I really, really need a day or two for recovery. That was quite clear during today's run.
I use the term
"run" loosely, as I was dead tired and brain-dead today.
Fatigue and a rougher trail made for minimal running, only about 25% of the
After looking at the elevation profile for today's section, my thought was
"piece of cake." I had to get up to only 3,670 feet on two mountains, not near
as high as the 5,000 and 6,000+ foot ones I've recently climbed. And the section
was less than 15 miles long.
What I failed to do was read the guide book pages describing this section, with detailed
directions for all the turns (as of 2001, when the book was updated last). So I
had lots of surprises today, most of them unpleasant.
Every other day on the Trail, I've read the description and directions the
night or morning before getting to the trailhead. Sometimes I do this in the
truck as Jim's driving me there. I usually don't take the pages with the turns,
however. I rely on those white blazes.
READ THE DIRECTIONS, DUMMY!
This morning I was distracted by getting things ready to take home after the
run and forgot to read the guide while I was eating breakfast. And we didn't
have to drive to the trailhead. Yesterday I just stepped off the official AT
route on the main street going through Hot Springs and into our campground next
to the French Broad River.
All I had to do this morning was walk back out to the campground entrance,
and I was on the AT!
Jim and Tater, our older yellow Lab, accompanied me over the long bridge
across the river (it really is a broad river) and we lost the white
blazes within two minutes! If I'd read the guide, I would have known the AT goes
right over the guardrail at the far end of the bridge and down a steep, rocky
"trail" to the street below. Instead, we walked a couple blocks out of our way
and had to ask a resident where to go.
After returning to the bridge, Jim waved goodbye, confident I was on the Trail, and within another block I
lost the doggone blazes again! This didn't really surprise me, because I've read
that the toughest places to follow the Trail are through towns. Another resident
pointed me to the Trail where it entered the woods next to the river. (When I
read the directions later, I didn't understand them, either!)
The Trail is at an elevation of about 800 feet along the French Broad River.
I enjoyed walking the 4/10ths mile right next to this wide, shallow river and wondered where
hikers go when it floods. The Trail
was only a few feet above the water, with a wall of rock on the other side.
I tried running the flat trail here, but my stomach was too full from the
large breakfast I'd just eaten. So I walked. It was the first time I'd had a
flat start. Except for the downhill start at Springer Mountain on Day 1,
every day has been up from gaps where I've begun each morning.
It didn't take long before I got to go up - like 1,000 feet up steep,
rocky switchbacks to Lover's Leap. If I'd read the guide, I would have known
this was not only a nasty climb but also a dangerous one with loose rocks on the
narrow trail next to the edge of a very high drop-off.
I would not want to be going down this Trail with a full
backpack or in a big hurry, or I might end up in the river several hundred feet
below. Going up was strenuous on my already-tired legs, but it was safer.
As you'd expect, there's a Cherokee Indian legend surrounding this huge rock
face above the river. Supposedly, a maiden of the local tribe,
Mist-in-the-Mountain, threw herself from the crag after her lover was killed by
I met my first trail-character-of-the-day part way up this mountain. I could
hear hikers talking loudly on the switchback above me. But only one older
gentleman with a German accent came toward me. He gave me a hearty "good day!"
and kept on going.
He was talking to himself. I do this some myself, but not so loudly other
people can hear me! (Unless I've just fallen; my verbalizations are louder in
I had a smile on my face as I inched toward Lover's Leap. I
enjoyed the views across the river to Hot Springs and the mountains beyond from
two different rock outcroppings.
FIRST LADY'S SLIPPER
My other reward for climbing to Lover's Leap Ridge was seeing my first Lady's
Slipper along the Trail. I just love these delicate pink flowers. I've never
seen more than one plant at a time, although my wildflower book shows a bunch in one
Later on Rich Mountain I saw the first Lilies of the Valley in bloom on this
seen the distinctive leaves since Springer Mountain, but these are the first
flowers I've noticed.
There were more mountain laurels flowering along this ridge and down to the
Rt. 25/70 road crossing than I've seen before. The buds are pink, but the
flowers are predominantly white when they open. They should peak in a few days.
I enjoyed running along the first ridge despite more rocks today than the
last two days. I could hear the river roaring 1,000 feet below me as it flowed
over shoals and echoed in the valley. Sure beat road noise!
