AT – NC Max Patch to Garenflo Gap

July 20, 2018 – July 21, 2018

After hiking into the NOC and staying the night, most of the Dames went home. Lola, “Akela” and I scooted up to do another micro section before doing the I-81 shit show north to Maryland. OH, WHAT A SECTION!!!!!

We drove up to Garenflo Gap to park my car first thing in the morning. The last short section of “road” to the parking area is more like a rutted out driveway up to someone’s mountain hideaway, but the parking area itself was great! However, Akela vowed to never drive her Toyota minivan up it again. 😀 No worries there, my RAV4 made it just fine.

Off to Max Patch!

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Oh my! This is my new favorite place on the planet! I’m sure it was made even more memorable with the fabulous weather. Big puffy clouds in a blue, oh, so blue sky, floated with the breeze as we reveled in the fresh cool air which had settled on the bald.

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Glorious!

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There was a lovely campsite just over the high point of the bald, then several more after we descended off the bald into an area that looked very park-like. Lush green grass, tall trees, almost Eden. We made note to include this section when we come back to head south into the Smoky Mountains. A little further down the trail is Roaring Fork Shelter which also looks to be a delightful place to make camp!

All the way to Lemon Gap the trail was just a delight to walk. So different than the trail between Fontana Dam and the NOC! We were ready for a change and the trail delivered!

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After Lemon Gap, we started back uphill and discussed hiking past the next shelter to the campsite listed on Guthook’s App. It seemed logical, I mean we weren’t tired and, add to that, big storms were moving in tomorrow. I would like to be out of Garenflo Gap, and down that sketchy rutted road before those storms moved in!

Well, of course, once we made the first campsite, we kept on to the second. The trail was overgrown waiting for that controlled burn we read about on a sign at Lemon Gap!

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Now we were pooped! It was about 6??? Time doesn’t mean a whole lot to me on the trail, but I know it was after 5 o’clock when we pulled into the campsite. We had filtered water at a very low running stream that crossed the trail on the way down the mountain, my Katahdin sucked it right up, but Akela had to take a few more minutes to fill up her bag to use, oh what was it, a Sawyer? Anyway, it took a while. I love my Katahdin in times like these!

We set up camp, made dinner, enjoyed the sunset, then crashed!

Sleeping soundly into the night, ahhhh!

*sleeping soundly*

*possible snoring*

*dreaming of bears*

“Kylena…”

I was surprisingly not startled by Akela kneeling outside my tent in the middle of the night.

“What?” *notices wind has picked up*

“There’s a really big storm moving in.”

“okay.”

“A really big storm.” *lightning flashes…rumble of thunder*

“okay.”

I’ll just say here, that I am not at all bothered by storms. I grew up in the Midwest and tornado warnings were just part of life. We lived in the woods and I loved a good storm. I don’t really want to be in a tornado, but a good thunderstorm is weirdly comforting to me.

The thunder rolled over the mountain singing me to sleep. I did keep track, for a while, to the time elapse between lightning and thunder and quickly realized, while a good lightshow was upon us, the storm itself wasn’t right ON us.

Akela wasn’t so sure. However, she eventually got back into her hammock. Maybe she went to sleep eventually. 😦

I was up early as usual, still raining, then another storm moved in. Akela and I texted back and forth…nice to have cell service at times like this! I packed up everything in my tent, except the pad I was sitting on, waiting to make my exit as soon as the rain let up.

I have been through this before…everything in the pack, pack cover on, rain poncho on…rain slows, then stops. Go time! Back out of tent with poncho on, place pack so cover keeps somewhat dry, deflate pad, disassemble tent…shove into pack pockets and get the heck off the mountain!

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Nearing Garenflo Gap (thanks Akela for the pic!)

The rain did not return as we hiked down the mountain to my car waiting at Garenflo Gap. Sunlight coming through the trees filtered down in rays creating an almost postcard like scene. Thunderstorms don’t last forever! Hike on!

