Days 14 – 16 Rock Gap (Franklin, GA) – Nantahala Outdoor Center Mile 137.1 since Springer Mountain
As I had overindulged at the Trail Magic session prior to getting into Franklin the previous night (2 hot dogs, cokes and a comfy chair working their magic on me), I was the sorry sole drop off back at Rock Gap the next day, Friday. Most others had gone on to the traditional Franklin pick up spot, but I’m afraid my greed won me over.
Several of the younger hikers with whom I’d had dinner that evening had decided to stay in town and watch a movie, then have a “nero” day. This they defined as not quite a zero day, meaning no miles hiked at all. Their plan had been to watch the movie, then perhaps catch an early dinner, then hike a few miles to the nearest shelter.
Listening to them discussing the choice of movie was hilarious, as they were debating whether or not to see Noah or The Muppets, hardly contiguous along the spectrum of movies to watch.
So there I was, feeling good, though a bit miffed that I had to hike 3.8 miles up and over yet another mountain to get to the place all my fellow hikers would start. The forecast was lousy and thunderstorms were expected, a feeling exacerbated by the radar on my phone, and I fully expected a liberal dousing by the time I was at the top. Given the forecast, none of us were being very adventurous that day, so Siler Bald Shelter was the provisional target, a mere 4.2 mile hike for most, but a respectable 8 miles for me. Luckily, the rains didn’t come though, by the time I got to the shelter, the wind was whipping up and the sky gave every indication of an impending downpour and perhaps thunder.
The reason I chose to take a tent with me was because I didn’t really want to face the prospect of dossing down within inches of similarly smelly, flatulent people and trying to compete in a snoring contest, though I made the decision on this night that I should bring down yet another barrier and go for it in the shelter.
My “room mates” were an older couple who had teamed up early on the trail and, though married to others, were now speaking of their partnership. Additionally, there was a big guy who didn’t say much and a wonderfully ethereal fellow called Fitzgerald, after F Scott, who had three neckties as part of his wardrobe on the trail. He had got completely lost on his way into the shelter (it was half a mile off the trail) and he claimed to have walked an additional 9 miles in his attempt to find us. I rather suspected that the fragrance of his ever-present cigarette may have had something to do with his confusion though I kept the thought to myself.
Eventually, I settled down, only to be serenaded by the cacophony I had expected. My wife tells me that I snore, though I find it hard to believe that I could have competed with this little combo. It was horrible and I didn’t sleep a great deal, though apparently more than I thought, as there was an extra body in the shelter when I awoke the following morning. Apparently, the youngsters had chosen to watch Noah, extended their dinner, then purchased flaming torches from Walmart to make the trail in the dark like budding Indiana Jones wannabees.
The target the following day was 11.5 miles away, at Cold Spring Shelter, though I was feeling a little tired and, after a day of huffing and puffing, I decided to listen to my screaming body and restrict myself to an earlier shelter, Wayah Shelter, though I knew that this decision would result in a long slog today of over 16 miles. I filmed a gorgeous panorama from Wayah’s Bald on this beautiful day, which had a terrific clarity that I’m afraid the iPhone can hardly capture.
I was the first person to the shelter and availed myself once more of a good camping spot, ie, flat, and set up my comfy chair to while away the hours reading on my Kindle. I didn’t particularly want to spend the whole night as the shelter’s sole inhabitant, so was happy to see it fill up after a couple of hours of beautiful solitude.
I’d just like to mention something about trekking itself, as it is a skill that I had no knowledge of prior to this trip and I am extremely glad that I bought trekking poles with me. Astonishingly, to me, some people make do with no poles at all, which, to me, proves that they either have the balance, or the brains, of a mountain goat. I tend towards the latter.
Every step is full of potential disaster, with the careful placement of both poles and feet critical to success. I think I’m picking it up, though this impression is more on the basis that I rarely stub my toes anymore, while it was almost a thirty times a day occurrence in the beginning, evidenced by four black toenails that I am likely to lose at some stage in the near future.
Today was the first time that I had any doubts about my ability to complete my intended goal. I knew that I wanted to get to Nantahala Outdoor Center, as I have a package of food to pick up tomorrow and I’m getting a touch low on supplies, unless you count the peanut butter that seems to have formed part of every meal for the past two days. This was amply demonstrated this morning when, in an attempt to jazz up my oatmeal, I mixed in two mini pots of peanut butter. Stupid, yes, if know and the result, yes, awful. However, given the extent of the walk and the need to ingest as many calories as possible, I cleaned my plate.
My doubts were around the ability to put in big days, though the start was terrific, probably aided and abetted by the oatmeal and PB. I had done nearly 4 miles in only an hour and a half and started to really get my stride. Then the uphills hit me and, by the time I had staggered up Wesser Bald and it’s observation tower, I was fairly tired, with another 6.5 miles to go.
Funnily enough, the inspiration from the top of the tower, along with lunch of a wrap and, yes, you guessed it, peanut butter, I headed on a downhill run all the way into Nanatahala Outdoor Center. There was plenty of scrambling over rocks, as well as many steep steps downwards that play havoc with my knees, yet I made it in time to get a beer and a burger before hunkering down in a bunk to try to sleep the exhaustion off.
My confidence has now returned and, though we face a seven mile uphill climb tomorrow morning, taking us from 1,723ft to nearly 5,000ft, I’m back on track and raring to go.