Then Again: Wayah Bald to NOC

It’s the summer of slowing down! I’m kicking it off by meeting Luke Skywalker, my friend from Top of Georgia hostel back in January, for a lazy little section. We decided to meet at Wayah Bald Friday night, so I left work, grabbed my pack, and headed up to North Carolina. 
This was a different route than I’ve been driving to get to the trail. These back roads took me through Elberton, the granite capital of…the world, maybe. I knew something was up when I passed a daycare that had a pre-fab, corrugated metal building and a fancy granite sign out front. In fact, practically every business had a granite sign out front. There was even a granite museum! 
Next was Royston, where …gosh, some famous baseball player grew up. I can’t believe I forgot because his name was everywhere, but nonetheless I have. Ty Cobb! That’s it. Brain like wet cake. 
There were small houses and giant Victorian houses and old store fronts and beautiful small city squares. It was a great drive. 
Eventually the hills turned to mountains, and the drive into Franklin became familiar. I’ve made this drive before, or at least part of it. I hiked the NOC to Wesser Bald with my friends Shannon and Michael and a few of their friends last November. The infamous 10 miles that have been haunting me. The 10 miles that I’ve skipped over. I’m going to snap those up this weekend. 
Anyways, that group was gracious enough to allow me to try my hand at planning a section for the first time, and I tried out some gear on that trip, and I got to see what it was like backpacking without Stewart. And I still loved it. And the rest, as they say, is history. 
I hit a gravel road and started driving up and up and up, the mountains turning blue in the distance as the sun was sinking to my left. I hit the trailhead, parked, and grabbed my bag, hustling off to the Wayah Bald firetower to meet Luke. 
I climbed up the stone stairs calling out greetings. It was good to see Luke again. We caught up on Carpenter and Gonzo and hikes we’d gone on since we’d parted ways back in January. Two of Luke’s friends had joined us for the night, also. They were headed west on a cross-country road trip, exploring as they go, and one of their stops is this gorgeous firetower with us. 
So far, the sky looks clear, with stars shining and the lights of Franklin glowing in the distance. We’ve decided to risk sleeping up top, and hope the leaky roof won’t need to keep any rain out. The reward of waking up on top of a firetower is too tempting. We’ll take the risk. 
MVP: weather

LVP: random hikers

Miles: .1

*****
It’s good to take a few risks in life. The weather held, and Luke and I were able to spend some time sitting under a clear sky, talking about life and friends and the trail and staring at the stars, unrolling in the sky in dimensions I’ve never seen before. 
We went back up to the tower, but didn’t quite make it to sleep before a few hikers crashed the party. We heard them drive up and walk to the firetower. It was about midnight when they arrived. I don’t think they knew we were up there until one of luke’s friends moved in their hammock. The randos apologized, got quiet, and disappeared. I assume back to their car. 
Luke’s friends left early in the morning, and I slept longer, but did wake up in time to see a wan, pale sun rise over foggy mountain. Puddles of fog and cloud moved sluggishly through the ridges, lifting slowly as the sun heated up. 


By the time Luke and I were done with coffee, the landscape was mostly clear. 


We headed to NOC to drop off my car, and while we were there, we took advantage of the restaurant for a nice breakfast. 


The drive back to Wayah Bald was lovely. I loved riding in Luke’s truck on the winding backroads, the windows down, and sun shining. 
On the way up, we stopped at Wilson Lick forest ranger station. Wouldn’t you know it, one of the windows was open, so we poked around inside. Nothing much to see, but notice how the same tree is in the picture. 


We got back to Wayah and started our hike north. It was mostly downhill and mostly nice. We did get rained on (is it really an AT section hike if you don’t get rained or snowed on?) but we made good time. 

We stopped at Cold Spring shelter for water and snacks, then hiked on to Rocky Bald. I had stopped here with my dad, back in January, on the first day of my section hike. It is still a beautiful view. 

We walked on downhill to Tellico Gap, and thus began the 10 mile sweep, catching those pesky ten miles I hiked in November 2015 instead of 2016. 


