I did not want to rise this morning. I was tired. Especially with this darn cold. I have been taking Dayquil. I found the capsules in a hiker box in Hot Springs. I wondered today, if it could be allergies. I don’t think so, though.
Last night was intense. The storm was a spectacular show of lights. To think I considered not setting up my tent! I must have dozed off before it began. The sky seemed clear while I set up camp. Shortly after nightfall I woke to raindrops crashing into my tent. Then there were sudden bursts of light and enourmous clashes of thunder; then light, then thunder. The lightning was near. My tent shook. Storms had never made me nervous before. This one was different.
By daybreak, the storm had passed. My body was still heavy. When I open my eyes yet my body quietly rebels to its rising, I usually give in. I figure it knows what it is doing. It is serving me well enough.
I began hiking just after 10 am. It was sunny at this point. Birds chirped sweetly, the leaves of the trees and stems of the brush gleamed an especially radiant green, fed by the rain.
There was a lot of climbing today. Many meadows. How I adore passing through the fields of grass.
When I reached the top of a mountain free of trees and rich with grasses, a haze had set in. I was inside a cloud. My hair grew damp and curly. The wind blew, like cool ghosts dancing about me; wispy and whimsical. I longed to sprawl out. Roll around in the fields. Sit in the cloud. It was damp and cold, however, and I had places to be.
I am laying on my mat in my sleeping bag. It is dark out. A stream flows strongly beside me.
The sun came out today. It was glorious.
I saw many things on a smaller scale today. The skin of a snake that had been discovered and pinned to a post with a rock for other people’s viewing (thank you); a peculiar bug; a giant beautiful web smack dab in the middle of the trail, woven by the tiniest of spiders; thousands of even tinier red hued baby spiders new to this world, lifting off and soaring through the sky.
I did not sleep all that well last night. The campsite I was near was large with a water source. There were late arrivals. I was camped off of a side trail, so I could only see the glow of their headlamps in the distance. It was mesmirizing. It made me think of lightning bugs. I thought there were lightning bugs out here. I remember seeing them when visiting my aunt and uncle in North Carolina long ago.
It was not just the headlamps that challenged sound sleep. Multiple times in the night I felt something crawl over the top of my head. Each time I shot up quickly with a gasp. I put my hand to my head, looked around, and found nothing. The third time, I was quick enough. I saw the little thing. A mouse had been crawling over my head in the night. I was using my food bag as a pillow. It was hungry. I was not willing to share.
The trail was very rocky today. Lots of ridgeline scrambling.
As I came to a water source to have lunch, a fellow hiker passed by and warned me that it may rain in an hour. He then collected water and shot off in a hurry to the next shelter. I sat back and boiled water for my afternoon cup of coffee. That’s nice and all, I thought. But if the rain comes, the rain comes. I did not feel like running to a shelter. If anything, no better time to take a break than just before the rainfall. The rain did not come.
I continued on my way, passing the shelter. The trail began to climb. At one point I missed a switchback and began climbing up a rocky pathway of what was surely a stream in wetter months. It was not until it became truly rugged that I decided it was definitely not the AT and turned back. The footprints were more visible when descending. I was clearly not the first hiker to do this.
As night was nearing I longed for a nice campsite. It was just after 7pm. I told myself that I could set up at the next good site I saw. I passed two sites — both with inhabitants. I was getting desperate. It was getting later and my body was growing tired. The trail was on a ridgeline, then dropped into forest, then back up again. After passing yet another occupied site and feeling disheartened… I spotted a bear! Oh, how lovely! I tried to continue up the trail unnoticed, hoping for a better glimpse. Twigs broke beneath my boots and he was alerted of my presense. It ran off quickly. It was far more afraid than the previous bear I had seen.
Spirits lifted from the sighting, I continued on for about .5 a mile before finding a nice vacant campsite nestled in the woods. A lovely home for the night.
I left Laughing Heart Hostel in the late afternoon. I debated over taking a zero day or not. On the one hand, I could not afford it (the dollars or hours). On the other hand, I knew I was coming down with a cold and wanted to do whatever I could to promote a quick recovery. The owner offered me a free night. This made things more complicated. In the end, I passed it up.
