Day 12: Wiggy Redux and the NOC

Day 12Saturday, March 30, 2019
Stealth site—mile 139.2

Great day. Great weather! Windy, but hot and sunny.

Today was a big day. (Not mileage-wise. I seem to be holding steady at 14 mpd. Although that wasn’t shabby today, for me at least, considering it included the NOC [Nantahala Outdoor Center, a big hiker stop]).

I came to the road crossing at Tellico Gap, and there was…Wiggy! Wiggy of the Aquone Hostel—a truly inspiring guy, and one of the two hostel owners who may have saved my hike in 2013. We chatted a bit, about how 2013 was a tough year. (I did a whole post about him in my 2013 journal, if you’re curious. Link’s in the margin. He remembered me when I told him my trail name—said he has a photo to send me.) 😀

Then there was the massive descent to the NOC. I got there at about 2 o’clock, did some chores, and decided to power on at least partly up the massive climb northbound out of the NOC.

I’m in a little stealth site. It’s windy as hell. The weathet’s changing, and we might get snow flurries on Tuesday. I’m one day ahead of schedule; I might call an audible and take an unplanned zero at Fontana, stay at the Lodge Monday and Tuesday nights if they have a room. I have a sore knee, I go into the Smokies on Wednesday, and I really really want to do laundry because I’ve walked 120 miles in these clothes, and they smell—not to mince words—like a buzzard on a shit wagon.

Good times.

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Day 11: Reenactors

Cold Spring Shelter—mile 125.2 (14.8 miles)

So… today deserves a mention. Ha!

I was a little sluggish getting started, but I was on the trail at about 6:15, to do my usual first two hours in the dark. It was a long rough day. The climb up to Siler and Wayah Balds was long and awful. We’re regularly hitting 5000 feet now. And my lungs know it.

But at the end of the day… trail magic! And not just your standard fun-with-a-grill type of hiker feed. These were reenactors! Well… actually a church group who uses reenactment with their boys’ group.

So, I had chili and biscuits cooked over a fire. And a Sprite. 😁

Day 10: One hundred

Day 10Thursday, March 28
Moore Creek camping area—mile 110.4

Holy crap. What a day. Albert Mountain, 100 mile milestone, and 16.9 miles. I can’t take much credit for the last one—I was ready to call it a day at 13, but there was no place to camp! My feet are on fire. That’ll jump-start those thick trail calluses! Hobbit feet…

Oh. One of the guys at the shelter last night was actually flying a noisy drone airplane. It was… not what my brain expects to hear in the wilderness. But god love the guy for schlepping it.

Days 8 and 9–One down

Day 8
Bush camp near something-or-other Gap. Water Dragon Gap? Bleh. Mile 82.9.

One down! Thirteen to go! Goodbye, Georgia, and hello, North Carolina!

I set up the tent in the pouring rain. First time for this hike. It’s raining like hell! But things seem to be holding up.

Day 9 — add to other entry

Day 9
Carter Gap Shelter—mile 93.5

This morning was my first really bad morning on the Trail. It poured all night. When I woke up, it was dark, wet, and freezing (literally; apparently the bear cables and bear bags back at Muskrat Creek Shelter froze). I was like, “What the hell am I doing? Again!”

But it turned out to be a good day. I spread out my gear to dry on a nice flat rock. And I stopped at the shelter out of nostalgia, because this was the thunder-hail shelter last time. Bitter cold, snow, freezing rain, and misery. 😁 Not this time.

Although the pot smoke is so thick in this clearing that the air’s practically solid with it—at all the shelters and all the hostels. The weed is much worse than it was in ‘13, and it was bad then. I’ll have to remember that when I’m thinking about staying in a shelter area next time.

Some grizzled trail guy: “So, is this your first time?”
Me: “No, second.”
Grizzly: “You must’ve caught the bug, then.”
Me: “Yeah, the idiot bug.”
We laughed.

Tomorrow: Albert Mountain and 100 miles.

Days 6 and 7: 30,000 feet

Day 6Sunday, March 24
Bush camp, mile 60.8

Short day—just 13 miles.

