Miles Hiked: 17.5
Miles Left: 1826.3
Ending Location: Cherry Gap Shelter
Well, we certainly made up for our zero yesterday by pulling off our highest millage day to date. In the snow and mostly uphill to boot!
First though, a funny story. As I mentioned before, this is the first year Cantarroso Farms has been open as a hostel and Owl and I were their second pair of guests. Well apparently last night a van full of hikers showed up around midnight and tried to walk into the main house thinking it was a traditional hostel. Finding all the doors locked they drove off but not before scaring the daylights out of the owners. So Mike grabbed his gun, jumped in his truck and cornered the hikers at the railroad crossing demanding to know what they were up to. Explanations were given and everything turned out ok, but I think Mike and his wife are in for an experience once the main hiker bubble shows up!
In the morning Mike dropped Owl and I off at the AT trailhead leading out of town and we said goodbye to Erwin for hopefully the last time. Most of the hiking in the morning was uphill out of the valley and as we rose in elevation we ran into more and more snow. It was only an inch or two deep but the snow covered all the plants which made going under mountain laurel branches hazardous as any disturbance would send wet slush raining down your neck. And here I thought it was supposed to be Spring! Also we ran into another Eagle Scout project so we’re now blaming all trail issues for the next hundred miles on little Danny Sparkles. Hey, it’s easier, (and safer), than cursing the AT gods!
Around noon the temperature started to warm up which lead to us being pelted with falling ice much like what we experienced on the approach trail. It was in that state of being cold, wet, and hit with hard objects when Owl and I ran across a sign offering free food. We of course followed it and found what appeared to be a mirage of a fully stocked kitchen under a tarp. It was the Leapfrog cafe, run by it’s proprietor Fresh Grounds. It gets its name from the fact that he picks a bubble of hikers and follows them along the AT. He has his scouts and when they report they are getting close to a good spot he packs up his stuff and moves there. He’ll operates the cafe for about ten days, rest for a bit, and then move on.
All the food was free, he offers crash space for hikers at night, (where he projects a movie onto the tarps), and provides a full stock of plastic bags, duct tape, and other miscellaneous gear that’s helpful to have. Oh and the food! He was deep frying hotdogs in bacon grease, (I had three), made some amazing home fries, had a bunch of fresh fruit, (great oranges), fresh brewed coffee, (of course!), hot chocolate, and the list goes on and on….
Basically Owl and I had to keep reminding ourselves this was really happening and not the result of blunt force trauma to the head caused by falling ice. I never expected to receive trail magic of this scope. Eventually though we had to move on once the worst of the falling ice was over. We now have extra incentive to keep up our pace as we really want to see Fresh Grounds and his cafe again north of Damascus.
With our belly’s full and our spirits lifted we ended up making great time which was fortunate since there wasn’t anyplace good to camp thanks to all the snow. We passed through some neat areas though like Beauty Spot gap which had a view worthy of its name, and Unaka mountain which was covered in an old spruce forest where it felt like Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf would pop out of at any second. When leaving Beauty Spot we ran across a van stuck in the snow so we stopped to help. A guy was driving his whole extended family up there and … well it didn’t appear to be a bonding experience. The driver managed to get ahold of his friend so we left him as there wasn’t much we could do and it looked like they would be there for the next couple hours.
Finally rolling into the shelter around 8, Owl and I were very happy to see that there were several dry places to pitch our tents. The people in the shelter were also happy for this fact as they showed no interest in making space for us. It was nice weather to sleep in a tent, and my 0 degree rated bag made things very comfy. After hiking seventeen miles that day I ended up popping two ibuprofen PMs and passing right out.