Day 21 Rufus Morgan Shelter to Sassafrass Gap Shelter (Mile 143.8)
About a mile into my hike for the day, I walked through the NOC, where I found a general store, outfitter and laundry! I enjoyed some fresh coffee and a breakfast sandwich while I waited for my laundry.
I considered staying in town, but ultimately decided I already took 3 whole days off in Franklin. I knew that the next 7 miles were nearly all uphill, and that I should take advantage of the dry weather. I procrastinated in town until about 1pm or so before hiking on.
This hike was the first time on the trail that I really had a bad day. I was sore and grumpy. I struggled physically and mentally.
After hiking for a few hours, I decided to take a break and see if I had service. I did! I called my mom, and I told her I was halfway up a mountain. After I hung up, I checked my phone and realized I was actually only 3 miles into a 7 mile hike.
The weather was hot. I kept hiking fast in the sunny parts and taking little breaks in the shade. I saw a lizard which I thought was cool, but then I remembered I should watch out for snakes and cautiously watched for them as I hiked (I didn’t see any.)
Periodically I would check to see how far I went, and it was always less than I thought. If I thought I went a mile, it was actually 0.5 miles, etc.
There were a few downed trees to climb over. These were a huge bummer on top of my already grumpy mood. Approaching these, and figuring out the best way to get my pack and my sore body over was a challenge.
After several hours of perpetually climbing uphill in the heat, I came across an amazing view. Once I got here I sat down on a rock and just enjoyed the moment. The air felt cool. I felt relaxed. A wave of relief and emotion came over me, and I sat and actually cried for a minute. I remembered that I am very fortunate to be able to experience this thru-hike. After a few minutes, I continued on (I actually still had about another uphill mile or so to go for the day.)
I eventually got to the shelter. I got there later than most people. There was room for me to sleep in the shelter which saved me some time as I didn’t need to set up my tent. I finished some dinner in the dark and reflected on the day before calling it a night.
Day 22 Sassafrass Gap Shelter to unmarked spot past Brown Fork Gap Shelter (Mile 153.3)
About a mile into the hike I reached the peak of Cheoah Bald. All the hard work from yesterday had paid off.
I enjoyed an early lunch and enjoyed the real view and cool weather.
I had a nice hike to the next shelter. It was a small shelter and was full, with no good tent spots nearby. I hiked a little passed the shelter and stealth camped at an unmarked spot near a water source off the trail.
Day 23 Unmarked spot to Fontana Dam Shelter (Mile 165.9)
Today I was packed and started hiking by 7:30am. This is the earliest I’ve started so far. I needed to make about 11.5 miles before the Fontana Dam post office closed at 3:45, because I had a package there with all my food for the Smokies.
I made really good time, despite hiking in some morning rain and stopping to take pictures.
I eventually made it to the post office with no issues, and hiked about another mile further to the Fontana Dam Shelter, which was the best shelter so far. There were trash cans, bathrooms, showers, and a water spigot with drinkable water.
This was the last day before entering the Great Smokey Mountains National Park.