AT Thru-hike Day 40 to Day 

Gambit and I took two weeks off so his paws could heal up properly. I jumped ahead on the trail so I could meet back up with the group I had been hiking with. I picked a spot a couple of days ahead of them so I could get my trail legs back without feeling like I had to jump right into 25 mile days. After we summit Katahdin, I will come back about and do the miles I skipped.

Day 40 – VA 612 Parking to Helveys Mill Shelter

A very short day of hiking, after the six hour drive out here. In the parking area, Gambit rolled onto his back with his pack on and the saddlebags pinned him there. After Jason and I finished laughing at him, and taking a picture, I helped him back onto his feet.

Gambit and I made the short 1.4 mile hike up the hill to the first shelter. It was already getting dark by the time I got off the trail to the shelter.

It was unoccupied and I had considered sleeping in it, but chose to go with the trees and my hammock instead. Gambit was off exploring the area while I got everything set up. I saw a light in the distance heading towards us and figured it was another hiker popping in for the night. Gambit noticed as well and made his way there to bark and wag his tail at the newcomer.

I was hoping it was someone I knew, but it was someone is not met yet named Chris. We talked briefly and I went back to the finishing touches of my camp for the night. I closed up the ends of my tarp and got into my hammock. Gambit slept somewhere nearby outside the tarp.

I lay there for a while shivering as I tried adjusting my bag in different ways to keep the night air off my shoulders. Finally, I got everything arranged just right and I read for a short time before dozing off.

Day 41 – Helveys Mill Shelter to Jenny Knob Shelter

I was up just as sunlight was peeking across the sky, but as usual I stayed in my hammock for a little while and just listened to nature. I got up, packed everything up and we were on the trail after I topped up Gambit’s water.

Random pine cone dog that was on the trail.

The trail was very friendly this day, lots of mild ups and downs and only one hill that gave me any trouble and that was as we were getting closer to the shelter. I met up with Joe, another thru-hiker that I’d previously met back at Fontana Dam. We hiked the rest of the way to the shelter together and got caught up on the last month.

We got into the shelter by 1400 and I had my hammock set up pretty quickly with the intent to lounge and read most of the day away. A few new people showed up that I hadn’t met before, several section hikers and a couple that had just got on the trail heading north.

We all sat around and talked for pretty much all of the afternoon and evening. Baskets and Nope both showed up as dusk was closing in, I got caught up on how things went for them while I was off trail and got a few updates on where my group was at.

I got in my hammock not long after night set in and as usual I read for a little while before falling asleep.

Day 42 – Jenny Knob Shelter to Woods Hole Hostel

My plan today was only the 14.5 to Wapiti Shelter and the extra mile roundtrip to Trent’s Grocery for brunch. Of course, Mother Nature sometimes has her own plans and you end up walking an extra 7 miles in the rain for four hours.

When we started out the day, we were kind of in a hurry to get in front of the storm that was coming in. I was hoping to get a spot in the shelter or at least get my tarp up before the rain started. 

Suspension bridge right before VA 606.

Around 11 am I got to the road crossing to head to Trent’s, we walked out there for an early lunch. I got myself a fully loaded burger and a Gatorade and I got Gambit two hot dogs sans the buns. We only hung out for about 30 minutes and were back heading to the trail.

We took the blue blaze to check out Dismal Falls, worth it in my opinion. We only hung out there for a short time to get some photos and went back to the trail.

Dismal Falls

Somewhere around 1400 the rain started up, slow at first and then steadily picked up. I chose not to don my rain gear because I just sweat in it. By the time I got to Wapiti Shelter I was completely soaked head to toe. The shelter was beyond capacity, it is a five person and there were six in there with there bags laid out and another four sitting there trying to decide what to do. Baskets and Nope tool off heading to Woods Hole Shelter, I followed shortly after.

Visibility was crap for the rest of the trail to Woods Hole, I passed several view points that were just gray in the distance. We finally wandered into Woods Hole right before sunset. Neville invited me in for dinner, but I told her a shower and getting out of wet clothes was more important at the moment, she said to just come in when I was cleaned and changed.

I made it inside and they were still eating so Neville got me a plate and I joined them at the table. She had prepared ribs, green beans, carrots and fresh baked bread for dinner. After dinner I moved my stuff inside and Gambit and I stayed inside in a shared room for the night. After 22 miles and a full belly, it didn’t take long at all to fall asleep.

Day 43 – Woods Hole Shelter to Docs Knob Shelter

Shortest hiking day for me, I seriously sat on my ass at Woods Hole until 1300 and walked about an hour up to the first shelter.

Woods Hole

I got my hammock set up and sat on my was for the rest of the day. Mostly I just wanted to give my boots some time to air dry, they got completely soaked through the day before hiking in the rain. 

Overlook at the view before Docs Knob Shelter.

I laid around, read for a while and took a nap. Around the time I was making dinner two other hikers stopped in for the night. We talked for a little while and all of us went to bed.

Day 44 – Docs Knob Shelter to Angels Rest Hostel

I took my time getting out in the morning since it was only a 9ish mile hike to the hostel. The other two guys were already gone when I got up. I did learn the night before that Wade, Bucky, Bear, Lucky Charm and Brightside all stayed at Woods Hole that night, so they had finally caught up to me. I’d also heard that Sara C (now dubbed Sweet Cheeks) and Penguin were still another day or two behind them.

My boots still weren’t quite dry so I wore my weird four toe camp shoes for a few miles to start out the day. Most of the hike in was gentle rolling slopes, quite pleasant really.

Part of Pearisburg in the background, this was from the powerline at mile 629.7.

There were a few good viewpoints of the valley below along the trail, one of which was a blue blaze that went out to Angels Rest (not the hostel).

Partial view of Pearisburg from Angels Rest.

The descent into Pearisburg in AWOL looked so much worse than it actually was, the trail was full of switchback all the way down. I had to check AWOL a few times to make sure I turned on the right road, once I was on it I ended up using Google maps to navigate to the hostel.

At the hostel I met two southbound hikers that had started the previous summer, Dori and Gap. They had just gotten back on the trail after taking a break for a few months over winter.

Later in the day, Wade (Nutshoe), Bear and Lucky Charm finally showed up. I asked about Bucky and apparently him and Brightside were sharing a motel room that night. They grew close very quickly on the trail and were spending nearly every second together giggling. Oh young love.

We spent quite a while getting all caught up on the time I was gone. They were blazing 20+ mile days almost every day now. I told them I had serious doubts in my ability to keep up with them at this point, but I would certainly try.

Day 45 – Zero Day @ Angels Rest Hostel

Snow and rain were in the forecast and it was going to be chilly the next day, so we all decided to take a zero day at the hostel. I opted to do the work for stay option, which involved doing work in the yard for two hours in exchange for the nights stay. I spent most of the two hours burning down a brush pile that was created the day before.

While I was working on the brush pile, Bucky and Brightside came to the hostel and they wandered over to talk to me for a couple minutes before he walked her up to the trailhead. After I finished my work I wandered over to the pizza shop in town and took advantage of their buffet. I grabbed a few more snacks from the grocery store to add to my food bag for the next 5ish days to get to Daleville, or as close to it as I could.

The rest of the day mostly involved sitting around watching movies and bullshitting. Everyone gave Gambit plenty of love to make up for the time we were off the trail.

I woke up several times during the night because people seemed to lack the ability to close the door properly and it kept blowing open and I’d wake to cold wind blowing on me. Also, the room was full of a bunch of gas bags, nothing but farting all night long every time I woke up.


AT Thru-hike Day 34 to Day 39

Day 34 – Hot Springs to Spring Mountain Shelter

I got up a bit later than I would have liked but it was fine since I only planned to do 11 miles out to the first shelter and check out wasn’t until 1100.

I had a bit of a scare while I was getting everything packed up to head out. Gambit was free to roam around the hostel as he pleased and mostly he just laid on the floor near the front door, earning the nickname “floor mat”. I was just about ready to get his pack on him and I couldn’t find him anywhere. I walked up and down the hostel twice looking for him, so I assumed he must have gotten outside somehow.

I grabbed his leash and went out to look for him. I wandered around the property and then down into town, I couldn’t find him anywhere! I was panicking and started heading back toward the hostel to see if he maybe came back from a different way and the owner Jeff pulled up, he said he’d found Gambit. I got in the car and he was telling me that one of the room doors in the hostel closes on its own and that he’d pushed himself in and the door had closed behind him. 

A massive wave of relief washed over me while we drove back up the road. We went in to the hostel and there he was assuming his position as the “floor mat”. I gave him a super big hug and told him I was worried sick.

We were ready to go shortly after I got back; I got our packs on us and out the door we went. I stopped into the outdoor shop on the way through town to spend some change on another sticker for my new Nalgene bottle – gotta drop them grams, ermaright? 🤓

Random train car in Hot Springs.

Left the store and up the road/trail we went. We crossed the bridge, took a right into the NOC property and worked our way up the path along the river.

Trail along side the French Broad River.
French Broad River.

And then the climb started… and it kept going for a long time, but the view back toward Hot Springs was pretty fantastic.

Back view of Hot Springs from the trail as I made my ascent.

After a couple miles Penguin caught up to me, we walked together for a little while. He filled me in on the adventures with his family and friends that came out to visit him while we had our nero and zero days. We eventually caught up to Sara C, she had left right around the time Gambit did his disappearing act.

I was ready for a food break so we decided on the next spot available to sit down for a few minutes. That spot ended up being a manmade pond with a big concrete retaining wall.

Little pond along the trail.

There were a couple of benches installed along the side of the pond, dropped our packs and proceeded to feed our faces with Clif and Snickers bars.

There was a fire going already by the time I made it to the shelter. Nope, Switchback and Penguin were already there. The winds were coming in pretty strong from the north so I set up my hammock on the south side of the saddle the shelter sits in.

We sat around the fire for a while, talked and made dinner. Sara C showed up after a short while and a bit later on Butterfeet came wandering in with his dog Leelo. Gambit was so happy to see her, they played together for a little while.

After darkness set in everyone wandered off to their respective sleeping areas for the night. I read for a little bit and went to bed like I usually do. I woke up sometime after midnight to my tarp on the south side of me pressed into my side. The wind had shifted direction and the temperature had dropped.

Day 35 – Spring Mountain Shelter to Jerry Cabin Shelter

I woke several times throughout the night with my tarp smashed into my back. I got up once to use the privy and one of my stakes popped out when I bumped my tarp on the way out. I got that fixed and made my way over the saddle to the privy, almost no wind on the north side, same as the south side was when I set up my shelter the evening before.

The winds were still blasting the crap out of me when I finally got up after the sun came up. The wind put me in a bad mood that ended up lasting the rest of the day. While taking my tarp down the wind caught it and popped three of my stakes out into the leaves somewhere. I always carried two extras, but with three missing I’m limited on where I can hang with cover.

This is how I felt about the trail today.

I got everything packed up as fast as I could so I could get out of the saddle and the wind tunnel of misery I spent the night in. The plan was to get to Jerry Cabin, at 15.9 miles away so I had a long walk ahead of me.

Flat Stanley says, “hello”.

Looking back I don’t remember much of the day, just a lot of walking. I do remember coming upon this sign for the bypass around Big Firescald Knob and I had zero shame in taking the bypass around.

Yeah, I took the no shame trail.

Not long after the bypass was Jerry Cabin Shelter. Two things were cool here: 1) I reached a minor milestone of 300 miles hiked, and 2) Nope was already there and had a fire going in the fireplace.

Snow was in the forecast for the night so most of us slept in the shelter. We all took our turns sitting around the fireplace before retiring to our sleeping bags. After reading a short time, I dozed off. I only had to get up once to pee that night!

I’m noticing I get really hungry around 0400 lately and need to eat something before I can fall back asleep.

Day 36 – Jerry Cabin Shelter to Laurel Hostel

It snowed! Real snow, like the kind I was used to growing up with and romping in as a kid in Utah. It was only a few inches, but it was a mostly welcome sight to me. It was below freezing during the night so I figured I’d finally have the opportunity to wear my microspikes that I carried the last 300 miles.


Gambit and I hit the trail and he seemed pretty excited about this new white stuff. It was only going to be around a 10 mile day to the hostel at mile 310 since the next two nights were forecasted to be 16 deg and 14 deg with subzero windchill temperatures.

Gorgeous snowy field.

We moved along pretty well, mostly following the footprints of those that got on the trail earlier. I still kept my eyes looking for the white blazes just because.

Gambit was loving the snow.

