Day 12 – Nantahala Outdoor Center – Brown Fork Gap Shelter — 16.0 miles
I’m glad I got a “zero day” in yesterday because my body felt rejuvenated when I woke up. I took advantage of the shower and took one more before I started hiking for the day. There was a pot of coffee in the communal kitchen so I put down a cup and ate a cinnamon raisin bagel I found. The hike out of the N.O.C. in the morning was a grind. There was an elevation change from 1800 ft to 5000 ft over the first six miles of the climb. Hobbit, Knight, Zippy, and I all started out hiking together, but soon found our paces and separated. Some parts of the climb were steep, but mostly just a gradual incline until the 5000 ft mark. That’s where Cheoah Bald is and the view from up there was amazing. It was wide open and grassy and you could see the layers of mountains miles in the distance. Knight was up there so I asked him to take a picture of me. From there it was another 10 miles to the shelter. It was hot today, reaching 90 degrees and I decided to not fill up my water bottles at the last source and do it at the next. That was a mistake because water wasn’t available until the shelter and I needed some very badly. I hiked as efficiently as I could and finally got to Stecoah Gap at around 1:30. I was excited because I knew water was just 2 miles (about an hour away), but also unsure because it was the start of “Jacobs Ladder”. The trail started out with a subtle incline, but soon became the steepest section I’ve hiked so far. 1000 ft of elevation gain in .6 miles. It was not fun as all I could think about was getting water, but I still made the climb slowly and got to the shelter around 2:45. Knight, Spaceship, and Flauge were already here getting water, so I joined them and drank two liters before I came back up to relax. People eventually started to roll in after and we all sat around the shelter rolling out our legs with my tiger tail. I made a ramen bomb with grits tonight and Hobbit tried it for the first time as well and he also said it was the best thing he’s eaten on the trail so far. The shelter is full where I’m sleeping tonight and there are probably about 6 tents set up around camp. I’m sleeping next to Camo tonight! Hopefully he’ll keep the mice away from me. Fontana Dam tomorrow!
Day 13 – Brown Fork Gap Shelter – Fontana Dam Shelter — 12.8 miles
I woke up around 5:45 this morning and decided to get up and get ready to go. I had a mixture of peanut m&ms, granola, and trail mix and mixed it with my protein drink for breakfast. I packed my pack, went down to get water, and was on the trail a little before 7. It was pretty cloudy this morning and humid. I built up a sweat a few minutes into my hike and kept the pace rolling. As I was making my way down a flat section of the trail, I jumped and freaked out as I was about to step on a rattlesnake. I didn’t see it until the last second and I’m glad I did it because I don’t want to mess with those things. I didn’t even want to take a picture of it I just got out of there as fast as I could. I saw a couple hikers hiking towards me, but other than that there wasn’t anybody else. I got to Fontana Crossings around 11:30 and in the guidebook it said you could call for a shuttle to take you into town, but the phone there wasn’t working and none of us had service. I took a seat and drank a Sprite from the soda machine as I waited for Hobbit and Knight because we were going to go resupply together. I also ate a couple tuna packs I had leftover. When Hobbit and Knight got there, we decided to hike to the shelter just a mile out and get the shuttle from there. They call this shelter the “Fontana Hilton” because it is the most well kept and there are showers near it. We took the shuttle into town and on the way picked up Zippy, Tim, and Llama. Llama has hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail, so if he completes the A.T. he will have his “triple crown”. I got enough food to last me the next three days and then we will resupply in Gaitlanburg, Tennessee. The trail crosses between Tennessee and North Carolina through the Great Smoky Mountains. We got back to the shelter and made dinner. I just had a couple bagels with cream cheese. Ok, I had 4 bagels with cream cheese, a snickers, and cheese crackers. Haha I can’t eat enough out here. There’s a lot of people at the shelter tonight. A few of them I know, but many I’m meeting for the first time. The trail brings camaraderie between us hikers and it’s cool to be a part of. The Smoky Mountains tomorrow!