I was never certain when I was in either NC or TN today. Since the Smokies, the AT has
followed many ridges where the state lines meet. That's why I haven't mentioned
when I hit my third state. I wasn't sure, and there was no sign Friday when the
phenomenon began. In a few days, I'll leave NC for good and be in TN.
The only other hikers I saw today were in the first four miles. An older
couple with backpacks was hiking south, and 17 (!) noisy teenagers with three
adults hiked several miles out and back with no packs from the Mill Ridge
One of today's nice surprises was a peaceful little pond at the top of
a short hill. I could see the concrete dam and thought I was coming out onto a
road. Instead, I found two inviting benches along the Trail, overlooking the
pond. I sat for a couple minutes to let the tranquility soak in. I enjoyed
listening to the birds and frogs.
What happened next may not have been prevented by reading my guide book; when
I read it later, it didn't jive with the blazes at Mill Ridge. I think there
must have been a trail relocation here.
I followed the blazes along a dirt road that was part of a wildlife habitat
managed by the USFS and NC Wildlife Resources Commission. Mill Ridge is a brood
area for grouse and turkeys, as well as a mountain biking area.
I failed to follow the blazes correctly down the road past the parking area
for the bike trails because of double blazes at the entrance to the parking area
that indicated a turn. I wasted about 50 minutes trying desperately to find the
correct route. Finally some forest service workers showed up and showed me where
This is an indication of how tired I was. Normally, I wouldn't follow a trail
very long if there were no blazes, but I thought I was going the right way,
based on the bike trails map posted in the parking lot. I was pretty frustrated
and near tears until I was pointed in the right direction.
I tried to literally and figuratively "chill out" on the climb up Rich
Mountain. At the first little creek in a bend in the Trail, I wet my "Cool Off"
neckerchief and washed the sweat off my face, arms, and legs. The cool cloth
feels good on my neck when I'm running, and it's nice to wipe off my face
periodically. I felt a little better, although the 1,300-foot climb was wearing
me down. As I said, I was tired before I even began this "run."
I was in "self-pity" mode.
Then it happened. As I approached the next little creek in a corner of the
Trail, I spotted a BIG black bear - not just cubs! I don't know if it was male
or female. I was getting a drink in the creek when it saw me. (S)he looked at me
and immediately bounded up the steep hillside.
Boy, those big guys can move fast!
That broke my pity reverie. I wasn't as paranoid as last Friday after my
first bear sighting, but it made me more alert. I never did see any bear scat
It definitely made my day to see another bear. I rationalized that if I
hadn't gotten "lost" back at Mill Ridge, I never would have seen this bear.
I can rationalize just about anything!
There's a double meaning to this sub-title. Yesterday, I had loads of energy
and ran well. I must have used up this week's quota, however, because I just
dragged today. After getting off-track for nearly an hour, I knew I'd be very
late and Jim would worry about me. I couldn't reach him by phone, but was able
to leave a message from the top of Rich Mountain (he had no signal to retrieve
There were many beautiful flowers at the top of Rich Mountain and down to
Hurricane Gap - trilliums and spiderworts were prolific. The pastoral views of
the valleys and mountains were very calming.
Then the oddest thing occurred as I entered the Cherokee Wildlife Management
Area. I started crunching dead rhododendron leaves on the Trail. I thought maybe
they'd succumbed to insects or a fungus, much like the hemlock problem at
Then I noticed there had been a FIRE here. To my left, the ground was black.
There were no dead leaves on the forest floor. The tree trunks were blackened
and pine needles burned up about 10 or 12 feet. Some green plants were coming
through the blackened earth, however.
I took this photo of the burn area looking backwards, so
right and left are reversed from how I was running through this area.
Oddly, everything was bright green to my right. Nothing was singed or burned.
Dead leaves littered the forest floor as normal.
It took a few minutes for me to realize this wasn't a monumental firefighting
effort on the Tennessee side of the Trail to my left. This was a controlled
Jim saw a sign at Allen Gap indicating there would be such a burn in early
April. There was no sign going my direction, so I was fascinated with this
burned-on-left, green-on-right phenomenon for about five miles. Amazingly, there
were almost as many flowers blooming in the burn area as the unburned North
Carolina woods to my right.
It was a weird sensation when my mind and body were already in "burnout" mode.
Definitely time for a little break.