Thoughts on Hiking So Far

Nickie asked a few posts ago what our greatest hardship has been so far. After thinking about it for awhile, mine has to be homesickness. It’s incredibly crazy, but I do get more homesick than I have in a long while. Even more than when I was at sea for two months between high school and college. I think it will ease up as time goes on, but the little stays in town do not help much. I also think it will help the more that spring comes around and there are things to focus on. Rainy days actually aren’t as bad as the sunny days. It has been so ‘blah’ out there, beautiful, yes, but ‘blah’ because there are no leaves on anything and everything is so brown. I’m just not used to this. I’ve been spoiled by Florida for eight years.

The hills are hard, yes, but you do them and maybe it sucks while you go up the steep ones, but eventually it is ok.

Stairs blow. Especially coming down on the knees. I try to alternate which knee goes down first in order to change the ease on each of them. Lately my right knee has been hurting more.

I really am annoyed with leaves on my hiking pole. Ever since we took the tips off the poles I pick up leaves all the time. I feel like a litter picker-upper.

I hate getting to a big rock that is hard to maneuver to get down. Lately I’ve been taking to sitting down and sliding on it instead of trying to step because in the last three day stretch I fell three times. I have some nice bruises on my right arm, too. Effing rain and wet leaves on rocks.

I’ve been dealing with a stupid cough, too. It’s not even like a cold. I am tired of the wind and cold because my nose runs all day and then gets chapped after all the wiping on the bandanna. I’m ready for warm weather so the cough goes away.

But, what I do love is talking to people, meeting everyone, getting to a shelter a little early to sit around and just enjoy the late afternoon. Some of the tops of the hills have really neat rocky-scrub areas with rhododendrons and azaleas and there are lots of species of lichen. Actually, in some areas the trees are covered in lichen that even being defoliated right now, they appear very green in the right light.

I’m having fun….I just have to get over being homesick. Oh, and not look at the large maps of the entire trail because then I feel like that tiny little inch or two we’ve done is nothing.

One little group of of miles at a time.

Oh, Sunshine, I love thee.

We are in Cherokee, NC for the day. Since we left off here last week from Bryson City, I’ll catch you up since then. It hasn’t been that long….

We hitched a ride into Bryson City and couldn’t figure out how to get back other than hitching. Then I remembered I knew people who worked for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and knew one of them was in that vicinity so I dropped him an email and he was kind enough to give us a ride back to the Nantahala Outdoor Center. Thanks so much Mike if you are reading this!

Luckily that day ended up being very sunny, but we had found out a few days before that the climb out of the NOC was kinda sucky. And it was. Lots of hills and climbing and it was fairly steep. Not a lot of switchbacks, either. The nicest climb of the day was to Cheoah Bald. Beautiful views and a nice place to sit.

Cheoah Bald
See, a nice place to sit!

We ran into another thru-hiker and two day hikers at the top and made our way down to Locust Cove Gap for the night where a bunch of other people came to tent as well.

Sunday was rainy and very gusty. We climbed down into Stecoah Gap and then back up an un-named hill that was insanely steep with zero switch backs and everyone bitched about once they got to the Brown Fork Shelter. It was a game of “let’s make it to that tree and breathe and then try the next tree and breathe”. Since we were only doing 9 miles that day (killing time to Fontana) we ended up staying for an hour or longer at the shelter to eat lunch and hang out with the hikers that were there. Then we kept on going in the rain and wind to Cody Gap and sat up came for the night. Since we had been dealing with a leaky tent we kept vigilant throughout the late afternoon with the bandanna to keep the water from accumulating inside the tent. Luckily the rain stopped and we came out for dinner.

Monday we awoke to being in the clouds and it was drizzily and crappy the whole day. We had 10 miles to get into Fontana Dam, some downhill, with an annoying uphill in the middle. Sometimes I don’t mind the smaller hills that are called “pointless ups and downs” aka: PUDs, but when you can’t see 200′ in front of you and you think you are done only to go up and down about six or seven of them, it gets frustrating and annoying.

We came into Fontana Dam in the mid afternoon and there were a few people at the “Fontana Hilton”, so called because it sleeps 20 and there is a bathroom and shower nearby (which, btw hasn’t been cleaned since like 1990 and smells awful. Use the toilet, but I’d wear layers to shower.) The Fontana Village is two miles away from the shelter and we had food to eat at the shelter but we started talking about burgers and decided to call the Lodge and see if they had dinner…and they did. So they sent a shuttle down, which picks you up at the top of the hill from the shelter for $3 a person. You should take it.

