Days 71 – 79: Catawba to Waynesboro 

So, my apologies, but I’ve slacked on recording some details of the last few weeks.

In summary, I went to a wedding in Birmingham, came back to the trail, found the family again, rode a Ferris wheel with a 10-year-old stranger, and hiked a lot.  I’m going to post pictures and milage below.  If yall have questions about specific pics, feel free to ask.   I will do my best to answer as I remember or make something up.

I will also do my best to take better notes while out in the wild!

At the time of this writing, we are in Harpers Ferry, WV, the spiritual halfway point of the trail.

Day 71 – 5/30

Miles hiked today: 19.8

Miles hiked total: 728.1
Day 72 – 5/31

Miles hiked today: 19.3

Miles hiked total: 747.4
Day 73 – 6/1

“What is that thing down there.  Lets investigate.”

Miles hiked today: 20.2

Miles hiked total: 767.6
Day 74 – 6/2

Glasgow, VA

Miles hiked today: 18.4

Miles hiked total: 786.0
Day 75 – 6/3

Dinosaur Kingdom 2 – Natural Bridge, VA – Amazing.

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Went to a town fair and couldn’t ride by myself (everyone else went to sleep), so when a 10 year old’s little sister backed out, it was time to ride with strangers.

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Miles hiked today: 13.9

Miles hiked total: 799.9
Day 76 – 6/4

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Stopping to let a danger noodle pass.

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Miles hiked today: 15.3

Miles hiked total: 815.2

Day 77 – 6/5

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Hiding from the rain under my umbrella.

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Trail magic!

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Miles hiked today: 16.9

Miles hiked total: 832.1
Day 78 – 6/6

 

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Got down to Devil’s Backbone:

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Stayed the night in the yard of the brewery.  It was a super awesome spot.

 

Miles hiked today: 15.5

Miles hiked total: 847.6
Day 79 – 6/7

Ate hiker breakfast at Devils Backbone – $5 for a big breakfast, coffee, and some DB gear.  Sadly no beer for breakfast.  Then back on the trail!

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Arrived in Waynesboro, where they allow you to camp in town.  Got boxes and did some exploring.20170607_165138.jpg

 

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I’ve never seen a motivational poster on the outside of a house before.  Teamwork!

Also, we got a giant cake and just ate it.  All we had for utensils was Baberaham’s (Formerly Spudz’s) giant serving spoon.20170607_205205.jpg

It got wrecked.

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Hikers are hungry folks.

Miles hiked today: 14.3

Miles hiked total: 861.9

Days 64 – 70 : Falls of Dismal to Catawba

Day 64 – 5/19

Woke up early today, around 7.  Tree’s doggo Annie greeted me with some ruffs and then a request of pats.  

Corn Chip was already packed and gone when I got up and out.  Armadilla and Cali were just waking up when I was all packed down and out.

Being the first official day of trail days, I wasnt terribly surprised that the trail felt almost entirely deserted today.

I only saw two people through the day, both SOBO sectioners.  I didn’t catch one’s name, but the other was an older lady (about dad’s age) named Dark Horse.



Saw my first (and so far only) deer of the trial.

Rhodedendrons in bloom.

Got to my camp spot around 4:30.  I had service, so I downloaded the new Mountain Goats album and listened to it as I did chores.  Once chores were done, I got to talk to Carol for a while!

It was super buggy here, so I made a fire to try to drive them off.  It had middling success.

Around 7, much to my surprise, a guy named Shogun showed up.  He was skipping trail days because he was trying to finish ASAP, was hiking alone, and doing 30s daily.

He got his hammock setup and crashed pretty quickly.

About 45 minutes later, a guy named Johnny Bravo showed up.  He was skipping trail days because when he was in Damascus he got sucked into the vortex for either two or three weeks (hes not sure), and doesn’t want to go down that road again.

We talked for a while and built the fire up, but ultimately still went to bed pretty early.

Miles hiked today: 15.5

Miles hiked total: 632.0

Day 65 – 5/20

Got up and out early today.  Rain was in the forecast for the afternoon, so I wanted to beat feet, get my resupply done in Pearisburg, then get setup and in my tent before the rain.

Started off by stopping at Angels Rest briefly and seeing the valley clouds.

Then walked the remaining 3 miles down to Pearisburg.  At the hotel where my box was, ran into Tom and Kari, who let me hang in their room and charge up as I delt with the food.  Also got new shoes today!

After resupply was handled, I stopped by DQ for a blizzard then walked back to the trail 



I got up to rice field shelter and saw things looking pretty nasty.  I said, “you know what, I’m going to take a nap and see how things develop before I move on.”

As I saw laying down, a professor at VT named Ron came through (and his doggo said hi) and decided to move on. 

When I woke up about an hour later I checked the weather and saw a severe storm warning had been issued with high gusts and hail.  I decided to go ahead and stay in the shelter for the night!

In the shelter were Bigfoot, his friend from home Cynthia, ducttape, and a few sectioners.

Shortly after, it absolutely dumped rain and hail on us.  It was nuts.  



After the nasty passed and shortly before bed, there were some nice views down into the valley west of the shelter.

Miles hiked today: 10.1

Miles hiked total: 642.1

Day 66 – 5/21

I had hoped that since it wasnt going to rain anymore today, I’d keep my new shoes dry.  No such luck.  All the grass along the trail wad sopping, and it instantly transferred all of it directly into my shoes.

Dad and Jessica were returning to the trail today (they’d rented a car to go down to AL and get Jessica’s car), so my destination was a road crossing at 655.

Also, people would begin returning from Trail Days today.  


It was pretty foggy in the morning, but cleared up around 1pm.



I hiked most of the day with DuctTape and the VT professor, Ron.  He had kept hiking yesterday for 2 miles, and was setting his tent up when the weather rolled in.




Miles hiked today: 12.9

Miles hiked total: 655.0

Day 67 – 5/22







Miles hiked today: 15.2

Miles hiked total: 670.2

Day 68 – 5/23






Miles hiked today: 16.8

Miles hiked total: 687.0

Day 69 – 5/24






Miles hiked today: 15.3

Miles hiked total: 702.3

Day 70 – 5/25







Found a very confusing picture in a mexican restaurant in Pearisburg.



Stopped at REI so Jessica and Moonshine could get new packs.  Tried on new hiking outfit. 

Miles hiked today: 6.0

Miles hiked total: 708.3

Days 50 – 56 – Damascus to Marion

Day 50 – 5/5

I spent the morning at the broken fiddle.  Apparently the night before was a hot mess, but I was too passed out to notice.  Jessica said people were playing guitar inside at like midnight and she yelled at them.  

We had breakfast at Mojo’s trailside cafe.  Lots of people came through, but we ate with GQ, Brock (now chardonnay), and his friends from Indiana whose names I cannot currently remember.

Jessica and I explored town a bit, I played some Ingress, and then headed over to the Library to use their computers.

We heard that puns, spuds, ironman, and tinman were close to Damascus, so we headed over to Mojos (again) to have some marguaritas and have dinner with them.

Dad, Aunt Karen and Uncle Warren arrived, and we got checked into the Appalachian Trail Town Inn.

After getting situated, we went to the grocery store and bought beer and breakfast supplies.

We were planning to zero again the following day for Jessica’s birthday so we wanted to make her a nice breakfast.

Day 51 – 5/6

Today was our 2nd zero in Damascus.  

Ironman and I woke up around 8, cracked open beers and immediately started cooking.

Breakfast for 9 hungry hikers consisted of:

  • 5 lb sausage
  • 3 lb bacon
  • 2 dozen eggs
  • 1 lb Mushrooms
  • 2 cans of biscuits
  • Whatever else goes into Ironman’s gravy.

After breakfast, the household set to handling town chores like resupplying and doing laundry.  Since I had handled most of that yesterday, I was left to my own devices.

I went down to the AT sign at the edge of town and took a pic, since when I arrived yesterday I was too exhausted to care.

Sadly, it rained all day.

I also ran into Queen Pee sitting outside Bobo McFarland’s eating alone, because her puppy Isis wasnt allowed inside.  So, I took Isis from her and let her go in.  Isis crawled up into my lap and we cuddled under an awning in the rain.

After QP finished eating and came back out, I went inside and sat with Cumin, Jukebox, Sprinkle, and Ducky, and sampled all of the bar’s IPAs.

Looking stunning in my town clothes.

Afterward, I headed back to the house to find that Scout had arrived and been invited to sleep on the floor.

I visited the outfitter to pick up some seamsealer and additional guy line.

Then, I just futzed around the rest of the day.  We all ate dinner at Bobo’s and watched some TV before crashing out, preparing to hike out the next day.

Day 52 – 5/7

Getting everyone packed and out of the house was a nightmare.  I intended for us to leave around 9:30.  We actually left at 11:30.  

That said, once we got on trail today was beautiful.  We opted to take the creeper trail out of Damascus as there has been lots of advice to do so, mainly focusing on how much prettier the creeper trail is.  Not being purists, we set off.

