Tuesday, October 23, 2012

FAQ #1: What is your favorite section?

Grayson Highland Wild Ponies.
There are a few questions that we tend to get from most of the people that we talk to... so I decided to answer those questions here.  One of the most often asked is, "What is your favorite section?"  My favorite section in the south was from the Roan Highlands in northern TN to the Grayson Highlands in southern Virginia, around 100 miles.  (I'll do another post for my favorite northern section - once I finally get around to looking at those photos.)

It seems that a lot of people's favorite places tend to be places where they had a great experience due to trail magic, good weather or a wonderful friend memory.  When we started into the Roan Highlands, Yogi was just getting over being sick and we were finally able to move with a bit more speed.  The weather made me feel like I was walking through Ireland - with low rolling clouds that moved in between the open balds.  I loved it!

Yogi & BooBoo
The day we actually passed over Roan Mountain was rainy, cold, foggy and super windy.  We stayed at Overmountain Shelter, which is an old converted barn that hold 20ish hikers and looks out into a meadow.  When we rolled into the shelter around 5 p.m., there were a few sick hikers that had already ducked out of the rain.  One fellow was huddled in the corner coughing; another was hammocked up claiming stomach flu.  We made dinner, took a NyQuil and were in the process of falling asleep when what would eventually be our group of friends loudly entered with song, dance and merry spirits.

Roan Highlands.
The next day, clouds continued to swirl around us but the rain was no longer falling.  The ground was thoroughly soaked - leaving slippery puddles in the mud.  At one point, I slid two feet and fell with my toes curled up under my body.  I wrote that night, "My toes are a little sore, but when is something on my foot not." We had wonderful trail magic of sodas and snacks, which was much appreciated on a rainy day when we didn't take time for an actual lunch break.  We camped by the Elk River, which was down a steep and slippery .2mi trail.  I slid down and into the creek - and Yogi didn't even make a comment because he could tell how utterly exhausted I was.

Hump Mountain.
We passed Mountaineer Falls, where I got to try my first attempt at waterfall-slow-shutter-speed-photography.  And that was an adventure in and of itself:  I had to skip across mossy rocks in front of the waterfall at least 5 times because I kept forgetting stuff on the other side!  During that, I stepped on a Salamander's tail.  You could see how the tail was still slightly connected and was flailing around at a much quicker pace than his body.  I felt really guilty about this!

Mountaineer Falls.

We had to do a quick town run into Hampton, TN.  Towns were probably the hardest part of the trail for us.  We would feel really stressed out about having to hitchhike in, get to the post office, grocery store, food to gorge on right then and hitchhike back out in a relatively efficient manner.  The day we went into Hampton, TN was no exception - but we needed more food (and wanted Subway).  We had 6mi to hike before we would hit town and only had one bagel and one cup of cocoa to share, which isn't near enough food.  After we passed Laurel Falls, we turned right when we should have turned left and ended up at the shelter.  We were both so crabby (ie hungry) that Yogi was grunting at me while we were trying to figure our way back to the trail!  Once we got into town, we each ravenously devoured foot-long sandwiches, chips and drinks, which is the part that makes town worth it.  We stopped immediately once we got back to the trail and just set up camp by the river to rest our tired feet.

Goslings at Watauga Lake, TN.
We started the next day refreshed!  Lunched at Watauga Lake, which we later learned is a popular place to drop dead bodies from a Verizon worker.  Yogi had his first spill of the trail - he had decided to take a short cut between switch backs and he just rolled down the hill.  We had a beautiful sunset and a deserted shelter to ourselves.

Sunset at Vendeventer Shelter.

Tennessee/Virginia Border.
We had about two more days before we were going to cross into Virginia (our 3rd state!) - and Trail Days Festival.  On/off rain, a black bear, night hiking and beautiful scenery.  Trail Days was interesting to say the least.  We stayed in Tent City - a big sports field that they open up to camping for the festival.  It was like a music festival with drinking, dancing, camping - but only a drum circle instead of any other music.  And most of the participants were stinky hikers.  It was neat to go to as being a thru-hiker.  We got to see people that we ahead that hitched back to the festival and people behind.  I don't think I'd be too keen on returning for a future Trail Days though.

We headed out of town after another Subway run, which gave me mild food poisoning.  After a day, I felt good to go and we headed out to the Grayson Highlands.  We camped at Thomas Knob Shelter, about a half mile from the summit of Mt. Rogers (5,729 ft and the highest point in VA). 

Rhododendron Flowers.
The next day was clear and beautiful.  We started in Fur/Spruce trees that gave way to blooming Rhodadendron bushes that gave way to open, rocky balds.  We saw some wild ponies from a distance and a few moments later we walked right into a group of about 10 or so.  They only came up to about our waist and were so friendly!  They wouldn't stop licking Yogi and me due to the salt that was on my skin from sweat. 

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