I’m glad I hiked out. Even if it was just over 2.5 miles.
It was a good climb. I sat on a rocky cliff that overlooked the town. I truly liked that spot. I took my time there.
I set up camp far earlier than usual. It was well before sundown. I hope the extra rest will speed up recovery.
I am in a bottom bunk. An oscillating fan whirls and clicks over the soft snoring of a dorm-mate, and the sound of television from a neighboring room. Karaoke has commenced down the hall.
I am at the Laughing Heart Hostel in Hot Springs, North Carolina. The trail runs right through the heart of this town. I had never seen a live bait vending machine before today. The town grocery store is a Dollar General, or “D.G” as I heard a local refer to it. I find the locals to be quite charming.
I travelled just over 14 miles to get here. It was a rough 14 miles. I am fearful that I am coming down with a cold (I blame the shelters). The rain has been relentless this week. I thought today might be different. The sun is such a tease. This morning was bright and full of dry potential. As the day progressed, however, little spurts of showers fell from the sky in very small intervals. It was like when someone taps your shoulder from behind to fool you. It would just sprinkle enough for you to notice. It might cause you to put on some rain gear, only to get hot shortly thereafter, and pull it off again. The sky might laugh as you did this.
By 1pm the true showers began. Steady, heavy drops from the dark grey sky. Then a pause. Then there was a flash of light, inflicting momentary blindness. It was like nothing I had experienced before. So quick. So bright. Like someone flashed a camera bulb inches from your face. Then an enourmous clap of rolling thunder. The rain that followed was so powerful I did not think it could rain any harder. Then, of course, it proved me wrong. Only 6 miles left, I kept telling myself.
After one mile it stopped. The sun came out. I actually spotted shadows on trail. No rainbow though.
Thank goodness I would have access to a washer and dryer soon. I wore my dry sleep clothes and sleep socks because I was too much of a baby to put on my wet clothes in a morning full of grey. Now I was left with nothing dry.
The birds sang. There was the familiar squish/splat sound of wet sock in wet boot, wet boot in mud puddle. I was just thankful, slippery as the trail had become, that none of this was followed by a kerplunk of my downfall.
After a long steady downhill I came to the little town and the little laid back hostel. This little sheet-free vinyl covered mattress.
I got off to a very late start this morning…or, afternoon, rather. I was very tired. I awoke, began my morning routine, ate my morning oatmeal, and found myself falling back asleep. Lulled by the sound of the pouring rain singing the lullaby of Avoidance, or Procrastination, or I Don’t Wish to Be Cold and Wet Right Now. Regardless of title, it did the trick.
I started hiking around noon. The rain was coming and going in spurts at that point. It paused long enough for me to break camp. There was a lot of climbing today, but nothing too difficult. Each climb was followed by a gently graded descent.
I spotted this marvelously colored fellow.
He had an adorable stride.
Late this afternoon I came to the summit of Max Patch. It was overcast and rainy so the visibility was not optimal. It was beautiful nonetheless.
The rain then started pouring. Each drop its own little powerful universe. I decided to push past the shelter, despite the rain. Now that I could camp anywhere, I had no desire. I prefer to camp alone. I set up camp just under 15 miles shy of Hot Springs, NC. I plan to stay at the Laughing Heart Hostel tomorrow night. It is located right on trail in the town of Hot Springs. The time has come for a proper load of laundry and a shower with soap. How lovely it will be.
I did get some rest last night. It only gently sprinkled in the early morning. This was good. It led me to rise at about 6:30 and get started at 7. It was a beautiful morning. I stopped and perched on a rock to make coffee and breakfast at a spring just 2 miles from where I camped. At this point I realized that I had not only left my t-shirt behind (soggy and hanging from a nail at the shelter), but my fuel cannister as well. This is the problem with packing up in the night, I thought. Especially with the gear of seven or more other hikers strewn about. Oh well. Standing Bear Hostel was in just ten miles. I should be able to pick one up there, and maybe there will be a shirt in the hiker box.
I exited the Smokies. Part of me felt badly at my relief. The Smokies were beautiful, and I understand that the rules and strict observance of them were for its preservation due to extremely high human traffic, but I was so excited to have the woods as my playground once more.