We briefly stopped at Flint Mountain Shelter for a food break, but I got back on the trail after a few minutes since my sweat started freezing on me. I had one too many layers on since the morning which had caused my arms to sweat and that sweat travelled down into my gloves. By mile seven my gloves were pretty wet inside, but they still kept me warm.

So much snow, it was awesome.

When we came to the road crossing at Devil Fork Gap there was a car parked there and a guy popped out of it and yelled, “trail magic!” My first experience with it so far. Just as Penguin, Gambit and I got to the car Butterfeet, his dog Leelo, and Sara C  were getting ready to get back on the trail.

We sat in the car and talked to the gentleman for a little while while eating the burgers and Gatorade he’d brought. Turns out he is a volunteer ranger in the Smokies and he does trail magic at this gap and Sam’s Gap during the hiking season.

We thanked him for the warm car, food and drinks and got back on the trail to knock out the last half mile to the hostel. There were plenty of signs up pointing the way to the new place called Laurel Hostel. Apparently Hiker Paradise is shutdown now.

Got to the hostel and claimed myself one of the six bunks. There is a shower and sink in the hostel and a privy outside of it. He told us to make sure the water stayed on since it was below freezing out and would be for the next couple days. He turned the hot water heater on for us so we could all shower. Mostly I just wanted out of my wet clothes and asked him if he could dry them for me, which he did.

Momma Bear, Smiles and Trigger showed up and had no problem sharing a bed for the night since the rest were already taken.

We all took a trip into Erwin later in the early evening. We went to a Mexican restaurant there called Los Jalapenos. We got there right before all the hikers from Uncle Johnny’s showed up. It was cool to see a few of the speedster again that had blown past me over the last couple weeks. It seems everyone was hunkered down for the cold front hitting us the next two days.

Enjoying a meal with my trail family.

We got back to the hostel and one more guy had shown up, Chef I think his name was. I’d seen him in Hot Springs a few days before. One of the guys that didn’t go into town with us had turned the water off while we were gone so the pipe froze up and no showers…

We got into our sleeping bags to try and stay warm since the building was cold even with two space heaters going. Benefit of having a top bunk that night was that the little bit of heat that was produced rose up.

It did get cold that night, but I actually had to remove my bag liner since I was too warm with it on. 

Day 37 – Zero Day

We had a solid day to sit here and critique the hostel. Mostly it wasn’t bad, it also wasn’t quite ready for hikers yet. It was useable at 90ish percent done, but it needed some more attention. The floor, walls, and ceiling had absolutely no insulation in them – you could see ground between the gaps in the floor planks. During the peak hiker season that probably doesn’t matter much, but on a subfreezing night like we had some insulation would have been extremely beneficial.

We had a lot of time to sit around looking for every crack and gap that we wanted to fill with insulation just to keep some more of the heat in. It was something to keep our restless minds busy while we waited out this cold.

We had all decided to do another town shuttle, but this time to Wal-Mart for some minor resupply and so we could all pitch in and bring food back to eat. I picked up a rotisserie chicken and a small tub of potato salad.

When we got back to the hostel we had more guests and a little bit later another two, Bucky and Wade finally caught back up. We offered our feast to everyone else after our little family got our fill. 

We got filled in on the past few days since we last saw Bicky and Wade, also known on the trail as Bucky and the Nuts. They had spent the last night freezing up in a shelter and pushed to get here to this shelter for this night that would be even colder than the night before.

The hostel owner brought us a propane heater that helped way more than the plug-in space heaters, it actually got the temperature up to 40 degrees in there that night.

Gambit had spent most of the afternoon cuddling with Bucky, but when it came to bedtime he hopped up on Sara’s bed and cuddles with her for the night. I guess we were probably all asleep by 2100 that night. Six of us on bunks and five on the floor.

Day 38 – Laurel Hostel to Sam’s Gap

We we’re all up fairly early and most of us stayed in bed until the sun came up in hopes of a little more warmth to start the day with. The young speedster that showed up for the night were first out the door that morning. 

I kind of took my time, I wasn’t sure if I was going to push up to Bald Mountain Shelter or just push it to Sam’s Gap and spend another night in a hostel out of the weather. About a mile in to the trail and I discovered that we would only be going to Sam’s Gap. Gambit’s back right paw was bleeding, when I got a look at it it one of his pads had cracked open.

Gambit spent most of the day bouncing between Sara C and me. We switched lead a few times as one of us would stop for a little break to drink or take a picture of something.

Gorgeous view!

We kept pushing on to Hogback Ridge Shelter and there was a business card in the register for a shuttle service. Penguin, Butterfeet and Lucky Charm were pushing onto the shelter. Myself, Sara C and My Own Time all decided on the shuttle into town. 

Gambit wouldn’t even let me get a good look at his paws, I was going to try and wrap them up before we got back on the trail, but I decided to wait until I was in a more sanitary environment at the hostel.
We finished the hike down into the gap and our ride was right on time at 1630. I ended up at Uncle Johnny’s, Bucky and Wade had gotten a ride into Erwin from Laurel Hostel and spent the night at the Super 8, My Own Time and Sara C  joined them there.

My cabin at Uncle Johnny’s.

At the hostel I bumped into Jason, the Marine that we startes out with and I hadn’t seen since Dick’s Gap back in GA. He was actually at Standing Bear Farm with Gambit while I was going through the Smokies and had mostly stayed about three days ahead of me. He ended up getting hurt and pretty much crawled into Uncle Johnny’s. He said he would be off the trail for a short time while resolving a few issues with the VA.

I’d asked him if he could help me with Gambit so I could get his back legs wrapped up. He had split open a pad on each back paw, only the right one was bleeding on the trail that I noticed. He held him down for me whole I got his paws wrapped up and coated in the steroid cream I got from the vet in GA.

He was in so much pain and I realized that I couldn’t put him through anymore hiking until he was fully healed up. I felt so bad for him as I was making the decision to get off the trail for a week or two to give him time to heal up properly. I cried for a little bit and just held him, I didn’t realize making the decision to get off the trail could be so emotional.

Gambit’s poor feet hurt him so much.

I coordinated with one of my friends back in Kentucky to come pick me up the next day. I spent most of the rest of the evening just sitting there with Gambit on my cabin room. We went to bed and I cuddled with him while we fell asleep.

Day 39 – Uncle Johnny’s to Home

I went to breakfast with a few of the people that had stayed at the hostel. As the day went along more and more people I recognized popped into the hostel. Momma Bear, Smiles and Trigger plopped in just for resupply and were on the way back out.

A little bit later on Penguin, Butterfeet, Leelo and Lucky Charm showed up. I let them know about my plan to leave for a short time and that I would just meet back up with the group wherever they were at on the trail and make up the miles after I summit with them.

We all went out to a little event in town at a place called Choo Choo Cafe. It was a nice little place, they had a little buffet line and upstairs live music and beer tasting. We all went up there and bullshitted while I waited on my ride home to show up.

My little trail family sans Sara C and Penguin (taking the photo). L to R – Bucky, Butterfeet, Switchback, Lucky Charm, Wade, myself.

The event ended right about the time that my ride showed up to the hostel. We all loaded up, except Wade and Bucky, in the shuttle and rode back to the hostel. I got my gear loaded up in the car and said my goodbyes to everyone, with the promise that we would be back on the trail in a week or two after Gambit’s feet healed up.

So in 38 days Gambit and I walked 318 miles, we finished Georgia and got through the majority of the trail that bounced between Tennessee and North Carolina as the AT worked it’s way up the borderline. We will be back to join our trail family, around the start of the month; depending on how Gambit’s paws are looking.

AT Thru-hike Day 30 to Day 33

Day 30 – Standing Bear Farm to Groundhog Creek Shelter

It was so good to spend the night on a real mattress after the Smokies. I enjoyed the hostel for the most part and had considered taking a zero, but was ready to move on toward Hot Springs.

We decided on a short day just up to the first shelter so Gambit could get his trail legs back after lazing for six days. The climb up was tougher than o thought it would be, but maybe I’m just getting tired. It didn’t help that it was hot and I’ve only got my cold weather gear. I actually stopped on the climb and ordered a pair of shorts and a lightweight shirt from Amazon for delivery in Hot Springs.

So happy to have him back with me.

We got into the shelter pretty early, by 1300 I think. I had considered moving on another 8.3 miles to the next shelter like Wade and Bucky planned, but I decided to hang out here with Penguin, Butterfeet and Sara C.

We sat around camp, talked for a while, I got my hammock set up, and ate. Slowly more people started showing up. A guy that Penguin called Rooster the next morning was one of them. Two brothers that he named the Sons of Thunder. Mama Bear, Smiles and Trigger showed up later in the afternoon.

Gambit and Trigger.

Gambit and Trigger had so much fun playing for the rest of the evening. We got a fire going and insisted that everyone come and socialize with us. This is what the trail is supposed to be about as far as I’m concerned and I like to think we leave a good impression on all the speedsters that zoom past our growing little trail family.

It must have been around 2100 that night by the time I got in my hammock and I was out pretty quickly.

Day 31 – Groundhog Creek Shelter to Taylor Hollow Gap

I woke up to the sounds of everyone else at the shelter getting up and starting their days. I was so much more rested than I am even in a real bed. I just laid there and listened to the sounds for a while before I got up myself.

I’ve gotten pretty good at doing the whole clothing change thing while lying in my hammock. So I pop out of my hammock tarp in the mornings fully dressed back in my hiking clothes.

Gambit and I were the last to get on the trail this day. The climb up to Max Patch wasn’t too bad at all. AT Brown Gap we caught up to and passed Momma Bear, Smiles and Trigger. I chatted with them for a little while and was off to the rest of the climb.

Almost up on Max Patch.
Max Patch bench mark.
Southern view on Max Patch.

It was such a gorgeous, clear day for this climb. I got up to the top of the clearing and you could see for miles in every direction. I was just wanderi g along admiring it all when I heard Penguin say, “over here”. Him, Butterfeet and Sara C. were all sitting with a group of people with some kids and dogs. So, I dropped my pack and sat down with them. I received a little trail magic in the form of half a cucumber with hummus and some red seedless grapes.

Taking a few minutes to relax on the bald with my pup.
Northern view on Max Patch.

They took off after a while and we prepared to get back on the trail ourselves. I took a few minutes to just lay there with Gambit and soak it all in before we got back on the trail.

I stopped in at the next shelter for some water and the privy. I saw a note from Bucky, Wade and Bear. Seems they got some trail magic as well staying here the night before. I think I was at the next shelter at around 1530. Penguin was the only one there and Butterfeet was in right behind me. They talked about pushing on to the next shelter and making it a 23 mile day so they could get into Hot Springs earlier.

It piqued my interest, Sara C. had pushed on as well to get a little more ground while it was still so light out. Gambit was a little pooped, but I fed him and he got some of his energy back. I also ate to fuel up some to push on a few more miles or until we got tired.

He’s so handsome!

A few more miles kept adding up and eventually it was dark so I put on my headlamp to continue on until I found a suitable camping site. The problem was most of the trail was side cut with fairly steep terrain so we needed to find a mostly flat clearing somewhere.

Not long after Garenflo Gap we finally found a little trail side campground with a firepit. Gambit just plopped on the ground exhausted and I got my hammock and tarp setup as quickly as I could. I set out his food and water under the tarp and got to making myself something warm to eat before collapsing into my hammock for the night. I think we ended up doing somewhere between 20 and 21 miles, our longest day so far on the trail.

Day 32 – Taylor Hollow Gap to Hot Springs

It rained pretty hard during the night, the sound of it pelting my tarp actually woke me up a few times. I finally got out of my hammock after it seemed to have stopped and the morning light dominated the sky.

I packed up in a hurry so I could get into Hot Spring early to enjoy my nero. I just ate some snacks for breakfast and added a few more to my hip pack for the five or so miles into town. Rooster came blazing by as I was getting the last couple of things packed up for the trail.

After I got to the next shelter I realized that we were maybe two miles away from it. I stopped in just to see if anyone was still around and it was vacant. We got back on the trail and the remaining three miles was uneventful, pretty much like most of the trail. Lots of trees all around and the only noises are the thoughts in your brain and the occasional gust of wind.

We popped out of the trailhead into Hot Springs around 1100. The hostel I would be staying at, Laughing Heart, was right there next to the trail. I met up with Jeff, the owner, and he got me and Gambit settled into our room. He showed us the rest of the place and in the back room was Bear! We talked for a few minutes before I went back to my room.

