Broke camp and hit the trail around 9:00. We had 13.6 miles to do to get to our intended target of Hogback Ridge Shelter. Looking at the elevation profile in Awol’s guide, it appeared that the toughest part of our day would be early as we made our way up Big Stamp and Big Bald, which turned out to be true, but as we were to find, there were stiff, short climbs all throughout the day that, when combined with tired legs from the day before, would press these two desk jockeys to their limits (well at least mine…Deep Woods did just fine). Awol’s guide book is often jokingly referred to as “The Book of Lies” because you too often find yourself making short-term decisions about the topography ahead and whether or not you can make a certain goal and then reality smacks you in the face and you’re having to do a bunch of climbing that the guide showed to be all sweet downhill! Unfortunately, there’s just no way of accurately depicting every finite detail in a book with pages that are 5″ x 8″ for a trail that’s 2,184 miles long without the book being a zillion pages long!!! All things considered, Awol’s book is one of the best resources on the trail.
Someone is obviously watching over us because we keep getting fantastic weather and today was no exception. Beautiful blue, dry skies. Fringed Phacelia, Dwarf Larkspur, Trout Lilies and Spring Beauties were all on display on the climb up Little Bald.
We also got a good view of the surrounding countryside at one point.
Stopped in at Bald Mountain Shelter for a “pit stop”, as we wanted to take advantage of the privy before heading up and over Big Stamp and Big Bald.
Just past Big Bald Shelter the trees started thinning out and before long we stepped out onto the upper portion of Big Stamp, a treeless saddle. While we couldn’t immediately make out Big Bald, we were starting to get some good views of the surrounding landscape. This was such a different experience after being encapsulated in the forest for so long. It didn’t take long before the treeless mass of Big Bald came into view.
We continued on down the saddle and chugged our way up Big Bald…and it was spectacular….360 deg views. A number of Northbound thru-hikers as well as day hikers were taking advantage of the day and their time on the summit. We all sat basking in the sun, like kings looking down on the lands we had conquered to get there. Big Stamp now appeared to be just a tiny hill far below. I sat there thinking to myself “What was so stinkin’ hard about that?” Deep Woods and I watched some dude run half way up and down Big Stamp a couple of times, as if he was trying to say “You two are chumps! Try and do this.” What a butthead.
Ate a bit and then made our way down from the bald and back into the woods. Ran across some interesting plants, fungi, Wake Robin, Bloodroot and some sort of pale colored trillium that I’m not able to identify. Maybe just a fading Wake Robin. Who knows. I’m a moron when it comes to this stuff.
Pressed forward about four miles to Low Gap where we stopped to collect some water and have a snack and then moved on. A little under two miles more brought us to a beautiful, long rolling meadow with some nice views. I was really enjoying this part of the hike!
We couldn’t diddle fart around too long though. Still more miles and more uphill to go and we’re both starting to run out of gas. A little under two miles more brought us to Sams Gap US 23/ I-26. There, right above us, was a sign proclaiming “Tennessee Welcomes You”.
The trail, however, would keep us in North Carolina for the time being. Crossed under the highway and up a STEEP road to find the trail heading back into the forest. Shortly after stepping back under the trees we ran across a very touching monument, “Moye Rest” that had been erected right beside the trail. Read that, took a pic and moved on.
Slogged our way up to High Rock which offered a great view from the overlook but we’re both exhausted at this point and just want to make camp and call it a day. Less than half a mile to go.
Finally came crawling into Hogback Ridge Shelter a little after 7 PM. I was tempted to just call it a night in the shelter but since I hate the things so much we decided to look for a spot to pitch. Good luck! It was tent city! We decided to move downhill a bit. Never a first choice because for one: your site may not drain well in the event of rain and two: you’ll have to climb back up that hill the next morning.