After crossing a bridge and Interstate 40, then following the road markers that led under an overpass and back up a long stair case into the woods…and then back down and out again, I came to the junction to Standing Bear Hostel.
Standing Bear Hostel was interesting. It had a very backcountry Southern feel. I was greeted by an old man on a stoop. He sported a long grey beard and a cap and was cradled by a wooden rocking chair, feet propped on a stool. He was not smoking a corn-cobbed pipe, however. He was reading a book.
I saw some familiar faces, found some camp shoes in the hiker box (to which my feet exclaimed: Oh, yes, thank you!), purchased some fuel, some crackers (my stomach had been uncomfortably gurgly), and a top (complete with…moth holes?) and shorts at $5 each (the inseam of my previous shorts [the same I wore on the PCT] were ripping and the surrounding fabric was literally disintegrating, it was only a matter of time). I sat and rested my feet and chatted for a couple of hours, and set off once more.
I had travelled but a mile before…I saw a bear! It was not extremely large, as bears go that is, and it moved to the left of the trail as I came towards it. I stopped short. It was very near me. I could see it clearly. It was staring at me. I could not help but stare back. I know you are not supposed to look them in the eye but I could not help myself. What a magnificent beast! Black with brown around the muzzle and deep almond colored eyes. Still, neither of us moved. I backed away slowly. It crossed the trail and stood by a tree to the right. I had not backed away much. I could not take my eyes off of it. I was mesmerized. My trance was broken as it showed signs of aggression, stomping it’s right paw and powerfully digging it in to the dirt as if revving up a motor. I did not want to be charged. I backed up farther, then lifted my trekking poles and banged them together. This worked. The bear moved off trail enough so that I could comfortably pass.
I pressed on, excitement still coarsing through my veins.
I decided I would try to camp at Snowbird Peak. I read that there were amazing views. There were. For a brief moment you exit the woods and are on a fielded hillside with wild flowers and low growing brush and the sight of mountains in the distance.
The summit of Snow Bird was piled wih gravel and an air traffic control tower that hummed with electricity. It, unfortunately, was too unnatural for me to camp there.
I moved on. I heard loud music and talking in the distance. I came to a site that would have made for lovely camping. There was trail magic there. An ice chest full of pink lemonade, and a strange tent described as a storm shelter. There were two hikers there already. They were the source of loud music. One had drinken more than their share of lemonade. Empty cans crumpled beside him. I tried not to be bothered. I continued.
The trail stayed in the fields for but a moment before reentering the woods, where I set up camp for the night.
I am at Tri-Corner Knob Shelter. I am tired. It rained all day today. I did not travel far. I arrived in the early afternoon. My pace was slow. Maybe it was the fresh resupply. Maybe it is the two books I am carrying. Maybe I should watch my pack weight.
Or, maybe I should not stress about only travelling 12 miles. If I just stay consistent, it will be alright.
I was actually looking forward to staying in a shelter. I wanted to stay dry…or at least keep my stuff dry. Dry my stuff out. Everything is just so wet.
There is lots of chatter. A section hiker offered me a swig of whisky. I let a few ounces of the amber liquid waterfall into my mouth. It tastes sweetest in the woods. I don’t think I will stay at Standing Bear Hostel. It is just .2 miles off trail in about 19 miles. That’s what the others are talking about.
…I kept going. Just as night was falling. I was restless, i had stopped too soon. The rain had let up. I hiked another 5 miles in the dark. I enjoy night hiking. The visibility was low, as it was extremely foggy, thus obstructing the travel of light from my headlamp. The sunset was beautiful. City lights shone to my left, mountain ranges to my right. There were bright flashes of lightning far off in the distance. No thunder. The stars were shining brightly. The night sky was clear.
As I was nearing the next shelter I began to think of how awkward it might be to fumble on site in the dark cracking twigs beneath my feet and bearing unnatural light, the clinking wiry sound of hanging my food bag on the cables. Not to mention, the shelter may be full. I came to the Camel Gap trail junction. There was a nice flat spot to the left of the trail. Enough to cowboy camp. I decided to risk the rain. It was 12:30 in the morning. If I stopped, maybe I could get some rest.
