April 30, 2016
I woke up early today, 5am! Quietly packed up my gear and tent. Wrote in my paper journal a bit and read the guidebook. I got our food bags from the bear cables and wished I had a can of WD-40 as the line squeeked so bad I thought I was gonna wake up the whole camp. At 6:15 I whispered into Luigi's tent its "Pancake Time"! She has wanted chocolate chip pancakes for about a week now.
I pushed off about 7am and Luigi wasn't too far behind me. The trail this morning was a nice downhill grade. It followed for awhile the road going up to Clingmans Dome and you could hear the traffic through the woods. We arrived at the only climb of the day which was Mingus Ridge. The trail was laid out in such a way that you hardly felt like you were climbing. This section had 2 wild hog containment bridges with a fenced in area which was to protect a group of native beech trees that have been devastated by the wild hog that's not native to the area. It was introduced in the 1950's and has decimated the new beech saplings. Kind of a neat structure. We came down the other side of the ridge and came into New Found Gap. It was kind of an emotional moment for me as this was a section of the trail or place I had been to about ten years ago. I remember the vacation Jeff and I took where we just rented a car and headed south and ended up in the Smokies. We did a hike near New Found Gap and I remember standing by the Appalachian Trail sign looking down the trail thinking of how amazing it would be to do and now here I am in the very same spot doing it ten years later. Very cool feeling, I won't lie and say tears welled up. We came across trail magic which was just setting up, chips, soda and ham sandwiches. We were able to get a ride back into Gatlinburg from a woman who was dropping of a resupply for a woman. It was 5 bucks a person to ride the 15 miles into Gatlinburg. Sold!
The plan for Luigi and I was laundry, shower, resupply, pancakes at the Pancake Parlor and the get dropped back off at New Found Gap back onto the trail. We got dropped off at the Nantahala Outdoor Center, the same NOC company that I stayed at a week earlier. This is an outpost location. They offer free pack watch as well as free showers. We dropped off our packs and walked down the street to do our laundry. We changed into our rain gear and did our laundry while charging our phones. Next door was a Mexican restaurant which also had a grocer with super cheap prices. We supplied up and saved a ton. Score! We then walked back to the NOC for our free shower. They told us there is no hot water just so you know, we were like that's fine with us. It was the best COLD shower I've ever had. I got dressed and met Luigi back upstairs and we shopped in the NOC for the remaining supplies. I needed boot laces, body glide and some lunch items and a few power bars. Once that was all complete we hiked back down the road to the Pancake Parlor. We opened the door and walked in. The man at the register said I'm sorry we are closed at 3. We looked at our watches and it was 3:15. The look on Luigi's face as she has been craving chocolate chip pancakes for two weeks and has not been able to obtain them for one reason or another. She said "that's it, we are staying overnight" so we walked to the Grand Prix and got a room for 23 bucks a person. We then went to Texas Road house for dinner and the Royal Couple walked in so we ate together. Tomorrow the plan is PANCAKES through hell or high water and then hitch hike back up to New Found Gap to get back on the trail.
May 1, 2016
We stayed overnight at the Grand Prix motel. The main reason for the stay was due to not being able to get our chocolate chip pancakes. We got up at 8 and went with the Royal Couple to the Pancake Pantry. The Royal couple had bad news for us. Sarah (Scavenger) told us her grandad is very ill and is dying. She needs to get off trail and fly home back to the U.K. Simon (honey buns) is staying here and Sarah will meet back up with him later on. They are staying again tonight in Gatlinburg and Sarah will get transport to Knoxville and will be flying from there to Chicago and then to London. I'm gonna miss them terribly as they are great people. I told Simon when he gets back on trail on Monday to try and catch us. Breakfast was good but very expensive. They seem to charge for everything separate. If you order specialty pancakes for 9.95 that's all you get, no hash browns, eggs etc. It was an expensive breakfast but good. The other odd thing is they only take cash, no credit or debit cards. Odd for this day and age but it didn't hurt their business. They still had a line down the street when we left.
