Then Again: A Grayson Highlands Thanksgiving

I haven’t been writing much! To be honest, there’s only so much to say about my fourth trip around the Standing Indian loop.

But I’ve been doing some neat stuff. First, a Reddit meetup at Standing Indian.

Then later, a trip to Roan Mountain with Foggy and French Dip. (Do you remember French Dip? We met in Pennsylvania in May 2017, and walked all the way to Connecticut together. He’s the best!!)

And then a trip to Max Patch with Foggy and French Dip.

And this past week, a Thanksgiving to remember in Grayson Highlands!

I had intended to make another video or at least a blog post. But. All the best intentions…. (is that even a saying?).

I met FD in Damascus on Thursday morning. We left my car at the library lot and drove up to some random VA road to start our hike.

There were ponies.

I went to bed Thursday night with a full phone battery and a full backup battery. I woke up Friday with a dead phone and a dead charger. I’m not exactly sure what happened, but I’m blaming the weather. Batteries do not like the cold!

So anyways, I spent the week on like 20% battery, which any millennial can tell you is a living nightmare.

But here’s what I can tell you:

FD forgot his spoon and made chopsticks out of two sticks. I had a Korean MRE and it was maybe the best meal I’ve ever had on trail (thanks Lee!!).

We walked through the Highlands Friday with ponies and sunshine, then camped down at Elk Garden Friday night. We were expecting a lot of wind, so I pitched my tarp low and wide.

It was great for wind! But it was not great for ice, which came around 1am. I knocked what I could off the tarp and tried to go back to sleep.

You know how people say to choose a campsite carefully and be sure to avoid widowmakers? I don’t think those people spend much time in the south east. The whole trail is widowmakers! I lay in my bivy under my tarp, watching the trees above me sway.

The wind was like a train, and it seemed intent on doing some damage. I spent some time praying. Something like, “God, please keep us safe. If I’m about to die, though, can you give me a pit of my stomach warning? I’ll get up and run if you want me to. Is that this feeling? Am I anxious because I don’t have enough faith or is this part the anxiety you give me so I know to get up??? I really can’t tell, God. So maybe just keep us safe??”

My prayers worked well enough, because I slept for a while longer. Until 3am, when the snow and ice had almost collapsed my tarp entirely. I got up to brush it off. My ridge line stake wouldn’t hold in the wet, rich, forest soil, so I grabbed my bivy, abandoned my tarp, and ran down the trail to a bathroom. I slept inside until 7am, when a loud pounding on the door woke me up. I opened it to FD’s face.

We hurried through breakfast, cold and getting colder. The hike up to Buzzard Rock was a Christmas wonderland. All the people out shopping for presents, and here we were strolling through a forest covered in snow and ice, Christmas trees everywhere!

It started raining as we went back down towards the valley. We hit a shelter around 12:30 and, as we munched on our lunches, decided to call it quits for the day. We hadn’t had a single break all morning, and this was supposed to be a sip sip trip! We set up inside the shelter and started on our first cup of tea for the day.

Sunday morning came upon us slowly, and with it the temperature slowly crept up too. When we finally got out and about, we had a lovely sunny day for our hike into Damascus.

We planned to hike to the Virginia Creeper and then just stay on that all the way to town. Neither of us had any food, so we kept up a pretty good pace for the entire 12 miles. It’s always a treat to walk beside someone. And lucky for me, FD had a great long story that lasted pretty much the entire 12 miles. There’s no better way to hike than with a good friend and a great story!

We got into Damascus, grabbed some lunch, and then I drove FD back up to his car.

I missed my family, for sure. But being in the woods and just releasing my hold on everything from back home is the most relaxed and free I’ve felt in a long time.

I’m thankful for FD and our friendship.

I’m thankful for woods and weather and ponies and bathrooms.

And I’m thankful for you!!

Miles: maybe 40 total?

MVP: Korean MRE and jalapeño cornbread

LVP: ridgeline stake, but I really can’t blame it.

Then again: Elk Garden to Thomas Knob Shelter (and back)

I didn’t want to go hiking on Friday. Isn’t that funny? Sometimes I get so caught up in all the business of school and errands and just the *stuff* I have to do that the simple act of packing for a weekend in the forest stresses me out. Me, of all people! I pack all the time! I can pack my pack with my eyes closed! But it had been engineers week, and that came with so many activities on TOP of my usual work, and I was just done. 

