I left Hot Springs with a full belly and feeling well rested. I spent two nights at Elmer's Sunnybank Inn, an old bed and breakfast where Elmer himself cooked these amazing meals for breakfast and dinner. I also made sure to take a dip in the Hot Springs that the town is named for. My food was resupplied by a lady named Kayah who offered to bring me these special Indian dinners by Tasty Bite I've been eating, but couldn't get in town. So as I ascended the mountain out of Hot Springs I had a warm feeling from all the positivity that befell me there.
Feeling strong, my legs pushed me the eleven miles to the nearest shelter area, but a strange thing happened before I got there. About twenty minutes before I arrived my energy levels dropped to near zero. I was stumbling and delirious. I couldn't figure it out, I just left a few hours ago I shouldn't be tired already. This was beyond tired though, so when I arrived at the shelter I just sat on a bench and ate some of my food. Slowly I felt myself recovering, but I made the decision that was as far as I was going for the night. A few hours later in walked a guy named "August" who I met way back in Georgia and is notorious for his giant fires of leaves and logs. He is a real good guy, has hiked the trail before and his fires are welcome so I can't complain about them too much. At sunset a section hiker who brought his bugle serenaded us all before we turned in for the night.
In the morning as I was gathering up my gear I realized I was woefully under supplied with food. I misjudged the distance to the next town and I was about a day and a half short for breakfasts and lunches. No big deal, I'd just have to take it easy this leg and make due with what I have. So I had my breakfast of vanilla flavored powdered drink mix in water and set off feeling a bit uneasy about my what I was going to do. I know what you are thinking, I am only eleven miles away from the town I just left, why the hell wouldn't I go back and get what I need instead of plunging ahead seventy miles? One word, stupid.
So off I went, worrying about what I was going to eat for lunch. I was thinking that maybe "Machete Mitch" had it right, all I needed was a machete and an Ipad. I could kill the little songbirds along the way and cook them over my campfire app, they would probably taste like chicken. A few miles down, the trail came to a road crossing and a sign was posted at the intersection. It read, "Attention Thru-Hikers, turn right at the road, walk 350 feet to the 'Welcome to North Carolina' sign, turn right up the concrete driveway and knock on our front door--you won't regret it". I stood at the sign and debated what to do, maybe they are backwoods axe murderers luring hikers off the trail so they can torture them in their creepy dungeon that probably smells like peas or maybe they have food. The thought of food made my decision. When I knocked on the door I heard a dog bark, the door swung open and an older man stuck his head out and said, "Welcome Home, take your boots off and leave your pack outside. We are serving Belgium waffles, beef stew, hot coffee, and several different desserts". I think I just stared back with a dumb grin on my face, but eventually I did what he said. I left my dirty stinky shoes outside with my backpack and entered their log cabin style house. The two people's names were "Hercules and Fal", they had hiked the trail in 2003 and have been doing this for hiker for seven or eight years. I sat down at their long table and "Hercules" served me coffee as "Fal" ran around cooking and preparing different things. Not long after I arrived three more hikers showed up called "The Three Amigos". They sat down next to me wearing the same dumb grin that I had on. Next, the "Teton Boys" showed up. They are three brothers all hiking together and I have been running into them since the beginning of the Smokies. Then, "August" the crazy fire man and finally a guy calling himself "Dogma Road" who looks like a guy named Cochran from the TV show Survivor.
|The Teton Boys with Fal in the back|
|Hercules, Frenchy and Fal|
I reluctantly departed from my morning feast and buzzed my way up the trail. About midday I came to a shelter as dark clouds were forming overhead. I debated about staying or moving on. I didn't want to get caught out in the storm and have miles and miles to go before I came to the next shelter, but I felt so good and it was so early it seemed criminal to stop. That is when the weather made the chose for me. The rain moved in quickly accompanied by fierce thunder and lightning. All my companions from breakfast had made it to the shelter in time to stay dry too, so we all waited together.
