About the Author: Aspin is a young writer, who grew up in Michigan. She enjoys hiking, camping, photography, and spending time outdoors with her boyfriend and dog. She has dreams of long distance hiking, with plans to complete a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2019. You can find her on Instagram (@brokeroaming), Facebook (facebook.com/brokeroaming), or her website (brokeroaming.com).
Coming out of Dicks Creek Gap we all had the plan to go 11.5 miles to Muskrat Creek Shelter, but when we hit the trail we realized this wasn’t going to be the case for everyone. For Sherpa and me the 11.5 miles was just too much. The inserts in my shoes continued to cause pain in the arches of my feet with every step. Despite it being a beautiful day I had a hard time enjoying any of it.
For the second time on the trail I broke down crying. The insoles hurt so bad I decided to take the insoles out completely and hike just on the bare shoe.
Many people reading this may wonder why I continued on the trail with pain so bad it had me in tears twice. This thing about thru-hiking that many people won’t tell you is how bad it breaks you. At some point we all break down, from pain, exhaustion, cold, or loneliness. I’m not the only one who’s cried on the trail. Lumberjack broke down coming down Blood Mountain. Mocha cried the night she could barely walk from the restaurant to the hotel and realized her hike was over. G cried the night he drank a bit too much and told me it was the young hikers who inspired him because, “I wish I had the balls to do this at your age.”
Despite the mentally hard day I pushed forward and passed over the border from Georgia to North Carolina. It was a relief to have gotten out of the first state, even if it had taken me longer than normal. That’s the thing about strength, you aren’t any weaker for crying, but strength is being able to stand back up, wipe away the tears and get to camp anyway.
The day from Bly Gap to Standing Indian Shelter was cold. It made waking up hard but that’s what you do, you wake up and get going anyway, if only because it provides a way to warm up.
With a high of 41 and flurry of snow in the morning it is definitely the coldest day I’ve had on trail so far. Thankfully I was able to find some gloves in a hiker box and was thankful to have them. Taking the insoles out of my shoes had made a difference and while they weren’t the most comfortable things in the world, they weren’t painful.
When we got to camp that night there were 3 Boy Scouts and two dads in the shelter and building a fire. It was nice to be able to sit around and meet new people, though I was still sticking with Sherpa. We had a chilly but good night joking around the fire.
Day 15 on trail ended up being my longest day in trail, though I had intended for that to happen. The original plan was to wake up and go 11.5 miles to Betty Creek Campsite. That would put is halfway to Winding Stair Gap and give us a good chance to get into Franklin before some rain.
Heading out the day warmed up quick to its high of 54 and sunny, making it an ideal day to hike. The trail was relatively smooth compared to how it had been in Georgia and getting the miles in felt much easier than they had just days before. Taking the insoles out of my shoes had made a world of difference, and while my feet were sore they weren’t in pain. I made my way faster than I had any day previously and made it to Betty Creek Campsite by 2:30pm.
I was still feeling pretty good and when I looked at the map in Guthooks I saw that if I stayed at the campsite there would be a crazy climb up Albert Mountain first thing in the morning. I hate doing big climbs first thing in the morning and I was feeling good, so I took off and made my 11.5 miles day into 13.8.
The climb up Albert Mountain was as bad as it looked on the map. Straight up the mountain, stair stepping and boulder hoping the whole way. The only silver lining was you are so focused on not twisting an ankle or slipping on a rock that you don’t notice you’re climbing a mountain. At the top of the mountain there is a fire tower, that would scare even the bravest of souls. A tall fire tower on top of a tall mountain is something that will make your knees shake but the view was breathtaking. 360 degree views of mountains all around. I had been told that staying in the fire tower overnight offered an amazing sunrise, but after an hour of waiting I realized I was the only one with this thought and since I wasn’t comfortable sleeping there alone I took off for another 2.5 miles to the next shelter.
Only .3 miles from the tower was the mile marker for 100 miles. I can’t explain the relief of realizing you’ve hiked 100 miles, only to be followed by the overwhelming understanding that you have to do that 22 times over to complete the trail. I laid down with the marker, got my picture and continued to trek on.
When I hit the shelter I had hiked 16.3 miles. I was amazed how well my feet were doing, though I have to admit I wanted to do nothing but sit down and kick off my shoes. A couple guys I had camped with the night prior had the same plan I did and we were all at the shelter. I spent the night in the shelter that night, protected by the ever vigilant Gus (an adorable black lab hiking the trail).
Long Branch Shelter – Winding Stair Gap
The next morning I talked with Jason, a guy I had camped with the prior two nights, and found out he had already made a reservation at the Budget Inn and was looking for someone to split it with.
The hike to Winding Stair Gap was a really nice grade and we made the 7.5 miles hike by 11:30 that day. We were sitting in the parking lot waiting for a free shuttle to come by when a car of grandparents offered us a ride into town.
They told us that their son had done the trail over 20 years ago and they’ve been doing trail magic ever since. Once we got to town we found the room, got showers, did laundry and headed to dinner. We sat and celebrated having reached both North Carolina and 100 miles.
Signed the hiker banner in Franklin, NC