First order of business was to get laundry going and showering so I could go into town for some groceries. I got everything I owned into the washing machine except my puffy jacket. I got in the shower and it was glorious! Such a simple thing a shower is and it had only been three days.

I ended up using some clothes from the hiker box so we could hit up Dollar General for some food. I’ve come to discover that I really need to make lists, since I just grab everything that looks delicious and my back pays for it with an overflowing food bag. 

Next stop was the post office so I could see what the hours were on Saturday for picking up a package and bouncing two forward to Erwin, TN. After that we went to the outfitter so I could grab a new Nalgene bottle to replace my bladder that would be shipped home the next day. Then back to the hostel for the day.

I had actually planned to hit up the tavern for the famous hiker burger and a few drafts for dinner, but we ended up staying in and pigging out on all the extra crap we brought back from shopping instead. Bear and I talked for a while and Sara C. had shown up while we were gone, she actually passed me outside the outfitter enroute to the library.

Jeff stopped in and asked if we wanted to try some of his seafood soup he had made and that was a definite yes. It had shrimp, mussels, octopus, squid and clam in it with a tomato soup broth. It was quite good and he offered us full bowls of it along with some bread.

A couple with their dog came in for the night and we all talked for a little while before they went out for the night.

After a while we all made our way to our beds, I laid there for a while so I could catch up my trail journal and upload photos since I finally had Wi-Fi and time. I read for a little while too before dozing off.

Day 33 – Zero in Hot Springs

The only thing I really needed to do today was hit up the post office. The night before a section hiker had asked if any of us wanted breakfast on him in the morning so Sara C. and I went with him to the diner around 0800. The breakfast skillet was amazing, there was so much food piled onto that thing. We all talked for a while and then our host excused himself since he had a long ride home to see his kids.

I finished up my meal and we wandered down to the post office. Sara dropped off her post and I mailed off my bladder and picked up a box of food I had sent myself from Franklin. I also forwarded mine and Gambit’s bounce boxes to Erwin.

I stopped in to the welcome center on the way back to the hostel. I found the brochure I was looking for on the hot springs here in town, I was hoping to get in for an hour soak sometime, but when I called later all of their spas were reserved for the day.

I headed back to the hostel so I could take Gambit out for a little bathroom walk. He had vecome known as ‘floor mat’ since his favorite spot seemed to be on the floor right by the entrance.

Most of the rest of the day was spent getting my pack ready to leave in the morning. I spent a while downloading more music to my phone, also got more caught up on my journal. I never did get to attempt that hiker burger, maybe I’ll come back some day for it and a soak in the mineral water.

AT Thru-hike Day 25 to Day 29

The Smokies

Day 25 – Fontana Dam to Mollies Ridge Shelter

I woke up pretty well rested after my first night sleeping on an actual bed since starting the trail. I actually slept better in my hammock out on the property than I had in the previous hostels I stayed at, but this was a real bed with a box spring and it felt good.

They had breakfast prepared by the time I was out of my room that morning. I enjoyed a bagel with salmon and cream cheese, a bowl of fruit with yogurt and granola mixed in, a glass of orange juice, and a cup of English Breakfast tea. They had worked up my bill while I was enjoying breakfast and let me know the total for the last four days. It was $230, which was not bad at all considering all the shuttling and slackpacking, not to mention this is a B&B.

We headed to Fontana Dam fairly early, 0730 maybe. Jeff parked the car and walked with me across the bridge so he could take my picture by the sign.

I shook his hand and thanked him again for the wonderful stay and company for the previous four days. We parted ways and up the road I walked. When I got to the trail turn off a mile up the road I dropped my pack and took ten minutes or so to get in some solid stretching now that my muscles and joints were warmed up. Also, I wasnt terribly excited about the 3000 foot climb with this food heavy pack.

While I was stretching Penguin wandered up the road and we talked for a few minutes while I was getting my gear back on. He flew past me not long after we started the climb up, I feel like I’m always the slowest on, but at least I don’t have to stop every 10 minutes now to catch my breath.

I took a break at a big log I came across after climbing for an hour or so and enjoyed one of the hard boiled eggs I brought along.

Early in the climb, looking back down on Fontana Lake.

I got back on the trail and I passed the ATC ridgerunner, Nick or Master Splinter, that had just started that day. He was cutting away a smaller fallen tree that was on the path with his little hand saw. We just chatted for a few minutes and I moved on. I took another little break and ate the beast if an apple I was carrying, I’m pretty sure it weighed a pound. 

My next backpack dropping break was at Shuckstack (2000 foot climb), I took a few minutes to go the fire tower for some pictures and explore the immediate area.

Remains of an old building on Shuckstack.
A look back toward Fontana Dam from the Shuckstack fire tower.
Eastern view from Shuckstack fire tower, I would be climbing many of those over the next days.

I got back on the trail after eating my last hard boiled egg and a small bag of trail mix. I try not to sit any longer than 10 to 15 minutes or my internal body heater shuts off and I need to add layers.

The rest of the climb to the shelter wasn’t terribly bad, I kind of wanted to push on another 3.1 miles to the next shelter, but I figured I would just stay here for the night, especially after I got some warm food in me and the sun started dropping.

Mollies Ridge Shelter

In the Smokies you have to stay in a shelter unless they are full, unfortunately there were only five of us staying there so I had to sleep in the shelter. Day and section hikers can reserve spots whereas there are only four spots remaining for thru-hikers that become first dibs.

A hiker named Alex, that I’d met in Franklin, came wandering up the trail. He’d taken a few days off to hang out with a day hiker in Fontana that he met on the trail. I didn’t expect to see him again after Franklin since he’s much faster than I am and can hike longer. We caught up a bit while he made his dinner and we both prepped our beds for the night.

Hiker midnight approached fast and we were all silent by 2000. I did my usual reading of a few chapters of Game of Thrones while wrapped up in my mummy bag before falling asleep.

Day 26 – Mollies Ridge Shelter to Derrick Knob Shelter

I slept like crap like usual in a shelter since I’m a hammock camper I don’t have a pad. I got up, changed into my hiking clothes, quickly made breakfast, and got all my stuff packed up. I think I was second on the trail that morning.

I got to Russell Field Shelter and took advantage of the close water source. While down there I saw Bucky filling up water and we caught up a bit. Him, Wade and Norseman all stayed there that night. 

I pulled out my water filter so I could fill my Nalgene and my Camelbak, but it wasn’t working right so I opened it up. The filter had a coating of ice on it so I rinsed it off in the water which got most of it, but there was just a little near the top that wouldn’t go away. Most modern plastic filters would be screwed at this point, but that is why I use this old beast with a ceramic filter.

I knew the rest of the ice needed some time to melt off so I put it in the inner pocket of my parka while I hiked and just used Aquamira drops to treat the water in my Nalgene bottle. 

Back at the shelter Norseman and Wade popped out when they realized I was around, we got caught up on the previous days, also in the shelter were Penguin and a new hiker I was introduced to that goes by Butterfeet. I excused myself so I could attempt to beat them all to Spence Field Shelter where there was finally a privy for nobo hikers.

Love the perfectly cut out archway for the trail.

Unfortunately, everyone ended up passing my slow ass so I didn’t get first dibs on the privy… The water at Spence Field was piped so I topped up my water again and treated it with Aquamira while waiting on my turn.

I got back on the trail and not long after Alex caught up to me. We ended up hiking the rest of the day together to Derrick Knob Shelter. He filled me in on the last couple of days that he zeroed. He was introduced to some deep meditation techniques that help you get in touch with your inner self.

Yep, I climbed over that too.

We got to Rocky Top and enjoyed the view from up there. I’m pretty sure this next picture was from up there.

View from Rocky Top.

At Thunderhead Mountain you couldn’t see much with trees surrounding the top so the only image I have for that is this bench mark.

Thunderhead Mountain bench mark.

After we got off the mountain and back down to a calmer wind area we dropped our packs and ate a proper lunch. Not long after getting back on the trail we passed a fellow nobo thru hiker trail named Storyteller. He’d injured his knee and thought his hike was done, we offered him help, but he kept refusing and just wanted to hobble to the next shelter alone. 

Both Alex and I being military vets and Alex an EMT, we couldn’t let that happen so we gave him his space, but slowed down our pace so we could keep him in sight. Finally, he said if we really wanted to help than to just go to the next shelter, about a mile away, and drop our packs so we could carry his for him. We both offered our trekking poles since he didn’t have any and he refused them.

So Alex being the faster of us took off to get to the shelter and drop his gear. He also enlisted the help of Bucky to come back and give him a hand. I got to the shelter, dropped my bag and by the time I started heading back down they were nearly up the climb to the shelter. Alex carrying his pack and Storyteller was using the trekking poles they brought back for him and he was moving pretty fast for an old injured guy.

We all got settled into the shelter for the night and made our dinners and carried on into the evening with stories from the previous weeks since we separated in Hiawassee. The temperature would be below freezing again so we got a fire going in the fireplace to try and warm the shelter some before bed. It definitely did the trick early on, but I woke up anyway freezing in the middle of the night so I busted out my emergency bivy to try and keep some more heat in.

Day 27 – Derrick Knob Shelter to Mt Collins Shelter

I woke up covered in moisture from the bivy keeping all my heat in, not sure it was the best idea considering I would now be packing up my mummy bag with a damp surface, but at least I was warm for the last couple of hours of sleep.

Storyteller was up early and took off, last I’d heard he was planning to hobble to Clingmans Dome to get a shuttle off the trail. Later found out he took Advil for the first time and the pain magically disappeared.

Today was my birthday and I would be climbing the highest point on the AT for it! It would be a long 13.5 mile hike day, including an extra .5 mile to the shelter. I tried to get a fairly early start again, but was one of the last few out of the shelter that morning. The few behind me of course passed me on the trail further up.

Silers Bald bench mark.

Silers Bald was the first obstacle of the day, it was a gradual 800 foot elevation gain over a five mile stretch from Derrick Knob Shelter. The next part to Clingmans Dome was about a 1000 foot gain over four miles, both were quite pleasant climbs and the view from Clingmans Dome observation tower were amazing.

North view from the tower.
East view from the tower.

I took an East and South view as well, but the files were somehow corrupted and not loading properly.

The climb down to the shelter wasn’t too bad, lots of ice on the trails and I spent a bit of time walking the edge of the trail since it was a frozen stream. After dropping a few hundred feet the ice mostly disappeared. 

I had considered continuing the trail to Newfound Gap, hitching a ride into town and enjoying a motel for my birthday, but instead I took the .5 mile side trail to Mt Collins Shelter. Fortunately, the shelter was pretty much full so I put up my hammock!

I socialized for a little bit, Bucky made me a paper cake and presented it to me while I was making my dinner. Not long after finishing I excused myself to my hammock for my usual routine of reading for a bit before dozing off.

Day 28 – Mt Collins Shelter to Icewater Spring Shelter

I had planned for this day to be a 14.6 miles, but sometimes opportunities arise in the form of pizza that are difficult to pass up. Instead it was a 7.3 mile day.

Got up, packed up and did all the normal morning stuff. I slept so much better in my hammock than on those damn hard shelter platforms. Water was a bit downhill so I made the trip down there to fill my bladder before taking off. I treated it with Aquamira again instead of filtering. At this point I was seriously considering sending the filter home and just using the drops the rest of the trek.

I got on the trail right after Bucky and Wade and really enjoyed the walk to Newfound Gap. Not long after Penguin and Butterfeet zoomed past like they do every morning. Penguin is a 48 year old runner and Butterfeet an 18 year old with lots of energy.

The trail views this morning were amazing. There were streams of light creeping in between the canopy of trees. Parts of the trail were logs cut and placed to walk on instead of what I’m guessing will be muddy ground come spring.

Rings of logs scatter the trail for walking steps.
Logs split in half and textured for grip on the trail.

I caught back up with Penguin and Butterfeet at Indian Gap, they were standing around an information sign that talked about how the Native Americans used carts with sleighs on them to navigate the rocky trails.

The climb over the next little hill kind if sucked, but made it through and popped into Newfound Gap. Seems everyone was going into town to eat at a restaurant called Mellow Mushroom, so I was easily swayed to go along. Wade tried calling the shuttle in AWOL and had no luck so we started asking around after Norseman showed up. He had slipped on the ice the day before and hurt his left quad, he actually walked the road from Indian Gap to Newfound Gap because it hurt less.

Wade and Bucky found a ride down and Penguin and Butterfeet did as well, so it was up to Norseman and I to stick out the old thumbs and hope for the best. One of the kids that was with us for the night two days past was there being dropped off by his grandparents and they offered to drive us down once they said their goodbyes.

