May 5 - Wilbur Dam Road (429.3)

Takes a little time to get ready for slack-packing. My backpack has a cover that I can convert to a weird looking fanny pack, so I load it with 1.5 liters of water and snacks. Nobody bought a large deli sandwich from the grocery store yesterday, cuts it into five pieces, wraps it in aluminum foil and hands one piece out to each of us. A nice and generous addition to today's food supply. 

Owner's Mom ("OM") is ready early, so we hurry up a bit and load into the pickup truck. She gets a bunk mattress out, tosses it into the back for Hermes and Toasted Toad to sit on, while Swiss Miss, Nobody, and Mountain Mama (new) join us in the cab. The ride takes awhile, and OM talks about how her and her husband retired, sold their home, bought an RV and traveled everywhere. Would recommend it to anyone. They did a lot of renovations to the Black Bear facilities, including replacing the bridge that crosses the creek/stream in front, then their neighbor said the right-of-way wasn't theirs to use. Back and forth to the the courthouse trying to establish ownership, turns out it is owned by someone entirely different. They have since reconciled. 

We get out of the truck, and it's not immediately evident where the Trail is. OM says no one asked before.  We snag a hiker and he provides some direction, which we follow and find the Trail about a tenth mile away. Down the hill we go and find the Watauga Dam, an earthen dam built between 1942-1947 as part of the TVA project. Cross that and take a meandering course along the side of the dam's lake. Pop out along a small beach, where we meet Mozey and Vagabound Jack. Mozey sets us right, since the Trail markings aren't clear, up a small rise to cross a road to continue. 

At this point we start to climb to Pond Flats, our main objective for the slack packing exercise, 1700' of elevation and it's manageable. Hermes goes up more quickly but we meet briefly at the top as he's finishing his Nobody sandwich. Hermes continues on and while eating my sandwich, I meet Jolly Jumper, from Concord and a friend of the Arnold's son, which kind of shocks us both. 

The way down is more challenging, with loads of rocks and slow going heading down to Laurel Fork, the stream/river that also runs by the hostel. It's nice not to be wearing a 40+ pound pack, for sure, but the Trail is certainly not making it easy. Walk along the side of the river, nice and flat, but this being the AT I'm suddenly jerked away and up a rocky "shortcut".

Eventually make it to Laurel Falls, 70' tall and roaring. The Trail turns up the hill and becomes rock stairs, over three hundred of them. Half way up I run into a man, not a hiker, who asks how to get off Trail to Hampton TN. Pull out my Guide and tell him to go back down and stay on the Trail for 1.5 miles. He asks how will he knows when he gets there? I said I wasn't sure, but it was 1.5 miles that a way. He says he went up but the Trail doesn't go out. I explained the white blazes and how to stay on the Trail, then wished him luck while thinking "how did he get on here?"

Make it back to the hostel and Hermes is buying a nice cream sandwich, it's 3:00. Rest come in at 4:30. 

We help organize a run into Subway for the camp, but I decide to save my sub for tomorrow (a Hermes trick, that way you don't have to cook as much), and have McD's again. 

Tomorrow we will start what we've agreed is a three day run to Virginia and specifically Damascus. 

When I left home, I decided to save some weight by pulling out the first quarter of AWOL's Guide which ends in Damascus. I'm down to my last three pages. Deb has mailed the rest and it's waiting at the post office there. That's when I can better plan meet ups with family along the Trail (so stay tuned Cousin John, Tess, Joe, Erika and J.)


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