Day 11: Bly Gap-Carter Gap 15 miles
I survived my first whole day of hiking in the rain, AND had my first 15 mile day- woohoo! My hike was pretty uneventful otherwise, lots of climbing with elevations over 5,000. I was soaked to the bone and warmed up at camp. Shelley was just a few miles ahead, and I thought I may be able to catch her if I did another 15 miles into Franklin- for my “real” trail visit. My feet were very sore, but otherwise I felt great. I did a lot of adjusting my pack to try and fit my new sleeping pad- it’s an accordion style foam mat that doesn’t fit well. I enjoyed being on my own because it allowed me to go at my own pace the entire day. I did not see anyone on the trail for the first 9 miles!
Day 12: Carter Gap-Rock Gap, 12.1 Miles
I had some huge milestones today, as I climbed Mt Albert and hit the 100 mile mark! I loved the climb to Mt Albert- it was straight up boulders which is my favorite– but everyone else did not like it.
I tried to make it all the way to Winding Stair Gap to shuttle into Franklin, but there were HUGE storms all night and I woke up to a puddle in my tent and got a late start. It rained most of the day. I met William and Anna, two hikers without trail names just like me 🙂 We found out there was a shuttle at Rock Gap so we turned on our turbo boosters and got there just in time to ride the Macon County Transit shuttle into Franklin to get clean and dry. I stayed in the hostel/bunk room with William, Anna, and two other older male hikers.
The three of us had a delicious hamburger and then Anna and I set out for the Lazy Hiker and Dollar General. Since I knew my way around town already I felt like the tour guide. We ended up joining another group of hikers for music trivia at the brewery, and our team won! Shelley was in town at another hostel getting her beauty sleep. I did not get any beauty sleep, as my first bunkhouse experience exposed me to the farting and snoring that goes on all night.
Day 13: Rock Gap-Siler Bald, 8 miles
After not getting any sleep, I had a rough time pulling myself together in the morning. I got up about 7 am and walked to the grocery store for a new water bottle. I enjoyed a delicious fresh baked scone and coffee at Rathskeller. The scone reminded me of the Old Bay Cheddar biscuits. There was a little dog there named Lily that hung out with me the whole time, she was really sweet and really wanted to sit in my lap.
I was really tired despite my coffee and had a tough time getting my things together and packed up. I had laid my soaked tent out to dry outside of the building, and happened to see my hero Kevin from Three Eagles Outfitters. He said “What did you do to your tent??” I said “It got a tiny bit wet!”. He walked away and I went back inside to continue packing my other items. I had to get to the post office to mail my next resupply box up to the next stop, so I started calling around for a shuttle. It was only a mile or so away and I had walked their on my last visit, but I didn’t have enough time to get there walking before the shuttle would arrive to take me back to the trailhead. The Macon County Transit agreed to take me if I could be ready immediately, so I ran outside to grab my wet tent. And guess what- My hero Kevin had run a clothesline and hung it up for me. Isn’t he the best?! It wasn’t completely dry, but was much better than it had been.
I ended up riding around with the shuttle driver for 2 hours before he could make the trip to the trail. He was really nice and told me about how it was his first season driving the Hiker shuttle, but that it was much more pleasant than another type of bus he had driven. Everyone I talked to in Franklin told me that they really enjoyed having the hikers there- one local told me that she loved that her children got exposed to so many people from all over the world. I thought it was pretty neat, because I actually thought they would hate having dirty hikers take over their hometown.
I got to Rock Gap at 1:15 and started my rainy hike. There was trail magic sitting out at Winding Stair Gap- I enjoyed an apple. I climbed Siler Bald thinking it would be packed- it is a steep climb that is actually a side trail (not technically the AT) but is known for fabulous views. I was shocked I find I was the only one there! I decided to camp there and was treated to an amazing sunset. It was my first night completely alone, with no other campers in any proximity. I was excited but a little scared of lightning. It did storm, and the winds were extremely heavy. Unfortunately, I can’t post videos on this webpage, but there is a really neat video of the wind rocking my tent on my Instagram page if you would like to see for yourself!
Day 14: Siler Bald-Wesser Shelter, 18 miles
Camping by myself on Siler Bald was a wonderful decision! Sunset and sunrise were both amazing, and once again I couldn’t believe that this was actually my life! I did have to tell myself all night that I was too heavy to blow away- I mean, I literally chanted it aloud at times- but it was amazing. There was a break in the storm around 11pm and I got out to look at the stars, the view was mind blowing and I wish I could have captured a picture to share.
I enjoyed coffee and cheese while I watched the sunrise and tried to figure out how I would take down my tent without it blowing away. I had to get really creative, but with appropriate placement of all of my limbs and gear I was able to get my tent down without it blowing over the cliff.
I got to see Wesser Fire Tower, which was really cool.
