Day 7 – Neels Gap – Standina Indian Shelter — 16.7 Miles
I slept pretty good in the hostel last night so waking up I was excited to start the day. I had a nice talk with this hiker Corey, who was staying at the hostel and doing a section hike with his mom, Jane. He mentioned cycling and I told him I was interested in triathlons and he’s actually competed in a lot, including an Ironman, so it was cool learning from him. There was free cereal for breakfast before the 8 o’clock shuttle back to the trail, so I crushed a couple bowls and a cup of coffee and got my pack together. I weighed it out and it was about 42 pounds, which is definitely not ideal, but with five days of food and 4 liters of water it’s the best I could do. Some people were leaving with a full resupply with backpacks weighing around 25 pounds. The day started out with pretty easy terrain. A few ups and downs, but nothing too crazy which was nice because I could definitely feel the weight of the pack on my back. A couple hours in I stopped for a snack with Knight and another thru hiker I just met, and as we were eating a whole pack of wild hogs ran about 50ft in front of us. These beasts are absolute animals and will run through you if you get in there way. According to the guy at the hostel, they will attack you if they feel threatened and all you can do to save yourself is climb a tree haha so I hope it doesn’t happen. 8.9 miles into the hike my first micro-goal was completed as I crossed the Georgia – North Carolina border! I’m happy with how I’ve been feeling and the progress I’ve been making and I can’t wait to keep crossing states. I met up with Hobbit, Night, and Gigante (a 6’9 thru hiker from Arizona) and had a couple tuna wraps for lunch. Flauge and Spaceship met up with us too and we all got water before seeing what North Carolina had in store for us. The first climb in was pretty brutal which was 1000 ft of elevation change over a mile. I had to slow down my pace once I reached the top and cruised another 8ish miles to the shelter. I went down to get water and wash off once I got there and then started cooking. I made a trail special tonight called the “ramen bomb” which is ramen mixed with mashed potatoes and I threw in pieces of tortilla. Hobbit gave me some scorpion pepper seasoning to give it some heat and honestly it was the best thing I’ve eaten so far. I washed it down with a snickers bar and then hung my bear bag with Knight, Donny, and Zippy. Hanging food bags is not so easy and we shared a lot of laughs as we were dodging 40 pounds worth of bear bags flying down from the sky. We all hung out in the shelter where I decided to post up for the night and talked and told stories to each other until it got dark and went to bed. Another 16 miles day tomorrow to Long Branch Shelter which will put me over 100 Miles! Can’t wait.
Day 8 – Standing Indian Shelter – Long Branch Shelter — 16.7 miles
Last night was pretty cold, but I wore my puffy jacket so I was warm inside my sleeping bag. I went to get my bear bag so I could eat breakfast and this morning I decided to make 3 packets of cheddar cheese grits and put a tortilla in it. I think that’s going to be my go to breakfast out here. I packed up my stuff and headed out pretty pumped up because I was going to be reaching the 100 mile mark. There was a little bit of incline for the first mile, but after that the trail was pretty flat for the first 11 Miles. I didn’t really see anyone on the trail, but kept bumping into Zippy a couple times. 100 miles on the trail is on top of Albert Mountain. There’s a fire tower that is about 60 feet up in the air and I could see it from afar as I was coming towards it. This ascent was STEEP and definitely took some work to get to the top, but once I was up there it was all worth it. I took a picture once I was up there, but booked it another 2 miles to the shelter because thunderstorms were in the forecast for mid afternoon. I got to the shelter around 2 o’clock and saw Knight already there. We laid out our sleeping pads and sleeping bags and went to the stream to get water. There was a nice spot to sit and soak our feet, so I let them chill in the cold mountain water and we talked for a little bit, reminiscing about high school and college sports. Back at the shelter, two hikers I passed on the way down came over to cook so food and I found out they were both RN’s, which is pretty cool because so is my mom. They used to live in Massachusetts, so it was cool hearing them list off places I’m familiar with. Throughout the afternoon, more and more people rolled into the shelter, along with some pretty heavy rain, thunder, and lightening. The rain stopped and I made a feast which was a mix of cheddar grits, mashed potatoes, beef jerky, and a tortilla. I was pumped to have a snickers for desert and I was still hungry so I crushed an oatmeal bar. Hobbit, Donny, Zippy, Yankee, Knight, Spaceship, Flauge, Camo, and I all chilled and talked until it got dark and then went to bed. Excited for tomorrow!
