March 14 – Well it was a hell of a day. I woke up after a good nights sleep at holiday inn and set off back to the mountains with gadget, coach, and obi wan. There was a steady rain that persisted through much of the day but we had roughly 8 miles to go to North Carolina. We powered through the bad weather and victory was that much sweeter when we saw that sign hanging on the tree: GA/NC. It’s an amazing feeling to have made it this far, it’s been such a mental and physical battle each step of the way. Above all else though it was so much fun, I have no complaints and haven’t once regretted my decision to do this. Although the milestone brought so much joy, it also meant it was time for coach and obi wan to head back to their car and return to the real world. Thank you both so much for everything, you are both amazing guys and I’m so glad our paths crossed on the trail. Congrats on finishing your section!
As for me and gadget, the only place we were headed was north. We got up and did what we do best, put one foot in front of the other. Even though the forecast said otherwise, the rain picked up even harder and we knew we were in for a difficult stretch to make it to standing Indian shelter.
North Carolina greeted us with the steep ascent straight into a thick cloud of fog. Instantly the forest had changed from what we had experienced our first 78 miles on the trail. The trunks of the trees and surface of rocks have been covered in moss and the undergrowth has been much greener so far. It really reminds me of something out of the lord of the rings. I have a feeling it will be an extremely rugged state as well. Tunnels of rhododendron winded through the mountain with nothing but fog visible on the other side. After a grueling 16.6 mile day, we finally made it to our home for the night. We plan to do a shorter day tomorrow, my feet are not very happy with me right now. One state down, thirteen to go!
March 15 – It was an amazing day to be in the mountains. The past two days have been rough due to the low temperatures and rain but today was sunny and about 70 degrees. We slept in a bit, knowing that it would be a more relaxing day than the previous. At around nine we hiked out to summit standing Indian mountain. For the first time the trail gently switchbacked up to the top where we got our first view of Fontana Dam, where we’ll be in about 5 or 6 days. The trail was steep heading back down, and at the bottom we took at least an hour for lunch. Recently the menu has been a tortilla with peanut butter and crushed up nature valley bars on it. That’s a delicacy out here on the AT.
After two short climbs we started to descend again, very gently this time. It was basically like walking on flat ground for about 4 miles. We crossed over numerous mountain springs covered in mossy foliage, all while incased in a thick tunnel of rhododendron. Eventually we came to the most gorgeous outcropping with a view of the mountains to come. We took another forty five minute break and then strolled our way down to Betty creek gap to make camp for the night. Days like today are what make all the hard ones worth it. Tomorrow we’ll be in Franklin and then the NOC a few days after that, where we plan to take a zero day. Spirits are high and loving every second of this hike.
March 16 – Another bitter morning at camp today. Getting out of your sleeping bag is honestly one of the hardest part of the day. After completing the morning chores we set off towards Albert mountain, where a fire tower and the hundredth mile of the trail lay in wait. It got hot fast, by ten it was probably 60 degrees out. Despite the heat it was a beautiful and gentle stretch until the base of Albert mountain where the trail became more of a rock climb than a hike. In my opinion this was the most difficult part of the trail so far. Every step took so much energy out of you that I found myself pausing every few feet to catch my breath. I’ve realized that the harder you work the greater the reward, and once we reached the summit this concept became even more blatantly clear. The 360 degree view from the top of the fire tower was absolutely breathtaking. Spots like this are what make all the rainy days, cold nights, and blisters worth it. There is nowhere I would rather be than on the AT right now.
Gadget and I had planned to hike on ten more miles, hitch into Franklin to resupplying, hitch back to the trail, and then camp somewhere close after the road crossing. As I began the descent and gadget got further and further ahead of me, I quickly realized that I couldn’t wait until the NOC for a zero day. The blisters on my feet have been giving me major problems, and today every step brought forth excruciating pain. Still I had no choice but to move forward to winding stair gap, where you can hitch into Franklin, NC.
Eventually I saw the not so familiar view of pavement through the trees. I hadn’t seen gadget for hours and assumed he would be waiting for me at the road, but when I broke free from the trees he was nowhere to be found. I got a ride into town, booked a room at the budget inn, and layed back for some much needed R&R. It was strange to be in a new place by myself, I didn’t let that stop me from finding the nearest dominos and ordering enough to feed an army.
After a few hours, I got a call from gadget. Turns out he had been waiting for me at a shelter somewhere in between Albert mountain and winding stair gap, but I had just kept walking past rather than turning in to notice. In the end everything worked out and we even made a return trip to dominos for chicken wings and lava cakes. Tomorrow will be spent in town. I’m all out of food, my clothes haven’t seen soap in almost two weeks, and I’m in desperate need of a new pair of shoes. My feet will be thanking me for the break come Wednesday, we’ve got some big mountains ahead of us. Currently on day nine and 110 miles in, and although it’s nice to be laying on a soft mattress, I’m really starting to prefer being on the trail to being in town.
Enjoy the next few days for what they are and may the luck of the Irish be with you on saint pattys.