Day 20, March 30th

Today was a good day.

We got up early, had breakfast at the lodge, and got dropped off back at Wayah Bald.  We didn’t go up to the tower yesterday, so that’s where we started the day, today.

Wayah Bald Tower video

https://youtu.be/VTOeDoeRNBA

Since we were slackpacking, we knew we could make really good time so we took off.  The weather wasn’t great so I just didn’t stop.  I took these pictures during the first half of the day, but that’s it.

   

Our plan to let the trail dry out didn’t work…

I made pretty good time, even walking through that crap.  When I got to Tellico Gap, I had covered nine and a half miles in exactly three hours.  Not bad.

I figured that was a good opportunity to eat lunch.  While I was eating, the fog finally broke and the sun came out.  Also my Clif bar gave me a motivational speech.

  

Since the sun was out, it took a little longer to do the other eight and a half miles down to the NOC.  I could finally take some pictures and videos that were worth sharing.  

About a mile and a half uphill from Tellico Gap is the Wesser Bald tower.  I’m glad the sun came out before I’d made it there.

Wesser Bald Tower video

https://youtu.be/ZdkKr6F7n0Y

   

  

While I went up to the tower, 6’12” decided to keep going.  Apparently he just wants to hike without any of the benefits of his long climbs.

So, I started down the trail on my own and enjoyed the solitude for a while.  Except when the woman who went up the fire tower after me started screaming (verbatim) “HOLY TOLEDO!!  I’M ON TOP OF THE WORLD.  OH EM GEE!!”  See, weird stuff at towers.

Here are a few pictures from my trip down into the NOC.

   

               

Here’s a video from a great view on the descent.

Agro Crag video

https://youtu.be/flQ0rMiPF28

So, as I mentioned earlier, 6’12” skipped the tower and headed down the mountain.  I spent about an hour on the tower so he had a pretty good head start.  I finally caught up with him and saw him on the other side of a valley.  I yelled at him and he didn’t answer.  I remembered he had his ear buds in, so this happened…

Stalking a 6’12” video (Foul language)

https://youtu.be/Fj2_2Ex1aaI

You’re welcome.

We made it into NOC around 5:00.  This is what was happening when we got here.

River People video

https://youtu.be/AvY8ivSKMwo

Wiggy picked us up around 7:00 and took us back to the lodge.  We were fairly beaten after a long, awesome day.  Sleep shouldn’t be a problem.

  

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Day 19, March 29th

So.  Cold.

I’m pretty sure it got down to 14 Kelvin last night.  Surprisingly, I stayed quite warm in the hammock.  I wore my down jacket and pants as well as a down hood and I was fine.

6’12” didn’t fare as well.  Being in a tent, he had a little condensation problem to deal with.  At sub-freezing temperatures, every breath he took literally froze to the inside of his tent.  When he woke up, he had a sheet of ice all over the inside of his tent.  I took that opportunity to laugh at him.

I think we stayed in our respective sleeping areas until probably 11:30 hoping the sun would warm everything up.  No such luck.

We got up, made breakfast, and started breaking down camp.  Here’s a picture of what I call “half-man/half-tent.”

  

This happens every morning.  While taking down his tent he’ll just lie there and complain.  It’s comical.

We got another late start today waiting on the weather to warm up.  It didn’t.  Also, I forgot to mention that DABS and Rocky Dennis only took one zero day, so they’re a little ahead of us.

When we finally did get going, the trail was a mess. All of the snow had melted into the trail making it feel like we were walking in oatmeal.  Not fun.  

   

 

I kept trudging along through the porridge and came across more Dark Eyed Juncos.  I tried to get a video to show you guys how close they get, I don’t know how it turned out, though.

Dark Eyed Junco video

https://youtu.be/DxBDqoCYuDA

We kept going a bit more and made it to Wayah Bald.  The weather was finally decent, but we’d just made a fairly long climb in soup so we were kinda beat.

There’s a tower at the top of Wayah Bald.  If you’ll remember the last tower we encountered, the girl was doing the rope thing.  This tower was no different.  I hope someone is doing something strange at every tower I come to.

