Miles from Springer Mountain: 165.9
Miles to Mount Katahdin: 2026.1
The last three days have been hike changing for me. My aches and pains are starting to subside, my feet feel less like blistered clubs and my knees don’t sting with each downhill step. I’ve met some influential and inspiring people that changed my mindset on the AT. I’m finally feeling comfortable on the trail, no longer blindsided by the complete unpreparedness that exists no matter how much preparation.
On day 11 we hiked to Nantahala Outdoor Center, a tough 16 miler that thankfully ended in a shared cabin. The hike itself consisted of a day-ending rapid elevation change – 3500 feet decline in less than 7 miles. It was my most comfortable day of hiking thus far. 6 of us split a cabin and we were all able to relax and shower. At dinner that night we saw the family of 7 (5 girls between 12-5) that are thru-hiking during their break at NOC.
The next morning was a touch slower, the outfitter at NOC didn’t open until 10 so we all slept in and relaxed. I picked up an extra supply of food so that I can make it through the Smokies without resupplying. An easy 7-mile trek made Sassafras Gap Shelter our home for the night, I actually got to sleep next to AT royalty- Mighty Blue who does some very popular podcasts on thru-hiking!
Today may have been the toughest and most rewarding day on the trail so far. The rain and wind throughout the night was a fright to sleep in. It didn’t stop in the morning, but I had to set off. Thankfully I only had to walk about an hour and a half in the rain – a small casualty of 4 muddy falls and one head bump resulted. Once I passed Stecoah Gap my fortunes changed, the weather turned beautiful. I met up with the crew and a small plan was designed.
Our goal became the shelter known as the Fontana Hilton. It’s considered the best shelter on the trail due to its view and amenities – showers, bathrooms, charging ports, and spacious room. Don’t be confused it is no Hilton and is still a wooden shelter set in the woods – the vision of luxury is skewed for thru-hikers. Heading here consisted of a 22.1 mile day that ended with about an hour of night hiking. The 22 miles included three shelters, a sunset downhill, and the summit of the famed Jacob’s ladder.
This extra push helped me accomplish a few tasks: passing the 150 mile mark, my first 20+ mile day, and my first bout of night hiking. Now tomorrow a new challenge begins, the Great Smoky Mountains southern border is in less than two miles! Tonight I rest out of the wind, hearing a guitar strum around the campfire and snoring in the shelter, I feel ready to continue the task ahead.