June 12, 2016
I left Gary and the Top of Georgia Hostel at 7:30am on Sunday, June 12th. From the Hostel it was just a half mile hike up the highway to the AT. Of course everything was uphill from the Dicks Gap.
After about three more ups and downs through the "green tunnel", I reached the Georgia/North Carolina border about noon----78.5 miles. Just past the border I came across this Bly Gap gnarled tree often photographed By now I met up with few other hikers going either north or south.
I showed up at the Carter Gap Shelter----93.9 miles, were two middle-aged guys were finishing up supper as it was beginning to darken. Mike was a Triple Crowner having hike the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail and The Appalachian Trail. His hiking buddy had just retired and was living out his dream. I quickly decided to spend my first night inside one of the shelters found along the AT since I didn't want to bother with putting up my tent.
June 13, 2016
Occasionally I would hike through big groves of Rhodhedrons. The highlight of the day was my climb up the 40 ft historic fire tower where I could finally get some fabulous views of the Appalachians.
I made my way up and down to the Winding Stair Gap---109.8 miles.
I got there about 3:30 pm and began hitchhiking to Franklin, NC some 10 miles east of the gap. Within 1/2 hour I got a ride from a family who had been attending the "Rainbow Festival or Gathering". Apparently it is a gathering of hill commune people, musicians, artists and the like. They picked me up because they thought I was a mountain man---see what a few days in the woods does. The mother had Rastafarian dreadlocks and she was covered by several tattoos and was lighting up a hand rolled cigarette. The driver had a raggedy cowboy hat, scruffy beard, and a beat up jeans vest. In the back instead of seats there was a hammock that the oldest girl laid in and the younger one was under the hammock. Both had pretty face paint designs. Behind me was a big white dog guarding his bag of food. I sat in the wool lined swing that the little girl had given up for me. They dropped me off near the Outdoor Supply store so I could get some resupplies, and waved them thanks and good bye.
I stayed at the Microtel Hotel for $60 which included breakfast and a listing of trail angels who would give AT hikers a lift back up to the Winding Stair Gap. I called and Kay offered to pick me up at the hotel at 7am just after their free breakfast. I then had a big dinner of ribs, chicken and shrimp washed down with sweet tea and finished off with peach cobbler.
June 14, 2016
Just as I finished breakfast at the hotel at 7am, Kay showed up for my ride to the Winding Stair Gap. I tried to give her a donation for either herself or her Natahalla HIking Club, but she said she could not because their club had not paid for a $100 permit to the US Forest Service.
Here is one of the few creeks I have come across.
Again it was mostly up to some rare views of the territory including a visit to the Wayah Bald Tower that honors the first Forest Supervisor who constructed the original tower.
By now, rain was soon to arrive based on the thunder and lightening that had just started just as I arrived at the Cold Springs Shelter----125.6 miles. Two hikers were just finishing dinner and starting a Bon fire. Two more guys showed up who I had earlier met were researchers of the water seeps along the AT. The research assistant quickly put up his hammock along with a blue rain tarp, The other one said he would wait to see where the rain did not puddle. He would then put his tent right on the AT trail.
We continued to enjoy the dry shelter as the fire the two guys had made began to sputter during the downpour. Once it was dark we all fell asleep.
June 15, 2016
This would be my first day hiking in the rain, so I started out with my rain jacket and bright yellow frog togs. My feet quickly got soaked from the rivers running down the trail and it was like a sauna wearing the rain gear. At least the stuff in my backpack was all protected from the rain by ziplock bags and other plastic bags.
By noon the rain had stopped.
Shortly after that I got down to the Nantahala Outdoor Center at the intersection of US 19 b& 74----137.3 miles. This was a water sports Mecca with rafting and kayaking. I had a big Sherpa rice, chicken dish with bottomless sweet tea before heading back on the trail.
As I headed across the AT River bridge and up the hill it again began to rain as I made my way the next shelter at Sassafras Gap---144.0 miles. There were four college kids already set up and had eaten, I noticed that one of them always felt the need to talk----his trail name was songbird, but if it was up to me, I would have named him Motor Mouth. I cooked my dinner, washed my shirt and bandana, and got in bed to see that part of my bag was soggy---better double bag next time. Darkness won out and all were asleep shortly.
I had to get up during the night to pee and as I wandered over to the bushes with my little flash light I saw another light just 20 feet away. It was not another hiker but a firefly---then I saw more.
June 16, 2016
After a short climb from the shelter, I came to the Cheoah Bald---these are mountain tops characterized by grasses rather than trees though that is changing with encroaching azaleas and other bushes. More great views. I decided to try out the Creekside Paradise on the AT Lodging-Camping rather than another shelter. I called them to arrange a meeting at the Yellow Creek Gap---158.4 miles--which was about 2 miles from their place.
Cynthia picked me up near the fish hatchery as I was walking down the road and when I got there there was only one other hiker there---Manimal from Brooklyn. He was heading southbound and was a musician, pizza maker, and bartender when he was not hiking the trail.
The room was one of four they rented out in this beautiful finished off log building. I quickly gave them my dirty clothes which they washed and dried as part of the $60 charge and I got my swim suit on to join Manimal in the wonderfully jetted hot tub. It felt real good on my aching muscles and feet. The home was set on a 20 acre spread with a rushing creek nearby along with four hound dogs---Jeff and Cynthia's kids---two big motor bikes they enjoyed cruising through the windy roads in the area.
