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 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 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.