Day 10 – zero day in Hiawassee. We hung out chatting, doing yoga on a lovely non-dirt floor in front of the fire, and eating all day while it rained and froze outside. Spending the day with Katherine and Brandon was like condensing several months of friendship forging into several hours. By the end of the day we’d talked about everything and told so many stories, we felt like we’d known them for a long time. There was also pulled pork, baked beans, homemade fries, and coleslaw. It was awesome. I can’t even explain how awesome this was.
Day 11 – Deep Gap to Carter Gap Shelter // 9 miles. We took little mini banana bread loaves that Beth made with us, and ate them during a morning break. So good. It was still very cold (but not raining!) and the trail was lined with hoar frost on either side. No very difficult climbing today. We camped at a shelter with Katherine and Brandon. Met the Doctor and his crew as well as Rocky who has a unique hiking strategy. He’s hiking with vehicles, so he parks one, drives the other north, parks it, hikes back to the other one, then drives that one north of the other ones, and hikes south again. Bravo if you make sense of it; it took me a few tries. He’s a northbound hiker who hikes south all the time, and the advantage he sees is getting to carry less stuff because he slack packs himself all the time. He tries to end up at his truck every night where he has a bed setup, but sometimes he has to camp. When he does, he brings luxuries, such as a battery operated inflator for his sleeping pad. I couldn’t believe it when I heard that thing start up. The downside I see in this strategy is gas cost and the headache of figuring out where to park all the time, but he’s a cheerful, nice guy. You can recognize him from a mile away: two braids, kilt, bottle of bright green mountain dew mounted on each shoulder strap 🙂
Day 12 – Carter Gap Shelter to Franklin, NC // 12.1 miles. We hit the 100 mile mark today! That’s a big chunk, I thought, but then I started thinking about how many more 100s there were and it started to seem small. We ate lunch up there with Katherine and Brandon and another couple, Moose and Teton. I stopped myself asking Teton if he knew his trail name meant “boob” in French. We had planned to stay at a shelter just above the road to Franklin, but then the road was right there and Katherine and Brandon decided to catch a shuttle into town, so we went too, and then there was pizza and beer.
Day 13 – Zero in Franklin. We spent the whole day (the WHOLE day) at Outdoor 76 having our feet analyzed by Rob the Shuru (Shoe Guru. We gave him that name). Seriously, buying shoes at this place first required a multi-hour lecture about feet and shoes and sizing regulations and shoe technology. Moose and Teton were there too and somehow managed to get some shoes and leave. At lunch we were still there, I don’t even know how, and I said I was going to pass out if I didn’t eat, so Rob got me a banana and a cup of really dark beer and kept going. We did finally end up with new, better fitting shoes, and some inserts. I’m so glad someone convinced Eric to ditch his safety-toe work boots from Oregon! I’d been discouraging him from wearing those forever, but he didn’t listen to me of course. I’m ditching my minimalist Merrell’s and getting something with a little more support and cushion, even though I’d rather not. It’s likely my feet don’t have the strength to support my body weight and the pack over all this rough terrain and miles for so long. I don’t want to push it too hard and get an injury, so I’m taking a little step back from my barefoot ways.
Day 14 – Rock Gap to Siler Bald Shelter // 8 miles. Taking the advice we got everywhere in Franklin: go irrationally slow for awhile. It was drizzly, so we spent the afternoon hanging out in the shelter with a lot of the same people from the previous shelter. I felt a little claustrophobic at one point but it was better than being wet. There was a homeless guy living on the trail for a little bit camped out down the hill and he came around for a little while. Finally it got late enough to sleep. It was our first time sleeping in a shelter. Can’t say I’m a huge fan.
Day 15 – Siler Bald Shelter to Licklog Gap // 8 miles. The rain was gone in the morning and we had a beautiful, cloudless day. It was cool but not too cold, excellent hiking weather. We had amazing views on the top of Wayah Bald. I’d been there as a little kid when my family went on a camping trip to North Carolina, which at the time felt like this epic journey because it was so long in the car and so different in the mountains from Louisiana or the beach where we usually camped. I vaguely remembered parts of it, or feel like I did at least. It was cool to make it there; I’d been looking forward to it.
Day 16 – Licklog Gap to Wesser Bald Shelter. Lots of climbing in the sun today, but more beautiful trail. The sun is out and the mountains are great. And we’re in a good spot for hitting the NOC for lunch tomorrow!
Thumbs up, North Carolina.