The Virginia Creeper Trail is a mixed use old railroad bed that follows the river out of town.

The trail goes over lots of the old trestle bridges and you can see lots if evidence of the old railroad.

We stayed the night at the Lost Mountain Shelter.

Miles hiked today: 13.0

Mileshiked total: 485.0

Day 53 – 5/8

Today was PONY DAY!

We headed up through some fields and back into the forest before eventually coming up onto Mt. Rogers.  We didn’t actually summit it, but passed close to the summit.

At one point today, dad tripped and broke one of his trekking poles.  I let him use mine until we could replace them.

We stayed at the Thomas Knob shelter.  As soon as we turned the final corner to the shelter, the ponies were there.

All the ponies wanted to lick us for our salt.  They also werent super careful with their teeth.  Still.  Ponies.  I mean come on.

Since it wad supposed to rain solidly for the next few days, so Dad and Jessica hunkered down in the shelter.

I needed to re-seam seal my tent, so I set it up and prayed the ponies wouldn’t eat it.

After getting everything setup I headed back to the shelter to socialize and get chewed on by ponies.

Miles hiked today: 12.3

Miles hiked total: 497.3

Day 54 – 5/9

Woke up and as predicted it was rainy.  I got packed down and met the fam at the shelter.  Made it through the night uneaten by ponies.

It POURED.  We honestly considered taking a zero in the shelter.  It was also super cold.

There was trail rumor of a break in the storm though, so we decided to risk it.

This one did chew a hole in my frogg toggs though.

Ducky got to give one kissies.

Since Dads pole had broken, we found an outfitter that we could get to from Massie gap.  So we planned to come off trail for a bit to replace them.

Going through fat man’s squeeze.

Dad through the fog.

We came down to Massie gap and tried without much success to get in touch with the outfitter to get a shuttle down.

After a while some guys who worked for Grayson Highlands let us borrow their phone, and we got a ride!

Once we got down, the weather was so nice, and the outfitter also had rooms available, so the decision was made to stay.

We were glad we did, as it poured on us again.  Come to find out from people who stayed up that it hailed on them like crazy. 

We ate ice cream at the outfitter then talked for a while and crashed out.

Miles hiked today: 3.7

Mikes hiked total: 500.4

Day 55 – 5/10

Technically we passed 500 miles yesterday, but since we didn’t notice the marker and we found a misplaced one today, here’s our 500 miles!

There were more ponies today but they were less friendly (and bitey).  However the sun was out and all of us felt awesome. 

We planned to staying at Hurricane Mountain Shelter.  I hiked with dad and sent Jessica on ahead.  When we arrived, we found Jessica with a broken nose having fallen on it.

Ducky had found her shortly after it happened and cleaned her up.  Jessica had reset it herself, but resolved to come out early the next day.

Miles hiked today: 12.9

Miles hiked total: 513.3

Day 56 – 5/11

We all got up and goimg pretty early today.  Jessica and Puns came off trail at a side trail to a campground after 2.5 miles.

The rest of us pushed on to partnership shelter .

Jessica asks, “WHY DO I HAVE TO PUT MY SHOES ON, MY FACE HURTS”

Since Jessica and dad were going to town, i aimed for it too.

Miles hiked today: 19.3

Miles hiked total: 532.6

Days 45 – 49 – Roan Mtn, TN – Damascus, VA

Day 45 – 4/30

As Joni Mitchell says, “I slept last night in a good hotel.”  That’s the benefit of Mom coming up — No cheep hiker spots!

We got a pretty late start to the day, left the Best Western around 11, took a detour to stop by a CVS, then headed to the trailhead.  Once there, we spent more time hanging out and not hiking, talking with the hostel owners who post up at the trailhead hoping to lure customers and with other hikers coming in.  While we were there Spudfz and Puns arrived and we talked with them for a while.  They were coming off trail for the day, while we were about to get started.  We handed out some bananas, other fruit, and some beers Mom and Dad had brought up at our request.

Finally at 12:30 we got moving.  Like I said, a super late start.

The scenery today was really beautiful, a mix of some forests and some open land.  There were several spots where we were able to look back at the Roan Highlands and see where I’d been the few days before.  Jessica felt that she’d for sure lost her trail legs as she was huffing and puffing up the hills.

While we were out we ran into Fancy (the hiker formerly known as Placemat) and talked/hiked with him some.

When Jessica and I got to a nice deep looking river (I believe called Elk River), I think we both looked at each other and said, “I’m getting in that”.  Then we did.  Fancy and another hiker named Schlog (I think?) joined us for a while as well.
I think we were in for about an hour.  It was cold, but not so cold as to be really unpleasant.  While it was only about knee deep, I was able to find a nice flat rock, sit on it, and lean back and just get a full soak as the current washed over me pleasantly.  I think as summer comes, I’ll be sitting in a lot more rivers and streams.

We also passed mile 400 today!

We were playing today by ear, and since we started so late, we decided to stay at Mountaineer Shelter at mile 402.  While we were walking we passed a few nice waterfalls also.  We were expecting rain, so instead of tenting like normal, we got shelter spots.  We also discussed and said if possible we’d head to Kincora Hostel (Bob People’s place) the next night.

As is often the case in spots just after towns, people were being a little rowdy and stayed up pretty late.  It was all fine though, I stuck my earplugs in and was OUT!

Miles hiked today: 8.8

Miles hiked total: 402.5

 

Day 46 – 5/1

Forecast called for rain today so we were up at 7 and out by 8.

I was surprised today as we hiked all day and didn’t see Moonshine at all.  He’d camped just before the shelter, and I think he hikes faster than us, but we didn’t see him at all today.

We did run into Gas Monkey and find out that Fancy, Queen P, Sprinkles and the rest of that crew were nearby.  We also passed “Family Man”, an 18 year old dude that stayed at the shelter last night, a bunch of times today.  He’d be stopped doing something, we’d pass, then about 5 minutes later he’d shoot by saying, “Sorry!”

It was crazy windy all day and raining on and off.  Around 1pm, we got to the shelter at 10 miles.  We hung around for a little while with Gas Monkey and the others.

Cumin did some cuddling with Isis.

After an hour or so, it was sunny (although a little cold/still windy).

We hiked on, hoping for warm beds.  We tried calling Kincora, but there wasn’t ever an answer.  We said, “Well, if we get beds, we get beds.”  It was significantly less important now that the rain had passed and we’d MOSTLY dried out.

We hiked through some burned out areas that must have burned early last year, as we saw new growth coming through.  It was a significantly nicer sight than the burned sections we saw in GA.

When we got to Kincora, Bob was gone running people into town, but Mother Nature was sitting on the porch and said there was tons of room, just go put your stuff on a bunk.  So we did.  Then we took showers while everyone was out.

Bob’s place is basically an old log cabin he lives in.  Behind that is a newer log cabin he built.  Connecting the two is a porch area, two bathrooms, a shower, and a laundry room.  It’s a nice little setup, and felt significantly more like a maintained shelter than a hostel.  He runs the place for a suggested donation of $5 per head.  You just stick the money in a box by the door.

When the folks got back, the crowd seemed to be Fancy, Mother Nature, Cloudz, and a bunch of others I didn’t really know/get to know.

Of note, Bob has 11 cats.  10 live outside / in his main cabin.  1 lives in the bunk house.  Mother Nature had gotten an amazon package delivered and one of the cats named Simba claimed the box.

At the CVS earlier, I’d picked up a sharpie planning to give my food bag some decoration so I could more easily differentiate it from others when there are communal hangs.  I saw Cloudz drawing in her sketchbook and talking about her art, and since I’m actually pretty terrible with drawing, I asked if she’d to a piece on my bag for a little $, and she said yes.  This is what I got:

Miles hiked today: 16.0

Miles hiked Total: 418.5

 

Day 47 – 5/2

We talked with Bob this morning and he agreed to slack pack us over Pond Flats.  Bob took us out to Shook Branch Rec Area and we walked southbound back to his place.  We passed a lot of people going the other direction.  It was weird!

Apparently southbound over this section is easier on your knees due to the # of steps down, so Jessica enjoyed it.

We passed Laurel Fork Falls, the biggest waterfall we’ve seen yet.

Once we got back to Kincora, Bob gave us a ride back to over to Boots Off campground where we picked up our package.  We got there around 3:30.  Unfortunately, the next 4 miles were a camping no-go area due to an active bear that likes to climb into hikers tents.  While I love Carol, I don’t love the thought of actually being bear food, so we decided to abide by those regulations.  It would be 7 miles from our current spot before there was a reasonable place to actually camp, so Jessica and I discussed and agreed that 7 miles starting at 3:30-4pm, with a lot of UP would not be a good end to the day.  So we just stayed at Boots off for the night.

The folks there gave us a ride into Hampton TN, where we both destroyed subway foot longs and walked around playing some Ingress (for all 6 portals in town).

Riding in the back of an suv with doggo.

