Saying Goodbye to My Tramily: Days 37–39

Day 37: Iron Mountain Gap to Ash Gap Tent Site; 12.6 miles

The sun is back, baby!

I started my morning with a cinnamon raisin bagel and a fake hotel omelet with American cheese. And honestly, it tasted kinda good, which is how I can tell the hiker hunger is setting in.

Our shuttle driver was supposed to arrive at 10am to take us back to Iron Mountain Gap, but he didn’t show up until 10:35 or so. Oh well. The sun was shining and I was going to have a good day whether it started at 8am or 11am.

The trail today was designed so well. Ramen Bomb and I talked about it every time we stopped to filter water. We climbed about 4,000 feet and it felt new, exciting, and relatively easy all day. For example, I appreciated that I never had to take huge steps up onto rocks or roots when ascending. Oh, the things I never really gave a second thought before March 7, 2024. 

A happy Dr. Ramen Bomb

Though the sun was shining, it was a bit chilly and blustery in the morning. But when we crossed over the ridge to the other side of the mountain, it was balmy. Side note: The tops of my hands are getting super tan. Another side note: There was a lot of (clean) snow to munch on the closer we got to Ash Gap. The Michigander in me was pleased.

Ash Gap is on the way up Roan Mountain, and the area has a bunch of flat tent sites along the trail. We decided to stop there for the night. It sort of feels like an enchanted forest.

Banjo hung a bear line for us all to share (MVP!). We cooked dinner in our tent vestibules and chatted for a while. The chatting at the end of a long hiking day consists of making stupid sounds, very serious discussions about our bowel movements, and telling silly jokes I will not repeat here. Remember what I said about laughing so hard your stomach hurts once a day?

I’ll miss these two. I’m heading off trail for a whirlwind trip to celebrate a friend’s wedding and to go to a concert. In the days between these side quests, I’m planning to hike the New Jersey portion of the trail NOBO with a friend I walked with for a hundred miles or so through Georgia and part of North Carolina! More on that later.

Before hiker midnight (9pm), Banjo played his banjo in his tent for a while. I sang along when I remembered the words. Simple joys.

There’s a YouTuber we’ve been trying to avoid who set up camp nearby tonight. I don’t mind vloggers — I learned SO MUCH about the AT and thru-hiking by following a couple awesome folks on YouTube. But I do mind when they (loudly) disturb the peace by filming nearly constantly and without consent. I’m definitely in the background of some of this guy’s videos even though I’ve tried to avoid his camera. Not to be rude, but I hope we can outhike him tomorrow. 

Day 38: Ash Gap to Apple House Campsite; 17.7 miles 

Today was huge and stunning and sunny!!!

Sunrise from the tent site just next to the trail

Ramen Bomb, Banjo, and I started the day by finishing our climb up Roan Mountain from our tent site at Ash Gap. As we ascended through the pine forest, the morning sun warmed our skin and sparkled on the snow.

Once again, this section of trail was designed so well and seemed to be maintained with care. I’ve genuinely enjoyed climbing up this mountain the past two days. What a gift that is to feel. Whoever maintains this section also seems to have the whole slippery mud prevention thing down between well-placed rocks and webbing on the trail. But what do I know?

It’s the little things

When we reached the former Cloudland Hotel site, the trail opened up to a field surrounded by pine trees with 360° views of the distant mountains. I started to cry. It is such a privilege to be right here, right now.

It also hit me that today would be the last day I’d get to hike with these guys for a while unless I’m super speedy and they take a bunch of zeros between now and the end of April. But who knows — the trail works in mysterious ways. See ya later, not goodbye.

Heading toward the remnants of the Cloudland Hotel

After the mountain, we descended into the forest until we came to a road crossing that marked the beginning of the Roan Highlands. We sat for a few minutes to eat and enjoy some banjo.

While we were sitting, a group of about six guys walked up to us to chat and ask about the banjo. They were super kind and friendly, but I did find it a little funny that literally every one of them felt the need to carry a gun and a big knife for a one night camping trip not three miles from where their truck was parked. To each their own, I guess, and I’ll leave it at that.

While we were talking to the group of guys, the aforementioned YouTuber-who-shall-not-be-named caught up to us and wanted to hike the Highlands together. Sigh.

Whatever, I’ve been looking forward to this day for months. And we got to do it in the sun! Finally, no rain or fog to hide the panoramic views. We hiked up and over Round Bald, Jane Bald, and very close to Grassy Ridge Bald. It was incredible. I felt so free and expansive. Very Sound of Music.

