On The Trail: Week 2
Thursday, March 10th
Hiawassee Budget Inn to Deep Gap Shelter
We wake up in a warm bed. It’s hard to force ourselves up, but we know we’ve got to get moving again. I take my third shower in 24 hours. It doesn’t help remove the smell of thru-hiker. Our gear is heavy after resupply and the package my parents sent. We run across the street for coffee and donuts before checking out and packing in the shuttle. A group of ten or so get dropped of between Dick’s Creek and Unicoi Gap. Chicken Foot stayed in a room last night too, and gets dropped off at our stop. I spend most of the day reflecting on the luxuries we had in town. After 13+ miles we arrive at Deep Gap Shelter. It’s a two story shelter, so I suggest staying on the second floor since we’ve only tented until now. Setup for the night was easy after dinner and a game of Rummy with The Kings brothers. The sound of scurrying mice wakes me up once or twice throughout the night.
Friday, March 11th
Deep Gap Shelter to Bly Gap
So many ups today. We had tunnel vision getting to the North Carolina border, but when we get there it feels rewarding. One state down, thirteen to go. Our injuries feel better today. Tenderfoot’s achilles have healed since he got insoles, and it’s relieving to see more pep in his step. We see Ron John and Mambo at Bly Gap, just after the border. They’re tenting there for the evening, and we decide to push on a little further. We had planned to stay at Muskrat Creek, but hear from a ridge runner that it’s crowded there tonight. There’s a perfect stealth spot about a mile up from Bly Gap, and we settle in by ourselves for the night. We sit by the fire and eat trail burritos – instant rice, a chicken packet, and taco seasoning wrapped in a tortilla. We get to bed early, planning a big day tomorrow.
Saturday, March 12th
Bly Gap to Carter Gap Shelter
We get out and on the trail in less than an hour this morning. After the first ascent the elevation for the day looks reasonable. I’m feeling really good until my hip starts bothering me. Every step hurts, which can be a dizzying prospect with another 7 miles to go. We take it slow going up Standing Indian Mountain and take a quick ciesta at the top. A snack and some ibuprofen help lift my spirits, and we agree to listen to our iPods the rest of the way to camp to pass some time. Immediately after hitting play I’m in the hiking groove, and with the pain relief we make it to camp in no time. Everyone at camp is in good spirits tonight. Ron John and Sparky are here. They started with us on the approach trail from the Hiker Hostel, and it’s good to see that we’ve all made it this far. Buckeye and Scorpion are here after we leap frogged with them all day. Craig, aka Spielburg, is here too. I make dinner as Tenderfoot sets up the tent. Across the fire I see Brandon, a hiker from Vancouver, eating a bag of Doritos. I immediately crave chips, disappointed we didn’t bring any. I groan, “Awh man, you brought Doritos?” He replies with a, “Hell yeah!” Walnut, a hiker from Virginia carrying a large walnut staff as his hiking pole, chimes in, “Doritos, Fritos, Cheetos, Tostitos – they’re all good.” It all sounds amazing. “I could totally eat, like, a Lays salad right now,” I say aloud. Everyone laughs, and Buckeye christens my trail name Lays Salad, or Lays. I love it. We all share stories and throw up the bear bag before bed. Nobody is looking forward to rain tomorrow, but most will be in Franklin soon to avoid it. We’re hoping to make it to Fontana Dam, although not sure yet if our food supply will make it that long.
Sunday, March 13th
Carter Gap Shelter to Franklin Budget Inn
It’s pouring when we wake up, but we stay dry inside the tent. That only delays our ambition to get out. I stare at the door for what seems like a lifetime before putting on my rain gear to get out and grab the bear bag. It’s worse than it sounds in the tent, but my rain gear functions perfectly. I notice others are still at camp – glad to know we aren’t the only ones reluctant to start hiking in the rain. We eat a cold breakfast and lay around a little longer before packing up the tent. Others are awake and making breakfast in the shelter as we head out. The rain stops earlier than expected as we cruise through the morning. Just before the ascent up Albert Mountain, we see Jag Happy, who we leap frog with most of the day. Albert Mountain is a bear of a climb, but the views at the top are beautiful through the clearing clouds. We put in our headphones again to finish out the last of our mileage. Rock Gap Shelter approaches, and we aren’t surprised to see Ron John there already. He mentions his plans to take a shuttle into town for the night, and it sounds too good to pass up after a 12+ mile day and a low food supply. Jag Happy gets there shortly after and the four of us head to the road to wait for the shuttle. As we wait, a truck pulls up into the parking lot. At first we think it’s our ride, but the man at the wheel rolls down his window and sticks out a cold bottle of Budweiser. There’s one for each of us. His name is Happy Jack, and he’s a trail angel that lives just up the road. We thank him for the cold suds as he pulls away, and we all enjoy the rest of the wait. Another truck pulls up, and that’s our ride. I sit in the bed with Ron John and Jag Happy while Tenderfoot climbs into the cab. It’s moments like this that really bring the trail to life. Still strangers, yet the comraderie is inseparable. The Franklin Budget Inn is just like the one in Hiawassee. We set our gear out to dry before heading to McDonalds. In my normal life I wouldn’t dream of eating that much fast food, but when you’re a thru-hiker, all bets are off. We get back to the room to shower and put laundry in after a quick stop at the Dollar General. Sleep comes quickly in a soft bed.
