Then Again: Beauty Spot Gap to 19E

Shortly before I met Gambit, I saw a post on Whiteblaze from a woman who was going to be in Gatlinburg for a conference and wanted to meet up with someone and hike for the weekend. “Perfect!” I thought (this was early in my search for people to hike with, so if you asked to hike with me and still haven’t heard back, I promise I’m not ignoring you!). I sent her a message, and we started planning. 

We settled on Roan, for Reasons. Mostly because it’s the right geographic area, it’s incredibly gorgeous, it’s at elevation so it wouldn’t be *too* hot, and there are lots of good parking spots. And at that point, I still hadn’t stayed at the barn, so this was my chance. 

As we planned, we switched to texting, and my nerves about meeting a random person to hike with for the weekend calmed. For one, she ran marathons in her spare time, so I knew she’d have a good fitness level. For two, she wrote with good punctuation and grammar, so I knew she couldn’t be too crazy. And three, she had multiple physics degrees and works at NASA as a researcher, so I knew we’d have plenty to talk about. 
Thursday came, and I left work early feeling poorly. A trip to the doctor and a few hours sleeping and I was like new, more or less. I left for 19E late, but we’d already arranged to tent separately and just meet up in the morning. I ended up sleeping in my car. With my mouse friend. 



In the morning, I drove down to Mountain Harbour Hostel to meet Tinkerbell (though at this point, she had no trail name). While I waited for her to finish packing up, I petted a goat! The day was off to a great start. We left Tink’s car (with her NASA stuff in it) at the hostel and headed down to Beauty Spot Gap. And I don’t think we stopped talking from that moment on. 



The hike started out in the green tunnel- nondescript, I suppose. 


We hit the flat cedar forest I had hiked through with Training Wheels months ago, on my 30 mile day. I had a sense of deja vu; another hike with a smart, determined woman, but vastly different circumstances. 


These fat little orange newts were all over the trail. One was remarkable fat (not this one) and slow. I named him Gus Gus. 


Eventually, after miles of walking and talking and the chatting that comes with getting to know someone in a way that is easy and comfortable, we came to Clyde Smith Shelter. 


The shelter was already occupied by 4 hikers, who had somehow managed to take up every inch of available space. We greeted them, friendly and easy. 
“Y’all staying here?” They asked us. 

“Well, that’s the plan!” I replied. “Are y’all staying in the shelter?”

“We haven’t decided yet. We might tent.”

The four looked at each other, then sat in silence. Tink and I looked at each other. Sharing the shelter was fine, but I would like to sit down and they’d taken up at least 8 mouse hangs with their crap. 

“Well…when do you think you’ll make that decision?” I asked. I was never patient, and these hikers were getting on my nerves. They hadn’t moved to let us sit or anything. 

“I mean, in a while, I guess.” Clearly we were all going to be best of friends. 
Tink and I busied ourselves with other things while they burned out gears trying to make simple decisions. Eventually they decided to tent, but that didn’t mean they moved their stuff. Nope, these hikers were going to continue to inconvenience us. 

We found out that we had come across Leapfrog, a NOBO who had just graduated high school; Love and Ditto, a testy little couple who were LASHers going to Harper’s Ferry or thereabouts before heading back for their last semester of college; and Hazmat, another summer LASHer with a year of college left. Love, Ditto, and Leapfrog were traveling together (the couple had met Leapfrog on the trail). Hazmat was on his own or trying to catch up to a group or something; it wasn’t quite clear. 
I was on the verge of asking Tink if she wanted to move on when two older men walked in. They were loud and charismatic and I knew immediately that these would be our people. 

Xanadu and Litterbug had been friends for 30 years. They’d attempted a thru, I think, and were now out for a 3 week section. They were hilarious and friendly (to us) and we decided to stay. 
Tinkerbell learned to hang a bear bag. 


We built a fire, and then played some euchre. Leapfrog popped out of his tent as soon as he heard the word euchre. I’d been pretty annoyed with him, mostly for some snide section hiker comments (“nice! Section hikers always have a fire! Thru hikers are just too tired after 15 miles to bother.”) but I guess he wasn’t too terrible. Or maybe he was. I didn’t really like any of them. (The LASHers said “we’re doing half the trail, so we’re practically thru hikers” and I immediately wrote them off.)