The shelter I stayed at last night was full of early risers. This rubbed off on me, as well. I got started at 8 instead of 8:30 (still not that early, I know). It was incredibly foggy. We were high up in a mountain cloud.
Clingman’s Dome, the highest point on the Appalachian Trail at 6,611 ft. was less than 3 miles away. The climb was not bad at all. Unfortunately, due to the fog, there was no view to be had. There was an interesting eerie sense to it, though. The tower itself looked like a futuristic spaceship.
After Clingman’s it was just 7 miles to Newfound Gap where I planned to hitch in to Gatlinburg, TN.
It did not take long before a sweet young couple from North Carolina swooped me up, took me to the grocery store, bought me lunch, took me to the gear shop, and dropped me right back off at the trail. It was positively amazing. I am so grateful for their kindness. I hiked jus another 3 miles to the shelter, where I rest on the lower plank.
Not so bad for a town day. Did not really miss a beat.
There was a lot of climbing today. My feet ache. I saw a wild turkey, and a buck here at the shelter. Apparently you are not supposed to hunt deer or buck here, so it is more common to see them.
Everyone is settling in for bed now. Maybe I should settle in. The idea of staying in a shelter is growing on me a bit more.
I will still be glad to re-enter the woods free of restrictions. I will hitch in to Gatlinburg, TN tomorrow to resupply. I should try to get an early start. It is in ten miles. I am down to protein powder and Chia seeds.
I hope the hitch back to trail is not too difficult. I hope I see a bear soon.
There were beautiful views today. Just before the shelter the smell of pine trees was overwhelming. I buried my nose in the largest one and inhaled deeply.
Staying in shelters has heightened my concern about filtering my water.
I entered The Great Smoky Mountains National Park with a 5 mile climb from Fontana Dam. During the ascent I noticed the wings of a butterfly precariously positioned on trail. It’s body eaten, most likely. Only its beautiful wings left behind. I felt it was a metaphor for something greater, but for what I was not certain.
After following a side trail to climb a tower on Shuckstack summit, I was met with awe-inspiring views.
I was later enchanted by a twised tree with an opening to its heart. I have often thought longingly of existing within a tree. A safe space. A hug. A place of power. I placed myself inside and breathed in deeply. It smelled damp and alive. I shined my headlamp up its hollow trunk. It was teeming with bug life. It impressed me. So hollow, yet so strong and alive. I thanked it and continued on.
I approached a shelter with familiar faces sitting around a fireless pit. They were cooking their dinners or eating their snacks. I chatted with them briefly, but did not wish to stay. I would collect water from the spring near Spence Field Shelter, just over 2 miles further.
I had travelled but .5 of a mile when I heard something moving quickly and loudly in the trees to my left. I stopped suddenly. I watched and waited. I saw one run by, then spotted three or more. They were wild pigs. I was a bit nervous at first. All of the stories I had heard concerning wild pigs never ended well. They did not appear aggresive, however. Though, not terribly frightened either, as they continued down the trail in tandem with me for about one mile. I later was told that they run rampant in these woods. They cause damage and are considered “pests”. People are hired to come with guns in the night and pick them off one by one.
The shelter was aptly named. The .2 mile trail leading to it was fringed with millions of blades of tall green grass and white and purple wildflowers. After collecting water I motioned to leave. It was nearing sunset. The Ridgerunner (an Appalachian Trail Conservancy employee who is paid to enforce the rules and clean the privies) of the area was staying at the shelter that night. He made certain that I was aware of the rules: all hikers must stay the night in the designated campsite (of which there was one), or a shelter unless it is full and/or a nonthru-hiker had made a reservation for the night.
Looks like it would be my first night in a shelter. Oh, how I dislike rules.
The trail was mild and well behaved. No extreme ups or downs today. I came to the parking lot where people catch a shuttle to Fontana Village. The bathrooms were nice. I brushed out my hair (a long and sweat-tangled process), which always ends with relief that permanent dreads were not in fact formed. There was a soda pop machine, but it was out of service. Sodas are bad for me anyway. Someone left a chicken flavor off-brand ramen noodles packet in a very large zip-lock labeled “trail magic”. I opened it and ate the noodles dry, discarding the flavor packet and contemplating how much further I planned to go. I decided it best to bring some water so that I could stop at any moment (no repeats of last night). I returned to the bathroom and filled up, drinking some in the process. Dry noodles are dehydrating.
