Jogging my memory at bit here, I’m pretty sure this day I woke up to find out that Sputnik/Fair Enough and TK both had mice chew into their bags while up on the bear cables! Those pesky rodents are very crafty.
I headed out of camp fairly early that day. It started off with a decent 1000′ climb. There was a side trail to a lookout tower, but the tower is all locked up and offers no view otherwise. I sure wasn’t going to waste time with that.
The next few miles of trail around Jones Meadow were all wet. I did my best to keep my feet dry. Wet feet are probably the worst thing on the trail. If your skin stays soaked, it gets very fragile. Then you’re open to a myriad of sores.
Once back near the rocky area the guidebook gives a warning that the next section is “rocky and strenuous”. It’s the first warning like it that I can recall. I climbed Big Firescald Knob anyway. It was rocky, but didn’t seem any more strenuous than the 100 climbs before it. The knob had nice views.
The hiking after the knob was rather easy along some gentle rolling hills. I sat to take a break at mile 300. A bit later I came up on a “300” sign someone had made on the trail. It was a bit oof, but still fun to see.
I stopped for a lunch break at the Jerry Cabin Shelter. I chatted with Lightning and Fireball among other hikers while I cooked lunch and ate my fill. I had first met the girls just after crossing the Georgia border. They had been there longer so left before me. TK came and joined me before I moved on and hiked with me the rest of the day.
Leaving the shelter was some of the easiest walking I can recall, though confusing. The trail had been rerouted to avoid a defunct gravel road and make for gentler walking. For most of it, it was great. However, we came up to a muddy mess of a climb after a big field. TK and I agreed it was total crap.
Coming off of Big Butt Mountain (yep, that’s the real name) we stopped to take a break and wandered up a small hillside. Funny enough we spied the old blazes! I guess they only remove the first few on a reroute. The reroute here was to remove some of a wicked descent. On the flat section I was walking along at a pretty good clip and stepped on a rock with my left foot. It hit right in the tender area along the outside. This spot has hurt on and off for weeks. Having good momentum I did a little hobble type step to slow down. My very next step was on a rock to the exact same spot! Truth be told, it was excruciating and stopped me for a few minutes.
On the last bit to the Flint Mountain shelter, TK found a trekking pole section that matched his bent section. He mixed them together and was one step closer to a perfect set. He originally got them as someone else was tossing them out for being bent.
Daily mileage: 12.7, AT mile 306.2
The next day started with a bunch of small and sharp ups and downs. After the road though, we got a nice field walk along some flowering trees. They looked like plum trees, but I’m not an expert.
On the way up Lick Rock I stopped for a nice break at the cascades. After that was fields of blooming trillium. It was very nice to be seeing all the green. I meandered slowly that afternoon and made it up to Hogback Ridge Shelter. I decided I’d end early and try to get my first 20 mile day. The next terrain looked doable. I ate like it was my job to lighten my load and have energy for the next day. I had fun chatting with new hikers I met: Mouse, Remi, Snooze and Arrow.
Daily mileage: 8.8, AT mile: 315.0
At first light I got up and going. I packed with purpose and I was the first one out of camp. My pace isn’t that high, so I knew I’d be walking long hours to get to 20 miles. As soon as I got to the trail it started to sprinkle. I ignored it and hiked on. A little rain won’t deter me.
At Sam’s Gap a former thru hiker was handing out Hardee’s sausage biscuits, sodas, fruit and donuts. He says he comes out on the bad rain days. Apparently the forecast was not good. It only sprinkled on and off for the next several miles, but was a full rain after Low Gap. I was on a 1700′ climb to Big Bald. I had my first hiking fall. I landed on my knees in some soft mud. It wasn’t bad at all.
Once out of the woods and onto the bald the rain was cold and miserable. It blew so hard my glasses were useless. I just took them off. The rain prevented seeing past my feet anyway. Finally I started back into the shelter of the woods only to find it was a cruel joke. After less than 100 yards it was more walking on the balds! At Big Stamp I fell again. This time I landed squarely on my back. While not pleasant, my pack was mostly sleeping bag and felt much like a giant pillow. Again I came out unscathed.
I arrived at Bald Mountain shelter, still intent on making 20 miles. It was barely after noon and I already had 10 covered. All I needed was a mental break from the cold rain. As soon as it stopped, I’d hike on. As you can guess, it never stopped.
I stood around looking for the courage to hike back out in the rain. I never managed to find it. Instead, we packed 17 people, a dog and a hammock into a shelter meant for 10.
I don’t know why the put dividers in this shelter, but it made it really awkward to stuff in all those people. Several laid right in top of the dividers (a board that stuck about 1.5″ above the surface). It was too hard to turn anyone away because each one looked more pathetic than the last.
Daily mileage: 10.1, AT mile 325.1
The next day was warm and dry but my shoes were too soaked for even a little relief. I just headed out early to get to town. I made good time despite my feet taking a beating from wet shoes. I took a break at No Business Knob, the last shelter before town. I walked out with Sputnik and Fair Enough, but they hiked faster than I wanted. Soon though TK caught up and we hiked the last miles to Erwin.
Our only waypoint was “Views to Erwin”, which was 1.3 miles from the road. We were happy when we hiked up to a lovely view since we must be so close. However, about a quarter mile later was an even better view! Since only one is listed, this must be it and we’re still 1.3 miles from town. Wouldn’t you know, a bit later an equally nice view appeared. This happened 3 times! The views to Erwin became a big joke. It just kept resetting our distance.
We did finally make it though and happily stayed at the Mountain Inn.
Daily mileage: 16.4, AT mile 341.5