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March 31st: Late Start Waiting out the Rain

 Bottles and Drums in front of Mom's

Bottles and Drums in front of Mom's

Miles Today: 14.1

Mile Marker: 294.5 Camp Creek

Super lazy morning today.  I woke up at sunrise, per the usual, but I wasn't feeling ready to get moving.  I laid around until about 7:45 when I got up to retrieve my food bag.  I started to snack while I worked up the motivation to pack up and go.  It was warm, but it rained last night. The only thing worse than taking down a sopping wet tent is having to put it up again that night.  I've got about three more days of rain in the forecast so I'll just have to take Mike’s advice and “Suck it up Buttercup”. Oddly enough I did meet a Buttercup two days ago.  Her and Midnight were hiking with a cute little pit bull named Boo Boo, but I digress.  During my procrastination and snacking it started to rain again.  I zipped back up and waited for it to stop.  I ended up snacking and watching a TV show I downloaded to my phone before I left until just after 10:00.  I used up my whole battery allotment for the day first thing in the morning, no shame.

I got one small shower after I got going, but that was it.  About five miles in I met Bottles and Drums, as we tried to figure out how far away the hostel in our guide was.  I wanted a soda, Bottles wanted to check the resupply, and Drums was thinking of staying there.  While we were figuring out where we were Bottles asked “What's Mom’s?”.  I immediately knew my problem was solved.  I had seen it in videos from 2016 hikers, and Scarecrow reminded me of it yesterday.  Mom’s is this run down convenience store that isn't mapped in the guides and isn't really advertised from the street.  Picture a gas station that closed in the 50’s that someone decided to “reopen” by running enough power for a refrigerator and stocked it with about $100.00 worth of snacks.  No lighting, no HVAC, no renovation.  Just kicked down the door, spliced into the electric pole, wrote “Open” on the inside of a pizza box in sharpie and stuck it in the window.  That's Mom’s.  I got a soda and a Klondike bar for $2.50. Perfect.


We all hiked on and eventually hit Little Laurel Shelter.  I made dinner while I had access to a picnic table, a water source, and it was still dry.  Bottles and Drums both stayed for the night.  I've got a schedule in mind to be able to nearo into the cabin, so I hiked on for another hour or so.  Some people don't like the idea of solo camping, but sometimes it's a nice change of pace.  You don't have to listen to people staying up later than you or getting up before you.  Today was a good blend because I got to socialize at dinner, but still got some peace and quiet while maintaining my schedule.

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March 30th: Hot Springs

 The sidewalk in Hot Springs has these markers for the trail instead of the usual white blazes. 

The sidewalk in Hot Springs has these markers for the trail instead of the usual white blazes. 

Miles Today: 10.2

Mile Marker: 280.4 Solo camping

I had a nice 3.2 mile hike into Hot Springs this morning.  I made it to the outfitter and grabbed some inserts that seem to be helping, but only time will tell.  They also had a decent selection of food, so I resupplied there.  Then I went across the street to the tavern for some chips and salsa, a bacon burger with waffle fries, and two beers.  They had decent WiFi so I put up some posts and got an Amazon order in.  I've been having serious Internet withdrawals out here. I can usually get cell coverage, but no data.  It was nice to finally reconnect a bit.

I spent the rest of the afternoon reconnecting with everyone I hadn't seen on the trail in a while.  Hot Springs is basically a one mile stretch of Main Street and that's it.  We were all wandering up and down the sidewalks hopping from place to place.  The group I was hiking with a week or so ago all rolled in and I stopped for one more beer with them before heading out.  It was great seeing everyone, but pushing ahead is the right move for me.  It will allow me to get in early to see the folks.  Really looking forward to the down time with them at the cabin.  I'm ready for a serious break.

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March 29th: Grinding it out

 Seeing these signs is a Catch 22.  It makes the work I've done so far seem so insignificant, but I do like seeing that number to Maine go down. 

Seeing these signs is a Catch 22.  It makes the work I've done so far seem so insignificant, but I do like seeing that number to Maine go down. 

