06
May 15

Nice

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Fields of green

Didn’t sleep well on Friday night, so I was glad that we had already agreed to a late start.
We were out of the motel around half 10 and drifted over to the tractor supply store, looking for the little town shuttle. Two spotted a guy wearing an Appalachian Trail t-shirt and he ended up giving us a ride back to the trail, which he had done a few times before. It was a lovely spring day, sunny and warmish. We did a nice 11 to interstate 81, where happily, there’s was another Mexican restaurant. Just after I crossed the railroad tracks, I heard a train approach. I went back to watch/film it. The conductor saw me there and as he got near, he hurled a half case of bottled water out of the engine and into the ground for me! Rail magic! Mutual thumbs up as her spotted away. Then after dinner, we did another 1.5 of really lovely trail. Green hills, easy grades, perfect weather and a full stomach made it about my favorite mile so far.

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Woke up with the sun to a cloudless day, though chilly. The women that slept a mile back said they had frost on the tent. But alas, off we went.
A basic day, up and down, a couple good hills. But most fun is that we ran into two trail magics. The first was a couple coolers with sodas and snacks. Then a mile and a half later, these three twenty-somethings were serving up doggies and burritos, fruit and drinks. Super cool! So needless to say, it was slow going up the immediate hill. It was 4 pm by the time we stopped at Knot Maul shelter and I was tired. I managed another 1.5 down the hill to the campsite next to the river.
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The terrain is quite different now; mooted rolling hills, grassy fields and it’s certainly getting more green. 558 miles to date. And one of us had a math error, because we passed the 25% sign today.
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Tuesday. Yikes, if I don’t write at night, it’s hard to remember the day before. Tuesday was long. Did 18 with the pack this time, so a new record, but the 20 mile day remains elusive. Still playing with energy management. And there wasn’t much water up there. But after a long steep descent to the campground, it turned out to be an idyllic little spot, overlooking a large farm valley and I had it all to myself.
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Got an early start at 7 and walked until noon out so. Then set up the tent and took a nap, then back at it. The nap helps and might be a regular feature of these lengthening summer days. Pulled into the shelter around five. This was the evening where I took this guy’s 10 liter water bag down the long and steep hill to fill up, then promptly spilled 9 liters when I placed it on the ground. I did not go back.
The morning broke clear and warm. Second morning where it wasn’t cold getting out of the sleeping bag. No water for the first ten miles, but the nice grade had me at the next shelter for lunch in just over four hours. (2mph is an average pace).
Hit 600 today.
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Then another 6 to the road where a half mile off you find little Trent’s Grocery, where you can find regular things, hiker food, fishing poles, live bait, large gun safes, hardware, wood flooring, bear traps and cheese burgers. Or in my case, two cheeseburgers, fries, two lemonades and a peanut butter cup.
Next two days look good: 15 miles you the next hostel and then 10 to the next big town, so two days without a need to carry much food.

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30
Apr 15

Virginia

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So we start Virginia.
Had a restful Sunday in Damascus. Lounge in bed after breakfast, coffee and first crossword since I started.
Finally in as town big enough to support an outfitter, so I finally got some stronger shoes. Got supplies and chatted with Two Shoes and Forward over coffee. Then pizza buffet ( and salad!) with the tribe and then pack up and off to bed.
Monday dawned clear and slightly chilly. It was going to be a short day but for some reason, I was fed and out the door just after 7.
Did an easy 8 to the first shelter and was there just after 11.
I was planning on meeting up with Tortoise and Garmin as they took days days off and I got to catch up. We last saw them a month ago in Franklin and I have been two days behind then for over a week now.

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After a lazy afternoon of napping, cleaning the fire pit and chatting with Weedeater, Fire and Syd the Kid, who were by for lunch, T and G showed up and we day in the sun and caught up.
Tomorrow looks to be a nice day.

