Oats on the Appalachian High Route: Day 6

I feel like an old, creaky train when I begin my hiking day. For a few minutes, I just sit there with the lights on, taking time to lay still and listen to the woods wake around me. Then, it’s time to make sure everything is in its place for the journey – this has quickly become one of my favorite parts of the morning as it scratches my organizational itch perfectly despite 90% of my possessions being covered in muck and sweat. As I begin to move, the creaks and aches earned the day before make themselves known and breaks are frequent. But once I gain momentum, it takes a lot to stop me from speeding down the trail. I practically have to tear myself away from my walking hyperfixation to take photos or filter water. These are the times I daydream about setting a FKT on either the Art Loeb Trail or the Lone Star Hiking Trail, but the aches and pains from my first week on trail beg to differ for now.

After getting in my morning stretch and snack, I crossed paths with a pair of hikers that looked like they had been out for some time. “If you’re headed to Clingman’s Dome it’s 117 miles that way!” the man greeted, cheerily. “Good to know!” I smiled back. One-hundred seventeen miles until I reach the Appalachian Trail.

About midday I had service enough to call Monarch Creek Campground and reserve a spot for Tuesday night as there wasn’t any camping allowed in the BPR corridor anywhere near where my mileage goal was for the day. A very patient cashier told me she would let me pay cash when I arrived as I foolishly assumed just my AMEX credit card would be perfect for my backcountry trip. After that, I called my partner and chatted until my spotty service abruptly cut him off. I found myself envious of his plans to paddle board to live music on Lady Bird Lake and all his stories about my dog requesting lovies. But sometimes, it’s nice to miss someone – and it makes the reunion all the sweeter.

The afternoon melted from fog to rain as I trudged through trail so overgrown I mistook a game path as the official route for nearly half a mile before begrudgingly turning back the way I had come. I spied a huge pine tree that was the perfect cover for a mid-storm stretch, and waited out the worst of it while barely feeling a drop. It was then I encountered another solo female hiker that seemed to be about my age. Even though it was raining, I figured I’d give conversation a shot. “I think it’s going to let up soon,” I said with a smile. “Yeah, you keep telling yourself that,” she replied over her shoulder as she passed. Over a dozen gorgeous wooden bridges, steps, and footpaths welcomed the end of the shower not long after.

I opted to cruise past my originally planned Cold Mountain Detour as I had miscalculated miles and would’ve needed to push over the next 4 days to make it to Waterrock Knob – and my plan of rolling into a campsite Tuesday night leaving a sub 10-mile day on Wednesday before my Mom came to pick me up for a zero sounded too perfect to tweak.

Today I walked past the destination of my first backpacking trip ever – Sam’s Knob. I was probably 10 at the time and my parents had just put me in TAASC, The American Adventure Service Corps, an adventuring group that took kids on overnight expeditions into the backcountry. I remember lugging a pack twice the weight of mine now, bringing cotton pajamas (even though the leaders advised against it), and collecting blueberries in my water bottle until we spotted a bear in the patch and then throwing the sweet treat in all of our meals for our remaining time on trail. I hadn’t been back since.

Sitting here in my tent at 7:18 pm with a full belly and all my camp chores finished leaves Gram’s words from the Pisgah Inn yesterday ringing in my ears: “Don’t you get lonesome?” Today, I encountered the least number of people I’ve seen on my trip so far – and only 3 or 4 of us exchanged so much as pleasantries. Getting multiple, thoughtful messages from my partner this morning also leaves me yearning for service at night to coo through the screen at my husky or complement Rob on his cooking skills. Regardless, I’m warm, comfortable, full, and happily exhausted- and I’m exactly where I want to be.

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