Day 24, 4/29: M-399.5, Elk River (23mi)

Woke up to a cool foggy morning on top of Roan Mtn.

Some great view from the Balds on Little Hump Mtn.

The red barn has been converted into an AT shelter. What a spectacular setting!

Hiking up another Bald.

We’ve been crossing back and forth between NC and Tenn since we got to the Smokies. Now we say goodbye to NC.

This is Mountain Man. He started a southbound thru hike last August and left the trail in January and restarted mid March. He’s in the home stretch now. .

Even though we had a big 22 mile day planned we still managed time to hitch a ride 5 miles into town for Milkshakes et al.

Our driver, Mark.

AT hikers destination of choice.

This was my ride back (Mom was driving).

Jones Falls about a mile before camp.

Wound up doing 23 miles today with some minor side trips and detours. Felt surprisingly OK at the end of the day, though definitely ready to stop…at 7:45. It’s almost 10pm and I can barely keep my eyes open.

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Day 23, 4/28: M-377, Roan Mtn. (21mi)

This little guy greeted me just after my 7am departure. I think he’s a newt.

More great views.

This is DirtMan, a local trail angel giving out bananas and Mtn. Dew

This would have been a great camp spot.

I met Lucky at a shelter during lunch. He’s doing a small section hike but he finished an AT thru hike last year at age 72…so impressive!

View from High Rock Knob

Delicate flowers on the way up Roan Mtn.

We entered a very dense Spruce forest before summiting Roan Mtn, our last peak over 6000′ until the White Mtns of New Hampshire.

It was a long day with a lot of climbing but definitely feeling strong and the minor nagging pains are getting better. My back still has some muscle tightness…too much constant tension between hiking and bending over (filtering water, setting up tent, etc). A good massage would be great in Damascus, VA.

It’s almost 10pm, well past hiker midnight (sundown), I’m going to bed!

Day 22, 4/27: M-356, Unaka Mtn. (14)

The Noilchucky River flowing near Erwin, TN.

A view of the Mountains we descended from town.

Salty and I are riding bikes from our lodging into town (4-miles) for breakfast at the Huddle House (think Waffle House). Salty had coffee, two eggs, waffle soaked in butter/syrup, a double order of French fries and a milkshake. I had OJ, waffle, fries and a vanilla shake (pics next time for sure).

Ran into Odie with the Hiker Yearbook again (last seen on Day 3).

This is a footbridge over a creek we followed on the pleasant hike out of town.

Someone got creative with their log end cuts.

Trail Magic stop #1 today (sweet tea, Apple and a brownie).

The view from Beauty Bald.

Trail Magic stop #2, a can of Coke to go 🙂

We pitched our tents just in time before the rain came around 7pm on this wonderful bed of pine needles. Luckily, the rain cleared for a bit before bed.

The following are some pics Salty has taken (of me) over the last couple days. iPhones’s AirDrop makes backcountry file transfers a breeze!

I didn’t even realize we stayed in the same room as Earl Schaffer (the first AT Thru Hiker) in Hot Springs.

Day 21, 4/26: M-342, Erwin, (21)

  This is our campsite we left this morning. A couple other folks were camped near us.
   I started hiking at 7am and climbed to the top of Big Bald by 8am…a bit windy but impressive clouds.

  
Big scary trees near the Bald…

  
Kind of looks like a haunted forest.

 

 
Drying sweaty gear out in the sun at a lunch break (love the hiking pole sick drying technique).

This is a video of Salty doing log Acrobatics:

I hiked with Apple Cheeks the last 6-miles to Erwin. We’ve leapfrogged her the last couple days. She’s one of only a handful of folks I’ve met who’s clearly on the “Varsity” team, bustling out 20+ mile days.
This is the same bear from several days ago…Salty forward me the pic he took.

I got into Erwin,TN today a popular trail town the AT skirts. I picked up a resupply box Andrea sent to me that should get me most of the way to Damascus, VA, one of the most well know towns on the AT (the trail runs right down main st.)

