Friday, March 30, 2012

On to Fontana Dam

We woke up to another blue sky morning, serenaded by some really unusual birds that were calling to one another as they circled around us. They were gone before we got out of the tents, but it sounded like an owl calling, and then some sort of weird duck answering - well, a duck or a monkey. Lol. Have no idea what it was, but we were seriously laughing at the sound. We've been hearing another noise every morning, and. Oils have sworn it was a tractor of gas well, but the old timer we met yesterday convinced us that we were actually hearing a grouse every morning! Sure surprised us!
Ladyfish and Sting Ray left camp before us, but once we we hit the trail, we flew! It was pretty easy going compared to the past two days of mostly uphill. Yesterday we had to come up Jacobs Ladder, which was out steepest climb yet. That, on top of a 14 mile day, did me in.
As we hiked today, we started to cat h glimpses of Fontana Dam and Fontana Lake, quick means on e we get there, we are only a mile or so from entering Smoke Mountain Nat'l Park. So exciting!
We made 9 miles to Fontana Village in record time (before 2), and caught the shuttle to the Lodge just in time to get into the restaurant before it closed at 2, and just before a thunderstorm hit (sweet!)
Got a thru-hiker special ($49/night), and we are about to hit the showers and laundry before hiking into the Smokies tomorrow. We can not wait! Good night everybody! Thank you for keeping us in your prayers!
Oh, by the way, we have no cell service here at all, but do have Internet! So, mom, no call for a while, but don't worry, we are great!

Eating lunch, with a view of the Smokies:

A beautiful dogwood tree outside our hotel room - in the pouring rain. So glad we are here and not hiking in the rain right now. :)

- Steady and F100

Location:Fontana Lodge

Ramps and more trail magic

Before I forget, I want to let you know that I visited some more with Beowolf, and the reason for his trail name is because he has a degree from Emory College in Boston in Literature, and he has the first two lines of Beowolf tattooed on his shoulder. I hope to get a picture of him. He has a long beard, but from his chin down is wrapped in jute, like a hair wrap, but hanging about 12 inches from his chin. He also told me that he's a fire breather. I'm not making this up. I asked how he did that, and he uses some kind of lamp oil. I found this ironic be ause he has pretty much a candlewick hanging from his chin. This might make for some amusing campfire entertainment in the future.

His buddy, Kitten got his name because when he told his dad he was going to hike the AT, his dad told him he'd better not come back with some kind of sissy trail name like Kitten. He made the mistake of telling his hiking buddies that story, and well, hence the name.

This morning I was actually woken up by someone's alarm going off at 6:30! I couldn't believe it! So far, we've been going to bed and waking up by the sun. Found out later it was Kittens phone. I hope that was an accident, but he didn't act like it was. Must remember not to camp close to Kitten again.

At lunch today, we met a local who was hiking through the woods. He looked like a real Appalachian old timer. He had a very weathered face, was probably about 70, and when we visited with him, found out he was collecting ramps. I had heard of these when researching this trip. They even have ramp festivals. He was kind enough to show us what they are. They are kind of like a spicy wild onion. He was going to take them home, cook them with bacon til tender, and then scramble in some eggs. He was describing this to 5 very hungry hikers who were taking a lunch break. I think we were all drooling. He left us and walked down the hill back to his home. Today we had a really tough day, and our longest yet - 14 miles - and I am exhausted. Funny thing though, everything feels great in the morning.

We are camped tonight with Ladyfish and Ray. They didn't know each other before the trail, but seem to hike at about the same rate.

We came down to a road at Stecoah Gap this afternoon, and a former thru-hiker named Quest ('04) was there at a picnic table with Cokes and lots of snack cakes. I was SO happy to see a Coke! He brings trail magic to the same place every other day. Nice guy, retired, and he and his wife just finished building a home near here. Well, I can hear others snoring, so I'll say an exhausted goodnight for now, and close with some pics from today.

(Camped at Cody Gap, mile 155.9)
- Steady and F100

Location:Cody Gap

Showers, Laundry and Lunch at NOC

Today we woke up to more clear, blue skies, and nice cool breezes. Everyone was excited about hiking the 6 miles into the Nantahala Outdoor Center, where the promise of hot showers and large cheeseburgers and fries lured us like bees to honey. We beat it down the hill as fast as possible, found the showers and laundry, got clean and shiny, and then as soon as the laundry hit the dryer, we headed to the River's End Restaurant and had a Wesser Original, which is basically a very large bacon cheese burger and tots. We passed on the Hungry Hiker, which had two half-pound patties! Yikes!

We picked up our second resupply box of the trip (thanks Sean and Bart!), refilled our food bags, repacked all of the clean clothes, and left town full, clean, and rested.

