14.8 miles, 120.8 overall (Wayah Bald shelter)
The night is restless in the shelter. I know I don’t sleep well in shelters but there were no good tenting spots. I am not alone in getting only a little sleep. UV says she was also restless and got up twice to stare at the moon, which she informs us is half full.
I am anxious to get the day started. Without the rest of the group we plan a long day and I’m curious how the dynamic will change. We are now only 3 hikers instead of a group of 8-10. That is a dramatic change in terms of group dynamics. UV and Ninja tend to hike together and I usually hike alone. We usually get to camp early and wait for others to arrive. Now when we get to camp we have nobody to wait for.
The hike looks relatively easy but has 2 long climbs to the 2 big summits of the day – Siler Bald and Wayah Bald. The first few miles go really quickly as I think about all kinds of things, but mostly about how the group has changed. Will the others all go into Franklin? Will anybody quit there? Will they zero? If we nero or zero would they be able to catch us? What about when I take time off the trail, will they get ahead of me? I am thankful that I got contact information for the majority of them before we parted ways so I can either find them on the trail or find out how their hikes turned out.
When I reach Winding Stair Gap I find a bag of oranges that someone has left for hikers. It comes at just the right time because my energy level is low. I grab one and eat it in the parking lot before I tackle the first climb of the day. The climb up Siler Bald isn’t incredibly steep but is very long at over 4 miles. On the way up I play leapfrog with Zorra. She tends to keep a very steady pace all day while I stop for snacks, pictures, or talking to other hikers. When I reach the top of the climb there is a side trail to the actual summit but I don’t take it. Wayah Bald is ahead and is taller than Siler Bald. I do stop for a snack break with Zorra and by the time we are done Ninja and UV have caught up to me. Also catching up during the break is JB who now goes by Jailbreak. He stopped in Franklin and is now carrying a banjo. He is hiking with Superstar who I haven’t met yet.
UV, Ninja and I make the descent together but when we reach the climb to Wayah Bald I pull ahead. The climb is steeper and it is now afternoon so the sweat drips freely. When I reach what I think is the top I am met with a surprise – a false summit. The trail slopes down for another mile and then back up before it actually reaches Wayah Bald. A sign says we have another 1.8 miles to go. It is a demoralizing sign.
By the time I reach Wayah Bald I am out of energy and ready for the shelter. I do see a couple people standing near a van nearby and talking and I stop to say hi. The man asks if I am a thru-hiker and I answer in the affirmative. He asks if I would like trail magic and I answer with an enthusiastic affirmative. The man is Santa’s Helper and he does trail magic all over the trail, moving with the time of season when thru-hikers come by. Although he is not yet a successful thru-hiker, he only has a little over 250 miles of the trail in Maine left to hike. Today he is handing out sodas, water, and snack cakes. I gratefully down a root beer and a fudge round, just enough to get my energy level back up (thanks Santa’s Helper!) By the time I am done Ninja and UV have caught up again and have partaken of the magic. We spend a few minutes at Wayah Bald before doing the last mile to the shelter.
It is odd not having others on the way after we arrive. There are other hikers in camp, but not many are very social. The ones who are tend to be odd and throw off the dynamic. When we had 8-10 in our group it was easier to relegate those hikers to the periphery, but with only 3 it is harder to keep them away. One of the things I thought about today while hiking is how the trail is similar to life. As we move along the trail we meet new hikers. Some are wonderful people but we just don’t quite hit it off – maybe the timing is wrong, or we hike at different speeds. Some are a bit weird and we try to stay away from them. A few mesh well with us and we stay together for a while, but eventually we must part ways. Hopefully we can cross paths again with those whose company we enjoyed on the Appalachian Trail.