Miles Today: 16.0

Mile Marker: 270.2 Deer Park Mountain Shelter

This morning was dewy and my tent was soaked.  However the weather was pretty great.  It was sunny all day and there was a gentle breeze going.  Not much in the way of any views.  Today was all about grinding out miles to have a short hike into Hot Springs tomorrow.

Originally I was going to nearo, but now I think I'm going to resupply and pass through.  I'm still rested from Standing Bear, and skipping the stay in HS saves me money and means I can nearo in to see Mom and Rick next Tuesday.  That's been all I can think about this last week.  It's going to be a welcome break.

I am going to hit the outfitter in the morning and look for some cushy shoe inserts.  I think I was a bit overzealous with my jump into zero drop shoes.  I think it is causing much of the ankle and foot pain I've felt since I started.  I don't particularly feel any other muscle soreness or fatigue, so finding a fix for the foot pain will make the hiking much better.  I'm hoping something like Super Feet will have enough of an incline themselves to allow me to wear these shoes out.  If they don't work, I'll try something new when I get to Erwin.

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March 28th: Rainy Morning Gives Way to Beautiful View from Max Patch

Miles Today: 14.5

Mile Marker: 254.4 Solo camping

This morning as I was checking out I ran into Head First, Old E, Red Beard, Two Step, Ping Pong, Fireball, and Dr Stretch.  I hadn't seen most of them since Franklin.  It was good to see them and catch up, and it was cool Old E was able to hook up with them.  It sounds like they have been making good time and we'll all be in Hot Springs together on the 29th.

As I headed out it was nothing but rain for the first six miles.  Eventually the rain broke and the sun came out.  The hiking was hot, but it was a welcomed change of pace.  Spring is starting to seep into the mountains now.

I made it to Max Patch as the sun was going down.  The summit was originally cleared for cattle, but is now maintained as a bald.  Absolutely incredible 360 view of the mountains.  I hung out there for a while until the clouds started threatening rain.  I got off the mountain and found a quite little spot to camp by myself near some water with about an hour of sunlight left.  For the next two days I'm going to have to pay close attention to where water sources are because I left one of my water bottles at Standing Bear.  It wasn't the one with the filter attached so it's not a huge deal, just inconvenient.

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March 27th: Nearo into Standing Bear

Miles Today: 3.6

Mile Marker: 240.3 Standing Bear Hostel

Quick hike into a quaint little place.  This is basically a slight step up from camping.  The toilet is still a composting privy.  The showers are in a detached shed, and one of them is actually an outside stall.  The one I ended up using.  Laundry is done by hand in the sink, but they do have a mechanical dryer.  Most of the lodging is in a cabin with twelve or so bunk beds.  There is also a one bed tree house, a one bed bungalow, and a two person cabin for extra.  I was lucky to snag the little bungalow in the back.  It's just big enough for a full size bed and has an extension cord running to it.  It has this great little porch hanging over a creek in the back.  Exactly what I needed.

It has a reasonable resupplying, frozen dinners, sodas, and beer for sale.  I hit all four and took it easy all day.  Back at it again in the morning.

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March 26th: Last Day in The Smokies

Miles Today: 14.8

Mile Marker: 236.7 Davenport Gap Shelter

My last day in the Smokies.  Many people were complaining by the end of the trip, but I loved the Smokies.  I think part of the reason people don't like this section is because they have to camp in or near a shelter instead of anywhere along the trail.  Thru hikers are the only ones allowed to tent camp.  Normally the Smokies operate on a limited use model.  All other visitors have to book a spot in a shelter in advance, and they fill up quickly.  The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is really doing us a favor.  Right at the beginning of the season they let us come through and overrun all of their facilities while we push through our trek.  Shelters that are designed for 14 will often have 2 to 3 times that in peak season.  So thank you GSMNP for bending your rules for us.

The Smokies have hands down been my favorite section so far.  The landscape is beautiful, the trail is in fantastic condition, and the park is well maintained.  The trail builders here know what they are doing.  They are able to get you up and over a 1,000 foot climb without feeling like you're huffing and puffing up a ladder one miserable rung at a time.  I'm looking at you Jacob's Ladder out of the NOC (not a literal ladder).  Very little rocks and roots, and the grading is perfect.  I am definitely going to miss it.