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Tuesday the 28th was a tough-ish 11 or 12. Still needing to eat more plus a long climb made for a long day. Was nice and sunny though and we ended up at a camp site just after Buzzards Rock.

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Wed was going top have to be a long day. Having a short day on Monday put me behind on food a bit. So I have to do 17 so I could do 10 tomorrow to but me at a resupply place. So today was long but the rain held off until we got to camp. Due to some tough terrain, it was a 10 hour day. But we got to see the ponies at Grayson Highlands. Not having enough food is tedious and I have top start buying more.
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And we hit a milestone today!
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Thursday, the last day of April, dawned clear, which was nice when we expected rain. We had a rare morning fire, thanks to some nice section hikers. Then it was off again. I was out of food, so that was the prime directive of the day. At the 2 mile mark we ran into some great trail magic. This guy had a huge set up and was camping and doing magic for 2 weeks. His friends would drive 4 hours and resupply him from time to time. Great guy.
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After a nice 9 mile hike, I got to the road. After failing to get a hitch, I walked almost the 2.6 miles too the church hostel, near the one grocery store, getting a ride the last half mile as it started to rain. A nice little bunk house was up being the church, with showers and a little honor system food supply, certainly enough to get me the rest of the way to Marion. As it skies for darker, I decided to stay, rather than get food and head back out for the remaining 4 miles to the next shelter. So I will relax here for the night.

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Friday morning I woke up to rain. Ugh. But it cleared up and by the time I got my ride to the trail, it was over.
So I took off into the fog around 9 and was amazed to be done with 14 by 2:15, just in time for the shuttle into town. It was a nice day, no huge hills, nice easy grade. I finished my Napoleon bio. Turns out he dies inn the end. Now I am on to Glenn Greenwald’s book on Edward Snowden.
So another town afternoon. Laundry and shower, resupply, Mexican food with Tortoise and Garmin. Turns out that Seamster and Button are here too, so they stopped for drinks.
Back at it tomorrow!


25
Apr 15

On Tennessee

Some days you are just getting there.
Tomorrow is my last day in Tennessee. By the time I get to 470 miles, I will be in Damascus, VA. It’s a great hiker town, one of the big way points on the trail.
Last two days have been uneventful. Left the VHS hostel and got back on the trail for the last big climb before VA. The day was cloud free but chilly and quite windy. The six mile hike ended up 2 miles from where I started and then it was around Lake Watuga, over the dam and then up and along the ridge for a long 8 miles. Child wind on the ridge is a pain because you are got and sweaty on the lee but chilly on windward. For the first time, I was alone at the shelter.

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Tent view from Vandeventer Shelter

There was a frost warning for the night and I woke up to cold but clear. Today (Friday) was a relatively easy (flat) but boring 14 miles. Since I have been lagging in the afternoons lately, I tried taking a couple breaks and actually stopping for lunch! A batch of ramen then back on the trail. I got to Double Spring shelter with pretty good energy, so it looks like I need to start eating more, which means carrying more. I suppose it makes sense: I am hiking 6 to 7 miles a day. Some pasta and Clif Bars isn’t going to cut it anymore.
Tomorrow is 18 to Damascus, likely ing the rain, because I will be all out of food. I will zero there and look into buying more robust shoes…finally.

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Accessible trail section in TN

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Clear Skies

Saturday the 25th started overcast. The light rain started the moment I put on my pack, which was good because it meant I packed a dry tent. The rain was light and lasted a couple of hours. I got to a road crossing after three miles and found some trail magic! “Hey, want dinner breakfast?” “Yes.”

