Family and Vistas
It was a brisk morning so I kept my puffy on until I warmed from the uphill climb and patches of sunshine. The four miles flew by and soon I was at Indian Grave Gap. There I was greeted my mom’s cousin Pam and her dad Jimmy, who is the brother of my late granny. Pam recognized me right away, saying I look a lot like my mom. Pam’s husband Doug has hiked many sections of the AT and knew shelters and other spots I mentioned. So exciting to meet family whom I’ve never met before!
Doug drove us to the Yee-Haw Brewery in Johnson City. The brewery is housed in an old train depot along with White Duck Taco Shop. We sat in their large patio area, enjoying the sun and cute downtown area. I had my first Tennessee hard cider and tasty tacos. Jimmy and Pam told me family stories. Jimmy is quite articulate for a 90 year old! Afterwards Doug drove us to a hilltop view and pointed out all the mountains I will be climbing on my way to Damascus.
I was excited to shower and do laundry. It turns out that socks which stay damp on your feet for days pick up a funky smell.
In the evening Pam, Doug & I went to Bella Vita Italian restaurant, a cute local establishment. The eggplant parmesan was utterly delicious and the quiet environment allowed for easy conversation. Jimmy came over afterward and we watched an old western, The Professionals. I had fun throwing a toy mouse for their cat and got tired before the end of the movie.
Doug, Pam, and Jimmy all accompanied me back to the trail this morning. I am so glad walking the trail gave me the opportunity to meet them. They said to let me know if I need anything as they are close by all the way to Damascus.
It was a quiet trail day. I listened to an audiobook off & on and ran into a couple hikers I knew, but very few overall. My favorite portion was the dank, mossy green forest that covered Unaka Mountain. I stopped at Cherry Gap shelter for lunch and a section hiker named Tinker played me a funny song on his guitar. It was a song he wrote on a northern section of the trail.
Yesterday I picked up a resupply box sent by my brother-in-law’s mom. The variety of food made my day. She sent a bunch of snacks that are not in any of my boxes: home-baked GF oatmeal butterscotch cookies, PB&J bites, rice krispy treats, sunflower seeds, and almond flour crackers. Biting into a yummy cookie while surrounded by woods and bird song felt like such a treat.
I set up camp at a lovely spot amongst maple trees with a spring nearby. My first night of AT camping without others nearby, or so I thought until three guys showed up late. It was my longest day, 16.8 miles, with a full food load.
The day took me over 6,000 ft. for the first time since the Smoky Mountains. It was a climb most of the morning, but I didn’t mind. Usually that means a good viewpoint is ahead! Following the advice of a backpacking dietitian, I snacked every 60-90 minutes. I’ve been doing that for several days now and it does keep my energy level high.
I ate lunch at Roan High Knob shelter. At 6,275 feet it is the highest shelter on the AT. I hoped for company, however no one was there so I entertained myself exploring the area around the shelter and reading the Thru-Hikers’ Companion guide. I learned about Grassy Ridge. It’s not on the AT, but is accessible via a side-trail and offers a 360-degree natural viewpoint over 6,000 ft. Natural as opposed to Clingman’s and Mt. Washington that both have structures on top.
Grassy Ridge was entirely worth the side trip and additional climb. In fact, after Carver’s Gap the trail was impressive all the way to the ridge. It stood out as a brown ribbon that climbed up and down grassy hills and offered striking views.
I got the companionship I was looking for in the evening. Eating dinner at Stan Murray shelter’s picnic table, I chatted with a group of section hikers and a fellow thru-hiker. One section hiker, Siesta, thru-hiked the PCT south bound. He had great stories about the trip and areas he explored all over the country.
It was a magical trail morning. I walked through green woods, the sun shone through the branches, and birds sang. Chipmunks ran along fallen tree highways. Every step made me feel alive and grateful.
The magic continued as the trail took me over the grassy balds of Little Hump Mountain and Hump Mountain. Each offered breath-taking vistas in every direction. Occasionally piles of black lumpy rocks jutted from the vibrantly green grass. I watched a couple birds soaring in the mostly cloudless blue sky. The descent from Hump Mountain brought me to Doll Flats and I said goodbye to North Carolina, after weaving between it and Tennessee ever since the Smokies.
I ate lunch beside a gurgling creek. In a shallow pool I spotted a bunch of tiny fish facing upstream and one crawfish. I have a soft spot for crawfish as I once kept several as pets. The afternoon took me past the remnants of a stone building, a cemetery, and the 400 mile point. Yay for a new milestone!
I did a 20 mile day and stopped for the night at Mountaineer Falls shelter. It contained three levels (deluxe), though the lady with whom I shared the second level said there were spiders in the uppermost loft. Yikes! The cooking area was great. A bench and narrow table built in between the front two posts, looking into the forest. I tried to cook quietly as there were three guys sleeping. It was only 7 pm, but some people go to bed early on trail.
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