So we made our way down and caught up with everyone at the restaurant. They served pizza and beer so I was quite happy. I ended up going with a hefeweisenbier import from Germany, which was just amazing. I had a Caesar salad for an appetizer and ordered a large pizza called The Dude, which I devoured 3/4 of.

Norseman was getting off trail to give his quad time to heal and wasn’t sure if it would be the end of his hike this year or not, he was pretty bummed about it, but his girlfriend would be showing up in a couple of days so he had that to look forward to.

We parted ways after eating, Bucky, Wade and I stopped by the NOC outfitter store in town. I got Gambit a bandana to wear when I meet back up with him in two days and another sticker to add to my Nalgene.

They wanted to stop by the liquor store but sadly it was Sunday and it was closed. There was a wine tasting place open so Bucky and I stopped in there while Wade was at the outfitter. Bucky picked up a bottle for us to drink for our birthdays since his is tomorrow. It was quickly transferred to a Nalgene bottle upon leaving the store.

We made our way up the road a bit and all stood on the side of the road where a vehicle could pull off and stuck out our thumbs for a hirch back to the gap. It took a while but finally someone pulled over anf it was a guy we’d spent the night with two days before… I think. His girlfriend was driving him back up to his car and he made her pull over to pick us up.

As per the norm, Wade and Bucky disappeared quickly up the trail and I did my slow climbing/walking thing that I do. The 1000 foot climb out of Newfound Gap was no joke! Might have been the pizza and beer in me that made me slower than normal or mayhaps I was just tired.

Random view from the trail.

I finally got the the shelter around 1530 or so and proceeded to get my hammock up right away. A couple new hikers showed up that we met, Bear and Baskets, both of which are so much faster hikers. We all sat around a talked for a few hours. 

Sara C. showed up, she was with us for a couple days earlier, but did my possible plan I thought up and went right into Newfound Gap the day before. She was taken care of well and treated to much trail magic the night before and throughout the day before getting back on the trail.

There was a chance of rain so my tarp was up purely for that reason that night, it was such a gorgeous clear day. After splitting the wine and drinking it everyone made there way to bed by what has become our hiker midnight (2000 hours). I’m not even sure I read that night, I was so pleasantly full of beer and pizza I probably fell right asleep.

Day 29 – Icewater Spring Shelter to Tri-Corner Knob Shelter

We woke up in a wet cloud this morning. The Smoky Mountains were truly smoky looking for those in the clouds and I imagine for those looking up from below in the valleys. It wasn’t terribly cold so that was a major positive.

I ate leftover pizza and got everything packed up, the plan for the day was only 12.1 miles which wouldn’t take too long, but it was looking to be a very wet and humid day, the clouds were going nowhere.

Truly smoky in the Smokies.

There wasn’t too much up or down on this section, and it was kind of miserable being so wet. It was too chilly to go without the rain jacket and just a bit too warm to have it on. I had mine on and off throughout the day.

I think I was the last of our group to make it into the shelter, there was no space for renting or hammocking nearby the shelter so we were all in the shelter that night. There was a mass tangle of clothes lines all over for everyone attempting to dry out hiking clothes even a little. The winds had picked up and it was kind of miserable to even go out and cook, but got to get the warm food in the belly before bed.

A few more random hikers made it into the shelter throughout the evening. It ended up getting full and a few people were on the floor, I think one even set up his tent right outside the tarp.

Apart from the miserable wetness and cold, water supply was right next to the shelter and the privy very close as well. Got to look at the positives right?

The shelter got quiet fairly early, I think the rain and cold just drained everyone. I read for a little while before falling asleep, woke up around midnight and read some more until I fell back asleep.

Day 30 – Tri-Corner Knob Shelter to Standing Bear Farm

I was so happy that I would have Gambit back today! 

It was so windy, it never died down during the night and our clothes never dried at all, mostly all they did was get cold… my pants weren’t too bad to get on and I my socks never got wet the day before so I was good from the waist down. My shirt though was still soaked from sweat and rain the day before. I decided to just pack it and hike in my fleece top instead.

I did a doubled up warm version of the Nestle Breakfast Essentials for breakfast. I’m finding I enjoy it warm in the mornings.

I had a little extra pep in my step knowing that there would be a lot of downhill and I would see Gambit so I was moving a little faster than normal getting onto the trail. After a short walk on the trail i started burning up in my fleece so I stopped to switch into my wet merino wool top instead with the rain jacket over it. 

I started out with my rain skirt on as well, but ended up taking it off after a few very windy ridge walks. My pack cover kept trying to blow off into the wind as well so that had to be readjusted a couple times.

It was just a little foggy early on in the hike and it slowly went away as we dropped in elevation. By the time we got to Cosby Knob Shelter for lunch 1000 feet lower the clouds were mostly gone.

View out from Cosby Knob Shelter.

I was told by several people to do the side trail to the Mt. Cammerer lookout tower, but I was sick of the Smokies and just wanted to get to my dog and out of wet clothes so I walked right past the turn off.

So awesome to be below the clouds!

Wade, Bucky and I were together for the rest of the hike down into Davenport Gap. Wade ended up rolling his ankle so I did the KT Tape wrap on it to see if it would help. He got back up and said most of the pain was gone, but it felt stiff. He asked, “what is this witchcraft?”

At the next shelter we called for a pickup at Davenport Gap instead of walking the last three miles. Right as we walked onto the road our ride showed up and he shuttled us the rest of the way to Standing Bear Farm.

They showed us around a little bit and then I saw Gambit and just walked off to him and dropped to my knees so I could hug him and give him kisses. I was sooooo happy to have him back with me.

I got my bunk and picked up my resupply box. They have a clothes drier but you have to wash clothes by hand. I washed my camp clothes so I would have something clean to wear when I did my hiking clothes. Also, having something clean to wear after showering was very appealing. After my shower I got all my wet hiking stuff washed and dried.

Most of the rest of the night consisted of eating and talking with the people we met in the Smokies and introducing some of them to Gambit for the first time. I also spent some time getting gear ready to head out the next day. After I got in bed I did a little bit of blogging to catch up my hiker journal. I was ready for sleep by 2100 after having a couple beers to replenish some carbs.

AT Thru-hike Day 21 to Day 24

Slackpacking days!

Day 21 – NOC to Stecoah Gap

I was up by 0445 and figured I’d just go inside and read for a little while until Jeff and Cynthia got up. After they got up I was asked what I wanted to do for breakfast so I used some hard boiled farm eggs that a neighbor gave me yesterday. I made two egg salad sandwiches and ate one for breakfast along with a banana that I picked up yesterday.

I got the day pack loaded up with a full Camelbak, some food and a few necessities I thought I may need throughout the day. I did my normal morning routine with slathering my feet and inner thighs with Body Glide and powdering my bum with some Anti-Monkey Butt. I recently did a post on The Trek about my love for those two products.

For that sore spot on my heel, I attached a strip of moleskin above it so it wouldn’t rub against the inside of my boot. In the end it didn’t help much and I changed up how it was taken care of over the next two days.

We were at the NOC by 0800 and on the trail shortly after. The 3000 foot climb actually wasn’t that bad, of course, it may have just been that I wasn’t lugging around my 40 pound pack that made all the difference. We seemed to be cruising along at a fairly steady 1.5 miles per hour.

Memorial right before the 3-mile mark for the day.

Just like in Georgia early on I started seeing those ice shoots coming out of the ground on the side of the trail. These ones were slightly different than the Georgia ones, they seemed to be a lot thinner and longer. Reminded me of hair or fur made of ice. Gambit really enjoyed grabbing a mouthful every time we would pass one up.

Needle ice.
Needle ice through my macro lens.

Apparently, the ice shoots are called needle ice. It occurs when the ground soil is above freezing and the air temperature is below freezing. The water capillaries in the soil push out the water and it freezes after exposure to the air.

The night before it was below freezing and there were icicles at one of the water points on the way up. Also, the ground was very crunchy to walk on, especially on the northern portions going up the trail.

Icicles at one of the springs.

I sat down and took a 20 minute or so break around the 4.5 mile mark, just short of the “jump-up”. We met a bunch of hikers that all took a break as well shortly after sitting down. They were the Valentine 6 that I’d bumped into the previous two days. They were also slackpacking up to Stecoah, but were all younger and quicker than myself. I had doubts that I’d see them again after I followed them back onto the trail.

The rest of the climb to Swim Bald wasn’t terribly remarkable. At the top were a bunch of trees and no view points. We just pushed right through and onto Sassafras Gap Shelter so I could check the register and sign the book myself. We were only there for a few minutes and moved on to the climb up Cheoah Bald.

Toward the top of this part of the trail it got fairly steep and I actually had to stop a couple times. Gambit would do his standing up the trail thing looking back at me like I was the slowest person ever. Got to the top and one side had a fairly decent view, to the southwest I believe it was.

Cheoah Bald bench mark.
Southern view from the bald.

I dropped my pack and enjoyed my orange and egg salad sandwich I brought along for the day. Gambit nibbled at his food a little but was mostly just thirsty.

After chilling out for a short time, I got my pack back on and we hit the trail. The rest of the hike was mostly just downhill and nothing terribly exviti g caught my eyes. We did run across a couple at Simp Gap that were just on a day hike.

When we got to the first hill top after and my phone finally had service I called Creekside Paradise to arrange my pickup for 1545. I popped out in the parking area a little before pickup time and hung out on the picnic table for a few minutes until Jeff showed up for my shuttle back.

I requested a ride to the Ingles in town so I could pick up a few things that I was craving and thought I would need through the Smokies. I wanted to make French toast in the morning so I got some bread and I was really craving some chocolate milk. Bought a quart and it disappeared before we got back to the B&B. I bumped into a fellow thru-hiker named Penguin that Gambit and I passed a few days back.

Jeff showed me how to operate the hot tub when we got back so I could just hop in whenever I felt like it. I took a shower and just relaxed for a little while until dinner was served. I was tired so I excused myself and Gambit and I went out to my hammock in the yard. Sleep found me fast that night.

Day 22 – Stecoah Gap to Yellow Creek Gap

I expected today’s hike to be super easy after the climb out of NOC yesterday. I kind of slept in a little until the sun was up before heading inside. I got right into making the French toast after I was shown where everything was to make it.

It was pretty amazing. I had a banana along with six slices that were covered in real maple syrup and sprinkled with powdered sugar. I had four more slices left that would be enjoyed at a later time, maybe I would make a sandwich with them the next day.

I got that spot on my heel wrapped with some moleskin to keep it from rubbing on the days hike. Did my normal foot and thigh treatments and got dressed shortly after. I got Gambit’s lightly loaded pack on him and we got on the road to Stecoah Gap.

Must have hit the trail around 0830 and the climb up into the foresy wasn’t too bad until I realized I was halfway up Jacob’s Ladder. I had to stop a few times to catch my breath while Gambit looked down at me from above like he does.

Not long after making it over the top of that climb we wandered into Brown Fork Gap Shelter. Decent shelter with a privy and piped spring nearby.

Brown Fork Gap Shelter.
Brown Fork Gap Shelter spring down the hill.

I enjoyed my enormous jonagold apple while sitting there and logged myself into the register as passing through. The rest of the hike was pretty uneventful and I was ready for pickup at the gap at 1400.

For dinner that night they made chicken satay and salad. After dinner I spent a good 30 minutes in the hot tub. The jets were just amazing, I found so many parts on my body that I didn’t even realize were sore; mostly my lower legs between the calf and heel.

Gambit and I went out to the hammock not long after my soak. Like most nights I read for a short time before falling asleep all bundled up in my mummy bag.

Day 23 – Yellow Creek Gap to Fontana Dam

I woke up around 0700, it was kind of a sleep in day for me since I had a pretty short slack pack hike for the day. I think I had leftover French toast for breakfast this morning.

I got my pack loaded up with a little bit of food and about 2L of water. I loaded up Gambit’s pack with a bag of his good and about 1L of water. We made our way to the trailhead around 0830 and I was on the trail shortly after since the B&B was only a couple miles away.

At the Gap I bumped into a hiker named Tic Tic. Gambit was pretty excited to see her like he is with everyone. Got his pack on and we were heading up the trail shortly after. We went right past the first shelter since it was just a short distance in.

On the climb past the shelter we passed a hiker changing out his boots for his shoes, I don’t recall what his name was. Right after we started heading up the hill two more hikers came up from behind and Gambit ran back down the hill to them. 

It was Wade and Bucky! 

