French Dip and I met on my first day of my PA/NJ/NY section this summer. The minute he walked into the shelter that rainy, cold day, I knew he would be my new friend…he just didn’t know it yet.
Over the next few days, we camped together, hiked together, and eventually spent every waking minute together, patiently waiting for the other when it was time to “contemplate nature.”
I left him on the last day of my section, and he continued on to Maine and then flipped down south, Harpers Ferry to Georgia, to finish his flip flop thru hike.
We kept in touch, and when I told him about my NYE plans, he wanted to come with. Obviously I was elated. Hiking with someone who you can talk to for 10 hours straight, every day, is just amazing.
We decided to meet at Standing Indian Campground, leave my car, then drive to the NOC and hike south. As the weather forecast got colder and we got more realistic about our fitness level, we shortened it. And then, eventually, the entire plan would change.
We both arrived at almost exactly the same time. The campground seemed closed, so we drove down a forest service road and left my car, hoping we could find it again.
To the NOC, and then off on the trail.
The climb south from the NOC is long and relentless. We saw some day hikers, but not really anyone else. The weather was surprisingly warm.
We had planned to Camp on Rocky Bald, but with lows in the teens, we stopped short at Weser Bald Shelter. Two guys from Atlanta were out, and we enjoyed chatting with them.
We got our water, spent the next 4 hours eating, and after we finally choked down the rest of my truly awful Spanish rice, we slept.
It was….cold. For a while I was pretty toasty, so I took off some layers. This was great until 4 am when I was DYING. I wasn’t dying, but I was uncomfortably cold.
MVP: cheddar Chex mix
LVP: Spanish rice 😦
Sunday, Dec 30
Eventually I slept again, and daylight came. With it, breakfast.
After a leisurely “sip sip” morning, we re-evaluated our plan. Maybe just 10 to Wayah Bald Shelter, or maybe even the Bald itself if the sky is clear!
The sky was not clear. It was never clear.
We stopped at the shelter. We built a gorgeous fire and sat and ate French Dip (not the person, the dip) and melty sour patch kids. We discussed resolutions for 2018, remembered funny things from the trail, and just…enjoyed the night, even in the bitter cold.
We rang in the new year at 7:30 (we couldn’t even make it to hiker midnight at 9pm!) and now we’re snug in bags with hot rocks at our feet. Cult of the Hot Rocks lives again!!
LVP: my hot rock didn’t last very long!
Mon, Jan 1
So, it was cold. Cooooooold. We woke up with frost on our sleeping bags and frost on the trees.
Coffee came first. Then a pop tart. Then maybe some chocolate covered pretzels. We sat and talked.
Ok, here’s what the original plan was: hike NOC to a random side trail that would take us down to standing Indian campground. That trip required a 20 mile day.
After some thought, we changed to a different random side trail that would also end at standing Indian. That was shorter. We had left my car on a random forest service road that seemed to be close-ish to where that trail might end.
But then we thought… well, Rock Gap crosses that service road and it would be even shorter. However, that would require road walking some unknown distance to my car, so it was ok but not ideal. In addition, our shelter options were either 7 miles away or 14 miles away. The 7 mile shelter would leave us with another 7 miles to hike to Rock Gap on Tuesday.
So as we sip-sipped, we talked options. And we decided to turn around and hike back to Wesser Bald, and then have a quick 6 miles to FD’s car on Tuesday.
Well, we got up and packed. And WOW was that the quickest packing either of us have ever done.
We set out on the gorgeous trail. It was beautiful.
It was also cold. The forecast for the night was -11 F. So….we decided to bail.
We got to Tellico Gap and sat for a minute. Moss and Grateful Dad, friends from PA/NJ/NY section last summer, had a theory that if you took a break at a road crossing, trail magic would…appear. We hoped a truck would pick us up and take us to the NOC. They didn’t. We started the climb up to Wesser Bald. We tried to talk a couple into giving us a ride. No dice.
Finally, we found a gaggle of college kids. After our best, most friendly chatting, we got a ride in the back of a 4 Runner. Success!!!
A quick run up to the parking lot of the NOC, and FD and I were off to Popeyes.
After a nice dinner, we drove out to my car, said our goodbyes, and headed home a day early.
I had a lot of time to think on this trip. Winter hiking is fun, but it’s hard and slow and my pack is heavier than usual. I used to have a work schedule that gave me every other Friday off. But now, I’m racing home and leaving for the trail as soon as I can on Fridays, arriving well after dark after battling rush hour traffic the whole way. Or I leave as early as I can Saturday and rush back Sunday to try and get ready for work. It’s stressful.
I’m still struggling with my bad foot. And now my other foot has Achilles problems. My knees have been aching.
I’ve been trying to get my life in order- Diet and exercise and budget, but I can’t do that on the trail every other weekend.
So, my New Years resolution is to take a few months to…rebuild. I’ll be back, probably around May. I’d like to do some day hikes in South Carolina, so I may write about some of that, who knows?
So that’s why I’ll be going dark for a bit. All is fine and happy, I just need a bit of a reset. We all do sometimes, don’t we?
My friends, I am so excited to share with you all the trips that happen in the future, when I can enjoy them a little more. Until then, let me know if you have questions about anything or would like a little post about something in particular!
Stay warm, and happy trails!