The Second Ten Days
It’s been a while since my last update, but apparently “the South” doesn’t believe in reliable internet service – everywhere we have stopped, the internet hasn’t worked! So here’s the next 10 days worth of daily entries…
Day 10 – Dicks Creek Gap to Muskrat Creek Shelter
Today was my hardest day, both physically and mentally. The day was a cold, windy, rainy day which made it seem much worse, too. Leaving the hostel, it took me a while to find my trail legs again. I hiked alone all day, which isn’t bad in and of itself. But trying to tackle hills like Buzzard Knob alone was a long and slow process. But I made the GA/NC border, crossing one state off the list. Of course, climbing out of Bly Gap made Tray Mountain seem like an ant hill! Today was the first time I’ve actually had to recite my AppTrials “lists” just to keep moving. I didn’t want to quit, but I didn’t want to go any farther, either. I finally made it to camp, on fumes, just as the rain stopped. I set up my tent, filtered water, cooked a hot meal and felt a bit better, but it was a long, muddy day.
Day 11 – Muskrat Creek Shelter to Carter Gap Shelter
Today started wet and never dried out. Overnight, there was an eardrum-shattering crack of thunder and ten seconds later, the sky liquified and fell to the ground in a deluge. At dawn, with the skies still leaking, I broke camp and headed out for my longest trail miles day yet. If I was a 4 year old, I would’ve been in heaven at the amount of mud everywhere. And for a while, I did enjoy myself, sloshing through the wetness. At one point, the trail became a cascading stream and there was nothing to do but walk through it. The hike was fairly mild today, compared to other days, so I made good time. And I’m getting the hang of my food intake throughout the day, which helped a lot, too. Just before I stopped for lunch, I was coming down Standing Indian Mountain when I slipped in the mud. Before I knew what happened, I was on my back staring at the sky. I now know what a turtle feels like. I got up and assessed the damage – my pants were muddy from knees down, I twisted my left foot somehow, which was causing a little discomfort, and I bent one trekking pole almost to a 90-degree bend. I was able to bend it back most of the way, so it’s still useable, but I’ll need to get it fixed before too long. I continued on, being more cautious of the mud. I got to camp and got settled, but couldn’t shake the chill, so I climbed into my bag at 7.
Day 12 – Carter Gap Shelter to Rock Gap Shelter
Today was a much better day, compared to the last few. The rain seemed to have moved on, even if only temporarily, but the trail was still a mess. It was also bitter cold this morning, making it a slow start day. Within a few miles, my muscles woke up and I was feeling good. Except for my left foot. Must’ve twisted it in yesterday’s fall. I felt strong going up Albert Mountain to the old fire tower – and Mile Marker 100.1!! I made it to camp about a half hour before the rain started back up… And was lucky enough to get a dry spot inside the shelter. I don’t normally like the shelters, but dry and warm trumps privacy any day.
Day 13 – Rock Gap Shelter to Rock Gap (and shuttle to Franklin)
Ok, so I call it a zero day. It was bittersweet, but one member of our group decided she didn’t want to go into town, so we all bid her good luck as she hiked away. After a lazy morning, we walked the 100 yards to the road crossing and waited for Ron and his bus. Before long, we were showered, laundry being done, and gear drying in the hotel room. And I met fellow blogger Laura “Hot Hands” Houston! A bunch of us had gear issues so we headed for Outdoor 76. Cory helped me find new boots… Err, shoes. And lemme tell ya, they are amazing! Apparently the boots I was wearing were about two sizes too small for the actual “structure” of my foot. They are Saucony Xodus 5.0 trail runners and they fit like a glove. After everyone else finished up, we walked back to the hotel (there’s still a lot of walking on town days!) and then went for Mexican food. Yum! A quick trip to Dollar General to resupply and we were all set for the night. It’s amazing how quickly a town day disappears!
Day 14 – Rock Gap to Siler Bald Shelter
Knowing we wouldn’t make it out of Franklin early, we planned to just go to the next shelter. This worked good, because Kamikaze’s brother was joining us for the weekend. There were a lot of people taking a second zero day… I see how town can suck you in. I hiked with Older Dog all day, which we hadn’t done since the Approach Trail, so it was nice. The weather was nice too – a bit cloudy but warm, and more importantly, not raining! We made decent time and decided to hike past the shelter to Siler Bald, since there was rain predicted for tomorrow. The shelter has a loop trail, so we just hit the northern
end of it to get to the shelter. The view was amazing and worth the effort! We got to camp to find a large crowd already there, but thankfully there is a lot of tent spots. Just after dinner, the rain started back up. Joy.
Day 15 – Siler Bald Shelter to Cold Spring Shelter
The rain began before the sun was up. We slowly packed up and got on the trail, although I think we were all second guessing whether we should just stay. Most of the morning, the rain was a steady spring rain, but not too bad. If it had been warmer, it might’ve been even better but it was a tad cold. We stopped at Wayah Bald Shelter for lunch, to have a dry spot to try to warm up and eat. Warming up priced difficult so we decided to press on – hiking seemed the only way to be warm, even if in rain. After lunch, the trail tried to swallow us whole. Literally. A torrential downpour turned the trail into a raging river, complete with rapids. Thankfully it didn’t last a whole long time and by the time we got to camp, the rain had stopped. Momentarily. Overall, it was a good day of hiking though. I feel a little stronger, with a little more endurance. I’m still not in top shape but I’m getting there.
