Winding Stair Gap to the NOC

March 17 – Took a zero day today. For those who can’t put two and two together, that’s a day where zero miles are hiked. Instead of going into detail on all the glorious fast food we ate I’d like to take this time to update you all on how I’m doing both physically and mentally so far.

Physically I feel great aside from my blisters which are really the only thing holding me back, and even those are starting to heal nicely after a day of rest. One of the major issues other people are having is knee pain, something that I thought would be a big problem for me but surprisingly mine feel just as good as the day I started. I’ve lost a bit of weight already but also gained a whole lot of muscle. It honestly just feels amazing to be out here, it’s like my body and soul are being cleansed by the fresh air of the mountains. I picked up a new pair of shoes today at outdoor 76 in Franklin which I think is really going to make a big difference in regards to my blisters. If you’re ever in this area and need something I would definitely suggest this outfitter, extremely friendly and knowledgable staff who only want to help you rather than sell product.
Mentally it’s still extremely surreal to be doing this. At some point every day I stop and think to myself in disbelief that I’m actually hiking the Appalachian trail. It hasn’t even been two weeks yet and I feel that as a person I’ve grown so much. Life is truly carefree out here and there’s no place I’d rather be than on the AT. Embarking on a journey like this really makes you appreciate the simple things in life and also shows you what life is really all about. Sure I could be going to college right now, working my ass off to obtain those green pieces of paper that everyone’s lives seem to revolve around, but I’m gaining things more valuable than anyone could get by sitting in an office for hours on end each day. I’ve made so many friends that I consider to be family to me at this point, seen things that most people never will, and endured challenges that would make a grown man cry. There are so many lessons that I’ve learned out here that can be applied to life off the trail as well. Life is truly meant to be taken one step at a time, and with a positive attitude and a smile on your face I’ve found that even the most difficult of challenges can be easily overcome. No matter what the situation, you can never let yourself get to down because once the negative thoughts start entering your mind, it’s over. The only option in life is to keep moving forward and see where the road, or in my case trail, takes you. It might be tough at times but there’s always a shining light around the corner. Each and every one of us has the power to control our own emotions which in turn gives us the power to control our own destinies. I am truly living the dream out here, and all it took was the courage to take one step. 
A few hours ago we made our way back to the trail and are camping about one tenth of a mile from the road. I realize I’ve been using the word “we” a lot without really explaining who we is. Me and another thru hiker named gadget have become good friends and plan to try and stick together all the way to Katahdin, especially because most of our initial bubble is either behind us or has quit already. He’s trying to complete the trail in just five months, and I have no intention of rushing so who knows how long our partnership will last, but for the time being its a team effort. Two days until the Nantahala Outdoor Center and another two after that until we hit the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, where it’s sure to be much colder and wetter than what we’ve experienced this far. As I write this I’m being gently lulled to sleep by the stream running through our campsite. I’m at peace with myself and my surroundings, and I can honestly say I’m so proud of the person I’m becoming and the things that I’ve accomplished.
March 18 – I woke up today happy to be back on the trail instead of in a hotel room with the sound of morning traffic racing down the road. I’ve finally found my perfect breakfast food for the next few months: honey buns. 590 calories in one shot baby. We quickly broke camp and headed on. I was feeling optimistic about the day, partly because I knew my new shoes would make life on the trail much less painful but mainly because we would be crossing our first two balds today. A bald is where the top of the meadow is a grassy field with no trees, offering panoramic views of the surrounding areas. Nobody really knows how balds came to be, the most common theory is that they were created by Indians as hunting grounds or a grazing area. There’s going to be quite a few of these mysterious phenomenons from here on till about halfway through Virginia, and it’s one of the environments I’ve been looking forward to the most since before I started my hike.
It was a gradual four mile ascent up out of winding stair gap to Siler Bald. As soon as gadget and I broke free from the trees, we were in awe of the landscape before us. For the first time we were walking through a grassy meadow rather than a tunnel of flora. It was a short but steep side trail to reach the summit of Siler, but man was it worth it. At the top we were surrounded by a 360 degree view, showing the mountains we came from, the mountains we were going to, and all the mountains in between. We took our first break of the day and felt extremely insignificant compared to the vast landscape before us. Eventually it was time to head on. It’s always hard to leave the good spots, but we knew that there were thousands more to come and they all seem to get better and better as we head further down the trail. 
