For breakfast I had French toast, and grits from the restraint at the NOC. Grits are a power food, every time I would eat good grits on the trail I was able to knockout big miles.
Before leaving I stopped in the store and bought a 5 dollar poncho. It was misting when I got to the switch backs climbing out, so I put it on over my pack expecting it to pore soon. What rain had already fallen made the packed clay mud slick but this didn’t slow me down. I was practically running, pumping my arms with trekking poles to pull my legs faster up the trail. I was fleeing from any part of me that wanted to stay another day.
My knee was not swollen. It felt slightly tender to the touch if I prodded with my finger under the knee cap. This I believe was a miracle, much like waking up to renewed legs my second day.
I passed many, climbing to Swim Bald. The man from MT, Red, and the couple who helped give me my trail name with Geronimo. I was hiking with a pace that could catch Geronimo I thought. I wasted no time at the Wade Sutton Memorial, or views of the Nantahala Gorge. I didn’t even stop at the top of Swim Bald.
The first rest stop I made was at Cheoah Bald; right after Sassafras Gap Shelter. I was stopped by a gorgeous view, when the skies cleared up.
I crested the trail and could see full white clouds floating at my level going through the mountains. The grass and trees were washed; green from the light rain that had just left. I ignored the hiker who was resting on a log and walked right to the edge to be as close to the clouds as possible. It was like watching fish at an aquarium. I stood behind a barrier silent, and they swam silent with their graceful flow orchestrating a feeling, which made sound to fill in the silence. Beautiful music in a sight without a single decibel.
I snapped the picture then turned to the hiker who looked young. I guessed 18 to 20.
“Incredible view.” I said.
“Yeah I guess so it was nice to eat to.” He responded while packing up his gear.
“I’m Joseph,” (I had not yet started going by Joedirt.)
“Nice to meet you Joe.” He slung his pack on.
“I got to get going if I’m going to make Katahdin in three months.” He said and hiked off.
I took lunch there, it was an early lunch. I planned to make Fontana Dam and felt confident I could. I scanned my AWOL and looked at the obstacles that were between me and Fontana. There was a long almost 3 mile descent and then Jacobs Ladder followed by 11 miles then one more climb down for three more miles.
I took it easy on the decent but steady. If I remember right the section from the NOC to Fontana challenged your balance, and thanks to the rain all the rocks were slick.
At Stecoah Gap there were 2 hikers on the picnic table they were looking in there AWOLs trying to decipher were the water was.
“High guys.” I greeted them as I came out of the tree line.
“What’s up.” The younger looking one said who had long black hair full of grease.
“Ya’ll know where the water is?” I asked.
“It’s west down this road, were trying figure out which way west is.” The other said who had short chestnut colored hair.
I pulled out my compass and checked for west. When I found it I noticed a blue blaze on a guard rail that marked a side trail. According to AWOL if you followed the blue blazes it would lead to a hostel. The water was before the hostel.
“It’s this way there’s the blue blaze.” I said.
The 3 of use started stringing the blazes together. They were scattered erratically and a little hard to follow.
“This is like the trail your girl left me last night to follow.” The long haired one said to me, and I thought it was a little weird since we just meet. But I recovered quickly.
“Well at least she made you work for it. I just called yours and she came to me.”
The short haired one laughed, and started to sing The next Episode, (the rap used in many of the Thug life internet memes.)
I left the 2 at the water source they talked like they were going to stay at the hostel, and take Jacob ’s Ladder with fresh legs tomorrow. I headed for the climb expecting it to suck. The ladder started at Sweet Water Gap, almost a mile of vertical ascent.
I won’t say it was easy, but was not as bad as I expected. I only stopped once. The hardest part to it was fighting for traction since the mud was slick. There were trees all around and for some reason it all looked scorched, not alive and green. But withered like a poorly watered lawn in August.
I stopped in the shelter afterwards to check the trail log. I found Geronimo’s entre that said Jacob’s ladder was a joke, and that he would stay at the Fontana Hilton.
I had 6 miles to go before reaching the next shelter then nearly 7 to Fontana. The next six was rough I tripped constantly over loose rocks. I saw no one as well, and a felt tired.
When I reached Cable Gap Shelter the sun was disappearing behind the mountain. The shelter was full but quiet. I decided to stop for the night and make Fontana in the morning.
I made camp in a tent pad, and had a good bear hang nearly 200 yards away. It was dark as I ate my pasta side, and as soon as I was full I crawled in my tent for sleep. The temperature was pleasant, and I felt relaxed. I thanked God for the day and my healed knee. Then God blessed me with my first night of Fire Flies twinkling around my camp, lighting the dark like less obnoxious Christmas lights.
When any one asks me what the most beautiful sight is on the AT; I have to say the Fire Flies, they hold my most vivid memories of the trail.