More Weird Stuff video

https://youtu.be/gFXCnzwx1OY

We checked the guide and saw there was a hostel nearby that would pick us up at that parking lot.  We decided we’d give the trail that afternoon to dry out, stay in the hostel for two nights, and come back tomorrow and slackpack the ~17 miles to the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC).  No zeroes, just two nights in the lodge while doing ~17 miles during the day.  Slackpacking just means they’ll keep our packs with them at the lodge and send us out with day packs to carry food and water.

The people who run the lodge are a British couple.  The husband, Wiggy, thru-hiked the AT in 2010.  It was a really nice place and we really enjoyed the hospitality.  It was funny to hear Wiggy giving advice to people that seemed destined to die on the trail:

“When you get back out there, every time you walk by a water source without drinking, I want you to punch yourself in the face.  At the end of the day, your face will be bruised and sore and you’ll know what you need to do to make it feel better.”  -Wiggy

Wiggy and Maggie built this place by hand…

Wiggy picked us up and took us back to the lodge.  After a quick shower and a meal, I’m done.  Planning 17+ miles tomorrow so rest is much needed.

Day 18, March 28th

Today was a tough day for me.  I woke up early so I could get back to Franklin in time to return the rental car without any extra fees.

I love my family to death; but, I’m not sure it was a good idea to go home, or not.  It was pretty tough leaving them.

After four hours in the vehicle, I made it back to Franklin so I stopped by the Microtel Inn & Suites and picked up 6’12”.  We were going to head into town and check out an outfitter called Outdoor 76. They’re supposed to be the best in the industry when it comes to matching people to the correct footwear for their hike.

Apparently, the day before, 6’12” carried his shoes in there to get sorted out and they threw them away and made him buy new ones.  I guess they’re pretty serious.  Fortunately, after they’d measured my feet, they told my my shoes were perfect, swapped my insoles for another set (free of charge), and sent me on my way.

They had a small beer room in their store, so 6’12” and I each had a Duck Rabbit Milk Stout before leaving.  Good call.  It was freezing outside, so this warmed us up a little.

   

 

Afterwards, we hurried back to Enterprise to return the car.  Back to square one.  We were 10 miles from the trail and didn’t have a vehicle.  A woman stopped us to tell us that the Nantahala Hiking Club was hosting a hiker feed at a local brewery that hadn’t opened, yet.  She suggested that we go up there, eat, and talk to some of the club members to see if anyone would run us up to the gap.

  

We met a lady at the brewery who was retired and spent her time maintaining the trail.  She offered to drive us up to the gap that afternoon after everything had finished up.  We spent a little time helping them clean some stuff up and then piled all of our gear into her Margaritaville tagged minivan and headed up to Winding Stair Gap.  To our surprise, Jimmy Buffett was on the radio.

We pulled into the gap, thanked her for giving us a ride, and then got a dose of reality.  We were back on the trail.  Time to walk another 2,100 miles.

  

We did cross a footbridge right off the bat.  It didn’t seem to have the same appeal after being in town for a few days.

   

 

We walked about a third of a mile before we decided to set up camp.  Fortunately, we were able to find some motivation, in spite of the cold weather, and keep going.  We passed a few questionably named and vandalized gaps en route to camp that day.

Mom, I swear I didn’t do this…

I just happened to see this while hiking and figured I should immortalize it.

  

There had been some snow the day before that didn’t melt.  The trail looked kinda cool with snow on both sides.  

   

   

It started to get really cold.  Really cold.  We stopped to get water and decided to just go ahead and set up a camp shortly after there so we could make use of the last bit of daylight.  When I took my pack off, this is what my back looked like…

  

It turns out being covered in sweat is a bad idea when the temperatures are plummeting.  I was freezing.

A little further down the trail, we set up our camp for the night in a picnic area.  There was a fire ring there so we also started a fire to try to warm up.  It was incredibly windy so the heat didn’t really help us, it seemed to just blow off.