We walked back down the street and I stopped to get an iced coffee from Starbucks while Luigi stopped into Walgreens. We checked out of the motel and walked back towards the NOC. I ran in to buy a new spork as mine broke and I bought titanium this time and not plastic. We then said ok let's try and hitch back to New Found Gap. It was my first time doing it ever in my life. After only 10 minutes Bryce pulled over and gave us a lift and drove us the 15 miles to New Found Gap. We were most thankful and got on trail by noon.
I have to say this section of the AT between New Found Gap sand Pecks Shelter is by far my favorite. The climb was steady up today. I should mention Luigi and I hike similar paces but most days we hike separate and meet up when the other stops. We occasionally hike together and talk but often it's our solo time to listen to music, podcasts or most recently for me I've meditated while hiking. I came to a view point and there were 2 day hikers a few minutes in front of me and they said when they got to the clearing there was a bear cub that had run into the woods. I moved on and stopped at Icewater Spring Shelter and signed the log book. I left a note to Mr Honey Buns (Simon) and said catch me if you can. I moved on and then got to the side trail for Charlie's Bunion. I dropped my pack and Smitty and took my hiking poles. I was gonna combat my fear of heights. It was spectacular and had a few moments of Woah!! I took many panoramas. Luigi showed up next and had checked out the views. Next thing I knew Chloe the ridge runner was there asking who had left their packs unattended. We were like they are ours. She scolded us saying you can't leave your bags unattended as there has been a heavy bear presence on this section of the trail and they will get your food. We were like ooooops sorry, sorry. She was nice but was doing what she is supposed to. We ran back to our packs and moved on.
Now the next 6 miles of the trail was simply amazing. The trail followed a ridge line, sometimes along a cliff, sometimes almost knife edge like. There were vistas after vistas and I said WOW almost 50 times. The visibility wasn't perfect but it still was pretty spectacular. I took many pictures. I arrived at the shelter at about 5:15. I was able to get a spot and save one for Luigi. I filtered water, did my chores had dinner and hunkered down for bed by 7:30. Tomorrow we are planning on going 12.6 to Cosby Knob shelter and we will only be about 12 miles away from being out of the park.
May 2, 2016
The big climb of the day was Mt. Guyot which was the last tall mountain in Smokey Mountain National Park at 6302 feet. The climb was steady but manageable. Once up the trail followed a ridge line which made for easy walking. There were several great view points where I got some fantastic pictures. Then I had a long downhill climb of about 3 miles to Camel Gap. Once to the gap I had another climb up Cosby Knob which was fairly steep. Up at the top I stopped and had my lunch and then dropped down again to Low gap.
I arrived at Cosby Shelter and decided to push on to the next shelter which would make for my biggest day yet. The last climb of the day was Mt. Cammerer which was under 5000 feet but of coarse was the steepest of the day. Once to the top it was only 5.2 miles to Davenport Gap and all downhill. The radar showed an intense line of storms moving in from the west so I tried to boogie to beat the rain. The last 2 miles felt like 100 but at last I arrived and there was space in the shelter. I had texted Luigi that I had pushed on from Cosby and that there was rain coming. Once at the shelter I set up, filtered water and made dinner. Luigi showed up about an hour later and must have decided to push on and she beat the rain. The heavens opened and it poured. I did walk in the rain for about 20 minutes coming down the big hill but it was mostly light rain and I barely got wet. Tons of people are showing up now to the shelter who are soaked. We are trying to fit everyone. If anyone else shows they are gonna have to sleep on the floor as it is now a full house. I am so proud of myself for doing 19.7 miles today.
May 3, 2016
I got on trail about 7:30 in the morning and started the hike down to the highway underpass. About 15 minutes into the hike it started to downpour. It poured for about 30 minutes. I came to the northern boundary and have left the Smokies. It was so amazing to be able to hike through the whole park. I got to the creek crossing which you cross the creek 5 times. The creek was in flood which made for an interesting crossing. It was kinda fun, it made me thankful for having boots on instead of trail runners. You had to submerge your entire foot to get across. I continued down and got to cross a river over a bridge, this being my first. I then got to the I-40 highway and was like what is that? Traffic?!!! Ha ha. It's so weird to see it after about a month. Luigi was stopping at Standing Bear Farm to get her package and I'm not sure if she was planning on staying. I hope we meet up again as I really enjoyed my two weeks hiking together. She really is a fantastic person.