The day turned pretty nasty- rain all day and a downpour when I reached camp. I was soaked, my gear was soaked. I sat in the shelter for a bit hoping the rain would break and met some of the other hikers, including Cocoa Bean and Crankles.
I felt very exhausted physically and emotionally from my longest day so far- just under 18 big miles! I couldn’t even eat more than a few bites of my dinner because I was just too spent.
I crawled into my wet tent, laid my wet clothes at the bottom, and hoped to at least keep my sleeping bag somewhat dry. (The only thing I dread on the trail is putting on my wet clothes in the morning- I may have mentioned this in a previous post, but I just loathe it. I have always felt that way, even with a wet or damp bathing suit. And I knew it would be the hardest part of Trail life for me before I got out here- but it still hasn’t gotten any easier).
Day 15: Wesser Bald-Sassaphras Shelter, 13 miles
I got a late start because I was procrastinating putting on my wet clothes and loading up my soaked and heavy gear. I tried to eat my dinner leftovers for breakfast, but I just couldn’t get it down. It was a tough and rocky climb to the “NOC”, a large gear outpost. The NOC was awesome- there was some sort of adventure race happening that day, and there was kayaking, rafting, and restaurants. The group I was with stopped and stayed there, torrential rains were expected and everyone wanted to get dry. I was very tempted to stay and really wanted to go rafting, but I decided to hike on. (I am glad I did- a lot of hikers fell into a “vortex” here and stayed several days!) I stayed for a bit to give my phone a little charge and started chatting with a gear rep. He had previously worked for Granite Gear, the company that makes my backpack, and now works for Big Agnes, the company that makes my tent. He chatted with me about his time at Granite Gear and told me to come visit him in Damascus at Trail Days- my backpack hipbelt was a little big and he thought he could get them to swap it out for me. He also promised tequila and bourbon, so I said “See ya there!”
The climb out of the NOC area was steep and the hardest climb for me to date. It took forever! My watch said I was going about 1mph for most of it! So, I did as I always do when the going gets tough- I put on some jams and climbed the mountain. I hadn’t seen anyone in hours and was belting out some Ed Sheeran. I came around a corner and there was a hiker standing still, facing me, and clapping. In an effort to try not to die of embarrassment, I laughed, said a quick “Hi”, and then bolted up the rest of the mountain.
I ran back into the clapping Hiker on my way to camp, he was hiking on in the rain and it was nearly dark so I told him he was a wild man! I got to the shelter and started setting up my tent in the rain, again. The hikers in the shelter were very sweet and offered to make room for me due to the impending storm- but of course, being stubborn I was determined to sleep in my tent. And so I did.
Day 16: Sassaphras-Yellow Creek Gap, 15 miles
The thunder and lightning storm overnight was crazy! After just a few hours, my tent was flooded. I was practically floating on my sleeping pad like a life raft. A few hours into the storm, I thought that I heard a noise, but I was wearing ear plugs, and with the howling wind and rain hitting my tent I was sure it was a tornado coming for me so I just shimmied further into my sleeping bag cocoon.
I woke up about 5 am and assessed the damage inside my tent. There was a good puddle and everything was soaked. I made breakfast and thought about what I wanted to do. I decided I was getting out of the rain and getting dry. I waited until a reasonable hour to start calling hostels, and at 7:00am called Creekside Paradise. I booked a room and hit the road. My options were: hike 7 miles, be 15 miles from Fontana (next resupply point) and pay $5 shuttle fee, or hike 15 miles, be closer to Fontana, and get a free shuttle… guess which one I chose?!
It was truly pouring cats and dogs and was quite horrific. I turned on my jams and pushed through. A few miles in, I received a message from Creekside that they could pick me up at the 7 mile site at 2:00pm. I was on track to be there before 12 pm and knew that if I sat there waiting I would surely freeze- so at that point my mind was made up 100% to do the whole 15 to Yellow Creek Gap, which included climbing the dreaded Jacob’s Ladder.
Jacob’s Ladder is a 0.6 mile trek with a 600ft incline. It was a slippery mess, but I did it. I didn’t fall on Jacob’s ladder, but I did slip on some wet rocks and had a tough time standing back up with my turtle back! I do wish I could have watched myself because I’m sure it was funny to see!
