May 23 Day 65 Roaring Fork Shelter
I may have said this before but I don’t really like sleeping in shelters; I like to use them for lunch breaks during the day and if the weather is particularly bad I will sleep in them. But on days like today I like to tent near shelters so I can use the privy, the bear cables (thick wires hanging from trees that hikers hang their food bags from), and the picnic table to cook my food. Tonight there’s another hiker here and it’s nice to talk Trail, books, and trail towns while making dinner. Now I’m in my tent reflecting on my day.
I left Elmer’s around 6:30 and I was happy as usual to get an early start. It was 18 miles to this shelter and lots of elevation gain so I was glad to get out early.
The clouds slowly cleared and most of the day was sunny, which was very nice. It’s been so rainy lately so the sun was welcome even if it did bump temps into the low 80s.
I was getting ready to hike up one of the last steep ascents when I passed a young woman and a teenage boy. We said hi to each other and I kept hiking. A minute or two later I heard what sounded like a child crying and then screaming for his mom. I came around the corner and a young boy around eight crying and hiking down the trail. I asked him if he was ok, and he told me he fell down and hurt his knee. I stopped and took off my pack, and asked him if he wanted me to look at. He nodded and I suggested that he take his pack off. There was a hole in his pants over his knee. I helped him take his pack off and he pulled up the leg of his pants. He had a scrape but nothing serious. I asked him if he could bend his knee, and he did. He had calmed down a bit and I told him that he would be ok, and that it’s ok to fall down. I pulled out my snack bag and gave him a mini Snickers bar, telling him that chocolate always helps. He smiled and put it in his pocket. He drank some water and took some deep breaths. I asked him if he was ready to keep hiking and he said yes. I helped him get his pack back on. I could hear his mom and brother down the hill, and as he got going, he said, “Thank you nice lady!”
That kid is tough.
I came across a few other hikers and stopped to talk to several of them. The more time I spend hiking by myself the more I enjoy having conversations with other hikers. I also love times like right now; relaxing in my tent, full belly, clean feet, reflecting on the day. I feel good.
May 24 Day 66 Standing Bear Hostel
Sunrise on Max Patch was incredible. It’s one of those places that I’ve been hearing about since Maine. And it definitely lived up to the hype. I got up extra early and was hiking up the two miles to the summit. Spectacular! There were some hikers camped out up on the summit and I was surprised that none of them were outside their tents to see what I was seeing. I hung out for a few minutes, took photos and sent off a tent to Keith and my family.
The rest of my day was rather uneventful, comparatively speaking. Lots of downhill to the hostel where I hoped my resupply box was waiting for me.
Standing Bear Farm is .2 miles off the trail and I arrived around 1:45 after hiking 15 miles. I was tired. My package had not arrived, but about 10 minutes later the mail arrived and there it was! Whew! Always a relief to see packages. It means that I can get a super early start tomorrow and not wait around for it to arrive.
I decided to stay here rather than hike out, I feel very tired today and tomorrow is going to be a big day, over 6,000 feet in gain. I want to get a good rest and I also really wanted a shower, since I know I won’t get one until next Wednesday when I get to the Fontana Hilton. It’s not really a Hilton, but everyone calls this particular shelter that because it’s really nice, has bathrooms and a shower and charging stations for electronics. Posh!
I’m going to sleep early in hopes of getting, as I already mentioned, a super early start for my big day tomorrow.
Cougar’s Big Day!
May 25 Day 67 TriCorner Shelter
Cougar’s Big Day indeed. I beat my record of 519 floors on my FitBit. New record? 639 floors.
I figured that today I had about 6,000 feet of gain, and 18.3 miles. Roughly. It was sunny and warm much of the day and I got some good views but then the rain came. Fortunately it stopped just long enough for me to set up my tent here at the shelter.
I am exhausted.
May 26 Day 68 Icewater Shelter
The thing I love about the Smokies is that the AT follows a ridge line the whole way; the trail dips down some, and up some, but it is ridge walking. High ridge walking. I like that. Especially today, the ridge was very narrow, and fog surrounded the trail on both sides. I felt like I was following a thin, moss and tree lined path into the clouds. And I was. The wind stunted trees hold a special place in my heart. They are residents of another realm, a place of extreme weather, a place where living is challenging. They survive, grow and are radiant in their tones of green.
So many shades of green.
It rained much of today and I only had a five minute window to dry my tent, but by the time I got here to the shelter and set up the semi dry tent I didn’t care that it wasn’t totally dry. Things like this just don’t bother me anymore.
At least not today.
