In this last stretch we’ve started to feel like we’ve entered a new phase. The hike is still new, but we’ve refined it a bit and have made some good discoveries.
Like coffee. When we met The Doctor way back by the GA/NC border, he was carrying a pound of premium roast coffee plus some powdered creamer and sugar. And we thought he was crazy, but we were secretly jealous. In Erwin, we picked up our own bag of coffee and a reusable filter. And life improved dramatically.
The coffee helps because we’ve also gotten into a habit of getting up early (alarm goes at 5am) and hiking for sunrise. On cold mornings it’s a little rough, but with our new staple breakfast of bagels with nut butter and nutella and a hot cup of delicious, strong black coffee, it’s hard to complain. It’s invigorating to hike in the early morning, and it feels draining to me to hike in the afternoon. With our early start, we often finish around two, which is perfect.
And our mileage is increasing. We’re in the 12-15 range now more often, with a spattering of 16s and 17s, and we plan to try for a 20 mile day before we get to Damascus (in about four days).
Today we passed the 400 mile mark. I remember hitting 100 on Albert Mountain and feeling like that was such a big deal. Feeling like every block of 100 miles I walked would feel like a big deal. But the hundreds I walked between then and now just melted away somehow. How did we already walk 400 miles?
We’re also done walking in North Carolina, so we’re two states down. We’d been zigzagging back and forth between NC and Tennessee since the Smokies, but now it’s Tennessee’s time to shine. And it has. Almost as soon as we crossed the border we started seeing lovely water. Bigger creeks, even rivers. And a couple of waterfalls that came out of nowhere. Not little ones, either. We almost hiked past the .2 side trail to Jones Falls because we wanted to get to camp and cook our cheddar brats (which, granted, is pretty compelling), but I’m so glad we saw it. It boosts my spirits to see water. I was getting tired of scooping water out of these little muddy springs and dripping pipes.
The weather has been mentally tiring. At first it was really hot. We got to swim in the Nolichucky River where the trail crossed the road into Erwin, and that was an unexpected boon. Later that evening we were sitting in the tent while it rained. It rained every evening like clockwork around 6:30 or 7:00 for three or four nights after that. Then we had a day of torrential downpour and drop in temperatures. It snowed a tiny bit. Then just dry, windy cold. I’m singing any kind of sun chant I can come up with in my head as we hike. It’s going to feel so good when it comes out again.
This stretch of trail has brought us lots of new people, too. We finally caught up with Fivel and Little Foot, whose parents (Granny and Old Goat) gave us trail magic just before Max Patch. They hike with Dandelion, who has a beautiful part wolf dog I like camping with. Everyone disappeared off to Trail Days this weekend, so we feel sort of alone out here right now, but it was fun to remember I don’t already know everyone who’s out here.
We also got to camp again (briefly!) with our good friends Phoenix and Johnny Appleseed. They showed up at Clyde Smith Shelter after doing a big day to catch up with us and caught us totally by surprise. It was awesome.
So, it’s been good. I’ve felt a little tired at times, and look forward to taking a zero in Damascus. But the forest has been beautiful, and the Roan Highlands were breathtaking. It’s the first place so far I’ve thought I might like to come back and hike again. We’re hitting a good stride and are excited about entering Virginia soon.