Day 103 (Fontana Dam to the Nantahala Outdoor Center)

With tired legs and determined souls, Laura and I started south from Fontana Dam for our 3rd long mileage day in a row. My knee was still bothering me from Saturday’s fall so we decided to do more hiking and less running. It was the first day in four days that I didn’t get rained on.

Most of the day was a perfect temperature with a nice breeze. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been trying to catch up with another female flip flop thru hiker named Dropknife. She is also a PhD chemist. I keep catching up to her when she is in town and then I get ahead. I go back to work and she gets ahead. So this time she had signed the register at the Cable Gap Shelter that indicated she had been there this morning. Chances are I will finally meet her since there are no towns nearby and it is unlikely she is hiking to the NOC in one day.

This is a really pretty section that includes a couple really steep climbs. The view from Cheoah Bald was very nice. When we got to Sassafras Gap Shelter, I went down to get some water and finally met Dropknife. She was very nice. We busted for a few minutes and then I had to head on down the trail to catch up with Laura.

Dropknife....fellow female flip flop thru hiker and PhD chemist from Munich, Germany.

Dropknife….fellow female flip flop thru hiker and PhD chemist from Munich, Germany.

We finished the last few miles in the dark again today. Once we arrived at the NOC, we found my car where Laura S. and Susan K. had left it on Sunday morning. Thank you again! We drove back to get Laura’s car at Fontana Dam and then headed home. At this point, I have hiked all of the trail north of Hogpen Gap this year. I will share the posts from April going from Hogpen to the NOC. Only 38.6 miles to go!!!! I’m looking forward to friends joining me next weekend for the end of my thru hike.

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Day 102 (Clingman’s Dome to Fontana Dam)

After breakfast, Susan K. and Laura S. drove Laura P., Molly F. and me up to Clingman’s Dome. It was in the clouds again this morning. We headed off down the 0.6 mile trail that intersects with the AT.

My knee was pretty sore from my fall yesterday. Amazingly enough, this is the first day in 102 days that I’ve been in any kind of pain other than a little tired feet discomfort. I’ve been very lucky. My knee functions fine, it is just bruised. It was good on the flats and up hills but wasn’t happy on the descents. Since we were losing around 5000 ft on elevation through out the day, this was a challenge.

It rained a lot of the morning but the temperatures were warm so it was kind of pleasant. It stopped raining in the afternoon and we were able to enjoy some views. I’m so glad that Molly and Laura could join me for this section. Molly made some yummy treats for us to eat. 🙂

We saw 2 bears in the afternoon. These were the first bears Molly had seen. Cool! My thru hike bear count is now up to 24. It was a long day and we ended up needing to use our headlamps for the last couple of miles. When we arrived at Fontana Dam, we found Laura P’s car that Susan K. and Laura S. had shuttled for us. They also drove my car to the Nantahala Outdoor Center where we will end tomorrow. They were awesome Trail Angels!!!! Thank you bunches Susan K. and Laura S.!

Laura, Molly and I drove back to the Waffle House in Cherokee for dinner. The waitress and cook recognized us from the night before and were happy to see us again. Haha. Thank you Molly and Laura P. for a fun day in the Smokies.

Day 101 (Newfound Gap to Pigeon River Bridge)

My sister Laura arrived last night after dinner. We woke up early and met Susan K. and Laura S. at the continental breakfast. Yes, it is Susan, Susan, Laura and Laura today. Good thing I go by the name Cashmere these days or it could get confusing. 🙂

After breakfast, Susan K. and Laura S. took us up to Newfound Gap to start our hike northbound. After completing this section I will have hiked the whole AT but will still have 100 miles to hike to be a thru hiker (all in one year).

I was so happy that the clouds receded so that we could enjoy the view at Charlie’s Bunion. Mid day, we were going down a rocky descent and I caught my toe on a rock. I’ve only had three other hard falls this summer but was lucky enough not to be injured. This one could have been much worse but I still managed to bang up one of my knees pretty good. After a break, we continued down the trail. My knee didn’t feel too bad but I’m wondering how it will be tomorrow.

Susan K. and Laura S. shuttled my car to the Pigeon River Bridge. It took us a little bit to find the parking lot. I really appreciate their help and glad they had a fun day horseback riding. By the time we drove back to the hotel in Cherokee, Molly was there. The three of us enjoyed dinner at the Waffle House nearby. Yum! smile emoticon Got to fuel up for tomorrow.

