The Great Catch-Up: Ziplining and half-mile rides. Carter Gap to Fontana Dam!

In the last Great Catch-Up, I shared the epic tale of the Hiker Pie on Pi Day and told the world about how I overcame the Fraud Police. Now, follow along as I climb more mountains, learn not to shop while hungry and go ziplining!

I woke up to people talking about a missing bear bag, which meant that I woke up with an impending sense of doom and a repetition of please don’t let it be mine, please don’t let it be mine. I don’t think I ever got out of my tent as fast as I did that day. It took me a while, but I found the bag I had hung in the dark the night before. It was still there. I never did learn whose bag was missing. Because I didn’t feel like cooking that morning I just had a peanutbutter/rice krispie tortilla for breakfast and packed up. I was, once again, one of the last people out, but not the last. I overheard someone saying that their water had leaked in their tent during the night and had frozen (that person, I later found out, was Denise).

The trail started out uphill, but it wasn’t very bad. The hardest part of that day would be getting up Albert Mountain, but the climb was split up very nicely by trail magic at one of the gaps on the way there. Two men were making hotdogs over a fire and they also had coolers full of beer and sodas, plus a wide selection of candy, chips and donuts. They also had an incredibly hyper active poodle named Merlot who entertained us all as we feasted.

The general climb up Albert Mountain wasn’t too tough – in fact, it was quite beautiful – until I hit the stairs. You know it’s bad when there’s stairs. They then gave way to rocks that had to be climbed more than hiked and I often had to throw up my hiking poles so that I could scramble up, meanwhile hoping that my pack wouldn’t cause me to fall down backwards. I almost fell a couple of times and took plenty of breaks, but eventually I made it up. I had met Denise again on my way up and we encouraged each other as we climbed. The view at the top was awesome. There was a tower, but a hiker who was ahead of us checked and said it was locked at the top, so I was happy to stay on the ground. Albert Mountain was not just any mountain, however – it was also the 100 mile mark. I had made it 100 miles! I celebrated with an apple and a bag of Doritos that I had packed out from the trail magic.

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Coming down Albert Mountain was easy, but long, and it didn’t get much harder for the rest of the day. I enjoyed listening to my audiobooks and the weather was great. I met Denise again in a clearing where we both had a snack, and we talked about our plans for that day. I said I was thinking about seeing if I could get a ride in to Franklin and take a zero, and she said she was considering the same.

At Rock Gap Shelter, very close to the Rock Gap where I was hoping to get a ride, I met a lady walking her dogs. She was very friendly and going the opposite way. I hiked on to Rock Gap in the hopes of calling a shuttle, but found out too late that there was no cell service. Besides that, it was past 6 PM and there was no traffic. I was tired and disappointed and did not feel like hiking back to the shelter, so I just sat there, staring at the single car in the parking lot and hoping that the trail would once again provide. It did. After about half an hour the lady I had run in to before came back down the trail, followed closely by Denise. She has asked for a ride and I was more than welcome to tag along.

The Trail Angel who gave us a ride to Franklin!

The Trail Angel who gave us a ride to Franklin!

Denise and I both got rooms at the Microtel in town and we agreed to meet an hour later to get dinner. I took a shower and talked to my boyfriend on Skype until it was time to go. We decided we would go by Walgreens first to get some epsom salts and some snacks, and then afterwards go to Sonic for some well-earned burgers. I learned that day that if shopping while hungry is a bad idea, it’s doubly bad to do so when you’re a hungry hiker. I left Walgreens with icecream, two packets of cookies, a can of pringles, microwave burritos and a big bottle of Gatorade.. and a bag of epsom salts to share.

We took our groceries and our food back to our rooms and agreed to meet up again the next day. I did some more talking on skype as I ate my food, then spent the rest of the night chatting on social media, eating, and watching T.V. It was glorious.

The coffee/hangout corner in Three Eagles Outfitter in Franklin.

The next day was my very first true zero day. I had a hotel breakfast, talked to Denise and scavenged through the hiker box and found qtips. Truly a luxury. Afterwards, I went back to my room for more skype and tv, as well as a bath. Around noon I walked a mile in my crocs to the closest Ingles grocery store for more food. When I got back I realized I had actually gotten a blister from my crocs. Oops. Around 6 PM I met Denise for dinner and we went to the diner across the street. It was a lot of fun to just hang out and socialize, and Denise was quickly becoming a real friend of mine.

