Wesser Bald Shelter to Sassafras Shelter
Miles Hiked: 12.8
AT Milage: 148.3
This morning I woke up to noises outside my tent and the light of a headlamp. I was so confused because I thought it was the middle of the night. I poked my head out of my tent and saw that it was Creature getting his bear bag down. I looked at my watch and saw that it was 5:50am. At that point I decided to get ready for the day too since I slept well and didn’t anticipate falling back asleep. Creature got on the trail first but I was shortly behind him. We started hiking before 7am. As the sun came up Locks yelled out of the shelter ” what about early bird!?” A trail name suggestion. I took it.
I didn’t talk that much about Creature before, but we camped with him at Wayah and at Wesser. He is a 67 year old man who has beat cancer, ran 105 marathons, and has done 1,000 of the AT. He really enjoyed hanging out with the group of us (Flamingo, Cocoa, Locks, Gatsby, and Kentucky). He planned to get off trail today and his wife picked him up at the NOC. Last night at the shelter he was giving us all his extra food since he was going home. I passed Creature on the trail about 2 miles in. He is super fast and can hike faster than the majority of people I know. He was taking it slow this morning since the downhill hike to the NOC was treacherous.
The elevation profile for the day was extremely difficult. It has been my hardest day on trail yet. It started with 6 miles straight downhill to the NOC and then 7 miles straight up hill to the shelter. The elevation went from above 4,000 feet to 1,700 feet and then above 4,000 feet again. The hike started out with lots of ridge line hiking. I could have easily fallen off either side of the trail and fell straight off the mountain, probably with severe injury. There were several points where the trail came to a big drop off and I had to take a few giant steps down and try not to tumble forward with my pack. After the ridge hiking I walked through some of the most intensely green forrest I have seen the whole trip. I loved it. I got to see a turkey as well! It scared me because it flew away from right in front of me and headed down the mountain. The whole time I was thinking about how much it would suck to be a south bounder climbing up the mountain that I was walking down.
When I was less than a mile from the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) I took a bad fall and tumble. I was thinking about getting to my destination when I took a giant step downwards and my ankle folded inwards. I feel straight down and rolled a little bit. I honestly thought I fell so hard I broke my ankle. I was surprised I didn’t here a “SNAP!”. I laid there for a moment waiting for the pain to come but my foot was just numb. I got up brushed myself off and noticed my knee was all cut up as well. I continued hiking paranoid that I would start to feel pain from an ankle injury soon. The fall really scared me and made me think about the reality of how easy it would be to break a foot like that and have my whole thru hike be over. I was also very thankful to be so close to town. It would hurt to have to walk out several miles from the forrest with a broken foot.
Eventually I made it to the NOC and sat down on the bench outside the general store. Creature came out of the woods shortly behind me and brought me over a Powerade. It was just what I was craving! Gatorade or Powerades are my favorite thing to drink after a long hike. Creature started talking to me for a while while we waited for the rest of the group to get there.
As I was hiking into the NOC I passed one person. It was a man hiking up the mountain with a backpacking pack on. I said good morning to him and just kept hiking. Creature told me about what happened when he passed the same man. Creature said ” Good morning sir, what a beautiful day” and he man hiking replied ” If you think it’s a beautiful day you should see what is hiking ahead of you (me)”. Creature told me this man made him so mad he almost punched him. He wanted to say ” That is my granddaughter and if you say one more thing I will kick your ass”. Creature told me he held his tongue but I fully believe he could have beat the man up. I’m so glad there are people out here like Creature looking out for others on the trail. Creature is one of the most interesting people I have ever met and he has one very lucky grandson. After he gets off trail he is taking his friend’s kid to Alaska to do some sort of difficult hiking. I am so impressed with this man.
When the other hikers in the group I’ve been hanging out with came in we all got a picture with Creature. Everyone was very sad he was leaving us. The guys tried to convince him to keep hiking to Katahdin with us but he has some other adventurous plans. He gave everyone his number so he can come pick them up and take them to his house in Virginia if they need it. The whole group of us then went out to lunch at the river’s end restaurant. I got a burger and shared a salad with Cocoa. Creature ended up paying for everyone’s meal. We were all so surprised. He gave us a little talk at the end about how Jesus was drawing him to us on the trail and that we need to listen for him talking to us when we hike. Creature shed a few tears, it was sad. After lunch we all met his wife and wished him well. It’s crazy how you can meet someone on trail and get to know them so well in two days.
Pictures left to right: Kentucky, Creature, Cocoa, Me, Locks, Flamingo, and Gatsby.
After lunch we all sat down on the side of the Nantahala river and soaked out sore feet while bathing in the sun. Then we began our seven mile uphill hike. At first the hike wasn’t bad. I enjoy going uphill for a while as long as it is gentle. Then it got a lot harder. I hiked with Cocoa almost the whole way. Both of our feet were hurting very badly at the end. It was the longest and hardest uphill I’ve done since being on trail. It was so hard because it was so long. It felt like it would never end. I kept wondering how on earth we could keep going uphill when I looked up and thought I could see the top of the mountain. Eventually we got to the shelter and everyone took a spot in the double decker shelter.
I ate a poor dinner of left over French fries, jelly beans from Creature, and s’mores that Locks packed out for everyone. We all had a great time sitting around the fire and hanging out. Gatsby bought a mystical fire kit that made the fire rainbow colors. I thought it was funny how entertained everyone was by it.