Oats on the Appalachian High Route: Day 4

Up bright and early to the sound of my dad’s cats stirring him for breakfast, I was thankful I lightened the days scheduled miles last night. Dad sent me back to the trail with an anxious hug and a promise to send me a picture of his lunch later – a rack of ribs from our favorite restaurant.

I used the commuter stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway nearly every day to drive to work as a YMCA Swim Instructor during high school.

The first 10 miles of trail flew by, but were underscored by some anxiety for the approaching climb to Pisgah Inn that would occupy the second half of my day. I was following the commuter stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) and knew that the flat, wide trail was a luxury I didn’t take for granted. I crossed paths with several trail maintainers working on water bars and shouted a genuine “thank you!” their way and gave a ring to my partner back in Texas to pass the final miles to the French Broad. It was time to begin my ascent.

The end of my familiarity with the commuter stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway as it passes over the French Broad River.

After following the commuter stretch of the BRP, the Mountains to Sea Trail (MST) follows the Shut-In Trail, a ~17-mile route used by the famously wealthy Vanderbilts to access their hunting lodge on Pisgah Mountain from the Biltmore Estate. Though all the resources I poured over touted the trail’s status as a rad running route, I was waving my trekking pole back and forth like an amateur wizard as I beat back cobwebs throughout the day.

A mere 2 miles to my favorite hot dog restaurant – and already regretting passing up the hitch.

To my delight, the trail never reached the difficultly level I was expecting. Even though my body wore the miles of the previous days, I felt strong. My heart wasn’t thumping out of my chest when I faced rocky elevation gain, and I was able to rely on my legs to carry my as far as I needed to go to make camp (which ended up being my third day in a row clocking around 20 miles).

My first thunderstorm of trip was a welcome cool-down as I climbed towards Pisgah Inn.

The only person who chatted me up besides the trail maintainers turned out to be my first trail angel of the trip. I emerged from the woods at an overlook on the BRP where typically I expect some strange glances from the binocular-clad tourists but not much more. As I began stretching, a woman pulled up and immediately walked over to introduce herself. After some general conversation around my trip and the specifics of the Appalachian High Route, she asked me if there was anything I needed… like water.

As I mentioned a few days ago, I’ve had a tumultuous relationship at best with the water sources marked in the MST trail guide – and today was no exception. As I began questioning the reliability of the source near where I was planning on camping, I began keeping an eye out for springs around Sleepy Gap mentioned in another resource I had perused earlier. But when all the spring beds I encountered near Sleepy Gap were suspiciously dry, I knew I’d need to find water or start rationing. So when my first trail angel of the trip whipped out her own SmartWater bottle and without hesitation poured the entire container into mine, careful to assure me she had another full one in the car, I felt incredibly grateful for the difference that would make for my next 24 hours on trail.

Whether it’s my Gram’s 2 rosaries she says for me each morning and night, the hiking community, or the woods welcoming me home, I do believe I’m being looked after out here.

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