Loads of people were at the shelter on Monday evening and everyone was heading to the Smokies. Tuesday we hung around at the shelter for the morning and relaxed, drying our tent out and airing our sleeping bags out and then headed up to the general store at Fontana Village to lounge about and then eventually get our maildrop. Everyone was complaining about the size of their boxes, mostly because everyone isn’t eat as much as they thought and because they planned for too much. We ended up cutting our 11 days down to 8 from Fontana to Hot Springs and will be sending the extras to Hot Springs to supplement what we buy there.

We’ve been hiking with a guy named Missionary on occasion and he needed a ride to skip part of the Smokies to meet his wife in a few days so we brought him to Cherokee with us yesterday. This morning we didn’t have a lot to do so we drove the 16 miles to Newfound Gap (kinda splitting the Smokies in half) and now I am much more excited for the Smokies. The northern part is so much different, kinda rocky and a lot more fir trees. Also, while there is some snow and ice, it isn’t all covered like everyone on the Trail seems to be imagining or hearing. Sure, I think the north faces of the higher peaks will have some tricky parts, I think for the most part it will be clear and good. So, now I am much more excited, plus we have almost a week or great weather coming our way. I am ready for sunshine and warmer days!

Let’s see, here are a few people we’ve been hiking with off and on that you can follow if you want:
Red Hat
Walking in Stillness and Do What you Love: these two we ran into at the Fontana General Store…they are crazy fast hikers, doing 20+ miles a day. The guy has done the Triple Crown (PCT, CDT, AT) and they do other long trails. In fact, they started at the Pinhoti Trail in Alabama before starting the AT. When I get time later I plan on reading through their journals for their other hikes.

Anyway, I suppose that sums it up. We’re heading out to the Smokies tomorrow, planning five days to get through them and then three to get to Hot Springs after. A full week, with sun…we should be really smelly by then! Mmm! Actually, the smells aren’t too bad, you get used to yourself after awhile.


Blue Mountain Shelter

Blue Mountain shelter fire
Chilling around the fire…

Blue Mountain Shelter
There’s a dog under that coat! Tough hound dog and his owner, a gal from Montana. They breezed from Blood Mountain to Blue Mtn for a 20 mile day. Phew…!!

Breakfast @ Blue Mountain Shelter
Breakfast! Oatmeal…mmmm! Sometimes having a quick breakfast is better.

View from Blue Mountain

This is my last scheduled post until we get to Fontana. So, ‘see’ you in a few days.

Neels Gap

Neel's Gap sign
Oh boy, was this place good to see. Burgers were cooking as we walked up. Oh, yum. Showers, laundry, relaxing for a long while. Sunning ourselves….

Inside of Mountain Crossings - Neel's Gap

AT sign on floor @ Mountain Crossings

Leki rep at Mountain Crossings - Neel's Gap
Leki (hiking pole) rep talking to people about their poles. Convinced Chris to put his baskets back on and to take the rubber tips off.

Inside of Mountain Crossings - Neel's Gap

Inside of Mountain Crossings - Neel's Gap
Followed these people’s blog last year…lots of these hiker photo cards along the walls. Perhaps a good idea when we finish!

Blood Mountain

Blood Mountain Shelter
This shelter was diiiirrrty! Ick, I can’t imagine sleeping in there.

Our tent set up on Blood Mountain summit
The only ones on the summit.

Chris & Misti on Blood Mountain
Dude, it was cold. We had to hold onto everything while setting the tent up. Kept our bag in the shelter until we were ready to get in the tent.

Coming up from the South…not too terribly bad. Kinda neat with the snow. Coming down…steep..can’t imagine coming up from the North. Oh, this is the mtn where we lost the trail and went down a rock face without needing to…and though to ourselves when we got down that boy, was it sure good we didn’t have to go up it. And then we went back up it. HAH! Sometimes the white blazes hide.

Nearo and Zero in Bryson City

Hello friends! I hope that my posts have been somewhat entertaining. There are still several pre-posted entries to come until, I think, next Tuesday.

Yesterday we got off the trail at the Nantahala Outdoor Center and hitched a ride into Bryson City. We hiked about six miles that morning from the Wesser Bald shelter and while there were some hills in the first few miles, it was mostly downhill after.