Mr and Ms Mechanical Engineering ^
So it happens. I would have called it off or left Saturday morning instead, but Butcher and SarTec were waiting for me, and they didn’t have cell phone service; if I failed to show, they’d be worried. 
So I did my things and started the drive to Virginia, stressed and frustrated and not…really…happy. 
I missed the sunset. It would be a night hike for me. 

I’ve hiked from Elk Garden to Thomas Knob a couple of times now. I know the drill. 
It’s a great hike. And of course, as soon as I stopped to eat a quick dinner (tortilla, cheese, honeybun, fudge round — can you tell I’ve abandoned my diet?) and got a mile or two under my feet, I felt better. 

Night hikes get pretty lonely though. I like to listen to podcasts when I hike. If you are looking for suggestions, I can recommend History Chicks, Dear Prudence, Tom and Lorenzo, How I Built This, and maybe FiveThirtyEight. 

Anyways, I got to the shelter and delivered my goodies to the boys (brownies, Honeybuns, fudgerounds, etc). I met Biscuit, a past several-times thru hiker who, AS IT TURNS OUT, hiked with Dr Love shortly before I met him. 
It was warm and peaceful and I was happy to go to sleep. 
I learned to make pancakes in the morning. Let me amend that: I learned to make pancakes ON A POCKET ROCKET. Of course I can make pancakes on a stove, but the boys and I decided to have pancakes for breakfast but weren’t ready to build a fire. Also it was raining. 

Sar tec tried but he ruined them. So I took over instead of backseat driving him, and by the end of the mix, I was getting perfect pancakes. It required much patience. 

In the mean time, the cold front moved in. The wind picked up into huge gusts, and we tucked ourselves into our sleeping bags and …well, I took a nap. 

The afternoon we spent cooking lunch- I had steak tips marinated in Dale’s, and cut up potatoes, squash, zucchini, jalapeños, onions, and bell peppers. The boys made foil packets for the veg and cooked the steaks on the flat plate and I…slept some more. It was a hard week! 

We ate. 

Some weekending girls came in to the shelter. They set up their stuff and we whispered to each other about how unprepared they were. Summer bags, with a predicted wind chill of 0F tonight. They’d be in for a rough night. 
As the temperature dropped further, and more weekenders filtered past, we bundled up inside. It wasn’t the air but the wind. I mean, it was chilly, but nowhere near my top 5 coldest nights. 

The girls decided to bail, and hiked out to their car. We were glad they did, for their sake. 
An early night, and more sleep. 

Well, I say it was an early night. I woke up several times from the wind. It sounded like the roof was going to fly off. 
It was definitely cold in the morning. We saw two people walking by with an extra pack; we asked what was up, and they said a guy in their group had been evacuated. He’d gotten too cold. 
You can get away with a lot of stupid stuff on the AT, but pay attention to weather. 
We packed up and hiked out. 4 miles to my car, then another few miles for the guys to their next shelter. It was a windy, chilly walk, but the sky was blue, the sun was shining, and the ponies were waiting for us. 

It was worth the Friday stress, that hike. I’m getting a bit tired of the out and backs, and I’m itching for new trail. It’s not time yet, though. I’ve got some plans I’m mulling over, but nothing concrete yet. 
Anyways. I still love this section. There’s so much packed in to those short 4 miles. It’s one I definitely recommend if you’re looking for an AT section. I mean, clearly; I keep hiking it. 

I could wax on about my frustrations or explain why I’m doing what I’m doing but what’s the point? We all get stuck doing some hikes we don’t really want to do just because we need our forest fix, but we can’t fly to new trail all the time, and we can’t afford a shuttle every trip. And to be frank, I miss summer days and more daylight for longer miles without a headlamp. 

So a few more out and backs and low, low miles. And then? Happy trails ahead, my friends! 

Trip total: uhhh 8
MVP: steak and veg fajitasssss

LVP: that wind!