I was mostly annoyed that they were all going to the same shelter as us the next day. 
MVP: PCT hang (use a stick instead of tying off to a tree)

LVP: LASHers and Leapfrog

Miles: 15
*****


Tinkerbell got her trail name in the morning. I’d been considering Bear Bell or Tinkerbell (because she has a bear bell and also she is blonde and tiny). X and L came up with Tinkerbell independently, though, so it felt fated. She was dubbed, and then we set off. 


The jerk hikers had already departed, because “thru hikers get up so early” (this is patently false, in my experience; thruhikers get up whenever they please, which is sometimes early and sometimes 10am). 

Tink and I headed out, promising to save a space for X and L at the barn. We headed north through Hughes Gap. It’s funny; I remembered it being so steep and miserable (I did this SOBO on a 3 day trip of 27 miles, 27 miles, and Hughes gap was the very last of the final 20 mile day). But this time, it seemed…fine. Go figure. 

Do you remember this view? When I was here before, it was just settling in to dark, and all I could see was a wisp of the sunset and the lights of…Erwin? In the distance. I was distracted by my feet and possibly the finger I had sliced open (can’t remember if that was before or after this) and I just wanted to be done. This time there was a not great dog and a lot of sun. 


We made it up to the Cloudland Hotel site. 


And then down and down to Carver’s Gap. The section SOBO was actually an LVP! Can you believe that? It was kind of pleasant NOBO. I did notice that a lot of water sources had dried up on this section. 


After carvers came the balds. With Gambit, the balds were windy and chilly. This week they were hot and sunny. And hot. And sunny. 



But we made it to the shelter (after rescuing a poor day hiker named Tammy from imminent death) and even claimed the same sleeping platform that gambit and I had the week before! We spread out our stuff so that Xanadu and Litterbug could join us, and we waited and relaxed. 


A puppy came. 


And so did a “SOBO”. He was wearing jeans and claimed to have left Maine in March. I knew the trail hadn’t opened until May, though, so something had to be off. He also had a thick East Tennessee accent. And he was wearing jeans. 
Sure enough, word came soon that he was going back and forth between the barn and the hostel 9 miles north stealing from hikers. We made sure someone stayed with our stuff the entire day. 
There was dinner and sunset and at 8pm, Xanadu and Litterbug came in (I won the bet). 

We laughed with them, and found out that Litterbug had been asking people on the trail if they’d seen his wife, a redhead; shed ran off with a blonde. Tink and I died laughing. We all got the giggles and stayed up late slaphappy. 


MVP: tinkerbell’s gross dinner that I turned into an appetizer with ranch wheat thins and ate all of it

LVP: fake SOBO 

Miles: 15.2
*****
We woke up damp from the clouds that had wrapped around us in the night. There had been no loud sunrise; just a quiet brightening behind fog. The four of us sat around talking for hours, waiting for the skies to clear, hoping to get a view on Hump. And the waiting paid off. (the jerk hikers did not wait and rushed off on a 9 mile hike and got no views from Hump. Ha.) 

Hazmat in the background, for reasons unknown. Xanadu on the left, Litterbug on the right. 




And eventually we started the descent down to 19E. 


It was tough, knowing that our hike was almost over. The road walk back to the hostel was slower than it should have been, for sure. 


But we did get extra adventure on the drive to my car. For some reason, we forgot how long it took to get to Beauty Spot Gap, and convinced ourselves (*convinced*) that my car had been stolen. Fortunately, we found it. Two brilliant analytical minds, ladies and gentlemen. Lost a car on a gravel road. 


We said goodbye with promises to schedule another hike this fall. I hope it happens, because I have questions for Tinkerbell and I think she has more bags to hang. 