Two of the guys I started with on Feb 6. They had gotten off the trail in Hiawassee because of blisters and sore knees. Turns out they took five days off there to let everything recover properly. We hiked together to the restrooms and parking area by the marina of NC 28. They had arranged for a shuttle to pick them and Norseman up there.

Gambit and I kept pushing on after a short break since my ride would be at the dam visitor center at 1400. I got service on my phone somewhere around the Fontana Dam Shelter and I called Standing Bear Farm to arrange for a pickup of Gambit while I did the section through the Smokies. They were already coming out for another pickup at 1500 and wanted to get Gambit at the same time. I gave them the address and phone number for the B&B so they could pick him up later in the afternoon.

Fontana Dam Shelter
Lake side of Fontana Dam w/ the Smokies in the background.
Fontana Dam

I didn’t want Gambit to leave that early since tomorrow would be a zero and I wanted to spend it with him, but I understand them not wanting to make another three hour drive the next day to pick him up. I was sad to see him go, but knew I would see him again in six days when I got through Davenport Gap.

Jeff showed up at the Fontana Dam Visitor Center around 1400 as we agreed upon when I started. I met up with another thru-hiker named Joe that would be spending the night at the B&B that night. He took us through some back roads back to the hostel and drove us by the dam that was used in the movie The Fugitive.

Around 1700 we went into Robinsville for a resupply run. On the way into town we met up with Maria from Standing Bear Farm to drop off Gambit. She had one if her caretakers, Hawk, with her  to distract him with treats right away when he got in the van. I paid her the $250 they charge for the pick-up and petsitting for the week through the Smokies.

Joe and I were dropped off at the Mexican restaurant in town and we would have about two hours to kill before they would pick us up at the Ingles. The food was really good, but sadly it is in a dry county so no beer to go with it. 

I went to Ingles next and picked up some more fresh fruit, Reese’s Pieces, and some ice cream to enjoy later. They were there to pick us up right in schedule and we were on our way back to tge B&B. The rest of the night consisted of eating ice cream, soaking in the hot tub, and reading a bit before bed.

Day 24 – Zero Day

My main plan for this zero day was to go to the urgent care in Bryson City to get my right foot looked at because of that burning sensation in the toes after six or so miles into my days hiking.

There was rain in the forecast so after I woke up I got my tarp and hammock packed up while it was dry out and would spend the last night here using the bed in the room all my gear was stored in.

It was about a 45 minute drive to Bryson City, so we left around 0815 to get there right as they were opening at 0900. I got in after a short wait and I was given a few things:

  1. The results of the x-ray showed no stress fracture(s). Major positive.
  2. I had a choice of two different steroid options: orally for ten days or a shot in the hip right then. I took the shot in the hip.
  3. Also received a prescription for Tramadol.

I picked up my prescription at the Walgreen’s nearby and Jeff showed me around town a bit. I was hungry so we stopped at this local deli shop called The Filling Station. I had an amazing triple decker club sandwich to go.

On the way back Jeff stopped at this property that had a massive model train setup. I was thinking small model trains like my dad had or setups like I’d seen in the past. This track setup was more like something a kid could ride on.

I don’t think the pictures do it justice. It actually started raining while I was taking pictures so I didn’t get the full track system included here.

For the rest of the day I spent some time stretching, I read quite a bit, I got my food and my now heavy ass bag packed up for the trip through the Smokies. I packed six days worth of food so I wouldn’t have to stop in Gatlinburg halfway through. My goal was to get back to my dog as quickly as possible.

AT Thru-Hike Day 15 to Day 20

Sorry for no pictures and just boring text for the first three days on this one, not a whole lot to see in towns.

Day 15/16 Franklin, NC

Zero days. I didnt plan to take two, but President’s Day shut the VA down on Monday so I was forced to stick around Franklin longer than planned. 

For the most part I was alright with the extra day off since I was trying to figure out how to keep my knee from hurting and was hoping to hear something from the brace shop in Asheville, NC.

Most of Monday consisted of consuming calories in the form of beer and greasy grilled and fried foods. I did go bowling that night with a few other hikers that showed up. I really don’t care much for bowling at all and tried to protest as they dragged me along anyway. I did have a little bit of fun so it wasn’t a waste of time.

On Tuesday, I hit ups  the post office fairly early to mail a box home and ship some extra supplies ahead to Hot Springs, NC. After I finished up there I stopped at the VA clinic to see if I could be seen for my knee and get some more ibuprofen for it. 

The wait actually wasn’t bad at all, I doubt it was much more than 30 minutes or so after getting checked in. The nurse brought me back and I explained the issue with my knee and she took some notes. I saw the doctor shortly after and he gave me a prescription for the ibuprofen I requested and I was on my way to the pharmacy.

At the pharmacy I was looking at knee braces while waiting on my prescription to be filled. They were all neoprene and I dreaded the thought of that being stuck on my leg for another 2100 miles. I was browsing at other things in the store and came across a box of KT Tape. I’d heard of people using it before for other joint issues and decided to try it out instead of a brace.

I picked up a few things at the Ingles grocery store nearby before heading back to the hostel. One of them being a small tub of ice cream because yum. On the way back in passed a bakery and stopped in to see what they had. I requested one of whatever had the most calories and a dozen donut holes. I was looking forward to binge eating this for my start back on the trail the next day.

I had also picked up some shave cream and a razor while I was at Ingles so I could hit my legs up before I started applying KT Tape to them. After I got back to the hostel in took a shower and shaved off that month plus of growth, it was kind of refreshing.

After my shower I watched a video on how to apply the tape and I felt I copied what they did pretty well. I gave it a few bends and maybe it was just my mind, but I thought I could and ready feel a difference. I figured I would grab Gambit and go on a couple mile walk just to be sure.

The pain was significantly reduced and it actually felt like it was disappearing as we walked around more. I was throughly impressed with this stuff. The only other pain left to take care of now would be the toe burning sensation. I looked up a foot clinic in the area and would plan to visit them in the morning to see if they had a ball pad insert for me.

Day 17 – Franklin, NC to Siler Bald Shelter

As soon as the foot shop opened at 0900 I called in to see if I could come by for a pad. She said she thought she had what I was looking for and said I could come by and look at it. I borrowed one of the bikes from the hostel and rode it out there in the sprinkling rain. 

The pad wasn’t exactly the same as the ones I had previously used, but I figured I could make it work. She gave it to me for free and I was on my way back to the hostel to put it in. I marked the bottom of my foot were the pain is at just like my podiatrist did and transferred that mark to my insole. I lined up the bump on the pad with the mark and pressed it into place. 

Got my boots back on and rode the bike to the post office next to bounce forward a box of extras to Hot Springs, NC. Came back to the hostel yet again and I let Zen know that I was ready for a shuttle back to the trail whenever he was free. He had a few things he had to take care of and asked if 1500 would be fine. I was ok with that since I was really only planning to go to the first shelter 4 miles in anyway.

I made a trip to Outdoor 76 and got a compression bag for my undequilt, which I should have had already,but never got around to getting one. I also got a stamp from them in my AT passport. After that a stop by Motor Co Diner for an amazing Hawaiian BBQ burger and fries. Totally worth stopping by here if you’re in Franklin. I was forced to wander over to Lazy Hiker and have one last Belgian Session before departing and also got an AT passport stamp there.

Wandered back to the hostel and met up with some other thru-hikers walking there as well. I don’t remember what there trail names were anymore, but all three of them were wearing ties and one of them had previously done the AT and PCT and was back out here to do the AT again.

I got a shuttle up to the gap a little after 1500 and when I got there I realized that I had left my trekking poles back at the hostel. My shuttle driver was generous enough to make at run back for them and I waited in the parking area with Gambit while he was gone.

I’m not exactly sure when it was that I finally got on the trail, but the sun was nearing the mountain tops around me. I only ended up making it to the first shelter 4.2 miles in and the last 1/2 mile with my headlamp on.

Day 18 – Siler Bald Shelter to Cold Spring Shelter

This was my first 15+ mile day and it was a bit rough. I was hoping to catch up some miles I missed the day before with starting so late in the day.

Siler Bald Shelter

Got up shortly after the sun popped up and followed pretty much the same morning routine that I do every day – pack up, eat and hit the trail.

The climb out of this shelter was kind of a miserable thing first thing in the morning. I was a bit stiff and it took some time to get my joints so loosened up. I’m not having to stop every 20 steps anymore, so big improvements in my ascent stamina over the last two weeks.

A fee miles into the hike I took a blue blaze to the historic site in AWOL’s guide. It turned out to be an old Ranger Station.

Info board
Wilson Lick Ranger Station
Ivy covered chimney stack

Well worth the visit as far as I was concerned. Someone before me had popped open one of the window shutters so I decided to have a little peek inside.

See, it was already open.

It was kind of eerie inside, but pretty cool seeing the actual floor layout and the construction of the building.

Inside view of the chimney.
Kitchen cabinets.
Kitchen sink.
Stairs to the attic.

The loft upstairs wasn’t much to see so I didn’t bother taking any pictures. Seems this place had been used in the past by other hikers or drifters, there was some trash on the floor upstairs.

To the right of the main house was what I presumed to be an equipment/storage shed and further to the right of that was the outhouse.

Storage shed.

After we finished exploring we sat down and enjoyed some lunch before getting back to the trail.

As we got closer to Wayah Bald I started seeing a lot of fire damage again, I guess this part of the trail burned just this past fall. There must have been a lot of fuel around because this was the deepest burn I’d seen so far.

The burn damage on top of Wayah was horrible.

The views from the top were pretty cool, even with all the damaged trees.

Even the four posts on top of the stone tower were destroyed in the fires.

I didnt linger very long here as I was ready to move on and fire damaged areas like this kind of depress me. I popped into Wayah Bald Shelter to eat and top up my water for the next stretch to Cold Spring Shelter.

Gambit and I kind of dragged ass a bit getting to the next shelter. I think I need to eat and drink more throughout the day to keep my energy levels up more.

We got to the shelter an hour or so before the sun dropped, I got camp set up for the night and made dinner. I think it was Asian rice and tuna that night.

Cold Spring Shelter late in the afternoon.

My hammock was set up on an overlook of the little cities off in the distance. As the sun dropped lights popped up all over the place. After I turned off my headlamp the stars in the sky also lit up like millions of distant little house lights all across the sky.

I read for a short while and started hearing at least one mouse getting into Gambit’s food. I kept popping on my light to see if I could find it and one time it was just chilling in his food bowl. I grabbed a boot to try and hit it but the little bugger was too quick.

I finally dozed off and woke up to coyotes howling and yipping not too far away. It stirred Gambit and he ran to that direction and barked up a storm. 

Day 19 – Cold Spring Shelter to A. Rufus Morgan Shelter

Next time I woke up the sun was creeping up the horizon and the bottom edge was starting to turn a blazing orange.

Gorgeous sunrise near Cold Spring Shelter.

I laid in bed for a while and just watched the sun rise as the fog rolled in to the valley, after the 15 mile day yesterday I wasn’t in a terrible hurry to get up.

I was pretty much forced out of bed when Gambit decided he had to go visit the hikers that showed up at the shelter below. I got him back up the hill and leashed him to a tree while I made breakfast and packed up camp. The fog brought in a lot of moisture so like many other days my tarp was packed up damp.

We hit the trail and made it down to Tellico Gap fairly quickly. I had hoped to hit the NOC this day and possibly make it to Sassafras Gap Shelter, but that wasn’t in the cards.

Gambit and I hung out in Tellico Gap for about 30 minutes to eat and stretch before making the climb up to Wesser Bald. I noticed the trail was a little out of the way so I made a stone AT on the ground and out am arrow pointing to where the trail led. Four other thru-hikers passed us while we hung out and I pointed them all in the right direction.

The 800ish foot climb wasn’t terrible and I actually spent most of the time chatting with a fellow hiker that was making up fire miles since everything here was shut down in the fall due to fires while he was doing his SoBo.

Got to the top and I tied Gambit off to one of the tower legs while I climbed to the top for some photos. The views were amazing!

Southern view from the tower.
Northern view from the tower.

Gambit and I both finished off our water while taking a break at the tower so the plan was to fill at the shelter below. I misread the water info for the shelter and walked right past it as I wandered down the hill to the shelter. After I got to the shelter I was looking around for the water sign and couldn’t find one.

Looked in AWOL again and realized it was .1 miles back UP the hill at the cistern that was off the trail, so I put my pack back on and back up the trail we went. I topped up my Camelbak with about 2L of water, figuring that should be plenty for the trip down the mountain to NOC; also, filtered and filled Gambit’s water bottles so he had about 1.5L.