Then Again: Devils Fork Gap to Hot Springs 

It’s weird to think how much has happened since I first met Bent at that shelter back in Vermont. I finished my NOBO section, hung out with Honeybuns in Hanover, flipped, and caught up with Bent again in Massachusetts. We hiked SOBO together and became fast friends, watching a meteor shower together, picking blueberries, eating sour candies…

And then I went back to school, and Bent kept hiking south. A month or so ago, I went out to Virginia (I didn’t write about this, so don’t think you missed an entry) and hiked a section with Bent and some other SOBOs and a lasher. We caught up again, filling in the details we’d missed between phone calls and texts and snapchats. And I left, and bent kept hiking south. 

And then Saturday, I left my apartment at 3:30am and drove to Devils Fork Gap. I hiked north (slowly) for 3 miles until I ran into Bent. Well, I was stopped on the side of the trail when he texted me and said “why don’t I see you yet?” I replied, “idk I’m being really slow today.” And I started walking and then immediately saw him, so. 

We ran to each other and I gave him water, a grape soda, and a butterfinger (his requests). And then we headed south together. 

We headed south while we talked about our love lives, the trail, my midterms, our friends, musicals, food, religion…Bent and I can cover a million topics, it feels like. 

It was hard to believe how much the forest had changed in just a week. The colors had deepened even more– now we were really in autumn. 

We stopped for a break at Jerrys Cabin and met Achilles and Comet. Comet was from Jacksonville and had someone ask her recently if she knew Honeybuns. She didn’t, but I do! The circle is complete. 
We hiked up to Firescald Knob and sat and wondered what it was about these huge, open vistas that make everyone, no matter where they come from, sit back and appreciate them. I mean, maybe in some cases some people get bored of these big views after a while (ahem, my little sister), but there’s something there, isn’t there? 

I think it reminds us that we’re just a tiny part of something much bigger. And puts our little problems in perspective. And yet, despite how insignificant we are, we’re still so important in the scheme of things. 
We made it to Little Laurel at dark. I do love a good night hike. We talked, while rushing down the mountain, about how we hoped someone would still be up at the shelter, and there would be a fire, and there would be space in the shelter. 

All our dreams came true. 
No Worries was cooking. A fire was smoldering. A section hiker was still up. Two other sectioners were dozing, but I didn’t worry about them. There was space for me, and Bent had already decided he wanted to tent. We got water and started dinner. 
And then I found out that No Worries used to work at the same company where I co-op and his uncle works for the NRC. Go figure. Small world!
Miles: 3 NOBO + 3 SOBO back to Devils fork + 15.7= 21.7
MVP: bent around the corner

LVP: blisters
Bent and I left in the dark (oh heeyyyy winter) and started our hike to hot springs. 

We tried to go to Mom’s, because Bent wanted a candy bar, but they were closed. I gave Bent my snickers. 

So there’s this one climb. Allen Gap. I remembered it from the last time I did this section. I remembered it being terrible. When we started that climb, I thought, “wow! I’m so much better at this! I am INCREDIBLE!” And then it kept going. And going. 

And going. 
And then we stopped to breathe and pick up our legs that had fallen off and I thought, “wow. This is still terrible.” Some climbs are just always terrible, I guess. 
Anyways, we stopped for lunch at a stream. We got trail magic at one gap- a woman picking up her husband had sandwiches and water and oranges and root beer (I took water because I do not care for root beer). It was delicious and she was sweet. 

We hit up lovers leap. 

And we went to Hot Springs. 

And I said goodbye (after we ate dinner and went to the hostel and Dollar General). Bent will finish his through hike in less than two weeks. I won’t get to see him again before he finishes, but I feel like I’ll see him again some time. 

The hike was perfect. It was hard and beautiful and light and there was trail magic– it was everything I could have asked for in a two day hike. 
Miles: 19.9

Trip total: 41.7
MVP: fried pickles at Spring Mountain Tavern. Those were AMAZING
LVP: Allen gap. You know why. 

Bent and Birthday Girl (the feral). FOREVER. 