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Fresh cooked eggs, sausage, bacon, doughnuts and Gatorade! Then they said they were offering slack packing. Slack packing is when someone takes you out your pack ahead of you, allowing you to hike without it. In this case, i left my stuff with them, took my water, snacks and phone and put it in a small pack they had and got to fly through the remaining 15 miles. We are all staying at the same hostel in town, so they showed up with my pack just as I got out off the shower! Since today was my longest day and it was supposed to rain, so it was perfect timing. The day was uneventful besides the magic. I walked and listened to Napolean as he dealt with Tsar Alexander.
Damascus is a nice little town, very honey friendly and one of the big waypoints off the trail. The Methodists were doing a spaghetti dinner tonight, but I got sucked into the burrito place before I reached the church. Upon my return to the hostel, I found the trail magic guys were grilling, so we had a hot dog chaser. Zero day tomorrow, buying newer shoes and maybe making crunch bars…

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On to Virginia


22
Apr 15

Tennessee

The first full day in TN was a strange one, but we broke the 400 mile mark today!
Woke up dry, which was nice. Looks to be a good day. Had an amazing breakfast at the mountain hostel! Fried French toast, egg souffle, home fries, sausage and peppers, biscuits and gravy, muffins, OJ, coffee, hot chocolate in a great setting. Not to be missed; they do it every day.
Cool but sunny, started out slow but satiated and looking at a 15 or 17 miler day. I seem to be a bit more sluggish after a hostel day and at 10 miles in, I was beat.So I set up my tent in a clearing and took a nap. My favorite part of the day is in the afternoons when the sun warns the tent like a little dry sauna. It’s great for zoning out before dinner. I meant to sleep for 30 or so but 90 minutes later I came to. Now it was 4pm. What to do? I packed up and pressed on another 5 miles till I found the tribe at the camp site. It was about 7 by then: time for dinner and bed. But it was good hiking. Certainly the flattest day so far, which is a really refreshing change of pace.

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Tree on the hill

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Doc heading up the valley

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Horses

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Waterfall

Wed the 22nd was another non-standard day. Got an early start on a clear but windy day. Did about 10 miles and the took an alternate trail into Hampton. One of the tribe got shin splints and Two Shoes was hanging out in front of the general store. I was tired, so hung out with her a bit until Forward got back with Doc and Clang. They went off to different places and I walked across the street to the hostel in a big stone building. Have they place to myself (so far) and am getting the feet off the ground.

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The Barn

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Two Shoes at Brown's


20
Apr 15

Ronin

Spent a nice zero day (Thursday) in Erwin, putzing around in my camp clothes, taking care of the usual business: laundry, shower, resupply and being off my feet. Finally got that first salad at dinner when we all shipped off to the Italian place. Granted it was a side salad and granted it preceded the 5 Meat pasta plate, but it was still very good.
Friday dawned clear and it was back to the trail. Over the river and across the trail tracks and up we went. It was going to be a 17 day but with a poor breakfast and some long uphills, it turned into a 12. Had a nice night around the fire with Button, Seamster, Thistle and Beast of Burden.

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Fire and Sunset

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Saturday started clear and still. The
morning uphill was long but went into a pretty spruce forest for a while. The needles covered the rocks and roots to make a soft carpet. Seamster and I had a good walk and talk, discussing computers, coding and molecular biology as we drifted down a long and lovely descent.

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Spruce Forest

14 miles put us at the Clyde Smith shelter at 369.1 miles into the adventure.

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Dinner Time

It’s raining on my tent now add I type and tomorrow looks to be soggy all day.

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Roasting

Aaaaaaaand as expected, Sunday proved to be a long, wet, slippery, horrible day. Dawn broke clear so when the rain came 30 minutes down trail, I was underdressed. But to get into proper clothes would have meant too much stopping and removing of shoes, so I did what I could and kept on the long climb of Roan mountain. It was very windy and rainy and unpleasant all day. The heavy rain made the trail a slippery nightmare when it wasn’t a river. Up on the bald, the wind was wicked, almost pushing me over. Feet were fully wet and muddy all day. It was a 15 mile, 8+ hour slog. I was listening to a new bio of Napoleon for most of the day.
Ended up at the barn: a real barn overlooking a valley that had recently been converted to a shelter. It was pretty packed with wet hikers. I opted to set up the tent in the empty but breezy sleeping platform.
Rumor had it that the rain would stop at night and then fire up again at noon. Therefore I was on the road at 7am to try to beat it for the 9 mile hike to the hostel. I was pretty well out of food by this point.

