Damascus, VA to Hot Springs, NC

May 10 Day 52 Low Gap Tentsite

I was awake around 5am but I stayed in my sleeping bag for a good hour before I decided to get up. I cowboy camped under the pavilion in the large backyard of the hostel. It was refreshing to sleep outside and not be in my tent. So nice. Yo-D, a NOBO, slept there too and I tried not to wake him up when I went to use the outdoor bathroom. By the time I was finished, Yo-D was inside and I walked in to find almost all the the guests sitting around tables eating huge plates of food. I was late to breakfast! No worries, for Woodchuck keeps making food until everyone is finished. I helped myself to blueberry waffles, potatoes, donuts, eggs, fruit and coffee. What a feast! Everyone was very upbeat and the energy was just what I needed to start my day.

I sat outside for awhile after breakfast (one does not put on a pack soon after a meal like that) and met One Wish’s dog Lucy. We chatted for a bit and soon I realized that I was ready to hike out. The hostel is less than a tenth of a mile off trail on the edge of town, so I filled up my water bottles and headed out.

After about three miles I hiked into Tennessee. Thank you Virginia. It’s been great!

A couple of thunderstorms passed me but since it’s fairly warm out I dried quickly and did not get cold. Great! This is more my style. I feel like I never want to be cold again after what I’ve hiked through up north.

I got to a shelter after ten miles but since it was early in the day I decided to go another five miles to the next water source and tentsites. On my way here a big thunderstorm hit me and it rained hard for a solid ten minutes. Then it was over, and the sun came out so when I stopped for the day I was able to kind of dry my shoes in the sun. And my raincoat. And my socks. The socks dried out some but I may put them inside my shirt tonight so they dry completely. Yep, I’m putting semi wet socks inside my shirt.

It’s the SOBO way.

May 11 Day 53 Vandeventer Shelter

I was hiking by 6:15 this morning and I felt great. A good nights sleep, a dry tent and a good breakfast of cold oatmeal and I was ready to crush 18 miles. Most of the day was spent up on a ridge line going up and down. However, there was a stretch this morning about 7 miles in that crossed some pastures that was gorgeous. Bright green fields, an old ramshackle barn with a giant AT symbol on it and lots of cow patties. The trail was marked by giant boulders of what I believed to be limestone. It seemed that they had been there a long time.

As the day progressed it became hot and I drank at least four liters of water today. Tomorrow and Sunday are slated to be the same. I’ll take it. While I am not terribly fond of really hot weather I am happy to be warm. I remember all those freezing days earlier in my hike and wonder if I am really on the same trail. It has been incredible to see the seasons change the way they have this time around. I know I am fortunate to have seen all four seasons on this trail.

Tomorrow I’ll get up a little earlier and try to crush as many miles in the cooler morning air as I can. It’s 18 miles to Kincora Hostel and Bob, the owner, does a shuttle to town at 5pm and I want to be on that shuttle.

May 12 Day 54 Kincora Hostel

What a day! I slept fitfully and woke around 5am and was packed and walking by 6. A beautiful clear day. I had a nice long downhill for a change and some nice views of Watauga Lake shrouded in fog. As I descended into that fog the temperature dropped about 10 degrees. But that didn’t last long. The fog burned off and soon it was very warm. I got to the picnic area by the lake around 10am and watched several geese families take their very new looking goslings out on the lake. So cute!

I was kind of dreading the big climb over Pond Flats, and per usual is was not as tough as I thought it would be. I was cruising along Laurel Creek in no time and then I stopped at the falls for a splash. The ice cold water felt so refreshing on my dusty hiker face. And legs. And arms. I wanted to lay down in the water but I decided to hike on instead. It was a short mile and a half left to Kincora and I was making crazy good time.

I was about a half mile from the road when a NOBO told me about trail magic at the parking lot. What! My pace increased two fold.

I got there, and to the left in a grassy area several event style tents were up and a sign that said:

Mother’s Day Weekend Trail Magic BBQ: Today and Tomorrow! It was so well organized. There were napkins, plates and bowls, and I walked into the tent to see huge dishes of baked potatoes, slow cooked beef brisket, cheese sauce, banana creme pudding with vanilla wafers, baked beans with pork belly, fruit, a huge assortment of cold beverages, cookies, lemonade and much more. There was even a vegetarian version of everything. These folks have got it gown. I made a plate and sat down with the family who does this every year. They own a cabin across the road and this is their yearly get together. Pretty awesome. I hung out for about an hour eating, talking and eating some more. After I was stuffed I waddled three tenths of a mile up to Kincora. Such a cool funky place. The bunkhouse is next to Bob’s cabin, and connected by a couple of bathrooms, laundry room and shower. There’s a picnic table under a covered porch as well. I went inside and found a bunk on the first floor. Much cooler downstairs. I got settled and then Bob took myself and another hiker to the grocery store. He dropped us off and told us he’s be back in an hour. Perfect!

