Happy’s AT Notes about Days 14 thru 23:
Saturday, March 23 - Day 14 Another zero day waiting for the weather to change. Severe weather alerts stating high winds for several mountains. It looks nice from the hotel room! We laid around the hotel most of the morning, transcribed notes, napped then headed to the outfitters which was just a block away. We wanted to find paracord, tent pole repair and supplies; maybe find a warmer sleeping bag. We ended up at two outfitters but no sleeping bag and no repair pieces. We got new socks and other supplies including a paracord for the food bag. We shopped thrift stores. Walked through Franklin downtown which was a sweet place. Walked a couple miles to Walmart where we ran into Ann from Michigan. She was the hiker we hiked with the first few days on the trail. We also ran into a few other hikers we had seen. We called Uber to run us back to the hotel. Mathew was our driver.
Sunday, March 24 - Day 15 Another zero day waiting for the weather to change. So will tell you about our camp duties. When we select a campsite we put our tent footprint down and we both work on the polls. As anyone who has put up a tent knows the poles don’t always cooperate. It is just easier if we both work on the poles. After the poles are set up Lucky finds an appropriate tree to hang the food bag (bear bag). He doesn’t hang the food bag at that time; he just gets the rope in the tree because it is easier to do before dark. Then he gathers the water collecting vessels and heads for the water source. Until now he sat uncomfortably at the water source and purified there which was slow and freezing (for his hands) process. But we have now purchased two each 3-liter bladders that open completely on one end. He can fill the bladders quickly and come back to camp with the unfiltered water. When he is back in camp he can filter while he is sitting in a comfortable position and when his hands are not freezing. While Lucky is gathering water Happy is setting the tent up and putting up the rain fly. Then everything goes in the tent and sleeping pad and sleeping bags are laid out. Bag liners, wool pajamas, sleeping hats and puffy down-filled booties are put in the bags. Headlamps and teeth cleaning supplies are placed in pockets on our respective sides of the tent. Cooking pot and stove are put out and the food bag is readied for the night’s supper. Hand or foot warmers are placed within reach of Happy in case the night becomes too cold. The backpacks are pushed to the foot of the tent out of the way. Our electronics and water purifier are put into the foot of the sleeping bags so the batteries do not become too cold and the purification filter does not freeze and break. When Lucky returns with the water and he has purified it, he begins ‘cooking’ dinner. Cooking means boiling water. Happy has poured the dry supper into two bowls and Lucky pours boiling water over the contents of the bowls. Then we wait a few minutes for whatever is ‘cooking’ to somewhat soften. Bon appétit! After our teeth are cleaned we put anything that smells like food into the food bag, theLucky must go out again to hang the food in a tree. Breaking camp is a shared process also. In the morning Lucky must retrieve the food bag and cooks the morning oatmeal. Happy stuffs the sleeping bags into the backpacks. It is a toss up as to who takes the tent down or if we both do it. At some point one of us fills the water bottles for the current day’s hike. And again the food bag is raided for that day’s snacks which go into the brains (top pouches) of the backpacks. Vitamins including vitamin i (known to non-thru-hikers as ibuprofen) are swallowed and then off we go.
Monday, March 25 - Day 16 Zero day waiting for thunderstorms to pass. The storms were supposed to hit the mountains tonight. We walked to the BBQ place and got dessert; a pumpkin cake ala mode with some kind of cinnamon syrup. Then we walked to Lowes to find something to make a DIY tent pole repair kit. We finally settled on white approximately 3/8ths-inch pvc pipe and a small hack saw to cut it into 6-inch lengths. We wrapped duct tape around each 6-inch pipe to make several repair pieces. The duct tape would be used to secure the repair piece to the original broken pole should a repair be required. We kept two repair pieces and put the rest into baggies labeled tent pole repair and left them in the hiker box. We also sorted our food and decided what to leave in the hiker box along with the remainder of a sewing kit we used to repair a few things. We left a lot of stuff in the hiker box.
