Unaka Mountain (which I keep wanting to call Ubaka Hill, after the famous drummer) [mile 355.7]
Got 14.2 miles today. If you count the 1.1 from the hotel back to the trail, I broke the 15-mile barrier! For me, that’s the speed of sound! I can’t take much credit, though. The terrain today was appreciably easier. Dirtwalks, wide trail… it was heaven. Who said it all changes after Erwin? There were plenty of ups, but being fed and rested, I managed them much more easily than has been the case. So, 14.2 miles… and I didn’t get to the trail until after 8. And I took breaks to eat!
Ohmygod. I just noticed. I haven’t even thought about my feet. They don’t hurt!
Erwin was a lot prettier on the way out. Grassy meadows, some horses trying to chew their way through their fence. The Nolichucky River was wide and gorgeous, jade green studded with rapids. After the river the trail crossed the train tracks and began climbing.
It was a summer climb, though. Slow and gradual under a warming morning sun. The trail wound through the rhododendrons next to a cheerful rocky stream, and I realized: I can’t wait for the trail to turn into the ‘green tunnel.’ The views are nice, but I’m here for the forest—for rivers and waterfalls, and green overhead. The brown bleak mountains just aren’t my cup of Gatorade.
I met some new hikers today: Stumbles and Oxy and Bojangles. Oxy is from Harrisburg. Stumbles started on April 4, which is astonishing to me. I miss my Geritol bubble! I wonder how far ahead the Postman is?
The weather was gorgeous: sunny, warm, just enough wind to keep the bugs at bay. Definitely shorts and tee shirt weather. So ironic, given that the nighttime temps for the next two weeks are supposed to be freezing. Also, they’re calling for four days of rain starting Saturday. Oh, and it’s supposed to lightning and thunder tomorrow afternoon. If that’s what you need to do to get it out of your system, trail, then go for it! Bring on the summer! I hike much better when I don’t shiver all night and wake up with frozen shoes.
The afternoon was a long uphill to Beauty Spot Gap, a bald with some magnificent views. It was clear today; I wonder how many hundreds of miles I was seeing?
Part of the climb was through an oddly blighted section of forest. It reminded me of New Jersey: sandy soil and low, starved-looking shrubs. I couldn’t tell if the trees were dead or just not budding yet. Maybe they were some special breed of Tennessee zombie tree; I have no clue. I’ve often wished I could have a complete field guide to plants and trees and birds, but it would have been the first thing to go at Neels.
Guess whom I ran into at a spring? Hikerboy! He was doing a 20-mile SOBO slackpack back to Uncle Johnny’s hostel. He said Unaka Mountain was magical. When I was near the top (the magical part), it was 6 PM—quitting time. So I decided to pitch my tent and tackle the beautiful part in the morning, when I usually have more time for pictures. It’s so quiet up here! The birds have gone to sleep.
Tomorrow looks like more good walking. But tomorrow or the next day, I’ll have to tackle a monster: Roan High Knob, the highest (and allegedly coldest) shelter on the trail. Back up into the 6000s for a while!