Day 16 – Cold Spring Shelter to Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC)
What a day. Just before daybreak, a huge lightening and thunder storm went through. We all just curled into our sleeping bags and waited for it to pass, which it did. And the day dawned beautifully. We hiked under mostly clear skies, but quickly realized it would be more “synchronized sliding” than hiking. It warmed up throughout the day and the views were spectacular! I spent a good 45 minutes atop Wesser Bald tower, just taking in the views. And then began the 6 mile downhill. Holy Hell. Knee breaking, ankle twisting, back jarring. There are pictures that were specifically not taken so my mom wouldn’t freak out about the trail. There were a few times I was nervous, that’s for sure. But finally, the NOC came into view. We bid farewell to Kamikaze’s brother, got a pizza and salad before the restaurant closed, showered and tried to dry out gear. We’re shacked up in the bunkhouses for tonight, debating how many miles to plan for tomorrow.
Day 17 – NOC to Sassafras Gap Shelter
Today was a great day for hiking! We wanted a good breakfast at Rivers End Restaurant before heading back out, so we all slept in, relaxed some, caught up on journaling, and such, then ate an enormous meal. We hit the trail late, about 10:30, but our goal was only to get up the 6-mile hill that is Swim Bald. But the weather was mid-60s and sunny, so we all took our time and enjoyed the day. Unfortunately, I received some bad family news at lunch, so my afternoon was a mixed-emotions day. But I made the best of it, as best as I could. Coming out of NOC, where lots of people took different levels of zero days, there was a different mix of hikers at the shelter. But different can be good! New friends are always good. Praying this weather holds out for a few more days!
Day 18 – Sassafras Gap Shelter to Cable Gap Shelter
We had planned to get up early to tackle our first 15-mile day, but the day started super cold so everyone was slow getting out of sleeping bags. But it looked to be another nice day. We started out about 7:45, and were immediately humbled by the climb up to Cheoah Bald. But the views were worth the effort. The rest of the day went smoothly, albeit a tad slower than I had hoped. For the most part, all four of us – Older Dog, Kamikaze, Hot Hands and myself – hiked together all day. Well, until we hit Jacob’s Ladder. Pretty sure if I had eaten lunch before this hill, I would’ve thrown up twice. It was rough. We stopped at Brown Fork Gap Shelter for lunch, and a visit to the famed Five Star Privy. Nicest one we’ve seen yet. It’s the small things in life. We pushed on, trying to make camp before the rain hit. We contemplated stopping at Cody Gap, but it was a wind tunnel there so we decided to push on to the shelter. About half way there, a nice spring rain hit, dampening the dust a little and giving the woods a
wonderful spring rain smell. But the rain didn’t last long. We arrived about 7pm – our longest day of hiking yet, and the most miles in a single day! Everyone was sore but glad we made it. Just as we finished setting camp, it started sprinkling again. As tired as we all were, we just got into our sleeping bags and talked through the tents until we fell asleep.
Day 19 – Cable Gap Shelter to Fontana Village
Knowing we had a short day today, most of us took our time packing up camp today. I even cooked a hot breakfast, something I rarely do. We got out of camp around 8:15 and of course, started with a long uphill. It always seems to take me a good half mile or more of hiking before my legs wake up, so these hills first thing in the morning are brutal. But overall, the hike was pleasant today. The weather was sunny but cool, which was great as long as you were moving. A bunch of us stopped at a dirt road less than half a mile from Fontana 28 AT Crossing, mostly because we knew we weren’t rushed. It was a pleasant stop, to just relax and chat with fellow hikers. When we got to the parking lot at Fontana 28, we called for the shuttle and relaxed in the grass. A short can ride later and we were checked into the Fontana Lodge, and on our way for lunch and laundry. It was a relaxing day to finally have a “town day” where we didn’t have to rush to get to outfitters and such. There was a large gathering of thru hikers at the laundromat / general store area, with lots of different conversations and “food parties” going on.
Day 20 – Fontana Villiage to… ?
Today, we decided to take a true zero day. We may hike the half mile to the Fontana Hilton for the night, but for all intents and purposes, we aren’t hiking today. The knees and ankles are thankful. But tomorrow, we head into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and I cannot wait. I am hoping the storm system pushes through early, so that we have semi-decent weather, but I will survive either way. So 20 days in and I am at mile 164.7. Not too bad, especially considering the weather I’ve had lately.
See you on the other side of the smokies! Remember to Spin the Compass!
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Hi Jason, could you throw a date in for when you reach a landmark? We’re behind you and that would help us know how far ahead you are. Backfire
Hey Jay, as a kind of in law/out law, just wanted to drop a quick line telling you how much I enjoyed reading your Appalachian Trials blog. You are a natural writer and please keep on as I am inspired by what you are doing.
Hi Jason, think about you everyday and the challenge you are taking. So proud of you, and love hearing about your trails everyday. Who knows you might be a writer after this!! Keep treeking, you can do it. – holly
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