I started my day doing Yoga with Adriene! This was a typical pre-trail activity and my body welcomed the hip opening flow. If you haven’t heard of Adriene I highly recommend her yoga videos. She’s fun, quirky, and gives pointers on modifying a session to fit your skill level. Each month she posts a themed calendar with a daily lesson, some are energizing or chill, others cozy. I find it is a good way to slow my ever active mind and reconnect to my body.
Johanna and I shared a big breakfast of foods I don’t get on trail: eggs, fresh veggies & cheese, kombucha. She is fun to be around, always up for an adventure! We picked up Hank and drove to Hot Springs. Hank thought my pack felt heavy, but I assured him it is typical. He and Johanna are going to hike or hit up a swimming hole before heading back to Asheville. I hugged them goodbye, stopped by the Hillbilly Market for a couple snacks, then was on my way.
The trail crossed a bridge over and meandered alongside the French Broad River before turning steeply uphill. Soon I was far above its quickly flowing waters. I began listening to Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell. He has a great narrative voice. I saw no one for over an hour and wondered if I fell behind everyone I knew, but that was not the case. Shortly I came across Escargot and his trail family.
Mid-afternoon I took a very short side-trail to Rich Mountain Firetower. Its views weren’t as spectacular as those in the Smokies, but I liked the tower. I tented near Spring Mountain shelter in a nice spot on a ridge. Escargot set up his Dragonfly in the next spot over so it was a Nemo neighborhood. I felt really tired and went to bed right after dinner.
It was a beautiful sunny morning. I started my hike with music – bouncing along to the new Florence song Free – before resuming my audiobook. At a little over halfway through the day’s mileage I got to a shelter, stopped for water and lunch. I also aired my feet.
The elevation profile showed a steep climb after the shelter, but it didn’t feel that steep. I did it in silence with no audio distractions. Then there were the White Rock Cliffs to the east and the Blackstack Cliffs to the west. I checked out the views from both, especially enjoying the latter. In that direction the tree-covered hills gave way to a flat plain. After the cliffs the trail followed a twisty, rocky path along the ridge. I was glad to be doing it in good weather. Shortly after the ridge I came across the 300 mile marker, yay!
There’s been a couple times where I picked up 1-1.5 days of extra food. This is the first five days where my meals are from a town resupply, not a box. I am enjoying them. My breakfasts are granola with vanilla Carnations Essentials packets. My lunches are GF wraps with hummus and cheese. Three of my dinners are instant potatoes to which I add olive oil and the other two are black bean soup with cheese. I have a mix of sweet and savory snacks, plus one bar for each day.
After eating dinner I found a tick sneaking up on me, climbing the back of the rock on which I’d been sitting. Yikes! First I’ve seen on the trail. I did a tick check before climbing into my sleeping bag.
Thunder woke me early in the morning. I heard a few spatters of rain so I ran outside to fetch my bear bag before it got wet. When I woke up at 6 am the rain had passed and it was foggy out. I used the privy, got another liter of water, ate breakfast, and hurried to get on trail. Everything dripped so I wore all my rain gear. I enjoyed myself, didn’t see anyone else on trail and the fog swirled mysteriously.
At the next shelter I stopped for an early lunch, during which I dried my tent components. I really like having dry gear. A couple guys stopped and I was eager to chat. Mid-afternoon it rained for an hour or so. I put my rain pants back on and stayed dry, actually got a bit steamy under my layers during the climb to Frozen Knob.
The rain provided time to contemplate my trail name. Some people earn theirs on trail and I thought about that route. However, I was already given a name at birth. Plus, others, like Jennifer Pharr Davis, self select their name. Even pre-trail I leaned toward Strider. In Lord of the Rings it was Aragorn’s name as a ranger and if you know me you know I like names from that trilogy. Also, it fits, he was given the name due in part to his long legs and I have long legs that make me good at uphills.
Shortly thereafter I ran into four weekend hikers. They asked me my trail name and I said Strider. It came out easily and confidently. Yippee, I have a trail name !!
I raced thunder rumbles to Hogback Ridge shelter where I pitched my tent a minute before the sky spit rain. Now I’m spending the evening cozy inside.
It turned out to be an epic day…. I stayed dry all night, but packing up left me with a soaking wet tent and Thermarest. Still, I was enjoying myself, ready to crank out the miles. Very soon I encountered a man walking uphill carrying fruit. I took a banana; that was trail magic 1.
At Sam’s Gap I encountered trail magic 2. Chuck & James had a camp stove going and offered me delicious black coffee. Chuck also had cowboy caviar, a salsa with beans that I ate over chips. Right next to them Wiseman had a tub full of resupply items. He started the trail in April, but got off at Neel Gap as one knee failed and needs surgery. He hopes to try again next year. I got peanut butter and bars from his tub. Talking to Wiseman was fun; he knows the Trek and has run into a couple trail superstars.
Shortly after noon a paper sign directed me to the right and trail magic 3. A neighborhood group from a nearby subdivision (I spied one house in the fog) put together an impressive spread. I was excited for a hard boiled egg, Beyond Meat patty, and bean salad! It’s really amazing and wonderful how giving people are along the AT. Eventually I got chilled so I thanked the group and moved on. I grazed my way down the trail this morning!
Big Bald was the day’s high point; the view entirely shrouded in fog. It’s shelter was 10 miles into my day. There were times I thought about stopping, but it’d be misting or raining and I had trail magic candy & granola bars in my hip pouch pockets to munch on. I didn’t want to sit in a wet tent waiting for night to fall.
I hiked 20.7 miles – a new AT mileage record for me – to No Business Knob shelter. It not only had space for me to sleep, but contained my friends Dragon Queen and Psyched! Yay, happy reunion. They heard tornado warnings and hiked only a few miles yesterday before abandoning trail to sleep in a hotel room.
It was still raining when I woke up, but Psyched fetched my bear bag and it stopped by the time I finished breakfast. The forecast says no more rain for at least four days! I felt a new level of confidence, having made it through back-to-back rainy days with my spirits intact and my sleeping bag/ puffy dry. Even my base layer and pants were dry, though my damp feet urged me to get going.
It was fun hiking with Dragon Queen again. We were treated to impressive views of the Nolichucky River as we descended to the river valley. A bridge crosses the river and right before that is Uncle Johnny’s hostel. Dragon Queen checked for a package while I called my mom. Then I had lunch. A hiker named Kangaroo offered me chips & salsa left from her Mexican takeout and I happily said yes, sharing with my friends. I am learning to take any offered food that fits my diet. Gotta fuel this hiking machine!
I ended my day at 10 miles and the next shelter. It gave me time to dry my tent and some clothing. Plus I didn’t need to do a long day as I am meeting family tomorrow at Indian Grave Gap. Dragon Queen and Psyched kept going, but we had a snack together first. It was a temporary goodbye, I’ll see them down the trail.
Besides, there are always people to meet! I chatted with a picnic table full of hikers I hadn’t met, then with an older guy from Michigan whose wife is sending him meals that she dehydrates. His trail name is Slow & Steady.
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