AT – NC Fontana Dam to the NOC (part 2)

7/18 – 7/19/2018 Stecoah Gap to NOC

After a night at the Hike Inn, we were smelling good, feeling rested, and ready for another overnight on the trail.  I had looked forward to this section all year…Cheoah Bald!! A real bald!

Breakfast could have been fabulous.  I dreamed of scrambled eggs, toast, hash browns, and coffee.  Alas, nothing was open when we wheeled out of the parking lot headed to Stecoah, so I made do with trail bars and Gatorade. 😦

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Let’s Go!

It did the trick somewhat.  My stomach was not in its best form today.  The restaurant we went to the previous night did not have any viable vegan options, so I chose what I thought was a dairy-free meal, since that is the big culprit to my system.  Regrettably, it was not dairy-free! I tried my best to scrape off all bits of dairy…but no luck and as I climbed out of Stecoah Gap I was feeling it.  It did not keep me back, but it kept me in check all the way up to Cheoah! Not my best day hiking!

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They said there would be water somewhere at the gap.  This is totally true if you want to climb down like 700 feet to get it.  I’ll pass!

My hiking gals were none the wiser, thank goodness!  I climbed, and climbed.  That is one long uphill!  It got a bit hot, so we stopped and used my backpacker fan (which I procured for free at the Summit).  That fan was a BIG win!

Then as the trail leveled out, I caught a glimpse of something amazing through the rhododendron bushes.

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The bald, the bald!!!! We HAVE ARRIVED! 😀 😀 😀

Amazing, and just like that, all memories of that hard climb evaporated into the bright blue sky!  I pulled out my big red poncho to spread on the ground, then sprayed myself down with bug spray…no ticks on me, please.  Falling back on the poncho I undid the laces on my boots and kicked them off, perfect!

Now it was time to relax a bit.  Big climb over, I took it all in.  The blue of the sky, the big, white puffy clouds that drifted lazily from right to left.  The breeze as it made its way through the towering grasses, the bees as they hummed about me, the soft scent of hay and clover, the birds chirping to each other, the butterflies as they floated by,  and me.  I was able to hear, no, …really hear, and see, and feel, and smell! Oh, what a day! What a place! I felt I was a lucky person, indeed!

 

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After the bald, it was a short downhill roll to the shelter.  And guess who was waiting for us?

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No guesses?

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Uncle Charlie’s crew…sans Uncle Charlie…who had, indeed, ditched out due to his bum leg and hitched his way into the NOC.  Who was, according to brother and son, currently rafting down the river loving life! Oh, Uncle Charlie! So happy you were having a great time! 😀

I pitched my tent down the hill, then immediately had to visit the privy, which was like a kazillion feet above me on the hill.  Oh, the humility. Ugh.

It was a good sleeping night! haha 😀

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Making our way down to the NOC!

The walk downhill to the NOC was not as bad as I thought it might be after my experience coming into the NOC last summer on the opposite side (which had major erosion due to fire damage).  This side of the hill was a piece of cake compared to that!  I kept waiting for the “jump-up” listed on the map.  I finally decided to check Guthook’s App…turned out we were sitting just downhill from the “jump-up” taking in a lovely view while eating some snacks!  Wow, didn’t think anything about it…I mean does it even warrant a nickname like “jump-up”???

The rest of the way down took a long time, for sure! and our feet were beat! For the last two miles, I fantasized about soaking my feet in the river.  We could hear the happy din of people playing on the river as we made our way around and down the mountain.  It added to my desperate fantasy!  I needed to be at that river like a mile ago!

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The Dames 🙂

And then we were there.  And if you have ever backpacked into the NOC, then you know how good it is for your morale…people treat you like a superstar! They want to talk to you about the trail, they are in awe that you are carrying a backpack, on and on…All the good vibes! Hike On!

