Strong Trees Bend in the Wind
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts I adore spreadsheets so, of course, I created one with my itinerary of how many miles I plan to do each day and where that will bring me, either a shelter or tent site, and when I will need resupply. This is a Google sheet I share with my husband and we update to actuals with notes along the way. This has been so helpful and I am sure I am not the only one using this method. It is how, days later when I am finally able to access wi-fi and have time, can tell you the breakdown of how many miles over the last two weeks and remember any tidbits.
However, many of the thru-hikers I have met are much more flexible and carefree in their trail experience and they also are doing great. I am learning to stretch between the two approaches for my maximum happiness.
By the Numbers
Last I left off I had new shoes starting day nine. I had some mileage I wanted to make in this section before my next booked hostel stay before heading into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP). My spirits were boosted greatly by passing into North Carolina and saying goodbye to Georgia and ending at Standing Indian shelter mile 85.7
Day 10 ends at Long Branch shelter mile 102.1…first 100-mile marker! The final ascent to the top of Mount Albert fire tower was a rock wall that felt much longer than 1 mile. Efforts were rewarded with fierce gusts of wind and no view in the storm. I found out later I was not the only one to risk the high winds climbing the tower in hopes to get access to the enclosed top…denied. Rain and a friendly female face led me to decide to do my first stay in the shelter that night. It was crowded but a great group with high energy despite the wet conditions.
Day 11 ends at Siler Bald shelter mile 113.1 Most of the gang from the last shelter were going into Franklin, TN for the night but I was happy to stay on the trail and arrived in time to set up my tent before a major downpour. By 7 PM I had changed my mind as the rain continued to hammer the ground and I was regretting not staying in the shelter. I had cell service so made a game-time decision to book a hostel for the next night.
Day 12, out at mile 124, Burningtown Gap, stay at Nantahala Mountain Lodge Hostel. The longest 11 miles in the cold rain with a heavy wet pack. I was so incredibly thankful for the trail magic at the gap while waiting for my pick up. Maggie and Wiggy were great hosts and I lucked out to have the bunkhouse to myself with a woodstove already going. After a hot shower, first aid for my feet, and a couple of phone calls I felt like a human again.
Day 13 ends at mile 140, stealth camp above Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC). Maggie made a yummy waffle breakfast for myself and the other hiker staying at the lodge. My luck continued that the other guest was a Dr. and he wanted to look at my feet and confirmed that while it didn’t look great I did all the right things and there was no infection! We got dropped back off to the gap and it was a nice hike to the NOC. Coming out of the woods into civilization is a weird feeling but the NOC is a gathering spot for thru-hikers too so it was the best of both worlds.
Everyone had been talking about the big snowstorm coming the next night with most hikers I talked to were getting off trail for the next couple of nights. But I had just done an unplanned stay and already had the next hostel booked for Saturday night so just needed to make it to the shelter for Friday night. So I hiked further past the NOC so that the next day would not be so many miles.
At 5 o’clock, with an hour of sunlight left, I came across a great camp spot with one other female camper and was feeling good about setting up for the night. Until I started unpacking and realized I didn’t have my tent poles$&@;/!!
I allowed myself a five-minute, foul language-strewn tantrum before quickly shifting gears into solution mode. Luckily I had cell service and called the hostel and confirmed that I had left them on the bench. More good fortune is that Wiggy was driving the good Dr. and another hiker back to the NOC in the morning and I could hike the three miles down to meet them and get my poles.
Simultaneously proud of myself for dealing with the problem and mad at myself for the mistake in the first place, I went to sleep that night under the moon and stars and netting as I zipped into the flat tent to keep out bugs.
Learning to bend in the wind has helped me grow stronger so that I do not break in the storm. Just like the trees, it helps to not stand alone, to have others to sway in the wind with, eases the burden. The lessons from the woods keep coming.
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