AT 2017: Day 13, Rufus Morgan Shelter to Stecoah Gap

Goin' down the road feeling bad

People who have a lot of experience hiking long distance trails will often give this advice: "Don't quit on a bad day."

The best thing to be said about today was I didn't quit.

DateSaturday, April 15, 2017
WeatherPartly sunny, then I ncreasing cloudiness, warm and humid
Trail ConditionsDry
Today's Miles14.5
Trip Miles150.5

Actually, that's overstating the misery of the day by a lot, considering the day started and ended well.

The problem was with the whole hiking in the middle of the day.

The start of the day was the best kind any hiker could want. I already knew what to expect, so being motivated to wake up and get going early was no problem.

From my campsite it was just one, easy, all-downhill mile to reach Wesser Gap. That's where Nantahala Outdoor Center is located. It claims to be the nation’s largest outdoor recreation company.

Of primary interest to me upon arrival was River's End Restaurant. It was only a few feet off the trail and was open for breakfast.

I shared a table with Will and Quiet Man, and enjoyed a large plate of biscuits and gravy.

I'm certain that if thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail involved many more one-mile hikes to a breakfast like this, the trail would be overrun with hikers.

My second task of the day was to go to the outfitter store, which was next door to the restaurant.

Before I started my hike in Georgia I had sent myself a box of food here so that I would not have to spend time shopping and repackaging.

Sending a maildrop seemed like a good way to minimize down time, and I was right. I was able to get back to the trail without much fuss.

One last thing to do was to go to NOC's general store and purchase some ibuprofen, or as it's known on the trail, Vitamin I.

I had been occasionally taking naproxen sodium, assuming this would would work as well as ibuprofen. That didn't turn out to be true, so I was switching to ibuprofen.

A note to my medical profession friends: yes, I am taking precautions to avoid damaging my stomach.

After walking across a foot bridge over the Nantahala River and past several people preparing to paddle kayaks or rafts on the river, I crossed train tracks and re-entered the forest.

Will was just ahead of me, so I spoke to her one more time and then headed off on my own.

Each day there have been more and more wildflowers in bloom, and it seems a new variety appears each day.

Today's new variety was the Fire Pink, which isn't pink, but that's what it's called.

The trail was making a long climb up to Cheoah Bald, frustratingly long.

I had hiked this portion of the trail three times before, so I knew the route and I knew some parts of it were steep. Somehow, though, I had either underestimated the time it would take or overestimated my ability to reach the summit.

The climb just seemed to take forever. I expect the real problem was I was anxious to put in as many miles as possible today. That would make for a shorter day tomorrow, when I would be meeting Kim and Landon at Fontana.

Kim was bringing Landon to join me on the trail as I hiked through the Smokies.

I wanted to get to Fontana as early as possible in order to spend time with them and relax.

The climb up Cheoah Bald included several flat sections. Though these provided relief from the steep sections, they also lengthened the time it took to reach the top.

Besides wildflowers making frequent appearances on the trail, I also saw a lot of fiddleheads. These are curly new growths of ferns that remind of the decorative ends of violins and other stringed instruments.

The climb didn't provide many views, but one spot allowed for a full view of the Nantahala River Gorge, now several hundred feet below.

Finally I reached Sassafras Gap. I had hoped to get here earlier, because it was a benchmark for my progress and hope of getting to Fontana early tomorrow.

Seeing the sign and the mileage I needed still to go, disappointment set in. I realized I would not reach my intended destination.

I was going to have to make some adjustments to my expectations.

I pushed on to the top of Cheoah Bald, which was just over a mile more.

From one side of the top I could see a long range of the mountains I had already crossed. From the other I could see the Smokies, where I was headed.

I wasn't enjoying the view as much as I might have liked, though. I was preoccupied with recalculating my options for the remainder of today and tomorrow.

Quiet Man was also there at the top of the bald. After he continued down the trail I stopped to text Kim and let her know what I was thinking.

As I figured it, my options were to find a place to camp at Stecoah Gap, though my hiking guide app made no mention of campsites there, or hitchhike into Robbinsville and get a motel room.

If I took the second option I could ask Kim to pick me up there in the morning, then have Landon join me one day earlier when I returned to Stecoah Gap.

Neither option was ideal, but I had no other ideas.

I wasn't sure I could reach Kim from Stecoah Gap, so I told her if she didn't hear from me again today, she should stick with the original plan of meeting me tomorrow afternoon at Fontana.

Then I continued on.

The trail began to descend steeply, which slowed me down. I was also getting low on water, which made me more anxious to get off the mountain.

Eventually I reached Locust Gap, where there was a spring.

I talked to a few hikers there, including one who said to me, "Gravity, you're kicking my butt!"

I was not feeling like a butt-kicker at that moment, though I appreciated what I thought was a compliment. Later I realized he was probably speaking of the physical force of gravity, not of me.

After filtering more water I continued on.

My foul mood only got worse as the trail crossed a series of knobs. Each one was not particularly high, but they became an annoyance by their repetition.

As I walked up one I would see another knob. I knew instinctively the trail would turn just so it could continue over that knob.

There were six of these knobs in succession. Yes, I counted them.

At least I was no longer depressed about not reaching my original destination. Now I was fuming over these stupid knobs and the stupid trail crew that chose to go over, not around, each one.

Finally, at about 7 p.m., I reached Stecoah Gap. I was glad to discover Quiet Man was still there.

He told me that he had just tried to call a nearby hiker hostel. That was one option I had forgotten about. It was all booked up, though, he said.

The hostel owner told Quiet Man hikers often camp just down a forest service road, which had a closed sign and barricade. This was much like the road I camped at on day 2.

So we decided to take that suggestion.

First, however, we took advantage of some trail magic.

Though it is bad trail etiquette to leave trail magic out overnight where animals can get to it, we were not going to complain.

On a picnic table we found bananas, apples, a couple boxes of snack cakes, and several bottles of water.

This solved the problem of trying to cook dinner in the fading light.

After eating our fill of trail magic we walked down the forest road until we were out of sight of the highway at Stecoah Gap and set up our tents.

Although I wasn't as close to Fontana as I had wished, I was close enough to get there tomorrow at a reasonable time.

Going down the road feeling bad
Going down the road feeling bad
Going down the road feeling bad, hey hey hey, yeah
Don't wanna be treated this a way

From "Goin' Down The Road Feeling Bad" (Traditional)

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