It has now been about 7 weeks since I completed the Trail. I have reunited with friends and family, and more or less have commenced the new chapter in my life called retirement. I doubt a day has passed without my recalling some AT experience.
A week after completing the AT, our entire family attended my grandson’s 7th birthday. It was certainly nice for all of us to be together as a family. I was fresh off the Trail. Many AT-related questions were asked and answered which made me “relive” parts of the Trail.
For the first 3 or 4 weeks after I arrived home, a good part of my brain was still on the Trail. I would at times dream I was on the Trail, and it was not uncommon for me to wake up in the middle of the night thinking of the hike I had ahead of me the next day.
Presently I have a couple reminders of the Trail: my weight and my toes. I lost 30 pounds on the AT and although I have regained about 10 of them, I haven’t been this slim in about 35 years. That’s a positive. On the other hand, about 8 of my toes have been quite numb since hiking Vermont and entering New Hampshire. From what I read this may persist for up to a year. My toes, which are now slightly better, have been my only physical issue during or after the hike.
Before I retired, my schedule basically ruled my life. I worked, and the days I didn’t work I always had something scheduled that had to be accomplished. The week after I retired, I was on the Trail and I basically hiked or “worked” every day except those days I took a zero. During the six months on the AT, the Trail schedule basically ruled my life. Now, for the first time in many decades, my schedule is what I choose it to be. I am still not used to this freedom.
About a month after I completed the AT, I gave a presentation of my AT experience to my former colleagues at Duke University Medical Center. I thought this would give me closure of that experience. Although it somewhat did, a good part of my daily thoughts continue to revolve around the Appalachian Trail.
A few days ago, Diane and I took down the posters my daughter’s children made for me on the last day on the Trail. For the last seven weeks, these posters have been hanging in our breakfast nook. Those posters meant much more to me after the hike than they did the last day of the hike. I guess my thoughts were overwhelming that day as I was emotional and did not appreciate the posters as much as I did the weeks following completion of the Trail.
Two days ago, I had my beard shaved (much to the delight of Diane) and although I still think of the Trail, I believe I am finally getting much closer to normal. At least I look like I am getting back to normal!
Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail was a tremendous experience. There were emotional highs and lows, physical challenges and amazing beauty. I feel very blessed and fortunate to have the good health that allowed me to undertake this endeavor.
I truly believe what got me through this journey were faith, family and friends. Diane, more than anybody, was instrumental and I know that, because of her, I was successful.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. There is so much for which I am thankful.
I enjoyed my Zero on September 25th even though Gatlinburg is such a schmaltzy town. There are tourist traps everywhere. I caught up on this blog, did my laundry, received my fix of Baskin Robbins Pralines & Cream and even took a dip in the outdoor heated pool of the hotel. I’m sure it wasn’t artificially heated, as it was in the high 80s. It was in the 90s the day before.
The shuttle driver arrived at the hotel on Tuesday the 26th promptly at 0630. He drove me back to Newfound Gap, and I was on the Trail using my headlamp by 0700. About 8 miles into the hike I was at the summit of Clingman’s Dome. At 6,667 feet, it is the highest elevation on the Appalachian Trail. At elevation there was fairly significant cloud cover, but the temperature was ideal for hiking.Most of the hike was either in a canopy, cloud cover or both. It was 17.8 miles to Derrick Knob Shelter. This shelter is 2000.8 miles from Mt Katahdin, which is the distance I have hiked so far. The folks at the shelter that night included two local section hikers and the three Amish hikers I met a few days before. But the only picture I took was these “buckeyes.”
The buckeyes grow on a tree in these capsules. If you break the capsule, you find one or several buckeyes inside. Neighbors and friends of ours are dyed-in-the-wool Ohio State Buckeye fans. Ann occasionally makes a candy treat called “buckeyes,” and they look exactly like these. I never knew there were buckeyes or buckeye trees. That night at the shelter, we spent far too much time throwing footballs into the buckeye tree to knock the buckeyes down.
Wednesday the 27th was a slow hiking day. I hiked from Derrick Knob Shelter to Mollies Ridge Shelter, which was only 12 miles. The biggest challenge was Thunderhead Mountain, which was more than 1,500 feet of elevation to start the day. An ascent like that tends to wake you up quickly.
When I reached an outcropping called Rocky Top — reputed to be the area referenced in the University of Tennessee song by Dolly Parton — the views were outstanding and I decided to stop for lunch.
The three Amish gents have loosened up, as they haven’t objected when other folks have taken their picture. If you just take a picture they don’t mind, but they decline requests to pose or smile for a photo.
Every morning and every evening they not only start a fire, but actually cook their food directly on the fire. They are all carpenters by trade.
On Thursday, September 28th, I did not expect this view. I was just hiking along in a canopy and all of a sudden the side canopy disappeared and this view was on my right. There were even large rocks to sit on and enjoy the view.