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Day 100 (Clingman’s Dome to Newfound Gap)

I need to be a trail angel about a million more times to repay the universe for all the trail angel treats I’ve received this summer.Cashmere

I had the pleasure of running with Bruce Fox today. We met up at Newfound Gap at noon and drove together up to Clingman’s Dome. It was very cloudy when we started so no reason to go up the tower since there would be no views. Luckily, the weather only sprinkled on us for a couple minutes and it cleared up as we ran.

The trail near Clingman’s Dome reminds me of some of the AT in the northeast with lots of moss, ferns, and fir trees. Bruce and I had a fun time getting to know one another better as we ran down the mountain.

After we ran, Bruce drove me back up to get my car. I was able to be a trail angel and help a section hiker get back to their car. He was a retired physics professor from UT that hikes the trail a lot. I need to be a trail angel about a million more times to repay the universe for all the trail angel treats I’ve received this summer. 🙂

Next, I went to Cherokee to check in to the hotel for a shower and a nap before joining Susan K. and Laura S. (Trail Angels!) for dinner.

Day 99 (Stealth site on Bluff Mountain to Max Patch Road)

Sunday night was my last night stealth camping by myself on this thru hike. I’m so glad to have friends joining me for the other nights. But I know there will be times in the future when I will miss the moments of solitude I’ve enjoyed this summer.

I finished hiking up Bluff Mountain and on to Walnut Mountain Shelter. There were a lot of hikers on the trail and at the shelter for a Monday morning. This must be a really popular section because of Max Patch. I met Loon and Shepherd at the shelter. Loon is completing his 5th hike of the AT. He did a few thru hikes but the last couple have been section hikes. He was a walking story book. Shephard had thru hiked as a SOBO two years ago.

I told them about my plan to hike out west next summer and hike shorter days so I will have time for fishing in mountain lakes. Shephard had done this in the Smokies and was very enthusiastic about my plan. The three of us visited for around 30 minutes. It felt like we were old friends by the time we parted ways. Speaking of meeting people on the trail……I believe Dropknife took a zero day in Hot Springs so I’m now ahead of her. Hopefully I will meet her in the Smokies next weekend.

Next I stopped at the top of Walnut Mountain and used the good cell coverage to check in with my online class. All was going well. I commented on a few new discussion board posts, answered a few student emails, and then started hiking to Max Patch. Along the way, I met Angel and AJ. They were from Florida. We hiked up Max Patch together and then to my car. I was enjoying my time with them but it was time for me to get back to town and finish preparing for my 4 classes that will meet tomorrow for the first time. I’m looking forward to meeting my students and getting back in the teaching groove.

As far as the hike goes, I’ve now completed everything except from Davenport Gap to the NOC and Hogpen Gap to Springer. Two more long weekends should finish up this baby. Thank you to my Department Chair for letting me miss a couple Friday meetings so that this could be possible.

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Day 98 (Little Laurel Shelter to stealth site on Bluff Mountain)

Martha and I woke up pretty early. After eating and packing up, we hiked the 5 miles south to her car. I resupplied my food bag at her car and then it was time for her to return to the big city. So much fun sharing the trail experience with Martha and her support this weekend and for the whole adventure has been invaluable. 🙂

I continued south on the trail toward Hot Springs. I saw rattlesnake #3 near Hurricane Gap. Yikes! I would much rather see a bear!


About a mile north of Tanyard Gap I met a day hiker named Dorito. She shared her apple slices with me and we visited for about 15 minutes. She works at the Greeneville, TN John Deer facility. Ends up that is where Dave and Danny work, too. She said that I had managed to meet ALL of the Greeneville John Deer employees that hike the AT in just two days. Haha.

I hadn’t planned to spend anytime in Hot Springs but as I neared town I became aware that my hiker hunger had come raging back in full force. I stopped at the Iron Horse Café and ate a very large linner or is it dunch??? (Lunch/dinner) or maybe I should just call it a large snack since I ate dinner later. It was really good and fueled the rest of my hiking day. I had planned to camp in a particular area but as I arrived at the site, I saw 3 adult bears. That makes 22 bears I’ve seen. I decided to hike on a mile further and camp there.


