped to chat last night as I totally would have camped with them.

Thank you for the trail magic Jackson!

We got to talking and they said they were probably going to get off trail in Hot Springs, just a couple walking days away. I took it upon myself to hike with them for the day in case it would be my last opportunity. We chatted about life on trail as a queer individual, life off the trail and a bunch of other things. I knew I couldn’t sway their decision but I could and will support them in whatever they choose. Super kind human.

Max Patch Beauties!

River and I even got to have the Max Patch experience with them! When we got to the summit they yelled into windy abyss shaking up any stuck energy. I didn’t have it in me to do the same but if they don’t hop off trail, I’d love to shout at the top of my lungs with them after a tough climb.

Day 38- 7.03 miles, 2,247’ elevation gain; Lemon Gap to Beck Branch Stealth site

River and I ended up camping with Gale Force and the two people that were also in Deep Gap the night I opted to go down near the shelter. It was nice camping with all of them and I wish I hadn’t been so tired. With the incoming rain today we were all in bed early last night for an early start this morning in hopes of beating the rain.

Hikers have all the foods. Hoping Gale Force drops a bite.

River and I were on trail by 0730 and back in our tent by noon. I got everything pitched and inside just in time for the sky to let loose. This put us just over seven miles from Hot Springs. I figure an early rise will get me to town for brunch with time to resupply before pushing on. Another popular overnight stop where we were in and out in half a day.

I rushed through the miles trying to get as far as I could before the rain. Tomorrow will be a better day all around.

Day 39- 11.35 miles, 3,525’ elevation gain; Stealth site near Beck Branch to Stealth site beyond Pump Gap

I woke up tasting home cooked breakfast knowing it was just about at my fingertips. I broke down camp, got River ready for the day and descended almost two thousand feet down into Hot Springs. 68g km

When we hit the road walk the first thing I did was open up Google Maps to see what my options were. Literally a quarter mile away was the Smoky Mountain Diner. Perfect. I had just missed breakfast sadly so I went with the chicken tenders, sweet potato casserole, and their fried apples. It was so delicious.

Moseying down the sidewalk which also happens to be the trail we hit the Dollar General for River’s resupply and then Bluff Mountain Outfitters for mine. I like to support the trail community as much as I can and I think I got a better resupply at the outfitter than I would have at the DG but dang, it’s beyond cost efficient to make your own meals and energy bars and mail drop them. If I was buying all commercially dehydrated meals and mailing it would not be. For the constant battle of ‘is it a cost savings to mail drop’, it is, but only if you make the food and buy snacks in bulk.

Five days of food later and we’re off! Next resupply is at Uncle Johhny’s in Erwin Tennessee and it’s a mail drop!

French Broad River from Lover’s Leap after leaving Hot Springs.

Day 40- 11.40 miles, 4,073’ Elevation gain; Stealth site to Stealth site

The climb out of Hot Springs yesterday evening was no joke and I definitely was feeling it this morning. River was not and he was definitely feeling himself!

The highlight of today was the Rich Mountain Fire Tower. A steep, but worth it, .3 mile blue blaze leads to a well maintained fire tower with 360 degree views. It was most definitely a longer side quest but I’m really trying to work on my fear of heights.

On the hike up the entire mountainside had recently experienced a forest fire. The sights and smells were so different from what I’m used to. It’s sad but its also the cycle of nature. We had the summit and the tower to ourselves, ate a nice lunch and just hung out with the views and the birds for the afternoon.

I will say this, these fire towers are very structurally sound. The staircase up is exactly that, a sturdy staircase. River could have made his way up it. The towers back in VT, NH, and ME are not. Typically it’s just a sketchy ladder that leads you straight up to a dilapidated four walled structure. The fear aspect isn’t what it usually is down here and I know it’s not because I’ve done the work just yet.

… and still we’re headed home.

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Comments 1

  • DEB : May 6th

    Hey there Sage, it’s been too long since your last post. I know things can get crazy out there in the woods. Really hoping all is well & you post an update soon! Be safe out there!


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