Days 18 – 20 (3/18/15 – 3/20/15)

Day 18, 3/18/15

Start: Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC)
Finish: Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC)
Miles Hiked: 0
Miles To Go: 2051.9
Overall Miles Hiked: 137.3

When I woke up I could barely walk. My knees were in a lot of pain after the hike into the NOC, so I decided to take a zero today. I had breakfast with my group and made plans to meet back up with them in three days in Fontana Village, NC, they hiked on. With an entire day and no plans, I decided to take advantage of what the NOC had to offer. For $40, I  was able to secure a spot on a whitewater rafting trip and geared up in a wetsuit. It was a great experience as I was able to get a different view of the mountain I climbed down the day before. The Nantahala River is fed by a giant flume that turns 6 miles up into the mountains leading up to Lake Nantahala. Every night, the supply of water is cut off and the river slows down to a trickle. During this time, river rafting guides will sometimes add piles of large rocks to the riverbed to alter the course and rush of the rapids. (Apparently, this practice is not exactly legal, but adds some thrills to once tame sections of the river.) After 3 hours of rafting, we arrived back at the NOC. I definitely recommend checking this place out! There is so much to do in such a beautiful setting.

Whitewater Rafting at the NOC

Whitewater Rafting at the NOC

Rafting the Nantahala

Rafting the Nantahala


Day 19, 3/19/15

Start: Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC)
Finish: Stecoah Gap
Miles Hiked: 13.4
Miles To Go: 2038.5
Overall Miles Hiked: 150.7

The climb out of the NOC was 3,200 ft. up, up and up. It kicked my ass the entire morning. I reached the first shelter of the day and had a big decision to make – set up camp and call it a day or hike on? I had hiked about 7 miles and needed to make up some ground to catch up with my group, so I pressed on. In hindsight, I probably should have stayed put. The weather was deteriorating with dense fog, stiff winds and pestering light rain. After hiking another 6 miles, I made it to a highway crossing around 5:30PM. The fog was so thick I could barely make out the A.T. marker just 50 feet away. I crossed the highway and started walking up a steep trail. I was moving slow, each foot barely clearing the toes of the other. At this rate, it would have taken me another couple of hours to reach the next shelter and I was starting to shiver from being cold and wet all day. After lunch, I had made a mistake. In an effort to get warm, I put my down jacket on underneath my rain gear, Down is extremely warm when dry, but unlike wool, when wet it is absolutely worthless. By the time I reached Stecoah Gap, my jacket had become saturated with sweat, rendering my warmest article of clothing useless…and the temperature was starting to drop. I decided to turn around and go back to the highway to hitch a ride, but the fog was so thick that the cars couldn’t see me. I grabbed my A.T. guidebook and dialed away. On the third attempt, I was able to reach Donna, who owns a nearby hostel. They were booked solid due to the weather, but she said for an additional $10 I could rent a private cabin, DONE AND DONE! I was picked up within 15 minutes and driven to my luxurious quarters for the night. I was now shivering uncontrollably and took the longest hot shower of my life. Lesson learned!

Hiking up away from the NOC

Hiking up away from the NOC


 

Day 20, 3/20/15

Start: Stecoah Gap
Finish: Fontana Dam Shelter
Miles Hiked: 15.2
Miles To Go: 2023.3
Overall Miles Hiked: 165.9

