April 15 – After nearly two weeks of being sick, I finally made my way back to Erwin TN this morning to pick up the trail where I left off at. My legs were well rested, blisters healed, and I was feeling much better. It was great to be home for a few days but really boring compared to the life I’ve been living. As we pulled up to Uncle Johnny’s, the hostel in Erwin that happens to be right across the trail, I began to feel the nervous excitement that I experienced at springer all over again, except this time I was way more excited than I was nervous. When I walked up to the hostel I was surprised to see my buddy Cobb, who I met right before the smokies but hadn’t seen since Fontana. He’s completed the trail already in two section hikes and is going for a thru hike this year. It was really good to see a familiar face but by the looks of it he’s the only one around where I’m at right now. By the dates in the shelter books most of the people who had been hiking around me should be around Virginia now, so I’m about a week behind. Planning some big days starting after the roan highlands so I’m sure to catch up at some point. For now there’s a whole now bubble of people to meet and it really feels like I’m just starting the trail again. Spring had begun and trees are slowly starting to leaf out. The terrain has begun to change from thick forest to grassy meadows. I couldn’t be more excited for what’s soon to come on my journey.
My hiking day began with a bridge crossing of the Nolichucky River. Once across, the trail continued into the forest where mud and puddles once again became my reality. I was worried that two weeks off would cause me to lose my trail legs, but I quickly regained my pace from before and I felt great. The act of hiking and my surroundings once again became novel. The forest I walked through was filled with rivers, ferns, and rhododendron. It reminded me a lot of the Nantahala National Forest that I was in weeks ago. A steep climb brought me up to a ridge where it was smooth sailing for the next few miles.
Eventually I came to Indian Grave Gap, and this is where I began my climb up to an area known as beauty spot. The forest transformed into low shrubs and grass and in turn there was no cover from the elements. A cold rain picked up and the wind blew strong. Beauty Spot just so happens to be an exposed meadow, one of the worst places to be in conditions like this. I tried my best to get up and over the meadow, but just my luck this ended up being about a mile long! Halfway through there was a parking lot with what looked to be an abandoned RV in it and I contemplated breaking into it to sleep for the night. Better judgement took me back on the trail praying for the rain to stop so I could set up my tent. I was cold, everything was wet, and home was fresh on my mind. For the first time I actually began to feel lonely. Bad weather on the trail is never fun but it’s always nice to have someone else embracing the suck alongside you. I began to wonder why I’m doing this when I could’ve stayed in the comfort of my home. After thinking like this for a few minutes, I quickly pulled myself together and remembered all the sunny days and the warm touch of spring that is right around the corner. I’ve made it here to a place called Deep Gap, where I’ve set up camp for the night along with three other hikers whom I haven’t formally met yet due to the fact that everyone is confined to their tent. I got some dry clothes on, ate a filling dinner with a Mars bar for desert (you’re the best dad) and as I lay here in my tent I’m more than content with my little home away from home here in the Appalachian Mountains. Headed north once again.
April 16 – It was another cold and wet morning here on the trail. Thick fog filled the gap that I was camped in and everything was soaked from the day before. These are the kind of mornings where you sloppily throw everything into your bag and get going. Unaka Mountain proved to be a challenging obstacle to start off the day. On top of steepness, wet rocks and mud made the climb pretty miserable but the top proved yet again that the harder you work the better the reward. The summit of Unaka had no view, but instead was a dense forest of red spruce with a few Christmas trees thrown in here and there. It was so cool to walk through it with the fog weaving around the trees. Being there reminded me of all the other amazing places I’ve been in over the past month and all the one I’ve yet to see.
I walked with a regained motivation and as I made my way down the mountain the the sky became bluer and bluer until it was a beautiful spring day. It’s crazy how much the forest has changed in my two week absence. The understory is filled with green plants and wildflowers have begun to pop up alongside the trail. A few trees are starting to bud but for now constant views remain through the bare branches. Eventually I made it to a road where I was graced with trail magic consisting of every kind of Little Debbie cake known to man. After the sugar rush, I quickly knocked out the six miles that were left to get to the Clyde Smith Shelter. There’s a full house here tonight and it’s nice to have a night without rain to be able to meet everyone. Headed into the Roan Highlands tomorrow, which include Roan Mountain, the last 6000 foot mountain until Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. It should be a hell of a climb but I’m sure the view from the top will prove to be more than worth it.