I then began the tough climb up snowbird mt. This climb was miserable. First to me the trail was poorly done. Between steep switchbacks and horrible side hilling then add mud and rivers running down it made for an unpleasant 4 mile trek straight up. When I got to the summit it was a bald in pea soup fog. So not much of a view. I trekked on descending down the other side. The sun finally broke through which made for a better day.
I stopped at groundhog creek shelter for privy use and to have lunch. After lunch I had the next big climb up Max Patch. I counted and I had 15 assents and descents today. Made for tough going. The climb up Max Patch wasn't as miserable as Snowbird but it was very muddy and had 10 separate climbs which got you higher and higher in elevation. My legs were about ready to give up. Suddenly there was a sign that said .40 miles and you could see the grass. When I got to the official top it was pretty EPIC. An emotional moment which made the whole day of SUCK go away. Wow wow wow wow was said about 20 times.
I then descended down max patch and met up with Feather. We hiked the rest of the way to the shelter. When I arrived at the shelter you could tell the pack is shrinking. There are only 8 people here tonight. 4 tenting and 4 in the shelter. I met Susan, Jc and Kate and Fryer Tuck. We all had a good time talking while making dinner. I feel pretty damn good considering I did 19.7 miles yesterday and 18.7 today. My hiker legs have arrived. Tomorrow I'm going into Hot Springs. It will be a long day of hiking before I get there but can't wait for a shower. Overall I'm doing ok. My feet are sore occasionally but not to bad. I have no blisters. My legs throb every now and then but no real issues with knees. The only real pain I experience is when I sleep my lower back sometimes is in pain. Especially if I end up on my back. Generally speaking though it only hurts at night. I forgot to mention that Davenport Shelter, the last in the Smokies still had the chain link fence in front of it with a door. It felt like we were a zoo for the wild life.
May 4, 2016
Woke up to cold and rain in the shelter. It was in the low 40's and the kind of temperature you don't want to get out of your sleeping bag. I resisted the urge to not move and got up and packed, ate a cold breakfast and got my rain suit on. I said goodbye to Susan and Feather and got on trail by 8am.
Finally I came around the corner and could see down into Hot Springs. The descent seemed to take forever as the town never really seemed to get any closer. I finally arrived and the trail goes right down Main Street. I called several places including the two hostels and no one answered the phone. Finally I got a text from someone named Frank saying how can I help you. It was the Creek Side Court. I reserved a room checked in. I immediately gathered all my clothes and headed to the laundromat next door. Did my laundry and the finally got to take a hot shower just because I could. Wow did that feel good. I then headed down Main Street to the diner and got cheese fries and Pizza for dinner. Relaxed for awhile at the diner then walked back to the motel. I washed all my dishes and laid them out to dry. I then lounged for a bit. At around 8:30 I walked across the street and got a hard cider at the bar across the way and passed out at around 9:30. The plan today is to grab my stuff at the post office, breakfast and then dollar general for resupply.
May 5, 2016
Tomorrow will be one month that I have been on the trail!
The trail leads down Main Street and then follows the river. It made a sharp turn and went up steeply. It was actually very interesting trail design as it followed up and over rock cliffs. I went about three miles and the weather took a turn for the worse. It started to rain and the wind picked up. I suited up and trekked on. About an hour later the rain stopped the sun came out and it started to dry out. I went up and over three rises and was about a mile away from the shelter I was planning on staying at when it started to downpour sleet. It actually hurt it was coming down so hard.