After the Roan Highlands came our final pushes and summits for the day: Little Hump Mountain and Hump Mountain. But I was feeling the need for shade, rest, and water (and maybe a sun hat). I was dehydrated and grumpy. Plus, my allergies are back in full force with all the pollen in the air, so I was feeling a bit miserable this afternoon.

But not too miserable to push on. We stretched at the bottom of Little Hump Mountain, and I sucked down more water with electrolytes — my second of the day. Off we went, ready for another game of Questions.

Ramen being a little candy gremlin

This was a steeeeep climb for about a mile and a half. Good practice for New Hampshire and Maine? I just zoned out on the 2–3 feet in front of me and marched forward, sweat dripping from my hat and my chin. By the time we were nearly at the summit, my quads were screaming for reprieve and my backpack was feeling heavier than ever (even though I’d been eating through my food supply for a few days now).

But we did it, and the mountain was spectacular. Another one above the treeline. 

We then hiked up to Hump Mountain and any discomfort I felt at the bottom of Little Hump melted away when we were greeted by a Very Good Boy at the summit.

The three of us hiked a few more miles to a tent site not far from the 19E road crossing that leads to town. My friend Shannon would be picking me up there in the morning.

After setting up our tents, the guys went to get beer from the Mountain Harbour hostel. We were the only campers around, so Ramen Bomb made us a fire and we (quietly, respectfully) talked and drank and ate into the night. I was reminded of a toast my friend Leah shared with me last September: “Some ships are good ships, some ships may sink, but the best ships are friendships, and to those ships we drink.”

These guys are the best. They keep guard for me when the only place I can pee off trail is super exposed. They get me water when I’m too tired for even a short little blue blaze. When I cry, which happens a lot, they tell me good news. They deal with my humming and singing and share new music with me. They hug me even though neither of them are really huggers. Over the past 200+ miles, we’ve taken care of each other in our own unique ways. I think this is tramily, finally. And I’m leaving it in the morning.

Ugh, I’m so sentimental.

Day 39: Apple House Campsite to Mountain Harbour; 0.7 miles

I woke up with mixed feelings: I was so excited to see Shannon, but so sad to leave my tram bam.

I gave myself a bath with wet wipes and put on clean clothes and deodorant in an attempt to cover up the smell of the past few sweaty days of hiking for Shannon. Then the three of us walked to Mountain Harbour B&B.

Sporting an ensemble of Tevas (my camp shoes), Darn Toughs (my clean sleeping pair), clean spandex shorts and a sun shirt… and rather hairy legs 🥸

When Shannon arrived at Mountain Harbour, she greeted me with the biggest, warmest hug. I’ve been touch starved on the AT, and it felt so sweet to be in my friend’s arms again.

Shannon was a true trail angel today: She drove the three of us to Subway for breakfast (yes, breakfast), then to the grocery store across the street so the guys could do a small resupply. Afterward, she took Banjo and Ramen Bomb to The Station at 19E hostel.

Thoroughly enjoying my 9am sub

Who tf eats a sub like this?

I hugged the guys goodbye and then Shannon and I started our six hour drive to Richmond, Virginia. 

I cried so much on this car ride. It felt like the past weeks were pouring through me and I missed the trail and my friends already. Shannon had a million questions about the trail for me, and I shared my stories as well as I could: the ups, the downs, the magic in the in-between. But I felt frustrated when I just… couldn’t fully describe it with words.

Shannon and I are both musicians, and even though it sounds cheesy as heck to type this, “When words fail, music speaks.” She let me play my trail music and shared new songs with me. We blasted Jacob Collier’s new album and sang along to “In Spite of Ourselves.” I told her about that night at Elmer’s and how it made me feel part of something bigger. Shannon laughed with me when she learned that I memorized “Rattlin’ Bog” as a distraction when hiking up the first steep mountains back in Georgia, and we cracked up trying to keep in time with a super fast rendition of the folk song.

When we arrived home, I immediately showered and checked out which “real world clothes” I’d sent to her more than a month and a half ago. I changed into my pajamas and cooked dinner — lemon ricotta pasta with peas! I was so happy to be in a kitchen again. Shannon gave me a foot rub while we watched Schitt’s Creek. That’s true friendship. Trail angel, I’m tellin’ ya.

Being back in civilization for a few days is going to feel weird and a little overstimulating, but I think I’ll sleep really well tonight. 

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