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Well it didn’t quite hold out until noon and the rain started while I was on the bald again (a bald is the grassy, open top of a mountain.). The on the rain gear and headed up a steep hill, while the trail once again turned into a river.
It kept up for a free hours and then the wind went away and the sun came out. The final couple miles were very nice, with an actual FLAT section of trail, the first since we started. Amazing. After running the NC/TN border for a week, we finally left NC for good.

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Aloha NC

And once again, now at the hostel, clean, laundry in, gear drying, happily on the couch!

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On the river


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10
Apr 15

Springtime

Spring is springing, esp now that we are at a much lower elevation.
Spent the night at Standing Bear Hostel, a great, home grown setup. Some of the usual crew was there: 5k, Shaggy Hobo, Wally, Doc, Soda, Ice Cream, Pack Man, Jedi and others. Got the pizza in the oven and downed a couple YooHoos while we waited. Took a nice shower, hung out by the for for a while and chilled.

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Mike picked me up again for another zero day with the family. After a couple redirections, we landed at a place with good burgers. Mine with bacon and goat cheese on grilled brioche with tater tots: super yum! Then laundry and Jurassic Park and late night beef stew, it was of to bed. Downloaded and stated reading the memoirs of U.S. Grant, which has been on there list for a long time. So far a good and compelling read.

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Then the family drive me back this morning, loaded up with cliff bars and homemade bran muffins!
5K was ready and waiting and we heard north. A relatively short 8 miles but a looooong ascent on a warm and windless day made for lots of sweat. Summer is def on the way. Grasses are growing, purple blooms on trees and springtime in general is making for a much nicer walk than cold Georgia.
It was query at the shelter, but then Syd the Kid showed up for lunch with a great Easter trail magic story. Two Shoes showed up again, followed by Clang and Chewbacca and their tribe.
Got two 13s coming up that will get us to Hot Springs, NC.

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Thursday the 9th – woke up to a clear day. Last night was the first sleep without gloves and/or the hat, so that was nice. Walked with 5K a bit today and then turned up the pace when we got to a pretty big uphill. It was a good but uneventful day.
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Just missed seeing Mike and family on Max Patch Bald, which was a lovely spot. Knocked out the 13 in just under 8 hours. Was phased to note that my legs were sore but the feet felt fine, so progress there!
Spending the night on a very windy mountain top, before the other 13 into Hot Springs for resupply.

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Friday the 10th- Wow! After a breezy night, today was mostly a long descent into Hot Springs. Somehow, I managed to do it in under 6 hours! The day before I did 13 in 8.
The trail literally for through the middle of town. At the hostel now, showered and in my bunk. We headed to town where the local ministry was doing free pulled pork, cole slaw, cheesy potatoes, brownies and sweet tea. Super Yum! All the current tribe was there: Syd the Kid, Weed eater, Rev. Kane, Two Shoes, Seamster and Button, Clang, Woodchuck and a mass of others.
Resupply tomorrow and then of to Irving.


03
Apr 15

On Top of Old Smoky

Top of the Smokies

Sunny in the Smokies

Smokies

Smokies

The first days are the hardest days but it’s getting better all the time. The Smokies are interesting: tall and wild but the prettiest walking to date.
You basically enter the park on the west end, head up and up and then walk along the ridge of the peaks until you drop down and exit the park about 70 miles later.
Day one after the dam was up and up but only 6ish miles to the first camp site. Other than this site, you are required to stay in or near the shelters due to bears.
Day two was nice. 12 miles on a nice and sunny day, but more up.

