1: TN91 to Laurel Fork Shelter

I left my apartment in good spirits. One of the interesting parts about section hiking is driving through the tiny, small little pieces of America that you wouldn’t ordinarily get to see on a journey from one city to the next. Did you know that there are places that still have operating video stores? I’ve seen several on my drives to hikes. I’ve seen more…creative fashion than I can describe, and beautiful murals depicting questionable historical events, and factories with crowds of people outside of them, and grocery stores I’ve never heard of, and all sorts of places and things I wouldn’t have discovered if I weren’t doing all of this driving through tiny little towns. It’s a nice way to see the country. 
This drive took me on one particular road through South Carolina. For some reason, the road was chock full of huge mansions. One house was a legitimate plantation, with a historical marker and everything. The other side of the road was just empty, or sometimes there were storefronts with a subway and maybe a dollar store. 
I stopped for dinner at McDonald’s and got my meal for free. Obviously this trip was off to a good start. 

I got to Hughes Gap at 10:20 and, instead of looking for somewhere to pitch my tent, I decided the back seat was good enough. My car is relatively clean, since I’d had to make sure I wasn’t carrying any contraband to my work (we have an extensive list), but it still isn’t enough room for my 5’9″ to sleep comfortably. I slept very little, but enough. 

Vicky, my shuttle driver, was right on time at 7am. I got in the car and we immediately hit it off. We chatted the entire way to TN91. We even stopped for McDonald’s breakfast, which was a real treat. 
I said goodbye to Vicky with a hug, and promised her I would call Uncle Mike (the actual shuttle driver, but he had a conflict that morning so Vicky filled in) for my next trip. 

I hit the trail at 8:03, grinning as my feet squished and slid in the deep brown mud. 

Fat white rumps ahead of me took me by surprise; deer jumped off into the woods. 

Birds were singing furiously in the morning sun. 

Furry grass (perhaps furrier due to my lack of glasses) bordered the long brown path winding atop the ridge line, punctuated by thruhikers who refused to give me the right of way when I was coming up the one mountain. Oh well. 

I stopped at the grave for Nick Grindstaff, a hermit. I thought about the people who choose to live alone, the people who are alone by circumstance, and the people society forces to live alone. I thought about Training Wheels and her calling to work with veterans with addiction and PTSD, and was grateful for her work. 

I kept checking my pace, and I was doing well. This is the face of a woman who knows she’s on track (in this hike, in life, in general). 

Electric lines, because. I got a lot of compliments on my hair today. From old women AND cool hippie chicks. 

The rhodos were starting to bloom!

I didn’t stop much. This was at Iron Mountain shelter, where I ate my lunch (half a package of poptarts) and put on my ankle brace. No idea what’s wrong with my ankle, but it sounds squishy and now (tonight) the bone from my big toe is red. Exciting! It’s fine(ish) with the brace on. 

The trail really was pretty gentle down to Watauga Dam. I had a nice road walk, contemplating how sunburnt I would get without any tree cover. 

I walked around the lake, but I made the mistake of hike-dancing too intensely and I did something to my knee and had to sit for a minute to get that back where it was supposed to be.

The hike up from the dam was odd. I’m not sure if it was a controlled burn or a wildfire but half the trail was recently burnt and the sharp smell of smoke still hung in the air. Even if that section of the trail hadn’t been closed for bear activity, I think I could have skipped it. Maybe it was burnt because of the Bears? I don’t know. It was creepy. 

Soon I got close to the shelter. I started crossing Laurel Fork, the wide cascading water that will be running behind the shelter eventually. It was beautiful. 
The trail was beautiful too:

The funny thing is, I went 27.1 miles, and then in the last tenth of a mile, the trail gave me this:

I hate it any time the blaze is painted on a rock. It’s never a good sign. But tell me, how can you not fall in love with the trail when it pushes you 27.1 miles, and then the last tenth is the thing you hate the most? All you can do is grin, and go. And when you get to the top, and look back at what you’ve just climbed when your feet were already screaming from blisters that had torn open miles ago, and your stomach is protesting the fact that you never stopped for a real lunch or even a snack, and your triceps are exhausted and all you want is just to sit and drink water and take off your shoes (but you can’t because you were too lazy to fill up your water at…any of the water sources when you should have)…that feeling is what keeps me coming back. That feeling that every time I do more than I think I can. I have yet to find a limit. There is nothing I cannot do. There is no mountain that can defeat me. There is no pain that I cannot push through. There is no amount of exhaustion or hunger that I can’t overcome and beat down to submission. I am the master of my body and my will is supreme. And I am an unstoppable force. 

The shelter was empty. This unstoppable force went for water at the beautiful Laurel Fork, ate a granola bar, hung her line to bear bag her food (I’m not going to be the next hiker to get bit by a bear), and got in bed. 

Tomorrow: another 27 miles. Un. Freaking. Stoppable. 

MVP: bear bag hang skills

LVP: delicate princess feet 

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