I was back on the trail early. For most of the day the weather was okay. There was light fog with no rain (hooray!) and I was enjoying hiking alone. About 6 miles from my intended shelter/stopping point for the day, I decided to stop and eat lunch. It started to drizzle just as I was finishing up. I had already done 10 miles over some pretty sloppy and slippery trail. Normally, I would have just called it a day, but I was trying to meet back up with my group ahead of schedule. I continued on, but would later come to regret this decision. Just like the day before, the weather began to deteriorate quickly. This time, I left the down jacket in my pack. With 4 miles to go, my knees began to give me a lot of trouble when going up or down stairs. The A.T. is not always a flat trail. Due to the steep inclines and declines, steps made of wood or boulders have been put in by trail maintainers. It takes more energy and places a greater strain on your body for every flight of stairs you have to take. Today, the downhill ones are the WORST! I have used hiking poles since day 1 and they have already proved to be a crucial piece of equipment for my thruhike. Without them, I know for a fact that I would have fallen countless times and placed even more strain on my sore knees. If I didn’t have my hiking poles today, I would have been forced to  literally crawl up and down the stairs, my knees were hurting that bad! I popped a couple I-vitamins and continued on, very slowly. (I-vitamins are what we call Ibuprofen.) With 2.5 miles to go, I seriously contemplated stopping to make camp. I was in pain and couldn’t see 50 ft. in front of me due to the fog and rain. I cursed myself and trail aloud, threatening to kick its ass. At this moment, I sat down and asked myself this question, “OK, dumbass… Having fun yet?” I thought to myself, “If you could leave the trail right this second and be dry and warm at home with the flip of a switch, would you do it?” I responded “no” out loud and stumbled on. The scary part was that I actually believed myself. I’ve heard that every thruhiker has similar conversations with themselves – we are all sick, crazy and addicted to pain, but we keep moving. Finally, I made it to the shelter. I was told my clan was at the hiker lodge. You could opt for a shuttle to pick you up from the shelter or you could walk an additional 3 miles to arrive by foot. No one had a cell service and the shelter was already full. I decided I would head to the lodge and thought I could easily get a ride there, I was so wrong. I walked an additional mile or so off trail before I was able to catch a ride. I met up with some of my group and hit the bed completely and utterly exhausted. Hiking 29 miles in two days in this weather will do that.

The A.T. crosses several highways like this. Also, I hate stairs!

The A.T. crosses several highways like this. Also, I hate stairs!

Cable Gap Shelter. Typical A.T. shelter.

Cable Gap Shelter. Typical A.T. shelter.

 

Days 15 – 17 (3/15/15 – 3/17/15)

Day 15, 3/15/15

Start: Rock Gap
Finish: Siler Bald Shelter
Miles Hiked: 8
Miles To Go: 2075.2
Overall Miles Hiked: 114

For the first time in two weeks, we awoke to clear skies. Spirits were high as we anticipated our hike for the day. The shuttle driver dropped us off right where we left the trail and we started walking. The 6 of us have formed a solid group and now everyone has trail names thanks to a quick stop at a sports bar last night. In addition to Billy Goat, Blazer and myself, we now have Hula (formerly Hannah) along with Made It and Car Bomb (formerly the two guys from New Hampshire.) We practically had the bar to ourselves, but I guess that is what you should expect at 6:30PM in a town like Franklin, NC. The guys drank while Hannah played with a hula hoop in the corner. The two New Hampshire guys drank Irish Car Bomb after Irish Car Bomb and kept saying how happy they were that they made it this far. After a few drinks, trail names were easy to disperse! We only hiked 8 miles today, so we got to the shelter around 5:00PM. Siler Bald Shelter is a really cool campsite and we found a small field just south of the campsite where we set up our tent city. After dinner, we hiked an additional half mile to the bald to watch the sunset. A bald is  the top of a mountain where trees can’t or haven’t grown, giving you a 360° view. Luckily, the skies were clear, so the views were incredible. It took us two weeks and over 100 miles, but we finally witnessed a spectacular sunset.

Group picture at Siler Bald. From Left to Right: Blazer, Hula, Poboy, Made It, Car Bomb, Billy Goat

Group picture at Siler Bald. From Left to Right: Blazer, Hula, Poboy, Made It, Car Bomb, Billy Goat

Siler Bald right before sunset.

Siler Bald right before sunset.

Beautiful Sunset

Beautiful Sunset

Siler Bald Sky at Sunset

Siler Bald Sky at Sunset

Siler Bald Sunset through the trees

Siler Bald Sunset through the trees


Day 16, 3/16/15

Start: Siler Bald Shelter
Finish: Cold Spring Shelter
Miles Hiked: 11.6
Miles To Go: 2063.6
Overall Miles Hiked: 125.6

Right next to the field where we camped was a small stream where we decided to cook breakfast. As I was preparing to cook my beef flavored ramen noodles (yes, ramen for breakfast!) I filled my stove with enough fuel to bring 300mL of water to a boil. Instead of lighting my stove on the ground, I lit it in my hand. I know, dumb. The stove got hot much faster than I anticipated and in an early morning panic, I dropped it. Unfortunatley, I dropped it in my food bag. As the flares spread, I sprung into action and half tossed/half kicked the bag into the stream extinguishing the fire. My bag had melted into the scorched food leaving me with only half of my intended rations.  As I cursed myself, everyone else was choking on their food in laughter. Glad I could make them all laugh! The worst part of this was my food bag contained a king size Twix bar to eat tonight, but the wrapping had melted, making it inedible. In another month or so, I would probably eat it anyway.

