The Great Smoky Mountain (Lion) National Park (4/23-5/1)

Surviving the infamous and daunting Smoky Mountains has been the talk of the trail since pretty much the start.

Questions like: “How many base layers are you bringing? What are you going to do when you see a bear? Are you ready for the snow? How many down jackets do you have? How bomb proof is your tent/hammock/rain gear? Are you scared you are going to go crazy on top of one of the mountains, get hypothermia and die?” get tossed around on the reg. I got the impression that everyone’s goal was to get out of the Smokies stat. I just knew it was going to be gorgeous and was pretty jazzed. I was really only nervous about being cold at night in my hammock and figured the smokies would be just like any other day.

Before I go into the day to day play by play, here is what you need to know about the Smoky Mountains. Visit the GSMNP website for even more info!

The Smoky Mountains are known for it’s beauty- when you can see it- and it’s intensity. With the high elevation, rainy and foggy weather, views often do not exist. The GSMNP is also known for their structured rules and regulations. Quick note about thru hikers: we do not like structure, rules, or regulations, hence why we opted to live in the woods for 6 months.

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In order to go through the Smoky Mountains you need to buy a permit. A thru hiker permit is different than a section or weekender (anyone who is out for a couple days) permit. A section/weekend hiker must buy the permit and must also specify which shelters they are staying at each night. This is their reservation. A thru hiker estimates their time of entry and the permit is good for 38 days. However, once you enter the Smokys, your permit only lasts for 8 days. Ridge runners ‘patrol’ the trails making sure hikers have their permits and are following all rules. Before we entered the Smokys we were told we would see a ridge runner at least once a day.

There are only shelters in the GSMNP, you cannot stealth camp anywhere. It is also required that you must stay IN the shelters. The only exception to that is that if a shelter has reached full capacity, you can camp outside of the shelter. However, if you are a thru hiker with a spot in a shelter and a section/weekend hiker shows up after you that has a reservation, you must leave and set up outside no matter the weather or time. You are not allowed to sleep in the same shelter more than one night (essentially you cannot zero in the smokies). You might be thinking, “Well whoopty doop, so sad you can only stay at shelters” however, we are all used to being able to camp where ever we want. So previously if you wanted to do a 10 mile day, you can stop essentially anywhere near that 10 mile mark be it a shelter, campsite, or stealth camp. However, the shelters are spaced oddly in the smokies, so one day you might have to choose to either go 7 miles to the closest shelter or 14 miles to the one after that. There is no happy medium, which can make staying in the Smokies frustrating.

Overall the Smokies were awesome and a whole new world!

(4/23) After waiting in Fontana Dam to see if my underquilt arrived (which it didn’t) Sasquatch and I left for the trail at about 12:30. It was another hot and sunny day and a great day to be hiking.

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The view of the Smokies from Fontana Dam.

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The AT going over Fontana Dam.

It was a steep climb up to the ridgeline of the Smokies but it was exciting to finally be there! It was a 12 mile hike to Mollies Ridge Shelter and the shelter was booming! There were over 18 tents and hammocks set up and a shelter full at 12. Everyone was excited to be in the Smokies and preparing for a cold night ahead. There was supposed to be a meteor shower that night, but it was too cold to be sitting outside for very long once the stars were out. The wind was super strong and it was another freezing night in my hammock. I really wished my underquilt had come in on time. I slept in all my layers including my rain gear to try to keep warm.

(4/24) Had another nice 12 mile hike to Derrick Knob Shelter. Got to go over the famous Rocky Top Mountain in Tennessee!

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That night as I was going to bed I had my headlamp on it’s red light. I looked up past my hammock and saw these / glowing red eyes looking at me. At first I got nervous because I thought it was a bear due to it’s red eyes. Then I remembered I had my red light on. I turned it to the spotlight to see these huge glowing greenish eyes. I bought maybe it was a dear so I walked closer to it to get a better loon and to spook it away. As I got closer the animal never flinched. Finally it turned away slowly and as it turned I could see powerful shoulders and a long, skinny brown tail flow behind it. It was a mountain lion!! I watched as it slowly slinked away and a tiny bit of terror sank in. I had just walked closer and closer to a mountain lion that had been staring at me. And could actually eat me if it had wanted to. Super casual. It was so crazy but also super cool! My heart was racing when I went to bed but I woke up alive the next morning. Yay!