On the way down I called Creekside Paradise on the A.T. to let them know I would probably be at Stecoah Gap the next evening and that I would confirm it when I got to NOC in a few hours.

There were a couple tree openings on the way down that provided some wonderful views. This was one of my favorites at the “jump-down” I believe. 

The trail was so dry from the fires a couple months back which was causing me to constantly take sips off my Camelbak hose. As we got lower in elevation it got much better and a few really poor springs showed up on the trail, mostly it was just little drip from rocks or a wet surface. I was so glad I went with 2L of water.

Gambit seemed to be enjoying the trail. He would do his run ahead a little bit thing, turn profile and look back like he was asking if my slow ads was coming. He makes my days on the trail so much fun; every day he does something ridiculous that just makes me laugh at him.

My goofy puppy, love him so much.

We rolled into A. Rufus Morgan Shelter probably around 1630 and my feet were absolutely killing me so I was done for the day. A small spot on the outer edge of my right heel developed a really sore spot which I thought might be a blister. I got my boots off to look at it and it wasn’t a blister! I think it was just pinching in my boot from all the uneven walking surface on the nearly 3000 foot hike down from Wesser.

I put my feet in the creek for as long as I could put up with the cold to help reduce the swelling and soreness. Rain was in the forecast for the night so I got my hammock and tarp set up behind the shelter. 

I spent some time small talking with the other hikers in the shelter while I made my potato soup. Gambit was mostly just pooped, he barely touched his food or water bowls and just chilled out in the shelter. After I finished eating and cleaned up, I excused myself and hit the hammock for the night. I did my usual reading for a short time before finally getting tired enough to sleep.

This was one of those nights that Gambit decided to spend the night in the shelter with the hikers instead of sleeping under me in my hammock. Apparently, he had really bad gas that night so it wasn’t a total loss for me. 😂

Day 20 – A. Rufus Morgan Shelter to NOC

Everyone that was in the shelter was gone or just leaving by the time I finally got up. Young kids seem to be early risers; I prefer to sleep in a bit, especially if I had a rough day previously. Also, I’m just not really in a hurry on this hike.

Got everything packed up, ate breakfast and decided I would call Creekside Paradise when I got to NOC to see if they could pick me up and I’d turn the day into a nero. It was just a short 1 mile hike to the center so it wasn’t bad at all, but the spot on my heel was still bugging me.

Additionally, I was out of dinners and breakfasts and only had a couple snacks left, so there was no way we were going to make it to Stecoah without a resupply. Gambit was out of food as well and I had a dropbox waiting for us in Robinsville.

I called up Creekside Paradise and they said they could be there to pick me up in about an hour. I just chilled out by the river and listened to the water flow by while waiting. When it was getting closer to pick up time we made our way back out toward the road.

Cynthia from the B&B/hostel picked me up and from there we went right into Robbinsville for resupply and I picked up a foot long sub at Subway. I actually ordered my sandwich based purely on which one had the most calories, I’m really starting to get more of an appetite.

On the trip to the B&B I was tossing around the idea of staying there for a couple days and do slackpacking the whole time. I was going to strip my pack down and use it, but they offered me a day pack to use instead.

This hostel came with a house full of five hound dogs so when we pulled up we had to step back and see how Gambit would react with them. He seemed a little unsure of what to do at first and tried to keep his distance a bit while he figured them out. After a short time he was running around the yard with them.

I found two trees in the yard that would be my hammock supports for the next couple of days. I got it set up and they let me put all my gear in one of the rooms. My next step was a shower and laundry. I was given a bathrobe so I could wash everything at once after my shower. I got to sit around the house in the robe for about two hours while waiting on it to finish.

Got back into my hiking clothes again and spent a bit of time outside with Gambit and the other dogs. One of the neighbor dogs, Duke, came down for a visit and him and Gambit hit it off pretty quickly and they played for a while in the creek and ran around the yard.

Gambit and Duke.

The owners Jeff and Cynthia offer dinner to the people that stay for $15. My stay with camping was only  $10 per night. I figured I would be conservative and sleep in my hammock for the whole stay. Dinner this night was a very tasty beef stew with garlic bread.

I was invited to use the hot tub if I wanted, but I was pretty tired and made my way to the hammock not long after it got dark. Tomorrow I was planning to slack pack from NOC to Stecoah Gap and I needed my rest. I read for a couple chapters in Game of Thrones and went to bed. 

AT Thru-Hike Day 11 to Day 14

Day 11 – Dick’s Gap to Muskrat Creek Shelter

Had a fairly early morning on the trail, 0830 I think. After the last two zero days Gambit and I were aching to get back on the trail. His foot looked so much better and we started off the hike with no bandaging on it. 

Shortly after starting the climb up the first hill I ran across this root on the trail striking a pose. Almost looks like it could be drawing a bow, sans the bow of course.

The climb was so slow, I was stiff after too much sitting around and I did a poor job of keeping my joints flexible the past two days. Made it over the first hill and into Cowart’s Gap. The climb up Buzzards Knob was better, I was finally loosened up and my pace picked up. Seems like the first hour or so every day is the most difficult until my muscles and joints loosen up.

Plumorchard Gap Shelter

I stopped at Plumorchard Gap Shelter for lunch and talked with an older gentleman there by the trail name Nickel. He’d been chilling out there for the past two days after a trail bum stole some of his gear and most of his food. I offered up some of my excess, but he refused to take anything. I hung out for 30 minutes or so then made my way back up to the trail. 

My goal for the day was Bly Gap, which was just past the border into North Carolina. Had a little up and down over the top of As Knob and then the steady climb towards the border began. My stamina has definitely improved, I managed most of the climb without any breaks apart to sit down and eat for a few minutes every hour.

So I was just cruising along in low gear and I look up and the border sign was right there in my face on a tree across from some big rocks. Obviously had to snap a selfie or ten with it to get one I liked well enough to post on Instagram.

One state down!

I went a bit further on up with the intent to camp at Bly Gap, but the wind was terrible and all the camping spots were on the north side where the wind was coming from. I already spent one night in a wind tunnel and won’t willingly do it again if I can help it.

The infamous and often photographed gnarled tree at Bly Gap

After taking a break and checking the distance to the next shelter I decided that we would push it over Courthouse Bald and onto Muskrat Creek Shelter. I really don’t remember much from the last climb so it couldn’t have even that bad.

After getting to the shelter, I was informed of something I had to see up the blue blaze nearby. So I dropped my gear and Gambit’s pack and we went for a short hike up to the remnants of a plane crash.

I saw on another blog that this accident happened in the 1970’s, but I tried several Google searches without much luck. I did find a database that should have more information, but I didn’t feel like sorting through the thousands of aircraft wrecks that happened in the 1970’s. Would have been nice if there were search filters…

Anyway, after getting back to camp I set up my hammock and made dinner. I got Gambit’s food and water out for him as well and not long after it got dark we were all in our beds for the night. I read a few more chapters in Game of Thrones and went to sleep.

Day 12 – Muskrat Creek Shelter to Carter Gap Shelter

Muskrat Creek Shelter

Was up shortly after sunrise and just like most days started off with packing up, making breakfast and filtering our water for the days hike. I looked over the topo maps for the hike to Carter Gap and it actually looked like it would be a fairly easy day. Even the climb up Standing Indian Mountain didn’t look bad with the gradual inclines in the cutbacks.

I hit the trail with very light feet that morning and had a great pace going for a while. A mile or so into the hike we came across a few elderly people that were heading to the shelter we just left. I didnt ask, but I assumed they were probably trail maintainers off to check on the shelter and do some clean up.

Shortly after passing them I bumped into this sign, of course I had to get a picture of it. The rest of the hike to Standing Indian Shelter was pretty uneventful, just a steady 4ish mile hike with some ups and downs. We popped into the shelter for a little break and some lunch before doing the rest of the climb to the summit.

Standing Indian Shelter

I was pretty impressed that this shelter and privy weren’t damaged by the fires. It looked to me like most of the flammable in the area were gathered and burned before the blazes made it here, almost like there was a magical ring around both structures that kept them from burning.

Got the pack back on and began my climb to the summit, where I would definitely take another break. It was kind of depressing walking through some of these areas because they were burned so bad.

Reaching the summit made up for all the burned out areas. I couldn’t have asked for a more gorgeous day to do this section. As usual, I always look for the bench mark to snap a picture of.

Standing Indian Mountain bench mark.
View from Standing Indian Mountain.

I sat down in the grass up there for 15 minutes or so just absorbing the sunlight and crisp air before I decided we should move on so we could make it to the next shelter before sunset.

Most of the rest of the walk was through even more burned out areas, some of which still smelled very fresh. It was mostly all a gradual downhill slope until Coleman Gap and then the trail had a steady climb in it the rest of the way to the shelter.

I got there sometime around 1700 or so and met up with three other hikers. I looked around for a spot to hang my hammock, but because of the fire damage in the area I didn’t feel very secure in hanging my hammock on most of the trees so I said screw it and set up my bag in the shelter platform with two of the other guys.

I enjoyed a massive pot of Idahoan potato soup that evening and remember wishing I had real cheese and bacon bits to put into into or added flavor and texture. Also, I remember laughing about the fact that it was supposedly four servings…

I must have talked with one of the guys, Vince, for a couple hours before finally falling asleep that night bundled up in my mummy bag.

Day 13 – Carter Gap Shelter to Rock Gap Shelter

We were all up right as the sun came up so we could attempt to beat the weather to Albert Mountain. There was a really high chance of rain after 1000 that morning. I quickly boiled some water so my oatmeal could set up while I packed up my gear and got ready for the trail.

After eating my oatmeal and filtering our water for the day Gambit and I hit the trail. The first five or so miles this day were still in the burned areas and were mostly deathly quiet.

More burnt rhododendron.

I came across this little opening in the rhododendron that led to this pretty cool view to the southeast.

We took a little break at Betty Creek Gap before starting the long, almost 1000 foot, ascent up Albert Mountain. The first 800 feet or so wasn’t bad at all, after that it became a rock climb to get to the summit and fire tower. Gambit did a badass job of making it up with no help at all from me, he’s really becoming more confident in himself.

Section of trail leading up to Albert Mountain.

I wish I had some pictures of the climb, but I’m sure pictures or even videos of it can be found with a quick Google search. About halfway up the rock climb the rain started sprinkling on me. I figured I’d just finish the climb and toss on my rain gear after I hit the top. As we got higher it picked up a bit more, but I was able to get a summit picture in before it really started picking up.

Albert Mountain bench mark.
View from Albert Mountain, slightly obscured by rain.
First 100 down!

I went up the tower and the three I started with were all chilling inside avoiding the rain. I only hung out for a couple of minutes and went back down to sit in the rain with Gambit under some bushes while we ate lunch.

After I ate I said screw it and Gambit and I hit the trail. I figured we would maybe hit the next shelter and eat there again before pushing on to Rock Gap if we felt like it. The descent down Albert was so easy compared to the rock scramble up the south side. 

Had a great pace going and bumped into a couple college kids on there way up to the summit. They had a bunch of questions about thru-hiking that I answered as well as I could. By the time I left talking to them one of the other guys from the tower passed me up so I continued after him and said goodbye. 

I guess the rain must have continued for another hour and a half or so while walking. We got to the blue blaze for Long Branch Shelter and decided to just push past it and head straight for Rock Gap Shelter, which was only 3.4 miles away.

The three of us were talking about random things while wandering up the trail and before we realized it we were at the shelter. Rock Gap was probably one of the smallest shelters on the trail so far. The roof had leaks in it and I must have hit my head on the low rafters a half dozen times going in and out while setting up my hammock for the night.

There were a couple of guys there when we showed up, both locals to the area just out for a weekend hike and sone camping. We talked with them for a little while while I made dinner and a third guy showed up after a while with some “presents”. Turns out he hauled an 18-pack of beer in his pack up from the parking lot below. Also, he brought a little bundle of firewood.

They offered me a beer and I politely thanked them and drank one down while silently thinking how gross it was. I’m a bit of a beer snob and I really don’t care much for the watered down Miller Lite’s and such.

After that I excused myself to my hammock for the night, got comfortable and read and few more chapters in Game of Thrones before dozing off. Gambit kind of stuck around out there with the group until he finally decided to join me under the tarp.

