10.6 miles, 131.4 overall (Wesser Bald shelter)
The day begins benignly enough. I am only the third person out of camp today. Firewalker is a very early riser, and Stinger is a very experienced hiker who is going for his triple crown (CDT, PCT, AT) and started this leg of the triple down in Florida on the Florida Trail back in January so he already has his trail legs and has a daily rhythm. Both beat me out of camp but I leave at a respectable 8:00. As usual the first mile or so is cold and slow as my body warms up, but I quickly shed the zippered legs of my pants. I’m starting to cruise when in the distance I see a blue tent like those used at tailgate parties. Could it be true? Is it trail magic or simply some weekend car campers? When I get closer I peer in, looking for an invitation and receive one. Grits, an ’09 thru-hiker and Possum are camped here doing trail magic. This morning they are serving up blueberry pancakes. Later I find out they have been camped here for at least a day and will be staying until they run out of food, of which they seem to have plenty. Last night was sloppy joes, this morning is pancakes, and hikers who arrive later will receive burgers. What great people! Yet another example of the tremendous generosity that the trail brings out of people, and the desire of former hikers to pay it forward. Thanks Grits and Possum!
After a couple pancakes, a few travel-size candies, and a carrot I continue on the trail, tackling the first of the 2 big climbs of the day. Neither are incredibly hard or terribly long. The second leads up to Wesser Bald from which a tower provides a clear view of Fontana Lake and the Great Smoky Mountains where we are heading. I don’t spend too long enjoying the view – it is a hot day and the shelter isn’t much further. I stop for water on the way down to the shelter and am in before 1:00. Dundee and Brett are there when I arrive. Both are ultra lighters who will push on to either the next shelter or the NOC today and have just stopped for lunch. Zorra arrives soon, followed by UV and Ninja. We are done so early we don’t know what to do with ourselves. UV and Ninja pass the time eating while I take a mid-afternoon nap. We are eating dinner around 6 when I see 2 hikers from the past walking in: Highlife and Red Fury. We haven’t seen them since 2 days ago when the group separated. It’s great to see them. They pulled 17 miles today to get here and are excited about getting to the NOC tomorrow where they will zero. They bring the first news we’ve heard from behind us. They stayed with Bunny and Peach one shelter back a few nights ago. The next day the others went into Franklin for the night while they pushed on, allowing them to catch us today. It’s great to see familiar faces, and it gives me some hope that I’ll get to see the others too at some point up the trail.
Before bed we all make plans for the morning. As the early riser I am going to book it to the NOC in the morning to book us some bunks for the night. Once we get clean, there will be the requisite gorging on town food (burgers and pizzas and beer, oh my!). UV, Ninja and I continue to hike at the same pace and plan to enter the Smokies in just a few days. We’re all excited about hitting the next milestone on the Appalachian Trail!