I ventured on. I passed a shelter where some other hikers were preparing for bed. They mentioned that the trail follows the road for a mile and a half or so before hitting the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
I continued walking and came to the Fontana Dam Visitors Center. I had read that they had showers. Also that they were closed on Wednesdays. Oh how I longed for one. It had been five days since the last. I had regretted not paying the .25 cents/minute for one at the NOC. Lo and behold, not only did I find the showers, but they were accessible, luxurious, hot, and free!
I showered, washed my socks in the sink, gathered my things, and–to my great pleasure–located a working outlet! Showering and recharging my phone and battery pack are the two things that make staying in town overnight appealing. To accomplish these things on trail free of charge is positively fantastic, saving time and money in the long run. So I have decided to post up for the night.
Another perk: The tap in the restroom runs hot water, so I have used that to make my instant mashed potatoes, as I am low on fuel.
It looks like there is some automated lighting running along the perimeter of the building. I would prefer to sleep in the dark. That’s alright. The moon has been oh so very bright I have had trouble sleeping either way (what a beautiful problem to have!). Didn’t get to sleep until after three in the morning last night. I hope to rest better tonight. Either way, I have to rise bright and early…an integral part of stealth camping. I am starting to wonder if sleeping under such bright lighting is safe. I am near a road. The light makes me clearly visible. One is most vulnerable when sleeping. I may leave my things and slip in to the darkness.
Okay. I moved to the opposite side of the soda machine. I am no longer directly visible from the road.
Oh. What a day. What a very long day. I sit here on my sleeping mat just to the left of the trail, opposite the blue blazed tree signifying water. It is 11:13 pm. I am cowboy camping. Hanging out with the bugs. Loads of them. They like the glow of my headlamp.
I tracked down my package this morning. Turns out the outfitter had it all along. A problem with the label was all. It simply said: please hold for thru-hiker “B”. I got it. That’s all that counts.
I started very late, however–around 11:30 this morning. The climb was difficult, the sun hot, and the air moist. I was perspiring to say the least.
As I was hiking I heard a chirping noise. Then noticed a very tiny creature on trail.
It looks like it could be a mouse, but I believe it to be a baby squirrel. I found one exactly like it — after its supposed fall from an apple tree — on Orcas Island, WA a couple of years back. I fed it sugar water and contacted a local animal rehabilitation group who came to collect it and see to its health and future well being. Though heartbreaking, there was nothing I could do for this little one. I scooped it up with two pieces of tree bark and set it to the side of the trail, hoping its mother will come back for it. Here’s hoping.
The first water source was four miles out. It was beautiful. Small rivulets of water free falling from the outcroppings of stone and moss. It tasted divine.
I drank one liter and a half and took one liter to go. The next water was only in six miles.
After the continued climbing and profuse sweating I developed, well, a chafing problem. This problem only became worse with each step. I decided I would allow myself to stop at the coming water source and set up camp for the night. It was passed 6 pm anyhow. I could make up the miles tomorrow. “Good evening” a man stated as he heard me coming up the trail. There were three of them. Two perched on logs and one swaying in a hammock. “Hi”, I mustered, all the while minimizing eye contact. I was not feeling social. The next water was in just 2.5 miles. I told myself I could manage and pressed on. The source was listed as being .3 miles off of the trail. I could not find it. I backed tracked and moved forward once more. Still, nothing. It was approaching 9 pm. The next water was in another 2.5 miles. A blue blazed trail, this time. I couldn’t miss it. I drank the last of my liter. I had no choice but to keep going. A half of a mile in to it I ran in to Jo and Sean who had set up camp. They offered me two cups of water. I was so grateful. It was a climb. Truly, a climb. All I could think of was water. An all consuming lust for water. My lips felt like they were shriveled like dried fruit, my tongue was parched. It was difficult to swallow. Though, one does tend to get dramatic when thirsty and waterless, I knew all would be fine…as long as I could find the source. Each step was so slow. I stopped many times. Just standing there, bent over my poles for 10 seconds reprieve. At last I came to a tree with a blue blaze. Oh, thank goodness!
