Since I wrote last, the trail has become increasingly more beautiful and interesting; fall crept in seemingly overnight and I'm finally back in peak shape. I will say though: my body is still limited to a certain number of consecutive 24-27 mile days.
I finally left the unbelievably long (10 miles short of 1/4 of the trail) state of Virginia and hit Tennessee for two days before touching the border of North Carolina. Only one state left to touch now! The trail here literally crosses back and forth over the TN/NC border dozens of times through this 150 stretch. I since passed into Great Smoky Mountains National Park and will soon be fully in North Carolina for 85 more miles before finally crossing that last state line into the Peach State for the last few days of my trip.
The first stretch of the NC/TN border included Roan Mountain, the first 6000 footer since Mt. Washington in NH- nearly 1,600 miles and 3.5 months ago on the trail. This and Unaka Mtn. are both remarkebly similar to the green and white mountains of New England except Goethe lack of treeline down South. The great Southern grassy balds of Hump Mtn. (where there was sadly but understandably no sign to...uh, photograph in a completely appropriate and mature fashion. Yup), Grassy Ridge, Jenny's knob, Beauty Spot and many others ar truly a magnificent sight that I'd like to share personally with anyone who hasn't seen them. You won't need to convince me to go. Tennessee and North Carolina apple orchards supplemented my meager foodsack contents often through this stretch. What perfect timing!
Erwin, TN didn't have much, but Uncle Johnny's Hostel on the Nolichucky and my first Mexican food on trail (Taco Bell not counting of course) were reason enough to take my time with some thruhikers I had just met: Guac, Queso and Stump. The next night we all camped at Bald Mtn. Shelter (one of the highest on the trail), made smores and experinced a swarming of salamanders out of the rain around our fire. Maybe there's something to the myth... On Big Bald, I had the opportunity to watch a bird banding program at work. The volunteer even let me hold and release a Tennessee Warbler, Dark-eyed (slate-colored) Junco and Swainson's Thrush. Great sunrise view from the bald after my bird extravaganza.
Here's where my trip took a turn for the different. As soon as I crossed I26 for the first time I thumbed into Asheville to meet friends and go to LEAF. Thanks to MJ Sailor for the last minute ticket! Thanks too to all of my amazing friends for taking a smelly, sweaty hobo hiker into their homes and allowing me to shower, do laundry and sleep. It was very kind of all of you. As a matter of fact, I had more offers for places to sleep than I spent nights in the city! LEAF was amazing of course. I'm especially pleased with the little bit of newfounfld confidence that allowed me to happily do everything that I wanted to. The poetry slam was absolutely unbelievable as usual, but some other highlghts were learning to Cajun dance, Cailen and David (Contraversial), and most of all spending time with dear friends, all of whom I'm happy to say seem happy :). I honestly can't wait to return to my home city and all of the wonderful people that I share it with.
With hardly any sleep, but plenty of extra calories to burn off in the remaining 17 days I said goodbye. Then stayed anoher day, then said goodbye again. On the way out of town, Adina and (Patick?) turned around on Broadway and drove me all the way to Hot Springs. I am so forunate to have such generous friends. Sadly, I discovered in Hot Springs that my pack has a broken stay. They're sending me a new one in Gatlinburg, but I'll have to deal with it jabbing into my hip until then. Also, the Rock Bottom bar lives up to it's name. Onwards out of the valley and back on the trail after a week off!
I'm going to split this up so as to be a litle bit more managable to read. More to come soon!