We only did about five miles today; but, in our defense, we didn’t start until about 3:30.

We hung bear bags and were in bed before the sun had gone down.  The temperature is supposed to get down in the teens with a lot of wind tonight.  I guess I’ll get to test the hammock in some cold weather.  Is confidently nervous a thing?

#FitBitProblems

Day 16, March 26th (zero day)

I woke up and rented a car and drove home from Franklin (about 4 hours).  Just spent some time with the family today since I’m close enough to do so.  Taking advantage of it now since I won’t be able to do this as I put more distance between myself and home.

Carolina lost.

That is all.

Day 15, March 25th

I woke up this morning and could hardly move.  Looks like I may have overdone it a bit yesterday.  No worries, only four miles and then two zero days in a row.  Should be nice. 

The day started with Eugene eating the severely misshapen version of the Pop Tarts that 6’12” had given him.  This is what it looked like: 

  

6’12” and DABS left a lot earlier than us so they could try to get to the gap first and head into town.  Eugene and I took a bit longer and made sure no one had forgotten anything in camp.  A few minutes later, we headed up the trail and on our way, we saw this sign when we came through Rock Gap. 

  

Just a bit more on the trail and we came to a paved road with a sign leading people to Standing Indian Campground.  It was strange to realize someone could be there in a matter of minutes when it had taken us two days to make it here, from there.

  

On that same paved road, someone had congratulated thru-hikers in a very North Carolina sort of way. 

  

We had to walk up a portion of the trail that seemed like it wasn’t more than about 18″ wide and dropped straight down to a paved road.  It wasn’t too high, but, I know it would have hurt to have fallen off and landed on the road from that height.  Notice the hard working NCDOT gentlemen in the background.  They didn’t move for roughly 15 minutes. 

  

Fortunately, there was a water source right up the trail because I didn’t drink enough water the night before after all the hiking and had forgotten to fill up before leaving this morning.  We stopped for a few minutes and cameled up before heading on down the trail. 

  

About an hour and a half later, we made it to Winding Stair Gap which was our end point for the day.  I took this picture of the sign that’s right there where the trail meets US 64. 

  

That was it for hiking for the day.  There was a gentleman named Rodney who was doing trail magic at the gap.  I spoke with him for a bit and he offered to take Eugene and I into town.  6’12” had already booked a room at the Microtel Inn and Suites, so we were on our way to hot showers and laundry.  After we finished up with that, we wasted no time seeing to our respective injuries.  A bit later, 6’12” and I went to the FATZ Cafe in the parking lot, only to learn their grill was broken.  We took the public transportation to run a few errands around town before revisiting the FATZ Cafe, now with a working grill.  After a massive burgers and a few drinks, we were calling it a night. 

When we got back, Eugene had made a trip to the grocery store and was using my bed as a sorting table for his rations.

  

The best part of today was that Eugene finally got a trail name: Rocky Dennis.  Here’s a picture of Eugene.  If you don’t already know, just Google it.

  

I think, since I’m planning two zero days, I may rent a car tomorrow morning and drive home to visit my family for a few days.  I figure I won’t have the opportunity to do this for the entire length of the trail, so I should go ahead and take advantage of the close proximity, while I have it.  That’s it for today, sorry it was so short; but, nothing really happened.  The next two days should prove to be fairly uneventful, apart from NCAA basketball.  I hope Carolina loses and NC State wins.  If State does win, I’m going to be in a bind on Sunday trying to figure out where/how to watch the game while I’m back on the trail. 

Working on the Fitbit and should probably have it sorted within a day or so.

Day 14, March 24th, HYOH!

There’s a lot to talk about, today.  It started with some fairly easy hiking and me planning on doing 19 miles and making it to Franklin, NC.  I started the day after everyone else, again.  This is becoming my ritual as I hike a little faster than the rest of my group.  This way, we usually make it to camp around the same time. 