Once in my tent, I checked in on my online class. Classes don’t start until Monday but they can start online classes over the weekend. Looks like I’m going to have a good group because over half had already posted their introductions to the discussion board. I responded to their posts and answered a few questions before letting the crickets sing me to sleep. ‪


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Day 97 (Sam’s Gap to Little Laurel Shelter)

Damn, that was awesome!Young Trail Guy

As I started the day, the skies were clear but the trail and plants were wet from the evening storm. The air felt very clean. About 2 miles in, I saw three bears: two adults and one cub. The cub was on the opposite side of the trail from the adults so I retreated a bit and waited until they had regrouped and headed toward the valley. I was in Tennessee so I’m counting these as Tennessee bears. That is 19 total bears.

I didn’t see or hear any human animals on the trail until right before lunchtime. I heard two men talking and rounded the corner to see them trying to maneuver over and around tree limbs that were across the trail from a tree that had fallen recently. I quietly closed the distance between us and started climbing through the limbs one step behind them. They didn’t know I was there until they had both crossed over and turned to look at the tree. We all got a big laugh out of their being surprised.

I hiked a short distance further with them and we had lunch together at the Flint Mountain Shelter. They were from the nearby town of Greeneville and their names were Dave and Danny. Dave is section hiking the AT but this weekend they were just out to enjoy a couple nights on the trail. It was so nice to meet these two.

After lunch, the trail went across a very rocky ridge called Firescald with sweet views for about 1.5 miles. The descent off the ridge was also very rocky. I was running down the trail with my loaded pack enjoying the technical descent when I came upon 5 guys in their mid 20’s. They all stepped to the left of the trail so I could pass. I kept running and easily stepping rock to rock as I went past them. I heard one of them say, “Damn, that was awesome!”. That totally made this middle aged lady’s day. Haha.

Martha had hiked in from the south and meet me at Little Laurel Shelter. We decided to tent near there. The 5 guys rolled in to camp a little later and camped across the trail from us. Ended up one of them lives in Avondale. We enjoyed getting to know them and others that were there for the night. Martha had read the trail register and informed me that Dropknife is only one day ahead and was heading into Hot Springs today.

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Day 96 (Erwin, TN to Sam’s Gap)

I chose to do this section NOBO so Martha and I hiked the 6.5 miles north out of Sam’s Gap together to start the day. This put us on top of Big Bald when we stopped for a break. Big Bald offers a 360 degree view and we had a really nice day to enjoy it.

Then I headed toward Erwin and Martha headed back south to get the car. Next I climbed up Little Bald. There were men cutting the grass near the trail with John Deer tractors. The newly cut grass made this climb much more pleasant than it would have been. Good timing!

I stopped off at No Business Shelter for a snack and to read the trail register. There is this woman named Dropknife that is also doing a flip flop thru hike. I had been trying to catch her and got within 2 hours of her last weekend when I had to leave the trail for work. I know she is in her late 20’s, from Germany, and is very nice but I have never met her. In the register at the shelter I found out that she is also a PhD chemist. What are the chances? It appears she took some time off in Erwin so maybe I will still catch her this weekend.

With a few miles to go into Erwin, a thunderstorm popped up and escorted me in to town. Martha gave awesome support this weekend. 🙂 When I arrived in Erwin, she was there waiting on me with my favorite Subway sandwich and soda. Yay! Back to Sam’s Gap to head south tomorrow.

Day 95 (SR 1182, Max Patch Rd to Pigeon River Bridge)

Surprise! After my work meeting this morning, I drove back to the trail. I decided to do the section right before the Smokies and then complete from Erwin to Max Patch over the next few days. This will set me up to be in the Smokies next weekend. I started hiking at 3:30. It was a little warm but much cooler than Atlanta. It felt good to be back in the woods.

I went through an area called Turkey Gap and actually flushed out 5 large wild turkeys from the plants by the trail. I think I was as surprised as they were. The only climb of the day was up Snowbird Mountain. It is bald on top with a strange looking FAA tower. I saw a momma bear and child in a tree. I tried to take their picture but they didn’t cooperate. They were to the west of the trail so I’m counting them as Tennessee bears.

A few miles before Davenport Gap, I was greeted on the trail by my good friend Martha. We hiked out and headed to Ashville for some dinner and then north to a hotel. Headed back to the trail closer to Erwin in the morning. 🙂

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