Day 12: South of Powell Mountain on Blue-blaze Trail (Mile 67)-Dicks Creek Gap (Mile 69.5); 2.5 miles
It rained cats and dogs overnight. The rain was so violent that raindrops splashed mud a few inches up the tent walls. We stayed cuddled in our sleeping bags longer than usual and eventually the rain began to slow. While packing up we managed to stay mostly dry.
The trail didn’t fare so well. The downpour overnight had turned the trail into a sloppy and slippery muddy mess.
We hiked slowly but the shifting muddy trail was aggravating Shutterbug’s knee. One slip in particular caused his knee pain to flare up. It was frustrating.
We made it to Dicks Creek Gap where we had previously planned to resupply quickly. Given Shutterbug’s knee situation, we modified our plans and spent the remainder of the day resting and icing in town.
Day 13: Zero at Blueberry Patch Hostel
Today we hung out at the Blueberry Patch Hostel run by trail angels Gary and Lennie. Gary tended the wood stove in the bunkhouse throughout the day, keeping us warm and cozy. Their little farm was nestled near the mountains, complete with goats. It was quite picturesque.
We picked up several boxes: our resupply food box, some warmer clothing sent from home, and a pair of new shoes for Shutterbug. He’s switching to Hoka One One trail runners, which have almost twice the amount of foam and shock absorption as normal shoes. We met runners on the PCT who swore that these shoes fixed their foot and knee pain. We sure hope they work for Shutterbug too.
We shared the bunkhouse at Blueberry Patch with thru hikers Stan, Dennis, and Jesse. We chatted as we did chores and iced. Shutterbug’s knee felt better after some rest. The pain diminished to a dull ache.
Day 14: Dicks Creek Gap (Mile 69.5)-Whiteoak Stamp (Mile 82); 12.5 miles
After a breakfast of blueberry pancakes, Gary drove us back to the trailhead. Another shuttle full of hikers arrived shortly afterward and we were happy to see Doc, Burrito, and his dog Salsa climb out.
We were off hiking again. Snow covered the ground and more snow fell softly through the branches. In a few miles, we crossed the border from Georgia into North Carolina. Our pet bird Cheep Cheep made a little snowman and celebrated our first state border with us!
After the border we continued to climb and the snow got deeper and deeper. It was beautiful.
The rhododendrons were so heavy with snow and ice that we had to duck under their branches.
We camped in a spot well protected from the wind. The ground was covered in 3 to 6 inches of snow and it was quite cold once we stopped moving.
Day 15: Whiteoak Stamp (Mile 82)- Deep Gap (mile 85.5); 3.5 miles
Once again it was cold, cold, cold. We could hear the wind gusting in the distance but our sheltered campsite remained calm.
When we started walking we realized that the strong wind overnight had created deep snow drifts. Shutterbug walked first and broke the trail.
North Star walked in his footsteps but it was still difficult and slow going because the snow sometimes came up past her knees.
The real issue was the icy sections. Shutterbug’s knee was not happy with the inevitable slipping and sliding that happens on rocky ice-covered trails. Though the snow was beautiful, the return of Shutterbug’s knee pain was a real hit to our morale.
When we reached a US Forest Service road we decided it would be smartest to take more time off to rest Shutterbug’s knee and let the snow melt. A former AT thru hiker named Hometown gave us a lift into Franklin, NC.
North Star’s aunt Cindy lives in North Carolina and has been in touch with us throughout the hike. When she heard about our current situation she enthusiastically offered to be a long term trail angel for us. In the evening she picked us up and brought us back to her home. Since we won’t have the financial strain which usually accompanies a long town rest, our goal is to be extra patient with the healing process. We’ll wait here until Shutterbug’s knee is completely pain free. We still have plenty of time to make it to Maine by fall.