Our first big milestone was leaving Georgia and entering North Carolina. Shortly after, we reached our second milestone by hitting the
100 mile mark at Albert mountain fire tower, where the final quarter mile was so steep it was more like rock climbing. In some places I had to throw my trekking poles up and over waist-high boulders and hoist myself over them by using tree trunks for support.
The next day we stayed in Franklin, NC at the Sapphire Inn, which was booked with hikers who were all there for resupply, laundry, and a bed for the night, just like us. With one washing machine to share among many, we had to keep checking to see when it became available, and when it was empty, we literally ran to collect our dirty clothes in order to race other people to the machine, and as soon as we inserted our quarters, two other out of breath hikers entered the laundry room with arms full of clothes. Ha ha! Success! We took Ron Haven’s shuttle to the grocery store to resupply and ordered Chinese delivery to our hotel room, for the first time greatly overestimating how much we could eat. I briefly considered taking the leftovers with me, but decided against it when I imagined the possible consequences of eating two day-old lo mein in the backcountry and ended up leaving it instead.
Upon returning to the trail from Franklin, we entered a long rainy period which dampened our spirits for the next several days. We worked hard to hike uphill in the rain to get to our first bald (a mountaintop without tree cover, so you can get a 360 degree view), and when we got to Wayah bald it was so foggy we couldn’t see a thing. So much for our first bald view.
One bright spot was reaching the NOC, Nantahala Outdoor Center, which was a bustling hiker haven in the middle of a dreary, wet day. I felt bad when I entered their store because my clothes were so wet that water was dripping steadily from my sleeves and pant legs onto the floor. The clientele seemed to be half tourists (one told me I ‘looked like I could use a hot cup of tea’) and half hikers as dirty and wet as I was, so I guessed it was ok. We perused their outfitter and ate a hot meal at their restaurant before bidding farewell to the other hikers who were staying at the NOC hostel for the night. We decided to save money and hike on, which we immediately regretted two miles later in rain pouring down so hard it was difficult to see to walk. We had to stop at an unnamed campsite to set up our tents in the downpour, and despite our efforts to set up quickly, our tent had half an inch of standing water inside by the time we attached the rain fly. What wasn’t totally soaked was damp, and it made for an uncomfortable night.
Unfortunately the next day was no better. Putting cold, wet clothes on in the morning when it’s already raining is no fun. By this time it had rained so much that the trail was mostly a river of flowing water and mud ankle deep in most places, which made for wet, blistery feet and the potential for developing trench foot, not to mention straining knees and leg muscles to avoid falling on the slippery surfaces. And avoid it I did not. On a section of large rocks coming downhill, my poles slipped and I pitched forward, the weight of my pack forcing me towards the ground at an alarming speed. My wrists were wrapped in the straps of my poles and so I was unable to put my hands out to brace my fall. Somehow I landed on my side and luckily did not smash my face on the rocks. Once down, I felt like a turtle on its back, writhing to get to a position in which I could gain some leverage to push myself back to a standing position beneath the weight of my pack, which seemed enormous now that it rested on top of me. Once I regained my footing, I moved as slowly and carefully as I could. At the end of the day, we reached Stecoah Gap, where we thought there were campsites but in fact there were signs saying ‘no camping allowed.’ We walked a little farther and camped on a gravel access road. And guess what? It rained all night.
We had planned to go another day into Fontana because Shane had a package to pick up, but when we called they were booked. We were grumpy from the rain, plus we’d been pushing higher miles for the last few days and we could feel every extra step in the form of new aches and pains. My toes had been pruny for three straight days. If we had to go into town a day earlier than we’d planned, I wasn’t going to complain. Just then, a lady pulled up to the gap and got out to empty the trash bins by the side of the road. Her name was Cynthia, and she belonged to several hiking clubs in the area and volunteered to do trail maintenance in her free time. She had a hostel, but hers was booked too. However, she said she had a friend who had a bed and breakfast, and she could drive us into town. What’s more, she was going to the grocery store, and she could wait for us while we resupplied! It was already shaping up to be a good day- and today was Travis’ birthday, so we planned to pick up some beer to celebrate… Well, just our luck, Robbinsville is in the only dry county in the entire state of North Carolina.
Cynthia’s friends, Rob and Robin, did in fact have openings at their B&B, and drove us there from the grocery store. We drove farther up into the mountains for twenty miles, until we were on dirt roads which seemed to lead nowhere. Suddenly we arrived at Buffalo Creek B&B, which really was a little slice of heaven in the mountains. Their log cabin was only feet away from a babbling brook, and ringed by blooming flower bushes and potted plants. They had chickens for laying fresh eggs, and in the yard two young cats chased butterflies (seriously!). It was picturesque, and Rob and Robin only made it more welcoming by making us feel at home. They grilled burgers for dinner and we had cake for Travis’ birthday. Rob even had a brewing hobby, so we got to have beer after all! We were warm and fed and dry and today felt like such a turnaround from the last few days of rain. The icing on the cake was getting to rest our sore muscles in the hot tub on their deck that faced the wandering brook, lit up with twinkling lights. It was the perfect end to the perfect day.
In the morning, Robin cooked us a full country breakfast, complete with fresh eggs, bacon, grits, toast, and fruit. We were reluctant to leave, but they told us to call them to come pick us up if the weather got bad once we returned to the trail, because they were worried about dangerous storm conditions in the forecast. It turned out to be unnecessary because it was actually nice out for once, but it was a generous offer. We’ve been lucky to meet such nice people along the way! It’s people like Rob and Robin that make our families feel better knowing that there are kind strangers out there who will care for us in times of need. In a world in which we are often taught to be wary of strangers, it is refreshing to be reminded that there really are lots of good, neighborly people all around us.
P.S. I’ve been a bit delayed in posting because of some internet issues. We are currently halfway through the Smokies, so I’ll be posting about that next!