I encountered a fallen rhododendron tree this morning almost immediately after passing 6’12”.  It was a nuisance for me to go through it, so I knew he was definitely going to have a problem getting past it.  In a moment of brilliance, I dropped everything and got out the phone to video him coming through.  The following is the result.  You’re welcome… 

6’12” vs. Rhododendron

https://youtu.be/WpTAcjS29dM

Where Georgia was full of pointy rocks, North Carolina had made its presence known with ankle breaking rhododendron roots.  These must be the most prolific root systems in the plant kingdom.  I mean, they’re everywhere out here.

These roots weren’t made for walking…

Not two minutes after passing the crazy root mosaic, another downed tree crossed the trail.  Again, for your viewing pleasure… 

6’12” vs. Downed Tree

https://youtu.be/1fewe0elGXI

I kinda slipped into a turbo mode today, during which I passed everyone with whom I’d camped the night before.  Walking at that pace isn’t very conducive to picture taking, and for that, I apologize.  I did, however, find this little side trail to one of the best views I’d seen, to date. 

  

After I’d done a little over eight miles in about three hours (remember – I’m fat, out of shape, carrying a pack, and in the mountains – this is great time for me – it took the entire first day to do a little over seven miles) I stopped for lunch.  You might think pregnant women eat strange things, and you’d be wrong.  Strike up a conversation with a thru-hiker and find out what the most interesting thing he or she had eaten on the trail was and I’m sure you’ll be amazed.  You see, trail food has to meet a certain set of standards in order to be considered.  In this case, variety is sacrificed in order to maintain high caloric offerings in lightweight doses while still having some sort of nutritional value.  Did I mention flavor?  Nope.  That’s just a bonus.  Cue the SPAM and tuna salad tortilla.  A little delicacy I like to call, “SPAM and tuna salad tortilla.”

  

While I was eating, a Dark-Eyed Junco was hopping around on the ground in front of me and flying around the immediate vicinity.  I meant to mention these birds earlier and forgot.  I see plenty of them every day, usually at higher elevations and almost always really close by.  It’s like they’re not afraid of humans.  They’re fun to watch, as well.  I’ve always liked birds and do my best to learn about them.  I never knew how bold these little guys are.  It wouldn’t surprise me if someone were able to feed them by hand. 

  

I stopped to refill my water and then kept going.  Since I found out I had LTE during lunch, I took a long one to catch up emails and send a few texts.  

Lo and behold, DABS came lumbering along as I was finishing up.  He’s starting to get trail legs and I don’t think he realizes it.  He’s exponentially faster than he was two weeks ago.  Anyways, we kept going and noticed an area where the fine citizens of North Carolina had clearly taken the time to make an obviously rocky area much more pleasant to the feet of thru-hikers.  Take that, Georgia!

  

Up ahead, I passed an RV.  Yep, an RV.  That’s a caravan, for you British lads/lasses.  Nothing can crush that ‘one with nature, doing something most people don’t do, in the wilderness’ feeling quite like a family of fatsos out having a vacation right beside your gateway to the outdoors.  Sorry for the harsh words, I was just having a really good day and for some reason, that RV ruined it for a few moments.  I mean, I’m thru-hiking the AT.  This is the wilderness.  There are, quite literally, signs everywhere that say so.  The idea of someone being able to drive out and bring a camper along with tons of food and drinks just kinda made me feel like a moron for laboring up and down these confounded mountains for days on end.  Rant over.
 

D’ya like dags? Dags? What? Yeah, dags. Oh, dogs. Sure, I like dags. I like caravans more.

A bit further on, I got a glimpse of today’s highlight – the Albert Mountain fire tower.  Apparently, there’s a fire tower at the top of one of the highest peaks around and not only does the trail pass it, you can go up and inside of it.  Sweet!

  

On we go, yeah?  Remember how happy I was when I realized my state cared about thru-hikers and their feet?  A concern made evident by careful placement of a pathway through an otherwise rocky area?  Remember when I thought that North Carolina was better when it came to rocks?  Scratch that.  Scratch that entirely.  Strike that from the record.  I was so wrong.  The approach to the fire tower was my first “scramble.”  For those unfamiliar with the term, it means you have to crawl up rocks – not making par after missing the GIR.  Fun.  Well, at least I got to take some good pictures of the trail and a few videos of DABS coming up, which is always entertaining! 

