It’s been a few days since my last post. They’ve all been tiring and I had a lot to do while I had service. I put in a warranty claim on my SPOT due to the broken track button. Hopefully I can take care of that after the Smokies.
I last wrote from Tellico Gap (AT mile 129.2). From there I had small 800 ft climb, but that was followed by a huge 3000 foot descent to the Nantahala Outdoor Center (the NOC). I hiked without water for a good ways. I should have filled up at Wesser Bald, but I was being lazy. There was a listed spring a few miles later. When I got there it was a bit pathetic looking. No way to get water out of that unless I was going to do some Bear Grylls style puddle drinking. I was pretty thirsty by time I got to the A Rufus Morgan shelter with a nice stream. Truth be told, I didn’t even bother treating it with Aqua Mira like I normally do, I just drank up.
There shelter is 1 mile before the NOC. On the last bit down I ran into Salmon, Moment and Sunrise headed back to the shelter. They didn’t really want to pay for a room and were stretching the budget by camping. It was a nice night anyway. For whatever reason I wanted a shower, plus they had hot restaurant food. I was sad to find out they didn’t provide towels (or any linens). They didn’t really cater to the hikers. Their driving clientele easily bring those things. No way am I going to carry that if I’m willing to cut my toothbrush in half. I made do without the towel. The food was OK too. “Dr. Livingston, I Presume” joined me and we chatted for a while and enjoyed the WiFi. He’s an interesting older fellow with many past adventures to talk about.
I also called my mom for the first time since the start of the trip. She told me that people ask her if I carry a gun. Did you see above about cutting my toothbrush in half? I find it a little funny actually. There are many people out here hiking and almost none of them carry a gun. Those that do tend to be the ones that drop off quickly. I suppose they don’t really understand what the trail really is. Its not much different than going for a nice long day hike with camping in between. Besides, if you carry a gun you’ll immediately be “that guy”. The logistics would be a nightmare too crossing so many jurisdictions. There are some weirdos out here, but not more than normal suburban/urban life. And if you think it’s for the bears, you’re better off with bear spray. The bears are basically big raccoons in most situations and don’t want anything to do with people.
Back to the trail though, the day climbing out of the NOC was rough. It was about 3700 ft. of climbing. Many people stayed at the Sassafras Gap shelter 6.7 miles in (or 7.7 from the previous shelter). Salt deposits from sweat were basically the norm that day. I pushed on to Locust Cove Gap for a 10.3 mile day (AT mile 147.6). On the way was Cheoah Bald. It was an awesome view of the valley below, a great place to camp and watch the sunset.
The next day started off easy and with great weather. Everyone was worried about Jacob’s Ladder, a 600 ft. climb in 0.6 miles. It was definitely steep, but over-hyped. I still think both Albert Mtn and Courthouse Bald were much more intense.
I nearly stopped at the Cable Gap shelter, but I made up my mind before arriving that I wanted to hit 15 miles for the day (a first). I sat to eat dinner at the shelter and socialize a bit with the crowd there.
I was pretty tired going up the 600 ft. out of the gap. After a mile the energy from dinner started to kick in and I was moving. I walked on until after sunset. It drizzled a little too but never all out rained. The last mile I got out my headlamp. The spiders along the trail light up as little yellow speckles from a distance. There must have been thousands (half a dozen in any square yard). I went all the way to the “Fontana Hilton” and got some space there. I can assure you it’s not like any Hilton you’ve stayed at. It’s the nickname of the shelter near Fontana Dam. The shelter was awesome and had real bathrooms, picnic tables and showers nearby.
It was my highest mileage day yet, 18.2 miles (AT mile 165.8).
In the morning I walked the 0.3 miles to the Dam Visitor Center. I then walked to Fontana, probably around 3 miles. A shuttle passed by about 3 times each direction and only later did I find out bit wasn’t just for Fontana Lodge guests. Oh well, I walked 165 miles there, what’s a few more? I waited for the post office to open (at 11:45!) So I could buy some stamps for international post cards. I was surprised to find it’s a global flat rate. That makes it easy. From there I got to The Hike Inn. The owners, Jeff and Nancy, are some of the best hosts ever. They are genuinely glad to meet the hikers and have very decent accommodations. There is no question it’s my favorite place so far on the trip. I almost wish I was taking the day off just to hang around and chat with them. Tomorrow though, I enter Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I’m not sure when I’ll get service next, so it may be a batch of posts in a week or so.