Later in the day, I ran into the Wild Man, the guy that had busted me singing on the NOC climb. He told me about how overnight the storm blew his tent away and he was blowing his safety whistle and yelling for help. He was camped about 1 mile from the area where I was- and I had a horrible sinking feeling that was the funny noise I thought I heard. I felt awful (and still do) that I didn’t think to investigate it further. He ended up hiking back down the mountain that night and stayed in the shelter- so the one good thing is that since I didn’t sleep in there, there was room for him. His trail name is “Danger” and I asked if he got it from blowing his whistle. He didn’t! He actually got it 10 years ago in his first thru-hike. He did not share the accompanying story 😉
I made it to Yellow Creek before 4pm, over 30 minutes before the shuttle was due. It was still down pouring so I gave them a call just to let them know I made it and would be ready when they were. I was frozen and soaked and my shoes were filled with water- I wasn’t sure how long it took to acquire trench foot, but I didn’t really want to learn the hard way! There were a group of 3 frozen guys at the gap looking for a shuttle, and I told them if my place had any openings I would be willing to share (I had originally booked a private room).
Jeff, one of the owners of Creekside picked me up within 5 minutes of my call and loaded me and my soaked gear into his truck. I felt awful getting his truck wet! Jeff said that they had one opening left and Grill, one of the three frozen guys decided to join us.
Their place truly was a paradise! Cynthia, the other owner, greeted us at the door and offered a hot beverage. I opted for a hot shower first to get out of my wet clothes and try to stop shivering. They had large fluffy clean towels, hot water, shampoo, and conditioner- which blew every other place so far out of the water! It was such a treat! They also had giant fluffy bath robes for us to wear while they washed our clothes for us. Without prompting, Jeff took all our boots and placed them on boot dryers.
After my shower I enjoyed a hot coffee and chatted with the other guests. The place was completely full, and I roomed with a gal named Firefly. As if the place wasn’t already a dream come true- they had 4 hound dogs and Cynthia is a veterinarian and runs a wildlife rehab center- my slice of heaven!! We had a great conversation about baby raccoons and bats.
Cynthia and Jeff had planned to check out a new steakhouse in town that evening, and they invited us all to join them. My shoes were still soaked, so Cynthia loaned me a pair to go to dinner. Using two vehicles they shuttled us all to the restaurant. It felt great to be clean and dry!! I enjoyed a delicious spicy burger and salad, as well as a wonderful conversation with Jeff.
After dinner we headed back and did what hikers do after dinner- went straight to bed! I was dry and happy, but also in a lot of pain because the rain caused me to chafe everywhere. Yes, truly everywhere.
Day 17: Yellow Creek Gap-Fontana, 7 miles
Before heading out we enjoyed an amazing breakfast spread which included coffee, bagels and lox, and fruit salad.
We were dropped off at about 11:30am and I had plenty of time to make the 7 miles to Fontana, so I listened to some Fleetwood Mac and just strolled along and took in the trees. This was one of my favorite stretches of the trail. I made it to Fontana about 1pm and listened to a whiny Hiker hog up the shuttle phone. There is NO phone service anywhere in Fontana, and just one phone to call the shuttle. I had previously booked a room here, as I did not plan on staying at Creekside the night before. It was a teachable moment for me- I like to have my rooms booked so that I know I have a place to stay, but it just doesn’t work that way on the trail, and I was really kicking myself because I did not want to stay in a paid room two nights in a row- especially since it was actually a decent day to hike.
They would not allow me to check in until 4pm, so I strolled around the resort. Fontana is not actually a city- it’s all owned by the resort. They had a pool and putt-putt golf, but everything was still closed for the off season.
I got checked in and had a really nice room with a fluffy bed and patio. I set my tent up on the patio to dry and then went to the one restaurant open on the resort to grab dinner. I usually avoid eating out alone, and/or hogging up a table by myself, so I headed to the bar area. Danger and one other guy were sitting at opposite ends, so I took a spot in the middle. I ordered a chicken salad and Danger showed me a video that he took of the storm- it was crazy! It actually made me surprised my tent wasn’t more flooded!
I found out the bartender was actually also the Mayor of the town. I thought they were pulling my leg but it was true! She was my age and awesome. They had just gotten one of those “Alexa” machines that you can talk to and it answers questions and plays music. They tried to get me to talk to her, but I was worried she would steal my soul so I stayed quiet…. for a while 🙂 The guys took turns having Alexa play songs for us. My first Alexa song request was Dwight Yoakum, of course. The 4 of us started playing a game of trying to stump each other with songs.
If you have had the (dis)pleasure of being around me at karoake time, you are well aware that I was unfortunately cursed with the singing voice of a dying rat, but I was fortunately blessed with an insane database of song lyrics. We started out with some old school country: Hank, Loretta, Patsy, Conway. After I nailed those, we moved on to classic rock. They decided since I knew all of those, I couldn’t possibly know any rap, so they said we were going rap and I had first choice…I picked 2 Live Crew and Sarah was the only one that knew it with me, and we all had a good laugh because by “rap” they had all meant like, TLC and of course I took it to the other side. It was hilarious and I got high-fives and major street cred. After that we did some Eazy E, L.L, and other sing-a-longs. Singing with strangers turned out to be a blast and the most fun I had in the trail yet!