May 27 Day 69 Silers Bald Shelter
What a day. I saw a small birds nest buried in the moss on the side of the trail. I hit the highest point on the AT at Clingman’s Dome. Some day hikers told me about a tropical storm in the gulf that will be hitting land tonight, which means rain, rain and rain. It is raining now. I am so glad to be in a shelter. So glad. Even though I have a dry tent, I’d like to keep it that way. It is supposed to be very rainy for the next 48 hours.
I know I’ve said before that I don’t mind the rain but really, I’ve had so much of it this spring that it would be nice to have clear skies for an extended period of time. I don’t think it is going to happen.
I’ve met some interesting folks here at the shelter and it is a good place to be.
Who knows what tomorrow will bring? My bet is on hiking in the rain.
May 28 Day 70 Mollie’s Ridge Shelter
Well, the rain stopped around 5am and by 8:30, after I had been hiking in the misty drippy green grasses along the trail for two and a half hours, the rain started up again. A few times during the day it stopped for a half hour or so. That’s it. I was very very happy to make it here to my goal. 17 miles in the rain is not bad. Funny, I usually have good solid big days when it rains.
There’s some nice hikers here, there usually are at shelters. It’s been nice lately to have feminine company; there’s always so many guys. And of course mostly they are nice guys but I do miss the hiking women in my life.
I am looking forward to hiking out of the Smokies tomorrow; they have been amazing but I am ready for the last stretch. About 180 miles left.
May 29 Day 71 Fontana Hilton
I got up to go pee right before going to sleep last night and saw a bright yellow sunset through the trees. I slept well, but not long. Tired again this morning but motivated. The small uphills seemed much bigger than they were and while I was toiling away I heard a crash to my left and saw a big bear butt scuttling away over the ridge. I love how bears run. So powerful but at the same time, the way their butts shake makes it comical. I finally saw a bear this stretch. Everyone says all hikers see a bear in the Smokies. I got mine.
I got to Fontana Dam around noon and gratefully used the restroom. I considered taking a shower there but I decided to wait to take a shower at the Hilton, less than a mile away. The Fontana Hilton is a glorified AT shelter. It has hot showers, bathrooms, trash bins and electrical outlets. The shelter itself is large and quite nice with a view of the lake. It’s been nice to rest here and organize. And the shower. After being sweaty, muddy, cold and smelly, that shower was exquisite.
Tomorrow morning I’ll take the shuttle into the Fontana Village for breakfast, laundry and resupply. I got a room at the lodge so I can have a full day off and prepare for the final stretch.
I am ready. After one more zero day.
May 30 Day 72 Fontana Village Lodge
Last night I was reminded of one of the most magical moments on the AT. Last summer in Maine I spent some time watching fireflies in the woods one evening. That was the same evening I got the giant leech on my foot.
In the woods surrounding the shelter hundreds of fireflies blinked on and off, everywhere. The sky had cleared for a few moments and I could hear the frogs down my the lakeshore.
Instead of leeches I had no-see-ums biting me all night. I wore my head net, I applied bug spray to no avail. I’m glad I was able to make it this far on the trail without significant bug issues. I got very little sleep but since I was not hiking today I’m ok with being tired today.
Once I got settled in my very nice room I met the guys for breakfast and after eating my breakfast burrito I felt like I could eat two more. But I didn’t!
Hiker chores done, I spent the rest of the day relaxing in this room and preparing for the last stretch. A couple more resupplies and that’s it.
May 31 Day 73 Brown Fork Gap Shelter
The shuttle back to the trail didn’t start running until 9am, so I had a leisurely morning eating trail food and drinking motel coffee. I watched the weather and hopefully after tomorrow things will clear up a bit and I’ll have nice weather for my last week on the trail.
I felt sluggish as I hiked up away from the highway and soon my clothing was soaked through with sweat. The air is like walking through a warm bath.
Soon I got down to a small road where I spotted the two dogs whose prints I had been following in the mud for a few miles. I met David, a section hiker who told me that the dogs had been following him. And since he was hiking south, that meant that now they were following me too. We got a phone number off one of the dogs and I called the owner and left a message.
Not much else we could do. I got here to this shelter and when I turned on my phone I had a message from the owner. They went to Yellow Gap and looked for the dogs but had to go home when the thunder storms hit. I called back and left a message telling them that their dogs were fine, where I was, and that I would try to encourage the dogs to hike two miles to the highway with me tomorrow morning, and if they could meet me there that would be great.
Hopefully it will work out that way.
June 1 Day 74 Wesser Bald Shelter
It did work out that way. I finally got a hold of Paul and when I arrived at Stecoah Gap he was there waiting for me. I held on to the dogs’ collars as I walked down to the highway and he met me halfway and the dogs went nuts! Paul had the girls’ father in the back of the truck and he went nuts! Everyone was so happy and then Paul said, “My wife wanted me to give you something.”