While we were walking around, we made friends with a town Doggo.  At first it came out from a fence and we thought it had just gotten out of its yard.  We walked around to the front of that house with it and thought about knocking, but when we got around we saw the other side gate was just wide open, so it was apparently just a loose doggo.  He was friendly though, and followed us around for the next 20 minutes or so, until we got a hitch out of town.

On the hitch, Jessica had to deal with several dozen eggs hanging out in the front seat.  Otherwise everything was golden.

Miles hiked today: 8.5

Miles hiked total: 427

 

Day 48 – 5/3

On our way out, we saw that the Watauga Lake area was actually slightly flooded.  The water was up over the grill and lapping up on some picnic areas.

We also saw some geese with goslings, but they sadly did not want to be friends.

We hiked over the Watauga Dam, made some dam jokes, then proceeded to ridge walk for most of the day.

We mostly busted our butts all day, and got to the Iron Mountain Shelter around 6.
While we got setup and made dinner, Jessica told her story about the bunnies on Rocky Bald.  In the process, she asserted that Jackalopes were ABSOLUTELY a real thing.  Then we talked for a while about Bassalopes, which are totally a thing, but sadly not real:

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We decided that since it was going to rain the following evening, we would get up early (5am) and try to bust out as many miles as possible.  Damascus was only 26.3 miles away.  She said she doesn’t think we’ll make it there tomorrow.  I think she’s wrong, but didn’t tell her that.

Miles hiked today: 15.9

Miles hiked total: 442.9

 

Day 49 – 5/4

I had a brief fight with my snooze button, but managed to coax myself awake by 5:10.  I made coffee and broke everything down.  When I went to get the food bags, Jessica had already packed EVERYTHING, and was ready to go.  So she came up to where I’d setup my tent and we talked while I finished taking stuff down (and drank the coffee).

It was light enough to see without headlamps by about 6:20, so we headed out.

Soon after we left, Jessica was out of sight just ahead of me and walked up on a bear!  She said her trekking pole clacked against a rock and the bear about 20 feet from her looked up startled and bolted.

Shortly after we got to the Nick Grindstaff monument, a marker for an area hermit.  The monument reads, “Lived Alone, Suffered Alone, Died Alone.”  My first thought was why do they think he suffered?  Then I thought well… I guess they knew him better than me.

After the monument, we came down to the lowlands and crossed some cow pastures.  None of the cows wanted to be friends either.

Reading the weather, it was supposed to be SUPER windy with sustained winds of 35-55 mph and gusts up to 80.  Jessica looked at that and said she had no interest in having her tent break again, so after 12 miles, she decided shuttle forward (as she’d be doing this section again soon).  She took my pack with her and I slacked the remaining 15 miles, starting at 12:30.

It was tough, but I made it to Damascus around 6pm.

 

Miles hiked today: 26.3

Miles hiked total: 469.2

Days 42 – 44 – Erwin to US 19E (Roan Mtn)

 

Day 42 – 4/27

I woke up rearing to go after a night of Calzones, beer, and Kill Bill vol. 1.  I was up around 7:30 and ready to go by 8:30.  Would’ve been sooner but I was trying to be a little quiet moving all my stuff outside, as Air Bud, Fitbit, and Spudz were all still asleep.  Y’all had stayed the previous night in the bunk room at Uncle Johnny’s and Puns had decided to push on and not pay for a place to stay.

So I waited for the store to open, grabbed a new bear line to replace the one stuck in a tree some miles back, a new lighter as I couldn’t find mine, and a new battery for my headlamp.  I said my goodbyes to y’all (who was waiting for a box that hadn’t arrived), and HoneyBee/TSquared (who were taking a zero to attend the festival this coming weekend at Uncle Johnnys.

I had mixed feelings as it feels like I’ve missed every festival thing that’s happened by 1-2 days.  However, this being my opportunity to make up some miles quickly, I decided to get on it.

I made tentative plans to stop at the Cherry Gap shelter, which would put me at a 17 mile day, one of my longest so far, and then got moving.

It was supposed to rain this afternoon around 4pm, so I hoped to make it to the shelter and avoid it.

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Leaving Erwin

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I ran into some Trail Magic by Brother Tom and his Doggo, Moses:

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Drank a very nice cup of coffee and made to leave.  Moses jumped up on Tom’s lap and whined at me, basically saying, “It’s going to be wet out there, don’t go!”

And it certainly didn’t look like it was going to be dry for too long:

 

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On my climb up to Unaka, I found this tree decorated in memory of a guy named Max.

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Up on top of Unaka was weird, foggy and smelled like christmas.

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I got to Cherry Gap shelter around 4pm, and found Scout, who I hadn’t seen since before the Smokies.

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I decided that 4pm was too soon to call a stop to the day, so I checked what was ahead, and saw that there was an old apple orchard with camping space, so I signed the log and headed out.  A section hiker named Chili was leaving at the same time as me, with the same destination.  Our paces matched up so we walked the rest of the day together.  He lives in Austin TX and has a business doing maintenance on stone and wood floors which he still enjoys.  I only took a picture of his butt as we were arriving at the apple orchard:

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Sunset through the trees was beautiful:

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Also here was Sweetheart, who I had camped with a few days back, still working the kinks out of his new zpacks tent:

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There were just 4 groups at our site tonight, Me, Sweetheart, Chili, and Snowshoe/Sailor.  We ate dinner together and talked, and enjoyed some nice hiker TV of Snowshow teaching Sailor how to hang a bearbag:

I think he probably needs to work on his technique some.

Miles hiked Today: 21.5

Miles hiked Total: 364.2

Day 43 – 4/28

I was so enamored with our camp spot that I took a few more pictures before leaving in the morning.

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Apple blossoms.

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Sweetheart and I started hiking about the same time today.  I was a little bit faster than him, but we saw each other a lot.  We ran into some mobile trail magic by Sandy, who was just doing a day hike but brought out cuties and nutra-grain bars.

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Sweetheart and Sandy.

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Today, we were entering the Roan Highlands.  The trail in lower part of this area was made up almost entirely of little tiny crickets who were all jumping to get out of the way of my incoming feet.

The climb up was brutal, and I didn’t snap many pictures.  When I got up to the cloudland hotel site, I was nearly out of water, and Butter, who I had hiked with some this morning, told me that if I left the trail at the hotel site, there were bathrooms and water fountains nearby.  When I got up there I found them.  They were all closed, water off.  I had a sad.

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Not only was the climb brutal, but the trail was rocky the whole way down the other side.

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My feet no likey.

Roan Mountain itself is (along the trail) all spruce-fir.  No views, but delicious smell.  Once I got to the other side though, the views really opened up:

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Looking back on Roan Mountain from Round Bald.

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The view up to where I would be spending tonight (Grassy Ridge Bald).

This spot was off the trail by 0.6 miles, but Scooby (whose house we stayed at earlier) said this is the best spot to spend the night in this area, and I trusted his recommendation.

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So I hiked up the trail, through some pretty thick bushes up to the top.

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Unfortunately, when I got up there, it got completely socked in with fog.

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Fog rolling in — although you can still see the blue skies above.

I quickly cooked dinner and since it was pretty cold and VERY windy, got in my tent and passed out.

Miles hiked Today: 17.4

Miles hiked Total: 381.0

Day 44 – 4/29

I was woken up around 1 a.m. by the wind.  Got up to use the bathroom and was greeted by clear skies, stars everywhere, and lights from the cities below.  I felt better about this choice of camping spots, rolled back the vestibule of my tent so I’d have a good sunrise view, and went back to sleep.

When I woke up, this is what greeted me:

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I hiked the few miles over to Overmountain Shelter, which is an old barn that’s been converted to a shelter.  It’s named after the Overmountain Men, who were a fighting force during the revolutionary war.

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While I was there, Gas Monkey (the monster who named me) was still hanging out, so we chatted for a few before I headed on.

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Further on the climb, you could look back and see Overmountain Shelter where I’d just come from, then in the background see Grassy Ridge Bald, where I stayed the previous night.

The big climb for today was Bald Mountain, another of the grassy balds of this area.  I met a new group that had been just in front of me for a while, and got to give some pats to Queen P’s doggo, Isis.

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I hiked down and out to the road with this group for the rest of the day.

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The trail which has been straddling the TN/NC line since the smokies, turned north today and left NC for good.

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Left to Right: Cumin, Queen P, Sprinkles, and Fancy (formerly Placemat).

Mom, Dad, and Jessica were coming to meet me here so Jessica could get back on the trail, but it was going to be a little while before they arrived, so I walked back down to the creek just by the road and stuck my feet in it:

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I spent the rest of that afternoon chatting with Moonshine (who we had hung with in Gatlinburg, and who was spending the night with us) and Mover, a guy who’d thru hiked the AT and PCT previously.

Once the folks showed up, we went down into Roan Mountain to Bob’s Dairyland for some grub.  Jessica and I split their BBQ special and a double cheeseburger, then had milkshakes (black raspberry).  We left STUFFED.

Then we all headed over to the Best Western for some bunk time!

