Week 4: Where My Feet Carry Me
I started my week off in Franklin, NC. I know that towns like Hot Springs and Damascus have reputations as great Trail Towns, but with my limited experience I can’t imagine how any town is more hiker friendly. With several places to stay, two different Outfitters, several restaurants boasting hiker discounts, and so many other amenities, I will freely admit that I found it a hard place to leave.
I do have a few places to recommend in Franklin before I tell the rest of my week. First, I cannot speak of Franklin without mentioning the wonderful treatment of the First Baptist Church of Franklin, a wonderful congregation that serves free breakfast daily for hikers. While the breakfast (all you can eat pancakes and bacon, paired with homemade breads, coffee, and orange juice) is fantastic, it was the spirit that the church showed. I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever found a place that made me feel more welcome and genuinely cared about when I was a stranger than this place. All the time volunteers seemed honestly happy to welcome us and to do whatever they could to help us feel cared for.
Another fantastic service in Franklin is the Macon County Transit. This bus system is, for me, the service that most sets Franklin apart for any hiking visitor. First, they have scheduled pickups from all three of the major gap trail heads, costing only three dollars for a ride into town. This service alone is awesome, simply because it saves you the cost of paying for a personal shuttle, and also leaves you free to choose a place to stay without being restricted to those places that offer free shuttling. Once you’re in town, the bus will pick you up anywhere in town and give you a ride to anywhere else in town for only a dollar. And I do mean anywhere. You don’t have to count on a bus stop, or even the bus route. Simply call the office (their number is posted all over town as well as in AWOL’s guide) and they’ll pick you up wherever you’re at, or give you a nearby location that they can get you.
Before leaving town, I stopped at Outdoor 76 for shoes. Unfortunately, the Keen boots I was wearing were starting to fall apart, and I’d been noticing that on longer hiking days my right foot had been going numb, causing an understandable concern. I have to say their reputation as experts on footwear is very well earned. I spent about an hour speaking with the salesperson who took several measurements of my feet, as well as had me walk several times across the sales floor. Finally, he informed me that because of the shape of my foot, I was wearing boots two sizes too small, despite matching the appropriate length of my feet. I would have called this a crazy scheme to sell me shoes I didn’t need, but after trying out the North Face boots he recommended, I have to admit the difference is like night and day.
Lastly, I feel I must give a few words to the place I stayed in while in Franklin. Gooder Grove Hostel is a newer place in town, but I found it a friendly and comfortable place to stay. Owner Colin (trail name Zen) was busy most of the time I was there with remodeling being done in the basement to create more room, but he made every effort to make me feel welcome and the place is kept clean and comfortable. I look forward to seeing this place becoming a well known stop on the Trail.
Finally setting off after a much longer break than was reasonable, I returned to hiking. As of April 15th I’ve been out for exactly a month, and I keep expecting my “Trail legs” to come in. I suppose I’ve been foolish, expecting this to mean that at some magical point, I’ll suddenly find the hiking gloriously easy, skipping and running up mountainsides, perhaps while singing songs, and a bright smile on my face. Wayah Bald, the climb out of the NOC, and Jacob’s Ladder have all worked to teach me what poppycock that would be. I continue to find up hills painfully slow. I cannot help but grumble as other hikers pass me by, seemingly with ease.
I do find however, that I feel less and less defeated by some of the uphill climbs, and I simply take my time. I focus on the step by steps, and hold steady. I’m not fast, but I rarely stop, so I’m slowly but surely getting to the point of making 8-10 mile days consistently. I have found it helpful to sometimes tune out from the push of constant hiking by listening to audio books or music, this has helped to pass the time as well as let me feel like my mind is getting a similar workout to my body, with books of philosophy or Biblical commentary, though I must admit I mix some fun in there too, I downloaded The Lord of the Rings before leaving, I got to the arrival to Rivendell right about the same time as I got to the NOC, which seemed oddly appropriate.
My biggest struggle in the last few weeks has been a sense of loneliness. My phone has had no signal now for the last two weeks, so I’m held to making my updates only in town, and only when I find a free WiFi signal. This has meant that I haven’t been able to keep up as regularly with friends and family back home. Since I’m a slow hiker, I haven’t really been able to keep in touch with other hikers either since I’ll rarely see the same person for more than a few days in a row. (my own social awkwardness doesn’t help either) I’ve taken to journaling more and having imaginary conversations to help pass the time, but it’s still a massive relief when I can occasionally play catch up via Facebook or chat
I’m excited to have made it to Fontana at this point, due to having arrived on a Saturday, I’ll be staying through till Monday so that I can pick up my packages from the post office. We’ll enjoy the “Fontana Hilton” with some relaxing walks sans pack
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