Oats on the Appalachian High Route: Day 21
I woke up slowly to the sound of rain on the shelter roof. With cell service, I was able to see the storm would pass around 8 am and snuggled back into my sleeping bag for another precious hour of rest. The gash on my right knee was still bothering me, especially when I tried to kick my leg up to my chest to sleep on my side or attempted to sleep on my belly. I tossed and turned for the next hour, grateful to be dry and warm, and eventually stirred just as the final drops finished their symphony on the shelter roof.
I had a slow breakfast of S’more PopTarts (my favorite flavor) at the shelter, contrary to my usual morning routine of immediately hitting the trail. I only had 18 miles to a tent site near Devil’s Creek Gap, leaving me in perfect position to tackle 21.8 miles of the Burnsville Connector tomorrow. My final day on trail, tomorrow. With the sweetness of my breakfast on my tongue, I poured out the water I didn’t use the night before (careful to leave enough to hold me over to the first source of the day) and set off towards the trail.
I spent most every downhill or flat section of the trail today singing. Not having seen a soul in over 24 hours gave me the confidence to really let loose, and my trekking poles became involved as an impromptu prop for some particularly spunky songs. Spotting ground wasp nests every few feet wasn’t encouraging, but nonetheless I persisted and relished the feeling of being absolutely and beautifully alone.
For the second time in two days, I came across a bad weather alternate. I recalled yesterday’s anxious scramble where I quickly got turned around in the foggy boulders of the bald, and hopped on FarOut for the scoop.
“No worse than what we do daily, and mostly easier.”
“Bill Bryson would take this trail. Don’t be Bill Bryson.”
Say no more! I continued following white blazes up as the climb became more rocky and technical. I was sweating buckets by the time I emerged above treeline, but the wind worked quickly to cool me down and I stared out across the mountains. Despite the mist, the wind was clearing enough of a path through the clouds to observe rows upon rows of hidden gems of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Though I couldn’t tell you the mountains by name (or frankly even tell you if I’d walked over them in the last 24 hours), the familiar sense of home washed over me as I stared out from the apex of my 10-mile morning climb.
Many miles later as I began chugging up the final climb of the day, I encountered the first person I had seen since yesterday morning. He was sporting a knee brace and a Hyperlite pack, so I quickly complimented his choice of gear. He smiled. “Are you NOBO?” “Nope, just finishing up a section hike. I was on the Mountains-To-Sea Trail before and will be finishing a loop route back to Burnsville tomorrow.” Butterflies flitted in my stomach as I realized just how close I was to the end of this adventure. “Are you SOBO?” He nodded modestly. After a few more words, we both bid each other a happy hike and continued our separate directions. I recalled a SOBO I had seen in my first week hiking through Georgia on my 2019 thru-hike. It was February and the hairs of his beard were clumped together with icicles, and he had an attitude to match. After mulling it over, I quickly realized who I had just encountered was likely the first SOBO of the season. The Standing Bear staff had anticipated the beginning of the bubble would start trickling in next week, and it seemed they were right on schedule.
At the tent site, I tried to make up for the sins of my last few days. My lack of strict stretching had caused aches and pains even 800mg of Vitamin I couldn’t satisfy, so I spent a liberal amount of time working my fists and fingers into the sore muscles that needed it most. I also continued my efforts to dry out my tent, a noble mission I first undertook over a week ago and have been so far unsuccessful in accomplishing. The cold wind of the ridge whipped my fingers and toes as I enjoyed my final evening, for the time being, in the woods with only myself for company.
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