Our crew just moments before I lit my food on fire

Our crew just moments before I lit my food on fire

It was tough hiking all day as we got closer to the Smokies. Our elevation is much higher and the ups and downs are much larger than they were in GA. We had a really awesome moment together while having our lunch atop Wayah Bald. On the top of the bald is a stone tower that is now a tourist attraction. From the bald, we could see Siler Bald, Albert Mountain and Standing Indian Mountain. As the crow flies, Siler Bald was only 3 miles away, while the other two mountains were 10 miles away. By A.T. miles, Siler Bald was 7 miles away, Albert Mountain (and the fire tower we climbed a few days ago) was 21 miles away and Standing Indian Mountain was 33 miles away. It was an awesome experience being able to see exactly how far we have come and to see the mountains and unnamed hills we have crossed over the last week. We walked the remaining 4 miles and setup our tents on some fairly level ground, but trying to avoid the shelters and their mice mean you will have to endure a few nasty campsites.


Day 17, 3/17/15

Start: Cold Spring Shelter
Finish: Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC)
Miles Hiked: 11.7
Miles To Go: 2051.9
Overall Miles Hiked: 137.3

With low food rations I wanted to push myself to the Nantahala Outdoor Center (better known as the NOC) which is a sprawling outdoor center that sits at the bottom of a 3,000 ft. descent. So far, my biggest descent was only 1,000 ft., so I knew my knees would be in for a test. I packed up early and left my hiking clan behind as they were not planning on making it all the way to the NOC today. About half way into my hike, I ran into Dave and Robin, a friendly couple from Hiawassee who I had met about a week ago. We talked about hiking and sunsets and before long, I was back on my way to the NOC. With about 2 miles left in my hike, I hit a wall. My knees and feet were on fire with every step. (I feel like I should note that unlike my food bag, I did not light my body on fire!) All I wanted to do was set up camp and call it a day. I was out of food with the exception of a lonely package of ramen and I’ll be damned if I eat ramen for the umpteenth meal in a row! The NOC or bust! Well, I made it – sweaty, stinky and crippled, but I made it! My first stop was the registration house, but I had to find it first. From across the parking lot, I yelled at another hiker I recognized, “Where do I get my room?” “Follow me!” he shouted back. After a quarter mile of hiking back up a mountain, I asked if he knew where we were going. Sadly, he misheard me and I was back on the A.T. It took me another 30 minutes to limp back down and find the registration house. Sigh. After paying for my bunk, I was informed that the hostel at the NOC was under renovation which meant the bathhouse was closed, but they had set aside a cabin (downhill and 1,000 yards away) for us to use to take a shower. Towels were in a separate building far, far away that I had no intention of walking to… my plan was to drip dry. I painfully made it to the cabin so I could shower and opened the bathroom door. To my surprise, it was clean, but had no shampoo or soap. Honestly, at this point it did not matter. On the floor was a fairly clean bath mat, which I decided instantly would serve as my towel. Gross, I know, but hey, I’m just a hiker!

 

After showering, I made it to the restaurant overlooking the Nantahala River. To my surprise, I was waved over to a nearby table from Dave and Robin. They are retirees and avid hikers and even maintain several miles of the A.T. I really enjoyed talking to them and was very surprised when they picked up the tab for my burger! They have helped several hikers over the years and I hope to meet them again. The NOC restaurant is situated perfectly as diners watch rafters negotiate the rapids of the river below. I decided to stay until closing and enjoy the view.

Me, Dave and Robin having lunch at the NOC restaurant

Me, Dave and Robin having lunch at the NOC restaurant

After my burger, why not ice cream and a brownie to wash it down!?!

After my burger, why not ice cream and a brownie to wash it down!?!