(Mostly) Smiles for Big Miles (Days 33-38)

Trail Magic for Days

Have you ever thought super hard about something and then it actually happens? And then you think you’re a wizard? No, just me?

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, as I lugged my tired legs around a bend in the trail…it happened. “Trail magic this way!!” I couldn’t believe it. I was just thinking to myself (really deeply) about how cool it would be to get some trail magic today. The sign pointed to the right and I found myself walking toward it. This wonderful group of former thru-hikers had set up what I deem the best trail magic yet. They were serving up burgers hot off the grill, fresh pasta salad with tons of greens, cookies and sweets galore and, of course, a cooler full of beer.

A very good boy at trail magic

To be honest, it doesn’t matter what’s being given, the best trail magic has been the most unexpected. A few weeks back, a cooler full of sandwiches and fruit was left out for hikers in a totally random spot on trail. In real life, you wouldn’t touch that cooler with a 39 and a half foot pole. In the long distance hiking world, finding a cooler in the woods is like opening presents on Christmas morning.

But wait! There’s more…

That same weekend, we were gifted two more trail magic events. Livin’ It and Lovin’ It, a couple from South Carolina who had previously hiked the trail, were serving up breakfast on Sunday morning. Another 10 miles down the trail was a plethora of snacks and hot dogs for hungry hikers. The kindness of strangers out here, especially those who have never even hiked the trail, is truly admirable.

I Can See For Miles and Miles

As we creeped our way closer to Virginia, the trail began to change. First, the heat came. I’m not complaining by any means, it felt good to finally have the sun shining bright on my face. Then, the terrain. The trail started to ease up on us. Maybe it was because of this or maybe it was our trail legs finally kicking in. Whatever it was, Sparks and I began doing some bigger mile days as we kept walking north! We stretched our days to 18-20 miles which honestly felt good.

The longer miles didn’t necessarily mean everything got easier. As we climbed through the Roan Highlands, we encountered another beast: exposed balds on balds on balds. I’m not kidding, it felt like they were never ending. I can’t even complain because the VIEWS from these balds were absolutely breathtaking. The climbs up them also quite literally took my breath away.

Hump Mountain on a crystal blue day

The Reward

19 miles and what felt like 700 balds later, Sparks and I found ourselves at Mountain Harbour Inn and Hostel. I think you could’ve given us a 10 day old sandwich from the gas station and we would’ve eaten it after that. Lucky for us, Mountain Harbour has some of the BEST food on trail. Their outdoor kitchen/bar produces delicious burgers and sandwiches to wash down with a plethora of beer choices. I scarfed down a fried chicken sandwich with raspberry chipotle sauce and WOW. Even though I probably would’ve eaten anything, this was truly hitting the spot.

Chowing down at Mountain Harbour

Mountain Harbour also boasts the best breakfast on trail and let me tell you, it did not disappoint! All of the guests who are willing to pay $13 extra for breakfast are graced with a spread that can fill up even the hungriest hiker. Breakfast is served in the inn’s common area/kitchen which I’d compare to enjoying breakfast at grandma’s house. You’d think it was Thanksgiving by the looks of everyone’s plates. Pastries, quiches, French toast, sticky buns, meats, fresh fruit and of course, hot coffee filled up the serving counter.

With our hiker hunger well fed, Sparks and I set out once again with what would be our last stretch of trail together for a while. I was getting off for 4 days for another wedding and Sparks would continue on to Damascus, VA. Until then, we would enjoy the (mostly) perfect weather and each other’s company.

TLC, I’ve let you down

For the next few days, we hiked our butts off but were rewarded with some beautiful waterfalls. On a hot, humid day there’s nothing better than an on-trail water source. Soaking your torn up, swollen feet in ice cold water is always a welcome treat and is also the perfect excuse for a break.

A waterfall whose name I can’t remember…
The 700th Laurel Creek/Laurel Falls I’ve encountered

The Last Hurrah

Sparks and I camped our last night on trail together at a cool little spot with a campfire (brought to you by Sparks and her sparks) and entertainment (brought to you by Banjo and his banjo). It was a beautiful, cooler night due to some recent rain showers and we loved every minute of it. Then, I got my bear-hang line stuck in a tree and the whole night was ruined. Just kidding, I was able to finagle it free after almost breaking the rope with my superwoman strength. Okay, just kidding again, I used my wits to free the rope. Regardless, it all turned out okay and no bears or trees were harmed in the process.

Banjo, with his namesake instrument

We held on to one last treat for the end of this stretch: a stay at Boots Off Hostel and Campground. I was surprised with a complimentary taco salad made by one of the staff members and a free beer given to me by a fellow hiker. Sparks and I reserved bunks in the very colorful bunkhouse and slept like babies in the air-conditioned space.

Boots Off with some of the coolest hostel aesthetic

Our final day before splitting up happened to be our biggest mile day yet! 20 miles baby! We were tired, hungry and very thankful when my boyfriend, Kevin, rolled up to pick us up from the trailhead. Sparks and I said our goodbyes as we dropped her off at the campground she was staying at. We knew it wasn’t a true goodbye but a “see you later”…because that’s how things on this trail go. I was ready for a few zero days filled with home-cooked meals, an epsom salt bath (s/o to Martha, Kevin’s mom) and of course a super fun wedding! Until the next update…

For now, there’s nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile 🙂

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