Homeward Bound!

The last stop in the Smokies…

Day 23
AT Miles Hiked: 10.7
Davenport Gap Shelter > Groundhog Creek Shelter
248.7 Miles Down, 1944.4 To Go

We were a little more quick in waking up and getting packed up this morning because we knew Fresh Ground was making breakfast for us at Davenport Gap just about a mile down trail. The Family and Toodles were raring to get there, so we still took a little more time than they did to leave the shelter so that hopefully we wouldn’t be arriving all at once. FG had told us in the past that he likes it when folks trickle in because it’s less stressful to feed a handful of people at a time versus an army. Relishing that last mile in the Smokies, we started making our way down to the gap, reflecting on the last five days and feeling excitement at the fact that we’d gotten through it with a good deal of luck on our side. Yes, it had been very cold at points, but at least we hadn’t gotten rained on. As we neared the Thru Hiker permit box at the northern boundary of the park, we very triumphantly and, with a touch of giddiness, dropped our permits through the slot.

We then proceeded to the spot where FG was parked and set up at the gap and hung out for quite a while as we chowed down. FG had some accidentally vegan pancakes (he’d bought a gluten-free mix for Starfish and they just happened to also be vegan) and fried potatoes for us. As always, everything was absolutely delicious! We also talked with him about his van build and power set up. He had great recommendations for us- we took lots of notes! Very grateful that he took that time to walk through it with us and share his insights and knowledge.

We left FG around 9:30am and hiked with Toodles and the Family over to Standing Bear Farm/Hostel, passing by a beautiful creek with a lovely little waterfall along the way. We got to the road and hiked the .2 or so miles up to the Standing Bear, which was tucked up in the valley. The hostel itself was very eclectic in nature, the aesthetic bespeaking of rustic Appalachian style of shabby chic. At the hostel, we got hand sanitizer and chocolate. They had all kinds of interesting things in their resupply store (including a rack of clothes that had what looked conspicuously like Goodwill tags on them) but no fuel. We were really hoping for good, four-season fuel because the canisters we picked up at the Marina in Fontana Dam just weren’t cutting it in the cold weather. Unfortunately, we forgot to ask FG if he had any canisters while we were at breakfast that morning. He carries things like extra fuel and such in case hikers are in need of non-food essentials, too.

After spending some time taking in the vibe at Standing Bear, we hiked on ahead of the Family and Toodles. Toodles (predictably) caught up to us in no time, even after having downed an afternoon beer at Standing Bear. We stepped to the side and let him pass as we struggled on the uphill. We had started the climb up to Snowbird, a particularly long stretch of continuous elevation gain made all the more challenging by the fact that the sun was relentlessly beating down on us through the leafless trees. After how cold we were in the Smokies, we never thought we’d be able to get warm enough. Now, however, we were downright hot and suffering on the opposite end of the temperature spectrum. Time seemed to crawl by at a snails pace as we used every bit of our energy to get up that mountain. It felt for most of the climb as if we were dragging our feet through molasses, that’s how much gravity was working against us in that moment. We were also, admittedly, still a bit tired from the 20+ miles we’d hiked the day before. Even though today involved less mileage, the elevation was definitely giving us an added challenge, and after such a big day less than 24 hours prior… But we made it to the top and enjoyed some amazing views as we leisurely ate our lunch.

Then we hiked down to camp. Toodles was there waiting for us and immediately told us about the bear activity at this particular site (which he’d seen posted on guthooks). Though the posts were dated for last November, we all decided then and there to be sure to take extra precautions and make sure ALL possible smellables went up in the bear hang.

Eventually, the Family rolled into camp and we all made dinner and got set up for the night. We told stories and hung out. We all got incredibly excited when Oak rolled in- we weren’t sure if he was going to push the miles to get to the same shelter as us today!