That day, I finally finished hiking the Smokies, which end at Fontana Dam when hiking southbound. Here are pictures standing on top of the Dam looking north and south.
On the northern view above, the ridge line you see in the back ground is the southern end of the Smokies. I hiked right to left as you are looking at the picture.
After crossing the Dam, I went to the Visitors Center, bought a pint of ice cream, and sat in the shade on one of their rockers to enjoy my treat. The three Amish hikers were there as well. Their hike is finished, and their driver arrived to take them to Pigeon Ford. They are all excited as they are going there to see a stage production of the Hatfields & McCoys.
I hiked 12.6 miles and was picked up at a trail head by Jeff, the owner of Creekside Paradise on the AT.He and his wife, Cynthia, have a beautiful and well-run B&B and hiker facility. The three of us went to a Mexican restaurant in Robbinsville, the local town. It was an enjoyable evening. By the way, Robbinsville happens to be located in the only remaining dry county in North Carolina.I didn’t know dry counties existed in North Carolina anymore.
During the night, my friend Joe arrived at the B&B. It was great seeing him. This place is definitely off the beaten path and last night on the phone we wondered how, and even if, he would arrive. He had to drive at night on unpaved mountain roads with no cell reception. Anyway, he made it and will hike with me for the next two days.
After a good hearty breakfast on the 29th, we were driven to the trailhead and began a 14-mile hike to Stecoah Gap. Joe’s introduction to the AT was a 2,100-foot ascent first thing in the morning. He did just fine, and I’m confident he will do well tomorrow. This is one of the the few vistas we had, but it was a beautiful view.
Later on in the day, Joe spotted a copperhead on the trail. I was hiking in front of him and never noticed it. I also never got a chance to take a picture, as he wriggled off the Trail (with a little coaxing from Joe’s trekking pole).
When we returned to the B&B, we showered, ate, and drove into Robbinsville to buy lunch for the next day. After returning, we enjoyed some ice cream and spent some time in the outdoor hot tub. Then we had a beer and prepared for our next day’s trek.
It was a great day. We enjoyed each other’s company and had fun hiking together.
On Saturday the 30th, after another good breakfast at Creekside Paradise, Joe and I were driven to the trailhead at Stecoah Gap. Our goal was to hike about 14 miles to the Nantahala Outdoor Center. The temperature was perfect for hiking: cool and breezy. We had been warned that this would be a challenging and difficult hike, but neither of us thought it to be so. Even the 1,900-foot ascent to start our day was not that challenging.
During our hike, we stopped briefly at Cheoah Bald to take this picture.
Later on, we got off the Trail and found this spot to have lunch.
As we continued to descend, we met a hiker who had started at the southern end of the AT and was hiking to Harpers Ferry. His pack was ridiculously large and looked like it weighed a ton. He told me it weighed 57 lbs, even though he had already decompressed it once. I told him he would have to do more to decrease the weight, or he would never complete his hike. When I asked him what his name was, he replied, “Too Heavy.” We all laughed.
Towards the end of our day, we spotted this black snake in the middle of the Trail. Black snakes are reportedly nonpoisonous and beneficial.
We reached Nantahala Outdoor Center in good time, and relaxed by the river with a beer.
This large outdoor center offers canoeing, kayaking, rafting, biking, hiking, ziplining and other activities. It is quite the place. After showering, we went to the restaurant and enjoyed our last meal together. It was great having Joe, a good friend, accompany me these last two days.We hiked well together and had good conversations. I’m happy he took the time to join me on the Trail.
Early on Sunday, October 1st, Joe dropped me off at the trailhead and I was headlamping at 0630. He is such a nice guy. On no less than three occasions he offered to carry my Beast for an hour and a half this morning, as he knew I had a substantial ascent getting out of the gorge. This would have delayed his departure to go home by 3 hours. Of course I declined his offer.
I had a 3,300-foot ascent ahead of me, and it was not easy carrying the Beast. Here is one of the views along the ascent.
I always try to have my lunch where there is a nice view. It’s not always possible, but fortunately it was that day.
The first 4.5 hours of the hike was pretty rugged.Fortunately, the second 4.5hourswas much more reasonable. Here is a picture taken from Weser Bald.
The hike was 16.5 miles ending at WayahBald Shelter. The elevation was 4,700 feet and it was getting quite chilly.
It was very cold last night. Not a problem while I was snug in my sleeping bag, but getting out of it on Monday morning was no joke.I don’t know what the temperature was, but it was cold enough to see my breath.
Looking toward the east showed a very nice sunrise through the forest. Although very cold, I had the feeling that it would be a great day.
I hardly ever wear my fleece or toque while hiking, but on Monday it was required.
About a mile after I began my hike, I climbed Wayah Bald. It was still early and the views were stunning.
