Bouncing Around North Carolina & Tennessee

Greetings from Erwin, Tennessee! We’ve had a big couple of days through North Carolina and Tennessee. We left Hot Springs after a late breakfast of eggs, veggies, salsa, and chorizo from an amazing gas station restaurant, yes you heard that right! If you are in Hot Springs and are looking for a place to eat, you have to check out The Take-Out Riverside Grill! Don’t be fooled by the location, it was delicious! After breakfast, we headed out over the French Broad River towards Lovers Leap Rock which had some amazing views of the river. That day we pushed to Little Laurel Shelter, about 19 miles away. We had our first venomous snake sighting that day, a large rattlesnake! I had never heard or seen a real one before but as soon as that sucker rattled his tail I knew what it was! We got in a little later due to our late departure so we quickly set up our tents and had dinner in the dark. At about 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning we started hearing rain falling against the tent so we pulled the tent flaps down and went back to bed. The rain did not let up until a little after 9:30 so once it cleared up we packed up and headed out. The fog was thick that day and visibility was low all along the ridges. The trail was muddy and quite slippery so we had to slow our pace along certain sections of the trail which was not what we had planned as we wanted to resupply at Laurel Trading Post and then continue on. We finally arrived at Devil Fork Gap where we got a ride from the owner, Mark. The food selection was pretty limited and a little pricey but we managed to get what we needed along with some burgers and then headed back to the trail. We were all pretty exhausted after we got dropped off so we found the closest campsite and set up there instead of heading to the next shelter. We all crawled into bed pretty early and slept hard in the cool weather. In the morning we packed up and hiked to Whistling Gap campsite. We had another big day of ups and downs including a big push to Big Bald where we had a 360 view of the mountains. We had another late arrival but we were greeted by a campfire which was quite enjoyable. We headed out in the morning towards Erwin, Tennessee. The hike in had some pretty good ups and downs but and we were all feeling some aches and pains. We got into town around 3 and headed to Uncle Johnny’s Nolichucky Hostel. We decided to stay at the Mountain Inn & Suites for the evening to rest and relax in their hot tub. We are now back at Uncle Johnny’s after resupplying at Food Lion courtesy of Tom with Shuttles by Tom. We are tenting out back to give our legs another evening of rest and we will be back at it tomorrow morning, heading towards Damascus.

 

Out of the Smokies 

We have officially made it out of the Smokies and have been dubbed Little Lady and Cash! We last left off at the NOC! We stayed the night for free in one of the cabins (which really ended up being a small room with a bunk bed on one side and a shelf on the other to sit) at the NOC courtesy of Rooster and Chicken, a couple section hiking the trail who we have enjoyed seeing at various shelters and towns along the way! We ran into Yahtzee in town and invited him to bunk with us so that he could spare his blistered feet from another day of walking. That evening after a day of eating and catching up on the blog we ran into another thru-hiker, Butterbeard, coming off the trail who we briefly talked to a day or two before. He was wet and hungry so we threw him our leftover pizza and invited him to crash with us at the cabin. The four of us talked, listened to music and had some beers before calling it a night. It was a rough night of sleeping for Kory, Yahtzee (who offered up his bed and pitched his tent on the deck outside) and myself as Butterbeard is an extremely loud snorer. Even my trusty earplugs were no match for his boisterous snoring. We woke up early while Butterbeard was still sawing logs and headed out in the mist to Locust Cove Gap, 17 miles away. We were all pretty exhausted after a night of little sleep but we pushed through.

The next day we headed North to Stecoah Gap. We hit some pretty hard ascents before climbing Jacob’s Ladder. On our way there we met some ladies, Kimchi and Storybook who had finished the PCT the year before. We all stopped and snacked while Yahtzee doctored his blisters. We joked and cursed the whole way up the mountain with them.

