The day we left Hiawassee, Ramon and I set out to do 18 miles to Standing Indian Mountain. The miles felt surprisingly doable. My feet were sore by the end and I was so hungry that I didn’t even wait for my broccoli and cheddar pasta to finish cooking before scarfing it down, but I was satisfied. We were the only people camped at the top of the mountain and so had the best view on the trail thus far and an awesome sunset all to ourselves. We kept up that pace, crossed into North Carolina, and three days later walked down to the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC). After being in the woods for a few days, it was a welcome relief. From miles away I could smell fried food and catch glimpses of brightly colored objects. I couldn’t wait to eat good food, drink beer, take a shower, and sleep in a bed. It turned out that that weekend was the US Freestyke Kayaking Team Trials and there were a bunch of kayakers milling about and practicing in the water. Upon arrival, Ramon and I rented a couple bunks and took showers. I was learning that as a small form of trail magic, someone always left behind shampoo in the showers. I checked myself out in the mirror for the first time on the trail and realized I had lost close to 10 pounds. Eating becomes part of the trail experience for thru hikers. On the trail everyone eats processed, high calorie foods because they are light. People eat trail mix, honey buns and snickers bars as snacks and usually Ramen, Knorr pasta sides, or some other easy meal for dinner. Then in town it is time to pack in the calories. All you can eat buffets, ice cream, and often a large pizza. I couldn’t wait to eat like a hiker and started off by buying a bag of chips and an ice cream.
I sat in the laundry room in just my rain gear (no other options) and shared a six pack with Ramon. Later we hung out with a couple other hikers (Hangnail and Law Dog), ate some barbecue, drank some more beer, and called it a night around 9:30 (way past my bedtime these days). The climb out of the Nantahala Outdoor Center is known for being tough. It is 7.5 miles long, 3000 vertical feet, and the first good climb of the trail. Climbing out when hungover made it feel like 15 miles and 6000 vertical feet, but eventually we made it. The next day we walked to Fontana Dam, NC; the town before the Great Smokey Mountain National Park. It was raining all day long and the trail was filled with water up to my ankles. I was starting to notice a pattern with the weather- it rained all the time. We got a shuttle into town for resupply and the driver said they were already 9 inches over the average precipitation for the year. I wasn’t surprised. We got all the food we needed and hiked to the Fontana Hilton; a shelter right on the lake which fits about 20 people and has showers and a real bathroom. There were a number of people already there and I lounged around with Titty Bar Naked Yoga (TBNY for short), Tank Tank, Briton, Ramon, Runaway, and Candyman while the rain pounded the tin roof.
After walking in the rain all day, the idea of getting up the next day and doing it again seemed horrible. So we took our first zero day. Most other people had already taken their first and so I didn’t feel too guilty. We bummed around town, went to the gas station bar, and watched the rain outside. That night at about 11:30 pm, Candyman got up, started grumbling about something and left the shelter in the rain. We found out later that the mice had been crawling all over him and chewing at his sleeping bag. It was no surprise to the rest of us since he had been keeping candy in his pockets to munch on throughout the night. It is generally expected that there will be mice in the shelters and you can hear (and sometimes feel) them scampering around most nights. For this reason, people hang their food bags on strings in the shelters (or from trees/bear cables like you should do). He had previously been known as ‘Sharkbait’, but Candyman seemed much more fitting after that.
Neon, Somewhere on the AT, August 2013
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