AT – NC Fontana Dam to NOC (part 1)

7/15/2018 – 7/17/2018 Stecoah Gap to Fontana Dam

Trail Dame Summit is history! So I rushed to Sylva, North Carolina to meet up with everyone at City Lights Cafe for lunch, then off to the mountains!  Highly recommend City Lights Cafe and may need to go back to check out the book store upstairs.  They had a few wonderful vegan options…which gives them 5 stars in my book! 😀

The weather forecast indicated possible thunderstorms that evening but we stayed dry until we hit Jacobs Ladder after Sweetwater Gap.

“Oh, hello, North Carolina, I see you waited up for me.”

Sweat soaked us as we laboriously lifted one foot over the other to make slow forward progress.  It was up, straight up, and boy, was I glad the rain held off as this was one of THOSE hills! Rain would have felt amazing, but it would have resulted in each step forward being followed by two steps sliding back.  Thankfully, it was a short hill, and we quickly finished our big 2.4 mile day to Brown Fork Shelter.

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Yes! Made it and no rain yet!

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Brown Fork Shelter…The site of the Mice Massacre

Brown Fork Shelter is a nice shelter. It is up off the ground, seems clean enough, sturdy.  In the early morning, I got up and walked toward the privy in the deep fog that had descended on the mountain, beautiful until I almost stepped on a mouse.  Then, *quick inhale*, I saw that it was dead. “Oh my gawd” I had glanced around and could not unsee the littering of dead mice as I arrived back at the shelter.  Creepier still was the trash bugs were crawling under them to make it appear they were still moving and a huge bullfrog sitting on the side of the shelter looking down on the massacre as if he had ordered it.  UGH.

So, I have a question.  Do trail maintainers ever put out mouse poison to cull the herd, so to speak?  We found the powdered stuff under the back of the shelter.  I was livid.  Mice eat the poison, bugs eat the mice, birds eat the bugs…you get it.  Yes, the mice are sometimes the most annoying opportunists, but humans made this problem.  Sloppy humans who left food around.  😦

I took my irritation down the trail with me that day and had to hike it out.

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Tallahassee Tom … did you kill those mice?

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Bully Bullfrog…did you order those mice killed? (oh, and please don’t eat the bugs)

The hike was pleasant as we rolled along the AT to Cable Gap Shelter.   Wildflowers lined the trail in places and after getting to the top of one hill we were blessed with a view of the peaks of distant mountains rising above a sea of valley fog.  With each breeze, spanish moss lifted and swayed, floating with the wind for just a few seconds before falling back to cling to the bark of its tree. And it was quiet, so quiet.  You can hear yourself think up here.

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There were some rocky spots 🙂

 

I was apparently fully recovered from the mice massacre when we arrived at Cable Gap since I decided to again sleep in the shelter.  The threat of rain was imminent…and I wanted to keep my tent dry for at least one more day.  I could feel the stillness, the humidity.  I could see the leaves tipping over.  Yes, it was only matter time.  I got my pad set up just in time to watch the skies open up and dump.  Time for a relaxing afternoon in the shelter!

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Uncle Charlie, brother of Uncle Charlie, and son of brother of Uncle Charlie came trooping into the shelter area from Fontana Dam about then.  These three were a comedy of errors and had us both shaking our heads and laughing.  Uncle Charlie had injured his leg early in the day leaving his nephew, son of brother of Uncle Charlie to carry two packs…his own and Uncle Charlie’s.  The son wore one on his back and one on his front…

Leave no trace was not part of their dinner plans, apparently.  Uncle Charlie dumped his left over stuff on his plate right in front of the shelter… I totally called them out on that!  OMG, dead mice and now this!  As they headed up the hill to their hammocks, the son asked if he could leave his pack at the shelter (he left it outside on the ground).  No problem as long as there is NO FOOD IN IT.  He came back in about 15 minutes, sheepishly, and took out a couple of trail bars to hike down to their “bear bag”.  Good Lord, still shaking my head!