Tuesday, March 26 - Day 17 Looked like a nice day out as we packed to get back on the trail. We had arranged a ride back to the trail with Mathew who had driven us from Walmart back to the hotel previously. The elevation map for today’s hike shows one big mountain for us to climb, then it appears to be an enjoyable elevation change after that. That was the same mountain we had climbed one-third of the way up and received the sleet before we retreated to town to escape death by freezing (and lightning yesterday)! It was quite a brisk, sunny day with only periodic bird calls. The hilltop had burned Rhododendron with new fresh green growth at the bottom of the truck. It’s 50° out near the top of the ridge (Happy had bought a thermometer at Walmart). We looked down on misty clouds hanging over the valley with so many hills that the colors are dark and light due to shadowed areas. It was just breathtaking. We were over 1 mile high 5427 feet. After lunch we feel and hear a weird thumping sound like it was coming from the ground. We heard rumors of tremors in Tennessee and speculate our strange thumping may have been a tremor. A couple of hours later we heard and felt more thumping. Many Rhododendron‘s were blown down with roots pulled up out of the ground. These Rhododendron are the size of trees. The trail was made up of roots and rock which was an uncomfortable trail surface to negotiate. We had several water crossings but were able to keep our feet dry with our shoes on. We see signs in North Carolina that say we are in a bear sanctuary but no signs of bear. Hah! It was a beautiful hike in the morning. The first hill was not so hard as it appeared on paper, but it did start to rain in the afternoon. We stopped to put our rain gear on and to put our duck back covers over our packs. Even so, we and our packs were wet when we arrived at camp. It went on to rain all night. We set up camp in the rain in a Rhododendron grove. It was so cold we decided not to cook, and we also debated whether or not to hang up the food bag. Two reasons for possibly not hanging the food bag (we saw zero bags hanging in the area). One it was so cold and wet that Lucky did not wish to leave the tent. And two, the Rhododendron grove did not offer the type of tree that required to properly hang the food bag. So we opened the food bag to select a few snacks for supper. The food bag reeked of garlic. Back in our zero days, when we shopped for supplies Lucky wished to have more spice for the food. So we selected a garlic salt with other spices mixed in. The garlic smell was so strong we triple-bagged it in baggies and then put it in a bag that was designed to restrict smells. We can neither confirm nor deny whether our food bag was in the tent with us that night. But we were pretty certain we would not be bothered by vampires! There was no wind that night but some of our stuff got wet. Turns out Happy’s waterproof writing pad was not so waterproof but after it dried in a day or two it was fine. It was cold enough that Happy broke out the back warmer (sort of like 12 toe warmers fastened together in a giant Pad) and it was great! She kept moving it from cold spot to cold spot all night and it was still heating in the AM. It’s too bad they are so expensive. We priced them while we were at Walmart at $15! Thank you, whoever you are, who donated them to the hiker box.