It rained all last night and into this morning.  Everyone had a listless morning as we secretly hoped for the rain to stop before we headed out.  I had to put on full rain gear in the middle of the night just to go to the tree.  I wasn't particularly interested in hiking in it with temperatures rising.  As I was milling around I bumped into Moonshine who was stoking the fire trying to warm up.  It was 9:00 A.M. and that madman had already hiked FIVE miles from the previous shelter through the pouring rain.  He was soaked through and trying to get warm.  It was great to see him again, and we chatted for a bit.  Then he stormed up the hill and made it to Standing Bear that night.  He churned out about a 25 mile day.

I finally got going around 9:30 and had a pretty uneventful hike through the mist.  It warmed up quickly and the rain had stopped, so I dropped all of the rain gear.  It was clear until I stepped off trail at another shelter for lunch at the halfway point.  It rained the whole time I was eating and then stopped just as I filled up on water and headed out.  Tomorrow I have a short day into Standing Bear for a much needed nearo.

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March 25th: Hiking in the Clouds, Less Romantic Than it Sounds

 About as clear as it got. 

About as clear as it got. 

Miles Today: 12.1

Mile Marker: 221.9 Tri-corner Knob Shelter

Got an earlier start this morning around 8:15.  Today's forecast calls for rain some time after 3:00, so it was the smart move to get to the next shelter early.  I made it in around 2:30 and was the fifth one here.  Hopefully a group of weekend hikers doesn't come and evict us (as would be their right) now that we're settled.

All day the hiking was foggy and windy.  We were definitely hiking in the “smoke” of the Smokies.  Everything was wet even though it wasn't raining.  The air was just thick with moisture and the winds were blowing all of the condensation on the trees onto us.  Not much in the way of views even though we spent a good chunk of the day on ridgeline.

At the halfway point I found a little area in the back side of a ridge to hunker down and hide from the wind.  It was a nice break to have some lunch.  Something about 20 mph winds whipping you in the face all morning that is a little taxing.

Once I got to the shelter the sun came out.  It's the ideal shelter.  Right off the trail, water  within 10 feet, and a nice privy.  Hopefully there won't be much snoring going on and I can rest up for a bigger day tomorrow.

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March 24th: A Short Stop in Gatlinburg

 Unfortunately that mileage to Katahdin is out of date.  It's actually further. 

Unfortunately that mileage to Katahdin is out of date.  It's actually further. 

 Man Hike group plus Scarecrow and Dirty Bunny in the middle. 

Man Hike group plus Scarecrow and Dirty Bunny in the middle. 

Miles Today: 7.8

Mile Marker: 209.8 Icewater Spring Shelter

Today was a nice short day.  It's amazing how happy you get when you know it's going to be an easy short day.  I woke up and hiked 4.8 miles to get to a road and hitched a ride into Gatlinburg.  I grabbed a new fuel canister from the outfitter, and I could smell BBQ coming from somewhere and had to have it.  I found the place five minutes later.  It was a chain restaurant and was kind of meh BBQ, but it hit the spot.  I destroyed that plate of brisket, pulled pork, baby back ribs, potato salad, BBQ baked beans, and cheese buiscuit. I washed it down with Dr. Pepper and backed it with a slice of chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream.  I then waddled over to the general store and got a small resupply to last me to Standing Bear Farm in three days.  They also had a grill going, so I ordered a Philly Cheesesteak to take for dinner tonight.

After the whirlwind town tour, I tried to hitch a ride back to the trail.  I ran into another thru hiker who had already been trying to hitch for half an hour with no luck.  Gatlinburg is a tourist town, and none of the visitors associate us with the trail.  They all assume we're some sort of weird hobos and won't interrupt their vacation to take us back up the mountain.  We're hobos with a purpose dammit, and we just want to get back to hiking!  The way down is much easier because they see you come out of the woods and hear your story.  The guy who brought me and two other hikers in to town was great and loved chatting with us.  But alas to return we had to pay for a shuttle. Forty-five dollars for a fifteen minute ride back up the mountain.  We split it two ways so it wasn't terrible, but we are unemployed and on a budget.  That ride was two days worth of food.