My dad met us at the hotel the next day with a new pack for me. He drove us to the laundromat and then to Three Eagles Outfitter to see if they could adjust my pack. Three Eagles was a great place with very friendly people; they happily adjusted my pack for me and then made us almond chai lattes (I feel like a hipster just writing that but whatever, they’re amazing) in their little coffee corner. Two familiar faces turned up.. Nightwhisperer and Maine Mike! We gave them a ride to the post office and then to their hotel, then drove back to the gap. My foot was hurting oddly so I slack packed to Winding Stair Gap and, after driving to the ranger station for postcards and back, camped in the (very rainy) parking lot.

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From Winding Stair Gap I slackpacked to Wayah Gap and had hotdogs with my dad. He was being a trail angel again and handing out fruit and drinks. He was actually making quite a name for himself, because occasionally I would be asked if I was Onceaday and if my dad drove a camper. I set out to hike up to Wayah Bald, but my foot was acting up and so instead of forcing it I rode up to the top with my dad, with the plan to camp there. Denise was there too. A plan was hatched; I would slackpack down the hill back to the gap and they would meet me there. Then we would drive back up to the bald and camp there for the night. I did so once again joined by my Harry Potter audiobooks and with my foot feeling much better on the downhill. On the drive back up we stopped to take a look at the old, abandoned visitor center and then the three of us found ourselves a spot to camp on the bald – my dad and I in the camper and Denise in her tent. We all had dinner together and I played around with my camera, shooting a whole bunch of pictures of the local wildlife, a bunny and a bunch of birds.

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The next morning before breakfast I spent some time enjoying the sunrise from up on the bald. The view was truly amazing.

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The three of us had pancakes and bacon for breakfast and then Denise and I headed up to take a look at the tower. The plan was for us to slackpack to Tellico Gap, then meet my dad there again. We took a break at Cold Spring Shelter and met three other hikers, Skywalker, Beast and Big Deal, a woman who worked as a dealer in Vegas. Denise had met Big Deal before so we sat there and chatted for a while. She had packed a whole bunch of snack bags and gave us each one, filled with mini chocolates and babybell cheeses!

When we got to Tellico Gap we decided to go find a campsite so we drove around for a good hour or so, getting lost and finally reaching a closed campground. After a thorough search we found a place called Nelson’s Nantahala Hideaway, near Topton. The host was extremely talkative and it took a while for us to extract ourselves from the conversation, but finally we chose a spot, built a fire and got to making burgers for dinner.


The next day we drove back to Tellico and began our hike up Wesser Bald. It was an exciting day; we would be going in to the Nantahala Outdoor Center, or the NOC. It would be a long descent. But to go down, first you have to go up, and so we did – up the observation tower! I learned that Denise was afraid of heights but that she was challenging herself to overcome that fear and so up she went. When we got on to the platform she was crawling, and it took me a little while to convince her that it was safe to stand up.

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It was foggy, but the view was amazing. We watched as the clouds rolled in, quickly destroying our hopes of having a nice view in to the NOC as we descended and hinting at the chance of rain.

Aw, thanks tower!

The way down took forever and, oddly, consisted of a frustratingly large amount of ups. At Wesser Bald Shelter we met Beast and Skywalker again. It rained as we walked on and once we reached what is known as ‘the jump off’ all the rocks and roots were slippery and treacherous. There were barely any views, as we had expected, but that didn’t mean the place lacked beauty. It was like walking through a rainforest. At some point the dead trees made way for tall pine trees, which created a most amazing smell as well as shelter from the drizzle.

A wild Denise spotted between the foliage.

A wild Denise spotted between the foliage.

Finally, we got to the NOC. Denise went to pick up a package and get new shoes at the outfitter and my dad and I sat on a bench outside of the general store. Denise and I had talked about looking in to ziplining there, so my dad went to check. There were a couple of spots left for the next day! We quickly claimed them, then drove to Bryson City to find a place to stay. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant named Anthony’s – where my tradition of always taking the spinach and artichoke dip starter began. The food was amazing. I had a pasta dish with breaded eggplant and, besides the dip, shared breaded mushrooms with Denise.

The next day we got up early for breakfast, then headed back to the NOC. We had some time to kill so we browsed the outfitter, read the hiker log, got my dad an AT sticker for his car, and had lunch at the restaurant. Then.. it was time to go ziplining!

How to turn a car in to a Trail Angel Mobile.

