Geronimo and I started the trail together that morning. It was near 8 but the sun had just breached into Rock Gap Shelter.
If I remember right there was stillness around the shelter that caused me to fill uneasy. Most mornings were filled with birds waking and chirping, but not there in Rock Gap it was quiet. All accept for wind moving the canopy over us. It rustled slowly at the same beat of a rocking ship.
My Awol had a warning that made Geronimo and I paranoid as we climbed the side trail out of the gap. “White blazes on the north side of the trees are identical to the blazes on the south side. Make sure you are heading in the right direction, especially when sleepily leaving shelters in the morning.” It being 6 nights without sleep I didn’t trust my judgement, so I let Geronimo check my compass once we started the AT.
“Due north, check and go.” He said cheerfully
We made quick work of the first 3.8 miles to Winding Stair Gap, where on week days you could get a cheap shuttle into Franklin NC. There was a father son duo waiting on a shuttle (not a cheap one) at the gap. They offered us to join them. It would make the ride cheaper.
If not for Geronimo I would have gone into Franklin, although I’m glad I didn’t, and saved money for the NOC.
Geronimo and I did not take the side trail to summit Siler Bald. We knew that we would get plenty of a view when we reached Wayah Bald. This was six miles away. And my knee began to swell again as we descended.
“Shit I’d say I’m off to a good start man! Between no sleep and this knee I’d say Katahaden in 5 months.” I said with a smile and popping a couple of Aleve.
“5 months is the average time there’s nothing wrong with that.”
“Yeah well it’s not the time I’ve got. Gotta make my hike in 3 no more than 3 and a half.”
“Yeah I’m yo-yoing so that’s the time frame I’m making it in.”
“Yeah well don’t let me slow you down.”
“You’re not so far we’re on pace, as long as we hit plus 25 regularly in VA.”
“I didn’t think I’d be hitting 25’s this early to tell the truth.”
“It’s not that hard you just got to put in a full day of hiking.”
“Are you still planning stopping at Cold Spring Shelter tonight then 12 to the NOC tomorrow?”
“Yeah that’s was our plan last night can your knee make it?”
“Sure why not.” I said confidently as a scam artist.
I had seen Wayah Bald before but not the back parking area, and it surprised me how popular a destination it was. It was a Saturday and a church was having a pick neck at the tower.
It was hear at the tower that I had talked with my first AT thru-hiker back during my senior year of high school spring break. Me and two friends had south bound the trail from Wesser Bald and told ourselves that that was a 14 mile hike. It was only a little over 9 really. I remembered how exhausted we were and the feeling of accomplishment I felt seeing the distance we had walked from the tower.
But standing at the tower on my thru-hike I didn’t feel much nostalgia. I let Geronimo go on ahead of me as I stayed behind just to try and summon up some feeling standing on familiar ground. But there was nothing, all that was on my mind was the king size bed I’d sleep in at the NOC on Monday.
I caught up to Geronimo At the bottom of the bald at Licklog Gap. He had gone down the Bartram Trail accidently. I did not recognize most of the trail and am glad I avoided the same mistake.
I guessed from Awol that Burnningtown Gap was were, on the same hiking trip in high school, me and my friends received trail magic. As we were tired zombie hiking through a church was set up giving out corn beef and cabbage along with cookies and mountain dew. I relived this moment with Geronimo as I told him the story. And I became hungry and thought about nothing except what I would order at the NOC.
We reached Cold Spring Shelter shortly after Burningtown Gap. The shelter appeared to be full, and I let Geronimo have what I thought was the last spot. He only had a bivy sack for shelter. I went to where the tent sites were and the wind was blowing hard. Tonight was supposed to reach freezing and my quilt was only rated for 32 degrees but I didn’t trust that rating. I knew I wouldn’t sleep but I knew I wouldn’t relax either.
I went to the shelter to cook my meal and to my surprise I was invited to use the shelter.
“Joseph take this spot we need as many people we can get in here tonight.” An old man said who later would be known as Red.
“Thanks I was starting to get worried tarping it out tonight.” I said and left to grab my stuff.
“Don’t get blown away!” one man yelled as a strong gust of wind roared over the ridge. After eating everybody got into their bags to prepare for the cold night. The sun still was shining and a few birds still chirped between the sounds of wind. The air became cold fast and was crisp. Tasting it almost felt like you could digested it like clean mountain water.
My big Agnes quilt worked to my surprise; I stayed warm. But I believe Red and Geronimo were the only ones that slept that night. I listened to the wind whistle along the ridge. It was something familiar I remembered from past trips up in this NC area. The wind always blew and I was mostly ill prepared till my friend Taylor would loan me a good piece of gear. I thought how ironic it was that I was the one hiking the trail and not him.