I had a quick three mile hike back on the trail, and I got in early enough to lock down a shelter spot.  Another great day on the trail.  Two more full days of hiking and then a nearo into Standing Bear.  Hopefully I'll have enough of a connection to finally post an update.

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March 23th: Highest Point on the AT - Check

 First deer spotting of the trip.

First deer spotting of the trip.

 Look at all the food in that beard.

Look at all the food in that beard.

 I forgot to take a picture of Clingmans observation tower, so Scarecrow sent me one of his. Goes to show just how luck I got with the weather.  This was the day after I was there. 

I forgot to take a picture of Clingmans observation tower, so Scarecrow sent me one of his. Goes to show just how luck I got with the weather.  This was the day after I was there. 

Miles Today: 14.0

Mile Marker: 202.5 Mt Collins Shelter

Today didn't start off much better than yesterday, but there was ascending needed doing so I got to it.  Today's agenda included the highest peak on the entire AT. Clingmans Dome at 6,667 feet (from the observation tower).  The trail and the weather were both super cooperative on the way up.  Mostly hard packed dirt and sunshine.  Almost no rocks, roots, or downed trees in the way.  I couldn't have asked for better conditions.  I got to the top around 5:00 and encountered a band of thru hikers eating dinner at the observation tower.  The road to the tower isn't opened for the season yet, so we had the whole place to ourselves.  I figured why not and joined them in dinner.

Shortly after getting back on the trail from Clingmans, I hit the 200 mile mark.  Woo woo! Then I had to take a 0.50 mile detour to get to the shelter I have to stay at for the night.  For those of you keeping score on the mileage and the mile markers, that's why it's 0.50 off. It's not part of the AT, but I walked it, and I'm counting it.  There are tons of detours like this.  0.20 miles to get water, 0.30 miles to this shelter, 0.25 miles to the best overlook in the section.  Sure it's not much, but after hiking 10 hours a day they are insult to injury.

Bright side of the shelter being so far off course, most hikers will work their schedule around avoiding it.  When I got here there were only a group of Spring Breakers doing an adjoining trail. Opposed to the fifty some odd thru hikers at the other shelter.  First night I've slept in a shelter this entire journey.  We'll see how it goes.

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March 22nd: Zero Motivation Day

 Mountain Music taking a break to enjoy the view. 

Mountain Music taking a break to enjoy the view. 

Miles Today: 12.0

Mile Marker: 189.0 Derrick Knob Shelter

I woke up at 6:00 this morning amped and ready to do diddly squat.  The wind was still howling and the temperature dropped.  Getting out of my sleeping bag wasn't even on my radar let alone my priority list. Today was the kind of day where you lie awake for an hour thinking of calling in sick before you get up and go in.  While we have quite a bit of freedom out here, taking an unplanned day off in the woods isn't really one of them.  No one carries an extra day of food because it adds another two to three pounds to your pack.  Silver lining though, no official start time.  I finally rolled out of camp around 10:20.

The no sick days was highlighted when I ran into Fedora and his dad today.  Fedora is from Sweden and his dad flew out to do a section of the trail with him.  When I saw them yesterday they were BOOKING it down the trail.  Today they were dragging.  It wasn't until Fedora said he was sick I noticed his dad was carrying both if their packs.  Fedora said essentially he was sick all over and was miserable.  His dad looks to be in his early to mid sixties and has the build of an ultra runner.  It blew my mind he had already hiked three miles up to this point with two full packs.  They stopped to take a break and Alex, who is out for spring break, asked if we could help with the load.  Fedora's dad gave us maybe five to six pounds from Fedora’s pack.  Considering average pack weight is in the thirty to forty pound range, we barely made a dent.  They caught up to me every time I stopped to take a break today.  Poppa Fedora is a BEAST! And Fedora is way more committed than me.  I'm a bit of a baby when I'm sick.  Super impressed by both of them today.

