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).
We took a day off in Franklin, NC. The morning was gray and rainy while we went to breakfast so we spent most of the morning in the room relaxing. Part way through the day Kate and G showed up and we all spent a chunk of the day hanging out in the parking lot, them drinking beer and drying out tents.
I noticed a strange phenomenon during this zero. Something I had picked up on before but never really thought about until we were sitting in that parking lot. As we sat there our hotel room door stayed open, along with about half the other doors at the motels. Hikers coming and going from one room to another, visiting, sharing and laughing. Looking around everyone was so relaxed, and being back in normal society it struck me just how odd it was that we all felt so at ease with each other, people we barely knew.
Had we not been hikers we would have never even considered leaving our doors open like this. Several hikers, us included, didn’t think twice about running to the laundry room with our doors open wide and everything we owned thrown around the room. Theoretically someone easily could have walked in, taken the stuff and walked out without us noticing.
I sat and wondered what it was that made us so comfortable leaving all our possessions available to the world. When I brought it up to Jason he simply said, “Well yeah, the other hikers are looking out. I’m not worried.”
I thought about that and just how natural that was. When we were in the woods we all would show up to camp set up our little homes with all our gear open to all, just as we left our rooms open, and none of us would give a second thought to walking off to get water or go to the bathroom.
On the trail we fell into a natural state. We naturally grouped together at the campsites and shelters. We naturally crowded around the fire for dinner, joking and telling stories. We naturally trusted our neighbor to look after us unless our gut told us otherwise. We shared freely, helping where needed and the phrase “What’s mine is yours, take what you need.” Is so common you hardly notice after a while.
It makes me wonder if this isn’t how we are naturally supposed to be as humans, trusting first and worrying second. I wonder what it is about normal society that makes leaving our doors open so odd and out of place, when it was so second nature in the woods.
That night I went to dinner with Jason, Kate and G and we spent most of the night sitting in front of the rooms. Talking and laughing with the doors wide open until we were ready to pass out in bed.
Drying off gear and trading food in the parking lot of our motel in Franklin, NC
Coming out of Franklin was a little difficult, if only because we had no idea when to expect the rain. When we got to the trailhead there was trail magic set up so we had lunch before taking off for the day.
The climb out of Winding Stair Gap was steep and our legs were stiff but there was beautiful weather. I was ready to test out new insoles in my shoes from the “foot wizard” at Outdoor 76, hoping to ease some of the pain in my feet.
When I got to the first shelter 4.5 miles in, Jason was talking with Sherpa trying to decide whether or not to go on to the next campsite. I laughed and yelled out to Sherpa asking what he was doing here and he replied “Waiting for you apparently.” It was fun to see a familiar face and be able to hang out again for a moment.
But we got to the first shelter pretty early and neither I nor Jason were ready to settle in for the night. So we pushed on to Wine Spring Campsite.
When I showed up Jason had already set up his hammock next to a couple we had met a few nights earlier, Unicorn and NAB (Not A Botanist). I set up right with them and after a little while we had set up our area and laughed around dinner. Thankfully the rain held off until long after we all went to bed.
Day 19The morning at Wine Spring Campsite was wet. It had rained most of the night and it was still sprinkling when we all climbed out of bed that morning. You never realize how heavy water is until you have to pack a water soaked tent into a water soaked backpack.
Thankfully it turned out to be a pretty nice day. Everything was bright and shining after the rain and the fog made for some breathtaking views from Wayah Bald observation tower.
That day we did 13+ miles until we hit Wesser Bald Shelter. When I got there I found that I had caught up with those who got ahead of me when leaving Hiawassee, GA. The shelter was full and there were tents pitched wherever we could fit one, due to incoming thunderstorms.
Late into the night (late being around 10, which is late for hikers and way past the hiker midnight of 9pm) a straggler showed up to camp. He asked us if there was still room in the shelter because he was supposed to be sharing a tent with a friend, but his friend had left him behind and he was without a tent.
People immediately started trying to make room for him in the shelter and offering him spare tents and extra space in 2 person tents for the night. Several trail angels have told me that the reason they enjoyed helping hikers is because the way hikers treated each other had restored their faith in humanity, and on nights like this I truly believed it. There was a selflessness among hikers that made you thankful to be a part of it, knowing that no matter what someone had your back.
Observation Tower on Wayah Bald
Day 20The morning at Wesser Bald Shelter had us even more soaked through than the night prior. But despite the wet morning we were all ready to get moving, knowing that the Nantahala Outdoor Center awaited us, just 6 miles down hill and we would be there. With the threat of more thunderstorms coming in early we all were looking forward to a warm dry bed that night.
A fellow hiker shared that he had made reservations at the NOC, a 4 bunk room that would allow him to have his dog to room with him for the night. Jason and I jumped on the opportunity for a dry place to stay and with that in mind we hiked out.
The hike down to the NOC was steep, and with all the rain the fear of slipping on a rock was very real. I’d be lying though if I said the views weren’t stunning. The fog gives the mountains a mysterious feel that makes you just want to sit and stare at them, wondering what those trees conceal.
As I made my way down hill I could see the clouds rolling in and I knew I wouldn’t be beating the rain to the NOC. About 3.5 miles left in my day and the sky opened up, drenching me and the world around me. I was thankful to have my umbrella and I made my way down hill, still getting soaked. Walking down the trail was like walking through a shallow creek, soaking my shoes so thoroughly that I could feel water flooding around my toes even in dry spots.
When I finally made it to the NOC I immediately changed into dry clothes, enjoying the warmth of a dry shirt. We spent the rest of the morning eating and wandering around the outfitter until the bunkhouse was ready. On the way to the bunkhouse Jason caught tragedy, tripping and falling down the stairs that lead to our cabin. His ankle instantly swelled and we all tried to ignore the fact that any injury can take you off trail, ending a dream.
That night we went to dinner, trudging through the rain, and laughed over our food. Talking about what we had done and where we were going next. We tried not to think about Jason’s hurt ankle, the rain, or the 7 mile uphill hike we were facing in the morning.
View from the Observation Tower
Hi! I have a question for you…I’m planning a backpacking trip on this route with my kids. All are experienced hikers, but two of them are also pretty young (7 and 4). Are there a lot of narrow ridge lines with drop offs on this route? Their endurance is good, but I am always concerned with the smaller children and steep drop off situations.
If you wouldn’t mind emailing me your thoughts on that, I’d so appreciate it.