Day 14 – Fontana Dam Shelter – Spence Field Shelter — 17.8 miles
It’s been two weeks on the trail! Everyday has been exciting and I’ve met so many nice people, but I’m still adjusting to the lifestyle switch of living in the woods. So far I’m still determined to crush miles everyday and get to Maine! I woke up early again this morning, like 5:45, and as hiking by 6:45. The first mile started out on the road and I passed Fontana Dam. It was cool to see such a big Dam up close. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park came after the dam and re-entering the woods was like walking into another world. I felt like I was in Pandora from the movie Avatar. The vegetation was all green, reminding me of a tropical rainforest. I could hear little bugs flying around as I walked by. About an hour into the woods I walked right passed a deer that was eating leaves about 15 feet off the trail. I stopped to watch it, it looked at me, and then just kept on eating. It kept getting closer and closer until it was about 5 feet away, just so calm. The peacefulness felt nice. I kept walking and about five minutes later I heard some loud rustling to my left off the trail. I looked over and saw a baby black bear running away about 50 feet away from me. I’ve never encountered bears before, so I was filled with a mixture of awe and fear. I heard noise to my right and I looked to see a huge black bear standing up looking at me. We stared at each other for a few seconds and I started to back away slowly. Once I was a little farther back it walked across the trail in front of me. I waited until the coast was clear and hustled out of there. Haha it was crazy. I got to a shelter 10 miles in around 11 and stopped for lunch. I went down to fill my water and when I got back up Knight was there ready to eat as well. I had some tuna wraps and a couple other snacks as hiked on to the shelter I was staying at for the night. Once I got there, I got water and started making dinner because I was so hungry. Cheddar and broccoli macaroni was on the menu tonight, with a snickers and more tortillas. Pretty soon more and more people came. Two thru hikers, Flash and Two Pounds, are here tonight and I met them for the first time last night. This shelter is a double decker, so I’m posting up on the top floor with Captain while Hobbit, Flauge, Spaceship, Knight, Zippy, and Two Pounds are on the bottom floor. Three section hikers are sitting outside making a fire while we go to sleep. Today was a good day. Happy to be out here.
Day 15 – Spence Field Shelter – Double Spring Gap Shelter — 13.5 miles
I woke up naturally at 5:45 this morning. It was cold so I stayed in my sleeping bag for a little bit to stay warm, then finally sucked it up and got out of bed. The elevation at the shelters in the Smoky’s are higher than anywhere else before so the temperatures drop low at night. I had a carnation instant breakfast and some granola for breakfast and went down to the water to fill my bottles for the day. I was the first one out of camp at around 7 o’clock. It was pretty cloudy and rainy this morning. I guess the Smoky Mountains are known for that. The wet grass from the rain during the night got my feet soaked and the rocks on the trail made it slippery. I definitely went slow and controlled so I didn’t get hurt. I didn’t see anyone for the first couple hours and then I ran into a ridge runner named Chloe. She was telling me that a couple shelters have been closed down because of bear activity and there are more and more bear encounters each year. By 12 o’clock I had hiked 12 miles and I stopped for lunch at a shelter before the one I was staying at for the night. I met two through hikers from Tennessee, Sunshine and Dandelion. They’re hiking northbound until August and then flip flopping from Maine after that. They were cool people. I caught a hippy vibe from them. I moved on and had good service at one spot so I gave my mom a call. It’s always nice catching up with her. As I was talking on the phone a hiker passed me and I caught up to her after I was done on the phone. Her name was Dory Grasshopper, a thru hiker that was headed to trail days after today. Trail days is a huge hiker festival for three days in the town of Damascus, Virginia. We chatted as we walked the rest of the way to the shelter. Knight was already there, along with some thru hikers from Texas. I was very hungry so I decided to eat everything I could. A bag of trail mix, snickers bar, knor sides Spanish rice, tortilla with spam (which I don’t think I’ll eat again for a while), and a clif bar. I made friends with a thru hiker named Michael from France who was telling me about the bears he saw today. I also met a nice section hiker from Michigan. She came out here to get away from the real world for a little bit, but she’s ready to go home. I enjoy meeting all these new people and hearing what brings them out to rough it in the woods. The rain stopped and we found dry kindling so we made a fire and we all sat around and talked until the sun set. Knight, Flauge, Spaceship, Hobbit, and I are posting up in the shelter tonight and a few others as well. Hitting the 200 mile mark tomorrow!