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March 30th: In Hot Springs, Updates to Come

I'm in Hot Springs today.  Mile 273.  The trail walks right down Main Street, so I'm resupplying and having lunch and a beer before pushing on.  I just posted two updates below, but I won't have time to do the rest of them until Tuesday when I get to my parent's cabin.  Thank you everyone for your comments. I'll start replying to those on Tuesday too. 

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March 21st: I'm in the Smokies!

 How I get my water. 

How I get my water. 

Miles Today: 12.6

Mile Marker: 177.0

Per the usual today didn't go as expected. I intended to be another three miles down the line, but today was a tough one.  I started at 1,756 feet and finished at 4,586 feet.  That gain over 12.6 miles isn't too bad if it's just up the whole way.  I've said it before, but here in Appalachia they are proud of their mountains.  It's very important you go up and down Every. Single. One. of them along the way.  I'm too tired to math, but the elevation change was probably 1.5 to 2 times the 2,800 feet difference from where I started and ended.  

I was lethargic this morning, and didn't get started until 10:30ish.  (Mom, sit down for this) The breakfast of 3 eggs, 2 sausage links, 2 bacon strips, 2 pancakes (they were whole wheat at least), a biscuit with jam, a hash brown pattie, orange juice, and coffee may or may not have had a correlation with the lethargy.  I didn't even think about food again until 4:30 this afternoon.  I'm fairly certain the quinoa salad I packed out for lunch offset the breakfast though…  For dinner I had a hiker box special.  A hiker box is where hikers drop provisions and gear they don't need/want.  Most outfitters and lodging that cater to hikers have them.  Old E hiked the PCT last year and said the gold in the hiker boxes are the homemade meals that people throw out.  This one simply said beef.  And that's what I have with Old E now. (Not really)  That was the blandest meal I've ever had.  I'm fairly certain it was just Ramen noodles, beef jerky, and freeze dried vegetables without the Ramen seasoning packet. Thankfully I also scored a jar of garlic powder.  After adding enough to eradicate Transylvania’s vampire problem, it was stomachable.  

In addition to the late start, I was racing a storm rolling in.  The silver lining is I had to scarf my dinner down as quickly as possible so I could get my cook kit into my food bag and up in the trees on a bear cable before the rain hit.  Almost made it, but I got a little sprinkle while hanging it.  Sleeping with food near my tent isn't an option tonight.  Two people spotted a bear a mile south of camp on their way in.  They're coming out now, and they're hungry.  The Great Smoky Mountains National Park forces everyone to camp in the same spots, so all the bears and varmints know exactly where to look for hiker food.

The hike in this morning was absolutely amazing. Clear skies, stunning views, and a walk across the Fontana Dam.  About five miles in there was an old rickety fire tower.  The views from the top were incredible.  It's already difficult to capture how magnificent some of the scenery is here, but taking pictures through old dirty glass is even harder. Trust me, it was great.

All in all another great day on the trail.

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March 20th: First Nearo

Miles Today: 5.5

Mile Marker: 164.4 Fontana Dam

Last night I realized I made a strategic error.  In the Smokies you have to camp at the shelters.  I should have gotten to Fontana last night and headed into the Smokies today.  Taking the short day out of the NOC took me off schedule, but no regrets.  So that meant either nearo into Fontana today or do 18.1 to get to the Smokies shelter tonight.

I got into Fontana early in the day and figured I’d make that choice after lunch.  I ran into Scooby and Moonshine again, and they offered to let me pitch in on their room for the night.  I ordered a beer at lunch and the decision was made.  Laundry, showers, and real food I don't have to cook.  Sold.

If all goes well, I'll be in the Smokies tomorrow.  You never know out here though.  I hope the weather holds and the skies are clear. Some of the best views in the South.

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March 29th: Location Update

Hey everyone! From our limited texts, it seems as if our friend has found his stride. By my calculations, he has completed around 55 miles since the last update & I believe that even includes a zero day. Turns out, one of the campsites he was banking on having Wi-Fi ended up being a 21st-century mirage. The speeds were well below dial-up, which for those that know James well, can imagine his "are you kidding me?" face when seeing the results of that speed test, haha. He seems to be in great spirits though and hopefully we will hear from him soon!

