I have long known that it is part of God’s plan for me to spend a little time with each of the most stupid people on earth. – Bill Bryson
Everyone awoke this morning bitching about how cold they were last night. I don’t know how they didn’t see that coming. But everyone is an expert, so far be it from me to question them sending home their warm gear already. I’ve actually gotten criticized previously for having a zero degree bag, yet I was the only one who slept comfortably last night at 5,000 feet in a drafty old barn.
If I sound negative, it’s because I had a run in with one of the world’s biggest experts this morning. A problem with thru-hikers that have reached this far is that they prematurely have become experts even though they have only hiked 300 miles. This was everyone last night, at least until they woke up this morning dumbfounded though not humbled. But even worse is a section hiker who “hikes” on the internet all week long, takes a few side trips a year, and has more expertise than you could think possible.
I inadvertently encountered a guy like this morning while packing up. Naturally, he volunteers his opinion, unsolicited. He was talking about how he and his fellow experts at work put in a $100 each year – this year for a total of $1,300 – and they bet on people and whether they will make it all the way. I was actually somewhat amused at this fantasy footballesque spin on hiking. But then this a_ _hole was actually sizing me up and my prospects of making it. He had the nerve to tell me that “I was carrying too much sh_t” and continued “that I already knew that”. Oh no he didn’t. Suddenly someone not thru-hiking is judging my prospects of thru-hiking? And with such a smugness that he was lucky to not get my trekking pole through his neck. I was carrying too much, after all, and I would have been willing to part with it.
He also told me that “I quit my job to join the circus”. I usually don’t volunteer the information unsolicited but I decided this was as good of situation as any, so I let him know that my side career is writing hiking guide books and that my GPS, which he ridiculed, was an added luxury seeing how it allows me to get paid to hike the trail. This guy was a monumental a_ _hole.
Yahtzee, a nice girl from New York that I met yesterday and stayed last night, was sweet enough to offer up that she thinks I would be a pretty good bet to make it all the way. I appreciated this. But I hoped the jacka_ _ from Tennessee doesn’t bet on me – I’d be tempted just to spit on him if he did.
Smoking weed and talking like an idiot isn’t my cup of tea – rather I detest the practice. Yet being out here is sometimes as ridiculous as being a teenager in high school, where suddenly I’m “not cool” because I don’t get stoned. I’m so heavely in the minority, frequently I remained ignored in large social situations or amazingly enough, negatively judged. No wonder why hikers have a bad reputation among regular society – they really are all stoners. Even many of my friends have this habit. I do my best not to judge them on it after I’ve gotten to know them and judged them in absence of the habit, but I make myself scarce when the drugs come out. I came to the trail for the mountains, the history, and the scenery. Most people apparently came out here to get high. I could do without all of them.
Perhaps now I’ll get back to speaking of my hike. I began a steep climb out of Yellow Mountain Gap, though not before idiot Tennessee section hiker exerted his correction to the information on the historical marking there. He managed to depart the barn just after me, though in spite of “carrying too much shit”. I had no problem leaving him in the dust while hiking up hill. Funny how that was ……..
The clouds were beginning to part, and I was very lucky to get a picturesque view back down the slopes to see the red barn nestled in the cove. When I emerged on to the bald before Little Hump, the clouds had not parted enough to make a side trip to Big Yellow Mountain worthwhile – a place that I love dearly when its amazing views are available. I’d get my chance for other balds today, as it turned out. I summited Little Hump and I was still socked in, but the clouds began clearing shortly thereafter. I was initially irritated by yet another TEHCC reroute descending Little Hump, though I came to terms with it since it used an elongated switchback that brought the trail back to the bald before turning toward Big Hump and reentering the forest.
By the time I reached Bradley Gap, the skies had cleared a good bit and the fog had dissipated. I could even see a few patches of blue sky though big, gray clouds loomed in the distance. Lee Barry, the oldest man to ever thru-hike the AT and father of modern southeastern peak bagging, once told me a story of hiking through this gap and seeing a fighter plane fly low and fast overhead, even waiving its wings at him. The view of Hump Mountain from the gap was so impressive. Hump is such an incredible mountain, one of my favorites and even a summit that North Carolina can claim entirely as its own. The entire 600 foot ascent climbs a bald ridgeline with nonstop views. While the climb is steep it mattered not since I stopped almost every 50 yards to take pictures and revel in the beauty that surrounded me. I never had a chance to lose my breath in the first place. I saw 2 cows during my ascent but did not view any longhorn steer that the others claim to see.
I reached the summit of Hump Mountain and was irritated to see a bumbling group of stoners getting blazed in a communal circle. It had, after all, been about 2 miles, so I’m sure they were well over due now since their last hit. I can’t wait to get away from this group of imbeciles. I almost wish for continuous sever weather, as I know our lack of it thus far has kept the dropout rate low. All these morons may have made it this far, but it won’t be difficult to break them.