Miles hiked Today: 13.3

Miles hiked Total: 393.7

 

 

Days 35 – 41: Hot Springs to Erwin

Day 35 – 4/20

Today, due to Dads shin, Fitbit’s ankle, and Spudz birthday, we decided to take a zero in hot springs.  We briefly looked around for places to stay and settled on a 2nd night at Elmer’s.

We lounged about and drank some beers at two bars.  I worked on getting the blog caught up, which was much easier with a computer it turns out.

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Spudz hanging out in the music room at Elmers.

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This is how the AT is marked through Hot Springs.

We ate dinner at the Iron Horse Tavern and ran into Wilson, who was headed home.  Sadly I didn’t get any pics from that dinner.

Dad wanted to get a head start the next day since there was a big climb AND we wanted to do around 11 miles, so he decided he and Jessica would do breakfast at the diner across the street while I and the rest of our group would do breakfast at Elmer’s.

Day 36 – 4/21

I woke up to Dad and Jessica banging around, but knew I didn’t have to rush anywhere so rolled over and tried to go back to sleep while they cleared out and headed onto the trail.  Eventually I got up and packed up before heading down to breakfast.

Elmer makes as mean a breakfast as he does a dinner – we had omelets, granola, cantaloupe, toast and several other kinds of fruits/juices.

Little Foot wasn’t feeling well and had an appropriate snickers to show how she felt:

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Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford to just hang around all day, so I made my way out to walk the rest of the way through the town and up into the mountains.

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Elmer’s place from the street.

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The AT crosses the French Broad river in Hot Springs before following the bank of the river for a while:

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While I was down here, there were multiple places to camp along the river before the climb.  I ran into James (who is now going by “The Guvnah”) and we saw a river snake swimming along.  Then eventually, I did the climbing:

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Hot Springs from above.

I also ran into an ornery blue bug who looked like he wanted to fight:

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I ran into Dad and Jessica after a few hours and we continued on to the Spring Mountain shelter.

Miles hiked today: 11

Miles hiked total: 284.4

Day 37 – 4/22

Dad decided this morning that even after a day off, his shins weren’t feeling any better, and on our way down to Allen Gap, he decided that the downhill was really hurting, and he would need to come off the trail for a little while to let things heal up.

So, we got him a shuttle from Allen Gap down to Asheville, and we got Tim to agree to come pick him up in Asheville and take him the rest of the way home.  Sadly, while we were on our way down, Jessica slipped in the mud and twisted her knee badly enough that she also felt she needed to come off trail for a while.

Luckily there was a small store right by the road called Mom’s that was open, which allowed me to pig out briefly (mmm Klondike bar) and Dad and Jessica to stay out of the rain.  It rained while we were there.

After about 30 minutes there, we said our see-you-laters, and I headed on (the rest of the group had already gone ahead).  With Dad and Jessica off trail, our options on where to camp and how far to go opened a little bit.
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We passed this weird crypt looking spring (the water was delicious),

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Found this pipe that goes who knows where sticking right out of the trail,

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And found this marker that marks… something?  Very not sure.

Toward the afternoon we got to a good camp spot at mile 295.  It was threatening rain and Air Bud and Fitbit were tired (and Fitbit’s ankle still wasn’t feeling great), so they decided they wanted to stay there for the night.  Spudz, Puns and I wanted to go on and see the views on Firescald Knob before the bad weather hit, as it was going to be raining all the following day.

After some feelings, we parted ways and headed on.

The views from Firescald were absolutely worth doing:

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Looking Ridiculous:

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While we were up there though, weather started to roll in:

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So we beat feet to get to our planned camp spot for the night, Lick Log Gap.  How could we not want to stay there with a name like that?

We made it there, setup our tents, and began to hang our bear bags.  And failed, spectacularly.  Then it started to rain.

Eventually, both Puns and I got our bear lines stuck, and soaked and dejected, got into our tents.  Spudz, showing wisdom beyond his 23 years, held onto his food until it stopped raining briefly around 1am.

Miles hiked Today: 14.4

Miles hiked Total: 298.8

Day 38 – 4/23

It rained almost all night.  It was raining when we got up.  We didn’t want to, but we eventually did.

We saw where Spudz had his tent setup:

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On the right side of that puddle.  He has an REI StormBreaker.  If you want a tent that is actually a boat, his is the tent you want.  He said he stayed dry all night.  Luckily my tent wasn’t setup in a lake, so I was also good to go.  Except it was still raining.

So grumbling, I got into my banana suit and got moving.  We quickly passed the 300 mile marker, and there was a little thing made of twigs, that I completely botched taking a good picture of.  Life in the rain is hard.

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This is my banana suit.

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The trail in the fog and rain.

While we were out we ran into Scooby at one of the shelters.  He said he was getting a ride to his parents house in Johnson City and invited Spudz, Puns and I to join him.  We enthusiastically agreed, because we were all soaked to the bone, and it was actually pretty cold.

We did the 11 miles to Rector Laurel Rd in what felt like record rain walking time, and made our way to the hostel close to the trail.

I only got a blurry pic of the hostel doggo, but it shows the blurry hostel in the background.

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The hostel owner was kind enough to let us come in out of the rain, dry off and change into dry clothes, and then hang out, even though we weren’t planning on staying there.  He also sold us some beers and corn dogs, which were delicious.  Scooby showed up a little while later with his friend Barley.

While we were hanging out and the rain stopped briefly, Spudz and I walked the half mile down to the former Hiker Paradise hostel.  Thankfully, we were able to get our boxes even though the hostel wasn’t open this year (they were listed in AWOL though, which is why we sent stuff there).

The arrangement to get to Johnson City was a little complicated, as Scooby and Barley were getting a ride to Barley’s car in Hot Springs, the Barley was coming back for us.  They got picked up around 5 – 5:30.  Around 7:30 I was beginning to believe were were just going to have to crash at the hostel.  Barley apparently had been having adventures of his own though, as he showed up to grab us around 8pm.

We headed the hour or so to Scooby’s house and were greeted by a late dinner by Scooby’s very wonderful parents Priscilla and John.  After eating our fill, John helped us hang up our soaking tents in their garage:

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Then we crashed out.  I got to sleep on their couch upstairs with their very cuddly doggo:

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Miles hiked Today IN THE RAIN: 11.2

Miles hiked Total: 310.0

Day 39 – 4/24

While we were in Johnson City, we had to eat at Pals, which is one of their local chains:

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They only do drive through.  It was very tasty.

Spudz, Puns and I took some time to plan out our potential next few days, and made a plan to get to just past Erwin.

After kicking around Scooby’s house and eventually getting our act together, we headed back to the trail around 2pm.

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Doggo was sad to see us go.

We got out there around 3:30 and luckily decided to just head to Hogback Ridge Shelter.  Unluckily, it was basically one big climb.

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Walking along a very old barbed wire fence.

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So old that this tree completely ate it ages ago.

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We made it to the shelter pretty late, but still before dark.  There Air Bud and Young Fitbit were waiting for us there.  They’d only done 5 miles the day it poured raining all day, and did a full day to this shelter.

There was a fire going when we arrived and after setting up our tents (I setup mine slightly apart from everyone else, slightly down the blue blaze water trail), we ate dinner and socialized around the fire.  We met some SOuthBOunders (SOBOs) who had recently picked up their hikes after coming off for the winter.

As it got dark, the fog got really soupy, and since I’d setup my tent apart from everyone else, it was a struggle to find it — gray tent, gray fog.  Took me about 10 minutes longer than it should have done.  Thankfully, I found it and got in, and konked out quickly.

Miles hiked Today: 5.8

Miles hiked Total: 315.8

Day 40 – 4/25

Today was muddy.  Very very muddy,  Almost first thing, I climbed “Big Bald”.  It was like climbing a mountain of slippery mud.  It was exhausting.  Way way more exhausting than the distance/elevation should have made it.

I hiked on the way up with Patch, HoneyBee and TSquared.

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The view from the top of big bald.

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From left to right: HoneyBee, TSquared, Me, and Patch.

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Muuuuuuuuud.

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Weird twisty tree.

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Weird lumpy tree.

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We stayed tonight at Whistling Gap.  At this point all of us were back together except Jessica and Dad.  We were joined this night also by two older gentlemen and a German guy named Sweetheart.  He earned this name by calling everyone sweetheart, forever.

Miles hiked Today: 13.6

Miles hiked Total: 329.4

Day 41 – 4/26

We started today planning on doing our resupply in Erwin and heading on.. and quickly decided to just stay the night at Uncle Johnnys when Air Bud got a cabin there.  It would be a full day of hiking as it was, and it was only $20 for a bed for the night.

First thing today, we climbed up “High Rocks” and got some awesome views of valley fog:

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Trail was still muddy today:

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We saw down into Erwin about 2 miles before we were actually down there.  The main view from where we were is the Nolichucky River:

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I’d left or dropped my water bottle a few miles back, so when spudz caught up to me (after taking a nap at No Business Knob Shelter), I asked him to stick near me to make sure I made it down OK,  Puns eventually caught up to us as well and we saw this view together.  The first thing I said was that I was getting in that ASAP.