We made it into Fontana Village that afternoon as some light rain was coming down. Some of the group went ahead to the Fontana Dam Hilton while Kory and I walked to the marina to wait out the rain. We decided to head to the village convenient store to grab our resupply food. The groundskeeper, Eddie, picked us up and we cruised to the store in the back of his pickup truck. We grabbed the food we needed and headed back to the shelter for a much-needed shower and a late dinner. That next morning we woke to an amazing sunrise over the misty mountains. I was a little slow moving that morning so we headed back out onto the trail around 10 after a man dropped off some “trail magic” – a bag of sliced ham, cooked sausage, hardboiled eggs, apples, a loaf of bread and some milk. We ate most of what was there and left the rest at the shelter for other thru-hikers. We walked over the Fontana Dam to the trailhead where we entered the start of the Smokies. The day was warm and the gnats were out! We had planned to camp at the Birch Spring Tent site but we found out that the site was not open due to some aggressive bears so we continued on past Molly’s Ridge to the Russell Field Shelter. There we met Nathan (The Dude) who was hiking the AT with his 5-year-old dog, Penny. He had placed Penny in the care of a hostel because dogs are not permitted in the Smokies and along a few other portions of the trail. In the Smokies, all thru-hikers are supposed to sleep in the shelters unless there are too many section hikers (they must reserve shelter spots) and then they are allowed to camp. When we got to the shelter Nathan was walking in circles around the campground and we soon realized the reason behind his somewhat strange behavior! The gnats were swarming and biting and the only way to keep them at somewhat of a distance was to walk around in circles. After we unloaded our packs and changed into our camp shoes, Kory and I headed down to the spring. As we were talking and filtering our water we heard a rather loud crashing noise coming from one side of the ravine heading right towards us. A bear stopped about 50-70 feet from where we were standing. Kory looked directly at it and shouted “Hey, Bear! No, Bear!” The bear made a quick dash in the opposite direction while Kory and I looked at each other in complete shock. We ran back up to the shelter and told Nathan about our bear encounter. That night we set up our tent in the shelter to avoid the gnats, mice and any bears!

In the morning we headed out around the same time as Nathan. We made our way to Rocky Top and Thunder Mountain after loading up on water at Spence Field Shelter with Nathan. The view on top of Rocky Top was beautiful overlooking the mountains with a 360 view. We called it a night at Derrick Knob Shelter. Yahtzee caught back up with us that evening as well as Rooster, Chicken, and JD. The gnats were not as bad as the night before so we slept in the shelter without the tent that night. That evening Nathan received some extremely heartbreaking news that was upsetting to all of us at the shelter. His dog, Penny, escaped the kennel that she was being held in and was hit by a car and passed away. He was extremely torn up about it and we were all at a loss for words! The next morning we wrote a quick note to him expressing our condolences. He wasn’t sure if he was going to finish the hike to Maine, but we offered our phone numbers to him in case he wanted to continue on with us!

We hiked with Yahtzee to Clingmans Dome (6,643 ft Elevation) which has a lookout tower at the top which overlooks the entire mountain range. It was quite a shock for us to hike out of the woods and onto a paved road full of people! We climbed up to the tower to take a look at the view and then back down for a quick lunch before making our way back into the woods. We stopped at Double Spring Gap shelter to get water before making it up to Mount Collins Shelter. That shelter was definitely one of our favorites we have stayed at so far. We walked through dense conifer and pine tree forests with lots of fallen trees covered in bright green moss. The whole forest smelled of cool, damp pine. That night at the shelter we met a couple, Snow White and Flint and a group of three men section hiking. We chatted for a while and called it an early night. Most nights we are in bed no later than 9:00 which is extremely early compared to the time we usually get to bed at home! I think I crawled into bed around 8:45 that night!

