Franklin to Fontana
Well, I’d like to say I’ve delayed publishing our next blog post to build anticipation but it’s more to do with lack of cell service, fatigue after long and consistent 13+ miles per day, and simply enjoying the time away from technology and the outside world. My fingers and thumbs are appreciative of this.
It is really crazy to think that it’s been over 150 miles since we last posted but here’s the highlight reel:
After our resupply in Hiawassee, Georgia we torched the pine-needly trail in North Carolina with some “big miles.” We had an 18 mile day the night before getting into Franklin, NC and camped with a couple of interesting guys who rolled into camp late. One was an independently wealthy retiree at the age of 38 who sold his assets in the stock market after realizing he didn’t need an expensive car, house or lifestyle to be happy. The other guy was the owner of a hostel in Franklin and hadn’t had a day off in over 6 months. The retiree, “Thirsty Bear,” started a fire and we shared stories of the trail.
The next day we hitchhiked into town. The nice guy who picked us up was “paying it forward” because of an event earlier that day that saved him a lot of money. We stayed at the Hilltop Inn (AKA Budget Inn) and it was no better and no worse than what I’d expect for $50/night. Our first zero day, or day spent hiking zero miles, we spent in Franklin was fun – we met a lot of new people, caught up with familiar faces, familiar faces caught up to us and, of course, had some beers at The Lazy Hiker Brewery.
The Nantahala Outdoor Center (The NOC)
The day after our zero day in Franklin I was not into the hike. Zero days I think are dangerous to both our momentum and attitude. The longer you stay in a town, getting comfortable, the harder it gets to get back onto the trail, getting uncomfortable. Two days later we ended up going another 18 miles ending in a deep valley called the NOC. The Nantahala Outdoor Center is a family-friendly camp where people can do white water rafting, hiking, zip-lining, and really every outdoor activity except for actual camping.
Covid, paired with hiking this early in the season caught us pants-down and wallets-open in a valley that was 3200’ below the next camp sites. There was only a cabin room with 4 bunk beds for $95, which was steeper than the climb out of this hiker trap. We ended up splitting the room with two siblings hiking the trail whom we had met a few nights back. ‘Woz’ and ‘Rage’ were like family, like many others we encounter, after sharing a musty bunk house and a 6 pack from the general store.
Each stretch of hiking, for Kara and me anyway, is largely determined by where we can get our next resupply. As the name implies, a resupply is where we restock our food, fuel, and any other material needs we have. With the Great Smoky Mountain National Park looming only a few days away, we had not yet decided our strategy for our next resupply.
We had just come down into Stecoah Gap and a man stepped out of his Prius to look at the trail map. Before Kara or I really made a decision to resupply in the nearby town of Robbinsville, I asked him if he was heading there. Next thing we knew, we were getting into this nice Bostonian’s car with his wife in the front seat on our way to the grocery store! They were planning on hiking to Cheoah Bald, where we just came down from, and decided to help us out while waiting out the morning rain. They were nice enough to wait for us to finish shopping and bring us back up to the gap before going our separate ways. We dubbed them “Trail Angels”, which is anyone willing to help hikers out, and that was good enough repayment for them.
Trail Name: Jet Pack
On the seemingly impossible climb out of the NOC’s “reverse mountain” (as Stride calls it), I was given a trail name. I was named Jet Pack for my ability to “boost” up hills. Whether it’s my anatomical response to the changing altitude, the prior night’s instant chili, or I just really do hoof it up hills, it got me a trail name.
With another 18 mile day, we made it to Fontana. The “Fontana Hilton” is a shelter known for its superior construction, good views of Fontana Lake, and having an actual toilet and shower instead of the usual privies. We rolled up around dinner time and caught a few familiar faces – Luna, Stride, and John. I had the honor of giving John his trail name, “Clydesdale,” because he’s a big dude who takes a full nap midday and just keeps crushing the big miles. The next morning we got a shuttle ride into Fontana Village, the nearby resort, where we got a big breakfast with Stride and Birdee. Birdee is a woman we met a few nights back who reminds me a lot of my mom. She was kind enough to let us shower in her room while we waited for our laundry to finish down at the general store. We waited for our buddy Refill to catch up to us in Fontana and convinced him to hike with us over the Dam and into the first 6 miles of the Smokies.
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