During the night, something…maybe a possum, maybe a raccoon, or maybe an army of mice turned his pack over scaring the living bejeezus out of me.  I turned on my headlamp and shot it out to his pack.  The light met with a wall of fog…I saw nothing, but did not sleep particularly well the rest of the night!

I was one sleepy hiker the next morning! No matter, we were headed to Fontana Dam, then to the Hike Inn for a shower and real bed for tonight…I vowed to pop a benedryl.

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All the things that go bump in the night show in our eyes! *yawn*

It was a gorgeous hike into Fontana, but a little demoralizing after we got to the Marina and found we still had about a mile and a half to go.  It was hot as Hades down around Fontana Dam and that last mile *whew* the cool waters of Fontana Lake mocked me. I just wanted to jump in, but it was so far downhill!

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Lucky for me I had gotten a second wind at the Marina and was charging … well okay, I am not really capable of charging, but anyway, keeping a swift pace to Fontana Dam.  Then came the stairs, and the road walk, and it was hot…I got to the Dam and literally sunk to the ground to feel the cool grass.  I tore my boots off and let my feet go “ahhhhhh”!!!

I wanted to get a good look at the Smoky Mountains just on the other side of the dam.  They were intoxicating and pulled me in.  I got up from my shady spot and with my bare feet started across the parking lot.  In the middle of the sun blasted lot I broke out into a slight jog, then, dang it! a run for the grass on the other side as I felt the asphalt burning into the underside of my feet, hahaha, flashbacks to my wonder years growing up in Texas!

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Fontana Dam

Yeah, and after I gazed at those lovely Smoky Mountains I had to run back to the other side… 😀 ouch, ouch, ouch…Hike on!

 

A Place for the Gals – Trail Dame Summit 2018

Western Carolina University – July 13 – 15, 2018

My first Trail Dame Summit!

It was a great weekend of meeting new women, making plans for more hiking adventures, and participating in several interesting sessions.  I arrived on Friday afternoon.  After checking into the dorm and leafing through the schedule, I saw there was a session starting in 10 minutes on “organic camping”.

The session was being given by Lucky Sheep‘s Patrick Clark who had multiple chemical sensitivities and had no choice but to find another way.  While I could not get into some of what he and his co-presenter were stating as truth, it was definitely a conversation starter.  I was especially amused watching my fellow dame, Lola, a bonified Ph.D. scientist, over in the corner watching this guy dish it out.  😀 😀  I mean he was advocating not filtering water from creeks/springs for god’s sake. When challenged on that one, he backed off saying, “well, North Carolina, has good water sources” …um, okay…I thought, wait until the fracked water comes your way…  HYOH, but I will still be filtering!

The next day’s sessions were better suited to me. My favorite was a session given by Lightheart Gear‘s Judy Gross (who was also my roomie).  This was a session on how to make your own stuff sack or rain skirt.  I chose to make a stuff sack, as did my hiking pal, Google.  Quite successful! And Judy gave away scrap fabric from her stash, so I now have some techie fabric to with which to practice!

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BoobOnARock and Google with the “memade” stuff sacks!  Judy Gross in the background…a wonderful teacher!

On Sunday, I was a little discombobulated as I was giving a session and in the afternoon heading to the mountains to start my section hike in North Carolina…summary & pics to come to the blog soon! Anyway, I decided to attend a super fun session on painting a mandala-like design on canvas.  I am seriously impressed with myself!

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Gave this to sweetie when I got home 🙂

The weekend highlight and big, big surprise was winning an award for my leadership with the Maryland Chapter of Trail Dames.  I was slightly embarrassed by the attention. 🙂  Heading up the Maryland Chapter is a labor of love, I assure you.  I love to hike and I love to create opportunities for other women to get out in the woods!

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Such a cheezy gal!

Post-Summit, my dames and I headed to North Carolina’s Applachian Trail! Hike On!

 

 

AT-VA Loft Mountain to Turk Gap…completing Shenandoah!