Monday, March 14th
Zero Day in Franklin
We wake up 30 minutes after my alarm was supposed to wake us at 6:15am. My plan was to shower before heading to the free hiker breakfast at the First Baptist Church, which we though started at 6:30am. Thankfully we’re early birds, getting there ten minutes before they actually start breakfast at 7:30am. The pancakes and bacon are delicious paired with homemade jellys and coffee. The volunteers are all incredibly kind – southern hospitality at its finest. We meet back up with Forrester Gump, and he explains the weather later today looks nasty with expected thunder showers. I also get to meet other hikers, including Outlaw, and everyone discusses their plans for the day. Some are staying to wait it out, others are chanting the mantra “no pain, no rain, no Maine.” We decide to take a much needed zero in town to let our bodies heal a little more and check out some of the hiker “must sees” in Franklin. We stop by Outdoor 76 to update our cook set and hit up the Lazy Hiker Brewing Company for some craft beer. We swing by Ingles on the way back to grab the rest of our resupply until Fontana Dam. The post office is our last stop to send a few items home, including what we replaced in our cookware. When we get back we start sorting gear and planning meals for the days ahead. Tenderfoot points out that it’s pie day, and as a result Dominos is doing 50% off all menu item pizzas. I don’t think I’ve ever ordered a pie that quickly and excitedly in my life. We call it an early night, not excited to leave such a hiker friendly town in the morning. It starts to pour outside, and we’re glad to be in a warm bed.
Tuesday, March 15th
Franklin to Wayah Bald Shelter
Today is Tenderfoot’s birthday. We go to the pancake breakfast again before heading out of Franklin. We hurry back to the room to pack our gear before the shuttle arrives. There’s a large group going back to Rock Gap, and the legendary Baltimore Jack is spreading his wisdom from the front seat. We get dropped off and see Ron John getting ready to set off. He stayed on the other end of town, but had the same idea of taking a proper zero and waiting out the storm. We all get going as the day starts to get hot. There are a lot of ups again today, but we feel good after a day of rest and relaxation. After 14+ miles we get to Wayah Bald shelter. The camping options are scarce, but we make do with a spot that is on a slight slant. We start cooking, anxious for food and to try out our new cook set. It works perfectly. After dinner, I break out a Hostess cupcake and a candle I hiked out for Tenderfoot’s birthday. It’s the small things that count out here. We sit around the fire and chat with Ghost Walker and Ron John for a bit as it gets dark. Buckeye is there too, although flying solo without Scorpion, who had to leave the trail due to injuries. We head to bed, ready for the long push tomorrow.
Wednesday, March 16th
Wayah Bald Shelter to Natahala Outdoor Center
It’s a beautiful morning, but looks like rain could be possible. A few flecks of rain hit us just as we leave camp after a quick breakfast, but clears up within moments. We’re fairly early getting out of camp, ready to make it 16+ miles to A. Rufus Morgan Shelter. There’s a stream running through the trail about a mile in, and we stop to fill our water bottles. As we pump water through the filter, a familiar face rounds the corner. We had shuttled a group of thru-hikers from Maine to New Hampshire along the Mahoosuc Range last year, and Shepherd was one of them. “We shuttled you last year!” I exclaimed, and he immediately recognized us. After exchanging excited greetings and a quick recap of the events that brought us all there (he had returned to section hike for his trail anniversary), we decided to hike for a while throughout the day. Just before our huge descent to A. Rufus Morgan Shelter, Shepherd mentions wanting to repay us with dinner at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. Never being one to pass up a nice gesture, or food, we hike just past the shelter to make it to sweet salvation. We arrive just before 5:00pm. I order a Barq’s and a loaded hamburger, which practically disappears I inhale it so fast. Others roll into the River’s Edge restaurant, including Oso and Hana (now Hana Solo). After dinner, we get Shepherd’s contact information and say our goodbyes. After refilling water we head up the trail where we heard rumor of some stealth spots. About a mile in we find one with a fire ring right off trail. It’s been a 17+ mile day, and we’re ready for bed in no time. The night is warm, and I fall asleep instantly after such a big day.
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Lays, just wanted you to know that I really enjoy your blog. Thanks for taking the time to write. Cooter
Amazing stuff Kendra/Lays!! Keep-On Keeping-On!! We miss you :).
After reading your blog this morning, I am looking even more forward to my section hike which I’m starting June 11! Me and three of my friends will be leaving Georgia and walking to Fontana Dam! We will finish with rafting and zip lining. What a great vacay!
Soo Happy for you Kendra!!! Truly inspiring!!! 🙂