That morning was a little chilly but as soon as the sun peaked through the clouds the three of us booked it into Newfound Gap. A few nights before I made a sign on our Tyvek (ground cloth that we put under the tent) to use when we hitch. One side says “AT Thru-hiker to trail” and the other says “to town”! We used the sign for the first time with great success! Not only did we get a quick ride but we also snagged some trail magic! A couple who had planned on section hiking had to call it quits early after a shoulder injury. They had leftover Mountain House packages which are extremely delicious dehydrated dinners for hikers that usually run anywhere from $6-$9 (which is a bit pricey for thru-hikers). We were extremely grateful for the dinners and thanked them repeatedly before we hopped into our ride! A Connecticut family of 7 (plus one on the way) was nice enough to throw us in the back of their van and drive us to Gatlinburg. The poor little boy in the seat in front of us had to endure a 25-minute car ride with three very smelly hikers! We noticed him pinching his nose at one point to avoid the odor! We hit up the NOC for a free shower and then walked along the main drag before realizing we were all starving. Our plan was to get in and out of Gatlinburg the same day but after a free moonshine tasting followed by lunch and a beer at Mellow Mushroom, we decided that we would stay the night since we still needed to find a laundromat and resupply. We rented a room at the Motel 6 and hopped onto the trolley out to the local laundromat where we did laundry in some unusual attire! I had my rain gear on, Kory was down to his boxers and Yahtzee was in a trash bag- we were quite a site! After laundry, we got a ride back to the hotel where we finished off our leftover pizza and wine and crashed!

The next day we headed to Mount Cammerer where we planned to spend the night in the lookout tower. We stopped for lunch at Cosby Knob and continued to the tower in the rain. The trail to the tower was rocky and wet but we managed to get up to it just as the rain started to clear out! From the tower, we had some of the most amazing views! We watched a storm roll over the mountains in the distance as we played Yahtzee in the tower. We had dinner and fell asleep to the sound of wind blowing through the mountains. In the morning Kory and Yahtzee woke up early to see the sunrise and then climbed back into their sleeping bags for another hour of sleep. We hiked out and made our way to Groundhog Creek Shelter. On our way there Kory and I stopped at Davenport Gap Shelter where we met a wonderful older couple in their 80s who really inspired us! Despite their age, they were still hiking and keeping active which really impressed us!

After lunch, we hiked to Green Corner Road where we hopped off the trail and walked to Standing Bear Farm Hostel to resupply. The owners there were extremely nice and offered to drive us to get some BBQ for lunch. When we returned we ate our lunch, charged our phones and resupplied our food. While we were there we ran into some other thru-hikers, a couple Pumba and Dinner Roll from Colorado and Jeff. We chatted with them for a while after lunch and then headed back out to Groundhog Creek Shelter. We made it to the shelter and quickly set up camp after chatting with some guys already there. Pumba and Dinner Roll showed up at the shelter a little later so we sat and had dinner with them and joked throughout the night about food cravings and funny ways to pass the time on the trail!

In the morning we headed to Max Patch through the spitting rain. Max Patch is a dome-shaped peak entirely covered in grass with open views in every direction on the top of the summit. It was chilly and wet at the top so we stopped for a quick snack (a Snicker’s bar) and continued on back down into the cover of trees. We stopped for lunch at Roaring Fork Shelter and then hiked out to climb up Bluff Mountain. We stopped on top of Walnut Mountain for a quick snap of a picture after our long ascent and then continued on. We put in a 19-mile day to Garenflo Gap, our longest day on the trail. We camped next to a dirt road that ended at a gate. Once in bed, we heard a loud motorcycle tear up the road followed by a truck blasting Eric Clapton a few hours later.

In the morning we hiked 7 miles into Hot Springs where we picked up our bounce box at the Laughing Heart Hostel. We all snagged a warm shower and washed our clothes. The hostel managers, Tie and Tom, were extremely hospitable. We walked into town and had some lunch and looked for places to stay the night. We had decided to take a “zero” the next day to give our legs a little break. After striking out at a few of the motels we made our way back to the hostel to pick up a package.