4/25 It started raining early that morning and I was able to pack up my hammock and gear before anything got too wet. It rained pretty hard off and on throughout the hike. It even started hailing at one point!

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There were no views that day and everything around you was white. It was so peaceful and really cool! We hit Clingmans Dome, the highest point on the AT at about 6,644 feet and couldn’t see anything. We were just surrounded by white and wind, but it was still awesome.

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That night we stopped in one of the most loved and hated towns on the AT – Gatlinburg, TN. Described as an amusement park town and tourist trap it certainly would overwhelm any hiker with it’s drive thru wedding chapel, ripelys believe it or not museum, and moonshine tasting. It was overwhelming and a little bit annoying being around so many people spending so much money on an excessive amount of unnecessary souvenirs. It’s crazy to think that we are always trying to lose pack weight and get by with as few things as possible when sometimes in society our success and worth based upon the amount of goods we have. But that being said we did partake in the free moonshine tasting:

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And after that it just seemed practical to get mountain lion henna tattoos haha

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Despite taking a zero (again!) it was so great to get back on the trail.

4/26 It worked out great that the day we left Clingmans had thick clouds and the day we got back on it was clear and sunny!

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That day we hit the 200 mark!

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And beauty all around us:

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Newfound Gap:

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4/27. Woke up to another foggy morning but an awesome hike! It’s so cool to see the different environments of the mountains. All you can see is white. It’s hard to picture how high up you are and the views behind the clouds.

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Hiked to Charlie’s Bunion, a famous spot in the Smokies. Even though it wasn’t clear, it was still an awesome sight! The clouds and fog would roll in and out of the huge valley and you could see giant mountains looming in the distance. I was there alone and it was silent, peaceful, and powerful (especially when you would get dizzy looking down off of Charlie’s Bunion seeing how high up you were).

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The weather eventually cleared up and I got another day full of beautiful views.

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Part of the Cuddle Puddle (the name of our hiker family) Gulliver, me, Sweeps, and Sasquatch.

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That night at the shelter we had a ridge runner staying with us who never asked to see our permits but enjoyed questioning us and our skill level. That night severe thunderstorms were forecasted so we fit 27 people in the 12 person shelter that night.

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4/28 The shelters in the smokies were pretty bomb. They had 2 levels of bunks, a fireplace, huge tarps to block the wind, and an overhang with some benches and tables. That night it poured and there was a storm. We woke up in the morning to it still raining really hard. It was about 7am when the ridge runner started telling us to leave, and questioning those of us that were still laying down trying to sleep making sure we weren’t taking a zero at the shelter and that we needed to leave soon and start hiking because there were tornado warnings. Real cool.

The weather ended up not getting that bad. It just rained on and off and was really windy depending on what side of the ridgeline you were on.

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Parts of a plane crash:
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4/29 Our last day in the Smokies! It felt bitter sweet. I was bummed to leave the views and scenery, but it will be nice to camp wherever we want and escape the ‘privy areas’ at each shelter (no privys, just landmines and tp everywhere). I was really bummed I never got to see a bear though- but hopefully sometime soon!

The last shelter in the Smoky Mountains. Caged in with a fence to prevent bears from entering the shelter. We found out from the shelter log that last night a mama bear and her cubs hung out for several hours and put some rips in someone’s tent that was drying. Pretty crazy!

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Last awesome views in the GSMNP!

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Crossing a river and following the AT along a highway to Standing Bear Hostel.

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Standing Bear Hostel was a quaint place with a trampoline, treehouse, chickens, and a beer cave run by Rocket and Lumpy. We did not stay there but I’m glad we checked it out. That day the Cuddle Puddle got picked up by Odysseuss’ Aunt and Uncle who took is to their home in Knoxville.l for 2 days. They spoiled us to southern cooking, showers, laundry, pizza, movies, clean sheets, candy, and a day in downtown Knoxville. It was fantastic generosity from an awesome family!