Then Again: Elk Garden to Thomas Knob Shelter to Elk Garden

I met Keisha in college…the first time. We were both English majors, and Keisha also took French with me. After we graduated, we lost touch, I guess, but we both ended up in Nashville two years later. I remember meeting her at a bar in East Nashville, nervous to reconnect with someone I hadn’t really known well but had always liked and admired. 
We were both at a point in our lives then where we weren’t quite sure what we were going to do next. Things weren’t always great for us, and we didn’t handle it well, and it was good to have Keisha as a friend. 
Keisha figured it out first–she went back to school to become a nurse. That helped me when I decided to go back to study engineering. If Keisha could do math, I guess I could too, right? 
We kept in touch, even after we moved. I visited Keisha in NYC and we caught up over pizza and beer in East Nashville when she moved back. And when she asked to go backpacking, I knew I had to take her to see the ponies. 
We left early Saturday morning. We got to Elk Garden around 12:30. It was…well, it was cold. There was snow and wind and it was cold. But the hike started out with a climb up into a pasture so we warmed up pretty quickly. 

Once we got into the woods the wind cut down some. Walking through the autumn leaves with snow on the ground, bringing out old memories and laughing about whatever we came up with…it was a great hike. 

We stopped for a quick break, and Ryan and his adorable dog Kenesaw caught up to us. We hiked together to the shelter, finishing the 7 miles by 2:30. We decided to hike on to find the ponies. 

And we FOUND them. They weren’t interested in us though. 

Back to the shelter, where we ate and warmed up and shared stories until night. 

Of course, no shelter is complete without clueless hikers. In this case, it was a group of guys who decided to sleep in the loft with their two big dogs. Watching them shove their dogs up into the loft was…something. 
The wind gusted something fierce all night, but the three of us were snug. Ryan, unfortunately, had the mice. But Keisha and I slept great. 
And in the morning? Well, the three of us headed out. It was still cold, but most of the snow was gone. 

The miles slipped by and we were done before I knew it. I wasn’t ready to go. It had been so easy to hike with Keisha and Ryan, and the easy miles had been a nice break from my usual pace. It was relaxing and peaceful and exactly what I needed. 

Did you notice the footwear? I tried to break in a pair of boots to see if I wanted to wear them this winter. They were warm but not comfortable. These are not my boots. 
Next up? Well, Bent and Wilson Wilson have 3 weeks left on the trail, so I’m going to try to find them. And I’m glad to know that Pennsylvania didn’t completely steal all the joy I find in backpacking. 

Trip Total: 14ish? 7 to the shelter, but probably an extra mile or to to the ponies. 

MVP: bourbon

LVP: loft dwellers 

Then Again: Devils Fork Gap to Firescald Knob (out and back)

It had been too long since I spent the night on the trail. Everyone knows that John Muir quote, “The mountains are calling, and I must go.” But for me, it is sort of a compulsion. I get antsy. There’s something wild in me that has to go back to the woods, have that challenge of climbs and rocks and sweat, and the quiet of sleeping outside, the bugs and feeling of off-balanceness, that uncertainty of not knowing what will happen next. Will there be people at the shelter? Will I make it all the way? Will I see a bear? Will it rain? Will I be hungry? All things I can manage, but situations I like to put myself in. 
So I went. I spent Friday and Saturday with my family at the lake. I waterskied Saturday, which made for some interesting sore muscles as I set out hiking. I wasn’t sure that I’d make it to the trail. The universe seemed to be conspiring against me. First I was too tired to get up early for my 20 mile section (40 total). Then I decided I had too much homework to do that anyways. Then I did (most) of the homework and found somewhere else to park, making it 11 miles. I started driving, pulled over for gas, and realized I’d left all my money and cards at home. I turned around on 2 gallons of gas and tried again. 
But I made it. I held a steady 3mph for the first two hours, then started slowing. My feet and knees were still swollen and not particularly happy to be hiking again, although the rest of me was ecstatic. 

The mouse car is gone!! A mouse-free car waited for me a Devils fork gap. 

I stopped at Jerry’s Cabin Shelter. I’d thought about cowboy camping tonight, but there were some friendly LASHers and section hikers here, so I stopped for the night. Besides, there was a privy and a fire and a spot in the shelter. 

