Oats on the Appalachian High Route: Day 7

I didn’t see a soul today. And besides two brief spots where a flickering signal made it through the trees, I didn’t chat with anyone either outside of a small check-in. I hadn’t had a day fully to myself in the woods since the Colorado Trail in the summer of 2020. Something about the backcountry of Colorado was exhilarating, but the noises and rumbling storms in the distance kept me up at night. Here, these woods are my home. The humidity hugs me like a blanket, the buzzing insects hum me to sleep, and even the smells remind me of the many games I used to play between the trees.

One of my Dad’s first lessons to me about hiking was that the person leading the way should be wearing a hat – about three hundred face-fulls of cobwebs into the morning, I was kicking myself for not taking his advice. But knowing myself, fidgeting with a hat inconveniences me as much as waving my trekking poles around like a wizard, and one is inarguably more fun. By the afternoon I was an expert spider-spotter as I remember becoming once before on the Lone Star Hiking Trail, so much so that I caught a particularly sticky string that led to an intricate web with my cheek and was able to remove it and duck under the trap unscathed.

In the afternoon I saw a hawk, what species I couldn’t quite make out. It flew overhead from behind me, along the clearing made by the old road bed I was following, and landed about 20 yards away on a branch high off the ground but down the slope of the ridge so we were practically eye level. I was reminded of a special winter day myself and an adventure buddy in college stood in the snow under a building on campus of UNC Asheville and watched as a hawk, about the same distance away from me as the one in front of me now, perched atop a branch and then swept down to rustle up some leaves covered with fresh snow. Suddenly, a small mouse fled from beneath the leaves and the hawk had earned its snack, to its spectators delight. This hawk stayed, though, until I got closer. This began a routine that would pass the next 5 minutes or so – the hawk would fly about 30 yards up the trail, then take to a tree. Just as I’d spot it atop a branch, it’d take off another 30 yards until I caught up once more. I felt like I was being led down the trail by a guide much more knowledgeable than myself.

Yes, my lighter reads, “You go, Squirrel!”, what about it?

Though I was cruising most of the day, I eventually approached a section of my trail guide that read, “the tread of the trail will soon become much more rocky and difficult; the next two miles are among the most difficult of the entire MST”. I gulped down the last of my Gatorade, cameled up for camp only mere miles away, and headed onwards down the trail. Over the next two miles, the trail became slanted as it cut into a steep ridge held in place by trees and decades of pine needles. The sides of my feet soon felt the pain of overuse, but beyond a general “scampering” feeling as I used my trekking poles to navigate large rocks and roots, the section wasn’t as formidable as I had anticipated. Maybe the Mountains-To-Sea Trail should be my next adventure, after all.

A campsite fit for 8 tents, but tonight it’s only me.

Knowing there was only about 25 miles between me and a nearo/zero combo off-trail for my Mom’s birthday, and remembering the Moonshine Creek Campground reservations for tomorrow night, I decided to splurge on dinner. My off-brand berry breakfast PopTarts, a few handfuls of beef jerky, an uneaten protein bar from the day before, and an entire Spicy Southwest Style Skillet finally satiated my hiker hunger – but the spicy potatoes of my hot meal made me think about how much my partner would enjoy a bite himself.

Though I’m happy here in the woods, I remember I’m happy at home, too. As I walk mile after mile through these incredible forests, I daydream about seeing my family pick me up at the airport – and I know I’ll be thinking of these cool, mountain nights and spring water when I’m back in my bed. Variety is the spice of life, isn’t it?

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