   

             

DABS Coming Up

https://youtu.be/wfcIoCq9SCA

DABS Climbing Rocks

https://youtu.be/8riw2WcvLOI

Once again, the misery proved worth it and I was rewarded with the most amazing views I’ve seen, so far.  Needless to say, I spent quite a bit of time up there.  It was breathtaking.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

  

  

  

This shot was taken by me running around the walkway on the fire tower to get a 360 degree panorama shot

  

 

  

When I was on top of the tower, I looked down and saw a guy who had taken the sign down and was laying on it.  Obviously it was necessary since the entire area was flat.  Hike your own hike, bro!  (Much, much more on this phrase to follow)

   

 

I noticed an attic inside the tower and my curiosity prevailed.  There was a single piece of 1″ round stock welded to about a foot by foot piece of 1/4″ sheet metal that was bolted to the floor.  It didn’t seem very sturdy.  It was my only option, though.  After a display of acrobatics that would make any circus proud, I was looking in the attic.  There was nothing up there.  Way to risk injury for no reward.  Oh well.  Notice the extreme balance and expertise associated with this maneuver (sarcasm).  Also, how do I have shin muscles? 

  

I actually went to the top of the fire tower three times today and was feeling so good, I ran up the four flights of stairs each time.  I don’t know if I’m getting back in shape, getting my trail legs, or both.  Either way, I’m digging it.  DABS made it up there with me, so we snapped a picture from the top.

  

It was about this time when the day started to take a turn first to weird, and then shortly later, to bad.  One of the girls who came up had a rope at the bottom of her pack.  I’d like to point out that this was not 550 cord.  This was also not rope people use for climbing and rappelling.  This was a rope better suited for a tugboat to use while pulling an oil tanker.  It was massive.  I inquired.  Apparently she does some type of rope-climbing-dancing-acrobatics or something…  Circus girl?  Exotic dancer?  I didn’t get the entire story, and to be honest, I didn’t really care.  I was too confused to be concerned.  What followed shortly after was a display of the strangest thing I’ve seen on the trail, so far (and also a shameless upstaging of my brilliant acrobatics while in the fire tower).  I mean, I guess it wouldn’t have been strange to see in a gym, or something; but, this girl is literally lugging around a piece of the Titanic just so she can swing from things like a monkey.  Hike your own hike!  (Again, more on this later)  I took a picture so I could share this with you guys. 

  

So, that was the weird, here comes the bad:

6’12”, who we thought we’d lost, showed up after I’d been up there for nearly two hours.  He limped up the trail and told me he’d messed up his hip and leg.  Not really sure what happened, I asked him if he was okay and would keep going.  He said he would, but, he wanted to go up the fire tower for a few pictures, first.  I knew he was in pain when it took him almost five minutes to go up the 30-40 steps leading to the top. 

He also showed me this awesome video of him walking.  Apparently that’s harder than it sounds for people from Wisconsin.  You be the judge… 

6’12” vs. Walking

https://youtu.be/82si1pFeZ9Q

We took a few pictures and then decided to head to camp.  Before we did, 6’12” put his pack on and then remembered he needed something from inside of it.  He asked for my help and I declined, hoping for more hilarity.  I got it.

   

 

The rest of the group had planned to rendezvous at a campsite two miles away and then debate whether, or not, to carry on to the next site three and a half miles beyond.  I left with 6’12” and immediately noticed how slowly he was walking, wincing in pain with every step.  Not good. 

Right then, I decided I was going to get down to the first shelter as quickly as I could, drop my pack, hurry back, and carry his pack for him. 

Just a cool blaze I saw on the way down…

I’d like to interject this portion of the story with a little insight.  “Hike your own hike.”  You hear it everywhere out here.  Usually, it’s used when someone sees someone else doing something of which they don’t approve or feel is beneath them.  Example:  I’m walking into a campsite and see someone urinating near a water source.  Rather than argue, I say, “Hike your own hike,” with a hint of condescension in my voice.  

