After experiencing my worst day on the trail thus far yesterday, today was among my best. It’s amazing what eight hours of uninterrupted sleep with do for a weary hiker. When I awoke to my alarm at 7:00, Tie Dye and Jolly were already awake. Captain Dan, who had chosen to sleep on the screened in porch of the cabin, was soon stirring as well. So I prepared my pack and walked with the others up to Phil and Donna’s home for breakfast. After another exceptional hiker meal of eggs, bacon, biscuits with honey, and juice, Phil drove me back to Stecoah Gap.
Jolly, Tie Dye, and Captain Dan chose to take a zero day and remain at the cabin. I’ll miss my British friend that I’ve hiked with off and on since Franklin; however, perhaps I’ll see all of them again up the trail.
I began my hiking day on a positive note, wearing a light daypack with only food , water, and a couple of incidentals inside. The beginning of today’s hike consisted of a gentle path of switchbacks leading up the mountain out of Stecoah Gap. Then after about two miles I was greeted with a steep climb without the switchbacks. Fortunately it was the only time all day that I would consider the hike strenuous. On the climb I passed two young hikers, Napalm, who thru hiked last year and his cousin, John Wayne. Napalm is just doing the first two weeks with “the Duke.”
Taking advantage of the slack pack opportunity, I hiked faster today than at anytime in the past, covering the 13.9 miles in right at 5 and 1/2 hours with several breaks. I spoke briefly with Camel, who is hiking with his son, and Floater, from White Plains, NY, who is hiking with his daughter, who is taking a semester off from college. I also talked with thru hiker Wild Willy and section hiker Walker T at Cable Gap shelter, just after being treated to some trail magic at Yellow Creek Mountain Rd. Triton, who hiked the trail in 2011, was grilling up some burgers. The “magic” could not have occurred at a more opportune time since I arrived at the road just past noon, and I was only carrying snacks in my small pack. Some Boy Scouts with their leaders from High Point, NC were also there.
In the early afternoon, while taking a break, I chatted with section hiking sisters Hiker Nutt and Nutty Buddy from Dalton, GA. When they asked the reason for my thru hike, I again was given the opportunity to talk about my brother. Both ladies seemed sincerely moved.
All afternoon I hiked at a fast pace, only pausing to drink water a few times. I did very briefly chat with Mud Puddle and Slider, a middle-aged couple from Maine. I continue to meet many hikers who began their hikes a week or longer before I did. After the brief break I charged down the last three miles of the mountain arriving at Fontana before 2:30. My timing could not have been better. Jeff, of the Hike Inn where I had a reservation, had just arrived to pick up three other hikers. Two were Rocket and. Whiskers. So at least there are two other hikers here that I’ve previously met. As Jeff drove to the inn he congratulated us for making it this far, saying that over one-third of would-be thru hikers have dropped out by now. Jeff states that he has been extremely busy over the past few days shuttling those who have chosen to end their hikes to airports.
I’m at the inn now, showered and having my laundry done by Jeff’s wife. In a few minutes Jeff will take us all in to Robbinsville for a meal and re-supply shopping. Then when I return to my room, I hope to get to watch the Braves for the first time this season.
Having been on the trail for two weeks now, I just want to say how much I appreciate all of you who are reading my posts. Whether family, old friends, new friends, or folks I’ve never met, I continue to be humbled by your interest in my adventure and your genuine compassion for my brother Don. If you’re reading this on trailjournals, I’m posting more pictures at my website, http://www.donsbrother.com because they are easier to upload there. Tomorrow the Smokies await. The 5 day weather forecast is perfect. I may not be able to post the next two days, but if I can’t, expect an update on Tuesday from Newfound Gap. I’m focused and all is good, because Don loved the woods, and I think he would be enjoying sharing my journey on the Appalachian Trail.