That kind of makes me laugh. Last time, I didn’t get this far until day 9. I’m currently holding steady in the middle of the pack, I think—which is awesome. And today I did three 4000-footers. Blue Mountain, Rocky Mountain, and Trey Mountain. (Doing the Sierra really changed my perspective on climbing mountains!) That’s a lot of elevation gain and loss in one day, when you add in the smaller ones in between.

So, yesterday I met a man with a pack of girls—daughters, maybe, or scouts. It was a hot day and a steep climb. I was going down, and they were going up. The guy had roughly the shape and the pallor and the benign affability of a dumpling. Sweat was just pouring off him.

Dumpling was trying to encourage the girls. “Almost there! We’re almost at the top!” They looked bored.

When we passed one another, Dumpling said, “We’re almost at the top, right?”

And I said, “Yup!” And then I joked, “Only 412 more miles!”

And as I trudged down past the, I heard Dumpling say in a tiny voice, “Too soon.”

It cracked me up. Hope they ended up having a great hike!

—————

Day 7
Monday, March 25
Top of Georgia Hostel — mile 69.2

It poured rain this afternoon! But I got to the hostel at 1ish to nero and pick up my resupply. So… much… food. Argh.

End of week one. One week. I feel great.

I was talking to a guy at the last shelter who said he’d been going pretty fast compared to other hikers, and I asked him when he started. “The 20th,” he said.

“Wow, that IS fast,” I said. Then I blinked and realized that’s when I started. lol. He started at Springer on the 20th. I did the Approach Trail on the 19th (Springer on the 20th). Buddy, neither of us is setting any records here. (Solid middle, as far as I can tell.)

The Trail was nice today. Hard, long descent, though. My knees really felt it.

When I said no aches, no pains, I meant no unusual aches and pains—ie, shin splints, Achilles issues, IT band issues. I do have the standard collection of skinned knees, exercised muscles, and some really spectacular (but not serious) bruises.

Long-distance hiking is still the hardest, most brutal physical thing I’ve ever done. (Aside from, maybe, my second-degree black belt test a hundred years ago, but that only lasted a half hour.)

Every morning in the black, hiking by headlamp in the silence, just me and the moon, I hear the owls calling. I’ve missed them so much. Can I stay out here forever?

Tomorrow: North Carolina!

Day… 5? Lost and found

Day… 5? (It’s amazing how quickly you lose track of minutia like what day it is)Saturday, March 24, 2019
Bushcamp—Chattahoochee Gap, mile 47.8

Badd(ish) news first. In my general purge and sping cleaning yesterday, I seem to have thrown out the bag with my guidebook pages, my registration tag, and my Smokies permit. So irritating! It’s no big deal, really. I have new guidebook pages coming in my next resupply, and if necessary I can just get another Smokies permit. And I don’t know my starting number now, because I didn’t expect to lose the tag. I think it was 1158. Just… yuck. A long trail will whittle away at any hint of control-freakiness and just strip you down to bone, one lost item at a time.

It’s fine, though.

I was traipsing along at lunchtime and smelled campfire. “Oooh,” I thought. “Somebody bushcamped back there last night, and I bet there’s a fire ring and some nice rocks to sit on!” And… there were. But the fire was still smoking. Somebody last night (or this morning) walked away from a smoldering fire in the middle of a dry forest (made of wood, yo!), when it’s been crazy windy the last few days. I was flabbergasted.

The next water source wad only 2 miles away, so I used my trowel and my last liter of water to put the thing out. And I told the next southbound hiker about it.

Turned out the next water was actuslly 3 miles. But it was fine. All fine!

I did 16.5 miles today. And I feel great! My feet are tender but not destroyed like last time. No chafing, blisters, aches, pains. No real breath issues, either. I get out of breath, but not gasping-fish out of breath.

So, there it is. All fine! 😁

Days 3 and 4 —Neels!

