Some Great Reward

Day 26 – Standing Bear Farm to Groundhog Creek Shelter 7.4 miles

The trail is a magical time-lapse. People come and go as if the tornado from the Wizard of Oz drops folks in and whisks them away just as quickly. While at Standing Bear, I met up with Nomad, who I hadn’t seen since March 13 atop Mount Possible. I took a pic of him and Stripper at the sign. The morning of my departure I ran into Free Agent, a hiker I hadn’t seen since my day 4 – the infamous Low Gap “cram nine people into the shelter” night because of the rain.

The trail was particularly wet and nasty due to the overnight rain. It was more of a clay slip ‘n’ slide. I almost face planted a number of times and an equal amount of times nearly ended up on my ass. I was glad to have worn my rain pants – at least they kept my hiking pants from a near total mud fest.

The misty morning made for some nice “spooky moody forest” pics. I hadn’t taken some of those for a while since we hit such a great patch of weather.

I got to the shelter around 2:00 p.m. A family of four and another hiker were already there. More showed up throughout the afternoon.  We all had the same plan of hunkering down to let the bad weather pass. Tomorrow’s forecast was for sunny skies for the ascent into Max Patch.

Day 27 – Groundhog Creek Shelter to a tent site 17.2 miles

The day did indeed break sunny and pleasant. Perhaps because of this or my food bag finally feeling lighter or the anticipation of reaching the famous Max Patch, I felt pretty decent. There were climbs to be had – this is the AT after all.

I reached Max Patch around 11:00 a.m. There were few folks up on the bald. I had cell service and called my partner. I busted out into tears. The emotion of finally reaching the iconic patch, the gratitude of support that she’s giving me to be able to hike my dream and looking back at the Smokies where eight days earlier I was about ready to quit was overwhelming.  Truly tears of joy.

Rumors of trail magic at Lemon Gap was my next focus. Little quickens the step and puts joy into a hiker’s heart like those two words. It was still very much off in the distance. Would those trail angels still be there by the time I arrived? Indeed they were! I rolled in sometime in the early afternoon. Grilled cheese? Yes, please. Chips, cookies, soda. Yum.

The shelter I had planned on stopping at was only a bit more than a mile away.  I met three other women at the Gap and we decided to push on over Bluff Mountain to a tent site. This made the next morning’s hike into Hot Springs a very manageable 8.8 miles. Unfortunately, I still can’t pick a level tent site.

Day 28 – tent site to Laughing Heart Hostel 8.8 miles

I had a bit of cell service that night to be able to call and set up reservations for the hostel. It’s comforting to know that you have a bed, shower, and laundry waiting for you.

The four of us were up and packed by 8:00 a.m. The young-uns hike faster than jack rabbits and I haven’t seen them since. The hike into Hot Springs was mostly downhill. There were a few ascents – and I’m still slower than a snail. It’s bound to get better soon, right? The descent into town was bone jarring and knee crushing. The wind was whipping off the mountains.

I arrived at Laughing Heart shortly after 11:00 a.m. The immediate need was a shower, then laundry. Town chores like washing your pot and utensils, back flushing your filter, and assessing your food come next. A hiker named Jeff showed up. I had been in and out of the trail with him. Nomad came later on. Auggie, who I met at Standing Bear, was here as was Liam (AKA Honey Sticks). We roomed together for two nights in Gatlinburg.  I figured he was way up the trail with his tramily from the Smokies. Early this afternoon, Rose came into the hostel. We met on my day 2 at Above the Clouds hostel.

Indeed, the trail has a way of whisking hikers in and out of your life.

The Cutter – Echo and the Bunnymen
“Conquering myself
Until I see another hurdle approaching
Say we can, say we will                            Not just another drop in the ocean”

 

 

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