Later on in the day, looking for “the perfect lunch spot,” I took a very steep quarter-mile spur trail off the AT and through a meadow leading to Siler Bald. The visibility was about as clear as I have seen it since New England. If you’re going to have clear visibility, Siler Bald is an ideal location, because it is one of the most spectacular summits on the southern AT. Here are a few stills and a video. I could not have picked a better location for lunch.
At the end of the 14.7-mile hike, I was picked up by Colin, the owner of the Gooder Grove Hiker Hostel in Franklin, NC.
Colin and I left the hostel early on Tuesday the 3rd, and we immediately drove to Burger King where I treated both of us to coffee and a breakfast sandwich. We ate on the go, and I was hiking with my headlamp on by 0700. The weather was not nearly as chilly as it had been the day before, so I wore normal hiking clothes. It was very overcast, though, and as I was ascending the first mountain, I was in a cloud mist within the first hour. The weather was great for hiking but not for photos. Six miles into the hike, I came upon a fire tower at the summit of Mt. Albert, but with the poor visibility, there was no point in climbing the tower. Later in the day, the sun burned off most of the cloud cover and I managed to get this picture.
I finished the hike at 1600 and was quite pleased with my pace on this 21-mile hike to Deep Gap. However, I was not pleased that Colin was not here to pick me up. After 50 mins he finally arrived without apology. Oh well.
Colin and I started out Wednesday the 4th the same way we did the 3rd: at Burger King. Then he drove me to Deep Gap, and I was hiking by 0800. At low elevation there was a thick fog, but as I hiked to higher elevations in the mountains, it was quite clear. However, most of the day was in a canopy. This was the only scenic vista I came across.
As the Trail continued, I came across this sign. Should the PC police be looking into this sign?I couldn’t help but chuckle when I saw it.
The first half to two-thirds of the hike that day was extremely slow due to 30 or 40 huge trees that had fallen onto the Trail. Here are two examples.
The downed trees were probably due to recent hurricane and storm activity. But the obstacles required me to go over, under, around or through, and it was very time consuming. Then something interesting happened. I passed this sign:
Once I entered Georgia, there were no more downed trees blocking the Trail. Furthermore, there was evidence of many trees that had been cleared with saws and power equipment. For whatever reason, Georgia has done an excellent job clearing the Trail, but North Carolina has not. At the end of my 15.8 mile hike, the best shuttle driver I have ever had, Diane, was waiting for me.
It was great seeing Jonathan pull into the hostel. I hadn’t seen him since April, because when I went home for a few days in August after Maine, he and his family were at the beach. We started Tuesday, September 19th with a superb breakfast at the main house of the Mountain Harbour Hostel. The owners, Shannon and David, were very kind and accommodating.
After breakfast we were driven back to the Elk Park trail head, where I had ended my hike the previous day. We enjoyed good weather as we hiked the 13.6 miles back to the hostel. Here is a picture of the hiker hostel.
During the hike, we took a spur trail to Jones Falls, where we ate lunch. You can’t tell by the picture, but those Falls were amazingly high.
As we continued down the Trail, we came upon this dead tree. Jon remarked that it looked like it could have been used in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
Towards the end of our hike we enjoyed these wonderful views.
Jonathan and I got up early on Wednesday the 20th and were on the Trail before 0700. We head-lamped for about 25 minutes as we started a 2700-foot ascent up Hump Mountain. There aren’t very many 2700-foot ascents on the AT. The slope wasn’t bad, but going up that much in elevation for 5.5 continuous miles can be challenging. I was a bit concerned about Jonathan but he did just fine. I didn’t have anything to worry about regarding Jonathan’s hiking ability. We continued on 14.8 miles to Carvers Gap.
Shortly into the hike, I saw this sign stating that we were in North Carolina. This is somewhat misleading, as the entire Smokies snake their way in and out of both states on ridge line borders. Most of the time you don’t know what state you are in. So, until I reach Georgia, these posts will be labeled Tennessee and North Carolina.
The hike offered beautiful 360-degree views from Jane and Round Balds. We were both very impressed. This was a gorgeous part of the Trail.Fortunately, the weather was good throughout the day. Here are some views that made our hike memorable.
The barn in this picture is privately owned, but hikers are allowed to use it as a shelter.
When we arrived at Carvers Gap, we were shuttled back to Mountain Harbour where we picked up Jon’s car and drove to Erwin, TN. We went out to eat and then settled in to our new hostel, Cantarroso Farm.
On Thursday the 21st, I was up at 0530 and made coffee. Jon and I, each morning, could star in a remake of The Odd Couple. One of us is organized with a purpose and the other is not. Regardless, the shuttle driver did not wait too long and we were soon on our way back to Carvers Gap.
