This post was written in my sleeping bag at the end of a long day. Please excuse any errors.
We leave Haiwassee as the sun comes out. It’s only a few miles to the North Carolina Border, where Bolt and I take photos. It’s too windy to stop for long though, so we climb steeply until we find a spot out of the wind for lunch. Then, it’s up over standing Indian Mountain, to a grove of rhodendrons to camp. I stick my head out from under my tarp and watch the stars, while coyotes yip.
I leave before Bolt in the morning, on the long climb up Albert Mountain. His heels are raw and bloody and his knee is bothering him. I know our days hiking together are coming to a close. He catches me at a rock gap shelter, just five miles from Franklin, where I’ve stopped early for the night. We make it to Franklin in the rain. The second car to pass picks us up. Bolt chatters to the lady in front, while I pet her sweet dog. In town, I check the forecast. Rain and thunderstorms. I think about hiking in that, shudder a little, and go to the brewery with Bolt instead I spend a day in Franklin, jittery on a couch. I just want to hike! But I know I should hike smart, and the CDT has left me with fears deeper than I realized. Then, the weather breaks. I say goodbye to Bolt, who is staying to rest his knee, and catch a shuttle to the trailhead. I climb in the clouds, leapfrogging with Mark the dog and Mark’s Mom. I say goodbye to her after Wayah bald, where she is camping. I hike another 5 to Cold Springs shelter and my first night alone on trail. I’m getting better at ignoring the shelter mice: one bops me on the head and I barely wake up to swat at him. I pass Santa first thing in the morning and get to check out his sweet hammock set up. Then I drop, almost 4,000 feet to the Nantahala Outdoor Center. I stop in at the outfitter to print my Smokeys permit, and then I have to climb, another 4,000 feet to the ridges above. I stop at a shelter 7 miles in. Achilles and Zach are already there, trying to start a fire. A mouse runs across my sleeping pad, then leaves me alone all night I say goodbye to the boys, who are only planning on doing 9 miles, and head out. It starts to rain and I unfurl my umbrella, as I cross Cheaya bald. I drop down, but I am tired, so tired. As always, these big climbs leave me drained. I stop at the shelter 15 miles in, a little disappointed, but so sleepy. I remember Thatch telling me that some days on the AT, 16s are harder than 30s. He was so right. I’m just getting ready for bed when Achilles and Zack roll up. They did a big day after all! We all pile into the tiny shelter, where the mice harass Zack all night, but leave me and Achilles alone. It’s early and I’m messing on my phone, trying not to wake Achilles and Zack. I try to blog a little, but end up accidentally deleting my post. No! If you’re wondering why this entry is a little sparse, that’s why. Frustrated, I make my coffee and hike out the five miles to the highway. It’s another few miles, on a closed highway, to my resupply point, where I’ll see the boys again. From here, I head to the Smokeys. Rain is forecast, and there, on the highest point of the AT, that might mean snow.