Another way it’s used is in defense of something with which someone else doesn’t agree.  Example: I have my Crocs lashed to the outside of my pack and when one of the gram counters tells me that’s too much weight, I tell him, “Hike your own hike.” 

Now, why does this matter?  A few of the books I’ve read mention that it’s very common for people to form groups at the beginning of their hike.  They go on to say that it’s human nature to form groups and that, although these groups can provide encouragement and support, they can also ruin your hike.  How?  Like so…  Suppose (and in my case, it’s true) you meet up with a group that hikes at a slower pace than you.  If you stay with that group, you risk being forced to do shorter days, lengthening your time on the trail.  Also, they may want to pass by things you want to enjoy, take more/less time in towns, etc.  

Enter: Hike your own hike.  

Leave the group and focus on your own hike.  Books, articles, and many people advise this.  The term literally encourages selfishness.

I’m out here to try to become a better person while fulfilling a dream and an adventure.  I’m not super ‘Hooah’ (it’s an army term, google it) or anything, but I’m reminded of another phrase that I’ve recited thousands of times.  “I will never leave a fallen comrade.”  It’s a part of the Warrior Ethos that every soldier must learn and live.  If I’m of sound mind and able body, why should I hike my own hike?  Why can’t I also help 6’12” hike his?  Why can’t my hike be helping him with his hike? 

Hike your own hike?  Meh.  I’m gonna do me.  At the end of the day, I want to be the person who helped a friend, not left him behind because he was injured and hiked slower.  I’m not saying that our paths won’t eventually lead different ways, I’m just saying that I won’t leave him behind when he’s injured so I can cover more miles that day.  If you would have, I don’t think I’d have a beer with you.  Rant over.

I forgot to mention that on my way down to the shelter the first time, I ran by a female Cooper’s Hawk that was undoubtedly on a kill.  I say this because raptors are reluctant to leave a kill because they’re so hard to come by in nature, and this case was no different.  She didn’t bust out of the bush until I was about three feet away.  If my heart rate wasn’t already at max potential output, it was then.  Won’t be digging a cathole tonight.

So I met up with the rest of the group at the first shelter, brought them up to speed with 6’12” and his issue, left my pack in their care, drank some water, and ran back up the trail to meet him.  After about a half-mile, or so, I found him and told him to give me his pack.  I think he shed a tear.  I told him the group had decided to go on to the next shelter.  He said he thought he’d be able to make it if he didn’t have to carry his pack; so, off I went.  I ran back down the trail and caught up with the group about a mile from the first shelter.  Because I didn’t want my decision to help a friend to have a negative impact on anyone else’s hike, I snatched my pack from Eugene and proceeded to hike the next two miles carrying both my pack and his pack.  Luckily, one of the guys hiking with us, Uphill (that’s his trail name) helped me out by hurrying to camp, dropping his pack, and coming back to relieve me.  Unfortunately, it was only for about a quarter of a mile, but it was still great to finally have one pack, again.  If you ever read this, Uphill, I can’t thank you enough for that.

6’12” made it to camp about 15 minutes after me and seemed to be in fairly decent spirits, in spite of his injury.  He also tripped over a log in a manner that reminded me of a South American soccer player taking a dive in a game.  I called him ‘seis doce’ for the rest of the night (six twelve in Spanish).  I didn’t have that one on video, but it was great.  Trust me. 

My legs are shot.  I didn’t make it to Franklin, NC today.  I did help a friend through one of those moments that tends to make people catch a flight back to their hometown, though.  As soon as I’m done writing this, I’m going to sleep like a baby.  We only have four miles tomorrow to get to town and I’m going to take two zeroes in a row.  I only wanted to take one; but, NC State is playing Friday night in the Sweet 16 and that’s important enough for me to take another one. 

Sorry this has been such a long post, it’s been a long and eventful day, so that’s what you get. 