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Pre Smoky Mountains

Pre Smoky Mountains

NEW! A Photo Gallery added to the side of my blog with tons of pictures I’ve been taking! Please check them out! It is on the right side of the screen below the follow buttons. I am only able to do this when I have access to a computer and add the captions when I have tons of time and stay up til 3 in the morning which I don’t want to do again anytime soon, so it might be awhile before I can update the gallery again. But in the meantime I really hope you enjoy all of the photos! πŸ™‚ please let me know if you have any questions about them at all! Some where taken on my phone, others on my camera, and some are from instagram. Boom. Enjoy!

 

4/19: The Nantahala Outdoor Center is awesome! Cool outfitter, awesome river, amazing food, and unexpectedly comfy bunk beds. A nice mix of locals, tourists, river guides, and thru hikers makes for a rowdy time. We were not planning on taking a zero there, but we heard about live blue grass music that night and a few of our friends rolled in and we decided to enjoy our time at the NOC. We hung out at the outfitters, and resupplied. I had a lot if extra food so I sent it forward to Gatlinburg (half way through the smokies). Because I had been so so cold at night I had ordered an underquilt from hammock gear and was told it was going to be in Fontana Dam the time I got there in a few days. I decided to send my inflatable therma rest x therm back home. I also sent back my silk sleeping bag liner and bought a warmer liner to hopefully help sleep warmer at night. It was a rainy day but enjoyed the time with friends and even got a personal blue grass concert at the bonfire. Angrybird, a 2013 thru hiker, gave us all words of wisdom to enjoy your time on trail, take your time, respect the trail, and make lots of friends and memories. I felt guilty for taking another day off, but I think Angrybird is right. And it is also important to give your body a break. The night was fun and I got to meet new thru hiker friends!

The AT went over the Nantahala River at the NOC:

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4/20: Had a great Easter breakfast with Pigpen, Becca, Fall n Oats, Angrybird, Peepshow, Doug, and Tigergin. You can tell hikers are in town with all of the packs outside:

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Headed out for the legendary climb out of the NOC, the mountains where in the clouds:

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Solitude colored hard boiled eggs and his them around the NOC. At the trail head he had a whole box full, complete with a salt and pepper shaker!

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The NOC is also down for it’s major descent in and it’s major ascent out. There was a lot of hype about it and it was easier than I thought it was going to be. It was a gorgeous day and trees and flowers were starting to bloom so it was a fantastic hike.

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Casual millipede:

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A memorial for Wade Sutton, a Forest Service Ranger who died in 1968 trying to put out a forest fire. There were prayer cards and stones and pebbles all around it. I stopped and paid my respects and added a stone to the large collection.

It’s important to remember and realize the amount of labor the volunteers and workers put into the AT to make it was it is today. Most of all of the trail upkeep is all done by volunteers who have to carry heavy hand tools (no power tools are allowed in most areas) and saw fallen trees, create steps with logs and rocks and dig drainage trenches. Without the continued hard work and dedication of these people we would not have this amazing trail! Since then, whenever I come across fallen branches on the trail I try to move them out of the way. I have even met hikers who will move and cut fallen trees out if the way! It’s those little things you don’t really think about in the early days of trail that are actually a huge deal in your everyday hike.

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Natural sunscreen and air conditioning via the rhododendrons:

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Views of Nantahala Gorge (where the NOC is located) from the Jump-up:

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Sassafrass Gap Shelter Outlet:

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After stopping at the shelter for a lunch break, I climbed up to Cheoah Bald. It was gorgeous!! The Trail suddenly opened up to this huge view and it was so pretty! It was awesome just to sit and chill and take in everything around me.

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I also discovered a short side trail that lead to another view off of the bald. It was a small spot and everything was so quiet and peaceful. It was awesome!