A huge thunderstorm came through so we sat and listened to the thunder as it sounded off like cannons. Tie brought out some wine, cheese, and crackers and we all sat around discussing the usual hiker conversations – where are you from, your trail name, what you did before you got on the trail, etc. We thanked Tie and Tom and headed back to town to eat dinner and find a place to stay the night. After some searching and debating, we ended up at the Sunnybank Inn. The inn dates back to 1840 and has quite a history. The current owner, Elmer Hall, purchased the house in 1978 and it has become a stopping place for many thru-hikers. The room we are in is actually the same room that Earl Schaffer stayed in. He was the first man to thru-hike the entire trail from Georgia to Maine after many said it couldn’t be done! The house is eccentric and very old which lots of antiques and knick-knacks in every room. There is even a separate music room full of mismatched chairs and couches complete with guitars, a piano, banjo and more. They offer delicious homemade breakfast and dinner for a very reasonable price and it’s all family style. Everyone staying at the inn who wants to partake sits down together and shares a meal! It has been a wonderful experience. Today we headed back to town to grab some lunch at the Iron Horse and resupply at the outdoor store and Dollar General. In the morning we will head out to Little Laurel Shelter, at mile 294!

100 Miles – GA/NC

Friday morning we made our way to Amicalola Falls State Park, about 2 hours north of Atlanta, with the help of my grandfather. Amicalola Falls is the tallest cascading waterfall in the Southeast at 729 feet. We checked in to the visitor’s center after weighing our packs outside (Kory’s: 27 lbs including four days of food and 2 liters of water, Nicole’s: 30 lbs). We made our way to the archway behind the visitor’s center. At the approach trail entrance, we took some pictures and said our goodbyes and began the journey, making our way up the 425 steps to the waterfall. The ascent was pretty strenuous and after just a few hundred steps I actually started to form a blister (which was later remedied by some new shoes). We headed north, 8.8 miles, to Springer Mountain. Our legs felt pretty strong as we made our first ascents. My breathing was pretty heavy but the scenery was beautiful. After about 6 hours of hiking, we arrived at Springer Mountain only to find signs warning of bear activity so we decided to push on to Stover Creek Shelter. There we set up camp, chatted with a few of the hikers there (Andrew from Charleston, Gator, Cowboy, and Jim) and made dinner. We had a little bit of a rough night in the tent due to a rainstorm and an incorrect tent setup (which has been resolved as well so we are dry as can be).

We hiked some pretty hard mountains including Sassafras (3,342 Elevation) and Justus Mountain (3,226 Elevation). Our plan was to camp at Woody Gap but when we got there we realized the “camping” area was right next to the road. We walked on to Preaching Rock where we set up our tent and called it an early night after dinner and a beautiful sunset.

We woke up to a breathtaking view of the mountains and had breakfast on Preaching Rock. On the trail, we ran into a fellow thru-hiker, Lifesaver. We chatted with him for a bit while we collected water from a small spring on the trail and hiked to Blood Mountain (4,4461 Elevation). We continued on with him to the outfitters, Mountain Crossings, in Neels Gap and camped behind the store with him so that we could wake up and resupply in the morning. We had a somewhat uncomfortable night of sleep due to the small and slanted camping area we had to work with. In the morning we made our way to the outfitter where we purchased some gear we needed, food, and new shoes. We wanted to wait for Lifesaver but he was getting a “shakedown” where a fellow thru-hiker goes through all your gear and tells you what you need and don’t need in order to lighten your load. Kory threw his old pair of shoes up into the tree in front of the store (it’s a tradition) and we walked on!

We decided to stay in Helen, GA for an evening to get some laundry done and dry out our gear. We had a successful first hitchhiking experience from a local guy who was dropping off some fellow thru-hikers when we made it down to Unicoi Gap. We washed clothes in the tub in our room and then walked over to Bigg Daddy’s next door for dinner and a beer. In the morning we found the laundromat to dry our clothes and then walked to Betty’s Country Store so we could grab some food. On our way out of town, we snagged a ride from another local who owned a business in Helen with his wife! We had planned on doing a little night hiking to get to the Deep Gap Shelter. We were about 3 miles from the shelter when it started to rain! The rain was pretty chilly and the wind was blowing but we got into the shelter a little after 10 and set up camp!

