Every morning, I wake up anxious to start on the Trail. Even though I read
the ATC guide books and peruse the maps, I still don't know exactly what
surprises await me each day. I like that.
On the Trail, I'm at my peak mentally and physically in the mornings. The
creative juices are flowing. I'm more sociable with other hikers. I enjoy the
views more, take more photos, think more thoughts, write more notes.
After about six hours of happily climbing up and down mountains, I start to
focus on how many more miles and mountains there are in that day's
section. I don't stop for as many views, take as many pictures, talk to hikers
as much, or write much. My brain is focused on getting to the finish.
I'd love to be able to do this trek with every run capped at six hours, but
I'd never get done!
By eight hours, I have "trail daze." Fatigue has numbed my brain as much as
my legs. I just want to be done. Every uphill blip on the elevation profile
seems like a mountain to me. The climbs get insanely steep. The last miles are
always longer than advertised.
Sounds just like in an ultra race, doesn't it??
Then I get in our truck, Jim drives us "home" to our current campsite, and I
admire all the beautiful mountains along the way, proud that I just climbed a
bunch of them. But all I want to do at that point is get cleaned up, eat a large
quantity of food, and sleep.
By morning, I'm re-charged and ready to repeat the process again!
BALD IS BEAUTIFUL
The major climb today was up to Big Bald Mountain over a stretch of seven
miles. I started at 3,170 feet and roller-coastered my way up to the summit at
The first photo above was an unnamed bald below Big Bald's peak. I just love
these bald balds in the southern Appalachians. The forest service mows
some of them periodically to keep them grassy. Otherwise, aggressive woody trees
and shrubs like rhododendrons and laurels soon take over the summits and obscure
the spectacular 360-degree views like those from Max Patch and Big Bald.
The Trail was beautiful all the way up to Big Bald, with flowers covering the
hillsides and annual grasses growing along the deeply cut path near the top.
Since there were no trees for the AT blazes, they were painted on posts. A
blue-blazed foul-weather trail traversed the mountain at a lower elevation; the ATC advises using it during fog or rain because hikers can have problems seeing
the blazes and get disoriented or lost on top the bald.
I didn't have to worry about that today. It was sunny and warm, with puffy
white clouds in the sky. The breeze was stiff on top of Big Bald but I wasn't up
there long enough to have to put on my jacket. The guide says bad weather can
move in fast, and advises hikers to be prepared. Weather there can be as
unpredictable as higher mountains above tree line.
WHERE DID ALL THE HIKERS GO?
On such a beautiful Sunday, I couldn't help but wonder where all the hikers
were. There was a dirt road to the top of Big Bald, but no one was there. I had
the whole place to myself!
I passed a young section hiker from Alabama about five minutes after I
started this morning, then saw no one until five hours later as I began the
steep climb up the Trail along a creek just beyond the Spivey Gap/US 19W road
crossing. Three folks had walked up a couple hundred feet and were sitting on a
little wooden bridge, talking. They appeared to have come from church, not out
for a day of hiking.
Jim was the next person I saw. He and Cody ran in about four miles to meet me
at the end. He met "Still Walking," a woman I'd met back near Standing Indian
almost two weeks ago, but I never caught up to her. So my hiker count today
was one plus Jim in an almost nine-hour period. Amazing!
There were at least five north-bound hikers ahead of me today though. They
all signed the register at No Business Knob shelter (another of those odd place
names!). I saw that Warren and Terry Doyle went through at 10:45 AM on the 20th.
I'm three days behind their group now.
After summitting High Rocks (which has a massive rock wall similar to the one
above Carvin's Cove on the AT near Roanoke) at 4,280 feet, the Trail mostly
traversed the sides of the remaining mountains and lost 2,580 feet over the last
twelve miles (lots of ups and downs along the way, of course). Much of the Trail
was runnable today, including the two-mile free-fall (1,500 feet) at the end
down to the Nolichucky River.
I was sorry Jim didn't go the first seven miles with me this morning so he could
see Big Bald, but I'm glad he got to see the last four miles of beautiful trail
today. So much of the AT is rocky and he gets frustrated when he can't really
run on it, so he was a happy boy flying down that smooth trail to the river!
The views of the river and the town of Erwin, TN were outstanding, too.
It reminded me of looking down at the American River from the Western States
Many laurels lined the Trail through this section, but I wasn't able to frame a
good shot of the river with the flowers in the photo.
"MISS JANET" AND "STILL WALKING"
Still Walking, AKA Robin from Connecticut (pictured on the right), was
waiting with Jim at our truck when I finished my run today. (I encouraged Jim to
run his own speed back down the mountain to the Nolichucky). He'd promised Robin
a ride to the popular hiker hostel in nearby Erwin, TN.
It was good to chat further with her as we made the short drive. She's on
summer break from the college where she teaches, and hopes to do her thru-hike
in just over four months. Robin's been averaging about 16 miles a day, walking
10-12 hours. She's having trouble eating enough on the Trail to keep her energy
up, so I told her about the Hammer Nutrition products I'm using. It seems to me
that hikers could benefit from the gels and drinks (Perpetuem and Sustained
Energy) as much as I am.
I'd read about the hostel in Erwin in several hikers' Trail journals, so I
was happy to meet "Miss Janet," on the left above. She runs the place and caters
to the hikers, taking them to the grocery, fixing scrumptious meals, driving
them to nearby trailheads so they can slack-pack a day if they want, etc. She's
a lively, personable lady who obviously loves people. I'm kinda sorry we can't
stay at her place and enjoy the hospitality.
Notice the white blaze on the tree in her front yard?
I'm off to bed now. Let's see . . . I start tomorrow's run on the bridge over the Nolichucky River at 1,700 feet. You know what that low elevation means??
Big Clue: the highest elevation for tomorrow is 5,180 feet.
Lotsa UPHILL tomorrow!
That might not be so good for my right Achilles tendon, which started hurting
yesterday at Blackstack Cliffs. The downhill today made my left inner
knee/quad(s) sore, the very same place I had this problem two weeks ago with the
other knee. I've been icing both places all night.