Day 3 (yesterday) was up along the toss of a fee mountains, but very windy. It wasn’t too cold and it was dry but really windy. Pushing on to the third shelter have me my first teen day at 13.4 miles. Again, windy and raw but the train didn’t start until just after my tent was set up. Lots of people at the shelter, getting ready for the summit.

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Today was pretty windy but dry. It was 3 miles to the to of Clingman’s Dome, the highest point on the trail, at 6,644 ft asl.
Got a quick shot before my phone died. Most interesting was that around 5,000 ft, the forest completely changed into a California-esque wet and green landscape, very different than a few feet below. Much more color and more things to see. Clearly doing is on the way. Then it was another 7 miles down to Newfound Gap, the only real road that cuts through there park. Add I was out of food and all batteries about spent, I had to head to town. There was nice trail magic at the gap. They hooked me and other hikers up with sandwiches, chips, soda and coffee.
They then gave me a ride into Gatlinburg, TN. A bizarre tourist town, I did laundry, got food and some dinner. The trail magicians will pick me up tomorrow and take me back to the trail, as they set up for another day of providing for hikers.

Elevation


03
Apr 15

Smoke on the water

Another excellent zero day. Mike picked me up and took me to his house to settle in and meet the family. And before you knew it, laundry was done, shower was complete and we were sitting down to steak, potatoes and a bit of vin rouge. Yum!
And Thursday night was windy and rainy, so another good reason to be in a warm house.
Friday was the real zero day and we lazily got out the door around 10. Went good shopping, went to the amazing general store in town and say in a fantastic cafe and had panini and soup. It was quite easy to forget about the mission and how I was going to get dropped in the forest again so soon. Helped out with making Easter candy and did some BLT writing. Then tacos for dinner and a viewing of Papillion, which they had picked up in my honor. Very kind and it’s a great film.
Saturday morning the family and I heard back to the NOC for breakfast and a nice send off. Thanks to Mike, Shelly, birthday girl Barrett and Moon Pie for an excellent time.
Then I walked up and up for hours on end. Did I mention that it had snowed a bit the night before?

Snow after the NOC

 

6 miles for me to Sassafras Gap shelter, with just me and three others. It was a cold night. I set up my tent in the shelter and had a reasonable night thanks in party to the warm things that Mike lent to me for a bit.
We all awoke to ice in the water bottles.

Two Shoes on a cold morning

 

It warmed up a bit sitting the day add I did 9.1 miles to Brown Fork Gap shelter.
Another quiet night with only TJ and Bluegrass at the shelter. But I choose to tent as is my default and got rained on. Sucks packing up a wet tent. And I didn’t store the shoes well so I started the day with one wet and one dry shoe. And so through the misty mountains.

Misty Mountains

 

Where are the Tolkien Spiders?

 

But that to cleared up. I stopped at a shelter to dry the tent and then slogged through the rest of the 12.5 mile day that got me to the Fontana Hilton, the nice shelter next to the dam.

My tent at Fontana

 

It was sunny and warm, lots of good people there. A nice fire, someone brought wine, some bluegrass music: a nice evening. And the best sleep so far.

Fire at Fontana

 

Doc and Bluegrass at Fontana

 

After a shower and going to the village for resupply, I crossed the dam and headed up into the Great Smoky Mountains, and up and up.

Fontana Dam

 

We basically enter the park, head to the top and then walk along the spine of the mountains for 60 miles. This includes the highest point on the whole trail, at Clingman’s Dome. We dip into TN tomorrow. So far we have been welcomed with thunder and hail.
172 miles so far.


24
Mar 15

Century

Left Franklin this morning after the Baptists fed us pancakes, bacon and juice. They do this every morning at 7 during hiker season. They pick you up, drive to the church where the staff has the whole thing ready to go. Eat as much as you want! They walk around and take every one’s photo and then have a printer set up right there. Every one here a print off themselves and envelopes are on the table so you can send a quick note to a loved one; they provide the postage. A quick bible reading and they drive you back in time for the 9am shuttle. Very nice people and a great way to start the day.