I have to say, though, I do miss the privies of New England. They were spacious and airy (generally; some exceptions) AND they had toilet paper. That was clutch. 
It’s weird being back to hiking in the south, though, and for such a short trip. 
Miles: 9

MVP: jalapeño chips

LVP: knees

I woke up early. Actually, I’m not sure I was asleep at any point in the night. The old guys kept the radio blasting until some time past midnight. It stopped suddenly and I almost cried with relief. 
What didn’t stop, though, was the symphony of snores. 
I must have slept. I know all the men did. But the alarm went off at 5:30 and I was up at once, holding child’s pose for a few seconds like I always do, then deflating my pillow, then stuffing everything away. I grabbed my backpack and carried it away from the shelter before I stuffed everything inside. I left my food hanging on the bear cables, knowing I’d be back before the men left the shelter and the cables would wake them up anyways. 
I set out with my headlamp, silk blazing. The air held the chill of fall– I’d slept in leggings and my pullover, and even put on my new down vest. Fall is coming, and I was excited. 

I made it to Firescald knob as the sky was just turning orange in one corner. I sat down, wishing I had some food. I’d dreamed I had a snack in my fanny pack, but alas, that was a dream. I guess I’d slept some after all. 

I didn’t think about anything in particular. I’d meant to ponder my future or evaluate relationships that maybe weren’t worth my energy or consider life’s mysteries or do some other *deep thinking* but in the end, I just sat on a rock and thought about nothing. L’art pour l’art and sitting for sitting, I guess. We’ll call it “being present in the moment.”
I made it back to the shelter as the men were still eating breakfast. They hadn’t heard me leave, and were a little surprised by the whole thing. I ate some food, said goodbye, then headed north to my car. 

It was still early, and the meadows I walked through had my shoes soaked with dew. I felt blisters forming, but it was only 7 or so more miles to my car, so I figured I’d just go on. 

I passed a woman heading south. She asked how much longer this mountain went on. I was pleased with myself that my time up north had made me classify that “mountain” as more of a prolonged bump when I took it uphill. We chatted for a while, since it was her first solo section and she had that sort of panicky “what in the world did I get myself into” feeling that I had had on my first section. 
I next passed a man and his dog going the other way. He asked if I’d seen any bears; I said no. 
And then, a few minutes later, I felt a sharp, stinging pain under my sock. I reached down, thinking a thorn had worked its way under my sock. Nope, just 5 yellow jackets, all furiously stinging me. They left my sock and went for my hand and my arm and then finally left, amid shouts and curses and flailing limbs. 
I ran the rest of the way back to my car. Except when I stopped to look at my poor stung leg and curse some more. Sorry mom. There was a lot of cussing. 

It wasn’t my best hike. My legs hurt more than they should have. My wet shoes blistered my feet up. Stupid yellow jackets. No sleep. But…but…as Big Critter (remember him? I met him in the Smokies back in March?) once said, “a bad day on the trail is better than a good day out there.” 
And he’s right. Standing on Firescald knob, the sun just spinning fire into the sky, puddles of fog still settled into Hot Springs below me, wind carrying the smell of fall and campfire and stars into my hair…well, I can’t help but feel like everything will work out. Like there’s no point in thinking about my problems, because life has a way of solving them (the trail provides). 
Of course, back at school, there are problems a plenty waiting for me…but I’ve made it this far. I only have to survive until May and I’m done. It’ll work out and I’ll make it, just like I’ve always made it before. 
Miles: 14.2

Trip total: 23.2
MVP: sunrise

LVP: Yellowjackets 

Then Again: 19E to Dennis Cove to 19E

It’s been one year since I called up Stewart and asked him to teach me how to backpack. One year since my first hot, humid, miserable trip on the Cumberland trail. On that trip, I struggled and huffed and crawled my way inch by inch up the trail, trying to do 8 miles in a day. My pack was heavy and my feet hurt and when I finished I thought, “well, I think I like backpacking, but I really don’t know.” 
And as you know, I went on another trip with Stewart in the Smokies a few months later. My pack was stupid light, because I had a summer weight sleeping bag for freezing temperatures, but I fell in love. And that was where I first set foot on the AT, and met a woman at a shelter who asked me how I liked backpacking. “I love it,” I replied. 

“You could hike the Georgia section of the AT,” she said,” but I’d do it southbound.” We sat in front of the fire and went through her guidebook, going over elevations and possible supply points. 