The storm moved out as quickly as it came in and before long the sun was shining. I got up and figured it was now or never, so I headed out while the weather was good. The trail wound it's way up to high peaks with fire towers and antennas on it. I went down a wrong side trail because it was marked with a light blue blaze and I mistook it for a white one. I realized I had made a mistake when I was out in an open field with no signs of another marker or a stamped down path that I had been used to following. So I had to turn around, but not before noting that my trip little side trip allowed me to see the dark clouds quickly blowing in from the west. I picked up my pace to get as far I could before the new storm hit.
The rain came down as a steady drone and the temperature plummeted with it. I was making my way towards a place called Firescald Mountain, where my guide book noted that it was a rocky and strenuous path. Right before the the strenuous part was supposed to begin I encountered this sign. I figured, what the heck is bad weather anyway, so I opted for the exposed ridge line trail. From all the rain that had been coming down there were large puddles forming everywhere that I had to hop around to avoid, so when I went up to the ridge line I basically traded the puddles for dangerously jagged and steep rocks. When I came to the peak of Firescald though, the rain let up and the clouds parted to give me an amazing view of the surrounding valleys far below. Personally I don't think it would have been so dramatic a view if it had not been for the bad weather.
When I left the ridge line the rain began again and it persisted all the way until I made it to the shelter for the night. I took off all my soggy clothing, hung them up to drip dry and replaced them with nice warm wool long johns. I ate a quick dinner and retreated to my sleeping bag as darkness fell.
I woke to a cold dreary foggy morning, my birthday. I dressed in my hiking cloths that failed to dry out overnight and put on my soggy shoes that had begun to fall apart. It was so cold I started out wearing just about all the clothes that I had brought with me including my scarf and gloves. It wasn't long though before the exertion from climbing made me start removing items. I came to a meadow on top of some mountain and there the sun made a brief appearance as the clouds parted and let in a moment of warmth, but it didn't last and the dreary cold grey returned as I plodded down the hill. That is the way the rest of the day went until I arrived at the shelter for the night and found this sign that warmed me from the inside out.
The next morning I made it down the two and a half miles to that breakfast in a flash. The two guys hosting the meal were former Thru-Hikers and really knew what we needed. The portions were piled high and I left with a warm full belly. The sun was shining, but it was still colder than it had been since I started in Georgia. I found it was best to keep moving to stay warm and I would put on my hat when I went downhill to not catch a chill. Most of the morning though was a steady climb towards Big Baldy Mountain which fit it's name perfectly, it was big and was bald.
I hit the shelter on Big Bald Mountain early in the afternoon, ate the last of my lunches and felt strong so I decided to see how far I could go before dark, but the next shelter was a good ten miles away and the soles of my shoes were flapping when I walked. I threw some duct tape around the toes and set off. I made my way down the trail at a nice pace slowly gaining speed on the downhills. My body felt completely different than the body I had to deal with early on in this trip. No longer was I hobbling down the mountains slowly and gingerly, I was striding forward with a bounding gait. Before I knew it I reached the bottom of the mountain and came to a road crossing where I heard someone one yell, "You hikin'? If so, come on over." There I was greeted by group of people who all were previous hikers and were offering hamburgers, bratwurst, donuts, cupcakes, fruit, soda and beer to all Thru-Hikers. I had one of each, sat and talked with them for a while before setting off again feeling re-energized.
By the time the sun started slipping behind the hills I made it to No Business Knob shelter, called that because the area was used solely by moonshiners back in the days of prohibition and unless you were looking for trouble you had no business being in these hills. I had walked over twenty miles to get there and I fell asleep without having to open my food bag at all.
I was thinking about this on the trail the other day, there seems to be an intangible part of all of us that needs replenishing just like anything else in the body. When my body needs food, I feed it. When my body is thirsty, I drink. When I am tired, I rest. But what do you do when your spirits are low? How do you keep motivation from wavering? How do you keep smiling when you are cold, wet and tired?