Day 20, 4/25: M-321, Low Gap (20)

I totally forgot o get a picture this morning of our great campsite in the meadow…I need to be better at remembering those pics. The pic above is from some Trail Magic at Devils Fork Gap. Ice cream Sandwiches and soda…perfect snack eight miles in on a beautiful sunny day.

A selfie shot with some other hikers and our Trail Angel to my right. He drives his camper around all summer up and down the trail giving out trail magic.

A refreshing cascade coming down Laurel Mtn.

Salty assessing where we’ve just climbed from with the trail switch-backing below us.

This is a pic from one of the shelter registers. Andrea drew this awesome Bug Juice pic and I had it made into a stamp. The registers are a good way to keep tabs on people you’ve met who might be ahead of you and also pass along useful info to other hikers (spring is dry, bear activity here yesterday, etc).

Some wildflowers are starting to bloom.

This is how Salty (Legs) got his name.

Hiking into the early evening through a beautiful high mtn. meadow.

20 Miles has been the magic number lately as camp spots seem to keep popping up at this distance. My Achilles tightness and foot bruise was significantly better today. I was feeling strong with no discomfort until about a mile before camp. Today’s biggest bother is some muscle tightness in my lower back…oddly not from my pack. If someone out here has a foam roller I will be all set !

Day 19, 4/24: M-301, Bald Ridge (12.5mi)

It was a little hectic this AM due to the fact there was an active fire just north of town on the AT. We were trying to come up with a plan and secured a ride from this fine gent taking us about 30 mins North to Allen Gap by/passing the fire and ~15 miles of trail.

We were on the trail by 11am and had a beautiful day for hiking, although temps started to get a it warm (upper 70’s). This is one of many incredible views we had today.

There was a steep climb to a very cool ridge walk.

View from our lunch stop on Big Firescald Bald.

Same pic with me in it 🙂

Passed mile 300 today and someone was no CE enough to leave a sign in the ground to mark the occasion.

We camped among the trees on top of Bald Ridge

The sunset from camp.

The progression of aches and pains always surprises me over the course of the day. When I get up in the morning I can barely stand up straight to go to the bathroom because everything is stiff and creaky. When I start hiking the back of my heels are usually sore and stiff and I feel like the Tin Man needing to be oiled. Within 30 minutes I feel significantly better and within an hour I feel great and strong . Then around miles 17-20 the feet and heels can start to feel sore again. Most days I’ve been taking 400mg of Ibuprofen in the AM, PM and bedtime…It makes a huge difference. The top of my left foot above my big toe still gets sore throughout the day but double socks seem to help. Recently, the outside of my left ankle area has been getting sore.But a good nights rest does amazing things to restore the body

Good night 💤

Day 18, April 23: Mile 273, Hot Springs, NC (11mi)

Woke up in the clouds on top of Bluff Mtn.
Kind of like Gorillas in the Mist.

A fast 11 miles got us to the super friendly trail town of Hot Springs, NC.

The AT goes right down Main St. This sidewalk marker reminds me of the Camino de Santiago.

There is a ministry that devotes a volunteer and this building on the left to hikers…snacks, coffee, wifi, info., etc.

My cozy bed at Elmer’s Sunnyside Lodge.
I will try to remember to get a picture of the outside tomorrow (an 1847 Victorian).

Salty’s very organized resupply.

My resupply box was waiting for me, although a little worse for wear….not sure what USPS does to these things? Another big thanks to Andrea for shipping this out to me and holding down the fort back home.

Even though I got in at 12:15 it was a long day of running around: dry out/ clean gear, eat showers, eat, laundry, eat, organize gear, eat, organize resupply, eat, journal/blog, eat. One thing that helps to keep me on task is I make a list of all my town chores I want to take care of as I hike in the days leading up.

I’m going to bed as it’s way past hiker midnight (9pm)…its just about real midnight !

