April 7-9: Nantahala Outdoor Center(137) to Fontana Dam (165)

Rained last night and slept on top bunk of the NOC hostel underneath sheet metal roof. A cold which started a couple days ago kicked in, and upon waking up, think about taking a zero. Tell Achin, he's going on, so we bid farewell and I wait for the reservations office to open to book another night.

Figuring I might need to move from our double room, pack bag, and notice rain is slacking off and it's warmer outside. What am I going to do all day? Figure it's better spent on the trail, so head out about an hour after Achin. It rains on and off the whole time, the fog wanders in, making the trees appear in relief as if drawn in charcoal.

The first days hike is "up", 3,000 feet in about five miles. Slow at parts but still make shelter and Achin got my text about coming after all, so there is a space saved for me. Shelter fills, and others show up but are forced to camp. Everyone is coming in wet. Shelter-ees jump in sleeping bags and work to stay warm without much to do but wait until dinner. Tenters are left to hang in the main seating area. The activity level is pretty amazing, probably 35 people here and most are congregated around the shelter talking a mile a minute, then laughing. Mutton Chops arrives late, looking trail worn. Someone asks what time are we going to bed?, and first 8 is offered then 7:30. Seems to get consensus support, as things begin to quiet down at 7:30.

The next morning I'm first up, in part cause I've been lying down for over 12 hours, and partly because we've set an ambitious goal of 12 miles. Fontana Dam is our next big mini-milestone, as it is nearly at the entrance to the Great Smokey Mountains. With 21 miles to cover in two days, we agree to do the 12 first as we need to be at Fontana on Wednesday before the Post Office closes at 3:45. We both have food drops sitting there.

I'm on the trail at 7:50 AM, and can see others will soon be following. The Guide shows mostly descents, which there are, but also sharp ascents which is a little surprising. Takes a bit more than four hours to go 6.7 miles. Had hoped for faster, but the Trail is the Trail. About half of the hikers in the shelter are now here having a light lunch at Stecoah Gap alongside NC 143. Achin and I eat with Lasso, a 25 year old female from North Carolina. I trade some hummus for her salami, and we're both happy.

Both Achin and I are a little beat up, so we adjust and decide to shoot for the shelter less than three miles away to see if we want to continue our mileage push. First we have to get past "Jacob's Ladder", 600 vertical feet in 0.3 miles. Where's are our downhills?

I get to the shelter about half an hour before Achin, and meet part of the same shelter group from lunch resting. Lasso says she's going to camp at Cody Gap, our 12 miles goal, and I said we were thinking the same but want to see how we feel after resting a bit. The shelter crew heads out.

Achin arrives and we consider staying, but with the shelter sitting at 3,739 (cold) and rain possible, feel it's better to push on and tent for the night at Cody. Glad we did this section now, because it is a series of ascents and descents we thought might be "level", including crossing some rock slides of pretty large stones across the Trail. Arrive at Cody to find Lasso and, you guessed it, another shelter remnant group. This is a small, remote camp area. Then shelter remnants leave as we get our tents set up quickly, and after a nice dinner conversation and hanging our food bags,we call it a night. Before we sleep we hear one episode of what sounds like a pack of dogs attacking another, and then some other critter meeting it's demise by something else. Rain settles in for the bulk of the night, luckily stopping around dawn.

This third day is an eight mile run to Fontana. I'm off first again, and the first 3.7 miles go really quick (about 1:40). As often happens, I've seen no one in that time.

I lost both sets of my ear buds for my phone days ago, so have been listening to music by just playing it off my phone with the volume up. Hiking is noisy. Today decide to try and, unsuccessfully, finish the autobiography of Mike Tyson I started before getting on Trail. It is a good read, but his self destructive behavior is troubling-amazing-disconcerting-breathtaking, and totally out of synch with the physical place I'm traveling. One thing strikes me, his psychologist's working with him to define his "normal" environment, which although unbelievable to me, creates a topic to reflect on for myself. What is my "normal" at home, whether I mean it to be or not. What would a new normal look like?

The hike continues, but is a bit of torture, and I have stiff words in my head for the trail designers. For miles, can see Fontana dam but continue on a parallel course. "Down, you fools! Make the trail go down to that beautiful dam, not parallel up here!"

Eventually they hear me, but now they are mad and decide to throw big boulders and steep declines in the way. And just when you gain heart that you are moving in the direction (down), they toss some inclines in. They are all probably slapping their knees at that one, "can you believe how close he thought he was done? Hahahaha."

One interesting turn, met Brown Shoes and Ten Speed. Brown Shoes had just finished walking along the southern part of the original Appalachian Trail with his wire terrier Ten Speed, and came out of the woods kind of excited and looking for someone to take their picture, which I did.

Arrive at Fontana Dam and Achin arrives about ten minutes later.  Call the shuttle for the Village two miles away and it takes about 1:10 to get there. For those of you coming here, hitch hike to the village, that would be left off the trail, the shuttle is unreliable.

We are staying at the Lodge and it is nice, more of a hotel but with off season and hiker rates. Get our food boxes at the post office, and ready to start the Smokies tomorrow.  Dinner with Achin and Shep tonight.


  1. "What is my "normal" at home, whether I mean it to be or not. What would a new normal look like?" It's happening! Just the beginning of the introspection I'm sure.

    Thanks for the updates. Good luck with the Smokies :) <3

  2. Got ya some ear buds today, need to get a mail stop address for the new future.


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