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We hoofed it the final 2 miles down and got checked into Uncle Johnnys.  First thing we saw on getting down into town was this tree eating these poles.

Spudz first order of business was to check out their collection of VHS tapes.

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My first order of business was getting a good pic of their doggo, Jerry Garcia.

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Followed quickly with borrowing a bike and getting some beer from the store a mile and a half down the road.  This radio station had a giant field of flowers that were being mowed by a monster.

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Then I came back and hung out in the hammock while having a beer.

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Then I remembered my river view thought and started asking questions.  Just jumping in was out since the current looked pretty quick, and getting dragged off to wherever the Nolichucky goes wasn’t on my to do list.  I learned that there was a recreation area not too far away, and y’all and I took biked over and jumped in.  I actually got wholly in, and it was pretty cold, as rivers in spring often are.  It felt wonderful though.

We hung out and ordered calzones for dinner, and drank the rest of our beers.

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Left to right: Y’all, HoneyBee, Air Bud, and Spudz

To wind down the night, we watched Kill Bill and then crashed out.

Miles hiked Today: 13.3

Miles hiked Total: 342.7

Days 28 – 34 – Smoky Mountains Pt 2 – Newfound Gap to Hot Springs

Day 28 – 4/13 – Zero day in Gatlinburg!

One thing I realized I forgot to mention in the last posting was that Wilson, a guy we’d been hiking with off and on for a while twisted his ankle pretty badly coming down off of Clingmans Dome.  His companions Tin Man and Iron Man were pressing on while he went into Gatlingburg to ice it and see what could be done.  Since I knew he would be alone and it would be just the three of us in a 2 queen bed room at the motel 6, I reached out to him and asked him to join us, both to cut our costs and to keep him from dropping $50 on a solo room if he didn’t want to — he decided to join us.

I like Wilson and while he was mostly like, “I think I may have to go home,” I definitely pushed him to wait and see before he headed all the way home to Mass.  So when we all got up on the 13th, Wilson essentially said he didn’t think he could do the Smokies, since you MUST camp at shelters, but he would skip ahead to standing bear and do short days until he felt better.

So for breakfast, we ate at the recommended-by-everyone “Breakfast Camp” restaurant in Gatlingburg.  I ended up getting one of the skillet meals, which was ridiculously big.

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After failing to eat this monstrous amount of food, we went back to the motel 6 and checked out and began our wait for mom to arrive.

We passed the time looking around the NOC store in Gatlinburg.  I unfortunately couldn’t find my hat — I’m guessing I left it in the car of the lady who gave us a hitch down into town.  I felt bad because she mentioned that she wasn’t going to tell her husband for a few days she gave us a hitch, so I hope that didn’t cause any problems for her.

I looked around in vain for a new hat, but nothing REALLY caught my attention.  We looked at the other gear there and dad waffled about potentially buying a new tent — we all basically yelled at him to just stick with what he had or get something else from REI.  If he’s not careful he’ll blow his entire budget buying tents.

After playing around in the NOC for a while we bought some sodas and sat on the porch drinking them and talking plans.  Jessica and Dad eventually decided that they would skip ahead to Standing Bear Hostel (after the Smokies) and go slowly to allow time for her ankle to feel better.  I would go back to Newfound Gap and catch up to them as quickly as I could.

That decision made, I wandered a bit around Gatlinburg and searched for other hats that could replace the one I lost.  This one was considered and discarded as retaining too much moisture:

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Finding a new hiking hat is hard.

Also Little Foot and Moonshine were hanging out in town for the day, so we all had a few beers (this place had $1 woodchucks!) while we waited for Mom.

Mom eventually arrived like the cavalierly she is, and we met her at the Hampton, got checked in, and went off to do Laundry.

While Laundry was going, I also considered a new hiking shirt:

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Figured it was a little too tight, will revisit when I’ve lost a little more weight.

Had dinner with Mom, Little Foot, and Moonshine at the Smoky Mountain Brewery, then FINALLY FOUND MY LONG SOUGHT HOT TUB!!!!

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It was glorious.

Day 29 – 4/14 – Back on the trail

We got up and checked out, then grabbed Moonshine and headed up to Newfound Gap.  We got our pic at the state line (that I put in the last post), said our see-you-laters, and I headed out.

I left around 10:00 am with plans to spend the night Peck’s Corner shelter (about 10 miles down trail).  I got to Icewater Springs Shelter pretty quickly and found entries in the shelter log that the gang finally caught up to Yall (who had jumped ahead to meet her boyfriend in Gatlinburg):

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I discovered that when I’m not around friends, I take more pictures of just trail forward / views, so here’s a few of those:

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I also made friends with a little blue bird:

While hiking a guy named stretch caught up to me.  I decided to push my pace a little to keep up with him and talk for a while.  He went fast, but I was able to keep up, at least until I got to the shelter.

When we got there, it was only like 2:30 or 3pm.  I checked my water and the guide book and decided to go ahead and push on to Tri-corner.  Stretch did too, but I didn’t think I could keep his pace all the way there so I said see you later.

I got to Tri-corner knob shelter about 6:30 pm and got guilted by the ridgerunner to sleep in the shelter.  Right around then, we got the only rain I experienced in the smokies, a quick shower that lasted about 15 minutes.  The Colonel and U-turn were there, as well as stretch, but otherwise it was a bunch of folks I hadn’t met before.  Everyone crashed out around 8:30 as it got dark.

Miles hiked Today: 15.1

Miles hiked Total: 221.9

 

Day 30 – 4/15 – Blasting out of the smokies 

Woke up today really early – about 6:30 — and got packed and on the trail by around 7:20.  Spudz had sent me a text that they spent the night last night at Cosby Knob shelter, which was 7.7 miles north.  I figured if I hurried, I could get there before they even left for the day.

One of the first things I saw was this old helicopter pad that was on the ridge:

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It was weird to find this concrete thing up there.

Some nice views down into the valleys to the north:20170415_084419.jpg

I got to Cosby around 11, but they had beat me out.  Convinced they hadn’t left too long ago, I pushed on, hoping that they’d take a nap at the Mt. Cammerer fire tower and I’d catch them then.  I talked with some day hikers and inquired about “two dudes in round cone shaped hats” and he said yes they’d  been at the fire tower the same time as him.  Since I was still about 2 miles away, I wasn’t sure if I’d catch them or not, but figured I’d try anyway.

The whole day, there was a lot of ridge walking.  It was nice that the trees greenery hadn’t come in yet as I was able to see out and see mountains on both sides, only through the trees.  It’s a really pretty sight and wonderful to walk through, but doesn’t translate to picture form very well, so I’ll just have to remember it.

When I got to the side trail to Mt. Cammerer fire tower (which is 0.6 miles long), I dropped my pack and headed over to it.

Sadly, no Spudz or AirBud were evident.  The fire tower was super nice though, the view was amazing.

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I had a snack there and headed on.  Figuring that I wouldn’t catch the group, I slowed my pace a little bit.  I was still hoping that they’d be camping at Davenport Gap Shelter that night.  Sadly, shortly after I got a text saying they were pushing on to Standing Bear, so I figured I would just push on to there and have a Pizza that night.

 

And then made it out of the Smokies.  It was super awesome to be up there.  The weather was amazing.  I count myself very lucky that I didn’t get snowed on or rained on the entire time I was there.

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When I was about to go under I-40, I was walking with World Champion, a german guy who is thru hiking.  We saw some people rafting down a river we went over and we were both super jealous.

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Had to go up some scary stairs. 20170415_171440.jpg

I got to Standing Bear about 6:30 and was greeted by the whole crew, including Y’all.  Sadly she said she was going off trail for a while due to shoe issues and her boyfriend was picking her up shortly.  I knew that would upset Jessica, but Y’all assured us that she’d be back as soon as she could.

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I had a few Fat Tire beers and ordered a pizza, got my box and played with their two Boston Terriers.  One of them would go get a rock and put it on your shoe, trying to get you to play fetch.  With a rock.

He loved it though.

This is the doggo:

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Y’all’s boyfriend Joe came through and introductions were done.  Then he gave me a ride back to the nearby blue blaze trail we were all going to camp on.  I setup my tent and headed back up to standing bear to hang out and wait for my pizza.  The thing about Standing Bear’s pizza system is that they can only cook one pizza at a time, there’s a 20 minute wait per pizza, and there was a stack of 6 before mine.  So I got my pizza about 9pm.  I ate one piece and put the rest in a ziplock for the morning, annoyed.  Lesson here is, check first if your pizza will take 2 1/2 hours before buying it.

