Day mileage: 18
AT total mileage: 323.9
Time: 8 hours
A joke: How do you confuse the hell out of a northbound Appalachian Trail hiker?
..You have them hike south!
It took me only about 10 minutes of walking this morning to notice that something in my simple little world was horribly amiss. Turns out I've become keenly aware of the fact that in the morning the sun is on my right, and in the afternoon it's on my left. This was apparently not applicable this morning. Upon leaving Flint Mountain Shelter, where I resided last night, the trail turns abruptly south, and stays in that orientation for a half-dozen miles or so. Seems rather counterproductive for an individual attempting to walk to Maine, no? Alas, it eventually returned to the proper orientation and all was right with the world again.
After a late (0900) start, the first few miles flew by. Since I'm now walking alone for the majority of my day (for those who have asked, Crusoe and I are hiking separately after he took a second day off in Hot Springs), I'm apparently exceptionally quiet. There was one point where I felt I was being watched, and looked up to see a small group of deer standing in the woods around me. They were exceptionally attentive to my movement but remained still, eyes glued to me, as I snapped a few photos with my dSLR. For a minute or two we just watched each other, some sort of silent interspecies communication taking place, before I moved on down the trail and they simply watched me go. It's the closest I've been to a wild animal thus far on my hike, and was a peaceful & memorable experience. I exited the woods a mile later, crossing a small state road and conversing with hikers Osprey and Landslide. Both hikers were awaiting a shuttle to a local hostel and as we made small talk, Osprey gave me some dehydrated raspberries. Words cannot describe how delightful these little things were. I thanked him profusely, said goodbye to Landslide, and climbed over a small ladder into a fenced in field where the Appalachian Trail continued on.
The next two hours were spent climbing an unnamed mountain, fair and relatively basic switchbacks winding past some beautiful waterfalls and lush green fields. I decided to spend the morning without my iPod so I was singing to myself, often only getting two or three lines of a song out before I'd forget the rest and just repeat what I'd already sang. As I've said before, pressing issues in a hiker's life. There was also a while on this climb where I stopped and watched a bug. I realize this sounds completely abnormal, but there was something about the blue color of it's shell that caught my attention enough to stop my walking, and I simply watched it make its busy way down the dirt trail. I wondered what he was up to, and if it had a to-do list for the day, as he certainly seemed to be on a mission. After another half hour or so, I summited the mountain and was joined by Cheesepuff and Whitey as we made our way to the next shelter to stop for lunch. We were at the Hogback Ridge Shelter for close to an hour just conversing with other hikers and soaking up the sun. Today's temperatures creeped up to the mid-70s with a flawlessly clear sky... A perfect day for hiking.
I filled up my water bottle before leaving the shelter, and continued down a few miles of trail before the next road crossing. One of my favorite parts of hiking this Tennessee/North Carolina state line since exiting the Smokies has been the barbed wire fences. It seems we're constantly between old farmland property lines, with rickety and rusty fence lines running over hills and through fields. I often wonder how long ago they were actually used for keeping livestock in, or neighbors out. Some fence posts are in decent condition, while others have been claimed back by Mother Nature. The trail meandered down into Sam's Gap crossing under the highway at yet another NC/TN state line. From there an afternoon of climbing began, the end of which kicked my butt around the block and back. After 5 or so miles of gaining elevation, Cheesepuff, Whitey, and myself came across a great campsite between two rivers. We sat for a while debating staying there, but ultimately I put my pack back on and decided to keep hiking. It just feels wrong to stop even at 1700hrs, even with 15 miles hiked, all the while knowing there's 3 hours of sunlight left. My task here is to hike, and while there's light left to do it, I'd rather be hiking.
Ultimately, the last 3 miles kicked my butt around the block and back. It was a constantly steep climb, which after 7 hours of hiking can take a toll. Regardless, as a group we summited the mountain called Big Bald, and decided it'd be an interesting place to set up camp. Not everyday do you get to camp out at the bald summit of a 5,616' mountain. There are 3 other hikers here with me, Whitey, JPEG, and Soleil, and with the wind howling we watched an absolutely gorgeous sunset. Everyone retired to their tents and my dinner was cooked inside my vestibule of the tent. The wind is still gusting, but I'm hoping that the sunrise in the morning will make it all worth while. Sometimes shelters just don't make things exciting enough, and things need to be shaken up a bit.
Tomorrow I'll walk another 16-17 miles, aiming to be nearby to Erwin, TN for Monday morning to get some supplies before continuing on. For now, I'll listen to a combination of my Billie Holiday playlist, and the howling wind. Quite the Saturday night, am I right?!
Onward and upward, per usual.