And the thought stuck with me and grew into 130 miles from Tellico Gap, NC to Springer Mountain, by myself, in January. And the people I met there, Carpenter and yes, even Gonzo, as much as I sort of hate to admit it now, have shaped me into the hiker, the listener, the friend, the woman, the person I am now. 

So of course I had to plan a trip with Stewart on the one year anniversary of our first trip. That’s where it all started. We’ve gone in different directions since then: I love the AT and the towns and people and structure. He loves the wilderness areas like Cohutta. But for this trip, I asked him to join me on the AT for a section filled with water and streams that I thought he would enjoy. 
The plan was for me to park my car at 19E on Thursday night. I’d camp there, and Friday I’d hike NOBO 25 miles to Dennis Cove. I’d meet Stewart there that evening and we’d night hike to a tent site. Saturday we’d hike 16-20 miles SOBO, then finish up at 19E and my car on Sunday. I’d be doing a long out and back of about 50 miles. Stewart would be hiking 25 miles total. 
It started out fine. I got to 19E, parked, set up my tent, and went to sleep (for a while; I’ve got to quit camping by 19E. It’s too loud!). 

In the morning, I woke up to a slightly wet tent and started my hike. It felt good to have so many miles in front of me. I hit a blowdown early on, and clambered over it. 

The day was overcast, but that didn’t stop me from raiding the blackberry bushes when I got to the top of the meadow. They were just ripening, and I let the tartness burst in my mouth. 

This meadow had been so special to me when I came through here before. I had done 74 miles in 3 days. Two long days of 27 miles, and then 20 miles on the last. When I hit this meadow, I remember my feet hurting and my pace slackening. I came to the break in the trees at golden hour, with the light bursting through the clouds and on to my face. I’ll never forget that feeling. 

I walked on. 

At Sugar Hollow I met Jack. Jack didn’t have a name yet, but he came right up to me. He followed me down to a water source after I gave him a bit of a fuss, and there I gave him some of my beef jerky. He was so small and skinny. He gobbled it up, nipping my fingers. 

I thought he would stay there. I did. But I started to walk on, and…he followed me. His little kitten legs couldn’t keep up, so eventually we worked out a system. 

Jack and I stopped for lunch at Mountaineer Falls shelter. Jack ate some more jerky and had some water out of my cup, and then he promptly fell asleep in my lap. 

After a nice break, we packed up and headed out again. Jack cleaned himself up on my pack, then took another nap. 

After a mile or so, jack decided he’d gone far enough. He hopped down and settled himself in the pine straw. I gave him some beef jerky to go and hiked on. 
The miles slipped by. I stopped to dry my tent in the sun for a few minutes (and eat). I sat at Moreland Gap shelter when I heard thunder but nothing came of it, so I headed out. I was trying to time my hike so that I would get to Dennis Cove around 8:30, but it appeared I’d get there a little early. 

And then, wouldn’t you know, things changed. 
I was just on top of a ridge when the rain hit. I thought I’d hike on because my rain jacket is mostly wetted out now and not really effective, but then the skies opened up. And then the wind came. 
I ran to a rock with a decent overhang and pulled out my rain jacket. The wind picked up and the trees were all pulling down towards me. I scooted further under the rock. I turned my phone on and had LTE, so I sent a text to Gambit. 
Me: I’m 4.5 miles south of Dennis Cove. I need you to check the weather. 

Gambit: I’m on it. 
He called me minutes later. “Lindsey, you need to run. There’s a hostel at Dennis Cove. I know you can do 3 miles per hour the whole way there. Just get to Dennis Cove and go to Kincora Hostel.”

“Gambit, I don’t think you understand what these trees look like right now. I’m afraid they’re going to fall on me.”

“I’m looking at the weather and I can’t guarantee you’ll get a break. If you hear a cracking sound, look behind you, up the trail, and run. 15 seconds is enough time to get you out of the way of a tree.”
We hung up and I strapped everything down, then left the safety of my rock. The wind was intense, the rain washed the salt off my face and into my eyes, but I trusted my legs and ran down the trail. There were trees down already, giant trees with limbs and braches and leaves that slowed my progress. One tree had tipped over and taken rocks with it, leaving a deep gaping hole in the trail. The storm quieted, giving me time to sprint across flatter sections of trail. 