I dropped my pack to the left of the trail and headed down the side trail carrying a nalgene, a smart water bottle, and my two liter bladder–collecting four liters in total. The spring was flowing well. I was not pleased with it otherwise. I determined it best to end my filterless streak at this source.
The hike itself was beautiful. Especially in the section of the illusive water source, near Stecoah Gap.
What an unusually dry stretch! I’m glad I am settled and watered.
I hear a tree creaking in the wind.
I just spotted an uncomfortably large spider on my sleeping bag (poisonous?). I made my bag do the wave, launching him off. I do hope he does not care to return.
It is the morning of the May 16th. I am sitting on the wooden deck of the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) BBQ + Brew, facing the river. It is 7:22 in the morning. Everything is closed now. I have the deck, the power outlets, and the wifi all to myself.
I did not mean to still be here. I hiked in yesterday evening. The NOC is right on trail. The AT cuts right through it. I thought I would take advantage of this and order a package of some supplementary food and have it shipped here in hopes of saving time. Ha. They did not have my package. According to the tracking information, It was signed for by one of their staff members. “You will have to check with shipping and receiving”, Dan said. “They are closed now, but will open up at eight tomorrow”.
So there went my plans of continuing on. I had travelled 15 miles to get here, my unofficial minimum, so I was not too terribly heartbroken. Now it was a matter of where to sleep. I am on a very tight budget and did not want to spend the 22 dollars for a bed. I was told there was an unofficial campsite across the railroad tracks and down a “ways”. It was off of NOC property, so no one would bother me. Alright, I thought. So I set off. I walked a bit and wound up following the river. It called to me. I had a feeling I was not heading the correct way, but it was beautiful. After a short while (I don’t have much of a tolerance for more than .5 mile of non-trail walking), I turned back. I spotted Jo and Sean. We had been leapfrogging on trail for the past 50 miles or so. I was very pleased to see them. I had not seen any other hikers here, and I like to when I am in town-esque environments. It is comforting and encouraging. They are very kind and make for great company. I asked if they were pressing on. They said they were not certain. They were up for searching for this mystery campsite. We did not find it. What we did find was a set of wooden stairs leading up along a hill to a small green space with a wooden deck built around an enourmous, proud and beautiful tree. The hill had an amazingly lush and green view of the mountain we had just hiked from. It just felt right. Jo and Sean slept on the deck, I slept on the edge of the hill. I woke with the sun, and here I am…waiting for shipping and receiving to open.
I had a great hike yesterday. There was another tower–Wesser Bald– immediately following the climb from Tellico Gap, another amazing view.
There was this enticing sign along the way:
I decided to make the side hike. It was steep, but quick. This was my reward:
I fell into a stream this morning. As I was attempting to cross I thought: wouldn’t it be silly if I fell in. Three seconds later the log rolled and I landed flat on my bum. Luckily the only danger in this was embarrassment. There were no witnesses. Due to the wsrm weather, I suffered a wet bottom half for only a short while. It was spectacularly beautiful and sunny here in the Nantahala National Forest!
There were some good climbs today. Lots of roots and rocks on trail. I stopped at a spring where three older gentlemen where taking rest. They were from Virginia. They were section hiking. They said that the hunters that woke me early one morning just before the NC border may have been hunting turkeys. They also said that it most certainly could have been a fox I spotted yesterday, and that they were quite common in these parts. At this, I was terribly pleased!
I thought the trail seemed more crowded than usual today. I then remembered it was the weekend. A beautiful one at that. I used to dislike the weekends due to this. I have now learned to enjoy the company of the day hikers. They are usually locals, often jubilant and friendly, and a great insight into the culture. They are often familiar with the land and and I am usually full of questions.
There was another tower today. This one made of stone. It offered great views, as did the last.
North Carolina has such a wide variety of color and texture and size that fill it’s forests. It is almost tropical. I am enchanted.
A happy mothers day to momma bird and all the amazing moms and grandmas and nanas out there! Much respect.