I ate pumpkin-pie bark for breakfast—goes in like a chip and down like pie, no cooking required. The guys from New Jersey gave me a cup of coffee, and I got an early start. A corridor of grass, blackberry shoots, and stalky weeds with yellow flowers lined the half mile of trail leading up to the grassy bald at Beauty Spot Gap. It would have been a nice spot to camp and watch a sunset and sunrise over the mountains. There was a ring of charred rocks showing where others had camped. Unfortunately, they left food packaging behind—expecting the next campers to burn it rather than pack it out themselves.
View from Beauty Spot Gap
The next seven miles to Curley Maple Gap Shelter were mostly downhill
but strewn with rocks and roots. It’s hard to look up with an obstacle
course underfoot. The air was hot, humid, and breezeless. I stopped and
pumped water twice from streams before arriving at Curley Maple Gap
Shelter to cook lunch—bean-bark stew.
Blooming Mountain Laurel
The trail continued
downhill for another three miles in close proximity to Jones Branch. I
crossed the stream eleven times on the way to the Nolichucky River. Lush
ferns grew in the moist drainage channel, as did mountain laurel,
occasionally curling over my head into tunnel-like passages. The
mountain laurel was freshly bloomed—the ten spring-loaded stamens inside
each white parachute-shaped flower had yet to be sprung by pollinating
bumblebees. After descending one more mile, I crossed the bridge over
the Nolichucky River and walked a short ways to Uncle Johnny’s
I had hurried the last mile to reach Johnny’s in time for the supper shuttle into town, but I was too tired to go when I got there. A group of thru-hikers sat at the table on the front deck. They had extra food from a convenience store and offered me as much as I wanted. I selected a ham-and-cheese sandwich and two corn dogs. In addition to that, I downed a Gatorade, a Yoo-hoo, and one of Johnny’s famous forty-cent Snickers bars. Beer lubricated the festive mood on the front deck, but I was too pooped to party. I washed clothes, took a shower, and fell into bed in a little cabin around back.
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