Miles hiked Today: 19.6

Miles hiked Total: 240.3

 

Day 31 – 4/16 – Post Smokies Reunion Hiking

Today started with some trail magic.  We’d camped on a blue blaze trail just outside standing bear farm and a lady named Maple Leaf drove up as she was being dropped off to slackpack for the day.  The road was on the other side of the small stream we’d been camping near, but far enough (and down enough) that she’d have to throw what she was giving us.  Turned out what she was giving us was cokes, everyone except Otto said yes.  So Maple Leaf’s getting her cokes out of the back of this truck and tossing them all over to me.  One lands well short of me and goes down into the creek.  Another bounces off a log in front of me and hits me in the chin.  So sweet, face coke!

It was OK though since she’d brought her dog, “Yankee”, with her to hike for the day.

I said happy easter to everybody and shared around the mini cadbury eggs that Jessica had bought me in Gatlinburg.  I don’t know if that’s what she had in mind when she bought them, but I kind of doubt it.  Regardless — Jessica for the win!

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Otto started hiking super early that morning and Punz got ahead of us pretty quickly, so it was mostly just Spudz, Fitbit, Airbud, and I hiking together today.  We got 2nd trail magic on top of Snowbird Peak, which has a weird FAA tower.

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They had chairs set out and all kinds of stuff.  We all had peanut butter and banana sandwiches and some water and soda.  They also had oreo balls, which were crushed up oreos, cream cheese, dipped in white chocolate.  They were seriously delicious.

One thing that I thought was really cool was looking back south the way we’d come, you were able to see where where we’d been.

The sharp point between the guy standing and the guy sitting down in this picture is the Mt. Cammerer fire tower I visited the day before (day 30).  Running to the left of it are the rest of the Smokies.

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That’s where I’d been.  This is where I was going.

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The slightly lighter area on the mountain dead center of this photo is Max Patch, a giant bald we were going to be climbing later this day.

Another view from up here down into the valleys:

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Also, started seeing way more vegetation that was green around today.

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Saw a weird tree:

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And also several trees that had fallen and had their root systems pulled up.  This is something I really enjoy seeing so I often get pics.

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When we got to the road crossing immediately before Max Patch, there was today’s 3rd trail magic.  It was several ladies who had previously done a thru.  We found out later Otto went to college (at the same time, but didn’t know, but had multiple friends in common) as one of them.  As we were talking with them, it started raining, and we decided to go ahead and camp down there instead of on Max Patch.  It eventually stopped raining, and the sunset through the trees was beautiful.  I suspect that it would’ve been better on Max Patch, but hey what can you do.  We resolved to go to bed semi-early and get up and do sunrise on Max Patch.

I should also point out that the group picked up a dude named Scooby that I had met previously, who stayed with us this night.

Miles hiked Today: 12.5

Miles hiked Total: 252.8

 

 

Day 32 – 4/17 – Post Max Patch Reunion Hiking

Today, we got up super early as we intended, grumbled extensively about it, and eventually hauled our butts out of our sleeping bags and tents, packed up, and headed up to Max Patch.  On the up side, we finally got to do some NIGHT HIKING!!

The sunrise up there was exceptionally beautiful.

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The group after eating breakfast waiting for the sun to come up.

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The money shot.

After Max Patch, our plan was to hike to the Walnut Mountain Shelter.  On our way, we passed by the Roaring Fork shelter, and low and behold, found Dad and Jessica, plus the family of 7 just finishing packing up for the morning.

So we all reunited, told some stories about our time apart, and headed on.

When we got to Walnut Mountain Shelter, Dad, Jessica, Air Bud, Spudz, and Fitbit all jumped into the shelter and I setup my tent higher up on the ridge.

The forecast called for sporadic storms but we didn’t see anything coming, so we started a fire and hung out talking near the shelter.  At one point, the sky darkened, then just dumped rain on us for about 10 minutes.  As soon as it started I threw the remainder of the wood on the fire and we all hopped under the shelter.  The fire survived the downpour and we came out, taunted the sky, and continued putzing around for a while.

Maybe 2 hours later, the sky darkened again and I thought to myself, hey I’m gonna get in my tent this time, said, “Uhhh CYA!” to the guys, and headed up to my tent.  About halfway there it started raining, so I hoofed it the rest of the way.

I got a little leakage in my tent, and weirdly had service here, so I did a chat with TarpTent and after sending them pictures of my pitch, they made some recommendations that helped.  I got rain again that night but no further leakage.  I’m going to re-seam seal that portion regardless.

Miles hiked Today: 7.5

Miles hiked Total: 260.3

 

Day 33 – 4/18

Spudz started today by melting a hole in his heat holding package.

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Today, we waffled about if we should go all the way to Hot Springs, or stop at the shelter just before.

We decided one, decided the other, then decided not to decide until we got to the shelter just before.

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As I was back with the fam, Jessica and I did some hiking together.

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The vegetation was really starting to come in too.

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The trillium was blooming.

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I thought this plant was cool with the water beading up on it instead of pooling.  Not sure what it is.

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Jessica wanted us to stop and take a picture since this sign had miles to both Springer and Mt. Katahdin.  My face didn’t cooperate.

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Then we fought about it.

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Ultimately, when we got to Deer Park Shelter, Fitbit strongly didn’t want to keep going, so we all settled in and did the night there.

Miles hiked Today: 9.9

Miles hiked Total: 270.2

Day 34 – 4/19 – TO HOT SPRINGS!!

Today, we got up pretty early, and got going.  Hot springs was only 3 miles away!  HOT BREAKFAST WAS ONLY 3 MILES AWAY.

Air Bud and Fitbit slept in, but Dad, Jessica, Spudz and I made our way directly into Hot Springs.

On our way in, we were passed going south by Pyro and Tank.  It was Pyro’s 32nd birthday so he was recreating a portion of his previous thru hike.  To celebrate, he was bringing and giving beers!  Trail magic!

Another trail magic beer consumed before noon!

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Once we got to Hot Springs, we made our way directly into the Smoky Mountain Diner, directly into a booth, and got coffee and skillet plates.

Looking down into town from the trail:

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Here’s dad coming down some stairs into Hot Springs:

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Otto and Puns had apparently come into town the night before, but came into the diner as we finished eating and took over our table.  I couldn’t come close to finishing my breakfast, so I took it with me.

After breakfast we checked into Elmer’s Sunnybank Inn.  This place is wonderful. I highly recommend to anyone who’s ever in Hot Springs for any reason whatsoever.

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Outside was this extremely regal looking kitty who really enjoyed getting pats.

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We did our laundry and said our hellos to other hikers we knew in town.  This is an EXTREMELY SMALL TOWN.  The trail passes right through the whole thing, on the town’s one main street.

Elmer makes gourmet vegetarian dinners for his guests for $12, so we all signed up.  It was honestly wonderful.  Most of the guests came and ate, all together at one table.  It was a nice experience, and the food was wonderful:

  • Vegetable soup with lentils and brussels sprouts
  • Giant garden salad with home made peppercorn dressing
  • Bowtie pasta in a tomato sauce with all kinds of veggies
  • Some kind of sweet custard seeming pie for desert

The beds were wonderful, and after stepping outside to talk with Carol for a while, I came back in and directly fell right to sleep.

Miles hiked Today:

Miles hiked Total: 3.1

Miles hiked Total: 273.3

Days 22 – 27 – Great Smoky Mountains Part 1 (Fontana to Newfound Gap)

Day 22 – 4/7

Well, turns out Fontana is a vortex that’s hard to get out of.  Our resupply box didn’t come as planned, so we walked down to the general store to resupply.  For 6 days mine portion came to $62, which I thought was super reasonable.  I bought tortillas and spam packs for lunch, some candies and trail mix packs for snacks, and mountain house type dinners.
Dad and Jessica stayed to their more traditional bars bars bars, which were more expensive.

After resupplying, we hiked back up and tried to catch the shuttle.  We were told that the shuttle driver was on lunch and to come back in half an hour.  So Jessica and I go down to the hiker box to poke around and see what was in it.  Unfortunately the shuttle driver arrived immediately after we left.  So we missed that round.  Then the driver ACTUALLY went on lunch.  Dad looked at the milage for the day and finally said that it wasn’t doable with the time we had left, so we would stay at the fontana shelter that night.  So frustrated, we said screw it, we’ll get a beer and burger.  So we did!

After a beer we finally caught the shuttle back to where we came off trail.  The shuttle driver let us drop our packs at the shelter proper, then dropped us off at the trialhead where we hiked the mile of the trail from there to the shelter.

Since the shelter is so close to a resupply (and beer) it has a reputation as a party shelter.  It lived up to that reputation, lots of people, fire going very late.
Jessica got new shoes (same kind as mine).  You can see the dirt difference.

Day 23 – 4/8

Today was bittersweet.  The trail family (who at this point is: yall, air bud, puns, spudz, prism, and otto) know we’re pulling apart through the smokies.  Prism is goimg through hard to get her doggo, Scout, back ASAP.  The guys only got 4 days of food amd Dad wants to take 5 to get to newfound gap, so they’re going ahead too.

We start the day watching sunrise at the shelter.

After packing up with a road walk from the shelter across Fontana Dam.

We run into a photographer who previously hiked who takes some pictures and convinces dad and everyone else to show him sone Tai-chi.