Wednesday, March 27 - Day 18 We had great weather for a hike, but we had to pack a cold, dripping wet tent and wet clothes which made our packs noticeably heavier. Lucky carried the wet tent in the bottom of his backpack, which then leaked water all day onto his pants. Lets just say it was uncomfortable! We had to hike up something called Albert Mountain to a fire tower. While heading up Albert Mountain we were going through a rhododendron forest that just suddenly stopped. Thought that was kind of odd. There were beautiful streams and waterfalls along the way making wonderfully soothing sounds. Lucky has mentioned several times on trail that he thinks of orange chicken (Chinese fast food) quite a lot. Happy is constantly thinking about how to incorporate some of this natural beauty into their garden back home and making plans. The water features were a great inspiration for gardening ideas. Towards the top of Albert Mountain there was a monster hill consisting of a boulder scramble almost straight up. Lucky just bounded to the top of the boulders and decided to film Happy’s miserable climb over the boulders. Happy had sweat running down her face and her hair was wet by the time she made it to the top. Lucky was dry. Happy did not consider putting a curse on Albert Mountain due to the concentration and effort to climb. She is pretty sure it was cursed to begin with...probably many times. At the top there was trail magic. Oh boy, it was beer. We said no thanks and went to see the view... and what a view it was. According to signs explaining the tower and surrounding valleys, the tower was created for a forest study due to the different climates in the many valleys. They used the research to determine how to manage forests throughout America. The tower is figuratively known as the 100 mile milestone of the AT. It actually was just slightly short of 100 miles. Lucky climbed to the top of the tower while Happy hung clothes to dry and settled in for a snack and a break. Of course the clothes were not dry before our break was completed so they went back into the pack wet. Except for a couple of socks, gloves and mittens which we hung on the outside of the pack to dry while we hiked. When we reached our camping destination that night we were disappointed that there were no level camp spots. So we chose as best we could and put our tent up. Then we learned that trail magic was .2 miles down the trail. Happy wasn’t too excited about going another .2 miles but we did anyway. The trail magic happened to be chili dogs, chips, candy, rice crispy treats, beer, water, Gatorade, oranges, apples, pastries and more! It was good magic and great company. We ate our fill and they told us to take as much as we wanted because the next day they were off on a Glamping trip and the food would go to waste in their car, so we loaded our pockets. Some of the magic became breakfast the next morning. Glamping is when you camp with the bells and whistles associated with comfort.
Thursday, March 28 - Day 19 We woke up to woodpeckers already foraging for their food. It is a nice way to wake up. It was 32 degrees. We were mostly warm through the night but Happy did become uncomfortably cold the last few hours of sleep. What was worse than the cold was the sliding. Our site was so slanted that we constantly fought gravity which was pulling us down toward our feet. It wasn’t a slow slide; it was more like going down a child’s slide; it was an instant slide to the foot of the tent. We vowed to do better in the future, and Lucky even located a level on his phone and determined just how much out of level he was willing to accept. Around Wallace Gap we kept hearing water but was never able to see it. Birds were chirping more than we have heard so far and we are seeing more birds as well. We are seeing more SOBOs (southbound hikers) than usual. We past a pack of boy scouts enjoying a section hike. They looked like real good kids. We have seen more violets blooming on trail and finally one dandelion bloom. We were in the Nantahala National Forest Franklin Highlands Area Recreation area. We came down off the mountain to a road and found trail magic! Little Dipper, a 2017 thru hiker, and her friend Blue had pizza, oranges and gaterade. We visited with them and a gentleman who did the trail 40 years ago. He comes to that spot to shuttle hikers wherever they need to go. He says his thru hike experience influenced his entire life. In fact after he retired, he moved to North Carolina just to be close to the AT and the hikers. We talked for sometime with no other hikers coming out of the woods to partake of magic. It was breezy and we started to get cold so we said our goodbyes, crossed the highway, and disappeared up a hill and we became almost hot. It wasn’t long until we came to the biggest waterfall yet. The whitewater and the sound was mesmerizing and it was just Lucky and Happy there to enjoy together. Lucky filmed it and posted a video of Happy crossing the bridge. The stream and waterfall was lined with tree sized Rhododendron. When those bloom it should be magical. We began seeing tiny white flowers and tiny yellow flowers along the path. The trail is now lined with rocks that sparkle and we had a hot breeze coming up from the valley. It was 66 degrees at 2:41 PM. We see gnats and flies, but they do not bother with us. Lucky saw a yellow jacket who also left us alone. We passed a slackpacker (just a small day pack) going SOBO. He said it was a beautiful day to hike but that his knee was aching him. After we were done talking and on our way, Lucky mentioned that the only part aching us was from the hairline down. We both laughed and found the comment funny but in fact we feel pretty good. Our feet are hot, tired and sore but no blisters so we are good. Seems like it will be a good night with no winds; just a slight breeze. We have a nice open grassy field for a camp that is mostly level. Because our gear was still damp, Happy put the tent up and was going to let it dry a bit before putting the rain fly on and staking the tent. Happy found a downed tree to layout a damp sleeping bag when there was a commotion behind her. Apparently the wind gusted and the tent began rolling across the grass field like a tumbleweed. Lucky was closeby and other hikers sitting around a campfire sounded the alert and caught the tent. We were fortunate that the wind did not take the tent over the fire! But maybe burning that 3-season tent would have been a blessing and allowed us to buy a winter tent that just might keep us from freezing!