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After passing Locust Gap where everyone was going to camp for the night, I decided to hike a little longer and stealth camp by myself. Stealth camping is where camp off of the Trail that is not at a shelter or a designated campsite. Stealth camping is totally kosher in most parts of the AT. I found a great hammock spot about a mile and a half up on top of a ridge and enjoyed a quiet dinner and sunset to myself. It was perfect. A great ending to a great 12 mile day.
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4/21: I slept in and hit the trail about 9:30. In 2 miles I hit the recently hyped up Jaccob’s Ladder, famous for climbing 600 feet in 1.3 miles. We had heard rumors of people practically climbing up the mountain on their hands and knees. I was nervous for it, but also excited for the challenge.Β It was a pretty steep climb, but not at all as hard as I thought- I think I’m definitely getting my trail legs!

It was another hot and sunny day and I hiked most of the day by myself. I got to Cable Gap Shelter where I met Wolf and Strider. It was about 4ish and I had hiked about 10 miles and there was miles 6.6 miles until the Fontana Dam Shelter. I was feeling pretty good and knew I would see familiar faces ahead, so I decided to hike on. I was keeping a great pace and eventually you could see Fontana Dam from the distance. 20140502-072212.jpg

Since I could see the dam I thought I would be at the Fontana Dam Shelter (known as the Fontana Hilton) real soon like. 2 hours later (sooo looong) I finally arrived at the Fontana Crossing over NC 28. It was only 1.1 miles to the shelter. It was the longest 1.1 mile of my entire life! The trail went on and on and when you could finally see the shelter you still had to go up and around the mountain to reach it. The positive thing was that because of the lower elevation everything was green and beautiful. 20140502-073326.jpg

The Fontana Hilton gets it’s name because it is a 20 person shelter, there are 3 large areas to set up tents, just down the road there are bathrooms and a shower, and down the road even farther is the Visitors Center with huge granite bathrooms. I had about a 17 mile day and I was feeling really tired by the time I reached the shelter. Met up with some friends and got to meet new people as well. I did not want to sleep in the shelter and the only available spot to hammock was on a steep hill. At the bottom was an inlet/cesspool filled trash and real funky looking water. As I was setting up my hammock and unpacking my gear I took out my sleeping bag which was in it’s stuff sack compressed like the size of a volley ball. I set it on the ground and accidentally kicked it. I watched in horror as my sleeping bag ferociously rolled down the side of the hill, gaining speed and momentum about to fall to it’s demise. And then at the last second, a strap snagged a log and saved it! Praise the woods!

4/22: Woke up and broke down camp just before the rain hit. Tang, Muscadine, Sasquatch and I got a ride to the Fontana Lodge which is like a big resort. I had a mail drop there with food and was expecting my underquilt to be there. I got my food but no sign of the underquilt. Sweeps and the rest of the Cuddle Puddle showed up at the Lodge and I decided to take a zero to wait for my underquilt so I could have it for the smokies, where it is notoriously cold, windy, and rainy. Had a cool view of the Great Smoky Mountains from Fontana Dam and it was such a change to see blooming trees and flowers! 20140502-081033.jpg

More to come soon I promise! Today also marks my 1 month trailiversary! After (or maybe before) my post about going through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park I will reflect on this past month and what I have learned.

Thank you so much god reading! Don’t hesitate to ask questions or give me your thoughts! πŸ™‚

Peace like a river,

Dairy Queen

Mountains for years!!

4/16 finally left Franklin! Got a hitch to Winding Stair Gap and had a nice nearo of 5 miles to Siler Bald Shelter. It was a really cold night and we found out the night before it has snowed there and had stayed on the ground for a few hours. We where finally reunited with Mac and Kat who we had started the approach trail with! Met some new friends Tinder and Birch and we all huddled around the fire for as long as we could before going to bed. I have been struggling staying warm at night and tonight was no exception.
Gulliver (previously known as Nick), Odysseus, Mac, Tinder and Birch huddling around the fire:

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4/17: Woke up with crazy frost on the ground

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Hiked up Siler Bald for the most amazing view yet! A full 360 degree view of layers and layers of beautiful mountains! They almost looked like watercolor. Spectacular!

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Had an awesome hike to Wayah Bald for even more great views!

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Kat and I enjoying the view:

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Team cuddle puddle:

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From the tower we could see Clingmans Dome in the Smokies where we will be in about a week

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We could also see Siler Bald where we came from earlier. It’s the bald spot you can see in the mountains. It’s such a cool feeling to see how far where you came from is, makes you feel pretty powerful!