Since this was a big nice grocery store I was able to get some quality food. No Dollar General resupply today. Nope! I was still stuffed from the bbq, but I knew that I’d be hungry again soon so I made myself a generous salad at the salad bar. Perfect.

I ate my salad in front of the store while waiting for Bob. Hit the spot. It is really nice to have real food.

Back at the hostel I did my laundry, showered and organized my resupply. I went and sat on the porch and Bob told me about hiking the Camino. He showed me his passport which was the model for the AT passport which I have. He’s hiked all over the world and has a remarkable wealth of knowledge of the AT. And other trails as well. His hard work and generosity are well known in the hiking community and it was enlightening to gain some knowledge from him.

Now, however, I am exhausted and I will soon be fast asleep in my bunk.

May 13 Day 55 Mountaineer Falls Shelter

I was up and packed by 6am. I took my stuff outside and made breakfast and a trail mocha on the picnic table. It was nice sipping coffee, watching the fog dissipate above the meadow near the hostel. So beautiful. He cats were up and active and I got some good photos of the orange longhair, Simba. I wanted to wait until Bob came out to thank him. About an hour nor so later he emerged and was getting ready to take some hikers into town for Dunkin Donuts. I said that I was getting back on trail and he hassled me a little good naturedly. I was keen to get going and soon I was back on trail. I did somewhat regret not getting a few donuts to pack out but I know I’ll get a chance again.

Today was a rather uneventful day hiking; the terrain was good and in the afternoon I came across a nice bench with a view of the Road Highlands. Bob’s trail crew, Hard Core, built it last month. Perfect shady spot to cool off and collect myself for the last 3 miles to the shelter.

I’m not much for sleeping in shelters after the mouse incident last month so I pitched my tent right above the shelter. Perfect spot. Very tired, and I don’t have a signal to call Keith but maybe I will tomorrow. I am glad I got a text off to my mom this morning for Mother’s Day.

I think I’ll sleep good here.

May 14 Day 56 Overmountain Shelter

Today was awesome. I was down the trail by 6am and when I saw the side trail to Jones Falls, I went. So worth it! I knew it was going to be a long day with a big climb but I felt strong and happy so by the time I made it to Highway 19 I was stoked to make that 3,000 foot climb.

It wasn’t that bad. At all!

It was actually very nice. Green, nice trail, plenty of switchbacks and then, the views.

By the time I got theee quarters of the way up the trees disappeared and I felt like the Riders of Rohan were going to appear at any time. I was pumped! I put the Beastie Boys (Check Your Head) on and put my headphones in and power climbed the last 800 feet in no time. I had amazing views in all directions.

And did I mention that I’m in North Carolina?

I am!

Tomorrow for nine miles I’ll hike along the border between NC and Tennessee. I’ll go back into Tennessee after that.

I arrived at the iconic Overmountain Shelter around 4pm and found a spot with a great view. This shelter is an old barn and it’d famous on the trail. After about a half hour some locals showed up with cookies, fruit, nuts, hard boiled eggs and they offered to pack out our garbage. So nice! I talked with them for awhile and thanked them profusely for such thoughtful trail magic. And it’s always a godsend to get rid of garbage.

Now I’m watching the sky change, getting ready to get in my sleeping bag and read.

Another stellar day on the Appalachian Trail.

May 15 Day 57 Greasy Creek Friendly

I slept on the bottom section of the barn with a fantastic view of the valley. When Treehugger and Tent Cents, who were sleeping near me, woke up at 5am, I got up too and got my things organized and by 5:30 I was ready to go. So early! I didn’t really sleep too well but I was motivated to get as many miles down before the rain came. I had decided to resupply at the Greasy Creek Friendly 18 miles down the trail so I hit it.

The rain came around 12:30. Not bad considering I only had five and a half more miles to go. Thunder followed me through the green tunnel and when I came to the fork in the trail for the Friendly I was pretty soaked and ready to be done for the day.

I got here and CiCi, the owner, showed me around and I picked out a bunk. I had a couple of hours before the town shuttle for dinner and resupply so I showered and relaxed, planning my next few days on trail. I can’t believe I’ll be entering the Smokies in about ten days.

I have 367 more miles to hike.

I find myself with mixed feelings. I feel highly motivated, even more than when I first started this hike. The notion of the next five days being rainy doesn’t even phase me. I know I’ll still hike the miles I would hike if it were dry.

Big climbs? I will go over them. Bugs? I will spray them. Bears? I will hang my food and do it right so I will not put their lives in jeopardy. Nothing can stop me now.

So soon I’ll put my ear plugs in and go sleep for 8 hours. I’ll pack up and hit the trail and get closer to my goal.