 

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March 24th: Location Update

Hello all! My name is Justin and I've been honored with the task of periodically updating this blog with our Little Engine That Could's location. It has been a few days since his last post, so I've shared his approximate coordinates. Feel free to zoom in/out on the map below and Google Street View his location. He told me this afternoon that he will be hiking in a cellular deadzone between now and April 5th, but there should be two days where he will have good enough service to post. Happy Hiking!

 

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March 19th: Long Slow Day

Miles Today: 14.0

Mile Marker: 158.9 Cable Gap Shelter

We woke up in the clouds this morning.  It was still cold enough at our elevation the clouds were dropping a bit of snow.  It was more like ice crystals than snow or sleet really.  After I headed down about 400 feet it all cleared up. I knew today was going to be a higher mileage day, so I took my time.  I got started around 8:15 this morning and rolled into camp around 6:15.  I figured it was the first nice day we've had in awhile, I might as well spend it strolling through the woods. I took several breaks and a power nap.

I caught up with a few people I hadn't seen in a couple of days along the way.  Chatted with Zach and Ali from trivia for about a mile until they hit their end point for the day.  I spend most of the day hiking in solitude though.  I don't really mind as I'm an introvert at heart.  It was good to have a little me time to recharge.

Just before I got to camp there was a guy wrapping up trail magic. I got two hot dogs sans buns and a piece of American Cheese.  Not a bad day.  

Because Uncle Larry asked, dinner tonight is a Knorr, butter flavored pasta side and two packets of tuna in oil.

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March 18th: I Have Been Dubbed

 Photo credit: Scooby

Photo credit: Scooby

Miles Today: 7.9

Mile Marker: 144.9 Cheoah Bald

We got off to a late start this morning, but it was nice having a slow morning.  The owner of the cabin dropped off some eggs from his chickens last night, and we made those for breakfast.  Everyone did some stretching and relaxing.  We headed back to the NOC around noon and had lunch and resupplied.  Scooby and I hit the trail around 1:00 while Old E and Moonshine stayed back to relax and heal up.

The hiking was pretty uneventful, which was nice for a change.  My intention was to hike until about 7:00 and then just camp wherever I could along the trail.  At 6:00 I ran into Scooby who had found a spectacular Bald, and was camping with Noth’n Stuck and Fedora.  I figured I would stop and enjoy the view, but ultimately decided it was too cool of a spot to pass up.  We'll be getting stupid high wind gusts, but my new Fly Creek tent should hold up just fine.

I have this thin closed cell foam pad I brought with me to help add additional insulation to my main sleeping pad for the winter section.  I also use it to sit on during breaks and to take naps on during warm days.  The most important use however is picking a campsite.  Anyone who has camped on a slight incline knows it is essentially impossible to sleep. You spend the whole night half awake trying to keep from sliding off your pad.  I take my foam pad and lay it down on the ground and lie on it until I find the most comfortable spot.  Then I hold it in place with my trekking poles and pitch my tent in that exact spot.  Perfect sleep spot every time.  Scooby has seen me do this twice now and thinks it's brilliant/hilarious.  He said he had to come up with a name around the process.  I told him I also take naps on the mat during the day, and he immediately said “Slumberland. Your new name is Slumberland.” I dig it.  I've always taken my sleep very seriously; it's perfect.

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March 17th: Today's Trek Calls for Tunes

 Finally got a break from the snow, but still surrounded by the scorched forest. 

Finally got a break from the snow, but still surrounded by the scorched forest. 

Miles Today: 15.2 

Mile Marker: 137 Nantahala Outdoor Center

My intent this morning was to go about 12 or 13 miles to stay on schedule.  I followed Scooby out and drafted off him to set the pace.  Then we connected with Old E and had a very enjoyable hike out with some great conversation.  The day goes faster when you've got cool people to talk to. About halfway through the day we decided to make it to the NOC to avoid a bit of rain tonight.  

