Oats on the Appalachian High Route: Day 2

I woke up to nature’s call. With condensation drenching my back and my hair before my sweat had the chance to, I packed in the dark trying not to wake my neighbor. After an out-of-practice tear down, I hit the trail once more, this time with my sights set on Cattail Peak. The phrases “very steep” and “almost vertical” stood out in my trail guide as I began my ascent.

I had been to Mount Mitchell’s summit parking lot by car, but it was certainly before I myself was able to drive. The summit to the tallest peak east of the Mississippi was a mere 0.3 miles up a paved path, and the relaxed tread was a welcome change from the harsh rocks and roots of the Black Mountain Crest Trail. As I approached the summit, marked by an observation tower, I took off my pack, left it behind, and laid down square in the middle of the cardinal direction emblem set into the floor. I laod there for some time, catching my breath and sweating profusely into the white and gray stone beneath me.

The view from the observation tower at Mount Mitchell.

After some stretching, brushing my teeth, and well-earned Poptarts, I began my descent from Mount Mitchell to the Mountain to Sea Trail. A grassy, flat few miles helped boost my motivation for the second half of the day. I especially love flat or easy downhill grades because it allows me to sing without getting short of breath. Today I performed “Elma Turl” by Mike Cross, “Cleopatra” by The Lumineers, and “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Mis for a swarm of blood-thirsty biters that formed a cloud in my wake.

A constant theme today was water. After giving some to my site-mate last night, I knew I needed to conserve until Mount Mitchell. Little did I know, I’d have to hike on another 1.5 miles as all the water fountains ran dry. For the rest of the day, I either seemed to miss the last good source and had to struggle to fill up or I preemptively filled up at a painstaking spot before passing a perfectly acceptable stream mere tenths of a mile down the trail.

Keeping that achilles tentonitis at bay!

Later, after a good midday stretch, I arrived at what was indicated by my guide to be my final source before Craggy Gardens Visitor Center, which I planned on reaching the next morning. I cameled up 3 L to get me through the night and set off down the trail.

The only times I won’t use my trekking poles.

I had the perfect plan in my head for the rest of the day. I was feeling sore but strong and figured I’d be able to camp at the far end of the very small section of trail where camping was allowed – only one problem. I passed one campsite at the very beginning of the section and then not another one, period. By the time I got within 0.2 miles of the segment’s end where camping was allowed, I was desperate to say the least. I threw together the best stealth spot I could, realized why varied terrain is not ideal for trekking pole tents, video chatted with my partner and his 6-year-old, got the latest DND drama from my best friend, then settled in for the night. Well, at least, I tried to. The wildly lumpy group, even in the flattest spot I could find, was too uncomfortable for me to possibly sleep on (and I’m a notoriously easy sleeper to please).

The first campsite location of the night – I had no energy to take two more.

Another half hour later, I’d shoved my empty pack under my sleeping pad to hopefully even out the sloped sleeping arrangement I found myself in, and was once again home for the night… until I realized this slope was unsleepable too. I relocated a third and final time entirely by headlamp and despite it all: the soreness in my calves and the aching in my feet I feel even when I’ve stopped moving for the day, this is exactly where I want to be.

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