I hear Springer Mountain calling me.

May 16 Day 58 Indian Grave Gap

I enjoyed my stay at the Greasy Creek Friendly but I was happy to be leaving, even if it was raining. Of course an hour later I felt differently and for a moment I thought about stopping at the next shelter but I didn’t. I pushed on and met my goal for today, and I’m glad I did. The rain stopped around 12:30pm and the rest of the afternoon I hoped I would make it to this tentsite before it started to rain again. And I did!

When I got to the gap I got an orange from a couple who are thru hikers, but they are taking a break so they are doing trail magic. They mostly just had beer but I happily took an orange. I talked to them for a few minutes and then bid them happy hiking while I walked up there trail for a few minutes to find the tentsite. Nice spot. I am tired today; the rain makes it hard to stop for breaks so I don’t take breaks. And that makes me tired.

Tomorrow I’ll skip the town of Erwin and hike up to a shelter about 15 miles from here. It’s supposed to rain on and off for the next few days which makes me a little grumpy but I can handle it. And I’m really not that grumpy. Really. Just tired. So now it’s time for bed.

May 17 Day 59 No Business Knob Shelter

I cruised downhill for about 7 miles when I decided to stop and have second coffee. I tried to dry my tent but the sun was not strong enough at 9am. So I hiked another mile or so to Uncle Johnny’s Hostel. There was plenty of sun there and my tent was dry in no time. Even though I was not staying there as a guest the owner let me hang out, use the internet, fill my water bottles and wash my handkerchief. With soap! Yay!

I was sitting at a picnic table outside charging my phone and talking with some other hikers. There are lots of hikers around because the hostel runs a shuttle up to Damascus for Trail Days, which is an AT festival held there every year. Odie, whom I met last year when I was hiking through the Mahousic Notch, was also shuttling hikers. I’m so glad I’m not going. Anyway, one hiker looked familiar and turns out I met him last year at Speck Pond Shelter. He was a SOBO too. Now he’s back hiking NOBO. We talked northern trail a bit and then he got on a shuttle. I hiked out soon after and I made it here to the shelter about 20 minutes after a huge thunder storm. It has let up now but I have a feeling there will be more. Tomorrow I hike up higher and there are some more bald mountains and I don’t want to be on them in a thunder storm hits. I may get up super early and head out then to beat the storms. Or I may stay at a shelter 10 miles from here on the north side of the balds. But I would like to hike more than ten miles tomorrow so I’ll probably be on trail by 5:30 or something. Hmmm. I have time to figure it out.

May 18 Day 60 Tentsite south of Big Bald

It rained hard all night. I had a hard time sleeping, I usually do in shelters. Yard Sale was up around 5am and I was up and fetching my food bag out of a nearby tree soon after. It was very wet. But the rain seemed like it was tapering off which was good.

I had four fairly big climbs today and halfway up the second one I took some time to take photos. These small creeks that the rain creates are full of quartz and I got some good shots of the misty woods. Just spectacular.

A few hours later I finally came up on Big Bald, and while it was not as dramatic as the Roan Highlands, I was pretty happy to be up there. I just love all these balds. I was glad the thunder storms had held off.

Four miles later I arrived here on this tiny ridge above a spring. A good spot. Of course I am by myself; many of the NOBOs are at Trail Days and this spot is kind of out of the way. Since I’ll be heading to a hostel tomorrow morning, I can use my battery power for watching Netflix! What luxury! This is the first time on trail I have done this.

Only 321 miles to Springer.

May 19 Day 61 Nature’s Way Hostel

I slept in until 6am and was strolling down the trail by 7. A nice lazy morning. I hiked three and a half miles in about and hour and a half. Nice misty morning walking. I ran into a NOBO who said he was just dropped off by the hostel folks. I grabbed my phone and called them; luck! Sara was waiting for me at the trailhead. Perfect timing! A very nice woman, her and her husband Taft run this place. It’s by far the best hostel I’ve come across. We got here and she showed me around the common room, an old barn converted into a giant biker style hangout space. Several small cabins are lined up along the creek. A bunkhouse is at the bottom of the hill, and a house with three bedrooms is up top near the road. Their personal home is across the street. I opted to get a room in the house. So far I’m the only one here.

It’s been a tough push to get here and it is nice to have a nearo day. Thunder storms are in the forecast for the next week or so, but it looks like I may have decent weather in the Smokies. No snow, so that is good.

May 20 Day 62 Jerry’s Cabin Shelter

I slept a deep sleep. I woke once around 3am to pee and I was glad I slept with the windows open; the creek was roaring all night. A white noise kind of sound. I fell right back asleep. I woke refreshed and went to the kitchen to eat breakfast, drink some coffee and survey the trail ahead of me. Several climbs, and then a downhill to the shelter. 18 miles. I wanted to make it there. And I did.

