Saturday, May 7, 2016
Going downhill was no picnic. It was muddy and very rocky which meant that you had to take it slow and steady. A twisted ankle or broken bone out here isn't something you want to experience.
It was about 6:45pm when we finally exited the woods at Spivey Gap. We did it! 21.9 miles all in one day. Thanks to a little chafing and some new blisters, we were both beginning to walk funny at this point. I've now hiked over 330 miles of the AT and it was awesome sharing this last hike with Colin. He is an incredible young man and I can't wait to explore more of the trail with him in the years ahead.
We had earlier in the day discussed possible trail names for us both, but nothing really stuck. Colin and his buddies often refer to me as "Smooth Mike" and he tried to convince me to accept that as my trail name. I would like to think that "Smooth" is a reference to my overall cool demeanor....but in reality it has more to do with my preference in peanut butter. Oh well, the perfect trail name search continues!
By the way, here is a link to a neat app that helps calculates your AT hiking distance. Enjoy.
The skies were still overcast and the temperature never seemed to get above 65 degrees. We had about 7 miles left on our day's journey and we were glad that most of it was going down in elevation.
The one disappointing thing about hiking 22 miles in one day is that when you come across some neat side trails you are often too tired to take them. We passed up seeing several scenic spots as well as viewing some of the shelters along the way mainly because of the mileage it would have added to our day. Next time...shorter hike so we can smell the roses a bit more.
A few hours later we finally make it to the top of Big Bald. One of the thru hikers that we had met earlier in the day was already there resting his feet. His name was "Mumbles" and he was from Kentucky. He was probably carrying a 35 lb. pack and still managed to beat us to Big Bald. He was an incredibly fast hiker and he definitely had his "hiker legs" developed. It also didn't hurt that he was only 27 years old. I have no doubt he will finish his thru hiker journey this year.
The view from top didn't disappoint. It was worthy of the climb and it would have been easy to rest here for a long while, but the day was getting short we didn't want to run out of daylight. We both did our best to soak it all in and then moved on.
We spend about 20 minutes resting at Sam's Gap before heading towards our highest elevation of the day, Big Bald. It is about 6.5 miles from Sam's Gap and increases in elevation to over 5,500 ft. For me it was one of my tougher climbs. It probably seemed to Colin that I was taking baby steps as he used his younger legs and big strides to out pace me much of the day. As usual there was plenty to see along the way. At one point we both looked up into the distance and noticed a bald patch on top of a far away mountain top. We both looked at each other and knew that was likely Big Bald. At that point it seemed 100 miles away, but step by step we kept trudging forward. Unless the mountain moves we knew we would eventually get there.
It's around Noon as we finally get to Sam's Gap. As soon as we exited the woods, we saw a homemade sign that indicated there was more trail magic up a steep hill side trail. The sign promised scrambled eggs and bacon! As tempting as that was, Colin and I decided that we needed to keep moving due to the many miles still ahead of us for the day.
The AT passes underneath I-26 at the NC/TN border and we decide this is a great spot to rest a spell (in the warmth of the sun) and eat our lunch for the day...tuna, peanut butter, beef jerky, Ritz crackers, Pringles and Fig Newton bars. I think that covers all major food groups...are figs a fruit or veggie?
We are about 5 miles into our hike when we come across 4 other hikers taking a break on a ridge line along the trail. A very nice dude known as Yonder quickly asks if we would like some "Trail Magic". I had not yet had the opportunity to explain to Colin that when hiking the AT you often run across strangers that freely give food, drink and other timely goodies to weary hikers. These random acts of kindness are referred to as Trail Magic. Yonder had completed an AT thru hike a few years back and he was all smiles as he offered up cold fruit and doughnuts. There were 3 thru hikers already taking him up on his offer and we also obliged. I had a banana (best banana I had ever eaten) and a doughnut. The calories you burn out here is extreme so you often don't turn down an opportunity to fill up the reserve tank. Thanks Yonder!
My Appalachian Trail Guide has my day's hike broken into two sections. The first being a 8.5 mile hike to Sam's Gap. As we begin, we almost immediately start going up and up and up some more. We will go from about 3,000 ft. in elevation to over 4,500 ft. before getting to Sam's Gap which is at about 3,800 ft.
There is still a dusting a newly fallen snow all around, especially on the North side of the hills.
We pass a couple of really nice vistas along the way. At this time of year, the trees don't yet have their Spring leaves which opens up the sky for some amazing sites.
Sunday morning comes early. We are up by 5:30am and drive towards Erwin, TN. We arrive at Uncle Johnny's Hostel a little before 7:00am. We actually following our shuttle driver, Sarge, to our hiking destination (Spivey Gap)...park our car there...jump in the car with Sarge...and head towards Devil Fork Gap. I had hoped to hit the trail at 8:00am and thanks to some nifty driving by Sarge we arrived right on time.
As we head out, the weather is a crisp 40 degrees with a forecast of sun and a high in the low 60's. Pretty good hiking weather. Definitely better than my previous visit to Devil Fork Gap.
My original plan was for us to drive to Erwin, TN and spend Saturday night at Uncle Johnny's Hostel. We would then get a shuttle ride the next morning to Devil Fork Gap and complete our Sunday hike before heading home that Sunday evening. While driving there on Saturday, I decided to give the Hostel a call just to double check that they were expecting us that evening. I had called a few weeks earlier and made a reservation for staying there as well as reserving a shuttle ride. As it turned out, they had "lost" my reservation and informed me that they were booked solid for the evening. At this point, I could have attempted to debate the definition of the word "reservation" with the guy on the other line, but I quickly remembered that they were also going to shuttle us the next day and it wouldn't be wise to make my shuttle driver hate me.
No worries...I quickly called my cousin, Grayson, to see if we could crash at his house in Black Mountain for the night. Our drive took us right past Black Mountain, NC and it would only be a short 1 hour dive the next morning to meet up with our shuttle driver. Grayson owns what I like to refer to as the best free hostel in Black Mountain. I've often spent the night on his couch and he once again opened his doors for a couple of traveling hikers. It was actually nice to spend a little down time in Black Mountain. My uncle, Larry Deal, was actually playing a little mountain music that afternoon with a couple of other guys at the Dark City Deli. Good food, cold beer and some mountain tunes...I was suddenly glad that Uncle Johnny's Hostel had lost my reservation.
Grayson and Larry actually have their own band, The Big Deal Band, and they play music all around the Black Mountain and Asheville scene. Fun music...fun folks. Below is a pic of them from a previous show at Pisgah Brewing. Unfortunately they weren't playing on this particular evening. That just gives me another excuse to bring Colin back sometime soon.
It's April 10, 2016 and I'm thrilled to be back on the trail knocking off a few more miles. I've recruited my second oldest step son, Colin, to join me for what will be my longest single day hike thus far (21.9 miles). Colin is finishing up his Junior year at N.C. State (Industrial Engineering) and I'm delighted that he carved out some time from his busy college life to go hiking with me. He was a little apprehensive about the distance, but I wasn't worried at all about him. I reminded him that it was me (the 48 year old) that he needed to worry about.
As with all my hikes, there is always a well thought out plan in place that if properly executed will result in an excellent day of hiking and return us home in one piece. However, the one thing I can always count on is that nothing will go exactly as planned.