Day 31: Hot Springs- Mile 280, 7 miles
Laura dropped me off about 3:30pm after our trip to REI. The trail out of Hot Springs near the French Broad River did not have many white blazes, and I missed a turn and ended up climbing an extra hill. It was a pretty easy day and I set up camp just before dark. Laura’s brother, Russ, sent me an Oberon beer from Michigan that I enjoyed with the sunset and a full moon. I found out that Shelley was just a few miles ahead and I hoped to catch up to her soon.
Day 32: Mile 280-Jones Meadow, 16 miles
The sun was shining but it was still cold and windy, so I took my puffy jacket on and off all day long. I scared a deer today and stood watching it run off with amazing grace. I tried to take a picture of two ants that were working together to carry a giant leaf, but I scared them also.
I saw a sign for a store just off the trail, so I hopped off and grabbed a Dr. Pepper and Ice Cream sandwich. I ran into Grill and No Touching, they were both headed to a hostel. No Touching told me a great story about his time in Hot Springs.
As he was heading out of town he stopped at the store to grab a few snacks. As with most stores in the Hiker towns, they ask that you leave your pack outside the door. While he was shopping his pack was stolen, and it happened with a police officer right across the road! No Touching reported the theft but figured his trip was over- all of his gear was gone, and it would be very expensive to replace. He went to the restaurant and waited to hear back from the police. While he was there, he said he felt like the whole town came together to help him. Someone bought him a pizza, another person bought him a beer. Another local offered him a place to stay while he figured out what to do. While he was eating, he got a call that the pack was found- one of the employees where he was shopping found it for him. There were only a few items missing- his stove and his gloves! He felt really lucky and his story gave me that gratitude glow!!
Shortly after I left the little store, I passed a SOBO that said there was a huge hiker feed 6 miles up the trail. The Greenville Hiking Club put on the most amazing trail magic! They had tents set up and a fire roaring. Oh, the food! They had my two favorite items- berries and salad! I also enjoyed a burger, pound cake, coffee, and carrots- Hiker hunger finally arrived for me!
I had the pleasure of meeting Poontz and M&M, a couple that met during their respective thru-hikes 10 years ago. They both work at the Hiker Hostel, which was the first place Shelley stayed at before we began our Appalachian Adventure. We sat around the fire and they shared many great stories with me. The hiking club told me that they would be making breakfast in the morning and invited me to camp nearby- it was an offer that I couldn’t refuse so I set up my tent and slept like a baby.
Day 33: Jones Meadow-Mile 310.5, 15 miles
I woke up about 7:15am and heard a ton of voices outside, so I figured I was the Lazy Hiker of the bunch. I climbed out of my tent to find out that I was actually the first Hiker up- the voices were all of the amazing volunteers from the Greenville Hiking Club! I had an amazing breakfast of coffee, REAL eggs, bacon, sausage, berries, and toast with homemade apple butter.
Breakfast set me up for a great day, and I enjoyed my favorite type of hiking- bouldering, which is just like it sounds climbing giant boulders. I had beautiful views on Big Butt and Big Bald. I played leap frog with Poontz and M&M quite a bit, and Poontz suggested the trail name “Not Sure” because anytime anyone asked me where I’m camping, or how many miles I was doing, I always started with “Not Sure Yet”
It was very hot and I was very tired. I stopped and had an Emergen-C packet and a little rest. I met 2 volunteers carrying chainsaw that were out doing trail maintenance.
I went on to the next shelter and was feeling really fatigued, so I ended up taking a 2 hour break there. I had still planned on making it another 10 miles, but I was really struggling and felt a little loopy, so I stopped midway up a hill to eat a Cliff bar.
I ended up stopping to camp at the next place I found water. Everything hurt- knees, feet, biceps. I hoped that I would feel better after dinner. I couldn’t get all of my food down and I was feeling alternately feverish and chilled, so I just laid down to rest.
I had set up my tent on a slope, so not only was I feeling ill but I was also sliding down all night. I had very little food left, and no charge on my phone so I was really hoping I would feel better in the morning.
Day 35: Mile 322-Uncle Johnny’s Hostel, 22 miles
I finally saw my first Black bear!! Last night while I was camped I overheard people saying how many bears they had seen- some claimed 5 or more, and yet I had not seen any!
My sighting occurred as I was walking along near Whistling Creek Gap and singing aloud to “Luckenback Texas”. I actually almost missed it- there are TONS of chipmunks in the woods and they make a huge cacophony of noises that sounds much bigger than they are- I heard a noise in the leaves to my side and almost didn’t look because I assumed it was more crazy chipmunks. My bear was hopping around parallel to me about 15 yards away on my right. I couldn’t believe how close and how cute… when it struck me I was looking at a baby, I quickly turned around looking for Mama Bear, and by the time I turned back my baby bear was already running far down the hill. So it turns out bears don’t really care about my bear bell, they aren’t afraid of country music, and they don’t mind my singing voice. Everything I thought I knew about bears was wrong!
I ran into Grill and was telling him about how I wasn’t sure what to do since I was going to run out of food but probably couldn’t make it over 20 miles to the hostel. He was really encouraging and said that he had heard the terrain wasn’t too bad and that I should go for it. He also gave me a Cliff Bar to get me through on food and energy.