Day 14 – Rock Gap Shelter to Winding Stair Gap

Carter Gap Shelter

Got up when the sun lit up my hammock tarp enough to function without my headlamp. No idea what the time was and I honestly didn’t even care, nor do I find myself caring what day of the week it is or the date in the month. It has simply become another day to hike and see how far we go.

My damp hammock tarp and home for the night.

I had to use my microfiber towel to dry my tarp off before packing it up. It only really rained for a little bit the day before, but there was a mistake in the air throughput most of the night. After I dried it off enough to let the air finish the job I busied myself with making some oatmeal, eating granola and packing up other things.

Today would be a short hike day, 3.8 miles to the road where we would get picked up and nero the rest of the day in Franklin, NC. The first part of the hike was pretty mellow, but my nemesis, uphill climbs, reared it’s ugly face and I was forced to deal with it. It actually wasn’t that bad compared to some of the other climbs I’ve done over the last two weeks.

I called Gooder Grove when I finally had service at the top of the climb and I scheduled for him to pick us up in about an hour. The rest of the climb and the way down went pretty smooth.

I had forgot to mention I had my dog with me so when he showed up at the parking lot he’d brought his dog as well. She has some territory issues and was trying to get at Gambit, but we were able to keep them separated. She ended up riding back to the hostel in the front seat and Gambit in the back of the car.

Once at the hostel we kept them separated and we got Gambit into the dog run they have set up here. I highly recommend this place for those travelling with their dogs simply for the fact that he has all the space set up for dogs to be able to run around in a caged area. Also, the dog owners are able to do resupply or food runs and leave the dog behind.

Got in a shower and bagged all my clothes to be laundered. I was given an pair of fleece pajama bottoms to wear and some flip-flops so all my stuff could be washed at once. While that was happening, we got an ride to my first buffet on the trail at Asian King. I devoured two massive plates and a third partially filled with desserts. It was so satisfying and I don’t really have my hiker hunger yet…

Went back to the hostel to put normal clothes back on and the next stop was Lazy Hiker Brewery which I had been looking forward to since day 1. Started off with a flight of the five I thought sounded most appealing to my pallette.

All were good, but I think the Belgian was my favorite of the bunch, so I was forced to drink two more pints of it. Stopped by the food truck in the parking lot and enjoyed a basket of fries with some good company. I met Momma Goose, who hiked the AT in 2013 and the PCT last year.

Walked back to the hostel and I decided to research that plane crash nearby the Muskrat Creek Shelter. I actually found two wrecks that could have been it, both were Cessna U206c planes, both started with N292, which was the only part of it registration number legible on the wreckage, and both wrecks locations were within 50ish miles of the actual wreckage.

I did end up finding another link to a PDF that stated it was the remains of the 1973 wreck above. A six seater Cessna with a single occupant, M.S. Riddell. Also I found his obituary and it seems to be the right crash based on that information. Seems my parents genealogy researching skills has rubbed off on me a little.

I decided tomorrow will be a zero so I can get a shuttle to the VA hospital in Asheville for a knee brace. My right knee is still bothering me, though not quite as bad as it was after the section between Unicoi Gap and Dick’s Gap. 

AT Thru-Hike Day 5 to Day 10

Day 5 – Neel Gap to Low Gap Shelter

Just like day 1 I enjoyed my breakfast at Hiker Hostel and shortly afterwards we got the van loaded up to drop off all the hikers that had spent the night there. I believe I was finally dropped off at Neel Gap around 0930 and was on the trail shortly afterwards once I finally realized that the trail literally ran between the two buildings…

Gambit and I slowly made our way up to the top of Levelland Mountain and along the way came across all these cool ice crystals shooting up out of the ground.

I figured they crystals would look cool zoomed in so I attached the macro lens to my phone case and I was right!

Finally got to the top of the mountain and the views were fantastic with a clear sky, I believe the high on this day was around 50.

Totally worth the climb. We made out way through Swaim Gap and to the top of Cowrock Mountain, which also had a great view of the valley below.

View from Cowrock Mountain

After a couple more ups and downs, we made it to Hogpen Gap and I met and couple there that had some questions about the art of thru-hiking. I answered as well as I could.

The rest of the hike to Low Gap Shelter was pleasantly uneventful, I think I must have rolled into the shelter around 1700 hours. I got Gambit’s food and water out and set up my hammock for the night. I actually had an MRE for dinner that night that I got from a Marine that has been with our group for a few days; it actually wasn’t too bad.

Gambit found a bone shortly after arriving at the shelter that he played with most of the evening. He really seemed to enjoy playing with it and at night he buried it and slept in a spot where he could “protect” his new found prize throughout the night.

Low Gap Shelter

I’ve been noticing that I ache just a little bit less each day as my body adjusts to this change in lifestyle. I am thoroughly looking forward to the day when my feet, back and shoulders are no longer sore at all times.

Day 6 – Low Gap Shelter to Unicoi Gap

The night before I had my tarp set up on one side with my trekking poles so it was more open and could throughly dry out. Apparently, sometime during the night the wind caught the tarp pretty well and I woke up to my tarp flapping in the wind and one of my poles was on the ground. I got up to fix it and went ahead and took down the other pole and closed it up for the rest of the night.

I guess I must have gotten out of bed around 0700, I quickly took down camp and got ready for the day. My plan was to make it to Unicoi Gap and have Top of Georgia Hostel pick me up so I could get my first dropbox and replenish mine and Gambit’s dwindling food supplies.

I think I was on the trail by 0800, but I really don’t pay too much attention to the time or date out here on the trail; it is kind of nice not having to worry about silly little man-made things like that.

I was told this would be one of the easiest sections of the trail here in Georgia and I believe it was right. Most of this section was on an old service road that ran through the mountains at one point. It was very smooth ups and downs pretty much all the way to Chattahoochee Gap.

Further up the trail from here we came across a pretty big section that the trail was almost nothing but stone. It was really awesome looking and incredibly picture worthy. Gambit had no issues navigating it, I was pretty cautious as I didn’t want to suffer an ankle or knee injury this early on.

Must have arrive at Blue Mountain Shelter a little after 1300 so I figured it would be a good spot to stop for lunch before making the rest of the way to Unicoi Gap. While there I called Top of Georgia and let them know I would be at Unicoi Gap in the next two hours and I set up my reservation for the night.

After eating some tortillas and peanut butter Gambit and I said our goodbyes to the rest of the crew and hit the trail. I didnt realize that it was still another mile up to the top of Blue Mountain until we had been walking for 20 minutes up hill and I pulled out my phone to see how far it was.

We were literally walking in a cloud on top of Blue Mountain

Finally, we hit the top and I realized I should call Top of Georgia and let them know I would need another 30 minutes on my pickup time. I’m glad I did because we finally crossed the road to the parking lot at 1450. We waited around a few minutes and the giant white van arrived.

AT plaque on front of the boulder with the bench mark at Unicoi Gap
Bench mark at Unicoi Gap

The ride to the hostel wasn’t terribly far and the staff was very friendly and informative. I got checked in and Gambit and I were introduced to the Wolf Den, where we would spend the night. I was given a towel and had the option to do laundry for $5 if I wanted to. I passed that up since I had just washed all my clothes at Hiker Hostel two days previous.

After a shower and quick change of clothes Gambit and I loaded up in the van for a trip into Hiawassee. I was limited on where I could eat because I had Gambit with me. The driver stopped by a Mexican food restaurant called Monte Alban. I popped inside and asked if I could sit on the patio with my dog and they said yes!

So Gambit and I met our server around the back at the gate to the patio and shortly afterward I had a beer and chips on my table. It was glorious!

I don’t recall the name of the meal I ordered, but it had chicken, steak and Chorizo with the typical beans, rice and pico sides. Gambit enjoyed some strips of the steak and chicken and the occasional tortilla chip. After eating we made our way to the pickup location at Ingles supermarket and waited around for our shuttle to arrive.

The owner of the hostel, Bob, was the driver for pickup. I had asked if they sold nail clippers in the gear shop and they don’t so he watched Gambit for me while I ran inside to grab some. I was talking to Bob on the way back to the hostel about replacing my heavy Snugpak rain poncho and he said I could check out the stuff he had in the gear shop when we got back.

On the way back he was already selling me on the Lightheart Gear rain jackets he has in there. I ended up going with one, it is soooo much lighter than what I was carrying and the arms were actually long enough!

After getting back to my room, I did a shakedown of my gear. Over the past two days I had been doing one within my mind and I already knew exactly what I wanted to send home. I removed every single item from my pack and went through it all and ended up with a little pile of stuff that would fill a large flat rate box.

I finished sorting things out, and repacked most of what I had left and got ready for bed for the night after enjoying a cup of tea and small talk with a fellow thru-hiker in the main bunkhouse.

Day 7 – Unicoi Gap to Steeltrap Gap

First off, the bunks here at Top of Georgia aren’t the most comfortable, but for $25 I am definitely not going to complain about one little thing. I will say this though, they are way more comfortable than sleeping on the wooden platform of a shelter, which I’ve done twice so far in the past week. Once because it was raining and the second time because I got in right at dusk and didn’t want to set up my hammock.

After a bowl of cereal and a cup of tea we hit the road to Unicoi Gap around 0800 and must have been on the trailhead by 0830. The climb up Rocky Mountain wasn’t bad at all, but maybe it is just that my legs are getting a lot stronger.

Made it up the roughly 1068′ climb in about an hour and we took a break for 20 minutes or so to eat a snack and drink up before the descent to Indian Grave Gap. The climb down wasn’t bad at all, but my right knee started getting a little irritated with it. It actually started getting a little irritated the day before coming down Blue Mountain, but I figured rest would fix it.

Gambit and I took another break once we hit the gap for another snack to give me some energy to make it up Tray Mountain. After 25 minutes or so, I tossed my pack back on and we started the slow 1300ish foot climb up to the summit. I had to take a few breaks on the climb to catch my breath and eat a few snacks.

We hit the summit a little after 1300 and rested for after little bit before heading to the shelter a half mile down the trail.

The hike down to the shelter wasn’t bad at all. The shelter itself wasn’t terribly big nor was it one of the better ones I’ve seen on the trail, but it was still a great spot to have lunch and get water before pushing on a couple more miles. I signed into the log book, used the privy, ate and replenished our water reservoirs.

We must have spent about 45 minutes chilling out here before packing back up and getting back on the trail. I really wanted to get down the mountain a title further before nightfall. The winds were really picking up and I wanted to get somewhere a bit more calm.

We ended up stopping at Steeltrap Gap a little before the light disappeared and grey could start started looming overhead. I figured this would be where we are stopping for the night sky and I worked to get my shelter up before the rain started.

I had the tarp up in a couple minutes and my hammock and underquilt was up shortly after, I used the bathroom and then the rains came. They hit hard, but only for 30 minutes or so and the temperature started dropping. I settled on a Clif bar for dinner that night since I wasn’t terribly hungry.

My goal to get out of the wind went horribly, I was camped in a wind tunnel all night long… Nothing but the sound of my tarp flapping in the wind. All. Night. Long. But hey, I was warm and dry and that is the important thing, right?

Day 8 – Steeltrap Gap to Dick’s Gap

Around 0500 my ass started getting cold because the wind kept catching between my underquilt and hammock and was managing to slip in. So I grabbed my reflective window screen out of my pack and slid it under my butt in the hammock. 

I guess managed to sleep for another hour or so, maybe more. I do know the sun was up on the horizon a little bit when I popped out of my hammock to the sound of Gambit barking at someone coming down the trail, so it was time to get up.

I had all my gear packed up fairly fast and ate a granola bar before hitting the trail. I REALLY wanted to get away from this wind that tormented me all night long.

Not long after working my way up the trail, I had this little Winnie the Pooh and Piglet conversation going on in my head and was laughing to myself:

“Piglet, do you know why we climb mountains?” asked Pooh.

“I don’t know, why?” replied Piglet.

“So we can go down the other side”, said Pooh.

Piglet replied, “you are one sick son of a sow Pooh”.

So many pointless ups and downs (PUDs) have been experienced. Now I’m not at all complaining about them. I’m actually enjoying this hike very much and I look forward to seeing what is on the other side of every hill I climb.

I wasn’t really paying that much attention to the time on this day but I remember taking this picture at Addis Gap before ascending the last big peak in this section, Kelly Knob.

And then we began our last big climb for the day.

I was kind of tired doing this one, I think skipping a proper breakfast in the morning and only eating a Clif bar for dinner the night before kind of had me dragging ass a bit, but I figured once I got over the top I could stop at Deep Gap Shelter for water and a proper meal for lunch.