Regardless of the pain, I still feel really good.  I know I could have made Franklin today if everything else hadn’t happened.  My Fitbit says 16.98 miles for the day, so I’m happy with that.  I’m trying to push myself harder each day.  I’m excited about a few down days, though.  Today took a lot out of me with all the running and the carrying two packs.  Hopefully I’m able to move in the morning.  At least I’m eating Bojangles for lunch tomorrow, though! 

I’m sure I’ll have more to write tomorrow.  For now, it’s 11:54 and that’s way past hiker midnight.  I’m going to bed.  Y’all be good.

#FitbitProblems

Day 13, March 23rd

Today was a good day.  We slept in a little and it was kinda cold when we woke up.  I guess that’s why this is the 6’12” I saw when I got out of the hammock…

  

Everyone in camp seemed to be in a hurry this morning.  I stuck around for a little while and just took it easy.  We were planning 12 miles for the day so I figured I’d make sure I got a good breakfast, and then, since the sun was finally back out, I’d head back down the trail to the GA/NC border to get a better picture. 

  

After that, I finally took off.  Within the first 1/4 mile, the guide book mentioned a tree which was often photographed.  We’re literally in a forest, how the hell am I supposed to find that tree??  When I got there, it was pretty obvious so I took a few pictures.  It was a really cool looking tree, so why not? 

   

 

It occurred to me that it’d be a neat picture if I was in the tree.  Problem: No one was around to take the picture.  Solution: iPhone 6 has a timer for pictures so I could set a delay and climb the tree.  Problem: It only has a 10 second delay and I had to get far enough away to get the entire tree in the shot.  Solution:  Run. 

I honestly wish there would have been someone secretly filming my antics during this photo session.  I had to look like some kind of moron running back and forth between my phone, which I’d hung in the loops of my trekking poles, and climbing this tree.  Alas, I got a picture with which I was satisfied. 

  

After that was done, I kept hiking.  I should have paid more attention to the guide book to see what was immediately in store.  Within five minutes of leaving there, I had to walk up a wall.  Yep, a wall.  Ok, to be fair, it wasn’t actually a wall; however, it was steep enough that some people were going up it on all fours.  Not good. 

Shortly after beginning my ascent, I saw a rock situated perfectly in the middle of the trail and, to me, it looked like North Carolina.  I don’t know why, but this inspired me.  I don’t want to sound like some seasoned thru-hiker, I swear.  It’s just strange to me that some of the smallest things are amusing, these days.  When you have nothing more than a pack, some gear, and 2,000+ miles to walk, you become less interested in the things that used to be important.  I don’t even know what’s going on with Leonard and Penny. 

  

 I like to take a break from a long climb, especially when it’s clear out and I can see for miles, put on some good music, and just reflect on my life.  I’m physically drained from the climb.  The idea of giving up hasn’t penetrated my thoughts, yet.  I do miss my family and the real world.  However, I’m usually a pretty unhappy person and drawing from prior experiences really helps me calm down and realize that I’m fortunate enough to get to be out here doing this.  It beats the hell out of staring at a computer screen or punching a clock.  After a few moments of just standing still and looking around, I come back to reality and I’m pumped all over again.  Too bad there’s still like a gazillion more feet of uphill before I hit this summit.  It could be much worse, though. 

Here are a few shots from the climb… 

   

       

I finally made it over the top and figured, since I’d left well after everyone else, that I’d just take a slow day and take plenty of pictures for you guys.  A few miles after clearing the summit, I came across this little footbridge.  Again, I don’t want to sound like I’m getting soft, but it just made me happy for some reason.  I think it might just be that it’s different.  In the current environment, it seems to become redundant – hardwood forests that contain trees which are barren of leaves followed by rhododendron thickets.  Add climbs and descents, rinse, repeat.  Even a footbridge becomes special when you don’t see them but every few days.  

Here’s the one I saw today… 

  

A few more miles would uncover this pretty cool rhododendron tunnel.  I know I said they’re everywhere, and if you get tired of seeing pictures of them, let me know.  I won’t stop taking them, or posting them, but your discontent will be noted.