Day 9 – Long Branch Shelter to Wayah Bald Shelter 18.2 miles
Usually around 6 am you start to hear people starting to pack up their things and get ready for the day. I woke up from hearing the noise and felt pretty sore from yesterday. I have a couple cuts on my foot that I’ve been bandaging and they feel pretty tender before I start walking. Everyone was up eating breakfast with each other and I made coffee and grits again. I was one of the last people to leave the shelter at about 8:15ish. I checked my phone to see if I had service about an hour into my hike and finally I had some so I gave my mom a call. It was nice to hear her voice. The first part of the day was pretty flat, with a few ups and downs, but nothing too crazy. I only saw a few people today there weren’t that many people out here. Just Lost Boy, an older guy who I passed yesterday, a group of women who asked me if I knew where the water was, and a husband and wife with their kid walking barefoot on the trail. The biggest climb of the day was about 15 miles in, Wayah Bald. There’s a big lookout tower on the top and I could see it out in the distance. It was a pretty steep climb and it took me an hour or so to get to the summit. The climb was worth it because the view from up there was incredible. I finally got to the shelter at about 5:30 and as I got closer I saw a cat sitting outside and I got so pumped. Since the first night at the shelter, each Shelter I’ve been to somebody has mentioned the people hiking with their cat on a leash and I finally got to see the cat and meet the people hiking with her. Their names are Kyle and Kyla and they are actually hiking with a dog too. They’re from Connecticut and thru hiking as well. Hobbit, Knight, Spaceship, Flauge, Camo, Zippy, and Yankee were all in the shelter too and we sat around and talked and ate dinner. I made mashed potatoes again, mixed with grits and ripped up tortilla. I got some scorpion pepper seasoning from Hobbit which gave it a little kick. That meal right there is about 1000 calories, and for desert I poured my protein drink into a bag filled with peanut m&ms, granola, and trail mix and ate it like cereal. Definitely eating a lot of food. I want to rest the body a little bit, so I’m going to take a short day tomorrow. In my tent for the night now, the stars are the best I’ve seen so far.
Day 10 – Wayah Bald Shelter – Nantahla Outdoor Center — 16.7 Miles
I slept great last night and didn’t wake up until 8 o’clock. Most people were already gone, but I made some grits and packed my tent away. I passed a hiker eating breakfast on the side of the trail, early on in the hike, but besides that I didn’t see anybody else. At times I’ll listen to music or podcasts, but mostly I am without headphones soaking everything in. At the 5 mile mark I passed the oldest shelter on the A.T., made back in 1934. Shortly after that I turned a corner and saw Kyle, the guy with the cat. I said “what’s up?” to him, and he said, “You didn’t happen to have seen an orange cat around, would you?”. I guess the cat got freaked out from the people doing trail maintenance and took off into the woods. I took off my pack and helped look for the cat for almost an hour and decided to keep on hiking. Kyle and Kyla were planning on camping out there and seeing if the cat came back. A little farther up the trail, I saw a hiker walking towards me and as he got closer I noticed it was Undertow! It was crazy seeing him because I thought he was up ahead and getting off the trail. We talked for a while and said our goodbyes because he’s going to visit his wife in a couple days and then head up to New York and hike to Maine from there. The rest of the day was full of hiking and great views. About two miles of it was on a ridge line. I talked to my friend Tim on the phone for a little bit right as I was getting to the Nantahala Outdoor Center at about 5:30. A bunch of hikers were already here including Hobbit, Zippy, Yankee, Knight, Spaceship, and Flauge. We all got dinner at the restaurant and hung out for the rest of the night, sitting on a porch talking and playing guitar. Before the night ended, Kyle and Kyra made the trek to the N.O.C. and they found the cat! Amazing. We booked a room with 2 bunks and are fitting 6 people in it. Taking a day off tomorrow to chill and then a few days until the Smokies!
Day 11 – “Zero day” — Nantahala Outdoor Center
Today I decided to take a break from hiking and take a “zero day”, which is a thru hiking term for not gaining any mileage. I want to rest my feet and legs before the hard push into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The Nantahala Outdoor Center is a white water rafting place, with cabins in the back where we’re staying. It feels nice to be relaxing today and not putting in miles. Hobbit, Knight, Zippy, Kyle, and Kyla are here so we’re all taking advantage of the day of rest, showering, and laundry. I sent home some clothes and my boots to get rid of some weight in the pack and picked up a pair of trail runners and extra knee supports at the outfitter. I’m excited to get back on the trail tomorrow!