We noticed a couple of decent spots near where a family were setup and asked them if they would mind if we pitched there. No prob with them. I’ll often try to avoid camping near anyone, especially the partying crowd or groups with kids. Nothings against them. Just that I’m looking for some solitude. These folks turned out to be fantastic and, as it turned out, they saved my night! The group consisted of a grandfather, husband and wife, and three sons. They were all out for the weekend and one of the sons was doing a merit badge project – Cooking.
I had mentioned to Deep Woods earlier that I was so tired that I might forego cooking and just munch on some snacks and hit the sack. Obviously, I knew that was not a wise thing to do and he advised against it as well. He kept sayin’ “You NEED to eat Bulldog”. As we start to set up camp, I hear one of the family members yell out “Who wants more corn on the cob?” NO…FREAKING…WAY! YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME! I look over and three of them are all seated in a row on a log eating fresh corn on the cob, melted butter rolling off onto the ground.
At this point I’m nearly delirious from exhaustion. I get my tarp set up but, not pleased that it’s a “picture perfect” pitch, I start screwing with it. It falls to the ground. I repeat this cycle two more times. Mind you, while my tarp can be a little finicky to pitch and I’ve had very little experience with it up to this point, it’s about the easiest thing on the planet to set up! At this point I’m about ready to throw my sleeping pad down on the ground, crawl into my quilt, put my new wide-brimmed hat over my face and call it a day, “cowboy-style”. Screw it!
It’s at this point that I hear one of the folks from the group say, “Who wants another bbq chicken slider?” THESE PEOPLE ARE KILLING ME!
I jokingly yell over “I DO NOT LIKE CAMPING NEXT TO YOU PEOPLE!” They all laugh and laugh. In reality, I wanted to steal their corn on the cob and bbq chicken and run off yelling “See ya, Suckas!”
Deep Woods has since gotten his tent set up, fixed his meal of CHICKEN AND FREAKIN’ DUMPLINGS and is observing this whole spectacle while eating. He graciously offers to lend a hand but I decide to give it one last go. It goes up without a hitch. Not a problem. Go figure. I throw my stuff inside and sit down next to Deep Woods, finally ready to start fixing something to eat.
Now one of them yells out “One of ya is gonna have ta finish up this bbq chicken. There’s almost a full pot left.” I suppose I looked liked some dirty, destitute hobo sitting on my log looking into my food bag full of freeze dried crap and trail mix because, next thing you know, they ask us “Ya want the rest of this here bbq chicken? We can’t eat it.”
“HELL YEAH!“, I say. Since I didn’t have a plate or bowl, I was tempted to jerk the pot out of his hand and stuff my face right down into the pot. Deep Woods saved the day, though, and gave me an empty FoodSaver bag, which did just fine. I must have said “Thankyou” at least a dozen times, I was so grateful.
There’s a couple of terms you’ll often hear hikers use: Trail Magic and Trail Angel. Trail Magic refers to acts or gifts, large or small, given out to weary hikers. Usually, it’s in the form of a ride to town, a cooler of cold drinks left next to a tree along the trail, snacks or sandwiches or hamburgers. These acts or gifts are performed by what are known as Trail Angels, people giving back to the trail community out of the kindness of their hearts. Sometimes the magic is a huge, elaborate setup with grills, coolers, chairs, tons of food and snacks and drinks…you name it. Other times, it just the smallest of things, like a bag of Jolly Ranchers that you split among your fellow hikers, but those Jolly Ranchers go a long way to changing a person’s outlook on things when they’ve had a hard day.
I truly regret not getting the names of my trail angels that night. They’re amazing people that Deep Woods and I shared a nice evening of great conversation with. And some AWESOME bbq chicken. Thankyou from the bottom of my heart! With full bellies, we crawled into our shelters under the stars and called it a day. The last line from the Moye Rest monument was so fitting that night:
“IT IS OUR PRAYER THAT THE MOYE TRACT ON THE TRAIL WILL BE A PLACE OF INNER PEACE AND GENTLE REST.”
More to come…