  

Getting closer to camp, I crossed a trail that just couldn’t be left out of the blog… 

  

And for all of you guys out there, mainly my mom’s side of the family, who are worried about bear encounters, let this put your worries to rest… 

  

We ended up doing 12 miles today and I feel really good.  We’re only 19 miles from Franklin, NC, and I’m toying with the idea of trying to do them all tomorrow.  I’ll see how I feel in the morning and make the decision then. 

Oh yeah, I forgot to add that a guy in our camp tonight, Wookie, had some seriously infected toes.  I was with him when he spoke to another guy on the trail, Doc, who is thru-hiking prior to starting his residency as a doctor.  His advice was to get a super hot needle and lance the infected areas.  No one in camp was willing to do it, so I performed my first surgery (yes, I’m calling it surgery, let me live) tonight.  Patient is pain free and ambulatory.  Go ahead and throw that one into my bag of tricks. 

I’m still feeling really well.  It’s amazing what a little sun can do.  I also started taking a multivitamin today so I’m sure that has something to do with the physical health.  I stayed committed to my plan and walked slow all day.  DABS was about to send out a search party for me because he couldn’t believe he’d made it to camp before me on a 12 mile day.  Hopefully you guys enjoy the pictures, because I certainly enjoyed the hike. 

I feel like this honeymoon period is bound to wear off at some point, I just don’t know when.  I honestly hope it doesn’t, because I’m really having a good time, meeting some great people, and I truly believe I’m growing as a person.  Definitely looking forward to tomorrow.

Again, Fitbit isn’t syncing right so I’ll update this later.  I know, I know, first world problems.

Day 12, March 22nd

I woke up this morning and decided to get in the hot tub and stretch.  Best idea ever.  I felt great afterwards. 

My family dropped me off at Dick’s Creek Gap around 11:00 and we had to wait about an hour on the rest of the guys to get there in the Budget Inn shuttle.  When they got there, 6’12” told me to pick up his pack and I’m pretty sure it weighed close to a million pounds.  He informed me that he had surprises for when we crossed into NC.  That’s right, today is the day we cross our first state line. 

We took off shortly after to an immediate 1,000′ climb.  Great.  I had to stop about 300′ in so I could downgrade my clothes.  It was way too hot.  After I changed, I took off again and stopped at the first water source I saw to go ahead and camel up.  Beer = dehydration.  After wasting about another 30 minutes there, I was finally ready to hike.

The weather turned to crap again so I didn’t take many pictures.  I’m considering switching to an umbrella setup so I can keep taking pictures even when it’s raining.  Until then, I apologize. 

Again, I went into autopilot and just started going.  I did stop and take a few pictures, though.  I felt it was only appropriate to snap this picture, considering my mom’s side of the family is from Georgia and also mostly named Cowart. 

I can taste the biscuits…

I kept going and saw this sign.  Although I’ve seen a million of them, I just wanted to take a picture of this one. 

  

Trudging along, we finally made it to the most anticlimactic (read: truly amazing) sign I’ve ever seen.  It really isn’t much, and in the grand scheme of things, we’ve done less than 5% of the trail.  However, in the driving rain, fog, and cold weather, this truly was an awesome sight. 

  

It was pretty cold and super wet so I decided to just set up the hammock immediately, crawl in, and try to warm up.  I think it was about 30 minutes later when 6’12” reached under the tarp, opened the zipper to my bug net, and threw this in: 

  

We met another group of people in this camp that we get along with pretty well, so we may hang out with them for a few days.  Who knows? 

So far I’m still feeling pretty well.  I’ll admit, today was pretty foul because of the weather.  Crossing into North Carolina did a lot for my spirits, as well.  It was pretty cool to work so hard to make it back to my home state.  I really hope the trail in NC is better than Georgia.  Somehow, I feel responsible for it.  I feel like the guys I’m with will hold me personally accountable for the trail in NC.  Regardless, I’m feeling really well and looking forward to whatever is ahead. 

My Fitbit is acting crazy so I’m not going to be able to update steps until I get it sorted out.