“Difficulty is the excuse history never accepts.” – Edward R. Murrow
Refreshed and recharged, I crossed the French Broad River, hiked along it for a few hundred yards, and then climbed the mountain out of Hot Springs. At mile 278.5 I came across Dammed Pond, the first mountain pond on my journey. It was the kind of place where you’d want to get engaged, catch a fish, or spend a Sunday afternoon reading a book.
At Tanyard Gap I passed Tree Hugger as he stopped to pray and hug a white-blazed tree. If he completes his thru-hike, he will have hugged 165,000 trees and offered 165,00 prayers in about a 6-month period. Let that sink in for a moment. A while later, I came across several miles of a controlled burn area on the west side of the trail. Controlled burns are a technique used in forest management to reduce fuel buildup (leaves, brush, dead trees, etc.) and decrease the likelihood of serious hotter fires. It also stimulates the germination of some desirable trees, thus renewing the forest. I was impressed to see hundreds of square miles of burned forest to the left of the trail, while the right side was untouched. I was also impressed with the placement and wording on several tombstones/memorials at scenic spots along the ridge.
As the day progressed, the temperature dropped and light snow began to fall. At Allen Gap, near the conclusion of a 14.8 mile day, I headed .2 miles west on NC 208/TN 70 to get water under a bridge at Paint Creek. (That’s just water under the bridge now.) I found a campsite nearby around 5:00 p.m. and checked the forecast. The snow had stopped but, here at lower elevation, rain was expected in 15 minutes. Three minutes later, as I was unpacking my backpack, the rain started to fall. Quickly setting up a tent in the rain, while keeping your gear as dry as possible, takes some practice and precision. The goal is to get your tent, gear, and self under the rain fly as soon as possible. I did fairly well but will become more proficient with practice. I sat there in my tent, feeling cold, wet, and alone…holding my food bag as a special invitation to bears to come get me. Fortunately, I had warm, dry clothes to put on and a warm sleeping bag to crawl into.
I awoke to a cold, wet, see your breath inside the tent kind of morning. Just a few hundred yards into my climb out of Allen Gap, I came across some…Trail Magic! Yes, the good people of Chuckey (Tennessee) United Methodist Church had placed a cooler of ice cold Gatorade along the trail which gave me a much needed morale and electrolyte boost. Less than a mile later…more Trail Magic! Someone had placed a pile of oranges on the trail. With the cold temperatures, I wasn’t quite ready to take my gloves off and peel an orange, so I placed it in my front pants pocket. As I hiked, the single orange swayed back and forth, reminding me of what it must feel like for my youngest son, Kyle, to hike. (Inside family joke involving… “imbalances”. Guess it’s not so inside any more!)
At around mile 296, I began a stretch of beautiful, scenic, rocky, and strenuous cliffs…specifically, Blackstack Cliffs and Big Firescald Knob. I took a quick break on Howard’s Rock and read his story. (I invite you to do the same…see photo.) The section along Firescald involved a brief hand over hand scramble, the first since Albert Mountain.
After celebrating the AT mile 300 milestone with a Snickers candy bar, I climbed over Big Butt Mountain. (I liked Big Butt, I cannot lie.) Shortly after, I met two section hikers from Alabama…Hiccup (who does so after eating trail mix), his unnamed friend (who works for NASA), and their dog, Blaze.
As the afternoon progressed, the temperature dropped and there was light snow on the ground. To pass the time and keep my brain from freezing, I began brainstorming what the Pisgah in Pisgah National Forest stands for. I came up with…
– Perhaps I Should Garner A Heater
– Place I Should Generally Avoid, Honey
– Peasants In Scotland Get Awful Hernias
– Pastor In Skivvies? Gross! Avoid Him
– People In Straight-jackets…Great AT Hikers
I welcome your own “Pisgah” acronyms.
In addition to playing mind games like what Pisgah stands for, I also pondered other questions like:
– Is there a Guiness World Record for “Longest Running Nose”? (By that, I mean duration of drip, not size of probiscus.) Mine has been running virtually non-stop for 29 days.
– Given the popularity of the movies/books Wild and A Walk in the Woods, what percentage increase (if any) will there be in attempted AT thru-hikes this year? Also, will the 20-25% success rate remain the same? (I predict a 15% increase in attempts and a similar success rate.)
– Percentage-wise, how much of a successful AT thru-hike is physical and how much is mental? (For me, so far, 70% physical, 30% mental.) How much does that vary between hikers, and does it vary by month on the trail? (I’d say wide variance between hikers, with the physical % increasing with age. I’m guessing mental percentage increases during the middle third of the trail…then back to more physical for New Hampshire and Maine. We’ll see.)
After a long, cold 17.9 mile day, I arrived at the Flint Mountain Shelter with several other hikers. We built a huge campfire and gazed up at constellations in the clear night sky. Just before dozing off, I pulled the orange out of my pocket, pealed it, and ate it. Because nothing takes your mind off the cold better than sticky hands that reek of citrus.
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