Backpacking on Black Friday: Day 7 on the MST

While some were camped outside their favorite department stores waiting for the deals of the year, I listened to the wind rippling against my tent for the last time. This was my final morning on trail so I made sure to enjoy every minute of it, starting with a sunrise on top of Grandfather Mountain. From my perch I could roughly see where I started 6 days ago, over 130miles away.

Feelings of achievement rested on one shoulder while sadness dug into the other. The past week felt transformative, like I’d learned something new and became capable of more. But I still yearned to continue walking and journeying into the unknown. My thru hike on the CDT was still months away but I wished I could snap my fingers and start it tomorrow.

Sunrise on Calloway Peak

The Final Stretch

Although my trip felt like it was over, a full day of unknowns awaited me after the crisp sunrise. The first surprise was snow! Barely anything to note but still unmistakable, tiny patches of snow filled the corners of the trail while ice clung to the tallest trees. The morning was peaceful and I enjoyed one of the most popular trails of NC all to myself. Lots of scrambling and climbing ladders made the last few miles feel like much more, but in the best way possible.

One of the many ladders along the Grandfather Trail.

Another mile through cliffy ridges and fir forests put me on top of Macrae Peak. From there it was all downhill to the parking lot. One section of trail weaved through house and car size boulders, reminiscent of the Mahoosuc Notch along the Appalachian Trail.

Without the ladder this scene would be nearly identical to the Mahoosuc Notch

The next surprise (which was more of an oversight on my part) was how crowded State Parks get on holiday weekends. The morning became anything but peaceful as the flood of my new best friend’s started up the trail I was now headed down. Those moments remind me how finite true solitude is and how rare wild experiences are in our modern world. Thankfully I experienced many of such moments throughout this trip, so I had little room to complain.

Heading up Macrae Peak!

Thumbs Up!

The scene at the trailhead was truly something of amazement. The park had managed to fill the parking lot to the point of NYC style gridlock. Folks trying to park were blocking others trying to leave. Those trying to leave were blocking the people turning around. It was a shit-show in its truest form, and thankfully I walked right by all of it. Thinking of traffic and lines made me want to turn around and just keep hiking, but I still had some loose ends to tie up.

Frosty trees on the way to Macrae Peak

The final unknown of this adventure would be hitching a ride back to my car about an hour away. Although there are were plenty of cars, 90% of them were packed with families, leaving no room for a dirty hiker. Luckily, after half an hour of thumbing around, I secured my first hitch in the bed of a big truck filled with fishing rods and coolers.

Tons of amazing rock formations and fantastic views called for many stops and lots of photos.

It took 4 hours and 5 separate hitches to get all the way back to my car. Everyone who picked me up was super nice and I shared stories with most of them, especially the last driver. Ted (the last driver) was definitely not expecting to see a hitchhiker (me) at the entrance to the upscale community which bordered the trailhead. He came dangerously close to running into me while turning into the development.

His tires screeched to a halt and he rolled down his window. “Are you okay?” he asked in a panic, as if he had just run me over. I told him I was fine but was looking for a ride to the trailhead. Ted fumbled over words about how he didn’t have the time, but eventually let out a guilty yes. I hopped in his massive Escalade and enjoyed the bumpy ride back to my car.

The Grandfather trail descends a chimney just below the photo before rising to the peaks in the background.

Its All Over

Ted had grown up in the area and shared his old stories of adventuring in the mountains of NC. Most of those days were behind him, although he still got out with his daughter and wife a few times every year. I rattled off a few local landmarks, and to most of them he commented that he’d been there when he was my age, some 40 years ago. Just like I yearned for more adventure, Ted yearned to share every story that popped into his mind. His style was great and his accent was even better making for a ride that felt much too short.

I mine as well have been an animal in a zoo with the looks and stares every passing car gave me.

If you can get past slim chances of bad possibilities , hitch hiking can be lots of fun and connect you with great people. As we turned into the trailhead I found the same feelings that rested on my shoulders this morning. I wished there was at least one more hitch, or one more mile, or any unknown obstacle to tackle. My hike was officially over.

So close, yet quite literally so far. This is where Ted almost ran me over! Nonetheless, my sign worked!

Feasting on the Views

Hunger overtook my sad thoughts and I devoured another apple pie while I packed up the Subie. Following the sweet, I craved some savory and b-lined it to the nearest BBQ joint. After 3 pulled pork sandwiches, 2 sides of mac ‘n cheese, biscuits and a sunset, I finally felt content. Although I wished to continue hiking, my body was sore and my feet hurt. A shower and bed didn’t sound too bad on top of 5 pounds of greasy BBQ.

Sunset overlooking the Black Mountains with Mount Mitchell on the left side of the range.


If you’ve followed from day 1, I must say a quick thank you for sticking along for the delayed posts. If you’re jumping in mid stream and want some context, trail stories or photography from the MST, make sure to go back and check out some of my previous trail posts, here. Thanks for reading and happy trails!

A rare but satisfactory selfie, near the finish of my 140 mile MST section hike.

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