April 17th – What a great day it was. I woke up early so I could get the big climb out of the way and spend more time on the balds. Getting up Roan Mtn wasn’t too difficult, it just seemed to go on forever. About halfway up it flattened out into a beautiful meadow filled with wildflowers. It then transformed completely into a dense pine forest, making me feel like I was back in the Smokies. As I was walking it literally smelt like Christmas in the air, and the forest got thicker and thicker until it opened up completely at the top of Roan Mtn. There was a parking lot up there and a sign said that there used to be a hotel on the top of the mountain. The partly cloudy skies had turned into a light rain so I evacuated under the canopy of a building in the parking lot for a lunch break. As soon as I finished eating the rain stopped and patches of blue began to dot the sky. I descended into another thick forest of pine and after two miles came to Carvers Gap, a major road right before where the balds of the Roan Highlands begin. Coming out of the gap the trail was lined with rhododendron just beginning to bloom. Slowly the plant life vanished until I was at the top of Round Bald, where 360 degree views allowed me to see the grassy ridge that the trail would be following. For a few miles I walked surrounded by views in every which way. Eventually after summiting Jane Bald and another unnamed bald, I found myself dipping back into the forest. After four more miles, I made it to Overmountain Shelter. It really is a barn! And the view I get looking right of the front of the shelter is phenomenal. I can see little hump mountain right in front of me, which I’ll be hitting tomorrow before Big Hump Mountain and then Doll Flats, where the trail officially crossed into Tennessee for good! Sorry for a rushed entry, 9% more battery!
April 17 – So many views today. Started the day watching the dark clouds part and give way to the sun from my sleeping bag at Overmountain Shelter. I climbed yet another grassy bald into the clouds straight out of the shelter. After a few hundred feet of elevation gain I was above them climbing up Little Hump Mountain. At the top I could see for miles all around, Big Hump Mountain right in front of me. The hump mountains are one continuous grassy balds, for the most part giving unobstructed views for about three or four miles. After getting up and over Big Hump, I was again in the trees, headed towards Doll Flats. As I made my way there, I thought about all the awesome people and amazing places I’ve been in North Carolina. Still once I saw the sign informing me I was leaving I was more than happy to be officially heading into Tennessee. North Carolina has been steep, wet, cold, but most importantly beautiful!
I took a little break at Doll Flats and met a group of cool people who I hiked down to US19 with. As we were coming down, something seemed off about the forest. I stopped for a second and looked around, realizing that the trees had leaves on them! It’s officially spring in Tennessee! We got wind of some trail magic at the road so we quickly headed there, graciously greeted with pancakes, bacon, eggs, and donuts. I headed to a hostel that was right down the road to charge my phone and also get my first cheeseburger since I started the trail, and even if it was just a microwave job it was well worth the wait. Hitting McDonald’s tomorrow so more to come on that note.
Once back on the trail I headed up through more grassy meadows and eventually came to Jones Falls. It was the first waterfall since Georgia I’m pretty sure, and it was actually a pretty big one. I took another short break there because my calf muscles were really starting to burn. A gentle rain picked up and I headed on, continuing down the mountain until coming to a flat grassy meadow filled with yellow and purple wild flowers. Paralleling the trail was the Elk River, 50 feet wide if I remember correctly. It was a beautiful and easy stroll as I walked along the riverbank, but as always I soon returned to the forest. Thick rhododendrons encircled me as I made my way to Mountaineer Shelter, right next to another waterfall not quite as impressive as the first. Feeling pretty sore tonight after my first longer day since my break, but only have 15 or so tomorrow to get to a hostel and town. VA is so close!
April 19 – Pretty uneventful day. It was rainy and I really just pushed it to get to the Kincora Hostel. This place is awesome, it’s run by a really cool guy named Bob People’s who has an endless amount of stories to tell about the AT. His hostel is run on donations alone and all he asks for is 5 bucks! Most of the other hikers are in the bunkhouse but what they don’t realize is that there’s a cabin out back whoever I’ve snuck my way into so it’s basically like I have a private cabin for FIVE BUCKS. It’s really nice to be here right now, I deserve it after my first five days back on the trail! Gonna take it easy for the rest of the night and try to get these posts uploaded sometime tomorrow, no wifi here. Here’s to being past the Roan range and three days out from Damascus!