I stopped just below the summit at a plaque honoring Stan Murray on the scenic Houston Ridge. Murray was the founder of the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy and was instrumental in both protecting the highlands of Roan for future generations and bringing the AT over its scenic ridgeline. We are all indebted for the preservation of this southern Appalachian treasure and for its incorporation to the trail. Stan Murray, whom also chaired the ATC, is a personal inspiration to me – a man who devoted his life to protecting this beautiful land for the enjoyment of everyone. I gazed across the mountains and thought how rewarding it must be for an unspoiled view such as this and its indefinite preservation to be the result of your career and lifetime of work. This vista and its magnificence as a monument to your dedication is such a fantastic prospect. How amazing would it be for my children or grandchildren, or even those who didn’t know me to be able to enjoy and marvel in a place that I contributed to preserving. I could easily devote my life to protecting places like this, and I’m thankful Stan Murray gave his to save a place like the Highlands of Roan.
I took several photographs at the plaque and looked at in astonishment at the trail traversing the bald Houston Ridge. I descended the ridge slowly as to take in all of the scenery, though this was the equivalent of trying to drink water from a fire hose. The experience was visually overwhelming. Grandfather Mountain’s Craggy ridge line seemed surprisingly close. I could also see some of northwestern North Carolina’s most impressive peaks – Hawks Bill and Table Rock, Beech Mountain, Sugar Mountain, and Hanging Rock. Behind me, Grassy Ridge Bald was entirely enveloped in clouds.
It began raining, of which its intensity would increase gradually throughout the rest of the day, just as I exited the bald and reentered the forest and left the ridge. Yesterday I debated staying on Roan High Knob and rolling the dice that the weather would perhaps be better to traverse the balds today. I pressed on, and as it turns out I was lucky once again. I managed to traverse The Humps in the single weather window of the two days. Hikers are arriving this afternoon at the hostel with horror stories and photos of snow and blizzard-like whiteout conditions on the balds just hours after I passed through. At the moment, it is hailing outside and the hostel porch is completely covered in white ice pellets. Had I laid up at Roan, my theory that “the weather couldn’t be any worse” than the day prior would have been completely shot to hell, and I wouldn’t have gotten my cherished views from The Humps. Well played, I guess.
The rain slowed briefly when I approached the meadow at Doll Flats, where the trail says its final farewell to the North Carolina boarder. There, it departs into Tennessee for its remaining course to the Virginia border. Like on The Humps, it was as if the Tar Heel State was giving me a warm, final send off by ceasing its rain and granting me vistas. For this I am grateful. North Carolina will always remain first in my heart on the AT, regardless of the experiences to come. We had quite a thing going for a while. Oh, the Nantahala’s, the Smokie’s, the Bald’s and the Roan’s, how I will miss you so. You all are my best of friends, and I will return to visit you soon. Alas, I still have a long way to go and many more mountains to climb. Goodbye, North Carolina.
The rain resumed its downpour after Doll Flats, and I continued my field testing of my umbrella. Like yesterday, I loved it – even hiking downhill with wet socks and mud with the use of only one trekking pole. All the way down to the hostel, my upper body and most of my lower body remained dry. A lot of people on the trail + on my online journal have criticized or ridiculed the umbrella, but I doubt any of them have hiked with one before. Remember, everyone is an expert….
I detested the descent from Hump Mountain, especially just beneath the bald where the trail goes through a boulder field. It’s slow going, and a total ankle break zone, especially when wet. I remembered it from when Allison and I hiked it in December 2008. I didn’t care for it then, and I didn’t care for it today.
The final part of today’s hike passed through Wilders Mine Hollow. Evidence of pest mining was present from now overgrown pits and rock jumbles. Wilder was the man who owned the majority of the Roan during its days as an early resort destination during the existence of the Cloudland Hotel. He attempted to make profit from the Roans mineral wealth, though I do not believe he was ever gratefully successful at it. His Cloudland Hotel venture on the other hand, was a surprising success and put Roan on the map.
I reached US 19E, long known as one of the redneck capitals of the entire trail. I could see why. The rednecks had out done themselves this time, having made beer can mobiles using string and sticks and hung them from the small bridge just before the road. There are endless stories of red neck mischief here – including burning cars left at the trailhead, painting white blazes black, and hanging fishing hooks with fishing line across the trail at eye level. Hikers and red necks pretty much have entirely different views on just about everything. But we both love the woods. We like to walk it, they love to destroy it.
The Mountain Harbour Hostel is top notch. Many have said it is the nicest so far on the trail. It certainly is the cleanest, and coziest. Its a few more dollars than an average hostel but you get a real bed with sheets. It’s in a loft over a functioning, livestock hosting barn. It has all the amenities you need, and fits several people – not too many. I like the crowd here tonight which includes Day Tripper and Thunder, a guy and a girl that I’ve stayed with 3 nights now and enjoyed their company. I first met them my night at Curley Maple Gap. The Canadian Geese are also here and an older couple from Charlotte, as well as Blue Skies, a friendly lady I first saw in Hot Springs.
Both Day Tripper and Thunder each gave me a piece of pizza they ordered before I got here. It was so good; I’m ordering my own for dinner tonight rather than getting the shuttle to the restaurant. Having a great time here, and I’m excited about what is suppose to be a legendary breakfast tomorrow morning at the B & B house up the hill. This won’t allow me an early start, but should fuel me for a planned 24 mile day to reach Dennis Cove tomorrow – which would be my longest day yet.