We started out from NOC with the plan to just hike 8 miles since the elevation looked nasty. As we climbed out of the valley, the sun came out and trapped the clouds down below. The conditions were perfect but the trail was challenging as promised.
I stopped for a break and ran into Bilbo, Glider, Jiter and Blackbeard and we continued on together after a few minutes of horsing around. I got so caught up in conversation and great hiking that we blew right past our stop and kept on pushing hard with the group. Bilbo, Blackbeard and I really got an good pace going and the miles flew past.
As we were plowing down one descent I hit my head pretty hard on 3 low branches within about 20 feet and the group thought it was hysterical. I have a bad habit of keeping my head down when I run or hike and I need to work on that a little in the woods. They decided right then that my trail name is now Low Branch. Chuck also got his trail name and it is Taco. When we took a shuttle ride the other day he literally inhaled a double meat Taco Bell taco that the shuttle driver had for him. Taco is really becoming the star of the trail and everyone loves hanging out with him at the shelters. I am going to miss him terribly during the Smokies (no dogs allowed).
The group stopped for another break but I pushed on mostly because I was out of snacks and wanted to get to camp and make dinner. Just when I needed it, I came across some trail magic green apples. They were delicious! Have you ever seen a thru hiker devour and apple? It’s quite a sight and leaves nothing but seeds and a stem. So, my planned short day turned into a 16 miler but it was a blast and I got into camp and made a double portion of my favorite Outdoor Herbivore meal called Pea-nutty Matchsticks. My nightcap was a hot Emergen-C toddy and all was well for a quiet and warm night. No tacos for Taco but he enjoyed his dinner and curled up on dad’s bed. I couldn’t get him off so we snuggled up together and fell asleep quickly.
We are headed to Fontana Dam today to meet Bryan so he can pick up Chuck. I don’t really want to take a zero but I am a day early and this place I am staying at has a pool so it will be a good chance to stretch out in the water and resupply for the next push. I am really excited about the Smokies. I spent nearly every summer of my childhood there with Mama and Papa Johnson and there are terrific memories all over those beautiful hills. I’ll have to reintroduce myself as Low Branch but I suspect the trees have already passed on the word to watch out for this guy and his dog Taco.