Getting the harnas on was an adventure in itself but when we were finally all strapped in we got aboard the bus that would bring us to the ziplining course. I was nervous because we had to go one by one with everyone else watching – every socially anxious person’s nightmare – but it all turned out fine. I only made a mistake once, when I accidentally put my hand in front of the zip instead of behind it to slow down, but my hand didn’t get run over so everything was fine. The main attraction of the course was the half mile long zipline, and it was indeed spectacular. It felt like flying, except with a rather uncomfortable wedgie, and it solidified my idea that all gaps on the AT should have ziplines across them. Much easier!

After ziplining, Denise, my dad and I hung out at the NOC and talked to other hikers. Big Deal had shown up as well. Finally, we went back to the hotel and then on to the Mexican restaurant.. which was a complete and utter disappointment. Do not go to Guayabitos in Bryson City. It was so disappointing that afterwards, we went to Walgreens to pick up some frozen burritos. Seriously.

Denise headed out the next day and I had been planning to join her, but my foot was still bothering me at times. Besides, I absolutely loved the NOC. My dad talked to a couple of the right people so that we could camp in the parking lot that night and I spent most of the day catching up on writing in my journal and eating pizza.


The climb out of the NOC the next day seemed endless. My pack felt heavier than it had ever been – probably a side effect of the slackpacking – and I took plenty of breaks. I had lunch on a ridge overlooking one side of the mountain and I watched a small plume of smoke grow bigger. The smoke was blowing up the mountain, but I wasn’t sure if it was where the trail was heading. It made me a little nervous, but I decided to press on. By the end of the day I was walking through smoke. At Sassafras Gap Shelter another hiker said that they had called the Forest Service to ask about the fire, and they had said that it was being contained and that it was safe at the shelter. I was glad that I didn’t have to press on.

After a long search – the shelter was very busy – I found a spot to set up my tent. I had a lot of fun socializing that night. A group of us was sitting in the shelter, talking about topics ranging from politics to a trail-based D&D game, and I got to know a whole bunch of people I had never met before, such as Bees, Bones, Buzzard, Umgawah and Crookedfoot. When I sat down for dinner Bees was explaining how to do foot yoga and a group was following along. It was a very entertaining night and I felt good in this new bubble of hikers, though I hoped to catch up to Denise at some point.

The next day I had decided that I would not be the last one out of the shelter, and I wasn’t. However, pretty much everyone who had been at the shelter passed me by as I climbed up to Cheoah Bald, through air still hazy with smoke. It was very windy up on the bald and there was a storm coming, so I didn’t spend much time taking in the views.

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I met my dad at Stecoah Gap and we drove down to a campsite where he had stayed the night before. It was on a lake, very quiet and with beautiful views.. and it rained hard. My attempts to make a fire after the rain had ended were thwarted by everything being damp. Oh well.

I contacted Denise and she let me know that she had met up with Big Deal and gotten off the trail at Stecoah Gap as well. They had zeroed at a place called Cabin in the Woods and we made plans to meet at Stecoah Gap in the morning, do some slackpacking and see how far we could make it. The next morning, one of them mentioned that it was only 14 miles to Fontana Dam.. a mileage none of us had done before, but it was slackpacking – that couldn’t be too bad, right? We decided that we would meet my dad halfway and see how we felt.

A shelter entry that made me laugh – “Piss off Jacob & take your ladder with you..”

Turned out, we had it in us. Apart from Jacob’s Ladder the terrain wasn’t too bad at all and once we had refueled with gatorade, chocolate milk and donuts after seven miles, we set out to break our mileage records. I hiked ahead for most of the way, but I took a lot more breaks than Denise or Big Deal did so whenever I took a break Denise would generally catch up to me, and we would be able to see Big Deal coming up on the trail behind us. That way, we sort of stuck together without having to slow down or speed up too much.

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We got to Fontana Marina, surprisingly, before dark. My dad drove us up to the lodge and we got a room to share. After showers we walked down the hill to the grill and ate burgers. We must have made an amazing sight when we each, in turn, got up to use the restroom. Doing that many miles in a day and then sitting still had us all stiff and sore and getting off of my chair was a chore in itself. Fully refueled, we hobbled to the porch at the back of the grill and complained loudly about how far back up the hill we had to walk to our rooms.. and then an old lady sitting right by us asked why we were so sore. We explained our predicament and she said that her daughter was bringing the car around and that she would gladly give us a ride up to our room. Score! We had gotten a ride for less than half a mile and it felt like a true hiker achievement.





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