Must have made it to the shelter around 1300 that day, I filtered water for both Gambit and I and at the shelter I whipped up some mashed potatoes and Spam and rested for 30 minutes or so before heading back up to the trail.

All that was left was a few more smaller climbs and a whole lot of downhill to Dick’s Gap and then the shuttle back to Top of Georgia so I could hit the post office and mail off my extra gear.

The canopy of rhododendron on parts of the trail here was pretty awesome looking, I can just imagine what it would be like in full spring/summer growth.

We finally made it to Dick’s Gap around 1500 and had just started walking down the road when Bob drove by and asked if we wanted a ride. I was like, “oh hell yeah!”

Got checked back in at Top of Georgia and this time I paid the extra $5 to have my laundry done. I was given a pair of scrubs to lounge in while it was being done. I got in the shower and by 1600 I was ready to hit the post office (in my scrubs) when they did the shuttle into Hiawassee.

I really wanted Mexican food again, so I ate at the same place as before, but rried a different special this time. No picture of the entree, but it was just as amazing as the last meal from two days ago. At 1820, the shuttle took us back to Top of Georgia and we settled in for the night.

My knee was bothering me after all the descents for the previous two days so I decided I would do my first full zero the next day. Also, I was checking out Gambit’s paws and he had a nasty looking sore on his back right pad that I wanted to get looked at the next day.

Day 9/10 – Zero Days

While at breakfast I went ahead and told them I would be staying for another day so I could get Gambit looked at and let my right knee rest up. I did a quick Google search for veterinarians in the area and there is area mobile vet clinic here (Mountain Mobile Veterinary) that comes to you. I gave him my info and he agreed to meet Gambit and I at the trailhead parking lot for Dick’s Gap later in the afternoon.

So I had pretty much a whole day of lounging around that kind of drove me crazy. On the plus side, I was able to get most of the past two days written out for this update, so you’re welcome.

The vet visit went well, he said that it was just bruised a bit and it would be that way until his pads toughened up as we hiked on more. He gave me a steroid ointment for it, showed me how to wrap it up and gave me enough supplies to wrap it for the next 3 to 4 days. He said he would be fine to continue hiking as it was.

I looked at the weather and the forecast called for rain pretty much all day the following day so I decided to go ahead and stay one more day to just relax and mentally prepare myself for the next section up to Franklin, NC. I figure it will take me maybe four days to get there depending on how my knee are feeling.

I went in to town on day 10 and called up the VA hospital in Asheville about getting a brace for my right knee, which was stiff and sore after the section between Unicoi and Dick’s Gap. 

I was previously diagnosed with Runners Knee or Patellofemoral Syndrome while I was still in the Army. I actually haven’t had an issue with it after I got out until now. Now of course, I also had lived a mostly sedentary lifestyle after getting out until now as well, so I guess it has to be dealt with if I’m going to continue on this hike.

I’m considering renting a car when I get to Franklin and driving up to the VA hospital to get fitted for a brace. For now I went in town and found a wrap to get me by.

More to come.

AT Thru-Hike Day 0 to Day 4

Day 0

I spent the night at Hiker Hostel after a seven hour drive from Kentucky, the drive was uneventful and we arrived around 1900 hours. I met one of the owners that night and she gave me a letter that was sent to me with a Flat Stanley in it. I wandered around the property a little bit and found a dark spots to stare at the few stars peeking between clouds. I’m not much of a people person so I mostly stayed in my room last night and finished up my blog post for Appalachian Trials or The Trek as it is now known.

Day 1

This morning I was treated to a wonderful homemade breakfast before my shuttle up to the Springer Mountain parking lot.

Gambit and I hit the trail sometime around 10 and headed southwest toward the Springer summit. My hips were kind of in disagreement with this immediate uphill and the weight resting on them, but they always protest when I start out on my hikes. I figure this is worse than normal though since I spent most of the last two months sitting on my ass waiting on everything with my house to wrap up so I could start this trip. I do kind of regret it now since I put on some weight during that time and I’m feeling it.

Anyway, we made it to Springer after a short little .9 mile hike and of course had to get pictures of the signs.

I figured I might as well toss in a picture of my fatass by the sign as well so I can compare the two after I get a few hundred miles in and drop some of the 50 pounds of flabby flab I put on over the last couple of years.

We retraced our steps back to the parking lot and continued northbound. It was actually quite nice for a while with most of the next three miles being downhill.

Our next stop was at Stover Creek shelter for lunch and also my back needed a break from carrying my pack. While there my mind played evil little tricks on me. It would say things like, “you should just stay here for the night” and “just call for a ride and go home at the first town, you’ll never make it to Katahdin.” It’s times like these that you just need to ignore those little voices and persevere. In the end you will be happier with yourself.

We moved on and sluggishly worked our way in the now raining weather to our next stop for the night at Hawk Mountain shelter. It was still raining so I decided to crash in the shelter instead of setting up my hammock. I met my first two thru-hikers here, both of which were spending the night here as well.

Topped up on water, got dinner going on the stove and changed out of my wet clothes into my warm night clothes. Talked for a little while and was asleep by 1930 hours.

Day 2

I woke up around 0330 and was wide awake, I slept on the wooden platform of the shelter instead of setting up my hammock since it was raining when I got in the day before. I have no pad with my hammock setup so it was a bit uncomfortable. I figured I’d just go ahead and make breakfast, topped up our water, packed up and started hiking around 0430 by headlamp.

The hike was slow but steady as we trumped along in the dark. We were a little more than halfway up Sassafras Mountain when that sun decided to pop up in the distance. Gambit and I sat there and watched the sky turning orange as the fog washed away.

The rest of the climb up Sassafras wasn’t bad, but it seemed like it would never end. Finally, we made it what we thought was the top, but alas, it was just a trick and it went up even more! We just focused on putting one foot in front of the other and finally made it to the real top. And then… the climb down and back up and down and up and down and finally to Gooch Mountain Shelter for the night.

This shelter was pretty nice and had several good tent camping spots set up all around. There was a decent privy nearby and a spring for water resupply. I found a spot with a couple of good trees to put up my hammock and got it up before the storm blew in for the night. I ended up reconnecting with two guys from the shelter the previous night, another that I had passed the day before and a fourth that had caught up with us.

We sat around the shelter, eating and talking until the sun went down at which time pretty much everyone went to bed. It must have been around 2000 hours, though to some that would be hiker midnight. I laid down in my hammock and picked up where I left off in my reading of Game of Thrones. Gambit decided to be a traitor that night and slept in the shelter with the other guys.

Day 3

Once again I awoke way too early at 0400ish, but that was ok, I just read for a little while until I felt tired again and managed to fall back asleep for a short while. Finally, my bladder decided I absolutely had to get up and I could hear the other stirring. 

Gambit in his normal fashion has to bark every time someone new comes up to the shelter. It is kind of annoying, but I feel like he’s just a bit confused with all the changes that have happened over the last few days. We did a bit of hiking before actually leaving, but we didn’t run into nearly as many people as we have so far on this trail. I’m hoping he calms down a bit more as we get further along.

One by one the rest of the group left after eating and made their way further north. On this day I was second to last to depart, I wasn’t really in a terrible hurry since the weather was suppose to be fairly nice until later afternoon. My goal on this day would be 12.5 miles to Woods Hole Shelter.

I think I left around 0700 that morning and I actually felt pretty good setting off, definitely better than the day before. The terrain was very similar to the rest of the trail, but I did run into a few amazing views that absolutely had to be photographed, one of which was Preacher’s Rock not long after entering Blood Mountain Wilderness.

Lots of ups and downs were experienced this day and I felt like I was really getting my trail legs under me. The heels of my feet were still sore and it almost felt like I was developing a blister on my right big toe, but I’m now feeling like it is now just a developing callous. I’ve been rubbing my soles and back of my heels down every morning with Body Glide and so far everything has been well. I picked up a brand new pair of Darn Tough socks right before leaving so I switched out a pair of my REI socks with these so I can do a fairly thorough comparison.

I think I got into the shelter that night around 1700 and it was just starting to trickle and the fog was rolling in. The guys that were already at the shelter let me in on the forecast for the night and we were expecting some cold weather – I believe the low was forecast at 29 degrees, not including the windchill and gusts of up to 45 mph were expected.

In the next couple of hours the rain would start up and full blown thunderstorms were expected throughout the night into early morning. I decided to rough it on the shelter platform instead of hanging that night, so I laid out my rain skirt, my underquilt, my reflective layer and finally my mummy bag on top of that and just for a little extra warmth I added my silk mummy liner.

I whipped up some Mexican Rice and tuna before bed and added some spices from my spice kit to give it a little extra kick; my spice kit is one of my few luxury items I brought along, totally worth the weight.

Must have spent an hour or so gabbing with the new guys we met and chatting a bit with the guys from the previous two nights. As per the recent norm, we were all in our bags by 2000 hours and out for the night.

Day 4

Of course we woke up early again, but we all refused to get out of our bags because it was pretty terrible out. The rain had turned into light snow crystals as the temperatures dropped below freezing around 0500 hours. It was kind of unanimous that we all stay in our bags until after the sun comes out. 

My poor Gambit had started shivering earlier even though he was cuddled up against me most of the night. I had a jacket for him and got it out, but it seemed to be the wrong size – I was wishing I’d checked it before we left…

I think it must have been around 0700 hours when we all started rolling out of our bags and it was definitely nippy, probably somewhere around 25 degrees out. As a group we decided to take the bypass trail around Blood Mountain instead of going over since it was already ridiculously cold and there was snow and ice on the ground. 

My biggest issue with doing it was that Gambit is tethered to my waist and he tends to pull a bit hard going down hills. I REALLY didn’t want to slip or fall coming down the rocks on the north face and have my hike end early. If the weather had been more agreeable I definitely would have gone over. If this in any way effects my official thru than I will come back and top Blood Mountain.

So we did Freeman Loop instead and it was also a bit rough and full of large rocks and boulders. I did end up slipping off a few rocks and fortunately no injuries accompanied it.

We popped out at Neel Gap and made a visit to Mountain Crossings, I got my passport stamped! While there I did get Gambit a proper fitting jacket so hopefully no more cold nights shivering for him. Everyone decided to turn today into a nero and stay at the hostel since the weather was going to be even worse than the night before. Unfortunately, they don’t allow dogs there so I called up Hiker Hostel to shuttle me back there for the night. 

So here I am, bathed, clothes smelling good and clean after laundering them and lying on a mattress after pigging out on a large pizza from Papa Johns. I’m sore, but I feel great and I’m happy. I’ve been keeping those negative thoughts at bay by simply focusing on the now instead of what could be. Sure, I may be one of the 75% that doesn’t make it all the way to Maine, but I’ll be damned if I don’t give everything I have to get there. I am not a quitter and some people just have an earlier finish line.

Being Social

I’m a terribly unsocial person, I don’t try to be but I’ve been this way as long as I can remember. I just have a hard time opening up around new people. I’m an introvert, but I live for adventure and I am actually getting tired of doing it solo. 

I’m a certified scuba diver, but I haven’t been since 2009 because I don’t know anybody else that does it. I love hiking and backpacking, which I actually don’t mind doing solo, but at the end of the day I tend to get lonely and wish there was someone to chat with while I fall asleep. I’d love to get involved in other outdoors activities, but I simply don’t know anyone that shares my interests.

So at 41, I decided to do something about it. I took a giant leap this last week and joined a few meetup groups so I could meet others nearby with similar interests. I did my first hike with one of the groups this past Sunday and somehow I managed to survive it. Of course, I hung out behind the group while we made our way through the trail, but I showed up and that counts right???

For the non-introverted folks out there, this was a huge step for me. The fact that I signed up for the hike in the first place AND showed up was HUGE! I have a rough time in large groups, my anxiety soars, my walls go up, I shut down, and go into listening only mode. I can answer the odd question here and there, but my answers are usually brief.

I brought my dog along to help me out, he’s a great distraction. He’s very friendly and helps me to be a little bit more social. Usually someone will ask a question about him or ask to pet him and that breaks the ice for me. His Ruffwear pack gets a lot of attention, I tend to get asked about it a lot while hiking on populated local trails.

Now that I think about it, maybe I’m a functioning introvert. While I was in the Army I gave classes to very large groups. One time I presented a first aid class in front of my whole battalion of 500 or so. So I’m capable of handling large groups if i need to, but it definitely is not my comfort zone. 

This weekend I will be going on my first group backpacking trip with seven other complete strangers. I’m a little nervous about it, I think I’ll survive and who knows, maybe it will open me up a bit more.