We began our 16-mile hike to Iron Mountain Gap at 0730 with good weather, but first we climbed Roan Mountain with an elevation of 6200 feet. This is one of the highest elevations on the AT.
On Roan Mountain, we passed the former site of a three-story luxury hotel in the 1880s called The Cloudland Hotel. Logistically, it is hard to imagine how anything could be built up here, let alone a luxury hotel. The only remnant was this fireplace/chimney which presently sits in the middle of the Trail.
Half of the hotel was in Tennessee and half was in North Carolina. Apparently there was a white line across the dining room floor indicating the state boundary. This was important because at that time, it was legal to drink alcohol in Tennessee but not in North Carolina. It was not uncommon for a North Carolina sheriff to be present, making sure guests did not cross the line. Room rates were $2 per night, $10 per week and $30 per month!
This picture was taken from the site of the hotel:
We had lunch at Little Rock Knob amidst these beautiful views.
After lunch the hiking was easier, and we made good time as we descended to Iron Mountain Gap. We were shuttled back to Cantarroso Farm, where we showered and went out to eat. Upon our return, we started a fire in the fire ring and enjoyed a cigar and some scotch. Both Jon and I enjoyed our cabin at Cantarroso Farm and agreed that it had been an extremely enjoyable day.
The weather on Friday the 22nd looked promising. I was so happy we had nice weather during Jonathan’s stay. It was our last day of hiking together, and we were on the road heading to the trail head at 0700. We hiked 11.8 miles to Indian Grave Gap in Erwin, TN.
During the hike we ascended Unaka Mountain. On the summit there was a dense spruce forest. This certainly is unusual, and walking through it was peaceful and at least ten degrees cooler.
Here is a picture of Jon on one of the balds, and pics of both of us at various points in the day.
Fortunately, it was a short hiking day. When we finished, we drove to a hotel west of Asheville, which is about half way to the Trail Head where I will resume my hike. After reaching the hotel we went out to enjoy a Japanese meal, a cigar and a scotch before we called it a night.
Jonathan was a trooper. He got up early on Saturday, September 23rd, brought me to McDonald’s so I could get a breakfast sandwich and coffee, and then drove me about 45 minutes to the trailhead at Davenport Gap.
After we said our goodbyes, I grabbed my trekking poles and went on my way. I will miss Jon. It was good hiking with him. We hiked 56 miles together, and I am confident he had a fairly good taste of the AT. We both enjoyed our time together, and it was a special week, one I will never forget. Thanks for coming, Jon!
The hike that day was strenuous, starting out with a 4,800-foot ascent at the northern entrance to Smoky Mountains National Park. Essentially, the entire day was uphill. I was pretty much beat carrying the Beast on the Trail from 1,439 feet to over 6,300 feet. Once I arrived at Tri-Corner Knob Shelter, I ate, got water for the next day, and headed for bed.
One of the criticisms of the Trail is that there is little diversity; the hikers are essentially all white. Rarely do you see minorities. This, unfortunately, is true. But that night in the shelter, along with other hikers, there was a German and three Amish gents. Although these folks were white, it was certainly a different mix of hikers.
The Amish hikers all had blue long-sleeved shirts, black suspenders, grey dress slacks, beards and straw hats. They were from southern Indiana, and were section hiking. The Amish hikers interacted very little with us, but they were all soft spoken and polite. One of them asked me if it would be OK to build a camp fire. I said that would be no problem and it would probably be appreciated by everyone.
The German, Simon, was from Trier. He is a SOBO thru-hiker. He told me when he left Germany, his goal was to complete the Trail in 100 days. But if he remains on his present schedule, he will actually complete the Trail in 95 days! He said he planned on hiking 29 miles today, and this is definitely not the most hiker-friendly terrain. I find these fast hikers to be amazing. When Simon left the next morning, I knew I would never see him again.
The Amish hikers and I leapfrogged a few times on Sunday the 24th, and we had a few short conversations. I asked if they would mind if I took a picture of them, but one of them simply said, “We don’t allow pictures to be taken.”
The hiking that day, as well as the Smokies so far, was more difficult than I anticipated. Many elevations have been in excess of 6,000 feet, and there have been many challenging ascents and descents. However, the AT in the Smokies offers fantastic views. Although the Smokies have many hiking trails, I think the AT in the Smokies is in a league of its own. At times I felt overwhelmed by the beauty. Here are a few examples.
I ended my day at Newfound Gap. This sign is another indication that you really can’t be sure what state you’re in.
I hitched a 15-mile ride into Gatlinburg. An elderly couple picked me up, and on the way to town they pointed out the devastating damage done by fires the previous year. Once in Gatlinburg, this nice couple drove me directly to the hotel Diane had reserved. I was tired, my feet were sore, and the usual chores of battery charging, laundry and resupply need to be done, so I decided to take a Zero the following day.