Day 54: Mile 407.5 | Upper Laurel Fork
We didn’t leave camp until 11am. Once again, I didn’t sleep that night due to the cold and I slept in when the sun came up and warmed the tent. I had wanted to stop at Mountain Harbor Inn for breakfast (it’s apparently legendary and made by a pastry chef) but we woke up far too late for that. I kicked myself. I wished I had stayed there and not at Greasy Creek. I wish I could take this whole week back but I couldn’t. It wasn’t the hike I wanted to do. I was mad. Mostly at myself.
We hiked two miles to the next road, TN 19E, where one of the Georgia section hikers was waiting for their ride. He said there’s a place called Station at 19E that serves craft beers and can take you into town to eat food. A beer sounded really good. I had seen it on the map a few days before and considered going there but I prioritized Mountain Harbor when I was planning. The bar owner, who also runs a local hostel, pulled up to the gap. He said he could give us a ride. We rode in the back of his truck to the bar.
I tried their berry cider and an IPA. We met Sturdy Gurdy, Cider, Rainbow, Odd Job and Babaganoosh there. We chatted for a while and the bar owner brought over some pepperoni pizzas for us! We ate and drank until we were full. Around 2pm we headed back to the trail. The owner gave us a ride back in his truck.
When we got back to the trail it was hot. The mid day sun beat down on us. It had finally warmed up. Sweat rolled down my face as I climbed the first hill in a meadow. I was so happy the sun was out. As we climbed Maverick complained behind me. He complained about the heat. He complained about the sun on his head. He complained about the incline. Finally I stopped. Turned around.
“I need you to stop being so negative. I’m having a good day and I can’t put up with your negativity right now.” His face immediately changed. Shock and then anger. “I’m being negative?!” He retorted. “You’re the one who’s been negative all week and I’ve put up with it!” He was right I had been negative. But he was also the one who told me that I needed to stop being so negative and take control of my own narrative. I had finally taken his advice and he wasn’t having it. “I would like to have a positive day,” I said. “If you do not then you can walk ahead.” I stopped listening after this and stepped to the side of the trail. I didn’t make any eye contact. He stormed passed me saying something about me being the one who was really negative and how dare I? I let him get ahead.
I called my mom as I walked slowly up the hill. I embraced the heat and the sun and happily talked to my mom about where I want to be mentally. We chatted for half an hour. Eventually, I lost cell service so I hiked on faster. I listened to a few podcast episodes and some happy music. I had a really good day. My stomach was full of beer and pizza. My head was full of positivity. I decided while I walked that I wanted to leave Hampton, TN (our next town) solo. I decided I needed some time to myself and I needed to stop hiking for someone else.
I stopped at a few side trails trying to stay positive and enjoy the trail. And I passed 400 miles by myself.
As exhausted as I was, I made my miles. I did a full 14 miles after 2pm. I hiked through the sunset. Past a river, through a field, over some small hills, into a rhododendron tunnel.
Eventually I came to Upper Laurel Fork where Maverick and I had agreed to meet earlier that morning. I was honestly surprised to see him there. I figured in his anger he would have ditched me. The sun was mostly set as I walked into the camp site.
(Photo was captured the next morning)
“I’m sorry about earlier,” I started. “I should have gone about that a better way. But I wanted to be more positive and you were making it difficult for me to do that. I think after today I need to hike my own hike.” He let me finish my entire sentence. He stood from where he was sitting. “I’m surprised you even showed up.” He said. I was expecting an apology, obviously I didn’t get one. He told me he hung a bear line already that we can share. I set up my tent next to his and got water. I made my Mountain House meal and ate as quickly as I could. He waited for me to finish eating so that he could hang our food bags.
We went to bed without many more words. On this day I started adding a new section to my journal entries. 3 Positives:
1. I stood up for myself
2. Warm weather and sun
Day 55: Mile 427.7 | Boots Off Hostel
I woke up to a lot of condensation in my tent. I set it up hastily the night before and definitely didn’t ventilate properly considering I was camping in a valley next to a stream... I dried it as best as I could. I got up at 9am and went to find a tree to dig a hole under first thing. When I came back I got the bear bags down. We packed up quietly. Originally, we planned to hike about 15 miles on this day. I looked at the guidebook again, longing for a bed that was truly warm. Even with the warm weather the night before, my sleeping pad still sapped a lot of the heat from my body.