In the morning we made our way to the GA/NC border. We ran across our first bear of the trip who decided to book it down the side of the mountain as soon as he heard us! We hiked 13.1 miles to the border where we celebrated the first state down with a shot of whiskey! We set up our tent at Bly Gap on top of the ridge where we had another beautiful sunset (pictures didn’t do it any justice). We wanted to make it into Franklin to take a “zero” day (a day of no hiking). We hiked two longer days (15.3 and 16.9 miles).

We made it to Winding Stair Gap outside of Franklin and hitched into town with the help of a section hiker from Connecticut who had just done a portion of the trail herself. She dropped us off at the Budget Inn where we picked up our bounce box. We decided to stay at the Microtel instead so we started heading that way. Anette, another trail angle, picked us up and drove us the rest of the way. She was a big help to us, she shuttled us around Franklin to the outfitters at Outdoor 76, post office, and then back to the trail. The second day she brought her dog, Pansy, so I was cuddling with her in the backseat the entire drive back to the trail. We got back on the trail and headed 11 miles to Wayah Bald Shelter. We ran into a few more hikers along the way including Missing Person and John, both section hikers. The next day we had planned on walking to Wesser Bald Shelter but the camping conditions were not ideal and we didn’t feel like sleeping with the mice so we continued on to A. Rufus Morgan Shelter, just a quick 20 minute hike from the NOC (Nantahala Outdoor Center) where we are currently having breakfast with Joker and Missing Person before we continue to Locust Cove Gap.

Good Tidings

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” – John Muir

It’s All Happening

Myakka State Park

Myakka State Park

Our official departure date has been determined. Our transportation to Atlanta and then to the trailhead has been secured. The last of our gear has been purchased. Now it’s just time to enjoy these last few days with our friends as we get down to some Widespread Panic, Yonder Mountain, The Nth Power, Pink Talking Phish and more at Wanee Festival at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, our home away from home in Live Oak. We were finally able to decide on a date to make our way north. After Wanee, we are renting a car and driving to Tallahassee to see Kory’s family on the 21st of April and then continuing to Atlanta. From there, my grandfather is scooping us up and providing us with our last shower and meal before we take our first steps on the trail.

This past weekend we took a trip to Myakka State Park to do some hiking with our friends, Brent (NoMayo) & Colleen (Gypsy), our veteran PCT hikers (see their website Traveling By Trails). It was a good chance for us to test out all of our gear including our new ZPacks tent that finally arrived! The setup for the tent was extremely quick which will come in handy if we have to set up camp during a rainstorm. The tent weighs in at about 21 oz with stakes but it is extremely spacious for two people. The Florida heat and the ‘skeeters were pretty brutal but we pushed through it and headed back home for a tasty beverage at the Fort Myers Brewing Company and a delicious sandwich from our favorite food truck guy. We went through our remaining gear list last night and purchased our final items including a battery charger pack, Tenacious Tape, a speaker for our music and a few other odds and ends. I think we have everything, I THINK!

 

3 Weeks & Counting

 

Hickey’s Creek

“I was told a month ago, to bide my time and take it slow. And then I heard just yesterday, to rush and never waste the day.” It’s now officially April. That means in just a few weeks we will be heading to Georgia. How we will get there is still up for debate. My grandfather lives in Atlanta and has offered to take us to the starting point which we have decided will be the Amicalola Falls approach trail. The 8.8-mile hike climbs past Amicalola Falls to Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. We have less than 3 weeks to figure out how we are getting up to Atlanta so the clock is ticking.

We are wrapping up the last of our “to-do” list items… bills, insurance, travel arrangements, last minute gear changes. I recently discovered after a 5 mile hike at Hickey’s Creek that the boots I was planning on wearing are going to be too small. I purchased them a while back before a hike we took in Georgia which ended with me popping some pretty gnarly blisters. I attributed the blisters to the socks I was wearing but now I’m realizing it was probably because of their size as well! So, I just ordered myself a new pair of Salomon Quest 4D GTX Hiking Boots. My only concern is the amount of time I will have to break them in, I am doing everything I can to prevent blisters. Next week we are hoping to take on a 15 mile hike up in Myakka State Park so it will give me a chance to test them out before we get on the trail.