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Stopped at Cold Spring Shelter for a good 12.5 mile day.

4/18 Had some awesome climbs up Rocky Bald and Wesser Bald. A overcast day but great hiking weather!

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Solid crew on the Wesser Bald Tower: Kbar, Flint, Bamboo, Birch, Tinder, Odysseus, Sweeps, and Gulliver.

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I hiked to Rufus Morgan Shelter which is only a mile away from the Nantahala Outdoor Center and decided to get a bunk there.

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Stayed dry from the rain and enjoyed new and old friends and a bacon BBQ burger. Delish! Who knew hiking was going to be this great!?

4/11-4/15 Rowdy AT times and zeros on zeros

4/11 Had the most glorious breakfast I’ve ever had! Gary and Lennie cooked us pancakes, biscuits, scrambled eggs, sausages, hashbrowns and blueberry syrup! Where we ate was an attachment of the house Gary built to look like a one bedroom cabin. It had all these old cooking supplies and was so cozy! The Blueberry Patch has been open for 22 years and Gary and Lennie moved there specifically to care for hikers- 2 amazing people!

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Gary drove us back to Dicks Creek and it was great to hit the trail. Powered up Buzzard Knob with Chewy and As Knob with Sweeps. It was another sunny day and the climbs are getting harder, but we were going to hit the Georgia/North Carolina border and we were pumped! Sweeps and I got there first and it was so exciting! We dance partied it out and felt on top of the world! 1 state down, 13 to go! There was also a note to us from Hemlock! Notes are the coolest and most fun way to communicate on trail.

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Shortly after the border we stopped at the famous twisted tree for some pop tart action and a water break.

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Then NC really rolled out the red carpet. We had hiked 9 miles to the border that had about a 1000 foot increase in elevation. We where about to do that again in under 2 miles. Couthouse Bald had 3 separate summits and they were the steepest and hardest climbs I had experienced. While I was dying I was thinking about how it actually felt like I was climbing a mountain and that motivated me to not keel over. It was hot, so whenever I hit a tunnel of rhododendrons I kept calling it the AC and made a goal to keep hiking to the next one. Sweet relief whenever that happened! There was a bunch of switchbacks and it was a lot of work with no good view at the top, but hey! A bunch of people dropout before North Carolina so I was happy to be on the trail. Made it to Muskrat Shelter and saw a bunch of familiar faces and got to meet new hikers too. A group of us went to watch the sunset and it was the most spectacular view I had ever seen. It wasn’t even the sunset itself, but the layers and layers of gorgeous mountains in different hazy shades for as far as you could see. The pictures I took on my camera do not at all come close to what I saw, but it is a picture I will keep in my memory for a long time to come. Here are a few pictures of the sunset.

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4/12 We wanted to make it to Carter Gap Shelter 12 miles away today. We were coming up to Deep Gap which was right before a pretty large climb up to Standing Indian Mountain. Sweeps, Odysseus, Chewy, Nick and I decided to take a break at the gap. And then the most amazing thing happened! Our first big TRAIL MAGICCCCC!!!! NOBO 2013’s Breeze and Windy rolled up with some of their friends and offered us cases of beer, hotdogs, hamburgers, and bacon. It was truly spectacular! As a few more hikers filed in it truly turned into a magical moment as Breeze was telling us his trail stories and we realized we have so much ahead of us and so many more amazing people to meet. It was overwhelming in the best way possible. It was also interesting to hear how much Breeze misses the trail and how lucky we are to be hiking it.

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We ended up staying at Trail Magic for 3 hours! It was sad to leave but after all the beers were gone, the hike up Standing Indian Mountain didn’t seem so bad. The view on the mountain was amazing!

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Firefox, Brave, Odysseus, Sweeps, Fall N’ Oats, and Peepshow on Standing Indian

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We ended up going about 9 miles altogether to Beech Gap but it ended up being an awesome day on the AT!

