North Carolina: A Not-So-Warm Welcome
I walked around the curving bend that snuck over the side of a mountain to see my AT partner, Lindsey (trail name: Dorothy), waiting for me at the North Carolina border. “You made it!” Dorothy said with a smile on her face.
Oh my god. I did make it.
I didn’t think I would, honestly. Between the bronchitis and the general toughness of the trail, I honestly never expected to make it through Georgia. However, here I was.
Here’s what they don’t tell you about North Carolina.
Immediately you are slapped with two huge mountains when you enter North Carolina. I struggled getting up both of them. I remember asking myself if these ascents would ever end. We pressed on to Muskrat Creek Shelter, and I thought that day would never end. I was exhausted, but I had no idea what was to come. North Carolina had it in for me, I felt. Albert Mountain is a monster that feels like you’re rock climbing rather than hiking. The view is incredible, though. I was totally listening to Phil Collins’ “Tarzan” soundtrack when I reached the top of Albert. Tears.
A few days later we took a zero in Clayton, Ga. Dorothy’s boyfriend, Paul, picked us up in Franklin, N.C., and we stayed with him in Clayton. I felt as though I was being treated like a queen. Paul made steaks and took us out to eat. I was overwhelmed by the kindness. That day it snowed like I had never seen snow fall in North Georgia in mid-March. I was afraid of what was waiting for us on the mountaintops.
“Ah, it’ll probably all be melted by the time y’all even get to the top of the mountains!” Mary, a friend of ours, exclaimed as she drove us back to the trailhead. (Thanks, Mary, for the Chik-fil-A.)
My dear friend was mistaken. For the next three days, Dorothy and I were slipping and sliding up and down the mountains. If it wasn’t snow, it was packed ice. If it wasn’t ice, it was slush. If it wasn’t slush, it was mud. There was a night we stayed in a shelter with a group, and apparently it got down to 13 degrees that night. I believe it, too. I woke up and my water bottle had frozen. I slept with my heat reflective emergency bivy between my sleeping bag liner and my actual bag. (Also, shout out to Allie for letting me cuddle her. Shout out to TrainWreck for laughing at my jokes.)
Finally, we got to the NOC.
I never thought I’d feel such relief seeing the NOC. I mean, I used to work for their competitor, Wildwater, on the Chattooga.
As I was coming down the ridge lightning lit up the sky and thunder clapped hard. I began to run as the rain started to fall. I zigzagged down the ridge and made it to the NOC, where a few longtime friends were waiting for Dorothy and me.
Our friends Heather and Anna Cole were there to pick us up and give us a warm, dry place to stay for the night. Honestly? I felt so loved and welcomed. When you face the harshness of the wild and then someone offers to carry your pack to the car, it’s like your entire world feels uplifted. I was so relieved by that simple act of kindness that I was not prepared for the homemade meatloaf Anna Cole made us. Or the hour-long foot massage that Heather’s boyfriend, Patrick, gave my nasty-ass feet. I’ve found I’m a simple woman with simple needs and desires.
Hard days ahead.
We had a blast at the NOC with our friends, but it was back into the wilderness for us. We were heading for the Great Smoky Mountains. The stretch from NOC to Fontana wasn’t easy. We stopped right before Cheoah Bald and camped. The next morning, I worked so hard for that beautiful view I knew Cheoah Bald would have, but I didn’t get it. It was a rolling wall of fog. The wind was cutting and I couldn’t stand to be on the top for too long. I didn’t even try to take a photo or eat a snack. I just kept walking down the mountain. Eventually we made it to the Fontana Hilton, and into the Smokies.
We walked through the next couple of mountains and my feet were aching but I was getting stronger. I could tell with every step that my body was getting used to doing this.
However, while my body became used to what was happening, my mind wasn’t. I found myself in a dark place a few days ago. Rain came down on all of us and the hike was particularly hard that day. I found myself alone, tired, and desperate to stop and crawl into my sleeping bag. I was 6.5 miles to the shelter that Dorothy and I were going to stay at, but I so desperately wanted to stop. I kept going though. I bulldozed through the next few miles and ended up on top of Thunderhead Mountain. While I was up there it began to hail. I got to camp and had a full-on breakdown. Luckily, I have Dorothy to make me feel like a champ whenever I come into camp.
“I’m so proud of you.”
She says that whenever I come into camp later after a particularly long and hard day. I have truly come to appreciate my trail partner, as well as the friends I’ve made out there. The encouragement and support from my family, friends, and even people I haven’t even met keeps me going.
Thanks to everyone who has supported me through the last 200 miles. I can’t wait to see what the next 200 has in store for me.
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Love you and super proud of you!!!!!!
Great job! Keep it up!
I love seeing these posts!
Stay strong! I wish I could be out there hiking with you all , and sharing the good with the bad makes it very real. Great job!
If that bronchitis is still acting up we have a good solution. If not, we have really tasty food and a comfy bed. Hope you can stop by along your way. James and Suzanne