Superlatives: Miles 0-400
When it comes to writing, Charles Bukowski once said, “if it doesn’t come bursting out of you in spite of everything, don’t do it. Unless it comes unasked out of your heart and your mind and your mouth and your gut, don’t do it.” I’ve armed my writing with this philosophy in an effort not to dilute my work by duty, deciding to waltz with words only when desired. So, fear not. I am still tramping on the Appalachian Trail, and after hundreds of miles of absorption, I finally feel ready to do the author’s dance (or wobble, depending on how my ankles feel)! I appreciate your patience and am excited to express the remainder of my hike through blogs.
With that, I present to you the highlights and lowlights of our first 400 miles on the Appalachian Trail in superlative style.
Best Overall View: Max Patch, Mile 255
Our hike to Max Patch offered the most rewarding views in the first 400 miles. We conquered the bald just in time for sunset, offering us our first glimpse of the sun after three days of getting soaked in the Smokies.
Best Hostel: Mountain Harbour Hostel, Mile 395
Between the impeccable customer service and to-die-for breakfast, Mountain Harbour is a must-stay on the Appalachian Trail. Their front porch rocking chairs and cozy accommodations make hikers feel right at home, providing a peaceful stay right after the beautiful Roan Highlands.
Most Challenging Weather: Wayah Bald on April 24, 2021, Mile 119
I don’t mind the rain. I don’t mind the cold. But the cold rain and brutal winds of April 24, 2021, as we hiked through Wayah Bald, were challenging to conquer. It was a pretty miserable day, but it’d be silly to imagine every day as being fun. We took it as an opportunity to grow stronger.
Most Appetizing Town Food: Sakura in Franklin, NC, Mile 110
The sushi at the Sakura in Franklin, North Carolina was mouth-watering. With traditional hibachi, fresh sushi and sashimi, and grilled teriyaki dinners, Sakura treated our taste buds to a cuisine we knew would be harder to come by in some of the smaller resupply towns. I highly recommend taking advantage of this restaurant!
Best Sunrise: Cheoah Bald, Mile 145
The climb out of the Nantahala Outdoor Center was unrelenting with its steep grades and brutal elevation gain, but the sunrise we caught at Cheoah Bald the next morning made everything worthwhile. The rising sun illuminated the sky with a deep red hue, while a Super Moon continued to shine bright in the west.
Best Sunset: Round Bald, Roan Highlands, Mile 381
I’ll save my words for this one and let the picture do all the talking.
Most Challenging Hiking Day: Climb out of the NOC, Mile 136
Maybe it was because we didn’t start the climb out of the Nantahala Outdoor Center until the mid-morning heat started the kick-in, or perhaps the ascent is just that ferocious…either way, the hiking from the Nantahala Outdoor Center to Cheoah Bald takes the cake as our most challenging day of hiking.
Favorite Trail Entertainment: Justus + His Uke
I had the pleasure of meeting Justus and his ukulele at Trail Days, eventually catching up with him on the trail between miles 320-400. Justus strums his strings with passion and purpose, lighting up the trail with shelter shows and hostel throw-downs that I’ve been lucky enough to see!
Go-To Trail Meal: Indomie Instant Fried Noodles BBQ Chicken Flavor
After a brief stint with Knorr’s sides left me farting around Franklin, I needed to reevaluate my on-trail diet. Since then, I’ve opted for more gluten-free meals, but this is one dinner I can’t knock. This stir-fry dish is full of flavor and is ridiculously easy to make with a trio of savory sauces and a pouch of fried onions. It is my go-to trail meal when I’m looking to treat myself and know that I’ll be sleeping away from a shelter in case the gluten farts decide to show up!
Best Clothing Item: Kavu Chillba
Our early April start date put us on the ridgelines of Georgia and North Carolina before the green tunnel could form, but our Kavu Chillbas saved the day with ample shade! Perfect for shielding the rain as well, these hats have been a blessing on the trail thus far.
Go-To Trail Snack: Fresh Tracks Range Bar
Gluten-free, vegan, non-GMO, and 700 calories a pop, the Range Bar is easily my go-to trail snack. The Fresh Tracks flavor of molasses, ginger, and sea salt hits the spot and has lived up to its name, enhancing our range of hiking as we kicked up the pace between miles 300-400. Range Bars fuel my fun without sacrificing taste. With it, we’ve been knockin’ out our 20+ mile days.
Best Loaner Clothes Selection: Gooder Grove Hostel, Mile 110
Jump-suits?! I think yes. Gooder Grove Hostel had solid laundry and even better loaner clothes, making us feel fly as we strutted the streets of Franklin, North Carolina in style.
Strongest Vortex: Fontana Dam, Mile 164
Sometimes, you take a zero-day because your body needs it. Other times, you take a zero-day because your trail friends convince you they’ll rent a pontoon boat. If the latter is the case, make sure they are serious about the pontoon boat! The Hilton at the Fontana Lake is a dam vortex, sucking us into a zero we didn’t intend on taking. We weren’t the only victims, with some hikers staying three or four days. Either way, the lake views were worth it!
Best Animal Encounter: Baby Coyote at Shuckstack, Mile 171
We saw a baby coyote right near Shuckstack after leaving Fontana Dam, our first major animal encounter of the trip! Anything in baby form is a surefire way to make my heart flutter, making this the clear winner of the best animal encounter in the first 400 miles.
Best Town Encounter: Meeting the Mayor in Hiawassee, Mile 69
Hiawassee, Georgia, was the first major town that we visited during our first 400 miles, and while waiting for our shuttle outside the Ingles, we met the mayor of the town! She thanked us for visiting Hiawassee and shared some encouraging words regarding our hike.
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