Friday, March 29 - Day 20 We had a sunny 45 degree morning. Again most of the night was warm enough with the last couple of hours being a bit cold. But death never crossed Happy’s mind. No wind makes all the difference in the world. We took down a dry tent for the first time in a few days. It is the small things in life that we celebrate these days. Rain and condensation kept the tent wet or damp previously. We planned to hike 12 miles today but decided to cut back due to our feet and ankle area being tender. The uphill hiking stretches the back of our ankle area in an abnormal way in which they are not quite ready to accept for such a long period of time. So we go slow until our feet give up and accept that they have no choice; they are coming with us on this journey so they might as well stop crying about it! As Lucky tells everyone “we may take small steps, but we are slow.” Around 10:45 AM we felt another tremor. It was brisk weather with sun on and off. We past by a roadside that was covered with vinca blooming a lovely blue mixed with ferns. More ideas for the home garden! Now Happy has begun seeing a beautiful violet/blue moth or butterfly which Lucky keeps trying to see and photograph but he has not been lucky enough! More little green plants are poking through the layer of leaves littering the ground, but they just don’t seem to have the energy yet to push past and boldly claim their ground. While the sun shines brightly, the path is shaded by the plants and trees. This combination of sun and shade on the trail makes it slightly more difficult to see obstacles on the trail well. All the sudden the trailside has many small Beech trees that are holding last years brown leaves. The trees are all about the same height around seven feet tall and the hills are covered with ordinary yard type grass. This makes us wonder if this is part of the mountains that were on fire a few years ago. We also see beautiful fine bladed grass tufts that have thrown up their seed heads on the trail edges. This isn’t your ordinary lawn grass it looks as though it could be an ornamental grass. Very fresh and appealing. While Lucky was out putting up the food bag and getting water he met and talked to hiker Kokapelli. More about her on another day.
Saturday, March 30 - Day 21 Woke up to 55 degrees on a pretty level site. There was no wind and almost hot for Happy and very hot for Lucky last night. It is supposed to rain tonight so we arranged to be picked up at the end of our hiking day and go to a highly recommended hostel, Aquine Cabins, for the night. Making the arrangements was quite troubling. We could not make contact by phone but it wasn’t the same out of service type feel. We finally made arrangements and communicated by email. We later learned that someone did something stupid that took out a communications tower so the hostel was having intermittent or no service at all. When we got to mile 127 on Rocky Bald we were to contact them to alert them that we were close to our arranged pickup spot. We stopped at a shelter to snack and use the privy and before we left, Stripes from Montreal came in for a snack and rest. He learned english by watching American TV shows. This is his second attempt to thru hike. His first, two years ago, ended in pain and a bum knee. Seems he was trying to catch up to hikers with whom he enjoyed their company. In the process he hurt his knee. He had about one mile to go and it took him about five hours to make it he was in such pain. One of the guys came back to get his pack for him. We chatted with him for a bit and then was on trail again. We were going along with a forest floor of dried leaves then suddenly the floor was a deep fresh green of some type of fluffy short plant. We went back to leaves on the floor when suddenly we had a different green plant covering the floor. The mosses look almost yellow next to this fresh new green. The forest is amazing. We have had a sage green moss on trees for sometime but now it is everywhere. When looking out from a high spot the entire valley appears sage green. All the trees are covered with this sage beauty. The sage green growth comes in two