Marching On

Marching On – The Alarm

“Cause our hearts must have the courageTo keep onMarching on”

Day 30 – Laughing Heart Hostel to Spring Mountain Shelter 11.3 miles

It was time to leave the comfort and confines to the Laughing Heart Hostel.  The trail takes you right through the heart of Hot Springs. I had thought for a split second to stop at the coffee store and buy another wonderful latte, but alas the mountains were calling.

The climb out of Hot Springs was long. The trail was a bit sketchy at times and I did my usual granny stepping. The sun played peekaboo with the clouds and finally won later in the day.

Nomad joined me later on in the afternoon and we finished the day together.  A side trip to Rich Fire Tower rewarded us with stunning views and a spot for lunch.

It was a hard milage day if it wasn’t long. At the shelter we remarked that hiking seems hardest after a zero. You’d think your legs would be rested. Nomad built a nice fire and the 5 thru hikers there enjoyed the warmth.

Day 31 – Spring Mountain Shelter to Jerry’s Cabin Shelter 15.8 miles

Today would be a bigger milage day. The terrain wasn’t necessarily hard from what I can remember. The Southern Cookie Lady was a pleasant stop. At 1pm I hit the turnoff for the exposed ridge trail for Big Firescald Knob. I calculated that I could get it done and still hit camp in about 4 hours. I was giving myself plenty of time to granny step. I’ve seen this ascent and descent in other hiker’s YouTube videos. Yikes. Here I go!

Needless to say, this part of the trail did not disappoint – either in the rock scrambling or the views. On one side of the knife edge you could see clear across the valley into towns. The other side provided stunning mountain vistas.

The climb down from what seemed to be the top of the world was some scary boulder hopping and at one point a backwards descent – only to scramble higher then lower for what felt like miles. I breathed a sigh of relief when I finally hit solid ground again. Oh and I also passed the 300 mile marker!

The night was capped off by rejoining Nomad at Jerry’s Cabin Shelter and Heavy, who we met at the shelter the previous day. There was a built in fireplace and Nomad constructed a large fire that gave off heat throughout much of the night. The three of us were very toasty.

Day 32 – Jerry’s Cabin Shelter to Hogback Ridge Shelter 15.6 miles

Today’s hike was mostly cruisy. There weren’t any crazy elevation changes. The stretch of amazing weather continued. I finally hit some open meadows and flat ground. While the day did not afford the stunning views it felt great to pound the trail and not be beaten up by it.

Day 33 – Hogback Ridge Shelter to Whistling Gap campsite 13.6 miles

The first 5 miles of the hike was great. Nomad and I made excellent time. Then came the climb up to Big Bald. I can hike the ascents a tad better than he can – barely – and reached the very windy top alone. I must admit, this portion of the trail had me muttering and cursing and wanting to quit much like the horrendous first day in the Smokys. I was second guessing my will to be out here and could not wrap my head around why, after 33 days, these damned climbs were not getting any easier. Where are the rumored “trail legs”? Where is the stamina? Shouldn’t my thighs be better at all this rock stepping? Geezus.

Now I will say the view from Big Bald was amazing – a clear 360 degree wonderment of mountains and valleys. I even got trail magic from 4 locals in the form of fresh carrots, pumpkin chocolate chip muffins and 2 hard boiled eggs. It was extremely windy so I stayed long enough for a few pictures and a video.

The rest of the hike was much better in terms of elevation and I made it to the campsite at about 4pm.

Day 34 – Whistling Gap Campsite to Erwin, TN 13.4 miles

The campsite was steps off trail and it was a nice night temperature wise for tenting. No, my site wasn’t flat. Sigh.

Nomad and I set off shortly after breakfast.  The cruisy trail almost makes you forget about the crazy uphill yesterday. Almost. At Spivey Gap we ran into a former thru hiker setting up for trail magic. If only we arrived a half hour later! But it was still nice to get a cold soda and a bag of chips.

There was about a mile climb up out of the gap, criss crossing a nice stream where it appeared several spots were taylor made for sitting in during the warmer months.

A few ups and downs, mostly flat trail had both of us thinking about the reward at the end in Erwin. Nomad was headed to a hostel and I was going to meet my partner for a double zero. With about 2.7 miles left we hit a blowdown that blocked the trail. A face appeared through the leaves and much to my surprise and joy it was my partner who had hiked up to meet me. She and I then headed on down slowly while Nomad took off to grab a cold drink at hike’s end. I don’t blame him.

Days 35 – 37

Looking at the forecast for the next few days had me extending my double zero to a triple. We’ve had a tremendous stretch of beautiful weather, but  thunderstorms are moving in on Wednesday followed by a huge drop in temperatures for the foreseeable future.  However I can’t stayed holed up in a hotel for a week so I’m going to trust in my winter gear and head back out on Thursday morning. I’ve got the next 4 days planned out. The crazy thing is that I’m only 125 miles from Damascus.  Wow.

Running up that Hill – Kate Bush
“Say, if I only could                                      I’d be runnin’ up that hill
With no problems”

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