Day 3
March 21, 2019
Bush camp—Henry Gap, mile 24.7

I’m just past Lance Creek on the way to Blood Mountain. Lance Creek is the “traditional” night 3 stop, and it’s where I stayed the last time. So… I made it past that, and this time my 3 days also included the Approach Trail! I’m so stoked!

It rained a bit today. It’s super windy here at this flat spot between mountains, but it’s home.

I’m not in love with my tent. Big Agnes really dropped the ball with this model. It’s fussy, it takes a lot of stakes, and it’s hard to get a good pitch. The fly touched the netting in places, which makes it pretty much a single-wall tent, but without any of the advantages. I’ll probably just suck it up, rather than dump a big chunk of my budget on a new tent. Maybe we’ll grow on each other. 😁

—————
Day 4
March 22, 2019
Neels Gap Hostel

Well. Neels Gap! It was a frigid, blustery night—steady 20 mph winds, and gust up to 40. ‘Some people,’ I thought, ‘were unhappy last night.’

True story. People were very, very cold. Some people.

Blood Mountain! There was frost. My water got a few stray ice crystals. But good hiking, and I got to the top of Blood at 9:30 and was at Neels at 11:30.

I picked up my resupply and decided to nero at the hostel to see if I could wrangle things into better shape. Oh, and my headlamp bit the dust, so I needed a new one. All done.

This place is a big party. Beer, beer. And weed. That’s the part of thru-hiking culture I hate. But hopefully I’ll outpace the party zone. And I’ll try to avoid the hostels unless I can tent.

Met hikers from Pittsburgh, Florida, New York, Tennessee. Oh, and a psychiatrist from England. On the PCT (in 2016, anyway), there was a much larger percentage of non-US hikers. Funny how the different trails have such different cultures. (Always the party section, though.)

It’s good to be out here. I’m so grateful.

Day 2: Sassafras: The sequel!

Day 2
May 20, 2019
Bush camp, Sassafras Mountain

Well… it didn’t “kick my ass” this time! But it gently bruised it. I didn’t start up until 3 PM, though, and I think the lack of sleep just caught up with me. I decided to call it a day on the summit. It’s 3 miles short of where I was aiming, but it doesn’t affect the schedule into Neels Gap at all.

It’s quiet up here. I hear a bird!

An Australian trail journaler calls these “bush camps.” Works for me! I’m not stealth camping, not cowboy camping—just me, here in the Outback. 😀

Day 1: To things we haven’t done before

March 19, 2019
Stover Creek Shelter

So. I said I wasn’t going to do this, but it occurred to me that the posts might post out of order (because no signal!) and the only way to keep track is to number the days. That didn’t really work on the PCT (the days are largely the same), but there are surprises on the AT, so every day is pretty unique.

Like today! I did the Approach Trail! I skipped it last time. It was challenging for a first day, but I did it! And 3 actual trail miles. You guys… I’m starting to think that hiking is not quite as difficult if you start 30 pounds lighter!

And… I’m beat. My systems need some serious tweaking.

Oh, one funny thing. I had to pee, right? (That’s not the funny thing.) And there was no place for a couple of miles—too steep, too inhabited, and I don’t have my trail (lack of) modesty yet. I crossed a jeep road with a big gravel clearing, and there was a giant tree. So I jumped behind it and unfastened my pack, and all of a sudden, SCREECH! Ten army jeeps came scraming down the jeep road and skidded to a halt in the gravel. I know they were iust there for training, but all I could think was, “Jeez! They take urination very seriously around here!”

Lots of hikers on the trail. New England seems particularly well represented so far.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

Well… it’s here! We’re here! I’m at 30th Street Amtrak Station, waiting for the train to take me south. Tomorrow… we hike. 🙂

I won’t be posting every day (even aside from the weeks when there’s no cell service). The Trail is wet and loose and living and flow, and not best served by the rigid calculus of calendars and clocks. I’ve done that part before. This time, I finished all my calendering and scheduling and hammering of numbers during the planning stages over the last year or so. Now? Time to let the mountains do the breathing. Time to let the Trail unfold, one step at a time.

But first, Platform 9-1/2. Heading for magic, full speed ahead.