It was six miles to our next point of interest, Wayah Bald. These six miles turned out to be much more difficult than our first climb of the day. The trail seemed to go up and up and up and once we thought we were finally nearing the top it took us right back down to the bottom, only to bring us straight back up again. It was worth it when we reached the stone observation deck on top of Wayah Bald, which wasn’t really a bald if you ask me. Still the views were incredible  from the tower. We could see Siler Bald clearly as well as the ridge line we had followed throughout the course of the day. With a little squinting of the eyes we could even make out the fire tower on top of Albert mountain, where we were three days ago. In the distance loomed the great smoky mountain national park and sticking out right in the middle was clingman’s dome, the highest point on the AT at an elevation of around 6500 feet. The smokies will definitely be a challenge unlike anything we’ve faced so far, but I feel so ready to tackle them. 
Views weren’t the only thing waiting for us on top of Wayah Bald. A family of three was there with some trail magic that included hard boiled eggs. It might not sound to exciting to all of you folks at home, but eggs are something that a thru hiker would never be able to carry with them so it was such a treat after a tough day. After some good snacks, views, and conversation, it was time to head on to Wayah Bald Shelter where we planned to settle down for the night. There’s some awesome people here right now and it was a great time around the campfire. Tomorrow should be an easier day but rain is a most definite. We’ve been hiking through the Nantahala national forest which I learned today is classified as a temperate rainforest, which explains why everything is so green since we’ve gotten into North Carolina. Unfortunately that also means a lot of rain from here till we get through the smokies. Nothing can stop me now though, and I really mean nothing. I will make it to Katahdin or die trying. Happy trails wherever the wind may take you my friends.
March 19 – I regained consciousness this morning to the not so pleasant sound of raindrops falling on the shelter roof. After laying motionless for a while there was no choice but to push onwards. We’re about 50 miles into North Carolina and by now the terrain has really begun to change. Vines and ferns line the trail and moss continues to cover nearly every inch of the rocks and trees. 
It was a relatively easy day until we reached the summit of Wesser bald, where there was another fire tower. We got a great view of the inside of a cloud and from there things went downhill, literally. The trail descended nearly 3000 feet into the nantahala outdoor center, and it was by no means gradual. We were walking along a ridge line with cliffs on both sides and dropped down Rocky cliffs at an unreal angle. At points I could hardly believe we were still on the trail until I saw a clearing in the trees marked with white blazes thirty some feet below. Rain and mud hardly made this section of the trail any easier. All I could think of on the way down was the people who saw this hike as some sort of vacation. They clearly had absolutely no idea what they were talking about, I think I’m going to need a vacation by the time this is all said and done. This trek has required more physical and mental stamina than anything I’ve ever experienced. Despite all that, I’ve never had this much fun or felt this alive. Every second out here is truly its own adventure.
By the time we reached the Albert Rufus shelter (or Albert doofus as we’ve renamed it) 16 miles later I was completely exhausted to the point where I could hardly think. For the first time on this hike my legs are dead. Ready to hit the sack and then make my way to the NOC tomorrow for a well deserved burger.
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5 thoughts on “Winding Stair Gap to the NOC

  1. Pj I cried my eyes out while I read this to my husband thinking how my father who taught me the love of nature and hiking, would love reading this. He passed on last feb at age 96. He hiked til the day he died. It is addictive and you will want to plan hikes all over the country and world! He was Austrian by descent and always wanted to go back to his roots but never made it…I hiked some gorgeous Alpine trails thinking of him all the way on our trip to austria. I bought a hiking stick that you add metal badges (sort of )collecting as you go. We plan to meet you in Va and hike with you so I’ll bring it and show you. Thank you much for sharing this . I feel so connected to you in the spirit of a shared love and appreciation of nature and hiking as well as all the others who “get it” go go gadget and young blood!

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  2. Love following your adventure! I feel like I’m reading a book and can’t wait for the next chapter!! Good luck! Keep that positivity flowing & hope you get that burger! 😉 -Amanda

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