I didn’t start as early as I would have liked. The dreary rain caused me to question tackling the twenty mile walk to No Business Knob Shelter. But as the dim gray brightened to a medium gray, I realized most of the rain had quit and the sound of drops on the shelter roof were coming from moisture shed from the trees.
The two and a half miles to US 23/I-26 went quickly. It always feels odd to me when I step out of the woods onto the constructs of civilization. Most of the Appalachian Trail is nothing more than an inglorious dirt and mud path. Its notoriety comes from its length, not its width or construction. I look up and down the highway as busy cars and trucks zip their way to some unknown destination.
This is Sam’s Gap. I cross under I-26 and before long am ascending back into the mountains, watching the highway recede from view below me.
Climbing out of Sam’s Gap, I am passed going uphill by Der Vunderhiker. I joke with him a little, “Are you going all the way to Erwin? It’s only 26 miles!”
He shrugs, “It vould be nice to haf a shower.”
The first notable waypoint is Big Bald. Sam’s Gap is about 3750 feet in elevation and Big Bald stands proudly at 5500 feet. The 1500 foot plus climb is across six miles and is not all that strenuous, as trail climbs go. As I walk out of the woods and onto the bald, the clouds encompass the mountain top and there is little to see. I reach the USGS marker which proclaims the top and drop my backpack for some mandatory photos. From the other direction come three senior hikers, wearing a mishmash of clothing bound to win no best-dressed contest. They are the type of favorite, comfortable clothes we all like to wear, fashion be damned.
We greet each other in a friendly manner, converse a few minutes, and I am on my way. The mile and a half hike to Bald Mountain Shelter is across a path made muddy and slippery from the night’s rain. Nearing the shelter I pass a couple retrieving water from a stream. They are smiling and proclaim this is their 40th wedding anniversary. They’ve chosen to celebrate the year by attempting a thru-hike. Since we are going the same way, I expect to see them again, but I never do.
I lunch at Bald Mountain Shelter. The shelter is vacant and I eat by myself. My ankle feels OK, but I pop a couple of Tylenol just to make sure it stays that way. Hanging from a hook in the shelter is a rather nice-looking head lamp. I figure someone has hung it there and forgotten it when they left. I consider putting it in my pack. Maybe the owner is ahead of me on the trail and I’ll be able to reunite it with him or her. But then, maybe they went the other direction. I leave it.
On the long downhill toward Spivey Gap I pas Brazil and Trekky taking a break. I don’t talk to them long. Once I reach Spivey Gap, I’m glad to find a running stream. I let down the pack and go about the business of getting water. Brazil and Trekky show up and we joke a bit. Brazil acts annoyed when Trekky necessarily relates things to his favorite series of all time. I suspect he acts more annoyed than he really is.
I leave first, but it’s not long until they pass me on the uphill. The climb is about 500 across a mile, but the next four are a gentle downhill. The day is gray again and light seems to be waning. Rounding a bend and coming into the No Business Knob Shelter camp area is a relief. It has been a long day. I had set out for a daunting 20 miles and I’ve made it.