I ended the AT through Shenandoah where I began it long ago. Several years back my sweetie and I backpacked the Moorman River Loop which traversed the AT from Turk Gap to Blackrock Gap…loved that trip!

Anyway, here I was with the Dames at Loft Mountain pulling out my gear for a quick overnight on the AT. It was going to be a hot one!

Shorts? Check!

Prehydrate with Gatorade? Check!

Backpack packed light? OMG OMG OMG OMG 21 POUNDS!!!!! WHAAAAAT?

That has never happened…are you kidding me? 21 pounds?!! I’m so proud of myself 😂

Okay, let me collect myself, whew…

The first day was sweet! Gorgeous trail, interesting rocks, and tremendous views from Blackrock Summit.

Pulling down into Blackrock Hut, we got set up quickly. I decided that I was going to have a lazy weekend and took advantage of a mostly empty shelter! The ridgerunner, Papa Bear, showed up, in addition to a slew of thruhikers and weekend warriors.

Papa Bear was a great conversationalist and I soon found out we knew some of the same trail folk. This type of encounter is what I truly love about the AT. The trail connects us in ways we cannot possibly understand or anticipate; it is almost magical. 😊

A few of the guys tenting down the hill spotted a mama bear and cub on the opposite side of the ravine! We all ran down to watch them until they ambled off. Then it was to bed for me! Next morning I heard that the bears came back…the guys down the hill had to come out of their tent, yell a bit, made a bunch of noise until the bears again left. 😲

I heard nothing from the bears, but oh! The whipporwills! A lovely serenade long into the night.

The following day I treated the dames to slackpacking the last 8.5 miles. I would say it was a treat for me too, but recall my pack was ONLY 21 POUNDS!! 😄😄😄

It was a great decision. Four good climbs, temps climbing into mid-80s, and a delightful mugginess moved in. Yummy.

It was one of those days. Climb up 100 yards, stop to rest, up, rest, up, rest…

The wildflowers along the way made it bearable!

Turk Gap was a welcome sight! A few of us capped off the weekend at Loft Wayside before dragging ourselves back to the real world. Here’s to good friends, the trail community, and whipperwills…hike on!

AT – VA Loft Mountain to South River Picnic Grounds

Midway through Fall and stuck deep in a pile of ungraded projects…and part 2 of my take-home mid-term from my grad class.  No wonder I want to stop everything and go back to summer!

Fond memories of backpacking in August with the Trail Dames of Maryland.  I am getting better at leading these backpacks…but I am no pro!  I love giving these women the opportunity to get out in the woods for a night or two.  and Honestly, what I get in return is so much more than I ever anticipate!

We backpacked the weekend of August 11 – 13, 2017.  Setting off from the Loft Mountain camp store, we promptly crossed paths with a rattlesnake…that I initially thought was dead.  Um…NOT DEAD! However, it was quite diplomatic and did not rattle at us, instead, after tasting the estrogen soaked air with its pink flickering tongue it very politely slithered across the trail and into the woods. R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

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The first day went uneventfully, but had some good ups and downs.  By the time we arrived at the first shelter we were beat!

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We had lunch by this beautiful waterfall

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Right after we had to climb a big hill…of course! These views don’t come for free! 🙂

I will say the first night was not my shining moment.  I had the WORST nightmare about a bear pushing in on my tent and trying to mouth my arm.  In my sleep, I thought “oh, Lola is tented right up the hill.  Let me yell loud enough to get her attention.”  And then, you know, I couldn’t make a sound because that is the way nightmares do you! So, I kept trying and this bear kept butting into my tent, and I couldn’t make a sound and it WAS SO REAL!!!!  and then finally, AAAAHHADAHLGOGGEOJ01%^#@856y27542uhfwiurhtfa;wp293456891205-9815 LOUD AND CLEAR! and my eyes shot open…nothing, I was staring at the ceiling of the tent, heart pumping wildly, ears pricked for any sound and then I  was like “holy crap, I just yelled out loud…I AM AN IDIOT! 😀 Oh my God, please, tell me that no one heard me…