He went around to the passenger side of the truck and came back with a western style leather handbag. “I know it might be heavy but since you have a Wyoming phone number she thought you’d like it. And this is from me. Get yourself a burger when you get to the NOC.”
He hands me $20.
People amaze me. Yes, the bag is a little heavy but I don’t have far to go. And it will be perfect for a carryon.
And when I got to the Nantahala Outdoor Center I got a burger and an orange soda.
Thanks Paul and wife!
So yes, today was a great day. It rained a little bit but then the sun came out and it was glorious.
I forgot to mention that although it rained much of the night last night, when I woke at 5:30 my tent and rain fly were completely dry thanks to a nice warm wind.
An auspicious sign for sure.
I have eight more days on this trail and each day gets better and better.
June 2-3 Days 75-76 Franklin, NC/Piped Spring Tentsite, GA
Whoa. These past two days have been tough. Each day gets better and better but each day seems to get more difficult too! I hiked big miles to get to Franklin yesterday. I didn’t have to, I didn’t even need to get into town. But once I got the idea in my head it wouldn’t leave. So I crushed 24.5 miles and a ton of elevation gain to get to Winding Stair Gap. I got a ride into town from some locals and got dropped off at Gooder Grove Hostel. I wasn’t planning this either but what the heck. I’m so glad I did. I met Trainwreck, who like me hiked half the trail last year (he hiked NOBO from Harper’s Ferry) and now he’s back to finish up. I met April and Dean, Bear, Monk and of course Zen, who owns the place.
I realized something today. I like hiking with people. Or at least having folks around when I stop for the day. I know I’ve talked about this before, but I really, really like having people around and the end of the day. Tonight I am by myself, and I’ll be fine, but at this point in my hike and the headspace I’m in, I like having company.
Hopefully tomorrow I’ll have company.
Anyway, Zen brought Trainwreck, Bear and myself back to the trail and I was sad to see them go. So much of the trail is the people I meet and it seems that our time together is always too short.
Yep, I’m lonely. It’s different from being alone. Of course I am that too in a sense.
Tomorrow I’ll need to hike past the place I was planning on hiking to. According to my Guthooks GPS app, there has been a lot of recent bear activity. I don’t like camping where bears are know to take food bags out of trees. And it will be nice to be at a shelter. Granted, I’ll be tenting, but hopefully there will be other hikers there. And there are bear bag cables so that is nice.
June 4 Day 77 Tray Mountain Shelter
This is an excellent spot. The shelter is on the shoulder of the mountain and there are views all around. Granted there are trees but I can see things that are far away. This is rare! There are many tentsites around the shelter that are just awesome; some of the best I’ve seen on trail. Such a big difference from yesterday! Of course yesterday there were thunderstorms and it was very overcast and dark. Not so today. Today is clear as a bell and for he first time this year I can confidently sleep in my tent without my rain fly. I can count on one hand the number of times I have slept on this entire trail without my rain fly. This is the third time. Granted, it didn’t always rain with I used my rain fly, but that should give an idea of how often rain is possible.
Today I felt strong and fast. I hiked 18 miles in 8.5 hours with over 4,500 feet of gain. I think today will be the last day like that. Tomorrow I hike 15 miles but with half the gain. So that’s nice.
Today I spent some time thinking about how the trail has changed me this time around. Many notions passed through my mind. I have much time to process this hike and I do my best to let realizations come to fruition naturally.
I am tickled with this great tentsite and am so happy to be here, right now.
If that’s all I get out of these months of hiking then that’s just fine.
June 5 Day 78 Low Gap Shelter
I’ve started washing my face, legs and arms with actual soap lately and it is divine. I fill up a water bottle or two and go off in the woods and find a spot to strip and wash. I don’t use much soap because I don’t want it going in the soil, but a drop or two of Bronner’s eucalyptus liquid soap is fairly benign. Before I was using wet wipes, which are inadequate unless they are actual baby wipes. Actual baby wipes are not packaged in backpacker friendly sizes. So I have to settle for a less than ideal product.
Hence my joy with actual bathing.
Also, for the longest time it was too cold to bathe. It seems like those days belong to another trail, another hiker named Cougar with whom I have a distant relationship with. Who is that hiker, really? Why was she hiking in the snow and the cold for so long? Why did she suffer hiking through cold rainy days only to sleep in haunted shelters?
Ah, now I know.
So I could get to where I am now.
The present moment.
That present moment, all of those cold times, wet times, have brought me here.
So really, it is a build up of moments. Days. Steps. Miles. Weeks. Months.
Now I get it. Now I know who she is, that hiker who struggled through Maine even though she thought she was in the best shape of her life. Which is much different from being in trail shape.
