CaliforniaGirl makes it 1/4 Way on AT
It’s been a journey. So far, so good. If you remember I started April 15th so 52 days later, I have approached the 1/4 Way Mark. I’ve been doing the math and at this rate, I’ll need to do 100 miles a week to make it to Mt Katahdin before closing date. That’s ambiguous but quite doable.
Slow & Steady
There’s a saying, “Last person to Maine wins!” I’m not sure what that person wins but I’m hoping it’s worthy of my slow & steady pace. What I’ve gained is a lack of injuries, no face plants as of yet and plenty of time to take in all the views, vistas and side trips! And I’ve made many friends along the way.
First 555 Miles Highlights
Where do I start? Blood Mountain and Neels Crossing. Easter Sunday I stood upon this rock and saw the glory of our Lords creation! Then the rain. It’s not a light drizzle but a downpour that floods the trail, the following day. Welcome to the Appalachian Trail!
Nantahala Outdoor Center
Nantahala River and NOC. Finally the forest turned green. Hiking into the NOC, was like visiting the Amazon Jungle. There are layers of green that blew my socks off. There are trees that reach the heavens, so tall you cannot fathom where they stop. The Ferns, Fire Azalea’s, Mountain Laurel and incredibly beautiful ground covering that borders the pathway as far as the eye can see. And then there’s the River! What a welcome sight and an added bonus. River rafting on a Zero Day. Perfect way to relax!
The Smokey’s were wet. But you cannot take away the beauty of this masterpiece! The Ridgeline walks, the vistas that were blanketed with clouds and mist. The bears that hid and stayed far away. And the shelters that welcomed me with space to dry out, warm up and a built-in community. The many trail families became stronger, closer and more valuable the farther I go.
Early in the morning, I headed up to this iconic place, Max Patch. It was a spectacular morning with the sun shining and the surrounding mountains were covered in a smokey haze. It was perfectly displayed with birds on parade, the butterflies fluttering and all blades of grass were manicured to perfection! I was in tears, overjoyed by the incredible beauty of this special bald.
Roan Mountain & Balds Galore
Roan Mountain is over 6200’ and dominates the skyline. The trail is lined with both Red Spruce and Fraser Fir, which are considered some of the rarest ecosystems in the world. This is due to the cold and wet conditions found on these peaks. I can attest to that! Cold and wet followed by hot and humid. It is truly a wonderful representation of a relic forest that dates back hundreds, if not thousands of years.
I fell in love with Balds. The first quarter of this trail has introduced me to Balds that have dominated my perspective of this trail. From the first day I set foot upon Siler Bald, I was impressed. Immediately following was Wesser as I flew into the NOC. Little Bald and Big Bald were long climbs but spectacular. Beauty Spot Bald was crowded with car campers as I slackpacked sobo back to Erwin. Round, Jane and Grassy Balds dominated the skyline after Roan Mountain. But my favorites were Little Hump and Hump as the skies opened up and liquid sunshine poured overhead. I scurried off the mountains and into Harbour Mountain.
Grayson Highlands where the pony’s roam wild and free. The pony’s were brought to this area in 1970’s to help keep the Balds clear and graze the lands. There are close to 100 pony’s, with 7-8 herds and the mares breed once a year. They look like a small Shetland pony, and are considered feral. I found that the pony’s did not seem to care if I was there or not. They continued munching on the grasses and dandelions as I scurried passed. It is a magical place and one I’d love to return to.
I have never experienced Hostel living but I’m hooked. For quite a few reasons. First they appear as a beacon when the sun is not shining. My favorite time to stay in these acquired taste resorts is when the weather is wicked and my tent is soaked. What a welcome relief. Hostel owners will concur, their best business is done when it’s raining.
The rooms vary from place to place but the one consistent is the hospitality. There is always room for one more and everyone is welcome! Tent space, bunkhouse, private or semi-private rooms are abound. I’ve stayed in many and love each one. So far I’ve visited close to ten hostels starting with Around the Bend, Uncle Johnnies, Laughing Heart, Standing Bear and Bear Garden, Harbour Mountain along with Quarter-Way Inn. The food has ranged from cereal to biscuits & gravy and the cats meow, Gourmet Michelin Star breakfast at Mountain Harbour. That’s a feast not to miss!
I learned the finer art of slackpacking and Zero Days at Hostels. I had the impression that a Nero was good enough but after 13 days, my body needed a rest! I’m glad I listened to my inner child and took a day to rest and play a little!
There’s not enough space to cover my town stops but a few highlights are Gatlinburg and their moonshine, Asheville Small Craft Breweries, Hot Springs Diner and Soaking Tubs on the River, and Damascus Distillery. I think the draw is the people who live there on purpose! Each one that I talked with desire to be in the midst of hiker trash, support our journey and want to provide kindness along the way!
Will I Continue?
You betcha! This has been tough in so many ways. My body has been beat up, and my feet constantly complain at the end of the day, I have been hot, cold, wet and sweaty! There isn’t a day that something doesn’t grabs my attention and I’m downing Vitamin-I. Yet there’s honestly nothing else I’d rather be doing than putting one foot in front of the other. Maine is the objective but the journey, that’s truly where this CaliforniaGirl’s heart is.
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Kelly, I am total awe of you! I just love how you draw all of us in on the trail with you. All the elements you survive, The picturesque descripions and the beautiful
pictures that capture God’s wondrous creation! Keeping you in my prayers! Vickie