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Breakfast with the Baptists

 

Then the shuttle driver did us back to the trail and off we go. Even with a big group starting at once, it quickly spreads out and today was a long (11 mile) and quiet day. Glad to get the feet out of the shoes here at Wayah Bald Shelter. Another 11 tomorrow.

Today marks two weeks and 131.4 miles into the hike. It’s going well I think. Just a couple small blisters, feet are ok. Feeling stronger, which is kinda measured by how well you can go uphill. I don’t take lunch breaks yet, just snacking and drinking as I walk, with a for break here and there. 11 miles is about 5 to 5.5 hours of walking. Interesting that the downhills are tougher. Depending on the grade, each step is a pounding on the feet, while balancing with the pack. The trekking poles are vital. Today has a long decent and tomorrow’s 6 miles is basically all decent.
A lovely warm evening here at Wesser Bald Shelter, got here first again, so got the good flat spot. Sunny with some clouds, it’s in the 60s. Nice surprise when Charlie and Sparky showed up. They were part of the original tribe but haven’t seen them since the first hostel at Neel Gap.
Tomorrow I get to the NOC, perhaps while it’s thunder storming, but have a good zero day planned for Friday!

Thursday- Nice only having a 6 mile day. It allows you to take your time getting out of camp and meander down the hill. Actually, the whole thing was a decent and it was quite difficult and technical. But then you get to the NOC, which is a big outdoor sport center with 2 restaurants, a good outfitter shop and a river running through it. It’s a good trail milestone.

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So I sat by the river and downed my chicken salad sandwich and fries and sweet tea and watched the hikers tumble out of the mountain. I went shopping, getting new fuel for cooking as we prepare to hit the Great Smoky Mountains in a few days.
But mostly, I was hanging out, waiting for Mike, my friend from high school to pick me up. He lives right on the southern edge of the Smokies, so it was a quick pickup and I am spending my second zero day inside, typing and helping with Easter candy making and relaxing. It just happens that once again, my zero day is cold and rainy so that’s good!
Mike and his wife Shelly walked the trail in 1996 and it was through them that the seed to walk was planted in my brain. They did it pre-cellphone. Imagine!
So it’s nice to be inside as the temperature drops, laundry done, freshly showered.

Should be back on the trail on Saturday morning, with 3 days to the start of the Smokies.

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23
Mar 15

Georgia Off My Mind

The Green Tunnel

 

Friday morning was time to leave the hostel and get back in the trail. Top of Georgia hostel has a great staff and treat everyone very well. Hit the trail on what turned out to be a wet and chilly day. I met 5K Man at the start and we walked all day together, the chattiest day to date. He has recently retired from the World Bank so we had a nice day chatting about international affairs. We also crossed into North Carolina, marking the first state line of the adventure. We were welcomed my the most difficult hill so far. An 11 mile day, we were soggy but happy to be at the shelter.

Next day started clear and was a lovely sunny day to walk. I stopped at the next shelter to dry off the tent and some clothes and then pressed on for a 12 mile day, the record so far.
As it was a nice day, the wood was dry so we had a fire and I finally got to use the smarshmallows I had been packing for a couple days.
Sunday was supposed to be 13, in order to set me up for a short 3 miles into Franklin. I managed to pull a shin muscle going up a terribly steep and rocky hill. That slowed me down and I stopped at the shelter for an 8 mile day so that I can rest it. The rain started just after I got set up and it continues now. Looks like good weather for the next few days.

Clear view of North Carolina

Trail in NC

Woke up today and the shin was completely fine. I got an early start and knocked out 8 miles by 11. Caught the hostel shuttle into Franklin. Spent the afternoon as what will be usual: shower, laundry, resupply, more Mexican food and then drinks and dinner with Garmin, Tortoise, Lunch Lady and Gray Goat.
Next stop is the days away, with a storm in the middle.