Of course, when I came to an open meadow with standing water on the trail, lightning struck, with three close booms of thunder that cracked something. 
But I made it to Dennis Cove in the damp, humid aftermath of the storm. 4.7 miles in an hour and a half. I walked the .5 miles to Kincora, but found a large branch had fallen on the hostel at some point and there was no electricity. After some hemming and hawing, I decided to hike back to the other hostel and try my luck there. 

Another mile or so on the road and I was at Black Bear resort just as dark was settling in. I had seen trees down in most yards, and electric lines dangerously low. I suspected there wouldn’t be power here either. 

Sure enough, the owner ran out with a head lamp on, but offered me a bed in the bunk house, where there were a few other hikers staying. I asked for a working phone, since there was no cell phone reception, and left Stewart a voicemail. Hopefully he’d find the place; if not, we’d meet up in the morning, I guess. I started the long business of drying off and trying to hydrate. I didn’t eat dinner. 

The other hikers were…not thruhikers. I suppose they were LASHers. They knew love and ditto and hazmat. I’m not certain how much longer they were going to stay on the trail, but I liked them all a lot. 

I fell asleep waiting for Stewart. 
He woke me up at midnight. The roads had been difficult to navigate with downed trees, but he had gotten my message. We chatted for a minute, then went to sleep. 
MVP: Rock or Jack

LVP: hole in the trail

Miles: 25

In the morning, we all woke up to the sound of four wheelers. The hostel owner’s kids were driving around picking up branches and limbs and being generally incredibly industrious for 9 year olds. I suppose I would be too if I got to drive a four wheeler. 

The water was an issue. I guess the hostel had pumps or wells for water, so the toilets didn’t work. Enter Ms Mechanical Engineering Student over here; I told a lasher who needed to make a woodland deposit to grab a bucket of water from the stream and pour it into the toilet after he was done; that would flush the toilet. Everyone was SO impressed and the hostel provided buckets for the toilets. Killing it. 

Stewart and I headed out (I got everyone No Electricity discounts, too) and finally, finally started hiking at 10. Good grief Charlie Brown. 
So here are some things we saw:
Great views

The rock I hid under

Big blowdowns 

Random park bench (I love this bench)

I treed a bear cub!! His brother ran down the hill but this little guy went up the tree. I saw mama bear a mile down the trail. She was NOT expecting me and ran out of a tree and down the hill when I was about 25 feet away. Scared us both. Bears are so funny. 

Finally, stopped at Mountaineer Falls shelter. We had dinner and chatted and went to bed, just us in the shelter. 

Until 10:30, when I was roused from a deep sleep by a night hiker. Who had no manners. 
I glared in the dark and went back to sleep. 
MVP: Bears!

LVP: night hiker

Miles: 16

We woke up Sunday and I had no compunctions about waking up the night hiker too. Besides, it was 7:30 already. 
She was a lasher, and she didn’t apologize or act at all abashed for having come in late. 

She was also not great at directions. 
“We’re hiking south. We came from Dennis Cove, 16 miles North of here,” we told her. 

“So did y’all have to hike over that huge tree in the trail that’s like south of here?” 

…. We looked at her, and then I patiently explained cardinal directions. 

“I can’t figure out why there are so many trees and limbs on the trail. I guess it’s like maintainers are like…not doing anything. It’s crazy. Hey did you guys here that crazy storm yesterday? I kept hearing all these trees cracking.” 

I stared at her. 

Perhaps that explains Stewart’s face in this picture, which she took as we left the shelter. He didn’t have much confidence in her ability to take a picture. 

We headed out, and I expressed my frustration about idiot hikers by throwing massive branches off the trail. It helped. 
The last few miles sped by. We climbed over blowdowns 

We relaxed at Sugar Hollow, where tiny minnows nibbled at my feet. 

We hiked and watched the miles slip by under our shoes

And eventually we ended up at 19E. Another section done, another year gone. 
MVP: minnows

LVP: that girl
Miles: 8

In another week (because I’m so late posting this), I’ll be flying to New Hampshire to hike with Carpenter. 

I can hardly wait!!


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

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?

 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 Pétanque. 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?


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

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?