types. One almost looks like coral and the other reminds us of the mosses that hang from trees in a place like Savannah Georgia just not as long. We were hiking along and ran into some amazing trail magic. A group of National Royal Rangers Frontiersmen Camping Fellowship had come from Alabama to provide trail magic. Today was their last day as tomorrow they were breaking camp and heading home. This was the third year to do this. Apparently when you join the group you pick a persona, research that character and then go about gathering what is needed to reenact life from the frontier. They had teepee style tents as well as rectangular heavy duty looking tents. One man was a leather worker who made beautiful leather bags and books. Another man made the rope beds which you could see in one of the tents. They wore frontier style clothes and were cooking biscuits in wood coals in cast iron dutch ovens. One of their other community members was a blacksmith and made the iron tools used during cooking. Happy was thrilled. While Lucky conversed with college students who were required to hike a section of the AT, Happy learned how to cook biscuits in a dutch oven over coals. Happy has been wanting to learn to cook like this for some time and in fact has a few books on the topic. The cook said to watch You Tube videos by James Townson and Son to learn about cooking on the open fire. The fire tender was the son of the man doing the cooking and the son thru hiked last year. The son had on a cool grey coat that he had sewed himself from a blanket. They had vegan vegetable soup, chili, biscuits, colas, sweets, dried cherries, and other stuff. There was a group of high school aged kids there as well. They were doing a section hike. Some of the kids were a part of a track team out hiking together as a team building exercise. What great luck to have come through while they were still there. They were all great people. Happy has informed Lucky that we are doing this upon returning to real life. After we got back to the trail Lucky saw our first squirrel. One would think wildlife would be everywhere bit surprisingly we see very little. Birds are singing to us more and Happy is entertained by the bird’s chirping and Lucky attempting to chirp back. So we finally get to mile 127 and are able to call our hostel to arrange pickup. We tell them to pick us up in about two hours because we would rather wait for them than to have them wait for us. Well we had to wait for them about an hour. This was a desolate place with no traffic. It is an out of the way place where hikers park while doing a day hike. It is not a through road. We get picked up by Maggie who owns the hostel with her husband. They are British and built this beautiful rustic hostel themselves. They did everything. Her husband, Steve or Wiggie, was a British Royal Marine. They were both wonderful people. Well Maggie said we’ve heard of you. It seems that Maggie told one of her other guests, Kokapelli, that Happy and Lucky would be staying the night. She immediately said she knew us from last nights camping. Then the other hiker, Trotter, staying at the hostel said that she was looking out for us. It seems that Trotter is a friend of our good friends Bob and Cathy who are thru hiking and quite a bit ahead of us. Bob and Cathy told Trotter to keep an eye out for us! Trotter also stayed in the same camp last night and got to know Kokapelli. What a small world! Anyway Maggie said no backpack, no shoes and no clothes allowed in the cabin. Since we only had the clothes we had on, she gave us and Kokapelli and Trotter loaner clothes. All our stuff stayed in a mud room. We did take what we needed into the cabin: toiletries, meds, electronics and wallets and such. Maggie explained that she was trying to keep ticks out for safety reasons. We understood and besides sometimes dirt or leaves fall out of a hiker pack and can cause a bit of a mess. She had a nice place and wanted to keep it nice. It was a good night of fellowship. Lucky took a photo of us and posted...we were all in our retro loaner clothes. We had a good nights sleep while we listened to the wind blowing outside.