Kory’s Clothing

koryclothesCLOTHING:

Short Sleeve Shirts: random old running shirts

Pants: Exofficio Men’s BugsAway Ziwa Convertible Pant 14 oz

Base Layer Top: Patagonia Men’s Capilene 2 Lightweight Crew Zip Neck 5.5 oz

Base Layer Bottom: Patagonia Men’s Capilene 2 Lightweight Bottoms 5 oz

Fleece Jacket: Patagonia Men’s R1 Fleece Pullover 11.75 oz

Rain Gear: Patagonia Torrentshell Jacket 12.2 ozZPacks Rain Kilt 1.9 oz

ACCESSORIES:

Camping Socks/Hiking Sock:  Darn Tough Socks

Camp Shoes: VivoBarefoot Ultra

Gaiters: Dirty Girl Gaiters

Hiking Shoes: Salewa Men’s Wildfire Approach Shoe 13.75 oz

Hat/Beanie: Arc’teryx Rho LTW Beanie 1.1 oz / Buff

Sunglasses: Native Eyewear

Nicole’s Clothing

nicoleclothes

CLOTHING: 

Underwear/Bra: (2) Exofficio GIVE-N-GO® Sport Mesh Hipkini / Patagonia Active Mesh Bra 

Shorts/Pants: Marmot Impulse 3/4 Tights 6 oz / Marmot Lobo Convertible Pants 9.9 oz

Short Sleeve Shirts: (2) Outdoor Research Short Sleeve Tees

Base Layer Top: Patagonia Women’s Capilene 4 Expedition Weight Zip Neck 5.9 oz

Base Layer Bottom: Patagonia Women’s Capilene 4 Expedition Weight Bottoms 4.4 oz

Fleece Jacket: Patagonia Women’s R1 Fleece Pullover 8.1 oz

Rain Gear: Stoic Vaporshell Jacket 14 oz

Down Jacket: Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket 6 oz  

ACCESSORIES:

Camping Socks/Hiking Sock: SmartWool Expedition Trekking Socks/ Darn Tough Light Hike Micro Crew Socks

Sock Liners: Injinji Liner Crew Socks

Camping Shoes: VivoBarefoot Ultra (without the liner)

Hiking Shoes: Merrell Moab Mid Gore-Tex Boot (these might change)

Insoles: Superfeet Insoles 

Gaiters: Dirty Girl Gaiters

Glove Liner: SmartWool Liner Tech-Compatible

Hat/Beanie: Outdoor Research Sun Runner Cap 2.8 oz/ Outdoor Research Radiant Beanie 1.3 oz 

Headband: Buff

Sunglasses: Costa Del Mars

Nicole’s AT Gear

Nicole's Gear

GEAR:

Backpack: Osprey Aura 50 Women’s Internal Frame Backpack 50 oz

Sleeping Bag: Mountain Hardwear Phantasia 32 Women’s Sleeping Bag 21 oz

Sleeping Bag Liner (for colder weather): Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Extreme Mummy Bag Liner 14 oz

Sleeping Pad: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite 12 oz

Trekking Poles: LEKI Lhasa Lite Aergon Antishock Women’s Trekking Poles 18 oz

Headlamp: Black Diamond Spot Headlamp 3.2 oz

Stuff Sacks: 1 Small/ 1 Medium  ZPacks Cuben Fiber Small Dry Bag .6oz / .85 oz 

Pillow: ZPacks Pillow Dry Bag Medium 1.65 oz

SHELTER/FOOD/WATER (for 2):

Tent: ZPacks™ Duplex Tent 21.6 oz 

Stove System: JetBoil Flash 15.25 oz

Water System: Platypus GravityWorks Water Filter System Reservoir Kit – 2 Liter 11.5 oz

Spoon: Optimus Titanium Long Spoon .67 oz

ZPacks Duplex Tent - Home Sweet Home

ZPacks Duplex Tent – Home Sweet Home