4/13 The plan for today was to go a good 12 miles so we could be close to Winding Stair Gap and get into Franklin in the morning. We where having a great hike about 9 miles in and knew we would be scaling the glamorous Albert Mountain which just looks like ‘A’ in the guide books it’s so steep. Right before the climb this is what I walk into:

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More trail magic!!! This time in the form of sloppy joe hot dogs and endless servings on chips, sodas, and honey buns! Thanks to the Oconee County Hiking Club! After feasting until I could be rolled up the mountain, I hit the trail with Wings. Climbing Albert was the steepest climb yet and consisted of having to practically rock climb in some areas. But we finally made it to the top and had a glorious view!

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We also had hit the 100 mile mark (109 including the Approach Trail)!! In true AT fashion this milestone was graffitied on the fire tower on the mountain

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We chilled up there until the rest of the crew caught up and took a sweet group shot with Admiral Caboose, me (DQ), Moxy, Odysseus, Sasquatch, Ranger, Sweeps, Tessla, and Easy Day. We yelled into the mountains and the echo went on foreverrrr, it was so cool!

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After trail magic and conquering Albert, spirits were soaring and we where all feeling great! We had a 2.5 mile hike to Long Branch Shelter (built in 2012 and fits 16 people. 2 story and super fancy) and me, Ranger, Tessla, Sasquatch, Easy Day, Admiral Caboose, and Wings decided to press on to the next shelter. We were half joking about walking all the way to Franklin but where still feeling great. After 3 miles we hit Rock Gap Shelter and ran into some familiar faces. It was about 6 o’clock and we were feeling like totally hardcore. Me, Ranger, Easy Day, Sasquatch, Admiral Caboose and Irish Mist decided to press on to the 3.8 miles to Winding Stair Gap. We knew the moon was going to be bright and thought a night hike would be a great idea! After a pretty tough hike, navigating the trail during a super cloudy night, and 20 miles, we finally stumbled to the road! We made it! Now we just needed to get to Franklin 12 miles away and find a place to stay. A super thought out plan. After getting to town, we went where we knew hikers would be. The local bar! Ended up seeing Wild Turkey, who was another girl I had started the Approach Trail with. It was a great night filled with meeting new hikers, a well earned margarita and 3 mile walk to a janky motel where we stayed the night. It was a spontaneous and hard day that ended up being a total blast!

4/14 When we woke up, we quickly realized that maybe a 20 miler in the first 2 weeks of trail was not the smartest idea. Our feet and knees where crying and hobbled like old men to meet up with our group who was coming into Franklin in the morning. We all went to Outdoor 76 to have out feet looked at. I learned that the insoles in my shoes where unnecessary and were very detrimental to my feet and the reason for a lot of my foot pain. The outfitters was a really cool place with great craft beers and a wall to sign your trail name to.

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We had also gone out to eat and received trail magic in the shape of the remnants of a yellow chocolate cake and it was the most fabulous thing in the entire world. You really start to appreciate the little things like scraps of food. NOMS!

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I had also received the most amazing Wisco care package consisting of cheese curds, spotted cow and whiskey. I spread the love in the form of cheese to hikers and locals that had never had a cheese curd before! I changed lives one curd at a time. That night we went back to the bar and tore down the house with some thru hiker karaoke. The best kind of karaoke.

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We met some great locals and it was so cool the huge thru hiker community that was in town.

4/15 Rather than head to the trail we decided to take another zero to relax and run errands. Also those of us that hiked the 20 still felt like we were falling apart. We resupplied, got stranded at Walmart for several hours, and feasted on pizza. Aka bummed around all day long and had zero productivity. But it was great! Everyone is getting so much closer and we saw Mac and Cat who had started the approach with us! Its been chill hanging out in town but we are so stoked to get back on trail. We will be at the NOC in 2-3 days and Fontana Dam in 5-6!

Also this day was important to me because during the Approach Trail when I was having a hard time and through the tears had given myself until April 15th to decide to stay on trail or go home. There is no doubt in my mind that the trail is the place for me. I am so happy and lucky to be hiking on the Appalachian Trail! I’m sorry this post was short and uneventful, I am still getting used to this blogging business. If anyone has suggestions for more things you would like me to talk about or more/less pictures just let me know- I would appreciate it!

Cheese and love,
DQ