As we put on our packs and were about to leave, Dynasty showed up on the trail! I have been leapfrogging Dynasty nearly every day since Fontana. He was a cool guy. An older hiker who was tenacious and made some good miles! I was always excited to see Dynasty. He walked with us for a bit until we hit a steep incline. The day shaped up to be beautiful and sunny.
As Maverick and I walked through a meadow with an old falling down log cabin I realized something. Tomorrow we had planned to do only 5 miles into the hostel in Hampton. If we made it there tonight I could still take a zero tomorrow, which I wasn’t planning on taking, and Maverick could take two zeros. We thought about it without looking at the elevation profile. “It’s only five miles!” We agreed. Might as well! We called the hostel to make sure they had room. They did! Excited and exhausted we pushed on.
We walked through the Pond Mountain Wilderness: across a cool river, along some rock ledges, past a waterfall, and to Pond Mountain itself.
We didn’t realize how big it was... We hiked hard to the top, squeezing every last ounce of energy out of ourselves. Heavy breath and sore muscles, we stopped part way up the mountain. I made the mistake of looking at Guthook which can tell you by GPS where you are. We were barely halfway up and had thought we were way further. We drank the last of our water. The next mile and a half to the spring at the top of the mountain seemed to take forever. I didn’t even care that we had summoned the mountain because I was so thirsty. As we got water from the muddy spring at the top the sun went down all the way. I pulled out my headlamp and realized, for the first time, that it may be a little bit too dim for night hiking. We cruised down the mountain as fast as we could toward our warm beds!
We got to the hostel around 9:30pm and that sign looked like heaven. By the time we got there my hip was numb, I was exhausted, and I couldn’t walk without a limp. We checked in with the hostel owner and split a tiny cabin. We showered in their super cool bucket showers before bed. They sold us a two frozen pizzas to eat. We heated them up in the overnight in the Hiker kitchen. I also had a red Powerade. That was the most satisfying drink I had ever had. They brought my packages with my new gear out and I opened all of them!
I slept solidly through the night in my warm bunk.
1. 20+ miles. The biggest day yet.
2. PIZZAAAAA + Powerade
3. SHOWER + WARM BED
DAY 56: Mile 427.7 | Boots Off Hostel
First thong in the morning Grumpy, one of the hostel workers, took me to the post office to mail my old pack home to be returned to REI. My Big Agnes pad got sent back to the manufacturer to be evaluated for defects. We hung out at the hostel afterwards. It was sunny and beautiful. It was HOT. I sat out on the porch and blogged. We brought our laundry up to be done. We got to go to town later in the day and get beer, resupply, and McDonalds. I strangely liked McDonalds suddenly.
When I got back I organized my new gear and resupply food. My new pack fit perfectly and was so much lighter.
I went down to our tiny cabin and did some Yoga. I also made sure to stretch really well. I played Cards Against Humanity with some new friends: Live, Duck, Beaver, and Snow Plow. We signed the log book.
Later in the evening someone started a fire and we all gathered around it. I roasted some hot dogs over the fire for dinner. Poe, Savage, and Sparty rolled in sometime in the evening and joined us. Around the fire a few of us talked about slackpacking the next day. I said I’d be in. We decided to leave around 9:30am. Duck played some songs on guitar. It was a chill evening.
Day 57: Mile 448.6 | Boots Off Hostel/TN 91
We woke up to rain. I packed quickly and got ready to leave for my slackpack. I ate a breakfast of cereal and some fruit and mentally prepared myself for a 21 mile day. We got driven out to TN91 where we would walk south from.
We started out together and eventually split up. We passed Grandma Shorty and Plod Along on the way! Remember them from Hiawassee? They are so great.
I hiked quickly, 3-4 miles per hour through the rain. I listened to music all the way. I zoned out and just pushed myself to go as fast as I could. Thunder and lightning struck over Watuga lake while I ran the ridge around it. I talked on the phone with Chelsea for a bit, too.
When I got back to the hostel at 5:25pm I expected to be able to catch the 6:00pm scheduled shuttle into town for dinner. When I arrived I found it had already left. Grumpy said he couldn’t give me a ride to town for food until all of the hikers got back. I was STARVING. I took a shower. I asked if I could dry my fully soaked clothes before morning. He said I could but I’d have to wait for the other slackpackers for that too. I bought another frozen pizza and ate most of it. I was annoyed. I fumed while I ate my pizza. I was probably mostly hangry.
The other hikers were all finally back at 8pm. We went to town and I got more McDonalds. I scarfed it down before our ride even came back to pick us up. I went to bed as soon as I got back.
1. 21 Miles
3. The Guilty Feminist Podcast