Oats on the Appalachian High Route: Day 12
Two things happened after I fell asleep – my campground neighbors arrived in the dead of night and spent 15 minutes backing in their camper into the space 10 feet from my tent, and it began to rain. The rain wouldn’t let up until the sun began to rise, which I took as my cue to get going. After a rushed tear down in what was becoming barely more than a sprinkle, I made my way back to Newfound Gap Road and stuck out my thumb with my sights set on the Oconoluftee Visitor Center.
It only took a couple of passing cars before someone took pity and invited me in for a ride to the Visitor Center about 3 miles south. My trail angel and I spotted an elk off the side of the road with a rack that rivaled any I had seen in the high country of Colorado, and was entertaining an audience of visitors with hazards on and phones in hand.
After taking advantage of the potable water, indoor plumbing, vending machines, and gorgeous sites the foggy morning had in store, it was time to hit the trail. A conversation with a fly-fishing teacher in the parking lot prompted an offer of a delicious-looking lasagna dehydrated meal, but I knew my resupply was perfectly balanced so I politely declined. Instead, I gave her 13-year-old golden retriever, Daisy Mae, a good number of pats before heading off in the opposite direction down Newfound Gap Road towards the old Mingus Mill.
My first steps on the trail in the Great Smokey Mountains instantly satisfied my cravings to once more be alone in these magical woods. Nothing could spoil my mood; the storm that had appeared overnight was unrelenting, but it was also warm and welcoming. Even the 5-foot slide down I took down the side of a ridge to pass a fallen tree made me smile as I realized the dirt and mud I was covered in likely wouldn’t disappear until Hot Springs, over a week away. With no roads to worry about or cars to listen for, I resumed my singing routine once more.
Around midday I realized I was in trouble – my hip and knee had held up well during the climb but now that I was descending, every footstep was painful and forced. I allowed myself a long stretch/snack break featuring a rather sizeable amount of Vitamin I before tentatively returning to trail. After a while, the movements became more natural and I was once more cruising at an easy pace. A quick call with my best friend revealed some advice she had for my predicament – “Squeeze those glutes! It’ll make everything else have to work a little less hard.”
It being Labor Day weekend, I expected every campsite in the park to be fully booked – so you can imagine my surprise when I passed half a dozen campsites (all requiring pre-booked permits) and didn’t see a soul. Thinking the weather must’ve scared people off, I arrived at my destination for the day and set up camp. One delicious High Country Pad Thai later and a few hours of daylight left, I was ready to explore.
As I donned my compression-socks and walked back towards the trail, I noticed the number of the campsite carved on the wooden post near the creek – Campsite 56! I had booked Campsite 55, located another 0.5 miles up the trail. After reluctantly throwing my kitchen kit, sleeping bag, itty-bitty-ditty-bag, and bear canister back into my pack, I pulled up the stakes to my trekking pole tent and carried the whole thing down the trail in my arms to my true destination for the night. The tent switch-up didn’t bother me much, as I knew the next week or so I’d be sleeping in a shelter instead of having to set up every night. I’d also been arriving at camp between 4 and 5 pm nearly every day of the trip, so the additional chore didn’t cut into my coveted 10-11 hours of well-earned trail sleep.
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