I arrived at the shelter and the sleet had stopped. The shelter was full and there was no cover for me to put my pack down. I was wet and it was windy I decided to move on to keep warm. I started to dry out but of coarse the trail followed the ridge for several miles. No place to camp to be had. After another many miles I got to a road crossing hoping there was a place to camp and again none. I got to a dirt road which had a hostel on it. The book listed that they close at 7 and I had no phone reception. Figures! I kept walking and it started to rain again. After dragging myself up this very steep incline I came across a campsite. I frantically set up my tent as the rain started to get heavier. I threw all my gear in and am now trying to stay warm as the rain pours down. Hopefully it stops tonight and dries out. I just realized I did 17.3 miles today when I was only planning on doing 10. Jeez!!
May 6, 2016
Today marks the one month mark that I've been on the trail. It seems like I've been out here for months though. Not in a bad way but in a good way. Thinking about Trooper and I at Gooch Mountain shelter seems like months ago.
Got on trail at 7:30 and pushed off. The weather wasn't too bad but as I made my way up camp creek bald mountain I walked into the clouds and it was foggy and wet. The wind picked up and made for a very wet day. I stopped at little laurel shelter for a snack and sign the log book. I went over the summit and did not bother to take the blue blaze trail to the fire tower because with all the fog I wasn't expecting to see much. I started my way down and came across a sign that read Greenville Tennesee Hiking Club 6th annual Trail Magic Friday May 6th from noon to 10am May 8th. I was like no way we are in the middle of nowhere. But I followed the sign on the side trail to Jones Meadow where 20 people had set up 4 tents and tarps and had all kinds of food. Hamburger, hot dogs, baked goods, chips, soda, homemade bread. The list goes on and on. The best part was today is my sisters birthday and I have been looking for a card for two weeks. No place had cards and I couldn't even find on in Hot Springs. The people at the trail magic had cards with pictures of the AT and already a stamp on the envelope. All I had to do was fill it out. I still can't get over the trail magic. It was wonderful and made for a much better afternoon than morning.
Next I climbed Firescalp Ridge which had a bad weather bypass. I wouldn't want to be caught up there in a thunderstorm but it was ok. Foggy but at points you could see into the valley. It started to sleet by the time I got to the end. I came down off the ridge and treked down to the next shelter Jerry's Cabin. It was a stone structure with a fireplace. It was different than most. After using the privy and signing the log I was back on my way. My next big climb was big butt mountain. I laughed at the name and thought of how did the mountain get its name. It started to sleet again but this time much harder then earlier. Big chunks of ice, it almost seemed like hail but we didn't have the right convection for hail nor a thunderstorm.
I climbed down off of big butt and descended for 4 miles and than had a steep climb up Flint Mountain where I stopped at Flint Mt Shelter to snack and than make my way down to Devils fork gap. There were 2 hostels there and I called the first, they were sold out. I called the second one when I got to the gap as they said in the guidebook they are open till 7 and will pick you up at the trail and return you. I called some man answered and said yeah that place closed in December and I'm the lucky person that got their old number. Now I was like crap I guess I'll hike on till the next place I can tent. Well that ended up being 4 miles and 2000 feet in elevation gain later. I got to camp at 8 tried to get a fire going, used my rope to make a clothes line to dry out my wet tent or try to. Finally crashing at 10:16 as this is a super late night for me. But I just figured out that this was my biggest day yet at 20.9 miles. I'm wiped!
May 7, 2016
I woke up in Sugarloaf Gap at around 7:30. I made breakfast, ate and packed up my tent. I got on trail around 8:30. My first big climb was to get over big lick. Then I had downhill to hog back shelter where I met "corn". I had a snack and filtered some water. I chatted with corn for awhile and then was back on trail. My next big climb was high rock. Then a steady down to Sam's gap. When I arrived to the gap and headed towards the parking area, BJ was setting up trail magic. She had bought a whole bunch of fried chicken from Bojangles and also has biscuits, mashed potatoes and macaroni. It was fantastic and two days in a row now.