I arrived just after 8pm and was ecstatic to have completed my first 20+ mile day!! Firefly, Orphan, and Ferrari were all at the hostel, and I caught up to and shared a room with Shelley. I ordered pizza and salad delivery.
I didn’t sleep much- maybe 3 hours, because I was on the top bunk and I could hear Critters running through the ceilings and walls. It was still awesome though because it was storming and I was DRY!!
Day 36: Uncle Johnny’s Hostel, Zero miles
Shelley and I decided to take a zero since the forecast was more storms. At one point, the weather broke and we borrowed bikes and rode into the town. We had fancy coffee, got groceries, and got stormed on. It was a very exciting little ride. We relaxed the rest of the day and I found another bucket to soak my feet in Epsom salts.
Day 37: Uncle Johnny’s- Cherry Gap Shelter, 17 miles
It was still raining in the morning, so we decided to take the complimentary breakfast shuttle to the Huddle House. I had an enormous breakfast called The MVP platter- it was a silly amount of food, but I really enjoyed the “loaded hash browns”.
We returned to the hostel around 11 am and hit the trail. I made the mistake of weighing my pack on the way out- 39lbs!! I had gained 7lbs in my pack between the supplies to treat my knee and my new rain gear 🙈
It drizzled a little bit but was a very pretty hike with lots of waterfalls, creeks, and flowers.
We climbed some major hills and decided to shoot for 12 miles to camp atop Unaka Mountain. When we got there, we found it was a dense pine forest with no view- I was really looking forward to a sunset and sunrise, so we decided to hike on and find a better spot.
Next thing I knew, it was sunset and there was no sign of Shelley. I figured she must have decided to tent somewhere, so I made the decision to make a run for the shelter about 1.5 miles away. I got my first night hiking experience and first time setting up my tent in the dark! I played music out loud to scare away the bears- specifically Conway Twitty because I felt they must be afraid of him.
Day 38: Cherry Gap- Roan Mountain Shelter, 17 miles
There was a critter running around my tent all night. I kept waking up and shining my headlamp at the scratching noise to try and scare it away.
My tent footprint was wet when I woke up- I didn’t think about it at the time but found out later that the animal peed on my tent! It had a really bad cat urine odor.
I wanted to make it to Grassy Bald for my sunset view, but the hills were really tough and I was out of UCAN and out of steam.
Shelley made it further, but I wasn’t sure where exactly. “Black Bear”, a German friend I met a few days back, and a few others were camped nearby. I saw a crazy amount of crickets today, they would all jump as I walked by and it sounded like rain.
Day 39: Roan Mountain Shelter-Mountain Harbour B&B, 17 miles
This was my favorite walk so far! I set my alarm to walk up to the Bald for sunrise… but it was way too cold so I stayed cozier up in my sleeping bag. I packed up quick at first light and headed out since Shelley was ahead.
There were three beautiful balds, The Round, Jane, and Grassy. They were beautiful and there were panoramic views everywhere. Then I got to the actual Roan Mountains and they were amazing. It was a lot of climbing, but every climb was rewarded with another amazing view. I felt as though I was in the Alps in The Sound of Music.
I watched a deer spy on some people as they walked up one of the mountains. It was really funny, as they progressed he kept running a little closer to check them out.
I soaked my feet in fancy pink Epsom salts and a fellow named Botany made me a miss salve to put on them.
I set up my tent near the creek and tree house. The road was nearby and very noisy, but the creek sounded beautiful. I was jealous of Shelley because her tent was a little closer to the main house and she had wifi in her tent!
Day 40: Walter Road- Mountain Harbour, 10 miles slackpacking SOBO
Shelley and I decided to slackpack instead of taking a zero- we both had very sore feet, but with Trail Days coming up we didn’t want to give up another whole day of hiking when we knew we would be taking a few days off soon.
We were dropped off at the trail a little after 10 am and felt light as feathers without our packs on! It was crazy to see all of the NOBOs that we went past, because when we actually hike NOBO we rarely see anyone else.
We passed Jones Falls, a beautiful waterfall. We put our feet in an ice cold creek and watched butterflies all around us.
We sat around for a bit and enjoyed the wifi. I was obsessed with getting to a place about 5 miles down the highway called Bobs Dairyland that I had heard had amazing shakes. We paid someone $5 each to shuttle us over- only to arrive and find that they had closed. Instead we grabbed ice cream from the Dollar General. I got Snowball flavored ice cream and ate it all in record time- it was delicious!
Day 41: Mountain Harbour B&B- Boots Off Hostel, 23 miles
We enjoyed another amazing breakfast feast at Mountain Harbour before slackpacking. The first miles were really easy, but by mile 15 I was feeling the burn. We climbed Pond Mountain and it was killer- 3 miles straight up and 3 miles back down. My slackpack broke along the way up, so I had to tie it in a knot and wrap it around my neck. I passed Orphan, he was hiking SOBO and also slackpacking.
Laurel Falls was beautiful, as was the hike to the falls- it was rocky with bridges and gorges. I also enjoyed that the hike followed along the river for several miles.
We got to Boots Off Hostel about 8pm and found out there was a trail magic hiker party a few miles away at a campground with free camping- I was bummed to miss the trail magic but we already had reservations at Boots Off. The hostel owner took us up to Subway about 9pm. I met Space Jam and Flower Girl.
I didn’t sleep much, lots of Critters running around all night and he biggest bugs I had seen so far.