I paid an extra $15 for a wonderful dinner of a thick steak, baked potato, and grilled vegetables along with lemonade and sweet tea. Since their wifi was satellite based, Jeff asked us to restrict out usage to just emails and not file uploads or downloads.
June 17, 2016
The breakfast spread covered by the lodging costs was outstanding with lox, cream cheese and bagels along with cereal, juice, fruits including my favorite--watermelon, and designer coffee.
They drove me up to resume my AT hike toward Fontana Dam and beyond about 7:30 am.
The Tennessee Valley Authority Fontana Dam was quickly built at the direction of President Roosevelt during WWII to provide electricity to support the war effort in airplane manufacturing----about 50,000 planes relied on this power to be built. I don't think with the state of divisiveness of Congress and Executive Branch this project or the related Civilian Conservation Corps that built much of the AT trails, shelters and fire towers would be built in our time.
Near the Fontana Lake boat launch area, I found this memorial of shoes filled with pebbles from the widow of man who had planned to hike the AT, but died of cancer the year before he was to start. Her simple request was for us hikers to take a pebble with us and then take a picture of where our journey ended and send it to her. I picked a green one and hope to take a picture of it with Harper's Ferry in the background.
Here is a picture of the "Hilton" of AT shelters that overlook Fontana Lake---165.9 mi. It is large, has showers and even a solar charging station along with a water pump instead of the more common seeps and streams normally found.
At this point after crossing the Dam---166.3 miles, I entered the Great Smoky National Park and deposited my permit in a slot box.
Shortly the AT straddles the Tennessee/ North Carolina borders for the remainder of the hike through the Smokies.
On the way to my shelter, I took a brief pause on my throne of rocks--169.4 miles.
I arrived at the Mollies Ridge Shelter just before dark where four women were in the upper sleeping loft already in their sleeping bags. They told me where the water was---about 70 yards down a path. When I got there, I briefly saw my first black bear also drinking at the spring. He they ran away before I either got my camera out or I could run away. I then washed up and cleaned my shirt and bandana before heading back up to the shelter for a quick dinner and then sleep.
June 18, 2016
I was the first to head out at about 7:30am and passed the next two shelters that were closed because of high bear activity there.
When I got to the Rocky Top and Thunderhead views area, Sara and Dominic from the shelter caught up with me and we stopped for lunch at one of the Rocky Tops. Sara, in the pink, is a pedicab driver in New Orleans and Dominic, in the blue, is working in genetics after getting her Ph.D. in fruit flies. She is originally from Poland, but now lives in Scotland. They met at a yoga retreat in Costa Rica and again met up to hike some of the AT. They were very strong hikers.
We finally had some great views from these mountain tops as we made our way to the next shelter called Derrick Knob Shelter. I had planned to stay there when a large group of REI Expedition hikers showed up at their "reserved" shelter. This meant that as a thru hiker we had a choice of camping in our tents and enjoy the good cheer of the REI group celebrate their last night on the trail.
Sara and Dominic decided to camp while I decided to press on another long 5.7 miles to the Silers Bald Shelter---195.0 miles. This shelter had 12 sleeping slots and all but two of us had reservation. Fortunately no one else with reservations showed up so I got to stay in the shelter.
June 19, 2016
I got a 6:30am start since I wanted to get into Gatlinburg earlier to clean up, resupply, eat, and sleep comfortably in a hotel. But first I had to climb up to Clingman's Dome which is the highest point on the AT at 6,667 ft. There was quite a transition in plant life from the common deciduous plants and trees to evergreen hemlocks, pines, and firs which reminded me of the Northwest woods I am most familiar with. Along the way a deer crossed my trail.
I finally emerged at Clingman's Dome---199.5 miles and enjoyed what scenery I could with the clouds swirling by. There I met Andrew and Susana who were most interested in what kind of gear I used while hiking. He was wearing the same shoes as me and expressed interest in trying some long distance hiking. They took some pictures of me and we're going to email them to me.
After leaving Clingman's Dome, I was hoping it would be all down hill, but Mt. Collins made it for another up and down before I emerged at Newfound Gap---207.1 miles. The place was filled by tourists and I got one to take me a picture by the Tennessee/ North Carolina border sign.
It took me about a half hour before I got a hitch down to Gatlinburg about 15 miles West of the gap. A father daughter couple who had just finished hiking a portion of the AT for Father's Day picked me up. Kayley and Richard not only drove me to my Microtel hotel, but before that we stopped at a popular outfitter---NOC---where I got a couple of resupply food items.
Gatlinburg looks like the hillbilly capital of the world with Dollywood, Paula Deen Restaurants, Riply's Belive it or Not, and Hatfield and McCoy Dinner feud among other things. I had dinner at a local BBQ place and was served up waaay too much beef brisket, fried green tomatoes, Cole slaw, and potato salad. At least I did not try one of the all you can eat places.
I got a wonderful Father's Day message from my daughter, Jessica, who recounted some of our shared experiences and what it meant to her along with my grandson's "Diaper Dance" video. Both brought both tears and joy to me.