The climb out of NOC was seriously challenging, and we really only planned to do 2 miles, but kept looking for a better site, and ended up camping on a nice level spot on a ridge with Lime Green, Beowolf, and Kitten.

I did not explain, but the NOC is a kayaking and rafting hot spot. I took a few pictures on the river while we were there. Also, we descended so much today that we actually got into spring, with actual flowers and leaves on trees. However, by the end of the day we had climbed back up into the bare forest, except for rhododendron thickets here and there.

(Camped just .3 miles north of the Jump Ups, mile 142)
- Steady and F100

Location:Mile 142

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Balds in North Carolina

On the mountaintops here, there are spots with only grass and no trees. It's really odd to come across, but makes for some phenomenal 360 degree views. We hiked up to two of those today. The last one had a fire tower on it. Here are pics from those Balds - Rocky and Wesser Balds.

In between these two Balds, we passed through Tellico Gap, and happened upon our favorite sighting - a young man sitting next to his pickup truck with a cooler full of ice, beer and water - trail magic! His name was Ballhawk, and he had done the AT 2 years ago, and now provides trail magic for others. He goes to college in Bryson City, NC, but class was cancelled today, so he said we had his teacher to thank! :)

We also ran into a youth group from Florida on top of the fire tower, and they had also brought trail magic - quite an assortment of snacks. I scored some BBQ chips, and Keith got Cheetos. We are camped with several others tonight at Wesser Bald Shelter. It's a nice assortment of folks - older and younger ones. Some newer hikers we met today - Ladyfish and her brother, Camo, Ray, Pancake, Nacho, Backbone, and Silver Bear. Thought you'd enjoy those names. Good night, everyone!
(Camping tonight at Wesser Bald shelter, mile 131.4)
- Steady and F100

Location:Wesser Bald Shelter, mile 131.4

Leaving Franklin, NC

After a nice stay in Franklin, we had a great breakfast, and caught the free shuttle back to the trail with about 16 other hikers. Since we are what they consider "purists", we got dropped off right where we had left the trail the day before. This is so when we are done, we will have hiked every bit of the AT.

We climbed up, up, up today, but made really good time for a short day. When we reached Siler Bald, we climbed to the very top for magnificent views. One of us ran to the top, but well, he's crazy.

We then hiked on up, up, up again, and reached an old stone tower at Wayah Bald, with another outstanding view.

We are camped right now at about mile 120 and have a really nice fire going. It's going to be chilly tonight. We are camped with Wild Turkey and Feathers, a young couple from Jersey with bright red hair.

- Steady and F100

Monday, March 26, 2012

On Top of the World

Today we woke up to blue skies!  Yay!  Overnight we heard a chorus of owls like I have never heard before.  We camped overnight at Beech Gap, underneath the canopy of a rhododendron thicket.  One of the best camping sites yet.  We camped with Amy and Jacob, a couple of few words.  Amy always gets up, packs up first, and hits the trail before Jacob.  I guess he just walks until he finds her each day.  I wonder which one carries the tent?
I'm very fortunate, because although Keith walks much faster than I do, he always hikes behind me.  We have found that it works best this way, instead of him getting ahead, and having to always wait for me to catch up.  I think I would also find that frustrating.  I wonder is Jacob is frustrated??
The thing I notice today on the trail is signs that say, "North Carolina, Bear Sanctuary."  We have not seen very much wildlife yet.  The woods are totally barren and quiet still.  Not very many buds on the trees even.  We stopped at Carter Gap Shelter for lunch, where it said "Coach 2011" on the side, in the graffiti.  Keith was glad he did not choose Coach as his trail name, because apparently it is a common one.  We met Dakota Dan, who is hiking with his daughter, but she is a day behind him.  She found a group her age and is hiking with them. 
This was the most pleasant day yet hiking - blue skies, nice cool breezes, and fairly easy trail the whole way, that is,  until we reached the last mile and a half.  At that point, we began going up, and the last .3 of a mile was the steepest, rockest trail we have encountered.  However, the climb was worth it, and we ended up at the Albert Mountain Fire Tower.  This was also our 100- mile mark on the trail!!!  We climbed up and took turns taking pics with Einstein, and later, Frodo, and the went on our way.  The Fire Tower building was locked, but I think further north we hit some other fire towers that we can overnight in.  I think that would be really cool.  We were lucky to hit this view on a clear day.  If we had hit it yesterday, we would have seen nothing but clouds.  We hiked on, and camped for the night at Glassmine Gap, where, during the night, I heard a really loud roar!  I am guessing it was a bear.  Sounded like it came from around where Keith hung our bear bag for the night, but we were not going to go check it out!  I told Keith he was mad because Keith had done such a good job hanging it, and he could not get to our food.
(Some pics from Albert Mt. Fire tower)

(Camped at Glassmine Gap)