Day 17, 4/22, M-263, Bluff Mtn Gap (20)

Packing up from tent city at 7am. It was much warmer camping at 2500′

It rained bit last night. This is the dry spot under my tent.

About 30 minutes into todays hikeI heard some rustling in the woods so I stopped. A couple seconds later a cute little bear cub scampered across the trail, then a second cub. So of course we waited until mama came out before we proceeded…and she even gave us enough time to get out the iPhone for a pic.

Hiking up Sugarloaf Mtn. under ominous skies.

View from Sugarloaf Mtn.

Then the rain came…the first time I’ve hiked in the rain so far in two+ weeks. This is the view from under my pack mounted umbrella. Best piece of gear ever. Kept me completely dry for 8hrs and I didn’t even wear a rain jacket. (Plus you don’t get that uncomfortable dampness from sweating out the jacket.)

Max Patch is spectacular even in poor weather.

Selfie with my umbrella.

You can see another hiker in the distance with their umbrella.

The green tunnel…again.

Wet and muddy boots, but dry-ish feet.

Another 20 mile day and mostly in the rain. The sun popped out for about 5 minutes before the day ended with a pretty good downpour. Luckily, the weather broke just as I was setting up camp and eating.

Day 16, 4/21: M-243, Paint Brush Crk (20)

imageOne of the last big views from the Smokies.

I made the smart move of not sleeping in the shelter last night and set up my tent nearby. By 7:45 pm there was a big old guy snoring like it was an Olympic event and mixing in some hacking fits every so often for good measure. Needless to say, I slept great 50 yds away, everyone else not so much. I was hit the trail with Salty by 7:15am

This shelter name takes on a whole new meaning nowadays. Also notice the sign warning about bears. Apparently, they were causing some issues over the last several days.

The temps started to warm up as the day wore on and we dropped elevation. This is me at a lunch break staying cool while drying sweaty socks out on the log. (dry helps prevents blisters).

As we dropped elevation the trees were leafing out around 3000′. We’d hit our lowest point on the trail so far at 1500′ after being at the highest point on the AT just the day before.

Wildflowers were blooming.

A rarity, hiking next to a stream )for a half mile) Splashing cold mtn.water on my face felt great!

Crossing the Pigeon River.

and then under I-40.

A short rest and snack break at the Standing Bear hostel. After the stiff climb to get there in 80 degree heat a cold Gatorade tasted great as well as a sleeve of Pringles.

There was one more 1000′ climb to our campsite to end our 20mi day. I listened to part of the audio book Bossy Pants by Tina Fey to power me up the final climb and got to camp ~7:30. I hope to get a pic of camp and post tomorrow. It’s Much past my bedtime now ( 10pm) and there is a light drizzle to put me to sleep.

Day 15, 4/20: Mile 222, Tri-Corner Knob (20)

The forest seems to have changed on the East side of Clingmans Dome.

Word had spread on the trail that there would be Trail Magic at Newfound Gap…although we were misinformed that it would be pancakes and bacon.

Luckily, hikers aren’t too picky…this was a Thru Hikers Dream 🙂 Big thanks to the Trail Angels from Knoxville, TN !

Happy hikers stuffing their faces.

We are now officially inside of 2000 miles to Katahdin …still a daunting number (coincidentally, my birth year).

Classic Smoky Mtns scenery.
Afternoon tree tossing competition.

The shelter was very crowded, even the tents sites were slim pickings. Look at all the food bags being hung. In the Smokies you have to stay or camp at the shelters so we start to get bunched up. Only 2 other hikers left the shelter we were at this AM. Most of the others here tonight did 8-12 miles to get here.

Overall, it was another long day. I was hiking by 7am and got into camp at 6:30pm, but the weather was fantastic again (probably about 10 hours of actual hiking.) it will be three more days until a small rest in Hot Springs, NC…that will be well earned 🙂

Sorry for not getting back to folks sooner who are posting comments…I do appreciate them! I only have good signal occasionally, so I plan to catch up in Hot Springs.