MVP: not stolen car

LVP: possibly stolen car

Miles: 9.6

Then Again: Carver’s Gap to 19E

Friday
I met Gambit on the Internet. I’ve been stalking Whiteblaze, a website for people who hike (mostly the AT, but other trails too) for a while, and I started posting at some point. I can’t remember why. In order to get approved you have to provide your city, so even before I started posting I knew there were several posters in Tennessee, including Gambit. 
But a few weeks ago, Gambit sent me a message and said he realized we were both in the same area in Tennessee and we should hike together sometime. I said sure, only I’m not exactly in Tennessee right now; he said ok, but do you want to go to Roan with me? I said absolutely. 
So that’s how I ended up hiking with a guy I’ve never met. We’ve been texting for a few weeks and he didn’t seem like a murderer. And some other people on there had met him and none of them had been murdered, so I met up with Gambit and his dog Ward at Carver’s Gap Friday night. 


We grabbed our bags and a cord of firewood (strapped to my pack because it wouldn’t fit on Gambit’s pack) and headed for Round Bald, where Gambit knew of a clump of trees with a good tent site. 


Well, that clump was taken, and so was every other clump, so we tented on the exposed bald. We had a great fire and stayed up chatting until about 1am. And then we went to our tents. That was a mistake. I staked my tent out like crazy but it was still collapsed on my face most of the night. The wind kept shifting so it didn’t do me any good to reposition my tent, even though I tried. I didn’t get much sleep.



LVP: wind

MVP: fire

Miles hiked: .8?

*****
Saturday
 I woke up, went to go do morning things, and immediately tripped and fell in a hole. Then I came back and picked up the things inside my tent so I could pack up my tent. I stepped over a stake to get around the side and tripped over the tent pole. It snapped in two. I think it was already in material failure, due to the high tension load from the wind. My foot just put it over the edge. #materialsclass
So that’s two falls and I haven’t even had breakfast. I wasn’t having a great morning. 
Neither was Gambit, despite the fact that he had a Hilleberg, which is a crazy bomber tent made for those conditions. He didn’t have all the guy-out lines on it though. He packed up, we got moving, and headed back down to Carver’s Gap to drop my car off at 19E and then drive Gambit’s car back to Carver’s and start our day. On the way down, I took my third tumble. I slipped on a log stair and face planted on the trail. It was impressive. My leggings ripped and everything. 


We dropped my car off and headed back for the real hike of the day. Yes, I fell again. Tripped over a root. I had already had a Safety Stand Down with myself before we left the tent site, but clearly I needed another one. I was now bleeding from 4 different places on my knees. Eyes on Path; Slips, Trips, and Falls; Complacency. I went through all of my safety and HU Tools in my head but it didn’t help. I was just a clumsy oaf. 



We took a side trail up to Cornelius Rex Peake. The rhodos were glorious. The creepy dark tunnels of the past few months had brightened into enchanted princess pathways, with floral carpets and birds flitting about. The sun was streaming in, and the bushes blocked some of the gusts of wind. 



Up top, we stopped in a small copse of trees for lunch. It was 9am, but it was lunch. Hiker hunger. 




We didn’t have much further to the shelter. We had originally planned to tent on Big Hump, but since the night before had been so rough, and it was still so windy, we decided to bail and stay at Overmountain Shelter, which used to be a tobacco barn. We arrived at 11:10am. We laid down in the sun and napped. 


Gambit was worried about how we would spend so much free time, just being lazy, but I was unconcerned. 


I found Carpenter in the shelter log. 


A group of men came in for lunch at an appropriate lunch time. They gave me some guff about Gambit buying me a dress or jewelry to make up for my busted knees. “I’m not that kind of girl,” I told them. “I’m a hiker; all I want is food, and he already owes me pizza.” I don’t remember what he owed me pizza for (I think because I was winning the slips, trips, and falls competition) but an hour later I owed him pizza because I lost both Trail Jenga and Trail P├ętanque. The men were mostly cool (there was another “you sure are handy! I can see why he’s dragging you around!” comment that was made, but I overlooked it) and they eventually left. Gambit and I had told them how much we hiked; I don’t know why they assumed Gambit was dragging me around. (I do know why.)
Puddlejumper came in. He’s sectioning now, but attempted a thru a few years ago. He was a cool guy, and we immediately hit it off with him. We played Uno, and I won …all of it. Uno Queen. Puddle jumper was meeting a Meetup group for a hike, but they weren’t quite at his pace, so we commiserated with him about how it’s fun to find anyone to hike with, but it’s hard to find people who are willing to do 20 miles in the rain. Good thing we all three found each other. 