Day 2 was a filled with bigger climbs and a bigger threat of rain.  The last climb to Hightop Hut was muggy and long.  Sheer exhaustion steered us straight to the shelter for a well deserved sit down before setting up tents, gathering water, and all the other little tasks that needed to be done.  And then there was thunder…okay, tents up NOW!  We were lucky that all of us had our tents up and were back in the shelter when the skies opened up for a beautiful thunderstorm.  It was truly lovely after walking in the hot, humid, sticky forest all day.

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Always nice to have a helping hand when navigating around downed trees! This is what makes Trail Dames great! 🙂 🙂 🙂

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Love ❤

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Breakfast at Hightop Hut

The final day we headed towards South River Picnic Grounds with absolutely gorgeous weather.  The thunderstorm and knocked out the humidity and walking was pleasant again.  We were a good team and found ourselves laughing out loud at some of the silly things we saw or did.

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Hightop may never be the same!

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More gorgeous views!

And then there was a dare to climb up on a pile of rocks.  And me being BoobOnARock…I did.  Hike On!

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BoobOnARock on a rock hahahaahaaaa! Photo credit to “Overkill”

AT – NC Wayah Bald to Tellico Gap

Day 5: Wayah Bald to Tellico Gap, June 28, 2017

“I’ll just hike a little ways with you”

Words from Momma Puma as we pulled into the Wayah Bald parking area.  I barely heard her as my senses were overtaken by the sheer jaw-dropping vista this morning at Wayah Bald.

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The Wayah Bald fire tower, substantial as it is, sustained a clear amount of damage from the fires.  It’s majestic nature has not been affected in the slightest, I am happy to report!  The interior chamber of the fire tower on the ground level would be a great hiding place in a storm.

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Done exploring at the fire tower, we headed north on the AT and downhill.  We passed the sign for the shelter, then promptly, went the wrong way!  I figured the sign for the shelter meant it was a blue blaze, twenty minutes later I am shaking my head as it seemed we were headed around the mountain and below the fire tower.  The one time I have used technology on the trail to actually check my location…and a good call!  Guthook’s guide app showed that we were indeed off the Appalachian Trail…it didn’t show what trail we WERE on (a drawback to the app is that it doesn’t show all the intersecting trails) but we knew we were on the Bartram Trail.  It was encouraging to see that I was correct in where I thought I was…anyway, we backtracked…ugh.

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You know some people get off trail because there is no signage…me…sign right in front of me, but I assumed it meant a blue blaze to the shelter. 😀 Extra credit miles today.

Once back at the intersection, Mama Puma, decided she didn’t want to climb back up the hill to her car.  Too funny! So she joined me, for better or worse, to Tellico Gap.

The woodsy trail was a delightful change from the rugged, eroded trail into the NOC I’d hiked the day before.  Lush green engulfed us all of the way to Tellico Gap.

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It was a long hike with my pesky blisters making themselves heard with every step after four miles.  At the shelter I sat down for a break…a real break…and changed the bandages on the blisters.  After about 25 minutes, Momma Puma indicated we needed to get moving, so I regretfully pulled on my boots.

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Momma Puma

The new bandages were helpful, but as we neared Tellico Gap I was singing “Tellico, Oh Tellico, these old boots have got to go” as my feet screamed for freedom.  You do whatever gets you down the trail!

Yes! The light at the end of the tunnel was NOT an oncoming train!!! After being teased with peeks at the fire road for a mile or so, we reached the parking area at Tellico Gap.  Flip flops here I come!

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In my trusty RAV4 once again, we drove down the not scary side of the mountain, then made two more stops: 1) back to Momma Puma’s truck at Wayah Bald, then 2) repark my car at Winding Stair in preparation for my last hike for this trip…Wayah Bald to Winding Stair.

Blisters be quiet because I am hiking on!