Originally we were going to just resupply in NOC and keep on going. We heard various things about NOC not having a lot of supplies, and while you could make do, they were correct. For a major outfitter being smack dab on the AT, I would have expected more of an outfitter like Mountain Crossings at Neels Gap. We bought an extra meal for the next three days out since we had two meals left and tried for Aqua Mira but the hikers that came in before snagged the last two and also bought some Yaktrax, well, a pair for me. If I don’t use them I could always send them back, but they are supposed to give more stability on ice and snow—-for the Smokies.

Anyway, we hitched a ride to Bryson City about 14 miles away. It wasn’t an easy hitch either, took about 30 minutes, but someone finally stopped for us and dropped us off and we found an affordable hotel for two nights. Ahhhh, boy was that shower so nice. And the bed. oh, the bed. Sleeping in a mummy bag and it being cold, you don’t get to stretch out all that much. Actually the night before I was able to keep my head out of the sleeping bag most of the night. I can’t wait until I just use the bag as a light cover.

To recap the past week: (I’ll do detailed posts with the photos next week when I am on Chris’ mom’s computer—the hotel wouldn’t let me upload photos)

-Just after you pass the GA/NC line there are really steep climbs that are not listed in the AT Companion book. Our first thoughts were that NC sucked. But then, it got ok.

-Sunday it rained all day long. We got up before it started and headed out, but it rained the entire day. We had to climb Standing Indian Mtn that day and we were dreading it because it was our first 5K mtn, but it had a fairly gently sloping switchback up the entire thing, though the top was covered in ice for about a quarter mile and was quite treacherous. Then it was downhill to the shelter and we got there in good time, about 3:30pm and had a super early dinner and were in our tent by 5pm. However, our tent was leaking from the rainfly and dripping on my bag, somewhat on Chris’ and I didn’t sleep that great that night. And we had a small puddle the next morning. I was peeved. (we called Big Agnes and they are sending a new fly to Fontana Dam for us).

-We woke up to snow the next morning and it snowed the entire day on Monday. Snow was preferrable to rain. We had another big climb that day, Albert Mtn, which is more of a scramble and use your hands kind of climb. Luckily it was a steep but relatively short climb. A fairly easy walk after that to the Rock Gap shelter.

-Tuesday we left camp a little late and then just downhill from where we were we ran into some Trail Angels, three ladies, who were making hot dogs. So, we stopped for about 45 minutes and had hot dogs, Cokes and ding dongs. The rest of the day was sunny and we climbed two balds that day. Siler Bald (there’s a Silers bald soon) which doesn’t take you to the top but you can drop you pack and walk to the top. That was pretty neat. We had to climb Wayah Bald, too, because our intended destination for the night ended up being coverd in snow still on the north face of that mountain. That was a treacherous 1 mile hike through the snow, too. A lot of people were making decisions on skipping the Smokies based on that.

-Wednesday was a fairly good day, some climbing and hills, but mostly a good hike of only 10 miles since we went further the day before. Sunshine day. Climbed the Wesser Bald and tower with great views. Met a lot of new people that day because they had been at the Wayah bald shelter. Two trail dogs. Oh, another Trail Angel was set up before we climbed to the Cold Spring shelter and we had a hamburger, sodas and chips for an early lunch.

It looks like we had a crappy climb out of the NOC tomorrow. We came down in elevation to somewhere in the 1,000’s and late tomorow we have to go over a 6K peak somewhere. It will be a 10 mile day as well as for the next three days after. Then we’ll take another zero with Chris’ mom and probably hit the Smokies. We will be reevaluating our food and time to get to Hot Springs because our original plan was 11 days and that much food carrying sucks.

Nickie: I’m thinking on your question about hardships. I’ll have to answer it next time after I talk with Chris about it.

Anyway…resting up today. Lounging around and probably getting more grub in town.

Oh, in Ashleigh news she is off the ventilator and is up to 3lbs and something oz and also is starting bottle feedings. All of the grandparents have gotten to hold her, too. Hopefully in about a month or six weeks she can come home!


Mountain vista

This was a hell of a climb right out of Woody Gap. Freakin’ cold too with the wind. Had a hurried lunch by a log right near the top of this. Kinda too cold to enjoy with the wind. Most of the time you are walking along and don’t really see the view at all. A nice clear day makes it worthwhile.