AT Day 029: Saturday May 6, 2023

Mile 433.5 + 20 miles / 32 km

Total Distance Hiked: 453.5 miles / 730 km

Watauga Lake – Vandeventer Shelter Turkeypen Gap – Iron Mountain Shelter  – Nick Grundstaff Memorial – Tennessee Route 91 – Pasture  – Double Spring Shelter – Camp

A: 4075 ft /1243 m   D:3097 ft / 945 m

A strong breeze was blowing outside as I made my morning coffee. However the breeze was not strong enough the drown out the sound of the occasional passing car somewhere down around the lake. We were slow to get going this morning.  The gunfire resumed as we broke camp and headed out just after 7am.

The first few miles were absolutely delightful. I spotted about nine  Pink Lady  slipper orchids by the trail just after leaving camp. This made my day already, I hoped that we did not peak too early. They were difficult to photograph swaying in the breeze.

We were hiking on a ridge for most of the morning with filtered views of the lake below. For the most part the trees obscured any views from the ridge. The trail was great underfoot, mosty soft leaf litter.  And the terrain was  undulating without and significant ups or downs. So all around pretty good hiking.  On one of the short climbs we passed a hiker we’ve recently heard about. He hikes barefoot with a self-made backpack attached to a wooden frame . His trail name is Home-made. I had expected an older, eccentric man but  was surprised that he was  relatively young. I was stumped for questions to ask him when we stopped for a chat.  He said his feet were doing alright, the only thing I could think to ask him about.  The pack was really quite creative. I have a feeling he was not worried about the packs base weight. Hike your own hike, I guess. 

The epitath reads “He lived alone, he suffered alone, he died alone” yet somebody cared enough to erect a headstone along the trail.

The first few hours of hiking were OK as we were fresh,  but as the morning progressed it was getting warmer and without distant views or much interesting trailside vegetation, it became just uninspiring hiking. I felt really low on energy and struggled to keep any momentum going. It felt like I was going one step forward,  two steps back. All I could think about was food.  Hammer was doing a lot better and suggested taking a short break to reset a little. A 10 minute stop was enough to stop the downward spiral of mood and to refocus and reset.

It was so good to get to the water source around midday, stop for lunch and hopefully fuel up for the afternoon.  While we were having lunch two female hikers arrived. We’d seen them getting ready to leave Vandevender shelter about 6 miles back when we passed earlier. They were Greyhound and her friend called Lunch Break, both from North Carolina. They started on the trail in mid-March and had terrific energy and enthusiasm.  That’s all the hikers we’ve seen for the day.

Amazing how a lunch break and food re-energises.  Hiking felt easier especially with a light cooling breeze blowing. The landscape flattened a little until the two downhill miles to TN Route 91 road. It was such a treat to approach the road and find a cooler with drinks on ice. A cola and a cold beer were such a welcomed treat. We were buzzing as we crossed the road and entered a huge meadow which offered amazing views back over the ridge we’ve been hiking on most of the day.  The open landscape was a private  pasture which reminded me a little of the Balds.  Before too long we were back in the forest as the late afternoon,  peaceful silence descended. It was incredibly beautiful hiking and we felt like we could just keep going.  

We stopped early as we were approaching another road and did not wish to camp close to it. We have 13.5 miles of Tennessee left to hike tomorrow and another three miles to reach Damascus, Virginia.