Day mileage: 19.5
AT total mileage: 402.2
Time: 7.5 hours
I wandered outside in the middle of the night to look at the stars, and was blown away by the spectacular show of light from millions of miles away glistening in the sky. The interior of the barn was absolutely pitch black, so the change in light was even more shocking. I'm not sure where the moon has been hanging out, as I'm pretty sure the new moon has come and gone, but it was a perfectly clear sky with immeasurable stars looking back at me. Watching the stars is one of my favorite parts of being on the trail.
The overnight occupants of the barn started waking up around 6:30, and I got up about a half hour later. Whitey and I used the opportunity of being in the barn to each eat 'breakfast in bed', or without leaving our respective sleeping bags. I started my hike at 8 on the dot, and was greeted with some good climbing to get my leg muscles warmed up. Instead of listening to my pre-selected music or audiobooks on my iPod, I switched it over to FM radio and spent the majority of my morning listening to NPR. It's quite strange to have not read a newspaper headline or seen a news program on television in almost a month now... It almost makes me nervous of what I may have missed, although I'm sure that anything huge would be circulated amongst connected hikers.
A 1,000' climb to the top of Hump Mountain Bald would have netted some gorgeous views, had there not been a massive fog that moved in. I summited the mile-high bald and began descending as a beautiful thing happened, two masses of fog on each side of the mountain rushed around it, crashing into each other and closing me in like two dark curtains. It's tough to explain without a visual, but it was quite amazing to watch. I got down off the bald and began a very long descent through foggy, rocky, New England type terrain. A few miles down the trail after coming across Doll Flats, I passed a sign marking the final (of very many) departures from North Carolina. From this point on we'll be solely in Tennessee, with another 70 miles to the Virginia border. Continuing down from Doll Flats, I came across a road crossing at US 19 which gave hikers the opportunity to hitchhike into Roan Mtn, TN or Elk Park, NC. Having all the supplies I need, I crossed the four-lane highway and continued onto the Appalachian Trail where it picked up across the road. Some easy uphills crossing over more than a few streams, brought the trail into some great open fields where agricultural redevelopment is underway to help protect the Golden Winged Warbler bird. Interesting stuff, gorgeous scenery. The trail turned onto what appears to be old Jeep roads for a mile or so before ducking back into the woods. The miles flew by, as the weather is finally beautiful again after the fog burned off, with temperatures in the mid-60s and scattered clouds against brilliant blue skies.
I walked alongside a large river for a while, passing by locals who were escaping from life with loved ones and family members to sit by the rushing water. The trail then turned away and began a long and gradual uphill climb to the 400th mile of trail, and ultimately the Mountaineer Shelter. I passed by a few more waterfalls, including one that was 20 feet or so tall, before coming to the relatively newly constructed shelter. This is the first 'triple decker' I've come across, with three individual levels of space for hikers to sleep on. Despite the large number of hikers from Overmountain Shelter that were aiming to stay here (18 miles between the two shelters) there was nobody spending the night yet! I hesitated to leave, but continued another mile down the trail to camp at a site alongside a river with Whitey and Chili as we had discussed earlier in the day. As they set up camp (I'm going 'cowboy' again now that the weather is nicer) many hikers continued past us, saying they were going to get a few more miles in while the sun was up and weather was nice. I don't blame them- it'd be a great and easy day to push a 20+ mile hike. Tiptoe and Kenny from So. NH also hiked by, and doubled back to camp with us after I informed them there was plenty of room.
A good dinner around a blazing campfire led to conversations of hiking, work, and life in general. Plans for tomorrow were made, which for me will include a 15 mile hike to a small hostel just outside Hampton, TN. A small $5 donation is recommended in exchange for a bunk to sleep in, warm shower, and shuttle ride into town for food. I don't need any groceries, but am secretly yearning a cheeseburger from the McDonald's in town. All in all it should be an easy day.
As dusk passed us by and our world became dark, the fire burned down and everyone has retired to their tents. I will again spend tonight in just my sleeping bag under a perfectly clear sky painted with millions of stars.
And yes, those satellites are still circling by.