The shelter filled up, despite being huge. There were people tenting outside, boy scouts tenting upstairs (don’t do that), just people everywhere. All section hikers. 



The fun thing about section hiking season is that people want to hang out, build fires, and stay up late. And boy, did we. A young boy played with Ward. A father and his son tended the fire. Two men and Gambit cut wood while I critiqued their form (people love me). 


We sat around the fire and some drank and some ate and some listened and some talked. In pieces and out of order we learned names and occupations and secrets and hopes and fears. We gave advice and rolled our eyes and shifted away from the smoke of the fire, forming new groups and starting new conversations and finding new connections. 


Section hiking season is different because we all know where we’re going when the hike is over; we can keep in touch and network and make plans to hike together. We were a good group, and it was a very good night. 
When I said goodnight to my new friends and crawled onto the sleeping platform, tucked between Gambit and Puddle jumper, it was with the familiarity of something I’ve done a hundred times. Finding my pillow; straightening out my quilt; making sure my sleeping pad is in the right spot; adjusting everything just so; putting my headlamp and water and phone next to my head. My feet tuck themselves in to my quilt in a different way than they do at home. I have a different position for sleeping when I camp than I do at home. But it feels just as comfortable and familiar and cozy, especially when I’m doing it while teasing Gambit and Puddle Jumper and everything is shining in the bright moonlight streaming in the old tobacco barn. 


LVP: numerous falls

MVP: naps in the sun

Miles hiked: 8+2=10?

*****

Sunday
I woke up to see the first colors of the sunrise stretching across the mountains, and then I went back to sleep. 


I woke up again when some of the hikers started cooking on the sleeping platform. Not great etiquette, especially since the picnic table was empty. The sun was bright, and Ward came over to make sure I knew he needed attention. 


Puddle jumper and I woke up slowly, but gambit was ready to go. I ate in bed, then packed up. Gambit, Ward, and I headed out, agreeing that puddle jumper would meet up with us and we would give him a ride to his car and all grab pizza together. 


The weather was warm, and I started shedding layers quickly. I fell behind, and Ward kept running between me and Gambit to make sure he knew where we both were at all times. It was fun, hiking with a dog. 



The climb up to little hump was steeper than I remembered. I had done this section SOBO and this time we were headed NOBO. It all looked a little different, but no less gorgeous. 



We took a few breaks. 

And we finally made it up big hump. 




Coming down big hump, we ran in to Coach Lou, another WhiteBlaze poster. He was fun to chat with. If Gambit had told me that I was in this picture, I wouldn’t have made such a stupid face. 


We stopped at Doll Flats to wait for Puddle Jumper. Shortly after, he caught up to us. We hiked the last mile and a half down with him, and I loved chatting with him. It was a good hike. 


At the trail head, crossing to my car. 


Gambit ran in to the gas station to get us “couple schnacks” (- inside joke from brew’s crew) which we enjoyed IMMENSELY. Then it was off to Hughes gap to drop off Puddle Jumper, then Carvers Gap to drop off Gambit, and then we all met back up in Johnson City for Scratch Brick Oven Pizza. 


Gambit told us that he would buy the pizza if we would let him order. I was fine with that. Puddle jumper went off to buy beer (it’s BYOB) so I went to the bathroom to spend 10 minutes washing my hands and face. Just kidding, I don’t care about dirt that much. I just splashed some water on myself. 


The pizza was incredible. I mean, insanely good. I would gladly drive 30 minutes out of my way for that pizza. The kitchen staff asked us to pick another record, so we had that job, too. 


We ate this entire pizza, drank some beer, and planned at least 2 more hikes together and some trail magic for SOBOs. 


But eventually we had to leave, so we all three said goodbye. Until the next time, that is. 




LVP: early morning

MVP: scratch pizza

Miles hiked: 9.6