Panther Gap to Wesser Ridge
Sunny Oak Camp to Worth The Butt Kicking Camp
AT miles: 20.23
Total miles: 139.9
Elevation change: 4869ft gain, 5200ft loss
My favorite moment of the day came after some of the hardest of the trail so far. As with so many things in life, the rewards of hard work more than make up for the effort. The day packed in the entire spectrum of moods, efforts, views, not-views, and weather. Sitting here at the end of it, I’m plenty tired, and thankful for the ride.
I awoke refreshed after a good night of sleep. How could it not be excellent after such a pleasant yesterday? The world outside of my tent was not quite as perfectly dry and beautiful as I had left it. A light rain in the night blanketed a cool freshness over the forest. It was warm though, and a break in the clouds on the distant horizon gave me hope for another sunny afternoon.
I hiked out in just my shirt and shorts, feeling a little dry after a salty couscous bomb last night for dinner. I chugged the water I had, but would need to wait for three miles for an opportunity to refill. No problemo. I gradually ascended into the dripping cloud world as I approached Siler Bald, which supposedly hosts some of the best views in Southern Appalachia. Not today. I kept on cruising through some cool yellow-leafed trees to the creek that burbled across the trail through a pile of mossy green boulders.
The next climb was a doozy and it took plenty of sweating to keep moving despite the cloudy dampness. I met Funkytown on the way up, who seemed to be generally cool, and we figured out that we shared some common ground in Southern California. She also informed me that Russia had invaded Ukraine the previous night. That news bummed me out as I wondered what the consequences would be for the people of Ukraine, my friends in Europe, the global effort to combat climate change, the gas bill for SpiceRack’s road trip out here, and my hike. There were plenty of other concerns too. The song Funkytown echoed between these thoughts.
On top of Wayah Bald, I met David, another extremely friendly hiker, and some informational signs describing the incredible view from the summit. Although the effort to reach the top was huge, the clouds still hemmed us in, keeping the views not huge. Nope, no views for us. I had to take the signs at their word. The old fire lookout, a big stone structure, was just plain depressing in the mist. Water pooled on the lower level and flowstone formations on the outer stone wall made it appear to be melting away. Driving mist forced us into rain gear. I vowed to return on a sunny day.
I stopped for a long lunch break at the nearby shelter. It was below the clouds and generally dry. A pile of four dead mice on the floor was mildly off-putting, however. Confusing too. Despite this, I ate too much food, automatically reaching into various ziplocs of sweet and salty morsels. Funkytown came and went after we shared a few laughs about the characters she’d met along the trail so far. Left to myself, I felt generally distressed. Maybe it was the Ukraine thing, maybe more. It just seemed like such a stupid waste. When I got hiking again, the act felt both trivial and soothing.
The sun did break through in the afternoon, and as the forest dried, it steamed and came alive with forest critters. I started sweating again, not at all bothered when my clothes grew sticky. Worth it. I caught Funkytown and David setting up camp at the next shelter, yet I felt like the day was just getting started, so I pushed on to enjoy some more sunny miles and maybe a view or two.
Rocky Bald gave me just that, a sweeping vista north, with maybe the Smokies in view. A knee-crunching descent followed before I bounced back up at Tellico Gap to tackle the day’s final climb. This was the hardest climb of the trail for me by far. My watch confirmed that my speed was decent, but time itself seemed to slow down. Each ten minute section felt like twenty. Chalk it up to it being the end of a long day, but I was gased and struggling. Stubbornly, I refused to stop for a snack or water until the top. This didn’t do me any favors. Funkytown still played through my mind, and was now joined by Back in the USSR by the Beatles and, a total dark horse, Weezer’s Photograph. The first two made sense, the third, not so much. I think I listened to that song like three times in middle school. Why it was haunting me now was a total mystery. I didn’t mind though. It’s a total jam.
I staggered up the rickety wooden fire lookout staircase on the top of Wesser Bald. I gasped for breath and amazement at the top. 360 degree views, all mountains, all beautiful. The low sun shone through a few high clouds, casting the classic warm glow across everything. Some how, some way, I’d timed it perfectly. No views on Siler, no views on Wayah, all the views on Wesser. The sun in my face, the cooling breeze on my sweaty back, it was all perfect. You won’t be surprised to hear that this was my favorite moment of the day. Earlier stressors faded away.
Unexpectedly, I hit the 20-mike mark for the first time, just barely when I pitched my tent in the gathering darkness on a narrow ridge. My legs were out of juice and deeply tired in a way that I haven’t felt for years. I gave a half-hearted attempt at stretching, then lay down with my cold beans and Oreos. The day was done, and I was ready.