more magic: days 22-25

Day 22: Whistling Gap to Curly Maple Gap Shelter, 17.6 miles
Day 23: Curly Maple Gap Shelter to Clyde Smith Shelter, 21.9 miles
Day 24: Clyde Smith Shelter to Carvers Gap, 10 miles
Day 25: Carvers Gap to Apple House Tentsite, 14.3 miles
Total AT miles hiked: 393.2

While the day before was mostly up, the next was all downhill; well, AT down anyway (which is downhill that still manages to go up sometimes, too). We passed a big black non-venomous snake, and for the rest of the day I was jumpy passing sticks along the trail tricking myself into believing they were all potential snakes. As we dropped down into the Nolichucky River valley the weather became hot, but the miles came easily and we made it to Uncle Johnny’s Hostel on the trail by 2pm. We resupplied for a two day stretch, and consumed many snacks. If you’re wondering, I had a Gatorade, a fruit cup, cool ranch Doritos, an ice cream sandwich, and orange soda. Garrett had orange soda, two mini cheeseburgers, a mini pizza, an ice cream sandwich, a Starbucks double shot espresso in a can, a Gatorade, and 10 ice pops (the type that are all connected in individual plastic sleeves, meant to be pulled apart and distributed to children. Garrett keeps them connected, rips all the tops off, and eats them like one might play the pan flute. It’s a sight to see, next time I’ll make sure to take a picture). All the sugar we consumed fueled us the last 4.7 miles to a shelter, with a quick break to cool off in the creek we walked alongside most of the way. 

The next day we were motivated to make it nearly 22 miles to Clyde Smith Shelter, to ensure the following day we’d only have ten miles to make it to Carvers Gap where we had planned to meet a sister of a friend who’d offered to host us for the night. The trail had dried-up by now from all the rain and snow earlier in the week, and we sailed smoothly all day. We were also surprised by not one, but two separate trail magic stops, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. In the morning a minister was set-up with sweet drinks, coffee, and homemade baked goods; and in the afternoon we ran into a former hostel owner and his AT Friendly Van with soda and Little Debbie snack cakes. We realized on the trail we do the exact opposite of what we were taught as kids; we willingly take candy from strangers out of vans. I’m surprised how many trail angels there are along the AT compared to the PCT. Garrett thinks he’s come across more trail magic on the trail this year than when he did it in 2011. We’re very thankful for all the support that they provide! 

Even better than trail magic though, we climbed over Eunaka Mountain. The summit is a dense spruce forest, and felt quite magical in its own right. We were so taken by it, we forgot to take any pictures! Oh well, we soaked it up while we were there. That night we caught a pretty sunset through the trees at the shelter, though. Soon views like these will be blocked by green leaves when they finally decide to come out! Despite warnings of lots of mice in the shelter logbook, we slept well without incident, kept safe from mice by a fellow thru-hiker’s dog, Aspen.

We were the first ones up and out of the shelter, managing to start hiking by 730am, the earliest we’ve hit the trail yet! The morning’s task was to hike 10 miles over Roan Mountain and into Carvers Gap to meet our ride. We kept a good pace, and surprised ourselves by making it to the gap by 11:30am. There weren’t too many views atop the mountain, but we did walk by an old chimney.

We met Suze, the sister of a family friend (Hi, Becky!), at Carvers Gap shortly there after. Her and her husband Kent are potters in the area, and offered to host us when they heard we’d be hiking the trail. They were so welcoming to us, and we managed to get laundry done, clean-up, go to a real grocery store for the first time in weeks, and enjoy three delicious meals with them. It was relaxing to be in a home, not a hotel, and fun to spend time with their talkative cat and adorable dog. We really appreciate them sharing their lives with us for a day and getting to become friends with them; thank you again, Suze and Kent! 

Kent dropped us off at Carvers Gap late morning, and we walked for a couple miles over Tennessee’s famous balds. We dipped down into a valley, and had lunch at a barn converted into a shelter with a great view.

From there it was a hike back up to the highest bald of the day, Hump Mountain. The rest of the day was uneventful, as we made our way over 2000 feet down the mountain. For the next few days we’ll be out of the mountains, and more in the Tennessee hills. We’ve been crossing from North Carolina into Tennessee and back again since the Smoky Mountains, but today we left North Carolina for good along the trail and entered Tennessee. It’s a short state, in a few days we’ll be crossing into Virginia!