After leaving Sam's gap I had my next big task of climbing up and over Big Bald. The summit was incredible and crystal clear panoramic views. Besides corn I had not seen another hiker today. Corn caught up to me on Big Bald but quickly disappeared. That guy can hike, he's a machine. I climbed down to big bald shelter where corn and his dad were. I stopped in to filter water and to sign the log book. I pushed on and had to climb over little bald and then all downhill to a campsite. When I arrived some familiar faces were there. Set up my tent, ate dinner and relaxed. The wind is crazy tonight. Holy crap. Squall line moving through with some rain. It was windy in the afternoon but this is crazy. I would guess gusting 50-60 as you can hear branches breaking in the forest. Please nothing fall on me. I met thistle and holy diver as well as 5 others who I did not catch their trail names. All were from my third night on the trail. It was nice to catch up to them.
May 8, 2016
After our harrowing night of screaming winds, they calmed and I finally fell asleep. I woke up to winds again but this time not as bad. As we all were packing up everyone was talking about thinking of having trees falling on them. A few people commented that when the wind blew hard they could feel the earth move as the roots were moving under ground. Kinda of a scary feeling I'm sure. I ate a cold breakfast and got on trail by 8:30.
There were only 3 climbs today. The first was immediately after camp and was called big rocks. Fairly easy climb and there was a blue blaze side trail to a pile of rocks on the knob summit. Then I had a gradual descent down to Spivey Gap where there was a cooler of trail magic. The cooler was full of trash but there was still a bottle of ginger ale and orange Fanta left. I opted for the orange Fanta.
Next I had the steepest climb of the day up to no business knob. The climb first followed at creek which was fairly steep then leveled off again before rising sharply to no business knob shelter. This shelter was the first on the trail which was made out of cinder blocks. There was one more climb and then all downhill to Erwin. I came to the top of the last knob but wait it went down and then another rise. Oh come on don't do that to me, but there were 4 more like that. The trail loves to trick you like ha ha your not yet done. I finally got to the outlook and could see Erwin. After what seemed like 50 switchbacks the town finally got closer and there was Uncle Johnny's. The bunk house and cabins were full but you could tent for 11 dollars. Sold!! It included a shower and towel.
I jumped in the shower first thing as this leg of the hike I was super dirty. I then out my rain pants on and threw all my clothes in the wash. At 5:30 the hostel does a free shuttle into town for free. My laundry wasn't done yet but I said screw it. To town I go in just blue rain pants and a down coat. We all ended up mostly eating at a Mexican Restaurant. I got burritos which I've been thinking about for three days. We also had time to run into Walmart before the shuttle picked us up at 7:30. I got back to Uncle Johnny's and put my clothes in the dryer. Now just sitting and charging my phone. Tomorrow I'm headed into town on the free morning shuttle to get breakfast and pick my package up at the post office. Then back on trail. I'm gonna try and run and get to Damascus Virginia for trail days. This is the 30th anniversary and 30k are expected to be there. Holy Diver, Ghost, Thistle, Karma and little John are all here at the hostel as well as the rest of the crew from last night.
May 9, 2016
Woke up at Uncle Johnny's around 7am. I wanted to make sure I got up in time to get the free shuttle to town. I got up and took a shower and packed up the stuff inside my tent. I then got dressed and sat on the porch area and charged my phone and other electronics while waiting for the shuttle.
We loaded in and got driven to the front of huddle house. The post office was just down the street and I walked to it to pick up my package from a fellow Lyndon State College Alumni. Then I walked back to McDonald's and had breakfast. I started with chicken biscuit meal with an iced coffee and 2 burritos. Then I went back up and ordered a large iced coffee. Then I went back up and ordered a sausage egg mcmuffin.
I got back on the shuttle at 10 and it drove us back to Uncle Johnny's. I packed up my tent and all my food and my pack and put on my pack. I was like good grief didn't I learn my lesson in Franklin. Ugh heavy,heavy pack again. I'm stronger this time and can handle it. The climb coming out of Erwin was actually almost pleasant I thought to myself. Then I turned the corner and it was straight up. Damn I jinxed myself. I got to the first shelter curly maple gap and had a snack and dried out my feet. The biggest difference today since the beginning of the trail was humidity. The dew point in Erwin when I left at 11 was 63. I was sweating buckets coming up the first climb. With the sun out it was hot. The climb leveled off and followed a ridge for awhile doing small ups and downs. I climbed down to Indian Grave Gap and then started back up the climb to Beaty spot bald. This climb albeit not horribly difficult was in a straight line so you could see all the way to where the top was which was a bit discouraging.
