Heading out of Erwin my father joined me for the first three miles and he would like me to tell everyone that he didn't struggle or want to turn around once the entire time. So while he carried my backpack I took the opportunities to take pictures of some of the wild flowers that are popping up everywhere. Spring is everywhere in the lower elevations with trees blooming and poison ivy constantly try to touch my exposed flesh.
After the quick three miles with my pops I headed off under slightly overcast skies with a cool wind blowing, perfect for climbing up mountains. I felt great so I my legs were pounding out a strong steady pace up and over the little hills and gaps along the trail. My main climb of the day was over Unaka Mountain with it's beautiful evergreen forest on top.
When I reached the shelter area I was staying at for the night I quickly set up my tent and headed into my sleeping bag because the wind had picked up and was really making it cold.
The next morning was just like the night before with strong cold gusty wind. The first few hours were pretty easy hiking, but I really struggled with regulating my body temperature. Normally, I would put sweat going up hill and then I would throw on my hat downhill to help fight the chill. This day I couldn't get it right, I was so cold that I had all my layers on, but ended up sweating through most of them on a few short little hills. When I arrived at a shelter area for lunch I was seriously debating if I should go on or hop in my sleeping bag right then and there and call it a day. The smart thing would have been to stay, so I pushed on.
Looming in front of me was Roan Mountain, mile upon mile of nothing but uphill. I had been hearing about the difficulty of this climb for days so I was both excited and a bit nervous at the same time. When I started up the base of the mountain I felt much better than I did sitting at the shelter and was happy that I decided to push on. I was only wearing a long sleeve T-shirt so I was a bit cold, but I found that it was tolerable as long as I keep moving. So move is what I did. The trail was actually quite nice in the beginning, It was a perfect grade of slope that I could walk up with out tiring. I would keep a steady droning beat with my legs and poles, not too fast, not too slow.
Then of course everything changed and whatever sadistic bastard who blazed this trail I'm sure was having a chuckle as I climbed straight up roots and rocks and roots with rocks and rocks so high that even the roots didn't want anything to do with them. After what must have been an hour of this hellish climbing I came to Ash gap, a nice flat spot where I sat on a fallen log, caught my breath and checked my map to see what lay in front of me. According to the elevation profile, I had .9 miles to reach the top and would gain over 1,000 ft. or more. That's a lot folks! So I sat on the log for a few minutes and thought about staying there for the rest of my life. It could be a nice life, there weren't any roots or rocks to be seen and I could probably eat bugs to survive. Crap, I got up and kept moving.
When I left the barn I headed up two giant bald mountains called Little Hump and Big Hump, which again would have been amazing if not for the biting wind, but it was damn cool none the less. After the hump mountains it was all down hill again so I was excited. Down I went, not a care in the world, cruising at a good clip. Then came the rocks. And the roots. Mile after mile of roots so tangled that you couldn't step down with a flat foot, it was always askew in some strange direction. When the roots let up there would be rocks fields, not big rocks that you can hop from one to another, or little rocks like gravel. These were right in that uncomfortable range that made you place your steps ever so carefully, as to not turn an ankle. At some point they did let up though and I descended enough where it was almost warm out and the tread became pleasant. So pleasant that I guess some old timer thought it was great spot to place his bike. I planned to meet my father for a pick up at a nearby road crossing and as I was crossing a bridge near my final destination, look what awaited me.
Tomorrow I am back on the trail and headed for Damascus Virginia.