From there we walk up to the Smokies entrance and say some sad see-you-laters.  We drop our permits into the box and start our climb into the mountains.

We all hike at different paces, and within just a few minutes everybody we’ve gotten to know over the last few weeks is gone ahead of us not to be seen until who knows when.

That said, climbing up into the smokies is really beautiful, enough so to keep our moods high.  Jessica and I climbed up the firetower on shuckstack mountain which had an amazing view of the western smokies and fontana lake.

Link to 360 photo from Shuckstack (can’t embed)

Also we could still see snow on the higher peaks.

We spent the night at the Birch Spring Tentsite.  That is the only non-shelter site available for AT thru hikers in the Smokies.

We got there pretty early, maybe around 3pm, and after setting up our tents and doing chores, we got a fire going and hung around talking.  We were eventually joined by some weekenders, including one former thru hiker named Coconut Monkey.  It was fun chatting with him about the trail and things to do.  He specifically recommended we stay at Elmers Sunnybank Retreat in Hot Springs and eat the vegetarian dinner there, so we plan to.

Miles hiked today: 6.5

Miles hiked total: 171.8

Day 24 – 4/9

Today we were heading to our first shelter in the Smokies, Russell Field shelter.

While we met a few people at the tent site last night, nobody that was social was a thru hiker, so this was day 2 hiking with just Dad and Jessica.  Even so, the Smokies were beautiful.

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We started to see flowers poking through, they were mostly these little white ones growing near the trail.

4-9 - hooves

We saw hoof prints on the trail.  Based on size we suspect these are boar prints, although they could also be deer (we saw neither).

4-9 - snow

When we were coming down into Fontana, it was snowing on us, but not sticking.  Up in the smokies, it stuck pretty hard.  Even so, by the time we got up here, it was almost all melted, save for a few patches like this.  Jessica couldn’t help but stomp through several of them.

4-9 - mollies ridge shelter

We stopped for lunch at Mollies Ridge shelter (pictured above).  All the shelters on the AT in the Smokies are some variation of this.  Within, space for about 12-14 on two levels, outside some cooking space and a fire pit.

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The three of us while hiking.

At the shelter that night, we met an interesting guy named Fizz who had hiked large portions of the smokies and southern AT.  I’m not sure how to describe him other than saying he was a bit of a loon, but enjoyable.  He told us about his exploits telling ridge runners that they didn’t have any authority over him (they don’t but I guess it’s still not very polite to rub it in).

The shelter was not full, so following regulations that if there’s space in the shelter, thru hikers must stay there, we sheltered it up.  This is not my favorite, as I feel like a jerk spreading my stuff out, but hey that’s the shakes.

Miles hiked today: 8.3

Miles hiked total: 180.1

 

Day 25 – 4/10

We started the day hiking up toward Rocky Top and Thunder Head Mountain.  On the way we talked some more with Fizz, who ultimately decided against following us up Rocky Top as it was pretty windy and he didn’t think it would be worth it.

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Fizz.

 

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While we were hiking, we passed through a weird hedge of bushes that were really thick around the trail.  Felt a little like walking into Faerie as the scenery changed immediately after.

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Going up Rocky Top was so steep in placed that Dad had to crawl up.

360 View of us near the top of Rocky Top.

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We also got to know Snow Monkey and Bullseye a little bit.  We’ve seen them around but hadn’t really talked much.  As the people we’d spent the most time with were ahead of us, we started branching out a little bit.

Finally, we made it up to Rocky Top.  Luckily for us, Fizz was wrong and it offered excellent 360 views.  More interestingly to me, it allowed us to look back on where we’d been so far through the Smokies.  We were able to see the Shuckstack fire tower where we’d been yesterday as just a tiny little blip.

While we were up there we ate lunch with Honey Bee (who is also from the Boston area), T-squared, and Sunshine.

360 view from Rocky Top (not embedable)

That evening we camped at Derrik Knob Shelter.  While there, we met a few other thru hikers we hadn’t met before.  Also a few people showed up very late who said they’d just hiked like 30 miles and were planning on getting up around 2am and hiking on to catch sunrise at Clingman’s Dome (about 12 miles further on).  I thought they were crazy but I heard them packing up around 2am (they’d tented near me), so I guess they did and made it.

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My Tent Site at Derrick Knob Shelter (shelter was FULL), with shelter in the background.

Miles hiked Today: 8.9

Miles hiked Total: 189.0

Day 26 – 4/11

Today we hiked over Siler’s Bald to Double Springs Gap Shelter.  Honestly the hiking was pretty uneventful today, as we were saving Clingman’s Dome until tomorrow.

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We saw a few boar traps that the rangers had laid out.  I didn’t see any bait in this one, so not sure what was going on there.

While hiking today, we met a lady named Raid, who hiked right about Dad’s speed.  They hiked together for a little while (from morning until Siler’s Bald Shelter), which freed Jessica and I up to talk some alone, which was nice.

Shortly before getting to Siler’s Bald proper, we got to the Siler’s Bald Shelter.  Since today was a short day and we were making good time, we all stopped and took our packs off, and had a snack.  I also had a nap!

Raid took off before us though, and Jessica and Dad ended up taking off before me.  I really didn’t want to get up / get moving, but I knew it had to be done, so I convinced myself to get on going.

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The view from Siler’s Bald looking north was pretty nice, but mostly obstructed.

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Started to see more green along the trail edges today and on the ground in general.

doublesprings crowd

The most eventful part of today was the crowd at Double Springs Gap Shelter.  We met a group of 3 hikers from Indiana whose names I don’t remember, sadly.  I liked them and hope we run into them in the future.

Also met a former thru-hiker named Puma (in the shorts) who was doing a gear shakedown for his upcoming Continental Divide Trail hike.

Also “The Colonel”, Curt, and his daughter “U-Turn”, were at the shelter tonight.  We’d met them earlier in the day while stopped to filter some water.

Also, there was a family of four who hiked in and provided us all with some entertainment asking questions about what we were doing.  They had brought up vegan marshmallows, and offered them to all of us.  Some tried roasting them over the fire, but that didn’t really turn out well.  I ate mine straight away, and it was tasty plain!

Miles hiked Today: 7.4

Miles hiked Total: 196.4

Day 27 – 4/12

We were planning to hike from Double Springs to Mt Collins Shelter today.  However, since Mt. Collins was only 4 miles short of Newfound Gap (and by extension, Gatlinburg), we decided to go ahead and push on into Gatlinburg a day early and get cleaned up.

The day started pretty normally, with breaking down tents/packing up/eating breakfast.  After the normal stuff, we climbed up to Clingmans Dome.

trail sign

Clingman's

We had talked about getting up for sunrise up here, but we’d done it before and didn’t really want to deal with the cold.  So we got up there when there were a good number of tourists up for the day.  I can only imagine what they thought seeing smelly gross-looking us emerge from the woods, scarf down our snacks, and climb up the tower.

The view from up there was excellent, as always, but it wasn’t as special to this hike as Shuckstack or Rocky Top, as you couldn’t *really* see where we’d been previously.  Also, the number of people around was weirding me out a little, so we didn’t stay up there too long.

200

Just on the other side Clingman’s Dome we passed 200 miles on the trail.  Someone had made a little 200 out of sticks, so we did some posing with it.  It took dad and Jessica a little while to figure out who should be holding the two on their fingers, but we got it eventually.

Not too long after that, Jessica started mentioning that her ankle didn’t feel right.  About half a mile after that, she said her ankle started to feel wrong.  About half a mile after that, she said her ankle was feeling really wrong and she didn’t think she could continue on.  Luckily, the trail here intersected with the Clingmans Dome Road shortly, so we went slowly until we got there.  Once we got to the intersection, we saw it was just up to the road and there wasn’t anywhere a driver could pull off to give them a ride.  So, I walked up and down the road for a little while until I found a pull off, then came back and brought them down to it.

We decided they’d hitch out to Newfound Gap and I would go back on trail and meet them there, since it was only like 5 miles or so.  I left my pack with them and took the Brain from Jessica’s pack (and stuffed some water in it) and headed on.

As soon as I got back to the trail, who comes down but Puns.  We had a bit of a joyous greeting and she told me the rest of the crew was coming shortly.  We waited briefly and up came Spudz, Air Bud, Otto and Fitbit (who had stayed with us on rocky bald a while back).  Also Wilson, Iron Man, and Tin Man came right behind them.  Turns out they’d all night hiked up to Clingmans Dome previously and seen sunrise there, then gotten rides out and down to Gatlinburg for a zero and they were all just getting back on trail.

So I hiked with them down to Newfound Gap.

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Air Bud munching on a whole block of cheese.

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Spudz posing in front of a GIANT root system that pulled up when its tree fell down.

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Air Bud, Fitbit, and Dad at Newfound Gap.

Once we’d all arrived we talked for a while, then they headed back to the trail, while Dad, Jessica and I hitched down to Gatlinburg for a zero.

