Tuesday, May 2nd

I got to sleep around 2 AM, having finished all of my journal updates, minus photos. It was nice to sleep in a bed. We ate breakfast downstairs in their restaurant once again, and we were once again quite pleased. After packing up, we checked out at noon and got a ride back to NOC. That was easy enough, as the first person to come by had a big ol' van and was happy to give us a ride. We went into the supply store there so that Dave and Botany Boy could pick up some supplies. Botany Boy decided that he needed some camp sandals, and they had a few other things in mind. Most important was a copy of "The Thru-Hiker's Handbook". This is a topic that, I believe, deserves its own paragraph.

"The Thru-Hiker's Handbook" is the AT backpacker's bible. It's by Dan "Wingfoot" Bruce, a 7-time thru-hiker, having amassed over 25,000 miles of trail under his hipstrap. He's donated over 18,000 hours of volunteer service to Appalachian Trail hikers and organisations. He also runs the Center for Appalachian Trail Studies, located in Hot Springs, North Carolina. He produces a new copy of the Handbook once a year, updating town descriptions, trail lengths, landscape features, shelter sizes, and all other kinds of fun things that are in there. Nearly every thru-hiker carries a copy. It tells more than you could learn from any map or Appalachian Trail Conference guidebook.

In any case, they picked up a copy of that. We attempted to get some food in the town, but the only place that had a thing was the equipment store. They had a few shelves of tuna, macaroni, gatorade and such. It looked as if it would be a grim next few days, meal-wise. The high point, however, was the freezer full of Ben and Jerry's, the Appalachian Trail's favourite meal. There's a nasty rumour that Ben and Jerry's is working on AT Crunch, but I think it's just that -- a rumour. I think it'd be great -- vanilla-based ice cream, with honey-dipped oats (to preserve crunch), peanuts, pecans, peanut M&Ms, chocolate chips, coconut flakes, and maybe a little Ibuprofen. Yum.

I sat out front and wrote letters to friends, as well as one to my sister for her upcoming birthday. I took something like 2 hours to eat my ice cream and watch thru-hikers come and go. Out front with me were The Brothers, Blaze Blind (a.k.a. Betty Burp, due to her amazing belch. We refer to her in writing as "BB" and just call her "Lisa" in speech. I'll call her Blaze Blind here.), High Tech, Trail Snail, and two girls, Heidi Hat Burglar (Jeannette Poerner) and Smokey Mo (Maura Mueller.) I kicked back and talked while I wrote. Even The Accident Waiting to Happen Showed up in the back of a pickup with a farmer. She'd just been herding sheep. I never will understand that girl. Soon, just about everybody had cleared out, and I figured I should do the same. I suppose I was mostly putting off what I knew to be a tough climb, up the Dreaded Jump Up.

I had a lot of people e-mail me and warn me of the day's hike, which didn't help any. I think that it's safe to say that I was not warned enough. It was an extremely difficult day's hike. I'm in the habit, as are many hikers, of taking breaks at landmarks. At, say, the peak, or the next stream, or the next shelter, or whatever. And I kept telling myself that I'd take a break at the peak, since it appeared to be straight ahead. What I experienced was an entire day of false peaks. I'd say (yes, out loud -- there's a certain point where you start talking to yourself while thru-hiking) "OK, I'll take a break at that peak I see right ahead of me." Well, it just kept going, and going, and going. So I just sort of collapsed in a peak every mile or so, which was fine by me.

About halfway up I saw a sad site. Normally, the dozens of chipmunks that I see everyday just scamper off to hike under a log or get in their holes. However, one that I saw just sort of stared at me. I stopped to watch him, and he panicked. He tried to run away, which was when I saw the problem. He looked like he'd been mauled by some predator that hadn't managed to kill him. So he was dragging his rear legs along behind him, his fur sticking in all directions, looking absolutely terrified of me. I considered photographing the poor thing, but it just seemed too pitiful. I decided to keep hiking and let the poor thing die in peace.

Upon reaching the shelter I discovered Botany Boy and Dave. We hiked together to the day's goal, Cheoah Bald. The ATC guide declares it to be "one of the most splendid panoramas in the southern Appalachians", so we thought it would be a great place to watch the sunset. By the time we huffed, puffed, and whined our way to the top, the sun was near setting. We had enough time to set up our tents and find a good spot to watch the action. We sat on an overhang with two other hikers for about 45 minutes watching the whole show. It began with the sun turning that light orange, outlining the clouds in front of it. Then it dipped lower, shading the trees and giving all of the mountain folds an amazing level of depth, lighting the clouds from within. Then the sun's edge touched the earth, turning it blood red and lighting the clouds from beneath, giving their tops an ominous dark shadow. From there the sun seemed to be sucked down, disappearing in seconds, leaving us in twilight. We turned around to return to the tents, only to discover that an equally amazing full moon had begun to rise. It was an amazing night, and undoubtedly the most beautiful sunset I've ever seen.

Song Stuck in my Head Today: Cream, "Layla"
Miles Traveled: 8.2
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