Once everyone had finished dinner and were done getting all set up for bedtime, Lily (whose trail name is now Narrator) read the first three chapters of the new book from the Brother Band series. While we were listening, we heard Bard Owls calling to a fro in the distance. The light continued to fade and the forest around us started to fill with the sounds of night. At one point, BAM!’s stomach growled loudly. Oak, who was sitting beside us on the picnic table, got wide eyed and looked around a little nervously. BAM!’s stomach gurgled a second time just a few moments later, causing Oak’s eyes to grow wide again, an even more frantic look etching itself across his face. Seeing that his tummy noises solicited this reaction from Oak a second time, BAM! leaned over to him and whispered (so as not to interrupt the reading), “It’s just my stomach- sorry!” Oak visibly relaxed, then burst into quiet fits of laughter, trying (but not really succeeding) to stifle his giggling (which, of course, sent us into giggle mode, too).

After the Brother Band chapters had been read, we all said our good nights and settled in for (thankfully) a bear-free night.

Lunch at Max Patch!

Day 24
AT Miles Hiked: 13.1
Groundhog Creek Shelter > Walnut Mountain Shelter
261.8 Miles Down, 1931.3 To Go

Well, we all made it through the night with no bear encounters! Phew!

Before we all hit the trail this morning, we agreed to meet up on Max Patch for lunch. Toodles and Oak got out of camp first, then we got on our way, the family and Janna following close behind.

We started the day with some elevation and then dropped into Brown Gap. The climb back out of Brown Gap seemed needlessly steep, as though the trail intentionally took the steepest route with no switchbacks even in areas where you could see a possible alternative route (just a hundred yards to the right) that looked like a much more pleasant gradient. Oh well! We kept climbing up to Max Patch and found Toodles and Oak having lunch near the top. We set down our packs and joined them. The sun was out and the views were magnificent, but it sure was windy. The Family rolled in shortly thereafter, and together we all enjoyed the sunny lunch spot with beautiful views.

We finished our lunch fairly quickly and kept on moving. We got to the top of Max Patch, took it all in, snapped a few photos, then continued on our way. The hike from Max Patch to Lemon Gap was quite pleasant – most of it just a gradual down hill. Hero had hiked this section with our roommate and good friend Heather last August for Heather’s Birthday. So, she was reminiscing on that hike and how different the forest looked in August than now.

We pushed up Walnut Mountain, which actually didn’t seem that bad, and got to the Walnut Mountain Shelter by mid afternoon. Toodles and Jersey were there as well as the two oldest Trout kids who had passed us just a bit earlier. We set up our tent and did a water run then cooked dinner and hung out with the crew. Narrator read a few more chapters in the book while we listened from the picnic table, and then we all went to bed, everyone feeling the excitement and anticipation of knowing we’d be getting into Hot Springs the next day.

Big Pillow Brewing with the Tramily and Amazing Friend Malarie!

Day 25
AT Miles Hiker: 13.1
Walnut Mountain Shelter > Hot Springs
275.3 Miles Down, 1917.8 To Go

It was such a nice morning- the temperature was warmer than it had been the last few days and the sun was shining. We were too warm in our puffy layers, so we took them off well before starting our hike. This was unlike our usual routine of waiting until the very last moment before taking them off, a strange feeling but one we reckoned we could get used to!

We weren’t in much of a hurry this morning as we only had 13 miles to get to Hot Springs and we were trying to time it right so that we got there when the brewery opened – 3 o’clock. We were the last to leave camp other than Jersey, who was just getting up as we put on our packs.