Sunday, March 31 - Day 22 We found that it did rain last night so once again Lucky made a good decision to stay in a hostel. First thing in the morning Maggie was there making us coffee and waffles then Steve drove us back to the AT. On the way Steve pointed out a bald eagle that only Lucky got to see. Steve’s friend owns a trout pond and the eagles know where to go for breakfast! We got dropped off and Trotter and Kokapelli said goodbye and were gone up the hill long before Happy and Lucky were organized enough to strap on our packs. We had a slight mist/snow at the start. Not wanting to get wet and not knowing if it would really rain, we pulled out all the rain gear. The rain seems to make all the colors more vivid. Even the black dirt looked richer and blacker. We noted that we had not seen many pine trees on the trail then we walked by something that looked like it could have been something like a Douglas Fir tree. But we don’t know our pine trees. At Wessor Bald we stopped at the shelter to snack and use the privy. Again it started to snow or mist but it didn’t last long. Back on the trail we noticed pine cones on the ground and tiny little evergreen trees everywhere. They were all about a foot tall. They looked so fresh and green. It looked like another burn area beginning to reforest. We began getting hit with slight snow/sleet and biting wind. We were booking it over those windy ridges...almost running. Birkie a nordic cross country skier and Still Scott were passing us so we asked if they saw the little evergreen trees. Neither did. Birkie is trying to finish trail in four months so didn’t notice. Still Scott is originally from McDonough Georgia which is where Happy and Lucky got married. He now lives in the Washington DC area which is where Happy And Lucky lived for a good many years. It is a small world! We ran loads if ridges that were straight down on both sides. It was absolutely breathtaking. We saw our first robin hopping down the trail today. We saw a plant that looked like a Little Henry Sweetspire that was just full of blossoms about ready to open. We saw only the one plant which seemed odd. We met ridge-runner Rosebury who was out checking the condition of the trail and making sure everyone was safe. She will move to the Shenandoah national park soon to ridge-run there. We saw all types of plants today. What we could identify were blackberry, raspberry, strawberry, roses, fern-leaf bleeding heart, coral bells, astilbe and lots of greenery we don’t know. There were lots of weeds that we fight back home as well. We saw dried flowers from last year that look like yarrow, and we saw about six inch new fern fronds. Happy mentioned to Lucky that fern fronds were edible which he was surprised to learn. But not all fern fronds are edible; some are poisonous. The AM was cold and windy but the afternoon was blue sky and sunshine. Suddenly the trail was covered with soft pine needles which are the best to walk on. They are easy on the feet. We finally saw our hostel for the night which was known as the NOC (Nanatahala Outdoor Center. We paid for our room at the general store then were disappointed to see we had to hike up a mountain to get to our building. But we were luckier than most. We had our own bathroom and shower and they had a bunk room. We had a nice supper at the NOC restaurant sitting by a window above the river for which we cannot find a name. The river has many of what they call falls. We would call them rapids. It is very beautiful and we can see this is a popular place when it is the season. Whitewater rafting, kayaking, mountain biking and zip lining are some of the activities they offer.
Monday, April 1 - Day 23 We woke up clean warm and dry for our zero day. We went shopping at the outfitters and found a proper tent pole repair piece so we ditched our home made pieces. We saw a book that looked interesting called “Walkin’ on the Happy Side of Misery.” It looks like a good book and Happy loved the title. It was a cool sunny zero day. We bought a foil emergency blanket to replace the one we sent home at Neels Gap. Happy has heard that is snowing in the Smoky Mountains and due to the higher elevation fears the cold. We will be looking for another back warmer before entering the Smokys. We will be there for at least 70 miles and Happy is hoping that her ankle area will cooperate and get through there fast. We also bought a pair of folding scissors and a new hat for Happy; one with large open mesh for summer ventilation. This is also a replacement purchase for a hat we sent home at Neels Gap. For a few days Happy had been concerned that she may be forced to buy a new pack which is not cheap. She has been cinching the hip belt as tight as it would go and since people loose weight out here she thought the pack would no longer fit properly. The pack feels good otherwise and it is iffy whether a new pack would feel as good. We looked for ways that it should adjust but nothing was obvious. Fortunately Lucky mentioned this to the outfitter and he knew how to adjust the belt! Thank you outfitter. All is well tonight. We ate a good supper tonight, have restocked our food supply from very poor choices at the general store and are preparing to hit the trail tomorrow AM. This has been a lovely place to stay and recoup except for eating way too many of the wonderful desserts at the restaurant.
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