Finally I made it to beauty gap and it was 360 panoramic views again. Wow. I pushed on after filling my water in the gap nearby. I then decided to climb up and over Unaka Mt then make camp in the gap below. The climb up Unaka was steep and rocky. Much steeper than what the guide book indicated. I made it almost to the summit and found a good stealth camp spot. Otter was there camping as well and we chatted while I set up my tent. Finally got situated and made a big batch of chicken flavored rice. Sat and talked with other while I made dinner and ate. Great spot under a bunch of pine trees with a nice fire spot. The wind is lightly rustling through the trees which is very soothing. The rain has held off thus far.
May 10, 2016
The morning started out partly sunny and dry even though it did rain lightly during the night. I got up about 7 and Otter was up as well. We chatted while eating a cold breakfast and packing up. We got on trail at about 8:30 am.
We had a short climb up to the summit of Unaka Mt as I didn't quite make it last night. Then a rather big descent downhill to low gap. Then the ups and downs began. My pack on the first hill felt like 80 pounds. In Erwin I tried to gauge how much food I would need based on how hungry I have been. Well I guess I overdid it because I was struggling. Otter was in a similar boat. Leaving town seems to suck as you do this again and again. What I need to remember is that now I am hiking 17+ mile days I'm gonna get to towns earlier so I really only need 2 or 3 days of food.
We pushed on to Cherry Gap Shelter to have a snack and use the privy. But surprise no privy at this shelter so I took the shovel provided and off I went. We turn had to go up and over Little Bald knob which had a series of 6 ups and downs to get to the summit, even though the guidebook shows it as 1 climb. We came down off of that and got to Iron Mountain Gap crossing Route 107 in TN and NC 226. I guess the same road but the crossing was right at the border again. The coming out of the gap we had to climb up rock pillar. It had a very cool rock outcrop on top. Then there were a series of 8 ups and downs which weren't long but steep. Through the coarse of the day my feet started to hurt. Very similar to what happened to me climbing out of Franklin.
Otter and I talked about trail days as he wanted to go as well as me. I originally had thought I was gonna be able to make it to Damascus where trail days takes place by walking. But as I got closer to the actual date I would of had to walk 21 miles a day which seemed excessive. I didn't want to over due it. So we talked about different options. We were hearing that this being the 30th anniversary of trail days and 100 anniversary of the Appalachian Trail they were expecting big crowds. So the recommendation for thru hikers was to get there Thursday morning to buy your wrist band and get into the area to set up camp.
So where it was Tuesday we were trying to figure out our options. One was to hike through and over Roan Mt which is over 6000 feet and the last big climb until Vermont. Then get off trail and see about hitching or getting a shuttle. The other option was to go to Greasy Gap Hostel and see if they would do slack packing or a shuttle to Damascus and that would leave the big climb of Roan Mt until after we got back. This seemed like a good idea as both of our feet were killing us.
Then otter had an idea. He has a summer house in Hot Springs with a car at it. If we could get a shuttle from the hostel to Hot Springs we could grab coolers and buy food and drinks (thus avoiding all the food vendors) and take his car to Damascus getting us there early to camp. It's only 5 dollars to tent in tent city. CHEAP! So we said lets do it. We got to Greasy Creek Gap and took the side trail .6 to the hostel. We had only gone 10 miles but it felt like 30. We got to the hostel and bought some sodas and the nice lady who owns the hostel gave us a guys number who would shuttle us. We called and he said he woukd be there in 45 minutes. We took our sodas and our boots off and sat in the grass. The shuttle driver showed up and we headed back to hot springs. Thursday morning me,Otter, Little Foot, OSHA, and free fall are gonna head to Damascus. I had the best chicken fingers at Ironside bar and grill last night. We got back to Otter's house and crashed.
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