The hike today was pleasant, with some
moderate but overall very reasonable elevation gain. We had a rather gradual accent up to Bluff Mountain, and then it was almost entirely downhill to Hot Springs. Even without trying, we were making really good time, going about 3 miles an hour. We arrived at Laughing Heart Hostel at 1:30pm, which meant we still had an hour and a half before the brewery opened. What do we do now?! Well, there were a few bottles of Stella marked as being free at the Hostel, so Toodles, Bad Santa and BAM! all had a beer! BAM! was kind enough to share a few sips with Hero (thanks, BAM!), but she was most excited for the craft beer that was yet to come. Then we started hiking into town with Toodles to check out Bluff Mountain Outfitter. As we were walking, we saw Cryptic! Apparently he was coming up to the hostel because he’d heard we all got into town. He took a zero today and would be heading back out on the trail tomorrow.

We all go to the store, and Hero and I grab some snacks and a CNOC water bag to use with our Sawyer filters because our Sawyer bags were springing leaks everywhere. Toodles was checking out the shoes but just ended up getting some super feet insoles. Cryptic perused the store and chatted with us. He did eye the backpacking umbrella by Six Moon Designs, seriously considering purchasing it. By the time we all finished up at the store, it was 3pm and time to head over to Big Pillow Brewing!

We got over to the brewery and found a table in the open outside area, then promptly went to get ourselves some drinks. After sipping on our beers for a bit, we ordered a boatload of food from the Grey Eagle Taqueria, which is housed at Big Pillow. The food was unbelievably good and we were absolutely ravenous! We sat, drank, ate and just had a grand time with our tramily! Eventually, our dear sweet friend Malarie showed up to give us (Hero and BAM!) and Toodles a ride into Asheville. It was hard to part ways with the rest of the tramily, but we were all certainly that our paths would cross again soon.

We drove to Asheville, where we continued to hang out and enjoy spending time with Malarie, her partner Graham, and Justine that evening before crashing out.

Homemade Waffles and Fresh Fruit! Thanks Heather!

Days 26-28 (Thursday, March 11th, 2021-Saturday, March 13th, 2021)
AT Miles: 0
Asheville, NC Layover

After a fun night with our good friend Malarie, we went and had breakfast at Biscuit Head with Toodles. Then we hung out at the West Village Market and worked on social media stuff for a bit. While sitting outside the store, multiple people came by and asked if we were Thru Hiking. Even a little ways off the trail in Asheville, people can still spot (or maybe smell) a thru-hiker a mile away!

The Incredible Justine picked us up from West Village and dropped us off at the grocery store so we could get our food resupply out of the way. Then we organized our food and hung out on her porch for a bit. After all of that was done, the four of us had an incredible pizza dinner at Grata housed inside of Upcountry Brewery. The pizza was so good, perhaps the best we’d ever had! After enjoying an out of this world delicious dinner and yummy drinks, Justine took us all over to our old house where we would be staying with our previous roommate and longtime friend Heather and her partner Joel. They made us feel like we were home again, and it was beyond wonderful to have that time with them. We spent the next three nights there enjoying their company and relaxing… and working a bit on Logistics and the Blog.

Friday afternoon, we went over to Highland Brewing and saw several MANNA Staff and Volunteers. It was inspiring and encouraging to see so many from our MANNA Community coming out to ask questions and talk about how they have been following our journey. We apologize for those of you who didn’t know we were in town and at Highland Brewing. We got in earlier than expected and weren’t able to get the word out as fast as we had hoped. If anyone has questions they would like to ask or just would like to say hi, please feel free to message us or comment below.

Our time in Asheville was rejuvenating! We are so grateful to our close friends who went out of their way several times to make our stay so relaxing and wonderful. We are also so very grateful for our MANNA Community who are still out there working hard every day to help put food on people’s plates. You all are heroes, and you inspire us to keep pressing forward.

We knew we had to get back to the trail. Usually after one zero day, we get to feeling restless and ready to go, but that was not the case in Asheville. It still felt like home, and it was hard to leave the community we love once again. But we are on a mission not only to get to Katahdin but to support our neighbors in Western North Carolina by raising money for MANNA FoodBank. We know that our community will continue be with us and cheering us on the whole way no matter how far from home we are.

Thank You All So Much!

Hero and BAM!

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