Dream Catcher and Painless, two section hikers from North Carolina arrived yesterday evening and we talked trail for some time. They have section hiked most of the trail and since I’ve hiked most of it too we shared stories about certain memorable parts. It was nice to have some company.

When I arrived here around 4:30 they were already here; they got dropped off at Devil’s Fork Gap so they were 8 miles ahead of me.

I pitched my tent and made dinner and we talked trail with father and son NOBOs.

It reminded me of last summer when I was hiking the 100 Mile Wilderness and I’d talk to the NOBOs who were almost done with their adventure. Now, I’m the one almost done, coming across hikers who are at the first part of their adventure.

300.3 miles to go.

How do I feel? I feel strong. I feel grateful that I had a good rest day. I am ready for the next challenges, for the next three weeks. I am ready to feel the joy of completing a huge accomplishment.

Postscript:

While Sara at Nature’s Way had an adequate resupply, it was lacking any substantial breakfast options. I figured I’d just make due for the next two days until I got to Hot Springs. Then Dream Catcher asked me if I wanted some of his extra food, and of course I said yes. He gave me a Mountain House granola and blueberries! Sweet! And some chocolate, dehydrated broccoli, and some noodles. Thank you Dream Catcher!

The trail provides.

May 21 Day 63 Rich Mt. Tentsite

I was munching down on fancy granola and blueberries at 5:30am. A good start to a rather uneventful day. I ended up crushing 19 miles to get here and the last 6 miles were brutal. Very high humidity and heat with bugs.

Bugs.

They have arrived and I am actually surprised I got this far without seeing them. I’d love to say they serve as a motivator but they just annoy the heck out of me. There’s no upside with bugs.

I am hoping that they won’t be in the Smokies. I’ll find out on Friday.

There are a god number of hikers here, and several young men are camped next to me. They were smoking cigarettes, and the smoke came into my tent. I asked them politely if they wouldn’t mind moving downwind from me; one of them apologized and moved. The other looked at me and kept smoking. Then he said: “I bet you feel powerful, telling smokers to move because you don’t like the smoke. You probably feel superior, right?”

“No, I don’t feel powerful. I feel free. All the years I smoked I was a prisoner. Now I’m free.”

Now that I am hitting the last of the NOBO bubble, I’m hitting lots of the party hikers. Often times they are not respectful of the experiences of other hikers.

It’s part of the trail, and sometimes it’s hard for me to accept that.

Postscript:

This morning as I was scrambling over some rocks I came across a NOBO. I stood to the side of the trail to let her pass. As she did, she stopped and said, “Hey, were you on the PCT in 2016?”

“Yes, I sure was. Oregon and Washington.”

“I remember your Ken doll! You were hiking with another woman.”

“Yes! Iron Lady. I’m Cougar.”

“I’m Hummingbird. I know we met somewhere but I can’t remember where!”

We talked trail for another few moments and marveled at the smallness of the hiker world. This encounter really made my day!

May 22 Day 64 Hot Springs, NC

I hiked 8 miles in three hours and got into town before the PO closed for lunch. I sent a resupply to Standing Bear Farm & Hostel for the Smokies. So glad I won’t have to go into Gatlinburg to resupply. I’d rather spend my money here. This has been an expensive stop but it is probably the last stop of this kind, where I have to buy gear, fuel and stuff like that. Still, I am under budget so I am happy.

I’m in a tavern and I just ordered a bacon cheeseburger.

After this, since I have most of my hiker chores done, including printing my Smokies permit at the library, I’ll head over to Elmer’s and check in. I got a $25 room and I heard they make an awesome dinner too.

I still feel like I’m in a tractor beam, being pulled to Springer Mt. I have to force myself to stop and rest.

When I was in high school I was on the swim team, and my favorite race was the 200M. The race is all about pacing. When I jumped off the block, I didn’t go all out right away. I’d have nothing left for the final 50M. So instead, the race is a slow build of speed, until the last 50M, when I would go all out.

I feel like once I get out of the Smokies, I’ll be jumping off the block. Slowly building that momentum. Until the last 50 miles when I’ll give it my all.

I can’t wait.

Later that same day:

I’m in my room, Elmer’s Sunnybank Inn rents rooms to thru hikers for $25. The house is huge and was built in the 1840s, and has had few renovations. It’s gorgeous.

I did my laundry by hand out back since the only laundromat in town does not have functioning machines.

I am happy to be carrying only two days of food until I get to Standing Bear. Tomorrow I will hike up Max Patch, a famous section of trail. I’m looking forward to it, and hopefully the weather will hold. Rain is in the forecast off and on for the next week. Should make the Smokies interesting. I’ll hike into the park Friday morning and spend the next four days after that hiking through it.

Then I’ll really be on the home stretch.

274.5 miles left.

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