That hiker who is knee problems until one day and one slip walking all day was not an option.
That hiker who worked a job all winter that she hated.
That hiker who then fell in love. For real this time. Not a passing trail infatuation. The real deal. A love that will be there when I am done, something I can build on.
It is all part of who I am now. A somewhat clean hiker resting in a tent in my underwear.
Because it is warm out. Spring has come.
June 6 Day 79 Mountain Crossings Hostel and Outfitter
This morning as I rounded a bend in the trail I saw a bear cub in a tree, about ten feet off the trail. For a split second we stared at each other, then it jumped down and ran away. I heard something else crashing through the woods with it, out of sight. Probably the mother. I’ll never forget how the sunlight filtered through its’ fur, giving the cub a golden halo all around it.
I hope you live a long life little bear.
I had a nice morning hiking up and down, up and down, and then finally arriving here at Mountain Crossings at 12:30pm. I needed to get two days of food, and ended up getting a bunk for the night and a frozen pizza. So good! After a much needed shower I ate my pizza and I’ve spent the rest of the afternoon resting. I’ve been so incredibly tired lately and it feels so good just to lay in my bunk and read.
I have two 15 mile days to reach Springer, then Saturday morning I’ll hike the eight mile approach trail down to Amicalola Falls and the visitor center where I’ll get one last stamp in my passport and get a shuttle to Atlanta.
June 7 Day 81 Gooch Mountain Shelter
I reached the peak of Blood Mountain around 8am. Clear and gorgeous. I’ve heard that a hiker can see the skyscrapers of Atlanta from there but I could not see that far.
As I was heading down I ran into my friend Hemlock. I hiked with him through southern Maine last summer. It was so, so nice to see a familiar face. We talked for awhile about our hikes; he got off trail last fall in Tennessee and is now back heading north. We bumped fists and hugged, and I wished him happy hiking and continued on my way. I consider it an auspicious sign that, after so many miles of hiking alone, I cross paths with a friend on my last days.
Georgia is beautiful and I am happy to have good weather. Rain is in the forecast starting on Saturday, but that is fine with me. I got in touch with a shuttle service and will be picked up at Amicalola at noon on Saturday. I can get as wet as I wanna be! I am glad to have all of the logistics taken care of. Now all I have to do is hike and have fun with it.
It’s only 4:30 but I have already eaten dinner and plan on getting to sleep early this evening. I didn’t sleep well last night and so I am hoping that tonight will be different.
I’d like to have a strong day tomorrow to finish this trail.
June 8 Day 82 Springer Mountain Shelter
I woke around 2am to find mice climbing on my tent. What the heck. Those little suckers kept me up for about an hour. Every time I see mice I always think of my favorite Robert Burns poem, To a Mouse. Usually I will recite the first stanza, which is the only one I have memorized, aloud. Someday I’ll memorize the whole thing.
There’s something about hiking and poetry that go together well. Or maybe it is the simple fact that I am alone with my thoughts for ten hours a day and poetry, inevitably, makes its way into my conscious thoughts.
And maybe that is why they go so well together.
A poetical loop!
I was at Three Forks, which is a very popular day hike for day hikers when I started to see the albatrosses. Day hikers. Once I see them I know I am close to civilization. And the way they smell. So clean. Dryer sheets, perfume, cologne, deodorant. I cannot imagine what I smell like to them.
I ran into two very nice ladies who cheered me on my last stretch to the summit of Springer. When I got there a grandfather and grandson were there and I talked to them for a bit.
I’m still not quite sure how I feel, being done with this whole trail. Physically I am exhausted, my feet hurt, my legs are sore and I am dirty and smelly. I’m sure in the next day or two it will sink in.
Maybe when I get on an airplane Sunday.
Maybe when I see Keith, which will be soon.
Maybe tomorrow morning.
June 9 La Quinta Inn at Atlanta Airport
There’s a tradition on the AT where a hiker picks up a stone from one terminus of the trail and carries it to the other. Around 5:45am this morning as I walked back over the Springer summit I left the stone I carried from Katahdin near the summit plaque.
It was a good feeling. Like I am a part of the history of this great trail.
I made good time down to Amicalola Falls State Park and got some good photos of the falls. I hung out in the visitor’s center and for my passport stamped for the last time. And a free coke!
Mary, my shuttle driver, picked me up an hour early and it was nice to talk Trail with her on the way to the light rail station. As I was on the light rail heading to the airport (where I would catch the free motel shuttle) I was a bit overwhelmed by all the people, and not one of them a hiker! I’ve felt this way before after hikes and it is a bit alienating. It will pass, to an extent.
Right now I think I’ll eat some
more pizza and watch a Harrison Ford movie until I fall asleep.