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.
Today was filled with many views and many voices. Some the sing-song kind of our feathered friends, others the chit-chattering of fellow humans. I amongst them at times. I move quickly but not swiftly. Making that shift of weight to my pack from my mind. Climbing and descending. Now and again pausing to spot a Ladybug, lift a remarkable stone from my path, or observe a flower not familiar. To stop suddenly in acknowledgement of the cool sweet mountain breeze. It livens the skin. Nothing feels sweeter.
Visitors to these woods is what we are. We hope to be welcomed guests for a season or two. But our voices can’t help but seem unnatural. The hauntingly graceful humming of the woods as echoed by the mountains is best appreciated in silence. Silence is what I have at this moment. Stillness is what I embody as life delicately dances about me.
It is spectacular.
The bird calls emanate from all directions. They start soft and grow louder with repitition. Now an owl calls deeply from the North. I can faintly hear the stream where I gathered my water. Just 1/10 of a mile South it slides gracefully down the mountain, cool and clear and confident. It cascades over the stones into the sea of green and brown. The trees are each so unique. A potpourri of textures and shades and sizes .Embracing one another, as if holding hands with their long limbs and curling tendrils. The sky is turning pink in the distance, creating grand mountainous silhouettes. I reach out and press my palm against a nearby tree. I am grounded.
I will sleep on the Earth beneath the stars tonight. The Moon is waxing, nearly full. The forest will stir and glow.
I sit at a bench with fellow thru-hikers using the wifi at Mountain Crossing at Neels Gap. Awesome place. I was able to get some much needed (and maybe not so much needed) gear (more about this in a moment), some fair advice, and some hot coffee.
The summitting of Blood Mountain was great fun. Not nearly as difficult as I was made to believe. The descent was more rocky than the ascent. All and all it was a great hike.
Now let’s get back to the topic of gear.
This is what I set out with:
I realized after actually hitting the trail that, though I opt not to filter most of the time, the filtering of water is a nice option to have. For some reason I am not an Aquamira/tablet/drops kind of person. I prefer to physically filter. So I went back to the Sawyer Squeeze. I was pleased with it last year. All that was available this time was the mini, so we will see how that goes. Also…I bought a stove!!! An MSR Pocket Rocket. I went stoveless for the latter half of the PCT last year. Sure it was fine. But this is a positively thrilling luxury. Hot coffee and warm Idahoans, here I come! I also purchased a new raincoat. A basic no frills Marmot, and a rain skirt. And…”sleep socks”. Oh, how I love to day dream about my perfectly safe and dry, zip-locked, stuffed in the bottom of my sleeping bag, sleeping-only socks. That feeling of slipping them on after a long days hike is absolute bliss.
I watch the countryside glide by. It is all so new to me. I have never traveled this far East in the USA.
Post PCT and penniless, I decided to move to New Orleans, LA on November 30th 2016 to live the city-life and make money through the winter. I volunteered for free accommodation (which has been a cornerstone to making my travelling lifestyle possible) at Madame Isabelle’s House (a hostel) in Marigny, just outside of the French Quarter; and the Louisianna Himalaya Association (LHA) in Mid-City. Living this way continues to open up opportunities for saving, as well as exercise my strength in social adaptability (which is, well…uh: exhausted at this point). I managed to balance my volunteer work along with some paying gigs, both situated in the French Quarter: a gift shop on Decatur during the day, and serving cocktails on Bourbon in the evenings. Quite the experience catering to both the tourists and the thirsty-folk alike. Two things that make the local economy go ’round.
Bourbon is hands down unlike any other space for existence (or non-existence) I have ever experienced. It is like stepping in to another reality where everyone is drunk or intending to be or is intending to make money off of those intentions. It does not smell like roses. You may get hit by a string of beads. There is no car traffic down Bourbon, just people…literal hoards of people. You may get trampled or elbowed. Open containers are allowed on the street…often encouraged. There is no easy way to recycle glass, and plastic to-go cups are the go-to (so you can leave the bar at a whim and take your drink with you, of course). The waste is devistating.
The rest of the Quarter is quaint. I especially enjoyed strolling down Royal Street. It is littered with musical talent. Oh, the brass.
In short: New Orleans is unlawfully charming, quirky, beautiful, unique, and soaked in liquor.
But now. Now I am on a train to Georgia. Tomorrow. On May 3rd. One year after I began my venture from Mexico to Canada along the PCT, I will begin my solo thru-hike from Georgia to Maine!