It was only 1.2 more miles to Wesser bald firetower but it was all up hill. I made it first, and scouted tent sites. 


Luke arrived, and we went up top. We chatted with an older couple from the area. Then a group of day hikers who had been rafting came. Eventually everyone left and Luke and I started setting up camp. Luke went for water while I gathered wood for a fire. I got it started and set up my tent in case of rain. Good thing too, because it came a gully washer before he got back. 


My fire survived the downpour though, so we dried out over that while we ate some food. I tried to get fancy, but either I don’t like couscous or the migraine id been battling all day had killed my appetite. 
And then the rafters arrived. 


Boots was the first. I’m not sure I know any of the others’ names, but they were all characters. Boots is even Cherokee (he showed us his card and taught us some Cherokee, which was neat). They were raft guides from the NOC and they’d come to drink beer and cook hotdogs. They were willing to share, but I wasn’t feeling up to it. I mostly tended the fire. 
The sunset proved uninspiring, but the way the clouds moved in on us was incredible. The last two pictures were taken within 2 minutes of each other. 

We chatted with the rafters for quite a while, then they started heading out. It looked like rain, though, and Luke didn’t have a tent, so he decided to head for the shelter. I decided to stay put. 
I put out the fire and hung the food, and the second I zipped up my tent it started raining. That’s pretty good timing. 
The thunder is getting further away, and the rain is mostly dripping from the trees now. This is a good soundtrack for sleeping, I think. 
MVP: Rocky bald

LVP: gnats

Miles: 11
*****
Last night was the best sleep of my life, I think. I woke up at 5:50am, just in time to get my food down and climb up to the firetower. The sunrise was…well, it happened. The sky got lighter. But there was no impressive changing of colors. I was in a giant cloud. I ate breakfast and clambered back down and went back to bed.


 I had another incredible sleep. 


I woke up again at 9 to a text from Luke, who was wet and ready to leave the woods. I packed up (rather slowly) and met him at the shelter. The rain came down, and down, and down. It didn’t stop. 


We saw the blue blaze trail the raft guides had told us about and decided to be adventurous. 


Off we went, abandoning the AT and the map. The trail was steep and overgrown. There were quite a few water crossings, which evidently feed into the Nantahala. Or something. 


We stopped at a waterfall for water. Luke went up the left side and I went up the right. I knew it was stupid. I knew I was going to fall. And I did. My feet slid out from under me, and I slid on my hip allllllll the way back down. It was impressive. I wrenched my shoulder up and did something to it, so add that the the fingers I burnt on my pot last night and all the usual bumps and bruises and this might be my most injury-filled section yet. 


We hit the end of the trail and started the road walk. We weren’t quite sure how long this was supposed to be, but we knew it would end at the gas station, so we kept walking. My AT map did help us out in a few places here. 


It was still raining, and we were thoroughly soaked. When we hit the gas station and started walking towards the NOC, we decided to stop off at Kelly’s for a burger. And boy, was that a good choice. 

With full bellies we headed back into the rain to the NOC, and then back to Wayah to Luke’s truck. But first we stopped and picked up a hitchhiker. A raft guide was standing on the side of the road thumbing, so we pulled over for him. He was going 7 miles up the road, just before our turn, so it was convenient for all of us. I learned that they go rafting rain or shine, even when there’s lighting; they consider the trees tall enough to be lightning rods. I supposed they were in rubber boats, too; he said he hadn’t ever worried about it during a thunderstorm, but then again, he didn’t really want to question it too much. This was his second summer as a raft guide. 
We dropped him off, then continued on. I let Luke out at his car and we said goodbye, with tentative plans for the next weekend. 
Within 5 minutes of driving I was hungry again, so there was more food. It was hard to eat with my bad shoulder, but hunger overcomes. 


The summer slowdown has officially begun, and I do declare, I am a fan. 
MVP: last night’s sleep 

LVP: that waterfall (or my lack of balance?)

Miles: 5.5, we think. Maybe more?

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