I hit a wall around 12 miles, so pushing to 15 is still a challenge for me.  Today's hiking was even worse.  The first third was snow and ice sheets, the second third was a miserable slush, and the final third was slippery mud.  There were sections of the trail that were downright dangerous.  I slipped and fell for the first time today.  Thankfully my legs slid out from under me instead of pitching forward.  Just a little muddy and annoyed, but hey it was going to happen at some point.

Much of the trail was scorched from the arson last year.  One section had all of the retaining longs burned through.  Erosion control is a very important aspect of maintaining the trail. When you lose much of the forest floor, your supports, and there is large amounts of precipitation; things start to slide away.  Muddy hiking is annoying, but it is hard not to be angry when you know it is much worse because someone intentionally tried to burn everything down.  The forest is already recovering.  The army of volunteers who maintain the AT will be out in April making repairs.  Things will get better.

After lunch Scooby burned up the trail.  A few hours later I got separated from Old E after a particularly precious downhill section.  I had 3.8 miles left.  It was time for the tunes.  I usually doing listen to music when I hike, but I knew at some point I would need extra motivation to get down the trail.  Today was that day.  When you can't improve your conditions, improve your mental state.

I caught up to the guys after what felt like forever, and we grabbed a nice meal while we discussed our options.  Scooby’s friend Moonshine showed up to join us. He's grounded for the next couple of days while he works out gear and deals with some injuries.  After realizing we weren't going to find a spot inside for the night and were discussing stealth camping, he came to the rescue.  He let each of us stay in the cabin he rented to recover for a deep discount for the night.  His cabin has laundry and a hot tub.  Absolute savior of the day.  I was fried after today. Physically, mentally, and somewhat emotionally for some reason.

Having a warm, dry spot to land made all the difference in the world.  The owner wasn't anticipating transporting four people, so we had to smash into the back seat with all of our gear.  He also brought us a bit of moonshine later that night.  Turned into an excellent St Patty’s, even though none of us knew it was today.  

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March 16th: Trivia Champs Return to the Trail

 Forest fire devastation. 

Forest fire devastation. 

Miles Today: 12.3

Mile Marker: 121.8 Licklog Gap

Last night our team dominated trivia at the Lazy Hiker Brewery.  We then headed to a bar called Mulligans where things got rowdy until about 11:00 P.M.  That's the equivalent of 4:00 A.M. on a school night.  Our work in Franklin being done, it was time to return to the trail.

The older crowd rallied and hit the trail at 9 this morning. The younger crowd made the 11:00 run.  They may be able recover from hangovers faster, but I believe they went harder than us.  I caught up with Fireball (Tom, still testing the name) and Cosmonaut, but missed Head First.  I pushed on past our initial planned spot after realizing I need to bump up my average to make it to see Mom and Rick in April. I forgot to leave him a message in the shelter log, but I'll text him.  Ultimately there is a ton of ebb and flow on the trail so you never know who you'll see.  The storm highlighted this by driving all of the hikers to Franklin.  I saw people I haven't seen since day one and people who were doing bigger miles who are now tied with me.  Zero days are the great equalizer.  One zero squashes three to four days of bigger miles and brings most everyone's average in line.

The hiking was more of the usual snowy affair.  Tomorrow should bring a thaw, but then we're just hiking in mud.  There are certainly parts of the day that feel like work to get through, but recently it has really started to sink in more and more how amazing this is.  I periodically geek out and just smile uncontrollably for about five minutes while going down the trail.  

Today I stopped at the top of a beautiful ridge line and found a dry, sunny place to have lunch.  While I was eating a father and son walked up and said they were going to fly a drone for a bit. It was incredibly cool watching them set up and then fly that little thing out of eyesight and back.  Tonight I am camped in this muddy field, but these two section hikers built a roaring fire and handed out their extra food before they finish tomorrow.  Completely changed the tone of everyone here.  We all pushed to this spot because everywhere else was snowed in. Literally no one here wanted to be here.  The little things can turn it all around though. Then when I was walking back to my tent and looked up and saw the most brilliant clear sky with stars I haven't seen in years.  I can't wait for the first solid view of the Milky Way. It has been much too long.

I recognize I'm still in the honeymoon phase, but this experience is absolutely incredible, and I'm just now starting to fully appreciate it.

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