My number of days on the trails is slowly fading. I set an end date that requires far fewer miles than I had on average. It allowed me to slow down and take my time on those last few sections. This update includes camera issues, the Fontana Dam, some bald mountains, and a stop at the Lazy Hiker Brewery.
Day 130 (15.6 miles)
Another fully shod in the morning. Visibility was only a few meters. I waited until about 8:30 to start the hike. It was a ton of downhill to Fontana Dam. There was a fire tower on the way down. I stopped and climbed the rusty, rotting staircase. It was by no means safe, but I hadn’t had a view in days. There were beautiful cloud-covered mountains in every direction. I took a few pictures and noticed that my lens was fogged up. I assumed the outside of the lens had accumulated moisture, but I didn’t bring my microfiber cloth up. I took as many photos as I could and then walked down without thinking too much about it.
After the tower, I descended the rest of the way to the Fontana dam. The hike was easy and quick. The dam is a major landmark on the AT. This marks the end of the Smokies for SOBO’s. I went to take a photo of the dam and the surrounding area. I noticed moisture again, but this time I realized it was inside my lens. The camera and lens are weather sealed and I kept them in a waterproof bag. I don’t know why this happened, but it ruined a day of photos and my morale.
I showered at the dam visitor center and then headed to the nearby marina. There was a small store to restock and a terrace to relax by the water. Just before arriving at the marina, a nice husband and wife gave me $20 for a hot meal! It definitely improved my mood. Two other hikers, Ducky and Gravy, soon arrived. After some discussions, we decide to have dinner at the restaurant. We were all starving and couldn’t resist the offer of a local woman to drive us there. My meal consisted of a Dragon Burger which was incredibly spicy. After dinner we got back on the trail and drove a few miles up the next mountain. There was a nice spot to sneak camp near a small stream. The big meal made the climb difficult and camping was a welcome relief.
Stealth Camp: T1, S3, P3, W5, B2
Total score: 54
Day 131 (18.3 miles)
It was a restless night’s sleep. Some nights my mind seems to race and my body doesn’t get the rest it needs. Needless to say, this day kicked my ass. There were many steep climbs and descents. Combine those with sleep deprivation and well… you get a kick in the ass. I took a lunch break at a shelter about halfway through the day. There was a long climb ahead and I wanted to have nutrients flowing through my veins.
At the top of the climb was Cheoah Bald. It wasn’t really very bald. Lots of trees covered the top of the mountain. However, there were a few good viewpoints that were worth the effort.
Trail marking in NC has been pretty bad. There are often long sections and flameless turns. The top of the bald was no different. The trail turned left and descended steeply down the mountain. There were no lights to indicate a turn and no lights to be seen further up the trail. Luckily my trail senses were tingling and I figured it out pretty quickly. I may have been bitten by a radioactive fire.
I soon arrived at Sassafras Gap Shelter. There were a few other hikers staying there that night as well. It was a large two-story shelter with plenty of space for sleeping and eating. I was surprised at how dirty the inside of the shelter was. I always sweep the shelters before installing my bedding inside. This one took me a while to remove the thick layer of brown dust from the floor.
Sassafras Gap Shelter: T1, S3, P2, W1, B2
Total score: 12
Day 132 (18.6 miles)
It was a nice sunrise from the shelter. Some trees obscured the view, but the colors were still vibrant. None of us were in a rush to leave. We had all planned to stop at the NOC for a refreshment. The NOC is a large outdoor center and another famous part of the trail. It didn’t open until late morning and was only about 7 miles from our shelter. Eventually we packed up and headed down the valley. The moisture in my camera dissipated and I was able to take a clear photo that day.
I walked to the NOC with Dirty. We set a fast pace and covered the mileage in about 2 hours. We arrived at the general store around 10:30 and picked up a few essentials…as well as some non-essentials. We then sat by the nearby river and waited for the restaurant to open. The Trail of Tears actually starts a few miles from this area and goes right past the NOC and parallels the river we sat at.
A quick and delicious lunch at the restaurant and then we were back on the trail. Still 11.5 miles to go, most of it uphill. I seem to keep putting myself in situations where I have to climb a mountain after eating a big meal. I’m not complaining, I’m just pointing out my own stupidity. The Bald Mountains this afternoon were breathtaking and the weather was perfect. I soaked myself in the southern scenery and tried not to think about the thousands of feet of elevation ahead of me.
That night a few of us stayed at the Cold Springs shelter. It was a small and very old shelter, but it was right on the trail and there was water close at hand. I was happy to be at camp and to have a dry place to sleep.
Cold Springs Hut: T1, S2, P2, W1, B2
Total rating: 8
Day 133 (15.8 miles)
A mouse chewed nuts on the beam above my head all night. At one point, the creature dropped a partially eaten acorn on my head. I then started getting up and changing my pillow at the foot of my sleeping pad. The mouse kept chewing, but my head was no longer a target. There was another bald guy in the morning. Dirty and I walked together for the first few miles. It was foggy and we both weren’t sure how the view at the top would be. I thought there was a good chance the sun would do its job and chase away some of the dense fog. Fortunately, I was right. We had great views from the Wayah Bald stone tower.
It was another 10 miles to Franklin, our stop for the night. The track was perfect and the temperature was warm. Sweat poured from all my runs as I climbed up to the second bald of the day. A short steep path led to Siler Bald. It was absolutely beautiful and worth the extra half mile.
Met a nice guy at the junction of the trail to the bald. He said his wife would pick him up in about an hour and she could take us to town. I accepted with pleasure and decided to meet him at the crossroads a few kilometers away. He and his wife transported Dirty, Forrest and me to town. We ate all-you-can-eat Chinese food and then went to downtown Franklin. A few of us shared a motel room near town. This meant we could easily restock and stop at the Lazy Hiker Brewery. It was a fun afternoon and night. I was happy to be clean and well fed. Franklin is also home to the Outdoor 76 outfitter. It is an outfitter that makes hikers dream. All the gear you could possibly need, plus a bar stocked with local beers.
Thanks for reading this trail update! I hope you enjoyed reading and the pictures. I’m amazed that it’s been over 130 days on the trail and yet I’m shocked that my trip is ending soon. I’m glad to have this blog as a journal to look back on. While waiting for my next article, remember to keep walking in your own direction!
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