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The three of us at Newfound Gap (and into our third state, TN)

Miles hiked Today: 10.0

Miles hiked Total: 206.8

Days 18 – 21: NOC to Fontana

Day 18

We took our first zero here at the NOC (Nantahala Outdoor Center)  today.  Y’alls mom came and picked her up just after we were eating lunch.

After lunch we got our smokies permits at the NOC and socialized with other hikers we knew who were hanging around.

I tried on a new sleeping bag (it was way too heavy).

Dad and spudz going through gear and watching TV.

Jessica, Air bud, spudz, and I went to the grocery store and got fixins for burgers for the 8 of us (Aunt Karen and Uncle Warren joined us from Huntsville).

Then I made us burgers and salad.  Then we ate them.  They were goooood.

Day 19


Saw a few butterflies hanging out at the NOC.

After being fully rested up, we did the big climb out of NOC back up into the mountains (about 3000 ft up).

We met a few dogs that really wanted loving, so I gave them pats.

We stayed the night at Sassafras Gap Shelter, all of us got spots inside.  Got a decent bit of wood and made a fire, and hung out pretty late with Air Bud and Cobra Commander just talking.

Miles hiked today: 6.7

Miles hiked total: 143.7
Day 20

Today started with Jacobs Ladder, which is a 600ft elevation gain over .6 miles.  It was exactly the buttkicker everybody says it is.  It didn’t help that it was really rainy all day.  Our one piece of good fortune was that it didn’t rain on us while we were actually on Jacobs Ladder, just before and after.  

We got to Brown Fork Gap late enough that the shelter was full and there were no tent spaces nearby either.  Luckily for us Spuds and Air Bud had scouted out a spot at the nearby gap so we hunkered down, wet and tired.
Miles hiked today: 9.3

Miles hiked total: 153.0

Day 21

We woke up today to a mix of rain/snow.  I sat in my teent for a while hoping dad would just go back to sleep and we could just hike tomorrow instead.

Sadly he got moving, so I had to get up.  We packed up in the rain, and most of our stuff got damp if not wet.  I had forgotten my stuff sack for my sleeping bag outside overnight, so it was also gross.  Let me tell you, putting on yesterday’s wet clothes in the near freezing temps was NOT the fun experience I had hoped for.

We were planning on staying at the Fontana Shelter, but when we were up and packed, someone suggested staying at the lodge, and all of us enthusiastically agreed.

So I called them.  They were fully booked.  We cried. They said I should call back later though.

Then we hiked in the snow for a while.  Around noon I called them back and they had a room!  It was a room with a king bed though so not ideal for 4… but it did have a fireplace.  

Around 4, we caught our first glimpse of Lake Fontana through the trees. Walking along in the snow and sleet, it was a sight for sore eyes.  Unfortunately, after looking at where we were, I realized it was going to be over 2 hours before we made it down off the mountain.   

After a while it was just, “I can see the dam, why is it taking so long to get there!?”

Once our elevation dropped enough, the snow and sleet turned to just normal rain, which turned our to be worse.

Through all of this the trail was extremely muddy and wet, causing all of us to slip and slide all over trail, sometimes a foot or two at a time.  Luckily I made it all the way down to the road without busting my butt.

Once I was at the road, I crossed it to the parking lot on the other side and saw that miraculously, the shuttle to Fontana Lodge was there waiting.  As I walked down the embankment, still in the rain, I finally fell for the first time and got everything muddy.

Thankfully when we got to the lodge theyd had a cancellation and we were able to switch to a two queen room.  Got showered and cleaned up as best we could.

Miles hiked today: 11.4

Miles hiked total: 164.4

Sorry for lack of pictures, this was a very wet muddy time and I mostly kept my camera put away.  Plus service has been less than awesome.

Days 14-17: Rock Gap Shelter to NOC

Day 14

After the last posting the last update we had a few helicopters come almost directly over our campsite.  Never did figure out what they were about, but they were low and close to us.

I confirmed no mice crawled on Jessica (that she’s aware of).  She did say she got up in the night and saw a few. 

We got up reasonably early and headed out for a quick hike out to Winding Stair Gap to head into Franklin to resupply.   Dad used points to get us a room at the Hampton so that was our destination.

  There was a town shuttle coming.. in about 2 hours. There was a guy offering rides down for $10 a piece,  but since there were six of us (me, dad, Jessica,  y’all, spuds, and air bud)  that wasn’t really reasonable.  Not really liking any of our options,  we tried to hitch for about 30 minutes unsuccessfully. At this point Jessica went over to the guy offering rides and negotiated him down to $20 for all of us.   So we got a nice ride down in the bed of this guy’s pickup truck. 

Wearing the rain suit to protect from wind. 

Jessica and air bud.

Ride given by Henry.

We headed over to the Hampton and discovered their pool was closed and they had no hot tub.  We consoled ourselves by taking showers and then going to a place down the hill to eat BBQ.

After laundry and shopping were done, we all headed to downtown Franklin.  We had drinks at The Lazy Hiker brewery and ate at the food truck out back (hooray brats)!

We met up with the group we’ve been hiking with and hung out for a while.

Afterward Dad and I walked around and grabbed the portals in Franklin then headed back to the hotel.

Rock Gap campsite

Y’all found a very small spot for her very small tent.

The group we’ve been hiking with at The Lazy Hiker brewery. 

Miles hiked today: 3.8

Miles hiked total:109.5

Day 15

I’m not sure if I mentioned it previously,  but when Jessica went off trail she let me try out her pillow.   Before my hike,  Carol suggested I get one, but i was like, “oh, it weighs too much, I’ll just use my clothes bag.”  I should have listened though because ever since Jessica leery me try hers,  I’ve wanted too get one.  In Franklin, that dream came true. 

We caught the 11 am shuttle and headed back out.   It definitely felt like there were fewer people on the trail today. We were hiking through lots of areas that had been burned previously (a trend that would continue through NOC).

Dad says he saw flowers today but I didn’t see them. 

A nice brook we passed over coming out of Franklin.

There wad only one couple camping were we did  (wine spring campsite), which was very weird since up until now it has felt like every tent site or shelter was super full.

It got very cold very quick so as soon as dinner was cooked and eaten we all jumped in our tents and crashed. 

Miles hiked today: 8.2

Miles hiked total: 117.7

Day 16

We got moving super late today because it was really cold (10:30).  

It had frozen overnight and we weren’t interested in doing morning chores before it warmed up.

More burned out areas today.  We ate lunch at Wayah Bald, on an old stone tower that survived the fires, although the wooden roof had burned off and all the plaques had been destroyed.

Jessica, Y’all, and I on the stone tower at Wayah bald.

I saw my first flower today.

As we got close to the end if the day, we were planning on camping at Big Branch Campsite.  About 0.3 miles before that is a side trail up to Rocky Bald.  I dropped my pack and walked up to see the views and to my surprise,  I found room for 5-6 tents.  

So, when the rest of the group arrived I convinced them to abandon previous plans and stay up top.  It honestly didn’t take too much convincing, although I did have to carry dads pack up since it was sheer rock in places.  Also since there wasn’t water on top I went down to the next spot and hauled enough up for dinner and the following morning.

Y’all,  Fitbit, Jessica and I at out camp spot imagining what sunrise will look like.

The sign up to our camp spot.

Dad taking in the view from somewhere.

Miles hiked today: 9.5

Miles hiked total: 127.2

Day 17

 We all got up early to watch the sunrise from our morning spot. 

I took a time lapse with the 360, but I’m not sure if it really came out (or if any picture of sunrise ever does).  I’ll upload when I have Wi-Fi.

Jessica’s coffee + sunrise pic.

Dad doing his daily tai-chi. 

Fit bit hiked out immediately after sunrise as she was planning on doing 16 miles, but the rest of us were stopping at NOC and so took it easy.

While doing her morning chores, Jessica had a magical moment where she found a lot of bunnies(she says like 15).  She went to get her camera but only managed to get a picture of one.

At the first gap, I ran across some girls hanging out who had camped at the gap.  One of them had hurt her ankle and had brought yo her car and was following along with her friends until her ankle was better.  This was the same group we slackpacked over Albert Mountian with.

When we came out, one of the girls offered us beer, and since I apparently only drink morning beer while on trail, I said yes.  I had an extra Cadberry Egg and offered in trade and she said OMG YES.  We both thought this was a good trade.

We found another tower to have lunch on today.

Very sunny and warm today.   Jessica and y’all were hiding from the sun.

Lots of burned land today.

Found purple flower. 

Erosion wrecked this portion of the trail.

White flowers found.

Today’s water source.

After a grueling almost 10 miles of down down down (about 3000 ft down) we finally reached the Nantahala Outdoor Center. 

View across the river.

And immediately took my shoes off and stuck my feet in the water.

I also met trail legend, “critter” today.  This tiny dog is thru hiking the AT.

We got to our cabin, mom arrived and we grabbed Arbys!  Nom nom.

Miles hiked today: 9.8

Miles hiked total:  137.0

ALSO

Carol edited some of the 360 footage I’ve taken and has compiled it for me here: