95.5 Miles (Not including ~200 miles that run on or near the border of Tennessee)
Before I can continue sharing with you the story of my Appalachian Trail thru-hike, I feel it is necessary to discuss a certain person who was a huge part of my hike. Many of you who read this blog already know who Kenny is either because you know me in real life, follow me on Instagram or are my friend on Facebook. But for those of you don't know, I need to fill you in so you aren't completely lost. I met Kenny (also from New Hampshire) on the very first day on the Appalachian Trail. We instantly hit it off and continued our hike together, all the way to Katahdin. He drove me bat shit crazy at times and I'm sure I did to him too, but even when we butted heads we continued this journey together. At times he was a pillar of support under me and kept me going when I questioned my strength and ability. There were times we threatened to leave one another but at the end of the day we were always able to laugh our differences off. He taught me many things about back country living including how to always find the perfect stealth camping spot and how to build a roaring fire in the rain. We shared many laughs and some amazing sites as well as all the low points that come along with a long distance hike. After completing the AT, the decision was made to go our separate ways as we both have different short term and long term goals in life. I have no ill feelings towards him, he was an excellent hiking partner and motivator while on the trail. I pushed myself harder than I have ever pushed myself before because of him. Sorry to all you die-hard hopeless romantics out there but some things just aren't meant to be! And now on to North Carolina and the rest of the AT...
Seriously, one of the most exciting things on the AT is crossing the border into a new state. It is a milestone and assurance that you are in fact, moving forward. Even on a crappy cold wet day the thought of crossing a state line is motivation to get you up and out of your tent and moving in the morning. I learned quickly, that another motivating factor that got my butt up and moving in the morning, was the promise of trail magic. Saturdays and Sundays on the AT where almost always a shoe-in for trail magic. Waking up in my tent on a Saturday morning on trail was reminiscent of waking up on Saturday mornings as a kid. Saturdays meant cartoons, doughnuts from Dunkin' Donuts and a trip to one of the local parks or a movie. Saturdays on the trail meant the likelihood of hot dogs, doughnuts (some things never change) and orange soda. Saturdays were just plain awesome...
So far on this hike, the scenery had been sort of lackluster as spring hadn't really sprung yet which meant everything was basically still dead and brown. That all changed one morning, the morning hiking down into Fontana Dam. As I was hiking I kept thinking to myself how this day felt different. I couldn't figure out why until I came to this:
Then there was this:
I celebrated the arrival of spring with a plate of my favorite Os: Fritos, Cheetos and Doritos courtesy of some awesome Saturday morning trail magic by Moose '13, Grizzelle '13 and Hamster in Fontana Dam:
After crossing over Fontana Dam and walking up a short road, one comes upon the boundary to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Through the Smokies and for a ways after, the Appalachian Trail constantly criss-crosses the border between North Carolina and Tennessee. Something pretty significant happened to me in the Smokies so I have decided to write about the Smokies in a separate post. The Smokies weren't the highlight of my trip so Kenny and I hiked like hell to get out of there. By the time we made it into Hot Springs, NC our feet were torn up and our mental state was beat up a bit (we did 3 big mile days back to back to back in the rain to get to Hot Springs as soon as we could). We spent 2 1/2 days in Hot Springs recovering, relaxing and having fun. When we hiked out on the third day it was hot and the sun was blazing. I had my first hangover while on the trail (open mic night at the Iron Horse Station the night before) which would turn out to be my last hangover because hiking hungover (especially with a 30 lb pack on your back) is just brutal.
After Hot Springs we continue to cross the border into and out of Tennessee at least once a day for a little more than one week until one misty morning a sign that says "leaving NC" appeared out of the fog. Cheers of victory from us and other fellow hikers erupt as we snap some quick pictures and move on to Tennessee for good.
Some pictures from North Carolina (The Roan Highlands which run along the border of NC and TN I will write about in my Tennessee post):